The Marines on Wake Island had a last stand that belongs with the Alamo in terms of its legendary status. One Marine, Henry Elrod, became a legend during that stand.
What is not as well known is that there was an effort to try to either relieve or evacuate the Marines from Wake Island. Samuel Eliot Morison described that operation in “The Rising Sun in the Pacific,” Volume III of his 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.
Within days of the Pearl Harbor attack, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel started the effort to help the Marines on Wake.
Kimmel saw a chance to catch part of the Japanese fleet by surprise using Wake as a form of bait. Given that Wake was 2,300 miles from Pearl Harbor, there was no time to waste.
That said, the expedition still took time. All three carriers in the Pacific Fleet would take part. But there were a few problems. The
USS Saratoga (CV 3) was the carrier that had the planes of VMF-221, 14 F2A Brewster Buffalo fighters (utter pieces of junk, but that is another story). In a fateful decision, Kimmel put Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher in charge of Task Force 14, which had the mission to steam into Wake Island.
Fletcher would command from the cruiser USS Astoria (CA 34).
Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, in command of Task Force 8 on the USS Enterprise (CV 6), would be held in reserve. Vice Adm. Wilson Brown, on board the USS Lexington (CV 2), would carry out a diversionary raid on the Marshall Islands.
Shortly after the expedition departed, Kimmel was relieved by Vice Adm. William Pye, pending the arrival of Chester W. Nimitz at Pearl Harbor. The expedition made its way towards Wake, but Fletcher was seemingly obsessed with his destroyers’ fuel state. Much as the Civil War-era Gen. George McClellan temporized about pressing the attack against Robert E. Lee in late 1862, Fletcher would take time the Marines could not afford to get the fuel he thought he needed for his ships.
Even after messages from the Marines on Wake reported the presence of enemy dive bombers and their desperate situation, he chose to fuel on Dec. 22. Morison would note that the destroyer with the least amount of fuel still had almost 90,000 barrels of fuel oil in its tanks.
Even with the difficult refueling, the USS Saratoga was 425 miles from Wake at 0800 on Dec. 23, where the Marines were in desperate combat with the Japanese. Pye called off the Wake Relief Expedition when word of the landings reached Pearl Harbor. Morison notes that the Marines had actually wiped out the invasion force on Wilkes Island, and it took time to convince the hard-fighting Marines to surrender. They would spend almost four years in Japanese prison camps. Almost 100 of them would be massacred on Oct. 5, 1943.
Inexplicably, Fletcher would still be assigned seagoing commands after the failure of the Wake Relief Expedition. The USS Lexington would be lost during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The USS Yorktown (CV 5) would be sunk at the Battle of Midway (where Fletcher did the smart thing and let Raymond Spruance take the lead).
Fletcher would leave Marines hanging again at Guadalcanal, when a decision to pull back the carriers would lead to the disastrous Battle of Savo Island, where the USS Astoria and three other heavy cruisers would be sunk.
Fletcher was wounded when the USS Saratoga was torpedoed at the end of August, 1942. After that, he’d be shunted off to backwater commands until the end of World War II. He died in 1975.
Shortly after I was married, I was chatting with my new father-in-law, Dick Kennedy, and out of the blue asked him if he’d fought in World War II — only because he looked too young to have done so. And for the next couple hours he told me this amazing story, something he’d never really told anyone else before, including his five children.
He’d grown up in the Bronx, and after his own father had died a young man, Dick remembered his mother dragging him and his siblings from one Bronx tenement to another — trying to dodge the landlord. When World War II broke out, his older brother George enlisted right away—doing his part. That’s when Dick decided he had to do his part, too. He was a very determined individual and even at a young age he knew Germany and Japan had to be stopped. As he told me that day, he would have felt unpatriotic if he wasn’t able to contribute in some way.
He started his quest at the age of 14, trying and failing a number of times to enlist by falsifying his deceased older brother Raymond’s birth certificate. His persistence finally paid off at age 15, when the Marines were taking just about anyone. One moment Dick was a sophomore in high school, and the next he was on Guadalcanal. He wound up in the first wave to hit the beach on Okinawa — the last, and bloodiest, battle of the Pacific War. The date was April 1, 1945, both Easter Sunday and April Fool’s.
“Talk about irony,” Dick said.
: What was it like growing up?
: I grew up in the Bronx. I had two brothers and two sisters. My brother Raymond died in 1928, the year I was born; he was two. My father died of tuberculosis when I was very young and all I can remember is my mother carting us from one tenement to another, one step ahead of the landlord.
What prompted you to enlist in the Marines?
My older brother George went in the Army Air Corps. He would call home and tell us how things were going. I wanted to be in the service, too. I wanted to contribute. I started trying to enlist when I was a sophomore at Sewanhaka High in Floral Park, New York.
How did your family feel about that?
I was the baby of the family, so my mother was up in arms. I went to the post office to pick up forms for us both to sign. And I had to get my birth certificate and school records. Mom signed, but she didn’t speak to me for two weeks. My birth certificate read 1928, so I tried using Raymond’s birth certificate, but that didn’t work. Finally, they took me because they needed warm bodies. In early September 1943, I went in at the Jamaica Post Office in Jamaica, Queens. I was 15.
How much older were the guys you served with?
Most were 18 or so, but we were all just kids. One guy was married and had a child. We called him “Pop” but he wasn’t much older than us.
Did you ever meet any Marines as young as you?
No. But I did meet a guy who’d been ahead of me at Sewanhaka High. He couldn’t figure out what the hell I was doing there.
What unit were you in?
6th Marine division 4th Marines 3rd Marine battalion, I Company, Second Platoon.
What was it like being the youngest guy in boot camp?
Boot camp was a big adjustment. I was scrawny. I had to build myself up — walking for miles. The first couple of weeks, we’d march around this huge ballfield where they had parades. We’d walk it, over and over. In the beginning it was no packs, just the rifle. Then we’d go with full pack, about 60 pounds. We marched all the time. It was tiring, but I was very gung-ho and I got in shape. Our instructors weren’t much older than we were. “Where’s Long Island?” one said to me. “I never heard of it.” Anyone in the same position as me they’d call a “city boy.” When we got our rifles, they told us, “Guard it with your life and clean it every day.” At first taking apart the rifle was hard. There were 13 parts to it and you had to know them all and be able to disassemble and reassemble it quickly. But I kept practicing; I was always trying to get it right. Then you had to learn to put it together in the dark. That was another challenge.
Before we left boot camp we had to go to the doctor so he could check us off. The only flaw I had was a space between my teeth. “Do you think you can stop a bullet with that?” the doctor asked me. Then he laughed. He said I was perfect but for my teeth. We wound up in San Diego, and then sailed for the South Pacific on an Army ship. You did your wash by tying your clothes on a rope and hanging the rope over the side. You had to tie everything tight or you’d lose it. The Army didn’t seem to want to do us any favors. They kept us supplied with enough food, but just enough. Breakfast was oatmeal. Lunch an apple or an orange. Supper, maybe a chicken leg. We only got the three small meals; the Army guys got more.
Where did you land first?
On Guadalcanal, in two boats, about 1500 guys in all. The Army guys put us on phony assignments. Guarding their posts. Guarding a big gun. Checking the explosives. We had to constantly check the explosives and protect them. We trained there almost a year, and it was a miserable place.
Did you carry anything other than a standard rifle?
So many guys in my platoon got killed on Okinawa I was given the BAR, the Browning Automatic Rifle. I remember how it felt on my shoulder — different from my rifle. Then I found out what power I had in my hands.
What was landing on Okinawa like?
It was April 1 — April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday. Talk about irony. But we were excited. We wanted to see the amphibious tanks float. We were betting on whether they would make it or not. Half the regiment was on barges and the other half was on tanks. I was on a barge. Some tanks were like tractor-tanks they’d specifically built for invading Japan itself. They had 10,000 of them ready to go to Tokyo. I hit the beach in the first wave, which meant feeling your way because you are going into enemy territory and you don’t know what you will find. We had a shootout that afternoon. I don’t remember the rest of the day. We were on bombing alert that night, but nothing happened. They didn’t shoot at us.
What do you remember about the battle?
We went into this valley, where the Japanese ambushed a platoon of ours. We surprised the enemy, and they took off. There were dead Marines all around, a platoon of 35-40 guys, half of them killed, many of them mutilated. It ripped your heart out. We went after the Japanese but they were too cat-like, they knew where all their bunkers were — and we didn’t know anything. And this was only day two. But I never thought, “Why am I doing this?” Or, “How did I get mixed up in this?” It just had to be done.
Okinawa sounds like hell on Earth…
The days just went on. We were sent on patrol up north; it was beautiful scenery. We got a report of enemy soldiers in a cave. A Marine thought he saw soldiers inside and started shooting, so the whole platoon started shooting. Mothers and children started coming out of the cave and we all felt horrible. It never should have happened, but we couldn’t really blame the guy who started it, but we all got read out. Our first lieutenant took the blame.
Another time, we walked into an ambush and were pinned down. The lieutenant got hit. They pumped him full of morphine and he started shouting orders. Because I was the littlest guy, he told me to run for help. I started to when this big sergeant pulled me down. “Don’t listen to him,” he said. “He’s full of morphine.” That guy saved my life. I would have been killed for sure.
How did you find out the war had ended?
I was at morning chow on a transport ship. A little radio announced that the Japanese had been hit with a special bomb at Hiroshima. We didn’t know it was a big deal. We thought we were going to fight on Taiwan. It took a week and another 100,000 killed for the emperor to wake up. Meantime, we were floating along in a huge fleet, thousands of ships of all sizes. We tied up at a naval station where we heard about the armistice, about three weeks before the signing on the USS Missouri. We couldn’t believe the Japanese were going to honor the surrender.
Did you go right home?
No — we went to Japan. We were like the cops, walking up and down the streets with our weapons, making sure everything was secure. We were constantly on alert. But it was peaceful. The people couldn’t have been nicer. They would do their ritual bowing and everything. We didn’t have much trouble at all. It was months before they started to send us home, based on length of time there. I came home early May 1946. Mom was still living in the same apartment. It was good to see the family. Everyone was there. “Oh, my baby is home,” my mother was crying. “What did I do letting him go?”
You went back to high school?
I went back to Sewanhaka High, into a 12th grade homeroom, but I mostly took 10th grade classes.
What was high school like after being in combat?
It was funny. I was surrounded by kids 14 and 15. I never talked about the war with them. They thought I was an oddball. I was good at baseball, but the school wouldn’t let me play. They thought I was “too much of a man.” I graduated with the class of 1947.
And after that?
I went to Hofstra on the GI Bill and became an English teacher on Long Island. I married my sweetheart and had five lovely kids. So, no complaints.
Note: This interview took place in February 2016, shortly before Dick Kennedy’s death.
A native Bostonian, Maloney received a bachelor of science degree in journalism at Suffolk University and a master of arts degree in film at Emerson College. He is the host of a national radio show, Mack Maloney’s Military X-Files.
You may think that terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons has been a concern only since the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. Well, you’d be wrong — off by well over a decade.
The thought of terrorists getting nukes has been on the minds of the Department of Defense for a long time. While today’s worries center mostly around a certain rogue state pawning off a nuke or some of Russia’s nukes mysteriously walking off, back then, the concern was more along the lines of terrorists trying to sneak in and steal nukes.
Now, before you panic, even if you have a nuke, like the B61 gravity bomb, you can’t just set it to go off. There are a lot of measures in place to make sure it only detonates when authorized. One of the most important tools in this regard is the permissive action link. It actually had its genesis in the 1960s, when the United States had forward-deployed nukes to be dropped by the planes of NATO allies.
Now, if you saw the 1996 movie Broken Arrow, you saw a very Hollywood-esque version of how the device works. You need to enter the right code for the nuke to be armed. Enter the wrong code and the B61 becomes a 716-pound paperweight.
The permissive action link, though, is a defense measure in place just in case the bad guys actually get their hands on the nuke. The better solution, of course, is to make sure that they don’t get their hands on it in the first place. This is where lots of armed security comes in, equipped with the latest technology to detect intruders.
Watch the video below to learn how the Defense Nuclear Agency planned to deal nuke thieves in the 1970s.
While you might think of dogs in combat and warfare as a relatively new concept, their origin traces back to mid-seventh century B.C., when the Ephesians waged war on Magnesia. Sounds like something out of the Bible until you realize that instead of animals walking onto an ark two-by-two under a rainbow, every horseman was accompanied by a spearman and a war dog who broke enemy ranks in order to lead a bloodbath by spear assault.
Dogs were also instrumental in psychological warfare.
At the battle of Pelusium, Cambysesus II preyed on the Egyptians’ reverence of animals by putting dogs on his front line. Kill a bad guy, sure, but nobody wants to harm a puppy. The tactic worked. Dogs were frequently used as messengers and lookouts as they were less likely to be harmed. The Egyptians mummified dogs because of their respect for the creatures.
War dogs were both celebrated and feared. The Molossian was the desired breed, which is a relative of the modern day mastiff. Greek poet Oppian wrote, “Impetuous and of steadfast valour, who attack even bearded bulls and rush upon monstrous boars and destroy them….They are not swift, but they have abundant spirit and genuine strength unspeakable and dauntless courage.” Who can forget Hercules from Sandlot? The Beast was feared, and for good reason.
In his work, Cynegetica (“The Chase,”) Nemesiani, who was basically the Cesar Millan of his day, had this helpful hint for how to identify which of the pups would be the strongest:
“You should get a series of flames made in a wide circuit with the smoke of the fire to mark a convenient round space, so that you may stand unharmed in the middle of the circle: to this all the puppies, to this the whole crowd as yet unseparated must be brought: the mother will provide the test of her progeny, saving the valuable young ones by her selection and from their alarming peril. For when she sees her offspring shut in by flames, at once with a leap she clears the blazing boundaries of the fire-zone, snatches the first in her jaws and carries it to the kennel; next another, next another in turn: so does the intelligent mother distinguish her nobler progeny by her love of merit.”
That’s not intense at all. Totally how we pick out German Shepherds.
They may not have been much to look at, but plenty of scholars would pick the British Aggasians over the Molossians in a head to head battle.
Poet Oppian described them as: “There is a strong breed of hunting dog, small in size but no less worthy of great praise. These the wild tribes of Britons with their tattooed backs rear and call by the name of Agassian. Their size is like that of worthless and greedy domestic table dogs; squat, emaciated, shaggy, dull of eye, but endowed with feet armed with powerful claws and a mouth sharp with close-set venomous tearing teeth. It is by virtue of its nose, however, that the Agassian is most exalted, and for tracking it is the best there is; for it is very adept at discovering the tracks of things that walk upon the ground, and skilled too at marking the airborne scent.”
Sure, our K-9s might be able to detect bombs, drugs and humans and are probably smarter than the Greek war dogs, but nothing looks as badass as a dog with a wolf collar, something the war dogs used to wear to prevent fatal wolf bites. We think these should be standard issue for all 31Ks and their dogs, too.
It says a lot about a Britisher to even be considered for the title of “classiest,” but Maj. Robert Cain should definitely be in the running. He took on six Nazi tanks by himself while holding off the rest of the coming German onslaught. In the end, he was forced to retreat, but only because he ran out of ammunition. Before he did, however, he stopped killing Nazis long enough to take a shave. Only after he was properly clean-shaven did he make his retreat.
Classier than most of you are, anyway.
Cain was an officer of the British 1st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden, the World War II Allied invasion of the Netherlands. British and Polish forces were to be dropped near Arnhem to advance on the city over three days. Cain was to lead his men in the first lift over Nazi-occupied territory, but the disastrous operation was flawed from the start, especially for Cain. Because of a technical snafu, he had to wait until the second day. It would prove fortuitous for everyone in his periphery.
When Cain landed, he and his men were sent forward into the city, where they unexpectedly encountered heavy enemy armor. The only thing they had to fight back against these defenses were small anti-tank weapons and mortars. The anti-tanks were not enough to penetrate the armor, and they were soon forced to fall back.
The small PIAT anti-tank weapon used by the British at Arnhem.
Many British troops were forced to surrender. Others who managed to fall back did so in complete disarray, low on ammunition and unable to take out the approaching armor. Cain and the rest of the British were eventually forced to retreat to nearby Oosterbeek, where they formed a perimeter and tried to protect the howitzers that would be catastrophically destroyed if they fell back further. Cain was in command of forward units, who were digging in a populated area, trying to hold the armor back.
After one of his men was killed by a tracked, armored vehicle with a mounted heavy gun, Cain picked up the anti-tank weapon and poured round after to round into the tank until it was disabled. His PIAT anti-tank weapon eventually exploded from overuse, incapacitating Cain for a half hour. When his vision returned, he went back to work with whatever he could use. When he ran out of anti-tank weapons, he used a two-inch mortar.
Major Robert Cain was fighting these. By himself.
Cain fought off Tiger tanks, flamethrower tanks, self-propelled guns, and even Nazi infantry in an effort to maintain his position in the village of Oosterbeek. He personally was responsible for destroying six armored vehicles, four of which were Tiger tanks. The Germans were forced to fall back this time, but the British were in no condition to pursue them. They made an orderly retreat across the river but, before they did, Maj. Cain took a moment to shave his face (he had been fighting for a full week by then) for a proper appearance. When he returned to the British Army that day, his commanding general commented on it.
“There’s one officer, at least, who’s shaved,” said Gen. Philip Hicks. To which Cain replied, “I was well brought up, sir.”
The respect of his fellow officers wasn’t the only thing he won that day. Cain was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry.
It took sixty five years for one member of the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles to learn that his actions during the Battle of Bastogne were legendary, but not for heroism or bravery. It all started with a simple request for a beer – and the greatest beer run the world will ever see.
Vincent Speranza, Vince to all that know him, had joined the Army right after graduating high school in 1943 and was assigned to Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne as a replacement soldier while the unit recovered from Operation Market-Garden.
Shortly after training, Vince found himself in a foxhole in the middle of Bastogne, Belgium – cold, short on supplies, food, and ammunition. And surrounded by German troops.
“The first eight days we got pounded” by German artillery, he recalled. “But this was the 101st. They could not get past (us). They never set one foot in Bastogne.”
On the second day, his friend Joe Willis took shrapnel to both legs and was pulled back to a makeshift combat hospital inside a mostly destroyed church. Vince tracked him down and asked if there was anything he could do for his friend.
Vince told him it was impossible. The 101st was surrounded by Germans with no supplies coming in, they were taking artillery fire every day, and the town had been bombarded. But Joe wanted a beer.
Moving through the town, Vince, from blown-out tavern to blown-out tavern, went searching until serendipity hit. At the third tavern he hit, Vince pulled on a tap and beer came flowing out. He filled his helmet – the same one used as a makeshift shovel and Porta Potty in the foxhole – with all the beer he could handle and returned to the hospital.
Mission accomplished. Vince poured beer for Joe and some of those around him. When the beer ran out, they asked him to go for more.
As he returned to the hospital, Vince was confronted by a Major who demanded to know what he was doing.
“Giving aid and comfort to the wounded,” was the paratrooper’s simple answer.
An ass-chewing about the dangers of giving beer to men with gut and chest wounds lead to Vince putting his helmet back on his head, beer pouring down his uniform, and heading out.
While that could have been the end of it, the story continues 65 years later, when Vince returned to Bastogne for an anniversary celebration and learned that his epic beer run had been turned into Airborne beer, typically drunk out of a ceramic mug in the shape of a helmet.
In 1987, the Soviet Union had thousands of intermediate range nuclear missile pointed at Western Europe. On top of each of those thousands of missiles sat multiple nuclear warheads, ready to destroy the entire theater. The United States and its NATO allies had just as many — if not more — of the same kind. They were mobile and concealable, able to be fired from the Soviet Union or right on NATO’s doorstep.
By 1991, they were all gone.
The INF was the first agreement wherein the United States and USSR promised to actually reduce the overall number of weapons in their arsenals, eliminating an entire category of nuclear weapons altogether. Combined, the world’s two superpowers destroyed more than 2,600 nuclear missiles before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and President Ronald Reagan sign the INF Treaty in the East Room of the White House on Dec. 8, 1987.
The buildup to the INF Treaty
In the mid-to-late 1970s, the Soviet Union began a qualitative upgrade of its nuclear arsenal designed for the European Theater. At the time, the Cold War doctrine for NATO held that the Soviets could maintain a superiority in conventional weapons and troop strengths, but the Western allies were going to launch a nuclear attack in the event of an invasion.
So, when the Red Army began replacing its old, intermediate-range, single-warhead missiles to new, more advanced missiles with multiple warheads, European leaders flipped. Meanwhile, the only nuclear missiles the United States had were its own aging, intermediate-range nukes: the single-warhead Pershing 1a. After NATO pressured the United States to respond, the allies developed a “two-track” system to counter the Soviet threat: they would seek an agreement to limit their intermediate nuclear weapons arsenals while upgrading and replacing their own systems with multiple-warhead launchers.
A U.S. BGM-109 Gryphon intermediate-range nuclear weapon. The INF Treaty ended the service of these launchers.
Terms of the INF Treaty
The negotiations did not start off well. The Soviet delegation even walked out after the United States deployed its new Pershing II missiles in Europe in 1983. But, as talks continued, various ideas surfaced on how to best address the number of nuclear weapons. Ideas included limiting each country to 75 weapons each, a limit on the number of worldwide intermediate missiles (but none allowed in Europe), and, at one point, Mikhail Gorbachev even put forward the idea of eliminating all nuclear weapons by 2000.
In the end, formal talks lasted from 1981 until the signing of the INF treaty in 1987. The agreement eliminated missiles with a range between 310 and 3,400 miles. This included three types of nuclear missile from the U.S. arsenal and six from the Soviet arsenal. Signatories were also compelled to destroy training material, rocket stages, launch canisters, and the launchers themselves. The treaty also covered all future successor states to the Soviet Union, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and others.
Signatories are also prohibited from testing ground-launched missiles and other tech related to intermediate nuclear forces. After the ten years of monitoring, any signatory country can implement the terms of the agreement and call for a new inspection or general meeting.
A view of the Soviet Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) for the SSC-X-4 ground-launched cruise missile system with a close-up view of the SSC-X-4 missile in the insert.
Why President Trump is reconsidering the INF Treaty
The INF Treaty solved a very specific crisis at a very specific time. It limited ground-based weapons from the European theater of the Cold War, but it didn’t cover air- or sea-based cruise missiles. In the years since, Russia has tested a number of weapons the United States says violate the terms of the INF Treaty. Russia counters that the U.S. has broken it as well.
If Russia isn’t abiding by the terms of the agreement, then the U.S. is unnecessarily limiting its defense posture — but that’s not even what the Trump Administration and National Security Advisor John Bolton are worried about. They’re concerned with China, who isn’t a signatory to the INF Treaty.
Proponents of the agreement argue that leaving the INF Treaty won’t force the Russians to comply with the treaty any more than they are now, that it could lead to another global arms race, and that ground-based nuclear weapons in Europe (or East Asia) just aren’t necessary anyway.
There’s a lot to unpack in this headline – the legality of pirates, why there would be pirates in the 20th century, how they came to be flying the Goodyear Blimp of all things, and what would be the best way to be a pirate when your only ship is an unarmed airship that proudly displayed your tire company of choice.
First, let’s talk about legal piracy.
Definitely not your torrent collection. If you don’t know what torrents are, then you’re probably good.
Know that “piracy” is always illegal, and the only time it’s not against the law is when we agree to call it something else. In the old days – that is the old days of wooden sailing ships – ships known as “privateers” sailed the high seas. These were privately owned and operated ships that were allowed to board and capture this ship of a particular nation, claiming it and its cargo as prizes. A privateer is not a pirate for one simple reason: the privateer carries a Letter of Marque.
A Letter of Marque is issued by one country, listing the specific assets available to the privateer, the enemy nation from which those assets can be seized or destroyed, and the authorization for the privateer to do it in the name of the issuing country. Famous privateers include Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh (who raided Spanish gold ships for the English) and the Goodyear Blimp Resolute.
(U.S. Navy Photo)
For the first time since the War of 1812, the President, through Congress, issued a Letter of Marque to a civilian ship. In this case, the letter of marque allowed the private-owned airship to search for Japanese submarines in the Pacific Ocean, and allowed its crew to be armed without violating any laws of armed conflict.
And it was. The Resolute was based in Los Angeles and was used in regular patrols of the Pacific Ocean, searching for Japanese submarines operating along the United States West Coast. Its crews’ only armament was small arms, but there was little chance of the airship successfully boarding and capturing a Japanese submarine. The airship would just have radioed the location of the submarine to ships who could come do something about it.
Too bad there would be no chance of taking prize money.
Airman 1st Class Phillip Rock is part of his family’s legacy of military service — a legacy that, in fact, would not have continued if it weren’t for that military service itself.
Stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Rock is a B-2 Spirit weapons load crew member in the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. It is his first Air Force assignment and the most recent in his family’s military history.
“I was raised in Kayenta, Arizona, which is an hour away from the four corners,” said Phillip, who is three-quarters Navajo American Indian. “It is really the heart of the reservation.”
Raised by his grandparents, he learned much about his cultural heritage from them. He also learned where his family’s long military lineage began.
This Rock family tradition started with his great grandfather, Joseph Rock — Grandpa Joe — who served in World War II.
Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron B-2 weapons load crew member, weaves a dream catcher on Nov. 15, 2018, in his dorm at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)
“At first, I didn’t know much about what my great grandfather had done,” Phillip said.
Grandpa Joe died in 2004 at age 92 when Phillip was 5 years old. It wasn’t until he was nearly a teen that Phillip realized his great grandfather was a war hero.
One day, when Rock was 12 years old, he was flipping through TV channels with his grandfather, Ernest Rock Sr., in their living room. They stopped to watch a historical documentary about World War II.
Rock recalled asking his grandfather about his great grandfather’s role in the major world conflict which spanned across Europe and the Pacific.
“I said, ‘Isn’t that the war Grandpa Joe fought in? What did he do?'”
His grandfather told Phillip “He was a code talker.”
Western expansion, cultural repression
It was the early 1900s and Joseph Rock was a young boy living on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. As the country expanded westward, much of the tribe’s land was taken by the U.S. government. Joseph was sent to school, where his long hair was cut and his name was changed.
“He went up to a chalkboard, pointed at a random configuration of letters, and that’s how he became Joseph Rock,” Phillip said. “Four generations later, we still carry on that last name.”
Grandpa Joe was also punished in school if he spoke his native language — the same language that would later save countless lives.
By 1941, shortly after the U.S. had entered WWII, the Marine Corps began to recruit Navajo tribal members for a top-secret code-communications program that wouldn’t be declassified until two decades later.
At first, fewer than 30 Navajo Indians were recruited as code talkers. In total, only about 400 of the 44,000 American Indians who served in WWII were Navajo code talkers. Joseph Rock was asked to work among them, and he accepted.
Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a B-2 weapons load crew member assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, poses for a portrait on Nov. 15, 2018 in his dorm at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)
“He was told if he served, the family would get some of their land back and a house,” Phillip Rock said. “None of that happened.”
But those promises weren’t what enticed Grandpa Joe to join the military. He wanted to serve his country, and did so honorably.
“My great grandfather was proud of his service,” Phillip Rock said. “It’s his legacy.”
This was not the first time American Indians were recruited for U.S. military service, either as combatants or code talkers. During the first World War, American troops relied on messages transmitted in Cherokee and Choctaw tribal languages to pass secret information. However, the languages used were eventually all deciphered by enemy troops.
The Navajo language, though, is considered particularly linguistically difficult. And at that time, it had not been written down. The U.S. government knew it would be nearly impossible for a non-Navajo to learn.
So, in the early 1940s, Navajo code talkers used their language to create more than 200 new words for military terms and then committed them to memory.
“The enemy never understood it,” a Marine general was quoted as saying after the Navajo code was first used in WWII. “We don’t understand it either, but it works.”
The Navajo code is the only spoken military code that has never been deciphered, and Navajo code talkers are credited with saving thousands of Americans’ and allies’ lives.
Winning the war
Before he knew his Grandpa Joe served as a code talker, Phillip learned about his tribe’s role in WWII as a boy in school.
“We were taught that we should be extremely thankful for what they did,” Phillip said. “Without the code talkers, we wouldn’t have won the war.”
During the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, Navajo code talkers worked around the clock sending and receiving thousands of messages. One Marine later stated, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima,” according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Joseph Rock was one of those code talkers involved in the critical battle to claim the Pacific island.
During the battle, a grenade landed only feet away from Joseph Rock, who “watched it hit the ground,” Phillip said. Then, Joseph Rock saw one of his fellow Marines dive on top of it, giving his life to save Grandpa Joe.
“He wanted to save the life of a code talker,” Phillip Rock said. “It’s inspiring what people will do to continue with the mission. My Grandpa Joe owed his life to that man.”
Neither Joseph Rock nor the Rock family was ever able to find out who the Marine was, but know future generations of Rocks have their lives thanks to his valor.
“I owe my life to that man, too,” Phillip said.
Traditional native american jewelry is laid out on the couch of Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a B-2 weapons load crew member assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Each piece of jewelry was gifted to rock throughout his childhood.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)
Culture and service
Since Grandpa Joe, many members of the Rock family have answered their nation’s call including his grandfather, his father, uncles and an aunt.
For Phillip, his great grandfather’s service as a code talker influenced Philip’s own decision to join the Air Force.
Phillip is the most recent member of his family to serve in the military.
“I feel like it was a prideful thing to carry on that lineage of service,” said Phillip. “It felt like the right calling. My Grandpa Joe was the first to wear this name on a uniform. I am very proud of this name. I knew I wanted to carry that on and wear it on a uniform.”
Meanwhile, Navajo principles have taught him respect, perseverance, and determination.
“My culture really shapes who I am,” Phillip Rock says. “I wear my culture on my sleeve and my name on my chest.”
This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.
In 1839, England went to war with China because it was upset that Chinese officials had shut down its drug trafficking racket and confiscated its dope.
Stating the historical record so plainly is shocking — but it’s true, and the consequences of that act are still being felt today.
The Qing Dynasty, founded by Manchurian clans in 1644, expanded China’s borders to their farthest reach, conquering Tibet, Taiwan and the Uighur Empire. However, the Qing then turned inward and isolationist, refusing to accept Western ambassadors because they were unwilling to proclaim the Qing Dynasty as supreme above their own heads of state.
Foreigners — even on trade ships — were prohibited entry into Chinese territory.
The exception to the rule was in Canton, the southeastern region centered on modern-day Guangdong Province, which adjoins Hong Kong and Macao. Foreigners were allowed to trade in the Thirteen Factories district in the city of Guangzhou, with payments made exclusively in silver.
The British gave the East India Company a monopoly on trade with China, and soon ships based in colonial India were vigorously exchanging silver for tea and porcelain. But the British had a limited supply of silver.
Starting in in the mid-1700s, the British began trading opium grown in India in exchange for silver from Chinese merchants. Opium — an addictive drug that today is refined into heroin — was illegal in England, but was used in Chinese traditional medicine.
However, recreational use was illegal and not widespread. That changed as the British began shipping in tons of the drug using a combination of commercial loopholes and outright smuggling to get around the ban.
Chinese officials taking their own cut abetted the practice. American ships carrying Turkish-grown opium joined in the narcotics bonanza in the early 1800s. Consumption of opium in China skyrocketed, as did profits.
The Daoguang Emperor became alarmed by the millions of drug addicts — and the flow of silver leaving China. As is often the case, the actions of a stubborn idealist brought the conflict to a head. In 1839 the newly appointed Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu instituted laws banning opium throughout China.
He arrested 1,700 dealers, and seized the crates of the drug already in Chinese harbors and even on ships at sea. He then had them all destroyed. That amounted to 2.6 million pounds of opium thrown into the ocean. Lin even wrote a poem apologizing to the sea gods for the pollution.
Angry British traders got the British government to promise compensation for the lost drugs, but the treasury couldn’t afford it. War would resolve the debt.
But the first shots were fired when the Chinese objected to the British attacking one of their own merchant ships.
Chinese authorities had indicated they would allow trade to resume in non-opium goods. Lin Zexu even sent a letter to Queen Victoria pointing out that as England had a ban on the opium trade, they were justified in instituting one too.
It never reached her, but eventually did appear in the Sunday Times.
Instead, the Royal Navy established a blockade around Pearl Bay to protest the restriction of free trade … in drugs. Two British ships carrying cotton sought to run the blockade in November 1839. When the Royal Navy fired a warning shot at the second, The Royal Saxon, the Chinese sent a squadron of war junks and fire-rafts to escort the merchant.
HMS Volage‘s Captain, unwilling to tolerate the Chinese “intimidation,” fired a broadside at the Chinese ships. HMS Hyacinth joined in. One of the Chinese ships exploded and three more were sunk. Their return fire wounded one British sailor.
Seven months later, a full-scale expeditionary force of 44 British ships launched an invasion of Canton. The British had steam ships, heavy cannon, Congreve rockets and infantry equipped with rifles capable of accurate long range fire. Chinese state troops — “bannermen” — were still equipped with matchlocks accurate only up to 50 yards and a rate of fire of one round per minute.
Antiquated Chinese warships were swiftly destroyed by the Royal Navy. British ships sailed up the Zhujiang and Yangtze rivers, occupying Shanghai along the way and seizing tax-collection barges, strangling the Qing government’s finances. Chinese armies suffered defeat after defeat.
When the Qing sued for peace in 1842, the British could set their own terms. The Treaty of Nanjing stipulated that Hong Kong would become a British territory, and that China would be forced to establish five treaty ports in which British traders could trade anything they wanted with anybody they wanted to. A later treaty forced the Chinese to formally recognize the British as equals and grant their traders favored status.
More war, more opium
Imperialism was on the upswing by the mid-1800s. France muscled into the treaty port business as well in 1843. The British soon wanted even more concessions from China — unrestricted trade at any port, embassies in Beijing and an end to bans on selling opium in the Chinese mainland.
One tactic the British used to further their influence was registering the ships of Chinese traders they dealt with as British ships.
The pretext for the second Opium War is comical in its absurdity. In October 1856, Chinese authorities seized a former pirate ship, the Arrow, with a Chinese crew and with an expired British registration. The captain told British authorities that the Chinese police had taken down the flag of a British ship.
The British demanded the Chinese governor release the crew. When only nine of the 14 returned, the British began a bombardment of the Chinese forts around Canton and eventually blasted open the city walls.
British Liberals, under William Gladstone, were upset at the rapid escalation and protested fighting a new war for the sake of the opium trade in parliament. However, they lost seats in an election to the Tories under Lord Palmerston. He secured the support needed to prosecute the war.
China was in no position to fight back, as it was then embroiled in the devastating Taiping Rebellion, a peasant uprising led by a failed civil-service examinee claiming to be the brother of Jesus Christ. The rebels had nearly seized Beijing and still controlled much of the country.
Once again, the Royal Navy demolished its Chinese opponents, sinking 23 junks in the opening engagement near Hong Kong and seizing Guangzhou. Over the next three years, British ships worked their way up the river, capturing several Chinese forts through a combination of naval bombardment and amphibious assault.
France joined in the war — its excuse was the execution of a French missionary who had defied the ban on foreigners in Guangxi province. Even the United States became briefly involved after a Chinese fort took pot shots at long distance at an American ship.
In the Battle of the Pearl River Forts, a U.S. Navy a force of three ships and 287 sailors and marines took four forts by storm, capturing 176 cannons and fighting off a counterattack of 3,000 Chinese infantry. The United States remained officially neutral.
Russia did not join in the fighting, but used the war to pressure China into ceding a large chunk of its northeastern territory, including the present-day city of Vladivostok.
When foreign envoys drew up the next treaty in 1858 the terms, were even more crushing to the Qing Dynasty’s authority. Ten more cities were designated as treaty ports, foreigners would have free access to the Yangtze river and the Chinese mainland, and Beijing would open embassies to England, France and Russia.
The Xianfeng Emperor at first agreed to the treaty, but then changed his mind, sending Mongolian general Sengge Rinchen to man the Taku Forts on the waterway leading to Beijing. The Chinese repelled a British attempt to take the forts by sea in June 1859, sinking four British ships. A year later, an overland assault by 11,000 British and 6,700 French troops succeeded.
When a British diplomatic mission came to insist on adherence to the treaty, the Chinese took the envoy hostage, and tortured many in the delegation to death. The British High Commissioner of Chinese Affairs, Lord Elgar, decided to assert dominance and sent the army into Beijing.
British and French rifles gunned down 10,000 charging Mongolian cavalrymen at the Battle of Eight Mile Bridge, leaving Beijing defenseless. Emperor Xianfeng fled. In order to wound the Emperor’s “pride as well as his feeling” in the words of Lord Elgar, British and French troops looted and destroyed the historic Summer Palace.
The new revised treaty imposed on China legalized both Christianity and opium, and added Tianjin — the major city close to Beijing — to the list of treaty ports. It allowed British ships to transport Chinese indentured laborers to the United States, and fined the Chinese government eight million silver dollars in indemnities.
The Western presence in China became so ubiquitous, and so widely detested, that an anti-Western popular revolt, the Boxer Rebellion, broke out in 1899. The hapless Qing Dynasty, under the stewardship of Dowager Empress Cixi, first tried to clamp down on the violence before throwing its support behind it — just in time for a multi-national military force of U.S., Russian, German, Austrian, Italian, French, Japanese and British troops to arrive and put down the rebellion.
It then spent an entire year looting Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding countryside in reprisal.
‘Century of Humiliation’
It’s hard to over-emphasize the impact of the Opium Wars on modern China. Domestically, it’s led to the ultimate collapse of the centuries-old Qing Dynasty, and with it more than two millennia of dynastic rule. It convinced China that it had to modernize and industrialize.
Today, the First Opium War is taught in Chinese schools as being the beginning of the “Century of Humiliation” — the end of that “century” coming in 1949 with the reunification of China under Mao. While Americans are routinely assured they are exceptional and the greatest country on Earth by their politicians, Chinese schools teach students that their country was humiliated by greedy and technologically superior Western imperialists.
The Opium Wars made it clear China had fallen gravely behind the West — not just militarily, but economically and politically. Every Chinese government since — even the ill-fated Qing Dynasty, which began the “Self-Strengthening Movement” after the Second Opium War — has made modernization an explicit goal, citing the need to catch up with the West.
The Japanese, observing events in China, instituted the same discourse and modernized more rapidly than China did during the Meiji Restoration.
Mainland Chinese citizens still frequently measure China in comparison to Western countries. Economic and quality of life issues are by far their main concern. But state media also holds military parity as a goal.
I once saw a news program on Chinese public television boasting about China’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning— before comparing it to an American carrier. “They’re saying ours is still a lot smaller,” a high school student pointed out to me. “And we have only one.”
Through most of Chinese history, China’s main threat came from nomadic horse-riding tribes along its long northern border. Even in the Cold War, hostility with the Soviet Union made its Mongolian border a security hot spot. But the Opium Wars — and even worse, the Japanese invasion in 1937 — demonstrated how China was vulnerable to naval power along its Pacific coast.
China’s aggressive naval expansion in the South China Sea can be seen as the acts of a nation that has succumbed repeatedly to naval invasions — and wishes to claims dominance of its side of the Pacific in the 21st century.
The history with opium also has led China to adopt a particularly harsh anti-narcotics policy with the death penalty applicable even to mid-level traffickers. Drug-trafficking and organized crime remain a problem, however. The explosion of celebrity culture in China has also led to punitive crackdowns on those caught partaking in “decadent lifestyles,” leading to prominent campaigns of public shaming.
For example, in 2014 police arrested Jaycee Chan, son of Jackie Chan, for possessing 100 grams of marijuana. His father stated he wouldn’t plead for his son to avoid imprisonment.
Past history does not always determine future actions. Chinese sentiments toward the United Kingdom today are generally positive despite the Opium Wars. The escalating military confrontation over the South China Sea is a reality of our times, but that doesn’t mean China’s leaders will forever be committed to a strategy of expansion and confrontation.
Nonetheless, fostering better relations requires that we understand how China’s current foreign policy has it roots in past encounters with the West.
It’s no secret by now that Ho Chi Minh really admired the founding principles of the United States. He even quoted Thomas Jefferson from the American Declaration of Independence in his declaration of independence for Vietnam.
Many academics say, he was really into self-determination and appreciated America’s history.
And he was right to trust the World War II-era United States to ensure a free Vietnam after WWII. Except he wasn’t dealing with the same America after that war ended. Instead, the high-minded anti-colonial Roosevelt administration was gone, replaced by the anti-communist Truman administration.
As World War II came to a close, Uncle Ho was an agent of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. As the OSS man in Vietnam, he was the chief organizer of anti-Japanese resistance. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII, he moved to ensure the French didn’t return. And history shows, the French weren’t exactly the kindest of colonizers.
It turns out Ho Chi Minh sent a number of telegrams to President Truman after the end of WWII. At the same time, he urged the Vietnamese people to rise up, capture arms and rice stocks, and keep the French from replacing the Japanese as their imperial masters. Truman never read any of the telegrams – there isn’t even evidence that the President received Ho’s messages.
One of the telegrams, written in 1945, asked Truman to make Vietnam an overseas protectorate of the United States, on par with Puerto Rico’s relationship with America. He was willing to trade complete independence of his country for American democracy – better than British, French, or Japanese Imperialism… at least it was in Ho’s mind.
Protectorates are officially “insular areas of the United States.” They are administered by the federal government, but are not part of a state or federal district. Many of the U.S.-occupied islands in the Pacific would become American protectorates after World War II, so the idea isn’t as outlandish as it seems today.
The Marshall Islands, Samoa, Guam, and the Marianas all have protectorate status.
It might have actually been a good plan for the long term. If Truman accepted Ho’s idea, there have been many examples of U.S. protectorates that gained full independence after a while. The Philippines and Cuba are a couple of examples of this kind of self-determination. They weren’t examples of clean history and not a clean break, but still a break.
On Oct. 16, 1945, just a few weeks after the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Japanese and British planes bombed French positions in a coordinated attack to promote the French position there. Ho Chi Minh got his answer from the West. France broke its promise to Franklin Roosevelt, who demanded the French give up its colonies in Indochina.
Not all of America was behind supporting the French. General Douglas MacArthur, for example, was livid.
“If there’s anything that makes my blood boil,” MacArthur said, “it is to see our allies in Indochina deploy Japanese troops to reconquer those little people we promised to liberate.”
In June 2008, a 74-year-old North Korean farmer and former coal miner was swimming across the Tumen River, where it makes the border between the reclusive North Korean regime and Communist China. He was escaping the Hermit Kingdom like many North Koreans before him, except Kim Jin-Soo wasn’t North Korean.
The onetime South Korean Army soldier was born in the South, but enlisted in the Republic of Korea Army during the 1950-1953 Korean War. That’s how he ended up in the North.
Suwon Airfield being evacuated by South Korean troops as North Korea advances in 1950.
The young South Korean was just 17 years old when he signed up to fight the Communist advance in 1950 but was wounded in action by small arms fire. That’s how the young soldier was captured. He was taken by his captors North to recover from the wounds, but his own army, believing him dead, stopped looking for him. When prisoners were exchanged after fighting stopped, no one thought to look for a dead man.
The definitely not dead Kim Jin-Soo did eventually recover from his wounds, only now he was trapped in the North’s Stalinist “utopia.” Unfortunately for him, he was still a prisoner and was sent to work in the coal mines in North Korea’s North Pyeongan Province for nearly 40 years.
North Korean troops prepare for battle in 1950.
In the time that passed, the captive’s parents in the South both passed away. He even had four daughters and one son while living in the North. His surviving brothers in the South had no idea he was alive, let alone that they now had a nephew and a handful of nieces.
In the early 1990s, around the time of North Korea’s deadly and disastrous famine, Soo was sent to another province to work as a farmer. The harsh life of a North Korean POW had taken its toll on his body. He shrunk by nearly six inches over 55 years of captivity and weighed barely 105 pounds when he escaped to China.
The Webster-Ashburton Treaty resolved a number of border issues between what would one day become Canada and the United States, who promptly began to build another fort — this one named for revolutionary war hero General Richard Montgomery. The fort was built from the same limestone slabs that helped raise the Brooklyn Bridge, and, though it was never fully garrisoned, it was armed and ready for action.
As the United States’ relationships with Great Britain and Canada flourished, Fort Montgomery’s function dwindled. In 1926, it was auctioned off by the U.S. government and sold to a private bidder.