I’ve been quiet for the last several days* for several reasons. I’ve been heartsick; paralyzed with rage, unable to form sentences;** and, perhaps most to the point, unable to add much, if anything, to what everyone else has been saying.
What’s more, I’m well behind on my book project, and just about ever last erg of writing energy I may have by rights has to go there. Plus I’m heading off this weekend eclipse chasing, then off-the-grid resetting (a place in NE California that lacks cell signal and any form of internet, 13 miles from the nearest hamlet, no town electricity or services at all. IOW: paradise). So I’m not going to be adding much to the conversation for a while yet, as in, for some months.
But I don’t want to remain completely uncounted, so here I’ll just say two things. First, of course, is to sign on to what every other, more responsible poster has said here: Donald Trump is not just a bad president. He’s an existential danger to the US and the world — and he is allowed to be so by a Republican Party that is wholly complicit in his failure, his corruption, and in accepting his embrace of evil. As we do our best not just to resist but to overcome, we must aim not just for Trump’s fall, but for salt to rain on the fields of the entire, and thoroughly misnamed
Grand Grotesque Old Party.
And second, because not even dire political straits can be navigated by rage and desperation alone, here’s a treat I discovered as I took one of my winding journeys through the ‘tubes.
That is: I’m writing (inter alia) about the South Sea Bubble. I was, for reasons that, trust me,*** make perfect sense in context, trying to discover a little more about the forestalled first voyage of the South Sea Company ship the Royal George. Googling around that I was led to an image of the so-called South Sea shilling — part of a coinage in several denominations minted in 1723, three years after the Bubble, using silver the Company found in one of its few successful maritime ventures.
That led me to Spink and Son’s website to see if I could pick up such a coin as a curio and a keepsake. Spink’s is a fabulous too-English establishment, with retail premises in London not far from the British Museum, and an astonishing collection of rare coins and medals. It’s not really the right place to look for my coin — South Sea shillings are way too common and plebian, it turns out, and Spink’s likes to quote numbers with way too many zeroes in it for my bank balance. But you know how it is. Once there one can’t help mouse around — and cruising over to their private sale page, I found this:
The Dickin Medal
Awarded to 3 year old pigeon NURP.41.SBS.219 The Duke of Normandy, 21st Army Group, D-Day 6/6/44, AFS, No. 1086, DM No.45.
Here’s Spink’s photo of his grace’s medal:
The Duke of Normandy’s citation reads:
“For being the first bird to arrive with a message from Paratroops of the 21st Army Group behind enemy lines on D-Day, 6th June 1944 while serving with the APS (Allied Pigeon Service).”
That would have been the crucial information that paratroopers had managed to secure a key German battery overlooking Sword Beach in time for the D-Day assault on that position.
BTW: if you want that bauble, it’s offered at £15,000.
Here’s the Duke himself, a fine specimen of pigeon-hood:
Some of y’all are likely much better informed than I am, but for me, the Dickin Medal was novel territory, so some further research was clearly required. Of course in idle surfing, that means a quick trip to Wikipedia. It turns out that the Dickin Medal is often termed “the animal Victoria Cross,” which apparently makes the human Victoria Cross people rather cross, which ISTM is their problem.
The Dickin Medal has been awarded 67 times since it was instituted in 1943. The first went to the pigeon White Vision, who flew into headwinds for nine hours to deliver a message that led to the rescue of the crew of a flying boat that was forced down near the Hebrides. The most recent award went, posthumously, to Reckless, a Mongolian mare who served with the US Army in Korea. Here she is under fire…
And here in happier days:
She was, apparently, something of a character:
Out of a race horse dam, she was purchased in October 1952 for $250 from a Korean stableboy at the Seoul racetrack who needed money to buy an artificial leg for his sister. Reckless was bought by members of the United States Marine Corps and trained to be a pack horse for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. She quickly became part of the unit and was allowed to roam freely through camp, entering the Marines’ tents, where she would sleep on cold nights, and was known for her willingness to eat nearly anything, including scrambled eggs, beer, Coca-Cola and, once, about $30 worth of poker chips.
She served as an ammunition resupply horse–which is itself a reminder that for much of the twentieth century mechanized war was a hell of lot less internal-combustion-powered than you might think. See, e.g., this glimpse of German resupply on the Eastern Front in 1942:
Back to Reckless: her medal-winning feats came during the Battle for Outpost Vegas, during which she made 51 trips, covering 35 miles, ferrying over four and half tons of artillery ammunition to the front lines. She was wounded twice, and received two battlefield promotions, to corporal and then sergeant, and survived the war to live out a comfortable retirement in the United States.
As with the Victoria Cross, it’s not uncommon for Dickin Medal winners to have died in the action which earned them their award for valor, and many of the most recent winners have been dogs trained in the discovery of IEDs. Here’s Buster, an RAF sniffer dog who, thankfully, survived his service in Iraq in 2003 to make it to the very respectable age of 16:
All of which is to say that there are so many much better creatures in the world than the vileness currently infesting the Oval Office, and all those who in any way made or make that continuing disgrace possible.
But we knew that.
So to close: here’s to the Duke, to White Vision, to Reckless and Buster and the rest of their gallant company — and to all those who keep us company, who are, if unable to banish Trump, are still able to ease our spirits, the better to fight the bastards again tomorrow:
Over to y’all. Try to have some fun. We’ll all need it.
*not on Twitter, TBH.
**with more than 140 characters
***in general, whenever you hear that, or even more, Trump’s favorite imperative, “believe me,” put both hands on your wallet. Someone’s lying to you. But not this time.
Images: Spink and Sons, Duke of Normandy Dickin Medal.
Paradata, The Duke of Normandy,
Camp Pendleton Archives, Reckless Under Fire,
US Marine Corps history division, Sgt. Reckless, Camp Pendleton
Bundesarchiv, German Supply Wagon in Mud, 1942
Me, Tikka, Hairy Eyeball, 2017