This War Bride's advice? 'Be courageous.' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

 An estimated 300,000 “war brides,” as they were known, left home to make the intrepid voyage to the United States after falling in love with American soldiers who were stationed abroad during World War II. There were so many that the United States passed a series of War Brides Acts in 1945 and 1946. This legislation provided them with an immigration pathway that didn’t previously exist under the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed quotas on immigrants based on their nation of origin and strategically excluded or limited immigration from certain parts of the world, particularly Asia.

Equipped with little but a feeling and a sense of promise, war brides left everything that was familiar behind to forge a new identity in the United States. Many spoke little to no English upon their arrival in the country, and they were introduced to post-war American culture through specially designed curricula and communities. To this day, organizations for war brides in the United States provide networks for military spouses and their children, helping them keep their heritage alive and share their experiences of their adopted home.

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on September 2, 2020, We Are The Mighty is proud to collaborate with Babbel, the new way to learn a foreign language. Babbel conducted interviews with surviving war brides as much of the world endured lockdown. Many of these women are now in their 80s and 90s, and their oral histories celebrate the challenges and successes of adapting to a new culture and language, as well as reflect on the leap of faith they all took to travel across the world to an unknown country. Spoiler alert: there are few regrets.

War Brides is a 5 part series.

Emilia Zecchino

I was born in Bari, Italy. Times were slow during the depression, and I had a very complicated life. When I was a little girl, my dad was in the army, and he was sent to Ethiopia. In 1935, he brought the whole family over there, so I lived in Ethiopia for about five years, and I returned to Bari right in the middle of World War II.

Before the war, I loved to read a lot. I used to love going to school. But my father was a prisoner of war for six years, and while we were in Ethiopia, we lost everything. We were in a concentration camp. And by the time we got back to Italy, it was 1943, and things were very different from when we left.

The war had changed everything in Bari. I remember running because of all the bombings. Until the British and American armies came to Italy to set us free, things were very hard.

I met my husband in a very exceptional way. My husband was of Italian descent, and he had gone to America when he was a young boy, but he still had family in Italy.

He contracted a disease while serving America in the Pacific War, and he had to go back to the veterans hospital in America. While there, his mother, who was in Italy, became very sick. It took him 20 days by boat, but by the time he reached his family, his mother had already passed away. He stayed in Italy with his family for a few months.

During this time, I had found a job with the American army in a rank called the USO Shows, which brought in celebrities to perform for the troops. There was an office in Bari, and they needed a typist. I was only 17 years old, and I did not speak English, but I could read it. They convinced me I did not have to speak to anyone, just type. So I copied the words.

My husband passed our door and saw me, and he said he wanted to see more of me. He waited until the end of the day, and then he called me. He called after me in Italian, and I said “Yes, what can I do for you?” He asked me how to get to the station, explaining he was new in town. I tried to explain, but decided to walk him there. And that’s how we met.

As we started talking, we found out we had quite a few things in common. He was born in the same town as my father, and he knew some family there. Actually, my father’s cousin was my husband’s doctor!

That day we met, we felt a special attraction for each other. When we fell in love, it was as simple as that. He had to go back to the Veterans Affairs hospital in America, so we planned to get married after he returned to Italy. But he ended up staying in the hospital for almost a year. By that time, his finances were low, and he told me he did not think he could return to Italy. But he told me there was a way I could come to America as one of the war brides, and we could get married in America.

It took a lot of thinking on my part. But you know, I thought it was meant to be, so I said, “Okay, I’ll try.” My parents were not pleased about it, but I wanted to marry him. They put up a good fight because we did not know anyone in America. How could they let their 19-year-old daughter go alone to a strange country? I had to do a lot of convincing, but I was in love with him and he was in love with me.

I arrived in New York Harbor in 1947. I had seen lots of movies where the city was portrayed as such a prominent and beautiful place to live. I had no idea what skyscrapers looked like in real life, but when I saw them, it was really extraordinary. Everyone was so friendly and kind when I arrived. I felt very much at home. My husband opened a grocery store soon after, and he put me behind the counter. That’s when I realized that I had to learn English. We had all kinds of people come through the door: Black, white, young, old, Italian — every nation! I didn’t know how to speak English, and they all helped me. We all got along beautifully.

I remember someone told me about an area called Little Italy, where they had bookstores filled with books that would teach me languages. I read them every day and I made a point of practicing my English, even though I made a lot of mistakes at first. I sometimes made very stupid mistakes! Some people laughed at me, but I laughed with them. I asked them to correct me when I made mistakes, because that’s the way I learned.

After a couple of years of only speaking English with my husband, I knew how to speak well. I loved the language. English is beautiful. I remember reading Joseph Conrad. I found some of the phrases he used so attractive. Once I started reading in English, I felt like part of the environment. I was not a stranger any longer. The sooner you learn the language, the more you feel at home. I wanted to assimilate into the American lifestyle.

One of the biggest differences that struck me was that in Italy, if there was ever something special happening, you would get a mob arriving. Everyone would fight to get to the front of the line, whereas Americans used to line up for hours — there was no pushing, no shoving, no nothing.

The one thing I miss about Bari is the food, because everything is very organic. They still do things the old way, and you can’t replicate that in America. And the wines that they grow in the Bari regions, where the fruits are picked straight from the tree — you can’t make them here.

I went back to Bari almost 10 years ago with my daughter for the first time. I couldn’t go back sooner because of the business, the children, and my husband being in and out of the hospital.

It was very emotional because it did not look the way I remembered. It was all completely different, but the food and the restaurants have stayed the same. But it felt so normal to be there. You never lose your birthright, and I was so happy to see my cousins.

I didn’t teach my children Italian, and that was one mistake I made. I wanted to learn how to speak English, so I never spoke Italian to them. I brought my whole family to America, though. My mother raised my oldest son, and only spoke Italian to him, so when he went to kindergarten he couldn’t speak English! The nuns called me and said, “You cannot leave this boy here. He’s crying all the time. He doesn’t understand us.” So he stayed at home, and I had to teach him English.

For people considering moving to a different country or culture, I would say to be courageous, because you never know what you’re going to encounter. If they are fortunate like me, they will find a beautiful place to call home. My husband was a good provider. I had no problems. We just had to work hard. You’ll have to assimilate with the people wherever you’re going. If you want to keep your ways, then you’re always going to feel like a stranger.

Part I: Alice Lawson

Part II: Nina Edillo

Articles

The famed Olympic torch relay was actually created by the Nazis for propaganda

On August 1, 1936, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler opened the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.


In doing so, he  inaugurated what is now a famed ritual of a lone runner bearing a torch carried from the site of the ancient games in Olympia, Greece into the stadium.

“The sportive, knightly battle awakens the best human characteristics. It doesn’t separate, but unites the combatants in understanding and respect. It also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace. That’s why the Olympic Flame should never die,” he reportedly said.

If that sounds like PR for the Nazi Party, that’s because it was.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Crowds give the Nazi salute as Hitler enters the stadium. | Bundesarchiv

The relay “was planned with immense care by the Nazi leadership to project the image of the Third Reich as a modern, economically dynamic state with growing international influence,”according to the BBC.

Or, in other words, Hitler wanted the games to impress foreigners visiting Germany.

The organizer of the 1936 Games, Carl Diem, even based the relay off the one Ancient Greeks did in 80 BC in an attempt to connect the ancient Olympics to the present Nazi party.

“The idea chimed perfectly with the Nazi belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich,” according to the BBC. “And the event blended perfectly the perversion of history with publicity for contemporary German power.”

And according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Hitler’s torch run, “perfectly suited Nazi propagandists, who used torch-lit parades and rallies to attract Germans, especially youth, to the Nazi movement.”

The torch itself was made by Krupp Industries, which was a major supplier of Nazi arms.

Here’s a view of one of the Olympic torch bearers:

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
National Archives and Records Administration

And here’s a view of the last bearer ahead of lighting the Olympic flame:

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
The last of the runners who carried the Olympic torch arriving in Berlin to light the Olympic Flame, marking the start of the 11th Summer Olympic Games. Berlin, Germany, August 1, 1936. | National Archives and Records Administration

Unsurprisingly, the 1936 Olympic Games were not without controversy.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in Berlin — despite the racist ideology. | Wikimedia

Despite Hitler’s aforementioned pitch that “the sportive, knightly battle … unites the combatants in understanding and respect,” the Nazis tried to keep Jews and blacks from competing in the games.

The official Nazi Party paper, the Völkischer Beobachter , even put out a statement saying that it was “a disgrace and degradation of the Olympic idea” that blacks and whites could compete together. “Blacks must be excluded. … We demand it,” it said, according to Andrew Nagorski, who cited the article in his book “Hitlerland.”

Various groups and activists in the US and other countries pushed to boycott the games in response.

The Nazis eventually capitulated, saying that they would welcome “competitors of all races,” but added that the make-up of the German team was up to the host country. (They added Helene Mayer, whose father was Jewish, as their “token Jew” participant. She won the silver medal.)

During the games, Hitler reportedly cheered loudly for German winners, but showed poor sportsmanship when others won, including track and field star Jesse Owens (who won 4 gold medals) and other black American athletes. According to Nagorski, he also said: “It was unfair of the United States to send these flatfooted specimens to compete with the noble products of Germany. … I am going to vote against Negro participation in the future.”

Ultimately, the most disconcerting thing about the 1936 Olympics is that the Nazis’ propaganda push was actually effective on visitors and athletes — despite all the racism and anti-Semitism.

William L. Shirer, an American journalist living in Berlin at the time, and later known for his book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” noted his disappointment with the fact that tourists responded positively to the whole affair. And according to Nagorski, an older American woman even managed to kiss Hitler on the cheek when he visited the swimming stadium.

But perhaps the most chilling line cited by Nagorski came from Rudi Josten, a German staffer in the AP bureau who wrote: “Everything was free and all dance halls were reopened. … They played American music and whatnot. Anyway, everybody thought: ‘Well, so Hitler can’t be so bad.'”

World War II officially started a little over three years later in 1939.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Coastie and World War I vet flew in a zeppelin over the Arctic

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Iceberg” Smith was the only American military officer invited on a bold, new expedition in the late 1920s: An 8,000-mile journey over the Arctic in the Graf Zeppelin, one of the premier airships at the time.


This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Iceberg” Smith, an Arctic expert, World War I veteran, and Coast Guardsman invited to take part in the 1931 Aeroarctic Expedition.

(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)

Smith was one of the top experts on icebergs at the time, an interest he discovered after his service in World War I. The young Coast Guard officer had been assigned to convoy duties during the war, but was assigned to the international ice patrol soon after.

His research into sea ice, especially the iceberg-forming area near Greenland, led to him receiving the first doctorate degree ever bestowed on a Coast Guardsman. It came from Harvard in 1930.

This scientific zeal drew the attention of Arctic explorers planning in the late 1920s to fly an airship to the North Pole while a submarine simultaneously made the same journey under the ice. The submarine would then bore its way to the surface, and the two crews would meet for handshakes and an exchange of mail before departing.

The trip went through a number of redesigns as the death of its leader, mechanical problems with the submarine, and funding issues all challenged elements of the plan.

But, in 1931, the plans were finalized for the Graf Zeppelin to meet up with a Russian icebreaker near the North Pole and exchange mail before collecting a large amount of scientific data and returning to Berlin — all within a single week. As Smith wrote in his notes following the trip, earlier expeditions along a similar route, conducted on foot, had taken almost a year to go one direction.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

The Graf Zeppelin in Berlin.

(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)

The zeppelin took off on July 24, 1931, and proceeded to Berlin and then Leningrad for additional fuel and hydrogen before setting off north for the Pole. They crossed into the Arctic Circle at 7 p.m., July 26.

While the trip was certainly easier than a traditional Arctic expedition, it was still very dangerous. The men on board had limited emergency gear and food if the zeppelin was forced down by bad weather or mechanical failure. But, as long as the ship held up, it was reported as actually being quite pleasant despite how cold it was.

The Arctic ice sheets that proved treacherous for explorers on foot were quite beautiful from the sky by all accounts. And Russians, excited about their men meeting up with the zeppelin in the historic journey, had sent the airborne expedition off with crates of prime caviar.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

A photo of the Arctic ice fields in 1931. The shadow on the ice is from the Graf Zeppelin.

(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)

The zeppelin usually flew between 200 and 500 meters off the surface, and scientists, including Smith, took measurements of the temperature, wind speeds, and other data while photographing areas about which little was previously known.

On July 27, the crew made radio contact with the Soviet icebreaker Malygin and was able to meetup with it a few hours later. The zeppelin was sent down to hover just over the surface of the sea with anchors fashioned from canvas buckets — and the icebreaker had been specially decorated for the occasion.

Despite the festive air, the exchange of mail was conducted quickly because floating ice packs were drifting dangerously close to the zeppelin and leaders were worried the engines could be damaged.

During the night of July 28th, the men dropped packages of mail and potatoes down to a Soviet station on the route before continuing north. This was the zeppelin’s last mail mission during the trip — all that was left was collecting additional scientific observations as it finished its loop back to Berlin.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

The Graf Zeppelin’s 8,000-mile route through the Arctic Circle to the North Pole and back.

(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)

Smith helped capture the exact geography of the area over which the airship transited, and he published his findings later that year in an article titled “The Aeroarctic Expedition,” in The Geographical Review.

His notes called into doubt the existence of previously observed islands and confirmed that one island was, in fact, just a peninsula of a larger one.

The men of the expedition were greeted as heroes in Berlin, and crowds thronged to hear tales of their dangerous exploits. But, since they had suffered none of the mechanical failures of previous airship attempts, they had nothing to report except for 8,000 miles of beautiful views and dutifully collected scientific data.

The Graf Zeppelin was returned to its normal transatlantic route until the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 nearly ended zeppelin travel. For the next few decades, the only real zeppelin program to speak of was managed by the Goodyear Company as only America had the required helium reserves to conduct lighter-than-air travel safely.

American zeppelins would go on to serve in World War II, but not under the care of Coast Guard officers like Smith. Instead, they belonged to the Navy and were used primarily for anti-submarine duties.

All photos are courtesy of the Coast Guard Compass which published an article and accompanying photos about Smith and the Aeroarctic Expedition in 2015. To learn more about Smith and the Coast Guard’s role in exploration, you can read their article here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US got fighter planes to the front during WWII

These days, when the United States wants to deploy fighters to an operating theater, the logistics are actually very simple. The fighters take off, they refuel in midair, and then they land at an operating base. They may make some overnight stops, but they fly their way in, thanks to the impressive refueling capabilities of the 414 KC-135s and 59 KC-10s on inventory.


This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
F-16s and other modern fighters simply fly to their operating theaters, thanks to aerial refueling, but World War II fighters didn’t have that luxury. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John Nimmo Sr.)

But it wasn’t always so simple, especially back during World War II. At that point, mid-air refueling had been done as a stunt, but there were no real practical applications. Most of the Army Air Force’s fighters back then didn’t have the range to regularly make non-stop flights. There were some notable exceptions, however. Bombers and the P-38 Lightning could usually make the flights across the Atlantic, typically via Greenland and Iceland.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
This is how fighters arrived to the front before practical aerial refueling: By ship, in this case, USS Cape Esperance (CVE 88) is hauling F-86 Sabres to Korea. (USAF photo)

Most other fighters, including the P-51, couldn’t make the journey. So, here’s what they did instead. After the planes were built, assembled, and quality checked, the next step was to disassemble them and crate them. The crated planes would then be loaded onto a ship and taken to a port near the front lines. There, the planes were taken to a base, removed from the crates, and re-assembled. After yet another quality check, planes were ready to fly.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
One of the risks of having a ship carry planes: Here USS Langley (AV 3, ex-CV 1) is being scuttled after she was attacked while ferrying P-40s to the Dutch East Indies. (US Navy photo)

Now, this could be a problem. You see, if the ship got attacked, the planes on board could be damaged. Or worse, the ship could be sunk. America’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (AV 3) was sunk after it was used as an aircraft ferry.

See how a P-47 got ready for combat at the front lines in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2D3k0sJ8HM
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how early World War II cluster bombs worked

The Joint Direct Attack Munition gets a lot of attention for its ability to strike within 30 feet of a target, no matter what the weather is like. But with all that attention, other bombs get short shrift it seems. Take, for instance, the cluster bomb.


This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

The German SD2 bore a resemblance to a butterfly, getting the nickname “Butterfly bomb.”

(U.S. Army)

JDAMs can’t do everything

The truth is that cluster bombs can do things that JDAMs simply can’t. In fact, the bombs are so useful that, this past December, Secretary of Defense James Mattis decided to reverse the Obama Administration’s plan to ditch these valuable weapons. Despite recent controversy and efforts to ban their use, systems like these have been around for decades.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

The CBU-103 is a modern cluster bomb, able to hit within 85 feet of its aimpoint with 202 BLU-97 submunitions from 10 miles away.

(U.S. Air Force)

Germany’s lethal “butterflies”

Cluster bombs first saw widespread use by both sides in World War II. The Germans used a version called the “Butterfly bomb,” also known as the SD2, which carried a number of “bomblets,” or four-and-a-half-pound submunitions. One attack in 1943 on British cities used over 3,000 of these bombs — some were set to go off immediately, others had a delayed detonation.

The system proved effective, so the United States made copies of that bomb: the M28 (100lbs) and the M29 (500lbs). The Americans added a proximity fuse to some of the bomblets, making them even more devastating to troops caught in the open.

www.youtube.com

Modern cluster bombs are more lethal

Today, modern cluster bombs, like the CBU-97, make attack planes like the F-15E Strike Eagle or strategic bombers like the B-1B Lancer capable of wiping out dozens of tanks in a single pass. Other cluster bombs opt to replace the boom with the ability to knock out a country’s electrical grid.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why balloons were some of the scariest targets of World War I

For World War I pilots, the most terrifying song that relates to their experience may not be Seven Nation Army but 99 Luftballoons, because going against barrage and observation balloons in the Great War was terrifying.


Barrage balloons over London in World War II.

(Public Domain)

Pilots with the balls and skill to attack these balloons were known as balloon busters, and ones that had shot down more than five of the balloons were known as balloon aces. And yes, shooting down a balloon counted as a “kill,” same as shooting down a piloted enemy plane.

But what made them so hard to shoot down? After all, they were just a bunch of floating bags of air. Pop ’em with a needle and get on with your day, right?

Well, no.

First, military balloons weren’t made of cheap Mylar or latex. Many in World War I were made of tightly woven fabric, though vulcanized rubber and Thiokol rubber were prominent in World War II. All of these materials could take plenty of hits without splitting, meaning bullets that passed through them caused them to leak instead of to pop.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

A row of spherical barrage balloons used for suspending aerial nets

(Australian War Memorial)

So they couldn’t simply be popped, and it often took a lot of rounds to bring one down. But if a fighter did manage to slay the beast, he wasn’t out of danger yet. While American balloons in World War II were sometimes filled with helium, none of the early Great War combatants had access to that gas, and hydrogen was the preferred gas for barrage balloons anyway.

Why? Well, for the same reason it was bad for the Hindenburg. Observation balloons had people in them, people who would’ve loved helium instead of hydrogen over their heads. But barrage balloons were empty, and filling them with hydrogen meant that, when destroyed, the balloons had a tendency to go out in massive fireballs. This was a huge threat to the fighters attacking it.

It also meant that fighters had one advantage though: Incendiary rounds were very effective against the balloons. But in World War I, pretty much only the British had incendiary rounds in planes. Everyone else was slinging cold metal. And incendiary rounds didn’t stay hot forever, generally traveling only 300 to 400 yards while still burning. You did not want to be 300 yards from an exploding balloon and still flying towards it as you would have to be to effectively shoot at it.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

Barrage balloons and their crews in World War II.

(Royal Air Force)

Fine, fine, fine. The balloons were hard to shoot down and, when shot down, might explode in a big fireball and kill the attacking fighter. Fine. Just fly around them, right? Let the Germans have their balloons over their lines, maybe bring in some air defense artillery to shoot at it. But let the fighters avoid them.

Nope. For two reasons. First, those observation balloons were an enduring threat from the moment they went up until the moment they went down. Artillery observers sat in them and reported troops positions and movements to their friendly artillery for hours, allowing German crews to hit English, French, and U.S. positions all day. They had to be killed.

But the barrage balloons couldn’t be ignored either, because they had thick steel cables or else entire nets hanging from them in order to catch enemy fighters attempting to fly under them. And they flew high enough that few World War I fighters or bombers could come over the top and still be effective. By World War II, the balloons were set lower, but only to steer the enemy aircraft up to over 5,000 feet where anti-aircraft artillery was most effective.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

American pilot Frank Luke poses with his 13th confirmed kill.

(Public Domain)

So observation balloons and barrage balloons were lethal, terrifying, and absolutely had to be destroyed, and some of America, England, and France’s top aces proved their mettle by flying at the things, especially in World War I. In fact, some of the top decorated fighter pilots of World War I had few wins against human-piloted planes, but a dozen or more against balloons.

Will Coppens, a Belgian pilot, personally awarded a medal by King Albert I had only shot down two enemy planes in his career, but he had taken down an astounding 35 enemy balloons. The next highest scoring pilot after him was Frenchman Leon Bourjade with 27. So, yeah, Coppens earned that medal from his king.

America’s top balloon buster was Frank Luke, a mouthy pilot who was looked down upon by his peers when he arrived in France. He claimed his first fighter kill in August 1918, but no one else had witnessed the feat, and he was written off as a blowhard. So, after hearing how hard balloons were to take down, he attacked one on September 12 and, after three passes, destroyed it right before it reached the safety of the ground where the observers could clamber out.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire, and barrage balloons created persistent threats to enemy fighters.

(State Library of New South Wales)

Luke bagged another two balloons two days later. His wingman that day, 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, formed a team with him that specialized in balloon busting and turned the whole thing into a traveling show, sending invitations to VIPs to witness German balloons blowing up at set times and places. But it was too bold to last, and Wehner was shot down on September 18 while taking down his fifth balloon, giving him balloon ace status in death.

Distraught, Luke went off the deep end, taking more and more risks in flight to the point that his superiors grounded the already famous pilot who, by that point, had 11 victories against balloons and four against fighters, making him America’s ace of aces. On September 29, he stole a plane and dropped a note to the ground that told observers to watch German balloons over the Meuse.

Luke flew into the teeth of the enemy, dodging ground fire and eight enemy fighters as he took down one balloon after the others, destroying all three in the area before he was shot down. He survived the wreck and pulled his pistol, fending off a German patrol and killing multiple members of it until a German round drilled him in the chest.

He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and the Medal of Honor for his heroics in September 1918, going to his grave as America’s best-ever balloon buster with 14 kills against balloons and four against fighters.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only Victoria Cross recipient to survive earning the second medal

The United Kingdom’s highest award for valor in combat, the Victoria Cross, is notoriously difficult to earn. It is awarded for “conspicuous bravery… pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”

The prestigious Victoria Cross award.

Like the United States’ Medal of Honor, not many survive earning their nation’s highest honor. Even more rare is earning two of such medals. Since the Victoria Cross was introduced in 1857, some 1,358 medals have been awarded. Only three recipients have been awarded two. 

Only one of them survived earning his second. 

Charles Upham during his time of service. He would later go on to earn a Victoria Cross.

Charles Upham enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in 1939 at the age of 30. He was a seasoned soldier, a non-commissioned officer in New Zealand’s home army, then known as the “Territorial Force.” He signed on to the expeditionary army as a private, but his skills as a soldier soon saw him retain his previous rank of sergeant. 

By July 1940, he was headed for Egypt and was placed in an officer’s training unit. The New Zealander’s first action in World War II was to reinforce the Greek Army in the face of an imminent Nazi invasion. That invasion came on Apr. 6, 1941, which forced the Kiwis to withdraw to the island of Crete. 

It was on Crete that Upham earned his first Victoria Cross. The Battle of Crete was unique in the history of warfare in that it was led by a massive force of Nazi paratroopers. The British controlled the seas around Crete, but the Nazi luftwaffe maintained air superiority. The Nazis captured the island’s most important areas and soon they were reinforced by airlifted supplies and weapons. The British and Commonwealth forces would soon have to retreat to Egypt. 

But first, 2nd Lt. Upham and his men were going to make the Nazi pay for evey inch of Crete they could. 

In three separate actions, Upham destroyed four machine gun positions (often at close range), removed wounded men from the battlefield, and led his men to relieve a surrounded allied unit. Over the course of a week, he took out more than 70 enemy troops while wounded, exhausted, and suffering from dysentery. For this, he was awarded his first Victoria Cross. 

He and his men retreated to Egypt, where he recovered and recuperated. He saw combat again in 1942, at Minqar Qaim and at the First Battle of El-Alamein, where he would earn his second Victoria Cross.

Here, the British and Commonwealth forces would fight the Nazis under Erwin Rommel to a draw. Now a Captain, Upham was leading a company of New Zealanders on El Ruweisat Ridge. They were part of the reserve force but soon lost communications with the headquarters. Not knowing what was happening, Upham himself went to assess the situation. 

He found enemy machine gunners, which he was able to evade. Most importantly, he reestablished communications. 

His unit was ordered to take their objectives at dawn on the second day of fighting, but found it was more heavily defended than they’d anticipated. His company was pitted against four machine gun nests and four tanks. Upham led the company in a flanking maneuver against the Nazi strongpoints. 

Upham destroyed one of the enemy tanks on his own, taking a bullet to the arm for his trouble. That bullet broke his arm at the elbow. He then moved forward to cover the retreat of some of his men who had been cut off by an enemy counterattack. As they enemy retook the objective, he fought back as his men reconsolidated. One would think he had already earned a second Victoria Cross, but he wasn’t finished.

After being patched up at an aid post, he rejoined his unit, which again began to take heavy artillery fire, wounding him again. This time his position was overrun and he was captured. Only six men from his unit survived the battle. 

Superior officers in Upham’s chain of command recommended him for another Victoria Cross for not only his actions at El-Alamein, but also his previous engagement at Minqar Qaim. Instead they rolled both events into the same recommendation to present to King George Vi. 

Charles Upham in his later years after earning two Victoria crosses.
Upham in 1984.

The New Zealander recovered from his wounds and spent most of the rest of the war in POW camps, where he became known as an extreme escape risk. He eventually found himself in Colditz Castle, a prison for enemy officers from which escape was notoriously difficult.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This soldier was so daring even his captured enemies patted him on the back

There are a handful of men in military history that could accurately be described as a “one man army.” You may never have heard of Lawrence Dominic “Fats” McCarthy, but you’ll remember his story after hearing the end of it. An orphan who enlisted to fight World War I for Australian forces, he would leave the war having survived its most intense fighting and wearing the Victoria Cross – the United Kingdom’s highest award for valor in combat.


Dominic McCarthy was hard to miss. He was a large man, with a few extra pounds that earned him the nickname “Fats.” But that never held him back as a soldier. By the time he arrived to fight the ill-fated Battle of Gallipoli, he was already wearing the stripes of a Lance Corporal. Despite falling ill, he would survive Gallipoli as one of the last men of his battalion to depart the fighting.

By the time he arrived at the fighting near France’s Madame Wood, he had been promoted to corporal, then sergeant major, then second lieutenant, and now, after recovering from a wound, lieutenant – a lieutenant that was about to go down in military history with “perhaps the most effective feat of individual fighting in the history of the Australian Imperial Forces.”

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

The fighting at Madame Wood may not be as infamous as the fight for Gallipoli or the similarly-named Belleau Wood, but it was just as intense and – at times – treacherous. The hazards in the fighting weren’t just in no man’s land. The English trenches themselves were muddy and full of twisted metal and refuse. Fats was ready to move his men forward toward the German lines, but the units to his left were being held up by stiff enemy resistance. He decided to do something about it.

He grabbed a sergeant and took off for the German position, moving so fast (especially for a man his size), he was able to deftly avoid the incoming German machine gun bullets. He arrived at the enemy machine gun nest well before his battle buddies, eliminated it, and moved on to the trench before the other Aussies even hit the first position.

He entered the enemy trench with just his service rifle as the sergeant, now wounded, caught up to him. The two men swept through the enemy, picking up their grenades and turning the explosive on them. The two Aussies knocked out three machine gun emplacements while inflicting heavy casualties as they moved. McCarthy then shot two more officers and used his captured grenades against another enemy position, bombing it until the Germans waved a blood-soaked white flag.

McCarthy captured more than 1,500 feet of German trench almost singlehandedly. He also knocked five machine guns out of the war, killed 22 Germans, and captured more than 50 others. The enemy troops were so impressed, the battalion historian recorded that “the prisoners closed in on him from all sides … and patted him on the back!”

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

For his efforts, he was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V himself at Buckingham Palace. The British press dubbed McCarthy the “Super VC,” but the big man demurred when given that moniker, saying he believed there was a VC inside every soldier.

He survived the war, being repatriated to England after coming down with the Spanish Flu that affected millions of others around the world, surviving until the ripe old age of 83.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One legendary Marine became a butter bar 3 times

One of the Marine Corps’ greatest heroes had to earn his “butter bars” (as the rank of second lieutenant is called because the devices are yellow/gold in color) not once or twice, but three times before it stuck.


This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Photo: US Marine Corps

 

Lewis B. Puller dropped out of college in 1918 and joined the Marines in an attempt to get to France before World War I ended, but he was assigned to training new Marines in the states instead. He attended noncommissioned officer training as a corporal and was appointed to the Marine Officers Basic School. Upon graduation in 1919, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the reserves- butter bar #1. 

Unfortunately, the war had wrapped up and the Marine Corps was downsized only 10 days later. Puller was placed on the inactive list.

Puller re-enlisted as a corporal to join Marines headed to Haiti to serve in the Gendarmerie d’Haiti, a police force with predominantly white men serving as officers over rank and file troops recruited from the local Haitian population. Puller began his service in the Gendarmerie as a second lieutenant while keeping his U.S. Marine Corps rank of corporal. Butter bar yet again…but not for long.

While in Haiti, he attempted multiple times to regain his U.S. commission but was denied each time. He also led several successful raids through the jungles of Haiti, but still no butter bar.

 

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

 

When he returned to America in 1924 he was finally commissioned as an officer for keeps. In 1928 he was assigned to the Guardia Nacional, a Nicaraguan military force led by U.S. officers that fought anti-government rebels in that country.

 

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Photo: US Marine Corps

In Nicaragua, Puller earned his first and second of five Navy Crosses and began climbing the officer ranks. After tours of the Pacific and a period training new Marine officers, he returned to combat in World War II and earned two more Navy Crosses. He also fought at Korea, leading the 1st Marine Regiment during the breakout from Chosin Reservoir and earning his fifth Navy Cross.

Over this 27-year period, Puller had made it to the rank of major general. He retired amid medical problems in 1955 and was granted a “tombstone promotion” to lieutenant general. These were promotions given selectively to troops with combat citations to confer extra prestige upon leaving the service, but they didn’t entitle the service member to any additional retirement pay. He died in 1971.

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5 other battles that kicked off the war in the Pacific

When the Japanese attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, they did so in a coordinated effort that spanned across the Pacific.


Having been weakened by sanctions imposed by the United States, the Japanese sought to deliver a crushing blow to the U.S. and its allies, claiming much of the territory in the East and leaving little means for resistance.

These are the five battles that occurred simultaneously (though on December 8 because they were across the international date line) as the attack on Pearl Harbor, effectively beginning the war in the Pacific:

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
The Americans would not recapture the island until 1944. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

1. Battle of Guam

Along with the air attacks at Pearl Harbor the Japanese also began air raids against the island of Guam on the morning of December 8, 1941. Two days later an oversized Japanese invasion force landed on the island. After quickly defeating the local Insular Guard force, the Japanese moved on to the under-strength Marine Corps detachment led by Lt. Col. William MacNulty. After a brief resistance, the Marines were ordered to surrender by the islands governor. However, six men from the U.S. Navy fled into the jungle in hopes of evading capture. Five were eventually captured and executed but one, George Ray Tweed, managed to hold out with the help of the local Chamorro tribe for over two and a half years until U.S. forces retook the island in 1944. To the locals he represented the hope of an American return to the island. When the Americans returned he was able to signal a nearby destroyer and pass on valuable targeting information.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Most of the F4F Wildcats defending Wake Island were lost in the initial attack. The remaining would also fall to the Japanese, but not before sinking the Kisaragi battleship. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

2. Battle of Wake Island

When the Japanese first launched their air attacks on Wake Island, they caught the U.S. off guard and managed to destroy precious aircraft on the ground. However, when the Japanese invasion came on Dec. 11, 1941, the Americans were ready and threw back the initial Japanese landing attempt. The Japanese proceeded to lay siege to the island. Aerial bombardment continued but Wake Island became a bright spot in the Pacific as American forces were pushed back elsewhere. The media dubbed it the “Alamo of the Pacific.” Eventually, on Dec. 23, 1941, the Japanese launched another assault on the island. Again the defenders put up a staunch resistance. With no more flyable planes, the Marine aviators — as well as civilians trapped on the island — joined in the fight. Capt. Henry Elrod would become the first Marine aviator to earn the Medal of Honor for his actions there. Despite the intrepid defense, the island was surrendered. The defenders joined the others across the Pacific in their brutal treatment by the Japanese.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Prisoners on the march from Bataan to the prison camp. None would survive the war. (U.S. National Archives)

3. Battle of the Philippines

When the first Japanese forces hit the islands north of Luzon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, brought out of retirement for just such an occasion, had over 31,000 American and Philippine troops under his command. These forces put up a determined resistance throughout December, but on Christmas Eve MacArthur called for a fighting withdrawal to the Bataan Peninsula. Once his forces were consolidated on Bataan and the harbor islands of Manila Bay, they dug in to make a final stand against the Japanese onslaught. For several months they held out until shortages of all necessary war supplies dwindled.

The survivors were rounded up and subjected to the brutal Bataan Death March on their way to POW Camps. A lucky few were able to withdraw to Corregidor. A defensive force centered on the 4th Marine Regiment and, augmented by numerous artillery units numbering 11,000 men, prepared to defend Corregidor from the Japanese. That attack came on May 5, 1942. The next day Gen. Wainwright, in the face of overwhelming odds and no prospects of relief, decided to surrender the American forces in the Philippines.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Japanese fire artillery at the British colony of Hong Kong. (Photo: Veterans of Foreign Wars)

4. Battle of Hong Kong

The Americans were not the only targets of the Japanese and so at 8:00 a.m. local time, Japanese forces from mainland China attacked the British Commonwealth forces defending Hong Kong. British, Canadian, and Indian troops manned defensive positions but were woefully undermanned.

Initial attempts to stop the Japanese at the Gin Drinker’s Line, a defensive line to the north of Hong Kong island, were unsuccessful due to a lack of manpower. The defenders also lacked the experience of the Japanese troops that were attacking. Within three days, the defenders had withdrawn from the mainland portion of the colony and set up defenses on the island of Hong Kong.

The Japanese quickly followed and, after British refusal to surrender, attacked across Victoria Harbor on Dec. 19. Less than a week later, on Christmas day 1941, the British surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese. The survivors endured numerous atrocities at the hands of the Japanese.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
One of Singapore’s 15 inch coastal defence guns elevated for firing. The guns were supplied with armor-piercing shells instead of high explosive ones, and were therefore not very effective against the invading infantry. (Photo: United Kingdom)

5. Malayan Campaign and the Battle of Singapore

Another British target of the Japanese was Singapore for its important strategic location and because it was a strong base for British resistance. In order to capture Singapore, the Japanese launched the Malayan Campaign on Dec. 8, 1941. On the first day of the campaign the Japanese also launched the first aerial bombardment against Singapore.

In an attempt to intercept the Japanese invasion force, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by Japanese aircraft. This left very little in the means of naval power for the British fleet in Singapore.

On land the Commonwealth forces fared no better. The Japanese stormed down the peninsula, forcing the defenders back towards Singapore. By the end of January 1942 the entire peninsula had fallen and the British set in to defend Singapore. The Japanese launched their assault on Singapore on Feb. 8, 1942. Some 85,000 troops stood ready to defend the city but could only hold out for a week before capitulating. This ended British resistance in the Pacific area.

The British lost nearly 140,000 men — the vast majority of whom were captured — in the campaign. As with the fighting elsewhere, the campaign was marked by Japanese cruelty.

MIGHTY HISTORY

There was a real-life Major Payne who was way less funny

In a small county in Northern Alabama, there’s a town named for Major Payne. It’s not named after the hilarious, quotable 1995 movie starring Damon Wayans. It’s named for a little-known U.S. Army officer who was stationed in the area in the 1830s, during the administration of Martin Van Buren — and there’s very little that’s funny about the real Major Payne.


Then-Capt. John G. Payne took command of the area now known as Fort Payne, Alabama, in the 1880s. Fort Payne was the site of Willstown, a Cherokee settlement where the Cherokee language received its alphabet. The Cherokees were keen to assimilate into the population of the greater United States, but the U.S. would have none of it. Under President Andrew Jackson, the natives were ordered to relocate to Oklahoma — and John Payne was sent to take the first steps.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

Today, the area is home of Fort Payne, Alabama, seat of Dekalb County.

In 1830, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which was supposed to set the stage for a negotiated and voluntary movement of native tribes to areas West of the Mississippi River. Instead, in practice, the act stripped natives of any rights in their current locations and all Native nations were forcibly moved to Oklahoma. The five so-called “civilized” tribes of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole were most affected.

Those five tribes had homes, farms, schools, and in many cases, functional and effective self-governance. They were not eager to leave all that behind in favor of some unknown land they’ve never seen. But the United States wasn’t really giving them a choice — the U.S. Army would move them at gunpoint, with many in chains.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

Martin Van Buren: Andrew Jackson’s third term.

By the time Martin Van Buren took office in Washington, the Army was ready to move. In 1838, General Winfield Scott led the Army into areas controlled by the Cherokee, including what is today Fort Payne, Alabama. Waiting for him was a stockade constructed by forces under Major John Payne that was designed as an internment camp for Cherokees waiting to be relocated westward.

The valley where the Cherokee alphabet was first written was also the departure point for most of Alabama’s Cherokee along the now-infamous Trail of Tears, and is the only Trail of Tears departure point in the state of Alabama. Thousands of Cherokee and Creek Indians, along with some slaves (yes, Cherokee owned slaves) departed from Fort Payne.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

What remains of Payne’s stockade today.

Payne himself would go on to settle in Tennessee and Georgia after marrying a woman of Native American descent. By the time of the Civil War, Payne was no longer affiliated with the military, and was living in the south with his wife and five children.

All that remains of Payne’s stockade is a stone chimney in the middle of an overgrown wood, a monolith tribute to the thousands of Cherokee that were removed from their homes almost 200 years ago.

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The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists

 


With the use of a massive ship and a cover story involving billionaire Howard Hughes, the CIA pulled off one of the most epic heists of the Cold War during the 1970s.

The story begins in 1968, with the sinking of a Soviet submarine. In September of that year, the nuclear-armed K-129 and all of its crew sank 16,500 feet to the bottom of the Pacific ocean. The Soviets conducted an unsuccessful search over the next two months — and that’s where the CIA comes in.

Via PRI:

After the Soviet Navy failed to pinpoint the location of the wreckage, the US Navy found it. So the CIA decided to raise it off the seabed. They called this mission “Project Azorian,” and its details have been an official secret for decades. It took three years for retired CIA employee David Sharp to get permission to publish in 2012 his account of the mission and his role.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
The K-129

Onboard the sub were live nukes, secret documents, electronics, and cryptography equipment that could help the Americans crack Soviet codes, according to Maritime Reporter. But the CIA couldn’t just build a massive recovery ship emblazoned with “US Navy” on its side and get to work in the middle of the Pacific. The Soviets would be very suspicious.

Long before the CIA concocted the fake movie “Argo” to rescue hostages in Iran, it brilliantly bullsh–ted the Soviets with the help of an eccentric billionaire. The agency approached Howard Hughes, and recruited his help in providing the cover story: The ship, called the Glomar Explorer, would be conducting marine research “at extreme ocean depths and mining manganese nodules lying on the sea bottom. The ship would have the requisite stability and power to perform the task at hand,” according to the CIA’s account of the operation.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

The massive 618-foot-long ship took four years to build, and was incredibly complicated. Meanwhile, Hughes was talking up the mining effort in the press, enjoying headlines like “SECRET PLAN: HUGHES TO MINE OCEAN FLOOR.”

While Moscow had no idea what was going on, in August 1974 the Explorer wrapped its mechanical claw around the K-129 and began raising it up from its three-mile depth. Unfortunately, the operation did not go exactly as planned: As it neared 9,000 feet below the surface, the claw failed and a large part of K-129 broke apart and fell, according to PRI. But the CIA still managed to bring up the ship’s bow, with the bodies of six Russian sailors.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

The CIA could have given it another try (and planned on it) if it had time to build a new claw, except the secret operation was exposed in the press shortly after Hughes’ L.A. headquarters had a break-in. The thieves had stolen a number of secret documents, one of which linked Hughes, Glomar, and the CIA. The Los Angeles Times broke the story in 1975.

There’s are a few interesting post-scripts to the story. The bodies of the Russian sailors were buried at sea in a secret ceremony, video of which was later shared with the Soviets in 1992 as a gesture of goodwill. And the Glomar Explorer was later bought by TransOcean and converted for deepwater oil drilling, though it’s soon headed to the scrapyard after 40 years of service.

But perhaps most famously, the incident highlighted the CIA’s standard “Glomar Response,” an incredible non-answer that has annoyed everyone from average Joes to journalists alike: “We can neither confirm or deny the existence of such an operation.”

NOW: Researchers unveiled cloaking technology that the US military has been waiting for

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This was America’s first operational supersonic strategic bomber

America has seen some supersonic strategic bombers serve. Notable among these is the FB-111A Switchblade and the B-1B Lancer. But one bomber blazed the trail for these speedsters with a pretty huge payload.


The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational supersonic strategic bomber in American service. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that Strategic Air Command was looking for a high-performance bomber.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Convair B-58 Hustler at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The B-58 made its first flight in 1956, but didn’t enter service with the Strategic Air Command until 1960, due to a number of hiccups, and wasn’t ready to stand alert until 1962. However, when the bomber entered service with the 43rd Bomb Wing, it was soon proving it had a lot of capability.

However, in 1961 and 1962, even as it dealt with the teething problems, it set numerous aeronautical records. The plane had a top speed of Mach 2.2 at high altitude, a maximum range of 4100 nautical miles, could carry five nuclear bombs (it never had a conventional weapons capability), and reached an altitude of 85,360 feet.

It also had a M61 Vulcan cannon in the tail with 1,200 rounds of awesome.

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’

A 1981 Air University Review article outlined that the Hustler had a lot of problems. To load the weapons, the plane actually needed to be de-fueled and then re-fueled. And before the loading, the ground crews would need to hand a four-ton weight on the Hustler’s nose. Forget that step, and the plane would tilt back onto its tail.

Maintenance crews also came to dislike the plane, due to the complexities the plane’s high technology imposed on them.

The plane’s teething problems, the development of surface-to-air missiles like the SA-2 Guideline, and the increasing costs killed hopes for newer versions, especially since the B-58 was optimized for high-altitude operations.

One of the proposed new versions, the B-58B, was to add significant conventional capabilities to the Hustler. Proposed passenger/cargo versions never took off, either, and a planned export sale to Australia didn’t happen (the Australians did eventually get the F-111).

This War Bride’s advice? ‘Be courageous.’
Hustler memorial plaque in Memorial Park at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Ultimately, the B-58 was retired, and replaced by the FB-111A. The FB-111A not only was supersonic, but it was able to operate at low altitudes and carry conventional bombs – addressing the B-58’s two shortcomings.

Most B-58s went to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where they entered the boneyard and were eventually scrapped.