Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

The average US citizen may hear the names of US Navy aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers, and not realize the significance behind those namesakes. For the US Navy sailors who work and live aboard these ships, the names serve as their identity in homage to the war heroes, pioneers, and traditions of the past.  

The names of Navy destroyers are of deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. On Nov. 13, 1944, the Navy named a warship after a woman for the first time in the Navy’s existence. The USS Higbee commissioned and was converted into a radar picket destroyer. The “Leaping Lenah,” as she was referred to by her crew, “screened carriers as their planes launched heavy air attacks against the Japanese mainland” and helped support occupying forces in the clearing of minefields during World War II. She also earned seven battle stars in the Korean War and was the first warship to be bombed in the Vietnam War. 

When the Leaping Lenah was decommissioned in 1979, she held the record for the highest score for naval gunfire support of any warship in the US Navy. It was a remarkable achievement and the ultimate tribute to Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee — the first living female recipient of the Navy Cross. 

Higbee was born in Canada in 1874 and trained as a nurse at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899. She developed her knowledge of medicine at Fordham Hospital and held her own private practice as a surgical nurse until she entered the newly established US Navy Nursing Corps (NNC) in 1908. Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” — the first group of female nurses to serve in the NNC.

Lena H. Sutcliffe Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” and the first living woman to be awarded the Navy Cross. Three other nurses were awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. Photo courtesy of the US Navy Institute.

“Nurses were assigned to duty at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.,” said Beatrice Bowman, one of the Sacred Twenty nurses who later became the third superintendent of the NNC in 1922. “There were no quarters for them but they were given an allowance for quarters and subsistence. They rented a house and ran their own mess. These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”

The Sacred Twenty spearheaded the efforts to prove women had a role in the medical field as much as their male counterparts. They held no rank and were not immediately viewed as assets; however, their reputation would soon change. In 1911, after the first NNC superintendent resigned — as the nurses were often exposed to institutionalized discrimination — Chief Nurse Higbee assumed command as superintendent. She was responsible for overseeing 86 nurses across the US, Guam, and the Philippines. She lobbied for equal pay and for healthcare for military dependents.

Higbee served on several executive healthcare committees, including the National Committee of the Red Cross Nursing Service, and between 1915 and 1917 helped increase nursing recruiting numbers for World War I.

“For two years prior to our actual entering into this conflict, warnings had been sounded and such tentative preparations as were possible had been made by those who were wise to the significance of war signs,” Higbee said.

During her tenure of 14 years of service, Higbee helped expand the NNC from 160 nurses to 1,386 nurses. She was later instrumental in assigning nurses aboard Navy transport ships, and during World War I these nurses served transport duty. Another one of her initiatives was to build a force of hospital corpsmen that assisted in “nursing training methods” as well as to “develop in the hearts and minds of these ‘pupil nurses’ the principles of conscience care of the sick.”

A graphic representation of the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) that is scheduled to be commissioned in 2024. Photo courtesy of the Navy History and Heritage Command.

After being exposed to the horrors from World War I, the complexities of battlefield wounds, and shell shock, Superintendent Higbee managed the development of Vassar Training Camp, the finishing school where nurses gained operational experience before arriving at their first assignments.

The following year, in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic rocked the world — and as Higbee and her nursing corps did best, they adapted to the evolving demands of medicine. Their focus shifted from the war wounds to an invisible disease. A total of 431 US Navy personnel had lost their lives during World War I, and 819 more were wounded. The humanitarian crisis between 1918 and 1919, in contrast, saw 5,027 sailors die as a result of the pandemic.

“‘The most needed woman’ is the war nurse,’” wrote The Sun newspaper on June 9, 1918. “In reality the war nurse is a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill. […] She goes prepared to share the risks and fortune of war, ready to make any sacrifice.”

Higbee and her team worked early mornings and late nights to diagnose patients and aid in their recovery. In 1920, Higbee became the first living recipient of the Navy Cross for “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.” 

Three other nurses, Marie Louise Hidell, Lillian M. Murphy, and Edna E. Place, were awarded the Navy Cross medal posthumously.

Higbee passed away in 1941, and a year later the Navy granted nurses “relative rank.” In 1944, the Navy finally approved nurses for “full military rank” with equal pay.

Although the USS Higbee was decommissioned in 1979, in 2016 then-Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced plans to commission the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, scheduled for 2024 — an honor the trailblazing nurse certainly deserves.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Abraham Lincoln challenged US troops to this strength test

Of all the things our 16th President is remembered for these days, his uncanny strength is often overlooked. During his days on the American frontier, he was known for his strength and wrestling prowess. The “Rail Splitter” (Lincoln’s nickname), was a volunteer soldier during the Black Hawk War and even manhandled a violent viewer during one of his political speeches, leaving the podium to toss a man 12 feet away from the crowd.

The Confederacy clearly didn’t know who they were dealing with.


Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Lincoln didn’t kill vampires with his ax, but he could have.

Life on the American frontier was harsh for a figure like Lincoln. He was raised in rural areas of what was then the very edge of a nascent, young country. In his early years, he could barely read or write, and as such he took work as a hired hand. When he was still very young, he experienced a growth spurt that saw him towering over others. His large frame and chosen profession saw the gaunt young boy turn into a man of uncommon strength.

Young Lincoln moved around the country on more than one occasion, and the first thing that needed to be done in his new home was to clear an area of trees and construct his new dwelling. For this, he needed a trusty ax – a tool with which he would become an expert user. His skills with an ax would come in handy later, as his reputation as a free laborer (as opposed to, say, a slave) catapulted him to the White House in 1860.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Just like how Lincoln catapulted bullies left and right.

While occupying the White House, Lincoln had very little use for his skills as a laborer, but the strength he acquired in his early years never left him. On the day before the end of the Civil War, the President was visiting a military hospital in Virginia and spent much of the day shaking hands with Union soldiers, both wounded and not wounded. Onlookers swore the 56-year-old must have shaken thousands of hands that day. But when one Union troop told the President that he must be tired from a day full of shaking hands, Lincoln took it as a challenge.

Spotting an ax, he opted to show a feat of strength he’d done many, many times before when wanting to bond with Union soldiers. He was known to even challenge them to the display of strength he was about to put on for the Petersburg, Va. hospital patients and their visitors.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

An Army of Abraham Lincolns would have been unstoppable.

Lincoln walked over to the ax, picked it up by the butt, and held it out at arms’ length, parallel to the ground for as long as he could.

“Strong men who looked on, men accustomed to manual labor, could not hold the same ax in that position for a moment,” wrote Francis Fisher Browne, a Union soldier who authored a biography called The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln.

Such a feat of strength by the Commander-In-Chief was impressive to Union soldiers. Very often, they couldn’t manage such a stunt. During the hospital visit, after holding out the ax, he even began chopping a log nearby, showering onlookers with chips of wood – which they all kept.

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This was America’s first anti-aircraft cruiser

Today, the Ticonderoga-class cruiser is the epitome of a vessel designed with the primary purpose of protecting capital ships from an aerial threat.


With the Aegis fire control system, two 64-cell Mk 41 vertical launch systems, and a pair of five-inch guns, among other weapons, the Tico can handle just about anything the enemy has that flies.

But this wasn’t the only cruiser designed to primarily confront the aerial threat. That honor falls to the cruiser USS Atlanta (CL 51), which was commissioned 17 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Atlanta was also designed to serve as a scout or a flotilla leader for destroyers, but her main battery of 16 5-inch/38 guns gave her a powerful anti-aircraft armament.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient
USS Atlanta (CL 51) in 1942, coming up to USS San Francisco (CA 38). (US Navy photo)

The Navy originally ordered four of these cruisers, but doubled the total after the start of the war. Three slightly modified versions, known as the Juneau-class cruisers, were later acquired, but not finished until after the war.

According to the “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships,” the USS Atlanta saw action in the Battle of Midway, the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. In that last battle, she was heavily damaged by both friendly and enemy fire, and ultimately had to be scuttled.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient
USS Juneau (CL 119) during the Korean War, during which she sank three North Korean torpedo boats. (US Navy photo)

Other than the second ship of the class, USS Juneau (CL 52) — best known as the vessel that the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, perished aboard — the rest of the Atlanta-class cruisers survived the war.

The USS Reno (CL 96) did have a hell of a fight for survival after being torpedoed in November 1944.

The last Atlanta-class cruiser to serve in the United States Navy was the USS Juneau (CL 119), the lead ship of her sub-class that was completed in the months after World War II.

Ironically, the only action Juneau saw outside of shore bombardment was a naval battle on July 2, 1950, sinking three North Korean torpedo boats.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Civil War changed Santa

Ask any kindergartener what Santa looks like, and they’ll probably tell you he has a red suit, a big, round belly and a long, white beard. The classic Christmas song “Must Be Santa,” written in 1960 by Mitch Miller, describes him in even greater detail, with a cap on his head and a cherry nose. That’s how most of us picture Santa Claus, and it’s no wonder – the American image of Santa has remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years. 

Glance back through time, and a different picture of Santa appears. 

In the 1800s and the centuries preceding it, Santa looked a lot more like a traditional saint. That is how the tradition of Santa started, after all. As the story goes, a poor man had three daughters. With nothing to offer as a dowry, his daughters had no hope of getting married. A kind bishop named Nicholas took pity on the family, dropping bags of gold down the chimney to provide a dowry for each daughter. For this good deed along with many others, Nicholas was dubbed the saint of children. (He was also the saint of sailors, but that’s another story.)

While I’m quite thankful that I don’t have to rely on an old man to throw gold into my fireplace to secure my future, St. Nicholas was the official inspiration behind modern-day Santa. As the popularity of St. Nicholas waned, his name evolved. First, he became Father Christmas in England, then the Christkind in Austria and Germany, then Kris Kringle. Finally, Dutch settlers invented the name “Sinterklaas,” aka Santa. Despite the new name, however, 1800s Santa maintained his saintly image. So what changed? 

Political satire and the Civil War reinvented Santa. 

Enter political cartoonist Thomas Nast. Known by many as the father of the American political cartoon, Nast began as a gifted artist from humble beginnings. At the age of 15, he began working as a staff artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, and a few years later for the New York Illustrated News. Finally, he moved on to create cartoons for Harper’s Weekly. At this point, it was 1862 and the Civil War had begun. 

Thomas Nast

In Nast’s cartoons, he didn’t hesitate to make his political opinions known. He made his Union loyalties quite clear, and on January 3rd, 1863, Santa Claus helped send his message home. In a particularly festive piece of propaganda, Nast depicted Santa Claus decked out in stars and stripes handing out gifts to Union soldiers. If you look closely, you can see Union Santa clutching a puppet resembling the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, with a rope around its neck. In a Christmas Eve version, Nast drew a jolly Santa Claus climbing down the chimney to deliver presents, while a woman in the next frame prays for her husband’s safe return. 

With these two simple illustrations, Nast cemented Santa as a sentimental Union symbol and reinvented St. Nick’s wardrobe in one go. While Nast refrained from making too many additional Santa-themed political statements, his jovial Father Christmas became an annual tradition. Although he skipped 1864, he published a new Santa illustration every holiday season for the rest of his years on staff at Harper’s. From then on, the tall, stately St. Nicholas was replaced with the stout, jolly old elf that we know and love today. 

Articles

This pilot was saved when the enemy shot him in the bullet

Walter Chalaire was an American newspaper reporter turned British pilot during World War I whose life was saved while he was being shot down thanks to the enemy bullet becoming lodged in a round on Chalaire’s cartridge belt.


The lucky pilot was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1895 and went to college in New York. During school, he made money as a reporter while studying law before graduating in 1916. That was just in time to head to Europe and fight the Germans.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient
Cadet Walter Chalaire, at right, later became a Royal Air Force lieutenant and was saved during a pitched aerial fight when this cartridge belt stopped a German round. (Photo: PhotoBucket/njaviator)

Chalaire joined the military and was soon assigned to the newly formed Royal Air Force’s No. 202 Squadron, a reconnaissance and bombing unit that operated predominantly over Belgium and France on the Western Front.

On August 14, 1918, Chalaire was piloting a De Havilland DH-4 on a mission near Ostend, Belgium, and got separated from the other observation plane. Chalaire and his observer, a British sergeant, were alone in contested skies when they spotted two flights of German planes. The first was above them and the second was below and behind.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient
The De Haviland DH-4 was a common plane in World War I. (Photo: Public Domain via San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Germans turned on the sole English plane and started peppering it with fire. Chalaire and his observer returned fire, downing two of the enemy. But the Allied crew was outgunned and rounds flew through the plane, cutting cables, puncturing the tank, and wounding the observer seven times.

Chalaire was still trying to fight his way east when a German burst hit him. One round went into his shoulder but the other was caught by his cartridge belt, driving its way into one of Chalaire’s unused rounds.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient
Royal Air Force Lt. Walter Chalaire’s cartridge belt and goggles were photographed after he returned to friendly lines. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

That was when the American finally bugged out as hard as he could, sending the plane into a steep dive and praying that the damaged plane didn’t collapse as the air rushed over it.

Chalaire made it to the coast before setting it down and then rushed to find help for his observer who survived. The pilot’s goggles and ammo belt were photographed and his story was reported in American newspapers. He survived the war and became a prominent lawyer before passing away in 1971.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How an Air Force veteran started the Make-A-Wish Foundation

To say Make-A-Wish Foundation founder Frank Shankwitz had a rough childhood is an understatement. Shankwitz was born in Chicago and his mother left him when he was young. His grandparents took him, which he recalled as “happy times,” until one day his mother kidnapped him off a playground and told him they were heading back to Arizona.

They stopped in Michigan for five years.


When he was 10, they finally reached a tiny town in Arizona on Route 66. “We were broke,” Shankwitz said. “We had no gas, no food, no money, but a family took us in. We slept on their kitchen floor. It was the first time we’d ever been permanent somewhere, kitchen floor or not. A man named Juan became like a father-figure to me, and he introduced me to the idea of giving back. This was the 1950s – ‘give back’ was not a real popular term yet. But he taught me that you can always give back. It doesn’t have to be money – it can be your time or your talents.”

In the seventh grade, Shankwitz’s mom informed him that she could no longer afford to keep him; she was moving and he needed to find a new place to live.

Juan found him a place to stay in town with a widow and Shankwitz paid the weekly rent by finding a job as a dishwasher that paid per week. “All of a sudden I had an extra a week,” he said. “Juan taught me how to turn a negative into a positive and that has been something I’ve carried with me through my entire career.”

Shankwitz went to the Air Force after high school. “It was the Vietnam era,” he recalled, “but they decided I needed to protect England. I remember when we were informed we were not to wear our uniforms during traveling – they were afraid we’d offend the public. I’m so proud today to see our service members wearing their uniforms at airports. I love hearing people thanking them and clapping for them. You should never be embarrassed of the uniform. It’s so important that our military always be proud of their service.”

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Following his time with the Air Force, Shankwitz went to work for Motorola. He describes himself then as “somewhat of an adrenaline junkie,” so when a friend of his suggested joining the Arizona Highway Patrol, he jumped at the chance. Shankwitz got involved with the Special Olympics in his off time. “I began to think about Juan,” he shared, “and how maybe I was starting to give back. I enjoyed that so much.” At work, Shankwitz was asked to join a motorcycle patrol that traveled to schools to teach kids about bike safety and he felt like he was getting closer to where he needed to be in serving others.

In 1978, Shankwitz was in a high speed chase with a drunk driver when another drunk driver broadsided him going 80 miles per hour. “I was pronounced dead immediately,” he explained, “and they’d already radioed in ‘963, Officer killed in the line of duty.’ An emergency room nurse from California stopped at the scene and did CPR for four minutes, and brought me back to life. I love California! They said the crash was spectacular. I’d gone through the tunnel and I saw the light. And then I came back. I remember when my senses came back. The sense of smell was first. I smelled this very nice perfume. Then the sense of touch; something was tickling my face. Then the sense of hearing – sirens all around and someone saying, ‘We’ve lost him.’ Last was the sense of sight. And I saw that a beautiful blonde had her lips locked on me and I thought it was heaven! Later, I was told I was saved for a purpose, and that God believed I had more to do. I needed to find out what that purpose was.”

Not two years later, Shankwitz received a radio call from his dispatcher saying she needed him to find the nearest telephone, which was 40 miles away. She put him through to a border patrol agent who had an assignment for him. Shankwitz remembers verbatim: ‘There’s a little boy named Chris. He’s 7 years old. He has leukemia, and he has 2 weeks to live. He likes to watch a show called CHiPs and he wants to be a motorcycle cop just like Ponch and Jon. We’re going to pick him up and have you standing by so he can meet a real motorcycle cop.’ I was in. I got on the bike and flew to the hospital.”

When the helicopter landed, Shankwitz was surprised that Chris wasn’t super sick looking. “Instead,” he said, “this tiny pair of red sneakers jumped out and came running over. He knew every button and switch on that motorcycle. I am watching him thinking, ‘He’s a typical 7 year old, and yet he’s going to die.’ Then I saw his mom, tears in her eyes, seeing her little boy again instead of just this sick patient. Chris became the first and only honorary officer of the Arizona Highway Patrol. We felt pretty good about what we’d done but we knew there was more for him.”

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

The troopers rallied around Chris. “We went to the uniform store, and asked if they could make Chris his own uniform,” Shankwitz said. “Two women spent all night custom-making a uniform for him. The next morning, we took several motorcycles and cars, lights going, and brought the uniform to him and a smokey hat. He was ecstatic. He asked if he was an official motorcycle police officer, but we told him that he had to earn his wings. We set up traffic cones for him in his driveway and gave him a test, which of course he passed.”

Chris told Shankwitz, “I’m so happy my wish is coming true.” It was the first time Shankwitz had really ever heard that: “my wish.”

Shankwitz and his team went to pick up the custom-made wings they had commissioned for Chris when he got a radio call: the little boy had been taken to the hospital and was in a coma. Shankwitz was devastated.

“We took the wings to his room anyway,” he said, “and just as I pinned his wings on the uniform, Chris came out of the coma. He started giggling. ‘Am I a motorcycle officer now?’ he asked. I told him yes. A few hours later he passed away. I like to believe those wings carried him to heaven.”

The Arizona Highway Patrol did a full police funeral for Chris. Shankwitz explained, “In Chris, we lost a fellow officer that day. When we got to Illinois where he was going to be buried, we were pulled over by the Illinois State Police. When we told them what we were doing, they escorted us. We were met at the cemetery by Illinois Police, all in dress uniform. Like I said, we lost a fellow officer that day.”

“Chris was buried in his uniform. His tombstone reads Chris Greicius, Arizona Trooper. It was a truly unbelievable sight. When we got home, we asked, ‘Why can’t we do this for other children?’ And Make-A-Wish was born. It started with in a bank account. There are now 60 chapters in the United States and Make-A-Wish International has 39 affiliates, serving children in nearly 50 countries on five continents. Over 480,000 wishes have been granted.

Shankwitz said, “Every 26 to 28 minutes a child gets a wish, because of one little boy. Never underestimate the difference one person can have on the world.”

More about Frank Shankwitz and the Make-A-Wish Foundation can be found in his memoir, Wish Man, which has also been developed into a movie by the same title, available on Netflix.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the actual footage of George Bush’s WWII sea rescue

During World War II, George H.W. Bush served in the U.S. Navy. A pilot assigned to a torpedo squadron in the Pacific Theater, Bush flew the TBM Avenger, a torpedo bomber capable of taking off from aircraft carriers that would famously see combat during the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.

Bush enlisted in the Navy’s flight training program fresh out of high school, becoming one of the Navy’s youngest aviators. He first saw action in May 1944 and would go on to fly 58 combat missions. Then, on Sept. 2, 1944, he was hit by anti-aircraft fire during an attack run on the Japanese-occupied island of Chichi Jima.

“Suddenly there was a jolt,” Bush wrote later, “as if a massive fist had crunched into the belly of the plane. Smoke poured into the cockpit, and I could see flames rippling across the crease of the wing, edging toward the fuel tanks.”

His two crewmembers were killed in the attack, leaving the young pilot to complete his bombing run against a radio facility and bail out alone over the Pacific into jellyfish-infested waters. During the egress, he struck his head, which bled profusely as he swam to a life raft and hoped for rescue.

He was one of the lucky ones. Many aviators struck down during that battle where captured and executed and, according to Bradley James’ bestselling novel Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, their livers even eaten by their captors.

After four hours, the USS Finback, a lifeguard submarine, found him. Now you can watch the video from the moment when the Finback’s crew pulled from the water the man who would go on to become the Director of Central Intelligence and the 41st president of the United States, serving from 1989 to 1993. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during the mission.

President George H.W. Bush died on Nov. 30, 2018, at the age of 94 years old.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Vito Bertoldo fought as a one-man army for two days

Vito Bertoldo almost didn’t make it into the Army. A former coal miner, he was exempt from the World War II draft due to his bad eyesight. Approved for limited duty after enlisting, he had to get special permission to join the infantry. It’s a good thing he did. 

vito bertoldo

In December 1944, Germany launched Operation Northwind, what would become its last offensive in Western Europe. It was designed to destroy the U.S. 7th Army, whose supply lines were stretched after the Battle of the Bulge. That offensive would meet some major resistance in Hatten, France, specifically at the hands of Vito Bertoldo.

Bertoldo was assigned to protect the movement of a vital command post during a German attack. It was in good hands. As German infantry and armor advanced and the American lines began to crumble, Bertoldo moved outside of the building that housed the command post and set up a machine gun in the street. 

For 12 hours, he held the entire street in full view of the advancing German infantry and tanks. Under fire from the tanks’ 88mm guns and small arms, he fought on, eventually moving back into the building. Once inside, he set his gun up on a table and fired through a window, blasting an entire group of German infantry.

As armored personnel carriers and more tanks approached, he waited for them to dismount before mowing them all down, even taking a tank shell in his position for his trouble. He simply got back up and got back to work. When the command post got a new position, he volunteered to stay behind and cover its withdrawal, staying in the building all night.  

In the morning, he moved into another building and started another daylong defense, fighting off self-propelled howitzers, infantrymen, and tanks. He was hit by another 88mm round but survived. Before the Germans could finish him off, an American bazooka took out the vehicle. 

Bertoldo went back to his gun, yet again, mowing down Germans as they tried to retreat. The command post was evacuated once more, this time under cover of darkness. But the Germans tried to assault the building before the evacuation could begin. This time, Bertoldo lobbed white phosphorous grenades into the massed enemy infantrymen until they broke and withdrew from the attack. 

Once more a German tank round hit the room where Bertoldo was holed up, knocking him to the ground in a daze from 50 yards away. The only difference was this time, Bertoldo’s machine gun was destroyed. So he picked up his rifle and began to singlehandedly cover the movement of the command post to its new location. 

This army of one secured his unit’s command post and all its movement against superior forces for a full two days without rest or relief, killing at least 40 Germans and holding back an entire enemy advance. 

In the end, it wasn’t a Nazi bullet or tank round that would get Vito Bertoldo. He served through the entire war and died of cancer in 1966. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This famous pilot once dangled from his plane by the machine gun

Louis A. Strange was a British Pilot who would lead aerial forces in World War I and World War II, eventually rising to the rank of wing commander and earning top British awards like the Distinguished Service Order and Officer of the Order of the British Empire, which is lucky, because he almost died as a young pilot when he fell out of his plane and was left hanging from the machine gun.


Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Royal Flying Corps Lt. Louis A. Strange was a pioneering pilot and officer for Britain in World War I and II, but he nearly died in 1915 when he accidentally flipped his plane and barely hung on to a malfunctioning machine gun drum.

(Imperial War Museums)

It happened during World War I when the young pilot became a pioneer by being one of the first pilots to strap a machine gun to his plane in 1914 (he might have even been the first allied pilot to do so). But early aviation machine guns were literally just machine guns designed for the trenches, and they didn’t always lend themselves well to aerial combat.

In 1915, Strange was flying his Martinsyde S.1 scout plane with a machine gun mounted when he spotted a German observer and began trading fire with it. Strange quickly ran through the ammo in his weapon’s drum and attempted to reload it, but the drum was jammed on the weapon.

He attempted to pry it off to no avail, and finally stood up to get better leverage on the drum. He was attempting to keep the plane steady in the process, but made some mistake. The plane flipped upside down, and Strange slipped out of his seat and found himself dangling from the machine gun, high in the air.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

A Martinsyde scout biplane from World War I.

(Royal Engineers)

In John F. Ross’s Enduring Courage, Strange is quoted as saying:

Only a few seconds previously, I had been cursing because I could not get that drum off, but now I prayed fervently that it would stay on forever.

But that wasn’t the only problem for Strange. His plane’s engine wasn’t designed to run upside down with no pilot at the controls, and so the engine quickly shut off.

So he was dangling by a faulty machine gun drum from a slowly crashing airplane in an active combat zone. But he kept a cool head, watching for where he might crash while also attempting to get his feet back into the cockpit. He managed to hook an ankle on the plane and then get a leg on the stick and flip the plane back over.

He fell back into the plane, which was welcome, but he also fell too hard and fast, crashing through his seat in a way that jammed the stick, making it impossible for him to steer, a big problem since he was still heading for the ground. And then the engine turned back on, speeding his descent.

He had to shove the remnants of the seat out of the way, but was then able to move the stick and raise the plane’s nose, gaining altitude with little room to spare over the trees. He headed back for home and slept for 12 hours.

But, as mentioned before, the survival of Strange would prove to be a great boon to Britain. He had previously earned one award for valor in World War I, and he would go on to earn three high medals over the rest of World War I and II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time North Dakota seceded from the Union

After Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861, the Civil War began in earnest. It would be won by force just a few years later, in a war that tore the country apart — a war that Americans still haven’t forgotten. So when North Dakota governor William “Wild Bill” Langer declared North Dakota’s independence — in 1934 —  you have to wonder what he was thinking.


It’s likely he was thinking about anything that would get him out of going to a federal prison. Langer was just convicted of a felony and the state Supreme Court upheld a conviction that would remove him from the Governor’s office. His lieutenant governor, Ole Olson (yes, that’s really his name), took over.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient
Wild Bill is sick of your sh*t.

Good thing the National Guard was already on the streets.

Langer was skimming money from government paychecks into an account run by the group that put him in the office of governor. But that’s not even what he was convicted for, which was conspiracy to violate an act of Congress. His jail sentence was longer than his time in office.

But the voters loved him anyway. Despite the charges and convictions, they voted for him.

Martial law had to be declared in North Dakota. Earle Sarles, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard and the man technically in charge of the entire state at that moment, basically decided, on the spot, who would be governor: Olson or Langer.

What no one except Langer loyalists knew at the time was that the governor drew up a “Declaration of Independence for the State of North Dakota” the night before Court’s decision. But true to the North Dakota Constitution (and the oath he took to wear a U.S. Army uniform), he supported the court ruling and backed Olson.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient
Mic drop.

When the North Dakota National Guard was called up to forcibly remove him from the Capitol Building in Bismarck, Langer’s supporters will still marching and demonstrating the capital’s streets.

Langer would be exonerated for the crime in 1935 and successfully ran for U.S. Senate, being seated in 1941 — where he had to explain the Declaration of Independence to the Congress.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One guy might be the reason we haven’t found Amelia Earhart

The tragic disappearance of Amelia Earhart in 1937 remains among the most pervasive mysteries in American culture. Earhart, a groundbreaking female aviator and celebrity in her own time, knew her goal of circumnavigating the globe in her Lockheed Electra was a dangerous one, but she and the American public seemed assured that she would be successful, just as she had been so many times before.


Of course, from our perspective on this side of history, we know her trip was destined for failure, but beyond that, the disappearance of Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan remains shrouded in mystery.

The thing is… maybe it shouldn’t be. The mystery surrounding Earhart’s disappearance may have actually been solved as soon as three years after her plane went down, but because of what seems like the incompetence of one doctor, we’ll likely never know for sure.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan with their Lockheed Electra.

(WikiMedia Commons)

In 1940, just three years after Earhart and Noonan disappeared, a British expedition arrived on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro and set about scouting the landmass for settlement. As they scouted the island, they came across some rather unusual objects: a human skull and other bones, along with a woman’s shoe, a box made to hold a Brandis Navy Surveying Sextant (for use in navigation) that had been manufactured around 1918, and a bottle of Benedictine — which was an herbal-based liquor.

The small stature of the bones along with the other items discovered and the island’s location in the Pacific made it seem entirely feasible that the team had actually discovered the lost remains of the famed aviator. A theory began to form: Earhart may have seen the island in the distance and attempted to make it there as her fuel finally ran out. Based on the bones and other items found ashore, it even seemed possible that Earhart may have survived the sea-landing and made it to the island, only to eventually succumb to starvation, dehydration, or her injuries.

The skull and a dozen or so other bones were gathered from the site and shipped to Fiji, and the following year Doctor D.W. Hoodless of Fiji’s Central Medical School buckled down to study them. There was just one problem: forensic osteology, or the study of bones for these sorts of purposes, was far from the robust and mature science it is today.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of her Lockheed Electra.

(WikiMedia Commons)

Hoodless examined the thirteen bones and took a series of measurements that he recorded in his notes, before coming to a controversial conclusion. According to the doctor, the bones discovered on Nikumaroro didn’t belong to Earhart. Instead, he posited that they belonged to “middle-aged stocky male about 5’5.5″ in height.” It seemed, at least according to Hoodless’ assessment, that the Earhart mystery had not been solved.

Despite the woman’s shoe, herbal liquor Earhart was known to drink, and the box that held navigation equipment, Hoodless’ determination was enough to convince the world that the legendary pilot’s final resting place remained a mystery.

In fact, the world was so convinced that the bones didn’t belong to Earhart that they simply lost track of the bones from there. They’ve now been lost for decades, making a thorough and modern analysis of the remains impossible.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Amelia Earhart.

(WikiMedia Commons)

But that’s not the end of the story. A study published last year by Professor Richard Jantz from the University of Tennessee contests Hoodless’ findings using the very figures the doctor recorded in his notes back in 1940. Using modern forensics and a computer program designed to aid in determining age and gender from bone measurements, Jantz came to a very different conclusion than Hoodless.

“The fact remains that if the bones are those of a stocky male, he would have had bone lengths very similar to Amelia Earhart’s, which is a low-probability event,” Jantz wrote. In fact, he went on to write that, “This analysis reveals that Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample.”

Sadly, without the bones to further the analysis, it’s impossible to state conclusively that these bones did indeed belong to Earhart, but based on Jantz assessment, it seems more likely than not that Earhart really did make it to Nikumaroro Island. That conclusion may solve one mystery, but it would create a few more: how long did Earhart survive? What were her final days like?

Unfortunately, it seems likely that we’ll never know.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy improvised gas mask used by World War I troops

Time and again, the oft-repeated military adage is proven right: if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid. This old saying might be the military’s version of necessity being the mother of invention. Except in the military, necessity could mean the difference between life and death. This was certainly true of U.S. doughboys on the battlefields of World War I, where a single battle could cost up to 10,000 American lives or more.

Americans were used to overcoming long odds in combat. Our country was founded on long odds. But in the Great War, U.S. troops had to contend with a weapon from which they couldn’t recover: poison gas.


Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Many different gas masks were used on the Western Front, but one was more improvised than others.

Throughout American involvement in the First World War, poison gas attacks killed and maimed some 2,000 American troops and countless more allies who had been fighting for years before the doughboys arrived. As a result, all the Allied and Central Powers developed anti-gas countermeasures to try and give their troops a fighting chance in a chemical environment. But gas was introduced as a weapon very early in the fighting, long before the belligerents knew they’d need protection.

But they did need protection. Gas on the battlefield was first administered by releasing the gas from canisters while downwind – a method that could go awry at anytime, causing the wind to shift toward friendly forces. Later on, it would be used in artillery shells that would keep the gas in the enemy’s trench – at least, until the friendly troops advanced to take that trench.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

German soldiers ignite chlorine gas canisters during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium on April 22, 1915.

But early gases weren’t as terrifying as chemical weapons developed in the course of the war. The first uses of gas attacks involved tear gas and chlorine gas. While tear gas is irritating, it’s relatively harmless. Even the first uses of tear gas on the Eastern Front saw the chemical freeze rather than deploy when fired. Chlorine gas, on the other hand, could be incredibly fatal but was not effective as an instrument of death. Chlorine gas had a telltale smell and green color. Troops knew instantly that the gas had been deployed.

To safeguard against it, allied troops used rags or towels covered in urine to protect their lungs from the gas. The thought was that the ammonia in urea was somehow neutralizing the chlorine to keep it from killing them. That wasn’t it at all. Chlorine just dissolves in water, so no chlorine would ever pass through the wet pieces of cloth on their face. They could have used coffee, and the trick would have still worked.

Water (or urine) wasn’t effective against what was to come.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Troops burned by mustard gas in the First World War.

More than half a million men were injured or killed by poison gas during World War I. The terrifying, disfiguring effects of gases like colorless phosgene gas that caused lungs to fill with fluid, drowning men in their beds over a period of days. Then there was mustard gas, a blistering agent that could soak into their uniforms, covering their entire bodies with painful, burning blisters.

Small wonder it was banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This general is the reason why working girls are called Hookers

In American history, good men have answered the call of duty to march in defense of freedom. They sacrifice privacy, comfort, and intimacy for months and sometimes even years. Troops find ways to relieve stress by working out and by communicating with loved ones. However, during the Civil War, it wasn’t as easy as calling your love via long distance and paying the charges.

Union and Confederate armies were followed from camp to camp by ladies of the night. Yet, one General was so enthusiastic about keeping the morale of his men high that he became a legend. He supported this kind of capitalistic free market to the point that it cemented the nickname for these entrepreneurs with his namesake. You’ve partied, yes, but you’ll never party like General Hooker.


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Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Battle of Chancellorsville

Public Domain

General Joseph “fighting Joe” Hooker

Joseph Hooker was a Union Army officer that served as major general during the Civil War. On June 17, 1863, he moved the entire Army of the Potomac north through Loudoun. His army was to prepare to battle Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Where his massive army went, so did a large number of Soiled Doves that became known “Hooker’s Brigade.”

The Battle of Chancellorsville lasted from April 30 to May 6, 1863. General Hooker was not a decisive leader and took his time issuing orders, because of this, General Lee was able to make a risky decision and divide his smaller army in two. General Lee was able to outmaneuver and defeat a larger force due to this dichotomy of personalities. This loss followed General Hooker like a recurring VD.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

(Public Domain)

The legend of General Hooker’s “hookers” became a slang term for a prostitute, and is derived from his last name but also due to the lack of military discipline at his headquarters near Washington, D.C. He would throw parties like the world was going to end and kept the parties going with him wherever he went.

Early in 1863, a new commander of the Army of the Potomac encouraged prostitutes to visit the troops as a morale measure, and reportedly used their services liberally himself. His name has been associated with the profession, he was General Joseph Hooker. – AN ANALYSIS OF THE MEDICAL PROBLEMS OF THE CIVIL WAR, ALFRED JAY BOLLET
Futurama: Blackjack and hookers

www.youtube.com

Etymology

Hooker (n.) “one who or that which hooks” in any sense, agent noun from hook (v.). Meaning “prostitute” (by 1845) often is traced to the disreputable morals of the Army of the Potomac (American Civil War) under the tenure of Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker (early 1863), and the word might have been popularized by this association at that time. – etymonline.com

Now, there will be some people who will say that the word ‘hooker’ was in the Oxford English Dictionary since 1567, which they are correct; It meant to pickpocket, swipe, or steal. However, the invention of the word is not what is in question here, it is the fact that this General partied so hard that he changed what the word meant.

Futurama: Blackjack and hookers

youtu.be

Legacy

In the end, General Hooker’s embarrassing loss to General Lee is overshadowed by the legacy of his parties and dedication to troop welfare, although, symbolically because they did get a lot of STDs. Actual troop welfare was terrible.

“People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit.” – “Hooker’s Comments on Chancellorsville,” Battles and Leaders, General Hooker
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