This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II


At a little after two o’clock in the morning on Monday, January 19, 1942, an earthquake-like rumble tossed fifteen-year-old Gibb Gray from his bed. Furniture shook, glass and knickknacks rattled, and books fell from shelves as a thundering roar vibrated through the walls of the houses in Gibb’s Outer Banks village of Avon. Surprised and concerned, Gibb’s father rushed to the windows on the house’s east side and looked toward the ocean.

“There’s a fire out there!” he shouted to his family.

Clearly visible on the horizon, a great orange fireball had erupted. A towering column of black smoke blotted out the stars and further darkened the night sky.

Only seven miles away, a German U-boat had just torpedoed the 337-foot-long U.S. freighter, City of Atlanta, sinking the ship and killing all but three of the 47 men aboard. The same U-boat attacked two more ships just hours later.

Less than six weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the hostilities of the Second World War had arrived on America’s East Coast and North Carolina’s beaches. This was not the first time that German U-boats had come to United States waters. During World War I, three U-boats sank ten ships off the Tar Heel coast in what primarily was considered a demonstration of German naval power. But by 1942, U-boats had become bigger, faster, and more deadly. Their presence in American waters was not intended for “show” but to help win World War II for Germany.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

The abbreviated name “U-boat” comes from the German wordunterseeboot, meaning submarine or undersea boat. However, U-boats were not true submarines. They were warships that spent most of their time on the surface. They could submerge only for limited periods — mostly to attack or evade detection by enemy ships, and to avoid bad weather.

U-boats could only travel about sixty miles underwater before having to surface for fresh air. They often attacked ships while on the surface using deck-mounted guns. Typically, about 50 men operated a U-boat. The boats carried fifteen torpedoes, or self-propelled “bombs,” which ranged up to twenty-two feet long and could travel thirty miles per hour. Experts have described German U-boats as among the most effective and seaworthy warships ever designed.

Within hours of the U-boat attack near Avon, debris and oil began washing up on the beaches. This scene seemed to be repeated constantly. For the next six months, along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, at least sixty-five different German U-boats attacked American and British merchant ships carrying vital supplies to the Allies in Europe — cargos of oil, gasoline, raw vegetables and citrus products, lumber and steel, aluminum for aircraft construction, rubber for tires, and cotton for clothing. By July of 1942, 397 ships had been sunk or damaged. More than 5,000 people had been killed.

The greatest concentration of U-boat attacks happened off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where dozens of ships passed daily. So many ships were attacked that, in time, the waters near Cape Hatteras earned a nickname: “Torpedo Junction.” U.S. military and government authorities didn’t want people to worry, so news reports of enemy U-boats near the coast were classified, or held back from the public for national security reasons. For many years, most people had no idea how bad things really were. But families living on the Outer Banks knew—they were practically in the war.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

“We’d hear these explosions most any time of the day or night and it would shake the houses and sometimes crack the walls,” remembered Blanche Jolliff, of Ocracoke village. Even though ships were being torpedoed by enemy U-boats almost every day, just a few miles away, coastal residents had no choice but to live as normally as possible.

“We sort of got used to hearing it,” Gibb Gray said. “The explosions were mostly in the distance, so we weren’t too scared. I remember we were walking to school one day, and the whole ground shook. We looked toward the ocean, just beyond the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and there was another huge cloud of smoke. That was the oil tanker, Dixie Arrow.”

Some Outer Bankers came closer to the war than they would have preferred. Teenager Charles Stowe, of Hatteras, and his father were headed out to sea aboard their fishing boat one day when they nearly rammed a U-boat, which was rising to the surface directly in front of them. The elder Stowe’s eyesight was not very good. He told his son, who was steering their boat, to keep on going—he thought the vessel ahead was just another fishing boat.

“I said, ‘Dad, that is a German submarine!’ And it sure was,” Stowe recalled. “He finally listened to me, and we turned around and got out of there just in time.”

The war cut back on one favorite summer pastime for Outer Banks young people. “That summer we had to almost give up swimming in the ocean — it was just full of oil, you’d get it all over you,” Mrs. Ormond Fuller recalled of the oil spilled by torpedoed tankers.

Gibb Gray remembered the oil, too: “We’d step in it before we knew it, and we’d be five or six inches deep. We’d have to scrub our feet and legs with rags soaked in kerosene. It’s hard to get off, that oil.” It is estimated that 150 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea and on the beaches along the Outer Banks during 1942.

Some local residents thought Germans might try to sneak ashore. Others suspected strangers of being spies for the enemy.

“We were frightened to death. We locked our doors at night for the first time ever,” said Ocracoke’s Blanche Styron. Calvin O’Neal remembered strangers with unusual accents who stayed at an Ocracoke hotel during the war: “The rumor was they were spies, and the hotel owner’s daughter and I decided to be counterspies, and we tried our best to follow them around, but we never caught them doing anything suspicious.”

At Buxton, Maude White was the village postmistress and a secret coast watcher for the U.S. Navy. She was responsible for observing unusual activities and reporting them to the local Coast Guard. In 1942 one couple with German accents attracted attention by drawing maps and taking notes about the island. White became suspicious, and so did her daughter, who would follow the pair from a distance — riding her beach pony.

After being reported by White, the strangers were apprehended when they crossed Oregon Inlet on the ferry. Records fail to indicate whether or not the strangers really were spies, but White’s daughter became the inspiration for the heroine in author Nell Wise Wechter’s book Taffy of Torpedo Junction.

Slowly but surely, increased patrols by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, and planes of the Army Air Corps, began to prevent the U-boat attacks. Blimps from a station at Elizabeth City searched for U-boats from high above, while private yachts and sailboats with two-way radios were sent out into the ocean to patrol and harass German warships. The military set up top-secret submarine listening and tracking facilities at places like Ocracoke to detect passing U-boats.

Many people who lived along the coast during World War II remember having to turn off their house lights at night and having to put black tape over their car headlights, so that lights on shore would not help the Germans find their way in the darkness. Even so, the government did not order a general blackout until August 1942. By then, most of the attacks had ended.

On April 14, 1942, the first German U-boat fought by the American navy in U.S. waters was sunk sixteen miles southeast of Nags Head. Within the next couple of months, three more U-boats were sunk along the North Carolina coast: one by a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber, one by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol ship, and one by a U.S. Navy destroyer. North Carolina’s total of four sunken U-boats represents the most of any state.

By that July, the commander of Germany’s U-boats became discouraged. He redirected his remaining warships to the northern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, Germany considered its attacks against the United States a success, even if they failed to win the war. Gerhard Weinberg, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has since called the war zone off the U.S. coast in 1942 “the greatest single defeat ever suffered by American naval power.”

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
The wreck of U-701 rests on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off of the east coast of North Carolina. (Photo: NOAA)

As the years have passed, most of the physical evidence of World War II U-boat encounters off North Carolina’s coast has vanished. Submerged off the state’s beaches are the remains of at least 60 ships and countless unexploded torpedoes, depth charges, and contact mines. Even today, small patches of blackened sand offer reminders of the massive oil spills of 1942. On Ocracoke Island and at Cape Hatteras, cemeteries contain the graves of six British sailors who perished in North Carolina’s waters.

In spite of those stats, most Americans don’t know about the time when war came so close.

Kevin P. Duffus is an author and documentary filmmaker specializing in North Carolina maritime history. He has lectured for the North Carolina Humanities Council on topics that included World War II along the state’s coast.

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This was Benedict Arnold’s best raid as a British general

Players do their best work when they’re in a system that works for how they play. Sometimes, they fare better with the team that drafted them. Others break out when they get traded.


Sorry for this analogy. Football is back and I’m super stoked about it.

For example, Jim Brown was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1957 and played there his entire career. He might be one of the greatest backs of all time. Then there’s Marshawn Lynch, who did his best work after being traded to Seattle and will definitely be a Hall-of-Famer.

Benedict Arnold was definitely more of a Jim Brown.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
Please don’t let Jim Brown read that out of context.

As an American general, Arnold saw massive successes early on in the war. He captured Fort Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen, captured Lake Champlain for the nascent nation, led an invasion into Canada, and was instrumental at the Battle of Saratoga.

But that was in the past. Arnold was wearing a new uniform by 1781.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
To this day, you still can’t name your kid Benedict.

In January 1781, the revolution was still anyone’s game. The morale of the Americans was at its lowest and it would be another nine months before Generals Washington and Nathaneal Greene would force British General Cornwallis into Virginia’s Yorktown Peninsula and into a general surrender.

Some 63 miles north of Yorktown, the newly-minted British Brigadier was leading a force of American Loyalists against the capital of Virginia at Richmond. The city was virtually undefended and Thomas Jefferson – Patriot governor of the colony– fled. Arnold easily captured the city, barely firing a shot.

The traitor then wrote to Jefferson that he would spare the city if all of Richmond’s stored goods – especially tobacco – were transferred to British ships. Jefferson, unsurprisingly, refused to deliver “thirty to forty ships worth” to the enemy.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
This is not the face of someone who’s looking to quit smoking.

Arnold ordered the city be looted and burned the next day. They then went to the surrounding areas to wreak havok. Mills and foundries were destroyed, their arms and goods were captured by the British loyalist force. Arnold then took to destroying plantations and family homes, seizing crops and slaves.

The raid lasted a full 18 days.

When Jefferson and Samson Matthews gathered the Virginia militia and caught up to Arnold’s force with about 200 men. and caused the British force so much harm, Arnold had to retreat to Portsmouth and wait for reinforcements.

Governor Jefferson put a reward of 5,000 guineas on Arnold’s head while Virginia militiamen started target practice using a model of the traitor’s head, so they’d know how to identify him in combat.

Benedict Arnold didn’t have much success as a British general. His “American Legion” of loyalists never amounted to much. The Richmond raid and his subsequent burning of New London, Connecticut, ensured he could never be redeemed in the minds of patriots.

When the war ended later that year, Arnold found himself retired on half pay, refusing to believe the war could be over and that he’d chosen the wrong side.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
Burn.

Word finally got to George Washington that the traitor was spilling patriot blood in his home state. Washington sent French Marquis de Lafayette to kick Arnold out of Virginia and capture him if possible. Lafayette arrived in time to prevent another attack on Richmond from the newly-reinforced British under General Cornwallis, but he was too late to capture Arnold, who was already sailing for New York.

In the end, Richmond wasn’t prize enough for Cornwallis. He instead moved south, toward Yorktown. And you know how that ended up.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The legendary engines that won World War II

Jay Leno has a truly historic engine that he wants to show you: A Merlin 1650-1 engine used in fighters like the P-51 Mustang and Lancaster Bombers used across Europe to drive Germany back toward Berlin.

The engine got its start before the war. It underwent initial testing in 1933 and first took to the skies in 1935. Early models generated about 800 horsepower but increasing requirements in the pre-war years caused Rolls Royce to keep redesigning it, giving it more power and reliability.


This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

The De Havailland Mosquito was powered by two Merlin engines.

(Photo by Wallycacsabre, CC BY 2.0)

Aircraft manufacturers in England kept reaching for the Merlin for their new designs. In 1939, the first production Spitfire rolled off the line packing a Merlin Mk. II engine capable of 1,030 horsepower.

This engine would go on to be used in everything from the Lancaster bomber, which sported four of these beasts, to the De Havilland Mosquito and the P-51 Mustang.

The engine was constantly upgraded with new superchargers and designs, increasing horsepower to 1,150 then 1,480 then 1,515. More importantly, the engines got upgrades in reliability and airflow, helping pilots win fights in altitudes low and high.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

The Lancaster bomber boasted four of the massive Merlin engines.

(Royal Air Force photo by Fleet Lt. Miller, IWM)

The low-altitude upgrades would prove essential during the Battle of Britain where English and German planes clashed in fights as low as 6,000 feet.

As it was, the Merlins suffered one big problem that came up during the Battle of Britain and other struggles: it used a carburetor while contemporary German engines were fuel-injected. This meant that the Merlin had a tendency to cut out during dives while the fighters they were opposing did not.

Still, the engine was a literal lifesaver for RAF pilots, and both the Brits and Americans wanted to buy more of them.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

A P-51 flies over Virginia. The P-51 was first built with an Allison engine but quickly transitioned to the Merlin with great results.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Ben Bloker)

Britain inked a deal with Ford motor company to start mass producing the engine on the American side of the Atlantic, but Ford later backed out of the deal. The offer was made to Packard, then a luxury car brand in the U.S., who turned out their first Merlin engines in August 1941.

It’s one of these early Packards that Leno is showing off in his garage. They were delivered across the Atlantic both in boxes and already installed in planes like the P-51.

The P-51 was originally ordered by the Royal Air Force in 1940 and sported an Allison engine that produced 1,200 hp, but proved unreliable above 15,000 feet. Since it was supposed to escort bombers, that was a huge issue. The switch to the Merlins greatly increased their power and altitude ceilings.

And, in a lucky coincidence, the Merlin changed the center of gravity of the plane, shifting it slightly back. The engineers added a fuel tank to the front to level it out, also increasing the plane’s range.

World War II buffs love the engine for its effect on the war, but gearheads like Leno can find a lot to love in the engine’s massive power output and throaty sound. As Leno points out in the video below, he actually bought two cars built around the Merlin engine — and both are massive hotrods.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Drury Wood: Experienced test pilot

Before an aircraft is approved for mass production, it needs to pass inspection. The aircraft must get off the ground successfully, endure changing conditions while in flight, and remain workable until returning to the ground. Marine Corps test pilot Major Drury Wood Jr., considered these factors when he flew experimental and modified aircraft.

Captivated by flight after a ride in a Ford Tri-Motor, Wood enlisted in the Navy Flight Program on Dec. 8, 1942. In February 1943, he attended training in Georgia. In Flight School, he learned to fly fighter planes in preparation for aerial combat against Japan.


After graduating in April 1944, Wood was sent to California where he flew Vought Corsair planes. He soon became a replacement pilot on the USS Bennington, for which he flew bombing missions in Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands in Japan. Wood was also among the first pilots to bomb Tokyo in the aftermath of the 1942 Doolittle Raid. For his service during the war, Wood received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

When the war ended, Wood transferred to Marine Fighter Squadron 225 in North Carolina, where he was part of a demonstration team. He also worked as a Forward Air Controller before being sent to Memphis, Tenn., to the Aviation Electronics Officers School.

After leaving the service, Wood worked as an operations officer at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He was soon called back up to active duty, and deployed to Korea in September 1950. There, he fought in the Battle of Incheon, and his squadron supported the Marine infantry divisions into battle against the Chinese in North Korea at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in November.

In 1952, Wood attended the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in Maryland. Upon graduating, he served there as a flight instructor and operations officer. Wood also worked with future astronaut Alan Shepard and taught John Glenn, who later became the first American to orbit the Earth.

In 1955, Wood accepted an offer from the Douglas Aircraft Company to work as a test pilot. He transferred to reserve status and then went to Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California. Wood worked with noted fighter pilots Chuck Yeager and Bud Anderson while at Edwards and tested multiple new planes.

Wood left the Douglas Aircraft Company when they began to focus more on missile testing than planes. He worked for the Northrop Grumman Corporation and the Army Test and Evaluation Center for two years before receiving an offer to fly as a test pilot for the Dornier Aircraft company in Munich, Germany, in 1964.

Wood was the only pilot to test or fly the DO 31, a military vertical and short take-off and landing transport with ten engines. He also maintains five still-standing world records in flight. He later received the German Distinguished Service Cross for his work with Dornier. Wood estimated that he flew over 150 different kinds of planes by the end of his military and test pilot career.

After returning from Germany, Wood attended Sonoma State University in California and earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and urban planning. He later became president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, which hosted the Mercury astronauts when they were awarded the Kincheloe Award for professional accomplishment in the field of test piloting. Wood also worked in an antique store, where a conversation with an Army colonel convinced him to finish his military career, so he joined the California National Guard.

Late life

When he retired from active service, Wood became active in Veterans’ organizations such as The Chosin Few and attended reunions with members of his Korean fighter squadron. He was also a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Pioneers of Naval Aviation Association.

Wood was inducted into the Oregon Aviation Hall of Honor at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in 2015 and honored on the Wall of Honor at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He died on Sept. 9, 2019. He was 95.

We honor his service.

Several of the details for this story were sourced from the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, Wood’s obituary, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first Navy Medal of Honor

The first Navy Medal of Honor recipient was Captain of the Maintop John Williams. He was an enlisted leader sent to reinforce an attack on a Confederate battery at Mathias Point who continued caring for all of his sailors and the flag even as he was wounded and under intense fire in June, 1861.


This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Union warships and Confederate batteries exchange fire at Aquia Creek.

(U.S. Navy sketch by Lt. Cash)

The attack on Mathias Point was part of the constant struggle during the war for control of the waterways in the divided nation. The typical script in the course of the war was of Union troops and boats pushing their way along rivers and coasts to starve Confederate cities of supply, but there were early cases of Confederate troops cutting off river access for U.S. forces.

In May, 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia sent troops to seize control of the Potomac, cutting off access to the sea from Washington D.C. Predictably, the Union ordered the Potomac flotilla, a small command consisting of just a few ships, to re-open the waterways.

One focus was Aquia Creek, a waterway that met up with the terminus of the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroads at Mathias Point. Obviously, a juncture of major land and sea transportation infrastructure is always a key strategic point.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Union sailors work with a cannon onboard the USS Thomas Freeborn.

(U.S. Navy)

The main ship in the flotilla was a small steamer, USS Thomas Freeborn, that carried only a few, light pieces of artillery, but it attempted multiple attacks on the new Confederate batteries on the Potomac in May and June, 1861. The initial fighting was not only indecisive, it was inconsequential. Neither side was able to inflict a serious injury on a member of the other force, and neither the battery nor the ships suffered real damage.

So, the Navy decided to switch to landing parties that would break up fortifications and prevent the construction of new fortifications and batteries. The first attack was on June 24, but it was during the follow-up attack on June 27 that Captain of the Maintop John Williams distinguished himself and earned the first Navy Medal of Honor.

Captain of the maintop was an enlisted position below that of the chief petty officer.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Union ships and Confederate batteries clash in 1861 as landing parties row to shore..

(U.S. Navy)

Potomac Flotilla Commander James Ward led the attack against a “large Confederate force,” which had not yet built fortifications on a position near Mathias Point. The Union troops managed to drive the Confederate pickets back toward their main force, but Ward was hit with a fatal gunshot wound soon after.

The men were ordered back to the boats, but then a second landing was made under the direction of a lieutenant, and the landing was quickly pushed back.

During this second landing, Williams “told his men, while lying off in the boat, that every man must die on his thwart sooner than leave a man behind,” according to his Medal of Honor citation. He was wounded in the thigh by a musket ball during the engagement, but retained control of his boat and carried the flag in his hand back to the Freeborn after the staff was destroyed by a musket ball.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Union ships fire on CSA batteries in Virginia in 1861.

(U.S. Navy)

The orders for his medal would not be approved until April 3, 1863.

Since then, Navy personnel have received hundreds of Medals of Honor. Most recently, the medal was awarded to Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Britt Slabinski for his initiative under serious fire in Operation Anaconda in 2002. Slabinski rescued multiple wounded service members after the insertion helicopter was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade and led a grueling defense until extracted.

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This was reportedly the youngest US serviceman killed in Vietnam

While most teenagers in the 1960s were worried about who they were going to take to the high school dance, Pfc. Dan Bullock was serving in Marine Corps and fighting against the communist guerilla army in North Vietnam.


At the age of 12, Bullock’s mother passed away forcing him and his sister to pack their North Carolina belongings and move up north to New York where they lived with their father and his new wife in Brooklyn.

But due to an unhappy home life, Bullock set his sights on joining the Marine Corps.

Related: Once upon a time, this ‘little kid’ was a lethal Vietnam War fighter

As other young men in those days decided to flee toward Canada to dodge the draft, Bullock decided to adjust the date on his birth certificate from Dec. 21, 1953 to Dec. 21, 1949, so he could enlist in the Marine Corps.

His newly revised birth certificate convinced Marine recruiters enough to let him join the Corps at the ripe age of 14.

In May of 1969, and within six months after graduating boot camp, Bullock arrived in Vietnam ready to fight with his platoon. He would be killed a month later.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
Dan Bullock wearing his dress blue uniform. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

On June 7, 1969, Bullock suffered significant wounds from an enemy satchel charge while serving in the Quang Nam Province and passed away shortly after, making Pfc. Bullock the youngest American to lose his life in the multi-year skirmish.

But it wasn’t until reporters visited Bullock’s family home when they discovered the tragic news of Bullock’s exact age — he was only 15.

Also Read: 5 key pieces of military technology developed by the US to fight the Vietnam War

Pfc. Dan Bullock’s memory can be honored on Panel 23W, Row 96 of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last combat soldier to leave Vietnam was killed in the 9/11 attacks

Max Beilke was in the Army for 20 years already by the time he deployed to Vietnam in 1972. His time there would be much shorter than the many others who did tours in the Vietnam War. His last day in Vietnam was the U.S. military’s last day in Vietnam. What made his last footstep on Vietnamese soil so unique was that it was captured on tape for the world to see.


On March 29, 1973, Master Sgt. Beilke was given a rattan mat before he boarded a C-130 bound for home. The giver of the gift was Bui Tin, a North Vietnamese observer, there to ensure the last hundred troops at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport left as agreed. Back home, his family watched live as the man they loved, drafted to fight in Korea in 1952, headed for home from the next American war.

His service didn’t stop when he landed back in the United States. Beilke retired from the Army and, in the next phase of his life, he worked to support American veterans. Eventually, he became the deputy chief of the Retirement Services Division, with an office in Virginia. But it was part of his duties that brought him to the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Max Beilke’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

Beilke was meeting with Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude and retired Lt. Col. Gary Smith. Just as they were sitting down to begin talking, United Airlines flight 77 hit the outer ring of the Pentagon. The three men never knew what hit them. They were all killed instantly. Traces of their remains could only be found through DNA tests on the disaster site, according to the Beilke family.

Max Beilke was 69 years old. Three months later, his remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The man who had survived the ends of two American wars was one of the first casualties of a new one, the longest one in American history. He left behind a legacy of gentleness and fondness for everyone who met him – including the North Vietnamese colonel sent to ensure he and the other Americans left Vietnam.

According to his biography on the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial site, he traveled extensively for his work and ended every presentation with the same Irish blessing,

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

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4 outstanding things you didn’t know about Dan Daly

If you’ve joined the Marine Corps or if you’ve studied military history, then you’re likely very familiar with the legendary Dan Daly. For the uninitiated, he’s known for being one of the most decorated service members of all time. He coined an expression that will forever live on in books, movies, and among troops,

“Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

Sound familiar?

Although Marines of all ages are taught many incredible things about the career of this bold war hero, there are few things you probably didn’t know about Sgt. Maj. Daniel Joseph “Dan” Daly.


Daly wasn’t the bigger guy ever

The New York-native joined the Corps in January, 1899, expecting to see action during the Spanish-American War. Unfortunately for him, the war was over before he had finished his training.

Sgt. Maj. Daly stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall and reportedly weighed about 135 pounds. Regardless of his size, the prideful Marine was well-respected within the ranks and was seen as a tough, fearless man.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
U.S. Marine Cpl. Gregg Alvarez takes a drink from devil dog fountain in Belleau, France. The Memorial Day ceremony is held in honor of the 97th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood. More than 1,800 Marines from the 5th and 6th Regiments lost their lives in the 21-day battle that stopped the last German offensive in 1918.
(Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Akeel Austin)
 

He earned two Medals of Honor — and almost got a third.

Sgt. Maj. Daly was one of only two Marines to be awarded two Medals of Honor during two separate conflicts. He earned the first one during the China Relief for killing numerous enemy combatants on his own. He received his second for heroic actions done during the invasion and occupation of Haiti. Alone, he crossed a river to retrieve a machine gun while under intense enemy fire.

He almost earned a third for his part in a counterattack against the enemy in the famous Battle of Belleau Wood. Instead, Daly was given the Distinguished Service Cross and, later, the Navy Cross.

Bummer.

Daly turned down an officer commission

For his outstanding leadership, the Marines offered Daly a commission. He turned it down by saying,

“Any officer can get by on his sergeants. To be a sergeant, you have to know your stuff. I’d rather be an outstanding sergeant than just another officer.”

That’s so badass!

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

The USS Dan Daly (DD-519)in honor of the Marine Corps legend.

Daly’s retirement

On February 6, 1929, Daly hung up his rifle for good and received a hero’s parade that marched from Bedford Ave. to the Williamsburg Plaza in Brooklyn in honor of his decorated military service. From then on, Daly led a quiet life as a guard at a Wall Street bank.

He never married. It just goes to show that if the Corps wanted you to find a spouse, they’d issue one.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

A ballsy arms dealer sold dud weapons to three sides of a conflict

You may never have heard of Basil Zaharoff. He’s not the Lord of War depicted by Nic Cage in the 2005 film; Zaharoff was actually around much, much earlier. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the “Lord of War” the Nic Cage movie is based on, has nothing on the original “Merchant of Death.”


It didn’t matter that they didn’t often work as directed.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Basil Zaharoff, the world’s richest arms dealer… eventually.

In the days before anyone actually cared about international arms trafficking, men like Zaharoff were renowned for their salesmanship. The Greek gun dealer and industrialist would become one of the richest men to live in his lifetime, selling weapons to anyone who was willing to purchase them, even if they were on opposing sides of a conflict. But his business cunning didn’t stop with getting people to buy. He was also adept at edging out his competition, selling the latest and greatest in military tech.

By the late 1880s, countries like the U.S., Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Germany, and Russia all sought out the Maxim Machine Guns, which Zaharoff had just gotten the rights to produce, along with the new submarines he was suddenly able to sell. While many of the world’s major powers eventually lost interest, the sub was especially interesting to Greece, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Isaac Peral’s submarine in 1886.

Until this time, the use of submarines was intermittent and untrustworthy in combat. But when a Spanish sailor created one that was actually functional, useful, and fired weapons without killing the crew, it raised some eyebrows. After Zaharoff was able to sell one to the Greek Navy, it wasn’t long before the Ottoman Turks, Greece’s longtime nemesis, noticed. The arms dealer was able to convince the Turks the submarine was a game-changer. He later told the Russian Tsar the same thing, and that Russia needed two of its own to balance power in the region.

The only thing was, no one needed Isaac Peral’s submarine. While it was an advanced invention, none of the models Zaharoff sold to the Greeks, Turks, or Russians actually worked as advertised. It still had a few bugs to work out, and besides – Zaharoff didn’t have the actual submarines; he was working from stolen plans.

None of the submarines actually worked like Peral’s original.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

How you walk when you sell five useless submarines to three countries who will never tell out of sheer embarrassment.

For all his failures of morality, Basil Zaharoff didn’t stoop to cheating the Allies out of much-needed cash after World War I broke out. Far from it. He used his skills as a merchant and salesman to further the Allied cause, ensuring Greece would stay in the Entente alliance and convincing the new Greek government to open a front against the Ottomans.

Of course, after the war ended, he went right back to his old tricks. He was selling weapons until the day he died in 1936, providing weapons to the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This famous actor was a bomber pilot in WWII

Remember It’s a Wonderful Life? The 1946 movie where an angel visits a man to convince him not to kill himself? The actor who portrayed the man was Jimmy Stewart, and he was pretty fresh from bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe when he played the part. He also remained in the Air Force Reserve until he retired as a brigadier general.


This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Lt. Gen. Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix De Guerre with Palm to Col. Jimmy Stewart for exceptional services in the liberation.

(U.S. Air Force)

Stewart was actually drafted into the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man in March 1941. It should be noted that he was already a prominent actor with a number of movies, mostly romantic comedies, under his belt. As an enlisted man, he took extension courses in order to attain his commission and got his lieutenant bars a month after the Pearl Harbor attacks.

While many people of Stewart’s fame could’ve gotten by on morale tours or some cush duty stateside, Stewart volunteered for flight training, earning him a pilot slot. Piloting aircraft was extremely dangerous in World War II, and Stewart was striving for a job more dangerous than rifleman on the ground.

After nine months as an instructor pilot, Stewart got a billet in a unit training up for deployment to England, the 703rd Bomb Squadron. They flew across the Atlantic in late 1943 in new B-24Hs and began raining Hell down on the Third Reich.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Maj. Jimmy Stewart confers with a B-24 crew member.

(U.S. Air Force)

Stewart briefed bomber pilots before missions he wouldn’t fly in, and many of the crews reportedly found it amusing to get their instructions from a famous actor, sort of like if Hugh Grant went through crew drills with you before your convoys.

Stewart flew 20 combat missions with the 703rd as the squadron hit oil, ammunition, and chemical plants as well as German air bases and other military positions. He was promoted up the ranks until, by war’s end, he was chief of staff of the 2nd Combat Wing.

But Stewart didn’t bow out of military service just because the war was over. He remained in the Army Reserve and then the Air Force Reserve when it was formed. In 1959, he was promoted to brigadier general. But he still had one deployment and combat flight left in him.

In 1966, he rode along in a bomber over North Vietnam as an observer. He retired in 1968.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

Brig. Gen. James Stewart.

(U.S. Air Force)

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 books about the Iraq War that will give you something to think about

The morning of March 19, 2003, marked the beginning of the Iraq War that would eventually lead to devastating loss for both countries. With its roots in the first Persian Gulf War, some argue that the Iraq/U.S. conflict was inevitable, while others consider it an unnecessary war.

After dictator Saddam Hussein’s refusal to abandon Iraq in 2003, U.S. and allied forces launched a full-scale attack. What followed were years of American occupation, a large number of Iraqi and American casualties, and a growing tide of opposition to the seemingly unending war. The Iraq War spanned nearly the entirety of two presidential administrations in the United States, leading to shifting strategies and new technologies. Eventually, the Obama administration withdrew the final troops in 2011, but the long years of warfare continue to affect the Iraqi nation. These Iraq War books recount, analyze, and revisit the effects and experiences of a war that some have deemed preventable.


This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

(The Feminist Press at CUNY)

1. Dreaming of Baghdad

By Haifa Zangana

A humane approach to Middle Eastern affairs, Dreaming of Baghdad is a hauntingly beautiful memoir that will leave you with a new perspective on the “War on Terror”. We follow Haifa Zangana’s experience as a political activist during Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq. She — along with a small group who resisted Saddam’s rule — was eventually captured and imprisoned at Abu Ghraib.

There is a stark illumination on the psychological disturbances experienced by individuals under dictatorship. Zangana is brutally honest when retelling her story of exile and incarceration; she experienced the agonizing loss of friends and comrades through torture and death in prison. A first-hand account that shifts between time, place, and subjectivity to comment on how the trauma of power and war affect our memory.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

(Skyhorse)

2. Packed for the Wrong Trip

By W. Zach Griffith

The relatively unknown prison at Abu Ghraib garnered global attention once photos of the abuses inflicted on prisoners were released. Abu Ghraib quickly became the focal point of a worldwide scandal. Just a few months after the photographs were released, the 152nd Field Artillery Battalion of the Maine National Guard arrived to serve as guards. Originally trained and meant to serve in Afghanistan, the soldiers were deeply unprepared for the scrutiny they would receive and the attacks they would soon endure. The group of citizen-soldiers were forced to rely on each other in order to survive one of the darkest prisons in the world and change it for the better.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

(Open Road + Grove/Atlantic)

3. The Finish

By Mark Bowden

Get inside the political choices that brought down Osama bin Laden. Bowden’s narrative takes the reader all the way back to President Clinton’s administration to discover the many seemingly minor actions that allowed al-Qaeda to grow. After Bin Laden’s terrorist organization wreaked havoc through the 1990s and early 2000s, taking him down became a top priority for foreign intelligence services around the world.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

(HMH)

4. Why We Lost

By Daniel P. Bolger

Firsthand experience and understanding brings a new perspective to American actions in the Iraq War. With a career as an army general that spanned over 35 years, Daniel Bolger provides a candid look into U.S. led campaigns with an insider look into the meetings, strategies, and key players of the war.

Bolger’s main argument is that we lost the Iraq War because the American forces never knew who they were truly fighting. As Bolger puts it, “Every man shot by U.S. soldiers wore civilian clothes. If he had an AK-47, was he getting ready to shoot you or merely defending his family? If he was talking on a cell phone, was he tipping off the insurgency or setting off an IED, or was he phoning his wife?”

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

5. The Iraq War: The Military Offensive, from Victory in 21 Days to the Insurgent Aftermath

By John Keegan

His background as a military historian with extensive knowledge on warfare gives Keegan’s discussion a refreshing, objective perspective. Keegan collated a well-detailed look into Iraqi history, from its origins in the Ottoman Empire to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The Iraq War, despite its broad title, primarily recounts the 21-day invasion by the United States and allies that removed Hussein from power. As an explanation of the factors that led to the war, this is an unmissable resource.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

6. The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan

By J. Kael Weston

This powerful 2016 book examines the relationship between warfare and diplomacy. Like many of the other authors on this list, Weston had an inside look into the U.S. government during the Iraq War. Weston was a State Department official — serving over seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weston uses this experience to show both the war and his own personal journey throughout the narrative. As a firsthand witness, he saw the sacrifice and casualties caused by a devastating war. The book follows Weston as he visits families, memorials, and the grave sites of 31 soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2005 — an operation he personally ordered. This deeply affecting tale reckons with Weston’s and the country’s actions in Iraq.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

(Bloomsbury Publishing)

7. Run to the Sound of the Guns: The True Story of an American Ranger at War in Afghanistan and Iraq

By Nicholas Moore

This eyewitness account of the Iraq War is presented through a series of vignettes as Nicholas Moore recounts the development of the Ranger Regiment. He chronicles the challenges troops had to face and adapt to while hunting for Iraq’s Most Wanted. Serving in an elite special operations unit, Moore was intimately involved in the war on terror, spending over a decade with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.

Moore discusses the search and rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and the devastating loss of the Chinook helicopter crash, which killed 38 men and one military working dog. Moore sees the events both as a soldier and as a husband and father who nearly lost his life in a global war against terrorism.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

(Random House Publishing Group)

8. The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq

By Bing West

This is a straightforward recapitulation of the Iraq War that reconfigures the reader’s understanding of the long-lasting conflict. Whatever your political stance, West puts it all under the microscope and leaves you questioning what you thought you knew. From the United States’s entrance into the war to the brink of defeat in 2006, to the unimaginable turnaround in 2007, West criticizes the Bush administration and Army generals as he travels between the Pentagon and Ramadi. In the end, West asks us to reflect on our mistakes to avoid repeating history.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

Phyllis “Pippa” Latour Doyle parachuted into Normandy in early May 1944, posed as a teen whose family had moved to the region to escape Allied bombing, and sold soap to German soldiers. 

Meanwhile, she obtained military intelligence about them and encoded it, hiding it on silk she kept in her hair.

A teen used soap to spy on nazis
Soap: Now a weapon against Nazis.

Codenamed Genevieve, Latour was a flight mechanic with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a teen. At the age of 23, she was selected for a covert mission, which required training in unarmed combat, weapons, morse code and parajumping. 

In one of her few interviews, she told New Zealand Army News that she joined the fight to honor her godmother’s father, who had been shot by the Nazis.

For months, she lived behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence on German forces. Her father was a French doctor who had married a British citizen living in South Africa. Fluent in French, she lived undercover as a teenage French girl, riding bicycles to pass along her coded messages. 

At one point, she directed the bombing of a German listening post, which resulted in the deaths of a German woman and two children. “I heard I was responsible for their deaths,” she said in her interview. “It was a horrible feeling. I later attended the funeral of a grandmother, her daughter and her two grandchildren, knowing I had indirectly caused their deaths.”

She was detained once by the Germans, who never thought to look for a message knitted into a hair scarf and released her.

After the war, she married an engineer and lived in Kenya, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. She did not share her military stories; instead, her family learned about her heroics by reading about them online. In 2014, she was presented with France’s highest decoration, an appointment as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, as part of the 70th anniversary of the battle of Normandy.

In April 2021, she will celebrate her 100th birthday.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how ‘Ripley at the Bridge’ became a Marine Corps legend

It’s impossible to describe John Ripley’s most famous action in a single headline. This Marine dangled from the Dong Ha Bridge for some three hours as North Vietnamese soldiers took potshots at him. He took his time attaching 500 pounds of explosives to the bridge, singlehandedly halting an advance of 20,000 Communists during the Easter Offensive.


This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

Then-Captain John Ripley was an American advisor in the northern regions of South Vietnam in 1972. He was at Camp Carroll, a firebase between Khe Sanh and Dong Ha, advising South Vietnamese troops. It was his second tour in Vietnam and things were mostly quiet…until they weren’t.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
That second trip though…

The NVA had been testing the U.S. defenses at firebases in his area but they would quickly disengage. One day in March 1972, they didn’t stop. Enemy artillery started raining shells on the firebases in the area. The NVA was throwing everything they had at South Vietnam, 14 divisions and 26 independent regiments. The Easter Offensive had just begun.

As Camp Carroll was overrun and its ARVN garrison surrendered, Ripley and another American escaped on a CH-47 Chinook. But the helicopter took on too many fleeing ARVN troops and was forced to crash land on Highway 1, near Dong Ha.

At Dong Ha, close to the DMZ that separated North and South Vietnam, he found a number of South Vietnamese Marines who had no intention of surrendering. He also found some 200 North Vietnamese tanks and self-propelled artillery backed up for six miles – and ready to cross the Cam Lo River.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
The tanks would drive down Highway 1 and into Saigon unless someone did something about it… SOME body… hmm…

“We didn’t have the wherewithal to stop that many tanks. We had little hand-held weapons. And we certainly didn’t have anything on the scale that was needed to deal with the threat. Originally 20 tanks had been reported.” Ripley chuckled softly at the memory years later.

With the monsoon season limiting American air support and the North Vietnamese controlling one half of the bridge, Ripley decided he had to blow up the bridge. By himself, if necessary.

Another American, Maj. James Smock drove him to the bridge in a tank and Ripley headed below where he found five ARVN engineers trying to rig the bridge to blow. They had 500 pounds of TNT. The problem was the way the explosives were laid out; the bridge wouldn’t be completely destroyed and the NVA would still be able to cross. They’d have to be rearranged.

By hand. With tanks and guns shooting at those hands.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
And the Marine attached to those hands.

Meanwhile, 90-pound South Vietnamese Marine-Sergeant Huynh Van Luom dashed onto the bridge in what Ripley called “the bravest single act of heroism I’ve ever heard of, witnessed or experienced.”

Huynh fired two M72 light antitank assault weapon rounds at the lead NVA tank. The first shot missed, but the second hit the tank turret, stopping it cold. The entire column was stopped. It couldn’t move and couldn’t turn around.

The ARVN engineers below the bridge took off as Ripley climbed over the razor wire barrier designed to keep people from doing what he was about to do. He climbed hand over hand as Smock pushed the explosives out to him. Ripley grabbed the box and moved it to a better location.

“I would hand-walk out, then swing up to get my heels into the “I” beam,” Ripley said, recalling that he was still wearing all his web gear and slung rifle. “Then I’d swing down on one T beam and then leap over and grab another T beam.”

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

For nearly three hours, Ripley dangled under the Dong Ha Bridge, rigging it to blow, and frustrating the enemy trying to kill him. To make matters worse, Ripley had no blasting caps, so he had to use timed fuses — fuses with an unknown time, set with his mouth.

Smock moved to rig the railway bridge to blow at the same time and moved back to friendly lines. The 500-foot bridges blew up just minutes later. The armored column became sitting ducks for the Navy’s ships offshore and South Vietnamese A-1 Skyraiders.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II

His effort on the bridge that day may have been the decisive factor that kept the North from taking Saigon until three years later.

Colonel John Ripley died in 2008 at the age of 69, but not before making a trip back to Dong Ha with some of his buddies from L/3/3 Marines in 1997.

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II
Colonel John Ripley, hanging out in Dong Ha, one more time.

(Cover Photo: Painting by Col Charles Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret.) captures the spirit of Ripley at the bridge at Dong Ha.)