This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Army Sgt. Joe Kieyoomia was captured by Japanese forces in 1942 as the Philippines fell to the Japanese war machine. Unfortunately for him, that was the start of 43 months of captivity that began with the infamous Bataan Death March and only ended with the surrender of Japan.


 

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Joe Kieyoomia in uniform.

When he was captured by the Japanese, Kieyoomia – like tens of thousands of other Filipino and American POWs – was forced to walk some 60-70 miles in the sweltering heat, under constant enemy mistreatment. When he finally arrived at a prison camp, he watched as his captors forced them to dig their own graves and then shot them.

Kieyoomia was eventually sent to the Japanese mainland, because of his looks and his name. The enemy assumed he was Japanese American, but unfortunately for Kieyoomia in this instance, he was a Navajo. When he arrived on the mainland, he was beaten and tortured daily.

“They didn’t believe me,” he told The Deseret News when he was 72 years old. “The only thing they understood about Americans was black and white. I guess they didn’t know about Indians.”

But Kieyoomia wasn’t a code talker. He was deployed to the Philippines with New Mexico’s 200th Coast Artillery. When the Japanese needed to know what the Najavo code was, they came to Kieyoomia – but he didn’t know the code. He didn’t even know about the existence of the code.

The Japanese then had him listen to radio broadcasts – he was surprised to hear his native language. The broadcasts made no sense. His jailers didn’t believe that he couldn’t understand the messages and he was forced to stand naked in six inches of snow on a parade ground in below freezing temperatures.

Kieyoomia’s feet froze to the ground. When he was forced back inside, his skin stuck to the ground and he left a bloody trail on the parade ground. He was tortured for months on end.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Joe Kieyoomia before his 1997 death.

“I salute the code talkers,” he said in the interview with Deseret News. “And even if I knew about their code, I wouldn’t tell the Japanese.”

The Japanese came to Kieyoomia with written words, transliterated into English. The Japanese tortured him to learn the Navajo code, but it was very different from mere words from the language. Kieyoomia couldn’t tell them if he wanted to it was gibberish, and it was designed to sound that way, even if someone spoke the language.

The Navajo soldier tried to end his own life with a hunger strike, but that only earned him more beatings from his Japanese captors.

His troubles were only ended by the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan. On Aug. 9, 1945 “Fat Man” detonated over the city, killing 40-75,000 people instantly.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Nagasaki, August 1945.

 

Kieyoomia miraculously survived the nuclear blast because of the way he was sitting next to the concrete wall in his cell. He was abandoned for three days before a Japanese officer freed him.

After the war, Sgt. Joe Kieyoomia returned to the Navajo nation, recovered from his wounds, and lived to age 77. He died in 1997.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Coast Guard ship was a Venus fly trap for Nazi subs

During World War II, The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard were tasked with ruining the days of any and every Nazi submarine they could find, but those underwater dongs of death were notorious for staying hidden until they spied a convoy of merchant ships and oil tankers moving on their own.


This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

The USS Big Horn fires Hedgehog depth charges, an anti-submarine warfare system.

(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)

How were the big, bad naval services supposed to counter the insidious “wolf packs?” By dressing up as sheep until the wolves got close, and then revealing themselves to be sheepdog AF.

The Navy purchased used merchant vessels, mostly oil tankers, and converted them for wartime service. Anti-submarine weapons were cleverly hidden across the deck while the holds were filled with additional ammunition as well as watertight barrels to provide additional buoyancy after a torpedo strike. The resulting vessels were known as “Q-ships.”

These were derivative of a World War I and World War II practice pioneered by the British, who built decoy “Queen Ships” for the same purpose.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

The USS Big Horn exposes its 4-inch gun at sea.

(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)

One Q-ship, the USS Horn, carried five large guns on the deck of which only one was typically visible. There was a 5-inch gun visible, four 4-inch guns concealed behind false bulkheads, and “hedgehogs,” depth charge systems that would quickly fire a series explosives into the ocean.

The ship commissioned into Navy hands in 1942 and served in the Caribbean before being sent more broadly across the Atlantic. During this time, it encountered numerous submarines and damaged at least one with its depth charges. The damaged sub was likely sunk.

In 1944, the ship was transferred to Coast Guard control and assigned to weather patrols, still heavily armed to challenge any U-boat that exposed itself. The new Coast Guard crew sailed across the Atlantic, looking for targets and relaying weather information until March 1945, when they were sent to actually move oil across the Pacific, supporting operations like the capture of Okinawa.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

U.S. Navy sailors conduct gunnery drills on the USS Big Horn.

(U.S. Navy)

Unfortunately, the Coast Guard crew never got to go on a true submarine hunting mission like their U.S. Navy brethren, but they were able to contribute to victory in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters by safeguarding convoys and moving oil to where it was needed.

All Q-ships were released from the fleets in the years following World War II. While the modern Coast Guard has some anti-surface capability, it lacks any weapons effective against long-endurance diesel-electric or a nuclear submarines. Either type could dive well outside of the cutters’ ranges, fire torpedoes, and sail away without ever exposing themselves.

Basically, if it’s more dangerous than a narco submarine, the Coast Guard has to be careful about attacking it.

There have been some calls for re-arming the Coast Guard for a true anti-submarine mission, but with the Coast Guard failing to maintain the budget for its current ships, it’s unlikely they’ll get the funds and crews for sub hunters in the near future.

Articles

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.”

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
(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.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
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.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
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.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 disgusting diseases older troops had to worry about

So, it turns out there’s a reason your local medic wants to look at your body parts and fill you with pills, and it’s not because they’re a pervert — I mean, they probably are, but that’s not why they’re doing it. See, your ancestors fought in wars where it was fairly common their kidneys to swell up and burn, their genitals to start dripping pus, and their livers to grow holes and leak bile into their blood.

If you consider any of the descriptions above humorous or entertaining (sicko), then read on!


This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Soldiers undergo delousing on the Serbian front of World War I, an effort to reduce diseases like trench fever.

(Popular Science Magazine)

Trench fever

Trench fever was a fever characterized by skin lesions, sore muscles and joints, and headaches — yeah, not much fun. It was first recognized in 1915 as it spread through the trenches of World War I, but it also broke out in some German units in World War II.

It was spread through infected body lice and usually cleared up in a couple of months, but became chronic in rare cases. At least, with trench fever, the lesions were mostly confined to your skin and back… unlike the next entry.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Front and back cover of a truly disturbing book given to World War I troops headed back to the states, apparently filled to the brim will all sorts of disgusting genital bacteria.

(National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

Literal blue balls (thanks to genital lesions!)

We’re not including a photo here for obvious reasons. A soft chancre is an “infectious, painful, ragged venereal ulcer” that develops at the site of Haemophilus ducreyi. The bacteria can also cause “buboes, or ‘blue balls'” according to a 1918 pamphlet issued by the War Department.

After a regrettable Google search and lots of crying, this author can confirm that the ulcers look very painful, but nothing about the affected organs looks particularly blue.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Treatment for gonorrhea in 1911. Yes, the doctor is holding what you think he is, and that injection is going where you hoped it wouldn’t.

The clap and syphilis

While gonorrhea — also known as “the clap” — and syphilis are still common STDs, early detection on military bases and a lack of fraternization with locals has made it less of a problem in modern wars than when your grandparents fought. But for troops marching across Europe, hitting on as many French girls as they could, getting a series of sores on their genitals or seeing the dreaded discharge come out of their naughty bits was a real possibility.

And, back then, the only sure-fire test available for diagnoses was getting “rodded off the range,” a test where a doctor slid a cotton swab into a man’s “barrel” and swirled it around 5-10 times. Now, blood and urine tests are used instead. Big win for modern science.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Not today, tuberculosis. Not today.

Tuberculosis

Another disease that was a bigger problem for grandpa than it is for you, tuberculosis is a nasty infection that usually hits the lungs, causing bloody coughs, but can also wreck your liver, kidneys, and other organs. It causes chest pain, breathing troubles, fatigue, chills, and other issues that absolutely suck, especially while in a World War I trench.

It is spread through the air and infected surfaces, which is a big problem when thousands of dudes are sleeping on top of each other in crowded bunkers.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Typhoid Mary, famous for being imprisoned by New York authorities after she was found to be a carrier of typhoid fever.

(Public domain)

Typhoid fever

Typhoid fever, caused by salmonella that infects the intestines, was a huge problem in the Civil War and World War I. Back then, the particularly bad sanitation practices allowed fecal material from infected troops to make it into the food and into the digestive tracts of healthy ones. It triggered skin lesions, diarrhea or constipation, trouble breathing, and fever, among other symptoms.

In the Civil War, doctors hadn’t even figured out the disease yet, and treatment basically involved throwing a bunch of home remedies at the problem while continuing the study the disease’s spread. By World War I, we at least knew what caused it and had a vaccine, but still no cure. It wasn’t until after World War II that the disease became treatable.

War nephritis

Nephritis is inflammation of the kidneys. “War nephritis” was named by doctors in World War I who were looking into a sudden increase in cases with additional symptoms, like headaches, vertigo, and shallow breath.

While it’s still very possible to experience nephritis in war today, the worsened symptoms observed in World War I were thought to be tied to conditions in the trenches and along the front. Nephritis limits the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood, and exposure to the cold and wet conditions of wartime Europe made the problem much worse.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

This is your intestines on dysentery.

Dysentery

Dysentery has a reputation for being a particularly bad case of diarrhea, but that’s not a full picture of the problem. It’s diarrhea that can last for months and include bloody stools. Even when treated, it could lead to secondary infections, like hepatitis and liver abscesses. The liver degradation leads to a buildup of toxins in the blood and body.

So, yeah, pretty horrible. And troops shifting between different fronts and battlefields in World War I allowed different versions of the disease to reach new places and vulnerable populations. Today, it’s easier to diagnose and treat, but the best safeguard is good hygiene and sanitation.

“Soldier’s heart” or effort syndrome

Effort syndrome, also known as “soldier’s heart syndrome,” wasn’t well understood, but it was a tendency for soldiers in the Civil War and World War I to experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, exhaustion, and cold extremities. It’s thought that the syndrome may have been caused by a previous disease, like fever, jaundice, dysentery, etc. combining with the stress and rigors of war.

Over 36,000 troops were discharged in World War I for heart ailments.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time CBS captured an intense firefight in Vietnam

In 1970, CBS News embedded with an Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, in Vietnam and was there when the platoon came under fire. The infantrymen, the “Blues” of the air mobile unit, were sent in whenever the troops had a known or suspected enemy to fight.


 

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Infantry Sgt. Kregg Jorgenson is rushed behind friendly lines during a firefight in the Vietnamese jungle.(Image: YouTube/CBS Evening News)

 

The men were headed home from investigating a series of North Vietnamese Army bunkers when Sgt. Kregg Jorgenson made eye contact with an enemy soldier hiding in the foliage and gripping an AK-47. Jorgenson, a Ranger veteran and three-time Purple Heart recipient, started firing at the same times as the enemy.

Jorgenson was pretty sure he had hit his man, but as the firefight erupted, the body on the trail disappeared. As the cameras kept rolling, the platoon leader called in air support and a medevac while the rest of the platoon poured lead into the trees.

See the original news piece in the video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Kitten Marine’ of the Korean War passed away at age 90

Frank Praytor, the U.S. Marine photographed nursing a kitten during the Korean War, recently passed away at the age of 90.


In the heat of the Korean War, Sgt. Frank Praytor was a combat correspondent in the 1st Marine Division. He had previously got into journalism in 1947 with the Birmingham News and, eventually, the Alabama bureau of the International News Service. In 1950, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and soon found himself in Korea.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

He was a well-respected and highly successful journalist for Stars and Stripes. His many accomplishments include reporting firsthand accounts of PoW exchanges, the truce-signing at Panmunjom — which brought the ceasefire on the Korean War, and photographing a Navy corpsman treating a wounded Marine on the battlefield — which won an award from Photography Magazine.

All of this pales in comparison to the stardom he received when he was photographed by a fellow combat cameraman, Staff Sgt. Martin Riley, tenderly caring for a kitten in the middle of a battlefield. Praytor adopted two baby kittens after their mother was killed. The kitten in the photograph was named Miss Hap because, “she was born at the wrong time and wrong place.” He nursed them both back to full health, feeding them meat from his rations, and they served as the unofficial mascots of the Marine press office in Korea.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Praytor is the second to the left. Miss Hap is probably gnawing at something. (Image via Stars and Stripes, 1953)

Riley sent the photo to the Associated Press as a sign of the “goodwill” the Marine Corps represents. Time passed and he snapped his previously mentioned award-winning photo. Soon after, he was brought on court-martial charges for releasing a war photo without the consent of superior officers. When he was called into the commander’s office, he had accepted his fate — then the commander ripped up the condemning papers.

The photograph of him and Miss Hap was picked up by over 1,700 newspapers across the United States. He had become a celebrity back home. A handsome Marine caring for a two-week-old kitten brought favorable eyes upon the Marine Corps from all across the United States. Hundreds of letters were sent, addressed to “Kitten Marine, Korea.” “I got letters from girls all over the country who wanted to marry me,” Praytor told the U.S. Naval Institute in a 2009 interview.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Marines still take care of cats, if any girls are still interested. (Image via Reddit)

He was reassigned to Tokyo and had to leave Miss Hap with a fellow Marine, Cpl. Conrad Fisher. During his visit to report on the truce at Panmunjom, he visited Fisher, who was still taking care of Miss Hap. Fisher was happy to bring her back home stateside. Praytor would continue his life as a freelance journalist well into his 80s.

Also Read: 7 tales of heroism for cat people sick of all the military dog stories

Articles

This is how to fire a Civil War cannon, step-by-step

With ATACMS, MLRS, HIMARs, the M109A6, and the M777, American artillery can and does deliver a huge punch at a distance. Compared to them, Civil War cannons look downright puny.


Don’t take that to the bank, though. These old cannon were pretty powerful in their day. The Smithsonian Channel decided to take a look at how to fire a Civil War cannon from start to finish using the Model 1841 12-pound howitzer.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Model 1841 12-pound howitzer. (Photo by Ron Cogswell)

According to Antietam on the Web, the howitzer of the time had a 4.62-inch bore (117 millimeters) and a 53-inch long barrel. It had a range of 1,072 yards – or about the same distance an M40 sniper rifle chambered in 7.62mm NATO can reach out and touch someone.

It had three types of ammo: canister, which was essentially a giant shotgun shell; spherical case shot, which became known as a shrapnel shell; and a common shell, which was your basic impact-fused or time-fused explosive shell.

Without further ado, here’s the video from the Smithsonian Channel showing how to fire this cannon, using an authentic replica.

Articles

3 heroes who became POWs twice

There is no easy time to be a prisoner of war.


The United States military’s code of conduct implores captured service members to continue to resist by any means possible. This often means reprisals from one’s captors. Therefore, surviving one stint in a POW camp can be excruciating.

To do it twice is unimaginable — except these three American servicemen did it.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
The United States Code of Conduct is memorized by service members to act as a touchstone and a guide if captured. (Department of Defense)

1. Wendall A. Phillips

Phillips was assigned to the Air Transport Command as a radio operator on C-47 aircraft flying from bases in England.

While in Europe Phillips survived five separate crashes. During the last one, in late 1944, his aircraft was shot down. Though he walked away from the crash, he was unable to evade the Germans and was captured.

He and his fellow crewmembers were taken to a German POW camp in Belgium.

Phillips had no intention of sticking around though. After just 33 days Phillips and two other POW’s made a break for it.

Also read: Bob Hoover stole a Nazi plane to escape from a POW camp

Phillips simply snuck away while no guards were around. Finding a hole in the electric fence around the camp, Phillips and the other two men made good their escape and quickly found a place to hide.

Phillips travelled for three days before he linked up with the French Underground. The resistance fighters helped Phillips make it back to American lines.

After returning to American forces, Phillips was reassigned to the China-India-Burma Theater flying “the Hump” to bring supplies to forces fighting the Japanese.

Once again, Phillips’ airplane crashed and he was captured by the enemy.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, April 16, 1945. (Imperial War Museum Photo)

According to an article in The Morning Call, Phillips endured torture at the hands of the Japanese — they even forcibly removed his fingernails trying to get information out of him.

Phillips would not escape this time but he would survive his ordeal as a POW; he was released with the Japanese surrender in 1945.

2. Felix J. McCool

When Gen. Wainwright conveyed the American surrender in the Philippines to President Roosevelt, he said, “there is a limit to human endurance, and that limit has long since been passed.” But Gen. Wainwright was certainly not speaking for one Marine sergeant, Felix J. McCool.

McCool was still recovering from wounds he had received earlier in resisting the Japanese when he, the 4th Marine Regiment, and the rest of the defenders of Corregidor were rounded up and shipped off to internment.

Just getting there was bad enough as the captives were crammed into cattle cars so tightly that when men passed out or died they could not even fall down.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
POWs in the Pacific Theater endured horrific conditions. Pictured here are men on the Bataan Death March with their hands bound behind their backs; later this would be labeled as a Japanese War Crime. (U.S. National Archives)

But for McCool, being a Marine meant that he was not out of the fight. He did everything in his power to resist his Japanese captors.

While working as forced labor on an airfield McCool and his fellow prisoners created a tiger trap on the runway — they later watched as a Japanese airplane crashed and burned due to their handiwork.  

McCool also managed to smuggle in medical supplies to help the sick and wounded.

He did this despite the constant threat of beatings and even summary execution. He carried on despite the horrendous conditions in the camp.

But there was worse to come.

McCool next endured a brutal voyage to Japan aboard a Japanese prisoner transport vessel, known as a “hell ship.” McCool survived the hellacious conditions only to be put to work in an underground coal mine. There he continued his resistance by sabotaging the work and keeping the faith with his fellow prisoners.

After thirteen months in the coal mine, McCool was freed by the ending of the war in the Pacific.

He returned to the United States and decided to stay in the Marine Corps. Then in 1950, now a Chief Warrant Officer, he found himself fighting the North Koreans.

McCool became part of the fateful Task Force Drysdale, an ad hoc, mixed-nationality unit that was attempting to fight its way toward the beleaguered Marines fighting at the Chosin Reservoir. When the task force was ambushed and separated along the roadway to Hagaru-ri, McCool was once again taken prisoner.

McCool and his fellow captives were marched far north through brutal cold with no rations. Once in their internment camp, the conditions hardly improved. Besides the brutal treatment, the men were also subjected to communist indoctrination and propaganda.

Related: The day we saved 2,147 prisoners from Los Baños Prison

McCool’s resistance earned him the ire of his captors and they threw him in the Hole — a barely three foot square hole in the ground. But he endured.

McCool was repatriated with many other Americans during Operation Big Switch after the end of hostilities.

According to his award citations, McCool spent over six years as a prisoner of war between his two internments.

He later wrote a book about his experiences and the poetry that he wrote to keep himself going during those terrible times.

3. Richard Keirn

Richard Keirn was a young flight officer on a B-17 when he arrived in England in 1944. On Sept. 11, 1944, he took to the skies in his first mission to bomb Nazi Germany. It would also be his last.

Keirn’s B-17 was shot down that day and he became a POW for the remainder of the war. Released in May 1945 after the defeat of Germany, Keirn returned to the United States and stayed in the military. He became a part of the newly formed U.S. Air Force.

In 1965, Keirn embarked for Vietnam, flying F-4 Phantom II’s.

Then on July 24, 1965, North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles engaged and shot down an American aircraft for the first time. That aircraft was piloted by Capt. Richard Keirn.

Keirn ejected from his stricken aircraft and would spend nearly eight years as a POW in North Vietnam.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Newly freed prisoners of war celebrate as their C-141A aircraft lifts off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. The mission included 54 C-141 flights between Feb. 12 and April 4, 1973, returning 591 POWs to American soil. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Keirn, like many of his fellow POWs, made every effort to resist the North Vietnamese. For his actions as a POW, he was awarded a Silver Star and a Legion of Merit.

Keirn was released from captivity with many other downed airmen as part of Operation Homecoming in 1973.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Yes, the mini-nuke launcher was a thing and yes, it was a terrible idea

In the game series Fallout, one of the weapons most coveted by players is a portable mini-nuke launcher that, as you might imagine, is capable of destroying basically anything it touches. It fits perfectly within the game’s theme of roaming across the apocalyptic wasteland, dispensing wanton destruction.

Bethesda, the developers behind Fallout, weren’t just pulling something out of thin air when they designed the digital weapon. In the late 1950s, when the threat of nuclear war with the Soviets was lurking around the corner, the U.S. actually created a functioning mini-nuke launcher of their very own.

It was called the M-29 Davy Crockett Weapon System. And the reason it never really made it out of initial testing was because it was probably the most poorly designed weapon system the U.S. military ever thought would work.


The Davy Crockett was a recoilless, smooth-bore gun, operated by a three-man crew, that fired a nuclear projectile. In theory, this weapon gave a small squad the ability to decimate enemy battalions with an equivalent yield of 20 tons of TNT — or roughly the same firepower as forty Tomahawk cruise missiles.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

The maximum effective range of the Davy Crockett was about a mile and a half. Anything within a quarter-mile radius of the explosion would receive a fatal dosage of radiation. Anything within 500 feet of the epicenter of the blast would be completely incinerated.

It was so portable that it could either be attached to the back of a Jeep or given to paratroopers for airborne insertion. The weapon technically worked, but not without a bevy of significant problems.

The first major flaw was the aiming. The launcher was flimsy when compared to the immense weight of munitions, so it was prone to toppling over at any moment. It had an unreliable height-of-burst dial, so accurate detonations were nearly impossible. It also didn’t have an abort function, which meant that as soon as it was fired, it’d have to detonate.

To make matters worse, the previously stated half-mile kill radius was only accounted to instant death by radiation. As we’ve learned, being downwind of a nuclear blast almost certainly meant death — maybe not right away, but eventually. So, the three-man crew firing the Davy Crockett, who had at most one mile of safety, could only fire and pray that the winds didn’t turn against them.

For more information on why mini-nukes were an awful idea, check out the video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US Navy captured its first enemy ship in 129 years

In the early days of the U.S. Navy, boarding and capturing enemy vessels was common practice. As naval firepower increased, the practice became to sink the other ship rather than capture it. Then in 1944 with some daring actions–and a stroke of luck–the U.S. Navy captured a German U-boat, its first such accomplishment since the War of 1812.


The German U-boat, U-505, was known as a hard-luck case, though it could also be said that it was a boat that wouldn’t sink. On her fourth patrol of the war, a British Hudson bomber scored a direct hit in an attack run so low that the explosion caused the plane to crash as well. The captain gave the order to abandon ship but the technical crew insisted on staying aboard to save the vessel. After two weeks of repairs, the U-boat was able to limp back to Europe and had the honor of being the most heavily damaged submarine to ever return to port.

Despite numerous abortive cruises due to French saboteurs, U-505 finally sailed for another patrol; this time, however, it earned another dubious honor when her skipper became the first–and only–known submarine commander to crack and commit suicide while under attack.

Finally, in the spring of 1944, fully-repaired and under the command of a new captain, U-505 set a course for the coast of West Africa for an 80-day war patrol.

Also heading towards West Africa during that time was Task Group 22.3, commanded by Captain Daniel Gallery from his flagship, the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal. Task Group 22.3 was employed as an anti-submarine Hunter-Killer group as part of the Battle of the Atlantic. Along with Guadalcanal the group also consisted of five destroyer escorts.

 

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3 had one mission: take out German U-boats. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

 

During Task Group 22.3’s second Hunter-Killer cruise, Captain Gallery had an important revelation. A long-running battle with U-515 ended when the U-boat was too heavily damaged to continue and surfaced so its crew could abandon ship. As the Germans abandoned ship, the task group blasted it until it finally sank. Gallery realized that if he had a trained boarding party ready they could quickly board a scuttled U-boat and save it from sinking. As the task force returned to port, Gallery began making preparations for just such an event during the next sortie.

On June 4, 1944, Task Group 22.3 found the perfect prey. As U-505 was returning from its war patrol, it inadvertently stumbled right into the middle of the task group. The sub tried to dive but the clear waters allowed the Guadalcanal’s aircraft to maintain visual contact and use their guns to mark the submarine’s location in the water. The task group’s destroyer escorts then moved in for the kill.

USS Chatelain began its attack by launching its Mark 4 Hedgehog anti-submarine weapon at the U-boat. When those failed to score a hit, Chatelain repositioned and dropped a pattern of depth charges against the sub.

 

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Task Group 22.3 attacks the German U-505. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

 

A U-505 surviving crewmember, Hans Goebeler remembered the attack vividly. “They really gave it to us,” he said. “The explosions were the biggest I ever heard.” The depth charges caused severe internal and external damage to the U-boat. With all hope seeming lost, the commander gave the order to surface and abandon ship–just as Gallery had anticipated.

As the sub came to the surface, the American ships and aircraft raked it with gunfire, hoping to quickly drive off the German sailors before they could properly scuttle the ship. The fire had the intended effect. The Americans killed one German and wounded two others as the rest of the crew quickly jumped overboard to escape the maelstrom of bullets.

Normally the American destroyer escorts would have moved in to finish off the U-boat and send it to Davy Jones’ Locker but Captain Gallery’s decision to try to capture a German submarine called for a different action. As the Germans fled the sinking sub, a nearby destroyer escort, the USS Pillsbury, launched a boarding party to rescue the stricken vessel. The other ships picked up their new German POWs.

Led by Lt. Albert David, the boarding party plunged through the conning tower and into the submarine. It was a race against time–the ship sinking beneath them was rigged with scuttling charges that could explode at any moment. The boarding party quickly found the open sea strainer, an 11-inch pipe pouring water into the submarine, and capped it. To their relief, the party found that in their haste to abandon ship, none of the Germans had taken the time to arm the scuttling charges. Most of the submarine was below the water with just the front portion and most of the conning tower still visible. The sub was hanging on by an air bubble in one of the dive tanks.

The boarding party quickly secured the biggest prize of all: U-505’s log books, charts, codes, and its Enigma machine. The ship was still in danger of sinking, however, and with little working knowledge of German submarines, the task of salvaging U-505 fell on the task group’s chief engineer, Commander Earl Trosino. As Gallery would later say when the situation was the most precarious, “thanks to Trosino’s uncanny instinct for finding the right valves, and his total disregard for his own safety, we succeeded in saving U-505.”

 

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Task Group 22.3 takes great risk to capture U-505–and the wealth of intelligence on board. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

 

With the submarine secured, the task group took it under tow and headed for Bermuda. The intelligence gained from the capture of U-505 was invaluable. By maintaining strict secrecy of the operation, the Germans were never aware that the Americans had captured their U-boat intact with its precious cargo of information. The entire task group was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions. Lt. David was awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in leading the boarding party.

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This American Olympic gold medalist also fought in the Battle of Britain

William Meade Lindsley Fiske III was born in Chicago in 1911. The son of a wealthy New England banker, Fiske attended school in Chicago before moving to France in 1924. It was there that he developed his love of winter sports; especially bobsled.

At the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 16-year-old Fiske drove the five-man U.S. bobsled team to its first Olympic win and became the youngest gold medalist in any winter sport, a record that stood until 1992. In the following years, he also took up European motorsport and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 1931. At the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, Fiske earned his second gold medal for bobsledding as the driver of the U.S. four-man team.


He was invited to lead the U.S. bobsled team at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany, but declined. It is speculated that Fiske declined because of his disapproval of German politics at the time. This sentiment towards Hitler’s Nazi regime would explain Fiske’s determination to join the war effort in the coming years.

At the outbreak of WWII, Fiske was working as a banker at the London office of the New York-based bank, Dillon, Reed Co. With an interest in his safety, the bank recalled Fiske to their New York headquarters. However, on August 30, 1939, Fiske returned to England with a colleague in order to join the war effort. Fiske’s colleague was a member of No. 61 (County of London) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron and inspired him to join the RAF.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Fiske’s passport. (Scanned copy from the Royal Air Force Museum)

 

Because of America’s declared neutrality at the time, Fiske pretended to be Canadian in order to join the Royal Air Force Reserve. Having “duly pledged his life and loyalty to the King, George VI,” Fiske wrote in his diary, “I believe I can lay claim to being the first U.S. citizen to join the RAF in England after the outbreak of hostilities.” He was promoted to Pilot Officer on March 23, 1940 and began his flight training, after which he joined No. 601 Squadron RAF on July 12.

Flying the Hawker Hurricane, Fiske flew his first patrols with the squadron on July 20. As the Battle of Britain raged on, Fiske continued to fly combat missions against the onslaught of German bombers. On August 16, No. 601 Squadron was scrambled to intercept a formation of Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers. Although the squadron shot down eight of the enemy bombers, Fiske’s Hurricane was hit in its fuel tank and caught fire.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
Fiske’s official RAF Reserve portrait. (US Air Force archived photo)

 

Despite his aircraft being damaged and his hands and ankles being burned, Fiske refused to bail out of his aircraft. Instead, he nursed his knackered Hurricane back to the airfield and landed safely. Ambulance attendants rushed out and extracted Fiske from his plane shortly before its fuel tank exploded. He was taken to Royal West Sussex Hospital where he was treated for his wounds. Tragically, Fiske died 2 days later from surgical shock. He was buried on August 20 with both a Union Jack and Stars and Stripes draped over his coffin.

On July 4, 1941, a plaque honoring Fiske was unveiled at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which reads, “An American citizen who died that England might live.” Additionally, in 2008, a stained glass window depicting Fiske’s Hurricane and an American flag was dedicated at Boxgrove Priory where he is buried. Fiske’s legacy is not forgotten, however, in his home country.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb
The stained glass tribute to Fiske’s memory. (Photo by the Boxgrove Priory/ Wikimedia Commons)

 

The United States Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation created the Billy Fiske Memorial Trophy as a tribute to the fallen pilot. The trophy is awarded to the national champion four-man bobsled team each year. Additionally, a line in the 2001 film Pearl Harbor is rumored to be a reference to Fiske. In it, U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Capt. Rafe McCawley (played by Ben Affleck), travels to England to fly with the RAF prior to America’s entry into the war. Showing McCawley the plane that he’ll be flying, the RAF commander remarks on the bravery of the plane’s previous pilot. “Good chap. Didn’t die till he’d landed and shut down his engine.” Finally, Fiske can be credited with the development of the popular Aspen Ski Resort. Along with his friend, Ted Ryan, Fiske opened up a ski lodge and built the first ski lift in Aspen in 1937. After the war, others would continue their work and develop Aspen into the world-famous skiing destination it is today.

Although Fiske didn’t shoot down any enemy planes, his determination to fight against the Nazis served as an inspiration for other Americans to join the RAF and eventually form the famous Eagle Squadrons. Despite his privileged upbringing and successful life in sports and banking, Fiske’s unwavering conviction led him to fight and die for the sake of freedom. Echoing the words of Winston Churchill, Fiske is one of the few who was owed so much by so many during the Battle of Britain.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

When Hirohito assumed the role of Emperor of Japan, the country was at the top of its game. A great world power, fresh off a victory over the Russian Empire, Japan enjoyed a booming economy, the third-largest navy, and a permanent seat at the head of the League of Nations. It soon began to unravel.


A swath of assassinations of government officials, attempts on the Emperor’s life, and a failed coup by a faction of the Japanese military may have left Hirohito suspicious and paranoid. He did little to stem to the rising tide of militarism in the Japanese government and did nothing to stop the military from ending civilian oversight of the Imperial Japanese Military. Most of us know what happened in the years that followed.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Hirohito toward the end of his life.

After World War II, much of Japan was able to move forward. Hirohito was not deposed but remained Emperor. Just how much control he was able to exercise over the governing of the empire is still a subject of debate in Japan to this very day. He claimed he was little more than a figurehead but many believe his god-like status in Japanese society could have done more. Only he, and perhaps those around him, knew for sure.

One of those around him published a book about his time with the Emperor.

Hirohito, now known as Emperor Showa in Japan, lived until 1989, just shy of his 88th birthday. A recently-published diary penned by Shinobu Kobayashi, then one of the Emperor’s chamberlains, one of the men who managed the Imperial household functions, says the Emperor was by no means happy about Japan’s entry in the war or how it was conducted in his name.

It is true that once many in the military government of Japan learned that the Emperor would broadcast a surrender order via the use of his voice recorded on vinyl, they attempted to depose Hirohito and destroy the record. The conspirators were thwarted by the layout of the Imperial Palace and the record was smuggled out by a laundry woman and broadcast the next day. But over the years, evidence and other memoirs have been published that paint a contradictory view of the man, who was certainly one of the 20th Century’s most important, controversial figures.

Kobayashi says the Emperor felt “anguish” over Japan’s entry into World War II, and feared that as his life continued, he would only attract more blame for his country’s actions. When the royal household attempted to reduce his workload after the death of his brother Prince Takamatsu, Hirohito was dismissive.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Hirohito next to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the days following Japan’s surrender. Many Japanese were offended by this photo, given the General’s casual stance in the face of the Emperor’s formality.

(U.S. Army photo)

“There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload,” the then-86-year-old Emperor said. “It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonizing.” Kobayashi tried to console the emperor by pointing to Japan’s miraculous postwar recovery in the intervening decades.

“It’s a page in history,” he wrote. “You do not have to worry.”

Hirohito managed to avoid being tried as a war criminal because Gen. Douglas MacArthur trusted that even the Emperor’s most fervent believers would adopt democracy after the war – with the Emperor’s blessing. Hirohito’s continued presence on the Chrysanthemum Throne became a unifying symbol of postwar Japan.

After Hirohito’s death in 1989, his son, Akihito, assumed the throne as the 125th Emperor of Japan. The line of monarchs can be traced back to 680 BC, with varying degrees of power and responsibility.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A cartoonish look at how an epic airlift prevented World War 3

Everyone knew in the closing days of World War II that the Soviet Union was destined to clash with the rest of the Allies. But when it attempted a blockade of West Berlin that amounted to a siege in 1948, it still took the world by surprise and threatened World War III. Luckily, President Harry S. Truman was able to call on Western air forces to resupply Berlin by air for over a year.


Berlin Airlift: The Cold War Begins – Extra History

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The Berlin Blockade, as it was known, was in reaction to Western Power attempts to re-stabilize the German economy and currency after World War II. Both the Soviet Union and the West wanted Germany to lean toward them in the post-war world because it would act as a buffer state for whichever side won.

But, beyond that, Russia wanted to ensure that Germany would never again be strong enough to invade the Soviet Union. Remember that the German military under the Kaiser had invaded Russia only 30 years before the Germans under the Fuhrer invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviets didn’t want to suffer that again.

So Soviet Premier Josef Stalin sabotaged the first attempt to overhaul the German economy, and when the Western Powers attempted to introduce the new German Deutsche Mark behind his back, Stalin instituted a total blockade of West Berlin.

Germany had been split up after the war, with America, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union all taking control of one section of the country. But each Allied power also got control of a section of Germany’s capital, Berlin, even though Berlin sat entirely within the Soviet Sector of the country.

So the Soviets could choke off the ability of France, America, and Britain to resupply their troops simply by closing the roads and rails that fed into the city, and they did.

This left those countries with a serious problem and only crappy choices. Do nothing, and the troops are starved. Pull the troops out, and the Soviets take control of the entire capital. Try to resupply them in force, and you’ll trigger a war, for certain.

So the senior advisers to Truman suggested that he simply give in, and pull the troops out. Better to lose the city than fight another war, and allowing the troops to starve to death was no option at all.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

A C-54 flies into Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport in 1948 as part of the Berlin Airlift.

(U.S. Air Force Henry Ries)

But Truman, a veteran of the front lines of World War I, and the man who decided to drop the atom bombs was not one to shy away from a confrontation. He ordered the city held and required his generals to find a way to get supplies in.

Their best plan was an audacious airlift called Operation Vittles. Experts from Britain estimated that it would take 4,000 tons of supplies per day to keep the city going. Carrying that many supplies via plane would be tough in any situation, but the task was made worse by the limited amount of infrastructure in Berlin to receive the supplies.

Berlin only had two major airports capable of receiving sufficiently large transports: Tempelhof Airport and Royal Air Force Station Gatow. These stations would need to receive well over 1,000 flights per day if the mission were to be achieved with the planes immediately available, mostly old C-47s.

But in the early days of the airlift, the air forces would fall well short of 4,000 tons per day. Instead, they would hit more like 70 and 90 tons per day, slowly growing to 1,000 tons per day. But, after a few weeks when it became clear that the airlift would need to continue indefinitely, the U.S. Air Force brought in an airlift expert to increase the throughput.

Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner was a top operations officer for the Military Air Transport Command, and he took over in order to make the operation much more professional and precise. Under Tunner, the military brought in new planes that would max out the reception capability of Tempelhof and Gatow.

The C-54s could carry more supplies, but they also over-stressed the landing surfaces. Workers rushed out between landings to spread sand to soften the damages to the landing surface. And, as winter set on, an entirely new landing strip was constructed at Tempelhof.

This hard-luck WWII soldier survived the Bataan Death March, torture and the atomic bomb

Almost 1.8 million tons of supplies were delivered by the time the operation was over.

(U.S. Air Force)

And the miracle worked. Tunner got the daily total to over 4,000 tons, then set record days at 4,500 tons, 5,000 tons, and beyond.

Eventually, the Soviet Union had to admit that the blockade had failed. The German people had rallied around the Western powers, and the West was in a better position after 15 months of airlift than it had been before the start. The western sections of Berlin and Germany became decidedly pro-American and British, and the Soviet Union had to use the force of arms to retain control of the Soviet sections.

This should have been predictable. After all, there are few sights that might make a government more popular than its planes flying overhead, dropping candy and delivering food and fuel, for over a year as you’re barely able to stave off starvation.

The Cold War was on, but Western logistics had achieved the first great victory with no violence. But, approximately 101 fatalities were suffered in the operation.

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