The National Christmas Tree Railroad

Celebrating it’s 25th year, the National Christmas Tree Railroad is again part of the display for this year’s National Christmas Tree and Santa’s Workshop, located in President’s Park on The Ellipse (MAP) in front of The White House.  And during this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to enjoy the display for a little while.

The railroad is comprised of a group of large-scale model trains which has expanded each year and now include multiple tracks, trains, bridges and buildings.  It is sponsored and constructed by a group of non-paid volunteers who operate the electric trains in an elaborate display around the base of the tree.  It is one of my favorite aspects of the display, and makes a trip to see the National Christmas Tree worth it, even during the daytime.

 

[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

As the trains pass by, spectators try tossing coins into some of the train’s cars, much like a wishing well.
The money collected goes towards the cost of maintaining the National Christmas Tree Railroad.

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The Million Mask March and Guy Fawkes

The hacktivist group Anonymous announced they would be gathering at The Washington Monument at 9:00am this morning to begin a protest in Downtown D.C. It’s an annual protest that is in its 7th year here in D.C. (23rd year worldwide), and is part of an annual global protest associated with Anonymous. The protest has come to be known as the Million Mask March, or “Operation Vendetta,” and takes place each year on Guy Fawkes Day, the 5th of November. So I decided to learn more about the group and protest, and then to go and observe the protest.

The motives for each year’s march varies, but are usually broad in scope and include some consistent themes and beliefs that are prevalent in the Anonymous movement. They include: corruption in politics and governments; banks, corporations, and big pharma companies; government surveillance; demilitarization; capitalist greed; climate change; internet censorship; police violence; the erosion of civil liberties; self-governance, and; the treatment of vulnerable groups like migrants, disabled people, and those living in poverty.

Anonymous also ascribes to what many people would call “conspiracy theories.” According to the web site for the Million Mask March the group contends that: Jackie Kennedy, and not Lee Harvey Oswald, shot John F. Kennedy; Julian Assange was an orphan raised in a CIA child sex slave camp and was framed in the 9/11 attacks, and; Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier and convicted sex offender who was recently reported to have committed suicide while in Federal custody is, in fact, not dead but living on a ranch under the protection of the Federal government.

Anonymous associates itself with Guy Fawkes, and those attending protests usually wear Guy Fawkes masks. And they schedule their main protest on Guy Fawkes Day (which is also known as Bonfire Night and Firework Night). Guy Fawkes Day is an annual commemoration observed primarily in the United Kingdom. Its history began with the events of November 5, 1605, when a man named Guy Fawkes, a participant in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James the First had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London; and months later, the introduction of the Observance of the 5th of November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure.

Fawkes was sentenced to be executed for his part in trying to assassinate the king. But shortly before the sentence was scheduled to be carried out, Fawkes fell from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

So after learning about the planned protest and the group, I took an early break from work today and went down to The Washington Monument at 9:00am to observe the Million Mask March. I got there at about 8:45am, but didn’t see anyone wearing a Fawkes mask, or that looked like they were there for a protest. But I was early. So I waited. It wasn’t particularly crowded at the monument. In fact there were no more than a couple of dozen tourist coming and going. I waited for over an hour but no protesters showed up. I eventually gave up and went back to work. I checked a site that was supposed to be live streaming the march. But I got a message that read, “404 – Page Not Found.” And later, after the march was scheduled to have concluded, I checked the Facebook page that was set up for the march. Despite multiple posts made today, there were no posts or photos of the march.

So, I find it ironically interesting that the group aligns itself Guy Fawkes, a man and a day famous for failure. If the purpose of the march was to influence people and communicate with the public, today’s march was as much a failure as Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot.

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Operation Eagle Claw Memorial

I remember the fall of 1979.  I was a senior in high school.  And it was an eventful time.  Some of the events seemed more significant at the time than they would be in the long run, such as when the Pittsburgh Pirates  defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.  It was before the Washington Nationals existed.  So the Orioles were as close to a local team as we had. 

Other events from that time became ingrained in my memory because of how they affected me on a personal level, such as when several fans of The Who were killed at a concert at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio.  A combination of “festival” (unassigned) seating and too few entrances being opened resulted in eleven kids being trampled to death when the crowd surged forward trying to enter the concert.  Those kids were all approximately my age, and I remember thinking that it could have been me.

Still other events were even more significant in nature and would have rippling effects on history.  One of those events would come to be known as the “Iran hostage crisis.”  It started on November 4th, 40 years ago today, when hundreds of Iranian Islamic fundamentalists who supported the Iranian Revolution under the Ayatollah Khomeini, mostly students, took over the United States Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage, demanding that the U.S. send the former Shah of Iran back to stand trial.  or days nothing was known of the hostages’ condition until their captors finally released all female and black hostages. Later, one other man was released for medical reasons, leaving 53 Americans captives.

By spring of the following year the situation had reached a standstill.  All diplomatic attempts to secure their release had failed.  So President Jimmy Carter authorized a secret joint-services military operation on April 25, 1980, to rescue the hostages.  The plan, known as Operation Eagle Claw (Operation Tabas in Iran), called for a rendezvous of helicopters and cargo planes at a remote desert site in Iran, known as Desert One, before attempting the actually rescue of the hostages. However, the mission was aborted when two of the aircraft collided.  The ensuing explosion and fire claimed the lives of eight American service personnel.  They included three Marines:  Sergeant John D. Harvey, Corporal George N. Holmes Jr., Staff Sergeant Dewey Johnson; and five Air Force personnel:  Major Richard L. Bakke, Major Harold L. Lewis Jr., Technical Sergeant Joel C. Mayo, Captain Lyn D. McIntosh, and Captain Charles T. McMillan.  Their bodies could not be recovered before the surviving aircraft had to abandon the desert staging area. Shortly thereafter the eight bodies were returned to the United States. 

The failed rescue operation resulted in some rather undesirable consequences. Firstly, the hostages were scattered across Iran, to make another rescue mission impossible. Also, the US government received heavy criticism from governments around the world for making such blunders in a very critical situation. As a matter of fact, experts and President Carter himself believe that the failure of Operation Eagle Claw was a major reason he lost the presidential election to Ronald Reagan.

Only 20 minutes before Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President on January 20, 1981, Iran finally released the hostages.  They were held for 444 days, making it the longest hostage crisis in recorded history.  

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited a monument dedicated to the memory of the gallant servicemen, who died in the valiant effort to rescue the American hostages.  It is located in Arlington National Cemetery, near the Memorial Amphitheater.  The monument consists of a white stone marker that bears a bronze plaque listing the names and ranks of the three Marines and the five airmen killed in Operation Eagle Claw.

NOTE:  Although it was a failed mission and its widespread failure would be a moment of profound humiliation for the United States, the operation has since become known as the “most successful failed mission in history.”  Many tactics and procedures were first used and developed by the military personnel of Operation Eagle Claw, including blacked out landings, landing on unprepared runways, multi-aircraft air field seizure, clandestine insertion of small helicopters and many other procedures, some of which are still classified to this day.

Capital Harvest on the Plaza

During today’s lunch break I rode to the weekly farmer’s market, Capital Harvest on the Plaza (CHoP), located on the Woodrow Wilson Plaza at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in Downtown, D.C.  Actually, instead of “during” today’s lunch break it would be more accurate to say “for” today’s lunch break.  Because I went there to eat lunch at one of the many eateries that sets up as part of the farmer’s market.

In addition to ready-to-eat, farm-fresh edibles and artisanal novelties, the weekly farmers market allows local farmers, artisans, and producers to sell home grown, fresh organic fruits, vegetables, meat, and other locally produced food, as well as flowers and canned and baked goods, at an affordable price.  You can also stop by their information booth and stock up on recipes and tips for maintaining a healthy and socially responsible lifestyle.

The CHoP Farmers Market is open Fridays, spring through fall, from May 3 to November 22, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., and is accessible via metro by either the Federal Triangle (blue/orange/silver lines) or Metro Center (red/blue/orange/silver lines). Parking is available onsite in the Reagan Building’s underground parking garage.  But, of course, I prefer to ride a bike there.

There are also a number of other good farmer’s markets in the city that are also open during the workweek, including: the U.S. Department of Agriculture Outdoor Farmers Market, located next to the U.S.D.A. Headquarters at 12th and Independence Avenue in southwest D.C. (also open Fridays); the Freshfarm by the White House Market located at 812 Vermont Avenue in northwest, D.C. (open Thursdays); the Penn Quarter Market, located at 801 F Street in northwest D.C. (also open on Thursdays); the Foggy Bottom Market, located at 901 23rd Street in northwest, D.C. (open Wednesdays); the Rose Park Recreation Center Farmers Market, located at 1499 27th Street in Georgetown (also open on Wednesdays), and; the CityCenterDC Market, located at 1098 New York Avenue in northwest, D.C. (open Tuesdays).  There are additional farmers markets throughout the city that are open on the weekends as well.  Now, if I could just find a good farmers market open on Mondays.

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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USS Serpens Monument

During this lunch break I rode to and spent some time in Arlington National Cemetery (MAP). Because bike riding is not permitted in the cemetery, I parked my bike at one of the bike racks provided at the visitors center, and then went for a long walk in the cemetery.  During my walk, I happened upon a stone marker that stood out because of its size and shape. Upon examination, I found out that it is a memorial to the men of a U.S. Coast Guard ship named the USS Serpens (AK-97).

As I would later learn, the USS Serpens was a 14,250-ton cargo ship that was laid down in March of 1943, before being transferred to the U.S. Navy the following month for service during World War II.  She was responsible for delivering troops, goods and equipment to locations in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, and served for almost three years, until the night of January 29, 1945, when disaster struck.

Late on that fateful January evening, Serpens was anchored off Lunga Beach, a promontory on the northern coast of Guadalcanal in the British Solomon Islands. The ship’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Perry L. Stinson, and seven others, one officer and six enlisted men, were ashore. The remaining crewmen were loading depth charges into her holds when Serpens exploded. After the explosion, only the bow of the ship was visible. The rest had disintegrated, and the bow sank soon afterward.  One hundred ninety-six Coast Guard crewmen, 57 Army stevedores, and a Public Health Service physician named Dr. Harry M. Levin, were killed in the explosion, and a soldier ashore was killed by shrapnel. Only two of those on board, Seamen First Class Kelsie K. Kemp and George S. Kennedy, who had been in the boatswain’s locker, survived.  The catastrophe was the single greatest disaster suffered by the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.

In July 1947, the Coast Guard still thought an enemy attack had caused the blast. However, by June 10, 1949, it was determined not to have been the result of enemy action.

At first report the incident in July 1947, attributed to explosion to enemy action.  But a court of inquiry later determined that the cause of the explosion could not be established from the remaining evidence.  By 1949 the Navy noted that the loss was not due to enemy action but due to an “accident intrinsic to the loading process.”

The available remains of those killed were originally buried at the Army, Navy and Marine Cemetery in Guadalcanal with full military honors and religious services. They were later repatriated under the program for the return of World War II dead,  in 1949.  The mass recommittal of the unidentified dead took place in section 34 at MacArthur Circle. The remains were placed in 52 caskets and buried in 28 graves near the intersection of Jesup and Grant Drives. It is the largest group burial to at Arlington National Cemetery.  An additional two grave sites were reserved for the octagonal monument inscribed with all of their names, which I saw on this ride.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Oscar S. Straus Memorial

The Oscar S. Straus Memorial is located just two blocks south of The White House, in the Federal Triangle on 14th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue, in front of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (MAP), and was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.

The memorial commemorates the accomplishments of the first Jew to be a member of the cabinet of a U.S. president, having served as Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1906 to 1909.  He also served under Presidents William Howard Taft, William McKinley, and Grover Cleveland, and was offered a cabinet position by Theodore Roosevelt.

Oscar Solomon Straus was born on December 23, 1850, in Otterberg, Rhenish Bavaria, now in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate (now Germany).  At the age of two he immigrated with his mother and siblings to the United States, joining their father, Lazarus, who had emigrated in 1852.  The family settled in Talbotton, Georgia.  At the close of the Civil War in 1865, Straus’s family moved to New York City, where he graduated from Columbia College in 1871 and Columbia Law School in 1873.  In 1882, Strauss married Sarah Lavanburg, and they had three children: Mildred Straus Schafer (born the following year), Aline Straus Hockstader (born in 1889), and Roger Williams Straus (born in 1891).

Straus first served as United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1887 to 1889, and then again from 1898 to 1899. In January of 1902, he was named a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to fill the place left vacant by the death of ex-President Benjamin Harrison. Then in December of 1906, Straus became the United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Roosevelt. This position also placed him in charge of the United States Bureau of Immigration.  Straus left the Commerce Department in 1909 when William Howard Taft became president and became U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire until 1910.  In 1912, he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York on the Progressive and Independence League tickets. And in 1915, he became chairman of the public service commission of New York State.

The memorial fountain was designed by Adolph Alexander Weinman, and funded with a public subscription beginning in 1929.  It was dedicated on October 26, 1947, by President Harry S. Truman. It was disassembled and placed in storage in 1991 during the construction of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. After the building was completed, the fountain was reinstalled with all original materials. It was rededicated on October 26, 1998.

In the center of the memorial is the massive fountain with the inscription “statesman, author, diplomat.”  To the sides are two statues.  The one to the left is one entitled Justice, which depicts a woman representing “Justice,” with her arm resting on the Ten Commandments.   It is intended to symbolize the religious freedom which allowed a Jew to serve in such a position of authority.  The inscription on this statue reads, “Our Liberty of Worship is not a Concession nor a Privilege but an Inherent Right.”   To the right of the fountain is the statue entitled Reason.  It depicts a partially draped male figure and a child holding a purse, key, and hammer, symbolizing the capital and labor efforts put forth by Straus throughout his career.

Straus died on September 3, 1910, and is buried at Beth El Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York.  For more on his life and career, you can read his memoirs, entitled  “Under Four Administrations,” which he wrote and published in 1922.  

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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ShutDownDC Protest

Today I encountered a protest. That’s not unusual, however. The same can be said almost any day of the week depending on where in you are here in the city. But today’s protest occurred at various locations around D.C. There was a similar protest at the beginning of this week as well. Entitled “ShutDownDC,” the protests were timed for the beginning and end of the week, along with strikes in a number of other cities, in order to coincide with the start of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

A coalition of several climate change and social justice groups participated in this week’s protests. The groups included climate change organizations: “Rising Tide North America” and “Extinction Rebellion DC.”  But it also included such diverse groups as “Code Pink: Women for Peace,” which describes itself as a grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally and to redirect the resources used for those things; the “Democratic Socialists of America,” the largest socialist organization in the United States; “World BEYOND War,” a “global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace”; “Werk for Peace,” a queer and transgender rights movement, and; Black Lives Matter. According to a website for the events, the purpose of the protests were “to demand an immediate end to the age of fossil fuels, and a swift and just transition to renewable energy.”

On Monday the protesters split up and blocked various major intersections and other key infrastructure in the city in an attempt to disrupt traffic and gridlock the city during morning rush hour. Today’s protest took the form of a march, causing rolling street closures and traffic backups. It started and ended at McPherson Square. Along the way they paused in front of certain companies and organizations in order to “call them out as fossil fuel villains.” They included the investment management company BlackRock, located about a block northeast of the White House. which the protest group accuses of being “the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels and deforestation”; the Environmental Protection Agency building on Pennsylvania Avenue, which they describe as stopping at nothing to destroy existing climate protections; the Trump International Hotel, which they say is a symbol of corporate influence in U.S. politics; and a branch of Wells Fargo Bank, which they contend has put $151 billion into fossil fuel industries in the past three years during “a time when really we should be thinking about the managed decline of the fossil fuel industry.”  The intent of today’s march was to again disrupt traffic and cause gridlock for commuters during the morning rush hour.

In general, a protest is a way of making opinions heard in an attempt to influence public opinion or government policy. In this case, however, I don’t think the protests were very effective in achieving that goal. When a protest is designed to disrupt traffic and inconvenience the average working person who is just trying to go to work to support themselves and their families, you lose the support of the very people you are trying to influence. You fail to influence or gain the support of the grassroots people needed to sway public opinion and influence government and corporate action.  And you can end up looking like self-absorbed attention seekers.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Harvard Field Hospital Unit Memorial

On this ride I discovered this small, of-the-beaten path memorial on the grounds behind the American National Red Cross Headquarters building (MAP), in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.  The simplicity of the memorial naturally directs visitors to the plaque on top, which tells the story of the memorial.

Inscription:

This plaque acknowledges the public spirit of Harvard University and the dedication of the staff of the American Red Cross – Harvard Field Hospital Unit, who provided and staffed a pre-fabricated hospital sent to Salisbury, England, in the summer of 1941 to deal with the potential outbreak of communicable diseases.

In particular, homage is paid to the following – Reported missing and presumed lost’ on the voyage to Britain:
Ruth Breckenridge – Housemother
Nancie M. Prett, R.N.
Phylis L. Evans, R.N.
Phylis L. Evans, R.N.
Dorothea L. Koehn, R.N.
Dorothy C. Morse, R.N.

In July 1942 the hospital was transferred to the United States Army. Following the war, the facility reverted to the British Ministry of Health and was the site of the Common Cold Research Unit. It finally closed in 1990.


[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Montford Point Marines Memorial

On this lunchtime bike ride I found myself in Arlington National Cemetery.  And  because bike riding is prohibited in the cemetery, I decided to go for a walk.  It was during my walk that I happened upon a marker in the shade of a tree, in Section 23 of the cemetery, off Farragut Drive (MAP).  On the marker is an inscription that reads:

“The footprints of the Montford Point Marines were left on the beaches of Roi-Namur, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The tides and winds have, long ago, washed them out into the seas of history; but,
“The Chosen Few”
in field shoes and canvas leggings, also left their marks in the firm concrete of Marine Corps history. And as new generations of Marines learn to march in those footprints, their cadence assumes the proud stride of the men of Montford Point.”
Gen. Leonard F. Chapman, Jr.

So later, after I got back from my ride, I decided to do some research on the marker, and the Montford Point marines, to learn more about them.

The marker was placed in the cemetery and dedicated on November 13, 1996, by the Montford Point Marine Association, as a memorial to the legacy of the first African-Americans to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, which took place after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order in June 1941, establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission and ordering the armed services, including the Marine Corps, to recruit and enlist African Americans.

These marines got their name because they trained at the then-segregated Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina, beginning on August 26, 1942.  Between 1942 and 1949, more than 20,000 men were trained at Montford Point.  In July 1948, despite strong opposition from Democrats of the segregated South, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which required the desegregation of the military.   The resulting changes caused the camp do be decommissioned in September of the following year, and new African-American recruits were then-after trained along with other marines at Parris Island and Camp Pendleton.

Some of the more notable Montford Point marines include: Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, one of the first African Americans to enlist and serve as a drill instructor in the Marine Corps; Frederick C. Branch, the first African-American officer of the United States Marine Corps; David Dinkins, former Mayor of New York City; Arthur Earley, Pennsylvania State Representative, and; Marion Meredith Beal, an original member and a recipient of Congressional Gold Medal as an appreciation for the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. However, we only know the names of about 1,200 of the approximately 20,000 Montford Point marines. Only approximately 300 of these marines are still alive, and we are losing them rapidly, which makes memorials like this one all the more important.

Note:  There is also an official memorial to the Montford Point Marines located within the LeJeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, N.C., and a Montford Point Marine Museum, located on the grounds of Montford Point Camp in the East Wing of building M101, Marine Corps Base, Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, Jacksonville, N.C.

Earth Day Park

During this lunchtime bike ride, I discovered a very small park wedged into a narrow strip of land along 9th Street, stretching from Independence Avenue to C Street (MAP), and situated between the Federal Aviation Administration Building and the U.S. Department of Energy Building.  The land also serves as the roof of  the Interstate-395 Tunnel.  A small sign at the northern end identified it as Earth Day Park.  Having passed by it many times without ever noticing or hearing about it, I decided I needed to find out more.    

It turns out that the park was a combined effort of several government agencies, including the U.S. Energy Department, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the General Services Administration, and the D.C. Department of Transportation.  Apparently enough employees from the adjacent government buildings, including Department of Energy Secretary Hazel R. O’Leary, had gotten tired of seeing the neglect of this weedy, trash-strewn piece of land located adjacent to their buildings.  So contact was made with the General Services Administration, which manages and supports the land and buildings and basic functioning of federal agency facilities, who then coordinated the building of the park with the D.C. Department of Transportation, who owned the land.

Earth Day Park has a number of unusual aspects to it.  As part of the celebration of Earth Day 1994 President Bill Clinton outlined a series of recommendations for Federal agencies to increase “Environmentally and economically beneficial policies on Federal landscaped grounds.”  Earth Day Park embodies these “greening” principles.

The park utilizes solar energy, including an array of photovoltaic cells on top of the sign at the front of the park,  to provide electricity for the lamp posts and lighting.  The park also incorporates the use of different plants.  For example, it uses dwarf ornamental grass instead of lawn perennials and annuals, reducing the need for gasoline powered mowers, edgers and trimmers along with fertilizers and pesticides.  The park’s use of mulch and drought tolerant plant species, as well as the raised beds, allows for moisture to be retained by the soil, thus conserving water.   And the use of regional plant material, adapted to local climate and biological conditions,  provides a unique ecosystem that increases the rate of success of the plants.

And because of the incorporation of these principles, Earth Day Park requires far less maintenance than that of a traditionally developed park, making it a truly “green” park.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]