Wednesday, July 19, 2017

JFK and Ensign Fujita

JFK Poster
Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, MA

2017 marks the centennial of the birth of John F. Kennedy who was born on May 29, 1917.  The 35th President of the United States famously served on a PT Boat in the US Navy during World War II.  JFK earned the Purple heart as a result of the injuries he sustained while commanding PT-109.  Most tales of JFK are well known but very few know about how JFK's life intersected with another veteran of the Pacific War in World War II who happened to fight as a member of the Imperial Japanese Navy -- Ensign Fujita.

In the Solomon Islands chapter of America Invades ( we noted...

JFK and Crew of PT-109
JFK Library, Boston, MA

"In August 1943, JFK’s motor torpedo boat, PT-109, was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer, and members of the crew had to hide on assorted islands in the Solomons until they could be saved in an epic rescue with the help of brave Solomon Islanders. Part of PT-109 was finally located in the waters of the Solomon Islands in 2002."

In the Oregon chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to
Fighting on American Soil 
we discussed another naval veteran of World War II in the Pacific...

"Chief Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita was the first and only officer serving in Axis forces to attack the US mainland from the air. He did so on September 9, 1942, with an E14Y1 reconnaissance floatplane that cruised at eighty-five miles per hour and carried 340 pounds of ordinance. Fujita’s goal was to set Oregon forests ablaze with incendiary bombs. Thermite charges were dropped on Mount Emily in the Klamath Mountains near the town of Brookings. Fujita launched a second bombing run near Port Orford on September 29. Recent rain prevented either attack from igniting serious wildfires.

On both attacks, Fujita had brought with him on his seaplane his prized four-hundred-year-old samurai sword. In 1962, amidst some controversy among veterans, Fujita returned to Oregon and apologized for his wartime mission by presenting his samurai sword to the mayor of Brookings in Curry County (named after Governor Curry). Even President Kennedy had been consulted to approve Fujita’s visit to the United States. The man who bombed America campaigned for peace and understanding between America and Japan, even helping to endow a scholarship that brought many Oregon students to Japan. His sword, a symbol of war and reconciliation, can be found today in the Chetco Public Library in Brookings."

Fujita Sword
Chetco Public Library, Brookings, OR

JFK's decision to admit Fujita to the United States was controversial in many quarters.  Some in Oregon protested the visit by a Japanese warrior who had bombed their home state.  In JFK's centennial year it seems appropriate to remember that JFK demonstrated wisdom and generosity of spirit by allowing Fujita into the United States.

JFK Library
Boston, MA

Travel Notes: The JFK Library in Boston, Massachusetts is a gem (  JFK has many hagiographers and more than a few detractors.  What I really appreciate about this Presidential Library is that it delivers a big slice of unfiltered and unmediated JFK.  There are many recordings of JFK's speeches, many of his letters and many of his treasured possessions -- such as the cocoanut he found on the Solomon Islands in WW2.  Nor does the library overdue JFK's assassination which is treated tastefully and sparingly.  Those interested in history's least mysterious mystery can find much at the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas, TX...

Chetco Public Library
Brookings, OR
Chetco Public Library ( I am delighted to announce that I will be returning to the Chetco Public Library in Brookings, OR on Wednesday, September 27 at 6:00pm to give a talk about our newest book America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

America Invaded Reviewed!

The Midwest Book Review has this to say about America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil...

"Synopsis: "America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil", by history buffs Christopher Kelly and Stuart Laycock answer such interesting questions as to why some towns in Texas have French names, why there's a statue of a Shawnee chief at the US Naval Academy, what coastal wildlife refuges have to do with American fears of invasion, what the Olive Oil Riot in Montana was really all about, and so many more.

Ever since they first set foot on the North American continent, humans have explored, discovered, established boundaries (and subsequently invaded) all across the North American territory we now call the United States. In "America Invaded", Kelly and Laycock have effectively and knowledgeably track some of the many explorations and invasions that founded or destroyed towns, that set and reset state lines, and that shaped the peoples and culture of our nation.

Critique: Unique, informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil" is an inherently fascinating read and will prove to be an extraordinary and highly prized addition to the personal reading lists of American history buffs, as well as an unusual and enduringly popular addition to both community and academic library American History collections and supplemental studies reading lists."

Thanks Midwest Book Review!

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My interview with John Gibson...

Monday, July 10, 2017

USS Midway

"Invading" the USS Midway
San Diego, CA

Last month marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Midway which turned the tide of war decisively against the Japanese in World War II (

US Naval Aviation WW2

The USS Midway (CV- 41) is an aircraft carrier that was commissioned in September 1945 -- immediately following the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.  She did not really serve in World War II but she did serve for  forty-seven years until being decommissioned in 1992.  The USS Midway saw action during the Vietnam War and during the Gulf War.  Today she is a museum ship berthed in San Diego, CA where she attracts around 5,000 visitors per day (

Posing on board the Midway

On board the Midway visitors will learn about the mechanics of carrier take-offs and landings. An aircraft carrier is the most formidable weapon in the arsenal of the US Navy.  The mission of an aircraft carrier is to project power ashore.  During the Gulf War the USS Midway was the flagship of US naval forces in the theatre.

An aircraft carrier is a floating city with a total crew of around five thousand sailors and officers.   A carrier was equipped with medical facilities, weight rooms and a complement of US Marines.  Contrary to popular myth, carriers did not have a McDonalds on board ship!

USS Midway, San Diego, CA

The USS Midway, like US carriers today, went on many "Tiger cruises" that welcomed on board the immediate family members of serving navy personnel.

Explore our nation's history and proud military tradition with a visit to the USS Midway.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Battle of San Pascual

Stained Glass US Troops
San Pascual Battlefield
Visitor Center

The battles of the American Revolution and the US Civil War were not fought in California.  But important battles were fought in the state of California.  Perhaps the most important land battle ever fought in California was the Battle of San Pascual which was fought in southern California in December of 1846 during the Mexican-American War.  General Stephen Kearny had marched his American forces overland from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas all the way to San Diego which was, at the time controlled by Mexico and populated by the Californios.

We wrote this in the California chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil (

Stained Glass Californios Lancer
San Pascual Battlefield
Visito Center

"The bloodiest battle of the American invasion of California was fought on December 6, 1846, at San Pasqual, between General Kearny’s forces and the Californios, led by Pico. Nineteen Americans were killed in the fifteen- minute-long engagement, most pierced by the willow lances of the mounted Californios, who were excellent horsemen. Kearny himself was wounded, but his regulars forced the Californios to withdraw. Casualties among the Californios are unknown.The intervention of naval and marine forces would quickly overwhelm the resistance of the Californio forces. Frémont and Pico negotiated the Treaty of Cahuenga, which ended the fighting in California. Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles honors the family of the Californio leader."

San Pascual Battlefield, CA
Who won the battle of San Pascual?  The question still remains in doubt.  The Californios inflicted greater casualties on the Americans.  But the Californios ultimately withdrew from the field of battle. California was acquired by the United States as a part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended Polk's Mexican-American War.

Clam Pizza
Tomasso's on Kearney, SF, CA

A visitor to San Francisco today can order a clam pizza at Tomasso's Restaurant ( on Kearny street near north beach.  Similarly a tourist can see the sites along Polk street in the city by the bay.  The American invasion of 1846 in California have left their marks upon this land.

Kit Carson statue
San Pascual Battlefield, CA
The battle is also noteworthy for the participation of Kit Carson, the legendary western scout who supported the American forces in the battle sneaking through Californio lines to get assistance from the US Navy.

James K Polk
America's most significant one term President

Today the Battlefield of San Pascual is a California State park is supported by volunteers and only open on weekends (  The nearest town is Escondido which lies about 30 miles north of San Diego.  After my recent visit to the visitor center I walked around the dusty trail which had many suspicious looking holes along the trail.  Many signs warned about the presence of rattlesnakes.

San Pascual Battlefield, CA

Beautiful views of the area could be gained from the heights of San Pascual.

Commander Kelly suggests that you wear boots while exploring the nearly forgotten history of California at the San Pascual Battlefield.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Patton in Pasadena

Patton Home
1220 Patton Court
San Marino, CA
In 2017 Patton must be remembered on account of his dashing and aggressive leadership in World War II that saved countless lives and helped to shorten the duration of the war in Europe.

George S. Patton jr. grew up in Pasadena California.  He was born in 1885 to a wealthy California family.  He enjoyed riding horses in the hills around Pasadena.  His childhood home at 1220 Patton Court in San Marino today is a private residence that is not open to the public (his sister Anne Wilson Patton, "Nita", lived there until her death in 1971.

Patton Court
San Marino, CA
Patton's family had a strong military tradition.  His great uncle had served in the Confederate Army in the US Civil and was killed in Pickett's charge at the battle of Gettysburg.  Patton attended West Point where he did well in spite of his dyslexia.  Patton also competed as pentathlete at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm.

Church of Our Savior
Patton's Church
San Gabriel, CA

Patton's first military experience took place in 1916 during President Wilson's undeclared war against Pancho Villa.  We noted this in the Mexico chapter of America Invades...

"Wilson intervened again in Mexico in 1916, this time to strike at Pancho Villa, a notorious bandit leader who had launched a series of raids along the US-Mexico border. Brigadier General John Pershing was sent to lead the Punitive Expedition from New Mexico into Chihuahua. Pershing was a tough veteran of Indian wars and the Moro uprising in the Philippines (see “Philippines”), who would later lead the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. A young George S. Patton Jr., whose
attractive sister "Nita" (Anne Wilson Patton) was dating the widower Pershing, was detailed to Pershing’s staff.

Pancho Villa, as it turned out, proved to be somewhat elusive, but Patton, leading a small patrol, participated in a skirmish at San Miguelito in which three Villistas were killed. When about fifty Villistas approached the hacienda, Patton beat a hasty retreat with the three dead men strapped across his automobile hood. Patton was promoted to first lieutenant."

In the Morocco chapter of America Invades we noted that seventy five years ago Patton led American forces in an invasion of Morocco...

Patton Statue
Church of Our Savior, San Gabriel, CA
"On November 8, 1942, US troops, under the command of General George “Blood and Guts” Patton, who studied the Koran on the voyage across the Atlantic, landed on three sites on the coast.
The United States, in invading Morocco, was attacking a nation with which it was not at war at the time—Vichy France was technically neutral. The point of Operation Torch invasions across North Africa was to strategically outflank Rommel’s Africa Corps and the Italians in Libya who faced the British driving west from Egypt...After the battle of Casablanca, the red carpet was rolled out for the surrendering French officers who had ruled Morocco. After negotiating the terms of surrender with the French, Patton, who was fluent in French, “held up his hand and told them there was one last formality to be completed.” Worried looks were quickly replaced by smiles as champagne bottles were opened and Patton offered a toast to the renewal of France and America’s age-old friendship.

Patton also turned out to be a surprisingly successful diplomat when he served as the putative viceroy of Morocco. He wrote to the sultan of Morocco assuring him they came as friends, not as conquerors, and did not intend to stay after the war. Patton frequently entertained the sultan (whom he referred to as "Sa Majesté") and escorted him on inspection trips."

Patton Window
Church of Our Savior, San Gabriel, CA
In Tunisia American forces were initially humiliated by the Germans at the Battle of Kasserine Pass.  "Eisenhower dismissed Lloyd Fredendall and put General George “Blood and Guts” Patton in command of II Corps in Tunisia. With fresh leadership, there was an almost immediate improvement in morale. On March 16, Patton told his staff, “Gentlemen, tomorrow we attack. If we are not victorious, let no one come back alive.”

On April 3 1943, Patton held a meeting in Gafsa with Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder to demand that his soldiers receive better air cover; they were interrupted by three Focke Wulf fighters that strafed the streets and headquarters. Tedder, dusting himself off, inquired how the Germans had managed to achieve this, to which Patton famously replied, “I’ll be damned if I know, but if I could find the sonsabitches who flew those planes, I’d mail each one a medal.”

"I have finished my course"
Detail Patton Stained Glass Window
Church of our Savior,  San Gabriel, CA

Patton did not participate directly in D-Day on June 6, 1944.  But he famously led the 3rd US Army in France and northern Europe.  In America Invades we noted his remarkable leadership of American forces in France.  "As commander of the US Third Army after D-Day, Patton, led an army that advanced farther and faster than just about any army in military history, crossing twenty-four major rivers and capturing 81,500 square miles of territory, including more than twelve thousand cities and towns. Patton loved to quote Danton who said, “De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace!” (“Audacity, more audacity, always audacity”)."

Patton's accomplishments are celebrated in a stained glass window of an Episcopal church.  The Church of Our Savior ( celebrated its 150th anniversary in April of 2017.  Patton and his family worshipped in this church over many years.  Note the green swastikas which were used in this window -- not something one sees everyday in an Episcopal church!

The Author at Patton's grave
Luxembourg American Cemetery

Patton's grave can be found in the Luxembourg American Memorial cemetery in Hamm Luxembourg (

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Midway + 75

Japanese Zero

Seventy-five years ago this month the Battle of Midway was fought in the Pacific by the Imperial Japanese Navy and the US Navy.

Jimmy Doolittle Bust
IWM Duxford, UK
The Japanese launched the Midway campaign as a direct result of Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo.  The defensive perimeter of the Empire needed to be expanded in order to prevent further American raids onto the home islands.  In the Midway campaign Japanese forces struck north seizing the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska.  The US had no carriers assigned to the Alaskan theater.  Dutch Harbor was bombed.  American soil was invaded and occupied.

But the major thrust of the campaign was aimed at Midway Atoll -- a small island in the Hawaiian archipelago.  Control of this island would allow Japanese land based bombers to strike Pearl Harbor at will.

Admiral Chester Nimitz

The Battle of Midway was fought over three days from June 4 to June 7.  Chester Nimitz of Fredericksburg Texas was in command of US Naval forces.  The result was a decisive American victory.  Four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk while the Americans lost only one carrier -- the Yorktown.

Midway meant that Japan would never again contest naval supremacy in the Pacific.  As a result of the battle Japan would be forced to fight a defensive struggle to hold onto the massive territorial gains it had made in the six months since the Pearl Harbor attack.

1942 was the turning point of the war.  Prior to 1942 the Axis was triumphant on all fronts.  During 1942 the Axis lost at Midway, at El Alamein in the Egyptian desert and at Stalingrad.  After 1942 the Axis had no major victories. World History turned decisively at Midway seventy-five years ago.

The "inevitability" of Allied victory is a illusion caused by the passage of time and a failure of the imagination.  Those sailors, officers and airmen at Midway, regardless of which side on which they fought, certainly did not enjoy any feeling of inevitable victory or defeat.

Midway was a Japanese strategic roll of the dice that came up craps.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Waterloo Day

Duke of Wellington
London, UK

June 18th is known as Waterloo day.  Many in the UK still celebrate and remember their nation's victory against Napoleon and the French on June 18, 1815.  The Duke of Wellington was rewarded with a fine house ( by a grateful nation went on the become Prime Minister of Britain.

London Underground

Most Americans do not give Waterloo Day much thought.  Americans DID, however, serve at the Battle of Waterloo.  We mentioned one American who served in a prominent capacity at Waterloo in the Belgium chapter of America Invades...

Duke of Wellington
London Underground

"In June of 1815, Sir William Howe De Lancey and his new bride, Magdalene Hall, were invited, but did not attend, the famous Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels that preceded the Battle of Waterloo. De Lancey, born in New York City, served as the British Duke of Wellington’s deputy quartermaster general in the Waterloo campaign. His father, Stephen De Lancey, had also served as an officer in the 1st New Jersey Loyal Volunteers in the American Revolution. Sadly, while accompanying the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, De Lancey was struck by a bouncing canon ball and fatally wounded."

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Friday, June 16, 2017

The Carolinian

I enjoyed my recent print interview with Catie Byrne of The Carolinian.  I hope to make it to North Carolina on my upcoming book tour for America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil.

Here is the

Best wishes to all my friends in the Carolinas!

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

4th of July 2017

Minuteman Statue
Old North Bridge, Concord MA

As we pause to celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s independence, it seems appropriate to consider the vital role played by the American military in the creation of our nation and its transformation of our world.

We are not a militaristic nation, but we are a nation that is deeply proud of our military. We also are not a perfect people. We have made many mistakes. We have not always lived up to our noble ideals. It is important to remember what happened at Wounded Knee, My Lai, and Abu Ghraib. But we must also remember the amazing things the US military has done for our world.

It all began in Massachusetts with “the shot heard round the world” on Concord’s Old North Bridge. On April 19, 1775, British soldiers marched from Boston to Lexington and Concord to seize a cache of arms. They were confronted on the Lexington Green by citizen soldiers who were farmers, merchants, and tradesmen. Liberty was not a gift of the English crown; she had to be taken by force with an armed rebellion.

With my ancestor's letter

Later that year, American forces invaded British Canada. My own ancestor, James Van Rensselaer, was a citizen soldier in the siege of Quebec, and his commanding officer was Benedict Arnold.

The American Revolution is often portrayed in rosy hues due to its remoteness and patriotic outcome. It was, in fact, a horrendously bloody conflict. Recent scholarship has placed the total number of Americans killed in the American Revolution at around 25,000. The total US population of the thirteen colonies in 1775 was 2.4 million. Thus, over 1 percent of the population was killed over the course of the nearly eight-and-half-year war. Nearly 5 percent of the soldiers in the Continental Army were of African descent.

After the American Revolution, we would fight Britain again in the War of 1812. The White House was burned, but Major General Andrew Jackson rallied a diverse band of soldiers that included blacks, Native Americans, and even pirates to win the Battle of New Orleans.

Polk Flag
Smithsonian Museum of American History

In 1846, President Polk launched a war against Mexico. This was and remains a controversial chapter in American history. Congressman Abraham Lincoln opposed the war. Henry David Thoreau refused to pay taxes to support the war, and was briefly jailed. Even Ulysses Grant, who fought in the war, condemned its prosecution in his memoirs.  But without the Mexican-American War, the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico would never have been added to the Union. Without the Mexican-American War, the United States might never have become a coast-to-coast superpower.

Without that American superpower, the twin scourges of the twentieth century, fascism and communism, might never have been defeated.

Imagine for a moment a counterfactual history in which Polk did not fight the Mexican-American War. How would World War II, for example, have been different? The Japanese would never have sunk the Arizona at Pearl Harbor to start the war, because Arizona would have belonged to Mexico.  It is unlikely that American power, lacking California, would have even stretched to the Hawaiian Islands. Without Polk’s war, an American naval base at Pearl Harbor would likely never have been built. The atomic bomb would never have been dropped on Hiroshima to finish the war, as it could not have been tested at the Trinity site in New Mexico.

Just over a hundred years ago, in 1917, President Wilson led us into the “war to end all wars.”  American citizen soldiers (including my great-uncle Jacks Wells, who served in the 27th Infantry Division) were shipped “over there” with the American Expeditionary Force to turn the tide of battle against the Central Powers (see By 1918, the German Kaiser was forced to abdicate his throne. In 1941, following the Pearl Harbor attack, Americans would again be called on to fight on foreign shores, this time against Hitler and Imperial Japan. Just over 72 years ago, American soldiers liberated Nazi concentration camps like Buchenwald and Dachau, thereby helping to end the Holocaust. Without American invasions at places like the beaches of Omaha and Anzio, the world would undoubtedly be a darker place.

After World War II, American forces remained engaged with Europe, garrisoning the nations of former adversaries during the Cold War. NATO, the most successful alliance in history, was founded, and the Cold War was won without a shot being fired.

Today we face the threat of global terror networks that have perpetrated horrors in, among other places, Manchester and London in the United Kingdom, and Orlando, Florida, in the United States. We confront ISIS in the Middle East. North Korea’s Kim Jung Un continues to develop weapons that could be capable of striking our homeland. And Putin’s Russia rearms at home and attempts to disrupt electoral processes in the West.

Our enemies must know that Americans do not love war for war’s sake. To do so is the definition of fascism. We are and always have been reluctant warriors. But, when provoked, we know how to fight, and we will persevere until victory and an enduring peace is won.

Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of those American patriots who have served in our military in the past and those that serve today, we are able to celebrate the 4th of July and to continue to confront the challenges that face us around the world.

Thanks War History

Thanks Small Wars Journal...

Thanks Richland Source...

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