Monday, July 25, 2016

New clue to the location of the USS Indianapolis

History resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2016 .

Survivors of the USS Indianapolis rescued by the USS Tranquility arrive at Guam
August 8, 1945.  Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
In the final days of the war, the U.S.S. Indianapolis completed a top secret mission to deliver components of the atomic bomb used in Hiroshima to U.S. forces in the theater. After dropping those components off at Tinian in the Marianas Islands, Indianapolis headed to Leyte, an island in the Philippines, when it was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine just after midnight on July 30, 1945. Around 800 of the ship’s 1,196 Sailors and Marines survived the sinking, but after four to five harrowing days in the water, suffering exposure, dehydration, drowning, and shark attacks, only 316 survived.
While reviewing the Navy’s holdings and other information related to Indianapolis, NHHC historian Richard Hulver, Ph.D., found a blog post and photo online that recounted the story of a World War II Sailor whose ship passed Indianapolis less than a day before the ship was sunk. This corroborated an account by Indianapolis Captain Charles McVay, III that his ship passed an unspecified LST approximately 11 hours prior to the sinking. Hulver located the Sailor’s service record from the National Personnel Records Center which identified the Sailor as a passenger on tank landing ship USS LST-779 during the period in which Indianapolis sank. That sent Hulver to the National Archives where LST-779’s deck logs confirmed the story.
 The meeting between Indianapolis and LST-779 has been seemingly overlooked in previous studies of Indianapolis.
 Hulver continued, “The LST-779 data sheds new light on where Indianapolis was attacked and sunk.” This brings us closer to discovering the final resting place of the ship and many of her crew. 

Although the location of Indianapolis is known to be in the Philippine Sea, two previous attempts to find the wreck have failed. In July–August 2001, an expedition sought to find the wreckage through the use of side-scan sonar and underwater cameras mounted on a remotely operated vehicle. Four Indianapolis survivors accompanied the expedition, which was not successful. In June 2005, a second expedition was mounted to find the wreck. National Geographic covered the story and released it in July. Submersibles were launched to find any sign of wreckage. The only objects ever found, which have not been confirmed to have belonged to Indianapolis, were numerous pieces of metal of varying size found in the area of the reported sinking position.

Hulver summarized the historical literature, conducted archival research, and prepared a report incorporating the new information gleaned from LST-779’s brief encounter with Indianapolis. NHHC’s summary was published online as part of a project to consolidate the entirety of NHHC’s holdings on Indianapolis into an easy-to-navigate, online resource ( prepared in advance of the 71st anniversary of the ship’s loss July 30. 

The USS Indianapolis National Memorial  was dedicated on 2 August 1995. It is located on the Canal Walk in Indianapolis. The heavy cruiser is depicted in limestone and granite and sits adjacent to the downtown canal. The crewmembers' names are listed on the monument, with special notations for those who lost their lives. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Great Lakes Naval Museum Changes It's Name And Focus

A history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2016

The United States Navy has announced that The Great Lakes Naval Museum will be officially renamed the National Museum of the American Sailor.  The National Museum of the American Sailor currently features exhibits on life in Navy boot camp, naval uniforms and traditions, the history of Naval Station Great Lakes, the role of diversity in the Navy and the role of women in the Navy.  Over the next two years, however, the museum will expand its exhibits to introduce visitors to the overall history and role of the U.S. Navy and the experiences of American Sailors in the past and today.

Crew of the U.S.S. Unadilla, a screw gunboat.  In October 1861, Unadilla joined the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont and participated in the capture of Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard in Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, on 7 November. During the bombardment, the gunboat was struck six times but suffered no casualties and sustained minor damage to her hull and rigging. Control of Port Royal Sound enabled the Union Navy to coordinate the blockade of the southern Atlantic seacoast more effectively for the duration of the war.  Image courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Henry VIII: Did History lose a true prince of the Renaissance to traumatic brain injury?

An armored Henry VIII and his charger at the Tower of London
in London, England.  Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2006
A history resource article by  © 2015

Note:  This is a cross-post from my blog "History's Medical Mysteries".

Today, I read an interesting paper by Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, Fazle Hakim Sajjad, Arash Salardini published in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience proposing that Henry VIII's erratic behavior, particularly after 1536, was the result of repeated traumatic brain injuries.  Furthermore, the researchers propose that his dramatic weight gain and even his leg ulcers could have been the result of post-traumatic growth hormone deficiency, one of the many afflictions that accompany traumatic brain injury.

They begin their examination of the historical record by pointing to a report by the Spanish ambassador in 1507 pronouncing “There is no finer youth in the world than the Prince of Wales”. A 16-year-old Henry was "lighthearted, merry, and easily given to laughter.” One could say this was long before Henry had experienced the heavy weight of kingship.  But eight years later in 1515, despite suffering a bout of smallpox the previous year, Henry meets with the Venetian ambassador who says of Henry he was “prudent and wise and free from every vice.”

With Henry's love of often dangerous medieval sports, especially jousting, however, his easy-going personality would not last.

"In March 1524 the king was unseated after a jousting lance found its way into his open visor and broke into many splintered pieces. Henry was de-horsed and dazed, although he continued to joust for the rest of the day. He is said to have had recurrent headaches after this point." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

Henry VIII's blackened, etched and gilt Italian field armor
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2007
Then, in 1525, while hawking, Henry, attempting to vault over a hedge with a pole, plunged head first into a water-filled ditch.

"He may have been dazed or unconscious because it is said of the incidence that if Edmund Mody had not pulled him out of the ditch, legs first, he may have drowned." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

An avid outdoorsman, Henry VIII enjoyed hunting.  Here he hunts deer with Anne Boleyn in this 1903
painting by William Powell Frith.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Although now plagued with headaches and having suffered two bouts of malaria, Henry still seemed amiable to court visitors.  Desiderius Erasmus, a noted Dutch Renaissance humanist, while visiting the Tudor court in 1529, described Henry as "… a man of gentle friendliness, and gentle in debate; he acts more like a companion than a king".

Then on January 24, 1536, the king was unseated while charging at full speed in a joust and his steed fell upon him.  Henry was said to be unable to speak for two hours which the researchers attribute to a loss of consciousness.

Members of Henry's court began to notice the king appeared to be suffering from significant memory problems. In July 1536, Henry's illegitimate son Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond, died of tuberculosis.

"He was buried in near-secret in the presence of his father-in-law the Duke of Norfolk, and two other personages, by the king’s own instructions. Yet in a few days Henry appears to have forgotten his own role in the funeral and was accusing the Duke of Norfolk of inappropriate behavior towards FitzRoy." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

The researchers explain, "Traumatic brain injury disproportionately damages white matter tracts  [the cells in the brain that transmit signals from one region to another] which may manifest as amnesia, apathy and loss of initiative, executive dysfunction [executive processes include goal formation, planning, goal-directed action, self-monitoring, attention and response inhibition] as well as impulse and emotional dysregulation [radical mood swings including angry outbursts, behavior outbursts such as throwing objects or destroying things and aggression]."

In fact, his possible loss of impulse control may have led to his beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn in May 1536 and his, increasingly brutal, dissolution of the monasteries from 1535-1540. (My observation not theirs) He also married three more times during this period although the death of Jane Seymour from childbirth complications could not be attributed to Henry's mental illness.

Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot, 1835.

The researchers point out that Henry began to demonstrate explosive and murderous anger that was relatively easily provoked.

"The irascibility and changeability of Henry was a source of constant anxiety for Tudor courtiers. Several ambassadors noted the unpredictability of Henry, who was often furious for reasons not immediately obvious to his ministers and advisers. The French ambassador for example speaks of his 'lightness and inconstancy' in 1540. His explosive anger could often end in the execution of an unsuspecting courtier or friend. The king was unable to control other impulses, whether these were related to his unreasonable suspicions or his lust for other peoples’ property."  - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

Henry also suffered from depression and extended periods of self-pity.  After executing Thomas Cromwell in July 1540, Henry fell into a deep depression and in 1541, claiming to mourn Cromwell, confined himself to Hampton Court for a long period.

One of the ornate towers and Tudor-era chimneys at
Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, England.
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2008
Another result of traumatic brain injury that is often overlooked is damage to the pituitary gland. Such damage may result in growth hormone deficiency and hypogonadotrophic hypogonadism.  In an adult, growth hormone deficiency may result in loss of strength, stamina, and musculature, poor bone density, diminished lean body mass and visceral obesity. So Henry's ballooning weight may not have been entirely attributable to a gargantuan appetite.

Closeup of a portly Henry VIII by American miniaturist
George S. Stuart at the Museum of Ventura County, CA.
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2006
Psychological symptoms include poor memory, social withdrawal, and depression which also coincide with reports we have already examined.

Symptoms of hypogonadism in an adult include low libido, and infertility.  You may think with court tales of countless sexual liasons and the king married six times, Henry surely must not have suffered from a diminished libido.  But, in fact, the researchers find repeated references to Henry's inability to perform in the bedroom.

"Anne and George Boleyn were accused of ridiculing the king. Anne appears to have told her sister-in-law that Henry 'was not adept in the matter of coupling with a woman and that he had neither vertu [skill] nor puissance [vigour]'." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

They also point to his inability to consummate his marriage to Anne of Cleves in 1540.

"Various excuses were made from 'misliking of her body for the hanging of her breast and the looseness of her flesh', to the charge that the king was duped by an unnecessarily complimentary portrait of Anne." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

Anne of Cleves by Bartholom√§us Bruyn the Elder 1540s

The researchers also suspect Henry's disastrous marriage to Catherine Howard, a young woman who took many lovers while Henry's lack of extra-marital activity was attributed to his fidelity.  They say this seems highly unlikely in view of his long history of youthful virility and sexual indiscretions.

I find it particularly tragic that Henry's own traumatic brain injury may have been ultimately responsible for the lack of an heir he so desperately craved all of those years.

By the late 1540s, Henry's symptoms had reached catastrophic proportions affecting both his personal life and ability to lead his country.

In 1544, Henry declared war on France and besieged the town of Boulogne.  At one point he simultaneously ordered fortification of the city while issuing an oral order to demolish it.

His sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, was not spared from his irrational tirades either.

"...the king loved religious debates and during one acrimonious argument between Catherine Parr and Gardiner [in 1546] he unreasonably ordered the transportation of the queen to the Tower of London. The next day he appears to have forgotten about the incident and was consoling his distraught wife. When the soldiers arrived to take her away, he could not remember the original orders he had given and had to be prompted to remember the episode. When he remembered he flew into another fit of rage." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

A miniature portrait of Catherine Parr circa 1543
by Lucas Horenbout
Within months, Henry VIII was dead.

Since his death there has been a flurry of diagnoses proposed to account for Henry's physical symptoms and erratic behavior.

 "One of the hypotheses regarding the health of Henry VIII is that he had Cushing’s syndrome [a condition with symptoms that include high blood pressure, abdominal obesity but with thin arms and legs, reddish stretch marks, a round red face, a fat lump between the shoulders, weak muscles, weak bones, acne, and fragile skin that heals poorly]. There appears to be a temporal relationship between Henry’s documented head injuries and the stepwise worsening of his health which this hypothesis cannot explain. Another older hypothesis is that Henry had syphilis but this is now largely abandoned. Other hypothesized mechanisms for Henry’s change include diabetes and hypothyroidism, neither of which can account for the whole picture. Another recent hypothesis regarding Henry’s health is that he had McLeod syndrome [a genetic mutation with symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, cardiomyopathy and hemolytic anemia along with late-onset dementia and behavioral changes usually not noticed until the individual is in their 50s] with infertility and psychosis. Henry, however, is not reported to have had choreiform movements [irregular muscular movements that make walking difficult] or dystonic reactions [twisting and repetitive movements caused by sustained muscle contractions]." - Muhammad Qaiser Ikram, et al, The head that wears the crown: Henry VIII and traumatic brain injury

So, the researchers conclude, "We know of at least three major head injuries in Henry’s life. He may have had headaches and more subtle changes to his personality after his first head injury, but there is a marked stepwise change in him after 1536. It is entirely plausible, though perhaps not provable, that repeated traumatic brain injury lead to changes in Henry’s personality. This is not to discount the complex time in which he lived or the impact of events on him. Whether some of the metabolic problems he faced later in life can be explained in terms of his head injury is a longer bow to draw but not outside the realms of possibility."

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