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Commemorations of D-Day, such as the one recently held on June 6, 2017, are important for many reasons, but especially this one: They remind us of the bravery and sacrifice of our Greatest Generation. For me personally, they also remind us of the huge responsibilities of the generals and admirals who were their leaders, such as George Patton, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, and Chester Nimitz.

My dad, then-Brigadier General Howard L. Peckham (promoted to major general in 1952) was one of those World War II leaders, albeit a lesser-known one. During the war, he headed the U.S. Army’s Fuels and Lubricants Division and was thus responsible for procuring fuels (oil and gasoline) and allocating them to American forces worldwide. Sometimes he testified before Congress to let our politicians know about the U.S. Army’s increasing need for these products. Right after the war, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for his meritorious work.

The following excerpt from my book, A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham, describes just one aspect of the Fuels and Lubricants Division’s work. It concerns the vehicles, transported by boats, that rolled onto the shore the day after D-Day:

As noted in Fuels for Global Conflict, before any vehicle was transported to Omaha and Utah Beaches, it was filled with a  tank of gas and carried an extra supply of gas in five-gallon cans. For example, jeeps carried two full five-gallon cans. The proper amount of fuel for tanks and half-tracks also was determined in advance, to ensure that there was enough to last approximately six days. Also as planned, gasoline reserves were on hand at the end of the the invasion.

Good fuel planning obviously played a big role in the success of D-Day and its aftermath.

In postwar Paris, Dad headed the American Graves Registration Command in Paris and returned more than 80,000 American war dead of the European Theater to the United States. Approximately 60,000 others were interred in ten permanent American cemeteries in Europe, graded and constructed under his command.

After his return to the United States, he served in highly responsible positions until his army retirement in 1956. As a civilian, his patriotic service continued when he worked for the Free Europe Committee, secretly funded by the CIA, and traveled abroad to meet with Western European diplomats. His goal was to get them more involved in the Committee’s work. Nations behind the Iron Curtain peacefully freed from Communist domination, Howard Peckham believed, would ensure more security for the United States.Duty, country, and patriotism would continue to dominate his life to the end.

Here’s a link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0966585550/

 

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Who among us can forget seeing row after row of marble headstones at Normandy Cemetery, overlooking Omaha Beach? We saw them in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks. We also saw them on TV when President Obama of the United States came to France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day and to give an inspiring speech. President Sarkozy of France, Prince Charles of Great Britain, World War II veterans, and many other guests (including Tom Hanks) were also there. Many people reading this post have probably visited that cemetery.

The ground on which the cemetery is situated was once a temporary site, one of the 37 temporary WWII cemeteries that were scattered throughout Europe until 1947. In that year, the U.S.Army ordered my dad, Brigadier General Howard L. Peckham (later Major General) to head the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC), with headquarters in Paris.

My father and the AGRC had the enormous task of returning the American World War II dead of the European Theater to the USA and constructing ten permanent U.S. cemeteries in Europe. The temporary one at Omaha Beach came into existence only a couple of days after D-Day. Its name then was St. Laurent, or, to be more precise, St. Laurent Sur Mer. (Its name later was changed to Normandy Cemetery.)

The following paragraphs about D-Day and the American Cemetery are excerpts from the biography I wrote about Dad, A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham, but with the addition of my bracketed comments.

On March 31, 1948, my parents and I stopped briefly at St. Laurent Cemetery after saying goodbye to Colonel Stevenson, the Quartermaster Corps officer in charge of AGRC activities in Normandy. The colonel had given Mother and me an interesting tour of the Beach. Because of Dad’s work and the need for him to make frequent inspections at the American World War II cemeteries, he had already visited that part of Normandy several times.

My father and Colonel Stevenson had carefully examined the cemetery’s final layout plan, completed in February 1948 by the architectural firm selected by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). Selecting architects for the layout of the ten permanent cemeteries of the European Theater was one of that agency’s jobs, not the army’s. There was much discussion between my father and the ABMC, which also had an office in Paris, about this matter and several others. Dad was always grateful for the cooperation that existed between them.

AGRC engineers also had copies of the layout in their hands so they could make detailed plans for grading and construction. After those plans were completed, a contracting firm was selected from among the French firms that had been invited to present bids. The successful bidder could not begin work until right of entry from the French Government was received, however, and that took longer than expected. Geography also caused a delay. Grading and construction began in June 1948, but because of St. Laurent’s proximity to the English Channel, that work was extremely hard. “AGRC engineers often had to trudge through thick mud, and workmen frequently had to move their heavy equipment along in clay-like soil” my father explained to Mother and me later. [He sounded sympathetic: A graduate of West Point, he had spent 20 years in the Corps of Engineers, where walking in muddy terrain was a common occurrence on his inspection trips. He transferred to the Quartermaster Corps in 1942.]

In spite of delays, Dad was pleased that grading and construction of the permanent cemetery (still called St. Laurent at that time) ended early in November 1948. Considering its D-Day significance, the results were well worth the painstaking efforts made by AGRC personnel.

The following paragraph and footnotes are from Final Disposition of World War II Dead: 1945-1951,written by Edward Steere and Thayer M. Boardman. I used the book several times as a reference when I was writing A Salute to Patriotism, and it’s listed in my book’s bibliography.

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Information from Engneer Files About the Work at St. Laurent Cemetery

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The following is a 5-star review of my book, A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham, which author Colin D. Heaton placed on my Amazon detail page:

Jean contacted me and asked, as a military historian and author to review her book. I soon found myself well-entrenched into the story of her father for many reasons. First as a veteran who has lost friends in the service, I found the forthright narrative an easy read, free flowing and a chronological masterpiece. This is not always the case with biographies, and I have written a few with my wife Anne-Marie Lewis. Second, my grandfather was KIA at Metz on Oct. 6, 1944 and was one of those buried in European soil until he could be returned. Third, it should be understood that not all of our heroes were in direct combat. This book proves that a good man behind the scenes, with the right stuff and moral courage can accomplish very heroic things.

Maj. Gen. Howard L. Peckham’s story may not be unique within military circles, but it is a unique story of great accomplishment in the wider arena of human endeavors. The details of his political and military contacts, as well as the obstacles he overcame to untangle many logistical nightmares are worth reading alone, as they are bane of any military leader or organization. What he accomplished was remarkable. Hopefully, his kind of leadership and the circumstances in which he found himself in will not be needed in the future. if it is required, I would suggest military leaders refer to this book as a benchmark on how to conduct that delicate balance between military necessity and uncompromising ethical leadership.

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Now that July is approaching, the month in which we Americans celebrate our
Independence Day,  I’m going to stick to one category in my posts. The subject this entire month will be Patriotism, in its many different aspects. In addition to my own thoughts on the subject, I’ve invited a couple of guest bloggers to add their viewpoints in the days to come.To start things off, here’s a five-star review that my book received on Amazon.

 A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0966585550/

Jean contacted me and asked, as a military historian and author to review her book.I soon found myself well-entrenched into the story of her father for many reasons.First as a veteran who has lost friends in the service, I found the forthright narrative an easy read, free flowing and a chronological masterpiece. This is not always the case with biographies, and I have written a few with my wife Anne-Marie Lewis. Second, my grandfather was KIA at Metz on Oct. 6, 1944 and was one of those buried in European soil until he could be returned. Third, it should be understood that not all our heroes were in direct combat. This book proves that a good man behind the scenes, with the right stuff and moral courage can accomplish very heroic things.

Maj. Gen. Howard L. Peckham’s story may not be unique within military circles, but it is a unique story of great accomplishment in the wider arena of human endeavors. The details of his political and military contacts, as well as the obstacles he overcame to untangle many logistical nightmares are worth reading alone, as they are bane of any military leader or organization. What he accomplished was remarkable. Hopefully, his kind of leadership and the circumstances in which he found himself will not be needed in the future. If it is required, I would suggest military leaders refer to this book as a benchmark on how to conduct that delicate balance between military necessity and uncompromising ethical leadership.

 

 

 

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The following is a copy of an article I wrote that was published in a local newspaper’s January edition, in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday:

“It was a warm day in September 1962 that my husband Bob and I began our journey by train from California to Louisiana. We had arranged to meet my parents at the New Orleans railroad station and then go with them to a French Quarter hotel where we had room reservations. At the same time that Bob and I were riding on the train, they were driving from their home in Washington, DC. We planned to spend a few days sightseeing before we all headed to Florida in Dad’s car for a reunion with my brother, his wife Jane, and their two young sons.

Our train eventually clanked its way to the New Orleans station. Once inside, Bob headed towards a sign marked ‘Waiting Room,’ where he was met with a big shock. I had neglected to tell him that there were two waiting rooms—one for ‘whites’ and one for ‘colored.’ He had mistakenly gone to the wrong one. When I caught up with him, I pointed out that even the drinking fountains are segregated.

‘Those are just a couple examples of how people of color are discriminated against in the Deep South,’ I told him. Bob was born and raised in Europe, and this was his first visit to that part of the United States. ‘They’re also barred from certain restaurants and must sit in the backs of buses,’ I said.Bob responded by saying, ‘How unfortunate.’

This decades-old treatment of black citizens was especially disheartening to Martin Luther King Jr., a black man born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. Because he grew up in this segregated city, he experienced firsthand the injustice of racism.  He later became an ordained Baptist minister and served as pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Reverend King was driven to help stamp out segregation by ‘meeting physical force with soul force,’ as he called it. To that end, in the mid-1950s he became leader of the Civil Rights Movement. A major victory for the Movement occurred in 1955 when a fellow civil rights advocate and Montgomery resident, Rosa Parks, was arrested for not giving up her bus seat to a white person. After her arrest, he met with her to plan a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. The boycott lasted 385 days and ended when the United States District Court ruled to end segregation on all Montgomery public buses.

This positive outcome encouraged Reverend King to promote peaceful civil disobedience. He believed success in ending segregation could be achieved by using non-violent means, such as sit-ins at restaurants, marches, speeches and boycotts. He felt that by doing so, black people could conquer injustice while still maintaining their dignity.

Because of his efforts, the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum and rolled onward like a powerful stream. During the march on Washington in 1963, which drew thousands of his supporters, he gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Here are excerpts:

‘And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.’

‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’

Reverend King played a large role in ending legal segregation and creating the Civil Rights Act, which President Johnson signed into law in 1964. That same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite his immense success, he gained many foes who were opposed to civil rights. At his hotel in Memphis, he was assassinated in 1968 by one of those enemies of freedom. Reverend King was only 39 years old.

In 1983 Congress declared every third Monday in January to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This holiday falls on or near his birthday and is a well-deserved tribute to a man who died much too soon.”

 

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Thanksgiving Thoughts

A couple of days ago, Thanksgiving Day, I thought about a Puritan ancestor of mine, whose name was Samuel Corning. Like other pilgrims, he journeyed from England to America in pursuit of religious freedom. His ship arrived in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, only a few years after the Mayflower, which landed there in 1620.

Samuel ‘s arrival was too late for him to participate in America’s first Thanksgiving, which was celebrated in November 1621.

The  excerpts below are from an article I wrote about him and his descendants. It was published at EzineMark.com.

As much as he enjoyed visiting other New England states, such as New Hampshire, my father’s roots in Connecticut were as deep as the Atlantic Ocean. His paternal grandmother, the former Ann Matilda Corning, was born in Preston, Connecticut. Preston was also the birthplace of his dad, Frank Everett Peckham.

According to family records, our Cornings have traced their roots to Saundby Parish, Nottinghamshire, England, to the late fifteenth century.

The first Corning to settle in America was Ensign Samuel (sometimes spelled Samuell) Corning, who was born in 1616 in Norfolk, England. After arriving in Massachusetts, he first lived in Salem but didn’t stay there long. He and his wife Elizabeth chose to settle down in the smaller town of Beverly, approximately four miles north of Salem, because of its better opportunities.

It turned out to be an auspicious move. In 1641, Samuel became a freeman, a title that conferred franchise and other privileges in the community. He also established himself as a trusted citizen of Beverly by serving as a selectman, a responsible job given to a town officer who, because of his capabilities, had been chosen to manage certain public affairs.

Samuel was a Puritan in his religious beliefs. This was not a problem in Massachusetts, as it had been in England. There, as he learned through his own disheartening experience, the domineering Church of England harassed Puritans because of their belief that people should use the Bible as a guide in social, financial, and even—-much to the horror of British authorities—-political issues. Puritans believed that when the Bible reigns as supreme authority in the foregoing matters, religion stays simple, pure, and unscathed.

Undoubtedly his tenacious hold on Puritan beliefs was the precipitating factor that brought Samuel to the New World, where he was sure to find religious freedom. And find freedom he did. Historical records indicate that he was one of the founders of First Church in Beverly, where he and his family enjoyed worshiping freely and in peace. As evidence that he was a hard worker, another trait of the Puritans, he himself built the church’s meeting house. Because he wanted to keep his mind on God, Samuel had no use for ornate rituals or vestments, thus ensuring that the meeting house’s interior was kept spartan.

He carried his religious beliefs into his home by living a simple lifestyle, although it is known that he had some real estate holdings within the community. It is also known that he was fairly well off financially in his later years (which he interpreted as a blessing from God).

In 1868, a descendant of the first Corning in America became entwined in the Peckham family tree. In that year, Ann Matilda Corning, granddaughter of Uriah Corning (a Revolutionary War hero), married James Riley Peckham of Norwich, Connecticut. As a result, two clans with deep roots in New England were forever united. Ann Matilda became the mother of my grandfather, Frank E. Peckham, and thus my father’s grandmother.

More information about my family’s roots is contained in my book, A Salute to Patriotism. Here’s the link:  

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0966585550/

 

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One of Amazon’s top reviewers recently posted a 5-star review of my book A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham on my Amazon detail page: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0966585550/. Here are excerpts from the review:

“A descendant of Revolutionary War heroes, Howard Louis Peckham’s love for his country started early On a family trip up the Hudson River the young subject to this book pointed to the West Point Academy, high on the bank and said I’d like to go to this school. After his dream of graduating from West Point, the Army Engineer School, and the Command and General Staff School (later called College), he served twenty years in the Corps of Engineers, including four years as an instructor at West Point. In 1942 he was assigned to the 2nd and 8th Armored Divisions, respectively, where he was an outstanding staff officer.

While serving as combat commander with the 12th Armored Division one year later, he was promoted to brigadier general and ordered to Washington, DC to head the Fuels and Lubricants Division of the Quartermaster General’s office. While serving concurrently as a member of the Army-Navy Petroleum Board, he testified before Congress about army petroleum needs. For his meritorious work of procuring fuels and allocating them to our armed forces worldwide, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal.

Times were tough, resources were scare, and in order to win the War in Europe, there had to be a plan of action. A modern army marches on wheels and without fuels and lubricants those wheels bog down in a morass of despair and ultimate defeat. My grandfather told me stories about World War I, I can only imagine the logistics of an even greater armored force in World War II. The demands must have been exceedingly great, as gasoline was the lifeblood of modern armies becomes a major concern to battlefield commanders in France. There had to be meticulous planning to satisfy this demand.After the fighting was over in Europe in postwar Paris, Howard Peckham’s Corps of Engineering experience was needed for a more somber task.

He headed the American Graves Registration Command and returned more than 80,000 American war dead to the United States. Approximately 60,000 others were interred in ten permanent American cemeteries in Europe, graded and constructed under his command. This task was not held lightly, there needed to be someone to carry out the final resting places for those who fought bravely, but succumbed to enemy fire. If you ever get a chance to visit you’ll see the artisan work and layout of these honored places. They are truly breath taking in scope.

A Salute to Patriotism is filled with articles, pictures, and is well-referenced. The book is about the life, times, and work of a dedicated, hard-working man, that was duty bound. After his return to the United States, he served in highly responsible positions until his army retirement in 1956.

The book continues after Major General Peckham’s retirement. As a civilian, his patriotic service continued when he worked for the Free Europe Committee, an organization being secretly funded by the CIA. He had a goal to get the nations behind the Iron Curtain peacefully freed from Communist domination, but that didn’t happen until after his death. The Iron Curtain fell in 1989. Howard Peckham not only believed this would bring more security for the United States, but for the world as a whole. Those words from General Douglas MacArthur ring true today as when they were first spoke and had a profound effect. Duty, country, and patriotism would continue to dominate his life to his death in 1972.

The story is well-told, detailed, and chronicles the different capacities that were served by Major General Peckham during W.W. II. For those that are interested in more detailed descriptions of military history of this time period, this book will be a very interesting, eye opening read. Major General Howard Peckham definitely led an interesting life, as depicted throughout this book. But this isn’t just a book of his professional work, it’s also about his personal life which I found very interesting making history come to life. The author’s view point is weaved within this fabric of this story making history more human.”

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