Battle at Alcatraz Prison

IMG_4282May 2, 1946, started as a normal day on the job for William Miller. Well, at least as normal as any day could be on “the Rock” – what most people called Alcatraz Prison back then. Situated on a tiny island just off the coast of San Francisco, Alcatraz was a harrowing prospect for federal criminals. It boasted zero successful escapes, although many inmates had tried. The guards easily stopped and apprehended most of them before they even made it off the island. Some tried to make a swim for it but got shot in the water. Some disappeared into the icy San Francisco Bay, and were never seen or heard from again. Read More

That’s All Brother

IMG_7602In the summer of 2015, in a silent boneyard in Wisconsin, there sat an abandoned old aircraft. Like the rest of the planes there, its original use had been long-forgotten. It hadn’t graced the sky in decades. It was corroded and covered with rust, inside and out. Only a rotting skeleton in a valley of dry bones remained.

Little did anyone know, this silent airplane had an amazing story. On a cloudy day in June of 1944, it took to the war-riddled skies. Under the control of a brave flight crew, piloted by Lt. Col. John M. Donalson, it carried in its cargo hold a stick of nervous paratroopers. Their names have been lost to history, but they were boys of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the famous 101st Airborne Division. Like all parachute jumpers in the second world war, they came from a variety of backgrounds, and had undergone rigorous training. Read More

John Muir, and a Story of Yosemite

IMG_8819On a chilly night in 1903, two men sat before a crackling campfire in the Bridal Veil Meadow of Yosemite Park. The stars shone down on them, and the surrounding pine trees whistled in the night breeze. The sound of waterfalls soothed their tired minds. One of these men was John Muir, a famous mountaineer and naturalist. The other was President Theodore Roosevelt.

The story of this famous camping trip started in 1868, when a young John Muir first set eyes on the Yosemite Valley. He fast fell in love with the splendid rock formations, beautiful flowers, and charming wildlife. He wrote – “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life… their feet among beautiful groves and meadows, their brows in the sky, a thousand flowers leaning confidingly against their feet, bathed in floods of water…. myriads of small winged creatures – birds, bees, butterflies – give glad animation…as if into this one mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, to draw her lovers into close and confining communion with her.” Read More

The Bloody Angle

On a cool morning in April of 2016, I visited a small prairie in the wilderness of Virginia. A wide-open field of grass sloped into a deep ravine. Blooming purple and white Dogwoods whispered in the breeze and showered the place with petals. Butterflies flitted everywhere – especially Tiger Swallowtails, their yellow and black wings a marked contrast with the fresh green grass.

Spotsylvania Bloody Angle 3Standing among such beauty, you’d never think so much blood got spilled here. The only sign of it are a few stone monuments with faded carving. Next to them, a sign reading “Bloody Angle” points to a ripple in the grass that barely qualifies as a shallow ditch. But one-hundred-fifty years ago, “Bloody Angle” wasn’t just a ripple in a peaceful meadow. It was the scene of one of the most horrific encounters of the American Civil War.

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Twenty-four years ago, a man named Kevin Wisniewski arrived at the annual EAA airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He stood out in the crowd of thousands, because he came dressed as an officer from World War II. Every piece of his gear was authentic, part of a lifelong collection. He wondered around the displays of World War II planes in the show’s famed “Warbird Alley,” and his outfit enthralled onlookers. Many asked to take photos with him. His outfit was such a hit that the next year, Kevin asked his best friend to join him.  A few years after that, representatives of Warbird Alley approached them and asked them to set up a camp there. Read More

A Marble Stone (Poem)

A cold, unfeeling marble stone
That’s all there is for the soldier unknown
Lost in a graveyard as big as the sea
My love comes looking but won’t find me
Because all I have is a white marble stone
And all it says is “soldier unknown”

I fought like the heroes, we were the same
But I got no medal, they don’t even know my name
I was just one body in an ocean of death
Just one warrior who took a dying breath
I got no honors, nothing to show
Just this marble stone, white as snow Read More

The Angel of Marye’s Heights

His story is one of the most famous from the American Civil War, and it spawned a monument in Fredericksburg, Virginia, that still stands today. His actions atop a blood-soaked battlefield captured imaginations and hearts even in the modern era. This is the story of Richard Rowland Kirkland, otherwise known as the Angel of Marye’s Heights.

The tale first appeared in the Charleston News and Courier in 1880. Written by former Confederate General Joseph B. Kershaw, it goes a little something like this:

IMG_4244The 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, in particular the Union charge up Marye’s Heights, spelled disaster for Uncle Sam. Not far outside the city, the Confederate line had deeply entrenched at the top of a sharp slope behind a sturdy stone wall. It was an optimal position, allowing the rebels a steel free-for-all over Read More

Etches in Stone

The Fremont Culture – Lost Tribe of Utah

In Mid-May, I found myself in beautiful Moab, Utah. The state has a pull for me – the red rock canyons, the wide open fields, the deep blue skies and the snow-capped mountains. Everywhere you look, it’s beautiful.

This time, while hiking through the Arches National Park, I got to learn about another gem of Utah. This one is harder to see among the sprawling scenery, swarms of tourists, and tangles of hiking trails. It is faded with age and blended into the canyons, but for those willing to stop for a closer look, it’s a glimpse hundreds of years back in time. Read More