I do not see how a barbarous community and a civilized community can constitute one state. I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom.
That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking out against escalating violence in America in the 1850s.
Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the settling of Kansas had devolved into open territorial warfare between anti-slavery “free staters” and pro-slavery “border ruffians.” Representatives were physically assaulting senators on the Senate floor. Average American civilians were perpetrating acts of savagery toward one another that fell short of “domestic terrorism” only because, 80 years into the American experiment, there wasn’t yet a national moral consensus definitive enough to terrorize.
But a reckoning was imminent. As Emerson foretold, the U.S. would have to reject slavery or allow the notion of freedom it so exalted to perish as a consequence.
John Brown stepped into the 1850s a man accustomed to both the opportunity and the volatility of American life. He’d lived in eight different towns across five different states, sired over 20 children with two wives, founded a post office, built a school and started at least three different tanneries. He’d made and lost fortunes, gone bankrupt, become an authority on wool production, and travelled overseas to London to do business.
He had, with the bluntest application of will, done whatever it took to drink the nectar of life and liberty that American democracy promised.
Brown believed in the core concept of America, if not the frustrating political mechanics of governing it. Brown loved America. But eventually he, and the radical forces he came to represent, could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy of living free in a society that countenanced slavery. His trajectory as an abolitionist militant began with this vow:
Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!
Unlike notable abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, Brown distrusted politics. He rejected advocacy. He was animated by a righteous certainty that American slaves must take their freedom for themselves. Brown wanted to empower slaves in the bluntest way possible, with guns and an incitement to violence against their masters. Brown was the Civil War’s harbinger — come two years ahead of the horsemen.
After the failure of his famous raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry–where his small force had been put down by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee–after the slaves of West Virginia had failed to rise up with him, Brown was captured and sentenced to die a traitor’s death. But before he did, he made this final statement:
I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.
Pundits like to bat around the phrase “the price of freedom” as if the blood of innocents was ever the currency that human progress accepts. But pundits aren’t the authors of humanity’s rise, heroes are. Innocent blood may be spilled in the course of human struggle, but progress is purchased by the blood of the willing.
During his second tour in Vietnam, Capt. Jay R. Vargas was the commanding officer of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment about to lead his men into the enemy-infested area of Dai Do in the Republic of Vietnam.
While north along the DMZ, the Vietnamese 320th Infantry Division were on their way south with thousands of well-trained enemy troops.
Upon marching his Marines down to their base camp, hundreds of rounds of artillery flooded around Vargas’ position — but the Marines managed to reach their destination around 4 a.m.
After marching all night, two riverboats picked the tired Marines up and shipped them up the river toward Dai Do. Soon after boarding, the enemy began to fire. Vargas’ battalion commander instructed him to push on through the firing lanes once they’ve arrived.
After reaching the river’s bank, the Marines were already pinned down by heavy machine gun, but that didn’t stop Vargas coming up with a plan.
“Give me four Marines, we’re going to go take the machine guns,” Vargas recalls.
As they moved forward, the Marines took fire, wounding them instantly — leaving Vargas by himself.
On his own, Vargas knocked out three machine guns and killed 14 enemy troops, which reopened a clear lane for the Marines to safely move up.
Vargas momentarily believed he had secured the area, but the NVA decided to counter-attack. The enemy troops managed to force the Marines into a nearby cemetery — cutting them off from resupply.
The North Vietnamese began to pound heavily on Vargas’ Marines’ position. Surrounded and down to only 80 Marines, Vargas believed the end was near.
“We were surrounded and cut-off completely,” Vargas said. “The only way to survive was to dig up those graves and toss the bodies out.”
Vargas’ Marines did as he commanded and removed body after body before taking position in the graves to seek cover.
Feeling as if he wasn’t going to make it out alive, Adm. John McCain (Sen. John McCain’s father), the U.S. Pacific Command commander in chief encouraged Vargas to press on over the tact line. McCain quickly made Vargas and his Marines’ survival a priority.
Naval gunships blanketed Vargas perimeter with artillery, killing countless enemy troops as the Marines sheltered themselves in the mass grave site.
After three long days of fighting, the enemy made their last stand and once again counter-attacked the tired and wounded Marines. Vargas’ battalion commander moved into his grave as he was shot three times in the back by the enemy.
Vargas felt like he had no choice but to call artillery onto his position. After using three headsets to coordinate multiple sources of incoming fire, Vargas dragged is severely wounded battalion commander over a hundred yards to a covered area while the airstrikes were coming in hot.
Soon after the airstrikes ended. The enemy forces were silenced.
Vargas recalls that his older brothers — who also served in the Corps — gave him three golden rules to live by.
Always set a good example.
Take care of your men.
Never ask a Marine to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
Capt. Jay R. Vargas was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970, for his heroic acts in Vietnam.
Tennessee Militia Maj. Gen. Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson had to face down potential mass desertions twice in just a short period during the War of 1812, and both times he put on stunning displays of bravery that would hint at his potential for future success in both war and politics.
Portrait of Andrew Jackson
Jackson is a controversial figure for good reason. He was a military hero who earned accolades fighting the British, generally remembered as morally fine, and for fighting Native American tribes, something most of America would rather not talk about.
But he was, for better or worse, a product of his time, a general who marched where his state asked him to go and who shared the spirits and beliefs of his peers, even the deeply prejudiced ones. And he was dedicated to doing his own duty and in seeing every man around him do what he saw as their duty.
Jackson and his men find a missing supply train as well as, according to some reports, captured Creek warriors and Black men who attempted to flee slavery.
(John Frost, 1847)
He became a hero in the eyes of the Tennessee militiamen. But they would face hardships as well, fighting throughout 1813 against Creek Native Americans and then suffering severe supply shortages the following winter. When he learned in November 1813 that many were considering deserting, he begged them to stay.
Jackson offered a deal. If missing supply wagons did not arrive in two days, he would ride back with them. But if supplies arrived, they would stay.
The two days passed and a standoff ensued. After a bit of wrangling, Jackson agreed to ride north with a body of soldiers and look for the missing supplies. If they were found, he expected them to return to the fort. And so the men rode north and did actually find the train, filled with meat and flour. According to 1847 pictorial on Andrew Jackson’s life, they also found re-captured slaves and Creek prisoners.
This time, he grabbed a musket and, since his left arm was badly injured from a personal fight earlier that year, he laid the weapon across his horse’s neck and aimed it with his right arm at the mutineers. This was one gun against a brigade. The deserters could have easily overpowered him, but someone would either have to take the first shot or be the first person to try and ride past Jackson and call his bluff.
No one tempted the anger in Jackson’s eyes. Instead, troops loyal to Jackson began forming up behind him until there was little chance the brigade could break free, so they turned and headed back south.
But the anger in camp was far from quenched, and the bulk of the men had signed one-year contracts that they believed would end Dec. 10, 1813. Jackson insisted that their contracts would end one year after he had called them forward into the field, an anniversary that wouldn’t come for months.
“Let me just ride around in front of these.” – Andrew Jackson, 1813
Then he rode out in front of the men and promised that, if they attempted to leave, he would order the cannons fired with himself still in the middle. Yes, he would likely be the first killed, but dozens would follow him to a quick grave if they attempted to leave.
He ordered the gunners to light their matches and then watched the men in silence. Eventually, officers came forward and promised that they and their men would stay until reinforcements arrived.
It must have been quite the dramatic display, and it did save Jackson’s army for a few days.
But the hits would keep coming for Jackson. Reinforcements arrived, and so he released the men who had attempted to “desert.” Then it turned out the new men’s contracts were also due to end in December, and that another brigade’s contracts would end January 4, 1814.
Jackson protested, but the arguments over contracts had made it back to the larger world. Both the governor of Tennessee and the secretary of war agreed with the militiamen that their contracts ended one year after signature, not one year after being called to active service in the field.
In the 1988 presidential campaign, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President, had a problem: he needed to look credible as a commander-in-chief during a time when Democrats were being criticized for their defense policies.
Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan Administration had been pushing through a major peace-time military build-up.
According to CQ Researcher, a large portion of the Democrats in Congress had opposed that build-up in the 1984 elections. That caused the perception that the Democrats were being weak on defense, which led to Reagan’s 49-state landslide.
Dukakis had been among those who were critical of the buildup, the mainstays of which — the B-1B Lancer, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, and a host of other weapon systems – are in service today (with a few exceptions).
Worse, according to a 2013 article in Politico, during the month of August, Dukakis had gone from leading Vice President George H.W. Bush by 17 points to trailing him, and one big reason was that 54 percent of Americans felt that then-Vice President Bush would do a better job on national security, while only 18 percent thought Dukakis would.
To counter that, Dukakis went on a swing that discussed defense, but one event was marked by defense workers jeering him. Then, he went on a visit to a General Dynamics plant in Michigan where he planned to ride in an M1 Abrams tank, a key part of the buildup that Democrats had criticized.
Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew. (Dept. of Defense image)
However, to do the ride, Dukakis was told he had to wear protective headgear. He did so, and ended up sealing his fate.
Within a week, the photo of Dukakis in the helmet had become a joke (think Kushner in his vest), but the worst was to come when operatives with Bush’s campaign developed an attack ad. Using 11 seconds of footage, they highlighted Dukakis’s opposition to the Reagan buildup and foreign policy.
Dukakis, who had already been trailing, and already saw 25 percent of Americans less likely to vote for him, was now in freefall. He eventually lost the 1988 election by seven million votes.
It was a warm Sunday afternoon on May 20, 1917, as nurses and doctors of Chicago’s Base Hospital Unit No. 12 gathered on deck of the U.S.S. Mongolia to watch Navy gunners conduct target practice.
Laura Huckleberry, one of the nurses standing on deck, had grown up on a farm near North Vernon, Indiana, and graduated from the Illinois Training School for Nurses in 1913. With Huckleberry were her roommates, Emma Matzen and Edith Ayres, also graduates of the Illinois Training School Class of 1913 and Red Cross Reserve Nurses selected for coveted spots in the hospital unit.
Also enjoying the Atlantic breezes while lounging in deck chairs or standing at the ship’s railing, the group included Scottish-born Helen Burnett Wood, a nursing supervisor at Evanston Hospital. Wood’s mother had protested her daughter’s decision to join the unit, but the 28-year-old Wood had written just before the ship sailed to tell them not to worry.
But Wood’s mother’s worst fears soon materialized.
“We watched them load and fire and then Emma said, ‘Somebody’s shot,'” Huckleberry later wrote of the event in her diary. “I turned and saw two girls on the deck and blood all around.”
Pieces of flying shrapnel struck Ayres in the left temple and her side, while Wood’s heart was pierced. Both were killed instantly. Matzen suffered shrapnel wounds to her leg and arm. As doctors and nurses attended to their fallen comrades, the ship turned around and returned to New York. The wounded Emma Matzen was taken to the Brooklyn Naval Yard Hospital, then transferred to New York Presbyterian Hospital and later to convalesce at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
These three women became the first American military casualties of World War I. But it was unclear whether they were entitled to military benefits. Before their bodies were shipped home, Ayers and Wood were honored by the American Red Cross in a memorial service at St. Stephen’s Church. Their coffins, placed side by side, were draped with the Allied flags as New Yorkers paid their respects.
Although technically not buried with full military honors, the two nurses were honored in their local communities in elaborate public services described as “similar to those accorded the sons of Uncle Sam who fall on the field of battle.”
In honor of their martyred patriot, 32 autos in a “slow and solemn march” accompanied the hearse carrying Edith Ayers’ casket from the rail junction to Attica, Ohio. Area schools were closed for two days and most of the community paid their respects as her body lay in state in the Methodist Church. The burial concluded with a 21-gun salute from the 8th Ohio National Guard as a delegation of Red Cross nurses and representatives of the governor and the state of Ohio stood in silence.
Wealthy financier and former Evanston mayor James Patten, whose wife was a friend of Helen Wood, telegraphed his New York representative to have the body shipped to Chicago at his cost. Evanston Hospital, Northwestern University and First Presbyterian Church officials took part in planning the memorial services after obtaining the consent of relatives.
More than 5,000 people lined the streets of Evanston to view her funeral escort, which included a marching band, 50 cadets from Great Lakes Naval Station, Red Cross nurses, hospital and university officials and other dignitaries. Following church services, a contingent of Red Cross nurses accompanied grieving family and friends to the gravesite.
Part of the ambiguity about the military status of these nurses came from the fact that they were enrolled by the American Red Cross before being inducted into the U.S. Army. They also served without rank or commission. Although the Army and Navy had formed nursing corps before the war, this was the first time they had inducted women in large numbers.
The Senate Naval Affairs Committee investigated the incident, determining that it resulted from the malfunctioning of the brass cap on the powder cartridge case and ordering changes to naval guns to prevent recurrence of such mishaps. But as U.S. war casualties mounted, these women were soon forgotten.
Emma Matzen recovered from her injuries and rejoined her unit in France later that year. In 1919, she returned home to Nebraska, where she and a sister, also a nurse, ran a small hospital. Each adopted infant girls who had been abandoned at the hospital; both girls later became nurses as well. Matzen moved to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in 1949 where she did private duty nursing until she was 87. She was the only female among the 49 residents in her local VA Hospital; she died in 1979 at the age of 100.
Until the mid-1940s, the Edith Work Ayers American Legion Post in Cleveland was an all-women’s group comprised of former WWI Red Cross nurses and volunteers. The Attica Ohio Historical Society has honored her during annual Memorial Day ceremonies. Ayers’ graveside, although also without mention of any military service, has an American Legion marker. An Attica high school student, with the endorsement of the American Legion, has applied to the Ohio History Commission for a plaque to be placed in Attica in honor of its native daughter.
In Northesk Church near Musselburgh, Scotland, Helen Wood’s name is the first listed on a Roll of Honor of the congregation’s WWI deceased. In 2014, the flag which draped her coffin and her Red Cross pin were displayed in a WWI exhibition at the local museum. But Helen Wood is buried thousands of miles away in Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery. Among the grand tombstones of famous Chicagoans and war veterans, Wood’s simple headstone makes no mention of her military death. Her wartime sacrifice is recognized only by a marker provided long ago by the Gold Star Father’s Association.
On the centennial of the accident aboard the Mongolia, a public wreath laying ceremony will be held at Helen Burnett Wood’s grave site in Rosehill Cemetery May 20. Part of “Northwestern Remembers the First World War”, a series of exhibits, lectures, and commemorations from Northwestern University Libraries will also be part of the remembering of America’s first casualties of WWI. Support of the event is provided by the Pritzker Military Museum Library.
The joke came on Aug. 11, 1984. Reagan was in the middle of a re-election campaign, and so he had a big announcement planned for his weekly radio address to America. He was going to be at his ranch in California, and so he asked National Public Radio engineers to do the address from there. They agreed.
But they weren’t the only ones who had heard the remarks. The audio was already being sent to some of the radio stations that would broadcast the remarks, and those stations were recording the feed in case they missed the start of the presidential address.
And not all of them were part of the agreement to hold recordings not meant for broadcast. Someone leaked the audio.
Most of the world got that it was a joke and the punditry class took on its typical role of either condemning or praising the remarks. Most condemned, especially in those countries in Europe that Russia’s missiles could reach. The Soviet Union was also predictably, not a fan.
But one group of Soviet soldiers weren’t entirely sure that it was a joke. There were reports of a low-level Soviet commander putting his troops in Vladivostok on a wartime footing on August 13, in the belief that America really was going to war with the Soviet Union.
In the days of antiquity, being in the cavalry was a privilege specifically reserved for those who ranked higher in the social order than the common people. Those who were too young, too inexperienced, or too poor to have a horse, usually ended up in a type of combat unit specifically named for them: the infantry.
From the early days of warfare on up through the Middle Ages and beyond, war was a socially stratified activity, just like anything else. The leaders of a country needed able-bodied men to fight the wars, and they needed those men to already have the skills and experience necessary to fight wars. The problem is that most of those men definitely did not have the skills and experience necessary to fight wars. If a country didn’t have a standing professional army and used mostly the rabble picked from its towns and cities, chances are good, it was filled with infantry.
The word “infantry” is just as its root word suggests. Derived from the latin word infans, the word literally means infancy. Later versions of the word became common usage in French, Old Italian, and Spanish, meaning “foot soldiers too low in rank to be cavalry.
The last thing you see when you’re too poor to own a horse and no one thought to bring pointy sticks.
As if walking to the war and being the first to die from the other side’s cavalry charges wasn’t bad enough, your own cavalry referred to you as babies or children. Another possible Latin origin of the phrase would also describe infantry just as well. The word infantia means “unable to speak” or perhaps more colloquially, “not able to have an opinion.” The latter word might describe any infantry throughout history. As a conscript, you were forced into the service of a lord for his lands and allies, not given a choice in the matter.
In the modern terminology for infantry, this is probably just as true, except you volunteered to not have an opinion. At least now, you get healthcare and not cholera.
The main trailer for ‘Dunkirk’ is out, and it seems that Christopher Nolan will be telling the amazing story of Operation Dynamo from all angles as weekend sailors, Royal Air Force pilots, nurses, fishermen, and others appear in the footage.
Operation Dynamo, often called “The Miracle at Dunkirk,” was the evacuation of nearly 400,000 British and allied troops from the coast of France in 1940 after the German blitzkrieg cut through Allied defenses much faster than anyone anticipated.
The German invasion was expected to take months, but Nazi forces slashed a corridor through France to the English Channel in just over two weeks before they halted their advance. But the Nazis hadn’t been stopped by force of arms.
Rather, the high command decided that they didn’t want to risk panzers in pitched fighting near Dunkirk. So the German army kept the expeditionary force pinned down on the beach and sent the Luftwaffe to kill British ships in the English channel and strafe and bomb survivors on the beaches.
On May 26, the British launched Operation Dynamo, a Hail Mary attempt to rescue those dying troops through Royal Navy assets and, when those proved to be too few, hundreds of small fishing and pleasure boats piloted by civilians. Nearly 340,000 troops were evacuated from May 26 to June 4.
Previous trailers for Nolan’s movie about the event have focused on the plight of soldiers on the beach who waited for days, sometimes in shoulder-deep water while under fire from the Luftwaffe, for rescue. The new trailer shows them, but it also spends a lot of time on a father crossing the channel with his sons, as well as the nurses and pilots who made the mission possible.
It looks like World War II buffs may get to see one of the war’s most miraculous moments played out on the screen through perspectives of everyone who made it possible. Many of the troops rescued from the beaches went on to fight in North Africa, the D-Day landings, and on to Berlin.
Civil War POW camps were some of the most terrible, squalid places of the entire war. Massachusetts’ Fort Warren was an exception, however. It was used to house Confederate political prisoners and other high-value persons. Among those held here was Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice-President, as well as Confederate diplomats and even the Confederacy’s Postmaster General.
Legend has it that Melanie Lanier, the devoted wife of a captured Confederate troop, discovered his location via a letter he mailed her from the island prison. She immediately moved from Georgia to just outside Boston, Massachusetts, in the first step of an attempt to free her husband from the fortress.
One night, she boarded a boat that would take her to George’s Island – where the infamous prison camp and fortress were located. With the boat, she took a pickaxe, a pistol, and a length of rope in order to free her husband. She sat in the boat just offshore, waiting to hear any kind of signal from her beloved. That’s when she heard a common southern song, the signal that her husband was ready for action. But tragedy would soon strike.
As she and her husband made their way off the island and back to the waiting boat, she was surprised by a Union guard. She was able to subdue the sentry at first, using her pistol. But the guard only went along with the plot for so long. He attempted to overpower the woman and snatch the pistol away. In the scuffle, the gun went off, shooting her husband and killing him. She was overcome by the sentry and captured. Sent to the gallows, she requested to die in women’s clothing. All that could be found for her was a black mourner’s dress.
Melanie Lanier died by hanging not long after the botched escape attempt. Her body is said to be buried on George’s Island with others who died there. But unlike the others, Melanie is said to still be seen around the island at times, still clad in black and mourning her husband.
While many have claimed to see Fort Warren’s “Lady in Black” over the years, some doubt she existed at all. Such an escape attempt would have certainly ended up in Northern newspapers at the time, but no evidence of Lanier could be found. Furthermore, there’s another apocryphal story that could also be just as true. After World War II, the U.S. government was selling off all of its military possessions, and Fort Warren was one of those sales. Some say that in order to keep the historic fort from falling to a developer’s bulldozer, Edward Rowe Snow made up the story of the Lady in Black to make the island seem like much less of a steal.
It was later turned over to the National Parks Service.
June 25, 1950 saw troops from North Korea pouring across the 38th parallel into South Korea. This began a short, yet exceptionally bloody war. There are those that refer to the Korean War as, “the forgotten war” as it did not receive the same kind of attention as did World War II or the Vietnam War. However, despite the lack of attention given to it, the Korean War was one of great loss for both sides involved – both civilian and military. Even now, 70 years later, the Korean War is given less notice than other conflicts and wars in history. It is just as important and just as worthy of remembrance as anything else.
To honor those that fought, those that died, and those that were wounded in Korea between June 25, 1950, and July 27, 1953, here are 5 facts about the Korean War:
38th Parallel still divides the two countries:
The 38th Parallel was the boundary which divided the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the North and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the South. Despite the original desires of the UN and the U.S. to completely destroy communism and stop its spread, the Korean War ended in July 1953 with both sides signing an armistice which gave South Korea 1,500 extra square miles of territory, and also created a two-mile wide demilitarized zone which still exists today.
It was the first military action of the Cold War:
After World War II ended, the world entered a time period known as the Cold War. The Cold War lasted from 1945 until 1990. It was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their allies. The Korean War was the first military action following the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War.
American leaders viewed it as more than just a war against North Korea:
North Korean troops invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. By July, U.S. troops had joined the war on South Korea’s behalf. This is partly due to the fact that President Harry Truman and the American military leaders believed that this was not simply a border dispute between two dictatorships, but could be the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world. President Truman believed that, “If we let Korea down, the Soviets will keep right on going and swallow up one place after another.” They sent troops over to South Korea prepared for war against communism itself.
General MacArthur was fired from his post:
By the end of summer 1950, President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Asian theater, had set a new goal for the war in Korea. They set out to liberate North Korea from the communists. However, as China caught wind of this, they threatened full-scale war unless the United States kept its troops away from the Yalu boundary. The Yalu River was the border between North Korea and communist China.
Full-scale war with China was the last thing President Truman wanted, as he and his advisers feared it would lead to a larger scale push by the Soviets across Europe. As President Truman worked tirelessly to prevent war with China, General MacArthur began to do all he could to provoke it. In March 1951, General MacArthur sent a letter to House Republican leader, Joseph Martin stating that, “There is no substitute for victory,” against international communism. For President Truman this was the last straw, and on April 11 he fired General MacArthur from his post for insubordination.
Millions of lives were lost:
Between June 1950 and July 1953, approximately five million lives were lost. Somewhere around half of those were civilian casualties. American troops saw approximately 40,000 soldiers die in action in Korea, and more than 100,000 were wounded. These numbers made the Korean War known as an exceptionally bloody war, despite the fact that it was relatively short.
Ernest Taylor Pyle was born on Aug. 3, 1900, at the turn of the 20th century. The famed war correspondent and columnist was better known as “Ernie” and had the reputation as the voice of the American servicemen during World War II. He chronicled the blitz in London and the individual heroism of Londoners, the roles of Vichy French officials in North Africa and their corroboration with the Nazis, and the allied invasions of both Italy and Normandy. One of his most heart wrenching pieces, “The Death of Captain Waskow,” revealed the emotional grief of soldiers when one of their men was killed in combat.
His refreshing writing style informed the general public back home and provided a rare look at the happenings of America’s sons, husbands, and fathers serving overseas.
Pyle’s birthday is now recognized as National Ernie Pyle Day. The day celebrates his wartime columns, his Pulitzer Prize for reporting, and the memory of his legacy, one that ended too soon. On April 18, 1945, Pyle was shot and killed by a Japanese soldier on the island of Ie Shima while he was covering the war in the Pacific. While there is plenty known about Pyle’s exploits from his famous dispatches, here are four lesser known stories of Ernie Pyle’s historic legacy that are worth mentioning on his day of remembrance.
Before Ernie Pyle became a war correspondent during World War II, it could be argued that he had already seen much of what the human experience had to offer from his travels around the globe. He suffered from restlessness, a common affliction for many in his chosen profession. The farm boy from Indiana had a curiosity in service, so he enlisted in the US Naval Reserves during World War I. However, that didn’t get him overseas, which left a burden and lingering question about the adventure waiting for him.
After leaving Indiana University, Pyle cut his teeth as an aviation reporter for the Washington Daily News under the helm of the Scripps Howard newspaper entity. His yarns received many compliments, including one by none other than aviator Amelia Earhart.
“Not to know Ernie Pyle,” she said, “is to admit that you yourself are unknown in aviation.”
“I’ve covered 200,000 miles and been on five of the six continents and crossed both oceans and delved into every country in the Western Hemisphere and written upward of 1,500,000 words in that, daily column,” Pyle wrote in July 1941. “I’ve gone down the Yukon River on a stem-wheeler, and lived with the lepers in Hawaii, and petted llamas in the high Andes, and reveled in the strange lazy beauties of Rio.”
His “Great Experience” halted when his quest of service took him to all three theaters of operations during World War II.
Men of the 133rd Field Artillery Battalion enjoy Cokes on the front, March 17, 1944. Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
The ,000 Coca Cola Bottle
Coca-Cola was a prized beverage amongst American GI’s serving overseas in Europe during World War II. Pfc. Frederick Williams, a soldier from a field artillery brigade with prior service along the Italian front had returned home. He decided to send two bottles of Coke to his old unit, many of whom hadn’t seen a carbonated beverage for more than a year. The soldiers decided to split one of the Cokes and donate the other in a raffle to raise money for adoption efforts for the children whose fathers were killed in the brigade.
The Cokes were advertised in the brigade’s mimeographed newspaper for 25 cents a piece, and before the week was over the raffle had raised more than id=”listicle-2646905372″,000. Another soldier had received a second bottle of Coke and added the prize to the key. Three weeks passed and the total cash prize climbed to ,000.
“That one Coke was equivalent to the value of 80,000 bottles back home,” Pyle wrote in astonishment as he covered the event. Coke added an additional ,000 to the value and, despite the noble cause, Nazi propagandists used the opportunity to broadcast through the airwaves lies suggesting individual soldiers payed ,000 for one bottle of Coca-Cola.
In peacetime they are nickel-plated and shiny. In wartime they are black with a rough finish. A display at the National World War II Museum shows one of Pyle’s Zippo lighters donated during the war. Photo courtesy of the National World War II Museum.
Ernie’s Zippo Lighters
Readers from the United States and abroad were glued to the words Pyle strung together, including George Blaisdell, the president of Zippo Manufacturing Company. Braisdell sent a letter and 50 Zippo lighters personally addressed to Pyle to hand out to his servicemen friends.
“They’ll burn in the wind, and pilots say they are the only kind that will light at extreme altitudes,” Pyle once wrote. “Why, they’re so popular I had three stolen from me in one year.”
Pyle was an avid smoker, and through the habit he bonded with soldiers over a cigarette. “My own lighter was a beauty, with my name on one side and a little American flag on the other,” Pyle said. “I began smoking twice as much as usual just because I enjoyed lighting the thing.”
Conversations and insights happened while having a smoke that may not have occurred while sitting in a foxhole or over a meal of “C-rations” or in a bunk aboard a navy ship. Pyle’s ability to connect with pilots, infantrymen, medics, and even animals helped his writings convey a sense of identity and commonality to his readership.
Ernie Pyle visits Leathernecks of the 3rd Marine Division, where, along with talking to the veterans of the fight on Bougainville and Guam, he observed the famous Marine Corps war dogs for the first time on Jan. 24, 1945. Shown here talking to “Jeep,” a scout and security patrol Doberman pinscher. Photo by TSgt. J. Mundell, courtesy of the National Archives.
Pyle and the War Dogs
Marines serving in the Pacific theater often named their military working dogs after terms familiar with the US military. Jeep, a black-and-brown Doberman pinscher, was utilized by Marines from the 3rd Marine Division. Pyle learned all about their war dog program, which consisted of 60 dogs, 90 handlers, 10 NCO observers, two K-9 medics, and three kennel supervisors. Jeep’s job as a scout and security patrolman helped the Marines locate sniper positions, search caves and pillboxes, alerted signs of potential ambushes, and ran messages to unit commanders.
Sergeant, another war dog that impacted Pyle and the Marines, was killed after he had been wounded by shrapnel from an air raid. The Marines specifically trained their dogs to run into foxholes when they heard the aircraft, but a lucky shot by the enemy resulted in Sergeant having to be put down.
“It is not belittling the men who died,” Pyle wrote of the tragedy, “to say that Sergeant’s death shares a big place in the grief of those who were left.”
New details have emerged in recent months about the exact plans for Operation Sealion, Nazi Germany’s scheme to invade England, overwhelm defenses south of London, and install the then-Duke of Windsor as the new, pro-German king of England.
German troops land equipment.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
While media tends to focus on the 1940 events highlighted by movies like Dunkirk and the 1944 happenings as showcased by Saving Private Ryan, there’s actually a lot of history in the years between. At the start of that period, in May 1940, Nazi Germany was clearly in the dominant position over Britain.
The encirclement of troops at Dunkirk had robbed the British army of much key equipment. The British army successfully evacuated most of its men and a lot of Free French forces out of Dunkirk, but was forced to leave nearly all of its artillery and vehicles behind, as well as thousands of tons of ammo, food, uniforms, weapons, etc.
And the British Navy was larger and more capable than the German one, but British admirals were reluctant to devote large warships to the English Channel, relying on destroyers and the occasional cruiser instead. Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force was strong, but would rely on bombers to take out German landing ships. And Germany had a plan for that.
German troops test amphibious tanks for the planned invasion of Britain in Operation Sealion.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
See, Germany planned to do its amphibious invasion under the cover of darkness. The Royal Air Force’s best bombers relied on sights that only worked with plenty of light. At night, Britain’s best bombers would be next to useless.
So in 1940, despite Britain’s pseudo-alliance with the U.S. and its massive industrial base, Germany had the machinery and troops for an invasion, and Britain lacked the equipment to properly defend itself. And Germany had big plans.
First, the invasion flotilla would launch from bases on the French coast, most likely in September 1940. A diversionary attack would sail north and attack around Newcastle in England or Aberdeen in Scotland, drawing defenders north. Within a few days, the real invasion would come across the Strait of Dover.
Plan of battle of Operation Sealion, the cancelled German plan to invade England in 1940
Germany even knew what to do when it got there. German leaders believed that the then-Duke of Windsor, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David (lots of names), held German sympathies. He was the former King Edward VIII as well, having served in the role from the start of 1936 to the end of 1936. He had abdicated out of love to avoid a constitutional crisis (long story). All Germany had to do was put him back on the throne, hopefully giving them a new ally.
An abandoned Soviet KV-2 tank left by the roadside is inspected by curious German soldiers.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
So Germany had the forces, the plan, and the follow-up, all staged and ready to go right as Britain was at its weakest. So why didn’t it happen? Why didn’t America have to join the war in Europe with no convenient staging place off of France? With Britain’s colonies split between opposition to Germany and loyalty to Edward VIII?
But, stupidly enough, part of it was some comments Hitler had made during the initial planning for Operation Sealion.
A landing craft from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of the 1st Infantry Division on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944.
(Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent)
When the Kriegsmarine was briefing Hitler in the summer of 1940, the Fuhrer had emphasized the need for complete air superiority over the channel before an invasion was launched. As previously discussed, this was unnecessary, but Hitler had emphasized it during planning, and few leaders were willing to try to go to him with a plan that ignored it.
So, when the Royal Air Force surprisingly won the Battle of Britain, the invasion was delayed from September 1940 to early 1941, then back further as Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, got underway in June 1941. The Soviet Union successfully resisted the invasion in late 1941, and the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, drew America more firmly into the war.
In just over a year of fighting, Germany had gone from ascendant, with the machinery and manpower to potentially invade England, to the defensive, with too few troops to resist Soviet counterattacks. Allied counters in Africa, France, and D-Day sealed the deal.
Airships like zeppelins and blimps lost their appeal somewhere between World Wars I and II. It might have had something to do with the Hindenburg going down in a massive, fiery wreck in front of the whole world. By the time World War II came about, airships were a thing of the past for every military except the United States, which is a shame because you did not want to f*ck with an airship.
They seem like goofy floating targets just begging to be shot down but getting to them was a lot harder than anyone might think. More than that, they were really effective at locating enemy submarines and then blowing them into oblivion. Of the 89,000 ships protected by airships during WWII, only one was ever lost.
And only one airship was ever lost, and it happened off the coast of Florida in July 1943.
Blimp-Submarine combat seems like it would be adorable.
The missions of blimp crew was an easy one, use the massive range of sight the blimp had over the ocean waters, locate enemy submarines, then call in for fighters and bombers to come finish the subs off. They had some weapons, a few depth charges, and a .50-cal machine gun, but not something to take on a submarine head-to-head. But K-74 did just that.
A 252-foot airship, K-74 was performing its usual mission in the Florida Straits when it spotted German U-boat 134 on radar. The airship came down from the cover of the clouds to find the boat on the surface of the water. Seeing that the U-boat was headed for a merchant convoy, Lt. Nelson Grills decided he couldn’t just wait for backup and had to act fast. As the ship moved to intercept the boat, the sub’s conning tower exploded with 20-mm rounds.
U-134 under attack from the RAF earlier in 1943. The sub survived the meeting.
K-74 was able to drop two charges on the sub as it flew overhead, but the charges did nothing to silence the 20mm guns. The blimp returned fire, but the submarine had hit one of the airship’s engines, and she was losing altitude fast. Then it caught fire. The next thing he knew, the crew had begun to abandon ship – all because he couldn’t follow protocol. But the ship didn’t explode in a Hindenburg-like burst of flame. It gently fell to the surface of the water, and the crew climbed aboard the deflated ship.
Gills helped his crewmen escape, but as they climbed the balloon part of the ship, Grills got separated when he stayed behind to destroy the ship’s classified documents and top-secret cargo.
The ship’s commander was found when another K-ship spotted him in the water below just a few hours after his ship went down. His crew was in the water all night and was found by a seaplane the next day. Most of them survived, except for one. The crew was being circled by sharks as planes flew overhead and surface ships moved in for a rescue. The USS Dahlgren had come on scene to pick them up, and even though the Dahlgren’s crew managed to keep some sharks away with small arms, one of the K-74 crewmen was pulled under by a shark and disappeared.
All was not lost, however. K-74 damaged the enemy submarine in the action. The U-boat was forced to limp home heavily damaged. Eventually, it was found at sea by the British Royal Air Force, who swiftly finished it off near the Cies Islands.