Around this time of year, you’ll find volunteers with the Salvation Army standing outside countless shops and malls, ringing a bell and asking for whatever donations shoppers can spare. Because of their charitable efforts, millions of children will have presents to open and many others will enjoy a much-needed Christmas dinner.
Most people don’t know, however, that the “Army” part of their name isn’t just a reference to the massive volume of volunteers they organize. During both World Wars, the Salvation Army was right there with troops in the trenches, much like today’s MWR and USO. The unpaid volunteers of the Salvation Army put their safety on the line to improve the lives of our nation’s defenders.
There was no one more in need of help than the soldiers fighting on the front lines.
The Salvation Army was founded in 1852 when William Booth, a Methodist minister, took his teachings of “loving thy neighbor” from the pulpit to the streets to help the less fortunate of East London. It was his belief that everyone in need should be given the love and care they need.
While it still remains a Christian organization to this day, the Salvation Army’s main focus has always been doing good for others, regardless of who they are or what they believe. They adopted a military rank structure to organize their members — mostly pastors and businessmen — to keep within theme of working in “God’s Army.”
The organization’s charitable spirit was put to the test when Canada entered the First World War and many Canadian Salvationists saw their nation’s fighting men dragged through the hell that is trench warfare.
The Salvation Army provided troops with many minor comforts that civilians often take for granted, like the materials to write loved ones back home, hot cups of coffee, and the chance to watch a movie. They also gave the troops a nice, home-cooked meal, which was gourmet when compared to the “chow hall special” that was normally offered.
The Salvation Army aimed to provide comforts to those who needed them most — and those who needed them most were on the front lines. So, the Salvationists were right there with them in the trenches. It didn’t matter whether you were carrying a rifle, the volunteers were subjected to the same, awful living conditions and the constant threats of gas attacks, stray bullets, and artillery shells.
The hard work meant a lot to the troops. A quick bite to eat gave them time to clear their heads before jumping back into the fray.
And it was all worth it to put a smile on a war-weary soldier’s face.
Shoichi Yokoi was 26 when he was drafted into the Japanese Army in 1941.
At the time, soldiers were taught that surrender was the worst possible fate for a soldier — so when US forces invaded Japanese-occupied Guam in 1944, Yokoi fled into the jungle.
He dug a cave near a waterfall, covered it with bamboo and reeds, and survived by eating small animals. He had no idea, when he was discovered on Jan. 24, 1972, by two hunters near a river, that the war had ended decades ago.
He attacked the hunters, who were able to overpower the weakened soldier and escorted him to authorities, where he revealed his bizarre story.
Yokoi was treated at a hospital in Guam before heading home to Japan, which he had not seen since 1941.
Yokoi was sent to Guam after being drafted into the Japanese Army in 1941.
During the US invasion he and a number of other soldiers made their way into the jungle to avoid being taken as prisoners of war.
This newspaper photograph was described as Yokoi’s first haircut in 28 years.
Japanese government officials flew to the island to help repatriate the soldier, who had not seen his homeland for nearly 30 years.
During his 27 years in isolation, he survived by eating frogs, rats, and eels as well as fruits and nuts, according to his obituary in The New York Times.
He made his own shelter, using bamboo and reeds to cover a cave he dug himself. In his memoirs, he said he buried at least two of his comrades eight years before he was discovered.
In this book, Yokoi’s autobiography is supplemented by a biographical account of his later life.
Talofofo Falls Resort Park, where Shoichi Yokoi dug a cave and hid for nearly 28 years after the US invasion of Guam during World War II.
Although he was repatriated to Japan almost immediately, he reportedly flew back to Guam several times throughout the remainder of his life, including for his honeymoon.
According to his obituary, Yokoi had a hard time readjusting to life in Japan.
The entrance to Yokoi’s cave is in Talofofo Falls Resort Park in Guam.
Yokoi covered his cave with bamboo and reeds.
The soldier was a tailor before the war, skills that helped him make his shelter and clothing, according to Stars Stripes.
This diagram sketches the cave where Yokoi hid for nearly 28 years.
The cave has reportedly collapsed, but a diagram at the site shows an idea of what it looked like.
“I may be one of the few people in this room who remembers when Veterans Day was called Armistice Day, commemorating the armistice that ended the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918,” Reagan said in 1982, repeating the memorable line about the end of World War I, a war so horrible that it was known for decades as “The War to End All Wars.”
British troops man their artillery piece while defending against German attacks during the Spring Offensive, a failed German advance.
(Imperial War Museum)
But that tidy line, “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918,” came at a cost. Thousands more soldiers, 1,100 of them in one unit, would die during the morning before the Armistice took effect.
See, the end of World War I, like the end of most large wars, was clear for months before it actually came. With the introduction of the tank in 1916 and of American troops in 1917, the stalemate in Europe turned slowly but inexorably in favor of the Allies. The Central Powers, including Germany, were doomed to eventually drown under the industrial might it faced.
But they would fight on for over a year after America entered the war, attempting counter attacks and bloody defenses in order to improve their position at the bargaining table. It was a messy and futile business. The creeping crush of American and Allied steel slowly slaughtered its way east.
By October, 1918, the writing was on the wall. Germany hadn’t achieved a major victory since February, and the Spring Offensive that was supposed to shift the tide back in their favor had been utterly defeated. Berlin was starving under a British blockade and the front lines were quickly approaching the German border. Turkey surrendered at the end of the month and Austria-Hungary did so on November 3.
On November 7, 1918, the Germans sent a three-car delegation to the front lines and played a loud bugle call through the forest. The Germans informed some very surprised French troops that they were there to discuss terms of surrender with the French commander.
This is the first point where the top French and American officers, Field Marshall Ferdinand Fochs and Gen. John Pershing, could have slowed their advance. They could have ordered subordinate commanders to avoid costly advances against terrain or defenses that favored the Germans. In a war that generated over 2,000 deaths per day, a relatively calm November 7-11 could have saved thousands.
But Pershing and Fochs didn’t know, for sure, that Germany would actually go through with the surrender. The Germans had already committed a number of acts during the war that would’ve been beyond the pale before the conflict. They had introduced chemical gasses to the conflict, killed thousands of innocent, civilian ship passengers with their U-boats, and ignored multiple treaties and other legal agreements in their prosecution of the war.
They said they had come to hear the Allies’ proposal for surrender. Fochs replied that he had no proposals. Count Alfred von Oberndorff of the German foreign ministry told Fochs in French that his men sought the conditions for the Armistice. Foch replied, “I have no conditions to offer.”
The German and French delegation pose at Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch’s rail car after the November 11, 1918, armistice ending World War I was signed.
The Germans would have to beg, or Foch was prepared to push the front on to German soil. And so the German delegation, with added urgency as riots broke out in Berlin amid the ever-worsening food situation, begged. And it turned out that Foch did have conditions, and they were tough.
First, Germany had to cede dozens of ships, hundreds of submarines, and massive tracts of land to France including land then under control of German troops. And, Germany would have to give up massive amounts of transportation equipment, from planes to train locomotives to railway cars. When it came to the submarines and railways cars, France was actually asking for more than Germany physically had.
And the German government had to agree to the deal before November 11 at 11 a.m., or the offer would be withdrawn.
But Foch was unmoved by German pleas. In his and Pershing’s minds, the idea of stopping the war short of German soil was insane. If Germany was allowed breathing room, it could only serve German interests. Either they would be allowed to quit the war without suffering at home the way the French people had, or they would simply use the armistice to re-organize their forces and then resume their attacks without agreeing to a full treaty.
Finally, just after 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918, the German delegation agreed to the terms. They would later seek, in some cases successfully, to negate the most onerous terms of the agreement during the treaty process, though many of them stuck.
But that left the long morning from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., Foch’s original deadline for an agreement and the legally binding time that the agreement would go into effect. Until then, the war was still raging.
If the ceasefire had taken place immediately after the agreement was signed, then hundreds would have still died as word made its way to the trenches — but the alternative was worse. Commanders were told that an armistice had been signed and that it would take effect at 11 a.m. They were given little or no instructions on how to spend the remaining hours.
For some, the answer was obvious: you don’t get your men killed to capture ground that you can walk safely across in a few hours or days. But for others, this was one last chance to punish the Germans, one last chance to improve France and America’s place at the peace table, one last chance at glory, awards, and promotions.
And so, after the armistice was signed, some Allied forces launched new attacks or decided to continue ongoing ones. Marine Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall ordered the 5th Marine Regiment to conduct a contested crossing of the Meuse River, acknowledging, as he briefed his officers, that he would likely never see them again.
When word came down that the armistice had been signed, the general left his men on the attack, notifying them only that they must cease attacking at 11. And so they continued. Eleven-hundred Marines died at the crossing before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month arrived. The artillerymen on each side reportedly increased their fire when they learned, at 9 a.m., that the war was almost over.
The 157th Brigade kept fighting, as well, when they learned about the armistice at 10:44. With only 16 minutes left in the war, the American brigade still had a chance at taking a tiny, insignificant French village back. The general gave the order that attacks would continue until 11.
A supply soldier assigned to the brigade went forward with the 313th Regiment and took part in an attack through the fog against a German machine gun. Most of the Americans stopped short as the first German rounds zipped overhead, but Pvt. Henry Gunther pressed on.
The German gunners, aware that the war would end in mere minutes, attempted to wave him off. They yelled, but Gunther came on. So, finally, the German gunner gave one, last tug on his trigger, sending a burst into the charging private. Gunther was killed, the last official American casualty of the war.
Another town was attacked, and successfully captured, in the final minutes. Stenay was taken by the 89th U.S. Division at the cost of 300 casualties.
Up and down the front, artillery batteries fired until the last seconds. All-in-alll, the belligerents suffered an estimated 2,738 deaths on the final morning. American forces are thought to have suffered over 3,500 casualties of all types. Congress would later look into the “inefficiencies” of American troops being sent to their likely deaths in the final hours of fighting.
But, it’s important to remember that military leaders couldn’t be sure the war was actually over, and they saw Germany admitting weakness as a sign it was time to press home the final attack in order to guarantee peace. If the Allies had rested, it might have allowed Germany to solidify their forces and improve their defenses.
The Allied leaders had heard only rumors or nothing at all about the events eating Germany from the inside. The Kaiser had abdicated and fled into exile. German sailors were in mass mutinies that crippled the already under-powered fleet. The aforementioned riots in Berlin were threatening to overwhelm the new republic, only days old and formed in crisis.
But that doesn’t restore to life the thousands lost in the final days to ensure victory, men whose brave sacrifices didn’t gain a much ground, but did cement the peace that ended mankind’s worst conflict up to that point in history. Their sacrifice may feel more tragic, but is no less noble than the millions lost before November 11.
An estimated 300,000 “war brides,” as they were known, left home to make the intrepid voyage to the United States after falling in love with American soldiers who were stationed abroad during World War II. There were so many that the United States passed a series of War Brides Acts in 1945 and 1946. This legislation provided them with an immigration pathway that didn’t previously exist under the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed quotas on immigrants based on their nation of origin and strategically excluded or limited immigration from certain parts of the world, particularly Asia.
Equipped with little but a feeling and a sense of promise, war brides left everything that was familiar behind to forge a new identity in the United States. Many spoke little to no English upon their arrival in the country, and they were introduced to post-war American culture through specially designed curricula and communities. To this day, organizations for war brides in the United States provide networks for military spouses and their children, helping them keep their heritage alive and share their experiences of their adopted home.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on September 2, 2020, We Are The Mighty is proud to collaborate with Babbel, the new way to learn a foreign language. Babbel conducted interviews with surviving war brides as much of the world endured lockdown. Many of these women are now in their 80s and 90s, and their oral histories celebrate the challenges and successes of adapting to a new culture and language, as well as reflect on the leap of faith they all took to travel across the world to an unknown country. Spoiler alert: there are few regrets.
War Brides is a 5 part series.
My maiden name is Huguette Roberte Fauveau, and I am now 95 years old. I was born in Courbevoie, a suburb of Paris, and grew up in a nearby suburb called Chatou. I moved to America with my husband in 1946, and I still live there now.
I had a happy childhood before the war. My parents eloped when they were about 20, and they had me and my younger brother, Serge. My dad worked in a factory as a tool and dyes maker. They did not have a lot of money in the 1930s. During the war, I remember bombs falling very close to my home. So close that my dad, my brother and I all lost our hearing. It eventually returned, but as I have gotten older, I have lost my hearing again.
We were blessed that we did not get hurt during the German occupation. My grandparents had a little farm, so food was not scarce. We always had food to eat, but bread was something we did not have enough of. At one point, the Germans took over the factory where my father worked. While we remained unhurt, I heard and saw terrible things.
I met my husband when I was on vacation with my grandparents. I was walking to a dance with my friend, Jacqueline. We had missed our ride, so we had to walk over a mile in our high heels. While we were walking, a large Jeep stopped next to us and asked if we wanted a ride.
Naturally, we said no. When we eventually arrived at the venue, our feet were a little bruised, but this did not stop us from dancing. I noticed that two soldiers came in, and after a while, one of them approached me. I knew it was one of the men from the jeep. He told me I had nice legs, and we talked for a long time after that. He told me he was part of the military police and was tasked with supervising the dance. His name was Rodger Murray Rusher and he was 20, like me. He asked me if I would go on a date with him the next day, so I told him where I lived and said yes, but I never thought he’d find my house. He did.
My parents and my brother, Serge Lucien, liked Rodger straight away. My parents, and above all my brother, were extremely sad when I told them I wanted to move to America. But they loved and trusted Rod. His mother had written a letter to my mother, so they had faith that he and his family would take care of me.
I married Rod in Chatou on the 23rd of September, 1945, in the Sainte-Thérèse Church.
I had studied English for four years in school, so I could read and write English. I was pretty good at speaking it, but I spoke with a strong French accent. When I got to America, I discovered that some people had a hard time understanding me. Many still do! I became keen to learn English. I remember I read a lot, did lots of crossword puzzles, and always had my nose in a dictionary. It didn’t take me long to become fluent.
Rod and I first arrived in New York on the 19th of May, 1946. I spent my 21st birthday in New York. After that, we traveled to where Rodger’s family was from — a place called Roundup, Montana. My extended family made me feel very welcome when I arrived, and they hosted a party to introduce me to all their friends from around the town. They all wanted to hear about France, and all were very nice and welcoming. Up until then, I’d thought my English was good, but this is when I discovered that I had a hard time understanding them, and vice versa.
My in-laws had a four-bedroom log ranch. They did not have electricity, and their water came from a well. The bathroom consisted of two holes in a little outhouse. It was a very pretty ranch, but it was a shock for me. I came from a very modern house in a big city. But when you are young, you adjust easily to changes.
I have returned to France many times over the years. The first time was not long after Rod died. He wanted to be a pilot, and he was learning to fly under the GI Bill. When I was still pregnant with our second child, Rod was killed in a plane accident with his brother in 1948. A year or so after that, I returned to France. I stayed for six months, and then made the very difficult decision to return to America. It was hard to leave my parents and brother again, but by then I knew that I wanted my children to be American. I didn’t have any formal lessons to learn how to be an American, but I soon grew to love America very much.
In Roundup, I missed the symphony and the opera that I used to attend at home. But when I moved to a bigger city in Montana, Bozeman, I could start to enjoy them again. I spoke French with my children at home. My first two children were born in Roundup. I remember once overhearing some other children make fun of Gerald and Gregory for speaking French, so that’s when I thought, “No more French. They are American, they live here, and I want them to be American!” That was a mistake, but I didn’t know it then. It was difficult as a widow, and things were very different back then.
Three years after Rodger died, I remarried to a man named Terry James Coghlan. We had a girl, who we named Jacqueline. She speaks a little French, is very keen to learn, and is taking lessons now! I would tell people who were considering moving to another country for love to not be afraid, and to follow your heart.
When James Elliott Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1947, World War II was over, and the South Carolina native probably thought he might have a career no different, better or worse than any other enlisted sailor. History would have other ideas. He just wanted to join the Navy, so bad in fact, he was only 16 when he enlisted. He and a county clerk altered his birth certificate to make him old enough to join. That was just the first bold move of his career.
It’s notable that the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history isn’t a SEAL or anything like that, he was a Boatswains Mate.
Today’s Boatswain’s Mates now train, direct, and supervise the ship’s personnel in the maintenance of the ship as well as operate machinery to load and unload supplies. They’re kind of the jack of all trades sailor, the oldest rate in the Navy. They repair the ship, provide security, and even drive the damn things. Not three years into James William’s enlistment, the Korean War broke out, and Williams was aboard the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. Being a Boatswain’s Mate, he ended up on numerous small boat raiding parties into North Korea.
It suited him just fine. Williams continued his enlistment even after the war ended. His real moment to shine came during his time in Vietnam.
Williams was the Petty Officer in charge of overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta as the Vietnam War was heating up in 1966 and 1967. At the time in his career when other NCOs would be seeking a quiet place to end their enlistment, Williams was tossing ammunition over his shoulder and telling junior sailors everything was going to be okay – and it was, because Williams was going to see to that.
That’s what happened on Oct. 31, 1966, when Williams’ two boat patrol was ambushed by two enemy boats on the river. He collected his “19-year-old and scared to death” gunners, and directed a return fire that destroyed one boat and sent the other running away for dear life. It wouldn’t get away, as the sailors chased the damaged enemy boat right into…
An enemy stronghold.
Suddenly, they were outnumbered 65-to-1. The VC opened up on the Americans with withering AK-47 and RPG fire. You can probably guess what happened next.
Williams led his boat and its crew into the enemy formation, with fortified bunkers shooting at them from the riverbanks, enemy boats swirling around them, and all kinds of different ordnance being thrown their way. As he attacked enemy sampans, junks, and other river craft, he called in for help from UH-1B Huey helicopters as the night fell on the South Vietnamese inlet where Williams and his crew were absolutely laying waste to the Viet Cong.
For three hours, Williams and company fought and wrecked an entire hub of VC shipping and supply along with the 65 boats and untold manpower defending it. The Navy wrecking crew killed 1,000 enemy troops in the process while disrupting the VC supply lines in the entire region.
Aside from the Medal of Honor he earned on that day, Williams other awards and decorations include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with gold star, the Legion of Merit with combat V, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, the Bronze Star with combat V and two gold stars, the Purple Heart with two gold stars and a ton of other unit commendations and service medals.
He left the military as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class, E-6, but was made an honorary Chief in 1977.
Do you have that buddy who scratches messages into his M4 rounds? Or maybe you’re the sailor who Sharpies “This one’s for you” onto JDAMs destined for a flight over the Gulf. Regardless, it turns out that you’re part of a tradition that dates back to a few hundred years before Jesus.
Yeah, we’re all comedians.
(Air Force Master Sgt. Dave Nolan)
Writing messages on bombs, missiles, and other munitions is a common and long-standing tradition. After the 9/11 Attacks, messages of solidarity for New York and vengeance against al Qaeda and the Taliban started popping up on bombs headed for Afghanistan. Hussein and the Ba’ath party were favorite targets for graffiti over Iraq in the early 2000s.
More recently, bombs headed for Iraq and Syria have had messages for ISIS and Baghdadi, and messages supporting Paris were popular after the attacks in 2015.
Obviously, there’s about zero chance in Hell that anyone on the receiving end will actually read the messages. After all, the bomb casings will get obliterated when they go off. But it’s fun for the troops and lets them get a little steam out. Most service members will never fire a weapon, drop a bomb, or throw a grenade in anger.
(Imperial War Museum)
So it can sometimes be hard for support troops to connect their actions to dismantling ISIS, defeating Saddam, or destroying al Qaeda. It helps the ordnance crews reinforce their part of the mission, and they can imagine their Sharpie-soaked pieces of shrapnel shredding enemy fighters.
But this tradition really dates back. In World War II, British troops designated bombs to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz. And these Americans were hoping their bombs would be great party favors for the Third Reich.
Almost everyone in the world has a favorite soda that they enjoy whenever they get the opportunity. But, is your favorite tasty drink worth giving up a military arsenal big enough to stock a whole country? Well, at one point in history, the Russians thought so.
In 1959, then-President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to bring our America culture to citizens of the Soviet Union and show them the benefits of capitalism.
To showcase their ideologies, the American government arranged the “American National Exhibition” in Moscow and sent then-Vice President Richard Nixon to attend the opening — but things were about to take a turn for the worse.
Nixon and Soviet leader Khrushchev got into an argument over the topic of capitalism versus communism. Their conversation got so heated that the vice president of Pepsi intervened and offered the Soviet leader a cup of his delicious, sugary beverage — and he drank it.
Years later, the people of the Soviet Union wanted to strike a deal that would bring Pepsi products to their country permanently. However, there was an issue of how they would pay for their newest beverage, as their money wasn’t accepted throughout the world.
So, the clever country decided to buy Pepsi using a universal currency: vodka!
In the late-1980s, Russia’s initial agreement to serve Pepsi in their country was about to expire, but this time, their vodka wasn’t going to be enough to cover the cost.
So, the Russians did what any country would do in desperate times: They traded Pepsi a fleet of subs and boats for a whole lot of soda. The new agreement included 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer.
The combined fleet was traded for three billion dollars worth of Pepsi. Yes, you read that right. Russia loves their Pepsi.
The historical exchange caused Pepsi to become the 6th most powerful military in the world, for a moment, before they sold the fleet to a Swedish company for scrap recycling.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Marion Bales was a high school senior the day a Marine Corps vehicle pulled up in front of his parents’ house. His mother immediately broke down in anguish, imagining the worst about his older brother, who was serving in Vietnam.
“He had been wounded in the shoulder and it was pretty serious,” Bales said. “They flew him straight out of Vietnam to the Naval hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois. After about two weeks we learned that he was going to be okay. However, it was a very traumatic experience for my mother, and really, for all of us.”
Two years later, in December 1969, Bales was a 20-year-old electronic and mechanical equipment installer when he received his notice to report for an armed forces physical examination. For the young men of Bales’ generation, the country’s last military draft meant one thing – more personnel for the war effort in Vietnam.
“Within a week, I was on my way to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training,” Bales said. “I don’t remember a lot about that experience other than the rifle range and that they worked us hard, running us all day and sometimes at night.”
Bales with Vietnamese family he fondly remembers as one he “adopted.”
Next stop, Danang
From there, Bales went through Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Ord, California, followed by dog handler training at Fort Benning, Georgia. His next stop was Danang, South Vietnam.
“I flew over to Vietnam and they had me complete a two-week course on short-range canine patrols in Danang.”
For most of his tour, Bales and his black Labrador “Orange” (pictured above) were on-call for specialized patrols that required them to walk “point” ahead of the unit. Alone and more exposed because of his position, Bales and Orange were always inserted into these areas by UH-1 “Huey” helicopters.
“The pilots never set down because the units I was called in to assist usually were still in a firefight,” Bales said. “I’d have to jump with Orange in my arms, along with all my gear, from heights that could be 20 feet or more.”
When asked how he could make such jumps without injury, Bales explained, “There usually was several feet of elephant grass or something else that offered some padding. Otherwise you learned how to roll once you hit the ground and then you kept on going.”
Bales (right) and fellow Vietnam War Veteran Rick Rice (center) assist a Veteran at Truman VA.
And because people want to know how a black lab got the name Orange, Bales explains: “Orange came from a litter where each puppy was given a name that started with the letter O. There were eight dogs in this litter. I did eventually meet Orange’s sister Opal, who also was a war dog.”
“Truman VA is the best hospital I’ve ever seen”
Bales eventually finished his tour in Vietnam and, once discharged, resumed work as an electronic and mechanical equipment installer. He married, had six children, and eventually settled in his wife’s hometown of Salisbury, Missouri.
“After I retired, I volunteered at our local food bank. One day, Cindy Stivers, a Marine Corps Veteran and the Women Veterans Coordinator at Truman VA, came in and we talked about VA health care. That’s when I began to really think about VA.
“I’ve been receiving my care there for some time now and I think VA is tremendous. In my opinion, Truman VA is the best hospital I’ve ever seen and I’ve worked in a lot of them over the years installing equipment.”
After interacting with other Veterans, Bales began volunteering at the hospital. As an escort and ambassador, he has been part of Truman VA’s Voluntary Service program for the past ten years.
“I served as a Veteran and now I serve Veterans,” Bales said. “I encourage anyone who is interested in giving back to Veterans to contact their local VA’s Voluntary Service.”
On Friday, August 7, National Purple Heart Day will be observed. Around the country, states, counties, and cities will pause to recognize the service and sacrifice of their citizens. Observed since 2014, National Purple Heart Day is a time for Americans to pause and remember the bravery, courage and sacrifice of the service members who risk their lives for our freedoms.
Here are some things you need to know about the Purple Heart and how this solemn day is observed throughout the country.
Purple Heart Trail
The Purple Heart Trail was established in 1992 by the Military Order of Purple Hearts. It aims to be a symbolic honorary system of roads, highways and other monuments that give tribute to the service members who have been awarded the Purple Heart medals. Currently, there are designated sections in 45 states as well as in Guam. Additionally, many cities and towns around the country choose to become Purple Heart cities/towns to honor the veterans and service members from the area.
On August 7, gatherings around the country, states, counties and cities will pause in recognition of the sacrifice and service of veterans. Here are more things you need to know about the Purple Heart:
Generally, Major League Baseball teams pay homage to their local Purple Heart recipients during pre-game events and then again during the 7th inning. Because of current conditions, it’s unclear whether or not MLB will continue that tradition.
At local VFWs, American Legions, and other veteran organizations, remembrance meetings will be held for fallen heroes. Special events usually take place to thank active-duty personnel, veterans, and Purple Heart recipients.
The Purple Heart medal is presented to military personnel who have either been wounded in action or killed as a result of enemy action. Since the award was created in 1782, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been presented.
The Purple Heart has been around for a long, long time.
It’s the oldest military award still presented to service members. The predecessor to the Purple Heart, the Fidelity Medallion, was created in 1780 by the Continental Congress – but it was only awarded to three soldiers that year. Then, two years later, President George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit.
The Badge of Military Merit is considered the first US military decoration and the Purple Heart predecessor.
Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit in the form of a purple heart. He determined that it be given to soldiers who displayed “unusual gallantry in battle,” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way.” Then, the award was primarily forgotten for roughly two hundred years. It wasn’t until the bicentennial of Washington’s birth that Gen. MacArthur made an effort to revive the medal. It was still used to commemorate bravery, but that criteria changed in WWII when it became a way to recognize combat injuries and deaths.
This honor can be awarded to officers and enlisted personnel
The Purple Heart is one of the first awards in military history given to enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers. Service members of any rank are eligible to receive a Purple Heart.
There is no official record for every Purple Heart medal awarded to American service members.
During the Revolutionary War, there were just 3 Purple Hearts awarded, roughly 320,000 during WWI, and 1 million Purple Hearts presented during WWII. The Korean War awarded 118,600 medals, the Vietnam War 351,000 Purple Hearts, and the Persian Gulf War, which lasted 209 days, awarded 607 Purple Hearts.
The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ongoing since 2001, and to date, 12,500 Purple Hearts have been awarded.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart
Those who are awarded a Purple Heart can join MOPH, an organization that was formed in 1932. It’s the only veteran service organization composed of only “combat” veterans. Currently, there are about 45,000 MOPH members. Find out more about the organization here.
Though Purple Heart Day isn’t an officially recognized holiday, it’s still an important one for our military community. In this time of social distancing, it might not be possible to visit military organizations or museums. Instead, use #PurpleHeartDay to post on social media, hold socially-distant events, and take a few moments of silence to remember those who have paid the price for American freedoms.
In the lead up to World War II, the U.S. Army Air Force had to make tough decisions on how to spend limited defense dollars. Decades of strict budgets after World War I left capabilities across the military underdeveloped, and the Air Forces decided to spend their part of the pie focusing on strategic bombing.
When the Army Air Force was looking for a new bomber in the early 1930s, they floated the idea of getting a beastly four-engine bird. Most bombers had two engines at the time, but it was thought a larger, four-engine plane could carry more bombs a longer way.
Boeing proved this was true with their Model 299. It had four engines and could carry 8,000 pounds of bombs while flying at faster speeds than other bombers of the day. It carried 13 large machine guns, mostly .50-cals. A reporter for The Seattle Times dubbed it a “flying fortress” in a photo caption and Boeing ran with it.
The future looked good for the Model 299 as it dominated a fly-off competition in 1935. But then it crashed and so was disqualified. Worse, it turned out that that the Model 299 was way more expensive than its primary competitors, and so the Army chief of staff ordered a two-engine bomber instead.
And the new doctrine did treat the planes like they were fortresses, even though the fortress moniker originated with a journalist and was adopted by salesmen. As navigator Bob Culp recalled in 2008, “When you realize you’re protected by a very thin skin of aluminum, you realize you’re not really in a fortress.”
Basically, 9-12 planes would fly in a box so their guns would cover all angles of attack. Three or more of these boxes would fly together. There was a lead box, then a box that flew higher, and finally a trail box that flew low.
With 36 planes formed into three boxes, there were 468 machine guns present. They would have 324,000 rounds of ammunition between them. The spread of a single .50-cal. machine gun would fire rounds across a spread 600 yards wide when firing at planes 1,000 yards away. With 468 planes firing 600-yard-wide spreads, it was thought they could form an actual wall of deadly steel at oncoming fighters.
And so the doctrine was approved, and aviation officers fooled themselves that B-17s really could defend themselves.
But then American B-17s made their European combat debut in 1942. The planes flying over Europe in daytime proved easy pickings.
Flak gunners didn’t give the first crap about all those machine guns on the planes. Worse, B-17 pilots couldn’t maintain the precise boxes necessary for 360-degree coverage, and gunners couldn’t always keep the proper fields of fire.
Crews could head home, their duty fulfilled, after 25 missions. Only 1 in 4 would survive to reach that milestone. On one of America’s first large bomber raids in 1942, less than 300 bombers set off for Nazi-occupied Europe and 60 of them were lost, an attrition of over 20 percent.
Even when new fighters joined the war, the problem persisted anytime the B-17s outflew their escorts. In October 1943 the Eighth Air Force flew Mission Number 115 against factories in Schweinfurt, Germany. The 291-plane formation survived well while British Supermarine Spitfires and then P-47 Thunderbolts escorted them to the border. But then they were alone against German fighters.
In World Wars I and II, where thousands of tanks clashed on land and hundreds of ships fought at sea, and millions of men charged each other through trenches and across hills and valleys on foot, hundreds of thousands of soldiers fought from their trusty steeds: the bicycle.
Yeah, the two-wheeled contraptions that most kids get for Christmas or a birthday a few times throughout their childhood was once a cutting-edge weapon of war — and they were effective.
The modern bicycle, with pedals and two wheels, emerged in the 1860s and slowly turned the “velocipede” from a leisure device of rich gentlemen into a viable method of transport. Fairly quickly, especially after the introduction of rubber tires, military experts saw a role for bicycles in wartime.
The European powers embraced the new technology first — not surprising, since that’s where the bike originated. Most military advocates pushed for the bike as a scout vehicle, allowing observers to get close to the front or ride near enemy units to collect data and then quickly get away with the information to friendly lines.
As the war ground on, Great Britain bought bicycles and trained troops to ride them, famously advertising that “bad teeth” were “no bar” to joining. Bicycle infantry units rode around the front, quickly reinforcing areas that had suffered unsustainable losses from German attacks or plussing up British positions for major attacks. Cyclists mounted coastal patrols and fought fires in areas raided by German aircraft.
And cyclists were added to standard units with even conventional infantry units getting a few cyclists to ride ahead and get orders, relaying them back to the unit so it could deploy effectively as it arrived. Eventually, even artillery units got cyclists, and some even experimented with towing the guns, especially machine guns, behind the bicycles. (This was one job that bikes weren’t great for. Just watch a dad huffing and puffing away while towing their kid — then imagine the kid weighs hundreds of pounds.)
After all, many of the bike’s advantages over walking; the speed and the efficiency, or horseback riding, no animal to care for and feed, were also true of the automobiles. And, except for the need for gasoline, the automobile was simply a better tool. It was faster, could carry heavier loads, and it was less draining on the operator’s mind and body.
So, when World War II rolled around, the bicycle took on a smaller role, but it still served, mostly with scouts and the occasional military maneuver. Britain actually created a special bicycle for paratroopers, but then got larger gliders that could carry Jeeps before D-Day, so the bikes went ashore with Canadian soldiers and others instead of paratroopers.
Bicycle-mounted troops were key for many counterattacks or quick movements, especially where supply lines were long, or the demand for fuel for tanks was high. The fuel problems of Germany led to a greater concentration of bicycles in their units while the Allies, with better logistics and greater natural resources, relied more heavily on vehicles.
After World War II, some European militaries continued to employ these two-wheeled vehicles for reconnaissance and even anti-tank roles. Switzerland even kept its bicycle units around until 2001, nearly a century after standing up their first bicycle unit.
The very moment a United States Armed Forces recruit steps foot off the bus, they’ll be greeted by a non-commissioned officer wearing a campaign hat and, in that moment, their life will change forever. Every branch in the Armed Forces (with exception of the Navy) uses a variation of the same, broad-brimmed hat. When you see someone wearing it, you know they’re dedicated to breaking the civilian out of young prospects and molding Uncle Sam a batch of new, capable warfighters.
But long before the campaign hat became the official headgear of every private’s nightmares, it was used by soldiers in the Old West, who casually wore it for so long that it just kind of became an official thing.
Don’t get this confused with the Stetson worn by cavalrymen. The campaign hat was mostly worn by infantrymen.
The campaign hat was first worn back in the 1840s by soldiers making their way across the country toward the Pacific. The typical forage cap used out east simply wasn’t a suitable option for blocking out the blinding sun that hung relentlessly above the American deserts.
The soldiers heading west were so far away from the brass (and military regulations was comparatively relaxed in those times) that they simply substituted regulation gear with whatever else made more sense. It was said that they were inspired by the sombreros of the Mexican Vaqueros, but the soldiers made their hats smaller to be more practical for longer rides.
The new unofficial hat finally got recognition and was authorized in the 1870s. This version was made of black felt, had a softer brim, and was still missing the distinctive pinch on the top. Over the years, the hat underwent several slight adjustments until becoming the campaign hat we know and love/fear today.
Technically speaking, Smokey the Bear has been around longer (1944) than the Army has officially had drill sergeants (1964). So they kinda took his hat.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Stephen Linch)
The British took note of the campaign hat and soon incorporated it into the wardrobe of their armies located around the Empire, as many fought under conditions similar to those of the Wild West — like the Boer Wars in South Africa. Canadian, South African, and Kiwi troops all adapted the hat — the Canadian Military then famously handed it down to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
By the turn of the century, the hat also became synonymous with the Buffalo Soldiers — in fact, they were responsible for sewing in the iconic “Montana Pinch” we all recognize today. The Buffalo Soldiers were tasked into various national parks and became some of the first national park rangers.
Later, park rangers, CBP agents, and highway policemen would all wear similar campaign hats in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers who’d, essentially, laid the foundation for their careers. Meanwhile, the troops tossed the hat at the advent of WWI as helmets were the preferred combat headgear.
Never thought we would all have to thank the Coast Guard for keeping this terror-inducing hat alive and well… but they adopted it during the Spanish-American War and never abandoned it during the World Wars.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm)
One by one, each branch began putting recruits through more extensive and intense recruit training programs, helmed by the finest NCOs each branch had to offer. The Marines were the first in 1956 — and they needed an easily identifiable symbol to distinguish the drill instructor from everyone else.
They chose the campaign cover for all the same reasons the soldiers of the Wild West did — the fact that recruits couldn’t clearly see the eyes of the DI under the brim was just an added bonus. Other branches quickly followed suit. The Army adopted it in 1964 and the Air Force and Coast Guard did so in 1967
Which leaves out the Navy. Fact is, the Navy has just never had a reason to use the hat and has never showed any intentions of switching.