How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Ching Shih was born around 1775 in China and became a prostitute in Canton, a province in southwest China, before marrying a pirate leader, taking over his fleet, and growing it until it was able to destroy a combined fleet of Chinese, British, and Portuguese navy ships as well as Dutch mercenary vessels.


Then she accepted amnesty from the Chinese government and walked away with her ill-gotten fortune and a title as Chinese nobility.

Ching attracted the eye of Zheng Yi Sao — a pirate leader with a fleet of a few hundred ships — when she was 26 years old and working as a prostitute. Zheng became smitten with her and either proposed to her in the brothel or ordered her abducted in a raid. (Both stories have been passed forward in the years since the incident.)

 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Ching Shih (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

Either way, Ching agreed to marriage with a couple of specific requirements, the most important one being that she gain some control over the fleet and a share of its profits.

For the next six years, Ching and Zheng managed the “Red Flag Fleet” together. But Zheng died in a tsunami, leaving Ching in the dangerous position of being a woman atop 600 ships and their crews of outlaws.

Ching quickly struck an accord with Chang Pao, Zheng’s lieutenant and former slave who was granted control of the fleet. Ching and Chang built a new power structure for the Red Flag Fleet and grew it quickly.

Ching focused on the business dealings of the fleet and Chang led the troops in combat. They employed shallow-bottomed boats that attacked coastal villages and conducted raids in rivers while larger junks, the premiere war-fighting and commerce ship in the area at the time, raided merchant shipping and fought the Chinese navy.

 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
The Chinese Junk Keying. (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

The really revolutionary part of their partnership was Ching’s economic foresight. She extorted protection payments on a larger scale than most others and she formed a network of farmers, fisherman, and spies to keep the fleet well supplied and informed. Eventually, Ching took over control of the entire Red Flag Fleet from Chang.

The criminal network grew until it consisted of over 1,700 ships and 80,000 pirates. The bulk of the ships were still in the Red Flag Fleet, but many ships were assigned to subordinate commanders who ran the Black, White, Blue, Yellow, and Green fleets.

This massive force posed a serious threat to the Qing dynasty, which ordered a fleet constructed to destroy the pirates. Instead, Ching led the combined fleets out and easily dispatched the government forces.

Ching even captured about 63 of the Chinese ships, more than she lost of her own vessels, and pressed most of the crews into service with her own forces. She won the battle so hard, she came out of it with more forces than when she started.

Unsurprisingly, the emperor took his loss personally and ordered the Chinese navy to challenge her fleet. He enlisted the aid of the British and Portuguese navies in the effort and hired Dutch mercenaries to assist.

For the next two years, Ching’s fleets fought their way through the enemy forces, still gaining power and loot despite the ships arrayed against them.

But the writing was on the wall. The dangerous business would have to end sooner or later, and Ching wanted her and her pirates well set up for it. Some articles on Ching also point to a conflict between the Red and Black Fleets for what happened next.

The emperor offered an amnesty to draw away many of the pirates working in his territory, and Ching herself took him up on it. But, like when she married Zheng, she required a few additional incentives.

First, nearly all of her workers, from the pirates who engaged in combat to the farmers who supplied them, were to get off without punishment. Second, the government had to provide money to help the pirates transition to shore life.

Third, Ching was to receive a title in the Chinese nobility.

The government caved, and Ching got her list. At the young age of 35, only nine years after escaping a brothel in Canton, Ching was made a member of the nobility and sat on a massive fortune. She opened a gambling house and brothel in China and settled into a semi-quiet retirement.

Chang, meanwhile, wanted to keep his life on the seas and got command of 20 government ships in the deal.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This WWII sub captain went down with his ship to save his crew

The USS Growler was listing at 50-degrees, its bow bent sharply to the side. Japanese machine gun fire raked the bridge. Two men had already been killed and three more wounded — including the submarine’s captain, Cmdr. Howard Gilmore. He was clinging to bridge rail to keep from collapsing. The Growler needed to submerge to survive; there was no time to waste. Gilmore cleared the bridge and, too badly injured to save himself, he gave the order.


Take her down!

He sacrificed himself and saved his boat. He had also earned a Medal of Honor, becoming only the second submariner to be so honored and the first of World War II.

His body was never found.

 

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Gilmore died saving his crew.

The Selma, Alabama native graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1926. He served on the Battleship USS Mississippi before entering the submarine service in 1930 and served on several submarines there before taking command of the newly-built Growler the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After her shakedown cruise, the Growler played a minor role at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and then began wartime patrols.

Gilmore commanded her on four of those patrols.

On his first patrol in July 1942, the Growler was near Kiska in the Aleutian Islands when she spotted three Japanese destroyers. Commander Gilmore attacked, sinking one of destroyers, the Arare, damaging the other two. The action earned him a Navy Cross.

But it’s the fourth patrol that is remembered.

In early February 1943, the Growler was in the area of the Bismarck Islands off the northeastern coast of New Guinea and already sunk 12,000 tons of Japanese shipping and damaged at least one other ship. In the early morning hours of Feb. 7, she was on the surface charging her batteries when the Japanese convoy escort Hayasaki spotted her through the darkness and the overcast. The Japanese ship quickly turned to ram the submarine. Gilmore, who was on the bridge at the time, sounded the collision alarm and ordered “left full rudder,” which brought the Growler on to its own ramming course.

The submarine struck the Japanese ship amidships at eleven knots, damaging Hayasaki‘s plating and her own bow. Eighteen feet of the submarine’s bow was bent to port and the forward torpedo tubes were put out of action. She was listing. The Hayasaki immediately began raking the Growler’s bridge with machine gun fire, killing the junior officer of the deck, Ensign W. Williams, and a lookout, Fireman W. F. Kelley. Two other crewmen on the bridge were also severely wounded, one with a serious leg injury and the other with an arm wound.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
The Growler’s bow bent at a 90-degree angle.

Hanging on as the ­Growler listed and knowing the Growler had to submerge or be lost, Gilmore ordered the bridge cleared. The Quartermaster and Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Arnold Schade, went through the hatch and pulled the wounded men through after them.

They waited in the control room for Cmdr. Gilmore to follow.

Instead, they heard the command: “Take her down!”

The Growler submerged and was able to avoid further damage. When she later surfaced, there was no sign of the Hayasaki — or of Gilmore, Williams, and Kelley.

Schade and the remaining crew of the Growler were able to hold the submarine together enough to get her back to Brisbane, Australia, arriving on Feb. 17. There, she was dry-docked and underwent extensive repairs before returning to the war under the command of Capt. Schade.

Growler continued wartime patrols for the next two years but was lost with her crew off the Philippine Islands in November 1944. It was her 11th patrol on the war.

Gilmore was awarded a Medal of Honor and additionally honored in September 1943 when a new submarine tender was christened the USS Howard W. Gilmore and launched in California.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Gilmore’s wife accepted his Medal of Honor in his place.

The command, “Take her down!” became a legend in the submarine service.

Articles

These battleship vets bring the USS North Carolina back to life through combat stories

The USS North Carolina was what they called a “fast” battleship, designed for long range shooting matches with other ships of war. She was faster than any other ship in the U.S. fleet when she was built.


“I was 17 when I came aboard this thing,” says James Bowen, a World War II veteran and USS North Carolina sailor. “I saw that thing and said ‘Nothing can hurt me on that thing.’ So I think of this as my second mother.”

“It brings back a lot of memories, if you walk around the ventilators,” says Louis Popovich, another USS North Carolina veteran. “It’s amazing how you can be reminded of an area by breathing some of the air.”

By the end of WWII, submarine warfare and aircraft carriers made the more expensive heavy gun warships like North Carolina all but obsolete. The last use of a battleship in combat was in Desert Storm, but by then they were firing Tomahawk missiles. Slowly over the next 50 years, the battleships of WWII were decommissioned one by one.

The North Carolina was opened to the public in 1963 and is now moored at Wilmington, N.C, where those interested in hearing more stories from the men who fought aboard her can visit.

While the ship will be there for the foreseeable future, the veterans’ firsthand stories will not. An estimated 430 WWII veterans die every day and by 2036, they will all be gone — but not forgotten.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the plane that almost beat out the legendary F-16

You may know Chuck Yeager as the man who broke the sound barrier, but back in the 1980s, he was also pitching a new fighter jet — one that arguably would have been on par with some of today’s fighters.


How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
The Northrop F-20 Tigershark. (USAF photo)

That jet was the Northrop F-20 Tigershark. First known as the F-5G, it was a program to give American allies an advanced multi-role fighter to replace older F-5E/F Tiger IIs. The Tiger was a good plane, but arguably at a disadvantage against jets like the MiG-23 Flogger. The Soviet Union was also widely exporting the MiG-21 Fishbed and the world needed a response.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A Soviet Air Force MiG-23 Flogger. (US Air Force)

American allies had a problem, though. Under President Jimmy Carter, the United States would not release the F-15 Eagle or F-16 Fighting Falcon to many of them. Israel got lucky, and was able to buy the planes, but most other allies had to settle for something less capable. Northrop’s privately-funded venture fit the bill.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
An F-16 Fighting Falcon refueling over Afghanistan (Photo US Air Force)

The F-20 replaced the two J85 turbojet engines typical of the F-5E with a single F404 turbofan, like those used on the F/A-18. It also had the ability to fire the AIM-7 Sparrow, a semi-active radar-guided missile. Northrop also got Chuck Yeager to serve as the pitchman.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Yeager wearing his star. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The F-20 proved to be very easy to maintain, was cheap (aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that a $15 million per plane price tag was quoted), and had a number of advances that made it a capable interceptor. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the F-20 had a top speed of 1,500 miles per hour and a range of 1,715 miles. Three prototypes were built, and a fourth would have had more fuel capacity and the ability to use drop tanks.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A F-20 Tigershark fires an AGM-65 Maverick missile. (USAF photo)

 

The problem was, even with Chuck Yeager pitching it, the Air Force and Navy didn’t want the plane. The last chance for this plane’s success came and went when the Air National Guard declined to replace F-106 Delta Darts and F-4 Phantoms with it, opting instead for modified F-16s. Learn more about this fighter-that-could-have-been below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what different berets mean in the Army and Air Force

Spend any amount of time on or around an Army or Air Force post and you’ll be sure to find a number of beret-wearing service members around you.


Hell, you’re going to be greeted by a blue beret each and every time you get to an Air Force gate (SecFo HUA!) and, if you were on any Army post between 2001 and 2011, you saw black berets everywhere you went, as they were a part of standard Army uniform.

Got it — but what about the less commonly seen berets? The green, the tan, and the maroon?

This is what berets of all colors mean in the Army and Air Force.

Black — U.S. Army

A black beret is worn by all soldiers in service dress unless they are otherwise authorized to wear a different, distinctive beret.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
The black beret is authorized for wear in service dress for the entire Army. (DOD Photo by Karlheinz Wedhorn)

Black — U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party

A black beret is the official headgear of the Air Force TACP. They’re about as operator as you get in the Air Force without becoming pararescue or combat control.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Black berets look good in Air Force Blue, too. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Blue — U.S. Air Force Security Forces

The most common beret across all branches of service as of writing. Security Forces (the Air Force’s version of Military Police) wear the blue beret with every uniform whenever not deployed or in certain training.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
The second most common beret on this list: Security Forces HUA! (Image from Paul Davis).

Green — U.S. Army Special Forces

This is the cream of the crop of the U.S. Army. The green beret is the single most recognizable sign of a badass.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
They could still probably kick your ass… (Image via Reddit).

Grey — U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape

These guys teach most of the other badasses on this list how to survive in the worst conditions. That definitely qualifies them for their own beret.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A new wave of survival specialists. (USAF photo by Airman 1st. Class Melissa L. Barnett).

Maroon — U.S. Army Airborne

Aside from the Army’s green beret, the maroon beret of Army airborne is one of the easiest to recognize.

These guys drop into any situation with complete operational capability.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Oh, just a bunch of badasses in the midst of random badassery… (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Maroon — U.S. Air Force Pararescue

In the Air Force, the maroon beret means something completely different. While being Army Airborne is an amazing distinction, the Air Force Pararescuemen are truly elite.

The introductory course has one of the highest failure rates of all military schools and the ones that do complete it go on to become the kind of guy that you do not want to fight in a bar.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Ever see a wave of kick*ss? (Image by Stew Smith)

Pewter Grey — U.S. Air Force Special Operations Weather

These guys do weather in the most undesirable conditions. I know that may not sound very operator, but just take a quick look at the training they endure and the types of operations they conduct and you won’t ever question their beret again.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A surprising badass, Air Force Special Operations Weather. (Image from Combat Survival Magazine).

Tan — U.S. Army Rangers

The Army Rangers began wearing tan berets in 2001 when the Army made the black beret the standard headgear for the entire Army.

Prior to that, they owned the black beret.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
It’s safe to say the tan beret has grown on us all. (Image from 75th Ranger Regiment Public Affairs Office)

Scarlet — U.S. Air Force Combat Control

The scarlet beret is the headgear of the U.S. Combat Controller. Their beret is one you’ll rarely see because they’re always on the go, doing what they were trained to do… which is classified.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A Combat Controller salute. (USAF photo by Dawn Hart)

Articles

How the WW2 bomber Memphis Belle got its wings back

For the first time in 14 years, one of the most iconic planes in American history has earned its wings.


Restorers have reattached the wings to the B-17F Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Wednesday, the museum provided a behind-the-scenes look as aircraft workers reattached more pieces to the bomber’s wings in preparation for a public unveiling next year.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
(Photo: NASA)

“It’s amazing,” said Casey Simmons, a restorer who has labored on the project since 2008 . “I don’t know if there’s words that really say it because you’re little and you build this kit as a little model (airplane) and now you’re actually doing the real thing.

“My favorite part about working on it is just the fact that I get to work on it,” added Casey, 36, of Dayton. “It’s the Memphis Belle. It’s one of the most famous planes. Everything about it, it doesn’t seem like a job. It’s what I’d be doing in my free time if I got to do whatever I wanted to do.”

Related: This Spitfire shot down near Dunkirk just flew again

The Army Air Forces plane is set to make its debut among fabled aircraft inside the World War II gallery at the museum on May 17, 2018, the date that marks the 75th anniversary of the 25th and final wartime mission of the storied bomber that battled Nazi Germany.

The final crew and the bomber gained fame on a nationwide wartime bond tour, which stopped in Dayton, and for a 1944 movie “Memphis Belle” that documented its combat exploits over Europe.

“The big significance of the Belle is it’s an icon and it represents those heavy bomber crews that helped win the war against Germany,” said Jeff Duford, a museum curator.

The Memphis Belle will sit as the centerpiece of a large-scale exhibit on strategic bombing. Archival footage of the historic plane’s missions retrieved from the National Archives, crew artifacts flown in combat and interactive screens will tell the tale of thousands of bombers and their crews in the bloody aerial battles that killed more airman than any war American airmen have fought in.

Crews have roughly 13,000 hours of work left, said Greg Hassler, restoration supervisor. The museum was not able to provide a cost estimate or how many hours workers and volunteers labored so far to bring the Belle back to its former end of combat luster.

Also read: This is why the F-4 Phantom II had so many fans

Restorers have labored to meticulously off and on to scrape paint, bend metal and fabricate parts since the Boeing built-bomber arrived in 2005 hauled in on a truck from near Memphis, Tenn.

“You get lots of parts and boxes and things that aren’t marked and it’s trying to figure out where things go (you) look at the drawings and it’s like a puzzle,” Simmons said.

The plane will be repainted to reflect how it looked at the end of its combat bombing runs and before flying across the nation on the war bond tour, Duford said. The paint on the plane today is not the original markings, he said.

“The skin all over the the fuselage is engraved with the names when it went on its war bond tour so you want to try and keep all that as much as you can because if you replace that, that’s history gone,” Simmons said.

The reborn Belle will have a woman in a red dress on one side of the plane and in a blue dress on the other side of the nose to reflect the original look. A row of swastikas added for the war bond tour will be removed because they weren’t on the bomber immediately after it finished its days in combat, Duford said

The wings were last attached in 2003, officials said.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Civil War nurse made a big impact on wounded soldiers

In section 42 of Beaufort National Cemetery is a modest private marker for Emma Morrill Fogg French. In addition to her name and years of birth and death — 1831-1898 — is the simple inscription “Hospital Nurse.”

Emma (or Emeline) M. Morrill was born in 1831 in Standstead, Canada, along the United States border in Vermont. It is likely that her family lived on both sides of the border over the next two decades. Emma was residing in Lowell, Massachusetts, when she married distiller Charles P. Fogg on March 1, 1852. There is little historical evidence of the Foggs after their marriage. Charles appears in the 1855 New York census as a boarder in Brooklyn. Emma shows up on the 1860 U.S. census without Charles, presumably having been widowed by that time. She too was living in Brooklyn.


Emma arrived in the Sea Islands of South Carolina in 1863 to serve as a nurse for the Union Army at the U.S. General Hospital in Hilton Head. While her time in service was relatively short — from March to October — she apparently made quite an impact on the soldiers under her care. A notice in the Nov. 14, 1863, edition of The New South newspaper, noted that Mrs. Fogg received “an elegant Gold Pen and Pencil” from several of the wounded soldiers.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Newspaper clipping on her departure from the hospital.

Emma returned to New York but came back to teach in South Carolina for the National Freedman’s Relief Association in April or May 1864. The Association was formed in February 1862 at the Cooper Union Institute to “relieve the sufferings of the freedmen, their women and children, as they come within our army lines.” Rev. Mansfield French, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, who had initially become interested in the education of African Americans in Ohio in the 1850s, was one of the main forces behind the organization. After the start of the Civil War, Reverend French went to Washington, D.C., and in a meeting with President Lincoln convinced him of the need to care for the enslaved African Americans who had been abandoned on the plantations of Hilton Head and Port Royal, South Carolina. The reverend was eventually commissioned as a chaplain in the U.S. Army and assigned to the U.S. hospital in Beaufort. An avid abolitionist, Reverend French continued to advocate for both the end of slavery and the recruitment of former enslaved men into the Union Army.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Cooley, Sam A, photographer. Rev. Mr. French’s residence, Beaufort, S.C. Taken between 1863 and 1865.

(Library of Congress)

Emma remained in costal South Carolina after the war and continued teaching with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau). In April 1868, she married the eldest son of Reverend French – Winchell Mansfield French, who had joined his father in Beaufort in 1864 and became involved in land and cotton speculation. The couple reportedly resided at the former Thomas Fuller House on Bay Street in Beaufort. The house — later referred to as the Tabby Manse — was purchased by Reverend French in January 1864 at public auction, having been abandoned by its owners.

The Frenches lived in Beaufort through at least June 1880 when the U.S. population census was taken. Winchell, who was engaged in numerous business pursuits during the Civil War and after, was by this time the editor of a local newspaper. Living with the couple were several boarders including two families and a single young man.

By 1885, Emma and Winchell had moved to Orlando, Florida, and were running a hotel. Within a decade, the couple had departed the Sunshine State for Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is where Emma filed her pension application related to her service in the Civil War. Nurses were finally granted the right to pensions when the U.S. Congress passed the act of Aug. 5, 1892.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Page from pension record of Emma M. French formerly Fogg, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

At the time of her death on July 18, 1898, Emma was receiving twelve dollars per month from the federal government — the amount allocated in the 1892 pension act. She was interred at Beaufort National Cemetery among the soldiers she served.

In addition to Emma, there are other notable Civil War nurse buried in the national cemeteries — at Annapolis National Cemetery are three nurses who died during the war: Mrs. J. Broad, Mary J. Dukeshire and Hannah Henderson; and Malinda M. Moon, who died in 1926, is interred at Springfield National Cemetery.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how War Brides enrich the American experience

My mother’s friend Akemi was beautiful. Gentle, with a lightness in her presence and the way she moved. She had a quiet home and taught me how to use chopsticks. She was Okinawan and married a soldier that my father served with.

Lydia lived two doors down from my family. She was German and had married an American soldier, too. I assume that if you didn’t know her she would come off as gruff and difficult but I loved her as if she were a blood relative. She smoked cigarettes and yelled at the huge Rottweiler whose head bounced off the underside of her dining room table.

Anna married my team sergeant when he was an upstart infantryman stationed in Panama. She spoke Spanish around us and I could usually understand the scolding that she gave to her husband and kids. She put up with our young, dumb soldier antics and let us drink too many beers in her living room while we watched the pay-per-view fight where Tyson bit Holyfield‘s ear off.

These women are just a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of women, and increasingly men, who have married America’s uniformed representatives stationed around the world; brave women who relinquished their cultures, families and pasts in order to embark on new adventures as part of the US military family. Their stories continue today but there are fewer of them, with younger sailors, airmen and Marines marrying spouses originally from Europe and Asia, but we must assume at a much lower rate.

Why assume? Because no one keeps records – not the Defense or State departments – that might tack down how many foreign born people have married American service members over the past century, though we can assume it to be a significant number. In the 1980s, in one New York City neighborhood alone, there were more than 100 British-born war brides who gathered in fellowship as a group known as the Flushing Crumpets. However impossible it may be to put hard numbers on the population of foreign-born military spouses over the years, there can be no dispute that there are fewer international spouses marrying men and women who wear America’s military uniforms than during the height of the Cold War.

Fayetteville, North Carolina, is my adopted hometown. It lies just outside of Fort Bragg – the Army’s most populated installation and was long one of the main debarkation points for newly arrived, foreign-born military spouses. The United States is a nation of immigrants, but there is something extra-special about Fort Bragg, and the dozens of communities across the nation that sidle up next to the posts and bases. Or at least there has been for most of the post World War II era. Fort Bragg in particular is the home base for the Army’s airborne and special operations forces, which draws soldiers back to the post from the corners of the planet like a tractor beam, and with them spouses from a rainbow of nations – Vietnam, Germany, Korea, Panama and Thailand.

Even with its diverse military population of more than 50,000 soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines, Fort Bragg isn’t dealing with a rush of foreign spouses in need of help navigating a transition to American military spousehood. According to Stacy Williams, the post’s Multicultural Readiness Programs coordinator, even before the restrictions mandated by COVID-19, the post had no more than 2-3 foreign spouses attend bi-monthly International Spouse Orientation courses, and only one person was currently scheduled to attend the course that resumed from its COVID-mandated pause in January 2021.

Why does this matter? Maybe it doesn’t but I think who our service members choose as spouses tells us quite a bit about how the US government arrays its military influence around the globe.

General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made minor headlines Dec. 3, 2020, after suggesting that he would rather not have the U.S. military permanently station large numbers of service members and families in partner nations in Europe and Asia. But he also balked at having large numbers of units on rotational deployments as has increasingly been DoD policy in places like Poland and the Baltic nations, to counter Russian aggression, and the Pacific Rim in Guam and Australia.

Peacetime, strategic deployments of the US military, whether permanent stationing or rotational assignments, are more the experiences of a Cold War military and with the international upheaval of the post-Berlin Wall collapse, and increasingly less of a reflection of current American foreign policy. Milley’s comments, then, are less hints of a new American deployment strategy than they are a recommitment of the past two decades of geopolitical gamesmanship.

Economists use leading and lagging indicators as a kind of weathervane to gauge the health and direction of an economic system. One of these lagging indicators of how US military policy has affected international diplomacy might come from the changing nature of the international make up of the communities that surround military installations Stateside. The demographic shifts around US posts and bases over the past three decades might tell us as much about where America has decided to spend its diplomatic capital as well as how many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are stationed for three years in places like Okinawa and Ramstein.

The American government, up until the post-World War II era, had exhibited an incredible bit of self-restraint in terms of expansionism. Other than short stints to claim territory during the Spanish American war, American administrations were generally loathe to commit the American military outside of its borders. President Woodrow Wilson famously dragged his feet during World War I and made every effort to keep America out of the conflict in Europe. The bitter taste of the First World War in Congress’ mouth led to the enactment of neutrality acts, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt found ways to work around before America’s involvement  in World War II was assured by the attack at Pearl Harbor. After the Axis Powers were defeated, though, America’s isolationist past was exactly that – a thing of the past.

At the height of the Cold War in the middle of the 20th Century, there were more than 400,000 Americans in uniform stationed across Europe, from Greenland to the tip of Italy, which has drawn down to about 75,000 as of early 2020. In the Pacific Theater, there are still nearly 78,000 service members, mainly split between South Korea and Japan. In the decades following the end of World War II and the signing of the Armistice that ended the Korean War, more than 70,000 service members were station in South Korea alone, where soldiers and Airmen were, like their compatriots in Germany, England and Italy, often free to spend their free time in local communities, often in the company of local young women.

Engagements, and eventually marriage, between service members in post-World War II Europe and Asia had become enough of a concern for the military, and the American government as a whole, that the US Congress passed the American War Brides Act in late 1945 that allowed for the immigration to the United States of more than 100,000 military-connected newly-weds and fiancés outside of the strict immigration quotas emplaned after the war. 

But with the retrenchment of American foreign policy, the ability for service members to have direct, often very direct, contact with foreigners while deployed has been curtailed. The challenge to validating military marriages as a lagging indicator of US foreign policy, though, is that no one keeps records on how many German and Korean and Japanese and Italian brides have left their homes on the uniformed arms of soldiers, sailors and Airmen over the years. 

For nearly all of the 20th Century, the US military assumed a dominant position along the rim of the South China Sea in the Philippines with thousands of American stationed at Clark  Naval Base Subic Bay and then Clark Air Base near the Philippine capital of Manila. Following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the US Air Force made a hasty retreat and the Navy followed suit by sailing from Subic Bay in 1992 when an agreement for stationing US Naval forces fell through. With China making inroads in the South Pacific, the US government made a recent play to return the Navy to Subic Bay, which was nixed by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte in July 2020.

In 1999, American forces similarly withdrew from a nearly century-long mission in Panama to serve as a regional presence and to guard over the Panama Canal. When President Jimmy Carter signed the 1977 agreement to relinquish control of the canal to the Panamanian government, he also severed a pipeline that saw Panamanian brides join their American husbands, who were part of a 10,000-strong American military force in Central America, from stationing at Fort Clayton to new homes at places like Fort Hood, Fort Lewis and Washington, DC. 

The reduction in permanent stationing of the US military across the globe, combined with a lessening of American political and economic dominance, has diluted the international make up of many military communities here in the States. There are parallels to the ways that service members were deployed to South East Asia during the Vietnam War and how soldiers and Marines have been dispatched to the post-9/11 Middle East and Southwest Asia. Almost anyone in Vietnam and Iraq could be considered a threat. Shorter tours with little to no interaction with the communities that they patrolled and monitored meant that young American men and women have had almost no chance to woo potential romantic partners. Low-intensity conflict zones with daily guerrilla attacks aren’t typical hookup hotbeds for young Americans dressed head to toe in their finest Kevlar body armor. 

And I don’t think that we have even considered the vast cultural differences that removed invading American forces from the dating pools in Kandahar and Anbar and Mogadishu and what that means for the cultural makeup of military-connected communities. Since the Departments of Defense and State don’t keep specific records on who service members marry, it becomes a challenge to know how many may have married natives of Iraq, Afghanistan and the other countries following American warriors back from combat deployments. But anecdotes show that there are probably just a handful, including an Army Civil Affairs officer who was felled in combat shortly after settling his Iraqi wife in her new hometown near Fort Bragg, NC.

The vast cultural differences that exist between Americans and the residents of the communities in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa that those Americans have occupied in the past two decades can’t account for the majority of the reduction in foreign-born spouses immigrating to the States. Economics, and America’s status as a dominant force on the world stage, may have just as big a role to play.

Elke Steele, a German who married an American soldier stationed near Stuttgart in 1990, now works for a match-making website that helps to connect Germans living near Wiesbaden with Americans and other non-German residents. She agrees that there are fewer fraulines marrying soldiers and Airmen, but suggests that it’s more than just a matter of fewer Americans being stationed in Europe.

Steele says that German women have “their own careers, a good lifestyle (with) free universal health care” and that they don’t want to leave their families and friends behind for the promise of a new life in America. Complicating matters, she says, are restrictions based on the threat of terrorism that keep GIs confined to their installations and the simple fact that “the dollar isn’t worth anything anymore.”

The promise of a better life in the States for German women isn’t so promising, Steele feels. But perhaps it is for women from Eastern Europe and Russia, women whom Steele feels are prized by young American men for being “more feminine and still believing that the woman stays at home raising the kids, while the man is the breadwinner of the family.”

Steele’s ground level appreciation for the shift in romantic partnering between American service members and foreign nationals holds true for Dr. Morton Ender, a sociology professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Ender notes that “German, Italian and British women don’t marry up anymore when they marry a soldier – unless they bag an officer” and that military officers generally take partners who are college educated, which shrinks the pool of potential war brides immigrants even further. Ender’s analysis of demographic data also suggests that currently many soldiers are already married or in serious, long-term relationships before they deploy.

America is asking its warriors to soldier in ways that they haven’t been asked to in the past – more one-year and shorter deployment, more unaccompanied deployments and missions to countries and cultures that are not welcoming of American soldiers  on an individual and romantic level. And while the Biden administration has promised more robust foreign policy positions and a greater willingness to engage in diplomacy with partners and adversaries alike, there is no hint that that the US military will engage in a wholesale redeployment of its forces to Europe and Asia to counter the continuing belligerence from Russia and China. 

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 didn’t end the great powers competition for influence and resources, but it did crumble the need for the US government to maintain mini-Americas across the globe that served as way stations for young women, and increasingly young men, to immigrate to the States as a soldier’s spouse. As a nation of immigrants, it seems unlikely that the rich jumble of culture and language that collects on military installations and just outside the gates will completely wither away, but the high water mark of the Cold War’s long-term deployment is well faded and with it, the sounds and smells of the cultures of America’s 20th Century war brides.

Maybe it doesn’t matter if we have foreign-born spouses who add richness and texture to our military communities and beyond. But it makes me lament there are kids growing up today who might never have their own Akemis, Lydias and Annas who will help them to know the world is much more than strip malls and carbon-copy chain restaurants, and that our immigrants – many who come to the States on the arm of an American in dress uniform – are the people who continue to feed life into the American experience.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.

In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?


How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.

The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.

As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.

We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.

When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.

At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.

As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.

The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.

Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.

Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.

In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.

These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.

The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.

(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)

This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.

“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Indian military unit fought for the Nazis

During World War II, the military force aiming to install an Aryan master race over the world found potentially unlikely allies on the subcontinent of India where thousands of soldiers joined the “Free Indian Legion,” fighting on behalf of the Nazis against the Allied Powers from the China-Burma-India Theater to the Atlantic Wall on D-Day.


Hitler’s Indian Regiment

www.youtube.com

Hitler’s Indian Regiment

India was a British colony during World War II that sent millions of loyal subjects to fight on behalf of King George VI, but the relationship between Britain and India was strained—to say the least—when the war started. India had been agitating for independence from the East India Company and then the British Crown for about a century.

Indian troops serving Great Britain fought valiantly and earned top awards for heroism in the battle against the Axis Powers, but not all Indian leaders thought the fight against fascism should trump the fight for Indian independence. Much like American patriots in the 1770s capitalized on Britain’s fighting with France, some Indian leaders thought Britain’s war with Germany was the perfect time to break away from the crown.

And the Nazis were happy to help. When they began to take Indian troops prisoner in Africa, they offered those men German uniforms, weapons, and training if they would take up arms against the British. The first 27, all seen as potential officers, were pulled out of German POW camps and sent to Germany for training in 1941. These were soon followed by thousands of others to fill out the ranks.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Let’s all agree that, regardless of motives or other accomplishments in your life, the photo of you shaking Hitler’s hand will never look good.

(Public domain)

An Indian independence leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, helped start the legion and got serious concessions from Germany on how the troops would be trained, deployed, equipped, paid, and more. Basically, the agreement was that the unit would be trained, paid, and equipped at the same level as any normal German unit.

But, the Indian troops could not be deployed like normal German units. The agreement that formed the unit would limit it to combat deployments focused on overthrowing British control of India. So Germany had to fund the unit like any German force, but they could only use it for Indian independence.

But still, the trade-off was seen as worthwhile by Germany as it struggled with how it would one day root British forces out of the jungles of Asia. This worry would prove well-founded when Britain and India began sending “Chindits” into the jungles to break the logistics chains and defensive lines of Japanese forces.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Soldiers with the Free Indian Legion fight side-by-side with other German soldiers in World War II.

(German Federal Archives)

So the Indian Legion was formed and given a distinctive badge of a leaping tiger. But, in direct contradiction of the agreement, Indian Legion troops would go on to serve almost exclusively in Europe during the war. This wasn’t some dastardly Nazi plot though. It was simply the reality of the battlefield.

Savvy World War II buffs will remember that, while the Axis Powers were triumphantly marching across much of the world in 1941 when the legion was first recruited, it was suffering serious setbacks just a year later.

While the Indian Legion was going through initial recruitment, organization, and training, America joined the war, Polish and French resistance gained strength against Nazi occupiers, England turned back the German tide in the Battle of Britain, and America began limiting and then defeating Japan in the Pacific.

Italy, meanwhile, crumbled under the Allied assault like it was an Olive Garden.

So the Indian Legion, still in Europe for training, was sent to the Netherlands and France to get experience guarding coasts in 1943 until Germany was ready to invade through either the Soviet Union or the Middle East into India. Some Indian Legion members were still on the French coast when the Allies launched the 1944 Operation Overlord, the invasion of Fortress Europe through France.

The Indian Legion saw some combat there, but was quickly pulled from the front lines as the men complained that they would likely be executed as traitors if captured by British forces. The legion continued operations across Nazi-occupied France and Belgium and maintained some presence on the Atlantic Wall.

It suffered a few casualties against French forces, but saw little combat overall until the last of its troops deployed in France were sent to join brethren already in Italy. It was there, in Italy, that the Indian Legion surrendered to the Allies. Indian Legion members generally opted to surrender to American and French forces, but they were handed over to British and Indian forces quickly after capture.

The Indian political climate after the war had little appetite for prosecuting Indians who had worked, albeit with the Nazis, for independence. And most of the soldiers who faced court-martial saw their charges dropped or commuted.

MIGHTY HISTORY

George Custer’s younger brother earned two Medals of Honor in the same week

It’s funny how the older Custer can be so infamous for his worst military blunder, while his brother Thomas Ward can earn two Medals of Honor and practically be lost to history.


How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Note, I still haven’t shown a picture of Thomas Ward Custer yet. This is George.

Related: 9 amazing facts about General George Custer

“If you want to know what I think of him, all I can say, Tom ought to have been the general and I the captain,” so says Gen. George Armstrong Custer, who was probably right.

Custer’s famous last stand is one of the defining moments in the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. The name Custer evokes the memory of a legendary failure. If you don’t believe it, just read “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young.”

Retired Lt. Col. Hal Moore, commanding the 7th Cavalry at Ia Drang, worried he’d be just like the infamous 7th Cavalry commander Custer and lead his men to certain death.

“Casualties were beginning to pile up. As we dropped behind that termite hill, I fleetingly thought about an illustrious predecessor of mine in the 7th Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, and his final stand in the valley of the Little Bighorn in Montana, eighty-nine years earlier. I was determined that history would not repeat itself in the valley of the Ia Drang.”

Thomas Ward Custer would die with his big brother at Little Bighorn and wouldn’t achieve the rank and notoriety of the elder Custer. He was a good soldier (to put it mildly) enlisting at age 16 to fight in the Civil War and fighting in the major battles of Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and in the Atlanta Campaign. He was enlisted for most of the war before earning a commission in October 1864.

Barely six months later — April 3, 1865 — the younger Custer captured a Confederate Regimental flag at Namozine Church. He did it after being wounded and thrown from his horse. He also took at least a dozen prisoners to boot.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Thomas Ward Custer, just after the Civil War ended.

Capturing an enemy flag was a big deal at the time of the Civil War. If a unit’s flag was captured, there was a good chance the unit’s cohesion would just fall apart. They were held in the middle of the unit and troops looked to them for assurance during the fighting – the assurance that the rest of the unit was still fighting with them.

Three days later, Thomas Ward captured another regiment’s colors at Saylor’s Creek, jumping from his horse during a cavalry charge, over and into the enemy lines. He was wounded in the face for his trouble and awarded his second Medal of Honor. General Charles E. Capeheart, an eyewitness, reported:

“Having crossed the line of temporary works on the flank of the road, we were encountered by a supporting battle line. It was the second time he [Tom] wrestled the colors. He received a shot in the face which knocked him back on his horse, but in a moment was soon upright in the saddle. Reaching out his right arm, he grasped the flag while the color bearer reeled. The bullet from Tom’s revolver must have pierced him in the region of the heart. Captain Custer wretched the standard from his grasp and bore it away in triumph.”

Just three days after Thomas Ward captured his second enemy regimental flag, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, ending the Civil War.

Also read: These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

When the Civil War ended — at 20 and a brevet lieutenant colonel — Thomas decided to stay on in the Army. His exploits on the American frontier were the stuff of legend, including a tussle with the Western lawman “Wild Bill” Hickok.

It was following his brother George to Little Bighorn that would prove the younger Custer’s fatal mistake.

The site of Custer’s last stand in 1877. All that remained were the skeletons of cavalry horses. (Worst. Family Reunion. Ever.)

Thomas Ward Custer was slaughtered there during his brother’s infamous last stand, along with another brother, Boston Custer and their nephew, Henry Armstong Reed.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966, Raymond Clausen was trained as a helicopter mechanic and had already completed a tour of duty before heading back to the jungles of Vietnam — against his mother’s wishes.


Continuing his military service was something Clausen felt like he had to do.

On Jan. 31, 1970, Clausen would go above and beyond his call of duty as his helicopter deployed to the enemy-infested area near Da Nang in South Vietnam.

Clausen’s crew’s mission was to search for enemy activity in the area when, suddenly, they noticed some concealed bunkers near the tree line.

Directed by higher command, Clausen and his crew landed in a nearby grassy field. Once the troops dismounted from the cargo bay, the helicopters lifted out and patrolled in circles, approximately 1,500 feet above the LZ.

Shortly after, the enemy engaged the ground troops, causing them to disperse, fanning outward. As they separated, Marines stepped on the various landmines in the area.

Clausen knew he had to help the troops below, so he leaned out of the helicopter’s window and directed his pilot as he landed the bird in a safe area to retrieve the wounded Marines.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Troops unload from CH-47 helicopter at Landing Zone Quick to begin a search and destroy mission in the Cay Giep Mountains, 29-30 Oct 1967. (Photo from U.S. Army)

 

Once they landed, Clausen leaped from the aircraft with a stretcher and ran through the minefield and helped carry the wounded Marines back to his helicopter.

Clausen knowingly made six separate trips across a minefield and is credited with saving 18 Marines that day. Once he knew all the men were accounted for, he signaled to the pilot to take off, taking the men to safety.

In total, Clausen has logged more than 3,000 hours of flight time as a crew chief and earned 98 air medals during his career.

President Nixon awarded Marine veteran Raymond Clausen the Medal of Honor on Jun. 15, 1971

Check of Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to hear one Marine’s heroic tale of sacrifice and determination:

(Medal of Honor Book | YouTube)

Articles

This female amputee led French commandos behind Nazi lines

One of the Allies’ most heroic spies was an amputee turned down by the State Department because of her leg amputation who served with both the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services, coordinating resistance attacks and other operations in Nazi-occupied Europe.


Virginia Hall lost her left leg in a hunting accident while serving in the American embassy in Turkey. She ordered a wooden a prosthetic that she named “Cuthbert.” and practiced with it to ensure she could do nearly everything with it that she had done with two legs.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A painting depicts Virginia Hall of the OSS transmitting intelligence on the German war machine from inside occupied France to Allied forces. (Painting: CIA by Jeffrey W. Bass)

Despite her efforts, the State Department turned Hall down when she requested to take the oral exam needed for her to become a diplomat.

She then returned to France and, when Germany invaded Poland, joined the French Army as an ambulance driver and learned how the Nazis were treating Jewish people in Poland. When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, she escaped to London and was quickly recruited into the SOE.

The SOE sent her to France as its first female operative in the country. Hall worked from the city of Lyon as a spy posing as a writer for an American newspaper. While in Southern France, she helped establish safe drop zones for the insertion of British agents and supplies for resistance fighters.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
This is a forged identification document for Marcelle Montagne, an alias of Virginia Hall. (Photo: Department of Defense)

The Gestapo began focusing on the region and had orders to hunt “La Dame Qui Boite,” the “Limping Lady.” Hall and her co-conspirators fled in 1942 over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. When she reported to the SOE that “Cuthbert” was giving her trouble in the mountains, headquarters told her, “If Cuthbert is giving you difficulty, have him eliminated.”

What was she supposed to do? Shoot her leg again?

Hall was arrested in Spain because she lacked papers, but a letter smuggled to the American consul there got her released six weeks later. She continued working for the SOE in Madrid but thought she was being coddled in such a safe mission.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
A memorandum from OSS Gen. Bill Donovan suggesting that President Harry Truman present Virginia Hall’s Distinguished Service Cross personally. Hall requested a small ceremony with Donovan instead. (Photos: National Archives)

She wrote to the headquarters, “I am living pleasantly and wasting time. It isn’t worthwhile and after all, my neck is my own. If I am willing to get a crick in it, I think that’s my prerogative.”

After returning to London, Hall attended training as a radio operator with the SOE and was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Her OBE medal was granted by King George VI in 1943.

But in early 1944, Hall learned that America had stood up its own spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services. She immediately volunteered for OSS service in occupied France.

The Americans got her a ride into France on a British torpedo boat and she went undercover as an elderly milkmaid. She was probably the only elderly milkmaid in the country who coordinated parachute drops, reported German troop movements, and snuck across the country while transmitting Nazi military secrets via a suitcase radio.

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once
Virginia Hall receives the Distinguished Service Cross from OSS Ben. Bill Donovan. (Photo: CIA Archives)

Using supplies inserted into the drop zones she had selected, Hall trained and armed three battalions of French resistance fighters and prepared them for D-Day. When the Allies launched Operation Overlord and came across the channel, her forces launched a series of attacks to disrupt the Germans and help the liberators.

Fighters operating under Hall’s direction derailed trains, sabotaged bridges, destroyed rail and telephone lines, and killed and captured hundreds of Germans.

In one particularly impressive move, Hall and her fighters blew up a bridge and ambushed the German convoy attempting to use it, killing 150 and capturing 500 of them.

As the war in Europe wound to a close, Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS approved the award of a Distinguished Service Cross to Hall and suggested to President Harry Truman that he pin it on her personally. Instead, Hall requested that the ceremony be kept private so that she could continue work in the clandestine service.

The administration agreed and Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS, pinned the medal on her in September 1945. She was the first civilian and only American woman to receive the award in World War II.

Hall continued to serve in the OSS and then the Central Intelligence Agency until her mandatory retirement at the age of 60 in 1966.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information