Thursday, November 24, 2016

WWII Newsreel Featuring Bill Emery

My father served in the US Coast Guard during the second world war.  He didn't like it much, the environment either being too hot or too cold, with Spartan accommodations.  For basic training he was stationed at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, Florida.  When I visited St. Augustine (I lived in Jacksonville, FL), I once took a tour that included the renowned Ponce de Leon.  When the tour guide pontificated about the luxuries of the Ponce, I thoroughly confounded her by announcing that my father had stayed at the Ponce and found it oppressively hot and overcrowded, and the room service that was so poor no one used it.  While our guide was sputtering, I mentioned that the U.S. Government had paid for the entire stay, including meals and a host of activities.  I added that my father told me that the food was terrible, the worst he'd ever had, and the activities were even worse than the food.  I had the tour group's interest by that time, and completed my impromptu lecture by stating that the worst part about his entire stay was that they had some nut that would get up before dawn and blow a trumpet, waking everyone up.

A few of the older people understood what I was talking about, and chuckled wryly.  The tour guide didn't get it until I explained it to her.  Even then she still didn't appreciate my contribution.  On a related topic, my father firmly believed in dropping the atomic bomb on Japan.  I had a history teacher in grade school who spoke out against the use of the atomic bomb and emphasized the historical facts of his lectures to support his personal belief.  Dad set me straight, for which I've always been thankful.

"We dropped one," Dad said in his no-nonsense voice, "and when that didn't achieve the desired result, we dropped another one."

"Why didn't they surrender right away?" I asked.

"Hell, they wanted to rule the world, and those goddamned sons-of-bitches wouldn't surrender.  I say the hell with 'em, they got what they had coming to 'em."

Dad had very definite opinions on WWII, and although I never asked, I kind of think he blamed Germany, Japan, and Italy collectively and personally.  If they hadn't started the war, he wouldn't have had to serve and thus would have escaped four years of misery.

Due to a truly grievous error in management and logistics, Dad was assigned to the mounted patrol and stationed in South Carolina.  Imagine the US Armed Forces assigning someone to a position that they were knowledgeable about.  This is a violation of a handful of articles and general orders, and should have resulted in a courts martial for some demented officer somewhere.  The Coast Guard was busy guarding the SC coast against an attack by submarine.  The theory was that the goddamned Japs or the Bosch would invade the US in this area, so the US patrolled the beach via horseback and attack dogs.

When winter hit, it got so cold on that beach that the men's fingers were too stiff to shoot their revolver.  I know that Dad said he tried to shoot his one night, and couldn't do it because of the cold.  Pure misery, but orders are orders, and no one liked it much but those men saddled up and rode out there anyway, patrolling the area twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty five days a year.

One summer the people from Hollywood showed up and said they were making a newsreel, and needed some footage of the mounted patrol in action.  One scene involved the men galloping along in a line and shooting at targets with their revolvers (they carried the .38 caliber Victory revolver ).  Hollywood dropped this scene when it was discovered that:
No one could hit anything while galloping along on horseback.  Just figure out what the average man could hit at the target range, which is not much, then think about riding at a canter and trying to hit something.
It was a bit dangerous.  The man behind you is waving his pistol around, and it's loaded.
One rider killed his horse by accidentally shooting the poor animal in the head.  He hauled back on the reins, you see, with a cocked revolver in his hand.

The next scene they recorded involved all the men galloping down a sand dune.  It got scrapped as well when some of the horses fell down and a few riders came off.  Dad got a copy of the down hill charge that he appeared in.  He's the rightmost horse in the clip, and he swerves around to his right to avoid the horse that falls down in front of him.  Anyway, here's the clip, along with an advertisement for a new film that's coming out.

Note that The Tuttles of Tahiti (1942) runs first, then is followed by the Coast Guard newsreel.  The entire clip runs twice, which isn't my fault - check with the folks who converted the VHS to digital for an explanation.

Being a newsreel, it's a bit short and you may have to play it several times.  I recommend full screen mode.

Today is Thanksgiving, and although I have a lot to be thankful for including a nice home in Columbus, and a kind, generous family that has invited me for Thanksgiving dinner, I'm taking a few minutes to thank the men and women who served on the Allied side in WWII.  It wasn't any fun; it was a real tough situation, and they all stepped up and did the best they could.  My thanks to all of you.

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