There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

The Battle of Midway is arguably one of the greatest moments in the history of the United States Navy. Plenty of American heroism was put on display during that battle by personnel both in the air and on the sea.

Captain Richard E. Fleming, United States Marine Corps.
(USMC photo)

Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, for example, led Torpedo Squadron Eight in a brave attack on the Japanese carriers only to be nearly wiped out — Ensign George Gay was the lone survivor of that engagement. Wade McCluskey led the dive bombers from USS Enterprise (CV 6) that sank the Japanese carriers Kaga and Akagi. Max Leslie, in yet another act of bravery, led the attack on the Japanese carrier Soryu despite the fact his plane did not have a bomb. All of these are tremendous stories of courage demonstrated at Midway, but none of them received the Medal of Honor for their actions.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
A Vought SB2U Vindicator takes off during the battle of Midway. Fleming was in a Vindicator when he was killed in action during a strike on the Mikuma.
(Screenshot from The Battle of Midway, a US Navy documentary)

The Battle of June 4

The only man to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the Battle of Midway was Marine Captain Richard E. Fleming. Fleming was assigned to Marine Scout Bomber Squadron 241. Also known as the “Sons of Satan,” the squadron was equipped with 16 Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless and 11 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator dive bombers.

On June 4, the squadron took part in attacks on Japanese carriers, losing a number of planes. During the initial attacks, Fleming dove dangerously low in order to get a better angle of attack on the ships. The next day, Fleming led an attack on a pair of Japanese cruisers that were damaged in a collision caused by the submarine USS Tambor. During this attack, too, Fleming dove, closing in on the enemy ship.

A final, heroic act during the Battle of Midway

Fleming was shot down while pressing his attack on the heavy cruiser HIJMS Mikuma. Later, a Japanese officer was quoted as saying,

“I saw a dive bomber dive into the after turret and start fires.”

That account is disputed, though. Fleming’s Medal of Honor citation states that his plane crashed into the sea after scoring a near-miss. One thing is indisputable, though. Fleming’s bravery, and the bravery of those around him, helped turn the tide at Midway.

Articles

This was America’s first true aircraft carrier

When people talk about the aircraft carriers of World War II, some names jump out right away. Maybe the USS Enterprise (CV 6), both versions of the USS Yorktown (CV 5 and CV 10), or the USS Hornet (CV 8)?


But one carrier that was present at the start of World War II and survived throughout the war isn’t that well known. Meet America’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger (CV 4).

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
USS Ranger (CV 4) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1939. (US Navy photo)

The Ranger, like many pre-war American ship designs, was heavily influenced by the Washington Naval Treaty. This limited aircraft carriers to 27,000 tons per ship, and the United States Navy’s carrier force could have a total displacement of 135,000 tons. The conversion of the under-construction battle cruisers Lexington (then-CC 1) and Saratoga (then-CC 3) to CV 2 and CV 3 put them both at 33,000 tons.

As such, the Ranger was limited to 14,500 tons – and the U.S. wanted to cram as much as it could on this ship. She received eight 5-inch, 25-caliber guns, as well as a host of M2 .50-caliber machine guns. She also could carry around 75 aircraft.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
Nine Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters and five Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers are visible on the flight deck of USS Ranger (CV 4) prior to Operation Torch. Note Ranger´s distinctive stacks in the left foreground. (US Navy photo)

When World War II broke out, the USS Ranger was in the Atlantic as part of the Neutrality Patrol, along with the carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). According to the “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships,” the Ranger was sent to patrol the South Atlantic. After returning for repairs, the Ranger then was tasked with delivering P-40 Warhawks to Africa. She made two runs in the spring and summer of 1942, delivering 140 of those planes – some of which were destined to reinforce the Flying Tigers.

In November of 1942, the Ranger took part in Operation Torch, launching 54 F4F Wildcats and 18 SBD Dauntless dive bombers. Her planes sank or damaged two French warships, and also gave the landings fighter cover.

After Torch, the Ranger was overhauled, then delivered 75 more P-40s — this time for the North African Theater of Operations. She carried out training missions during most of 1943, until she was attached to the Home Fleet.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

In October, 1943, the USS Ranger joined the British Home Fleet, and carried out a number of strikes on German naval forces around Norway. After that, she again served as an aircraft ferry, delivering 76 P-38 Lightning fighters to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

After making that delivery, the Ranger finally went to the Pacific, where she was a training carrier until the end of the war. After the war, the USS Ranger was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

Articles

This ‘Whale’ saved 700 planes during the Vietnam War

When armchair historians discuss naval aviation during the Vietnam War, the focus usually turns to the F-4 Phantom. That’s the multi-service plane flown by the Navy’s only aces of the war — Randall “Duke” Cunningham and Willie Driscoll.


And of course there’s the A-6 Intruder, made famous in the novel and movie “Flight of the Intruder.”

One plane, though, probably deserves more attention than it’s earned.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
The RA-3B Skywarrior decked out in camouflage and displaying its various reconnaissance package options. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

That plane is the A-3 Skywarrior – often called the “Whale” due to its size. It certainly was big – more than 76 feet long, and with a 72-foot wingspan and a maximum takeoff weight of 82,000 pounds.

The A-3 had a range of 2,100 miles and could carry 12,800 pounds of payload.

While the Skywarrior did some bombing missions early on, it shined in the electronic warfare and tanker missions. The Navy turned 85 planes into KA-3B tankers, and 34 were also given jamming pods to become the EKA-3B.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
The KA-3B could carry a lot of av gas. (Photo from Wikimedia)

These planes not only could pass a lot of gas to the planes in a carrier’s air wing, they helped to jam enemy radars, blinding them to an incoming attack until it was too late.

Other Skywarrior variants included the RA-3B reconnaissance plane, the ERA-3B electronic aggressor platform, and the EA-3B electronic intelligence version.

As a tanker, the KA-3B and EKA-3B didn’t just enable planes to strike deeper into North Vietnam. These tankers also gave planes gas to get back home – in some cases after suffering serious damage. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that as many as 700 Navy and Marine Corps planes may have been saved by the Whale’s tanker capabilities.

That statistic might be the most important. When an EB-66E bomber was shot down during the Easter Offensive of 1972, it resulted in a massive rescue effort to retrieve the lone survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, that resulted in the loss of five aircraft, with 11 Americans killed in action and two more captured.

The last A-3 variants, EA-3Bs, managed to see action during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 with VQ-2 before they were retired. E-3 airframes, though, flew in private service as RD for avionics until 2011.

Not bad for a plane that first flew in 1952!

MIGHTY HISTORY

The highly caffeinated life of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the chain-smoking D-Day mastermind who became president

There are a lot of benefits one can get from drinking coffee. Studies show the right amount of coffee can lower your risk of Parkinson’s disease and Type 2 diabetes. It also has a protective effect on your liver, whatever that means.

But history shows that drinking the right amount of coffee could also help your ability to mastermind the largest amphibious military operation in history (sorry, Marines), defeat the Axis powers, and reassert federal authority over the states. In the mind of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the “right amount” was as much as 15 to 20 cups of coffee every day, depending on which of those feats was most important.


In just over two years, the brigadier general who’d never seen combat became the supreme Allied commander in Europe — an intense situation for anyone. Throughout the war (and into his presidency), Ike drank up to 20 cups of coffee and smoked four packs of Camels as he worked day and night to win the war in Europe.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

NPG.65.63. PO 3262. Oil on canvas, 1947.

For Eisenhower, the answer was simple; Type 2 diabetes wasn’t occupying Paris, and doing the work necessary to win World War II required a diet of coffee and cigarettes.

There’s a lot to be said about Eisenhower’s service record. For one, Ike never saw combat, and that was never his specialty, even if it grated on him at times. But there’s more to serving in the military than being a hardcore, door-kicking Nazi-killing machine.

Someone has to get the Nazi-killing machines to the Nazis, and that’s where Ike came in.

At the outset of World War II, Eisenhower was a relatively unknown junior officer who had never held command above a battalion level. But as the war continued, his boss, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, came to rely more and more on his logistics and leadership ability.

First up was planning the greater war in the Pacific. Eisenhower needed to send a division of men to reinforce Australia. He requisitioned the British luxury liner RMS Queen Mary to carry 15,000 soldiers from New York to Sydney around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. After the ship departed, the Army learned that Axis U-boats knew about it and would be hunting it every step of the way. Eisenhower paced the floor until the Queen Mary arrived in Sydney.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

Ike was fueled entirely on coffee, cigarettes, and a burning desire to win.

That’s the kind of leader Eisenhower was. He didn’t show it, but he was wracked with anxiety over the potential loss of so many Allied soldiers. Chugging coffee, chain-smoking, and pacing was how he dealt with the pressure.

When he was awaiting word on that first troop transport’s arrival in Sydney Harbor, Eisenhower wore the same calm demeanor as he did reviewing the troops preparing to land at Normandy on June 6, 1944. He walked among them and asked questions, speaking with them at ease. He watched as they prepared to mount an invasion that even he wasn’t sure would be a success.

Ike famously wrote two speeches for the D-Day landings — one if they were successful and one in case they failed. He knew he was taking a gamble with all those men’s lives.

In his mind, 75% of them were going to die trying to free Europe on his orders. He had done all he could, drinking cup after cup of coffee, battling insomnia and headaches to give them their best shot at victory.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

Trolling his own vice president? Public domain photo.

As June 6 came and went, he paced around a trailer, chain-smoking through the day and into the night. He downed cup after cup of coffee, waiting for reports of the invasion to come in.

Coffee was Eisenhower’s constant companion as he navigated the postwar world of the 1950s, managing the Soviet Union, the end of the Korean War, the Suez Crisis, the Interstate Highway System, and the use of the US Army to enforce federal laws in the states.

Ike struggled with health issues, especially heart disease, in his post-military career. He suffered at least seven heart attacks and a stroke before his death in 1969. But that wasn’t the coffee’s fault. The supreme Allied commander developed a brain tumor that made him vulnerable to heart attacks.

All that coffee just fueled the end of fascism in Europe and a reboot of the American century.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

These soldiers built 3 tanks in a night to face the entire Nazi ‘bulge’

On Dec. 18, 1944, Pfc. Harry Miller was cold, exhausted, and covered with grease. His hands were numb from the cold and he was bone tired after working all night. He and his fellow Soldiers from the 740th Tank Battalion had toiled around the clock to piece together three American tanks from an ordnance depot in Belgium.


With only the three refurbished tanks, Miller and the 740th was asked to stop the 1st SS Panzer Division, the German spearhead in the Battle of the Bulge.

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Even before the Germans launched their surprise Ardennes offensive that December, Miller was not thinking about Christmas. His only thought was on keeping warm, he said. Northern Europe had been gripped by record-breaking cold.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

When the German tank columns first approached, Miller and his fellow Soldiers were in Neufchateau, Belgium, but they had no tanks. At the beginning of the battle, the 740th was ordered to proceed to an ordnance depot in nearby Sprimont. Miller was hopeful, as he believed tanks would be issued at the depot. However, upon arrival, there were no functional tanks.

Depot personnel had left town in a hurry, leaving all of their equipment and tools behind. Miller and the 740th worked throughout the night and by morning, three tanks and a tank destroyer rolled out the gate. They were ordered to Stoumont to stop the German advance.

Also read: This is the massive Nazi sneak attack at the Battle of the Bulge

The 740th’s three tanks faced the lead element of Battle Group Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division. One M-1 Sherman tank fired and destroyed a German Panther. A second Sherman destroyed a second German tank. A third tank, a restored M-36, destroyed a third German tank. With the three German tanks out of action, and the narrow road blocked, the attacking German column retreated. Thus, a few restored tanks within their first one-half hour of combat had turned the tide of the German attack.

Miller was part of a specialized unit. A few days later he crewed one of six Sherman tanks that formed the Assault Gun Platoon. His tank had a 105mm gun.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

During much of the Battle of the Bulge his unit supported the 82nd Airborne Division.

Miller remembers the snowfall was especially heavy. Members of 82nd were cold and exhausted. Marching through four feet of snow was laborious. A few lucky Soldiers from the 82nd jumped on his tank to hitch a ride to avoid walking in the deep snow. Suddenly the tank took on enemy fire. When they heard audible dings from enemy bullets hitting the tank, the 82nd Soldiers scrambled off to take defensive positions.

The Battle of the Bulge lasted from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945. It was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. For the Americans, out of 610,000 troops involved in the battle, 89,000 were casualties. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by U.S. troops in World War II.

The 740th Tank Battalion was formed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on March 1, 1943. It had mostly men from Texas and Oklahoma. They trained at Knox and at the Desert Training Center in Bouse, Arizona.

Leaders: 8 amazing facts about General Douglas MacArthur

Miller is a veteran of 22 years in the Army and Air Force. The Columbus, Ohio-native had always wanted to serve in the Army and enlisted at the age of 15 in 1944. Besides being a veteran of World War ll, he served in the Korean War with Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, in the communications center.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

Miller later served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War with the Strategic Air Command. He was in charge of codes and cryptology used for command missions, including bombing runs in Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force in January 1966 as a senior master sergeant and a communications operations superintendent.

Upon retirement, Miller worked as a private investigator, director of security and safety at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and as a safety inspector at the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas, where he again retired in January 1989. He took up jazz and swing drumming lessons at age 69 to play with Seattle, Washington bands.

Miller, 89, resides at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. He laments that out of 800 Soldiers from the 740th, only six were able to attend this year’s reunion on Labor Day.

Miller said he is proud of all of his military service and wishes he could do it all over again. He advises Soldiers who are serving today to stay in and retire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the one boxing match the Navy doesn’t want you to know about

Boxing is a sport that empowers human ambition and drive unlike any other form of activity. The physical preparation boxers make before a fight is unparalleled and the adrenaline rush after a well-deserved victory is irreplaceable. There’s just no comparison to any other form of winning. Maybe that was boxing’s appeal to deployed American sailors.

By the end of the Spanish-American war, the U.S. Navy occupied the Dominican Republic and sent a heavy naval force along the shores of this small Caribbean island in order to protect the U.S. government’s financial interest.

Theodore Roosevelt was president at the time and he believed implementing combative boxing events on naval vessels would increase military morale by having competitors pummel one another for glory. These events grew very popular and in no time boxing became a main sporting activity widespread across the Navy.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan…until one match went too far and turned fatal on July 8, 1908, aboard the USS Yankee.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
Light Heavyweight match between Navy sailor Dale Alexander (right) and his Marine opponet.
(U.S. Navy photo)


Not long after the orders were passed down, boxing matches were being held on the decks of naval vessels in order to generate unit cohesion. To liven up the troops and sailors alike, these events were code-named “Smokers.”

Smokers went from a recreational sporting matches to prizefighting spectacles in no time, providing the opportunity to earn respect and extra pay for those sailors in need of a salary hike. This gave minority sailors – primarily Jewish and black sailors –the chance to be seen as more than just their ethnic background. It was one way to earn respect from and build camaraderie with their white counterparts in the days before a racially integrated military.

On July 8, 1908, onlookers cheered and mocked the fighters as the contestants took the stage. Raphael Cohen, a Jewish coal shoveler on the USS Yankee, awkwardly took the ring, awaiting the confident Jordan R. Johnson, a black gunners-mate from the USS Olympia, whose experience could be seen in his cold, unbroken deathly glare.

Both men came from humble beginnings, hardened by their fair share of turmoil, which may have been what brought them into the ring – or as the fighters would call it, the circle of truth.

Johnson joined the military at age 15 and quickly became a victim of physical abuse by his fellow shipmates. This was easily identifiable by unexplained scars on his ribs, abdomen, and neck. Growing up, Johnson spent nights shackled in irons, which turned him into a hardened fighter and earned him fear and respect on the Olympia. The ship’s decks became his training ground as he fought anyone who would meet him.

Cohen, on the other hand, was a young man looking for his identity, merely trying to to find where he belonged in this testosterone-heavy environment. After marrying at a young age, he believed the Navy would turn him into a man (or at least the man he thought he should be) so he searched to prove to himself that he was tough enough to hang with the other fighters.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
A U.S. Navy-sanctioned boxing match.

Both fighters were eager to get the fight going once the bell rang. The fully-charged Cohen fearlessly ran straight at Johnson, whose patience and experience kept him calm throughout the exchange. They fought hard, throwing caution to the wind, and neither giving in as the rounds continued.

Hundreds of sailors and Marines went wild as the two boxers pummeled one another. As each round continued, the crowd could see Cohen weakening. Even the referee questioned Cohen’s condition before allowing him to remain in what would become Cohen’s last stand.

By the eighth round, Cohen had enough, finally slumping to the ground after a crisp shot to the temple landed by Johnson rattled Cohen and left him unable to continue.

Johnson was victorious but what had he really won? Cohen would later be raised onto a stool and carried out of the ring. Two hours later, he was pronounced dead in the medical room.

An autopsy would later reveal the cause of death being a massive blood clot found inside of Cohen’s brain, attributed to the excessive beating he received in the bout. Captain Edward Francis of the USS Yankee later denied all involvement with the organization of the fight and reported Cohen’s death as “not in the line of duty.”

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
The telegram informing Cohen’s family of his death.

Cohen’s remains were buried in the Dominican Republic but later sent back to his family in New York in 1911. His remains were finally laid to rest in Maimonides Cemetery in Brooklyn. Jordan Johnson was cleared of all wrongdoing and left the Navy a year later. In 1929, Johnson passed away at the young age of 46, leaving the events of that day as a piece of untold military history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Were iron maidens ever actually used?

PandaGuy5 asks: Were people ever really tortured in Iron Maidens?

The people of the Middle Ages have a reputation for wanton brutality and, as supposed evidence of this, countless instruments of torture sit in museums around the world, arguably the most famous of which being the Iron Maiden. This hellish contraption supposedly caused unthinkable pain and anguish for those unlucky enough to be sentenced to suffer its merciless sting, condemning them to a slow and agonizing death. Or, at least, that’s what the stories say, because as far as anyone can tell, the Iron Maiden didn’t exist as a real world object until the 19th century- and for reference here the so-called “Medieval Times” are generally considered to have ended around the end of the 15th century.

So who invented the Iron Maiden and why, how did it become the face of Medieval torture, and has anyone actually ever been killed in one?


As for historical examples, there are a couple references to similar devices in history, with the oldest being a device known today as the “Iron Apega”, supposedly made about 2,200 years ago. Described by Greek historian Polybius, the device was an automaton replica of the wife of 2nd and 3rd century BC Spartan leader Nabis, with the woman in question named- you guessed it- Apega.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

Various neo-medieval torture instruments. An iron maiden stands at the right.

The automaton was apparently lavishly dressed up in one of Apega’s outfits, with Polybius then stating of those who were made to meet the wife replica,

When the man offered her his hand, he made the woman rise from her chair and taking her in his arms drew her gradually to his bosom. Both her arms and hands as well as her breasts were covered with iron nails … so that when Nabis rested his hands on her back and then by means of certain springs drew his victim towards her … he made the man thus embraced say anything and everything. Indeed by this means he killed a considerable number of those who denied him money.

So in a nutshell of the whole story, anyone who refused to pay their taxes would be made to give this mechanical version of his wife a hug, with at any point them being able to make the hug of death stop if they agreed to pay. If they did not, the hug continued until they died. Whether this device actually existed or not, or was just an allusion to Apega’s supposedly ruthless nature to match the reported cruelty of her husband, isn’t know.

Moving on from there, we have an account from one of the earliest Christian authors and the so-called “Father of Latin Christianity”, Tertullian, who lived in the second and third century AD. In his work “To the Martyrs”, he states of the death of Roman General and consul Marcus Atilius Regulus,

It would take me too long to enumerate one by one the men who at their own self-impulse have put an end to themselves…. Regulus, a Roman general, who had been taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, declined to be exchanged for a large number of Carthaginian captives, choosing rather to be given back to the enemy. He was crammed into a sort of chest; and, everywhere pierced by nails driven from the outside, he endured so many crucifixions.

A follow up account by Augustine of Hippo in his 5th century “City of God” elaborates on the tale of Regulus’ death,

Marcus Attilius Regulus, a Roman general, was a prisoner in the hands of the Carthaginians. But they, being more anxious to exchange their prisoners with the Romans than to keep them, sent Regulus as a special envoy with their own ambassadors to negotiate this exchange, but bound him first with an oath, that if he failed to accomplish their wish, he would return to Carthage. He went and persuaded the senate to the opposite course, because he believed it was not for the advantage of the Roman republic to make an exchange of prisoners. After he had thus exerted his influence, the Romans did not compel him to return to the enemy; but what he had sworn he voluntarily performed. But the Carthaginians put him to death with refined, elaborate, and horrible tortures. They shut him up in a narrow box, in which he was compelled to stand, and in which finely sharpened nails were fixed all round about him, so that he could not lean upon any part of it without intense pain; and so they killed him by depriving him of sleep…

That said, whether any of that actually happened or not is up for debate as 1st century BC Greek historian Diodorus claims Regulus died of natural causes, with no mention of such a torture device involved.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

Regulus returning to Carthage (1791) by Andries Cornelis Lens.

Moving on from there are old European fairy tales of unknown dating and origin, in which certain individuals were killed by being placed inside casks that had nails driven in. The cask would then apparently be rolled down a steep hill, sometimes into water… which if we’re being honest almost sounds worse than the actual Iron Maiden. Sort of the spiked version of death by a thousand papercuts and then as a reward at the end, terrifying slow drowning as you writhe in agony from all the little holes in your body; no doubt also trying to reflexively break the cask to get out once it starts to fill with water, creating some more holes in the process. We suppose at least this one’s a bit quicker, if a lot more dramatic.

Other than that, there are no references to such an Iron Maiden-like device until just before the 19th century. This first reference comes from German philosopher, linguist, archeologist, and professor at the University of Altdorf, Johann Philipp Siebenkees in 1793.

According to Siebenkees, on August 14, 1515 a coin forger was sentenced to die in a casket that had metal spikes driven into various parts lined up with particularly sensitive bits of the forger’s anatomy. Writes Siebenkees,:

the very sharp points penetrated his arms, and his legs in several places, and his belly and chest, and his bladder and the root of his member (penis), and his eyes, and his shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him; and so he remained making great cry and lament for two days, after which he died.

Of course, if this was a real method of execution used, each such cask would have had to have been custom spiked for each new victim in order to line everything up perfectly, given people come in all shapes and sizes. This creates something of a logistical problem that many other means of torturing and killing someone wouldn’t have. Nevertheless, Siebenkees claimed it happened at least this once. So did it?

Well, given the complete lack of evidence or even reference to any other such Iron Maiden-like device used elsewhere in this era, nor who this forger was or any such pertinent details other than the oddly specific date, most historians think he made it up, or that this was an exaggerated tale of the use of a device that we do know existed in Europe.

So what was this real instrument of torture? Sometimes called the Schandmantel (“coat of shame”), the “Drunkard’s Cloak”, or the “Spanish Mantle”, this was essentially a wooden cask someone who was being punished for some crime would be made to wear about town- sort of a mobile version of stocks with similar purpose- mocking someone publicly and having people throw random things at them, in this case as they trudged along.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

The Schandmantel.

Consider this account from Ralph Gardiner’s 17th century England’s Grievance Discovered,

men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub, or barrel, opened in the sides, with a hole in one end, to put through their heads, and to cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the new fashioned cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for drunkards, or the like.

Jumping across the pond to the land of the free, at least some soldiers were not always so free, as noted in an article titled “A Look at the Federal Army,” published in 1862 where the author states,

I was extremely amused to see a ‘rare’ specimen of Yankee invention, in the shape of an original method of punishment drill. One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed; and the poor fellow ‘loafed’ about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken…

In another account by one John Howard in 1784 in his “The State of Prisons in England and Wales”, he writes,

Denmark-
Some of the lower sort, as watchmen,coachmen, etc., are punished by being led through the city in what is called ‘The Spanish Mantle.’ This is a kind of heavy vest, something like a tub, with an aperture for the head, and irons to enclose the neck. I measured one at Berlin, 1ft 8 in. in diameter at the top, 2 ft. 11 in at the bottom, and 2 ft. 11 in high… This mode of punishment is particularly dreaded, and is one cause that night robberies are never heard of in Copenhagen.

Of course, much like the Iron Maiden, as you’ll note from the dates mentioned here, most detailed contemporary accounts of these devices of humiliation and sometimes torture seem to indicate they weren’t really a Medieval thing, despite sometimes claimed to go back to the 13th century in Germany.

In any event, whether Siebenkees’s much more elaborate cask with spikes put in was really just a tale he picked up that was exaggerating these “coats of shame”, he made it up completely, or whether some inventive executioner thought to add the addition of spikes to such a cask and a forger really was executed in this way in the 16th century isn’t known, with most leaning towards Siebenkees making it up. Even if it did really happen, however, this still is post Medieval times by most people’s reckoning.

Whatever the case, a handful of years after Siebenkees’ account, the first known actual Iron Maiden appeared in a Nuermburg museum in 1802 not far away from Siebenkees’ home in Altdorf. This device was supposedly “discovered” in a German castle in the late 18th century. Not just a cask, this killing machine was roughly human shaped, made of iron, and even had a face, supposedly based on the face of the Virgin Mary, hence the torture instrument’s name- the Iron Maiden.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

The Madonna in Sorrow.

(Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato)

This probably first real Iron Maiden was sadly destroyed during WW2 by Allied bombers, but a copy created “as decoration for the ‘Gothic Hall’ of a patrician palace in Milan” in 1828 survived and currently resides in the Rothenburg, das Kriminalmuseum (Museum of Crime). From this copy, we can see that the device was certainly designed to cause unimaginable agony in its victims. Along with having strategically placed spikes designed to pierce approximately where a person’s vital organs and sensitive nether-region dangly bits are, the face of the Maiden did indeed have spikes designed to pierce a victim’s eyes upon closing, assuming the person wasn’t vertically challenged.

This copy did a lot to help popularize the idea of the Iron Maiden as a real thing thanks to its prominent display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, and subsequent tour across the United States to much fanfare.

Incidentally, this was the same World’s Fair that gave us the name “Ferris Wheel” for a device previously called a “pleasure wheel,” with George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’ iconic version being rather massive compared to anything that had come before, holding an astounding 2,160 people at a time. This was also the same fair that saw famed serial killer H.H. Holmes taking advantage of the extra people in town looking for a place to stay, keeping business booming at his so-called “House of Horrors Hotel”.

Going back to the Iron Maiden, beyond the tour of one of the originals and extra exposure at the World’s Fair, another man largely credited with popularising the idea of the Iron Maiden was 19th century art collector Matthew Peacock. Among other things, he managed to collect a wide variety of historic torture devices to, as he put it: “Show the dark spirit of the Middle Ages in contrast to the progress of humanity.”

You see, at the time it was en vogue to not just act like people from Medieval Times were all Scientific rubes (which is where the myth that people in Medieval Times thought that the world was flat came from despite all evidence to the contrary), but also that they were extremely barbaric, with the Iron Maiden creating a rather nice illustration of this supposed fact.

Naturally, unable to find the Real McCoy, Peacock cobbled together an Iron Maiden apparently partially from real artifacts of other means of torture, and then donated it to a museum to be displayed as a symbolic representation of the former era’s cruelty.

The public ate all of this up and the idea of the Iron Maiden slowly permeated throughout society to the point that most today assume it was a real thing used to kill people in a slow and very painful way during Medieval Times.

There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

An open iron maiden.

This all brings us the question of whether anyone has ever actually been tortured or killed in one? The answer, surprisingly, is possibly, but not in Medieval Times, nor even apparently in historic ones, unless you consider a couple decades ago historic.

Enter Uday Hussein. The eldest son of Saddam started his murderous rampage apparently by bludgeoning to death one Kamel Gegeo, who was at the time Saddam’s bodyguard, valet and food taster. This murder was done in front of a host of party guests in 1988. The party in question was in Egypt, in honor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne. As to what Gegeo did to incite Uday’s rage, he apparently hooked Saddam up with a woman, Samira Shahbandar. Samira was married when Saddam met her, but that was quickly taken care of, freeing him up to take her as one of his mistresses and, later, as his second wife.

While still in the mistress stage, Uday decided to kill Gegeo for the facilitation of Saddam’s illicit relationship, which Uday seems to have felt was an affront to his own mother.

Saddam did sentence his son to death for this murder, but a few months later switched to exiling him to Switzerland, with the Swiss government allowing the well-known recent murderer to enter the country for some bizarre reason. However, after frequent run-ins with the law there, the Swiss finally gave him the boot and he returned to Iraq without apparent consequence. If all that wasn’t enough of a testament of what a swell fella’ Uday was, beyond some confirmed assassination attempts and other murders by the lovable rapscallion, rumors of frequent rape of random women swirled around Uday…

This all brings us back to the Iron Maiden and Uday’s eventual appointment as the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. In those positions, accusations were rampant that Uday occasionally had various athletes tortured when they were thought to have either under performed or otherwise screwed up in some way in competition. These included doing things like ripping their toenails off, scalding their feet, subjecting them to extreme sleep deprivation, having them kick cement balls, and dragged across gravel roads followed by being dipped into sewage… Allegedly after a 4-1 loss to Japan in the Asian Cup in 2000, he also had three of the players deemed responsible for the defeat beaten repeatedly for a few days.

As for the Iron Maiden, after Uday’s death and the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, a mere twenty or so meters away from the Iraqi Football Association headquarters an Iron Maiden was found on the ground. Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh states of this find,

The one found in Baghdad was clearly worn from use, its nails having lost some of their sharpness. It lay on its side within view of Uday’s first-floor offices in the soccer association. Ironically, the torture device was brought to TIME’s attention by a group of looters who had been stripping the compound of anything of value. They had left behind the iron maiden, believing it to be worthless.

That said, despite this report, there is no actual hard evidence the Iron Maiden was used, nor blood found on the device or the like. But given all the rumors of Uday’s penchant for torturing people, and some of the confirmed things he did do, as well as the device’s location, at the least he is presumed to have used it as a method of terrorizing people, as was more the norm even in Medieval Times with actual real world torture devices, rather than frequently using them.

All that said, given his proclivities for murdering people who upset him, it is further speculated by many that he might have actually followed through and killed someone with it at some point. But, again, despite reports, so far there has never been any concrete evidence of this, so it’s still not wholly clear if anyone was ever actually killed by an Iron Maiden or not.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Also read:

  • How Exactly Did One Become an Executioner in Medieval Times?
  • The Soldier Who Voluntarily Became A Prisoner in Auschwitz
  • The Curious Practice of Execution By Golden Shower
  • “No”- The Remarkable Story of Lauritz Sand
  • The Twisted Tale of Delphine LaLaurie and Her House of Horrors
  • MIGHTY HISTORY

    The 5 best beards in military history

    The Pentagon can resist all it wants, but beards have made a comeback.

    The Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society even conducted a study to explore how individuals with (or without) facial hair are perceived by others. Women rated men with facial hair as more attractive and appearing healthier than those who were clean-shaven — and now male service members want change.


    Today’s military men, however, are just going to have to rely on the uniform to gain an edge over civilians — since the advent of the gas mask, facial hair has been strictly regulated by the military. There are certain exceptions, however, such as a new regulation that will allow service members to wear a beard for religious reasons or operations where a beard could help service members blend in better with the local population.

    But until the U.S. military embraces the beard, it’ll remain a rare sight on our warriors.

    All the more reason to admire the best military beards in history.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    (Electronic Arts)

    “Cowboy”

    In 2002, Scott Nelson photographed a U.S. Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan as they began to amp up their pursuit of terrorists in the the area. One of the soldiers photographed goes by the nickname “Cowboy” — and he’s been rather shrouded in mystery ever since.

    Nonetheless, it could be argued that he has the OG operator beard — so much so that Danger Close Games used his likeness as inspiration when finding and outfitting the model for their Medal of Honor game.

    Something about the tactical environment makes this otherwise-too-long-in-my-opinion beard completely okay.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    Guess why he’s on this list.

    Gen. Ambrose Burnside

    No list of military facial hair would be complete without the man whose whiskers were so incredible that the world named a patch of facial hair after him.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    Prince Harry and an American wounded warrior in a wheelchair shake hands at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto.

    Prince Harry of Wales

    The pictures of the bearded prince in his flight suit at the 2015 Battle of Britain Flypast are why I am now in full favor of allowing beards in uniform.

    Harry served from 2005-2015, even secretly deploying on combat missions in Afghanistan before his location was publicized and he was pulled out for security reasons. He’s the epitome of cool, he fully recognizes the meaning and importance of service, and he’s proof that a military beard can still look professional.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    Refined AF.

    Ulysses S. Grant

    The man led the Union to victory and served two terms as president. That is the beard of victory right there.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    Magnificent.

    Maj. Gen. George Crook

    Crook cut his teeth fighting Native American tribes in Oregon before the Civil War. When he was called on to serve the Union, he used the same tactics in the face of the rebel enemy. His beard is exactly the kind you’d expect from a man the Apaches called “Grey Wolf.”

    We Are The Mighty is proud to partner with Wahl, the brand used by professionals.

    Articles

    6 of the biggest cocaine busts in Coast Guard history

    The Coast Guard, unlike the other military branches, is a law enforcement agency — meaning that it gets wrapped up in all sorts of operations that the Department of Defense generally is barred from by law.


    One of the operations commonly undertaken by the Coast Guard is catching drug smugglers and their illicit cargos, and the Coast Guard gives special attention to the lucrative cocaine trade which has given them some of the largest maritime drug busts in history.

    Here, in order of size, are six of the largest:

    (All dollar values are converted to 2017 values.)

    1. 43,000 pounds cocaine

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton crew stand next to approximately 26.5 tons of cocaine Dec. 15, 2016 aboard the cutter at Port Everglades Cruiseport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Woodall)

    In March 2007, the Coast Guard Cutters Hamilton and Sherman stopped and investigated the Panamanian container ship Gatun and found two containers filled with 43,000 pounds of cocaine which had an estimated wholesale value of $350 million and a potential street value of $880 million.

    2. 26,931 pounds cocaine

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    Cocaine sits inside a hidden compartment on a vessel found by a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment. (Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard)

    A U.S. Customs Service plane spotted the fishing trawler Svesda Maru sailing around without functioning fishing equipment in April 2001 and the Customs Service obviously found that suspicious. When a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment arrived, it had to search for five days before they found the secret space below the fishing hold.

    In that space, they found 26,931 pounds of cocaine.

    3. 24,000 pounds/$143 million

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    A Coast Guard law enforcement detachment searches a vessel suspected of piracy. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson)

    A Coast Guard boarding team serving onboard a Navy cruiser was sent to investigate a suspected smuggling ship in 1995 and set the then world record for largest maritime drug seizure ever.

    In two waste oil tanks they found over 12 tons of cocaine worth the equivalent of $230 million today.

    4. 18,000 pounds/$200 million

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    A U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft prepares to drop supplies aboard the national security cutter USCGC Bertholf in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 14, 2012, during a patrol in support of Arctic Shield 2012. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist 1st Class Timothy Tamargo)

    A surveillance aircraft flying off of Central America spotted a possible submarine in the water in 2015 and the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf went to find it.

    Surprise: Homemade submarines are usually filled with drugs. This particular sub was filled with almost 18,000 pounds of cocaine, about $205 million worth.

    5. 16,000 pounds of cocaine

    Just a few months before the Bertholf captured the narco sub with 18,000 pounds of cocaine, the Stratton captured another submarine with an estimated 16,000 pounds of cocaine.

    The Coast Guard never found out for certain how much cocaine was onboard because homemade submarines aren’t exactly seaworthy and the vessel sank after 12,000 pounds were offloaded. Congrats, whales.

    6. 12,000 pounds

    The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf made another 12,000-pound cocaine bust in March 2016 off the coast of Panama after spotting yet another submersible.

    Had to feel like deja vu for the cutter.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    How Crazy Horse earned his ‘insane’ name as a child

    Crazy Horse’s name will be remembered by history for ages to come, but, sadly, his face will not, as he refused to be photographed his entire life. The Oglala Lakota leader made his name famous by participating in the most legendary battles of the Plains Wars, including the Native Tribes’ greatest victory over American troops at Little Bighorn.

    How he got that name in the first place is just as interesting.


    The man who grew up as “Crazy Horse” was born around 1842 to two members of the Lakota Sioux tribe. His father, an Oglala Lakota who married a Miniconjou Lakota was also named “Crazy Horse.” Neither of the two would keep these names for very long.

    Though his mother, Rattling Blanket Woman, died when he was just four years old, she gave him the enduring nickname of “Curly,” used because of his light, curly hair. But his actual name at birth was “In the Wilderness.” As the young man grew in age, however, neither his name or his nickname felt appropriate for the boy. By age 13, he was leading raiding parties against rival tribes of Crow Indians and stealing horses. By 18, he was leading war parties against all tribal enemies.

    When it came time to test the young man’s maturity, his father would have to give up his own name. From then on, the young man would be called “Crazy Horse.” His father accepted the name, “Worm.”

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    Crazy Horse at Fort Laramie.

    Though generally considered wise, quiet, and reserved when not in battle, the young man showed signs of craziness throughout his life. After stealing another man’s wife, he was shot in the face. While recovering from that wound, he fell in love again, this time for good. The incident left him with a scar on his face but, Crazy Horse was still not widely known outside the area of what we now know as South Dakota. Then, the U.S. Army showed up.

    A lieutenant accused the Lakota of stealing a settler’s livestock. When the local elder, Chief Conquering Bear, attempted to negotiate with the Army officer, he was shot in the back. That settled Crazy Horse’s view of the White Man. They could not be trusted and must be resisted at all costs.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    Crazy Horse fighting Col. William Fetterman’s men at Fort Kearny.

    Crazy Horse led the Lakota against the Americans on numerous occasions, striking the U.S. Army at its most vulnerable points. He first hit Fort Kearny, a camp commanded by Col. William Fetterman, annihilating Fetterman’s force and giving the Army its worst defeat at the hands of Native tribes at the time.

    Just shy of a decade later, the Army returned to try and force Lakota and Cheyenne tribespeople back onto the reservations they were given by burning their villages and killing their people. Crazy Horse retaliated by fighting with Gen. George Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876. He fought Crook to a draw but forced Crook away from his plan to link up with the U.S. 7th Cavalry, led by George Armstrong Custer.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    Crazy Horse leads the fighting at Little Bighorn.

    In failing to link up with Crook, Custer didn’t have the manpower needed to crush Crazy Horse at Little Bighorn and was slaughtered with his men.

    Crazy Horse would successfully evade U.S. attempts to subdue him while delivering blow after blow to American forces in the area. In the end, Crazy Horse turned himself in to try to give what was left of his tribe a better life, only to be bayoneted by a prison guard.

    Articles

    A rare glimpse of life as a Delta Force operator

    With movies like “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor,” the Navy SEALs are on par with most figures in American pop culture.


    Using the non-scientific method of Amazon.com book search reveals that there are way more books associated with the SEAL teams than any other American elite unit, giving filmmakers a rich source of story materials.

    Related: Listen to our podcast with Tyler Grey

    With such a huge spotlight on these warriors, the general public is either unaware or often forgets about the 1st SFOD-Delta, also known as Delta Force.

    Most will argue that it’s by design, but either way, it’s rare to catch a glimpse of life in “The Unit.”

    But, that’s what we get in this interview with Tayler Grey and Larry Vickers of Vickers Tactical, both of which served in the same unit during different times.

    This video dives into Grey’s motivations to serve, his journey to becoming a member of “The Unit,” and his remarkable story about overcoming adversity.

    Watch:

    Vickers Tactical, YouTube
    Articles

    The 10 most famous ghosts in the White House closets

    You may not believe in ghosts. Neither did many White House employees…until they started working there. Hundreds of reports of famous former residents have been filed over the years by those workers. President Harry Truman even reported “listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway” and that the “floors pop and the drapes move back and forth.”


    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    Cue spooky old photo of the White House.

    One White House footman who began working in the 1860s reported seeing the ghosts of Presidents Grant and McKinley and a few First Ladies. Mrs. Grover Cleveland is said to be heard crying on the second floor.

    Full disclosure: the ghosts don’t hang out in the closets — at least as far as we know — but it seems like they’re everywhere else.

    1. Abigail Adams

    First Lady to second President of the United States John Adams, Abigail was also one of the White House’s first residents. According to History.com, Mrs. Adams spent a lot of time in the East Room, because it was the warmest in the mansion. People have reported seeing her in a cap and shawl, her arms positioned as if carrying the laundry away, and even hanging the laundry in the East Room as the smell of soap fills the air.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    Cue old spooky photo of the East Room.

    2. Andrew Jackson

    Mary Todd Lincoln reported seeing and hearing Andrew Jackson storming through the house, cursing all the way. His bedroom during his Presidency was the Rose Room — and is the most haunted room in the place. Many people also report his ghost ripping out a huge gut-laugh.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    Imagine waking up to that.

    3. Dolley Madison

    The belovéd First Lady to President James Madison famously saved the portrait of George Washington when the British burned the White House during the War of 1812. Her ghost can be found in the White House Rose Garden, the garden she planted. It’s said that she protects the area. When First Lady Ellen Louise Wilson ordered the area dug up, workmen reported Madison appearing to chase them away.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    4. John Tyler

    John Tyler is often seen proposing to his second wife in the Blue Room.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    Tyler’s portrait is still on the wall in the Blue Room. (White House Museum photo)

    5. The Demon Cat

    The spectral feline is supposedly seen before a national disaster. The size of it depends on how close the viewer is to the cat. It starts as a little kitten but grows even more fierce as one gets closer to it. It was reportedly seen before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and before the Kennedy Assassination.

    6. Thomas Jefferson

    Jefferson can be seen playing the violin in the Yellow Room.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    (John Adams/HBO)

    7. Abraham Lincoln

    One of the most famous and often reported ghosts in the White House is that of Abraham Lincoln. Winston Churchill refused to sleep in the bedroom after encountering Lincoln while in the bath. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands passed out after answering Lincoln’s knock on her door. Lincoln’s ghost has even been seen in the Coolidge, Roosevelt, Johnson, and Ford Administrations. Even President Reagan and his guests saw his apparition looking out the window.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    Maybe he could do some policy work, if he’s gonna be there forever anyway.

    8. William Henry Harrison

    The first President to die in the White House, he reportedly haunts the attic.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway
    Everyone over 30 knew this was coming.

    9. British Soldiers

    Reports of Redcoats are seen in various areas of the White House. They are sometimes holding torches, waiting to burn the White House all over again. Others are at the North Portico, standing guard.

    10. The Thing

    No, not the Fantastic Four’s Thing. This Thing is a young teen boy whose hand grasps the shoulders of unsuspecting visitors as if to look over their shoulders. President Taft ordered that anyone spreading rumors of the Thing’s existence should be fired.

    There was only one Medal of Honor awarded during the Battle of Midway

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    The last of Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Rough Riders’ died in 1987

    The people who live through the world’s most historic events are the best connection to our past. Today, as we lament the growing losses of veterans who fought in World War II and the Korean War, it can still be a surprise that we are so close in time to the wars of the 19th Century. Just 34 years ago, we lost our only connection to the “Rough Riders,” the volunteer cavalry regiment that famously stormed San Juan Hill with Col. Theodore Roosevelt.

    Ralph Waldo Taylor, who enlisted at age 16, wasn’t the last veteran of the Spanish American War, but he was an important connection to its memory. 

    Now Read: These were the last surviving veterans of every major American war through WWI

    The Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 after the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, which was then occupied by Spain. Tensions had been mounting between the United States and Spain for decades between the two countries, inflamed by the “muckraker” journalism popular at the time.

    Sensational stories, not all of them exactly true, filled newspapers as each competed for bigger and bigger circulation. Finally the powder keg blew (literally) when the Maine was destroyed. The newspapers claimed the ship struck a Spanish mine in the harbor and President McKinley was pressured to ask Congress for a declaration of war. 

    Among the most excited to see action was Theodore Roosevelt, who resigned from his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to help raise a regiment of volunteers. The unit he formed was the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. Originally under Col. Leonard Wood, Roosevelt soon found himself in command. 

    The Rough Riders
    Colonel Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the top of the hill which they captured, Battle of San Juan. (Wikipedia)

    The Rough Riders, as they were called after Roosevelt assumed command, was made up of  Western frontiersmen, Ivy League athletes and Native American tribesmen, among others. One of its volunteers was a young, 16-year-old named Ralph Waldo Taylor.

    The young man deployed with the Rough Riders to Cuba in 1898 and though it was supposed to be a cavalry unit, its horses were not deployed with them. The 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry was in reality fighting like an infantry unit. 

    Teenage Taylor was with Roosevelt and the Rough Riders when they marched to the base of San Juan Hill, a heavily-defended high ground that seemed impregnable from their vantage point. They took cover at the base of nearby Kettle Hill to avoid sniper and artillery fire, but quickly found themselves pinned down. 

    After the attack began, the unit’s orders forced them to hold their position, even under heavy enemy fire. Roosevelt grew frustrated with the situation and, disregarding orders, led a charge up San Juan Hill. Within 20 minutes the hill belonged to the Americans. 

    Taylor lied about his age to enlist in the New York National Guard. He eventually told his wife, Bessie, about what happened that day.

    “They charged up the hill in waves, trying to knock out the Spaniards in a blockhouse at the top,” she told UPI in 1987. “Ralph was in the second or third wave and he used to tell how some members of his company were killed as they ran up the hill beside him.”

    For Roosevelt, the victory meant election to the governor’s mansion in New York and eventually being named Vice-President of the United States. When McKinley was assassinated in 1901, he assumed the office of President. For Taylor, life carried on the way it does for many war veterans: he took a job. 

    In 1986, Taylor was informed by the U.S. government that he was one of a few surviving combat veterans of the era, and that he was the only survivor of San Juan Hill still living. 

    “He could visualize all the thousands who fought with him and it overwhelmed him that he was the only one left,” she said.