Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Army Corps of Engineers

Harry Shearer 2007

Mary and I are almost addicted on Saturday and Sunday to listen to Weekend Edition  on one of our PBS radio stations.   While we often share stories as points of discussion, both between ourselves and with friends, she is unavailable for immediate discussion on Sundays because she brackets that show with two of her own: Sunday Morning on TV and Le Show which follows Weekend Edition on KCRW.

On occasion I will catch a portion of Le Show, partially because of its unique and excellent host, Harry Shearer.  Mr. Shearer is a true jack of all trades, having started as a child actor on Thee Jack Benny Program , made several movies, including a classic he wrote and starred in, “Spinal Tap”, was a longtime writer on Saturday Night Live, and most recently voices about ten characters on The Simpsons.  We had the privilege of seeing Mr. Shearer when he appeared at a local venue about a year ago.  He is a great entertainer, using the power of his voice and personality to keep an audience riveted to their seats for an enjoyable hour or more.

Repairing Hurricane Damage
I have always had one problem with his Sunday show: not his “Apologies of the Week”, which I thoroughly enjoy, but his seeming obsession with finding faults with the Army Corps of Engineers.  His angst most likely stems from the fact that he splits his time between Santa Monica and New Orleans, which certainly suffered from poor choices made by the CoE when Katrina hit.  More recently their efforts were tested by Hurricane Isaac, with mixed reviews.

If you move away from the present and recent past and away from New Orleans, the CoE has a much different story to tell.

West Point 1802
George Washington felt the need for a militarily-dedicated group of Engineers to provide roads, bridges, and fortifications in the event the Revolutionary War wasn’t the end of conflicts on U.S. soil.  To that end he formed the CoE and staffed it with engineers, mostly from then-friendly France. An interesting factoid is that Congress, attempting to find a home for the newly established corps, settled on West Point, which remained exclusively a training point for engineers until 1866.  For a long time it was the only engineering school in the country.

I found it interesting that during the Civil War several of these engineers distinguished themselves as tacticians: a couple of Georges for the Union; Meade and McClellan and for the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee.


Burma 1944
The first project the Corps undertook was the fortification of Bunker Hill and, after the war of 1812, they took on the task of fortifying New Orleans, which required their getting into controlling rivers in the United States.  Following the Civil War they were assigned the task of mapping and otherwise surveying the lakes in the country.  Today they are the heart of Homeland Security projects.

Iraq 2006
I recently attended a Leadership Conference for the Military Officers Association of America.  There I met a distinguished retired Brigadier who was an Army Engineer. He enlightened me by revealing that the CoE is a viable career path for advancement in the Army.  He mentioned that, in contrast to the Seabees of the Navy, most labor in the CoE is actually by civilian contracts, providing major stimulus to our economy.  They also have played a prominent role in wars: from WWII in Burma to Current efforts in Iraq.

Louisiana 2006
Now, if I can just get my new-found knowledge to Mr. Shearer.

I have shared it with Mary.





For my next post I have a tough decision to make: whether to write about Tim Burton or Sir Richard Branson. Both are in the current news and I have been fortunate to see a retrospective of Mr. Burton at the LACMA and to hear Mr. Branson as part of the ADA Distinguished Speaker Series.  Either one should make for an interesting Blog.

In early November I will be stepping away from my usual format to participate in an interesting concept called “Blog Hopping”.  Besides promoting my book. Harnessing a Heritage,, it should provide you (and me) with several interesting Blogs to follow.

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