Tag Archives: sailors

American Soldier

This is a song by Toby Keith.  It is one which I think I may have known of for some time, though I did not learn the title for it until relatively recently.

The video that goes with the song tends to bring tears to my eyes when I watch it.  I love the United States military to pieces, especially the Navy and the Marines.  What can I say? Jarheads and Squids are AMAZING!!!  The SEALs are, too, of course.  I can’t forget them.  😉

But the scene in this video that I especially enjoy is the shot of the Doughboy as he takes the crucifix he is wearing around his neck, kisses it, then puts it down his shirt front before charging over the trench wall.  It makes my eyes water every time.

I hope you enjoy the video and the song, readers.  God bless America, God bless our troops, and God bless you!

The Mithril Guardian

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Horatio Hornblower, the TV Series

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Generally, when I find a film based on a book, I try to read the book as well as watch the film.  This is what I did when I learned that Howl’s Moving Castle began life as a novel; I read the book.

Sometimes I enjoy the book and film equally, while at other times I enjoy the book more than the film.  This is the case with the Hunger Games trilogy.  The cinematographers for the films did not do the books true justice on a number of levels – and there was no need to make Mockingjay into two films.  No need at all.

There are times, however, when I prefer what I see to what can be read.  In the case of the Horatio Hornblower television series, this is what happened.  Though I may someday read the books, I think that I will probably always enjoy the TV series over the novels.

I first saw the Hornblower series when it aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theater.  I do not remember how old I was.  I know I was young enough not to understand some of what was said or implied in certain cases.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course; I enjoyed the adventure and got the gist of the important dialogue.  For a child, it is enough.

The novels starring Horatio Hornblower were written by C. S. Forester in the 1930s and possibly into perhaps the 1950s.  They star the fictional hero Horatio Hornblower, a young captain in His Majesty’s navy.  Forester eventually worked back from Hornblower’s position as captain to show how he rose through the ranks, and this is where the television series starts.

In the late 1700s, after America has won her independence from Great Britain, Horatio Hornblower becomes a midshipman aboard His Majesty’s ship, the Justinian, in order to pay a debt that his father owes.  The captain of the Justinian is a friend of Dr. Hornblower, and so he accepts Horatio as a midshipman with facility.

The day he gets aboard the Justinian is a wet, grey day.  Having never been aboard a ship before, Horatio has a little trouble holding down his dinner and throws up when he is introduced to the other midshipmen aboard the vessel.  Two of these – an older man named Clayton and a man about his own age, Midshipman Archie Kennedy (Jamie Bamber) – soon become fast friends with the seventeen year old Hornblower.

Aside from this incident, Hornblower finds the world of the navy to be pretty decent.  At least until the most senior midshipman, a bully named Jack Simpson, returns to the Justinian.  Simpson is about thirty and still a midshipman; at the time, a midshipman could start out as young as eleven.  The senior officers tutored the midshipmen in the arts of seamanship, tactics, and navigation until they could earn the rank of lieutenant.  Unfortunately, Simpson is as dumb as a stump when it comes to mathematics.  He could not navigate a bathtub, let alone the oceans.  Worse, he is a bully and a coward, and he takes out his frustration at being forever a midshipman on the other, younger midshipmen, who are all terrified of him.

All except for the new midshipman.  Hornblower is not afraid to stand up to Simpson, which is bad enough.  But when he also proves to be far and away the best at mathematics aboard the Justinian, Simpson turns up the heat on him.  Life aboard ship becomes almost intolerable, and when Simpson insults Hornblower during a card game, the young midshipman decides to try and rid both the ship and the navy of this scourge by challenging him to a duel.

His challenge shames Clayton who, knowing Hornblower will lose the match, knocks him out and takes his place.  Though he wings Simpson, Clayton himself is badly injured and dies of his wounds not long after.  The day he dies is also the day King Louis XVI is beheaded in France, leading England into war with the French Republic.

This leads Hornblower, Archie, and the other Midshipmen to be transferred to His Majesty’s ship, Indefatigable.  The Indefatigable was a real ship, commanded by the real Sir Edmund Pellew, the captain of the frigate within the film series and the books (played by Robert Lindsey to perfection in the TV series).  Pellew tells Hornblower in no uncertain terms that he does not think much of a man who lets others fight his battles for him, before ordering him to take part in no more duels while he is aboard the Indefatigable, or “the Indy,” as the crew calls her.

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In the meantime Hornblower is given command of Simpson’s division from the Justinian.  This division crew consists of Styles (Sean Gilder), a brawler who tends to leap into fights at the first opportunity; Matthews (Paul Copley), an experienced seaman and the senior member of the group; Finch, a small man who is at least as old and seasoned as Matthews, and young Oldroyd.

Hornblower finds the crew chasing down rats in the hold and betting on Styles’ ability to kill them.  Styles doesn’t do this with his hands but with his teeth; his hands are tied behind him and he has to catch and kill the rats with his mouth.

This sort of sport is not allowed aboard ship, of course, and Hornblower makes it clear that while he commands their division, Matthews, Styles, and the rest will not play these games anymore.  Not long after this the Indy captures her first French prize, but Hornblower is not above deck for the engagement because a member of his division is injured in the fight and he helps take the man down to sickbay.  He later distinguishes himself in battle, after a fashion, earning Pellew’s interest.  But Hornblower’s happiness aboard the Indy is dimmed when, coming to the rescue of a sinking British ship, he himself ends up helping a bedraggled Simpson to safety.

The episode reaches its climax in another duel between Hornblower and Simpson, which Simpson does not walk away from.  For this reason, in the U.S. the first episode of the Hornblower series is called “The Duel.”  In England it is known as “The Even Chance.”

There are eight episodes in the Hornblower series.  Starring Ioan Gruffudd as Horatio Hornblower, this was my first introduction to the actor.  Later, when he was tapped to play Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four films, the first words out of my mouth on seeing him were, “That’s Hornblower!”  And so it has remained.  Whether he appears in 102 Dalmatians or the latest remake of The Jungle Book, the first words I say on seeing him are, “There’s Hornblower!”  It is lucky for me that he loves the character so much!

I enjoy the first four episodes of the Hornblower series more than the last four.  There is a joi de vive they have which the following four lack.  For this reason I prefer them to the sequels.  Still, whichever half of the set you enjoy more, you ought to try the series if you have never seen it before.  It is well worth your time and, no matter the cost, it is a great investment if you purchase it. 😉

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Book Review: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

“Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana

A wise phrase. The problem is that today, students of history color it with modern prejudices, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and sometimes outright lies. A true student of history strives to understand history as it was understood by the people who lived it, not the way people today understand (or do not understand) it.

And a real history student is also aware that humanity’s fallen nature does not change. This allows him or her to recognize when someone is preparing to make the mistakes a previous person in history made. (So, Tony, what was that about Cap being a “nostalgia guy” again?)

Today’s topic, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, is a book by Jean Lee Latham. It recounts the story of American navigator and mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, prior to the American Revolution, Nat’s family was in hard straights by 1776. Habakkuk Bowditch, Nat’s father, had lost his merchant ship by this time. Being a cooper not only did not pay well, the senior Bowditch was a sailing man at heart. Nothing pains a seafarer more than being permanently grounded. Nat’s father was no exception, and he lost his spirits completely after the deaths of his wife and mother.

Nat initially had dreams of becoming a sailor himself. There was just one problem: Nathaniel Bowditch was the proverbial “ninety pound weakling.” He was too physically small to manage the rigging, load the cannons, or do any of the other numerous, physically demanding jobs required for riding the high seas.

But Nat did have an asset, a gift beyond the norm. He was a math genius.

Over the years, things got tougher for the Bowditch family. Eventually, Nathaniel was made an indentured servant to a ships’ chandlery. The work was hard on him, not physically, but because he wanted to go to school to learn more math and could not. An indentured servant was little removed from a slave. Indentured servants were practically owned by the people who held their indenture papers. When the chandlery was sold to new owners, Nathaniel Bowditch went with it, as the previous owners sold the shop “lock, stock, and bookkeeper.” (Nat served as the chandlery’s bookkeeper during his indentured years.) The chains were invisible, but they were still there.

However, Nat soon learned that he could teach himself. He collected or borrowed books about mathematics, reading and learning all he could from them in his spare time, making copious notes in his own journals from these books. As he grew in knowledge, Nat wanted more. So when he discovered there were more mathematic equations to learn in books written in French and Latin, he snatched them up as well. To read these books, he had to learn to read – and speak – French and Latin. So he taught himself those languages, in addition to the math! And would you believe, readers, that he found errors in at least one of these books?

At sixteen, Nat decided to write an almanac for the years 1789-1823. In this almanac he predicted the “sun’s rising, setting, declination, amplitude, place in the ecliptic – ” As far as I know, the almanac was accurate!

Throughout his life, Nathaniel Bowditch kept studying math. What is more, once he started sailing as a ship’s clerk, he began teaching the other sailors how to navigate through mathematics. After years of study and experience – and finding that the navigation books of the time were full of errors, thousands of them – he wrote The American Practical Navigator. This book was so useful that it was later dubbed the “Sailors’ Bible.” In addition to French and Latin, Nat taught himself Spanish. This was so he could understand and be understood by people in Manila, where the ships he sailed on went to pick up cargo!

Nathaniel Bowditch and his second wife, Mary (nicknamed Polly), had eight children. Research I did a couple of years ago said that one or more of his descendants still lives in Salem, Massachusetts. A self-taught man with inborn brilliance, Nathaniel Bowditch is one of the United States’ forgotten heroes. It is quite possible that without him, navigation today might not be what it is.

Jean Lee Latham tells Nat’s story vividly, and her historical accuracy is, as far as this reader can tell, as correct as “two plus two makes four.” Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is a wonderful story for “kids from one to ninety-two.” People the world over can learn from reading this historical novel something they did not know before. And any young math wizards out there can learn that, even when life was driving him crazy, Nat did not give up. Instead he kept “sailing by ash breeze!” Even I, someone with no head for figures, learned quite a lot from this story!

See if you can grab a copy, readers! It is a worthwhile investment of your time!

Carry on, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Merry Christmas from JAG

Way back in the past I put up a post about my favorite TV intro songs and music. One of the shows that got top billing was Donald Bellisario’s JAG, a series that focused on Navy lawyers and was the predecessor of NCIS.  (Unfortunately, the video in that post which showed the introduction theme for JAG is no longer operable.)

One of the great things about the JAG series was that the season would include a Christmas episode, a tradition NCIS continues to this day.

A particular Christmas episode from season seven of JAG caught the attention of one of my friends. This was due to a sermon given by actor Bill Cobbs, who played a Navy chaplain in this episode. Here is that sermon from JAG’s “Answered Prayers”:

Chaplain Turner’s Christmas Eve Sermon

When God revealed himself to us, he did so through a family; which is why I speak to you tonight of Joseph… the forgotten man of the Christmas story. We know much about Mary and, of course, the Christ child. But the Bible makes few references to the life of Joseph. Therefore, he remains somewhat of a mystery, much as many of our own fathers do. But we do know that Joseph was a gentle father and a courageous man. He saved his family from Herod by taking them on a dangerous journey to Egypt. He taught his son his own trade, as fathers do even today. Joseph died before Jesus grew up to become a man and begin his ministry. Yet, Joseph still believed ‘blessed are those who believe that he will bind up the brokenhearted and free the captives.’ At best, a father is the solid foundation of a house, his support taken for granted. At other times, he may need shoring up himself. He may be tired, he may be impatient, he may be mired in his own problems, but always a father looks beyond the here and now. He keeps one eye trained on the next generation. Of necessity, he is a man filled with hope – Hope that a knowing God watches over the universe; hope that justice will prevail; hope that we will be reunited with our loved ones. As Saint Paul said, “Abide by these three: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.” So when we give thanks to the Father for our blessings, let us not forget Joseph, or our own fathers, that they may not be forgotten this Christmas. May God bless you and Merry Christmas.

 

Merry Christmas, readers.

The Mithril Guardian