Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Asylum Seekers in Albuquerque

Cared For By Jewish Volunteers: When it comes to facing the immigration crises - there's more than one - emanating from our southern border, we Jews are getting involved.

After all, it's our issue - as groups like Never Again Action make clear.

Led by Jewish activist group Never Again Action, hundreds marched down
Market Street to the San Francisco Federal Building to protest conditions
in migrant detention camps, July 5, 2019. Photo / Gabe Stutman

We Jews especially remember the SS St Louis, which entered American waters - and was turned away - 80 years ago last month. As Catherine Rampell writes in The Washington Post:
It’s hard not to think about such shameful episodes of U.S. history amid our current treatment of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Our rejection of innocents seeking refuge from persecution, based on excuses that they might become an economic burden or national security threat. Our disingenuous claims that people need only to follow the rules and get in line.
But what we are doing today, Ms Rampell says, may be worse.
Today, we know exactly what we’re doing when we turn refugees away. Today, we know what happens when the “doors [are] closed” to a persecuted people, as White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, put it in her own oral history
Today, we know the drive such people have to succeed in the United States despite their persecution, as evidenced by the ancestors of Trump’s de facto immigration czar, Stephen Miller, who came here fleeing pogroms
U.S. policy toward displaced or persecuted peoples has never exactly been generous. But adjusted for the lessons that history now affords us, rarely has it been so deliberately stingy.

Here in New Mexico, we Jews are also getting involved. This is not new, but our concern and awareness of what is transpiring - in our name - at our border has been greatly heightened.

To help us better understand just what is going on, photojournalist Diane Joy Schmidt (see Our Prayers Are Heard, et al) investigated the situation.

Ms Schmidt reported the results in this summer's issue of The New Mexico Jewish Link. Her article is reprinted here with her permission.


Asylum Seekers in Albuquerque
Cared For By Jewish Volunteers
A Humanitarian Crisis Driven By Climate Change

Article & Photos by Diane Joy Schmidt

In the first week of June, border policy suddenly shifted and the stream of asylum seekers with children that were being released by ICE and the border patrol in El Paso and arriving on buses in El Paso, Deming and Albuquerque suddenly turned to a trickle.

On June 12th, faith groups in Albuquerque were told that the number of refugees that ICE and BP are releasing had suddenly decreased significantly, and that for now, many hospitality sites will not be receiving refugees. They have no way of knowing if this will continue and for how long.

As of the last week of May, parents with children arriving from Central and South America who crossed the U.S. border from Mexico and were detained by the U.S. Border Patrol surrendered and requested asylum.

They were given an alien number. 

If they had a credible fear of persecution and a sponsor who is willing to accept responsibility for them, after being fitted with ankle monitors, those with children were being released within a few days into nearby towns along the border, to find their way to their sponsors.

Once they reach their destinations, they check in with ICE and their ankle monitors are reset to within a 75-mile radius of their sponsors’ home. They are then given a date, sometimes months hence due to court backlogs, to return for a hearing to determine if they will be deported or can provisionally remain.

Abby, a 76-year-old volunteer and grandmother, carried a basket of toys around
that she had bought at discount stores to give the children. “I love children,” she said.

With detention centers dangerously overcrowded, in March, April and May, bus loads of asylum seekers wearing ankle monitors were suddenly being released into border towns in New Mexico, as well as in Texas, Arizona, and California. Annunciation House, the principal faith group that has been assisting asylum seekers in El Paso, a major detention point, became completely overwhelmed.

In the last few months, the cities of Deming and Las Cruces in New Mexico suddenly began to receive busloads of asylum seekers. After first declaring a state of emergency, the city council of the small city of Deming voted to allocate one million dollars to shelter the asylum seekers and help them on their way.

Five faith groups in Albuquerque answered a call for help from Mayor Tim Keller (see Urgent! Asylum Seekers Crisis!), and chose to take a lead in handling the busloads that began arriving here.

Among those present that day, including Catholic Charities and Lutheran Family Services, was Jessica, from the Jewish community, whose daughter Emily had gotten her involved. She noticed she was the only Jewish person present. She stepped up and since that day, she has taken a lead role in organizing a humanitarian relief effort within the close-knit Jewish community in Albuquerque.

ICE takes everything from people, including their shoelaces. These ten-year-old twins
from Honduras spent four nights in the ‘icebox’ a concrete cell, with just a mylar
‘space’ blanket. They tore off strips of it to make shoe laces for their shoes.

Beginning in March, with family and friends, she put together a coordinated team effort of volunteers from the Jewish community, and beyond, that has been funded completely by donations. So far they have assisted over 300 asylum seekers in traveling to their sponsor destinations around the country.

It costs between five and six thousand dollars for her group to assist one busload of fifty asylum seekers over a period of two to three days. 

Since March, the five faith groups have now helped thousands of adults with children that have come through Albuquerque. In May, the Albuquerque city council, despite considerable hullabaloo, finally voted to spend $250,000 to help out the faith groups.

Meanwhile some 60,000 men, women and children wait in wholly inadequate detention facilities at the border. The Office of the Inspector General of Homeland Security released a scathing report on May 28 about the El Paso Bridge site, demanding immediate action after their spot inspections revealed inhumanely crowded conditions.

On Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, while preparing for their fifth busload, Jessica received an urgent call from Rueben García at Annunciation House in El Paso. Could they take an extra busload? They scrambled and got as ready as they could.

On Sunday, two busloads of legally processed asylum seekers pulled up to a nondescript motel in Albuquerque after a five-hour drive from El Paso. One hundred parents with small children slowly got off the buses under the watchful eye of an armed guard, and with dazed expressions, were welcomed with clapping, smiles and greetings by volunteers from the Jewish community and friends who stood ready to receive them.


As they gathered under the shade of a tree, they stared with a dark intensity at the speaker who addressed them in Spanish.

They heard, “We are here to help you. You are safe,” repeatedly. By the third time, eyes began to soften and, among the women, some to redden. 

Jessica’s daughter Emily, a 21-year-old recent UNM graduate with a double major in Chicano(a) Studies and Spanish, explained to the group in fluent Spanish that they would each be checked by a doctor, stay in hotel rooms in groups of four, receive hot meals, clean shoes and clothes, have travel arrangements with their sponsors made, and be sent on their way.

An eerie silence pervaded as they shuffled into the building. When they had first surrendered at the border requesting asylum and were brought into detention, their shoes had been stripped of shoelaces, from parents and children alike, their belongings taken from them, and their alien numbers affixed to paper bracelets around their wrists.

In an orderly, if seemingly chaotic, frenzy, within two hours, everyone was checked in by the intake team, among them social workers who checked the children for signs of traumatic stress. They were handed toothbrush kits and toys, brought in groups of four to their rooms by the hospitality team, visited in their rooms and given a checkup by a medical team of a doctor or nurse practitioner and translator, and then brought to the ‘store’ where they were able to pick out clean underwear, shoes and clothing. There were supposed to be four doctors there that day, however three had suddenly rushed off to Deming when they got a call that a busload of 400 had unexpectedly arrived there.

A tee shirt worn by a Congregation Albert volunteer coordinator. 

A volunteer ran up to Jessica to report that one woman, who was still nursing but whose baby was already in Houston, urgently needed a breast pump. The volunteer was immediately dispatched to Walgreens with a handful of gift cards to buy one.

A woman from Honduras with two small children, whose husband had been murdered in the streets there, suddenly discovered that her cousin in Houston was refusing to sponsor her. After she contacted another friend in Virginia who agreed to be her new sponsor, Jessica worked the phones to get ICE to establish her new destination. Her two children showed me how they had made shoelaces by tearing off strips from the thin mylar blanket they were given while in the cold “icebox” detention cell in El Paso.

A third family would remain distraught; they had been forced to board the bus for Albuquerque without their grandmother, who was mute. She had never been left alone before. They were advised to continue to their destination. A week later, Jessica would finally locate her—she was still in the makeshift detention camp under a bridge in El Paso surrounded with razor wire that was supposed to be only a temporary holding area, an outside area that the Inspector General had not even been shown on his spot checks.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General used this photo
in a report to show crowded holding cells at an immigration facility in El Paso.
The government shielded the faces of detainees.
Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General

On May 31st, The New York Times reported El Paso Immigration Center Is Dangerously Overcrowded, Inspector General Warns, with a DHS photo showing inhumane conditions and a report released by Homeland Security’s own Office of the Inspector General that revealed, among other horrors, a holding cell designed for 35 that held 155, where people had been kept for weeks in standing room only conditions.

At six that evening, volunteers from a congregation brought in hot meals they had prepared: baked ziti, steamed vegetables, salad and rolls. The second night they brought baked chicken. The travel team worked non-stop through the night, contacting the sponsors to arrange for them to send money to pay for bus and plane tickets where needed, and then arranging a pool of drivers who would be taking them to the airport or bus station.

The travel team pitched in their own money together and bought car seats and booster seats for the children to use in this next short trip. At the airport, they would be greeted by a team member of a different ad hoc group who would assist them with TSA processing.

Within two days, the hotel would fall silent as almost all were now on their way out of New Mexico. The rooms were paid for and the housekeeping staff of the hotel received monetary compensation for their work. But of course, there would be snafus.

Climate change is the greatest driver of this humanitarian crisis, as one story shows. 

Leaving behind his wife and other children, Miguel, 32,from the western highlands of Guatemala,walked two days carrying his four-year-old son until he reached a paved road where he was able to catch a ride north. He said that after they crossed the U.S. border in a truck, they were apprehended and they surrendered to the border patrol.

We sat down in a meeting room at the hotel on Monday. Speaking with him through a student translator who spoke rudimentary Spanish, we didn’t recognize that Miguel himself only spoke and understood very limited Spanish. His simple answers were barely adequate to articulate the sorrows that had brought him down from the cloud rainforests to a strange land.

Miguel said he was not able to go to school and so he cannot read and write. These communication barriers would cause an almost tragicomic mixup later that day.

Miguel’s native tongue is Chuj, one of the Mayan languages. It is spoken by the Chuj people, who number about 50,000, and who live at an altitude of about 7,700 feet in the high mountain range of Guatemala that borders Mexico.

One of the oldest proto-Mayan language groups, the Chuj have inhabited Guatemala going back at least 4,000 years. When asked why he had left home and family, Miguel explained simply, “When we go to ask the people with the money for work, they beat us.”

The Mayan people have been the most vulnerable victims of racism, and most persecuted of all inhabitants of Central America. Systematically denied rights, their land and water taken from them, 70% suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth, a rate that is the sixth worst in the world.

Over the last three years, sudden early frosts and drought have caused their subsistence crops of maize and beans to fail. There is no longer wage work to be found in the coffee plantations because the plants have shriveled. With no produce to eat or sell, the fragile remaining woodlands are being chopped down to sell for firewood. Denuded, the mountains are further destroyed by mudslides.

For fifty years renowned Guatemalan climate scientist and former environmental minister Luis Ferraté has been sounding the alarm that this trend would become irreversible.

And now, because of climate change, their cloud rainforest is drying up. It is estimated that within the next fifty years, all the high mountain cloud rainforests in the world will be gone, a study funded by the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry shows.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen traveled to Guatemala to see for himself: “I have never been anywhere that conveyed such a palpable sense of the earth dying. President Trump thinks climate change is a joke. He should come here. He would understand another big migration driver.”

The land is dying. Cohen linked his May 10th column, ‘Here There is Nothing’, to another in-depth report, by The New Yorker staff writer Jonathan Blitzer, How Climate Change Is Fueling the U.S. Border Crisis.

Climate change has tipped the scales. Climate change is happening too fast for humans to adapt, if they stay in place. A U.S. agricultural aid program working with the highland farmers to try different methods to deal with climate change was showing some results after three years. Trump has cut all such programs.

A volunteer receives a goodbye hug from a child seeking asylum.
When the families arrived, they shed tears.
When they left, the volunteers cried.

While we spoke, Abby, a 76-year-old volunteer and grandmother, jumped up to bring Miguel’s small son a box of crayons and a coloring book. She carried a basket of toys around that she had bought at discount stores to give the children.

“I love children,” she said. When asked about some members of her congregation who do not agree with helping the asylum seekers, she sagely replied,

“I don’t know about that. I surround myself
with people of like mind.”

The boy quietly colored during the half-hour that we talked, using only one color, a light blue crayon, on a page of the book. Perhaps it was only the color, but his lines seemed more tentative, lighter than those made by other children that colorfully filled other pages.

In the early 1980’s the Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt announced that to be poor was a sin, and sent the army to kill some 300,000 indigenous men, women and children. Miguel said that yes, he knew about this, because his uncle was killed then. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013 for trying to exterminate an entire Mayan ethnic group.

Steven Speilberg’s [USC] Shoah Foundation has documented the testimony of survivors of the Guatemalan genocide, the only project they have pursued in the Western Hemisphere.

The current Guatemalan president, Jimmy Morales, has not provided much in the way of aid to the drought-stricken areas. However, he welcomes the new plan Trump offered this week after shutting down aid programs—advisors to stop the flow of migrants.

Miguel hopes his son will have the opportunity to go to school. He would do any kind of hard work to earn money to send to his wife, who is sick, and to some day to build a house for her.

I felt devastated by his story, knowing it was something of a miracle for him to have reached this first safe harbor, and the challenges he will face from here. Rhonda, one of the lead organizers, insisted, “You must return tomorrow and see the change in people. After a good night’s sleep, some kindness, a meal, and a plan to reach where they are going, they are smiling, they are laughing.”

When I returned Tuesday after a sleepless night worrying about him, Miguel and his son had already been put on a bus late the night before, headed, they thought, for Alabama.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches being made to take on the long bus ride journeys
across the country to their sponsors. 

With the best of intentions

Tuesday night Jessica got a call from Miguel with the one-hour phone he had been provided with that was preprogrammed with her number and that of his cousin, his sponsor. He was waiting at the bus station in Alabama for his cousin to pick him up, and now the bus station was about to close. He wanted to know how far it was from the station to the town where his cousin lived.

Jessica asked to speak to the bus station attendant. The reply, “What?! This is Santa Ana, California!” Somehow his tickets had accidentally gotten switched with a fellow traveler’s before they left Albuquerque.

Frantic phone calls located the other traveler and his son, who thought they were in California. They got off their bus in Shreveport, Louisiana and three hours later were re-ticketed onto another bus headed back west. Meanwhile, Miguel and his son were ferried by an Uber driver forty-five minutes to LAX, where a police sergeant met and escorted them to a plane.

When they changed planes in Houston, through another congregant’s contacts, a Southwest airline employee made sure they got on the right flight.

After the core teams had handled emergencies nonstop for days, did Jessica have any regrets that she had taken on this project? 

“None whatsoever,” she answered without hesitation. 

And there has been a ripple effect. She added, “We are now reaching out to other Jewish organizations who will be able to further assist the asylum seekers once they leave our site and continue their journeys .”

Click here to sign up for the JASI (Jewish Asylum Seekers Initiative)
Email List and to find out how you can help

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Seduced By the Sounds of Cuba

The Mamboniks and Martin Cohen: Have you been celebrating the Jewish experience through cinema at the 6th Annual ABQ Jewish Film Festival 2019 presented by the Jewish Community Center of Greater ABQ?

An entire, complete plethora of good films is (not are; Abq Jew checked) being presented this year. But the one that, in easier* times, Abq Jew would most be looking forward to is


The Mamboniks
Film Festival Finale
Sunday July 28 @ 2:00 pm
NHCC - Bank of America Theater
Bagels meet bongos in this surprising story of Jewish dancers
who fell in love with the Cuban mambo in the 1950s,
sparking a dance craze that swept the nation and the world.
Only a revolution could stop it.


Lox and bagels meet salsa and congos in Peabody Award winner Lex Gillespie’s joyous and singular celebration of the Jewish love affair with Latin music and dance, set in New York, Havana, Miami Beach, and the Catskill Mountains. 
During the 1950s, free-spirited, mostly Jewish dancers from New York City fell head over heels for the mambo, the hot dance from Cuba that became a worldwide sensation. 
Their love for Latin rhythms earned them a nickname: the “mamboniks.” Now retired, yet still dancing in Florida, a lovable, somewhat zany collection of dancers from the ‘50s share a passion that age has not cooled. 
With colorful first-person accounts and an infectious Afro-Cuban soundtrack including Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and “mambo king” Pérez Prado, The Mamboniks explores a largely unexamined and exhilarating aspect of Jewish life and culture, and a time when Jews, Latinos, and African-Americans met on the dance floor, although America was racially segregated and anti-Semitism was commonplace.

And as long as we're talking Jews & Cuban music -
here is Martin Cohen's bongo story.

How a "poor, Jewish guy, who can't speak Spanish"
succeeded in making his mark on the Latin music industry

From NPR and LatinoUSA.org:
How I Made It: King Of The Bongo Makers
by Jeanne Montalvo Lucar 
In the late 1950s, a young mechanical engineer from the Bronx named Martin Cohen stumbled into Birdland, the famous jazz club in New York City. He discovered the rhythms of Latin music and thus began a lifelong love affair with percussion. 
In the 1960s, when Cohen wanted to get his own set of bongos to learn how to play, he found he was unable to get a high-quality instrument, due to a trade embargo with Cuba. 
He decided to start his own company, Latin Percussion (LP for short). If you’ve ever seen a band play percussion instruments—like congas, a set of bongos, or a cowbell, chances are you’ve seen an LP branded instrument. 
Cohen started by making drums, something he says he knew nothing about, and decades later, some of the greatest percussionists in the Latin music scene have played with LP instruments. 
Though, as of 2015, he no longer runs the company, he remains enmeshed in the world of Latin music. In the early 2000s, he created Congahead.com, a site dedicated to Latin music and percussion, with articles, photos, and live performances of bands from all over the globe. 


Mr & Mrs Abq Jew have not felt much like dancing or singing since the November passing (see In Memory of Sheila Kronrot) of our beloved Mother, Mother-in-Law, Grandmother, and Great Grand Mama - who would have turned 95 this past June. We are still mourning, and in some ways will always be.

And then - this Sunday (actually, Shabbat) is the fast of Shiva Asar B'Tammuz, which begins (see The Three Weeks 2016) a traditional period of mourning during which singing and dancing are ... discouraged.

Nevertheless, when the Holy One, Blessed Be He, grants us the strength ...

Monday, July 15, 2019

Deborah Lipstadt in Santa Fe

Antisemitism Here and Now: Got hate? Got intolerance? Although we Jews in New Mexico have been spared the worst (see Hate in NM: March 2019), we are by no means immune. And we see very clearly what is going on - all around us.


To help us better understand antisemitism - and why this term should neither be hyphenated nor capitalized - Professor Deborah Lipstadt, author and fighter against Holocaust denial, will speak with us in Santa Fe on Sunday, August 4.

Dr Ron Duncan Hart, President of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, first told us about Professor Lipstadt's speech in this summer's issue of The New Mexico Jewish Link. It is reprinted here with his permission.


Deborah Lipstadt in Santa Fe 


by Ron Duncan Hart, PhD

On August 4, 1944, Anne Frank and her family were arrested by the Gestapo in Amsterdam. They were shipped to Auschwitz.

On this 75th  anniversary of that date, we will be commemorating her and her courage, along with that of her mother and sister who all died in the camps.
As we see this new wave of anti-Semitism in our country, we confront it as intolerance that undermines the fabric of our society.


In a special event for New Mexico,
Deborah Lipstadt will speak on 
Antisemitism: Here and Now
at 3:00 pm on August 4 at the James A Little Theater, Santa Fe

Dr. Lipstadt is a leading spokesperson in the United States and internationally on the rising antisemitism in Europe and the U.S. She is being invited by the Santa Fe Distinguished Lecture Series and the Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival, with support from the Jewish Federation of New Mexico.


Her new book on anti-Semitism, published earlier this year, sold out immediately and went into a second printing on the second week after its release. In addition to the American edition, it is now being published in England, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Israel.

Lipstadt came to national attention in 2016 with the movie Denial, in which she was played by Rachel Weisz, which chronicles her international court case with David Irving, a Holocaust denier in England.

Lipstadt had long fought Holocaust deniers, and in this court case she was able to prove the falsehoods of those who denied it happened. After a successful run in theaters, Denial can now be seen on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and other streaming services.

Her TED talk about the trial has received 1.3 million views.


Lipstadt is an award-winning author. In her most recent book, she gives us a penetrating and provocative analysis of the hate that will not die, focusing on its current, virulent incarnations on both the political right and left: from white supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, to mainstream enablers of anti-Semitism such as Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, to a gay pride march in Chicago that expelled a group of women for carrying a Star of David banner.

When newsreels depicting the depredations of the Holocaust were shown in movie theaters to a horrified American public immediately after World War II, it was believed that the anti-Semitism that was part of the fabric of American culture in the 1920s and 1930s was finally going to be laid to rest.

In the ensuing decades, Gregory Peck received an Academy Award for playing a journalist who passed as a Jew to blow the lid off genteel Jew hatred, clauses restricting where Jews could live were declared illegal, the KKK was pretty much litigated out of existence, and Joe Lieberman came within five electoral votes of becoming America’s first Jewish vice president.

And then the unthinkable began to happen.

Over the last decade, there has been a noticeable uptick in anti-Semitic rhetoric and incidents by left-wing groups targeting Jewish students and Jewish organizations on American college campuses.

Jews in countries throughout Europe have been attacked by terrorists. And the re-emergence of the white nationalist movement in America, complete with Nazi slogans and imagery, has brought to mind the fascist displays of the 1930s.


Where is all this hatred coming from? Is there any significant difference between left-wing and right-wing antisemitism? What role has the anti-Zionist movement played?

And what can be done to combat this latest manifestation of an ancient hatred?

In a series of letters to an imagined college student and imagined colleague, both of whom are perplexed by this resurgence, Deborah Lipstadt gives us her own superbly reasoned, brilliantly argued, and sure-to-be-controversial responses to these troubling questions.

Professor Deborah Lipstadt has held the presidential appointment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and represented President George W. Bush at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Her books include The Eichmann Trial, Denial: Holocaust History on Trial (a National Jewish Book Award-winner), Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, and Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945.

She is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, and lives in Atlanta.


This event is open seating, and advanced tickets ($18.00) are available online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4257168.

Tickets will be on sale at the door for $20.00.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The West Loch Incident

More LST-273 Exploits: This August, Abq Jew will observe what would be the 95th birthday of his father, Richard W Yellin, of blessed memory.



As Abq Jew wrote in December 2011 (see Boogie Woogie), Dad served in the Navy during World War II, mostly aboard LST 273.  

"LST" officially stands for "Landing Ship, Tank", whose job it was to drive right up onto the beach into direct enemy (in this case, Japanese) fire, and deposit its load of tanks, supplies, and troops.

LST 273 off Saipan, 16 June 1944

The Travels of LST 273

In preparation for Dad's 95th, Abq Jew has taken another look at some of the things Dad left behind. And: It turns out that Dad is in the above photo.

Abq Jew found a 2005 letter Dad wrote (in reply to another LSTer's letter) to the Scuttlebutt, the quarterly newsletter (and now the official website) of the United States LST Association.


In which Dad said:
I am a plankholder in LST 273, which also went down the Mississippi. That was in September 1943, after I finished Quartermaster classes at Great Lakes U. After shakedown and passing through the Panama Canal, we sailed to Long Beach, California, and then to Pearl Harbor. 
The 273 saw action in 
  • Kwajalein and Eniwetok [Jan-Feb 1944] in the Marshalls,
  • Saipan and Tinian [June-July 1944] in the Marianas, 
  • and then to Palau [Sep-Oct 1944]; 
  • it was in Pearl Harbor at the time [May 1944] of the West Loch incident

The West Loch Incident

More history: What, you may ask, was this West Loch incident? The disaster has been called "The Second Pearl Harbor" - but nobody seems to know about it.
The West Loch Disaster was a maritime accident during World War II at the Pearl Harbor U.S. Naval Base in Hawaii. The incident, which occurred just after 1500 hrs. on Sunday 21 May 1944, began following an explosion in a staging area for Landing Ships, Tank (LSTs) and other amphibious assault ships in West Loch. 
A fire quickly spread among the ships being prepared for Operation Forager, the invasion of the Japanese-held Mariana Islands. Over the next 24 hours, six LSTs sank, 163 naval personnel died and 396 were injured. 
A subsequent Naval Board of Inquiry never determined the exact cause of the disaster but concluded that the initial explosion was caused when a mortar round aboard LST-353 detonated during an unloading operation because it was either dropped or went off when gasoline vapors ignited. 
The incident – together with the Port Chicago disaster two months later – led to major changes in weapon handling practices within the United States Navy. 
The LST wreckage was quickly cleared in a salvage operation and dumped at sea 3 mi (2.6 nmi; 4.8 km) south of Hawaii.
Only the hull of the partially beached LST-480 was left in West Loch. A press blackout was enforced and naval personnel were ordered not to talk about the incident. 
The disaster was classified until 1960
and is therefore not well known.

[Dad never spoke about it.]

So, you (and Abq Jew) may ask:

Where Was LST 273?

As you would expect, Abq Jew did a lot more investigating around the Internet. In the Scuttlebutt, Mel Barger (LST-555) wrote about what he called the West Loch Tragedy:
West Loch was a busy area that day in 1944. Many of the ships were being loaded with ammunition, gasoline, and other cargo in preparation for the Marianas campaign. Marines and soldiers were also aboard the ships. 
And twenty-nine LSTs were berthed there to receive supplies from the West Loch Naval Ammunition Depot. 
  • LST-69 was berthed in a row identified as T-8, along with LSTs -205, -225, -274, -43, -179, -353, and -39. 
  • Next to them was T-9, which berthed LSTs -480, -140, -224, -340, -23, -462, and -222. 
  • The ships that would be lost in the disaster were LSTs -353, -179, -43, -480, and -69.  
Where were the other LSTs? And which LSTs were they? 

Google (at least the first several pages of results) did not provide the answer - but Dad did! While Abq Jew was putting away Dad's stuff until next time, he found this newspaper article that Dad had clipped and saved:


Which reveals, very clearly (Abq Jew magnified the photo), the exact location of LST-273 on that fateful day.

Here is the official lineup of 32 LSTs and three destroyers in the West Loch.
  • T-5: Five LSTs: LST 242, LST 126, LST 121, LST 45, LST 34
  • T-6: Five LSTs: LST 334, LST 20, LST 272, LST 169, LST 273
  • T-7: One LST: LST 29. Three destroyers: Waters, Stringham, Overton
  • T-8: Eight LSTs: LST 205, LST 225, LST 274, LST 69; LST 43, LST 179, LST 353, LST 39
  • T-9: Seven LSTs: LST 480; LST 240, LST 224, LST 340, LST 23, LST 461, LST 222
  • T-10: Six LSTs: LST 42, LST 275, LST 244, LST 166, LST 127, LST 128
This newspaper article indicates that five LSTs were destroyed (sunk) and one LST damaged in the disaster. LST 273 was some distance away and partially shielded from the explosions and fires.


Where Was Dad?

Abq Jew has Dad's complete (he believes) Navy personnel records from that time. So here is what Abq Jew thinks he has learned:
  • LST 273 and Dad were definitely at Eniwitok in February 1944.
  • LST-273 was definitely at Pearl Harbor's West Loch on May 21, 1944.
  • LST-273 and Dad were definitely at Saipan (Operation Forager) in June 1944. 
During the weeks before the West Loch disaster, the Navy was preparing the ships and rehearsing the men for the upcoming invasion of Saipan and the Marianas. Most likely, Dad and LST-273 took part in these exercises.

The day of the disaster was a Sunday. Many Navy personnel were on shore leave. Was Dad aboard LST-273? Abq Jew just doesn't know. Dad never said.

Which raises the next question:


What About Saipan?

WeAreTheMighty.com reports:
The Navy rallied after the incident, finding new ships and men to take over the mission. The LST fleet for the invasion of Saipan launched only one day late and made it to the Marianas quickly enough to invade on schedule on June 15, 1944. 
A media blackout kept most of America from hearing about the incident until it was declassified in 1960. Even today, it remains relatively unknown. 

You can read more about the West Loch Disaster here and here.
And here and here and here and here and here.

Keeping The Secret

About keeping the entire incident quiet: It was (of course) vitally important that the Japanese not learn about it. WarfareHistoryNetwork.com reports:
Historian Howard Shuman noted, “At least 250,000 people on ships and ashore at Pearl Harbor and tens of thousands more from Honolulu to Ewa saw the black smoke and fires and heard the blasts at West Loch. The disaster was not unknown.” 
Trying to downplay the disaster, [Admiral Chester] Nimitz (CINCPACFLT) issued the following statement: “An explosion and fire which occurred while ammunition was being unloaded from one group of landing craft moored together in Pearl Harbor on May 21, 1944, resulted in destruction of several small vessels, some loss of life, and a number of injuries. A court of inquiry has been convened….” 
Nimitz had put a beautiful little spin on a devastating accident. 
Fearing that word of the disaster would leak to the Japanese, a censor order was placed on the entire invasion force. As ordered by Admiral Nimitz, it was against regulations to talk about the disaster to others, including men from your own ship, or to write about it in letters home or elsewhere. 
William Wright, Jr., had been at paymaster school during the disaster but rejoined his ship just prior to the invasion. “I knew nothing about it until a long time later,” he recalled. “I didn’t even hear anybody talk about it among themselves. I guess they were threatened.” 
All of the official information and documents pertaining to the disaster, including the official court of inquiry transcripts and testimonies, were classified as TOP SECRET and stored away until January 1, 1960.  

Oh, there is much more to tell ...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Unwanted & Goin' Nowhere

A Nice Jewish Girl: Well. Abq Jew seldom quotes from Elle magazine (or even reads it). But today - yes, today! - will be the exception. R Eric Thomas just published a magnificently-illustrated article that begins

Every Photo of Ivanka Trump at G20 Is Deeply Uncomfortable 
Last week, Ivanka Trump attended the G20 Summit in Osaka with her father's delegation and gave a speech on women's empowerment as part of this administration's on-going commitment to words that mean nothing to them. 
From the looks of the photos that have emerged from the meeting of world leaders (and, apparently, also their preferred daughters???) Ivanka had the time of her life, which is odd because she is definitely not a world leader and also G20 doesn't exactly sound like a blast. 
Nonetheless, there are dozens of photos of the First Daughter straight up cackling in dignitaries' faces like she's a high school junior visiting her older sibling at college and trying to make friends at a frat party no one invited her to.

Oh. No, Ivanka Trump does not actually appear in Lunch atop a Skyscraper.
Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam) is a photograph taken atop the steelwork of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, during the construction of the Rockefeller Center, in Manhattan, New York City, United States. 
The photograph depicts eleven men eating lunch, seated on a girder with their feet dangling 840 feet (260 meters) above the New York City streets. The photograph was taken on September 20, 1932, on the 69th floor of the RCA Building during the last months of construction. 
According to archivists, the photograph was in fact prearranged. Although the photograph shows real ironworkers, it is believed that the moment was staged by Rockefeller Center to promote its new skyscraper. 
Other photographs taken on the same day show some of the workers throwing a football and pretending to sleep on the girder. The photo appeared in the Sunday photo supplement of the New York Herald Tribune on October 2, 1932.
The photograph was credited to Charles C Ebbets in 2003.
But she appears in enough ... awkward-looking (that's a euphemism) ... photos of the recent G20 Summit that Abq Jew is sure that you, his loyal readers, will get the visual joke.

Want to see more Ivanka hilarity? Try searching the Internet with the hashtag

#UnwantedIvanka


Remember when Ivanka sang with The Beatles? No one else does, either. That's because Ivana Marie "Ivanka" Trump, also known as Yael Kushner, was born on October 30, 1981.


Ivanka, it turns out, was also not present at The Last Supper. This well-known1498-ish photograph by Leonardo da Vinci has been Photoshopped.


Some of these photos and memes are so bad (Abq Jew means that in a good way) you could just scream. And now -


Abq Jew must apologize.

For many things, and to many people. But in this case: for linking presidential candidate Gov John Hickenlooper (see It's Hickenlooper!) to Bob Dylan's classic You Ain't Goin' Nowhere.

Which may not have been the theme song Gov Hickenlooper was looking for. In fact, the Gov claims -

We crossed the finish line of June's
fundraising sprint in great shape.

Here is (in Abq Jew's perhaps not-so-humble opinion) a much better theme song, as we here in the USA launch into our Summer of Space.

Telstar is a 1962 instrumental written and produced by Joe Meek for the English band the Tornados. The track reached number 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in December 1962, and was also a number one hit in the UK Singles Chart.
The record was named after the Telstar communications satellite, which was launched into orbit on 10 July 1962.