On Oct. 19, 1842 a squadron of ships under the command of Commodore Thomas Ap Catesby Jones sailed into the harbor at Monterey, California, then a Mexican city. Under the guns of the fort that overlooked the harbor, the sailors made the ship cannons ready for a fierce fight.
Meanwhile, Marines and sailors formed a landing party under Commander James Armstrong. The small force made its way to shore, searched out the local governor, and demanded the city. The governor indicated he would surrender the entire province in the morning.
Sailors spent a tense night manning the guns in case it was a trick, but the governor and his commissioners arrived the next morning at the heavy frigate USS United States — Jones’s flagship — and signed the articles of capitulation.
Commodore Jones had ordered the fleet to Monterey and the subsequent invasion because he was worried that the British would use the war between Mexico and America as a chance to capture coveted Pacific ports in California. Jones had raced to Monterey to arrive ahead of the British.
In Jones’s defense, he had been in a tough spot. Relations between the two countries had been souring and he had received news of British ships moving up the coast of South America in force. Jones was under orders to capture Californian ports rather than let them fall into British or French hands in case of a war with Mexico.
The problem in 1842 was that Jones wouldn’t get a satellite or radio call telling him when war broke out. He had to figure out himself.
Then he jumped the gun a little bit and invaded prematurely. It happens. The commodore realized his mistake when an American businessman in Monterey brought him a number of recent newspapers from the U.S. that made no mention of hostilities. Can you imagine having that bad of a day at work? “Uh hey, boss. I captured a Mexican city by accident”. Cringe.
After realizing his error, Jones gave the city back to Mexico and told his men to stand down. The Mexican flag was raised over the fort once again.
To try and patch relations, the Mexican and American officials at Monterey began hosting parties for one another while their respective national governments launched investigations.
Unfortunately, word was already making its way up the coast that American ships had captured Monterey as part of a war with Mexico. Another U.S. Navy officer, Captain W. D. Phelps, then captured Fort Guijarros at San Diego, California and spiked its guns.
In August 1941, a submarine crew that already had a series of crazy, Mediterranean adventures under its belt slid up to the coast of Crete, a sailor swam from the boat to the shore with a lifeline, and the submarine rescued 130 stranded soldiers, setting a record for people crammed into one submarine in the process.
An Italian ship burns in the Mediterranean while under fire from an Allied vessel.
(Australian War Memorial)
The Mediterranean and Middle East Theater of World War II get short shrift next to the much more famous European, Pacific, and even North African theaters. But the Mediterranean was home to some fierce fighting and amazing stories, like that of the submarine HMS Torbay. Originally launched in 1938, the submarine was commissioned in 1941 and sent to the central and eastern Mediterranean.
Once there, the crew proved itself to be straight P-I-M-P. It slaughtered the small, wooden ships from Greece that Germany had pressed into service for logistics, and it took down multiple tankers and other ships. At one point, it even attacked a convoy with both an Italian navy and air escort, narrowly escaping the depth charges dropped near it. They were ballsy.
But while the Torbay was killing Italian and German ships and escaping consequence-free, even when it’s by the skin of the crew’s teeth, other forces in the area weren’t faring so well. The New Zealanders, British, Australian, and Greek troops holding Greece were being beaten back by a German assault. The Balkans had oil that Germany desperately needed, and the sparse forces there simply could not hold the line.
German paratroopers land in Crete during the 1941 invasion.
Defenders fought a slow withdrawal south in April 1941, eventually falling back to the island of Crete. Forces there were brave, but doomed. There was almost no heavy equipment. Troops had to defend themselves with just their personal weapons while they could only entrench by digging with their helmets.
Glider- and airborne troops hit the island on May 20, quickly seizing an airfield and using it to reinforce their units. The defenders fought hard for a week and then began evacuating. Over 16,000 troops were successfully withdrawn, and another 6,500 surrendered to the Germans.
But, in secret, at least 200 troops were still on the island. During the night on July 26, these troops signaled the submarine HMS Thrasher by flashing a light in an SOS pattern. The Thrasher gathered 78 survivors, but was forced to leave more than 100 on the beach.
An Italian ship burns in the Mediterranean while under fire from an Allied vessel.
(Australian War Memorial)
Soon after, the Torbay was sent to patrol the Gulf of Sirte, and it survived a torpedo attack as well as a fight with an escorted convoy. It sank a sailing vessel with scuttling charges, and then got word of the men on the beach of Crete. The Torbay sailed there to help.
Between the two nights, the Torbay onloaded 130 men, setting a record for most people in a submarine at once. Obviously, with quarters that cramped, they couldn’t continue their wartime patrol, so they took the passengers to Alexandria, Egypt.
In April 1944, an American B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down by flak over occupied France. Its navigator, Raymond J. Murphy landed relatively safely, and with the help of some Frenchmen, he was able to evade the Germans until August when he was able to make it back to England.
When he was debriefed by his leadership, he mentioned coming upon a village just a four-hour bike ride away from the farm where he was hiding. The village was eerily quiet and Murphy quickly discovered why. He saw more than 500 men, women, and children who had been massacred by the retreating Germans.
The village was Oradour-sur-Glane, a hamlet with a population of just under 650. Weeks prior, the townspeople became victims of the Nazi SS as they retreated in the face of the Allied invasion of Normandy.
On Jun. 10, 1944, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann of the 1st battalion, 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment was told by informants that a captured SS officer was being held in a village nearby, along with other items intended to fight the Nazis in France..
The tip came from the Milice, an internal security force operated by Nazi collaborators in the Vichy French government. 110 soldiers of the “Der Fuhrer” Waffen SS tank Regiment approached the town and prepared to raid it, going house by house. They were looking not just for a German officer, but also a supposed arms and ammunition cache being concealed in the bourg by the French Resistance. Things were about to go from bad to worse for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane.
The women were herded into a church and locked inside. The men were taken to a barn, where they were mowed down by machine guns, covered in fuel and then set on fire. The church was set ablaze as well, with the women locked inside. Six men managed to escape from the barn, and only one woman survived the church.
The SS soon departed but returned later to destroy the rest of the village. Survivors of the massacre had to wait days to come back and bury their neighbors.
Even the Germans were shocked at the atrocity. Both the Nazi military command and the French Vichy government opened an investigation into the incident, but Diekmann would never face a courtroom. He was killed as the Allies advanced into France. Much of the battalion was killed as well. 65 more were charged years later, but many were safe behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.
In 1983, one surviving member of the unit who escaped justice was finally caught by the East German secret police and brought to trial in Berlin. Then 63, Heinz Barth was given a life sentence, of which he served 14 years.
After the war, President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village never be rebuilt, in case the rebuilding should conceal what happened there. A new village called Oradour-sur-Glane was built near the massacre site.
Today, the village sits the same way it did in 1944, half-destroyed but lying in state as a permanent memorial to the 642 people who died there.
Even as World War II was wrapping up and Allied soldiers occupied much of Western Europe, the British Special Operations Executive was still devising plans to kill Adolf Hitler in Germany and bring the war to a swift end.
Many different options were considered, including bombing his personal train, sabotaging railway stations, and even poisoning Hitler’s water or food, but all those were deemed too complex to ensure success.
The planners decided it would be best and easiest to kill the Fuhrer at the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain chalet in southern Germany.
While interviewing German prisoners taken from the Allied invasion of Europe, the SOE discovered one of the defender of the Nazi’s Fortress Europe was once a member of Hitler’s personal bodyguard, stationed at the Berghof.
The former guard’s testimony revealed a distinct weakness in the German dictator’s morning routines while staying at the chalet. When he was staying at the Berghof, the Nazis flew a Nazi flag from the top of the house, which could be seen from Berchtesgaden, the town nearby. Every morning around 10am, he would take a 20 minute walk, always alone, out of sight of the guard houses.
British officials decided this would be the best place to plan for an assassination attempt, as they could confirm that Hitler was at the Berghof before launching the final phases of the operation, then infiltrate the grounds and do the job.
Another captured German also revealed that his uncle was a local in the town and was vehemently anti-Hitler and could thus be recruited to aid the commandos. Once there, the British considered a few weapons that might be used to ensure Hitler’s demise (including the use of a bazooka) but they settled on a skilled sniper to do the job.
The Special Operations Executive devised a plan that would see German-speaking Poles and a British sniper parachute into Salzburg and be driven to Berchtesgaden by the uncle.
Once in Berchtesgaden and disguised as German troops and carrying Wehrmacht rifles, the commandos would make their way to the Berghof grounds and wait for Hitler’s morning stroll. It would be there they take out the Fuhrer and make their way back to Berchtesgaden.
Although the plan had the backing of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it was ultimately abandoned for a few reasons. The first and most important is that all the Allied intelligence services considered Hitler so terrible at military strategy that they feared someone more competent would take his place and prolong the war.
They also worried about the ramifications of the Hitler Mythology. While it was widely known among Allied leaders (and probably German leadership) that Hitler was a poor strategist, it wasn’t really known among the Fuhrer’s most fervent supporters. Planners worried that killing Hitler would leave behind a mythos similar to the end of World War I – that if Hitler had survived the war, Germany would have won. They worried such an occurrence would lead to another war.
Finally, they didn’t want to make a martyr of Hitler and thus National Socialism as an ideology. The plan was ultimately scrapped due to the divisions of opinion it caused in the British military and intelligence leadership.
The plan, originally scheduled for July 14, 1944 didn’t happen and a fully alive Hitler left the Berghof for the last time that day, never to return.
During World War II, 22 Asian Americans earned Medals of Honor, but, due to prejudices that lasted until decades after the fighting, only one received the award during the war: a young infantryman who fought in Italy and France before giving his life to save his comrades by eliminating machine gun nests and then throwing his body on an enemy grenade.
100th Infantry Battalion soldiers receive grenade training in 1943.
Pfc. Sadao Munemori trained in civilian life as a mechanic but, unable to find work, ended up joining the Army instead in February, 1942, just a couple of months after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Like most Asian Americans at the time — and nearly all Japanese Americans — he was sent to noncombat units to conduct menial duties.
But patriotic Japanese Americans like Munemori got a new chance in early 1943 when the Army formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated combat unit for Asian Americans. Munemori was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion and shipped to Europe in April, 1944.
Munemori first saw combat in Italy, but he was then sent to France, where he took part in the historic rescue of the Lost Battalion. The 100th Battalion had already distinguished itself multiple times when the 1st Battalion, 141st Texas Regiment, found itself cut off with limited food and water.
A painting illustrates the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Combat Team, breaking through the German lines to rescue the 1st Battalion, 141st Texas Regiment.
The 100th was sent to rescue it, an order that remains controversial as it’s unclear whether the 100th was sent because of its already-impressive combat record or because the Japanese soldiers were considered expendable next to their white counterparts.
The 141st, who already knew about the 442nd’s combat prowess, was overjoyed to see the Japanese Americans attacking the German troops.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team stands in the snow while their citations for rescuing the “Lost Battalion” are read out.
“To our great pleasure it was members of the 442nd Combat Team,” said Major Claude D. Roscoe of the 141st Regiment. “We were overjoyed to see these people for we knew them as the best fighting men in the ETO.”
In early 1945, the 442nd was sent back to Italy, where Munemori would make his last heroic sacrifice. On April 5, Munemori was part of an attack on mountain positions near Seravezza, Italy. German machine gun fire from higher altitude pinned down members of his unit and wounded his squad leader.
Pfc. Sadao Munemori was the only Japanese recipient of the Medal of Honor whose wartime recommendation for the Medal of Honor was originally approved. An additional 22 Asian Americans would be awarded the top medal in 1995 after a review of their actions.
Munemori took over as squad leader, but twice ran through enemy fire on his own to get close to machine gun nests and destroy them with grenades. While making his way back from the second nest, enemy machine gun fire and grenades rained down around him.
He was still uninjured as he approached the shell crater that he and his men were using as cover, but an enemy grenade bounced off of his helmet and into the hole. Munemori dove onto the grenade and his body absorbed the blast. The other soldiers in the crater were still injured, but survived thanks to Munemori’s sacrifice.
He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in early 1946, and was the only recipient whose recommendation during the war was approved. During a review of Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross awards in 1995, 22 other Asian Americans medal recipients were recommended for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor for actions in world War II. Three of these upgrades were awarded to members of the 100th Battalion for their role in rescuing the “Lost Battalion” in France.
On Sept. 22, 1917, a British Lewis gun team was hit by an incoming German shell during the third Battle of Ypres, near Passchendaele, Harry Patch was a member of that team. He was blown away by the blast, but his other three teammates were completely vaporized. He never saw them again. Patch struggled for years to tell that story, which he finally did before he died in 2009.
At his death, the last British Tommy to see World War I combat was 111 years, one month, one week, and one day old.
A Canadian soldier tests out a Lewis Gun similar to the one Harry Patch worked in World War I.
With Patch went our collective connection to a bygone era. While other Great War veterans outlived Patch, Patch was the last among them to fight in the mud, the wet, the disease-ridden trenches of World War I’s Western Front. He was born in 1898 and drafted into the British Army at age 18. After a brief training period, Private Patch was sent to the Western Front with the other members of his Lewis Gun team during the winter of 1916. The next year is when the German artillery round hit his position and killed his friends.
Patch was still wounded and recovering by the time of the Armistice in November 1918. For the rest of his life, he considered September 22 to be his remembrance day, not November 11.
Patch with Victoria Cross recipient Johnson Beharry in 2008.
By the time World War II rolled around, Harry Patch was much too old to join the Army and served as a firefighter in the British city of Bath instead. Patch never discussed his wartime experiences with anyone, let alone journalists, so he declined interviews until 1998, when the BBC pointed out to him that the number of World War I veterans still alive was shrinking fast. His first appearance was World War I in Colour, where he recalled the first time he came face to face with an enemy soldier. He shot to wound the man, not kill him. Patch was not a fan of killing, even in warfare.
“Millions of men came to fight in this war and I find it incredible that I am the only one left,” he told the BBC in 2007.
Six pall-bearers from the 1st Battalion The Rifles bear the coffin of World War I veteran Harry Patch into Wells Cathedral in 2009.
Before his death, Harry Patch returned to the fields of Passchendaele where his three best friends met their end. He was going to once again meet a German, but this time there would be only handshakes. At age 106, Patch met Charles Kuentz, 107-year-old German World War I veteran who fought the British at Passchendaele. The two exchanged gifts and talked about the futility of war.
Patch wrote his memoirs at 107, to become the oldest author ever, and later watched as World War I-era planes dropped poppies over Somerset in memoriam to those who served. He died in 2009, aged 111 years, one month, one week, and one day. The bells of Wells Cathedral in Somerset were rung 111 times in his honor.
Red lipstick is nothing less than a power move. For centuries, women have worn it to express themselves, and the shades are as varied as their meanings: confidence, sensuality, strength, courage, playfulness, and even rebellion. Dita Von Teese once said that heels and red lipstick will put the god into people.
Maybe that’s exactly what Adolf Hitler was afraid of.
In the early 1900s, American Suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman boldly rocked a red lip in order to shock men. Protestors adopted the beauty statement and filled the streets in rebellion.
“There could not be a more perfect symbol of suffragettes than red lipstick, because it’s not just powerful, it’s female,” said Rachel Felder, author of Red Lipstick: An Ode to a Beauty Icon. Red lipstick had a history of being condemned by men as impolite, sinful, and sexually amoral. The trend gained traction throughout the 1920s, here in the United States and across the Atlantic into Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.
During World War II, the strength of women was finally welcomed and celebrated. As women replaced men in the workforce, their pride and independence were bolstered. Red lipstick grew in popularity as an expression of their confidence. Even Rosie the Riveter sported a bold lip.
According to Fedler, Adolf Hitler “famously hated red lipstick.” Madeleine Marsh, author of Compacts and Cosmetics explained: “The Aryan ideal was a pure, un-scrubbed face. [Lady] visitors to Hitler’s country retreat were actually given a little list of things they must not do: Avoid excessive cosmetics, avoid red lipstick, and on no account ever [were] they to color their nails.”
Allied women wore red lipstick in defiance of Hitler’s restrictions. Cosmetic companies created lipsticks in shades of “Victory Red” and “Montezuma Red” and red lipstick was even mandatory in the dress and appearance of U.S. Army women during the war.
Today, red lipstick is still worn around the world as a symbol of feminine strength and confidence. According to Rachel Weingarten, beauty historian and author of Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America, ’40s-’60s, “Anyone who’s ever dismissed the idea of beauty and makeup as being frivolous doesn’t realize the cultural and sociological impact.”
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander for the Allied Expeditionary Force during World War II and NATO soon after, toured the graveyard over Omaha Beach in France in 1966. He was with Walter Cronkite at the end of a trip where the two men toured Eisenhower’s headquarters for the invasion and saw the spots in which thousands of men died in service to their country.
Dwight D. Eisenhower as a major general in World War II.
(Imperial War Museum)
One of the things that’s striking about the video, embedded below, is just how keenly aware Eisenhower is of what sacrifices were made at his order. He shares with Cronkite the fears he had for the invasion and gives us a window into his own life at the time.
During the D-Day invasion, as American, British, and Canadian troops were fighting to take the beaches of Normandy, Eisenhower’s own son was graduating from West Point. The younger Eisenhower would later ship to Europe. survive the war, and go on to have four children and enjoy a full life. Eisenhower talks about his grandchildren, showing a clear appreciation of how lucky he and his wife were to get their son back from a war that took so many others.
Allied forces unload supplies and troops onto the beaches of Normandy.
“The thing that pulled us out,” Eisenhower told Cronkite, “was the bravery and courage and initiative of the American G.I.”
That bravery, courage, and initiative carried the day — then the week, month, and, eventually, the war. But it also cost the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. and Allied troops. 9,000 of them were buried on the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach where Cronkite and Eisenhower spoke.
The video of their discussion is below. You can also see the 60-minute CBS program here, or hear an audio essay from Cronkite about the experience here.
In July 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee hatched an audacious plan to invade the North, defeat the Union Army, and force an end to the war – with a Confederate victory. Everything – perhaps the entire Civil War – depended on the outcome at Gettysburg.
So maybe Lee should have stayed home to recover from his heart attack.
A study from the National Institute of Health’s Center for Biotechnology Information reviewed the general’s medical history in 1992. Despite his relatively good medical condition from 1864 to 1867, by the end of the decade, he suffered from exertional (stable) angina – chest pain from blocked arteries caused by activity. By 1870, his angina became unstable and he died at age 63.
“It often was stated that the loss of the war broke the heart of Lee, but in view of our modern day understanding, it probably is more accurate to say that advancing coronary atherosclerosis was the culprit,” the NIH said.
Harvard studies show the cardiac impact of six major risk factors: high total cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking. Anyone with two or more of these factors has a 69 percent chance of developing a cardiovascular disease – and 11 fewer years of life.
Lee had been suffering from what his doctors diagnosed as pericarditis since March 1863, which had a sudden onset and came with pain in his chest, back, and arms. It affected his ability to ride a horse and he was known to be anxious and depressed in the days and years after, both common conditions after heart attacks.
“It came on in paroxysms, was quite sharp,” he wrote. Doctors look at “my lungs, my heart, circulation, etc. and I believe they pronounced me tolerable sound.”
Pericarditis is an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart but the NIH study refutes that diagnosis because American doctors were unfamiliar with the idea of angina. The researchers proposed instead that Lee suffered from ischemic heart disease, which would keep blood and oxygen from getting to the muscles of the heart.
His heart disease may have affected his judgement in all areas of life, which would explain some of the inexplicable and uncharacteristic decisions he ordered that day, namely Pickett’s Charge.
Lee’s March 1863 episode was a heart attack, not Pericarditis. As the NIH diagnosis says, the loss at Gettysburg didn’t break Lee’s heart, it was broken when he got there.
The rigors of combat and the expectations of a soldier on the front lines may directly conflict with a person’s religious or moral beliefs. If a person is firm in their convictions and they’ve proven they’re serious about their beliefs, they may apply to be recognized as a conscientious objector.
Being opposed to war is not a Get Out of War Freecard. Simply read the stories of Medal of Honor recipients Cpl. Desmond Doss, Cpl. Thomas W. Bennett, and Specialist Joseph G. LaPointe and you’ll learn that being a conscientious objector doesn’t even mean you’ll be taken off the front lines.
Additionally, conscientious objection is too often confused with pacifism and cowardice — but this is far from the case. Watch Hacksaw Ridge (if you don’t want to read the book it’s based off, The Conscientious Objector) and you’ll quickly see what we mean.
What the status actually does give a troop is a way to aid their country while remaining faithful to any beliefs that prevent a troop from personally engaging in combat.
The 1-A-0 status was the classification for the Medal of Honor recipients, like Cpl. Doss, who still saved the lives of countless men but were religiously opposed to fighting their enemy.
To be labeled as a conscientious objector, a troop must prove to the military that their convictions are firmly held and such beliefs are religious in nature. The status is not given for any political, sociological, or philosophical views or a personal moral code.
Potential recruits in today’s military cannot enlist with any conscientious objections. Such an issue is plainly addressed in a question presented to all recruits at MEPS. It asks,
“Do you have any religious or morale objections that would hold you back from participating during a time of war?”
In an all-volunteer military with many applicants who aren’t conscientious objectors, answering this to the affirmative could bar them from enlistment.
It’s also not entirely uncommon for troops who are already serving to become conscientious objectors, typically when faced with a combat deployment. Troops are then sent in front of a board to determine if their beliefs are genuine or not. If approved by the board, the troop is then classified as either a 1-0 Conscientious Objector, which honorably discharges them from service, or as a 1-A-0 Objector, which leads to a travel to non-combatant duties and prevents them from handling weapons.
Conscientious objectors could also opt to do Civilian Public Service — where they’d stay stateside and perform duties as firemen, park rangers, and hospital workers.
In the past, the U.S. military has needed men to fight and has employed conscription policies to fill out the ranks. If you were selected to serve, decided you didn’t agree with the war (on whatever grounds), but were not recognized as a conscientious objector, you faced fines or jail time for refusing to enter service. No conflict saw more applications for conscientious objector status than the Vietnam War.
Unfortunately for the many who were opposed to the war, a political footing doesn’t exempt you from service. While previous wars saw exemptions for Anabaptists, Quakers, Mennonites, Moravians, and various other churches, disagreeing with U.S. policy wasn’t going to keep you from the fight.
Those who think conscientious objectors are just afraid to fight may be surprised to learn that many folk with religious objections will often opt to be 1-A-0 objectors and enter the service as a non-combatant, like a construction or medical work, as was seen with most Amish men drafted during WWII.
Featured Image: Green Beret in Vietnam (not Gaspard); Photos: SF Association Chapter XXI.
‘A Warrior’s Warrior’ in MACV-SOG
During America’s long war in Vietnam, many of the Green Berets who fought there became legends within the Special Forces Regiment. And among those warriors were the men of MACVSOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group); the SOG warriors were among the finest the country has ever produced.
LTC George “Speedy” Gaspard was one of the most well-known and respected officers from that generation. After serving with the Marine Corps in World War II, Gaspard joined the Army. He was an original, volunteering for the newly formed 10th Special Forces Group and attending Special Forces Class #1. He would run cross border operations in the Korean War but really made his mark during the war in Vietnam, working in Special Forces A-Camps as well as running some of the most secret operations across the border into North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Gaspard became a “Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment” in December 2010.
Shortly after I moved to SW Florida I got into contact with Chapter XXI of the SF Association. I was checking out their excellent website, saw a large segment dedicated to LTC Gaspard, and remembered a brief meeting I had with him years ago. More to that soon.
George Wallace Gaspard Jr. was born at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Ala., on August 5, 1926. He was the son of the late George W. Gaspard of MN, and Annie Lou Bamberg of AL.
He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1944 to 1946 and fought in the final battle of World War II on the island of Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division. He first entered the U.S. Army on June 11, 1951.
In May 1952, Gaspard was a student in the first all-officer-class at the Ranger course. He then attended a special course at the Air Ground School located at Southern Pines, N.C. Afterward, he volunteered for the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which had just been organized at Fort Bragg, N.C.
His first assignment was as a team leader of the 18th SF Operational Detachment. In November 1952, he attended Special Forces Class #1. The fledgling Special Forces unit, much of it comprised of World War II vets from the OSS, was anxious to get involved in the Korean War and conduct missions similar to those conducted in occupied areas of Europe and the Pacific during the war.
The SF troops were put in an active intelligence operation that utilized Tactical Liaison Offices (TLO). Although they were initially manned only by anti-communist Koreans, the TLO would eventually conduct “line-crossing operations” which included using Chinese agents to gather intelligence on the enemy.
However, the Far East Command (FEC), assigned the SF troops as individual replacements rather than as 15-man A-Teams that SF was employing at the time using the OSS WWII Operational Group model.
In March 1953, then 1Lt. Gaspard was assigned to FEC/LD 8240AU FECOM. He commanded four enlisted men and 80 South Korean agents, who were dispatched behind enemy lines to gather intelligence on the North Koreans. Obviously the threat of double agents, something that would later haunt SOG operations in Vietnam, loomed. An excellent piece on this facet of the Korean War, written by former SF Officer and USASOC Historian Eugene Piasecki, “TLO: Line Crossers, Special Forces, and ‘the Forgotten War'” can be found here.
Gaspard was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for actions in combat during June 11-12, 1953.
In October 1954, Gaspard joined the 77th SF Group (A) as a guerrilla warfare instructor with the Psychological Warfare School’s Special Forces Department. He was subsequently transferred to the 187th ARCT and honorably discharged in September 1957.
From 1960 to 1962, he served as a civilian mobilization designee with the Special Warfare department in the Pentagon. In April 1962, he was recalled to active duty and assigned to the 5th SF Group (A) at Fort Bragg, commanding Det A-13. In September, he opened a new Special Forces Camp in Kontum Province at Dak Pek, Vietnam, which remained the longest continuously active SF/ARVN Ranger camp until it was overrun in 1972. That would be the first of seven tours of duty in Vietnam for Gaspard.
During the early days of Vietnam, there was a general lack of accurate reporting by the press on the fighting. However, there were a handful of reporters who were willing to walk in the field and endure combat with the troops. One of those was Pulitzer Prize-winning author and reporter David Halberstam. He was a special correspondent with the New York Times and not a wire reporter, so, he had the time to visit the troops and share a much closer look at what was truly transpiring on the ground.
One of the first people that Halberstam met in Vietnam was Speedy Gaspard. The two developed a friendship and Gaspard became a source of what was really happening in the outlying areas of Vietnam where SF was working by, with, and through the locals. Halberstam was so taken by Gaspard that he modeled the lead character of his war novel “One Very Hot Day” after him.
Captain Gaspard returned to Fort Bragg in 1963 as adjutant and HHC commander of the newly formed 6th SF Group (A). In July 1965, he reported to AID Washington, DC, and subsequently to AID Saigon, where we was assigned as a provincial adviser in Quang Duc Province. He was instrumental in the very tricky negotiations to peacefully transfer FULRO personnel (Front Uni de Lutte des Races Opprimées — United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races) to the Army of South Vietnam.
FULRO was comprised of the indigenous people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Montagnards). They were hated by the lowland Vietnamese, both in South and North Vietnam and referred to as “moi” (savages). At the time, Vietnamese books characterized Montagnards as having excessive body hair and long tails. The Vietnamese rarely ventured into Montagnard regions until after the French colonial rule. Then, they built several profitable plantations to grow crops in and extract natural resources from those bountiful areas.
The simple mountain people were excellent hunters and trackers. They immediately bonded with the Green Berets assigned to stop the communist infiltration of South Vietnam and the Green Berets responded in kind. SF set up the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG), which trained and led the Montagnards in Unconventional Warfare against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.
But the South Vietnamese government never trusted and hated the CIDG program because it feared the Montagnard people would want independence. (Such was their hatred for the Vietnamese that the Montagnards would continue to fight a guerrilla war against unified Vietnam for 20 years after the war ended. There were reports of genocide against the mountain people and over 200,000 died during the fight.)
Gaspard was promoted to major in 1966, and after completing his tour, reported to 1st SF Group (A), Okinawa. In October 1967, he returned to Vietnam and directed the MACVSOG “STRATA” program until September 1968.
The commanders in Vietnam, especially among the SOG personnel, were never satisfied with the intelligence collection activities conducted in North Vietnam. STRATA was conceived to aid the intelligence situation by focusing on short-term intelligence-gathering operations close to the border. The all-Vietnamese Short Term Roadwatch and Target Acquisition teams would report on activities across the border and then be recovered to be used again. Gaspard and the SOG Commander, Col. Jack Singlaub, briefed Gen. Westmoreland and Gen. Abrams on STRATA operations.
Once, a STRATA team became surrounded and required emergency extraction. Gaspard, riding a hydraulic penetrator, twice descended to remove a wounded agent. He was subsequently awarded the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism and the Purple Heart Medal for his actions.
Moles inside South Vietnam’s government and military, even in SOG, were a constant source of leaks to the North, even in SOG. Some of these leaks came to light much later. However, Gaspard would remedy that. As written in a fantastic piece by SOG team member John Stryker Meyer, Gaspard moved the operations jump-off location out of South Vietnam and the intelligence leaks began to dry up.
“The unique aspect of STRATA, which operated under OP34B, the teams launched out of Thailand, flying in Air Force helicopters. The Air Force performed all insertions and extractions without pre-mission reports to Saigon. During Gaspard’s tenure at STRATA 24 teams were inserted into North Vietnam on various intelligence-gathering missions. Only one and a half teams were lost during that period of time that involved inserting and successfully extracting more than 150 STRATA team members during that time.” “Again, a key part to our success was having our separate chain of command and not telling Saigon. We worked with the Air Force on a need-to-know basis.”
It wasn’t until many years later that Gaspard realized the extent of the communist infiltration of the south, right into SOG headquarters. Meyer describes in his piece the horror felt when someone close to the Americans, someone who had been vetted, was in fact a spy for the enemy.
“During a 1996 Hanoi television show, Maj. Gen. George “Speedy” Gaspard, was shocked when he saw an individual he knew as “Francois” receive Hanoi’s highest military honor for his years of service as a spy in SOG. Gaspard, who had several tours of duty in Vietnam and in SOG, knew “Francois” and was “shocked” when he saw the program. Francois had access to highly sensitive information while employed by the U.S. Author and SOG recon man John L. Plaster, has a photo of Gaspard standing with Francois in Saigon when Gaspard had no idea of the spy’s real role for the NVA. That photograph of Gaspard and Francois is on Page 463 of Plaster’s book: SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars, by Paladin Press Book. “There’s no question that he hurt SOG operations,” Gaspard said. “Again, how do you gauge it all? When you look at the success rate of STRATA teams by comparison, you can see why they succeeded. We were disconnected from Saigon and we didn’t have the NVA and Russians working against us.”
Gaspard returned to SOG in 1969 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1971. He reported to 1st SF Group, Okinawa as the group executive officer, and later assumed command of the 1st Battalion. He retired in August 1973 after having served in three wars.
His earned multiple awards and decorations including the Silver Star Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with V-device and five Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with V-device and three Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat Infantryman’s Badge with one Battle Star, Master Parachutist Badge, Pacific Theater Service Ribbon with one Campaign Star, Korea Service Ribbon with two campaign Stars, Vietnam Service Campaign Ribbon with 15 campaign Stars, 18 other service and foreign awards including the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Gold, Silver and Bronze stars, U.S. Navy Parachute Wings, Korea Master Parachutist Wings, Vietnamese Master Parachutist Wings, Thailand Master Parachutist Wings, and Cambodia Parachute Wings.
LTC Gaspard was a member of SFA, SOA, VFW, MOAA, American Legion, and the Sons of Confederacy.
From 2004 to 2017 Speedy served as president, vice president, or secretary of the Chapter XXI President of the Special Forces Association. (The Chapter provided a lot of Gaspard’s personal biography listed here.)
In 1985, Colonel Gaspard entered the South Carolina State Guard and in 1987 was appointed Chief of Staff with the rank of Brigadier General. In 1991, he was inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In the early fall of 1989, when I was a student in the SF Officer’s course at Ft. Bragg, one of our fellow students was a young man named George Gaspard, the son of Speedy. Young George, whom we knew as “Buck” was an outstanding officer and an even better man who was very popular among the officers in the class.
We learned that General Speedy Gaspard was going to address our class. He first showed us an outstanding slideshow of pics he took while conducting some hair-raising missions with SOG. They were better than anything we had seen in any book or magazine. He then addressed the class in his self-effacing style and said: “standing before you is an old, fat man, but in Vietnam, I was an old, fat captain… but I relied on and surrounded myself with outstanding SF NCOs who made me look brilliant.”
He encouraged the future A-Team commanders to trust in their team sergeants and NCOs and they’d never be steered wrong. SF NCOs, he said, were the true leaders of Special Forces and officers need to realize it, work together, and take care of NCOs. Of course, sitting in the rear of the classroom was General David Baratto commander of the Special Warfare Center and School (SWC), who cringed a bit at those pointed comments.
Sitting in the back, my buddy Wade Chapple and I were stealing glances at General Baratto who looked pained… In a typical Chapple bit of sarcasm, he leaned over and said to me, “I think his (Baratto’s) head is about to f***ing explode.”
After the day was over, our entire class, including many of our instructors, joined Speedy Gaspard at the “O-Club” for a cocktail or three. He regaled us with some cool stories about the SF and SOG guys he served with. It was a memorable night. When we left that night, he made everyone feel that we knew him well. It was an honor to have met him.
LTC George “Speedy” Gaspard passed away on January 30, 2018.
You’ve probably heard about Japan’s Kamikaze tactics, and maybe you’ve even heard about Japan’s manned rockets and torpedoes. But, oddly enough, Japan wasn’t the only combatant in World War II that had manned torpedoes. Britain used manned torpedoes and did so years before Japan.
A Kaiten Type 10 manned torpedo. Japanese manned torpedoes were a little more “terminal” than British ones.
For Britain, it all started in December 1941. Less than two weeks after Pearl Harbor, Britain suffered its own surprise naval raid on December 19. Two British battleships and a tanker suffered serious damage in the Port of Alexandria in Egypt when large explosions ripped through their hulls from outside.
But the captain of the HMS Valiant had captured two Italian divers just before the explosions, and one of them had asked to meet with him just before the blasts. Coincidentally, they had been detained in the room just above the damage to the hull. So he summoned those dudes again and asked what, exactly, had happened to his ship and the two others. (A fourth ship was damaged by the blasts, even though the Italian teams had only hit three targets.)
Two British sailors on a manned torpedo, the Chariot Mk. I.
(Royal Navy Lt. S.J. Beadell)
Four other divers were captured by Egyptian police in the following days, and Britain pieced together how the attacks were carried out. The men had launched from an Italian submarine on a torpedo modified to propel the divers through the water. These torpedoes not only had warheads, but they also had two little seats for the divers.
Basically, imagine a two-person motorcycle, but shaped to fit in a large torpedo tube and propelled by a propeller instead of wheels. Now attach a mine to the front. Or you could’ve just looked at the picture above, but whatever. Let’s keep going.
Britain saw this and was all, “Hey, Brits can be strapped to metal tubes, too! We should strap dudes to metal tubes.” So they developed the Chariot starting in April 1942 and attempted the first manned torpedo mission that October.
A British Chariot Mk. 1.
(Imperial War Museums)
The British Chariot Mk. I was about 22 feet long, 3 feet wide, and weighed over 1.75 tons and had a 600-pound Torpex warhead, equal to almost a 1,000 pounds of TNT. The plan was that divers would get onto the torpedo and steer it through the water to a target. Then the divers would remove the warhead from the torpedo and place it on the target ship’s hull with a timer, and then pilot the submersible away.
If all went to plan, the 600 pounds of high explosive would then blow a large hole in the target.
The first Chariot mission failed after the torpedoes were lost at sea as a ship delivered them into range of their target. Their target, by the way, was the German battleship Tirpitz, which would’ve made for an epic combat debut if it had succeeded.
But Britain modified submarines to carry the new torpedo and began sending the Chariot into combat.
U.S. Navy SEALs prepare to fly through the water in a SEAL Delivery Vehicle.
(U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle)
But yeah, manned torpedoes have mostly given way to submersibles and mini-subs because manned torpedoes were really valuable for delivering divers. When it comes to delivering warheads, even during World War II, it made more sense to fire conventional torpedoes.
Today, guided torpedoes make the use of manned torpedoes for explosive delivery completely unnecessary.
Tom McCaslin is a police detective in Omaha, Neb. and his coldest case is turning 75 in 2019. It’s the search for his uncle, Staff Sgt. Thomas J. McCaslin, one of eight crew members of a bomber that was shot down over Nazi-occupied France on June 22, 1944.
All these decades later, his nephew is hunting for his remains in order to bring the bomber crewman back home while four of his 12 siblings are still alive.
Top row, from left: Lt. Col. Don Weiss, Lt. David Meserow, Lt. Axel Slustrop. Bottom row: Staff Sgt. John H. Canty,, S/Sgt. Tom McCaslin, T/Sgt. Clement Monaco. All but Monaco were aboard the B-26 when it was shot down.
Their B-26 Marauder was shot down by Nazi flak while supporting the Allied push inland. As the British Second Army fought the German Panzergruppe West in the streets of below, the crew of the B-26 tried in vain to stay aloft. They went down anyway, and that was the last anyone ever heard of them. Well, most of them, anyway. The first was found in 1946, buried after the crash by locals. The remains of the bird’s four officers were discovered in 1986 by a farmer in his fields. They were taken to the American cemetery at Normandy. Another, the enlisted top tail gunner, was found by an amateur historian who also found the man’s dog tag.
That leaves two – and one of those is Thomas J. McCaslin, the Marauder’s bottom turret gunner. McCaslin’s nephew is looking for his uncle and the other crewman.
McCaslin’s mission has led him to talk to both the historian and the farmer who found the previous remains. He has also obtained numerous documents about the B-26 mission. It was one of 36 planes to fly over a chateau being used as a headquarters building by the Nazi SS. As the bomber began to make its run and open the doors, a flak burst cut the plane in two and sent it careening to earth. No one was able to bail out. In 40 seconds, it was all over, leaving those eight men among the 73,000 who would be unaccounted for during the war. McCaslin even has aerial recon photos of the crash site taken right after the crash.
McCaslin and his detective skills are largely responsible for the 2018 discovery of Staff Sgt. John Canty’s remains. His work persuaded French authorities to further search the field where his dog tag was found. Canty was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. From interviewing relic hunters to requesting documents, McCaslin has worked tirelessly to track down the entire crew since the discovery of the first remains – which he only learned about through a newspaper.
The B-26 Marauder.
Detective McCaslin and his family have all worked the case tirelessly for years. As a family, they have hounded government agencies in an effort to step up the recovery of his uncle and another unaccounted-for airman from his crew. All hope is not lost. McCaslin is currently waiting for the DNA identification of some finger bones found in the area. He even has an eyewitness to the battle who reports that she saw parachutes as a young girl.
“The stuff they’ve uncovered is incredible,” says Jed Henry, a journalist and independent researcher who has become an advocate for families of missing service members from World War II. “To have the intelligence to sort through it, and the tenacity — and to care about it. … I’ve never seen a family that has gotten into this as much as they have.”
“My uncle joined (the military) in 1942, and we never saw him again,” Tom McCaslin said. “If there’s a chance to find him, we should do it.”