The Second World War gave us all a lot of crazy ideas that turned out to be really great things for the United States and, after a few years, the world. It gave us microwaves, the mass production of penicillin, and, later, Batman.
The idea all started in California, already a central hub of America’s most creative types. Those creative minds were focused on repelling what seemed like an imminent invasion of Japanese troops at the time, and no idea was deemed too crazy at the brainstorming sessions — as long as it meant pushing Japan back into the Pacific Ocean when the time came. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson of the California State Guard came up with the idea of “Bat-Men,” modified paratroopers who could avoid enemy ground fire by gliding through the air and into the coming fight.
Major Nicholson conceived the idea while watching free-jumpers at air shows who used wingsuits to control their descent before opening their parachutes. He enlisted (not literally) the aid of a famous wing suit jumper named Mickey Morgan to spearhead the new paratrooper unit idea.
The Major, as he came to be called, was a U.S. Army cavalryman who served under Gen. John J. Pershing during the Punitive Expedition in Mexico and fighting Moros in the Philippines. During World War I, he was sent on diplomatic and intelligence missions in Siberia, documenting the movements of Russian and Japanese troops.
Nicholson had a long history of publishing, writing his first two books in the 1920s. During the Great Depression, he realized that with so many people out of work, books were just out of reach of most people, so he devised a way to sell printed material at an affordable price: the comic book.
Before World War II, Nicholson founded one of the first-ever comic book companies, called National Allied Publications in 1934. With titles like Fun Comics and New Fun Comics, Nicholson published an entirely new concept in comics. Rather than reprinting funnies from daily newspapers, he introduced new characters and continuing storylines. In 1935, the Major hired Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who sent him the concept of a superpowered hero on butcher paper – it was the blueprint for Superman.
Later on, National Allied Publications would morph into what we know today as DC Comics. The company’s first sensational character came in Detective Comics #27, featuring the new character, Batman.
He’s often depicted as an old man with a grey goatee rocking a red, white, and blue suit and top hat. Uncle Sam is synonymous with Americana and is the personification of the United States government. His image has graced recruiting posters and political cartoons alike, but surprisingly little is actually known about how he came to be.
He wasn’t first the unofficial mascot of the United States. That honor originally belonged to Columbia. She was the embodiment of the “Spirit of the Frontier” and the goodwill of its people. Even many years after the introduction of Uncle Sam, Columbia would often be depicted side by side with him. Sadly, she grew out of favor around the 1920’s when immigrants identified more with Lady Liberty as the symbol of America. Then, Columbia Pictures’ rise to notoriety kind of stole the rest of her thunder.
The first reference to an “Uncle Sam” in America is found within the original lyrics to the song Yankee Doodle. The original 13th stanza went,
Old Uncle Sam come there to change, some pancakes and some onions. For ‘lasses cakes, to carry home, to give his wife and young ones.
The original draft of the iconic song was far less metaphorical, so it’s assumed it may have just been a reference someone’s old uncle named Sam.
The next possible origin is one that stems from Brother Jonathan, or the original Yankee Doodle. Long before Colonial Americans adopted the moniker of “Yankee Doodle” as a badge of honor, the term was used disparagingly against Americans by the English. It was their way of saying that we were uncivilized hicks in comparison to the English personification, “John Bull.”
The term “Brother Jonathan” was used in much the same way a few decades prior. The name “Jonathan” is directly pulled from Jonathan Trumbull, the only Colonial Governor to side with the Americans during the revolution. The Brits took his perceived betrayal of the Empire, exaggerated his characteristics and, thus, the caricature of “Brother Jonathan” was born.
Just like Yanke Doodle, Brother Jonathan became a prideful rallying cry for early Americans. It’s agreed that his long coat, luscious locks, and goatee were incorporated into the look of Uncle Sam.
The most widely accepted origin of Uncle Sam, however, stems from the War of 1812 when a New York meatpacker, named Samuel Wilson, supplied many troops with rations labeled with “EU-US.” “EU” were the initials of the contractor, Elbert Anderson, and “US” marked the location. Troops were said to have loved Sam for his food and jokingly referred to it as coming from “Uncle Sam.” This is still disputed, however, because there is no written record of it until 1842.
While there’s no denying the likenesses between Sam Wilson and the Uncle Sam that everyone knows today, his look wasn’t solidified until the printing of James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic “I Want You For U.S. Army” poster. Flagg wrote in his autobiography that he took some liberties when creating the poster. He made him manlier, more chiseled, and is even said to have based some of the looks on himself — a fact that was praised by President Roosevelt.
The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and crust adorns your bright eyes as you open them to your earliest taste of freedom. Your room is decked out according to how you want it and what mommy and daddy say or think is no longer the deciding factor in what you will or won’t do for the day.
This day could easily belong either to Private Joe from Anytown, America or Johnny Freshman in any university dorm. There are some surprising similarities between those earliest days in the military and the typical freshman year of college.
When you first encounter military instructors, as a military member, it is anything but pleasant.
Go this way! Go that way! Pick it up! Put it down!
Add that to the fact that you have zero idea where you’re going (and sometimes even where you’re coming from) and confusion is the only real outcome.
6. You have no idea what to do now that you’re away from home
The first time away from home can be extremely frightening for many. Even if your parents and/or guardians empowered you with freedom and responsibility, chances are that going to college or joining the military is your first time being away from home in a real way.
This isn’t taking a break for a few days or weeks, you have left the nest and flying solo can be scary.
Newness is very exciting but it also carries a certain measure of suck.
5. Boot camp is like pledging a fraternity/sorority
No disrespect to any fraternity or sorority, but actual military boot camp is one of the toughest things anyone will ever do, but there are similarities to rushing. There is information cramming, adapting to a new culture, an embarrassing haircut, frowned-upon hazing, and the list goes on.
Truthfully, the brotherhood of arms is very much a fraternity for some and a sorority for others. Our letters aren’t Greek but they do all start with “U.S.”
4. Dorm rooms
The only way to avoid time in a dorm room is getting married but, chances are, being fresh to the military means you aren’t ready for marriage. That doesn’t stop many young troops from walking down the aisle, but I digress…
Regardless of which service you join, the early stages of your enlistment will involve some type of dorm life. You simply can’t avoid it.
3. The “freshman 15”
Besides the Marines, no other service as a whole just stays in shape. Every single service has physical training programs, sure, but not every branch will ride you and expect you to stay in the same shape you achieved in basic/boot.
This makes gaining weight too easy. Even if you adhere to the same standards training-wise, the availability of good eats can lead to a military version of the infamous “freshman 15.”
2. Underage drinking
Yes, as a military member, you end up shouldering a lot of weight that most civilian teenagers wouldn’t. There is no denying that.
There is also no denying that a dorm party in the military looks a lot like a dorm party in college. There are kegs, there are guys and girls, there are food platters, and there are a lot of people alternating between throwing up and turning up. You know what there isn’t a lot of, though? Anyone checking identification!
Although it’s a rampant and completely normalized part of early enlisted life, underage drinking is 100% illegal in America and is a punishable offense.
Eventually, you learn your way and you become who you’ll be. Now, I’m not saying this happens by the end of that first year, but it does happen after some time. Until then, life is basically a series of hard knocks, adaptations, and semi-pleasant surprises.
It works out for most of us… well, for some of us.
After the outbreak of World War I, young Paul Kern joined millions of Hungarian countrymen in answering the call to avenge their fallen Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. He joined the Hungarian army and, shortly after, the elite corps of shock troops that would lead the way in clearing out Russian trenches on the Eastern front. In 1915, a Russian bullet went through his head, and he closed his eyes for the last time.
Which would be par for the course for many soldiers – except Kern’s eyes opened again in a field hospital.
Many, many other Austro-Hungarian eyes did not open again.
From the moment he recovered consciousness until his death in 1955, Kern did not sleep a wink. Though sleep is considered by everyone else to be a necessary part of human life. There are many physical reasons for this – sleep causes proteins in the brain to be released, it cuts off synapses that are unnecessary, and restores cognitive function. People who go without sleep have hallucinations and personality changes. Sleeplessness has even killed laboratory rats.
Doctors encountering Kern’s condition for the first time were always reportedly skeptical, but Kern traveled far and wide, allowing anyone who wanted to examine him to do so. The man was X-rayed in hospitals from Austria to Australia but not for reasons surrounding the bullet – the one that went through his right temple and out again – was ever found.
One doctor theorized that Kern would probably fall asleep for seconds at a time throughout the day, not realizing he had ever been asleep, but no one had ever noticed Kern falling asleep in such a way. Other doctors believed the bullet tore away all the physical area of the brain that needed to be replenished by sleep. They believed he would find only an early death because of it.
Kern did die at what would today be considered a relatively young age. His wakefulness caused headaches only when he didn’t rest his eyes for at least an hour a day in order to give his optic nerve a much-needed break. But since Paul Kern had an extra third of his days given back to him, he spent the time wisely, reading and spending time with his closest friends. It seems he made the most of the years that should have been lost to the Russian bullet in the first place.
The USS North Carolina was what they called a “fast” battleship, designed for long range shooting matches with other ships of war. She was faster than any other ship in the U.S. fleet when she was built.
“I was 17 when I came aboard this thing,” says James Bowen, a World War II veteran and USS North Carolina sailor. “I saw that thing and said ‘Nothing can hurt me on that thing.’ So I think of this as my second mother.”
“It brings back a lot of memories, if you walk around the ventilators,” says Louis Popovich, another USS North Carolina veteran. “It’s amazing how you can be reminded of an area by breathing some of the air.”
By the end of WWII, submarine warfare and aircraft carriers made the more expensive heavy gun warships like North Carolina all but obsolete. The last use of a battleship in combat was in Desert Storm, but by then they were firing Tomahawk missiles. Slowly over the next 50 years, the battleships of WWII were decommissioned one by one.
The North Carolina was opened to the public in 1963 and is now moored at Wilmington, N.C, where those interested in hearing more stories from the men who fought aboard her can visit.
While the ship will be there for the foreseeable future, the veterans’ firsthand stories will not. An estimated 430 WWII veterans die every day and by 2036, they will all be gone — but not forgotten.
France takes a lot of jokes these days because of its performance in the early days of World War II. The greater military history of France, however, is nothing to laugh about. While the great armies of Germany, Britain, the United States and even France were languishing in the trenches of World War I’s Western Front, one French army in the East was sacking up and getting the job done.
After serving dutifully on the Western Front of the war for two years, French Gen. Louis Franchet d’Espèrey was transferred to the East, where he took command of an army of French, Greek, Serbian, British and Italian forces. He would use these troops to force an end to World War I.
Before World War I, Gen. d’Espèrey was a longtime cavalry officer. The cavalry was in his blood. His father was a cavalry officer in Africa before him, and when the young man came of age, he too served in the cavalry. Even before the Great War began, d’Espèrey was a veteran of French Indochina, Algeria, the Boxer Rebellion in China, and in French Morocco.
When the “War to End All Wars” did break out, d’Espèrey was elevated to a corps commander fighting for his homeland. He did so well he was promoted to command the French Fifth Army later that same year, 1914. Upon his taking command, a cultural shift happened in the Fifth Army. At the Battle of the Marne, the man who “physically resembled a Howitzer shell” helped the French stop the Germans cold in their tracks before they could reach Paris.
By 1918, the war in the West had turned into the bloody stalemate of trench warfare we remember World War I for today. But d’Espèrey wasn’t on the Western Front. He had been transferred to the East, where he was leading a combined army on the Macedonian Front. There, his force met a combined Central Powers force of Germans, Austrians and Bulgarians.
In September 1918, d’Espèrey launched a massive attack on the Macedonian Front, an area of the war Germany was less inclined to support after Russia dropped out of the war. But it was here that the terms of the Armistice would be decided. When d’Espèrey attacked, there was a substantial force of 3,000 cavalry missing from the Entente lines.
The cavalry was discovered nine days later, near what is today Skopje, North Macedonia, some 500 miles away. They were set to charge on the city which was heavily defended by 50,000 Bulgarians armed with rifles and machine guns. The cavalry had only their weapons and lances. Outnumbered, the French horsemen, led by another cavalry officer from North Africa, Gen. Jouinot-Gambetta, attacked the city and won, forcing the Bulgarians to flee.
Skopje was well behind the lines of the Central Powers’ combined eastern army and when the Bulgarians discovered Skopje had fallen to the French, it led them to believe that a large army had somehow made its way deep into their territory. Bulgarian units started surrendering their positions without a fight and the government of Bulgaria sued for an armistice the next day.
German troops in the area were ordered to counterattack and retake the city, but without their Bulgarian allies, the chances of a successful, sustained counterattack were slim. They began to retreat back to Germany.
The Germans and Ottomans were now cut off from each other. British forces moved east toward Constantinople, and with no significant force able to challenge their approach, the Ottoman Empire sued for peace on Oct. 26. Austria-Hungary submitted after the Italian victory at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto on Nov. 28, 1918 and Germany, unable to sustain the war by itself, submitted on November 11, 1918.
Recently, the United States Navy celebrated the 98th anniversary of the commissioning of its very first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley (CV-1).
CV-1 was named after American aeronautics engineer, Astronomer, aviation pioneer, bolometer, and physicist, Samuel Piermont Langley (the same guy whose name is on a NASA research center, an Air Force base, a mountain, three other ships — two of which are USN ships — and a slew of schools, buildings, labs, and a unit of solar radiation measurement). The USS Langley was converted from the Proteus-class collier USS Jupiter (AC-3), which itself was commissioned in April or 1913.
As the Langley, she had a full-load displacement of 13,900 long tons, a length of 542ft, beam of 65ft 5in, draft of 24ft, and 3 boilers. This was also the United States Navy’s first tubro-electric-powered ship. She was commanded by Commander Kenneth Whiting, upon commissioning.
The USS Langley saw service as both an aircarft carrier and a seaplane tender. In the seaplane tender role, she was commissioned as AV-3 on 11 April 1937. She served as AV-3 until 27 February 1942, when she was struck by Japanese bombers. She now rests on the seafloor near Cilacap Harbor, Java, Indonesia.
The USS Langley was the first step in what would help the Navy — and the United States — project global reach and force. A unique feature of the Langley (among all USN aircraft carriers) was its carrier pigeon house. USN carriers (and signals) have come a long way since then.
Since the commissioning of the USS Langley as the first aircraft carrier, the United States Navy has fielded 80 total carriers. There are currently 11 in service. Both of these numbers vastly outcounts every other nation’s number of aircraft carriers. With a current global total of 44 active carriers (some of those are arguable), America owns 25% of those. But the strategic value of those 11 carriers is much more than 25% of that global total.
The first purpose-built aircraft carrier to be commissioned ever, anywhere, was the Japanese Hōshō, which was commissioned two days after Christmas, 1922.
Hans Speidel had a long history of service to his country, no matter what that country was called or who happened to be its leader. Speidel was born in the German Empire and fought for the Kaiser in 1914, stayed in uniform during the tumultuous Weimar Republic and rose through the ranks of Nazi Germany.
What Speidel did as a Nazi officer is nothing short of extraordinary – and brave.
For four years, he served as an officer in the German Army, leading troops at the Battle of the Somme as a lieutenant. After World War I, as German politics, economics and government all seemed to spiral out of control, and the Nazis came to power, he stayed in the Army. In 1930 he was appointed to the General Staff.
Speidel soon found himself invading France in 1940 with the German Army and he would become Chief of Staff to many notable Nazi Field Marshals, despite never joining the Nazi Party himself. It was as a Chief of Staff that Speidel was promoted to general, while serving on the Eastern Front.
He was soon sent to the Atlantic Wall to serve as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Chief of Staff. After his time on the Eastern Front, he became convinced that Hitler’s military strategies were a series of blunders that would see his country fall to ruin. He even failed to pass on Hitler’s order to bomb Paris with V1 and V2 rockets as the Nazis were forced to withdraw from France.
With his increasing disappointment in the Nazis, Speidel joined what would become known as the 20 July Plot, an attempt to assassinate the Fuhrer and take control of the armed forces.
The plotters needed someone close to Rommel to recruit the Field Marshal’s support. No one was closer to Rommel than Speidel, who admired Rommel for his years of service. Rommel never officially joined the plot because he was against Hitler’s assassination – he wanted Hitler arrested and put on trial. But when the Fuhrer survived, Rommel and Speidel were both rounded up by the Gestapo.
They, along with almost 7,000 others were arrested for their role in the attempt on Hitler. Rommel was forced to commit suicide. Speidel spent the rest of the war in prison.
After the war, Speidel was one of only two Nazi-era generals who would be allowed to create the new West German Army. His role in the plot to kill Hitler was critical in the newfound trust placed in the Bundeswehr, the new Army of the Federal Republic of German and its integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Speidel worked his way up to a four-star general’s rank in the Bundeswehr, and was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Ground Forces for all of NATO in 1957. He retired in 1963 and died in 1984.
Long before Britney started her Las Vegas residency at the Planet Hollywood Casino, visitors and residents got their nightly entertainment elsewhere – likely from a member of the Rat Pack but every so often, they would get a thrill watching the United States Air Force. Not the Air Force rock band Max Impact, they were there to see mushroom clouds.
Between 1951 and 1992, the United States military conducted more than 900 atomic explosion tests, setting off nuclear bombs at what we now call the Nevada National Security Site. Back then, the same area in nearby Nye County was known as the Nevada Test Site. Some 100 of those nuclear tests were atmospheric detonations, and from just 65 miles away, the blasts and the resulting mushroom clouds could easily be seen from Las Vegas.
So obviously, the nuclear detonations, the brilliant flash of the detonation, along with the seismic tremors were great Las Vegas entertainment. And while the best views were supposedly from the downtown Las Vegas hotels, that didn’t stop visitor and locals alike from driving to the best views of the blast along the desert horizon.
That’s not the sunrise in the background.
In the 1950s, the population of Las Vegas more than doubled in size, as tourists and visitors moved to take advantage of the casino gaming industry as well as the hospitality industry in the city. Some tourists flocked to Vegas just to see the magnificent nuclear explosions in the distance. The nuclear tests were always done in the early morning hours, and hotels and bars would create Atomic Parties, where guests drank until dawn, finishing the night with a blast.
Nearly four decades ago, America’s fledgling counter-terrorism force launched a daring operation to a remote desert outpost to rescue Americans held hostage. The mission failed, but its repercussions were felt for years, and the flames and death of that day forged the special operations force that was able to successfully execute even more daring — and successful — missions in the decades to come.
On Nov. 4, 1979, approximately 3,000 Iranian militants took control of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding 63 Americans hostage. An additional three U.S. members were seized at the Iranian Foreign Ministry for a total of 66.
This was in response to President Jimmy Carter allowing Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the recently deposed Iranian ruler, into the U.S. for cancer treatment. New leadership in Iran wanted the shah back as well as the end of Western influence in their country.
After a few weeks, 13 hostages, all women or African Americans, were released but the remaining 53 would wait out five months of failed negotiations.
President Carter, originally wanting to end the hostage crisis diplomatically and without force, turned to alternative solutions as he felt the political pressure to resolve the problem. On April 16, 1980, he approved Operation Eagle Claw, a military rescue operation involving all four branches of the U.S. armed forces.
The two-day rescue mission consisted of eight Navy RH-53D helicopters and multiple variations of C-130 aircraft. All aircraft were to gather together at Desert One, a salt flat about 200 miles outside of Tehran. There, the helicopters would refuel through the C-130’s and then transport assault units into a mountain location near Tehran where the rescue mission would begin. Unfortunately, the mission never made it that far.
On April 24, 1980, Operation Eagle Claw began. All aircraft proceeded to Desert One but a strong dust storm complicated traveling. Two of the eight helicopters were unable to complete the mission and had to turn around. Another helicopter broke down at Desert One, leaving a total of five working helicopters. Mission commanders and leadership needed a minimum of six to complete the mission. The decision was made to abort the operation and return home.
During departure from Desert One, one of the helicopters collided with a C-130, killing eight U.S. service members. The remaining members all left in the additional C-130 leaving behind numerous helicopters, a C-130 and the eight dead Americans. The failed mission, in addition with loss of life, was a humiliating blow for the U.S. However, this tragedy put a magnifying glass over the inadequacies of joint operations, forever changing the future of the U.S. military and special operations.
The need for enhanced capabilities between more than one military service was the prediction for the future of the Armed Forces. Significant military reforms, such as the Goldwater-Nichols Act and Joint Doctrine, addressed the readiness and capability issues demonstrated in Operation Eagle Claw. It pointed out the necessity for a dedicated special operations section within the Department of Defense with the responsibility to prepare and maintain combat-ready forces to successfully conduct special operations.
Today, the different branches training alongside each other is common practice. Planning for missions consist of specific details with back up plans to the back up plans. Ultimately, the lives lost as Desert One weren’t in vain. The lessons learned from that mission made special operations into what we know them as today.
Just getting to the Gettysburg Museum of History means walking through the scene of significant events in America’s past. The house that is now the museum sits on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the road on which Abraham Lincoln arrived to deliver the Gettysburg Address. When a team from Coffee or Die Magazine knocked on the door recently, Erik Dorr emerged from his home and invited us in. Instead of furniture, exhibits featuring pieces of American history were everywhere we looked.
Dorr, the curator of the Gettysburg Museum of History, transformed the interior of his home in 2009 with war relics. His collection includes items from the Civil War, as one might expect in a town so closely associated with the conflict, but also his impressive World War II collection and even modern artifacts like Saddam Hussein’s dinnerware.
Dorr’s family once lived on a farm in Ziegler’s Grove, which is now part of the Gettysburg National Military Park managed by the National Park Service. Most of his Civil War collection is made up of items collected by family members through time.
“[My ancestors] found items on their farm such as bullets, artillery shells, belt buckles, and other accoutrements of war,” Dorr said. “And they would move those items off of their land more for farming reasons than for historical reasons. It’s not good to have lead, iron, and heavy metals in your soil if you’re a farmer. They had a box of Civil War relics in their barn that they found. And the local farmers sold those items to museums, but my family kept those items.”
Here are a few mind-blowing artifacts from Coffee or Die Magazine‘s inside look at Dorr’s collection.
Colt revolver from the Battle of Gettysburg
When troops left after Gettysburg, a soldier left behind a Colt revolver on the kitchen table of the Pfeffer Farm in Freedom Township.
A gun that Dorr says is one of four or five documented pistols owned by Adolf Hitler, it was discovered by Russell Dysert, an American soldier from the US Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Dysert was with the first American unit to reach Hitler’s Berghof residence in Obersalzberg in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany, in 1945.
“That home was bombed by the Allies right before the Americans got there, so the whole west wing of the Berghof was destroyed. It was on fire, and a lot of the items were destroyed, but there was a huge air raid shelter underneath,” Dorr said. “Before that air raid, a lot of items were taken down there for safekeeping. That pistol was found down in the tunnel and it has Hitler’s initials and a Nazi party eagle on the back inlaid in gold.”
“Rupert” the British paradummy
Operation Titanic was an elaborate deception plan that occurred during the D-Day invasion. It was broken into four stages: noisemakers, chaff to fool radar, paradummies, and real SAS commandos. The paradummies, or dummy paratroopers, were dropped from four Royal Air Force squadrons flying over four separate drop zones over Normandy.
“They were diversionary devices and were dropped in Normandy to try to fool the Germans into thinking there was a parachute jump going on somewhere else,” Dorr said. “They’re one-third the size of a real man and a real parachute. From the ground looking up you can’t tell because it’s the same perspective, it looks like real guys coming out.”
A single lot of two dozen of them were found in England in the 1980s, Dorr said, making them extremely rare.
Atomic bomb clock
This clock was found following the destruction of the Japanese city of Hiroshima caused by one of the two atomic bombs dropped during World War II. The clock is symbolic because the hands were stopped at the exact moment the bomb exploded.
“The face is so melted that you can no longer see the hands, but they are in there,” Dorr said. “I also obtained the watch worn by one of the guys in the Enola Gay who dropped the atomic bomb. On the anniversary of the atomic bomb drop in Hiroshima, I put them side by side and call it ‘The Tale of Two Clocks.’ One’s a wristwatch that was worn in that plane when the bomb was dropped, and the other one was on the ground and took the burn of the atomic bomb blast.”
Keys to the “Eagle’s Nest”
The Band of Brothers HBO series depicted “Easy Company” of the 101st Airborne Division looting Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Dick Frame was a soldier from the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 101st Airborne Division, when he was given the task of guarding a pair of metal doors. These doors were between the large tunnel cut into the middle of the mountain and the elevator that leads to the Eagle’s Nest.
“On the edge of that tunnel that goes in are two giant blast doors and they had big locks on them,” Dorr said. “Dick Frame was one of the guards and he decided to put the keys in his pocket. The keys are neat because they fold. They’re 8 or 9 inches long, and they have a hinge in the middle so you can put them in your pocket.”
Dick Frame came home with a symbolic war trophy, which was brought to 501st PIR reunions. The paratroopers in his platoon would tell the story of how they had taken the keys to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. The historian of the 101st Airborne Museum provided these keys that are now on display at the Gettysburg Museum.
Ghosts of the Ardennes
The Ghosts of the Ardennes is a unique exhibit on display in the hallway of the Gettysburg Museum of History. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne Division fought in a region known as the Bois Jacques outside Bastogne near the village of Foy in Belgium. After World War II, the founders of the 101st Airborne Museum in Belgium used a metal detector to find many artifacts in the Bois Jacques region.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dorr conducted tours to Europe and visited those relic hunters.
“I call it the ‘Ghosts of the Ardennes’ because it’s bits and pieces that were left behind there,” Dorr said. “If you’ve ever been to the Bois Jacques, it’s a spooky place. It’s real dark, the woods are thick, and you can still see the remains of the foxholes. […] You can really feel the spirit of what happened.”
Half of the exhibit is American artifacts, and the other half is German. There is an MG42 German machine gun, an American M1 Garand rifle, an American canteen with three bullets in it, a German mess kit with several bullet holes in it, and other remnants found on the battlefield.
Dorr sees a connection between the relics of Gettysburg and those found from WWII.
“We have so many similar items for the Battle of Gettysburg here,” Dorr said. “We have all the items my ancestors found on their farm, so I really appreciate stuff that came out of the ground, that came from historic, sacred spots on the battlefield. To me, those items really tell the story. They were there.”
Military history is full of blunders. Even the best among history’s greatest leaders made mistakes in their careers, often at critical times. Napoleon took too long to invade Russia. The Crusader kingdoms decided to march their army in full armor across a burning desert to attack Saladin on his own ground, heck President Truman even called Douglas MacArthur a “dumb son-of-a b*tch.”
During the American Civil War, any ill-timed loss or setback could have been catastrophic for either side. So winning when it mattered was vitally important. Too bad no one told these guys.
There’s no better example of poor execution ruining an excellent plan than the Battle of Fredericksburg. When the Union Army under Ambrose Burnside wanted to invade Virginia across the Rappahannock River, all went exactly as planned… until it came time to actually cross it. Gen. Henry Halleck, who was an excellent administrator but a terrible field commander, didn’t get the bridges downriver in time for the Union to keep the initiative. By the time they actually crossed the river, the Confederates were ready for them. But even so, the Federals could have been better – and that’s Burnside’s fault.
Burnside wasn’t exactly acting with military precision when he ordered his subordinates to attack the rebels with “at least a division” when the original plan called for some 60,000 troops. His underlings, following their orders, threw a thousand men in single waves at the reinforced enemy lines. Outnumbered by a lot, the rebels repelled the Federal Army, who retreated across the Rappahannock.
At Shiloh, the Confederates boldly placed their camp near Sherman’s headquarters, achieving complete tactical surprise on the morning of the battle, a fight Sherman wanted to avoid. Eventually, the unprepared Union troops were forced into a fight by the approaching enemy army. But the Confederates weren’t able to press this advantage because Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston left P.G.T. Beauregard in command of the army from the rear, and then ran off to lead the fight from the front. Beauregard’s coordination led to the whole confederate Army getting mixed up in the fight. Later in the day, Johnston was killed after spending too many lives trying to take a fortified Union position called the “Hornet’s Nest” – an unnecessary venture.
The next day, the Confederates were down to half-strength, and the lull in the previous day’s fighting had allowed the Union to get reinforcements. Without knowing he was outnumbered by more than two-to-one, Beauregard remained in the battle and was himself surprised by a Union counterattack the next morning. The Confederates were later forced to retreat, having completely lost the initiative.
Cold Harbor could have won the war for the Union in 1864. Instead, it’s a lesson learned. During the Overland Campaign, Grant and the Union Army ground at Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia for nearly two months with some 120,000 troops, outnumbering Lee two-to-one. The culmination of the campaign was an attack on the Confederate defenses at Cold Harbor, where Grant gambled that Lee’s decimated army would be so exhausted it would fall to a Union onslaught. Grant was right, and the defenses fell, and then he went onto Richmond, and the war was over.
Of course, that’s not what happened. What happened is the same thing that happens when any army throws thousands of men at reinforced defenses manned by veteran troops: wholesale slaughter. Grant massed his men in front of the Confederate defenses, and the rebels just fired shot after shot of canister into the throngs. Grant lost nearly 10 percent of his army, more than 12,000 men – and the war dragged on.
At the Siege of Petersburg, Va., an engagement that lasted nearly a full year, Union engineers dug a mineshaft underneath the Confederate defenses. It was a brilliant plan to destroy the Confederate defenses from below instead of attacking them head-on (Grant had learned a little lesson from Cold Harbor, so at least there’s that). There was a special division that had been drilling and training for the assault on the rebel lines immediately after the mine was blown up. They would roll up the rebels through the hole created in the defenses, and everyone could go home. The only problem was that that division happened to be an all-black U.S. Colored Troops unit, so at the last minute, Gen. George G. Meade swapped them out with a bunch of untrained rabble and put the world’s worst officer in charge of the attack.
The mine blew as planned and created a giant crater on the battlefield. The officer in command, Gen. James Ledlie, didn’t brief his men that they would be attacking around a crater and then got drunk during the battle. Instead of going around the crater and attacking, the Union troops ran into it, found it was too deep to get out of, and just stayed there while the rebels killed them.
Antietam (hear me out…)
While Antietam isn’t technically a loss, it should have been a slam dunk for the Union Army. Instead, it was a gross loss of life. They outnumbered the rebels three-to-one, Lee had divided his forces into three different parts to facilitate its movement, oh, and George B. McClellan actually had Lee’s entire battle plan the whole time. It was found by two Union soldiers and delivered to the Union commander who waited a whole 18 hours to do anything about it. After squandering his foreknowledge of Lee’s plans, McClellan then dithered further, allowing Lee’s forces to mass near Sharpsburg, Md.
Once the armies were all set, the battle began, and the slaughter commenced. What should have been an easy rout for the Union turned out to be the bloodiest day in American history up until that point. After barely managing a win, McClellan allowed Lee’s army to escape without further harassment. McClellan’s lack of aggression was so apparent that President Lincoln fired him for it.
Lee was a veteran of World War I when he was sent with other American troops to Nicaragua in 1927 to assist the Nicaraguan National Guard in a long-running fight against a leftist rebellion.
The Marines, including Lee, took command of small groups of local soldiers, trained them, and led them in combat.
In 1930, Lee was a gunnery sergeant who led the Nicaraguans against superior enemy forces six times between Mar. 20 and Aug. 19, forcing the enemy to retreat each time. Lee’s men were thought to have killed at least 10 enemy fighters and wounded many more over the span of the ten battles. Lee was awarded his first Navy Cross for his leadership and valor.
In December of the same year, Lee led a 10-day patrol through the jungle and engaged in three heavy fights with the rebels. His men defeated the rebels in each of the firefights, twice while fighting against rebel forces with superior numbers. This action netted Lee his second Navy Cross.
Automatic weapons fire rained down on the Marines and Nicaraguans as rebels fired their rifles and threw grenades. Lee was hit in the arm and head almost immediately at the start of the fight. Puller led the Nicaraguans against the enemy to achieve fire superiority without knowing if Lee was alive or dead.
Luckily for them all, Lee was only unconscious and awoke approximately 15 minutes later as the battle continued. Despite his grievous wounds, he clawed his way to the Nicaraguans’ machine gun, moved it to a good firing position, and started raining hell on the rebels. He then returned to the main element and resumed his duties as the second in command on the final attack.
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Marine Corps photo)
The Marines and Nicaraguans then conducting a fighting withdrawal back to their base, engaging the enemy multiple times and defeating more ambushes.
Lee would go on to fight in China during the lead up to World War II. Soon after the war broke out, he and his men were captured by Japanese forces and taken as prisoners of war and tortured. Lee survived the ordeal and continued serving in the Marine Corps until his retirement in 1950. He died of cancer in 1998.