What's Up with South Dakota?

story and photos by Paul Ross

It was my first foray from Santa Fe, New Mexico, up South Dakota way and one my few experiences in the Midwest, “America’s heartland,” which is derisively included by bicoastal media under the broad heading of “flyover country.” Almost immediately, I sensed something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it but there was an element missing. I didn’t need my urban-honed 360 hyper-awareness ...’cause, generally, I wasn’t in any big city in South Dakota; I was just surrounded by miles and miles of flat agriculture: corn, soybeans, hogs –NYSE commodities literally on the hoof. I didn’t have a problem with it, because it was what I’d expected. It was with the people. They smiled and audibly said “Hi” on the street –to a stranger -for no discernible reason!

At an annual charity affair –the McCrossen Boys’ Ranch Extreme Event Challenge Rodeo-- the best place from which to shoot photos was secured behind doubled fences. So I tried a big city ploy and walked in like I belonged. It worked, until Cindy Menning, THE woman in charge, approached. I mentally prepared a barrage of important credentials with which to snow, or at least impress, her. But, instead of a challenge, she offered access to an even better vantage point –right atop the chutes where professional bull riders dropped down onto their ¾ ton mounts.

No questions were asked, just friendly help extended.

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Returning to Leyte Landing, For the First Time

by B.J. Stolbov

 

Battle of Leyte Gulf, USS Princeton via Wikipedia commons.If you were to go across the Pacific Ocean by ship to the southern Philippines, Leyte would be the one of the first places that you could land.  In October 1944, General Douglas MacArthur and the U.S. Army knew that, the Imperial Japanese Army and General Tomoyuki Yamashita knew that, and Captain Morton S. Stolbov, D.D.S., a U.S. Army Field Surgeon, also knew that.

Leyte Gulf is the biggest gulf in the southern Philippines that opens into the Pacific Ocean. Ships, hundreds of ships steamed in, then turned north into San Pedro Bay, then turned west, toward the town of Palo, then finally turned onto a long expanse of beach that the U.S. Army called Red Beach. Here, on October 20, 1944, the largest landing in the Pacific Theater took place.

One of the first to come ashore that morning was Captain Morton S. Stolbov. He didn’t have to be there. He didn’t have to go to war. He had graduated from Temple University Dental School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1939. He returned to his parents and his home, Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, a small town in the coal regions, and opened a dental practice. He was doing well in his hometown, his career, and his life. A short man with thick glasses and a receding hairline, he was already 27 years old, too old to be drafted, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But, in one of the few spontaneous acts of his life, he volunteered to go to war.

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Honoring America's Fallen Soldiers in Normandy

by Roy Stevenson

 

American Military Cemetery, Colleville, Normandy, FranceThe view from the top of the high, soft, sand dunes next to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville, Normandy, is great today. It’s a bright clear blue sky and I can see for miles. French fishing trawlers churn through the choppy, deep blue water, miles out to sea, leaving wide foaming wakes behind them. Gazing down across the long, deserted flat white expanse of Omaha Beach, I can see where the olive uniformed American soldiers debarked their landing craft, to shelter behind steel tetrahedrons, or sprint up the beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Descending the sand dunes, I walk the long 500 meters down the gently sloping beach to the water’s edge. It’s dead low tide. I turn around, looking back up towards the dunes. I’m amazed at how far away they are. They would seem like they were miles away, especially to a young soldier armed to the teeth and heavily weighed down with equipment.

It must have been terrifying trying to sprint up the beach into the teeth of a hailstorm of machine gun, rifle, and mortar fire. Of the soldiers in the first few D-Day landing craft, 90% didn’t even make it up the beach. In my mind’s eye I fleetingly see chaos, patches of red blood-drenched sand, and a flickering image of a young soldier in a soaked green uniform. “I must have seen “Saving Private Ryan” once too many times”, I think self-consciously.

Deep in thought, I trudge back up the steep, uneven sand dunes to the American Military Cemetery and walk along row upon row of perfectly aligned white crosses, on the vast 172-acre, smooth, emerald green-grassed plateau. The 9,387 crosses are a stupefying sight. They radiate outwards in perfectly straight lines no matter what angle they are viewed from.

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Discover the Exotic on a Road Trip

by Vera Marie Badertscher

 

“None of your business,” she said.  The short, curly, white hair bounced as she shook her head, but the brown eyes smiled in her beautiful, tanned and weathered face.  Half Navajo, Suzie (not her real name) has lived in Rio Grand pueblos in New Mexico all her life.  We were sitting in a rambling adobe house near the village where she lives with her husband. Grandchildren and daughters droppied in from time to time as we talked. The smell of cedar wood smoke curled around us, and tin-framed pictures of saints glinted on the walls.

Dancers at San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1942. Ansel Adams via Wikipedia CommonsI travel to find new ways of seeing the world.  Although all humans deal with some basic questions,  various cultures find different answers.  How do we show respect to others? Where did we come from? Who created us? How do we ensure good fortune, food, and shelter? What do we need to know?  The more the answers differ from our own, the more exotic the culture seems.

The curt reply, “None of your business,” came from Suzie, a lively Pueblo elder who fervently believes in the Catholic religion, but just as devotedly follows ancient ways.  People come to her for counsel and healing.  Although Suzie inherited an outgoing personality and sense of humor from her Navajo mother, she got her sense of propriety from living in her father's Pueblo culture  for all of her 80 years.

I visited Suzie's husband Joe (not his real name) while writing a book about Navajo artist, Quincy Tahoma.  Finding this couple turned out to be a grand slam for a biographer. Tahoma, a little older than Joe, had been a mentor to Joe when they both attended Santa Fe Indian School. Joe's father gained fame as one of the first Pueblo painters to sell his work, and, now in his eighties, Joe has returned to painting that he had abandoned after his school days. 

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A Journey Through Hallowed Ground

by Judith Fein

Photos and slideshow by Paul Ross


When I was a kid, studying American history was about as appealing as a trip to the dentist. In school, we had to memorize names and dates and to this day, I still have PTSD (post teacher stress disorder) when I rattle off monikers like Black Jack Pershing, Old Hickory, The Rail Splitter, The Rough Rider and Old Buck.

A few weeks ago, I went on the newly-established Journey Through Hallowed Ground-- that spans Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, and extends roughly from Gettysburg to Monticello--and I learned more in 11 days and 180 miles than I did in all my schooling. Best of all, I have –for the first time in my life--retained what I learned. Ask me a question about Thomas Jefferson. Or James Madison. Or George C. Marshall. Go ahead. Ask me. (Disclosure: This is pretentious, authorial braggadocio.)

 

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

If you had told me that I, a pacifist, would be fascinated at Manassas (in the North, it’s known as Bull Run), where the first major battle of the Civil War took place, I would have keeled over in disbelief. But I was both horrified and fascinated.  It was everything that textbook learning wasn’t: alive, vital and real.  I learned that it took 6 horses to schlepp one canon onto the battlefield, and that the poor schleppers made inviting targets. Even more inviting were the soldiers themselves, who --in classic Napoleonic fashion-- lined up abreast in successive rows to advance, face-on, into close quarter cannon fire. Apparently, the guns weren’t very accurate, but still—marching towards the unforgiving maws of heavy artillery? There was a whole vocabulary around the weaponry—like “worm” (used for cleaning the bore and packing charges), “going into battery”(placing guns into firing position) and “sponge bucket” (which held water for wetting the sponge-rammer). 

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Who Are We Keeping Out?

A Drive along the Arizona/New Mexico Border

 by Sallie Bingham

The best thing about taking to the roads is that we see things we are not supposed to see; this happened to me driving through southern Arizona, a few miles from the Mexico border.

Right away I began to notice white border patrol cars lumbering along the dirt roads that parallel the highway. A low-flying plane droned overhead. In the distance, a strange black smudge snaked across the desert; it’s the fence the Federal Government is building, about half of which is, or will be, in Arizona. Under Bush, 601 miles of the fence were built; 69 miles remain to be completed, and President Obama has yet to rescind the order.

Driving east, we were stopped at four checkpoints and pursued once for “evading our checkpoint”—we were looking at a map. All five times, the border patrol officers took one look at us and passed us through. After all, we are white.

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