Category Archives: History

Hell in the Pacific


Readers of Jim’s Bike Blog may have noticed that I have dedicated a page to my Uncle Ray.

Uncle Ray

Uncle Ray

An unexpected bequest from Ray, who died at age 87 on Dec. 1, 2007, helped finance my 2009 bicycle ride across the United States.
Ray, who was my godfather, and his two younger brothers, Larry and Harold (“Hally”), were Marines who fought in the Pacific War at such places as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Saipan.
Uncle Larry

Uncle Larry

That is what prompted this blog post.
Last weekend, my wife and I visited for the first time the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Uncle Hally

Uncle Hally

The museum is there because Fredericksburg, in the Texas Hill Country, was the hometown of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, who ran the Pacific War.
Statue of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz at the National Museum of the Pacific War

Statue of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz at the National Museum of the Pacific War

I was particularly interested in any information or displays on the Marines’ island-hopping campaign in the war against Japan, especially the Battle of Tarawa, one of the hellholes where Ray fought.


Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, was important because it had an airstrip that the Allies needed to launch bombing missions against the Japanese.
Tarawa was so heavily defended that Japanese Adm. Keiji Shibasaki boasted: “It will take 1 million men 100 years to conquer Tarawa.”
But Marines of the 2nd Marine Division took the atoll in four days of hellish fighting, Nov. 20-23, 1943. Here is a video of the museum’s summary of the battle.

Exhibit on Tarawa landing, National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas

Exhibit on Tarawa landing, National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas

We also visited the museum’s gift shop, where I found a book called Tarawa: The story of a battle, a reprint of an account published in 1944 by Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent who went into Tarawa with the first wave of Marines, as did Uncle Ray.
%22Tarawa - The story of a battle,%22 by Robert Sherrod, 1944Among the photographs in the book was one that was shot the evening before D-Day on the deck of a transport ship. It pictures Marines kneeling on the deck as a Roman Catholic chaplain says Mass. There, among his fellow Marines, is Uncle Ray. I wonder what thoughts were racing through his head at that time, a half a world away from South St. Louis where he came of age.
"Battle-clad Marines kneel in prayer before the Tarawa landing," from the book "Tarawa - The story of a battle," by Robert Sherrod, first published in 1944

“Battle-clad Marines kneel in prayer before the Tarawa landing,” from the book “Tarawa – The story of a battle,” by Robert Sherrod, first published in 1944

The outdoor part of the museum complex features a Memorial Wall, limestone walls embedded with metal plaques commemorating individuals, units and ships that took part in the Pacific War.
The plaques are made possible mostly by family members who wish to honor the service of their relatives.
In my mind’s eye, I see a plaque with images of my three uncles and a headline that says something like: “The fighting Sieve brothers of South St. Louis.”
It seems that I have a project in my future.

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Rambling around the LBJ Ranch


Who knew that Luci Baines Johnson was a bicyclist?
I didn’t.
But there she was on Saturday,
the younger daughter of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, leading a bicycle tour of the sprawling LBJ Ranch near Johnson City in the Texas Hill Country.

Luci Baines Johnson in her biking gear

Luci Baines Johnson in her biking gear

Sporting a black Giro helmet, sunglasses and a red-white-and-blue jersey for the LBJ 100 bike ride, Luci Baines hosted a group of cyclists who had taken part in the seventh annual LBJ ride earlier in the day.
A group of bike-riding friends and neighbors from Fort Worth and a brother-in-law-from San Antonio traveled to the Hill Country to do the ride.
Some rode the 62-mile route, some the 42-mile route (including me), and others rode 30 miles or 10 miles.
Standing in front of Air Force One-Half after the LBJ 100 bike ride

Standing in front of Air Force One-Half after the LBJ 100 bike ride

The routes included lots of hills – it is the Hill Country, after all – a brisk northerly wind and some spectacular vistas of Central Texas, which is bursting into springtime verdancy.
Bull Session: Two bulls have a tête-à-tête at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas

Bull Session: Two bulls have a tête-à-tête at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas


But the highlight of the day for cyclists who stayed around after the ride, which began and ended on the airstrip of the LBJ Ranch, was the tour of the spread by Luci Baines.
The tour began with a look at a Lockheed JetStar aircraft, a mini version of Air Force One that LBJ called “Air Force One-Half.” The plane was used to ferry President Johnson from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin when he came to the Texas White House at the ranch.
Nose-on view of Air Force One-Half, the Lockheed JetStar that Lyndon Johnson used to take him from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin to the LBJ Ranch when he was president

Nose-on view of Air Force One-Half, the Lockheed JetStar that Lyndon Johnson used to take him from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin to the LBJ Ranch when he was president


The tour ended with a visit to the Johnson Family Cemetery in a stand of ancient live oak trees where LBJ is buried under a granite headstone that says simply:
Lyndon Baines Johnson
August 27, 1908
January 22, 1973
36th President
of the
United States of America

In between, the stories poured out of Luci Baines — about her childhood and teen years at the ranch and in the White House in Washington; about the dark-green Corvette Stingray given to her in 1965 on her 18th birthday and taken back a couple years later in favor of a safer sedan when Luci was a pregnant young wife; about LBJ’s nickname of Mr. Jellybean when, in retirement, Johnson often visited a Head Start school in nearby Stonewall with pockets full of jellybeans for the kids in a program he had started as president.

The Johnsons and Luci's 1965 Corvette Stingray

The Johnsons and Luci’s 1965 Corvette Stingray


But the most poignant stories revolved around Johnson’s sudden elevation to the presidency upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
That morning, preparations were underway at the ranch for a huge barbecue to welcome JFK after his visit to Dallas. Dessert was to be a pecan pie baked by Mary Davis, a longtime cook at the ranch.
Just as the pie came out of the oven, the Secret Service brought word that Kennedy had been shot, and shortly later that he had died.
As the staff and Secret Service agents huddled in the kitchen in shock and grief, Mary Davis sobbed: “What are we going to do with the pie?”
That pie, Luci Baines told the cyclists, became for her a symbol of a distressed nation. How would Americans go back to everyday life after their dreams and hopes, inspired by a youthful, vital president, were shattered by an assassin in Dallas?
The LBJ 100 ride, by the way, is one of the main sources of funds for the upkeep of the LBJ Ranch, which Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson bequeathed to the people of the United States. It is now the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, run by the National Park Service.
Luci Baines Johnson leads a bike tour of the LBJ Ranch accompanied by National Park Service rangers

Luci Baines Johnson leads a bike tour of the LBJ Ranch accompanied by National Park Service rangers


The eighth annual LBJ 100 ride and tour of the LBJ Ranch is scheduled for March 28, 2015.
It’s not too early to make hotel reservations in Fredericksburg, the nearest town of any size to the ranch. Many of the cyclists who rode on Saturday have already booked rooms for next year and found that several motels are booked solid that weekend.

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Time on a bike


Toon Boumans is a Dutch craftsman who collects old bicycles, restores some of them and uses leftover bits and pieces for his whimsical creations – such as a pendulum clock.
I came across this YouTube video, which demonstrates the workings of Boumans’ bike clock, and tried to glean some additional information by trolling the Internet.

It seems that Mr. Boumans is a septugenarian who lives in Cuijk in the southern Netherlands. He has been collecting historical bicycles for about 45 years.
“They must have something special,” he told one Dutch interviewer. “Unfortunately, it is getting harder to find them.”
Among the bicycles in his collection is a “fire bike,” with a coiled hose under the seat and used by firefighters.

Toon Boumans with his bicycle pendulum clock

Toon Boumans with his bicycle pendulum clock

He bought the firebike at a flea market in Lille, France. He says it is more than 100 years old and was used by firefighters at an Italian oil refinery.
Another prized piece is a World War II-vintage folding bike that was carried by paratroopers and then used for transportation once they landed.
He says it took about three months to build his bicycle pendulum clock.
A bell on the rear rack sounds on the half-hour. Two spirit levels ensure that the bike is level. And a small oilcan is on hand to lubricate the clock chains.

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Bikes and jazz at the Plaza


Every vibrant city needs a public gathering space – a plaza, piazza, town square – a place to celebrate civic accomplishments, welcome visiting dignitaries, bring in a new year, or simply hang out on a nice day.
My hometown, Fort Worth, now has such a place: the Sundance Square Plaza.
And, with hardly any hyperbole, I will say that it is magnificent.
A quarter-century in the making, including 18 months of construction, the plaza opened Friday with a weekend of events and entertainment in the heart of downtown.

Erik Hansen, the leaping Danish Viking, and the Sunday morning neighborhood bike group in Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Erik Hansen, the leaping Danish Viking, and the Sunday morning neighborhood bike group in Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

On Sunday, our neighborhood bike group included a stop at the Sundance Square Plaza during our weekly ride. We took some photos, lolled about in the fine autumn weather and listened to music by the Gloria D’Arezzo & Friends Jazz Band.
The one-acre space, anchored by two new buildings at the eastern and western ends of the plaza, sits astride Main Street.
It is bordered by Third and Fourth streets on the north and south and Commerce and Houston streets on the east and west, respectively.
The plaza features a 216-jet fountain that is illuminated at night and four 32-foot retractable umbrellas that resemble giant blossoms.
Check out the time-lapse video of the plaza’s construction by friend Brian Luenser, who lives in a condo in The Tower, a skyscraper overlooking Sundance Square.

Or the report by the local NBC station, KXAS/Channel 5, on the opening of the plaza.

http://www.nbcdfw.com/entertainment/the-scene/Sundance-Square-Plaza-Opens-in-Fort-Worth-230232381.html

Kathy McReynolds, Missy Gale, Kathy Hansen and Kelly Pinto with the Chisholm Trail Mural in the background, Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Kathy McReynolds, Missy Gale, Kathy Hansen and Kelly Pinto with the Chisholm Trail Mural in the background, Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Phil Love strikes a heroic pose with the Chisholm Trail Mural in the background, Nov. 3, 2013

Phil Love strikes a heroic pose with the Chisholm Trail Mural in the background, Nov. 3, 2013

Mark Gale, in his London Harlequins jersey, points out to Erik Hansen a feature of the new Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Mark Gale, in his London Harlequins jersey, points out to Erik Hansen a feature of the new Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Sundance Square takes its name from Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid, seated at far left in this painting of an iconic photograph taken of the Wild Bunch gang in Fort Worth in November 1900.

Sundance Square takes its name from Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid, seated at far left in this painting of an iconic photograph taken of the Wild Bunch gang in Fort Worth in November 1900.

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Up the Great River Road


One of my favorite bicycle rides, and arguably one of the most scenic in America, begins at my hometown, Alton, Ill., and stretches up the Mississippi River about 13 miles to Grafton, where the Illinois River meets the Mississippi for their conjoined journey to the sea.

My bicycle at Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

My bicycle at Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

I was born and grew up in Alton, just upriver from St. Louis, Mo., and even closer to the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers.
I have traveled along that stretch of road between Alton and Grafton countless times, in all weather – in dense fog, in driving rain, in snow, in frigid winter when the river is sometimes clogged with car-sized chunks of ice, and in the splendor of a crisp, clear autumn day when the trees that cling to the limestone bluffs are clad in dying leaves of russet, gold and bright crimson.
Last Monday was such a day.
I was on a visit to my hometown and I had brought along my bike. I logged 42.09 miles on my bike that day, including that magnificent stretch of the Big River.
That same day, a website called All Around Alton filmed a video of that length of the highway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find myself in the video.

During my ride, along a nice bike path parallel to the road, I stopped several times to take photos, including a stop at a little park at Clifton Terrace, near where my aunt and uncle used to have a bluffside house that afforded a grand view of the river.
At a little pavilion in the park, I found on a sign these words by John Madson, an Iowa naturalist and author of a 1986 book called Up On The River: An Upper Mississippi Chronicle:

Pumpkins at a yogurt shop in Grafton, where I stopped for a sandwich

Pumpkins at a yogurt shop in Grafton, where I stopped for a sandwich

“I am certain of one thing: My work has taken me from one end of the Mississippi River to the other – from the crest of the watershed above the Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the mouth of Southwest Pass a hundred miles down from New Orleans. And in all those 2,500 miles of river, there is nothing else like the 13 miles between Alton and Grafton. Nothing! … Nowhere are there such palisades as ours, and nowhere is a lovelier stretch of the Mississippi so accessible and beloved by so many people. It belongs to the nation and is in our trust. We must not betray that trust.”

The scenic river, Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The scenic river, Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

Steel sculptures of Canadian geese, Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

Steel sculptures of Canadian geese, Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The working river, the Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct, 28, 2013

The working river, the Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct, 28, 2013

Lighthouse at Grafton, Ill., at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

Lighthouse at Grafton, Ill., at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

My bike at Grafton, Ill., the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

My bike at Grafton, Ill., the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

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Happy Halloween, 2013


I shot this last week during a visit to my hometown, Alton, Ill. This skeletal motorcycle rider was part of a "Sons of Anarchy" Halloween display.

I shot this last week during a visit to my hometown, Alton, Ill. This skeletal motorcycle rider was part of a “Sons of Anarchy” Halloween display.

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The Armstrong lie


I confess that I was one who wanted to believe in Lance Armstrong.
Here was a guy who nearly died
in 1996 of testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. But he came back to win the Tour de France, arguably the world’s toughest sporting event, seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005.

Lane Armstrong

Lane Armstrong

It was a compelling story.
It captured not only the cycling world but millions of people around the world who didn’t care a whit about professional bicycling. They were just rooting for a guy who beat the Big C and rose to the pinnacle of his sport.
We all know now that it turned out to be an audacious con. Armstrong proved to be a doper and a liar.
“He had lied to me, straight to my face, all throughout 2009,” says Alex Gibney, maker of a new film called, appropriately, The Armstrong Lie.
“The gift that he has is his gift as a story teller,” Gibney says of Armstrong in a trailer for the documentary.

Added one observer quoted in the documentary: “Such a huge number of people wanted to believe that they hated anyone who didn’t believe.”
I didn’t hate those who didn’t believe. But I accepted without sufficient skepticism Armstrong’s lies. And, as an editorial board member of a large newspaper, I wrote several glowing editorials about his seemingly inexorable march to seven Tour de France victories. I now feel that I was betrayed.
Gibney’s film opens Nov. 8 in limited release in New York and Los Angeles.
I can’t wait to see it.
I’m still pissed off.

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