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Wednesday, June 24, 2015


I advertise that American History will be a subject of my writings from time to time.  The following is a piece that deals with the  U. S.- Mexican War of the 19th century.  I hope you enjoy it.

If you have taken courses in American History you probably can remember a mention of incidents like the Boston Tea Party, The Revolutionary War, and the Civil War of 1860-1865. You probably also remember the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 that basically doubled the size of the United States with the large acquisition from France of land west of the Mississippi River.  

Another acquisition of land perhaps less known nationally at the time but important to the growth of Arizona and New Mexico, was the Gadsden Purchase of 1854 between the United States and Mexico. As seen on the map, the purchase of the land by the United States from Mexico for $10 million added 29,670 square miles to southern Arizona and New Mexico. Although the purchase increased the size of the two future states, especially Arizona, it also accomplished its primary goal of providing a flat land area on which to complete an important rail line to the west coast.

It sounds simple enough but it was a lot more complicated beneath the surface than one would imagine before a final agreement was accomplished. For example, Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836 and became annexed into the United States in 1845. Mexico had not recognized the Texas independence and considered it to still be in their possession.

War erupted and after one year and nine months of battle, the Mexican-American dispute ended in a victory for the United States bringing about the Treaty of Hidalgo in 1848. The cessation of previously Mexican territory south of the Nueces River made the Rio Grande the new Texas southern border. Also involved was the U.S takeover of California and a large area comprising New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado.

Although the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848 was essentially over with the Treaty settlement, it didn’t mean that the two countries were suddenly going to exist on a friendly basis. A lot of bad feelings still existed for the next six years as the Mesilla Valley located in the region of the border between the countries was being claimed by residents of both sides.

One point of consternation was Mexico’s claim that they should receive payment from the United States for attacks that had been made on them by Native Americans. The United States disagreed and refused to pay up since their interpretation of the agreement said that while they would work to stop such attacks they didn’t feel they were liable for financial compensation. In addition, it didn’t help that Mexico accused private American citizens of entering Mexico illegally and inciting local rebellions in an effort to grab more land.

The endless disharmony between the United States and Mexico over the Mesilla Valley continued into the early 1850s as the only viable southern rail route west was through the Mexican section of the area. To make matters worse, in 1853 the Mexican government evicted Americans from their properties in the area. The national government in Washington did not react to the evictions but Governor William Lane of New Mexico did by declaring Mesilla as part of the of the U. S. Territory of New Mexico.

President Santa Anna of Mexico immediately sent troops into the area at which time U. S. President Franklin Pierce dispatched his U. S. Minister to Mexico, James Gadsden, to negotiate with the Mexican President.  Gadsden was instructed to renegotiate a border that provided a route for a southern railroad and arrange for a release of U.S. financial obligations for Native American attacks.

Gadsden met with Santa Anna on September 25, 1853. President Pierce sent instructions giving him negotiating options ranging from $50 million for Lower California and a large portion of northern Mexico to $15 million for a smaller land deal that would still provide for a southern railroad.  Although Santa Anna needed money to quell local rebellions, he refused to sell a large portion of Mexico. Consequently on December 30, 1853 he and Gadsden signed a treaty stipulating that the United States would pay $15 million for 45,000 square miles south of the New Mexico territory and assume private American claims. In return, the United States Government agreed to work toward preventing American raids along Mexico’s border if Mexico voided U.S. responsibility for Native American attacks.

With difficulties that would result in the Civil War already occurring between the established northern and southern states, the U.S. Senate ratified a revised treaty on April 25, 1854. Under the new treaty Mexico was paid $10 million instead of $15 million and the land purchased was reduced to 29,670 square miles.  Any mention of Native American attacks and private claims was removed. President Pierce signed the treaty as did Santa Anna, who signed it on June 8, 1854.

After Gadsden’s Purchase, not all was serene as a new border dispute caused anguish over the United States’ payment.  Disagreements involving items like financial claims still existed but of more importance, the southern border of the United States and Arizona as we know it today had been established.

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Friday, June 05, 2015

 By Jim McAllister

Note:  I wrote this story originally on April 27, 2005 for the NORTH SCOTTSDALE INDEPENDENT newspaperI was fascinated by the ghost army and the bravery of those guys in World War II. With D-Day, June 6 upon us I feel a tribute to them and our current fighting forces is once again appropriate with a reprint of that column....JM, Scottsdale, AZ, 6-5-2015.

You may be wondering, "What in the world was the ghost army of World War II?" It’s an interesting and fascinating story which is not well known.

Ever since warfare has existed, armies have relied on some type of deception to gain an advantage on their opponents. Some ancient armies used plaster dummies, others used fake smoke signals and spies, and we all know about the famous Trojan horse. These ancient examples of deception were carried into modern warfare during World War II with the exploits of the ghost army or their actual title which was the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.

The ghost army was a unique and little known group of American soldiers who played a big part in the Allied victory over Germany through their abilities in the art of deception. Even though information on this unit became available about thirty years ago, not much has been written about them. As World War II faded into history, so did the 23rd Special Troops.

The ghost army was organized by Lieutenant Colonel Merrick Truly. He was the executive officer in charge of these deception experts. Although Truly’s men reported to the American ground commander in Europe, General Omar Bradley, most of the American soldiers did not know of the existence of the Special Troops. They operated at night under strictly special orders and were not even required to give their identity to superior officers.

The ghost army consisted of 82 officers and 1,023 enlisted men. With their eclectic mixture of talents, they were strictly in the deception business. The Special Troops were made up of four units: a sonic deception company, a special radio company, a company of combat engineers, and a battalion of camoufleurs. They served with four armies in five European countries in five major campaigns from D-Day (June 6, 1944) until the end of the war in 1945.

The most unique part of this already unique group was the composition of its members. Many of these men were already famous as artists, sculptors, architects, literary figures, and others from the world of the arts and humanities. Actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was perhaps the most well known for his Hollywood successes, but there was also renowned fashion designer Bill Blass, Olin Dows: a prominent artist, George Diestal: a Hollywood set designer, Art Kane: a fashion photographer, and Harold Laynor, whose artistic works depicting World War II and other subjects, are shown in galleries throughout the country.

The Special Troops used six major methods of deception: camouflaging troops and tanks, placing dummy tanks and artillery, firing pyrotechnics to simulate actual artillery fire, the use of artificial sound effects, using artificial radio communication, and using fake special effects. This created an atmosphere of great danger as they needed to be in close to front line battles.

Although these brave men were involved in at least twenty other confrontations with the enemy, their biggest contribution was probably at the battle between Allied Forces and Germany at the Rhine River on March 23, 1945. Their contributions were essential in weakening the German assault and forcing Germany to surrender two months later in May of 1945.

Although records and information concerning the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops are sketchy, the aforementioned artist Harold Laynor (1922-1991) made a series of fifty paintings covering two years of participating in World War II. His works include paintings of army buddies, aspects of training and, as the series progresses, he relates the brutality and horror of war.

Like the above mentioned celebrities participating in the 23rd, Dr. Laynor was highly distinguished in his field. Although he used primarily watercolors for his World War II work, he was also a pioneer in the use of lacquer as a medium of painting and the use of 3D paintings for the blind.

Optical illusions, bluffs, sleight of hand, misinformation, disappearing acts: all part of the ghost army of World War II; a brave and cunning bunch of guys who were instrumental in giving us the lifestyle we enjoy today.

                                                      Scottsdale's Harold Laynor
 Fake rubber tanks were good distractions                                

For more on the ghost army, check out Rick Beyer's Twitter page at

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