How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

“If you are qualified, fate has a way of getting you to the right place at the right time – tho’ sometimes it appears to be a long, long wait,” professed Marine Col. Dave Shoup.


Fate was certainly on Shoup’s side at Tarawa Atoll, and he didn’t shrink from the occasion.

The 38-year-old Indiana native was one of the four Marines awarded the Medal of Honor for their deeds at Tarawa Atoll in November 1943, one of the most brutal engagements fought in the Pacific during WWII.

Shoup was the only recipient to survive the battle and receive this honor in person.

The battle as a whole was plagued by bad planning and poor decision making, but individual acts of heroism and the sheer willpower of the troops engaged in combat won the day for the Americans.

 

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
General David M. Shoup (1904-1983), Medal of Honor recipient and 22nd Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (1960-1963). (Photo courtesy of the United States Marine Corps)

Shoup was born in December 1904 on a farm in Battle Ground, Indiana, near the site of General William H. Harrison’s victory at Tippecanoe in 1811. Shoup would mirror the same bold leadership qualities of the leader of that battle fought in his backyard 90 years before.

Upon completing high school, Shoup desired to attend college and not remain as an “Indiana plowboy” for the remainder of his life. He attended DePauw University as an ROTC student and successfully graduated in 1926. He transferred to the Marines in the same year after spending only one month in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.

Leading up to 1943, Shoup spent time on a number of assignments in the United States, China, and Iceland. He slowly climbed up the ranks in his 15 years of service leading up to WWII, when he was promoted to colonel.

He had a reputation of being a straightforward officer, earning the praise of the men under his command for sharing in their hardships on and off the battlefield. One correspondent described him as “a squat red-faced man, with a bull neck,” known by those who surrounded him as a “profane shouter of orders.”

The greatest trial of Shoup’s life came during the invasion of the Japanese-held Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
U.S. Marines storm the beach at Tarawa Atoll, November 1943. (U.S. Archives)

Tarawa Atoll consisted of a series of islands surrounded by a large coral reef stretching up to 1,100 yards from the shoreline. The Japanese occupied Tarawa Atoll in December 1941 and spent two years leading up to the battle turning it into a formidable obstacle. They fortified the islands with barbed wire and a network of trenches and built an airfield.

The Japanese garrison consisted of about 5,000 men, all willing to die to the last man. Occupation of the island was critical for the U.S. to establish forward operating bases in the Pacific, and the Japanese continued to fortify it up to the day of the invasion.

Shoup was one of the 20,000 Marines of the 2nd Marine Division to land at Tarawa Atoll on November 20, 1943. The Marine division — meshed with veterans of Guadalcanal and raw recruits — made their way to the beach transported by amtracs and landing craft.

The small perimeter of the beachhead became cluttered with bodies and debris as parties of Marines attempted to gain a foothold and power their way inland, while exposed to a barrage of Japanese machine gun and mortar fire. Chaos reigned supreme as the some of the vehicles loaded with reinforcements became bogged down on the reef.

For a time, it appeared the attack on Tarawa Atoll would falter, as many men were pinned down in the shallow water near the reef, either unable or unwilling to move to reinforce the beachhead.

Shoup ordered his men to advance forward from the reef to the beachhead as Japanese artillery, machine gun barrages, and rifle fire rained down on them. Suddenly, a Japanese mortar round exploded nearby, flinging shrapnel into his legs.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

He refused to be evacuated despite the severity of the debilitating wound.

At one point, the defiant colonel shouted to his men, “Are there any of you cowardly sons of bitches got the guts to follow a colonel of the Marines?” The Marines were inspired by his valor and selflessness, and followed him forward.

Shoup assumed command of all land troops upon reaching the beachhead. He ignored the agony of his wounds, and marched up and down the line with his pistol unholstered, coolly directing the advance of Marines further inland.

Success was measured in yards, and the Marines methodically overcame the Japanese defenses.

By the time the battle ended, less than 200 of the original 4,000-man Japanese garrison remained to surrender. They had inflicted a staggering 3,000 casualties on the Second Marine Division. Shoup remained on his feet directing the fight for about 50 hours, finally relinquishing command to be treated for his wounds only when most of Tarawa Atoll was in Americans hands.

Without Shoup’s direction and valor, Tarawa Atoll may well have been a catastrophic defeat. Shoup lived for another 40 years until his death in 1983 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This pilot in his pajamas shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it’s hot on the work site, it’s important to stay cool. If it’s hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army’s aircraft on the ground.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol’ martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A’s fuselage.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
(U.S. Air Force photo)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

A unit’s colors are held in near-sacred regard by the chain of command. The seemingly simple piece of cloth is steeped in rich symbolism and represents nearly every award and conflict that the unit has ever seen.

Even simply brushing against the unit colors while it’s hoisted at the battalion building could result in a younger soldier doing push-ups until sergeant major gets tired. And if it’s dropped while the battalion is out for a run, you might as well send that poor soul to the guillotine — at least that’d be quicker.

While the symbol of a unit’s legacy is held in extreme esteem by the troops it represents, the soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion (which is now a part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division), has a tradition of their own that involves setting fire to their beloved colors.

As odd as it sounds, there’s actually a very valid reason for it, even if it means the battalion needs to get a new one made every 12 months.


How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

This was the turning point in the war and the engineers found themselves at the worst place at the worst time.

(U.S. National Archives)

This tradition has its roots back in the Korean War’s Battle of Kunu-Ri. The 2nd Infantry Division and UN allies had pushed the North Koreans back to the Yalu River, which separates China and North Korea. The moment China came to North Korea’s aid with a massive army, however, the Americans needed to retreat back south.

The unfortunate duty of pulling rear guard fell solely on the shoulders of the 2nd Engineer soldiers in the little town of Kunu-Ri. It was a lopsided battle that the troops knew they had no chance of winning — let alone surviving. It was a single battalion versus three entire, well-armed, well-trained, and completely fresh divisions.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

This ultimate act of defiance towards an overwhelming enemy still lives on.

It was in the early morning of November 30th, 1950. The remainder of the 8th Army had successfully gotten to safety and the 2nd Infantry Division was slowly making its way out. As each battalion was fighting out, the 2nd Engineers stood their ground to save their brothers.

In this regard, their mission was a success. But by nighttime, their window of opportunity to safely escape had closed. The Chinese had flanked their escape route and their numbers had dwindled. They were down to just 266 out of the 977 men they had at the beginning of the war.

Lt. Col. Alarich Zacherle had to face the grim reality that every commander fears — the complete and utter destruction of his entire unit. The men regrouped for one last time and Zacherle gave the orders. Everything would be destroyed so that it would never fall into the hands of the enemy — nothing was spared.

The last thing to go was the colors. Zacherle made sure that even if they were all defeated and all of their men were lost, the Chinese would never be able to take their battalion colors as a war trophy. They set it ablaze and whoever was left ran like hell.

Their heroic deeds that night saved the lives of many 2nd ID soldiers and held the Chinese off long enough for the Americans to stage a proper defense. Very few men made it out of that battle — it’s been said that just a single officer made it out without being killed or captured.

To honor the men who gave their lives for their brothers, every year on November 30th, the 2nd Engineer Battalion recreates that heart-stopping moment with a solemn ceremony. The memory of the men who fought at Kunu-Li lives on as the names of each and every one of those 977 men are called off in formation by the current 2nd Engineers.

And, just as it happened in 1950, they set fire to their battalion colors in memorium.

MIGHTY HISTORY

VA recognizes Band of Brothers leader and hero of Brecourt Manor

Richard “Dick” D. Winters was born in rural New Holland, Pa. in January 1918. Richard graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1941 with a bachelor degree in economics. On Aug. 25 of the same year, he enlisted into the Army to fulfill a one-year service requirement. He said he had done this as an attempt to avoid completing a full three-year tour if he had been drafted.


Nonetheless, he reported for basic training at Camp Croft, S.C. In 1942, Richard was selected to attend the Army Officer Cadet School (OCS) in Fort Benning, Ga. Once he completed his time at OCS he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division commissioned as a second lieutenant. In the 101st, Richard volunteered for the rigorous paratrooper training program and was assigned to Company E, commonly referred to as “Easy Company,” of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2ndPlatoon, where he was made platoon leader. The regiment was considered experimental at the time as they were part of the first soldiers to be given airborne training. While still in paratrooper training, Richard would receive another promotion, this time to the rank of first lieutenant and assigned the role of executive officer of 1st Platoon. Richard, along with the rest of the 101st Airborne Division, was deployed to England in September 1943 to begin preparing for the invasion of Normandy.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Richard “Dick” Winters.

Eventually, this training was put into action and in the early hours of June 6, 1944, Easy Company was deployed alongside the 82nd and the rest of the 101st Airborne Divisions to commence Operation Overlord and the D-Day invasion. During the early moments of this operation, the plane carrying all of Easy Company’s leading officers, who made up the company’s headquarters, was shot down, which left Richard, a first lieutenant, as the acting commanding officer. In the following days, he destroyed a full battery of German howitzers and the platoon that commanded them, as well as acquired key information detailing German defenses at Utah Beach. Richard achieved these feats with only 13 of his men used in the action dubbed, the Brecourt Manor Assault. Richard was recommended for the Medal of Honor and received the Distinguished Service Cross and a promotion to the rank of captain for his actions. He would go on to fight heroically in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. On March 8, 1945, Richard was promoted to the rank of major.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sgJC_vQAL4
Major Richard “Dick” Winters Tribute

www.youtube.com

After World War II, he stayed in Europe as part of the occupation and demobilization effort even though he had the option of returning home. Richard was later offered a regular commission, as opposed to his reserve commission, but declined and was discharged Jan. 22, 1946. Upon his return to the United States, Richard would meet and marry Ethel Estoppey on May 16, 1948. In 1951, Richard was reactivated by the Army and trained infantry and Army Rangers at Fort Dix, N.J.for three more years. He then moved to Hershey, Pa. with his family and founded his own company, R.D. Winters Inc., which sold feed for livestock to Pennsylvania farmers. After retirement, he would speak with historian Stephen Ambrose who would turn his stories into a book named Band of Brothers in 1992. In 2001, actor Tom Hanks adapted that book into an Emmy winning HBO miniseries. Richard would go on to publish his memoirs and give public speeches. Richard passed on Jan. 2, 2011 in Campbelltown, Pa.

We honor Richard’s service.

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

popular

The Holocaust caused German POWs to fight against the Axis

During World War II, more than 425,000 German prisoners of war were held in some 700 camps across the United States. Some of them did their duty to try and escape, but most spent the remainder of their war in these camps, entertaining themselves however possible.

For many POWs, this included the latest in Hollywood cinema, which was, of course, so much propaganda at the time. The Germans enjoyed them anyway. But when the Americans began to show them footage of the Holocaust, the good time suddenly stopped.


How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
Nazi POWs included three admirals and 40 generals. (Armed Forces Museum)

 

German prisoners, those who surrendered to the British or Americans, were shipped back to the U.S. on Liberty Ships. Most went quietly, thankful to not be killed – and avoiding capture by the Red Army. The United States followed the Geneva Conventions to the letter, paying Germans for labor and constructing camps equivalent to their own military quarters. For some, their lives as prisoners were better than their lives as civilians back in Germany. This was especially true in passing the time.

The prisoners worked, maintained their own discipline, were provided art supplies and letter writing materials. Many camps even had film projectors, and showed movies provided by the Americans. The U.S. was happy to oblige, as Hollywood films of the era could be a good way to de-program the captured soldiers from the effects of Nazi propaganda. Even War Department films such as Why We Fight were popular.

The movie nights were really popular among many of the camps, no matter what the marquee was showing. It was a great morale booster for many imprisoned so far away. Until one day, it wasn’t. After the Allies began liberating concentration camps, they began showing the footage of those camps to Nazi POWs. The films sparked rage and disbelief among many of them, including one instance where the camp detainees burned their German uniforms.

In a few extreme cases, some POWs held in the United States called on Germany to surrender. But the most stirring moment was a plan devised to create units of German troops who volunteered to fight against their onetime Axis ally, Japan, in the Pacific War.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
Arkansas National Guard Museum

By war’s end, only the most hardcore Nazi POWs were still against the United States. Many POWs met their wives in the U.S. and settled in the unspoiled land of plenty that had become their new home. While there were many, many resisters throughout the war, there were few incidents of escape or chaos created by the prisoners.

Feature image: U.S. Army

MIGHTY HISTORY

This general was the highest ranking service member killed on 9/11

On that fateful September morning, 2,977 people died as the result of a series of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and an attempted attack on the US Capitol Building. The attack on the Pentagon killed 125 people working at the Department of Defense headquarters including 70 civilians, 33 sailors and 22 soldiers. The highest ranking of these casualties was the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude.

Born in Indianapolis on November 18, 1947, Maude enlisted in the Army on March 21, 1966. He completed OCS and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in February 1967. With the nation in the midst of the Vietnam War, Maude’s first assignment after the Adjutant General Officer Basic Course was to the Southeast Asian conflict. His Army AG career went on to include postings throughout the United States as well as Germany and Korea. Before his posting at the Pentagon, Maude served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel and Installation Management, Seventh Army, also known as United States Army Europe and Seventh Army.


How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

2nd Lt. Maude (right) participating in the dedication of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade headquarters in Vietnam with the Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Robert Forbes (center) (Adjutant General’s Corps Regimental Association)

Maude was posted to the Pentagon in 1998 and was nominated as Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel in 2000. One of his last campaigns was the “Army of One” recruiting campaign that replaced the iconic but increasingly ineffective “Be All You Can Be” campaign. “We were in the middle of our worst recruiting year,” said former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera. “I felt very strongly when the job came open that Tim was the right guy…to manage the human resources of an organization that has to hire 80,000 new employees a year.”

To meet the needs of the Army, Maude modernized its recruiting strategy. Utilizing television and internet advertising, the general hoped to make the Army attractive to the latest generation of American youths. Maude testified before Congress concerning the necessity of meeting recruiting goals to meet the Army’s mission. In September 2001, Maude announced the “Army of One” campaign was proving to be effective at drawing more recruits to the ranks. On September 4, 2001, the Army reported that it had met its goals early for active duty soldiers and that the Reserve and National Guard components would meet theirs by the end of the month. Sadly, Maude would not live to see the full success of his campaign.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Lt. Gen Maude’s official Army photo (US Army)

On September 11, 2001, at 9:37 EDT, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon. The section of the building that was struck, which had just undergone a 0 million renovation, housed both the Naval Command Center and the Army G1 offices. Prior to the renovations, Maude had been working out of a temporary office in a different part of the Pentagon. According to his sister, Carol, the general was holding a meeting that morning with five other people. In the chaos following the attacks, Maude’s family waited anxiously to hear if he had survived. “There’s still part of me that would like him to be found in a little cubbyhole somewhere and come back to us,” Carol said. However, three days after the attacks, Maude’s family was informed that he had perished at the Pentagon.

General Maude’s death on 9/11 made him not only the highest ranking service member to be killed that day, but also the most senior US Army officer killed by foreign action since Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. was killed on June 18, 1941 in the Battle of Okinawa. More than that though, Maude left behind a legacy of selfless service and taking care of the Army and the nation’s most important resource. “You need to take good care of your soldiers,” Maude said in an address to a room of field-grade officers a few months before 9/11. He recognized that the key to accomplishing the Army’s mission was its people.

“He would say, ‘If a soldier is there in a foxhole worried about his wife and kids, then he’s not there focused and taking care of his buddy,'” said Maude’s wife Terri. “He came to believe that soldiering and family issues were one and the same.” In fact, Maude’s headstone at Arlington National Cemetery reads, “HE TOOK CARE OF SOLDIERS.”

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Lt. Gen. Maude’s headstone (Arlington Cemetery)

MIGHTY CULTURE

This woman landed under fire at Inchon with the Marines

Marguerite Higgins was a legend of the news media who went ashore with the Marines in the fifth wave at Red Beach at Inchon, South Korea, earning her the respect of ground-pounders and a Pulitzer Prize while allowing the general public to understand what troops were doing for America overseas.


How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Marguerite Higgins, a war correspondent who landed with Marines at Red Beach.

(YouTube/womenshistory)

Higgins’ journalism career started when she traveled to New York with her portfolio from college, asked a newsstand guy where the closest newspaper office was, and stormed in with the demand that she be made a reporter.

That was in 1941. America was quickly dragged into the wars in Europe and the Pacific, and Higgins got herself sent to Europe where she wrote some of her most haunting work, describing the liberation of concentration camps during the fall of Nazi Germany. She braved shellfire in battle and wrote about what the soldiers around her suffered.

In fact, when she rushed to cover the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau, she arrived with a Stars and Stripes reporter before the Army did. The German commander and guards at the southern end of the camp turned themselves over to the journalists, and those journalists had to let the prisoners know they’d been freed.

Her work in World War II was appreciated, but she hadn’t been sent overseas until 1944. When the Korean War began, Higgins was based out of Japan as the bureau chief of the New York Tribune’s Far East Office, and she immediately sent herself to the front.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Prisoners are marched past an M26 Pershing tank in the streets of Seoul, South Korea in 1950.

(Department of the Navy)

She was there when Seoul fell to North Korea, but then the Tribune sent another war reporter and ordered Higgins back to Japan. Instead of leaving, she kept reporting from the front in competition with other journalists — including the other Tribune journalist: Homer Bigart.

Yup, she competed against other employees of her own newspaper. Though, in her defense, that just meant the New York Tribune was getting a steady stream of articles from two of the top war correspondents in the world.

Well, it was, anyway, until the U.S. passed a new rule banning female reporters from their front lines. Higgins protested, which did nothing. Then, she protested directly to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was then the commander of all U.S. forces in Korea. This proved to be much more successful.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Newspaper article announces that ban on women war correspondents in Korea has been lifted.

(YouTube/womenshistory)

MacArthur sent a telegram to the Tribune saying, “Ban on women correspondents in Korea has been lifted. Marguerite Higgins is held in highest professional esteem by everyone.”

And that was great for Higgins, because her Pulitzer moment came a couple months later. Higgins got herself onto one of the largest operations of the war: The Army and Marine Corps landing at Inchon. The strategic idea was to threaten the interior supply lines of the Communists and to relieve pressure on troops that were barely holding the southern edge of the peninsula. She opened her article with:

Heavily laden U.S. Marines, in one of the most technically difficult amphibious landings in history, stormed at sunset today over a ten-foot sea wall in the heart of the port of Inchon and within an hour had taken three commanding hills in the city.

A little later in the article, she writes:

Despite a deadly and steady pounding from naval guns and airplanes, enough North Koreans remained alive close to the beach to harass us with small-arms and mortar fire. They even hurled hand grenades down at us as we crouched in trenches which unfortunately ran behind the sea wall in the inland side.

It was far from the “virtually unopposed” landing for which the troops had hoped after hearing the quick capture of Wolmi Island in the morning by an earlier Marine assault.
How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Marines clamber over obstacles at Inchon, South Korea, during the amphibious assault there. Marguerite Higgins landed with the fifth wave of Marines.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Higgins landed with the fifth wave of Marines. Her coverage highlighted the bravery of troops under fire, but was also critical of those who had sent forces in under-prepared or -equipped. In 1951, she wrote in War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent:

So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth. It is best to tell graphically the moments of desperation and horror endured by an unprepared army, so that the American public will demand that it does not happen again.

After Korea, she continued to search out chances to cover troops in combat. In 1953, she went to Vietnam to cover French forces and covered the defeat at Dien Bein Phu where her photographer was killed by a land mine. She got a pass to report from both sides of the Iron Curtain and covered the Cold War tensions as they rose in the early 1960s.

Unfortunately, her dangerous work eventually caught up with her. She returned to Vietnam to cover American operations there and, in 1965, she contracted leishmaniasis. She was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the U.S. for treatment, but died on January 3, 1966, from the disease.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you didn’t know about the easiest medal you’ll ever earn

When young men and women join the military, the majority of them dream of making a huge impact, day one, on America’s armed forces — if not the world. From the moment we touch the training grounds of boot camp to the graduation ceremony, we show up ready to make our mark on history by earning different accolades.


Those accomplishments are represented in form of certificates, letters of recommendation, and, of course, ribbons and medals.

Although some of those distinguishments are tough-as-hell to earn, others get pinned on our chest just for making it through boot camp.

One of those earnings, the National Defense Service Medal, or NDSM, is one of the simplest medals you’ll earn.

Related: 5 things you didn’t know about the Navy’s Medal of Honor

Here’s what you didn’t know about the NDSM:

4. Its origin

The NDSM was inked into existence when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10448 on Apr. 22, 1953. It was to serve as a “blanket” campaign medal for service members who honorably served in the military during a period of “national emergency.”

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
President Eisenhower, 1954. (Photo under public domain)

3. You actually earned the medal?

Since the medal’s establishment, there have been periods of time in which the U.S. isn’t been involved a major conflict. Many veterans who served during those times don’t rate to wear this medal since they didn’t serve during “national emergency” periods.

Those who served during the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Global War on Terrorism all rate to wear the ribbon above their heart if they’ve served for more than 89 days — including boot camp.

2. The medal’s front design

The medal features an eagle perched on a sword and palm branch. The eagle, of course, is the national symbol for the United States, the sword represents the armed forces, and the palm branch is symbolic of victory.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Also Read: 5 reasons why the Volunteer Service Medal is the most ridiculous medal

1. The meaning behind medal’s reverse side

The center showcases the great seal of the United States, flanked by laurel and oak, which symbolize achievement and strength.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

MIGHTY HISTORY

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

Belle Boyd’s spying career began with a gunshot.


In July 1861, Union troops arrived in Boyd’s town and she wasn’t too happy about it. Since her father was a member of the Confederate 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, Boyd (born Isabella Maria Boyd) was “supporting the troops” with Confederate flags in her bedroom.

The Union troops tried to confiscate the flags, then threw up the Stars and Stripes over her house. An argument ensued, a soldier cursed at her mother, and then Boyd pulled out a pistol and shot the guy. She was later cleared of wrongdoing — because in the 1860s it was totally cool to shoot people who cussed at women — but the Union began tracking her activities.

And interestingly enough, she used this to her advantage, and tracked them instead.

From the Encyclopedia Virginia:

Union officials began to monitor Boyd’s movements, but she used conversations with her minders to accumulate detailed information on their movements, sending the intelligence in letters to Confederate commanders. After one such letter was intercepted, Boyd escaped punishment by feigning ignorance. Her parents then sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in even tinier Front Royal (pop. 417), forty miles to the south.

In October 1861, after visiting her father’s camp, Boyd began work as a courier between generals Jackson and P. G. T. Beauregard and was detained briefly for her efforts. Her oft-noted charm was a weapon and, occasionally, a liability. After being captured by a pair of Union soldiers, Boyd claimed to have sweet talked them into escorting her back to Confederate lines, where she promptly had them arrested. When Boyd’s identity was revealed to the two hapless soldiers, they recognized it, suggesting that she already had attained something that spies tend to avoid—notoriety.

Notoriety is exactly what she found, as Boyd appears at least a few times in correspondence between senior Union leaders. While she was getting plenty of hate mail from the Union, she was earning respect from senior Confederates, to include Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp, according to AP.

Perhaps her biggest intelligence “get” came in May 1862, as she spied on a Union general and his staff through a peephole in a closet floor (Great job securing the SCIF, guys). Union forces had recently captured Front Royal, Virginia, but the general was about to pull a large portion of his forces east. It wasn’t long before the town was back in Confederate hands, thanks to Boyd’s messages.

You can check out more about her exploits here

MIGHTY TRENDING

There was a special word for Confederates who joined the US Army

Being a POW was not a great way to spend your enlistment in the Civil War, no matter which side you fought on. Depending on which POW camp you ended up locked into, your chances of survival were only slightly better. And if you did die, you probably died of some terrible disease.

So it makes a little sense why some Confederate troops had no problem turning around and joining the U.S. Army. They were called “Galvanized Yankees.”


By 1863, Union lines were becoming stricken by desertions. Coupled with the death rate and the number of wounded and missing men, the U.S. Army in 1863 needed a solution for this coming manpower shortage in a hurry. But with draft riots already happening and enlistments drying up, where could the Union Army find a source of able-bodied men who could fight but were just sitting around, waiting? In the POW camps. And it wasn’t just the Army fighting the Civil War who needed the help. Troops fighting Indian bands in the West needed augmentees as well.

So the Union formed the 1st Volunteer Infantry Regiment; former Confederate soldiers who had been captured, taken the oath of loyalty to the United States, and enlisted in the U.S. Army. It sure beat dying of dysentery or exposure at Camp Douglas.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
Camp Douglas, Ill. where 17 % of inmates never returned. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Starting in 1863, the former Confederates stared down the Sioux tribe in Missouri while the war back home raged on. But they weren’t the only ones who were needed. Ultimately four regiments of Confederate volunteers were formed for the Union. When the Confederates heard of this, they dubbed the POWs who took the deal “Galvanized Yankees,” covering themselves and their deeds in the blue of the Union, the way a metal object is galvanized with a coating of zinc.

For most Southern troops, the choice wasn’t all that hard – and it wasn’t just about the conditions in POW camps. Many average Southern men weren’t too keen on the strict Confederate class distinctions in the South, where poor whites were little more regarded than slaves. Add on the desire for the war to end, and the terrible conditions for Confederate troops, and the choice becomes more and more clear.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
Gen. Benjamin Butler raised two regiments of Confederate POWs to invade Bermuda, but it never came to be. (National Archives and Records)

 

The Galvanized Yankees were sent to the American Plains, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Missouri. The winters were not kind to the Southerners, who suffered from frostbite, scurvy, and other forms of malnutrition. To make matters worse, on top of enduring temperatures as cold a minus 29 degrees, the Lakota suddenly attacked on Nov. 27, 1863. The natives killed and wounded the new Army members throughout the winter and into the Spring of 1864. They would be able to hold out until the war’s end, however.

In 1865, the men had held their soldiers’ discipline, followed orders, and remained true to their oaths. Even after constant Indian attacks, brutal winters, and poor food, the Galvanized Yankees stayed at their posts. After two years, however, they were at their wits’ end. The war was over, and so was their enlistment. They demanded to be mustered out. Two years after arriving in the Missouri region, they finally were.

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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.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
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.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
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.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll
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

Operation Remorse: How British spies conducted economic espionage in China during World War II

Walter Fletcher was deemed unfit to serve in the British Armed Forces during World War II and was such a nuisance to Baker Street that any jobs he had requested that involved physical effort were denied. Colin Mackenzie, the head of Force 136, the Far East branch of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), once referred to Fletcher as “gloriously fat.” All 280 pounds of him requested special aircraft accommodations to be prepared in advance since he took up two seats on a flight’s manifest. His physicality differed from what was typically seen throughout the ranks of Britain’s elite paramilitary unit — but his wit as a snarky businessman was unmatched.

Fletcher was not well liked, but he was resourceful. Hugh Dalton, the Secretary of State for War, called Fletcher a “thug with good commercial contacts.” When he pitched the idea to run a covert economic espionage mission to manipulate exchange rates on the Chinese Black Market, his expertise was worth the risk. Codenamed Operation Mickleham then later Operation Remorse, Fletcher’s program in the initial stages went from sheer failure to among the most successful economic missions of the war, establishing influence in Hong Kong and funding other covert schemes.


How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

A mock “Cigarette Card,” front and back, for Lionel Davis, commander of “Remorse” in the field. Photo courtesy of National Archives UK.

The Bank of England provided Fletcher, who built a reputation as a wealthy rubber trader, with 100,000 pounds on Sept. 15, 1942. His bold moves for the next two years involved smuggling rubber from Japanese-controlled Indo-China, and his calculations were met with considerable losses. Internal reports authored by SOE officers were convinced their early predictions of Fletcher — the “Tragicomedy” — were correct.

As his reputation faltered, the Ministry of Supply demanded results. A lesser man would have given up, but Fletcher, both stubborn and determined, took economic intelligence learned during Operation Mickleham and adapted to the currency exchange rates to make profit.

“Then he went up to China and started negotiating in strategic materials, funny ones like tung oil and things like that,” Mackenzie told the Imperial War Museum. “Then he went on dealing in diamonds, watches, whatever the warlords wanted.”

Fletcher employed a seasoned team, including Frank Ming Shin Shu, also known as “Mouse,” one of his most trusted contacts. Shu bought £500,000-worth of Indian rupees at a lower official rate only to resell them at an inflated price on the Chinese Black Market.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

Mission 204, an unconventional warfare unit comprised of primarily British and Australian soldiers, were tasked with deep penetration operations into China to undermine the Japanese. Screengrab from YouTube.

“We had a very good accountant in London, John Venner, and he helped: even in the early days I had £20,000 of diamonds across my desk in one go,” Mackenzie told the Imperial War Museum. “One estimate is that the net profit was worth £77 million [£2 billion].”

Not all of the money was invested in back-end deals that filled their pockets. In April 1945, a force of 5,500 French soldiers across eight different locations were low on food and medical supplies and lacked blankets and clothing. Over the next six weeks, some of the funds from Remorse were diverted to purchase 93 tons of aid.

“A better job was done by Mr. Davis’s organisation than could have been achieved by the combined resources of the American and Chinese services of supply,” said a British ambassador in 1945.

B. S. van Deinise, a civilian and advisor of the mission, penned a memo that determined Operation Remorse was the “masterkey” for further intelligence actions in China: “I wanted to point out that the Masterkey should be made available to some of those who want to peep in and out of various compartments without attracting undue attention.”

The billion pound endeavor, hidden behind the auspices of bank statements and a covert paper trail, was only revealed to the general public after several intelligence activities from organizations like the SOE were declassified during the 1990s.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the plane that nearly killed Chuck Yeager

Ask around — every veteran pilot has a few stories involving close calls. Some of these terrifying near-misses happen in combat and others during peacetime. Chuck Yeager, however, has the displeasure of experiencing both. In fact, his closest call had nothing to do with the enemy.


Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the United States Air Force was testing a number of planes, always trying to reach for the higher and faster. One such plane was the NF-104A Starfighter, a modification of the baseline F-104 that had a short career with the United States Air Force, but saw decades of service with other countries.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

A West German F-104 Starfighter. In 1962, this plane crashed with three others, killing four pilots (one of them American).

(US Army)

The purpose of the NF-104A was to test reaction control systems for use in space (since conventional control surfaces need air to function). The F-104 was a great choice for this test. As a high-performance fighter, it could reach a top speed of 1,320 miles per hour, had a maximum range of over 1,000 miles, and maintained the ability to carry two tons of weapons. However, it also proved to be very difficult to fly, earning the nickname “Widowmaker” among the West-German Luftwaffe.

To reach the altitudes required for such a test, engineers paired a rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust with the J79 engine (the same engine used by the F-4 Phantom). The NF-104A was able to reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet. It was called the Aerospace Trainer.

How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

A NF-104 Starfighter lights off its rockets to zoom to altitudes of as much as 120,000 feet.

Lockheed modified three F-104As taken from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for the Aerospace Trainer program. Two of the three NF-104s crashed. Yeager’s was the first among them and perhaps the most dramatic. His NF-104A, delivered less than six week prior to the nearly fatal flight, went into a flat spin. Yeager fought the plane as it fell almost 10,000 feet before he ejected. He suffered burns, but lived to eventually command a fighter wing in Vietnam.

Learn more about the plane that nearly killed one of the most famous pilots in history in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgToX-Fy42U

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