The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

By the time Samuel Woodfill was earning his Medal of Honor in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1917, he was already a veteran of another war. The fighting of World War I just happened to be very different from the fighting he saw in the Philippine-American War. But Woodfill was practically born to be an Army man.

samuel woodfill

His father was a veteran of the Civil War and Mexican-American War and raised Samule to be an excellent shot with a rifle. By 1901, he was enlisting in the U.S. Army the way his father had 60 years before. 

Woodfill was immediately sent to the Philippines with the 11th Infantry in 1901. There, he fought Filipino Insurrectionists in the jungles of the islands for three years before returning to American territory. When World War I broke out, the growing U.S. Army needed its skilled veterans to train and lead the new recruits being sent over to European battlefields. 

He deployed with the American Expeditionary Force to France in 1917, still an enlisted non-commissioned officer. But the same need for veterans and leaders that saw Woodfill deploy with the AEF soon saw him promoted to a Lieutenant’s commission. By 1918, almost 17 years to the day he first joined the Army, he was promoted again.

Woodfill was then sent to lead men in the coming Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918. In the second week of the massive offensive, Woodfill and his men found themselves near the French town of Cunel, moving through heavy fog. Despite the fog, they were spotted by German defenders, who opened up on the Americans with heavy machine gun fire. 

His men immediately took cover, but Lt. Woodfill did not. He rushed straight at the German defenders, a machine gun nest manned by four enemy soldiers. He shot three of them and, jumping into the enemy position, fought the German officer in hand to hand combat. Woodfill killed the opposing officer too. 

Signalling his men to get up and keep moving, they found themselves under fire again from another German machine gun. This time, he ordered his men to advance on the position, which they did. It was overrun and its three-man crew were captured. As they moved forward, they were again shot at by an enemy machine gun. 

Charging forward, the American dispatched the third machine gun nest, with Woodfill emptying his rifle and taking down five more Germans. They then entered a German bunker guarded by two more enemy troops. Having spent all his ammunition, Woodfill grabbed a nearby pickaxe and beat the two defenders to death. 

Throughout the whole ordeal, Woodfill and his men hadn’t noticed that the air was becoming thick with mustard gas, but they were beginning to feel its effects. He ordered his men to get out of the enemy area and go back to the American lines. The gas was only means of stopping the American advance in the area. 

None of his men were killed in the fighting, but the mustard gas knocked Samuel Woodfill out of the war. It took him weeks to recover from its primary effects, but the gas left his lungs permanently scarred for the rest of his life. He was soon awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions near Cunel. 

His exploits as a soldier were so legendary, Gen, John J. Pershing, who gave Woodfill his battlefield commission in 1917, called him “The Most Outstanding Soldier of World War I.” 

samuel woodfill

He was even chosen to be one of the pallbearers for the Unknown Soldier of World War I. Though he retired as a Master Sergeant in 1923, at the onset of World War II, the Army recommissioned him as a major and put him in charge of training new troops in Alabama. 

His second retirement from the Army came in 1942, after the death of his wife. Samuel Woodfill died nine years later and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Articles

These are the rebel wars where Chesty Puller got his start

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller is probably known best for his legendary actions in World War II where he led Marines at Guadalcanal and in Korea when he and his men broke out from the Chosin Reservoir.


But Puller originally enlisted in the Corps to fight in World War I.

He was eventually assigned to train new Marines and then sent officer school — which combined to keep him away from the front lines of The Great War.

But in 1919 he was offered a deployment to Haiti if he came back to active duty.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

The trip was described to young Marine officers as a sort of consolation prize after their trip to France was canceled. Writing about Puller and another Marine officer in Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps, Leo J. Dougherty III wrote:

They saw service in Haiti as a means of compensation for not having served in the World War, and, as then Capt. William H. Rupertus told the young second lieutenants, as a way to “make money and have some fun.”

But Haiti was a real war zone.

Most of the recent Marine Corps officer training graduates were sent to Haiti as American noncommissioned officers who held officer ranks in the Gendarmerie d’Haïti. This was basically a police and counterinsurgency force whose enlisted ranks were filled with local soldiers but whose officers were mostly Marine Corps officers and noncommissioned officers.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler served as the commander of Nicaragua’s national guard when he was a major. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The first commander of the Gendarmerie d’Haïti was then-Maj. Smedley Butler, another Marine Corps legend. And the Marines and their gendarmerie fought tooth and nail against determined Caco rebel attacks.

The rebels would hit targets — usually government buildings and forces — and then escape into the jungle.

To catch the rebels, Puller and other gendarmerie officers led their men on hard marches through the jungle and into the mountains, fighting off ambushes along the way.

Puller — who was deployed to Haiti from 1919 to 1924 — later estimated that he fought in about 40 engagements against the Caco rebels in Haiti and learned a lot of lessons, which helped him later in Nicaragua.

Puller was promoted to second lieutenant in 1924 and deployed to Nicaragua for the first time in 1926.

Nicaragua had been racked by political turmoil for over a decade despite an American intervention in 1912, causing instability in Latin America and headaches for American fruit companies. The Marines arrived in 1927 to protect American interests in the country.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

In 1928, Puller arrived and again led a local force, this time it was an element from the Guardia Nacional of Nicaragua. These government forces and their Marine mentors were tasked with disrupting rebel operations.

During his first tour of Nicaragua, Puller served for over two years and was awarded a Navy Cross for leading his men through five major engagements from February to August of 1930. Puller’s element was successful in each of the engagements, killing nine of the enemy and wounding more.

After a year break for training at Fort Benning, Puller returned to Nicaragua and commanded local forces once again. He received a second Navy Cross for actions taken in 1932. Puller was leading 40 Nicaraguans alongside Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. William A. “Iron Man” Lee.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

The men forced their way into rebel territory a full 80 miles from their base and any reliable reinforcements or lines of communication. Rebels ambushed them, and Puller was in the center of the first attack. When a Nicaraguan fell right next to him and Lee was hit with what were thought to be mortal wounds, Puller quickly rallied the men and got them fighting against the 150 or more rebels.

Despite the fact that they had been ambushed by a numerically superior force, the Marines and Nicaraguans were able to throw off the attack. They killed 10 of the enemy.

Puller led his men back to their base to the south, a full hundred miles away.

But on Sept. 30, 1932, 10 days after the first ambush, the rebels attempted two more attacks designed to wipe out Puller and his men. Both attacks were rebuffed with heavy losses for the rebels, allowing the American-Nicaraguan patrol to arrive at the base on Oct. 31.

Lee survived his wounds and later fought in World War II where he became a prisoner of war. He was awarded the Navy Cross three times for his actions in Nicaragua.

Puller would later take a series of staff and command positions, including a deployment to guard Americans in China, before leading Marines throughout the Pacific in the World War II and Korea battles that made him an icon of the Corps.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in history: the polio vaccine was invented

The thought of summer brings on thoughts of sunshine, being outside and ice cream parlor trips for most people. But 67 years ago, summer was a time of fear for parents all over the world. Long before the novel coronavirus, there was a debilitating and deadly epidemic that would sweep through towns without warning. It was polio.


The original name for the virus was poliomyelitis, which was shortened to polio. History has demonstrated that polio actually may have existed long before it caused widespread fear in the 20th century. There are Egyptian carvings from 1400 B.C. which showcase a younger man with a leg deformity not unlike what you would see with someone who had polio.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

This 1988 photograph showed Dr. Jonas Salk (left), who introduced the first polio vaccine in 1955, and Dr. Frederick A. Murphy (right), former Director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, together during Dr. Salk’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control that year.

Public Health Image Library

The first documented polio outbreak in the United States occurred in 1894. It would be discovered that it was highly contagious in 1905. During the 1900s, this virus would become an epidemic.

The virus itself would spread through nasal or oral secretions and by contact with contaminated feces. As it continued multiplying within the body’s cells it may have only led to mild, virus like symptoms. But if it was the paralytic polio? Paralysis and even death could result because of the inability for the lungs to move for breathing. The iron lung, a negative pressure ventilator, would be invented around 1929, saving the lives of many. But it wasn’t enough to stop the virus from spreading.

It would begin to be known as infantile paralysis as it mostly affected children. Every summer, a child with a fever would leave parents gripped in fear that it was polio. A quarter of children would be left with mild disabilities and another quarter with severe and permanent disabilities. Thousands died.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

The Alabama National Guard prepares to fly polio vaccine from Birmingham to Haleyvilled during the epidemic of 1963.

Public Health Image Library

On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Stalk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a vaccine to prevent polio. It was the first “killed virus” vaccine attempt. The year prior had been a terrible year for Americans, with 58,000 new cases reported. His announcement was one that brought incredible joy to the world. It would take two more years before it was proven completely safe and a national inoculation campaign would begin.

It should be noted that Stalk never attempted to patent the vaccine, which was proven to have saved countless human lives. He was once asked on live television who owned the patent and his reply is one quoted often: “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent; could you patent the sun?”

A liquid version of the vaccine would be created later on, which would greatly impact the distribution of the vaccine to more people. Polio was officially eradicated in the United States in 1994 thanks to the incredible efforts of Stalk and those who followed.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

From November 1947 to December 1948, Camp Pine, which would evolve into Fort Drum, hosted the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division for Exercise Snowdrop. The exercise was the largest over-snow airborne maneuver that the Army had undergone at the time and was designed to validate equipment, logistics and tactics for airborne operations in a sub-zero combat environment like the one that the paratroopers would experience if the United States were to go to war with the Soviet Union. Sadly, not all of the soldiers that participated saw the exercise through to its end.

During Snowdrop, building T-2278, a two-story wooden building, served as an officer barracks. The building housed many WWII veterans like Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, Lt. Rudolph Feres and Capt. Francis Turner. Swilley had earned two Purple Hearts during the war, and Feres and Turner each earned three Bronze Stars.

In the early morning hours of December 10, 1947, the officers in building T-2278 were awoken by thick smoke and loud shouts from the second-floor hallway. The shouts came from Turner, who was first alerted to the fire by the smoke at approximately 0230 hrs. “Turner could have escaped at that point, having done his duty to warn his fellow Soldiers, but he did not,” said Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum Garrison Commander. “Ignoring his own safety, Capt. Turner chose to remain in the building to ensure each officer heard his alarm and to help the wounded among them to escape. Only after every wounded man was out of the building — which by this time was completely engulfed in flames — did he turn his attention to his own safety.”

The burned-out of building T-2278 after the fire (U.S. Army)

Survivor accounts lead Army historians to believe that, after Turner ran through the building to alert his comrades of the danger, he attempted to jump to safety from a second-story window. Tragically, his wedding ring got caught on a nail in the window and Turner was left hanging amidst the searing flames. He was eventually rescued by Pine Camp firefighters, but was left with severe burns; nearly 90 percent of his body had suffered third-degree burns.

Thanks to Turner, six officers escaped the flames unharmed. In addition to Turner, four other officers were injured but managed to escape. Capt. Robert Dodge, Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, and Lt. Rudolph Feres died in the building. While the other injured officers were treated and sent home, Turner had been so badly burned that he remained at Pine Camp hospital for treatment. After 18 days, he succumbed to his wounds.

Many factors contributed to the tragedy of the Pine Camp barracks fire. First, the roving fire watchman saw smoke but believed that the fire was in a different building. Second, the fire department took about 45 minutes to arrive on site. Third, two-thirds of the firefighters had less than three months of experience. Fourth, the barracks fire was determined to be a quick and violent “flash-fire” that burned rapidly and with very little notice. It took three hours, three fire engines, and 1,950 feet of water line to extinguish the blaze.

The death toll would have been much higher if not for Turner (U.S. Army)

The cause of the fire remains a mystery. Duane Quates, an archaeologist with the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Branch, speculates that the fire could have been started by a faulty boiler or a careless cigarette. “This fire is the only structural fire on Fort Drum that had fatalities,” Quates said. “Every other structural fire may have had injuries, but they never had fatalities.” He also noted that the fire was a catalyst for modern fire safety measures like self-closing doors, permanent escape ladders, and heat raiser alarms.

On August 19, 1948, the four widows of the Pine Camp barracks fire sued the United States, claiming that their husbands’ deaths were the result of negligence due to a faulty heater. Their cases were dismissed by a Northern New York District Court judge who stated that the government was not liable for injuries that service members sustain while on active duty under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The next year, Lt. Feres’ widow, Bernice Feres, brought her case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Again, the case was dismissed. Feres persisted and, the next year, she appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The rulings of the previous courts were upheld and her case was dismissed again. This series of cases led to the controversial Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members from collecting damages for injuries sustained while on active duty and prohibits family members from filing wrongful death suits in the case of a service member’s death. To this day, service members and their families continue to challenge the Feres Doctrine.

Col. Rosenberg unveils the historic marker with Carolyn Leps and Elizabeth Barbee, Turner’s two surviving daughters (U.S. Army)

On August 27, 2013, Fort Drum dedicated a historic marker to the memory of the men killed in the Pine Camp barracks fire. Still, knowledge of the fire and Turner’s heroic actions are largely unknown. Years of historical research into the event continues today. Joseph “Sepp” Scanlin, the Fort Drum Museum director, says that the museum remains dedicated to its efforts for Turner to receive a military award for his actions during the fire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the true story of Thanksgiving ended in a war

In the US, Thanksgiving is a time for family, parades, lots of delicious food, and, oftentimes, intense travel snarls.


American schoolchildren are usually taught the tradition dates back to the pilgrims, English religious dissenters who helped to establish the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts in 1620.

As the story goes, friendly local Native Americans swooped in to teach the struggling colonists how to survive in the New World. Then everyone got together to celebrate with a feast in 1621. Attendees included at least 90 men from the Wampanoag tribe and the 50 or so surviving Mayflower passengers, according to TIME. The bash lasted three days and featured a menu including deer, fowl, and corn, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

In reality, Thanksgiving feasts predate Plymouth. You’ll even find a number of localities have vied to claim the first Thanksgiving for themselves.

More Thanksgiving: This is the Navy’s Thanksgiving grocery list

Settlers in Berkeley Hundred in Virginia decided to celebrate their arrival with an annual Thanksgiving back in 1619, according to The Virginian-Pilot — although The Washingtonianreported the meal was probably little more than some oysters and ham thrown together. And decades before that, Spanish settlers and members of the Seloy tribe broke bread with salted pork, garbanzo beans, and a Mass in 1565 Florida, according to the National Parks Service.

Our modern definition of Thanksgiving revolves around eating turkey, but in past centuries it was more of an occasion for religious observance. The storied 1621 Plymouth festivities live on in popular memory, but the pilgrims themselves would have likely considered their sober 1623 day of prayer the first true “Thanksgiving,” according to the blog the History of MassachusettsOthers pinpoint 1637 as the true origin of Thanksgiving, owing to the fact Massachusetts colony governor John Winthrop declared a day of thanks-giving to celebrate colonial soldiers who had just slaughtered 700 Pequot men, women, and children in what is now Mystic, Connecticut.

Either way, the popular telling of the initial harvest festival is what lived on, thanks to Abraham Lincoln.

The enduring holiday has also nearly erased from our collective memory what happened between the Wampanoag and the English a generation later.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

Massosoit, the sachem or paramount chief of the Wampanoag, proved to be a crucial ally to the English settlers in the years following the establishment of Plymouth. He set up an exclusive trade pact with the newcomers, and allied with them against the French and other local tribes like the Narragansetts and Massachusetts.

However, the alliance became strained overtime.

Thousands of English colonists poured into the region throughout the 17th century. According to “Historic Contact: Indian People and Colonists in Today’s Northeastern United States,” authorities in Plymouth began asserting control over “most aspects of Wampanoag life,” as settlers increasingly ate up more land. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American Historyestimated disease had already reduced the Native American population in New England by as much as 90% from 1616 to 1619, and indigenous people continued to die from what the colonists called “Indian fever.”

By the time Massasoit’s son Metacomet — known to the English as “King Philip” — inherited leadership, relations had frayed. King Phillip’s War was sparked when several of Metacomet’s men were executed for the murder of Punkapoag interpreter and Christian convert John Sassamon.

Also Read: One of the last Navajo code talkers has died

Wampanoag warriors responded by embarking on a series of raids, and the New England Confederation of Colonies declared war in 1675. The initially neutral Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was ultimately dragged into the fighting, as were other nearby tribes like the Narragansetts.

The war was bloody and devastating.

Springfield, Massachusetts was burned to the ground. The Wampanoag abducted colonists for ransom. English forces attacked the Narragansetts on a bitter, frozen swamp for harboring fleeing Wampanoag. Six hundred Narragansetts were killed, and the tribe’s winter stores were ruined, according to Atlas Obscura. Colonists in far flung settlements relocated to more fortified areas while the Wampanoag and allied tribes were forced to flee their villages.

The colonists ultimately allied with several tribes like the Mohigans and Pequots, despite initial reluctance from the Plymouth leadership.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
Metacomet (also known as King Philip of Wampanoag) works with neighboring Wampanoags, Narragansetts, Nipmucks, Mohegans, and Podunks and leads a military action against the English. They respond violently, capturing and assassinating him. King Philip’s War begins. (Image National Library of Medicine)

Meanwhile, Metacomet was dealt a staggering blow when he crossed over into New York to recruit allies. Instead, he was rebuffed and attacked by Mohawks. Upon his return to his ancestral home at Mount Hope, he was shot and killed in a final battle. The son of the man who had sustained and celebrated with the Plymouth Colony was then beheaded and dismembered, according to “It Happened in Rhode Island.” His remaining allies were killed or sold into slavery in the West Indies. The colonists impaled “King Phillip’s” head on a spike and displayed it in Plymouth for 25 years.

In an article published in The Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Montclair State University professor Robert E. Cray Jr. said the war’s ultimate death toll could have been as high as 30% of the English population and half of the Native Americans in New England.

The war was just one of a series of brutal but dimly remembered early colonial wars between Native Americans and colonists that occurred in New England, New York, and Virginia.

Thanksgiving today: Here’s what Thanksgiving is like for our troops overseas

Popular memory has largely clung to the innocuous image of a harvest celebration, while ignoring the deadly forces that would ultimately drive apart the descendants of the guests of that very feast.

Modern day Thanksgiving may be a celebration of people coming together, but that’s not the whole story when it comes to the history of the day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Army sent soldiers to Vietnam to be ‘combat artists’

For decades, photography has been the primary means of recording war. The medium began its rise to prominence during the American Civil War, thanks to Mathew Brady, a pioneer of photography, and his mobile darkroom. By World War I, photography had completely taken over as the de facto means of documenting war. Today, some form of photography, either still or motion, is still used to capture the iconic moments of a conflict.

But believe it or not, painting has hung on.

During the Vietnam War, the United States Army’s Center for Military History ran a unique program, selecting soldiers for temporary duty in the Vietnam Combat Artists Program. One such soldier was James R. Pollock, who served on Combat Artist Team IV from August 15, 1967, to December 31, 1967.


According to a 2009 essay written by Pollock, these artists followed various units around in the field for anywhere from one to four days. Equipped with a sketchbook and an M1911, they would share the dangers that those troops faced — if they went on patrol, the combat artists went on patrol, too.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

The combat artists followed Army troops everywhere, capturing humanitarian missions like this one.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by Samuel E. Alexander)

Pollock’s team had orders to spend 60 days in Vietnam assigned to the Command Historian, Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, followed by another 75 in Hawaii with a Special Services Officer. In Vietnam, they were to make sketches, capturing powerful moments that would be turned into completed paintings while in Hawaii.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

Photography took a prominent role among historians, but paintings can still vividly capture combat.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program by Burdell Moody)

The combat artists weren’t very high-ranking: Pollock’s team had three Specialist 4s, one Specialist 5, and one sergeant, and was supervised by a lieutenant. The artists also had “open Category Z Air and Military Travel orders” — which basically gave them free reign to hitchhike anywhere.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

James Pollock was one of the artists who was on a Combat Art Team during Vietnam, and later became a famous painter who has documented the Vietnam Combat Artists Program.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by James Pollock)

Today, combat artwork is still done as part of the United States Army Artist Program, but the Army isn’t alone – the Air Force has one of these programs, too!

Learn more about some of the Vietnam combat artists in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gO_xeUKp5I

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY CULTURE

Of course ‘Murphy’s Law’ was created by a veteran

The axiom we know as “Murphy’s Law” today has been kicking around for centuries. Instances of similar phrases can be found as early as 1877, and even George Orwell (himself a veteran of the Spanish Civil War) used it in his diaries. But when something truly catches on, it’s kept alive for posterity – and that’s how “Murphy’s Law” is remembered nowadays.


What was once quoted as, “It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later.” Is now – forever – the much snappier “Whatever can go wrong, will.” But who was the Murphy whose name is now synonymous with accidents and mishaps?

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

A strapping young man, that’s who.

Edward Aloysius Murphy was a West Point graduate, Army Air Forces veteran of World War II and an Air Force officer. Later in life, he would continue his work with the Air Force in testing experimental vehicles. This, of course, required a degree of delicacy; not only because building rocket sleds is as incredibly dangerous as testing them, but also because testing them requires exact parameters to record exact results.

That’s science.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

*Rocket* Science. DAB.

Seriously, after World War II, Murphy became the research and development officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Air Development Center, where they conducted rocket sled tests. A rocket sled is exactly what it sounds like: a chair, a rocket, all on a sled-like slab on which someone sits. And is then propelled forward. In order to remind his crews to plan for the worst-case scenario in every experiment, he began telling them “whatever can go wrong, will.”

This was especially true when they decided that 18 Gs was probably not the most a human could withstand and set out to test the limitations of G-forces on the human body. One Air Force officer, John Stapp, proved that humans could take at least 35 Gs and that anyone who passed out after 18 probably shouldn’t be in his Air Force. Murphy was designing new sensor setups to measure everything that would happen on these sled runs. One day, something went wrong.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

Here’s Stapp’s face as he becomes the fastest man ever, in what is essentially an open-top rocket convertible. Man, the Air Force used to be fun.

The details of the snafu that caused Murphy to remind his crews to check every detail are disputed. All we need to know is that something went wrong and Stapp’s test run did not acquire any sensor data. Basically, Stapp put his life on the line for funsies, because other than a rocket boom, nothing else was recorded. Upon realizing this, Murphy apparently yelled at an assistant, “whatever can go wrong, will.”

And it became their mantra. Then it became everyone’s mantra when Stapp told a group of reporters at a press conference that they keep fatalities at zero because everyone on their team repeats “Murphy’s Law” to prevent any oversights or mishaps. Once the press got hold of it, that was it. Murphy’s Law is now enshrined in everyone’s lexicon, not just the military’s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy ways MacArthur tried to get supplies to the Philippines

America’s defense of the Philippines from December 1941 to April 1942 was a desperate one. It was a time when the most powerful military leaders in the world, including America’s renowned General Douglas MacArthur,  scrambled to get basic food and ammunition to American, Filipino, and other forces gallantly holding out against what was the one of the world’s fiercest fighting forces, the Imperial forces of Japan.


The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
U.S. Army troops move up against Japanese Forces in March 1945, nearly three years after Japan conquered the Philippines.
(Army photo by Lt. Robert Fields)

 

For Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur and other military leaders tasked with preventing a complete collapse, the solution was clear: Run the blockade by any means available, including hiring smugglers and submarines, offering bonuses to civilian or Navy crews who successfully delivered supplies to the islands and survived.

The first Japanese attacks on the Philippines began just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with Japanese aircraft catching American interceptors on the ground between patrols. Japanese landing parties arrived hours later, and the Japanese march on Manila was underway.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
​Army air crews pilots and ground personnel pose in front of a P-40 pursuit aircraft in the Philippines in 1942, just before the islands were conquered by Japan.
(U.S. Army Air Corps)

American defenders outnumbered their Japanese attackers, but the Japanese forces were battle-hardened veterans from other theaters of the war while the American and Filipino forces included a lot of green troops, some of them recruited as recently as that fall.

With the Japanese fleet dominating the ocean around the islands and elite Japanese forces pushing the Americans back, it quickly became clear that American forces were fighting a delaying action. MacArthur, desperate to hold the ground and keep his men alive, pushed for immediate resupply.

One early proposal was that the Navy put together a task force of submarines to smuggle supplies, especially rations, in under the Japanese blockade. But the Navy resisted the plan, saying that their submarines were needed to keep pressure on the Japanese Navy, and that their naval clashes tied up large numbers of Japanese ships and planes that would otherwise be used against American forces ashore.

This argument carried the day at first, but as January arrived with no real resupply, the defenders were forced onto reduced rations. Worse, jungle diseases were taking an increasing toll on the Americans, especially those forced to fight in low-lying and jungle areas.

So, leaders, from colonels on the ground to Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, pushed for creative options with next to no regard for cost. Planes from other islands and Australia were sent to airdrop what supplies they could, but they were mostly limited to relatively light items, like medicine and bandages, with almost no capability for the heavy stuff, like rations and ammo.

MacArthur requested anti-aircraft ammunition via submarine, but was turned down. Marshall, meanwhile, dictated orders for ships and funds in Australia to be used to resupply the Philippines:

Use your funds without stint. Call for more if required. Colonel Chamberlin has a credit of ten million dollars of Chief of Staff’s fund which can be spent in whatever manner latter deems advisable. I direct its use for this purpose. Arrange for advance payments, partial payments for unsuccessful efforts, and large bonus for actual delivery. Your judgement must get results. Organize groups of bold and resourceful men, dispatch them with funds by planes to islands in possession of our associates, there to buy food and charter vessels for service. Rewards for actual delivery Bataan or Corregidor must be fixed at level to insure utmost energy and daring on part of masters. At same time dispatch blockade runners from Australia with standard rations and small amounts of ammunition on each. Movement must be made on broad front over many routes. . . . Only indomitable determination and pertinacity will succeed and success must be ours. Risks will be great. Rewards must be proportional. Report initiation of plan

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
​The USS Narwhal, one of the submarines eventually pressed into service to deliver supplies to beleaguered American forces in the Philippines.
(U.S. Navy)

But the blockade runners also had issues getting through, and precious few were even sent. Eventually, the need to remove MacArthur, by order or President Frankiln D. Roosevelt, as well as precious metals and Filipino officials before Japan could capture them necessitated the use of submarines for evacuation.

So, the armed forces went ahead and put food and bullets on the submarines for the way in. A few more submarines were loaded with supplies in late winter and early spring, including three from Hawaii, but few were able to find their dropoff point and get fully unloaded before Japanese forces either captured their destination or preemptively forced the their withdrawal.

After all, submarines aren’t made to be rapidly unloaded, especially outside of normal port facilities. And the supplies typically had to be stored in ballast tanks, increasing the challenge.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in 1944.

(U.S. Army)
Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in 1944.
(U.S. Army)

So, by March, some units were on quarter or starvation rations, and Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to evacuate himself and his family. MacArthur still believed that sufficiently determined commanders could run the blockade, and he effected his escape in in a patrol torpedo boat.

But, despite aerial, surface, and submarine attempts at resupply over the following month, adequate supplies just couldn’t make it through to the men. Finally, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright IV, acting commander of all Allied forces in the Philippines, was forced to surrender the garrison. Before he did so, he put large sections of his command back under the direct control of MacArthur so that they wouldn’t be included in the surrender.

Still, Japan took over 60,000 prisoners, and forced most of them on the Bataan Death March where over 10,000 died on their way to prison camps. American and Filipino forces that were not part of the surrender fought on for the duration of the war, celebrating MacArthur and conventional forces’ return to the islands in October, 1944.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Navy tried to prevent accidents 60 years ago

For a long time, the Navy has been trying to reduce the frequency of accidents — and it’s easy to see why. The recent collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) left 17 sailors dead, many others hurt, and both destroyers out of action for months. Other safety mishaps have been less costly, but each accident takes time and effort to clean up — ultimately taking time and effort away from other, more important things, like fighting the enemy.

For years, the Navy put forth the Friday Funnies, which used humor (most of the time) to push sailors to be careful, often using the sailors involved in accidents and mishaps as the butt of the joke pour encourager les autres — to help others learn from their mistakes. If you didn’t want to be made fun of in the bulletin, well, you knew what not to do.


One area in which things can quickly turn fatal is within aviation. When things go wrong on a plane or when somebody messes up, crashes can happen, and those tend to be deadly. So, not surprisingly, the Navy created safety bulletins that focused on the flight line. The messages were clear and designed to prevent simple (but costly) mistakes, like forgetting to put the landing gear down, which happened to both a C-17 crew in 2009 and an A-4 Skyhawk flown by a contractor in 2015.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

The 1966 fire on USS Oriskany (CV 34) was started when a flare accidentally ignited.

(US Navy)

But accidents don’t just happen in the air. The ground (or the carrier) is also a high-risk environment. There were huge fires on the carriers USS Oriskany (CV 34), USS Forrestal (CV 59), and USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during the Vietnam War that collectively claimed the lives of 206 sailors.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

Some accidents are through error – like a C-17 crew forgetting to make sure the landing gear is down.

(USAF)

Even if nobody gets hurt, accidents can lead to damaging valuable combat planes. These days, when an F-35 costs about 0 million, nobody wants that to happen.

See how the Navy taught sailors to avoid accidents 60 years ago in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyuJ8rUefc8

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

A lame cow sparked a war that ended Native life on the plains

In the last part of the 19th Century, the U.S. Army’s chief enemy was the scores of Native American tribes who still roamed America’s Great Plains and dominated the American Southwest, among other places. As sporadic attacks against settlers in those regions increased, the U.S. government decided it had to act. By the dawn of the 20th Century most of the tribes had capitulated and resigned themselves to their reservations.

And it all started with a lame cow.


The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

Lameness describes an injury to the cows foot that adversely affects its life.

A cow can become lame for any number of reasons, such as a toe abnormality, something getting embedded in its hoof, or even just walking long distances regularly. When a cow’s hoof becomes bruised or worn down, the animal spends more time laying down and tends to eat less, adversely affecting its condition. A cow with this condition passed through Fort Laramie, Wyoming one day in 1855 along with a group of Mormon immigrants.

While the group of settlers rested at Fort Laramie, their lame old cow wandered off by itself. Eventually, it came across a group of Mniconjou tribesmen who were waiting for an annuity from the U.S. government. It was late, the men were starving and had no means to procure food for themselves. Naturally, once the cow was in sight, it became dinner.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

The cow was allegedly worth four dollars, but when the Natives tried to trade a good horse for the lame cow (the one they already ate), the offer was rejected. Instead, the settlers demanded for the cow. At first, the Army was willing to brush the incident off as trivial and stupid, but the officer of the post was no fan of the Indians. He set out with some 30 troops and departed for one of the Indian Camps to confront them about the cow. After brief words were exchanged by a drunken translator that was also really bad at his job, the soldiers began to fire into the Indians.

The Indians fought back. By the end of it, the leader of the Lakota was dead along with all the Army soldiers. The Army retaliated by gathering 600 troops and assaulting the Lakota where they lived. The Plains Wars just began in earnest. The Army struck a number of tribes over the next few years, as President Ulysses S. Grant decided he’d had enough of the natives and it was time to pony up the resources to get them onto reservations.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

All because of one lame cow.

The fighting began with the Lakota, then came the Cheyenne, the Kiowa, Apache, Arapaho, and eventually, even the dreaded Comanche tribe were systematically subdued by the Army and forced onto reservations. One by one the tribes were forced to abandon their traditional lands and ways of life, for life on the reservations. Most of the Indians never received anything promised by the government and fought on until they were forced to capitulate.

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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
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.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars
A Combat Controller salute. (USAF photo by Dawn Hart)

popular

Why the Japanese knee mortar terrified Marines

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Army quickly mobilized to engage with Japan in the Pacific Theater. Fortunately for America, we had a few advantages on the ready. Not only did we have the semi-auto M1 Garand to face up against Japan’s bolt-action Arisaka. We also had the M1911 paired against the Japanese Nambu. For the most part, our weapons were far superior to the Japanese – with one major exception. Japan had the Knee Mortar and that was pretty scary. 

Don’t let the name mislead you. The knee mortar was really a grenade launcher. Japan called it Type 89, since it was introduced in the 2,589th year of Japan’s existence. 

The Knee Mortar makes its appearance

The Knee Mortar was created so Japan’s soldiers stood a chance facing off with the US. Even though their Army included some well-trained infantrymen, the Knee Mortar was definitely their back pocket weapon. 

A little history

The short version: Japan had pretty crappy tanks. Their artillery was not much better. When it came down to anti-tank weapons, they didn’t have much there, either. Furthermore, the Imperial Japanese Navy got a lot of the RD priority for new ships and planes. Japan figured – correctly – that their best course of action was to try to ensure naval dominance.

According to a U.S. Army manual, the Type 89 fired a 50mm round and weighed ten pounds. Depending on the round used, it had a maximum range of just under 750 yards. It could fire incendiary rounds, smoke rounds, and high-explosive rounds. Think of it as kind of an M79 grenade launcher on steroids. You didn’t want to fire it from your knee, unless you wanted to be on a medevac flight or ship home. Instead, you braced it on the ground.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

Two Marine Corps legends, “Chesty” Puller and Merritt Edson, both came away very impressed by this weapon. Edson, who lead the Marine Raiders on Guadalcanal, noted that a Japanese soldier could carry that weapon and ten rounds with no problem. The weapon was issued in large quantities to Japanese troops and had a high rate of fire. As a result, it was believed to have caused 40 percent of American battle casualties in the Pacific.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

Today, the knee mortar is out of service, but the concept is alive in the form of “commando mortars” like the British L9A1, the South African M-4, and the Iranian 37mm “marsh mortar.” In short, grunts have options for lightweight firepower.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Nazis designed a crazy, one-man, spherical tank

During World War II, Nazi engineers designed and built a number of revolutionary super or “wonder weapons” (wunderwaffe), including a wide array of aircraft, guns, and ships. Among these weapons is a mysterious small, round tank named the Kugelpanzer (literally meaning “spherical tank”). This odd little tank was never seen in the European theater, and very little is definitively known about its purpose.

What is known is that it was made in Germany and shipped to Japan, and then later captured by the Soviets in 1945, probably in Manchuria. Today, the only one known to exist can be found in the Kubinka Tank Museum in the Odintsovsky District, Moscow Oblast, Russia.


Powered by a single cylinder, two-stroke engine, Kugelpanzer has a slit in the front (presumably a driver’s view port), and a small arm and wheel in the rear (perhaps for stability and/or maneuvering). Its hull is only 5 mm (.2 in.) thick, and it isn’t fully clear what type of metal comprises its armor (no metal samples are currently allowed to be taken from it).

Popular theories of its purpose include reconnaissance, as a mobile observation post for managing artillery fire, and as a cable-laying vehicle; however, there is little evidence to support any of these hypotheses, since there has never been any documentation found that explains the vehicle or its design.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

The Kugelpanzer.

Given the dearth of evidence, as you would expect, speculation is rampant, and one intriguing theory even posits that it was commissioned by the Japanese as part of their kamikaze strategy of suicide missions.

By August 1944, the ailing Japanese military had been at war in the Pacific for 7 long years, beginning with the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. During this period, rather than being captured, and wanting to get in one last lick, some Japanese pilots had begun the practice of crashing their mostly disabled planes into enemy positions (and killing themselves in the process).

Through most of the Pacific War, this was an informal, voluntary act; however, as the war was winding down, the desperate Japanese command (who were running out of qualified pilots and whose aircraft at this point in the war were outdated) decided that they would get the most out of their unskilled personnel and obsolete machinery by incorporating planned suicide missions into their battle strategies. As such, in the fall of 1944, Japanese forces began a series of kamikaze strikes. (Click here for more on the origin of the kamikaze and how pilots were chosen for this duty.)

In addition to improvised devices, such as simply strapping bombs onto existing aircraft, the Japanese military began manufacturing specialized equipment. These included the aircraft Ohka (“cherry blossom”), as well as suicide boats, such as Shinyo (“sea quake”). Even tiny submarines were made, including a modified torpedo named Kaiten (“returning to heaven,”) and Kairyu (“sea dragon”), a two-manned craft.

The most outstanding soldier of World War I actually fought in three wars

A Japanese Ohka Model 11 replica at the Yasukuni ShrineYūshūkan war museum.

Given this mindset of many Japanese military leaders, it has been theorized by some that the Kugelpanzer was a part of this plan, with a few key points often put forth to support this theory. First, like all of the other suicide machines, it was small and designed to be operated with a limited (1-2 man) crew; second, it wasn’t equipped with any apparent offensive weaponry, though it has been speculated that it was meant to have a machine gun mounted in the front; and third, its hull was rather flimsy (5 mm thick) when compared to that of other armored vehicles, but on par with that of at least one other suicide craft.

For instance, the Type 97 Chi-Ha, said to be the “most widely produced Japanese medium tank of World War II,” had 26 mm thick armor on the sides of the turret and 33 mm thick armor on its gun shield. On the other hand, the Long Lance torpedo from which the Kaiten manned torpedo was developed had a comparably thin shell at 3.2 mm (.13 in.) thick – much closer to the width of the Kugelpanzer outer housing, than the strong armor of the Type 97 tank.

For further reference, the thickness of a common World War II helmet (the M1) was at .035 to .037 inches (just under 1 mm), sufficient to (at least sometimes) stop a .45 caliber bullet. So, essentially, the 5 mm thick walls of the tank would have been sturdy enough to relatively reliably stop many types of enemy bullets from getting in, but thin enough to give way easily from a blast within, to do maximum damage. At least, so this particularly theory goes.

Whatever its intended use, the Kugelpanzer certainly has gone down as one of the more unique weapons developed during WWII.

Bonus Facts:

  • The aforementioned Japanese one manned torpedo-like submarines called kaitens were just modified torpedoes that allowed the person inside to control them. They also featured a self destruct mechanism if the person failed in their mission. This was necessary as there was no way for the person inside to get out of the torpedo once sealed in. Early models did include a mechanism to escape once the torpedo was aimed correctly, but not a single soldier seems to have ever used this feature, so it was quickly abandoned. Each person who died as a kaiten pilot would earn their family ¥10000 (about 0 today). Kaitens were ultimately not very successful primary because they could not be deployed very deeply and were stored on the outside of the submarines. This isn’t so much a problem for the kaitens as it was for the submarines carrying them who would have to stay very near the surface. This resulted in an average of about eight submarines carrying kaitens being destroyed for every two ships destroyed by the kaitens. Each kaiten was about 50 feet long; could reach a maximum speed of about 30 miles per hour; and contained a warhead at the nose.
  • The Japanese were not alone in making suicide attacks a part of their 20th century battle strategy. During the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese soldiers of the “Dare to Die Corps” effectively detonated suicide bombs at the Battle of Taierzhuang (1938), the Defense of the Sihang Warehouse (1937) and the Battle of Shanghai (1937).

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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