It’s no secret by now that Ho Chi Minh really admired the founding principles of the United States. He even quoted Thomas Jefferson from the American Declaration of Independence in his declaration of independence for Vietnam.
Many academics say, he was really into self-determination and appreciated America’s history.
And he was right to trust the World War II-era United States to ensure a free Vietnam after WWII. Except he wasn’t dealing with the same America after that war ended. Instead, the high-minded anti-colonial Roosevelt administration was gone, replaced by the anti-communist Truman administration.
As World War II came to a close, Uncle Ho was an agent of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. As the OSS man in Vietnam, he was the chief organizer of anti-Japanese resistance. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII, he moved to ensure the French didn’t return. And history shows, the French weren’t exactly the kindest of colonizers.
It turns out Ho Chi Minh sent a number of telegrams to President Truman after the end of WWII. At the same time, he urged the Vietnamese people to rise up, capture arms and rice stocks, and keep the French from replacing the Japanese as their imperial masters. Truman never read any of the telegrams – there isn’t even evidence that the President received Ho’s messages.
One of the telegrams, written in 1945, asked Truman to make Vietnam an overseas protectorate of the United States, on par with Puerto Rico’s relationship with America. He was willing to trade complete independence of his country for American democracy – better than British, French, or Japanese Imperialism… at least it was in Ho’s mind.
Protectorates are officially “insular areas of the United States.” They are administered by the federal government, but are not part of a state or federal district. Many of the U.S.-occupied islands in the Pacific would become American protectorates after World War II, so the idea isn’t as outlandish as it seems today.
The Marshall Islands, Samoa, Guam, and the Marianas all have protectorate status.
It might have actually been a good plan for the long term. If Truman accepted Ho’s idea, there have been many examples of U.S. protectorates that gained full independence after a while. The Philippines and Cuba are a couple of examples of this kind of self-determination. They weren’t examples of clean history and not a clean break, but still a break.
On Oct. 16, 1945, just a few weeks after the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Japanese and British planes bombed French positions in a coordinated attack to promote the French position there. Ho Chi Minh got his answer from the West. France broke its promise to Franklin Roosevelt, who demanded the French give up its colonies in Indochina.
Not all of America was behind supporting the French. General Douglas MacArthur, for example, was livid.
“If there’s anything that makes my blood boil,” MacArthur said, “it is to see our allies in Indochina deploy Japanese troops to reconquer those little people we promised to liberate.”
The Medal of Honor is well-known as the U.S. military’s highest honor for acts of valor in the face of the enemy. It is bestowed for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” Usually, only members of the military earn the award. But a few, rare civilians have, too.
It’s kind of a big deal.
Created in 1861 as a Navy medal, there have been 3,513 Medals of Honor bestowed, with roughly half going to veterans of the U.S. Civil War. The medal is generally given only to U.S. military members, but in the history of the United States, eight civilians have received the honor for their actions on the battlefield.
A purge of Medal of Honor recipients in 1917 stripped the eight of their awards (with a total of 911 previous awardees) after Congress tightened the rules. Seven were restored in 1989, and one more in 1977.
“Buffalo Bill” Cody
In 1872, Buffalo Bill was a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars. He received the medal for gallantry in combat after leading a cavalry charge against a band of Sioux warriors. He killed two of the warriors, recovered their horses, and then chased them off the battlefield. His medal was restored in 1989.
Amos Chapman Billy Dixon
Chapman was also a civilian scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. He was a half-Native who also worked as an interpreter. While working with Lt. Frank Baldwin out of Fort Dodge, he and another civilian scout, Billy Dixon, along with four soldiers, were confronted by a joint force of more than a hundred Comanche and Kiowa warriors. The six retreated to a buffalo wallow, essentially a mid-sized hole in the ground. On the way there, Dixon was injured, so Chapman picked him up and carried him to the defensive position. He stopped to fight off attackers on occasion, but was shot in the leg a quarter mile from the wallow. He dragged himself and Dixon the rest of the way to the wallow. The six held out until weather forced the enemy withdrawal, three days later.
Another civilian scout during the Indian Wars, Dozier was awarded the honor for gallantry at the Little Wichita River, Texas in 1870. Dozier and another scout tracked a band of the Keechi to Bluff Creek. Dozier fired down on the Keechi from a higher position, wounding Chief Keesh-Kosh. Noticing that U.S. soldiers below were exposed to direct fire from a band of Keechi on a hillside, Dozier mounted his horse and attacked the band by himself. Dozier suffered serious injuries when his horse was shot out from under him, but was credited with the campaign’s success.
Ferrell was a civilian in the service of the Union Navy during the Civil War. While acting as a Navy pilot near Nashville, Tennessee, an engagement with Confederates saw the flag of their ship, the Neosho, shot down. Ferrel and the ship’s quartermaster ran through the enemy fire to reraise the flag.
Another U.S. Navy civilian in service to the Union during the Civil War, Freeman was at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama. He was the pilot of the Union Flagship. He piloted the Navy’s ships into the bay under “terrific” enemy fire, from Fort Morgan, the CSS Tennessee, and a flotilla of Confederate gunboats. The boats were captured, the Tennessee surrendered, and the Fort’s guns were silenced.
Mary Edwards Walker
Walker received her Medal of Honor recommendation from General William Tecumseh Sherman himself. She worked as a contract surgeon at the battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chattanooga, and Chickamauga. During battles, she would frequently cross enemy lines and treat civilians. Throughout the war, she was contracted as a surgeon by the Army of the Cumberland, the 52d Ohio Infantry, and the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C. She would be arrested by the Confederacy as a spy in 1864 and spend four months as a POW. She received the Medal of Honor from President Andrew Johnson, and refused to give it back when Congress erased her award. She died two years later. President Jimmy Carter restored her status in 1977.
William H. Woodall
Woodall was a civilian employee of the Union Army during the Civil War. At the Battle of Namozine Church, while riding as a scout with Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps, Woodall was with a group of scout spies dressed in Confederate uniforms when they captured Confederate General Rufus Barringer. Woodall captured the general’s headquarter’s flag.
It was the first year of full-on naval warfare in the Pacific following the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Navy had a morale problem.
In the absence of Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, overall command of U.S. operations in the region had collapsed into timorous indecision and defensive-mindedness. After a string of bold victories by sea, land, and air, the US was losing the initiative and it was entirely a question of leadership.
The opening months of the Pacific campaign against Imperial Japan were defined by a profound shift in how the naval brass regarded warfare at sea. They went into it thinking that winning sea engagements would amount to outgunning the enemy, battleship vs. battleship, while their aircraft carriers provided defensive air support against submarines and shore-based bombers.
That proved to be firmly 19th century thinking, as vessel-based aircraft quickly proved themselves deadly against ships of all sizes and armaments.
The USS Enterprise endures an attack from a Japanese bomber during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )
Halsey was an early adopter of the aircraft carrier’s offensive potential, summing up his preferred strategy as follows:
…get to the other fellow with everything you have as fast as you can and…dump it on him.
Halsey was a born brawler.
He made his name going punch for punch with the Japanese, always on offense, always pressing the message that, far from being cowed by its losses at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was energized and hungry for a fight.
Halsey’s Carrier Division 2 had spent the spring of 1942 executing a series of run-and-gun raids that had captured the imaginations of the public and the momentum of battle for the U.S. His audacity culminated with the Doolittle Raid, the retaliatory bombing run against Tokyo, which shattered Japanese certainty that their homeland was unassailable.
But Halsey was sidelined that summer by the mother-of-all tropical skin conditions, causing him to miss out on the Battle of Midway, where the U.S. decisively crippled the Imperial Japanese Navy. And as the war in the Pacific shifted to a series of amphibious assaults on Japanese-held islands, the momentum that Halsey had gained for the U.S. began to falter.
Nearly 11,000 Marines were dug in deep on Guadalcanal but were struggling to hold the position and it was becoming clear that Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, the man in charge of Pacific operations, was catastrophically unfit for his job. He was tactically indecisive, wedded to defensive posturing and perhaps worst of all, was suffering from a deep malaise that was spreading to the soldiers, sailors and Marines in his command.
On Oct. 18, 1942, Adm. Nimitz sent the recuperated Halsey in to replace Ghormley as Commander of the South Pacific. And one of Halsey’s first moves in that capacity was to issue an order stripping neckties from the uniforms of all naval officers.
Imagine the power of the message that order sent to sailors demoralized by weeks of stalemate and command-chain confusion. Like a gentleman who’d endured one insult too many, the Navy would now remove its finery and invite the Japanese to settle this little disagreement outside. All bets were off. All points of civility were suspended. Halsey’s Navy would be settling things old school, bare knuckles and mean. Reinvigorated by Halsey’s leadership, the Navy went on to win a series of pitched naval engagements that helped secure Guadalcanal for America.
Halsey’s strategy of pure aggression would get him into trouble in the later stages of the war, but the importance of his leadership at a critical phase of the War of the Pacific is undeniable. His ability to fire the fighting spirit, to boost morale in his command, was indispensable as the U.S. vied for control of the Pacific against the most implacable enemy it had every faced.
Imagine the U.S. building a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the middle of New York City. Or one of Nikita Khrushchev in Washington DC. As unlikely as its sounds for a mighty empire to build such a monument to a once-great, potentially vanquished foe, that’s how Ancient Rome used to roll. No matter what your high school history teacher told you, the Romans were not always the preeminent ancient group of ass-kickers history gives them credit for.
Mighty Carthage would field its greatest commander, Hannibal Barca, against Rome. He would turn out to be a leader so great even the Romans would build statues in his honor.
It didn’t end well for Carthage but Rome famously got its ass handed to it a few times.
Don’t get it twisted, Rome in its heyday did kick a lot of barbarian ass from Londinium to Mesopotamia and is worthy of its reputation. But before any of that, the young Roman Empire wasn’t even as big as modern-day Italy. In the Punic Wars, they chose the wrong empire to square off against. Carthage was much more powerful than tiny Rome, and its leadership was much better at fielding armies. One of those was Hannibal Barca, known to history simply as “Hannibal” (when you’re famous on the level of Cher, Madonna, or Jesus only one name is required).
Hannibal fought Rome from the start of the very first Punic War, but it was the Second Punic War where Hannibal was really unleashed. After crushing Roman allies in modern-day Spain, he left on his now-famous crossing of the Alps to hit Rome from behind, a move no one expected, least of all Rome. It was a move that shocked the ancient world and allowed Hannibal to plunder parts of northern Italy for almost a year. The following Spring, he crushed a Roman army at Cannae, killing or capturing some 70,000 men.
That face when you kill 70,000 Romans on their home turf.
For almost a decade, Hannibal and his army slogged around the Italian Peninsula, defeating the Romans and killing thousands in battles at Tarentum, Capua, Silarus, Herndonia, and Petelia. Tens of thousands of Romans died at the hands of Hannibal and his army, but time was not on his side. The Romans would not give in, and Carthage was losing ground elsewhere. Rome gained new allies and fresh troops, while Hannibal couldn’t take a Roman harbor. It ultimately doomed him. He would be recalled to Africa where he was defeated by the Romans at the Battle of Zama, his invincibility finally shattered.
Rome would never get its hands on its greatest enemy. Hannibal died after escaping from Roman soldiers, circumstances unknown. To this day, no one is sure where he escaped to or where his final resting place was. What they know is that for decades, Romans lived in fear that he might mount an army and return to exact revenge. When Rome was in its full glory days, and the threat of Hannibal’s return was diminished by time, the Romans built statues of the man in the streets, an advertisement that they were able to beat such a worthy adversary.
As World War II raged overseas, men and women responded to the call of duty in the fight for what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “four freedoms” – freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. By the time the United States entered the war, more than 2.5 million African American men had signed up for the draft. In a separate-but-not-equal military at the time, the irony was not lost as the fight for these freedoms continued at home.
“[T]he sky in the distance lit up with searchlights, tracers from ack-acks and the sound of bombs,” Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, a medic attached to the primarily African American 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, once wrote in testimony to Congress regarding what he witnessed on D-Day.
War raged in every corner of sky, sea, and land within sight as dawn broke on the morning of June 6, 1944. The 320th was the only African-American amphibious assault unit the U.S. First Army used in Normandy. According to Woodson, they were dispersed among various landing craft for protection of unit members.
“The military personnel on our landing craft looked in awe at the spectacle in the distance and wondered, ‘What next?'” he wrote. Woodson, along with several seamen and soldiers on a Landing Craft Tank, was part of the first wave heading toward Omaha Beach.
The water was choppy and the noise deafening. As the landing craft neared the French coastline, it hit a submerged mine, which took out the motors. Within minutes, it hit another mine and endured several German 88mm artillery shells. The Germans continued to rake the ship with machine gun fire and mortar shells, preventing any nearby ship from coming to the rescue, Woodson said.
One mortar shell landed on the steel deck of the craft and exploded. Before Woodson had a chance to move, shrapnel took out the soldier next to him and more shrapnel lodged into his own thigh. After another medic dressed his injury, Woodson tended to the wounded and dead onboard. Of the 34 service members on board Woodson’s craft, only 11 survived by the time the ship hit the beach.
“D-Day was the most emotional and dangerous day in my life,” Woodson wrote. “As a young soldier far from home … the assault units waited patiently to begin their mission… Everyone knew the first 23 hours would be critical to the course of the war.”
Once Woodson reached the beach, he tended to the wounded and consoled the frightened. He dressed wounds, administered pain medication, and conducted amputations for the next 30 hours. He later saved and resuscitated four drowning soldiers before collapsing from exhaustion and injury. Woodson spent three days recovering in a hospital ship and then asked to be taken back to the beach to continue working.
A note from the assistant director in the Office of War Information to a White House aide states Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross. This was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by the office of Gen. John C.H. Lee in Great Britain. At home, the press called him the “No. 1 Invasion Hero.”
Woodson never received the Distinguished Service Cross or Medal of Honor. After the war, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on D-Day.
Nearly one million African American service members served in World War II. In the segregated military, most African American service members were assigned to the Army for service- or combat-support roles. A small percentage held positions in combat arms.
Retired Cpl. William Dabney, now 93, is one of two surviving members of the 320th. In 1942, he was in his second year of high school when he enlisted in the Army – and only after convincing his great-aunt to sign a document granting him permission to serve. He soon found himself training to use hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, which had thin metal cables with bombs attached that would detonate if triggered by low-flying enemy planes.
On June 6, Dabney made his way to Omaha Beach with the first wave with a barrage balloon strapped to him.
“I was dodging bullets mostly,” said Dabney with a laugh. His mission was to protect the advancing soldiers. As Dabney approached Omaha Beach, his balloon caught fire from being hit by gunfire.
“It happened just as I hit the beach, so I couldn’t move,” said Dabney. “I wasn’t equipped to do anything else because that was my job. The only thing I could do then was unstrap the cables from myself and take cover under the dead bodies so I wouldn’t get shot.”
By the end of the day, the mission of the 320th had been accomplished successfully. Dabney was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. His proudest moment from that day: getting a hug and a kiss from First Lady Michelle Obama, who recognized him before he could introduce himself.
“Allowing my dad to share his experiences with others helps spread the information about the accomplishments and contributions of black men throughout history – specifically throughout World War II,” said Vinney, Dabney’s eldest son.
Segregation in the Armed Forces remained an official policy until 1948. The heroic actions of many African American service members went unacknowledged – due to their race – entire units, such as the 320th, were left unmentioned in history. While prejudice took a backseat during D-Day, the years ahead would see a different story, said Woodson.
Woodson spent the remainder of his career serving the medical community at then-Walter Reed Army Hospital and then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He spent 38 years working in clinical pathology at the National Institutes of Health before retiring. He passed away in 2005.
In 1997, after a study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated racial discrimination in awarding medals, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven African American World War II veterans. But to the dismay of family and friends who knew Woodson, he remained missing from the list.
Many of Woodson’s military records were lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri. With the help of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, his family has since started a petition to award him the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.
“Black History Month recognizes that there are lots of Black heroes largely uncelebrated because their stories aren’t being told,” said Dabney. “I’d like people to not just remember the 320th. I would like for all African Americans that were fighting in this war to be recognized. They did a job, too, and there was quite a few of us out there.”
There is supposedly a famous quote from Dwight Eisenhower about his “Four Tools for Victory” in World War II, but that quote has been hard to pin down exactly. Several variations exist that include six of the seven tools listed below. The M1 Garand also made the list because, as Gen. George Patton said, “the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
1. The Jeep
While the origins of the name “Jeep” may be up for debate, the rugged-dependable-go-anywhere nature of the Jeep is not.
The Jeep – quite literally – became the workhorse of the American military as it replaced horses in everything from cavalry units to supply trains. Field-expedient improvements made the Jeep capable of just about any mission the GI’s could dream up for it.
Jeeps were so ubiquitous in the European theatre that the Germans thought each American was issued their own. Famed sports car designer Enzo Ferrari described the Jeep as “America’s only real sports car.”
Without the Jeep’s rugged dependability and offensive capabilities, winning the war would have been much more difficult for the Allies.
2. The C-47
While American bombers surely wrought havoc on the Axis powers, it is the C-47, the beloved “Gooney Bird,” that is always cited as a Tool for Victory.
This probably has to do with the fact that the C-47’s flew everywhere and did everything.
C-47’s kept the Allies supplied by flying “the Hump” over the Himalayas, they evacuated wounded soldiers from near the front lines, and they flew over occupied territory to drop Allied paratroopers behind enemy lines.
3. The Bazooka
The Bazooka, or official Rocket Launcher, M1, was a man-portable, recoilless, anti-tank weapon.
Not only did the Bazooka pack more punch than any other man-portable weapon, it was also versatile. With the development of different warheads, the Bazooka could be an anti-tank weapon, a bunker buster, or an anti-personnel weapon. One inspired pilot even attached them to his scout plane to fight German tanks.
The Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), or simply the Higgins Boat, is easily one of the most important tools on this list.
“Higgins is the man who won the war for us,” Eisenhower said. If it hadn’t been for his boats, “the whole strategy of the war would have been different.” The boat’s shallow draft and full-size ramp allowed it to carry 36 fully loaded infantrymen, a Jeep, and a squad, or up to 8,000 pounds of cargo directly onto the beaches under assault.
It could then quickly turn around and repeat the procedure as necessary. The LCVP was at every single American amphibious assault throughout the war.
5. The Sherman Tank
The M4 Sherman tank was far from the best tank fielded in World War II. In fact, it was often outmatched by the much stronger German tanks. But the Sherman had a few things that made it such a formidable weapon.
The simplicity of production of the Sherman, and the lack of destruction of American factories, combined with a strong repair and refit program, meant there were always plenty of Shermans. This translated on the battlefield into numerical superiority, which allowed the Allies to simply overwhelm German armored units that had little means of replenishment.
Continuous improvements throughout its service life also continued to make the Sherman a formidable foe for enemy tanks.
6. The M1 Garand
It is well known how Patton felt about the M1 Garand, but what else was it about the rifle that made it a Tool for Victory?
For one, while most of the world’s armies were still using bolt-action rifles, the M1 could deliver eight rounds of .30-06 as fast as a man could pull the trigger. This gave the American rifleman a serious advantage over his foes.
The weapon was also extremely accurate, rugged, and dependable. The M1 was so effective, in fact, that it significantly changed infantry tactics. The M1 rifle saw heavy combat on all fronts and was a vital tool for the American infantry in winning the war.
7. The Atomic Bomb
The incredible destructive power of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was undeniable.
With just two missions over Japan, the Allies were able to secure the unconditional surrender of the Japanese. This ended World War II.
But there was more to it than just victory. The atomic bombs ending the war meant countless American lives saved from not having to invade Japan. The United States anticipated some 500,000 casualties from the invasion that never came and created Purple Heart medals accordingly.
Thanks to the atomic bombs, those medals have supplied U.S. forces ever since.
Nothing about America’s northern neighbor was ever sympathetic to the Nazis. Or any fascist regime. Canada declared war on Japan the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. didn’t even declare war until the day after.
And yet, in a suburb of Toronto, on the shores of Lake Ontario, there sits a stone cenotaph inside St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery, commemorating the soldiers of the Nazi 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS who died during World War II.
For those unfamiliar with the armed forces of Nazi Germany, the Schutzstaffel (SS for short) were the Nazi Party’s enforcement brigades. They were committed to policing the German population (and other populations, eventually), a secret police enforcing German law and Nazi racial purity laws. Some SS units were used in the notorious extermination camps across Europe.
The Waffen-SS were a series of armed combat units, dedicated to the Nazis, and not necessarily Germany. The ranks of the Waffen-SS weren’t only filled with Germans, however. After the launch of Operation Barbarossa, Waffen-SS units found volunteers and draftees from all over occupied Europe, mostly used to fight the Red Army on the Eastern Front. As many as a third of the Waffen-SS was made up of conscripts.
At the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was found guilty of numerous war crimes, including crimes against humanity, the deportation of Jews, massacres at Oradour and Lidice, guarding and administration of concentration camps, killing of prisoners of war, among many others. So how the hell did a memorial to the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS end up in Toronto?
It’s no mistake. The memorial clearly contains the crest of the 14th Waffen-SS. It’s not even the only memorial to the SS in Canada. But the unit memorialized in St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery was made up of many Ukrainians who suffered under the famines that resulted from the Soviet Union’s agricultural policies. According to Canada’s Ottawa Citizen, many Ukrainian immigrants consider the Ukrainians who fought against the Soviets to be heroes. Canada lost an estimated 45,000 men fighting Nazi Germany in Europe.
Many Ukrainians also argue against the accusations the Ukrainian members of the SS participated in wartime atrocities at all. Those that did, they argue, were under the command of the Nazi Party, and weren’t acting as Ukrainians – except the unit received a visit from Henrich Himmler himself.
The memorial came under fire in 2020 after it was vandalized, the vandals calling the monument out for glorifying Nazi war criminals. The existence of the memorial came to the world’s attention after the Russian government tweeted about them.
Remember that awesome scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where the paratroopers and Rangers make bombs out of their socks, stick them to tanks, and blow the treads off?
Well, the British and Germans actually had devices that did that, and no one had to take his socks off. Americans would have had to improvise to create the same effect, but there’s little sign that they did this regularly since even the best sticky bombs had some serious drawbacks.
The British had one of the first sticky bombs, the Number 74 Mk. 2. It was developed thanks to the efforts of British Maj. Millis Jefferis and a number of civilian collaborators. Their goal was to create a device which would help British infantry fight German tanks after most of the British Army’s anti-tank guns were lost at the evacuation of Dunkirk.
The glass broke when the bomb hit the tank and deformed against the surface, allowing enough of the sticky fabric to attach for it to stay on the armor. When the handle was released, a five-second fuse would countdown to the detonation.
Obviously, getting within throwing and sticking distance of a tank is dangerous work. And, while the bomb was sent to the infantry in a case that prevented it from sticking to anything, it had to be thrown with the case removed. At times, this resulted in the bomb getting stuck to the thrower, killing them.
The Germans had their own design that used magnets instead of an adhesive, making them safer for the user. It also featured a shaped charge that allowed more of the explosive power to penetrate the armor.
But the German version featured the same major drawback that the British one did, the need for the infantryman to get within sticking distance of the tank.
Javelins and TOW missiles may be heavy, but they’re probably the better choice than running with bombs.
Born in Wellington, New Zealand on August 30, 1912, Captain Nancy Wake, Resistance leader and Special Operations Executive agent, wasn’t joking when she talked about her lack of fear. Wake was one of New Zealand’s most highly decorated soldiers with 12 decorations from the United States, the UK, France, the British Commonwealth, Australia, and New Zealand. Her many awards included France’s Legion D’Honneur and Croix de Guerre; Britain’s George Medal; and the U.S. Medal of Freedom.
In the process, Wake became one of the Gestapo’s most wanted enemies. They nicknamed her the White Mouse, put a five million franc price on her head, and still they couldn’t find her.
But she could–and did–find them, usually with lethal effect. A fellow resister later described her as “the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts. Then she is like five men.”
Wake was ready to dedicate her life to fighting against the Nazis even before World War II began. A visit to Berlin and Vienna in 1935 allowed her to witness Nazi persecution and anti-Semitism first-hand. She resolved that, if ever the opportunity arose, she would do all she could to fight it. Later that same year, she married French industrialist Henri Fiocca, who would join the Resistance with her in 1940. In the meantime, the couple set up home in Paris.
The fall of France was the beginning of her remarkable career, the chance to honor her pledge to fight Nazism by any means open to her. Between 1940 and 1943, Wake and Fiocca helped organize escape routes for Allied servicemen and Jewish refugees trying to flee the German occupation. They were remarkably successful, a success that began attracting increasing suspicion from the Gestapo.
Until 1943, it went as well as could be expected. But things were about to take a tragic turn. Wake and Fiocca knew full well they were under suspicion and that the dreaded Gestapo would show no mercy if they were caught. That year, Wake became the Gestapo’s most wanted person–and the five million franc price was placed on her head.
Wake, who fled across the Pyrenees into neutral Spain and then England, wasn’t caught. Fiocca, who stayed in France to continue his Resistance work there, was. It wasn’t until after the liberation of France that Wake discovered what had happened to her beloved husband. Henri Fiocca had been tortured to death by the Gestapo, refusing to the last breath to give up his wife’s location.
In England, Wake immediately volunteered for SOE’s French Section run by Maurice Buckmaster and Vera Atkins. Buckmaster and Atkins immediately saw her potential and her willingness to undertake the most hazardous missions. In March 1944, Wake parachuted into France’s Auvergne region to help organize resistance fighters. Her main role was to arrange reliable communications between the local resisters and SOE headquarters in London as part of the preparations for D-Day. She was also tasked with arranging the arrival of more agents and airdrops delivering vital supplies, weapons, and ammunition. Without the airdrops, the resistance would simply have ground to a halt.
Wake set to work with typical gusto, eventually coordinating the activities of roughly 7,500 resisters in the Auvergne. She was also rigid about doing her share of the fighting. She ordered the killing of a French collaborator and even killed a SS soldier with her bare hands. As Wake later described it, “They’d taught this Judo-chop stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE and I practiced away at it. But this was the only time I ever used it–whack–and it killed him all right…”
Other exploits included joining an assault on the local Gestapo headquarters at Montluçon during which 38 German soldiers and Gestapo officers were killed. But one exploit in particular stuck in her mind. During a Gestapo raid her radio operator had destroyed the vital codes used for messages between France and London. Without the codes the radio link was severed. To re-establish communications, Wake travelled some 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) in 71 hours by bicycle, going through several enemy checkpoints and roadblocks to return with the vital codes.
(The Gibson Group photo)
With new codes the vital radio link was saved just in time for the Normandy landings. Wake and her 7,500 resisters fought using any weapons and methods available to them. In the process they did damage out of all proportion to their numbers. At one point the Germans sent 22,000 troops to destroy the White Mouse and her Maquisards. Wake’s response was characteristically devastating, her troops inflicting some 1,400 casualties while losing only 100 resisters, a 14:1 casualty rate.
With the war’s end, Wake found life somewhat dull. She moved to Australia, spending a few years in politics. Although she remarried in 1957, Wake still referred to her first husband, Henri Fiocca, as the love of her life. In 1985, Wake wrote her memoir The White Mouse, titled after her wartime nickname. When husband John Forward died in 1997 she sold her medals to live on the proceeds and returned to London in 2001. She spent the remainder of her life in England, moving into the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Servicemen and Women in 2003.
Captain Nancy Wake died in August 2011 at the age of 98. At her request, her ashes were scattered in 2013 in her beloved France, in the village of Verneix. Verneix is near Montluçon, the site of her assault on the Gestapo headquarters beside the Resistance. To this day, Nancy Wake is remembered as one of the SOE’s most remarkable agents.
Audie Murphy was an American actor known for his Western films. However, his initial claim to fame came from being the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II. He was born in 1925 in a small Texas town to poor sharecroppers. Murphy joined the Army in 1942 after falsifying his birth certificate to ensure he could enlist before he was eligible.
During WWII, Murphy was credited with killing 240 members of enemy forces and capturing or wounding many others. In his three years of active service, he became a legend among the 3rd Infantry Division, and is considered one of the best fighting combat soldiers of this or any other century. The U.S. Army has declared that there will never be another Audie Murphy. That is most likely the case too, with modern day technology and modern warfare, it is unlikely any soldier will ever live up to the legend of Audie Murphy.
Murphy became the most decorated soldier of WWII by earning 33 awards and decorations. He was awarded every decoration for valor the United States offers, some more than once. These awards included the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to an individual. His awards from the war also included five decorations from France and Belgium.
Audie Murphy was released from active duty on September 21, 1945. After his release, he went to Hollywood at the invitation of actor James Cagney who had seen his picture on the cover of Life Magazine. After years of hardship, struggle to find work and sleeping in a local gymnasium, Murphy finally received token roles in his first two films.
Murphy’s first starring role came in 1949. In 1950, he received a contract with Universal-International (now known as Universal). He starred in 26 films over the next 15 years, 23 of which were Westerns. Murphy also filmed 26 episodes of a Western television series which went to air on NBC in 1961. Despite good reviews, Murphy’s series was deemed too violent. Only 20 episodes were aired before it was cancelled.
Audie Murphy suffered from what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He was plagued for years by insomnia and depression. By the mid-1960s, Murphy became dependent on a prescribed sleeping medication, Placidyl. When he realized he had become addicted to the medication, he locked himself inside of a motel room, stopped taking the pills and suffered through the withdrawal symptoms for a week.
Murphy used his fame to help advocate for the needs of U.S. veterans. Unlike most during that time, he chose to speak out about his experiences and struggles with PTSD, known as “Battle Fatigue” at the time. He called out the U.S. government to look closer at and study the emotional impacts of war and urged them to extend health benefits to address PTSD and other mental health issues of returning war veterans.
On May 28, 1971, while on a business trip, Audie Murphy’s plane crashed just outside of Roanoke, Virginia. He and five others, including the pilot, were killed in the crash. Murphy was 45 at the time of his death.
On June 7, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His gravesite, which is near the amphitheater, is the second most visited grave at Arlington, surpassed only by John F. Kennedy’s grave.
Audie Murphy remains a legend among the members of the U.S. Army. While he was well known for his work as an actor in Hollywood, his memory will live on as a true American hero.
In September, 2013, four masked men entered the Westgate Shopping Mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. In the terrorist attack that ensued, 71 people died, including 62 civilians, five Kenyan troops, and the shooters themselves. More than 200 others were wounded in the attack, which included the collapse of a significant part of the building after a three-day siege. Caught in the attack were oil workers from an international firm who stopped for lunch.
The oil company’s staff were in a second-floor sushi restaurant when their security personnel back at the office learned of what was originally reported as a robbery. Given their background, the two men (their names were never given) immediately identified it as more – it had to be a terrorist attack. They were right. That day, four militants from the Somali terror group, al-Shabaab, infiltrated their way into Kenya and into the mall carrying assault rifles and grenades. The two men headed over to the mall to rescue their embattled comrades.
In their first efforts to get into mall via basement delivery ramp in the parking garage, they ran into a hail of bullets and were forced to double back. On their way back, they ran into 100 people cowering behind an armored car. They rallied the civilians and helped guide them to the safety of the main road in front of the mall. As they exited, they could see bloody hands waving for help as shots were fired on the roof of the car park. The hand disappeared into a mall coffee shop. The SAS veteran enlisted two Kenyan plainclothes policemen and two Kenyan policemen with assault rifles to help them attack the fire escape.
When the six men arrived at the coffee shop, they found 20 dead and 100 more sheltered in place. As one of the officers watched the stairs, the men persuaded the others to climb down the fire escape. There was a “bloodbath” in the adjacent car park rooftop. As the civilians went down the fire escape, the 18-year SAS veteran and the Irish Ranger split up. The SAS operator went out onto the rooftop as the Ranger continued on toward the sushi restaurant where his charges were held.
The SAS paired injured people with the uninjured to hasten their retreat and covered the bodies of the dead. Meanwhile, the Ranger had come under fire from the militants, and his two Kenyan policemen returned fire. He bolted toward the restaurant, where he found the oil company staff hiding in a storeroom, then convinced them to race back to the coffee shop while the policemen held the terrorists at bay. The two men reconnected in the cargo area, hustling the oil company’s staff into a company car. With their charges safe, they pleaded for the Kenyan police to assault the car park, but were rebuffed. The police were waiting on a SWAT team and would not advance without them.
The Brit and the Irishman couldn’t wait. With the help of a uniformed Kenyan soldier and a Sikh civilian who had already escaped the mall, they went back into the fray. They found a Red Cross ambulance that was struggling to remove the dead and wounded people from the roof of the car park. The men worked for an hour with the emergency medical personnel before doctors could arrive. They were about to leave when they got a text from another friend inside the mall.
They went in to retrieve him, too. The three remaining men exited via the trusted route of the fire escape just three hours after the terror attack began. The men rescued all of their personnel and friends, along with hundreds of trapped civilians, aided in the triage of the wounded, and exited the danger zone without any injury to themselves. By the time they left the mall, the police had still not cordoned off the local area. The siege of the mall would last almost two more full days.
It’s African-American History Month and a fitting time to recall the black soldiers of the New York National Guard’s 15th Infantry Regiment, who never got a parade when they left for World War I in 1917.
There were New York City parades for the Guardsmen of the 27th Division and the 42nd Division and the draftee soldiers of the 77th Division.
But when the commander of the 15th Infantry asked to march with the 42nd — nicknamed the Rainbow Division — he was reportedly told that “black is not a color of the rainbow” as part of the no.
Children wait to cheer the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment as they parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home. More than 2,000 Soldiers took part in the parade up Fifth Avenue. The Soldiers marched seven miles from downtown Manhattan to Harlem.
But on Feb. 17, 1919, when those 2,900 soldiers came home as the “Harlem Hell Fighters” of the 369th Infantry Regiment, New York City residents, both white and black, packed the streets as they paraded up Fifth Avenue.
“Fifth Avenue Cheers Negro Veterans,” said the headline in the New York Times.
“Men of 369th back from fields of valor acclaimed by thousands. Fine show of discipline. Harlem mad with joy over the return of its own. ‘Black Death hailed as conquering hero'” headlines announced, descending the newspaper column, in the style of the day.
“Hayward leads heroic 369th in triumphal march,” the New York Sun wrote.
“Throngs pay tribute to the Heroic 15th,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.
“Theirs is the finest of records,” the New York Tribune wrote in its coverage of the parade. “The entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Under fire for 191 days they never lost a prisoner or a foot of ground.”
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
For that day, the soldiers the French had nicknamed “Men of Bronze” were finally heroes in their hometown.
In the early 20th Century, black Americans could not join the New York National Guard. While there were African-American regiments in the Army there were none in the New York National Guard.
In 1916, New York Gov. Charles S. Whitman authorized the creation of the 15th New York Infantry to be manned by African-Americans — with white officers — and headquartered in Harlem where 50,000 of the 60,000 black residents of Manhattan lived in 1910.
When the New York National Guard went to war in 1917, so did the 15th New York. But when the unit showed up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to train, the soldiers met discrimination at every turn.
New York City residents cram the sidewalks, roofs, and fire escape to see the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
To get his men out of South Carolina, Col. William Hayward, the commander, pushed for his unit to go to France as soon as possible. So in December 1917, well before most American soldiers, the men from Harlem arrived in France.
At first they served unloading supply ships.
But the French Army needed soldiers and the U.S. Army was ambivalent about black troops. So the 15th New York, now renamed the 369th Infantry, was sent to fight under French command, solving a problem for both armies.
In March 1918, the 369th was in combat. And while the American commander, Gen. John J. Pershing, restricted press reports on soldiers and units under his command, the French Army did not.
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
When Pvt. Henry Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts won the French Croix de Guerre for fighting off a German patrol it was big news in the United States. A country hungry for war news and American heroes discovered the 369th.
The 369th was in combat for 191 days; never losing a position, never losing a man as a prisoner, and only failing once to gain an objective. Their unit band, led by famed bandleader James Europe, became famous across France for playing jazz music.
When the 369th arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Feb. 10, 1919, the New York City Mayor’s Committee of Welcome to the Homecoming Troops began planning the party.
On Monday, Feb. 17, the soldiers traveled by ferry from Long Island and landed at East 34th Street.
Sgt. Henry Johnson waves to well-wishers during the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
They marched up Fifth Avenue and passed a reviewing stand that included Gov. Al Smith and Mayor John Hylan at Sixtieth Street. The official parade route would cover more than seven miles from 23rd Street to 145th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem.
“The negro soldiers were astonished at the hundreds of thousands who turned out to see them and New Yorkers, in their turn, were mightily impressed by the magnificent appearance of these fighting men,” the New York times reported.
“Swinging up the avenue, keeping a step spring with the swagger of men proud of themselves and their organization, their rows of bayonets glancing in the sun, dull-painted steel basins on their heads, they made a spectacle that might justify pity for the Germans and explain why the boches gave them the title of the “Blutdurstig schwartze manner” or “Bloodthirsty Black men,” the Times reporter wrote.
Wounded Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment are driven up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
Lt. James Reese Europe marched with his band, the New York Tribune noted, while Sgt. Henry Johnson, who had killed four Germans and chased away 24 others, rode in a car because he had a “silver plate in his foot as a relic of that memorable occasion.”
“He stood up in the car and clutched a great bouquet of lilies an admirer had handed him,” the Tribune wrote about Johnson. “Waving this offering in one hand and his overseas hat in the other, the ebony hero’s way up Fifth Avenue was a veritable triumph.”
“Shouts of ‘Oh you Henry Johnson’ and ‘Oh you Black Death,’ resounded every few feet for seven long miles followed by condolences for the Kaiser’s men,” the New York Times reported.
Along the route of the march soldiers were tossed candy and cigarettes and flowers, the newspapers noted. Millionaire Henry Frick stood on the steps of his Fifth Avenue mansion and waved an American flag and cheered as the men marched past.
When the 369th turned off Fifth Avenue onto Lennox Avenue for the march into Harlem the welcome grew even louder, the New York Sun reported.
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
“There were roars of welcome that made all the music of the day shrink into itself,” the Sun reporter wrote. And although the 369th Band had 100 musicians nobody could hear the music above the crowd noise, the reporter added.
People crammed themselves onto the sidewalk and into the windows of the buildings along the route to see their soldiers come home.
“Thousands and thousands of rattlesnakes, the emblem of the 369th, each snake coiled, ready to strike, appeared everywhere, in buttonholes, in shop windows and on banners carried by the crowd,” the New York Times reported.
“By the time the men reached 135th Street they were decorated with flowers like brides, husky black doughboys plunking along with bouquets under their arms and grins on their faces that one could see to read by,” the Sun reported.
At 145th Street the parade came to its end and families went looking for their soldiers.
“The fathers and mothers and wives and sweethearts of the men would no longer be denied and they swooped through police lines like water through a sieve,” the Sun wrote.
“The soldiers were too well trained to break ranks but when a mother spied her son and threw her arms around his neck with joy at getting him back again, he just hugged her off her feet,” the paper wrote.
The color guard of the 369th Infantry Regiment parades up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
With the parade over, the men were guided into subway cars and headed to the Park Avenue Amory, home of the 71st Regiment, for a chicken dinner and more socializing. The regimental band, which had begun playing at 6 a.m. and performed all day, finally got a break during the dinner and the men lay down to rest.
The New York Times noted that the band boasted five kettle drums presented to the unit by the French Army “as a mark of esteem.” They also had a drum captured from a German unit that had been “driven back so rapidly that they lost interest in bulky impedimentia.”
The New York Times estimated that 10,000 people waited outside the armory and “all the spaces about the Armory were packed with negro women and girls.” The soldiers inside ate quickly and came back out to find their families.
“I saw the allied parade in Paris and thought that was about the biggest thing that had ever happened, but this had it stopped,” Lt. James Reese Europe, the band’s commander, told the New York Sun reporter as the party ran down.
Maj. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, wearing the Medal of Honor he earned in the Civil War.
Arthur MacArthur joined the Union Army soon after the start of the Civil War at the tender age of 16, but he was popular with the other men and the command and was promoted to first lieutenant in Wisconsin’s 24th Infantry Regiment the following year.
The 24th was involved in a series of tough scrapes. It marched into Kentucky in September 1862 in pursuit of the forces of Gen. Braxton Bragg. The 24th fought alongside other Union forces at Chaplin Hills, Stones River, Chickamauga Creek, and others. The 24th performed well in most of these battles, hitting hard when ordered and reportedly staying organized even when the tide turned suddenly against them.
But the regiment’s order on the battlefield should not be misread as the product of great leadership. The men reportedly performed well, but officers resigned fairly regularly.
Just at the senior ranks, the regiment suffered a resignation of its lieutenant colonel and acting commander in December 1862. A major took over until the colonel could return. That major was promoted to lieutenant colonel, but then he resigned in March 1863, and so a lieutenant was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Then the commander resigned in August 1863, and so the lieutenant colonel took over the regiment.
And that’s just the officers that gave way under the pressure. They also lost a brigade commander to enemy fire in September 1863 on the same day that the regimental commander, that lieutenant turned lieutenant colonel who had just taken over, was paralyzed by shrapnel and captured.
So the regiment’s men were used to chaotic situations, even in their own chain of command, is what we’re getting at. They performed well and earned praise wherever they fought, even when other units were breaking around them, even when their own leadership was going through high turnover, even when they were exhausted and dehydrated, like they were at Chickamauga Creek.
The regiment wasn’t always flashy, but they were seemingly steady. So it might not come as a huge surprise that, when the orders and leadership at the Battle of Missionary Ridge went wobbly, the 24th just kept doing the best job it could.
Soldiers with Wisconsin’s 2nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment in 1861.
(WisconsinHistory.org, public domain)
Our hero, First Lt. Arthur MacArthur, was the 18-year-old adjutant at this point. And the entire regiment was pointed at the Confederate defenses on Missionary Ridge. The rebels had been attacking Union forces from this ridge since the Union defeat at Chickamauga Creek, and Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant needed to clear it for his future plans in the faltering Chattanooga Campaign.
Grant’s first major assaults on Missionary Ridge, launched by his stalwart companion Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, failed. A second failure would force the Union Army to retreat back to Chattanooga and face a siege. A victory would cement control of Tennessee and open Georgia to invasion. The 24th Wisconsin Infantry was placed near the center of the line for this important attack on Nov. 25, 1863.
The Union advance at the center went well at the start, with regiments up and down the line breaking the Confederate defenders and taking the pits. In some cases, confused Confederates believed they were supposed to give up the pits, and so they retreated with little fight.
So the pits were taken relatively easily, but then the attack stalled as the confused commanders simply manned the pits and waited. Meanwhile, the 24th and some other regiments understood that they were supposed to take the ridge, and they advanced forward with gaps in the line. The Union advance nearly failed because of simple confusion about orders.
It was during this assault that the color bearer was hit by Confederate fire and either killed or wounded (accounts differ). In the Civil War, absent colors could quickly break a unit’s assault as the men became either confused about what direction they were supposed to be going or afraid that the leading ranks had been completely destroyed and the fight was lost. MacArthur stepped forward to get the colors back up.
Despite heavy Confederate fire, he grabbed the colors and rushed forward yelling, “On Wisconsin!” as he did so. Confederate soldiers, trying to prevent the rush, aimed for him and wounded him at least twice as he charged, but they failed to stop him.
By day’s end, the 24th was camped 2.5 miles past the ridge they had fought so hard to take. The way into Georgia was open, and the 24th would take part in the advance to Atlanta.
MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to major, soon taking command of the 24th amid the constant leadership churn of that unit. He was dubbed the “Boy Colonel” for being an 18-year-old in temporary command of a regiment, but he continued to prove his worth, leading his men to more victories and nearly dying at the head of their advance during the Battle of Franklin.