History Often Depends on Who Writes It
William F. Hogan of Yonkers KIA in Naval Battle Near Guadalcanal
USS Gregory in Port Circa 1942
Raising of the American Flag on Iwo Jima During World War II
From as far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by history.
For this, and many other things, my gratitude goes out to the good Sisters of Charity of St. Peter's grammar school in Yonkers, N.Y. They helped bring alive, for me, many of the figures and events of history; for example, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Patrick Henry, Pope Pius XII, Henry Hudson and Napoleon Bonaparte as well as the Civil War and the French and Indian War.
Unfortunately, World War One was always one of the last chapters in the textbooks we studied, and we seldom got far enough back in the book to study that important part of our history. We knew a lot more about World War II in those days, but the war wasn't history as much as it was current events.
While my interest in history continues to this day it was in those early formative years that I developed a passion for the subject.
Japanese Forces Sink the Gregory
I was only a child when Allied soldiers were dying on the beaches of Iwo Jima, where an uncle was wounded, and German U-boats hunted their prey in the Atlantic. Another uncle, William F. Hogan, after whom I was named, was lost near Guadalcanal when his ship, the USS Gregory, (a fast transport APD, converted from an obsolete destroyer,) was outgunned by Japanese destroyers and sunk early in the war.
But, as young as I was, I remember my feelings about that war very well. I recall the feelings of pride I had when my older brother, Don, started a Victory Garden in the backyard of our apartment house. Although I have no artistic talent at all, I used to try to draw airplanes and tanks; I learned how to make paper airplanes; I was eager to see the patriotic designs -- airplanes, tanks, etc. -- on the ration stamps we received.
Hitler's Face on the Palisades
And there was a darker side, no doubt influenced by many of the double features I watched in Yonkers movie houses, including "Destination Tokyo (1943)," "Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)," and "Back to Bataan (1945.)" Not only was I fearful that Frankenstein, or the Wolfman, may have been hiding under my bed, but, occasionally, I would have nightmares of Japanese Zeros attacking New York along the Hudson River, where an outcropping of vegetation created what looked like a perfect picture of Hitler's face on the cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades across the Hudson River during the war.
All these images resurfaced in my memory in March while I was editing a story about Yuko Tojo, granddaughter of Gen. Hideki Tojo, the object of American hatred from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day and beyond (My grandmother, whose four sons all served gallantly in the war -- including Uncle Bill, refused to buy anything marked "Made in Japan" for more than three decades.)
General Hideki Tojo Hanged
Yuko Tojo sought to honor the general's wish to hold a memorial for the war dead and to rehabilitate the memory of Tojo, who was hanged after the war for crimes against humanity.
This incident gave me pause. It's been said that the history of the world will be written by the victors; if the Axis powers had won World War II, what would the history books say about us then?
In my history book, George Washington really did cut down that cherry tree; Errol Flynn was an American hero, not a Nazi spy; and, as I'll always believe, Bing Crosby was truly a nice guy.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Aug. 5, 1999.