Monthly Archives: April 2014

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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