Thoughts on History
At the end of a 1980 interview with William R. Wilson, which begins on page 48 of this issue, the late General James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle declared: “I’d never want to relive my life. I couldn’t possibly be that lucky a second time.” Doolittle and collaborator Carroll V. Glines used a variation of that remark as the title of the famed aviator’s autobiography, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, published in 1991.
The luck that General Doolittle was referring to involved such things as his survival of numerous plane crashes; his outstanding wartime record; his 71-year marriage to his beloved wife, Joe; and his ability to overcome those adversities that did come his way.
There are those who might have argued with General Doolittle about whether or not “luck” was responsible for his good fortune. But that philosophical debate notwithstanding, it struck me, as I looked at each of the principals featured in this issue of American History, that one of the most interesting things about the study of history is discovering the unexpected “twists of fate” that led people to their ultimate destinations in life.
On page 16, Elbert B. Smith describes the thankfully unsuccessful attempt by two Puerto Rican nationalists to assassinate President Harry S. Truman, the haberdasher-turned-politician from Independence, Missouri, who was catapulted into the presidency by the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945.
The tragic murder of another president, Abraham Lincoln, profoundly affected the life and career of sculptor Vinnie Ream. Beginning on page 22, Ethel Yari recounts how this teenage girl made her way from a log-cabin in Wisconsin to the White House and how her work came to stand in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol as a monument to the slain president.
James Henry Hallas tells us about the search for the remains of John Paul Jones, the so-called “Father of the American Navy,” who died in Paris in 1792 (page 28). Born in Scotland, Jones offered his considerable naval skills to the Americans in their fight for independence from Great Britain during the Revolutionary War. Today his body rests in an impressive chapel in the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, but for more than a century it lay in an obscure Paris cemetery, which by the end of the nineteenth century had been all built over.
In an article by Anne B. Allen, we read of Estévanico, a young, black Moor from North Africa who had a particularly intriguing life journey that took him from the west coast of Morocco to the New World as a slave during the sixteenth century (page 36). There he survived shipwreck, Indian attacks, and other hardships; was acclaimed as a healer by natives in the American Southwest; became the first man from the Old World to set foot in what is now Arizona; and died at the hands of the Zuñis during a search for the Seven Cities of Cíbola.
And, Michael D. Haydock relates a pre-Civil War, international incident involving a pig and disputed territory in the Pacific Northwest that brings us into contact with George Edward Pickett, then a captain in the U.S. Army, but who, as a Confederate general a few years later, would lead the disastrous charge at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which eclipsed everything else in his career.
Margaret Fortier is the editor of Women’s History and American History magazines and a historian with extensive experience in research and writing for historic sites and museums.