FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day January 29 – 30, 2017

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On January 29, 1944 the last battleship to enter US Navy service was christened – the USS Missouri (BB-63).  Her keel was laid on January 6, 1941 at the New York Navy Yard.  Missouri was the third  Iowa-class “fast battleship” designs planned in 1938 by the Preliminary Design Branch at the Bureau of Construction and RepairAfter her christening and launching she was rapidly completed and commissioned on June 11, 1944 and rushed to the Pacific Theater of World War II,
arriving in West Caroline Islands on January 13, 1945.  She put to sea on 27 January, to serve in the screen of the Lexington carrier task group of Mitscher’s TF 58, and on 16 February the task force’s aircraft carriers launched the first naval air strikes against Japan since the famed Doolittle raid, which had been launched from the carrier Hornet in April 1942. Missouri then steamed with the carriers to Iwo Jima where her main guns provided direct and continuous support to the invasion landings begun on 19 February. After TF 58 returned to Ulithi on 5 March, Missouri was assigned to the Yorktown carrier task group. On 14 March, Missouri departed Ulithi in the screen of the fast carriers and steamed to the Japanese mainland. During strikes against targets along the coast of the Inland Sea of Japan beginning on 18 March, Missouri shot down four Japanese aircraft.  She provided shore bombardment for the battle of Okinawa and shelled the Japanese home islands.

This photo (right) shows her being hit by a kamikaze on her starboard side April 11, 1945.  The Japanese pilot’s body was recovered and Captain Callaghan decided that the young Japanese pilot had done his job to the best of his ability, and with honor, so he should be given a military funeral. Missouri’s crew hand stitched a Japanese flag for the occasion and the following day he was buried at sea with military honors.   Less than a month later, the USS Missouri serves as the location for the surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945 during which Japan formally and unconditionally surrendered to the Allies ending the Second World War (photos below).  During the surrender ceremony, the deck of Missouri was decorated with a 31-star American flag that had been taken ashore by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 after his squadron of “Black Ships” sailed into Tokyo Bay to force the opening of Japan’s ports to foreign trade. This flag was actually displayed with the reverse side showing, i.e., stars in the upper right corner: the historic flag was so fragile that the conservator at the Naval Academy Museum had sewn a protective linen backing to one side to help secure the fabric from deteriorating, leaving its “wrong side” visible. The flag was displayed in a wood-framed case secured to the bulkhead overlooking the surrender ceremony.  Another U.S. flag was raised and flown during the occasion, a flag that some sources have indicated was in fact that flag which had flown over the U.S. Capitol on 7 December 1941. This is not true; it was a flag taken from the ship’s stock, according to Missouri’s Commanding Officer, Captain Stuart “Sunshine” Murray, and it was “…just a plain ordinary GI-issue flag.”  For the surrender ceremony, General MacArthur ensured the assembled officers and sailors were the tallest available.  Missouri fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 and this photo (right) shows her firing her 16 inch guns on enemy positions during the Korean War.
Notice the effect on the seawater under the guns.

She was decommissioned in 1955 into the United States Navy reserve fleets (the “Mothball Fleet”), but reactivated and modernized in 1984 as part of the 600-ship Navy plan, and provided fire support during Operation Desert Storm in January/February 1991.  The photo (left) shows her “unrepping”  with the USS Kitty Hawk (no airwing is
aboard) from the USNS Kawishiwi. In 1998, “Mighty Mo” was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and became a museum ship at Pearl Harbor.  From here you can see the USS Arizona memorial.  The next time you’re in Hawaii, I recommend you visit her and see the location of this plaque where the Japanese surrender documents were signed.



January 29th  commemorated two national days:  Thomas Paine Day and Freethinkers Day.  Thomas Paine was a courageous freethinker, whose life and works inspired political and social advancements throughout the world, but particularly during the time of the American Revolution.  FOD should have noted that on January 10, 1776, he published Common Sense, a remarkable and powerful republican pamphlet which had an immediate success.  Later, you’ll recall from an earlier FOD, (19 December 2016), General George Washington read from Paine’s’ later published pamphlet The American Crisis to his troops at Valley Forge.
Between March 1791 and February 1792 he published numerous editions of his Rights of Man, in which he defended the French Revolution. The words of Thomas Paine inspired many to strive for political, economic and social advancement. He was among the first to call for an end to slavery and the establishment of human rights around the world.  In the 1990s, the Truthseeker magazine began celebrating Freethinkers Day on Thomas Paine’s birthday in order to educate the public on the importance of Thomas Paine in the history of freedom. Also in the 1990s, the Thomas Paine Foundation began celebrating the birthday of Thomas Paine on January 29th, a Thomas Paine Day proclamation on June 8 and other Paine theme events during the year.  And the question is – where would he stand on the issues of today?


And in preparation for unabashed snack food gormandizing this coming Super Bowl Weekend, 29 January is National Corn Chip Day.  Well it’s not officially recognized by Congress, but then again, who cares?  Corn chips – another method of ingesting: whole corn, vegetable oil (corn, soybean, and/or sunflower oil), salt, cheddar cheese (milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), maltodextrin, wheat flour, whey, monosodium glutamate, buttermilk solids, romano cheese whey protein concentrate, onion powder, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, corn flour, disodium phosphate, lactose, natural and artificial flavor, dextrose, tomato powder, spices, lactic acid, artificial color (including Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40), citric acid, sugar, garlic powder, red and green bell pepper powder, sodium caseinate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, nonfat milk solids, whey protein isolate, and corn syrup solids (whatever they are).  But they taste good!  You had better thoroughly enjoy your guacamole as the price of avocados may be going up quickly if President Trump goes ahead with a 20% tariff on goods imported from Mexico, to pay for a wall, we know will never work.  The decision to build a wall has so far kept out one Mexican – Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, leader of America’s third largest trading partner, a close ally and our neighbor in North America.  All because of a misguided campaign promise? Holy guacamole! Besides produce, automakers and appliance manufacturers have established supply chain strategies utilizing parts manufactured in Mexico, in concert with the 1994 NAFTA agreement.  A tariff could see car sticker prices rise 10%, and your next refrigerator could go up 20%.  Holy guacamole!


In the last FOD, I mentioned there were some baseball stories out there.  On January 29, 1936, the U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elected its first members in Cooperstown, New York: (left to right):

Ty Cobb   Babe Ruth,  Honus WagnerChristy MathewsonWalter Johnson. The Hall of Fame actually had its beginnings in 1935, when plans were made to build a museum devoted to baseball and its 100-year history. A private organization based in Cooperstown, N.Y., called the Clark Foundation thought that establishing the Baseball Hall of Fame in their city would help to reinvigorate the area’s Depression-ravaged economy by attracting tourists. To help sell the idea, the foundation advanced the idea that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown. The story proved to be phony, but baseball officials, eager to capitalize on the marketing and publicity potential of a museum to honor the game’s greats, gave their support to the project anyway.  In preparation for the dedication of the Hall of Fame in 1939–thought by many to be the centennial of baseball–the Baseball Writers’ Association of America chose the five greatest superstars of the game as the first class to be inducted: Ty Cobb was the most productive hitter in history; Babe Ruth was both an ace pitcher and the greatest home-run hitter to play the game; Honus Wagner was a versatile star shortstop and batting champion; Christy Matthewson had more wins than any pitcher in National League history; and Walter Johnson was considered one of the most powerful pitchers to ever have taken the mound.  Collectively they are known as the “Five Immortals.”

Today, with approximately 350,000 visitors per year, the Hall of Fame continues to be the hub of all things baseball. It has elected 278 individuals, in all, including 225 players, 17 managers, 8 umpires and 28 executives and pioneers.  There is also a library specifically for baseball history and information.  Add the Baseball Hall of Fame to your bucket list of places to visit.  It’s worth the trip.


Here in Seattle where it also was, “Once upon a midnight dreary,” Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven,” was published on January 29, 1845 in the New York Evening MirrorPerhaps he was reflecting on the time he spent as a cadet at West Point (that is one of the most dreary places in the Winter) where he was expelled for gambling.

Listen to this classic work:




And 28 January was the anniversary of the birth of Colonel Francis Stanley (Gabby) Gabreski, USAF.  He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve on 14 March 1941 and was as a fighter pilot with the 45th Pursuit Squadron of the 15th Pursuit Group at Wheeler Army AirfieldHawaii, on December 7, 1941.  2nd Lt. Gabreski trained on both the Curtiss P-36 Hawk and the newer Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.  He closely followed reports on the Battle of Britain and the role played in it by Polish RAF squadrons, especially by the legendary No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron. He became concerned that the US did not have many experienced fighter pilots. This gave him an idea: since Polish squadrons had proved to be capable within the RAF and since he himself was of Polish origin and spoke Polish, he offered to serve as a liaison officer to the Polish squadrons to learn from their experience. The idea was approved. Serving with another Polish squadron, the No. 315 (Deblin) Squadron at RAF Northolt, he flew 20 missions but only saw combat once.  With lessons learned however, Gabreski became part of the 56th Fighter Group, flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, and quickly became a flight leader in January 1943.  By March 27, he had 18 victory credits and had six multiple-kill missions to rank third in the “ace race” that had developed within VIII Fighter Command. He downed only one more aircraft in the next two months, during which time the two pilots ahead of him (Majors Robert S. Johnson and Walker M. Mahurin, also of the 56th FG) minimally increased their number of kills.  On May 22, Gabreski shot down three Fw 190s over a Luftwaffe airfield in northwest Germany. He tied Johnson as the leading ace in the European Theater of Operations on June 27 (passing Eddie Rickenbacker‘s record from World War I in the process), and on July 5, 1944, became America’s leading ace in the ETO, with his score of 28 destroyed matching the total at the time of confirmed victories of the Pacific Theater’s top American ace, Richard Bong. This total was never surpassed by any U.S. pilot fighting the Luftwaffe.  On July 20, 1944, he decided to fly just one more flight before returning home after his 300 combat hour limit.  On a strafing run at BassenheimGermany, he dropped his nose just a bit too much and the propeller blades of his Thunderbolt clipped the runway. The difference between low and too low.  The damage caused his engine to vibrate violently and he was forced to crash land. Gabreski ran into nearby woods and eluded capture for five days.   He used that SERE School Training.  Eventually he was captured and after being interrogated by Obergefreiter Hanns Scharff, he was sent to Stalag Luft I. He was liberated when Soviet forces seized the camp in April 1945.  He was recalled to active duty with the new USAF after WW II and he participated in aerial combat again during the Korean War. In June 1951, he and a group of selected pilots of the 56th FIW accompanied the delivery of North American F-86 Sabres of the 62d FIS to Korea aboard the escort carrier USS Cape Esperance. The planes and pilots joined the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group at K-14 (Kimpo) Air Base, where most engaged in combat. On July 8, 1951, flying his fifth mission in an F-86, Gabreski shot down a MiG 15, followed by MiG kills on September 2 and October 2.
In total he added 6 ½ MIG kills to his 28 victories in WW II and become the all-time American Fighter Ace.  He was known as a great and very aggressive fighter pilot, but who lacked flight discipline, particularly toward his wingmen. Additionally he created an international incident by turning off his IFF and engaged MiGs over China including over two Chinese bases. Hey, it’s war folks – oh I forgot, it was a limited conflict police action. Colonel Gabreski retired from the Air Force 1 November 1967 after 27 years of service and 37.5 enemy aircraft destroyed. At the time of his retirement, he had flown more combat missions than any other U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and is the only pilot ace in two wars.


On January 30, 1862 the Navy’s first ironclad warship, USS Monitor, is launched (depicted below).  She’ll be commissioned a month later.  Monitor is most famous for her central role in the Battle of Hampton Roads on 9 March 1862, where, under the command of Lieutenant John Worden, she fought the casemate ironclad CSS Virginia (built on the hull of the former steam frigate USS Merrimack) to a standstill (below).

And at that moment every other ship in Navy’s worldwide became obsolete.
The unique design of the ship, distinguished by its revolving turret which was designed by American inventor Theodore Timby, was quickly duplicated and established the monitor type of warship.  In the photo right note the dents in the turret.  Monitor foundered while under tow in December 1862 during a storm off Cape Hatteras.  Monitor‘s wreck was discovered in 1973 and has been partially salvaged (below).

Her guns, gun turret, engine and other relics are on display at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia.  I’m putting this on my list of places to go and things to see on my next east coast trip.

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