April 23, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Michael Gannon

UF distinguished professor emeritus of history; author, former priest; Gainesville; Born 1928

Cynthia Barnett | 1/1/2010

Michael Gannon
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
» My mother with her three sons decided that we could not live on an Army
widow’s pension in Washington and had to move to some part of the United States where the living costs were lower. We got into our Ford V8 and headed south, determined to stay in the first place in Florida we really liked. Well, the first place we got to was St. Augustine, and we never got any farther.

» Wherever I go to give talks, I get either one comment or another. One is: ‘I had you for Florida history.’ And the other is: ‘I loved your book, Operation Drumbeat.’ Women like that book, which surprised me until one day I asked a woman and she said: ‘Well it was the story of 50 men living in such close contact with each other in a steel tube — and a smelly one at that!’

» I was a high school dropout. I was more interested in radio than anything.

» Everybody knows something about the California missions, in great part because the missions still stand. They were made of stone. But the missions of Florida were built of clay or wood plank with leaf roofs. By 1655, there were 26,000 Christian Indians (in Florida). That’s really remarkable when you stop to think about it.

» A lot we take for history is not history at all. It’s half-history, or a quarter- history or it’s a prejudicial history or a dark history. In order to correct that kind of bad information, you have to open your mind and do research on your own.

» I was dancing with an Army nurse. How it came into my mind at this point, I have no idea. But it popped into my mind: I think I’ll become a priest.

» I became known among the students as the anti-war priest or the movement priest. I became known to the police as ‘our mediator.’ I became known to the administration — the president and other administrators — as a trusted go-between.

» I wrote an article on Adm. Ernest J. King, who was the commander in chief of the U.S. Navy during World War II. I found him derelict in his duty by not providing protection to the freighters and tankers that were sunk along the Atlantic coast. Almost 400 in number between Maine and the Caribbean islands. The greatest U.S. naval disaster of the war, and maybe of all time. The thing maddened me all the more when I found out quite by accident when poring through the King papers that he was the one who put the finger on Adm. Husband E. Kimmel as solely responsible for what happened at Pearl Harbor. Adm. King condemned Kimmel and has maintained him to this day as the sole responsible party for what happened at Pearl Harbor on the basis
of a lie. An institution such as the U.S. Navy does not want to say that it was wrong, particularly after so many years.

» I was pastor of the student parish and I was a professor teaching in two departments and had my hands full. I decided I should make a choice — I’ve put 17 years into the priesthood; now I think I’ll stick to scholarship, which was beginning to bloom.

» One thing that I would like all schoolchildren to know is that the first Thanksgiving was at St. Augustine in 1565. When Menendez landed at St. Augustine with his men and women and children in tow, he asked the priest who was in charge to celebrate a
Mass in thanksgiving for the expedition’s safe arrival, and after which, as one of the chroniclers states: ‘He had the Indians fed and dined himself.’

» It went out on the AP wire two days before Thanksgiving. It was a shocker because Thanksgiving in Plymouth was the national iconic moment, and here I’d called that into question in a very serious way. My host (a TV reporter) came on and said: ‘As we speak, the selectmen in Plymouth are holding an emergency meeting to deal with this information that there were Spaniards in Florida before there were Englishmen in Massachusetts.’ And I said: ‘Good, you can tell them for me that by the time the Pilgrims came to Plymouth, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.’

» The mood just swung around, in one or two years, ’73, ’74, and it’s been the same ever since. Everybody’s working hard. Everybody’s going for the grades. Everybody’s looking for a position, and changing the world is not high on their priorities. It doesn’t mean that they’re any less beautiful people.

» I think God guides us only in that he places us in a chance-driven world. That’s not a major theological opinion. It’s a feeling that that’s the way it works.

» Prior to Juan Ponce’s voyage, he went to Spain to get the blessing of the king. The king drew up an asiento, or charter, for him, that named everything he was to do and everything he was to look for. Never in that meticulous document did the king say anything about a fountain of youth. I rest my case.

Tags: Florida Icon, Education

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