Call to Sorrow

When Army bugler Sergeant Keith Clark received the call that he was chosen to perform “Taps” at the funeral of President John F Kennedy it came as a bit of a surprise. He had assumed that a Navy bugler would do the honors, since President Kennedy was a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, decorated with a Navy Marine Corps medal for his valor in the South Pacific when a collision with a Japanese destroyer tore his PT-109 in half. But Keith Clark, a patriot and an American in the throes of shock and grief along with the rest of the country, was truly the right man for the job. He had been playing and studying the trumpet since he was a child, receiving musical training during his youth in Michigan, through college and then the military. Just two weeks before Kennedy was assassinated, Clark had performed “Taps” for him at the Veteran’s Day ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Comprised of just 24 notes, “Taps” is the traditional bugle call played at military funerals. It’s been in use since the Civil War, when Brigadier General for the Union Army Daniel Butterfield arranged it into the form we know today. Somber, melancholy, stirring in its simplicity, “Taps” communicates a profound sense of grief over fallen service members as they are laid to rest.

Bugler sketch by Civil War illustrator Alfred Waud:

Keith Clark showed up at Arlington National Cemetery early in the morning on Monday, November 25th, 1963. It was cold with drizzling rain. Temperatures hovered around freezing most of the day. Over a quarter of a million people waited in line for up to ten hours to view President Kennedy’s flag-draped casket as it lie in state in the Capitol Building Rotunda. After the funeral mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the procession began to make its way to Arlington National Cemetery. It finally arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon. After the traditional Catholic burial rites, the military honors were carried out.

Horse-drawn caisson transporting President Kennedy’s casket:

As the daughter of a trumpet player I know a thing or two about the challenges brass players face. I was raised around my father’s trumpet talk, daily practices, and the private trumpet lessons he gave in our home. Brass instruments are tough. They’re not for the delicate or the lazy. Cold outdoor air is the enemy. Numb, chapped lips are not helpful when you have to place your mouth on a horn and blow. So Keith Clark had been standing around for hours in the cold that day. On top of that, he was positioned just a few feet from the Old Guard Third U.S. Infantry firing squad who shot three rifle volleys as a farewell. Those loud blasts could not have been good for Clark’s ears. Then it was Sgt. Clark’s turn to complete the military honors for America’s slain President. With millions of eyes and ears on him from around the globe, watching on TV and listening on the radio, he began to play the solo “Taps” on his bugle . . . and cracked the sixth note. (I remember my father and his trumpet player friends calling it a ‘clam’). In a melody as slow and sparse as “Taps”, every note hangs out there conspicuously. So while many listeners might have winced at that sixth note, brass players everywhere, like my father, no doubt felt for the guy, as they could relate all too well.

How would I, or any of us, perform under such pressure? Under less than ideal circumstances, on the darkest day in our country’s history? Keith Clark is not the Bill Buckner of military musicians, famous for one error. Not even close. He was the experienced bugler who stepped up to the gut-wrenching task of committing our murdered President into his grave.

Here is the historic moment. Keith Clark’s “Taps” begins at 2:22:

 

The clammed sixth note has been described as sounding “like a sob”, and therefore deemed fitting for the tragic occasion; Clark’s bugle cracked in sorrow to reflect a sorrowful nation. And that is surely a fine way to think about it. In that Cold War period, when a horrendous act of political violence left an indelible wound in our collective consciousness, and President Kennedy’s optimistic dreams for the new generation to whom the torch had been passed seemed suddenly uncertain, Keith Clark’s poignant rendition of “Taps” should be a source of solace. It was imperfect, yes. But it was beautiful.

Keith Clark died in 2002. You can read his obituary at The New York Times.
And for an excellent, detailed account of Sgt. Keith Clark and the events of that day, and all things “Taps”, go to this article on TapsBugler. Keith Clark’s bugle, a Bach Stradivarius, is on display at Arlington National Cemetery. By the way, if any of you find yourselves in the Washington D.C. area and have never been to Arlington, make a point of visiting. Its serene beauty juxtaposed with its heart-rending reality has a staggering effect I can’t fully describe.

On this Memorial Day weekend, in this Memorial Day-themed Music Monday, we pay tribute to all those who sacrificed their lives – the celebrated ones and the forgotten ones. The ones who faced fear, wrestled with moral choices, and now dwell in eternal rest.

“Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address
January 20, 1961

The Naked Gunner

When I explore for blog post topics, it’s rare that the various themes that interest me converge all at once. So imagine my surprise when I came across an image that brought together 1) nudity and the human form, 2) photography, and 3) history; all of which are topics I gladly feature here on Museworthy from time to time when I veer away from art and art-related stuff. Today I’d like to share with my readers a photo I encountered on Rare Historical Photos. Now I should mention that I initially stopped to gaze upon this image for the simple reason that I’m a heterosexual woman and, well, I liked what I saw .. 😉 But I became even more enthralled with the image when I read the incredible backstory behind it – because a photo of a naked guy manning a machine gun in an amphibious aircraft has to have a great backstory.

The photo was taken by Horace Bristol, one of the founding photojournalists for LIFE magazine. His work documented historic chapters of the 20th century, such as migrant workers during the Great Depression and World War II combat in North Africa and the Pacific. The young U.S Navy crewman in the photo was part of a search and rescue mission in Rabaul Bay, Papua New Guinea in 1944. When a Marine airman was shot down by the Japanese and temporarily blinded, this young man stripped off his clothes for easier swimming, dove into the water and pulled the Marine to safety aboard the “Dumbo” PBY. Horace Bristol, who was aboard the aircraft during the rescue, recalled the conditions at that moment:

As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.

Bristol then snapped a photo of the brave, still wet crewman as he readied for takeoff, carrying on with his duties in the nude, because urgency and safety come before all else. And because clothes are not essential <– as an art model I can say that.

naked-gunner

The crewman is unidentified, though perhaps Horace Bristol knew his name at the time and did not make it public. One can’t help but wonder about this man. Did he live through the war and make it home alive? Did he know that Bristol took a photo of him naked? What part of the United States was he from? Was he a awarded a medal for his heroism? Unanswered questions. But at least he is immortalized in this remarkable photo which reminds us of wartime bravery and the formidable courage of a generation of men.

Now if there are any World War II enthusiasts or military history enthusiasts among my readers, maybe one of you can help me out regarding this aircraft. The PBY is a “flying boat”, so I’m assuming it was something like the picture on this page? Really want to know what this intrepid crewman was operating on that harrowing day.

One Hundred Years of Genocide

“When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact. . . I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915”.
– Henry Morgenthau
U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, 1913-1916

Before Hitler’s concentrations camps, before the Cambodian “killing fields”, before Rwanda, there was the Syrian desert. The 20th century was barely 15 years old when it jumped out of the gate to establish itself as a dystopian chapter in world history. On this date in 1915, Armenian intellectuals, clerics, journalists, doctors, and community leaders in Constantinople  received knocks on their doors. On the direct order of Ottoman Interior Minister Talat Pasha, the Armenians were taken to holding centers for detention. And later, deportation. Thus began a barbaric campaign of murder, starvation, long marches, and ethnic cleansing: the Armenian genocide which claimed the lives of 1.5 million souls.

I have, for a long time, detested the now-trite admonition about “those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it”. I detest it not because it isn’t true, but because it goes – decade after decade after decade -unheeded. Of course we fail to remember history. And of course we repeat it. When the world stage is divided into malevolent thugs on one side, and craven deserters on the other side, it will inevitably be repeated.

A more apt assessment can be found in Hannah Arendt’s observation about “the banality of evil”. The deranged, defensive statements issued by the Turkish government to this very day, that the Armenians were slaughtered as some sort of “by-product” of the violence of World War I, exemplifies the lengths some will go to to rationalize, excuse, and quite literally defend atrocities – the intellectual equivalent of “shit happens” as an explanation for savagery.

Armenian genocide victims, photographed by Armin T. Wegner, a German soldier and medic who was an eyewitness to Ottoman crimes:

armenian-genocide-02-jpg

During these past few weeks leading up to today’s Centennial, we’ve seen prominent world figures show us what they’re made of. Pope Francis righteously took a stand of truth and moral courage, provoking the unhinged ire of Turkish officials. I think I can speak for all Armenians when I say it was a thing of beauty. In stark contrast Barack Obama, the purported “leader” of the free world, engaged in a sad, embarrassing spectacle of capitulation to Turkey’s gag rule on the G-word, and sits in a corner like a scolded child while his extravagant campaign promises flush down the toilet in a death spiral.

Gutless American Presidents notwithstanding, Armenians have survived and flourished in their diaspora. My grandparents, great aunts and uncles made their way onto ships bound for Ellis Island in New York City, and never looked back. We are teachers, engineers, journalists, entertainers, laborers, writers, photographers, businessmen, musicians, and even artist’s models 🙂

Say a prayer today for those 1.5 million who starved and suffered and died face down in the desert, the orphans who watched their mothers and fathers get slaughtered, and thrown into rivers to drown. Say a prayer that genocide will always be recognized for what it is.

65f64f07697593713083ce6c62a5bd7e

In Case of Failure

On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Five weeks later on January 17th, 1942, a 33 year old man in New York City – an Armenian immigrant to America – enlisted in the U.S. Army. On Ancestry.com his civil occupation is listed as “skilled motion picture projectionist”. He was “single, without dependents”, 5’6″ tall, completed four years of high school, and was a private in the Infantry. He was my great uncle Leon Krikorian, and I remember him well 🙂

Leo was among the 73, 000 American troops (156,000 Allied troops altogether) who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, a mission known as “Operation Neptune”. Today the free world commemorates the 70th anniversary of that historic mission. My uncle was wounded on those beaches and was awarded a Purple Heart, something he always dismissed in conversation and never wanted to talk about. He’d talk about the war, yes, but not his medal. And he admitted with candor and honesty that he and his fellow infantrymen felt “fear” that morning under stormy ominous cloud cover, and endured hours of seasickness during the rough crossing of the English Channel.

In a letter written the day before the invasion (mistakenly dated July 5 instead of June 5) General Eisenhower penned a worst case scenario note in the event that the mission failed. It is known as the “In case of failure” letter, although that phrase does not appear in the text. Scrawled on a 4 x7 inch sheet of beige notepaper and written on a portable desk, the note is brittle and worn. Eisenhower had folded it and tucked it in his wallet. In it he wrote, “The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” That’s a five star General right there.

Uncle Leo achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. He died in 1992 and is buried at Long Island National Cemetery. RIP.

Photos of D-Day, which speak for themselves:

D-Day_WWII-16

Dday

Into_the_Jaws_of_Death_23-0455M_edit

DDay2

Omaha_Beach_wounded_soldiers,_1944-06-06

1964

We Beatles fans have surely been relishing all the “Beatles 50” hoopla that has built up these last few weeks. Yesterday, February 9th, was the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on American television on The Ed Sullivan Show. I happen to enjoy commemorating watershed moments, whether they mark points in serious history or popular culture, if only because they add structure and context to our perceptions of place and time, and replenish our memories. Also, I just love history of all sorts.

Over the past fifty years, the Beatles have been the beneficiaries of much mythologizing, fanaticism, and hagiography; deifying treatments that John Lennon himself often repudiated and felt were unwarranted. The elevated status of the Beatles irks some, and as a hard core Beatles fan I can appreciate their opinions. I think much of it has to do with the Beatles serving as a symbolic proxy for Baby Boomers, a generation that has become, fairly or not, a subject of derision in some circles. Nostalgia is great, but it does seem to have a breaking point when people just tire of it all.

It’s fairly futile to quarrel about the Beatles music or whether they are fully deserving of their exalted status, a point of contention which was being disputed on Twitter last night during the CBS Grammy tribute. The larger point, I think, is the Beatles’ fortuitous position in the 60s zeitgeist: four young men who morphed from fresh-faced playful innocence into disillusioned cynicism before the world’s eyes over the course of a mere six years – a mirroring of the world itself during the same transformative period of time. It might be worth examining the significance of the “50th” in terms of 1964 itself. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan was just one notable event in an overall notable year. So what else happened in 1964? A lot. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Shea Stadium was opened and the Polo Grounds were demolished. Three civil rights activists, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi,. The Warren Commission report was published. The New York Times Co. v Sullivan Supreme Court ruling upheld the First Amendment. Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. Dr. Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Ford Motor Compnay unveiled the first Mustang. Jack Ruby was found guilty of assassinating Lee Harvey Oswald. A computer program written in BASIC was run for the first time. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor got married. And my brother, Chris Hajian, was born on September 29th 🙂

Since we’ve all seen the grainy footage of Ed Sullivan introducing the band, extending his arm and hollering “The Beatles!!”, the ensuing screams, and the opening guitar chords jangling away, let’s watch a different video for Music Monday. Here are the Beatles singing sweet harmonies in “This Boy”. The year, of course, is 1964:

Bernstein On Brotherhood

Not many people can work references to Beethoven, Aristophanes, the World War I Armistice, conflict in Northern Ireland, Christianity, the prophet Isaiah, Goethe’s “Faust”, King David, and Vietnamese refugees into a mere six minutes of extemporaneous, unscripted monologue. But the great Leonard Bernstein was such a person. Composer, educator, philanthropist, the Massachusetts native and Harvard graduate possessed throughout his life an earnest and attentive disposition to the world around him. In our Music Monday video, Mr. Bernstein shares his thoughtful ruminations after having conducted a recording of Beethoven’s glorious, sublime Ninth Symphony. The starting point for his reflections is Friedrich Schiller’s 1785 poem “Ode to Joy”, the work that inspired Beethoven to compose the Ninth. The relevant themes of love, brotherhood, peace and joy weave their way through Bernstein’s free associations of dates, quotes, and historic events. This was filmed sometime in the late 70s or early 80s I believe. Take it away maestro!

Self-Evident Truths

John Adams dares to correct Thomas Jefferson’s grammar. John Hancock cracks wise about “fat” King George. Benjamin Franklin jokes about being hung for treason. These moments of levity are brief, as they are brought to a sudden halt when a letter from George Washington is delivered and read aloud. In it, Washington reports from New York of the grave conditions faced by the Continental Army and expresses no illusions about the war, which was imminent and certain. Washington invokes “providence” as his best hope and writes, poignantly, “dear god what brave men I shall lose before this business ends.”

This video clip is from the 1972 movie “1776”, based on the Broadway musical. I have loved this charming film since I was child. From a purely musical standpoint it isn’t noteworthy. But the excellent cast paired with Peter Stone’s screenplay makes for an immensely entertaining experience. And have you ever noticed that in films about American history they always cast a very good-looking actor to play Thomas Jefferson? 😉

Happy Independence Day my fellow Americans. Remember always, and never take for granted, that our Founding Fathers risked their lives to ensure that they – and all of us – would never again have to bow down to kings. For the first time in history, the people of a nation would be citizens instead of subjects.

God bless us all.

Here’s Thomas Jefferson kicking ass, in the final paragraph of the Declaration of Indepence:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.