Bataan Death March Commemoration in Orangeburg, NY

I attended the Battle of Bataan / Bataan Death March commemoration in Orangeburg, NY, yesterday, which my uncle, Jerry Kleiman, organized single-handedly.  It’s the 75th anniversary of this historic event in which thousands of Americans and Filipinos died.  The 31st Infantry Regiment came down from Fort Drum to attend and brought their famed Shanghai Punch Bowl, which had been buried in Bataan during WWII.  The singer Joe Bataan, who was named after the battle (and who would have been named Corregidor if he were a girl), gave a stirring performance.  Several politicians and religious, military, and civic leaders made powerful speeches, and 4 WWII veterans (including my grandfather, Irving Kleiman) introduced themselves.

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The Shanghai Punch Bowl

Afterwards there was a symposium at Dominican College.  Joseph Laurent Chabot, the son of a Bataan Death March survivor, spoke about his father’s ordeal.  Both he and his father were West Point graduates.  His father was held in a POW camp in the Philippines for most of the war.  He said the only reason his father, Joseph Ludger Chabot, wasn’t put on a Japanese “hell ship” was because he was too sick to walk to the vessel.  One of his father’s friends, who was put on a hell ship, was owed some mung beans and designated Joseph as the person who should receive his share of beans.  This little bit of extra nutrition may have saved his life.

Sherman Fleek, military historian from West Point, spoke about Filipino West Point graduates who served with honor in Bataan, and the importance of memory.

Dr. Scott White, a historian from Dominican College, spoke about the Native American soldiers from the American Southwest who served in Bataan.  He told the story of one Navajo soldier who was in a POW camp in Bataan (not sure of his name).  The Japanese had realized that the U.S. was using Native American code talkers, although at first they thought there was only one Native American language.  I’m not sure how/ if they realized Navajo was being used.  They started looking for Navajo speakers in the POW camps and torturing them to break the code.  They sent this Navajo soldier to Nagasaki for more specialized torture, doing things like making him stand outside until his feet froze to the ground and driving a nail into his head.  He left Nagasaki only a few days before the bomb was dropped.  After the war, he received extensive medical treatment in Hawaii and California before returning home.  He (and other Navajo survivors) went through a lot of ceremonies to purify their spirit, and it was hard to get them to talk about their experiences because of their beliefs about the spirits of the dead.  Dr. White also gave an example of the code, saying the Navajo words for bee, tea, etc., and explaining that the first letters of each word stood for or made the sounds of “Bataan.”  (By the way, I think this story would make a great book and/ or movie.  Unfortunately I don’t have the expertise to write it.)

After the talks, a WWII veteran in the audience stood up and spoke for 10 minutes.  He had served in the Philippines, near Luzon, and was 19 at the time.  He spoke about working to construct a camp for the POWs after they were released, putting up tents and a long row of latrines.  He said that when the POWs arrived in trucks, they were so weak and malnourished that they had to be carried out.  Their arms and legs were like bones, and their stomachs were distended. They seemed happy to be there, although embarrassed they had lost the battle.  He and the other Americans “took care of them,” telling them not to eat too much because they would throw it up.  But they threw up anyway, and had massive diarrhea.

One more interesting point, mentioned by Jerry and others: Bataan Road (in Camp Shanks in Orangeburg, where this commemoration took place) was named in 1942, before the Death March became publicly known in 1944.  Bataan was a rallying cry for the Americans long before people knew about the Death March.  An escapee from the Bataan POW camps wrote about it in 1944, but he died in a military accident before the book came out.

P.S. – Sorry if I got any of this information wrong; I didn’t do much fact-checking, but wanted people to know about this important event.

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A Bit of Astoria’s Past to Be Preserved: Owner of Deals Store Agrees to Preserve Historic Terra Cotta Decorations

Thank you to Morris Dweck, owner of the Deals store in Astoria, Queens.  After many residents (including me) protested the potential destruction of the beautiful and historic terra cotta decorations on his storefront, he is taking steps to preserve them.  I’m very happy about this, as I’ve seen and loved these whimsical decorations all my life and believe they add some much-needed character to the neighborhood.  Here’s an excerpt from his letter, and some drawings of how the building will look.

At long last, attached, please find the rendering for project at 3601 Broadway in Astoria.  These renderings may be published and redistributed as you wish.

As you will see, all the architectural detail is being preserved.  Additionally, I am proud to announce that we will be installing same limestone above the current DII Store at 3611 Broadway so that the façade appears unified.

Our contractors have been given these drawings, and every effort will be made to fulfill this depiction as shown.

I would like to thank our architect Mr Walter Marin and his team for working hard and fast to prepare these drawings. I would also like to acknowledge the building owner for her cooperation and her guidance in satisfying the requests of the neighborhood.

As stated previously, we at DII Stores are committed to the local Community and residents of Astoria and aspire to meet their wishes to preserve its history and culture. We are confident that our investment of time and money will be rewarded with increased patronage and continued loyalty. DII has been part of the Astoria Community for over 35 years, and we look forward to serving Astoria for generations to come.

— Morris Dweck

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Save Astoria’s Cultural Heritage

Rite Aid

I’m very upset that a lovely and historic piece of architecture in my hometown of Astoria, NY, is under threat of destruction.  This terra cotta decoration on 36th St. and Broadway features Neptune and other symbols of the sea, as many decades ago it used to be a Childs Restaurant.

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Later it became a Rite Aid, and now it’s a Deals store.  According to the Greater Astoria Historical Society, they’re planning on destroying this whimsical work.  Astoria has been undergoing massive gentrification lately, but that’s no reason to destroy one of the few architectural gems we have.  Please see the Historical Society’s Facebook page for more information.  Apparently they’re trying to give it landmark status, but it’s a difficult process.  They recommend contacting Council Member Costa Constantinides‘ office.  Please help get the word out to protect Astoria’s (and NYC’s) historic and unique architecture!

Addendum

Please consider sending the following message to Councilman Costa Constantinides at costa@council.nyc.gov.  We need all the help we can get!

Dear Mr. Constantinides:

It has come to my attention that the beautiful and historic terra cotta decoration on the former Rite Aid on 36th Street and Broadway is in danger of being destroyed. This architectural detail is part of Astoria’s cultural heritage and has delighted generations of Astorians, myself included. Built as a Childs Restaurant in the 1920s, this building deserves landmark status. Astoria has undergone massive gentrification in recent years, but that is no reason to destroy one of the few architectural gems we have in this neighborhood.

Thank you,

[Your Name]

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Things to Buy in the Yucatan

I don’t usually buy much on my trips, because the stuff I really want — hand-made crafty items — are usually too expensive.  But that wasn’t the case in my recent trip to the Yucatan.  While good quality, hand-made items aren’t exactly cheap, they were well within my price range.  Plus you can bargain for a lot of things.  I’m not a good haggler, but I still don’t feel like I overpaid.  I came away with a real swag bag of stuff.  Such as…

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  1. A hand-embroidered bag made in Chiapas for about $30.  I loved the colors and pattern.  I got it in a craft store in Valladolid, where you can’t really haggle.
  2. A cedar mask from a vendor in the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, for about $30, but I may have overpaid.  These vendors are everywhere in Chichen Itza.  You can often see them working right next to their tables.  It’s kind of annoying to have the vendors calling out to you while you’re looking at some of the most famous examples of Mayan architecture, but there’s no getting around it.
  3. IMG_2829 A jaguar whistle, also from Chichen Itza.  I got it for about $5, but I may have underpaid.  When you blow into it and move your hand over the hole on the bottom, it makes a sound like a jaguar roaring.  But I can’t do it nearly as well as the vendors did.  You hear them making this sound constantly in Chichen Itza.
  4. Maya chocolate.  Cost about 100 pesos from a store in Valladolid.  The Maya basically invented chocolate, so I wanted to try this more “authentic” version.  It’s pretty good — a little chalkier than I’m used to, but good.  Comes in many different flavors.
  5. IMG_2830 Shells.  Okay, so I didn’t buy these, but I thought I may as well include them.  I found them on a deserted beach in Cozumel, which is a shell-collector’s paradise.  I brought home a small conch, a light pink cowrie shell, and some other beauties.

Have you ever bought anything in the Yucatan?

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The Intangible Pre-Travel Checklist

There are plenty of lists out there on how to pack for a trip – what to take in terms of clothes, jewelry, shoes, toiletries, etc.  But what about the countless intangible things you have to take care of before you can put your feet up and relax?  Those nagging, pesky little issues that you think you’ve squared away until your plane takes off and you say to yourself, “Wait – do I have enough money in my checking account?”  Well, I’ve made a list of all the little things I have to do before jetting off to my next destination.   It may come in handy for you too!

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If you want to relax, take care of these things first!

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Why Are Swedish Museums So Morbid?

I was in Stockholm recently, and one thing that struck me is how morbid the museums are.  They love showing skulls, skeletons, faces reconstructed from skulls, ghostly visuals, etc.  Don’t get me wrong – I think this is great.  It really makes history come alive (ironically) and forces you to think about the lives of those who came before.  It was just a little unnerving to see so many bones; I’ve never seen such an obsession with death in any other country’s museums.  But what else would you expect from the nation of Ingmar Bergman?

Here’s a gallery of some of the scariest exhibits in Sweden.  The exhibit on the 1361 Battle of Gotland in the Historiska museum was particularly graphic.  Happy early Halloween!

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Filed under death, Gotland, Halloween, medieval, morbid, museums, scary, skeletons, skulls, Stockholm, Sweden, Vasa, Vikings

General Slocum Sign in Astoria Park

Hello all!  Just a quick post about my hometown of Astoria, New York.  If you live here, you may know that the General Slocum disaster took place in 1904 a short distance from Astoria Park.  To quote Wikipedia:

An estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 people on board died. The General Slocum disaster was the New York area’s worst disaster in terms of loss of life until the September 11, 2001 attacks.

For as long as I can remember, there’s been a sign in Astoria Park commemorating this tragic event.  Most of those who died were women and children.  Well, recently I noticed the sign was missing.  It may have been vandalized.  This is a horrible thing.  Can you imagine someone vandalizing a sign commemorating the September 11th attacks?

The view from Astoria Park

The view from Astoria Park

A few weeks ago, I contacted the NYC Parks department about the missing sign.  They said they “have already placed an order for a replacement sign, with an expectation that a replacement should be reinstalled within about four weeks time.”  The sign should be back up soon.  Keep your eye out for it, and never forget the General Slocum!

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