Riskers

The Private

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“He brought four people out. When he went to bring a fifth person out, the fire caught up with him.”

Emmanuel Mensah, a Ghanaian immigrant, was a National Guardsman. Although not on duty two weeks ago, he remained true to his vocation.

 

The Philosopher

Anne Dufourmantelle was at the beach last summer when she saw two children struggling in the water. She went in to rescue them, dying in the effort. She probably had a sense of the risk involved, as she was a student of the concept:

“We say in French ‘to risk one’s life,’ but perhaps we should say ‘to risk being alive.’ To be truly alive is a risk few take.”

 

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A Christmas Memory

 

On December 6, 1917, two ships collided near the shore of Halifax, Nova Scotia. One, filled with munitions for the Western Front, caught fire. Most of the city’s inhabitants were unaware of their mortal danger.

Vince Coleman, a train dispatcher, saw that calamity was imminent, and delayed his own evacuation so that he could warn inbound trains to halt. He and two thousand others perished in one of history’s largest explosions.

 

 

The city of Boston responded quickly. Abraham Ratshesky, a banker, public servant, and philanthropist, led the way:

Ratshesky mobilized that first “relief special,” getting the workers out of Boston on the night of December 6. The group was so determined to reach Halifax that its members climbed out of the train in the snowstorm to help shovel the tracks.

In gratitude for Boston’s help, every year the province of Nova Scotia sends the Hub its official Christmas tree.

 

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The Doctor, the Submariner, and the Cook

 

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In 1958, a Soviet virologist proposed that all countries work together to end smallpox.  As this tribute notes,” no disease had ever been eradicated. No one knew if it could even be done.”

In 1977, the last case was found in Somalia.

Smallpox is the only human disease to have been eradicated. Thanks to what Viktor Zhdanov started, efforts to end polio, malaria, and several other diseases are now underway.

 

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During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a US warship began to fire warning shots at a Soviet submarine. Unfortunately, only the Americans knew it was a warning.

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The Explorer

 

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In her spare time, Alexander wrote two books on science for children and mentored young people, especially African American girls. “She wanted children of color to see themselves as scientists,” her sister Suzanne said.

 

The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799. Carved two thousand years before, its text was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, which had been a mystery.

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Claudia Alexander was NASA’s top scientist on the Rosetta project, which launched a spacecraft on a ten-year mission to a comet. Comets are small icy worlds created when the planets were formed, billions of years ago. By studying comets, we learn about our own origins.

As she said in a LA Times profile, published less than a year before her death from cancer, “For me, this is among the purposes of my life — to take us from states of ignorance to states of understanding with bold exploration that you can’t do every day.”

 

 

 

The Guarantors

The French Revolution, like the American Revolution, advanced an idea that was then revolutionary: people have basic rights.

Police officers Ahmed Merabet and Xavier Jugelé died protecting these rights.

 

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“He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity.”

Officer Merabet, a Muslim, was killed by terrorists who attacked a satirical newspaper known for mocking Islam.

Officer Jugelé, a gay man, was killed guarding the cultural bureau of Turkey, a Muslim country.

 

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The Vexillologist

 

 

Before Whitney Smith, the study of flags didn’t have a name. So he invented the word vexillology. He was 18 years old.

According to his New York Times obituary, this scholar not only increased our knowledge of flags; he added to them:

Mr. Smith came up with a prototype, a golden arrowlike triangle with an overlapping red triangle against a green ground. He then asked his mother to sew it and sent it in. It was adopted, with slight modifications. Mr. Smith did not find out for six years, when Guyana gained formal independence.

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There have been over two dozen versions  of the Stars and Stripes since independence. Which was Mr. Smith’s favorite? The Betsy Ross flag, because “a ring of stars better symbolizes our harmony in diversity.”