FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 18 through 20, 2017

On February 18, 1885, Mark Twain publishes his famous–and famously controversial–novel  Adventures of Huckleberry FinnTwain (the pen name of Samuel Clemens) first introduced Huck Finn as the best friend of Tom Sawyer, hero of his tremendously successful novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Though Clemens saw Huck’s story as a kind of sequel to his earlier book, the new novel was far more serious, focusing on the institution of slavery and other aspects of life in the antebellum South.  Even in 1885, two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn landed created instant controversy.  And that controversy continues; for as late as 1950s, the book came under fire from African-American groups for being racist in its portrayal of black characters, despite the fact that it was seen by many as a strong criticism of racism and slavery. And as recently as 1998, an Arizona parent sued her school district, claiming that making “Twain’s” novel required high school reading made already existing racial tensions worse.  Aside from its controversial nature and its continuing popularity with young readers, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been hailed by many serious literary critics as a masterpiece. No less a judge than Ernest Hemingway famously declared that the book marked the beginning of American literature: “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

 

 

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 and was originally considered to be the ninth planet from the Sun.  Pluto is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune.  It was the first Kuiper belt object to be discovered.  In September 2016, astronomers announced that the reddish-brown cap of the north pole of Charon is composed of tholinsorganic macromolecules that may be ingredients for the emergence of life, and produced from methanenitrogen and related gases released from the atmosphere of Pluto and transferred over about 19,000 km (12,000 mi) distance to the orbiting moon.  In 1906, Percival Lowell—a wealthy Bostonian who had founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1894—started an extensive project in search of a possible ninth planet, which he termed “Planet X“.  She theorized that wobbles in the orbits of  Uranus.and Neptune were caused by the gravitational pull of an unknown planetary body. Lowell calculated the approximate location of the hypothesized ninth planet and searched for more than a decade without success. However, in 1929, using the calculations of Powell and William H. Pickering as a guide, the search for Pluto was resumed at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. On February 18, 1930, 23-year-old Clyde Tombaugh discovered the tiny, distant planet by use of a new astronomic technique of photographic plates combined with a blink microscope. His finding was confirmed by several other astronomers, and on March 13, 1930–the anniversary of Lowell’s birth and of William Hershel’s discovery of Uranus–the discovery of Pluto was publicly announced.  The debate came to a head on August 24, 2006, with an IAU resolution that created an official definition for the term “planet”. According to this resolution, there are three conditions for an object in the Solar System to be considered a planet:

  1. The object must be in orbit around the Sun.
  2. The object must be massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape defined by hydrostatic equilibrium.
  3. It must have cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

Pluto fails to meet the third condition, because its mass is only 0.07 times that of the mass of the other objects in its orbit (Earth’s mass, by contrast, is 1.7 million times the remaining mass in its own orbit)

 

 

Following three days of pre-invasion naval gunfire and aerial bombardment, U.S. Marines land on Iwo Jima, on February 19, 1945, securing the island on March 16.  Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, describes the invasion, and the Battle of Iwo Jima, for which 27 Medals of Honor are given, as one where uncommon valor was a common virtue.  Iwo Jima was initially thought to be strategically important: it provided an air base for Japanese fighter planes to intercept long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers, and it provided a haven for Japanese naval units in dire need of any support available. In addition, it was used by the Japanese to stage air attacks on the Mariana Islands from November 1944 through January 1945. The capture of Iwo Jima would eliminate these problems and provide a staging area for Operation Downfall – the eventual invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. After the heavy losses incurred in the battle, the strategic value of the island became controversial. It was useless to the U.S. Army as a staging base and useless to the U.S. Navy as a fleet base. American intelligence sources were confident that Iwo Jima would fall in one week. In light of the optimistic intelligence reports, the decision was made to invade Iwo Jima and the operation was given the code name Operation Detachment.  American forces were unaware that the Japanese were preparing a complex and deep defense, radically departing from their usual strategy of a beach defense. Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was assigned to command the defense of Iwo Jima. Kuribayashi knew that Japan could not win the battle, but he hoped to inflict massive casualties on the American forces, so that the United States and its Australian and British allies would reconsider carrying out the invasion of Japan Home Islands.  So successful was the Japanese preparation that it was discovered after the battle that the hundreds of tons of Allied bombs and thousands of rounds of heavy naval gunfire had left the Japanese defenders almost undamaged and ready to inflict losses on the U.S. Marines. Joe Rosenthal‘s Associated Press photograph of the raising of the U.S. flag on top of the 169 m (554 ft) Mount Suribachi by six U.S. Marines has become iconic.  The Medal of Honor was awarded to 27 U.S. Marines and U.S. sailors (14 posthumously), during the battle of Iwo Jima. 22 medals were presented to Marines (12 posthumously) and 5 were presented to sailors, 4 of whom were hospital corpsmen (2 posthumously) attached to Marine infantry units; 22 Medals of Honor was 28% of the 82 awarded to Marines in World War II.  Hershel W. Williams (Marine Corps) is the only living Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima. Williams (age 92) is one of seven living Medal of Honor recipients of World War II; five soldiers and two Marines.  One Marine worth noting here is William D. Kelly.  Commissioned a 2nd LT in 1944, he served as an infantry platoon commander during the Battle of Iwo Jima.  He went on to serve as a company commander during the Korean War and as a battalion commander during the Viet Nam War.  He retired in 1969 and has since passed.  His son, Sean Kelly was my plebe summer roommate and a friend of FOD.  Sean notes his dad never discussed his combat experiences on Iwo Jima or in other conflicts, even though Sean became a fellow Marine.  Sean forwarded me the enclosed a letter William wrote to his brother Kevin, shortly after Iwo Jima in which he refers to a $5  Hawaii overprint note he carried in his pocket during the Iwo Jima Campaign.  2015 commemorated the 70th anniversary of Iwo Jima.  Sean decided to honor his dad’s service by running in the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM).  Now Sean also wears the gold aviator wings of our close friend and classmate Chuck “Hogger” Peterson.  Hogger served as a Marine and he too has passed.  Sean also includes the names of other friends who have served and passed as a way to honor their service.  The MCM is a great event.  It’s now the fourth largest Marathon in the US and the ninth in the world.  At its conclusion, the MCM course unfurls alongside the Arlington National Cemetery then offers a final, up-hill challenge to the finish at the Marine Corps War Memorial. This finish has remained unchanged since the inaugural running of the MCM in 1976.  Thank you William and thank you Sean.

 

 

 

A few days ago here on FOD, I included the promotion lists for USAF officers.  On February 19, 1777 the promotion list for Lieutenant General in the Continental Army  was released.  Benedict Arnold found himself passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress.  Despite the fact George Washington  generally supported Arnold’s skill in the field,  Arnold felt he had been slighted.  He served with distinction with Ethan Allen and his men in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. But he got into many disagreements with his fellow generals and thought they were claiming credit for his efforts.  This reminded me of a poem I learned as a plebe from the U.S. Naval Academy’s Reef Points, entitled, The Laws of the Navy, which starts off with:

Now these are Laws of the Navy,
Unwritten and varied they be;
And he that is wise will observe them,
Going down in his ship to the sea;

Among other verses is this one:

Take heed what ye say of your Seniors,
Be your words spoken softly or plain,
Lest a bird of the air tell the matter,
And so ye shall hear it again.

While a general on the American side, he obtained command of the fortifications at West Point, New York (future site of the U.S. Military Academy after 1802) overlooking the cliffs at the Hudson River (upriver from British-occupied New York City), and planned to surrender it to the British forces. The plan was exposed in September 1780.  Benedict escaped to the British lines and was later commissioned into the British Army as a brigadier general.  He died in London, ten years later, penniless.

 

On February 20, 1842 LT Edward “Butch” O’Harebecame the Navy’s first flying ace when he single-handedly attacked a formation of nine heavy bombers approaching his the USS Lexington. Previously to this historic flight, Lieutenant John Thach, then executive officer of VF-3, discovered O’Hare’s exceptional flying abilities and closely mentored the promising young pilot.  Thach, who would later develop the Thach Weave aerial combat tactic, emphasized gunnery in his training. In 1941, more than half of all VF-3 pilots, including O’Hare, earned the “E” for gunnery excellence.  Even though he had a limited amount of ammunition, he managed to shoot down or damage several enemy bombers. On April 21, 1942, he became the first naval recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II He was also promoted to LCDR.  On his February 19th flight, in a mere four minutes, O’Hare shot down five Japanese G4M1 Betty bombers–bringing a swift end to the Japanese attack.   With his ammunition expended, O’Hare returned to his carrier, and was fired on accidentally but with no effect by a .50-caliber machine gun from the Lexington. O’Hare’s fighter had, in fact, been hit by only one bullet during his flight, the single bullet hole in F-15’s port wing disabling the airspeed indicator. According to Thach, Butch then approached the gun platform to calmly say to the embarrassed anti-aircraft gunner who had fired at him, “Son, if you don’t stop shooting at me when I’ve got my wheels down, I’m going to have to report you to the gunnery officer.”  O’Hare’s final action took place on the night of November 26, 1943, while he was leading the U.S. Navy’s first-ever nighttime fighter attack launched from an aircraft carrier. During this encounter with a group of Japanese torpedo bombers, O’Hare’s Grumman F6F Hellcat was shot down; his aircraft was never found. In 1945, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS O’Hare (DD-889) was named in his honor.  On September 19, 1949, the Chicago, Illinois airport was renamed O’Hare International Airport to honor O’Hare’s bravery. The airport displays a Grumman F4F-3 museum aircraft replicating the one flown by Butch O’Hare during his Medal of Honor flight. The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat on display was recovered virtually intact from the bottom of Lake Michigan, where it sank after a training accident in 1943 when it went off the training aircraft carrier USS Wolverine (IX-64). In 2001, the Air Classics Museum remodeled the aircraft to replicate the F4F-3 Wildcat that O’Hare flew on his Medal of Honor flight.  The restored Wildcat is exhibited in the west end of Terminal 2 behind the security checkpoint to honor O’Hare International Airport’s namesake.  I always go see it when I’m passing through KORD.

 

20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  The Mercury spacecraft, named Friendship 7, was carried to orbit by an Atlas LV-3B launch vehicle the first time that launch vehicle was used . Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel  John Glenn, United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot. He performed three orbits of the Earth, making him the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth.  After four hours and 56 minutes in flight the spacecraft re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, splashed down in the North Atlantic Ocean and was safely taken aboard USS Noa.

Color photograph of John Glenn in space featuring a view of the control panel of the Friendship 7 spacecraft, taken by the onboard camera during NASA’s Project Mercury MA-6 mission, February 20, 1962

The Mercury Friendship 7 capsule on display in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, just inside the Mall-side doors at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., on 9 December 2016, the day after John Glenn’s death. There are flowers on display in recognition of his passing.

 

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