Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hanford, the Bomb and...Madagascar

B Reactor National Historic Landmark, Hanford, WA
In 1944 construction began on Hanford Engineer Works (  This portion of the Manhattan Project was designed to build large quantities of plutonium along the Columbia River in Washington State.  What had once been a desert quickly became the home to around 51,000 workers -- the fourth largest city in the state was built in matter of months.
Hanford Control Room
Most of these workers had no idea what it was they were laboring on.  Some thought that they were building parachutes for the war effort.  They knew that it was highly secret.  Hanford supplied the plutonium that was used for the Trinity test in Los Alamos, New Mexico in July of 1945.  Hanford also supplied the material that was used for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 (see,,,  Six days after the second bomb was dropped Emperor Hirihito announced the surrender of Japan via radio.
PEACE breaks out!
After the bomb was dropped the local paper in Richland / Hanford summed it up: "PEACE!  OUR BOMB CLINCHED IT!  Plant Will Not close!  Japs Surrender"
B Reactor Core, Hanford, WA
Many people know about the atomic bomb and Hanford's role in creating it.  Very few, however, know that the Hanford facility was ironically itself the victim of a Japanese balloon bomb attack in March of 1945.  The Hanford Engineer Works was briefly shutdown after a Fu-Go bomb launched from Japan struck the high tension wires of the Bonneville Power Administration that supplied the plant.  It marked the only time in history that an American nuclear power plant was shutdown due to enemy action.

Even fewer are aware of the surprising connection between Hanford and Madagascar.  No, it has nothing to do with escaped lemurs!

In the Madagascar chapter of America Invades we detailed the astonishing link between Madagascar and the A-bomb...

"It was the French who ultimately became the Western power dominating the island, which meant that in 1942, with Vichy France in control of Madagascar, strategically located near vital Allied supply routes, the Allies had a problem. The result was the British invasion of Madagascar in that year, Operation Ironclad. Now we didn’t play much of a role in that, at least not openly, but it is interesting to note that almost as soon as the invasion was complete and successful, we sent in people to start shipping graphite from Madagascar to America as a crucial component of the project to create eventually an atomic bomb. The first nuclear chain reacting pile was built towards the end of 1942 and used four hundred tons of graphite. The second was built in the spring of 1943 with the first graphite shipment from Madagascar. Some have even suggested the acquisition of this graphite was at least one of the motives for the invasion in the first place."  (Source: America Invades,
America Invades with a bomber escort of Bombshell Red
Airfield Winery, Sunnyside WA
The graphite that was used to construct the plutonium inside Fat Man (the bomb used on Nagasaki) came from Madagascar.  Without Madagascar's graphite, the Allies might not have been able to  "move it, move it" in WW2!
Go Richland Bombers!
Richland, the largest city near Hanford, remains basically proud of the role they played in world history.  Richland's High School Football team is called the "Bombers" (  In a world run amok with political correctness, the Bombers have refused to buckle and deny what is part of their core historical identity.
Look Ma, No water and no Plutonium since 1968!
The Hanford plant stopped producing plutonium in 1968 and has never re-opened except for tourists.  According to the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty re-affirmed by the Russians in 1995, we have a right to inspect Russian nuclear facilities and the Russians have the right to inspect ours.  Every summer a group of Russian officials descend upon Hanford's B Reactor to verify that it is not producing any plutonium.  They soon adjourn to some of Washington's wineries to sample the delicious local product.

America Invades Hanford
Travel Notes: The National Park Service now operates free tours of the Hanford site  Registration is required and photography is permitted.  The tours leave from a location in Richland and take about four hours including two 45 minute bus rides to the plant.  Some amazing wineries can be found near Richland. Here are three I enjoyed... and  But very few three-eyed glowing fish!

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Evergreen Air and Space Museum

"Invading" the Evergreen Air and Space Museum
McMinnville, OR

There are extraordinary aviation museums available all over the world.  Notable among these are the Air Force Museum in Dayton (, The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, the National Naval Air Museum in Pensacola (, Florida the Museum of Flight in Seattle (, the IWM Duxford in the UK ( and the Caproni Museum in Italy (  All these are outstanding places to learn more about aviation history.

Hughes' Monster Plane

She actually flew!

"Spruce Goose", Evergreen Air Museum, McMinnville, OR

But the Evergreen Air and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon ( truly stands apart.   Only one museum in the world can boast possession of Howard Hughes's famous Spruce Goose.  The eccentric aviator and businessman built the wooden plane in order to safely transport American troops across the oceans that were menaced during World War II by Axis submarines. This giant machine is the largest airplane ever constructed and it was built almost entirely out of birch.  Its only flight, with Hughes himself at the controls took place on November 2, 1947 and was for just over one mile at a height of seventy feet.  The Evergreen Air Museum in McMinnville was essentially built around the Spruce Goose.
Spirit of St. Louis (Replica), Evergreen Air Museum, OR
The Spruce Goose is one of the many treasures to be found at the Evergreen Museum.  You will also encounter a replica of the Lucky Lindberg's Spirit of St. Louis that flew the first ever successful transatlantic flight in 1927.
Commander K with B-17
Many military aircraft adorn the museum in McMinnville.  You will find copies of the B-17 that was the workhorse bomber for the US Army Air Corps in WW2.
USAF F-5, Evergreen Air Museum, McMinnville, OR
The Museum has an enormous IMAX theater and a ticket for one film is included in the admission price.

In addition to aircraft, you will also find an enormous building dedicated to space travel.  There is a universe to explore out there and Evergreen is a great institution documenting America's amazing history of space exploration.
Left Coast Cellars: Pinot for wine lovers across the spectrum
Beyond Evergreen's extraordinary collection of aircraft and spacecraft, it also offers the perfect launch pad for an exploration of Willamette valley wine country.  The late David Lett launched a wine revolution in Oregon when he launched the Eyrie Vineyards (  "Papa Pinot" grew the first pinot noir in the Willamette valley.  Eyrie is now led by David's son Jason.  Today Oregon pinots rival their European cousins in Burgundy.  One of my personal favorites is Cali's CuvĂ©e Pinot Noir produced by Left Coast Cellars ( near Salem.   This affordable wine won a Critics Gold award in 2007 and will appeal to drinkers of ANY political persuasion.

Wine Trails of Oregon, written by my friend Steve Roberts, is the perfect guide to exploring the fantastic wines that can be found today in Oregon (

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

General Schuyler & his Mansion

Schuyler Mansion, Albany, NY

The Schuyler Mansion ( is a gem from our American Colonial and Revolutionary past. Fans of the hit musical Hamilton have been flocking there to see where Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler in 1810.  Elizabeth Schuyler was the daughter of Philip Schuyler.  The three Schuyler sisters grew up here.
General Philip Schuyler
General Schuyler is one of the great unsung heroes of the American Revolution.  In 1777 Schuyler was in charge of the Northern Department for the Patriot forces.
Wallpaper Schuyler Mansion, Albany, NY
Historian Richard Ketchum wrote, "Schuyler resembled General George Washington, with whom he had struck up a warm friendship after they met in 1775 and to whom he was indebted for his present command (Northern Department).  Like Washington, he was wealthy, with large landholdings.  He was a member of one of the oldest and most prominent families in the Hudson Valley and related to many of the others -- the Van Schaicks, Livingstons, and Van Rensselaers, one of whom was his wife, Catherine."  (Source: Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War, 1997,

In 1777 General Burgoyne invaded New York from Canada with about 8,000 troops.  He hoped to rendezvous with Lord Howe in Albany cutting the rebel colonies in two.  Burgoyne seized Fort Ticonderoga (the "Gibraltar of the North") after its American Commander, St. Clair withdrew his forces that were outnumbered about 3 to 1.
Hudson View, Schuyler Mansion, NY
The Continental Congress, disappointed with the loss of Ticonderoga, replaced Schuyler with Horatio Gates (see...  Even before "Granny" Gates could assume command, however, Burgoyne's offensive was in trouble.  On August 16 Burgoyne's "Hessians" (many were in fact from Brunswick, and other parts of Germany) were defeated at the Battle of Bennington.  After the battles fought around Saratoga in upstate New York Burgoyne ended up surrendering his entire army of nearly 6,000 men.  The Battle of Saratoga led directly to French intervention in the American Revolution culminating with victory at Yorktown in 1781.
Benedict Arnold Window
St Mary's Bayswater, London
Schuyler's selection of Benedict Arnold was a key ingredient for American success in the Saratoga campaign.  Gates famously argued with Arnold and even dismissed him from command.  Arnold, disregarding his dismissal and fueled by rum, provided the inspirational leadership in the battle of the Wheat Field on October 7, 1777.
Interior Schuyler Mansion
After Burgoyne's surrender he was briefly held as prisoner of war at General Schuyler's home in Albany.  It was at the Schuyler Mansion that Burgoyne wrote letters back to England blaming his defeat on the failure of Lord Howe to cooperate in his offensive.  Howe had captured Philadelphia rather than supporting Burgoyne's southern thrust.  Burgoyne wrote, "I have been with my Army within the Jaws of Famine, shot (through) my hat and waistcoat, my nearest friends killed around me."

Another Schuyler estate in New York worth some 10,000 pounds was burned by Burgoyne's forces during the Saratoga campaign.  When Burgoyne expressed regret at its destruction Schuyler, the consummate gentleman, shrugged it off as being "the fate of war".
Alexander Hamilton, Schuyler's son in law
Schuyler Mansion, Albany, NY
Burgoyne's surrender was the ultimate vindication for General Schuyler.  Fort Ticonderoga proved to be a trap for the British Army.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Pig War

Sign at English Camp, San Juan Island, WA

Question: The final borders of what American State were determined by a German Emperor?
Answer: Washington State

Question: What famous Civil War general was deployed to the San Juan Islands during the Pig War?
Answer: George Pickett of Virginia who would famously or infamously lead a disastrous Confederate charge at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863

Question: Which American State was partially occupied by Royal Marines from 1860 to 1872?
Answer: San Juan Island in Washington (though it did not really become a state until 1889).

In the Canada chapter of America Invades we wrote, "And then, we come to the famous, or possibly infamous, Pig War of 1859. The San Juan Islands lying between Vancouver Island and the North American mainland were the subject of dispute between the United States and Britain. In 1859, things got serious, particularly for a certain pig, after an American farmer on the island found it in his garden and shot it. Unfortunately for the situation between the United States and Britain, the pig had belonged to an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The conflict began to escalate. US troops landed on the island, and soon after that, British warships turned up. A tense stand-off began. In the end, however, the dispute did go to arbitration, and the United States got the islands. The only casualty of this “war” was porcine.
American Camp, San Juan Island, WA
As absurd as the Pig War may seem to us now, it raises some fascinating historical conjectures. What if President James Buchanan had led the United States into a shooting war with Great Britain in 1859? Would the US Civil War have been postponed or deferred as all states, slave and free, rallied against a common enemy ... over bacon?"
NOT a bore but entertaining history!
Much more detail about this curious part of Northwest history can be found in Mike Vouri's The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay (

American Camp Visitor Center, San Juan Island, WA
In this volume you will learn how Lyman Cutlar, an American squatter, shot and killed a Berkshire boar that belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company on June 15, 1859.  Both American and British authorities escalated the conflict by deploying troops to the disputed island.  Senior officers on both sides were called in to settle the conflict.  Rear Admiral R. Lambert Rainey of the Royal Navy and Commander of the Pacific Station declared, "Tut, tut, no, no, the damn fools."   The corpulent head of the US Army, Winfield Scott, traveled all the way New York and was similarly appalled by the prospect of war between two great nations over such flimsy concerns.
English Camp, San Juan Island
The disputed island was subject to a joint occupation for twelve years from 1860 to 1872.  About one hundred soldiers did garrison duty at either end of the island.  All accounts and my recent inspection confirm that the English Camp with its manicured garden was a more enviable posting than the American Camp on the South side of the Island.  Soldiers from both sides often fraternized and sought to relive boredom with visits to the Island's brothels and Whisky saloons.

Monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I, Peacemaker
English Camp, San Juan Island, WA
In 1872 Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany was chosen to mediate the dispute between America and Britain.  After appointing a three man commission to study the issue, the Emperor recommended that the island be awarded to the United States.  The Royal Marines soon withdrew from San Juan Island.

Deer "Invade" English Camp
Today a visitor to English Camp can find deer frolicking about the deserted grounds.

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Travel Notes:  Friday Harbor Grand B&B provides an excellent base from which to explore the many delights of San Juan Island.  A delicious breakfast is included and the friendly owner, Farhad Ghatan, plays the piano almost every evening.  Charming!

Don't miss American and English

The Place in Friday Harbor features outstanding local seafood.

Friday, September 16, 2016

American Forts

Patton, West Point, NY

General Patton, the American Mars, declared that "Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man."  But Patton was surely a maverick among the American military where a defensive focus has been a part of our history from our founding as a nation.  The preamble to the US Constitution explicitly suggests that the federal government will "provide for the common defense".   Fortifications have played a role in our nation's defense over many years.

Fort Ticonderoga, NY
The legendary Fort Ticonderoga ( was initially built by the French as Fort Carillon in 1755 at the start of the Seven Years War.  The French hoped to defend New France from the British colonies to their south that greatly outnumbered them in terms of population.

Benedict Arnold, St. Mary's Battersea, London
Ticonderoga, the Gibraltar of the North, would be captured and recaptured many times over its history.  On May 10, 1775, for example, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York.  When the British commander asked by whose authority they acted Arnold thundered, “in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”  Fifty-eight mortar and cannon seized at Ticonderoga would later be dragged by forces led by Henry Knox (a portly Boston bookseller) to Dorchester heights in Boston where they would be used to drive the British from that city.  (For more on Benedict Arnold see...
Soldiers firing muskets, Fort Ticonderoga, NY
The successful capture of Ticonderoga by Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne at the open of the Saratoga campaign is a perfect illustration of Patton's pointed criticism.     In 1777, the year of the Hangman, Burgoyne marched an Army of 7,000 south from Canada in order to cut the American rebel forces in two isolating New England.  Outnumbered American forces led by General St.  Clair withdrew from Ticonderoga without firing a shot.  General Schuyler was dismissed by the Continental Congress for this disgraceful loss.  But, in fact, Fort Ticonderoga proved to be a trap for Burgoyne who went on the lose battles at Bennington and in the woods near Saratoga before surrendering his command of 5,895 men on October 17, 1777.  Saratoga marked the turning point of the American Revolution.

French Castle, Fort Niagara, NY
Fort Niagara ( in Western New York was initially built in order to protect New France.  At its heart lies the "French Castle".  The Americans in Fort Niagara and the British in Fort George would trade canon fire across the Niagara river in the summer of 1812.   On the evening of December 18, 1813 Colonel John Murray and 550 British soldiers crept towards Fort Niagara.  A group of American guards were caught while playing cards and forced to divulge the fort’s password.  The sleeping garrison was captured at bayonet point.  It was to be the last foreign assault on an American military installation on the mainland until the Japanese attack on Fort Stevens in 1942.

Fort Clatsop, OR
Fort Clatsop ( near Astoria, Oregon, though merely a stockade, is one of the most significant Forts in American History for this is the end of the Lewis and Clark trail.  After an arduous journey Lewis and Clark arrived on the northwest coast of Oregon and constructed Fort Clatsop where they stayed from November 1805 until mid March 1806.  It rained every day.  They dined mainly on elk.  The expedition interacted with the Clatsops, Chinooks, Killamucks, Cathlahmahs, and Wackiacums that Lewis described as being “loquacious and inquisitive.”  They purchased fish and other items from the Indians.  Lewis described the local natives as having “copper brown” complexions and complained that they were “illy shapen”.  But evidently not all members of the corps of discovery agreed or cared about Lewis’ judgement -- mercury was used to treat the venereal disease that private Silas Goodrich picked up from “amorous contact with a Chinnook damsel”.

Fort Ross, CA
Fort Ross ( in Northern California, a few miles North of the Russian River, was not built by Americans at all.  It was an imperial outpost of Czarist Russia from its founding in 1812 until its sale to John Sutter (of Gold Rush fame) in 1841.  The Russians landed in what is today Sonoma county seeking to establish a warm weather agricultural and trading center that would help to feed its colony in Alaska.  Its guns were never fired in anger.

Russell Battery, Fort Stevens, OR

Fort Stevens ( in Oregon near the mouth of the Columbia was built during the US Civil War in order to prevent Confederate raiders from preying on shipping along the river and the Oregon coast.  On the evening of June 21, 1942 Commander Tagami of the Imperial Japanese navy sailed his I-25 submarine offshore near Fort Stevens, Oregon.  Seventeen rounds were fired from his 140mm deck gun from 20,000 yards.  No one was killed or injured and little damage was done in the bombardment.  The antiquated Fort’s armament had a range of only 16,200 yards and could not return fire.  The sub slunk off before American Army Air Force planes could respond.  It was the first attack on a US Army installation in the continental United States by a foreign power since the War of 1812 when Fort Niagara was attacked by the British.  The attack did help to fuel anti-Japanese hysteria on the West coast that contributed to the internment of Japanese Americans.

Fort Casey, Whidbey Island, WA

And, finally, we come to Fort Casey ( in my home state of Washington.  This Fort is a perfect illustration of why Patton condemned the stupidity of fixed fortifications.  Construction of this Fort began in 1897.  Fort Casey, located on Whidbey Island, enjoys sweeping views of Admiralty Inlet.  Its purpose was to protect the Northwest from invasion or naval attack.   Its potential enemies might have been Japanese, Russian or even British but none would ever test Casey's guns.   Around the time Fort Casey was completed in 1903 its mission had already been rendered obsolete with the invention of human flight that same year.  Fort Casey was a US military facility in two World Wars but its bug guns were never fired in anger.  Today defense of the Northwest is secured by nearby Whidbey Island naval air station and other defense establishments such as Fort Lewis / McChord (See...

Sea Lions off Fort Casey State Park, WA

All the taxpayer monies spent of Fort Casey were not, however, a waste.  Fort Casey is today a beautiful Washington State Park.  It remains a wonderful spot to take in the views, see sea lions and enjoy a picnic.

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