In Memoriam J. P. H.

This one’s a bit macabre—caveat lector!

March first has known some tragedies.

On this day in history, in 1910, the deadliest avalanche in U.S. history swept over the rail depot in Wellington, Washington, killing 96. (So heavy was the slab of ice and snow, that the last of the bodies weren’t retrieved until July of that year.)

On March 1st, 1917, the Zimmerman Telegram was published, stoking fears that Mexico would—with German assistance—attempt to reclaim Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. This ultimately precipitated America’s entry into World War I.

On the night of March 1st, 1932, 20-month old Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., was found missing. The toddler child of aviators Charles and Anne Morrow LIndbergh was found dead in a nearby field the following May.

1954 was a big year on the March 1st tragedies front. I’m unsure of which came first, but I’m aware of these two:

First in order if not chronologically: Lolita Lebrón led a group of Puerto Rican nationalists in attacking the U.S. House of Representatives. Fortunately, nobody was killed, though five Representatives were injured. As she was arrested, Lolita is reported to have shouted, “I did not come to kill anyone, I came to die for Puerto Rico!” She never did die for her homeland—she spent 25 years in prison, until Jimmy Carter (currently on hospice care) commuted her sentence in 1979. She remained an activist and died of a complications from a cardiorespiratory infection in 2010 at age 90.

Also on March 1st, 1954, at 6:45 am local time, the United States detonated its most powerful atomic weapon, a 15 megaton hydrogen bomb dubbed SHRIMP, as part of the Castle Bravo test at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, then part of the U.S.-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The explosion was 2.5 times the expected 6 megatons (also cited as 3 times an expected 5 megatons) due to effects of the new lithium deuteride fuel. This high yield combined with an unexpectedly-“dirty” fission reaction to generate extensive fallout in the region, contaminating Rongelap and Utirik Atolls, and perhaps another. (Wikipedia is inconsistent on this.)

(Diving deeper: the 1986 Compact of Free Association by which the Marshall Islands became independent of but “freely associated” with the United States [scare quotes because I don’t really know what that term means] provided for a Nuclear Claims Tribunal funded with an initial $150 million to disperse to victims of the fallout. $270 million were eventually distributed, but billions of dollars of judgments rendered by the tribunal remain unpaid by the United States. I’m no expert on the subject, having only read Wikipedia articles, but to me this seems a travesty.)

(And hell, while we’re in the parenthetical zone, I’ll here observe that both tragedies for March 1st, 1954, have to do with American island possessions, which really we’ve not done right by.)

The timeline’s not as clean on this one but work with me here: though locally it was March 2nd, 2:45 am, it was nevertheless still March 1st in much of the world when the Chilean volcano Villarrica began its 1964 eruption, eventually killing 22 and destroying half of the town of Coñaripe (es). Coñaripe was abandoned and resettled a kilometer away.

A lot of nice things have also happened on March 1st’s, but that’s a different discussion!

Twenty years ago to the day I was a Mormon missionary living in Latrobe, Pennsylvania (near PIttsburgh). On February 2nd I had recorded in my journal that our mission president whom I admired, Scott Cameron, had been diagnosed with colon cancer. And just days before on February 27th, local hero Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame had died.

And on that day, twenty years ago, March 1st, 2003, my mom died.

Of course, it is nothing compared to the mass casualties and the wars and uprisings and weapons of mass destruction and acts of God—but for me and for my family, it was everything.

March 1st, 2003.

Just felt the need to mark it here.

I feel more tranquil these days about all that happened with Mom and also with Dad. But sometimes, I just need to feel the melancholy and the dark of it. It’s warranted, even half a lifetime hence.

I’ll leave you with this Longfellow poem, off only by two years:

The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face — the face of one long dead —
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

I hope you all are well ❤️




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *