Beginning on June 30, 1943, American soldiers, marines and sailors would endure three months of hard fighting to retake the New Georgia Islands from the Japanese in the Pacific. While the ground troops slugged their way through the thick jungles, the pilots above provided air support and tangled with Japanese fighters, keeping them at bay. And they needed a British aircraft carrier to help.
Beginning two days earlier and 300 miles offshore in the Coral Sea, aircraft carrier-based fighter planes flew combat air patrols from the USS Robin in order to intercept any Japanese carrier groups that might oppose the landings. After 28 days of constant air operations, launching 614 sorties and steaming 12,233 miles at an average of 18.1 knots, Robin returned to port to rest her crew and resupply—a record for a Royal Navy carrier.
After the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, the U.S. Navy was in a poor fighting state. USS Wasp had been sunk earlier at Guadalcanal and at Santa Cruz, USS Hornet was sunk and USS Enterprise was taken out of action to repair the damage she sustained during the battle. This left USS Saratoga as the only operational carrier to keep the Japanese and their four carriers at bay in the Pacific. In order to augment their strength, the U.S. Navy received a loan from Great Britain. In December 1942, at the highest possible level of negotiation, an agreement was made between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. To bolster their ally, the British Admiralty would loan the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious to the U.S. Navy to operate in the Pacific.
Victorious arrived at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in January 1943 and was refitted for service with the U.S. Navy and operations in the Pacific theater. Now under American control, she was given the codename USS Robin. In dry dock, she was given new communications systems, surface and air radars, and an aircraft homing system to allow interoperability with the U.S. fleet. Her stern was also extended by 10 feet with an added gallery of twenty 20mm anti-aircraft guns to better counter the threat of Japanese air attack.
The Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacore Torpedo-Bombers that she carried were replaced with TBM Avengers. The new planes were registered as American and bore U.S. Navy markings—however, they were crewed by Brits. Her Grumman Martlets (the British name for the F4F Wildcat) were also given U.S. Navy markings. The U.S. Navy sent aviators to train the British pilots on American procedures and tactics, and even sent American uniforms (though the crew is still pictured wearing their Royal Navy tropical uniform shorts).
After transiting the Panama Canal on February 14, Robin joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet and arrived at Pearl Harbor in March 1943. She underwent shakedown operations which revealed that her arrestor wires were not sufficient to stop the heavy Avengers. Heavier arrestor wires were fitted along with even more AA guns. At Pearl, she was also repainted in U.S. Navy blue grey to further disguise the British involvement with the U.S. Navy from the Axis Powers and prevent her from being mistaken as a Japanese ship. On May 8, she departed Pearl Harbor and sailed for the South Pacific where she joined up with USS Saratoga and formed Carrier Division 1 on May 17.
While conducting air operations in the Coral Sea in support of the New Georgia campaign, it was noticed that Robin handled her fighter wings well, but still had issues with the heavier Avengers. Commanding the carrier division, Rear Admiral DeWitt Ramsey transferred the Avengers of 832 Squadron FAA to the Saratoga and the F4F Wildcats of U.S. Carrier Air Group 3 to Robin. Neither carrier saw any engagement with the Japanese and the division returned to Nouméa on July 25. With the two newest Essex-class carriers, USS Essex and USS Lexington, arriving in Pearl Harbor and the Japanese withholding their carriers, Robin was returned to British control and recalled home.
She left her Avengers in Nouméa as replacements for the Saratoga and departed for Pearl Harbor on July 31. She sailed with the battleship USS Indiana and carried aboard a handful of U.S. pilots who had finished their tours and two Japanese POWs. Victorious made a brief stop in San Diego and sailed through the Panama Canal on August 26. She arrived in Norfolk on September 1 where her specialized U.S. equipment was removed. On September 26, she arrived at Greenock, Scotland and began refit for her return to Royal Navy service.
Victorious would finish the rest of the war with the Royal Navy. She participated in an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship to the infamous Bismarck, with the British Home Fleet. In June 1944, she joined the Eastern Fleet and attacked Japanese installations in Sumatra. Victorious continued to conduct air operations in the Indian Ocean until February 1945 when she joined Task Force 113 at Sydney in preparation for the invasion of Okinawa.
TF113 joined the U.S. 5th Fleet at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands on March 25 as Task Force 57. Victorious conducted airstrikes against Japanese airfields on the Sakishima Islands and Formosa in support of the invasion until May 25. During these operations, she was hit by two kamikaze planes. However, unlike the wooden decks of her American counterparts, Victorious‘ armored flight deck resisted the worst of the impacts. She would go on to attack Japanese shipping and even seriously damaged the Japanese escort carrier Kaiyo before the end of the war.
After the war, Victorious was refitted and modernized with an angled flight deck. She continued her service in the Royal Navy until a fire broke out aboard in 1967. Although the damage was minor, the Defense Ministry was cutting its budget and the Royal Navy was facing a shortage of manpower, and Victorious would not be recommissioned. She was sold for scrap in 1969.
Though her time with the U.S. Navy saw no action, Victorious played an important role in bolstering the American air arm in the Pacific. Her sailors and airmen showed their American counterparts that they could do their job just as well and filled a critical shortage at a crucial point of the war.
It’s no secret that America is pretty good at getting themselves involved in wars throughout the world. Historically, we haven’t been the best at coming up with an exit strategy for some of those conflicts, though.
The Vietnam War is considered one of the most politically charged military campaigns in our nation’s history as young men were drafted into service to fight against the spread of communism.
After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.S. embarked on an offensive to break up a network comprised of men that take the worship of the religion of Islam into extremism.
Although these campaigns took place in separate decades against very different adversaries, the similarities from the perspective of the ground forces are impeccable. History repeats itself. Here are four ways in which these two conflicts are the same.
4. For the most part, we didn’t trust our allies
In both wars, American forces were teamed up with local troops to help combat their common enemy. Many Vietnam and Afghanistan War vets have noted that their “friendly” counterparts often appeared distant and were known to have even protected the enemy at times.
3. We fought against an unmarked enemy
Many of the fighters the U.S. went up against in both campaigns were able to disappear as fast as they appeared. This ghostly advantage wasn’t the result of some magical vanishing act, but rather an ability to blend back into the local population — right out in the open.
Since most of the “disappearing act” fighters are from small guerilla militias or surrounding clans, they never wore any distinguishable uniforms, adding to their advantage.
2. The enemy could live below ground
The Viet Cong commonly used their well-engineered tunnels while the Taliban make use of caves in the mountains of Afghanistan.
These livable structures can house enemy combatants for extend periods of time and conceal deadly weapons.
“From a pathology point of view, it’s a fascinating virus,” says Dr. Nancy Jaax, a veterinarian and Army officer. She’s talking about the Ebola virus, a subject she knows a lot about, having prevented it from maybe spreading to the entire United States. “The opportunity to work with such a unique virus was irresistible to me.”
When Jaax came to the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in 1979, not much was known about Ebola. They knew it killed 90 percent of those infected, and that was about it. It was a Biosafety Level-4 pathogen: fatal to humans, easily transmittable (maybe even by air), with no effective treatments or vaccines. So when it showed up in a group of monkeys shipped in from the Philippines, it could have been really bad for the Reston, Va. lab where Jaax was working. Luckily, the Army has people like Col. Jaax working for it.
Jaax joined the Army with her husband in the late 70s to pursue her veterinary residency. Right away, her work in veterinary medicine was significant, as she and her team discovered the first diagnosed coronavirus in military working dogs. But dogs getting colds were the least of the Army’s research needs. Jaax wound up at USAMRIID in the veterinary pathology program. A few years into her stint there is when the macaques from the Philippines were found to have Ebola. It was her job to actually look for the virus under the microscope.
When she looked at the tissue sample of the dead monkeys, she actually found they had two highly-lethal contagions: simian hemorrhagic fever, which is not contagious to humans, and Ebola. They had to shut down the facility – except for those exposed to the viruses.
This was also my gut response. But luckily cooler heads prevailed.
The Reston Ebolavirus spread to all the facilities animals, who had to be put down. Unfortunately, it also infected a number of the USAMRIID workers who worked alongside Jaax. When they went to “depopulate” the facility, just under 50 people were found to have contracted the virus. The only thing was, unlike the other strands of Ebola, none of the Reston workers actually got sick or showed symptoms. In fact, their bodies didn’t respond to the virus at all. It came and went.
No one knows why. What they do know (and the reason we can all sleep soundly at night) is that the Army’s quarantine procedures worked as planned. None of the monkeys escaped into an Outbreak-like scenario. There was no worker with a small symptom who was nervous about it but decided to hide it so he could take the Metro to go to his kids birthday party. The virus stayed put, the monkeys were contained, and no one let the virus out of the facility.
That’s why we have procedures.
You can watch the story of Dr. Nancy Jaax and her experience with Ebola on NatGeo’s new miniseries The Hot Zone, a three-night special premiering Memorial Day, May 27th at 9pm on National Geographic.
The very moment a United States Armed Forces recruit steps foot off the bus, they’ll be greeted by a non-commissioned officer wearing a campaign hat and, in that moment, their life will change forever. Every branch in the Armed Forces (with exception of the Navy) uses a variation of the same, broad-brimmed hat. When you see someone wearing it, you know they’re dedicated to breaking the civilian out of young prospects and molding Uncle Sam a batch of new, capable warfighters.
But long before the campaign hat became the official headgear of every private’s nightmares, it was used by soldiers in the Old West, who casually wore it for so long that it just kind of became an official thing.
Don’t get this confused with the Stetson worn by cavalrymen. The campaign hat was mostly worn by infantrymen.
The campaign hat was first worn back in the 1840s by soldiers making their way across the country toward the Pacific. The typical forage cap used out east simply wasn’t a suitable option for blocking out the blinding sun that hung relentlessly above the American deserts.
The soldiers heading west were so far away from the brass (and military regulations was comparatively relaxed in those times) that they simply substituted regulation gear with whatever else made more sense. It was said that they were inspired by the sombreros of the Mexican Vaqueros, but the soldiers made their hats smaller to be more practical for longer rides.
The new unofficial hat finally got recognition and was authorized in the 1870s. This version was made of black felt, had a softer brim, and was still missing the distinctive pinch on the top. Over the years, the hat underwent several slight adjustments until becoming the campaign hat we know and love/fear today.
Technically speaking, Smokey the Bear has been around longer (1944) than the Army has officially had drill sergeants (1964). So they kinda took his hat.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Stephen Linch)
The British took note of the campaign hat and soon incorporated it into the wardrobe of their armies located around the Empire, as many fought under conditions similar to those of the Wild West — like the Boer Wars in South Africa. Canadian, South African, and Kiwi troops all adapted the hat — the Canadian Military then famously handed it down to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
By the turn of the century, the hat also became synonymous with the Buffalo Soldiers — in fact, they were responsible for sewing in the iconic “Montana Pinch” we all recognize today. The Buffalo Soldiers were tasked into various national parks and became some of the first national park rangers.
Later, park rangers, CBP agents, and highway policemen would all wear similar campaign hats in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers who’d, essentially, laid the foundation for their careers. Meanwhile, the troops tossed the hat at the advent of WWI as helmets were the preferred combat headgear.
Never thought we would all have to thank the Coast Guard for keeping this terror-inducing hat alive and well… but they adopted it during the Spanish-American War and never abandoned it during the World Wars.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm)
One by one, each branch began putting recruits through more extensive and intense recruit training programs, helmed by the finest NCOs each branch had to offer. The Marines were the first in 1956 — and they needed an easily identifiable symbol to distinguish the drill instructor from everyone else.
They chose the campaign cover for all the same reasons the soldiers of the Wild West did — the fact that recruits couldn’t clearly see the eyes of the DI under the brim was just an added bonus. Other branches quickly followed suit. The Army adopted it in 1964 and the Air Force and Coast Guard did so in 1967
Which leaves out the Navy. Fact is, the Navy has just never had a reason to use the hat and has never showed any intentions of switching.
When you hear “Sandy,” maybe you think about Olivia Newton-John’s character in Grease, unless you’re in the Search-and-Rescue community. Even then, most people don’t associate the word with one of the best attack planes of all time. But the Douglas A-1 Skyraider was also a “Sandy” — and one that turned many enemies of the United States into…well…grease spots.
“Sandy” was the callsign A-1s operated under when they escorted the combat search-and-rescue helicopters. You may have seen Willem Dafoe’s character in Flight of the Intruder talking to “Sandy Low Lead.” Well, he was talking to a pilot flying a Skyraider when he called in an air strike on his own position.
The A-1 had been started in World War II, when it was called the BT2D-1. The Navy, though, was realizing that the air wings on the carriers needed to change. Part of the reasoning was the presence of the kamikaze, which required the presence of more fighters. The Navy even put a plane it rejected, the Vought F4U Corsair, on carrier decks. As such, the plan was to replace the SB2C Helldiver and the TBF/TBM Avenger. The plane later became the AD.
The Skyraider had 15 hardpoints, allowing it to haul 8,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, torpedoes, or gun pods. It also packed two or four Mk12 20mm cannon. The latter weapons helped the Skyraider score five air-to-air kills, including two MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters over North Vietnam.
Some of those “Sandys” were Air Force, incidentally — one of a number of Navy bombers used by that service. The Air Force had wanted a version of the plane, which proved excellent at close-air support, since 1949. The Air Force used the A-1 over Vietnam, as did Vietnam, Cambodia, and a number of countries in Africa. The last A-1s were retired by Gabon in 1985.
The A-10 has become a primary airframe flying the “Sandy” CSAR missions, which is one of the reasons the hog is so beloved.
This may come as a surprise to anyone who is not a Vermont native: Back during the Revolutionary War, Vermont was its own free country, similar to how Texas, California, and Hawaii once governed themselves before eventually joining the Union. During its fourteen-year tenure, Vermont and its militia, known as the Green Mountain Boys, served as a key ally in aiding against the British.
The Green Mountain Boys were led by one of the founders of Vermont, Ethan Allen. Allen’s legacy, as recorded in American history books, showcases his military prowess, his leadership in an independent Vermont, and an undying hatred for the man that is now synonymous with treason, Benedict Arnold — a hatred that started well before his infamous betrayal.
In spirit, the Green Mountain Boys still exist today as the Vermont National Guard
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Avery Cunningham)
Once upon a time, control of the lands between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River was fought over by New York and New Hampshire. Both sides had claims to the land, but both were highly disputed (though many sided with New Hampshire).
Allen had been traveling the northern portion of the lands when he heard of a small, pro-independence riot that ended with the British killing two colonists in Westminster. Allen and the Boys marched on Westminster to demand that the King remove the oppressors — but bigger problems were brewing.
The issue of who Vermont belonged to was put on hold when the 13 colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. In the meantime, the people of Vermont opted to rule and defend themselves. The only real military within their borders was Allen’s Green Mountain Boys.
Which means Benedict Arnold’s entire career is based off of a guy saying “Yeah, sure. Whatever.”
After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, an irregular Connecticut militia asked Allen and his boys to join them in taking Fort Ticonderoga. Allen realized joining the colonies was the right thing to do for Vermont and mustered his men to the assault himself.
On May 9th, the day before the assault, Allen first met Benedict Arnold. One of the very first things to come out of Arnold’s mouth was a demand that Allen relinquish control of his men to him. The Green Mountain Boys may not have been a standing army at the time, but they were excellent fighters and they were fiercely loyal to Allen.
They argued all throughout the night. Allen believed he should lead his men because, for the last seven years, they had trained, fought, and died together. Arnold believed he should lead because he received a commission from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, which meant he was totally capable of leading troops into battle.
At that point, who can really say no?
The assembled men refused to acknowledge Arnold’s authority, but Allen agreed to allow Arnold to be in the front of the formation with him — a decision that meant Arnold could be seen as a leader on paper, but not be responsible for any of the heavy lifting.
The Green Mountain Boys moved on Fort Ticonderoga at 2 a.m. while the British were sleeping. They managed to sneak through the fort undetected (except for a lone sentry who was knocked out) and Allen pulled his cutlass on the Fort’s commander as he slept. Allen demanded complete surrender.
So, Fort Ticonderoga fell to the colonists without a single shot fired and only one concussion.
Shortly afterwords, Allen and Arnold went on to take Fort Crown Point and Fort St. John. It was the success of the Green Mountain Boys that gave the colonists the foothold they needed to begin the Revolutionary War.
Allen and Arnold remained at odds with each other. Benedict Arnold kept asserting his authority over Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point to the Continental Congress. Allen was willing to step down under the provision that his men would be paid the same as Continental Army soldiers, which they were. And so Benedict Arnold was given the credit for the work of the Vermonters.
Benedict Arnold would urge the Continental Congress to invade Quebec next. Both Allen and Arnold lead men into Quebec. There, Ethan Allen’s forces lost at the Battle of Longue-Pointe and were subsequently imprisoned. While Allen rotted in prison, Benedict Arnold’s name was heralded as a great military mind — that is, until he made his offer to surrender West Point for £20,000.
Ever wonder what’s the right order for the Colors in a Color Guard? Well, it’s not as simple as you might think.
First, a bit of history
If you learned in school that Betsy Ross was the first person to sew our American flag, you learned wrong. The truth is that no one knows the actual origins of the first American flag. Some historians think a New Jersey Congressman named Francis Hopkinson designed the flag but there are others who aren’t so sure. Unfortunately, the truth is lost to history.
William Driver, a sea captain from Massachusetts, christened Betsy Ross’ flag “Old Glory.” Driver’s nickname has managed to stick for all these years and his flag has endured some pretty fierce battles. There were multiple attempts to deface it during the Civil War. Driver’s flag is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
Also on display is the garrison flag of 1814 that survived the 25-hour shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. That flag is the very same that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose what would later become our National Anthem.
Today’s flag has 13 horizontal stripes – seven red and six white. The stripes represent the original colonies and the stars represent the 50 states.
So what’s the right order for the Colors?
If you guessed that the right order for a Color Guard is based on when the service branch was established, you’re half right! Here’s where it gets a little tricky.
A Joint Color guard carries (from left to right) the American flag first, followed by the Army flag, Marine Corps flag, Navy flag, Air Force flag, and then the Coast Guard flag.
But what about the POW/MIA flag? Or state flags? And where’s the Space Force flag going to go?
Most often, the precedence is on the order of importance, so a POW/MIA flag would be next to the American flag, followed by a state flag.
Wait a minute – the Coast Guard was founded before the Air Force. Why is it last?
The short answer is because the Coast Guard has never been considered part of the “Big Four” military branches. Sorry, guys.
From rags to spit-and-polish boots, from scratchy blue wool to the new operational camouflage pattern, from tricorn hat to helmet, the Army uniform has changed drastically through the years. In honor of the U.S. Army’s 240th birthday, and the launch of the Operational Camouflage Pattern, Soldiers takes a look at the evolution of battle dress from the Revolution through today.
The Revolutionary War
Early in the war, most Soldiers simply wore what they had, whether that was a state militia uniform, frontier dress (as seen here in the 1777 battle of Saratoga) or even their regular clothes. Washington actually ordered the use of fringed hunting shirts as a field garment to provide some uniformity until the Continental Army had a more consistent uniform.
Supply problems throughout the war – sometimes Congress actually failed to authorize uniform funds – forced many Soldiers to huddle in blankets in the winter and tie rags around their feet when their shoes wore out.
Even officers’ uniforms varied widely. Here, Washington sports the blue and buff regimentals he designed, whereas an aide-de-camp wears brown and another general wears black. The officers’ ribbons, instituted by Washington, indicate their various ranks and positions. Noncommissioned officers were distinguished by epaulettes or strips of cloth on the right shoulder.
Later in the war, Continental Army uniforms became more standardized. Here, Soldiers wear the uniforms prescribed in1779: blue coats lined with white and trimmed with white buttons, worn with white overalls and waistcoats. The colors facing the coats identified Soldiers by region or branch.
For example, the lieutenant on the right wears blue faced with buff and shoulder epaulettes, indicating he is an infantry officer from New Jersey or New York. The Soldier on the left is an artillery private.
In 1782, blue coats faced with red became standard for everyone except generals and staff officers.
The War of 1812
During the War of 1812, the Army began cutting uniform cloth at the Philadelphia Arsenal before distributing it to master tailors, in the hopes of insuring greater uniformity and more efficient sizing.
Uniforms were highly influenced by the dress of European armies. The version adopted in 1813 and used for the next two decades was single-breasted blue coat with black herringbone false buttonholes and gold bullet buttons. (High boots were only authorized for generals and general staff officers.)
The gray uniform on the right was adopted in March 1814 as an alternate because of a shortage of blue cloth. A detachment of riflemen in green summer linen rifle frocks stands at attention in the background.
The Mexican-American War
The heat and the dust of the Southwest had a major impact on the Army’s uniforms, and Army leaders began to see the need for separate field and dress uniforms. Fatigue jackets, first introduced in 1833, light blue pants (with stripes for officers and NCOs) and forage caps became the field dress. (Many cavalrymen/dragoons like the Soldier on the left wore a yellow band on their forage caps, in contradiction to regulations.)
Most officers wore the dark blue frock coat seen on the first lieutenant to the right. His light blue trousers with a white stripe down the side and the silver buttons on his coat indicate infantry.
The Soldiers the background wear the universal dress of the enlisted infantryman: light blue fatigue jackets and trousers.
The Civil War
The trend throughout the mid-19th century was increased simplicity and practicality for uniforms. New regulations in 1851 (refined in 1858 and 1860) had introduced the blue wool frock coat as the service uniform for all Soldiers, a style worn throughout the Civil War, with double-breasted coats worn by field grade officers and above. Mounted troops wore jackets with sky blue trousers.
The later regulations updated the Army campaign hat, and introduced a four-button sack coat (as seen on the first sergeant above) and forage cap, often known as a kepi, for field wear.
In practice, many uniforms were purchased by individual states, privately tailored or were made at home by mothers, wives and sisters, and there was an enormous amount of variety on the battlefield.
The Spanish-American War
The Spanish-American war was the last time the blue Army field uniform was used in a major campaign. During the war, Soldiers wore a uniform and campaign hat adopted in the 1880s. For enlisted infantrymen this meant a dark blue wool shirt or jacket, light blue wool trousers, brown canvas leggings and a drab campaign hat.
The standard officer uniform was an undress coat trimmed with black mohair braid that was introduced in 1895, dark blue breeches, black boots and drab campaign hat.
Cavalry Soldiers typically tied neckerchiefs around their necks, as these Spanish-American War veterans demonstrate after the war. (The famous Rough Riders wore lighter blue shirts and brown trousers to set them apart.) The Soldier on the left wears the new, khaki uniform that was issued in late 1898, after forces returned from Cuba.
World War I
The standard uniform in World War I was the service coat and breeches introduced in the first decade of the century, when sweeping War Department reforms included almost every article of clothing. Khaki and olive drab continued to replace blue, black leather changed to russet, chevrons became smaller and pointed up instead of down, and even insignia and buttons changed.
Thanks to the vast amounts of olive drab wool the Army needed during the war, uniform color varied from mustard green to brown. Other variations occurred when many officers like this lieutenant colonel had their uniforms tailored in England or France. Officers also adopted the British brown leather Sam Browne belt and wore high, brown boots instead of the leggings and brown shoes worn by enlisted Soldiers. Another item of equipment widely used by the American Expeditionary Forces was the British basin pattern steel helmet.
World War I was the first conflict in which large numbers women officially went to war, both as nurses and as telephone operators – “Hello Girls” – for the Signal Corps in France. (A few women were also attached to other branches such as the Quartermaster Corps.) They needed uniforms. The Army issued them Navy blue wool, Norfolk-style jackets and matching wool skirts, as seen in this photograph of the Hello Girls. (Hello Girls and nurses wore similar uniforms.)
Here, an Army nurse (center) wears the navy blue worsted military overcoat and velour hat, and high tan shoes prescribed in August 1917. (A Red Cross nurse is on the left in a dress similar to what nurses would have worn for hospital work.)
World War II
In the late 1930s, the Army introduced trousers to replace the jodhpur-like service breeches that had been in use since the turn of the century. The new trousers were worn with shorter, dismounted leggings made of khaki canvas. The introduction of a comfortable and practical field jacket in 1940 quickly relegated the service coat to garrison wear. The rounded, steel M-1 helmet made its appearance in 1941, as did new, herringbone twill, olive drab fatigues.
After fighting began, the quartermaster general recommended several changes to make the uniform more practical, and suggested a layering system in 1943 that would keep troops warm during the cold European winters, standardized as the M-1943 field ensemble with cap, four-pocket field jacket, detachable jacket hood, field trousers and service shirt. Heavy winter coats and jackets were also available as seen in this 1944 photo of troops in Belgium. 1943 also saw the introduction of combat boots with attached leather gaiters and the field cap.
Although an early form of camouflage was more heavily used in the Pacific, this photo taken in France in July 1944 shows that the Army did use it in Europe, particularly the 2nd Infantry Division. However, the experiment was not a success: Other Allied troops mistook the Soldiers for Nazis. Even in the Pacific, units found that the olive drab uniform offered better concealment.
Soldiers in the Pacific fought in herringbone twill fatigues in olive drab shade number seven, which was adopted in 1943 as summer combat clothing. Local commanders had the option of allowing troops to roll their sleeves up and leave their collars open.
In 1943, the Women’s Army Corps joined the Army Nurse Corps as a permanent part of the Army. Female service and field uniforms paralleled those worn by the men, albeit with a skirt.
In some forward or malaria-prone areas, women could replace their skirts with slacks (or even altered male trousers), as these nurses demonstrate in a training photo from 1943.
In the Pacific, female personnel traded their stockings and Cuban heel shoes for cotton anklets and high quarter russet field service shoes.
The Korean War
Uniforms worn in the Korean War were those of an Army in transition and reflected innovations from the closing days of World War II. In fact, the original fatigues in this conflict were leftover World War II summer uniforms from the Pacific theater.
The combat boot widely used in Korea was actually the old service shoe with a double-buckle cuff. Its flesh-out leather was no longer treated with dubbin, but instead was rubbed smooth to accept polish.
Adjustments had to be quickly made for the frigid Korean winter, and Soldiers needed heavy overcoats. Herringbone twill cotton clothing in a dark olive drab shade became the battle dress, with large pockets providing a convenient means to store rations and other vital items.
The Vietnam War
At first glance, uniforms worn during Vietnam are remarkably similar to those worn during the Korean War, but as the war wore on, modifications in basic weapons, clothing and equipment came rapidly as the Army tried to solve the special problems encountered in hot and humid Vietnam. The updated, wind-resistant fatigue jackets and pants brought back the use of cargo pockets and other utilitarian features. Fast-drying boots with nylon uppers accompanied the uniform.
Olive green underclothing and subdued ranks and nametapes, which became a requirement in 1968, reduced the chances of giving away one’s position to the enemy.
Members of the Women’s Army Corps and Army nurses, seen here caring for Vietnamese refugees in 1975, typically wore uniforms similar to the men: two-piece tropical combat uniforms of olive-green, rip-stop cotton poplin.
Special Forces Soldiers quickly realized they needed more concealment than their olive drab fatigues could provide. Very early on – this Special Forces unit was photographed in country in 1964 – this meant the duck hunter camouflage pattern that dated from World War II.
The uniform was unsatisfactory, however, and Special Forces quickly adopted the tiger stripe camouflage used by rangers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, as seen on this sergeant first class in February 1968. Because tiger stripe was not official Army issue, units contracted local tailors to produce the uniforms, leading to a lot of variation.
By the end of the war, a precursor to the woodland battle dress uniform pattern, known as ERDL, had been introduced.
The Army’s iconic battle dress uniform made its appearance in 1981. (By 1988, there was a hot-weather version as well.) Its woodland pattern meant that for the first time, all Soldiers wore camouflage, and the uniform saw service in operations around the world, including Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Haiti in 1994 and the Balkans in the late 1990s.
Properties of the fabric and the use of miniature rank insignia on the collar further reduced the chance of detection. The Army also issued an improved protective vest, new helmet and new field coat. A redesigned boot drew upon the best features of commercial hiking and camping gear to extend the Soldier’s capabilities in a field environment. The Army also issued a new personal armor system for ground troops, which included a new helmet and Kevlar vest.
Around the same time, the Army introduced the six-color desert battle dress uniform, often called chocolate chip camouflage. It was intended for limited use by Special Operations troops, and in military exercises in the Middle East. Although a logistics glitch kept it from being issued to all deployed Soldiers, this uniform is most closely associated with Operation Desert Storm. It was also used by some troops in Somalia in 1993.
After Soldiers reported that the dark patches on the DBDU made it difficult to blend into the terrain effectively, the Army began issuing a new, three-color desert camouflage uniform in July 1991. (Only a few Soldiers were issued the uniform before the end of Operation Desert Storm.) It had been developed using soil samples from throughout the Middle East. This uniform, with improved, lighter boots, was still in use more than a decade later when Soldiers began deploying to Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 (many Soldiers were issued body armor in the woodland pattern).
The Army combat uniform, featuring a universal, digitized gray and green camouflage took the place of both the BDU and the DCU in June 2004. The new uniform added additional pockets, a mandarin collar that could be worn up or down, zippers, moved the rank insignia to the center of the chest and featured hook-and-loop tape for name tapes, rank insignia and badges. Later updates included flame-resistant material and the option for sewn-on tapes and badges. The accompanying t-shirt and socks were moisture wicking.
Although the black beret had been authorized for wear with field uniforms as well as service uniforms in 2001, it was further approved for use in a combat zone with the introduction of the ACU.
In 2007, the Army authorized the moisture-wicking, flame-resistant Army combat shirt, originally designed to be worn under the new improved outer tactical vest (also introduced in 2007) in warm weather. The sleeves featured the universal camouflage pattern, and included cargo pockets and elbow pads.
To allow Soldiers to operate more effectively in Afghanistan’s varied terrains, the Army introduced a new multicam pattern for the ACU, featuring seven shades of greens, browns and beige. It was issued to deployed Soldiers starting in 2010. A matching combat shirt was also available. Mountain combat boots featured a tougher, more durable sole.
With women taking on more combat roles than ever, their uniforms and gear are almost identical to their male counterparts. The Army even issued a new version of the tactical vest – one specifically designed for women’s bodies – in 2013.
2015 and Beyond
The Army will begin issuing Army combat uniforms in the operational camouflage pattern, which is similar to multicam, in the summer of 2015. The cut is based on the ACU, but lower leg pockets will be closed by a button instead of hook and loop tape thanks to Soldiers’ concerns that the old fastener made too much noise in combat environments. Pockets for kneepads and elbow pads will also be removed. The Army uniform board is still considering other changes, including a return to the fold-down collar, adjustments to the infrared square identification for friend or foe, the removal of one of three pen pockets on the ACU sleeve and the elimination of the drawstring on the trouser waistband.
The Army is expected to retire the digital universal camouflage pattern in 2018.
Watch cliff divers, bungee jumpers, or even just kids fooling around and jumping into a lake. At some point, one or more of them will yell “Geronimo!” It’s a safe bet that at some point, we’ve all yelled this name.
It seems like a pretty random thing to yell when jumping from a bridge, cliff, or plane, but it’s actually from the military tradition of paratroopers yelling it as they jumped from a perfectly good airplane.
But where did the paratroopers come up with it?
It dates all the way back to the origin of paratroopers. In 1940, the Army was still developing the strategy of dropping troops out of planes. On the eve of the first test jump, soldiers from from Fort Benning started a night of drinking with a viewing of a wild west movie beforehand. This was likely the 1939 film “Geronimo” starring Andy Devine and Chief Thundercloud.
After the movie, Pvt. Aubrey Eberhardt boasted that he wasn’t scared of the jump, despite being the tallest man in the unit. This caused his fellow soldiers to call him out on his bragging, saying he would forget his name at the door, as the troops were supposed to shout their name when they jumped.
Everyone in their jump group successfully jumped — all the soldiers remembered their names and shouted them as they made their jumps.
The 6’8″ Eberhardt did them one better — when his turn at the door came, he shouted “Geronimo!” — and a new military tradition was born.
Some of the top military brass weren’t in love with the new tradition, but others thought it evoked the bravery and daring of the Apache chief — the last holdout against American expansion to the West. They let the paratroopers keep the tradition.
Civilians just kinda took it from the paratroopers. And who could blame them, with that kind of pedigree?
There’s a lot of uncertainty to life in the 21st century.
But on one point, we can say we have a definite answer.
It was in the tiny village of Gonzales, Tejas, a territory of the newly sovereign Empire of Mexico, that scholars can definitively pinpoint the historical birth of the notion that, though there are many things you might be tempted to mess with, you don’t, if you know what’s good for you, mess with Texas.
Ironically, Texans apply this sentiment liberally. Photo via Flickr, brionv, CC BY-SA 2.0
In Gonzales, on Oct. 2, 1835, a village militia vigorously resisted disarmament at the hands to Mexico’s newly self-declared dictator, Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, who, for obvious reasons, usually went by Santa Anna.
Santa Anna was the prime mover of 19th century Mexico’s socio-political agenda — the man who would shape its fate as a nation independent of Spain.
Gonzales was just one tiny frontier town in the vast sweep of Mexico’s northern territories, populated largely by settlers from the United States. And the skirmish that occurred there, hardly deserving of even that wimpy designation, was really more of a loud, multi-day argument over possession of Gonzales’ single, miniscule 6-pound cannon in which the Texians were the aggressors and the Mexican army tried quite hard to avoid an actual battle.
Casualties on both sides of the skirmish amounted to two Mexican soldiers killed and one Texian with a bloodied nose.
Doesn’t sound like much of anything, does it?
Indeed, the incident at Gonzales was just one small fracas in a centuries-long stretch of conquest and political rebellion in Mexico. Nevertheless, the battle, such as it was, marked the beginning of the Texas Revolution, which would lead to the establishment of the Republic of Texas and the Mexican Cession of all of its North American land holdings to the United States.
Viewed from our 21st Century vantage, it’s easy to see larger geopolitical forces at work here. The Gonzales brouhaha exemplifies a trend that was sweeping the globe at the time, namely the collapse of monarchy as an acceptable form of government and the concurrent rise of democracy in all of its multivariate shapes, forms and means.
Rebellion at that time was so commonplace as to be unremarkable — witness the American Revolution, the French Revolution, Mexico’s own war for independence from Spain in 1821 and the hundreds of micro uprisings that initiated it. All over the world, kings were getting the boot if they were lucky and the ax if they weren’t.
Santa Anna himself had played an instrumental role in winning Mexico’s Independence and protected the democratic government that replaced it from power grabs by several of its generals in the years that followed. Yet even he was unable to resist the temptation of centralized rule. In 1835, just prior to the Battle of Gonzales, Santa Anna overthrew the Mexican constitution and named himself dictator, putting himself firmly on the wrong side of history.
And when he tried to take one, lone gun away from some Texians in Gonzales, he put himself on the wrong side of the eventual founders of the Lone Star Republic. The flag they raised during the Battle of Gonzales had one star, one cannon and coined a simple message that modern Texans still live by to this day: “Come and Take It.”
In April 1944, an American B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down by flak over occupied France. Its navigator, Raymond J. Murphy landed relatively safely, and with the help of some Frenchmen, he was able to evade the Germans until August when he was able to make it back to England.
When he was debriefed by his leadership, he mentioned coming upon a village just a four-hour bike ride away from the farm where he was hiding. The village was eerily quiet and Murphy quickly discovered why. He saw more than 500 men, women, and children who had been massacred by the retreating Germans.
The village was Oradour-sur-Glane, a hamlet with a population of just under 650. Weeks prior, the townspeople became victims of the Nazi SS as they retreated in the face of the Allied invasion of Normandy.
On Jun. 10, 1944, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann of the 1st battalion, 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment was told by informants that a captured SS officer was being held in a village nearby, along with other items intended to fight the Nazis in France..
The tip came from the Milice, an internal security force operated by Nazi collaborators in the Vichy French government. 110 soldiers of the “Der Fuhrer” Waffen SS tank Regiment approached the town and prepared to raid it, going house by house. They were looking not just for a German officer, but also a supposed arms and ammunition cache being concealed in the bourg by the French Resistance. Things were about to go from bad to worse for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane.
The women were herded into a church and locked inside. The men were taken to a barn, where they were mowed down by machine guns, covered in fuel and then set on fire. The church was set ablaze as well, with the women locked inside. Six men managed to escape from the barn, and only one woman survived the church.
The SS soon departed but returned later to destroy the rest of the village. Survivors of the massacre had to wait days to come back and bury their neighbors.
Even the Germans were shocked at the atrocity. Both the Nazi military command and the French Vichy government opened an investigation into the incident, but Diekmann would never face a courtroom. He was killed as the Allies advanced into France. Much of the battalion was killed as well. 65 more were charged years later, but many were safe behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.
In 1983, one surviving member of the unit who escaped justice was finally caught by the East German secret police and brought to trial in Berlin. Then 63, Heinz Barth was given a life sentence, of which he served 14 years.
After the war, President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village never be rebuilt, in case the rebuilding should conceal what happened there. A new village called Oradour-sur-Glane was built near the massacre site.
Today, the village sits the same way it did in 1944, half-destroyed but lying in state as a permanent memorial to the 642 people who died there.
He is widely known as a Hollywood animation legend who worked at the studios that created Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. But Hal Geer also flew 86 combat missions as a combat cameraman in World War II.
According to a report by the Hollywood Reporter, Geer died Jan. 26 at the age of 100. According to IMDB, his credits included the movies “Daffy Duck: Fantastic Island,” “Bugs Bunny: All-American Hero,” and “The Bugs Bunny Mystery Special” as well as over twenty short cartoons.
Geer’s World War II service took him over the China-Burma-India Theater, flying in Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and North American B-25 medium bombers assigned to the 14th Air Force under Major General Claire Chennault, who founded the legendary Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group.
According to a 2007 report in the Ventura County Recorder, Geer made the documentary film “China Crisis” while serving. Geer told the Recorder that this World War II film was the one he was the most proud of.
In a 2005 interview with China Youth Daily, Geer discussed more about his time with the 14th Air Force. “China Crisis” discussed how the United States supported the 14th Air Force, getting supplies over what was called “The Hump.”
Today, it’s better known as the Himalaya Mountains. The film also covered the Japanese Army’s 1944 offensive in China (which doesn’t get as much press when compared to how America advanced in the Pacific that year). Thirteen combat cameramen shot over 300 hours of footage to make a film that was less than an hour long. Five cameramen were killed in action.
“China Crisis” had been slated to be shown along as part of a 1946 War Bonds drive. That drive would not take place, as Japan surrendered in August 1945 after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Perhaps, someday, DOD will find a way to make that film, and many others, available online for Americans to view.
Letters are a very personal and specific method of communicating, filled with all the details about feelings and moments that would get left out of official reports and summaries. That’s why they’re so loved by historians.
In these letters from the U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, a man identified as “Cofty” writes to his family about his experiences fighting in the jungles and front lines of Vietnam.
The first letter comes from Feb. 2, 1968, near the start of the Tet Offensive. The author and his unit were part of forces sent to counter the North Vietnamese attacks which had slammed into major U.S. posts at Long Binh and Bien Hoa. Saigon was also already under attack.
Though the writer couldn’t know it at the time, his unit was quite successful in driving the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces back, and attacks on Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would cease the same day he wrote this letter.
(The author mistakenly put that his unit moved out on the 31st of December. The post-it notation on the letter is to amend “December” to “January.” The letter was written on February 2, 1968.)
The attack on the prisoner of war camp resulted in about 26 North Vietnamese dead and no U.S. or South Vietnamese casualties. There were at least two platoons involved in the fighting there, an infantry platoon and a cavalry platoon. It seems that the author was likely part of the cavalry platoon as, in an earlier letter available below, he refers to his squadron and his troop. Troops and squadrons are unit types predominantly used in cavalry organizations.
(A cavalry troop is roughly the same size as an infantry company, and a cavalry squadron is roughly the same size as an infantry battalion.)
While Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would be relatively safe within hours of this letter being completed, attacks would continue across the front for months, including in Saigon where an embassy was partially overrun and then re-secured.
North Vietnamese forces launched approximately 120 attacks during the surprise offensive, greatly overstretching their forces and creating a situation where U.S. and South Vietnamese forces could quickly counterattack and retake the ground.
The offensive resulted in a large military defeat for the North Vietnamese, but early successes by the communist forces broke American morale at home, and the NVA achieved a major strategic victory despite their severe losses.
The other letter from this young soldier is dated January 19, a few weeks before the Tet Offensive began. It provides a little more “day-in-the-life” as the author details what search and destroy missions were, where his unit was located, and how hard it was to fight in the jungles near Cambodia.