This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15 - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Shortly after I was married, I was chatting with my new father-in-law, Dick Kennedy, and out of the blue asked him if he’d fought in World War II — only because he looked too young to have done so. And for the next couple hours he told me this amazing story, something he’d never really told anyone else before, including his five children.


Related: That time a Marine in WWII was found clutching a sword around 13 dead Japanese soldiers

He’d grown up in the Bronx, and after his own father had died a young man, Dick remembered his mother dragging him and his siblings from one Bronx tenement to another — trying to dodge the landlord. When World War II broke out, his older brother George enlisted right away—doing his part. That’s when Dick decided he had to do his part, too. He was a very determined individual and even at a young age he knew Germany and Japan had to be stopped. As he told me that day, he would have felt unpatriotic if he wasn’t able to contribute in some way.

He started his quest at the age of 14, trying and failing a number of times to enlist by falsifying his deceased older brother Raymond’s birth certificate. His persistence finally paid off at age 15, when the Marines were taking just about anyone. One moment Dick was a sophomore in high school, and the next he was on Guadalcanal. He wound up in the first wave to hit the beach on Okinawa — the last, and bloodiest, battle of the Pacific War. The date was April 1, 1945, both Easter Sunday and April Fool’s.

“Talk about irony,” Dick said.

Mack Maloney: What was it like growing up?

Dick Kennedy: I grew up in the Bronx. I had two brothers and two sisters. My brother Raymond died in 1928, the year I was born; he was two. My father died of tuberculosis when I was very young and all I can remember is my mother carting us from one tenement to another, one step ahead of the landlord.

What prompted you to enlist in the Marines?

My older brother George went in the Army Air Corps. He would call home and tell us how things were going. I wanted to be in the service, too. I wanted to contribute. I started trying to enlist when I was a sophomore at Sewanhaka High in Floral Park, New York.

How did your family feel about that?

I was the baby of the family, so my mother was up in arms. I went to the post office to pick up forms for us both to sign. And I had to get my birth certificate and school records. Mom signed, but she didn’t speak to me for two weeks. My birth certificate read 1928, so I tried using Raymond’s birth certificate, but that didn’t work. Finally, they took me because they needed warm bodies. In early September 1943, I went in at the Jamaica Post Office in Jamaica, Queens. I was 15.

How much older were the guys you served with?

Most were 18 or so, but we were all just kids. One guy was married and had a child. We called him “Pop” but he wasn’t much older than us.

Did you ever meet any Marines as young as you?

No. But I did meet a guy who’d been ahead of me at Sewanhaka High. He couldn’t figure out what the hell I was doing there.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15
Dick Kennedy after enlisting in the Marines at age 15. Photo: Mack Maloney

What unit were you in?

6th Marine division 4th Marines 3rd Marine battalion, I Company, Second Platoon.

What was it like being the youngest guy in boot camp?

Boot camp was a big adjustment. I was scrawny. I had to build myself up — walking for miles. The first couple of weeks, we’d march around this huge ballfield where they had parades. We’d walk it, over and over. In the beginning it was no packs, just the rifle. Then we’d go with full pack, about 60 pounds. We marched all the time. It was tiring, but I was very gung-ho and I got in shape. Our instructors weren’t much older than we were. “Where’s Long Island?” one said to me. “I never heard of it.” Anyone in the same position as me they’d call a “city boy.” When we got our rifles, they told us, “Guard it with your life and clean it every day.” At first taking apart the rifle was hard. There were 13 parts to it and you had to know them all and be able to disassemble and reassemble it quickly. But I kept practicing; I was always trying to get it right. Then you had to learn to put it together in the dark. That was another challenge.

Before we left boot camp we had to go to the doctor so he could check us off. The only flaw I had was a space between my teeth. “Do you think you can stop a bullet with that?” the doctor asked me. Then he laughed. He said I was perfect but for my teeth. We wound up in San Diego, and then sailed for the South Pacific on an Army ship. You did your wash by tying your clothes on a rope and hanging the rope over the side. You had to tie everything tight or you’d lose it. The Army didn’t seem to want to do us any favors. They kept us supplied with enough food, but just enough. Breakfast was oatmeal. Lunch an apple or an orange. Supper, maybe a chicken leg. We only got the three small meals; the Army guys got more.

Where did you land first?

On Guadalcanal, in two boats, about 1500 guys in all. The Army guys put us on phony assignments. Guarding their posts. Guarding a big gun. Checking the explosives. We had to constantly check the explosives and protect them. We trained there almost a year, and it was a miserable place.

Did you carry anything other than a standard rifle?

So many guys in my platoon got killed on Okinawa I was given the BAR, the Browning Automatic Rifle. I remember how it felt on my shoulder — different from my rifle. Then I found out what power I had in my hands.

What was landing on Okinawa like?

It was April 1 — April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday. Talk about irony. But we were excited. We wanted to see the amphibious tanks float. We were betting on whether they would make it or not. Half the regiment was on barges and the other half was on tanks. I was on a barge. Some tanks were like tractor-tanks they’d specifically built for invading Japan itself. They had 10,000 of them ready to go to Tokyo. I hit the beach in the first wave, which meant feeling your way because you are going into enemy territory and you don’t know what you will find. We had a shootout that afternoon. I don’t remember the rest of the day. We were on bombing alert that night, but nothing happened. They didn’t shoot at us.

What do you remember about the battle?

We went into this valley, where the Japanese ambushed a platoon of ours. We surprised the enemy, and they took off. There were dead Marines all around, a platoon of 35-40 guys, half of them killed, many of them mutilated. It ripped your heart out. We went after the Japanese but they were too cat-like, they knew where all their bunkers were — and we didn’t know anything. And this was only day two. But I never thought, “Why am I doing this?” Or, “How did I get mixed up in this?” It just had to be done.

Okinawa sounds like hell on Earth…

The days just went on. We were sent on patrol up north; it was beautiful scenery. We got a report of enemy soldiers in a cave. A Marine thought he saw soldiers inside and started shooting, so the whole platoon started shooting. Mothers and children started coming out of the cave and we all felt horrible. It never should have happened, but we couldn’t really blame the guy who started it, but we all got read out. Our first lieutenant took the blame.

Another time, we walked into an ambush and were pinned down. The lieutenant got hit. They pumped him full of morphine and he started shouting orders. Because I was the littlest guy, he told me to run for help. I started to when this big sergeant pulled me down. “Don’t listen to him,” he said. “He’s full of morphine.” That guy saved my life. I would have been killed for sure.

How did you find out the war had ended?

I was at morning chow on a transport ship. A little radio announced that the Japanese had been hit with a special bomb at Hiroshima. We didn’t know it was a big deal. We thought we were going to fight on Taiwan. It took a week and another 100,000 killed for the emperor to wake up. Meantime, we were floating along in a huge fleet, thousands of ships of all sizes. We tied up at a naval station where we heard about the armistice, about three weeks before the signing on the USS Missouri. We couldn’t believe the Japanese were going to honor the surrender.

Did you go right home?

No — we went to Japan. We were like the cops, walking up and down the streets with our weapons, making sure everything was secure. We were constantly on alert. But it was peaceful. The people couldn’t have been nicer. They would do their ritual bowing and everything. We didn’t have much trouble at all. It was months before they started to send us home, based on length of time there. I came home early May 1946. Mom was still living in the same apartment. It was good to see the family. Everyone was there. “Oh, my baby is home,” my mother was crying. “What did I do letting him go?”

You went back to high school?

I went back to Sewanhaka High, into a 12th grade homeroom, but I mostly took 10th grade classes.

What was high school like after being in combat?

It was funny. I was surrounded by kids 14 and 15. I never talked about the war with them. They thought I was an oddball. I was good at baseball, but the school wouldn’t let me play. They thought I was “too much of a man.” I graduated with the class of 1947.

And after that?

I went to Hofstra on the GI Bill and became an English teacher on Long Island. I married my sweetheart and had five lovely kids. So, no complaints.

Note: This interview took place in February 2016, shortly before Dick Kennedy’s death. 

About the Author

Mack Maloney is the author of numerous fiction series, including WingmanChopperOpsStarhawk, and Pirate Hunters, as well as the non-fiction UFOs in Wartime.

A native Bostonian, Maloney received a bachelor of science degree in journalism at Suffolk University and a master of arts degree in film at Emerson College. He is the host of a national radio show, Mack Maloney’s Military X-Files.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the “Ghost Army” was a silly, yet absolutely brilliant strategy

When playing poker, a bluff is a completely logical strategy. You’ve got basically nothing and you’re trying to pressure your opponent into thinking you’ve got them completely beat via pure posturing. In a time of war, when both sides employ hundreds of scouts, do near-constant aerial reconnaissance, and have spies constantly floating around the battlefield, bluffs shouldn’t work.

You’d think that any soldier with a pair of binoculars would realize that something was amiss upon observing a bunch of plywood artillery cannons, tank-shaped balloons, cardboard cutouts of troops, and a couple commo guys messing around on the airwaves. And yet the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, better known as the “Ghost Army,” went on to fool the Nazis at every turn.

As the old Army saying goes, if it looks stupid, but works, it ain’t stupid.


This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

If you saw this from your cockpit for half a second and you had no idea your enemy was using inflatable tanks, you might fall for it, too.

(National Archives)

The Ghost Army was inspired, in part, by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s successful use of hoax tanks as part of Operation Bertram, but during Operation Quicksilver, Americans took things to the next level. British measures employed to successfully fool Axis onlookers were good, but the assets of the Ghost Army were exceedingly precise. Each inflatable tank took days to make, and they were so realistic that enemy reconnaissance couldn’t tell the difference.

To help sell the illusion, radio guys blasted the sounds of tanks through loud speakers. This way, any onlooking Nazi scout would hear what sounded like an entire division of tanks rolling through the area, quickly glimpse the balloon tanks in the distance, and promptly run back to their commander to prepare for the impending “fight.” The inflatable Sherman tanks weren’t alone — they also employed wooden mock-ups of artillery guns in dugouts that would draw out enemy fire.

Visual deception was key, but another crucial task was sending out relevant radio transmissions in hopes that they’d be intercepted by the Germans. The illusion worked best when several types of deception worked in concert. The Nazi code-breaker would “intercept” a message about the 23rd moving to a certain point on the Rhine, the Luftwaffe would fly ahead and see the “tanks,” and, if any Nazi scouts were to see soldiers of the 23rd, they’d likely see troops donning high-ranking officers uniforms — and this is exactly what the Ghost Army wanted them to see: a seemingly ripe target.

The 23rd drew the attention away from many key Allied movements, leaving the Germans easily flanked by the actual Army that came to fight. The Germans were too distracted by the Ghost Army to realize that the Americans started crossing the Ruhr River and, as a consequence, they arrived first at the Maginot Line many, many miles away from where the Americans would break through.

All thanks to a bunch of artists and jokers.

To learn more about the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, check out the video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny is one of the greatest US Marine Corps war heroes that you’ve never heard of. The World War II officer of the 1st Marine Division received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an intense battle, he even captured the same Japanese sword he’d been struck in the helmet with. But “Tabasco Mac” is most remembered as the driving force behind bringing tiny bottles of Tabasco hot sauce to every American GI’s C rations during the Vietnam War. 

In 1949, the Marine took the reins of his family’s McIlhenny Co., producer of the world-famous Tabasco red pepper hot sauce, and remained in charge until his death in 1985. The spicy empire was the brainchild of his great-grandfather, Edmund A. McIlhenny, an amateur gardener and banker. When Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country following the American Civil War, he discovered his crops of capsicum peppers had survived. He took three basic ingredients — peppers, salt from the island’s salt mines, and vinegar — and aged them together for 30 days to create the special potion that has been admired for generations.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15
A Japanese soldier attacked a GI with his sword but in the heat of the moment forgot to remove the scabbard. The dented helmet and sword were donated to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans by the GI — who was Walter McIlhenny. Photo courtesy of Forgotten Weapons.

McIlhenny’s red hot pepper sauce was first bottled into discarded cologne containers and referenced informally in conversation as “That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes.” His first commercial pepper crop emerged in 1868, and he sent 658 bottles at $1 apiece to grocery stores around the Gulf Coast, mainly in New Orleans. Two years later, McIlhenny secured a patent for Tabasco red pepper sauce — named in honor of the Mexican state where the peppers were sourced — and added a sprinkler fitment to ensure the concentrated sauce was sprinkled and not poured. 

Walter McIlhenny, the World War II Marine general, received several handwritten letters mailed from American GIs in Vietnam requesting tasty recipes. His great-grandfather’s original resolve to add flavor to the boring and monotonous diets of those in the Reconstruction South inspired him to do the same with ground troops’ C rations. The obligation to produce a fun and easy-to-follow guide led to the 1966 publication of The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15
The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front was published in 1966 by the maker of Tabasco hot sauce to give Vietnam soldiers an easy-to-follow guide to spicing up their C rations. Screenshot from the book.

The camouflaged cookbook with cartoon illustrations and clever recipes inside was wrapped around a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco and placed in a waterproof container to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. Some of the more popular and humorous recipes included Fox Hole Dinner for Two (Turkey and Chicken Poulette), Cease Fire Casserole, and Fish with Frontline Stuffing.

The recipes spoke to the grunts and were a reminder of home. “The casserole can be elegant, but as most men know, women often use it as a camouflage for a hasty meal after a long bridge game,” reads the recipe for Tin Can Casserole. “Here’s a recipe to put the Old Lady’s Bridge Casserole to shame.” The Breast of Chicken Under Bullets recipe suggests “breast of chicken under glass was never intended for areas where glass and shrapnel fly.”

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15
A waterproof container with a Charlie Ration Cookbook and bottle of Tabasco inside. The container, sent upon request to a soldier in Vietnam, came back to the McIlhenny Co. marked “KIA” for killed in action. Screenshot via YouTube.

George Creighton, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, put Tabasco on everything. “The rations get boring and you just need something to liven them up and Tabasco does that,” Creighton told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. He added Tabasco to his beef, to his peas, and to his spaghetti. A favorite, according to Creighton, was a mixture of water buffalo meat with C rations — “like a mulligan stew with rice and put in Tabasco sauce and add flavor to the whole mix.”

Tabasco continued the tradition into the 1980s and through Operation Desert Storm and published The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet providing creative alternatives for soldiers looking to please their palates. The innovative American family also collaborated with comic strip writer Mort Walker to illustrate it with the famous Beetle Bailey characters. Inside McIlhenny’s second cookbook he promised “Meals, Ready-to-Excite” with recipes of Paratrooper Pork and Beans, 40 MM Beanwiches, Chopper Chipped Beef in Cream Gravy, Ham Grenades, and Victory Pot Pie. The cookbook kept with tradition from Vietnam and came in a Tabasco quick-draw camouflaged holster with a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce. 

The most famous hot sauce brand in the world is synonymous with flavorful and fun experiences for American service members from Vietnam to present day. “It’s a little touch of home in far-flung places,” said Paul McIlhenny, who was president of Tabasco from 1998 to 2012. “We want to defend the world against bland food, wherever it may be.” Thanks to Tabasco, and with help from the Charlie Ration Cookbook, GI Joe has gone gourmet.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who took 42 Nazis captive with a longsword

We’ve talked about British officer John “Mad Jack” Churchill before. He waded ashore on D-Day with his trademark Scottish claybeg sword, he killed at least one Nazi with his longbow, and he was an all-around BAMF having served in World War II, Israel, and Australia.

Today, we want to talk about that time he took approximately 42 German soldiers captive in World War II.


This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Churchill leads a simulated assault during training for the D-Day assaults.

(Imperial War Museum)

The insane capture took place in 1943 during the invasion of Italy. Churchill, then the commanding officer of Britain’s No. 2 Commando, had taken part in the capture of Sicily and then landed at Salerno with other British troops. He and his men fought for five straight days, grinding through mostly German defenders. They were even lauded for defending a rail and road hub from a determined counterattack at Vietri, Italy, until U.S. armored vehicles arrived to relieve them.

The commandos were granted a short rest and the time for showers and bathing, though they had to avoid enemy mortar fire while enjoying it. Even that rest was short-lived, though. They were serving in reserve for the U.S. 46th Infantry Division, and German forces managed to grab three hills overlooking the division area, imperiling the American forces.

So the British soldiers of No. 41 Commando and No. 2 Commando were sent in to secure two of the three hills in two attacks. Churchill, as the commander of No. 2, was in charge of that second attack.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Col. John “Mad Jack” Churchill after World War II.

(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY 2.0)

The logistics of the assault were daunting. The men would have to attack uphill across terraces covered in vines and rocky terrain at night while trying to flush out and engage the enemy. Typically, commando attacks at night like this are conducted as silent, stealthy raids. But Churchill decided to bring nearly all of his men, broken into six columns so each column could support those to either side of it.

Churchill himself marched just ahead, spaced evenly between the third and fourth column. To ensure the columns didn’t drift apart or accidentally maneuver against one another in the darkness, he ordered them to yell “Commando!” every five minutes.

For the German defenders in the darkness, this created a sort of stunning nightmare. First, they heard No. 41 Commando take the nearby hill under heavy artillery bombardment as night was falling. Then, as pure dark set in, an unknown number of assailants began churning their way through the vines and across the terraces below, yelling to each other every few minutes. Whenever the Brits found Germans, they’d open up with Tommy guns, rifle fire, and grenades.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Churchill examines a captured 75mm gun during World War II.

(Imperial War Museum)

It caused confusion in the German ranks, and the columns were able to take dozens of prisoners. Churchill, meanwhile, grabbed one of his corporals and went to hunt out those Germans still attempting to organize their defenses.

First, he and the corporal found an 81mm mortar crew and took them prisoner. Churchill led this attack with his trademark sword, a Scottish claybeg. Then, Churchill and the corporal began moving from position to position, grabbing all the German soldiers they could find. By the time the two men made it back to the rest of the commandos, they had taken over 40 Germans prisoner (Reports vary between 41 and 43, but the more authoritative books on the Salerno invasion typically agree on 42, so that’s the number we’re using.)

The rest of the commandos had grabbed plenty of prisoners, and the total for the night between No. 41 and No. 2 Commando was 135, more than the 46th had taken in the five previous days of fighting.

This was a big coup for the intelligence folks who suddenly had access to all these prisoners. More importantly, two of the hills over the 46th were now clear of potential attackers just hours after German forces had staged there to attack.

Churchill would fight through the rest of the war, earning new accolades despite being captured once in Italy and later in Yugoslavia. After World War II, he served in Palestine and then Australia before retiring from the military.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first commissioned female officer served in the Civil War

Some might scoff at the idea of a Confederate Army officer being counted in U.S. military history, but Sally Tompkins is one worth noting. Not only was she a commissioned female officer in a world of men, Capt. Sally Tompkins’ hospital had the lowest death rate of any hospital on either side of the war.


The Confederate Army was staffed and run by officers who had earned their ranks through the same means as U.S. government Army officers, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Their judgment can be said to be markedly similar – and in some cases much better – than their Union Army counterparts. After all, the North suffered a series of stunning defeats at the hands of these generals early on in the war.

So to say that Sally Tompkins was appointed by officers whose judgment would probably have been accepted in the United States Army is a point worth making. She first came to run a hospital out of the home of Richmond, Va. Judge John Robertson while just 27 years old. Soon after, Confederate President Jefferson Davis mandated that all Confederate military hospitals be run by Confederate military officers. Miss Tompkins was suddenly Capt. Tompkins, CSA.

But Tompkins was the only officer that would refuse to be paid for her work.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

The Robertson Hospital, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1861.

She was the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran and thus appreciated the sacrifices made by men on the battlefields. As a native Virginian, she swore loyalty to her native state, and when the time came for her to help the cause, she picked up the slack where she could. That time just happened to come right after the First Battle of Bull Run, near Manassas, Va. Richmond was quickly overloaded with dying and wounded soldiers. Civilians were asked to open their homes to those men, and that’s how she started overseeing the Robertson home.

Throughout the war, Capt. Tompkins and her hospital served some 1,300 wounded troops, losing only 73 of them. Tompkins kept a register of each patient’s name, company, commanding officer, regiment, infliction, and discharge information for everyone at the hospital throughout the war. Tompkins’ mortality rate was the lowest on either side of the war, losing only 73 of those 1,300 – just five percent.

For this achievement, she became known as “The Angel of the Confederacy.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 times Russian psychics got war and combat predictions right

Russians love psychics. They love mysticism. Even the Russian military is claiming to have received psychic technology from dolphins – in an official Russian Army publication, written by a Russian military officer that the Russian military not only isn’t disavowing but is actually doubling down on.


Also read: Um, Russian ministry report claims soldiers have dolphin-derived telepathy?

But whether the Russian military and Russian people believe it or not, Russians have a long history of loving their gifted predictions and the people who make those predictions. Even the Tsar’s wife had Rasputin around to make sure the future was going to be okay.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Spoiler: It was not okay.

One of Russia’s most popular TV shows is a reality show called Battle of the Psychics. One-fifth of all Russians have visited a psychic, and 63 percent of Russians believe in astrology, fortune telling, or the evil eye. Russians have never lost their love for the metaphysical, even throughout the Soviet years. Superstitions die hard, and mystics are still popular.

One such mystic was Baba Vanga, a Bulgarian clairvoyant who lived in a rural mountainous area, who died in 1996. But Eastern Europeans still make pilgrimages to her gravesite. She made a number of seemingly insane predictions about war and geopolitical affairs that seem to have come true.

So maybe the dolphins aren’t that crazy after all.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

1. The fall of the Soviet Union

Long before the USSR’s fate was sealed, Baba Vanga predicted the fall of the Evil Empire. This was a particularly bold move, considering it could have put her in a gulag and/or put a bullet in her. She also predicted the death of Joseph Stalin, which is probably why Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev once personally came to visit her.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

2. The 9/11 attacks

In 1989, Baba Vanga predicted the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001:

Horror, horror! The American brethren (the two ‘brother’ towers) will fall after being attacked by the steel birds. “The wolves will be howling in a bush and innocent blood will gush.”
This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

3. The sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk

A full two decades before the fateful event, the old Bulgarian woman predicted the sinking of a submarine that didn’t yet exist in an accident she couldn’t possibly understand.

“At the turn of the century, in August of 1999 or 2000, Kursk will be covered with water, and the whole world will be weeping over it.”
This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

4. President Barack Obama

Baba Vanga predicted that the 44th President would be an African-American, but she also predicted that he would be the last president. Some sources believe she predicted the next president (that would be Trump) would fall ill with brain problems and tinnitus and that Russian President Vladimir Putin would face an assassination attempt.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened to the dead bodies after big battles in history

Given we know that even Neanderthals would bury their dead (even including objects with the bodies) and various human hunter-gatherer groups likewise used to bury or cremate people at specific sites that functioned as sort of pilgrimage locations for these nomads, it should come as no surprise that since the dawn of known warfare soldiers have pondered the question of what to do with the bodies of their fallen comrades and enemies. So what did various groups actually do throughout history?


A thing to note before we continue is that there is a definite gap in the memory of history in regards to this one specific matter and historians only have sparse reports of what happened to the dead of many groups after battles. You might think solving this problem would be simply a matter of locating famous battle sites and doing some digging to glean a little more insight, but it turns out even this is notoriously difficult as we’ll get into shortly.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

That caveat out of the way, on the more definitive front, it’s noted that the ancient Greeks made an effort to respect the usual burial customs of the dead after a battle and collecting the bodies of the fallen wasn’t uncommon. For example, following the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC between Philip II of Macedonia and the Athenians, both sides buried their dead in accordance with the religious customs of the period; this was seemingly done both out of respect for the valor the dead showed in battle and to appease the gods.

With the exception of the Spartans, most ancient Greek societies also made efforts to bury their dead near the city they hailed from if time allowed it, though for the sake of practicality, mass graves or the like were sometimes utilizedinstead. In this case, cenotaphs were sometimes erected near their home city in honor of the fallen.

As noted, an exception to this are the Spartans who often buried fallen soldiers on the battlefield they were killed. Also somewhat unique was that rather than stripping the dead of valuables, as per Spartan tradition, each fallen Spartan was buried with their weapons and armor and their final resting place was marked by a simple tombstone with their name and an inscription that read (translated) “In War”.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

This was a special honor among the Spartans. If one were to die outside of battle, no such tombstone would be given and the person would simply be buried in an unmarked grave. The one exception to that was if a woman died in child birth, she too would be given the honor of a tombstone.

As for the Romans, most soldiers paid a small stipend each month to pay for funeral expenses should they fall in battle. As you might expect from this, the Romans made a conscious effort to recover the bodies of those who died and, if time allowed it, would bury or cremate them individually. If this wasn’t possible, the bodies of soldiers killed in battle would be collected and given a mass cremation or burial. In the event the bodies couldn’t be recovered, a cenotaph would be erected to serve as a monument to the individual.

The same cannot be said of later wars where there seems to have been an almost callous disregard for the fallen, and looting of the dead and dying was commonplace. For example, the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 shows soldiers piling up the bodies of the dead and stripping them of their valuables. It’s believed that following this the bodies were quickly cremated or buried in nearby mass graves.

It should be noted here, however, that with the rise of Christianity, mass cremation, at least for a time, seems to have gone the way of the dodo in some regions, in favor of mass graves.

That said, despite the countless battles that occurred throughout Medieval Europe, archaeologists have had an extraordinarily difficult time actually finding any of the bodies. As one paper published in the Journal of Conflict Archeology, aptly titled “Where are the dead of medieval battles?“, notes:

Only a handful of mass graves from late medieval battles in Western Europe have been subject to large scale excavation to modern standards. The principal reason is that these, and indeed even early modern battlefield graves, have proven extremely elusive, most being identified by chance. Despite a few successes, no combination of prospecting techniques yet provides a consistently effective method of locating such small archaeological features set almost anywhere within a site covering many square kilometres…

Looking at much better documented times, looting of the dead was also extraordinarily common during the extremely deadly Napoleonic Wars, with soldiers and locals alike pilfering what they could find after battles. For example, consider this account from a British general following the Battle of Heilsberg in 1807:

The ground between the wood and the Russian batteries, about a quarter of a mile, was a sheet of naked human bodies, which friends and foes had during the night mutually stripped, although numbers of these bodies still retained consciousness of their situation. It was a sight that the eye loathed, but from which it could not remove.

And yes, as noted there, the severely wounded weren’t spared the indignity of being robbed of their worldly possessions as they lay dying. And worst of all, this was done not just by their enemies, but comrades as well. In fact, there are firsthand accounts from wounded soldiers who went on to survive their injuries detailing the shock of waking up completely naked.

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Illustration of Battle of Heilsberg.

Here’s a snippet of one such quote from a French soldier called Jean Baptiste de Marbot:

Stretched on the snow among the piles of dead and dying, unable to move in any way, I gradually and without pain lost consciousness…. I judge that my swoon lasted four hours, and when I came to my sense I found myself in this horrible position. I was completely naked, having nothing on but my hat and my right boot. A man of the transport corps, thinking me dead, had stripped me in the usual fashion, and wishing to pull off the only boot that remained, was dragging me by one leg with his foot against my body. The jerk which the man gave me no doubt had restored me to my senses. I succeeded in sitting up and spitting out the clots of blood from my throat. The shock caused by the wind of the ball had produced such an extravasation of blood, that my face, shoulders, and chest were black, while the rest of my body was stained red by the blood from my wound. My hat and my hair were full of bloodstained snow, and as I rolled my haggard eyes I must have been horrible to see. Anyhow, the transport man looked the other way, and went off with my property without my being able to say a single word to him, so utterly prostrate was I.

After being stripped of their belongings the dead, and occasionally still barely living, would often be buried in mass graves (sometimes with bodies from both sides unceremoniously thrown in). In general, this was either accomplished via the soldiers themselves doing it, or in many cases members of the local populace given the gruesome task. However, there are accounts of battles where thousands of bodies were simply left to the elements. For example, General Philippe de Ségur states in 1812:

After passing the Kologa, we marched on, absorbed in thought, when some of us, raising our eyes, uttered a cry of horror. Each one instantly looked about him, and there lay stretched before us a plain trampled, bare, and devastated, all the trees cut down within a few feet from the surface, and farther off craggy hills, the highest of which appeared misshapen, and bore a striking resemblance to an extinguished volcano. The ground around us was everywhere covered with fragments of helmets and cuirasses, with broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms, and standards dyed with blood.
On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half-devoured corpses…

It should also be noted here that beyond any possessions the bodies may have had on them before being stripped, the bodies themselves were also of value. For example, human scavengers would come through and rob the dead of their teeth, which would then be used to make dentures.

The Napoleonic Wars, and in particular the Battle of Waterloo, were such a boon to the British dental industry in this way that dentures were known as “Waterloo teeth” in the UK over a decade after it ended. Teeth from soldiers were highly sought after owing to predominately coming from relatively young men who still had reasonably good teeth, unlike many others that came from the more wizened dead.

In one account, one Astley Cooper met just such a tooth hunter and noted:

Upon asking this Butler, who appeared to be in a state of great destitution, what might be his object, he said it was to get teeth…but when I came to question him upon the means by which he was to obtain these teeth, he said, ‘Oh Sir, only let there be a battle, and there’ll be no want of teeth. I’ll draw them as fast as the men are knocked down.

Even more grimly, the bones of the dead of some of these battles were later collected and pulverized into fertilizer which was sold for a modest price across Europe. To quote an article from the The Observer written in 1822:

It is now ascertained beyond a doubt, by actual experiment on an extensive scale, that a dead soldier is a most valuable article of commerce; and, for aught known to the contrary, the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread. It is certainly a singular fact, that Great Britain should have sent out such multitudes of soldiers to fight the battles of this country upon the continent of Europe, and should then import their bones as an article of commerce to fatten her soil!

The remains of soldiers were also sometimes collected for use in souvenirs of major battles. For example, poet Eaton Stannard Barrett wrote, “I know one honest gentleman, who has brought home a real Waterloo thumb, nail and all, which he preserves in a bottle of gin.”

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Battle of Waterloo, 1815.

Moving across the pond and slightly more recently in history, markedly more respect was shown for the dead during the American Civil War where teams of soldiers were tasked with burying the dead of both sides in simple mass graves, with great care being taken to ensure most soldiers received a proper burial.

Finally, to discuss WW1 and WW2, individual units were largely responsible for the disposal of their own dead with both Axis and Allied forces having their own rules for how this should be handled. For example, during WW2 Colonel Walther Sonntag of the Wehrmacht’s Casualty Office issued a comprehensive guide for military graves officers detailing how mass graves should be constructed.

Amongst other things the guidelines indicated that mass graves should be made as close to railway lines as possible and feature pathways with the intention being that they’d eventually be turned into war cemeteries. As the war raged on, these guidelines were largely ignored for the sake of practicality, leading to, as Der Spiegel puts it, “a surfeit of grave steles”.

As for the Allies, during WW2 burying the dead largely fell to individual soldiers, but some units dedicated to the task did exist, for example the United States Quartermaster Graves Registration Service. Tasked with finding and burying every fallen American soldier, the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service have been hailed as some of the unsung heroes of the War due to the general lack of recognition they’ve received since it ended.

Graves Registration units were exceptionally committed to their task and undertook their duties with a solemn sense of duty and determination, going to extraordinary lengths to identify bodies and perform the appropriate burial rights depending on the fallen soldier’s religious affiliation. When appropriate, GRS units would bury civilian, allied and axis casualties they came across, making sure to bury them in well-marked graves, the locations of which would be passed onto the relevant authorities.

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

Articles

Watch this Texas monster truck rescue an Army vehicle from Harvey floodwaters

For the last several days, Hurricane Harvey has dropped an estimated 50-inches of rain, putting several Texas towns underwater.


Countless Americans are braving the weather conditions, driving massive trucks out to help their fellow flood victims by transporting them and what belongings they can muster to local shelters until this natural disaster clears.

One Twitter video has been recently making rounds of a massive Cadillac Escalade lifted up on enormous tires pulling a nearly submerged medium sized tactical truck from a flooded residential area.

Related: This is how the Growler disables an enemy’s air defense system

After the Escalade roared its powerful motor, the driver managed to tow the Texas National Guard’s military vehicle from the flood waters causing the nearby spectators to cheer.

According to the US Department of Defense, more than 3,800 people have been rescued, but many residents wish to stay at home protecting their belongings from looters.

Also Read: 15 clichés every military recruit from Texas hears in basic training

Check out Micheal Keyes’ video below to see the action for yourself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Crazy Horse earned his ‘insane’ name as a child

Crazy Horse’s name will be remembered by history for ages to come, but, sadly, his face will not, as he refused to be photographed his entire life. The Oglala Lakota leader made his name famous by participating in the most legendary battles of the Plains Wars, including the Native Tribes’ greatest victory over American troops at Little Bighorn.

How he got that name in the first place is just as interesting.


The man who grew up as “Crazy Horse” was born around 1842 to two members of the Lakota Sioux tribe. His father, an Oglala Lakota who married a Miniconjou Lakota was also named “Crazy Horse.” Neither of the two would keep these names for very long.

Though his mother, Rattling Blanket Woman, died when he was just four years old, she gave him the enduring nickname of “Curly,” used because of his light, curly hair. But his actual name at birth was “In the Wilderness.” As the young man grew in age, however, neither his name or his nickname felt appropriate for the boy. By age 13, he was leading raiding parties against rival tribes of Crow Indians and stealing horses. By 18, he was leading war parties against all tribal enemies.

When it came time to test the young man’s maturity, his father would have to give up his own name. From then on, the young man would be called “Crazy Horse.” His father accepted the name, “Worm.”

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Crazy Horse at Fort Laramie.

Though generally considered wise, quiet, and reserved when not in battle, the young man showed signs of craziness throughout his life. After stealing another man’s wife, he was shot in the face. While recovering from that wound, he fell in love again, this time for good. The incident left him with a scar on his face but, Crazy Horse was still not widely known outside the area of what we now know as South Dakota. Then, the U.S. Army showed up.

A lieutenant accused the Lakota of stealing a settler’s livestock. When the local elder, Chief Conquering Bear, attempted to negotiate with the Army officer, he was shot in the back. That settled Crazy Horse’s view of the White Man. They could not be trusted and must be resisted at all costs.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Crazy Horse fighting Col. William Fetterman’s men at Fort Kearny.

Crazy Horse led the Lakota against the Americans on numerous occasions, striking the U.S. Army at its most vulnerable points. He first hit Fort Kearny, a camp commanded by Col. William Fetterman, annihilating Fetterman’s force and giving the Army its worst defeat at the hands of Native tribes at the time.

Just shy of a decade later, the Army returned to try and force Lakota and Cheyenne tribespeople back onto the reservations they were given by burning their villages and killing their people. Crazy Horse retaliated by fighting with Gen. George Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876. He fought Crook to a draw but forced Crook away from his plan to link up with the U.S. 7th Cavalry, led by George Armstrong Custer.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

Crazy Horse leads the fighting at Little Bighorn.

In failing to link up with Crook, Custer didn’t have the manpower needed to crush Crazy Horse at Little Bighorn and was slaughtered with his men.

Crazy Horse would successfully evade U.S. attempts to subdue him while delivering blow after blow to American forces in the area. In the end, Crazy Horse turned himself in to try to give what was left of his tribe a better life, only to be bayoneted by a prison guard.

MIGHTY HISTORY

In 1915, kids went to school outside during a pandemic. Why not now?

Many are still struggling to determine the safest way to go back to school in the fall. But one suggestion to take the curriculum outdoors is compelling for some people—and the idea has an interesting history. A recent article from the New York Times highlights how, in 1907, two Rhode Island doctors, Ellen Stone and Mary Packard, implemented a plan that would let kids go to school during a major tuberculosis outbreak.

Following a trend that took wind in Germany, the doctors paved the way for open-air classrooms in the state. They converted a brick building into being more public health-conscious by installing large windows on each side and keeping them open for the whole day. Remarkably, none of the children became sick, although they did endure open-air classes during freezing New England winters. Shortly, 65 schools soon implemented a similar plan, or simply held classes outside within the first two years of Dr. Stone and Packard’s successful plan.


Regardless of your opinion on how, and if, schools should open up, the story does have compelling implications for what early education could one day look like, even post-pandemic. And that’s because, as The Times points out, studies have shown that many children might be more likely to pay attention to what they’re learning if they’re outside, particularly for science and gym classes. That makes sense, because who wouldn’t prefer to learn about photosynthesis outdoors, looking at flowers and trees with the sun shining down, compared to simply studying a chalkboard or textbook cooped up inside? And since kids should exercise anyway, why not make it into a game on the playground?

We know that it’s more difficult to transmit the coronavirus outside, and as schools, districts, and families struggle to figure out their plans for the fall, this history lesson about outdoor teaching might be worth noting?

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Chernobyl Disaster happened 32 years ago

Ukraine is marking the 32nd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on April 26, 2018, with a memorial service and a series of events in remembrance of the world’s worst-ever civilian nuclear accident.

In neighboring Belarus, an opposition-organized event will also be held to commemorate the disaster.


In Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, hundreds of people marched at midnight to the Memorial Hill of Chernobyl Heroes where they laid flowers and lit candles. At 1 a.m. on April 26, 2018, an Orthodox service and a prayer to commemorate Chernobyl victims were performed at the site.

President Petro Poroshenko, on April 26, 2018, wrote on Facebook that Chernobyl “will forever remain an open wound for us.”

“Today, we have to do everything to prevent a repetition of that tragedy… the Chernobyl zone must now become a place of new technologies, a territory of changes,” Poroshenko wrote.

In Belarus, the opposition plans to hold a march in Minsk known as the “Chernobyl Path” later on April 26, 2018.

The march has been held in the Belarusian capital since 1988 to commemorate the disaster in neighboring Ukraine, which also contaminated large swaths of territory in Belarus.

An explosion on April 26, 1986, blew the roof off the building housing a nuclear reactor and spewed a cloud of radioactive material high into the air — drifting across Ukraine’s borders into Russia, Belarus, and across large parts of Europe.

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

About 30 people died in the immediate aftermath and thousands more are feared to have died in the years that followed from the effects of the disaster — mainly exposure to radiation.

On April 25, 2018, the Vienna-based UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation said that around 20,000 thyroid cancer cases were registered between 1991 and 2015 in the area surrounding the reactor, which takes in all of Ukraine and Belarus, as well parts of Russia.

The UN scientists said that since the accident, 1-in-4 thyroid cancer cases have been caused by radiation in the region.

In November 2016, a huge arch was placed over the stricken reactor to prevent further leaks of radiation. The project — funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development — cost $1.6 billion.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 rarely seen photos from World War I

“The Great War” was named for its size, not the experience of fighting it. Troops lived and slept in the mud and rubble, they fought through heavy machine gun fire and poison gas to roll back Imperial Germany’s occupation of France. About 2.8 million American men and women would serve overseas before the war ended. Here’s a quick peek at what life was like for them:


This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the US accidentally captured a Mexican city

On Oct. 19, 1842 a squadron of ships under the command of Commodore Thomas Ap Catesby Jones sailed into the harbor at Monterey, California, then a Mexican city. Under the guns of the fort that overlooked the harbor, the sailors made the ship cannons ready for a fierce fight.


 

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15
The heavy frigate USS United States faces off against the HMS Macedonian in the War of 1812. Photo: Wikipedia

 

Meanwhile, Marines and sailors formed a landing party under Commander James Armstrong. The small force made its way to shore, searched out the local governor, and demanded the city. The governor indicated he would surrender the entire province in the morning.

Sailors spent a tense night manning the guns in case it was a trick, but the governor and his commissioners arrived the next morning at the heavy frigate USS United States — Jones’s flagship — and signed the articles of capitulation.

Commodore Jones had ordered the fleet to Monterey and the subsequent invasion because he was worried that the British would use the war between Mexico and America as a chance to capture coveted Pacific ports in California. Jones had raced to Monterey to arrive ahead of the British.

Jones’s men immediately moved into the fort and prepared to defend it from the coming British attack.

But the British weren’t headed to Monterey. And there wasn’t a war on between Mexico and America. Jones had jumped the gun and illegally captured the provincial capital of Alta, California.

 

This WW2 Marine joined when he was just 15
Commodore Thomas Ap Catesby Jones. Photo: Wikipedia

 

In Jones’s defense, he had been in a tough spot. Relations between the two countries had been souring and he had received news of British ships moving up the coast of South America in force. Jones was under orders to capture Californian ports rather than let them fall into British or French hands in case of a war with Mexico.

The problem in 1842 was that Jones wouldn’t get a satellite or radio call telling him when war broke out. He had to figure out himself.

Then he jumped the gun a little bit and invaded prematurely. It happens. The commodore realized his mistake when an American businessman in Monterey brought him a number of recent newspapers from the U.S. that made no mention of hostilities. Can you imagine having that bad of a day at work? “Uh hey, boss. I captured a Mexican city by accident”. Cringe.

After realizing his error, Jones gave the city back to Mexico and told his men to stand down. The Mexican flag was raised over the fort once again.

To try and patch relations, the Mexican and American officials at Monterey began hosting parties for one another while their respective national governments launched investigations.

Luckily, the Marines and soldiers had behaved themselves so well during the occupation that the locals were actually fond of the them.

Unfortunately, word was already making its way up the coast that American ships had captured Monterey as part of a war with Mexico. Another U.S. Navy officer, Captain W. D. Phelps, then captured Fort Guijarros at San Diego, California and spiked its guns.

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