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Since December of 2013, My father has been battling an ailment complicated by his advanced age (92) and pre-existing conditions he has managed to bear over the decades. The conditions would surprise no one, a long life means many opportunities to get sick. But, whereas several of these conditions would have struck-down individuals of lesser countenance, my father persevered.

A long life has its benefits. However, it will leave one susceptible to trials and tribulations. Some are emotionally gut-wrenching and could easily have incapacitated the strong amongst us. On this list we can add the death of three sons, a wife, and multiple bouts with Cancer. These and many other events are the chapters of my father’s life- Nicomedes Valentin.

92 years is a very long time. There is a story to tell.

Before the advent of fatherhood, my father toiled as a peasant laborer in the sugarcane fields of Depression-Era Puerto Rico. The island was the home of his ancestors dating to, and beyond, the European colonial period. He toiled at this back-breaking work for years only because he was full of the strength and vitality that accompanies youth. This could have been his lot for the rest of his life and for the generations that he would ‘father’. Events, however, would intervene as it did for everyone else, leading up to and during World War II.

Pearl Harbor ushered the US into World War II, but it could be said that the nation was already preparing for a conflict it hadn’t entered yet. When the nation ‘called’, my father ‘answered’ by enlisting in the US Army in 1941. For the duration of the war, my father was sent to numerous stations throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and the Pacific basin. Among his stops we can include: Puerto Rico (his home), St. Thomas, Panama, Galapagos Archipelago, and Hawaii. One of his assignments was ‘cleanup’ of the debris resulting from the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When the war ended in the Pacific, it marked the official end of WWII and the start of my family. My mother and father had their first child as the nation started it’s conversion from a wartime footing to one of peace. It began with the birth of my eldest brother.

From the 1940s through the 1950s, the nation leaped to global preeminence, militarily and economically. My father road the wave of ‘opportunity’ and moved the growing family to New York City. By 1960, my family had moved to Brooklyn and swelled to seven children, I being the youngest. The “good times” we associate with the Post-WWII period and the 1950s, was fading as the decade of the 60s began.

From 1960 – 1975, the economy failed to show the robustness of the Post-war era and my father’s inability to find steady, consistent work landed us on the ‘Public Dole’. Public Assistance, better known by it’s colloquial name, Welfare, kept us fed with the nations agricultural surplus. I remember the huge, silver-colored cans with black print that we were given as recipients of the government’s largess. Powdered eggs, huge bricks of butter and cheese, and peanut butter populated our cupboards. To this day, I love eating peanut butter and bread with butter.

The earliest I recall my mother working outside our home was in the 1970s. Her work in a nursing home provided steady income and benefits that my father’s intermittent work could not obtain. Always, my mother did whatever she could, from working in a seamstress factory to piecemeal work at home, to help make ends meet. My father and mother took turns caring for my sisters and I as my four older brothers were semi-independent by then. I recall my father bringing lunch to our elementary school every day for my youngest sister and I. Invariably, the lunch consisted of hotdogs wrapped in aluminum foil. To this day, hotdogs remain a favorite treat for me. When my father was working my mother would be home tending to us. Like two eagles, one parent would care for the chicks while the other hunted. Then, they switch and reverse the roles. Only a short 8 – 10 hour period (often during the late night) saw an overlap of their schedule.

At ten years of age, the 70s introduced me to life’s trials and tribulations. The passing of one of my twin brothers in 1970 was a lesson in growing-up that I could do without. While death is part of life, I have never come to terms with it. I did not like the impact death had on my immediate family in that first encounter and I still don’t in my most recent encounter.

The 1980s was the beginning of a lifelong medical obstacle course for my father. He was first diagnosed with colon cancer and had to endure painful treatment that ultimately left him without a significant portion of his intestines. This would handicap him ‘publicly’, but privately he could not keep from doing work in and out of our Brooklyn apartment. He would be, depending on the day and hour, a gardner (vegetables), carpenter, plumber, cook, home painter, plasterer (?), disciplinarian, and exterminator (rodents). As medical problems reappeared, he endured additional procedures and a temporary cessation of routine activities while bedridden in the hospital. When he returned home, he was active once again.

Medically, my father received blows that could have cut his life short. Unfortunately, he was also receiving blows of a more emotional nature. From November 1970 through January 2007, my father endured the passing of three children and his wife. How he survived that is beyond me.

The last 14 years had slowed my father and ultimately confined him to a wheelchair or bed by December 2013. Since then, his health and will to live were visibly evaporating. Every time I spoke with him he would try very hard to convince me that he was fine. But, I could see otherwise.

In his final hospitalization, he would argue with my sisters to take him home. He complained that he had responsibilities to attend to. Not the least of which were the lost wages his favorite home attendant was enduring because her services were not needed while he was hospitalized. When news from his doctor indicated that medical intervention may not improve his condition, the family decided to accept his desire to return home. Within a few hours of returning home, the agitated behavior ceased and he became calm.

My father, the strongest human I’ve ever known, lasted one week in his home. At 92, he passed into the hands of his creator late Wednesday evening, 11 June. He left behind four remaining children and nearly 100 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. To the youngest in our family, his life is now a story; His exploits, myths.

As we laid him to rest near his wife and son, a military honor guard performed the ritual that culminates with the words found in this post’s title. I couldn’t help thinking how grateful we all are for having known him and being his children.

Posted by: Mr.V | 31/03/2014

Dead Cattle and Greek Fire –

Confederate constitution adopted

In Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas adopt the Permanent Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

The constitution resembled the Constitution of the United States, even repeating much of its language, but was actually more comparable to the Articles of Confederation–the initial post-Revolutionary War U.S. constitution–in its delegation of extensive powers to the states. The constitution also contained substantial differences from the U.S. Constitution in its protection of slavery, which was “recognized and protected” in slave states and territories. However, in congruence with U.S. policy since the beginning of the 19th century, the foreign slave trade was prohibited. The constitution provided for six-year terms for the president and vice president, and the president was ineligible for successive terms. Although a presidential item veto was granted, the power of the central Confederate government was sharply limited by its dependence on state consent for the use of any funds and resources.

Although Britain and France both briefly considered entering the Civil War on the side of the South, the Confederate States of America, which survived until April 1865, never won foreign recognition as an independent government.

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Supreme Court rules on Amistad mutiny

At the end of a historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules, with only one dissent, that the African slaves who seized control of the Amistad slave ship had been illegally forced into slavery, and thus are free under American law.

In 1807, the U.S. Congress joined with Great Britain in abolishing the African slave trade, although the trading of slaves within the U.S. was not prohibited. Despite the international ban on the importation of African slaves, Cuba continued to transport captive Africans to its sugar plantations until the 1860s, and Brazil to its coffee plantations until the 1850s.

On June 28, 1839, 53 slaves recently captured in Africa left Havana, Cuba, aboard the Amistad schooner for a life of slavery on a sugar plantation at Puerto Principe, Cuba. Three days later, Sengbe Pieh, a Membe African known as Cinque, freed himself and the other slaves and planned a mutiny. Early in the morning of July 2, in the midst of a storm, the Africans rose up against their captors and, using sugar-cane knives found in the hold, killed the captain of the vessel and a crewmember. Two other crewmembers were either thrown overboard or escaped, and Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montes, the two Cubans who had purchased the slaves, were captured. Cinque ordered the Cubans to sail the Amistad east back to Africa. During the day, Ruiz and Montes complied, but at night they would turn the vessel in a northerly direction, toward U.S. waters. After almost nearly two difficult months at sea, during which time more than a dozen Africans perished, what became known as the “black schooner” was first spotted by American vessels.

On August 26, the USS Washington, a U.S. Navy brig, seized the Amistad off the coast of Long Island and escorted it to New London, Connecticut. Ruiz and Montes were freed, and the Africans were imprisoned pending an investigation of the Amistad revolt. The two Cubans demanded the return of their supposedly Cuban-born slaves, while the Spanish government called for the Africans’ extradition to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder. In opposition to both groups, American abolitionists advocated the return of the illegally bought slaves to Africa.

The story of the Amistad mutiny garnered widespread attention, and U.S. abolitionists succeeded in winning a trial in a U.S. court. Before a federal district court in Connecticut, Cinque, who was taught English by his new American friends, testified on his own behalf. On January 13, 1840, Judge Andrew Judson ruled that the Africans were illegally enslaved, that they would not be returned to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder, and that they should be granted free passage back to Africa. The Spanish authorities and U.S. President Martin Van Buren appealed the decision, but another federal district court upheld Judson’s findings. President Van Buren, in opposition to the abolitionist faction in Congress, appealed the decision again.

On February 22, 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the Amistad case. U.S. Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, who served as the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829, joined the Africans’ defense team. In Congress, Adams had been an eloquent opponent of slavery, and before the nation’s highest court he presented a coherent argument for the release of Cinque and the 34 other survivors of the Amistad.

On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had been illegally enslaved and had thus exercised a natural right to fight for their freedom. In November, with the financial assistance of their abolitionist allies, the Amistad Africans departed America aboard the Gentleman on a voyage back to West Africa. Some of the Africans helped establish a Christian mission in Sierra Leone, but most, like Cinque, returned to their homelands in the African interior. One of the survivors, who was a child when taken aboard the Amistad as a slave, eventually returned to the United States. Originally named Margru, she studied at Ohio’s integrated and coeducational Oberlin College in the late 1840s, before returning to Sierra Leone as evangelical missionary Sara Margru Kinson.

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U.S.S. Monitor battles C.S.S. Virginia

On this day in 1862, one of the most famous naval battles in American history occurs as two ironclads, the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia fight to a draw off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The ships pounded each other all morning but their armor plates easily deflected the cannon shots, signaling a new era of steam-powered iron ships.

The C.S.S. Virginia was originally the U.S.S. Merrimack, a 40-gun frigate launched in 1855. The Confederates captured it and covered it in heavy armor plating above the waterline. Outfitted with powerful guns, the Virginia was a formidable vessel when the Confederates launched her in February 1862. On March 8, the Virginia sunk two Union ships and ran one aground off Hampton Roads.

The next day, the U.S.S. Monitor steamed into the Chesapeake Bay. Designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, the vessel had an unusually low profile, rising from the water only 18 inches. The flat iron deck had a 20-foot cylindrical turret rising from the middle of the ship; the turret housed two 11-inch Dahlgren guns. The Monitor had a draft of less than 11 feet so it could operate in the shallow harbors and rivers of the South. It was commissioned on February 25, 1862, and arrived at Chesapeake Bay just in time to engage the Virginia.

The battle between the Virginia and the Monitor began on the morning of March 9 and continued for four hours. The ships circled one another, jockeying for position as they fired their guns. The cannon balls simply deflected off the iron ships. In the early afternoon, the Virginia pulled back to Norfolk. Neither ship was seriously damaged, but the Monitor effectively ended the short reign of terror that the Confederate ironclad had brought to the Union navy.

Both ships met ignominious ends. When the Yankees invaded the James Peninsula two months after the battle at Hampton Roads, the retreating Confederates scuttled their ironclad. The Monitor went down in bad weather off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, at the end of the year. Though they had short lives, the ships ushered in a new era in naval warfare.

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C.S.S. Virginia terrorizes Union Navy

On this day in 1862, the Confederate ironclad Virginia wreaks havoc on a Yankee squadron off Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The C.S.S. Virginia was originally the U.S.S. Merrimack, a 40-gun frigate launched in 1855. The Merrimack served in the Caribbean and was the flagship of the Pacific fleet in the late 1850s. In early 1860, the ship was decommissioned for extensive repairs at the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia. It was still there when the Civil War began in April 1861, and Union sailors sank the ship as the yard was evacuated. Six weeks later, a salvage company raised the ship and the Confederates began rebuilding it.

The project required some $172,000 to build an ironclad upon the Merrimack’s hull. A new gun deck was added and an iron canopy was draped over the entire vessel. The most challenging part of the construction came in finding the iron plating. Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, finally produced it, but the plant had to alter its operations to roll more than 300 tons of scrap iron for the 2-inch thick plating.

The Virginia was launched on February 17, 1862. On March 8, it steamed from Norfolk toward Union ships guarding the mouth of the James River at Hampton Roads. Rumors of the ironclad had circulated for several days among the Yankee sailors, and now they saw the creation first hand. The Virginia attacked the U.S.S. Cumberland, firing several shots into her before ramming the Federal ship and sinking it. The other Union ships fired back, but the shots were, in the words of one observer, “having no more effect than peas from a pop-gun.” Ninety-eight shots hit the Virginia, but none did significant damage. The Virginia then attacked the U.S.S. Congress, which exploded when fires caused by the Confederate barrage reached the powder magazine. The Virginia next ran the U.S.S. Minnesota aground before calling it a day.

It had been the worst day in U.S. naval history and signaled the end of the wooden ship era. But help was on its way–the next day, the Virginia fought the most famous naval duel in history with the U.S.S. Monitor, a Union ironclad that was able to fight the Confederate ship to a draw.

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