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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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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 was the attack 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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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

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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

* 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 5

* December 11

* December 16

December 18 

* December 22

December 28

January 3

* January 4

January 7

January 11

* January 14

* January 15

January 19

January 22

January 24

January 29

February 1

February 3

February 5

February 9

* February 10

* February 14

February 15

February 20

February 21

February 25

February 28

March 2

March 6

March 9

March 12

March 14

March 17

March 19

March 21

March 23

March 27

March 29

April 2

April 3

April 6

April 11

* April 13

April 18

April 22

April 23

April 28

April 29

May 2

May 3

May 6

May 9

* May 10

May 15

May 19

* May 26

June 1

June 8

June 13

June 18

June 24

June 29

July 3

July 9

* July 13

July 17

July 23

July 30

* August 3

August 10

August 16

August 21

August 25

* August 31

September 5

September 11

September 16

September 21

September 25

September 30

October 7

October 12

October 16

October 25

October 30

November 4

* November 5

November 8

November 9

November 14

* November 19

November 23

November 30

* Stay tuned for more!

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