This may be the origin of the 'Dear John' letter - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

No two innocent-sounding words can crush a troop’s morale quite like “Dear John.” In the military lexicon, a “Dear John” letter is a cute letter sent by a troop’s lady back home that lets him know she’s gone. These letters typical start with incoherent ramblings about how they miss their “John” before ultimately saying they’re moving on.


This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Seriously, didn’t they read the poster? (Image via Smithsonian)

To the deployed John, time stands still, but the Earth still rotates. Even if a troop finds a good one that’s willing to wait, everyone knows someone who got a “Dear John.”

Despite the fact that these heartbreaking letters were undoubtedly sent with the near-12 million letters delivered per week during WWI, the phrase wasn’t popularized until WWII, when American GIs sent and received over one billion pieces of mail throughout the war.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
This is just one day’s worth of mail for reference. (Image via Australian War Memorial)

When, exactly, troops started using it to refer to an actual letter is lost to time, but it’s been used as a popular saying as far back as 1944 in the St. Petersburg Times. However, the phrase originated many years prior, and was used extensively in Anthony Trollope’s 1864 novel, Can You Forgive Her? The immensely popular Victorian English novel that, honestly, does not hold up to the modern standards of bearable.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
You can seriously skip this book. Even Stephen King mocked it in his memoir. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

A CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes is that the story centers around a woman named Alice who has two suitors. One is wild and exciting, but evil: George. The other is honest and a war hero, but boring: John. As it turns out, George is a psychopathic politician who tries to murder everyone and Alice’s cousin. Just throwing that out there. But, in the end, John finds out Alice is leaving him through a letter that starts with a phase repeated throughout the novel, “Dear John.”

Although we don’t know the exact origins of the phrase, as John was the most popular boys name of the time (see: John Doe), this our best guess. Either way, the phrase has had an undeniable impact — it’s since been referenced by Hank Williams Sr., Taylor Swift, a Nicholas Sparks novel that became a film, and television.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A single map shows how crazy successful the OSS was in France

The Office of Strategic Services, the World War II-era agency that preceded the CIA and many special operations units, deployed teams into France for months starting just before D-Day. A map slide produced after the war showed just how insanely successful the 423 men assigned to the mission in France were.


This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

(National Archives and Record Administration)

We’ve previously written about the “Jedburgh” teams, commandos from the U.S., Britain, France, and other countries who deployed into France to counter the Nazis. This mission officially kicked off June 5 as the teams jumped in just hours before the larger D-Day invasion.

These teams contained only two to four personnel each, but they partnered with local resistance forces and protected key infrastructure needed by the invading forces while also harassing or destroying German forces attempting to reinforce the defenses.

But the Jedburghs weren’t the only Allied commandos on the ground. The OSS deployed 21 Operational Groups into France as well as two into Norway. These teams were supposed to contain four officers and 30 enlisted troops, though shortages of trained personnel led to many teams deploying at about half strength.

These original OGs operated as guerrilla bands, destroying German infrastructure and conducting ambushes and hit and run against Nazi formations. They deployed with their own medical support and were well trained in infantry tactics, guerrilla operations, demolition, airborne operations, and more.

These two forces, the OGs and the Jedburgh Teams, were the primary OSS muscle, providing 355 of the OSS’s 423 men in France. As the map above shows, they deployed across France and inflicted almost 1,000 casualties against German forces and destroyed dozens of vehicles and bridges.

And the OGs were tightly partnered with the French Maquis, a partisan group that resisted the Nazis. The Maquis and OGs captured over 10,000 prisoners.

Not bad for a force with less than 500 members.

It’s easy to see why the post-war government re-built the OSS capabilities. Even though the OSS was broken up, the modern military’s special operations units, the CIA, and other teams now carry on the missions and legacy of the OSS, including the OGs and Jedburgh teams.

Articles

This flying tank destroyer had a much bigger gun than the Warthog

The A-10 is justifiably celebrated for its tank-killing prowess.


After all, it destroyed 987 tanks and a metric buttload of other Iraqi stuff during Desert Storm, and its GAU-8 got a lot of use, including some Iraqi helicopters who felt the BRRRRT! But the Air Force once planned for a tank-buster with a gun that made the A-10’s GAU-8 look puny.

The Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly was intended to be a close-air support plane to bust up tanks and bunkers in front of the infantry. Beechcraft, ironically, is best known for civilian planes like the King Air.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Beechcraft XA-38 (S/N 43-14407) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

To accomplish that mission, it was given a powerful armament. In the nose was a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a powerful T15E1 75mm automatic cannon. It had a pair of twin .50-caliber turrets as well (one on the top, one on the bottom), and the ability to carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

Yeah, you read that right. The Army Air Force in World War II was developing a specialized tank-buster that was two and a half times bigger than the GAU-8. Of course, a 75mm gun had been used on variants of the B-25, but the XA-38’s gun was essentially a semi-auto.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
A parked XA-38, with the barrel of the T15E1 prominently visible. Makes the GAU-8 looks like a cute popgun doesn’t it? (U.S. Air Force photo)

The plane had a top speed of 376 miles per hour, a range of 1,625 miles, and a crew of two. With all that performance, it had a lot of promise when it first flew in May of 1944. But that promise was never seen by the grunts on the ground.

The XA-38 project never got past the two prototypes, because a different aviation project took up all the engines that the Grizzly was designed to use. The Wright GR-3350-43 engines were needed by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which in 1944 was needed to bomb Japan.

One prototype was scrapped, while the other’s fate remains unknown.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This D-Day vet hit the beach strapped to a barrage balloon

As World War II raged overseas, men and women responded to the call of duty in the fight for what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “four freedoms” – freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. By the time the United States entered the war, more than 2.5 million African American men had signed up for the draft. In a separate-but-not-equal military at the time, the irony was not lost as the fight for these freedoms continued at home.


“[T]he sky in the distance lit up with searchlights, tracers from ack-acks and the sound of bombs,” Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, a medic attached to the primarily African American 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, once wrote in testimony to Congress regarding what he witnessed on D-Day.

Also read: One man dumped most of the combat footage of D-Day into the English Channel

War raged in every corner of sky, sea, and land within sight as dawn broke on the morning of June 6, 1944. The 320th was the only African-American amphibious assault unit the U.S. First Army used in Normandy. According to Woodson, they were dispersed among various landing craft for protection of unit members.

“The military personnel on our landing craft looked in awe at the spectacle in the distance and wondered, ‘What next?'” he wrote. Woodson, along with several seamen and soldiers on a Landing Craft Tank, was part of the first wave heading toward Omaha Beach.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Army 1st Infantry Division troops land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. (Photo by U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent)

The water was choppy and the noise deafening. As the landing craft neared the French coastline, it hit a submerged mine, which took out the motors. Within minutes, it hit another mine and endured several German 88mm artillery shells. The Germans continued to rake the ship with machine gun fire and mortar shells, preventing any nearby ship from coming to the rescue, Woodson said.

One mortar shell landed on the steel deck of the craft and exploded. Before Woodson had a chance to move, shrapnel took out the soldier next to him and more shrapnel lodged into his own thigh. After another medic dressed his injury, Woodson tended to the wounded and dead onboard. Of the 34 service members on board Woodson’s craft, only 11 survived by the time the ship hit the beach.

Related: This battleship went from Pearl Harbor to D-Day to nuclear tests

“D-Day was the most emotional and dangerous day in my life,” Woodson wrote. “As a young soldier far from home … the assault units waited patiently to begin their mission… Everyone knew the first 23 hours would be critical to the course of the war.”

Once Woodson reached the beach, he tended to the wounded and consoled the frightened. He dressed wounds, administered pain medication, and conducted amputations for the next 30 hours. He later saved and resuscitated four drowning soldiers before collapsing from exhaustion and injury. Woodson spent three days recovering in a hospital ship and then asked to be taken back to the beach to continue working.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
The Seabees land at Omaha Beach on D-Day. (US Navy photo)

A note from the assistant director in the Office of War Information to a White House aide states Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross. This was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by the office of Gen. John C.H. Lee in Great Britain. At home, the press called him the “No. 1 Invasion Hero.”

Woodson never received the Distinguished Service Cross or Medal of Honor. After the war, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on D-Day.

Nearly one million African American service members served in World War II. In the segregated military, most African American service members were assigned to the Army for service- or combat-support roles. A small percentage held positions in combat arms.

Retired Cpl. William Dabney, now 93, is one of two surviving members of the 320th. In 1942, he was in his second year of high school when he enlisted in the Army – and only after convincing his great-aunt to sign a document granting him permission to serve. He soon found himself training to use hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, which had thin metal cables with bombs attached that would detonate if triggered by low-flying enemy planes.

More: This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

On June 6, Dabney made his way to Omaha Beach with the first wave with a barrage balloon strapped to him.

“I was dodging bullets mostly,” said Dabney with a laugh. His mission was to protect the advancing soldiers. As Dabney approached Omaha Beach, his balloon caught fire from being hit by gunfire.

“It happened just as I hit the beach, so I couldn’t move,” said Dabney. “I wasn’t equipped to do anything else because that was my job. The only thing I could do then was unstrap the cables from myself and take cover under the dead bodies so I wouldn’t get shot.”

By the end of the day, the mission of the 320th had been accomplished successfully. Dabney was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. His proudest moment from that day: getting a hug and a kiss from First Lady Michelle Obama, who recognized him before he could introduce himself.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
(Defense Department photo/Linda Hosek)

“Allowing my dad to share his experiences with others helps spread the information about the accomplishments and contributions of black men throughout history – specifically throughout World War II,” said Vinney, Dabney’s eldest son.

Segregation in the Armed Forces remained an official policy until 1948. The heroic actions of many African American service members went unacknowledged – due to their race – entire units, such as the 320th, were left unmentioned in history. While prejudice took a backseat during D-Day, the years ahead would see a different story, said Woodson.

Woodson spent the remainder of his career serving the medical community at then-Walter Reed Army Hospital and then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He spent 38 years working in clinical pathology at the National Institutes of Health before retiring. He passed away in 2005.

More reading: First African-American Marines finally get their own monument

In 1997, after a study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated racial discrimination in awarding medals, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven African American World War II veterans. But to the dismay of family and friends who knew Woodson, he remained missing from the list.

Many of Woodson’s military records were lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri. With the help of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, his family has since started a petition to award him the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.

“Black History Month recognizes that there are lots of Black heroes largely uncelebrated because their stories aren’t being told,” said Dabney. “I’d like people to not just remember the 320th. I would like for all African Americans that were fighting in this war to be recognized. They did a job, too, and there was quite a few of us out there.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why artillerymen should bring back their distinctive ‘Redlegs’

Every combat arms branch within the United States Army comes with a long legacy. And with that legacy comes an accompanying piece of flair for their respective dress uniforms. Infantrymen rock a baby blue fourragere on their right shoulder, cavalrymen still wear their spurs and stetsons, and even Army aviators sport their very own badges in accordance with their position in the unit.

But long before the blue cords and spurs, another combat arms branch had their own unique uniform accouterment — one that has since been lost to time. Artillerymen once had scarlet red piping that ran down the side of their pant legs. In fact, these stripes were once so iconic that it gave rise to a nickname for artillerymen: “redlegs.

Due to wartime restrictions, artillerymen stopped wearing the red piping during WWI — and it never made a comeback.


This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

If you ask any young artilleryman at Fort Sill why they’re called “redlegs,” they’ll probably just look at you funny.

(Department of Defense photo by Margo Wright)

This fact is especially tragic because artillerymen wearing red stripes is one of the oldest military traditions of its kind. The blue cord of the infantry can only be traced as far back as the Korean War and cavalry’s stetson wasn’t invented until 1865. Meanwhile, artillerymen were rocking that red piping as far back as the 1830s.

During the 1800s, the role of the artilleryman was much more complex than most other roles in the Army at the time. Not just any bum off the street could walk into a job that required precise calculations to load the proper amount of gunpowder and fire the cannon at the perfect angle to hit the intended target.

While cannons were way too massive to carry into many fights, seeing the arrival of artillerymen meant that the U.S. Army meant business. Just seeing that red piping as artillerymen arrived on the scene during the Civil War was enough to inspire friendly troops and strike fear into enemies. The role of the artillerymen was crucial in the battles of Buena Vista, Bull Run, Palo Alto, and San Juan Hill.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

I guess the only real debate here is if you give it to ADA as well or exclusively to field artillery.

Today, the role of the artilleryman has been reduced greatly. It’s not uncommon for artillerymen who were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq to have more stories about their time on dismounted foot patrols with the infantrymen than ones about removing grid squares from the face of the Earth — after all, counter insurgency mostly forbids that level of wanton destruction.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still many artilleryman who’ve conducted fire missions into actual combat, but that number grows smaller and smaller with each passing year.

As field artillery units grow less common, their heritage is put at risk. At the same time, it seems as though the Army is increasingly leaning onto its historic roots for uniform ideas — as seen with the reintroduction of Army Greens.

Bringing back the distinctive red piping for artillerymen’s dress blues wouldn’t be that drastic of a change — or even that expensive — but it would be fitting. Dress blues are meant to honor the legacy of the soldiers of the American Revolution and Union Armies. What better way to do that than with an homage to the classic?

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the Nellis Air Base combined arms demonstration

The US government activated Nellis Air Force Base in 1941, though at the time it was called Las Vegas Army Airfield. It served as a base for gunnery training during World War II. The name change to Nellis Air Force Base didn’t come until 1950, dedicated to fallen World War II fighter pilot Lieutenant William Harrell Nellis. Today, Nellis is home to military schools and has more squadrons than any other US Air Force Base. 

An air show you don’t want to miss

Perhaps this is why the Nellis Combined Arms Demonstration, Aviation Nation, is an air show unlike any other. Aviation Nation is the base’s annual open house. Its inventory of aircraft is so diverse that the air show wouldn’t require help from any other base to jazz it up. 

In fact, during the show, every type of aircraft in the base hits the sky to perform what is known as a mock “combined arms” air combat situation. These include the aggressor F-16s, F-22s, F-35 and F-15E attack runs, a pilot rescue using A-10s and HH-60G Pave Hawks, low flybys, afterburners and flares. 

These are some of the world’s most advanced aircraft, and to say they are loud, especially flying all together, would be an understatement. People watching get to witness all the capabilities and missions the base takes on and it does not disappoint. 

Military aircraft sure aren’t cheap to fly 

If you’re curious, which if you know anything about Military aircraft, you might be, the Combined Arms Demonstration costs between $17,000 and $59,000 per hour to run. That means the half-hour show costs more each minute than any show you’ll find on the Las Vegas Strip. 

Only two Air Force Bases in the country include the use of flares, which is no doubt part of that huge cost. Aside from Nellis, Naval Air Station Fallon sometimes puts up flares. However, usually, it’s only Nellis that includes them. The show just wouldn’t be as grand without them. 

Come one, come all

The annual event is free and you don’t even have to be military to get it: it’s open to the public. Its purpose, aside from entertainment, is to showcase US Air Force Air Superiority capabilities, Combat Search and Rescue, and Close Air Support. It shows regular, non-military folks some of the important duties of the Air Force that they likely would never witness otherwise. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Baseball’s best defensive third baseman also served in the Army National Guard

Most baseball fans recognize the name Brooks Robinson. He played for the Baltimore Orioles from 1955 to 1977 and is widely considered to be the best defensive third baseman ever.

Robinson joined the Arkansas Army National Guard in March 1958. He was activated and assigned to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and later to the Army‘s 78th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas.


He served as an ordnance parts specialist. While on the rifle range for qualification with the M1 Garand rifle in November 1958, Robinson received a commendation for his performance as a squad leader for his unit. It stated, ”He has performed his duties in an excellent and commendable manner. It is recommended he be considered for more rapid promotion than his contemporaries.”

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

(Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)

Officials with the Arkansas National Guard at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas, said he was honorably discharged from Company A, 739 Ordnance Battalion, in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Jan. 2, 1962.

In 1966, Robinson, by then a civilian, visited troops in all four Corps Tactical Zones of South Vietnam. Traveling with him on the morale-boosting tour were Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe Torre and Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves, Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins, and sportscaster Mel Allen.

During the tour, Killebrew was heard telling Robinson that the league champion Orioles played the best ball in the American League that year and that the Orioles deserved to win the pennant.

Robinson helped the Orioles advance to the postseason six times, with Baltimore winning four American League pennants (1966, 1969, 1970 and 1971) and two World Series (1966 and 1970) during his career. In 39 career postseason games, Robinson hit .303 with five homers and 22 runs batted in.

The Orioles retired his No. 5 jersey in 1977. He led all American League third basemen 11 times in fielding percentage and eight times in assists. His 2,870 games at third base rank No. 1 on the all-time list.

Frank Robinson, another baseball great, once said that Brooks was the best defensive player at any position. ”I used to stand in the outfield like a fan and watch him make play after play. I used to think, ‘Wow! I can’t believe this,”’ he said.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

(Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)

Frank Robinson also played for the Orioles. His time with the team overlapped with that of Brooks Robinson from 1966 to 1971.

​More About Brooks Robinson:

  • As a boy, Robinson operated the scoreboard at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock. The baseball sequence from the 1984 film ”A Soldier’s Story” was filmed there.
  • In 1955, Robinson played baseball in South America; he played in Cuba in 1957.
  • In 2012, a large bronze statue of him was unveiled at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.


Articles

At the beginning of the Civil War, most surgeons didn’t know how to treat gunshot wounds

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter


While more soldiers died of disease than from battle injuries during the Civil War, a three-page document written by P.J. Horwitz, the surgeon general of the Union’s Navy, proves that many members of the medical corps had little idea of how to treat a gunshot wound at the war’s start. Part of the online exhibition “Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War,” put together by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, Slate shared a transcript of Horowitz’s “rudimentary advice” in regards to handling injuries caused by bullets on the battlefield.

If the wound is produced by a musket ball, the patient will generally first feel a slight tingling in the part, and on looking at the seat of injury perceive a hole smaller than the projected ball, generally smooth lined, inverted and the part more or less swelled, and on examining further, if the ball has made its exit there would be found another opening, which unlike the other will have its margin everted and ragged.
Should the patient present radical symptoms of injury, one of the first things to be done is to stop the hemorrhage, if there be any, and then carefully examine the wound to see that no foreign body is lodged there in, and then after bathing the flesh in cold water, apply to the wound a piece of lint on which may be spread a little cerate, and attach it to the parts by adhesive or if the surgeon prefers it he can dip a little lint in the patient’s blood and in the same manner apply it to the part, and then put the part at rest, and treat the local and general symptoms as they arrive.

Head over to Slate to read Horwitz’s full treatise.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

The average US citizen may hear the names of US Navy aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers, and not realize the significance behind those namesakes. For the US Navy sailors who work and live aboard these ships, the names serve as their identity in homage to the war heroes, pioneers, and traditions of the past.  

The names of Navy destroyers are of deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. On Nov. 13, 1944, the Navy named a warship after a woman for the first time in the Navy’s existence. The USS Higbee commissioned and was converted into a radar picket destroyer. The “Leaping Lenah,” as she was referred to by her crew, “screened carriers as their planes launched heavy air attacks against the Japanese mainland” and helped support occupying forces in the clearing of minefields during World War II. She also earned seven battle stars in the Korean War and was the first warship to be bombed in the Vietnam War. 

When the Leaping Lenah was decommissioned in 1979, she held the record for the highest score for naval gunfire support of any warship in the US Navy. It was a remarkable achievement and the ultimate tribute to Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee — the first living female recipient of the Navy Cross. 

Higbee was born in Canada in 1874 and trained as a nurse at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899. She developed her knowledge of medicine at Fordham Hospital and held her own private practice as a surgical nurse until she entered the newly established US Navy Nursing Corps (NNC) in 1908. Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” — the first group of female nurses to serve in the NNC.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Lena H. Sutcliffe Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” and the first living woman to be awarded the Navy Cross. Three other nurses were awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. Photo courtesy of the US Navy Institute.

“Nurses were assigned to duty at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.,” said Beatrice Bowman, one of the Sacred Twenty nurses who later became the third superintendent of the NNC in 1922. “There were no quarters for them but they were given an allowance for quarters and subsistence. They rented a house and ran their own mess. These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”

The Sacred Twenty spearheaded the efforts to prove women had a role in the medical field as much as their male counterparts. They held no rank and were not immediately viewed as assets; however, their reputation would soon change. In 1911, after the first NNC superintendent resigned — as the nurses were often exposed to institutionalized discrimination — Chief Nurse Higbee assumed command as superintendent. She was responsible for overseeing 86 nurses across the US, Guam, and the Philippines. She lobbied for equal pay and for healthcare for military dependents.

Higbee served on several executive healthcare committees, including the National Committee of the Red Cross Nursing Service, and between 1915 and 1917 helped increase nursing recruiting numbers for World War I.

“For two years prior to our actual entering into this conflict, warnings had been sounded and such tentative preparations as were possible had been made by those who were wise to the significance of war signs,” Higbee said.

During her tenure of 14 years of service, Higbee helped expand the NNC from 160 nurses to 1,386 nurses. She was later instrumental in assigning nurses aboard Navy transport ships, and during World War I these nurses served transport duty. Another one of her initiatives was to build a force of hospital corpsmen that assisted in “nursing training methods” as well as to “develop in the hearts and minds of these ‘pupil nurses’ the principles of conscience care of the sick.”

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
A graphic representation of the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) that is scheduled to be commissioned in 2024. Photo courtesy of the Navy History and Heritage Command.

After being exposed to the horrors from World War I, the complexities of battlefield wounds, and shell shock, Superintendent Higbee managed the development of Vassar Training Camp, the finishing school where nurses gained operational experience before arriving at their first assignments.

The following year, in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic rocked the world — and as Higbee and her nursing corps did best, they adapted to the evolving demands of medicine. Their focus shifted from the war wounds to an invisible disease. A total of 431 US Navy personnel had lost their lives during World War I, and 819 more were wounded. The humanitarian crisis between 1918 and 1919, in contrast, saw 5,027 sailors die as a result of the pandemic.

“‘The most needed woman’ is the war nurse,’” wrote The Sun newspaper on June 9, 1918. “In reality the war nurse is a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill. […] She goes prepared to share the risks and fortune of war, ready to make any sacrifice.”

Higbee and her team worked early mornings and late nights to diagnose patients and aid in their recovery. In 1920, Higbee became the first living recipient of the Navy Cross for “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.” 

Three other nurses, Marie Louise Hidell, Lillian M. Murphy, and Edna E. Place, were awarded the Navy Cross medal posthumously.

Higbee passed away in 1941, and a year later the Navy granted nurses “relative rank.” In 1944, the Navy finally approved nurses for “full military rank” with equal pay.

Although the USS Higbee was decommissioned in 1979, in 2016 then-Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced plans to commission the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, scheduled for 2024 — an honor the trailblazing nurse certainly deserves.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fascinating origin of a favorite gloating phrase

You’ve just proven yourself to the doubters and in your moment of triumph you turn and ask just one question: “How do you like them apples?” This phrase has been used for decades and has been made popular by films like Good Will Hunting and Rio Bravo, but where does it come from?

While many claim that the origin of this phrase is unknown, others claim that it comes straight from the trenches of World War I.


This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

When developing the first armored fighting vehicles, the British didn’t want everyone to know what they were working on, so they called them ‘water tanks.’

(Imperial War Museums)

World War I was, at the time, the largest international conflict ever. As such, troops came together from all kinds of backgrounds. As they intermingled, they picked up on dialects from other cities, countries, and continents and, as a result, a large number of new phrases were born from adapting elements of these different languages. It was during this same war that the first armored fighting vehicle was dubbed a ‘tank’ and anti-aircraft fire was called an ‘ack-ack.’

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

You can still find these on the internet because why not?

(International Military Antiques)

The origin behind “how do you like them apples” actually has nothing to do with apples and everything to do with mortars. Specifically, we’re talking about the British-made 2-inch medium mortar, better known as the “toffee apple.”

This mortar used a smoothbore muzzle loading (SBML) system that fit a 22-inch shaft with a spherical bomb on the end, which would be exposed from the tube. This mortar, like others, was designed specifically for dropping warheads on foreheads in enfilade, but found use in other areas of the war.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

Hopefully, your calculations aren’t too far off.

(The Atlantic)

The spherical shape and low velocity meant that the warhead wouldn’t penetrate the ground prior to detonation, leaving shrapnel to devastate enemy forces. Unfortunately for its operators, the system had a fairly short range. Oftentimes, in order to land an explosion in enemy trenches, this system would need to be used from no man’s land — an extreme risk.

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Oh, Matt Damon.

In addition, to clearing out enemy infantry, these bombs could be used to cut barbed wire fences and destroy enemy machine gun emplacements.

Though some say this term was used during the first World War, many others will tell you it wasn’t used until the 1959 classic, Rio Bravo. In the film, after chucking some explosives, a character remarks, “How do you like them apples?” Since then, it’s appeared in (and was arguably popularized by) Good Will Hunting.

Articles

Watch a 20mm Lahti anti-tank rifle rip through steel plates

The Lahti anti-tank rifle looks a little unusual, showing a pair of skis on the front. But then again, it does come from Finland.


According to Modernfirearms.net, the Lahti L-39, also known as the Norsupyssy — or “elephant gun” — fired a 20x138mm round and had a 10-shot clip. While not effective against the most modern tanks, like the Russian T-34, the rifle proved to be useful against bunkers and other material targets. One variant was a full-auto version used as an anti-aircraft gun.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t laugh. According to the 25th Infantry Division Association’s website, American personnel used the Browning Automatic Rifle — or BAR — against the Japanese planes during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This semi-auto rifle was kept in Finnish military stocks until the 1980s, when many were scrapped. This makes the M107 Barrett used by the United States military look like a mousegun.

A number of these rifles, though, were declared surplus and sold in the United States in the early 1960s. The Gun Control Act of 1968, though, placed these rifles under some very heavy controls — even though none were ever used in crimes.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
A Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle used during World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In this video, the punch this rifle packed is very apparent. The people who set up the test put up 16 quarter-inch steel plates. You can see what that shell does to the plates in this GIF.

via GIPHY

For a real in-depth look at this awesome gun — and the way they set up this firepower demonstration — look at the whole video below:

FullMag, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

George H.W. Bush’s overlooked legacy in space exploration

On July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, President George H. W. Bush stood on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and, backed by the Apollo 11 crew, announced his new Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). He believed that this new program would put America on a track to return to the moon and make an eventual push to Mars.


“The time has come to look beyond brief encounters. We must commit ourselves anew to a sustained program of manned exploration of the solar system and, yes, the permanent settlement of space,” he said.

As a political scientist who seeks to understand space exploration’s place in the political process, I approach space policy with an appreciation of the political hurdles high-cost, long-term and technologically advanced policies face. My research has shown that policy change both in general and in space policy, is often hard to come by, something exemplified by the Bush administration.

Vice President George W. Bush, Sr. talks to STS-1 Flight Crew

www.youtube.com

Among Bush’s many political accomplishments, few recall SEI, probably because it was largely panned immediately following its announcement. However, Bush’s presidency came at a key turning point in NASA’s history and ultimately contributed to the success of the International Space Station, NASA leadership and today’s space policy. As the country mourns his passing and assesses his legacy, space should rightly be included on Bush’s list of accomplishments.

While presidents are usually the most closely associated with the American space program, vice presidents often play a vital role. As Ronald Reagan’s vice president, Bush was intimately involved with NASA throughout the 1980s. He visited the astronauts who crewed the second shuttle mission in 1981, commiserating with them about their mission which had been shortened. And, he often enjoyed speaking to astronauts mid-flight.

In a 1985 White House speech, Bush announced that teacher Christa McAuliffe would fly aboard the ill-fated Challenger. In the wake of the disaster, Reagan dispatched Bush to meet with the families at Kennedy Space Center given his ties to the mission. After a private meeting with the families, Bush addressed NASA employees at Kennedy and pledged the space program would go forward, a promise he kept as president.

SEI and the Space Station

Shortly after taking office, the Bush administration sought to provide a vision for NASA. Bush reinstated the National Space Council and, allied with Vice President Dan Quayle, developed the SEI to coincide with the anniversary of Apollo 11. With less than six months between Bush’s inauguration and July 1989, there was little time to flesh out specific deadlines or funding sources. What resulted was a vague promise to build a planned space station in the next decade, return to the moon and venture onto Mars. With this lack of specifics, the SEI aroused immediate suspicion from both NASA and Congress.

The SEI faced a number of political hurdles upon its announcement. But 90 days later, opposition to SEI grew exponentially when a follow-up analysis of the initiative revealed a 30-year plan with a half-a-trillion-dollar price tag. Then the discovery of a flawed lens on the Hubble Space Telescope after its launch in 1990, the massive cost overruns on what was then called Space Station Freedom (the program had grown from billion in 1984 to billion in 1992), and an economic downturn all combined to threaten overall funding for NASA. While Bush lobbied aggressively for the SEI, the program failed to receive support and was largely shelved.

But what emerged from the SEI was still significant. When Congress threatened to cut funding to and essentially end the nascent space station, the Bush administration pushed to save it. Although NASA’s overall funding was cut, Bush’s support and the rationale behind the SEI gave the space station enough continued importance that Congress restored 0 billion to the space station budget.

Finally, the moon to Mars framework has remained relevant in human spaceflight. George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration, proposed in 2004, retained the same goals but grounded it with a clear timetable and budget. Proposing a moon-Mars program is nothing revolutionary, but the SEI kept the idea of an expansive exploration agenda alive.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

President George H. W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle joined Apollo 11 astronauts to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first lunar landing.

One of most significant impacts a president can have on a bureaucracy is choice of agency leadership. In that area, Bush succeeded in placing his stamp on NASA for years to come. Bush’s first choice for NASA administrator, former astronaut Richard Truly, was out of his depth politically. Truly did not support SEI and other space initiatives and was fired in 1991, partially at Vice President Quayle’s urging.

Bush’s choice to replace Truly was Dan Goldin, who became NASA’s longest serving administrator, staying on through the Clinton administration. Characterized as one of the most influential administrators in NASA history, Goldin took on the job of finding more support for the space station. He convinced Clinton that it could be useful in foreign policy. As a result, Clinton used the space station as a tool to ease Russia’s transition to a democratic state. The International Space Station was launched in 1998 due in large part to the support from the Bush administration. Having hosted 232 people from 18 countries, the ISS recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

More importantly, Goldin initiated a program known as “faster, better, cheaper” (FBC), which required NASA to do more with less by bumping up the number of lower cost missions. Although this mindset led to several high-profile failures, including a crashed Mars probe, Goldin successfully shifted NASA onto a more sustainable political footing. As a result, Bush’s choice of NASA leadership was crucial to the direction and success of American space exploration.

Bush’s legacy

Space exploration is a difficult policy field. It requires long-term planning, consistent funding and visionary leadership, any one of which is difficult to achieve. Further, space policy is incredibly sensitive to overall economic dynamics, making it susceptible to continual budget cuts.

One can certainly debate the benefits of the International Space Station or the scientific value of human space exploration but, for better or for worse, NASA is the agency it is today because of the choices George H.W. Bush made as president. Ad astra, President Bush.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 amazing pilots who became an ‘ace-in-a-day’

Fighter aces are a rare and legendary breed: People who are not only skilled enough to fly jets in combat, but so good at it that they can knock down at least five of the enemy without dying themselves. But there’s an even more elite subset of pilots who were able to kill at least five of the enemy in a single day, sometimes a single engagement.

Here are 7 of these elite pilots:


This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Colonel James E. Swett earned the Medal of Honor in World War II as a first lieutenant when he killed seven enemy planes in one day.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

1. 1st Lt. James Swett

Marine Corps 1st Lt. James Swett was sent against Japanese fighters near the Solomons Island on April 7, 1943. He led his four-plane flight against 15 enemy bombers and successfully shredded three of them in a single dive. Now separated from the rest of his flight, he attacked a group of six bombers and downed four of them. While lining up on a fifth bomber, he ran out of ammo.

His plane had been damaged in the fighting and he had suffered cuts to his face from a broken cockpit window. He managed to land his stricken plane into the ocean and was picked up by the Navy. His seven kills from that day were accompanied by eight more over the course of the war. He received the Medal of Honor and six Distinguished Flying Crosses.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc flew F4F Wildcats against Japanese fighters and bombers.

2. 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc

During fighting in the Solomon Islands on January 31, 1943, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc was sent up to escort dive bombers targeting Japanese ships. A swarm of Japanese Zeroes rose up against them. DeBlanc and his men were able to keep the Zeroes off the dive bombers, but then he got a call for assistance from low-flying bombers that they were under attack by Japanese float planes.

DeBlanc banked down into the fight and shot his way through three of the float planes. Low on fuel and ammo, he finally banked away towards home, only to notice that two Japanese fighters were coming up behind him. DeBlanc turned back to fight and killed the two Zeroes before being forced to bail out of his plane because of the damage from all the fighting. He earned the Medal of Honor for his actions and survived the war.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Royal Australian Air Force Group Capt. Clive Caldwell was the killingest pilot in Australian history.
(Australian War Museum)

3. Group Captain Clive Caldwell

Group Capt. Clive Caldwell is the highest-scoring ace in Royal Australian Air Force history and was credited with 28.5 kills in World War II. His ace-in-a-day mission came on December 5, 1941, when he was leading two squadrons on patrol in Africa. The allied formation stumbled into a group of German bombers with an Italian fighter escort.

Caldwell went after a group of three bombers and took out the 2nd and 3rd planes in formation with quick bursts, then he made more passes through the now-dispersed bombers and hit two more in wings and engines. Finally, he came up towards the belly of a fifth bomber and waited until he was right against it to open fire, engulfing it in flames and sending it down.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare was a pioneer of naval aviation who earned a Medal of Honor when he killed at least five Japanese bombers in just minutes.

4. Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare was a legend in early World War II, and his most famous battle came just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On February 20, 1942, a flight of Japanese “Betty” bombers headed for the USS Lexington. One flight of Navy F4F Wildcats went after the first wave, and O’Hare and his wingman were the only ones left to defend against the second wave.

But O’Hare’s wingman experienced a gun jam, and so O’Hare had to go after eight Japanese bombers on his own. He went after the rear bombers on the right side, first, downing two of them quickly with bursts through the engines and fuel tanks. On a second pass, O’Hare destroyed two more with shots to an engine and to a left wing and cockpit. Finally, he hit two more on a third pass, leading him to believe that he had downed six. The engagement had lasted less than six minutes.

He was only credited with five kills, though. Lt. Cmdr. O’Hare unfortunately met his end in 1943 while defending a carrier from a night raid.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
British Defiant fighters had rear-facing gunners.
(Royal Air Force B.J. Daventry)
 

5. Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke, Cpl. Albert Lippett

During the evacuation of Dunkirk in May, 1940, British Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke and his gunner, Cpl. Albert Lippett, were sent to help keep the beaches open for evacuation. On May 29, they were in their Defiant when their formation engaged with a group of German Bf 109 fighters and they killed one. Later in the mission, they engaged a group of Bf 109s and Bf 110s, killing one of each.

They refueled and rearmed and headed out for another mission, this time finding a group of dive bombers attacking at the beaches. Cooke positioned the plane near the ground and gave Lippett a stable platform to shoot from. The young gunner targeted the fuel tanks that sat between the German pilot and navigator, killing five over the beaches and helping kill two more.

Only two days later, they would go missing over the English Channel.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
U.S. Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Frank Luke downed 18 targets in a single month in World War I.
(U.S. Air Force)

6. 2nd Lt. Frank Luke

Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke was one of America’s most prolific fighters, downing 14 German observation balloons and four planes during his short career. Balloons in World War I were extremely dangerous, well-protected targets, and Luke developed a reputation as a fearless balloon buster. All of this happened in September, 1918.

His greatest one-day total came on September 18 when he made a run on balloons and downed two, then killed two of the German fighters that came up to kill him, and then spotted and killed a German reconnaissance plane on his way back to U.S. lines.

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter
Then-Lt. Stanley Vejtasa on right as a member of the Grim Reapers, VF-10.
(U.S. Navy)
 

7. Capt. Stanley Vejtasa

Navy Capt. Stanley Vejtasa is one of the few “double aces” with 10.5 confirmed aerial kills. He achieved ace status in a single day on October 26, 1942, when he killed two Japanese dive bombers attempting to sink his carrier and then turned to interrupt a torpedo attack, killing five of them for seven kills in a single mission.

But his greater contribution to the war may have been his skill in dive bombers and other planes while attacking Japanese planes. He was credited with sinking at least five ships including a carrier and damaging seven more, making him one of the very few pilots who can claim ace status against ships.

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