Saturday, July 27, 2013

Society Saturday - Embracing the Unknown

Just before the start of the Daughters of American Revolution Continental Congress is the Illinois Supper.  This is always a well attended event.  Our speaker this year was Dr. Sandra Magnus.  Dr. Magnus is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics.  She traveled on several space shuttle missions and lived aboard the international space station for 4 months. 

Dr. Magnus gave a very interesting speech summarizing some of her experiences.  She talked about how what we think we know may not be how it really is.  One example that she gave was about gravity.  On her first shuttle mission, she expected to deal with weightlessness after liftoff, but the true experience was not as expected.  Similar examples about re-experiencing gravity when whe came back to earth.  After spending months in space, she learned that her body had forgotten how to jump.  In her words, "If you don't use it, you will lose it".


All in all, she kept emphasizing that we should "Embrace the Unknown - Don't let the fear of the unknown keep you from learning something new"

This was a good start to the 122nd Annual Continental Congress.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Society Saturday - America's 14th Colony

After the business meeting of National Society Children of American Colonists, we headed off to explore the city of St. Augustine itself.  We boarded a trolley for an informative tour of the city.

The cross in the background marks the site of Ponce de Leon's landing 500 years ago.

The gates to the old city - now a tourist zone.

Castillo San Marcos 

At night, we held our Candlelight Banquet.  Despite the air-conditioning not working in the meeting room, it was quite enjoyable.  Our speaker was Dr. Gary Smith, a local historian who told us about America's 14th (and 15th) colonies.  These were east and west Florida and they actually played a bigger role in the American Revolution than most people realize.  George Washington realized the strategic importance of St. Augustine, as did the British.  Florida itself was a prime location because it was right in the middle of the 34 British colonies.  After the American Patriots won the Revolutionary War, many loyalists found refuge in East Florida.

After our speaker, installations were conducted.  Congratulations to Mitchell Clouse, the new National President and to Dr. Charlene Herreid, the new President General.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Society Saturday - America's Oldest City

Do you know which city this is?  No, its not Plymouth (as taught to school children).  Nor is it Jamestown (the oldest in the 13 colonies).  America's oldest city is actually St. Augustine, Florida founded almost 450 years ago in 1565 by Menendez.  In fact, Florida is celebrating its 500th birthday - Ponce de Leon "discovered" Florida in 1513.

This year, the National Society Children of American Colonists met in St. Augustine for their 73rd annual General Assembly.  This meeting is always a lot of fun, because we travel to different cities every year and learn about the local history of each.

The fort can only be reached by ferry.  

We started off with a visit to Fort Matanzas, south of the city.  Matanzas means massacre or slaughter.  The river is so named because in 1565, Pedro Menendez  killed off a group of French Protestants (Huguenots) who were shipwrecked at the mouth of the river, unless they would convert to catholicism.  Even those who converted were killed later when the Spanish realized they didn't have enought supplies for all of them.

Some of our members touring the fort.

This fort was built in 1742 to protect the "back door" into St. Augustine along the Matanzas River. The Fort itself is uniquely made.  It is essentially a fortified watch tower made of Coquina (seashells).  The cannon in the fort had a range of about 1/2 mile.  

On Saturday, we had the actual business meeting of the Society.  National President Anthony Panei told of his national project, to help preserve the Little Red School house at St. Clement's Island in Maryland.  CAC members gave their reports prior to heading off to our next tour.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thankful Thursday - The Beaches of Normandy

While in France, we took a side trip to Normandy to see the beaches of Normandy.  While I have family that served during WWII, none were involved in D-day.  Still, we thought this would be an interesting trip to make.

We started out on Gold Beach - one of the beaches that the UK troops landed on.  The beach ( more like a cliff) was protected by Coastal Gun Batteries that could fire on approaching ships.  These concrete structures had been the target of advance air raids by the allies, but were sturdy enough that they withstood the attacks and are still largely intact 69 years later.

Then on to Omaha Beach - a three mile stretch of beach that US troops landed on.  Before the German occupation, as it is now, it is a resort area.  But, between 1940-1944 it was protected by obstacles, mines, and gun batteries.  These gun batteries were different - they fired at a angle to unsuspecting troops to one side or the other.


 Approximately 4000 people were killed on Omaha Beach.  The tide washed up blood and bodies for the next several days.  Because the troops were engaged in fighting, the dead were simply buried in nearby trenches.

We also visited Ponte du Hoc, a 100 foot tall cliff that was taken by the Rangers.  Here there were more Coastal gun batteries.

After the war was over, the dead were reinterred.  The families were given the choice of having the bodies shipped home for burial, or burial at one of the American Cemeteries in Normandy.  We visited one of these cemeteries, where nearly 9400 are buried.

I am thankful for all of those brave men who gave their lives in defense of freedom.  They are truly "The Greatest Generation".

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - Maroc British Cemetery

While in France, we took a detour to the Lens area to find the grave of my great-uncle Victor Hill.

Victor was a Sapper in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Basically, that means he was a trench-digger.  He was digging a trench near Loos at the beginning of the Hill 70 battle when he was killed by an explosive.

Hill 70 was part of a series of battles to take back the mining area of Lens from the German forces.  It began on the field, and ended in hand-to-hand fighting in the nearby town of Lens.  The Canadians lost over 1500 men during this battle which lasted from 15-25 August 1917.

This is what Hill 70 looks like now.  Behind me is an industrial complex, a day care, and a crematorium, and across the highway is a very peaceful field.

Victor was buried in the Maroc British Cemetery in the village of Grenay.  The cemetery was started by French troops in 1915 but became a commonwealth cemetery the following year.

Victor is buried there in plot III.G.16.

It is a peaceful cemetery right in the middle of the town.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Military Monday - Canadian National Vimy Memorial

We visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial south of Vimy, France.  

The monument honors all Canadians who fought during WWI, including the 60,000 who were killed in battle.  Sadly, 11,168 of those have no known grave.  Their names are inscribed along the base of this monument.

The Memorial sits on the Vimy Ridge site of a successful attack by the Canadian Expeditionary Force in April 1917.  The ground itself (290 acres) is a gift from the people of France in appreciation for the sacrifice of the Canadians.

The Monument itself consists of 2 pylons standing 30 feet from the base.  Because this is on a hill, it can be seen from several miles away.  One pylon represents Canada, the other represents France.

Two figures between the pylons represent a dying soldier passing the torch to his comrade.

Looking out over the battlefield is "Mother Canada".

The remainder of the site is a peaceful forest with sheep and goats grazing.  There are many small hills, which on closer inspection are actually made by explosives.  In fact, the monument took nearly 11 years to erect, largely because the area needed to be cleared of active explosives.

There are also several reconstructed trenches that can be seen near the visitor center.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Society Saturday - N.S.C.A.R. National Convention

Every year in April, the National Society Children of the American Revolution holds its National Convention near Washington DC.  Approximately 500 children and adults from across the USA come to Crystal City for this annual meeting.  Members of N.S.C.A.R. are age 0-21, after that, they "age out".  Each member Officer or Chairman has a corresponding "Senior" (age 22 and above) to help guide them in their office. 

The National President Greg Thorne conducted the meeting which spans 4 days and includes 3 board meetings, 3 general sessions, a banquet and a pilgrimage.  Member officers and chairmen give their reports, vote on bylaws changes, and elect new officers for the coming year. 

Greg's theme was Saratoga - The Turning Point, and his project was to fund a depiction of Trumbull's Sword Surrender scene at Saratoga, NY. 

Illinois members gather before the banquet

The annual pilgrimage occurs on Sunday and consists of a wreath laying at the tomb of the unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, a wreath laying at Mount Vernon, installation of newly elected officers, and a memorial service.
National President Greg Thorne and Senior National President Hans Jackson place the wreath at Arlington

New National Officers are installed on the lawn at Mount Vernon.

Congratulations to Miss Caitlin Collins, the newly elected National President who will lead the organization over the next year.
Newly installed National Officers, all from Illinois - Corresponding Secretary Amanda Nagy, 
National President Caitlin Collins, State President Callah McLeod.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Motivation Monday - Working in the DAR Library

During the recent Continental Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I spent some time working in the DAR library as a Volunteer Balcony Genie.  I helped ladies with some of their genealogical problems.   The library was packed, as it always is during Congress.

Looking up, we could see the beautiful lay lights.  These panes were recently restored as a major project of the DAR.