In the closing months of World War II, the defeated Nazi Army scrambled to hide the hundreds of tons of gold they had despicably stripped from various nations during their occupation. As they hurriedly stashed their ill-gotten gains, they were unaware that the Allies were drawing near.
Operation Safe Haven was well under way. Allies were on the hunt to locate the enormous amount of looted wealth the Germans viciously seized and stored and put it into the hands of humanitarian groups who would, hopefully, send the wealth to its rightful owners. U.S. troops were trained to search for assets in the form of paper money, coins, and gold bullion.
On April, 6, 1945, MPs from the 3rd Army’s 90th Infantry Division were on a foot patrol in the town of Merkers, Germany when they discovered a useful clue. They spotted two women walking down the street and soon found out that the ladies were French DPs, or “displaced persons.”
These DPs were taken from their French home and transported to Germany to do forced labor. They informed the MPs about a salt mine that hid a surplus of gold — and that the Germans would frequently bring in truckloads of precious metals. The MPs quickly relayed this information to higher command.
Soon after, Generals Eisenhower and Patton traveled to the mine and discovered years’ worth of stolen Nazi gold.
U.S. troops found roughly 7,000 sacks of gold bullion neatly piled in the underground area, measuring approximately 75-feet deep and 150-feet wide.
Additionally, the mine contained 98 million French Francs. However, that enormous sum of cash wasn’t the most shocking thing found down there. Allied troops found luggage containing gold fillings extracted from those forced into the concentration camps.
It’s believed that the gold fillings were to be used in the dental care of several SS officers.
When you think of a crusader, you may think of the Christian warriors who tried to ‘free’ the Holy Land (but are now mostly known for their bad behavior). Or, you could conjure up images of a World War II tank used by the British. But there was one crusader, in particular, that packed four guns and could go very fast. We’re talking about the Vought F-8 Crusader, once called “The Last Gunfighter.”
In the wake of the Korean War, the United States Navy was trying to stabilize its carrier air wings. The shift from propeller-driven planes to jets was well underway and the Navy had to jettison a few duds as it tried to make that shift. The F6U Pirate, for example, just didn’t have the oomph in the engine and the F7U Cutlass was too dangerous… for its pilots.
Still, the Navy was looking for a fighter. Vought, despite the failures of the Pirate and the Cutlass, managed to win this contract. This time, however, the company came up with a classic in what was called the F8U Crusader at the time. The plane established a reputation for speed — Korean War MiG-killer John Glenn, a future astronaut, took a reconnaissance variant across the country in record time in 1957.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the centerpiece of the Crusader’s combat capabilities was a suite of four Mk 12 20mm cannon backed up by four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The Crusader served with the Navy and Marine Corps in Vietnam, scoring 18 kills for three air-to-air losses. While the fighter retired soon after the Vietnam War ended, the photo-reconnaissance version stuck around with the Navy Reserve until 1987.
Two countries received the F-8 Crusader on the export market. France operated the F-8E(FN), equipped with R.530 and R.550 Magic 2 air-to-air missiles instead of the American Sidewinder. Those served until December 1999. The Philippines flew the F-8H model, operating it until 1991.
Learn more about this four-gun Crusader in the video below:
After members of the Native American Blackfeet Nation overwhelmed an Army recruiting office in 1941, those waiting in line cried, “since when has it been necessary for Blackfeet to draw lots to fight?“
Hitler surely didn’t realize the fight he was picking.
Japan kicked off their war with the U.S. with a bang — no declaration necessary. Their formal declaration came the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One by one, the United States and the Axis countries declared war on one another. But the war between Native American nations in the United States and Germany had never actually been resolved, so they just resolved to continue fighting.
The Iroquois Confederacy declared war against the Kaiser’s Germany in 1917 alongside the U.S. after 16 members of a traveling circus were detained by the Germans, ostensibly for their own protection. The capture of those 16 prompted the leaders of the Iroquois to issue a declaration of war and implored members of the Iroquois Nation to enlist to fight alongside their U.S. ally, even though they were ineligible for American citizenship.
Some 12,000 Native Americans enlisted in the U.S. military during World War I, mostly volunteers, serving as scouts, snipers, and code talkers. Their incredible service in World War I prompted the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, John J. Pershing, to write:
“The North American Indian took his place beside every other American in offering his life in the great cause, where as a splendid soldier, he fought with the courage and valor of his ancestors.“
Beyond code talkers
When World War II came about, the Iroquois hadn’t yet made peace with Germany, so they were already ready to go back to Europe to give Germany more of the same. The Chippewa and Sioux Nations, this time around, also issued formal declarations of war.
Members of the Navajo Nation overwhelmed recruiting offices in three states with recruits ready to go fight – no draft required. One fourth of the entire Mescalero Apache Nation joined the U.S. military during World War II as did all the able-bodied Chippewas at the Grand Portage Reservation. So great was the Native Americans’ desire to serve that if all Americans had joined the military during World War II in the same proportion that Native Americans did, there would have been no need for a draft. Ten percent of all Native Americans served in World War II.
Another 150,000 left the reservations and went to work in war production, serving in factories and farms while Native women took over the traditionally male roles on the reservations.
Native Americans won their citizenship after World War I with the 1924 Snyder Act, but it was World War II that disrupted so much of traditional American society, including Native American nations.
Natives came home with a new standard of living, new skills, and shaped a new way forward for pan-Native American societies. For the first time, Native Americans were able to assert themselves and their status as equals, fighting for the rights and privileges of every other American, as well as those granted to them by existing treaties with the United States.
By early 1944, the Germany and the Luftwaffe were in a bad state. Allied bombing had a devastating effect on oil supplies and the new P-51 Mustang was killing German pilots faster than they could be trained. Though Germany was developing the twin-engined Me 262 jet fighter to combat the allied bombers, Hitler’s constant interference and the strain on resources delayed the program. Luftwaffe Supreme Commander Reichmarschall Hermann Göring and Armaments Minister Albert Speer proposed the alternative solution of a single-engined jet fighter that was cheap and easy to produce and could be flown with very little training. Their idea was approved and a contract was issued for the Volksjäger, or “People’s Fighter”.
The Volksjäger requirements called for a single engine to reduce cost and construction complexity. Its airframe would be made primarily of wood and non-strategic metals since Germany’s reserve of war materials was dwindling. Moreover, the design had to be simple and able to be constructed by semi and non-skilled labor, including slave labor. The contract also required that the plane be easy to fly with very little experience, though this was more a sign of Germany’s desperation. “[The] unrealistic notion that this plane should be a ‘people’s fighter,’ in which the Hitler Youth, after a short training regimen with clipped-wing two-seater gliders like the DFS Stummel-Habicht, could fly for the defense of Germany, displayed the unbalanced fanaticism of those days,” recalled the plane’s designer, Dr. Ernst Heinkel, after the war.
Heinkel’s design, the He 162 Spatz (Sparrow), was selected on September 25, 1944. Incredibly, the first prototype flew less than 90 days later on December 6. Though the first flight was successful, it was noted that some of the glue holding the wooden frame together started to fail. The second test flight on December 10 saw a similar glue failure that caused the aileron to separate from the wing and resulted in a crash that killed the pilot. Still, Germany was desperate and testing pressed on without addressing the glue issue.
Though the He 162 was supposed to be flown by Hitler Youth, the aircraft turned out to be too complex and required a more experienced pilot at the controls. A small number of training gliders were built and delivered to a Hitler Youth squadron at Sagan. However, the unit was in the process of forming when the war ended and did not undergo any training.
Despite the need for trained pilots, production of the He 162 began at Salzburg and the underground facilities at Hinterbrühl and Mittelwerk. The first operational unit received the He 162 in February 1945. Despite heavy allied bombing of German industry and air bases, I./JG 1 (First Fighter Wing) began training on the new jet in March and saw their first action with it the next month.
On April 19, the He 162 scored its first kill when Feldwebel Günther Kirchner shot down an RAF fighter. While on approach to land, the vulnerable jet fighter was shot down by another RAF fighter. Both the plane and pilot were lost. Though more victories were scored in April, I./JG 1 lost 13 He 162s and 10 pilots. However, only two were actually shot down. The other planes were lost due to mechanical failure, structural failure, or running out of fuel.
On May 5, the squadron was grounded following the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands, Northwest Germany, and Denmark. Unlike other German squadrons with experimental aircraft, I./JG 1 did not destroy their planes. Rather, they turned them over to the British on May 6 who distributed them among the other allied nations for evaluation.
After the war, allied research found that the He 162 was actually a capable and well-designed fighter. Its inherent problems were the result of its rushed production. If the Germans had the time and resources for proper testing and evaluation, the plane could have been a serious threat to allied air superiority.
Today, many examples of the He 162 survive in museums including the RAF Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) held a commemoration ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the first combat firing of the naval railway gun, Sept. 6, 2018.
The ceremony took place at Admiral Willard Park at the Washington Navy Yard where on display is a naval railway gun still mounted on a railway carriage.
Master Chief Yeoman Nathaniel Colding, senior enlisted leader at NHHC, was the master of ceremonies for the event and shared the history of the naval railway gun with the guests in attendance.
Upon entering World War I in April 1917, the Navy was already developing long-range artillery primarily to counter the German army’s heavy guns capable of bombarding the English Channel ports used by the Allies.
The Navy’s initial idea was to employ several 14-inch 50-caliber Mark IV naval rifles, with a complete train of equipment for each gun, on railway mountings behind British lines in France. However, changing military conditions prevented British authorities from stating definitively at which port these batteries were to be debarked.
The Navy ultimately offered the guns to General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, who readily accepted them.
“In the summer of 1918, five U.S. naval railway guns made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean for use in France during the First World War,” said Colding. “Although they were assigned to the First Army’s Railway Artillery Reserve, the guns operated as independent units under the command of Rear Admiral Charles P. Plunkett. In early September 1918, Battery Number 2 went into action with a bombardment of a German-occupied railroad hub more than 20 miles away.”
Retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox, director of NHHC, was the guest speaker for the commemoration ceremony and spoke about why this event is important for us to remember today.
British 12-inch howitzers on top-carriage traversing mounts.
“The U.S. Navy was able to provide a quick solution using guns that were normally intended for battleships,” said Cox. “The key point of the U.S. Navy’s participation in the war was that although we only lost about 430 Sailors during the entire course of the war, we were able to get two million U.S. Army troops to France a lot faster than the Germans ever thought was possible. The Navy did this without any losses to U-boats, ending a war that at that point was the bloodiest in human history.”
While the naval railway guns were in operation, the crew had no support from the Army should the Germans unit advance on them and they were expected to “fight alone.” They did not have to face that fate, however; the Germans were in retreat throughout their period of service.
“The increased use and effectiveness of aircraft, particularly bombers, with their greater flexibility and mobility, meant that the naval railway battery would not be a mainstay in future wars,” said Conrad. “Nonetheless, its development and deployment highlights the U.S. Navy’s ability to think innovatively and create and deploy new and effective programs quickly. That skill is transferable and is a hallmark of the U.S. Navy in the twentieth century.”
Although the naval railway guns operated well behind the front lines and were not subject to the constant bombardment received by more forward positions, the U.S. naval railway batteries were hardly immune from enemy fire. Many of the units took counter-fire from German artillery. German observation planes flew above their positions during the day, and bomber aircraft were active at night. The units lost only one Sailor to enemy fire and other battery personnel were wounded.
French 370 mm railway howitzer of World War I.
According to Dennis Conrad, Ph.D., a historian at NHHC, 530 officers and men made up the Naval Railway Guns command. The unit was subdivided into six groups, one for each battery and these groups were further subdivided into crews: a train crew, a construction crew and a gun crew.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, ten museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
The Barrett M82, known by members of the U.S. military as the M107 .50-caliber semi-automatic rifle, is one of the military’s most beloved weapons in use today. Its service history is as storied – and as American – as the history of its inventor, Ronnie Barrett.
Before his name became synonymous with American military supremacy, Barrett was a professional photographer in his home state of Tennessee. He never studied science or engineering in college – in fact, he didn’t go to college at all. He went to Murfreesboro High School before going out and starting a photography studio.
That all changed during the course of his usual work.
And many, many U.S. and allied troops are better off for it.
In 1982, Barrett was snapping a photo of a river patrol gunboat during a military exercise on the Stones River near Nashville, Tenn. Mounted on that boat were two M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns. The size of the ammunition cartridge got Ronnie Barrett thinking. He was “wowed” by the Ma Deuce, but he wanted to know if the .50-caliber cartridge could be fired from a shoulder-mounted sniper rifle.
He was out on the water that day to snap promotional photos for the Browning Firearms Company, but he ended up starting a rival firm, one that would become as closely-linked with the U.S. military as Browning.
The photo also won a first-place award from the Tennessee Professional Photographers Association. No joke.
(Photo by Ronnie Barrett)
Barrett went home and began work on a 3D sketch of what would soon become the Model 82A1 – M107. Within just seven years, Barrett was able to sell his powerful sniper rifle to the Swedish military and eventually the United States Marine Corps, then the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.
Not bad at all for someone with no college education, but a whole lotta vision. Welcome to Ronnie Barrett’s America, folks.
We know our government as one of checks and balances, always ensuring that one branch has oversight over another. But in case of some kind of national emergency, the President of the United States has the ability to essentially turn the democratically-elected government into a sort of constitutional dictatorship, with him (or her) at its center.
This doesn’t mean the chief executive has to enact all the powers at once or that, in an emergency, that they have to enact them at all. These are just the possibilities. In case you read this and think to yourself, “Holy cow, no one is ever going to really do that!” Guess again. Most of these have been done before.
Precedents for the President
There are four aspects to an emergency: the sudden onset and how long it will last, how dangerous or destructive it is, who it may be dangerous to, and who is best suited to respond. The President has to declare a state of emergency and indicate which powers he’s activating.
“We should ask the President,” said no businessperson ever.
1. Regulate all commerce and business transactions.
Under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the President is allowed to regulate all the finances of the United States, including all international transactions.
Pictured: Not yours.
2. Seize all privately-held gold stores.
Under the same 1917 act of Congress, the President has the authority to take all privately-owned gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates. The last time this was used was in 1933 to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression. Citizens were allowed to keep only 0 worth of gold.
Citizens were paid its value per ounce and for the cost of transportation as they were required to surrender the gold to a Federal Reserve Bank within three days of the order.
Better make room for a new logo.
3. Take control of all media in the U.S.
Under the Communications Act of 1934, the President can establish the Office of Telecommunications Management, which oversees all media and telecommunications, regardless of advances in technology. President Kennedy did this through Executive Order 10995 in 1962.
Make way for the Trump Train!
4. Basically capture all resources and manpower.
Kennedy also signed executive orders allowing for the seizure of electric power fuels and minerals, roads, highways, ports, sea lanes, waterways, railroads, and the private vehicles on those throughways. Under further orders, he allowed for the Executive Office of the President to conscript citizens as laborers, seize health and education facilities, and airports and aircraft. These are continued in Executive Orders 10997, 10999, 11000, 11001, 11002, 11003, 11004, and 11005.
Just wait til they get bored on their deployment to Wyoming.
5. Deploy the military inside the United States.
While American governors can offer their National Guard resources to the President without being ordered, as they do in the case of U.S. troops monitoring the border with Mexico, the use of Active Duty troops inside the U.S. is forbidden under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878…
…unless there’s an emergency. The Insurrection Act allows for the President to use troops to put down insurrections or rebellions within the United States. After Hurricane Katrina, however, the Insurrection Act was amended to allow the POTUS to use federal troops to enforce the law — a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. Every U.S. Governor was against this change.
Like an inauguration but with waaaaaaaaay fewer people.
6. Suspend the government of the United States.
A presidential directive signed by George W. Bush on May 9, 2007, gives the President of the United States the authority to take over all government functions and all private sector activities in the event of a “catastrophic emergency.” The idea is to ensure American democracy survives after such an event occurs and that we will come out the other end with an “enduring constitutional government.” This piece of legislation is called “Directive 51.”
There’s no truer way to describe it: Life in the trenches of WWI was absolute hell. If an enemy bullet, artillery shell, or gas canister didn’t kill you, the cesspool of diseases that formed in the puddles at the bottom of the trenches surely would. To make matters worse, the damp, dingy, and dirty environment made for the perfect breeding ground for rats that would carry and spread deadly diseases.
Placing and maintaining rat traps was impractical in such an austere environment, so there was really only one way to deal with the infestation. This particular deterrent also provided a huge boost to morale in an otherwise bleak battlefield. We’re talking, of course, about trench cats.
Throughout the trench systems that ran along the Western Front of WWI, there were an estimated 500,000 cats. Primarily, they were there to cull the rodent population, but as you can imagine, many troops would find comfort in caring for the kitties.
The cats also served at mascots for many of the units fighting in the trenches. Troops would share parts of their rations with the cats who, in turn, would stick around for the food and attention. The cats would mostly crowd around troops’ living quarters, giving them something to play with between conflicts.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the cats, though. Many more troops loved and cared for the cats in between battles and made them part of their unit. Like this Army Air Corps kitty, who’s name was Spark Plug.
As heart-wrenching as it was, cats were also very susceptible to the near-odorless and near-invisible toxic gas used against the Allies. This means that cats would feel the effects of the gas attacks almost immediately. Like canaries in mine shafts, their reaction to the gas would alert nearby troops, who would then rush to put on their gear and get to safety. It’s unknown how many cats died due to chemical warfare, but their losses saved countless GI lives.
The cats were also able to freely cross no man’s land. During the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, many soldiers wished for peace and friendship between the troops of warring factions. So, they would tie messages around the collars of some of the free-roaming kitties and the message would get across to the enemy fortifications.
Unfortunately, not everyone thought such communication was to be taken lightly. One cat by the name of Felix was caught by French officers and put in front of a tribunal. This cat, trying to carry messages of peace and love in exchange for treats, was found guilty of treason and executed by firing squad.
The cats were known to be fiercely loyal to the troops with whom they served. One Belgian officer and scout, Lt. Lekeux of the 3rd Regiment of Artillery, came across a liter of kittens whose mother had perished before the young could open their eyes. Lekeux nursed the kittens back to health, but unfortunately only one survived — he named the cat Pitoutchi.
The cat followed the lieutenant everywhere he went and jumped on his shoulders whenever the trenches were too wet. One night, as Lt. Lekeux was scouting out the German position and drawing their location on a map, German troops almost spotted him. Alerted by some noise, the troops surrounded the artillery crater in which Lekeux took cover. He was trapped; the Germans were sure to shoot him if he fled or bayonet him if they found him in there.
Suddenly, Pitoutchi jumped from Lt. Lekeux’s shoulder and dashed out of cover. The Germans spotted the little kitten and opened fire, but his cat’s reflexes proved too quick. The Germans attributed the noise they heard to Pitoutchi and gave up searching.
This gave Lekeux the window he needed to mount an escape, with the maps and Pitouchi in hand.
From the time he was a boy, Merian C. Cooper wanted to be an adventurer, a wish that propelled him into journalism, the National Guard, military aviation, two world wars, and the cinematic killing of King Kong. During that time, he took part in historic events, like the hunt for Pancho Villa, and contributed to others, like the Doolittle Raid.
When he was six, he read a book by a French explorer who traveled Africa, and he was hooked on the idea of adventure. In 1916, that led the journalist and Georgia National Guardsman to Mexico, where he took part in the punitive expedition against Pancho Villa.
That only fueled his desire more, so he got a billet at a military pilot school in Georgia and graduated in time to go to France for World War I. He became a bomber pilot, but was shot down over Germany and declared dead until the American officers learned he had survived and been taken prisoner.
But he wasn’t done with Europe, soon heading to Poland as a captain and taking part in the Polish-Soviet War. He formed a new squadron, the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, with volunteers from France. The men saw protracted combat, and Cooper himself was shot down two times. The second time, he was captured by the Soviets and sent (a second time) to a prisoner of war camp.
After two attempts, he successfully escaped and was rewarded for his wartime service with Poland’s highest decoration for valor.
After returning to a peaceful America, he became a movie producer and writer, working on some cinematic classics, including the game-changing King Kong of 1933. He even played one of the pilots in the film.
But war came knocking again when the U.S. entered World War II. So, Cooper returned to service as a colonel and was sent to India where he served as a logistics expert for the Doolittle Raid, the legendary attack by carrier-based bombers against Tokyo itself in 1942. He was even eventually invited to see Japan’s surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri.
As World War II raged overseas, men and women responded to the call of duty in the fight for what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “four freedoms” – freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. By the time the United States entered the war, more than 2.5 million African American men had signed up for the draft. In a separate-but-not-equal military at the time, the irony was not lost as the fight for these freedoms continued at home.
“[T]he sky in the distance lit up with searchlights, tracers from ack-acks and the sound of bombs,” Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, a medic attached to the primarily African American 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, once wrote in testimony to Congress regarding what he witnessed on D-Day.
War raged in every corner of sky, sea, and land within sight as dawn broke on the morning of June 6, 1944. The 320th was the only African-American amphibious assault unit the U.S. First Army used in Normandy. According to Woodson, they were dispersed among various landing craft for protection of unit members.
“The military personnel on our landing craft looked in awe at the spectacle in the distance and wondered, ‘What next?'” he wrote. Woodson, along with several seamen and soldiers on a Landing Craft Tank, was part of the first wave heading toward Omaha Beach.
The water was choppy and the noise deafening. As the landing craft neared the French coastline, it hit a submerged mine, which took out the motors. Within minutes, it hit another mine and endured several German 88mm artillery shells. The Germans continued to rake the ship with machine gun fire and mortar shells, preventing any nearby ship from coming to the rescue, Woodson said.
One mortar shell landed on the steel deck of the craft and exploded. Before Woodson had a chance to move, shrapnel took out the soldier next to him and more shrapnel lodged into his own thigh. After another medic dressed his injury, Woodson tended to the wounded and dead onboard. Of the 34 service members on board Woodson’s craft, only 11 survived by the time the ship hit the beach.
“D-Day was the most emotional and dangerous day in my life,” Woodson wrote. “As a young soldier far from home … the assault units waited patiently to begin their mission… Everyone knew the first 23 hours would be critical to the course of the war.”
Once Woodson reached the beach, he tended to the wounded and consoled the frightened. He dressed wounds, administered pain medication, and conducted amputations for the next 30 hours. He later saved and resuscitated four drowning soldiers before collapsing from exhaustion and injury. Woodson spent three days recovering in a hospital ship and then asked to be taken back to the beach to continue working.
A note from the assistant director in the Office of War Information to a White House aide states Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross. This was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by the office of Gen. John C.H. Lee in Great Britain. At home, the press called him the “No. 1 Invasion Hero.”
Woodson never received the Distinguished Service Cross or Medal of Honor. After the war, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on D-Day.
Nearly one million African American service members served in World War II. In the segregated military, most African American service members were assigned to the Army for service- or combat-support roles. A small percentage held positions in combat arms.
Retired Cpl. William Dabney, now 93, is one of two surviving members of the 320th. In 1942, he was in his second year of high school when he enlisted in the Army – and only after convincing his great-aunt to sign a document granting him permission to serve. He soon found himself training to use hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, which had thin metal cables with bombs attached that would detonate if triggered by low-flying enemy planes.
On June 6, Dabney made his way to Omaha Beach with the first wave with a barrage balloon strapped to him.
“I was dodging bullets mostly,” said Dabney with a laugh. His mission was to protect the advancing soldiers. As Dabney approached Omaha Beach, his balloon caught fire from being hit by gunfire.
“It happened just as I hit the beach, so I couldn’t move,” said Dabney. “I wasn’t equipped to do anything else because that was my job. The only thing I could do then was unstrap the cables from myself and take cover under the dead bodies so I wouldn’t get shot.”
By the end of the day, the mission of the 320th had been accomplished successfully. Dabney was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. His proudest moment from that day: getting a hug and a kiss from First Lady Michelle Obama, who recognized him before he could introduce himself.
“Allowing my dad to share his experiences with others helps spread the information about the accomplishments and contributions of black men throughout history – specifically throughout World War II,” said Vinney, Dabney’s eldest son.
Segregation in the Armed Forces remained an official policy until 1948. The heroic actions of many African American service members went unacknowledged – due to their race – entire units, such as the 320th, were left unmentioned in history. While prejudice took a backseat during D-Day, the years ahead would see a different story, said Woodson.
Woodson spent the remainder of his career serving the medical community at then-Walter Reed Army Hospital and then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He spent 38 years working in clinical pathology at the National Institutes of Health before retiring. He passed away in 2005.
In 1997, after a study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated racial discrimination in awarding medals, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven African American World War II veterans. But to the dismay of family and friends who knew Woodson, he remained missing from the list.
Many of Woodson’s military records were lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri. With the help of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, his family has since started a petition to award him the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.
“Black History Month recognizes that there are lots of Black heroes largely uncelebrated because their stories aren’t being told,” said Dabney. “I’d like people to not just remember the 320th. I would like for all African Americans that were fighting in this war to be recognized. They did a job, too, and there was quite a few of us out there.”
Although the Japanese feudal period ended at the turn of the 17th century, isolationist policies delayed the country’s advancement compared to western nations. The shogunate and samurai culture persisted until the mid-19th century with the opening of Japanese ports and the restoration of the imperial family. While literacy and numeracy flourished under the shogunate, Japan was technologically inferior to the countries that it engaged with.
The country quickly transitioned to an industrial economy and adopted western technology and ideas. Following successful wars with China and Russia, Japan expanded its empire and validated its new industrial military. Moreover, Japan’s participation as an ally in WWI allowed it to seize former German colonies in the South Pacific. Leading up to WWII, Japan continued its military conquest in East Asia with a second war against China.
Japanese aggression in the Pacific prompted economic sanctions on the country by the United States. In response, Japan joined the Axis forces in 1940. Through the Tripartite Act, Nazi Germany gained an ally in the Pacific and access to crucial raw materials like rubber from Indonesia and Malaya. In turn, Japan gained access to much of Germany’s military technology. These are four German designs used by Japan in WWII.
1. Messerschmitt Me 262 — Nakajima Kikka
After the Japanese military attaché in Germany witnessed the Me 262 trials in 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy requested that Nakajima develop a similar aircraft, once again based on German designs. The new plane was intended to be used as a fighter-interceptor and fast-attack bomber. The Imperial Navy also required that the aircraft be able to be built largely by unskilled labor and possess foldable wings. These features were included in anticipation of the defense of the Japanese islands. Using German design photographs and cut-away drawings of the Me 262, Nakajima engineers built Japan’s first jet aircraft. Development took so long that the first flight didn’t take place until the day after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The prototype was damaged on its second test flight and was not repaired before the war ended.
2. Messerschmitt Me 163 — Mitsubishi Shūsui
Another aircraft borrowed from the Luftwaffe, the Shūsui was a rocket-powered interceptor built for both the Army and Navy. Based on one of the German designs, Komet, the Shūsui was designed to intercept high-altitude allied bombers. One Komet was disassembled and sent to Japan in 1944. All submarines carrying the aircraft’s components were sunk though. Instead, the Shūsui was reverse-engineered from a flight operations manual. Mitsubishi built seven operational variants of the Shūsui. Test flights were troubled, but the engineers persisted. The aircraft was close to full-scale production by the time Japan surrendered. No Shūsuis were flown operationally during the war.
3. Junkers G.38 — Mitsubishi Ki-20
The Ki-20 differs from the previous two aircraft. The heavy bomber was based, not on a WWII-era military aircraft, but a late-1920s airliner. When it was built, the Junkers G.38 was the largest land-based plane in the world. In 1932, Mitsubishi licensed the G.38 and redesigned it; instead of carrying passengers, the plane would carry bombs. Using Junkers-made parts, two Ki-20s were built and flown later that year. Four more aircraft were built from 1933 to 1935 using Mitsubishi-built parts. Capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of bombs, more than twice the bomb load of the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Ki-20 was the largest aircraft flown by the Japanese Army Air Service during WWII. Only one of the six aircraft survived the war.
4. Tiger I
Yup, the Japanese had a Tiger tank…technically. Japanese tanks were inferior to the M4 Sherman and M3 Lee tanks that the allies fielded in the Pacific. Japan sought to even the odds by buying German panzers. In 1943, a delegate of Japanese officers was sent to Germany to make the purchase. A deal to acquire two Panzer III variants, one Panther, and one Tiger I was struck. The Japanese officers spent a month testing their new tanks in Germany. Afterwards, the Tiger was disassembled and prepared for shipment to Japan. However, Japan’s I-400 super submarine was not yet finished and the existing submarine fleet was not capable of transporting the heavy tank’s components. The Tiger was stored in Bordeaux until it could be shipped to Japan. However, following D-Day, Germany needed every available tank to repel the allied invasion. The Japanese Tiger was bought back and sent it into battle. Although the tank never made it to Japan, this German design helped to influence late-war Japanese tank development.
During the peak of WWII, being a member of a heavy bomber crew meant you were incredibly brave, and you put your country over yourself — it was that dangerous.
Many considered the occupation to be a death sentence. Nearly 71 percent of the bomber’s crew were either killed or labeled as missing in action, which accounts for approximately 100,000 service members.
One of Germany’s primary defenses against allied bombers was their massive array of anti-aircraft guns. The German ground forces commonly fired at the passing bombers even if they didn’t have a clear line of sight due to overcast conditions.
Typically, the bombers had to fly right through the multiple volleys of gunfire, but it was the “waist-gunners” who absorbed the majority of the shrapnel, as they were positioned near an open window in the rear of the plane.
Damage to the “waist-gunner” area of the bomber accounted 21.6 percent of all the hits the plane took.
The image below shows what areas the heavy bomber was most likely to be hit by the enemies’ air-defense systems according to World War Wings’ video.
On Aug. 4, 1945, Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay approved Operation Centerboard I, a decision that ultimately forced the Japanese to surrender and forever changed the world. Two days after his approval, pilots boarded the Enola Gay, the callsign for their B-29 bomber, and lifted off from the Pacific island of Tinian en route for Hiroshima.
At 8:15 a.m., the lone plane in the sky carrying the 9,000-pound uranium-enriched atomic bomb — known as “Little Boy” — released from the bomb bay and floated by parachute, detonating the equivalent of 12,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT over the populated city.
“It was very much as if you’ve ever sat on an ash can and had somebody hit it with a baseball bat,” recalled Navigator Theodore Van Kirk, as he described the shockwave. Life that existed before was annihilated, and 70,000 of the 76,000 total buildings were destroyed — 48,000 blown into non-existence. The explosion immediately killed an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 people, and the nuclear fallout in the following years is believed to have killed some 200,000 more people as a result of severe burns, trauma, radiation exposure, and cancer.
The Bockscar and its crew, who dropped a Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A day later, after no sign of surrender from the Japanese, the decision was made to use the second atomic bomb — “Fat Man.” The target was originally not the city of Nagasaki, but that of Kokura, the location of Japan’s largest munitions depot. On Aug. 9, 1945, bad weather and thick clouds forced the pilots to deviate and travel to their secondary target, where citizens of Nagasaki experienced the same hell that occurred three days prior.
“Suddenly, the light of a thousand suns illuminated the cockpit,” remembered “Bockscar” co-pilot Fred Olivi. “Even with my dark welder’s goggles, I winced and shut my eyes for a couple of seconds. I guessed we were about seven miles from ‘ground zero’ and headed directly away from the target, yet the light blinded me for an instant.”
After the plume of the second explosion cleared the skies and the Japanese surrender ended World War II, the world questioned how anyone could ever recover after two cities were turned into ash. On the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Coffee or Die looks back at the lesser known aspects of the cataclysmic event that destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and forever changed the world.
A group of physicists at the 1946 Los Alamos colloquium on the Super. In the front row are Norris Bradbury, John Manley, Enrico Fermi, and J.M.B. Kellogg. Behind Manley is Oppenheimer (wearing jacket and tie), and Richard Feynman to his left. The Army colonel on the far left is Oliver Haywood. In the third row between Haywood and Oppenheimer is Edward Teller. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
“The Cry Baby Scientist”
Robert Oppenheimer, the man known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb,” had months of preparation and test results to predict the impact of dropping a nuclear bomb over a populated city as he and his team developed the two atomic bombs that were used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the physicist, along with 155 scientists chosen to work under the top-secret program famously known as “The Manhattan Project,” had second thoughts. They signed a petition that opposed using nuclear weapons in a military capacity.
When Oppenheimer met with President Harry Truman in his Oval Office in October 1945, months after pondering the destruction of his own creation, he told him, “Mr. President, I feel like I have blood on my hands.” Truman’s face scrunched and his anger grew to a fury as he told Secretary of State Dean Acheson, “I never want to see that son of a bitch in my office again.”
As Truman recounted the story, the blame equally shared by the two of them, he often referred to Oppenheimer as “the cry baby scientist.”
A watch recovered from Hiroshima, stopped at 8:15 a.m., the moment of the bombing. Photo courtesy of the Atomic Heritage Foundation.
Censorship In The Press
The biggest news story of the century was censored. In fact, much of the information during World War II was censored. However, the prime focus concerning the nuclear explosions over Japan was the suppression of evidence regarding radiation or radioactivity. Journalists were silenced, access to medical reports were limited, and American officials confiscated materials collected from Japanese inspectors during the immediate fallout. Gen. Douglas MacArthur issued a press code that permitted the publication of photographs and print in relation to the bombings, and it remained in effect until 1952.
The purpose of the censorship was that the military didn’t want the atomic weapon to be associated with chemical warfare. Nonetheless, Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett avoided the censors when he sent his report to London using Morse code. Burchett was the first foreign journalist to visit Hiroshima after the bombings. The London Daily Express published his story on Sept. 5, 1945, with the headline “The Atomic Plague.”
“Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city,” Burchett wrote. “It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence.”
American physicist Lawrence H. Johnston with the Fat Man plutonium core on Tinian in 1945. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Eyewitness Accounts & Survival
American physicist Lawrence H. Johnston, one of the scientists to work under the helm of the Manhattan Project, was the only eyewitness of all three atomic explosions (the other was the Trinity test). While Johnston viewed the extraordinary violent detonations from a distance, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a 29-year-old Japanese naval engineer experienced both blasts in person.
Walking on his morning commute to work, Yamaguchi stopped and looked toward the sky. He heard the roar from the B-29’s engines, then watched a bomb deploy a parachute. The sky flashed the brightest light he had ever seen as he dove into a ditch before the shockwave engulfed his entire being. The eruption was so violent that it spun up tornado-like winds that hurled his body into a nearby potato patch.
After somewhat recovering his wits, he spent the night in an air raid shelter, and the following day he went to the train station. The bridges ceased to exist, and en route he had to cross a river pass and swam through a cluster of floating dead bodies. As he boarded the train amongst several other burned survivors, he traveled overnight to his hometown of Nagasaki.
On Aug. 8, he recuperated in the hospital and embraced his wife and child who hardly recognized him. The next day he returned to work to inform his bosses of what had occurred at Hiroshima. After escaping one atomic bomb, the second was even more devastating.
“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he told the The Independent. Somehow, for the second time, he survived the blast, but the radiation in multiplied doses had lingering effects that caused his hair to fall out and relentless bouts of vomiting. Surprisingly, he lived until he was 93 years old and died of stomach cancer in 2010.
The Atom Bowl teams were each captained by a Heisman Trophy winner and an NFL running back who served with the 2nd Marine Division during World War II. Photo courtesy of War History Online.
The Atom Bowl
While citizens of Japan weren’t fully aware of the effects of radiation and what impact it had on the body until later in life, US soldiers didn’t fully understand it either. On New Year’s Day 1946, Chicago Bears standout Bill “Bullet” Osmanski stepped onto another gridiron that looked more like a scene from the movie Mad Max than a packed football stadium filled with screaming fans. Osmanski and other Marines from the 2nd Marine Division fielded one team and squared off against Lt. Angelo Bertelli, a Heisman Trophy winner and former Notre Dame quarterback. The ceremonial football game became known as “The Atom Bowl,” and it was held in the nuclear wasteland a few miles from “ground zero” in Nagasaki.
More than 2,000 Devil Dogs took to the bleachers at the “Atomic Athletic Field No. 2” to watch Osmanski’s “Isahaya Tigers” defeat Bertelli’s “Nagasaki Bears” 14-13. The halftime festivities included music by the Marine Corps band and “Japanese girl cheerleaders.” The rules were altered for safety, including banning tackle football in favor of two-hand touch because of the shattered glass and small debris on the field. The world’s first and only football game to take place in the rubble of an atomic bomb crater was played by a bunch of Marines trying to boost their spirits before they went home.