History on the Water

The USS Orleck Naval Museum docked serving the community at Lake Charles, LA.
The USS Orleck Naval Museum docked at Lake Charles, LA.

by Rick Bretz

When a Navy ship stops serving the United States in defense of the nation, the next step can be the scrap metal yard, sold to another country or in the case of 164 other ships, become an interesting, floating museum.

A view from the bridge of the USS Orleck.
A view from the bridge of the USS Orleck.

The US Naval Ships Association states there are 164 Naval Museums throughout the United States.  There are many more throughout the world from other countries. The site below gives a synopsis of the museum ships travelers can find while touring.


The USS Orleck is just one of those ships.  However, the journey from the initial launch to where it floats today at a dock in Lake Charles, La., is an interesting story that involves two wars, another country, a hurricane and a few determined individuals.

Instrumentation on the bridge.
Instrumentation on the bridge.

She was named after Lt. Joseph Orleck, commander of the USS Nauset, and a World War II hero killed in action in the Gulf of Salerno when his ship took fire from German aircraft September 9, 1943. Lt. Orleck died while trying to save all of his crew as the ship went down.  He was awarded the Navy Cross.

Lt. Joseph Orleck
Lt. Joseph Orleck

The Gearing Class destroyer was launched on May 12, 1945 by Mrs. Joseph Orleck. She served in the Korean War and then underwent an upgrade as part of what the Navy called the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization program in 1962. After that she served with distinction in the Vietnam War by providing Naval gunfire support missions as well as search and rescue and reconnaissance efforts.

USS Orleck at sea
USS Orleck at sea

From there in 1982, the history gets interesting as she was transferred to the Turkish Navy and renamed the TCN Yucetepe where she served the Turkish Navy until 2000.

Turkish labels still dot the ship from her days in that country’s Navy.


In 2000, the Turkish Navy transferred the ship to the Southeast Texas War Memorial and Heritage Foundation where she was a Naval Museum to serve as a museum and memorial and it might stayed there at Ochiltree-Inman Park on the Southeast Texas coast but for Hurricane Rita in 2005.  The hurricane damaged her during the storm and after receiving repairs the City of Orange voted to not let her return.

After several years docked and relocated from one place to another, the Lake Charles City Council voted to let her dock on their shores and on May 20, 2010, she was moved to the city where she rests today.

The big guns are at the ready but are rendered inactive as part of an agreement with the government.
The big guns are at the ready but are rendered inactive as part of an agreement with the government.


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A Book Recommendation-Five Came Back


Timeline for blog


by Rick Bretz

If you watch the Turner Classic Movies Channel and study history, then “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” will fascinate you.

five came back cover


Researched and written by Mark Harris, he is a prolific writer for many periodicals such as Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine as well as the New York Times and Washington Post. His previous work was also a best seller, “Pictures and the Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.”

The book covers the exploits of five Hollywood heavyweights who hung up their tinsel town regalia to put on a uniform and shoot the combat footage that we see today on the History channel and other documentaries. The title refers to five powerful Hollywood people who could have stayed in their comfortable California surroundings but went to war overseas, survived the experience, and came back alive to produce more classic films.

It covers John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra. These five were responsible for some of Hollywood’s classics. Movies that film historians consider the finest the industry has produced and film school students today analyze shot by shot. These are also classic stories film buffs see each day when movie channels air them at all hour into the early morning.

Here is the short list of the five’s accomplishments.

1.  “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur

2. “The Grapes of Wrath” Starring Henry Fonda

3. “The Maltese Falcon” Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre

4.  “Young Mr. Lincoln” Starring Henry Fonda

5. “Woman of the Year” Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

6. “Shane” Starring Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur

7. “Mrs. Miniver” Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon and Teresa Wright

8. “The Best Years of Our Lives” Starring Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy and Frederic March

The book tells the story of five movie professionals and how the war changed them. Once they joined the military, they trained their film teams, coordinated their missions and made sure the public was able to see their productions. These five went on dangerous missions in the air as well as on the ground to capture shots that would tell the story of how the allies won the war and what it cost in lives.  They were a key part in keeping morale high on the home front by telling loved ones what their service men and women were doing overseas.

The book also covers the politics involved with creating a documentary and field photo unit with civilians turned officers leading the groups. At the beginning, some government officials were in favor of commissioning these five future officers to be charged with documenting the war while others thought it wasn’t the best idea. The important people, like General George C. Marshal, were proponents of the program.

The book reads slowly at times when Harris outlines the administrative maze that the documentary group had to navigate when confronted with Washington personalities and egos.  Once you get past that, the author does a wonderful job of describing how Hollywood directors handle the military life and protocols.  The action really begins when Harris describes the harrowing and dangerous missions some of them witnessed while viewing combat through a lens.

John Ford’s unit shot footage of the Battle of the Midway while John Huston and William Wyler went on bombing runs with the Army Air Corps. William Wyler lost hearing in one ear and partially in another from the concussion flak noise while trying to get some aerial combat footage. George Stevens had the unfortunate task of shooting horrific scenes of the liberated Nazi concentration camps. He also produced a film shown as evidence of the atrocities at the Nuremberg Trials to the war criminals and witnesses in the gallery.  Stevens was the last to come back and thus through a film lens saw up close the inhumanity people are capable of to other human beings. This experience forever changed George Stevens as the book covers in detail.

“Five Came Back” is an entertaining and informative read, especially if you like history. More importantly, it points out how the Hollywood elite of that era stood up and did their part when asked by the government to contribute.

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Thanks Mr. Edison!! And Every Inventor After Him


by Rick Bretz

The digital, broadcast and print media reflect,  daily, the worst parts of human nature.

Evil ISIS hate groups commit atrocities in the name of religion. Countries invade neighboring countries killing innocent civilians. In the United States road rage violence continues just because a mother wanted to teach her daughter the proper way to drive. With all of that in the open, I think it is time to focus on an event that has given people joy since it first sent audio waves across a room to the human ear.

On this day, February 19th, 1878, Thomas Edison received his patent for the gramophone or phonograph. Since this invention dropped its first needle on a cylinder and then a disc, musical instruments, arrangements, lyrics and the human voice have made the audience forget their problems for just a few minutes, or for a good hour if you wanted to hear the whole album, LP or song list. Producers, singers and talent have given us songs we’ll never forget.

Here are some of my favorites. These are songs, I think, have a perfect mix of lyrics, vocals and instrumental arrangements. Music and the arts in general are the best parts of civilization. Especially when being civilized is the exception rather than the norm in some parts of the world.


Let the Day Begin-The Call

Everyone should wake up and listen to this song before they do anything else. If everyone did, there would be happier people on the highways during the morning commute.


Night Train-Rickie Lee Jones

Rickie Lee’s voice is an instrument in itself and she uses it to perfection on this song about love and moving down the line.



On the Turning Away-Pink Floyd

This is a song that simply states, stop looking away and start doing something to make the society a little better.


It Was a Very Good Year-Frank Sinatra

This song is about growing up but all you have to do is think about your experiences to connect with this song. Also, reading between the lines for this song is a fun exercise because in Sinatra’s day, a song writer had to be more subtle with words.


I Will Always Love You-Whitney Houston

Wow! Whitney Houston could sing. It’s worth listening to this song just to hear Whitney Houston hit all those notes. The words by Dolly Parton are pretty emotional also.


Jokerman-Bob Dylan

Interpreting Dylan’s words are always mind-benders. However, this song is perfect union with the music and lyrics. I never get tired of listening to it.


I Blinked Once-Steve Forbert

A song about growing and before you know it time has passed you by. Forbert knows how to put words together.


Games People Play-Alan Parson’s Project

Alan Parson produced a masterpiece for his “Turn of Friendly Card” album. It’s about luck, life and happiness and this song talks about it all.


This is my list of top eight great songs. You may have a list or other considered songs. If so, write a comment and let me know your opinion.

Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, Fleetwood Mac Jackson Browne,  Stevie Wonder, Eagles and anything by Van Morrison


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Tobacco, Smoking and the Media


Timeline for blog



Post idea suggested and with assistance by Olivia Boye from Florida

By Rick Bretz

The tobacco crop was an original export from the colonies to England and Europe at the onset of colonization of North America.  It was a building block for the economic security of the United States. As the United States expanded and grew, tobacco products gained a healthy share of the disposable income market.  In time, for some people, that disposable income became a necessary purchase for many Americans.  The medical community and government officials came to the conclusion in the 20th Century that tobacco products, although enjoyable for some smokers, may create significant health issues with usage over time.

1940s Cigarette Ad
1940s Cigarette Ad

Tobacco product advertising from the 1940s through the middle 1960s remained unchallenged but the health argument remained in the background of the issue. Several television shows and networks brought on major tobacco companies to finance their programming.  Film stars were seen smoking while some were paid to endorse a certain brand.  The youth of America saw that smoking was cool and smoking meant that you were among the “in-crowd”;  and furthermore, your  personality exuded danger and adventure.  All of this, in addition to the belief that smoking was harmless, contributed to the steady rise in smokers over time.  This, of course, increased profits, and provided the necessary marketing funds for further advertising strategies.

The other side of the smoking issue relates to the altering of the carcinogen levels and other additives by companies to increase the likelihood of addiction. This is an important part of the story.  Nevertheless, it is an issue for another time.

The advertising game changed after the Surgeon General released a Health Advisory Report on June 11, 1964, outlining the negative health issues from long-term smoking.

From the Center for Disease Control website:

The Advisory Committee concluded that cigarette smoking is—

  • A cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men
  • A probable cause of lung cancer in women
  • The most important cause of chronic bronchitis
1960s ad
1960s ad

Later, the U.S. Congress adopted the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 and the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969. These laws—

  • Required a health warning on cigarette packages
  • Banned cigarette advertising in the broadcasting media
  • Called for an annual report on the health consequences of smoking
1980s print media ad
1980s print media ad

Despite pressure from the tobacco and broadcasting lobbies, the push to get a law passed to ban tobacco advertising gained momentum.  That led to the act to ban cigarette advertising from television and radio in 1971. On April 1, 1971, President Richard Nixon, a pipe smoker himself, signed into law legislation that prohibited tobacco advertising on television and radio.  Estimates at the time, showed that broadcast companies lost more than 220 million a year from advertising revenues.  At that time, 220 million dollars was a big chunk of change that had to be replaced in order for the industry to satisfy investors and profit margins. According to broadcasting records, the last televised cigarette ad aired on the Johnny Carson Show at 11:50 PM on January 1st 1971.  Carson’s ad occurred on January 1st, so that, in a compromise to the broadcasting lobby, they were able to get their last influx of profits by airing cigarette ads on the New Year’s bowl games.  What was broadcast media’s loss, was print media’s gain.  Tobacco company marketing campaigns moved advertising dollars to magazines and other print media.

Here are the primary 1971 smoking ad ban laws.

  • Made it unlawful to advertise cigarettes on radio or television beginning Jan. 2, 1971.
  • Changed the mandatory wording on cigarette packages from: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous To Your Health” to: “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous To Your Health.”
  • Prohibited all state and local health-related regulation or prohibition of cigarette advertising.

Other provisions in the law are included here:


The video link below is from the archives and shows different cigarette ads through time.



According to the druglibary.org, “On October 20,1971, a U.S. District Court ruled that the Congressional ban on cigarette advertising is constitutional. The ruling stated that such advertising does not qualify under the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech; a sharp distinction was drawn between guarantees of freedom of speech for individuals and the “limited extent” to which broadcast advertising qualifies for such protection.”

Since those years when legislation was passed to curb cigarette advertising, the government and particularly congressional leaders have sought to prevent the sale of products to children, teenagers and adults by requiring age checks and high taxes on cigarette packs, cartons and boxes.

Some researchers have questioned whether this has curbed smoking numbers, considering the fact these same companies sell to foreign countries despite increasing legislation to do what the United States accomplished in the 60s and 70s.  It seems today, that it may be easier and cheaper to buy a marijuana cigarette or product than a tobacco product.  So, as they used to say in the military, “At ease, smoke ’em if you got ’em!”



                                                              1940s-1971                        1972-1990                           1991-2000            2001-2015

Film                                                Used frequently                                                                                              Used Sparingly


Television/Radio                      For advertising dollars until Jan 2, 1971                                             Characterization


Print                                              Continued with Surgeon General’s Warning


Billboards                                   Continued with Surgeon General’s Warning


World Wide Web                                                                                                        Pro-smoking imagery on websites



Medical Research                             Jan 11, 1964, Surgeon General releases first Health Advisory Report


Overseas                                             Effort to increase market in other countries after consumer domestic  demand decreased

Strategies                                           Marketing can’t depict smoking as being cool or moving up the social ladder



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A Book Recommendation-A Circle of Treason

Circle of Treasonby Rick Bretz

Cold War consequences remained high from the end of World War II to long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For some, the price of being captured meant prison time, public trials, or for some, torture and execution by being shot in the back of the head.

The authors of the book,”A Circle of Treason“, Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, started their careers in the CIA in 1967 and 1954 respectively.  The authors give a detailed account of their lives in the CIA.  Each started out as Administrative and Intelligence Assistants and advanced to the level of station and branch chiefs.

The book is exactly what the subtitle states, “A CIA account of the traitor Aldrich Ames and the men he betrayed.”  The authors produced a book that details the inside story of how the agency caught one of its own spies, Aldrich Ames.   What can’t be denied after looking at the evidence  is Ames’ dishonesty, lack of integrity, avarice and betrayal to the people he swore to protect.

Aldrich Ames, according to the authors, caused the deaths of many CIA assets who were vital to the security of the United States at a time when both countries had nuclear weapons and not that much command and control over them. The task force investigated Ames the detailed information on bank accounts and meeting they found led to his arrest in 1994.  So why take this long to write the book.    The authors let the readers know up front that their work was vetted and scrubbed by the CIA’s Publications Review Board so nothing in the book compromises security.  The CIA review process took three years. Between that and the insistence that the book be accurate gave the book a published date of 2013.

The book covers the history of the team, the authors’ careers and how each arrived at the table of five principal investigators with the mission of trying to find out why their CIA assets were being systematically identified, called back to Moscow, tortured for information and executed.  The years long investigation was tedious and frustrating but the Grimes and Vertefeuille continued their dogged pursuit eliminating a group of people to get to the only one they determined could be the mole that gave up their people.

The book makes clear that it is not enough to accuse someone of spying and being a mole for America’s adversaries but an agency has to have proof.  Proof that can hold up in court.  This means having dates, times, documents, video and audio if possible so that when an officer or agent arrest the person that person pleads guilty or there is a conviction.  The book covers that and includes instances where Ames was given his own office so that the agency could hide a camera to get more information for their case.

What is particularly chilling is how Ames sells out his people for money and nothing else.  The authors give their Soviet assets a human form by covering their backgrounds, their families and revealing why they might have chosen to spy for the United States and rather than be loyal to the communist regime.

The internal political issues and personality clashes hindered the process as it moved along.  As an understatement, these problems are systematic of the Washington, DC, area government offices in general.  It is a testament to the group that they stuck with their mission of identifying the traitor.

The book is highly recommended for getting the inside story from two people who actually were there and understood the process and why it took a while to capture on of their own.  In the aftermath, many people didn’t get proper recognition for sticking with the investigation.  This book outlines who the primary heroes in this case and who in the bureaucracy set out to place blame and take credit where credit wasn’t due.

These two highly skilled professionals and authors fall into the heroes category but they are professionals and getting the man who betrayed so many people was enough.  This book opens the building cipher lock doors, walks by the badge checker to the rooms where daily CIA operators work so the reader can find out how they caught their mole.  It doesn’t tell you everything but it is as close as the public will get.

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Eight Songs About History That Move You



by Rick Bretz

The Way It Is-Bruce Hornsby and the Range, 1986

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A song that references the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 and specifically the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to “Give those who ain’t got a little more” as Bruce Hornsby sings.  The also refers to the Food Stamp Act of 1964 to help those people who need an assist to boost themselves up the economic ladder.  Best remembered words of the song:   That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.  That’s just the way it is.  Ah-but don’t you believe them.


We Didn’t Start The Fire-Billy Joel, 1989

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Billy Joel has stated that he doesn’t like singing this song in concert because he has to remember a string names and events from history. Indeed, he’s on record as saying he didn’t think the song was “that great to begin with.”   Song criticisms aside, the song does a good job of listing several famous people and historical events while rhyming at the same time.

Here’s one of the best:

“Rosenbergs, H Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye

Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen Maciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye”

SS Edmund Fitzgerald


The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald-Gordon Lightfoot, 1976

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Gordon Lightfoot researched the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald  and put the events leading up to the freighter sinking into a song that is classic still being heard today.  The SS Edmund Fitzgerald Great Lakes Freighter surrendered to the cold waters of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 during a heavy storm and with it took the lives of its crew of 29 souls on board.  It’s a perfect blend of words and haunting music.


Dirty Laundry-Don Henley, 1982

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I know this doesn’t reference history but it refers to the people who write the first draft. This is an amusing song to listen to but it is so true. He wrote this song in 1982 but it is relevant as ever today. He’s turns the microscope on media but he’s really scolding us, the audience, for liking it way too much. Lines like “People love it when you lose” throughout the song disrobe the media so the listener can see the king, the media, without their clothes while simultaneously scolding the audience for giving the media the power to continue their wicked ways.


Bloody Sunday

Sunday Bloody Sunday-U2, 1983

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Considered one of the best call to action songs of all time. Bono tells the listener he’s tired of the violence. It’s non-partisan song but he is clear from the lyrics that he wants the killing to stop.   The militaristic drum beat in the beginning sets the tone for the words and music U2 brings to the song.  Lead singer Bono sings, “I can’t believe the news today.  Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.”   Later, he asks “How long must we sing this song.” From their “War” album, the song concentrates on the “Bloody Sunday” incident in Derry, Northern Ireland in the Bogside area on January 30, 1972 when 13 protestors died from injuries from battling British forces during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association March.


Abraham, Martin and John-Dion, 1968

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This is a song that has been covered by many singers and is about three significant people in the fight for civil rights. The words, “Has anybody here seen by old friend Abraham” and repeated for Martin and John are poignant throughout the rendition. A song about what might have been.

memorial for day the music died

American Pie-Don McLean, 1971

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A song about a terrible plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959 that killed everyone on board including Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

On the surface this masterpiece of writing is about that plane crash but has several references and meanings in the lyrics left to interpretation of the listener. The interpretation is left to the audience because Don McLean refuses to say what he had in mind when writing the lyrics. This has left several people to create websites to fill the void about what the song means.


“19”-Paul Hardcastle, 1985

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This song is about the Vietnam War and how it affected soldiers after they came back to the United States.  It is a song that is relevant to every soldier coming home  from every country involved in a conflict, As the song title states, the average age of the Vietnam soldier was 19 years old.  An age significantly lower than the Korean War and World War II.


 Honorable Mentions: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down-Joan Baez; Strange Fruit-Billie Holiday; Pride (In The Name In Love)-U2; Zombie-The Cranberries; Ohio-Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.


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