North Concord Air Force Base located in East Mountain, Vermont used to be a radar base during the Cold War. The station opened in 1956, its purpose to provide early warning signs and protection in the event of a nuclear event. It also sent information to Strategic Air Command Bases. The spot was perfect, literally in the middle of nowhere in one of the most remote areas in all of Vermont.
Keeping Watch For Nuclear Threats Was No Joke During the Cold War
Slightly lower on the mountain, the North Concord AFB housed around 174 servicemen who lived in tin and steel huts, called Quonset Village. They guarded the radar ears on giant steel and tin towers on East Mountain’s summit, always on the lookout for the Soviets up above in the sky. An inflatable white dome topped each tower to serve as protection for the radars.
In the station’s early years, there was only one way to get to it: a treacherous, winding, one-lane dirt road that traveled along steep slopes. To put it lightly, Quonset Village was a harsh place to live in winter. Snowstorms could make the road down the mountain impassible, leaving its military residents stuck up there until it passed. For that reason, the village included all the basic necessities and more. It had a store, barbershop, mess hall, theater, and bowling alley.
A Short-Lived Military Station Indeed
In 1962, North Concord AFB incurred a name change to Lyndonville Air Force Station. However, that didn’t last long, as the US government shut the whole place down a year later in 1963. It was just too expensive to keep up, especially considering that it quickly became obsolete as technology advanced.
In 1961, not too long before it closed, the base reported a UFO sighting that lasted 18 minutes. Strangely, residents of nearby New Hampshire Barney and Betty Hill claim that they were abducted by aliens a couple of hours after the sighting. It remains unclear whether the abduction actually happened or not.
Did Somebody Say UFOs Visited Vermont?
Today, the remains of the abandoned North Concord AFB are still there. Thanks to the UFO sighting and reported abduction, many local legends about the area have become part of its history. Stories about unknown characters lingering around and haunting it are commonplace. Because the US Military abandoned the station, its structural integrity has deteriorated over the years, making it pretty dangerous. In the 90s, someone roaming around a crumbling old tower, unfortunately, fell to their death. However, regardless of its dilapidated state, some might consider the North Concord Air Force Base an unofficial historical site and memorial to the Cold War.
America was built on alcohol. Many of the founding fathers distilled or brewed their own booze because the ingredients needed to make it flourished perfectly in the soil of the newly formed United States. Remember, Samuel Adams isn’t just some fictional mascot made up to publicize a brewing company and Budweiser’s “George Washington recipe” is actually historically accurate.
Also, the terrible road conditions of the time made transporting grains the traditional way, you know, in bread and stuff, a true hardship. It was much easier to just turn whatever you grew into alcohol — which would net an even better profit.
All of this is key to understanding that the founding fathers would more than likely drink any modern military barracks under the table. No single moment best exemplifies this than the time George Washington and his Army buddies celebrated the signing of the Constitution by drinking enough booze to rack up a tab worth roughly $17,253 in today’s currency.
The tavern still exists and there’s still a bar. What could be more American than getting wasted where Washington and his boys drank?
(Photo by Lisa Andres)
It was the night of September 15, 1787, and George Washington had many reasons to celebrate. A few months earlier, in May, he was elected president at the Constitutional Convention. The United States Constitution had just been finalized and debates were finally settling as the momentous document cruised towards its eventual signing, just two days later. This night was also the farewell dinner for Washington before he set off to do bigger and better things.
Washington’s friends in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, along with several other framers of the Constitution, decided to throw a celebration at the City Tavern in Philadelphia.
All in all, a good night (This painting is actually from a different night at the Fraunces Tavern in New York. Celebrating with his troops was kind of his thing).
The party had roughly 55 guests, which included troops, politicians, friends, and family — along with 16 more people who were working that night, including musicians, servers, and hosts. The details of the night are hazy but the receipt for the night was saved in the First Troop Cavalry archives.
By the end of the night, Washington’s party drank: 54 bottle of Madeira wine, 60 bottle of Bordeaux wine, 8 bottles of old stock whiskey, 22 bottles of porter ale, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 jugs of beer, and 7 large bowls of punch. The staff and musicians also drank 16 bottles of Bordeaux wine, 5 bottles of Madeira wine, and seven bowls of punch.
The bill also includes a tab for many broken glasses, which, adjusted for inflation, equals about 0 worth of reimbursements. The final bill came out to £89 and 4 schillings — or roughly ,253 in 2018 dollars.
The impressive part of this story isn’t that they drank it all — or the fact that drinks back then tended to be more potent than their modern counterparts — but the fact that Washington was functional enough just two days later to see the Constitution signed.
So, drink up! Enjoy the Constitution by celebrating its eventual 21st amendment!
H/T to We Are The Mighty reader Eric Carson for his comment that inspired for this article. Thank you very much! You’re awesome.
It’s not uncommon for troops who overrun an enemy position to take a photo with a captured enemy banner. It’s just as common for them to take that banner home as a souvenir. There are a lot worse things to remove from the battlefield. American troops have been capturing flags since the founding of the republic.
So, why are these World War II veterans returning captured Japanese flags?
The importance of a unit’s standard dates back to antiquity. Roman legions carried standards that took on an almost divine quality, representing the Legion, the Emperor, and even the Gods themselves. They would take extraordinary measures to recover a captured standard, even invading neighboring countries decades after losing the standards just to get them back. The Japanese had a similar tradition with their Yosegaki Hinomaru.
The hinomaru was a blank flag carried by every drafted Japanese soldier. It was signed by everyone in their life; mother, father, sisters, brothers, neighbors, teachers, wives, and children. It was a good luck charm that wished bravery and a safe return home to the carrier. The Japanese troop then marched off to war, the flag folded and tucked somewhere on his person.
These are usually the flags that were captured by American troops in World War II. Because no one enjoys taking photos with the flags of their fallen enemies like U.S. troops.
U.S. Marines with a yosegaki hinomaru after the Battle of Iwo Jima.
But American troops had no idea these flags were the personal keepsakes of fallen individuals and not unit flags carried by the Japanese army. Now that the men who captured these battlefield trophies are aging and dying, the flags are being sold off or thrown away altogether, but there’s a better way to handle these pieces of history: giving them back.
And that’s what World War II veterans and their families are doing. Through the international nonprofit Obon Society, families and veterans who still possess a captured yosegaki hinomaru are tracking down the Japanese veterans and families of Japanese veterans of the Pacific War to return the family heirlooms and help the aging veterans heal their decades-old, invisible wounds.
If there’s any doubt about the power of these standards, even to this day, just watch below as a Japanese man reacts to seeing his missing brother’s yosegaki hinomaru.
There are no better frenemies than American and Japanese veterans of WWII. In the years that followed, the U.S. and Japan grew ever closer as allies and as people. Despite the overwhelming brutality of the war, the enduring friendships that developed in the years since have been a testament to the idea that peace is always possible, even in the face of such hard fighting. The only thing that remains is handling the losses incurred along the way – brothers, fathers, sons, and friends.
Groups like the Obon Society and its team of researchers make it easy to start healing the pain that remains between families and friends who lost loved ones in the war. If you or your departed veterans have a flag like the ones seen in the photos above, contact the Obon Society to return the flag to its family and maybe even make contact with them.
Shoichi Yokoi was 26 when he was drafted into the Japanese Army in 1941.
At the time, soldiers were taught that surrender was the worst possible fate for a soldier — so when US forces invaded Japanese-occupied Guam in 1944, Yokoi fled into the jungle.
He dug a cave near a waterfall, covered it with bamboo and reeds, and survived by eating small animals. He had no idea, when he was discovered on Jan. 24, 1972, by two hunters near a river, that the war had ended decades ago.
He attacked the hunters, who were able to overpower the weakened soldier and escorted him to authorities, where he revealed his bizarre story.
Yokoi was treated at a hospital in Guam before heading home to Japan, which he had not seen since 1941.
Yokoi was sent to Guam after being drafted into the Japanese Army in 1941.
During the US invasion he and a number of other soldiers made their way into the jungle to avoid being taken as prisoners of war.
This newspaper photograph was described as Yokoi’s first haircut in 28 years.
Japanese government officials flew to the island to help repatriate the soldier, who had not seen his homeland for nearly 30 years.
During his 27 years in isolation, he survived by eating frogs, rats, and eels as well as fruits and nuts, according to his obituary in The New York Times.
He made his own shelter, using bamboo and reeds to cover a cave he dug himself. In his memoirs, he said he buried at least two of his comrades eight years before he was discovered.
In this book, Yokoi’s autobiography is supplemented by a biographical account of his later life.
Talofofo Falls Resort Park, where Shoichi Yokoi dug a cave and hid for nearly 28 years after the US invasion of Guam during World War II.
Although he was repatriated to Japan almost immediately, he reportedly flew back to Guam several times throughout the remainder of his life, including for his honeymoon.
According to his obituary, Yokoi had a hard time readjusting to life in Japan.
The entrance to Yokoi’s cave is in Talofofo Falls Resort Park in Guam.
Yokoi covered his cave with bamboo and reeds.
The soldier was a tailor before the war, skills that helped him make his shelter and clothing, according to Stars Stripes.
This diagram sketches the cave where Yokoi hid for nearly 28 years.
The cave has reportedly collapsed, but a diagram at the site shows an idea of what it looked like.
For hundreds of years, the country we know today as Vietnam has been invaded and occupied by outsiders the world over. At the end of World War II, the Vietnamese had enough of colonialism and external rule by a foreign power. They were going to gain independence by any means necessary.
In the annals of military history, the occupiers and invaders of Vietnam most often remembered are the French and the Americans, neither of which truly succeeded in subduing Vietnam. Even China’s invasion of the country was short-lived.
For a short period of time after the end of World War II the United Kingdom went to war in Vietnam. The only difference was they were successful in achieving their wartime aims.
The United States spent almost 20 years aiding South Vietnam and preventing a Communist takeover of the country from its northern neighbor. Before that, Vietnam fought a war for independence from French colonial rule in the years following World War II.
What neither country could fully grasp from the locals was that the Vietnamese saw themselves as fighting for freedom from outside rule. They wanted a Vietnam run by the Vietnamese, and they were willing to pay any price to get it. That price was very high.
War with the west wasn’t always the one way forward for Vietnam. During World War II, Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh fighters sided with the United States and the Office of Strategic Services to harass Japanese forces and rescue American pilots. After the war’s end, Ho declared independence for Vietnam, directly quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Ho used the excerpt to get American support in keeping the French out of Vietnam after the war. It didn’t work. Just 11 days after the official surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri, fighting broke out in South Vietnam between the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh and a surprising mix of allies set to impose colonial rule on the country.
Before World War II ended, it was decided that the Chinese under Chiang Kai Shek would receive the Japanese surrender in Northern Indochina while the British would accept a Japanese surrender in the South. Just before the Allies arrived, the Viet Minh had taken control of the government and imprisoned a French garrison as POWs.
The POWs were eventually released, rearmed, returned to control of Saigon. But the Viet Minh began cutting off the city from the rest of the country. The impending return of French rule had turned the once-friendly communist forces against the Allies.
By October 1945, Allied forces formed a motley crew of British, Indian, and French troops along with Nepalese Gurkhas and Japanese POWs to launch a campaign to push the Viet Minh away from Saigon and back north. The Viet Minh saw some successes in small unit combat, but were devastated by British air power and machine guns and, on one occasion, a Gurkha kukri knife charge.
In the last major battle of the campaign, the Viet Minh were cut down in overnight fighting, losing 100 troops to British machine gun nests. The defending British and Indian troops didn’t have a single fatality. The Viet Minh spent the rest of the conflict conducting ambushes and hit-and-run attacks.
The British left Indochina in mid-1946 and the French took back control over the country. The win was fleeting, however. The French would have nominal control over Vietnam, fighting the Viet Minh until being forced to withdraw in 1954.
The Allied invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, was the largest amphibious invasion in history. The scale of the assault was unlike anything the world had seen before or will most likely ever see again.
By that summer, the Allies had managed to slow the forward march of the powerful German war machine. The invasion was an opportunity to begin driving the Nazis back.
The invasion is unquestionably one of the greatest undertakings in military history. By the numbers, here’s what it took to pull this off.
• Around 7 million tons of supplies, including 450,000 tons of ammunition, were brought into Britain from the US in preparation for the invasion.
• War planners laying out the spearhead into continental Europe created around 17 million maps to support the operation.
• Training for D-Day was brutal and, in some cases, deadly. During a live-fire rehearsal exercise in late April 1944, German fast attack craft ambushed Allied forces, killing 749 American troops.
American troops landing on beach in England during Exercise Tiger, a rehearsal for the invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
(United States Library of Congress)
• D-Day began just after midnight with Allied air operations. 11,590 Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties during the invasion, delivering airborne troops to drop points and bombing enemy positions.
• 15,500 American and 7,900 British airborne troops jumped into France behind enemy lines before Allied forces stormed the beaches.
• 6,939 naval vessels, including 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels, manned by 195,700 sailors took part in the beach assault.
Allied landing craft underway to the beaches of Normandy.
(Universal History Archive)
• 132,715 Allied troops, among which were 57,500 Americans and 75,215 British and Canadian forces, landed at five beaches in Normandy.
• 23,250 US troops fought their way ashore at Utah Beach as 34,250 additional American forces stormed Omaha Beach. 53,815 British troops battled their way onto Gold and Sword beaches while 21,400 Canadian troops took Juno Beach.
• The US casualties for D-Day were 2,499 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, and 26 captured. British forces suffered about 2,700 casualties while the Canadian troops had 946.
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
• Total casualties for both sides in the Battle of Normandy (June 6 – 25, 1944) were approximately 425,000.
• By the end of June 11 (D+5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been unloaded in France. By the end of the war, those figures would increase to 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of additional supplies.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Airman 1st Class William “Pits” Pitsenbarger was a Pararescueman during the Vietnam War. Less than a year after receiving orders, he would go on to fly nearly 300 rescue missions and save over 60 men before sacrificing himself to aid others during one of the most brutal battles of an already harsh war. When offered the chance to escape on the last helicopter out of the combat zone, Pits stayed behind to protect the lives of others and was later killed by Viet Cong snipers.
The Last Full Measure is the long-awaited story of how the men he saved would try to procure him the Medal of Honor — and the dark reason why the American government resisted.
Check out the final trailer, released today:
“The sacrifices of the fallen will never be forgotten,” intones Christopher Plummer, who plays the father of William Pitsenbarger. The Last Full Measure, written and directed by Todd Robinson, also stars Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
“Todd Robinson’s riveting drama chronicles one man’s sacrifice and valor on the battlefield, and we believe it also highlights an aspect of American patriotism overdue for recognition. Everyone should know about William Pitsenbarger’s bravery and life, and it’s a privilege to bring this film to theaters where it should be seen,” said Roadside’s Howard Cohen and Eric d’Arbeloff, as reported by Deadline.
Pits was initially posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, becoming the first enlisted Airman to receive it, before it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
William “Pits” Pitsenbarger
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Medal of Honor Citation
“Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on April 11, 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an on-going firefight between elements of the United States Army’s 1st Infantry Division and a sizable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon. With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground.
On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day were recovered, Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get one more wounded soldier to safety. After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind, on the ground, to perform medical duties.
Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders. As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time, he was wounded three times. Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible.
In the vicious fighting which followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and airman Pitsenbarger was finally fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen. His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.”
He was also posthumously awarded the rank of Staff Sergeant. Other awards and medals include the Air Force Cross, the Airman’s Medal, and two Purple Hearts. His name can be found on Panel 06E Line 102 of the Vietnam Wall.
Following the battle, Pitsenbarger’s fellow PJ’s and soldiers who he saved in combat embarked on an over 30 year effort to upgrade his Air Force Cross to a Medal of Honor. In the trailer, William Hurt, who plays a fellow PJ, describes the situation as “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Finally, in 2000, Pitsenbarger received the Medal of Honor in a cermony attended by his parents, fellow veterans and the Secretary of the Air Force. The Last Full Measure will release in theaters on January 24th, 2020.
In January 2012, an area outside the remote town of Gadaado, Somalia briefly erupted with the din of a firefight as commandos entered a compound in the area, killed nearly everyone inside, and made off with their intended target. The locals may not have known it at the time, but the pirates inside the compound should have expected it.
The invaders were members of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six and their targets were two hostages held ransom for nearly four months. No one was wounded. All nine pirates were dead.
American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Thisted were aid workers who were captured by pirates while trying to remove landmines in North-Central Somalia. The pirates had already turned down a $1.5 million ransom offer and rebuffed the efforts of local elders and religious leaders for their release.
When President Obama was informed that one of the hostages had a potentially life-threatening medical condition, he gave U.S. Special Operations forces the green light to do what they do best. Navy SEALs parachuted into Somalia and after the President delivered the State of the Union Address that night, he was able to call the family of Jessica Buchanan with the good news.
Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted were capture in October 2011.
(Danish Demining Group)
With the increased presence of the international naval forces off of the Horn of Africa, and increased security aboard ships traversing those waters, Somali pirates have had to take a different tack in order to continue the “work” that sustains them. Instead of capturing hostages at sea, they’ve begun taking them among aid workers who are trying to improve the lives of Somalis, especially those who are from wealthy western countries.
These hostages were guarded by between nine and twelve pirates at a walled-off compound in a remote northern area of Somalia. This is especially convenient for U.S. troops, because a large force of special operators just happen to live at Camp Lemonnier in nearby Djibouti as well as on any number of them aboard ships off the coast. Raining on the pirates’ parade was just a stop on the way home.
All I’m saying is if you don’t want to be raided by special operators while you sleep, don’t take Americans hostage.
According to locals, the pirates spent all of the previous evening chewing Qat, a plant that gives the chewer an amphetamine-like effect. As they slept, the SEALs parachuted into the area and made their way to the compound on foot. As they assaulted the compound, the pirates began to return fire. The intense fighting was over almost as fast as it had begun, leaving nine pirates dead, and, according to one source, three captured.
Afterward, the two hostages were flown to the U.S. Naval Mission in Djibouti. SEAL Team Six, who were still riding high from the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound the previous year, had another feather in their collective caps.
Buchanan wrote her story and the story of her rescue in a memoir titled “Impossible Odds.”
At home in Jessica Buchanan’s native Ohio, Jessica’s father John answered a surprising late-night phone call:
“He said, ‘John, this is Barack Obama. I’m calling because I have great news for you. Your daughter has been rescued by our military.’
The Buchanan family had no idea the rescue mission would take place at all, let alone that night.
“I’m extremely proud and glad to be an American,” John Buchanan told CNN. “I didn’t know this was going to transpire. I’m glad it did.”
In March 1941, over 500 British and Allied commandos, sappers, and sailors launched a daring four-pronged raid against Norwegian towns occupied by the German Army. Despite the German forces spotting the commandos 24 hours before the attack, the British suffered only one casualty.
An officer accidentally shot himself in the thigh.
The islands are 100 miles into the Arctic Circle and guarded by a force of over 200 German troops. The commandos expected potentially heavy resistance and spent about a week in the Orkney Islands rehearsing their assault plan.
On March 1, they began a three-day journey through rough seas to the targets. Two days later, they were spotted by a German aircraft but pressed forward, risking the possibility of hitting beaches with prepared and dug-in Nazi defenders.
In fact, the local Norwegians watched the British coming at them like it was a small show, and the commandos made it into the buildings before they even began to see German uniforms. With many of the defenders separated or still asleep, the attackers were able to quell resistance with few shots fired.
They captured 225 prisoners while taking every one of their objectives. Despite the attack force having been spotted by the German plane, none of the defenders were ready.
The grateful locals brought out coffee and treats for the attackers, the sappers planted charges against the fish oil tanks, and the Norwegians started recruiting the citizens into the Free Norwegian Forces.
There was an additional lucky break for the commandos. They hit a German-held trawler and killed 14 of the defenders.
The mission was a huge success, but as mentioned above, the British did suffer a single casualty when an officer accidentally shot himself in his thigh with a revolver.
The British knew how well the mission had gone, and got a bit cocky about it.
One group sent a telegraph to Hitler with the captured communication gear asking him where his vaunted German soldiers were. Another group hit a nearby seaplane base and took all their weapons, just for additional giggles.
The German commander, who probably should’ve been grateful that he and his men weren’t added to the 225 prisoners the British had captured, later complained to his fuhrer that the commandos had displayed “unwarlike” behavior.
(Pretty sure the dudes captured without a shot fired were the “unwarlike” fellows, but whatever.)
Churchill was a dedicated anti-Communist. Even before the war’s end, the British PM expanded his anti-Communist rhetoric. He would later employ the same anti-Stalinist zeal in his public comments to people living inside the Iron Curtain (a term he coined in a 1946 speech).
The Prime Minister’s 1946 speech argued the Soviets were determined to expand their influence across Europe and into Asia – a conclusion U.S. President Harry S. Truman also held.
This essentially meant Churchill was ready to start World War III.
Dubbed “Unthinkable” by Britain’s General Staff, the plan called for American, British, and Polish troops — as well as soldiers from the newly-defeated Wehrmacht — to completely surprise the Soviets from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.
The differential in land forces between the West and the Soviet Union could not be offset by the air and naval superiority the Americans and British would have. The West just could not muster the manpower to match the Soviets. Churchill’s Defence Minister warned him that a quick victory would be “beyond our power” and that they should be prepared for “a long, protracted war against heavy odds.”
Manpower wasn’t the only issue. The Defence Minister’s plans relied on American allies — and the Pacific War was still in full swing. The United States was preparing for the invasion of mainland Japan. The rest of Europe was in tatters and could not assist the British in their efforts.
Then there was the question of how to defend the British Isles. The Russians could not mount the same submarine threat the Germans did during World War II. And the British Defence Ministry concluded the Russians certainly couldn’t launch an invasion from the sea.
But rocket attacks were a different challenge altogether. British planners were well aware of this threat and included it in the report to Churchill. Once the Russians began making these weapons en masse, the British expected a “far heavier scale of attack than the Germans were able to develop and no way of effectively reducing this.”
With Russian superiority in mainland Europe, the hypothetical rocket-based devastation of the British Isles in the scenario, and the insistence of President Truman that the United States would not participate, Churchill shelved the idea forever.
After years of growing tension between Great Britain and the 13 North American colonies, war officially broke out between the British troops and the colonial militia in the Massachusetts battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. That June, the revolutionary rebels were gaining traction, and the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia to vote in favor of forming the Continental Army, which would be fronted by George Washington as the commander in chief. However, British Redcoats soon descended in the tens of thousands upon Washington’s humble forces, and a series of losses at battles such as Brandywine and Paoli brought the Continental Army to the brink of collapse.
General George Washington and his ramshackle army arrived in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania on December 19, 1777. As the British had taken the rebel capital of Philadelphia, the Valley Forge camp sat roughly twenty miles northwest in a wide open agricultural landscape. The six months that the General and his men spent there would turn out to be some of the most demoralizing—and revitalizing—periods of the Revolutionary War.
Around 12,000 people including soldiers, artificers, women, and children set up camp at Valley Forge. They constructed small wooden huts that would be inhabited by a dozen soldiers at once. Inside the cramped quarters, the soldiers used straw for their bedding and went without the comfort of blankets.
Though the winter of 1777 to 1778 wasn’t particularly harsh, the typical conditions overwhelmed the poorly supplied soldiers. Many of Washington’s men lacked proper attire—boots in particular—which rendered them unfit for service. As the men froze, their limbs would blacken. Often, there was no choice but to submit to amputations.
Worse yet, food stocks were quickly depleting, and there were stretches of time where troops went without meat for days. Diseases like influenza, typhoid, and dysentery ravaged the camp, thanks in part to poor hygiene practices, reportedly resulting in the death of one in six soldiers. Conditions were so bad, and the efforts of the troops so pitiable that George Washington was almost relieved of his command.
However, despite the distressed conditions that Washington’s army was experiencing, their time at Valley Forge would soon prove to be an incredible tactical opportunity with the assistance of one immigrant.
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, often called Baron von Steuben, had been a military officer in the Prussian army since the age of 17. The Prussian army was a force widely considered one of the most formidable in Europe at the time, and von Steuben had made the most of his time with the army. The baron was a well-trained soldier with a clever mind for military strategy. On February 23, 1776, he rode into Valley Forge to turn the tides of war.
Upon his arrival, General George Washington was quick to appoint von Steuben as a temporary inspector general. Thanks to his impressive experience overseas, von Steuben was knowledgeable not just in drills, but also in maintaining a sanitary camp. He began redirecting the latrines to a location far away from the kitchens—and facing downhill.
More notably, Steuben was also appointed as the chief drillmaster for Washington’s Continental Army, even though he knew very little English upon his arrival. The main problem with the Continental Army was that, while they had first-hand combat experience, most of its members had never been formally trained. What training the soldiers had received at this point varied based on which militia or regiment they originated from, resulting in little to no uniformity during battle. Steuben was resolved to remedy this.
Steuben began to run the troops through a series of strict Prussian drills. He taught them how to quickly and efficiently load and fire their weapons, and they practiced volley fire as well as skirmish operations. Steuben then tackled their issues with maneuverability by standardizing their marching paces and organizing them into tight four-man columns as opposed to the endless single file lines they’d been trudging into battle. He also taught the soldiers how to proficiently charge with bayonets.
The impact made by Steuben’s efforts was not contained merely to those soldiers who spent six months at Valley Forge. The drillmaster was instrumental in the creation of an American military manual, “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States”, often simply referred to as the “Blue Book”. This work would stand as the official training resource for the U.S. Army for decades to come.
The Continental Army was in fighting form like never before. Not only were they armed with expert combat skills, but Steuben’s training had effected a sharp incline in morale across the camp. It was with this sharpened tactics and heightened confidence that General George Washington’s troops would face the British again in the thaw of 1778.
Not long before Baron von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge, the French had signed a treaty with colonial forces. The Franco-American alliance eventually shook the nerve of British officers, and fearing that they would be set upon by the French naval force if they remained in Philadelphia, the British marched on to New York City on June 18, 1778. George Washington and his reformed soldiers followed bravely after the Redcoats the very next day.
As the British made their way through New Jersey, they decimated property and pillaged supplies from civilians. In response, the local militia set about exhausting the British soldiers with small scale confrontations. On June 28, the Continental Army and the British troops finally came together in the Battle of Monmouth.
The battle in the sweltering summer heat lasted five long hours. Though many historians consider this first great clash after Valley Forge to have been a stalemate between the forces, it was still pivotal in the Continental Army’s rise. They had proven themselves a cohesive and impressive unit. The changes made at the once-grim Valley Forge camp would propel them forward to eventually win their independence from Britain.
At the turn of the 20th Century, all of the great powers had converged on China seeking to curry favor and carve up the country for trade. This led a secret Chinese organization, the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists (known as the Boxers to the foreigners), to rise up in rebellion.
At the end of 1899, the Boxers rose up against the foreigners and Christians they felt were invading their country. Coming from the countryside, they met in Peking (now Beijing) with the intention of turning the Chinese imperial government to their cause and destroying the foreign presence.
As the situation deteriorated, foreign nationals and Chinese Christians sought refuge in the Legation Quarter of Peking. The increased presence of the Boxers led the international community to send a force of 435 men to guard their respective legations.
The American contingent joined the Marines already stationed there, including one Pvt. Dan Daly.
Throughout the spring, the Boxers gained strength and were actively burning churches, killing Christians, and intimidating Chinese officials who opposed them.
As the international community stepped up efforts to maintain their positions in China, they put the Imperial Chinese government and Empress Dowager Cixi in a bind. The Empress was being pressured to take the side of the Boxers by officials who felt exploited by foreign nations.
Finally, in June 1900, the Empress’ hand was forced by international attacks on Chinese forts as well as the presence of the Seymour Expedition sent to reinforce the Legation Quarter.
On June 19, she sent word for the international community to leave. The next day the Chinese military, along with Boxer supporters, laid siege to the Legation Quarter.
As the situation was deteriorating, America began planning its response.
Known as the China Relief Expedition the force that assembled in China consisted of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 14th Infantry Regiment, 6th Cavalry Regiment, and Battery F, 5th Field Artillery Regiment totaling some 2,500 men.
After brief fighting at Tientsin, in which Col. Liscum, commanding the 9th Infantry, was killed, the force marched on Peking to relieve the besieged Legation Quarter.
The pressure on the Legation Quarter had been steadily increasing. Through the night of Aug. 13 and into the morning of Aug. 14,Dan Daly was single-handedly holding off a determined assault by the Boxers. When Daly’s relief finally arrived, he inquired about the meaning of “Quon fay,” something the Chinese had been yelling at him all night.
He was amused to learn that it meant “very bad devil.”
Later in the day on Aug. 14, the first units of the Eight-nation Alliance reached the outer walls of Peking.
Leading the American units was the 14th Infantry Regiment.
When they arrived at their assigned gate, they found it already under attack by a Russian unit which was pinned down and taking heavy casualties.
The Americans moved south looking for an opening. The best they found was a lightly defended section of the Tartar Wall. The wall was some 30 feet high, and with no scaling ladders or grappling hooks, Col. Daggett, the regimental commander, asked for a volunteer to climb the wall.
Cpl. Calvin Pearl Titus, a bugler from Company E, stepped forward and said, “I’ll try, sir.”
With a rope slung over his shoulder Titus began to climb the wall. He grasped to the slightest of holds and he made his way up, undetected by the Chinese defenders.
“All below is breathless silence. The strain is intense.” Daggett would later write, “Will that embrasure blaze with fire as he attempts to enter it? Or will the butts of rifles smash his skull?”
As Titus cleared the wall, he found it undefended. He called down to his comrades, “The coast is clear! Come on up!”
Following Titus’ lead and using the rope he threw down, more soldiers followed. As the number of Americans on the wall increased, they were finally discovered by the Chinese.
The Chinese opened fire but it was too late — the Americans held the wall.
Shortly after 11am, the 14th Infantry planted the American flag atop the wall.
They then fought their way back to the gate to relieve the beleaguered Russians.
With the Chinese driven back, the American artillery arrived and blasted down the inner gate leading to the Legation.
The Americans then cleared the way to the Legation Quarter only to find that the British had beat them to it. Thanks to the confusion caused by the Russians and Americans, British Indian soldiers had snuck through a water gate and directly into the Legation relieving the siege.
The Americans consolidated their position while the rest of the relief force conducted mopping up operations throughout Peking.
For his heroism in breaking the siege, Cpl. Titus was awarded an appointment to West Point where, during his second semester in the spring of 1902, he was presented the Medal of Honor by president Theodore Roosevelt.
A fellow cadet approached Titus after he received his award exclaiming, “Mister, that’s something!” That cadet was Douglas MacArthur, who would receive his own Medal of Honor during World War II.
Titus went on to serve 32 years in the Army, rejoining his old unit, the 14th Infantry, before seeing action against Pancho Villa in 1916 and occupying Germany after WWI.
When World War II began, the US had yet to develop an official strategy for amphibious operations. Early in the war, we learned that lesson the hard way. This led to the development of doctrine for amphibious warfare. Ultimately, the strategy contributed to plenty of future successes, but the going was rough to start. The USS Texas played a significant role in that process.
A lot of great technology emerged between World War I and World War II. So WWII was all about finding new ways to use old things. After all, our war-time factories could only produce so much. So early on, everyone started looking for ways to refresh our existing equipment. The USS Texas was a prime example. It was central in developing a strategy to use ships as fire support platforms for amphibious landings.
The USS Texas launched in 1912 and was out to sea for most of WWI. It was a New-York class battleship that was commissioned in 1914. Almost immediately after her commission, the USS Texas saw action in Mexican waters. During WWI, the vessel made numerous sorties into the North Sea. Then WWII popped off and everything, as they say, is history.
When things don’t go as planned…
In 1942, Texas was a member of the fleet sent to North Africa as part of Operation Torch. Operation Torch involved a direct attack on North African beaches because of the Axis powers embedded there. The fleet coordinated three landings in the Vichy French territories of Morocco and Algeria to secure Tunisia. The USS Texas was the flagship of Task Group 34.8 assigned to attack Port Lyautey in French Morocco, which was home to a large French arsenal and an air base.
Operation Torch was supposed to be a surprise attack. But that’s not what happened. America didn’t have an amphibious warfare strategy so there was no fire support before landing. The USS Texas was ready to provide fire support but that command was never issued. The battleship saw the most action a couple of days later when the Army gained ground on land.
Later, the USS Texas would participate in the Normandy landings before transferring to the Pacific Theater. There, she provided naval gunfire support during the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. But before that could happen, the US had to figure out amphibious landing ops.
Operation Torch provided lessons on accuracy, Naval fire effectiveness, and fire saturation, and they were taken seriously and used to develop the US doctrine on amphibious warfare. The success of the mission also meant that the Army and Navy working together could provide a successful amphibious landing.
You can teach an old ship new tricks after all
Taking those lessons from Operation Torch and putting them quickly into play for future amphibious landings, like in Sicily in 1943 and in Normandy in 1944, gave the Allied Forces the upper hand. Without the new amphibious war strategies, who knows what the war would have looked like. The USS Texas played a central role in all that, serving as an essential fire support platform for many amphibious landings throughout the war. In fact, without it, World War II could have turned out a lot differently.