John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Before he was a U.S. senator, and later a presidential candidate, John McCain was a naval aviator over the skies of Vietnam. But the 1958 graduate of the Naval Academy is probably known less for his flying skills and more for what he did on the ground, as a prisoner of war for more than five years.


“I hated it, and yet I made some of the most important discoveries and relationships of my life in prison,” McCain wrote in a post on Quora, in response to the question of what it was like to be a P.O.W.

When he was shot down, McCain was on his 23rd mission: A bombing run over Hanoi. “A Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up — the sky was full of them — and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber,” he recalled in U.S. News World Report.

 

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
John McCain being captured in Vietnam. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With his jet traveling at roughly 575 mph, he was able to eject. But when he landed in enemy territory, he had broken his left arm, his right arm in three places, and his right leg near the knee. He was captured soon after, and taken to the infamous Hỏa Lò Prison, better known by its prisoners as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

In his Quora post and in his book “Faith of my Fathers,” he recounted his poor treatment and very limited contact with the outside world. But there were two big things McCain learned:

“I learned I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, but I was strong enough,” he wrote. “And I learned there were things I couldn’t do on my own, but that nothing is as liberating as fighting for a cause that’s bigger than yourself.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

World War II sniper rifles were often updated World War I models made better with new telescopic sights and upgrades to make them more easily employed in combat.


These relatively minor improvements to the weapons made the snipers much more dangerous in combat, and sharpshooters were able to make an outsized impact on the conflict, tying down enemy units and picking off key players. Here are four of the weapons used by the major powers in Europe:

The Springfield ’03 sniper

 

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
A U.S. soldier holds a camouflaged Springfield 1903 sniper rifle during World War I. (Photo: U.S. Army via Imperial War Museum)

 

The Springfield Model 1903 began its career as a standard infantry rifle, but its accuracy and reliability led to the creation of a sniper variant that was basically the same except the iron sites were gone and permanent mountings for telescopic sights were placed instead. The bolt-action weapon used a five-round internal magazine.

The Mauser 98 sniper

The Mauser ’98 sniper rifle was one of the first to use a long-eye relief scope where the optic — usually a 4x magnification but some models had a piddly 1.5x — sits more than five inches from the shooter’s eye. The weapon as a whole had a revolutionary design that was copied by others across the world. German troops carried it in both world wars, but many other countries have used it.

The Lee-Enfield

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1 in 1942. (Photo: British War Office Capt. Horton)

 

Like most World War II rifles, the Lee-Enfield No. 4 was simply an updated World War I design. But the No. 4 was lighter, more reliable, and more infantry friendly than its predecessors. The British military fielded a sniper version with a 3.5x telescopic sight. The Australians used the older No. 1 model for their sniper conversions.

Mosin-Nagant

 

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
The famous Soviet sniper Roza Shanina poses with her Mosin-Nagant 1891/30 rifle. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Soviet version of the Mosin-Nagant was a 1930 update of an enormously successful 1891 weapon. In 1932, the Soviets began modifying new Mosin-Nagants as sniper weapons by reconfiguring the handles to receive telescopic sights and lighter triggers. While the stocks warped in some weather, its accuracy made it a choice of snipers on both sides of the conflict anyway.

Check out the Weaponology video below to learn more about these weapons. The rifle portion begins at 2:47.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A single US Merchant Marine ship rescued 14,000 in the Korean War

The SS Meredith Victory might be the luckiest and most important ship of the entire Korean War. The Merchant Marine vessel carried men and materiel that saved US troops in the Pusan Perimeter, protected the supplies around Inchon harbor, and pulled off the “Christmas Miracle” – the largest single ship rescue evacuation of refugees in history.


Merchant Mariners might be history’s biggest unsung heroes. The Korean War in 1950 was not going well for the United Nations forces. American troops were relegated to a small corner of the Korean Peninsula, barely holding off the Communist onslaught as North Korea fought to push them into the sea and out of the war. In what came to be known as the Pusan Perimeter, American and South Korean forces held the line until the Americans could relieve them.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

In true joint force action, the Army and Marines, supported by the Navy and Air Force, planned a landing at Inchon, behind the North Korean lines. The enemy around Pusan practically dissipated as the Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter while Marines were landing at Inchon. Within two weeks, the UN forces had partially retaken Seoul and cut off the enemy’s supply and communications ability.

The unsung heroes of the Merchant Marine were part of the Inchon Landing force as well. If it weren’t for them, the whole thing might have fallen to the bottom of the ocean. The day before the landings at Inchon, a massive typhoon hit the coast of the Korean Peninsula, just off of which lay the United Nations invasion fleet. Hurricane-force winds slammed the boats supporting the invasion. Among them was the SS Meredith Victory, a merchant marine ship carrying men and supplies for the landing. Were it not for the ship’s crew’s skill at saving the ship, the entire invasion might never have happened.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

The UN fleet off the coast of Inchon, Korea.

But that’s not the last time history called the Meredith Victory. By the end of 1950, the Chinese had intervened in the war and were pushing UN forces back to the south. Along with those retreating troops came thousands of North Korean refugees fleeing the repressive Communist regime. By the time the Meredith Victory arrived in Hungnam Harbor, the docks were packed with refugees and soldiers fleeing the Chinese.

“The Koreans on the dock, to me, that’s what we were there for, that was our job. The problem was how we [were] going to get them aboard,” remembered Burley Smith, a Merchant Mariner, the third mate aboard the Meredith Victory. “There were too many people and not enough time to get them all loaded. It looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.”

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

North Korean refugees crowd the harbor at Hungnam, December 1950.

By this time, the Army had already left, and the Chinese were being held back by Naval gunfire. The crew of the Meredith Victory began loading passengers aboard this ship meant to house 59 people. The crew worked around the clock, loading the masses of people on to her decks. They managed to get all 14,000 onto the ship and safely away from the harbor before the Army blew the port facilities.

The ship traversed the coast of Korea, on the lookout for mines, enemy submarines, and North Korean fighter planes. By the time the ship got to Geoje Island, every single refugee was alive – and five more were born along the way. It was a Christmas miracle.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Greeks sent ammo to the enemy so they’d stop stripping the Parthenon

One of the many reasons to fight to rid yourself of dominance by a foreign power is the preservation of your culture. For the Greeks, this happened very literally. In the 1821 Greek War of Independence, the Greeks went so far as to send lead to the Ottoman armies so they could make bullets and stop stripping the Parthenon for lead.


It’s fair to say that some Greek gave his enemy the bullet to kill him and his buddies. That’s how important a cultural icon like the Parthenon is.

Greece was under Ottoman rule for a few centuries by the time they declared independence. But even after almost 400 years, the Greeks were not about about to forget that they aren’t Turkish.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
If you ask if kebab is Greek or Turkish, you might start another war.

Greek culture is strong and many, many independence movements had come and gone before this one. But by the 1820s, the Ottoman Empire was in the throes of a very slow decline. This was Greece’s best chance and they took it. Uprisings began all over Greece. Eventually, a makeshift Greek navy formed and managed to keep Ottoman reinforcements away.

Cities in Crete and Macedonia soon followed and Turkish garrisons in major cities came to find themselves surrounded by unhappy — and often armed — masses. When the Greeks were forced to lay siege to the Parthenon, they were very careful not to destroy any of the antiquities or the site itself.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
Which is not what usually happens. Ask the Trojans.

The defending Turks were on high alert. They started breaking down the walls in the Acropolis, hoping to break down the lead shielding and melt it into bullets. That when the Greek attackers either offered to send them lead to make bullets or just sent them ammo so they would stop destroying it.

Ottoman principalities then joined the effort to suppress the revolution. Mehmet Ali of Egypt sent land and naval forces to put the Greeks back in their place. By 1826, it looked bad, very bad. That’s when Western Europe came to help.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
Which is not what usually happens. Ask the Indians.

England, France, and Russia all had an interest in the Empire’s continued decline and opted to help liberate the birthplace of Western Civilization. They all sent naval forces into the region, but it was France’s sizable contribution of a ground force that pushed the Egyptians out of the region, brought the Sultan to the bargaining table, and negotiated Greek independence in 1832.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Merchant Marine suffered the worst losses of World War II

It may sound crazy, but an organization suffered worse losses in World War II than the Army, the Marine Corps, or even the Navy that was in charge of guarding it: The Merchant Marine, the sailors who crewed ships carrying goods from U.S. factories to European battlefields, lost nearly 4 percent of its members in the war.


John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Merchant Marine officers and crew members were in high demand in World War II, but it was a dangerous and largely thankless service.

(National Archives and Records Administration)

The Merchant Marine was never designed for front-line combat on the battlefield or on the ocean. It’s made up of mostly civilian members who conduct almost any type of maritime trade in peacetime, from fishing tours to oil shipping. During a war, the federal government can make these sailors into an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy.

And during World War II, these men went through light training before crewing ships that had to brave not only the seas and storms, but German U-boats that were organized into wolfpacks and ordered to hunt the Merchant Marine.

This forced these men into the worst of the fighting, despite their largely non-combat role. And it made sense for both sides. Logistics moves supplies and, along with the industry that creates those supplies, wins wars. Germany had a weak industrial base and needed to keep American industry out of the war as much as possible. But one of America’s greatest roles in the war was that of “Arsenal of Democracy,” and it couldn’t afford to keep the Merchant Marine at port.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

German U-boats sank ships flying under Allied colors and didn’t have the ability to recover and rescue the people imperiled by the sinking.

(Willy Stower, public domain)

And so German U-boats patrolled the American coasts, sinking ships — sometimes within view of their ports. Whenever possible, German U-boats operated on the surface, drawing oxygen to run their diesel motors and attacking with deck guns that could punch holes in ships’ hulls and doom them. When that was too dangerous, they would hunt underwater and attack with torpedoes.

For the sailors of the Merchant Marine, this was terrifying. They were under threat of German attack from the moment they left the range of the shore guns until they reached European ports. American waters were actually some of the most dangerous as U-boats hunted the coast at night, looking for U.S. ship silhouettes blocking out lights from shore. Once they had the target, the subs could attack and disappear.

Counting the waters around the American Philippines, Alaska, and the Gulf of Mexico, the Merchant Marine lost approximately 196 ships in U.S. waters. Meanwhile in the Caribbean, our backyard, we lost another 180 ships. Officially, the U.S. lost 1,554 ships in the war. Approximately 8,000 to 12,000 Merchant Marine sailors were killed.

A ship sinks during World War II.

And the situations during the sinkings were terrifying. When ships were struck, sailors would have only minutes or seconds to get off the boat and to safety. Fires and the twisted hull could block passageways and make escape impossible. Jump into the water too early from too high and you could die from striking the water. Wait too long and the suction of the ship would pull you under to drown. Sharks, oil fires, and starvation could kill even those who made it out safely.

And, oddly enough, since the crews were often still technically civilians even when under Navy control, their pay stopped whenever they weren’t actively serving on a ship. That included when the ships were sunk under them and they had to spend weeks trying to reach a safe port.

The worst year, by far, was 1942, when approximately 500 ships were lost or captured in a single year. When the U.S. and the Axis Powers exchanged declarations of war in December 1941, U.S. ships sunk or otherwise lost skyrocketed from an average of 1 per month from January to November to about 55 in December, not counting Navy warships destroyed at Pearl Harbor.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

“Victory” and “Liberty” ships under construction during World War II. These ships allowed American arms and supplies to be shipped en masse to Africa, Europe, and the Pacific.

(War Shipping Administration)

The U.S. rushed the convoy system from World War I back into service. Merchant ships were encouraged to sail in planned convoys with U.S. and British naval escort, and ships that took part were much safer than those who went it alone. Less than 30 percent of U.S. and allied ships lost to U-boat attacks were in a convoy while they were sunk.

This was due to a number of factors, the darkest of which was that, even when U-boats had the edge against Navy vessels, they needed to remain underwater. Since they couldn’t use their deck guns without surfacing, that meant they could only sink as many ships as they had torpedoes.

But British technological advances and the large American industrial base began giving potent sub-hunting weapons to the U.S. and Allied navies and, suddenly, the U-boats had a lot more to worry about when facing convoys than just their limited arsenals. By May, 1943, sonar, radar, improved depth charges, and other tools had tipped the battle in the Atlantic and across most of the oceans.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

An illustration of the sinking of the Lusitania commissioned by the London Illustrated News. The ship was sank by U-boats, leading to America’s direct involvement in World War I.

(London Illustrated News)

Subs were on the run, and the Merchant Marine could sail with less worry. Still, the Merchant Marine lost between 9,000 and 12,000 sailors during the war, depending on whose numbers you use. The National World War Two museum puts the number of dead and presumed dead at 11,324, a loss rate of almost 4 percent. Meanwhile, the Marines took losses of almost 3.7 percent with 24,500 killed out of 669,000 people who served throughout the war.

Yes, joining World War II as the crewman on a merchant ship was more dangerous than joining as a Marine, and the Marines had it the worst of all the Department of Defense branches in the war, suffering 10 percent of all U.S. casualties despite being only 5 percent of the total force.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This D-Day vet hit the beach strapped to a barrage balloon

As World War II raged overseas, men and women responded to the call of duty in the fight for what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “four freedoms” – freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. By the time the United States entered the war, more than 2.5 million African American men had signed up for the draft. In a separate-but-not-equal military at the time, the irony was not lost as the fight for these freedoms continued at home.


“[T]he sky in the distance lit up with searchlights, tracers from ack-acks and the sound of bombs,” Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, a medic attached to the primarily African American 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, once wrote in testimony to Congress regarding what he witnessed on D-Day.

Also read: One man dumped most of the combat footage of D-Day into the English Channel

War raged in every corner of sky, sea, and land within sight as dawn broke on the morning of June 6, 1944. The 320th was the only African-American amphibious assault unit the U.S. First Army used in Normandy. According to Woodson, they were dispersed among various landing craft for protection of unit members.

“The military personnel on our landing craft looked in awe at the spectacle in the distance and wondered, ‘What next?'” he wrote. Woodson, along with several seamen and soldiers on a Landing Craft Tank, was part of the first wave heading toward Omaha Beach.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
Army 1st Infantry Division troops land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. (Photo by U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent)

The water was choppy and the noise deafening. As the landing craft neared the French coastline, it hit a submerged mine, which took out the motors. Within minutes, it hit another mine and endured several German 88mm artillery shells. The Germans continued to rake the ship with machine gun fire and mortar shells, preventing any nearby ship from coming to the rescue, Woodson said.

One mortar shell landed on the steel deck of the craft and exploded. Before Woodson had a chance to move, shrapnel took out the soldier next to him and more shrapnel lodged into his own thigh. After another medic dressed his injury, Woodson tended to the wounded and dead onboard. Of the 34 service members on board Woodson’s craft, only 11 survived by the time the ship hit the beach.

Related: This battleship went from Pearl Harbor to D-Day to nuclear tests

“D-Day was the most emotional and dangerous day in my life,” Woodson wrote. “As a young soldier far from home … the assault units waited patiently to begin their mission… Everyone knew the first 23 hours would be critical to the course of the war.”

Once Woodson reached the beach, he tended to the wounded and consoled the frightened. He dressed wounds, administered pain medication, and conducted amputations for the next 30 hours. He later saved and resuscitated four drowning soldiers before collapsing from exhaustion and injury. Woodson spent three days recovering in a hospital ship and then asked to be taken back to the beach to continue working.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
The Seabees land at Omaha Beach on D-Day. (US Navy photo)

A note from the assistant director in the Office of War Information to a White House aide states Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross. This was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by the office of Gen. John C.H. Lee in Great Britain. At home, the press called him the “No. 1 Invasion Hero.”

Woodson never received the Distinguished Service Cross or Medal of Honor. After the war, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on D-Day.

Nearly one million African American service members served in World War II. In the segregated military, most African American service members were assigned to the Army for service- or combat-support roles. A small percentage held positions in combat arms.

Retired Cpl. William Dabney, now 93, is one of two surviving members of the 320th. In 1942, he was in his second year of high school when he enlisted in the Army – and only after convincing his great-aunt to sign a document granting him permission to serve. He soon found himself training to use hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, which had thin metal cables with bombs attached that would detonate if triggered by low-flying enemy planes.

More: This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

On June 6, Dabney made his way to Omaha Beach with the first wave with a barrage balloon strapped to him.

“I was dodging bullets mostly,” said Dabney with a laugh. His mission was to protect the advancing soldiers. As Dabney approached Omaha Beach, his balloon caught fire from being hit by gunfire.

“It happened just as I hit the beach, so I couldn’t move,” said Dabney. “I wasn’t equipped to do anything else because that was my job. The only thing I could do then was unstrap the cables from myself and take cover under the dead bodies so I wouldn’t get shot.”

By the end of the day, the mission of the 320th had been accomplished successfully. Dabney was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. His proudest moment from that day: getting a hug and a kiss from First Lady Michelle Obama, who recognized him before he could introduce himself.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
(Defense Department photo/Linda Hosek)

“Allowing my dad to share his experiences with others helps spread the information about the accomplishments and contributions of black men throughout history – specifically throughout World War II,” said Vinney, Dabney’s eldest son.

Segregation in the Armed Forces remained an official policy until 1948. The heroic actions of many African American service members went unacknowledged – due to their race – entire units, such as the 320th, were left unmentioned in history. While prejudice took a backseat during D-Day, the years ahead would see a different story, said Woodson.

Woodson spent the remainder of his career serving the medical community at then-Walter Reed Army Hospital and then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He spent 38 years working in clinical pathology at the National Institutes of Health before retiring. He passed away in 2005.

More reading: First African-American Marines finally get their own monument

In 1997, after a study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated racial discrimination in awarding medals, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven African American World War II veterans. But to the dismay of family and friends who knew Woodson, he remained missing from the list.

Many of Woodson’s military records were lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri. With the help of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, his family has since started a petition to award him the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.

“Black History Month recognizes that there are lots of Black heroes largely uncelebrated because their stories aren’t being told,” said Dabney. “I’d like people to not just remember the 320th. I would like for all African Americans that were fighting in this war to be recognized. They did a job, too, and there was quite a few of us out there.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City

Most people associate astronauts and rockets with places like Houston and the east coast of Florida. After all, NASA’s current headquarters is in Houston, and Florida houses both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. But the US has another important, yet much lesser-known “Rocket City” that you probably never heard of!

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed off on the country’s first space program: NASA. NASA’s first home was not in Houston, though. It was just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, at Redstone Arsenal, a former military base which they renamed Marshall Space Center. Because no astronaut has ever uttered, “Huntsville, we have a problem,” this rocket city has largely stayed under the radar.

Operation Paperclip Goes to Alabama

Immediately following World War II in 1945, the US government secretly brought a group of about 1,600 German scientists into the country so that Russia could not get their hands on them. This top-secret program, called Operation Paperclip, helped put the US space program ahead of the rest of the world.

Perhaps the most important of the German scientists in the group was Dr. Wernher von Braun. He worked directly with Hitler to develop rockets for Germany before Operation Paperclip moved him to “Rocket City,” Alabama. His expertise as an aerospace engineer was exactly what the US government wanted for its space program. They had their eyes on the prize of leading the world in all things outer space, so they conveniently set aside the fact that von Braun was a Nazi sympathizer.

Neil Armstrong Can Thank Smuggled German Scientists for His Fame

A team of both American and German scientists worked under von Braun’s leadership at Redstone Arsenal, later NASA’s Marshall Space Center. Together, they developed a rocket that would eventually bring humans into outer space. In the late 1960s, the team had tested a whopping 32 of their Saturn launch vehicle designs. Not a single one failed, which meant it didn’t take long before one of them was ready for takeoff.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took off in a Saturn V rocket headed for the moon, where they arrived 240,000 miles and four days later. Armstrong and Aldrin made history by being the first humans to walk on the moon’s surface, while Collins stayed patiently in orbit, waiting for his moon-walking peers. This was all thanks to von Braun and his brilliant team of scientists’ work at the Marshall Space Center. Good thinking by the US government to smuggle those Germans over, after all.

“Rocket City” is Also Alabama’s Claim to Fame

No big deal, but the Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. No wonder Huntsville, Alabama, got the nickname “Rocket City.” There are only three Saturn V’s in existence today, and one of them still towers over Huntsville at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Tons of high-tech companies also call Huntsville home, including Boeing, Siemens, and many other firms working in the field of aerospace technology.

Related: Read How the Soviets Stole the Space Shuttle

Articles

How the WWII Willys Jeep got its nickname from the Popeye cartoons

The U.S. Army Truck, 1/4-ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance light utility vehicle was the primary light-wheeled transport of the U.S. and many of its allies during WWII. Today, these trucks are still used in Third-World countries as reliable transportation. Made by Willys-Overland as the MB and Ford as the GPW, the vehicle is better known by its nickname: Jeep.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
Willys-Overland officials demonstrate the Jeep on the U.S. Capitol Steps in February 1941 (Public Domain)

Despite the prevailing theory, the Jeep did not derive its nickname from the pronunciation of its “GP” designation. After all, the GPW name was an internal Ford naming convention. In fact, the Jeep name was given to other 4×4 vehicles before it was applied to the Willys MB/Ford GPW.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
Eugene the original Jeep (King Features Syndicate)

On March 16, 1936, the Popeye the Sailor comic strip introduced the character Eugene the Jeep. A mysterious animal with magical or supernatural abilities, Eugene was Popeye’s jungle pet. Moreover, his small size and inexplicable powers allowed him to walk through walls, move between dimensions, and generally go anywhere to overcome otherwise impossible situations.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
The British SAS used heavily armed Jeeps extensively in North Africa (Imperial War Museum)

By the late 1930s, Eugene the Jeep’s ability to go anywhere resulted in troops nicknaming their four-wheel drive vehicles Jeeps. These vehicles included converted four-wheel drive civilian tractors supplied to the Army, and 1/2-ton and 3/4-ton Dodge Reconnaissance/Weapon Carrier trucks. The Canadians also nicknamed their Ford Marmon-Herrington half-track, “Jeep.”

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
General Eisenhower called the Jeep “one of the six most vital” U.S. vehicles to win the war (U.S. Army)

However, the nickname was not exclusive to the go-anywhere trucks and tractors. Small anti-submarine escort carriers were nicknamed “baby flattops” and “jeep carriers”. The nickname was also given to several aircraft including the Kellett autogyro prototype, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress prototype and the Curtiss-Wright AT-9 trainer plane.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
(Left to right) A Willys 1/4-ton Jeep, Dodge 3/4-ton Jeep, and Dodge 1/2-ton Jeep (U.S. Army)

Upon America’s entry into WWII, the majority of its light trucks were actually Dodge 1/2-tons and 3/4-tons. It wasn’t until 1943 that the Willys and Ford 1/4-tons outnumbered their heavier Dodge counterparts. Despite their differences, all three light truck variants were nicknamed Jeeps. However, the Jeep name is best associated with the 1/4-ton truck whose appearance has been preserved in popular media and the modern Chrysler/Stellantis North America Jeep Wrangler.

Feature Image: U.S. Army photo

MIGHTY HISTORY

Lawmakers say racism kept WW1 troops from receiving Medal of Honor

Lawmakers and advocates are calling for a detailed review of the battlefield valor of African-American troops in World War I, saying many were denied the Medal of Honor due to racism.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland and Roy Blount, R-Missouri, announced April 18, 2019, that a bipartisan effort had begun in both houses of Congress to pass bills authorizing the review.

It’s a matter of simple justice, said Dr. Timothy Westcott, a historian who would lead the review if Congress approves.


“We should not be determining their valor based on the color of their skin or the circumstances of their birth,” said Westcott, director of the George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War at Park University in Missouri.

On the House side, the legislation is sponsored by Rep. J. French Hill, R-Arkansas.

“To require the review of the service of certain members of the Armed Forces during World War I to determine if such members should be awarded the Medal of Honor,” the bills read.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919.

The bills would waive the statute of limitations to ensure that any veterans of World War I recommended by the review to receive the Medal of Honor would be legally eligible for it.

If this effort is successful, a Valor Medals Review Task Force for World War I would become part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, set to be debated this summer.

The effort has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.

“While the United States military has studied Medal of Honor awards to minority service members in WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and subsequent American conflicts, no such systematic review has ever been conducted for minority veterans of the First World War,” commission officials said in a release. “Under current law, the exact same act of heroism completed by the exact same veteran would be eligible for review if it occurred in 1941, 1951, 1971, 1991, or 2001, but not 1918.”

“We at the U.S. World War One Commission, established by Congress in 2013, are aiming to rectify that and ensure our World War One heroes are forgotten no more,” the release added.

In a statement, Van Hollen said “Hundreds of thousands of minority veterans served their country during World War I, and their sacrifice was essential to our victory. But for far too long, their heroism has not received the recognition it deserves.”

Blount said the review was essential to making sure “those who were denied the Medal of Honor because of their race or religion finally receive the recognition they have earned.”

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

U.S. Army African American soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment learn from French mentors in trench warfare in an undated photo during WWI.

Of 400,000 minority veterans who served during World War I, about 40,000, the vast majority African-Americans, saw combat in France, according to the Department of Defense.

No African-American was awarded the Medal of Honor during World War I or its immediate aftermath, but two were posthumously honored many years later after limited investigations.

In 1991, Army Cpl. Freddie Stowers, who was killed in combat while serving in a unit under French command, was awarded the Medal of Honor by then-President George H.W. Bush.

President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor in 2015 to Army Sgt. Henry Johnson, who fought in France with the New York Army National Guard‘s famed 369th Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.”

In his statement, Van Hollen singled out the case of Army Sgt. William Butler, an African-American veteran from Salisbury, Maryland. Butler received the Croix de Guerre with Palm from France, as well as the Distinguished Service Cross from the U.S. military and a recommendation for the Medal of Honor.

“But he never received that medal before his death,” Van Hollen said.

At an Association of the U.S. Army event last October to promote the review of World War I awards, Jeffrey Sammons, a history professor at New York University, said his research discovered that Butler, who also served with the 369th Regiment, had been nominated for the Medal of Honor but the award was denied.

Sammons also found that Butler had been nominated for the nation’s highest award for valor on the same day as 1st Lt. George S. Robb, the namesake of the Robb Centre at Park University. Robb, who received the Medal of Honor, was a white officer who commanded an all-black platoon on the Western Front.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Officers of the United States Army’s segregated 366th Infantry Regiment on board the Aquitania, enroute home from World War I service.

“George Robb had written a glowing treatment of William Butler’s exploits, in which he saved his commanding officer, 1st Lt. Gorman Jones, and a number of men from being captured by the Germans, who had actually infiltrated their trench,” Sammons said at the AUSA event.

Westcott and Zachary Austin, adjunct director of the Valor Medals Review Task Force, said the intent was to begin the research with African-Americans who served in World War I and then extend it to other minorities.

“There’s never been systematic approach to this,” Westcott said of the review.

He and Austin said the research would be conducted with the aid of donations and at no cost to the government.

The main focus for possible upgrades to the Medal of Honor would be on those who were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and those who were recommended for the Medal of Honor but never received it, Westcott and Austin said.

Once the review is complete, the findings would be presented to the Department of Defense for a determination on whether the Medal of Honor should be awarded, Westcott said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

This Black Cat was bad luck for the Japanese navy

The fighting in the South Pacific during World War II was vicious. One of the big reasons was how evenly-matched the two sides were. One plane called the Black Cat, though, helped the Allies gain a big advantage – and was an omen of ill fortune for the Japanese navy.


According to the Pacific War Encyclopedia, that plane was a modified version of the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. This flying boat was a well-proven maritime patrol aircraft – sighting the German battleship Bismarck in time for the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal to launch the strikes that crippled the Nazi vessel in May, 1941.

The PBY had also detected the Japanese fleets at the Battle of Midway.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
PBY-5A Catalina flying over the Aleutian Islands during World War II. (US Navy photo)

The Catalina had one very big asset: long range. It could fly over 3,000 miles, and was also capable of carrying two torpedoes or up to 4,000 pounds of bombs. The PBY drew first blood at Midway, putting a torpedo in the side of the tanker Akebono Maru. But the long legs came with a price in performance. The PBYs had a top speed of just under 200 mph – making them easy prey if a Japanese A6M Zero saw them.

The planes also were lightly armed, with three .30-caliber machine guns and two .50-caliber machine guns. In “Incredible Victory,” Walter Lord related about how two PBYs were shot up in the space of an hour during the run-up to the Battle of Midway by a Japanese patrol plane. One “sea story” related by Morison had it that one PBY once radioed, “Sighted enemy carrier. Please notify next of kin.”

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina on a patrol during World War II. (US Navy photo)

Planner found, however, that flying PBY missions at night helped keep them alive. During the the Guadalcanal campaign, the first PBY-5As equipped with radar arrived and the first full squadron of “Black Cats” intended for night operations arrived later that year. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s “The Struggle For Guadalcanal,” the “Black Cats” were a game-changer.

These Black Cats did a little bit of everything. They could carry bombs – often set for a delay so as to create a “mining” effect. In essence, it would be using the shockwave of the bomb to cause flooding and to damage equipment on the enemy vessel. They also attacked airfields, carried torpedoes, spotted naval gunfire during night-time bombardment raids, and of course, searched for enemy ships.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Morison wrote about how the crews of the “Black Cats” would have a tradition of gradually filling out the drawing of a cat. The second mission would add eyes, then following missions would add whiskers and other features.

Japan would try to catch the Black Cats – knowing that they not only packed a punch, but could bring in other Allied planes. Often, the planes, painted black, would fly at extremely low level, thwarting the Zeros sent to find them.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
A PBY Catalina in service with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After World War II, many Catalinas were retired, but some served on. The last military unit to operate them was Brazil’s 1st Air Transport Squadron until they were retired in 1982, according to the website of the Brazilian Air Force Aerospace Museum.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A US President and Soviet Chairman won a Grammy together

The most lasting image of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with a U.S. leader will always be his close relationship with Ronald Reagan. In managing a very tense period toward the end of the Cold War, the image of the two leaders together has been enshrined in Cold War history. But the American President he teamed up to win a Grammy Award with would come to power four years after Reagan’s era ended, President Bill Clinton.

These two leaders never squared off in Cold War weapons agreements or faced a standoff between Russian and American forces. What they shared was the interpersonal foundation of a lasting peace.


John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Boris Yeltsin was hammered the day they called. And probably every day.

Gorbachev was the Soviet Union’s seventh and last President and Communist Party Chairman. He managed the final days of the Cold War as the Iron Curtain came tumbling down. Reagan was gone by then, succeeded by his Vice-President-turned-President, George H.W. Bush, who masterfully handled the U.S. response to the end of the Cold War. Clinton would be the first president to have to deal with the new Russian Federation and its former Soviet client states.

Gorbachev wouldn’t be his Russian counterpart. Boris Yeltsin came to power in the 1990s. But the two men were integral to shaping the post-Cold War relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union. They were also integral to the 2003 children’s album, Wolf Tracks: Peter and the Wolf.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Gorbachev with a decadent Western awards statue, likely sad he missed the chance to meet Christina Aguilera.

Peter and the Wolf is a 1936 children’s story, first written by Soviet Composer Sergei Prokofiev. It originated as a piece of Soviet propaganda, telling the story of a young boy challenging his grandfather who chided him for going out alone into the world, for fear of being devoured by a wolf. When a wolf does appear, the brave boy gets the best of it and makes sure it ends up in a zoo.

Clinton and Gorbachev performed spoken parts of the story, while actress Sophia Loren performed other sections. The album was an international hit, and was soon translated into multiple languages with more celebrity voices, including Antonio Banderas in the Spanish-language version. But the Grammy went to Gorbachev and Clinton, the first of such awards for a former American President or a former Soviet Premiere.

Just a few years later, Clinton would win another Grammy for the narration of his autobiography, My Life. Following that, other American Presidents would win for spoken-word works of their memoirs, including then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama for his memoirs, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams of my Father, and former President Jimmy Carter for his work, A Full Life: Reflections at 90. Carter would win another spoken-word Grammy in 2019 for his personal religious memoir, Faith – A Journey For All.

Carter has nine Grammy nominations, Clinton has four, and Obama has two, though he has won both years he earned a nod.

MIGHTY HISTORY

President Lincoln’s birthday includes an awesome VA tradition

President Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, and the national cemeteries are inextricably connected in American history. Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, 2019, is especially noteworthy this year because a historic tablet cast with his Gettysburg Address was recently installed in the lobby of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs headquarters. This meaningful object exists only because the nation observes Lincoln’s birthday.


President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, on a battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Over three days of Civil War fighting on July 1-3 that year, more soldiers died here than any single battle fought in North America before or since. In just 272 words, Lincoln conveyed the importance of the proposition “all men are created equal” to America’s past, present and future. Thousands had gathered to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Lincoln did not know that his brief but poignant words would become one of the most famous speeches in American history.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

The Gettysburg Address tablets were placed in national cemeteries in 1909 when the nation celebrated the centennial of Lincoln’s birth as an official observance. Efforts included designating Feb. 12 a national holiday and a memorial highway connecting Lincoln-related sites. Publishers printed colorful postcards. The Federal government issued the first penny featuring an historic figure and a 2-cent stamp.

Congress also authorized the original Gettysburg Address tablets, 77, to place in the national cemeteries. They were produced and delivered in 1909—but not by Feb. 12. “The delay was almost entirely due to difficulty in determining the text of the Gettysburg Address,” according to the [Washington D.C.] Sunday Star (May 30, 2018). Lincoln had produced five versions of the speech. The government chose Memorial Day to announce it would use the Col. Alexander Bliss version, the only copy dated and signed by Lincoln, to become the “standard use of the Lincoln Gettysburg Address.” The large tablets (56 inches x 33 inches) became an essential feature in the national cemeteries.

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, taken on Nov. 8, 1863, eleven days before his famed Gettysburg Address.

(Alexander Gardner)

For the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the federal government purchased 62 additional tablets. At the same time, a damaged tablet at Los Angeles National Cemetery was removed and secured in the NCA History Collection. Both original and replica tablets were produced through the U.S. Army Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. This NCA project assured that Lincoln’s words and the tablet remains a relevant part of the cemeteries as the system continues to grow. Re-installation of the un-restored Gettysburg Address tablet from California at VA headquarters marks the first time one has been displayed outside of a national cemetery — and this was realized for Veterans Month 2018.

Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg and cast in metal are part of national cemetery heritage. VA employees and visitors are invited to stop by this historic object and learn more at NCA History Program website.

Articles

Here are 4 ways wartime presidents effectively rallied the American people

By the power of the Constitution, American presidents are the ultimate link between the people and the military. As commanders-in-chief, presidents are responsible for committing the nation to war — a very tall order.


Here are 4 presidents that navigated the vagaries of public sentiment better than most:

1. Polk told Americans that Mexico “shed American blood on American soil!”

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
President James K. Polk was almost certainly not a snake that dressed up as a human, despite his appearance. (Portrait: George Peter Alexander Healy)

President James K. Polk was an expansionist and wanted land from Mexico so that the U.S. would stretch from sea to shining sea. There is a dispute among historians on whether Polk wanted a war or was just willing to accept one, but he sent 4,000 troops under general and future president Zachary Taylor to a portion of land claimed by both Texas and Mexico.

Ten months later on May 8, 1846, Mexican troops attacked what they perceived to be American troops on Mexican land.

Polk acted quickly when he got word of the fighting. On May 11 he asked Congress for a declaration of war with the cry that Mexico had “shed American blood on American soil!” While a very few anti-expansionist Whigs – including then-Senator Abraham Lincoln – protested the fact that it was technically not “American soil,” the rest of the Whigs and the majority of Congress voted for war.

2. Lincoln rode on the coattails of his generals

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
President Abraham Lincoln’s tactic for keeping public support of the war was to win it. (Photo: Alexander Gardner)

President Abraham Lincoln, one of the most popular and well-respected leaders in American history, was not always popular in his time. Indeed, during the road to the 1864 election with the war going badly. Even Lincoln expected a crushing defeat in his re-election bid. When the Democrats nominated Gen. George B. McClellan on a platform of peace with the breakaway Confederacy, all seemed lost.

But Lincoln had pushed hard for aggressive generals during the war, and two of them saved him in the final months before the election. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had been handpicked by Lincoln for the top job, and Grant’s favored subordinate, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, delivered Atlanta to the president on Sep. 3, 1864.

The victory in Atlanta was soon followed by Grant’s wins in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. With the war suddenly going well, Lincoln was able to rally the North to keep going and win the war.

Lincoln still nearly lost the election. But, despite how closely contested each state was (he won nearly all of them by narrow margins), he achieved an electoral college landslide of 212 to 21. He saved the Union but doomed himself to an assassin’s bullet on Apr. 14, 1865, less than six weeks after his second inauguration.

3. Wilson leaked the “Zimmerman Telegram” to the press

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war
President Woodrow Wilson looked like a nerdy professor because he was one, but he still managed to mobilize America in World War I. (Photo: Harris Ewing, Library of Congress)

President Woodrow Wilson was notoriously reluctant to join World War I despite Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare which killed hundreds of Americans and sank prized ships. One of the tipping points for Wilson was when Britain revealed the “Zimmerman Telegram” to him.

The Zimmerman Telegram was a secret proposal from Germany to Mexico. Germany promised Mexico Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico if Mexico entered World War I as a German ally against the U.S. Wilson authorized the Navy to begin arming civilian vessels and leaked the telegram to the public. Once the American public was in a fury, he went to Congress and asked for a declaration of war.

4. Roosevelt hid his disability, befriended journalists, and held fireside chats

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew a thing or two about keeping up appearances. Though crippled by polio, he led America through most of World War II primarily by projecting strength. To make sure that reporters didn’t skew his message or show him looking weak, he befriended the journalists who covered him by holding small, intimate meetings with them in the Oval Office.

When he wasn’t glad-handing journalists, he spoke directly to the American public over the radio during his iconic “Fireside Chats” that actually started in the early days of his presidency when the U.S. was more worried about the Great Depression than the wars in Europe and Asia.

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