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Rescued from the trash: Photos of African-American troops in WWII Europe

June 9, 2014 • Deirdre Black

I just stumbled upon this story published by the UK Mail Online in January 2012: Rescued from the trash: Photo album of fascinating WWII portraits of African-American troops in Europe | Mail Online.

The photos are precious since they serve as documentary evidence of the war, but perhaps more importantly because they provide coverage of the military service and experiences of African-Americans during the war, coverage which was sorely lacking in the segregated U.S. Armed Forces of the day.

70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion

June 2, 2014 • Deirdre Black

This June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, and so the media outlets have been providing lots of footage and reports about it for the last few weeks. It’s hard to believe that so many years have passed since that event and even harder to believe that so few of those who served are still alive to remind us of the trauma.

The recent interviews of WWII veterans are are almost just too much to bear, not least because of the pain and suffering those vets continue to endure. They aren’t able to really say much in the interviews, so that doesn’t account for the effect. It’s really just seeing them try to talk about it and all the visible pain that persists that is so horribly moving. And despite the horrors and victories that came with D-Day, the war, of course, went on and on.

I cannot help but think of my own father as I watch these interviews. He enlisted on his eighteenth birthday and served for nearly four years as a gunner, first on the Q-ship Asterion and then on the USS Atlas, an LST. He rarely spoke of the war. Even when asked direct questions, he would only offer up a phrase or two about the fine men with whom he served.

Incredibly, this year my brother located an actual “secret” US Fleet file for the Atlas written just after the landings at Utah Beach. He found it posted at the USS Atlas page on facebook of all places. Characterized as the “Chronological Narrative of Operations through June 17, 1944,” the document comprises 14 pages of log entries and briefs.  Even without embellishment, it reads “scary”… unknown planes overhead, bombs dropping, communication failures, and big guns being fired without authorization. The following comment made toward the end of the document gives needed context:


The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906

May 30, 2014 • Deirdre Black

Recently posted at the Library of Congress website is a collection of rare films of New York City . The collection is called The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906 and contains forty-five films of New York dating from 1898 to 1906. Twenty-five of these films were made by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company and the remaining twenty by Edison Company productions.

The films are silent and most last no longer than a few minutes.  Regardless, each provides a wonderful glimpse of  New York’s bygone days.  You can see see immigrants landing, people shopping at street markets, and fire brigades on the move. There are buildings being torn down, skyscrapers going up, and men generally working in dangerous situations. There are pirates scuffling with police, newspaper boys brawling over news bundles, and what happened on 23rd Street is simply hilarious (and predates a similar scene with Marilyn Monroe by about 50 years).

Above all, the films provide a richness and authenticity of life as it was lived in that City… from the views and the articles of clothing to the hustle and bustle of activities and horse drawn carts.

Century old Antarctic images discovered in Captain Scott’s hut.

May 21, 2014 • Deirdre Black

Somehow I missed the December 2013 announcement of the discovery of 22 negatives taken 100 years ago during Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Ross Sea Party in Antarctica. The negatives were found in expedition photographer Herbert Ponting’s darkroom which is located at Captain Scott’s last expedition base at Cape Evans. They have been conserved and made available by New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust.  Enlarged versions of five of the best of the images appear at My Modern Met.

Shipping laws

May 13, 2014 • Deirdre Black

I am surprised to learn about items that cannot be legally shipped to certain countries.

  • Bulgaria: musical greeting cards
  • Canada: margarine and substitute butters
  • France: saccharin in any form
  • Haiti: jewelry
  • Italy: bells and musical instruments (or even parts of them)
  • Spain, Madagascar, and Thailand: decks of playing cards
  • Vietnam: mosquito nets

I suspect that the basis for some of these laws lies far enough in the past to be unknown to most living people… not unlike the 1920s-era Jones Act that requires all goods shipped within the United States be transported by American-made and American-manned ships. Hmmmm… seems like an unfair burden to place on Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and all of the U.S. Possessions, eh?