Tag Archives: World War II

SPAM®, Seventy-five Years of Success

Hormel Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota.

Hormel Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a child, it was not unusual for me to carry my lunch to school in a small paper sack or a little tin box with a handle on its side.  I’m not sure, but I do believe I was fortunate enough to own a lunch box with Gene Autry on it.  Gene Autry was “America’s Favorite Cowboy” and my greatest hero.

Descended on both sides of my family from hardworking immigrant stock, those who really built America, not the robber barons who owned it then and still do, carrying my lunch to school was a kind of status symbol.  The sandwich or two that made up the main course was peanut butter and jelly, bologna, or that marvelous canned mystery meat known by its brand name, SPAM®.

Each region of our great nation is noted for some particular cuisine, for example, fried chicken in the south.  But, if there is one dish that more than any other can be described as truly American, it is SPAM.

For those of you raised on fast food, the contents of which remain a closely guarded secret that baffles the brightest of today’s scientists, the ingredients of SPAM are simple and not unhealthy.  Well, perhaps I should qualify that just a little.  Whether the original or the lite variety, SPAM is rather high in salt and fat.

Jay C. Hormel, President of Geo. A. Hormel & Co. developed SPAM to make use of pork shoulders, a largely wasted part of the pig at that time.  At first it was called Hormel Spiced Ham®. The name, “SPAM” resulted from a contest to name the new canned meat during a party on New Year’s Day, 1937.  The winner was the actor Kenneth Daigneau, who received $100 for dreaming up one of the most readily, recognized brand names in history.

The meaning of “SPAM” is not known for sure, but usually assumed to mean “spiced ham” or “special processed American meat.”  Hormel officially registered the name on May 11, 1937, thus giving the product an official birthday, so to speak.

It was World War II that assured SPAM would never disappear from store shelves in America or around the world.  One-hundred million pounds of SPAM were consumed by American and Allied troops who claim that they had it for breakfast, dinner, and supper.  Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev attributed the Russian victory on the Eastern Front in part to SPAM.  “Without SPAM,” he said, “we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army.”

SPAM has been on the menu for American troops in every war since World War II except the Gulf War.  Saudi Arabia would not allow it, since pork is a forbidden food that country.

By 1959, Hormel sold one billion cans of SPAM Classic.  That figure rose to two billion in 1970, three billion in 1980, five billion in 1994, and seven billion in 2007.  If the cans of SPAM were placed in a row end to end, they would circle the earth twelve and a half times.  More cans of SPAM have been sold around the globe than there are people living on the planet.

There are twenty-one varieties of SPAM today, but the connoisseur’s favorite remains the original, the Classic. There is a SPM fan club, a SPAM museum, and T-shirts, mugs, and even underwear with the SPAM image on them.  The really dedicated SPAM will want make at least one pilgrimage to the SPAM museum, located on Spam Blvd. in Spamtown, U.S.A., also called Austin, Minnesota, its birthplace.  Not only is it the subject of uncounted jokes, but also eulogized in songs.

I often look at the cans of SPAM on the grocery store shelf, but have not purchased or eaten any for many, many years.  Formerly it was because I can still taste those sandwiches I had to carry in my school lunches.  These days, I look at the amount of salt and fat in a serving and decide to pass it by.  I convince myself that it is simply not a healthy choice for senior citizen.  That may just be a convenient excuse, because the late Senator Harry Byrd of West Virginia was known to eat three SPAM sandwiches with mayonnaise per week until his death at ninety-two.

Now that I think about it, maybe I will buy a can of SPAM Classic and give it go, just for old times’ sake.

I will close by referring you the song, “Pam Don’t Take My SPAM”:  https://soundcloud.com/spam-brand/pam-spam

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and always live under the mercy.

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Historian’s Almanac for August 1, 2013

Today is August 1, 2013.  It was on this day in 1914 that the Great War began when Germany and Russia declared war on each other and the French government ordered mobilization.  No event in history since the fall of the Roman Empire in the West had a greater impact on world history.  What became known as World War I was but the first act of a two-act war, the second act of which was World War II.  Had the Great War not occurred, there would not have been a Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the rise of Hitler in Germany, World War II, the Holocaust, or the Cold War.

The 11th Olympic Games opened in Berlin (1936) hosted by Adolf Hitler.  Hitler saw an opportunity for his new German Reich to be the center of world attention.  He also meant for the Olympics to display to the whole world the superiority of the Aryan race.  The first aim was achieved, but the second was a failure.  Jessie Owens, a twenty-two-year-old African American, won four gold medals.  The crowd cheered and Germany’s star athlete, Luz Long, congratulated Owens’ when he won the gold medal in the long jump.  Hitler refused to shake Owens’ hand.

Just three days before Anne Frank and her family were arrested and sent to a concentration (1944), she made her final entry in her diary.  She talked about the conflict in her personality between the serious and the frivolous.

“I know exactly how I’d like to be, how I am . . . on the inside. But unfortunately I’m only like that with myself. And perhaps that’s why — no, I’m sure that’s the reason why — I think of myself as happy on the inside and other people think I’m happy on the outside. I’m guided by the pure Anne within, but on the outside I’m nothing but a frolicsome little goat tugging at its tether. As I’ve told you, what I say is not what I feel, which is why I have a reputation for being a boy-chaser, a flirt, a smart aleck and a reader of romances. The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she couldn’t care less. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way” (Diary of Anne Frank, 1952).

It is the birthday of Herman Melville, best known for his novel, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, published in 1851.  The novel was not a success in Melville’s lifetime.  It did not sell out the initial printing of 3,000 copies.  Today it is considered one of the greatest American novels.

And finally this.  Calvin Coolidge, known as “Silent Cal,” said little, but when he did speak, he spoke words of true wisdom.  E. g.:  “More people out of work leads to higher unemployment.”

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

A Fallen Soldier Comes Home

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial (Photo credit: inge87)

Yesterday evening I went to the airport to pick up my wife.  She was returning from a visit with her mother in Washington State.  Her flight was due in at 5:15 p.m., so I made sure to be there early.  I wanted to greet her at the gate, not just pick her at the curb like she was a piece of luggage.

Her flight was delayed.  At 5:30 those of us waiting were told that her plane had arrived and was at the gate.  I waited, and I waited.  No one seemed to be getting off the plane.  Just before 6:00 p.m. an ambulance arrived.   Several medics with a stretcher, oxygen, etc. went down the hall in the direction of the gate escorted by security.

As I continued to wait, I began to wonder, what happened?  Did someone on the flight have a medical emergency?  Was it my wife?  I continued waiting.  Finally, about ten minutes past the hour, the passengers began to appear.  Yup, there she was, the love of my life.

As we were going down the stairs to retrieve her suitcase, she explained what caused the delay.  There was a family on board accompanied by four soldiers.  They were bringing a soldier home from the war.  Yes, there is a war going on.  Soldiers on both sides, and many civilians—men, women, and children—are dying.

The people onboard the plane were asked to remain seated until the family disembarked.  It was a simple thing to do, a gesture of respect for the family and of course the soldier, also on the flight, but in the baggage compartment, in a coffin.

The family and the honor guard stood on the tarmac as the coffin was taken off the plane.  It was then that the soldier’s mother collapsed.  Hearing that, it was easy for me to understand why the passengers were delayed in disembarking and why there was an additional delay for the luggage to be unloaded.

While we waited at the luggage pickup, the four soldiers stood nearby with several family members.  The soldiers were in dress blues, numerous ribbons on their breasts, yellow strips down the sides of their trousers, and of course, those silly looking berets our soldiers wear these days.

While standing there waiting, I noticed one family member with the soldiers.  She looked young, perhaps a sister of the fallen warrior.  She stood there with her arms folded staring at the conveyer where luggage would soon begin to appear.  Her head was bent slightly forward.  The corners of her tightly closed mouth were turned down.  I could tell she wanted to cry, but knew she must not.  She had to remain stoic for the others.   Emotionally, I began to feel as if I could sense her pain.  I wondered what she was thinking. 

We celebrated Memorial Day only a week ago.  The news media was full of scenes of parades and politicians laying wreaths and making speeches.  I thought about writing something to mark the occasion, but simply could not do it.

I have friends and family members who served in the military.  Some served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  I know others, some of them students of mine, who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.  I have a great deal of respect for them, because they did what they believed they should do.  They were faithful to their convictions. 

When I think of war and all the suffering caused by wars, as I was forced to do yesterday evening, I have very mixed feelings.  War is insane.  To say that war is barbaric is too rational.  Do civilized people commit acts of genocide, fire bomb cities, drop atomic bombs and napalm on innocent people?  In every war the seeds of the next war are planted. 

Just in the past two days national news reported on massacres of civilians in Syria.  Men, women, and children, some of them burned to death in their homes, all of them sacrifices to the gods of war.  One news story told of how the suicide rate among our soldiers now exceeds more than one per day.  More are taking their own lives than are being killed by enemy action.

A friend of mine in graduate school served in Vietnam.  He was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute.  He was wounded just days before he was to return home, leaving him with a disability for the rest of his life.  One afternoon he showed me some pictures of him in full dress uniform at VMI.  Parading on the drill field, he said, was fun.  Vietnam was different.

That mother of the soldier who returned home yesterday evening will never get over the loss of her child.  The wife will never really be able to forget her husband.  Was the baby I saw in the arms of one of the family members the child of the fallen soldier?

The soldier-son-husband-father will soon be “laid to rest” as they say.  The honor guard will see that the funeral is dignified.  I expect veterans will be present.  They will play taps and even fire a few rifle shots over the grave.  The flag will be taken off the casket, folded and given to the widow.  Everyone will slowly walk away to continue living a life that will never be the same.

Don’t give them any of that rubbish about how he died for his country, or how he gave his life in defense of freedom.  Those are the lies that the makers of war tell the mourning.  Enough of that!

Wars have happened all through history, and they will no doubt continue to happen in the future.  I am sorry, but I cannot make sense of them.  Let’s cancel future Memorial Day holidays.  After all, they are only excuses for a day off from the drudgery of everyday life, excuses for picnics and parties. 

The poet Carl Sandburg said:  “Someday they’ll give a war and nobody will come.”  He was wrong.  There will always be those who for whatever reason will heed the call to arms, to rally around the flag, or to defend the fatherland.  “War,” said Bertrand Russell, “seems a mere madness, a collective insanity.”  Are we all insane?

I close with this song: 

Until next time be good to call God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Remembering the Most Boring Day in History

A ticket from a "Colonel" Tom Parker...

A ticket from a "Colonel" Tom Parker package tour with Bill Haley & the Comets, Elvis Presley and Hank Snow. Deutsch: Ein Ticket einer Package-Tour von "Colonel" Tom Parker mit Bill Haley & the Comets, Elvis Presley und Hank Snow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From time to time I happen upon something on the internet that strikes me as particularly interesting.  I often print a copy and toss it on a pile of other interesting articles.  Occasionally I look through the pile and reread some of them.  Some end up in the proverbial “file 13.”

This morning as I was preparing to discuss post-World War II intellectual and cultural history, I found one of those interesting articles.  It is a short piece posted on December 6, 2010 by Daniel McGroarty titled, “April 11, 1954:  A date that will live in monotony.”  “How interesting,” I thought, “that I should pick up this particular page on April 11, 2012.”

Mr. McGroarty was commenting on a study conducted by a group of “computer geniuses” at the University of Cambridge in England.  I picture them as something like Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Rajesh on the television sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory.  The team of computer geeks wanted to identify the “Most Boring Day” in history.   If the study was conducted in America rather than the United Kingdom, the team might well have been funded by a grant from the Department of Defense or some other government agency.

Three-hundred million “digital snippets of world events” were fed into a computer program called True Knowledge.  Out came April 11, 1954 as the most boring day in history.

It seems that nothing really noteworthy happened on that date.  Well, that is not entirely true.  President Eisenhower was putting golf balls around in the Oval Office.  Otherwise, people were dying and being born, widgets were being made and sold, etc., like every other day.  Put another way, what was happening was important only for those personally involved.

If we move on to April 12, 1954, we find that a really important event occurred.  Bill Haley and His Comets recorded “Rock Around the Clock.”  Bill Haley and Elvis Presley are credited with birthing the golden age of Rock’n’Roll.  Not many people today remember who Bill Haley was, much less his contribution to American popular culture.

Everyone on planet earth knows who Elvis Presley was, even those living in Afghanistan.  In April, 1954, Elvis was dating his high school sweetheart, Dixie Locke, whom he met at the First Assembly of God church.  It’s not until June that things began to come together for Elvis.

I doubt that April 11, 1954 will ever be surpassed as the most boring day.   The fact is that many important things are happening every day, and with the internet and the social networking it accommodates, even the most insignificant can become significant instantly.

There will always be a blogger somewhere who will make something out of nothing, even April 11, 1954, the most boring day in history.

Until next time, be kind to all of God’s creatures and always walk under the mercy.

Remembering Hiroshima

I cannot help but take a break from the boredom of everyday life to think one of the most significant events in modern history. On August 6, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced to the nation that the USA had dropped a single atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The decision to drop “the bomb” was Truman’s. He took responsibility for making the decision, and throughout the rest of his life, never indicated that he ever doubted that he made the right decision.

Historians and others have ever since debated whether dropping the atomic bomb was necessary in order to end the war in the Pacific, or at least avoid the immense loss of American lives that surely would have resulted from an invasion of the Japanese home islands. Some argue that it was meant to be a warning to our wartime ally, the Soviet Union.

Some ask why Hiroshima? After all, the city was of no military significance and the residence of numerous refugees from the war. The usual explanation given is that the military wanted a kind of “laboratory experiment.” And then there is the question of why the bombing of Hiroshima was followed only three days later by the dropping of a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

The debate will continue without end. What is not debatable is the horror produced by the bomb, so graphically portrayed by John Hersey’s little book, Hiroshima. Based upon eyewitness accounts, Hersey’s story was first published in the August, 1946 issue of The New Yorker. It filled up the entire issue. No other articles. No advertisements. The issue sold out in just four hours. The story was quickly put in print as a book, and mailed free to all members of The-Book-of-the-Month Club. It has never been out of print since, even in this present era of declining literacy in America.

Less known to Americans is Japanese artist, Keiji Makazawa’s Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen), first published in serial form between 1973 and 1974, and then as an animated film in 1976. It is based on Makazawa’s experience as a survivor of Hiroshima. In cartoon art similar to Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986-1991), Nagazawa provides graphic images of the horrors described in John Hersey’s Hiroshima. Barefoot Gen does for Hiroshima what Elie Wiesel’s Night (1960) does for the Holocaust.

Every year since August 6, 2010, the Japanese mark the exact time of day when the bomb fell on Hiroshima with a public observance. This year, for the first time in 65 years, the USA and its wartime allies (the United Kingdom and France) sent representatives. Why did it take so long for the USA, in particular, to join with the Japanese in remembering the tragedy? Did it take America becoming the victim of international terrorism for Americans to feel the suffering of those who experienced nuclear war first hand? Or, was it because we are the only nation to have actually used nuclear weapons, and even in recent years, threatened to use them again?

The atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ranks as one of the greatest war crimes of the twentieth century. Questions remain and ever will. If the war in Europe had continued, would we have used the atom bomb against Germany? Or, was there perhaps a bit of racism involved in the decision to use it against Japan? What is there to fear about international terrorism for those of us who grew up in the shade of the mushroom cloud?
My generation believed that someday the Cold War would become a nuclear holocaust. It was never if, but when? Perhaps one thing positive resulted from the nightmare of Hiroshima. Because the leaders of the super powers during the Cold War knew, really knew, what nuclear weapons could do, they never used them. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when nuclear war came within perhaps an hour of becoming reality, the example of Hiroshima kept the demon at bay.