If you only gnu…

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The gnu is a rather strange looking animal. But they don’t only look strange, they are strange!  There are two types: the blue gnu, and the black gnu. The one in my photo is a blue gnu and they are larger than the black gnus. The male blue gnu can grow to about 600 pounds and five feet high at the shoulder.

Gnus, or wildebeests, are large African antelopes. Gnus (pronounced like “news”) are closely related to cattle, goats and sheep. These animals look like thin, muscular cows with large, sloping backs, curved horns and striped bodies. They also have manes and bushy beards.

They are very territorial (though they migrate hundreds of miles each year) and have learned some neat tricks: they take turns at night standing watch so others in the herd can sleep as they lay down in rows. (Hummm….if I could only teach my dog to do that!) Perhaps partly due to this behavior, their average lifespan in the wild is 20 years.

They may look slow, but they can run at nearly 40 miles per hour. So, if you ever find yourself out in the bush in Africa and a gnu starts to chase you, well, it’s very bad gnus for you!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1915, in the Argonne region of France, German lieutenant Erwin Rommel led his company in the daring capture of four French block-houses, the structures used on the front to house artillery positions.

Rommel crept through the French wire first and then called for the rest of his company to follow him. When they hung back after he had repeatedly shouted his orders, Rommel crawled back, threatening to shoot the commander of his lead platoon if the other men did not follow him. The company finally advanced, capturing the block-houses and successfully combating an initial French counter-attack before they were surrounded, subjected to heavy fire and forced to withdraw.

Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, for his bravery in the Argonne; he was the first officer of his regiment to be so honored. “Where Rommel is, there is the front”, became a popular slogan within his regiment. The bravery and ingenuity he displayed throughout the Great War, even in light of the eventual German defeat, led to Rommel’s promotion through the ranks of the army in the post-war years.

In May 1940, Erwin Rommel was at the head of the 7th Panzer Division that invaded France with devastating success at the beginning of the Second World War. Promoted to general and later to field marshal, he was sent to North Africa at the head of the German forces sent to aid Hitler’s ally, Benito Mussolini. Known as the Desert Fox, Rommel engineered impressive victories against Britain in Libya and Egypt before his troops were decisively defeated at El Alamein in Egypt in 1943 and forced to retreat from the region.

Back in France to see the success of the Allied invasion in June and July 1944, Rommel warned Hitler that the end of the war was near. The unequal struggle is nearing its end, Rommel sent in a teletype message on July 15. I must ask you immediately to draw the necessary conclusions from this situation.

Suspected by Hitler of conspiring against him in the so-called July Plot, Rommel was presented with an ultimatum: suicide, with a state funeral and protection for his family, or trial for high treason. Rommel chose the former, taking poison pills on October 14, 1944. He was buried with full military honors.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: in China, the Milky Way is called “The Silver River.” In ancient Chinese myth, the river was placed in the heavens by the gods trying to separate a weaver who made their clothes and the herdsman who loved her.

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