If you ever attend a military funeral or memorial ceremony, you may notice a group of men and women proudly holding rifles. Then, at a specific time, they aim their weapons up to the sky and fire, usually causing a slight stir in the crowd, even though everyone was expecting it to happen.
Don’t worry — those rounds are just blanks.
This practice is quite common throughout the world and, as with many traditions, it has a practical origin. Back when ships carried cannons, it was universally understood that immediately after firing, these weapons were rendered ineffective for a period of time — after all, reloading took a while. So, in order to demonstrate peaceful intent, ships would turn their cannons to the sky and discharge, telling those ashore that a ship’s weapons weren’t live.
Nobody knows why ships were designed, at one point, to carry precisely seven cannon. Some theorize that it’s related to the seven phases of the moon, others think it has to do with the biblical week, and some say it’s simply because seven is a lucky freakin’ number.
The cannon in shore batteries (with ample stores of dry, usable gunpowder) would fire three shots in return for every single shot they heard coming from the sea. For all you math geniuses out there, that equals 21 cannon shots. Upon hearing the return fire, ships at sea knew that the harbor was friendly — and the 21-gun salute was born.
It isn’t always 21, though. During a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the POTUS, former presidents, and presidents elect receive the traditional 21-gun salute. Other high-ranking officials, however, like the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers in command over multiple branches, receive a 19-gun salute.
Although hearing the 21-gun salute typically means you’re mourning the loss of a fellow patriot, know that this is a practice rooted in peace and history. With this salute, the fallen join those who gave us traditions so long ago.
The biographies of most Navy SEALs probably don’t include a rap sheet — theft, possession of meth, possession of crack, and so on. But if there’s ever been a story of redemption through continued hard work and perseverance, it belongs to Adam Brown. Facing 11 felony drug and weapons charges after being found in a pool of his own blood, he opted into a drug rehab program — which only worked for a short while.
His best chance at turning his life around came in the form of a SEAL trident.
Brown’s life began like so many other good-ol’ American boys before him. The Arkansas native was a straight-A student and star football player. He was kind, respectful to his elders, and always ready for goodnatured fun. It wasn’t until he met an old flame that his descent into addiction began. She had a drug habit and, though Brown enjoyed a drink, he wasn’t inclined toward anything harder than that. Eventually, his girlfriend wore him down and he was hooked after one hit of crack-cocaine.
From there, he devolved into injecting it into his veins. Then, he began to try other drugs. Eventually, he could only be found on the floors of crack houses. He hit rock bottom when the girl who helped get him hooked eventually left and he began stabbing himself in the neck with a knife. When police found him, he was laying in a pool of his own blood. That’s when they discovered all his outstanding warrants. Facing massive jail time and a family that was done with his addictive behaviors, the judge gave him the choice: rehab or jail.
It was in rehab that Brown gave his life over to Christianity and met his soon-to-be wife, also a fervent believer. The two were happy, but Brown soon regressed. After a short disappearance, his new bride found him in a crack house. Addiction is a viscous and persistent curse, and this same scenario repeated itself until his new love threatened to leave.
By 1998, he knew he had to do something, so he stopped into a recruiter’s office after finding out a friend was joining the Navy as an aviator. The recruiter balked when Brown revealed his drug use and rap sheet, but Brown had a friend in a high place: the highest-ranking recruiting officer in the region. He vouched for Brown, who was almost immediately shipped out to basic training.
He showed up with just the clothes on his back and went straight for SEAL training.
“The training awakened in Adam the psycho who never quit,” Eric Blehm, author of ‘Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown’ told Investors Business Daily. “He also had Kelley [his wife] and his faith, which gave him a refuge and a shield of strength.”
Brown and Family, shortly before his last deployment to Afghanistan.
He was sent to SEAL Team Four, where he ended up with a knife in his eye due to a training accident. He covered the wound and continued on, eventually having to have the eye stitched up due to a loss of blood. He later lost his right eye — his dominant eye — during a room-clearing exercise and still he pressed on. He just learned to shoot with his left eye in SEAL sniper school.
Even with a 50-percent washout rate among those with two eyes, Adam Brown succeeded. He decided he wanted to join what he thought was the best of the best: SEAL Team Six. While waiting for the right time to train with SEAL Team Six, he took a deployment to Afghanistan in 2005, where a freak convoy accident left his right hand mangled and missing fingers. Instead of tending to his own wounds, he tended to others and pulled security until the last casualty was evacuated from the site.
When you can’t shoot with your dominant hand, just use the other hand.
With his dominant eye and his dominant hand both out, Brown did exactly what you’d expect him to do: he simply learned to work with his other hand. For a year, he made history as the only SEAL to ever attempt (let alone pass) the training with only one eye. And he was shooting almost-perfect scores.
By November, 2006, Brown was Chief Petty Officer Brown and the following years saw more hardship and deployments for the SEAL. He bore the pain of arthritis, a bad back, a broken leg, and surgery on both ankles so he could return to combat duty. He deployed to Afghanistan’s Kunar Valley and to the cities and villages all over Iraq, going on nightly raids chasing IED bomb-makers. Brown was only 33.
Navy SEAL Adam Brown personally went out of his way to hand out shoes and socks to Afghan kids in need.
His final deployment came in March of 2010. Their mission was to kill or capture a high-value Taliban leader, code-named Objective Lake James. Just like the bomb-makers in Iraq, the target was responsible for the deaths of many American and NATO soldiers. Flying into the mountains of Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush via Chinook Helicopter, Brown and the other STS SEALs fast-roped into the area and humped to a nearby village.
As the SEALs approached a stronghold, they managed to silently take out an enemy sentry, but another fired at the SEALs with his AK-47. As the area opened up with small arms fire, the SEAL Team needed to get a grenade in a nearby window. It was close, but not close enough to throw one in. As Brown made his way around with a grenade launcher, shots rang out to his left, riddling the determined SEAL with bullets. He was hit in both legs. Once he was down, other enemy positions poured bullets toward him.
His fellow SEALs got him out of the line of fire, but it would not be enough to save Adam Brown’s life. He died later that day, back at the base.
Though Brown’s story ends in his tragic death, it’s nonetheless a story about the power of human will in overcoming any challenge. Brown showed us that you can always shape your life in any way you want, and all it takes is the love and support of your family, friends, and the people who will always have your back. Fearless is a fitting name for his story – there was nothing in life that Adam Brown couldn’t overcome to shape his own destiny.
Audie Murphy was an American actor known for his Western films. However, his initial claim to fame came from being the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II. He was born in 1925 in a small Texas town to poor sharecroppers. Murphy joined the Army in 1942 after falsifying his birth certificate to ensure he could enlist before he was eligible.
During WWII, Murphy was credited with killing 240 members of enemy forces and capturing or wounding many others. In his three years of active service, he became a legend among the 3rd Infantry Division, and is considered one of the best fighting combat soldiers of this or any other century. The U.S. Army has declared that there will never be another Audie Murphy. That is most likely the case too, with modern day technology and modern warfare, it is unlikely any soldier will ever live up to the legend of Audie Murphy.
Murphy became the most decorated soldier of WWII by earning 33 awards and decorations. He was awarded every decoration for valor the United States offers, some more than once. These awards included the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to an individual. His awards from the war also included five decorations from France and Belgium.
Audie Murphy was released from active duty on September 21, 1945. After his release, he went to Hollywood at the invitation of actor James Cagney who had seen his picture on the cover of Life Magazine. After years of hardship, struggle to find work and sleeping in a local gymnasium, Murphy finally received token roles in his first two films.
Murphy’s first starring role came in 1949. In 1950, he received a contract with Universal-International (now known as Universal). He starred in 26 films over the next 15 years, 23 of which were Westerns. Murphy also filmed 26 episodes of a Western television series which went to air on NBC in 1961. Despite good reviews, Murphy’s series was deemed too violent. Only 20 episodes were aired before it was cancelled.
Audie Murphy suffered from what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He was plagued for years by insomnia and depression. By the mid-1960s, Murphy became dependent on a prescribed sleeping medication, Placidyl. When he realized he had become addicted to the medication, he locked himself inside of a motel room, stopped taking the pills and suffered through the withdrawal symptoms for a week.
Murphy used his fame to help advocate for the needs of U.S. veterans. Unlike most during that time, he chose to speak out about his experiences and struggles with PTSD, known as “Battle Fatigue” at the time. He called out the U.S. government to look closer at and study the emotional impacts of war and urged them to extend health benefits to address PTSD and other mental health issues of returning war veterans.
On May 28, 1971, while on a business trip, Audie Murphy’s plane crashed just outside of Roanoke, Virginia. He and five others, including the pilot, were killed in the crash. Murphy was 45 at the time of his death.
On June 7, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His gravesite, which is near the amphitheater, is the second most visited grave at Arlington, surpassed only by John F. Kennedy’s grave.
Audie Murphy remains a legend among the members of the U.S. Army. While he was well known for his work as an actor in Hollywood, his memory will live on as a true American hero.
In 1916, nine-year-old Paddy Ryan was caught in a shootout between the Irish Republican Army and British troops. One of the British men pushed Ryan to the ground, taking a bullet for the young boy. It inspired Ryan to join the Army.
Except Paddy Ryan wouldn’t join the British Army until 1930. But Alfonsus Gilligan, as Ryan was known at the time joined as soon as he could. And deserted shortly after.
Deserters in the era of the second world war left for many reasons; few of them were actually for cowardice. Most of them were actually because months and years of endless combat pushed many of the frontline British troops past their breaking point.
The British Empire abolished the death penalty for desertion after World War I. In World War II Europe, deserters ran the black markets of occupied countries like France and the Netherlands. In Africa, deserters were often recruited into special operations forces like the British SAS.
The 17-year-old wore his Irish Guards uniform to a public event in County Cork, Ireland — in defiance of British Army rules. The Irish, who just fought a war of independence against Britain, started a riot. Gilligan escaped unharmed, but was brought up on charges. He never returned to his London-based unit.
He spent a few years as an itinerant farmer and day laborer before he rejoined the British Army with a new name: Frank “Paddy” Ryan.
He and his fellow Royal Warwickshires deployed to France in 1940. He was part of the rear guard that held back the Nazis at Dunkirk, delaying them long enough for most of the men to make it off the beaches.
The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was overrun at Wormhoudt, in northern France, by the German army. They ran out of ammunition and surrendered with the expectation of proper treatment under the Geneva Convention.
Instead, a Nazi Waffen SS division called Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler took many of Ryan’s friends and brothers from the Royal Warwickshires, along with members of the Cheshire Regiment, Royal Artillery and a handful of French soldiers, to a barn near Wormhoudt, and then murdered them with grenades and rifle fire.
This became known as the Wormhoudt Massacre. Paddy Ryan was not among those killed. He fought on along the Ypres-Comines Canal as they made their way to the beach, being evacuated and returning to England on June 1, 1940.
His daughter didn’t discover her father’s first life until after his death in 2000. It inspired her and her husband to explore his life in more detail.
Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell was an Army officer at the beginning of the 1900s who campaigned for a separate Air Force that would revolutionize warfare. While most of his predictions about American airpower ultimately came true, Mitchell was dismissed as a radical in his day and convicted of insubordination.
Mitchell rose through the ranks quickly and was named deputy commander of Army Aviation shortly after his promotion to major. He requested permission to become an Army pilot, but as a 38-year-old major he was declared too senior in age and rank to become a pilot.
Mitchell eventually got his wish, and a series of demonstrations were scheduled for Jun.-Jul. 1921 where Mitchell’s forces would bomb three captures German ships and three surplus U.S. ships.
The crown jewel of the test targets from the German battleship Ostfriesland, scheduled for bombing Jul. 20-21. The tests were a resounding success. In full view of Navy brass and the American press, every ship was torn apart by aerial bombardment.
The Ostfriesland was hit with armor piercing, 2,000-pound bombs specially designed for use against naval ships. Unfortunately, the Navy claimed that Mitchell overstepped the parameters of the test and Congress just ignored the results.
The friction between Mitchell and the Navy and Congress grew, until two major accidents by the Navy. In one, three planes flying from the West Coast to Hawaii were lost and in another the USS Shenandoah Airship was destroyed with the loss of 14 sailors.
Mitchell took to the press to blast the Navy and Army brass who he believed had failed their subordinates.
“These incidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments,” Mitchell said. “The bodies of my former companions in the air moulder under the soil in America, and Asia, Europe and Africa, many, yes a great many, sent there directly by official stupidity.”
His trial was a national sensation, attended by societal elite and crowds of veterans. Mitchell’s lawyer tried to argue that Mitchell’s freedom of speech trumped his duties as an officer, but the defense easily ripped through the argument by pointing out allowing complete freedom of speech in the military could create anarchy.
Mitchell was sentenced to five years suspension without pay or duty, during which time he could not accept civilian employment. When the decision reached President Calvin Coolidge, Coolidge amended them to allow the general half pay and a subsistence allowance.
Mitchell opted to resign his commission instead. He launched a speaking tour that traveled around the country and promoted air power.
He died in 1936 and so was not able to see his prophecies come true in World War II. The Air Force Association tried to get his conviction overturned in 1955, but the secretary of the Air Force left it in place because Mitchell did commit the crimes. President Harry S. Truman authorized a special posthumous award for Mitchell in 1946, recognizing Mitchell’s work to create modern military aviation.
When people think of American firearm manufacturers, legendary names like Colt, Smith & Wesson and Springfield come to mind. However, the modern firearms that today’s Springfield Armory makes like the M1A, SAINT AR-15s, XD pistols and Hellcat sub-compact pistol have little, if any, relation to classic American firearms like the M1903 Springfield and M1 Garand rifles that served in the World Wars. To explain, we have to go back to America’s fight for independence.
In 1777, George Washington was searching for a suitable location for an arms repository. General Henry Knox, chief artillery officer of the Continental Army, recommended Springfield, Massachusetts. Though the town was small and possessed little industrial capacity, it was not meant to host any sort of firearms manufacturing facilities. Rather, the Continental Army needed a central location to store and distribute firearms and munitions throughout New England. Springfield lay at the intersection of three rivers including the Connecticut River and four major roads that led to New York City, Boston, Albany, and Montreal. After scouting the site, Washington approved the location and the Springfield Armory was born.
Although the armory did not produce any firearms, musket cartridges and gun carriages were produced there to support the war effort. As intended, the armory continued to stockpile and distribute muskets, cannons, and other weapons throughout the war. By the 1780s, Springfield Armory was America’s premiere ammunition and weapons arsenal. This made it a prime target for Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays and his Regulators.
Burdened by debts and taxes from the war, Shays and other veterans felt betrayed by the government that they had fought to establish. In an effort to overturn it, Shays and his followers marched on Springfield Armory on January 25, 1787. The armory was defended by state militia who fired grape shot at the rebels, forcing them to flee. Four Regulators were killed and 20 were wounded. The rebellion was routed and eventually put down and the armory was untouched.
In 1794, construction of manufacturing facilities began at Springfield Armory. The next year, the armory began producing its first firearms. Though the it employed just 40 workers and produced 245 muskets, it was the start of American national firearms manufacturing. Congress would later establish a second national armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). However, Harpers Ferry would never grow to match Springfield and would be destroyed during the Civil War.
Throughout the 19th century, Springfield became a hub for firearm design, research, and production. This national armory model mirrored European nations who had dedicated facilities that were funded, maintained, and operated by the government. Under this model, military firearms like the Trapdoor rifle, M1903 Springfield, and M1 Garand were designed and primarily built by the Springfield Armory. Though private companies like Winchester and Remington were contracted to produce rifles during wartime, the manufacturing processes and procedures were all developed and standardized by Springfield.
By WWII, Springfield Armory had over 15,000 employees and was producing a majority of military firearms. However, employment and production was scaled down significantly after the war. Though Springfield did develop and build the M14 to replace the M1 in 1959, U.S. defense policy was changing.
The idea of maintaining a national armory at the expense of the tax-payer was brought into question in the 1960s by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. He believed that it would be more economical to contract private industry for the design and manufacture of military firearms. Rather than having to constantly scale a national armory between peace and wartime, private companies could be lobbied and compete for government contracts when necessary. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Springfield Armory was slowly scaled back.
By 1968, Springfield Armory was completely shut down. Future rifles like the M16/M4 were designed and built by private companies like Armalite, Colt, and FN. However, just a couple years later, the Springfield Armory name was trademarked by Elmer Balance. Through his Texas-based company, LH Manufacturing, Balance had the idea to build a civilian version of the military M14 rifle and market it with the Springfield name. Using surplus M14 parts, Balance created what we know today as the Springfield M1A.
In 1974, Balance sold his entire enterprise, tooling, trademarks, and all, to the Reese family in Geneseo, Illinois. Springfield relocated from Texas to Illinois where it remains today. Though the M1A is a derivative of the M14 that was designed and manufactured by the original Springfield Armory, the rifle is the closest relation that the modern Springfield Armory has to its Revolutionary War-era namesake.
Despite this, Springfield Armory, Inc. maintains the federal logo of two crossed cannons with a cannonball and the writing “Since 1794”. Moreover, many of the company’s firearms are sub-contracted to other manufacturers including the XD pistol series and Hellcat pistol which are made in Croatia.
Today, the actual Springfield Armory facility in Massachusetts is owned and maintained by the National Park Service as a historic landmark. Though the national Springfield Armory is gone, its impact on American history is undeniable. In addition to designing and building war-winning weapons like the M1903 and M1 Garand, Springfield also revolutionized the manufacturing industry with innovations like interchangeable parts and the Blanchard lathe. The national armory also introduced modern business practices like hourly wages. While the modern private company is a cornerstone of the American firearms market, it’s important to note the difference between it and the national armory that it draws its name from.
In the military, sometimes things just get lost in transit. Gear goes adrift, paperwork gets filed wrong, and soldiers with no training in parachuting from a perfectly good airplane end up getting thrown out of a perfectly good airplane. It was bound to happen, and frankly, we should be a little surprised it took so long.
On Feb. 22, 2000, U.S. Army Spc. Jeff Lewis made his first ever parachute jump from a C-130 aircraft at Fort Bragg, N.C. The only problem was that no one had ever trained Specialist Lewis on how to jump from an airplane with the Army. Lewis was with the 82nd Airborne, so his unit was correct, it just turns out he wasn’t a paratrooper. He was a supply clerk. The then-23-year-old never mentioned anything to the jumpmaster because he wanted to do what the Army expected him to do.
“The Army said I was airborne-qualified,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t going to question it. I had a job to do, and I had to believe in what I was doing.”
A Jumpmaster can be held responsible for any training accident.
Lewis did eventually go to jump school, becoming airborne qualified just a few weeks after jumping out the airplane door for the first time. He was also promoted in that timeframe. But Lewis didn’t go out the door entirely unprepared. He took the 82nd’s one-day refresher course for those soldiers who are already airborne-qualified, and it might have saved his life. After stepping out of the airplane on the wrong foot, his equipment apparently got tangled. He was able to open the canopy by kicking with his feet, as instructed in the class.
Even though the troopers were doing a static line jump, the jump was only half the instruction necessary. The other half is, of course, the landing. Paratroopers are trained to land safely using certain techniques that redistribute the energy from the force of their fall. Even with the chutes, they can hit the ground as fast as 15 miles per hour. The untrained or new paratroopers can snap their legs when landing incorrectly and taking the brunt of the fall.
This could have been his first jump.
There’s a reason paratroopers train for weeks to learn to properly stick the landing. The chutes used by the Army aren’t like civilian chutes. They’re designed to get the trooper to the ground faster. While the Army could definitely afford safer, easier-to-use parachutes, the entire point of paratroopers is to get them on the ground and fighting as fast as possible. The more time they spend suspended in mid-air, the more opportunity enemy troops have to light them up.
Deep in the swampland along the Alabama-Georgia border is U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning. It’s home to many beautiful locales, such as Sand Hill, where you’ll hear drill sergeants snapping the civilian out of young infantrymen, and the Red Diamond Land Navigation course, where you’ll blink and run into a banana spider web. Most importantly, however, is the Inouye Parade Field at the National Infantry Museum.
Built and commemorated in 2009, the National Infantry Museum houses the rich history of America’s infantry dating back to the Revolutionary War. The parade field just outside is no different. Sprinkled across the field is ‘Sacred Soil‘ from the battlegrounds of Yorktown, Antietam, Soissons, Normandy, Corregidor, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Descendants of Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and commander of the infantrymen who forced the British surrender at Yorktown, laid their soil first. Henry Benning Pease Jr., descendant of Brig. Gen. Benning and namesake for the installation, laid the soil from America’s bloodiest single-day battle, Antietam.
Samuel Parker Moss, grandson of the most decorated officer of WWI, Lt. Col. Samuel I. Parker, and George York, the son of Sgt. Alvin York, spread the soil of Soissons, France. Theodore Roosevelt IV, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who earned the Medal of Honor on D-Day, and great-grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt, spread the sand from the Normandy beach. Son of Charles Davis, Kirk Davis, spread the dirt of Corregidor Island to represent the WWII Pacific Theater.
Col. Ola Lee Mize, who held Outpost Harry and earned the Medal of Honor, and Gen. Sun Yup Paik laid ground from Korea. Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Hal Moore and Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Basil Plumley brought the soil from the Ia Drang Valley and other Vietnam battlefields. And finally, Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill, the senior enlisted adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, spread soil from the battlefields of Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan to honor Operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom respectively.
In 2014, the parade field was named after the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, who held his ground at San Terenzo, Italy against overwhelming forces and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Ever since that bright March morning in 2009, every single infantryman who graduates out of Fort Benning will have the honor of walking among the heroes of every major conflict in American history.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea suddenly and unexpectedly invaded South Korea. Their first stop was the 24th Infantry Division stationed at Taejon. Since the U.S. and South Korean armies were already exhausted from trying to stop the North Korean People’s Army every step of the way from the border, Taejon didn’t stand much of a chance.
But to hear the North Koreans tell the story of Taejon, you’d think the Americans started the war and that Taejon was “liberated” when the KPA captured the city after a week of fighting. That’s what Singaporean tourist Aram Pan learned on a visit to North Korea’s Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.
Pan uploaded a video of his visit to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War museum in May of 2020. There, he saw a massive panoramic diorama of the Battle of Taejon from the North Korean point of view. The tour was led by a North Korean tour guide wearing the uniform of the Korean People’s Army.
“The U.S. imperialists provoked the Korean War on June 25, 1950,” said the guide. “Our soldiers liberated Seoul, the enemy’s capital on June the 28th, 1950, only three days after the outbreak of the Korean War.”
What the tour guide said is mostly accurate. The war did start on June 25th and North Korea did capture Seoul on the 28th of June.
“After losing Seoul, the enemy went to Taejon city as their second capital,” she continues, “and they were going to block the advance of our soldiers in the Taejon area.”
This is also mostly correct. The North Koreans did advance on Taejon after taking Seoul, and the Americans did stand a Taejon in an attempt to block the North Koreans from advancing further south. But there’s nothing different about that battle plan. Most defending armies in a war are going to try to block the advances of an invader.
The guide then shows off the massive panoramic display that was created in 1974. The exhibit shows what it would have looked like if you had been standing on a southwestern hill two kilometers away from Taejon during the June 14-21, 1950 battle there.
It also depicts what the North Koreans are taught about the Korean War. The guide says that President Kim Il-Sung personally oversaw the Battle of Taejon from Seoul. It’s highly unlikely Kim was so close to the fighting at the time. It was important to him to unify the Korean Peninsula under his regime, but Taejon was just another city to take from the Americans.
Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il probably enjoyed hearing this when they visited the exhibit’s opening in 1974, but it’s factually inaccurate.
“This battle was very famous because at this battle, the enemy’s technical superiority was defeated by our tactical superiority under the wise command of President Kim Il-Sung,” the guide continues.
The panoramic exhibit is 50 feet high, 433 feet long, and 137 feet in diameter but it gives a 25 mile view of the battlefield. The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum also features a number of captured or destroyed aircraft, tanks, and other vehicles from the United Nations and United States – of which it claims to have destroyed more than 10,000.
The Battle of Belleau Wood holds an important place in Marine Corps lore – alongside Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Hue City and Fallujah. During that battle, a brigade of Marines was part of a two-division American force that helped turn back a German assault involving elements of five divisions.
But how would a modern Marine brigade handle that battle?
The Marine Expeditionary Brigade of today is an immensely powerful force, with a reinforced regiment of Marine infantry, a Marine air group, and loads of combat support elements. This is usually a total of 14,500 Marines all-included. Don’t forget – every Marine is a rifleman, but the ones who do other jobs will really leave a mark on the Germans.
How will the gear of the MEB stack up to those of the Germans? Well, in terms of the infantry rifle, there are two very different animals. The Marines will use the M16A4, firing a 5.56mm NATO round that has an effective range of 550 meters. The Germans have the famous Gewehr 98, with a range of 500 meters. More importantly, the M16A4 is a select-fire assault rifle, while the Gewehr 98 is a bolt-action rifle.
In other words, the individual Marine has the individual German outgunned. Furthermore, with optics, the Marines are going to have much more accuracy in addition to a much higher rate of fire.
For the Germans, it gets worse when one looks at other gear the modern Marine brigade has available. In a given fire team, there are two M16A4s, a M249 SAW or M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, and a M16A4 with a M203 grenade launcher. The MG08 may have an edge over the M240 that a Marine company might bring into the fight, but where the Germans will really get chewed up is when they try to attack a MEB’s 18 M2 heavy machine guns and 18 Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers.
As the Germans break themselves on the Marine defenses, the Marine counter-attack will be devastating. M777 Howitzers will fire Copperhead and Excalibur guided projectiles to guarantee hits on German strong points. Marine M224 60mm mortars and M252 81mm mortars will add to the bombardment, and can also lay smoke.
Furthermore, Marine brigades will attack at night. The Germans do not have night-vision goggles or even IR viewers. The Marines do. The Marines will also be able to use AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, LAV-25 light armored vehicles, and M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks to provide direct support. The BGM-71 TOW and FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles the brigade have will also help decimate German fortifications.
We’re not even touching what the air component of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, three squadrons of AV-8B+ Harriers and two of F/A-18s, plus assorted helicopters, would be capable of doing. Let’s just say that Joint Direct Attack Munitions on fortifications and cluster bombs on infantry in the open would be a decisive advantage for the MEB.
The Battle of Belleau Wood lasted for 26 days in June 1918 — nearly a month of vicious combat that left 1,811 Americans dead. A modern Marine brigade would likely win this battle in about 26 hours, and they’d suffer far fewer casualties doing so.
A once quiet landscape turned battlefield, the clash of gunfire and shouts ripped through the Shahi-Kot Valley in the early hours of March 4, 2002. As part of an early war effort that targeted al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan, the Battle of Roberts Ridge is still known as one of the deadliest engagements during Operation Anaconda.
Above the Takur Ghar mountain top, an MQ-1 Predator aircrew became an unforeseen, close air support asset for a desperate joint special operations team in their time of need.
Deep, black smoke from a crashed, bullet-riddled MH-47 Chinook helicopter filled the air. Among the wreckage were the lead combat controller on the ground, Maj. Gabe Brown, then a staff sergeant, along with the rest of the special operations team who worked to secure casualties and defend their position on the summit.
Pinned down on the landing zone and under direct fire, Brown established communications with an MQ-1 aircrew in the area who had visual of the team. Col. Stephen Jones, then captain and Predator pilot, had already been in the cockpit and was ordered to support just moments after the crash.
Before Jones arrived on station that early morning, he had no idea what he and his team were in for.
An MH-47 Chinook Helicopter.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
“I remember coming in on shift that night and there was a lot of commotion,” Jones said. “I was told to get out to the ground control station as soon as possible.”
Throughout the day, Brown said he developed rapport with the Predator pilot as he gave situational awareness updates and assisted with targeting enemy combatants.
“When I had fighters check in, he would buddy lase for those inbound fighters and would help me with the talk-on, so it cut my workload dramatically having him there,” Brown said.
Many other U.S. and coalition aircraft were simultaneously entering and exiting the area. Before authorizing a strike, Brown needed to “talk-on” the respective aircrew, which meant he briefed the situation on the ground to every aircraft that entered the airspace.
With a bird’s-eye view, Jones and his aircrew alleviated some of Brown’s duties and took control of liaising information within the zone, while serving as forward air controllers in the battle.
“(From our cockpits) we were serving as forward air controllers airborne or FACA, and I was serving as the on-scene commander,” Jones said.
He began looking after the survivors, deconflicting airspace for coalition aircraft coming in and out, as well as communicating back to the joint command and control elements about the survivors’ condition as they put together an evacuation plan.
“Gabe was doing a phenomenal job being a controller on the ground calling in close air support, but it was a lot of work,” Jones said. “There were a ton of coalition aircraft coming in and out and some of them didn’t have much play time, meaning they had to get in, develop an understanding of what was going on, receive a nine-line and then drop bombs or shoot their missiles.”
The aircrew took some of the burden from Brown who remained on frequency with Jones, ready to voice commands at any moment.
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)
Brown was able to conserve radio battery life due to the aircrew’s initiative and the MQ-1’s ability to loiter over the battlefield for extended periods of time.
Ground forces were still pinned down from continuous bunker fire when Jones relayed the evacuation plan to Brown. Their team was in need of a precise airstrike that could eliminate the enemy hunkered down deep in the mountainous terrain.
Brown first called upon fighter aircraft.
“We were basically trying to use walk-in ordinance off the fighters, using 500-pound bombs to frag (blast) the enemy out of the bunker and we were unable,” Brown said.
After numerous attempts, Brown and his team were running out of options and daybreak quickly approached…
Brown and his team were considered danger-close due to their proximity to the target, causing concern for aircrew and senior leaders. However, Brown’s need for immediate aerial support outweighed any apprehension.
“It was late in the morning, he (Jones and aircrew) had one shot left and we had been on the ground for a few hours,” Brown said. “I gave my own initials and cleared him hot.”
Jones released the hellfire missile and successfully destroyed the bunker, which allowed U.S. forces on the ground to recuperate and devise a mission plan going forward.
“When that hellfire went into that bunker, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that bunker had been neutralized,” Brown said.
The enemy may not have seen the MQ-1 as it soared overhead, but radical terrorists felt the Predator’s wrath.
Jones and the rest of the MQ-1 aircrew loitered above the combat zone for approximately 14 hours, relaying critical information and laser-guided munitions during the entire fight. Their actions provided key reconnaissance for senior leaders commanding the situation, and directly enabled visual relay between forces on the ground and the combatant commander.
“I credit that pilot, the technology and that airframe with saving my life, as well as the team’s and getting the wounded and KIA (killed in action) off the hilltop that day,” he said.
The Army element known as “America’s Contingency Corps” marked the 76th anniversary of D-Day by telling the story of a black veteran of that battle who died without ever receiving the full hero’s recognition he deserved.
The Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based XVIII Army Corps published a series of tweets Saturday night telling the story of Cpl. Waverly Woodson, who sustained “grievous” wounds at Omaha Beach in Normandy, but still managed to save the lives of 80 other soldiers.
The XVIII Corps is the same unit from which some 1,600 soldiers were ordered to the Washington, D.C. region this week to stand on alert for protest control. They ultimately returned home without entering the district.
Woodson was one of roughly 2,000 black American soldiers who landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944. A member of the all-black 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, he worked for 30 hours to triage the wounded after getting hit by a German shell himself, according to the tweet thread. In all, he treated more than 200 soldiers.
“He was transferred to a hospital ship but refused to remain there, returning to the fight to treat more Allied Soldiers. He was hailed as a hero in his hometown of[Philadelphia],” the thread stated. “Yet when he returned to the US, he had to fight Jim Crow, facing discrimination at every turn.”
Woodson was nominated by his commander for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat award. Instead, he was awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple heart.
The tweets noted that Woodson had departed Lincoln University, where he was a pre-med student, to serve his nation after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Despite passing the Army’s officer candidate school exam, his race meant he could only serve as an enlisted soldier.
“Waverly Woodson never truly received the recognition he deserved for his selfless heroism on this day 76 years ago,” the thread concluded. “Today, let’s acknowledge him and the [largely overlooked] African American troops who landed on Normandy on D Day.”
“Based on extensive research on his service record, it is clear that Cpl. Woodson did not receive the Medal of Honor during WWII because of the color of his skin,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe that the Army has sufficient evidence of the required recommendation to, at a minimum, permit a formal review by an award decision authority. Accordingly, we respectfully ask the Army to rectify this historic injustice and appropriately recognize this valorous Veteran with a posthumous recommendation for the Medal of Honor.”
It’s not clear if the XVIII Airborne’s public acknowledgement of Woodson and his heroism signals a larger interest on the part of the Army in revisiting his award.
Until the 1990s, no Medals of Honor had been awarded to black World War II veterans. Following a review commissioned by the Army in 1993, seven black veterans of the war received the nation’s highest combat honor, all but one posthumously.
It is 100 years to the day, June 26, 1918, since an obscure wood 50 miles from Paris, the Bois de Belleau, was captured by U.S. forces in a protracted battle of World War I. During those weeks the wood had become a focal point of American military hopes, an early and vital display of the American Expeditionary Force’s capability on the battlefield. The bloody encounter occupies a special place in the annals of U.S. military history. Patrick Gregory looks at what happened there and asks why the battle still stands out.
In late April 2018, a photo opportunity featuring the presidents of the United States and France and their wives planting a tree was beamed across the world. What seemed to attract as much publicity at the time was the fact that the young tree in question was removed soon after the ceremony, taken into temporary quarantine. What achieved less attention was where the sapling had come from or why — Belleau Wood.
As with most such scenes of slaughter of the First World War, the Bois de Belleau is as quiet now as it doubtless was before the fighting which erupted there in June 1918. And that fighting was brutal. What happened there was an important moment in the contribution of the United States in the First World War. It was also an important moment in the development of the U.S. Marine Corps.
(Library of Congress photo )
By May 1918 the U.S. had been a combatant in Europe for over a year; yet American troops, still arriving in France, had to date only played a supporting role. That was all going to change. American Expeditionary Force commander John Pershing had stubbornly resisted Allied efforts to co-opt his men — a regiment here, a regiment there — to add to their own ranks, remaining determined to train and assemble a fully-fledged army of his own.
The moment of truth now arrived to test those men in battle: May 28, 1918, the first full U.S.-led offensive of the war. Led by Pershing’s trusted First Division, the ‘Big Red One’ under Robert Bullard attacked at Cantigny in northern France, 20 miles from Amiens. Of limited strategic value, perhaps, but the three-day battle was a success, demonstrating that the Americans could fight. It was a shot in the arm for the AEF, a much needed psychological boost after all the months’ waiting.
However, of more immediate concern to the Allies was a new and deadly enemy offensive which had been unleashed during this time 50 miles south-east: one cutting easily through Allied lines and driving further south towards the river Marne, leaving German forces within striking distance of Paris.
On May 30 two separate American divisions, the 2nd & 3rd, were ordered into the Marne area, arriving from different directions east and west. A machine gun battalion of the latter secured the south bank of the river at the key bridgehead of Château-Thierry, as other of their number began to take up position.
But the main action of the weeks ahead would lie north-west of the town, involving men of the 2nd Division; in particular, two of their regiments, a brigade of Marines led by Pershing’s old chief of staff James Harbord. It would be their efforts to secure a woodland there that would capture headlines, helped in part by the purple prose of journalist Floyd Gibbons.
(Library of Congress photo )
Belleau Wood was barely more than a mile long and half a mile wide, yet it would cost many lives to capture and would be reported across the world. “It was perhaps a small battle in terms of World War I,” says Professor Andrew Wiest of the University of Southern Mississippi, “but it was outsized in historic importance. It was the battle that meant that the U.S. had arrived.”
Yet as operations go — as brave and resolute as the troops were throughout — it was poorly planned and badly commanded, certainly in its opening phases. After adjacent areas were captured on the morning of June 6, the decision was taken to advance on the wood that afternoon from two directions, west and south. The former was led by a battalion of 5th Marines under Benjamin Berry; the southern attack undertaken by Berton Sibley’s battalion of 6th Marines, supported on their right by 23rd Infantry from the division’s other regular army brigade.
But little reconnaissance had been carried out in advance as to what to expect when they got there and only scant artillery fire was laid down beforehand. Inside, German machine gunners had taken up positions in defensive holes, behind rocky outcrops and shielded by dense undergrowth. Worse, the Marines now advanced towards them in rank formation over the exposed ground outside, with Berry’s western advance particularly exposed. They were slaughtered. By nightfall 222 were dead and over 850 wounded.
Bloodied but remaining focused on the task, the men went again the next day. And the one after that. Yet little headway was made. An intense 24-hour artillery barrage was belatedly ordered, followed by yet another assault. Headway was finally made but casualties continued to mount as the German troops clung on in the farthermost reaches of the wood. The 7th Infantry from the neighboring 3rd Division was called in for some days to help lighten the load.
The fighting labored on for three weeks and in its final stages, foot by foot, hand to hand, it intensified in savagery. Artillery shells and guns now gave way to bayonets and “toad-stickers,” 8-inch triangular blades set on knuckle-handles, as the Marines slashed their way through the last of their enemy. But finally word came through on the morning of June 26 from Major Maurice Shearer: “Belleau Wood now US Marine Corps entirely.”
(Library of Congress photo )
As the story goes, German officers, in their battle reports, referred to the Marines as Teufelshunde “Devil Dogs”; and journalist Floyd Gibbons also helped, singling out one gunnery sergeant in dispatches as “Devil Dog Dan.” Either way, the name and image stuck and went on to become a celebrated symbol of the Marines.
“It was the day the U.S. Marines went from being a small force few people knew about to personifying elite status in the US. military,” says Andrew Wiest. The corps had roots dating back to the American War of Independence, but from Belleau developed much of the corps’ modern lore and myth.
More significantly, and of strategic importance, their intervention at Belleau and that of their 2nd and 3rd Division colleagues in the surrounding area on the Marne put paid to the German advance, at what was a dangerous moment in the war for the Allies.
The commander of the U.S. First Division Robert Lee Bullard subsequently declared: “The Marines didn’t win the war here. But they saved the Allies from defeat. Had they arrived a few hours later I think that would have been the beginning of the end. France could not have stood the loss of Paris.”