Ferdinand “Fred” Waldo Demara Jr. wanted to be somebody — so he decided to be everybody. The man who could be called ‘The Great Impostor’ was at times an assistant warden at a prison in Texas, a dean of philosophy at a college in Pennsylvania, a zoology graduate, a lawyer, a cancer researcher, a teacher, and a doctor, among other professions during his 23-year career as a professional confidence man.
The Massachusetts native who ran away from home at the age of 16 had initially joined a monastery to become a monk. “Now don’t worry,” Father Desmarais of the Trappist monks told his parents. “He has joined the most demanding religious order in the world and he’ll be home in several weeks.” When he returned home, he enlisted in the US Army on an impulse after enjoying food and drinks at the Union Oyster House in Boston. It wasn’t long before he went AWOL. His patterns were often spontaneous. He later enlisted in the US Navy and went AWOL again, even going as far as leaving behind a suicide note at the Navy docks in Norfolk, Virginia.
He had a world-class ability to assume fake identities and convince unsuspecting job interviewers that he was authentic. He bounced around the country and entered new career fields he certainly didn’t have the qualifications for.
His most preposterous and famous impersonation came in March 1951 when he took a bus to St. John, New Brunswick, in Canada. The “greatest impostor” assumed the identity of Dr. Joseph Cyr, an acquaintance he’d met a year prior while he pretended to be an American lawyer named Dr. Cecil B. Hamann. He had convinced Cyr to provide him the documentation of his qualifications in order to help him get an American medical license. Naturally, he disappeared and took this precious information to steal his identity and commission as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
His first assignment was at an RCN hospital in the navy port of Halifax. He was to take sick calls despite having no knowledge of medicine. As any great con man would do, he presented his job as a problem to be addressed by one of his superiors.
“I’ve been asked by some people to work up a rule of thumb guide for the people in lumber camps,” Demara told biographer Robert Crichton about the ruse he employed for The Great Impostor, a book about his life. “Most of them don’t have doctors handy and they’re pretty isolated. Could we get together a little guide that would pretty well cover most serious situations?”
“How does that look?” the superior who took on the challenge asked him.
“Gosh, doctor,” Demara told him, “I think it’s great. You really know your medicine and how to get it across to the layman. This is great.”
His wit and intuitive ability to outsource opinions from other doctors to strengthen his cover didn’t always work. When he was reassigned to the HMCS Magnificent, an aircraft carrier in the Halifax Bay, the commanding medical officer saw right through his scheme. He wrote in a report that Cyr “lacked training in medicine and surgery, especially in diagnosis.”
His most serious undertaking was as the medical officer of the Canadian destroyer named Cayuga. He was responsible for the care of 211 enlisted sailors and eight officers. Whenever a medical problem arose, he would disappear and scour through page after page of medical books using his alleged photographic memory to learn the procedures. He performed a successful dental surgery on Commander Plomer, the Cayuga’s captain, extracting a number of sore teeth despite not having the slightest idea as to how much anesthetic to administer. The following morning, Plomer thanked Cyr for “the nicest job of tooth pulling I’d ever had.”
While they patrolled the Korean coast near the 38th parallel, a small Korean junk filled with as many as 19 wounded troops made contact with the Cayuga.
“Everything went fine to start with and then as these people [Republic of Korea soldiers] came off, they were not doing too well, some of them,” recalled Peter Godwin Chance, who served aboard the Cayuga. “They were wounded and a couple DOAs but our doctor, Joe Cyr, was the hero. And he was parading up and down the upper deck with his whites and his hat and doing this patchwork and so on and for which we were all highly impressed.”
The “doctor” also performed more critical duties including the removal of a bullet during chest surgery. Most didn’t think anything was awry. His colleagues even put Dr. Cyr in for a commendation. After a public relations specialist was contacted, all of the major outlets including The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, and Reuters learned about the citation proposal. When the real Dr. Cyr read about his medical achievements abroad, he contacted the authorities and they issued a report that there was an impostor.
“Well, we said, those crazy armchair buggers back in Ottawa, they haven’t got a bloody clue,” Chance said.
When the RCN learned Demara was a fraud and his true incompetence was revealed, he was kicked out of the Canadian military. The mystery man’s past aliases were also disclosed, and his exploits were later immortalized in the 1961 film The Great Impostor starring actor Tony Curtis. In 1979, at an RCN reunion held in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the famed “doctor” made an appearance and was welcomed with open arms. Perhaps the greatest impostor the world had ever seen died in 1982 at 60 years old.
In 1989, Denzel Washington won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Private Silas Tripp, a runaway slave-turned-freedom fighter, in Glory. Although Private Tripp was not a real person, the movie took its inspiration from a real-life volunteer unit in the Civil War — the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
The first African American regiment to serve in the United States military, the 54th Massachusetts was led by a 25-year-old abolitionist. The men were a pivotal part of the frontal assault of the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, one of the Civil War’s most memorable battles. Made up of hundreds of volunteers, the 54th Massachusetts regiment achieved incredible things — easily meriting their nickname, the “Glory” regiment.
Established in February 1863, just one month after the Emancipation Proclamation officially authorized the recruitment of African American soldiers, the 54th Massachusetts regiment spent the next three months recruiting and training their soldiers before going on to become one of the most iconic units ever to serve in the U.S. military.
The 54th was comprised of 1,100 soldiers, the majority of whom were recruited by local abolitionists — white and black alike. The likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass boosted morale, helping recruit black Americans into military service for the first time. Douglass even contributed two of his own sons to the cause, both of whom enlisted in the 54th.
The Northern states knew that strong African American enlistment could help turn the course of the war, as both a symbol and as additional manpower for the bloody conflict. President Lincoln’s Secretary of War personally charged John Andrew, governor of Massachusetts, with staffing the officer corps of the 54th regiment. Andrew selected a bright-eyed, 25-year-old man, the son of abolitionists, to lead the 54th. His name was Robert Gould Shaw. Although Shaw was only a captain at the time, he was quickly promoted to colonel, and his second-in-command, Norwood Penrose “Pen” Hallowell was promoted from captain to lieutenant colonel–just a few days after his 24th birthday.
At first, the all-white officers were controversial. Both white and black citizens were dismayed that a black regiment would have to be led by white men. But the recruiting efforts of men like Douglass soon turned the tide, and volunteers began showing up in larger and larger numbers.
Morale was strong during enlistment, and the 54th received an influx of hopeful recruits — so much so that the unit implemented a “rigid and thorough” medical exam, with the aim of enlisting only the most physically and mentally fit into its ranks. The company trained at Camp Meigs just outside of Boston, for a period that lasted only several weeks.
On May 28th, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts regiment marched out of Boston on its way to Beaufort, South Carolina. They did so despite a December 1862 proclamation by President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, which stated that any captured African American soldier or white officer in charge of an African American company would be put to death.
As portrayed in Glory, the 54th Massachusetts’s first action was the looting and burning of a small town in Georgia. The action came on the orders of Colonel James Montgomery, a rabid abolitionist and controversial officer in the Northern Army who often implemented extreme tactics when dealing with pro-slavery populations.
Montgomery had been charged with raising an African American regiment around the same time as Colonel Shaw. His 2nd South Carolina unit rampaged through the South with their most famous battle, the Raid at Combahee Ferry, coming just before they linked up with the 54th Regiment Massachusetts. With the help of Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad, Montgomery and his men freed nearly 800 slaves at Combahee Ferry.
But Colonel Shaw wasn’t impressed with Montgomery’s tactics. He wrote a sternly-worded letter to the military higher-ups, complaining of Montgomery’s rampant destruction of Confederate towns and wanton cruelty towards their civilians. As a result, the 54th was shipped off to fight in a skirmish on James Island, South Carolina, in which they repelled a Confederate assault.
It was then that the 54th entered into its most famous battle: the raid on Fort Wagner, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina.
The climactic scene of Glory, depicting the Battle of Fort Wagner.
Charleston was considered a prize by many in the North, having been the birthplace of the Confederate rebellion. Charleston’s Fort Sumter was where the Confederacy fired its first shots, overtaking a Union garrison and precipitating the Civil War.
Colonel Shaw was tasked with leading the 54th Regiment on a dangerous frontal assault of Fort Wagner, with the aim of keeping the 6,000 men garrisoned inside occupied long enough for a rear-guard attack to penetrate the fort’s walls. It was a bold proposition, and the 54th was a mere 48 hours removed from their battle at James Island. Yet on July 18, 1863, the men of the first African American regiment bravely charged the battlefield and made history in the process.
The raid on Fort Wagner was ultimately a failure and led to the loss of many lives. No unit was more decimated than the 54th Massachusetts. 270 of its 600 men who charged the fort were killed, wounded, or captured. Colonel Shaw was among the dead, having been shot three times through the chest just outside the fort’s parapet.
Despite the heavy losses, the 54th Massachusetts regiment was commended for its valor. Tales of the unit’s bravery spread far and wide, prompting many African Americans to enlist in the Union army. President Lincoln ultimately cited the mobilization of African American troops as a key ingredient in the North’s victory over the South.
Many decades later, in 1900, Sergeant William Harvey Carney, then 60 years old, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of Fort Wagner. Carney had spotted the flag bearer fall during battle, and quickly rushed over to raise the American flag. Carney then led troops to the parapet, waving the flag high to boost morale despite receiving multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds in the process. Upon the Union’s call to retreat, Carney somehow escaped with the flag intact, and crawled back to his encampment. As he handed the flag off to fellow soldiers, he famously told them, “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground.”
The 4th United States Colored Infantry, mustered in Baltimore, Maryland
Although numerous African American soldiers received the Medal of Honor prior to Carney, his actions at the Battle of Fort Wagner preceded theirs. As such, he is considered the first African American to be granted the military’s highest honor.
Despite the bravery of the many men amongst their ranks, the 54th Regiment had still often been treated as second-class soldiers. Upon enlisting, the men who joined the 54th Massachusetts regiment were promised the same wages as white men who enlisted: a month, with food and clothing included. But as soon as the regiment arrived in South Carolina, they discovered that they would only be paid — and three of those hard-earned dollars would be taken by the Department of the South to pay for their clothing. Rather than accept this, the men of the 54th refused all pay. It would not be until late September 1864 that equal pay for the regiment was issued. Most of the men had served 18 months at this point.
After the Battle at Fort Wagner, the 54th Massachusetts continued to fight in several more battles and skirmishes, with and without pay, right up until the end of the war. The regiment gained international fame after the war, and was immortalized by poets and artists both in America and Europe. A memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th was erected on the Boston Common as part of its Black Heritage Trail. The bust serves as the closing shot of Glory, over which the final credits roll.
On Nov. 21, 2008, the 54th Massachusetts regiment was reactivated as part of the Massachusetts National Guard. Today, the unit conducts military honors at funerals and state functions.
Over 200 vehicles provided to the Afghan government by the United States have fallen into the hands of the Taliban in Badakhshan province. That shocking claim comes from a former Afghan intelligence chief who claims that the vehicles include High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.
“We lost 200 Humvees and Rangers in two or three months as the result of incompetence. Imagine what has happened to the people in those two or three months,” Rahmatullah Nabi told TOLO News. Faisal Bigzad, the governor of Badakhshan province, has urged that NATO assist the Afghan government by destroying the stolen vehicles.
The story might sound familiar for another reason. Humvees and other vehicles provided to the Iraqi government were captured by ISIS when the terrorist group seized control of portions of Iraq. American air strikes have since destroyed some of that equipment. However, ISIS and the Taliban aren’t the first American enemies to get their dirty mitts on American military gear.
Artists rendering of the capture of the USS Chesapeake. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Way back in the War of 1812, several American vessels, including the frigates USS Essex, USS Chesapeake, and USS President were among those captured by the British in the fighting. The U.S. Navy, of course, captured or sank a number of British ships as well.
At the end of the Age of Sail, the Civil War saw some American ships captured. Most famous was the USS Merrimac, which was repurposed into the ironclad CSS Virginia. But the USS United States, one of the original six frigates ordered in 1797, was also captured by the Confederacy and briefly used until it was scuttled.
In World War II, Japan captured the four-stack destroyer USS Stewart (DD 224). The Stewart had fought in the Dutch East Indies campaign in January and February 1942 before being damaged. As Japanese forces neared, Allied personnel used demolition charges to try to scuttle her.
Despite the scuttling attempt and a hit from a Japanese bomber, the Stewart’s wreck was captured and the Japanese fixed her up and put her into service as Patrol Boat 102. The ship would be notable for assisting the sub chaser CD 22 in sinking the USS Harder (SS 257). After Japan surrendered, the old USS Stewart was recovered, although the name had already been assigned to an Edsall-class destroyer escort, DE 238. The ship was eventually sunk as a target.
Germany, though, takes the prize for its acquisition of American gear. Perhaps its most notable coup was the way the Luftwaffe was able to either capture or cobble together as many as 40 B-17 Flying Fortresses.
The captured planes were often used by Kampfgeschwader 200, sometimes for inserting agents or for reconnaissance. But some were used to infiltrate Allied bomber formations.
Even after World War II, American gear fell into enemy hands far too often. In 1975, a lot of American equipment fell into Communist hands when South Vietnam fell, including F-5E Tiger IIs, C-130 Hercules and C-123 Provider transports, and A-37 Dragonfly attack planes.
In 2005, Hugo Chavez threatened to give China and Cuba F-16 Falcons that the United States had sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. The Soviet Union acquired an F-14 Tomcat from an Iranian defector. In 2006, Marines in Iraq killed a sniper team of two insurgence who were trying to carry out a sniper attack, and recovered a M40A1 sniper rifle that had been lost in a 2004 ambush.
American gear falling into enemy hands is not new — there has been a long history of that happening in the past. Infuriatingly, it will happen in the future, despite the best efforts of American military personnel.
One of World War II’s legendary figures, Gen. George S. Patton, loomed largely in the narrative of the war for many reasons.
While no one would accuse the great general of being humble or unassuming, his ego and pride are well-deserved — to the betterment of mankind and the Allied cause. Patton, with his ivory-handled revolvers and propensity to quote the Hindu scripture of “The Bhagavad Gita,” was as eccentric in life as he was effective in combat.
No example of this was more telling than his belief in reincarnation and his own numerous past lives.
As a child, Patton believed he fought Turkish armies. As he grew into an adult, he still had visions of his death in past lives, from viking funerals to the Battle of Tyre. In 1991, Karl F. Hollenbach compiled Patton’s account of his past lives in a book called Patton: Many Lives, Many Battles. Though the man himself never completely expressed the entirety of his beliefs in reincarnation, he did describe numerous events in detail.
Maybe there was something to the idea. Patton’s prowess on the battlefields made him the most feared Allied general among the Nazi leadership, according the the German POW Lt. COl. Freiherr Von Wagenheim. General Patton’s own intelligence officer remarked that his sixth sense was often way ahead of the intelligence coming in. Perhaps this truly is a skill set acquired across lifetimes of military experience.
1. With Alexander the Great at the Siege of Tyre.
In a poem called “Through a Glass, Darkly,” which Patton wrote while commanding the Third Army in Europe, he described being a Greek Hoplite fighting the Persians under Darius. He helped smash the Persian navy and then laid siege to Tyre. The walls fell after five months as Patton and his fellow Hoplites stormed the city.
2. Fighting Parthians for Rome.
Patton next talks about slaying Parthians with his Gladius, a sword approximately 25-32 inches long. Since the battle was said to have taken place in the first century B.C., Patton would have been fighting for what was then still the Roman Republic in the Middle East under any number of legendary Roman names: Crassus, Cassius, and Marc Antony to name a few.
In his vision, Patton was wounded and then killed by a number of arrows in his neck.
The general also remembered being stationed in Langres, France — as a Roman legionnaire in Caesar’s X Legion.
3. A Viking on his way to Valhalla.
When Patton was a young adult, he was kicked by a horse, who broke his leg in three places. Close to death from his wounds, Patton had a vision of his death as a Viking raider — where a vision appeared to him on the battlefield, offering to take him to the Viking afterlife.
4. In the Hundred Years’ War.
Many times in World War I and then in World War II, Patton would claim to know his way around towns and battlefields which he had never been before…as George S. Patton. Patton believed that this came from his time as a French knight fighting the English under Edward III, most notably at Crecy. The 1346 Battle of Crecy saw the English crush the French in a very lopsided fight.
Patton, like many other French knights, was impaled by an English lance.
The afterlife knows no loyalty in the wars of men, apparently. Less than a century later, Patton was back in the Hundred Years’ War, this time on the side of the English. Patton claimed to have fought with King Henry V at Agincourt.
6. A raiding sailor.
Three of Patton’s stanzas describe fighting on ships as he freed captured slaves or prisoners of war, fired into the enemy at point-blank range during a storm, or even was hanged as a pirate or privateer, describing feeling a rope around his neck as the red deck (presumably blood-stained) was set aflame.
7. Fighting for the House of Stuart
Again pitted against the English, though this time his loyalties were less to a nation than to the House of Stuart. Patton was a Scottish Highlander during the third English Civil War, supporting the Stuarts after the death of Charles I.
8. An aide to a Napoleonic Marshal.
Patton describes “riding with Murat” in the poem. Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon’s marshals. Murat was one of the most capable cavalry officers and leaders in service to the French Emperor. He doesn’t specify his role with Murat, but the marshal was pivotal at battles like Jena and the invasion of Russia in 1812.
When the Allies left North Africa to invade Sicily, British General Sir Harold Alexander told Patton that if had been alive in the 19th Century, Napoleon would have made him a marshal — to which Patton replied: “But I did.”
At the end of his epic poem, Patton wrote that he would “battle as of yore, dying to be a fighter, but to die again, once more.”
Few feats of engineering are as impressive as a military-grade helicopter. Today worth millions of dollars each, these high-tech birds are a formidable military asset, including, among many other uses, for rescue operations — all a fact US military personnel helpfully chose to ignore during Operation Frequent Wind when they pushed several dozen of them into the sea, in one case for no other reason than to save a mother, a father, and their five children.
For anyone unfamiliar with it, Operation Frequent Wind was the name give to the final phase of evacuations during the Fall of Saigon — effectively the final days of the Vietnam War. Noted as being one of the largest military evacuations in history and the largest involving helicopters as the primary means of evacuation, Operation Frequent Wind is celebrated as a logistical success for the US due to the fact that a few dozen helicopter pilots were somehow able to evacuate over 7,000 people in around 18 hours. This is made all the more impressive when you realize that the mass evacuation was never supposed to involve helicopters much at all.
A South Vietnamese helicopter is pushed over the side of the USS Okinawa during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975.
(US Marine Corps photo)
You see, while Operation Frequent Wind is now famous for being the most successful mass helicopter evacuation ever organised, using helicopters as the primary means of evacuation was never the original plan — it wasn’t even the backup plan. It turns out that it was the backup to the backup to the backup plan.
Known initially as Operation Talon Vise until North Vietnamese spies heard whispers of it, the plans for a mass evacuation of Vietnam had been in place for several years and were originally supposed to involve the primary use of both commercial and military aircraft which would evacuate at-risk citizens and military personnel, with the total slated to be evacuated estimated to be about 2 million people.
Failing or in addition to this, the idea was to dock ships at Saigon port and load them with as many people as possible. In the event none of these options were possible, the final, Hail Mary plan was to instead use military helicopters to transport people to ships off shore.
Of course, evacuating the original estimate of 2 million people was never an option for the helicopter plan alone, nor even the extremely whittled down number of about 100,000-200,000 that military brass eventually reduced that figure to. Instead, at this point it was just as many people as they could as fast as they could.
So why did the US have to fall back to literally their least effective option if they’d been planning the evacuation for years? Well, much of the blame falls somewhat unbelievably to the actions of a single man — Graham Anderson Martin, the American ambassador to South Vietnam at the time who steadfastly refused to agree to start an evacuation for fear of mass panic and given his unshakable faith in the notion that the threat of the “superior American firepower” would keep the enemy at bay.
Despite this, recommendations did go out in advance of Operation Frequent Wind that at risk people should leave the country, resulting in a total of around 50,000 people, including a few thousand orphans, leaving via various planes in the months leading up to an actual evacuation being started. This was mostly done via supply aircraft who would bring supplies in, and then load up as many people as they could for the trip home. Yet an official full scale evacuation, which would have seen these efforts massively ramped up, was continually stalled by Martin.
Military brass tried and failed to persuade Martin to change his mind, with Brigadier General Richard E. Carey going as far as to travel to Saigon to plead personally with with the ambassador. This was a meeting Carey would later diplomatically call “cold and non productive” and should be noted took place on April 13th, 2 weeks after preparations were already supposed to have begun for the mass evacuation.
This back and forth continued until April 28th when North Vietnamese forces bombed the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, effectively eliminating any possibility of getting people out via large aircraft capable of mass evacuation. When this was pointed out to the Martin, he still refused to call for the evacuation, deciding to wait until the next day so he could drive out to the base and confirm the damage for himself.
Upon confirming that North Vietnamese forces had indeed destroyed the air base and the best option for a mass evacuation, he finally relented.
South Vietnamese refugees arrive on a U.S. Navy vessel during Operation Frequent Wind.
This was an order that was relayed to soldiers on the ground via the official Armed Forces Radio station by the words “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising,” followed by the playing the song I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by Bing Crosby.
As a direct result of Martin’s stubbornness, the military had no choice but to rely on the least effective means of mass evacuation — via helicopter, with the operation officially commencing later that afternoon at 14:00.
Even as the operation began, Martin’s bullheaded refusal to prepare in anyway for an evacuation caused problems for certain helicopter pilots, most notably the ones trying to evacuate him and his staff.
Well there was a large tree in the embassy courtyard that military brass had “strongly advised” Martin cut down so as to better allow helicopters to land there should the worst happen. Martin, believing that doing so would be as good as admitting the war had already been lost, absolutely refused to do this. As Henry Kissinger would later note, “Faced with imminent disaster, Martin decided to go down with the ship.”
On that note, to his credit, Martin refused to leave once the evacuation had begun, though this was much to the annoyance of the pilot, Colonel Gerry Berry, sent to fetch him. Instead, Martin continually had refugees boarded while he simply waited with his staff in his office, knowing that as long as he was there, the helicopter would keep coming back allowing more lives to be saved.
It wasn’t until the 14th trip that an exhausted Berry finally reached his wits’ end. Said Berry, “I called the sergeant over. And he got up in the cockpit. And I said, ‘This is it. Get all these people off. This helicopter’s not leaving the roof until the ambassador’s on board. The President sends.'”
With an order supposedly from the President himself, though not actually in reality, Martin finally relented and allowed Berry to complete his mission by transporting Martin and his entourage.
Of course, what the military brass had failed to remember after this supposed last flight was that they’d accidentally left almost a dozen soldiers behind at the compound… This wouldn’t be realized for many hours, but all 11 Marines were rescued after being forced to barricade themselves on the rooftop for the night in case of an attack.
Leaving the evacuations as late as Martin did understandably resulted in mass panic across Saigon with many thousands of South Vietnamese citizens fleeing in everything from cars to stolen planes and helicopters.
In addition, lack of time meant that helicopter pilots had a laughable number of people to rescue, resulting in many ignoring the “recommended” weight limit of their craft and massively overloading them to the very extremes of what they could handle given the pilot’s assessments and weather conditions. In one case, one pilot noted he was overweight to the point that he could only hover inches off the ground, but no one was willing to get off as for many it would mean their life if they could not get out of the country.
He then stated he thought if he could get some forward speed he could get the additional lift needed, so simply pitched the craft forward and took a dive off the rooftop he was on, barely recovering before hitting the rooftops below and then managing to very slowly climb from there.
As for these pilots, they were instructed to ferry evacuees to waiting ships in the South China Sea, many of which quickly began to run out of space resulting in people sleeping double in the small bunks, as well as just anywhere on the ships there was available space for someone to sit or lie down on.
On top of that, any South Vietnamese pilots that could manage to get a hold of their own helicopters and flee to sea were also crowding the decks as they arrived. This resulted in the order to push some of these South Vietnamese helicopters overboard to make more space, or orders for some pilots to simply crash their helicopters into the ocean and await rescue after they’d dropped off any passengers.
This all brings us around to the incredible story of Major Buang Lee. Knowing he and his family — a wife and five children — would in all likelihood be executed if they couldn’t find a way out of the country immediately, the Major managed to commandeer a small Cessna O-1 spotter plane. Under heavy fire, he managed to take off and flee the country with two adults and five children jam packed aboard the tiny, slow moving aircraft.
A South Vietnamese UH-1H is pushed overboard to make room for a Cessna O-1 landing.
He then headed out to sea in search of a ship to land on or ditch the plane next to. About an hour and a half off the coast and with only about an hour of fuel left, he finally found one in the USS Midway.
The issue now was there was not sufficient room to land on the ship, owing to the number of helicopters on the deck. Unable to find the right frequency on the radio to talk to those on the Midway, Buang resorted to dropping notes.
The first two notes, unfortunately blew away before anyone aboard could grab them. Buang tied the third to his gun and dropped it. When the crew aboard retrieved it, they saw it read: “Can you move the helicopters to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me. -Major Buang, Wife and 5 child.”
The captain of the vessel, one Lawrence Chambers then had a decision to make. While it was possible to move some of the helicopters out of the way, there was no room to move them all. The young captain, only appointed to that post some five weeks before, decided that there was little chance the family would all survive if they tried to ditch in the sea next to the Midway and be rescued that way.
Said Lawrence of the event, “When a man has the courage to put his family in a plane and make a daring escape like that, you have to have the heart to let him in.”
So, thinking he’d likely be court-martialed for it, he made the call to move what helicopters could be moved and dump the rest in the ocean after stripping them of any valuable gear that could be removed quickly. In total, some million (about million today) worth of helicopters were ditched in this way.
There was another problem, however. The plane in question typically needs a minimum of a little over 600 feet of runway to land and come to a full stop. The Midway itself in total was about 1,000 feet long, but the runway deck was only about 2/3 of that, meaning there was zero margin for error here.
Thus, in order to land such a craft on the deck with enough margin of safety, the ship really needed to be moving as fast as possible to make the plane’s relative speed slow enough that it could stop in time before falling off the end. Using the cable system to stop the craft faster wasn’t deemed a good option as in all likelihood it would have just resulted in the landing gear ripping off and/or the plane flipping over in a spectacular crash.
Unfortunately, Chambers had previously granted the ship’s engineers permission to take the Midway’s engines partially offline for routine maintenance. After all, helicopters did not need nor want that relative wind, especially when landing on such a crowded deck.
Said Chambers, “When I told the chief engineer that I needed 25 knots, he informed me that we didn’t have enough steam. I ordered him to shift the hotel load to the emergency diesels.”
With this, the ship was able to achieve the requested speed and Buang’s landing was also helped by another 15 knots of headwind, further reducing his needed stopping distance.
With that done and deck cleared as it could be, Buang was given the greenlight to land, ultimately doing so with textbook precision and with plenty of deck to spare, becoming a rare individual in relatively modern times to land such an aircraft aboard a military carrier.
And, thankfully for Captain Lawrence, he was not court-martialed for ditching rather valuable military hardware to save Major Buang and his family, and instead enjoyed a continuance of his successful career, eventually retiring as a Rear Admiral.
In the aftermath of Operation Frequent Wind, the U.S. ships continued to hang around for a few days off the coast, trying to pick up as many refugees from the water as they could. Finally, the order was given to head home, forcing the commanders to leave many thousands of people that had been promised evacuation behind.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Rubber, sheep skin, love sock, penis sheath, raincoat, scum bag, prophylactic, the goalie, nodding sock, the Royal wanker, MOPP gear, or, if you’re feeling vanilla, just plain ol’ “condom.”
No matter what you call it, condoms are great for conducting amphibious landings when you don’t want to exchange fluids with the host country. But they’re also good for a host of other things, as numerous enterprising service members have discovered over the years.
Make love, make war, but, for god’s sake, make lots of condoms first. So, just what sorts of things did grandpa use his jimmies for besides the horizontal tango?
There are likely thousands of condoms in this photo even though almost no one in it would get laid for a week or more.
One of the best-known uses of condoms in combat came during D-Day where many infantrymen put them on their weapons’ barrels to keep the bore clear. While water is typically cited as the main intruder that soldiers wanted to deny, War on the Rocks has rightly pointed out that many weapons in World War II could actually fire just fine while wet.
But condoms, in addition to keeping out some of the moisture, also kept out most of the mud or wet sand that could get jammed in the barrel. And while water can cause a round to move to slowly through the barrel, causing the sustained pressure buildup to damage the barrel, wet sand or mud is nearly guaranteed to cause the barrel to burst.
Members of a naval combat demolition unit hit the beach during training.
(U.S. Department of Defense)
The Navy’s underwater demolition teams, meanwhile, reportedly used condoms to protect the fuses of their underwater explosives. Most of the fuses proved to be water resistant instead of waterproof, so they had to be kept dry until just before the big show. The commandos kept the sensitive little bombs in condoms until it was time to slide them into their holes. Then, remove the love glove and initiate the fireworks.
But, the condom’s debut as a tool for the D-Day landings actually came before the real operation. Gunners training for the big day are thought to have filled condoms with helium to make field-expedient targets for firing practice.
But it’s not all history — U.S. grunts and friendly forces have their own modern uses for condoms, too. For instance, a condom makes a great waterproof pouch, though you have to tie and untie it to retrieve items while maintaining a proper seal. Condoms are especially good in this role since they’re so elastic. They can expand to be large enough to cover nearly anything a soldier is carrying, though, again, you still have to be able to tie it for perfect effectiveness.
Stretch your condoms out first, ladies and gentleman. This is not enough water to keep you going.
(ClaudiaM1FLERéunion CC BY-SA 3.0)
In fact, if the condom is properly stretched and then placed into a fabric sleeve, like a sock, it can be used to hold additional water. Non-lubricated condoms are surprisingly strong and elastic, but they need a good fabric layer to protect against pinpricks which would cause them to burst. And, they need to be stretched first. Why? Because there’s no real water pressure in most survival situations, so the condom can only hold as much water as its current shape will allow.
So, yes. Bring condoms, whether you’re there to fight or fornicate. But, if you’re there to fight, opt for the non-lubricated, non-flavored ones.
Even after Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, one Confederate army refused to acknowledge defeat and for months stubbornly fought on.
It was led not by one of the wealthy white southerners who made up much of the Confederacy’s officer class — but by a Native American chief called Stand Watie.
So how did a leader of a people facing systematic persecution come to fight for a cause founded on racism and the right to own slaves?
The story illustrates how in the Civil War, the presence of a common enemy caused unexpected alliances to be formed, including an alliance Paul Chaat Smith, a curator at the National Museum of the Native American, has characterized as a “mangy, snarling dog standing between you and a crowd-pleasing narrative.”
Watie was himself a plantation holder and slave owner, and had settled in Oklahoma after playing a central role in events that resulted in the eviction of thousands of Native Americans from their land in what is now Georgia.
He was born in 1806 in Cherokee country near what is now Rome, Georgia, and was given the Cherokee name Degataga, meaning “stand firm.”
His father — also a slave owner – was baptized, giving his son the Christian name Isaac S Uwatie. Dropping the ‘U’ and combining it with his Cherokee name, his son took the name Stand Watie.
General Stand Watie, leader of a Native American army which fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
(National Archives Catalogue)
In 1835, Watie was one of the Cherokee leaders to sign the treaty of New Echota handing over Cherokee ancestral territory to the federal government. In exchange they were granted land to resettle the nation west, in Indian Territory, in what is now Oklahoma.
Some refused to leave and were forcibly removed by the government. It is believed that nearly 4,000 Cherokee died attempting to make the journey to Indian Territory after 1838 in what has become known as the Trail of Tears.
Four years after the treaty, the Cherokee turned against those who had signed away their land, assassinating three of them. Watie survived.
Cherokee chief John Ross, who opposed the treaty, became an adamant enemy of Watie.
John Ross, Cherokee Chief, Protested Treaty of New Echota, 1835, and Subsequent Forcible Removal of Cherokees to the West During Winter of 1838-39.
In 1861, Georgia ceded from the Union, becoming one of the original seven states that formed the slave-owning Confederacy.
That same year, Watie raised a force of Native Americans to fight for the Confederacy as North and South went to war.
It was the federal government, responsible for robbing Cherokee of their ancestral land, which Watie — in common with many of his people — saw as his main enemy, not the Confederacy.
And shockingly, many Cherokee were themselves slave owners, with some taking their slaves with them to Indian Territory after the forced resettlements west.
He told the Smithsonian Magazine they “established their own racialized black codes, immediately reestablished slavery when they arrived in Indian territory, rebuilt their nations with slave labor, crushed slave rebellions, and enthusiastically sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.”
Watie’s force earned a fearsome reputation, performing audacious raids behind enemies lines and attacking Native American settlements loyal to the Union.
The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865.
Even as the majority of Cherokee repudiated the alliance with the Confederacy in 1862, Watie remained loyal. So successful was he as a military commander that in 1865 Waite was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, one of only two native Americans to achieve the rank in the conflict.
In wasn’t until June 23, 1865 — 154 years ago — that Watie surrendered to Union forces in Doaksville, Oklahoma. In doing so, he became the last Confederate general to lay down his arms in the Civil War.
His force at the time comprised Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Osage Indians.
Watie led a delegation of his Cherokee faction in Washington DC in 1866 to negotiate a new treaty with US government. Their loyalty to the Confederacy meant the old treaties had been torn up.
The new treaty signed by Watie granted former slaves tribal citizenship.
After the war, Watie spent the rest of his life as a businessman and plantation owner, and collecting his people’s folk tales and legends. He died in 1871.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The winter of 1777 was disastrous. The British had successfully retaken many key locations in the 13 colonies and General Washington’s men were left out in the cold of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Morale was at an all-time low and conditions were so poor, in fact, that many troops reportedly had to eat their boots just to stay alive. No aid was expected to arrive for the Americans but the British reinforcements had landed. It’s no exaggeration to say that, in that moment, one cold breeze could have blown out the flames of revolution.
Then, in February, 1778, a Prussian nobleman by the name of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrived. He set aside his lavish lifestyle to stand next to his good friend, George Washington, and transform a ragtag group of farmers and hunters into the world’s premier fighting force.
With his guidance, the troops kept the gears turning. He taught them administrative techniques, like proper bookkeeping and how to maintain hygiene standards. But his lessons went far beyond logistics: von Steuben also taught the troops the proper technique for bayonet charges and how to swear in seven different languages. He was, in essence, the U.S. Army’s first drill sergeant.
The troops came out of Valley Forge far stronger and more prepared for war. Their victory at Stony Point, NY was credited almost entirely to von Steuben’s techniques. He then transcribed his teachings into a book, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, better known as, simply, the “Blue Book.” It became the Army’s first set of regulations — and many of the guidelines therein are still upheld today.
Given the hours you spend prepping your dress blues, there’s no way in hell you’d bring it to a desert — or do anything other than stand there for inspection.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Schroeder)
Different uniforms for officer, NCOs, and troops
This was the very first regulation established by the ‘Blue Book.’ In the early days of the revolution, there was no real way to tell who outranked who at a glance. All uniforms were pieced together by volunteer patriots, so there was no way to immediately tell who was an officer, a non-commissioned officer, or solider. von Steuben’s regulations called for uniforms that were clear indicators of rank.
Troops today still follow this regulation to a T when it comes to the dress uniform — albeit without the swords.
The rifle twirling is, however, entirely a recent officer thing.
(Department of Defense photo by Terrence Bell)
If there was one lasting mark left on the Army by von Steuben, it was the importance of drill and ceremony. Much of the Blue Book is dedicated to instructing soldiers on proper marching techniques, the proper steps that you should take, and how to present your arms to your chain of command.
Despite the protests of nearly every lower enlisted, the Army has spent days upon days practicing on the parade field since its inception — and will continue to do so well into the future.
If you thought troops back then could get by without hospital corners on their bed, think again!
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Susan Krawczyk)
One of the most important things von Steuben did while in Valley Forge was teach everyone a few extremely simple ways to prevent troops from dying very preventable, outside-of-combat deaths. A rule as simple as, “don’t dig your open-air latrine right next to where the cooks prepare meals” (p. 46) was mind-blowing to soldiers back then.
But the lessons run deeper than that. Even police calls and how to properly care for your bedding (p. 45) are directly mentioned in the book.
While there arestillpunishments in place for negligencetoday, the armorer would be paying far more than for a lost rifle.
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa)
Accountability of arms and ammo
No one likes doing paperwork in the military (or anywhere else) but it has to be done. Back then, simple accounting was paramount. As you can imagine, it was good for the chain of command to actually know how many rifles and rounds of ammunition each platoon had at their disposal.
While the book mostly focuses on how to do things, this is one of the few instances in which he specifically states that the quartermaster should be punished for not doing their job (p. 62). According to the Blue Book, punishments include confinement and forfeiture of pay and allowances until whatever is lost is recouped.
Once given medical attention, a troop would be giving off-time until they’re better — just like today.
(U.S. Army photo by Robert Shields)
Sending troops to sick call
The most humane thing a leader can do is allow their troops to be nursed back to full health when they’re not at fighting strength. The logic here is pretty sound. If your troops aren’t dying, they’ll fight harder. If they fight harder, America wins. So, it’s your job, as a leader, to make sure your troops aren’t dying.
According to the Blue Book, NCOs should always check in on their sick and wounded and give a report to the commander. This is why, today, squad leaders report to the first sergeant during morning role call, giving them an idea of anyone who needs to get sent to sick call.
“No one is more professional than I” still has a better ring to it, though.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Maria Mengrone)
NCOs should lead from the front
“It being on the non-commissioned officer that the discipline and order of a company in a great measure depend, they cannot be too circumspect in their behavior towards the men, by treating them with mildness, and at the same time, obliging everyone to do his duty.” (p. 77)
This was von Steuben’s way of saying that the NCOs really are the backbone of the Army.
According to von Steuben, NCOs “should teach the soldiers of their squad” (p. 78). They must know everything about what it means to be a soldier and motivate others while setting a proper, perfect example. They must care for the soldiers while still completing the duties of a soldier. They must be the lookout while constantly looking in. Today, these are the qualities exhibited by the best NCOs.
They probably didn’t think we’d have radios back then…
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Duval)
The soldier’s general orders
Today, each soldier of the Army has their general orders when it comes to guard/sentinel duty. von Steuben’s rules run are almost exactly the same:
Guard everything within the limits of your post and only quit your post when properly relieved? Check.
Obey your special orders and perform your duties in a military manner? Check.
Report all violations of your special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in your instructions to the commander of the relief? Kinda check… the Blue Book just says to sound an alarm, but you get the gist.
The average US citizen may hear the names of US Navy aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers, and not realize the significance behind those namesakes. For the US Navy sailors who work and live aboard these ships, the names serve as their identity in homage to the war heroes, pioneers, and traditions of the past.
The names of Navy destroyers are of deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. On Nov. 13, 1944, the Navy named a warship after a woman for the first time in the Navy’s existence. The USS Higbee commissioned and was converted into a radar picket destroyer. The “Leaping Lenah,” as she was referred to by her crew, “screened carriers as their planes launched heavy air attacks against the Japanese mainland” and helped support occupying forces in the clearing of minefields during World War II. She also earned seven battle stars in the Korean War and was the first warship to be bombed in the Vietnam War.
When the Leaping Lenah was decommissioned in 1979, she held the record for the highest score for naval gunfire support of any warship in the US Navy. It was a remarkable achievement and the ultimate tribute to Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee — the first living female recipient of the Navy Cross.
Higbee was born in Canada in 1874 and trained as a nurse at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899. She developed her knowledge of medicine at Fordham Hospital and held her own private practice as a surgical nurse until she entered the newly established US Navy Nursing Corps (NNC) in 1908. Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” — the first group of female nurses to serve in the NNC.
“Nurses were assigned to duty at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.,” said Beatrice Bowman, one of the Sacred Twenty nurses who later became the third superintendent of the NNC in 1922. “There were no quarters for them but they were given an allowance for quarters and subsistence. They rented a house and ran their own mess. These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”
The Sacred Twenty spearheaded the efforts to prove women had a role in the medical field as much as their male counterparts. They held no rank and were not immediately viewed as assets; however, their reputation would soon change. In 1911, after the first NNC superintendent resigned — as the nurses were often exposed to institutionalized discrimination — Chief Nurse Higbee assumed command as superintendent. She was responsible for overseeing 86 nurses across the US, Guam, and the Philippines. She lobbied for equal pay and for healthcare for military dependents.
Higbee served on several executive healthcare committees, including the National Committee of the Red Cross Nursing Service, and between 1915 and 1917 helped increase nursing recruiting numbers for World War I.
“For two years prior to our actual entering into this conflict, warnings had been sounded and such tentative preparations as were possible had been made by those who were wise to the significance of war signs,” Higbee said.
During her tenure of 14 years of service, Higbee helped expand the NNC from 160 nurses to 1,386 nurses. She was later instrumental in assigning nurses aboard Navy transport ships, and during World War I these nurses served transport duty. Another one of her initiatives was to build a force of hospital corpsmen that assisted in “nursing training methods” as well as to “develop in the hearts and minds of these ‘pupil nurses’ the principles of conscience care of the sick.”
After being exposed to the horrors from World War I, the complexities of battlefield wounds, and shell shock, Superintendent Higbee managed the development of Vassar Training Camp, the finishing school where nurses gained operational experience before arriving at their first assignments.
The following year, in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic rocked the world — and as Higbee and her nursing corps did best, they adapted to the evolving demands of medicine. Their focus shifted from the war wounds to an invisible disease. A total of 431 US Navy personnel had lost their lives during World War I, and 819 more were wounded. The humanitarian crisis between 1918 and 1919, in contrast, saw 5,027 sailors die as a result of the pandemic.
“‘The most needed woman’ is the war nurse,’” wrote The Sun newspaper on June 9, 1918. “In reality the war nurse is a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill. […] She goes prepared to share the risks and fortune of war, ready to make any sacrifice.”
Higbee and her team worked early mornings and late nights to diagnose patients and aid in their recovery. In 1920, Higbee became the first living recipient of the Navy Cross for “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.”
Three other nurses, Marie Louise Hidell, Lillian M. Murphy, and Edna E. Place, were awarded the Navy Cross medal posthumously.
Higbee passed away in 1941, and a year later the Navy granted nurses “relative rank.” In 1944, the Navy finally approved nurses for “full military rank” with equal pay.
Although the USS Higbee was decommissioned in 1979, in 2016 then-Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced plans to commission the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, scheduled for 2024 — an honor the trailblazing nurse certainly deserves.
World War II sniper rifles were often updated World War I models made better with new telescopic sights and upgrades to make them more easily employed in combat.
These relatively minor improvements to the weapons made the snipers much more dangerous in combat, and sharpshooters were able to make an outsized impact on the conflict, tying down enemy units and picking off key players. Here are four of the weapons used by the major powers in Europe:
Like most World War II rifles, the Lee-Enfield No. 4 was simply an updated World War I design. But the No. 4 was lighter, more reliable, and more infantry friendly than its predecessors. The British military fielded a sniper version with a 3.5x telescopic sight. The Australians used the older No. 1 model for their sniper conversions.
The Allied invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, was the largest amphibious invasion in history. The scale of the assault was unlike anything the world had seen before or will most likely ever see again.
By that summer, the Allies had managed to slow the forward march of the powerful German war machine. The invasion was an opportunity to begin driving the Nazis back.
The invasion is unquestionably one of the greatest undertakings in military history. By the numbers, here’s what it took to pull this off.
• Around 7 million tons of supplies, including 450,000 tons of ammunition, were brought into Britain from the US in preparation for the invasion.
• War planners laying out the spearhead into continental Europe created around 17 million maps to support the operation.
• Training for D-Day was brutal and, in some cases, deadly. During a live-fire rehearsal exercise in late April 1944, German fast attack craft ambushed Allied forces, killing 749 American troops.
American troops landing on beach in England during Exercise Tiger, a rehearsal for the invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
(United States Library of Congress)
• D-Day began just after midnight with Allied air operations. 11,590 Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties during the invasion, delivering airborne troops to drop points and bombing enemy positions.
• 15,500 American and 7,900 British airborne troops jumped into France behind enemy lines before Allied forces stormed the beaches.
• 6,939 naval vessels, including 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels, manned by 195,700 sailors took part in the beach assault.
Allied landing craft underway to the beaches of Normandy.
(Universal History Archive)
• 132,715 Allied troops, among which were 57,500 Americans and 75,215 British and Canadian forces, landed at five beaches in Normandy.
• 23,250 US troops fought their way ashore at Utah Beach as 34,250 additional American forces stormed Omaha Beach. 53,815 British troops battled their way onto Gold and Sword beaches while 21,400 Canadian troops took Juno Beach.
• The US casualties for D-Day were 2,499 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, and 26 captured. British forces suffered about 2,700 casualties while the Canadian troops had 946.
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
• Total casualties for both sides in the Battle of Normandy (June 6 – 25, 1944) were approximately 425,000.
• By the end of June 11 (D+5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been unloaded in France. By the end of the war, those figures would increase to 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of additional supplies.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On Friday, August 7, National Purple Heart Day will be observed. Around the country, states, counties, and cities will pause to recognize the service and sacrifice of their citizens. Observed since 2014, National Purple Heart Day is a time for Americans to pause and remember the bravery, courage and sacrifice of the service members who risk their lives for our freedoms.
Here are some things you need to know about the Purple Heart and how this solemn day is observed throughout the country.
Purple Heart Trail
The Purple Heart Trail was established in 1992 by the Military Order of Purple Hearts. It aims to be a symbolic honorary system of roads, highways and other monuments that give tribute to the service members who have been awarded the Purple Heart medals. Currently, there are designated sections in 45 states as well as in Guam. Additionally, many cities and towns around the country choose to become Purple Heart cities/towns to honor the veterans and service members from the area.
On August 7, gatherings around the country, states, counties and cities will pause in recognition of the sacrifice and service of veterans. Here are more things you need to know about the Purple Heart:
Generally, Major League Baseball teams pay homage to their local Purple Heart recipients during pre-game events and then again during the 7th inning. Because of current conditions, it’s unclear whether or not MLB will continue that tradition.
At local VFWs, American Legions, and other veteran organizations, remembrance meetings will be held for fallen heroes. Special events usually take place to thank active-duty personnel, veterans, and Purple Heart recipients.
The Purple Heart medal is presented to military personnel who have either been wounded in action or killed as a result of enemy action. Since the award was created in 1782, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been presented.
The Purple Heart has been around for a long, long time.
It’s the oldest military award still presented to service members. The predecessor to the Purple Heart, the Fidelity Medallion, was created in 1780 by the Continental Congress – but it was only awarded to three soldiers that year. Then, two years later, President George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit.
The Badge of Military Merit is considered the first US military decoration and the Purple Heart predecessor.
Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit in the form of a purple heart. He determined that it be given to soldiers who displayed “unusual gallantry in battle,” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way.” Then, the award was primarily forgotten for roughly two hundred years. It wasn’t until the bicentennial of Washington’s birth that Gen. MacArthur made an effort to revive the medal. It was still used to commemorate bravery, but that criteria changed in WWII when it became a way to recognize combat injuries and deaths.
This honor can be awarded to officers and enlisted personnel
The Purple Heart is one of the first awards in military history given to enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers. Service members of any rank are eligible to receive a Purple Heart.
There is no official record for every Purple Heart medal awarded to American service members.
During the Revolutionary War, there were just 3 Purple Hearts awarded, roughly 320,000 during WWI, and 1 million Purple Hearts presented during WWII. The Korean War awarded 118,600 medals, the Vietnam War 351,000 Purple Hearts, and the Persian Gulf War, which lasted 209 days, awarded 607 Purple Hearts.
The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ongoing since 2001, and to date, 12,500 Purple Hearts have been awarded.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart
Those who are awarded a Purple Heart can join MOPH, an organization that was formed in 1932. It’s the only veteran service organization composed of only “combat” veterans. Currently, there are about 45,000 MOPH members. Find out more about the organization here.
Though Purple Heart Day isn’t an officially recognized holiday, it’s still an important one for our military community. In this time of social distancing, it might not be possible to visit military organizations or museums. Instead, use #PurpleHeartDay to post on social media, hold socially-distant events, and take a few moments of silence to remember those who have paid the price for American freedoms.
Hollywood legend John Wayne is a patriotic icon — he’s the All-American hero of cinema. Between his 1968 film, The Green Berets, and his visits to the 101st Airborne, Wayne dedicated a good portion of his life to supporting the troops. But he wasn’t the only Hollywood legend to pay a visit to the Screaming Eagles.
Robert Mitchum, who played an elite Marine Raider taking part in the Makin Island raid in Gung Ho and assumed the role of a pilot in the Doolittle Raid in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, also paid the 101st a visit during the Vietnam War. Mitchum, who was best known for his iconic roles as villains in the original Cape Fear and The Night of the Hunter, received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Story of G.I. Joe.
Mitchum’s visit came around the time that elements of the Screaming Eagles, under the command of Major David Hackworth, took part in Operation Harrison, an effort to locate, track down, and destroy the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong using guerrilla tactics and artillery fire. The operation was somewhat successful — least 288 NVA or VC were killed and another 35 were captured, but 42 Americans died in the process.
A senior officer is briefed on the progress of Operation Harrison by a commander in the field.
The problem was, the majority of targeted Communist unit, the 95th Regiment, split up into smaller groups and evaded detection well enough to avoid having the hammer dropped on them. Even a B-52 strike would do little real damage. In essence, the Americans had done some damage to the enemy — but not without great cost.
Mitchum playing an ill Admiral Halsey in the film ‘Midway.’
In the video below, get a glimpse of Mitchum’s visit with the troops, which lasted an hour and a half. The clip shows him firing a M79 grenade launcher, commonly called the “Blooper,” and watching a demonstration of a M72 light anti-tank weapon, or LAW. It’s also a pretty good look at an artillery unit supporting Operation Harrison.