The destroyer USS Ward (DD 139/APD 16) is famous for being the first American ship to sink a Japanese vessel, a mini-sub, just hours before the main attack on Pearl Harbor. But less famous is the first American ship to sink a Nazi U-boat. That impact of that ship’s kill, incidentally, would reverberate over six decades later.
USS Roper shortly after she was commissioned in 1919. (US Navy photo)
That vessel was USS Roper (DD 147), a Wickes-class destroyer. Wickes-class destroyers were built during World War I and carried four four-inch guns, a single three-inch gun, and a dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes. These vessels were feeling their age as World War II bubbled up on the horizon but were pressed into service to hold the line until newer vessels came into the fleet.
According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the Roper had taken part in a variety of deployments in the peacetime Navy between World Wars. The vessel had been off Cape Cod when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After a quick refit, she was escorting convoys. Then came the fateful encounter.
On March 31, 1942, USS Roper rescued 70 survivors, including this mother and child. (US Navy photo)
U-Boat.net reports that on April 14, 1942, the Roper detected U-85 on the surface, about 20 miles from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, two weeks after rescuing 70 survivors from a sunken merchant ship. First, the destroyer opened fire, scoring a number of hits. As the fatally stricken U-boat slipped beneath the surface, the destroyer unleashed a salvo of depth charges to ensure a kill. None of U-85’s crew survived.
After that kill, the Roper still served, doing a number of convoy runs. Then, she was converted to a destroyer transport and re-designated APD 20. In 1945, she was damaged by a kamikaze. Repairs were still underway when Japan surrendered. She was sold for scrap in 1946.
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.
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.
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.
Willie Rogers, the oldest living Tuskegee Airman, passed away Nov. 18. He was 101.
According to reports from FoxNews.com and the Huffington Post, Rogers died from complications after a recent stroke.
Rogers served in the 100th Fighter Squadron, assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group. He wasn’t one of the pilots, though. Instead, Rogers specialized in administration and logistics, according to the Huffington Post. He was wounded during a January 1943 mission.
Fliers of a P-51 Mustang Group of the 15th Air Force in Italy “shoot the breeze” in the shadow of one of the Mustangs they fly. Left to right: Lt. Dempsey W. Morgan Jr., Lt. Carroll S. Woods, Lt. Robert H. Nelson Jr., Capt. Andrew D. Turner and Lt. Clarence P. Lester. Ca. August 1944. (Courtesy National Archives)
According to the National Museum of the US Air Force, almost 1,000 Tuskegee pilots were trained to fight in World War II, and over 350 were deployed to the front lines. Over 16,000 other personnel were trained to serve in ground roles, as Rogers did during the war.
Rogers was one of about 300 Tuskegee Airmen who lived to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, with his being awarded in November 2013.
Of the Tuskegee Airmen, 32 were captured by the Nazis, and 84 were either killed in action or from other causes, including accidents or on non-combat missions. The group flew 179 bomber escort missions, of which 172 ended without any losses to the bombers. Members of that group received 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, at least one Silver Star, and almost 750 Air Medals.
Advanced instruction turned student pilots into fighter pilots at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Ala. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The 332nd Fighter Group first flew Bell P-39 Airacobras, then transitioned to the P-40 Warhawk, then the P-47 Thunderbolt, and finally to the P-51 Mustang.
The group shot down 112 enemy aircraft, destroyed 150 more on the ground, was credited with crippling an Italian destroyer, destroyed 950 ground vehicles, and sank or destroyed 40 boats and barges.
A bomber group of Tuskegee Airmen — the 477th — was slated to have four squadrons (the 616th, 617th, 618th, and 619th Bombardment Squadrons) of B-25 Mitchells, but it never saw combat.
All four Tuskegee Airmen fighter squadrons are still active. The 99th Flying Training Squadron flies T-1A Jayhawk trainers, the 100th Fighter Squadron is an F-16 unit with the Alabama Air National Guard, and the 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons are Air Force Reserve F-22 units.
The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing has assumed the lineage of the 332nd Fighter Group.
On October 25, 1944, the Japanese navy launched an all-out counterattack against the U.S. invasion of the Philippines. The Japanese were able to lure Admiral Halsey and the Third Fleet away from the Philippines by exposing the last of their aircraft carriers. With the departure of the Third Fleet, the small task force defending the island landings were left to face down the real Japanese attack.
The Japanese Center Force consisted of eleven destroyers, eight cruisers, and four battleships, one of which was the super battleship Yamato. With Halsey drawn away by the Japanese carriers, Task Unit 77.4.3 was all that stood in the way of the Japanese Navy destroying the invasion force. Known by their radio call-sign “Taffy 3”, the small U.S. naval element consisted of just six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts. It would take an incredible amount of bravery and courage for the Americans to repel the huge Japanese offensive. Luckily, the crew of USS Johnston (DD-577) had both in spades.
Johnston was commanded by Cdr. Ernest E. Evans. On the day of the ship’s commissioning, Evans set the tone for his command. “This is going to be a fighting ship,” he fortuitously declared. “I intend to go in harm’s way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.” Seeing the mass of enemy ships bearing down on them, Evans ordered the Fletcher-class destroyer to charge.
Johnston‘s frontal assault was met with heavy Japanese gunfire. Multiple shells struck the ship, causing heavy damage and casualties. Evans himself was wounded, but ordered a second charge. The crew had expended all of their torpedoes on their first charge. The guns that were still fightable were low on ammo, but the brave sailors of USS Johnston charged again.
On the second attack run, Johnston shot a total of 30 more rounds into a much larger Japanese battleship. When the enemy ships turned their attention to the escort carrier USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73), Evans didn’t hesitate to issue new orders. “Commence firing on that cruiser,” he commanded. “Draw her fire on us and away form Gambier Bay.” Luckily for the escort carrier, the distraction worked. However, Johnston was not so lucky.
After two-and-a-half hours of courageous and ruthless fighting, USS Johnston sat dead in the water. With Japanese ships closing in, Evans gave the order to abandon ship at 0945 hours. Twenty-five minutes later, Johnston rolled over and began to sink. Only 141 sailors of the 327-man crew survived the battle; Evans was not one of them. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic command of the USS Johnston. Cdr. Evans became the first Native American in the U.S. Navy and one of only two destroyer captains during WWII to receive the honor.
The valiant head-on attacks by the crew of USS Johnston and the other sailors of Taffy 3 were able to route the Japanese attack. Their attacks were so fierce that the Japanese believed they were fighting a much larger force and decided to retreat.
75 years after she sunk, Johnston was discovered by the Vulcan Inc. research vessel Petrel. However, most of the wreck was too deep for their remotely operated submersible to reach. It was not until March 2021 that Caladan Oceanic was able to send a manned submersible down to Johnston‘s wreck. “Just completed the deepest wreck dive in history, to find the main wreckage of the destroyer USS Johnston,” tweeted Caladan Oceanic founder and submersible pilot Victor Vescovo. “We located the front 2/3 of the ship, upright and intact, at 6456 meters. Three of us across two dives surveyed the vessel and gave respects to her brave crew.” The Caladan Oceanic crew also laid a wreath in the vicinity of the battle site to honor the sailors who paid the ultimate sacrifice that day.
On Dec. 18, 1944, Pfc. Harry Miller was cold, exhausted, and covered with grease. His hands were numb from the cold and he was bone tired after working all night. He and his fellow Soldiers from the 740th Tank Battalion had toiled around the clock to piece together three American tanks from an ordnance depot in Belgium.
With only the three refurbished tanks, Miller and the 740th was asked to stop the 1st SS Panzer Division, the German spearhead in the Battle of the Bulge.
Even before the Germans launched their surprise Ardennes offensive that December, Miller was not thinking about Christmas. His only thought was on keeping warm, he said. Northern Europe had been gripped by record-breaking cold.
When the German tank columns first approached, Miller and his fellow Soldiers were in Neufchateau, Belgium, but they had no tanks. At the beginning of the battle, the 740th was ordered to proceed to an ordnance depot in nearby Sprimont. Miller was hopeful, as he believed tanks would be issued at the depot. However, upon arrival, there were no functional tanks.
Depot personnel had left town in a hurry, leaving all of their equipment and tools behind. Miller and the 740th worked throughout the night and by morning, three tanks and a tank destroyer rolled out the gate. They were ordered to Stoumont to stop the German advance.
The 740th’s three tanks faced the lead element of Battle Group Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division. One M-1 Sherman tank fired and destroyed a German Panther. A second Sherman destroyed a second German tank. A third tank, a restored M-36, destroyed a third German tank. With the three German tanks out of action, and the narrow road blocked, the attacking German column retreated. Thus, a few restored tanks within their first one-half hour of combat had turned the tide of the German attack.
Miller was part of a specialized unit. A few days later he crewed one of six Sherman tanks that formed the Assault Gun Platoon. His tank had a 105mm gun.
Miller remembers the snowfall was especially heavy. Members of 82nd were cold and exhausted. Marching through four feet of snow was laborious. A few lucky Soldiers from the 82nd jumped on his tank to hitch a ride to avoid walking in the deep snow. Suddenly the tank took on enemy fire. When they heard audible dings from enemy bullets hitting the tank, the 82nd Soldiers scrambled off to take defensive positions.
The Battle of the Bulge lasted from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945. It was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. For the Americans, out of 610,000 troops involved in the battle, 89,000 were casualties. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by U.S. troops in World War II.
The 740th Tank Battalion was formed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on March 1, 1943. It had mostly men from Texas and Oklahoma. They trained at Knox and at the Desert Training Center in Bouse, Arizona.
Miller is a veteran of 22 years in the Army and Air Force. The Columbus, Ohio-native had always wanted to serve in the Army and enlisted at the age of 15 in 1944. Besides being a veteran of World War ll, he served in the Korean War with Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, in the communications center.
Miller later served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War with the Strategic Air Command. He was in charge of codes and cryptology used for command missions, including bombing runs in Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force in January 1966 as a senior master sergeant and a communications operations superintendent.
Upon retirement, Miller worked as a private investigator, director of security and safety at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and as a safety inspector at the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas, where he again retired in January 1989. He took up jazz and swing drumming lessons at age 69 to play with Seattle, Washington bands.
Miller, 89, resides at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. He laments that out of 800 Soldiers from the 740th, only six were able to attend this year’s reunion on Labor Day.
Miller said he is proud of all of his military service and wishes he could do it all over again. He advises Soldiers who are serving today to stay in and retire.
For over 75 years, USDA scientists have been developing ways to protect the U.S. military around the world from powerful adversaries — mosquitoes and other biting arthropods that cause disease. Their work began in 1942 in a small USDA field laboratory in Orlando, where scientists made key discoveries about new chemicals for controlling these pests. At the time, the most effective repellents lasted only 2 hours, and the U.S. military needed a repellent that could protect for 10 hours. In 1952, testing in Orlando confirmed DEET was an effective repellent; it was soon adopted for use by the U.S. Army, became commercially available by 1957 — and is still used widely today.
Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s chief in-house research agency, have continued their search for better repellents ever since. They used the USDA database of 30,000 compounds to develop a model that used chemical structure data for predicting how long a repellent would keep pests away. This model predicted that some compounds would be more effective than DEET, and subsequent research confirmed some compounds did indeed repel pests more than three times longer than DEET.
In 2004, the Department of Defense initiated a partnership with USDA and others as part of the Deployed War-Fighter Protection (DWFP) program. Its’ mission: to develop and test management tools for pest and vector species that transmit diseases to deployed U.S. troops. ARS scientists in Gainesville, Florida; Beltsville, Maryland; and Oxford, Mississippi, have contributed discoveries about repellent as part of the DWFP research and accomplishments. ARS has also collaborated with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center since 2003 to optimize the arthropod bite protection of factory-produced permethrin-treated uniforms. Treating uniforms became standard practice in the 1950s, first with a miticide, and starting in 1991 with permethrin.
ARS National Program Leader Uli Bernier has been responsible for developing protocols to evaluate uniform protection against mosquitoes, and in 2015 conducted a study that led to the registration of etofenprox as an alternative clothing repellent. He recently staffed an ARS information table at the 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo, where he said visitors wanted to learn more about a new pest-resistant tropical lightweight uniform on display. Visitors were also fascinated by a cage of mosquitoes used for research — but unlike USDA researchers, they were reluctant to place their hand in a cage full of mosquitoes!
This Military Appreciation Month, we pay special tribute to the efforts of our servicemen and women. USDA honors our military and will continue to support their work.
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.
“Women have served in the defense of this land for years before our United States was born. They have contributed their talents, skills and courage to this endeavor for more than two centuries with an astounding record of achievement that stretches from Lexington and Concord to the Persian Gulf and beyond,” said retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, chief of staff of the Army, 1991-1995.
1. Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783)
Mary Ludwig McCauley gained the nickname of “Molly Pitcher” in 1778 by carrying water to the men on the Revolutionary battlefield in Monmouth, New Jersey. She replaced her husband, Capt. John Hays, when he collapsed at his cannon. Since then, many women who carried water to men on the battlefield were called “Molly Pitchers.”
2. Clara Barton, Civil War nurse (1861 – 1865)
Clara Barton witnessed immense suffering on the Civil War battlefield and did much to alleviate it. She was on the scene ministering to those most in need, taking care of the wounded, dead, and dying.
Barton became a “professional angel” after the war. She lectured and worked on humanitarian causes relentlessly, and went on to become the first president of the American Association of the Red Cross. At the age of 77, she was still in the field taking care of Soldiers in military hospitals in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
3. Susie King Taylor, Civil War (1861-1865)
Born a slave in Georgia in 1848, Susie Baker, who later became known as Susie King Taylor, gained her freedom in April 1862. Baker was initially appointed laundress of the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, re-organized from the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Due to her nursing skills and her ability to read and write, her responsibilities with the regiment began to multiply. More than a few African-American women may have provided service as the Union Army began forming regiments of all black men. After the war, Taylor helped to organize a branch of the Women’s Relief Corps.
4. Dr. Mary Walker, Union Army contract surgeon (1861-1865)
Dr. Mary Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855 and later earned a second degree in 1862 from Hygeia Therapeutic College in New York. During the Civil War, she worked at first as a volunteer in Manassas and Fredericksburg, Virginia. Later she worked as a contract physician for the 52nd Ohio Infantry Regiment. Walker is the only woman ever granted the Medal of Honor.
5. Mary Catherine O’Rourke, Telephone operator and interpreter (1917-1918)
Mary Catherine O’ Rourke was one of 450 “Hello Girls” who served in the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit during World War I. They were bilingual female switchboard operators recruited by Gen. John J. Pershing to improve communications on the Western Front.
The Signal Corps women were given the same status as nurses, and had 10 extra regulations placed on them to preserve their “status as women.” They had the rank of lieutenant, but had to buy their own uniforms.
Mary Catherine O’Rourke was in the fourth group of these women who shipped off to France during World War I. She studied French with instructors from the University of Grenoble. She was assigned to Paris and served as interpreter for Gen. John J. Pershing during months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles.
6. Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, First WAC director (1942-1945)
Col. Oveta Culp Hobby was called upon to serve as the chief, Women’s Interest Section, Bureau of Public Affairs for the War Department. She served in this position for one year before becoming the first woman sworn into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, or WAAC in 1942 and appointed as its director. The WAAC was converted to the Women’s Army Corps in July 1943 and Hobby was appointed to the rank of colonel in the Army of the United States as she continued to serve as director of the WAC.
After setting the stage for the creation of the WAC, Hobby built the corps to the strength of over 100,000 by April 1944. She established procedures and policies for recruitment, training, administration, discipline, assignment, and discharge for the WAC. She surmounted difficulties in arranging for the training, clothing, assignments, recognition, and acceptance of women in the Army. Hobby made it possible for women to serve in over 400 non-combat military jobs at posts throughout the United States, and in every overseas theater.
Hobby was later called upon by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve as the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1953-1955.
7. Col. Bettie J. Morden, WAC deputy director, 1971
Bettie J. Morden had a long, distinguished career in the Army that took many turns. She enlisted in the WAAC on Oct. 14, 1942. She receiving basic and administrative training at the First WAAC Training Center, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She served throughout World War II at the Third WAAC Training Center, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, as an administrative noncommissioned officer of the Publications Office. Morden later served as a first sergeant with Headquarters Company on the South Post. After the war ended, Morden was discharged in November 1945.
In September 1949, she entered the WAC, U.S. Army Reserve, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in February 1950. In November 1966, she was assigned as executive officer, Office of the Director, WAC, at the Pentagon and was promoted to full colonel on June 9, 1970. She assumed the position of acting deputy director, WAC, on Feb 1, 1971. She retired on Dec. 31, 1972, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
In July 1973, Morden was elected president of the WAC Foundation, now the U.S. Army Women’s Museum Foundation, a private organization formed initially in 1969 to support the museum. Morden resigned from the presidency in June 2001.
8. Jacqueline Cochran, Pioneer female aviator (Pre-World War II to 1970)
After developing a successful line of cosmetics, Jacqueline Cochran took flying lesson in the 1930s so that she could use her travel and sales time more efficiently. She eventually became a test pilot. She helped design the first oxygen mask and became the first person to fly above 20,000 feet wearing one. She set three speed records and a world altitude record of 33,000 feet — all before 1940.
She was the first woman to fly a heavy bomber over the Atlantic. She volunteered for duty as a combat pilot in the European Theater during World War II, but her offer was rejected. She trained American women as transport pilots in England for the Air Transport Auxiliary of the Royal Air Force.
Upon return to the United States, she oversaw flight training for women and the merging of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in July 1943. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945 for her service in World War II.
After the war, she was commissioned in 1948. She became the first woman to break the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre Jet in 1953 and went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph in 1964. She retired from the Air Force Reserve as a colonel in 1970.
9. Brig. Gen. Clara L. Adams-Ender, Army Nurse Corps (1961-1993)
In 1967, Brig. Gen. Adams-Ender became the first female in the Army to qualify for and be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge. She was also the first woman to earn a master’s of military arts and science degree .at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
On Sept. 1, 1987, she was promoted to brigadier general and appointed the chief of the Army Nurse Corps.
In 1991, she was selected to be commanding general of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and served in this capacity as well as that of deputy commanding general of the U.S. Military District of Washington until her retirement in 1993.
10. Command Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson, First woman command sergeant major (1944-1970)
Yzetta L. Nelson joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1944. In 1966, she was promoted to the rank of sergeant major. On March 30, 1968, she became the first WAC promoted to the new rank of command sergeant major. She continued to serve in the WAC until her retirement in 1970.
11. Brig. Gen. Sherian G. Cadoria, First African-American female general (1961-1990)
Promoted to brigadier general in 1985, Sherian G. Cadoria was the highest-ranking black woman in the Army until she retired in 1990. She entered the Army in 1961, with a direct commission as a first lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps. In the 1970s, she transferred to the Military Police Corps.
12. Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson, First black female sentinel at Tomb of Unknowns
Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson became the first African-American woman to earn the prestigious Tomb Guard Badge and become a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Jan. 22, 1997.
Born in 1974 in Montgomery, Alabama, Wilson joined the Army in February 1993. She was a military police officer assigned to the MP Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). She completed testing and a rigorous eight-month trial period and became part of the Honor Guard Company of The Old Guard.
14. Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones, First command sergeant major of Army Reserve
In September 2003, Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones was selected by Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, Army Reserve chief, to become the ninth command sergeant major of the Army Reserve. She was the first woman to serve in that position and the first to be chosen as the senior NCO in any of the Army’s components. For some time, she was also the highest-ranking African-American in any of the military services.
Jones entered the Army in 1982. She attended basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. She was the first woman to serve as class president at the United States Sergeants Major Academy.
15. Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Surgeon general of the U.S. Army
Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West is the 44th surgeon general of the United States Army and commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Command.
West is a graduate of the United States Military Academy with a bachelor of science in engineering. She earned a doctorate of medicine from George Washington University School of Medicine in the District of Columbia.
Her last assignment was as the Joint Staff surgeon at the Pentagon. In that capacity, she served as the chief medical advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and coordinated all health services issues to include operational medicine, force health protection, and readiness.
(Editor’s note: The above 15 are just a sampling of the many women who have contributed to shaping the U.S. Army.)
“The Hump” was the nickname Allied pilots gave the airlift operation that crossed the Himalayan foothills into China. It was the Army Air Force’s most dangerous airlift route, but it was the only way to supply Chinese forces fighting Japan — and things weren’t going well for China.
World War II began in 1937 for Chiang Ki-Shek’s nationalist China. By the time the United States began running supplies to the Chinese forces fighting Japan, the Western part of the country was firmly controlled by the invading Japanese. The Japanese also controlled Burma, on India’s Eastern border, cutting off the last land route to the Chinese. Aid would have to come by air and American planes would have to come from the West — over the “Roof of the World.”
But getting there was terribly inefficient.
As a matter of fact, the original plan to bomb targets on the Japanese mainland involved flying B-29s loaded with fuel over the Hump from India into China. But when the planes landed at Shangdu, they would often have to take on fuel to ensure they could make the flight home, as recounted by then-Army Air Forces officer and later Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the film The Fog of War.
Beyond the inefficiency of flying the Hump, it was incredibly dangerous. More than 1,000 men and 600 planes were lost over the 530-mile stretch of rugged terrain, and that’s a very conservative estimate. It was dubbed the “Skyway to Hell” and the “Aluminum Trail” for the number of planes that didn’t make it.
Some 14 million Chinese died and up to 100 million became refugees during the eight years of fighting between China and Japan.
1. Flying the Hump was central to winning the war.
When reading about World War II’s Pacific Theater, what comes up most often is the gallantry and bravery of Marines, Sailors, and Coasties who were part of the island hopping campaign. We also hear a lot about the bomber groups of airmen who devastated the Japanese home islands. What we seldom hear about is the U.S. Army in the China, India, Burma theater who were busy building a 1,000-mile road and flying over the Himalayan foothills to keep China in the fight.
And this was vitally important.
China is a vast country and when the Communists and nationalists joined forces to take on the Japanese, they were a massive force to take on. Three million Chinese soldiers kept 1.25 million Japanese troops in China, away from the ever-creeping Allies who were taking island after island, slowly getting closer to the Japanese mainland.
China was fighting for survival.
2. Extreme weather took down more U.S. pilots than the Japanese.
Forget, for a moment, that American pilots were flying planes dubbed “The Flying Coffin” — the Curtiss C-46 Commando — at times. The mountain ranges of the Himalayas caused jetstream-strength winds and dangerous weather at extreme altitudes. And when that doesn’t take you, a Japanese Zero will be there to try.
Pilots would plod along at ground speeds of around 30 miles per hour while the wind lifted their planes to 28,000 feet and then back to 6,000 shortly after. If pilots weren’t fighting ice storms or thunderstorms, they were fighting the Japanese.
Where dreams (and air crews) go to die.
3. Many pilots flying the Hump were newbies.
Although the China National Aviation Corporation ran the route before the war and its pilots continued to run cargo over the Hump, the Army’s pilots were newly-trained flying officers with little experience flying in anything, let alone extreme weather. Even General Henry “Hap” Arnold — the only General of the Air Force ever bestowed such a title — got lost due to lack of oxygen flying the Hump.
This may have added to the fatality rate on the route — a full one-third of the men flying it died there.
4. If the weather didn’t get them, the terrain might.
Pilots traversing the route had to fly the Kali Gandaki River Gorge, a depression much wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon. The mountains surrounding the gorge were 10,000 feet higher than most of the planes could fly. The pass to escape the gorge was 15,000 high — but pilots couldn’t often see it.
It looks cold even in black and white.
5. Inside the plane wasn’t great either.
Pilots were issued fleece-lined jackets, boots, and gloves to keep their extremities from freezing during the flight. Lack of oxygen could cause pilots to veer off-course and into an almost certain death. C-46 cargo planes did not glide, their heavy engines causing an almost immediate dive. Once out of fuel, crews would have to bail out with minimal protection, cold weather gear, and nine rounds of a .45-caliber pistol.
When you’re flying your next Hump mission and just want to see the sights before you die.
6. That last bullet is for you.
Whether crashing or bailing out into the freezing cold or jumping into enemy-held territory, there would be no search and rescue mission coming for crews flying the Hump. A rescue crew would be subject to the same extreme cold weather and fuel issues as any other plane. In enemy territory, Japanese patrols would capture American pilots, torture them, then kill them. Part of the training regimen for Hump pilots included the right way to use the last bullet on oneself.
North Korea and the United States don’t have a lot in common. What they do share is a need for gathering intelligence — typically about each other. While the United States’ intelligence agencies might have a difficult time penetrating the North’s rigid class system and meticulous tracking of its citizens, the Hermit Kingdom can exploit the open societies of the West to plant its operatives – and it does.
Kim Hyon-hui was one of those operatives. The daughter of a high-level North Korean diplomat during the Cold War, she trained rigorously in the North as an intelligence operative. She went on a number of missions, including the infamous 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines flight 858, which was personally ordered by President Kim Il-Sung to frighten teams from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Much of her training would not surprise anyone, but some of it might.
There’s a special school for North Korea’s spy agents, located outside the capital city of Pyongyang. There, they learn the usual spy stuff we’ve all come to expect from watching movies and television: explosives, martial arts, and scuba diving. What’s most unusual is not just that this school also teaches its agents Japanese, but who teaches it to them.
For the longest time, North Korea denied ever having abducted Japanese citizens for any reason. But a number of defectors, including the captured spy, Kim Hyon-hui, described learning Japanese from a native speaker, Yaeko Taguchi. North Korea has been accused of abducting a number of Japanese citizens to put them to work for similar reasons. The North’s disdain for Japan dates back to World War II, owing to the atrocities committed on Koreans by Japanese troops. North Koreans like Japan as much as they like the United States. Maybe less.
It may or may not surprise you to learn that North Korean grocery stores are very much unlike any Western grocery stores. Most of the time, North Koreans don’t actually go to supermarkets, no matter how much food is available to them. North Korea doesn’t have supermarkets as we know them.
The idea of using plastic instead of hard currency was a huge surprise to Kim. She had to be trained not just to use a credit card, but how credit cards work in general, considering much of the technology used to create this system of payment wasn’t available to North Korea back then (and still isn’t, but that’s by choice).
The nightlife of North Korea seems like something from the pre-sexual revolution 1960s. While beer and soju are widely consumed in Pyongyang, even in the capital there are no obvious bars or nightclubs. Many North Koreans spend their evenings with their families at the dinner table or by going to concerts and family fun parks, small carnivals that stay in the same place all the time. To go to a European disco and party like a Westerner required training.
Regimes rise and fall. The Roman Empire lies in ruins and most of the former European colonies have regained their independence. Yet, each of these regimes leaves a long-lasting print on the land they rule. By shaping the laws, the economy and the livelihood of the inhabitants’ leaders control the culture. Some of these legacies are so beneficial that they endure through history. For example, the democracy of Ancient Greece is the foundation of many modern Western governments. Other leaderships shape their country for the worst, leaving nothing but poverty, instability and oppression behind. Those regimes, covert tyrannies or open dictatorships, are often lead by the incompetent or the uncaring. Those that rule with an iron fist and refuse to allow any opposition from threatening their position. When personal power is more important than the good of the people, the entire country pays the price.
When thinking of Iran, one pictures Sharia law, bearded men and women covered from head to toe. Yet, this image of the country is less than fifty years old. Unlike many dictatorships, Iran is not an underdeveloped country. The setback brought about by the Islamic Revolution has more to do with human rights than with the economy. The economy has not suffered much from the change of regime. On the other hand, the population and particularly the women and the LGBTQ+ community, have had to face immense difficulties. Before 1979, Iranian women enjoyed rights equal to those of the Western countries.
Women were an important part of the workforce. They had roles in politics and art, and even gained the right to vote in 1963. Most of these rights were reversed by the new theocratic government. Women who do not respect the oppressive Sharia law face fines, lashes, jail time or even death, depending on the gravity of the offence. Homosexuality is outlawed and punishable by death. Political repression is severe and the use of torture or imprisonment without trial is common against dissidents. No music, film, book or cultural support can be created and distributed without official permission. Freedoms of speech and press are non-existent. The development of a country is not only measured by the economy, and although Iran’s GDP is growing, it’s defined by its systematic violation of basic human rights.
2. North Korea
What better example of the consequences of tyranny than comparing the development of two neighboring countries with a common history and culture but who are now ruled by very different regimes. Korea was split in two at the end of WWII in 1945. Kim Il Sung came into power in North Korea in 1948. His failed attempt at reuniting the two countries in 1950 resulted in a bloody war that left both Koreas devastated. Although at the beginning of his rule, North Korea was able to expand its economy, to the extend that economist Joan Robinson called it a “miracle,” that trend stopped in the 1970s. Kim Il Sung consolidated his power and instituted a cult of his person, turning himself into a god-like figure.
His seat and status were passed down to his son, Kim Jong Il, and his grandson, Kim Jong Un, current president of North Korea. Their successive authoritarian rule has led to possibly the worst human rights track record in the world. According to the UN “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” Compared to the technologically and humanely advanced South Korea, North Korea has an obsolete and decrepit infrastructure. Its people face chronic power outages, shortages of food and basic necessities, and a total absence of the most basic freedoms. There, to disagree is to condemn three generations of one’s own family to hard labor or death. The reunification of the two Koreas, two parts of the same original country, still seems a very long way down the road.
The legacy of Omar Al-Bashir, former leader of Sudan, is a bloody ethnic cleansing in Darfur and a country broken in half. Al-Bashir orchestrated a coup in 1989, only four years after the previous dictator, Gaafar Nimeiry, was ousted from power. If Nimeiry had caused the economic ruin of the country through indiscriminate borrowing, he brought about ten years of peace and stability – before encouraging conflict between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north by attempting to impose the Sharia law. On the other hand, Al-Bashir was able to somewhat stimulate growth in the country, but his brutal regime was marked by gruesome conflicts. The war in Darfur, which started in 2003, is an armed conflict between ethnicities that is regarded as attempted genocide.
It led to a major humanitarian crisis, as civilian populations were the primary targets of attacks from either side. Al-Bashir’s government was accused of financing some of the rebel groups. South Sudan took its independence in 2011 to break away from Al-Bashir’s rule but remained in a state of unrest due to its violent past. Since the end of Al-Bashir’s tyranny in 2019, the new government has abolished the Sharia law and is working towards democracy. However, the inflation that started in 2012 has seriously damaged the economy and the conflict in Darfur hasn’t stopped. Sudan still has a long way to go to find peace again.
One of the most recent examples of a country’s fall to dictatorship is Venezuela. Until a few years ago, it was the richest country in South America. Its economy has now completely collapsed and the current president Nicolas Maduro has become an autocrat. Amidst the worst economical crisis the country has ever known, Maduro leads a reign of terror on journalists, protestors, and his opponents. In 2017, at least 46 protestors were killed by the government security forces.
Meanwhile, the people are dying from starvation and a sharp increase in malaria cases. The inflation has gone up over 1,300,000% since Maduro’s election in 2012, while the GDP growth in 2018 was -16%. It hasn’t been positive since 2012. The people of Venezuela now have no money, no jobs, no medicine, no food — and no freedom. It is difficult to see a way out. The country’s leader is more concerned about staying in power than he is about his citizens’ wellbeing.
Zimbabwe was once called the “breadbasket of Africa.” It was the second-largest economy on the African continent after Egypt. When Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980, its agricultural products were widely exported, feeding people all over Africa. Unfortunately, the reign of Mugabe has led the country to economical ruin. It is estimated that $1 billion out of its $13 billion annual GDP is lost to the corruption of Mugabe’s government. Although the country boasts one of the best educational systems in Africa, the graduates have no place to go as the unemployment rate reaches 80%, the highest in Africa.
Hyperinflation is so severe that local currency is worthless and has been replaced by U.S. dollars or South African rands. Mugabe has encouraged the expulsion and the murders of white farmers, leaving large areas of arable lands unexploited or in the care of incompetent hands. This lead to massive shortages in food and other commodities. The only reason Mugabe has been able to stay in power until November 2017 is because of the brutality of his regime. Through corruption, intimidation and violence, he has won election after election, all the while stealing the country’s resources and leading the once fertile country of Zimbabwe to ruin.
On Friday, August 7, National Purple Heart Day will be observed. Around the country, states, counties, and cities will pause to recognize the service and sacrifice of their citizens. Observed since 2014, National Purple Heart Day is a time for Americans to pause and remember the bravery, courage and sacrifice of the service members who risk their lives for our freedoms.
Here are some things you need to know about the Purple Heart and how this solemn day is observed throughout the country.
Purple Heart Trail
The Purple Heart Trail was established in 1992 by the Military Order of Purple Hearts. It aims to be a symbolic honorary system of roads, highways and other monuments that give tribute to the service members who have been awarded the Purple Heart medals. Currently, there are designated sections in 45 states as well as in Guam. Additionally, many cities and towns around the country choose to become Purple Heart cities/towns to honor the veterans and service members from the area.
On August 7, gatherings around the country, states, counties and cities will pause in recognition of the sacrifice and service of veterans. Here are more things you need to know about the Purple Heart:
Generally, Major League Baseball teams pay homage to their local Purple Heart recipients during pre-game events and then again during the 7th inning. Because of current conditions, it’s unclear whether or not MLB will continue that tradition.
At local VFWs, American Legions, and other veteran organizations, remembrance meetings will be held for fallen heroes. Special events usually take place to thank active-duty personnel, veterans, and Purple Heart recipients.
The Purple Heart medal is presented to military personnel who have either been wounded in action or killed as a result of enemy action. Since the award was created in 1782, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been presented.
The Purple Heart has been around for a long, long time.
It’s the oldest military award still presented to service members. The predecessor to the Purple Heart, the Fidelity Medallion, was created in 1780 by the Continental Congress – but it was only awarded to three soldiers that year. Then, two years later, President George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit.
The Badge of Military Merit is considered the first US military decoration and the Purple Heart predecessor.
Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit in the form of a purple heart. He determined that it be given to soldiers who displayed “unusual gallantry in battle,” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way.” Then, the award was primarily forgotten for roughly two hundred years. It wasn’t until the bicentennial of Washington’s birth that Gen. MacArthur made an effort to revive the medal. It was still used to commemorate bravery, but that criteria changed in WWII when it became a way to recognize combat injuries and deaths.
This honor can be awarded to officers and enlisted personnel
The Purple Heart is one of the first awards in military history given to enlisted soldiers, NCOs and officers. Service members of any rank are eligible to receive a Purple Heart.
There is no official record for every Purple Heart medal awarded to American service members.
During the Revolutionary War, there were just 3 Purple Hearts awarded, roughly 320,000 during WWI, and 1 million Purple Hearts presented during WWII. The Korean War awarded 118,600 medals, the Vietnam War 351,000 Purple Hearts, and the Persian Gulf War, which lasted 209 days, awarded 607 Purple Hearts.
The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ongoing since 2001, and to date, 12,500 Purple Hearts have been awarded.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart
Those who are awarded a Purple Heart can join MOPH, an organization that was formed in 1932. It’s the only veteran service organization composed of only “combat” veterans. Currently, there are about 45,000 MOPH members. Find out more about the organization here.
Though Purple Heart Day isn’t an officially recognized holiday, it’s still an important one for our military community. In this time of social distancing, it might not be possible to visit military organizations or museums. Instead, use #PurpleHeartDay to post on social media, hold socially-distant events, and take a few moments of silence to remember those who have paid the price for American freedoms.
By 1944, the tides of the war in the Pacific had turned against the Japanese Empire. The United States and its allies repelled the Imperial Japanese Navy in critical battles like Midway, Milne Bay, and Guadalcanal. The stage was set for the U.S. to retake the Philippines in 1944, but the Japanese were getting desperate. Low on ships, manpower, and material, they turned to the one thing they had in abundance — zeal for the Emperor.
That zeal led to the surprise kamikaze attacks that have come to define the war in its closing days. The amazing video producers at AARP are dedicated to keeping the memory of veterans of every American war alive and their latest offering is the story of Phil Hollywood aboard the USS Melvin at the Surigao Strait in incredible 4K video.
The Melvin was a Fletcher-class destroyer, part of the U.S. 7th Fleet Support Force moving to help the Allied landing at Leyte. But first, they had to get through the 47-mile Surigao Strait. Waiting for them was a fleet of Japanese battleships ready to halt their advance and stymie the allied landing — and the famous return of General Douglas MacArthur to his beloved Philippine Islands.
Phil Hollywood was a young sailor who enlisted after Pearl Harbor at age 17. He was aboard the Melvin at Surigao and talked to AARP about his role as a Fire Controlman 2nd Class during what would become the last battleship-to-battleship combat in the history or warfare. The Melvin was his first assignment, a ship made of, essentially, engines, hull, and guys with guns.
“It was everything I ever wanted in a fighting ship,” he said. “Facing the enemy was everything. I didn’t think of anything else.”
Former U.S. Navy FC2 Phil Hollywood, a World War II Pacific veteran, looking at photos of destroyers from that era.
The Melvin was supposed to be looking for flights of Japanese planes via radar and alert the main landing area at Leyte. It was not safe to be on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, even by the standards of that war. Some 77 destroyers were lost in the war and 17 of those were from kamikaze attacks. Hollywood’s battle station was at the top of the director, moving guns on target.
“There were moments I was afraid, not sure if I was going to live or die,” he told AARP. “But one thing’s for certain, I wanted to fight and save our ship. The patriotism was raging in my blood.”
World War II veteran Philip Hollywood enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. He was just 19 when he took part in one of history’s greatest naval battles.
Hollywood recalled what it was like to face the kamikaze pilots in battle. The pilots were not well trained. For many, it was their first and last flights, and the planes were loaded up with weapons so traditional flight profiles weren’t really able to be used by the enemy pilots. It was a frightening experience. It seemed like no matter how much they threw at the pilots, they kept coming.
“During a kamikaze attack, being in the main battery directory, we were on telescopes,” he recalled. “It looked like he was coming down our throats. I was frightened, my heart was pounding, one looked like it was gonna hit us. We kept hitting him and hitting him… until I could see the flex of his wings breaking up.”
That was the moment he looked death in the face. Luckily, the plane crashed into the ocean. For Hollywood, it was both a sigh of relief and a moment to think about. Maybe the first thought other than avenging Pearl Harbor – which says a lot for the salty combat sailor Hollywood was by this time.
“It was a new experience,” he said. “Trying to kill an opponent who only wanted to kill you and not survive. Anyone at that time who says they weren’t scared… I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
The Destroyer USS Melvin.
The Battle of Surigao Strait was really a part of the greater Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in military history. It put 300 American ships against some 68 Japanese ships. The Japanese had always believed that one great naval battle could knock the United States out of the war and win it for Japan. This was a must-win battle for both sides, and it showed. The fighting at every level was intense but only one side could come out on top, and it wasn’t the Japanese.
Surigao was just the beginning of the greater battle, and sailors like FC2 Phil Hollywood and the crew of the Melvin started off the biggest naval battle of all time, a battle that would rage on for three full days.