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50 Years Ago in American Heritage

Gens. Eisenhower & Patton; George Washington Returns; The Iron Spine; The Ship That Wouldn't Die

May 2019

The April 1969 issue was typical of classic issues of American Heritage, with dramatic and substantive essays on George Washington, Ike and Patton, the Transcontinental Railroad, the "ship that wouldn't die," and many other fascinating subjects from our nation's past

Our April 1969 issue was typical of classic issues of American Heritage, with dramatic and substantive essays on George Washington, Ike and Patton, the Transcontinental Railroad, the "ship that wouldn't die," and many other fascinating subjects from our nation's past
—The Editors

A Fateful Friendship, by Stephen Ambrose

Eisenhower dreamed of serving under Patton, but history reversed their roles. Their stormy association dramatically shaped the Allied assault on the Third Reich

They never had much in common. George Patton was a conceited, spoiled child from an extremely wealthy, snobbish family. He dressed as he pleased, said what he liked, and did as he wished, he cursed like a trooper and told off his inferiors—and sometimes his superiors—with profane eloquence. Although he moved easily in America’s highest society, many people, soldiers included, thought Patton vulgar. Dwight Eisenhower came from the wrong side of the tracks in a tiny midwestern town. He had to support himself while in high school by working nights in a creamery: he wanted to be well liked, and he obeyed his superiors. The only thing he did to attract attention was to do his duty quietly and efficiently.

Eisenhower dreamed of serving under Patton, but history reversed their roles. Their stormy association dramatically shaped the Allied assault on the Third Reich

Patton was an erratic genius, given to great outbursts of energy and flashes of brilliant insight. He was capable of sustained action, but not of systematic thought. A superstitious man, he was much taken by his own déjà vu — his sensation of having been somewhere before; he devoutly believed that he had fought with Alexander the Great and with Napoleon, among others. Eisenhower had a steady, orderly mind. When he looked at a problem he would take everything into account, weigh possible alternatives, and deliberately decide on a course of action. Patton seldom arrived at a solution through an intellectual process; rather, he felt that this or that was what he should do, and he did it.

Patton strutted while Eisenhower walked. Both were trim, athletic, outdoor types; but Eisenhower was usually grinning, Patton frowning. Patton indulged his moods, while Eisenhower kept a grip on his temper. Read More >>>

The Trumpet Sounds Again, by James Thomas Flexner

After the Revolution, Washington returned to farming at Mount Vernon but eventually called for that he wished a “Convention of the People” to establish a “Federal Constitution”

In 1783, George Washington was offered the leadership of a movement that could easily have developed into what we would today call fascism. It was with the greatest difficulty that he prevented the army from joining with the businessmen in terrorizing the governments. Promising to do everything he could, consistent “with the great duty I owe my country,” to procure eventual justice for the soldiers, Washington persuaded them, when they were no longer needed against the enemy, to go home with cruelly empty pockets. The civil creditors were also left in the lurch. Read More >>>

The Iron Spine, by Henry Sturgis

The Union Pacific met the Central Pacific at Promontory—and the nation had truly been railroaded

At Promontory, Utah Territory, on the raw afternoon of May 10, 1869, Leland Stanford, the beefy, pompous president of the Central Pacific Railroad, hefted a silver-plated sledge hammer while David Hewes, a dedicated railroad booster from San Francisco, stood by the golden spike he had donated to complete the laying of the nation’s first transcontinental rail line. At a nearby table sat a telegrapher, his hand on the key. Across the country lines had been cleared; when Stanford’s sledge struck the golden spike, cities on the shores of both oceans would know that America was finally and forever bound by a single spine of iron. A parade four miles long stood ready in Chicago, and at Omaha on the Missouri River, whence five years before the Union Pacific tracks had started west to meet the Central, one hundred cannon were primed for a thunderous salute.

The Union Pacific met the Central Pacific at Promontory—and the nation had truly been railroaded

Before Stanford squared himself away to swing, a crew of Chinese tracklayers from the Central stepped forward witli the last rail of the 1,775 miles of line between San Francisco and Omaha. Just then a bystander, alive to the import of the scene, shouted to a cameraman, “Shoot!” The Chinese dropped the rail with a loud clang and scrambled for cover. It took several moments to round up the gun-shy Orientals and convince them that this shooting would not be like those they knew all too well from brutal months of pounding the line through a lawless wilderness. The rail was duly set in place.

Stanford drew back his hammer. A hush came over the assemblage — politicians, railroad dignitaries, track foremen, gaudy dancers, Irish and Chinese track hands, hunters, mountain men, gamblers, gunfighters, ex-convicts, and nymphes du grade — massed in the heavy mud where the rails joined. The prevailing sounds were the hissings from the Central’s handsome locomotive Jupiter and the U.P.’s gleaming Number 119, standing one hundred feet apart at the junction point.

The telegrapher clicked the penultimate message: “All ready now. The last spike will soon be driven. The signal will be three dots for the commencement of the blows.” Leland Stanford swung, the silver hammer head flashing in the sun.

He missed.

Read More>>>

Interview with Leslie Gehres: Captain of the Franklin

The admiral who commanded "the ship that wouldn't die" recalls the hellish and heroic hours after a kamikaze turned the carrier Franklin into an inferno.

There was a tremendous whoomp, an explosion, and I was knocked to the deck. As I got up, I asked my navigator, I said to him, “What hit us?” And he said, “A bomb, it just went by the bridge.”

In fact, two 550-pound bombs were dropped by the enemy plane that swooped suddenly out of a cloud bank at 7:08. In seconds the 8,800-foot-long Franklin was a floating inferno .

The first bomb hit up forward and blew a hole fifteen feet square, opening up the whole interior of the ship. The second bomb struck amidships. The force of the two explosions lifted the ship in the water, bounced planes up on the flight deck and then knocked them down, and the propellers chopped up other planes. The blasts ignited about seventeen thousand gallons of aviation gasoline, and this gas ran out of the planes at port side and into the hangar. There it exploded and lifted the forward elevator up … and then it fell down, opening up the whole area, and planes on the flight deck blew up and dropped through to the hangar deck. Holes opened up in the ship to the third deck.

The men working below in the hangar were killed instantly in a fire storm. The flames leaped through an open hatch to destroy two hundred more sailors waiting in line for breakfast. Columns of thick, black smoke poured from the forward elevator, enveloping the bridge. A total of thirty-two major explosions wracked the huge carrier as the Japanese bombs detonated sixty-four of the Franklin’ s 1,850 tons of ammunition.

Her Captain was beside himself. “I was king on that ship,” he recalls. “There were bombs exploding all over the place, and I was so damn mad at what they were doing to my ship!”