Night at the Museum

The Blackhawk Museums of Danville, known for their premier classic world class automobile exhibition International Automotive Treasures, has recently launched two new exhibitions; Art of Africa and Into China with a third Wonders of Natural History opening later in the fall. The Spirit of the Old West exhibition that was launched in 2014 illustrates the visual history of the American West through the journeys of Plains Indians, settlers and pioneers which has already attracted large numbers of visitors and thousands of Bay Area schoolchildren.

The popular exhibition takes viewers through the past with a collection of historic artifacts that depict the varied American cultures and how people lived in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the ways the American Indians and the pioneering newcomers interacted during America’s greatest westward migrations. Western History is portrayed through an unrivaled scope of antique and historic artifacts including eagle feather war bonnets, weaponry, apparel, peace pipes, a tipi, and an ox-drawn covered wagon.

Among the attractions and interactive exhibitions that excite children the most are the animal mount specimens such as buffalo, bear, moose, wolf, beaver, and an American eagle. The exhibition is anchored by a 140-foot long topographical diorama with 9,000 hand-painted figures portraying the lives of the West’s settlements, Plains Indians, the Gold Rush, the Iron Horse railroad, and other events  that affected the course of history,

The member-supported Blackhawk Museums, founded in 1988, is one of the Bay Area’s must-see museums offering several diverse attractions on three floors that are continuously evolving with new exhibitions that span four continents with the Art of Africa, Into China, and this fall the Wonders of Natural History that will explore the creatures of the highest mountains to the deepest oceans.  

Ken Behring, philanthropist extraordinaire, is realizing his longtime dream of bringing history and culture to the Bay Area communities through educational state-of-the-art exhibitions.  His longtime connections to China, and several countries in Africa, have led to his involvement in the founding of over 40 Museums of Natural History.  In addition to his expertise in founding museums, his Wheelchair Foundation, a subsidiary of Global Health and Education Foundation, has also delivered over one million wheelchairs to those in need of mobility, has provided fresh drinking water in drought-impacted areas, and also sponsors eye surgeries bringing the gift of sight to many. 

The Blackhawk Museums, in addition to the on-site exhibitions, offer several outreach programs that include the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, ongoing lecture series, and educational and entertaining special events such as Cars & Coffee which attracts car club enthusiasts and as many as 1,200 vintage automobiles that gather the first Sunday of every month. In addition to regular activities for the membership, the museum also sponsors open-to-the-public fund raising events.  

One of the largest annual fund raising events, sponsored by the Friends of the Blackhawk Museums, aptly titled Night at The Museum , offers a live auction, dinner, dancing to live music, costume prizes, and historic reenactments featuring Jesse James, General George Custer, a Buffalo Soldier, and other iconic western characters. Costumed reenactments will carry guests through the portals of time into the Spirit of the Old West exhibition where the Plains Indians and pioneers are recreated amid authentic artifacts in the ambiance of “Cowboy and Indian” Western history.

One of the most exciting aspects of the third annual Night at the Museum live auction is the opportunity to bid on once-in-a-lifetime experiences; a Photo Safari at the Ezulwini Game Reserve in South Africa; Behind-the-Scenes Museum Experience in Washington D.C.; Monaco Historic Mille Miglia Races 2018; Indianapolis 500 Paddock Box Experience for Two; Vintage Land Rover Old Ghost Towns off-road Excursion, and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance VIP Experience.

The state-of-the-art Blackhawk Museums exhibit various collections where visitors can stroll, not only through the past, but across continents. Besides the American Indian and Cowboy experience the visitor can enjoy the stunning Art of Africa featuring Massai and Makonde cultural examples of village  handicrafts of hand-carved ebony, blackwood, and rosewood sculptures, musical instruments, ceremonial masks, apparel and animal paintings representing Sub-Saharan Africa; Tanzania, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria.  

Further down the museum’s West Wing the visitor passes through the Moon Gate and enters Into China pavilion to view a vast collection showcasing Chinese sculptures, porcelains, jade carvings, mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes, silk embroidered lantern screens, Tang Dynasty horses, silken embroidered robes, a Buddhist Shrine altar proscenium, a Forbidden City Golden Throne replica, and artifacts that explore the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western Culture.

The anchor piece in the vast pavilion is a massive carving known as “The Dream”, a monumental work of art inspired by the “Peach Blossom Spring” fable and immortalized in the novel Shangri-La.  The expansive “Shanshiu-style” sculpture is fashioned from 1000 year old fossilized tuchen root wood found only in Burma and Laos. The hand-carved scene of mountain spires, rivers, lakes and seas is where fishermen and contented village dwellers live within a 4th century fantasy Utopian fable.

Mr. Zhang, the art work’s designer and master carver, told me it took four craftsmen five years to carve and who were guided by the fossil’s natural forms that dictated the flow of the art work. In addition to carving the intricate masterpiece it took a decade to remove and transport the subterranean fossilized root wood from a forest in Burma.

The Into China collection represents the cultural embodiment of China through this unique trove of art and utilitarian objects of great beauty. Ken Behring maintains that museums have a special way of uniting people of all cultures and, in addition to donating to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., his vision has come to fruition by introducing the exhibitions  to the Blackhawk Museums showcasing the International Automobile Treasures, and history of the American West, Sub-Saharan Africa, and China.  

The Friends of Blackhawk Museums is the fund raising volunteer auxiliary arm of the member-supported museums that sponsor several events each year to benefit the Children’s Education and Transportation Fund. No large institution can function without the indefatigable services of their dedicated volunteers, therefore Friends of the Blackhawk Museums is accepting applications for interested volunteer docents and guides who wish to share their knowledge on guided tours for adults and children visitors.  Since the program’s inception in 1991, with children’s education as its primary mission, about 190,500 students have visited the museums. The Blackhawk Museums is a not-for-profit corporation with IRS 501 (3) status. As always, museum members attend the exhibitions and lecture series free of charge.

The Night at the Museum fund raising event will be held on Sunday October 15th at 5:30 pm. Guests are encouraged to wear “Spirit of the Old West” attire. The dinner and Live Auction starts at 7:30. Tickets are $90.00 per person. Call: 925.736.2277 x234, or email           

Blackhawk Museums, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville, CA 94506




Night at the Museum

Imagine if you will, attending a fund raising event at the Blackhawk Museums in Danville, and being greeted by numerous historic re-enactment characters such as General Custer, Jesse James, a Civil War soldier, and others who emerge from the shadows of America’s Old West history. Several such characters will be on hand to share stories of our rich past and guide visitors through the museums’ “Spirit of the Old West” exhibition.indian slider

Friends of the Blackhawk Museums is sponsoring “Spirit of the Old West – Night at the Museum” event to benefit the Children’s Education and Transportation Fund. The Western themed event at the Blackhawk Museum commences at five o’clock on Sunday, October 2 with a no-host reception followed by dinner, dancing to a live band, and live auctions.

Among some of the most exciting auction items are; a private tour for six guests to Jay Leno’s Big Dog Garage in Burbank; four credentials to the 2017 Pebble Beach Concourse Club d’Elegance; a two night Tri-Valley Wine hotel package for four; “Night at the Museum” overnight sleepover; and a Monterey Weekend, two-person package that includes use of new Jaguar.

While strolling through the “Spirit of the Old West” exhibition, costumed characters will re-enact historic events with ‘first person’ accounts including Plains Indians, Settlers, Wagon Master, Frontier Army, Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and General George Custer who will invite visitors through the portal to the Old West’s thrilling past.

The “Spirit of the Old West” gallery features authentic Plains Indian 19th century mounts of buffalo, American eagle, bear and wolf specimens.  A 140-foot long, three-dimensional, topographical diorama of miniatures depicts a visual history of the American West including buffalo hunts, wagon trains, and General Custer’s Last Stand.

The exhibition includes thematic features such as historic photographs, a tipi, a covered wagon, and an extensive collection of Western memorabilia and artifacts such as Plains Indian eagle feather bonnets, buffalo horn headdresses, buckskin garments, tomahawks, war shields, ceremonial pipes, cradle boards, tools and spear points.

The Culture of the Old West is contextualized in the exhibits including all aspects of the West’s human presence; the Plains Indians, Cowboys, Homesteading Settlers and Pioneers, Cavalry and Wagon Trains—themes that formed the landscape of American Western history.

Friends of the Blackhawk Museums, a volunteer organization, raises funds to benefit the Children’s Education and Transport Fund that enables Bay Area schoolchildren to visit Blackhawk Museums’ International Automotive Treasures and the “Spirit of the Old West” exhibitions.

Last year over 8,700 children visited the museum, 3,600 of them brought by the Museum-sponsored bus program. Since the Museum’s school program inception in 1991 over 186,000 students have visited with a growing attendance since the opening of “Spirit of the Old West” exhibition.

“NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM” Event – Sunday October 2, 5 pm $60.00 per person

Tickets: or         

Phone: 925.736.2280 ext. 234 or contact Joyce Tucker 925.736.9393


The Forgotten History: A Century of Silence

One hundred years ago, in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, now Republic of Turkey, the systematic persecution and annihilation of ethnic minority Armenian Christians, culminated in 1915 during the Great War. It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians were targeted for mass murder or died on forced deportations. Menfolk and boys were killed first and then tens of thousands of women, children and the aged were sent on death marches through Syrian Deserts to Ottoman Aleppo or Iraq.
Armenians, perceived as enemies of the State, were killed en masse as early as the late 19th century, the concentrated massacres peaking eight months into the Great War. On the night of 24th April 1915, at 8 o’clock, orders were given to arrest Armenians in the military, political leaders, and intellectuals thereby decapitating their powers of influence. Many were killed immediately in methodical massacres; others were sent to relocation camps or deported. ThinkstockPhotos-97759413-1

The Ottoman Empire’s persecution of the minority citizens of Christian Armenia and Turkey is one of humanity’s most forgotten catastrophes in near-recent history. The impact of that ethnic-targeted genocide continues to cast long shadows across the psyches of the ten million-strong Armenian Diaspora descendants all over the world.

Red Sunday, the 24th of April 1915 was initially recognized in 1919 as the culmination of the ghastly genocide. This 24th day of April 2015, a century later, the Armenian Diaspora in four corners of the earth will collectively commemorate the Armenian Genocide Centennial.

Red Sunday has historic importance to Armenians as it was on that fateful night when the template for the genocidal exterminations reached a zenith, first with mass arrests, and then subsequent executions. According to document archives at the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute an extermination proponent stated in February 1915: “The Armenian Nation should be entirely exterminated so that no Armenian is left in our country, and that their name be completely forgotten. Now we are at war and no such occasion will ever occur—loud protests by the World Press will remain unnoticed…”

Ironically the tactical launch to satisfy the “Armenian Question” culminated on the eve of the Allied Forces invasion on Turkey’s strategic Gallipoli Peninsula on 25th April 1915. With the strength of 32 navy cutters, British allies, and Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZAC, attacked six beaches. The strategy was to take Gallipoli and then forge north to Constantinople. It never happened. The Turks decimated the allies, and ANZAC forces suffered 8,700 deaths and 28,000 casualties. The death toll during the eight-month Battle of Gallipoli proved devastating thus becoming the iconic metaphor for defeat.

Scholars ask why Armenian civilians were targeted during the Great War upheaval. Most likely the distraction of battle was the opportune time to target their country’s own citizens under the guise of war. Though the majority of those exterminated were civilian men, women and children, the Turkish government maintains that their deaths were war-related during the chaos of battle. But facts to the contrary continue to loom with evidence that massacres were government-ordered and not just collateral damage across the nation. Documented history tells the truth.

At the persecution onset the dreaded S.O. — “Special Organization”—first disarmed Armenian military personnel and sent them to labor camps where they perished, and other groups of fifty were dispatched to die in the desert. The objective of the governing elite—“Young Turks” Committee of Union Progress (CUP) — was to eradicate those who stood in the way of their nationalistic plan. ThinkstockPhotos-146763345

The geopolitical climate in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, too complicated to address here, was a hotbed of dissent by several groups including the Armenian resistance. In 1908 Sultan Abdul Hamid II was deposed in a bloodless coups leading to “The Young Turks” gaining more power thus setting the nation on a trajectory to pan-Islamism. It was under leadership of Sultan Abdul Hamid II the when the slaughter of tens of thousands of Armenians in the late 19th century may have served as a prologue for the ensuing wartime genocide. The success of the initial mass killings of civilians may have paved the way for subsequent unhindered exterminations during the distraction of the First World War.

It was those 19th century massacres of Armenians that ignited the first wave of migrations, and then a mass exodus in the early 20th century took them to the Americas, Russia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, France, Iran, Britain, and Egypt. The Great Diaspora to all four corners of the earth began.

In 1915 officials conceptualized extermination plans to eradicate Christian Armenians perceived as ‘a threat to the state’. The State-endorsed Armenian Genocide strategy was launched setting into motion pan-Islamism as the state ideology and the Turkification of Armenia in eastern Anatolia. The template for extermination gave the government carte blanche to target the Armenians thus setting a trajectory of death.

In April 1915 concentrated roundups followed; influential leaders were assassinated, then the intelligentsia, industrialists, lawyers, journalists and bankers were imprisoned, tortured, and then murdered. Witness archives and oral histories tell of atrocities; crucifixions, burnings, drowning, and beheadings. Gangs and armed Ottoman soldiers searched homes, snatched gold and jewelry, seized guns, kitchen knives and confiscated all weaponry. Armenians were defenseless, without guns, or money, echoing the prior century’s mass killings of unarmed citizens.

Deportations followed, towns and cities were systematically emptied of Armenians—real estate, family homesteads, and moveable assets were confiscated. Many civilians were ghettoized in concentrated centres. Men and boys as young as ten were removed first; many were bound with ropes and drowned in the Euphrates River, axed, or marched to gorges and murdered. In the guise of deportation women, the aged and young children were forced in caravan walking marches hundreds of miles over mountains, deserts and barren dunes without food or water. ThinkstockPhotos-147695053

Armenian exiles died by the tens of thousands, dropping on roadsides from dehydration, starvation, disease or exhaustion. Many who had survived the march were barefoot, in rags or near naked, parched, starving or dying upon arrival in transit camps in Ottoman Syria or Iraq.

Some marchers in the procession of death miraculously survived, and they lived to tell their spellbinding stories of peril, their stories of epic courage, and their stories of horror that will live on forever through generations of descendants. Today Armenians continue to preserve their ancestral culture by retelling the stories told by their heroic forefathers, and their miraculous endurance to live through the most unspeakable carnage with the iron will to survive the destination of death.

Their oral histories tell how thousands of marchers were murdered en route, robbed or taken as slaves at waystations, and how thugs on horseback plundered the defenseless human convoys. The marauders’ rewards for looting the exiles were sacks of money and gold booty. The carnage burned deeply into the collective forever memory; memories how the Tigris River ran red, roadsides were strewn with bodies of women and children and how mothers tried vainly to save their infants. By August 1915 gangs were sent to bury or burn the dead, and destroy visible evidence that forced deportations to remote regions were in actuality ploys to kill Armenians shielded from prying eyes.

Some researchers contend that Armenians were targeted when Turkish nationalistic reasoning may have perceived that the Ottoman Empire, in power since the 14th century, was at risk from within and thus were forced to destroy the ethnic minority for survival. The once-mighty transcontinental Ottoman Empire, that even spanned the Mediterranean Rim, crumbled soon after the Great War.

Why is the Armenian Genocide of 1915 still one of the world’s best kept secrets? Why is there such little global outrage by human rights activists about the systematic annihilation of a Christian minority in their own ancient homeland? And why won’t powerful nations, including the United States and Britain, recognize that the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians was genocide? As a matter of fact President Ronald Reagan was the last president to actually use the term “Armenian Genocide.”

The answer lies partially in the fact that Western Nations need Turkey as a powerful ally against global terrorism. The United States shares a strategic airbase in Incirlik with Turkish forces and remains a crucial ally. Turkey still adamantly contends that Armenians died en masse during the chaos of war and not as genocidal targeting.

Efforts continue to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide with concerted advocacy or through such organizations as World Affairs Council of Northern California where a speaker recently remarked; “repercussions of the event still shape relations between Armenia and Turkey as well as U.S. policy.

Armenia and Turkey still do not have diplomatic relations, and the border remains closed. Armenia shares a border with Iran and Turkey and has close ties with Russia having geo-strategic significance…”

Many of the world’s Armenian Diaspora descendants through organizations such as the Council of Armenian-Americans work indefatigably in solidarity to draw attention to the massacres and ask that the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians be recognized as genocide. The word “genocide” was actually ignited after the Armenian mass killings when Raphael Lemkin invented the term in 1943 to describe the surgical ethnic cleansing and premeditated extermination within legal parameters. And Adolph Hitler himself remarked on the Armenian mass killings when he initiated his own satanic plan.

The present Turkish government continues to deny that the country committed genocide, and contends that the minority Christians perished due to “civil unrest, wartime losses, disease, general chaos or the Ottoman Empire’s civil war with Armenians.” The use of the word “genocide” is forbidden in context of the Armenian Massacres thus remains the ‘Achilles’s Heal’ of history.ThinkstockPhotos-458066479-2

The Armenian communities have collectively petitioned that Turkey use the term Armenian Genocide to restore honor to those who perished. Turkey has stood steadfast to minimize the century-old unconscionable acts of a century ago. Rumor has it that the Turkish Embassy in Washington has endowed $3 million to leading universities including Harvard and coincidentally many of those professors grant “academic absolution” by denying the genocide issue as nothing more than war-related loss of life. Armenian advocates contend that by denying the exterminations were not only crimes against humanity, but premeditated genocide, robs the victims of all moral order.

It’s taken a century for Armenians to forge a path to healing through recognition of the truth. In January a court case in Strasbourg has gained notoriety owing to a high-profile civil rights lawyer representing Armenia in a case against a Turkish Genocide denier. Amal Clooney has made a case against the denier by eloquently bringing forth evidence that the mass massacres of 1.5 million Armenians qualifies as genocide as it was systematic and premeditated not just random wartime deaths.

The world became aware of the massacres after the Great War Armistice when war crime investigations started. The Entente—British, French and Russian powers held the Sultan and his subordinates responsible for the extermination of Armenians as “crimes against humanity”. It was the first time the potent phrase had ever been used, the phrase now burned into our collective psyche.

Armenian communities demand to be vindicated by the use of the term “Armenian Genocide” instead of the less impactful word “massacres,” however, Prime Minister Erdogan contends the term insults Turkishness and refuses to allow foreign powers to define their history. But with continued human rights advocacy, archived evidence of the ethnic cleansing will gradually come to light, and is hoped that Turkey will restore Armenian dignity by confronting the ghosts of the past and admitting the intent in April 1915 was genocide and not just random acts of wartime violence. ThinkstockPhotos-527015261

As we navigate Armenia’s deep history, we discover their habitation can be traced to four millennia, and their ancient culture was the epicenter of the cradle of civilization. The kingdom since time immemorial spanned the Caucasian Mountains to the Armenian Plateau long before the Ottoman Empire existed. Their first writings date to 600 BC, and archeological data points to its earliest civilization at Urartu as early as 980 BC, now the Lake Van region in Eastern Turkey. And the Bible tells that Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat after the Great Flood.

Armenian Christians were early followers of Jesus Christ and the first nation to adopt Christianity as the national religion influenced by apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus. The Mother Church was founded in Armenia in 301 AD.

To commemorate the 1.5 million Armenian Christians who perished in the 1915 genocide the Apostolic Mother Church, Echmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat, will commemorate the “April Martyrs” by the mass canonization of those who died a century ago during the blackest days of history.

Even today the ancient history of Armenia lives in the souls of descendants of those who were banished from their homeland—the magnetic draw is still powerful even five generations after the Diaspora. Poignant stories of the Armenian survival bear testimonial to their tenacity, deep religious beliefs, love of family, and rock-solid determination. The Armenian Diaspora that radiated to all corners of the earth is estimated to be ten million. They are driven to preserve their ancient heritage by creating personal inner sanctuaries of resolve and solidarity. Their soulful connection to their ancestors’ struggle dwells deep within; it is part of their collective memory lest their ancient culture be forever obliterated.

I contacted four such women of Armenian heritage, descendants of those who migrated, those who marched, and those who survived the genocide.

Rose Mozian Riley explained how her mother Eliza Mashlakian escaped the genocide in Turkey. She was born about 1900; at fifteen her father arranged for her and her sister to leave Konya (known as Iconium since 3000 BC). He put the teenage sisters on a train for the 445-mile journey to Constantinople, now Istanbul. Fifteen year old Eliza worked as hospital nurse for a Doctor Tod. Through a heaven-sent twist of fate Armenian Dickran Mozian in Visalia, California saw Eliza’s photograph and proposed marriage. She accepted. They married in Visalia, later settled in San Francisco.

Eliza’s daughter Rose Mozian Riley remarked with resolve. “We can’t go back, Turkey will never admit what they did to our people, but we can’t dwell on the past, it’s too agonizing. To rebuild our past we do charity works for Armenia through our church. A few years ago we went to a poor Turkey village and through fund-raising we built them a water system. We Armenian-Americans must do our best to support them, to help our people survive.”

Eliza Mashlakian’s bittersweet love story will never be forgotten; her legacy endures through three generations of proud Armenian-Americans who cherish the memory of the young girl from Konya who came to America one hundred years ago.

Nairy Kabaklian Colello tells of her family from Erzerum and Adabazar, exiled on the desert march to Iraq. “First of all, four of my great-grandparents died, my grandparents survived the genocide. They were orphaned and shared stories about tragedies they experienced. They saw their fathers taken first, one bound by rope and thrown into the river, the other shot when he resisted being separated from his family. My great-grandmothers and children were forced from homes that had been in the family for centuries, forced to migrate barefoot in the heat of summer across deserts from Turkey to Iraq. Both great-grandmothers perished, but by some miracle the children survived. A Turkish soldier sold my grandfather at age 7 as an indentured slave. He escaped at 11 and started a new life. My grandmothers and families emigrated from Iraq to America in 1965. Some stories are too painful to share…”

Armenian-Americans continue to connect to their homeland with charity works; Danville teenager Sophia Collelo is gathering art supplies for an Armenian orphanage.

Lucy Yaldezian was also passionate about her heritage and told me her family’s story: “Both my grandmothers were sisters; they marched from Arapkir to Aleppo, Syria with an aunt and four small children all under nine. My grandmother’s husband was murdered; her sister was a mail-order bride who went to marry an Iranian in Paris. My grandmother found refuge in Eritrea where I was born. Our family was stateless. My family legacy has been difficult to overcome, but I will not let it define me.”
After hearing the account how Lucy Yaldezian’s family survived the 300-mile march through the desert to Aleppo, I asked her about ending my piece with resolve and highlighting the solidarity that runs through the veins of Armenian Diaspora descendants. I discovered during my conversations that it’s not the fear of remembering the genocide, but the fear of forgetting. “We are truly survivors. Happy people with loving families and the families are having babies. More Armenian babies are coming into the world—Armenians are replenishing, it is joyous.”

Rose, Lucy and Nairy are deeply involved in their churches and the Bay Area Armenian community. I gleaned valuable research about Armenians and the April 24th Armenian Genocide Centennial from their website and Twitter hashtag #rememberanddemand.

The last Armenian-American I spoke with was Jacqueline Kazarian, William Saroyan’s niece: “William Saroyan was my Uncle Bill— the most alive, interesting, challenging and creative person I have ever known. He was a reader and wrote about things he loved and understood— the Human Family and all that entails…” The Saroyans emigrated from Bilbus, Armenia in 1905. William Saroyan (1908-1981) was born and died in Fresno. He won the coveted Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for “The Time of Your Life” which he refused stating his play was no better than any of his other works. In 1943 he won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for “The Human Comedy”, and his song “C’mon-a-My House” sung by Rosemary Clooney, hit the all-time charts.

No writer can capture the spirit of quintessential solidarity with more eloquence or soulful fortitude than one of Armenia’s most favored sons, the high-caliber literary giant whose works transcend time. William Saroyan: “I should see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are unanswered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water, burn their homes and churches. Then, see if they will not laugh, sing, pray again and speak in their tongue. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”


Mona Lisa—Over 500 Years of Face Time

The Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic painting wasn’t always as famous as she is now. Prior to Vincenzo Peruggia ripping her off the wall in the Louvre in August 1911, she was just another pretty face.
My longtime affinity for Mona Lisa goes back to childhood; my mother always displayed her image, and my girlish heart soared when Nat King Cole crooned the Mona Lisa song from cafe jukeboxes. Imagine the thrill when I met Ray Evans who wrote the “Mona Lisa” song. Giddy as a schoolgirl, I asked about his 1950s megahit. “It’s my best money-maker; I still get royalties in my mailbox.” Evans told me and sang the first line. “Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa men have named you…”Mona_Lisa

When I further researched “the lady with the mystic smile” I learned how she had become the most famous painting on earth. According to my Facebook friend, art historian Professor Noah Charney, he writes about her mysterious back story in his book, The Thefts of Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting. Professor Charney founded ARCA— Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, a non-profit Rome-based think tank.

The 1911 heist of the Mona Lisa first appeared to have all the marks of an international theft ring, but the artwork was stolen by a nondescript disgruntled museum contractor, Vincenzo Peruggia, who co-workers nicknamed ‘macaroni’.

Peruggia, the unassuming thief from Dumenza in Northern Italy, went to Paris to find work, and was ironically contracted to the Louvre Museum to build a protective glass case for the Mona Lisa. The Louvre, without sufficient alarm systems, was finally beefing up security after Iberian head sculptures had been stolen in 1907 and sold to Picasso. The staff did maintenance on Mondays when the museum was closed.

The Salon Carre, where Mona Lisa was exhibited, also featured Titian, Raphael, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto, Velasquez, Rubens, and Rembrandt masterworks. Peruggia targeted the Mona Lisa, (known as La Giaconda in Italy and La Jocunde in France) because he mistakenly perceived that Napoleon had plundered it along with other Italian treasures during his late 18th century Italian Campaign. Burning with patriotism and a dash of larceny, he believed Da Vinci’s painting should be returned to Italy. Though other Italian paintings were then more valuable, the Mona Lisa was accessible and portable.149139656

Peruggia had spent the previous Sunday night hiding in an airless closet off the staircase while scheming to steal the masterpiece at daybreak. His intention was to return it to the Uffizi in Florence, perhaps with a reward, and hence be acclaimed a national hero.

About 7:30 the morning of 21st August 1911, the white-smocked worker calmly lifted the masterpiece from the protective wall cradle and carried the unwieldy frame to the staircase. There he removed the painted wood panel from the frame, wrapped it in his smock and pried the doorknob off an exit door. It did not open. By chance a worker arrived and unwittingly opened the door. Peruggia nonchalantly carried the treasure under his arm to a museum courtyard and out to the street where he discarded the incriminating doorknob.

Meanwhile, back at the museum, with only a skeleton crew in the low-security 50-acre museum, no one noticed the blank space on the wall until replicator artist Louis Beroud arrived to finish his own copy of La Jocunde. The place where once hung the masterpiece had four pegs in the wall; the painting was missing!

Monsieur Picquet, maintenance director, coolly replied that the painting may have been removed to photograph in better light as was the custom. The earthshattering impact of the daring theft would not be discovered until Tuesday when viewers arrived. Gendarmes rushed in, launched a dragnet around Paris, trains, trolleys and trawlers were stopped. Mon Dieu!

That fateful Monday morning when Vincenzo Peruggia had exited the Louvre unnoticed he hopped a trolley to his flat at 5 Rue de l’Hopital Saint Louis. Carrying the precious loot to his fourth storey room, he placed the Mona Lisa in a firewood cabinet behind his bed, and gloated.

The thief could never have imagined in his wildest dreams that he had succeeded in pulling off the biggest art heist in history, and singlehandedly made the Mona Lisa the world’s most recognizable work of art. Peruggia’s single act of valor, or skullduggery, was to bring fame to the once-incognito Mona Lisa and the then-estimated worth skyrocketed way beyond $5 million.

French detectives jumped on the case, interviewed museum staff, staged roadblocks, newspapers screamed banner headlines, and the frantic hoopla seemed over the top to many. Even though once acclaimed as the “embodiment of the eternal feminine” she was still so obscure that the Washington Post showed an incorrect image with the headline, “Priceless art treasure gone.” Mona who?

So Mona Lisa, once a 16th century nobody, suddenly became an overnight sensation leading to the now-iconic priceless masterpiece drawing over eight million viewers annually to the Louvre.

When news broke that the Louvre’s favourite girl had disappeared gendarmes searched the premises, interrogated workers, fingerprinted everyone. One un-smudged fingerprint was found on the glass cradle, but in 1911 there was an inadequate database. If Peruggia’s print was found he had worked on the display case anyway. The investigation hit a wall, reached a dead end, then the Titanic sank, the Great  War loomed, news cycles switched, and the case turned cold.
Rumour has it that a police inspector interviewed Peruggia in his flat. During questioning he filled out forms pressing on the actual Mona Lisa panel sitting upside down on the very table where he sat. At least that’s what Peruggia’s daughter Celestina claimed.

The 20-pound painting is small, at only 30” x 21”x 1.5” it was easy to hide. It was not painted on canvas but on a white poplar panel. Peruggia built a wooden crate, placed the cloth-wrapped panel under the false bottom, filled it with clothes, shoes, tools and a mandolin, and secreted the coffin-like box under his bed safe as an unlaid egg.

So Leonardo Da Vinci’s celebrated Mona Lisa, who had already enjoyed over four centuries of public face time, was now demoted to languish in the dark box perhaps alongside a chamber pot under the handyman’s iron bed.

Two years later Peruggia carried the trunk on the train and returned to Italy. He had contacted a Florentine art dealer and offered to sell the precious La Giaconda to the Uffizi Gallery for a piddling 500,000 Lire. The handyman met the potential Uffizi buyers in his modest Tripoli-Italia Hotel room.

They watched as Peruggia removed clothes, shoes, mandolin, and then unceremoniously freed the beloved Mona Lisa from her sarcophagus. Close inspection convinced them the panel was truly Da Vinci’s masterpiece. They carried her to the Uffizi, hearts racing.

Later when the Carabinieri jailed him for grand larceny he was startled. Surely Italy would glorify his patriotism! Lawyers and psychiatrists worked for leniency for the man who claimed to be a patriot. Many Italians, perceiving Peruggia had rightfully returned their beloved Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece, showered him with praise. Women sent sweet cakes to his cell. “Not so fast,” the law warned.

The Mona Lisa ‘capolavoro’ had never belonged to Italy; Da Vinci had sold it to Francis I, king of France in 1517 when he was court painter. La Giaconda had hung in Fontainebleau, Versailles, and on Emperor Napoleon’s bedroom wall before it went to the Louvre. Italy benefitted from the masterpiece’s brief sojourn, the first in four centuries. When La Giaconda appeared at the Uffizi in Florence it was viewed by over 30,000 people on the first day. Then the kidnapped Mona Lisa caught her last express train from Milano back to Paris.

Vincenzo Peruggia stood trial for the high-profile theft, was diagnosed as mentally deficient owing to the high lead content in paint that he mixed and breathed. Court records showed how his brain was affected by lead poisoning. The verdict was lenient for the ‘patriotic’ thief.

Peruggia served seven months in prison then joined the Italian army during the Great War. After the war he returned to Paris with his wife. Renowned for committing the most celebrated crime of all time, he died in Paris in obscurity on his 44th birthday 8th October 1925.

So the man who had brought recognition to La Giaconda was buried without fanfare, without a gravestone. His notoriety had dissipated, no one cared anymore. But Mona Lisa’s haunting mystique abounded, and the once-unknown Florentine girl with no eyebrows and enigmatic smile, had songs and numerous books written about her.

Her name was Lisa Gherardini. born on June 15th 1479. The Florentine girl married merchant Francesco de Giacondo at age 16. Between 1503 and 1507 Lisa sat for a commissioned portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Da Vinci was born April 15th 1452 near the village of Vinci and was schooled in Florence. In 1481 he worked for the Duchy of Sforza as military engineer in Milano where he painted the Last Supper in 1495.

In 1507 King Louis XII named him court painter and he moved to France. King Francois I bought the Mona Lisa in 1516, and when Leonardo died in 1519 the he purchased his entire estate.

Leonardo Da Vinci is celebrated for his body of works; paintings and codex writings made him a Renaissance rock star. Had he not left such detailed legacies he may have just blended in with other great 16th century artists, but his innovations forced him to the top of the artistic pile. The southpaw was not only painter, but engineer, inventor, sculptor, philosopher and all-round genius. Some theorize he invented the helicopter, Scuba gear, perfected siege projectiles and river fording machinery. Scholars theorize that if IQ tests existed Da Vinci would score higher than any other genius.

The introduction of Da Vinci’s sfumato technique gave his art a smoky quality not achieved by others including Michelangelo Buonorotti. He took years to finish a painting because he laid thinned paint with the finest hair brushes, layering in thin coats that toned to monochromatic colours. Lines, borders or heavy strokes evaporated, vanished to subtle graduations of transparency. Every work was a masterpiece.

So to steal one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterworks was the coups of all coups. Vincenzo Peruggia was the most daring rogue of the hour, more than just a common thief who courageously succeeded in the heist of a renowned painting from the world’s most prestigious art museum.

Two decades after the infamous heist the red-hot story still hadn’t died. A bizarre account in the Saturday Evening Post in 1932 has never been proven as either fact or fantasy. Writer Karl Dekker stated he met Argentine aristocrat Valfierno in a bar in Casablanca. Where else? The aristocrat confessed that he had hired master forger Yves Chaudron to paint six fakes of the Mona Lisa that he offered to six different American millionaires for $300,000 each.

Years after the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, supposedly by Valfierno’s own gang, he contacted the six unwary potential buyers offering them each the ‘original masterpiece’. The con man said a fake was returned to the Louvre in January 1914, and even if the museum experts had doubted its authenticity, they would not advertise their gross ineptitude. Each rogue connoisseur bought the story, aware of the mother of all heists, and champed at the bit to possess the forbidden work of art for their eyes only.

Though the magazine story purported the ruse to be fact, it was implausible that the simple-minded mastermind Vincenzo Peruggia was ever part of a crime ring.

The Mona Lisa was on the move again during World War II. Fearing the Nazis would plunder the high-value masterpiece; they sequestered it away from Paris by ambulance. Then in 1974, like a wandering Gypsy girl, Mona Lisa went on tour to Tokyo and Moscow.

Time has dulled memories; the incident has faded like the sfumato of a Da Vinci painting, but Peruggia’s family in Dumenza still believe he was a hero. His daughter Celestina and grandchildren Graziella and Silvio Peruggia speak of the daring Mona Lisa snatch with amazement, smile at his audacity. In-depth research has revealed that Vincenzo Peruggia was truly patriotic, albeit he also anticipated a large reward.

Yes, the lady with the mystic smile, and over five centuries of face time has definitely earned her fame. Over the years unstable viewers have thrown coffee cups and red paint at her protective bullet-proof case, but her smile endures. And now you know the rest of Mona Lisa’s story.

Patriarchs of Alta California: Sunol and Amador

My curiosity was piqued recently when I pulled an antique leather-bound book from my library shelf. I had purchased the liturgical Latin Missale Romanum altar prayer book in the late 1960s as part of St Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s church libraries.
The weighty missal’s leather cover is gold-embossed: “IN MEMORIAM JOSEPHINE SUNOL –1906”. As I ran my fingers over the inscription I wondered if Josephine’s family may have donated the missal in memory of a Don Senor Antonio Sunol descendant. Research soon revealed that Josephine Sunol was indeed the granddaughter of Alta California land grantees; Jose Joaquin Bernal and Antonio Sunol for whom the town of Sunol is sunol

Research connected the Sunol family to the original St. Joseph’s Church and San Jose historic archives revealed that Antonio Sunol had donated land and funded the building of St Joseph’s first church in 1835, then known as San Jose de Guadalupe. The historic landmark church, since rebuilt and renovated, was designated a cathedral basilica in 1997 by Pope John Paul.

With nothing tangible to go on, but the name Josephine Sunol, I soon discovered she was a St Joseph parishioner when she occupied her grandfather’s adobe in the 1880s at 243 Guadalupe Street, now Market Street. Old directories indicated other Sunol family members lived at 189 Delmas Street, a stone’s throw away.

The adobe on Guadalupe Street was once part of a Mexican land grant where the present Roberto-Sunol Adobe National Landmark stands at 770 Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen. After renovation, San Jose Historian the Honorable Judge Paul Bernal guided its donation to California Pioneers of Santa Clara County.

When Josephine Sunol’s Guadalupe adobe home was demolished in the mid-20th century, the rancho land later became the sites of the Civic Auditorium, Centre for Performing Arts, and an office complex. As Josephine Sunol’s backstory unfolded, I discovered how she fit into San Jose’s early history, and her connection to Bernal, Sunol and Amador Mexican land grantees; Alta California pioneers of the post-New Spain era. Excitement soared as internet sleuthing got underway.

According to the 1860 San Jose Census, widower Antonio Sunol, 65-year old gentleman, lived at the 243 Guadalupe Street adobe with his children after he sold the Roberto-Sunol Adobe to a Dalmatian sea captain.

And an Alameda County 1880 census shows farmer Jose Narcisio Sunol, born 10 June 1835, and wife Rosario Palomares (daughter of Pacheco land grantee), had six children including 6-year old Josephine and Juanita, born 1874. They were twins!
When I found Josephine Sunol’s significant historic connection to my own book, I delved into the lives of her grandfathers, Don Senor Jose Joaquin Bernal and Don Senor Antonio Maria Sunol. Bernal, a soldier in the 1775 De Anza Expedition, was granted 64,000 acres in 1839 from San Jose to Santa Teresa north of Morgan Hill.

Sunol, Spaniard-turned-Californio, married Bernal’s daughter Dolores which added to his riches. He was a ranchero, orchardist, cattleman, mayor and philanthropist. And was brother-in-law to fellow ranchero Jose Maria Amador owner of Rancho San Ramon, who married 16-year old Magdalena Maria Trinidad Bernal in 1818 thus forging powerful alliances.
My in-depth sleuthing revealed that the largest landowners in Alta California; Bernal, Amador and Sunol were all intrinsically linked by their vast estates that spanned from Santa Teresa to the golden hills of San Ramon until statehood in 1850 when newcomer “Americanos” finagled the rules of land grant ownership.

Antonio Sunol, born in Barcelona in 1797 to afrancasado parents, (close ties to France) was educated in Bordeaux. After the Royal House of Bourbon fell, he joined Napoleon’s French Navy. Rumor has it that Sunol was present when Napoleon surrendered and was exiled to St Helena. Later Sunol sailed on the “Bordelaise” around Cape Horn to California. The 20-year old adventurer jumped ship at Yerba Buena, San Francisco, on 15th August 1817. The intrepid sailor made his way sixty miles on horseback to Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe, governed then by Sargente Luis Maria Peralta of the Spanish Army whose original adobe still stands at 184 West St John Street, San Jose.

Sunol, Spanish entrepreneur-trader, travelled over the valleys selling leather hides, tallow candles and precious lace. This may have been when Sunol crossed paths with Jose Maria Amador and wife Magdalena Bernal Amador. After rotating out of the Mexican Army in 1827, Amador was granted a 4,400-acre rancho that spanned from Mission San Jose to San Ramon Valley as far as the eye could see.

It was just a matter of time before Sunol too became owner of a large rancho. The 2,219-acre Rancho de los Coches on Los Gatos Creek in San Jose belonged to Mission Indian Roberto Balermino. Roberto owed Sunol $500 and paid the debt in 1847 by deeding his rancho and adobe.

Sunol purchased 500 horses, 5,000 sheep and 10,000 head of cattle. He sold hides, leather goods and saddles. He built a brick house adjacent to Roberto’s Adobe where he proudly flew three flags; Spanish, French and Mexican. He opened San Jose’s first mercantile store; sold calico, furs, brandy, wine, wool serapes and blankets, kerchiefs at $16 a dozen, and lariats. He cultivated wine grapes and a superabundance of peaches, pears, oranges and figs. He cooked meat and bread in the clay oven outside Roberto’s Adobe.

Don Antonio, an educated man, could read and write Spanish, French and English. Known for gracious hospitality, the gallant Spaniard held fiestas, caballeros played guitars, guests danced fandangos, people played monte card games, and ex-soldiers shared war stories about fighting Indians. Landowners Bernal and Amador were linked by their Mexican military service; Sargente Bernal was part of the 1776 De Anza Expedition and Pedro Amador, Jose Maria’s father, had been with Portola’s 1769 Overland Expedition who said upon retirement, “The only compensation I got for 18 years of service was 14 Indian arrows in my body.”

When Spain missionized Alta California with twenty-one religious and military outposts on Camino Real, soldiers manned them to support the priests’ work with the Indians. By the 1830s the missions were secularized and large ranchos were granted to ex-soldiers. Senor Amador married 16-year old Magdalena Bernal on May 28, 1818, and Sunol married her sister Maria de los Dolores Bernal at Santa Clara Mission Church on November 7, 1823.

Legend has it that weddings lasted three days. Young brides sat side-saddle in front of a family member, silk slippers golden braid-entwined, and rode in procession through tree-lined avenues to Santa Clara Mission Church. Serenade music escorted cavalcades of caparisoned horses for grooms and brides to unite their influential families in blissful marriages. These intra-family marriages forged enduring alliances between the Bernal, Amador and Sunol clans—the three most powerful ranchero families in the valley whose vast lands reached from south San Jose Santa Teresa to present-day Dublin and deep into the San Ramon Valley.

Amador outlived three wives and had 22 children. He married his beloved 16-year old Magdalena Bernal who died during childbirth after having 5 children by age 25. Jose Maria died June 12, 1883 and is buried at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Gilroy; his tombstone stands a few yards from my own mother’s grave. With such a large family I deducted that Jose Maria Amador must have had many local descendants. I had to look no further than my own circle of friends. Fellow Friends of Blackhawk Museum, Jill Brennan, told me that her husband Bob possessed impeccable Amador descendants’ genealogies.

I met with longtime resident Robert John Brennan at his Danville home. His drafting table was strewn with pedigree charts, vintage photographs, and history books confirming his auspicious Amador roots. Bob Brennan is the great-great-grandson of Jose Maria Amador and Magdalena Bernal Amador, once owners of the historic San Ramon Mission Rancho and Mission El Valle de San Jose Rancho. “We are very proud of our heritage.” Bob said, showing me charts of the Hispano-Mexican pioneers and photographs of the Amador descendants.

Jose Maria Amador, whose name aptly translates to ‘gold lover’, had beaten the 1849 Gold Rush by mining in early 1848 with brother-in-law, presumed to be Antonio Sunol, who also wrote of finding gold near John Sutter’s sawmill. Amador returned from the camp (now Amador County) with 114 pounds of gold nuggets in coffee cans. He wrote that he shared the golden yield with Indians and family, and gave the rest to the church for chalices. Eureka!

As Bernal descendants, Maria Dolores Bernal Sunol and Magdalena Bernal Amador inherited half of a 64,000-acre parcel around Mission San Jose. Antonio and Maria Dolores Sunol had several children; Jose Antonio, Jose Narcisio, Jose Dolores, Josepha, Antonia, Francisca, Incarnacion, and Paula who married Frenchman Pierre Sansevain, San Jose’s first vintner.

A glimpse into history tells of Hispano-Mexicans before California entered statehood in 1850. When gold was first discovered in 1848 near Sacramento on the American River banks near John Sutter’s sawmill, Sunol rushed there with Amador and some Indians. John Sutter had bought cattle from Sunol and paid the debt with a land parcel near Sacramento.
Sunol returned to San Jose with about $3 million worth of gold nuggets which he shared with Indians and split with family to play the monte card game.

The Gold Rush and subsequent Land Rush were historic turning points for Alta California. The Spanish had once forged frontiers from St Augustine, Florida all the way to San Francisco where un-scarred pristine lands were belted by forests of redwoods, heritage oaks, and alamo cottonwoods that ran along rivers. Rolling hills were ornamented by purple needle-grass, and luscious wild oats grew as tall as a bull’s horns, clusters of wild azalea, poppies, and thickets of huckleberry carpeted ravines where no men had yet tread. Wanderers and Ohlone Indians bivouacked on open plains or near rivers’ fording places where bears spooked their horses. Vaquero cowboys lassoed groaning cattle and rode herds in canadas through steep arroyos to faraway markets.

After the Mexican-American War, over 100,000 Californios reluctantly yielded to statehood in 1850 becoming the Union’s 31st state. Gold Rush opportunities enticed the largest western-bound migration in human history. Westward wagon trains carried thousands of trekkers a day. Some eastern speculating interlopers became unlawful squatters, gunslingers, horse thieves, and cattle rustlers. Many grabbed rancho lands, panned rivers, built cabins on private property and dynamited outcrops.

New State laws allowed squatters to pre-empt the rancho lands that had not yet been confirmed under previous Mexican Land Grants. Most parcels had been allocated to ex-military servicemen with charts and the watertight integrity of a handshake. Jose Maria Amador sold off his land parcels in 1850 and, some say may have died a pauper after paying exorbitant legal fees. Many “American” interlopers sequestered parcels of Hispano-Mexican ranchos and wanton bandits forged their names into history.
Notorious cattle rustler and monte card dealer, Joaquin Murrieta from Mexico, was one of the most famous desperados. His gang raided mining camps, stole gold from prospectors and rancheros in the Sunol hills and Livermore Valley. Murrieta’s Well Winery on Mine Road in Livermore is named for the desperado who has since gained folk hero status. It is said that the bandit’s head, preserved in a jar of brandy, travelled around California and could be viewed for a dollar. And newcomer land grabbing squatters and interlopers made big trouble for rancheros. It was only a matter of time that disaster would strike the Sunol family.

While Sunol’s son, Jose Antonio was tending to 25,000 heads of cattle on the 48,000-acre El Valle de San Jose Rancho, 15 miles north of Pueblo de San Jose, now Niles-Fremont-Sunol, an argument broke out with squatter John Wilson. After Wilson had killed several animals, Jose Antonio approached on horseback, “If you want meat I will give you all the meat you can eat, just don’t kill our cattle.” Wilson aimed his rifle and shot Jose Antonio dead. It was March 7, 1855. Wilson escaped, was never brought to justice.

The murder of Sunol’s oldest son was a devastating blow to all ranchero families. Jose Narcisio, brother to Antonio, moved to the El Valle San Jose Rancho. He married Rosario Palomares in March 1858. These were Josephine Sunol’s parents.
There were other relatives with interesting stories. I found an online legal document stating that 19-year old Narcisio M. Sunol, born in 1853 two years before Jose Antonio’s murder, was admitted to Stockton Insane Asylum in 1872 by Cristobal Palomares (Rosario’s brother?) for reason of insanity. Could this asylum inmate, who died of consumption five years later, have been orphan son of Jose Antonio who was murdered by the squatter in 1855? The plot thickens.

Don Antonio Sunol, devastated by his son’s death, drew up a last will and testament naming his children and future heirs to his vast fortune, including not-yet-born granddaughter Josephine Sunol. His beloved wife Maria Dolores Bernal Sunol had died in 1845, and Antonio died on the Feast of St Joseph, March 19, 1865 at his Guadalupe Street adobe home.
The Spaniard of noble birth had not only mingled with Emperor Napoleon, but also with Bernal, Amador, John C. Fremont, Thomas O. Larkin, John Sutter, John Gilroy, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo of Petaluma, and Roberto Livermore all of whom left indelible marks on Northern California.

The near-forgotten legacies of Jose Maria Amador still lives through Amador County and San Ramon Valley that he named for his mother Ramona, and Antonio Sunol still lives through Sunol Valley and the historic town named for him. Sunolians value their small town atmosphere and strive to keep it intact. Sunol gained an odd sort of tongue-in-cheek fame when Bosco, a Re-pup-lican dog was elected town mayor on a lark in the 1990s. Communist China even commented on America’s canine democracy.

And today when irate I-680 commuters are idling on the highway from Silicon Valley to San Ramon, Senor Antonio Sunol’s memory comes alive all too vividly on the bottle-necked Sunol Grade.

Sunol Valley also shares some pre-Hollywood film history where it once attracted moviemakers to Niles Canyon. Curly-kop Mary Pickford posed near Warm Springs, and iconic Charlie Chaplin filmed “The Tramp” years before Hollywood became filmdom’s epicentre.

Today tourists visit Livermore Valley’s superb wine region and historic Niles Railroad Museum. Visitors ride the Niles Canyon Railway steam train that meanders through canyons where bands of Ohlone Tribes lived 5,000 years ago.
Today heritage oaks, sycamores and alamo cottonwoods spread dappled shade across rail tracks or reach for the sun. Lush valleys, yellow-crisp in summer, still echo where caballeros serenaded, and cattle once roamed along Canada de la Tasagera, now Camino Tassajara.

Slow trains carry riders from Niles, not only through the canyon, but back in time where once proud Hispano-Mexican pioneers, like Jason’s Argonauts, forged a forever history in California’s own El Dorado golden hills.
Again I touch the book’s embossed dedication; “In Memoriam Josephine Sunol—1906”. Now I know Josephine’s story. Her grandfathers, Jose Bernal and Don Antonio Sunol, together with Jose Maria Amador, forged history in the Santa Clara and San Ramon Valleys.

Josephine’s grandmother was Dolores Bernal Sunol; aunt was Magdalena Bernal Amador. And maybe unbeknownst to some readers until my ALIVE Magazine revelation, Bob Brennan is also Josephine Sunol’s distant cousin. And his great-great-great grandfather Jose Joaquin Bernal was a member of the De Anza Expedition.
Josephine’s grandparents, Antonio and Dolores Sunol, were godparents on July 26, 1825 to Jose Amador’s son Jose Antonio,

Brennan’s great grandfather, at Mission Santa Clara. And it was Josephine’s uncle Jose Antonio Sunol who died at Rancho El Valle de San Jose at the hands of a renegade squatter in 1855.

And now as I return my old mass book back to its place of honor on my library shelf, I know the rest of Josephine Sunol’s once-secret story.

The Spirit of the Old West Corralled at Blackhawk

Danville’s Blackhawk Museum, which exhibits some of the world’s rarest classic automobiles, has acquired an extensive private collection of American West and Plains Indians historic artifacts for a new permanent exhibition titled, “SPIRIT OF THE OLD WEST,” to open in late fall.

This vast collection of Western and American Indian artifacts has remarkable historic importance. The all-encompassing collection is representative of Plains Indians and the Pioneering Settlers that will take viewers through a portal to the past of America’s Old West history.

Among the rarest objects in the Plains Indian collection are authentic mounts of a 19th century American eagle, a massive Plains buffalo, as well as bear and wolf specimens. Indian Tribes revere Mother Earth, nature, and animals, all of which have sacred significance in their animist cultures.

The extensive exhibit of American Indian and Settler artifacts will offer educational insight into the “Wild West’s” rich past and promises to be one of California’s most popular attractions for adults and school children. Museum docents will bring history alive for visitor tours, adding to the learning experience.

The Blackhawk Museum is presently accepting applications for interested volunteer docents, an integral part of the museum experience, who will share their knowledge on guided tours for children and adult visitors. After training, the docents will bring history to life by guiding tours and children’s hands-on activities to enhance the early California experience.

The multiple exhibits on display will explore how one culture waned while another thrived due to the momentous treks westward in search of land, riches, and a better life. The pioneers’ arduous westward journeys across America were to be one of the greatest migrations in human history as men, women, and children trekked through rivers and across unchartered wilds in unwieldy wagons.Teepee Close Up 0001

“Excitement is building for the upcoming Spirit of the Old West exhibition, and has already generated great interest among educators,” David Behring said after making a recent presentation to the county’s school principals. “I envision field trips early next year”, Behring added about the exhibition space designed by the Pleasanton-based Dahlin Group.
Ken Behring, founder of the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in 1988, negotiated the acquisition of the “Fick Collection” assembled by Jerry Fick’s American Indian family over many generations. “There is no other American Indian collection of this scope in California; I made the decision to bring it to Blackhawk in less than a day,” stated Behring.

Among the premier collection of American Indian memorabilia in “The Spirit of the Old West” installation are rare 18th and mid-19th century feather headdresses. The iconic “eagle feather bonnets” are cultural treasures inherent to Native American cultures. The plumage tells that “feather bonnets” were only presented to the bravest warriors, and each feather represented a courageous deed.


The Plains Indians were made up of several indigenous tribes, their migrations spanning many Western states, and consisting of multiple sub-groups; Arapaho, Lakota, Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Apache, Pawnee and others.
Among the artifacts of historic significance spanning several disciplines of their cultural identity are; eagle feather bonnets, buffalo horn headdresses, cradleboards, lances, war shields, feathers, porcupine quills, and bead-embellished buckskin garments, ceremonial pipes, bear claw necklaces, moccasins, tools, points, tomahawks and Indigenous Peoples’ stone tools dating to circa BC 8,000.

The Culture of the Old West will be contextualized in the heart of the museum exhibits that will include all aspects of the human presence in the West; Early Reservations of Plains Indians 1860-1910; Cowboys; Homesteading Settlers/Pioneers; Cavalry/Military firearms and weaponry; Trappers and Wagon Trains.Topo Buffalo Hill

To guarantee attention to the historic synergy between Indians and Settler Pioneers, the new installation will ricochet between both cultures by featuring sections dedicated to American Indians and the Migrating Settlers. On the left side of the 27,000 square foot upper gallery, the American Indians will be thematically featured with an authentic tipi and accoutrements.

On the right side a covered wagon, “Prairie Schooner” will highlight the chronology of the Pioneers’ westward expansion and focus on the intrepid determination of people seeking opportunity and a new life.

The exhibition will highlight historic objects affirming the region’s tumultuous history, and the First Peoples’ forced dispersion into scattered reservations, and mythologized Wild West folklore.

No amount of storytelling or Hollywood movies could ever convey the sheer drama of what actually happened, portray stark hardships, or tell of the families’ anguish on the westbound wagon trains who buried their children along the way. When we hear the docents’ tours and see authentic artifacts that belonged to those very people we may better imagine their stories as we travel to the past.Medicine Hoop 0001

And many more stories will be told through the collection of 19th century photographs that portray Plains Indians, the pristine mountains, and untrammeled wilderness of the American West as it was before the settlements, and before the scars of mining and farming.

Historic themes of the ever-migrating and intrepid tribes on our ancient landscape, and the subsequent interaction during the westward expansion of heroic cowboys, pioneers, and cavalry legends will evolve to a visually-rich and tangible 21st century experience at the Blackhawk Museum.

To anchor the history of American Indians and the Old West, a 140 foot long centerpiece of three-dimensional topographical dioramas will visually portray their life in miniature and enhance the 18th to 20th century experience. Momentous events will highlight America’s Western history, including the turning point of Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn, the discovery of gold, and the impact of the transcontinental railroads.


Ken Behring not only founded the Blackhawk Museum, but also developed the world-class Blackhawk residential community over 40 years ago. With forward-looking vision and strong philanthropic ideals, he strove to add to the historical culture of the San Ramon Valley.

Behring spearheads the construction of thirty Natural History Museums in China to promote them as places of learning. He built the Blackhawk Museum to showcase a world-class auto collection, and partnering with the Smithsonian, also featured art, science, and history. “I like to stress leadership qualities; societies cannot survive without it. The American Indian Chiefs were great leaders too, their people revered them,” Ken Behring made his point by referring to the words of Crazy Horse, Sioux Chief; “A very great vision is needed, he who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky.” TTP0279 (2)

The Behring Family believes in philanthropic leadership and with close affiliation to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, succeeded in bringing President Abraham Lincoln’s iconic top hat to the Museum. Behring’s leadership radiates across our nation; the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History is named to honor the philanthropy of the Kenneth E. Behring family.

In 1975 when Behring bought approximately 5000 acres of prime Danville land to develop Blackhawk, he donated a large parcel to Regional Open Space and Mount Diablo State Park with the objective of preserving the rich history of the San Ramon Valley.

In keeping with his philanthropic works, Behring founded the Wheelchair Foundation and has nearly met his lofty goal of donating one million wheelchairs to people in need of mobility all over the world.

San Ramon Valley bustled in mid-19th century, the catalyst being the Gold Rush when Easterners flocked here by the thousands. When news radiated that rich gold deposits were in the California hills; first came the wagon trains, and then came the trains. Intrepid families came in search of riches and a new life, and thus begun the evolution of the American West.

Trekkers from Eastern cities or ghost towns like Deadwood, Dakota settled in California; bankers and bakers, frontiersmen, buckaroos, vaqueros, gunslingers, gunfighters, trappers and cowboys. When wagon trains encountered the Indians along the way, cultures clashed and the harmony of the plains was disrupted forever. We will learn how the cultures clashed, the ways of the Wild West, and how it really was way back then.

Ken Behring and family have brought “The Spirit of the Old West” to the Blackhawk Museum to share with historians, teachers, children, and those who yearn to take a long glance back into Wild, Wild West history.
We may not hear all the thrilling stories of the pioneers, gold seekers, gunslingers, or American Indians, nor encounter the ghosts of Billy the Kid, General Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, or Kit Carson, but we may learn about such American Indians who compare to Chiefs Joseph, Cochise, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Geronimo or Black Hawk.

America’s “Spirit of the Old West” will come alive with the historic exhibition of antique artifacts and memorabilia at the Blackhawk Museum featuring American Plains Indians, settlers, cowboys, and gold seekers who became linked to the land and built the Wild, Wild West thus earning a major role in California’s mystery, myth, and history.

Info: Blackhawk Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Centre, Danville California. 94506 925.736.2280. email:

Starmaker: Hollywood Talent Agent

Budd Burton Moss is an old school Hollywood talent agent and part of a family dynasty that made magic in the Motion Picture industry. His father Louis B. Moss was a film editor at Fox, later becoming 20th Century Fox when it merged with Darryl F. Zanuck’s 20th Century Pictures. During Hollywood’s Golden Age, Budd’s mother’s brother Sam Zimbalist, produced films for MGM Studios, many acclaimed as the best films of all time.photo1 edit

Zimbalist was good friends with power couples Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, and Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Moss recalls being at his uncle Sam’s house on weekends and hearing the actors read scripts aloud and playing tennis or swimming in the pool.

Budd Moss and his brother David were born in the shadows of Hollywood Boulevard. Being products of Los Angeles when the Motion Picture Industry rode the uncontested magic carpet, they can very well understand the intricacies of the Hollywood scene better than most newcomers.

Budd Burton Moss and I connected on Face Book as I knew his brother David in Spain. He commented upon reading my recent ALIVE Magazine D-Day article that he was co-producing a film, Mother of Normandy, about Simone Renaud who lived in Sainte Mere-Eglise. It was where many paratroopers in the 101st and 82nd Airborne Division died when they dropped behind enemy lines during the 1944 Invasion of Normandy.

Hollywood über-agent Moss has chronicled his experiences in a memoir; …And All I got was Ten Percent—What it’s Like to be a Famous Hollywood Agent. His close friend Larry King wrote the book’s introduction which guarantees to entertain film aficionados with titillating insider accounts of Hollywood and revelations of once-guarded secrets.

Moss paints a rich portrait of Hollywood before the monolithic studios fell to indie mavericks. He opens his book with the account of his daily business breakfasts in Nate and Al’s Deli in Beverley Hills where film industry veterans kibbutz about the good old days. “Who’d you sign?”

Budd Burton Moss had the right connections; a direct pipeline to studio heads and those who decided which scripts to deep-six and which to produce for the silver screen. Sam Zimbalist, iconic movie mogul and MGM head honcho, had offices in the Thalberg Building on the studio lot. Zimbalist expected his nephew Buddy to segue into film producing, but he wanted to act in films, not produce them.

And Moss dreamed of becoming a matador. It had all started as a pubescent when he became smitten by Rita Hayworth in the bullfighting saga Blood and Sand. Imbued with desire for the beautiful femme fatale, he decided to become an actor and a matador. Moss may not have been a match for Anthony Quinn or Tyrone Power, but he gave it his best shot and later they became friends.

Unbeknownst to the rooky Buddy Moss, he was later to become Rita Hayworth’s agent and close friend, and his youthful dream was fulfilled when they traveled to Europe together.


While Budd Moss was at college as a Theatre Arts major, he took a job at Duke’s Union 76 across from MGM Studios. The teenager serviced the cars of the stars and at day’s end delivered the shiny gassed up motor cars to Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson, Esther Williams, and Judy Garland et al. One can only imagine them flipping the teenager a two-bit tip, and Buddy catching the silver coin in the air with an adoring smile. “MGM had more stars than heaven,” he says sentimentally.

Moss recalls the early days when cowboys rode horses down Hollywood Boulevard in the hope of getting parts in Roy Rogers or Gene Autry movies, and the Indians who came down from Cahuenga Pass and sold beads from spread-out blankets on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.  He recalls being awestruck when meeting Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, the latter becoming his client, and others he catapulted to stardom. Moss reminisces how his parents packed him and David in their Model A sedan and drove from West LA into Hollywood for Saturday double features, then hung out on the Hollywood Hotel verandah where Rudy Valentino and Mary Pickford once may have passed.

High school buddies were Linda Darnell’s brother Calvin, Academy Award winner Joel (Katz) Grey, and Bobby Blake who gained fame as the killer in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

After the garage gig Moss bussed tables at Fox Studios restaurant where he met Marilyn Monroe, Ty Power, Bette Grable, and Henry Fonda and got close to the beauty of his dreams, Rita Hayworth lunching with Studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck.

Budd’s odd jobs lead to film work, and was ecstatic when he got his SAG extra’s card. He reported to Central Casting and got a dance number gig in It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jimmy Stewart, and later a part in Blackboard Jungle, with Sidney Poitier. “Not bad for my first films,” said Budd.

To hone his acting skills, Budd did summer stock along with other neophytes James Coburn, Hugh O’Brian, Robert Vaughn. And at “The Rack” bar he drank with a lanky guy who had just gotten out of the service and earned his way as a carpenter and pool digger. That shy guy went far in Hollywood; Clint Eastwood was to become one of the world’s leading Box Office draws of all time.

When his father, Lou Moss, left Fox, he and wife Shirley (Zimbalist) opened a restaurant. The Matador Bar decorated with Manolete bullfight posters, with a definitive macho ambiance, was the dwelling of pure California cool, where Tony Quinn, Lloyd (Bud) Bridges, Robert Taylor and Gilbert Roland rubbed elbows with bullfighters and other Hollywood icons.

When Budd wasn’t running the busy bar of the family restaurant, he worked in films. He recalls his entire body being burnished with brown make-up for bit parts in the 1954 epic, The Egyptian, with Edmund Purdom. “I was killed several times in one day.”

During the Korean War Moss enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed at Parks Air Force Base, now called Camp Parks in Dublin, California. It was just a matter of time before he was recruited to Special Services Units to produce plays and entertain the troops.

Ironically it was there he first met USO entertainer Barbara Eden, whom he later signed to star in I Dream of Jeannie. He returned to LA after the Air Force stint and to a life of incredible excitement.

Tony Quinn introduced him to the actress Ruth Roman, a beautiful older woman whose marriage was rocky. As fate would have it, he and Ruth fell madly in love. Ruth was a seasoned actress having starred in Hitchcock’s Stranger on a Train, and had dated Ronnie Reagan when they were contract players at Warner Bros. The rest of their love story reads like the script of a Hollywood melodrama.photo3 edit

Ruth Roman had to wind up filming final scenes with Akim Tamiroff in France. To return stateside she and her three-year old son Dickie boarded a luxury liner in Cannes for the transatlantic crossing. That July of 1956, as the “S.S. Andrea Doria” liner was passing the Nantucket coast and edging towards New York in thick fog, her midriff was gored by the liner “M.S. Stockholm” en route to Sweden.

Over fifty people died in the collision, half the starboard-side lifeboats went down on impact. Rescue ships, including the “Ile de France,” rushed from New York harbor; planes flew overhead capturing the disaster on film, and darkness made rescue difficult. The ship sank to the bottom of the sea within hours. Ruth Roman’s son was lost. Lifeboats were lowered. She was taken ashore still frantically searching for her boy. She called Budd Moss in LA.

Finally her son was located on the “Stockholm” and taken to the hotel. Budd Moss booked a flight from California, arrived in New York at her hotel the next day. They needed to be together; romance flourished. They stayed in New York negotiating her role in the play Two for the Seesaw. They later moved to her Rockingham Road house in Brentwood and spoke of marriage. They sailed to Panama and married in a storied ceremony worthy of a full chapter.

Roman’s work took them to Spain until 1958 when she starred with Richard Burton in Bitter Victory. Madrid was then the filming epicenter of several sword-and-sandal epics and was teaming with LA Studio executives and Hollywood stars.

Being avid aficionados, Budd and Ruth hung out at the flamenco Corral de Moreria and mingled with the bullfighting crowd. They were friendly with toreros Luis Miguel Dominguin and his brother-in-law Antonio Ordonez. Dominguin, not only gained fame in the bullring, but also as Ava Gardner’s paramour. Hemingway was in town too writing about the dueling toreros in The Dangerous Summer for Life Magazine, believed to be his last work.image3 edit


After their sojourn in Spain, Budd Moss launched his career as a talent agent and joined Marty Baum’s agency in 1959 in LA. He built an impressive repertoire of clients; Rita Hayworth (Gilda), Cyd Charisse (Singin’ in the Rain), Robert Vaughn (Man from U.N.C.LE.), Karl Malden, and June Allyson. In 1992 Burton Moss Agency merged with boutique Shapiro-Lichtman Literary Agency bringing with him client MPAA president Jack Valenti whose novel, Protect and Defend, soared to bestseller.

Over the span of his illustrious career, Moss had placed Dyan Cannon in Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice; Sally ‘Hot Lips’ Kellerman in M*A*S*H; Tom Bosely in Happy Days; nose-wiggling Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched; and Mia Farrow in Peyton Place.

The business took much of Budd’s time away from Ruth Roman and the marriage became strained. Perceiving that he may be having an affair, and knowing that Budd valued his $500 Harry Cherry custom-tailored suits, she cut them to ribbons and burnt them in the fireplace. After six tumultuous years the marriage went south.

Budd concentrated on his business as a premier Hollywood Motion Picture and Television agent with General Artists Corporation and represented some of Hollywood’s most bankable clients. When he suggested Mia Farrow for Peyton Place he was also instrumental in setting her up with future husband Frank Sinatra.

Moss worked with then-actor Aaron Spelling’s wife, Carolyn Jones, Morticia in the Addams Family. While Moss represented Jones at GAC he placed her in a poignant role in Dr. Kildare in 1963. Her marriage to Spelling was heading for the rocks and Budd and Carolyn started dating. They became engaged and celebrated with an Addams Family-themed party. After she went on tour, they grew apart.

Years later as head of Burton Moss Management he suggested Melvin Belli to Coppolla for the part of Vito Corleone in The Godfather but was beaten out by Marlon Brando.

His friendship with Melvin Belli, King of Torts, lead to his getting married to his present wife Carolyn on the verandah of Belli’s San Francisco penthouse with Sidney Poitier as best man. Moss’ page-turner memoirs reveal Hollywood backstories like when he clinched a $10,000 per week guest spot for

Shelly Winters on the Ben Casey TV series. She had just won an Oscar for her performance in Diary of Anne Frank and was a hot property. At her Chateau Marmont suite she vehemently stated she was worth more than 10K a week and the über-agent had to handle the fading star with kid gloves.

Budd reminisces about Hollywood’s Golden Era and writes about his beloved uncle, Sam Zimbalist who died in November 1958 during the filming of the epic masterpiece Ben Hur in Rome. Zimbalist had produced some of Hollywood’s best films; Tortilla Flat, King Solomon’s Mines, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Quo Vadis.

Sam Zimbalist died of a heart attack hours after filming the iconic chariot race scene in Ben Hur at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios. He was in stressful negotiations to secure five million dollars more for the MGM picture. Ironically he died immediately after the intense chariot race scene when Charlton Heston drives four white horses against nemesis Stephen Boyd’s four black stallions and he becomes impaled by the wheel spikes. Sam Zimbalist won a posthumous Best Picture Oscar for Ben Hur with a record-breaking total of eleven Oscars. The film epic is acclaimed as one of the best films of all time.

In Budd Burton Moss’ memoirs, he paints a cinematic picture with words cutting to the core of Hollywood’s Golden Era—an era that is no more. The once-monolithic movie-making industry has yielded to multi-million dollar productions, CG-enhanced mega films, and low-budget indies that appeal to a different kind of audience—a youth-oriented audience that yearns for fast-paced action. Moss tells it like it was. And it was great.

Gone are the days that Hollywood had a terra firma sense of place. Now “Hollywood” is a mythical Xanadu, an ephemeral Shangri-La fantasy that can be anywhere on earth, even in our dreams. Movie deals are different now; androgynous terms have broken the mysterious myth of movies. Gone are the days that hedonistic star makers longed to rendezvous with ingénue starlets over three-martini lunches and when, but a forbidden kiss, was a powerful aphrodisiac.

…And All I Got Was Ten Percent! By Budd Burton Moss, is available as an e-book available on

Bohemian Grove

The Bohemian Club of San Francisco is one of the Bay Area’s best-kept secrets, and is considered to be one of the premier private men-only clubs in America. It boasts an elite membership, past and present, of some of the nation’s foremost power brokers, policy-makers, and several generations of Fortune 500 leaders. 477652603

Within the sanctuary of the exclusive club, men of both patrilineal wealth and big business self-achieved titans enjoy the camaraderie of friendship and success. The Club is unabashedly a personal retreat for the elite socio-economic and well-connected men in American society who can relax in the milieu of like-minded men.

This gentlemen’s club with an old-world atmosphere of interlocking business and the arts, and imbued with the spirit of gentry and civility, attracted the Crockers, Spreckles and Hearsts, as well as railroad, shipping and city builders. It has not deviated from its original mission to attract the most powerful and influential men of the moment.
At any given time there is a fifteen-year waiting list of about 20,000 sponsored applications in the pipeline to be vetted by a committee prior to acceptance. And with an initiation fee of $25,000, and about $600 in monthly dues, it doesn’t even faze the eager male aspirants.

An invitation to join the Bohemian Club is often a validation of one’s success and standing in society, by other men of influence who are part of the powerful network. As one of the world’s most exclusive men-only clubs, it is also one of the most maligned by its detractors. Why, you may ask? It’s because the private men’s club membership attracts some of the most influential leaders, moneyed power brokers, and decision-makers in America with a global reach.

The Bohemian Club was founded in 1872 in San Francisco by a group of Chronicle journalists with a mission to forge bonds by blending business and the arts; literature, art, music and drama. Membership swelled to include businesses, industry, banking, building, and national media, providing an art colony of sorts for writers, artists, poets, actors and like-minded intellectuals who craved artistic culture and camaraderie in the post-gold rush frontier days.

The 19th century co-founders, Daniel O’Conner and Henry “Harry” Edwards, chose the term “Bohemian” that typified free-thinking avant-garde and art-focused intellectuals, and the word best described their objectives to promote a devotion to the Seven Arts.

The present membership roster is secret; however, past members were involved in the public domain, and reads like the Who’s Who in global politics, government, military, finance, utilities, industry, science, national media, and the arts.

Post launch-period Bohemians in non-chronological order: William Keith of the Barbizon School, was a member, as were poet George Sterling, Jack London, Samuel Clemons (aka Mark Twain), and Bret Harte. One of only four females to ever have been granted honorary membership in the male-only club was Jack London’s mentor, poetess Ina Coolbrith, the club’s librarian.

Other esteemed members include: Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Henry Ford, Henry Kissinger, Ike Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, George H. Bush, and every Republican president as well as many Democrat presidents. Academia is also well represented in the club by several university scientists, presidents and trustees. Political affiliation is not a membership prerequisite. Liberal Walter Cronkite was a member, as is Paul Pelosi.

Guest speakers at the elite club cover diverse subjects. Chris Matthews and Conan O’Brien were recent presenters, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was a regular, and Peter Ueberroth and General Stanley McChrystal have been Lakeside guest lecturers. Other members include newspaper barons William R. Hearst I and III, Earl Warren, S.D. Bechtel and son Riley Bechtel, James Lockheed, Alan Sproul, Ralph Bailey of DuPont, David Packard, William Casey Jr., Colin Powell, the Rockefellers, Google’s Eric Schmidt and astronauts, and the late Robert Mondavi and Tony Snow, and many International Press Club members.

To retain their ‘Bohemian’ allegiance to the arts, about ten percent qualify for membership in the artistic and entertainment realm: Tennessee Ernie Ford, George Shearing, Clint Eastwood, Herman Wouk (The Caine Mutiny), Grateful Dead rockers Mickey Hart and Bob Weir, and Jimmy Buffett. Past guests included Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and many big bands, jazzmen, and concert pianists.


The San Francisco-based club on Taylor Street owns the Bohemian Grove, a 2,700-acre retreat nestled in the giant redwood forests 75 miles north of The City. The ‘Grovers’ convene annually to celebrate High-Jinx in June, the other a mid-summer two week “Encampment” fest where the elite 2000+ men camp in the woods in rustic bunkhouses.

As part of merriment in the woods, Bohemians enjoy gourmet dining, fine wines and gallons of booze in clearings under canopies of heritage redwoods. Untoward activities or ungentlemanly behavior at the safe sanctum is unacceptable. On occasion an offending member has been escorted to the gate.

The club prohibits the discussion of business dealings and the use the encampment as a forum to solicit clients or promote ventures, as dictated by their motto “Weaving spiders come not here.” It is impossible to monitor private conversations or any clandestine planning in the bunkhouses and dining rooms, but it is presumed the venue has spawned a slew of schemes and strategies down the global pike.

One such historic scheme that occurred in September 1942 in the Bohemian Grove is well documented: the Manhattan Project. Ernest O. Lawrence, Donald Cooksey and Robert Oppenheimer discussed the project at the Grove’s river clubhouse with scientists and the military top brass. This historic rendezvous is a source of great pride for the club, as the development of the atomic bomb was to end World War II in 1945.

One wonders what other plans affecting the outcomes of elections, world banking, and expansionism may have been hatched at the Grove since 1872 by men of power, men who control the money, and the men who virtually rule the world.

The remote wilderness-meeting place is innocuous, serene and pristine where great men gather in the backwoods to bond and forge friendships. The encampments in forest clearings are about 118 rustic camps and each having private clubhouses, dining rooms, decks, bars and sleeping quarters. Camp compounds are collectively owned, often patrilineal, who are responsible for annual dues, upkeep, steward-valets, and share in responsibility for the comfort, welfare and supplies of the residents and guests.

Members are invited to join and must adhere to strict rules: no tipping, cameras, cell phones, tape recorders, radios, pets or firearms. At no time are autographs to be requested. Each camp is considered private with an atmosphere of civility, and owner Bohemians invite other members to enter.

The hundred plus individual camps are identified by names: Mandalay regularly houses presidents; Hill Billies the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Hillside has the Military Generals; and Cave Man houses the Think Tank, banking and defense sect. These rustic bunkhouses are where some of the world’s wealthiest, most influential and powerful men enjoy fellowship in the forest. Directors and CEOs of many of the nation’s 800 corporations have Club representation.

To keep everyone happy, fed and watered, the club employs over 500 seasonal workers. Top chefs and crew run their own butcher shop, bakery, pantry and catering service, working night and day to prepare the best gourmet food and serve the finest of wines to as many as 1500 raucous revelers seated 26 to a table in the al fresco Dining Circle.

The Bohemian Grove retreat is a fun-filled event with “walkie-talkie” nature walks, lectures, live concerts and theatrical performances under the watchful eye of a 40-foot moss-covered owl totem shrine behind the lakeside stage. The seating encircles an open air auditorium-like theatre shaded by redwoods for lakeside lectures, plays and concerts.

The annual kick-off to encourage the Bohemian revelers to discard all outside cares is the ‘Cremation of Care’ ceremony whereby an effigy is set alight on a small barge in the lake like Beau Geste’s Viking funeral. This century-old ceremony, imbedded in tradition, has brought ire from detractors as being a human sacrifice ala ancient Druid practices in the forests of Anglesey.


Each encampment season protesters demonstrate outside the compound Bohemian Avenue gates. The activists oppose everything that the Bohemian Club stands for, and as long as print media gives ink, and television gives airplay, the activists will continue to bombard the gates. The Monte Rio annual events attract the wrath of sundry activists: environmentalists, anti-war protesters, occupiers maligning the One Percent, feminists, and other causes du jour that inflame the agitators that relentlessly dog the club.

One of the most vocal groups is the redwood environmentalists who accuse the private club of cutting heritage ancient trees to harvest 500,000 board feet of lumber. The club maintains that the felled trees were not ancient redwoods, but trees under the timber management program. The Bohemian Grove management insists their private land tree-cutting programs follow federal guidelines and remains in harmony with nature.

The Bohemian Grove is fully contained during encampment events with doctors and staff in a medical centre and it maintains its own fire department.

As the Bohemian Grove property is off-limits to non-members and the public, the private men-only membership, has drawn condemnation from detractors. Maximum security at the grove is of utmost importance, as some of the world’s most high-profile leaders, military generals, captains of industry, oil companies, and CEOs attend the events. The high-value members and guests are collectively vulnerable to infiltration, sabotage and possible targets of terrorist danger.

Trespassers are apprehended, photographed, fingerprinted and added to their database. Members’ guests are screened, vetted and wear laminated identification tags at all times. Security is tight; guards travel on golf carts and are immediately alerted to security breaches. They do not take trespassing lightly and do not allow casual non-guests at any time. Tours are not permitted. Member’s families may visit at non-event periods and only during daylight hours.

Some reporters and activists have admitted to trespassing, and their stretched stories have caused getting a valid interview almost impossible. Any form of publicity about the Bohemian Club is shunned and denied.

The Internet is ablaze with the intrigue of conspiracy theories, “eyewitness” accounts of activities, illuminati-style mind-control, clear-cutting heritage redwoods, and accusing members of ritualistic atrocities, including Druid-like sacrifice and devil worship in the commune. Many are even outraged that some men are guilty of micturition—peeing in the forest!

It is understandable that the compound, where some of the world’s most influential power brokers gather each summer, has the nation’s best post 9/11 security, employing ex-CIA and FBI agents to guard the perimeters of the vast property, a monumental challenge to say the least.

Though the redwood forest property spans 2,700 acres, only 109 acres are cleared for Grove activities in buildings, bunkhouses, dining hall, and al fresco dining arenas. The rest of the forest that borders the Russian River is preserved for the glory of the grove.

The rest of the acreage is wild, where one imagines that shafts of light pierce the canopies, lichen and tree moss clump on bark, and deer and wildlife roam among sword ferns in the perennial wetness of dappled shade. Fog hangs on the redwoods’ crown giving watery life to the untrammeled forest floor where light filters like clerestory windows of a cathedral, and where the giant trees have survived for over three millennia, giving a misty Arthurian mystery to the wilderness.

During my investigations I could not locate a website or email address. Media packets seem to be unavailable, and activities are not advertised by the club. I have written the facts to the best of my ability and have reported fairly without sensationalizing. Most information is gleaned from old news reports and the Internet. Much information was extrapolated from a 160-page dissertation on socio-economics, purportedly sanctioned by the Bohemian Club, by a sociologist’s study on American clubdom, consensus building, and the bonding of elite men in society.

About 20,000 membership applicants will wait fifteen years or so to be vetted and hopefully accepted. If they meet the stringent requirements, they will become ‘Bohemians’ in one of the world’s most exclusive clubs. And with a heavy initiation fee of 25 grand and 600 smackers a month, they will have entered the rare stratosphere of America’s socio-economic elite, and be privileged to rub shoulders, and raise the cup, with the highest echelons of the nation’s most powerful band of brothers who make our world go around.

Trafficking Humans


Slavery was abolished in 1865 with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, however, modern-day slavery continues in the form of Human Trafficking.

The practice of enslaving humans of all races has blighted the world throughout recorded history. In the Book of Exodus Moses led Israelites from Egypt to escape slavery and in BC 73 the slave Spartacus was crucified for revolting against Romans.

In this modern age of humanitarian advancement and enlightenment, we may presume we have finally banned all slavery practices. Not so. Shockingly the endemic practice of trading humans for monetary gain is global. Men, women and children are still being trafficked around the world, enslaving people against their will for the sex trades or forced labor.

The U.S. State Department defines the essential elements of the Trafficking Persons crime; “Persons taken through recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or the receipt of persons by means of threats, use of force, abduction or fraud, deception, coercion, abuse of power, receiving payment for having control of a person for sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…”

The ugly face of modern-day slavery is so globally pervasive that it is almost invisible to most observers. Human Trafficking follows gun running and drug dealing with estimated profits of over $32 billion a year. Trading subjugated humans by the merchants of misery is the world’s most abhorrent offence perpetrated by predatory individuals, gangs or international organized crime. This repugnant crime against humanity is a ticking time-bomb simmering to a boil that has become too big for any one government to crush as the global demand exceeds the supply.

Perpetrators who trade in human beings for the sex or labor markets may lurk for unsuspecting victims in a range of venues; four-star hotels, bus depots, inner city slums, or remote villages. The profiteering ring leaders look for the perfect storm in victims; desperation, opportunity and promised rewards. The perpetrators may emerge as well-dressed men, unkempt street procurers, motherly-type boss ladies, crime boss foot soldiers, money launderers, enforcers, pimps, document forgers, “employment recruiters” or other sundry manipulators of men, women and children.

Most legitimate agricultural ventures, apparel factories and other manufacturers adhere to acceptable labor and pay standards in workplaces, and are not the subjects of discussion in this article. This piece only addresses those persons who use force or slave labor in agriculture or underground sweat shop environments, many of whom don’t abide by labor laws, and who underpay and abuse workers.

Hundreds of thousands of slave workers are estimated to toil in field and factory labor in Africa, Asia and Pacific Island countries; the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

Most often desperately poor people turn to job recruiters, the liaison between factory owner and the workforce. Recruiters are known to troll towns and villages, procure willing laborers with promises of good pay, and then transport them in trucks. Many migrant workers are taken by force, shanghaied if you will. Some are never paid; others earn less than a living wage. Recruiters take large commissions off the top.

Trans-national procurers force migrants to travel to foreign regions with pre-paid fares. Upon arrival their passports, work permits and return tickets are confiscated, and thus the factory or field workers are trapped in the spiral of debt bondage with earnings held hostage to keep the workers working.

Many of the trapped migrants may labor long hours in rogue apparel factories in Indonesia and Bangladesh, slaving from dawn to dusk under appalling conditions in airless crowded workshops with barred windows, without benefits or labor rights, and may be paid about 93 cents to $1 a day. Some workers may never even get paid if they don’t reach daily targets and are forced to work through the night to make quotas.

Some workers are too intimidated to report the abuse of contractors, field bosses and managers, and most often the bribed corrupt authorities do nothing anyway. If workers run away they become trapped in a foreign place without legal documents and no wherewithal to return home. Destitute women and children are most likely to dovetail into the spiraling vortex of sex trades thus becoming part of a tragic diaspora with no happy endings.

Recruited workers for rogue factories and field labor may often be shipped to other regions to break family ties. Some non-profit organizations report that many slave laborers sleep in closets on factory premises, eat one meal a day, and labor long hours to pay off transport debts. A small factory workshop with forced quotas can produce about 15,000 garments daily with about 300 cutters and sewers.

Rogue factories’ low cost production of goods attracts some international apparel buyers who may not be aware of the labor abuse. Many government bureaucrats with elastic ethics may even ignore the reports of slavery and rampant unlawful practices in agriculture, garment and footwear manufacture. The rogue employers tend to own the worker’s time, not necessary the person per se.

Many name-brand manufacturers outsource labor to countries like Indonesia resulting in well-made products and low production costs. Advocates have exposed the practices of no-wage/low-wage labor as well as atrocious working conditions. The culture of slavery in Asia has endured for centuries with accepted practices disguised as versions of indentured servitude and forced labor.

Modern Jakarta in Indonesia, formerly Batavia in the 17th and 18th centuries, was then Dutch territory from where trading companies transported a half million slaves to their colonies and the West Indies. Over three centuries later, the country’s abject poverty still drives predatory practices of targeting men, women and children to fill the burgeoning sex trade or labor trades with no-pay/low-pay enslaved workers.

Many countries came late to the table to abolish slavery; the United States 1865; Mexico freed their last slaves in 1829; Morocco 1922; and Afghanistan in 1923. Niger abolished slavery in 1960 but laws were not enforced until 2003. Saudi Arabia abolished slavery in 1962 and United Arab Emirates followed in 1963. Mauritania, a nation south of Morocco, forbade slave trade as recent as 1981, but outlawed practices continue.

Traditional slavery and hereditary servitude still exist in parts of Ghana, Benin, Togo, and the oil-rich nation of Nigeria where men, women and children are still being sold into slavery. We see it on the news.

Such human abduction atrocities in Nigeria made recent headlines when schoolgirls were taken. Abducted children are sold for as little as $12, some bring as much as $70 apiece on a good day. Boys are sold to fields or mines or as child soldiers to rag-tag renegade groups. Girls are traded for domestic servitude, child brides, or are taken to sex dens. The tribal practice of shrine slavery, Trokosi, is the taking of virgin girls as payment for a family’s religious atonement.

Once stolen children pass through the gates of human trafficking they are forced into lives of servitude with no possible escape. Most are never found. If they run away they are shot. Villagers are helpless as they witness heavily armed traders drive overland Toyota Hilux trucks and motorcycles hunting for humans.

Global slavery practices that once poisoned the past are now poisoning the present. This unspeakable scenario is not thriller fiction, this is fact. Many of us may have been naïve about these abhorrent slavery practices until the heavily-tweeted abduction of 276 mostly Christian Nigerian school girls shocked the world’s sensibilities. This horrific act has driven home the fact that the wretched practice of forced slavery still exists.

Human Trafficking has a dark underbelly in the crime world of trans-national perpetrators with multilayers of subjugated people being traded and merchandised. The lucrative venture attracts criminals in over 127 countries, estimated to bring profits of over $32 to $50 billion annually. Several Human Rights organizations offer startling statistics; about 27 million people are bought and sold of whom 80% are women and children. The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor markets of $132 billion per year involve money laundering, and unpaid wages have reached over $21 billion.

After the global sex trade markets, the most common industries where trafficked children are forced to work against their will are small workshops and agriculture. Children harvest the Uzbekistan cotton fields, work in apparel “sweat shops”, and brickmaking, palm oil, cocoa, tea and coffee harvesting, and gold and mineral mining. The regions where most trafficked persons are forced into labor are Asia and Sub-Sahara Africa. Many trafficked workers are no-pay/low-pay young children.

The economies that prefer child slave labor to bolster profit margins are varied, and may embrace high revenues over the morality theory. Many agricultural ventures appear to be upright for-profit businesses, but among the worst child-labor offenders are the vast cocoa fields on the Ivory Coast of West Africa and South America. In Pakistan and India over 300,000 children are held in debt bondage slaving for loom masters in the carpet weaving industry. These children have no childhoods.

The “employers” prefer the nimble fingers of malleable young children who labor in the shadows of seemingly legitimate industries to harvest cotton, palm oil fruits, and cocoa crops or weave intricate carpets on looms. The child cocoa harvesters work from sunup to sunset in the tropical heat of day, often with little food. The agile boys climb barefoot up cacao trees, slash off pods with sharp machetes, remove the beans, and carry sack loads on their backs. Africa’s West Coast yields about 70% of the world’s cocoa, and about 200,000 boys, as young as seven, slave in the fields.

Hershey’s Chocolate Company, Nestlé, and Ferrero Chocolates are the three main buyers. They have pledged to monitor the growers’ unpalatable labor practices and help eradicate agrarian child slave labor by 2020. Chocolate wrappers bear caveats; “Fair Trade Certified” to imply ethically-sourced products.

The most delectable chocolates may very well have been brought to us by the slave labor of little children’s hands and who ironically may never have tasted a piece of chocolate. Think about it. Our most common purchases may have been tinged by the use of slave labor from the field production to finished products. Imagine if you will that child cotton pickers worked in fields from dawn to dusk; weavers and dyers may have slogged for pennies a day; and cutters and sewers may have worked in airless ‘sweat shops’ in Bangladesh. The nimble hands of young children may have brought us crisp cotton shirts, luscious chocolates, Oriental carpets and high-end running shoes.

Our insatiable appetites for cheap goods swell the profit margins of middle-men who in turn sell to big brand buyers. Have consumers ever considered the cheap goods we buy may have been facilitated by slave labor? No we haven’t.
Some consumers pledge to buy American-made goods, but even labels boasting “Made in America” are actually manufactured by foreign guest workers in U.S. Commonwealth Mariana Islands, north of Guam. Americans never add a single stitch to the $2 billion industry.

So as we consumers peer through the window of rogue labor conditions, we see a trending paradigm shift in the way we spend our money. Billionaire Ralph Lauren, who designs, markets and licenses multi-million dollar ultra-preppy-chic brands, has no hand in the actual manufacturing, but nevertheless only buys outsourced goods.
Their company’s new policies are to buy from only fair trade factories. Other low-priced merchandisers may follow suit by observing the multiple tiers of the supply chain from field to finished product to consumer. If the big brand-boys make enough noise it may lead to profound changes in the international slave labor markets—but then again maybe not. Economics are about profit margins.

Following the money trails sometimes reveal the possibilities of labor law offenders. We tend to buy products with competitive prices—we learn that in Economics 101—hence international corporations outsource production for low-cost manpower. What really happens behind the heavy curtains of commerce?

A case in point is the competitive Palm Oil Industries that produce the ubiquitous ingredient contained in over 50% of all supermarket products. Palm oil is used in bio-fuels, soaps, creams, cosmetics, salad oils, bakery goods, and purchased by manufacturing giants; Unilever, Nestle, General Mills, Kraft and Cargill of California.

Malaysia grows half of the world’s palm oil trees, and with Indonesia, Thailand and Nigeria grows 85% of the world’s supply. The profit-driven market yields 47 million tons and brings over $40 billion a year. More than a million acres of palm oil tree groves now blanket acreage where old-growth rain forests once were. Palm oil industries are considered among the world’s worst eco-villains.

As the palm oil groves produce palm fruits year-round it is work intensive with a labor force of tens of thousands. Recruiters most often import cheap-labor migrant workers, and upon arrival confiscate passports and work permits. Workers pay for transport, food and lodging out of wages. The disgruntled trouble-makers may even be sold into other markets.

Ugly backstories emerge. Most of the 100,000 migrant workers never leave the dense groves; they labor, live and shop at company stores. Thousands of children work in the tropical sun without protective goggles or gloves while spraying toxic chemicals and pesticides. There are rampant abuses of child labor exploitation but the often stateless children fall through the cracks of weak government oversight. Few complain for fear of beatings and reprisal. There is no escape.

People movers may be among the world’s worst traffickers in forced labor. Over 300,000 domestics from Ethiopia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka work in Lebanon, and many more throughout Middle Eastern nations. In many cases passports and documents are confiscated, and work arrangements may be structured as debt bondage leading to exploitation. Some enslaved workers are even sold to European sex traffickers. Others just disappear with no trace.

The trafficking of humans for forced labour is just one of the nightmares facing displaced victims; the other is their possible captivity to be sold into the sex trade. Atrocities suffered by hostages can be one part of the nightmarish equation—but the horrifically macabre buying and selling of humans, especially children and teenagers, for their high-value vital organs, assaults all humanitarian senses.

The most spine-chilling breeds of human traffickers deal in the illegal practices of harvesting human organs for financial gain. Medical technology and pharmaceutical breakthroughs perfected the practice of organ transplants in the 1970s, and it was a matter of time that the illicit market would prove lucrative for the body snatchers.
The most precious of commodities, hearts, lungs, kidneys and tissue from abducted people bring billions of dollars a year. Those who are kidnapped specifically for their organs do not travel far; they are harbored in makeshift clinics close to where they were taken. They are the ‘disappeared ones’.

The taking of human organs for transplants is illegal in all nations except Iran who forbid selling to foreigners. The miracle pharmaceuticals that once saved lives by preventing foreign organ rejection have now spawned predatory organ harvesting practices. The Red Market theft of human organs brings over $1.2 billion a year.
India is the world’s biggest kidney trading centre. Nephrologists pay donors only $600 each and make big money on organ tourism. China harvests organs from the executed prisoners and in Europe a kidney brings $100K, and Rent-a-Womb industries thrive.

Ethical dilemmas often face surgeons when transplanting human organs. As much as 42% of “donor” organs may be yielded from illegal Red Market industries. In the U.S. most organs are donated through the Anatomical Gift Act of 1968, whereby the potential donor bequeaths organs legally.

There are horror stories of organ theft. Trials after the Kosovo-Serbian war accuse a human organ harvesting ring of ex-soldiers and “Frankenstein” doctors of taking prisoners’ organs in makeshift clinics. Human Rights’ Watch Groups report the perpetrators were charging customers in Turkey and Saudi Arabia $45K per body.
The “Yellow House” case tells of a farmhouse in Albania where organ robbers performed surgeries. Many refugees and war prisoners were said to have checked in and never checked out. Surgical tools were later discovered in a nearby river. The gruesome case reads like a chiller thriller but the macabre atrocities really happened.
The harvesting of human organs smacks of science fiction drama. One can visualize Rod Serling offering the Twilight Zone’s iconic tease; “Imagine if you will that living people are abducted to be robbed of their vital organs…” Fade to black.

There are several child advocate organizations that help stolen children and young adults to re-enter the workforce. They are the David fighting the Goliath of the $32 billion industry of 27 million victims of human trafficking.
Though UNICEF and the Polaris Project have a global presence to counteract this overwhelming marketplace, there will never be enough funding to dismantle such far-reaching global ventures. Some organizations realize they can’t solve the entire problem, but with one step at a time to rescue a handful of victims, they may have the ability to empower but a few to escape the churning wheel of forced servitude. These and other organizations are no match to dismantle the vast network, but at least they have a presence to advocate for the victims.

One such organization that has a finger on the virtual pulse of human trafficking is the Red Window Project in Livermore. Mark Fisher heads the project, and with limited funds, concentrates efforts on Cebo City in the Philippines with faith-based focus on preparing young people for the job market.
Human Trafficking still exists in California with porous border points that facilitate the illegal moving and selling of the most vulnerable victims. Assembly Bill 22 is California’s first law that sets higher criminal penalties for Human Trafficking. It is not known how many people are trafficked locally, or how many traffickers are apprehended and sentenced. But each step in the right direction attacks the job at hand gradually, if only saving a single drop in the vast bucket of human trafficking.

Director Fisher of the Red Window Project made a recent presentation to the Blackhawk Museum Guild and explained their modest mission. His group helps the most vulnerable victims of human trafficking; women and children. He spelled out how his staff and the International Justice Mission concentrate on the needy youth in Cebo City, the Philippines.

The crux of their organization’s mission is to focus on victims of modern slavery, one step at a time. Their staff prepares students to graduate high school and provides job training and career counseling to apply for jobs.
The mission and dedication of the Red Window Project is to rescue at-risk youth and plan their education with scholarships. Some of the rescued girls had been sold into slavery by traffickers, many others are the sole providers of siblings, but most of them will find a bright future with the help of those who are dedicated to raising awareness about the modern day slavery one person at a time.


D-DAY –The Day that Changed the War

On D-Day, seventy years ago, the Invasion of Normandy changed the course of the World War. The daring surgical strike against German-Occupied France was the catalyst that deterred Adolf Hitler’s forces from further entrapping Europe in deadly quicksand of possible all-out defeat.

The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and by 1944 already occupied several European nations. The continent was still reeling from the Great War that had ended in 1918—a mere two decades earlier.

To deter Britain’s anticipated attacks from the sea, German forces constructed fortifications along the Western Front known as “The Atlantic Wall.” The Nazi Military Machine secured 2,400 miles of coastline facing Britain from the Bay of Biscay to Arctic Ocean, in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Norway, with a force of 300,000 troops.

They constructed the coastal Atlantic Wall with millions of tons of cement and steel barricades, fortified with observation towers, encampment bunkers, pillboxes, gunnery emplacements, machine gun nests and impenetrable fortifications to repel attacks. Some subterranean hideouts had sleeping quarters and mess halls as well as defense weaponry. Along the French coast, many bunkers were camouflaged caves carved into cliffs while others were disguised as quaint cottages with Mansard roofs, dummy doors and phony lace curtains.

The Nazis had spent two years constructing the Atlantic Wall with a quarter million foreign conscripted slave laborers, POWs and workers from French Colonies in Asia. They were ill-fed and worked to death.
The Allies had to break through the near-impregnable coastal wall to defeat the Third Reich’s tyranny.

The prelude to the Normandy land battle was the vital air support of a 24,000-strong force, supplied by a trinity of nations; Britain, Canada and the United States. The RAF (Royal Air Force) and U.S. Army Air Force flew continual air assaults to pulverize and disable the Nazi fortifications. And on the night of June’s first full moon the bombardment of Nazi military installations was guided by ribbons of moonlight in nearby rivers.

The targeted air bombardments on fifty-miles of coastline weakened the Atlantic Wall for the dawn landings of thousands of men. American GIs, along with British and Canadian units, were to be dispatched from an armada of over 5,000 ships to LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) and amphibious crafts. Normandy_Invasion,_June_1944

The D-Day Invasion of Normandy was the largest such operation ever executed in world history, with simultaneous surgical assaults from all sides by air, land and sea. Allied Ground Forces stormed five targeted beaches at first light, knowing full well they were entering the Jaws of Death, and knowing when they set foot on the shores they would take hits from 88 mm artillery, mortars, rocket launchers, howitzers, machine gun fire, flame throwers, snipers and deadly land mines.

Demolition crews were among the first to rush beaches to neutralize mines; many blown to pieces before the sun came up. Cruisers, destroyers and troopships took mortar fire. Over 5000 sitting duck ships, vision cut by burning oil, loaded with supplies, tanks, Jeeps and trucks, were in the enemy’s scopes.

Vehicles landed, traversing the mined sands, soldiers following behind, stepping in the wheel ruts, others rushing to shelter in the dunes, Rangers rappelling cliffs. Smoke, fire, noise, explosions; mayhem was everywhere. Men lay dead or dying, Medics rushed and radios blared. Demo crews set charges to detonate mines; they took the biggest hits.
Coastal shorelines were mined and strewn with lethal steel obstacles to capsize landing craft and kill intruders; tetrahedral spikes, half-buried mines, mined spikes, and dragons’ teeth tank deterrents. Allies needed good vision to breech the shores at first light.Invasion of Normandy

The trinity of Allied Forces in Operation Overlord were to land on five different beaches, codenamed Utah, Omaha, (U.S.) Gold, Juno (Britain) and Sword (Canada). Britain’s launch points were Falmouth, Slapton, Portsmouth and New Haven.

The Allied beach raiders were delivered to channel waters by 5000 Naval and Merchant Navy ships carrying 195,000 men to be dispersed into amphibian vessels to the shores. Even though logistics of such an operation must have been nightmarish, the operation worked like clockwork.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the operation, in retrospect, was the military’s most daring General. He understood the forces’ penetration of the Atlantic Wall would depend upon favorable weather and tides, and yet the death toll would be still be horrendous. Eisenhower knew the danger the invasion posed. He understood that Operation Overlord could fail—and fail badly—and was aware that tens of thousands of Allied Forces could perish. But the warrior extraordinaire had raw guts, stamina, courage, and was a brilliant military strategist. He had the fortitude to take the chance, and through sheer military genius, changed the course of history.

General Eisenhower had arrived in Britain in January 1944 to set about planning the proposed invasion. He butted heads with Britain’s top military echelons including Prime Minister Winston Churchill. His strategic design for Victory in Europe was laid out with all possible scenarios. Planners knew weather and tides were to be a determining factor, and that they had to wait until conditions were viable for thousands of warships to cross the rough English Channel. The weather had a mind of its own, as winds could turn within hours. D-Day_rehearsal_cph.3c32795

Members of the Supreme High Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) consulted Britain’s best military meteorologists. Countdown to victory commenced early June, 1944. There was no precedent for such a mighty invasion with the largest armada ever assembled in military history. The 1942 Invasion of Sicily had enabled Allied Forces, under Patton and Montgomery, to traverse to Northern Italy, and now they were poised to penetrate the Atlantic Wall.
So, a full moon night Tuesday 6th day of June was targeted to enter a new phase in world history. The Invasion of Normandy was to be the event that turned the currents of war, leading to the greatest eventual victory the earth would ever see.

The Bravest of Men
Allied troops waiting in the south of England for orders were chomping at the bit, ready for action. Training sessions warned of the danger of even talking about the upcoming invasion. Allied troops were sequestered in fenced camps weeks before D-Day—not allowed to communicate with family or girlfriends by phone, cable or mail. Coastal residents were relocated ten miles away from all southern shorelines.

The mission of the jumpers in the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne “Band of Brothers” was to parachute behind enemy lines and destroy exit roads and bridges to thwart the enemy’s retreat. For weeks they had studied aerial reconnaissance photographs, topographical maps, and mock-up models of the Normandy terrain for night jumps.

By the time the jumpers parachuted from planes and gliders behind enemy lines, they had memorized layouts of the white cliffs jutting into Etretat Bay, contours of each beach, patchworks of Bocage region green fields with thickets and hedgerows, and the roads and bridges they had to sabotage. Allied troops knew not to bomb historic landmarks or the fabled Le Mont Saint Michel, the medieval abbey near Caen that loomed high on a rock island.WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  WORLD WAR II/WAR IN THE WEST/FRANCE

Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force provided air support by bombing the targeted region day and night, to soften up the enemy and penetrate the formidable Atlantic Wall. RAF Hurricane and Spitfire planes were on alert at Dover Base to fly missions on a minute’s notice. Many pilots were killed or captured; thousands never returned.

The Supreme Commander confirmed day and hour; wheels were set in motion for nearly 200,000 Allied troops to reach Normandy beaches before daybreak. One can imagine the orders; dismantle mined obstacles, assault German strongholds, clear out weapon and machine gun nests, neutralize the enemy, fight like hell and complete the mission.

The operation at hand lasted many days. Twenty percent of the Allied troops died and thousands were maimed before they forged north to Paris.

The build up to Operation Overlord was Top Secret; only a handful of inner circle planners had “For Your Eyes Only” access. British Agencies were ordered to disseminate false stories through Intelligence outlets and leak fictitious names and dummy armies. Faux info leaked that Allied Forces were poised to attack Pas-de-Calais on France’s northern shores in July. Spies and double-agents picked up phony information and German forces further reinforced the northern Atlantic Wall other than the actual targeted regions.

Knowing that Luftwaffe spy planes were reconnoitering British coasts, they constructed false military bases, and phantom forces were assigned to mighty General Patton. Set decorators from Shepperton Film Studios built Hollywood-style, faux, one-dimensional barracks, dummy planes and rubber blowup-trucks; the façade described as “The Eye of the Needle.”

An already-dead military man, “The Man Who Never Was,” disguised as an intelligence officer, was dropped into the sea from the air with false documents outlining an imminent attack on different shores. Germans retrieved the corpse washed ashore and presumed they had recovered valid, secret Intelligence. They were still buoyed with power after ousting the British Expeditionary Forces four years earlier in Dunkirk.

So, the Nazis were unprepared for the mighty Normandy raiders; unprepared that such brave warriors would knock down their monumental wall, and were totally unprepared that their elite forces would be decimated.

Almost four years prior to D-day, in mid-1940, Nazi behemoth Panzer tanks had pushed 338,000 soldiers of British Expeditionary Forces, including 100,000 Frenchmen, towards the English Channel. They were trapped in Dunkirk Harbour on the far Western Front, backs to the wall, with no escape route but the cruel sea.

Britain’s War Office alerted “everything that could float,” to rescue the trapped men from impending massacre. Big ships and small boats rushed all night from Dover to Dunkirk, navigating the 50-mile channel through watery mine fields.

Known as Operation Dynamo, lifesavers participated in the makeshift flotilla; a cruiser, 39 destroyers, yachts, ferries, trawlers, tugboats, gunboats, sail boats, motor boats, fishing boats, rowboats and lifeboats navigated the choppy channel. Indefatigable rescuers ferried soldiers to offshore transit ships, dodging strafers for nine solid days until the last man was out of Dunkirk.

Luftwaffe planes and surface vessels continually bombed rescue vessels in all-out attack as they rowed soldiers from the harbor. Sixty-eight thousand died, and 861 boats were sunk, but they never stopped the valiant rescue effort.
The Legend of the Little Boats is one of the war’s most beloved stories. Every rescuer, British and French, was honored with the Saint George’s Cross flag that they proudly flew above their humble barks, telling of their bravery at Dunkirk.

Germans did not succeed in killing them all, nor did they break the inimitable British spirit, but they commandeered the abandoned tanks, trucks, fuel tanks, ammunition and artillery weaponry; in all, a treasure trove of British engineering secrets. photo1

On the home front, exhausted from Blitzkrieg bombings, and with the Dunkirk near-massacre in mind, troops waited to proceed. Britain was poised to attack with over 150,000 Canadians, and 1.5 million American Servicemen and women stationed in England.

General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, was assisted by six others, including General Omar Bradley and Sir Bernard Montgomery. They confided the invasion plans to King George VI just before departure. Prime Minister Churchill said that General Eisenhower was the most powerful man in history.

The General knew every order of battle, every minute detail of each division’s time schedules, and knew that many must die on that fateful day to save others from Hitler’s horrific tyranny.
It would be years before the world would be stunned by the war’s death toll at about 50 million, and General Eisenhower could not know at that point of battle, that over 405,000 United States Military personnel would die before the war ended in 1945.

Bitter Victory
There were thousands of behind-the-scenes strange stories that affected the war. One such bizarre incident was a perceived Intelligence breach that caused alarm. An incredible coincidence nearly deep-sixed the entire operation five weeks before the invasion. An unassuming physics teacher, Leonard Dawe, a puzzle compiler, submitted five weekly crossword puzzles to London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. Clues included the top secret code-words used for the Normandy Invasion; Utah, Omaha, Neptune, Overlord, and Mulberry—code for artificial harbor tide breakers.
Military officials were convinced a spy was supplying Intel to the enemy. Scotland Yard picked up the puzzle compiler. After interrogation they concluded it was all just an incredible coincidence. The operation proceeded as planned.

Such stories make up the war’s tapestry. Prime Minister Winston Churchill warrants mention; already a seasoned warrior from the South African Boer War and WWI. He was crusty, adamant, and steadfast; a man of raw courage. He also gave the most astounding “blood, guts, and spirit” speeches in Parliament. Churchill’s “our darkest hour” speech will live forever.

Churchill’s biting telegrams and letters to President Roosevelt, begging for ships, are legendary. His threats to the then neutral America as being in the Nazis’ gun sights were bloodcurdling. Pearl Harbor attacks by the Japanese in 1941 slammed the Americans into the wartime European Theatre. The “Yanks” jumped in with guns ablaze and saved Britain.

When France, Britain’s ally, capitulated to Axis Powers, Churchill feared the Germans would take the fleet of French warships. He gave the admiral an ultimatum; scuttle all French naval ships or the British would blow them to smithereens. When the French declined, Churchill ordered Royal Navy warships from Gibraltar to bombard the cruisers and destroyers with deadly firepower. British warships blasted them with 14-inch guns sinking them into the sea off French Algeria. The collateral damage was over a thousand French sailors.

Parliament applauded Churchill’s resolve to beat Germany, and when Roosevelt realized the warrior was serious about winning the war, he sent warships and supplies to Britain’s aid.

When one of history’s most important forecasts promised good weather; spring tides and a full moon—they set Operation Overlord for Tuesday, 6th of June. To alert French Resistance fighters of the imminent invasion, BBC radio broadcast lines from Verlaine’s poem, “Wound my Heart with Monotonous Langour.” The Resistance partisans, crucial to the invasion’s success, were ready for the Allied night jumpers and started blowing up trains, rails, roads and bridges.

It can only be imagined how operation logisticians must have anguished about the 5000 ships carrying planes, weapons, minesweepers, amphibians, pontoons, LCTs, 150,000 jeeps, trucks, tanks, planes, food and medicine. And brilliant military innovation supported the logistics of transporting hundreds of thousands of men crossing the choppy channel to target the beaches at first light.

We have seen the blood and guts movies and have read historic reports. We know about D-Day—or do we? We may never understand what those brave young men were thinking. We may never know how calmly they faced potential death, and we will never understand, even upon entering the Jaws of Death, they were able to remain steadfast, on to glory.

Could those courageous men of the Allied Forces have known on that grey morning that within hours of storming the beaches that twenty percent of them would lay dead on the sands?

While films such as  The Longest Day, and Saving Private Ryan, and scores of British, J. Arthur Rank films, tell vividly of the horror, no movie can hope to explain the thoughts of those young, brave men, on that fateful morn.
To confuse the enemy and jam radar, Allies parachuted dummies and tinfoil chaff, and bombarded installations the night before. And on the morning of June 6, 1944, air support planes struck the coast with 11,000 sorties targeting railroad junctions, gun positions, and troop concentrations.

Californians 1st Lt. Anthony Pavone and 2nd Lt. Archie Maltbie were among the raiding pilots on that fateful day.
Pavone, a longtime family friend, recounted his personal account to my daughter Antonia. Anthony Pavone, 94, was a 1st Lt. in the Army Air Force, one of the D-Day pilots. His reaction to that day; “There were a lot of ships and boats out there—we were up in the altitude, couldn’t see the people getting killed—I assumed they were—it’s so far behind me, I don’t remember…I flew over and bombed the Germans ahead of the landing forces.” Asked what he had learned from the war he responded wisely; “War doesn’t pay…”

Archie “Lin” Maltbie, 90, was a fighter pilot flying P-47 Thunderbolts with 365th Fighter Group of Ninth Air Force—the “Hell Hawks” 388th Squadron. He signed up at 19, sailed on Queen Mary and was stationed in England three weeks before D-Day.

Archie tells of cross-channel missions on D-Day; strafing and bombing in the morning, again that afternoon to hit inland and coastal gun positions. “We were up before dawn, got briefed on our mission…skies were full of U.S. planes. On D-Day morning, thousands of ships were down there, so close you could walk from one to another like stepping stones. We saw red in the water. Blood tinted the beaches. I recall shell bursts, tracer bullets flying—it was rough down there. After D-Day we flew from French soil on leveled fields.”

Archie had already shot down enemy planes, and that August, flying at 300 mph, gunned a German ME 109. The Messerschmitt’s exploding debris blew to his canopy disabling the P-47. He baled-out, seconds before it blew up.
Maltbie parachuted, landed in a woodsy area near the River Seine, infested with Germans. Armed with a silk map and French phrase book, he was taken in by a family with the French Underground. He gave up his uniform, got a Basque passport and blended in. During German farmhouse inspections he pretended to be mute thus securing his faux Basque identity.

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Archie Maltbie, a retired pharmacist lives in San Jose, has two sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He wrote the foreword for a recently-published military history book, “Thunderbolts of the Hell Hawks,” authored by John Crump and Roy Sutherland. The coffee table book, rich with photos, is illustrated by Don Barnes.

And there was the late Capt. “Zim” Zimmer, pilot in 319th Bombardment Group, who bombed Italian train depots and Po River bridges to support Allied ground troops advancing north after the Invasion of Sicily.
In June 1945 he wrote; “This is how we were hit. Formation came over the coast, climbing from about 11,000 ft. [We] lost the leader in clouds at 16,000. Other wing ship was still there. Lead had disappeared. Not far ahead was the lead box…the other wing ship and I were only ones left. Kline thinks we were hit by flak—banged through ship and radio. Number two engine failed; we feathered it. I thought I could make formation and salvoed bombs to lighten load. We got ripped from stem to stern, losing altitude and speed. I tried to get power, just made the 180 when we got hit again. Landry fell behind my seat, yelled he was hit. Number three was throwing gales of oil—we were doing 110 at 9,000 ft. I couldn’t hold on. I called “abandon ship!” [We} went out the bomb bay—there must have been 7 Luftwaffe ME-109s concentrating on us! I caught a glimpse of my ship in my chute…pieces flew in the air…so long, Zim…”
Captain Zimmer landed in a field north of Pisa, was rescued by the Agostini family, and later taken as POW. After the war he reunited with the Italian family. Zim and Kay had twelve children. They lived on our street.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific Theatre, Navy man Bruno Costa, San Ramon resident, was a sonar-radar technician on a destroyer for three years. They torpedoed Penang-based German U-862 subs trolling Pacific waters. “We dropped depth charges on German submarines; we sank about nine. August ’45 I was in Okinawa when they dropped the bomb. I saw a lot of action—it was the best time of my life.”

These mentioned service members have lived to tell their stories—granted the right numbers in the lottery of life. So it is with respect and gratitude that we thank all military personnel for their service, and honor heroic men and women who bravely fought many battles in the war of wars to bring victory to Europe and the Pacific.

Bravo and Godspeed, Bands of Brothers all. May your contrails of conquest endure as a testament to your courage, and forever remind us of your valor and sacrifices as you soar unforgotten on the edge of the skies.