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American History: December '99 Letters

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: August 11, 1999 
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AMERICAN INGENUITY

I enjoyed H.W. Brands' "Coca-Cola Goes to War" (August 1999) and thought your readers would like to know of yet another way Coke went to war, or at least the bottle did.

During World War II, our battalion commander's jeep driver, an enterprising soldier from Brooklyn, had a novel way of obtaining liquor from home. His mother filled a Coke bottle with rye or bourbon, cut a loaf of bread in half, partially hollowed out a socket in one half, placed the bottle in the bread, joined the two halves together, then wrapped and sent the package through the mail. Liquor was among the restricted mailing items, but the "bread" always made it through the Army Post Office system. The contents were doubly protected by the thickness of the bottle and by the hard loaf (the bread turned to the consistency of stone by the time it reached its destination).

So, for a few minutes each month or so, the jeep driver was "king." He enjoyed the liquor, but I always thought that he equally enjoyed beating the system, thanks to the Coke bottle.

William B. Holberton
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

A CASE OF IDENTITY

I would like to bring to your attention an error spotted in "Undermining the Molly Maguires" (August 1999). The article states that Michael Doyle was one of four convicted murderers hanged on June 21, 1877, at Mauch Chunk jail, yet Michael Doyle's name appears again on a Pinkerton list of Mollie Maguire fugitives reproduced on page 62. The caption states that of those listed, only Thomas Hurley was ever apprehended. Can I assume that the oversight is in the caption?

Edward Greaney
Kailua, Hawaii

Editor's note: Michael Doyle of Mount Laffee, Schuylkill County, was hanged at Mauch Chunk for the murder of mine superintendent John P. Jones. Another man with the same name lived in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, and was an alleged accomplice in the murders of foreman Thomas Sanger and miner William Uren. This Doyle fled Pennsylvania's coal region and was never captured.

MARTYRS NOT MURDERERS

The hanging of 10 men on one day, June 21, 1877, essentially for being "Molly Maguires," remains the worst judicial atrocity in American history. These men are true American martyrs to labor and to the Civil Rights movement.

James J. Dillon
Long Island City, New York

MEMORIAL TO LOST LIVES

I congratulate you on Gregory Crouch's article, "The Point of No Return," (June 1999). This tragedy is close to my heart. My brother, Gordon Overshiner, was one of the 23 boys who lost their lives on the USS Young during the navy's worst peacetime disaster. At the time I was only seven years old, and 18-year-old Gordon had been in the navy for only three months.

Last year I visited the sight of the catastrophe, near Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where I was a guest at a ceremony held to commemorate the tragedy that had occurred 75 years earlier. I was the only one attending who had actually lost a close relative in the disaster, and I was treated with dignity and honor. A memorial to the 23 boys was dedicated, taps was played, a gun salute echoed out across that terrible span of water, and a lei was dropped from a helicopter. It was a fitting tribute.

Audrey Humburg
Campbell, California

WHO CAME FIRST?

Depending on the criteria that you use, John Hanson ("Americans," June 1999) might not have been the first president. You could argue that Peyton Randolph was the first, since he was president of the First Continental Congress when it was called into session in 1774. If independence from Great Britain is used as a starting point, then John Hancock would be the first, since he was the president of the Continental Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted. It could even be argued that both Samuel Huntington and Thomas McKean were presidents before John Hanson, as they were presiding over a government that was in existence and functioning before the Articles of Confederation was formally adopted by all the states in 1781.

Larry Vigon
Chicago, Illinois

STORMY WEATHER

I read with much interest the letter from Craig Mitchell (August 1999) about the typhoon on Okinawa in October 1945. I was there, on a PT tender, the USS Portunus, anchored in Buckner Bay. We were awaiting our turn to take on fresh water, after which we were due to leave for the States. When news of the typhoon came, all ships that were able were ordered out to sea to ride it out. We couldn't see the sun, stars, or moon for all this time so we were unable to take any sightings and did not know where we were. All we could do was head into the wind and pray. We heard many SOS calls over the radio but of course were unable to help.

Since the ship pitched and rolled so much it was difficult to sleep in a bunk. I strung my hammock on the bridge and lashed myself in so that when the ship rolled I was over water, but at least I was comfortable.

When we returned to port after the storm blew itself out it was to scenes of devastation that reminded me of the New England hurricane of 1938.

Norman D. Sills
Salisbury, Connecticut

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