Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

Necessity is the mother of invention. If a certain need exists and the thing that satisfies such a need does not, then some endeavoring soul is bound to create it. Richard Davis embodied this mentality when he took some Kevlar and fashioned it into a lightweight vest — and his revolutionary design changed war fighting forever. With just a few slight modifications, Davis’ design became the body armor that police officers and troops wear into combat today.

You might be wondering why Davis, a pizza guy from Detroit, would need such a thing. Well, what would you do if you were tired of getting shot at while delivering pies?


Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

You had comfort and maneuverability or mild protection from small arms and fragmentation. Your choice.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Body armor, in one form or another, has been around for as long as war itself. But when gunpowder and firearms took the place of swords and arrows on the battlefield, standard metal plates no longer did the trick — incoming rounds from muskets would pierce most metals. But as firearms shrank from the cannons of old to the rifles we know today, metal-plate armor made a comeback.

During World War II, Col. Malcolm C. Grow of the British Army created the flak vest out of nylon and manganese steel plates. It weighed 22lbs, only worked where the plates were, and wasn’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but it was reasonably effective. This style was used until the Vietnam War.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

I mean, if it works… Right?

(Photo by Michel Curi)

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Richard Davis opened a pizzeria off 7 Mile in Detroit. One night, a delivery took him through a back alley and he was held up at gunpoint. Weeks later, another order came in for the same address (it was even the same order of two pepperoni and ham pizzas). This time, however, he came prepared with a .22 revolver hidden under the pies.

The same robbers tried the same stunt, but he was ready. A gunfight broke out. Davis took one round to the back of the leg and another grazed his temple. He managed to get four shots off at his attackers, leaving two of his three attackers wounded. In the weeks he spent recovering, his pizzeria was burnt to the ground.

He had nothing but to his name.

Meanwhile, over at DuPont Co. Labs, they had just made a breakthrough in tire technology. They were using a new, lightweight, super-strong synthetic fabric called Kevlar. It was flexible and five-times stronger than steel.

Davis got his hands on some of this new material and fashioned some of it together into a body armor vest using ballistic nylon. He called it the “Second Chance” vest and created it with the intentions of putting it in police hands.

He worked on the vests throughout the day and tried to sell his life-saving wares to police at night — with little success. He needed a bigger ploy to get their attention. His method? He gathered up the police to watch a demonstration. He was going to shoot himself in the chest — despite the fact that his vest had never been tested on a person.

The vest worked like a charm. Davis shot himself and while it hurt like hell — because, you know, the vests can’t stop inertia — that didn’t matter. His pitch was so effective it later became standard among all police in the nation. Variations on his original body armor design are used by troops to this day.

To watch the Smithsonian’s interview with Richard Davis, check out the video below.

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This failed secret mission changed special ops forever

Nearly four decades ago, America’s fledgling counter-terrorism force launched a daring operation to a remote desert outpost to rescue Americans held hostage. The mission failed, but its repercussions were felt for years, and the flames and death of that day forged the special operations force that was able to successfully execute even more daring — and successful — missions in the decades to come.


On Nov. 4, 1979, approximately 3,000 Iranian militants took control of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding 63 Americans hostage. An additional three U.S. members were seized at the Iranian Foreign Ministry for a total of 66.

This was in response to President Jimmy Carter allowing Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the recently deposed Iranian ruler, into the U.S. for cancer treatment. New leadership in Iran wanted the shah back as well as the end of Western influence in their country.

After a few weeks, 13 hostages, all women or African Americans, were released but the remaining 53 would wait out five months of failed negotiations.

President Carter, originally wanting to end the hostage crisis diplomatically and without force, turned to alternative solutions as he felt the political pressure to resolve the problem. On April 16, 1980, he approved Operation Eagle Claw, a military rescue operation involving all four branches of the U.S. armed forces.

The two-day rescue mission consisted of eight Navy RH-53D helicopters and multiple variations of C-130 aircraft. All aircraft were to gather together at Desert One, a salt flat about 200 miles outside of Tehran. There, the helicopters would refuel through the C-130’s and then transport assault units into a mountain location near Tehran where the rescue mission would begin. Unfortunately, the mission never made it that far.

On April 24, 1980, Operation Eagle Claw began. All aircraft proceeded to Desert One but a strong dust storm complicated traveling. Two of the eight helicopters were unable to complete the mission and had to turn around. Another helicopter broke down at Desert One, leaving a total of five working helicopters. Mission commanders and leadership needed a minimum of six to complete the mission. The decision was made to abort the operation and return home.

During departure from Desert One, one of the helicopters collided with a C-130, killing eight U.S. service members. The remaining members all left in the additional C-130 leaving behind numerous helicopters, a C-130 and the eight dead Americans. The failed mission, in addition with loss of life, was a humiliating blow for the U.S. However, this tragedy put a magnifying glass over the inadequacies of joint operations, forever changing the future of the U.S. military and special operations.

The need for enhanced capabilities between more than one military service was the prediction for the future of the Armed Forces. Significant military reforms, such as the Goldwater-Nichols Act and Joint Doctrine, addressed the readiness and capability issues demonstrated in Operation Eagle Claw. It pointed out the necessity for a dedicated special operations section within the Department of Defense with the responsibility to prepare and maintain combat-ready forces to successfully conduct special operations.

Today, the different branches training alongside each other is common practice. Planning for missions consist of specific details with back up plans to the back up plans. Ultimately, the lives lost as Desert One weren’t in vain. The lessons learned from that mission made special operations into what we know them as today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Mormons accidentally went to war with the US Army

The Army had its ups and downs in the Plains Wars of the mid-1800s. There’s no denying that. Say what you will about their performance, they never sought to destroy American settlements. But, due to a bizarre misunderstanding, the Mormons of the Utah Territory thought the U.S. Army was on the way to wipe out their burgeoning religion.


The United States enshrines the freedom of religion in its Constitution, but the idea of a new way of thinking about Christianity was pretty controversial in the early days of the Mormon Church. Today, we’re accustomed to the grand temples of the church, the missionaries, having Mormon friends, and maybe even sitting in our homes with two young church members, out to spread their good word. Early church members, however, were not so accepted.

Many were killed for their beliefs. The violence directed against the young church forced its members to leave their homes and build a new one in what was then called the Utah Territory to escape persecution in a place they thought no one else would want.

This left the membership more than a little skittish about visits from their countrymen.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

Especially Albert Sydney Johnston.

President James Buchanan rode into the White House in 1856 on a tide of anti-Mormon sentiment in the United States. Americans saw the kind of polygamy espoused by the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Utah as immoral and anathema to the Christian beliefs held by much of the nation – not to mention the threat of a theocracy state in the Union. Polygamy was put on par with slavery as an abomination that plagued the union.

Fearful that popular sovereignty, a means of compromise between states on the issue of slavery, would allow Utah to become a state with LDS teachings enshrined in its state constitution, mean that both Democrats and Republicans turned on the church and the Utah Territory.

In 1855, relations between the Army and the settlers of the Utah Territory reached a boiling point when 400 U.S. troops passing through to California ran afoul of the residents of Salt Lake City.

The New York Times reported that the soldiers were initially welcomed by Brigham Young and gave no indication that a fight was on the way. Instead, the fight was said to be instigated by a drunken Mormon who pushed a soldier during a Christmas celebration. A fight between the parties ensued until it devolved into an all-out brawl.

Fighting engulfed the scene and two Mormons were killed before officers and church leaders broke up the rioting. Word soon spread about the violence throughout the city and the soldiers had to abandon it, moving forty miles south of Salt Lake City.

So, the Mormons, who had already been chased out of Indiana, New York, Illinois, and elsewhere by almost everyone who wasn’t a Mormon were unnerved when they heard the rumor that the U.S. military was approaching their new home in the desert from the Oregon Territory.

Then, in 1857, natives from the Paiute tribe slaughtered a wagon train headed West to California. With white men among the raiding party, they convinced the settlers that Mormons cut a deal with the Paiutes to allow their safe passage, so long as they gave up their weapons. Once the men turned in their rifles, they were all slaughtered: men, women, and children.

This false flag attack was the last straw — and anti-Mormon sentiment had everyone back East believing the Mormons were absolutely responsible for the attack. The Army prepared to send a column of 1,500 seasoned cavalry troops to Salt Lake City. Mormon leader Brigham Young decided to evacuate the women and children, but he needed to buy time.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

Attacks from local Paiute Indians helped precipitate the conflict.

The Mormons began to refurbish their rifles and began to fashion melee weapons from farming equipment, determined to prevent the Army from entering Utah at all, let alone mounting an assault on Mormon settlements. They determined they would keep the Army out by inciting the Indians to attack the troops at a mountain pass, but it never came about.

While they were not able to keep the Army out indefinitely, they were able to harass the Army’s supply routes, keeping supplies and ammunition away from the beleaguered soldiers. The Mormons were able to steal up to 500 head of oxen in a single night as the Army marched on through snow, sleet, and freezing temperatures as low as 25 degrees below zero – which killed off much of the army’s other livestock, including cavalry horses.

This holding action prevented the Army from approaching Salt Lake City but was not enough to deter the well-supplied U.S. Army entirely. The Mormons feared they were going to be assaulted by the U.S. troops for their beliefs but, in reality, no one told them why the troops were coming or who sent them — the Mormons were just acting on past experience. Mormon militias responded to the Army’s movements in what is now known as Wyoming. There, they fought a number of skirmishes to a draw and local settlements saw their property destroyed. Eventually, the territory’s governor declared the Mormons in full rebellion.

Colonel Albert Sydney Johnston was promoted to brevet brigadier and allotted an additional 3,000 troops, bringing his strength up to more than 5,600 — a full one-third of the entire U.S. Army at the time. The stage was set for a full-scale invasion of the Utah Territory. The Colonel even wrote to the New York Times that he fully expected to have to ride to Salt Lake City and subdue the Mormons.

But cooler heads prevailed.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

One-third of the active duty Army would be like 15,000 soldiers invading Utah today.

A lobbyist acting on behalf of the Mormons in Washington was able to barter an end to the conflict with President Buchanan. As the tensions between the sides mounted, a financial panic swept the country and the President was eager to put the whole thing behind him. In exchange for peace, Brigham Young would give up governorship of the Utah Territory and all citizens of Utah would receive a blanket pardon.

Johnston still marched the Army through Salt Lake City but the Army took no action, instead moving to establish a presence 40 miles south. Despite capturing national attention, the whole incident would soon be overshadowed by the violence of “Bleeding Kansas” and the coming Civil War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 10 trailblazers are behind the 19th Amendment

November 2020 is coming in fast, and we’re likely to see a similar pattern in voting turnout as seen in previous elections; of all eligible voters, females turnout in higher proportions than men. This trend has held steady since the 80s, helping the female voice to grow in volume and strength in American politics. This November marks an important milestone for female voters. It’s the 100th year women have had the right to vote!

The 19th amendment was passed by Congress on June 4th, 1919, and formally ratified over a year later on August 18th, 1920. While that breakthrough deserves celebration, it also deserves perspective. While women have had the right to vote for a century, it took nearly a century to win it. Even before the Civil War, reformers and suffragists were discussing the future of women’s rights, paving the way for the liberties we are proud to have today. The 10 amazing women below are just a few of the figures who dedicated their lives to our rights. When you cast your vote this year, don’t forget to say thanks!


Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)

One of the most recognizable names in women’s rights history, Susan B. Anthony was raised by her Quaker parents to be confident, independent and dedicated to her beliefs. She was encouraged to believe that men and women should live equally and strive to rid the world of injustice, and she took that message to heart. She started out campaigning for married women to have property rights, before joining abolitionist leagues and speaking out against slavery.

So firmly did she believe in equal voting rights for men and women, however, that she refused to support any suffrage movements for African Americans that only included men. This created a divide between activists, but the two groups eventually joined forces to form the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as its president. Anthony later became the group’s second president, and she dedicated the rest of her life to the suffrage movement she helped to found.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

Another early suffragette, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a philosopher and a pioneer of the women’s rights movement. She married an abolitionist named Henry Brewester Stanton in 1840 and traveled with him to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. After being told women were not permitted, she was enraged. With the help of other reformers including Lucretia Mott, she planned the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls. It’s reported that 240 people attended, agreeing that women’s rights were non-negotiable and it was time to fight for equality. This was the true beginning of the women’s suffrage movement.

Like Susan B. Anthony, Stanton was against the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which granted Black men voting rights, but not women. While she passed away 18 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, a statue of her, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott stands at the U.S. Capitol in honor of her achievements.

Lucy Stone (1818-1893)

Lucy Stone was tough as nails. She boldly refused to take her husband’s last name, stating that the age-old tradition “refused to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being” and “conferred on the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority.” She worked hard as a traveling lecturer against slavery and sexism, and unlike some activists, she supported the 15th Amendment.

Stone continued to fight for universal suffrage, however, assisting with the creation of the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1871, she and her husband founded a feminist newspaper called “The Woman’s Journal,” which remained in publication until 1931, nearly 40 years after her death!

Lucy Burns (1879-1966)

A fiery activist in both the British and American suffrage movements, Lucy Burns was a good friend of fellow activist Alice Paul. They were leaders in the formation of the National Woman’s Party, and Burns in particular was known for her passionate and aggressive tactics. She was among the suffragettes arrested for protesting at the White House, later being force-fed during a hunger strike.

By the time the 19th was ratified, Burns had suffered through a considerable amount of jail time and was understandably exhausted. She retired from activism, reportedly saying, “I don’t want to do anything more. I think we have done all this for women, and we have sacrificed everything we possessed for them, and now let them fight for it now. I am not going to fight anymore.” Her later years were devoted to the Catholic Church and the upbringing of her orphaned niece.

Alice Paul (1885-1977)

Building on the work of earlier activists, Alice Paul was even more bold in her approach to winning the vote. The Quaker suffragette spearheaded the most militant branch of the women’s suffrage movement, working alongside Emmaline Pankhurst in the Women’s Social and Political Union in London. Their tactics were far from “ladylike,” using civil disobedience to capture media attention and raise awareness. When she became the chair of NAWSA’s Congressional Committee, she organized a massive suffrage parade to clash with President Wilson’s inauguration- a mass publicity stunt that ignited further protests. In 1914, she moved on to start her own organization, the Congressional Union.

This soon evolved into the National Woman’s Party, which was responsible for many loud, highly-visible protests including a picket of the White House that lasted for months. As retaliation for this act of rebellion, she was imprisoned and force-fed for weeks, eventually winning the sympathy of the public…and the president. The pickets were one of the final moves leading to the ratification of the 19th amendment.

Paul also proposed an additional Equal Rights Amendment, but 100 years later, it still has yet to be ratified.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)

Ida B. Wells started out as a schoolteacher in Memphis. While she was there, she wrote for the city’s Black newspaper, The Free Speech, covering the racial injustice and violence in the South. Many were outraged and violently threatened her, destroying The Free Speech office in an angry mob. She moved north for her own safety, but never stopped campaigning for civil rights.

In addition to her anti-racism activism, she was determined to fight for women’s suffrage- even when she wasn’t welcome. Although most early suffragists supported racial equality, by the beginning of the 20th century that wasn’t always the case. Many white suffragists only joined the cause in hopes of giving “their” women the right to vote to maintain their hold on white supremacy. Many white suffragists didn’t want to march with Black people at all, but that didn’t stop Wells. She marched anyway, continuing to fight for civil rights for the rest of her days.

Frances E.W. Harper (1825–1911)

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper didn’t have the easiest upbringing, but that didn’t slow her down. She was orphaned at a young age and raised by her uncle, William Watkins. He was the founder of the Watkins Academy for Negro youth and an outspoken abolitionist, and Harper followed in his footsteps. She became a teacher at schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but couldn’t return to her hometown Maryland without risking her freedom. Her writing and lectures advocated for both women’s rights and anti-slavery groups. She was one of just a handful of Black women involved in the women’s rights movement in the late 19th century, founding the National Association of Colored Women Clubs. She was also one of the first Black women to become a published author in the United States.

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)

Mary Church Terrell was raised in Tennessee by remarkably successful parents. They were once enslaved, but they defied the odds and built extremely successful businesses. Her father became one of the South’s first Black millionaires! After she graduated from college, she worked as a teacher and became an activist, supporting women’s rights and Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching campaign. She co-founded the National Association of Colored Women Clubs with Wells and acted as the organization’s first president.

Later, she picked alongside Alice Paul in front of the White House. She spoke prolifically on civil rights, trying to engage more Black women in the suffrage cause. She didn’t soften with age, either. When she was over 80 years old, she sued a D.C. restaurant after she was refused service, leading to the desegregation of Washington’s restaurants in the early 50s.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859- 1947)

Susan B. Anthony had some big shoes to fill when she left her position as president of the NAWSA, but she left it in good hands. Carrie Chapman Catt was elected to take on the role, representing the less confrontational branch of the women’s rights movement. During her many years as an activist, she also contributed to the formation of the Women’s Peace Party and the International Woman Suffrage Association. Once the vote was finally one, she said, “Now that we have the vote let us remember we are no longer petitioners. We are not wards of the nation, but free and equal citizens. Let us do our part to keep it a true and triumphant democracy.”

She retired after the 19th Amendment was ratified, but not before establishing the League of Women Voters. She also co-authored a book called “Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement” in 1923.

Lucretia Mott (1793- 1880)

One of the earliest women’s rights activists, Lucretia Mott was a social reformer who sought to change the role of women in society entirely. Her Quaker roots instilled a fundamental belief in equality, inspiring her to attend early women’s rights and abolitionist meetings. When she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton arrived at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, she thought they had been invited as delegates.

Instead, she was taken to a segregated women’s section, furthering her resolve to bring about social change. She helped draft the Declaration of Sentiments during the historic Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, and she didn’t stop there.

When slavery was outlawed, she advocated giving former slaves of both genders the right to vote. She was later elected the first president of the American Equal Rights Convention, and she attempted to use the platform to conduct women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements at the same time. Her skill as a speaker helped further both movements, establishing her as one of the most memorable and accomplished female activists of the 19th century.

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A cut-rate Gaston taught U.S. infantry how to kill tanks

The U.S. Army made a lot of training videos for World War II. Think of them as the PowerPoints of yesteryear. And when it was time to teach infantry to fight tanks, the Army hired an actor that looks suspiciously like the character Gaston and then filmed him drinking beer in a hunting lodge.


Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
(GIF: YouTube/PeriscopeFilm)

Seriously, even the lights hanging from the ceiling are similar. He’s one dentally-challenged sidekick away from being this guy…

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
(Screenshot: YouTube/Theano Sakalidou)

Considering the fact that the new Beauty and the Beast revealed that Gaston was a veteran, it’s starting to look like Disney based their character on an old War Department training film.

But while Gaston is known for being an idiot, the staff sergeant in the training film knows his stuff. He’s a tanker who takes a little time out to teach infantryman how best to destroy armor.

He starts with how small arms can be used to force tankers to “button up,” diving into their hatches. Once the tanks are buttoned, they can be completely blinded by rounds hitting the view slits and periscopes:

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
(GIF: YouTube/PeriscopeFilm)

Then, it’s time for grenadiers to try and shoot the crew through the armor with anti-tank rifle grenades:

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
(GIF: YouTube/PeriscopeFilm)

But if the tanks make it past the grenadiers, the rest of the riflemen can throw Molotov Cocktails at the fleeing armor:

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
(GIF: YouTube/PeriscopeFilm)

All of these were real weapons and tactics in the fight against German armor, and Gaston helped make it happen.

You can see the whole clip — and learn how to destroy Axis tanks — below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Civil War created photojournalism

The first photojournalist to capture wartime photographs was an unknown American attached to US Army forces fighting in the Mexican War between 1846 and 1848. These images were developed using the daguerreotype process invented by French scene painter Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, which required mirrors and chemicals to fix an image on a sheet of copper plated with silver. During the Crimean War, British photographer Roger Fenton traveled in his photographic van to take more than 350 photos that depicted landscapes and soldiers. The American Civil War, however, is considered the first major conflict to be photographed extensively — and to have given rise to photojournalism as a widespread form of storytelling.

From the beginning of the Civil War, Mathew Brady and his team of photographers followed the Union and snapped photographs of battlefields, camps, towns, soldiers, and slaves. Brady was already one of the most prominent photographers in the US, opening Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery in 1858, when he felt the urge to capture America’s bloodiest war himself. 

“I felt that I had to go,” he said. “A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.”

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

But the primitive technology and equipment required subjects to be perfectly still at the moment the camera’s shutter snapped, and so battle scenes were absent from those wartime portfolios. Although this crucial element to the history of warfare was missing, Brady recruited a world-class team including Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and Timothy O’Sullivan to present the rawness and emotion to the general public. Here are some of their photographs that encapsulate the American Civil War, as well as images from lesser-known photographers of this era.

Brady and his photographers used mobile photography units such as wagons to carry equipment, mix chemicals, and even serve as makeshift darkrooms. Brady’s is pictured above in a field in Petersburg, Virginia, 1864.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
Timothy O’Sullivan’s “Harvest of Death,” 1863. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

O’Sullivan’s “Harvest of Death” shows dead bodies that await burial after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. This image first appeared among 10 photographic plates of Gettysburg published in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866), America’s first anthology of photographs. O’Sullivan served as Gardner’s field operator during the war. About O’Sullivan’s image, Gardner wrote, “It was, indeed, a ‘harvest of death.’ […] Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation.”

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
African American men collecting bones of the dead in Virginia, 1865. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

John Reekie briefly worked under Mathew Brady’s supervision. Like that of O’Sullivan, his work appeared in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. The above image shows African American men collecting bones from soldiers killed in battle at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in April 1865.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
Mathew Brady captured this photo May 3, 1863. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Brady famously took images of camp life, daily routines of Union soldiers, mission planning, moments prior to battle, and, as the image above shows, the aftermath of battle: At Mayre’s Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia, a Confederate caisson and eight horses were destroyed by a Second Massachusetts siege gun. 

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
Mathew Brady, 1863. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The photo above captures a Confederate method of destroying railroads. The railroad ties were set on fire, and the heat bent the rails to render them useless. Brady’s desire to photograph more than human subjects gave historians visual evidence of some of the tactics used during the war.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
Photo by Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou, 1865, courtesy of the Met Museum, public domain.

Professional photographers weren’t the only ones to use photography to document wounds sustained by soldiers. Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou, a surgeon for the Union Army, captured the above clinical photograph of Samuel Shoop, a private of the 200th Pennsylvania Volunteers, whose leg was amputated after he suffered a gunshot wound. This photograph served as a teaching tool for future medical students and other Army surgeons.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the first helicopter pilot Medal of Honor was earned

While it might seem a little odd at first glance, it turns out the first helicopter pilot ever to receive the United States’ prestigious Medal of Honor, John Kelvin Koelsch, was born and and mostly raised in London, England. Considered an American citizen thanks to his parentage, Koelsch moved back to the US with his family in his teens, and soon after studied English at Princeton.

Described by his peers as “a man men admired and followed” Koelsch was a physically imposing individual who excelled at athletics and reportedly possessed a daunting intellect and a keen wit. Seemingly destined for intellectual greatness, Koelsch’s original plan was to become a lawyer, but he ultimately decided to join the war effort during WWII, enlisting with the U.S. Naval reserve as an aviation cadet on Sept. 14, 1942. He quickly rose through the ranks and was noted as being a terrifyingly effective torpedo bomber pilot.


Following WW2, Koelsch continued to serve with the Navy, though not before returning to Princeton to complete his degree.

At the start of the Korean War, Koelsch retrained as a helicopter pilot and ended up serving aboard, somewhat ironically, the USS Princeton.

Specializing in helicopter rescue, after what has been described as a “long tour of duty” aboard the USS Princeton, Koelsch turned down an offer to return to the United States with the rest of his squadron, simply telling his superiors that he wanted to remain until the job was done.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

Two U.S. Navy Grumman F9F-2 Panthers dump fuel as they fly past the aircraft carrier USS Princeton during Korean War operations.

His request granted and with the rest of his squadron back in the United States, Koelsch was transferred to the Helicopter Utility Squadron Two, a detachment of which he was put in charge of.

Not just a great pilot, Koelsch also tinkered extensively with his own helicopter, customizing it to handle the Korean weather better, as well as perform better at extremely low altitudes so as to make spotting injured comrades easier during rescue missions.

In addition, Koelsch had a hand in inventing a number of devices to make rescuing people caught in specific circumstances via helicopter easier, such as the so-called “horse collar” hoist and a floating sling for water-based rescues.

This all brings us around to July 3, 1951. The ship Koelsch was stationed on received a distress call from a downed Marine Captain called James Wilkins. According to reports, Wilkins’ Corsair had been downed during a routine reconnaissance mission and he had been badly injured, suffering a twisted knee and severe burns over the lower half of his body.

Unsurprisingly for a man who once stated “Rescuing downed pilots is my mission” in response to a question about why he took so many risky rescue missions, Koelsch immediately volunteered to attempt to go after Wilkins. His superiors, on the other hand, noted, amongst other things, that rescuing Wilkins would be near impossible due to the heavy ground resistance expected, Wilkins being deep in enemy territory, and the rapidly approaching night and thick fog making it unlikely he’d spot Wilkins even if flying right over him.

Despite all this, Koelsch loaded up his Sikorsky HO3S-1 and set off with his co-pilot, enlisted airman George Neal to at least make the attempt.

Described diplomatically as “slow moving”, Koelsch’s helicopter was both unarmed and travelled to Wilkins’ location without a fighter escort due to the aforementioned heavy fog that day making such an escort impossible. On that note, even without enemy fire, this combination of fog, approaching night, and mountainous terrain also made flying in those conditions exceedingly dangerous.

Nevertheless, flying as low as 50 feet above the ground at some points so as to make spotting Wilkins’ downed Corsair easier through the mist, the sound and sight of Koelsch’s helicopter lazily buzzing through the air caught the attention of Wilkins (who’d been hiding in the woods from North Korean forces), prompting him to return to the parachute — his reasoning being that this would be the easiest thing for his rescuer to see.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

John Kelvin Koelsch.

However, Koelsch brazen flying not far above the heads of nearby enemy forces saw them almost immediately begin firing at him as he came close to the region where Wilkins had been downed. Instead of, you know, getting out of range or doing anything whatsoever to protect his own life, when Koelsch located Wilkins, he simply hovered above him, weathering the hailstorm of bullets directed at himself and his chopper, and signaled for Wilkins to grab the hoist which had been lowered by Neal. As Wilkins would later note — “It was the greatest display of guts I ever saw.”

Unfortunately, it turns out helicopters don’t fly very well when the engine is riddled with bullet holes, and as Neal was winching Wilkins up, this is exactly what happened, causing the helicopter to crash.

Perhaps a problem for mere mortals, Koelsch was able to make something of a controlled crash into a mountainside, with himself and Neal avoiding any significant injuries, and Wilkins not suffering any further injuries as the chopper smashed into the ground.

Following the crash, Koelsch took charge of the situation and the trio fled the enemy forces, all the while taking special care to ensure Wilkins didn’t over exert himself. Koelsch and his cohorts managed to avoid capture for 9 days, eventually making their way to a small Korean fishing village. However, this is where the groups luck ran out and all three men were found hiding in a hut by North Korean forces.

During their march to a POW camp, Koelsch had the audacity to demand their captors provide Wilkins with immediate medical attention. After enough angry shouts from Koelsch, the North Korean soldiers eventually did just this; Wilkins would later credit Koelsch’s insensate and vehement pestering of their captors to give medical aid as something that ended up saving his life.

When the group reached the POW camp, Koelsch, despite being malnourished from his 9 days on the run with few supplies, shared his prisoner rations with the injured and sick, reportedly stating simply that they needed the food more than he did.

We should note at this point that Koelsch continued to do this while being periodically tortured by his captors for his refusal to cooperate in any way with them. When he wasn’t being tortured, Koelsch also continually argued with said captors about their mistreatment of his comrades, citing the Geneva Conventions. His refusal to shut up about this reportedly earned him a number of extra beatings.

Unfortunately, it all ended up being too much and Koelsch succumbed to a combination of malnutrition and dysentery, dying in October of 1951, about three months after his capture.

As for his companions, Neal and Wilkins ended up surviving the war.

In 1955, when the full extent of Koelsch’s actions and exemplary conduct while a prisoner became known, the decision was made to posthumously award him the Medal of Honor, with it noted that, beyond the selfless heroism displayed in the rescue attempt, “Koelsch steadfastly refused to aid his captors in any manner and served to inspire his fellow prisoners by his fortitude and consideration for others. His great personal valor and heroic spirit of self — sacrifice throughout sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the United States naval service.”

Koelsch’s remains were returned to the United States in 1955 by the Koreans and were interred at Arlington Cemetery, an honor reserved for all Medal of Honor awardees.

Further honors bestowed upon Koelesh include a Navy destroyer escort being named after him, as well as a flight simulator building in Hawaii.

Perhaps the most fitting honor though is that Koelsch display of stoic resilience in the face of unthinkable abuse, as well as his general conduct while a prisoner, served as one of the inspirations for the content of the 1955 Code of Conduct for American POWs which, among other things states:

If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
… If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way…. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause…. I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the drill book America used before the ‘Blue Book’

Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.


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Revolutionary War re-enactors.

(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)

See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?

Of course. The most recent drill guide for colonial militia before 1778 came from Great Britain, The Manual Exercise as Ordered by His Majesty in 1764. The bulk of this focused on how enlisted soldiers should stand, march, and use their weapons for orderly combat.

Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.

A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.

Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.

(Note: While the 2006 PDF is based on the 1764 manual, only Section 1 was in the original manual. If you decide to read it, understand that sections 2-8 were written in the modern day for use by re-enactors in the Tenth Regiment.)

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A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.

(U.S. Army)

But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.

In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.

At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.

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The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.

(U.S. Army)

But the techniques in these books weren’t widely used, known, and understood when the American Revolution started, and they were far from comprehensive. Baron von Steuben’s Blue Book addressed a lot of things missing from the older guides.

For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.

It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.

It remained the training guide for U.S. troops until 1812, and soldiers are still quizzed on some details of the manual today during soldier and promotion boards.

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The ‘Nightfighters’ attacked Nazis with empty rifles and grenades

In the final six months of World War II, the 104th Division — “The Frontier Division” — launched a series of night attacks against German troops while equipped with only empty rifles, bayonets, and grenades, slicing and exploding their way through enemy lines on the drive to Berlin.


The 104th Division was stood up in Oregon on Sep. 15, 1942, around the same time that its future commander, Maj. Gen. Terry “Terrible Terry” Allen, was loading the 1st Inf. Division into ships for the invasion of North Africa.

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A 1st Infantry Division tank in Germany in world War II. Maj. Gen. Terry Allen left the 1st Inf. Div. to command the 104th Inf. Div., a unit which quickly proved itself after arriving in France in 1944. (Photo: U.S. Army Tech. Sgt. Murray Shub)

One of Allen’s big takeaways from commanding the 1st in Tunisia was that night attacks were generally less costly than daytime assaults, especially against fortifications and massed guns. So, when he handed the 1st over to Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner and was sent to take over the 104th, he insisted that the Frontier Division learn to fight at night.

According to a 1946 news article about the Division, Allen required the men to train 30-35 hours a week at night, well above the Army standard of eight to 12 hours.

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American troops march in the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. Tunisia was a formative experience for Maj. Gen. Terry Allen who took lessons from the battlefield there to the 104th Infantry Division. (Dept. of Defense photo)

After training in the U.S. and England, the 104th finally landed in France in September 1944 and was sent to Antwerp a month later to help capture the port there. In two weeks of bloody fighting that included multiple night assaults, the Timberwolves worked with the Canadians and British to eliminate Nazi defenses.

And some of those night assaults were conducted with only cold steel bayonets and the explosive fire of hand grenades.

Even when the “Nightfighters” had rifle ammunition and permission to use it, they seemed to prefer their bayonets and explosives, likely in a bid to reduce tell-tale muzzle flashes that would give away their position.

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy
The bayonet has served the U.S. from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan, but was especially useful in World War I. (Photo: U.S. Defense Visual Information Center)

During the Battle of the Dykes near Antwerp, then-1st Lt. Cecil Bolton tried to use mortars to knock out enemy machine gun positions raining fire on his unit. After being knocked unconscious by German artillery, he awoke and led a two-man volunteer bazooka team against the German lines by sneaking through chest-deep, nearly frozen water in the canals to the enemy positions.

The three men took out one position with grenades and an artillery position with the rockets, only using rifle fire to take out a sniper and machine gun position who spotted them before they could attack. Bolton was wounded a second time while returning to U.S. lines and was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

The night attacks were usually reserved for positions in relatively open terrain, but were sometimes conducted against cities. The city of Eschweiler was captured in November thanks to a pre-dawn insertion of troops into the city center. Those men raised hell inside German lines at sunrise while the rest of their unit attacked from the outside.

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104th Infantry Division soldiers drive a captured German tank in 1944 after painting it with U.S. markings. (Photo: U.S. Army)

A midnight attack on Lucherbourg went south when the Americans were spotted immediately after crossing a river, but the men pressed on anyways, seizing four houses at the edge of town and holding them against enemy counterattacks, including armored assaults, all night and the following day.

Then-Maj. Gen. Joseph “Lightning Joe” Collins praised the men for their daring and success during the campaign:

The second phase, involving the crossing of the Inde River and the advance to the Roer, was even more difficult, but with characteristic skill and dash, in a series of brilliant night attacks, the 104th Division forced a crossing of the Inde, and in a few days had cleared its entire sector to the Roer River.  I regard the operation which involved the seizure of Lamersdorf-Inden-Luchererg as one of the finest single pieces of work accomplished by any unit of the 7th Corps since D Day.

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German mortars fire towards American positions during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. (Photo: German Army Archives)

On Oct. 23, 1944, the division deployed to the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, the longest single battle in which America ever fought.

The 104th later took part in Operation Grenade, the late-February 1945 crossing of the Roer River and the drive into the heart of Germany as well as the March 22 crossing of the Rhine. Over the following week, they captured important strategic points like airfields and created blocking positions to stop the escape of Nazi units.

On April 11, the division arrived at Nordhausen, Germany, and found a German concentration camp with 6,000 survivors and 5,000 corpses. The inmates of the camp had been forced to manufacture V-2 bombs until the American approach forced the Germans to withdraw.

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This is the underground facility in Germany where prisoners of the concentration camp near Nordhausen were forced to create V-2 rockets for German use against the Allies. (Photo: German Federal Archives)

On April 26, the 104th met up with Russian troops that had been pushing the Germans west from Moscow. The Allied forces continued to hunt German units until May 5 when they ran out of Nazis to fight. Thus ended 195 days and nights of continuous combat, some of it conducted at night against machinegun nests and artillery positions by attackers armed only with blades and grenades.

The Timberwolves were scheduled to take part in the invasions of the Japanese home islands as part of Operations Olympic and Coronet. The operations were made unnecessary by Japan’s surrender on Sep. 2, 1945.

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A memorial plaque for the 104th Infantry Division in Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo: Tim1965 CC BY-SA 3.0)

The 104th is now a training unit in the Army Reserve. It still proudly carries the names “Timberwolves” and “Nightfighters.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Kitten Marine’ of the Korean War passed away at age 90

Frank Praytor, the U.S. Marine photographed nursing a kitten during the Korean War, recently passed away at the age of 90.


In the heat of the Korean War, Sgt. Frank Praytor was a combat correspondent in the 1st Marine Division. He had previously got into journalism in 1947 with the Birmingham News and, eventually, the Alabama bureau of the International News Service. In 1950, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and soon found himself in Korea.

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He was a well-respected and highly successful journalist for Stars and Stripes. His many accomplishments include reporting firsthand accounts of PoW exchanges, the truce-signing at Panmunjom — which brought the ceasefire on the Korean War, and photographing a Navy corpsman treating a wounded Marine on the battlefield — which won an award from Photography Magazine.

All of this pales in comparison to the stardom he received when he was photographed by a fellow combat cameraman, Staff Sgt. Martin Riley, tenderly caring for a kitten in the middle of a battlefield. Praytor adopted two baby kittens after their mother was killed. The kitten in the photograph was named Miss Hap because, “she was born at the wrong time and wrong place.” He nursed them both back to full health, feeding them meat from his rations, and they served as the unofficial mascots of the Marine press office in Korea.

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Praytor is the second to the left. Miss Hap is probably gnawing at something. (Image via Stars and Stripes, 1953)

Riley sent the photo to the Associated Press as a sign of the “goodwill” the Marine Corps represents. Time passed and he snapped his previously mentioned award-winning photo. Soon after, he was brought on court-martial charges for releasing a war photo without the consent of superior officers. When he was called into the commander’s office, he had accepted his fate — then the commander ripped up the condemning papers.

The photograph of him and Miss Hap was picked up by over 1,700 newspapers across the United States. He had become a celebrity back home. A handsome Marine caring for a two-week-old kitten brought favorable eyes upon the Marine Corps from all across the United States. Hundreds of letters were sent, addressed to “Kitten Marine, Korea.” “I got letters from girls all over the country who wanted to marry me,” Praytor told the U.S. Naval Institute in a 2009 interview.

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Marines still take care of cats, if any girls are still interested. (Image via Reddit)

He was reassigned to Tokyo and had to leave Miss Hap with a fellow Marine, Cpl. Conrad Fisher. During his visit to report on the truce at Panmunjom, he visited Fisher, who was still taking care of Miss Hap. Fisher was happy to bring her back home stateside. Praytor would continue his life as a freelance journalist well into his 80s.

Also Read: 7 tales of heroism for cat people sick of all the military dog stories

MIGHTY HISTORY

This German city faked its way to safety during WWII

The city of Konstanz put itself in the record books in World War II. Not for its fighting heroics or involvement in the war, however. But for something else altogether: bluffing their way to safety. With their creative fix to making it through the war unscathed, this town was able to save its citizens and its buildings, coming out on the other side completely intact. 

And how they did it is less sophisticated than you might think. They didn’t crack hidden communications or scramble GPS — this was WWII after all — they left their lights on. Yes, just like Motel 6, the town refused to go dark.

This is significant because, at the time, German towns went under blackouts during bombing raids. These were nighttime attacks when bombs were sent upon Germany and their Axis partners.

It’s a concept that’s so simple, it’s smart; without allowing American pilots light to see their targets, it was harder to be hit by subsequent bombs. 

They got the idea as the neighboring town, Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, kept their lights on. Konstanz simply followed suit, pretending to be another country.

And it worked. While flying overhead, U.S. pilots assumed the lights were in Switzerland — a neutral country in the war — and avoided them as a target. 

Bombing raids in WWII

During the second World War, bombing raids were a regular event. Known as air raids or strategic bombings, these events targeted key areas, with the goal to cripple enemy forces. Target areas included civilian housing, political buildings or important infrastructure, industrial markets, such as warehouses or factories, and areas of transportation, like railways or harbors. The attacks were often paired with ground forces and were most common at night to cause destruction and disrupt enemy activity. 

Berlin alone saw 314 bombings, leaving at least a third of the city in ruins, and by 1945, Germany lost an average of more than 13,000 civilians a month to bombings. 

The history of Konstanz

Konstanz is more than 1,000 years old and is located in South Germany near Lake Constance. It sits near the edge of the Swiss Alps and was home to a Roman Catholic principality for more than 1,200 years. Unlike actual Switzerland, however, they were quite active in the war. The town created parts for submarine radars, developed flying torpedos, and manufactured gun parts. 

It’s a town full of cobblestone streets, epic stone buildings, and plenty of old world charm. Because of their successful stunt, the town is also one of the few German cities that has original buildings that are still intact. Because of this, it’s now a common tourist attraction. 

The impact on the future

While something as simple as lights near the border was effective against technology during WWII, it’s unlikely that a similar tactic could be pulled off today. With more sophisticated machines, like GPS targeting down to the exact coordinate, a city — even right against the border — would likely have a different fate. 

However, their braveness and ingenuity is still celebrated to this day, including their buildings and structures, which can still be toured today. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This battle shows Canadians are almost unbeatable when fighting a battle together

Here in the United States, we often like to joke about our kind-hearted affable neighbors to the north. Often we see them as gregarious and fun, never threatening. But those of us who read history books or have fought alongside our Canadian brothers and sisters know a different side of Canadian Forces.

That side is not to be trifled with. 

When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany during World War I, Canada came along with it, whether it wanted to or not. That’s just how the Canadian government worked in tandem with the British Crown back then. 

Britain was lucky to have the Canadians on its side and nowhere was that more apparent than at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 

In April 1917, three German divisions met 4 divisions of the Canadian Corps in the Pas-De-Calais region of northern France. The Canadians were trying to draw the Germans away from a larger French offensive further south down the front lines. 

Their main target was Vimy Ridge, high ground that would protect other elements of Entente forces from taking heavy enfilading fire. The Germans would put up a stiff resistance but what they didn’t know was about to hurt them: this was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were fighting together with one objective.

The ridge itself was a heavily fortified, seven kilometer (4.3 miles for you American types) ridge that held what the Candians called a “commanding view” of the British and Canadian forces. To take it required weeks of specialized training, not just in attacking the high ground, but also in special roles required by individual troops. 

The Canadians attacked the high ground for three days – and won. (Library and Archives of Canada)

Artillery pounded the German defenders for a full week before the battle was launched on Apr. 9, and 1,000 pieces of artillery would provide a moving blanket of fire to keep the Germans under cover.

Over three days, 15,000 Canadians overwhelmed the Germans in the face of trenchworks, dugouts, and machine gun nests. They rolled the Germans back further than they’d ever been since the start of the war in 1914. The Canadians captured more prisoners and more artillery guns than any allied offensive in the war up until that point. 

One Canadian General at Vimy Ridge called the battle “a birth of a nation.”

Today, the site of the battle is memorialized forever, as France gave the land to the government of Canada. On that land stands a tall, white marble monument to the more than 3,500 Canadians who died there and the 7,000 who were wounded. 

The surrounding lawn, well-manicured, still carries a taste of the terrible dangers posed by unexploded bombs and mines leftover from the war, even 100 years later. 

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These badass Marines held off an entire Viet Cong battalion

In the summer of 1966 the United States was ramping up operations in Vietnam.For the Marines of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, this meant deep infiltration and reconnaissance into the Que Son Valley.

Dubbed Operation Kansas, the recon teams moved deep into enemy-held territory to observe and strike at the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong operating in the area.


This mostly consisted of calling for artillery or air support to take out small concentrations of enemy fighters. When larger groups were observed, they were dealt with by calling in reinforcements in the form of Marine rifle companies and battalions.

There was little intention of the recon Marines making direct contact.

Thus, 18 Marines from Team 2, C Company, 1st Recon inserted onto Hill 488 to begin their observation mission.

Jimmie E. Howard was a Staff Sergeant when he led the defense of His 488. (U.S. Marine Corps)

The team was led by Staff Sgt. Jimmie E. Howard. Howard had enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1950 and was assigned to the 1st Marine Regiment in Korea.

While serving as the forward observer to the regimental mortar company in 1952, Howard was awarded a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts while defending outposts along the Main Line of Resistance.

After his tour in Korea, Howard stayed in the Marine Corps and entered Marine Reconnaissance. In early 1966 he returned to combat in Vietnam, leading a platoon of Reconnaissance Marines.

On the night of June 13, 1966, Operation Kansas began with the insertion of numerous recon teams into the Que Son Valley. Team 2 on Hill 488 quickly set up positions to observe the valley. Over the course of the next two days, the recon teams disrupted enemy activity with air and artillery strikes. Howard and his team were doing so well that they turned down an offer to be extracted in order to remain one more day.

Unfortunately, the accuracy and effectiveness of the firepower Howard’s team brought to bear also served to alert the Viet Cong that these were not simply random attacks; they were being watched. The enemy had also surmised that the observation must be coming from Hill 488. Alerted that a Viet Cong battalion of approximately 200-250 men was heading their way, the Marines prepared to defend themselves.

As the Marines waited for the inevitable, the Viet Cong were creeping up the hill toward the Marine positions. Howard had ordered his men to pull back to a rocky knoll at the top of the hill the moment contact was made. Under the cover of darkness, the first Viet Cong made it to within 20 feet of the Marine perimeter. The first shots from the Marine defenders rang out. Under a hail of gunfire and grenades, the Marines fell back to the final defensive position.

The Marines took casualties almost instantly but they responded with determined resistance. Grenades and mortars rained down on their position as heavy machine gun and rifle fire covered the advance of the attackers. But the Marines mowed down the first wave of attackers and blunted the advance. The remaining enemy took a more cautious approach and searched for an opening.

Howard used the brief lull in fire to call for extraction. Before help could arrive, the Viet Cong mounted another determined charge to take the hill but were again driven back. By this time the Marines were out of grenades, running low on ammunition, and all eighteen had been wounded or killed. But there was still more fighting to do.

After some three hours of fighting, air support arrived overhead. As Air Force planes dropped flares to illuminate the valley, gunships and fighters made strafing runs. They dropped napalm on the advancing enemy. To say the air support was danger-close would be an understatement. Despite the air attack, the enemy was persistent and continued to charge the hill.

At one point the Viet Cong began yelling at the Marines, taunting them. The young Marines of the recon team looked to Howard who gave them the go ahead to yell back.

Then, with the enemy still shouting taunts, the remaining Marines literally looked death in the face and laughed their heads off. The whole team joined in a chorus of laughter that silenced the Viet Cong.

The Viet Cong came again.

With the enemy still probing their lines, the beleaguered Marines relied on their expert marksmanship and a little trickery to even the odds. Out of grenades, the Marines would watch for movement and then hurl a rock at the enemy.

Intending to escape the impending explosion the Viet Cong would expose their position. Then with deadly accuracy the Marines would take a single shot, conserving ammunition and racking up the body count.

Two UH-1s were shot down by the Viet Cong forces during medevac and air support attempts. (U.S. Army)

A rescue attempt at dawn resulted in one lost helicopter, with a medevac waved off due to the intense fire. Eventually it was decided to bring in a Marine infantry company to clear the hill and allow the recon team to be pulled out. Reportedly there remained only eight rounds of ammunition between the survivors; the rest had picked up enemy weapons.

Howard’s steadfast leadership and cool under fire during the battle for Hill 488 earned him the Medal of Honor. He was also awarded a Purple Heart, along with every other member of the team. Thirteen members of the team were awarded the Silver Star for their bravery. The remaining four members of the team received the Navy Cross. Six of the Marines of Team 2 received their awards posthumously. The recon platoon was the most decorated unit for its size ever in the history of the American military.

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