27 February 2009


Barack is very disappointed with me!

I only scored 21 on the Obama Test

NASA news

First, the space shuttle. ZUI this NASA press release dated 25 Feb:
NASA's Space Shuttle Program has established a plan that could support shuttle Discovery's launch to the International Space Station, tentatively targeted for March 12. An exact target launch date will be determined as work progresses with the shuttle's three gaseous hydrogen flow control valves.

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians have started removing Discovery's three valves, two of which will undergo detailed inspection. Approximately 4,000 images of each valve will be reviewed for evidence of cracks. Valves that have flown fewer times will be installed in Discovery. Engineering teams also will complete analysis and testing to understand the consequences if a valve piece were to break off and strike pressurization lines between the shuttle and external fuel tank. Hardware modifications may be made to the pressurization lines to add extra protection in the unlikely event debris is released.

NASA and contractor teams have been working to identify what caused damage to a flow control valve on shuttle Endeavour during its November 2008 flight. Part of the main propulsion system, the valves channel gaseous hydrogen from the main engines to the external tank. After a thorough review of shuttle Discovery's readiness for flight on Feb. 20, NASA managers decided more understanding of the valve work was required before launching Discovery.


If Discovery's tentative launch date holds, there will be no effect on the next two shuttle launches: STS-125 to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and STS-127 to the International Space Station.

And second, Kepler. ZUI this press release dated 26 Feb:
Launch of NASA's Kepler telescope is targeted for no earlier than Friday, March 6, from Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There are two launch windows, from 10:49 - 10:52 p.m. and 11:13 - 11:16 p.m. EST.

Kepler is a spaceborne telescope designed to search the nearby region of our galaxy for Earth-size planets orbiting in the habitable zone of stars like our sun. The habitable zone is the region around a star where temperatures permit water to be liquid on a planet's surface.

Liquid water is considered essential for the existence of life as we know it. The vast majority of the approximately 300 planets known to orbit other stars are much larger than Earth, and none is believed to be habitable. The challenge for Kepler is to look at a large number of stars in order to statistically estimate the total number of Earth-size planets orbiting sun-like stars in the habitable zone. Kepler will survey more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy.

Engineers are reviewing all common hardware between the Delta II rocket carrying the Kepler telescope and the Taurus XL launch vehicle. On Tuesday, a Taurus carrying NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to reach orbit. Managers want to confirm there will not be similar issues with Kepler's Delta II.

Kepler's original March 5 target launch date was moved one day later to accommodate the additional time for analysis. The March 6 target date still must be confirmed by the U.S Air Force, which manages the eastern launch range. Kepler's Flight Readiness Review is on Monday, March 2.

Kepler: NASA image

RIP: Philip José Farmer

Philip José Farmer
26 Jan 1918 – 25 Feb 2009

ZUI this article from the Peoria (IL) Journal Star:
Long after he became an internationally recognized science fiction writer, the usually elusive Philip Jose Farmer lent his fame to a favorite project: Peoria’s public libraries.

Fans would come from around the world to attend Farmer-related events, particularly when the Lakeview branch celebrated his Grand Master Award for Science Fiction in 2001. Puzzled local library patrons might wander by to sample the cookies, occasionally asking what was causing all the fuss. Farmer would crack his tight-lipped smile, but seemed unfazed by either global attention or the local lack thereof.

Farmer died at his North Peoria home Wednesday morning. He was 91.


Michael Croteau, webmaster for pjfarmer.com, the official Philip Jose Farmer Web site, calls Farmer “that great teacher we all wish we had.” The relationship lead Croteau to read authors from Herman Mellville to Edgar Rice Burroughs to Carl Hiassen.


Although Farmer was not always recognized here, he always credited Peoria and its libraries with his love for reading and writing. His family moved to Peoria from Indiana when he was 4. Some of Farmer’s earliest memories involved the McClure Branch Library.

“That’s where I started reading widely,” he said in a 1998 interview, citing the science fiction, the boys’ adventure books and magazines. “And then when I got to the adult section, I just went ape. Literally, because I discovered the Tarzan books.”

That sly humor and love of wordplay never deserted him, despite a series of strokes and health problems during the last few years. Over more than five decades of writing, he wrote more than 75 books and countless short stories. He won science fiction’s highest honor, the Hugo Award, three times. He was nominated for five more. Yet friends and collaborators prefer to remember his generosity of spirit.

I've been a PJF fan since the early '70s, when I read Lord of the Trees, The Mad Goblin, The Gate of Time, the first few World of Tiers books, and others. I'd say The Maker of Universes, The Gate of Time (but not the later, expanded version, Two Hawks from Earth), Tarzan Alive and Time's Last Gift are my favourites of his books.

Farmer's official website is here. A complete bibliography of his books can be found here. ISFDB has another one, including short stories, here. (There's one at his official site as well, of course.) And Wikipedia has an article.

25 February 2009

WWII U-boat to be raised

ZUI this article from the Aberdeen Press and Journal:
A German submarine war grave from World War II which has been seeping deadly poisons into the North Sea is finally set to be raised.

The wreck of the U-864, which was sunk by the Royal Navy submarine HMS Venturer in 1945, has been leaking her cargo of highly poisonous mercury into the seabed off the west coast of Norway in an area fished by Scottish trawlermen.


The U-864 was on a secret mission to Japan, carrying Messerschmitt jet engine parts and 65 tonnes of toxic mercury, used for making weapons.


The U-864 has gone down in history as the only submarine to be sunk by another submarine while underwater.

The wreck was discovered in 2003 in two pieces 500ft beneath the sea and in 2006 it was found that the 1,857 canisters holding the mercury were corroding.

Since then, locals and fishermen have pleaded for the wreck to be raised but the authorities refused, claiming it was too risky.

See here for more about U-864, and here for more about HMS Venturer.

Shuttle launch delayed further

ZUI this press release from NASA:
During a thorough review of space shuttle Discovery's readiness for flight, NASA managers decided Friday that more data and possible testing are required before launching the STS-119 mission to the International Space Station.

Engineering teams have been working to identify what caused damage to a flow control valve on shuttle Endeavour during its November 2008 flight.


The shuttle has three flow control valves that channel gaseous hydrogen from the main engines to the external fuel tank. Teams also have tried to determine the consequences if a valve piece were to break off and strike part of the shuttle and external fuel tank.

The Space Shuttle Program has been asked to develop a plan to inspect additional valves similar to those installed on Discovery. This plan will be reviewed during a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 25. Afterward, the program may consider setting a new target launch date.

STS-119 (space shuttle Discovery) was originally scheduled to be launched last fall. The flight will deliver the final pair of power-generating solar array wings and truss element to the International Space Station.

COL Lee J Archambault (USAF) will be the mission commander. and CDR Dominic A Antonelli (USN) will serve as pilot. The mission specialists are Joseph Acaba, Richard R Arnold II, John L Phillips and Steven R Swanson. Antonelli, Acaba and Arnold will be making their first spaceflight; this will be the second flight for Archambault and Swanson, and the third for Phillips.

WWI soldiers to be reburied

ZUI this article from the MOD Defence News:
The remains of around 400 British and Australian soldiers killed in the First World War Battle of Fromelles in France are to be exhumed from mass graves and individually buried.

The excavation of six mass graves at Fromelles is due to start in May 2009 and is expected to take up to six months, after which all the bodies will be permanently laid to rest in individual graves at a new Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.


The mass war graves, which are believed to contain the remains of up to 400 individuals who died in the battle, were discovered in 2008.


British and Australian families who believe they have connections to, or information on, the soldiers who may be buried at Fromelles are being encouraged to come forward to assist with the process.

DNA samples will be taken from a small cross-section of the remains to determine the viability of a larger testing programme, and the potential for a formal identification.

The Battle of Fromelles began 19 days after the opening of the Somme campaign. It was the first major battle involving Australian and British troops on the Western Front. The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 casualties, of which 1,917 were killed, and the 61st British Division suffered 1,547 casualties, either killed, wounded or taken prisoner.


The main British regiments involved in the battle, and therefore the most likely to have men buried at Fromelles, were the Gloucestershire Regiment (now The Rifles), the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox & Bucks) (now The Rifles), the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (now The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers), the Worcestershire Regiment (now The Mercian Regiment), and the Machine Gun Corps (disbanded and no modern equivalent).

Anyone believing they may be related to British soldiers buried at Fromelles should contact the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, Historic Casualty & Deceased Estates Casework, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, Building 182, Imjin Barracks, Gloucester GL3 1HW, Email: jccchistcasso3@spva.mod.uk, Tel: 01452 712612 Extension 6303.

22 February 2009

Victoria Cross: T. Wilkinson


Temporary Lieutenant, Royal Naval Reserve; commanding HMS Li Wo

Born: 1 August 1898, Widnes, Lancashire
Died: 14 February 1942, at sea south of Singapore

Citation: On 14th February, 1942, H.M. Ship Li Wo, a patrol vessel of 1,000 tons, formerly a passenger steamer on the Upper Yangtse River, was on passage from Singapore to Batavia. Her ship's company consisted of eighty-four officers and men, including one civilian; they were mainly survivors from His Majesty's Ships which had been sunk, and a few from units of the Army and the Royal Air Force. Her armament was one 4 inch gun, for which she had only thirteen practice shells, and two machine guns.
Since leaving Singapore the previous day, the ship had beaten off four air attacks, in one of which fifty-two machines took part, and had suffered considerable damage. Late in the afternoon, she sighted two enemy convoys, the larger of which was escorted by Japanese naval units, including a heavy cruiser and some destroyers. The commanding officer, Lieutenant T. Wilkinson, R.N.R., gathered his scratch ship's company together and told them that, rather than try to escape, he had decided to engage the convoy and fight to the last, in the hope that he might inflict damage upon the enemy. In making this decision, which drew resolute support from the whole ship's company, Lieutenant Wilkinson knew that his ship faced certain destruction, and that his own chances of survival were small.
H.M.S. Li Wo hoisted her battle ensign and made straight for the enemy. In the action which followed, the machine guns were used with effect upon the crews of all ships in range, and a volunteer gun's crew manned the 4 inch gun, which they fought with such purpose that a Japanese transport was badly hit and set on fire.
After a little over an hour, H.M.S. Li Wo had been critically damaged and was sinking. Lieutenant Wilkinson then decided to ram his principal target, the large transport, which had been abandoned by her crew. It is known that this ship burnt fiercely throughout the night following the action, and was probably sunk.
H.M.S. Li Wo's gallant fight ended when, her shells spent, and under heavy fire from the enemy cruiser, Lieutenant Wilkinson finally ordered abandon ship. He himself remained on board, and went down with her. There were only about ten survivors, who were later made prisoners of war.
Lieutenant Wilkinson's valour was equalled only by the skill with which he fought his ship. The VICTORIA CROSS is bestowed upon him posthumously in recognition of his own heroism and self-sacrifice, and of that of all who fought and died with him.


The following amendment is made:-
In London Gazette Supplement No. 37387 of 14th December, 1945, Page 6084, the Award of Mention in Despatches (Posthumous) to Lieutenant Thomas WILKINSON, R.N.R., is cancelled, this officer's services being now recognised by the Award of the VICTORIA CROSS, gazetted herein.

(London Gazette Issue 37819 dated 17 Dec 1946, published 13 Dec 1946.)

Note: The same issue of the Gazette also reported that Temporary Sub-Lieutenant R G G Stanton, RNR, First Lieutenant (and only surviving officer) of HMS Li Wo, was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. Acting Petty Officer A W Thompson was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, and Leading Seaman V Spencer and Able Seaman A Spendlove were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Spencer had manned the port machine gun on HMS Li Wo, and the other three men had served as crew for the 4-inch gun.
Temporary Lieutenant E N Derbridge, RNZNVR, Temporary Sub-Lieutenant J G Petherbridge, Malaya RNVR, Able Seaman D Palmer, Acting Chief Petty Officer C H Rogers, Leading Seaman W D Wilding and Able Seaman J Smith all received mention in despatches, posthumously in the case of the first three. (CPO Rogers, one of the survivors of Li Wo, had already survived the sinking of HMS Repulse on 10 Dec 1941.)

Medal of Honor: C. Nugent


Orderly Sergeant, US Marine Corps; USS Fort Henry

Born: 1840, County Craven, Ireland
Died: 6 May 1898

Citation: Serving on board the U.S.S. Fort Henry, Crystal River, Fla., 15 June 1863. Reconnoitering on the Crystal River on this date and in charge of a boat from the Fort Henry, Orderly Sgt. Nugent ordered an assault upon a rebel breastwork fortification. In this assault, the orderly sergeant and his comrades drove a guard of 11 rebels into the swamp, capturing their arms and destroying their camp equipage while gallantly withholding fire to prevent harm to a woman among the fugitives. On 30 July 1863, he further proved his courage by capturing a boat off Depot Key, Fla., containing 2 men and a woman with their baggage.

20 February 2009

Ten great post-apocalyptic SF novels

The List Universe offers such a list (with comments*), viz:
1. Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank
2. Planet of the Apes, by Pierre Boulle
3. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
4. The Wild Shore: Three Californias, by Kim Stanley Robinson
5. Eternity Road, by Jack McDevitt
6. The Postman, by David Brin
7. A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M Miller Jr
8. Earth Abides, by George R Stewart
9. On the Beach, by Nevil Shute
10. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Numbers in bold indicate the ones I've read. I loved both Alas, Babylon and Lucifer's Hammer; Earth Abides, on the other hand, didn't particularly excite me, and while I loved the first section of A Canticle for Leibowitz, I hated the other two.

* And also links to Amazon, for further information.

15 February 2009

Victoria Cross: J. T. Cornwell


Boy First Class, Royal Navy; HMS Chester

Born: 8 January 1900, Leyton, Essex
Died: 31 May 1916, North Sea

Citation: Mortally wounded early in the action [off Jutland, 31 May 1916], Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwall remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders, until the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded all round him. His age was under sixteen and a half years.

(London Gazette Issue 29752 dated 15 Sep 1916, published 15 Sep 1916.)

Medal of Honor: H. E. Erwin


Staff Sergeant, US Army Air Corps; 52d Bombardment Squadron, 29th Bombardment Group, 20th Air Force

Born: 8 May 1921, Adamsville, Alabama
Died: 16 January 2002, Alabama

Citation: He was the radio operator of a B-29 airplane leading a group formation to attack Koriyama, Japan [on 12 April 1945]. He was charged with the additional duty of dropping phosphoresce smoke bombs to aid in assembling the group when the launching point was reached. Upon entering the assembly area, aircraft fire and enemy fighter opposition was encountered. Among the phosphoresce bombs launched by S/Sgt. Erwin, 1 proved faulty, exploding in the launching chute, and shot back into the interior of the aircraft, striking him in the face. The burning phosphoresce obliterated his nose and completely blinded him. Smoke filled the plane, obscuring the vision of the pilot. S/Sgt. Erwin realized that the aircraft and crew would be lost if the burning bomb remained in the plane. Without regard for his own safety, he picked it up and feeling his way, instinctively, crawled around the gun turret and headed for the copilot's window. He found the navigator's table obstructing his passage. Grasping the burning bomb between his forearm and body, he unleashed the spring lock and raised the table. Struggling through the narrow passage he stumbled forward into the smoke-filled pilot's compartment. Groping with his burning hands, he located the window and threw the bomb out. Completely aflame, he fell back upon the floor. The smoke cleared, the pilot, at 300 feet, pulled the plane out of its dive. S/Sgt. Erwin's gallantry and heroism above and beyond the call of duty saved the lives of his comrades.

13 February 2009

Requiescat in pace

Today would have been my brother's 70th birthday. He was born in a New York City vastly different from the one we know today. FDR was president, George VI was king; Adolf Hitler was chancellor, with six months to go before he started World War II. My dad was a grad student at Columbia, working on an MS in botany; Mum was a housewife, in a day when most married women stayed at home.

He dropped out of high school when he was 17 to join the Navy - reported in to RTC Great Lakes just a couple days after my second birthday - so I didn't see much of him when I was a kid; maybe once a year he'd come home on leave for a few days. Brought us some neat presents, too - I still remember the book about Pompeii he brought us after one of his Med runs.

In Athens, 1957 - Med run aboard USS Everglades (AD 24).

He started out as an electrician's mate (EM), but then converted to interior communications electrician (IC) very shortly thereafter.

IC2 aboard ship - not sure which one.

During his career he served aboard USS Everglades (AD 24), USS New (DD 818), USS Randolph (CVS 15), USS Proteus (AS 19), USS Hoel (DDG 13) and USS Fox (DLG 33). He also did two tours on shore duty, at NTC Great Lakes and at DATC San Diego.

Aboard USS Randolph (CVS 15) - 1962.

Milwaukee, 24 Nov 1962.

He had a Navy Meritorious Unit Citation, the Navy Good Conduct Medal (x4), the National Defence Service medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Visiting a boat whilst stationed on the tender - 1966.

ICC at his last reenlistment - 1973.

Not only was there a fifteen-year difference in our ages, but while he enlisted at 17, I waited until I was 27. Thus he did his twenty years (plus a two-month extension to finish a WestPac), and retired five and a half years before I enlisted. The first time I went in to see a recruiter, I talked with him for about 45 minutes; then I went home, called my brother, and spent an hour and a half discussing things with him. Then I went back to the recruiter....

With his wife and kids - an Xmas card from the late '70s.

He'd stayed in San Diego after he retired, so when I went out there for A school I stayed with him and his family, instead of in the barracks. I was amazed at how much alike we'd turned out, despite the difference in our childhoods (with him as the eldest and me as the youngest of four).

He died of a stroke in 1985, just a few days after his 46th birthday. We still miss him.

Many thanks to my niece for the photos.

10 February 2009

RIP: Sqn Ldr Terry Spencer DFC

Terry Spencer DFC
18 Mar 1918 - 8 Feb 2009

ZUI this article from The Times:
Terry Spencer excelled in two audacious careers — first as a Second World War fighter pilot specialising in very low-level strafing raids across occupied Europe, and later as a celebrated Life magazine photographer covering wars in the Congo, Vietnam and the Middle East.

He was born during a Zeppelin raid on England in 1918. When the Second World War broke out he joined the Army, but he was unhappy serving with the Royal Engineers, and subsequently obtained a transfer to the Royal Air Force.

After training as a pilot, he was posted to a squadron flying American P51 Mustangs, the fastest fighters in the world at that time. Flying in pairs, low over the water to avoid German radar, the Mustangs flew deep into France, Germany and other occupied countries attacking trains, boats and army convoys.


On D-Day in 1944, he flew combat missions over the Channel, above the thousands of boats, from warships to landing craft, all heading for the French coast. Later that month the squadron was sent to cope with the latest German secret weapon — the V1 flying bombs.

Spencer downed a record of eight V1s and, like other V1 "aces", developed a technique of nudging the bombs with his wingtip, toppling the V1 gyro and causing it to crash.

Shortly after that he flew cover over the ill-fated airborne operation at Arnhem. This was followed by escorting large formations of American Flying Fortresses bombing the Ruhr. In the winter of 1944 Spencer left 41 Squadron to command the 350 Belgian unit equipped with the latest Spitfire X1Vs — strafing locomotives and military convoys in Germany.

In February 1945 he was shot down while attacking ground targets near Munster. He baled out and landed in a field beside some French slave workers but was soon surrounded by German soldiers. He was taken to a German interrogation centre, but escaped soon afterwards during an Allied bombing raid. Spencer and a New Zealander commandeered a motor bicycle, stole some petrol and reached the American lines. He rejoined his unit, by then in Holland, to be greeted by his CO and fighter ace Group Captain Johnny Johnson, who exclaimed: “Terry, where the bloody hell have you been the last five weeks?”

In April 1945 while leading a section of Belgian Spitfires over the Baltic, Spencer was flying close above the sea when he was hit by fire from a German destroyer. His plane disintegrated. He shot into the air and his parachute was blown out of its pack and opened before he hit the water. A prisoner of war for the second time, he was liberated shortly afterwards, towards the end of hostilities, and his recovery from bad burns was helped by his saline bath in the Baltic. He ended the war as a squadron leader with an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross and a Belgian Croix de Guerre avec Palme.


With the coming of apartheid, South Africa became a major international story. Spencer then began a long, successful career in photo-journalism with Life magazine, starting by covering unrest and violence, including the Sharpeville massacre. With the “winds of change” sweeping the African continent he went on to report and photograph the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya, the Congo uprisings and mutinies, Biafra and the Algerian war.


Sent to Nigeria to do a story on the Sultan of Kano, Spencer received a cable asking whether he could photograph the Sultan in his harem. He replied: “ONLY WOMAN PHOTOGRAPHER CAN ENTER HAREM OR POSSIBLY EUNUCH STOP NOT EVEN FOR LIFE MAGAZINE AM EYE PREPARED MAKE SACRIFICE NECESSARY FOR LATTER”.


Terry Spencer was born on March 18, 1918, in Bedford. His father was the wealthy heir of an engineering firm. Spencer was educated at Cheltenham College and then gained an engineering degree at Birmingham University. He started the war in the Warwickshire Yeomanry with horses, and was transferred to the Royal Engineers before joining the RAF.

In September 2008, cancer was diagnosed and Spencer was told that he would not live until Christmas. A bon vivant to the end, he invited all his friends to a pre-wake party on December 21.

After 62 years of marriage, Terry and Lesley Spencer died within 24 hours of each other. She telephoned him at the hospital in Odiham, Hampshire, and asked the nurse to hold the phone to his ear as he was very weak. Lesley told him that she loved him very much, went to sleep and never woke up.

Terry and Lesley Spencer are survived by their two daughters. Their only son died as a small child.

Spencer's DFC was gazetted on 19 Jun 1945:
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations:-
Distinguished Flying Cross.
Acting Squadron Leader Terence Spencer (47269), R.A.F. (Lieut., Corps of Royal Engineers).
This officer's keenness for air operations has won great praise. He has completed a very large number of sorties and has invariably attacked his targets with great courage and determination thereby achieving much success. One one occasion in February, 1945, Squadron Leader Spencer was forced to come down in enemy territory. He was captured, but subsequently rejoined his unit. He has been responsible for the destruction of one enemy aircraft and a good number of mechanical vehicles.
[London Gazette issue 37142 dated 22 Jun 1945, published 19 Jun 1945.]

More information can be found here, here and here.

08 February 2009

Victoria Cross: Agan Singh Rai


Rifleman (Acting Naik*), 2nd Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army

Born: 1920, Aapswarah, Okhaldunga District, Nepal
Died: 27 May 2000, Kathmandu, Nepal

Citation: In Burma on 24th and 25th June, 1944, after fierce fighting, the enemy, with greatly superior forces, had captured two posts known as "Water Piquet" and "Mortar Bluff". These posts were well sighted and were mutually supporting and their possession by the enemy threatened our communications.
On the morning of 26th June, 1944, a Company of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) was ordered to recapture these positions.
After a preliminary artillery concentration, the Company went into the attack but on reaching a false crest about 80 yards from its objective, it was pinned down by heavy and accurate fire from a machine-gun in "Mortar Bluff" and a .37 [sic] millimetre gun in the jungle, suffering many casualties. Naik Agansing Rai, appreciating that more delay would inevitably result in heavier casualties, at once led his section under withering fire directly at the machine-gun and, firing as he went, charged the position, himself killing three of the crew of four. Inspired by this cool act of bravery the section surged forward across the bullet swept ground and routed the garrison of "Mortar Bluff."
This position was now under intense fire from the .37 [sic] millimetre gun in the jungle and from "Water Piquet". Naik Agansing Rai at once advanced towards the gun, his section without hesitation following their gallant leader. Intense fire reduced the section to three men before half the distance had been covered but they pressed on to their objective. Arriving at close range, Naik Agansing Rai killed three of the crew and his men killed the other two. The party then returned to "Mortar Bluff" where the rest of their platoon were forming up for the final assault on "Water Piquet". In the subsequent advance heavy machine-gun fire and showers of grenades from an isolated bunker position caused further casualties. Once more, with indomitable courage, Nalk Agansing Rai, covered by his Bren gunner, advanced alone with a grenade in one hand and his Thompson Sub-Machine gun in the other. Through devastating fire he reached the enemy position and with his grenade and bursts from his Thompson Sub-Machine gun killed all four occupants of the bunker.
The enemy, demoralized by this N.C.O.'s calm display of courage and complete contempt for danger, now fled before the onslaught on "Water Piquet" and this position too was captured.
Naik Agansing Rai's magnificent display of initiative, outstanding bravery and gallant leadership, so inspired the rest of the Company that, in spite of heavy casualties, the result of this important action was never in doubt.

(London Gazette Issue 36730 dated 5 Oct 1944, published 3 Oct 1944.)

* Naik was the British Indian Army rank equivalent to Corporal, above Lance Naik and below Havildar.

Medal of Honor: O. Burkard


Private, Hospital Corps, US Army; 3rd US Infantry Regiment

Born: 21 December 1877, Achern, Germany
Died: 18 February 1950, Rome, New York

Citation: For distinguished bravery in action against hostile Indians.

Note: Private Burkard received his medal for action against the Chippewa at Leech Lake, northern Minnesota, on 5 October 1898. This was the last Medal of Honor awarded for an Indian campaign.

07 February 2009

RIP: Herbert Hamrol

Herbert Heimie Hamrol
10 Jan 1903 - 5 Feb 2009

ZUI this article from the San Francisco Chronicle:
Herbert Heimie Hamrol was the last known survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and right up until the minute he died today at the age of 106, he packed every moment as if it were his last.

Mr. Hamrol's still-crisp memories of the smoke and the ruin served as the only true time machine left for a catastrophe most people know only from ancient photographs. But that was only a part of what Mr. Hamrol brought to the plate when he woke up each morning at his home in Daly City.

He was also the oldest known grocery clerk in San Francisco, punching a clock until a week before he died at a local hospital of complications from pneumonia. And if you were lucky enough to talk with him, you would likely learn a thing or two.


As recently as 2000, there were 16 survivors at the annual quake commemoration, held at 5:12 a.m. at Lotta's Fountain to mark the exact moment the quake began. But last year, on the 102nd anniversary, Mr. Hamrol was the only survivor present.


Mr. Hamrol remembered little of the actual quake, being just 3 years old when it happened. But the nuggets he did recall became more important as the years rolled by and older survivors passed away.

"I remember my mother carrying me down the stairs," he said last spring. He also remembered staying in Golden Gate Park while smoke filled the skies and rubble lay heaped everywhere.

"We don't get an earthquake every day, so we celebrate the one we had," he added. "It was a beautiful earthquake."

Mr. Hamrol was born in San Francisco on January 10, 1903. After graduating from the 6th grade he took a job delivering meat for a butcher. He also worked as phone company clerk and food wholesaler before settling in as a clerk at Andronico's market on Irving Street in 1967.


Mr. Hamrol's wife of 40 years, Cecilia, died in 1969. He always kept her picture in his room, and he told The Chronicle in 2003, "Every morning I say 'good morning' to her."


Mr. Hamrol is survived by another son in addition to Bill [Hamrol of Galt, California], Burt Hamrol of San Francisco; and five grandchildren.

ZUI also this article, dated 18 Apr 2006, from the New York Times.

What office supply are you?

You Are a Post-it

You have a good memory. Your memory is so good, in fact, that it can be down right annoying at times.

You don't mean to nag, but you like to remind people what they're supposed to be doing.

You may be a bit of a pest, but you're awfully cute. So no one minds it all too much when you pop up.

You would make a good manger, salesperson or attorney. You can cram a lot of info into that head of yours.

"Manger"? I hope they mean "manager"! I'd make a terrible salesperson - you have to like people a whole lot better than I do (or at least be much better than I am at pretending you like people) in order to be a good one. And I think I feel insulted at being told I'd make a good lawyer....

01 February 2009

Victoria Cross: L. W. Jones


Commander, Royal Navy; commanding HMS Shark

Born: 13 November 1879, Petersfield, Hampshire
Died: 31 May 1916, aboard HMS Shark, North Sea

Citation: On the afternoon of the 31st May, 1916, during the action [off Jutland], Commander Jones in HMS ‘Shark,’ Torpedo Boat Destroyer, led a division of destroyers to attack the enemy Battle Cruiser Squadron. In the course of this attack a shell hit the ‘Shark's’ bridge, putting the steering gear out of order, and very shortly afterwards another shell disabled the main engines, leaving the vessel helpless. The Commanding Officer of another Destroyer, seeing the ‘Shark's’ plight, came between her and the enemy and offered assistance, but was warned by Commander Jones not to run the risk of being almost certainly sunk in trying to help him. Commander Jones, though wounded in the leg, went aft to help connect and man the after wheel. Meanwhile the forecastle gun with its crew had been blown away, and the same fate soon afterwards befell the after gun and crew. Commander Jones then went to the midship and the only remaining gun, and personally assisted in keeping it in action. All this time the ‘Shark’ was subjected to very heavy fire from enemy light cruisers and destroyers at short range. The gun's crew of the midship gun was reduced to three, of whom an Able Seaman was soon badly wounded in the leg. A few minutes later Commander Jones was hit by a shell, which took off his leg above the knee, but he continued to give orders to his gun's crew, while a Chief Stoker improvised a tourniquet round his thigh. Noticing that the Ensign was not properly hoisted, he gave orders for another to be hoisted. Soon afterwards, seeing that the ship could not survive much longer, and as a German Destroyer was closing, he gave orders for the surviving members of the crew to put on lifebelts. Almost immediately after this order had been given, the ‘Shark’ was struck by a torpedo and sank. Commander Jones was unfortunately not amongst the few survivors from the ‘Shark’ who were picked up by a neutral vessel in the night.

Medal of Honor: V. R. Capodanno and L. D. Peters


Lieutenant, Chaplain Corps, US Navy; 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (Rein)

Born: 13 February 1929, Staten Island, New York
Died: 4 September 1967, Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3d Battalion, in connection with operations against enemy forces. In response to reports that the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force [in Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 4 September 1967], Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety of the company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon. Disregarding the intense enemy small-arms, automatic-weapons, and mortar fire, he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving medical aid to the wounded. When an exploding mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed the corpsmen to help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice and example to the valiant marines. Upon encountering a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman. At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire. By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.

Note: USS Capodanno (FF 1093) was named in his honour. On 19 May 2006, a Cause for Beatification and Canonization was opened in his name by Archbishop Edwin F O'Brien.


Sergeant, US Marine Corps; Company M, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division

Born: 16 September 1946, Johnson City, New York
Died: 4 September 1967, Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a squad leader with Company M [in Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 4 September 1967]. During Operation SWIFT, the marines of the 2d Platoon of Company M were struck by intense mortar, machinegun, and small arms fire from an entrenched enemy force. As the company rallied its forces, Sgt. Peters maneuvered his squad in an assault on any enemy defended knoll. Disregarding his safety, as enemy rounds hit all about him, he stood in the open, pointing out enemy positions until he was painfully wounded in the leg. Disregarding his wound, he moved forward and continued to lead his men. As the enemy fire increased in accuracy and volume, his squad lost its momentum and was temporarily pinned down. Exposing himself to devastating enemy fire, he consolidated his position to render more effective fire. While directing the base of fire, he was wounded a second time in the face and neck from an exploding mortar round. As the enemy attempted to infiltrate the position of an adjacent platoon, Sgt. Peters stood erect in the full view of the enemy firing burst after burst forcing them to disclose their camouflaged positions. Sgt. Peters steadfastly continued to direct his squad in spite of 2 additional wounds, persisted in his efforts to encourage and supervise his men until he lost consciousness and succumbed. Inspired by his selfless actions, the squad regained fire superiority and once again carried the assault to the enemy. By his outstanding valor, indomitable fighting spirit and tenacious determination in the face of overwhelming odds, Sgt. Peters upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Book list - Jan 09

Boston Jane - YA historical fiction, by Jennifer L Holm
Silent Steel: The Mysterious Death of the Nuclear Attack Sub USS Scorpion - naval history, by Stephen Johnson
Dead Girl Walking - YA, by Linda Joy Singleton
Dead Time - mystery, by Eleanor Taylor Bland
A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers - children's poetry, by Nancy Willard (Newbery Medal, 1982)
Sub: An Oral History of US Navy Submarines - naval history, by Mark Roberts
Slow Burn - mystery, by Eleanor Taylor Bland
Gone Quiet - mystery, by Eleanor Taylor Bland
Sister Light, Sister Dark - YA fantasy, by Jane Yolen
White Jenna - fantasy, by Jane Yolen
Savage Wilderness - historical fiction, by Harold Coyle
The Lost Island of Tamarind - YA, by Nadia Aguiar
Letters from Rifka - children's historical fiction, by Karen Hesse
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians - YA, by Brandon Sanderson

14 books this month, with no rereads. To reach my goal of 209 books this year, I'll have to average 17.417 per month, so I'm currently a little behind track, but I have faith in my ability to catch up.

The one Newbery Medal winner brings my total thus far up to 71 of 88; I'm still at 13 of 69 Carnegie Medal winners.