On November 13, 1942, the USS Juneau went down in the Pacific Ocean after being struck by a Japanese torpedo in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Only 10 members of the over 700-man crew survived. Onboard were the five Sullivan brothers. They all perished in the battle.
George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert Sullivan joined the U.S. Navy out of Waterloo, Iowa in January 1942. George and Francis were prior service enlistees, serving on the USS Hover before the war. During the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the brothers lost five friends in combat.
George and Francis immediately began preparations to rejoin the Navy and convinced their brothers and two friends from a motorcycle club to enlist with them. They wrote a letter to the secretary of the Navy asking to be allowed to train and serve together.
The boys went through training together and the Sullivans were later assigned to the USS Juneau, an Atlanta-class light cruiser completed in October 1941. Meanwhile, back home, the Sullivans bonded with each other and the Navy. Albert’s wife and son lived with the Sullivan parents and Alleta Sullivan, their mother, sponsored a ship for the Navy, the USS Tawasa.
As the U.S. Navy tried to halt Japanese advances in the Pacific and began pushing them back, modern cruisers like the Juneau were needed to protect carrier groups from air attack as well as bombard shore positions. The Juneau saw action first in the Atlantic but was sent to the Pacific where it protected the USS Wasp, USS Hornet, and USS Enterprise in fierce combat against the Japanese.
The Juneau was tasked with protecting reinforcements being ferried ashore to Guadalcanal on November 12, 1942. In the early afternoon, 30 Japanese planes attacked the ships and the Juneau went into action. The gunners picked off six torpedo planes and helped drive off the Japanese attacks.
The American ships prepared for a surface attack. The next day, 18-20 Japanese ships bore down on the small U.S. force. Juneau and the USS Atlanta teamed up and successfully brought down a Japanese ship but the Juneau was struck by an enemy torpedo shortly after. The Juneau withdrew with the damaged USS San Francisco but was engaged again by Japanese torpedoes.
Witnesses described a massive explosion that nearly disintegrated the center of the ship. The two remaining pieces sank in only twenty seconds while the captain and most of the crew, including at least two of the brothers, were killed.
Only 10 survivors were found and rescued from the USS Juneau and none of the Sullivan brothers were among them. Back home, rumors of the Juneau’s sinking had reached Waterloo and Alleta was desperate to learn whether or not her sons had survived. She wrote to the Bureau of Naval Personnel.
Only days later, she received a personal letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that expressed his condolences for her sudden loss.
Alleta Sullivan continued to be a friend to the Navy after the death of her sons, christening the USS Tawasa as promised but also participating in war bonds drives, encouraging ship builders, and volunteering with the USO to make service members’ lives easier.
The Navy was since named two ships for the Sullivan brothers. USS The Sullivans (DD 537) was a destroyer that now serves as a museum in Buffalo, New York. USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) is an Aegis-class guided missile destroyer that served in Operation Enduring Freedom.
The United States has added its voice to international calls for China’s communist-led government to give a full public accounting of those who were killed, detained or went missing during the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
In a bold statement from Washington to mark the 29th anniversary of a bloody crackdown that left hundreds — some say thousands — dead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Chinese authorities to release “those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”
To this day, open discussion of the topic remains forbidden in China and the families of those who lost loved ones continue to face oppression. Chinese authorities have labeled the protests a counter-revolutionary rebellion and repeatedly argued that a clear conclusion of the events was reached long ago.
In an annual statement on the tragedy, the group Tiananmen Mothers urged President Xi Jinping in an open letter to “re-evaluate the June 4th massacre” and called for an end to their harassment.
(Photo by Michel Temer)
“Each year when we would commemorate our loved ones, we are all monitored, put under surveillance, or forced to travel” to places outside of China’s capital, the letter said. The advocacy group Human Rights in China released the open letter from the Tiananmen Mothers ahead of the anniversary.
“No one from the successive governments over the past 29 years has ever asked after us, and not one word of apology has been spoken from anyone, as if the massacre that shocked the world never happened,” the letter said.
In his statement, Pompeo also said that on the anniversary “we remember the tragic loss of innocent lives,” adding that as Liu Xiaobo wrote in his 2010 Nobel Peace Prize speech, “the ghosts of June 4th have not yet been laid to rest.”
Liu was unable to receive his Nobel prize in person in 2010 and died in custody in 2017. The dissident writer played an influential role in the Tiananmen protests and was serving an 11-year sentence for inciting subversion of state power when he passed.
At a regular press briefing on June 4, 2018, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had lodged “stern representations” with the United States over the statement on Tiananmen.
“The United States year in, year out issues statements making ‘gratuitous criticism’ of China and interfering in China’s internal affairs,” Hua said. “The U.S. Secretary of State has absolutely no qualifications to demand the Chinese government do anything,” she added.
In a statement on Twitter, which is blocked in China like many websites, Hu Xijin, the editor of the party-backed Global Times, called the statement a “meaningless stunt.”
In another post he said: “what wasn’t achieved through a movement that year will be even more impossible to be realized by holding whiny commemorations today.”
Commemorations for Tiananmen are being held across the globe to mark the anniversary and tens of thousands are expected to gather in Hong Kong, the only place in China such large-scale public rallies to mark the incident can be held.
Exiled Tiananmen student protest leader Wu’Er Kaixi welcomed the statement from Pompeo.
However, he added that over the past 29 years western democracies appeasement of China has nurtured the regime into an imminent threat to freedom and democracy.
“The world bears a responsibility to urge China, to press on the Chinese regime to admit their wrongdoing, to restore the facts and then to console the dead,” he said. “And ultimately to answer the demands of the protesters 29 years ago and put China on the right track to freedom and democracy.”
Wu’er Kaixi fled China after the crackdown and now resides in Taiwan where he is the founder of Friends of Liu Xiaobo. The group recently joined hands with several other non-profit organizations and plans to unveil a sculpture in July 2018 — on the anniversary of his death — to commemorate the late Nobel laureate. The sculpture will be located near Taiwan’s iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper.
In Taiwan, the self-ruled democracy that China claims is a part of its territory, political leaders from both sides of the isle have also urged China’s communist leaders to face the past.
On Facebook, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen noted that it was only by facing up to its history that Taiwan has been able to move beyond the tragedies of the past.
“If authorities in Beijing can face up to the June 4th incident and acknowledge that at its roots it was a state atrocity, the unfortunate history of June 4th could become a cornerstone for China to move toward freedom and democracy,” Tsai said.
Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, a member of the opposition Nationalist Party or KMT, who saw close ties with China while in office, also urged Beijing to face up to history and help heal families’ wounds.
“Only by doing this can the Chinese communists bridge the psychological gap between the people on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait and be seen by the world as a real great power,” Ma said.
Tom McCaslin is a police detective in Omaha, Neb. and his coldest case is turning 75 in 2019. It’s the search for his uncle, Staff Sgt. Thomas J. McCaslin, one of eight crew members of a bomber that was shot down over Nazi-occupied France on June 22, 1944.
All these decades later, his nephew is hunting for his remains in order to bring the bomber crewman back home while four of his 12 siblings are still alive.
Top row, from left: Lt. Col. Don Weiss, Lt. David Meserow, Lt. Axel Slustrop. Bottom row: Staff Sgt. John H. Canty,, S/Sgt. Tom McCaslin, T/Sgt. Clement Monaco. All but Monaco were aboard the B-26 when it was shot down.
Their B-26 Marauder was shot down by Nazi flak while supporting the Allied push inland. As the British Second Army fought the German Panzergruppe West in the streets of below, the crew of the B-26 tried in vain to stay aloft. They went down anyway, and that was the last anyone ever heard of them. Well, most of them, anyway. The first was found in 1946, buried after the crash by locals. The remains of the bird’s four officers were discovered in 1986 by a farmer in his fields. They were taken to the American cemetery at Normandy. Another, the enlisted top tail gunner, was found by an amateur historian who also found the man’s dog tag.
That leaves two – and one of those is Thomas J. McCaslin, the Marauder’s bottom turret gunner. McCaslin’s nephew is looking for his uncle and the other crewman.
McCaslin’s mission has led him to talk to both the historian and the farmer who found the previous remains. He has also obtained numerous documents about the B-26 mission. It was one of 36 planes to fly over a chateau being used as a headquarters building by the Nazi SS. As the bomber began to make its run and open the doors, a flak burst cut the plane in two and sent it careening to earth. No one was able to bail out. In 40 seconds, it was all over, leaving those eight men among the 73,000 who would be unaccounted for during the war. McCaslin even has aerial recon photos of the crash site taken right after the crash.
McCaslin and his detective skills are largely responsible for the 2018 discovery of Staff Sgt. John Canty’s remains. His work persuaded French authorities to further search the field where his dog tag was found. Canty was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. From interviewing relic hunters to requesting documents, McCaslin has worked tirelessly to track down the entire crew since the discovery of the first remains – which he only learned about through a newspaper.
The B-26 Marauder.
Detective McCaslin and his family have all worked the case tirelessly for years. As a family, they have hounded government agencies in an effort to step up the recovery of his uncle and another unaccounted-for airman from his crew. All hope is not lost. McCaslin is currently waiting for the DNA identification of some finger bones found in the area. He even has an eyewitness to the battle who reports that she saw parachutes as a young girl.
“The stuff they’ve uncovered is incredible,” says Jed Henry, a journalist and independent researcher who has become an advocate for families of missing service members from World War II. “To have the intelligence to sort through it, and the tenacity — and to care about it. … I’ve never seen a family that has gotten into this as much as they have.”
“My uncle joined (the military) in 1942, and we never saw him again,” Tom McCaslin said. “If there’s a chance to find him, we should do it.”
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the most iconic monuments in Arlington National Cemetery. The marble sarcophagus sits on top of a hill that overlooks Washington, DC. Here are five facts you might not know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
5 Facts you might not know
In March 1921, the U.S. Congress accepted the remains of an unknown American soldier who fought in World War I to be buried in a tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. This soldier was buried with full honors.
2. On Memorial Day of 1921, four unknown soldiers were relocated from their World War I American cemeteries in France. Sergeant Edward F. Younger placed roses atop one of four identical caskets.
3. Then on November 11, 1921, the Unknown Solider was moved to Arlington and officially interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Since 1918, November 11 had been marked by somber remembrances of the service personnel lost in WWI. President Harding led the charge by officiating the interment ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Then he awarded the Unknown Soldier two high military awards: the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.
4. Three years after the Korean War ended, on August 3, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed a bill to allow unknown soldiers who fought in the Korean War and World War II to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery.
5. In 1958, unknown Soldiers who fought in World War II and the Korean War were permitted to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well.
The Old Guard
Members of the Old Guard have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since April 6, 1948. Currently, The Old Guard monitors the memorial twenty-four hours a day, year-round. These Sentinels do not move from their station and are equipped to withstand all kinds of weather and extreme conditions. After a Solider has volunteered to become a Tomb Guard, they have to undergo a strict screening process and several weeks of intensive training. Every element of the Tomb Guard’s routine has a deeper meaning than what’s shown on the surface.
Guard movements harken back to the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed – a 21 gun salute. Tomb guards march 21 steps down the black mat behind the Unknown Tomb, then turn and face east for precisely 21 seconds. Then, they turn and face north for precisely 21 seconds, followed by 21 steps back down the mat. Each Guard carries their weapon at “shoulders-arms,” signifying that they stand between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and any possible threat.
The story of Robert Prongay gets more confusing the more anyone retells it, but it all begins with prolific serial killer and alleged mafia hitman, Richard Kuklinski. Known as “The Iceman” for masking his victims’ times of death by freezing their corpses, Kuklinski claimed to have killed more than 100 people for the five families of the New York City mafia — and he claimed to have learned his skills from a Special Forces veteran.
Kuklinski was only ever convicted of five murders, but it was enough to put him away for the rest of his days. These victims were small-time drug and porn dealers in the mid-1980s. In one of those murders, he used a hamburger laced with cyanide, a murder technique he picked up from a man he described as a Special Force veteran-turned-ice cream man, Robert Prongay.
“He taught me a lot,” Kuklinski once said. “But he was extremely crazy… he’d go into these neighborhoods and sell ice cream to the kids, then maybe kill one of their fathers.“
Kuklinski was known as “The Iceman” to law enforcement and Prongay was called “Mister Softee.” According to Kuklinski, the two men met at a New Jersey motel while stalking the same mark. They summed each other up and realized they were both contract killers. Prongay told Kuklinski he was an Army Special Forces veteran, trained in using explosives and poisons.
In Kuklinski’s words, Prongay used his ice cream truck as a surveillance van to follow around his potential victims, whom he would kill using aerosol cyanide and remotely-detonated grenades. It was from Prongay that Kuklinski said he learned to freeze bodies to mask time of death.
Not much is really known about the real Prongay. Kuklinski claimed to have a very firm moral code when it came to killing. He could kill anyone without feeling anything at all, but he wouldn’t kill innocent women and children. The Iceman claimed that Mister Softee asked Kuklinski to kill his wife and young son for him, which Kuklinski declined. When Prongay began to talk about poisoning an entire reservoir just to kill one family, Kuklinski shot him.
The only verification that Prongay existed and may have known Kuklinski is that an ice-cream man by the name of Robert Prongay was killed in his ice cream truck, shot twice in the chest. On Aug. 9, 1984, his body was found hanging out the side of his ice cream truck. The real Prongay, it turns out, was facing trial in New Jersey for bombing the front house ex-wife and making terrorist threats against his ex-wife and son.
Before murdering Prongay, the Iceman and Mister Softee teamed up on a few occasions. An HBO Documentary in 2001 found old film reels of Prongay and called him an “Army demolitions expert,” a claim verified by Paul Smith of the New Jersey Organize Crime Bureau.
“It is our opinion,” Smith told HBO, “that friendship led to Richard Kuklinski learning a lot about killing with different types of chemicals, including cyanide.”
In reality, Kuklinski made a lot of claims about himself and his famous hits. He was convicted of killing the members of a small-time burglary gang he led in New Jersey, along with one of his cyanide suppliers. The claims of the people he worked for and murdered makes his resume sound like one of the most prolific hitmen in the history of the American mafia. If you believe Kuklinski, he was recruited by Gambino capo Roy DeMeo, who gave Kuklinski his death orders.
Kuklinski claimed the murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro, a murder in which Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was also charged. The Iceman also claimed the death of Roy DeMeo and claimed to be involved in John Gotti’s famous hit on Gambino boss Paul Castellano. The only mafia hit law enforcement really related to Kuklinski was that of Calabro.
Kuklinski claimed to have killed some 100-250 people between 1948 and 1986 but his claims varied wildly in later years, as some of them were unverifiable and others were found to be complete fabrications (he claimed to have killed famous disappearing act Jimmy Hoffa, for example). Renowned mafia writers and historians claim to never have heard of a hitman named Kuklinski.
If Kuklinski’s claims are true, he would be the most prolific serial killer/hitman in American history.
While most movies and TV series on the war over Germany in World War II focuses on the aerial duals between American P-51 Mustangs, British Spitfires and Luftwaffe fighters like the Bf-109, the Bf-110, and the FW-190, the bulk of the air casualties came from anti-aircraft guns, or “flak.”
The crewmen who had it worst from the flak were the waist gunners, who accounted for 21.6 percent of casualties. Bombardiers and navigators, who were stationed in the very front of the plane and who had only a glass nose between them and a very long drop, also had a bad time of it, accounting for 15 percent and 13.2 percent of casualties respectively.
The safest crew member was the ball turret gunner (5.5 percent), the pilot (7.7 percent), and co-pilot (6.6 percent), who together accounted for 19.8 percent of casualties).
They were most likely to be hit in the legs (44 percent of the time), followed by the arms (31 percent). The development of flak vests meant that only 9 percent of casualties were hit in the chest and abdomen, while 16 percent of hits were in the head.
You can see a video on how and why German flak was such a threat below.
In 1945, the USS Indianapolis completed its top secret mission of delivering atomic bomb components to Tinian Island in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The heavy cruiser was sunk on its way to join a task force near Okinawa. Of the ship’s 1195 crewmembers, only 316 survived the sinking and the subsequent time adrift at sea in the middle of nowhere. Among the survivors was the captain of the Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay III.
McVay would be charged with negligence in the loss of the ship. Even though he was restored to active duty after his court-martial and retired a rear admiral, the guilt of the loss haunted him for the rest of his life. He committed suicide with his Navy revolver on his own front lawn with a toy sailor in his hand.
McVay did everything he could in the wake of the torpedoing of the Indianapolis. He sounded the alarm, giving the order to abandon ship and was one of the last men off. Many of the survivors of the sinking publicly stated he was not to blame for its loss. But this wasn’t enough for the family members of the ship’s crew, who hounded McVay year after year, blaming him for the loss of their sons.
The Navy was partly to blame. They didn’t warn Indianapolis that the submarine I-58 was operating along the area of the ship’s course to Okinawa. They also didn’t warn the ship to zigzag in its pattern to evade enemy submarines. When the Indianapolis radioed a distress signal, it was picked up by three Navy stations, who ignored the call because one was drunk, the other had a commander who didn’t want to be disturbed, and the last thought it was a trap.
Three and a half days later, the survivors were rescued from the open water, suffering from salt water poisoning, exposure, hypothermia, and the largest case of shark attacks ever recorded. It was truly a horrifying scene. The horror is what led to McVay’s court martial, one of very few commanders to face such a trial concerning the loss of a ship. Even though the Japanese commander of I-58, the man who actually destroyed the Indianapolis, told the U.S. Navy that standard Navy evasion techniques would not have worked – Indianapolis was doomed from the get-go. Even that didn’t satisfy McVay’s critics.
It wasn’t until sixth-grader Hunter Scott began a history project in school about the sinking of the Indianapolis. He poured through official Navy documents until he found the evidence he needed to conclusively prove that McVay wasn’t responsible for the loss of his ship. His project caught the attention of then-Congressman Joe Scarborough and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who helped pass a Congressional resolution exonerating McVay. It was signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000.
Hunter Scott, the onetime sixth-grader and eternal friend to the crew of the Indianapolis, is now a naval aviator. He attended the University of North Carolina on a Navy ROTC scholarship and joined active duty in 2007. He even spoke at the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Francisco Abundes. (DVIDS).
The War Office has the unique ability to censor letters, media reports and controls the flow of information from forward-deployed units to the general public. While most military members know this inherently, it might surprise you to understand how censorship got its legs in America and what it looks like today.
With all likelihood, there was probably some censorship happening during the Civil War, but because so many service personnel were illiterate, it’s hard to know exact numbers. But there had to be some censorship since often letters crossed into enemy territory. But the real start to military censorship started during WWI and the Espionage Act of 1917.
This act allowed the government to fine citizens for interference with recruiting troops or the refusal to perform military duties. The charge came with a fine of $10,000 and 20 years in prison. Within six months of the act being signed, there were over 1,000 people imprisoned.
The Sedition Act of 1918 meant that it became a crime to criticize the government, the Constitution, the flag, or the uniform of men in military service. This applied to both speeches and writing. Under the two laws, thousands of people were imprisoned for acts of nonviolent protest against the war. Additionally, at least 75 newspapers lost mailing privileges and were under governmental pressure to change their outward-facing editorial attitudes.
President Wilson went so far as to create a Committee on Public Information. This committee created a “voluntary censorship code” with newspaper journalists. The committee released a sanitized version of the news to over 6,000 newspapers every single day.
By WWII, censors were on the lookout for anything a soldier might say that would be of value to the enemy or anything that would contradict the official Committee on Public Information reports. The formal establishment of the Office of Censorship in 1941 gave e formal power to censor all communication between the US and foreign countries and prevented news organizations from publishing information that might inadvertently aid the enemy.
By 1942, the Office of War Information took over the flow of information into and out of the government to pass on “approved” versions of news events to news organizations. The OWI prevented any pictures of graphic photos from being released. It also severely limited the letters that it allowed to get through from forward-deployed service members to their families. Letters sent in foreign languages were intercepted, and since most censors didn’t understand what was written, the letter simply wasn’t delivered.
The Vietnam conflict saw the introduction of “5 O’Clock Follies” where press and military officials would gather to receive information about battles ahead of time. Then, the press would wait to report on them until after the battle started. Service member’s letters were heavily censored during this time as well.
During the Gulf War, censorship was not only blatantly accepted by all media outlets, but it was also expected. News reports were submitted to a security review before being released, and a press pool was established to allow one reported to accompany soldiers to combat areas. Letters from service members continued to be intercepted, and information relating to operational security was removed.
Our current conflicts in the War on Terror are still heavily censored, both in what’s allowed to be known ahead of time (like re-deployment dates and precise locations) and in the access the press has to battles. Most often, journalists are no longer allowed to embed in units, and the government has purchased the exclusive rights for commercial satellite imagery of Afghanistan.
Now more than ever, OPSEC is important, since we all have smart devices that we carry with us. Imagery is shared in our modern world in ways it has never been in the past, making it even more important to keep up situational awareness and not give up secrets. For military members and this community, it’s not as much about free speech as it is protecting and defending the ones we love.
Charles Portis’ 1968 novel, True Grit, has become a staple of Western fiction. In the story, 14-year-old Mattie Ross teams up with Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn and a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf to avenge the death of her father. The book has been adapted a few times, famously earning John Wayne an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of “Rooster” in the 1969 film of the same name, while Jeff Bridges reprised the role in the 2010 Coen brothers adaptation that earned him an Oscar nomination.
While True Grit has clearly left its mark on both the literary and film worlds, it’s mostly unknown that Portis’ character “Rooster” was actually inspired by a real-life gunslinger. John Franklin Cogburn, nicknamed “Rooster” by his uncle, made his own rules in late-1800s Arkansas. Though he never carried a badge of his own, Franklin was out for blood when it came to Deputy Marshal Trammel. Working undercover to identify moonshiners, Trammel had threatened the women in Cogburn’s family—strong-arming them for information—which is something that didn’t sit well with Franklin. On June 21, 1888, Franklin, his cousin Fayette, and a few others attacked lawmen—including Trammel—near Black Springs, Arkansas. The bloodbath that followed would result in a manhunt for Franklin and crew.
Brett Cogburn details the life of his great-grandfather, John Franklin Cogburn, in Rooster. While the character Charles Portis made famous is not entirely based on Franklin, there are most certainly elements from his life that inspired the classic story.
Read on for an excerpt from Rooster.
By Brett Cogburn
Black Springs wasn’t much of a town as towns went, even in the backwoods of Arkansas. It might have been more aptly termed a “spot in the road,” as some folks will say, more of a community than a town proper. There was only one building that bore a second look and that was the general store. Even that wasn’t much in the way of opulence, its weathered timbers grayed and lacking a single coat of paint. The store commanded the settlement more by height than by any pretentious display of architecture and beauty, being the only two-story structure in sight. The first floor consisted of the meager offerings of merchandise the poor folks who graced its dark interior might want or afford, and the upstairs served duty as the local Masonic lodge. The large front porch overlooked the hardscrabble log and sawmill lumber buildings scattered along a stretch of dusty road that led west through the mountains into Indian Territory. The mangy old hound lying at the foot of the porch and scratching a flea off its bony ribs was in perfect keeping with the pace and prosperity of the tiny settlement.
The cold wind blowing and the gray clouds sliding over the pine treetops on the mountaintop above town reminded everyone that it was the dead of winter. Most folks were huddled around their fireplaces or standing over warmly ticking stoves, so not many saw the tall young man ride into town. He came up the trail from Fancy Hill on a pretty good horse for a hill boy. He left the animal out of the wind on the leeward side of the store and began to eke his way on foot from one building to the next.
Many in Black Springs would have known him, or at least recognized him for one of his clan. All of the men of his family were stamped much the same—high cheekbones, square chins, thick mustaches, and brown eyes that glittered like those of an Indian. The fact that he was bigger than most of his clan wasn’t what gave pause to those who saw him on that morning. Every man in the mountains was a hunter in some form or fashion, and it was obvious that Franklin “Rooster” Cogburn was stalking somebody.
It wasn’t unusual for a man to arrive in town with a rifle in his hands, as the roads could be dangerous to travel and leaving your shooter at home was a sure way to run short of meat in the cookpot. An armed man usually stored his gun to pick up later in whatever business or home he visited first if he came on foot, or he left it on his horse. Franklin didn’t leave his Winchester anywhere. In fact, he carried it across his saddle when he arrived instead of having it in a scabbard, as if he were ready to jump shoot a deer or a turkey. And when he started down the street on foot, the gun was still in his hands.
(Paramount Pictures photo)
Mountain folk can smell trouble just as easy as smoke on the wind, and the word rapidly spread throughout the settlement that Franklin was on the prowl. And word spread just as quickly who it was that he was hunting. Folks gave him room just like you did a mean old bull when you had to walk across your neighbor’s pasture. Butting into somebody else’s business was always chancy, much less antagonizing one of the Cogburns. There were too damned many of them to risk getting crossways with—not if a man valued his peace and wanted to stay out of a fight. It was best to let the Law handle the matter, and that was bound to happen, considering it was a Deputy U.S. Marshal that Franklin was looking for with blood in his eye.
Franklin made no attempt to hide the fact that he was looking for a fight with J. D. Trammell, and he quietly slandered the man’s name to any who asked. He had heard Trammell was in town, and had ridden seven miles through the mountains to corner him. The rumor mill had it that Cogburns believed Trammell was working undercover either for the Revenue Service or for Judge Parker’s court. Trammell had lived and worked for a while among the Cogburns in their stronghold at Fancy Hill, but had recently fled the community due to tension between him and some of the clan.
Lots of the citizens of Montgomery County made whiskey, and the Cogburns made more than anybody. The old Hanging Judge and his army of badge packers out of Fort Smith got a lot of press chasing train robbers and murderers in the Indian Territory, but people of the time knew that the marshals’ main job was arresting whiskey peddlers and moonshiners. The Law was bound and determined to stem the distilling of illegal liquor, and especially to keep it out of the nearby Indian Territory. The mountain folks begrudgingly admired craftiness, and the “revenuers,” as they often called the deputy marshals and other government men, could be especially sneaky in locating and busting up a man’s stills. The kind of men brave enough or outlaw enough to break the law making whiskey often didn’t look too kindly on anyone threatening their means of living, and a detective working undercover risked life and limb.
And there were other things that a Cogburn would tolerate even less than a revenuer. Many of the wives of the Cogburns and other families in the area claimed that Trammell was visiting their homes while their men were gone and using strong-arm tactics to force them to inform on who was making whiskey and where the stills were located. Always hotheaded and ready for a fight, Franklin had come to Black Springs to set things right. Nobody, and he meant nobody, was going to abuse the women of his family. A killing was in order.
J. D. Trammell was indeed a Deputy U.S. Marshal, but what Franklin didn’t know was that Trammell wasn’t in Black Springs. However, Montgomery County Sheriff G. W. Golden just happened to be in town on other business. The first thing he came across at a distance was Franklin armed, angry, and hunting a man whom Golden knew to be a fellow officer of the law. He immediately went to seek the help of the local constable, whose name has unfortunately been lost to history. Both lawmen were in agreement that Franklin should be disarmed, but neither of them was anxious to confront him.
Among the people of southern Montgomery County, the twenty-two-year-old Franklin was known as an honest fellow, quick to lend his help, and a fine hand with a team of horses. While he may have been a likable sort, he was also known to be a part of the large moonshining operation run by some of the rougher sort in his family. He had a quick temper and would fight at the drop of a hat, and it was the opinion of more than a few citizens that his wild streak would eventually come to no good end.
In 1918, World War I was in its fourth year. Imperial Russia had succumbed to the Communist Revolution and capitulated to Imperial Germany. In the West, a race against time was on. The Allies of Great Britain and France were watching with mounting concern as German armies from the Eastern Front began reinforcing those on the Western Front. Their armies, having been bled white and wracked by mutiny after three horrific years of trench warfare, were at the breaking point. The last hope for Allied victory was the United States. It had entered the war in April 1917, and its troops began arriving in France later that year.
The American forces were hastily trained for the demands of total warfare in the European model, and for the most part were equipped with a hodge-podge of weapons supplied by their allies. The question on both sides of the trenches was not if the growing number of American units would fight, but rather how well? Only combat would answer that question. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenberg and Gen. Erich Ludendorff of Germany were determined to shatter Allied resolve and achieve victory with an offensive launched before the full weight of the U.S. Army could be felt.
On May 27, 1918, specially trained “shock units” led a three-pronged offensive that smashed into the British and French lines. At Aisne, the French lines bent, then broke. In less than two days, the German army was at the Marne River at Chateau Thierry. Once again, the German army had victory within its grasp, and once again, the road to Paris, about 50 miles away, was wide open. In 1914, France, and the Allied cause, was saved by a sudden influx of troops delivered to the front by Parisian taxis – the “Miracle of the Marne.”
This time France had no miracles of her own remaining. Allied Commander-in-Chief Gen. Ferdinand Foch turned to Gen. John Pershing, commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force. Previously, Pershing had resisted releasing units piecemeal to reinforce depleted British and French divisions. He stated that when Americans fought, they would do so as a unified army.
But Pershing recognized that the present crisis overrode national considerations and temporarily released his five divisions to Foch’s command. The American 2nd Division, containing the 4th, 5th, and 6th Marine Brigades, was assigned to Gen. Joseph Degoutte’s French 6th Army, located along the Marne Front. Not since the Civil War had American troops been involved in a conflict of such magnitude. And it had been more than 100 years, at the battles of Bladensburg and New Orleans during the War of 1812, since the Marine Corps had faced an armed foe at the professional level as it did now against the 461st Imperial German Infantry regiment.
Though Pershing, an Army general, harbored little love for the Marines, he did not allow service parochialism to blind him to the Marines’ capability. Shortly after Ludendorff’s offensive began, when the 4th Marine Brigade’s commander, Brig. Gen. Charles Doyen, had to return to the States due to a terminal illness, Pershing assigned command of the brigade to his chief of staff, Army Brig. Gen. James Harbord, telling him, “Young man, I’m giving you the best brigade in France – if anything goes wrong, I’ll know whom to blame.”
It was not without some concern that Harbord assumed his new command. He was replacing a respected and loved commander; he was a National Guard cavalry officer, a temporary brigadier general; and his two regimental commanders were Col. Albertus Catlin and Col. Wendell “Whispering Buck” Neville, both recipients of the Medal of Honor. He worked hard at his new command and earned the respect of the Marines. Harbord would retire a major general and later write of his experience, “They never failed me. I look back on my service with the Marines Brigade with more pride and satisfaction than on any other equal period in my long Army career.”
The fighting ended, exhausted and seriously depleted ranks of the 6th Marines gather outside Belleau Wood before moving on.
(USMC History and Museums Division)
The 4th Marine Brigade was ordered to shore up defenses and assume a blocking position north of the important east-west Paris- Metz highway. They dug into position along a line just above the village of Lucy-Le-Bocage. Immediately in front of the Marine line was a large wheat field, and beyond that was a mile square game preserve. The French called it Bois de Belleau. To the Marines and America, it would be immortalized as Belleau Wood. The Marines had barely gotten into position, digging shallow individual trenches they called “foxholes,” when the German army renewed its offensive on June 2. Demoralized French troops in the forest began falling back. One French officer, as he passed through the Marine lines, advised the Americans to join in the retreat. Capt. Lloyd Williams responded, “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” The French officer and the other French troops continued on. Soon the Marines were alone.
The rest of the day and the following morning were quiet. The heat of the early June sun parched the throats of the Marines as they waited for the enemy to appear. Finally, in the early afternoon, movement was seen at the southern edge of the forest, and the distinct shapes of German soldiers in their feldgrau began to emerge. Long line after long line of soldiers, slightly crouched and weapons low, began trotting through the ripening wheat. Veteran Marines of the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the Veracruz Expedition lay side by side with unblooded men whose memories of the profane injunctions of their drill instructors were still fresh. The Germans confidently advanced. What they did not know was that no longer before them was a demoralized French foe. Instead, they were marching toward a fresh enemy with high morale that took pride in training its men in how to shoot. The Germans also did not realize they were already within range of the Marines’ shoulder arm, the .30-06 Springfield M1903 rifle.
The accepted combat range of rifles during World War I was a maximum of 250 yards. The Springfield ’03 was rated with an effective range of 600 yards. In the hands of an expert marksman, it could be deadly at ranges well beyond that. The line of gray-clad troops advancing through an open field presented the Marines with a shooting gallery. At 800 yards, the order was given, and sustained fire commenced. German soldiers spun, collapsed, and fell as bullets from the first volley tore into them. The German advance wavered, then astonished survivors fell to the ground seeking cover. Their officers ran through their ranks, shouting for them to get up and continue the advance. The troops rose and were hit with another volley fired at long range. A third attempt to advance was met by a third deadly volley that was also accompanied by machine gun fire. The stunned survivors retreated into the woods to take up defensive positions and plan their next move.
The commander of the German 28th Division facing opposite the American 2nd Division confidently told his men, “We are not fighting for ground – for this ridge or that hill. It will be decided here whether or not the American Army will be equal to our own troops.” It was a prescient statement. Unfortunately, for him, not in the way he expected.
After receiving news that the German attack had been blunted at Belleau Wood, Degoutte ordered the 2nd Division to counterattack the following day, June 6. The attack began with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines launching a dawn attack on the German-held Hill 142 on the division’s left flank. German machine guns raked the Marine ranks during the half-mile advance. The Marines succeeded in capturing the hill at about noon. But doing so had cost the battalion 410 casualties. It was a foretaste of what was to come.
Meanwhile, two battalions of the 6th Marines and one battalion of the 5th Marines were preparing for the main attack on Belleau Wood. The attack was launched at 5 p.m., and the Marines advanced in a formation and at a fast pace taught by the veteran French officers who had rounded out their training shortly after the Marines arrived in France. It was the same formation that had doomed thousands of French poilus during the disastrous offensives of 1914 and 1915. It achieved the same results on the Marines. As the Marines began crossing the battle-scarred wheat field, it was the German machine gunners’ turn. The lead troops were quickly cut down. Surviving Marines dove for the ground and continued the advance crawling on all fours, pausing and, like pop-up targets, taking aim and quickly firing back before dropping down for cover in the wheat stalks. Even so, the advance slowed dangerously, with the German machine gun fire continuing seemingly unabated. It appeared that the attack would fail just 50 yards before the Marines reached the German lines.
Reporter Floyd Gibbons was with the Marines during the attack and lay terrified among the dead and wounded in the wheat field. Not far from him was Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Daly, a double Medal of Honor recipient for heroism in the Boxer Rebellion and Haiti. In a report he later filed, Gibbons wrote, “The sergeant swung his bayoneted rifle over his head with a forward sweep, yelling at his men, ‘Come on, you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever?'” The Marines with him stood up, and with a roar, charged. By the end of the day, the first line of German defenders was overrun and taken. But the cost of the attack was severe. On that day, the 4th Marine Brigade had suffered 1,087 casualties, making it the bloodiest day in Marine Corps history up to that point. More Marines had fallen on June 6, 1918, than in the entire 143-year history of the Marine Corps.
The Battle for Belleau Wood would continue to almost the end of June and was fought in a series of savage actions. It was during this battle that, according to legend, the 461st Imperial German Infantry gave the Marines the nickname “Teufelhunden” – “Devil Dogs.” Finally, on June 26, Maj. Maurice Shearer of the 5th Marines sent to headquarters the message: “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.”
Convinced that the Marines had saved Paris, the French government renamed the game preserve Bois de la Brigade de Marine. And, more importantly, this action, as well as American success at Cantigny and Ch’teau-Thierry, Pershing later wrote, “… gave an indication of what trained American troops would do.” But the German high command was not finished. A final German offensive was launched on July 15. This time, the 2nd Division and its Marines joined the French XX Corps and repulsed the German attack at Soissons, sustaining another 2,000 casualties. When the German offensive was stopped, the initiative shifted to the Allies. They responded with the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
On July 29, 1918, Pershing made Gen. John A. Lejeune commander of the 2nd Division. His first assignment was to reduce the dangerous German salient at St. Mihiel. After four days of fierce fighting by the combined Marine and Army units, the salient was eliminated. The 2nd Division then was assigned offensive operations in support of the French Fourth Army, commanded by Gen. Henri Gourand. But German defenses along the Meuse River succeeded in slowing the French advance until it was stopped before Blanc Mont, or White Mountain, a ridge that dominated the region for miles. The Germans had held Blanc Mont since 1914 and had heavily fortified the ridge. To restart his stalled attack, Gourand wanted Lejeune to break up his division and disperse it into depleted French units. Lejeune’s reaction was quick and hot. Following Pershing’s example, he was not about to have his division broken up, particularly since there was no dire crisis now confronting the Allies. The Marine general told Gourand, “Keep the division intact and let us take [Blanc Mont].”
U.S. Marines in Belleau Wood (1918) by Georges Scott.
Gourand looked at Lejeune skeptically, then nodded his assent. Lejeune’s plan was to assault the German position with lead attacks from both flanks and, when they had closed to pinch out and isolate the center, the rest of his troops would advance and overwhelm the defenders. In what Pershing would later call “a brilliant maneuver against heavy machine gun resistance,” the attack kicked off on Oct. 3 with a short, five-minute artillery barrage of 200 guns. As soon as the cannon fire stopped, the 3rd Infantry Brigade launched its attack on the German right flank. Simultaneously, the 4th Marine Brigade attacked the German left. This was followed by an advance by the 6th Marines. Supporting the overall attack were French tanks. By noon, the 6th Marines had seized the crest and were clearing the heights. Additional troops from the 5th Marines moved up to add overwhelming power to the 2nd Division’s punch. On the left flank was a heavily fortified position known as the Essen Hook that was assigned to French units who were temporarily held in reserve. As the battle progressed, the French troops were released to seize the Essen Hook. When the French proved unable to do so, a company of Marines from the 5th Regiment led by Capt. Leroy P. Hunt was ordered to help. Hunt’s company succeeded in throwing out the Germans, and the Marines then handed over the Essen Hook to the French. The Germans returned and quickly overwhelmed the French defenders at Essen Hook, whereupon the 5th Regiment was forced to drive the Germans out a second time. This time they secured the position for good. When the day was over, Blanc Mont was in the hands of the 2nd Division.
Lejeune followed up the capture of Blanc Mont with an advance on the nearby village of St. Etienne on Oct. 4. The 5th Marines, who were leading the attack, literally ran into the Germans’ counterattack designed to retake Blanc Mont. Unfortunately, the Marines’ advance in the offensive had outpaced the French units beside them, causing them to form a salient that left them exposed to enemy fire from both flanks as well as their front. Despite the murderous fire falling on them, the Marines grimly kept the pressure on. After four days of intense fighting in which the Marines suffered more than 2,500 casualties, including the seemingly indestructible Daly, who was wounded, St. Etienne was liberated and, by Oct. 10, the Germans were in full retreat.
Not long after the battle, the grateful French government awarded the 5th and 6th Marines and the 6th Machine Gun Battalion their third citation of the Croix de Guerre for gallantry. As a result, the members of those outfits were now entitled to wear the scarlet and green fourragère. Field Marshal Henri Petain, the hero of Verdun, would add his own accolade, stating that, “The taking of Blanc Mont Ridge is the greatest single achievement in the 1918 campaign.”
Of the Marine Corps contribution in World War I, Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.) wrote in his book, A Fellowship of Valor, “Less than 32,000 Marines served in France. More than 12,000 of those given the opportunity to fight in France became casualties; 3,284 died. The survivors had given their country and their Corps a legacy of courage, esprit, and ferocity which would remain the standard of combat excellence for the remainder of the violent century.”
This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.
War trophies and battlefield loot were especially common during the two World Wars. However, one allied soldier’s hijacking habits during WWI earned him the nickname the “Souvenir King”. Despite his lack of military discipline, the Souvenir King was also one of the bravest soldiers in the trenches.
Private No 2296 John Hines, also known as Barney, was born in Liverpool, England in 1873. From a young age, Hines was a rebel. At the age of 14, he ran away from home to join the Army before his mother caught him. Undeterred, he joined the Royal Navy two years later and served on a gunboat during the Boxer Rebellion chasing pirates in the China Sea. The next year, he was discharged and began a globetrotting expedition in search of gold.
While searching for his fortune in South Africa, the Boer War broke out. Unofficially, he served as a scout for many British units during the war. Afterwards, Hines continued his quest for gold in the United States, South America, and New Zealand. Coming up dry each time, he made his way to Australia and found work at a sawmill before WWI broke out in August 1914. Though he was now in his early 40s, Hines tried to enlist but was rejected for medical reasons. Still, he jumped from recruiting post to recruiting post until he was accepted in 1916 as part of a reinforcement for the Australian 45th Battalion.
In France, Hines found a distaste for the standard-issue Lee-Enfield .303 rifle. Instead, with his large stature and immense strength, Hines preferred to go into battle with a pair of sandbags filled with Mills bomb hand grenades. Seeing the potential of a soldier like Hines, his commanding officer gave the Souvenir King a Lewis machine gun. This turned out to be a match made in heaven. “This thing’ll do me,” Hines assessed in his Liverpudlian accent. “You can hose the bastards down.”
Hines’ fearlessness and excitement on the battlefield also earned him the nickname “Wild Eyes”. “I always felt secure when Wild Eyes was about,” Hines’ commanding officer said. “He was a tower of strength in the line—I don’t think he knew what fear was and he naturally inspired confidence in the officers and men.” Of course, Hines’ strongest reputation was still as the Souvenir King.
Annoyed by the harassing sniper fire from a German pillbox, Hines charged the position, leapt on its roof and performed a war dance taunting the Germans to come out. When his taunts went unanswered, Hines lobbed a handful of Mills bombs through the gun port. Shocked and disorientated, the 63 German soldiers that survived came out and surrendered to Hines who proceeded to collect souvenirs of badges, helmets, and watches before marching them back to the Australian lines. Hines would squirrel away any battlefield loot that he could get his hands on.
On another occasion, Hines came across a heavily shelled German aid station. Ironically, the only survivor was a British soldier who Hines scooped up and bravely carried back to allied lines. Sadly, the Tommy died before they returned. After delivering his fallen comrade to friendly hands, Hines returned to aid station and looted it. Still, he set his sights higher.
At Villers-Bretonneux, Hines acquired a piano which he managed to hold on to for a few days before he was forced to give it up. Another large souvenir was a grandfather clock. However, after its hourly chimes started to draw German fire, Hines’ battle buddies ironically destroyed it with one of Hines’ favorite weapons—Mills bombs. At Armentieres, Hines found a keg of Bass Ale which he rolled back to friendly lines. However, he was stopped by military police who wouldn’t let him take the keg back to the trenches. In classic Hines style, he returned with a friend to drink the whole thing on the spot.
Perhaps Hines’ finest souvenir hunt came at Amiens. After disappearing for a few hours, Hines was caught by British soldiers looting the vaults in the Bank of France. The Souvenir King had already stuffed his pockets full of banknotes and packed another million Francs in a set of suitcases. Unable to press charges against an Australian soldier, the Brits turned him back over to the Aussies. Hines later boasted that, while the heist cost him 14 days’ pay, he had been allowed to keep the loot stuffed in his pockets.
Hines wasn’t invincible though. At Passchendale, he was the only survivor of a direct hit on his Lewis gun nest. Despite being thrown 20 meters and having the soles blown off of his boots, Hines crawled back to his gun and returned fire until he passed out from his leg wounds. At Villers-Bretonneux, Hines threw a trench party catered with champagne and tinned delicacies that he had looted. He and his friends even dressed up in top hats and dress suits. Take a wild guess as to how they got their hands on those. However, following the party, Hines was wounded above his eye, in his leg, and received a whiff of deadly gas. Despite his protests, the wounded and nearly blinded Souvenir King was taken to a hospital at Etaples.
Still, Hines continued to display unusual bravery and valor. A few days after he was admitted, the Germans bombed the hospital and caused over 3,000 casualties. During the bombardment, Hines crawled out of bed and found a broom for a crutch. Despite his own injuries, Hines spent the entire night carrying the other patients to safety. After the war, Hines was invalided and returned to Australia.
He lived in a lean-to made of cloth bags on the outskirts of Sydney. The lean-to was surrounded by a fence on which he hung his various souvenirs. He lived off of his Army pension and worked various odd jobs. However, Hines found renewed fame in the early 1930s when several magazines and newspapers published stories about his wartime exploits and current living conditions. Several veterans sent him money and the government doubled his pension. Still, the Souvenir King remained humble, donating a suitcase of vegetables from his garden to fellow soldiers being treated at Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney.
When WWII broke, despite being in his 60s, Hines volunteered for combat. When he was rejected, he tried to stowaway on a troop ship before his was found out and returned to shore. Hines died on January 28, 1958 at Concord Repatriation Hospital. The legacy of the Souvenir King lives on in the famous photo of him surrounded by his loot at the Battle of Polygon Wood.
In an action that has been long overdue, Congress has approved the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed Merrill’s Marauders of World War II. The House passed the resolution last week after the Senate had approved it last fall. It is expected that President Donald Trump will sign it shortly.
Only one Congressional Gold Medal is awarded each year to a person or institution. It is deemed, “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” according to the award’s official website.
Merrill’s Marauders were named after General Frank Merrill. The 3,000-strong unit was officially the 5307th Composite Unit. It was trained to work behind Japanese lines during the Burma campaign of World War II.
Marauders move under fire against Japanese positions.
Unfortunately, combat, disease, and time have taken their toll. Today there are only eight surviving members of the famed unit. When the push for awarding the medal began in 2016, there were still 28 Marauders still alive.
“I feel like I’m floating on air,” Robert Passanisi, a 96-year-old veteran of the unit, who is also the spokesman for the surviving members and a historian, said when hearing the news.
“It has been a long journey, and we’ve had to struggle through three congressional sessions to obtain this great honor,” Passanisi said. “My one regret is that only eight of us are alive to enjoy this historic honor.”
Some individual members of the unit, including Japanese-American interpreters as well as OSS troops who fought with the Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, had already been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The House passed the bill one day after the 77th anniversary of 2,000 volunteers boarding the SS Lurline on Sept. 21, 1943, in San Francisco to ship out to New Caledonia. There, another 1,000 veterans from the South Pacific front joined them.
After the U.S. troops had been driven out of Burma by the Japanese in 1943, the Americans decided that they needed a “Long Range Penetration” mission behind Japanese lines. The plan was to disrupt and destroy the enemy’s supply lines and communications, to attack him from behind, and to try to regain the Burma Road.
General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell grimly summarized the campaign: “I claim we got a hell-of-a-beating. We got run out of Burma, and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back, and retake [Burma].”
The call went out for volunteers for “A Dangerous and Hazardous Mission.” Over 3,000 men answered that call, some from far-flung bases in Panama and Trinidad; others were veterans from New Guinea, Guadalcanal, and elsewhere. Thus the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was born.
Merrill (holding the map) with members of his staff.
The unit got its nickname from Time correspondent James R. Shepley. Reporters sent to cover the fighting in Burma were looking for a hook to capture the imagination of the American public back home. Nicknaming the unit served that purpose.
Frank Merrill didn’t look like a man whose job it was to lead a Special Operations Task Force behind enemy lines. Although he was a powerfully built man, he was plagued with a bad heart and poor eyesight. He had graying hair and smoked his pipe non-stop. He had little experience commanding troops but was a brilliant and unshakable leader.
During training and operations, Merrill drove himself even harder than his men; because of that, they loved, respected, and believed in him. The Chinese troops, part of General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell’s command, loved him nearly as much as General Chenault, the commander of the “Flying Tigers.”
Merrill was born in the small town of Hopkinton, Mass. (the starting point for the Boston Marathon.) He tried unsuccessfully to get into West Point before joining the Army as a private. Working his way up to Staff Sergeant, he was finally accepted to the U.S. Military Academy on his sixth application. He graduated and was commissioned as a cavalry officer.
Merrill spent time in Japan as an assistant military attaché and learned Japanese while stationed there. Just prior to Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the Chinese-Burma Theater and was with Stillwell on his long march out of Burma.
He trained his unit hard, working them for three months with Orde Wingate’s Chindits, the British unit that had already carved a name for themselves in the theater.
The Marauders were divided into three battalions and formed into six combat teams (400 per team), color-coded Red, White, Blue, Green, Orange, and Khaki. There were two teams to a battalion. The rest of the men formed the H.Q. and Air Transport Commands.
During the next four months, Merrill’s Marauders would take part in five major and 30 minor engagements with the Japanese veteran 18th Division which had taken both Singapore and Malaya.
In their first action against the Japanese 18th Division, they moved to set up blocking positions at Walawbum 10 miles behind the Japanese lines. General Tanaka, who commanded the Japanese forces, fearing that Stillwell was trying to encircle his forces, promptly attacked the Marauders.
The Americans beat back several bayonet attacks and caused significant casualties. The Japanese had 650 dead and as many wounded. The Americans had just seven killed and 36 wounded.
In the south, Wingate’s Chindits were hitting Tanaka hard cutting the railway lines and forcing him to withdraw northward. After two months of near-constant fighting, the Marauders were reeling; many of them were already sick with malaria. But their biggest mission lay ahead.
Less than a year after its creation, the unit was tasked with conducting a long and dangerous mission over the mountains. They had to trek across nearly 1,100 miles over the mountainous, nearly impenetrable jungle, in the foothills of the Himalayas, with no tanks or heavy artillery, to attack the Japanese. Their goal was to capture the important Japanese airfield at Myitkyina. The Operation would be known as “End Run.”
Capturing the airfield would benefit the supply aircraft since it would no longer have to fly over “the Hump” to ferry supplies to Kunming, China. It would also allow the Allies to construct the Ledo Road through which supplies could also travel to Kumming.
Augmenting the Marauders, who were down to about 50 percent strength due to casualties and tropical diseases, were two Chinese regiments and 300 Kachin tribesmen who were led by the OSS.
Merrill, having just returned to duty after his second heart attack, was beside the men and encouraging them all the way. The trek was so steep, muddy, and treacherous. Merrill’s men would lose half of their pack animals, along with their necessary equipment. And nearly half of the men became sick with amoebic dysentery after drinking water from streams that the Chinese were using the streams as a latrine.
After wiping out a small Japanese garrison at Ripong, 149 of the men came down with typhus. Several of the men died including Colonel Henry Kinnison, one of the team leaders. The Marauders arrived at their target location on the night of May 16.
The next morning they began their assault which was led by Lt. Colonel Charles Hunter. The Marauders and two Chinese regiments snuck past the Japanese undetected and attacked the airfield from the north, south, and west. They took the Japanese completely by surprise.
Not only did they seize the airfield but the Chinese troops also took a ferry landing on the Irrawaddy River. By 1530 hrs on the 17th of May, Merrill had radioed the code words “Merchant of Venice” which meant that the airstrip was already set for taking in C-47 transport aircraft.
Lord Mountbatten sent Stillwell the following message:
“By the boldness of your leadership, backed by the courage and endurance of your American and Chinese troops, you have taken the enemy completely by surprise and achieved a most outstanding success by seizing the Myitkyina airfield.”
The airfield seizure was considered a brilliant military move. Yet the Americans had lost a major opportunity in not capturing the town of Myitkyina. The town was only defended by about 700 Japanese troops but Hunter had been given no orders to take it.
Additionally, a fresh division, the British 36th, could have easily joined the Americans but Stillwell wanted no part of the British in this operation. This was a big mistake. Stillwell then sent anti-aircraft crews and engineers to fix an airstrip that was already totally operational, instead of securing badly needed arms and ammunition. By the time Merrill’s Marauders’ 2nd Battalion attacked the town, the Japanese had been reinforced and now had 3,500 well dug-in troops. The Marauders’ attacks failed.
Merrill and Stillwell in Burma.
Diseases, typhus, malaria, and dysentery, kept reducing the Marauders’ numbers until only 200 effective riflemen were left. In response, Stillwell scraped together more engineers and support troops; yet these men were totally green.
The Japanese managed to hold onto the town of Myitkyina until late summer. By then, the Marauders were no longer an effective fighting outfit. They were pulled out of the line finally in June and disbanded by August.
But by the excellent efforts of both the Marauders and the Chindits, the airfield at Myitkyina saved the transports from flying over the dangerous “Hump” into China. And with the Ledo Road complete, the 1,100-mile supply route to Kunming was now open.
Merrill was promoted to Major General and was transferred to the Pacific Theater. He was the Chief of Staff of the 10th Army under General Buckner during the Okinawa campaign. Later he held the same position for the Sixth Army in the Philippines. He was present on the battleship Missouri for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
After the war, he was briefly the Deputy Chief for the Military Advisory for the Philippines but a third heart attack forced him into retirement. He returned to his native New England and retired in New Hampshire where he was given the job of State Highway Commissioner by the governor. Merrill died of a heart attack in Fernandina Beach, Florida on December 11, 1955. He was only 52 years old. He was buried at West Point next to General Stillwell per his wishes.
On August 10, 1944, the surviving Merrill’s Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry, which continued service in northern Burma until February 1945. In June of 1954, the 475th Infantry was redesignated as the 75th Infantry. Thereby, the men of Merrill’s Marauders became the parents of the 75th Infantry Regiment, from which descended the 75th Ranger Regiment of today. This is why the six colors that represented the Marauders’ combat teams are now worn on the beret flash of the Ranger Regiment.
Merrill was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992. In his honor, Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia, is home to the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and the mountain phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School.
Third baseman Brooks Robinson played for the Baltimore Orioles between 1955 and 1977. Robinson also served in the military. (Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)
Most baseball fans recognize the name Brooks Robinson. He played for the Baltimore Orioles from 1955 to 1977 and is widely considered to be the best defensive third baseman ever.
Robinson joined the Arkansas Army National Guard in March 1958. He was activated and assigned to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and later to the Army‘s 78th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas.
He served as an ordnance parts specialist. While on the rifle range for qualification with the M1 Garand rifle in November 1958, Robinson received a commendation for his performance as a squad leader for his unit. It stated, ”He has performed his duties in an excellent and commendable manner. It is recommended he be considered for more rapid promotion than his contemporaries.”
(Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)
Officials with the Arkansas National Guard at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas, said he was honorably discharged from Company A, 739 Ordnance Battalion, in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Jan. 2, 1962.
In 1966, Robinson, by then a civilian, visited troops in all four Corps Tactical Zones of South Vietnam. Traveling with him on the morale-boosting tour were Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe Torre and Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves, Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins, and sportscaster Mel Allen.
During the tour, Killebrew was heard telling Robinson that the league champion Orioles played the best ball in the American League that year and that the Orioles deserved to win the pennant.
Robinson helped the Orioles advance to the postseason six times, with Baltimore winning four American League pennants (1966, 1969, 1970 and 1971) and two World Series (1966 and 1970) during his career. In 39 career postseason games, Robinson hit .303 with five homers and 22 runs batted in.
The Orioles retired his No. 5 jersey in 1977. He led all American League third basemen 11 times in fielding percentage and eight times in assists. His 2,870 games at third base rank No. 1 on the all-time list.
Frank Robinson, another baseball great, once said that Brooks was the best defensive player at any position. ”I used to stand in the outfield like a fan and watch him make play after play. I used to think, ‘Wow! I can’t believe this,”’ he said.
(Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)
Frank Robinson also played for the Orioles. His time with the team overlapped with that of Brooks Robinson from 1966 to 1971.
More About Brooks Robinson:
As a boy, Robinson operated the scoreboard at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock. The baseball sequence from the 1984 film ”A Soldier’s Story” was filmed there.
In 1955, Robinson played baseball in South America; he played in Cuba in 1957.
In 2012, a large bronze statue of him was unveiled at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.