George S. Smith

You either know him or know the name.

Now, for one night only, see him as never before: Smith has reinvented himself as The World’s Oldest Sit-down Comedian.

He will give two dinner performances at 5:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, December 14 at the Blue Frog Restaurant, at Blissmore Valley Ranch, 208 North Washington in Marshall.

Seating is limited and reservations are required. Call 903-923-9500 for tickets. A percentage of ticket sales will benefit the Marshall-Harrison County Literacy Council.

Former publisher of the Marshall News Messenger (1982-1992) Smith conceived and developed the FireAnt Festival and, with J.C. Hughes Jr., founded the Wonderland of Lights.

Smith said, “Most folks who know me know I like to tell stories. These performances allow me to tell stories about a variety of humorous events without being interrupted by others who think they have something more important to say.”

He said, “I’m older now and my feet hurt so I am, truly, a sit-down act.  I will tell stories about the newspaper business, about my decade in Marshall (without embarrassing anyone but myself) and will share some funny stories from my soon-to-be published novel, “Growing Up Mostly Happy”, subtitled “It Takes a Village to Raise an Idiot”.

Smith has been a frequent storyteller on the PBS radio series “Tales of the South”, and was a regular “Amateur Night” participant at a Seattle comedy club while serving as executive director of the Washington State Newspaper Publishers Association.

Smith said, “I want all my friends and some of my friendly detractors to show up for a great meal and fun and frivolity  It will be an old-fashion homecoming with laughs galore.”
Copies of Smith’s “Uncertain Times,” a southern humor mystery and romance novel set in Uncertain, Texas, will be available for sale at the shows.

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Keep It Real

By George Smith

Okay, this is getting out of hand. Keep  it real to be believed.

When Ivanka Trump decided to defend her dad from the resolution approved Thursday by House Democrats formalizing the impeachment process, she relied on former President Thomas Jefferson for help.

The first daughter and White House adviser tweeted a quote from the third president to his daughter Martha about the hazards of life in Washington: 

 “…surrounded by enemies and spies catching and perverting every word that falls from my lips or flows from my pen, and inventing where facts fail them.”

She added, “Some things never change, dad!”

Okay! Whoa! Maybe, just maybe, FDOTUS has a point., Maybe Trump and Jefferson have some similarities.

1. Both stated they wanted to make America great.

2. Both had mistresses.

3. Jefferson owned slaves; Trump makes slaves of followers.

4. Both openly fought with economists and politicians in their terms.

5. Both had a “Muslim” problem.

6. Both were/are extremely impulsive; Jefferson bought “Louisiana” on a whim, Trump wanted to buy Greenland.

7. Both men have been called “the best” and “the worst” that America has to offer. 

8. Behind their facades (or in front of them), both men can be labeled as confirmed “hypocrites” and “racists.”

9. Jefferson had a major problem with Native Americans, mirroring Trump’s problem with immigrants that don’t fit  his image of what America should look like, demographically.

10. Both initiated attacks on the judiciary…for diverse reasons, bit still….

11. Both questioned the legitimacy of a federal judge.

12. Both are of the common thought that Americans are superior in every way from other countries.

And, finally,

13. They have a similar number of body parts and both an IQ. Jefferson was fluent in six languages, including Old  English. Trump has trouble with basic English and thinks Old English is Queen Elizabeth.

See! Ivanka is right.


By Ron Munden  — 6 June 2019

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
— President Abraham Lincoln

For the last 30 years I have said that the United States is a country in decline.  I thought that within 100 years that the U.S. would drop to a second-tier nation status like France and Italy.  I predicted the decline would happen because of our failing education system, the country always focusing on the short term rather than addressing long term problems.  Also, the decline in the moral fiber and the courage of our people.  I think my generation did not match up to “the greatest generation” and those generations that followed my generation have done no better.  Finally, the United States has become a nation driven by greed.

Let me carve out one group of Americans – our military personnel are the exception to the characteristics that I described above.  Unfortunately, the military is only about 10% of our population.  Not enough to carry the rest of us free loaders.

In the past couple of years, I have revised my outlook.  I think Abraham Lincoln’s prediction is correct and I think the country is on a 25-year fight plan to losing the freedoms we know today.  We might touch down sooner.

Several factors have accelerated the nations race to the bottom.  First the rapid increase in income inequality is increasing discontent and government leaders actively work to divide our citizens, not unite them. The nation’s lack of interest in climate change will introduce major stressors and instability throughout the world.

Recently in an interview one historical writer said the United States is in a war and the war is a civil war.  That comment is validated every time I take a look at social media or read anything that echoes how people feel.  Increasingly I find myself being drawn on the battlefield even though I know that it is a battle that no one will win.

We are quickly becoming a nation of hate and discontent. 

At some point those in charge will have to make a decision:

  1.  Let the nation disintegrate and break into parts or
  2.  Institute a totalitarian form of government — taking away many of the freedoms we know today in order to preserve order.

What will Happen?

In my opinion, the direction is clear.  The “money people” will not want to lose what they have and they will welcome a totalitarian form of government that preserves order.

It has been a good run for the country but things are about to change.  In the future the United States will move from a true democracy to a totalitarian body dressed in democratic outerwear.  The United States we know today will be gone.

This will happen weather you believe in global warming or not.  Not addressing climate change will just accelerate the rate of decline.

Footnote 1: While I do believe that Mr. T has wet dreams at night about becoming that totalitarian leader.  It will not happen.  He was born 15 or 20 years to early.

Footnote 2:  My son and I are the only remaining living members of my family.  He is in bad health and most likely I will outlive him.  The Munden clan will not be here in 20 years.  I’m glad.

Footnote 3:  Even though some other nations are beginning to spend money and other resources on addressing the world’s most pressing problem, the United States is not.  Since the United States is not being proactive, its failures will impact all nations so in 25 years every nation may find itself in decline.

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By Ron Munden

At 0730 on the morning of May 16, 1969, I was driving to work at Mare Island Naval Shipyard.  All my thoughts were on plans for the up-coming weekend.  Little did I know that was all about to change.

As reported in the press:

Napa River Sinking

On May 15, 1969, Guitarro’s construction was still underway when Guitarro sank while moored in the Napa River. Guitarro had taken a sudden down angle causing most of her forward hatches to go underwater. Massive flooding occurred through the large open hatches and attempts to close large watertight doors and hatches were largely unsuccessful due to various lines and cables that ran through the doors and hatches, thus preventing them from closing. Three days later the ship was refloated, with damages estimated at between $15.2 million and $21.85 million USD.

By the time I reached the shipyard the place was operating in what could be described as panic mode.  Sinking a ship at dockside is not good!

Even though I recognized that the shipyard had a big problem I did not think I would be involved in any way.  By noon I recognized that I was wrong about that also.

I was told that shipyard workers planned on pumping the water out of the ship and bringing it to the surface as quickly as possible.  Before they could begin pumping, divers had to weld hull patches on all the openings and make each compartment airtight.  They expected this would take an additional 24 hours so pumping could start by noon on Saturday.

 There was one very big concern – ship stability.  They feared that if the submarine was partially pumped and rose to the surface the free surface effect of the remaining water would give the ship (technically submarines are called boats) a negative stability and it would capsize and bury the conning tower in the mud.

Management had selected a seasoned naval architect who normally worked on research projects to develop a pumping sequence that would ensure the ship maintained positive stability at all time. I was very surprised to learn that this engineer had specifically asked that I be assigned to assist him.  To this day I have no idea why he selected me.

This was not a simple problem and the pump sequence calculations had to be completed in 24 hours in order to support the schedule for raising the ship.

Prep work began. The 20 or so drawing boards in the area where I worked were all cleared off.  The lead engineer began making a list of drawings that would be needed to make the calculations.  Other people were sent to plan files to collect the drawings.  This began a series of trips to plans files.  When a person looked at one drawing it often referenced other drawings, so people were sent to retrieve the reference drawings.   By 4pm, the end of the day shift, most of the drawing boards were holding a collection of drawings.

Then it was quiet.  It was just Bill, the senior naval architect, and me.  We were looking at a stack of drawings.  To be honest it was Bill and his handy man.  By this point I had been reading the Principals of Naval Architecture for about a year and had taken two quarters of Naval Architecture classes at Berkeley.  I had no idea how to solve this problem.  Fortunately, Bill did.  So, we started the process one step at a time.

I was never one of those students that stayed up all night studying for a test in college.  In fact, I never did it.  But fueled by coke, and candy bars I worked through the night and never thought about being sleepy.   By late morning on Saturday we delivered the pumping sequence to the salvage officer’s team.

By 2pm I was in my car ready to drive home.  It had been an interesting day and a half.

I decided to sleep-in Sunday morning.

That was not to be the case.

At 6:30A.M. Sunday morning I received a call.  I was told that the salvage team had raised the sub and were preparing it to go into drydock.  Someone had decided that they may be able to save more equipment from salt water damage if they filled some compartments with fresh water, added soap and pumps, which in effect, made these compartments a washing machine.  This would significantly change the submarine’s configuration. So, they needed another set of stability calculations.

I’ll save my Sunday adventure for another day.

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From Freezing Artic Waters to Steaming Jungle Rice Paddies

During the sixteenth century, Italian inventor Leonardo Da Vinci made drawings of an ornithopter flying machine.  Some experts say this inspired the modern day helicopter. In 1784, a year after the first successful ascent in a hot air balloon, French inventors Launoy and Bienvenue created a toy with a rotary-wing that could lift and fly.  This may have been inspired by the “Chinese Top” principle and proved the concept of helicopter flight.  In 1863, the French writer Ponton D’Amecourt was the first person to coin the term “helicopter” from the two words “helico” for spiral and “pter” for wings.

The very first piloted helicopter was invented by Paul Cornu in 1907; however, his design was not successful. French inventor, Etienne Oehmichen built and flew a helicopter about a half mile in 1924. Another early helicopter that flew for a decent distance was the German Focke-Wulf Fw 61.  The inventor of that machine is unknown. 

The Piasecki Helicopter Corporation was founded in 1940 by Frank Piasecki as the P-V Engineering Forum. The PV-2 was the second helicopter flown in the United States (after Sikorsky’s VS-300), and was designed and flown by Frank Piasecki in 1943. 

The company was a designer and manufacturer of helicopters.  It was located in Philadelphia, PA and Morton, PA, in the late 1940s and the 1950s.  Piasecki Helicopter was renamed Vertol Corporation in early 1956.  Vertol was acquired by Boeing in 1960 and renamed Boeing Vertol. 

Piasecki Helicopter designed and sold to the United States Navy a series of tandem rotor helicopters, starting with the HRP-1 of 1944. The HRP-1 was nicknamed the “flying banana” because of the upward angle of the aft fuselage that ensured the large rotors did not strike each other in flight. The name would later be applied to other Piasecki helicopters of similar design, including the H-21. 

The USS Core was commissioned during World War Two as an aircraft carrier.  On June 27, 1943 she transitioned from a training carrier and sortied as the center of Task Group 21.12, a hunter-killer group.  Such groups provided cover for the movement of convoys and made a great contribution towards winning the Battle of the Atlantic.  The innovation represented by their formation was a striking development in antisubmarine warfare.  In 1945 as the war in the Atlantic was winding down, the Core was transferred to the Pacific Theater. 

Piasecki’s company first became known as Piasecki Helicopter in 1946. 

In 1949, Piasecki proposed the YH-21A Workhorse to the United States Air Force, which was an improved, all-metal derivative of the HRP-1.  After its maiden flight in April 1952, the USAF ordered 32 H-21A SAR models and 163 of the more powerful H-21B assault transport variant. With its improved capabilities, the H-21B could carry 22 fully equipped infantrymen, or 12 stretchers, plus space for two medical attendants, in a medivac role. With its Arctic winter capabilities, the H-21A and H-21B were put into service by both the USAF and the Royal Canadian Air Force to maintain and service Distant Early Warning radar installations. 

On 24 August 1954, with the assistance of inflight refueling provided by a U.S. Army U-1A Otter, an H-21C known as Amblin’ Annie became the first helicopter to cross the United States nonstop.

In June of 1955 the Core was redesignated as a helicopter escort carrier (CVHE-13). 

The uprated 1425 hp Wright engine used in the H-21B was also used in subsequent variants sold to both the U.S. Army (as the H-21C Shawnee) and the military forces of several other nations. In 1962, the H-21 was redesignated the CH-21 in U.S. Army service.  The CH-21 was used for Artic rescue because of its excellent low temperature performance. 

In July of 1958 the USS Core was redesignated as a utility carrier (CVU-13).  In May of 1959 the Core was again redesignated, this time as an aviation transport (T-AKV-41).  On December 11, 1961, the USS Core docked in the Port of Saigon to unload 33 Vertol H-21 Shawnee helicopters. Also on board were 400 U.S. soldiers from the 57th Transport Company from Fort Lewis, and the 8th and 9th Transport Companies from Fort Bragg, who would operate and maintain the helicopter fleet. 

The relatively slow CH-21 was hampered by vulnerable cables and fuel lines.  It was rumored that it was so susceptible to small arms fire that a CH-21 had been downed by a Viet Cong spear.

On February 4, 1962 the first United States Helicopter was shot down during the Vietnam War. The helicopter which was shot down was one of fifteen helicopters that were ferrying South Vietnamese Army troops into an area of the Mekong Delta near the village of Hong My for a battle.  That helicopter had arrived in South Vietnam on the ferry carrier USS Core a few months earlier.  The crew was assigned to airlift Vietnamese Army troops into combat. 

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What a Difference Six Days Makes

By William “Doc Halliday

Actually the difference was less than 141 hours, but as they say, who’s counting?  The more important difference was not the time but the temperature.  The event was originally scheduled to take place at 14:42 on January 22, but with various delays, it did not occur until 11:38 on January 28, 140 hours and 56 minutes later. 

During that time delay a cold front that had been expected two days earlier, moved into the area.  It brought some of the coldest weather in the area’s history.  Overnight the temperature in the area plunged to 18 degrees Fahrenheit, with the wind chill hitting ten degrees below zero.  Had the event taken place when it was originally scheduled, the temperature would have been in the normal range and would not have been a factor. 

Do you know who Richard Feynman was?  Richard Phillips Feynman was a theoretical physicist.  He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965, sharing it with two other individuals.  Mr. Feynman had worked on the atomic bomb during World War Two in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos where he was a Group Leader. 

Feynman was an ardent proponent of bringing physics to the general population through both books and lectures, especially a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”.   He also published his undergraduate lectures, “The Feynman Lectures on Physics” in three volumes. 

But perhaps you and most Americans know him best for the important role on the Rogers Commission.  During a televised hearing, Feynman demonstrated that the material used in certain O-rings became less resilient in cold weather.  He did this by compressing a sample of the material in a clamp and immersing it in ice-cold water. 

Or, perhaps you are more familiar with the name of Sharon Corrigan, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts almost 30 years after Mr. Feynman was born.  As she matured, Sharon began using her middle name of Christa, and when she married in 1970, she adopted her husband’s last name.  That same year she accepted her first teaching position in Maryland after graduating from college in her hometown. 

In 1984, using the name Christa McAuliffe, she applied for the Teacher in Space Project, and by 1985 had been selected as one of the ten finalists.  On July 19, 1985 she was selected to be the first teacher in space.  She would be one of seven members of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger scheduled to lift off at 14:42 on January 22, 1986 on the 25th Space Shuttle mission. 

With the various delays that I mentioned earlier, that liftoff did not occur until 11:38 on January 28, 1986.  The delay of almost six full days proved disastrous as the cold front rolled in to Cape Canaveral bringing freezing temperatures with it. 

That morning there were hundreds of icicles, some two feet long, over the craft, and a crew was sent out to dislodge them.  The walkways and guardrails were also covered in ice.  By 11 AM the temperature had warmed up to 36 degrees, but that was still 15 degrees colder than any previous shuttle launch. 

One minute into the flight, the shuttle – at 35-thousand feet – hit a speed of Mach-1.5. Then, seconds later, something unusual was noticed.  The contrail thickened; it seemed to balloon out a bit.  Then one, just one, solid rocket booster came corkscrewing out of the cloud.  Seconds later, a second solid rocket booster can be seen.  At 73 seconds into the flight the Space Shuttle Challenger appears to explode.  There is no chance for the astronauts to escape during the initial two minutes of flight. 

Crowds of spectators on the beaches below are stunned at what they have seen; and then they are horrified.  There is shock and disbelief in the television audiences around the country and the world; particularly in Christa McAuliffe’s high school in Concord, New Hampshire.  Debris continues to fall from the sky for an hour after the explosion. 

That night, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation, and used words from a great poem; “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.  It is one of my favorites.  Those words he used were “and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God”. 

It was more than a month before the remains of the seven astronauts were pulled from the ocean.  They were found about 15 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral and 100 feet underwater.   

Mr. Feynman was a member of the Rogers Commission which ultimately determined that the disaster of the Challenger was caused by the primary O-ring not properly sealing in unusually cold weather at Cape Canaveral in Florida. 

January 28th, is the anniversary of the Challenger disaster.  Did you watch it live on television? 

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Sabine Pass

By William “Doc” Halliday

Sabine Lake is a 90,000 acre salt water estuary formed by the confluence of the Neches and Sabine Rivers.  Sabine Pass is the natural outlet of Sabine Lake into the Gulf of Mexico.  It borders Cameron Parish, Louisiana and Jefferson County, Texas.  The former city of Sabine Pass, Texas is now a suburb of Port Arthur, Texas. 

The Confederacy constructed a major fort there in 1861. The principal Confederate defense force at Sabine Pass during the early months of the war had been Spaight’s Texas Battalion.  In the early morning hours of September 25, 1862, Union forces under the command of Acting Master Frederick Crocker attempted to enter Sabine Pass.  As Crocker and his forces made their way through the inland passage towards Beaumont, the Confederates attacked.

When the Union squadron approached Fort Sabine, Crocker ordered his ships to begin an artillery bombardment of the enemy position. Confederate forces numbering thirty infantry and artillerists manning their artillery, additionally supported by thirty cavalrymen, were unable to effectively return fire as the outdated guns were unable to reach the Union fleet. The commanding officer, Major Josephus S. Irvine (CSA), ordered his artillery spiked and then retreated during the night.  Without a significant military presence, the town of Sabine Pass, surrendered the following day.  This became known as the First Battle of Sabine Pass.  On October 8, 1862, Galveston, Texas was captured.  At that point, the Union controlled much of the Texas coast.

In November of 1862, Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder came to Texas with the intention of altering the direction of the war in this area. Magruder was an early Confederate hero in Virginia, and was assigned the difficult task of expelling the Union forces from Sabine Pass and Galveston.  Another unit, Capt. F. H. Odlums’ Co. F, of the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, was sent to Sabine Pass in December of 1862. 

Magruder’s efforts were soon successful. He recaptured Galveston Island on January 1, 1863 and then turned his attention to Sabine Pass.  The two units manned artillery aboard two old gunboats referred to as cottonclads.  The gunboats were the Uncle Ben and Josiah Belle, which the Confederates used to break the blockade on Jan. 21, 1863, by chasing two Union sail ships, the Morning Light and Velocity, for 30 miles at sea and capturing them during a battle.

The decks of the two Rebel ships were stacked with cotton bales. Riflemen were placed behind the bales and the ships steamed towards the two Union ships, the Morning Light and the Velocity. Some of the riflemen became seasick and had to be removed, but the voyage continued. The Confederates chased the Union ships into open water, and the sharpshooters injured many Union gunners. Both Union ships soon surrendered. Magruder’s victory reopened the Texas coast for Confederate shipping. 

January 21, is the anniversary of the recapture of Sabine Pass, Texas, and the opening of that important port for the Confederacy when two Confederate ships drove away and captured the two Union ships. 

The Union intended to recapture Sabine Pass.  They planned revenge by capturing Sabine Pass, Beaumont, and Orange. They hoped to capture all the cotton and ships in port, as well as to burn railroad bridges and ferries on the rivers. Then they planned to attack Houston along the railroad to the west of Beaumont, and then starve Galveston Island into submission.  However, the effort was thwarted when less than 50 Confederates inside the fort there held off a much larger Union force.

After that embarrassment to the Federal forces, Union Gen. Benjamin Butler of New Orleans was determined to capture Sabine Pass by sea, but he had to await the seizure of Vicksburg before enough shallow draft gunboats were available. About Aug. 1, 1863, Gen. Butler began massing four gunboats and 19 troop transports at New Orleans in preparation for the battle. 

About 6:00 am on the morning of September 8, 1863, a Union flotilla of four gunboats and seven troop transports steamed into Sabine Pass and up the Sabine River with the intention of reducing Fort Griffin and landing troops to begin occupying Texas. As the gunboats approached Fort Griffin, they came under precise fire from just six cannons. The Confederate gunners at Fort Griffin had been sent there as a punishment. To break the day-to-day tedium, the gunners trained firing artillery at range markers placed in the river. Confederate engineers drove marker posts in the oyster reefs 1,200 yards distant from the fort to mark the guns’ maximum range, and during the month of August, Lt. Dowling used a sunken schooner as a target as he sharpened his artillerymen’s gunnery prowess to the peak of perfection.

Their practice paid off. Fort Griffin’s small force of 47 men, under command of Lt. Richard W. Dowling, forced the Union flotilla to retire, and captured the gunboat Clifton and about 350 prisoners. Further Union operations in the area ceased for about a month. The heroics at Fort Griffin—47 men stopping a Union expedition—inspired other Confederate fighters.

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