Tag Archives: World War II

We Will Miss Blackie Sherrod

Many people consider Blackie Sherrod the best sportswriter in history.  Certainly in this area, he was a legend and a mentor to many.  Sherrod passed away on Thursday at the age of 96.  You can read an feature article about him by Kevin Sherrington by clicking HERE.


Sherrod worked in the Dallas area for both the Dallas Times Herald and the Dallas Morning News.  I will never forget the commercials and billboard advertisements that announced his move from one paper to the other.  He was sitting a typewriter, and his energy pecking the keys was an engine, as it depicted him on the move.

Here is a brief summary of his life from Amazon.com:  “Blackie Sherrod was born, reared, and educated in Texas. After a failed career as a wingback at Howard Payne College, he spent most of World War II as a torpedo plane gunner in the Pacific.  Sherrod began his sportswriting career in 1946 with the Fort Worth Press. He joined the Dallas Times Herald in 1958, and since 1984 his writing has graced the pages of the Dallas Morning News. His lengthy list of honors includes the Red Smith Award for distinguished contributions to his craft, a National Headliners Club Award, inclusion in the National Sportscasters-Sportswriters Hall of Fame, and an honorary doctorate from his alma mater.”

Here is a picture with Sherrod and legendary Texas Longhorns coach Darrell Royal.


In addition to his countless number of articles in newspapers, Sherrod wrote three books.  His first, called Scattershooting, was published in 1975 (Strode).  The second, co-authored with Dan Jenkins, was entitled The Blackie Sherrod Collection (Taylor Publishing, 1988).  The last, Blackie Sherrod at Large, was published in 2003 (Eakin Press).  Although they are long out of print, you can still purchase all of these books from third-party sellers.


Sherrod was in poor health for many years, so it has been awhile since he was able to write.  But, his contributions to local sports will never be forgotten.





Do You Know about Crystal City? What You May Not Know about FDR and World War II

I was fascinated when I received word of a book by Jan Jarboe Russell entitled The Train to Crystal City:  FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only FamilyTraintoCrystalCityChildren Internment Camp During World War II (Scribner, 2015).

Were you aware of what happened?  Have you ever heard of Crystal City, Texas?  See the map below.

I found this review from Amazon.com:

TraintoCrystalCityThe dramatic and never-before-told story of a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II, where thousands of families—many US citizens—were incarcerated.  From 1942 to 1948, trains delivered thousands of civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, Texas, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas. The trains carried Japanese, German, Italian immigrants and their American-born children. The only family internment camp during World War II, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program called “quiet passage.” During the course of the war, hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City, including their American-born children, were exchanged for other more important Americans—diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians, and missionaries—behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.

Focusing her story on two American-born teenage girls who were interned, author Jan Jarboe Russell uncovers the details of their years spent in the camp; the struggles of their fathers; their families’ subsequent journeys to war-devastated Germany and Japan; and their years-long attempt to survive and return to the United States, transformed from incarcerated enemies to American loyalists. Their stories of day-to-day life at the camp, from the ten-foot high security fence to the armed guards, daily roll call, and censored mail, have never been told.  Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, The Train to Crystal City reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America, the secrets of FDR’s tactics to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan, and how the definition of American citizenship changed under the pressure of war.

Who is Jan Jarboe Russell, and why did she write this book?  She is a Texan, through and through.  Her home town is the same as Randy Mayeux, who contributes to this blog.  This is her third book, and she is a frequent contributor to Texas Monthly magazine.  You can read about her on her web site by clicking here.  Here is an excerpt:

Jan Jarboe Russell was born in Beaumont, Texas and grew up in small towns in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Her father was a minister of music in numerous Southern Baptist churches and later had a second career as a social worker. Her mother was an elementary school teacher. Books and music were constants in her household. At sixteen-years-old she landed a part-time job TraintoCrystalCityJanJarboeRussellat the weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Advocate, in her hometown and settled on a career as a journalist and author.

She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After graduation, she worked briefly as a reporter for the Savannah Morning News, and in 1973 became a political reporter at The San Antonio Light. In 1976, she joined the Hearst Bureau in Washington, D.C. where she focused on Texas politics.

Although this book did make the New York Times best-seller list, it does not fit our content requirements for the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, so you won’t see us present it there.  But, if you love books, and if you may have overlooked this part of Texas history, it seems like a must-read.

Crystal City Location Map

Call to Arms Cover

Klein’s Important Distinction in WW II Book

I am reading the massive work A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II by Maury Klein (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013). I say massive because it is 912 pages long. As Jim Landers noted in his review that appeared in the Dallas Morning News, the book “makes a big call on the reader’s time and patience. The book begins with 2 1/2 pages of acronyms.”A Call to Arms

I find it interesting and revealing.  It is all about how America got people, equipment, and resources ready to fight in World War II, when that idea was not popular, not funded, and not in vogue at the time.  The book reveals the uphill battle that FDR and others faced when trying to prepare America for its involvement in the war.  Since I am on page 62 out of 912, I will likely finish this around Christmas.

However, I wanted to call one important distinction to you that appears early in the book. I don’t think very many people understand the difference.

After World War I, the attitude of many Americans was popularly called isolationism. That is the term that I learned in history, and that we use today to describe even the modern era of American involvement with other countries and world events.

Klein notes this is incorrect. At the outset of World War II, he says: “This determination to let Europe stew in its own malign juices fostered the revival of an old American attitude. Popularly known as isolationism, it was more accurately unilateralism. The object was not to sever contact with the rest of the globe, especially in matters of trade and commerce, but rather to ensure that only Americans decided what the nation would and would not do overseas” (p. 4).

It was unilateralism, and not isolationism, that was behind America’s strong rejection of membership in the League of Nations. Leaders and ordinary citizens alike did not want the United States to have any say in whether American troops would fight overseas, and repeat the deaths and expense from World War I.

Even today, you hear people say that isolationism is behind America’s decision to withdraw from foreign conflicts, avoid intervention, and so forth. More accurately, it is unilateralism at play, as we do not wish to sever contact, but decide ourselves to what extent we will be involved with other countries.

Who, by the way, is Maury Klein, the author of this massive work?  From the University of Rhode Island website, a 1971 graduate, John Pantalone, wrote this in the university’s magazine, Quadrangles:

Maury Klein pictureNearly 44 years after he began teaching history at the University of Rhode Island, Maury Klein retired at the end of the 2007 fall semester. From teaching, that is. Klein has hardly retired.

The author of 13 books on various aspects of 19th century American history, including three nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Klein recently finished a large scale book about the steam and electrical revolutions, entitled The Powermakers, which will be published next fall. Another book under contract will follow about the Union Pacific Railroad, about which he has written two volumes. He has a proposal in for a third book, and likely won’t stop after that.

“I’m finally free to write,” Klein says. “It’s what I always wanted to do. I really didn’t know how I would earn a living writing. I figured if I taught history, it’s all there.”

Most of Klein’s students would remember him as an American history scholar and a tough grader. But he is much more than that. An actor who once appeared with the nationally acclaimed Trinity Repertory Company and a persistent athlete, he has balanced the isolation of writing with physically active and interactive “hobbies.”

“I think of Maury as a gifted writer, an imaginative teacher, and an intense competitor,” says History Department colleague Michael Honhart. “I saw Maury’s competitive side when I played softball with him 20 years ago. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the same competitive spirit at work in everything Maury does.”
Klein underwent heart surgery several years ago and works out in a gym three times a week. He still plays softball in the recreation league in South Kingstown in the summers, basketball in a 50-and-over league on Sunday mornings, and pickup games with faculty colleagues twice a week.

“I’ve known Maury for almost 40 years,” says Political Science Professor Alfred Killilea. “The thing about Maury is that he is so witty that he makes the most literary complaints on the court. The referees usually don’t realize he’s complaining.

“When he plays, he has a stigmata about him,” Killilea says half-jokingly. “He sweats on his T-shirt in the shape of Mickey Mouse.”

Good-natured teasing aside, Killilea recalls Klein giving “marvelous lectures” in a summer class he team taught with him on the Watergate scandal in the ’70s. “Students often speak appreciably about Maury’s classes,” Killilea said, “and they must mean it because he is a notoriously hard grader.”

Klein confirms the reputation and complains that since the ’60s and ’70s standards have lagged and student readiness has suffered. “Some of it has to do with the country changing to a visual society over the past 50 years,” he says. “It has destroyed the language and the complexity of ideas that reading and writing allow. As a result, in too many cases, professors give grades to students simply because they did the right thing. I don’t grade as hard as I once did, but I think I grade harder than most.”

Recognized by the University for his teaching and scholarly research, Klein took innovative approaches with several classes including one where a parent of every student in the class also took the course. For another class he invented “The Entrepeneur Game,” where students took the roles of business people, bankers, lawyers, and government officials.

In his early years at URI Klein also devoted himself to institutional activities and committees through the Faculty Senate, but he stopped most of that by the mid-’70s to spend more time writing. The irony of his writing career is that he never intended to become an expert in 19th century history. “I didn’t want to be pigeonholed, so I taught everything I could think of even though I did my Ph.D. dissertation on a Civil War general because I was studying [at Emory University] with a prominent Civil War historian,” he said. “The dissertation became my second book. But most of what I wrote about later was accidental.”

It began to evolve when Klein met a noted historian who suggested he apply for the Newcomen Fellowship at the Harvard Business School. “Surprisingly, I got it, so I spent a year at Harvard, which led to my book on the railroad. After that I got a call from MacMillan asking me to do a volume for a series they were publishing. All of a sudden I was a railroad expert.”

Klein’s knowledge of railroad history and the magnates who drove rail development has attracted national attention. He has appeared in numerous historical documentaries and is often quoted in related works. The Providence Journal, in a recent editorial, referred to Klein as “one of the lesser known treasures of the Ocean State,” citing Klein’s writing about the development of the American economy, a subject that resulted in his best known work, a biography of the financier Jay Gould. The book depicts Gould in a more rounded fashion than as the stereotypical evil, bloodthirsty villain of high finance.

The Life and Legend of Jay Gould became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It also inspired Klein to further investigate the “robber barons,” whom he generally describes as extraordinary men who took the risks that built 20th century American economic power. While that is not the popular perception of the likes of Gould, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harriman, and others, Klein says it is the accurate one.

Along his accidental path, Klein also served for a time as chair of the Theatre Department. Theatre professor Judith Swift, who worked with him on stage and off at URI and off campus, says of him: “Maury is undoubtedly one of the most prolific scholars at URI. I was privileged to work with him on a number of projects. I always found these experiences to be an opportunity to learn a great deal about authenticity and integrity in research.”

Reflecting on his career, Klein sees some irony in having taught at URI for over four decades and having lived in Rhode Island for all of that time. As a child his family moved around the country frequently, and the longest he lived in one place was two-and-a-half years. “I think that’s why I pursued writing, which is a solitary practice,” he said. “But I also needed physical interaction, which is where the athletics come in. I never played on a school team as a kid, but I would miss it now if I didn’t do it.”  He won’t miss his writing; we can expect several more books from the retired professor.”
Taken from: http://www.uri.edu/quadangles/issue/may-2008

And can he write!  None of his books are short, and this is no exception.  However, it is revealing, and I am learning a lot. As I find anything else that could interest you as I read, I will post it here.

The Battle Of Midway, One of Many Great Battles To Remember On This Memorial Day

(These quotes come from Ben Bradlee’s essay, The Turning Point:  The Battle of Midway, included in Defining a Nation, edited by David Halberstam).

This is what they called a decisive battle.

On May 7, 1942 (five months after Pearl Harbor), American forces under General Wainwright surrendered in the Philippines.  The Americans gave up a “tactical victory” to the Japanese at the Battle of Coral Sea.

The scene was now set for the critical sea battle of World War II, the Battle of Midway.

On one side was the greatest sea force ever assembled – more than two hundred Japanese combat ships, including eight carriers, eleven battleships, twenty-two cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, twenty-one submarines, and more than seven hundred planes.  The fearsome Admiral Yamamoto was in command.  The size is no easier to grasp today than it was on June 3, 1942.  This armada was divided into three groups:  a four-carrier strike force approaching from the northwest; an invasion/occupation force approaching from the west; and a main battle force of the battleships between the other two.

On the other side, Admiral Nimitz had only three carriers, eight cruisers, and fifteen destroyers.  One of the carriers, the Yorktown, had been so badly damaged at Coral Sea that experts said it would take three months to repair her, but 1400 repairmen managed to patch it up in a Pearl Harbor dry dock in two days.  Nimitz split this force into two groups – one commanded by Admiral Fletcher, the other by Admiral Raymond Spruance, a last-minute substitute for Admiral Bull Halsey, who had come down with a severe case of shingles.  Many students of the Pacific war consider Spruance to have been its greatest American admiral.

Scene on board USS Yorktown (CV-5), shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942.

The rest of the essay tells the story of the battle.  The key “lucky break” for the Americans was an almost simultaneous attack on three Japanese carriers, all three of which happened to have planes and ordnance on the deck, loading fuel, making them sitting/defenseless targets.

Japanese planes on all three carriers were warming up for take off.  Gasoline lines snaked across all three decks.  Ordnance was stacked everywhere to reload returning planes…  In less than ten minutes time, the tide of the war would turn.

When the Japanese commanders finally learned that the Hiryu was sunk, the fate was clear.  The invasion of Midway was aborted.  The tide of the Pacific war had definitely turned.  The Japanese would never again be on the offensive.

I am certainly not a World War II expert.  In fact, I know few of the details.  I know that my wife’s father was a young, 20 year old signalman who watched his companion killed in front of his eyes from a direct hit by a kamikaze attack, just feet from where he was standing.  (No, he has never been able to talk about it with me).  But I know that the effort, the courage, the doggedness of countless people gave us our way of life, and, yes, many gave “the last full measure of devotion.”

And I also think this.  All progress, all victory, in war and in every thing else, is fought one campaign, one battle at a time.  We write the history in big phrases.  But it was the single pilot, flying next to the other single pilots, working together in first this battle and then that battle, with their individual acts of courage, that describe the “bigger named” battles (the Battle of Midway), that ultimately led to the biggest description – we won World War II.

It’s Memorial Day.  It is right to remember those who deserve our memories, and their memorials – those from the earliest days of this nation to the ones who carry on with individual acts of courage in places far from home today.

And so, as always, we remember these words from Lincoln, after one so very costly battle – one single battle that cost nearly as many lives as the loss of American life in the entire Vietnam War:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Personal note:  if you made me clear out my library of all but a handful of books, one that I would keep is this volume edited by Halberstam.  You can buy it used from Amazon for as little as $4.00, including shipping.  It is a great volume!  I encourage you to order a copy, and read it slowly.