Friday, October 30, 2009

Jack-O-Lanterns HomePlace Style

It's been two weeks since The Great Pumpkin Shoot but Helene and I thought there might still be a couple of stragglers. This morning we headed down to the range with a couple of lever action long guns.

Helene had a Winchester 1894 Trapper Carbine in .45 Colt. This time we had jacketed hollow points that had been loaded by our good friend Hangman. These were some he used for deer hunting and he warned me "Don't put these in a revolver." The pressures are too high.

I was also carrying a Winchester 1894, in this case a 30-30 rifle. These have probably taken more deer in the last 115 years than all other rifles combined.

The .30 caliber projectile is smaller but has a bunch more power behind it. Rather than a hollow point I had a jacketed soft point.

When we arrived at the range we knew we weren't alone. We could feel them, and then in a blink they were there.

We fired together. It's amazing what jacketed hollow points and soft tips can accomplish going in...

And coming out!

The big one put up quite a fight and had to be shot a couple of times. The Results were ugly.

That's how we make Jack-O-Lanters at HomePlace.

Happy Holloween everyone!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The day started for us at HomePlace at 06:00 AM. It was time for 'final assembly'. The sign was placed by the road to make finding us easier. Considering I still pass the entrance at night on occasion that's important.

Hangman set up his kitchen and got the fire started so he would have coals for his dutch ovens. Matt rolled in a bit before 07:00 and started with last minute arrangements, including getting the track back on the bulldozer AGAIN and moving it out of the right of way.

The first arrivals rolled in a few minutes before 09:00. They were met at the parking area by our gas powered stage coach, aka 1953 Dodge M-37. From there they were taken to registration where by Helene.

From registration folks headed either to the Ace In The Hole (non-alcoholic) Saloon or to Hangman's cook fire for breakfast.

Not surprisingly when I started setting up the firearms display folks started drifting over.

Over the next hour I covered the firearms development from 1400 give or take to 1899. Then it was time to move to the range.

We started with checking everyone out on a double barrel 12 gauge shotgun, a Winchester 1894 lever action lever action carbine in .45 Colt and a single action revolver in .45 ACP. Fur Cat is helping with scale.

My intention was to break for lunch as soon as everyone had qualified, but at least half of them came back with more ammo for a second round.

Before the main event folks had a chance to try out other firearms from the line up. A replica English Matchlock was one of the most popular.

Our good friend Susan brought a Savage .22/.410 combo gun that had belonged to her Step Dad. I have always wanted one of these. Several of us, myself included, had a ball shooting this one.

Folks could have spent quite a while trying out old west rifles, shotguns and handguns but it was pumpkin time!

The hulking orange orbs formed a skirmish line. We stood our ground.

I'm pretty sure we made the first move.

The carnage was impressive

In a moment the air was filled with smoke, lead and pumpkin guts.

Then all was silent.

But we know the pumpkins will be next year, and we will be ready.

My thanks to Amy Sharp for the use of the 3rd, 4th, 7th, 11th and 12th photograph used in this Blog.

Friday, October 16, 2009

17 Hours To Go

We got the track back on the Bulldozer

It got 50 feet before it threw it again. What is life without challenges.

No time for a detailed Blog now. Look for a lengthy discription of The Great Pumpkin shoot Sunday, or Monday maybe.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There is never a good time to throw a track

Things are marching along here at HomePlace, like time! Some progress has been made. We picked up Ammunition from Ft. Milam Armory Tuesday.

Some set backs. We threw a track on the bulldozer Wednesday afternoon. There is never a good time to throw a track, but it doesn't get much worse than sixty hours before The Great Pumpkin Shoot. Matt reviewed his profanity and it was impressive!

The area is cleared for ACE IN THE HOLE, our non-alcoholic tent saloon, and it is ready to be assembled and stocked.
The Great Pumpkin Shoot sign is ready to go by the road.
Hangman's kitchen area has been prepared and a supply of wood laid in.
Guest quarters...are a work in progress.

The modern day out house arrived this morning. When the man called and asked about how to find the place I told him to look for the Big Green Army Truck.

"Which side of the road," the man ask?

"It will be the only Big Green Army Truck parked on the road."
"That'll work!"
Targets are being set up.
Last but not least Peppi the porch cat, another one (Groan), went with us for Helene's walk this morning. This was a regular occurence until Wally, the big tom, got tired of being run off the food dish by the "Pocket Panther" and she spent several days recovering.

This morning Peppi tried to walk with us but it was just too hard, so she went for a carry.

More to come tomorrow.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Seven Days and Counting

Well friends and neighbors we are counting down the last seven days until THE GREAT PUMPKIN SHOOT…and it’s raining. It has been raining all week. Rain is great, don’t get me wrong, but it has been a very dry summer. It couldn’t wait another ten days or so?
Apparently not.
But neither rain, nor car trouble nor help that doesn’t show up will keep us from making ready for this faithful engagement. Matt and I are the strong, silent, drip dry types. The range is transitioning from our plinking spot to something worthy of greeting honored guest.

All the old washing machines, dryers, freezers and other bullet stoppers have been flattened by the bull dozer and loaded on the trailer to be taken to metal recycling. They are being replaced by more professional looking targets and target stands. A new short range berm has been pushed up and the long range berm built up. The shooting lane has been widened. Were still rednecks, we just don’t look like it quite so much.

So are we ready? Get real. There’s still plenty of last minute stuff. The sort of things you, or your wife, don’t think of until the last minute. That’s why they call it last minute stuff.

In the next couple of days ACE IN THE HOLE, our non-alcoholic tent saloon will be up and ready to dispense water, tea and sodas under the watchful eye of Miss. Maggie. Hangman will have the coffee.

Our shy and retiring range cook, Hangman will be arriving this Friday evening and getting ready to perform his magic starting with breakfast for those there early enough. We will have the site of his field kitchen ready and waiting.

A new American Flag will grace the gate post. Folks (probably short folks) will be on hand to direct parking. It will be best to ride to the shooting range in one of our conveyance. Experience shows us too many vehicles collecting on that road are a problem.
Last but not least we will be working on a covered shooting area. It is the rainy season.

91 Years Ago Tonight Part Three

American and French troops reached the soldiers trapped in The Pocket the evening of October 07, 1918. They returned to their units or were taken to hospitals. The Great War was almost over and they returned to their homes. But all wars leave their marks on the combatants. The men who fought in The Pocket carried it with them for the rest of their lives. Perhaps the best example is their commander, Major Charles W. Whittlesey.
After being discharged Whittlesey returned to his law practice in New York but remained in the spotlight. As a recipient of the Medal of Honor he was a popular if perhaps disappointing speaker who was short on details of his famous engagement. His talks centered on praising the enlisted men of his command.

In 1921 Whittlesey was promoted to Colonel and given charge of the reserve division of the 108th. This was a position he wasn’t seeking but didn’t feel he could refuse.

In November of that year the war was brought back to him in a most sobering manner. Whittlesey was asked to be a pall bearer for the remains of a World War One service man being laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. This was yet another honor / duty he felt he could not refuse. The ceremony took place on November 21, 1921. Any misgivings he had were kept to himself as was his fashion.

Unknown to family and friends, Whittlesey booked passage on a steamship, the S.S. Toloa bound for Havana three days later – November 24, 1921. His affairs were in order. His rent was paid up a month in advance. Letters, addressed to relatives and close friends, were left in his cabin. The letters gave instructions for disposing of his estate but made no mention of his intentions.
On November 26th Whittlesey made a late night of it. He spent the evening drinking and in conversation with other passengers. Finally, he excused himself. Rather than going to his cabin he slipped over the side of the ship. His body was never found.
For almost a century people have been second guessing the reasons he took his life. I will not get into these out of respect to the man. I do think it fair to say he was another causality of the Great War.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

91 Years Ago Tonight Part Two

It has been said the more you learn, the more you find out you don’t know. This has certainly been true in the case of the Lost Battalion. Some elements of this story have an eerie resemblance to the besieged paratroopers a generation later at Bastogne.

In a wild part of the Argonne Forest is a deep almost rectangular ravine surrounded by steep wooded slopes. The terrain is unsuitable for crops or grazing. The result is a thick tangle of trees, vines and undergrowth of a sort that can only be the product of undisturbed centuries.
The U.S. 77 Division had been advancing against heavy German resistance in the Argonne Forest for several days. When Major Charles Whittlesey, the commander of the 308th. Infantry, advanced into a valley known today as The Pocket, flanking units were not able to keep pace. By October 3, 1918 the 308th and elements of other American units were surrounded.

Whittlesey’s command was subjected to constant machine gun, mortar and artillery fire for several days. At one point inaccurate coordinates resulted in “friendly fire” striking their positions. Thankfully correct coordinates were delivered by the unit’s last homing pigeon and the barrage was lifted.

The shelling and rifle fire added to an already miserable situation. The troops had advanced with one day’s rations and were not carrying blankets or overcoats. For more than 100 hours Officers and men of The Pocket were without food. Their ammunition supplies were low. Constant rain and cold weather compounded their misery. Water was the worst torture of all. A stream ran through the ravine where the men could see, hear and smell water but snipers made sure no one got to it. Even in the darkness machine guns trained on the stream bed would spit death at the slightest sound.

After several days, planes from the 50th Aero Squadron, A.E.F. located the Lost Battalion. On October 6, 1918 De Havilland D.H. 4s from their unit made history air-dropping supplies to the trapped men. Fifteen missions were flown that day to deliver food. German machine gun fire brought down one of the planes, killing the two man crew. To add insult to injury only a small part of the supplies got to the besieged Americans. Several soldiers were captured trying to retrieve the air-dropped packages.

Early morning on October 7, 1918 the German Commanding Officer sent one of the captured Americans back with a letter to Major Whittlesey asking for his surrender. Whittlesey declined to even answer.

As it turned out the siege was almost over. That evening advancing troops broke through to The Pocket. Of the estimated 550 men Whittlesey started with 194 Officers and Men were able to walk out under their own power. Only 107 could be officially listed Killed in Action. That leaves 249 un-accounted for.

How can that be you might ask? Some of it can be in record keeping. Many of the soldiers from The Pocket went strait to hospitals. Even men who and not received battle wounds were weak from lack of food and water and prone to illness. Some soldiers returned to their units, or were transferred to other units, and were never recorded as having served in The Pocket.

With the confusion of an army on the ropes (the war ended 35 days later) even the Germans don’t know how many prisoners they took from The Pocket.

Then there are the dead.

Mortars, artillery and grenades can mangle remains to a point I can’t describe. There are accounts of grave digging crews not even being sure how many bodies they were dealing with from an explosion. Forget knowing who they are.

Bodies of World War one soldiers are still being found today.

So why do I take such pride in this story? These men were in their actions the best kind of soldiers any nation can hope to have. This was not a suicide mission. None of them wanted to die gloriously for the cause. They wanted to live to go home and get back to their lives.
But they didn’t give up. When surrounded without adequate food or ammunition they dug in and fought. When word got around that the Germans had demanded their surrender the soldiers answered in words…I can’t use here.

Tomorrow I will conclude with the after math and legacy of the Lost Battalion.

Monday, October 5, 2009

91 Years Ago Tonight

91 Years Ago Tonight

A friend on a re-enactors board informed us Saturday we were entering the anniversary of the Lost Battalion's engagement during the Argonne Forest Offensive. I have heard mention of the Lost Battalion all my life but knew practically nothing about them. What I found in the next couple of hours was stunning. This is one of those battles you find yourself re-reading the details in an effort to come to grips with the events being discussed.

I have yet to find two sources that agree on the numbers of men involved and the causalities that resulted. The Army's offical report reads in part as follows:

A force of 550 men under command of Major Charles W. Whittlesey, was cut off from the remainder of the Seventy-Seventh Division and surrounded by a superior number of the enemy near Charlevaus, in the Forest d'Argone, from the morning of October 3, 1918 to the night of October 7, 1918.

Without food for more than one hundred hours, harassed continuously by machine gun, rifle, trench mortar and grenade fire, Major Whittlesey's command, with undaunted spirit and magnificent courage, successfully met and repulsed daily violent attacks by the enemy. They held the position which had been reached by supreme effort, under orders recived for an advance unit, communications was re-established with friendly troops.

When relief finally came, approximately 194 officers and men were able to walk out of the position. Officers and men killed numbered 107.

The rest of the offical report will be presented in the next post.

The photograph above shows the officers and men who got out and were able to pose for a snap shot rather than being taken to a hospital.

If this account leaves you with more questions than knowledge gained, I understand and agree. Those who have run the numbers know it leaves over 200 men unaccounted for. I will get into some of the details in my next post.