There is a special and unofficial award for colonels who are most willing to take the fight to the enemy that is quietly passed between senior Marine Corps officers — the colonel rank insignia originally worn by Maj. Gen. Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson, a veteran of World War II who also served during World War I and Korea.
The Marines held out throughout the night, saving Henderson Field. Edson, who spent most of the night within yards of the forward firing line, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. He also earned a Navy Cross, a Silver Star, and two Legions of Merit for his World War II service.
In 1951, Edson was a retired major general. He went to the promotion ceremony for one of his former subordinate officers, Lewis W. Walt. Walt was scheduled to receive his promotion to colonel, and Edson gave him the wings that Edson had worn as a colonel.
Since then, Edson’s Eagles have purportedly graced the shoulders of some of the Marine Corps’ finest colonels.
“For 60 years, the passing of Edson’s Eagles has been unusual for its informality and privacy, honoring ‘the same mystical blend of intelligence, dignity, innovation, and raw courage that were the hallmark of their original owner,’ ” according to a story by the U.S. Naval Institute.
The most famous is undoubtedly Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis who wore Edson’s Eagles as a colonel from 1995 to 1997, rose to the rank of four-star general after leading Navy Task Force 58 in the Afghanistan Invasion and the 1st Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq — and is currently President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense.
Marine Lt. Gen. William M. Keys wore Edson’s Eagles after proving his mettle in Vietnam. On March 2, 1967, he led his company headquarters against a superior enemy force to save his rifle platoons during an engagement. Then on March 5, he engaged in hand-to-hand combat against the North Vietnamese while conducting a counterattack.
Other notable recipients of Edson’s Eagles include Gen. Paul X. Kelley, 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps; Col. John Ripley, a Force Reconnaissance Marine famous for his actions at a bridge near Dong Ha, Vietnam; and Gen. James T. Conway, the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
The Niagara River’s famously beautiful Horseshoe Falls is truly a wonderful sight. But if you look upriver before the falls, you might notice a rusted out hulk of a scow that looks like it’s been sitting on the river for a century.
That’s because it has been.
Two workers from the Buffalo, New York were doing a regular day’s work of dredging silt from the mouth of a canal that diverted the river to hydraulic power generators when they suddenly broke loose from the tugboat and began to float toward the falls.
Not many people survive going over Niagara Falls and those who do call it a “miracle.” But in 1918, the number of people who survived was two, the first being a 62-year-schoolteacher who went over in a wooden barrel.
Going over Niagara Falls will drop your body 187 feet into the rocks and water. You might get to the bottom of the river and not make it back up. If your body survived the impact, the freezing water would give you 15 minutes to get out before you began suffering from hypothermia.
The scow was beached on a sand berm when the tugboat came to release it and bring it back to shore. As the towing commenced, the rope between the boats snapped and sent the scow hurtling toward the falls. Luckily, it ran aground on some rocks in the river, 650 feet from oblivion.
Unable to reach the men by boat, Canadian firefighters were able to get a lifeline to its two crewmembers as the U.S. Coast Guard was dispatched to rescue them. The Coast Guard was able to get a lifeline to the iron dredging boat and the two men climbed to safety. The entire rescue operation took 17 hours due to tangled lines.
It was Canadian World War I veteran William “Red” Hill Sr. who climbed out to untangle the lifelines throughout the night. He’d only been back from the war for four days when he made the rescue.
Unsure of what to do with the iron hull, not knowing who would pay for a costly dismantling operation or if it was even worth the risk and effort, the Coast Guard did what anyone with a little common sense would do: leave it there.
The scow sat on the rocky shoal that miraculously saved its two crewmen for more than a hundred years. In 2019, a powerful storm raised the water levels of the river and freed the scow from the shoals.
The rusting iron mass shifted from the rocks and floated closer to Horseshoe Falls, flipping onto its side 50 meters closer.
In the years since the 1918 accident, around 5,000 bodies have been found at the bottom of Horseshoe Falls, either suicides or as stunts to survive the trip. An estimated 25% of those daredevil attempts end in death.
One of those daredevils was William “Red” Hill, Jr., the son of the valiant rescuer of the two men trapped on the scow. In an effort to honor his daredevil father, the younger Hill went over the falls in a barrel, dying in the attempt.
Washington Receiving a Salute on the Field of Trenton (Artist: John Faed/Public Domain)
It’s difficult to imagine how history would have been altered if George Washington had been killed during the Revolutionary War. Without the father of our country leading its fight for freedom, the war might have been lost and America might still be a British colony. In fact, this alternative history might have come true if not for the moral convictions and gentlemanly ethics of a Scottish infantry officer named Patrick Ferguson.
A miniature of Ferguson c. 1774-177 (Artist unknown/Public Domain)
Ferguson was born into nobility in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on May 25, 1744. His father was a senator at the College of Justice and his mother was the sister of Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank. He began his military career early, joining the army at the age of 15. He served with the Royal Scots Greys and fought in the Seven Years’ War before he returned home due to a leg injury. In 1768, he returned to military service, purchasing command of a company in the 70th Regiment of Foot under the Colonelcy of his cousin, Alexander Johnstone. He commanded the company in the West Indies until his leg injury forced him to return home.
Ferguson arrived in Britain in 1772 and participated in light infantry training where he helped develop new tactics for the army. During this time, he also invented the Ferguson breech-loading rifle, arguably the most advanced sharpshooting rifle of its day. His sharp intellect and ingenuity caught the attention of General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of British land forces in the colonies. Consequently, he was sent to fight in the American War of Independence.
British Army manual for the Ferguson rifle
In 1777, Ferguson arrived in the colonies and was given command of what became known as Ferguson’s Rifle Corps, a unit of 100 riflemen equipped with the new Ferguson rifle. One of their first engagements was the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania on September 11.
Ferguson’s light infantry tactics emphasized small units of well-trained marksmen maneuvering around the battlefield over the doctrinal rank and file style of combat of the day. As such, Ferguson and his rifle corps moved ahead of General Howe’s army as they advanced on Philadelphia. As they maneuvered, Ferguson spotted a prominent American officer alongside another officer in Central European hussar dress; the two officers were conducting a reconnaissance mission on horseback. With their accurate sharpshooting rifles, Ferguson and his men could have easily cut the officers down in a volley of musket fire. However, the officers had their backs turned to the Brits. As a man of honor, Ferguson decided not to fire on the officers who were unaware of his presence.
Later in the battle, Ferguson was shot through his right elbow and taken to a field hospital. There, a surgeon told Ferguson that some American soldiers who were treated there earlier said that General Washington had been in that area earlier in the day. Ferguson wrote in his journal that, even if the officer had been Washington, he did not regret his decision.
Although the identity of the American officer remains uncertain, the man in hussar dress was almost certainly Count Casimir Pulaski, one of the Founding Fathers of U.S. Cavalry (along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy). During the battle, Pulaski conducted reconnaissance missions and even scouted a retreat route for Washington after his army was defeated. If the American officer was indeed Washington, and if Ferguson had decided to take the shot, September 11, 1777, might have been a turning point in American history.
Portrait of Casimir Polaski (Artist: Jan Styka/Public Domain)
Ferguson took a year long hiatus from military service to recover from his wound and returned to battle in 1778. He continued to fight in the American War of Independence until his death during the Battle of King’s Mountain, on the border of North and South Carolina, on October 7, 1780. During the battle, Ferguson was shot from his horse. His foot was caught in the stirrup and he was dragged to the American side where he was approached for his surrender. In response, and as a final act of defiance, he drew a pistol and shot one of the Americans. The Patriots responded by shooting him eight times, stripping his body of clothing, and urinating on him before he was buried in an oxhide near the site of his fall.
While Ferguson’s actions at the Battle of King’s Mountain were less than gentlemanly, his determination to go down fighting embodies the warrior spirit. This is juxtaposed by his moral conviction to hold his fire at the Battle of Brandywine. Whether or not the American officer there was General Washington, Ferguson’s legacy will forever be marked by the shot he didn’t take.
In the 1988 presidential campaign, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President, had a problem: he needed to look credible as a commander-in-chief during a time when Democrats were being criticized for their defense policies.
Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan Administration had been pushing through a major peace-time military build-up.
According to CQ Researcher, a large portion of the Democrats in Congress had opposed that build-up in the 1984 elections. That caused the perception that the Democrats were being weak on defense, which led to Reagan’s 49-state landslide.
Dukakis had been among those who were critical of the buildup, the mainstays of which — the B-1B Lancer, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, and a host of other weapon systems – are in service today (with a few exceptions).
Worse, according to a 2013 article in Politico, during the month of August, Dukakis had gone from leading Vice President George H.W. Bush by 17 points to trailing him, and one big reason was that 54 percent of Americans felt that then-Vice President Bush would do a better job on national security, while only 18 percent thought Dukakis would.
To counter that, Dukakis went on a swing that discussed defense, but one event was marked by defense workers jeering him. Then, he went on a visit to a General Dynamics plant in Michigan where he planned to ride in an M1 Abrams tank, a key part of the buildup that Democrats had criticized.
However, to do the ride, Dukakis was told he had to wear protective headgear. He did so, and ended up sealing his fate.
Within a week, the photo of Dukakis in the helmet had become a joke (think Kushner in his vest), but the worst was to come when operatives with Bush’s campaign developed an attack ad. Using 11 seconds of footage, they highlighted Dukakis’s opposition to the Reagan buildup and foreign policy.
Dukakis, who had already been trailing, and already saw 25 percent of Americans less likely to vote for him, was now in freefall. He eventually lost the 1988 election by seven million votes.
At the 58 BC Battle of Vosges, Julius Caesar was surrounded. He had to force the Germanic army under Ariovistus into combat because the German was content to starve the Romans out. Cut off from supplies, Caesar’s legions may not last long enough to attack later. So, outnumbered and surrounded, Caesar struck.
He marched his entire force toward the weakest part of the Germanic army: its camp. When the legions arrived, the Germanic women were in the army’s wagon train, shouting, screaming, and wailing… at the Germanic men.
The Gallic Wars were an important moment in the history of Rome. It saw Julius Caesar’s rise in power and prestige as well as an important military and territorial expansion of the Roman Republic. But to the Romans’ well-organized and disciplined fighting force, the wailing Germanic women must have been an altogether strange experience.
Germanic women were forced to defend the wagon trains after many battles against the Romans.
If a tribe was caught up in a fight while migrating or moving for any reason, women would not be left behind. Germanic women would yell at their fighting men, sometimes with their children on hand to witness the fighting. The women encouraged their children to yell and, with bare breasts, shouted reminders at the men that they must be victorious in combat or their families would be captured and enslaved… or worse, slaughtered wholesale.
Their shouts encouraged their men to fight harder, as women were considered holy spirits. Letting them fall into enemy hands was the ultimate failure.
The Roman Senator and historian Tacitus wrote in his work, Germania:
A specially powerful incitement to valor is that the squadrons and divisions are not made up at random by the mustering of chance-comers, but are each composed of men of one family or clan. Close by them, too, are their nearest and dearest, so that they can hear the shrieks of their women-folk and the wailing of their children. These are the witnesses whom each man reverences most highly, whose praise he most desires. It is to their mothers and wives that they go to have their wounds treated, and the women are not afraid to count and compare the gashes. They also carry supplies of food to the combatants and encourage them.
It stands on record that armies already wavering and on the point of collapse have been rallied by the women, pleading heroically with their men, thrusting forward their bared bosoms, and making them realize the imminent prospect of enslavement — a fate which the Germans fear more desperately for their women than for themselves. Indeed, you can secure a surer hold on these nations if you compel them to include among a consignment of hostages some girls of noble family. More than this, they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and a gift of prophecy; and so they do not scorn to ask their advice, or lightly disregard their replies.The women were more than just morale builders, though. They provided aid and comfort to their men after the battle was over, of course. And they would bring supplies and food to their male warriors in the middle of the fight.
If the battle didn’t go well, however, Germanic women could take on an entirely new role. They might kill any male members of the tribe who attempted retreat. They could even kill their children and then commit suicide rather than submit to enslavement by another tribe or army.
Women were captured en masse at the Battle of Aquaq Sextiae.
Vosges wasn’t the first time the Roman Republic encountered this phenomenon. At the 102 BC Battle of Aquae Sextiae a Roman army that was outnumbered by Germans 3-to-1 emerged victorious, according to the Roman historian Plutarch. He notes that 300 of the women captured that day killed themselves and their children rather than be taken back to Rome.
For the Germans at the Battle of Vosges, the situation wasn’t as desperate. They were all well-rested and their march from the Rhine River didn’t take a heavy toll on their strength. But the Romans were formidable and, thanks to a sudden moment of quick thinking by one of Caesar’s cavalry officers, they were able to drive the Germans back across the Rhine. When Caesar returned from Rome after the conquest of Gaul, he came back with a million slaves.
When people think of African Americans serving in WWI, the famous Harlem Hellfighters often come to mind. What may come as a surprise is that the highest-ranking African American in the American Expeditionary Force, Otis Beverly Duncan, was not part of this unit.
Otis Beverly Duncan was born on November 18, 1873 in Springfield, Illinois. His family was a long-established African American family in the city. In fact, his maternal great-grandfather, William Florville, was Abraham Lincoln’s friend and barber. Duncan attended public school and went on to work as the business manager for an African American newspaper in Springfield called the State Capitol. In 1897, he went to work in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a precursor to the State Board of Education. Duncan would remain in the department for the rest of his career.
Wishing to expand his public service, Duncan joined the Illinois National Guard. Illinois was unique during the Jim Crow era in that it was one of the few states that organized and paid for the training of an all-black regiment in its National Guard. Duncan joined the unit, the 8th Infantry Regiment, as a Lieutenant. He continued his National Guard service alongside his civilian career and rose through the ranks. By 1904, Duncan had reached the rank of Major. In 1916, the 8th Infantry Regiment was called up for national service during the Pancho Villa Expedition into Mexico. During the campaign, Duncan served on the regimental staff.
When America entered WWI in April 1917, the 8th Infantry was still in national service and was reorganized as the 370th Infantry Regiment. The 370th was one of the few black units to join the AEF and retain most of its all-black command structure. As the unit made preparations to deploy, Duncan was promoted to Lt. Col. and given command of the 3rd Battalion. When the regimental commander, Col. Franklin A. Denison, was relieved of his command and replaced by a white officer, Duncan became the highest-ranking African American in the AEF.
In May, the 370th arrived in France. However, the Army’s racist policies restricted black units from fighting alongside white units on the front. Like the Harlem Hellfighters, the 370th was assigned to the French Army. Duncan and his battalion became part of the French 10th Army in the Argonne Forrest. During the fighting, their German enemies gave them the nickname the “Black Devils” for their ferocity in combat.
Despite being faced with racism from their own army and bitter fighting from their enemy, the men of the 370th succeeded in pushing the German lines back. They were among the first allied troops to cross into occupied Belgium before the war ended. Duncan’s battalion pursued the Germans all the way until the Armistice on November 11.
Duncan was one of 60 officers in the 370th who were awarded the French Croix de Guerre for valor. “We have given our full contributions to this war, that we have fought, bled, and died for the grand and noble principles of the war,” he wrote in a letter home.
On February 17, 1919, the 370th returned home to a welcoming parade in Chicago. Many African Americans from Springfield made the trip north to attend it. When Duncan and the other Springfield natives returned to their hometown, they were greeted by Governor Frank O. Lowden and a celebratory banquet at the Leland Hotel.
For his successful command of the 3rd Battalion during the war, Duncan was promoted to Colonel and given command of the regiment. He was tasked with reorganizing the reformed 8th Infantry back into the Illinois National Guard. He also resumed his civilian career.
Col. Duncan retired from public service in 1929. He died eight years later on May 17, 1937 and was buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield. Col. Duncan broke a color barrier at a pivotal moment in American and world history and blazed a trail for colored military leaders in the wars to come.
After receiving information that war was near, German Vice-Adm. Maximilian Von Spee sent a message to his Imperial navy colleagues in the Pacific to rally up for a fight.
Spee was aboard the SMS Scharnhorst docked near the Pacific island of Pohnpei when he sent his message to Tsingtao, at the time the administrative center for the German Pacific colonies.
The battle damaged German ship SMS Cormoran geared up and was ordered to disrupt enemy supply lines. But after months at sea and under constant pressure by the Japanese, the Cormoran began running low on coal and needed a safe place to dock.
The Cormoran reached Apra Harbor in Guam — which had recently become a U.S. protectorate — on Dec. 14, 1914, hoping for some aid by the neutral Americans there.
Interestingly, until the 1950s, Guam’s governor’s office was held by American naval officers.
Guam’s Gov. William Maxwell initially refused to help the Germans because America wanted to stay neutral in the war, but since the Cormoran nearly was out of fuel, the ship wouldn’t leave.
The two sides finally came to an agreement and the German could stay but must live under restriction. The Cormoran’s crew had to stow their weapons on the ship, and the firing pins of the 10.5 cm guns had to be removed from service.
Letting the Germans live on the island was extremely risky as the small amount of Americans were now outnumbered.
But during the time the Germans inhabited the small island alongside their soon to be American enemy, there weren’t any known reports of violent incidents — but that peace wouldn’t last forever.
In 1916, Guam’s new governor received a message that the US just entered the war. A small group of Marines assembled and demanded the German’s surrender right away. When the Germans refused, the Marines fired two warning shots across the Cormoran’s bow.
The warning shots were fired just two hours after the US entered the Great War, thus making history as the first shots fired by Americans at their new German enemy happened in Guam.
Check out The Great War‘s video to learn about this incredible story.
In September 1940, World War II was a year old. The US was still a noncombatant, but it was preparing for a fight.
That month, the US introduced the Selective Training and Service Act — the first peacetime draft in US history. Mobilizing the millions of troops was a monumental task and essential to deploying “the arsenal of democracy” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Americans to provide.
Inducting millions of civilians and turning them into effective troops — and keeping them happy, healthy, supplied, and fighting — was also a daunting challenge.
In order to find the best way to do that, the War Department mounted an opinion survey, polling nearly a half-million soldiers stationed all around the world throughout the war. Their uncensored responses, given as the war was being fought, are an unprecedented window into how those troops felt about the war, the military, and their role in both.
“Entirely too much boot-licking going on,” one soldier wrote. “Some sort of a merit system should be instituted.”
“Spam, Spam, Spam. All I dream about is Spam,” wrote another.
(National Archives photo)
In an email interview, Edward Gitre, a history professor at Virginia Tech whose project, The American Soldier in World War II, has compiled tens of thousands of responses to those surveys, explained why the Army sought the unvarnished opinions of its soldiers and what those opinions revealed.
Christopher Woody: Why did the War Department conduct these surveys? What did it want to find out about US troops and how did it want to use that information?
Gitre: Henry Stimson, the aged Secretary of War, outright barred the polling of US troops when one of the nation’s leading pollsters, Elmo Roper, first pitched the idea in spring 1941. The War Department was not in the habit of soliciting the “opinions” of foot soldiers.
Yet an old friend of the Roosevelt family, Frederick Osborn—who had already helped to institute the country’s first peacetime draft in 1940—quietly but effectively made the case.
Chiefly, he convinced Stimson and other leery officers that surveys would be for their benefit. Surveys would provide them information for planning and policymaking purposes. Allowing and encouraging GIs to openly air their “gripes” was not part of Osborn’s original pitch.
When George C. Marshall became chief of staff in 1939, he compared the US Army to that of a third-rate power.
With the passage of the draft in 1940, the War Department would face the monumental challenge of rapidly inducting hundreds of thousands, then after Pearl Harbor millions of civilians. Most lacked prior military experience. But this new crop was also better educated than previous generations of draftees, and they came with higher expectations of the organization.
The surveys, then, would help address a host of “personnel” issues, such as placement, training, furloughs, ratings, so on and so forth.
The civilian experts the Army brought in to run this novel research program were embedded in what was known as the Morale Branch. This outfit, as the name suggests, was tasked with shoring up morale. These social and behavioral scientists had to figure out, first, how to define morale, and, second, how to measure it.
Some old Army hands insisted that morale was purely a matter of command, that it was the byproduct of discipline and leadership. But reporting indicated pretty clearly that morale correlated to what soldiers were provided during off-duty hours as well, in terms of recreation and entertainment.
To address the latter, the War Department created an educational, recreational, welfare, and entertainment operation that spanned the globe. The numbers of candy bars and packages of cigarettes shipped and sold were accounted for not in the millions but billions.
If you were coordinating the monthly global placement of, say, two million books from best-sellers’ lists, wouldn’t you want to know something about soldier and sailor preferences? A whole class of survey questions were directed at marketing research.
Woody: What topics did the questions cover, and what kind of feedback and complaints did the troops give in response?
Gitre: The surveys administered by the Army’s Research Branch cover myriads of topics, from the individual food items placed in various rations, to the specific material used in seasonal uniforms, to the educational courses offered through the Armed Forces Institute.
A soldier might be asked a hundred or more multiple-choice and short-answer questions in any one survey. They would be asked to record more their behaviors, insights, and experiences related to service directly. They were asked about their civilian lives as well, including their previous occupation, family background, regional identity, religion, and education. This information could be then correlated with other military and government records to provide a more holistic picture of the average American GI.
One of this research outfit’s most reliable “clients” was the Army’s Office of Surgeon General. The quality and effectiveness of medical and psychiatric care had wide implications, not least in terms of combat readiness. The Surgeon General’s office was interested in more than the care it provided. Soldiers were asked about their most intimate of experiences—their sexual habits and hygiene among them.
Administered in August 1945, Survey #233 asked men stationed in Italy if they were having sex with Italian women, and, if so, how frequently; did they pay for sex, how did they pay, did they “shack” up, use a condom and if not why not, drink beforehand, and did they know how to identify the symptoms of an STI? The battle against venereal diseases knew no lines of propriety.
The Research Branch surveyed or interviewed a half-million service members during the war. The answers they received were as varied as one can imagine, though there were of course common “gripes,” which the old Army hands could have easily ticked off without the aid of a cross-sectional scientific survey.
Yet the scope WWII military operations and the influx of so many educated civilians did create innumerable challenges that were often novel.
But from the soldier’s perspective, it should not come as a shock that so many of them might have taken to heart the premise of the US’s involvement in the war, that the US was committed to defending democracy, and alone if necessary.
Respondent after survey respondent demanded, then, that the US military live up to the principles of democracy for which they were being called to sacrifice. And so, they savaged expressions of the old Regular Army’s hierarchical “caste” culture wherever they saw it, but especially when it frustrated their own hopes and ambitions.
They wanted, in the parlance of the day, “fair play” and a “square deal.” They wanted to be respected as a human being, and not treated like a “dog.”
Woody: The US military drew from a wide swath of the population during WWII. How do you think that affected troops’ perception of the war, of military and civilian leadership, and of what the troops themselves wanted out of their service?
Gitre: The WWII US Army is known as a “citizen soldier” army (as opposed to a professional or “standing” army). It was also at the time described as a “peacetime army.” Compulsory service was passed by Congress in September 1940, roughly 15 months prior to Pearl Harbor. Military conscription was from its inception a civil process.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack.
(U.S. Navy photo)
That year-plus gap had a deep and lasting impact on how the War Department approached the rapid expansion of US forces. Just the same, it also shaped the expectations of Americans who were called to serve—as well as of their family members and loved ones, and the wider public.
The success of the Selective Service System would depend on the state in which the Army returned soldiers back to civil life. They would need to feel that they had gained something from the military, in the form of skill training or more education.
“In a larger sense [compulsory military training] provides an opportunity to popularize the Army with our people which is essential for an efficient fighting force,” the secretary of war said. “Maintenance of a high military morale is one of the most important contributing factors to good public morale,” he continued.
This view filtered down into the ranks. Sailors and soldiers expected to receive useful training and additional education. They also believed the military would put the skills, experiences, and practical know-how they already possessed as civilians to good use.
Woody: Was there anything in the troops’ responses that surprised you?
Gitre: What has surprised me most, I think, are the many remarks not about command and leadership but race.
We know that leaders of and activists in the black community pressed the War Department and Roosevelt administration to confront the nation’s “original sin” and strike down legal segregation. How otherwise could the US claim to be a champion of democracy while systematically denying the rights of a population that was liable, as free white citizens were, to compulsory service?
Black leaders embraced the V-shaped hand signal that was flashed so often to signify allied Victory, and they made it their own, calling for “Double V” or double victory: that is, victory abroad, and victory at home.
Participants in the Double V campaign, 1942.
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Surveys from black soldiers demonstrate in rather stark terms how pervasively this message took hold among the rank and file. African Americans were especially well attuned to and critical of the military’s caste culture and to its reinforcement of white supremacy.
It is especially jarring, then, to read commentaries from soldiers defending the continuation of white male supremacy. Not only did some of these respondents opine on the virtues of segregation and the inferiority of blacks. A whole host of them objected likewise to women in uniform.
But undoubtedly the most shocking responses are those that espouse naked anti-Semitism. These cut against the grain of our collective memory of the American GI as liberator of the German death and concentration camps. Statements of these sort are rare. Yet they exist.
Woody: What’s your biggest takeaway from these surveys about troops’ feelings about the war and their attitudes toward the military?
Gitre: When I first encountered these open-ended responses, I was almost immediately captivated by how similarly white and black soldiers wrote about equity in the military. These two populations sometimes used the same exact phrasing.
For so many black soldiers, military service presented itself as an opportunity to break the shackles of structural inequality. They pleaded for merit-based assignments, postings, and promotions. You can flip over to surveys written by white enlisted men and you can see them wrestling with the same involuntary constraints arising from their own submission. They vigorously protested being treated like a “dog,” or a “slave.”
The leveling effect of military service was profound — and not simply for the individual soldier, psychologically. The survey research Osborn’s team conducted on race, merit, and morale demonstrated that not only were black soldiers just as effective in combat, but that the proximity of black and white troops in combat situations improved race relations, instead of destroying morale, as had long been feared. This research fed the 1947 Executive Order 9981 desegregating the US armed forces.
That brings us back to that 1940 peacetime decision to make military service compulsory as a civic duty. You can’t overestimate its significance. This isn’t a plea for compulsory military service. Yet as I continue to read these troop surveys, I am confronted daily by the prospect that we are losing the hard-won insights and lessons of a generation that is passing into its final twilight.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
According to the VA, present-day “Taps” is believed to be a rendition of the French bugle signal, “Tap Toe” which stems from a Dutch word that means to shut or “tap” a keg. The most noted revision we know today was created by Union Gen. Daniel Butterfield during the American Civil War to alert soldiers to discontinue their drinking and remind them to return to garrison.
In July of 1862, Butterfield thought the original French version “L’Extinction des feux” was too formal and began to hum an adaption to his aide, who then transcribed the music to paper and assigned Oliver W. Norton, the brigade bugler, to play the notes written.
It wasn’t until 12 years later when Butterfield’s musical creation was made the Army’s officially bugle call. By 1891, the Army infantry regulated that “Taps” be played at all military funeral ceremonies moving forward.
Today, the historic song is played during flag ceremonies, military funerals, and at dusk as the sun lowers into the horizon during “lights out.”
Day is done, gone the sun, From the lake, from the hills, from the sky; All is well, safely rest, God is nigh. Fading light, dims the sight, And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright. From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night. Thanks and praise, for our days, ‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky; As we go, this we know, God is nigh. Sun has set, shadows come, Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds Always true to the promise that they made. While the light fades from sight, And the stars gleaming rays softly send, To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.
More than 100 years ago, European powers were in the middle of World War I and looking everywhere for potential enemies and allies. In 1916, even President Wilson believed it would soon be inevitable for the U.S. to enter the war on the side of England and the Triple Entente. Then, an explosion on July 30, 1916 shattered windows in Times Square, shook the Brooklyn Bridge, and could be heard as far away as Maryland.
But the effect that would have lasting impression was the shrapnel that peppered the nearby Statue of Liberty.
(National Board of Health)
German saboteurs moved to hit a munitions plant in New York City’s Black Tom Island (an artificial island near Liberty Island) that was already making weapons and ammunition bound for Britain and France. They did it in the early morning hours on the poorly lit, poorly defended ammunition depot.
It was part of a two-year German campaign of sabotage in the United States and shook far away America to its core. The outrage over the previous year’s sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the loss of 120 Americans aboard that ship already began to turn American public opinion against Germany.
The Great War had finally come home in a big way.
This was not the first explosion or “accident” that occurred in munitions plants or on ships bound for Europe. German agents operating out of New York and its port facilities hired German sailors and Irish dock workers to plant bombs and incendiary devices on ships and in plants working on war materials. The number of accidents aboard those ships skyrocketed. But the Black Tom incident was different.
Two million tons of explosives were set off in a single instant. Five people died and it’s fortunate more people weren’t killed, considering the size of the blast. The buildings on the landfill island were smashed and flattened.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)
The shrapnel that exploded in every direction damaged the Statue of Liberty and didn’t just scar her lovely face, it popped the rivets that connect the arm that bears the torch of freedom, forcing the the arm to be forever closed to tourists. For a little while, even the years following the end of World War I, Black Tom was all America could talk about.
That is, until a new Germany rose from the ashes of the Kaiser’s Empire.
The Panama Canal is a man-made 52-mile-long waterway through Panama that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When it opened in 1914, about 1,000 vessels transited the canal. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through. In 2016, the waterway was expanded to allow larger vessels with more cargo. Here are five impressive pictures of massive U.S. naval vessels passing through the Panama Canal.
Coast Guard Signalman Ray Evans was a legend in World War II who drew machine gun fire from Japanese soldiers while pulling Chesty Puller’s Marines out of a hairy situation on Guadalcanal in 1942. The Navy awarded him a Navy Cross, but Vice Adm. Joseph Stika had no medal to hand to Evans, so he took off his own Navy Cross and pinned it on Evans.
Stika, then a Coast Guard first lieutenant (which the Coast Guard used to have), led a team of five Coast Guardsmen and two soldiers into the explosions to secure and remove ordnance before it could go off. For two days, they repaired rail lines and drove trains out of the blaze, sometimes while the trains themselves were on fire or within burning areas.
Stika rose through the ranks during the interwar period and was serving as a vice admiral in 1942 when Evans and Coast Guard Signalman Douglas Munro were called to service at Guadalcanal. The two enlisted men had joined at the same recruiting station on the same day and been assigned to the same cutter, leading to a deep friendship.
The two were split up for different missions but were reunited at Guadalcanal where their orders intersected. On the island, they were asked by a Marine Corps major to take part in a mission planned by then-Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller.
The Marines had been trying to get across the Matanikau River for some time with no success. Puller wanted to try an amphibious assault that would deliver Marines onto a beachhead behind the river. These Marines would then clear the Japanese and allow their compatriots to cross.
Munro and Evans agreed, and the initial landings went well. But as the Coast Guardsmen were headed back to base, they learned that the Marines had been ambushed soon after the boats left, and they desperately needed extraction.
Puller rushed to Navy ships in the ocean to direct artillery fire in support of his men, and the Coast Guardsmen were sent back to pull out the Marines. Evans and Munro volunteered to stay back from the beach and lay heavy fire on the Japanese, drawing their attention while the rest of the flotilla loaded up the Marines.
The extraction went well and the boats turned to head back to base, but one of the boats became stuck on a nearby beach. Munro and Evans towed the boat off the sand, but a Japanese machine gunner spotted them and opened fire as they did so.
Evans was put in for the Navy Cross. He only found out about the award when he made it back to Alameda, California, and was ordered to the ceremony. But when he arrived, something unexpected happened.
The orders for the award had come without a physical medal. So, Stika removed his own Navy Cross, earned more than 20 years before in the munitions explosions, and placed the medal on Evans for his actions on Guadalcanal.
The two men became friends and Evans routinely visited Stika after the older man’s retirement. Evans would go on to be a Coast Guard commander before retiring from the service.
Fighter aces — those pilots responsible for taking down at least five other aircraft — are almost as old as aviation itself. Since World War I, young men have been willing to risk death to earn glory and become “knights of the air” or the “cavalry of the clouds.” There have been thousands of pilots who achieved ace status, many whom have racked up far more than five downings. None, however, have ever managed the singular feat of becoming a fighter ace on both sides in the same war.
That is, none except one…
Pierre Le Gloan was from Brittany, born in the Breton town of Kergrist-Moelou on June 1, 1913. He joined the French Armee de l’Air in 1931 as soon as he was old enough to enlist. Before his death in 1943, he achieved ace status in both the French Air Force and under the collaborationist Vichy regime after the fall of France in 1940. With 18 kills to his name and as France’s fourth-highest-scoring ace of World War II, he remains the only pilot in history to become an ace on both sides of the same conflict.
When war came, he was flying a Morane-Saulnier MS.406. On Nov. 23, 1939 he claimed his first kill, a Dornier DO.17 reconnaissance aircraft. Another DO.17 fell to his guns on March 2, 1940.
Pierre Le Gloan with his famous D.520.
All pilots in Le Gloan’s squadron were then re-equipped with the newer and better Dewoitine D.520. Le Gloan lost no time in taking full advantage of the use of a better fighter. During the Battle of France in the summer of 1940 he had a hot streak. In June he shot down four German and Italian bombers: two Heinkel 111 planes and two Fiat BR.20 bombers.
It didn’t end there. The highlight of Le Gloan’s career was to come on June 15. His squadron met a squadron of Italian CR.42 fighters. Attacking with enthusiasm, he shot down no less than three of them. Encountering another CR.42 and a BR.20 on his way back to base, Le Gloan attacked and shot down both of them.
Taking down five aircraft in one day has seldom been achieved by even the highest-scoring fighter aces, and Le Gloan was justly rewarded. His five-kill streak brought him up to 11 kills, well above the five required for ace status. He was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant to acknowledge his remarkable feat.
On June 20, his squadron was transferred to Algeria, then a French colony. With the fall of France and the installation of Marshal Petain’s Vichy puppet government, the French forces in North Africa were under Vichy command. To Le Gloan, it made no difference. He’d flown, fought, and killed for France. Now, he would do the same for Vichy.
His second fighting streak came in June and July of 1941. Fighting for Vichy and taking on Britain’s Royal Air Force, Le Gloan shot down five of the RAF’s Hurricane fighters, a Gloster Gladiator, and another aircraft that remains unidentified. He’d taken down 11 for France and had added another seven for Vichy. At the war’s end, only Jean Demozay (21 kills), Marcel Albert (23 and two probables), and Pierre Clostermann (33 kills) ranked higher among French aces. Le Gloan’s career would not, however, last much longer.
Neither would his life.
The Allies launched Operation Torch in November 1942. With Allied forces liberating North Africa and Field-Marhsal Montgomery’s famous ‘Desert Rats’ pushing westward after the victory at El Alamein, the Vichy regime’s days were numbered. So were Pierre Le Gloan’s.
Soon, all former Vichy forces were siding with the Allies, including Le Gloan’s fighter squadron. Reequipped in May 1943 with the American P-39 Airacobra, a new fighter might have given the newly promoted Capitaine Le Gloan another winning streak. Might have, if not for a design feature on the Airacobra that wasn’t on the Morane-Saulnier or the Dewoitine: an external fuel tank mounted under the belly meant to be jettisoned when empty or if about to enter a dogfight.
Le Gloan had never flown a fighter with a drop tank. Over the sea on a routine patrol on September 11, 1943 he began to experience mechanical problems. As the Airacobra was not the finest fighter ever built — this wasn’t unusual for pilots who had to fly them. Comparing the Airacobra to the legendary Supermarine Spitfire or P-51 Mustang was like comparing a rent-a-wreck with a Ferrari. With smoke streaming from his aircraft, Le Gloan decided to return to base and land, forgetting to jettison the drop tank. It was a fatal mistake.
Le Gloan, in the midst of severe mechanical difficulties, might have been safer bailing out than trying to land, even if he had remembered to jettison the extra tank. As it was, he attempted to land. It would have been a difficult landing at the best of times in a malfunctioning aircraft and, his mind on other things, Le Gloan forgot to drop the tank. As he touched the ground, the undercarriage collapsed.
The drop tank, still full, ruptured instantly. As the Airacobra screeched along the runway, the mixture of aviation fuel and sparks caused the plane to erupt into a fireball. Pierre Le Gloan, 18-kill ace, only pilot ever to become an ace on both sides in the same war, was burned alive.
Today, his name is largely forgotten except to history buffs, aviation enthusiasts, and the townsfolk of Kergrist-Moelou. Deciding to either forget or gloss over his having flown, fought, and killed in the service of Vichy, the residents of Le Gloan’s hometown named a street after him. Even so, as time passes, fewer people who use it remember either the man or his remarkable place in military history.