Thursday, May 26, 2016


Fort Smith, Arkansas in the northwest part of the state is a town named after its main reason for being – as a U.S. military fort to help maintain order on the frontier. From the nineteenth century until the turn of the twentieth century, Fort Smith was a raucous border town right on the edge of Indian territories in nearby Oklahoma. It was what you may imagine as the “Wild West.” Lawlessness was prevalent and men outnumbered ladies by a significant number.

 Seven brothels or houses of ill repute were bounded by the Arkansas River on one side and the rail lines on the other. In fact, the girls were permitted to stay only within this red light business district and not allowed to roam the town. Until outlawed by ordinance in 1924, the brothel industry was open and controlled by the town.

 The story is told that in 1903 Laura Ziegler borrowed money from a respectable banker to open a new, quite elegant brothel – complete with burgundy carpeting, gold-flocked wallpaper and a player piano. The forest green house with cream trim was a simple but elegant example of Victorian architecture with a mansard roof trimmed with wrought iron. Each of the nine girls operated out of a well-furnished attractive room. The state issued licenses and medical check-ups were given to the workers. Patrons from all classes and occupations frequented the flourishing bordello – enjoying gambling, dancing, and occasional bathtub champagne.

 Miss Laura, the madam, was an excellent marketer. She gave tokens to the frequent “flyer”, and when he reached six, she gave him a token allowing him free choice of any girl in the house.

 However, by 1910 the golden days had passed. Prostitution was seen as a shady business. Miss Laura’s House had passed its prime. As it declined, the elegant building was abandoned and decayed. As it stood on the brink of being demolished in 1963, Donald Reynolds, a wealthy local businessman, purchased the house to save it from the wrecking ball and to preserve this part of Fort Smith’s history.

Fast forward -- 1973 Laura’s House was selected for the National Register of Historic Places. 1992 it reopened with offices upstairs for the Fort Smith Visitor Center. As the volunteer guides say, “Our brothel still caters to out-of-towners.” Miss Laura’s is open to visitors and still takes care of them but not as well as they used to!
A Room Upstairs

Entertaining in the Parlor

The Madam

Frequent Flyer Token


1776 -- During the American Revolution, the colonial forces often fought as makeshift troops, usually under the command of foreign-born officers.

 1802 -- As soon as the United States was established, the Federalists saw a need to train American officers – to lead troops in war and to defend the newly independent country. Jefferson opposed the creation of a military academy until he became President and saw that his Constitutional responsibilities required the creation of a military academy. In the first years of his administration, Jefferson pressed for the creation of the US Military Academy at West Point, on a defensible bend and narrowing in New York’s Hudson River.

 1803 -- President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France and America doubled in size and now had much more land to explore and potentially to control. As part of its westward expansion, the American military leaders saw the need to build forts on the country’s frontier.

 In 1819 -- Pioneering soldiers were sent to establish an isolated outpost and build a fort in very western Arkansas at the junction of the muddy Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, which earlier French fur trappers had named Belle Point. These soldiers were sent to temper the conflict between the native Osage and the newly arrived Cherokee tribes. Struggling to survive without the support of reinforcements or provisions from the east was just a daunting a task as moderating the conflict between the tribes. From the start, the American people lived in conflict with the native Indian population.

In 1830 -- under President Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act – sending the southeast Indian tribes to frontier lands west of the Mississippi. With this brutal removal, Fort Smith became an important stopping point on what came to be known as the “Trail of Tears,” as the Indians of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole Nations were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. Their emptied, rich lands were now available to white plantation owners for cotton production, the cash crop of the South. Later, some members of these slave-holding Indian tribes fought with the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Rebuilt in 1838 -- the second Fort Smith, relocated several hundred yards from the first, served primarily as a supply depot. In the days before Walmart was founded in nearby Bentonville, Arkansas, Fort Smith continued to serve as a supply hub -- for white settlers moving west in the mid-nineteenth century and for the more distant army encampments in the southwest which enforced territorial law, protected the settlers migrating west and kept control of the Indians.

1872-1896 -- As the need for a fort declined, Fort Smith became the seat of the Federal Court for the western district of Arkansas. Military force was no longer needed. Now the “wild west” was being brought to order by Judge Isaac Parker who enforced the rule of law supported by hundreds of deputy marshals.
Bob at 1819 Fort Wall Foundations

A Cherokee Confederate Officer

Judge Isaac Parker's Courtroom

Territorial Prison for Outlaws

Paddy Wagon

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


When the Little Rock Arkansas School Board was ready in 1927 to build two high schools – one for their white and another for their black students, they relied on the 1896 Supreme Court ruling, Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the principle “separate but equal.” First
Central High, Little Rock, AR

Students Escorted by Military

Justice Thurgood Marshall on Supreme Court Steps with some of the Little Rock Nine

the Board began to allocate funds for the new white Central High School, a massive building with auditorium, cafeteria, two classroom wings, all built to the latest specifications. When they completed their planning, guess what?! No funds were left to construct Dunbar High for their black students. No surprise. Foundations supported by the Rockefellers and Rosenwalds did step in and provide funds for a high school for black students. Underfunded, ten in a science classroom would share in dissecting one frog; while at Central there was one frog per student. Textbooks and supplies came from Central High; what they discarded when their books were upgraded. And then, some of the white students wrote racial epithets in the books that were to be given to Dunbar.

 And so it went until 1954 when, in the case Brown vs. Board of Education, the Warren Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black and white students were inherently unequal and called for a remedy “with all deliberate speed.” Three years later in 1957 a plan was developed to begin desegregating the schools of Little Rock. While Virgil Blossom, the superintendent of schools had proposed beginning integration at kindergarten, the decision was made to begin with Central High School with the intent of extending integration down to the lower grades over time. The thought was that high school students would be more able to handle it -- clearly an ill-conceived plan.

Integration would alter more than 90 years of the Jim Crow experience for blacks and whites in the South, which had led to “separate but equal” schools. In Little Rock, the burden of the school integration effort was borne by nine brave “colored” teenagers who were the first to break the racial barrier in the face of massive opposition by the dominant white population. Leadership to effectuate peaceful change in Arkansas was totally absent at the state level, and in fact was fully opposed by Governor Orval Faubus who brought the weight of the state against the effort.

On September 2, 1957 Gov. Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to bar the African-American students from the school “for their safety.” On a televised broadcast, he stated that he had heard that whites were coming from all around the state to oppose integration. And of course, as predicted, the mob appeared. This mob of white students and parents, augmented by those from around the state who adamantly opposed integration, harassed Elizabeth Eckford as she was turned away from the school. The angry scene was captured on television, the new medium of communication; no longer was such news just a local issue.

A federal judge ruled against the use of National Guard troops to block the black students from entering the school. The local police were then given the responsibility of protecting the students. On September 23, when the students re-entered, the police, inadequate in numbers and in commitment, lost control, and this too appeared on TV nationwide. Taking a leadership role, President Eisenhower then federalized the Arkansas National Guard and added 1200 troops from 101st Airborne to enforce the law, firmly stating, “You are free to disagree with the law, but you are not free to disobey it.” On September 25, all nine students entered Little Rock High School protected by armed soldiers who remained on duty until November when local forces again took over.

All during the year, the Little Rock Nine, as they were now called, endured daily verbal and physical abuse in classrooms, the lunchroom and the hallways. But, ever so bravely, they persisted. Ernest Green, the only senior in the group, despite the admonition of the principal not to appear at graduation, proudly walked across the broad stage in his cap and gown on May 25, 1958. 

The segregationists continued to resist and used a local referendum to close its high school rather than accept integration. Unbelievably, Little Rock Central High School and Dunbar High School closed their doors for the entire 1958-59 school year. But the schools were ordered to open, again by a federal court, for the 1959-60 school year. In 1960, with the atmosphere remaining toxic, the schools reopened, but now only three black students matriculated at Central High School. In the end, we must thank those brave young students, the Little Rock Nine, the first to break the color barrier in Arkansas, for so much of the progress towards the racial equality we have seen since then.

What happened to these brave few? All graduated from high school, from college, and some earned a graduate degree. All were successful in their chosen professions— teaching, nursing, and engineering. All, save one who had passed away, came together in 2007 to mark a 50th reunion of their brave, groundbreaking entry into Central High School.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


 The Clinton Presidential Center is a dramatic building in downtown Little Rock sitting on the suitably named -- President Clinton Street. Particularly noteworthy are the design, the organization of the president’s story, and the way that Bill Clinton permeates every aspect of his presidential museum. As well he should.

 Clinton selected a site near the river market district of Little Rock overlooking the Arkansas River hoping to revitalize this area – now home to a convention center, many little shops and restaurants, as well as the historic, magnificently furnished Capital Hotel. Clinton wanted the architectural design of the center to reflect his 1996 campaign slogan -- “a bridge to the 21st century.” And so, overhanging its foundation with long linear supports, the Center calls to mind elements of a true bridge. Immediately adjacent to the Clinton Library and Museum and visible through its many glass walls is a rusted, wrought iron railroad bridge that crosses the Arkansas River. Dating back to 1898, when this trestle bridge was built, it was a metaphor for an earlier transition – one to the 20th century.

When you enter the Clinton Center, for $3.00 you can carry a recording device that gives more information about 33 numbered stops on the tour route. And who is your guide -- Bill Clinton himself. You feel that he is right there with you, pointing with pride to the challenges he faced and the problems he solved in his administration – welfare to work, NAFTA, Kosovo, and so many more. His tone is very folksy and not pompous. You really remember how likeable he was.

The museum is designed into eight alcoves – with photos, videos, analysis – for each year of Clinton’s presidency, 1992-2000. In the center of each alcove, you walk on a hooked rug with the official seal of the president of the United States. Towers of Clinton’s official papers serve as pillars dividing alcove from alcove. These blue boxes of papers are just a fragment of his total official papers, the ones that already have been released by the National Archives for storage in his presidential library.

A complete replica of the Clinton Oval Office is a treasure. On the walls, Clinton hung portraits of Truman, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln. Family snapshots, elegant sofas, favorite statuary and more decorated the Oval Office. A focal point of this room is an accurately carved replica of the president’s Resolute desk, telling a special story about America’s relationship with England. The British Arctic exploration ship, HMS Resolute, was part of an 1852 expedition to locate a lost mariner, Sir John Franklin. The ship was caught in the Arctic ice and abandoned in May 1854. Not long thereafter it was discovered and extricated by an American whaling captain. The salvaged ship was then purchased, outfitted and sent back to England as a gift for Queen Victoria. When the ship was fully retired, Queen Victoria ordered an English craftsman to carve a very ornate partners (opening on both sides) desk from oak timbers from the Resolute. In 1880, she presented it to the American President Rutherford Hayes. While it had often been in use within the White House, Jackie Kennedy relocated the Resolute desk into the Oval Office for her husband, Jack. President Bill Clinton treasured the British gift as his working desk during his two terms in office.

 Leaving the Clinton Presidential Center, one forgets the conflicts in
Clinton Presidential Center

RR Bridge from Clinton Library

1898 Railroad Bridge Across the Arkansas River

Pillar of Presidential Papers


Resolute Desk in Oval Office

his administration. Rather, one comes away remembering the feelings of optimism of the 1990’s, Clinton’s warm and direct manner, and the collaborative political skills he used in bringing our nation into the 21st century.

Monday, May 23, 2016


VICKSBURG   5/21/2016
 General Pemberton surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863, the same day that General Meade defeated Lee at Gettysburg. Although Gettysburg is remembered as the high tide of the Confederacy, the victory at Vicksburg was even more significant as it cut the Confederacy in two, opened the deep south to invading northern armies, and gave the Union full control of the entire Mississippi River as “it now flowed unvexed to the sea.” (A. Lincoln)

Early in the Civil War, Lincoln determined that Vicksburg was “the key” to military success because the city controlled the Mississippi River. The war can never be brought to a close “until that key in our pocket.” General Ulysses Grant was charged to achieve this crucial objective. Whereas Grant was frequently accused of indifference to the loss of life in leading his armies, the Vicksburg campaign illustrates how excellent a general Grant was —a master of logistics, maneuver, deception, and ultimately siege warfare. Though men died and were wounded, he accomplished his goal with minimum loss of life on both sides.

Ultimate irony is evident in the 1,800 acres of the Vicksburg Military Park. By the time Grant and his armies enveloped Vicksburg in an ever tightening noose, the northern victory was essentially assured. Along the sharp cliffs and ravines surrounding Vicksburg, one sees the remnants of the handiwork of the military engineers -- roads, trenches, tunnels, cannon emplacements and earthen forts of differing shapes – variously called redoubts, redans, and lunettes. However, by the time these were built, the battle was essentially over.

The real question was how did the two opposing armies get to these places to carry out their final moves. And in those details we see the brilliance of Grant as a military strategist. The outcome was in large part determined by Grant’s collaboration with the Union inland navy. Working with Rear Admiral David Porter, Grant made a daring decision to steam ironclad, armed barges down the river in the dark of night directly under the Confederate guns of the city. No visible battlefield as with Pickett’s charge or Little Round Top at Gettysburg, only disappearing wakes made in the muddy waters of the great river as the boats went from the north to south, bypassing the city’s cannon. No monuments are in the water, no special heroes except for the sailors who did their jobs with this nighttime passage under enemy bombardment.

In the days after these gunboats safely passed Vicksburg, Grant used them to transport 50,000 men across the Mississippi to the eastern shore so that he could approach Vicksburg from the east, its rear. Following a few relatively limited military engagements with Confederate troops in the region surrounding Vicksburg, Grant approached and then surrounded the city.

Once Grant was east of the river, Vicksburg was his--- rather than risking a major battle with great losses, he used an age-old military strategy and laid siege to the city. After forty-seven days of being encircled without new supplies, the Confederate army surrendered. The battlefield park tells that very last part of the story; but the essential story of the small ironclad boats is told only in the current of the river. And the story of Grant’s maneuvers throughout Mississippi itself as he created the conditions to carry out the siege is told in the hundred of miles of surrounding countryside. 


On geology….. Vicksburg is situated on 300 foot high bluffs on the eastern shore of the Mississippi. From this vantage point it overlooks and controls the river. These bluffs were unusually impenetrable because the loess soil of this area falls layer upon layer building up cliffs that are steeper and have a higher angle of repose than hilly lands in the east. In other words, the land holds firm at a steeper pitch, while elsewhere the top layer would slide down and present a more gradual angle. These steep bluffs were formidable obstacles to advancing armies and gave a major assist to the defenders.

On the ironclad boats at the battle for Vicksburg…… James Eads, engineer and owner of a ship building yard in nearby Illinois, was given a contract by the war department to construct seven ironclads. The boats were to be completed within 100 days or a penalty of $200 a day was levied. Amazingly, Eads delivered them all within this very short time frame. He named the ships for towns on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

If feasible, a boat would tow a coal barge at its side to meet the enormous fuel requirements for its steam powered engines. Temperatures below deck could reach 120 degrees. Men slept where they could hang their rope hammocks.

The Confederacy had only a few ships for naval battle on the rivers and most were destroyed well before the battle for Vicksburg. However, they did design an anti-ship mine, then called a torpedo, by loading explosives into a glass bottle with a fuse held on shore. They hit and successfully sunk the Cairo (one of Eads’ boats) with two mines but no loss of life.

For over 100 years, the Cairo sat untouched at the bottom of the Mississippi until 1964 when a park manager decided to search for the sunken hull. He successfully located it by traveling in a wooden boat and using a compass to detect the presence of iron beneath the surface. Then the troubles really began – how to lift the silt-covered hull from the riverbed? After many failed attempts, the ship was raised in three sections, brought to a shipyard in Pascagoula, MS, and prepared for display at the Vicksburg battlefield. The original steam engines were reassembled. The timbers from the hull were salvaged in their weathered condition. Artifacts raised with the ship were well preserved and prepared for displayed in the adjacent museum.

This completes the tale of the naval and land forces taking Vicksburg for the North. Vicksburg became a free city for escaping slaves. The northern victory marked a critical turning point in the Civil War as the Union cut the confederacy in two, opened the south to the Union armies and, controlled the essential inland waterway of the great Mississippi River. After Vicksburg, Grant was ordered east by Lincoln to be the commanding general for all the Union forces.

For an overview of the battle for Vicksburg……..
Union re-enactors on the battlefield

View of bluff with deep ravine between the Confederate and Union lines.

Eads' Ironclads

Razed hull of the Cairo

Reconstructed Paddle Wheel and Drive Rod

Original Timbers with Long Iron Rod

Artifacts Salvaged from the Cairo Wreck
Leaving Vicksburg, Crossing the Mississippi to Louisiana

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Front Rose Parlor

Entry Gate

Octagonal Foyer

Gold Parlor

Senate Chamber - Secession Convention

Q.  Why was Jackson chosen to be the capital of the state of Mississippi?

A.  Access to transportation is a critical factor in determining the growth and importance of cities. In the 19th century, waterways and rail lines were the chief means of moving goods and people. Jackson was located where the north-south and east-west rail lines crossed in Mississippi. 

Q.  What was budgeted at $10,000, and upon completion cost $50,000 and has been continuously occupied since 1841?

A.  The Mississippi Governor’s Mansion

Q.  Were the governors of Mississippi always housed in the mansion?

A.  No, during the Civil War the governor’s mansion was used as a hospital facility to treat casualties from both the Confederacy and the Union forces.

Q.  Why does the mansion look so good when it’s close to 175 years old?

A.  In 1841, the Mississippi legislature appropriated funds to build “a suitable house for the governor.” William Nichols of Bath of England designed the original building. Architectural historians consider the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion to be one of the finest examples of Greek Revival style in the United States. Intermittently the state legislature allocated funds for repair and renovation, but never enough. Structural deterioration practically led to the demolition of the mansion. When the current residents, Governor Phil Bryant and his wife Deborah, were first elected in 2012, they took on a necessary and enormous project – remodeling the Governor’s Mansion starting with its leaking clay pipes. Walls of the 175 year-old house had to be taken down to tackle moisture, mildew, and other forces of decay. To do all this and restore the house in an authentic way, a curator removed and marked every individual crystal piece on the many chandeliers so that, like a puzzle, the beautiful fixtures could be reassembled many months later. Where needed, restoration specialists were hired to preserve the mansion for posterity.

Q.  What may be the most important artifact preserved in the Governor’s Mansion?

A.   A dial wall phone where Governor Ross Barnett received multiple calls from President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy to pave the way for James Meredith to enroll in the University of Mississippi, integrating the school for the first time. On Sunday, September 30, 1962, James Meredith was escorted onto the campus of Ole Miss by a convoy of federal marshals. After Meredith was settled in a dormitory, rioting broke out which Barnett, contrary to his promise to the Kennedys, failed to control with his state police. Federal troops intervened and Meredith enrolled on Monday, October 1 as originally planned. Kennedy, while on national television to announce that Meredith was on the campus, said, “Americans are free to disagree with the law, but not disobey it.” Jim Crow days were coming to an end and all Americans could gain access to an equal education, not “separate but equal” parallel tracks for blacks and whites. The Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. the Board of Education of 1954 brought about another step to equality of opportunity.

OLD CAPITOL BUILDING, 1839-1903 restored to house a museum of Mississippi history.

Q.  What is the most important meeting that took place in its walls?

A.  The Mississippi Secession Convention met in the Senate chamber of the old Capitol building in January 1861. At first, the members drafted the Causes of Secession declaring their independence based on a list of grievances against the United States. Next, after days of deliberations, they drew up and voted for an Ordinance of Secession, thereby becoming the second state to secede from the Union. Later, Jefferson Davis, who lived near Jackson, became the President of the Confederate States.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

BELLINGRATH Gardens & Home, Theodore, AL May 19, 2016

BELLINGRATH Gardens and Home, Theodore, Alabama

The story of an American entrepreneur, magnificent flowers in bloom, the flowing Fowl River, an estuary off of Mobile Bay, and a 10,000 square foot home filled with silver, 19th century porcelain, are all parts of the Bellingrath experience. At the turn of the 20th century, Walter Bellingrath, the teenage son of a German immigrant metalworker, was working for the railway as a telegraph operator. His monthly salary amounted to $87. Then he heard of a business opportunity that involved an investment of $1500. Coca-Cola, located in nearby Atlanta, Georgia, was offering the bottling franchise for the state of Alabama. He could only scrape together this much money by including his brother as a partner.

 Once he owned the franchise, Walter labored hard every day into the late afternoon and evenings, when he would collect the used bottles, rush them back to the bottling plant to be sterilized and refilled, to be sold again tomorrow. Coke was very popular in Alabama’s hot climate where the purity of water supplies could also be suspect.

 In 1917, on the recommendation of his doctor who made a diagnosis of “overwork”, Walter bought a fishing camp which his wife saw as an ideal place for a family country home modeled after those they had seen on their travels in England. She had much more in mind than just a fishing camp, and so Walter turned his focus from fish to architectural and garden design. With his grand vision, in 1927 he planned a transformation of his primitive fishing camp into a country estate.

 The Bellingraths reused building materials from other places, especially nearby Mobile, to enhance the architectural design of the home. Magnificent wrought iron balconies, fencing, and benches came from the demolished Southern Hotel in Mobile built in 1837. Handmade bricks came from a stately home about to be taken down. Flagstone garden pathways were composed of material that had originally served as ballast in sailing vessels that transported loads of cotton from Mobile to the mills in Manchester, England.

Since 1932, the Bellingraths had opened their 65 acre their botanic gardens to the public. Here, seasonally one could enjoy the exuberant colors and scents of flowers, greens and flowering bushes --- azaleas, impatiens, marigolds, vinca, pansies, chrysanthemums, to name a few.

Upon his death Mr. Bellingrath established a foundation to help maintain the gardens and country mansion “as a fitting and permanent memorial to my wife.” Included in his philanthropy was support for his family’s church and a few local colleges including Stillman College, a historically black liberal arts college in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Although the house and gardens are supported by a foundation Walter established on his death, the estate still requires visitor support through entrance fees. With these numbers diminishing over the recent years, one may wonder (and worry) whether an attraction such as this will survive into the next generations.

I do want to thank my brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Rozanna Levine, for giving us the travel tip which led us to visit the Bellingrath Gardens & Home from our overnight stay in Mobile.
Old ad for Coca-Cola

Formal dining room, largest room in the house

Mirror Lake, a dammed creek

Fowl River -- slate walkway 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Blue Angels Diamond Formation

Flight Deck mock up with real Fresnel Lenses

Catapult attached to launch fighter plane

Carrier Ready Room
Pensacola Naval Air Museum

 Our first stop on our road trip was in Pensacola FL to see the National Naval Air Museum, one of the premiere military museums in the country. Here one could follow the evolution of naval air power from its beginnings before WWI through our current struggles in the Middle East and beyond. As part of the museum stop, we sat in viewing stands to see a practice show by the renowned Blue Angels who flew six F-18 Hornets at 500 to 700 mph in diamond, fingertip, and echelon formations--- sometimes with only 18 inches between wingtips! I need more space than that to park my car. But, back to the message of the museum.

 The Aircraft Carrier is an amazing tool of war and, more important, peace through strength. Consider the carrier as a fully operational air base with about 5,000 personnel representing a full cross-section of the American people. The carrier, by its very presence in whatever ocean, is a symbol of American military might and commitment to maintain world order.

 Although we saw many planes and heard the stories of many campaigns, most memorable was the ½ hour we spent with a museum docent, a retired Marine pilot, Lt Col. Jerry Geil, who, in his younger days, flew the A-6 Intruder off a carrier deck. He led us through the intricate ballet that takes place with the launch of every aircraft and its retrieval. He described the role of all the enlisted men and women, many barely 19 years old -- the yellow jackets, the green jackets and the rest who took responsibility for the launch and retrieval of the airplane from the carrier deck. He flexed his body, waved his arms, raised his hands to illustrate the essential message that each particular crewman needed to communicate at the stage in the launch for which he was responsible. As explained, it became an incomparably beautiful ballet with a pilot’s life hanging in the balance depending fully on the right signal at the right time. No moments of indecision possible in this incredibly brief time frame. Amazing responsibility for anyone so young---but also so committed and so well trained. 

The mechanics of the catapult, the attachment to this mechanical sling shot, its release, the aeronautics of landing with the Fresnel lenses, the holding wires on the deck, and the rushed retrieval to a safe location off the carrier runway are mindboggling. In barely two seconds, the catapult shoots the plane forward at 180 mph across the carrier deck. Most telling was the concept that the 5,000 personnel on this carrier had a sole purpose of taking good care of the 80 or so pilots responsible for carrying out the carrier’s mission. Everything each one of them did from greasing the pistons on the catapult to baking bread, from maintaining the Fresnel lenses to working in the laundry, each and every task was directed at keeping the pilot as the point of the spear, prepared, in the air and safe. A true team effort and organizational masterpiece.

A final thought: Our guide pointed out that our military has been severely depleted by the political action of sequestration.