In 1940, following the fall of France, Winston Churchill authorized the establishment of a volunteer fighting force to wage a secret war against Hitler’s armies. This unique force became known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and their main mission was sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines. Despite being shrouded in controversy, and being viewed with suspicion by other agencies — the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) didn’t want their information-gathering operations disrupted with blown up bridges and factories — the SOE survived World War II and actually played a big part in winning the war for the Allies.
In a speech after World War II was over, General Eisenhower even stated, “The disruption of enemy rail communications, the harassing of German road moves, and the continual and increasing strain placed on German security services throughout occupied Europe by the organized forces of Resistance, played a very considerable part in our complete and final victory.”
For the SOE, sabotage meant blowing up trains, bridges and factories. Subversion was about fostering revolt and/or guerilla warfare in all enemy and enemy-occupied countries. The most unique element of the SOE is the fact that while the senior staff were ex-public school and Oxbridge, the agents were people from all walks of life, for example, former chefs, electricians, and journalists.
The SOE’s first headquarters was set up in November 1940. At the same time, they established mansions from the Highlands to the New Forest for training. At these sprawling estates the potential members of the SOE were trained to kill with their bare hands, disguise themselves, derail trains, and get out of handcuffs with a thin piece of wire and a diary pencil. If they passed this intense training as well as a grueling parachute course, then they were considered fit to be a part of the SOE.
In order to give the agents more of an edge, the SOE also employed budding scientists to invent unique weapons of war. These weapons included single-shot cigarette pistols, the sleeping beauty – a submersible canoe – and carborundum – an abrasive grease when smeared on the right spot could bring a locomotive to an immediate standstill. They also established the Camouflage Section which created fake tree trunks to conceal radio equipment, and fake camel dung that hid a booby trap that could blow the tire off an enemy truck. To top it all off, the SOE, also had a False Documents section where agents collected bogus identities and fashion companies outfitted agents with suits and dresses.
The SOE conducted many successful missions of sabotage and subversion throughout the War. Their first headline success was in June of 1941 when they blew up the Pessac power station in France. This precision mission halted all work at a vital U-boat base in Bordeaux and crippled the all-electric railways in the region. Then in Czechoslovakia in 1942, the SOE assassinated Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, with a grenade. Later that year in Greece they blew up the Gorgopotamos bridge, which carried vital supplies for Rommel’s army in the desert. And in Norway, in 1943, the SOE destroyed the heavy water plant in Vemork, effectively ending the Nazi atomic bomb program.
While other secret agencies shared a mutual dislike for the SOE, their successful missions played a large part in the Allies’ eventual victory. Without the sabotage and subversion of the Special Operations Executive the outcome of World War II could have been very different. The price was high, but the SOE performed their missions to the letter. Finally, with no war left to fight, the SOE was disbanded forever in 1946. The Agents of the SOE were sent back to their normal lives, and most of them carried the secrets of their wartime missions and victories to their graves, never even telling those closest to them what role they played in the Allied victories of World War II.
The Marines will be the first to tell you they have “fought in every clime and place” from the “halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” The history of the Corps is steeped in legendary heroism and ferocious battles. From Chapultepec to Belleau Wood to Fallujah, the Marines have made a name for themselves throughout our country’s history.
But there is one battle that stands out.
Ask any Marine about Iwo Jima, and you will see instant reverence in their eyes. “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” was the phrase used to describe the spirit of the men that fought that battle.
The landing on Iwo Jima took place 75 years ago today. Located about 750 miles from mainland Japan, Iwo Jima was a volcanic rock that both sides viewed as an important objective of the American’s island-hopping campaign. For the Americans, the airfields there meant both easier and shorter routes to mainland Japan as well as helping clear the air of fighters that would intercept such bombers.
The Japanese simply knew that the capture of Iwo put the Americans one step closer to their homeland.
What followed next was one of the most ferocious battles man has ever waged.
Much has been written about the battle and its effect on history. Here are some of the more interesting things about the battle of Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima was first discovered by Spanish explorers.
In 1543, a ship located the island and landed to explore the newly found land. They gave it the name “Sulphur Island.” When translated roughly to Japanese, it was called Io To, or Iwo Jima. The Japanese didn’t arrive at the island until the end of the 16th century.
The Japanese knew they were going to lose the battle.
As historians poured over Japanese war records after the war was over, they found that the Japanese knew the battle was a sure loss. The Japanese Imperial Navy was all but vanquished in the Pacific. The Japanese Air Force was almost obliterated as well. The Japanese had lost quite a few planes and had to keep as many as close to their mainland as possible. Even worse than the lack of planes was a shortage of pilots. The Americans would send experienced pilots back home to train more pilots. The Japanese didn’t do that. They kept their experienced pilots out, and as they suffered heavy losses, there was a shortfall in experience and numbers.
As a result, the Japanese changed the strategy of the defense of the island to be one of attrition. They figured the Americans would win. They just wanted to make them pay dearly for it. Hideki Tojo, the Prime Minister of Japan, summoned Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his office and told him to defend Iwo Jima to the last man as a means to buy time. Kuribayashi, who came from a Samurai family, accepted the mission and set off for the island to set up a unique defense that the Americans had not seen yet.
The Japanese wanted to dissuade the Americans from attacking the mainland.
Kuribayashi changed the way the island would be defended. Instead of fighting the Americans on the beaches, he would allow them to land uncontested on the island. He knew the black volcanic sand, which had dunes up to 15 feet tall, could bog down the Americans, so he figured to let them all on before opening fire. He had the beach zeroed in by artillery and mortars to the last inch. On the island’s interior, he set up defensive positions in a new way. The fortifications and tunnels allowed the Japanese soldiers to retake positions that had already been overrun. On an island that was just eight square miles, there were over 11 miles of tunnels the Japanese could use.
The intended effect was to inflict as much damage as possible to the American forces. By dragging out this conflict and inflicting casualties, the Japanese hoped that the carnage would dissuade the U.S. from attacking the Japanese mainland.
The US thought the battle would last only a week.
It’s not that the Americans thought less of the Japanese. It was at this point they thought they knew what they were going to do. After victories through the South Pacific from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, the U.S. military thought they had a winning plan. Start with a devastating naval bombardment, get the men on the beach, provide them with close air support, and take the airfields quickly. They did that but realized way too soon that the naval bombardment didn’t do much damage, the Japanese actually wanted the Americans to land, and that they had to fight for every square inch of the island. The initial weeklong projection turned out to be five weeks of some of the worst fighting the Americans had seen to that point.
The beach was hell on earth.
After taking the naval and air bombardment, the Japanese allowed the Marines to congregate on the beach. Many thought that the Japanese were killed in the immense bombardment, but unfortunately, they were wrong. Kuribayashi told his troops to wait one hour before opening fire. When the Marines were massed on the beach and started to move forward slowly through the volcanic ash, they were shocked to learn the hard way that the Japanese had every inch of the beach sighted in and had to race off the beach while under intense artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire.
Within a minute a mortar shell exploded among the group … his left foot and ankle hung from his leg, held on by a ribbon of flesh … Within minutes a second round landed near him and fragments tore into his other leg. For nearly an hour he wondered where the next shell would land. He was soon to find out as a shell burst almost on top of him, wounding him for the third time in the shoulder. Almost at once another explosion bounced him several feet into the air and hot shards ripped into both thighs … as he lifted his arm to look at his watch a mortar shell exploded only feet away and blasted the watch from his wrist and tore a large jagged hole in his forearm: “I was beginning to know what it must be like to be crucified,” he was later to say.
By the end of the first day, over 30,000 Marines had landed, and the island was cut into two. However, upon seeing the initial casualty lists from the day’s carnage, General Howlin’ Mad Smith remarked, “I don’t know who he is, but the Japanese general running this show is one smart bastard.”
For the only time in the war, the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese.
The Marines went into Iwo Jima with a 3:1 advantage in terms of troops. At the end of the five-week battle, they would have 26,000 casualties versus 18,000 for the Japanese. One of the men killed on the beach was Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. Basilone was a hero on Guadalcanal who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions there. As the intense bombardment came down, Basilone was last seen yelling for men to move off the beach. He was among the many killed that day. By the end of the battle, many more would die. While the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese, they had about one third less killed. Of the 18,000 Japanese soldiers who fought on the island, only 221 were captured. Most of the captured were either knocked unconscious or incapacitated.
There were few banzai charges so the Americans improvised.
The Americans factored in banzai or human wave attacks when they did their initial estimate of the length of the battle. In fact, the Japanese general prohibited such attacks as he knew that they didn’t work. He wanted his men to fight to the death, but he wanted to take as many Americans out as they could.
The Americans wouldn’t deal with that. Realizing quickly that firearms and close air support weren’t cutting it, the Marines adapted on the fly as they have throughout their history. They started using flamethrowers, (badass men as well as on modified tanks) to eradicate the Japanese. Once they realized the tunnel system allowed the enemy to reoccupy positions that had been overtaken, they just started flame-throwing everything that they saw… over and over again.
It worked. The Japanese tunnel system ended up becoming the graves of countless Japanese soldiers. Only toward the end, when food and supplies were low, did Kuribayashi allow banzai charges so his men would die “with honor.”
Americans at home thought the battle was over fast.
The iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal, which showed Marines hoisting the flag on Mt. Suribachi, was the American people’s first view of the battle. It was taken on February 23, four days after the initial assault. The picture was released by the AP two days later, where it was published by virtually every newspaper in the free world. In an age, before social media, television, and satellite feeds, many assumed the battle was over based on the picture. It wasn’t.
As the battle raged on and the casualties mounted, Americans at home wondered why so many boys had to die for a small piece of rock.
How important was Iwo Jima and the effect of the battle?
Even before the battle’s conclusion, the U.S. military started using the airfields on Iwo Jima for bombing runs on Japan. Planes that were damaged during their runs now had a shorter trip to base, so they had a better chance of surviving. Fighters could now use the base to refuel, and accompany their bombers to Japan. However, people wondered if the same things could have happened had the Americans attacked elsewhere. The Americans also found out that the radar used by the Japanese on Iwo was not really beneficial as the Japanese already had other radar installations that did the same job. The battle’s need was a contentious matter as early as the end of hostilities on Iwo Jima.
One effect the battle did have was on the end of the war. After Iwo Jima, another horrible battle took place on Okinawa. By this point, the Japanese realized that Kuribayashi’s strategy worked. They could inflict major losses on the Americans and turn public opinion against the war. The Americans learned too and proceeded to unleash longer more devastating bombardments on Okinawa in the lead-up and more aggressive use of flamethrowers and incendiary devices on Japanese soldiers and civilians caught in the crossfire, to horrific results.
When the final obstacle to the Japanese mainland fell, Americans looked at other ways to end the war and avoid the bloodbath that Iwo Jima and Okinawa wrought.
They found it in recently developed atomic weapons.
Uncommon valor was a common virtue.
Regardless of if Iwo Jima was strategically worth it, the Marines still viewed the battle as a badge of honor. They were not part of the planning or strategy but were told to take the island. They did.
They asked for a 10-day bombardment and got three. They adapted to a terrible situation and came out ahead. They looked death in the face and, as Marines usually do, didn’t even get fazed.
Eighty-two Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines during World War II. Twenty-two of them (28%) were earned on Iwo Jima alone. There is only one awardee alive today, Woody Williams, who earned the medal for using his flamethrower to wipe out numerous enemy emplacements.
On this 75th anniversary, to those who fought in that terrible battle and to the families left behind, We Are the Mighty salutes you.
The Military Assistance Command — Studies and Observations Group, now better known as SOG, was one of those true dark-arts units that hid dangerous men with dangerous jobs behind a boring name. The missions that these special operators, including a large number of U.S. Army green berets, undertook helped save the lives of infantrymen fighting across Vietnam.
Now, these warriors are telling their story.
Then-Sgt. Gary M. Rose, a member of Studies and Observations Group, is led away from a helicopter after heroic actions that would later net him a Medal of Honor.
Warriors In Their Own Words, a podcast that captures the authentic stories of America’s veterans as they tell them, spoke with two members of the unit. You can enjoy their riveting tales in the episode embedded above — but make sure you carve out time for it. The episode is just over an hour, but once you start listening, you won’t want to stop.
J.D. Bath and Bill Deacy describe their harrowing experiences serving in Vietnam with the SOG, and they both tell amazing stories.
J.D. Bath was an early member of SOG, recruited after his entire team was killed in a helicopter crash. He tells of how his SOG team bought pipes, tobacco, and bourbon for local tribes to enlist their help. Later, he and his team came under fire from a U.S. helicopter that had no idea that Americans were so far behind enemy lines. Luckily, another U.S. aircraft threatened to shoot down the helicopter if it didn’t stop immediately.
Bill Deacy, on the other hand, survived multiple firefights and endured a bad case of malaria before ending up on the wrong part of the Ho Chi Min Trail. The Special Forces soldiers planned an ambush against a small North Vietnamese force, and Deacy had no way of warning his men when he spotted a massive column of enemy soldiers approaching just as the ambush was being sprung.
These are incredible stories coming straight from the heroes who were there. We’ll be featuring a story each week, so keep your eyes peeled. If you can’t wait, Warriors In Their Own Words has a massive archive on their website.
The early days of November bring more than just chilly weather and the beginning of a winter-long food and football hibernation cycle. That’s what Thanksgiving is for.
Come the 10th and 11th – the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day respectively – military towns and American Legion Halls all over the country begin shaking with the booming voice of Marines past and present, singing the Marines’ Hymn, a song about the Halls of Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli.
If you’re a Marine, you definitely know what these are. If you’ve served in the military at some point, you’ve probably been able to pick up what they mean. But for a lot of civilians, military culture and tradition can be a black hole of knowledge – unless one of their history teachers was a Marine, there’s no reason for them to know this.
Can you imagine Marine Corps grade school?
The Halls of Montezuma
No, the Marines did not fight Aztec warriors. They were around 300 or so years too late for that.
The reference is to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire…which also happens to be modern-day Mexico City. In 1847, the U.S. and Mexico were engaged in a bit of a war and it wasn’t going well for the Mexicans. The Americans were in the middle of capturing the Mexican capital. But Mexico under dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wasn’t going down easily – neither were its people.
To break the fighting spirits of the Mexican troops while capturing the city itself, Gen. Winfield Scott determined that he would have to capture Chapultepec Castle, a military academy on the heights overlooking the city. The hill leading up to the castle was a 200-foot slope ending in a 12-foot wall, designed to keep enemy troops from doing exactly what the Marines were about to do.
After the Americans made it through volley after volley of artillery and gunfire, the Mexican Army was waiting for them. They engaged in a good old-fashioned fistfight.
They then scaled the castle walls and entered the inside of the castle – known as the Halls of Montezuma. They raised the American flag and by the time Gen. Scott entered the castle, the streets were guarded by U.S. Marines.
The Marines captured the fortress in an hour, with a loss of 90 percent of the Marines’ officer and NCO corps. Legend has it the NCOs and officers added scarlet stripes to their pants to commemorate their lost brothers here. Today these are referred to as “blood stripes” to remember the Marine blood shed in Mexico City.
The Shores of Tripoli
Why do the Marines sing about the Shores of Tripoli when those particular shores have been pretty unfriendly to Americans for much of the time most active Marines have been alive? Because, like Chapultepec, this battle happened early on in Marine Corps history.
The wars with the Barbary pirates were an epic and underreported time in American history. The Marines got one of their first heroes when Lt. Presley O’Bannon and his contingent of Marines accompanied a force of Arab allies under U.S. agent William Eaton marched 500 miles overland to attack the city of Derne.
It was after the march that O’Bannon and the Marines, along with Eaton and his Greek and Arab mercenaries, captured the city against a much larger force. The Tripolitans sent reinforcements, but by the time they arrived, the city had already fallen. When that force tried to retake the city, U.S. Navy vessels and captured Tripolitan guns manned by Marines repelled the attack.
The capture of Derne forced the leaders in Tripoli to make peace with the Americans, stop raiding American shipping, and free American slaves. The Marines say Lt. O’Bannon was presented with an elaborate Mamluk-style sword by the Ottoman representative, which is now the model for those carried by Marine Corps officers.
As World War II raged overseas, men and women responded to the call of duty in the fight for what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “four freedoms” – freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. By the time the United States entered the war, more than 2.5 million African American men had signed up for the draft. In a separate-but-not-equal military at the time, the irony was not lost as the fight for these freedoms continued at home.
“[T]he sky in the distance lit up with searchlights, tracers from ack-acks and the sound of bombs,” Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, a medic attached to the primarily African American 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, once wrote in testimony to Congress regarding what he witnessed on D-Day.
War raged in every corner of sky, sea, and land within sight as dawn broke on the morning of June 6, 1944. The 320th was the only African-American amphibious assault unit the U.S. First Army used in Normandy. According to Woodson, they were dispersed among various landing craft for protection of unit members.
“The military personnel on our landing craft looked in awe at the spectacle in the distance and wondered, ‘What next?'” he wrote. Woodson, along with several seamen and soldiers on a Landing Craft Tank, was part of the first wave heading toward Omaha Beach.
The water was choppy and the noise deafening. As the landing craft neared the French coastline, it hit a submerged mine, which took out the motors. Within minutes, it hit another mine and endured several German 88mm artillery shells. The Germans continued to rake the ship with machine gun fire and mortar shells, preventing any nearby ship from coming to the rescue, Woodson said.
One mortar shell landed on the steel deck of the craft and exploded. Before Woodson had a chance to move, shrapnel took out the soldier next to him and more shrapnel lodged into his own thigh. After another medic dressed his injury, Woodson tended to the wounded and dead onboard. Of the 34 service members on board Woodson’s craft, only 11 survived by the time the ship hit the beach.
“D-Day was the most emotional and dangerous day in my life,” Woodson wrote. “As a young soldier far from home … the assault units waited patiently to begin their mission… Everyone knew the first 23 hours would be critical to the course of the war.”
Once Woodson reached the beach, he tended to the wounded and consoled the frightened. He dressed wounds, administered pain medication, and conducted amputations for the next 30 hours. He later saved and resuscitated four drowning soldiers before collapsing from exhaustion and injury. Woodson spent three days recovering in a hospital ship and then asked to be taken back to the beach to continue working.
A note from the assistant director in the Office of War Information to a White House aide states Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross. This was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by the office of Gen. John C.H. Lee in Great Britain. At home, the press called him the “No. 1 Invasion Hero.”
Woodson never received the Distinguished Service Cross or Medal of Honor. After the war, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on D-Day.
Nearly one million African American service members served in World War II. In the segregated military, most African American service members were assigned to the Army for service- or combat-support roles. A small percentage held positions in combat arms.
Retired Cpl. William Dabney, now 93, is one of two surviving members of the 320th. In 1942, he was in his second year of high school when he enlisted in the Army – and only after convincing his great-aunt to sign a document granting him permission to serve. He soon found himself training to use hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, which had thin metal cables with bombs attached that would detonate if triggered by low-flying enemy planes.
On June 6, Dabney made his way to Omaha Beach with the first wave with a barrage balloon strapped to him.
“I was dodging bullets mostly,” said Dabney with a laugh. His mission was to protect the advancing soldiers. As Dabney approached Omaha Beach, his balloon caught fire from being hit by gunfire.
“It happened just as I hit the beach, so I couldn’t move,” said Dabney. “I wasn’t equipped to do anything else because that was my job. The only thing I could do then was unstrap the cables from myself and take cover under the dead bodies so I wouldn’t get shot.”
By the end of the day, the mission of the 320th had been accomplished successfully. Dabney was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. His proudest moment from that day: getting a hug and a kiss from First Lady Michelle Obama, who recognized him before he could introduce himself.
“Allowing my dad to share his experiences with others helps spread the information about the accomplishments and contributions of black men throughout history – specifically throughout World War II,” said Vinney, Dabney’s eldest son.
Segregation in the Armed Forces remained an official policy until 1948. The heroic actions of many African American service members went unacknowledged – due to their race – entire units, such as the 320th, were left unmentioned in history. While prejudice took a backseat during D-Day, the years ahead would see a different story, said Woodson.
Woodson spent the remainder of his career serving the medical community at then-Walter Reed Army Hospital and then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He spent 38 years working in clinical pathology at the National Institutes of Health before retiring. He passed away in 2005.
In 1997, after a study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated racial discrimination in awarding medals, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven African American World War II veterans. But to the dismay of family and friends who knew Woodson, he remained missing from the list.
Many of Woodson’s military records were lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri. With the help of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, his family has since started a petition to award him the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.
“Black History Month recognizes that there are lots of Black heroes largely uncelebrated because their stories aren’t being told,” said Dabney. “I’d like people to not just remember the 320th. I would like for all African Americans that were fighting in this war to be recognized. They did a job, too, and there was quite a few of us out there.”
At the turn of the 19th century, the United States was by human standards barely a teenager. But held to the much stouter standards of statehood established by European nations that had seeded it, the U.S. was, to use the vernacular, “barely a glint in its pappy’s eye.”
To be sure, America had made good on the democratic ideals that had fueled its revolution and its Declaration of Independence. And it had managed to greatly expand its territory through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. TheCorps of Discovery Expedition, led by the U.S. Army under Capt.s Lewis and Clark, made those new lands a known realm under the Jefferson administration, while mapping the enticing, yet contested Oregon Territory into the realm of the possible.
But 14 years as a nation was, in the eyes of the world, still considered just an experiment under laboratory conditions. How would these “United States” hold up to real-world, geopolitical pressures? The burden of proof belonged to the U.S., and it knew it. The pressure to prove itself incited the sequence of conflicts that we now refer to as the War of 1812.
The War of 1812 was fought on two fronts, representing the two major proving grounds of American legitimacy — the new frontier west of the Mississippi and the open ocean, through which the growing U.S. merchant marine traded the vast natural resources of North America with the wider world. On both fronts, Great Britain was testing its former colonies’ resolve.
Locked into the churn of the Napoleonic Wars, the British were enforcing a naval blockade of France, catching U.S. trade ships in the crossfire. To make matters worse, Great Britain was unapologetically pressing American merchant sailors into service in the Royal Navy, a policy that inflamed the American public and lead to skirmishes like the Chesapeake-Leopold Affair (not pictured below.)
Great Britain was also keen to interrupt American expansion on land, fearing that a Canadian landgrab was imminent. To that end, they provided military support to Tecumsah’s Confederacy, a powerful Native American resistance group in the Old Northwest who sought to block the U.S. from taking further territory from the continent’s original inhabitants.
In spite, or perhaps because, of British military action around its northern and western borders, the U.S. began a concerted, and largely fruitless, effort to invade and capture Canadian territory. At sea, the U.S. Navy engaged in a long series of back and forth battles with the Royal Navy off the U.S. coast. Victories accrued on both sides and public sentiment waxed and waned as both sides claimed the advantage, but the result after 2 years was more or less a draw.
In the face of a stalemate, Great Britain was forced to weigh its distaste for America’s increasingly credible claim of self-sovereignty against the obvious advantages of reopening trade relations. However, the calculus changed when Napoleon’s abdication in Europe suddenly freed up Great Britain’s naval resources, allowing it to redouble its efforts against America. The Royal Navy blockaded the U.S. to near bankruptcy in 1814 and British forces invaded and burned Washington, D.C.
This seemingly clear-cut British victory concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December of 1814. But news of the peace travelled slowly in the Age of Sail and out-of-the-loop British forces, attempting to invade Louisiana in January 1815, were roundly defeated at the Battle of New Orleans, giving the U.S. the right to declare a face-saving, buzzer-beater victory.
In the end, everybody got something they wanted from the War of 1812. The British succeeded, at least temporarily, in checking American enthusiasm for territorial expansion, as well as re-establishing itself as the reigning naval heavyweight champion of the world.
But the U.S. had managed to hold its own against global superpowers. Showing a determinist grit beyond its years, it stood up for its right to pursue a national agenda on the international stage. In effect, it had proven to Pappy that it was mature enough to call its own shots.
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the greatest military commanders of all time.
He brought Revolutionary France back from the brink of destruction with his Italian campaign in 1796 and 1797. He made a fool of Czar Alexander I at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. He encircled an entire Austrian army and forced them to capitulate at the Battle of Ulm in 1805. And these are just a few of his exploits.
But he was also a student of history, and repeatedly instructed his subordinates to pore over the campaigns of seven specific commanders that came before him, arguing that it was the only way to learn the art of war and become a great captain.
Wounded in battle 13 times during his 39 year career, one of Eugene’s greatest conquests was the Siege of Belgrade in 1717 against the Ottoman Empire, in which he led a cavalry attack that helped turn the tide.
“Military science,” Napoleon was quoted as saying by Madame de Remusat, “consists in calculating all the chances accurately in the first place, and then in giving accident exactly, almost mathematically, it’s place in one’s calculations.”
“Prince Eugene is one of those who understood [this] best,” Napoleon said.
6. Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632).
Gustavus Adolphus was king of Sweden between 1611-1632, and helped put Sweden on the map.
One of his greatest victories was at the Battle of Breitenfeld during the Thirty Years War when his forces, together with the Saxons, flanked both sides of the Catholic army and annihilated the enemy.
He was killed during the same war while leading a cavalry charge at the Battle of Lutzen.
5. Frederick the Great (1712-1786).
Frederick II, or Frederick the Great, was king of Prussia from 1740-1786 and greatly expanded his kingdom’s territory through his military victories.
Some of his greatest victories were at the battles of Rossbach and Leuthen during the Seven Years War, where he defeated larger armies with great maneuvering.
But despite being one of Napoleon’s seven great commanders, the French commander appeared to consider the next commander even better.
4. Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne (1611-1675).
Turenne was a French field marshal who served Louis XIV, also known as The Sun King.
Perhaps his greatest victories came in the winter of 1674 and 1675 during the Franco-Dutch War. In December of 1674, he maneuvered around the German army and surprised them weeks later in early January, hitting the enemy’s flanks and driving them away from Alsace.
He was killed later in July 1675, as the Franco-Dutch War was still raging, by a cannonball as he was observing enemy lines.
In 1793, Revolutionary France was bent on erasing anything that had to with royalty and religion, and began destroying royal tombs at St-Denis outside of Paris.
Known as a man of the people, Turenne’s body was one of the few left untouched. His remains now reside in the Invalides.
“You seem to admire [Frederick the Great] immensely,” Napoleon once told a subordinate, according to his secretary, Bourrienne. “What do you find in him so astonishing? He is not equal to Turenne.”
“General,” Napoleon’s subordinate replied, “it is not merely the warrior I esteem in Frederick, but one cannot refuse one’s admiration of a man, who even on the throne, was a philosopher.”
“True … but all his philosophy shall not prevent me from striking out his kingdom from the map of Europe,” Napoleon said.
A few years later, after he crowned himself emperor, Napoleon annihilated Prussia during the Jena-Auerstadt campaign of 1806, and subsumed the kingdom in his empire.
3. Hannibal Barca (247 bc-183 bc).
Hannibal was a general and statesman for the Carthage in present day Tunisia who wreaked havoc on the Roman Empire.
Arguably his greatest conquest came during the Battle of Cannae when he compelled the Romans into attacking in unfavorable conditions, eventually wiping out their cavalry and then its entire army. The Roman historian Polybius wrote that Hannibal’s army killed 70,000 Romans.
Hannibal is also well known for impressively crossing the Alps before entering Italy and the Battle of Cannae, surviving harrowing assaults from the Gauls.
His power diminished, he poisoned himself around 183 BC.
2. Julius Caesar (100 BC-44 BC).
Caesar was a Roman general and politician who is one of the greatest conquerors of all time.
Well known for his victory at the Battle of Alesia and conquest of the Gauls, he was made a consul in the first Roman Triumvarate in 59 BC along with Pompey the Great and Marcus Licinios Crassus.
But civil war later broke out between Caesar and Pompey. In 48 BC, after suffering a series of defeats to Caesar, Pompey was murdered in Egypt.
“I admire the fine campaign of Caesar in Africa,” Bourriene quoted Napoleon as saying.
Shortly after that, he fought a quick war in Anatolia — in present day Turkey — and made quick work of the king of Cimmerian Bosporus. His famous words, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” were from this war.
Caesar was afterwards made dictator, but was assassinated — stabbed to death by the Roman senators — in 44 BC.
1. Alexander the Great (356 bc-323 bc).
Alexander was king of Macedonia who conquered the Persian empire, invaded India and spread Grecian culture across much of the ancient world.
Tutored by Aristotle at a young age, he became king after his father, Phillip II, was assassinated.
While he never officially ranked the seven commanders, Napoleon himself, along with many other historians, seemed to consider Alexander the best.
“I place Alexander in the first rank,” Napoleon told Bourrienne. “My reason for giving the preference to the king of Macedon is, on account of the conception, and above all, for the execution of his campaign in Asia,” adding that he admired the Siege of Tyre, conquest of Egypt and march to the Oasis Ammon most.
Alexander died from illness in 323 bc.
Like his heroes, Napoleon Bonaparte is now considered one of the greatest military commanders of all time.
Here’s what Napoleon had to say about “the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Eugene and Frederick.”
“Model yourself upon them. This is the only means of becoming a great captain, and of acquiring the secret of the war of war. Your own genius will be enlightened and improved by this study, and you will learn to reject all maxims foreign to the principles of these great commanders.”
At the onset of the industrial revolution, people were looking at ways to mass-produce and commercialize nearly everything. But what about something as manual as duck hunting? Was there any way to mass-hunt ducks with some sort of firearm capable of knocking, say, 50 to 100 ducks out of the air all at once? Yes, in fact, there was. It was called the punt gun.
Back in the first decade of the 19th century, there existed a monster of a shotgun. Each of these guns was custom made for the ambitious hunter that wanted one, but in all cases, the barrels were somewhere between ten and thirteen feet in length. Most were muzzle-loaded while others had false breaches to load the over one pound of ammunition.
The overly-large shotgun weighed over 100 lbs. While many of the existing photos are of hunters jokingly posing like they’re using as a conventional shotgun, realistically, the recoil would’ve likely ripped someone’s arm off.
In case you were wondering what kind of damage it can do. (via GIPHY)
Instead, the gun was fastened to a punt — a flat-bottomed rowboat. The firer would position the boat towards a large flock of waterfowl and fire. The massive amount shot deployed with a single firing would most certainly take out enough birds to supply the hunter for an entire day. In order to properly mount the gun, the boats themselves needed to be specially-reinforced to account for the immense, destructive force.
But these guns have nothing on the granddaddy of all punt guns – Irish Tom, the world’s largest. Created in Great Britain in the 1930s by W.W. Greener and the Whitworth Factory of Manchester, this gun weighed over 300 lbs, had a 14′ 1″ barrel, and fired 3lbs 2oz of buckshot. The original owner, Stanley Duncan, claimed his best shot downed 100 ducks.
Just a handful of market hunters equipped with punt guns was enough to nearly drive ducks to extinction, ultimately leading to the gun being outlawed. Original and modern remakes can be scarcely found by collectors.
In the UK, punt guns are also used ceremoniously. Ever since Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, 21 punt guns have been fired during every coronation and jubilee in Cowbit Wash, Lincolnshire.
In 1917, the women of the Salvation Army were sent to the front lines of the western front with the American First Division. Knowing that what the troops probably missed the most was the kindness of home, they devised a way to bring that to them. And what says American homefront better than fresh pastries?
Donuts are great motivation to make it through somewhere you don’t really want to be. Ask any kid who’s ever sat through a Sunday church service.
They had planned to make pies and cakes, but very quickly discovered that the camps really didn’t have the capacity for that kind of baked good. Donuts, however, were made with basic ingredients and, most importantly, were fried, which made them a lot easier to cook anywhere with a pot and some oil.
Only miles from the trenches of eastern France, a few women started making donuts—at first only 150 a day, which was way too few for the number of troops who began to line up to get the treats. They quickly managed to double that amount, and once they were fully equipped, they could make between 2,500 to 9,000 donuts per day.
That’s a lot of happy soldiers.
The troops, who would stand in line everyday to pick up their donuts, got more than just a warm, fresh pastry. They got a reminder of home, often reminiscing on their childhoods as they ate. Every bite was a little bit of peace in a place often described as hell on earth.
The impact was so immediate at the first location that volunteers all over Europe began to make donuts as well, and even the folks at home heard about it. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was quoted as saying, “Before the war I felt that the Salvation Army was composed of a well-meaning lot of cranks. Now what help I can give them is theirs,” after he returned from serving in France.
The “Doughnut Lassies” or “Doughnut Girls” eventually expanded to making other baked goods when people stateside started sending more supplies, but the name stuck, and the American Expeditionary Force was nicknamed “the Doughboys” along with them. With their popularity, the Salvation Army also became the most popular organization among the troops in France, cementing their place in American culture.
The Doughnut Girls inspired songs written by the soldiers they were serving, and are mentioned in the official Salvation Army song, written in 1919, two years after the first donuts were fried.
Of course, the Salvation Army didn’t get all the good publicity; donuts themselves went from a fun treat to an American staple, creating a huge boost in demand even at home. We’ve all got the Doughnut Girls to thank for inspiring the popularity of one of everyone’s favorite treats.
Across the western front, stations of as few as two women apiece could create enough baked goods to feed an army, and though the Salvation Army only sent a total of 250 volunteers, they had a huge impact on the soldiers’ wellbeing. In fact, Helen Purviance, one of the original Doughnut Girls, reportedly cooked at least a million donuts for the boys in France.
They were also only one of many organizations that brought women into the war effort, often risking their lives to do so. The Doughnut Girls carried .45 revolvers and sometimes cooked through shellfire or while wearing gas masks, due to their close proximity to the front lines.
Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny is one of the greatest US Marine Corps war heroes that you’ve never heard of. The World War II officer of the 1st Marine Division received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an intense battle, he even captured the same Japanese sword he’d been struck in the helmet with. But “Tabasco Mac” is most remembered as the driving force behind bringing tiny bottles of Tabasco hot sauce to every American GI’s C rations during the Vietnam War.
In 1949, the Marine took the reins of his family’s McIlhenny Co., producer of the world-famous Tabasco red pepper hot sauce, and remained in charge until his death in 1985. The spicy empire was the brainchild of his great-grandfather, Edmund A. McIlhenny, an amateur gardener and banker. When Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country following the American Civil War, he discovered his crops of capsicum peppers had survived. He took three basic ingredients — peppers, salt from the island’s salt mines, and vinegar — and aged them together for 30 days to create the special potion that has been admired for generations.
McIlhenny’s red hot pepper sauce was first bottled into discarded cologne containers and referenced informally in conversation as “That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes.” His first commercial pepper crop emerged in 1868, and he sent 658 bottles at $1 apiece to grocery stores around the Gulf Coast, mainly in New Orleans. Two years later, McIlhenny secured a patent for Tabasco red pepper sauce — named in honor of the Mexican state where the peppers were sourced — and added a sprinkler fitment to ensure the concentrated sauce was sprinkled and not poured.
Walter McIlhenny, the World War II Marine general, received several handwritten letters mailed from American GIs in Vietnam requesting tasty recipes. His great-grandfather’s original resolve to add flavor to the boring and monotonous diets of those in the Reconstruction South inspired him to do the same with ground troops’ C rations. The obligation to produce a fun and easy-to-follow guide led to the 1966 publication of The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.
The camouflaged cookbook with cartoon illustrations and clever recipes inside was wrapped around a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco and placed in a waterproof container to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. Some of the more popular and humorous recipes included Fox Hole Dinner for Two (Turkey and Chicken Poulette), Cease Fire Casserole, and Fish with Frontline Stuffing.
The recipes spoke to the grunts and were a reminder of home. “The casserole can be elegant, but as most men know, women often use it as a camouflage for a hasty meal after a long bridge game,” reads the recipe for Tin Can Casserole. “Here’s a recipe to put the Old Lady’s Bridge Casserole to shame.” The Breast of Chicken Under Bullets recipe suggests “breast of chicken under glass was never intended for areas where glass and shrapnel fly.”
George Creighton, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, put Tabasco on everything. “The rations get boring and you just need something to liven them up and Tabasco does that,” Creighton told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. He added Tabasco to his beef, to his peas, and to his spaghetti. A favorite, according to Creighton, was a mixture of water buffalo meat with C rations — “like a mulligan stew with rice and put in Tabasco sauce and add flavor to the whole mix.”
Tabasco continued the tradition into the 1980s and through Operation Desert Storm and published The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet providing creative alternatives for soldiers looking to please their palates. The innovative American family also collaborated with comic strip writer Mort Walker to illustrate it with the famous Beetle Bailey characters. Inside McIlhenny’s second cookbook he promised “Meals, Ready-to-Excite” with recipes of Paratrooper Pork and Beans, 40 MM Beanwiches, Chopper Chipped Beef in Cream Gravy, Ham Grenades, and Victory Pot Pie. The cookbook kept with tradition from Vietnam and came in a Tabasco quick-draw camouflaged holster with a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce.
The most famous hot sauce brand in the world is synonymous with flavorful and fun experiences for American service members from Vietnam to present day. “It’s a little touch of home in far-flung places,” said Paul McIlhenny, who was president of Tabasco from 1998 to 2012. “We want to defend the world against bland food, wherever it may be.” Thanks to Tabasco, and with help from the Charlie Ration Cookbook, GI Joe has gone gourmet.
Marguerite Higgins was a legend of the news media who went ashore with the Marines in the fifth wave at Red Beach at Inchon, South Korea, earning her the respect of ground-pounders and a Pulitzer Prize while allowing the general public to understand what troops were doing for America overseas.
Marguerite Higgins, a war correspondent who landed with Marines at Red Beach.
Higgins’ journalism career started when she traveled to New York with her portfolio from college, asked a newsstand guy where the closest newspaper office was, and stormed in with the demand that she be made a reporter.
That was in 1941. America was quickly dragged into the wars in Europe and the Pacific, and Higgins got herself sent to Europe where she wrote some of her most haunting work, describing the liberation of concentration camps during the fall of Nazi Germany. She braved shellfire in battle and wrote about what the soldiers around her suffered.
In fact, when she rushed to cover the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau, she arrived with a Stars and Stripes reporter before the Army did. The German commander and guards at the southern end of the camp turned themselves over to the journalists, and those journalists had to let the prisoners know they’d been freed.
Her work in World War II was appreciated, but she hadn’t been sent overseas until 1944. When the Korean War began, Higgins was based out of Japan as the bureau chief of the New York Tribune’s Far East Office, and she immediately sent herself to the front.
Prisoners are marched past an M26 Pershing tank in the streets of Seoul, South Korea in 1950.
(Department of the Navy)
She was there when Seoul fell to North Korea, but then the Tribune sent another war reporter and ordered Higgins back to Japan. Instead of leaving, she kept reporting from the front in competition with other journalists — including the other Tribune journalist: Homer Bigart.
Yup, she competed against other employees of her own newspaper. Though, in her defense, that just meant the New York Tribune was getting a steady stream of articles from two of the top war correspondents in the world.
Well, it was, anyway, until the U.S. passed a new rule banning female reporters from their front lines. Higgins protested, which did nothing. Then, she protested directly to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was then the commander of all U.S. forces in Korea. This proved to be much more successful.
Newspaper article announces that ban on women war correspondents in Korea has been lifted.
MacArthur sent a telegram to the Tribune saying, “Ban on women correspondents in Korea has been lifted. Marguerite Higgins is held in highest professional esteem by everyone.”
And that was great for Higgins, because her Pulitzer moment came a couple months later. Higgins got herself onto one of the largest operations of the war: The Army and Marine Corps landing at Inchon. The strategic idea was to threaten the interior supply lines of the Communists and to relieve pressure on troops that were barely holding the southern edge of the peninsula. She opened her article with:
Heavily laden U.S. Marines, in one of the most technically difficult amphibious landings in history, stormed at sunset today over a ten-foot sea wall in the heart of the port of Inchon and within an hour had taken three commanding hills in the city.
A little later in the article, she writes:
Despite a deadly and steady pounding from naval guns and airplanes, enough North Koreans remained alive close to the beach to harass us with small-arms and mortar fire. They even hurled hand grenades down at us as we crouched in trenches which unfortunately ran behind the sea wall in the inland side.
It was far from the “virtually unopposed” landing for which the troops had hoped after hearing the quick capture of Wolmi Island in the morning by an earlier Marine assault.
Marines clamber over obstacles at Inchon, South Korea, during the amphibious assault there. Marguerite Higgins landed with the fifth wave of Marines.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
Higgins landed with the fifth wave of Marines. Her coverage highlighted the bravery of troops under fire, but was also critical of those who had sent forces in under-prepared or -equipped. In 1951, she wrote in War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent:
So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth. It is best to tell graphically the moments of desperation and horror endured by an unprepared army, so that the American public will demand that it does not happen again.
After Korea, she continued to search out chances to cover troops in combat. In 1953, she went to Vietnam to cover French forces and covered the defeat at Dien Bein Phu where her photographer was killed by a land mine. She got a pass to report from both sides of the Iron Curtain and covered the Cold War tensions as they rose in the early 1960s.
Unfortunately, her dangerous work eventually caught up with her. She returned to Vietnam to cover American operations there and, in 1965, she contracted leishmaniasis. She was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the U.S. for treatment, but died on January 3, 1966, from the disease.
They’re the oldest and the most recognized armored division in the Army. The first division to see combat in Germany during WWII and the first mash-up of reconnaissance and cavalry units in all of Army history. Here’s everything you thought you knew but didn’t about America’s Tank Division.
Kentucky Wonders, Fire and Brimstone or Old Ironsides?
After the division was organized in 1940, commanding general Maj. Gen. Bruce Magruder was the division’s first commander. His friend, Gen. George Patton, had just named the 2nd Armored Division “Hell on Wheels,” and Magruder didn’t want to be left behind. So, he held a contest to find an appropriate nickname for the new division.
Over two hundred names were submitted, including “Kentucky Wonders” and “Fire and Brimstone.” Gen. Magruder hated all the names submitted and decided to take the weekend to find the best one. It just so happened he’d recently purchased a painting of the USS Constitution, whose nickname was, wait for it, Old Ironsides. It’s said that Magruder was impressed by the correlation between the Navy’s unwavering spirit during the war and his new division’s. It was then that he landed on the nickname Old Ironsides, and the name’s been the same ever since.
The first enemy contact was in North Africa, and it was rough.
Contrary to what many think, the Old Ironsides didn’t engage with the Germans as their first combat experience. Instead, they traveled to North Africa and participated in Operation Torch, part of the Allied Invasion.
Operation Torch was intended to draw Axis forces away from the Eastern Front and relieve pressure on the Soviet Union. It was a compromise between the US and British planners. The mission was planned as a pincer movement with the Old Ironsides landing on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The primary objective for the Old Ironsides was to work toward securing bridgeheads for opening a second front to the rear of German and Italian forces. Allied soldiers experienced unexpected resistance from Vichy-French units, but the Old Ironsides helped suppress all resistance and were heading toward Tunisia within three days.
The invasion of Africa helped win the war
The invasion of North Africa accomplished a great deal for the Allies since American and British forces finally had the offensive against the Germans and Italians. For the first time, US and UK directives were able to dictate the tempo of events. Forced to fight on both the western and eastern fronts, the German-Italian forces had the additional burden of having to plan and prepare for attacks in North Africa.
However, the harsh conditions of North Africa were quick teachers for the new Old Ironsides soldiers. In February 1943, the Old Ironsides met a better trained German armored force at Kasserine Pass, and the division sustained heavy losses in both service members and equipment.
The division was forced to withdraw, but the Old Ironsides used their retreat time to review the battle and prepare for the next one. After three more months of hard fighting, the Allies claimed victory in North Africa.
The Old Ironsides were recognized publicly for their efforts and then moved to Naples to support Allied forces there.
The Infamous Winter Line Attack
As part of the 5th Army, the 1st Armored Division took part in the attack on the Winter Line in November 1943. Old Ironsides flanked Axis forces in the landings at Anzio and then participated in the liberation of Rome in June. The unit continued to serve in the Italian Campaign until German forces surrendered in May 1945. One month later, Old Ironsides was moved to Germany as part of the US occupation forces stationed there.
WWII to present
In the drawdown after WWII, the 1st Armored Division was deactivated in 1946 but was then reactivated in 1951 at Fort Hood, where it was the first Army unit to field the new M48 Patton tank. Currently, the unit home is Fort Bliss, Texas, but it previously was housed at Baumholder, Germany. With the relocation, the unit went from roughly 9,000 soldiers to more than 34,000.
In 2019, the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team turned its smaller vehicles in for Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
In 1916, an American poet, Harvard graduate, and soldier of the French Foreign Legion was killed while attacking in the first wave at Belloy-en-Santerre, part of the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Alan Seeger had written a prophetic poem that would be published a year later titled, I Have a Rendezvous with Death.
Alan Seeger as a young Harvard student. A few years after this photo, he would join the French Foreign Legion.
The young Seeger graduated from Harvard in 1910 where he studied with poetry legends like T.S. Eliot. He spent two years living the Bohemian life in New York City’s Greenwich Village, crashing on couches and living off friends’ generosity. But New York didn’t live up to his expectations and, in 1912, he departed for Paris.
The City of Lights filled him with admiration despite the large amount of misery that came with living in crowded and filthy quarters in the city. When war broke out between Germany and France, Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion to protect his beloved city.
The young Seeger was a fatalist and romantic, and he wrote a number of poems that glamorized the idea of dying in war, especially for his adopted country.
Seeger took a spot in the first wave of his unit’s attack and wrote a letter to a friend where he wrote of his gratitude for the assignment.
“We go up to the attack tomorrow. This will probably be the biggest thing yet. We are to have the honor of marching in the first wave. I will write you soon if I get through all right. If not, my only earthly care is for my poems. I am glad to be going in first wave. If you are in this thing at all it is best to be in to the limit. And this is the supreme experience.”
Soldiers waiting for H-Hour during in operation in the Battle of the Somme.
But time passed without the men being ordered forward. On July 4, they were told that general offensive was about to begin, but they would only be in reserve.
Then, a few hours later, a voice called out. “The company will fall in to go to the first line.”
The Battle of the Somme and its overall campaign cost over 1.5 million lives.
Two battalions were to attack Belloy-en-Santerre, our company being the reserve of battalion. The companies forming the first wave were deployed on the plain. Bayonets glittered in the air above the corn, already quite tall.
The first section (Alan’s section) formed the right and vanguard of the company and mine formed the left wing. After the first bound forward, we lay flat on the ground, and I saw the first section advancing beyond us and making toward the extreme right of the village of Belloy-en-Santerre. I caught sight of Seeger and called to him, making a sign with my hand.
He answered with a smile. How pale he was! His tall silhouette stood out on the green of the cornfield. He was the tallest man in his section. His head erect, and pride in his eye, I saw him running forward, with bayonet fixed. Soon, he disappeared and that was the last time I saw my friend. . . .”
Seeger was killed that afternoon, cut down during the battle that is the bloodiest in British military history, and a costly one for every other nation that took part.
I have a rendezvous with Death At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air— I have a rendezvous with Death When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand And lead me into his dark land And close my eyes and quench my breath— It may be I shall pass him still. I have a rendezvous with Death On some scarred slope of battered hill, When Spring comes round again this year And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows ’twere better to be deep Pillowed in silk and scented down, Where love throbs out in blissful sleep, Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath, Where hushed awakenings are dear… But I’ve a rendezvous with Death At midnight in some flaming town, When Spring trips north again this year, And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous.