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.
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.
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.
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.
Tom McCaslin is a police detective in Omaha, Neb. and his coldest case is turning 75 in 2019. It’s the search for his uncle, Staff Sgt. Thomas J. McCaslin, one of eight crew members of a bomber that was shot down over Nazi-occupied France on June 22, 1944.
All these decades later, his nephew is hunting for his remains in order to bring the bomber crewman back home while four of his 12 siblings are still alive.
Top row, from left: Lt. Col. Don Weiss, Lt. David Meserow, Lt. Axel Slustrop. Bottom row: Staff Sgt. John H. Canty,, S/Sgt. Tom McCaslin, T/Sgt. Clement Monaco. All but Monaco were aboard the B-26 when it was shot down.
Their B-26 Marauder was shot down by Nazi flak while supporting the Allied push inland. As the British Second Army fought the German Panzergruppe West in the streets of below, the crew of the B-26 tried in vain to stay aloft. They went down anyway, and that was the last anyone ever heard of them. Well, most of them, anyway. The first was found in 1946, buried after the crash by locals. The remains of the bird’s four officers were discovered in 1986 by a farmer in his fields. They were taken to the American cemetery at Normandy. Another, the enlisted top tail gunner, was found by an amateur historian who also found the man’s dog tag.
That leaves two – and one of those is Thomas J. McCaslin, the Marauder’s bottom turret gunner. McCaslin’s nephew is looking for his uncle and the other crewman.
McCaslin’s mission has led him to talk to both the historian and the farmer who found the previous remains. He has also obtained numerous documents about the B-26 mission. It was one of 36 planes to fly over a chateau being used as a headquarters building by the Nazi SS. As the bomber began to make its run and open the doors, a flak burst cut the plane in two and sent it careening to earth. No one was able to bail out. In 40 seconds, it was all over, leaving those eight men among the 73,000 who would be unaccounted for during the war. McCaslin even has aerial recon photos of the crash site taken right after the crash.
McCaslin and his detective skills are largely responsible for the 2018 discovery of Staff Sgt. John Canty’s remains. His work persuaded French authorities to further search the field where his dog tag was found. Canty was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. From interviewing relic hunters to requesting documents, McCaslin has worked tirelessly to track down the entire crew since the discovery of the first remains – which he only learned about through a newspaper.
The B-26 Marauder.
Detective McCaslin and his family have all worked the case tirelessly for years. As a family, they have hounded government agencies in an effort to step up the recovery of his uncle and another unaccounted-for airman from his crew. All hope is not lost. McCaslin is currently waiting for the DNA identification of some finger bones found in the area. He even has an eyewitness to the battle who reports that she saw parachutes as a young girl.
“The stuff they’ve uncovered is incredible,” says Jed Henry, a journalist and independent researcher who has become an advocate for families of missing service members from World War II. “To have the intelligence to sort through it, and the tenacity — and to care about it. … I’ve never seen a family that has gotten into this as much as they have.”
“My uncle joined (the military) in 1942, and we never saw him again,” Tom McCaslin said. “If there’s a chance to find him, we should do it.”
In the bloody battlegrounds of WWII, Russian officials had to call upon any and every available man to fight against the massive force of German troops as they advanced. The men that were recruited weren’t too well-educated, so training the incoming troops on sophisticated weapon systems was considered too time consuming.
A durable and inexpensive weapon that any troop could effectively operate was in order and Soviet gun manufacturers answered the call.
What they came up with this time around was the “pistolet-pulemyot shpagina,” lovingly called “pa-pa-sha” by Red Army troops. That’s how the “papasha” — Russian for “daddy” — of Soviet small arms was born.
Designed by Georgy Shpagin in the early 1940s, the PPSh-41 weighs eight pounds (3.63 kg), fires a 7.62 x 25mm bullet, and is capable of firing 900 rounds per minute.
Due to its weight and medium recoil, this short range submachine gun allows the operator to have tight groupings when fired.
The PPSh-41 in action. (Image via Giphy)This weapon proved to be just what the Soviets needed as the PPSh-41’s stamping style of manufacturing increased the weapon’s strength, allowing it to be fired in weather conditions as low as 60 degrees below zero and while it was extremely filthy.
“Because it’s stamped out, the tolerances in this machine gun are very loose,” Dr. William Atwater explains. “You can abuse this — and Russian troops did.”
In 1952, the Green Bay Packers drafted “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith from the University of Georgia. But seeing as how the Korean War was already in its second year, Chargin’ Charlie declined the offer for a different green uniform.
Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, Charles Beckwith served a few years on the Korean Peninsula, in war and later peacetime. It was after Korea that he joined the 82d Airborne, and later, U.S. Army Special Forces.
Beckwith’s first mission was to train the Royal Lao Army in 1960 but his mission to deploy with British SAS to Malaysia as they fought a Communist insurgency is one that forever changed military history.
It was there that Beckwith came down with a mean case of Leptospirosis — a bacterial infection that causes kidney failure and pulmonary hemorrhaging. Doctors did not expect Beckwith to survive.
He survived the infection and his time with the Special Air Service inspired him to develop the American Army’s version of such an elite unit. In 1963, he formed the specialty unit code-name Project Delta, personally selecting the men best suited to conduct long-range recon operations in Vietnam.
But his time in Delta — and on Earth — was nearly cut short in Vietnam in 1966. Beckwith was shot in his abdomen with a .50-caliber round. He was taped up, but essentially left for dead.
But death still didn’t come.
Beckwith not only recovered, he continued with his military career, fighting in a series of battles from the Tet Offensive in 1968 until the end of the war in 1973.
It was in the mid-70s that Beckwith’s elite unit idea finally became a full reality. He was given the authority and formed the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta in 1977. The new elite unit focused on anti-terror and hostage recovery ops, based on the model of the British SAS.
Unfortunately for Beckwith and Delta, their first mission was Operation Eagle Claw, the doomed hostage rescue of Americans held in Iran. After the catastrophic failure of Eagle Claw, Beckwith retired from the Army.
Brigadier General Chuck Yeager is best-known for being the first man to break the sound barrier. He was also a World War II ace and saw action in Vietnam as commanding officer of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying B-57s. But did you know that this aerial all-star also logged time in the MiG-15?
The MiG-15 in question was flown from North Korea to Seoul by No Kum-sok, a defector who, upon landing, learned that he was fulfilling a $100,000 bounty by delivering the plane into allied hands. The MiG-15 was quickly taken back to the United States and put through its paces.
The last moments of a MiG-15 — many of these planes met their end in MiG Alley.
Test pilots are known for getting in the cockpit of new, unproven vehicles and using their skills and adaptability to safely maneuver vessels through early flights. They’ve flown the X-15 into space and are responsible for putting the newest fighters, like the F-35, through their paces. But what’s just as important (and half as reported) is role they play in exploring the capabilities of foreign aircraft, like a MiG, Sukhoi, or some other international plane.
This is why the “Akutan Zero,” a Japanese plane that crashed on June 4, 1942 over Alaskan soil, was so important. It gave the US invaluable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of an enemy’s asset, informing the design of the F6F Hellcat.
This is the MiG-15 that was flown to South Korea by a North Korean defector.
The MiG-15 of the Korean War wasn’t quite as fearsome as the Zero was in World War II. In fact, the F-86 dominated it over “MiG Alley.” But finding out just how good – or bad – the MiG-15 really was still mattered. After all, American allies, like Taiwan, ended up facing the MiG-15 later in the 1950s (the Taiwanese planes ended up using the AIM-9 Sidewinder to deadly effect).
The MiG-15 still is in service with the North Korean Air Force, meaning Yeager’s half-a-century-old flight still informs us today.
Learn more about Yeager’s time flying the MiG-15 in the video below.
In the U.S. Civil War, people on both sides of the conflict decided that their best contribution would come in the form of “irregular resistance,” rather than uniformed fighting, but Southerners joined the bands in larger numbers and provided a more material contribution to the war effort.
Here’s a quick primer on who these men were and how they fought.
Confederate cavalrymen raid union livestock in the west in 1864. Guerrilla forces could often conduct missions like this, but had to be sure and melt away before Union forces caught them.
(A.R. Waud, Harper’s Weekly)
First, we have to define exactly who we’re talking about: the guerrillas and gangs who took up arms to uphold the Confederacy and its values, not the criminal gangs and bands of deserters who used weapons to fight off the law. While these groups overlapped at times, we’re going to ignore (for now) those who did not provide material support to the secession.
Guerrilla operations varied state to state and battle to battle, but usually combined elements of screening, spying, and sabotage.
Remember, these were typically disorganized bands of men, often with even less formality than a state or local militia. They knew they had little chance in a knockdown fight with trained Union companies, so they didn’t fight that way. Instead, they would attack targets of opportunity and melt away.
This was useful for Confederate leaders at times. For instance, John McNeill and his rangers would sometimes screen Confederate troop movements. Basically, McNeill would position his force at the edge of where Confederate troops were marching or conducting river crossings, interrupting Union columns drawing close to the southerners and giving them a chance to form proper defensive lines.
But, they wouldn’t stay for the full fight. They’d melt away into the trees after a few shots, forcing the Union troops to either break up and give chase or re-form to face regular Confederate troops.
John S. Mosby and his men were a terror for Union forces, but they generally fought well within the rules.
(Library of Congress)
But, even better, the guerrillas could move in areas where the Union held control and either nip at the federal underbelly or spy on them and report back. This was the mission where John Mosby and his men made their mark. They were known for hit-and-run fighting, inflicting casualties on Union forces and then riding away before the enemy could form up.
At times, they would steal supplies or even capture buildings and infrastructure for a short time, often disabling bridges and railways that were crucial to federal supply.
In August, 1863, at Lawrence, Kansas, Quantrill’s Raiders attacked and destroyed the city because of its support of abolition policies and pro-Union sentiments.
So, why did the Confederacy see so many more guerrillas join their ranks than the Union? Well, the biggest reason was likely that most irregular forces fought locally, where their networks of friends and supporters could hide and supply them.
Union gangs fighting locally would’ve only happened when Confederate troops crossed the border north, something that was fairly rare during the war.
Also, the Union had a much larger training apparatus and the ability to equip more men, making it less necessary for their supporters to find unconventional ways of fighting. And the North didn’t have such a strong tradition of frontiersmanship, meaning that much of the population was less suited for roughing it deep in the woods and swamps.
Guerrilla leader Capt. William C. Quantrill was reportedly a brutal murderer who sometimes targeted Confederate sympathizers.
So, how did this all pan out for the South? Well, of course, they lost the war. And there’s an argument to be made that they lost partially because of the support of guerrilla forces rather than despite it.
He and his men committed massacres of Union troops but also of men and boys that they suspected of being Union sympathizers. They and other groups stole supplies from farms, tore down fences, and burned homesteads whenever they felt like doing so.
And they allegedly felt that way often. Combine the actions of these guerrillas and those of deserter bands and gangs of pro-Union southerners, and state governments often found that they needed armies at home just to instill law and order, limiting the forces they could send to the front. In some cases, formerly pro-secession Confederate citizens welcomed their nation’s surrender simply because they wanted a return to normalcy.
When soaring through the skies, thousands of feet above the ground, the last thing a pilot wants to deal with a faulty engine. Those in single-engine jets are typically left with one option: Getting out of the plane. For most military planes, this means it’s time to grab the “loud handle” and trigger the ejection seat.
But if you’re in a multi-engine plane, you have a chance to bring the plane back safely. The key word here is chance.
How big or small that chance is depends greatly on circumstance. What type of plane is it? How did the engine go out? Is there any other damage to the plane? How well-trained is the pilot?
B-57 Canberra bombers were tricky enough to fly — when both engines worked.
This last question is crucial. Flying a plane back to base with an engine out is no simple task. The thrust propelling a plane is going to be very different — and if you don’t adjust, you’ll lose control.
One plane for which that recovery is especially tricky is the B-57, three of which are still in service with NASA today. The plane, when fully functional, is very touchy — as evidenced by its high accident rate. This plane has two engines, so if you lose one, you lose half your thrust. What remains is uneven. So, pilots had to be specially trained for such an event — but conducting that training in the plane could make for some very costly lessons.
NASA has three B-57s in its inventory — including this one, with the tail number 928.
Check out the video below from 1955 to see how pilots were trained to conduct a single-engine landing. The instructions might be over 50 years old, but some lessons are timeless.
War is just as much a psychological battle as it is physical. If you’re able to convince your enemy that they have no chance of surviving before the first drop of blood is spilled, you’ve already won. No warriors in history have embodied this concept better than the Anausa or, as they’re more commonly known, the Persian Immortals.
Even their very name, “Immortal,” is a part of the mind tricks they played on their enemies. In order to keep up the image of being unkillable, they wore matching uniforms and hastily recovered their dead or wounded, fueling the illusion that none fell in battle. But that barely even scratches the surface of the psychological warfare the Persians employed to conquer 44 percent of all humanity at the height of their power in 480 B.C.
As over-the-top as the rest of the film was, this is an entirely accurate scene. The rest of the movie though? Ehhh…
(Warner Bros. Pictures)
As with many early civilizations, much of the history of Achaemenid Empire (to Empire for which the Immortals fought) has been lost to time. The history we do have comes from the Greek scholar, Herodotus. Though he opposed Persia, he kept detailed battle plans of the Immortals and those that faced them.
One such example happened to make its way into the 2006 film, 300. A Spartan at Thermopylae scoffed at a Persian envoy who said their arrows could “black out the sky” by replying, “then we’ll fight in the shade.” That wasn’t just a boast — that actually happened.
The Immortals were well aware that their arrows were inferior to Spartan steel. So, instead of making them stronger, they made more of them so that every archer could unleash them in one, rapid moment, literally blacking out the sky with arrows.
“Cats! Our only weakness!” – Some Egyptian, probably.
(Ancient History Museum)
Another example of the ferocity of the Immortals was when the Persians defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Pelusium. The Persians knew that the Egyptians were faithful to the Egyptian Goddess of Cats, Bastet. To the Egyptians, any harm done to a cat was considered great sacrilege.
Knowing this, the Persians simply drew cats on their shields and let loose a bunch of cats onto the battlefield. This alone was enough to make many Egyptians immediately surrender. When the other Egyptians manned their catapults, the Persians would let them know that they had cats with them — and that unleashed the artillery could mean killing a few felines.
If the Immortals didn’t have enough time to prepare for an individual opponent, they’d resort to their shock-and-awe cavalry, armed with sagaris, or long axes. The lightweight ax made it easy for Immortals to twirl them over their heads and swing fast enough to make an enemy’s blood splash far enough back to intimidate their foes.
At the Battle of the Granicus in 334 B.C., Alexander II of Macedon was nearly scalped by an Immortal cavalryman named Spithridates. His ax sliced clean straight through Alexander’s helmet and was just millimeters away from being a fatal blow.
After that moment, Alexander swore to the destruction of Persia. He studied their tactics and instructed his men on how to counter their advances. This took away the Persian’s edge in battle, and Alexander, from then on, took on the moniker of “the Great.”
The airmen of the United States have always been at the fore of airpower. But that didn’t start with the world wars or even the test pilots of the Cold War. The U.S. is the original home of powered flight, of naval aviation, and of aircraft innovation. It all dates back to the turn of the 20th Century – before the world wars. And it was two Americans who went head to head in the air.
If the Civil War taught us anything, it’s that no one kills Americans like Americans kill Americans.
But these Americans weren’t fighting for America. In fact, the United States had seen relative peace since the Spanish-American and the Philippine-American Wars at the turn of the 20th Century. But there was (and always will be) a fight somewhere for anyone who’s looking for it. In the Mexican Revolution, two American aviators were looking for such a fight, using airpower to level the playing field. These airmen of fortune – mercenaries – were hired by either side of the war who wanted the upper hand but knew nothing about flying.
On one side was Dean Ivan Lamb, who was hired by General Benjamin G. Hill, fighting for the Carranzista faction of the war in Mexico. Hill gave Lamb a Curtiss D biplane and took him on as an aerial reconnaissance pilot. Lamb soon learned that his good friend and fellow aviator Phil Rader was hired by the opposing force under General Victoriano Huerta.
This is what the two pilots were flying in 1913.
While any airman today might be mortified that his good friend was flying for the opposing air force, you should know that in the early days of aviation, airplanes going up against each other was not something that happened. Airplanes were fragile and valuable, so they were used for recon mostly and maybe to drop the occasional bomb or grenade on the opposing side. The two friends weren’t worried. Until Hill ordered Lamb to use his pistol on the opposing pilot. Since there was only one other plane in the area, the Pusher Lamb came upon on Nov. 30, 1913, could only have been that of his good friend. He took out his pistol and prepared to fulfill the letter of his orders.
But not the spirit. This was still his friend and fellow American at the stick of the plane. He made the first interception of one aircraft to another, almost locking wings with Rader. Rader veered off and shook his fist, then pulled his own pistol and fired at his friend. Lamb was shocked… until he realized Rader had fired below him, not at him. Lamb decided to do the same, firing his pistol but purposely aiming wide.
Dean Ivan Lamb in the service of the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s.
The world’s first dogfight turned into a show of force between two friends – literally. As they fired, the opposing airman turned his plane away from the other in reaction, looking like the round may have hit home, but neither did. The two flew in a circle and reloaded their weapons. So long as they used all their ammunition, no one on the ground would know any better. How could they, when the only two qualified pilots were the men making the combat airshow? When the ammo was done, they waved to one another and went home.
Back on earth, they received a hero’s welcome. The men below watched the aerial “duel” with great interest. Eventually, Lamb left the Mexican service when he stopped getting paid. Rader left when his plane was damaged beyond repair from normal use. Lamb would go on to fight in both world wars, shooting down as many as eight German fighters in WWI.
Though a select few get most of the credit, a lot of countries were involved in the Allied efforts of World War II. There were so many moving parts that it’s easy to forget that certain groups, including our own U.S. Coast Guard, were actively involved. While we might make jokes about Canadians being overly polite today, we must certainly not forget that they kicked some serious ass in Europe. However, there’s another country that played a significant role in the global conflict that many seem to gloss over outside of discussing the Zimmerman Telegram: Mexico.
There was no real shortage of volunteers during WWII, but more help was always appreciated. That’s where Mexico comes in. Pissed about losing oil ships in the Gulf, Mexico declared war on Axis powers in 1942. Shortly thereafter, Mexico became one of the only Latin American countries to send troops overseas.
The most widely recognized group to deploy was the Mexican Army’s Escuadrón 201 — the Aztec Eagles. Here’s what you should know:
(U.S. Air Force)
The 201st Fighter Squadron was formed in response to German submarines sinking two oil tankers, the SS Potrero del Llano and the SS Faja de Oro. These dudes were obviously pissed and wanted to hop into the war to kick some ass, just like the rest of us. So, they got 30 experienced pilots together with 270 other volunteers to be ground crew. After their formation, they were sent to Texas in July of 1944.
The Aztec Eagles trained at Randolph Field in San Antonio as well as Majors Field in Greenville, Texas. The pilots received months of training in weapons, communication, tactics, as well as advanced combat air tactics, formation flying, and gunnery. They held a graduation ceremony in February, 1945, and received their battle flag, which went down in history as the first time Mexican troops were trained by to fight a war overseas.
A P-47D sporting insignias of both the Army Air Forces and Mexican Air Force.
(U.S. Army Air Force)
In March, 1945, following their transformation into hardened warriors, the 201st Fighter Squadron was sent to the Philippines attached to the Army Air Force’s own 58th Fighter Group to participate in expelling Japanese control. In June of that same year, they flew two missions per day using U.S. aircraft. By July, they received their own P-47D Thunderbolts, with which they fought plenty.
During their time in the Philippines, the 201st flew at least 90 combat missions and, throughout those, lost eight pilots. They also flew 53 ground support missions for the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, four fighter sweeps over Formosa, and dive bombing missions. All the while, they also had no provision for replacements, which made each pilot loss especially painful.
Former 201st Fighter Squadron members salute during a ceremony at Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, March 6, 2009.
(Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump)
By the end of it, the 201st had put down 30,000 Japanese troops, destroyed enemy buildings, vehicles, anti-aircraft and machine gun emplacements, and ammunition depots. General Douglas MacArthur gave them recognition, and they were awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor, complete with rank of Legionnaire, in 2004.
It is 100 years to the day, June 26, 1918, since an obscure wood 50 miles from Paris, the Bois de Belleau, was captured by U.S. forces in a protracted battle of World War I. During those weeks the wood had become a focal point of American military hopes, an early and vital display of the American Expeditionary Force’s capability on the battlefield. The bloody encounter occupies a special place in the annals of U.S. military history. Patrick Gregory looks at what happened there and asks why the battle still stands out.
In late April 2018, a photo opportunity featuring the presidents of the United States and France and their wives planting a tree was beamed across the world. What seemed to attract as much publicity at the time was the fact that the young tree in question was removed soon after the ceremony, taken into temporary quarantine. What achieved less attention was where the sapling had come from or why — Belleau Wood.
As with most such scenes of slaughter of the First World War, the Bois de Belleau is as quiet now as it doubtless was before the fighting which erupted there in June 1918. And that fighting was brutal. What happened there was an important moment in the contribution of the United States in the First World War. It was also an important moment in the development of the U.S. Marine Corps.
(Library of Congress photo )
By May 1918 the U.S. had been a combatant in Europe for over a year; yet American troops, still arriving in France, had to date only played a supporting role. That was all going to change. American Expeditionary Force commander John Pershing had stubbornly resisted Allied efforts to co-opt his men — a regiment here, a regiment there — to add to their own ranks, remaining determined to train and assemble a fully-fledged army of his own.
The moment of truth now arrived to test those men in battle: May 28, 1918, the first full U.S.-led offensive of the war. Led by Pershing’s trusted First Division, the ‘Big Red One’ under Robert Bullard attacked at Cantigny in northern France, 20 miles from Amiens. Of limited strategic value, perhaps, but the three-day battle was a success, demonstrating that the Americans could fight. It was a shot in the arm for the AEF, a much needed psychological boost after all the months’ waiting.
However, of more immediate concern to the Allies was a new and deadly enemy offensive which had been unleashed during this time 50 miles south-east: one cutting easily through Allied lines and driving further south towards the river Marne, leaving German forces within striking distance of Paris.
On May 30 two separate American divisions, the 2nd & 3rd, were ordered into the Marne area, arriving from different directions east and west. A machine gun battalion of the latter secured the south bank of the river at the key bridgehead of Château-Thierry, as other of their number began to take up position.
But the main action of the weeks ahead would lie north-west of the town, involving men of the 2nd Division; in particular, two of their regiments, a brigade of Marines led by Pershing’s old chief of staff James Harbord. It would be their efforts to secure a woodland there that would capture headlines, helped in part by the purple prose of journalist Floyd Gibbons.
(Library of Congress photo )
Belleau Wood was barely more than a mile long and half a mile wide, yet it would cost many lives to capture and would be reported across the world. “It was perhaps a small battle in terms of World War I,” says Professor Andrew Wiest of the University of Southern Mississippi, “but it was outsized in historic importance. It was the battle that meant that the U.S. had arrived.”
Yet as operations go — as brave and resolute as the troops were throughout — it was poorly planned and badly commanded, certainly in its opening phases. After adjacent areas were captured on the morning of June 6, the decision was taken to advance on the wood that afternoon from two directions, west and south. The former was led by a battalion of 5th Marines under Benjamin Berry; the southern attack undertaken by Berton Sibley’s battalion of 6th Marines, supported on their right by 23rd Infantry from the division’s other regular army brigade.
But little reconnaissance had been carried out in advance as to what to expect when they got there and only scant artillery fire was laid down beforehand. Inside, German machine gunners had taken up positions in defensive holes, behind rocky outcrops and shielded by dense undergrowth. Worse, the Marines now advanced towards them in rank formation over the exposed ground outside, with Berry’s western advance particularly exposed. They were slaughtered. By nightfall 222 were dead and over 850 wounded.
Bloodied but remaining focused on the task, the men went again the next day. And the one after that. Yet little headway was made. An intense 24-hour artillery barrage was belatedly ordered, followed by yet another assault. Headway was finally made but casualties continued to mount as the German troops clung on in the farthermost reaches of the wood. The 7th Infantry from the neighboring 3rd Division was called in for some days to help lighten the load.
The fighting labored on for three weeks and in its final stages, foot by foot, hand to hand, it intensified in savagery. Artillery shells and guns now gave way to bayonets and “toad-stickers,” 8-inch triangular blades set on knuckle-handles, as the Marines slashed their way through the last of their enemy. But finally word came through on the morning of June 26 from Major Maurice Shearer: “Belleau Wood now US Marine Corps entirely.”
(Library of Congress photo )
As the story goes, German officers, in their battle reports, referred to the Marines as Teufelshunde “Devil Dogs”; and journalist Floyd Gibbons also helped, singling out one gunnery sergeant in dispatches as “Devil Dog Dan.” Either way, the name and image stuck and went on to become a celebrated symbol of the Marines.
“It was the day the U.S. Marines went from being a small force few people knew about to personifying elite status in the US. military,” says Andrew Wiest. The corps had roots dating back to the American War of Independence, but from Belleau developed much of the corps’ modern lore and myth.
More significantly, and of strategic importance, their intervention at Belleau and that of their 2nd and 3rd Division colleagues in the surrounding area on the Marne put paid to the German advance, at what was a dangerous moment in the war for the Allies.
The commander of the U.S. First Division Robert Lee Bullard subsequently declared: “The Marines didn’t win the war here. But they saved the Allies from defeat. Had they arrived a few hours later I think that would have been the beginning of the end. France could not have stood the loss of Paris.”
President Donald Trump will award the Medal of Honor to a retired Army medic from Alabama who risked his life several times to provide medical care to his comrades during the Vietnam War, the White House announced Sept. 20.
Trump will award retired Army Capt. Gary M. Rose of Huntsville, Alabama, the nation’s highest military honor for his actions in combat. Trump will honor Rose for his conspicuous gallantry during a White House ceremony on Oct. 23.
The White House said Rose, 69, will be recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group during combat operations in Vietnam in September 1970. Rose repeatedly ran into the line of enemy fire to provide medical care, and used his own body on one occasion to shield a wounded American from harm.
On the final day of the mission, Rose was wounded but put himself in the line of enemy fire while moving wounded personnel to an extraction point, loading them into helicopters and helping to repel an enemy assault on the American position.
As he boarded the final extraction helicopter, the aircraft was hit with intense enemy fire and crashed shortly after takeoff. The White House said Rose ignored his own injuries and pulled the helicopter crew and members of his unit from the burning wreckage and provided medical care until another extraction helicopter arrived.
Rose is a 20-year veteran of the Army. He will be the second person to be awarded the Medal of Honor by Trump. The president honored James McCloughan of South Haven, Michigan, in July for his actions to save wounded soldiers in a Vietnam kill zone.
The effective end of Col. Joe Dowdy’s career in the United States Marine Corps came when he was relieved as commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 1 on April 4, 2003. The man who relieved him, then-Maj. Gen. James Mattis, also just served as Secretary of Defense.
The relief was so shocking it made national headlines. It was not unprecedented in modern warfare, though.
During the fighting on Saipan, Marine Lt. Gen. Holland Smith relieved Army Maj. Gen. Ralph Smith of command of the 27th Infantry Division over poor combat performance. The Marine general felt that the 27th’s lack of progress had caused unnecessary casualties to the Marine Corps. The relief generated a lot of controversy at the time. Ralph Smith would later command the 98th Infantry Division and would go on to lead the relief organization CARE.
Then-Col. Dowdy was seen as a good officer prior to the relief. He had seen some action in Beirut and also served during Operation Restore Hope. According to a 2004 Wall Street Journal report, RCT-1 had only suffered one KIA during the fighting.
The report also noted that Dowdy was very focused on taking care of his troops, at one point declining an air conditioner when it was clear that the enlisted Marines were not receiving any.
When Dowdy’s unit was halted outside Nasiriyah for over a day, Mattis, who had commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment during Operation Desert Storm, was frustrated. In 2001, Mattis made a name for himself by leading a daring assault to take an air strip near Kandahar, which was crawling with Taliban at the time.
It didn’t help Dowdy’s case when Brig. Gen. John Kelly reportedly caught him dozing off. Then, Maj. Gen. Mattis noticed a captain reading a book next to a runway crater at a recently-captured airfield while sitting on a bulldozer. The captain told Mattis he hadn’t received an order to fix the crater.
Things came to a head on April 3. RCT 1 had managed to lure some of Saddam’s forces away from the western flank – and left it open for U.S. forces to charge into Baghdad. Sensing that Saddam’s forces had cracked, Dowdy was ordered to carry out an operation into al Kut, and was told to decide whether or not to push through. Dowdy ultimately elected not to push through, a decision that angered Gen. Kelly, who recommended his relief.
The next day, Dowdy was reportedly summoned to a meeting with Mattis, and replaced with Col. John A. Toolan. In a performance evaluation, Dowdy was described as “being fatigued beyond normal” and “overly concerned about the welfare” of those under his command, which meant he was “not employing the regiment to its full combat potential.”
Dowdy would retire from the Marine Corps the next year, and eventually served for a time in the Office of the Director at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center as a special operations manager.
He later left NASA. In 2013, the Military Times reported that he would often be called for counsel by other Marine officers who were relieved of their commands.