One of World War II’s legendary figures, Gen. George S. Patton, loomed largely in the narrative of the war for many reasons.
While no one would accuse the great general of being humble or unassuming, his ego and pride are well-deserved — to the betterment of mankind and the Allied cause. Patton, with his ivory-handled revolvers and propensity to quote the Hindu scripture of “The Bhagavad Gita,” was as eccentric in life as he was effective in combat.
No example of this was more telling than his belief in reincarnation and his own numerous past lives.
As a child, Patton believed he fought Turkish armies. As he grew into an adult, he still had visions of his death in past lives, from viking funerals to the Battle of Tyre. In 1991, Karl F. Hollenbach compiled Patton’s account of his past lives in a book called Patton: Many Lives, Many Battles. Though the man himself never completely expressed the entirety of his beliefs in reincarnation, he did describe numerous events in detail.
Maybe there was something to the idea. Patton’s prowess on the battlefields made him the most feared Allied general among the Nazi leadership, according the the German POW Lt. COl. Freiherr Von Wagenheim. General Patton’s own intelligence officer remarked that his sixth sense was often way ahead of the intelligence coming in. Perhaps this truly is a skill set acquired across lifetimes of military experience.
1. With Alexander the Great at the Siege of Tyre.
In a poem called “Through a Glass, Darkly,” which Patton wrote while commanding the Third Army in Europe, he described being a Greek Hoplite fighting the Persians under Darius. He helped smash the Persian navy and then laid siege to Tyre. The walls fell after five months as Patton and his fellow Hoplites stormed the city.
2. Fighting Parthians for Rome.
Patton next talks about slaying Parthians with his Gladius, a sword approximately 25-32 inches long. Since the battle was said to have taken place in the first century B.C., Patton would have been fighting for what was then still the Roman Republic in the Middle East under any number of legendary Roman names: Crassus, Cassius, and Marc Antony to name a few.
In his vision, Patton was wounded and then killed by a number of arrows in his neck.
The general also remembered being stationed in Langres, France — as a Roman legionnaire in Caesar’s X Legion.
3. A Viking on his way to Valhalla.
When Patton was a young adult, he was kicked by a horse, who broke his leg in three places. Close to death from his wounds, Patton had a vision of his death as a Viking raider — where a vision appeared to him on the battlefield, offering to take him to the Viking afterlife.
The afterlife knows no loyalty in the wars of men, apparently. Less than a century later, Patton was back in the Hundred Years’ War, this time on the side of the English. Patton claimed to have fought with King Henry V at Agincourt.
6. A raiding sailor.
Three of Patton’s stanzas describe fighting on ships as he freed captured slaves or prisoners of war, fired into the enemy at point-blank range during a storm, or even was hanged as a pirate or privateer, describing feeling a rope around his neck as the red deck (presumably blood-stained) was set aflame.
7. Fighting for the House of Stuart
Again pitted against the English, though this time his loyalties were less to a nation than to the House of Stuart. Patton was a Scottish Highlander during the third English Civil War, supporting the Stuarts after the death of Charles I.
8. An aide to a Napoleonic Marshal.
Patton describes “riding with Murat” in the poem. Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon’s marshals. Murat was one of the most capable cavalry officers and leaders in service to the French Emperor. He doesn’t specify his role with Murat, but the marshal was pivotal at battles like Jena and the invasion of Russia in 1812.
When the Allies left North Africa to invade Sicily, British General Sir Harold Alexander told Patton that if had been alive in the 19th Century, Napoleon would have made him a marshal — to which Patton replied: “But I did.”
At the end of his epic poem, Patton wrote that he would “battle as of yore, dying to be a fighter, but to die again, once more.”
In the years following the American Civil War, Canada was still very much a possession of the British Empire. As such, it had a number of official fortifications and other important areas along its border with the United States. One of those was Fort Erie, directly across the Niagara from the American city of Buffalo, New York. In June 1866, some 850 men crossed the Niagara from Buffalo, intent on capturing the fort.
They were Irishmen, and they were going to conquer Canada to free their home country.
Irish immigrants flowed into the United States in droves following the Acts of Union that saw British domination of Ireland since the early 1800s. The Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s also saw a huge emigration of Irish people to the United States. By 1860, there were more than 1.6 million people of Irish descent who called themselves American – and upwards of 175,000 of them were about to serve in the Union Army.
The Irish made-up 40 percent of foreign-born enlistments in the Civil War, and were 17 percent of the overall Union force. When these battle-hardened veterans returned home after the war, many of them were headed to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New England. It was there that Irish National leaders were waiting to use the veterans’ new talent for combat.
To be fair, when this plan was hatched, there were upwards of 10,000 Fenians.
Called the Fenian Brotherhood, its original aim was to send money, arms, and supplies to Irish rebels in Ireland via Irish émigrés living in the U.S. Many in the movement were soon convinced that liberating Ireland through a direct uprising was impossible, so they decided to step up their game a bit. If the Irish couldn’t mount an invasion of Ireland, then they would mount an invasion of Canada, the nearest British-held country and trade it for Irish independence.
T.W. Sweeny a former Union general who also served in the Mexican War hatched a three-pronged plan to invade Canada, set up an Irish government-in-exile, and pressure Britain to release Ireland to the Irish. It called for multiple incursions into Ontario in an effort to draw the main British force out of Quebec. With that done, the main Fenian force would invade Quebec, cutting off lines of communication and supply.
Noncommissioned officers of the 10th Royal Regiment of Toronto Volunteers, circa 1870.
On June 1, 1850, a force of Irish-American members of the Fenian Brotherhood landed in Ontario and planted the Irish flag. They tore up railroads and cut the telegraph wires, effectively cutting Fort Erie off from the rest of Canada. Then, 600 Fenians marched westward. At the same time, the commander of British forces in Canada activated upwards of 22,000 troops to put the insurrection down. While the larger force formed up, 850 men under Lt. Col. Alfred Booker were dispatched to pin the Irish down and keep them from wreaking any more havoc.
The two forces met at Ridgeway in Ontario, Canada. It was the first time an all-Canadian force was led by a Canadian commander. Unfortunately for the Canadians, the Fenians were well-armed and skilled fighters, having just braved the battlefields of the American Civil War. The Canadians were soon reinforced, and the superior numbers caused the Fenians to retreat.
No. 5 Company of the Queen’s Own Rifles.
The Fenians were repulsed elsewhere along their proposed lines of attack. Having assumed that Irish Canadians would join the uprising, they were surprised at how the Canadians responded to their invasion. By the time British forces mounted a full response, many of the Fenians had retreated back across the river, the United States Navy was stopping Fenian barges from bringing reinforcements, and the U.S. declared total neutrality in Canadian affairs.
There would be more Fenian uprisings in later years, but for the time being, the push to trade Canada for Ireland would not come to pass.
Feature photo: Battle of Ridgeway, Library & Archives/Canada
That’s right, Marine Corps legend and one of America’s greatest fighters from any branch Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, a true American Iron Man, spent his childhood dreaming of being a soldier.
Army guys, before you go too nuts with this information, keep in mind that Puller ended up joining the Marine Corps because he was inspired by the Marines’ legendary performance at the Battle of Belleau Wood and because the Corps gave him a chance at leading troops in World War I before it was over.
Yeah, Chesty changed his service branch preferences for the most Puller reason ever: he thought the Marines would let him draw more blood, sooner.
Puller grew up as a tough kid and the descendant of soldiers who fought in the Civil War. His grandfather and many other relatives fought for the Confederacy while a great uncle commanded a Union division.
His grandfather was a major who had died riding with Jeb Stuart at Kelly’s Ford. Confederate Maj. John W. Puller had been riding with Maj. Gen. Tomas Rosser when a cannon ball took much of his abdomen out. He continued riding a short distance despite his wounds but died on the battlefield.
The young Lewis Puller grew up on the stories of his grandfather and other prominent Confederate soldiers in the town, and it fueled a deep interest in the military for him. At the time, the Marine Corps was a smaller branch that had fulfilled mostly minor roles on both sides of the Civil War, meaning that there were few war stories from them for Puller to hear.
Those stories and Puller’s love of the outdoors naturally led him to the Virginia Military Institute, a college which, at the time, sent most of its candidates to Army service (now, cadets can choose from any of the four Department of Defense branches).
At the institute, Puller was disappointed by the nature of training. He wanted more time in the woods and working with weapons, but the school’s rifles had been taken by the Army for use in World War I. After only a year of training, Puller told his cousin Col. George Derbyshire, the commandant of cadets of the school, that he would not be returning to VMI the following year.
“Well, I’m not old enough to get a commission in the Army, and I can get one in the Marines right away. I don’t want the war to end without me. I’m going with the rifles. If they need them, they need me, too.”
His decision came as the Battle of Belleau Wood was wrapping up, a fight which greatly enhanced the Marine Corps’ reputation in the military world. Puller went to Richmond, Virginia, and enlisted in the Marine Corps on June 27, 1918, the day after his 20th birthday and the end of the Battle of Belleau Wood.
Unfortunately for him, he wouldn’t make it to Europe in time for World War I. Instead, he was assigned to train other Marines and achieved his commission as a second lieutenant just before the Marine Corps drew down to a peacetime force, putting many commissioned officers on the inactive list, including Puller.
But Puller resigned his commission to return to active service and went to Haiti and Nicaragua where he performed well enough to regain his butterbar and claw his way up the ranks, allowing him to make his outsized impact on World War II and the Korean War.
The 17th century wasn’t exactly the most progressive time in history, as evidenced by the fact people with dwarfism were literally traded about by the upper echelons of society like Pokemon cards. Amongst the pantheon of known “court dwarfs” as they were called, one stood above them all thanks to the frankly astonishing life he led in his rise from the son of a commoner to ultimately seeing himself not just a Captain of the Horse, but a knight as well.
Jeffrey Hudson, or “Lord Minimus”, Sir Jeffrey, or Captain Hudson to give him his proper titles, was reportedly born sometime in June of 1619 in the town of Oakham located right in the heart of the quaint English county of Rutland. The son of a stout and broad shouldered man, called John Hudson, Jeffrey’s dwarfism was not initially apparent. This is largely because Jeffrey had what is known as “proportionate dwarfism” which, as the name suggests, is characterised by the individual having limbs of proportionate size to their body. As a result, Jeffrey’s family didn’t actually notice that anything was amiss until he just stayed abnormally small.
There were many hypotheses bandied about during Jeffrey’s lifetime about how exactly he came to be so small, with our personal favourite being a contemporary one espousing that the cause was his mother choking on a pickle while giving birth… However, experts have since concluded that he, like many proportionate dwarfs, most likely just had hypopituitarism, much to the chagrin of those of us who like the pickle story.
In any event, Jeffrey was born into, while not a well to do family, at least a well connected one. Jeffrey’s father, John, was described as a man of “lusty stature”, which was a bit of a requirement of his job- breeding and managing bulls meant for fighting with other animals for the Duke of Buckingham, George Villers.
Little is known of Jeffrey’s childhood, that is, until his dear old dad decided to present him to the Duches Katherine Villers at the age of 7. You see by the time Jeffrey was around 7 years old, he reportedly stood “scarce more than a foot and half in height”, while still being near perfectly proportioned.
Jeffrey’s father knew how uncommon this was as well as how prized dwarfs were at court. It turns out many royals kept at least one dwarf, among other such “pets”, around for their own and their guests’ amusement. His hope seemingly was that Jefferey would be made a member of the Duchess’ court as such an object of entertainment.
While this might seem somewhat cruel, it should be noted here that Jeffrey’s future prospects were not exactly good in this era. By seeing if the Duchess would take little Jeff as part of her court, John potentially was ensuring his son a life of luxury, if, of course, also one that would be extremely demeaning. But he would be demeaned by people either way. Thus, might as well choose the life that would see him have his own servants, plenty of food in his belly, and anything he could wish, rather than scraping a living as a commoner.
Whatever his father was thinking, the young Jeffrey was indeed accepted and quickly became a beloved plaything of the Duchess, who spent her time dressing him in miniature outfits and taking delight in the reaction he garnered from friends when she presented him at parties.
Mere months later, Jeffrey’s life was once again upended when the Duke’s household was expecting a visit from King Charles I and his wife, Queen Henrietta.
At the appropriate moment, Jeffrey burst out of the pie wearing a small suit of armor and brandishing a little sword that he swung about wildly to the amusement of all.
The Queen is said to have immediately become enamored with Jeffrey’s “remarkable smallness”, and asked the Duchess if she could take him home to add to her own little collection, which comprised of a couple other dwarfs, a giant called William Evans who was reportedly over 7 feet tall, and a little monkey named Pug. Happy to oblige, the Duchess handed Jeffrey over to the Queen in 1626.
After this, Jeffrey went to live with the Queen in London and became known as “Lord Minimus”, with his remarkably near perfect proportions and extremely small stature, even for a dwarf, being particularly valued. As noted by Sir Walter Scott when Jeffrey had reached adulthood and still not added much in height from his 7 year old self,
He although a dwarf of the least possible size, had nothing positively ugly in his countenance, or actually distorted in his limbs….His countenance in particular, had he been a little taller, would have been accounted, in youth, handsome, and now in age, striking an expressive; it was but the uncommon disproportion betwixt the head and the trunk which made the features seem whimsical and bizarre- and effect which was considerably increased by the dwarf’s moustaches, which it was his pleasure to wear so large that they almost twisted back amongst and mingled with his grizzled hair.
Going back to his childhood, due to the massive difference in height between Evans and Jeffrey (over 7 feet vs about 1.5 ft), apparently one of many popular party tricks Evans and Jeffrey used to perform was to have Evans presented to guests, at which point he’d pull a large loaf of bread out of one pocket, then pull Jeffrey out of another. The two would then proceed to prepare some food for the guests using the bread.
It wasn’t all about entertaining guests, however. While Jeffery initially was treated as little more than a pet, for whatever reason the Queen, who was about a decade older than Jeff, and he hit it off, quickly becoming extremely close.
It’s speculated by some that their shared sense of being outsiders to the society in which they lived may have played a part- the Queen being a French Catholic living in England at a time when both were somewhat taboo. Things got even worse for her when she was further isolated by her husband, King Charles, when he had almost her entire retinue, including her close friend Madame St. George, forcibly removed by guards and kicked out of the country in June of 1626, around the same time Jeffery came into the Queen’s life.
With Jeffrey her trusted confidant, the Queen saw to it that he became educated, taught how to be a gentlemen, and even began giving him courtly tasks, rather than having him working solely as entertainment for guests and herself. For example, in 1630 the Queen sent a then 10 year old Jeffrey to France as part of a delegation to retrieve her midwife, Madam Peronne, ten Catholic friars, and various valuables from her mother Queen Marie de Medicis.
While there, along with famed court dance master and hunchback Jacques Cordier dit Bocan who was also part of this delegation, Jeffrey reportedly wowed the court in France with his dancing abilities, in the process collecting quite a lot of rather expensive gifts from impressed members the court.
Unfortunately for Jeff, this journey ended in disaster when the ship he was on while headed back home was captured by pirates. The midwife and Jeff, his own newfound valuables, along with those sent as gifts to the Queen, were taken, though the others aboard, like the friars and the dance master, were allowed to go free.
When the Queen found out what had happened, she reportedly was extremely concerned for Jeffery’s safety. As to how she got him back, this isn’t clear, but it can be presumed she paid some sort of ransom for his return. Whatever the case, return he did shortly thereafter and continued his life at court.
Unfortunately for the Queen, her baby died not long after being born, though reportedly Jeffrey was a great comfort to her during this period, staying by her side throughout her long recovery from what was described as an extremely difficult labor. From here, Jeffery was her constant companion and when he got older one of her most trusted advisors.
On that note, a curious and academically inclined child, Jeffrey was known to be a voracious reader. He also soon was known in the Queen’s court for his rapier wit and penchant for devilishly cutting put downs to any who would insult him- something that only served to make him even more popular with the Queen and later the King who are both said to have been endlessly amused by Jeffrey’s growing confidence and ability to reduce anyone insulting him to a sputtering idiot with a marvelously well-crafted insult of his own.
Beyond book learning and his weaponpized wit, Jeffery was also taught to use actual weapons and to ride horses, with a special saddle and custom-made pistols more suited for his stature made for him.
By all accounts, as with so many other areas of learning, Jeffrey excelled at horsemanship and became an exceptional marksman- two skills that would ironically result in the latter half of his life go horribly wrong.
Nevertheless, at the age of 23, Jeffery was keen to do his bit for his King and Queen when the English Civil war began in 1642. Though still only around 20-23 inches tall, he didn’t hesitate to lend his newfound talents to the war effort. Impressed by the dwarf’s candor, the King and Queen granted him the title of “Captain of the Horse”, although it’s not clear if Jeffery actually was allowed to lead troops in battle or if it was just a ceremonial position. It was also around this time the the King knighted Jeffrey, though that one was reportedly a joke during a party. Nevertheless, it was an official knighting from the King.
As for Jeffrey, he took his new positions incredibly serious, insisting upon being addressed as Captain Jeffrey Hudson after being given that rank.
When the Queen fled England at the height of the war, Jeffrey dutifully accompanied her to France. Upon arriving in the country, emboldened by his recent successes in life, he made it known to the Queen’s entourage that he would no longer accept jibes about his height and that he’d defend his honor with his life, if necessary. After all, whether originally as a joke or not, he was now a knight of the English court, a Captain of the guard, an excellent marksmen, and one of the most trusted confidants of the Queen.
This brings us to an event that would change his life forever, occurring in 1644 when he was about 25 years old.
A gentlemen of the court evidently decided to ignore Jeffrey’s insistence that he was no longer some court pet to be teased, and instead apparently insulted Jeffrey in some way, though what exactly was said has been lost to history. Enraged, Jeffrey challenged the man to a duel- a challenge that was accepted, with pistols on horseback being chosen for the fight.
Showing how much he thought the whole thing was a joke, Jeffrey’s opponent chose to face him not wielding a pistol of his own, but rather a squirt-gun like device, as noted in a letter from Queen Henrietta of the event,
The giving cavalier took no firearms, but merely a huge squirt, with which he meant at once to extinguish his small adversary and the power of his weapon. The vengeful dwarf, however, managed his good steed with sufficient address to avoid the shower aimed at himself and his loaded pistols, and, withal, to shoot his laughing adversary dead.
Not just shooting him dead, from horseback, Jeffery demonstrated his prodigious skill as a marksmen, by putting a rather sizable hole in his opponents forehead, almost hitting him right between the eyes.
This all might have amused the royals, except that the man Jeffrey had just killed happened to be the brother of the Queen’s Master of the Horse, Baron William Croft.
This still might have been OK, except on top of having a well connected brother, it turned out that dueling was illegal in France at the time. Meaning that Jeffrey had just committed murder in the eyes of the court.
Sir Jeffrey was promptly arrested, with calls to have him executed, but the Queen was having none of it. Although apparently extremely displeased at Jeffrey for embarrassing her in this way among the aristocracy and while a guest in the country, she nevertheless wrote to Cardinal Mazarin pleading that Jeffery’s life be spared. Her request was granted, and instead of being executed, Jeffrey was exiled from France.
Exactly what happened to Jeffrey after this isn’t clear, other than apparently shortly thereafter he found himself on a ship that was captured by Ottoman pirates. Being something of a novelty, he was sold into slavery and spent around two and a half decades in this state.
Ultimately freed sometime in the late 1660s as a part of efforts by England to get its captured citizens released from slavery, the first mention of him back in England after this period occurred in 1669.
As to what he got up to as a slave, little is known of this, other than an account gleaned from interview he gave to author James Wright who was writing a history of Rutland book. From this, we know only a couple things. First, Jeffrey somehow grew 22 inches, approximately doubling his height from age of around 25 to 50 when he returned.
This is where we have some small reference of what his life was like as a slave when he credited his growth to the stresses of hard labor as well as “buggery”. For those not familiar, this is another word for sodomy, seemingly implying at least part of Jeffrey’s role as a slave for someone was as a sex toy, or perhaps other slaves used him for such.
Whatever the case, now free, the much taller Jeffrey now was simply a short man, instead of a miniature one, meaning he wasn’t able to resume his former post at court. Compounding the issue was that Queen Henriette had died in 1669, the year he appears to have returned to England, so benefiting from her patronage also was not an option.
Ultimately he was given money by the Duke of Buckingham George Villiers II, who was the son of Jeffery’s first patron, as well as from Charles II, son of Queen Henriette, to help set himself up on his new life.
Unfortunately for him, when he traveled to London in 1676 to request a pension from the court, this was a peak time of anti-Catholic sentiment in the country. This saw Jefferey promptly arrested upon arriving in London for the sole crime of daring to be a Catholic- a faith he’d taken up as a youth because the Queen.
Jeffrey subsequently spent the next four years or so in prison, being released in 1680. As to what he got up to after, this isn’t known, other than he died 2 years later at the age of 63 in 1682, buried in a pauper’s grave without so much as a headstone, despite officially being a knight and a Captain of the Horse.
While it isn’t known where he was buried, a marker was created at some point near his place of birth which states simply, “Sir Jeffery Hudson-1619-1682- A dwarf presented in a pie to King Charles 1st.”
North American B-25G "Pride of the Yankees" in the Gilbert Islands. Note the spent 75mm shell casings used as covers for the .50-cal. machine guns. (U.S. Air Force photo).
The idea of using planes to destroy tanks is not a new one. Although the concept has been perfected with modern aircraft like the popular A-10 Warthog, tank-killing planes flew not long after the invention of both vehicles. In WWII, tank and plane technology advanced rapidly. As tanks became more survivable with thicker armor, planes began carrying heavier and heavier ordnance to kill them. Eventually, armies decided that the best way to kill a tank and other ground targets with a plane was with a tank cannon. Here are four of those planes. Note that planes armed with flak guns like the German BK 3,7 3.7cm gun are not included.
1. de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk XVIII — QF 6-pounder (57mm)
The DH Mosquito was one of the most capable planes of WWII. Famously made mostly of wood, the Mosquito was used as a fighter, bomber, pathfinder, and reconnaissance aircraft. It was said that the only problem with the Mosquito is that the RAF never had enough of them. The Mk XVIII fighter-bomber variant was armed with an autoloading quickfire 57mm anti-tank gun, the same gun used on the Churchill and Crusader tanks. It was designed to attack U-boats and other German ships. Despite the Air Ministry’s doubts over arming the Mosquito with a tank gun, the variant proved to be very effective. On March 10, 1944, Mk XVIIIs from 248 Squadron engaged a German convoy of one U-boat and four destroyers protected by 10 Ju 88 Schnellbombers. Though the U-boat was only damaged, three Ju 88s were shot down. Pilot Tony Phillips shot down one Ju 88 with four 57mm shells, one of which tore off the German’s engine. The Mk XVIII went on to sink at least a dozen German U-boats and surface ships. It was so successful that the British toyed with the idea of mounting a 96mm QF 32-pounder to a Mosquito.
2. Junkers Ju 88 P-1 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm
Like the Mosquito, the Ju 88 was an extremely versatile WWII aircraft. It was used as a bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, reconnaissance aircraft, and even a flying bomb at the end of the war. In 1942, Germany began experimenting with the idea of mounting the deadly 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun on the Ju 88. Testing was successful and resulted in 40 Ju 88 P-1 variants armed with modified PaK 40s. However, the aircraft proved to be slow and vulnerable on the battlefield because of the gun’s weight. The concept was further developed with the P-2 and P-3 variants. These used the lighter BK 3,7 3.7cm autocannons developed from the 3.7cm Flak 18. Along with the 50mm autocannon-equipped P-4 variant, the higher velocity of the small-caliber guns proved deadly against Soviet armor on the Eastern Front.
3. Henschel Hs 129 B-3 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm
Following the successful integration of the BK 7,5 on the Ju 88, the gun was further modified and mounted on the Hs 129. As a dedicated ground-attack aircraft, the Hs 129 was a more appropriate choice to carry the gun. It was also equipped with a new hydraulic-dampening system and an aerodynamic muzzle brake. Attacking from above, it was theoretically capable of destroying any tank in the world at the time. Still, the 7.5cm’s heavy weight made the plane difficult to fly. Although only 25 units were delivered to frontline squadrons before production was halted, the aircraft proved highly effective against Soviet armor.
4. North American B-25G/H/PBJ-1H Mitchell — T13E1 75mm cannon
Like the British, the U.S. needed a heavy-hitting aircraft for anti-ship operations. The answer came in the form of a tank cannon on a bomber. Like an early AC-130, the B-25 Mitchell of Doolittle Raid fame was experimentally fitted with the 75mm M4 cannon. Modified from the M3 cannon found on the M4 Sherman tank, it was the largest weapon carried on an American bomber at the time. Modified from a B-25C, the experimental XB-25G proved the flying tank gun concept and led to the development of the B-25G and later H variants. The lighter T13E1 75mm cannon was adapted from the M4 and was loaded by the plane’s navigator. After being signaled that the gun was loaded, the pilot could fire it with a button on his control wheel. An average of four rounds could be fired on a strafing run. The Marine Corps also adopted the 75mm B-25 as the PBJ-1, standing for Patrol (P) Bomber (B) built by North American Aviation (J), not “peanut butter and jelly.” One of the most heavily armed aircraft in the world, it could attack targets with eight forward-firing .50- caliber machine guns, eight 5″ rockets, 3,000 pounds of bombs and its 75mm tank cannon.
A good sidearm is the ultimate plan B. You don’t want to have to use it, but if you do have to — it better work. They’re kind of the last line of defense for American freedom and they’ve come a long way in 240-plus years.
The sidearm has gone from a smoothbore, muzzle-loaded, single shot to SIG Sauer’s new, modular, 59-round monster which is also customizable for every user. No matter what your opinion of them might be, if they’ve ever kept you in the fight for even a minute longer, then they did their job.
These are most important sidearms the U.S. military has adopted over the last couple hundred years.
1. Harper’s Ferry Model 1805
This was the first pistol ever made by a U.S. national armory. It was a flintlock pistol that lasted well into the Mexican War – but not for any particular reason besides apathy. They were heavy and tended to misfire. The Military Police Corps insignia still bears crossed 1805s to this day.
I think we missed our chance for the Chuck Norris-Clint Eastwood movie about the 1847 Walker…
2. Colt M1847 Walker
Welcome to the dawn of a new era. This was the first mass-produced revolver and, at an astonishing 15 inches long, it was able to make its way down south in time to win the Mexican War. The “Walker” in its name comes from the Texas Ranger who helped design the .44-caliber weapon (no, it was not Chuck Norris).
“Colt: Now explosion free.”
3. Colt M1848 Dragoon
The 1847 held a lot of black powder, so when they exploded (as they sometimes did), it turned people off to the idea of buying another Colt firearm, which was bad for business. The 1848 revolver didn’t require so much powder — for a .44-caliber pistol, anyway. This weapon lived on all the way through the Civil War.
4. Colt M1860 Army
This is a more powerful, updated version of a similar model Colt made for the U.S. Navy. It was widespread in the American Civil War by anyone who carried a sidearm (and by many who weren’t supposed to).
5. Remington New Model
Colt’s weapons production factory burned down in 1864 and the Army was still in the middle of fighting the Civil War, so they had to turn somewhere. Meanwhile, Remington’s sidearms had became more accurate without sacrificing the stopping power needed to tame the American frontier.
6. Colt M1873 Single Action Army
Remington had a good run, but when it comes time to win the west, you need an American classic. And what could be more classic than a name that’s still known over 100 years later? We’re talking, of course, about the Colt .45. It was the standard-issue sidearm until 1892 and “The Peacemaker” also became synonymous with cowboys. This sidearm was commonly seen well into the 20th Century.
7. Colt M1892 Double Action Army-Navy
This was Colt’s first double-action sidearm with a swing-out cylinder made for the U.S. military. The caliber was reduced to a .38, which was fine in most cases, but it famously was unable to stop charging Filipino freedom fighters, even with multiple shots, even at close range.
8. Colt M1911
The legend. This weapon is more than 100 years old and is still used by Army and Navy special operators. They sure don’t make ’em like they used to. Easily one of the most common firearms in the world to this day, this bad boy fought in almost every conflict from World War I to today.
9. Beretta M9
The Beretta had a troubled history. From the ammunition pressure to slide failure injuries to a lack of confidence in the weapon’s performance and stopping power, the M9 was generally not accepted as one of the premiere firearms in American history. It had the lowest approval rating of any weapon used by troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it’s hot on the work site, it’s important to stay cool. If it’s hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.
Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army’s aircraft on the ground.
There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.
By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.
They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.
The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol’ martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.
Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.
There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A’s fuselage.
Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.
In the annals of military history, the Korean War is unique in the sheer numbers of human wave attacks that defenders were forced to confront. Like the Japanese in WWII, the Chinese and North Korean forces were keen on assaulting defensive positions with overwhelming numbers. Unlike the Japanese, however, this was a preferred tactic rather than an act of desperation.
American and United Nations forces would pay dearly to hold their positions against these attacks. Many men gave their last full measure of devotion to secure the safety of their comrades. For some men, that last full measure involved fighting to the death in hand-to-hand combat. In the image above, we see a granddaughter of one of these men accepting the Medal of Honor on his behalf. These four heroes really gave everything they could.
1. Jack G. Hanson
In the early morning hours of June 7, 1951, the communists launched an all-out assault at a strategic hilltop held by F Company, 31st Infantry Regiment.
Manning a machine gun covering the main approach was Pfc. Jack Hanson. As the attackers rushed forward, he poured devastating fire into the ranks. The maelstrom of bullets going both ways wounded the four riflemen holding the position alongside Hanson.
As they were evacuated, Hanson was told to relocate to a more tenable position. Meanwhile, the charging enemy forces were threatening to overrun.
Disregarding the order, Hanson held his position to continue engaging the enemy. As others fell back, they reported that Hanson was single-handedly putting up a dogged defense. He never arrived at the fallback position.
Near dawn, his company counterattacked. When they regained their previous positions, they found Pfc. Hanson lying in front of his gun emplacement. His machine gun ammunition was depleted and in his right hand was an empty .45 caliber pistol. In his left hand was a blood-soaked machete. All around him were the bodies of 22 slain enemies.
On Sept. 1, 1951, the communists launched an offensive on a position held by F Company, 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment. Assisting in the defense of the sector was Pfc. Anthony Kaho’ohanohano and his machine gun squad.
As the enemy surged into the position, Kaho’ohanohano realized it was untenable and ordered the withdrawal of the rest of the squad. He then rushed to retrieve ammunition and grenades, shrugging off his shoulder wound, and returned to his original position to cover the retreat of friendly forces.
His accurate fire drew the attention of the charging enemy, who focused their efforts on taking out the lone defender. He blasted away with his machine gun until his ammunition was depleted. He threw all of the grenades he had, but the enemy was still coming.
Undaunted, Kaho’ohanohano grabbed his entrenching tool and stood to meet his foes. He fought valiantly until the enemy’s numerical superiority overwhelmed him and they overran his position.
His staunch defense inspired his comrades and allowed them time to regroup to launch a coordinated counterattack. When friendly forces retook the position, they found thirteen dead communists around him. Kaho’ohanohano was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
3. Herbert K. Pilila’au
On Sept. 13, 1951, the Americans launched an effort to take a heavily fortified and well-defended ridge. The area eventually gained the infamous nickname, “Heartbreak Ridge,” due to the desperate fighting that went on there.
Just four days into the battle, a young draftee from Hawaii, Herbert Pilila’au, would exemplify the courage of those who fought on Heartbreak Ridge.
On that day, Pilila’au and the rest of C Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, charged up the slopes of the ridge, intent on taking Hill 931. However, his platoon’s attack bogged down and they set in a defensive perimeter while the remainder of the company set in elsewhere.
With the help of supporting fire, the platoon was able to hold back probing attacks. Before long though, the North Koreans attacked in force and Pilila’au’s platoon attempted to rejoin the rest of the company.
Pilila’au, his squad leader, and the company artillery observer remained behind to cover the withdrawal. As the other two called for fire onto the encroaching enemy Pilila’au poured withering fire into the enemy with his BAR.
Despite friendly artillery landing all around him, enemy forces charging forward, and dwindling hopes of a successful retreat, Pilila’au remained in his position to ensure his comrades were secure.
When he expended the last of his BAR ammunition, he met the enemy advance with grenades. When those were gone, Pilila’au grabbed his trench knife and charged from his position to battle his foe hand-to-hand.
From their now secure vantage point, his fellow soldiers watched Pilila’au charge headlong into the communists, stabbing and punching as he went until he was overwhelmed and felled by an enemy bayonet.
When American forces retook the position the next day, they found the bodies of 40 dead enemies around Pilila’au.
For his courageous actions on Heartbreak Ridge, Pilila’au received the Medal of Honor.
4. Demensio Rivera
On May 23, 1951, a dense fog rolled into the positions held by the men of G Company, 7th Infantry Regiment. Hiding in the fog was an overwhelming enemy force, approaching for an attack.
One of the men holding the line against the Communist onslaught was Pvt. Demensio Rivera. With little to go on other than shadows in the fog, Rivera engaged the onrushing enemy with deadly accurate rifle fire. When his rifle jammed, he discarded it and fought on with his pistol and hand grenades.
When an enemy attempted to infiltrate the position through a nearby defilade, Rivera left the safety of his position and killed the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.
As the enemy continued to press the attack Rivera expended his pistol ammunition and all of his grenades but one.
With a mind on nothing other than devotion to duty, Rivera pulled the pin and waited for the enemy to storm his position. When that attack came Rivera calmly dropped the grenade among himself and his attackers, knowing full-well it would be the end of him.
After the grenade’s detonation, friendly forces rushed to Rivera’s position. To their surprise, Rivera was still alive, though gravely wounded. He was surrounded by the bodies of four enemy soldiers.
Rivera’s selfless actions in the face of overwhelming odds earned him the Medal of Honor.
Army Maj. Gen. “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell was at the top of the list for high commands as America entered World War I. A 1904 West Point graduate with lots of intelligence experience in World War I and extensive time in the Pacific, he was expected to take on some of the most important commands and win.
Instead, Stilwell spent most of the war in what was an important backwater, the Chinese-Burma-India Theater. Stilwell was in the middle of preparing Operation Gymnast, the landings of North Africa which would later be conducted as Operation Torch, when he learned that he was on the short list to command U.S. forces in CBI.
Stilwell didn’t want the job. He hoped to invade North Africa. From there, he would have a decent shot at commanding the European theater or at least all troops taking the fight to Italy.
This was a reasonable expectation. Operation Gymnast became Operation Torch and was passed to then-Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s success in North Africa led to an appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. A few years later, he used his status as a war hero to run for president.
He was facing a tough job, but Stilwell dove into it. He assumed control of an integrated force in Burma in 1942 and prepared an offensive against the Japanese.
But it was too late for that. Before Stilwell could lay the groundwork, a new Japanese thrust overcame Chinese forces and sent them reeling back. The rest of the Allied forces in the area, mostly Americans under Stilwell, were forced to follow. This caused the loss of Burma and a severing of important logistical corridors.
But Stilwell didn’t want to disrupt the Japanese in Burma, he wanted it back. In 1944, he was able to lead a force that retook the region. One of the most famous units in the effort was Merrill’s Marauders, led by Maj. Gen. Frank Merrill. Merrill was one of the survivors that left Burma with Stilwell. Merrill had survived the evacuation despite suffering a heart attack.
Stilwell was finally removed from CBI in 1944, mainly due to staff and national politics. He was sent to the Ryukyu Islands where he took over the 10th Army on Okinawa. It was in this position that he was tapped to lead the invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall.
Luckily for him and his men, though not for his career and legacy, the invasion was made unnecessary by the Japanese surrendering to MacArthur in 1945.
Imagine Adolf Hitler’s top Nazi commando – a Waffen SS officer who helped implement Germany’s “Final Solution” – walking among the trees and photos of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust.
It so happens that the same SS officer, Otto Skorzeny, was there in 1962 and was recruited to help Israel’s famed intelligence agency take out his former compatriots.
Skorzeny was an accomplished SS officer. His daring raid to rescue ousted Italian dictator Benito Mussolini earned him the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, the highest award Nazi Germany could bestow. After D-Day, he led other commandos into Allied lines wearing American uniforms to capture U.S. weapons and attack from the rear. The Allies dubbed him the “most dangerous man in Europe” for his daring raids and wild schemes.
Though he literally escaped a trial at Nuremberg after the war, the Allies still believed he had a hand in exterminating the Jewish population of Europe.
In an exhaustively-researched March 2016 article, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz’Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman talked to ex-Mossad agents who spoke to the paper on the condition of anonymity. They confirmed Skorzeny’s recruitment by the Jewish state’s intelligence agency, Mossad. How one of Adolph Hitler’s top Nazis became an agent of justice for the Jewish people is a story born more from self-preservation than redemption.
In the early 1960s, Mossad was attempting to prevent former Nazi rocket scientists from working on Egyptian defense projects. At the time, the two countries were mortal enemies and Egypt was still nursing its wounded pride from its defeat by Israel in 1948. The Israelis feared the technology from the program would be used to attack Israel. So they set out to stop foreign scientists from cooperating with the Arabs.
The Israelis used intimidation where possible. When that didn’t work, Mossad resorted to more extraordinary measures. Assassinations were common. But to kill these former Nazis, Israeli agents had to get close to them. They needed an inside man. That’s where Skorzeny came in.
When Mossad initially approached Skorzeny, he thought they were coming to kill him, figuring he was at the top of Israel’s assassination list. Israeli agents had just captured, tried, and hanged notorious Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann, violating Argentinian sovereignty to whisk the war criminal away for trial in Israel. Skorzeny agreed to help Mossad on the condition that legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal remove Skorzeny from his list of war criminals – Skorzeny called the deal his “life insurance.”
He went to Israel accompanied by his Jewish handlers and met with top Mossad officials. This is where the Israelis walked him through Yad Vashem. No one trusted the Nazi, but his genuine interest in his “life insurance” meant Mossad could count on him. He immediately set to work compiling a list of German scientists, front companies, and addresses that were known to be assisting the Egyptians.
Skorzeny intimidated or killed a number of former Nazi scientists working with Egypt. He even sent mail bombs to Egyptian factories and laboratories working on the rocket program. Neither Skorzeny nor Mossad ever admitted to working together. His biography mentions none of it. Only now will Mossad agents admit to Haaretz that the deal was struck.
The Nazi commando was never assassinated and died of cancer in 1975. At both of his funerals, one in Spain and the other in his native Austria, former Nazi soldiers and friends gave his remains and military medals the Nazi salute.
Kelly Johnson wasn’t the first man to build an airplane, nor was he the first to push the limits of what an airplane could do, but few men have played a more vital role in shaping mankind’s ascent into the skies.
According to the latest expert estimates, human beings just like you and I have been walking on earth for over 200,000 years. That figure gets even tougher to wrap your head around when you consider that a mere 200 years ago, mankind had yet to develop matches or typewriters. A century ago, we didn’t have antibiotics or movies with sound. These, along with countless other advancements, played a roll in a technological revolution that continues to this day, like a snowball rolling down hill, enveloping everything in its path.
Of course, mankind didn’t come by these incredible advancements by accident (most often, anyway) and behind each groundbreaking technology is a man or woman, dedicated to solving the problems of their day, and to getting out in front of those coming tomorrow. Nowhere is this human-driven rapid advancement of technology more prevalent than in one of our species most recent civilization-altering breakthroughs: aviation.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk. Less than forty years later, the first B-29 took to the skies with a pressurized cabin and a wingspan that stretched further than the length of Orville Wright’s entire first flight. A mere 19 years after that, Yuri Gagarin flew in space.
There’s no doubt that countless hands, hearts, and minds played vital roles in our rapid progression from the steam engine to the SpaceX Starship, but even amid this sea of engineers and aviation pioneers, some names stick out. Because while millions may have helped mankind reach the sky, some men’s contributions stand head and shoulders above the rest; Men, like Kelly Johnson.
Forged in the fires of World War II
Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers changed the world in Kitty Hawk. The son of Swedish immigrants, Johnson would win his first prize for aircraft design at the age of 13. By the time he was 22 years old, he was working as an engineer at the legendary aviation firm Lockheed.
At 28, Kelly Johnson’s role at Lockheed would bring him to London, where the island nation was preparing for the onslaught of Nazi Luftwaffe fighters and bombers that were to come just three years later in the Battle of Britain. The British were unconvinced that such a young man could produce an aircraft that could turn the tides of an air war, but the fruit of Kelly Johnson’s labor, dubbed the P-38 Lightning, would go on to become one of the most iconic airframes of the entire war.
At the start of the fighting in Europe, many Allied air units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of World War II, Kelly Johnson and his team delivered the United States its first ever operational jet-powered fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Johnson had been tasked with building an aircraft around the new Halford H.1B turbojet engine that could compete with Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. In just an astonishing 143 days, Kelly had gone from the drawing board to delivering the first operational P-80s.
The original Skunk Works
It was during World War II that Kelly Johnson and fellow engineer Ben Rich first established what was to become the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works. Today, the Skunk Works name is synonymous with some of the most advanced aircraft ever to take to the skies, but its earliest iteration was nothing more than a walled-off portion of a factory in which Johnson and his team experimented with new technologies for the P-38, developing the first 400 mile-per-hour fighter in the world for their trouble, in the XP-38.
Later, Kelly’s secretive team again came through with the P-80, and again with the design and production of the C-130 Hercules, which remains in service for the U.S. and a number of other Air Forces around the world today. Then, in 1955, they received yet another seemingly impossible assignment: The United States needed an aircraft that could fly so high it could avoid being shot down, or potentially even detected.
Soviet Radar and intercept fighters of the era were limited to altitudes below 65,000 feet, and the highest any American aircraft could reach was just 48,000. In order to continue keeping tabs on the Soviets, the Air Force solicited requests for an airplane that could fly at an astonishing 70,000 feet with a long 1,500 mile fuel range.
Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works responded with a design that they claimed could fly as high as 73,000 feet with a range of 1,600 miles, based on the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, a slender and supersonic intercept fighter. The Air Force rejected his design… but it caught the attention of America’s secretive spy agency, the CIA.
President Eisenhower wanted eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, and Johnson’s unusual aircraft design with long slender wings and no retractable landing gear seemed like it could do the job, despite its shortcomings. Johnson and his team were given a contract to design and build their high-flying spy plane, and in just eight months, they delivered the U-2 Dragon Lady.
In order to test this incredible new aircraft, Kelly Johnson needed a remote air strip, far from the prying eyes of the American public. He chose a dry lake bed in Nevada for the job, and it proved particularly well suited for testing classified aircraft. Eventually, that little airstrip and accompanying hangars and office buildings would come to be known popularly as Area 51.
Taking spy planes to the next level
The U-2 may have been an immense success, but just as aviation advancements were coming quickly, so too were air defenses. In 1960, Soviet surface-to-air missiles finally managed to get a piece of a CIA operated U-2 flown by pilot Gary Powers. The aircraft was flying at 70,000 feet, higher than the Americans thought could be spotted or targeted by Soviet radar, when it was struck by an SA-2 Guideline missile. Powers had to ride the Dragon Lady down from 70,000 feet to 30,000 feet before he could safely eject, and as the secretive spy plane plummeted to the ground, Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works were already developing a platform to replace it.
With spy satellites still more than a decade away, the United States needed a new aircraft it could rely on to keep tabs on the Soviets. It would need to not only fly higher than the U-2, but faster–much faster, so even if it was detected, no missile could reach it.
Johnson and his team designed a twin-engine aircraft with astonishing capabilities in the A-12, which then led to the operational SR-71 Blackbird — an aircraft that retains the title of fastest operational plane in history to this very day. Lockheed’s SR-71 could sustain speeds in excess of Mach 3.2, flying at altitudes higher than 78,000 feet. During its 43 years in service, the SR-71 had over 4,000 missiles fired at it from ground assets and other aircraft. Not a single one ever found its target.
Another aviation revolution
Kelly Johnson and the team at Skunk Works were on the cutting edge of speed and power, but as the Cold War raged on, it was Johnson and his team that recognized how the battle space was shifting. For years, the United States had focused on developing aircraft that could fly ever faster and ever higher, but with the advent of computer-aided engineering, yet another technological leap was within Lockheed’s grasp.
Johnson and his team needed to develop an aircraft that could defeat detection from not only enemy radar, but also other common forms of detection and targeting, like infrared. Using the most advanced computers available at the time, Skunk Works first developed an unusual angular design they dubbed “the hopeless diamond,” as it seemed unlikely that such a shape could ever produce aerodynamic lift.
Undaunted, development continued and by 1976, they had built a flyable prototype. The aircraft was called Have Blue, and it would lead to the first operational stealth aircraft ever in service to any nation, the legendary F-117 Nighthawk.
The F-117, or “stealth fighter” as it would come to be known, played a vital role in America’s combat operations over Iraq in Desert Storm and elsewhere, but this program produced more than battlefield engagements. The technology developed for the F-117 directly led to America’s premier stealth fighters of today: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The latter of those two is expected to serve as the backbone of America’s air superiority strategy for decades to come.
“The damn Swede can actually see air.”
In total, Kelly Johnson had a hand in the design and development of some 40 aircraft for commercial and military purposes, with seemingly countless awards and credits to his name for his engineering prowess. The man had a genuine affection for his work, to the degree that he turned down the presidency of Lockheed on three separate occasions to retain his role within the Skunk Works he helped to found.
Kelly’s boss at Lockheed, Hall Hibbard, once exclaimed, “The damn Swede can actually see air,” as he tried to understand how one man managed to play such a pivotal role in so many aircraft, and in turn, in how the Cold War unfolded. Finally, Kelly retired in 1975, but remained a senior advisor to Skunk Works for years thereafter.
He passed away in 1990 at age 80, just one year before the United States, with all its incredible military technology, would emerge the victor of the Cold War.
Members of the Armed Forces will be familiar with the term “contraband.” In basic training, it was civilian clothing. On deployment, it was alcohol. For the Union soldiers that occupied Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1861, contraband referred to the slaves they captured. These captured slaves were pressed into service as cooks, laundresses or nurses to support the Union war effort. Among these captured slaves was 17-year-old Cathay Williams, who worked as a cook and washerwoman and eventually, as a soldier.
In September 1844, Williams was born in Independence, Missouri, to a free man and an enslaved woman. This made her legal status that of a slave. She worked as a house slave on the Johnson Plantation outside of Jefferson City, Missouri.
Painting of Cathay Williams by Williams Jennings (U.S. Army Profiles of Bravery)
After she was pressed into service, Williams served under General Philip Sheridan and accompanied the infantry on campaigns around the country, including the Red River Campaign, the Battle of Pea Ridge, and the Shenandoah Valley Raids in Virginia. Her extensive travels during the war influenced her decision to enlist afterwards.
On November 15, 1866, Williams enlisted in the 38th Infantry Regiment (“Rock of the Marne”). Because women were prohibited from military service, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted under the name “William Cathay”. At the time, the Army did not perform full medical examinations on enlistees, so Williams was able to maintain her cover. Only two people in the regiment, a cousin, and a friend, knew Williams’ true identity. “They never blowed on me,” Williams said. “They were partly the cause of me joining the Army. The other reason was I wanted to make my own living and not be dependent on relations or friends.”
Williams was able to keep her secret despite a case of smallpox shortly after her enlistment. After her hospitalization, Williams was able to rejoin her unit at Fort Bayard in the New Mexico territory, helping to secure the construction of the transcontinental railroads. However, a case of neuralgia (intermittent nerve pain) sent her to the post surgeon who uncovered Williams’ secret and reported her to the post commander. On October 14, 1868, she received an honorable discharge with the legacy of being the first and only female Buffalo Soldier.
Williams went on to work as a cook, laundress, and part-time nurse in New Mexico and Colorado. Years later, her declining health led to a hospitalization from 1890 to 1891. In June 1891, Williams applied for a military disability pension. A doctor concluded that she did not qualify, and the Pension Bureau cited the fact that her Army service was not legal. It is estimated that Williams died between 1892 and 1900. Her final resting place is also unknown.
American women have disguised themselves as men in order to serve since the Revolutionary War. Williams, however, was the first known African-American to do so. She is also the only known woman to disguise herself as a man during the Indian Wars. Her fierce independence and determination to serve are hallmarks of the American spirit that she, and so many others before and after her, have sought to defend.
Bronze bust of Cathay Williams at the Richard Allen Cultural Center in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (Buffalo Soldier Monument Committee)
After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966, Raymond Clausen was trained as a helicopter mechanic and had already completed a tour of duty before heading back to the jungles of Vietnam — against his mother’s wishes.
Continuing his military service was something Clausen felt like he had to do.
On Jan. 31, 1970, Clausen would go above and beyond his call of duty as his helicopter deployed to the enemy-infested area near Da Nang in South Vietnam.
Clausen’s crew’s mission was to search for enemy activity in the area when, suddenly, they noticed some concealed bunkers near the tree line.
Directed by higher command, Clausen and his crew landed in a nearby grassy field. Once the troops dismounted from the cargo bay, the helicopters lifted out and patrolled in circles, approximately 1,500 feet above the LZ.
Shortly after, the enemy engaged the ground troops, causing them to disperse, fanning outward. As they separated, Marines stepped on the various landmines in the area.
Clausen knew he had to help the troops below, so he leaned out of the helicopter’s window and directed his pilot as he landed the bird in a safe area to retrieve the wounded Marines.
Once they landed, Clausen leaped from the aircraft with a stretcher and ran through the minefield and helped carry the wounded Marines back to his helicopter.
Clausen knowingly made six separate trips across a minefield and is credited with saving 18 Marines that day. Once he knew all the men were accounted for, he signaled to the pilot to take off, taking the men to safety.
In total, Clausen has logged more than 3,000 hours of flight time as a crew chief and earned 98 air medals during his career.
President Nixon awarded Marine veteran Raymond Clausen the Medal of Honor on Jun. 15, 1971
Check of Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to hear one Marine’s heroic tale of sacrifice and determination: