Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Editor’s Note: This interview of Marine and Korean War veteran Charles U. Daly was written by his son, Charlie Daly.

Charles U. Daly led a rifle platoon in Charlie Company, 1/5 Marines through some of the most intense combat of the Korean war.  He received the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He went on to work for President Kennedy and is the last living member of JFK’s West Wing congressional liaison staff. He tells his story in the memoir,Make Peace or Die: a Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares

What are your memories of mail while you were deployed?

I remember the lack of mail hurt some of my Marines. That’s a tough thing when everyone else is receiving mail, and there’s none for you. The guys who didn’t get any were stoic, and they didn’t show that it bothered them. They just turned around and hoped to get some another day, I guess. It was my job to lead them and look after them; I could make sure they had almost anything else they needed. But there was nothing I could do for a guy who hadn’t gotten a letter from home. I’d give those men anything, but I couldn’t give them that. 

Chuck remembers one letter he wrote to his late wife, Mary, in which he joked about single-handedly winning the war. A couple of days after he sent it, the Chinese began the 1951 Spring Offensive, an unsuccessful attempt to win the war in 7 days, during which Chuck’s platoon in 1/5 Marines had to hold a hilltop, totally cut off from friendly forces. 

On the night of April 21, I sent a note to Mary, brimming with overconfidence:

My Darling—

Just a note to say that I’m o.k.—We moved quite a way today & continue on tomorrow—w/any luck we should be north of Hwachon (sic), North Korea tomorrow.

I’m exhausted & will hit the sack—I love you, my wife—take it easy.

—Your mick

(Make Peace or Die, 60)

You got one very special telegram announcing the birth of your first son, Michael. 

I had been anxiously awaiting that news, but I didn’t expect it to reach me the way it did, as a special message, hand-delivered by a runner. That was a note I won’t forget. 

A runner followed Dacy and the replacements up the hill with a telegram for me:

PLEASE PASS TO LT CHARLES U. DALY 050418 X SON MICHAEL WEIGHING 5 POUNDS 12 AND 3/4 OUNCES BORN SATURDAY 19 MAY AT 2:06 PM X A BLACK-HAIRED MICK X MARY AND MICHAEL BOTH FINE X LOVE MARY

(Make Peace or Die, 80)

Pete had received news about a baby daughter two days before. Our platoons were delighted. They said, “we” made a baby. It was good news, and it was tough news. I folded up the telegram and put it in my wallet and thought it’d be nice to have if I made it.

Now that note belongs to Michael’s first daughter, my first grandchild, Sinéad.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Charles U. Daly (left) with Pete McCloskey in a valley near Wonju, spring 1951. Pete and Chuck both left pregnant wives at home when they deployed. Chuck’s son and Pete’s daughter were born while their fathers were in combat. (Photo/ Department of Defense)

What was it like trying to do your job as a platoon leader while you were waiting for that big news?

I was trying to concentrate on my responsibility for Marines in combat. When I had time to think, I thought a lot about my wife and my hopes for our family. But I knew that if I didn’t concentrate on the job, I would never get to fulfill those hopes. 

You wrote to your father after the firefight for which you were awarded the Silver Star. 

I wanted him to know I’d done well. In case I didn’t make it, I wanted him to know I had died trying. He had led a platoon in the First World War; I suppose I wanted him to know that I understood something of his experience.  

Shortly after my own war, I asked Dad, “When do the bad memories fade?”

“It will take a long, long time, but finally they will fade.”

As of today, mine have not.

(Make Peace or Die, 23)
Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Charles U. Daly, on the day he was awarded the Silver Star (photo/ Department of Defense.)

A few weeks later, you finally got Michael’s picture in the mail.

That was good. I noticed the Heath chocolate bar in the envelope first. The photo was a big surprise. I wish I still had it, but it got ruined by the melted chocolate. 

The platoon sergeant and I laid-up in an abandoned enemy bunker… An attack on our position that night could have doomed us, but it didn’t come. I felt good. Even though I still had little hope of living to hold my son, a picture Mary had sent me of him had arrived in a letter enclosed with a melted Heath bar. Having seen my son Michael’s face, I suddenly had more to lose. 

(Make Peace or Die, 97.) 

Nowadays, a Marine in the field can sometimes send texts or make video calls. Sometimes, you can even get in touch with your family via satellite from the most remote outpost. 

I can’t even imagine that. 

What would be your advice to families writing to a loved one who’s downrange? 

Start with good news. Try to have good news. Bad news can wait, but if you have to pass it on, be delicate about it. Life at home isn’t always going to be all lovely every day, but it helps to let your son or daughter or spouse know that everything’s alright and there’s no need to feel bad about not being home to deal with life’s little challenges. But I don’t think it’s possible to say the wrong thing. No matter what you write, your letter is going to be the bright spot in their day. 

My one suggestion, based on experience: SAVE YOUR LETTERS! When we were working on my book, we managed to find a couple of my letters home, but most were lost to time. I don’t remember what I wrote. 


Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Make Peace or Die: A life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares is available through Amazon and Indiebound, or you can ask your local bookstore to order it. An early draft was featured on Jocko Podcast episode 196.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The spectacular naval origin of the phrase, ‘son of a gun’

These days, Americans are less likely to exclaim “son of a gun” than the more-explicit “son of a b*tch,” but there was a time when “son of a gun” itself was not used in mixed company — and that time was more than 200 years after the age of sail.


It seems the Royal Navy, while not keen on having women aboard its ships, sometimes overlooked the practice. Different times throughout its history saw sailors of the Royal Navy either bring either their wives or lovers aboard ships that might be out at sea for a while. While it wasn’t officially tolerated, there are instances of a ship’s company turning a blind eye to it.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

At this point, it’s important that everyone knows I’m talking about prostitutes.

Everyone aboard a ship was counted in the ship’s log back in those days. The log was a detailed account of who was working, who came aboard, who left, who died, etc. It also kept track of who was born aboard one of the King or Queen’s ships. It was uncommon, but it did happen. Women had to get around the world just like anyone else. The Royal Navy kept this count, just like any other ship.

But say there was one of the aforementioned female guests aboard a ship. If that woman just happened to give birth aboard ship, that child would have to be kept in the log. If a child was born with uncertain paternity — that is to say, there were too many possibilities as to who the father could be — the newborn still had to be counted in the log.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Like an old-timey recording of the Maury Show.

If this was the case, the child’s name was recorded as the “son of a gun” — the son of a seaman below decks. Eventually, the common use of the phrase began to refer to any child born aboard a ship, even those of officers accompanied by their wives. Then, it began to refer to any child of a military man, not just the bastard children of sailors.

Some 200-plus years later, it’s used to lovingly refer to a mischievous person or as an expression of awe or esteem. To use an expletive or insult in the same vein, we’ve moved on as a society. Who knows where language will go next?

Articles

How a deadly insurgent sniper in Iraq taunted his pursuers

It was a huge morale boost for the battle-weary soldiers living at Patrol Base Murray the morning they got a visit from the Army’s top general. They couldn’t have imagined that anyone of that importance would come to their dusty, dangerous slice of the combat zone.


It felt good, but less than an hour after he and his entourage went wheels up, five of their fellow soldiers would be dead, the victims of a cunning sniper who sucked them into his web with ruthlessly primitive tactics.

Also read: This is what goes through a sniper’s mind before the shot

The first victim was Spc. William Edwards. On a patrol outside the wire during the four-star general’s visit, he cautiously popped his Bradley’s driver hatch open three-quarters of the way to peer outside, and was shot high on his back squarely between the shoulders.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
A soldier scans the terrain through the hatch of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It was on a vehicle like this one that Spc. William Edwards was targeted by a deadly insurgent sniper. (Photo from Department of Defense)

“It was a great sniper shot,” then-Lt. Col. Ken Adgie, commander of 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, said of the clean hit, which Edwards’ platoon immediately knew had come from a three-story house about 200 meters away.

As the medics and docs in the aid station worked to save Edwards’ life, the rest of his buddies from Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon went into reaction mode and headed straight for the house to find the sniper.

The battalion, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, was on mission in the region of Arab Jabour about six miles southeast of the Baghdad, a lush agrarian area where magnificent houses that once belonged to the ruling Sunni elite grace the banks of the Tigris River.

It was now teeming with al-Qaeda operatives and their hired help. The troops called it “IED Alley” — aptly named as the division’s tally of men lost after a year in combat was more than 150, mostly to buried bombs. But the sniper threat was a constant.

The presumed sniper house was on a ribbon of land between a one-lane hardball road and the river less than a mile south of Patrol Base Murray, and 2nd Platoon had surrounded it within 15 minutes of the incident with Edwards.

Four soldiers – Sgt. Scott Kirkpatrick, Spc. Justin Penrod, Sgt. Andrew Lancaster and Staff Sgt. William Scates – went into the house to clear it. They entered through the back door.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
It was in a house much like this on in Arab Jabour that the soldiers pursuing Spc. Edwards’ killer met their grim fate. (DOD photo)

“There was a trip wire deep in the house at the end of the hallway going into the living room. A pressure sensitive wire, something under the carpet,” Adgie said.

Unbeknownst to the soldiers, the house was booby trapped with as many as four 155 mm artillery rounds enhanced with homemade explosives and when the first soldier stepped on the trigger, it tripped a circuit and detonated the charge, blowing everyone up in a fiery explosion.

The soldiers were killed, a heavy toll that raised to five the number of soldiers the battalion lost that day, all within 30 minutes.

“The explosion was huge,” Adgie said. “Structurally the house stood, but it caught fire then burned for six hours. We had to wait for it to go out and the Navy EOD guys to go in and make sure it was safe before we could get one of the bodies out.”

Early that evening, with the scope of the tragedy barely having sunk in yet, the company commander and platoon leader went back to the house with an interpreter and climbed an inside stairway to the third floor to see if they could find a clue about the sniper.

On the wall, in Arabic, was a hateful taunt from the sniper himself, a message that read, roughly, “This is where the sniper got your guys.”

But the sniper was long gone and had left nothing behind but the note.

Infuriated by the deadly “gotcha” they had found, the unit’s human intelligence collection team went to work immediately, plying every source in every corner of their battle space to find out who the sniper was.

One of their best resources was a small team of Iraqis the battalion called their “Bird Dogs,” three men – former insurgents – who lived with the unit at Patrol Base Murray and ran a cell phone operation to reach out to a network of sympathetic friends in Arab Jabour.

The sniper, it turns out, was already famous in the Al Qaeda-friendly area for his highly successful and prominent ambush and a short 48 hours later, the U.S. soldiers, with the help of the Bird Dogs, had a name and a description.

He was Mohamed Uthman, a 5-foot, 2-inch tall foot soldier for Al Qaeda who had a reputation for being a murderous criminal. And, no surprise, he was already known as a “high value target” on a list the Americans had of their most wanted.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
When Army units identified the name of the sniper who killed five soldiers in one day, they launched an operation to fix and destroy the sharpshooter who taunted them. (DOD photo)

“Word on the street was, this is the guy who did it, and he kept on working after that. He was a cold blooded killer and he killed more Iraqis than he did Americans,” Adgie said.

The mean little sniper eluded capture for months, until one night when he made the decision to go out and kill people with the wrong insurgent mortar team.

It was December 11, 2007, four months to the day he had snuffed out the lives of the five soldiers, and Adgie cleared an Air Force F-16 hot to drop a bomb on the mortar team, unaware that Uthman was one of the teammates.

They found out after a site exploitation team identified one of the dead as the diminutive sniper.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Soldier targeted the taunting sniper with a bomb dropped from coalition aircraft. (DOD video via GifBrewery)

“When Adgie lost those soldiers in that house borne IED, I flew in and we were on our knees praying and crying like babies,” said then-Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of 3rd ID. “We learned, but we learned the hard way. If something looked like it might be rigged with explosives, we just blew it up. I wasn’t going to allow my kids to go in there again because we’d already lost four.”

The tiny killer was gone, but insurgent snipers continued to bedevil the troops, said Lynch, who recalled the death of a soldier in an Abrams M1A1 tank, who, like Edwards in the Bradley, opened his hatch while the tank was on the move and was shot by a sniper from a range they estimated at about 1,000 meters.

“He’s a thinking, adaptive enemy,” Lynch said. “They watched our movements and based on their training they could pace their engagement on the rate of movement of the vehicle.”

Lynch pointed out that the division’s brigade and battalion commanders under his command had all been to Iraq at least once before and had come to know the value of having well trained and equipped sniper teams.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
After crawling through grass and brush toward their target, a sniper team from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-36 Infantry Division, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, set their sights on their target during a two-week training school where U.S. Soldiers trained Iraqi army special forces at the Al Kindi Iraqi army base in Mosul, Iraq.

In Arab Jabour the sniper teams were used consistently to overwatch IED hot spots and other things like long range cameras placed on elevated platforms. The cameras provided overwatch as well, but the snipers came into play and could shoot from concealed locations if anyone messed with those cameras.

“There’s clearly a continuing role for our snipers. They found their niche on the battlefield,” Lynch said.

Gina Cavallaro is the author of Sniper: American Single-Shot Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This incredible story was brought to you by Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions which are set to release the military thriller “The Wall” May 12. The movie, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena, is a harrowing story pitting the infamous insurgent sniper known as “Juba” against an American sharpshooter who uses an unsteady wall for protection as he tries to rescue his wounded comrade.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 surprising things North Korean spies have to learn

North Korea and the United States don’t have a lot in common. What they do share is a need for gathering intelligence — typically about each other. While the United States’ intelligence agencies might have a difficult time penetrating the North’s rigid class system and meticulous tracking of its citizens, the Hermit Kingdom can exploit the open societies of the West to plant its operatives – and it does.


Kim Hyon-hui was one of those operatives. The daughter of a high-level North Korean diplomat during the Cold War, she trained rigorously in the North as an intelligence operative. She went on a number of missions, including the infamous 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines flight 858, which was personally ordered by President Kim Il-Sung to frighten teams from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Much of her training would not surprise anyone, but some of it might.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Japanese national Yaeko Taguchi was kidnapped after dropping her kids off at school at age 22. She’s been training spies ever since.

Japanese

There’s a special school for North Korea’s spy agents, located outside the capital city of Pyongyang. There, they learn the usual spy stuff we’ve all come to expect from watching movies and television: explosives, martial arts, and scuba diving. What’s most unusual is not just that this school also teaches its agents Japanese, but who teaches it to them.

For the longest time, North Korea denied ever having abducted Japanese citizens for any reason. But a number of defectors, including the captured spy, Kim Hyon-hui, described learning Japanese from a native speaker, Yaeko Taguchi. North Korea has been accused of abducting a number of Japanese citizens to put them to work for similar reasons. The North’s disdain for Japan dates back to World War II, owing to the atrocities committed on Koreans by Japanese troops. North Koreans like Japan as much as they like the United States. Maybe less.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Supermarkets

It may or may not surprise you to learn that North Korean grocery stores are very much unlike any Western grocery stores. Most of the time, North Koreans don’t actually go to supermarkets, no matter how much food is available to them. North Korean doesn’t have supermarkets as we know them.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Credit Cards

The idea of using plastic instead of hard currency was a huge surprise to Kim. She had to be trained not just to use a credit card, but how credit cards work in general, considering much of the technology used to create this system of payment wasn’t available to North Korea back then (and still isn’t, but that’s by choice).

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

It somehow took practice to dance like this.

Nightclubs

The nightlife of North Korea seems like something from the pre-sexual revolution 1960s. While beer and soju are widely consumed in Pyongyang, even in the capital there are no obvious bars or nightclubs. Many North Koreans spend their evenings with their families at the dinner table or by going to concerts and family fun parks, small carnivals that stay in the same place all the time. To go to a European disco and party like a Westerner required training.

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 things every American should know about the Purple Heart

On Friday, August 7, National Purple Heart Day will be observed. Around the country, states, counties, and cities will pause to recognize the service and sacrifice of their citizens. Observed since 2014, National Purple Heart Day is a time for Americans to pause and remember the bravery, courage and sacrifice of the service members who risk their lives for our freedoms.

Here are some things you need to know about the Purple Heart and how this solemn day is observed throughout the country.


Purple Heart Trail 

The Purple Heart Trail was established in 1992 by the Military Order of Purple Hearts. It aims to be a symbolic honorary system of roads, highways and other monuments that give tribute to the service members who have been awarded the Purple Heart medals. Currently, there are designated sections in 45 states as well as in Guam. Additionally, many cities and towns around the country choose to become Purple Heart cities/towns to honor the veterans and service members from the area.

On August 7, gatherings around the country, states, counties and cities will pause in recognition of the sacrifice and service of veterans. Here are more things you need to know about the Purple Heart:

Generally, Major League Baseball teams pay homage to their local Purple Heart recipients during pre-game events and then again during the 7th inning. Because of current conditions, it’s unclear whether or not MLB will continue that tradition.

At local VFWs, American Legions, and other veteran organizations, remembrance meetings will be held for fallen heroes. Special events usually take place to thank active-duty personnel, veterans, and Purple Heart recipients.

The Purple Heart medal is presented to military personnel who have either been wounded in action or killed as a result of enemy action. Since the award was created in 1782, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been presented.

The Purple Heart has been around for a long, long time.

It’s the oldest military award still presented to service members. The predecessor to the Purple Heart, the Fidelity Medallion, was created in 1780 by the Continental Congress – but it was only awarded to three soldiers that year. Then, two years later, President George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit.

The Badge of Military Merit is considered the first US military decoration and the Purple Heart predecessor.

Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit in the form of a purple heart. He determined that it be given to soldiers who displayed “unusual gallantry in battle,” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way.” Then, the award was primarily forgotten for roughly two hundred years. It wasn’t until the bicentennial of Washington’s birth that Gen. MacArthur made an effort to revive the medal. It was still used to commemorate bravery, but that criteria changed in WWII when it became a way to recognize combat injuries and deaths.

This honor can be awarded to officers and enlisted personnel

The Purple Heart is one of the first awards in military history given to enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers. Service members of any rank are eligible to receive a Purple Heart.

There is no official record for every Purple Heart medal awarded to American service members.

During the Revolutionary War, there were just 3 Purple Hearts awarded, roughly 320,000 during WWI, and 1 million Purple Hearts presented during WWII. The Korean War awarded 118,600 medals, the Vietnam War 351,000 Purple Hearts, and the Persian Gulf War, which lasted 209 days, awarded 607 Purple Hearts.

The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ongoing since 2001, and to date, 12,500 Purple Hearts have been awarded.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart 

Those who are awarded a Purple Heart can join MOPH, an organization that was formed in 1932. It’s the only veteran service organization composed of only “combat” veterans. Currently, there are about 45,000 MOPH members. Find out more about the organization here.

Though Purple Heart Day isn’t an officially recognized holiday, it’s still an important one for our military community. In this time of social distancing, it might not be possible to visit military organizations or museums. Instead, use #PurpleHeartDay to post on social media, hold socially-distant events, and take a few moments of silence to remember those who have paid the price for American freedoms.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 spies that creatively destroyed the enemy

Spies sacrifice a normal life to provide their country with actionable intelligence. Their patriotism comes at the cost of risking life and limb, imprisonment, and public damnation. Often, they have to think outside the box to accomplish the mission at all costs. The skills earned through the crucible of training combined with a mastery of language and culture make them an exceptional force on (and off) the battlefield.

Intelligence officers aren’t usually recognized (for obvious reasons) for their work in clandestine operations, but their technique, brilliance, and sex appeal has captured the imagination of the masses for generations. When the Government demands secrecy and surgical destruction, they send the best of the best.

Listed below, in no particular order, are five times that spies broke the mold to make the impossible possible.


This OSS Agent Turned Dinner Rolls into Bombs

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Frank Gleason used dinner rolls to transport explosives

Frank Gleason was an officer in the Army’s Engineer Corps during World War II that commanded the most devastatingly brilliant sabotage missions against the Japanese occupation of China. Leveraging small unit leadership and training from Camp X, he lead attacks on bridges, rail lines, and communication systems.

He later served as a supply officer at Cam Ranh Bay in the South China Sea, sending supplies to troops in Vietnam. Gleason was presented the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award, on March 21, 2018.

Virginia Hall’s critical role as an American spy

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Virginia Hall smuggled documents inside her fake leg

Virginia Hall had a hunting accident early on in life that left her with an amputated leg. It was her prosthetic limb (which she named “Cuthbert”) that ended her career aspirations of becoming a diplomat. During World War II, she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and spent 15 months supporting the French Underground.

She also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) by relaying information of German activity and disrupting their logistics whenever possible. She smuggled documents in her prosthetic leg and evaded detection with forged French documents. The Germans called her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.”

The Grave of the Man Who Never Was: Operation Mincemeat

www.youtube.com

Major William Martin was a corpse

Glyndwr Michael wasn’t a spy, and nor was Major William Martin, but the deception here was a monumental success of intelligence operations. Glyndwr Michael was a homeless man who died from eating rat poison. His corpse, however, was destined for greater things. The body was drafted and promoted into the Royal Marines. British Intelligence created a backstory for the corpse, complete with a picture of a fiancee, two love letters, a diamond ring with receipt, a furious letter from his disapproving father, and a notice of overdraft from the bank. The body was dressed according to its rank and sent to float off the coast of Spain, attached to a briefcase that contained a (phony) letter, outlining allied war plans. The Germans discovered these plans, adjusted their strategy accordingly, and, in turn, left a key landing spot without important defenses.

The story of love-struck, ID-losing, overdrafting Royal Marine who was marrying a girl his father didn’t approve of was convincing enough to the Germans. You know, as a veteran, I feel personally attacked by the fact that they believed this without question…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNUNSp0dG30
The Death of the Rainbow Warrior

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 Louis-Pierre Dillais disguised himself as a hippie

Operation Satanic (originally Operation Satanique) was an attack on the Rainbow Warrior on July 10, 1985, ship was owned and operated by GreenPeace and docked in Port Auckland, New Zealand. The crew was on a mission to protest a planned nuclear test in Moruroa by the French.

Louis-Pierre Dillais and Jean-Luc Kister joined the protesters under the ruse that they shared their ideologies. When they believed the crew had disembarked, they attached explosives to the hull of the ship. However, some of the crew returned earlier than anticipated, and the detonation that sunk the ship also killed a crew member.

Meet the KGB Spies Who Invented Fake News | NYT Opinion

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Gorbachev ordered the KGB to lie about AIDS

In the 1980s, the former Soviet Union created a disinformation campaign to convince the world that the United States created the AIDS/HIV virus in Fort Detrick, Maryland, to kill off African-Americans and the LGBT community. The Soviets made their move, and with frightening efficiency, the world believed that the U.S. would do such a thing without evidence. Eventually, we forced the Soviet Union to its knees in 1991, but they fought dirty the whole way down.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This heavy French tank could be pierced with a pistol

French tank designers had an ambitious idea before World War I: What if they could create a vehicle with the protection of an armored car but the firepower of an artillery gun?


Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Saint Chamond tanks sit in a line in World War I.
(Public domain)

 

The design that eventually emerged packed a massive 75mm artillery gun into the nose of a tank named the Saint Chamond, but the offensive focus of the designers left glaring oversights in mobility and armor, allowing even pistol rounds through in some circumstances.

While French officers had considered designing an armored weapon platform before the war, the outbreak of hostilities put the effort on old. As Britain started building their first tanks, France got in on the action with two heavy tank designs of their own, the Schneider and the Saint Chamond.

The Saint Chamond was basically built around the French 75mm cannon, and this was significant firepower in World War I. Most Brtitish tanks had 57mm cannons, and the rest of of the world simply didn’t have tanks.

A Saint Chamond tank sits in a museum in western France.
(Fat Yankey, CC BY-SA 2.5)
 

But the design compromises needed to make space for the massive cannon were significant. The vehicle drove on relatively thin and short treads, and the weight of the vehicle pushed it hard against the soil, making it questionable whether the tank would be able to navigate the muddy craters of No Man’s Land.

Worse, the cannon needed to be mounted at the front, and it couldn’t fit properly between the treads while leaving room for the cannon’s crew. So, instead, the entire length of the cannon had to sit forward of the treads, causing the tank’s center of balance to be far forwards of the center of the vehicle. As the French would later learn, this made it nearly impossible to cross trenches in the St. Chamond. Instead, crews would tip into the trench and get their gun stuck in the dirt.

Thanks to the limited traction from the treads, the tank couldn’t even back away from the trench and get back into the fight. Once tipped forward, they usually needed towed out.

But, worst of all, in an attempt to keep the already-heavy vehicle from getting too much heavier, they opted for light armor on the sides of the tank. While the front was only a little thicker, it was, at least, sloped. Col. Jean Baptiste Eugene Estienne, a French artillery officer who is now known as the Father of French Tanks, saw the Saint Chamond and tested its armor by firing his pistol at it.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
The only surviving Saint Chamond heavy tank takes part in Tank Fest 2017, 100 years after the tank first entered service.
(Alan Wilson, CC BY-SA 2.0)
 

The pistol round passed through the quarter-inch armor.

In the designers’ defense, the St. Chamond’s armor was soon upgraded to 11mm at a minimum, a little under a half-inch. The front armor was up to 19mm, almost .75 inches.

But still, when the British and French tanks made their combat debuts, the shortcomings of early tank design were quickly made apparent. Crews from both countries complained of bullets punching through the sides or, nearly as bad, impacting the armor so hard that bits of metal exploded off from the hull and tore through the crew.

French tanks had even worse trouble crossing muddy sections than their British counterparts, getting bogged down quickly. And that was if the engines held up. Often, they would breakdown instead.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
The French Saint Chamond tank had a powerful, impressive gun, but it had weak armor and was front-heavy.
(Public domain)
 

As the war continued, though, France did find a successful design: the Renault FT, a light tank with a rotating turret, 37mm gun, and decent speed. It did have even lighter armor than the St, Chamond, but its configuration allowed the road wheels to help protect the crew from the sides, and the speed let them overwhelm German defenses before too many rounds could hit them.

Best, the Renault FT could be produced in much higher numbers, meaning that German defenders couldn’t often concentrate fire on any single target.

The design was so successful that it was one of the designs America licensed for its tank corps as it joined the war and stood up its armored forces. America ordered over 4,000 of the tank, known in American inventories as M1917s, but none of them reached the actual forces in France until after the armistice.

Still, the design was liked by U.S. Army Capts. Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton, officers who would create America’s armored strength and later rise to even greater fame in World War II.

Today, the closest modern equivalent to the St. Chamond isn’t even a tank. After all, the vehicle was created to carry a large cannon into battle, and, by the end of the war, it was used more as mobile artillery than to directly attack enemy trenches. As such, it’s more like the M109 Paladin than the M1 Abrams.

And, as artillery, the St. Chamond wasn’t bad. Its weak armor wasn’t a big deal when far from the front lines, and it wasn’t important that an armored artillery platform couldn’t quickly cross a trench.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Peace we seek, peace we keep: Naval ship named in MoH recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams’ honor

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, an infantry rifleman corporal with 3rd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, Charlie Company during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, is having a United States naval ship commissioned in his honor on March 7, 2020 in Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.


Williams received a Medal of Honor from President Truman for his efforts as special weapons unit in a flamethrower demolition group in advancing US forces on Feb. 23, 1945.

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Williams was born in 1923 in Fairmont, West Virginia. He decided to join the Marine Corps in May 1943. During his time in the armed forces, Williams fought the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, and Williams was a pivotal component in The United States’ victory.

“When we arrived on shore it was really chaotic because the Marines of the 4th Division had been pinned to that area for days; two days at least,” said Williams. “Many of them had been wounded and evacuated so there were packs and rifles and jeeps blowing up and tanks stuck in the sand.”

Williams shared how the Marines would “belly out” and the tracks would turn but couldn’t get any traction because the sand was so loose. He recalls how when he first arrived from the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), or Higgins Boat, Marines that had been killed were rolled in their ponchos.

The goal was to destroy as many of the enemy’s pill boxes, or strategic bunkers that housed weaponry and allow protection from enemy forces. Williams used a flamethrower to take down the Japanese pillboxes for hours.

Upon his return home in 1945 he received a Medal of Honor award for his bravery by President Truman.

“From that day on, I took on a new life.” said Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, Medal of Honor Recipient and World War II Veteran. “I became a public figure that I had no plan whatsoever to be.”

He retired after twenty years in the Marine Corps Reserve and became the Commandant of the Veterans Nursing Home in Barboursville, West Virginia for almost 10 years. “It’s almost like a dream,” said Williams. “It’s something that I dreamed would never happened.”

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Williams discussed how a Marine saw a ship with a Medal of Honor recipients name on it 20 years ago and he wanted to have a ship named after Williams as well.

Williams was told that that there would be a petition to have a ship named in his honor, and for several years there were petitions and paperwork to vouch for Williams having a ship named after him. Williams did not believe that a ship could be named after a corporal, and believed that was something reserved only for presidents and generals.

“I never dreamed it would happen,” said Williams. “I never thought it was possible.”

The Department of the Navy called Williams and told him that the petition would be approved. Upon approval, Williams needed to find a sponsor for the ship.

In naval history, the sponsor is traditionally one woman, usually the wife of the person having the ship named after him. This tradition was broken because Williams did not want to choose between his two daughters, so the Navy allowed both of his daughters to be the sponsors of his ship because his wife is deceased.

After picking a sponsor, Williams was required to pick a motto for the ship. The ships motto will be: peace we seek, peace we keep.

“I fought for quite some time; I could not come up with anything,” said Williams. “One morning, at about two o’clock in the morning I woke up and there it was. I jumped up and wrote it down before I lost it.”

Williams describes how he never dreamed that the Navy would actually use those words. He concluded the interview by sharing the principles that he chooses to live by.

“Serving others gives you a satisfaction that you cannot get anywhere else.” said Williams.

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Things seem bad but this is actually the most peaceful time in human history

“Of all the conflicts going on, none is an active war between countries.” This is the heart of the argument Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell makes for war being, well, over.

Yes, there are civil wars, and yes, there are local conflicts — or even international conflicts (for example, the United States continues to fight terrorist organizations throughout the world), but their impact is much smaller than a war between nations.


“When two nations engage in war, they can mobilize much bigger forces, have access to all of the state’s resources and logistics, and almost all of the population,” narrates the host of Is War Over? — A Paradox Explained. This video from 2014 (see below) still holds up and explores the notion that humans are in fact learning from the past — and maybe even phasing out war.

The world is still recovering from the Cold War and colonialism, but even so, there are many positive trends that are being observed. According to the video, victory for one side of a civil war was very common until 1989, but today, negotiated endings have increased.

There are also fewer attacks between nation states, which the video attributes to the following four reasons:

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Russia causes a lot of problems, though…

1. Democratization

Democracies hardly ever fight each other. The most recent example is the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, a one-week conflict that ended with a ceasefire agreement.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Just think of what box office numbers would look like without China

2. Globalization

War is not an effective means of achieving economic goals. Think about the mutual interests of, say, the United States and China — even though our political ideologies differ, we rely heavily on each other for financial progress.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945. It is currently made up of 193 Member States.

(UN Photo by Joao Araujo Pinto)

3. “War is so 20th century”

There are international entities that govern laws of war now. The Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention are two primary examples, as well as the United Nations.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory within Azerbaijan, which remains susceptible to border skirmish and military attacks, despite peace talks and efforts to uphold a ceasefire.

4. Borders are mostly fixed now

“After World War II, territorial wars generally stopped when most countries pledged to accept international borders.” There are still conflicts and border disputes, but the aforementioned international entities will often intervene, securing resolutions much more peacefully than before.

The video lays out the road to everlasting peace — or at least the marker for it. Check it out below:

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

The First World War brought a level of destruction that the world had never seen before. At the start of the war, only the French, Russians, English, and Italians stood against the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and the Ottomans with their respective territories/colonies/provinces each filing in under their protectorate states. Every corner of the world was forced to take sides, officially or otherwise.

Neutral nations would be asked politically at first, but were quickly strong-armed into supporting one side or the other. This same fate could have befallen Afghans — who were distrusting of British India to the East and the Allied Russians to the north — if the negotiations hadn’t gone spectacularly wrong.


Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Too easy, right? This is only the “Graveyard of Empires” we’re talking about here.

In September, 1915, the Germans saw in opportunity in exploiting the Afghan tribes’ strategic advantage against the Allied troops that had left British India to fight in Europe. Persia had been officially neutral, but swung sides depending on who was more in control (Note: This was before the Turkish Invasion of Persia, which would eventually solidify their anti-Ottoman stance). If Afghanistan would join the Ottomans, the Persians would certainly follow. After all, the Afghan people hated the British and most of the ruling parties. All that stood in the way of a Central Powers-controlled Middle East and a wide-open causeway through India was a hesitant Amir Habibullah Khan, then the leader of Afghanistan.

The Ottomans leveraged much religious control over their fellow Muslim nations. Grassroots protests ran rampant in British-controlled India. Things were at a tipping point and all it would take was some sweet talking by a Bavarian officer, Oscar Niedermayer, on official orders from the Kaiser to go win them over. On paper, the plan was flawless.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Mahendra Pratap, centre, with (left to right) Maulavi Barkatullah, Werner Otto von Hentig, Kazim Bey, and Walter Röhr. Kabul, 1916

Don’t worry. Niedermayer maybe won’t screw things up just yet.

Niedermayer and his team traveled to Constantinople to meet up with their Turkish counterparts. Despite being in friendly territory, the mission was to be highly covert — one that, if compromised, could end in death for everyone involved. Yet, when the Turks showed up to the Pera Palace Hotel, they found the Germans sh*tfaced drunk, openly telling everyone that they’re going on an Afghanistan Expedition. Understandably, the Turks said, “f*ck it” and left, unwilling to be part of a botched mission that would have them executed if gone poorly due to the actions of some drunken idiots.

After the disaster in Constantinople, Berlin sent in Prussian diplomat, Werner-Otto von Hentig, to join in. Von Hentig was a consummate professional and had brought with him Raja Mahendra Pratap, an Indian royal who wanted to take control back from the British, to aid in negotiations. Niedermayer took great offense to this and constantly butted heads with von Hentig.

The combined teams finally reached Kabul to start negotiations anew.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
(U.S. Navy)

And celebrate they did. In only the truest of German manners.

Von Hentig and Pratap made friends with the Afghan ruler. Meanwhile, Afghan print media started stirring up anti-British sentiment. Months went by and negotiations continued. The war had started to cripple the Allies and Russia was on the verge of collapse after the “Great Retreat.”

In December, Amir Habibullah Khan ordered the drafting of treaty of friendship to establish an agreement between Afghanistan and Germany. By April 1916, things were looking good for the Central Powers. The enemy was getting weaker and they were inches away from gaining a strategic ally. They would, of course, celebrate.

The details of the event are still hazy, but it’s widely assumed that they got sh*tfaced once again — this time, in a Muslim country that strictly forbade alcohol. This turned into strong condemnation from Afghan leadership — even those who once supported their cause.

The Niedermayer–von Hentig Expedition was sent packing. Soon after, Persia was invaded by the Turks, which gave rise to a hard-line hatred of the Central Powers. As history shows, the Central Powers lost WWI. Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated after the war’s conclusion by an anti-British coup that lead into the Third Anglo-Afghan War — which was lost in spectacular fashion.

All of history as we know it may have been rewritten were it not for one fateful night.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the luckiest sailor on earth survived being sucked into a jet engine

During Desert Storm, the USS Theodore Roosevelt was on high alert. Petty Officers JD Bridges and Michael McDonald were prepping an A-6 Intruder fighter jet before takeoff. It was business as usual.


Mere seconds before the jet will sped down the runway, an accident that forever changed flight operations procedures occurred.

Bridges was completing checks to ensure the fighter was connected to the deck’s catapult for launch when he got too close to the high-powered engine and the turbine intake sucked him up in a split-second.

At full throttle, the Intruder’s engine generates 9,300 pounds of thrust — twice as strong as the most powerful tornado on record.

After Bridges got sucked in, the engine’s force violently pulled off his float coat, goggles, and the helmet from his head. Investigators believe that because his helmet was shredded by the sharp spinning blades, it partially jammed the engine.

The way the engine was designed, it ceased its own power and shut down immediately.

Miraculously, Bridges’ shoulder wedged against the nose cone as the engine slowed and he managed to remove himself out from the powerful intake space — escaping certain death. The aircraft’s pilot was ready to take off when he heard the disruption and powered down right away.

Also Read: This is why landing on an aircraft carrier never gets easy

Within moments, Bridges was carried to safety, suffering from a broken collarbone, superficial cuts from a few pieces of shrapnel, and a blown ear drum.  The Navy now uses this historic video as a training tool of what not to do while on the flight deck.

Bridges at a news conference a day after the accident. (Lithdad, YouTube)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This powerful speech will get you through deployment Groundhog Day

In 1992, Jim Valvano – a former basketball player, coach of the 1983 champion North Carolina State men’s basketball team, and broadcasting personality – was diagnosed with metastatic cancer that had spread to his spine.


Up until this point, the charismatic Queens, N.Y.-native was best known for his celebration after defeating the Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA championship game. You can see “Jimmy V” running onto the court about 9 seconds into the video below:

“Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people, too.”

It was just a decade later that his life was tragically cut short. But before he went, even knowing the end could be near, he was able to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. It was a speech that echoed for years to come and remains one of the most memorable.

Those are words appropriate for fighting cancer, being the underdog in the country’s biggest basketball tournament, or even fighting alongside your brothers and sisters in arms, far from your family and loved ones.

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day… Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy… think about it: If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

But about a week or so before, Jimmy V gave a speech commemorating the Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA championship to the team, current players, and Wolfpack fans. That speech was one for the ages. It will keep you shouting the mantra of, “Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up!” during any rough time in your life.

 

Jim Valvano died from the cancer he was determined to fight just a month or so after his legendary ESPY Awards speech. His name and spirit live on through the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Jim Valvano, truly, never gave up.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How we got a pilot’s-eye view of dogfights in the Korean War

If you’ve watched documentaries about the battles of World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, then chances are you’ve seen gun-camera footage. Whether it’s air-to-air or air-to-ground action, these attention-grabbing videos give us an idea of the intensity of combat aviation — but how do we get them?


In this day and age, we’re lucky to have plenty of digital tools to easily capture footage, download it to a hard drive, and upload it to YouTube or some other cloud storage service. Back in the day, however, all they had was film — and this film was often very useful. It gave intelligence officers some idea of what the pilots actually did. After all, it wasn’t unusual for a fired-up pilot to inflate their kill counts upon return.

But it wasn’t always easy to get that film.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

This gun-camera footage from a Navy F9F Panther shows a MiG-15 in its last few seconds of life.

(US Navy)

The process was a lengthy one. The film was first taken to a central processing laboratory. To save space, the film was placed in a number of magazines and then placed into one large roll. Loading that roll had to be done in total darkness. Why? In order to view film, it must first be developed and if the film is exposed to light prematurely, it’s ruined.

The entire process included rinsing to fully process the negatives, editing the processed negatives (which was done without computers, by the way), adding timestamps, and more. All in all, there were ten steps, including a test screening.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

This is the final product of a long process done by specialists who did hard work.

(Jeff Quitney / YouTube)

You can see how some Air Force specialists did this job during the Korean War in the video below. As an added bonus, after they give you a run-down of all the developmental steps, you get to see a MiG-15 in the sights of a F-86 Sabre’s gun-camera. The folks who made it possible for you to see that footage never faced enemy fire, but they certainly worked almost as hard as the Sabre’s pilot did!

Check out the video below to see how we get that intense footage.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMBGbrLBjE4

www.youtube.com

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