How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

The U.S. Army Truck, 1/4-ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance, better known as the jeep, was the primary light wheeled transport vehicle of the U.S. military during WWII. President Eisenhower called it, “one of the three decisive weapons the U.S. had during WWII.” By the end of the war, nearly 650,000 Jeeps had been produced. They saw use across the globe from Africa, to Europe and Asia. After the war, many jeeps were sold to or given to locals, or simply left behind rather than having to be transported back to the states. In the Philippines, hundreds of jeeps made their way into the hands of locals.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
U.S. troops with jeeps in the Philippines (Public Domain)

Reportedly, the Philippines saw a huge black market for surplus jeeps after WWII. Regardless of how they were left behind, the local Filipinos saw the jeep as a rugged, dependable and adaptable vehicle. These qualities made it perfect for the post-war Filipinos who were still recovering from years of Japanese occupation. Many Filipinos lost their mode of transportation, be it car, horse or bicycle, during the war.

The Filipinos stripped the military jeeps down and rebuilt them to suit their needs. The soft-top utilitarian trucks were given metal roofs for shade from the tropical sun, painted with vibrant colors, and adorned with chrome-plated ornaments. The decoration of the jeeps helped to return some element of beauty to the country’s capital, Manila. Known as the Pearl of the Orient, the city saw heavy fighting and suffered a great deal of damage during WWII.

The backs of the jeeps were also altered. The two side-by-side rear seats were replaced with parallel benches in order to accommodate more passengers. Over time, the vehicles were lengthened and given a longer wheelbase to increase their passenger capacity. The stretched jeeps became a popular form of public transportation and started to operate on regular routes like buses. Operating like jitneys, the jeeps became known as jeepneys.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
A jeepney in Davao City, Philippines (University of Hawaii at Mānoa)

Through the second half of the 20th century, the jeepney became a cultural icon of the Philippines. It was used by school children and adults alike and served as a major form of public transportation across the country, and especially in Manila. Fares were posted on the jeepney itself and people could hop on and off at their leisure. Passengers hanging on to the back or riding on top of a full jeepney was a common sight. Jeepneys are also heavily decorated and even themed by their drivers.

The heavy use of and increased demand for the jeepney quickly stretched the supply of WWII-surplus jeeps. Modern jeepneys are produced and maintained with imported parts, generally from Japan or South Korea. However, the stretched jeep appearance is maintained from the original jeepneys.

Seeing the widespread use of the jeepneys, the Philippine government began to regulate them. Drivers must now obtain a special jeepney license, routes are prescribed, and fares are fixed. However, private jeepneys still operate outside of this governmental oversight.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
There’s still room for a few more (Loyola Marymount University)

Though indigenous to the Philippines, the jeepney has been exported. Nearby Papua New Guinea determined that importing new buses and vans for their public transportation would be too expensive. The cheap and reliable jeepneys were suggested as a more affordable alternative to conventional vehicles. In 2004, 4,000 jeepneys were exported from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea.

Today, there are many threats that could lead to the removal of the old jeepneys. Increased restrictions and regulations on emissions have led to many builders abandoning jeepney production for other products or going bankrupt entirely. Modern mini-buses and ride-sharing services also cut into the traditional jeepney passenger market. Despite these factors, the jeepney continues to drive the roads of the Philippines and carry on the legacy of the WWII jeep.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
A collection of jeepneys in Manila (Stanford University)
MIGHTY HISTORY

U.S. serviceman helped liberate Nazi concentration camp

For nearly four decades, Al Ungerleider dedicated his life to serving his country. He was an infantry officer who saw active combat in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, rising to the rank of brigadier general.

Ungerleider experienced a lot during his years in the military, including a landing amid the chaos on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. But nothing stirred his emotions like what crossed before his eyes in the waning days of World War II. At the time, U.S., Soviet and British forces were liberating Nazi concentration camps in Europe as Germany was close to surrendering, bringing to life the horrors of Adolph Hitler’s “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish people. The liberators saw emaciated corpses piled on top of each other and skeletal camp survivors, and they could smell the stench of death.


How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Al Ungerleider (second row, farthest left, kneeling) landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day commanding Company L of the Third Battalion of the 115th Regiment of the 29th Division. This photo shows other commanders in the Third Battalion.

Army 1st Lt. Ungerleider, who died in 2011 at age 89, commanded Company I of the Third Battalion of the 115th Regiment, which separated into advance parties to scout routes and bivouac areas in central Germany. Ungerleider’s party came upon the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, the center of a vast network of forced labor camps in the Harz Mountain region. Prisoners at Dora-Mittlebau constructed large factories for the V-2 missile program and other experimental weapons.

Upon entering the camp 75 years ago on April 11, 1945, Ungerleider witnessed a level of cruelty that is “burned into my brain and my soul like nothing else in my life,” he said in a 1993 interview. “My men and I smashed through the gates and witnessed the site of dead bodies, of human beings in the worst state of degradation. There was absolute horror in what we saw. Then we asked, `What can we do to help?'”

`Literally starving to death’

Ungerleider, who was Jewish, spoke Yiddish to the survivors in the camp and grouped them together to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer to mourn the dead. Prior to the liberation, the Nazis had evacuated most of the prisoners at Dora-Mittlebau to the Bergen-Belsen camp in northern Germany to hide them from allied forces. Thus, only a few hundred prisoners remained at the camp, which once held as many as 12,000 by the time the Americans arrived.

“He and his unit were totally unprepared for what they found because they had no knowledge of the concentration camps,” said Ungerleider’s son, Neil Ungerleider. “The survivors were literally starving to death.”

Neil Ungerleider explained that his father spoke with German citizens who lived in the nearby towns and villages and who claimed ignorance of the atrocities. He said to them, `Go back and bring these people food,'” Neil Ungerleider said. “He threatened to imprison them if they didn’t do it, but they did. They brought them food.”

The Americans appeared to encounter minimal resistance as they scoured the camp. At one point, Al Ungerleider and Army Pfc. Billy Melander went to a building and found 10 crematorium ovens with the doors closed. Edward Burke, the captain of a tank destroyer battalion that accompanied Ungerleider’s unit in the assault on the camp, provided an account of what happened next:

Ungerleider told Billy to bring his M1 Rifle ready to fire as he opened the doors,” Burke once said. “Doors one, two, three and four were empty. Ungerleider said as he approached door five he felt a tingle all through his body. As he opened the door, there was a German trooper with a Luger pistol aimed at them. Fortunately, Billy was faster on the trigger, and he pumped eight shots into the German as fast as he could pull the trigger.”

Nightmares from what he witnessed

Like Al Ungerleider and his unit, many Americans were unaware of the German atrocities toward the Jews. Nearly 6 million Jewish people were murdered in Nazi concentration camps from 1939 to 1945 in what is known as the Holocaust.

Neil Ungerleider said his father experienced nightmares as a result of what he witnessed at Dora-Mittlebau. “This one traumatic event stuck with him for the rest of his life. He was able to cope very well with his war experiences, except for this one thing.”

Nearly a year before liberating the camp, Al Ungerleider led 50 men from the 115th Regiment ashore at Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944. They were in the second wave of U.S. troops who hit the beach in the Normandy invasion along the northern coast of France. The invasion changed the course of the war by leading to the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Germany’s control. “Being in the second wave, he didn’t experience the kind of slaughter that those who went in first did,” Neil Ungerleider said, “which doesn’t make it any less dangerous or any less heroic in terms of what he and his men did. But he did have close calls during the war.”

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Al Ungerleider earned three Bronze Stars for his military service.

`He was a patriot’

Al Ungerleider was not wounded during the landing. But he suffered injuries not long after from shrapnel in France. The first wound to his arm wasn’t that serious. He was treated at a hospital in France before returning to combat. A wound to the leg was more serious. He was evacuated to England for treatment and returned to battle.

On June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, Ungerleider was chosen to escort President Clinton for a wreath laying at the iconic site. Ten years later, he was one of 100 American Veterans who returned to Omaha Beach for the 60th anniversary. They received the French Legion of Honor, the oldest and highest honor in France.

In his distinguished military career, Ungerleider also commanded military bases in Korea and Vietnam. He was a three-time recipient of the Bronze Star, which is awarded to members of the military for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Over the years, Ungerleider remained modest about his recognition and service to his country. “He was a patriot who loved his country and did his duty,” Neil Ungerleider said. “After Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted because, as he put it, `We were all going. No one ever thought not to go.’ In his mind, he was doing nothing beyond what everyone else was doing. He never thought of himself as unique or special. The value he instilled in his children was this: Work hard, do your best and be modest about what you achieve. I cannot think of a better description of how he lived his life.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

You could lose your boat if you loot a war grave in American waters

Seventy-five years ago, the destroyer USS Roper sank the Nazi submarine U-85 with all hands going to a watery grave. This was not an unusual occurrence. During World War II the Nazis lost 629 U-boats to a number of hostile acts, from being depth-charged by ships to hitting mines to being bombed while pierside at a port.


But in 2003, U-85 briefly hit the news when its Enigma machine was “retrieved” by some divers. Eventually the Naval Historical Center managed to arrange the machine’s donation to a North Carolina museum, but it highlighted a problem. The Navy also got a public-relations black eye over a recovered Brewster F3A. The Navy didn’t like having to hand over the plane – even if it was a Corsair In Name Only.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
A collection of enigma machines at the National Cryptologic Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

As part of the 2004 defense authorization bill signed by then-President George W. Bush the “Sunken Military Craft Act” became the law of the land. The rules are intended to ensure that sunken wrecks of American military vessels (or aircraft) aren’t tampered with.

The law does that by setting up very steep civil penalties — we’re talking a $100,000 for each violation. What is a violation? Well, according to the text available at the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command, engaging or attempting to engage in, “any activity directed at a sunken military craft that disturbs, removes, or injures any sunken military craft.”

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
The wreckage of the USS Sea Lion

Oh, and they consider each day a separate violation – those penalties will be adding up. Furthermore, the provisions also state that “vessel used to violate this title shall be liable in rem for a penalty under this section for such violation.”

Or in other words, your boat is subject to confiscation.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
Bismark’s final resting place at the bottom of the sea.

And if you think you’re gonna be safe by looting something like U-85… think again. Any foreign government can ask the Navy to protect their wrecks off our shores. So, looting a foreign warship wreck can get you in just as much hot water as if you’d looted one from the United States Navy.

All is not lost for would-be looters. According to the law, there is an eight-year statute of limitations. But given that you face huge civil penalties, it’s better to ask permission. Or better yet, leave the wreck alone.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Bette Davis’ club became the best spot for WWII troops

Veterans and troops always have a go-to spot where they can enjoy themselves after hours. Oftentimes, it’s a bar where they can unwind alongside buddies and take their minds off the stresses that come with military life, if only for a brief moment. Wherever that place may be, when you’re there, you know you can just kick back, enjoy that sweet, refreshing beer, and relax.

Back during World War II, the U.S. was abuzz with patriotism and everyone who could would do their part to serve those who serve. Hollywood celebrities of the time, like Bette Davis and John Garfield, were no exception. In fact, they created a club designed specifically to cater to returning troops. Best part of all: The uniform got you in for free and troops would never spend a single cent when there.


How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

She would spend almost the entire run of the Second World War supporting the troops at the expense of her infamous Warner Bros. contract.

Located at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, CA was the fabulous Hollywood Canteen. Troops who visited would be greeted with the words, “through these portals pass the most beautiful uniforms in the world.” Anyone was allowed in, but the troops were treated with more esteem than the celebrities who catered to them.

No one dedicated more time and effort to the Hollywood Canteen than Bette Davis herself. The beautiful actress was the president of the Canteen and would often be the first person ready to greet troops as they came through the door. Visiting troops would be escorted to their seat by a lovely celebrity and then offered a fantastic evening.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Who wouldn’t want a free meal served to you by Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich?

Everything within the Canteen was offered on a donation basis, but the tickets to get were outrageously priced (for those who weren’t in the military). Tickets ran the average civilian — about 4.15 when adjusted for inflation — and they still wouldn’t get the star treatment from the celebrities. Of course, all of that money was funneled back to the war effort.

It operated at a huge loss. It was highly publicized; they welcomed in well over one million troops and spent ,000 (,697.51 AFI) weekly on food alone. As a result, the Canteen relied heavily on donations and good will from wealthy individuals to keep the doors open. The most ardent benefactors were Bette Davis and the many celebrities that came to support the troops — a long list that included everyone who was anyone at the time.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

It’s probably the best business move anyways. Anyone would go bankrupt if they openly offered every troop as much alcohol as they wanted.

The troops were offered nearly whatever they wanted. Chef Milani, one of the earliest celebrity chefs, was world-renown and took great joy in making off-the-wall recipes for the troops. The troops were also offered drinks, cigarettes, and a night of entertainment free of charge.

The only real downside is that since it was unprofessional to offer a bunch of free alcohol to troops (and, as a result, have drunk troops’ photos plastered all over the tabloids), they refrained from openly serving alcohol — but you know it happened anyway. Officers were also discouraged from entering as it was more or less seen as “the enlisted’s paradise.”

In 1944, Warner Bros., who had Bette Davis under contract, made a musical, called Hollywood Canteen, which was set in its namesake club. Nearly every actor and musician who supported the club made a cameo appearance in the film. It was the fourth highest grossing film of that year and 40 percent of the profits were funneled directly back into the club.

When V-J Day finally came, the club’s purpose had been fulfilled. They threw one hell of a party before closing its doors for good. The remaining funds in the Canteen’s account were spread among various veteran organizations.

In 1980, Bette Davis was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the Department of Defense’s highest award for civilians, for her dedication to the troops and for giving them the Hollywood Canteen. The two-time Academy award winning actress and arguably the greatest actress of the classical film era said of the Canteen, “there are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how WWII, G.I. Joe and a decorated U.S. Marine shaped Transformers

Today, the Transformers IP has a world-wide presence in toys, comic books, video games, TV shows, movies and even amusement park rides. Just hearing the name cues the iconic jingle or robotic transforming noise in the heads of even the most casual fans. It’s incredible to think that this franchise that dominates the globe owes its existence to the Second World War, G.I. Joe action figures and one very special Marine.


How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Transformers is still going strong with a new Netflix original series (Netflix)

Following the end of WWII, American troops occupied the Japanese islands as the nation entered into the process of reconstruction. A key element in reviving the Japanese economy was its once prominent toy industry. However, with few raw materials available after the war, toy makers were forced to resort to unconventional sources.

American GIs occupying Japan were fed heavily with canned rations. It was the metal from these cans that was recycled and used to craft Japanese robot toys. To highlight Japanese craftsmanship, these toys were often motorized with clock mechanisms that allowed them to walk and roll.

The popularity of Japanese robot toys increased through the 1960s and 1970s. With the expansion of television, the robot toys were paired with manga comics and anime cartoons that engaged children and promoted toy sales. Japanese robot-based entertainment like Astroboy, Ultraman, Shogun Warriors and Gigantor became increasingly popular in America.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Robot shows like Gigantor were also successful in Australia (Eiken/TCJ)

However, even the robots from the east couldn’t compete with “A Real American Hero” like G.I. Joe. High sales of the action figure in the states were enough to convince Japanese toy maker Takara to license G.I. Joe for the Japanese market.

Having gained respect in the Japanese toy world for their toy dolls, Takara wanted to branch out and make a toy line for boys. However, G.I. Joe’s iconic scar and grimacing expression were a bit too harsh and aggressive for post-war Japan. To market the toy to Japanese boys, Takara decided to make G.I. Joe into a superhero with superpowers. When the designers realized that G.I. Joe’s body wasn’t conducive to a superhero build, they resorted to type and made him into a robot. With a clear plastic body displaying his metal computer-like internals, G.I. Joe became Henshin Cyborg. Henshin meaning “transformation”, this was the first step towards what we know today as Transformers.

Following the 1973 oil crisis, the 11.5″ tall toy and all of its accessories became prohibitively expensive to produce. Like G.I. Joe in the states, Takara introduced the 3.75″ tall Microman. A mini version of Henshin Cyborg, the Microman toy line focused even more on transforming toys with robots that could change into sci-fi spaceships. Microman was so popular that it was marketed in the US under the name Micronauts.

By the 1980s, robot toys that transformed into exotic spaceships were losing popularity. To rejuvenate the robot toy concept, Takara introduced the Diaclone Car Robo and Microman Micro Change lines. Diaclone toys transformed from robots into 1:60 scale vehicles like cars and trucks while Microman toys transformed into 1:1 replicas of household items like cameras, cassette players and toy guns.

At the Tokyo Toy Show, Hasbro executives took notice of Diaclone, Microman Micro Change and the plethora of other Japanese transforming robot toys and wanted to develop their own toy line. A deal was struck with Takara and Hasbro lifted almost every one of their toy lines for the US market, including Diaclone and Microman Micro Change.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Diaclone transforming robot truck Battle Convoy (Takara)

To review, Hasbro licensed G.I. Joe to Takara in the 1970s. Takara turned G.I. Joe into Henshin Cyborg. Henshin Cyborg was shrunk down to Microman. Microman evolved into Diaclone and Microman Micro Change, both of which were licensed back to Hasbro. Things had really come full circle.

With all of these transforming robot toys, Hasbro turned to Marvel Comics to develop a backstory for the new toy line. Over a weekend, Marvel writers came up with the names and backstories for the first 26 Transformers as well as the plot for the first comic book issue.

Diaclone and Microman Micro Change robots were renamed and became Transformers as we know them today. Micro Car became Bumblebee, Cassette Man became Shockwave, Gun Robo became Megatron, Battle Convoy became Optimus Prime and the War for Cybertron between the just Autobots and the oppressive Decepticons was born. The first commercial for the Transformers toys introduced the now iconic jingle and the phrases, “Robots in disguise” and, “More than meets the eye.”

The 1984 release of Transformers was a huge success netting Hasbro 5 million in sales. The popularity of the franchise was due in large part to the Transformers cartoon, the star of which was the venerable Optimus Prime.

Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, became so iconic that he was brought back to reprise the role of the Autobot leader in the 2007 Transformers film and its many sequels. Cullen, also known for voicing Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh franchise, crafted the voice of Optimus Prime with inspiration from his older brother.

Marine Captain Henry Laurence Cullen, Jr., known as Larry, was a decorated veteran of the war in Vietnam. While serving with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Capt. Cullen was awarded a Bronze Star with a V device as well as two Purple Hearts for his actions during Operation Hastings in June 1966.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Capt. Cullen was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery (Cullen family)

When his younger brother told him he was going to audition for the role of a hero in a cartoon series, Capt. Cullen said, “Peter, if you’re gonna be a hero, be a real hero. Don’t be one of those Hollywood heroes pretending they’re tough guys when they’re not. Just be strong and real. Tell the truth. Be strong enough to be gentle.”

With his older brother’s words echoing in his mind, Peter Cullen delivered the strong yet gentle voice performance that Transformers fans today will always hail as the one, true Optimus.

“He had a lot of influence on me, you know, and especially coming back from Vietnam. I noticed somebody different,” Cullen remembered of his older brother. “Going into that audition, Larry was with me. I mean, he was right there beside me. When I read the script, Larry’s voice just came out. He was my hero.”

From recycled ration cans, to a classic American action figure and an inspirational leader of Marines, the Transformers franchise has had a lot of American military influence to get to where it is today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 famous lines from legendary speeches that were made up on the spot

A good speech from a great leader can change the world. After the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, a speech that strengthened the resolve of the Union to continue fighting battles like that for another two years. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt told the American people that day would live in infamy, and it has ever since.

But it might surprise you to discover that some of history’s greatest lines were improvised by the speaker, instead of written into the script of the age.


President Bush’s Ground Zero “Bullhorn Speech”

George W. Bush has been accused of a lot of things, but being one of history’s greatest orators is not one of them. Still, in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States needed its fearless leader to show up at the center of it all and encourage the nation to stand tall, and George W. Bush was able to do that. What started out as an impromptu, unprepared remark about empathy turned into one of the most memorable speeches of modern presidential history when a worker in the back shouted, “we can’t hear you,” referring to the president’s bullhorn.

President Bush, contrary to what some might believe, is quick on his feet and responded with the legendary line “I can hear you. The whole world hears you. And whoever knocked down these buildings will hear all of us real soon.”

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walked to the podium on Aug. 28, 1963, intent on sticking to the script. His prepared remarks mentioned nothing about the dream King had. He’d mentioned the dream speech before, but was convinced the speech wouldn’t have the same effect on such a gathered crowd for such a long speech. In the middle of the speech, Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to Dr. King, telling him to use the “dream” line.

At around 12:00 above, you can see the shift in Dr. King’s face. He stops looking down at his notes as he had for the previous 12 minutes and begins to address the crowd directly, flawlessly delivering the “dream” portion of the speech. This part of the speech is much less measured and more emotional than a banking analogy.

Winston Churchill’s “The Few” Speech

By August 1940, Britain stood alone in Europe against the Nazi war machine. Poland and France had already fallen, and the only things protecting England was the English Channel and the Royal Air Force. British airmen were giving everything they had to defend the island nation from the relentless attacks of the Nazi Luftwaffe, day and night, and they were running low on planes and pilots. Churchill was moved by the pilots who survived the bombing of an RAF airfield just days before and told the assembled men that ‘never in the history of mankind has so much been owed by so many to so few.’

He delivered a speech on that to Parliament on Aug. 20, 1940.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

(Smithsonian Institution)

George Washington “Grows Blind”

The Continental Army was growing restless in 1783. Victory in independence was just around the corner, but they didn’t know that. They were upset at having not been paid by Congress. Officers and soldiers of the army decided to meet in Newburgh, N.Y. to draw up a letter to Congress. Their demand was to be paid or warn the body of a coming mutiny. When George Washington heard about it, he decided to address the men on a day of his choosing.

When he entered the hall, he entered through a side door instead of the main door and proceeded to give a nine-page speech warning them against such a mutiny. He also expressed support for their sentiments and went to share a letter from a Congressman who shared it too. As he pulled out the letter, he also pulled out his glasses and said the immortal words:

“Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.”

It was that improvised line that prevented the mutiny, reaffirmed their loyalty to their graying commander, and won the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the ways Beetle Bailey spoke for every troop

Mort Walker, famed comic strip writer and former Army First Lieutenant, passed away on Jan. 27, 2018. His most famous work, Beetle Bailey, changed the way comics are enjoyed daily in 1950 and it continues to touch lives today. It fostered acceptance of the comic strip as an artistic medium by an older crowd and showed American military service in a new light.


The comic drew its humor from the realities of service, spotlighting both the good and the bad, and gave audiences around the world a more relatable soldier than any other in pop culture. Walker served on the Italian front of WWII and knew exactly how privates, sergeants, and officers all acted: kind of funny, sometimes.

Here’s how the comic strip spoke for all of us.

Privates will be lazy

The longest-running gag in the series is Pvt. Beetle Bailey trying to skip out of work. Given the opportunity, he’ll sleep. If he has to work, he’ll need a kick in the ass to get going — sometimes literally.

This is not unlike a large portion of the lower enlisted in the real-world military. As much as every NCO and officer would love to pretend like their troops are the pinnacle of perfection, they’re much more like Pvt. Bailey than they are Captain America. In a way, that humanizes the military. Civilians can relate to the “work” ethic of Bailey and, in turn, some of our troops.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
The lower enlisted will master every rule and regulation just to find the one loophole they need. (Comic by Mort Walker and King Features Syndicate)

NCOs still have a good heart

Sgt. 1st Class Snorkel is a mix between an alcoholic, an asshole, and, in his own, unique way, Beetle Bailey’s friend. He’s got anger issues, but they’re never unjustified. He has to constantly burst Bailey’s bubble, but only because he’s got a job to do.

Non-commissioned officers in the real military are much the same way. Underneath their rank and loud voice, they’re still human. Caring humans who still have a job to do.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
For reference on how dedicated Mort Walker was at his craft, this comic was released a day before his passing. (Comic by Mort Walker and King Features Syndicate)

Officers’ ideas aren’t always the best

Brig. Gen. Halftrack is a goofy and inept General who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. The gears will already be turning properly when he comes in and throws everything off kilter.

There’s a misconception among civilians and even in the military itself (especially from the officers) that their generals are near-mythical geniuses. Turns out, they’re just as flawed as everyone else. In the military, we call this the “Good Idea Fairy.”

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
Rest in peace, 1st Lt. Mort Walker. The military and veteran community lost one of its funniest voices. (Comic by Mort Walker and King Features Syndicate)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first casualty of the Civil War happened entirely by accident

On Dec. 20, 1860, the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, leaving military personnel stationed there in a state of confusion. What belonged to the United States, what belonged to South Carolina, and who was going to be loyal to which side was all unclear. On Apr. 12, 1861, after a long siege, South Carolina Militia commander P.G.T. Beauregard fired the opening salvo of a barrage of cannon fire that would last 34 hours.

In return, Federal Captain Abner Doubleday ordered his men to fire on the South Carolinians. The exchange sparked four years of bloody Civil War in the United States — but not a single man died in combat that day.


When the state seceded, there were actually only two companies of federal U.S. troops in South Carolina. The decision for who would be loyal to who actually turned out to be fairly simple. The rest of the American troops defending South Carolina were actually state militiamen. That’s who Beauregard manned on Charleston’s 19 coastal defense batteries.

But the Federals weren’t actually stationed at Fort Sumter, they were land bound on nearby Fort Moultrie. It was only after the base commander Maj. Robert Anderson feared an attack from state militia via land that the Federals were moved into Charleston Harbor and the protection of Fort Sumter.

Anderson was right. South Carolina state forces began to seize federal buildings, arms, and fortifications almost immediately, and Fort Moultrie was among those buildings. That left the garrison at Fort Sumter as the sole remaining federal possession in South Carolina. And the Carolinians demanded their surrender. Some 3,000 rebel troops laid siege to the base and, by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration, it was one of the last remaining federal holdouts in the entire south.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

President Lincoln announced in March, 1861, he would send three ships to resupply and relieve Fort Sumter, so the pressure on Beauregard to take the fort soon increased. On Apr. 11, Beauregard demanded the fort’s surrender and warned he would fire on the fort if the Federals did not comply. They didn’t. That’s when Beauregard fired a punishing barrage at the defenders.

Rebels poured 3,000 cannon shots into the fort over the next 34 hours. The Federals didn’t just take it, they returned fire with everything they had, literally. The U.S. troops were running low on powder and ammunition by mid-afternoon the next day. With their walls crumbling and the fort burning around them, Maj. Anderson reluctantly ordered Fort Sumter’s surrender.

Amazingly, no one was killed in the exchange on either side.

When the time came to lower the Stars and Stripes, Federal troops — soon to be known as Union troops — gave the flag a 100-gun salute as it came down on Apr. 14. But an accidental discharge from one of the fort’s cannons caused an explosion that killed Pvt. Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery, the first death of hundreds of thousands to come.

In the days that followed, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee also seceded from the Union and both sides of the conflict began to mobilize for the next meeting, which would come on July, 1861, in Manassas, Virginia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

From April to May 1940, nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and academics were murdered by the Soviets in what became known as the Katyn Massacre. Only one Polish officer survived the systematic execution of tens of thousands of prisoners taken captive by the Red Army.

Maj. Eugenjusz Komorowski published his autobriography, Night Never Ending, in 1974. In it, he recounts his story of how he survived the Katyn Massacre. The book opens with the capture of his unit by the Red Army near Grodno, Poland shortly after the Soviet invasion in 1939. Upon capture, the Polish military waited until the NKVD, a precursor to the KGB, arrived and ordered the Poles to be shipped off to Tarnopol camp, a temporary Soviet camp within Poland. From there, the soldiers were deported to Kozelsk, another Soviet camp. This camp was to be their last stop.

When the Poles arrived Kozelsk, the NKVD attempted to indoctrinate them into communism. However, most Poles resisted the propaganda and held to their democratic values. The more the Poles opposed communism, the more they were forced to listen to the ideology. The NKVD would deceive the Polish officers to come to events like movies, and force the Poles to stay in the room and listen to why communism in the best ideology. Furthermore, any officer or soldier who had been outside of Poland for any reason was tortured through intense questioning. Unfortunately for Komorowski, he had studied abroad in England and Belgium.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
Polish soldiers are taken captive after their surrender (Public Domain)

Komorowski was brought in by an NKVD officer and charged with spying in London and Brussels on behalf of the Polish government. The interrogation by the NKVD lasted almost seventy-four hours. For three days, Komorowski was beaten, denied sleep, food, and water, in order to illicit a confession of spying, despite evidence proving the contrary. Komorowski noted in his account how some officers cracked under the NKVD’s brutal interrogation.

Furthermore, by January 1940, the officers in Kozelsk were forced by the NKVD to sign confessions that they had also spied on the Soviet Union. After the confession was signed, the NKVD threatened to make the confession known to Poland and had the officer branded as a traitor if they did not convince other officers to sign similar confessions.

In the spring of 1940, the NKVD gathered the prisoners in the Kozelsk camp, marched them to a train, and sent them out west. The train stopped near Smolesnk and the prisoners were marched by the NKVD into Katyn Forest. Once in the woods, the NKVD lined the prisoners up, bound their hands, placed a coat over their heads, and lined them up a few at a time and in front of a shallow pit. Once lined up, an NKVD officer systematically shot them in the head, one at a time, and then kicked the body into the shallow pit. After he was shot, Komorowski fell into the ditch and passed out.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
The mass graves were discovered by the Germans in 1943 (Public Domain)

He woke up in the ditch with the bodies of his fellow Poles all around him, the bullet meant for his head having gone through his arm instead. Wounded and traumatized, he crawled out of the ditch and wandered the town until he was located by German police. He was the only survivor of the Soviet war crime and provided the only Polish account of the atrocities committed in Katyn Forest.

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9 things you didn’t know about the “I Have a Dream” speech

Just this month on the anniversary of the March on Washington, MLK’s granddaughter gave a moving speech of her very own…and she’s not even a teenager yet! The history books don’t always tell the full story, so keep reading for some of the most interesting facts you never knew about Dr. King’s most famous speech.

 


1. MLK’s speech almost left out his “dream”

His “Dream” speech wasn’t a new concept. He used it frequently in previous speeches, so his advisor, Rv. Wyatt Tee Walker, suggested he leave it out, calling it “hackneyed and trite.” The new speech was supposed to be called “Normalcy Never Again,” but when King got up on stage as the final speaker of the day, the audience had other plans. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yelled out of the crowd, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.” Going against his advisor’s suggestion, King paused and said, “I still have a dream.” It was a bold move, but even his advisor later admitted it was the right one.

MLK before his big speech

2. King didn’t write the speech alone

While some of his speech was improvised, he had help with the first draft. It was originally written by Stanley Levison and Clarence Jones, with plenty more heads coming together to create the final version.

3. The March was originally planned to leave out female speakers

Despite the innumerable women who contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, none were included in the original speaking schedule. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, the only woman who was on the national planning committee at the time, pushed for acknowledgment of their achievements. A “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” was added to the docket, but it was only after additional pressure that a woman was invited to lead it.

Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP, took the stage, saying, “We will walk until we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to any school in the United States. And we will sit-in and we will kneel-in and we will lie-in if necessary until every Negro in America can vote. This we pledge to the women of America.”

Josephine Baker, a famous American entertainer, also spoke, telling the crowd, “You know I have always taken the rocky path. I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path, and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I want you to have a chance at what I had. But I do not want you to have to run away to get it.”

4. The March was organized by an openly gay man

Ever heard of Bayard Rustin? Most people haven’t, but he was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He strongly encouraged King to avoid violence, fundraised for the Montgomery bus boycott, and organized the March on Washington in only two months. Despite his dedication, he remained behind the scenes for a reason. He was worried that his sexual orientation would be used as an attempt to discredit the civil rights movement, so he worked virtually unseen. President Obama recognized his work posthumously, however, awarding him The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

5. Hollywood stars attended the March to draw attention

Harry Belafonte already planned to attend the March himself when he reached out to other stars to encourage their participation. He asked Hollywood studio managers to give the actors the day off so they could attend, which they did. Many A-listers attended, including Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis Jr, Lena Horne and Burt Lancaster. The celebrity presence had two purposes; to boost media coverage, and to ease concerns about violence. The participation of so many high-profile celebrities toned down the widespread anxiety and increased support from President John F. Kennedy.

6. Wiretapping was a real concern

Speeches and marches don’t plan themselves, and the planning continues right up until the event starts. The day before King gave his most famous speech, he got together with his advisors to discuss the final version. They were worried that King’s hotel suite at the Willard Hotel wasn’t secure enough and could easily be wiretapped, however, so they met in the lobby instead, to discuss the speech.

7. Dr. King’s bodyguard was a college basketball player

George Raveling was in the audience when event organizers asked if he would step on stage to act as King’s bodyguard. As he was standing next to King, he asked if he could keep the paper copy of the speech. Raveling, now a retired basketball coach, still owns the original, typewritten speech.

8. The media didn’t care about the speeches

Today, King’s speech is celebrated and studied as one of the best speeches in all of history. Right after it happened, however, many reporters overlooked the speech almost entirely. Instead of covering the speeches given, newspapers (including Dr. King’s) focused on the size and scope of the March itself. The speech wasn’t given much attention during King’s lifetime, resurfacing in the public eye years later.

9. ‘I Have a Dream’ was rated a better speech than JFK’s ‘Ask not what you can do’ speech

In 1999, a panel of over 130 scholars rated Dr. King’s speech as the best of the 20th century. Even Kennedy himself knew what a pivotal speech it was, commending King by saying, either “He’s damned good” or “That guy is really good,” depending on who you hear it from.

Either way, we can all agree the speech was awe-inspiring and revolutionary. You can read or listen to the full speech here!

 

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This World War I aviator was just posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross

Army Capt. James E. Miller, one of the first aviators in the U.S. military and the first U.S. aviation casualty in World War I, has been named recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross nearly 100 years after his heroic actions over France in 1918.


On the 242nd birthday of the Army, during a twilight tattoo ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, Acting Secretary of the Army Robert M. Speer presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to Miller’s great-grandson, Byron Derringer.

“We’re very proud today to have some of the descendants from James Miller’s family here and able to represent him and a lineage of what he achieved on those battlefields as the first individual who gave his life in that war in aviation,” Speer said.

The presentation of the cross to a World War I soldier is significant, given that the theme for this year’s Army birthday is, “Over There! A Celebration of the World War I Soldier.”

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

America Enters World War I

The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. On Dec. 7, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany’s ally.

“This is the 100th anniversary of [America’s entry into] World War I,” Speer said. “And it’s the 242nd birthday of our Army. But 100 years ago, there were significant changes in terms of the character of war. You had at that time, for the first time, the Army going off to war in foreign lands with our allies, fighting side-by-side with our allies, and representing the United States — which placed the United States into a significant leadership role in the world.”

Speer said several aspects of warfare changed during World War I, including the development of armor units and precision artillery. One of the most significant developments, however, was that the U.S. military had “aviation for the first time as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps,” he said.

“We have a privilege today to be able to recognize not only the heraldry of our total 242 years but also that point and time, where we recognize, late, a Distinguished Flying Cross for an American hero,” Speer said.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
Army photo by Spc. Trevor Wiegel

As part of a twilight tattoo event at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., held on honor of the Army’s 242nd birthday, Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer, left, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, right, present a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for Army Capt. James E. Miller to Miller’s great-grandson, Byron Derringer, center, June 14, 2017.

Early 20th Century Aviation Warfare

As a soldier in World War I, Miller was one of the first to make use of new aviation technology. The captain took command of the 95th Pursuit Squadron on Feb. 10, 1918 — just 10 months after the United States declared war on Germany. The men in the squadron were the first American-trained pilots to fight in the war.

On March 9 of that year, Miller, Maj. M. F. Harmon and Maj. Davenport Johnson began the first combat patrol ever for the U.S. Army Air Services. They flew 180-horsepower, French-built SPAD XIII aircraft. The aircraft, a biplane, is named for its developer, the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
SPAD XIII at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Harmon’s plane experienced trouble early in the sortie, and so he was unable to continue on the patrol. But Miller and Johnson pressed on together and crossed into enemy territory. There, they fought off two German aircraft, but soon met more. It was then that Johnson’s aircraft experienced trouble with the machine guns.

Miller Fights On

According to the DFC citation, Johnson was forced to leave Miller to continue the fight against German aviators on his own.

“Miller continued to attack the two German biplanes, fearlessly exposing himself to the enemy, until his own aircraft was severely damaged and downed behind the German lines, where he succumbed to his injuries,” the citation reads. “Miller’s actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the United States Army Air Services and the American Expeditionary Forces.”

Afterward, Derringer said of both the recognition and the twilight tattoo that accompanied the recognition, “it’s spectacular, I know that the family, everybody, is just honored to be here.”

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This WWII commander avenged his fallen shipmates

There is nothing like a good revenge story. From Paul Kersey’s vigilante rampage in in “Death Wish” to Eric Cartman’s diabolical payback in the South Park Episode “Scott Tenorman Must Die,” revenge tales are deeply satisfying.


Here is one from World War II involving the revenge one naval officer took upon Japan for his fallen shipmates.

It started during the earliest days of America’s involvement in World War II. On Dec. 10, 1941, the Sargo-class submarine USS Sealion (SS 195) was hit by Japanese bombs during a strike on the American naval base in Cavite where it sunk pier-side.

Four of her crew — Sterling C. Foster, Melvin D. O’Connell, Ernest E. Ogilvie, and Vallentyne L. Paul — were killed. Eli T. Reich, the submarine’s executive officer, was among those evacuated.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
USS Sealion II (SS 315). (US Navy photo)

According to retired Navy Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood’s book, “Sink `Em All,” when Reich was due for a command of his own, he asked if Lockwood could get him the new USS Sealion (SS 315), a Balao-class vessel. Lockwood, who was the commander of the Pacific Fleet’s submarines, arranged for that assignment – and Reich was soon out, seeking revenge.

Four of the torpedoes USS Sealion II carried were stamped with the names Foster, O’Connell, Ogilvie, and Paul.

On Nov. 21, 1944, while the Sealion was patrolling in the Formosa Strait, Reich then came across a Japanese surface that included the battleship HIJMS Kongo (in reality, a re-built battle cruiser). Reich moved his submarine into position, then fired a spread of six torpedoes from his bow tubes — including the ones with the names of his fallen shipmates.

He then fired a second spread from his stern tubes.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze
Two views of HIJMS Kongo as she looked in 1944, the year she was sunk by USS Sealion (SS 315). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Accounts differ as to the exact sequence of events after the two spreads of torpedoes were fired.

According to “Leyte,” the tenth book in Samuel Eliot Morison’s 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, the first spread Reich fired was intercepted by a Japanese destroyer that blew up and sank as a result, and the second spread scored one hit that eventually sank the Kongo.

At CombinedFleet.com, Anthony Tully relates a different version, with Kongo taking multiple hits from one of the spreads.

Lockwood claims Reich’s first spread scored three hits.

No matter what version, the Kongo eventually blew up and sank. Reich had avenged his shipmates. He would receive three awards of the Navy Cross, among other decorations, for his service, and died in 1999. His command, USS Sealion, would serve in the Navy until 1970, then was sunk as a target in 1978.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Their first battle: George A. Custer charges into Manassas

Famous Maj. Gen. George A. Custer is probably best known for his exploits after the Civil War, but he graduated from West Point in June 1861, arriving in the regular Army just in time to lead cavalrymen in the First Battle of Bull Run that July. Yeah, Custer rode into combat the month after he graduated college.


How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Cadet George A. Custer at West Point in 1859.

(Public domain)

The First Battle of Bull Run, or the First Battle of Manassas as it was known in the South, focused on the railroad intersection at Manassas. The railroads that intersected there were key to Washington’s ability to send troops and supplies south into Virginia in case of an invasion of the South. Both sides knew this and wanted to control the junction.

The South stationed an army there, but those men largely fell back when 30,000 Union troops assembled nearby in June 1861. Just weeks later, the field commander of the Union Army, Gen. Irvin McDowell, proposed using his 30,000 men to further drive back the Confederate defenders and then advance on Richmond. His goal was to capture the Virginia capital, recently selected as the second capital of the Confederacy.

While the Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard had fallen back when the Union troops showed up, they were obviously not willing to leave the capital undefended. They had to fight the Union at Manassas Junction.

Custer arrived in Washington D.C. on July 20, 1861, the day before the battle broke out. He had been held on West Point’s campus for disciplinary reasons right after he had graduated from the school as the 34th ranked student in a class of 34. Because of his late start after this detainment, he barely reached D.C. in time for the battle.

He reported to the Adjutant-General’s office and was told that he had been assigned as an officer in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. (This was an auspicious assignment. Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee had commanded the unit until January 1861.)

But after giving Custer his orders, the adjutant offered to introduce Custer to Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott. At the time, Scott was the Commanding General of the United States Army. Custer gave his assent, and Scott asked Custer if he would rather spend the following weeks training recruits or if he desired “something more active?”

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

A Union artillery battery is overran at the First Battle of Bull Run.

(Sidney King, public domain via Good Free Photos)

Custer said he wanted more active work, and Scott ordered him to procure a horse and report back by 7 p.m. to carry dispatches to McDowell, the field commander. Custer did so, introduced himself to the general and his staff, and then reported to his regiment.

Because of West Point’s detaining him, Scott had managed to ingratiate himself with the Army’s top commander and its top field commander mere hours before its first engagement, a fight he would now ride in. It was a pretty great start for a bottom-of-his-class West Pointer.

But when the actual battle touched off, Custer was present and in the saddle, but did not see serious action. The Union commanders had seven cavalry troops on the field, but largely used them attached to infantry brigades where they would, at most, protect the infantry’s flanks or do a little reconnaissance.

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

Custer, on the right, as a captain after he captured one of his West Point classmates.

(Library of Congress)

Still, he made himself present and provided warnings to commanders, leading to a citation in reports from the battle and impressing George C. McClellan. The battle went badly for the Union, and McDowell was removed from command. That might seem like a problem for the cavalry officer who had just impressed McDowell, but McDowell was replaced by McClellan.

As McClellan re-organized and re-trained the Union military, he kept an eye on Custer who was quickly impressing others, largely through brash actions. During the Peninsula Campaign, he saw a debate about whether it was safe to ford a river and ended the argument by riding into the middle of it and reporting that, yeah, he wasn’t dead. It was probably fine.

His bravado earned him fans, and his connections to top officers got him looked at for commands that a young officer likely wouldn’t have gotten looked at for. In fact, he rose so quickly that he received a brevet promotion to brigadier general of volunteers at the tender age of 23.

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