“The past can take you to the future.” – Shirley Burch, NE Detroit Community Activist
Last week I was at Bishop Field with a friend. An older longtime Detroiter chatted us up. He said “Oh Detroit will NEVER be great again. It will never be like it was. And young people can’t make a living off being farmers, so we got to knock that off”. This conversation seems to always present itself when I randomly run into folks when trolling Detroit parks. I think what’s really happening is people won’t believe it until they see it. I say re-imagine the definition of great, ditch the negativity and believe instead.
There was a time when Detroit was first.. cars, industry, pharmaceuticals, the arsenal of democracy, leadership, a burgeoning film industry, parks system was in the Top 5. I don’t find these stories because I want to harken back to the way it was. I don’t revel or get off on WWII stories either [and there are a lot of them in this blog]. My plain aim: Give Detroit something to think about.
Fixating on the past isn’t productive but glancing backwards is a-ok. Glancing backwards, we see Detroit was paved with the dedicated, the super smart, the kind and the exceptional and oh some crappy people too. Glance around now and see the synergy that is taking place.. we can collectively say ‘We still got it and maybe even more of it now..along with the trash, crime and blight’.
So, here’s a story about an exceptional Detroiter from way back.. despite today’s deficiencies, we were and are still exceptional. And yes, back in the day, we were often first like Mr. Cannon.
DETROITERS ARE FIRST, BELIEVE IT
Missouri transplant George Ham Cannon was born to parents Estelle Ham Chapman and Benjamin Bartlett Cannon III [regal naming convention in that family] on November 5, 1915. Shortly thereafter the Cannon’s made the move to Detroit. George graduated from Southeastern High School in 1932 where he was immersed in band, chess and the magic club. His sister Margaret tells us George was a stellar flutist and raised her in the utmost caring manner after their father’s early death.
Military training ran thick in the veins of the Ham family. Following tradition, George attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana. He continued on to graduate from the University of Michigan with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1938. As a Battle Commander with the Battery H, 6th Defense Battalion, Fleet Marine Force, he was assigned duty on Sand Island in the Pacific. On the evening of December 7th, 1941 [remember Pearl Harbor came in the am ] Japanese forces lauched a sneaky 23 minute barrage on Sand Island. There were only four casualties.
LAST NOT FIRST
Cannon was severely wounded by shell fire and refused medical assistance/evacuation until his wounded men were cared for first. He suffered from a crushed pelvis. He continued to direct the reorganization of his unit despite his injuries. He was forcibly removed and died from blood loss. Detroiter George Ham Cannon was the first soldier in WWII to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. While his family is interred in Indiana, George rests at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Hawaii.
In August 1942, Cannon was honored with a four flag tribute and military parade on Washington Boulevard. Thousands attended. The Cannon Marine recruiting center at the corner of State and Washington Boulevard reflected his heroism. The USS Cannon, a destroyer escort, was officially launched in May 1943. A new elementary school was dedicated in his name at Midway Island after WWII.
The Detroit park dedicated to his service is now enveloped into the grounds of the wonderful East English Village Preparatory Academy [the former site of Finney High School]. A really really beautiful school.
2015 ©andrea gallucci