Friday, August 3, 2018

German V1 and V2 rockets


     I recently gave a talk based on the book, Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France, written by my son-in-law Stephen Bourque.  The war with Germany was a disaster for France.  They surrendered in seven weeks to Germany's blitzkrieg techniques.  Britain lost much of its armaments but rescued most of its troops from Dunkerque. France became a base of operations for the Germans, and 40% of French manufacturing turned to producing war materials and weapons for Germany.

     Something that is seldom talked about was the rain of bombs this brought upon the French population.  Because the Germans were making so much use of French facilities, the Allies attacks on them caused must damage to non-military structures and civilian populations.

     Day light bombing turned out to be inaccurate and the Germans could shoot down more planes, so Britain took to bombing at night doing carpet bombing in hopes it would destroy valuable factories making military equipment. That insured even more collateral death and damage.

     The allies bombed 1,570 French cities and towns killing 68,778 men, women and children over the course of World War II.   This was greater than the damage done to Britain by the German bombings and attacks with rockets.   More than 100,000 French were injured, and 432,000 houses were completely destroyed.

     During Allied attacks on Normandy during landings we bombed railroads, bridges and armored sites killing more French citizens, 10,000, than German soldiers, 7000.

Germany's V1 flying bomb was a "Vengeance Weapon" Hitler used against the British

     Many of the bombing raids were against the V1 flying bomb an early cruise missile that Hitler intended as a "Vengeance weapon" against the British.  He hoped to create terror in London as revenge for the bombing they were doing in Germany.  From French bases 9,521 were launched, but with the use of antiaircraft, balloons on cables and fighter planes the Allies learned to shoot many of them down. Debra and Steve were able to visit a V1 missile site at Val Ygot near Ardouval.

     For my talk Steve had sent me pictures of areas bombed and one large cement structure seemed especially important, "the blockhaus at Eperlecques."  This is a massive cement structure built by the Germans with slave labor to house rockets V1 and V2.  The blockhaus was practically imperious to bombs, even bombs developed specifically to destroy it.  They did take a heavy toll on slave labor that was being used to construct it.

     To avoid detection the V2 was shot off mobile launchers that could be moved around the northern part of France.  The Allies spent much time and energy trying to find these sites and destroy them, but they could be set up so quickly that it was almost impossible to stop them.

     The V2 rocket sites hurled bombs carrying a warhead of 2,200 pounds at 3,500 miles an hour at London.  The V2 were so fast victims heard them incoming only after they had hit since they were faster than the speed of sound.  When it exploded it could create a crater 30-40 yards wide and 15 yards deep. 

     The consequences of the V2  becoming successful had implications for its danger to targets as far away as the United States. Wernher von Braun was the German aerospace engineer developing this rocket technology.  The German hope was that with a little more time they could develop rockets that would reach the United States. At the end of the war von Braun and his team escaped from Russia territory to surrender to the U.S. Army. Braun and his team went on to advance space science in America and help us reach the moon.  

The V2 rocket did tremendous damage and given time may have reached the United States

     My daughter Debra Anderson made a number of these research trips to France with Steve. They spent a lot of time in Northern France where many of these sites are located.  She recommends visiting the blockhaus at Eperlecques, which has been converted into a museum.  It's an impressive structure with descriptions written in English and French.  On their trip, they flew into Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris and drove two and a half hours north.  You could also drive south 30 minutes from Calais on the English Channel.  The museum has a website and you should find the location on the map before venturing out.

     There are also missile sites at Siracourt, which is an hour south of Eperlecques and Val Ygot at Ardouval, another hour and a half west.   The coastal towns in the area include Calais, Bologne-Rouen, and Dieppe, all of which are pleasant.  Debra and Steve particularly enjoy visiting Rouen, which is rich in history.  Claude Monet made numerous paintings of the cathedral there, and it has a plaza commemorating Joan of Arc.  Getting off the beaten path can make for an enjoyable, and often surprising, adventure.

The Blockhouse where V1 and V2 rockets were kept was bomb resistant

A V2 rocket inside the Blockhouse

Thursday, August 2, 2018

World's Sacred Places: Part 1


The Vatican

     I was reading "Finding Magic: A Spiritual Memoir" by Sally Quinn, a Washington Post  journalist. In a chapter about her three week trip around the world called, "Great Faiths: A Journey to the World's Sacred Places,"  she reports how this gave her the opportunity to see the sacred places of many world religions.  As I read the chapter I thought, "I've been those places, only it didn't take me three weeks, it took me 40 years."

     Quinn had been to the Vatican in Rome before and had a private tour of the Sistine Chapel.  This time she felt that the Vatican was one of the least spiritual places she had ever visited.

    On my three visits over the years, I felt much more awe of the Vatican than Quinn.  Much of it was related to the art work of Michelangelo.  As the first visit that my wife and I took was off season , we practically had the Sistine chapel to ourselves. We had time to admire, discuss and appreciate the famous ceiling. 

     The second time we were there was in high season and we were pushed through with a mob and hardly had time to let the ceiling come into focus.

    On the third visit the temperature was hottest on the date for 200 years and the crowd in line was slow as they were passing screening.  I could feel my energy draining out.  The inside of the Basilica was cool: the crowds were properly awed by the sheer size of the place and its profusion of art. People were lined up to rub St. Peter's foot and guides were lecturing in a diversity of languages. 

Michelangelo's Pieta

   Michelangelo's Pieta was back on display. When I saw the statue of the young-looking virgin Mary holding the body of crucified Christ, we could get close enough to study it well.   A vandal had damaged it and it was now back on display behind a transparent bulletproof shield.  I didn't have the same sense of intimacy, but it remains impressive.  I found the experience energizing and as I left the Basilica I was almost trotting with new energy.

Where Jesus was laid to rest after being taken off the Cross

    In Jerusalem Quinn found the different Christian groups fighting over the right to scared space disheartening.  The wailing wall had men's and women's spaces with curtains put up between the men and women's sides with a bat mitzvah going on the men's side.  The women had brought chairs and were standing on them tip-toe trying to see the celebrating of the most scared day of the boy's life.  Quinn found this short shift of women appalling.  

    On the other hand,  I found the equality between the Muslim men and women we were working with in Palestine was very different from what we had experienced in some of other Muslim countries we had been in. They interacted freely with each other and our team members regardless of sex.

    I was there during a tense period when very few Christians were coming to visit.  This is site sacred to three great religions, Christianity, Islam and Hebrew. 

    Most of the religious sites were still open and our knowledgeable Muslim guide was able to give us a leisurely tour of them, including the 14 stations of the cross.

    The Via Dolorosa, or Way of the Cross, is the path Jesus followed carrying the cross from where Pontius Pilot condemned him to Calvary where he was crucified.  We saw where his body was laid out and the tomb where his body was placed. 

    The last five stations are within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest shrine to Christians. It also has the Chapel of Mary Magdalene, where Christ is said to have revealed himself after the resurrection.

    The Temple Mount area in old Jerusalem has a number of sites holy to Jews and Muslims.  Jews and Muslims traditionally see it as the place where Abraham offered his son in sacrifice.  On this site Solomon built the first temple almost 3,000 years ago.

    Twice the temples built on this site have been destroyed .  The remains of one of the walls is called the Western Wall by the Jews and is known to outsiders as the Wailing Wall.  Because of the danger of suicide bombers, we had to go through a security check to enter the area. The worshippers at the wall saying prayers could occasionally slip a piece of paper  with a prayer on into a crevice.

     Next to the wall is the third-holiest place in the world for Muslims, the Dome of the Rock, a shrine.  The Muslim belief is that Muhammad made his ascent into heaven from here. I found the golden dome beautiful both during the day and at night as it reflected the light around  it.

    In a second story I continue with a discussion of religious sites in India and the Far East.

I and a colleague stand in front of the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

World's Scared Places: Part 2


    Previously I discussed the Vatican in Rome and  Jerusalem in Israel, two of the sacred places of the major world's religions, that Susan Quinn had visited on a great world tour.  In this section I will focus on the rest of her three week tour.  It  took  me about 40 years to final get to and  explore these interesting sites.

     I will start with India, a country with many holy places. Quinn went first to Sarnath, the Buddhist holy city where Buddha attained enlightenment.  There are temples to him.  Here Quinn began to appreciate what the trip was doing for her attitude toward religion.  She could and would have access to it all.  

    After the chaos of the rest of India, I found Sarnath the quietest.  It was the most peaceful place I had been; few beggars, little traffic.  I was there on a religious occasion and monks were everywhere, and I was able to watch a ceremony at  one of the monuments.  Buddhism was pushed out of India by Hinduism and became a major religion in Japan, China, Tibet, and Thailand.

Outside the Buddhist Temple at Sarnath

      Quinn found India's holiest city Varanasi and Ganges River where they wash their sins away-filthy, I agree.  She rode a boat along the shore watching the bodies being burned on the ghats or steps. She was upset by the suffering of the mourners and when she got home talked her husband out of his desire to be cremated upon his death.

    Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities for Hindus, a religion that is thousands of years old.  People come here to die and have their bodies burned on the Ghats so they can stop the cycle of constantly rebirth and reach nirvana.

    The city is loaded with temples and there is a claim that this is the oldest living city in the world.  Shop keepers with whom I had tea on two occasions asked if they could share a story.  One was the story of Ramayana, which sounded like something out of the brothers Grimm.  The tale teller laughed hardily and became very excited.

    Afterwards a guide took us to a ceremony where over a hundred men in yellow robes chanted and sang while pilgrims circled the chanters.



Ganges River in Varanasi where Hindus wash their sins away.

     Several of us from my group got up early to watch bodies being burned on the Ghats.  We were able to see the preparation, the burning and the discard of the remains into the Ganges. We were again reassured that the Ganges destroys bacteria upon contact and destroys bones in three days.

    Kyoto, Japan, is the capital of Zen Buddhism the concepts of which resonated with Quinn, and she had a truly spiritual experience.  Its emphasis on nature, beauty, and gratitude led her to mediate every day since she was there.

     The basic rules are simple.  In a silent place sit quietly, and let go of your thoughts.  Focus just on your posture and your breathing.  Keep your back straight.  Release your ego and your unconscious mind and them melt away.  Merge with the universe.

    When I was traveling with a group of psychologists, several of whom felt that Zen Buddhism meditation was a much better treatment for addiction for some people then Christian based AA. Meditation continues to be a part of some therapists treatment package.

     I visited many shines in Kyoto, one of the most beautiful cities I have visited in the world. The U.S. did not bomb Kyoto during the war because they had no war plants here.

    The most impressive place we visited was the Zen Temple, the Golden Pavilion with the top two floors covered in gold leaf, with a beautiful pond and surrounding gardens.   I bought a large photo the Temple for framing and it hangs in one of our bedrooms.

Zen Temple in Kyoto, Japan

    Quinn next went to two places I have not been, Lhasa, Tibet, and Addis Ababa.  She liked much about Tibet and struggled with some of the concepts.  For example, "the only way to alleviate suffering is not to want."

    She didn't get to the holy place in Addis Ababa and went next to Cairo, Egypt.  She found the pyramids and the Sphinx disappointments.   They were dirty, disintegrating and surrounded by beggars. She wondered what the sun gods were thinking.  I too was disappointed when I saw what number 1 on the Hillman World Wonders list was like in person.  I found many other places in Egypt more interesting.

    While Quinn goes on to Istanbul, the last stop she talks about is Yerevan, Armenia (officially still Turkey) to see the sacred mountain of Armenia, Mount Ararat. 

    What did she learn from her trip?  "I saw that there were so many ways to practice one's faith, and that they should all be respected."  The people on the trip with her were astounded by the similarities in basic tenets of the religions, even though the rituals might be different.

    I also appreciate that my adventures have allowed me to visit most of the major religious sites around the world.

Quinn found the Sphinx and pyramids a disappointment

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Mukseum of Transportation: St. Louis


    In the last 150 years we have made unbelievable  gains in how we move ourselves and our stuff around.  These advances in transportation are on display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis County.   The Smithsonian Institution recognizes this museum as, "one of the oldest and best collections of transportation vehicles in the world."

A railway car pulled by a mule, 5 cents a ride.

    It's more than transportation that we learned about on our visit.  For example, we saw a small railway car from 1870 which was pulled by a mule.  The fare was a nickel, the driver was paid nine and a half cents an hour and three cents was spent each day in the winter to put straw on the floor to help keep the riders warm. In the interests of its welfare the mule only worked six hours a day.

    Next to the railway car was a large produce truck that sold fruit and vegetables as it moved around St. Louis streets.  This was a productive way of life until 1950 when supermarkets came into being and the peddlers went out of business.  Different kinds of buggies and  sledges were the older forms of getting around.

A horse drawn hearse

    A collection of travel outfits of the old days along with travel equipment are on display.  We were most impressed with the heavy fur coat that protected drivers against the winter winds given the openness to the air of old forms of travel.

    We moved up the hill, past the Miniature Train Station where rides are available to the Lindburg Automobile Center.   Having personally owned cars manufactured as far back as 1929, I always find these sections especially interesting. 

    A beautiful white 1923 Stanley Steamer was on display next to a old Pierce-Arrow motorcycle.  The Steamer had a large water tank or boiler for an engine.  It claimed it could run on anything that burned, was quiet, had few parts and didn't require gears.  In the early  1900 they were more popular than gas engines.  Companies stopped making them after 1924.

    A 1920's Pevely Milk Wagon was a look back into my past.  In the 1930's few people had refrigerators and glass bottled milk was delivered daily.  One horse pulled the wagon and that horse knew the way.  That is, the driver would take a batch of bottles and deliver to a number of houses and the horse would walk around the corner and know where to meet him.

    An 1890's horse-drawn hearse had glass sides so the coffin could be viewed by the mourners as it was towed down the street to the graveyard.  Since the coffin was to be on view, people would often put more expensive adornments on  it than they could afford.

    Further up the hill was the Roberts Pavilion with more than 70 locomotives and many train cars. According to the museum brochure this is the most complete collection of American rail power in the world.  Frankly it was too much to see and understand.  After walking through several old passenger cars and looking in some others, we moved on.

     Special attention is paid to Owney, the traveling dog in a contest where you hunt for Owney posters throughout the museum and you win small prizes such as a museum coloring book or a free bag of popcorn.  Owney was a mutt who wandered into an Albany, New York post office in 1888, and he ended up riding trains carrying mail.  In nine years he traveled 140,000 miles around the United States.  Later his friends at the post office arranged for him to travel around the world on a steamship.  In July, 2011, Owney was honored on a U.S. first class Forever Stamp.

    The museum is very interested in providing educational experiences for all grade levels. Classes can be arranged for school groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Produce trucks took the place of today's supermarkets.

A Stanley Steamer, note the large water tank in the front.

Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds


The artifacts were rescued from deep in the waters off the coast of Egypt

            When earthquakes and high tides came to the Mediterranean area 1200 years ago, Egypt lost two great seaside cities into the depths of the water.  Very busy workers in the last seven years have been recovering thousands of artifacts.  The result is a traveling exhibition called the   "Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds." Now the exhibition for the first time is in America at the St. Louis Art Museum.

            Even the names of the cities had been lost to historians.  Now we know not only their names but are awed by the richness of the combined Egyptian-Greek culture that had  existed there. 

            The largest city was Thonis-Heracleion where much of the trade with Greece was carried out.  This is where the new Pharaoh would come to be legitimized by the Gods. Nearby was Canopus, a city that drew pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean to its many shrines.

            We arrived in the morning to find the exhibit already crowded.  The tickets gave entry times so they could control the large number of people eager to see the unusual display that had already been to the Museum Rietberg in Zurich, the British Museum in London, and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.

            A movie introduced us to  what we were to see by taking us to the depths of sea four miles off the coast of Egypt where we got to watch the divers discover the treasures that seeming lay randomly in the muck and sludge of the bottom.  It took seven years of underwater excavation led by Franck Goddio, president of the European Institute, for Underwater Archaeology to gather the artifacts for this exhibition.

The Sacred Bull Apis, when Apis Bull died all of Egypt morned.

            We were about to see excavated material that included colossal statues, inscriptions and architectural elements, jewelry and coins, ritual objects and ceramics.

            Continuous films were playing on screens around the exhibition about the underwater world where the artifacts were found.  In the film they would find an object, examine it and bring it to the surface. On the wall nearby the TV screen we would find the discovered object on display.

            The earliest statues found were done in the Egyptian style, leg forward, arms to the sides.  Over the years of interaction the Greek influence became apparent: more body movement, more expressive faces, and hair styles were different.  But something else was happening-- the Egyptian Gods were beginning to blend with the Greek and taking on other names. 

            For example, the Egyptians worshipped Hapy, the God of the Nile flooding.  Based on Hapy the Greeks created and venerated Neiles.  Neiles had thick curly hair, a heavy beard and wore a himation, a kind of cloak.

            Some artifacts are more striking than others.  One is the life-sized statue of the sacred Bull, Apis, who represented the god Ptah, a powerful oracle and source of prophecy.  A real bull was chosen by the priests as a representative, and when he died the nation mourned.

            A section of the exhibition focuses on the Osiris, God of the afterlife,  that introduced me to some new information about him.  There had been an annual water procession between Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus commemorating the murder and resurrection of  Osiris.

             Several of the statues show Osiris waking from the dead.  One of them has him on his stomach with his head just raised as he comes back to life.  The figures of Osiris were often made of symbolic ingredients, such as soil from the Nile River.  These figures were then used during rituals that recreated and celebrated the god's death, dismemberment, reassembly, and resurrection.  

             The rituals were to insure the yearly flooding of the Nile, so necessary for the life of Egypt.  The overlap of his murder and resurrection with our own Christian story startled me.

            The exhibition will be at the St. Louis Art Museum until September 9. Visitors are charged for entry to the exhibition except tickets are free on Friday's. The museum is open until 9 pm.

Osiris, God of the Nile, shown in his rebirth.

President Harry Truman's Lessons in Decision Making

A reproduction of Harry Truman's oval office at the Truman Library and Museum in Kansas City.
    On a recent visit to the Harry S Truman Library and Museum in Independence we had trouble finding a parking space.  This had never happened to us before.  Two large school buses were also present.  As we entered the lobby, we found ourselves among many tall good looking men dressed in suits.  What was going on?
    A guard told us these were 150 army majors who are presently assigned to advanced training in Leavenworth at the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command. Frankly they looked much too young to be majors.  He said they were here to study Truman's decisions that had been so historically important.
    As we took our own tour, it became evident that many events had prepared Truman to make a series of critical decisions that were major factors in U.S. and world history.  His decisions were not appreciated at the time he made them. When he left his office, his rating by the public was very low with only around 30% approving his decisions.  He left the presidency with many thinking he was a failure. 
    With the passage of time his decisions began to look much better and the most recent ratings by professional historians place him as number 6 as one of our great presidents, just below Thomas Jefferson and just above Dwight Eisenhower. 
    His first major decision was the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan.  This is still debated, but most military experts agree it saved many American lives that would have been lost as the result of an invasion of the Japanese homeland.
    At the entrance to the post war exhibition we stepped into a dark area of ruined buildings and ominous wind sounds.  In a number of crevasses TV's were showing the results of  the destruction of the war and the poverty and hardships of the survivors.  We were introduced to the chaos of what the war left behind.
    Truman had seen the punishment of Germany after WWI which set the stage for Hitler. After WWII Truman worked on a number of programs to insure Europe was safe from communism and that the economies could be helped to rebuild. The Marshall plan was an important element in  providing funds and supplies to help the European economies. 
    The Truman Doctrine established support to free countries like Greece and Turkey that were in danger of becoming a part of the communist bloc.  Truman helped form NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to defend Europe against a Soviet attack. This also included the Berlin Airlift to bring supplies by air to a Berlin that had had its road supply routes cut off by Russia.  Obviously Europe owes it present good state of affairs to Truman's foresight.

The Democratic Party was split over Truman during his Presidency.

    Some of his early decisions were controversial and in the elections of 1946 the Congress and the Senate became Republican and very resistant to his liberal programs. 
    More was to come. Truman racial integration of the military was a major step forward and he would have done more against segregation, but the resistance was too great.
    Against the advice of his secretary of state, George C. Marshall, he decided to recognize the new nation of Israel moved in part by the horrors of the Holocaust and the thousands of displaced Jews in Europe. A less noble factor was that this decision would unite Jewish Americans behind him in the 1948 presidential election that he was expected to lose.
    Then came the North Korea communist attack on South Korea.  Truman drew a line and General Douglas MacArthur did some clever moves that brought China into the war.  A disagreement led to firing of MacArthur, a very unpopular decision despite the fact it prevented a full out war with China.
    In 1950 Truman approved the development of the H-Bomb and a month later the Cold War arms buildup.
    Decisions, decisions: his administration had more important decisions to make than practically any other president in history.   This is emphasized by two special features of the museum; small theaters where visitors can sit exposed to the decisions Truman had to made and record their own reactions.   
    The first one says: "Enter this interactive theater to see now Truman handled some tough election year decisions.  Register your own opinions about presidential decision making."
    There is much more to see and interact with at the Truman Museum, but this should make it clear why the U.S. army officer training program exposes officers in training to understand the decision making of Harry S Truman.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Captain Harry S. Truman in World War I

            As his troop ship sailed for Europe in World War I on March 30, 1918, future president Harry S. Truman remembered, "there we were watching New York's skyline diminish and wondering will we be heroes or corpses?"  The patriotic 33-year-old  farmer had volunteered to serve as an artillery man in action in France.  

            The new exhibition at the Truman Library and Museum in Independence gives a very personal, insider look at what that experience was for Truman with enlarged pictures, reports from the battle zone, personal memorabilia, and probably most important quotes from letters that Truman wrote to his future wife Bess.

            In 1905 Truman had joined the Missouri National Guard where he learned the basic skills of an artilleryman in monthly drills and summer encampments.  He had to withdraw in 1911 because of the demands placed on him to support his mother and sister by working full time as a farmer after his father died.  He had tried making a career in oil and mining, but nothing had been profitable. 

            He was in love with Bess Wallace, daughter of the highest status family in the area.   Her mother was not happy with the possibility of her daughter marrying a farmer with no formal education beyond high school.

            He noted, "I was a Galahad after the Grail and I'll never forget how my love cried on my shoulder when I told her I was going.  That was worth a lifetime on this earth."  They planned to be married if he returned.

            Truman was a letter writer and 1,300 of his letters to Bess still exist.  Many of these letters form the basis for one of the most engaging aspects of this exhibition. He reported to her  what was happening in the war and how he was reacting.                                                                                                  Before going into battle additional training was necessary.  He wrote Bess, "We have been working harder than ever.  I had an examination Saturday that would make the president of Yale University bald-headed scratching his head trying to think of answers."

            First he had to get the artillery battery of 200 Irish and German Catholics from Kansas City under control.  They had already proved too difficult for several officers with their stubborn, undisciplined behavior.  His response was "I was rather doubtful of my ability to handle that obstreperous battery."

            A critical moment occurred when they were subject to incoming artillery fire, and one of the men shouted, "Run fellows they got a bracket on us."  Truman stood his ground while screaming profanity at the fleeing men to return.   They did.  Their guns and horses got saved, none of his men were killed or injured.  The battle showed the men of Battery D that their small bespectacled captain could hold his ground under challenging conditions.

            Later he wrote Bess, "The Central Powers have asked for peace and I was in the drive that did it!  I shot out a German battery, shot up their big observation post and ruined another battery when it was moving down the road.  We plastered 'em'!"

            At the end of the war his unit had performed well in battle and was in excellent condition.  He comments on censoring his men's letters in a letter to Bess, "I had no idea that there were so many accomplished liars in any organizations on earth as I have in mine."  He was responding to their inflated tales of heroism and accomplishment.

            He used his time immediately after the war buying a car and traveling widely around France learning as much as he could about the country and the people.  This war experience was to be valuable training for some of the critical decisions he was to make later as president.  In addition there were friendships he made with men who would become valuable supporters later in his life.

            He married Bess Wallace June 28, 1919.  Her mother was in attendance.

            Truman stayed in the reserves and left military service 27 years later as a Colonel in the U.S. Army Officer's Reserve Corps.

             In another story  I will  discuss what critical decisions Truman made as president. When he left the presidency, only 30 % favored him, but now experts rate him as the sixth best president  we have had!    

            This exhibition will be at the Truman Library and Museum until December 31, 2018.

Harry and Bess's wedding following the end of the war.

Can zoos save endangered species


    Carla and I, as fans of zoos,  are particularly interested now in how successful zoos will be in trying to save some endangered species. 

    Earlier for years we had enjoyed taking our daughters and later our grandchildren to see the exciting variety of animals at exhibitions.

    When zoos first opened, mostly cages were used for animals.  This is an uncomfortable situation for the animals with little stimulation, little room to move around and little natural surroundings.

      Eventually this was recognized and some staffs were able to more often arrange environments more like the ones the animals came from. 

    For example, at the San Diego Safari Park and Busch Gardens in Florida we were the ones in cages (buses) traveling the wide open areas in which the animals also had housing.

Elephants at the St. Louis Zoo seemed to be suffering from too little space to move around in.


    The problem of space is still not completely solved.  At the St Louis Zoo although the elephant area was bigger than that of other zoos, they still seemed unhappy.  They stood swinging their trunks and slowly shifting their weight from side to side, looking sad.

    When I attempted to take a picture, two of them turned their back to me as if annoyed by my attention.  We found this same attitude of boredom among the great apes. 

    When we were in Georgia, we were fascinated by how innovative Zoo Atlanta staff members were as we watched them stimulated gorillas with activities and tasks designed to try to keep them more mentally alert, a little more challenged as they would have been in their natural setting. 

    The Zoo Atlanta has the largest collection of lowland gorillas in the U.S. and their gorilla program is one of the best--very different from how zoo animals were treated in the past here and in most zoos!

    On our more recent visits to zoos we often ran into these words :Endangered, endangered, threatened, endangered. The red letters on the identification plaques at many of the animal compounds seemed to "scream" at me.

     Extinction faces many animals today.  Addax, only 200 left in the wild, pink pigeons, grizzly and polar bears, cheetahs, many species of leopard, okapis, on and on from all parts of the world with not enough survivors left to have a viable breeding population.

    And the problems of survival are growing.   In the past 40 years it is claimed that 52% of the world's wildlife has gone extinct.  The main reasons are the loss of natural habitat, climate change and poaching.

      Many of them will no longer be around when my great grandchildren go to the zoo.  Somehow I don’t feel their being able to see them on a virtual reality disc will be quite the same thing as seeing them up close and personal.

      What is being done?  We have gained some idea from our visits to a number of zoos that are taking this decline very seriously and are undertaking programs in cooperation with other zoos to save at least some of the endangered animals.

     Some examples: In reaction to this threat the Saint Louis Zoo has become a center of conservation, education and research on endangered species. Over the past 50 years, cheetahs have become extinct in at least 13 countries.  The main causes of cheetah decline are the humans concerned about their cattle, lions and hyenas taking their kills away and lack of genetic diversity due to interbreeding. 

Cheetahs inside their man-made habitat at the Saint Louis Zoo. The zoo has a cheetah program that returns some of the animals to the wild.

    The St. Louis Zoo has had success in breeding a number of animals in captivity, and since 1974 has produced more than 30 cheetah cubs and been able to return these and some other animals to areas where they had become extinct. 

    At the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita,  the Guam Kingfisher and the Guam Rail on display are both extinct in the wild because of the Brown Tree Snake has done a complete job of removing them from Guam. One hundred and fifty Kingfishers are in breeding programs with the staffs hopes to eventually return them to Guam's forests. 

    Areas have been cleared of the Brown Tree Snake and an attempt was made to return the Guam Rail to its home territory, but feral domestic cats killed them. 

    The Kansas City Zoo along with other species is working with African wild dogs  Only about 7000 are left in Africa and they hope to breed enough of them to share with other zoos.

    These examples are small steps to correct a large problem, and not all zoo personal are hopeful.

    When we attended talks by the animal handlers of chimpanzees and great apes, at Busch Gardens in Florida the ape handler, who had lived in Africa, felt that with present conditions in Africa the only place where apes will continue to exist would be in zoos and animal parks.

    It will be interesting to see what new programs will be introduced to increase the number of animals and what steps we might take to avoid extinction of many of these threatened animals.

Endangered Scimitar Oryx at the Kansas City Zoo

Apes are being hunted to extinction both as food and for souvenirs.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018



     At the Chesterfield Butterfly House on the edge of St. Louis, Carla and I found ourselves happily immersed in exploring the unusual lives of butterflies. In their lives they go through four changes and each change results in quite differently shaped creatures.    

    The visit started with a movie outlining the lives which included the various ways  the butterflies interacted.  

     Mating varied depending on the kind of butterfly.  The female may respond to the beauty of the male, they may do a courtship dance, or he may cast a mist over her that makes him absolutely irresistible.  

    The female mates only once, the male may mate again, but regardless of the number of females  he serves he soon dies and the female sets about laying her eggs, maybe up to 500. 

    There is a very important choice here for her for she must lay the eggs on plants that the caterpillar who comes from the egg can eat on the plant.  The eggs hatch in 3 to 8 days and the resulting caterpillar grows quickly in order to create the third stage of their lives in  three to five weeks: the chrysalis. 

    Being a caterpillar is a dangerous stage as many predators are looking for them as food.  Different defenses have been developed by different varieties.  If they taste bad, the predators learn to avoid anything that looks like them.  Some caterpillar get by, by just looking like they are the taste bad variety.

     Having colors that blend in completely with the environment is also good.  A few have developed barbs on their bodies that also help them avoid becoming someone's dinner.

    Now the magic stage of development where the caterpillar becomes a pupa or a chrysalis.  It finds a ledge to hang from and covers itself with a heavy coating.  Inside the cocoon the metamorphosis occurs with the old body parts become the beautiful butterfly that will emerge.

    When the butterfly emerges from the pupa, it is weak and needs time to pump blood into its wings and then let them dry.  Finally it flips itself off the ledge and with it companions creates a fascinating world of motion.

    In the butterfly building  we were surrounded by an assortment of children.  At the movie the little ones had paid no attention to the screen, but here their attention was focused as they watched the wide variety of butterflies either flying or dining.

A giant caterpillar lies outside the Chesterfield Butterfly House

A butterfly uses its tongue to suck nectar from its special plant

    Surrounding us were 60 different varieties of butterflies from around the world: Australia, Southeast Asia, South America and the United States.  Because each has its own diet requirements the room was filled with a 150 different plants from all the places they came from. 

    Most of the butterflies we saw were drinking the nectar from plants and flowers through their tongues that work like straws.  They would rest on plant for brief moments and then quickly move on, so we were surrounded by constant motion.

    The Magnificent Owl with the large eyes on its wings were dining on rotten bananas hanging from supports.  A large number of Blue Morphos from Central America were dining off flowers.   Fruit trays with a variety of fresh fruits were available, but most were looking for a particular flower or plant to feast on.

    We were there on a rainy, cloudy day so we didn't take advantage of the Butterfly Garden where they have both native and migrating species available for viewing.

    A short distance away is the St. Louis Carousel.   Built in 1921 it has 60 hand carved horses, four deer and two sleighs.  By 1979 time had taken its toll and carousel was retired. 

    In 1987 it was put back into action in a climate controlled building to insure its preservation.  We rode the highly realistic horses enjoying the up and down motions, but something was lacking.  It was the screech's of our grandchildren that we had enjoyed on previous carousels and ventures.

      We enjoyed our time in St. Louis and were especially  pleased to see so many adults, teens and children exploring the museum.

Each species of butterfly needs its own special plant for food

Rotten bananas work for this species