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This Day in History – May 13th – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight

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NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY… MAY 13

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1888 – First staged reading of “Casey at The Bat” by Dewolf Hooper.

Hooper went on to perform the poem thousands on times on vaudeville and popularized it. The poem was written by Ernest Thayer and its full title was “Casey at The Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.” (Whew) It has gone on to become one of the more enduring American poems in history.

Our 4th grade teacher read it to us and I remember being crestfallen at the final line.

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1956 – Augie Garcia yanked from stage at the St. Paul Auditorium.

On Mother’s Day Garcia was opening for Elvis Presley when Col. Tom Parker pulled the plug on him, because his performance was so electrifying he feared his star would be upstaged. Garcia is the Godfather of Minnesota rock ’n roll and his recording a year earlier of “Hi Yo Silver” is considered Minnesota’s first rock ’n roll record.

Garcia, a Korean War veteran, grew up amongst the growing Latino population on St. Paul’s West Side. He initially formed a jazz band but switched to rock ’n roll and became very popular locally. One oddity about Garcia was that he loved Bermuda shorts and always performed wearing a blazer and a pair of Bermuda shorts. He was a headliner in all the notable venues in the Twin Cities from 1956 to 1962. Members of his band included Cornbread Harris, Jimmy Jam’s father, and Maurice Turner, Prince’s uncle. He learned “La Bamba” at age ten and it was part of his act before Richie Havens made it a hit.

The term rock ’n roll had not been coined yet when Garcia started and they called their music “kicksy.” Garcia also opened for Chubby Checker and Little Richard. There is no record of them pulling the plug on him. On that fateful day in St. Paul, the crowd was going so wild for Garcia that Col. Parker was worried. That he pulled Garcia off the stage by his coattails as some remember is probably not true, but Bob Garcia, Augie’s brother, remembers that they were supposed to play for a half hour and the set ended after only two songs. Some in the audience then left, preferring Augie to the King.

Garcia tired of a musician’s life and quit the business in 1962. He became an ironworker and returned to music only for a couple of reunion performances in the 1990s. Garcia was instrumental in getting a Korean War monument built on the Capitol grounds in St. Paul, but sadly died of cancer a few years later in 1999.

I was not aware of Augie Garcia in the 50s, and neither did I know about his reunion gig despite living in St. Paul at the time. I’m sorry I missed seeing him perform.

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1958 – Vice President Richard Nixon attacked in Venezuela.

An angry mob in Caracas attempted to overturn the car carrying Nixon and his wife. This took place during Nixon’s “goodwill” tour through South America. The local police did nothing and it was only through the efforts of the Secret Service and the intervention of a flatbed truck carrying the media pushing through the crowd that the attack was stymied. There was general anger against the U.S. in the hemisphere because due to its anti-communist policies, it sided with the brutal dictatorships ruling many South American countries.

Yankee go home!

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1943 – Axis forces surrender in Africa.

The North African Campaign ended in defeat for Germany and Italy. The Allied forces captured 275,000 experienced troops including many of Rommel’s famed Afrika Korps. Operation Torch in North Africa is the first time American troops engaged in combat, joining British, Australian, New Zealander, and Free French forces already fighting there.

I was hitchhiking across Germany with my friend, Rick. In chalk on my gray suitcase we had written the words, “American students.” It was an aid in hitchhiking. A huge dump truck came roaring down the road, slammed on its brakes and screeched to a skidding halt. As we ran up to the truck the driver jumped out to greet us. He was a short, well-built man, middle forties, with greasy blonde hair combed in a loose ducktail that mostly fell down over his ears.

“America, das ist gut, ja, ja, America.” Nodding enthusiastically and smiling broadly, he walked with a slight limp as he came to greet us.

“Ja, America, gut.”

“Helmsted, gehen zie Helmsted?” I tried German because I didn’t think the man spoke much English.

“Ja, ja, Helmsted.”

With both hands he would brush his hair back behind his ears and it would almost immediately fall loose again. He had bright blue eyes and a strong jaw that hadn’t seen a razor for a few days. He looked stereotypic German, the kind seen in most war movies.

He waved us toward his truck. When Rick and I moved toward the passenger’s side, he interjected.

“Nein, nein,” he said and grabbed my suitcase and motioned me to the other side.

Puzzled, I followed him. The cab was large, quite large. The man threw my suitcase into the cab and climbed up. Rick entered the cab from the other side. I was puzzled, where was I supposed to go?

“Ja, ja,” the man motioned me up into the cab next to him.

More than a little wary, I climbed into the cab. The steering wheel was slightly toward the center of the cab so there was some space on the left side of the driver, between him and the door. Still, it was decidedly weird. Left to right was me, the driver, the luggage and Rick.  

The driver smiled happily and shifted the big truck into gear. “Ja, gut, gut.”

He pounded his chest with his hand and said, “Duetsch, ja,” then he slapped me on my thigh. “America, ja.” He repeated this several more times.

He was exuberant, friendly, a little too exuberant and friendly, I thought. The last time he slapped my thigh his hand lingered a bit too long, and when he started to squeeze, I firmly removed it.

“Ah, Rick,” I said, intending to suggest we abandon this ride. Too late, Rick was already asleep. Sleep came easily to us that summer. We didn’t even need a flat surface, just a moment when nothing was happening and we were asleep. That day, in a huge dump truck in northern Germany, I wished sleep wouldn’t have come so easily for Rick. I’d had it with the dump truck driver slapping my thigh and letting his hand linger there. I thought to himself, “If this S.O.B. squeezes my thigh one more time I’m gonna pop him.” Obviously the guy would take me apart but at least I’d go down fighting.

Maybe the driver sensed something for the slapping and grabbing stopped. Instead he launched into a passionate story. Told in German with a few English words sprinkled in. He clutched the steering wheel with both hands and stuck out his chest proudly. “Nord Africa, tank, me, Tiger tank.” He made a driving motion and since he was already driving, the gravel truck swerved recklessly from side to side back across the road. He pounded his chest. “Driver, tank, Rommel. Boom! Boom! Boom!” If not the most articulate storytelling, still descriptively effective. He threw his hands in the air and made a louder booming noise. Then with one hand, he pulled back his greasy blonde hair, leaned toward me and revealed a long white scar along his hairline. I only glanced at the scar; thinking at least one of us should have our eyes on the road. Next the driver pulled up his shirt and showed me his stomach and chest. His skin was twisted and scarred like it had been burned.

I was more concerned with the road than the man’s wounds for the truck was careening all over the highway. Luckily there was no oncoming traffic. For me, the arrangement was too awkward. I was sitting close enough that the bouncing of the truck caused us to touch.

The driver went “boom” again, then pointed at his groin area. He started to undo his belt, presumably to show me the scars in his crotch.

“Nein, nein” I said, waving my hand in a manner that indicated it wasn’t necessary. Fortunately the driver listened and I wasn’t forced to view what I assumed were some rather indelicate war wounds. Rick remained blissfully asleep the whole while.

Again the driver pounded himself on the chest. “Ich war verwundet.” He shook his head. “Fast tot.” He then pantomimed being bandaged. Amerikaners.”

Despite the lack of a common language, I understood.

“Ja, ja,” I replied, “verstahen.”

The man was blown up in a tank battle in North Africa and would have died except for the Americans saving his life.

He had related his story in a light-hearted fashion, as if it had been nothing more than some amusing episode in his life. I glanced at him out of the side of my eyes. I didn’t want to look too closely, for fear it would be misinterpreted. I could easily imagine him as a young man driving a tank. Wrong army but he had a reckless craziness that Patton would have found endearing.

We arrived at his destination, a gravel pit instead of Helmsted. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. The driver shut off the truck and motioned for me to get out. Rick woke up and got out of the truck on the other side. The driver, without another word, disappeared into a small shack in the middle of the pit. Rick and I stood there holding our luggage.

“Where are we?”

“Beats me.”

“Well, what did he tell you?” Rick said it in an accusatory manner, as if I were at fault for not knowing what was going on.

“What did he tell me?” I became irritated. “He told me he was a gay Nazi and that Rommel got him blown up.”

Rick digested this and nodded as if it sounded plausible. Now I was getting myself worked up.

“His driving almost got us killed, he was coming on to me, and you’re happily sleeping? Thanks a lot.”

Rick’s body language conceded that perhaps he could have been more help. “I was tired, what can I say?” He thought about it a moment longer, then brightened. “With the way I had the bags piled up, it was really quite comfortable.”

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1981 – Assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II.

In St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City he was shot four times by Mehmet Ali Agca. The Pope was rushed to the hospital and despite severe loss of blood, survived his wounds. Agca was immediately apprehended. Sentenced to life in prison, Agca was later forgiven by the Pope who asked that he be pardoned. Agca was returned to Turkey where he was imprisoned for a prior murder of a journalist. 

The Pope’s act was a nice gesture. Although it did not exactly set off a trend of forgiveness around the globe.

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1985 – “Move” attack in Philadelphia.

Move was a black liberation group founded in 1972. Its principles were described as a melding between black power and flower power. They lived communally in a row house in West Philly. They fervently believed in animal rights and protested loudly at zoos, circuses, and other venues they felt exploited animals. The police attack in 1985 was not their first brush with the law. In 1978 there was an armed standoff and a police officer was shot and killed. Move claimed they had no operable guns during the siege and the officer was shot from behind while facing them, accidentally by other police. Nevertheless nine Move members were convicted and six still remain in prison.

The previous incident was fresh in the minds of both sides in 1985. 500 police descended on the house to evict the dozen Move members. Neighbors had complained about them, saying they were overly loud and left trash lying about. Another standoff occurred, and again gunfire erupted. The police fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition and two bombs were dropped by helicopter onto the roof of the Move compound. The bombs ignited a fire that spread. Eleven Move members, including five children aged 7 to 13, were killed and 65 neighborhood homes were burned down. The only surviving Move member, Ramona Africa, was convicted and spent seven years in prison. A lawsuit was brought against the city and a jury found that it had used “excessive force” and a settlement of 1.5 million was awarded to Ramona Africa and relatives of other victims. Philadelphia became known as “The city that bombed itself.”

Killing eleven people and burning down sixty-five houses does seem excessive when the charge is being noisy and trashy neighbors. Not that race had anything to do with it.

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Birthdays:

1930 – Mike Gravel.

Alaska politician. A Democrat, Gravel was first elected senator from Alaska in 1969. Anti-Vietnam at the start of his career, he continued to embrace radical politics until he was voted out of office in 1981. He made a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 but had little impact in that race. Some pundits labeled him a bit loopy.

In 2008, the same as now, there were a plethora of candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. I found a survey on the internet where you listed your preferences on political issues and it matched you with the various candidates of both parties. According to the survey, at the top of my list was Mike Gravel. To my surprise, my chosen candidate, Barack Obama, was only mid-pack. The highest ranked Republican for me was John McCain.

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1931 – Jim Jones.

Religious cult leader. Jones was a megalomaniac, civil rights activist, communist, and self-appointed messiah. Ultimately he was a very good salesman. He started his evangelistic career in Indiana where he was also appointed director of the Human Rights Commission in Indianapolis. Jones and his Rainbow Family, he and his wife had adopted a number of non-white children, moved to California in the 1960s. His Peoples Temple church flourished there in the San Francisco area. He was a staunch integrationist and attracted many black followers.

Ultimately Jones was a charlatan, and to continue his hold over his flock, he convinced them to move to Guyana. He sold it as a place with rich soil for growing food, and insect and snake free, none of which was true. Once there Jones and his inner circle held them captive in the isolated region with constant indoctrination, threats, and weapons. Everything fell apart in November, 1978, when Congressman Leo Ryan, and an entourage, made a visit. A note was passed to Ryan that they were being held captive, and when Ryan hurriedly returned to a small airstrip, eighteen defectors joined him. Jones sent armed henchmen after them, shots were fired and Ryan, three journalists, and a defector were killed. Realizing it was all over, Jones ordered a mass suicide, which had been rehearsed in the past. In reality it was more mass murder than mass suicide. Many were forced to drink the poisoned Kool-Aid at gunpoint. Jones had the children drink first, believing their parents would then willingly follow, having nothing to live for. In all, 918 people died that day, one third of them children.

It sounded unbelievable when I first heard about it, and it is still hard to believe today. Who to blame? Jones and his deranged mind? Or the followers willing to believe his nonsense? Or a society where such desperation exists that people are willing to listen to a demigod?

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1952 – John Kasich.

Candidate for 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

No such luck.

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ABOUT GARY JENNEKE

At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at gary@newswhistle.com.

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CREDITS

The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers.

Sources:

Wikipedia.org

Politico.com

TheAtlantic.com/photo

OnThisDay.com

TheCurrent.org

TwinCitiesMusicHighlights.net

History.com

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We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Lead-In Image (Baseball)  – Gary Murray / Shutterstock.com

* Penn & Teller – “Casey At The Bat” (video) – PBS & svsugvcarter / YouTube.com

* Augie Garcia (video) – The Lowertown Line / YouTube.com

* Richard Nixon – Venezuela (video) – HelmerReenberg / YouTube.com

* World War II – Africa (video) – Buyout Footage Historic Film Archive / Shutterstock.com

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com

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OTHER DAYS IN HISTORY …

December 2

* December 5

* December 9

December 11

December 12

* December 15

December 16

December 18 

December 22

December 23

December 24

December 28

* December 30

* January 3

January 4

January 6

January 7

January 10

* January 11

* January 14

January 15

January 16

January 19

January 21

January 22

January 24

January 25

January 29

January 30

February 1

February 3 

February 5

February 6

* February 9

* February 10

* February 11

February 14

February 15

February 18

February 20

February 21

February 24

February 25

February 28

March 2

March 3

March 6

March 9

March 10

March 12

* March 14

March 16

March 17

March 19

March 20

March 21

March 23

March 26

March 27

March 29

March 31

April 2

April 3

April 6

April 7

April 11

* April 12

April 13

April 18

April 19

April 22

April 23

April 25

April 28

April 29

May 2

May 3

* May 4

May 6

May 8

May 9

May 10

May 17

* May 24

May 26

May 29

June 1

June 3

June 8

June 10

June 13

June 17

June 18

June 21

June 24

June 28

June 29

July 2

July 3

* July 9

July 13

July 15

July 19

July 23

July 25

July 30

July 31

* August 3

August 7

August 10

August 11

August 16

August 17

August 21

August 24

August 25

* August 28

August 31

September 2

September 5

September 6

September 8

September 11

September 12

September 15

September 16 

September 17

September 21

September 23

September 24

September 25

September 28

September 30

October 1

October 3

October 7

October 10

October 12

October 14

* October 16

October 18

October 24

October 25

October 27

October 28

October 30

November 3

* November 4

November 5

November 8

November 9

November 10

November 13

November 14

November 16

* November 17

November 19

November 20

November 23

November 28

November 30

* Stay tuned for more!

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