October 21, 1957 – Army Captain Hank Cramer First U.S. Combat Death in Vietnam

United States Army Special Forces Captain Harry G. Cramer, Jr. Photo: Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall

United States Army Special Forces Captain Harry G. Cramer, Jr. Photo: Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall

On October 21, 1957, United States Army Captain Harry (Hank) Griffith Cramer, Jr., of the newly-formed 1st Special Forces Group stationed at Camp Drake in Japan, became the first combat fatality (of many to come) in Vietnam.  Activated on June 24, 1957, the 1st Special Forces Group was responsible for operations in the Pacific.  The unit went on to hold the tragic distinction of having both the first and last Vietnam combat fatalities – Sgt. Fred Mick was killed on October 12, 1972 –  as well as the first Afghanistan combat fatality, SFC Nathan Chapman, who died in country on January 4, 2002.  Captain Cramer’s name was initially left off of the Vietnam Memorial due to the secretive nature of his mission.  After an appeal filed by his son, it was added to “The Wall” in 1983.

Army Special Forces units, also known as the Green Berets, have six primary missions: unconventional warfare; foreign internal defense; special reconnaissance; direct action; hostile rescue; and counter-terrorism.  They also perform combat search and rescue, security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian demining, counter-proliferation, psychological operations, manhunts, and counter-drug operations duties.  Counter-proliferation activities are defined as “diplomatic, intelligence, and military efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons, including both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction” – in other words, arms control.

Capt. Cramer with his father, Captain Harry G. Cramer, Sr. Photo: Ancestry.com

Captain Cramer had been deployed to South Vietnam on June 25, 1957.  He led the first Special Forces team in place, with a mission to train a cadre of nationals into what would become the fledgling Vietnamese Army Special Forces.  Cramer was killed by an explosion while leading a patrol of combined American and Vietnamese troops near Nha Trang.  Although officially listed as an accident, an American eyewitness at the time claimed instead that the incident was a Viet Cong ambush.  Captain Cramer followed in his father’s footsteps in military service to his country.  Captain Harry G. Cramer, Sr. commanded an infantry company in France during World War I.

October 20, 1957 – NYC Mayor Robert Wagner’s Coney Island Campaign Stop

The Mayoral Debate: Catsup or Mustard? Photo: Eddie Hausner, The New York Times Photo Archives, available at the New York Times store

On October 20, 1957, incumbent New York City mayoral candidate Robert F. Wagner, Jr. stopped for a classic Coney Island treat – a All-American hot dog.  On his way to a second-term landslide victory, Democrat Wagner’s alignment with Carmine DeSapio’s Tammany Hall machine during his first election in 1953 instigated a intra-party feud between DeSapio and Presidential Widow Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband Franklin had previously stripped the long-standing political society from federal patronage.  Tammany Hall’s 140-year influence over the city had begun to wane in the 1930’s, with the election of Republican Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on a Fusion ticket.  The 1953 DeSapio-Wagner alliance resulted in a brief resurgence of machine politics in the 1950’s.

Mayor Wagner, a Yale graduate and Scroll and Key member, was born in Manhattan in 1910, the son of U. S. Senator Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Sr.  During his tenure in Gotham he was instrumental in building public housing and schools, creating the City University of New York system, establishing the right of collective bargaining for city employees, and barring housing discrimination based on race, creed or color.  He is said to be the first mayor to pro-actively hire a significant number of people of color into city government positions.  The city’s performing arts jewel, the Lincoln Center, was developed while Wagner was in office.  The Public Theater’s New York Shakespeare Festival (now known as Shakespeare in the Park) also took shape during his tenure.  His administration’s inaction led to the out-of-town migration of the Giants and Dodgers baseball teams, although a subsequent commission he formed led to the birth of the New York Mets.

Wagner broke with DeSapio and Tammany Hall during his third-term mayoral campaign in 1961.  His victory set a milestone in New York City, and local machine politics thereafter entered a decline.

October 19, 1957 – Queen Elizabeth & Prince Philip Attend Football Game

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip: Honorary Terrapins for the Day. Photo: University of Maryland Library Archives.

On October 19, 1957, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip took time out from a busy diplomatic schedule of visits during their United States tour to take in a “typical American sport”, college football.  College Park played proud host to the royal couple as the University of Maryland Terrapins played the visiting Tar Heels of University of North Carolina.  Adding extra zest to the day, the Terrapins “thrashed” the Tar Heels (and their coach, Jim Tatum, formerly at the helm at U of M) by the score of 21 – 7.  University President Wilson Elkins and Maryland Governor Theodore McKeldin joined Elizabeth and Philip for the brisk fall afternoon rite.

Elizabeth’s whirlwind tour of the East Coast included visits to Virginia’s historic Jamestown and Williamsburg settlements, tea at the College of William and Mary, a New York City ticker tape parade aboard U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s limousine, a view of Gotham from the top of the Empire State Building, an address to the United Nations General Assembly, and an occasion-calling-for-a-diamond-tiara banquet atop the Waldorf-Astoria.  At Williamsburg, the Queen graciously acknowledged the common heritage and fraternity of the United States and Great Britain:

“Here, at a great period in your history, [the descendents of your forefathers and my countrymen] proclaimed their faith in certain great concepts of freedom, justice, law, and self-government.  Those concepts have had a profound influence on the political development, not only of the United States, but all freedom-loving countries.  This magnificent restoration of Colonial Williamsburg is a constant and vivid reminder of  those principles.  That is why we regard it as a major contribution to understanding between us.  If it inspires us all to closer cooperation in the fulfillment of these common ideals, then Williamsburg will have done more than dramatize history and rebuild the past: it will have helped to build the future.”

October 18, 1957 – The Frank Sinatra Show Debuts on ABC

On October 18, 1957 (“It Was a Very Good Year“!), the first episode of The Frank Sinatra Show was aired on ABC.  Viewers could be excused a slight feeling of deja vu (“A Foggy Day“?), however.  An earlier television show starring Sinatra had appeared on CBS between 1950 and 1952 – also called The Frank Sinatra Show (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me“).  ABC’s sequel (“The Second Time Around“) was to include thirteen variety shows (“Let’s Face the Music and Dance“), thirteen dramas starring Frank, and ten dramas hosted by Frank, all taped in advance at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood (Not “My Kind of Town“?) and lasting a half-hour (“Come Rain or Come Shine“).  Sinatra would have total artistic control (“I Did It My Way“) and receive $3 million (“Nice Work if You Can Get It“) for the series.

Frank’s guests were a stellar bunch.  Bob Hope (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin“), Kim Novak (“The Girl Next Door“), and Peggy Lee helped Sinatra kick off the series opener, one of the variety offerings.  Other big names during the season included Dean Martin (“I Get a Kick Out of You“), Bing Crosby, Robert Mitchum, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eddie Fisher (“Love and Marriage“), Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Wood, Van Johnson, Eydie Gorme, Dinah Shore, Shirley Jones, the McGuire Sisters (“Young At Heart“), Ann Bancroft, Lloyd Bridges, and his daughter, Nancy Sinatra (“Nancy“!).

Low ratings for the drama offerings led to schedule adjustments (“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning“?).  ABC switched to more variety shows, and a majority of them ended up being live broadcasts (“The Way You Look Tonight“).  By the time the series ended in June of 1958, fourteen live variety shows had been broadcast, eight filmed varieties, four dramas starring Sinatra, and six dramas which Frank hosted.  Critics weren’t generous to Ol’ Blue Eyes (“Please Be Kind“!)- and Frank doesn’t seem to have put his all into making the show a success (“Fly Me to the Moon“!).  Reports were he hated to rehearse (“Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad“).  As a result, filming for eleven shows was shoehorned into fifteen days (“Luck Be a Lady“), with an understandable but unfortunate loss of quality (“The Best is Yet to Come“?).

Despite the series’ cancellation, Sinatra’s successful career would continue for decades (“Pocketful of Miracles“).  Frank always remained a great favorite with the American public (“Let’s Fall in Love“!)(“All the  Way“!)

October 17, 1957 – Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” in Memphis Theaters

Promotional Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

On October 17, 1957, Elvis Presley’s third film, “Jailhouse Rock”, debuted in Memphis, Tennessee.  Produced by MGM and directed by Richard Thorpe, “Jailhouse Rock” was the musical story of convict Vince Everett and his rise to riches and fame in a post-incarceration singing career.  The film challenged American movie-goers with its positive depiction of Presley as a convict hero who swore and spent on-screen time in bed with his female agent, Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler).  Vince and Peggy’s sometimes racy dialogue included a scene in which Peggy protests, “How dare you think such cheap tactics would work with me!”, to which Vince replies, “That ain’t tactics, honey.  It’s just the beast in me.”

The movie opens with Vince serving a one-year manslaughter sentence following his involvement in a bar fight started by someone else.  Vince’s cellmate is Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), a country singer past his prime but happy to pass along to Vince his singing and guitar-playing skills.  Vince is eventually released from prison, starts working in nightclubs, meets Van Alden, a record company talent scout, and records a demo which he and Peggy pitch to a record label.  When his song is given to one of the label’s already established stars, disillusioned Vince and Peggy start their own label.  The American dream comes true for Vince, as he becomes an overnight singing and movie-starring sensation.

The dance sequence to the song “Jailhouse Rock” has been cited as one of Elvis’ greatest moments on screen.  The series of steps, choreographed by Alex Romero and incorporating a number of classic Elvis “moves,” combined with the setting in a men’s-only cellblock, gave an erotically (if not homo-erotically) charged energy to the film.  One of film’s greatest male dancers of all time, Gene Kelly, applauded a run-through of the dance sequence on a visit to the set during production.

Filming had just begun on May 13th when Elvis inhaled a loosened dental cap and was rushed to the hospital.  Surgery to remove the cap, followed by several days of recovery, hardly slowed the speedy film shoot.  “Jailhouse Rock” wrapped on July 17th and just three short months later, men, women, boys and (especially) girls were lapping up popcorn and Elvis in the plush seats of a local movie palace.

57 + 57 Football – Detroit Lions Regular Season Week 7

Detroit Lions LogoThe Detroit Lions defense – ranked No. 1 in the nation – delivered the goods on Sunday, holding the Minnesota Vikings scoreless until the very closing moments of the fourth quarter. How good were they? Eight sacks, three interceptions, one fumble recovery, and this tribute from Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, “They kicked butt.” “Give credit to Detroit,” Zimmer continued, “they did a good job.” Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 19 of 33 passes for 185 yards. Golden Tate, Theo Riddick, and Joique Bell added their contributions to the offense which resulted in the 17-3 victory at Minneapolis’ TCF Bank Stadium. Lions kicking disappointments Nate Freese and Alex Henery were released earlier in the week.

Who answered Detroit’s Help Wanted ad? Matt Prater (current holder of the NFL longest-field-goal record at 64 yards) joined the squad from Denver and put in a less-than-stellar but hopefully-promising performance. Points-after kicks were no problem, but Prater missed two field goals of 44 and 50 yards. In the second quarter, he was able to finagle a 52-yard field goal in spite of swirling winds. “We have all the confidence in the world in him,” coach Jim Caldwell said after the game. “I mean the guy’s got a great track record. We feel good about him.” We can all feel good about another Lions win. Our team is now 4-2 and tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay. Next up: the New Orleans Saints, at home, Sunday, October 19th, 1:00 PM Eastern. The Saints may march in, but after the Lions are through with them, they might crawl out.

The Lions defense of 1957, in Week 3 of their regular season, also dominated their floundering opponents, the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams offense, one of the top-rated offenses of the 1957 season, was virtually shut down in Detroit as the Lions won 10-7. Pro Hall of Fame Ram quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was held to 5 completions in 18 pass attempts for 74 total passing yards, with six interceptions. “Chris’ Crew,” as the 1957 Lions defense came to be known, brought their best game on October 13th.

Detroit Lions Defensive Back Jack Christiansen. Photo: AP Photo/NFL Photos

Detroit Lions defensive back Jack Christiansen. Photo: AP Photo/NFL Photos

Why “Chris’ Crew”? Out of respect for his on-field leadership, the “Chris” recognized Jack Christiansen, a 6′ 1″ defensive back out of Odd Fellows Orphanage High School (he grew up in the Kentucky orphanage) and Colorado State. Signed in 1951, Christiansen played an integral part in the successful string of Lions seasons until he retired in 1958. Opponents grew to respect his abilities and purposely changed their strategies to avoid getting the ball anywhere in Christiansen’s near vicinity. Jack led the league in interceptions in 1953 and tied for the lead in 1957. Christiansen surely had a hand (or two) in the Ram interceptions this day. He returned 85 punts during his career for 1084 yards, an average of 12.8 yards per carry, which still stands as a Lions record. Eleven of those punt returns resulted in touchdowns, another Detroit record, and he returned two punts for touchdowns in the same game twice in his career. Christiansen was All-Pro from 1952 to 1957, played in five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1954 until his retirement, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970. He went on to coach multiple seasons for the San Francisco 49ers and the Stanford University Cardinal. The father of four girls, Jack died in 1986 at the age of . . . 57.

With the Rams neatly turned out to pasture, our banner year team looked forward to a grudge match. Three weeks after handing Detroit a defeat in Baltimore, the Colts were coming out west. Would the Lions stop Unitas this time? Stay tuned.

October 16, 1957 – Margaret Mead Collects Schoolchildren’s Sputnik Drawings

Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux look at children’s drawings of Sputnik 1. Photo: Arthur Herzog, Library of Congress.

On October 16, 1957, 13-year-old Kathryn Leonard of Saratoga Springs, New York, completed a school assignment – draw an image of the recently launched Soviet satellite, Sputnik 1.  Her drawing survives, and was collected and included in a project by American anthropologist Margaret Mead, famous for her earlier studies of sexuality and the adolescent experience of teenage Samoan girls.  Horrified by the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mead set out in the 1950’s to study American perceptions of science and space exploration.  Mead and her partner, Rhoda Metraux, decided to study “images of the scientist” among American students.  After the launch of Sputnik 1, they expanded their project to include children’s reactions to the history-making event.  Essays and drawings were collected from across the United States, and also around the world.  Mead and Metraux also conducted interviews and administered questionnaires for their collection, which is currently held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

The driving force behind Mead’s research was her desire to find a “model for living in a radically changed world, a world in which human beings could destroy themselves.”

Sputnik drawing by student Kathryn Leonard. Image: Library of Congress