Douglas Weldon

Douglas Weldon


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Douglas Weldon was born in Lima, Ohio, on 10th August, 1953. He was educated at Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Weldon was attorney for the County of Kalamazoo Circuit Court and Adjunct Professor for Western Michigan University's Department of Criminal Justice. He was a member of Westwood United Methodist Church and the Michigan Bar Association.

Weldon researched the assassination of John F. Kennedy for several years and contributed The Kennedy Limousine: Dallas 1963 that appeared in Murder in Dealey Plaza (2000).

Douglas Weldon, who had three children and three grandchildren, died in Kalamazoo on 5th January, 2012.

There are many people who witnessed a hole in the limousine windshield on 22 November 1963 at Parkland Hospital. I consider some of these people heroic because considerable pressure was placed upon them to retract their observations. Several of these people, with whom I have talked directly, remain hesitant to this day to discuss their observations and continue to fear for their personal safety.

Richard Dudman, a reporter for The St. Louis Post Dispatch, for example, wrote in an article entitled "Commentary of an Eyewitness" that appeared in The New Republic (21 December 1963): "A few of us noticed the hole in the windshield when the limousine was standing at the emergency entrance after the President had been carried inside. I could not approach close enough to see which side was the cup-shaped spot that indicates a bullet had pierced the glass from the opposite side."

Dudman told interviewers that a Secret Service agent shoved him and the other reporters away when he tried to examine the hole to determine the direction from which it had been fired. It is interesting to note that Dudman became aware of no less than five bullets that were fired in Dealey Plaza that day. Dudman was also critical of the lack of security on the top of the triple overpass, noting that the standing Secret Service orders were to keep the overpass clear. That order was violated that day. He also wrote that: "The south end of the viaduct is four short blocks from the office of The Dallas Morning News, where Jack Ruby was seen before and after the shooting... No one remembered for sure seeing Ruby between 12:15 and 12:45. The shooting was at 12:30." Mr. Dudman has declined to discuss the assassination with anyone for many years, while his earlier commentary bears mute witness to his present silence.

Former Dallas Police Officer H.R. Freeman, who rode in the motorcade, noted in a 1971 interview by Gil Toff of his observation of the limousine at Parkland Hospital immediately after the shooting, "I was right beside it. I could have touched it. It was a bullet hole. You could tell what it was." And he was not the only police officer - a type of witness usually prized for his accurate and reliable observations - who saw similar damage to the glass. Dallas Police Officer Stavis Ellis, who was in charge of the motorcade escort through Dallas, remarked, in later interviews to reporters and on radio programs, "You could put a pencil through it." Over extensive interviews with this author, Mr. Ellis was unequivocal about observing the hole. His recollection was that the hole was lower in the windshield, but he is absolutely certain of its existence. He did describe the hole as being on the driver's side of the rearview mirror, which is consistent with other observations and the photographic evidence. He recalls actually placing a pencil in the hole. He recounted that there were numerous people and police officers at Parkland Hospital who viewed the hole. He vividly remembers that while he was observing the hole a Secret Service agent came up to him and tried to persuade him that he was seeing a "fragment" and not a hole.


Aaron Douglas

In both his style and his subjects, Aaron Douglas revolutionized African-American art. A leader within the Harlem Renaissance, Douglas created a broad range of work that helped to shape this movement and bring it to national prominence. Through his collaborations, illustrations, and public murals, he established a method of combining elements of modern art and African culture to celebrate the African-American experience and call attention to racism and segregation.


Who Was Sitting Bull?

One of history’s most famous Native American leaders, he’s most well known today for defeating General George Custer’s army at The Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in what was then Montana Territory. The confrontation was sparked by Custer’s troops discovering gold in the Sioux-controlled Black Hills, now in South Dakota, in 1874. The Sioux emerged victorious, and about 260 U.S. soldiers are thought to have died in what’s sometimes called Custer’s Last Stand.

Sitting Bull became famous after the battle through his role in Buffalo Bill Cody’s variety show Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Though such shows were founded on the exploitation of stereotypical ideas, they were also a chance for Native Americans to make money and meet people who may be sympathetic to their cause, according to the National Museum of the American Indian.


Douglas Island was originally a border of the Auke people’s and Taku people’s territory. It was not usually used for year-round settlement, but rather as a place to spend the summer, or at times a place for battles.

Some historical reports indicate an early settler to the area may be credited for the naming of Douglas Island.

In 1880 gold was discovered in Juneau, Alaska, across the narrow Gastineau Channel, drawing in all kinds of people looking to strike it rich. In 1881 two towns sprouted up on Douglas Island: Treadwell and Douglas. Treadwell was the community for the miners, with its own entertainment, pool, and bar. Douglas, too, had businesses popping up and soon had its own school and post office. A railroad and boardwalk connected the two towns. At this time the Treadwell power plant was large enough to power the entire Treadwell area, Douglas, and Juneau. The power plant continued to serve the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine until the mine was shut down in 1944 by the War Department as non-essential to the war effort.

In 1902, the city of Douglas was incorporated. The town sustained significant damage on March 9, 1911 when a fire started in the Douglas Grill. It took the Douglas, Treadwell, and Juneau fire departments working together to stop the entire town from being destroyed.

The towns of Douglas and Treadwell underwent changes after the 1917 cave-in of the Treadwell mine. While one section still operated until 1926, Treadwell shrank and Douglas became the town of Douglas Island.

Douglas continued to have its own dairy (Douglas Dairy, owned by Joe Kendler) until 1923 when it moved across the channel. At this time, there was a regular ferry between the towns of Juneau and Douglas.

In 1935, the Douglas Bridge was opened and made transportation between the island and Juneau simpler. On February 23, 1937, the city of Douglas again experienced a devastating fire, with 600 of the 700 residents losing their homes. However, Douglas rebuilt and restarted. On March 8, 1955 the city voted to combine schools with the city of Juneau, resulting in the construction of Juneau-Douglas High School, which continues to serve the area's students.

In a controversial moment in 1970, voters in the cities of Douglas and Juneau, and of the surrounding Greater Juneau Borough, elected to unify their respective governments, forming the present-day City and Borough of Juneau.

Historical population
YearPop. ±%
1890402
1900825+105.2%
19101,722+108.7%
1920919−46.6%
1930593−35.5%
1940522−12.0%
1950699+33.9%
19601,042+49.1%
19701,243+19.3%
Source: "Census of Population and Housing". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-10-01 . Retrieved 2017-12-11 .
Absorbed into Juneau, Alaska, 1970

Douglas first appeared on the 1890 U.S. Census as "Douglas City." Despite its name, it was still an unincorporated community. It appeared as Douglas in 1900 and formally incorporated in 1902. In 1970, voters in the city of Douglas and Juneau Division approved a merger with the city and borough of Juneau.

In 1890, Douglas was the 11th largest community in Alaska with 402 residents. Of those, 356 were White, 26 were Native, 17 were Creole (Mixed Russian & Native), 2 were Asian and 1 was Other. [1]

In 1900, Douglas was the 7th largest community in Alaska with 825 residents. It did not report a racial breakdown.

In 1910, Douglas was the 3rd largest city in Alaska with 1,722 residents (exceeding neighboring Juneau, which was in 4th place with 1,644 residents and 6th placed Treadwell on the south border of Douglas with 1,222 residents). It reported 1,344 Whites, 346 Natives and 32 others. Had all three locales been unified as they are today, they would've been the most populous locale that year with 4,588 residents, exceeding Fairbanks (3,541) as the largest city.

In 1920, Douglas fell to 7th place (919) in 1930 it was at 11th (593) in 1940 it was at 18th (522) in 1950 it was at 20th (699) in 1960 it was at 23rd (1,042) and in 1970 it was at 29th (1,243).

The only traditional school left on Douglas is Gastineau Elementary, which serves all the Douglas Island elementary-aged students the Douglas Public Library is part of the Juneau Public Library System. Douglas has a few restaurants and bars (The Island Pub, Louie's Douglas Inn, and The Douglas Café), a local live theater (Perseverance Theater), and a gas station. The town’s population has dropped over the years but recently is up to about 3,000 people, or close to ten percent of the City and Borough of Juneau’s population. Douglas gets its water and electricity from Juneau and has a mix of onsite and municipal (diverted to Juneau) wastewater treatment.

The Alaska Department of Corrections has its headquarters in Douglas. [2]


Caroline Weldon and Sitting Bull – The True Story

Sitting Bull. By Susanna Carolina Faesch, a.k.a. Caroline Weldon [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Caroline Weldon was an Indian rights activist who decided she wanted to help the Sioux in their fight against the Indian Affairs people. She also wanted to paint Sitting Bull, the head of the Hunkpapa Sioux tribe and one of the most famous Native Americans of all time. Her story has been told in books and in a recent (2018) movie Woman Walks Ahead.

Movies and books often take artistic license by revising situations to suit narrative flow or other artistic interpretations. But this movie goes too far. A review on Rotten Tomatoes accused the movie of “grave historical inaccuracy.” Rolling Stone called the movie “one big falsehood” and says it “promotes a feminist agenda by painting over the pesky facts to make the story more palatable to lovers of romance novels.”

I was doing my research on Caroline Weldon when I came across the movie and I was appalled at the misrepresentation of her and of Sitting Bull. So I’m changing my usual narrative to contrast the “facts” with the movie version. I don’t want to stop you from enjoying the movie, just be aware that it’s far from historically accurate.

Why Caroline Weldon Came to the Dakotas

Caroline in 1915. Henry Sauerland, Mount Vernon, NY, USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Caroline Weldon* was born Susanna Karoline Faesch in Switzerland in December 1844, which would make her about 45 at the time she was with Sitting Bull (not the beautiful 30-something portrayed in the movie.) Sitting Bill, chief of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, would have been about 59 at his death in 1890 (not the virile 40-something of the movie). Yes, she was overdressed and she did, as the movie shows, tame down her wardrobe and hair after she came west..

Caroline was a widow with a young son, Christie (his existence is ignored in the movie). She was involved with a group called the National Indian Defense Association, who were protesting the break-up of the tribes. Her plan was to help Sitting Bull by being his secretary and translator and to paint his portrait.

A bit of background:

The U.S. government had been gradually taking over Native American lands. At first, they sent the tribes to reservations the Five Nations owned about 21 million acres of land. The U.S. government believed the tribes would be “better off” if they had their own plots of land and farmed (the tribes didn’t want to farm). The Dawes Act of 1887 allowed the government to divide tribal land into allotments. The “excess” land would be sold to whites at market prices. (You can see where this is going.)

At the time Caroline was with Sitting Bull, government land agents were working hard to get the tribes (men, of course) to sign agreeing to the allotments. The situation was made more difficult by several things:

  • Gold had been discovered in the Dakotas. On Native American land.
  • The Indian rights people were trying to persuade the tribes not to sign.
  • The land agents were cutting food rations for the tribes, trying to force them into signing.
  • The U.S. Army still hated the tribes for Little Bighorn, where General Custer and his troops were all killed. Sitting Bull was blamed for leading the battle, but he actually wasn’t in the fight that day.

The final event that caused the government to become more aggressive was the emergence of a messianic cult that was inciting the Sioux and other tribes into a phenomenon called Ghost Dancing. The dances made the settlers and the Army nervous they were afraid the tribes were getting ready to strike.

Back to the story…

Caroline made three trips to what was then called “Dakota,” to Ft. Yates and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where Sitting Bull lived. Her first visit was just for a few weeks, without her son. The second time, with Christie, she spent some time living with two women on a ranch 25 miles from Sitting Bull, and for a brief time moved to his home (but she stayed in a small house, not his cabin). The Sioux started calling her “Woman Who Walks Ahead” because she walked ahead of or with Sitting Bull, which a Native American woman would never have done.

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill. Henry Sauerland, Mount Vernon, NY, USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons She was forced to leave by the Indian Agent, McLaughlin. He twisted her words and portrayed her in the press as insane. (Really.) The press didn’t like the idea of a woman acting out of character for that time. They castigated her for leaving her son in New York, and they reviled her for bringing him into danger in Dakota. She couldn’t win with them.

Major James McLaughlin is portrayed in the movie as a terrible man. He at first liked the Indians, as long as they were compliant. McLaughlin actually wrote a book called My Friend the Indian (1915)! He personally hated Sitting Bull, in part because of Little Big Horn. He liked to show off Sitting Bull, taking him on trips, including one to Washington, D.C. to “discuss” the Dawes Act.

McLaughlin told Sitting Bull what he could do and where he could go. In 1885 he allowed Sitting Bull to go to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where the chief rode in the opening parade for a few months.

What Happened in the End?

Caroline begged McLaughlin to be allowed to come back to Dakota a third time, with her son. She returned in October 1889, planning was to spend the rest of her life living with Sitting Bull and his people. She loved the prairie and the Sioux way of life, and she had nothing and no one back East.

She came back to a volatile situation, with the Ghost Dancers stirring up trouble and Sitting Bull sick and tired, looking years older. She accosted the messiah and denounced him, which didn’t go well with the tribes – and Sitting Bull. He sided with his people and turned his back on her. He said he was ready to die, and in fact, he predicted his own death.

One source quotes her as saying,

“There I had been working for his interest and the interest of the Indians for years, was ready to share all the dangers, and he was foolish enough to believe me to be his enemy.”

She was furious with him for not stopping the Ghost Dances because she was (rightly) afraid that their actions would lead to violence. But Sitting Bull, as chief, couldn’t and wouldn’t interfere with the right of his people to celebrate their religion.

She left with her son for Kansas City. Her son, who probably had tetanus, died on the way. Sadly, she was castigated by the press for “neglecting” him (she didn’t).

McLaughlin, convinced that Sitting Bull was “in open rebellion against constituted authority, was defying the Government,” decided to arrest him. Sitting Bull was arrested by the Army and some of his own people on December 15, dragged out his bed. He protested the indignity, and in the process, he was killed accidentally by One Bull, his adopted son. Caroline had already left for Kansas City and she was nowhere near Dakota when he died. (That dramatic movie scene where she runs around in the snow never happened.)

One incident that’s true – kind of – is the horse. The horse, a circus horse, was a present to Sitting Bull from Buffalo Bill. The rumors were that when the horse heard the gunshots in the fight, he followed his training and started dancing (the movie version). Another rumor was that he bowed his head. Who knows?

What Was the Relationship Between Caroline and Sitting Bull?

Caroline’s role with Sitting Bull was as a secretary, translator, and liaison. They were very different, culturally and personally, but they clearly liked each other. Were they romantically involved? There’s absolutely no evidence of that. Sitting Bull had 5 wives and more than one at a time. (No wives in evidence in the movie.) And she did paint several portraits of him, one of which was hanging in his cabin when he was killed.

There is evidence that he asked Caroline to marry him. She was insulted and refused. It’s quite possible that the proposal was a way of protecting her from rumors, but not because he “loved” her. That concept wouldn’t have been in his vocabulary. And the steamy scenes in the movie would never have happened.

The movie portrayed her as being instrumental in getting Sitting Bull to fight the allotments, but a Native American man probably wouldn’t listen to the advice of a woman.

He wanted peace, but he also wanted freedom. Tough dilemma.

Of her life in Dakota with Sitting Bull and the Sioux, she said (quoted in Woman Walking Ahead),

“No one in the world was as happy as I, and I wish that all might have shared in that happiness. A city seems a prison to me….I enjoyed the freedom of the wilderness…I love the solitude, …and I was loath to leave it. But I had to go, as my life was in danger.”

Caroline went back to New York and obscurity. Unlike other women of the time, she never published any memoirs. Maybe the memories were too difficult to bear. She died in 1921 and is buried in Brooklyn, N.Y, in Green-Wood Cemetery. In 2018, the cemetery featured her in a celebration for Women Who Walked Ahead.

Sources:

This NPR article interviews Michael Greyeyes, who plays Sitting Bull in the movie. He discusses the changes in the portrayals of indigenous people in tbe movie.

Willis Fletcher-Johnson. The True Story Behind “Woman Walks Ahead”- A Brief Historical Account of Caroline Weldon (part of a larger work). Johnson notes that Weldon didn’t begin using the name “Caroline” until after she left the reservation.

*Eileen Pollack. Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull. Bookbaby, 2018. Pollack, on the basis of Johnson’s book (above), chooses to use the name “Catherine.” Because she is included in Wikipedia as “Caroline,” I chose to use this name to make it easier for readers to find information about her.


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Douglas was born on October 4, 1953 and passed away on Monday, March 24, 2014.

Douglas was a resident of Reno, Nevada at the time of passing.

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Charles Weldon, Who Led the Negro Ensemble Company, Dies at 78

Charles Weldon, an actor and director who led the New York theater troupe the Negro Ensemble Company for the past 13 years, died on Dec. 7 in Manhattan. He was 78.

The theater company said the cause was lung cancer.

After a brief career as a singer, Mr. Weldon turned to acting in the late 1960s and found quick success, landing on Broadway in 1969 in “Buck White,” a musical that starred Muhammad Ali as a black militant leader.

That show closed after seven performances, but it started Mr. Weldon on a career in New York that included roles in a string of Negro Ensemble Company productions. In 1973 he was part of the Broadway cast of “The River Niger,” an Ensemble show written by Joseph A. Walker that won the Tony Award for best play.

Yet Mr. Weldon’s path was not without obstacles and detours. In the 1980s, a reckless lifestyle and personal trauma derailed his career for a time from 1986 to 1989 he went back to the work he had done as a young man, long-haul trucking.

That experience helped him refocus — “I didn’t go off and drive a truck because I wanted to be saved, but it saved me,” he told The Denver Post in 2010 — and he resumed acting and directing, continuing to work until his death.

His last stage role was in 2016, in a 50th-anniversary production of “Day of Absence,” a play by Douglas Turner Ward, a founder of the Negro Ensemble Company, which was created in 1967 to promote works by black theater artists.

“I call myself the accidental actor,” Mr. Weldon said that year in an interview for the Primary Stages Off Broadway Oral History Project. “I never had any idea I’d be doing this. I really didn’t. I wanted to be, like, a cabinetmaker.”

Charles Jauverni Weldon was born on June 1, 1940, in Wetumka, Okla. His parents, Beatrice (Jennings) and Roosevelt Weldon, were farm workers, and when he was a year old they moved the family to Bakersfield, Calif., following farm work. Charles worked in the cotton fields near Bakersfield into his teens.

Image

He joined with several other local teenagers to form the Paradons, a doo-wop group, and in 1960 a song they recorded, “Diamonds and Pearls,” became a modest hit.

The group, unable to recapture that lightning in a bottle, disbanded. Mr. Weldon then held an assortment of jobs, including driving a diesel truck, an experience he would fall back on later.

After a time a musician he had met in Bakersfield called from Colorado offering him a job with a soul group, Blues for Sale. He sang around the United States with the group for several years.

By the time he left Blues for Sale, his sister, the actress Ann Weldon, was working with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. He went there.

Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson in conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda, catch a performance from Shakespeare in the Park and more as we explore signs of hope in a changed city. For a year, the “Offstage” series has followed theater through a shutdown. Now we’re looking at its rebound.

“I used to borrow her car sometimes,” he told the website StageBuddy in 2013, “and I’d have to pick her up, and she would be in rehearsals for all these plays, and I use to sit there and wait for her, but I never thought about being an actor — just waiting to give her car back.”

Yet one thing led to another. He auditioned for “Big Time Buck White,” the play that would be turned into the Broadway musical “Buck White.” He didn’t get the part, but he was given work as an understudy and running lights. Oscar Brown Jr. was doing music for the play and would adapt it into the Broadway version.

Mr. Weldon’s work in the show drew a favorable mention from Clive Barnes in The New York Times.

“Charles Weldon was very funny as a kind of black pantherine Hell’s Angel,” Mr. Barnes wrote.

Though “Buck White” had only a short run, it got him some auditions.

“I ended up in a play called ‘Do Your Own Thing,’ ” he said in a 1977 interview with The Times. “I hated it. But we were playing across the street from the Negro Ensemble Company.”

He was soon appearing in that company’s productions, and by 1977 he was playing the title character, a bootlegger, in its revival of “The Great MacDaddy,” a musical survey of a century of African-American history that the company had first staged in 1974.

“The new MacDaddy,” Mr. Barnes wrote in his review in The Times, “humorous and resourceful, is Charles Weldon, who strides through the play resplendent in his white suit, carrying his juju stick with charm and courage.”

Mr. Weldon was also beginning to get television and film work as the 1970s progressed. He appeared in episodes of “Police Story,” “Kojak” and other series, and continued to play TV roles occasionally for the rest of his career.

He was also in “Stir Crazy,” the 1980 Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder movie, and, he said later, sometimes traveled in Mr. Pryor’s hard-living circles — “a crazy time,” as he put it, one that affected his work and his personal life. The death of his friend and fellow actor Adolph Caesar in 1986 — he had a heart attack at 52 — knocked Mr. Weldon even further off course, and the return to truck driving followed.

Years later, when he was with the Denver Center Theater Company, he would draw on his trucker experiences to create, with Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, a revue called “Mama Hated Diesel,” which centered on stories and songs about truckers. When the show had its premiere in 2010, he was also a member of the ensemble.

Other later roles included Hedley, the Bible-quoting ranter, in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” which he played in a revival by the Signature Theater Company in Manhattan in 2006.

“Mr. Weldon’s underplaying of Hedley, if ungainly at times, is a welcome relief from the usual barnstorming associated with such characters,” Ben Brantley wrote in his review in The Times.

He became artistic director of the Negro Ensemble Company in 2005.

Mr. Weldon is survived by a son, Charles Jr. a daughter, Barbara Rae Pettie three sisters, the actress Ann Weldon, the singer Maxine Weldon and Mae Frances Weldon and 10 grandchildren. Another son, Nick, died in 2015. Mr. Welson’s marriages to Barbara Sotello and Debbie Morgan ended in divorce.

The Negro Ensemble Company has sometimes struggled since the glory days of “The River Niger” and “A Soldier’s Play,” its 1981 hit. But in 2013 Mr. Weldon said one thing that kept him going was when young theater aspirants came into his office, filled with photographs of actors who had worked with the company.

“They’ll see all the pictures and see all the people that came through this place at one time,” he said, “and I’ll say: ‘Oh. That’s why I’m doing it.’ ”


The Tale of Eleven

October 1942 was a month of decision in World War II. In Egypt, British and Axis forces clashed at the Second Battle of El Alamein. The Soviet Union and Germany were locked in a bitter struggle at Stalingrad. Meanwhile, a large U.S. armada left East Coast ports bound for the invasion of French Morocco.

More immediate for the U.S. Navy, a land-sea-air campaign at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands was well into its third month. The naval Battle of Cape Esperance on 11 October was a rare U.S. victory.

Meanwhile, across the international date line at Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego, a new command was being established. Carrier Air Group (CVG) 11 was unusual in receiving a number rather than a ship name because the United States was running out of prewar flight decks: Three of the six Pacific Fleet flattops had been lost in six months.

Squadrons and Leaders

Most of the air group’s senior officers were U.S. Naval Academy men. The group commander (CAG-11) was Commander Paul Ramsey, who had graduated near the top of the class of 1927. A highly respected commanding officer (CO) of the famous Fighting Squadron (VF) 2 “Flying Chiefs” on board the USS Lexington (CV-2), he had survived her sinking at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May. Ramsey led four squadrons, the norm for fleet carrier air groups at the time. Two flew the vaunted Douglas SBD Dauntless scout-bomber.

Bombing Squadron (VB) 11 was formed around five veterans of VB-2, also displaced from the Lexington. Bombing Two’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander Weldon Hamilton, a year behind Ramsey at the Academy, had lateraled to lead VB-11, taking VB-2’s Pegasus identity with him. According to a contemporary account, “He was a 4.0 skipper.” Lieutenant Commander Hoyt D. Mann was the junior CO, hailing from the class of ’36. His Scouting Squadron (VS) 11 also had SBDs, usually flying the same missions as the bombing squadron.

Torpedo Squadron (VT) 11 received Grumman TBF-1 Avengers, the newest carrier aircraft. Bigger, faster, and longer ranged than the Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, the Avenger had a three-man crew of pilot, radioman, and turret gunner. The squadron’s CO, Lieutenant Commander F. L. Ashworth, had graduated in the Annapolis class of 1933.

The fighter skipper was well experienced. Lieutenant Commander Charles R. Fenton (class of ’29) had led VF-42 from the USS Yorktown (CV-5) at Coral Sea. Fighting 11 benefited from three other combat-experienced pilots, including the flight officer, Lieutenant William N. Leonard, with victories at Coral Sea and Midway.

Air Group 11 was slated to board the USS Hornet (CV-8), famous for launching the Doolittle Raid against Japan in April 1942. But the plan was short-lived: The Hornet was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October, leaving the air group without a potential ship while the Enterprise (CV-6) remained the only operational big-deck carrier.

Ramsey and company deployed to the Pacific late that month. In Hawaii, the squadrons flew from Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, then from newly expanded NAS Barbers Point. Paul Ramsey rolled out in February 1943, succeeded by Weldon Hamilton as CAG.

While in Hawaii, VF-11 established its identity—the “Sun Downers,” for both the mission of downing Japanese “suns” and the old nautical term for a hard worker. Over the ensuing decades the name became Sundowners. Robert “Boy” von Tempsky and his sister, Alexa, extended rare hospitality to the Sun Downers, who enjoyed the family’s Maui ranch on the slopes of Mount Haleakala. The family flew an “all clear” flag for visiting aviators to buzz the house, with Alexa and her brother sharing the title “ComWolfPack.”

Flying from ‘The ’Canal’

After further training in the Fijis, the air group set out for Guadalcanal, arriving on 26 April. The SBDs and TBFs landed at Henderson Field, while VF-11’s F4F Wildcats settled at the fighter strip west of Henderson. Shortly before arriving, the fighting squadron’s skipper, Charles Fenton, was recalled to Washington, replaced by his executive officer (exec), Lieutenant Commander Clarence M. White Jr., class of ’33.

In March, Scouting 11 had been redesignated Bombing 21 in a Navy-wide policy of folding carrier scout squadrons into the dive bombers. When the air group moved to Guadalcanal, the four squadrons totaled 88 aircraft: 35 F4F-4 Wildcats, 35 SBD-3 Dauntlesses in two squadrons, and 18 TBF-1 Avengers.

By June, the air group had ballooned to 106 aircraft, largely because of an influx of fighters. Some thought VF-11 and two other fighting squadrons were to “use up” the remaining inventory of Wildcats. As Bill Leonard recalled: “Committed to the F4F, we would not let our minds dwell too much on its deficiencies. VF-11 felt sensitive flying an obviously outdated machine but we were loyal to the F4F.”

On Guadalcanal, the dangers were not limited to enemy action. When Weldon Hamilton was promoted to CAG, Lieutenant Commander Raymond Jacoby relieved him at the helm of VB-11, but his tenure was short-lived. Jacoby succumbed to a falling coconut, sustaining injuries that would bench him for the duration of the tour. He was briefly succeeded by Lieutenant C. A. Skinner before Lieutenant Commander Lloyd A. Smith (class of ’35) assumed command.

Triumphs and Losses

TBFs flew conventional missions and also delivered mines in Japanese-controlled waters. “Dick” Ashworth’s Distinguished Flying Cross citation included:

During the nights of 18, 20 and 23 May, Lieutenant Commander Ashworth led his squadron in mine laying missions in the Kahili-Shortland area, south Bougainville. It was necessary that level flight at one thousand feet, constant speed and steady course be maintained for up to one and one-half minutes approximately one thousand yards from heavily-fortified Japanese positions. His plane made the longest run on each mission and despite illumination by a concentration of enemy searchlights and heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire these extremely hazardous missions were carried out effectively.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Edwin M. Wilson was a VB-11 stalwart and arguably the best bomber in the squadron. “Big Ed,” who had dropped out of Duke University to enlist, got saltwater on his hands in a series of shipping strikes from Guadalcanal. He made a direct hit on a Japanese destroyer (probably the Kuroshio or Oyashio) in Blackett Strait on 8 May and scored on a large 17 July joint mission with Marines that claimed four destroyers and damaged a light cruiser at Buin Harbor, Bougainville. Actual results were a destroyer sunk plus damage to two more and a minesweeper.

CAG Weldon Hamilton, along with 16 pilots and aircrewmen from VT-11, died in a transport accident en route to Sydney on 8 June. Over the next 17 months, he was succeeded by two other Naval Academy alumni, Lieutenant Commander John Hulme (class of ’30) and Ray Jacoby—he of the falling coconut.

When the air group’s tour ended in August, the SBDs had logged more than 30 attack missions plus scouting and antisubmarine patrols. The Sun Downers left Guadalcanal with 55 rising suns painted on propeller blades before the squadron tent. Three pilots had made ace, including Lieutenant (junior grade) Vernon Graham, who turned the trick in one epic mission on 12 June. Among 16 Wildcats returning from a PBY escort near the Russell Islands, Graham led his wingman in assisting badly outnumbered Marine Corps Corsairs and gunned down five Zeros. But he ran out of fuel, sustaining injuries in a forced landing. Other Sun Downers accounted for nine more kills in exchange for three other Wildcats, with all VF-11 pilots safe.

Only four days later, the squadron beat its own record and then some. Repulsing the last major strike on Guadalcanal, Clarence White scrambled with 27 other Sun Downers to intercept 94 inbound Japanese. In widespread attacks, the Wildcats claimed 31 kills against three pilots lost, apparently all in collisions. Combined Navy, Marine Corps, and Army fighters destroyed nearly all the attackers, a heavy blow to Japanese air power. Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher, Commander Air Solomon Islands, sent two cases of whiskey to VF-11 for its major role in the mission.

The squadron’s other aces were Lieutenants (junior grade) Charles “Skull” Stimpson and James S. Swope. They formed a potent team: Between them the pair would account for 26 downed enemy aircraft during the squadron’s two tours.


The Jaxson: James Weldon Johnson Deserves To Be Celebrated

James Weldon Johnson is, without exaggeration, the single most accomplished person ever to come from Jacksonville or Florida.

Among other things, the LaVilla native was Florida’s first African-American lawyer after Reconstruction the principal of Stanton, which he converted into Florida’s first black public high school a U.S. Consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua the first African-American head of the NAACP and a respected university professor. But even without these accomplishments, Johnson would have secured a place in history for his literary output.

Johnson was born in Jacksonville in 1871 during the Reconstruction period when the federal government worked to protect the rights of newly freed African-Americans across the South. His mother was Bahamian immigrant Helen Louise Dille, and his father was James Johnson, the head waiter at the St. James Hotel. His brother was noted musician John Rosamond Johnson. Johnson grew up in the town of LaVilla, later annexed by Jacksonville. His childhood experience of the city was of a comparatively tolerant place where African-Americans could advance and prosper.

Johnson attended Atlanta University at the age of 16 and then returned to Jacksonville where he served in various high-status positions. In 1895 he founded the Daily American, Florida’s first African-American-oriented newspaper. In 1897 he was admitted to the Florida Bar, becoming the first black Floridian to pass the Bar since Reconstruction ended. He also served as principal of Stanton School, where he spearheaded the effort to add a high school, the first in the state to serve African-Americans.

Johnson first achieved wide literary notice in 1899 when he penned the poem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which his brother Rosamond put to music. Originally sung at a local celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, the song spread far beyond Jacksonville and by 1929 had been dubbed the “Negro National Anthem.” Many black Americans still think of it as the Black National Anthem today.

In 1901, the Johnson brothers relocated to New York, partly due to declining conditions for African-Americans in Jacksonville as the white Southern establishment systematically eroded the gains of Reconstruction. Johnson himself was almost lynched after a crowd saw him in Riverside Park with a light-skinned female journalist they assumed was white. Johnson later lamented that Jacksonville, once “known far and wide as a good town for Negroes,” degenerated into “a one-hundred percent cracker town.” Johnson lamented the changes in his hometown, but rose to new prominence in New York, where he and Rosamund became Broadway songwriters and founding figures in the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt appointed Johnson to the U.S. Consulate. He served in Venezuela from 1906-1908, and in Nicaragua from 1909-1913. During his appointment in Nicaragua, he married civil rights activist and arts patron Grace Nail, a fellow Harlem Renaissance luminary. Johnson’s diplomatic position enabled him to pursue his literary ambitions. In 1912, he published The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, which despite the title, is actually a clever work of fiction. The novel follows a light-skinned narrator who can pass for white through a series of exploits around the world as he tries to discover his roots. After witnessing a lynching in Georgia, he decides to disguise his heritage and marries a white woman. Brilliant and provocative, the novel is a landmark of American modernist literature. Johnson’s life in Jacksonville looms large throughout the work: the “Ex-Colored Man” is based on Jacksonville native Douglass Wetmore, who similarly could pass for white. One memorable chapter finds the narrator in Jacksonville, where he comes into his own working in a Cuban-owned cigar factory.

Johnson’s civil rights activism included a long association with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1920 he was chosen to head the association as executive secretary, the first African-American to assume the role.

Johnson was also an essayist and poet. His most celebrated poetry collection is God’s Trombones, a series of seven poems capturing the style of black Southern sermons. In 1933 he wrote a genuine autobiography, Along This Way, which contains several chapters on his early life in Jacksonville.

Johnson died in 1938 in a vehicular accident when his car was struck by a train. He was interred in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery after a funeral attended by 2000 people.

James Weldon Johnson is direly under celebrated in Jacksonville. James Weldon Johnson Middle School bears his name. The Ritz Theater and Museum features an animatronic exhibit, and locals periodically host a Heritage Tour, though most historic sites associated with Johnson, including his family home, have been demolished.

The City of Jacksonville named the Johnson family homesite Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park, located at 120 Lee St., in 2015.


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