The First World War brought a level of destruction that the world had never seen before. At the start of the war, only the French, Russians, English, and Italians stood against the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and the Ottomans with their respective territories/colonies/provinces each filing in under their protectorate states. Every corner of the world was forced to take sides, officially or otherwise.
Neutral nations would be asked politically at first, but were quickly strong-armed into supporting one side or the other. This same fate could have befallen Afghans — who were distrusting of British India to the East and the Allied Russians to the north — if the negotiations hadn’t gone spectacularly wrong.
Too easy, right? This is only the “Graveyard of Empires” we’re talking about here.
In September, 1915, the Germans saw in opportunity in exploiting the Afghan tribes’ strategic advantage against the Allied troops that had left British India to fight in Europe. Persia had been officially neutral, but swung sides depending on who was more in control (Note: This was before the Turkish Invasion of Persia, which would eventually solidify their anti-Ottoman stance). If Afghanistan would join the Ottomans, the Persians would certainly follow. After all, the Afghan people hated the British and most of the ruling parties. All that stood in the way of a Central Powers-controlled Middle East and a wide-open causeway through India was a hesitant Amir Habibullah Khan, then the leader of Afghanistan.
The Ottomans leveraged much religious control over their fellow Muslim nations. Grassroots protests ran rampant in British-controlled India. Things were at a tipping point and all it would take was some sweet talking by a Bavarian officer, Oscar Niedermayer, on official orders from the Kaiser to go win them over. On paper, the plan was flawless.
Don’t worry. Niedermayer maybe won’t screw things up just yet.
Niedermayer and his team traveled to Constantinople to meet up with their Turkish counterparts. Despite being in friendly territory, the mission was to be highly covert — one that, if compromised, could end in death for everyone involved. Yet, when the Turks showed up to the Pera Palace Hotel, they found the Germans sh*tfaced drunk, openly telling everyone that they’re going on an Afghanistan Expedition. Understandably, the Turks said, “f*ck it” and left, unwilling to be part of a botched mission that would have them executed if gone poorly due to the actions of some drunken idiots.
After the disaster in Constantinople, Berlin sent in Prussian diplomat, Werner-Otto von Hentig, to join in. Von Hentig was a consummate professional and had brought with him Raja Mahendra Pratap, an Indian royal who wanted to take control back from the British, to aid in negotiations. Niedermayer took great offense to this and constantly butted heads with von Hentig.
The combined teams finally reached Kabul to start negotiations anew.
And celebrate they did. In only the truest of German manners.
Von Hentig and Pratap made friends with the Afghan ruler. Meanwhile, Afghan print media started stirring up anti-British sentiment. Months went by and negotiations continued. The war had started to cripple the Allies and Russia was on the verge of collapse after the “Great Retreat.”
In December, Amir Habibullah Khan ordered the drafting of treaty of friendship to establish an agreement between Afghanistan and Germany. By April 1916, things were looking good for the Central Powers. The enemy was getting weaker and they were inches away from gaining a strategic ally. They would, of course, celebrate.
The details of the event are still hazy, but it’s widely assumed that they got sh*tfaced once again — this time, in a Muslim country that strictly forbade alcohol. This turned into strong condemnation from Afghan leadership — even those who once supported their cause.
The Niedermayer–von Hentig Expedition was sent packing. Soon after, Persia was invaded by the Turks, which gave rise to a hard-line hatred of the Central Powers. As history shows, the Central Powers lost WWI. Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated after the war’s conclusion by an anti-British coup that lead into the Third Anglo-Afghan War — which was lost in spectacular fashion.
All of history as we know it may have been rewritten were it not for one fateful night.
Considered one of the most important battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, the story of Belleau Wood continues to have a significant impact on military culture today. On the evening of June 1, 1918, the German Army breached the western front and came within just 45 miles of Paris.
The Marines weren’t going to let them go any further. They positioned themselves and were ready to strike once the orders were passed down. The ensuing battle would last for weeks and was the first large-scale battle fought by American soldiers in World War I. U.S. forces suffered over 9,000 casualties — just over 1,800 killed. The German body count is still unknown — but it was high.
Historians have gone on at length about many of the incredible details of the famous battle, but several aspects have gone largely undiscussed — until now.
Capt. Lloyd Williams, USMC
As the Marines were arriving, the French were retreating
On June 2, 1918, the Marines arrived on the scene under the command of Capt. Lloyd Williams only to see French troops in retreat from the German enemy. The French told the Marines to turn around and head back to from where they came.
Capt. Lloyd Williams replied,
“Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
The Marines finally got their orders
On June 6, 1918, Allied powers launched their attack on the Germans who were busying preparing to do the same. Marines maneuvered up Hill 142 to prevent a flanking attack on their French allies.
Although 1st Battalion, 5th Marines were heavily outnumbered, that didn’t stop them from bravely dashing toward the enemy across open wheat field.
American Marines are depicted fighting German soldiers in the Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918.
The Marines saw the enemy before they were spotted
As Capt. George Wallace Hamilton and the 49th Company were getting into position, he noticed that they were surrounded by German machine guns — he had caught them off guard. He and his men stormed the guns with bayonets fixed and secured the guns for friendly forces.
Hamilton was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and a Navy Cross for his bad*ssery.
Twelve on one
After enduring the first round of attacks, the Germans rallied and attempted a counterattack on Hill 142. As 12 German soldiers began their advance, they were met by Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Janson, who wasn’t fond of their idea. He alone prevented the dozen Germans from going any further by killing two of them with his bayonet. The others quickly fled.
For his actions, Janson became the first U.S Marine to earn the Medal of Honor during the war.
After 6 attacks, the Germans finally threw in the towel.
During the multi-week campaign, the Marines suffered heavy losses, but dealt out ass-kickings in kind. Like much of World War I, the Battle of Belleau Wood was slow-moving and brutal, but the Americans finally claimed victory after attacking six separate times.
On Jun. 26, 1918, the Germans decided the battle was unwinnable and retreated from the blood-soaked arena.
Check out the Marines video below to watch the footage from an immensely important time in military history.
As the Red Army pressed into Finland, their progress was continuously slowed. Their soldiers were being harassed by Finnish infiltrators before they could reach the frontline. Even the Soviet commando teams dispatched to hunt the evasive Finns were being cut down. The havoc that these raiders created led the Soviets to place a bounty on the unit’s leader – 3,000,000 Finnish Marks for the head of Lauri Allan Törni.
Born in Finland on May 28, 1919, Törni started his career of service early, serving in the Civil Guard (a volunteer militia) as a teenager. In 1938, he entered military service and joined the 4th Independent Jäger Infantry Battalion, a unit that specialized in sabotage, guerilla warfare, and long-range reconnaissance. When the Soviet Union carried out a surprise attack on Finland the next year and started the Winter War, Törni’s battalion was quickly brought to the frontline.
Törni after graduating cadet school in 1940 (Finnish public domain)
At Lake Lagoda, a body of water previously shared by Finland and the USSR, the Soviets attacked the Finns with superior numbers of infantry and armor. During their defense, the Finnish troops lost contact with their headquarters. Without hesitation or orders, Törni stealthily skied through the Soviet lines to re-establish communications. Upon his return to the Finnish lines, he took command of a Swedish-speaking unit of demoralized troops. Though he didn’t speak their language, Törni organized the troops with a series of gestures, shouts, and punches. For his bravery during this engagement, Törni was promoted to 2nd Lt. However, despite some Finnish victories and high Soviet casualties, the Winter War soon ended with a Soviet victory and Finland was forced to concede 11% of its territory.
In the months following the Winter War, Nazi Germany became a strong Finnish ally, and in June 1941, Törni went to Austria for seven weeks to train with the Waffen SS. During this training, Törni wore an SS uniform and swore an oath of loyalty to the Nazi party, both of which would haunt him for the rest of his life. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa, Finland made a push to retake the land they had lost to the Soviets in what became known as the Continuation War.
Törni in an SS uniform (Finnish public domain)
At the onset of the Continuation War, Törni was given command of a Finnish armored unit, employing captured Soviet tanks and armored cars. On March 23, 1942, Törni was skiing behind enemy lines to capture Soviet prisoners when he skied over a friendly mine. He recovered from his injuries, immediately went AWOL from the hospital and returned to the front. Törni’s unit was tasked with hunting Soviet commandos that had infiltrated Finnish lines, and eventually infiltrated Soviet lines themselves to attack headquarters and communication sites. Impressed with his ruthlessness and efficiency on the battlefield, Törni’s commanders allowed him to create a hand-picked, deep-strike infantry unit that became known as Detachment Törni.
Törni and his raiders conducted sabotage and ambush missions deep behind Soviet lines. Operating separately from the rest of the Finnish Army, Detachment Törni equipped themselves with Soviet weapons which both confused their enemy and made ammunition plentiful for the raiders. Their engagements often led to close-range, hand-to-hand combat in which they brutalized Soviet troops. Their reputation on the battlefield spread and resulted in the Soviet bounty on Törni’s head. For his leadership and bravery, Törni was awarded the Mannerheim Cross, Finland’s highest military honor, on July 9, 1944.
Despite Törni’s efforts and other Finnish victories, the sheer size of the Red Army could not be matched and the Continuation War ended in a Soviet victory in September 1944. Finland was forced to concede more territory, pay reparations, and demobilize most of their military, including Detachment Törni. Unhappy with this result, Törni joined the Finnish Resistance and went to Germany for training in 1945.
Törni went to Germany with the intention to return to Finland, train resistance fighters and free Finland from the Soviet Union. In order to conceal his involvement with the Nazis, Törni assumed the alias Lauri Lane. During his training, the Red Army had taken over all of Germany’s eastern ports. With no way to return to Finland, Törni joined a German Army unit and was given command as a captain. Though he spoke poor German, Törni used the same ruthless tactics he employed against the Soviets in Finland and gained a reputation for bravery, quickly earning the respect and loyalty of his soldiers.
Törni (center) as Finnish Army Lieutenant (Finnish public domain)
By March 1945, the German Army was all but defeated. To avoid capture or death at the hands of the Soviets, Törni and his men made their way to the Western Front where they surrendered to British troops. Imprisoned in a POW camp in Lübeck, Germany, Törni feared that the British would turn him over to the Soviets or discover his past connection to the SS and try him for war crimes. To avoid either fate, Törni escaped the camp and made his way back to Finland. While trying to locate his family, Törni was caught and imprisoned by the Finnish State Police. He escaped, but was imprisoned again in April 1946. Törni was tried for treason, having joined the German Army after Finland signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
During his time in prison, Törni made several escape attempts. Though all of them failed, he was released in December 1948 after Finnish President Juho Paasikivi granted him a pardon. Törni made his way to Sweden where he became engaged to a Swedish Finn named Marja Kops. Hoping to establish a career before settling down, Törni adopted a Swedish alias and sailed to Caracas, Venezuela as a crewman aboard a cargo ship. From Caracas, Törni joined the crew of a Swedish cargo ship bound for the United States in 1950.
While off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, Törni jumped overboard and swam to shore. He made his way up the east coast to New York City where he found work in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park “Finntown” as a carpenter and cleaner. In 1953, he was granted a residence permit and joined the U.S. Army in 1954 under the Lodge-Philbin Act which allowed the recruiting of foreign nationals into the armed forces.
Upon enlisting, Törni changed his name to Larry Thorne. He befriended a group of Finnish-American officers who, along with his impressive skill set and combat experience, helped him join the elite U.S. Army Special Forces. As a Green Beret, Thorne taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerilla tactics. After attending OCS in 1957, he was commissioned as a 1st Lt. and was eventually promoted to Captain in 1960. In 1962, while assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in West Germany, Thorne served as second-in-command of a high risk mission in the Iranian Zagros Mountains. The team searched for, located, and destroyed Top Secret material aboard a crashed U.S. plane. Thorne’s performance during the mission earned him a positive reputation in the Special Force community.
Thorne’s official Army photo (U.S. Army photo)
In November 1963, Thorne deployed to Vietnam with Special Forces Detachment A-734 as an adviser to ARVN forces. During an attack on their camp at Tịnh Biên, Viet Cong forces managed to breach the outer perimeter and nearly overran the U.S. and South Vietnamese troops stationed there. All members of the Special Forces detachment were wounded during the attack, including Thorne who was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor. The character Captain Steve “Sven” Kornie in Robin Moore’s book, The Green Berets, is based on Thorne and his courageous actions at Tinh Biên.
A U.S. Army H-34 Choctaw similar to the one that carried Thorne on his final mission. (U.S. Army photo)
Thorne volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam and was put in command of a MACV-SOG unit. On October 18, 1965, Thorne led a clandestine mission to locate Viet Cong turnaround points on the Ho Chi Minh trail and destroy them with airstrikes as part of Operation Shining Brass. The mission was the first of its kind and the team was composed of Republic of Vietnam and U.S. forces. During the mission, the U.S. Air Force O-1 Bird Dog observation plane and the Republic of Vietnam Air Force H-34 Choctaw helicopter carrying Thorne went missing and rescue teams were unable to locate either crash site. After his disappearance, Thorne was presumed dead, posthumously promoted to the rank of Major and awarded the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.
It was not until 1999 that Thorne’s remains were found by a Finnish and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Team. It was concluded that Thorne’s Choctaw had crashed into the side of a mountain while flying nap-of-the-earth. His remains were repatriated and formally identified in 2003. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on June 26, 2003 with full honors along with the remains of the RVNAF casualties from the crash. Thorne is the only former member of the SS to be interred at Arlington.
Though he was engaged at one point, Thorne spent most of his life committed to fighting communist forces. He left behind no wife and no children. His ex-fiancée would go on to marry another man. Instead, Thorne’s legacy is one of a warrior who ruled the battlefield. He was a scourge on the Soviets in Europe and a deadly threat to Viet Cong in Vietnam. His service and commitment to both his home country of Finland and adopted country of the United States stand as models for anyone willing to take up the profession of arms.
For thousands of years, mankind has been telling stories using various forms of communication. Some passed verbal stories down from generation to generation, as others carved visual symbols deep into solid rock surfaces — cave art.
Fast forward to the battlegrounds of France during WWI where nine members of an Indian tribe from Point Pleasant, Maine, called the Passamaquoddy proudly served and carved images in the cave’s wall to represent their heritage during their trench warfare days.
Even though these carvings exist, the question remains:what stories were the Passamaquoddy Indians trying to tell us?
Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to explore the caves and learn the stories behind stories.
(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)Fun Fact: Nearly 99 years later, the families of 6 men from the Passamaquoddy tribe who volunteered to fight during the WWI conflict finally received official recognition and honored for their heroic contributions.
Navy pilot David S. McCampbell, a commander at the time, set the single mission aerial combat record when he led a two-plane flight against a 60-plane Japanese attack and shot down at least nine of the enemy himself, forcing the Japanese forces back before they could fire on a single American ship.
In the air, McCampbell proved his reputation as one of the Navy’s fiercest pilots. He was able to engage the Japanese out of range of the carrier and shot down nine of them while disrupting the formations of the rest. The Japanese eventually turned back without firing a single time on the Essex.
The pilot would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions. His nine aerial victories that day are believed to have taken place in 95 minutes, meaning he averaged about one enemy plane shot down every 10 minutes.
Then, the very next day, McCampbell and the Fabled Fifteen went on the attack. McCampbell acted as the targeting coordinator and piloted one of the planes in a massive assault with planes from three task groups. The American formation destroyed an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, and two destroyers while also damaging five other large ships. He later received the Navy Cross for this engagement.
McCampbell’s reputation as a feared pilot was earned well before Oct. 1944, too. In June of that year, he led a flight of U.S. defenders against an 80-plane attack by Japanese forces, disrupting the attack and shooting down seven of the enemy. In September, he led an attack on Japanese ships, shot down four enemy planes, and heavily damaged a merchant ship.
In the annals of World War II history, the brutality of the Sino-Japanese War is often overshadowed by the fierce fighting on the eastern front between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The horrors the Japanese inflicted on China are often lost in the systematic destruction and murder of the Holocaust.
When it comes to brutal fighting and horrible occupation, the Japanese war on mainland China had no equal.
Japan invaded Chinese Manchuria in 1931 but stopped after occupying the province. Still, it gave the Japanese a foothold on the continent and rose tensions between the two countries. In 1937, Japanese and Chinese troops fought for control of the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking. The event led to a full-scale invasion of China, setting off World War II in Asia.
Within a year, the Japanese occupied the capital city of Peking, Shanghai, and Nanjin. Its Navy and Air Forces were completely destroyed. Still, the Chinese people and Nationalist government under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek were steadfast in their resistance to the invasion and occupation.
After, the de facto Chinese leader signaled that any surrender negotiations would be refused, the Japanese stopped trying to offer any terms. Having made so may gains so fast, however, the Imperial Japanese Army was forced to stop any advances and consolidate them. The Emperor ruled that no more wartime operations would be conducted in 1938.
Still, the Japanese were able to follow fleeing and disorganized Chinese troops along the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. The Yellow River runs into southern Shandong Province around the fortified town of Taierzhuang, some 430 miles south of Beijing. There was no getting around Taierzhuang. To advance south into the strategically important Xuzhou area, the Japanese would have to take the town.
The Japanese Army launched an all-out assault with 300 men. From the start of the attack, things did not go as planned. The initial assault led the Japanese soldiers into the town gates and into a temple, which the Chinese burned down, killing all 300 men inside.
The very next day, the Japanese launched another, more successful assault, breaking the gates of the town and establishing an entry point. They took half of the town in the first day, but Chinese reinforcements arrived while the invaders were bogged down in urban combat. The new Chinese artillery lit up the Japanese outside the town.
In all, more than 100,000 Chinese troops would fight at Taierzhuang against a total of 70,000 Japanese troops, along with tanks, artillery, and aircraft.
The Chinese slowly began to retake parts of Taierzhuang. But Japan’s own reinforcements began to trickle in. The two sides were locked in a stalemate. In the outskirts of the city, Chinese farmers began to sabotage rail lines, waterways, and communication lines. The Japanese reinforcements were cut off from linking up and soon found their rear filled with Chinese troops.
Japanese tanks and other armored vehicles were also decimated by China “Dare to Die” Corps, Chinese soldiers who wore body armor and strapped high explosives to themselves so they could dive underneath enemy tanks and destroy them.
These suicide bombers use everything from grenade vests to sticks of dynamite in place of anti-armor weapons to even the playing field. In a last-ditch effort to break the stalemate, Japan employed poison gas to dislodge the Chinese defenders.
It was the first victory for China against Japan during what would become known as World War II. Though both sides lost roughly the same number of troops, the battle bought time for the Chinese government to escape the Japanese Army and showed that Japan could be defeated in battle.
Communism was not the best experiment for the Russian people. If they had known that the revolution against the Tsar and the Imperial government was going to lead to decades of rule by the repressive Soviet Regime, they might have thought twice.
Of course, when you take a look at the life of a common Russian before the October Revolution, you can kind of understand why they took their chances with the Bolsheviks.
Submit to the present evil, lest a great one befall ye.
6. Russian peasants were serfs for 600 years.
European feudalism in the 11th century bound poor peasants to work the land for their noble masters. Until Tsar Alexander II abolished the practice in 1861, the common Russian was essentially a slave to the imperial aristocracy. Working the land for someone else meant very little time for subsistence farming – and that the Russians were always just one bad season from starvation.
Russians were practically enslaved from the time of the First Crusade until the start of the American Civil War.
5. The people never forgot the “bloody Sunday” of 1905.
Russian people, upset at the low standard of living and scarcity of food, staged a series of strikes around the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. Led by an Orthodox Priest — and completely unarmed — the demonstrators aimed to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II, demanding things like working hours, wages, and improved conditions.
Instead, the Russian Imperial Guard slaughtered them, firing into the crowd and killing or wounding 1,000. The Tsar agreed to share power with the state Duma, a parliament. But the revolution was coming.
4. World War I didn’t help.
The Russian military before World War I was large, but led by ineffectual generals and filled with obsolete technology. To make matters worse, the conditions in the field were as deplorable as the working conditions in the factories on the home front. Paying for the war left the Russian economy in shambles as food prices soared.
The economic trouble compounded the calls for higher wages and better working conditions. Soldiers would join workers in forming the “soviets” that would help oust the Tsar from power when the time came.
3. The Tsar was already out of power.
As a matter of fact, by the time the Bolsheviks seized power in October, the entire Romanov family was already captured by the government. The October Revolution came eight months after the February Revolution when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and his brother declined power.
The government ended up in the hands of the Duma and a lawyer named Alexander Kerensky in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and in small councils across Russia, called “soviets” at the local level. It was during this period of shared power that the old and new order clashed and vied for power.
2. It sparked a civil war.
It was the only time the American Army and the Red Army fought in an official battle between the two. Shortly after the October Revolution, the new government made peace with the Central Powers still fighting World War I, as it became embroiled in a Civil War that pit Red Russians (the Bolsheviks) against White Russians (an amalgamation of monarchists, capitalists, and social democrats).
Soldiers and sailors from all across the empire chose sides as Red Army formed and took on conscripts. Former Tsarist officers defected back and forth between the Red Army and its White Resistance. There was also a non-ideological Green movement that had the support of the peasants, but not were reluctant to actually fight.
1. The U.S. invaded Russia.
In order to reopen WWI’s Eastern Front, the Allied Powers landed a number of international units in Russia, to both keep the peace and bolster the White Army to keep Communism from spreading to Europe, if possible. The Americans were deployed in the Siberian city of Arkhangelsk, near the Arctic Circle.
Dubbed the “Polar Bear Expedition,” the Americans joined a British contingent who attempted to fight their way to link up with the Czechoslovak Legion, which held the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Great War ended before any significant headway could be achieved and the Allies eventually left Russia altogether.
On Friday, August 7, National Purple Heart Day will be observed. Around the country, states, counties, and cities will pause to recognize the service and sacrifice of their citizens. Observed since 2014, National Purple Heart Day is a time for Americans to pause and remember the bravery, courage and sacrifice of the service members who risk their lives for our freedoms.
Here are some things you need to know about the Purple Heart and how this solemn day is observed throughout the country.
Purple Heart Trail
The Purple Heart Trail was established in 1992 by the Military Order of Purple Hearts. It aims to be a symbolic honorary system of roads, highways and other monuments that give tribute to the service members who have been awarded the Purple Heart medals. Currently, there are designated sections in 45 states as well as in Guam. Additionally, many cities and towns around the country choose to become Purple Heart cities/towns to honor the veterans and service members from the area.
On August 7, gatherings around the country, states, counties and cities will pause in recognition of the sacrifice and service of veterans. Here are more things you need to know about the Purple Heart:
Generally, Major League Baseball teams pay homage to their local Purple Heart recipients during pre-game events and then again during the 7th inning. Because of current conditions, it’s unclear whether or not MLB will continue that tradition.
At local VFWs, American Legions, and other veteran organizations, remembrance meetings will be held for fallen heroes. Special events usually take place to thank active-duty personnel, veterans, and Purple Heart recipients.
The Purple Heart medal is presented to military personnel who have either been wounded in action or killed as a result of enemy action. Since the award was created in 1782, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been presented.
The Purple Heart has been around for a long, long time.
It’s the oldest military award still presented to service members. The predecessor to the Purple Heart, the Fidelity Medallion, was created in 1780 by the Continental Congress – but it was only awarded to three soldiers that year. Then, two years later, President George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit.
The Badge of Military Merit is considered the first US military decoration and the Purple Heart predecessor.
Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit in the form of a purple heart. He determined that it be given to soldiers who displayed “unusual gallantry in battle,” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way.” Then, the award was primarily forgotten for roughly two hundred years. It wasn’t until the bicentennial of Washington’s birth that Gen. MacArthur made an effort to revive the medal. It was still used to commemorate bravery, but that criteria changed in WWII when it became a way to recognize combat injuries and deaths.
This honor can be awarded to officers and enlisted personnel
The Purple Heart is one of the first awards in military history given to enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers. Service members of any rank are eligible to receive a Purple Heart.
There is no official record for every Purple Heart medal awarded to American service members.
During the Revolutionary War, there were just 3 Purple Hearts awarded, roughly 320,000 during WWI, and 1 million Purple Hearts presented during WWII. The Korean War awarded 118,600 medals, the Vietnam War 351,000 Purple Hearts, and the Persian Gulf War, which lasted 209 days, awarded 607 Purple Hearts.
The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ongoing since 2001, and to date, 12,500 Purple Hearts have been awarded.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart
Those who are awarded a Purple Heart can join MOPH, an organization that was formed in 1932. It’s the only veteran service organization composed of only “combat” veterans. Currently, there are about 45,000 MOPH members. Find out more about the organization here.
Though Purple Heart Day isn’t an officially recognized holiday, it’s still an important one for our military community. In this time of social distancing, it might not be possible to visit military organizations or museums. Instead, use #PurpleHeartDay to post on social media, hold socially-distant events, and take a few moments of silence to remember those who have paid the price for American freedoms.
Ever wonder what’s the right order for the Colors in a Color Guard? Well, it’s not as simple as you might think.
First, a bit of history
If you learned in school that Betsy Ross was the first person to sew our American flag, you learned wrong. The truth is that no one knows the actual origins of the first American flag. Some historians think a New Jersey Congressman named Francis Hopkinson designed the flag but there are others who aren’t so sure. Unfortunately, the truth is lost to history.
William Driver, a sea captain from Massachusetts, christened Betsy Ross’ flag “Old Glory.” Driver’s nickname has managed to stick for all these years and his flag has endured some pretty fierce battles. There were multiple attempts to deface it during the Civil War. Driver’s flag is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
Also on display is the garrison flag of 1814 that survived the 25-hour shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. That flag is the very same that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose what would later become our National Anthem.
Today’s flag has 13 horizontal stripes – seven red and six white. The stripes represent the original colonies and the stars represent the 50 states.
So what’s the right order for the Colors?
If you guessed that the right order for a Color Guard is based on when the service branch was established, you’re half right! Here’s where it gets a little tricky.
A Joint Color guard carries (from left to right) the American flag first, followed by the Army flag, Marine Corps flag, Navy flag, Air Force flag, and then the Coast Guard flag.
But what about the POW/MIA flag? Or state flags? And where’s the Space Force flag going to go?
Most often, the precedence is on the order of importance, so a POW/MIA flag would be next to the American flag, followed by a state flag.
Wait a minute – the Coast Guard was founded before the Air Force. Why is it last?
The short answer is because the Coast Guard has never been considered part of the “Big Four” military branches. Sorry, guys.
Chritsopher Nolan’s new “Dunkirk” movie features Sir Kenneth Branagh as the cool-under-fire Commander Bolton, but his character is largely based on a real British officer who underwent greater hardships to save British and French forces and was tragically lost at sea during the evacuation.
The original goal was to get 45,000 men out in two days before the defensive line at Dunkirk, the last Allied-held territory in the area, collapsed. A Canadian member of the Royal Navy, Cmdr. James Campbell Clouston, was assigned to getting as many men as possible off the “East Mole.”
The East Mole was actually one of two breakwaters used to protect the beach and channel from ocean currents. It was about a mile long and just wide enough for four men. It was a clear target for German planes to attack and provided little opportunity for cover. But, it was an efficient way to get large numbers of men off.
On the first day that Clouston and other members of a commanding party under Capt. William Tennant were operating on the beach, the number of troops evacuated rose from 7,669 to 18,527. Many of these men made it out thanks to Clouston’s efforts on the Mole, which was averaging 1,000 evacuations per hour.
Panic broke out on the Mole after a bomb blew a hole in a section. Troops attempted to rush off, but Clouston ordered a lieutenant to draw his revolver and restore order. The troops on the Mole were quickly corralled onto a trawler and sent away.
But word got out that the Moles were still in operation, and the pace picked up. One of the best days for the Mole came on June 1 when, despite a devastating air raid, over 47,000 men made it onto ships from the pier.
Clouston waved off the assistance of a second boat. Survivors said that he was worried the Germans would spot it and attack while the boat was stationary. He attempted to swim to another vessel a couple of miles away but was lost at sea.
When the U.S. military entered World War II, American businesses geared their entrepreneurial efforts toward supporting the war effort as a means of survival. This meant the majority of raw materials were used to produce weapons, ammunition, armor, aircraft, and other necessary equipment. Zippo Manufacturing Company had a decade of experience selling their flip-open lighters to the consumer market, but during the war they exclusively produced Zippo lighters for American service members.
The classic Zippo design garnered respect among the millions of Americans serving overseas. These steel-cased lighters had a black crackle finish and no customization, engravings, or art work on them but were durable and could function no matter what elements troops found themselves in. An ad in 1942 wrote, “Zippo Windproof LIGHTERS have acted as rescue beacons for men in open boats, as a guide through dense dark jungles and as a means for lighting fires for food and warmth.”
Ernie Pyle, a famous war correspondent and newspaperman, developed a special relationship with George Blaisdell and personally received a shipment of 50 Zippos prior to the D-Day invasion. “And another 100 will be sent to Ernie every month for the duration,” Blaisdell added.
Pyle famously penned a letter to Blaisdell on Oct. 29, 1944: “If I tried to tell you how much these Zippos are coveted at the front and the gratitude and delight with which the boys receive them, you would probably accuse me of exaggeration,” he wrote. “There is truly nothing the average soldier would rather have.”
Following Pyle’s tragic death in the Pacific in 1945, Blaisdell immediately sent 600 Zippo lighters engraved with “In memory of Ernie Pyle” to the captain of the USS Cabot to hand out to the crew who counted Pyle as one of their own.
Post-World War II, the increasingly popular Zippo lighters became available to the general public once again. The connection between Zippo and the U.S. military didn’t stop there, and during the Vietnam War Zippo emerged as the most popular item carried in the pockets of American service members. Unlike the cigarette lighters from previous wars, these Zippos were personal mementos specifically customized with unit logos, maps of Vietnam, and both humorous and crude slogans.
“You had people who were discontent people who wanted to express heartfelt emotions,” said Bradford Edwards, a Vietnam-era Zippo collector and artist. “And here was a small canvas that may be the last thing some of these guys had to say.”
One soldier’s Zippo had the logo for the United States Army Air Defense Center in Fort Bliss, Texas, on the front, while the lid reads, “When I die bury me face down so the whole world can kiss my ass.” On the back, the case reads, “5th Special Forces Group – 1st Special Forces Viet Nam 69-70” with an engraving of a U.S. Army Special Forces green beret. The lid reads, “Nha-Trang Viet Nam.”
During the Vietnam War, Zippos were sold at the PX or by locals operating the street side black markets. Their popularity in wartime culture surged with “Zippo Tracks” being adopted as a nickname for flame throwing tanks, and “Zippo Raids” used to describe the actions of soldiers burning down hooches or villages.
Although Zippo remained a treasured collector’s item, during the 1980s a surge of fake lighters saturated the market. Zippo continues to produce military-themed lighters to commemorate their storied legacy, although the artwork is more general. The Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania, is home to Zippo and Case Knives flagship stores, where collectors and tourists alike can take a deeper dive into the history of Zippo and their involvement with American service members.
In 2002, the U.S. military tapped Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper to lead the red opposing forces of the most expensive, expansive military exercise in history. He was put in command of an inferior Middle Eastern-inspired military force. His mission was to go against the full might of the American armed forces. In the first two days, he sank an entire carrier battle group.
The exercise was called Millennium Challenge 2002. It was designed by the Joint Forces Command over the course of two years. It had 13,500 participants, numerous live and simulated training sites, and was supposed to pit an Iran-like Middle Eastern country against the U.S. military, which would be fielding advanced technology it didn’t plan to implement until five years later.
The war game would begin with a forced-entry exercise that included the 82nd Airborne and the 1st Marine Division.
When the Blue Forces issued a surrender ultimatum, Van Riper, commanding the Red Forces, turned them down. Since the Bush Doctrine of the period included preemptive strikes against perceived enemies, Van Riper knew the Blue Forces would be cominfor him. And they did.
But the three-star general didn’t spend 41 years in the Marine Corps by being timid. As soon as the Navy was beyond the point of no return, he hit them and hit them hard. Missiles from land-based units, civilian boats, and low-flying planes tore through the fleet as explosive-ladened speedboats decimated the Navy using suicide tactics. His code to initiate the attack was a coded message sent from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer.
How did 19 ships and some 20,000 U.S. troops end up at the bottom of the Persian Gulf? It started with the OPFOR leadership.
Van Riper was the epitome of the salty Marine Corps general officer. He was a 41-year veteran, both enlisted and commissioned, serving everywhere from Vietnam to Desert Storm. Van Riper attended the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, The College of Naval Command and Staff, Army War College, and the Army’s Airborne and Ranger Schools.
In fact, the three-star general had been retired for some five years by the time he led the Red Forces of Millennium Challenge. He was an old-school Marine capable of some old-school tactics and has insisted that technology cannot replace
human intuition and study of the basic nature of war, which he called a “terrible, uncertain, chaotic, bloody business.”
Van Riper told the story of Millennium Challenge to journalist Malcolm Gladwell, he said the Blue Forces were stuck in their own mode of thinking. Their vastly superior technology included advanced intelligence matrices and an Operational Net Assessment that told them where the OPFOR vulnerabilities were and what Van Riper was most likely to do next out of a range of possible scenarios. They relied heavily on that. When the Blue took out Red’s microwave towers and fiber optics, they expected his forces to use satellite and cell phones that could be monitored.
Not a chance. Van Riper instead used motorcycle couriers, messages hidden in prayers, and even coded lighting systems on his airfields — tactics employed during World War II.
“I struck first,” he said in ”
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” written by Gladwell in 2005. “We did all the calculations on how many cruise missiles their ships could handle, so we simply launched more than that.”
In fact, Van Riper hated the kind of analytical decision making the Blue Forces were doing. He believed it took far too long. His resistance plan included ways of getting his people to make good decisions using rapid cognition and analog but reliable communications.
The other commanders involved called foul, complaining that a real OPFOR would never use the tactics Van Riper used — except Van Riper’s flotilla used boats and explosives like those used against the USS Cole in 2000.
“And I said ‘nobody would have thought that anyone would fly an airliner into the World Trade Center,'”
Van Riper said in reply. “But nobody [in the exercise] seemed interested.”
In the end, the Blue Forces were all respawned and Van Riper was prevented from making moves to counter the Blue Forces’ landing. He had no radar and wasn’t allowed to shoot down incoming aircraft he would have otherwise accurately targeted. The rest of the exercise was scripted to let the Blue Force land and win.
Van Riper walked out when he realized his commands were being ignored by the exercise planners. The fix was in.
The three-star wrote a 21-page critique of the exercise that was immediately classified. Van Riper spoke out against the rigged game anyway.
“Nothing was learned from this,”
he told the Guardian in 2002. “A culture not willing to think hard and test itself does not augur well for the future.”
The name rings bells. It’s got the glitz, having been the subject of two different Hollywood films complete with big-name Hollywood actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael B. Jordan, and Terrence Howard. That is wonderful and, I’m sure, absolutely appreciated by the surviving members and their family. There are some things that may not immediately pop out but are, nonetheless, extremely interesting.
The Tuskegee Airmen were one of the most accomplished groups of service members of any generation, but most can’t tell you why their name is so revered. Below are some of the most praiseworthy feats ever accomplished.
One of the first defenders of the Tuskegee Airmen
(Image courtesy of OnThisDay.com)
Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall? Yes, that Thurgood Marshall. Before you go off saying he wasn’t a Tuskegee Airmen, you have to consider his tie to them. While he was a young lawyer, he represented 100 black officers who were charged with mutiny after entering a club that was then considered off-limits to them.
He would eventually get them all released.
The photo that opened many doors.
(Image courtesy of RedTail.org)
The Tuskegee Airmen came to during an age of segregated America. While the Tuskegee Airmen, or the Tuskegee experiment as it was then known, was great it still lacked the prerequisite respect and support.
It wasn’t until a visit from FLOTUS Eleanor Roosevelt that support would begin to flow in. Photo and film from a flight around the field would be the push needed to get the support to really come in.
Lieutenant General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.
(Image courtesy of AF.mil)
Three different members, or graduates, of the Tuskegee experiment, went on to become Generals. The first was Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. He was the first commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first Black General of the U.S. Air Force.
Daniel “Chapple” James was appointed brigadier general by Richard Nixon and also went on to become a General. The last, Lucius Theus, would retire at the rank of Major General after a 36-year career.
Batting a thousand..
The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 700 bomber escort missions during World War II. They wound up being the only fighter group to achieve and maintain a perfect record protecting bombers.