This Marine division never set foot in the United States - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

When American military units are established or disestablished, it’s usually done on American soil. There are exceptions, but, for the most part, it is done in the United States. But one Marine division has the distinction of never setting foot in the United States for the duration its service.


During World War II, the Marine Corps underwent a massive expansion. The 1st Marine Division was established in February of 1941. Eventually, the Marines grew to six infantry divisions (today, there are four – three active and one reserve). Five were formed in the United States, but the 6th Marine Division was formed on the Pacific island where Marine legends, like John Basilone, made their mark on history – Guadalcanal – on September 7, 1944, a little over two years after the invasion of that island.

 

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Marines from the 6th Marine Division on a patrol during the Battle of Okinawa. (USMC photo)

The division trained until it was sent to help take the island of Okinawa from Japan. The Japanese troops on that island didn’t give up easily. The battle spanned almost three months, leaving 12,520 Americans dead, including Lieutenant General Simon Buckner. Over 110,000 Japanese troops and at least 40,000 civilians were killed during the fighting.

During the fight for Okinawa, five Marines and one sailor with the 6th Marine Division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. The entire division was recognized with the Presidential Unit Citation. After Okinawa, the division was pulled back to Guam in order to prepare for the invasion of Japan — on an American territory, but not in the United States. Soon thereafter, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and forced Japan’s surrender. The division was instead sent to Tsingtao, China, where it was disestablished in 1946.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
With the captured capital of Naha in the background, Marine Maj. Gen. Lemuel Shepherd, commanding general of the 6th Marine Division, relaxes on an Okinawan ridge long enough to consult a map of the terrain. (Marine Corps)

 

Today, the 6th Marine Division remains inactive. To learn more about what their courageous actions on Okinawa, watch the video below.

Articles

This fake stealth fighter helped secure the real one

As we all know by now, the F-117 Nighthawk was America’s first combat-capable stealth aircraft. According to an Air Force fact sheet, it entered service in 1983, and was retired in 2008. It had a very effective career, serving in Operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, Allied Force, and Iraqi Freedom.


But one reason the F-117 was effective was because the Americans managed to keep it secret for the first five years it was in operation. As a result, many figured America’s stealth fighter would be named the F-19 – and in two techno-thrillers, the F-19 had major roles.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Photo: Air Force Master Sgt. Edward Snyder

It was best-known as the F-19 Ghostrider in Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising.” In that novel, the planes carry out a daring raid to destroy Soviet Il-76 “Mainstay” radar planes, enabling NATO to secure air superiority in the early stages of the war. One F-19 crew later takes out a Soviet theater commander.

Clancy’s F-19 was very different from the F-117. It had a crew of two, and was capable of breaking Mach 1. It also carried weapons externally, including Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and had a radar. While some sources, like Combat Aircraft Since 1945, credited the F-117 Nighthawk with the ability to carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder, most sources claim that the F-117 has no air-to-air capability.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
A three-view graphic of what the F-19 was believed to look like. (Graphic from Wikimedia Commons)

The other appearance of the F-19 was in Dale Brown’s “Silver Tower.” This time, it had the right name, Nighthawk, but it also had a crew of two. Brown didn’t go into the detail of his F-19 that Clancy did in Red Storm Rising. Brown’s F-19s had one notable success, where they bluffed their way in to attack a Soviet base in Iran during Silver Tower. Both planes were shot down and their crews killed.

After the F-117’s public reveal, the speculative F-19s were largely forgotten. But the “F-19” speculation helped keep the F-117 secret – and that secrecy was critical to the battlefield success of America’s first stealth fighter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This WWII ammo box had some choice words for Hitler inside

Graffiti is not a new concept in the military. From creative drawings on the inside of guard posts in Afghanistan, to the famous “Kilroy was here” of WWII, to stone carvings in the walls of Roman barracks in England, soldiers and folks supporting the military find ways to leave their personal mark. The Tooele Army Depot discovered one such mark on an old box of ammo from WWII.

Located in Tooele County, Utah, the depot first opened in 1942 to support WWII. Today, it is the DoD’s western region conventional ammunition hub. The depot stores, demilitarizes and distributes ammo to and from all four branches of the military.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
The ammo box’s data card (Tooele Army Depot)

On March 18, the Tooele Army Depot Twitter account shared a surprising discovery. The tweet included photos of a .50-cal ammo box from WWII. On the bottom of the box was a handwritten message that read, “May the contents of this box of blow the s*** out of Hitler.” The tweet itself said, “Sorry for the salty language, but when that message was scribbled inside a box of .50 cal rounds 77 years ago, we were a nation at war. The demil furnace crew found the message while destroying rounds from #WWII. We are eager to see what else they find. #greatestgeneration.”

The ammo box was produced at the Ogden Arsenal in 1944 according to Tooele Army Depot Public Affairs Officer Jeremy Laird. In a later tweet, Tooele Army Depot announced that it planned to preserve the ammo box and put it on display.

Articles

Thousands of Irishmen deserted their military to fight Hitler

It’s sometimes easy to forget that World War II wasn’t originally a world war and that many countries hoped to let continental Europe fight it out against each other (including the United States). Some countries held on to hopes of remaining neutral and passed strict laws to prevent their people from joining the fight.


For those who wanted to take the fight to the Nazis, this was a bit of a problem. A few dozen U.S. pilots defied neutrality laws to join the Royal Air Force while some American soldiers like Lewis Millet ran away to join the Canadian Army.

For Irish soldiers, approximately 4,500 of them, the best option was to run away from the Emerald Isles and join the British Army. Irish Brigades had served well in other conflicts including World War I, the Mexican-American War (against the U.S), and the American Civil War (on behalf of the Union).

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Irish soldiers kill time during the first World War. Photo: Public Domain

The men were grouped into the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade which was formed at the request of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The 38th was commanded by Brig. Morgan John Winthrop O’Donovan.

O’Donovan was a World War I veteran who received the Military Cross for bravery. He led the 38th Brigade from soon after its formation in early 1942 to July of that year, overseeing the initial training and preparations to ship out to North Africa.

O’Donovan was later replaced by Brigadier Nelson Russell, another World War I veteran and holder of the Military Cross. Russell got his for leading a daytime raid of an enemy trench as a 19-year-old lieutenant.  He was also known for a stint playing cricket for Ireland.

Under Russell, the 38th Irish Brigade was sent to the invasion of French North Africa. After suffering a bomb attack by the Luftwaffe as they were getting off of their ships, the Irish Brigade fought its way through Africa alongside the British and American forces. The Irish were deployed into the mountains around Tunis during the battle for the capital.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
The war in Tunisia was characterized by tank combat and blistering temperatueres. Here, British soldiers practice anti-tank marksmanship in the Tunisian Desert. Photo: British Army Sgt. Loughlin

When the Allies made it into the city, the Irish Brigade was the first to march through the streets. After the celebrations at Tunis, the 38th was sent with other victorious units to prepare for the landings at Sicily in Operation Husky.

The Allies landed on Jul. 9, 1943. The 38th’s major objective was a small village at the center of the Axis defenses in the Sicilian mountains. They made it to the objective and, on Aug. 3, began their assault against it. In a single night of fighting, they pushed the Axis our of the village and away from the ridgeline. They continued to push forward, helping other Allied soldiers capture and kill Axis forces.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Soldiers with the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade search houses in Sicily in 1943. Photo: Public Domain

On Aug. 17, after just over 5 weeks of fighting, the Axis had been pushed off the island and forced to return to Italy.

The Irish Brigade was then sent to take part in the invasion of Italy, a task which would occupy them for the rest of the war. They came ashore just a few days after the initial landings and then began pushing the Germans north past one defensive line after another. By this time, the Italian Army had withdrawn from the war and it was only German soldiers holding the peninsula.

Still, the Fuhrer’s troops made the Allies fight for every mile with well-established defensive lines that the 38th Irish and the other Allied forces had to break through. The Irish didn’t make it out of Italy and into Austria until May 8, 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies.

Since the men of the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade were mostly deserters from the Irish Army, they were officially blacklisted in Ireland from any jobs that received any money from the state and were branded as traitors by both the government and the population.

This punishment lasted for nearly 70 years until a 2013 pardon cleared all men of the Irish Brigade of wrongdoing.

For a more detailed account of the Irish Brigade’s exploits in Tunisia and Italy, check out the Irish Brigade’s campaign narratives and suggested reading.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here is how the Allies planned to evacuate wounded before D-Day

Preparing for the invasion of Normandy wasn’t just a matter of training troops to take the objectives, nor was it simply about moving all the necessary troops and supplies to England or fielding enough planes for support. All of those elements were important, but the Allies needed to plan for something else, too: evacuating the wounded.


Looking back on history, it’s easy to assume this was a given. If I were storming the beaches, I’d want to know that if I got hit, the brass had a plan to get me out of there safely as opposed to leaving me to explore Nazi Germany’s idea of hospitality. As it turns out, the Allies had a plan for retrieving the injured, but it was far from trivial.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

The widespread use of helicopters to evacuate wounded troops wasn’t made practical until the Korean War.

(USAF)

On the battlefield, a medic (or corpsman) would move to aid a casualty as quickly as possible. He’d assess the condition and the troop would then be moved back, either on foot or by jeep, to the battalion aid station. From there, if needed, a troop would be moved further back from the front for more intensive care.

Now, in World War II, using helicopters for medical evacuations wasn’t possible. The first practical helicopters were flying, but they still didn’t have the lift capacity needed — even still, there were ways to get troops back reasonably quickly.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

The Landing Ship Tank proved to be a key component of plans to evacuate wounded troops on and after D-Day.

(US Navy)

One of the best assets for doing this was the Landing Ship Tank, or LST. These vessels were designed to get tanks and vehicles ashore, usually by making a run onto the beach and dropping a bow ramp, allowing vehicles to roll onto land. That ramp, of course, worked two ways. You could easily roll vehicles, like jeeps and trucks, back on.

The LSTs were designed to be a combination of both a floating ambulance and an emergency room. On board, Army doctors could perform emergency surgery on wounds that required immediate attention. Troops could then be evacuated (usually via C-47 Dakota) as necessary from Normandy to England. In England, a network of holding hospitals, transit hospitals, and general hospitals awaited the wounded.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

Like the C-17 today, the C-47 Dakota was used for medical evacuation.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

The result was that many wounded troops — who would have likely died from those same wounds in past wars — were able to survive and, in some cases, even return to the battlefield.

Learn more about the way combat casualties were evacuated from Normandy in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9aQ_p2FPQs

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came to be

At the heart of Arlington National Cemetery lies one of our nation’s most magnificent displays of honor and respect to our fallen troops. Three unnamed graves are tended to by some of the most disciplined soldiers the military has to offer. The soldiers tirelessly guard the monument. Every hour (or half hour, during the spring and summer months), the guard is changed with an impressive, precise ceremony.

Each year, these three fallen soldiers receive up to four million visitors — but it’s not about honoring the specific individuals contained within the tomb. In death, these three fallen soldiers have became a symbol, representing each and every troop who gave their last breath in service of this great nation. Every step taken by the sentinels, every bouquet of flowers offered, every wreath laid, and every flag placed is for every American troop who has fallen.

This is exactly what was intended when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated almost one hundred years ago, on November 11, 1921.


This Marine division never set foot in the United States

The King of England is also the head of the Church of England, so he chose to place the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, where all future kings and queens would be crowned, married, and buried.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The tradition of honoring a fallen but unknown troop actually originated as a joint effort between France and the UK.

In 1916, David Railton was a chaplain in the English Army serving on the Western Front of World War I. Near Armentières, France, he discovered a rough, wooden cross planted in the middle of a battlefield. It read, simply, “an unknown British soldier, of the Black Watch.”

David Railton would go on to join the clergy after the war, but the image of that cross never left his mind. It took years, but after many attempts, he finally got the ear of Bishop Herbert Ryle, the Dean of Westminster. Railton wanted to repatriate the remains of this fallen soldier and give him proper honors, despite not knowing his identity. Bishop Ryle was moved by Rev. Railton’s passionate words and went directly to King George V with his proposal.

Reverend Railton would later say,

“How that grave caused me to think!… But, who was he, and who were they [his folk]?… Was he just a laddie… . There was no answer to those questions, nor has there ever been yet. So I thought and thought and wrestled in thought. What can I do to ease the pain of father, mother, brother, sister, sweetheart, wife and friend? Quietly and gradually there came out of the mist of thought this answer clear and strong, “Let this body – this symbol of him – be carried reverently over the sea to his native land.” And I was happy for about five or ten minutes.”

The soldier was buried at Westminster Abbey, London on November 11, 1920, thus creating what’s now known as The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

It’s fitting that the Arch built in honor of the French victory in WWI would also be the final resting site for her unknown soldier.

(Photo by Jorge Lascar)

Meanwhile, across the English Channel, in France, a young officer in the Le Souvenir Français, an association responsible for maintaining war memorials, had better luck. He argued for bringing an unidentified fallen soldier into the Pantheon in Paris to honor of all fallen French soldiers from the Great War — and his proposal garnered support.

Both England and France decided to share the honors. They buried France’s Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc de Triomphe on the same day as The Unknown Warrior was laid to rest at Westminster.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cody Torkelson)

The next year, as the United States began the process of repatriating remains from the European battlefield, plans for an American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier began to take shape. The originator of the idea remains unknown to history, but the selection process was public. On October 24, 1921, six American soldiers were asked to come to Châlons-sur-Marne, France. Each soldier was a highly decorated and highly respected member of their respective units. They were selected to be pallbearers for the remains as they made their way back to the States.

While there, the officer in charge of grave registrations, Major Harbold, randomly selected one of the men. He gave Sgt. Edward F. Younger a bouquet of pink and white roses and asked him to step inside the chapel alone. There, four identical, unmarked coffins awaited him. He was told that whichever coffin he laid the roses on would be laid to rest in the National Shrine.

Younger said of the event,

“I walked around the coffins three times, then suddenly I stopped. What caused me to stop, I don’t know, it was as though something had pulled me. I placed the roses on the coffin in front of me. I can still remember the awed feeling that I had, standing there alone.”

The remains were brought to the Capital Rotunda and remained there until November 11th, 1921. President Warren G. Harding officiated a ceremony in which he bestowed upon the Unknown Soldier the Medal of Honor and a Victoria Cross, given on behalf of King George V.

Since that day, the entombed soldier has been guarded every moment of every day, rain, shine, hurricane, or blizzard.

popular

This Kiwi pilot inspired Tom Hardy’s character in Dunkirk

The pilot checks his watch and does another calculation. The fuel gauge on his Spitfire had been shot out by a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, and he was reduced to estimating his remaining fuel level with quick arithmetic. As he approaches the Dunkirk coast, the engine begins to sputter and the prop slows to a lethargic, useless spin. Now gliding, the pilot spots a German Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber making a dive on the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force troops attempting to evacuate below. He lines up his gunsight and lets out a burst of fire from his .303 Browning machine guns, sending the smoking Stuka into the water.


This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Dunkirk movie promo (Credit to Warner Bros. Pictures)

The men on the ground cheer and wave at their airborne savior as he glides his Spitfire over the beach. Once he is clear of the British beachhead, the pilot lowers his flaps for landing. The landing gear release lever malfunctions and he is forced to manually crank his landing gear down as the beach below him grows closer and closer. He skillfully sets the Spitfire down on the beach with no bumps or bounces—a perfect landing under any circumstances. After setting fire to his plane, the pilot reflects on his long day of fighting before he is captured by German troops.

This account follows the story of an RAF Spitfire pilot named Farrier, played by Tom Hardy, in the 2017 Warner Bros. film Dunkirk. Written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk tells the suspenseful story of the British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. What most people don’t know is that Farrier’s actions depicted in the film are based on the real-life exploits of New Zealand fighter ace Alan Deere.

Deere was born in Westport, New Zealand in 1917. During his school years, he excelled in sports and took up rugby, cricket, and boxing. After school, he convinced his mother to sign an “Under 21” form, allowing him to join the RAF at the age of 20. Deere moved to England in 1937 to begin his flight training. After graduating flight school, Deere was assigned to No. 54 Squadron and flew the Gloster Gladiator before converting to the Supermarine Spitfire in March 1939.

During Operation Dynamo, the BEF evacuation at Dunkirk that began on May 26, No. 54 flew several sorties every day to provide air cover over Dunkirk and the English Channel. On May 27, Deere destroyed a Junkers Ju 88 bomber that was attacking a hospital ship, much like Farrier did in the film. The intense aerial combat and high operational tempo of Dynamo meant that, by May 28, No. 54 Squadron had been attrited to just eight serviceable aircraft.

Deere led the squadron on a dawn patrol, Deere spotted a German Dornier Do 17 bomber. He split off a section of his patrol to engage the enemy aircraft. During his attack on the Do 17, Deere’s Spitfire was hit by machine gun fire from the bomber’s rear gunner. He was forced to make an emergency landing to the east on a Belgian beach, during which he was knocked unconscious. After he came to, Deere torched his plane and made his way into a nearby town where he received first aid and hitched ride on a British Army truck back to Dunkirk. During the boat ride back to England, Deere received harsh words and criticism about the RAF’s fighter cover from the BEF soldiers (this experience was portrayed in the story of a different RAF pilot in the film).

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Deere’s scuttled Spitfire on the beach. (Photo from spitfirepv270.co.nz)

 

After the Battle of France, Deere flew during the Battle of Britain and the Invasion of Normandy. During the war, Deere scored 22 aerial victories, 10 probable kills, and damaged 18 enemy aircraft. He became a quadruple ace and the second highest scoring New Zealand fighter pilot in history. For his contributions during the war, Deere was awarded two British Distinguished Flying Crosses, the American Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, the British Distinguished Service Order, and appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Deere’s military career also brought him numerous near death experiences, including having his Spitfire’s wing shot off, and a head-on engagement with a Bf 109 which resulted in an aerial collision and another glide to an emergency landing. Befitting an unkillable man like Deere, his autobiography is titled Nine Lives.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Portrait of Wing Commander Alan Deere. (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)

 

After the war, Deere continued to serve in the RAF and achieved the rank of Air Commodore before retiring in 1967. He returned to his boyhood passion of athletics and became the RAF’s Director of Sport as a civilian. During his later years, Deere suffered from cancer. He died on September 21, 1995. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the River Thames from a Spitfire.

Memorabilia from Deere’s military career, including medals, trophies, and even the engine from one of his Spitfires, are on display at museums in both Britain and New Zealand. Perhaps his best tribute, however, is a restored Spitfire Mk IX bearing his markings when he served as a Wing Commander during the war. The Spitfire was restored by Deere’s nephew, Brendon Deere, and is flown at air shows in New Zealand.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Brendon Deere’s restored Spitfire Mk IX bearing Alan Deere’s markings. (Photo from airshowtravel.co.nz)
MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how ‘Ripley at the Bridge’ became a Marine Corps legend

It’s impossible to describe John Ripley’s most famous action in a single headline. This Marine dangled from the Dong Ha Bridge for some three hours as North Vietnamese soldiers took potshots at him. He took his time attaching 500 pounds of explosives to the bridge, singlehandedly halting an advance of 20,000 Communists during the Easter Offensive.


This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

Then-Captain John Ripley was an American advisor in the northern regions of South Vietnam in 1972. He was at Camp Carroll, a firebase between Khe Sanh and Dong Ha, advising South Vietnamese troops. It was his second tour in Vietnam and things were mostly quiet…until they weren’t.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
That second trip though…

The NVA had been testing the U.S. defenses at firebases in his area but they would quickly disengage. One day in March 1972, they didn’t stop. Enemy artillery started raining shells on the firebases in the area. The NVA was throwing everything they had at South Vietnam, 14 divisions and 26 independent regiments. The Easter Offensive had just begun.

As Camp Carroll was overrun and its ARVN garrison surrendered, Ripley and another American escaped on a CH-47 Chinook. But the helicopter took on too many fleeing ARVN troops and was forced to crash land on Highway 1, near Dong Ha.

At Dong Ha, close to the DMZ that separated North and South Vietnam, he found a number of South Vietnamese Marines who had no intention of surrendering. He also found some 200 North Vietnamese tanks and self-propelled artillery backed up for six miles – and ready to cross the Cam Lo River.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
The tanks would drive down Highway 1 and into Saigon unless someone did something about it… SOME body… hmm…

“We didn’t have the wherewithal to stop that many tanks. We had little hand-held weapons. And we certainly didn’t have anything on the scale that was needed to deal with the threat. Originally 20 tanks had been reported.” Ripley chuckled softly at the memory years later.

With the monsoon season limiting American air support and the North Vietnamese controlling one half of the bridge, Ripley decided he had to blow up the bridge. By himself, if necessary.

Another American, Maj. James Smock drove him to the bridge in a tank and Ripley headed below where he found five ARVN engineers trying to rig the bridge to blow. They had 500 pounds of TNT. The problem was the way the explosives were laid out; the bridge wouldn’t be completely destroyed and the NVA would still be able to cross. They’d have to be rearranged.

By hand. With tanks and guns shooting at those hands.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
And the Marine attached to those hands.

 

Meanwhile, 90-pound South Vietnamese Marine-Sergeant Huynh Van Luom dashed onto the bridge in what Ripley called “the bravest single act of heroism I’ve ever heard of, witnessed or experienced.”

Huynh fired two M72 light antitank assault weapon rounds at the lead NVA tank. The first shot missed, but the second hit the tank turret, stopping it cold. The entire column was stopped. It couldn’t move and couldn’t turn around.

The ARVN engineers below the bridge took off as Ripley climbed over the razor wire barrier designed to keep people from doing what he was about to do. He climbed hand over hand as Smock pushed the explosives out to him. Ripley grabbed the box and moved it to a better location.

“I would hand-walk out, then swing up to get my heels into the “I” beam,” Ripley said, recalling that he was still wearing all his web gear and slung rifle. “Then I’d swing down on one T beam and then leap over and grab another T beam.”

For nearly three hours, Ripley dangled under the Dong Ha Bridge, rigging it to blow, and frustrating the enemy trying to kill him. To make matters worse, Ripley had no blasting caps, so he had to use timed fuses — fuses with an unknown time, set with his mouth.

Smock moved to rig the railway bridge to blow at the same time and moved back to friendly lines. The 500-foot bridges blew up just minutes later. The armored column became sitting ducks for the Navy’s ships offshore and South Vietnamese A-1 Skyraiders.

 

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
John Ripley’s legendary action at Dong Ha Bridge, portrayed in a diorama at the U.S. Naval Academy. (U.S. Naval Academy)

 

His effort on the bridge that day may have been the decisive factor that kept the North from taking Saigon until three years later.

Colonel John Ripley died in 2008 at the age of 69, but not before making a trip back to Dong Ha with some of his buddies from L/3/3 Marines in 1997.

 

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Colonel John Ripley, hanging out in Dong Ha, one more time.

Feature image: Painting by Col Charles Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret.) captures the spirit of Ripley at the bridge at Dong Ha.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Napoleon’s bastard rejected his noble blood to join Foreign Legion

Alexandre Walewski, born to a Polish countess in 1810, was the acknowledged son of a Polish count who had served the last king of Poland before it was annexed by Russia — but most people who knew the family suspected that he was the son of the countess’s lover, Emperor Napoleon. Napoleon’s illegitimate son later ignored his Polish roots and joined the French Foreign Legion.


Countess Marie Walewska was a beautiful woman who married a much older man, Count Athanasius Walewski, who had a burning desire to see Poland break from the Russian Empire and establish itself as a free land once more. A former chamberlain to the last Polish king, Walewski and many of his contemporaries fervently believed that Napoleon was their best chance at a free Poland.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
I mean, she’s pretty if you’re into that “classical beauty” thing.
(Portrait by François Gérard)

So, when the count learned that Napoleon had the hots for his young wife, he encouraged her to go to him. Marie was, by many accounts, pious and initially reluctant. But she eventually became one of Napoleon’s mistresses and, in 1809, became pregnant with what she suspected was an imperial child.

When young Alexandre was born, the rumor mills quickly commented on how much he looked like the French emperor, but Walewski publicly acknowledged the boy as his own, granting the boy the privileges of nobility.

Alexandre grew up with his two acknowledged fathers. At the age of 2, Napoleon gifted the boy the title of count and 69 farms with a combined revenue of 170,000 francs, though the lands were later taken after Napoleon’s first abdication.

So, little Alexandre was the acknowledged son of a count, the biological son of a countess with her own family line, and a count in the Kingdom of Naples by Imperial decree.

But Alexandre shared his Polish father’s desire to break Russian rule of Poland, and, at the age of 14, this got him in trouble.

The Russian Army came calling for young Alexandre and he ran away, first to London and then Paris. In France, the royal line was back on the throne but Alexandre was not punished for his father’s reign. King Louis-Philippe sent him back to Poland.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
The young Count Alexandre Walewski was considered handsome despite his neckbeard.
(Portrait by the school of George Hayter)

In Poland, Alexandre reached the age of 20 and quickly fell in with an attempted rebellion led primarily by Polish officers at the military academy. The uprising had some early success, and Alexandre was sent to London to be the group’s envoy to England. As it would turn out, he was lucky out of the country when the Russian army crushed the uprising in 1831.

Alexandre married the daughter of an earl that December but she tragically died — not long after the deaths of their two children. In 1834, Alexandre was a widower with no living children, so he decided to go back to France.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Typical French Foreign Legion uniforms in 1830s Algeria.

Once there, he applied for French citizenship, which was granted, and a French commission. Soon, Capt. Alexandre Walewski was serving with the French Foreign Legion in Algeria.

During this period, French forces in Algeria were focused predominantly on driving back the Ottomans and ensuring French control of the country. Alexandre distinguished himself as a light cavalry officer and was eventually awarded the grand cross of the Legion of Honor.

This Marine division never set foot in the United States
Facing off against the Arabs in Algeria took guts, as these Frenchmen found out when they were stomped at Constantine in 1836.
(Print by Auguste Raffet)

By 1837, Alexandre was ready to return to civilian life and he took up writing. He continued to serve as a diplomat when called upon, occasionally representing his cousin, Napoleon III, a French president who would be emperor from 1848 to 1870.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US Navy didn’t have an admiral until after the Civil War

Career progression for officers in the old United States Navy used to be very different from what we know today. Officers had just four ranks open to them, midshipman, lieutenant, master commandant and captain. Congress was not open to creating more because ranks like “admiral” were a European tradition and the American republic wanted to distinguish itself from Europe.

Today’s naval officers have four levels of admiral to strive for, but it wasn’t until the Civil War that Congress gave them any chance of achieving just one admiral’s rank. Until then, achievement in the U.S. Navy was a mishmash of titles, commands and appointments. The Civil War changed that, and a long-serving naval hero would be the first to wear the rank. 

The list of pre-Civil War U.S. Navy legends is a long one. John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, Matthew C. Perry, and Isaac Hull all achieved the highest rank possible of a U.S. Navy officer, but none were called admiral. This fact understandably annoyed many naval officers in the early days of the Navy because many became captains early in their careers. 

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Current insignia of the Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, Admiral and Fleet Admiral, respectively. Bet John Paul Jones would be jealous. (Wikipedia)

With only four ranks available to them, the highest achievement anyone could reach was the honorific title of commodore. “Commodore” was bestowed upon officers who commanded a squadron, fleet, or any other group of ships. This fact also annoyed senior naval officers, who realized that a midshipman in command of gun boats could be called “commodore.”

While “commodore” wasn’t really a higher rank, officers who earned the title kept referring to themselves as commodore, even when their command ended. Despite the confusion and enmity it caused in the ranks, that’s just how it went from the American Revolution to just before the start of the Civil War.

In 1857, Congress finally created a flag officer’s rank, uncreatively called “flag officer.” Flag officers were little different from the Navy’s old commodores when it came down to it, however, and the rank didn’t last long. In 1862, flag officers were gone and “commodore” became an official rank. 

Then came Commodore David G. Farragut. 

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Admiral David Farragut onboard the USS Hartford (Public Domain)

Farragut was practically a sailor from birth. He was certainly a sailor until his death. His father came to the British colonies that would one day become the United States in 1766 from Spain. When they declared independence, George Farragut joined the South Carolina Navy. After the war was won, he moved his family to Tennessee, where his son David was born. 

David Farragut joined the Navy at age nine and would spend most of the rest of his life at sea. He cut his teeth in combat during the War of 1812, fought pirates in the Caribbean, and served in the Mexican-American War. By the time the Civil War broke out, he was a 64-year-old Commodore given the command of the Gulf Blockading Squadron. 

Three months into this command, he led the Union assault on New Orleans, sailed up the Mississippi Rivers and, along with the Union Army of the Gulf, captured the remaining Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River. Those victories cut the Confederate States in two, the Union’s primary strategy against the south. 

To honor the lifelong sailor and his recent string of wins, Congress created the rank of Rear Admiral on July 16, 1862. Farragut became the first Admiral in the U.S. Navy, and 13 other officers were promoted with him. In August 1864, Adm. Farragut and the Union Navy would capture Mobile Bay, the south’s last major port. The Confederacy was cut off from the rest of the world. 

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Adm. David G. Farragut, ca. 1863 Mathew Brady Collection. (Army) 

Combined with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, Farragut’s attack on Mobile Bay secured a second term for President Abraham Lincoln and the successful conclusion of the Civil War for the Union. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

FDR’s home away from home — the “Little White House” in Georgia

Before taking office as POTUS, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a white house of his own — a smaller, less notable white house, located in Warm Springs, Georgia. Now a museum of all things FDR, the late president built the house in 1932. He first came to this location of West-Central Georgia in 1924, while seeking treatment for his polio in the natural buoyant waters.

It was a combination of warm mineral water — sitting at a year round 88 degrees — and physical exercise that helped ease his symptoms. Into his presidency, FDR used the Little White House as a vacation retreat, where he’s said to have visited a total of 16 times, often for weeks with each stay.

In fact, it’s said that FDR drew many of his ideas for the New Deal from his small town visits, specifically the Rural Electrification Administration.


Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation

In 1927, FDR purchased the land that hosted its popular warm waters. Formerly known as Bullochvile, the area had become a tourist destination for residents of Savannah and Atlanta, including those with symptoms of yellow fever. Through his ownership, he rebuilt the area’s “ramshackle” hotel that housed pools of natural mineral waters, and began bringing in polio survivors to bask in these healing waters.

FDR became so interested in hydrotherapy that he eventually founded the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. It was funded by the Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known today as the March of Dimes. Their rehab efforts were available for a wide variety of ailments, including post-polio syndrome, amputation, spinal cord injuries, brain damage, and stroke.

The location transferred ownership to Augusta University Health in 2014, who still serves patients today.

A tourist destination

The area is preserved as the Warm Springs Historic District, where buildings have been maintained to their looks from the Roosevelt era, with the exception of a cottage that burned down in 2001 due to a suspected lightning strike.

Visitors can head to the Little White House for a trip back in time; the space is said to be preserved as it was the day Roosevelt died. (Yes, you can even see the very room where he passed.) Other highlights include his custom Ford convertible and the Unfinished Portrait, a painting that was being made of FDR when he suffered a stroke.

Take a feel of the warm waters by hand on your tour, or plan ahead for a swim; the springs are open to public swimming once a year on Labor Day weekend.

https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/travel/7-of-the-worlds-amazing-healing-waters

https://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/topics/history/article/progressive-era-world-war-ii-1901-1945/background-to-fdrs-ties-to-georgia

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 things you didn’t know about the Solomons campaign

After the fighting around Guadalcanal, which was the stage for several epic naval battles, clashes continued in the South Pacific. These battles don’t get as much coverage today, but they were just as important. In fact, it was the Allied move up the Solomon Islands that arguably broke Japan’s back in the Pacific.

The Battle of Midway is justifiably celebrated as a decisive Allied victory that turned the tide of the war. Guadalcanal is known as a slugging match that, although bloody for both sides, put the initiative in Allied hands. It was through the Solomon Islands campaign, however, that put the Allies eventually into a position where they could neutralize the Japanese base at Rabaul and make General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines happen.


Here are a few things you might not have known about this crucial campaign:

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What ultimately emerged as the Allied plan for dealing with Rabaul: Surrounding it, then bombing the hell out of it.

(US Army)

The original plan called for taking Rabaul

MacArthur originally wanted to take Rabaul, which was a superb harbor (the reason why Japan had taken it in early 1942). It had proven extremely useful as a forward base for the Japanese, and MacArthur figured it could work just as well for Allied forces. But heavy fighting at Guadalcanal and the “Europe-first” strategy led to bypassing Rabaul as part of the “island hopping” campaign.

Bypassing worked out pretty well, don’t you think?

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A Vought F4U Corsair from Marine Fighter Squadron 215 (VMF-215) lands at Munda Point.

(USMC)

The New Georgia invasion cost Japan in the skies

The Japanese had built an airfield at Munda Point on the New Georgia Islands. This became an important objective in the campaign to the neutralize the Pacific. It took about three and a half months to take the islands, and cost the Allies almost 1,200 personnel — about 15 percent of the losses suffered at Guadalcanal. Japan lost 1,671 personnel, but the real discrepancy was in the air: 356 Japanese planes were downed compared to only 93 Allied losses.

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New Zealand Coastwatcher Donald G. Kennedy with a Marine officer.

The invasion of New Georgia was launched nine days early to save one man

According to Volume VI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, after Japan took the Solomon Islands, a coastwatcher from New Zealand, Donald G. Kennedy, courageously went from village to village, vowing that the Allies would return. During the Guadalcanal campaign, he sent warnings of air raids to the Marines. After he was wounded in a firefight with a Japanese patrol boat, the 4th Marine Raider Battalion went in to protect his outpost while the invasion started. Kennedy later received the Navy Cross for his actions.

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USS Helena (CL 50) firing on Japanese ships during the Battle of Kula Gulf.

(US Navy)

Two naval battles early in the campaign came out roughly even

In the Battle of Kula Gulf, the U.S. Navy lost a light cruiser, but sank two destroyers. At the Battle of Kolombangara, the Japanese lost a light cruiser and the Allies lost a destroyer and had three light cruisers damaged in what was a tactical victory for Japan.

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Future President John F. Kennedy and the crew of PT-109.

(US Navy)

John F. Kennedy earned his heroic reputation in this campaign

John F. Kennedy’s heroism in the wake of the loss of PT 109 came during the fighting around the New Georgia Islands. His PT boat was with others in the Blackett Strait in August, about two months after the invasion started. His boat was rammed by HIJMS Amagiri, and the rest was history.

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Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943 – hours before he was shot down by Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr.

(Imperial Japanese Navy)

The Pacific Theater’s “Zero Dark Thirty” mission took place just before the Solomons campaign

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was carrying out an inspection tour in April, 1943, when his place was intercepted by P-38 Lightnings. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier would shoot down Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi G4M Betty while Rex Barber downed another that was carrying members of Yamamoto’s staff. The Japanese Navy didn’t have a new Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet until a month before the invasion of New Georgia.

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Australian troops patrolling on Bougainville in January, 1945. Japanese troops on the island held out until August 21 of that year.

(Australian War Memorial)

The Solomons Campaign technically lasted throughout the war

The northernmost of the Solomon Islands, Bougainville, wasn’t fully under Allied control until the Japanese forces there surrendered on August 21, 1945. The United States pulled out in 1944, handing the fighting over to Australian troops, who carried out operations for about a year and a half.

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USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) is named for an escort carrier that was named after a battle of the Solomons campaign.

(US Navy)

Several Navy ships get their names from the Solomon Islands campaign

During World War II, a number of escort carriers — the Casablanca-class vessels USS Lunga Point (CVE 94), USS Bougainville (CVE 100), USS Munda (CVE 104) and the Commencement Bay-class ships USS Kula Gulf (CVE 108), USS Vella Gulf (CVE 111), USS Rendova (CVE 114), and USS Bairoko (CVE 115) were all named after battles in the Solomons campaign. Two other ships, the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Solomons (CVE 67) and the Commencement Bay-class USS Rabaul (CVE 121), were named for the campaign and the ultimate objective, respectively.

Today, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) carries on the name of one of those escort carriers, and an America-class amphibious assault ship will be named USS Bougainville (LHA 8).

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first female F-35 pilot proves flying is a gender equalizer

There’s no doubt that Air Force continues to advance its air-power capabilities. In 2015, the Air Force introduced its new multi-role fighter jet, the F-35A Lightning II. Once all the particulars are fine-tuned, this airframe is slated to eventually replace the F-16 and A-10. But along with its strides in technological advancement comes the breaking of gender-biased boundaries.


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Above, the F-35 that will eventually replace F-16 and A-10. (Image from nationalinterest.org)

That same year, the first female F-35 pilot was assigned as the deputy commander of 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group at Eglin Air Force Base. Lieutenant Colonel Christine Mau was appointed one of 88 pilots qualified to fly the F-35. Graduating from the Air Force Academy and having a family history of pilots is what led Mau towards becoming a pilot herself. Today, she is still the only female F-35 pilot.

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Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau readies herself for her first flight in the F-35A Lightning II.

Before Mau took on the F-35, she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and was a part of the first all-female maintenance and planning crew. During this time, she flew the first all-female combat sortie and aided in successfully launching an F-15E Strike Eagle combat mission against insurgents in Kunar Valley, Afghanistan.

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Above, Mau pictured next to her F-15 on deployment in Afghanistan.

Mau’s combat experience played a crucial role in putting the F-35 through its test runs and maintenance. The first squadron of combat-ready F-35s were given the all clear in 2016. Essentially, only the most qualified pilots handle the responsibility of ensuring these jets live up to their functionality and potential.

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Lt. Col. Mau and the women of F-15E Strike Eagles (Dudette 07) who provided air support for a combat mission (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheila deVera)

Although women have been a part of combat aviation for the past twenty years, Mau’s accomplishment is nothing short of history in the making. Some might think that gender plays a role in the ability to fight in war, but Mau has proved that sentiment false.

One thing is for sure, Mau doesn’t let her gender stop her from reaching her goals nor from inspiring others to achieve theirs. In an interview with CNN, Mau states,

The plane doesn’t know or care about your gender as a pilot, nor do the ground troops who need your support. You just have to perform. That’s all anyone cares about when you’re up there — that you can do your job, and that you do it exceptionally well.
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