Friday, November 30, 2007

Antietam Illumination

Join us Saturday evening December 1st as we remember the 23,110 American casualties of the battle of Antietam.

Ranger Mannie

Monday, November 26, 2007

One never knows...

what one may find when one checks one's mailbox, does one?

I'll keep you posted,

Ranger Mannie

p.s. It's Antietam related.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

South Mountain Sojourn: a Thanksgiving hike

I combined stills taken last week with movie footage this morning for this short film. Join Virginia and I as we hike along one of our too often overlooked Civil War battlegrounds: South backyard.

By the way, total views for my various Youtube videos have just passed 50,000. Thanks to all for tuning in!


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Never one to pass up the bandwagon...


A remarkable photograph has just come to light at the National Archives which has the blogosphere, as well as the print media totally a twitter.

This may very probably be a much sought after and long-mislaid production still from the classic John Ford western "Stagecoach".
Despite the deterioration, the actual "stagecoach" can be seen to the right. Note also, the fairly primitive boom microphone towering above the extras and production crew to the left.

This still of the 1939 film seems to confirm that the coach in the newly discovered photo is the one from the movie.

As to the identity of the man on horseback with the tall black hat, at first I thought it was actor John Carridine, though examination of his hat in the photo above clearly takes him out of the running (and dosen't Claire Trevor look lovely?).

I was able to eliminate Tim Holt and Andy Devine as well. It was becoming more and more likely that the horseman was the "Duke" himself! Ladies and gentlemen...Mr. John Wayne!

Sadly, this photo of Wayne in his "Stagecoach" role as the Ringo Kid, eliminated Duke as the mystery horseman. Not only is his hat white (or mouse gray) . but he's riding in the stagecoach and not astride a horse.

You can only imagine my dismay when the hat of Thomas Mitchell, the dipsomananical "uncle Billy" of the Capra holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life" revealed him as the man on the horse.

Much ado about so little, but hope springs eternal when it comes to John Wayne.

That's a wrap!

Producer/Director Mannie

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Put on your aluminum-foil thinking caps and come up with a caption for this picture-

I await all comments/captions

Ranger Mannie


Harry Smeltzer said...
The uniforms change, but the facial hair remains the same.

Anonymous said...
How about what a sausage party?

Phil said...
Portly officers hungrily eye five rangers

Anonymous said...
"costumned interpreters vs. REAL interpreters. . .the ultimate showdown"

Anonymous said...
"Museum staff members eagerly await visit by renowned Park Rangers"

Anonymous said...
Twelve of them six of us . Not bad odds We can take them boys, We are National Park Rangers !!!

John David Hoptak said...
"Those are impeccable hats, sirs!"
-General Steven "Stonewall" Lang Jackson.

HankC said...
Which is the firing squad?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fire on the Mountain: Autumn

On a recent day off Virginia and I hiked up to Greenbrier State Park. This used to be a 14 hour drive for us, now that we live here its a 45 minute hike, starting at our driveway.

From our corner you get a spectacular view of South Mountain, in its Autumn colors.

Anything capable of producing color seems to be going at it hammer and tongs right now:

Annapolis Rock looms over our mountainside neighborhood. We're hoping to hike down the AT to it yet this Fall.

Its all uphill to get to the lake at Greenbrier State Park. A well-sited bench provided us with an opportunity to both catch our breath and enjoy the beautiful South Mountain scenery. This is where we get to live, smack in the heart of Civil War country.

Your intrepid hikers enjoying the best that life has to offer.

See you on the trail,

Ranger Mannie

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Veterans Day: a destroyer story

That's me, bottom row, center

One of my favorite and funniest memories of my first ship, the destroyer USS DeHaven (DD-727), comes from a time when things in the Navy were not particularly jolly. Things in Vietnam were winding down for the U.S., the gap between civilians and service members was widening and there seemed to be a growing hostility between the four-year enlistment sailors and the career know, "the lifers".

This was also a time when drug and alcohol abuse was rampant throughout the services, and the 727 was a microcosm of the Navy and many of its problems in those dreary days. That's the deep background to provide some context for this story.
Some time in 1972 we were tied up, as usual, along piers 17 and 18 out on the mole at Navsta Long Beach. It was a typical duty evening on an in-port weekend.

I was the duty radioman (RM3c) having a pretty laid-back evening. We didn't have the radio guard so I had little to do but read. I was still a new guy and was having only limited success making friends with guys in other divisions (remember being the "new guy"?).

Along about eight in the evening my boss, and good guy, the RM1 of the shack came zooming onto the messdecks with a battle lantern ...looking for me. My boss was the duty Master at Arms (the ship's policeman) that night, resplendent in his new style utilities (remember those dreadful duds that they tried to replace the good old dungarees with?) and his dazzling MAA badge.

"Mannie" he said breathlessly, "come with me". Now I was a sailor who was always ready to oblige a shipmate, so without question or hesitation I followed my RM1 off the messdecks up to the radioshack.  "What's up boss" was my only question. He made a finger to the lips gesture to clue me to pipe down and scowled, and sniffed, at the overhead ventilation duct.

"Do you smell that shit?" he whispered. "That's 'green smoke', and it can only be coming from one place". A historical note: For some reason, there were those among the senior enlisted who referred to marijuana smoke and the smell thereof as "green smoke". I even met those who insisted that it was called that because the smoke of burning cannabis is emerald green.  Obviously, they'd never imbibed themselves.

Back to the story. The RM1 moved his intent gaze to me and repeated "there's only one place that that smell can be coming from. Someone's smoking dope in OUR fanroom!" There was a fanroom just abaft the radioshack on the starboard side. Accessible only with a stepladder through a scuttle in the overhead, it was a space the RMs referred to as "the void" and it was where we stored our supply of teletype paper and tape. For zone inspection purposes it was the radio crew's property and responsibility. "Let's go!" hissed the RM1 as he handed me that battle lantern and pushed me out the door of the radio shack ahead of him. Had I been a cartoon character at that moment my word balloon would have said something like "buh, buh, buh...ahhh wait a second".

Off we went into the dark of the night the RM1 becoming quite impatient with all of the noise I made as I clumsily followed him. "Quiet! or they'll know we're coming" he whispered. "That's, sort of the whole idea" I thought to myself. We made our way to the main deck, me with the lantern and the RM1 armed with a rickety stepladder which he quietly set up beneath the scuttle. "Now get up there and bust those guys" he said to me, at that time I was choosing to believe it was merely a request rather than an order. "But boss," I protested, "these are guys that I have to live and work with, and I've got no beef with them, cause, y'know..." It was as if he hadn't heard me, like a fine hunting dog on the point he was intently staring at that overhead scuttle and just as intently pushing me up the ladder.

The "why me?" question was simply one of girth.  Without commenting on the build of the RM1, I'll just note that at that time in my life my broadest dimension was my post-adolescent Adams apple:

I was the logical choice to go through the scuttle and into the Babylon above. This was to be my show. With my head pressed nearly sideways against the overhead as I wrestled with the dog-wheel I could hear indistinct murmuring coming from the space. As the dogs retracted, I slowly swung the hatch down, swallowed hard and poked my head up. The experience was unlike any I've had before or since. If one could stick ones head inside a bong at a frat-party that might approximate the sensation I had. As my nostrils cleared the coaming of the hatch I became immediately aware of an all too familiar spades...That was one smoky space and because it was a fan room, that smoke was being communicated throughout quite a bit of the ship.

"I don't see anybody boss" was my very lame report.   "Jeezus! use the lantern!" he shouted (the need for stealth was now past). I craned my head over and squeezed my arm and the battle lantern through. I snapped on the light, the beam of which became a ghostly and thick illumination of smoke. My head poking through the scuttle, eyes only ten inches above the deck, I slowly played the beam 360 degrees around the space level with my eyes.

That smoky beam revealed fully a dozen pairs of shoes; oxfords, boondockers, flipflops, all attached to pantlegs that extended up into the faceless gloom.  The sound was that of breath being held by twelve shipmates caught red-handed (though all I saw was ankles).

"Well?" was the sharp one word question from below. Now, remember, I was a sailor who was always ready to oblige a shipmate, so again, without question or hesitation, and with great presence of mind I gave my report:

"They musta' just left boss, nothing up here but teletype paper."

"Dammit!, we shoulda' come quicker!" Clearly disappointed at losing his quarry the RM1 had me secure the space, the ladder, and the battle lantern. He went off into the night looking for other crime to fight.

I went back to business as usual, being the new guy, trying to find my way on a ship where everybody else seemed to be friends with everybody else. Except that it was never business as usual again after that evening.

No sooner had I gotten settled in with my book, back on the messdecks, than a mix of snipes and deck division types slid in next to me and one pipes up: "So Gentile, you just got off Guam eh? Whatcha readin'?". And a lively, breezy bull-session began, of which I was a full partner. Eventually every one trailed off to hit the rack or relieve the watch. I realized that my status as the new guy was coming to a welcome end.

"What a great bunch of guys" I thought, "a great bunch of bleary-eyed guys who smell like they've been fighting a brush fire".
And the rest was pretty smooth sailing.

Cheers, Peace, and Best wishes,
Mannie Gentile (U.S. Navy, 1970 - 1974)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Blogger's gun at Antietam

When fellow Civil War bloggers show up at Antietam National Battlefield I always try to get a picture of me and them beside the Parrot gun in front of the visitor's center.

Here's a cool pic of Me and Kevin Levin in front of that gun ("Civil War Memory" Our visit was far too brief. Kevin's a person that I'd like to spend some time discussing the current state of education with over a sixpack.

Okay, use your imagination here. Pretend the Ranger in the middle is Michael Aubrecht...just go along with me on this one.

Hey look! It's fellow bloggers John Hoptak and Michael (not "Mike") Aubrecht at the blogger gun last year when Michael and his father Tom came to visit the battlefield. Michael (center, with someone else's face) was very gracious and provided me with a pair of his fine publications. Michael's a rebel, a gentleman, and a real nice guy. And speaking of nice guys, batting cleanup is John Hoptak; my friend, fellow ranger, and blogger Note that neither John or I are wearing our hats backwards.

Catch Michael at "Pinstripe Press" (,

And John at "Pennslyvania blah, blah, blah" (

The dramatic clouds overhead herald the arrival of two heavyhitting ACW bloggers this past battle anniversary. We have Harry Smeltzer (left) and Brian Downey (middle). Harry's a groovy guy who, again, I never get enough time to talk with. His blog "Bull Runnings" can be reached here:

Brian has the best (bar none) Antietam site and the chin of Bruce Campbell...what more could any guy want? Keep up on our nation's finest battlefield by going to his blog "Behind Antietam on the Web" (

Hey! enough of the old guys! Let's mix it up.

This is Sarah Beeghley. Sarah's not only an Antietam Junior Ranger, she's also an authority on Civil War Nurse Clara Barton. Her dad is fellow blogger Jim Beeghley who posts at "Teaching the Civil War through Technology".

Now comes my favorite picture. I really like being around people who are smater than me (like everyone in the pix above), but here's a trifecta of smarty pantzes.

Eric Wittenberg, J.D. Petruzzi, and Dimitri Rotov. When these three let me know that they were going on my battlefield tour I decided to not be intimidated but to simply provide them with the best two hours of their day. We had a fine time. This picture was the inspiration for what is still my favorite post on this blog, please check it out, I think it will amuse you.

Go to or simply click on the title of this post.

Dimitri's blog, (perhaps my favorite) "Civil War Bookshelf", which always provokes me and always makes me think, can be found at:

Eric and J.D. are partial to cavalry and have done some outstanding work in the field. I guess I'd refer to them as experts.

Eric Witteberg's "Civil War Cavalry" ( is always interesting. Eric's even more liberal than I am which often leads to some really interesting screeds on his site.

J.D. on the other hand has that more cool Dean Martin, Italiano, approach to life, always cool, always "yeah baby", at least that's how he struck me at our brief meeting at the blogger gun. J.D.'s blog. "Hoofbeats and Cold Steel" (how cool is that?) can be reached at:

So what is it about this 10 pound Parrot gun that attracts some of the coolest people in the blogosphere?

Perhaps one day an enormous gathering of ACW bloggers will converge on this particular gun. And if you do...


Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What we are naming our children today.

In a classroom of 19 children I had:

Justin (twice)

For us conventional types I also had Judith and, wait for it...

Archie. Fantastic.

Here is an image of me captured today.

Those of you who've met me will appreciate the photorealism.

Mister G

Whither teaching?

"This isn't what I bargained for."

That's what a young teacher told me yesterday at the elementary school I've been subbing at.

I'm teaching second grade for a few days while the regular teacher is ill. Its a nice school with nice kids, I've subbed there before.

The second grade teacher across the hall was very nice and helped me figure out the lesson plan. As the day progressed I noticed, through the open doors, that her kids were doing exactly what mine were doing at exactly the same time. It dawned on me that these teachers aren't in control of their own lesson plans, as educators they have lost the power to teach spontaneously.

This is - No Child Left Behind - the law that mandates mediocrity in our public schools.

It works like this:
a. the mandated material is presented to the children in the mandated method, state-wide all second graders are doing that same lesson

b. children demonstrate mastery (or not) by doing a worksheet

c. the lesson ends with about half of the kids looking puzzled

d the lesson will not be repeated but the material may be on the yearly standardized test

Perhaps the law should be called "Most Children Left Behind".

I mentioned to that soon to be disgruntled teacher I quoted at the top of the page that there is a code term among long-time teachers who are nearing retirement; "I was teaching back when it was still fun".

I was taught by gifted and autonomous teachers, just as the current generation of new teachers was, they've grown-up with good teaching being modelled, that's the kind of teacher they want to be. They enter their new classrooms with their hands tied by the mandated curriculum and the weight of the standardized tests. The magic that can be teaching is becoming harder to find in the public schools, its not really welcomed. The children who are being taught by this new generation of teachers will grow up with an entirely different notion of what teaching looks like, and will become entirely different teachers from the ones we experienced.

If those kids choose the teaching profession in the first place, after all, those teachers don't appear to be having much fun.

Back to the battlefield this weekend,

and keeping my head down in the classroom

Ranger Mannie...that's "Mister G." to you kid.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Actual Ghosts spotted at crazy people.

It must be the proximity of Halloween and the shortness of the days that are bringing out the ghost questions.

"How much paranormal activity are you experiencing on this battlefield, this year?"

Ahh, "this year" gosh, let me check the records...I think natural resources keeps those numbers...I'm pretty sure that I can come up with the 2003 numbers...hmmm...

"How often do you see the ghosts that are under Burnside's Bridge?"

"When is the best time to photograph paranormal activity?"

"Where is the best place to see ghosts?"

What is the deal? Everyone knows, especially the walking spirits of the dead, that the venue for ghosts and ghost spotting is Gettysburg. They've got, what?, ten ghost tour operators up there now.

Antietam ghosts have all left for G'burg, that's where the big money is. The last legitimately identified Antietam ghost, a young Confederate captain, was heard to say (by a startled visitor), "This brother's heading for PA, where a guy can make a buck on being dead".

We don't have ghosts at Antietam. No ghosts. None. What we have is the reality of a remarkable story of actual Americans engaged in a turning point of our Civil War.

That should be good enough.

Sleep tight,

Ranger Mannie