At some point while growing up, every kid is issued a stern warning from their parents to not touch the hot stove when it’s on. Most kids take that advice at face value and never risk it. But then there are the other kids; the ones who repeatedly try to poke at the red hot coils. Eventually, there comes a time where the curious kids get burnt. This is basically what happened to the ill-fated and infamous Donner Party in 1847. History often paints the pioneers as unfortunate travelers, but it also often glosses over the fact that they were issued repeated warnings by the United States Army, who told them to stay away.
Spoiler alert: They didn’t stay away and it didn’t end well for thirty-nine of them — and if they were petty enough, the Army could’ve issued the survivors a “so, what did we learn?“
This information in important to the rest of the story.
(“Battle of Churubusco,” John Cameron, lithograph, 1846)
Manifest Destiny was in full force during the 1840s and countless pioneers moved out west in search of greener pastures. When Mexico saw the influx of new settlers coming into and setting up shop in disputed territory, their army attacked American troops in March, 1846, along the Rio Grande River, beginning the Mexican-American War.
The Army knew full well that the coming battles could stretch across the West and into places where settlers were building new lives. So, they issued a warning to pioneers, advising them to either wait for the war before venturing into the southwest or to proceed with extreme caution. After all, the soldiers had a war to fight; they couldn’t dote on individual settlers.
Just take a wild guess who they listened to: the grizzled Ranger or the sketchy salesman?
(“Advice on the Prairie,” William Ranney, painting, 1857)
That warning didn’t stop George Donner and James Reed from saddling up the wagons to make their way along the Oregon Trail and find new homes in California. The path was well-traveled and would take them through Wyoming, Idaho, and, eventually, down the California Trail near Ft. Hall, Idaho. This was the prescribed route made by the Army for all travelers. The route was generally pleasant, had several Army posts along the way, was seldom ambushed by Natives, and took about four to six months to traverse.
But they caught wind of a faster route that saved time by cutting through Utah. This information came from a writer/salesman, Lansford Hastings, who’d never actually been on his so-called Hastings Cutoff. This new route cut about 300 miles from the trip. Accounting for an average speed of about 12 miles per day, that would theoretically save them about a month of travel. It was important to make it to California before the winter, because as the Army told them, the winter would be deadly.
On their travels, the party randomly met James Clyman, an old Army Ranger turned mountain man. He strongly advised against this alternate route. Clyman had traveled all across the United States and her territories — he even wrote about Hugh Glass (you know, the guy from The Revenant) because he was there with him. There wasn’t a human being alive more suited to give counsel about these lands. He was very serious about them turning around and taking the established route.
Let this be a lesson for you. If a bunch of people with years of experience tell you something… maybe listen.
(“Encampment,” Daniel A. Jenks, watercolors, 1858)
You know this story doesn’t have a happy ending, so you know which advice they followed. The shortcut, turns out, was absolutely horrible and added months to their journey. Instead of making it to the Pacific Ocean by early September, they found themselves in Truckee Meadows (near present-day Reno, Nevada) by late October.
One of the party’s scouts, William Bryant, had taken the regular route ahead and made it safely to the Army’s Fort Sutter. He heard about their new route and the soldiers sent a dire warning. The warning implored them stay in Reno for the winter and to not even think about crossing the Sierra Nevada in this weather.
Truckee Meadows was beautiful. It had bountiful food, sturdy trees, flowing water in the winter. In a word, it was perfect! They could have as easily made their new lives there. They could’ve been happy. But wintering in Reno would have made too much sense, so they decided to try and push through the terrible wintry mountains — in spite of all of the warnings.
Now, it’s hard to say if they actually had to resort to cannibalism or not — some survivors suggested they did, others said they didn’t, and historical evidence is inconclusive — but it was still the definition of a sh*tshow. It took the Army months to find them (since they were kind of busy with the aforementioned war) but at least forty-eight people made it out.
U-505 was a near absolute failure as a killer, failing to sink a single ship for multiple combat tours in a row, suffering the only suicide of a commanding officer in the German undersea service until the final days of the war, and becoming the first submarine captured in the war despite failed attempts to scuttle the ship.
Yeah, the crew couldn’t even sink the sub properly.
The “unluckiest” U-boat, U-505, after its capture by sailors of Task Group 22.3.
Kapitänleutnant Axel-Olaf Loewe commissioned the boat in August 1941 and led it on three tours, sinking seven ships. (Kapitänleutnant is roughly equal to a U.S. Navy lieutenant, the O-3 grade.) Loewe did have one black spot on his record, though.
On July 22, 1942, a misunderstood command led to the ship shooting off the mast of a sailing boat with no flag and then sinking it. The ship belonged to a Columbian diplomat, and Columbia declared war after the incident. Berlin wasn’t exactly worried about Columbia, but that still ended up being Loewe’s last patrol.
Loewe then relinquished command to Kapitänleutnant Peter Zschech who had a much rougher time on the boat.
Zschech had been a successful officer before his command, and he held two Iron Crosses when he arrived on the U-505. He was expected to be a star. But his first two patrols had resulted in only one sinking. Before he could leave for his third patrol, French dockworkers sabotaged the U-505. They were executed, but their sabotage had the desired effect.
The U-505 struggled on its sixth patrol and sank no ships. Its seventh, eighth, and ninth patrols were cut short as the crew kept hearing strange noises that likely represented ongoing problems from the sabotage, and the boat turned back from each tour.
Zschech was professionally embarrassed. He was supposed to be a star of the submarine service but had sank one ship over the course of six patrols. On Oct. 9, 1943, Zschech took the crew on its 10th overall patrol, his seventh. Fifteen days later, the U-505 was spotted and came under heavy, determined depth charge attack.
The Oberleutnant zur See Paul Meyer got his crew out of the depth charge attack and led them back to port. The ship received a new commanding officer, Oberleutnant zur See Harald Lange. His first patrol on the boat lasted only nine days with little effect. But his next patrol, launched March 16, 1944, would go for 81 days. But it would end horribly.
It wasn’t entirely Lange’s or the crew’s fault. The U.S. Navy Task Group 22.3 had successfully sunk U-515 on its previous tour, and the task group commander had gotten an idea for a greater coup. U-515 had, after suffering extreme damage, come to the surface in the middle of the task group. The task group quickly sank it with all the guns it had, but the commander wanted to try using only machine guns next time, hoping to save the sub and capture it.
Survivors of the U-505 await their transportation to POW camps in 1944.
The USS Chatelain was the first to attack after Wildcat fighters from the USS Guadalcanal spotted the U-505, and it’s depth charges quickly forced the sub to surface. U-505 began circling to the right, and the gunners of the task group began laying into it out of fear it was lining up for a torpedo attack. This quickly proved false as submariners started leaping into the ocean, and the group commander ordered the larger caliber weapons to cease fire.
It was the first capture of an enemy ship by a U.S. Navy vessel since 1815. The boarding parties quickly got classified materials and the enigma machine out, and then set about trying to save the boat. This required closing the scuttling vents, disabling the charges, and then pumping water out of the boat.
And the U-505, in either a final slap in the face of its German crew or a final act of supporting sailors, depending on who you ask, the boat’s pumps successfully cleared the water, and it was towed to the Caribbean for study. The surviving crew members sat out the rest of the war in a POW camp.
Standing among the greatest warriors are the troops who go above and beyond the call of duty for their comrades when the odds are at their slimmest. This is the story of Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au.
Herbert K. Pilila’au was a native Hawaiian, born and raised on the island of O’ahu. Those who knew him growing up would describe him as a gentle kid who would spend much of his time reading the Bible and listening to classical music.
He was drafted into the Korean War at the age of 22 and attended Basic Training at Fort Shafter. His peers were in awe as they watched the stillest, quietest soldier in their company turn out to be the most physically fit and strong of the recruits. Despite being the most talked-about soldier, he remained humble and continually wrote home.
(Photo courtesy of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation – Hawaii)
Very shortly after basic training, he was attached to Charlie Company of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division and entered the fray in Gangwon Province, Korea. He volunteered to be the squad’s automatic rifleman saying, “someone had to do it.”
He first showed his prowess in battle alongside the rest of the 23rd Infantry Regiment as they fought at the Battle of Bloody Ridge in August of 1951. This victory lead United Nations troops to march on what is now known as the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.
(Courtesy of the National Archives)
Pilila’au would meet his destiny on September 17th, 1951, when his platoon was tasked with protecting the ridge-line of Hill 931. After suffering a barrage of North Korean artillery strikes on their position, his platoon was forced to retreat. As they started to rejoin the rest of the unit, North Korean infantrymen descended on their position.
Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au volunteered himself to cover the retreat of the rest of his platoon with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He laid fire into every North Korean that came his way until he ran out of bullets. He then switched to throwing every grenade he had with him. When the grenades were gone, he pulled out his trench knife and carved into any attacker he could while punching them with his free hand. It was only after his platoon was safe that he would be surrounded and, finally, fall to an enemy bayonet.
When his platoon retook the position the next day, they discovered the bodies of forty North Koreans around his. He was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. On June 18th, 1952, Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and became the first Native Hawaiian to receive the United States Military’s highest decoration.
As the Allies put their plans into action in 1944 preparing for the eventual D-Day landings, they knew that they needed to break German logistics in Normandy. As part of the process, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and the 8th Air Force targeted the rail networks that crisscrossed France.
But while the landings would be known as Operation Overlord and the evacuation of the Dunkirk was called Operation Dynamo, the rail bombings were named Operation Chattanooga Choo Choo.
The operation wasn’t named after the “The Simpsons” episode. That would be ridiculous, reader who apparently doesn’t understand that World War II happened before “The Simpsons.”
No, it was named after a popular song of the day. Glenn Miller had recorded the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941 and someone on the staff must have liked it. That would be similar to the missile strikes on Syria having been named after a Katy Perry or Taylor Swift song.
Despite the silly name, the operation was a huge success. The air forces wanted to limit German logistics while obscuring the site of the upcoming landings in Operation Overlord. So they dropped bombs all over occupied France but stipulated that two bombs be dropped at Pas de Calais for every one that hit in Normandy.
Adolph Hitler and his cronies were convinced the landings could come at Calais. The bombs ripped through German railways, marshaling yards, wireless radio stations, and other key infrastructure, softening up Normandy for the invasion.
There was a row of wheelchairs and walkers for these men as they gathered to dedicate the Chosin Few Battle Monument in the new Medal of Honor Theater in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Yet, when the flag trooped in, they struggled out of their chairs and steadied themselves on their walkers in respect to the flag. Not one remained seated.
‘The Toughest Terrain’
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke of that dedication in his remarks. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford knows the story of the battle, as all Marines do. The 1st Marine Division, two battalions of the Army’s 31st Infantry Regiment and British Royal Marines from 41 (Independent) Commando were attacking north, chasing a defeated North Korean Army up to the Yalu River, when an estimated 120,000 Chinese Communist troops attacked and surrounded the force around the Chosin Reservoir.
It was a battle “fought over the toughest terrain and under the harshest weather conditions imaginable,” Dunford said, and Marines since that time have been living up to the example the Chosin Few set in 1950.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am a United States Marine because of the Marines who served at Chosin,” Dunford said. “In all sincerity, any success I have had as a Marine has been as a result of attempting to follow in their very large footsteps.”
One set of footprints belonged to Joseph F. Dunford, Sr. who celebrated his 20th birthday while carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle with the Baker Bandits of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in the ridges over the reservoir Nov. 27, 1950.
“He spent the night in close combat as three regiments of the Chinese 79th Division attempted to annihilate the 5th and 7th Marines,” the general said.
Growing up, Dunford’s father never discussed how he spent his 20th birthday. “He never spoke of the horrors of close combat or the frostbite that he and many Marines suffered on their march to the sea,” he said. “I was in the Marine Corps for seven years before we had a serious conversation about his experiences in the Korean War.”
The Legacy of Chosin
Still, even as a youngster, the general knew what pride his father felt in being a Marine and a member of the Chosin Few and vowed to join the force. “I am still trying to get over the bar that he set many, many years ago,” Dunford said.
So, his father was his reason for joining the Marine Corps, but it was another Chosin veteran that was responsible for him making the Corps a career.
Dunford served as the aide to Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen Olmstead on Okinawa, Japan, in the early 1980s. Olmstead was a private first class rifleman at Chosin in G Company 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. “I would say that to a young lieutenant, there was something very different about General Olmstead — his character, his sense of calm, a father’s concern for his Marines, a focus on assuring they were well-trained, well-led, and ready for combat. He knew what they might have to experience.”
Olmstead’s example was a powerful one for young Lieutenant Dunford, and he started to think about making the Marine Corps a career. “I wanted to serve long enough to be a leader with the competence, compassion, and influence of General Olmstead,” he said.
The Chosin Few have this effect on the Marine Corps as a whole, Dunford said. Their real legacy is an example of valor, self-sacrifice, and camaraderie that units hand down as part of their DNA, he said.
The battle was a costly one, with U.S. forces suffering more than 12,000 casualties — including more than 3,000 killed in action. The nation awarded 17 Medals of Honor, 64 Navy Crosses, and 14 Distinguished Service Crosses to Marines and soldiers for heroism in that battle. 41 Commando received the same Presidential Unit Citation as the Marines of the 1st Marine Division.
Young Marines all learn about the battle, from recruits in boot camp to those striving to be officers at Quantico.
Imagine having to conceal your identity in order to feel safe and protect the ones you love. Changing the route you take to work, wearing disguises so you won’t be recognized, or reducing the amount of vacation you take because you know it’s safer to be at work than not.
For many of us, this way of life would seem farfetched or unrealistic, but for one Airman, this was his reality. Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad, 60th Aerial Port Squadron, transportation Journeyman, used to be an Afghan national working as a head interpreter with U.S. forces at Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan. As the head interpreter, Javad was relied upon for his expertise, which meant he was on all the important missions.
“I would go out on missions and it was like I was actually in the Army,” said Javad. “I would go weeks without a shower, I would carry 100-150 pound bags of ammo, sleep on the ground, walk all day, climb mountains, and jump out of helicopters.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo, Feb. 28, 2018. Javad was a linguist for U.S. forces while living in Afghanistan and fled to the United States in 2014. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
Despite the constant diligence to remain obscured, in 2013, the locals somehow figured out Javad was working with U.S. forces.
“Once they knew who I was, my family and I were no longer safe,” said Javad. “My life was threatened by the insurgents, my wife was accused of helping infidels and was threatened with kidnapping. I knew after that, I couldn’t work here anymore.”
Thus began a courageous and remarkable journey that led Javad to America and enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.
Javad was born in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union. His family fled to Iran because the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan made it too dangerous to stay.
“We left in 1989 when I was two during the Soviet-Afghan War because it was too dangerous for my family to stay,” said Javad “We came to Iran under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so we were discriminated against.”
There were not many educational opportunities for Javad growing up in Iran because of his refugee status. His parents decided to return to Afghanistan in 2004 since it was safer.
“We came back to Afghanistan so I could seek higher education because neither of my parents had that opportunity,” said Javad. “They wanted that option for me. I got my education, my bachelors and a double major in chemistry and biology.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo with his wife Sara, and three children Sana, Yusef, and Benyamin, March 6, 2018. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
After completing his education, Javad still found it difficult to find meaningful work.
“Afghanistan had a new government and it was corrupted,” said Javad. “It was difficult to get jobs unless you knew the right people.”
Javad had taken classes on computers, language, and received a certification in accounting. This helped him find a job where he could now provide for his family.
“After graduating college, I worked for an accounting firm,” said Javad. “After a year and a half, I was promoted to general manager.”
Unfortunately, after a horrific motorcycle accident kept him in the hospital for six months, Javad lost his job as a general manager with the accounting firm.
“I knew that without knowing anyone in the government, I was going to have to start from the bottom again,” said Javad. “The only other option I had was to become a linguist with U.S. forces.”
The day Javad applied for the linguist position, over 200 others were attempting the same.
“There’s a written and verbal skills test, interview, and security background check,” said Javad. “Only 10 of us made it through those stages. Once you get through that, there’s another few months of security screening with the Central Intelligence Agency and medical exams.”
Javad’s first assignment was with the USAF at FOB Shindand.
“I was assigned to the Base Defense Operations Center for the Air Force,” said Javad. “I was translating all the daily, weekly, and monthly security reports.”
While assigned there Javad met Senior Master Sgt. Michael Simon II, who was serving on a 365-day deployment as a Mi-17 crew chief air advisor.
“Javad was assigned to the FOB as an interpreter, translating from Dari or Pashto to English,” said Simon. “We worked together on several occasions in support of the Afghan Air Force training and advising missions.”
What Javad didn’t know at the time was that Simon would play an instrumental role years later as he transitioned from Afghanistan to America. During his time at FOB Shindand, the USAF was replaced by the Army, and his duties and responsibilities changed significantly.
“We were given the option to resign or accept new roles,” said Javad. “Sure enough, within a month, I was riding in convoys outside the wire. Things were a lot different now.”
Javad spent three years at FOB Shindand and witnessed some horrific things.
“I saw Army soldiers get shot and killed. I saw Afghan civilians get shot and killed,” said Javad. “I was the head interpreter and was always going out with Battalion commanders and other high-ranking officials.”
Despite the difficulties of his job and awful experiences he witnessed, Javad felt something for the first time.
“I was a local,” said Javad. “I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, but they never treated me like a stranger. They trusted me, they worked with me. That was a feeling I’d never had in my life before until I worked there.”
After his identity was disclosed and Javad knew he was no longer safe in Afghanistan, he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa so he could come to America. This wasn’t an easy decision because Javad was living as an upper middle-class citizen in Afghanistan.
“I was a homeowner with lots of land,” said Javad. “I owned a car and motorcycle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell anything because no one would buy anything built with the money from America. I was choosing between my belongings or my life.”
In the summer of 2014, Javad took his pregnant wife with only the belongings they could fit in a suitcase, the $800 they received for selling their wedding bands and traveled to the United States to begin a new life.
“When we arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, we had nothing,” said Javad. “I needed a sponsor for my SIV and Simon agreed. With the help of Simon, we were able to sustain some sort of normalcy until we could get on our feet.”
Simon got donations from his church and the local refugee service in Colorado Springs. Lutheran Refugee Service lined up a starter apartment with basic furnishings.
“My sister had coordinated with a group of close friends and churches to get a lot of items needed outside of the basics already provided,” said Simon. “Then the rest was up to Javad and his determination to succeed.”
Despite having an education, Javad found it hard to find work.
“I had to find a job because I barely could afford a month’s rent,” said Javad. “Nobody would give me a job because I didn’t have a history of work in the U.S.”
After meeting a family who had a local business, Javad found some temporary work, but more importantly, a life-long friend.
“They ended up being like family to us,” said Javad. “They called me son and they were the only ones who came to my graduation at basic training.”
Working in a warehouse didn’t bring in a lot of money for Javad and he struggled to make ends meet.
“For the first four months, I didn’t have a car,” said Javad. “I had to walk four miles one way, work eight hours, and walk another four miles back, in the winter, in Colorado Springs.”
After a year in the U.S., Javad felt that serving in the armed forces may provide a better life for him and his family.
“I worked four years with the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and had a little sense of what life was like in the military,” said Javad. “I know there’s a lot of sacrifices you have to make when serving your country, but in the end, I wanted to give back to the country that helped me a lot.”
Javad decided to enlist in the USAF and entered basic training in February 2016.
“I wanted to be part of a really big picture,” said Javad. “I did it mainly because the U.S. military saved my life and I wanted to do my part.”
The decision to join the USAF did not surprise Simon because his commitment, dedication and hard work align with the USAF core values.
For Javad, to start from scratch with just a suitcase and dedicate his efforts to providing for his family is the true American dream,” said Simon. “Now he’s a member of the 1 percent club who voluntarily choose to serve this great nation. To say I’m proud of Javad would be an understatement.”
A week before graduating basic training, Javad received an unexpected gift.
“I was notified that I was officially a U.S. citizen,” said Javad. “I was overwhelmed with pride. When I saw the flag being raised at graduation and we saluted, I couldn’t stop myself from crying because I finally had a flag I could be proud of.”
After basic training and technical school, Javad arrived at his first duty station here at Travis Air Force Base, California. He’s enjoyed the people, mission, and the area.
“My unit treats me like any other Airman,” said Javad. “They don’t see me as a person from Afghanistan, they see me as an Airman.”
Javad has yet to deploy since joining the USAF but said he would like to return to Afghanistan as an Airman and citizen of the U.S.
“I would be happy to deploy to Afghanistan because I know the mission over there is important,” said Javad. “I would love a special duty assignment as a linguist and use my language skills to help my fellow Airmen.”
Javad’s short-term goal is to help his parents get to the U.S.
“My parents had to escape Afghanistan and flee to another country,” said Javad. “I feel responsible because I come from a culture where your kids are your retirement, so now they are struggling until I can find a way to bring them to America.”
Once Javad secures his family in the U.S., he plans on achieving his long-term goal which is to become an officer in the USAF.
“I couldn’t become an officer when I enlisted even though I had the education because I wasn’t a citizen,” said Javad. “Now that I have my citizenship, I will pursue officer training school and get my commission.”
An estimated 300,000 “war brides,” as they were known, left home to make the intrepid voyage to the United States after falling in love with American soldiers who were stationed abroad during World War II. There were so many that the United States passed a series of War Brides Acts in 1945 and 1946. This legislation provided them with an immigration pathway that didn’t previously exist under the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed quotas on immigrants based on their nation of origin and strategically excluded or limited immigration from certain parts of the world, particularly Asia.
Equipped with little but a feeling and a sense of promise, war brides left everything that was familiar behind to forge a new identity in the United States. Many spoke little to no English upon their arrival in the country, and they were introduced to post-war American culture through specially designed curricula and communities. To this day, organizations for war brides in the United States provide networks for military spouses and their children, helping them keep their heritage alive and share their experiences of their adopted home.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on September 2, 2020, We Are The Mighty is proud to collaborate with Babbel, the new way to learn a foreign language. Babbel conducted interviews with surviving war brides as much of the world endured lockdown. Many of these women are now in their 80s and 90s, and their oral histories celebrate the challenges and successes of adapting to a new culture and language, as well as reflect on the leap of faith they all took to travel across the world to an unknown country. Spoiler alert: there are few regrets.
War Brides is a 5 part series.
My maiden name is Huguette Roberte Fauveau, and I am now 95 years old. I was born in Courbevoie, a suburb of Paris, and grew up in a nearby suburb called Chatou. I moved to America with my husband in 1946, and I still live there now.
I had a happy childhood before the war. My parents eloped when they were about 20, and they had me and my younger brother, Serge. My dad worked in a factory as a tool and dyes maker. They did not have a lot of money in the 1930s. During the war, I remember bombs falling very close to my home. So close that my dad, my brother and I all lost our hearing. It eventually returned, but as I have gotten older, I have lost my hearing again.
We were blessed that we did not get hurt during the German occupation. My grandparents had a little farm, so food was not scarce. We always had food to eat, but bread was something we did not have enough of. At one point, the Germans took over the factory where my father worked. While we remained unhurt, I heard and saw terrible things.
I met my husband when I was on vacation with my grandparents. I was walking to a dance with my friend, Jacqueline. We had missed our ride, so we had to walk over a mile in our high heels. While we were walking, a large Jeep stopped next to us and asked if we wanted a ride.
Naturally, we said no. When we eventually arrived at the venue, our feet were a little bruised, but this did not stop us from dancing. I noticed that two soldiers came in, and after a while, one of them approached me. I knew it was one of the men from the jeep. He told me I had nice legs, and we talked for a long time after that. He told me he was part of the military police and was tasked with supervising the dance. His name was Rodger Murray Rusher and he was 20, like me. He asked me if I would go on a date with him the next day, so I told him where I lived and said yes, but I never thought he’d find my house. He did.
My parents and my brother, Serge Lucien, liked Rodger straight away. My parents, and above all my brother, were extremely sad when I told them I wanted to move to America. But they loved and trusted Rod. His mother had written a letter to my mother, so they had faith that he and his family would take care of me.
I married Rod in Chatou on the 23rd of September, 1945, in the Sainte-Thérèse Church.
I had studied English for four years in school, so I could read and write English. I was pretty good at speaking it, but I spoke with a strong French accent. When I got to America, I discovered that some people had a hard time understanding me. Many still do! I became keen to learn English. I remember I read a lot, did lots of crossword puzzles, and always had my nose in a dictionary. It didn’t take me long to become fluent.
Rod and I first arrived in New York on the 19th of May, 1946. I spent my 21st birthday in New York. After that, we traveled to where Rodger’s family was from — a place called Roundup, Montana. My extended family made me feel very welcome when I arrived, and they hosted a party to introduce me to all their friends from around the town. They all wanted to hear about France, and all were very nice and welcoming. Up until then, I’d thought my English was good, but this is when I discovered that I had a hard time understanding them, and vice versa.
My in-laws had a four-bedroom log ranch. They did not have electricity, and their water came from a well. The bathroom consisted of two holes in a little outhouse. It was a very pretty ranch, but it was a shock for me. I came from a very modern house in a big city. But when you are young, you adjust easily to changes.
I have returned to France many times over the years. The first time was not long after Rod died. He wanted to be a pilot, and he was learning to fly under the GI Bill. When I was still pregnant with our second child, Rod was killed in a plane accident with his brother in 1948. A year or so after that, I returned to France. I stayed for six months, and then made the very difficult decision to return to America. It was hard to leave my parents and brother again, but by then I knew that I wanted my children to be American. I didn’t have any formal lessons to learn how to be an American, but I soon grew to love America very much.
In Roundup, I missed the symphony and the opera that I used to attend at home. But when I moved to a bigger city in Montana, Bozeman, I could start to enjoy them again. I spoke French with my children at home. My first two children were born in Roundup. I remember once overhearing some other children make fun of Gerald and Gregory for speaking French, so that’s when I thought, “No more French. They are American, they live here, and I want them to be American!” That was a mistake, but I didn’t know it then. It was difficult as a widow, and things were very different back then.
Three years after Rodger died, I remarried to a man named Terry James Coghlan. We had a girl, who we named Jacqueline. She speaks a little French, is very keen to learn, and is taking lessons now! I would tell people who were considering moving to another country for love to not be afraid, and to follow your heart.
Fred K. Mahaffey was a distinguished veteran of the U.S. Army who eventually rose to the rank of four-star general. It was during his time as a battalion commander in Vietnam that he, on at least three separate occasions in five months, risked his life to save his men. He received a Silver Star for each action.
Mahaffey was the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. On Jan. 26, 1969, his units were engaged in the Ding Tuong Province. He ordered his command and control helicopter to begin conducting low passes over the battlefield so he could survey the action and coordinate support between his men.
Then he had the helicopter drop him off, and he began leading the fight from the ground. Throughout the night, he came under intense fire four times but stayed at the front to rally and direct his forces.
A few months later on Apr. 29, the 2nd Battalion was conducting a reconnaissance in force mission in Long An. One of the infantry companies found a larger enemy element and engaged in a firefight. Mahaffey once again ordered his helicopter to the battlefield.
When he arrived, he began flying circles over the battlefield and selected targets for artillery fire despite the fact that he was under severe anti-aircraft fire. After the company had surrounded the enemy, Mahaffey had the helicopter land so that he could help his men eliminate the Vietnamese element.
Between May 12 and 13, Mahaffey completed his hat trick. Again, his forces were conducting a reconnaissance in force when they encountered a large enemy element. Mahaffey called in both artillery and air strikes from the bird and made constant adjustments to the fire missions to maximize their effects.
He then joined the forces on the ground and kept calling in missions, some as close as 35 meters from his own position. He stayed on the battlefield and coordinated the support fires until his men were able to destroy the enemy element completely.
For these three engagements, Mahaffey received three Silver Stars, but that’s not the full extent of his heroics in Vietnam.
He also received two Distinguished Flying Crosses. One was for his actions leading from the sky throughout the Vietnam deployment.
The other Distinguished Flying Cross resulted from actions taken on Apr. 6, 1969, when he saw two enemy soldiers maneuvering near his men. He ordered the bird to conduct low passes while he fired on the soldiers with his M-16, killing them both. He then landed, recovered their weapons and documents, and took off again.
Conrad Heyer crossed the Delaware with George Washington. He was also the earliest-born person, one of only a handful of Revolutionary War veterans, to be photographed. But there is one important historical inaccuracy in the legend of Conrad Heyer that may not add up.
Heyer was born an American in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (now the State of Maine) around 1749. He sat for this photo in 1852, at age 103. In that time, he saw the young republic finish the British off during the American Revolution and fight them, again, to a draw in the War of 1812. He saw President Jefferson purchase Louisiana and watched President Polk and the U.S. Army defeat Santa Anna in the Mexican-American War of 1847.
In his 107 years of life, he saw 15 Presidents of the United States, 31 colonies and territories become U.S. states, and barely missed the start of the Civil War.
Although this is not the earliest photo of an American, Heyer was the earliest-born American to be photographed (and this is actually a daguerrotype — an early kind of photography).
In the telling of Conrad Heyer’s Revolutionary War tale, however, people have been adding one detail for decades that just might not be true: that Conrad Heyer crossed the Delaware with General Washington in 1776.
Washington’s daring plan to attack Hessian mercenaries in Trenton on Christmas, 1776, was audacious and dangerous. Any troop who fell into the icy river would likely die — and two of the three flat boats set to make the crossing didn’t even make it. Somehow, Heyer was counted among those in Washington’s boat, according to the Maine Historical Society.
The Journal of the American Revolution did some digging into Heyer’s story. They went back to the sworn testimony Heyer gave years after the Revolution when applying for a veteran’s pension.
In 1818, Congress allotted funds to give pensions to veterans of the Continental Army who were struggling financially. Applicants had to prove their service either by enlistment documents or sworn testimony of those they served with. Don N. Hagist went back to the National Archives for the Journal of the American Revolution and found Heyer’s original sworn testimony, along with the support of his officers.
Heyer did serve in the Continental Army, but his testimony states he served for a year, starting in the middle of December, 1775. But Heyer says he was discharged in December 1777. This could allow for Heyer to have served at the Battle of Trenton. The records of Heyer’s unit, the 25th Continental Regiment, indicate that the unit served in Canada and was disbanded in New Jersey in 1776.
It looks like the year 1777 was a mistake made by the person who wrote Heyer’s pension deposition, as mentions of Heyer and his unit disappear into history a year earlier.
If he was discharged in Fishkill, New York, as records show, then there is little chance he could have been at the Delaware River crossing in time to join Washington by Christmas, even if he did re-enlist.
But by the time he died, his obituary claimed he’d served three years in the Revolution. Heyer, in reaffirming his pension claim in 1855, swore that he served those three years and was also at the Battle of Saratoga, being present to see General John Burgoyne surrender to Horatio Gates and was later part of Washington’s “bodyguard.”
This is where Heyer could be correct — there is no complete list of members of General Washington’s guard corps. The guard was hand-picked from members of Washington’s field army.
But never once did Heyer ever swear that he was with Washington at the Delaware Crossing.
At the height of the Korean War, Air Force pilot A.J. D’Amario was on his first solo flight since arriving in country. Luckily for him, it wasn’t a combat mission, he was just on a routine sortie to “have fun boring holes in the sky.” Things got a lot more interesting for D’Amario immediately upon taking off. He would have to put a few rounds from his sidearm in the plane before he could bring it down.
D’Amario’s P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter wasn’t the latest and greatest plane, but it was still a good fighter to have. He would have to get used to it. The MiG-15 was tearing through P-80 Fighters, but there weren’t yet enough F-86 Sabres to go around. Still, the P-80 held its own: the first American jet-to-jet kill was made behind the stick of a Shooting Star. None of that was on D’Amario’s mind as he shot up into the wild blue yonder. He was more concerned about his left fuel tank. It felt heavy – it wasn’t feeding fuel to the engine.
He wanted to land immediately, but that much fuel was a no-go for the Korean War-era U.S. Air Force. The tower at Suwan, Korea, wasn’t about to have a melted runway if that much jet fuel caught fire on the flightline. They told him to dump his tanks at a bomb range and then come back.
D’Amario retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Col.
(U.S. Air Force)
The young pilot flew over to the range, and as soon as he came upon his target area, he flipped the switches for the bomb release. Unfortunately, nothing happened. D’Amario’s P-80 Shooting Star was still carrying the heavy tanks of dangerous fuel and had no way of dumping the tanks, feeding the engine, or landing. He did what anyone who’s felt enough frustration with malfunctioning equipment wanted to do: he shot it.
But that wasn’t his first reaction. He made a few bombing runs, trying to release the left tank at every turn. He even once hit the plane’s “panic button” – the button that released everything attached to the fuselage. It did dump everything, everything except his errant fuel tank, full of fiery death. The tower told him he was cleared to bail out. The only problem with that is that bailing out comes with its own potential consequences. The loss of the aircraft is a definite consequence.
“… pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane,” D’Amario later wrote, “And I figured I still had one option worth trying.”
U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
That’s when the pilot opened the canopy of his jet aircraft (which he did slow down to 220 miles per hour) and pulled out his issued sidearm, a Colt M1911, and fired at the very full, very malfunctioning fuel tank.
“… liquid fuel will not burn,” D’Amario writes. “At least not like vapors, so I aimed for the part of the tank I was sure would be full of liquid.”
D’Amario fired four shots at the tank. The first shot was to understand just where to shoot to hit the tank while flying at 220 miles per hour. The next three rounds punctured the tank and went through the other side. It worked: the P-80 was still flying, and liquid fuel was pouring out of the left tank. Best of all, D’Amario and his Shooting Star did not become a real-life burning streak across the sky.
He was able to drain the tank and make a “routine” landing a half-hour later, convinced he was the only USAF pilot to shoot his own plane when it malfunctioned.
April is a great month to remember the namesake of one of our Pearl Harbor guided-missile destroyers, USS John Paul Jones, named for a founding hero of our Navy and proudly known by the crew and their families and friends as “JPJ.”
On April 19, 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord lit the match of Revolution against British tyranny. At the time Great Britain had more than 250 warships with nearly half having 50 or more guns – cannons. Our tiny naval force consisted of a few ragtag privateers and some humble sailing vessels. Even before our nation began, the founders commissioned 13 frigates and recruited warfighters, including immigrants like John Paul Jones.
In April 1776, Jones was aboard the large converted merchant ship Alfred, taking the fight against the British with a contingent of Continental Marines. On April 6 the colonial mariners attacked and heavily damaged the British cruiser HMS Glasgow, which had been harassing the colonies’ shipping. It was our Navy’s first sea battle.
After that victory Lt. Jones was awarded with an assignment to captain of the Providence. A year later he was assigned to the sloop Ranger. Jones bristled at the state of readiness and combat capability of his new ship. Throughout his career he demanded the best, deadliest and fastest; he trained, equipped and operated with precision and rigor.
On April 24, 1778, Jones, aboard Ranger, captured HMS Drake after thunderous fusillades of cannons and muskets and bloody close combat with cutlasses and boarding pikes.
We remember John Paul Jones for his courage and tenacity against all odds. His heroism aboard Bonhomme Richard and his bold attacks against the British homeland are well-known. He owned the fight, willingly going in harm’s way.
That legacy continues.
On April 5, 1956, the Navy commissioned USS John Paul Jones (DD-932), which made a shakedown cruise to Europe. The Forrest Sherman-class destroyer was re-designated DDG-32 and served our navy for more than 25 years.
Our current JPJ, DDG 53, was launched in October 1991, and ten years later – less than a month after 9/11 – fired the first Tomahawk missiles in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Johans Chavarro)
JPJ is the first Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer to be stationed in the Pacific Fleet, and in the summer of 2014 became one of our go-to Ballistic Missile Defense System supporting ships in Hawaii, with the latest SM-3 missiles and updated, advanced Aegis capabilities.
During JPJ’s four years home ported in Pearl Harbor, the ship has participated in numerous operations and exercises, working closely with our Pacific Missile Range Facility test and training range, and cooperating with the forces of key allies like Japan and Republic of Korea. Here in Hawaii we are uniquely able to put new innovation to the test so our fleet can have proven, effective weapons systems.
(U.S. Navy photo by Leah Garton)
JPJ helps the Navy determine the accuracy of weapons systems, detect potential system anomalies and demonstrate advances in surface force lethality and defensive capabilities. At the same time, JPJ, along with our other nine gray hulls in Pearl Harbor, conducts effective community outreach.
Back in 2006, Sailors of USS John Paul Jones and USS Preble (DDG 88) participated in the 99thRose Festivalin Portland Oregon. One imagines gentlemanly Capt. John Paul Jones, who was known for writing poetry, being pleased to be part of the festival.
As with many of our Navy’s namesakes, Capt. John Paul Jones was not without his flaws. He was a complicated man with conflicting personality traits, both sensitive and tough, reflective and extremely vain, paranoid and exceptionally self-assured.
In the words of Navy veteran Sen. John McCain, writing about Jones, “I challenge you to show me someone flawless who has made a significant contribution to history. It is not perfection that characterizes greatness. It is, rather, the ability to achieve great things in spite of ourselves.”
In many ways resilient warfighting John Paul Jones serves as a namesake for our entire Navy.
One final April reference: On April 24, 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt spoke at Annapolis at a re-interment ceremony commemorating John Paul Jones:
“Every officer in our Navy should know by heart the deeds of John Paul Jones. Every officer in our Navy should feel in each fiber of his being an eager desire to emulate the energy, the professional capacity, the indomitable determination and dauntless scorn of death which marked John Paul Jones above all his fellows.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Martin L. Carey)
Today our men and women of JPJ, along with their shipmates everywhere, continue to emulate their namesake’s resilience and willingness to fight, with the ability to survive and return, and with the commitment to adapt and overcome. Our Sailors are able to go in harm’s way, if necessary, with indomitable determination and the will to win.
The last time that the United States faced a national health crisis as deadly as the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotics did not exist.
Neither did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the first case of the Spanish flu arrived in the United States at an Army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas, in the spring of 1918, World War I dominated the headlines.
That pandemic resulted in roughly 50 million deaths worldwide in 1918-19, and about 500 million people were infected. Approximately 675,000 Americans died.
“The flu was a disaster,’’ said Carol Byerly, author of “Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I.’’ “It killed more people in the military than the war did, and so they tried to understand it. They didn’t understand viruses at the time.’’
More than 1,400 National Guard Medical Services personnel were sent overseas, leaving only 222 NGMS officers at home to assist with controlling the spread of influenza and pneumonia, according to the National Guard Bureau. (By comparison, a high of 47,000 National Guard members supported the COVID-19 response in May.) In 1918, most of the National Guard’s members — more than 12,000 officers and nearly 367,000 soldiers — served in World War I.
“[In] 1918, the pandemic hit, and most of the medical services were deployed overseas,’’ said Dr. Richard Clark, historian of the National Guard Bureau. “The National Guard mobilized its medical forces to augment stateside military forces to help with the military bases.’’
The National Guard previously had not assisted with such a widespread health emergency. For more than three months, beginning in September 1858, the New York National Guard helped alleviate a disturbance during a yellow-fever quarantine on Staten Island. In late 1910 and early 1911, the Michigan National Guard enforced a quarantine of smallpox patients at a state asylum. Those missions did not provide medical support, though.
“The thought of using [the National Guard] in a medical capacity to respond domestically had not really been thought about until that point,’’ Clark said.
The military’s role in spreading the Spanish flu is undeniable. As soldiers moved between camps in the U.S. or were deployed to France, the number of infections increased. Some Army camps, such as Camp Devens near Boston, were particularly hard-hit. When ships carrying troops returned from overseas, more soldiers got sick.
War-bond parades left citizens susceptible to infection, too, including one in Philadelphia, attended by 200,000 people, that resulted in a spike of cases. Despite the rising totals, the pandemic was downplayed.
“Every day, you read the newspaper, and a couple of cases were developed in the city, and officers were saying, ‘It’s no big deal,’’’ Dr. Alex Navarro, the assistant director for the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. “[Then] there would be hundreds and hundreds of cases, and this is something very serious. Very rapidly, they had to deal with the threat.
“The one major issue was that there was a shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as some medical supplies like surgical gauze and masks, so the war effort definitely hindered that medical response.’’
Some preventive measures, including social distancing and mask laws, were put into place. The military tried quarantining camps and limiting troop mobilizations, but those restrictions were not sustainable during wartime, Navarro said. They even stopped the draft in October, a month before World War I ended, Byerly said.
“They didn’t want to stop the draft,’’ Byerly said. “They didn’t want to reduce crowding on the ships and in the training camps. They didn’t want to send more nurses and doctors to the soldiers, but that is what you have to do in order to take care of your personnel.’’
A total of 43,000 U.S. service members died because of the pandemic. More than a quarter of the Army’s soldiers, about 1 million men, became infected, and at least 106,000 Navy sailors were hospitalized, according to Byerly. The National Guard has no records of how many of its members died or were infected.
While the National Guard’s role in combating the Spanish flu a century ago was minimal, a valuable lesson came out of that pandemic, Clark said. Officials began preparing to offer more support during national health emergencies. The wisdom of that decision is being felt a century later.
“We’re not going through something new,’’ Clark said.
“History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes, so the lessons of the past should not be taken as a one-for-one example or a guide to what we need to do today. Many of the details, much of the context is very, very different, but what you can use the past as a guide for is for critical thinking about the situation. … What is the same, and what is different?’’
After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1947, Ernest Brace thought he was going to be a simple radio technician in a calmer, postwar world. None of those things happened. He was sent to flight school for the Corps instead and was sent to Korea, where he became a dive bomber. After flying more than 100 missions, he left the military for the civilian sector, only to be shot down while running arms – over Vietnam.
He would be held captive in Hanoi for almost eight years, making him the longest-held American POW in the entire war.
Adm. Noel Gayler, right, greeted Ernest Brace in March 1973 on his release as a prisoner of war.
By the time he earned his flight wings as a mustang military officer, the United States was committed to the war in Korea. Marine Attack Squadron 121 and Ernest Brace were sent there to fight in 1952. Brace would be there for almost the rest of the war. He flew more than 100 fighter missions over Korea in that time, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for taking incredible surface fire while raiding a power plant. He crashed into the Sea of Japan, but was rescued by the Navy.
Having enlisted at age 15, Brace was only 22 when his time in Korea ended. He was sent stateside in Maryland to train when he abruptly ended his own military career. He was accused of trying to fake his own death by crashing a trainer aircraft into a cornfield. Brace allegedly wanted his wife to collect his life insurance payout. When his flight uniform and other articles were found, he turned himself in. He was soon court-martialed and out of the military. But good men the military could trust were hard to find in the middle of the Cold War, so Ernest Brace wasn’t grounded for long.
Brace after returning from captivity in Vietnam.
Brace began flying planes for Bird Son, a company that supported government operations in Thailand, as well as USAID operations in the region. Most importantly, Bird was a contract operator for the Central Intelligence Agency at the time. In May 1965, Brace was the pilot of a PC-6 Porter civilian aircraft that took small arms fire while on the ground in Laos. Unable to take off, he was captured by the Pathet Lao and handed over to the North Vietnamese. After being tortured and held in stress positions for years on end, he finally found himself in the notorious Hanoi Hilton prison. He had attempted escape numerous times but was recaptured every time. After attempting suicide, Brace was sent to Hanoi with the other high-value POWs. His neighbor in the cells got him through by teaching him the POWs’ tap code.
Though he never saw his neighbor’s face, they were crucial to each others’ sanity and survival. It wasn’t until the two men met after their release in May 1973 that Ernest Brace met Lt. Cmdr. John McCain face-to-face for the first time. Their first meeting was at the White House.
Just desserts for a man whose service to his country never ended.
During his captivity, Brace’s wife had accepted that he was dead and had since remarried. So when he met a nurse in San Diego Naval Medical Center and fell in love, he could marry her after his recovery. They were married the rest of his life and had three kids of their own. Brace lived to the age of 83, dying in 2014.