Before women were allowed to join the military, Cathay Williams decided that she wouldn’t let her gender, or the color of her skin, get in the way of her ambitions. She became the first known African American woman in American history to join the armed forces by disguising herself as a man.
Williams was born into slavery in the year 1842 in Independence, Mo. She was a house slave for William Johnson, a planter in Jefferson City, Mo. During the beginning of the Civil War, Williams was claimed to have been “freed” by Union soldiers, but was forced to work for the Federal Army as a paid cook and laundress.
During her time serving in the Federal Army, she gained an insight into military life by answering directly to two Union Generals, one of whom was General Philip Sheridan. After the war ended, Williams did not have the means of supporting herself, but she wasn’t about to let her newly garnered freedom get snuffed out like a flame.
In November 1866, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the U.S. Army as William Cathay. Full-on medical exams weren’t mandatory at the time, and Williams was able to pas a quick, general health check before filing in among the ranks.
She was found fit for duty and assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry, Company A, an all-black regiment in St. Louis, Mo. which, eventually, became a part of the renowned Buffalo Soldiers. Apparently, the only two people knew her secret — a friend and a cousin — both of whom served alongside her in the same regiment. They never divulged her charade.
Williams traveled with her regiment and helped protect miners and immigrants from Apache attacks at Fort Cummings, Mo. Unfortunately, military service took its toll on Williams. She was in and out of the hospital for most of her service due to neuralgia (pain caused by a pinched nerve). Surprisingly, it was six months after her first hospitalization when they found out that she was a woman.
After the truth was revealed, Williams was discharged from the Army honorably on October 14, 1868. Little of her life is known after she was discharged, except for her attempts to get a pension for the disabilities that she incurred from military service.
Sadly, Williams never received compensation for her medical issues. The Pension Bureau claimed her illnesses were pre-existing and, because she was a woman, her service was not considered legal, disqualifying her from pension pay.
She may not have intended to become a prominent figure in history, but one thing is for sure, Cathay Williams will forever be regarded as the first and only female Buffalo Soldier to have served in the U.S. Army.
Believe it or not, folks, gun debates raged long before there was an Internet. Though in some cases, it was rather important to “diss” some guns. Like in World War II.
The Nazis had some pretty respectable designs. The MP40, a submachine gun chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge, with a 32-round magazine was pretty close to their standard submachine gun.
Compare that to the American M1928 Thompson submachine gun, which fired the .45 ACP round and could fire a 30-round magazine or drum holding 50 or 100 rounds, or the M3 “Grease Gun,” also firing the .45 ACP round and with a 30-round magazine.
Two of the major Nazi machine guns were the MG34 and the MG42. Both fired the 7.92x57mm round. They could fire very quickly – as much as 1,500 rounds per minute in the case of the MG42. The major machine guns the Americans used were the M1917 and M1919. Both fired the .30-06 round and could shoot about 500 rounds a minute.
That said, the primary Nazi rifle, the Mauser Karabiner 98k, was outclassed by the American M1 Garand. The Germans also didn’t have a weapon to match the M1 Carbine, a semi-auto rifle that had a 15 or 30-round magazine.
And the Walther P38 and Luger didn’t even come close to the M1911 when it came to sidearms. That much is indisputable.
But it isn’t all about the rate of fire in full-auto – although it probably is good for devout spray-and-pray shooters. It’s about how many rounds are on target – and which put the bad guys down. The German guns may not have been all that when it came to actually hitting their targets, at least according to the United States Army training film below.
As the Allies put their plans into action in 1944 preparing for the eventual D-Day landings, they knew that they needed to break German logistics in Normandy. As part of the process, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and the 8th Air Force targeted the rail networks that crisscrossed France.
But while the landings would be known as Operation Overlord and the evacuation of the Dunkirk was called Operation Dynamo, the rail bombings were named Operation Chattanooga Choo Choo.
The operation wasn’t named after the “The Simpsons” episode. That would be ridiculous, reader who apparently doesn’t understand that World War II happened before “The Simpsons.”
No, it was named after a popular song of the day. Glenn Miller had recorded the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941 and someone on the staff must have liked it. That would be similar to the missile strikes on Syria having been named after a Katy Perry or Taylor Swift song.
Despite the silly name, the operation was a huge success. The air forces wanted to limit German logistics while obscuring the site of the upcoming landings in Operation Overlord. So they dropped bombs all over occupied France but stipulated that two bombs be dropped at Pas de Calais for every one that hit in Normandy.
Adolph Hitler and his cronies were convinced the landings could come at Calais. The bombs ripped through German railways, marshaling yards, wireless radio stations, and other key infrastructure, softening up Normandy for the invasion.
The newspaper Stars and Stripes has an interesting little niche in its place in American journalism. Wherever the Armed Forces of the United States may go, Stars and Stripes reporters might just go along with them. The idea of such a paper can be traced back to the Civil War, the reporting as we know it dates back to World War I. While the paper is a government-funded entity reporting on military operations, you might find it full of the hardest-working most objective staff in the world.
And if their movie is to be believed, maybe the craziest staff in the world to boot.
The documentary film The World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route is the story of the unsung heroes who deliver the news to the front lines of Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else the U.S. military gets the newspaper – and everywhere they’ve been for the past 100 years. The film includes never-before-seen imagery from the Stars and Stripes archive of photographers and writers who were in the war zones with the fighting men and women from Verdun to Saigon.
The list of correspondents and contributors to the legendary newspaper include Andy Rooney, Bill Maudlin, Steve Kroft, Shel Silverstein, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Pete Arnett, to name just a few. Even the civilians working on the staff used to see combat – one civilian in Vietnam even saw action with every major combat unit to go through the country during the war.
How does one news outlet get so much access to the United States military while still retaining their credibility, you might ask. The answer is that even though Stars and Stripes is funded by the Department of Defense, its creative and editorial direction are protected from the Pentagon by Congress. It is something that the readership of the paper looked forward to receiving every time they could, so says Gen. David Petraeus, interviewed for The World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route.
“It is, in a way, the hometown newspaper of the U.S. military,” Petraeus says.
This is an organization that not only knew what was happening back home, as a matter of course, but also was embedded with the troops on the ground, and knew what was going on in-country. The reporters at Stars and Stripes put their lives on the line to produce a newspaper for the troops – and anyone who might pick up a copy.
In The World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route, the viewer goes on a journey downrange to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to see what it’s like to cover the United States military and its operations in today’s Global War on Terror. In places like Afghanistan, picking up the computer and getting a wifi signal isn’t as easy as it may be anywhere else in the world. Here, physical newspapers that provide unquestioned reporting are all American forces have to read and understand the world around them and the world which continues to go on without them back home.
Find out how important the newspaper has been to American troops, see the unparalleled access and legendary images captured by the Stars and Stripes staff, and feel the nerve-wracking stress of seeing an unarmed camera operator out in combat, carrying only a camera.
The World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route can be watched free with an Amazon Prime subscription.
On Apr. 15, 1912, Charles Lightoller was the second officer aboard the ill-fated Titanic. After helping as many passengers and crew as he could into lifeboats, he refused an order to escape on one of the final boats to make it off the ship. As Titanic’s bridge began to sink, he attempted to dive into the water and to the safety of one of the crew’s collapsible boats.
Except the Titanic sucked him down with her.
Two lifeboats carry Titanic survivors toward safety. April 15, 1912
Lightoller was no landsman. He had been at sea for decades and, as a result, he’d seen and heard everything. Titanic wasn’t even his first shipwreck, but it was the first time a sinking ship tried to take the officer down with it. As a grating pulled him to the bottom, the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean finally reached the ship’s hot boilers, and they exploded. The force propelled Lightoller to the surface and to the safety of his fellow crew’s boat.
He was the last Titanic survivor rescued by the RMS Carpathia the next day. He was also the most senior officer to survive the shipwreck. Later, during World War I, Lt. Lightoller would take command of many ships in the Royal Navy, leaving the service at the war’s end. By the time World War II rolled around, Lightoller was just a civilian raising chickens. His seaborne days confined to a personal yacht.
The Titanic’s officers. Lightoller is in the back row, second from the left.
While he did survey the German coast in 1939 for the Royal Navy while disguised as an elderly couple on vacation, his fighting days were long gone. But the very next year, the British Army in France was on the brink of ruin, as 400,000 Allied troops were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Royal Navy could not reach them, and they were slowly being annihilated by the Nazi forces that surrounded them. Operation Dynamo was on.
The Royal Navy ordered Lightoller to take his ship to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take control and ship off to Dunkirk to rescue as many Tommies as possible. But Lightoller wasn’t having it. He would take his ship to Dunkirk himself. The 66-year-old and his son departed for France as soon as they could in a 52×12-foot ship with a carrying capacity of 21.
Every badass commando needs their own fighting knife. When the battle gets up-close and personal, all the rules are thrown out and it’s anything goes. When a suitable blade doesn’t exist, you get one made. On Nov. 4, 1940, John “Jack” Wilkinson-Latham, Charlie Rose, Lieutenant Colonel William Ewart “Dan” Fairbairn, and Major Eric Anthony “Bill” Sykes met at Wilkinson Sword Co. Ltd. to discuss the prospect of engineering a new combat fighting knife.
Each man brought desirable knowledge in practical concepts to the drawing board. Taking three decades of past experience as a peace officer and firearms instructor for the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) in China, then the most violent cop-beat in the world, Fairbairn had the required intangibles to show up for a conversation. He was one of the original members of the world’s first Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams and had expertise in forensic ballistics. These bullet points in Fairbairn’s life were what allied clandestine units eyeballed. “I was in police work in the Orient for 30 years [1907-1940],” he said. “We had a tough crowd to deal with there so you had to be prepared to beat every trick in the book.”
Dermot O’Neill teaches combatives learned from his days as an SMP officer.
A bloody fight in an alleyway hospitalized Fairbairn after he was ambushed by goons from a Chinese separatist gang. Covered in bandages after being stabbed over a dozen times and left for dead, he awoke to notice a plaque on the wall that read: “Professor Okada, Jiu-Jitsu and Bone-setting.” He had an epiphany to use Jiu-Jitsu and combine it with other martial arts such as boxing, judo, and wrestling. He called it Defendu and used it to better protect his officers in these types of melees.
Sykes, a special sergeant attached to the sniper unit, was highly respected by Fairbairn. Together they tussled with street thugs in riots and patrolled among the political unrest across the red light districts. In just 12.5 years, they were present during more than 2,000 riots and fights, 666 of which were shootings. They deescalated 200 of them, a remarkable record considering that a mob can turn into a violent riot fairly quickly. This anomaly exposed them to real-world tactics shaped from classroom theory to results-driven practices. The skill to incapacitate called for a specific level of training because killing was the last resort.
From 1927 to 1940, Fairbairn made connections with the 4th Marine Regiment stationed in China; those from the “China Marines” were exposed to his methods in how to kill with a blade. These connections would prove to be effective down the road in his role with the implementation of unarmed combat within the U.S. military and select special operations units.
A commando concealing his F-S knife in a sheath on his calf.
After retiring from the SMP, the pair returned to the United Kingdom in 1940 and were approached by the Secret Intelligence Service’s (SIS) “Section D” (for destruction) to set up a combatives program for the newly formed Commandos and Special Operations Executive (SOE). Since their November 1940 meeting, it took Rose, the top development engineer at Wilkinson Sword Co. Ltd. Experimental Workshop, 10 days to work out the kinks in the “First Pattern” of the F-S knives. The expedited process ensured a batch of 1,500 daggers would reach schoolhouses across England.
“In modern warfare, the job is more drastic,” said Fairbairn. “You’re interested only in disabling or killing your enemy. That’s why I teach what I call ‘Gutter Fighting.’ There’s no fair play; no rules except one; kill or be killed.” Their nimble design had a long, thin 6.5- to 7-inch blade; the grip was made from solid brass, and the grip handguard was nickel-plated.
Designed for combat applications, the double-edged stiletto could be worn and concealed on the calf of a commando. Its usage was common in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) but saw action among members of SOE’s Force 136, including James Alexander E. MacPherson, who carried it in the Far East.
This lightweight model was then introduced to Lieutenant Colonel Rex Applegate, a counterintelligence officer assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) instructor cadre. Known for his instruction on “Point Shooting” with handguns and a visionary in combat application, he traveled to the U.K. to witness the commandos training firsthand. He and Fairbairn inspected the field reports of the dagger’s effectiveness on body armor, conducted additional training, and met up with Fairbairn’s then-compatriot Sykes. While Sykes remained in the U.K. instructing his “Silent Killing” course, Fairbairn and him had a disagreement that is rumored to have hurt their relationship.
Applegate and Fairbairn returned to the West to introduce their methods to the Americans at Camp Ritchie, then later at the 275-acre farmland training grounds called STS-3 (Special Training School), or Camp X, in Oshawa, Canada. Camp X opened on Dec. 6, 1941, a day before the attacks on Pearl Harbor. It became an instrumental link between British and American special operations forces who cross-trained before going to war. They eventually made a knife of their own called the Applegate-Fairbairn fighting knife.
The Shanghai connection didn’t stop there. Irishman Dermot “Pat” O’Neill served amongst the SMP, following in his father’s footsteps. As he rose through the ranks, O’Neill earned a fourth dan black belt. His influence was feared — a SWAT cop mingling in the same gyms as Judo students who were trained as spies for the Kempeitai, the Japanese version of the Gestapo. Adding to the heat already upon him was rampant corruption in the SMP, including the chief of detective squad, Lu Liankui. He was a Green Gang boss and disciple of the Ji Yunquing, one of the eight leaders of the Big Eight Mob. O’Neill expected retribution and bailed onto a fishing boat for Sydney; he soon received a telegram from Fairbairn requesting his presence in the United States.
The Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife is present on many modern-day unit insignias, including the U.S. Army Special Forces.
(Open source graphic.)
O’Neill weaved his way to Camp X, where Fairbairn utilized his expertise teaching OSS officers. Here he taught students how to sneak up on sentries and eliminate them. He ran the students through real-world scenarios because shooting paper targets on a range and performing hand-to-hand combat drills on dummies wasn’t going to cut it in war. Fairbairn put students through “indoor mystery ranges” (the “shoot houses” or “kill houses” today’s special operations soldiers are familiar with).
“Under varying degrees of light, darkness, and shadows, plus the introduction of sound effects, moving objects, and various alarming surprises,” Fairbairn explained, “an opportunity is afforded to test the moral fiber of the student and to develop his courage and capacity for self control.” The students referred to these tests as the “House of Horrors” for its authenticity.
Fairbairn’s web of connections brought helped spread the Fairbairn-Sykes combat fighting knife around the world, and it has a lineage in many different historical units. When O’Neill left the OSS, he later joined Lt. Col. Robert Frederick’s First Special Service Force (FSSF), commonly referred to as the Devil’s Brigade. The joint U.S.-Canada team learned quickly that O’Neill wasn’t there to teach them how to incapacitate an enemy — he was there to teach them how to kill.
Frederick developed his own knife called the V-42 stiletto. Inspired by the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, Frederick issued his “Cross Dagger” to his commandos. Today, the lineage can be seen in the insignia of the British Special Air Service (SAS), Royal Marines, U.S. Army Special Forces, U.S. Army Rangers, Dutch Commando Corps, and the Australian 2nd Commando Regiment.
The 83rd Infantry Division, nicknamed Thunderbolt, first entered combat in Normandy in late June 1944. Generally fighting as part of Patton’s Third Army, they were involved in major combat across Northern France and Europe.
Their first action was as a part of Operation Cobra to breakout of the Normandy hedgerows. They then fought against stiff resistance until they finally entered Germany.
This is where the 83rd would come to notoriety as the “Rag-tag Circus.”
Once American forces crossed the Rhine in March 1945, it became an all-out sprint for Berlin with the fast-moving Armored Divisions of the 12th Army Group leading the way.
But the 83rd was a light division with very little in the way of organic transportation assets.
According to the After Action Report of the 329th Infantry Regiment, the Rag-tag Circus was born of necessity when the regiment’s ten non-organic trucks were detached for other duties. As the battalion commanders protested, word came down from the division commander, “utilize to the fullest extent the captured German transportation they had in their possession.”
The 83rd took the idea and ran with it.
Any German vehicle they could get their hands on got a coat of OD green paint and some white stars and was pressed into service.
They commandeered all manner of vehicles: trucks, staff cars, motorcycles, buses, German tanks, and even a Messerschmitt BF 109 was confiscated and piloted by a member of the division.
These commandeered vehicles complemented the already-taxed vehicles the 83rd had. Pushing the limits of reason, tanks carried more than 30 troops on top while jeeps, with and without trailers, were carrying more than a dozen.
Men were packed on so tight that the assistant division commander quipped, “it looked like the men were sprayed on the tanks.”
But this motley crew of vehicles and men that made up the Rag-tag Circus wasn’t the only amazing thing about the 83rd Infantry Division’s drive across Germany.
The Rag-tag Circus had the Germans on the run and was moving at a blistering pace. Pockets of German resistance were quickly overcome and the division moved on.
Oftentimes, division headquarters would displace forward as much as five times per day. The grunts on the ground almost never stopped.
They moved so fast that the lead elements of regiments were often moving out of the other side of a town before the Germans had even had a chance to retreat.
This led to some rather comical instances.
As the Rag-tag Circus sped east through yet another town, an erratic driver entered their column. The vehicle was just another German staff car like so many others in the convoy and since speed was the order of the day, it might not have otherwise drawn much attention. But the erratic driving and continual horn-honking alerted some of the GIs. PFC David Webster took a closer look as the car sped by his vehicle and noticed there was something different about this German car – it still had Germans in it. In fact, sitting in the rear was a Wehrmacht General who was oblivious to the fact that the column he was speeding through was actually American — not German. The GIs stepped on the gas and blocked the path of the Germans, leading to the capture of a German general by almost sheer luck.
In another instance, the Rag-tag Circus was simply travelling so fast that they overtook a column of German vehicles attempting to retreat to the east. This time, the 83rd bagged themselves a German Colonel to go with their prized General.
But those weren’t the only prisoners the 83rd took. In their fourteen day, 280-mile dash across Germany from the Rhine to the Elbe, they captured some 12,000 German POWs and 72 German towns. They also liberated over 75,000 Allied POWs from German camps and liberated a number of concentration camps as well.
The Rag-tag Circus was also the first unit to cross the Elbe River on April 13, 1945, securing a bridgehead after engineers built a treadway bridge across the river.
Despite Berlin being less than 50 miles away and German resistance virtual nonexistent, the 83rd was told to hold their position.
Although they were known as the Rag-tag Circus during their courageous run up to the Elbe, the division sought a more appropriate name to commemorate the achievement. The men of the division settled on “Thunderbolt,” which became the official division nickname.
The Elbe would end up being the closest the Americans would get to Berlin before the war ended and on April 25, 1945, elements of the 65th Infantry Division linked up with Russians advancing from the east.
Despite its heroic and record-breaking efforts, the 83rd was denied a Presidential Unit Citation. After occupation duty in German, the 83rd returned to the United States in March 1946 and was inactivated the following month.
“Once the pin is pulled, Mr. Hand Grenade is no longer your friend.”
In war, troops who cover enemy grenades (or badly-thrown friendly grenades) with their own bodies have usually been awarded the Medal of Honor. Some lived, but all too often, the award is posthumous.
But the opening statement is also true in peacetime training. When recruits are taught to throw grenades, they use the real M67 fragmentation grenade. MilitaryFactory.com notes that this has about 6.5 ounces of Composition B explosive, and can kill people standing roughly 50 feet away. Fragments have gone as far as 750 feet from where the grenade goes off – and they don’t care who is in the way.
So it’s important that trainees handle grenades with care — and have fellow troopers who’ll step in to avert tragedy.
Here are eight badass troops who saved lives during grenade training.
1. Marine Sgt. Joseph Leifer
On June 13, 2013, Sgt. Leifer was manning a grenade pit when a student’s toss bounced back into the pit. According to the Marine Corps Times, Leifer grabbed the student, threw him out of the way, and covered him with his body. Leifer received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on Nov. 7, 2014.
2. and 3. Marine Staff Sgt. Shawn M. Martin and Marine Staff Sgt. Jason M. Kuehnl
According to a Marine Corps release, these Marines received their Navy and Marine Corps Medals on the same day, June 23, 2009. The previous year, each had saved recruits when mishaps took place during grenade training. The Military Times Hall of Valor notes that Kuehnl’s actions took place on Oct. 31, 2008, while Martin’s took place on Sept. 12, 2008.
4. Marine Sgt. William Holls
A 2010 Marine Corps release noted that on Sept. 28, 2009, Holls noticed one recruit seemed very nervous as he prepared for the grenade toss. When the recruit froze, Holls moved to assist. The recruit panicked and dropped the live grenade. Holls threw the recruit out of the way and shielded the recruit with his body. Both the recruit and Holls were wounded by the blast. Holls provided first aid to the recruit before help arrived. He received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on July 15, 2010.
In June 2014, Sgt. Kenneth Kam saw a recruit fail to get a grenade over the wall of the grenade pit at Fort Leonard Wood. With what an Army release described as “three to four seconds” to act, he grabbed the recruit, moved her out of the pit, and saved her life. For those actions, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.
7. Army Staff Sgt. John King
According to a report from Newson6.com, Staff Sgt. John King, with less than a half-dozen seconds to react, threw a hand grenade over a wall after a recruit’s bad toss, then pulled the recruit to the ground. The report noted that King was nominated for the Soldier’s Medal. KSWO.com added that King received an Army Commendation Medal while the nomination was being processed.
8. Army Staff Sgt. Gary Moore
A 2013 report from Cleveland19.com described how Staff Sgt. Gary Moore had been doing grenade instruction when a recruit was about to throw a grenade the wrong way. While Moore was correcting the recruit’s aim, the recruit dropped the grenade. Moore was quoted as saying, “I proceeded to get the soldier and myself out of the bay as quickly as possible.”
More like Moore threw the recruit out of the bay and jumped on top of him. Moore received the Soldier’s Medal for his actions.
These near-tragic incidents remind us that even in peacetime, our troops are risking it all.
In today’s Army, you can be the toughest general in the U.S. military, but when you turn 64, it’s time to go.
It’s well known most bodies just can’t take the rigors of duty and deployment beyond that (though Gen. Jim Mattis might be the exception), but history does have examples of military leaders who went well past their sexagenarian limitations.
The 73-year-old Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher of the Battle of Warterloo fame did it, and so did the 62-year-old Gen. George Sears Greene, whose men fought off repeated Confederate assaults at Culp’s Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Army Lt. Gen. Nelson A. Miles was another one of these timeless warriors who shattered this stereotype and demonstrated that age does not provide a restriction to some men.
Nelson Appleton Miles spent nearly 42 years in the U.S. Army leading up to his 64th birthday in 1903. During the American Civil War, He rose from a lowly lieutenant to the rank of major general of volunteers by the age of 26-years-old. He fought in such notable battles as Seven Pines, Antietam, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.
At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, he earned the Medal of Honor as the colonel of the 60th New York Infantry for his “distinguished gallantry while holding with his command an advanced position against repeated assaults by a strong force of the enemy.” He was severely injured in this action and suffered three other wounds through the course of the war.
Miles decided to remain in the army after the American Civil War. He is best remembered for his service on the western frontier during the 1870s and the 1880s — immortalized for his capture of the famed Apache leader Geronimo. By 1895, he rose to overall command of the Army.
Though an excellent soldier, Miles was notorious for being stubborn, quarrelsome, overambitious and opinionated. Many, including President Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to see him cast out of the Army once and for all. Those who knew Miles best were aware that he wasn’t going to be forced out of the army without a fight.
Miles’ time for retirement crept up in 1903. He felt that he was still fit for soldiering, so he set out to prove that he was still physically fit to endure the hardships of active campaigning.
At dawn on July 14, 1903, Miles, sporting a summer helmet and light blue shirt, rode out of Oklahoma’s Fort Sill headed toward Fort Reno 90 miles away, intending to shatter Roosevelt’s age barrier. He was accompanied by several younger officers and cheered on by a large crowd of observers.
The tanned and muscular Miles knocked out the first 34 miles in a record time of just under 2.5 hours. Only the 34 year old cavalry officer Capt. Farrand Sayre of the Eight Cavalry was able to keep up with the grueling pace Miles set under the punishing sun and sweltering heat.
Miles tackled the 90 mile ride in just over nine hours, arriving at Fort Reno to the salute of gunfire from the soldiers of the garrison showing “no signs of fatigue.” Within 40 minutes of arriving, Miles changed out of his dusty uniform, reviewed the troops of the garrison, and rode another four miles to catch a 4:00 p.m. train back to Fort Riley, Kansas.
Miles boasted afterward to the papers that, “I enjoyed every moment of the trip, and there was one time that I felt particularly good; that was when I came up to the men who had charge of the pack teams just south of the Canadian river. They had lunch ready and I enjoyed it with them. It made me feel extra good.”
Despite displaying that he was still very much fit for active service, Miles was forced to retire in August of 1903. At 77, the Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient offered his services to Woodrow Wilson’s administration with the American intervention during World War I. The offer was politely refused by the secretary of war who wrote back to Miles, “in time of emergency out government may need to take advantage of your great experience. Please accept appreciation of your most patriotic offer.”
Miles was still spry enough to serve on the battlefield even in 1916. He did not pass away until 60 years after the American Civil War ended in May of 1925 from a heart attack, outliving President Theodore Roosevelt by six years.
In 1945, the unified Korean country was split along the 38th parallel, creating North Korea and South Korea. The communist north was backed by the Soviet Union and the democratic south by the United States. Though the split allowed these two countries to be formed, neither the north or south felt that the division was accurate, and each side believed the other part of Korea was rightfully theirs.
To rectify this, North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, with China’s help and the Soviet Union. This started the Korean War, though the U.S. involvement didn’t officially happen until later.
In the U.S., it’s often called the Forgotten War, since WWII and the Vietnam War largely overshadowed the conflict. As the country tried to heal from WWII, our involvement in the Korean conflict was largely ignored by the media. The U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which began in 1955, also overpowered the conflict in Korea.
What’s in a name?
North Korea calls it the Fatherland Liberation War, and South Korea calls it Six-Two-Five. This numerical reference indicates the date the war started, June 25, 1950. China calls it the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea. Names aside, here are four more forgotten facts you need to know about the Korean War:
A Never-Ending War
Six decades later, we’re still no closer to a peaceful conclusion. The Korean Armistice Agreement put an end to the “acts of armed violence” but didn’t actually declare an end to the war. The agreement is technically just a ceasefire that was written to hold the countries over until they could come to a more lasting peaceful solution. As time went on and neither side was willing to budge on their terms, no official end was ever declared. Now, the two countries are still technically at war.
Speaking of “war”
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, following approval and a pledge of support from the Soviet Union. In 1950, the US was actively pulling out of South Korea, and there were few service members left in the country. But just two days later, President Truman made the decision for air, and naval action as the North Korean Army approached Seoul.
However, the Korean War was only ever considered a “conflict,” and Congress never officially declared war. As the conflict unfolded, the United Nations publicly demanded that North Korea stop attacking South Korea and retreat back to the 38th parallel. Of course, the order was ignored, so the UN called on the rest of the world to help support South Korea. The call was answered by over 15 countries, including France, Ethiopia, Canada, and Australia.
The 38th Parallel has always been hotly debated
The idea of a North Korea and South Korea isn’t something new. In fact, in the late 1890s, Japan wanted to separate Korea and split the landmass with Russia. Japan wanted to use the 38th Parallel to slip the country, giving Russia control of the North and keeping the South for itself. The peninsula wasn’t officially split apart until 1945 after WWII.
On either side of the 38th Parallel is the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which houses meeting spaces for the two countries to meet in a neutral location for talks. The DMZ was created in 1953, and the zone is about 5 km wide. Ideally, this buffer is supposed to be the place where no military action can occur, but there have been instances of violence, directed to both the military and civilians.
The North Koreans captured an American General
A month after the war broke out, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, was separated from his forces while he attempted to help wounded service members. He was out looking for water when he fell down a cliff and was knocked unconscious. During the next 26 days, Dean was isolated in the mountains and lost 80 pounds. He also suffered a broken shoulder and a head wound from the fall. Two South Koreans found him and told him they were leading him to safety. In reality, they took him to a North Korean ambush site. Dean tried to fight his captors, but couldn’t resist for long. Officially, he was taken prisoner on August 25, 1950, and remained a POW until the end of the war.
Though the Korean War might not have had much time in the media spotlight, it’s still fiercely remembered by the service members who were called to serve as well as the families who lost loved ones during the war.
On May 8, 1945, Navy Seabee Andrew Del Regno sent a letter to his wife from the front lines of the Pacific Front of World War II. It was one of some 600 letters the couple sent each other over the course of the war. His wife, Helen Del Regno, who was home in Nyack, New York, received it much later — after the end of the war in Europe. The war against the Japanese Empire would continue until September of that year.
Decades later, their son, filmmaker Vic Del Regno, would meticulously compile those letters to tell the story of his parents’ undying love for one another in the background of one of the most turbulent times in American history, World War II. That effort culminated with the younger Del Regno’s hour-long documentary, Till Then: A Journey Through World War II Love Letters.
The books have a different title, ‘Who Knew?’
(Photo by Vic Del Regno)
Vic Del Regno found his parents’ correspondence in the garage of their New York home. He had them compiled in leather-bound books to preserve them for posterity. Upon finding them, he was inspired to retrace his father’s service in the Pacific Theater on a trip that took him to legendary places in American military history, including Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands.
In the book’s introduction, Vic Del Regno writes that he wanted to capture “the deep loneliness and hardship many couples experienced during the war, caused by being separated by thousands of miles and long periods of time. This is a real life story, taken from the letters, that ties together the elements of love, betrayal, forgiveness, tragedy, and hope.”
The book, entitled Who Knew? A World War II Journey Through Love Letters, was changed because Del Regno wanted the film’s title to reflect how his parents signed off their letters, with a reference to a popular song of the era by the Mills Brothers, ‘Till Then.’
The Del Regno’s original correspondence, saved and bound in 12 notebooks.
(Vic Del Regno)
The letters pull no punches, documenting the war’s grim realities, along with the pain and hardships of a relationship torn apart by a seemingly unending, brutal war. Despite their dismal situation, you can also see the hope brought by each letter and the importance of receiving correspondence from home for a sailor deployed thousands of miles away.
Vic Del Regno wanted to capture the sacrifices made, not just by his parents or by the soldiers and sailors who fought the war, but by all Americans at a time when victory was anything but assured. He also hopes that it might shed some light on the struggles faced by those troops (and their families) who are fighting today’s wars overseas.
“It reaches the many sides of war experienced by those who have served and those who were left behind,” writes Jack Sprengel of the Seabee Museum and Memorial Park. “History repeats itself in many ways and this film tells a story just as important as the battle stories told.”
Vic Del Regno’s untiring work is emblematic of the motto his Seabee father shared with his fellow veterans:
“With willing hearts and skillful hands the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer.”
It took Vic Del Regno just five years and now, that labor of love – the letters of his parents – are preserved forever in the U.S. National Archives.
In an action that has been long overdue, Congress has approved the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed Merrill’s Marauders of World War II. The House passed the resolution last week after the Senate had approved it last fall. It is expected that President Donald Trump will sign it shortly.
Only one Congressional Gold Medal is awarded each year to a person or institution. It is deemed, “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” according to the award’s official website.
Merrill’s Marauders were named after General Frank Merrill. The 3,000-strong unit was officially the 5307th Composite Unit. It was trained to work behind Japanese lines during the Burma campaign of World War II.
Marauders move under fire against Japanese positions.
Unfortunately, combat, disease, and time have taken their toll. Today there are only eight surviving members of the famed unit. When the push for awarding the medal began in 2016, there were still 28 Marauders still alive.
“I feel like I’m floating on air,” Robert Passanisi, a 96-year-old veteran of the unit, who is also the spokesman for the surviving members and a historian, said when hearing the news.
“It has been a long journey, and we’ve had to struggle through three congressional sessions to obtain this great honor,” Passanisi said. “My one regret is that only eight of us are alive to enjoy this historic honor.”
Some individual members of the unit, including Japanese-American interpreters as well as OSS troops who fought with the Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, had already been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The House passed the bill one day after the 77th anniversary of 2,000 volunteers boarding the SS Lurline on Sept. 21, 1943, in San Francisco to ship out to New Caledonia. There, another 1,000 veterans from the South Pacific front joined them.
After the U.S. troops had been driven out of Burma by the Japanese in 1943, the Americans decided that they needed a “Long Range Penetration” mission behind Japanese lines. The plan was to disrupt and destroy the enemy’s supply lines and communications, to attack him from behind, and to try to regain the Burma Road.
General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell grimly summarized the campaign: “I claim we got a hell-of-a-beating. We got run out of Burma, and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back, and retake [Burma].”
The call went out for volunteers for “A Dangerous and Hazardous Mission.” Over 3,000 men answered that call, some from far-flung bases in Panama and Trinidad; others were veterans from New Guinea, Guadalcanal, and elsewhere. Thus the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was born.
Merrill (holding the map) with members of his staff.
The unit got its nickname from Time correspondent James R. Shepley. Reporters sent to cover the fighting in Burma were looking for a hook to capture the imagination of the American public back home. Nicknaming the unit served that purpose.
Frank Merrill didn’t look like a man whose job it was to lead a Special Operations Task Force behind enemy lines. Although he was a powerfully built man, he was plagued with a bad heart and poor eyesight. He had graying hair and smoked his pipe non-stop. He had little experience commanding troops but was a brilliant and unshakable leader.
During training and operations, Merrill drove himself even harder than his men; because of that, they loved, respected, and believed in him. The Chinese troops, part of General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell’s command, loved him nearly as much as General Chenault, the commander of the “Flying Tigers.”
Merrill was born in the small town of Hopkinton, Mass. (the starting point for the Boston Marathon.) He tried unsuccessfully to get into West Point before joining the Army as a private. Working his way up to Staff Sergeant, he was finally accepted to the U.S. Military Academy on his sixth application. He graduated and was commissioned as a cavalry officer.
Merrill spent time in Japan as an assistant military attaché and learned Japanese while stationed there. Just prior to Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the Chinese-Burma Theater and was with Stillwell on his long march out of Burma.
He trained his unit hard, working them for three months with Orde Wingate’s Chindits, the British unit that had already carved a name for themselves in the theater.
The Marauders were divided into three battalions and formed into six combat teams (400 per team), color-coded Red, White, Blue, Green, Orange, and Khaki. There were two teams to a battalion. The rest of the men formed the H.Q. and Air Transport Commands.
During the next four months, Merrill’s Marauders would take part in five major and 30 minor engagements with the Japanese veteran 18th Division which had taken both Singapore and Malaya.
In their first action against the Japanese 18th Division, they moved to set up blocking positions at Walawbum 10 miles behind the Japanese lines. General Tanaka, who commanded the Japanese forces, fearing that Stillwell was trying to encircle his forces, promptly attacked the Marauders.
The Americans beat back several bayonet attacks and caused significant casualties. The Japanese had 650 dead and as many wounded. The Americans had just seven killed and 36 wounded.
In the south, Wingate’s Chindits were hitting Tanaka hard cutting the railway lines and forcing him to withdraw northward. After two months of near-constant fighting, the Marauders were reeling; many of them were already sick with malaria. But their biggest mission lay ahead.
Less than a year after its creation, the unit was tasked with conducting a long and dangerous mission over the mountains. They had to trek across nearly 1,100 miles over the mountainous, nearly impenetrable jungle, in the foothills of the Himalayas, with no tanks or heavy artillery, to attack the Japanese. Their goal was to capture the important Japanese airfield at Myitkyina. The Operation would be known as “End Run.”
Capturing the airfield would benefit the supply aircraft since it would no longer have to fly over “the Hump” to ferry supplies to Kunming, China. It would also allow the Allies to construct the Ledo Road through which supplies could also travel to Kumming.
Augmenting the Marauders, who were down to about 50 percent strength due to casualties and tropical diseases, were two Chinese regiments and 300 Kachin tribesmen who were led by the OSS.
Merrill, having just returned to duty after his second heart attack, was beside the men and encouraging them all the way. The trek was so steep, muddy, and treacherous. Merrill’s men would lose half of their pack animals, along with their necessary equipment. And nearly half of the men became sick with amoebic dysentery after drinking water from streams that the Chinese were using the streams as a latrine.
After wiping out a small Japanese garrison at Ripong, 149 of the men came down with typhus. Several of the men died including Colonel Henry Kinnison, one of the team leaders. The Marauders arrived at their target location on the night of May 16.
The next morning they began their assault which was led by Lt. Colonel Charles Hunter. The Marauders and two Chinese regiments snuck past the Japanese undetected and attacked the airfield from the north, south, and west. They took the Japanese completely by surprise.
Not only did they seize the airfield but the Chinese troops also took a ferry landing on the Irrawaddy River. By 1530 hrs on the 17th of May, Merrill had radioed the code words “Merchant of Venice” which meant that the airstrip was already set for taking in C-47 transport aircraft.
Lord Mountbatten sent Stillwell the following message:
“By the boldness of your leadership, backed by the courage and endurance of your American and Chinese troops, you have taken the enemy completely by surprise and achieved a most outstanding success by seizing the Myitkyina airfield.”
The airfield seizure was considered a brilliant military move. Yet the Americans had lost a major opportunity in not capturing the town of Myitkyina. The town was only defended by about 700 Japanese troops but Hunter had been given no orders to take it.
Additionally, a fresh division, the British 36th, could have easily joined the Americans but Stillwell wanted no part of the British in this operation. This was a big mistake. Stillwell then sent anti-aircraft crews and engineers to fix an airstrip that was already totally operational, instead of securing badly needed arms and ammunition. By the time Merrill’s Marauders’ 2nd Battalion attacked the town, the Japanese had been reinforced and now had 3,500 well dug-in troops. The Marauders’ attacks failed.
Merrill and Stillwell in Burma.
Diseases, typhus, malaria, and dysentery, kept reducing the Marauders’ numbers until only 200 effective riflemen were left. In response, Stillwell scraped together more engineers and support troops; yet these men were totally green.
The Japanese managed to hold onto the town of Myitkyina until late summer. By then, the Marauders were no longer an effective fighting outfit. They were pulled out of the line finally in June and disbanded by August.
But by the excellent efforts of both the Marauders and the Chindits, the airfield at Myitkyina saved the transports from flying over the dangerous “Hump” into China. And with the Ledo Road complete, the 1,100-mile supply route to Kunming was now open.
Merrill was promoted to Major General and was transferred to the Pacific Theater. He was the Chief of Staff of the 10th Army under General Buckner during the Okinawa campaign. Later he held the same position for the Sixth Army in the Philippines. He was present on the battleship Missouri for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
After the war, he was briefly the Deputy Chief for the Military Advisory for the Philippines but a third heart attack forced him into retirement. He returned to his native New England and retired in New Hampshire where he was given the job of State Highway Commissioner by the governor. Merrill died of a heart attack in Fernandina Beach, Florida on December 11, 1955. He was only 52 years old. He was buried at West Point next to General Stillwell per his wishes.
On August 10, 1944, the surviving Merrill’s Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry, which continued service in northern Burma until February 1945. In June of 1954, the 475th Infantry was redesignated as the 75th Infantry. Thereby, the men of Merrill’s Marauders became the parents of the 75th Infantry Regiment, from which descended the 75th Ranger Regiment of today. This is why the six colors that represented the Marauders’ combat teams are now worn on the beret flash of the Ranger Regiment.
Merrill was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992. In his honor, Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia, is home to the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and the mountain phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School.
They were some of the most feared and lethal warriors of their time, Scandinavian raiders who were experts in navigation and mobility, armed with iron weapons and advanced tactics, who would bear down on other European settlements for loot and pillage. Vikings were terrifying for all those not protected by high walls or standing armies.
For victims of these raids, death could come quickly and with little warning. The Vikings would raid deep inland by taking their longboats upriver, meaning that death could always be lurking just around the next bend. Towns on the coast were more likely to be raided, but they could at least see ships approaching on the horizon.
Smart victims would then cower and hide, allowing the village to be plundered without resistance or they might even drag valuables out and buy off the Vikings. This might sound like cowardice, but the Vikings were professional raiders who worked hard to ensure that they had the upper hand, partially through reconnaissance.
Yeah, by the time you saw the Vikings, they probably already had a whole dossier on you, complete with whatever it is you did with those kind ladies in the expensive inn.
The Vikings actually took plenty of time to conduct quiet observation when they could before a raid, making sure there weren’t a bunch of enemy warriors that happened to be in town. Once they were sure it was just you and a few farmers and craftsmen around, they would launch their attack, keeping their men in tight formation and eradicating serious resistance before it could prepare.
Richer or more established raiders were likely to carry a sword and might even have chain mail or other iron armor, making them extremely challenging to kill for startled farmers in England or France.
Archers and spear men would engage any brave defenders as soon as they got into range, and swordsmen and raiders equipped with axes would charge forward with shields for protection.
So, yeah, unless the Vikings stumbled into a fight with the king’s army because of some bad intel gathering, they were going to win. Every once in a while, they’d do something bold like besiege Paris, and even then they’d usually win, because, again, great intelligence and professional are raiders are typically victorious.