for our father, Thomas Francis Wills, on Memorial Day 2019

a personal narrative

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An excerpt from an interview by Diane Frances Wills of our father Thomas Francis Wills for a seventh-grade assignment about 1971.  I did some editing to correct the date based on historical records and my father’s military records (Michael Stephen Wills).

Thomas enlisted for the navy one day after his 24th birthday, September 25, 1939 and served 6 years and a few weeks until October 7, 1945 having experienced the Battle of the Atlantic (American Defense Medal) and liberation of the Philippines (WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Theater, Philippine Liberation Ribbon).  Here is his description of an incident from that time:

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Thomas Francis Wills, Ocean View Beach, Virginia, 1940

1 Year, 6 months after my enlistment in New York City, March 1941, on the USS Upshur two days out of Boston on its run to Reykjavik, Iceland delivering mail and supplies to the marines stationed to prevent the Germans from establishing a base.  Steaming north we got word there was a gale blowing in our path.  We all became apprehensive.  I asked Bill Rogers, the radioman, about the approaching storm.  “Say, Bill, I see by the weather report we’re heading info some rough weather.  How long do you think it will last?”

“Yeah, according to the latest weather report it is a regular Northeaster and we can expect a couple days of rough winds and high waves, also very cold weather.  We’ll have to secure everything topside so it won’t blow or be washed overboard.  We can also expect very little in the way of normal meals except for maybe coffee and sandwiches.”  On such a small ship the cooks can’t prepare meals in such weather.

USS Upshur, 1940, the ten-man crew, including Thomas Wills, is on the bow

As we approached the storm zone the sea got rough and the wind started blowing.  Soon we were well into a horrible storm.  The sky got dark and gloomy, full of dark bold clouds.  The ocean rough, choppy and black.  The rain started coming down sharp and harsh, cold and icy.  The rain cut through your body like piercing arrows, it chilled your bones.

Sometimes I thought the ship was going to sink, the waves and the wind were so strong.  The bow would go bluntly into the water.  The ship listed sideways, seeming to almost rolling over.  The waves carried our ship up, then go out from underneath sending us crashing down.  This happened over and over, endlessly.  

 I was on duty in the radio shack and had to walk the whole length of the ship from my sleeping quarters.  Many times, I almost went overboard, the wind was so strong.  I could lay on my stomach but it did not help because I could still slide through the railings.  I would freeze to death in five minutes in that water.  I hope I never had to go through that again, seems like yesterday.  All we had to wear was a sailor suit, not too warm.  I’d just get all soaked. 

My shipmates and I, a five-foot eight-inch boy of 25 with dark brown hair, had to be calm and keep doing our normal scheduled duties, because we learned you can’t get panicky or else you will put your whole ship out of order.

 The storm went on until the end of night.  I thought the storm would never end.  It felt as if it lasted a week.  At that time no other ships sailed with us, so there was no possibility of help.  Nobody fell over the side or was drowned.

After that, a German U-Boat launched a torpedo at us and missed.  We searched, tried to sink them without success. 

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Total Lunar Eclipse January 20/21, 2019

A Full Moon Rises from the Atlantic

Moonrise

An occasional habit of ours is enjoyment of company while viewing the effects of sunset from our east facing patio. The Sunday of January 20, 2019 I prepared for total lunar eclipse by researching moon rise. Online charts (search for “moonrise”) give the time and compass heading for particular locations.

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This departing cruise ship was in line of sight and I was disappointed to have missed effect of the reflected sunlight on the myriad windows we so often enjoy with friends. The preceding and following photographs present an illusion of a cruise ship appearing larger than the full moon, the effect of the much larger body viewed from an enormous distance.

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In these photographs a newly risen full moon appears to emerge from ocean cloud cover. A full moon is a requirement of a lunar eclipse, it is not possible to have an eclipse without a full moon, although the reverse is not true.

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The apparent large size of the moon low in the sky is an optical illusion caused by the alignment of vision with earth-bound objects on the horizon.

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A simple experiment is to find a pebble that is the same size as the newly risen full moon when held at arm’s length. Wait until the orb is well up and apparently smaller. You will find the same pebble covers the moon. On the horizon or high above, the full moon covers the same angular diameter.

Click for the next post in this series

Copyright 2019 All Right Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Kite Surfing Action Series

three shots in one second

For a change of scene we visited Cape Canaveral, the beach at Cherie Down Park were an informal gathering of Kite Surfers was underway. Here is a series of action shots, one second elapsed from first to last.

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Click any photograph for my Online Galleries

Conditions were excellent: good northerly wind, the sun overcast and, it being afternoon, in the west. Surfers stayed relatively close to shore, near their starting point. I had packed the “heavy gun” camera with a tripod.

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Panning the scene (swiveling on the tripod), the camera in rapid exposure mode, I pressed the shutter release and held it down.

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The surfer was captured mid-jump to landing.

Click this link for another view of Kite Surfing

Click this link for a view of Kite Skating on the beach


Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Sunset Visions of Kite Surfing

One day before the 2019 Total Lunar Eclipse a full moon rose 4:25 pm above the Atlantic Ocean off Cocoa Beach, the “Space Coast” of Florida. We saw a power kite to the south, with the southerly winds there was time before he was on us. I took the following photographs with what was at hand, an iPhone 8.

Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset

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At 50 minutes post moonrise, I included the orb in this frame as the rider tacked, rising a water crest.

Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset
Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset

A flick of the fingers to zoom in, the moon and rider are together as he rides toward shore.

Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset with cruise ship
Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset with cruise ship

This time of, Saturdays, the cruise ships depart Cape Canaveral Port. The kite is above the distant ship. It is amazing the kite allows sailing into the wind, his heading is southwest. The shore limits his progress, forcing a tack towards a southeast heading.

Kite Surfer coming to shore at sunset.
Kite Surfer coming to shore at sunset.

Or not, it seems he plans to tack to the northeast, continuing progress north up the coast. I have to wonder how he will return to the starting point?

Click this link  for another Kite Surfing Post

Click this link for a Kite Skating on Beach post

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

“Surfing” Grey Herons

a dedicated predator

Our long beachcombing adventures are enlivened by wildlife. Grey Herons stalking the surf line, the interface between the Atlantic Ocean and the shore, stop us in place, fascinated.

I pack an iPhone sometimes for beachcombing as a lightweight alternative to SLRs. This post features iPhone photographs.

There are two varieties of “surfing” Grey Herons: those looking for a handout from fishermen and independent operators. These photographs are of the latter, active feeders searching the wash for edibles: fish and crustaceans. These progress verrrrryyyyyy slooooowwwwllllyyyy, at a level high enough to avoid breaking waves, low enough for their long legs to be submerged.

A perfect place to stalk the surf

The heron appears to be mesmerized by the waves until, suddenly, the head tilts slightly, the serpentine neck extends quick as a striking rattlesnake, the sharp beak pierces the water to emerge sometimes empty.

Success!!

When successful, the beak holds an improbably large fish. The heron stands there, adjusting the catch with imperceptible head motions, until the victim is aligned lengthwise with the beak and gullet. A quick jerk forward and the catch is propelled into the upper throat, which expands. A few more jerks and it is consumed whole, unchewed. An amazing process to witness and only possible if you take the time for the slow process.

Another element is the heron’s tolerance of human observers. These herons ignore us if we keep an adequate distance. Elsewhere, a heron will take wings at the slightest provocation, as simple as a glance of a human and these will fly, uttering a raucous, rasping goodbye.

These photographs are from morning excursions, the subject is backlit. Afternoons, we do not encounter many stalking herons when the light is better. The individuals looking for handouts are out in the afternoon, generally, after the fishermen has thinned out. Don’t know why that is.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Valparaiso Connections V

A Deeper Understanding

Monuments Then and Now

Trundled along within our bubble, the Mercedes tour bus proceeded up Avenue Montt when Ricardo pointed out this statue for ridicule.  A depiction of the Chilean national bird, the Condor, porteños derisively call it “The Chicken,” and in truth the wing span is undersized.  From the vantage of the above photograph, the statue form does capture an impression of soaring among the hills of Valparaiso.  Keep in mind, beyond those hills is Aconcagua, the highest mountain of the western hemisphere, home to Condors.  

A reason for writing multiple Varparaiso “connection” posts is to better understand the jumbled impressions from that day.  In a previous post I coined the term Varparasians for natives of the city.    I found in researching this post the residents, as for Buenos Aires, call themselves porteños (people of the port).  This cast iron statue speaks to the contributions of French immigrants to the city and nation.

Gift of the French Colony for the Centennial of Chile – Valparaíso, 1810 – 1910.

Here the view is south towards (what I believe is) Cerro Florida (Florida Hill).  France Avenue continues, beyond the monument, following a steep and winding path up the hills, at the crest intersecting with German Avenue.  Adjacent, on the right, is Park Italia where we’ll visit in part VI.  Above a cast iron basin, at each corner of the commemorative column base is a female mask, above them a gold band inscribed (from the) “The French of Valparaiso” with 1810 – 1910 to denote the centennial.  A condor with outspread wings surmounts the column.

The artist, Nicanor Plaza, born in Santiago, Chile was living in Florence, Italy at the time of this commission.  He was a natural choice for the commission.  Trained in Chile and Paris, Plaza taught for the Academy of Fine Arts of Santiago.  It is of cast iron, produced by the French company Val Osne, an art foundry dating back to 1835.  The owner, Jean Pierre Andre Victor, invented a cast iron ornamental technique originally used to produce street furniture.  

 From 1854 to 1895 immigration from France burgeoned, from a country total of 1,654 to 8,266.  This cohort is credited with developing the vineyards of the Central Valley, still famous today.  The Chilean president Augusto Pinochet descended on his father’s side from an 18th-century French Breton immigrant from Lamballe and his mother was a descendant from 17th century immigrants, partially Basque.  Pinochet’s legacy can only be attributed to himself and the ruling Junta.  What is of concern is (1) Pinochet was protected against prosecution throughout his life. (2)  The same people who protected him still hold power.  A case in point is the Esmeralda, still in service.

The Naval Training Vessel Esmeralda

 I took this photograph at dawn from our stateroom balcony, it is the
Esmeralda, a four-masted  top sail schooner, from Spain, christened May 12, 1953.  From 1973 to 1980 it was a floating torture chamber where up to 100 persons were subjected to hideous treatment by the Pinochet regime.  Protests erupt wherever it docks in a foreign port yet it remains in service.  A relatively small part of the puzzle, yet it serves as an unacknowledged monument to the failure of Chile’s ruling elite to come to terms with the recent past.

Click this link for how important the Esmerelda is to Chilean Naval Tradition.  It is another posting my this Valparaiso Connections series.

To end on a positive note, there is the memory of the more than 10,000 Chilean citizens of French ancestry who joined the Free French Forces in the fight against the Nazi occupation of France in World War II.

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Click to visit the first post of this series. 

Valparaiso Connections IV

The O’Higgins Carrera Feud

“Valparaiso Connections III” brought us to Pedro Montt Avenue and the building of this imposing façade, Congreso Nacional de Chile (National Congress of Chile).  The very fact it is in Valparaiso is a recollection of the former National Congress, disbanded by the ruling Junta on September 13, 1973.  During the final  years the Pinochet dictatorship chose Valparaiso for the site of a new congress building .  The former National Congress building still stands in Santiago, now housing the offices of both houses of congress.

I am fascinated the façade is shared by two founding fathers of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins and José Miguel Carrera.  O’Higgins father never married his mother (in other words, Bernardo was a bastard).  Cared for by his mother’s privileged family, he used his mother’s family name until the death of his father.  Carrera, was also born of privilege, the acknowledge son of his father who attended the best schools, well positioned to lead the movement for Chilean independence.  Benefactors looked after O’Higgins, they sent the seventeen year old to Europe to finish his education.

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In the chaos of war, in spite of ill-health and lack of military training, O’Higgins out performed Carrera as an officer through reckless bravery; surviving, he became an admired military leader through this example and ultimate victories. Carrera resented being overtaken (by a bastard), did not respect O’Higgins leadership and the two feuded. O’Higgins became the first head of the independent Chile while Carrera gathered a force.  Exiled in Paraguay, Carrera marched across the intervening wastes battling indigenous forces.  Eventually captured by those loyal to O’Higgins, Carrera suffered a mock trial and execution.

All five of Carrera’s legitimate offspring married and prospered, today his descendants number in the hundreds, being the majority of Chile’s ruling class.  Today, the followers of Carrera (Carreristas) fight for his recognition against the O’Higginistas, who they despise.  The balance is on display on the National Congress façade on Pedro Montt Avenue.  The building is next to Plaza O’Higgins.

Measured by acreage, O’Higgins is far ahead of Carrera.  The following photograph, from my posting “A Far Country VII: View of Tempanos Fjord” is from within Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, the largest protected land in Chile.

A large lake in Patagonia is named after General Carrera.

 

Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills