Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

The Rocket Scientist Next Door

8 May

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Charlie Bradshaw, a man who lives down the street. This is what I wrote about him.

Charlie Bradshaw walked into his professor’s office without knowing what to expect. He had enlisted in the Navy and entered the V-12 program for training, which was why he was taking Calculus at Sewanee and was facing the uncertainty of this meeting.

The professor began by going over the details of Charlie’s C average but quickly put his grade book aside. This was not a meeting of condemnation. Rather, it was a meeting of encouragement. He saw Charlie’s talent and encouraged him to think about Mathematics as a career. About this meeting, Charlie said, “I didn’t know how important it was to concentrate on what you’re good at.” With that, a lifelong love of Mathematics began.

Charlie finished the V-12 program and was shipped to the Pacific Theater of World War II to prepare for the invasion of Japan. He saw action at Okinawa but, like thousands of America’s enlisted men, was spared the dangers of invasion when President Harry Truman ordered the use of two atomic bombs. Six weeks later, Charlie found himself walking through Hiroshima, the first city hit with an atomic bomb. When asked what he thought as he took pictures of the carnage, Charlie stated that “we can’t have another war with these weapons.”

After the war, Charlie completed school; joined the faculty at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute; and settled his family in Cookeville. In 1951, a new opportunity arose when he heard about recruiters at a local hotel interviewing people for positions at a new government facility in Huntsville, Alabama. Charlie got a new job but had to delay his departure for two weeks. His wife was about to have a baby. Charlie said, “I always knew I didn’t want to spend a career in teaching, in the classroom, but I loved Cookeville. It had good fishing, and I sort of didn’t want to leave, but it was such a big opportunity.”

That opportunity took Charlie into the world of Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who surrendered to American forces at the end of World War II. While von Braun and his German colleagues built rockets, Charlie’s team calculated their flight times and trajectories with a “slide rule and desk calculator.” Each second of the flight had to be computed, which took two weeks and numerous chalkboards. To complete this job, women were hired. Charlie said:

We eventually hired math aides who were women. They were better at it than men. They were more patient. But, Washington didn’t have a civil service classification for them. We had to get Washington to figure out what to call the job, and they decided on Computers.

In 1953, they launched Redstone, America’s first guided missile, and it followed the path that Charlie’s team had calculated. However, the days of the “slide rule and desk calculator” were coming to an end. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory received the first computer in the South, and Charlie transferred to east Tennessee to oversee its installation. This meant that he was the resident expert on computers – the nonhuman kind.

In 1955, Charlie returned to Huntsville as the Deputy Director of Computation and installed the first computer at that location. By this time, there was an international competition to put something into orbit. Charlie remembered:

We had the capability to put the Redstone in orbit, but Eisenhower didn’t want to use a military missile. That’s when they started Vanguard, and it was a tremendous failure. Vanguard never made it. The Russians beat us. Then 85 days later, we were in orbit. Redstone was ready, and the calculations were all done. We could have beaten them, but we weren’t allowed to.

With a string of successful launches, the Mercury program was established to take people into space. Now, Charlie’s calculations did more than determine the trajectory of a rocket. They determined where to have ships waiting to pick up returning astronauts.

In 1962, the stakes were raised when John F. Kennedy announced the goal of putting a person on the moon. According to Charlie, this had always been von Braun’s goal, but concerns remained. Charlie explained, “We always knew sending people to space would happen, but we still had questions about whether man could survive on the moon.”

At one point, President Kennedy toured the Huntsville facility and met the administrative staff. He was introduced to von Braun and other German scientists. After meeting a line of people with German names, he was introduced to someone named Charlie Bradshaw. The president immediately responded, “How did you get in here?” Charlie remembered, “I thought since he was president I better not laugh, but everyone else did.”

Charlie got in there by being one of the best mathematicians in the nation and stayed through the Apollo 11 mission that put the first men on the moon. Looking back at that event, Charlie could not help but think about the president who set the goal and the tragedy that befell him. In Charlie’s mind, the assassination of President Kennedy inspired the space community to make his dream a reality. Charlie reflected, “John F. Kennedy’s death made it happen.”

In 1970, Charlie left the space program to direct the installation of the first computer at Vanderbilt University and oversee its operation. He immediately had trouble with the faculty. Charlie stated:

Physics got into the nuclear business, and they thought they owned the computers. That was one of the big battles we had. They didn’t think computers ought to be used for other things. But then the divinity school started using it and eventually they let students use them to do their theses. But at one point, the Faculty Senate prohibited computers on the campus from being used for word processing.

Charlie remained at Vanderbilt until his retirement, then he taught classes at Cumberland University. Looking back on his career, Charlie said that sending rockets into space made him more interested in the universe, and that interest led him to become a stronger believer in God. In fact, he stated, “I become more of a believer the more I learn.” Without a doubt, Charlie has learned a great deal.

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, James K. Polk Ranks 11th

12 Oct

The other day, I bought a magazine that ranks all of the presidents, and I was pleasantly surprised to see James K. Polk of Columbia, Tennessee ranked 11th – behind John F. Kennedy and ahead of James Monroe. Polk is not a president that comes to mind when thinking of presidents, but he made a huge impact. Ever heard of California? He brought it into the fold.president-magazine

I wonder where the winner of this year’s election will rank. If I had to guess it will be toward the bottom. I, like a lot of people, am not crazy about either one of them. There are over 300 million people in the United States, and these are the two that made the finals.

Tomorrow, my colleague in history and I are taking part in a forum about the election and its historical significance. At least, I hope it is about the historical significance. I really do not want to get into a political debate with people arguing over the issues. The history of presidential elections is interesting as long as personal feelings do not get involved.

Anyway, the magazine lists Abraham Lincoln as the best president and James Buchanan as the worst. That is typical, but it is also interesting that they served back to back. It is also interesting that Buchanan served as Secretary of State for James K. Polk, who finds himself climbing the charts.

Sadly, they do not include William Henry Harrison, who died a month after taking office. I understand they he was not around long enough to do anything, but they should at least put him in a footnote. After all, he was president. On top of that, he was part of one of the most important campaigns in presidential history. In fact, my history colleague is writing a book about it. Have you ever “gotten the ball rolling?” Read the boo land find out why you do that.

I probably need to study up for tomorrow’s forum. I think I will start with the candidacy of Horace Greeley.

Four Corners – Maria and Lipbone

30 Jul

There are miracles in this world. That was proven when I convinced my family to go on a road trip. They had never been on an excursion that called for nights in different hotel rooms and days driving through different landscapes, which is exactly the kind of traveling that I was raised on.

When our trip to Europe was cancelled, we knew that something had to be done. Going an entire summer without traveling was not an option. We debated. We studied. We debated some more. Then, we put together an adventure through the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. It is part of the country that I wanted my family to see, and the next several posts will chronicle our journey.

Before daybreak, we made our way to the airport for a typical flight on Southwest Airlines. Except, our layover was not at a typical airport. We spent a few hours at Love Field, the place where John F. Kennedy started his tour of Dallas in 1963. A few hours later, Love Field witnessed the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson as president of the United States.

Our second plane landed in Albuquerque. We got off the plane; got our luggage; and got our rental car. As we pulled out of the parking lot, my wife read that Southwest had a system failure and people were stranded all over the place. Our timing was perfect.

We drove to Santa Fe, where the Inn and Spa at Loretto awaited. However, that was not the only place on the agenda. When we started talking about the trip, my wife and I knew that we would definitely go to one place in particular.

Maria’s – the best New Mexican cuisine in Santa Fe. We wanted to make sure that the teenagers on the trip got some real food.image-24

After the meal, we went back to the hotel and to the first of thousands of pictures of the teenagers.image-23

I think we broke a record for pictures. My stepdaughter’s friend sent a ton of pictures to her mom. Then, her mom said she wanted some pictures of the scenery, too.

Taking the picture must have been tiring because my wife went to the room. I, on the other hand, took the girls to the plaza. They needed to see the real Santa Fe. I did not expect to walk onto a plaza filled with people dancing and listening to the music of Lipbone Redding.image-22

Eventually, we made our way around the plaza and to more spots to take selfies. The next day would start our real adventure.

 

D.C. Road Trip – A 70% Chance of Sunshine and a 100% Chance of Hills

24 Jul

In the days leading up to this trip, my wife was obsessed with the weather. She was always looking at the weather app on her iPhone and trying to figure out what climate conditions we were going to face. I reckon this was because it rained a lot when we were in Cancun.

As my wife scanned the weather, she kept saying that it was going to rain. When I asked the percentages, she said that there was a 30% chance. I replied that it meant that there was a 70% chance of sunshine. This became a running joke on the trip, but, honestly, that is the only way I know to look at it. Now, if it had been 70% chance of rain I would have been worried.

I write all of that to write this. My wife decided that the weather was too shaky to make the drive to Virginia Beach. After all, the beach is no fun if it rains. Of course, it had not rained since we left Tennessee, but that did not seem to be the point.

With that decision behind us, we proceeded with the day’s activities. We got our vehicle and took a short drive across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery, a place that was high on my list to visit. I had been there many years ago with my parents and remembered how inspirational it was and wanted my family to experience that feeling. I also remembered that the popular points in the cemetery were on hills. I just did not remember how steep those hills were.

After a nice little hike, we found ourselves at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the place that contains the remains of soldiers who died in battle and were never identified. They represent all of those who were lost in a similar way. While the tomb should be the focus, many people go to the site to see the changing of the guard.image-19

The monument is constantly guarded by a lone soldier, and the changing of the guard is a regimented and symbolic ceremony. As we watched the guards go through their routine, I could not get over the precision of their movements. I could also not get over the fact that someone is guarding the tomb at all times and in all kinds of weather. No matter what is going on around them, the guards never break their routine.

That made me wonder what happened on September 11, 2001. Did the guard flinch as a plane streaked toward the Pentagon just over the hill? What did the crowd watching the ceremony do? What was going trough his mind as smoke billowed over the horizon and the rest of the country was in chaos?

After the ceremony, we made our way to the grave of John F. Kennedy, which sits on another hill. This spot is also inspirational to many people, but I must confess that it did not affect me as had the Tomb of the Unknowns. Kennedy’s assassination was tragic and one of the darkest days in our history, but I have never held him in the esteem that others have. People view him as a great president, but I view him as someone who never got the chance to determine where he would rank. Would he have been a great president, or would he have had a bad second term? We will never know. I think people who go to his gravesite mourn what might have been or a lost innocence more than anything.

As we stood at Kennedy’s grave, I looked up the hill at the home of Robert E. Lee.image-22

When Lee chose to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War, the United States military seized the property due to its commanding position over Washington, D.C. To punish Lee, they buried soldiers around the house, and that is how Arlington National Cemetery began.

Walking through the hills and dells of the cemetery was tiring, but we had one more place to visit before returning to the hotel. Along the way, we drove through historic Alexandria, Virginia and could immediately sense that this was a high rent district. The homes were well-manicured. Shops and restaurants lined the sidewalks. If we were going to eat, then this was a good place to start.

We found a place called Society Fair, and I immediately knew what this place was all about. It is one of those “lunch lady” places where women of leisure eat sandwiches and cake for a couple of hours. Of course, it does not take that long to eat a sandwich and a piece of cake. That means the rest of the time is filled with idle chitchat. The food was fine, but I could feel the testosterone dripping out of my body by the second.

Finally, we got out of there a arrived at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. This was also a place that I definitely wanted everyone to see. Washington accomplished a lot, but nothing was more important than his management of the colonial army against the British. Walking in his footsteps is a must for anyone visiting the area.image-21

We watched a short film that had a guy from one of my stepdaughter’s vampire shows playing Washington. Then, we walked up the hill to his house. Did I mention that these guys liked living on hills? I guess it was a way to look over their vast holdings.

Anyway, Washington had a beautiful home with the Potomac River flowing behind it.image-20

The docents presented a great history of  Washington’s family and their home. However, I have a complaint about Mount Vernon, Monticello and most other plantain home I have ever seen. They still have a hard time dealing with slavery. Obviously, it is a tough subject, but, in these times, they need to go ahead and talk about the reality of it.

 

A Lebanon Institution – Snow White Drive-In

8 Feb

Today, I had lunch at a local institution – Snow White Drive-In.Snow White

Being by myself, I made my way to the lunch counter. On the way, I talked to a few people who I know. I also scanned the grease board that lists the meat and three selections. There were also some homemade pies to check on. However, I already knew what I was going to get. It has been my favorite thing at Snow White since I was a kid. Other people can have their pinto beans and barbecue. They can also have their milkshakes and banana splits. I will take the long chili dog and french fries every time.Chili Dog

As I sat at the counter and ate my chili dog, I began to think about the place in which I was sitting. Snow White Drive-In opened in the 1950s and has seen a lot of changes through the years.

In the beginning, it sat on the outskirts of town on the two lane highway from Lebanon to Nashville. It was probably a destination for the people who lived in town and was definitely a place where teenagers could hang out without being under the watchful eyes of their parents.

Now, Snow White is in the city limits. There are neighborhoods all around it, and a Publix sits across the street. There is also a Taco Bell just down the road.

Snow White has seen a lot of changes, but it has also seen a lot of challenges. Taco Bell sits on the site where another drive-in used to be. I would imagine the competition was fierce between the two businesses, and only one could make it.

When I was a kid, the owner of Snow White was robbed and murdered behind the restaurant. It was a shocking crime, but the business survived as other owners took over.

Snow White has also seen chain restaurants come to town and provide competition. I will not list them all because they are the ones that are in every town. However, a few are close enough to Snow White to be seen.

There was a time when Snow White closed, but other owners knew how important it was to the fabric of our town and reopened it. Now, it stays busy all of the time. It has also doubled as a setting for music videos and movies. Through all of the changes and challenges, Snow White Drive-In has survived as a small bit of Americana.

However, that could be about to change. A few weeks ago, the newspaper reported that the landowner is working on a deal to bring another business to the location. The report did not say what that business was going to be, but I have heard that it is going to be a convenience store, which we already have a million of.

The article quoted the owner of the property, and he went on and on about how he loves Snow White as much as everyone else. In fact, he promised that the restaurant would still have a place on the property in a new building. After all, it is the food that makes the place successful.

I am not sure about that. People can get the same food at a bunch of places. I think it is the building that makes Snow White Drive-In different. People can walk into a place that has been around since the 1950s and imagine a different time. They can feel the nostalgia in the air.

I think eating in a place that people have been going to for six decades is cool. However, I have no illusions that I am experiencing the “good old days”. As a historian, I do not really believe there was a “good old days”. I believe that people were eating in this building when they heard about that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I believe that those people were white because of segregation. I believe that some people were there the night man landed on the moon. I believe some people were there when they first heard Elvis on the jukebox.

Snow White is like other historical places. Its existence connects us with the past, both the good and bad parts of it. That is why I have taken history students there to eat. It gives them an idea of how things may have been.

I do not fault the landowner for getting value out of his land. Heck, I also develop land and own the property directly behind Snow White. I just feel that he is wrong when he says that Snow White will be the same in a new building. It will be a restaurant just like all of the rest. The food will be good, but the history will be gone.

Something else will be gone. Snow White Drive-In is a part of the fabric of Lebanon. When it goes away, a small thread of the town’s history will go with it.

Hypothetical History

20 Nov

This weekend, I went to the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, to hear my colleague speak on his latest book about the former president. A large crowd filled a church on the property, and it was a great event. I learned a lot about a president who I have lectured about numerous time. It goes to show that we can all learn something new. Actually, that’s what the study of history is all about.

At the end, time was allowed for questions, and several people raised their hands. I asked a question that wasn’t very good, but it was far from the worst. Just before me, a man asked which side Andrew Jackson would have been on if he had been around for the Civil War. These kinds of questions bother me because they are impossible to answer. I call them “hypothetical history.” Interestingly, my colleague said that is the question he gets the most. Really? Of all the things Andrew Jackson actually did, people are more interested in what he might have done? Hypothetical

These same questions are being asked about John F. Kennedy. As we have been reminded over and over, the 50th anniversary of his assassination is coming up. That means numerous documentaries and articles about his murder and the conspiracies surrounding it. However, it also means numerous documentaries about what might have been. What if he had not been assassinated that day in Dallas?

Many people think that the world would have been a better place. There would not have been a Vietnam. There would not have been more assassinations as the 1960s moved forward. There would never have been a Richard Nixon or a Watergate. All of the bad things that have happened since 1963 would not have happened if only John F. Kennedy had lived.

On Sunday, there was an article in The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily, about this very thing. A Nashville native and friend of Kennedy’s talked about what might have been and what he thought would have been. But, here’s the thing. We don’t know that. It’s all hypothetical. Last year, I read 11/22/63 by Stephen King. It’s about a man who goes back in time and saves John F. Kennedy. In King’s imagination, the world ended up in a worse situation because of that.

Some may say that there’s no way. Kennedy would have made things better. However, Stephen King’s book is just as valid as anyone’s. He writes fiction, and that is what “hypothetical history” really is.

John F. Kennedy’s death was a tragedy that affected everyone who was alive at the time. It changed the course of American history. We just don’t know how it changed that history. The study of history is difficult enough without wondering what might have been. We can only study what happened and try to figure it out as accurate as possible.

By looking at “hypothetical history,” I believe that we are doing the people of the past an injustice. Instead of thinking about what Jackson or Kennedy might have done, we should focus on who they were and what they did. That’s the best way to honor people who we are interested in. Let’s get to know them the best we can. We can never really know the real people, but that is better than trying to know them in an imaginary way.

Those Oldies But Baddies

25 Sep

I picked up another magazine. This one was put out by the good people at Globe and is called Shocking Secrets of America’s Favorite TV Shows of the 50s and 60s. Short title. I figured it would be filled with juicy tidbits about the television stars of yesteryear, but it was actually filled with stuff that I already knew. For example, Andy Griffith was difficult to work with. As an ardent fan of his show, I knew that. Heck, he even wore a cast in a few episodes after he put his fist through a wall.

I found out that one actor on Gunsmoke walked with a fake limp while another one had to hide a real limp. Of course, everyone knows that Dennis Weaver was faking it as Chester, but I had no idea that James Arness couldn’t walk that well.

I also found out that three of the Cartwright’s wore hair pieces, and the other one wore stacked shoes. Bonanza will never be viewed the same.

Anyway, I thought that I would share some other “secrets” of the oldies. I’ll narrow it down to the shows that I have seen more than once.

The Honeymooners – A lot of drinking went on. Hey, it was Jackie Gleason. He liked a good time.

You Bet Your Life – Here’s a shocker. Groucho Marx liked women as well as the Secret Word.

I Love Lucy – Fred and Ethel hated each other.

The Munsters – In real life, Herman Munster went to Harvard.

The Addams Family – Uncle Fester was married to Betty Grable. Think about that for a second. This guy…Uncle Fester

was married to this woman.Betty Grable

My Little Margie – I had to watch these reruns because it was my mom’s favorite show. It turns out that Margie liked the sauce.

Davy Crockett – Walt Disney wouldn’t let Fess Parker play a role in The Searchers. This is one that I actually found interesting.

Gunsmoke – Here is where a scandal really hits. While everyone was waiting for Miss Kitty to hook up with Matt, she was hooking up with Doc behind the scenes.Gunsmoke

Have Gun, Will Travel – Paladin was one of television’s coolest characters, and Richard Boone was pretty cool, too. Unfortunately, that cool lifestyle of drinking killed him.

The Andy Griffith Show – This is one thing that I didn’t know about my favorite show. It was pre-empted by the debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

Hogan’s Heroes – Everybody knows about Bob Crane.

The Monkees – Charles Manson auditioned to be a Monkee.

There is a lot more, but you’ll have to buy the magazine for that. It’s the least I could do for the good people at Globe.