Every July, more than 1,200 cadet candidates arrive at West Point, the US military academy in West Point, New York. Established in 1802, it’s around 50 miles north of New York City. The location of the academy has significance in US history. Say what you want about West Pointers (or military academies in general) but getting into West Point is a pretty significant feat!
Located on the western point of the Hudson River right where it bends, West Point has historical significance in America’s quest for independence from the British. During the War of Independence, the British had to attack coming down the Hudson River. From West Point, they could see them coming.
Reception day, also known as R-Day, is always on a Monday and marks the first of each student’s four-year journey to graduation. In that journey, Cadets will follow through four programs: Character, Academic, Physical and Military.
Their civilian days are officially over right from the start
The first day at West Point involves a transformation from civilian status through a series of activities. At the end of the day, the Military Academy requires them to take an oath to serve in the US Army. Upon arrival, cadet candidates and their families begin the day with an orientation. However, when that’s over, they have just 60 seconds to bid their families farewell. After that, they will have extremely limited contact with the outside world for six weeks.
That obligatory West Point haircut is all the rage
Walking out the door of Eisenhower Hall, students officially become “new cadets” and receive their physical training uniforms and a bag. That bag holds everything they are permitted to carry during their first six weeks. Immediately after, new cadets must head to the barbershop. Male cadets have to pretty much shave their heads, though females do not.
After that, new cadets get their assignments at companies that teach them the basics of taking orders and how to properly march. Upperclassmen help to lead the new cadets, operating as a learning environment for both. New cadets learn the basics of leadership skills while upperclassmen practice them. R-Day ends with the Oath Ceremony, where everything the new cadets have learned is reiterated.
Nothing’s truly free
Attending West Point is free, but it’s not easy to get in. Aside from being a US citizen, students must also be in good physical condition, pass a specific medical exam and show a history of high academic achievement. Also, that free tuition comes with a different kind of debt: service. This includes five years of active duty in the Army and three years as Reserves. All who complete the initial six weeks of basic training are then formally accepted into the corps of cadets.
America’s F-16 multi-role fighters are some of the most advanced aircraft on the planet, carrying precision weapons and using them to kill bad guys around the world.
But in March 2003, two F-16 pilots were called to assist 52 British special operators surrounded by 500 Iraqi troops — meaning the friendlies were outnumbered almost 10 to 1.
Worse, there was essentially no light on the battlefield. It was so dark that even the pilots’ night vision goggles weren’t enough for the F-16s to tell where forces were on the ground.
But the pilots could hear through the radio as the situation on the ground went from bad to worse. The Iraqi troops were pressing the attack, pinning the Brits down and preparing to overrun them.
Thinking fast, Lt. Col. Ed Lynch climbed to altitude and then went into a dive, quickly building up sonic energy around his plane as he approached the speed of sound.
As he neared the ground with the massive amount of sound energy surrounding his cockpit, he broke the sound barrier and pointed the bulk of the energy at the ground where he believed the Iraqi troops to be. Lynch pulled up a mere 3,000 feet from the ground, sending the massive sonic boom against the troops below.
The energy wave struck with enough force that the Iraqi troops thought the F-16s were dropping bombs or firing missiles. The Iraqi troops broke apart and the British special operators were able to get out during the chaos.
Most people associate astronauts and rockets with places like Houston and the east coast of Florida. After all, NASA’s current headquarters is in Houston, and Florida houses both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. But the US has another important, yet much lesser-known “Rocket City” that you probably never heard of!
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed off on the country’s first space program: NASA. NASA’s first home was not in Houston, though. It was just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, at Redstone Arsenal, a former military base which they renamed Marshall Space Center. Because no astronaut has ever uttered, “Huntsville, we have a problem,” this rocket city has largely stayed under the radar.
Operation Paperclip Goes to Alabama
Immediately following World War II in 1945, the US government secretly brought a group of about 1,600 German scientists into the country so that Russia could not get their hands on them. This top-secret program, called Operation Paperclip, helped put the US space program ahead of the rest of the world.
Perhaps the most important of the German scientists in the group was Dr. Wernher von Braun. He worked directly with Hitler to develop rockets for Germany before Operation Paperclip moved him to “Rocket City,” Alabama. His expertise as an aerospace engineer was exactly what the US government wanted for its space program. They had their eyes on the prize of leading the world in all things outer space, so they conveniently set aside the fact that von Braun was a Nazi sympathizer.
Neil Armstrong Can Thank Smuggled German Scientists for His Fame
A team of both American and German scientists worked under von Braun’s leadership at Redstone Arsenal, later NASA’s Marshall Space Center. Together, they developed a rocket that would eventually bring humans into outer space. In the late 1960s, the team had tested a whopping 32 of their Saturn launch vehicle designs. Not a single one failed, which meant it didn’t take long before one of them was ready for takeoff.
On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took off in a Saturn V rocket headed for the moon, where they arrived 240,000 miles and four days later. Armstrong and Aldrin made history by being the first humans to walk on the moon’s surface, while Collins stayed patiently in orbit, waiting for his moon-walking peers. This was all thanks to von Braun and his brilliant team of scientists’ work at the Marshall Space Center. Good thinking by the US government to smuggle those Germans over, after all.
“Rocket City” is Also Alabama’s Claim to Fame
No big deal, but the Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. No wonder Huntsville, Alabama, got the nickname “Rocket City.” There are only three Saturn V’s in existence today, and one of them still towers over Huntsville at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Tons of high-tech companies also call Huntsville home, including Boeing, Siemens, and many other firms working in the field of aerospace technology.
For thousands of years, mankind has been telling stories using various forms of communication. Some passed verbal stories down from generation to generation, as others carved visual symbols deep into solid rock surfaces — cave art.
Fast forward to the battlegrounds of France during WWI where nine members of an Indian tribe from Point Pleasant, Maine, called the Passamaquoddy proudly served and carved images in the cave’s wall to represent their heritage during their trench warfare days.
Even though these carvings exist, the question remains:what stories were the Passamaquoddy Indians trying to tell us?
Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to explore the caves and learn the stories behind stories.
(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)Fun Fact: Nearly 99 years later, the families of 6 men from the Passamaquoddy tribe who volunteered to fight during the WWI conflict finally received official recognition and honored for their heroic contributions.
There’s no limit to the amount of vitriol the military-veteran community can muster for actress Jane Fonda. Now 80, the actress is the subject of a new HBO Documentary film, Jane Fonda In Five Acts. Since the film covers her 50-year career, it could not avoid a discussion about her anti-war activism during the Vietnam War.
Her experience with war and the U.S. military before the Vietnam War was limited to her World War II-veteran father, actor Henry Fonda, and her work as “Miss Army Recruiter” in 1954. It was a famous photograph of her sitting on a Communist anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam in 1972 that earned her the eternal scorn of veterans and the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”
To this day, the actress says she is confronted by veterans of the Vietnam War who are still angry about her visit to the enemy in 1972. If you need further proof, look at the Facebook comments on this article — yes, the one you’re currently reading.
In a meeting with television critics in Beverly Hills, Calif. on July 25, 2018, she talked about how she came to her anti-war beliefs and what led her to sit on that anti-aircraft gun. She says she didn’t know much about the war or what was happening in Vietnam. She told the group she met some American soldiers in Paris who told her what was going on and it infuriated her.
The actress said before that meeting, she “didn’t even know where Vietnam was,” but “believed that if there were men fighting, they were ‘on the side of the angels.'” While she doesn’t regret her visit to North Vietnam, she does regret the photo and the effect it had on the men and women fighting in the war and their families, she told Variety.
“What I say in the film is true: I am just so sorry that I was thoughtless enough to sit down on that gun at that time. The message that sends to the guys that were there and their families, it’s horrible for me to think about that. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh I wish I could do it over’ because there are things I would say differently now.”
The actress says she uses the confrontations with Vietnam War veterans as a chance to apologize and explain, to talk to them with what she calls, “an open mind and a soft heart.”
Under the Geneva Convention, hospital ships are immune from attack. Or, in very simple terms, shooting at them is a huge no-no.
But one American sub commander did worse – he actually sank a hospital ship. However, he managed to get promoted and retire as a two-star admiral nevertheless.
Charles E. Loughlin was the first commanding officer of the USS Queenfish (SS 393). The first three war patrols netted him a pair of Navy Crosses and a Silver Star, according to the Military Times Hall of Valor.
But it was on his fourth patrol that things went south.
CombinedFleet.com reported that in January 1945, the United States and Japan had come to an agreement to allow packages from the Red Cross to be delivered to American POWs. The Japanese selected the Awa Maru, a relatively new freighter (CombinedFleet.com reports she was completed on March 5, 1943), to carry out the delivery.
She was demilitarized, while American headquarters sent out a number of messages advising submarines that she was not a valid target.
According to “Sink ‘Em All,” the wartime memoirs of Vice Adm. Charles Lockwood, who served as Commander, Submarines Pacific, Loughlin was the victim of some mistakes from Lockwood’s staff. Lockwood, in particular, pointed to a message sent to “All Submarines” that outlined the route the ship would take and ordering submarines to let the ship pass that should have been sent to only those subs along the Awa Maru’s route.
In addition, Loughlin apparently had not been shown earlier dispatches by his communications personnel, and as a result, failed to grasp the importance of the March 30, 1945 dispatch. Two days later, in the evening hours of April 1, the USS Queenfish detected a contact on radar, going at a speed somewhere between 16 and 18 knots.
It was foggy, and with visibility down to about 200 yards. Contrary to the agreement allowing the ship free passage, the Awa Maru did not sound its fog horn. Lockwood would quote Loughlin’s patrol report noting that based on the data, the radar contact appeared to be a destroyer or destroyer escort. The Queenfish fired four torpedoes at the target at a range of 1,200 yards. All four hit, sinking the hospital ship.
After a recovered survivor revealed the identity of the vessel that was sunk, Loughlin reported the incident to Lockwood. The USS Queenfish was sent back to Pearl Harbor. Loughlin, though, would end up receiving only a letter of admonition from a general court martial – an action that, according to an NSA article on the sinking, prompted an enraged Nimitz to issue Letters of Reprimand to at least some of the court martial panel. Lockwood would report that one member of the court-martial panel would tell him that they came to the conclusion that Loughlin had never been shown the earlier dispatches, but that Loughlin had refused to throw his communications officer under the bus.
By all rights, Loughlin’s career should have been sunk, but instead, Loughlin would serve for over two more decades in the Navy.
How did this happen despite a such colossal screw-up? The reason is because intelligence information would reveal that the Awa Maru was, in the words of a Britney Spears song, “not that innocent.”
CombinedFleet.com noted that while the ship had picked up the relief packages, and was delivering them, she also carried 20 planes, 2,000 bombs, and 500 tons of other munitions. The Awa Maru dropped the planes, bombs, and ammo off in Saigon, prior to delivering the relief supplies to Singapore. When the ship was sunk, she was carrying bales of rubber and according to Lockwood, tins carrying granular material. The crew on USS Queenfish recovered some of the materials.
Lockwood would later come to believe that “Loughlin should have been awarded a commendation instead of a reprimand.” Fleet Adm. Ernest King sought to ensure that Loughlin would never hold a seagoing command again, but Navsource.org reports that Loughlin commanded the heavy cruiser USS Toledo (CA 133) and the oiler USS Mississinewa (AO 144). He rose to the rank of rear admiral, receiving the Legion of Merit for tours commanding Submarine Squadron Six and the Naval District of Washington.
In 1949, Japan quietly abandoned claims for compensation for the Awa Maru’s sinking.
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? This is especially true when you’re the underdog. Throughout history, armies have committed to fighting in the face of overwhelming odds. There are many reasons for this. Maybe it was to buy time for a greater force to escape. Or maybe it was because a small army was all that stood between a nation and its ruin.
No matter what the reason, the list of underdog victories is an engaging one, no matter why they chose to fight or why the army was so outnumbered in the first place.
Here are five of the best outnumbered victories in military history.
1. The English at Agincourt
If there is one clear reason why an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 English troops were able to decimate a much larger French force on their home turf, it’s the technological advancement of the longbow. The French Army may have shown up with 15,000 men, but they left with a whole lot fewer.
As Henry V rode into battle with the handful of troops that were using longbows, the English archers rained death on the Frenchmen. The French, wounded and sinking into the mud wearing heavy armor, were easy pickings for the Englishmen. When the archers ran out of arrows, they joined in on the slaughter. The French lost more than 6,000 men and were beaten so badly they had to marry off a princess to Henry to stop the war.
2. The Nazis at Belgrade
Although we are loath to give the Waffen-SS credit for anything besides being grade-A scum, the 1941 capture of Belgrade was probably a special operations coup that would be talked about forever, if only anyone else had won. Belgrade has been destroyed 44 times in its centuries-long history, so perhaps at the very least, this saved some civilian lives.
Using just six men, the SS infiltrated the heavily-defended city and fought its way to the town square, capturing Yugoslavian troops along the way. Once there, they raised the German flag. When the mayor saw the raised flag and the captured troops, the Nazis made a bluff, claiming the city was already overrun. The mayor surrendered the city and its defenders.
3. Napoleon at Jena-Auerstedt
In total, the French Emperor was outnumbered by more than two to one against Prussia and Saxony at Jena. Complicating his situation further was the fact that his army was divided. An entire corps, 27,000 men, was to the north of his main force. Luckily, his opponents were divided as well. If anyone knows how to conquer a divided foe, it’s Napoleon.
Also in Napoleon’s favor was the fact that his corps commander was Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout, one of the finest field marshals in military history. Prussia and Saxony weren’t so lucky. Their commanders were old and slow-moving, which allowed the two brilliant French leaders to take the initiative and occupy Prussia, taking just a fraction of the casualties they inflicted.
4. Oda Nobunaga at Okehazama
Japan’s military history gets overlooked by armchair historians when it’s not about World War II. But anyone interested in military history should take a look at the Shogunates because it’s awesome. Oda Nobunaga was just a local warlord when Imagawa Yoshimoto raised an army of 30,000 men to topple the feudal government based in Kyoto. Despite fielding just 3,000, Oda decided his best strategy was to go on the offensive.
Oda Nobunaga and his men made the appearance of a much larger force using just banners and flags before secretly leaving their camp on the morning of the battle. By afternoon, Imagawa’s troops were busy celebrating their string of wins during a hot day, unaware they were being flanked. They weren’t even dressed for battle. Oda’s men routed the enemy army and Imagawa was killed.
5. The Parthians at Carrhae
Money can’t buy happiness or military glory. When Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome, marched 43,000 troops into Parthia (modern-day Iran), he did it without the consent of the Senate or the advice of military allies. He wanted to expand the power of his triumvirate by placing a puppet king on the Parthian throne. After all, there were only 10,000 Parthians in his way.
Crassus learned a lot that day. He learned that overwhelming infantry numbers don’t assure victory, he learned about super heavy cavalry, and he learned that fast-moving horse archers are hard for a legion to fight against. It would have been a good lesson to take forward, if 30,000 Romans hadn’t been killed or captured in the effort. Crassus was one of them.
The situation surrounding a number of Allied ships sunk in a series of desperate battles around what is now Indonesia 75 years ago is a mixed bag, a new report finds. Late last year, advocates worried that many of the wrecks had been looted by modern-day grave robbers, forever altering important monuments to World War II history.
At Tjilatjap, Java, Feb. 6, 1942, seen from USS Marblehead (CL-12), which was passing close aboard. Houston’s colors are half-masted pending return of her funeral party, ashore for burial of men lost when a bomb hit near her after eight-inch gun turret two days earlier during a Japanese air attack in Banka Strait. (US Navy photo)
According to a report by USNI News, recent sonar surveys show the wreck of the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) is still in good shape, while there is inconclusive data on the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth.
Past surveys have revealed that other wrecks, including the Dutch destroyer HNLMS Kortenear, the British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and the British destroyers HMS Encounter have been stripped by looters.
The British destroyer HMS Electra, also sunk in the battles around Indonesia, has been “picked over,” while the Dutch cruisers HNLMS Java and HNLMS Dr Ruyter have had large portions of their wrecks removed. In one special case, the submarine USS Perch (SS 176), scuttled by her crew, has also been salvaged.
According to the United States Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command, only 368 personnel survived the sinking of USS Houston when she sank as a result of gunfire from the Japanese cruisers HIJMS Mogami and HIJMS Mikuma. Of those 368, only 291 survived roughly three and a half years in captivity.
In a release, the Naval History and Heritage Command noted that the survey, conducted by the Australian National Maritime Museum and the National Research Centre of Archaeology Indonesia was the first survey to provide a full view of USS Houston’s wreckage, thanks to the use of remotely operated vehicles and multi-beam sonar scanning.
Past surveys had focused on sections of the ship, using underwater video cameras and still cameras to assess the status of the wreck.
“We’re grateful to the Australian National Maritime Museum and Indonesia’s National Research Centre of Archaeology for sharing this information with us,” Naval History and Heritage Command Director Sam Cox said in the release. “We take very seriously our obligation to remember the service of American and allied Sailors who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. We’ll do everything we can, and work with everyone we must, to safeguard their final resting places.”
Tongson with the author at the commissioning ceremony (photo taken by Laceé Pappas/released)
“Hey, Stew,” the LTJG called out. The Filipino sailor did not respond. “Hey! Stew!” The Filipino sailor continued to mop the deck. “Hey! Stew! I’m talking to you!” The Lt. j.g. grabbed the Filipino sailor by his shoulder and turned him around.
“Oh, sir. I didn’t know you were talking to me,” the Filipino sailor responded. “I thought you were looking for someone named Stew. As you can see on my uniform, my name is Tongson. The name my parents gave me, my Christian name, is Benjamin. If you called me by those names, I would have responded to you.” This earned Seaman Tongson a tirade of expletives from the young naval officer who then stormed away. Later, Tongson decided to invoke the open door policy of the ship’s skipper. “Sir, may I have a moment of your time?” Tongson asked as he knocked on the bulkhead of the captain’s quarters.
“Come on in Tongson. What can I do for you?” The captain motioned for Tongson to enter.
“Sir, one of your officers refuses to address me and the other stewards by our names. Instead, he only calls us ‘Stew’. I do not find this behavior to be acceptable for an officer.”
“And so you shouldn’t,” replied the Captain. “Which of my officers is doing this? I’ll take care of it.”
The 1947 Military Bases Agreement provided a 99-year lease on many Philippine military and naval bases to the United States Military. Under Article 27, Filipino citizens could also be recruited into the U.S. military. However, they were restricted to serving as stewards. Despite this restriction, the Navy would recruit anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Filipinos every year according to a New York Times article from 1970.
With many of these men coming from poverty, a job with the US Navy presented a better prospect than what they could find in the post-war Philippines. While Filipino sailors were paid equal wages, they, like Tongson, often experienced racism and differential treatment. However, following a modification to the Military Bases Agreement in 1971, Filipinos could enter into any enlisted rating that they were qualified for. In Tongson’s case, he became an Electrician’s Mate and eventually rose to the coveted rank of Chief Petty Officer.
Tongson (first row, first from the left) as an Electrician’s Mate Petty Officer First Class (USS Montrose Cruise Book/released)
Today, Filipino-Americans can be found in all branches of the U.S. military—although their presence is still strongest in the Navy. Anyone who has spent time aboard a ship is familiar with the “Filipino Mafia”, the network of Filipino-American sailors that seem to be able to get you anything you may need while underway, including Filipino food like adobo, pancit, and lumpia. Filipino-American sailors have made greater strides than just acquiring scarce goods and sharing delicious meals, though.
In 1992, Rear Admiral (then Commander) Eleanor Mariano was selected to serve as the Navy physician to the White House Medical Staff. President Clinton later selected her to serve as the White House Physician and director of the White House Medical Unit for which she was promoted to Captain. In 1999, she was nominated to the rank of Rear Admiral and was formally promoted in 2000, becoming the first Filipino-American to reach the rank. In 2014, Captain Ronald Ravelo took command of the USS Ronald Reagan, becoming the first Filipino-American sailor to do so. A year before, Rear Admirals Rauqel Bono and her brother Anatolio Cruz became the first and (so far) only Filipino-American siblings to simultaneously hold a flag-officer rank. While Cruz retired later that year, Bono was appointed by President Obama to the position of Defense Health Agency director and promoted to Vice Admiral in 2015. Following her retirement from the Navy in 2019, Bono became a Senior Fellow with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. On March 22, 2020 she was appointed as the head Washington State’s COVID-19 health care response team by Governor Jay Inslee. The state’s COVID-19 confirmed case, hospitalization, and death statistics peaked on March 23rd. At the time of the writing of this article, all three statistics have more than halved.
Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, DHA Director, command portrait (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/released)
Filipino-Americans continue to serve as an integral part of the U.S. Military. The naval officers previously mentioned all descend from parents who served in the U.S. military. As for Tongson, his daughter served in the U.S. Army as a nurse during Desert Storm and his grandson, the author, currently serves in the U.S. Army as a 1st Lt. with the 10th Mountain Division. Tongson gave his grandson his first salute at his commissioning ceremony aboard the USS Midway, a ship that Tongson served on, in 2017.
Tongson with the author at the commissioning ceremony (photo taken by Laceé Pappas/released)
One week after D-Day, Germany began launching a new, secret weapon at London. The distinctive roar of V-1 flying bombs would slowly fill the air and then suddenly cut out, followed shortly by the massive explosion as a warhead went off. Dozens would fall in the first week, and the Royal Air Force had to scramble to stop them.
This led some pilots to, after expending all of their ammunition, take more drastic measures to stop the bombs: flying wingtip to wingtip until they either crashed or tipped the bomb off course.
The V-1s had pulsejet engines, and prop-driven planes couldn’t keep up with them. But, if a pilot flew to high altitude and then dove toward a passing V-1, the speed from the descent would allow them to keep up.
The first intercept took place on June 15, 1944, the third day of V-1 attacks. A Mosquito pilot was able to shoot one down with his guns, and others soon followed.
But the pilots had limited ammunition, and it was tough to hit the fast-flying V-1s. And each bomb could kill multiple Londoners if it wasn’t intercepted.
A Spitfire nudges a V-1 missile off course during World War II.
But this had obvious risks. If the pilot accidentally bumped the V-1, they could crash into the ground alongside the bomb. A soft bump was obviously no big deal. It would just help the pilot tip the bomb over. But a harder strike was essentially a midair crash, likely clipping or breaking the pilot’s own wingtip.
Despite the risks, the work of pilots and gunners on the ground saved London from much of the devastation. 1,000 of the bombs were shot down or nudged off course in flight. And, the bombs were famously inaccurate, which was lucky for Britain. Of the approximately 10,000 flying bombs fired at the city, around 7,000 missed, 1,000 were shot down, and about 2,000 actually hit the city and other targets.
Eventually, this would result in about 6,000 fatalities and 16,000 other casualties.
In October 1944, Allied troops captured the V-1 sites targeting London and were able to stop the threat there. Unfortunately, that was right as the Germans got the V-2 program up and running, The faster, rocket-powered V-2s were essentially unstoppable with anything but radar-controlled guns.
An American JB-2 Loon based on the German V-1 missile.
(San Diego Air and Space Museum)
After the war, Allied powers experimented with the weapons and some, including America, made their own knockoffs. Some were shot down as flying targets for pilots, but others were held in arsenals in case they were needed against enemy forces. Eventually, the invention of modern cruise missiles made the V-1s and V-2s obsolete.
One of World War II’s legendary figures, Gen. George S. Patton, loomed largely in the narrative of the war for many reasons.
While no one would accuse the great general of being humble or unassuming, his ego and pride are well-deserved — to the betterment of mankind and the Allied cause. Patton, with his ivory-handled revolvers and propensity to quote the Hindu scripture of “The Bhagavad Gita,” was as eccentric in life as he was effective in combat.
No example of this was more telling than his belief in reincarnation and his own numerous past lives.
As a child, Patton believed he fought Turkish armies. As he grew into an adult, he still had visions of his death in past lives, from viking funerals to the Battle of Tyre. In 1991, Karl F. Hollenbach compiled Patton’s account of his past lives in a book called Patton: Many Lives, Many Battles. Though the man himself never completely expressed the entirety of his beliefs in reincarnation, he did describe numerous events in detail.
Maybe there was something to the idea. Patton’s prowess on the battlefields made him the most feared Allied general among the Nazi leadership, according the the German POW Lt. COl. Freiherr Von Wagenheim. General Patton’s own intelligence officer remarked that his sixth sense was often way ahead of the intelligence coming in. Perhaps this truly is a skill set acquired across lifetimes of military experience.
1. With Alexander the Great at the Siege of Tyre.
In a poem called “Through a Glass, Darkly,” which Patton wrote while commanding the Third Army in Europe, he described being a Greek Hoplite fighting the Persians under Darius. He helped smash the Persian navy and then laid siege to Tyre. The walls fell after five months as Patton and his fellow Hoplites stormed the city.
2. Fighting Parthians for Rome.
Patton next talks about slaying Parthians with his Gladius, a sword approximately 25-32 inches long. Since the battle was said to have taken place in the first century B.C., Patton would have been fighting for what was then still the Roman Republic in the Middle East under any number of legendary Roman names: Crassus, Cassius, and Marc Antony to name a few.
In his vision, Patton was wounded and then killed by a number of arrows in his neck.
The general also remembered being stationed in Langres, France — as a Roman legionnaire in Caesar’s X Legion.
3. A Viking on his way to Valhalla.
When Patton was a young adult, he was kicked by a horse, who broke his leg in three places. Close to death from his wounds, Patton had a vision of his death as a Viking raider — where a vision appeared to him on the battlefield, offering to take him to the Viking afterlife.
The afterlife knows no loyalty in the wars of men, apparently. Less than a century later, Patton was back in the Hundred Years’ War, this time on the side of the English. Patton claimed to have fought with King Henry V at Agincourt.
6. A raiding sailor.
Three of Patton’s stanzas describe fighting on ships as he freed captured slaves or prisoners of war, fired into the enemy at point-blank range during a storm, or even was hanged as a pirate or privateer, describing feeling a rope around his neck as the red deck (presumably blood-stained) was set aflame.
7. Fighting for the House of Stuart
Again pitted against the English, though this time his loyalties were less to a nation than to the House of Stuart. Patton was a Scottish Highlander during the third English Civil War, supporting the Stuarts after the death of Charles I.
8. An aide to a Napoleonic Marshal.
Patton describes “riding with Murat” in the poem. Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon’s marshals. Murat was one of the most capable cavalry officers and leaders in service to the French Emperor. He doesn’t specify his role with Murat, but the marshal was pivotal at battles like Jena and the invasion of Russia in 1812.
When the Allies left North Africa to invade Sicily, British General Sir Harold Alexander told Patton that if had been alive in the 19th Century, Napoleon would have made him a marshal — to which Patton replied: “But I did.”
At the end of his epic poem, Patton wrote that he would “battle as of yore, dying to be a fighter, but to die again, once more.”
It’s Armistice Day, November 11th, in the nation’s capital. It is a brisk day at Arlington National Cemetery. Dignitaries stand silently on the third anniversary of the ending of World War I, watching as a single white casket is lowered into a marbled tomb. In attendance is President Calvin Coolidge, former President Woodrow Wilson, Supreme Court Justice (as well as former President) William Howard Taft, Chief Plenty Coups, and hundreds of dedicated United States servicemen. As the casket settles on its final resting place in the tomb, upon a thin layer of French soil, three salvos are fired. A bugler plays taps and, with the final note, comes a 21 gun salute. The smoke clears and eyes dry as the Unknown Soldier from World War I is laid to rest; the first unknown soldier to be officially honored in this manner in American history.
The United States’ allies in World War I, France and Britain, were the first countries to practice the concept of burying an “unknown soldier.” World War I was, at the time, the most destructive global war in human history. A staggering 37 million people (about 1 in 48) were killed, wounded, captured, or missing in action across both sides in what was called “The War to End All Wars.” (Interestingly, around this same time, the Spanish Flu killed between 50-100 million people and infected around a half a billion around the globe, roughly 1 in 4 humans.)
Even before the end of the war, the idea of finding a way to properly commemorate the lost, missing, or unable-to-be-identified French soldiers who died fighting for their country was conceived. Around November 1916, a full two years before the war ended, the city of Rennes in France performed a ceremony to honor those local citizens who were lost and unable to be found. Upon hearing of this ceremony, three years later, France’s Prime Minister approved a tomb dedicated to France’s unknown soldier to be installed in Paris. He originally proposed that the tomb be placed in the Pantheon, with other French historical figures like Victor Hugo and Voltaire (the latter of which made his fortune by rigging the lottery). However, veterans organizations wanted a location that was reserved solely for the Unknown Solider. They agreed upon a tomb under the Arc de Triomphe, originally completed in 1836 to commemorate other lost French military members.
The tomb of the unknown soldier, Paris, France. (Photo by Jérome BLUM)
With the help of a 21-year-old French baker turned “valiant” soldier named August Thin, a representative unknown soldier was settled upon. On November 11, 1920, his casket was pulled down the streets of Paris, before settling under the Arc de Triomphe, where he was laid to rest. To this day, the tomb is still there with a torch by its side, rekindled every night at 6:30 PM.
That same day, two hundred eighty-five miles away in London, Great Britain was holding a similar ceremony. “The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior,” as it is called in London, is housed at Westminster Abbey. It is the only tombstone in the Abbey that it is forbidden to walk upon, and bears this inscription, “Beneath this stone rest the body of a British warrior unknown by name or rank brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land and buried here on Armistice Day 11 Nov: 1920.”
Many countries worldwide adopted this symbol of commemoration, including the United States of America. In December 1920, Congressmen Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York introduced in Congress a resolution that asked for a return of an unknown American soldier from France for proper ceremonial burial in a to-be-constructed tomb at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. The measure was approved a few months later for a “simple structure” that would eventually serve as a basis for a more elaborate monument. Originally set for Memorial Day in 1921, the date was pushed back when it was noted that many of the unknown soldiers in France were being investigated and may be identified, rendering them no longer qualified to be the unknown soldier. The date was then changed to Armistice Day, 1921.
An important qualification to be selected as the “unknown soldier” is, of course, that the soldier is truly unknown, for they are meant to symbolize any soldier. Thus, there could be no ID on the body, no personal records of the deceased, no family identifications, and no information anywhere at all about who this person was. It also meant that certain precautions needed to be taken to make sure the selected would never be identified. For example, in France, when eight bodies were exhumed from eight different battlefields, they mixed up the coffins to make sure no one knew who came from where.
When August Thin, the young soldier who was given the honor of selecting the Unknown Soldier, walked around the caskets and delicately placed flowers upon one of them, he legitimately had no idea who he was choosing. In Britain, six bodies were chosen from six different battlefields. Not told of any order to the bodies, Brigadier L.J. Wyatt closed his eyes and walked among the coffins. Silently, his hand rested on one — the Unknown Warrior.
In America, the process was even more ceremonious. Four unknown Americans were exhumed from their French cemeteries, taken to Germany, and then switched from case to case, so not even the pallbearers knew which casket they were carrying. The honor of choosing exactly which casket was then given to Sgt. Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany. Placing one rose on top of the chosen casket, the Unknown Soldier was selected and sent to the U.S. on the ship Olympia. Later, that rose would be buried with the casket.
Arriving on the shores of America, the casket was taken to the Capitol, where it was laid out under the rotunda. President Warren G. Harding and the first lady, Florence, paid their respects, with Mrs. Harding laying a wreath she made herself upon the casket. After visits from many notables and military, a vigil was kept overnight. The next day, the rotunda was opened up for public viewing. It was reported that nearly 100,000 people came to commemorate the Unknown Soldier.
Around 10 AM on Nov. 11, the funeral procession began, passing by the White House, the Key Bridge, and the construction of the Lincoln Memorial (which would be finished six months later). Arriving at Arlington National Cemetery and the Memorial Amphitheater, the ceremony began rather quickly. In fact, it was reported that the President, who was traveling by car, got stuck in a traffic jam on the way there and would have been late if it wasn’t for his driver’s quick decision to cut through a field.
The beginning of the ceremony featured the singing of the National Anthem, a bugler, and two minutes of silence. Then, President Harding spoke, paying tribute to the Unknown Soldier and asking for the end to all wars. He then placed a Medal of Honor upon the casket. Congressman Fish followed with laying a wreath at the tomb. Next, Chief Plenty Coups, Chief of the Crow Nation, laid his war bonnet and coup stick. Finally, the casket was lowered into the crypt as the saluting battery fired three shots. Taps was played with a 21 gun salute at the end. The ceremony for America’s first Unknown Soldier was finished.
Many elements for this ceremony were repeated in 1956, when President Eisenhower made arrangements for unknown soldiers to be selected from World War II and the Korean War. In 1984, President Reagan presided over the ceremony for the Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War. Acting as next in kin, he accepted the flag presented at the end of the ceremony. In 1998, a mini-controversy occurred when, through DNA testing, it was discovered that the remains of the Unknown Soldier from Vietnam was Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. Due to this, it was decided that the crypt that once held his remains would remain vacant with only this inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”
Today, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in America is under ceremonious guard 24/7, with the changing of the guard happening up to 48 times a day. It is truly one America’s most somber, affecting, and patriotic memorials.
On Aug. 6, 1941, P. Siomes, a German priest, was sitting in his room when the sunny, summer day outside was suddenly lit by an even brighter light that blinded him just before an explosion of sound and heat slammed into the building he was in.
The next month, he gave a full recounting of the hours and days following the bombing in a statement to the U.S. Army.
Author’s note: This article is based on a statement from P. Siomes, a German priest who was in the outskirts of Hiroshima when the bomb dropped. His English is great, but not perfect, but we’ve decided to be as honest to his original text as possible when transcribing. This leaves a few minor grammar and spelling errors, but we do not believe it hinders comprehension. His full statement is available here.
An atomic cloud rises over Hiroshima after the bomb is dropped.
(509th Operations Group)
Siomes was part of the Society of Jesus, headquartered in a church at the edge of Hiroshima, and he remembers it being about 8:14 when the city center suddenly filled with a bright, yellow light. He described it as being like the magnesium flash from a camera, but sustained. Over the next ten seconds, he felt an increase in heat, heard what sounded like a small and distant explosion, and was halfway to his door when his window suddenly exploded inward.
He was later glad to have made it away from the window, because he later found that his wall was filled with large shards of glass from the explosion that would’ve been embedded in him instead of the wall.
Siomes had believed that the damage to the building was from a bomb that burst overhead, assuming that the light was an unconnected phenomenon. But when he went outside to check the damage, all the worst damage was on the side of the building facing the city, and there was no bomb crater in sight.
A Red Cross Hospital is one of the only things left standing after the bomb. Near the center of the city, even the buildings that survived the blast were consumed within hours and days by the fires triggered by the heat and radiation.
(Hiroshima Peace Media Center)
But looking out into the city, he could see the extent of the damage. Houses were burning closer to town, and nearby woods were already becoming a large inferno. As the men at the facility, mostly monks and priests, begin helping fight the flames, a storm started, and rain began to fall.
Yes, the skies were clear before the bombs dropped, but a sudden rainfall is actually one of the very weird side effects of a nuclear blast. This would help fight the fires, but it also carries tons of irradiated dust, debris, and ash back to earth and helps it cling to the skin of survivors, but Siomes didn’t know this in 1945.
He and his fellow Christians began assisting the wounded in addition to fighting the fires. One of the priests “had studied medicine” before he took his vows, and the priests gave as much medical support as they could.
Father Noktor who, before taking holy orders, had studied medicine, ministers to the injured, but our bandages and drugs are soon gone. We must be content with cleansing the wounds. More and more of the injured come to us. The least injured drag the more seriously wounded.
A military document provides a guide to the extent of destruction caused by the single bomb on August 6.
(U.S. Army illustration)
And the damages to the city and surrounding area weren’t limited to just the immediate effects of the bomb. High winds damaged infrastructure and knocked over trees and buildings for hours after the initial blast. Siomes believed that this may have been caused by the fires pulling in more air, and research after the war backed him up.
Finally, we reach the entrance of the park. A large proportion of the populace has taken refuge there, but even the trees of the park are on fire in several places. Paths and bridges are blocked by the trunks of fallen trees and are almost impassable. We are told that a high wind, which may have resulted from the heat of the burning city, had uprooted the large trees.
Later on, Siomes would see some of this chaos himself. He went into the city with others to search out some of the missing priests, and they were able to find their quarry. But as they tried to make it back out ahead of the fire, they kept finding wounded trapped under debris, and attempted to rescue them, but then had to move on as the fires got close.
Eventually, they’d take refuge in Asano Park and, as the fires got close:
A very violent whirlwind now begins to uproot large trees, and lifts them high into the air. As it reaches the water, a water spout forms which is approximately 100 meters high.
This infrastructure damage made it harder for survivors to organize themselves and render aid, which was catastrophic as new emergencies kept popping up. Worse, planners had never envisioned losing an entire city in one fell swoop, and they had concentrated key supplies in a few caches near the city center, all destroyed by the bomb and fires.
For Siomes, the priests, and the monks, this all meant that their aid would necessarily be limited. It took more than a day for them simply to find out where all of their own survivors were. Some of them even had the exotic new injuries that only nuclear bombs can create.
One of the priests had been serving in the city when the bomb hit, and while he was processing the sudden burst of light, his hand was already blistering from what would later be identified as radiation. It was the equivalent of an instant, severe sunburn.
Father Kopp is bleeding about the head and neck, and he has a large burn on the right palm. He was standing in front of the nunnery ready to go home. All of a sudden, he became aware of the light, felt the wave of heat and a large blister formed on his hand.
Father Kopp was lucky; he had actually been near the epicenter of the blast but was well protected by the structure which held firm.
The city of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945.
(U.S. Navy Public Affairs)
As the hours turned into days, the survivors kept tending the wounded and eating what they could find. Bodies lined the rivers and streets, and only skeletons remained of most of the buildings. Survivors had to drag the bodies or carry them on available carts out of the city, gather wood, and then cremate them in the valleys.
Rumors and stories began to rise, especially among the fifty or so refugees that were housed at what remained of the church, about what exactly had happened.
Some were likely propaganda or ill-informed attempts to explain what had happened:
As much as six kilometers from the center of the explosion, all houses were damaged and many collapses and caught fire. Even fifteen kilometers away, windows were broken. It was rumored that the enemy fliers had first spread an explosive and incendiary material over the city and then had created the explosion and ignition.
View, looking northwest, from the Red Cross Hospital which survived the bomb. The other structures are largely ones re-built after the bomb.
Some of the rumors were reports of how different victims suffered from the bombs:
Many of the wounded also died because they had been weakened by under-nourishment and consequently the strength to recover. Those who had normal strength and who received good care slowly healed the burns which had been associated with the bomb. There were also cases, however, whose prognosis seemed good who died suddenly. There were also some who had only small external wounds who died within a week or later, after an inflamation of the pharyax and oral cavity had taken place.
A paragraph later, Siomes recalls:
Only several cases are known to me personally where individuals who did not have external burns died later. Father Kleinserge and Father Cisslik, who near the center of the explosion, but who did not suffer burns became quite weak some fourteen days after the explosion.Up to this time small incised wounds had healed normally, but thereafter the wounds which were still unhealed became worse and are to date (in September) still incompletely healed.
But the biggest surprise probably comes at the end of the document where Siomes shares debates between he and his peers about the morality of the bomb.
He doesn’t come to a final decision, but he does note:
None of us in those days heard a single outburst against the Americans on the part of the Japanese, nor was there any evidence of a vengeful spirit…We have discussed among ourselves the ethics of the use of the bomb. Some consider it in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civil population. Other were of the view that in total war, as carried on in Japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldier and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus avoid total destruction.
It’s an argument that continues today, but apparently consumed some of the immediate attention of survivors in the hours and days following its first use.