A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

At the Eleventh Hour

... of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns in Europe fell silent at last. The United States built a wall inscribed with the names of servicemen killed or missing in the nine years' war in Vietnam. In three-and-a-half years, the Allies in WW1 suffered deaths amounting to 103 Vietnam walls. That's just over 2.5 Vietnam walls every month.
Technically, it was only an armistice, and 21 years later, they had to do it all over again; this time with massive civilian casualties. In between, as our friend Fabio pointed out once before, more people were killed in battle than in the years of the Great War. Think only of the Reds and Whites in Russia, of the Greeks and Turks in Anatolia, of the Polish-Soviet conflict, and a host of smaller conflicts, such as in Ireland.

Armistice Day has been expanded to include all veterans of all wars. As generally done on Veteran's day, TOF appends here a short account of veterans in my own and the Incomparable Marge's families. 

TOF in uniform, Artillery ROTC
TOF himself is not a veteran.  The closest he got was two years of Artillery ROTC (so he can call down shells on your location.  You have been warned.) but he was classified 4F by a wise military. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, toward which TOF expressed opposition, though unlike other opponents, it was LBJ's insistence on micromanaging the war that irritated him the most, as well as Sec. McNamara's weird focus on corporate-like numbers crunching. He never imagined, as others did, that the victory of Ho Chi Minh would be all sweetness and light, rather than re-education camps and boat people.

Note: TOF does not know why there are whimsical font and font size changes scattered throughout this post. He has tried several times to correct them but has been defeated by the daemons of the internet each time.

Sgt. Tommy Flynn,
CAC team Papa Three, USMC,
Vietnam War

Sgt. Tommy Flynn

My father's cousin lived with villagers in the mountains near Cam Lo just a few miles south of the DMZ.  He later wrote a book about his experience, A Voice of Hope. In a review of this book, Joni Bour wrote:
"The idea was to somewhat integrate with the Vietnamese people in order to gain their trust and friendship and ultimately military intelligence that would help us find the bad guys. It sounds good, and at times it was probably very good, because the Vietnamese were helped with schools and sanitation and protection from the Viet Cong. But it was also an extremely dangerous assignment. CAC soldiers lived near a village and survived mostly on their own. It was a small compound that was flooded when it rained and was overrun several times by the Viet Cong. On one such occasion, Mr. Flynn was severely wounded in the face, neck and thigh. He spent weeks in several hospitals and then a hospital ship with his jaw wired shut, before being mistakenly sent back to the war. He was given a choice; he could work in the rear or go back to his CAC squad. He was either a little nuts, or little bit more brave than most of us, because he chose to return to his squad."

John Flynn, another cousin of my father, also served in the Marine Corps, but TOF has no particulars in his case.


Joe Flynn was discharged as corporal

Pfc. Joseph Flynn,
5th Eng. Btn., 5th Marine Division, USMC,

My father served on Iwo Jima and in the Japanese Occupation.  The photo on the left is the only time he ever wore dress blues. It was actually a false-front "uniform" entirely for the picture.

When Pere reported at the draft board, he was determined to sign up for the Marines, like his uncle. (This uncle was closer in age to Pere than to his own brothers.) However, he was told that the Marines had filled their quota for the day and he would be assigned to the Navy. Pere begged to be allowed into the Marines, and finally the recruiting person said, I think the Marine recruiter has left for the day, but if you can catch him you can ask. Pere raced to the back and found a Marine sergeant leading a file of civilians out the back door. He turned and held up a hand and said, "Sorry, all full up." And then Pere slumped in sorrow and said in pleading terms, "But Sarge, if you don't take me, I'll have to join the Navy!"  Nothing could better appeal to him than this cri de coeur, and the sergeant re-opened his office and processed him in. Later, in testing, Pere scored so well that he was invited to join the Signals Corps and was promised that this required high intelligence and would often keep him safe from the fighting. However, Pere wanted above all else to blow things up. He had practiced this skill in his home chemistry lab by blowing up his bedroom while electrolysizing water into oxygen and (alas) hydrogen.  

On the way to Iwo Jima, it got so hot in the hold of the troopship that he went out on deck and slept on a tarp over a cargo hold. It was lumpy, so he lifted the tarp to see what he was sleeping on. This proved to be crate after crate of hand grenades. He figured if the ship took a torpedo, he would never know it, and went back to sleep. In the landing, he was assigned to battalion liaison, which meant he landed with the first wave and would take word to his company of battalion location.  His buddies all figured he was a dead duck.  The beach was volcanic sand so fine and slippery that it was hard to get traction, and the Japanese had always dealt harshly with the first wave.

On the beaches at Iwo Jima
He had a couple of close shaves. Once, when returning to his foxhole with some anti-tank grenades he had suggested fetching -- they were expecting a Japanese counter-attack -- a Japanese shell hit right in front of him. The explosion lifted him up and sent him hurtling through the air to land on his back. He was totally numb and deaf and thought he was paralyzed. But gradually feeling and hearing returned and when he checked himself, he had not gotten so much as a scratch. He ought to have gotten a Purple Heart, but this was Iwo Jima, and such things did not warrant a medal.

On another occasion, he and another combat engineer were sent to clear mines on the northern beaches. As they dug carefully through the sand, they came across a 500-lb aerial bomb, rigged as a mine. They looked at one another and said, If it blows, we'll never know. And went ahead and finished the job.

A third time, approaching the cave entrance to the underground tunnel complex, he and a buddy peeked up over the top of a ridge only to have a machine gun nest in the cave entrance open up on them. Bullets stitched across the top of the ridge and the two of them slid back down the slope. That was a close call, Pere told his buddy. The buddy didn't answer because he had taken a bullet in the forehead.

Afterward, on two occasions, Pere was offered the opportunity to be brevetted to officer and sent to OCS. This was because of the initiative he had shown of several occasions during the battle. However, he was anxious to return home and get with the urgent business of becoming my father before my mother (a/k/a the Sweetheart of the Seventh Fleet) could be tracked down by the aforesaid recipients of her snapshot.


Sgt Daniel J. Flynn, Pere's uncle, was also a WW II veteran. He served with the 1 Marine Division in Marine aviation units in the Solomon Islands, Philippines and during the Battle of Okinawa. But I do not have further particulars.


Pfc. Harry Singley,
304th Eng., 72nd "Rainbow" Div., AEF,

Harry Singley and his wife Helen Schwar
My grandfather on my mother's side served in the St. Mihel, Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  He wrote home:

"It was on Sept. 26 when the big drive started in the Argonne Forest and I saw all kinds of things that I never witnessed before.  We started out on the night of the 25th.  At 9 o'clock we commenced a tank road and worked our way almost to the German's front line trenches.  At 2:30 one of the greatest of all barrages was opened.  It was said that between 3500 and 4000 guns, some of them of very large calibre, went off at that hour just like clock work.  We worked on this road under shell fire until about 3:45 and then went back until the infantry went over the top at 5 oclock.  We followed with the tanks.  That is the way the Americans started and kept pounding and pushing ahead until the great day on Nov. 11.  ...

First day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
26 Sept. 1918
It was some life.  I am proud that I went through it, for nobody on the Hill will have anything on me...  I was a little with sneezing or tear gas.  It made me sick but I remained with the company for I did not like to leave my detachment at any time for if something would happen, I thought, there would be plenty of help.  I felt much better in a few days.  A small piece of shrapnel splinter hit me below the knee.  Otherwise I was lucky. ..."

"Somebody will wake up soon when the boys get back to the States..."

Francis Flynn

Francis T. Flynn. My other grandfather didn't make it in. He was 18 in 1918, and joined the cadet corps. He tells it in his own words:

So while I was working on this piece-work job [making artillery shells for the French Army at Ingersoll-Rand], the principal of the high school, Sr. Felicita, called me on the telephone and told me, she said, "I sent your credits to Catholic University and you can be admitted without a College Board or any sort of examination, provided you are voluntarily inducted.

     So this was in the month of June and away I set sail.  I was down at Catholic University then from June until New Years.  ... [W]e were snowed into taking an ME course, because they were short on officers.  They said, "If you take this ME course, you will get to Camp Meade quicker.  The seniors will go first, then the juniors, then the sophomores, et cetera, y'know.  But if you take the mechanical engineering course, you'll see action quicker than you would if you took any other course.  What I really wanted to take was Philosophy and Letters and there was only one guy who held out for that...  He later became a monsignor. 
 Note that "you'll see action sooner" was regarded in those days as an enticement.
Earlier engagements in my family don't count.  While it might be gratifying to read that Cromwell's Council issued an order to apprehend the person of Fiachra O'Flynn, describing him as armed and dangerous, it isn't covered by US Veterans Days.  Neither is my grandfather's father-in-law, Fernand E. O. Cantrel, who served as a 2nd Cannon Conductor in the 12th Regt. of Artillery, Tonkin Gulf Expedition, which participated in the Bac Ninh campaign in the First Brigade (de l'Isle) and the Lang Son and Tuyen Quang campaigns in the Second Brigade (de NĂ©grier). 

The Flynns arrived in the US after the Civil War and while the Singleys and Schwars arrived a decade earlier, none of them were in it, so far as I know. So, at this time we turn to the maternal ancestry of the Incomparable Marge!


Pvt. John H. Hammontree,
Co. H, 5th Tenn. Inf., US Vol.
US Civil War

Evacuation of Cumberland Gap
The great-great grandfather of the Incomparable Marge joined the Union Army when Confederates come into East Tennessee and told the fellas there 'you boys better be a-wearing gray in the morning' or they would be hung.  Well, they didn't cotton to that at-all, and so they left that night and crossed the mountains to sign up with Buell's army of the Ohio.  Nine Hammontrees signed up for the same company, as was common in those days. The letters written by some of the Hammontrees have been collected by Lewis A Lawson, “The Hammontrees Fight the Civil War: Letters from the Fifth East Tennessee Infantry.” Lincoln Herald 78 (Fall 1976): 117-124. In these letters are fierce sentiments in favor of Uncle Abe and against the Democrat copperheads.

John fought in the Campaigns of Cumberland Gap, Stones River, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Atlanta. He was shot in the left leg during the attack on Confederate positions at Resaca. He seems to have been returned to duty in time for the Nashville Campaign. After the war, he died of complications stemming from his wound. His full story is here.


Pvt. James Hammontree,
Capt. Duncan's Co. of Col. Bunch's Regiment (2nd Regt., East Tennessee Militia).
War of 1812 (Creek War)

Battle of Horseshoe Bend
Margie's great-great-grandfather's grandfather fought at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend under Gen. Andrew Jackson in the Creek (Red Stick) War.  This was included in the War of 1812.

Andrew Jackson's official report of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (27 March 1814) mentions that "a few companies" of Colonel Bunch were part of the right line of the American forces at this engagement. More than likely, some of those companies included Captains Francis Berry, Nicholas Gibbs (who was killed at the battle), Jones Griffin, and John McNair. In addition, muster rolls show some casualties from this battle in the companies led by Captains Moses Davis, Joseph Duncan, and John Houk. Other men from this regiment remained at Fort Williams prior to Horseshoe Bend to guard the post -- provision returns indicate that there were 283 men from Bunch's regiment at the fort at the time of the battle. 

Later, when James had died, his widow Nancy had a heck of a time trying to collect the pension that was owed her. Bureaucracy, thy name is Foot-Dragger.


Pvt. John Hammontree,
Capt. John Mountjoy's Co. of Foot, 10th Virginia, Continental Line.
The Revolution.

James Hammontree's great uncle John enlisted in the 10th Virginia at an unknown date and may have seen action with the regiment at Brandywine and Germantown before entering winter quarters at Valley Forge.  In January 1778, he was reported "sick in camp" and he died there on 24 Feb 1778. 

Pvt. Harris[on] Hammontree,
Capt. Wm. Cunningham's Co. of Foot, 1st Virginia, Continental Line.

The 1st Virginia has a long ancestry, and exists today as the 276th Eng. Battalion of the Virginian National Guard.  John Hammontree's younger brother Harris Hammontree enlisted in the 1st Virginia on Feb. 12, 1778, after the regiment had gone into encampment at Valley Forge.  In April and June he was reported as "sick," but unlike his older brother, he survived.  He may have participated in the battle of Monmouth in June 1778.  Most of the regiment was captured by the British at Charlestown, South Carolina, on May 12, 1780, but Harris may or may not have still been with the regiment at that point.  He was killed by Indians on the Virginia frontier, 25 July 1781.


  1. I have a scifi question Mike if you got a minute.

    Now that my life has settled down I am thinking of getting into your Spiral Arm series.

    Anyway here is my question.

    Do the Krasnikov tubes in your Scifi Universe involve backwards time travel or are they just one way wormholes stuck in the present?


  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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