My great grandfather, Cornelius Byer was a kind and a fair man. He was generous and honest. It was these qualities that earned him the respect of the Indian tribes in the Gordon, Nebraska area. Great Grandpa passed away on October 23, 1930, but the celebration of life, really began before the day of the funeral, and even before he passed away. Over the years of his life, my great grandfather became a great friend of the Indians. He was invited to their pow wows, he was asked his opinions on things…and they listened when he spoke. He was helpful to the Indian tribes, and they, in turn treated him with great respect.
The Indians would often show up at his home…something that would most likely panic most people. Most often the women and children would stay outside, while the men went in to visit with Great Grandpa. It was another show of respect. The Indians often camped near the house when the men were visiting. I’m sure it was a very interesting lifestyle for my grandmother.
While all that was interesting, probably the most interesting thing happened as Great Grandpa was dying and after his passing. When he lay dying, the Indians came…long lines of them. Each one, including the women and children, passed by his bed. They spoke words of respect and admiration. I’m sure it took hours, but none were turned away. Great Grandma knew how much they loved him, and how much they needed to say goodbye. I would love to have had the chance to see that scene. These were two groups of people who normally didn’t get along, and yet they showed so much love and respect for one another. There was no warring with, no stealing from, no depriving of one another. There was simply love and respect. I’m sure it made my Great Grandmother Edna (Fishburn) Byer and their children feel very safe over the years.
My grandfather, George Byer arrived at the homestead on October 20, 1930. My grandmother, Hattie Byer stayed home with their newborn daughter, Virginia, who was just 4 months old at the time. Grandpa brought almost 2 year old Evelyn with him. His letter at the time said that all the children were there, or soon would be. Three days later, Great Grandpa Cornelius Byer passed away. I’m so glad my grandpa got to see his dad before he passed. When it was time to have the funeral, they would have to travel into Gordon, Nebraska. We would never think of transporting our own loved one to the funeral, but those were different times. Nevertheless, the Indians would not leave their dear friend to go alone. With the casket in a wagon, and his son driving, Great Grandpa went to his funeral. Little Evelyn sat in the back of the wagon, wide-eyed in wonder as a long line of Indians followed the procession to the cemetery. In death, as in life, their respect for this man, who was my great grandfather, was on display. I can’t think of a greater honor than this. Cornelius Byer was truly loved and respected by all who knew him.
In World War II, my dad, Allen Spencer was the Flight Engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17. The B-17 was an amazing plane. Strategic bombing missions actually began at the tail end of World War I, And the big world powers knew that they needed to develop bomber fleets that could handle this new kind of bombing mission, because if they did not, they would be vulnerable to the evil nations who did develop such bombers. During the month of August 1934, in anticipation of rising tensions in the Pacific, the US Army Air Corps proposed a new multi-engine bomber that would replace the outdated Martin B-10. They put out the challenge and Boeing decided to get into the competition. The plan for this bomber was to provide reinforcement to bases in Hawaii, Alaska, and Panama.
Enter the B-17 Flying Fortress. Boeing competed against both Martin and Douglas for the contract to build 200 units of such a bomber, but failed to deliver, as the first B-17 Flying Fortress crashed. Nevertheless, the Air Corps loved the design so much that they ordered 13 units for further evaluation and analysis. After a string of tests, it was introduced in 1938. The B-17 was now the prime bomber for all kinds of bombing raids. The prototype B-17 Bomber was built at the company’s own expense and was a fusion of the features of Boeing XB-15 and Boeing 247 Transport Aircraft. Initially, it could carry a payload of 4850 pounds along with 5x .30-inch machine guns. The 4x Hornet Radial Engines could produce 750 HP at 2100 meters. It was a tremendous machine. A reporter from the Seattle Times would nickname it The Flying Fortress…a name that stuck, even if he didn’t know how very accurate he was.
As World War II heated up, the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into it, and the B-17 Flying Fortress became a staple, used in every single World War II combat zone and by the time production ended in 1945. Boeing along with Douglas and Vega had built 12,731 bombers. When the US 8th Airforce arrived in England in 1942, their sole mission was to destroy Germany’s ability to wage war. They would use any means necessary, from carpet bombing to precision bombing. On August 17th, 1942, eighteen B-17s launched a bombing raid over Nazi-held territory in Europe, hitting railway networks and strategic points. The Luftwaffe was unprepared and didn’t know how to best attack the new planes, but it didn’t take long to improve their tactics. The B-17s suffered losses too. On September 6th, 1943, 400 bombers were sent out to attack a ball-bearing plant, 45 didn’t return. October 4th, 60 out of 291 B-17s sent to the same location were lost. January 11th, 1944, 600 B-17s were sent to various industries. Bad weather kept all but 238 of them on base. Still, 60 were lost. These losses were quite costly when you consider that a single B-17 Flying Fortress would cost $238,329 in 1945. The Luftwaffe quickly perfected their attacks on the B-17 Flying Fortress. Head on proved more fruitful and therefore the Americans developed the term “Bandits at 12 O’clock High” for oncoming Luftwaffe fighters.
Various models of the B-17 Flying Fortress were produced, but the B-17G was the one that was most liked. Almost 9000 B-17Gs were produced, the most of any of the models, because of their superior specs. A B-17G weighed 65,000 pounds and could cruise at a speed of 150 miles per hour, peaking at 287 miles per hour. It could attain a service ceiling of 35,600 feet, and carry a 9600 pounds payload. The four Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines could produce 1200 horse power each! It was one rugged machine. One particular B-17 Bomber survived a bombing mission over Cologne, Germany, and flew back to safety with 180 flak holes and only 2 out of 4 engines in operation. The veteran never forgot, and 75 years later wrote a thank you letter to Boeing. He was thankful to be alive. My dad always felt that way too. Any amount of damage that happens to a plane can mean the difference between crashing and making it home. The B-17 was truly a flying fortress, and on of the best planes to be in. The chances of coming home were better than most.
Santa Barbara, California is a picturesque area with mountains to the east, ocean to the west, and palm trees everywhere. It seems like a perfect kind of paradise, and most of the time it probably is, but on June 29, 1925, many things changed. That morning, a magnitude between 6.5 and 6.8 earthquake hit the area of Santa Barbara. Although no foreshocks were reportedly felt before the mainshock, a pressure gauge recording card at the local waterworks showed disturbances beginning at 3:27am, which were likely caused by minor foreshocks. Then, at 6:44am the mainshock occurred, lasting 19 seconds. The earthquake’s epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Santa Barbara, in the Santa Barbara Channel. It is thought that the fault on which it occurred is an extension of the Mesa fault or the Santa Ynez system. The earthquake was felt from Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County to the north to Santa Ana in Orange County to the south and to Mojave in Kern County to the east. Major damage occurred in the city of Santa Barbara and along the coast, as well as north of Santa Ynez Mountains, including Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys.
Those were 19 seconds that started a disaster of epic proportions. The earthquake was immediately complicated when the dam broke and water mains burst. The earthen Sheffield Dam had been built near the city in 1917. It was 720 feet long and 25 feet high and held 30 million gallons of water. The soil under the dam liquefied during the earthquake and the dam collapsed. This was the only dam to fail during an earthquake in the United States until the Lower San Fernando Dam failed in 1971. When it burst, a wall of water swept between Voluntario and Alisos Streets destroying trees, cars, three houses and flooding the lower part of town to a depth of 2 feet. The rushing water caused some areas of the city to be flattened. People as far away as San Francisco and Los Angeles felt the earthquake, reporting millions of dollars worth of damage across California. The earthquake was even felt in other states as far away as Montana, who reported more damage. The earthquake destroyed the historic center of the city, with damage estimated at $8 million in 1925, or about $117 million today.
Thirteen people lost their lives that day, but it may have been far worse without the actions of three heroes. Those heroes shut off the town gas and electricity preventing a catastrophic fire. Most homes survived the earthquake in relatively good condition, with the exception of the fact that every chimney in the city crumbled. The downtown area of Santa Barbara was in complete ruins. On State Street, the main commercial street, only a few buildings remained standing after the earthquake. The City Cab building, The Californian, and Arlington garages…all large and fully occupied parking structures…collapsed. They were full of cars. Many other vehicles were crushed in the downtown area too. At least one death was the result of the San Marcos building crushing a car, as walls of buildings fell onto cars parked there. In the 36 block business district, only a few structures were not substantially damaged. Many had to be completely demolished and rebuilt. The façade of the church of the Mission Santa Barbara was severely damaged and lost its statues. Many important buildings, including hotels, offices, and the Potter Theater, were lost. The courthouse, jail, library, schools, and churches were among the buildings sustaining serious damage. Concrete curbs buckled in almost every block in Santa Barbara. Pavement on the boulevard along the beach was displaced by about a foot to a foot and a half, but oddly, the pavement in the downtown area was virtually not damaged.
Railroad tracks were damaged in several places between Ventura and Gaviota. In particular, a portion between Naples and Santa Barbara was badly damaged. Seaside bluffs fell into the ocean, and a slight tsunami was felt by offshore ships. The town was completely cut off from telephone and telegraph, and the only source of news was from shortwave radios. Because the gas was shut off, there was an absence of post-earthquake fires. This allowed scientists to study earthquake damage to various types of construction. That was a rare things for the scientists. The American Legion and the Naval Reserves from the Naval Reserve Center Santa Barbara patrolled the streets looking to inhibit looters of the damaged businesses and homes. Additional fire and police personnel arrived from as far as Los Angeles to assist the sailors and soldiers in maintaining order. Three strong aftershocks occurred at 8:00am, 10:45am, and 10:57am, but without further damage. There were many smaller shocks that continued throughout the day. An aftershock on July 3 caused additional cracked walls and damaged chimneys. Since downtown Santa Barbara suffered so much damage, there was a large-scale construction effort in 1925 and 1926 aimed at removing or repairing damaged structures and constructing new buildings. This new construction completely altered the character of the city center. Before the earthquake, a considerable part of the center was built in the Moorish Revival style. After the earthquake, the decision was made to rebuild it in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. This effort was undertaken by the Santa Barbara Community Arts Association, which was founded in the beginning of the 1920s and viewed the earthquake as the opportunity to rebuild the city center in the unified architectural style. As a result, many buildings later listed on National Register of Historic Places were designed in the late 1920s, among them the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the front of the Andalucia Building. Building codes in Santa Barbara were also made more stringent after the earthquake demonstrated that traditional construction techniques of unreinforced concrete, brick, and masonry were unsafe and unlikely to survive strong quakes.
Nurses are the cornerstone of medicine in many cases. Yes, we must have doctors, but nurses are the support system that allows doctors to do their jobs. One such example was a woman named Mary Ann Bickerdyke. She was born on July 19, 1817 in Knox County, Ohio, to Hiram and Annie (Rodgers) Ball. She was married in 1847 to Robert Bickerdyke. The couple and their family moved to Galesburg, Illinois. After her infant daughter died suddenly, she vowed to learn more about medicine, studying herbal medicine at Oberlin College. Mary Ann was widowed in 1859. She was alone and the mother of two sons, who were in their adolescent years.
Widowed just two years before the Civil War began, she supported herself and her sons by practicing as a “botanic physician” in Galesburg. When a young Union volunteer physician wrote home about the filthy, chaotic military hospitals at Cairo, Illinois, the citizens of Galesburg collected $500 worth of supplies and selected Bickerdyke to deliver them. She left her sons with a neighbor, and after seeing the horrible conditions for herself, Bickerdyke decided that she was needed there, so she stayed as an unofficial nurse. Her never ending energy, and her dedication made her just the heroine the Union soldiers needed in those awful war years. She organized the hospitals and cleaned up the filth that served only to breed germs, and in doing so, she gained the respect and appreciation of Ulysses S. Grant.
While there, she worked alongside another famed Civil War Nurse, Mary J. Stafford. When Grant’s army moved down the Mississippi River, Bickerdyke went too, becoming the Chief of Nursing and setting up hospitals where they were needed. Bickerdyke’s goal during the Civil War was to more efficiently care for wounded Union soldiers. She insisted on cleanliness, was dedicated to improving the level of care, and unafraid of stepping on male toes. That, in itself, was almost unheard of in that era. She was adamant about scrubbing every surface in sight, reported drunken physicians, and on one occasion ordered a staff member, who had illegally appropriated garments meant for the wounded, to strip. Though she antagonized male physicians, staff, and soldiers alike, in the name of better patient care, she won most of her battles…a good thing for the wounded soldiers.
Union General William T. Sherman was especially fond of the volunteer nurse who followed the western armies. It is said that she was the only woman he would allow in his camp. When his staff complained about the outspoken, insubordinate female nurse who constantly disregarded the army’s red tape and military procedures, Sherman threw up his hands and exclaimed, “Well, I can do nothing for you, she outranks me.” Running roughshod over anyone who stood in the way of her self-appointed duties, when a surgeon questioned her authority to take some action, she replied, “On the authority of Lord God Almighty, have you anything that outranks that?” I guess Sherman was right when he said that she outranked him.
To the wounded soldiers, Bickerdyke was an angel. They affectionately called her “Mother” Bickerdyke, and she called them her “boys.” The soldiers would cheer here when she appeared. She was more loved than the celebrities of our day are for some fans. During the war, she worked closely with Eliza Emily Chappell Porter of the Northwest Sanitary Commission, worked on the first hospital boat, helped build 300 hospitals and aided the wounded on 19 battlefields including the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Vicksburg, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. When the war was over, she rode at the head of the XV Corps in the Grand Review in Washington at General William T. Sherman’s request. Afterwards, she worked for the Salvation Army in San Francisco, and became an attorney, helping Union veterans with legal issues. Later, she ran a hotel in Salina, Kansas for a time before retiring to Bunker Hill, Kansas. She received a special pension of $25 a month from Congress in 1886. She died peacefully after a minor stroke November 8, 1901. Her remains were transported back to Galesburg, Illinois and she was interred next to her husband at the Linwood Cemetery. In memory of Bickerdyke’s selflessness, a statue of her was erected in Galesburg, Illinois. Two ships…a hospital boat, a liberty ship, and a cemetery in Kansas were named after her.
When the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon, the world waited with unbridled excitement to view the moon rocks they were bringing back. It was an unprecedented event. Never before had man been able to look upon these space rocks. Soon, the astronauts would be treated to a ticker tape parades, and of course, the world tour to tell of their amazing escapades.
However, before all that, the astronauts had to do something that every world traveler understands…go through customs. What??? When I read that, I was stunned. Why would they need to go through customs? It’s not like they went shopping on the moon. Then again, they did bring back something they didn’t take with them…moon rocks, moon dust and other lunar samples, according to the customs form filed at the Honolulu Airport in Hawaii on July 24, 1969…the day the Apollo 11 screw splashed down in the Pacific Ocean to end their historic moon landing mission. Nevertheless, NASA had those almost immediately, didn’t they?
Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins hd to declare the things they brought back, just like everyone else, and they had to declare not only their cargo, but also had to list their flight route as starting Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) in Florida with a stopover on the moon. Then all three men had to sign the form, so everything was legal.
The form was posted to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site in 2009, to mark the Apollo 11 mission’s 40th anniversary. A copy was obtained by SPACE.com and verified by NASA. John Yembrick told SPACE.com that it was indeed authentic, was a little joke at that time, and maybe it was, but the reality is that not much has changed over the years. The big joke was the fact that because Apollo 11 splashed down 920 miles southwest of Hawaii and 13 miles from the USS Hornet, the Navy ship sent to recover the crew. It took two more days for the astronauts to actually return to Hawaii on July 26, where they were welcomed with a July 27 ceremony at Pearl Harbor. So customs was a bit delayed.
Still, the astronauts were trapped inside a NASA trailer as part of a quarantine effort. The concern was the possibility of germs they might have picked up. They had to wear special biological containment suits when they walked out on the deck of the USS Hornet after being retrieved. Then, NASA transported them to Houston, quarantine trailer and all, and they emerged from isolation three weeks later. Today’s returning astronauts exit their spacecraft almost immediately. Some, who have been in space a long time receive medical checks after spending months in the weightlessness of space. Nevertheless, today’s NASA astronauts still have to go through customs, and I still find that quite funny.
They were a part of an elite group…the men who walked on the moon. They had the privilege of going somewhere that few humans would get to go. It was a small group of just twelve men, but only three of the twelve got to walk on the moon twice, and only Captain Gene Cernan got to be the last human being to leave a footprint on the lunar surface. The final words he spoke on the Moon on December 14, 1972 represented everything the Apollo missions stood for. He said, “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind.”
Captain Gene Cernan was the third man to walk in space, one of only three people to go to the Moon twice and the last man to leave a footprint on the lunar surface…the last one!! How amazing is that? Some things are almost to big to imagine, and walking on the moon is one of them for me. The really shocking thing for me is that the last man walked on the moon 45 years ago today…and no human has been there since that day. I wonder how much Captain Cernan has thought about that fact over the last 45 years. I’m sure he has had to tell people about it more times that he can count, too. I suppose it would be strange to have your whole identity to the world be that you were the last man to set foot on the moon, but then again, I think it might be extremely cool too. Now, consider what his wife was thinking those two times her husband was in space and walking on the moon. Well, she has been quoted as saying, “If you think going to the Moon is hard, you should try staying at home.” Yes, I imagine that would be a tough job too, especially after Apollo 13 almost didn’t make it back to Earth.
As for Cernan, he has been said to be sad that the American space program has dwindled into nothing. All the hard work they had done, and all the accomplishments, now seemingly not important. He was quoted as saying, “It was if someone took Columbus’ Santa Maria and said: It’s history – you guys discovered America, let’s take it out and scuttle it. It’s over, you’re not going to go anywhere. To think of what we were capable of doing and now we’ve been told [in a tweet by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin] that if we want to go to our own space station, we’d better get a trampoline – that statement hurt. It hurt me personally.” Yes, it hurts me too, and I have never been to the moon. So how much did it hurt for those twelve men who walked on the moon…Neil Armstrong – Apollo 11 July 21, 1969, Buzz Aldrin -Apollo 11 July 21st, 1969, Pete Conrad – Apollo 12 November 19-20, 1969, Alan Bean – Apollo 12 November 19-20, 1969, Alan Shepard – Apollo 14 February 5-6, 1971, Edgar Mitchell – Apollo 14 February 5-6, 1971, David Scott – Apollo 15 July 31 August 2, 1971, James Irwin – Apollo 15 July 31 August 2, 1971, John W. Young – Apollo 16 April 21st to 23rd, 1972, Charles Duke – Apollo 16 April 21-23, 1972, Harrison Schmitt – Apollo 17 December 11-14, 1972, and lastly Eugene Cernan – Apollo 17 December 11-14, 1972. It’s like having your life’s work thrown away.
When I was a kid, dressing up for Halloween was for kids. Things have changed since then and these days you see lots of adults going to parties, teenagers roaming the streets trick or treating, scaring kids or just acting weird…and of course, there are still the little kids doing their usual thing…collecting candy. It’s the night when everything is turned upside down. Kids are taken to do things they normally aren’t allowed to do…knock on the doors in their neighborhoods and ask for candy. Of course, most are also, schooled in all the safety tips designed to keep then safe as they go, because lets face it, they are excited, and there is always the possibility of one of them running across the street without really looking first…hence the need for watchful parents.
It’s much different today, than things were in my day, because while my dad always took us out trick or treating, we didn’t have to be worried about the candy we received. We made a haul. In fact, we took a pillowcase to collect our candy in, knowing full well that we would almost fill it up, and sometimes we even had to go home, empty it out and go out again. These days, kids only go to the homes of people they know…for the most part. Candy must be x-rayed to assure its safety. Many children are taken to places like the mall or to parties. All this to insure their safety in this unsafe world we live in now.
Most of the teenagers either don’t participate, work, or stay at home to hand out candy, but lots of them go out with their friends. One hopes that the majority of those teenagers are not out getting into trouble, but often that is not the case. At least for the troublemaking group. There are still good teenagers, who respect authority, their parents, and their elders. I am thankful that I live in a state where most teenagers are still taught good values, and I wish that was so in all the states in our nation.
This year, my youngest grandson, Josh Petersen is participating in something new for Halloween. Although it is not a Halloween event, it requires him to don a costume, but please don’t call it an outfit or costume, because it has a specific name…bunkers. Josh’s event is not a party or haunted house or really anything that has anything to do with Halloween, but is does require going into a situation that is very much out of the ordinary for him, and strange for us, his family, to think about. Josh is doing fire science training at the drill tower today. The training will include a practice fire, in which real fire will be used…hence the unusual situation involving a building, that most of us would consider a nightmare if it happened in a building we were in. While these are not a real fire situations, it is these training sessions that prepare our firefighters for the real life scenarios they will face on the job. Yes, this is an unusual way for a seventeen year old to spend a Saturday, especially on Halloween, but it is one that Josh will find exciting, inspiring, and a great learning experience for the career he has chosen to take on. We are all very proud of him.
Whatever Halloween finds you and your family doing, I hope you have a great evening, be safe, watchful, respectful, and have fun. Happy Halloween!!