History

While listening to an audible book about World War II, called “Flak,” I heard one of the men being interviewed by the author for the book say, “History is told by the survivors.” It occurred to me that in most cases, at least in eras gone by, that was the truth. In order to know what really happened, there had to be a survivor. Even today, in an era of DNA, forensic science, black boxes, and phone video, there are events that cannot be definitively explained, and causes that remain a mystery.

In World War II, survival was one of the main necessities to properly make an account of events. One might be able to look at pictures an know that the attack was bad, but in order to understand what it meant to fly through flak, someone had to really explain what the flak looked like up close, and tell us how hot it was when it got close enough to put a hole in the fuselage of the plane. We can imagine the fear the soldiers of World War II felt, but only because someone has “painted” a picture of just how bad it was to be pinned down in a foxhole with bombs raining down all around you, and bullets flying past if you tried to get out and run. No amount of modern technology can explain how a soldier might have felt upon looking at his helmet to find a hole in it where shrapnel pierced it, and the soldier received only a small scratch. All of the “facts” that can be gleaned from the modern technology we have simply can’t tell us about how people felt.

My dad, Allen Spencer was a top turret gunner in a B-17G bomber stationed in Great Ashfield. He told once about the ball turret gunner being shot up, and the desperate and futile effort to save his life. It was something Dad would never forget. The bombers that crashed taking all hands down with them, left no witnesses to tell if it was shot down or had engine trouble. If the plane could be found today, they might be able to guess at the cause of the crash, but it still might not be definitive. As to the soldiers who went missing in action, it was not uncommon for their body never to be found, and so no one could document their death, unless a buddy survived. All of the war stories we have today from World War II were told by the men, and women too, who survived. We know from the ones who witnessed the planes being shot down, blown up, or crashing with engine trouble. On the battlefield, the only witnesses were the other soldiers in the area, because the civilians had run far from the area.

Even the non-war events of history had to have a “survivor” to tell about the event. It may not have been a violent event, but the Gettysburg Address would never have been known to anyone, if it had been spoken aloud in President Lincoln’s study with no one present. The speech might have been found later, but the depth of it’s meaning might have been completely lost had one witness not been so deeply moved by the speech. I wonder how much history was lost because no one was there to see and then survive to tell about it. It’s something to think about.

Imagine, if you can these days, a world without photography. Cameras are almost always at our fingertips now. We don’t need to carry a camera with us, we have our phones, and we are able to take all the pictures we want. We can document everything from the birth of our children, to a pretty sunset in the back yard. We document our smiles, frowns, and totally shocked looks. In so many ways, personal photography has changed our lives, but one way in particular is in documenting history. Most people don’t think our what they are doing as documenting history exactly, but it certainly can be. People have captured plane crashes, rocket launches, car accidents, forest fires, volcano eruptions, and earthquakes…just to name a few. Those things might not be history today, but in a couple of years, they are, and in many cases, one person had the only picture of the historic event.

Would history be documented without photography? Of course, but it would happen by word of mouth, and later the written word…newspapers, books and such. The problem with that is that those accounts can only tell the part of history that someone saw or was a part of. But, what if they missed something? Humans so often miss the small details, but a camera or video camera, doesn’t miss as much. Once a picture is taken, an event is documented…and every small detail can be re-examined at will. Pictures have made the difference between knowing the cause and never knowing the cause. Pictures have proven fault without a doubt. They have been the difference between an innocent person being falsely accused, and getting to the truth.

These days, with a camera built into our phone, we can, and do, document many events of our lives. And we document history…some of it amazing, and some of it devastating. It’s all part of the ability to capture things in real time. You have to take the bad with the good, because unfortunately, not all of history is beautiful. Some of it is completely ugly, but it still needs to be documented. Pictures have become necessary, because without photography, much of the full documentation of history would be lost.

When I think of a genius, my favorite genius always comes to mind…Albert Einstein. He doesn’t have the highest recorded IQ in history, and in fact, is listed as 12th among geniuses. Nevertheless, Genius Day…a day to highlight the greatest minds out there, falls on Albert Einstein’s birthday, so maybe he is a favorite of a lot of people. It makes sense, because Albert Einstein is on of the most famous, iconic, influential, and admired people in history. He was incredibly smart, but oddly not snobby about it, like some geniuses, who rub me the wrong way.

I wonder what it must have been like to be a genius in a day when the system didn’t necessarily recognize such things. Einstein started school, as most children did, in a normal Catholic elementary school, in Munich, Germany, and remained there for 3 years. At that point, they realized that they didn’t have the ability to teach such a child. He was transferred to he Luitpold Gymnasium (now known as the Albert Einstein Gymnasium) at age 8, where he received advanced primary and secondary school education until he left the German Empire seven years later. In German, gymnasium means high school. Einstein excelled at math and physics right from the start. He reached a mathematical level years ahead of his peers. At twelve years old, Einstein taught himself algebra and Euclidean geometry in one summer. Einstein also independently discovered his own original proof of the Pythagorean theorem at age 12. Those were years of intense discovery for him…discoveries that most people could never begin to fathom. At age 13, Einstein was introduced to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and Kant became his favorite philosopher, his tutor stating: “At the time he was still a child, only thirteen years old, yet Kant’s works, incomprehensible to ordinary mortals, seemed to be clear to him.” Probably his best known work was the Theory of Relativity, which actually took in two theories by Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity. Concepts introduced by the theories of relativity include spacetime as a unified entity of space and time, relativity of simultaneity, kinematic and gravitational time dilation, and length contraction. If you don’t understand all of that, you are in good company.

It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to attempt to teach such a great mind anything. Seriously, what could an average teacher teach him that he couldn’t learn on his own, and even begin to teach the teacher. I suppose that is the case with any genius, and it must have been a problem for many a teacher, not to mention to the child’s parents. Geniuses are a phenomena that most of us can only imagine, and maybe that is why it is felt that they should have a national day of their own. Often, the day is celebrated by a gathering of confirmed geniuses getting together to “show off” their skills. It is filled with competitions designed to exercise their minds in a group of their peers, which is definitely something they don’t get to do very often. I can’t think of a more fitting day for it to be celebrated than Albert Einstein’s birthday.

My Uncle Jack McDaniels was always a great guy…very pleasant and always ready with a joke of some other funny remark. All my life, I enjoyed being around him and my Aunt Bonnie. Uncle Jack went home to Heaven on July 14, 2012, and he has been greatly missed by his family ever since. As I was getting ready to write his birthday story, I wanted to capture his personality in a way that maybe many people did not know him, so I contacted his daughter-in-law, Deena for assistance. I like to think that my inquiry gave Deena and Michael a prime opportunity to remember his dad on his birthday, because what better way to remember a parent than happy memories discussed on their birthday.

If you have ever been a part of a family on the larger side of size, you know that when they all get together, especially when there are little children in the mix, it is not a quiet event. Michael remembered a large family gathering that was quite loud, as you can imagine. Suddenly, everything went still…how that many people would all get quiet at the same time is shocking enough in and of itself. Nevertheless, for a few moments all was quiet before someone finally spoke. Uncle Jack said, in relief, “Thank goodness, I thought I had gone deaf!” I can absolutely see my Uncle Jack saying just that, with a twinkle in his eye, because that is how he was. He always saw the humor in life.

Uncle Jack and Aunt Bonnie’s son, Michael married his wife, Deena in 2006, so Deena got to know Uncle Jack for a little over six years. Deena told me about her first real interaction with Uncle Jack. Michael, having grown up with his dad’s influence, made the joke that he found Deena by the side of the road. So, when Uncle Jack met Deena for the first time, he said “So, you must be the hitchhiker!!!” The nickname stuck, and she is the hitchhiker to this day. It was all part of his teasing nature.

One thing I didn’t know, but wished I did, is that Uncle Jack loved local history. It is something he shared with Michael and Deena. Conversations between the three of them often centered around Casper and Natrona County history. They all collect books on local history too. Uncle Jack would share his collection of books with us, and their love of history grew. Books on local history became popular gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and I’m sure they are extra special treasures, now that Uncle Jack is in Heaven, as are the wonderful conversations they had over the years. Today would have been Uncle Jack’s 81st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Jack. We all love and miss you very much.

New York City is known for its jaywalking. It may not be the jaywalking capitol of the world, but it has been know to have many jaywalking deaths. That situation inspired the city to install the first walk/don’t walk signs in history on February 5, 1952. Not every inspiration or invention brings change for the better, and I don’t think that all regulation is a good thing, but when it comes to a meeting between a car and a pedestrian, the pedestrian will lose every time. The use of these pedestrian traffic signs are still used today in order to make streets safer.

Walk/Don’t Walk signs are just a normal fixture these days. We use them at every busy intersection, and don’t give them a second thought…unless they seem to be taking too long to change. Then we feel annoyed, or even cross against the light, which is still jaywalking, even though we are at a crosswalk. While it isn’t uncommon to be annoyed at the wait to cross the street, it can be nice to have that assistance when there is a lot of traffic.

The walk/don’t walk signs have changed over the years, from the very basic style installed in New York City in 1952, to the more modern ones that tell you when to walk or to wait. These are of course designed with the visually impaired person in mind. Our society have become more aware of the needs of the handicapped, and the voice control feature is truly vital.

Strangely, the Walk/Don’t Walk sign has not always been an apostrophe in the word “don’t.” When the first don’t walk signs were installed in New York, they didn’t have an apostrophe between the letters n and t, which makes that the sign was written as ‘dont walk’. It is thought that these signs lack an apostrophe, because it made the stop command more urgent. Another theory about why the signs missed the apostrophe was because they were made from a single-piece neon light, which made it difficult to add the apostrophe. I don’t suppose we will ever know why, for sure.

Between 1999 and 2000, it was decided that the traditional ‘walk’ and ‘don’t walk’ signs should be phased out, because they were difficult to understand for people who didn’t speak English. Many pedestrian accidents occurred with tourists in New York and therefore the city decided to change the traditional sign into a simple stick figure of a walking man when green, and a raised hand when red. Whichever type of walk/don’t walk signs you have in your town, you can be sure that the signs have saved lives.

My aunt, Sandy Pattan is the youngest of my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer’s nine children. Because she is the youngest, she was at home while her older siblings were married. She got to witness the changes that occurred as each of her siblings married and moved into their own homes. Of course, she was very young when some of these changes occurred, and even found herself playing with her nieces and nephews, because they were close to her age. Because of that and the fact that she grew up having brothers and sisters-in-law, so also got to hear all the stories of their lives and their family’s lives.

That has largely made Aunt Sandy my go-to person or the family history stories. When Aunt Sandy was a little girl, Grandma and Grandpa Byer would tell her all the stories about the old days.Most of us don’t really take much of an interest in those stories as young people,mostly because we think there will always be time to hear all about it later. All too often, by the time we are finally interested, the people who now the stories are gone, and we find ourselves filled with regret, and there is nothing we can do about it. For that reason, I feel very blessed to have both opportunity and interest at the same time in my conversations with Aunt Sandy.

Aunt Sandy has such a caring heart. As I have spent time talking to Aunt Sandy we have really become quite close. We don’t have to be talking about anything specifically, we just enjoy talking. I love hearing about her sons, John and Jim; granddaughters, Ashley and Alicia; and her great grandson, Brian. And she loves to hear about my family too. She has been working on some remodeling on her house, and things are going well. She has also been going through boxes of old treasures. I love that. You never know what you will find. Aunt Sandy has come across old family pictures, and other treasures too. It is exciting, and I love hearing all about it. That is one of the many things we have in common. Of course, if you ask me, she is the real treasure. Today is Aunt Sandy’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My husband, Bob’s Aunt Pearl Hein is a very ambitious person. For years, she has raised a garden, and canned tons of vegetables. She and Uncle Eddie have long been very busy people…maybe too busy sometimes. Pearl worked for many years at the IGA store in Forsyth, Montana, and pretty much became vital to the functioning of that place. That did make it hard for Pearl to entertain, and at least when we were in town, she always enjoyed having everyone come over for dinner. We didn’t get to Forsyth often, and she liked to make our visit very special. And she did make our visits special…not just because she is a great cook, but because she always made us feel welcome. Going to visit Eddie and Pearl was always a highlight of our visits to Forsyth.

Pearl married Bob’s uncle Eddie on July 15, 1962, and they had two children, Larry Hein and Kimberly (Hein) Arani. They were then busily raising their family and spending time with siblings and parents. When Pearl’s parents needed help i their later years,she was right there to help them, often spending long hours at their homes. I remember many times that they were not able to take vacations because they were so busy. Now that they are both retired, they have more time to travel a little, and they have made a couple of trips to Texas to visit their daughter, who lives there. I like that they can get away sometimes to a warmer climate, and I’m sure Kim likes it too.

Their son, Larry and his family still live in Forsyth, and for them as well as Eddie and Pearl, that will always be home. I’m not sure any of them will ever live anywhere else, and I can understand that. Forsyth is a cute little town, with a rich history. The family, from many branches, has roots there. While none of my own family were born there, Forsyth, and all of Bob’s family who are still there, will always hold a special place in my heart. And Pearl had a big part in those memories. Today is Pearl’s birthday. Happy birthday Pearl!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Over the past few years, my aunt, Sandy Pattan and I have found that we have some things in common…besides the fact that we are related. One of the most interesting things to me is a mutual love of the family history. All her life, Aunt Sandy has been listening. She listened to the stories her parents, aunts, and uncles told her about the family. She, like me, could picture it all in her head, as if she were standing there watching the whole thing. She could picture the Indian chiefs that her grandfather and her dad, not only knew, but were even respected by, in a time when the Indians and the White Man didn’t necessarily get along. It was a time that she and I could never relate to, were it not for the stories of her parents, my grandparents. And now…in their honor, Aunt Sandy is passing along the history she received from her parents, so that the family history will not fade away. I think that is the reason that she and I love the family history so much. It is like the blood that flows in our veins, a part of our DNA, it is our story, because we came from our ancestors, and their past experiences shaped their lives, and therefore, our lives too.

Aunt Sandy is a loving, caring person. She is quick to do nice things for others, like taking her sister, my Aunt Virginia Beadle to brunch after church on Sundays; or picking my mom, Collene Spencer up, when she was still alive, to go to get togethers with their siblings. Being the youngest of nine children, Aunt Sandy is still able to drive, while some of the siblings aren’t…or weren’t. Of the original nine siblings, only five remain. That is a fact that weighs heavily on Aunt Sandy, and the remaining siblings. I suppose that is partly why she tries to spend as much time as she can with those who remain, and I understand that train of thought. She doesn’t want to waste the time she has left with her siblings. That shows a great degree of not only wisdom, but a deep love for her siblings.

Aunt Sandy is a deep, logical thinker too. I think that is one of many reason that we connect so well. I love our conversations, whether they are about family, politics, or just general interest, because she has amazing insight to so many issues, as well as a great sense of humor. Of course, being the humble person she is, Aunt Sandy would most likely disagree with me when it comes to her amazing mind, but as I have said before, “I call ’em as I see ’em.” Aunt Sandy has a wide range of interests, as do I, and that is part of what makes or conversations so interesting. I feel very blessed to have Aunt Sandy in my life. Today is Aunt Sandy’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Motivating your child to get good grades is a difficult task sometimes. Let’s face it, a child who struggles in school, doesn’t see getting a dollar for each “A” grade, as being an achievable prize. Of course, the goal has to be something the child can do, or they will give up before they start, so for a child who struggles, the dollar might be for a “C” or something. Maybe the goal needs to be broken down by weeks to help the struggling student, or even by assignment. When you have a student who struggles with school, you will pretty much do anything…including treats to get them to try harder to get good grades, because as we all know, a student who excels in school, can almost write their own ticket in life. College and jobs even come easier for them.

With all that being said, I suppose that I will sound like my parents, who like most parents of people my age, walked ten miles to school, uphill both ways, but when I was in school, we didn’t get rewarded for our grades. Maybe it just wasn’t done then, but for us, that was the way it was. So when I hear of paying a child for grades, I have mixed feelings about it. I’m not exactly opposed to paying for grades, because it is the child’s job, after all, and I expect to be paid for my work. Still, by the same token, I would have to wonder if it shouldn’t also be that a poor grade costs the child then. I mean, if I am a great driver, and I get a speeding ticket, I have to pay the penalty too, even if I haven’t had one in ten years. And shouldn’t a child just naturally want to learn things. No, not really. When I was in grade school, history was the most boring subject in existence, and yet today, I research events in history for my stories. I guess that if it is something you really love, you don’t need any motivation, but if it isn’t something you really love, no matter how big the amount of motivation you are offered, it will not make you love that subject.

Still, some people take things a little be too far, in my opinion. Such was the case in a story I read the other day. It went like this: “My elder brother has a son. He has just started school. My brother buys him toys, different devices, and new clothes to motivate him. When I was in my first year in school, he promised me that if I finished school with excellent grades, I would be able to have a tooth made of gold. I was really enthusiastic for many years.” Now, I don’t know about you, but a gold tooth would not really motivate me to get better grades. Still, to each his own. I suppose that to a young boy, a gold tooth might sound like the coolest thing ever…at least for a time. As you read in the story, even that great motivator didn’t do the trick forever.

Like most things, as kids get older, that dollar isn’t quite the motivator it used to be either. Kids, these days, know how little a dollar can buy, and when you think about it, it’s really hard for a kid to stay motivated for nine weeks…just to make a dollar. I guess that if parents are going to use a reward system motivator, they are going to have to keep up with the times, and upgrade that motivator periodically so it will be the study aid they are hoping for. Or maybe my parents had the right idea after all, which was pretty much, get good grades…or else!! And I think I’ll leave that right there.

Recently, I discovered that Amelia Earhart is my 8th cousin once removed on my dad, Allen Spencer’s side of my family. Prior to this time, I knew of Amelia and her accomplishments, as well as her disappearance, but other than the fact that the whole thing was sad, it really didn’t affect me very much. Maybe it’s the fact that I now know that she is a relative, or maybe it’s the fact that the whole plot of the mystery seems to have thickened with some new information. Either way, I find myself intrigued by this new information.

Amelia Earhart vanished eighty years ago. She was last heard from on July 2, 1937. It was assumed that her plane had crashed during an attempt to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, and since she was never heard from again, most people, myself included, were sure that she had crashed. For eighty years, it was pretty much settled…until someone looked at a photograph in a long forgotten file, that suggests that she may not have crashed, but rather crash landed in the Marshall Islands, and was possibly taken prisoner, along with her navigator. The photo, found in a long-forgotten file in the National Archives, shows a woman who resembles Earhart and a man who appears to be her navigator, Fred Noonan, on a dock. The discovery is featured in a new History channel special, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence.”

The photograph suggests that Amelia Earhart, survived a crash landing in the Marshall Islands. I’m sure there are many people who doubt the authenticity of the photograph, but independent analysts told the History Channel that the photo appears legitimate and undoctored. Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director for the FBI and an NBC News analyst, has studied the photo and feels confident it shows the famed pilot and her navigator. Henry told NBC news, “When you pull out, and when you see the analysis that’s been done, I think it leaves no doubt to the viewers that that’s Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.”

These days, with so much fake news, and so much speculation about things, it’s hard to believe things sometimes. Still, so much of this evidence seems to point to facts very different from the theories we have believed to be truth for so long. We know that Earhart was last heard from on July 2, 1937, as she made her quest to become the first woman pilot to circumnavigate the globe. She was declared dead two years later after the United States concluded she had crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but her remains were never found. Now, these investigators believe they have found evidence that Earhart and Noonan were blown off course, but survived the ordeal. The investigative team behind the History channel special believes the photo may have been taken by some secret spy for the United States on Japanese military activity in the Pacific. It is not clear how Earhart and Noonan could have flown so far off course.

Les Kinney, a retired government investigator has spent 15 years looking for Earhart clues, about what really happened to her. He said the photo “clearly indicates that Earhart was captured by the Japanese.” Japanese authorities told NBC News they have no record of Earhart being in their custody, but then it is doubtful that they would have been honest with us if they had her. The photo, marked “Jaluit Atoll” and believed to have been taken in 1937, shows a short-haired woman, believed to be Earhart, sitting on a dock with her back to the camera. Like Earhart, the woman was wearing pants, something for which Earhart was known, even though it was odd in those days. Near her is a standing man who looks like Noonan, so much so that when a transparent photo of him fits it perfectly…down to the hairline. “The hairline is the most distinctive characteristic,” said Ken Gibson, a facial recognition expert who studied the image. “It’s a very sharp receding hairline. The nose is very prominent.” Gibson added, “It’s my feeling that this is very convincing evidence that this is probably Noonan.” The photo also shows a Japanese ship, Koshu, towing a barge with something that appears to be 38 feet long airplane…the same length as Earhart’s plane. The locals have continued to claim that they saw Earhart’s plane crash before she and Noonan were taken away. Native school kids insisted they saw Earhart in captivity. The story was even documented in postage stamps issued in the 1980s. “We believe that the Koshu took her to Saipan, in the [Mariana Islands], and that she died there under the custody of the Japanese,” said Gary Tarpinian, the executive producer of the History special. “We don’t know how she died,” Tarpinian said. “We don’t know when.” Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who lived on Saipan as a child, has long claimed she saw Earhart in Japanese custody. “I didn’t even know it was a woman, I thought it was a man,” said Akiyama. “Everybody was talking about her — they were talking about in Japanese. That’s why I know that she’s a woman. They were talking about a woman flyer.” It is not clear if the United States government knew who was in the photo, or if it was taken by a spy, the United States may not have wanted to compromise that person by revealing the image. If that were the case, sadly two lives were sacrificed for one.

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