The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

One day in 1765, a 5-year-old boy wearing fine clothes and speaking no English was found on the docks of City Point, Virginia. No one knew where he came from, where his parents were, or even how old he was at the time. All they knew was that he kept repeating the name “Pedro Francisco.” So that’s what they called him, eventually anglicizing the name to Peter.

His past didn’t matter to history, but his future did. When the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain more than a decade later, he would be part of it and become known to history as America’s first one-man army. 

The nickname of “Hercules” would come much later, when the boy grew into a man. When the average size of an American colonist was around 5’6”, Peter Francisco stood a whopping 6’6” and 230 pounds – large even by today’s standards. A blacksmith by trade, he was a member of the 10th Virginia Infantry when the American Revolution broke out and subsequently became a member of the Continental Army.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
A miniature portrait of American Revolutionary War hero Peter Francisco. (Image courtesy of Virginia Historical Society, Public Domain)

His fighting ability would prove crucial to winning some of the most pivotal battles of the war, and perhaps the Revolution itself.

Francisco was just 17 when he enlisted, and saw action at the September 1777 Battle of Brandywine, where the Americans were attempting to halt the British advance on Philadelphia. Washington was a master of strategic withdrawal, and at Brandywine, it became crucial. The British outflanked the Americans. Washington needed time to escape.

Luckily for the famous general, Peter Francisco’s unit was fighting to hold the 12,500-man British assault. He and the rest of the Continentals were able to hold the line for a full 45 minutes, giving Washington’s army plenty of time to escape. Francisco was wounded in the leg, but he learned he had a real talent for killing Redcoats. 

By October, he was back in the fighting, once again keeping the British from advancing on Philadelphia. This time, he fought at Germantown, a battle that very nearly saw an American victory. His strength and prowess on the battlefield became the stuff of legend among his fellow soldiers. 

Along with the rest of the Continental Army, Peter Francisco wound up at Valley Forge. There, the army learned to fight from one of the best military minds of the day, Baron von Steuben. He taught the Americans not just how to march, but how to fight with the bayonet. 

This would serve Francisco and the Continentals well at the upcoming Battle of Stony Point, where a silent, night time assault on the fortress there began and ended with Francisco leading an advance force of 20 men to mercilessly hack the British and expel them from the area. But Peter Francisco was allegedly not using a bayonet.

According to a legend, which has never been confirmed by historians, Gen. Washington presented Francisco with a six-foot broadsword to honor his skill in battle. Some say this was the weapon he used to slash through the British at Stony Point. 

As the second man over the wall at Stony Point and being a man of his size, his legend grew among the soldiers of the American army. But his enlistment was up and he returned home to Virginia. Unfortunately for the British, they started attacking the Southern Colonies, which Peter Francisco took personally.

He rejoined the Continental Army, this time marching to Camden, South Carolina under Gen. Horatio Gates. The result of the battle was a humiliating defeat, but Francisco was able to salvage some of his commanding officer’s dignity. He impaled an British cavalryman with a bayonet and picked the man up off his horse. He then mounted it and put his colonel on it, saving the officer’s life. 

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
For such a massive man, he looks surprisingly unintimidating. That probably wouldn’t be the case if you were standing next to him and his massive broadsword. (YouTube)

Another, maybe mythical story has the big man picking up an American cannon from the field so it wouldn’t be captured by the British. Even if it didn’t really happen, it could have, and that’s all that matters. 

Francisco’s next interaction with the British Army came under Gen. Nathaniel Greene at Guilford Courthouse. This is another battle where Francisco is supposed to have received the broadsword from General Washington. Whether he had it or not, he and the Americans killed so many of Lord Cornwallis’ regulars that the British victory became a pyrrhic one. Cornwallis wrote that the Americans fought like demons there. 

The next time Peter Francisco encountered Lord Cornwallis’ men was when the British surrendered to the Americans and French at Yorktown in Virginia, effectively ending the war with an American victory. 

It was Gen. George Washington who did really say that, “Without him we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the War, and with it our freedom. He was truly a One-Man Army.”

Articles

“Band of Brothers” veteran Ed Tipper dies

Ed Tipper, a member of the famous D-Day-era “Easy Company,” died at his home in Lakewood, Colorado, Feb. 1.


He was 95.

According to a report by the Denver Post, the former paratrooper with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, spent over 30 years as a teacher before retiring in 1979. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other decorations, for his service in World War II.

The Daily Caller noted that Tipper suffered severe wounds during the Battle of Carentan, including the loss of his right eye, when a German mortar shell hit while he was clearing a house. The opening credits of the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” shows Tipper, played by Bart Raspoli, being comforted by Joe Liebgott, played by Ross McCall, in the aftermath of that hit.

“So much of what people talk about with him is what he did in the war. That was two years and really six days starting on D-Day,” his daughter, Kerry Tipper, told the newspaper. “Teaching was 30 years.”

Most notable, though, is that despite the wounds, which included two broken legs, Tipper managed to carry on a very active life.

“He just refused to accept people’s limitations,” his daughter Kerry told the Denver Post. The newspaper reported that Tipper took a list of things doctors said he couldn’t do and made it a checklist. He was known to be an avid skier well into his 80s.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

His daughter also added that Tipper, like many in Easy Company, felt, “a little embarrassed that their group got attention, that theirs was spotlighted when there were so many other groups that did incredible things and made sacrifices.”

According to the Denver Post, Tipper is survived by a wife who he married in 1982, a daughter and a son-in-law. A public memorial service is scheduled for June 1.

Below, see the Battle of Carentan as portrayed in “Band of Brothers.” Ed Tipper is wounded at around 7:14 into the video:

MIGHTY HISTORY

The heroic four chaplains and the sinking of the USAT Dorchester

During World War II, a troop transport ship made from a converted luxury coastal liner was hit by a German torpedo on its starboard side in 1943, dooming the ship and many of the men aboard. Amid the chaos, four chaplains representing three Christian sects and the Jewish faith moved between the wounded and scared, comforting them, distributing survival gear, and ultimately sacrificing themselves.


The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

The USAT Dorchester.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

The USAT Dorchester had been converted from a luxury coastal liner during World War II and was sent on a cross-ocean journey carrying 902 crew, troops, and civilian personnel to Greenland. The ship had to cross through submarine-infested waters.

The passengers were under orders to sleep clothed and in life jackets in case of an attack, but while the upper decks and outer air were cold, large sections of the ship were hot from the engines that propelled the ship. Those housed on the lower decks typically slept in their underwear or just a shirt or pants. Across the ship, life jackets were unpopular off duty because they were uncomfortable.

But on February 3, 1943, 150 miles from Greenland, a German U-boat spotted the convoy which consisted of the Dorchester and two other transport ships as well as three Coast Guard cutter escorts. U-223 was on the hunt for Allied shipping, and troop transports were choice targets. The German vessel fired a spread of three torpedoes.

Two missed, but the third shoved through the hull and exploded in the boiler room.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

Coast Guard cutter Escanaba rescues Dorchester survivors

(U.S. Coast Guard image)

The ship lurched, knocking men from their beds. The electrical systems failed instantly, and the ship began filling with water. Throughout the ship’s dark passageways, disoriented men stumbled from racks and the ground, struggling to dress and get to the open deck in time.

Some men forgot to get dressed until they emerged into the frigid, open air.

In the middle of the fear and danger, four men emerged as a center of calm. Four chaplains were assigned to the ship. Army Lt. George L. Fox was Methodist, Lt. Alexander D. Goode was Jewish, Lt. John P. Washington was Catholic, and Lt. Clark V. Poling was a Dutch Reformed minister.

Two of the men had struggled to join the military. Goode was rejected by the Navy before joining the Army, and Washington had to cheat on his eye exam because a BB gun accident had robbed him of most of his sight in one eye.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

Lt. George Fox, a Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister, on the deck of the USAT Dorchester as it sinks.

(U.S. Army)

On the deck of the Dorchester, the men ministered to the scared and wounded. They helped organize the men up top, and Goode, the rabbi, gave his own gloves to Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, a sailor who had forgotten his belowdecks. Mahoney would later say that he believes Goode already knew he would stay on the ship.

The extensive damage to the hull and the boiler room ensured that the ship would sink quickly, so the men were rushing survivors off the ship as quickly as possible. The life jackets ran low, and all four chaplains gave their vests up to save others.

Back in the open, the chaplains ministered to the men as the ship sank into the waves only 20 minutes after the torpedo hit. Two Coast Guard cutters were scooping men out of the water and into lifeboats, but it wasn’t fast enough. The last survivors to escape the ship said that their last view of the chaplains was of them on deck, standing arm-in-arm, singing hymns and reciting religious passages to comfort both survivors and those who would drown with them.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

1948 stamp commemorating the four religious leaders.

(U.S. Air Force)

Approximately 672 men died, and 230 from the Dorchester survived the attack and sinking. The American public and Congress pushed for the men to receive Medals of Honor, but the medal requires that the heroic actions take place under enemy fire.

The chaplains were posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Crosses instead, and Congress later created a new, one-time medal named the Four Chaplain’s Medal that was awarded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his final days in office in January 1961, almost 18 years after the sinking of the Dorchester.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ was a horrifying WWI infantry charge

Just in time for Halloween, the horrifying tale of a Russian infantry charge gone bad. Listen, everyone knows the Russian infantry historically gets the worst of every war, but World War I was especially horrific for the Russians fighting Germany. For the Russians defending Osowiec Fortress, it was especially horrible.

Welcome to the age of poison gas. You know something was intense if Sabaton has a song about it.


In true, stupid World War I fashion, the German high command ordered a full-frontal assault on Osowiec Fortress, using 14 battalions of infantry, along with sappers, siege guns, and artillery. The Russians had roughly 900 men defending the fortification, with less than half of that being conscripted militiamen. Instead of the usual artillery pounding, the Germans decided to use poison gas on the fort, opting to use chlorine gas on the Russians.

Well, it turns out the gas and the water in the air, along with the water in the lungs of the Russian defenders didn’t just choke the Russians; it turned the chlorine into hydrochloric acid and began to dissolve the Russians from the inside out. Russians tried to stem the gas using wet rags, but they had no chemical defenses, and the skin on their faces soon began to melt as well.

Instead of just taking the assault, the beleaguered Russians decided to counter attack.

The 100 or so men who formed up to charge the Germans ran into 12 battalions of enemy troops, but kept on running anyway. What the Germans saw coming through the mists was the difference-maker. A horde of face-melting zombies charged through the darkness and slammed into an army of 7,000. The Germans panicked and bolted at the sight of the undead Russians.

German troops turned and ran from the horrifying scene so fast, they ran into their own booby traps and barbed wire. The bold, outnumbered counter-charge was short-lived, however. The fortress would have to be abandoned as other fortifications surrounding Osowiec were starting to fall, and the Russians would soon be trapped. They demolished the fort and fell back.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy ways MacArthur tried to get supplies to the Philippines

America’s defense of the Philippines from December 1941 to April 1942 was a desperate one. It was a time when the most powerful military leaders in the world, including America’s renowned General Douglas MacArthur,  scrambled to get basic food and ammunition to American, Filipino, and other forces gallantly holding out against what was the one of the world’s fiercest fighting forces, the Imperial forces of Japan.


The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
U.S. Army troops move up against Japanese Forces in March 1945, nearly three years after Japan conquered the Philippines.
(Army photo by Lt. Robert Fields)

 

For Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur and other military leaders tasked with preventing a complete collapse, the solution was clear: Run the blockade by any means available, including hiring smugglers and submarines, offering bonuses to civilian or Navy crews who successfully delivered supplies to the islands and survived.

The first Japanese attacks on the Philippines began just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with Japanese aircraft catching American interceptors on the ground between patrols. Japanese landing parties arrived hours later, and the Japanese march on Manila was underway.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
​Army air crews pilots and ground personnel pose in front of a P-40 pursuit aircraft in the Philippines in 1942, just before the islands were conquered by Japan.
(U.S. Army Air Corps)

American defenders outnumbered their Japanese attackers, but the Japanese forces were battle-hardened veterans from other theaters of the war while the American and Filipino forces included a lot of green troops, some of them recruited as recently as that fall.

With the Japanese fleet dominating the ocean around the islands and elite Japanese forces pushing the Americans back, it quickly became clear that American forces were fighting a delaying action. MacArthur, desperate to hold the ground and keep his men alive, pushed for immediate resupply.

One early proposal was that the Navy put together a task force of submarines to smuggle supplies, especially rations, in under the Japanese blockade. But the Navy resisted the plan, saying that their submarines were needed to keep pressure on the Japanese Navy, and that their naval clashes tied up large numbers of Japanese ships and planes that would otherwise be used against American forces ashore.

This argument carried the day at first, but as January arrived with no real resupply, the defenders were forced onto reduced rations. Worse, jungle diseases were taking an increasing toll on the Americans, especially those forced to fight in low-lying and jungle areas.

So, leaders, from colonels on the ground to Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, pushed for creative options with next to no regard for cost. Planes from other islands and Australia were sent to airdrop what supplies they could, but they were mostly limited to relatively light items, like medicine and bandages, with almost no capability for the heavy stuff, like rations and ammo.

MacArthur requested anti-aircraft ammunition via submarine, but was turned down. Marshall, meanwhile, dictated orders for ships and funds in Australia to be used to resupply the Philippines:

Use your funds without stint. Call for more if required. Colonel Chamberlin has a credit of ten million dollars of Chief of Staff’s fund which can be spent in whatever manner latter deems advisable. I direct its use for this purpose. Arrange for advance payments, partial payments for unsuccessful efforts, and large bonus for actual delivery. Your judgement must get results. Organize groups of bold and resourceful men, dispatch them with funds by planes to islands in possession of our associates, there to buy food and charter vessels for service. Rewards for actual delivery Bataan or Corregidor must be fixed at level to insure utmost energy and daring on part of masters. At same time dispatch blockade runners from Australia with standard rations and small amounts of ammunition on each. Movement must be made on broad front over many routes. . . . Only indomitable determination and pertinacity will succeed and success must be ours. Risks will be great. Rewards must be proportional. Report initiation of plan

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
​The USS Narwhal, one of the submarines eventually pressed into service to deliver supplies to beleaguered American forces in the Philippines.
(U.S. Navy)

But the blockade runners also had issues getting through, and precious few were even sent. Eventually, the need to remove MacArthur, by order or President Frankiln D. Roosevelt, as well as precious metals and Filipino officials before Japan could capture them necessitated the use of submarines for evacuation.

So, the armed forces went ahead and put food and bullets on the submarines for the way in. A few more submarines were loaded with supplies in late winter and early spring, including three from Hawaii, but few were able to find their dropoff point and get fully unloaded before Japanese forces either captured their destination or preemptively forced the their withdrawal.

After all, submarines aren’t made to be rapidly unloaded, especially outside of normal port facilities. And the supplies typically had to be stored in ballast tanks, increasing the challenge.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in 1944.

(U.S. Army)
Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in 1944.
(U.S. Army)

So, by March, some units were on quarter or starvation rations, and Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to evacuate himself and his family. MacArthur still believed that sufficiently determined commanders could run the blockade, and he effected his escape in in a patrol torpedo boat.

But, despite aerial, surface, and submarine attempts at resupply over the following month, adequate supplies just couldn’t make it through to the men. Finally, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright IV, acting commander of all Allied forces in the Philippines, was forced to surrender the garrison. Before he did so, he put large sections of his command back under the direct control of MacArthur so that they wouldn’t be included in the surrender.

Still, Japan took over 60,000 prisoners, and forced most of them on the Bataan Death March where over 10,000 died on their way to prison camps. American and Filipino forces that were not part of the surrender fought on for the duration of the war, celebrating MacArthur and conventional forces’ return to the islands in October, 1944.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force jet landed itself after the pilot ejected

In early 1970, Air Force Maj. Gary Foust took off in his Convair F-106 Delta Dart — nicknamed “Cornfield Bomber” — for a flight exercise with two fellow pilots, Majs. Jim Lowe, and Tom Curtis.


Flying north of Boston, Foust was at about 40,000 feet with Curtis, serving as his opponent positioned at a lower altitude ready to engage.

Related: These are the jets that the last man to walk the moon flew

After the pair met, they maneuvered into a vertical scissor, followed by other aerial dogfight maneuvers when things took a turn for the worse as Foust found himself in a left-hand turn flat spin.

For several moments, Foust remained in the deadly spin as he attempted to recover using his training and emergency procedures but was unsuccessful in pulling out of the dive. Lowe instructed his wingman to eject which he did 8,000 feet above the ground.

After the ejection, the Delta Dart nose dived recovering itself from the flat spin and landed a few miles away in a wheat field next to a small town named Big Sandy. The jet skidded a few hundred yards in 6 inches of snow while in idle until running out of fuel as Foust parachuted to the ground safely.

With no major structural damage, the aircraft was transported to McClellan Air Force Base to receive repairs and returned to service. Nine years after the incident, Foust was reassigned to pilot the “Cornfield Bomber” once again.

The Convair F-106 Delta Dart now calls the United States Air Force National Museum home.

Also Read: Air Force announces first 30 enlisted drone pilots

Check out the video from Armed Forces Update to see the amazing story unfold.

(Armed Forces Update, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Why grave-robbing Confederate generals is big business

In April, 2013, an iron casket was found pulled out of its grave and its contents were spilled all over the Old Church Cemetery near Waynesboro, Ga. A man, later found to be Ralph “Bubba” Hillis, and a partner had taken to digging up graves in the cemetery.

Why target this little cemetery? Because it was filled with the remains of Confederate and Revolutionary War soldiers.


The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
(Sgt. Sean Cochran, Burke County Sheriff)

The issue of grave robbing by those searching unique, ancient artifacts is a huge problem the world over, especially in places like Egypt, Peru, and Cambodia. These are areas filled with archaeological treasures and a steady flow of individuals who are struggling economically and are willing to risk punishment to go dig up said artifacts for the right price.

And that price can always be found. Illegally-sold Egyptian antiquities are found all over the world as they make their way from the Valley of the Kings to Syria to Dubai to New York and, finally, to whatever buyer is waiting at their final destination. Eager collectors are just waiting to find the right artifact from the right seller at the right price. The same technology that brings the world closer together also brings looters and grave robbers closer to these buyers.

Online sales and auction sites like eBay make it possible for individuals to make these transactions in short order, while the popularity of television shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers show just how easy it is to profit from a few authentic pieces of history. The ease of selling ill-gotten items and the interest garnered by their value and origins are making grave robbing a profitable crime right here in the United States, too.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

A sword like this one, which belonged to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, is worth tens of thousands of dollars. This example was never dug up from a grave, however.

The value of Civil War-era artifacts has lead to the growth of a booming black market. A single button from a Confederate uniform can net as much as 0. Full uniforms and medals can fetch anywhere from 0 to thousands of dollars for the right collector. According to Southern antiques brokers, an officer’s sword is worth anywhere from ,000 and ,000 — it doesn’t even matter if that officer was a general.

Two big things make dealing in black-market Confederate artifacts so profitable. The first is how rarely these sorts of things are available at auction. Electronic tracking, official dealers, and mandatory identification make it very difficult to illegally transport Civil War relics. The second is the inability to track the authenticity of the artifacts themselves. As you can imagine, Confederate records were kept only for as long as the Confederacy existed, which means there are plenty of legitimate artifacts that lack a kept record.

As a result, there is treasure literally buried all over the South.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

Archaeologists carry out a dig at New Mexico’s Fort Craig cemetery, where the remains of dozens of soldiers and children were secretly exhumed after an informant tipped them off about widespread grave-looting.

(U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

And people are starting to go dig for it — risking stiff prison terms.

But don’t be concerned that your local Civil War museum or historical society is dealing in stolen goods or housing grave-robbed artifacts. You can be reasonably certain that anything accepted by a legitimate museum was purchased with a clear record of ownership and was probably tracked through INTERPOL.

Authorities are now taking to hiring archaeologists to exhume grave-robbed Civil War-era sites in order to preserve the history entombed there while keeping them from being looted again in the future.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘The 4 Chaplains’ of WWII became Army legends

Chaplains do a lot for the troops they serve during war, whether it’s bringing comfort to a badly wounded soldier in their last moments or helping guide a troop through rough, emotional times. A chaplain may be of just about any religion, but no matter which he’s chosen, he’s there for all troops.


There was one instance where four chaplains proved exactly that. In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), George L. Fox (Methodist), and Clarke V. Poling (Reformed Church of America) would go down in history as “The Four Chaplains.”

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
The four chaplains, John P. Washington, Alexander D. Goode, George L. Fox, and Clarke V. Poling, are portrayed on this postage stamp. (US Post Office image)

These men came from a variety of backgrounds. According to ArmyHistory.org, Fox was already a hero of note – a Silver Star and Croix de Guerre recipient from his service as a medic during World War I. Washington had survived a BB gun accident that nearly blinded him and had cheated on a vision test to serve in the Army. Goode followed in his father’s footsteps to become a rabbi and had shown a talent for bridging religious divides. Poling’s father had been a prominent radio evangelist. Washington and Goode, coincidentally, had both been rejected by the Navy.

However, all four of these chaplains would soon meet their end at the hands of a German U-boat and, in doing so, would become known for their extreme bravery and poise.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
The USAT Dorchester, which was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat on Feb. 3, 1943. (US Army photo)

When torpedoes from the German submarine U-233 hit USAT Dorchester, it triggered a calamity. The stricken transport developed a sharp thirty-degree list, rendering a number of lifeboats unusable. Over a third of the personnel on board were quickly killed and many of the survivors were panicked.

The four chaplains took control of the situation, passing out life jackets to the troops who needed them. At one point, a navy officer went looking for a pair of gloves when Goode stopped him, handing over his own gloves, claiming he had an extra pair. Another soldier began to panic about not having a life jacket and Fox was heard saying, “Here’s one, soldier.” A survivor witnessed Fox giving the panicking soldier his own life jacket. The official summary of the statements by survivors noted merely that the chaplains on board had a “calm attitude” throughout the Dorchester’s last moments.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
Painting showing the survivors of USAT Dorchester being rescued by USCGC Escanaba (WPG 77). (USCG painting)

All four chaplains perished in the sinking of the Dorchester. They received Distinguished Service Crosses and the Purple Hearts posthumously. Their heroism, though, will live on.

The video below is part of the 75th-anniversary tribute to these men:

 

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One of America’s legendary small arms was designed by a convict

One of the most decorated soldiers in American history had his big day on Jan. 26, 1945. For three hours, he fought off dozens of advancing Nazi troops, coming at him from three sides. He did it with a field phone, an M2 Browning .50-cal, and his trusty M1 Carbine. General MacArthur called the M1 carbine, “One of the strongest contribution factors in our victory in the Pacific.”

That carbine was a weapon designed just for Army paratroopers in World War II. It had its shortcomings, but its reliability would ensure it would see action in three American wars — and was even a preferred weapon of the enemy. But not many people know the steadfast weapon was designed by a self-taught gunsmith, one-time moonshiner, and convicted felon.


The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

David Williams started making moonshine in North Carolina’s backcountry in 1919. The only problem was the Cumberland County native was good at it — really good. Soon, word spread about the quality of the young man’s whiskey. With the rise of Prohibition in 1920, his elevated status soon became unwanted attention. The very next year, his still was raided by local law enforcement, and a shootout ensued. Williams shot and killed a deputy sheriff.

He was captured, convicted of second-degree murder, and sentenced to 30 years in state prison.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
Audie Murphy with an M1 carbine in ‘To Hell And Back,’ the film about his Medal of Honor experience in World War II. (Universal International Pictures)

The man who would later earn the nickname “carbine” spent a lot of time in both the prison blacksmith shop, as well as solitary confinement. An inventive tinkerer with no formal training, he spent his time in the box thinking of new ways to improve existing machines — including firearms. He began to make spare parts from scrap metal and wood, which, in turn, earned him more time in the shop. The more time he spent in the shop, the more good he did for himself and society.

It turns out the uneducated tinkerer was exceptionally adept with machine parts. He invented the floating chamber, a mechanism that allowed a larger caliber rifle to fire smaller .22 ammo. While other prisoners were known for building homemade knives, Williams was able to construct rifles from scraps.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
David Marshall “Carbine” Williams with his contribution to World War II. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

He earned an early release in 1929 and returned to his farm, where he constructed a large workshop and began to refine his inventions. Eventually, he was employed by the Winchester Repeating Firearms Company. Just before World War II broke out for the United States, he was able to develop a carbine version of the M1 Garand Rifle.

A carbine is essentially a shorter version of an existing rifle. It’s often lighter in weight and uses a shorter barrel but doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of consistency or accuracy. The M1 carbine, however, was not just a carbine version of the M1 Garand. The two firearms used different ammunition, and the only features they shared were the buttplate and screw. But there was a need for lighter weapons among paratroopers and support crew.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
M1 Carbines were present at the first Iwo Jima flag raising. (USMC photo by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery)

 

Williams self-designed and built a short-stroke gas piston while in prison and incorporated it into his design for a lighter-weight infantry rifle. In trials, “Carbine” WIlliams’ design proved much more effective and consistent than other gun manufacturers, especially in sandy conditions — an environment that would prove very important to the Marine Corps.

By the end of World War II, the U.S. Military produced more than six million M1 Carbine rifles to use against the Nazis and the Japanese, making it America’s most-produced small arm of the war, edging out the iconic M1 Garand by more than a million units.

Articles

Here’s what it takes to be on the Marine silent drill team

Discipline, self-control, and honor are just some of the defining characteristics of a U.S. Marine who serves as a member of the 24-man silent drill team. Also known as the “Marching Twenty-Four,” the drill team’s function is to demonstrate the outstanding professionalism of the Marine Corps.


In 1948, they first performed at the Sunset Parades at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. Their perfectly executed movements received such an amazing response from the crowd, the drill team was born.

Serving on the team requires extensive discipline, so finding new recruits is a challenge.

Related: 21 photos showing the awesomeness of the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
The Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon executes their refined movements with hand-polished, 10.5 pounds, M1 Garand rifles with fixed bayonets during the Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Each fall, the drill team prospects are hand-selected from the School of Infantry located in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif. After a detailed interview process and rifle drill audition conducted by experienced personnel, those Marines who are selected are assigned a position and will serve a two-year ceremonial tour.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
These Marines spend hours practicing their drill to craft perfectly executed movements. (Source: US Military Videos and Photos/YouTube/Screenshot)

In addition to their ceremonial duties, the drill team members train alongside infantry Marines in the field to maintain their skills during the offseason.

When experienced team members request to move up in ranks and become rifle inspectors, they will go through a series of inspections graded by rifle inspectors who served in the previous season.

Also Read: 5 military training drills that’ll blow your mind

Although the team practices using verbal communication, not a single word will be spoken during their exceptional performance.

MIGHTY CULTURE

That time a US Marine eloped with a Princess from Bahrain

There are roughly 8,500 U.S. personnel stationed at the Navy’s base in Bahrain. In 1999, one of those, Lance Cpl. Jason Johnson, faced a court-martial and legal battle to wed his beloved girlfriend, a Bahraini local named Meriam. The Marine met Meriam at a local mall and, over the objections of her family, the two continued their love affair.

The biggest problem is that Meriam’s full name is Meriam bint Abdullah al-Khalifa, and she was a member of the royal family’s house of Khalifa. So, when Lance Cpl.Johnson smuggled her out of Bahrain and into the United States, it was kind of a big deal.


The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

It wasn’t just that she was a member of the royal family, her family’s Islamic faith was incompatible with Johnson’s Mormon beliefs. She was forbidden to marry a non-Muslim, by both her religion and her family. There was also an age difference, as Johnson was 23 years old and Meriam al-Khalifa was just 19.

There were a lot of reasons why they shouldn’t have gotten married, but with the help of a friend, they still managed to exchange letters. Their affection for one another only grew.

Until it was time for Johnson to return to the United States.

Undeterred by things like “passports” and “legal documents,” he snuck the girl into the United States with forged documents and a New York Yankees baseball hat. By the time they landed in Chicago, U.S. immigration officials were waiting for Meriam, and took her into custody.

Meriam was held for three days by customs and immigration officials. Eventually, she was granted asylum as she worried about the possibility of honor-related violence if she returned to her family.

“She does not believe that she can go back and be safe at this time,” her lawyer, Jan Bejar said at an official hearing. “All the woman did is try to leave a country that does not allow her to live with the person she wants to live with.”
The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

The couple also made the talk show circuit.

(The Oprah Winfrey Show)

They were married just a few weeks after arriving in the United States. Weeks later, her family sent a letter, forgiving her for eloping, but not mentioning her new husband. For a while, the two lived in base housing on Camp Pendleton, but when the Marines found out what had happened, they were understandably upset with Johnson. He was court-martialed, demoted, and eventually left the Corps.

The two settled down to live their lives together in the Las Vegas area where Johnson got a job as a valet, parking cars for wealthy nightclub patrons — patrons like Meriam’s family. The al-Khalifa family hadn’t forgotten about Meriam or Johnson. The FBI alleged that the family paid an assassin half a million dollars to find Meriam and kill her.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

But their married life wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. Johnson told the Associated Press that al-Khalifa was more interested in partying in Las Vegas than she was in enjoying life with her husband, spending the money they made from selling their story to a made-for-TV movie called, The Princess and the Marine. By 2003, the whirlwind romance came to a dead stop, buried in the Las Vegas desert.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution

The cast of ‘The Princess and the Marine.’

Johnson filed for divorce in 2004, saying “it was what she wanted.”

Deep down inside, she knows that I loved her more than anything in the world,” Johnson told the AP. “I can say I enjoyed every minute I spent with her.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

From November 1947 to December 1948, Camp Pine, which would evolve into Fort Drum, hosted the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division for Exercise Snowdrop. The exercise was the largest over-snow airborne maneuver that the Army had undergone at the time and was designed to validate equipment, logistics and tactics for airborne operations in a sub-zero combat environment like the one that the paratroopers would experience if the United States were to go to war with the Soviet Union. Sadly, not all of the soldiers that participated saw the exercise through to its end.

During Snowdrop, building T-2278, a two-story wooden building, served as an officer barracks. The building housed many WWII veterans like Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, Lt. Rudolph Feres and Capt. Francis Turner. Swilley had earned two Purple Hearts during the war, and Feres and Turner each earned three Bronze Stars.

In the early morning hours of December 10, 1947, the officers in building T-2278 were awoken by thick smoke and loud shouts from the second-floor hallway. The shouts came from Turner, who was first alerted to the fire by the smoke at approximately 0230 hrs. “Turner could have escaped at that point, having done his duty to warn his fellow Soldiers, but he did not,” said Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum Garrison Commander. “Ignoring his own safety, Capt. Turner chose to remain in the building to ensure each officer heard his alarm and to help the wounded among them to escape. Only after every wounded man was out of the building — which by this time was completely engulfed in flames — did he turn his attention to his own safety.”

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
The burned-out of building T-2278 after the fire (U.S. Army)

Survivor accounts lead Army historians to believe that, after Turner ran through the building to alert his comrades of the danger, he attempted to jump to safety from a second-story window. Tragically, his wedding ring got caught on a nail in the window and Turner was left hanging amidst the searing flames. He was eventually rescued by Pine Camp firefighters, but was left with severe burns; nearly 90 percent of his body had suffered third-degree burns.

Thanks to Turner, six officers escaped the flames unharmed. In addition to Turner, four other officers were injured but managed to escape. Capt. Robert Dodge, Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, and Lt. Rudolph Feres died in the building. While the other injured officers were treated and sent home, Turner had been so badly burned that he remained at Pine Camp hospital for treatment. After 18 days, he succumbed to his wounds.

Many factors contributed to the tragedy of the Pine Camp barracks fire. First, the roving fire watchman saw smoke but believed that the fire was in a different building. Second, the fire department took about 45 minutes to arrive on site. Third, two-thirds of the firefighters had less than three months of experience. Fourth, the barracks fire was determined to be a quick and violent “flash-fire” that burned rapidly and with very little notice. It took three hours, three fire engines, and 1,950 feet of water line to extinguish the blaze.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
The death toll would have been much higher if not for Turner (U.S. Army)

The cause of the fire remains a mystery. Duane Quates, an archaeologist with the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Branch, speculates that the fire could have been started by a faulty boiler or a careless cigarette. “This fire is the only structural fire on Fort Drum that had fatalities,” Quates said. “Every other structural fire may have had injuries, but they never had fatalities.” He also noted that the fire was a catalyst for modern fire safety measures like self-closing doors, permanent escape ladders, and heat raiser alarms.

On August 19, 1948, the four widows of the Pine Camp barracks fire sued the United States, claiming that their husbands’ deaths were the result of negligence due to a faulty heater. Their cases were dismissed by a Northern New York District Court judge who stated that the government was not liable for injuries that service members sustain while on active duty under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The next year, Lt. Feres’ widow, Bernice Feres, brought her case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Again, the case was dismissed. Feres persisted and, the next year, she appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The rulings of the previous courts were upheld and her case was dismissed again. This series of cases led to the controversial Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members from collecting damages for injuries sustained while on active duty and prohibits family members from filing wrongful death suits in the case of a service member’s death. To this day, service members and their families continue to challenge the Feres Doctrine.

The ‘Virginia Hercules’ was the one-man army of the American Revolution
Col. Rosenberg unveils the historic marker with Carolyn Leps and Elizabeth Barbee, Turner’s two surviving daughters (U.S. Army)

On August 27, 2013, Fort Drum dedicated a historic marker to the memory of the men killed in the Pine Camp barracks fire. Still, knowledge of the fire and Turner’s heroic actions are largely unknown. Years of historical research into the event continues today. Joseph “Sepp” Scanlin, the Fort Drum Museum director, says that the museum remains dedicated to its efforts for Turner to receive a military award for his actions during the fire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Green Berets stemmed the communist tide in El Salvador

The era of the 1980s through the mid-1990s was a great time to be a member of the U.S Army’s 7th Special Forces Group, 7th SFG(A). The unit had barely escaped the ax during the post-Vietnam drawdown. It had also survived the malaise of the Carter years, when Special Operations, and specifically Special Forces, was a four-letter word. (Being an SF officer in those days was the kiss of death for an officer’s career.)

Yet, during that time, a danger was looming: Latin America was close to being lost to communism.


Background

Latin America was a hot spot. Marxists had taken over in Nicaragua. They were looking, like the Cubans, to export their vision of communism to the rest of the hemisphere. El Salvador and Guatemala were embroiled in bloody civil wars, Honduras was going through a “latent and incipient” insurgency, which no one but the Group believed existed. Active civil wars were ongoing with insurgents in Colombia (FARC), Peru (Shining Path/Sendero Luminoso), and to a lesser extent in Bolivia. Compounding the problem, all three countries had issues with narco-terrorists that further destabilized the governments. Other countries, such as Argentina and Paraguay, seemed to have military coups far too frequently.

But all of that began to change in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was elected President. Reagan was not going to stand for that. Hence, there were plenty of places for the Green Berets of 7th SFG to practice their training, or as my first team sergeant said, “Do Green Beret shit.”

El Salvador was the first area where the President drew a line in the sand. The Salvadorian government was weak and ineffective. The military was backward, characterized by little professionalism, and was committing numerous human rights abuses. In 1980, the country was on the brink of falling. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), an umbrella organization formed in 1980 out of five separate Marxist-Leninist groups, had the government on the precipice.

In 1981, the Salvadorian Army numbered around 11,000. It was a poorly led, poorly equipped, and badly trained army. It was basically a static, defensive force. The FMLN was close to winning the war: Its forces operated freely in much of the country and owned the night.

Slow Beginnings and Limits on Troop Support

The U.S.’s first priority was to give the Salvadorian army updated vehicles and equipment; then improve the forces’ quality through training and better tactics. By 1990, the size of the Salvadorian military had quadrupled to more than 45,000. By the mid-1980s, the training of the troops had progressed to where the army was capable of conducting offensive operations. It, therefore, moved into previously FMLN-held areas and maintained a firm hold on the population centers. While doing so, it whittled the FMLN down to size, from a high of about 13,000 in 1980 to about 7,000 in 1990.

The FMLN resorted to kidnappings and assassinations. Town mayors were a frequent target: in 1989 alone 214 of 262 were threatened with assassinations. Twelve were assassinated and 90 resigned.

The FMLN launched a desperate country-wide offensive in November 1989 in a final attempt to take over by encouraging the citizens to rise up. It failed and lost over 2,000 guerrillas.

Beginning in 1983, following the recommendations of Green Beret trainers, the Salvadorian armed forces adopted better COIN tactics to deny the FMLN from gaining popular support. For example, the Salvadorians started attacking the insurgents’ sanctuaries, movement routes, and supplies. They started to deploy smaller, air-mobile units. And they used small units to patrol more frequently at night when most guerrilla activities occurred. But we have jumped ahead…

When it came to the trainers, the U.S. was in a vastly different place politically than it is today. We had just pulled out of Vietnam. Thus, the U.S. was not going to tolerate another long-drawn-out conflict with massive amounts of troops involved. Beginning in 1981, the first U.S. trainers in El Salvador were an A-Team of 12 Green Berets. They were “permitted” to only carry sidearms for protection.

Congress decided to cap the number of trainers at just 55. Two Americans would be assigned to each Salvadorian brigade. There were very strict rules for the training advisors. A-Teams and other conventional troops would be brought in for just the ridiculously short time span of two weeks. During that time, they had to conduct whatever training could be accomplished before they would be forced to leave.

But the SF community found ways around the Congressional limitations. It started bringing Salvadorian battalions to the United States to be trained by members of the 7th SFG. The first one to be brought to the U.S. was the Atlacatl Battalion. It was brought to Ft. Bragg, NC. The Atlacatl Battalion was a quick reaction, counter-insurgency unit. More battalions were later brought to the U.S.

But a better alternative awaited just over the border with El Salvador’s traditional enemy, Honduras.

The U.S. set up a Regional Training Center in Trujillo, Honduras. Salvadorian units could rotate through there for training. Later the training Honduran troops were trained as well.

The cost was high for a “peacetime” effort. During the war in El Salvador, 22 U.S. troops died defending the country. One SF advisor, Greg Fronius, is the subject of an earlier article.

In another engagement, a “not in combat” SF A-Team, ODA-7 from 3/7th SFG, defended a Salvadorian barracks. The battle was the subject of an excellent piece by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe.

Congress and the Pentagon, in an effort to snow the American public from what exactly the advisors in El Salvador were dealing with, refused to admit that the troops were in a combat situation, even though, combat pay had been authorized in 1981. Thus, Fronius was denied a combat decoration. He was instead given a Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) which is a peacetime award.

Human Rights Record

The Salvadorian Army had a terrible human rights record dating back to 1980. One of the things that the trainers accomplished was to incorporate human rights training in all levels of the military.

This also meant that at times, at peril to the advisors themselves, they’d report abuses by the military to the MILGP in San Salvador. Greg Walker, who was one of the 55 advisors on the ground there detailed one such incident.

“I was the Special Forces advisor who reported being shown a guerrilla’s skull (at the unit’s base in El Salvador) that had been turned into a desk lamp. My report was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador at the time through the proper chain of command.

The vast majority of SF advisors serving in El Salvador did likewise as this was part of the mission statement. For example, there was a senior Special Forces advisor at El Mozote the day/night of the massacre (and only one). He attempted multiple times to dissuade Colonel Domingo Monterosa to spare the victims. When Monterosa ignored him, the advisor departed by foot and made his way, alone, back to San Salvador. There he made a full report to embassy officials of what the unit and Monterosa were doing in El Mozote.”

The subject was a very touchy one. Yet the Green Berets made their reputation known even amongst the FMLN. In Walker’s book, titled “At the Hurricane’s Eye” he recounts when the FMLN asked for the U.S. SF to remain during the initial peace process to ensure that everyone was protected.

“At the conclusion of the war as brokered under a UN peace agreement, it was the guerrillas of the FMLN that requested US “Green Berets” remain with Salvadorian military units during the early stages of the accord. This because the guerrillas had learned of our commitment to human rights, and the sometimes dangerous reporting we made to the US embassy regarding thugs like Monterosa.”

Walker was one of several SF soldiers who led the fight for the men who did their time in El Salvador to finally be recognized for what were essentially combat tours. Everyone who rotated through there is now eligible for an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal while many are authorized CIBs and combat awards. The men of ODA-7 were finally recognized 14 years later. They were awarded CIBs, four Bronze Stars with “V” device, and an ARCOM with “V” device.

The 7th SFG’s record in El Salvador was one of great success. El Salvador was on the brink of falling. And through the combined military and political efforts of many Americans, it was saved. This one was an example of how a small group of dedicated SF soldiers can turn the tide in a brutal civil war.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

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