In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was very angry and very eager to kick some ass — hence the decision to carry out the Doolittle raid. America wanted to take the fight to the enemy, and we wanted to do so as soon as possible. Enter the Tokyo Raiders.
We all know the story: Then-Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle recruited volunteer crews to fly 16 North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8). Of the 80 men aboard the planes, three died in crashes or while bailing out, eight were captured (three of which were executed, one died as a POW), and the rest made their way back to friendly lines. Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor.
A 1979 aerial view of the Imperial Palace.
(Photo by Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism)
As depicted in the movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (based on the book of the same title by Ted Lawson), each of the raiders were allowed to pick their own targets. Several requested one particular target, but Doolittle denied the request each time. The target in question: The Imperial Palace.
Now, with America in a fight for survival, why would Doolittle deny that request? There’s good reason. Although history tells us that Hirohito made the decision to surrender in the wake of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a traditional bombing wouldn’t have had the same effect. No, Doolittle and the Tokyo raiders had a very practical reason to not hit the Imperial Palace.
Emperor Hirohito during a Japanese Army parade.
During World War II, the Japanese people viewed their emperor as a god — and it had been that way ever since Jimmu took the throne over 26 centuries prior. Hitting the Palace — and harming the Emperor — would have been very bad news for American troops. That didn’t stop some of the raiders, however, from buzzing the Palace.
The raid had frightful consequences for the Chinese civilians caught under Japan’s rule — over 250,000 were killed by the Japanese in retaliation. American POWs held by Japan were also in for a rough time. The raid also prompted Japan to move to take Midway Island — leading to the Battle of Midway, which turned the tides in the Pacific in favor of the Allied Forces.
Thomas H. Begay didn’t want to be a radio operator. In fact, up until he graduated from bootcamp, he thought he was going to become an aerial gunner for the Marine Corps during World War II.
“They sent me to a confidential area,” he said. “I walked in and there’s a whole bunch of Navajo.”
His previous MOS didn’t matter. Begay would attend code talking school.
The Navajo language had become the basis of a new code, and they were going to train to become code talkers. It was hard to see it then, but Begay and his fellow Navajo would help turn the tides of war and save countless lives.
An unbreakable code
The Code Talkers used native languages to send military messages before World War II. Choctaw, for example, was successfully used during World War I. But the Marine Corps needed an “unbreakable” code for its island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Navajo, which was unwritten and known by few outside the tribe, seemed to fit the Corps’ requirements.
Thomas H. Begay recalls Navajo Code Talker program; Battle of Iwo Jima
Twenty-nine Navajos were recruited to develop the code in 1942. They took their language and developed a “Type One Code” that assigned a Navajo word to each English letter. They also created special words for planes, ships and weapons.
But just because a person understood Navajo didn’t mean they could understand the code. While a person fluent in the language would hear a message that translated into a list of words that seemingly had no connection to each other, a code talker would hear a very clear message.
In addition to being unbreakable, the new code also reduced the amount of time it took to transmit and receive secret messages. Because all 17 pages of the Navajo code were memorized, there was no need to encrypt and decipher messages with the aid of coding machines. So, instead of taking several minutes to send and receive one message, Navajo code talkers could send several messages within seconds. This made the Navajo code talker an important part of any Marine unit.
Peter MacDonald Sr. recalls Navajo Code Talker program; Battle of Iwo Jima
Begay did well in training and picked up the code quickly. A month after arriving at code talking school, he was given orders to his new unit and sent overseas.
“They told us we were going to Tokyo,” he said with a chuckle. “In February, we were told we’re supposed to land on Iwo Jima.”
On Feb. 19, 1945, at 0900 hours, Begay landed on the north side of the island with the 5th Marine Division. One code talker had already been killed during the first wave of attacks, and five more would be injured by the time the fighting stopped. In the face of machine gun fire and mortar rounds, Begay and his fellow Navajo Code Talkers continued to relay messages that were vital to the eventual victory on the island.
In all, nearly 800 coded messages were sent during the assault on Iwo Jima. There were zero mistakes.
“I was protected by the Marines,” Begay said. “They were protecting us; we were protecting them. I was lucky. But some didn’t get lucky – like those who got killed on the beach.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
June 25, 1950 saw troops from North Korea pouring across the 38th parallel into South Korea. This began a short, yet exceptionally bloody war. There are those that refer to the Korean War as, “the forgotten war” as it did not receive the same kind of attention as did World War II or the Vietnam War. However, despite the lack of attention given to it, the Korean War was one of great loss for both sides involved – both civilian and military. Even now, 70 years later, the Korean War is given less notice than other conflicts and wars in history. It is just as important and just as worthy of remembrance as anything else.
To honor those that fought, those that died, and those that were wounded in Korea between June 25, 1950, and July 27, 1953, here are 5 facts about the Korean War:
38th Parallel still divides the two countries:
The 38th Parallel was the boundary which divided the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the North and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the South. Despite the original desires of the UN and the U.S. to completely destroy communism and stop its spread, the Korean War ended in July 1953 with both sides signing an armistice which gave South Korea 1,500 extra square miles of territory, and also created a two-mile wide demilitarized zone which still exists today.
It was the first military action of the Cold War:
After World War II ended, the world entered a time period known as the Cold War. The Cold War lasted from 1945 until 1990. It was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their allies. The Korean War was the first military action following the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War.
American leaders viewed it as more than just a war against North Korea:
North Korean troops invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. By July, U.S. troops had joined the war on South Korea’s behalf. This is partly due to the fact that President Harry Truman and the American military leaders believed that this was not simply a border dispute between two dictatorships, but could be the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world. President Truman believed that, “If we let Korea down, the Soviets will keep right on going and swallow up one place after another.” They sent troops over to South Korea prepared for war against communism itself.
General MacArthur was fired from his post:
By the end of summer 1950, President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Asian theater, had set a new goal for the war in Korea. They set out to liberate North Korea from the communists. However, as China caught wind of this, they threatened full-scale war unless the United States kept its troops away from the Yalu boundary. The Yalu River was the border between North Korea and communist China.
Full-scale war with China was the last thing President Truman wanted, as he and his advisers feared it would lead to a larger scale push by the Soviets across Europe. As President Truman worked tirelessly to prevent war with China, General MacArthur began to do all he could to provoke it. In March 1951, General MacArthur sent a letter to House Republican leader, Joseph Martin stating that, “There is no substitute for victory,” against international communism. For President Truman this was the last straw, and on April 11 he fired General MacArthur from his post for insubordination.
Millions of lives were lost:
Between June 1950 and July 1953, approximately five million lives were lost. Somewhere around half of those were civilian casualties. American troops saw approximately 40,000 soldiers die in action in Korea, and more than 100,000 were wounded. These numbers made the Korean War known as an exceptionally bloody war, despite the fact that it was relatively short.
Throughout history women have had an invisible hand in shaping the course of history through intrigue and espionage. Largely due to being marginalized by laws and cultural restrictions, women at the time could not participate in combat outright. The confederacy employed a wide array of individuals as spies — and that’s the point. Spies should not look like spies and during the Civil War, Maria Isabella ‘Belle’ Boyd was infamous in her success to disrupt the advance of the Yankee Army by feigning weakness.
Belle was born in May 1844 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to an influential family of the south. According to her memoirs, her first taste of the war came to her doorstep when a drunken union soldier harassed her and her mother until she had had enough and shot him dead. After a formal investigation into her actions concluded that she acted in self defense she was acquitted.
This is when she realized she could do things others could not and get away with it. She notoriously weaponized the discrimination against women and became a spy at the age of 17.
“She could act with more daring than a man ever could, as Union soldiers did not consider a teenage girl was capable of being such an effective spy.” – Highlight History
Against the lady-like customs of the day, she was a messenger for Generals Jackson and Pierre Beauregard. She had vested interest in aiding General Jackson because her forty-five year-old father enlisted under Jackson.
She ran her father’s hotel and seduced union soldiers and officers and gathered information. When it was safe to do so, she would give messages to her slave Eliza Hopewell, who would carry them in a hollowed-out watch case.
The most notable contribution to the war effort came when she was visiting relatives in Front Royal. She, supposedly, listened to through a keyhole on the Union War Council discussing that Major Banks’ had been ordered to advance on General Jackson at the battle of Winchester.
“Learning that Union Major General Nathaniel Banks’ forces had been ordered to march, she rode fifteen miles to inform Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who was nearby in the Shenandoah Valley. She returned home under cover of darkness. Several weeks later, on May 23, when she realized Jackson was about to attack Front Royal, she ran onto the battlefield to provide the General with last minute information about the Union troop dispositions.” – battlefields.org
This information was used by General Jackson to recapture her hometown of Front Royal. Would anyone suspect that a bonnet wearing teenager riding away from the sounds of gun fire was in fact a rebel spy? Plausible.
In her memoirs she writes that it was a daring escape, filled with union soldiers firing at her and ripping holes in her skirt as she rushed towards her father’s General. However, historians agree that her memoirs are exaggerated but entertaining to read. Her memoirs also sold really well after the war.
By 1862 she was famous, and her likeness and activities were mentioned in the New York Tribune. She would boldly walk into Union Camps, gather information, and leave as a ‘courier’. By this point in her spy career she had been arrested six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice — and got away with it. The following year on August 29, 1863 she was, again, arrested for spying. The following year after that she was captured on the blockade runner, Greyhound, by the Union. Easily she was identified and arrested for the usual charges of spying.
In August 1865 she escaped to England and published her memoirs detailing her information gathering skills. Personally I’m impressed by the audacity that she refused to be tied down by social norms and risked life and limb to take on that role and thrive.
If anybody accused female spies of espionage during the war the standard response was:
“How dare you!? Accuse me of such things is beneath the conduct of an officer and a gentleman. I am a defenseless woman.” Belle superbly used her enemy’s sexism against them, committed treason, and got away with it scot-free.
Built in the early 1930s, the 165-foot “B”-Class cutters were often referred to as the Thetis-Class. The Thetis-class cutters proved good sea boats becoming the backbone of the Coast Guard’s coastal patrol and convoy force during World War II.
Among these cutters was the Argo, which escorted Nazi Germany’s last surrendered U-boats into captivity and the Thetis, one of 11 Coast Guard cutters credited with sinking a U-boat. However, the most honored of these cutters was Icarus, which sank U-352 and captured its crew at the beginning of World War II.
Icarus and its sister cutters were designed for Prohibition enforcement, specifically tracking down rum running ships outside U.S. territorial waters. These cutters required excellent sea-keeping qualities, long-term accommodations for crew, and greater fuel capacity. Icarus was built by Bath Iron Works in Maine and commissioned on April 1, 1932.
The cutter reported for duty at Stapleton, New York, on Staten Island, and served as part of the New York Division’s Special Patrol Force, which conducted law enforcement patrols in support of Prohibition regulations. After passage of the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition, Icarus continued sailing out of Stapleton on law enforcement and search and rescue patrols.
After war erupted in Europe in 1939, the Coast Guard assigned Icarus to Neutrality Patrols protecting merchant vessels from attacks by European combatants. With the 1941 U.S. entry into World War II, Icarus joined its sister cutters in escorting coastal convoys and anti-submarine patrols in American waters.
On the morning of Friday, May 8, 1942, Icarus departed Staten Island for Key West, Florida. On Saturday at about 4:20 p.m., while off the coast of North Carolina, Icarus’s sonar operator picked up a “mushy” contact 2,000 yards off its port bow. The cutter’s crew went to general quarters and assumed battle stations.
Ten minutes after the first sonar contact, an explosion believed to be a torpedo rocked the cutter about 200 yards off the port side. Reversing course, Icarus sped toward the contact, which was heading toward the spot where the explosion had occurred. The underwater contact sharpened and, for the first time, propeller sounds were heard by the sonarman. The contact was lost at 180 yards but, after a calculated interval, Icarus dropped five depth charges in a diamond shape with one charge in the center.
The sonar operator next determined that the contact was slowly moving west, so the cutter altered course to intercept it. Two more charges were dropped in a “V” pattern at a point leading the contact’s underwater track and, as roiling water from the explosions subsided, large bubbles were observed on the surface. Icarus reversed course again and dropped a single charge on the spot where the air bubbles had surfaced. Six minutes later, the cutter dropped a second charge in the same location.
At 10 minutes past 5:00 p.m., shortly after the last charge had been dropped, a U-boat broke the surface 1,000 yards from Icarus. The heavily armed sub emerged bow first and down by the stern. The cutter’s crew was ready, opening fire with all machine guns that could bear on the sub. Meanwhile, the U-boat’s crew began abandoning ship. Icarus’s commanding officer, Lt. Maurice Jester, altered course to ram and the cutter’s 3-inch main battery was brought to bear on the submarine. The first 3-inch round fell short ricocheting off the water and through the conning tower. The second round overshot the sub, but the next 12 rounds hit the U-boat or came close, with seven of them hitting home. Minutes later, the damaged U-boat began to subside into the sea.
As the submarine sank, Icarus ceased firing, but the cutter circled the spot where the U-boat had disappeared. Icarus re-established sonar contact with the submerged sub and the cutter’s sonarman heard propeller noises again. Taking no chances, Jester ordered one last depth charge dropped over the U-boat, which brought a large air bubble to the surface. No further noises were heard from sub; the vessel had finally been vanquished. Meanwhile, 35 Germans were struggling on the surface to avoid the cutter’s path and its deadly depth charges. Expecting to be machine-gunned in the water, many yelled, “Don’t shoot us!”
At 5:50 p.m., the Icarus crew began rescue operations and retrieved Germans from the water. Except for the wounded survivors, the prisoners were placed under guard in the cutter’s forward crew compartment. The U-boat’s commanding officer, Kapitänleutnant Helmut Rathke, was among the survivors. At this point, it was learned that the submarine was U-352, carrying a complement of 48 men. Seven of the crew went down with the U-boat while others died in the water after abandoning ship. By 6:05, 33 survivors had been rescued and the cutter proceeded to Charleston Navy Yard as ordered.
The German prisoners exhibited good discipline and were surprised by the fine treatment they received on board Icarus. Several of the U-boat’s crew spoke English and talked freely on personal matters, but disclosed no military information. Three of Icarus’s crew also spoke German and conversed with the prisoners. The prisoners wished to know how much money the Coast Guard crew would receive for sinking a submarine and if crewmembers received promotions for doing so. The Germans related that they received medals and bonuses for sinking ships, the amount depending on the size and tonnage of their victims. Four of the prisoners also mentioned they had relatives living in the U.S.
On Sunday morning, Icarus arrived at the Navy Yard. There, the cutter delivered 32 prisoners and one prisoner who died of his wounds en route to Charleston. To keep the enemy in doubt about the U-boat’s fate, naval authorities did not disclose the sinking of U-352 until almost a year later, on May 1, 1943. For the remainder of the war, Icarus continued its convoy escort work, search and rescue duties and anti-submarine patrols. In the fall of 1946, the ship was placed in reserve status and stored at Staten Island. The Coast Guard decommissioned Icarus in 1948 and sold it to the Southeastern Terminal and Steamship Company.
Icarus was the second American warship to sink a U-boat and the first to capture German combatants. For his command of Icarus in the attack and sinking of U-352, Jester received one of only six Navy Cross Medals awarded to Coast Guardsmen during the war. Icarus was one of numerous combat cutters that served the heroic Coast Guardsmen of the long blue line during World War II.
If you happen to ever find yourself slated to have society as a whole decide it would be best if they killed you, the silver lining is that in many parts of the world where this is still a thing, the last meal you ever eat is likely to be significantly better than the ones you’ve been consuming up to that point in prison. So how did this rather odd meal tradition come about and is it actually true death row inmates can get anything they want to eat?
To begin with, while it’s commonly stated that the whole idea of the last meal request came about due to Christ’s famed last supper, there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of this.
So how did the tradition actually start?
While history is absolutely littered with various cultures having feasts associated with death, such as the public feast for Roman gladiators the night before their potential date with death, called the coena libera, it wouldn’t be until slightly more modern times where we start seeing those being executed widely granted such a courtesy en masse. Once this did start to become a thing, in the early going, while wealthy individuals slated for execution, as ever, could generally request whatever they wanted any time, and were even often allowed servants to attend them as they awaited their execution, common things granted to the poor before their execution seem to have been at best a swig of some alcohol or the like.
Things began to pick up steam considerably on this front around the 16th century, however. Or, at least, things appear to have. It is entirely possible that such courtesies were widely granted before this to even the poor, with documented evidence of it simply not surviving. On that note, things like the printing press’ invention in the 15th century began making documented history of rather mundane events like the executions of random Joe Citizens more, well, documented. Thus, it may or may not be coincidence that accounts of such courtesies started to pop up more and more around the 16th century and progressing from there.
Whatever the case, by the 18th century, particularly in places like England, such practices were definitely around and relatively common. For example, in London it was common to allow the condemned to enjoy a meal with various guests, generally including the executioner, on the eve of the execution. Further, there is record of Newgate Prison death row inmates being allowed to stop at a pub on their march to their death at the Tyburn Fair gallows. At the pub, they would typically share drinks with their guards and executioner.
Over in Germany, perhaps the best documented case of the food practice around this time was that of Susanna Margarethe Brandt of Frankfurt. On January 14, 1772, Brandt, a poor servant girl, was executed for allegedly killing her newborn child. Eight months before this murder, she’d become pregnant by a journeyman goldsmith who she never saw again after they had sex. She subsequently successfully hid her pregnancy all the way to the eighth month when she gave birth secretly and alone in a laundry room on August 1, 1771. Unfortunately, when the baby came out, whether because newborn babies are insanely slippery or she just failed to realize it was about to drop, it fell from her and smacked its head against the stone floor. The child then, according to her, wheezed momentarily and then ceased to breathe. Brandt subsequently panicked, hid the baby in a stable and fled the scene. However, having no money or means to support herself, the next day she returned to Frankfurt where she was eventually arrested for murdering the child. Whether she did or not, and even if it would have survived anyway given it was premature, is a matter of debate even today, but she was nonetheless convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.
Shortly before her execution, however, she was the guest of honor at what has been dubbed the “Hangman’s Meal”- a rather large feast prepared for the condemned and various officials who had condemned her. If you’re curious, the meal in this case supposedly was “three pounds of fried sausages, ten pounds of beef, six pounds of baked carp, twelve pounds of larded roast veal, soup, cabbage, bread, a sweet, and eight and a half measures of 1748 wine.” Of course, the young Susanna reportedly ate none of it, merely drinking a little water as the officials feasted around her. Not long after, her head was lopped off.
Moving over to the United States where the idea of the “last meal” is perhaps best known today, it would appear this tradition did not initially jump across the pond when Europeans began setting in the Americas. Or, at least, surviving accounts of executions don’t seem to mention such courtesies, with some exceptions usually having to do with drink or something to smoke. For example, in 1835, the New York Sun reported shortly before his execution, murderer Manuel Fernandez requested and was granted a bit of brandy and some cigars, courtesy of the warden at Bellevue prison.
As the 19th century progressed, this sort of thing became more and more reported, as did eventually the practice of granting last meal requests, which by the early 20th century became quite common.
This all leads us to why. Well, as far as more historic cases, such as the early known instances in Europe, it’s generally hypothesized that people did it as a way for officials and executioners to more or less say to the prisoners “We’re going to kill you, but it’s nothing personal.” In essence, offering a bit of kindness to the condemned before their death with the prisoners themselves seemingly appreciating the courtesy, at least when it came to the alcohol.
On that note, it’s widely reported from this that the practice was instituted as a way to ensure the ghosts of the executed would feel friendly towards their condemners and executioners and thus not come back and haunt them, but we couldn’t find any primary documentation backing such a notion.
Whether that’s true or not, moving on to more modern times, the underlying reason why prison officials started doing this is not any better documented and there doesn’t ever seem to have been any laws requiring it, for instance. It’s just something people did on their own and the idea spread, presumably thanks to the media’s then love of reporting everything about the last hours of those being executed, and the general public eating it up across the nation.
Whatever the case, law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-author of Cold (Comfort?) Food: The Significance of Last Meal Rituals in the United States, posits of all this,
Last meals may be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness for the impending execution, signaling that ‘it’s nothing personal.’… There are standard operating procedures that put up a wall between guards and prisoners, but nevertheless, there is a fondness between them… The last meal as a tradition is really a way of showing humanity between the caregivers of people on death row who are completely powerless and who come to care about these people — they feel complicit, and conflicted. The last meal is a way to offer, in a very, very small way, a show of kindness and generosity.
On this point, she also notes from her research, “The most generous meals correlate to the states that execute the most people — except for Texas…”
Texas, of course, having executed about 1,300 people in the last two centuries and trending the opposite of everyone else- actually increasing the number of executions in recent decades. For reference here, they’ve conducted 562 executions (almost half their couple century total) since 1982- apparently doing their best to adhere to the supposed 13th century Papal decree at the Massacre at Béziers, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” This translates to, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Or to put it in the form that is apparently Texas’ state motto- “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” (Joking asside, Texas’ state motto is actually the single word- “friendship”, owing to the fact that the name of the state derives from the Caddo word for “friends” or “allies”.)
On the note of Texas, last meals, and being friendly, in 2011 Senator John Whitmire very publicly pushed for an ultimately got the special meal requests for those about to be executed abolished, at least officially. He noted of this, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege… enough is enough… If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him… He didn’t give his victim any comfort or a choice of last meal.”
That said, proponents on the other side of that argument generally state that part of the point of offering such courtesies is to demonstrate that while the state is killing someone on behalf and with the express consent of the public as a whole, if it’s not done in a humane way, the public and the state are no better than the person being killed. As Professor Kathy Zambrana of the University of Florida sums up, “It comes down to how do you treat one human being when you’re about to take someone’s life.”
History professor Daniel LaChance of Emory University further chimes in, “These last meals — and last words — show the state is democratic and respects individuality even as it’s holding people accountable. As horrible as the deed they’ve been convicted of [is], the person still has some kind of dignity that we’re acknowledging.”
As to what drew the ire of Senator Whitmire to come against the then almost century old Texas tradition of the last meal, it was the meal request of death row inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer, who was sentenced to death for taking part in the rather horrific and senseless racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998. So what did Brewer ask for? A couple chicken fried steaks, a triple decker bacon cheeseburger, a beef and cheese omelet, fried okra, a full pound of BBQ, a half loaf of bread, three fajitas, and a meat lover’s pizza. For dessert, he requested a container of Blue Bell ice cream and peanut-butter fudge. To wash it all down, he asked for three root beers.
When the time came, however, he ultimately ate nothing.
This all brings us to whether inmates can actually request and receive basically anything they want. While the media widely reports this is the case, including with this specific example of Brewer, this isn’t correct at all. In fact, in the vast majority of cases where inmates request something elaborate like this, what they actually get is just a simple, one-person version of it.
As famed “death row chef” Brian Price, who prepared well over 100 such meals, states, “The local newspaper would always say they got 24 tacos and 12 enchiladas, but they would actually get four tacos and two enchiladas… They only get items in the commissary kitchen. If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three.”
That said other states and prisons sometimes do it differently. For example, in nearby Oklahoma, they allow the meal to be purchased from a local restaurant if desired, though capping it at … Other states that allow similar, such as Florida, are more generous, allowing for a budget of .
Of course, as you might have guessed from all we’ve said so far, those actually involved in making or acquiring the last meal may or may not pitch in if they so choose to go beyond. For example, in Cottonport, Louisiana, when one unnamed death row inmate requested lobster, the warden at the Angola prison, Burl Cain, went ahead and paid for a full lobster dinner, with Cain then dining with the inmate. You see, much like many historical instances of this sort of thing, before Cain’s recent retirement, he would always extend an invitation to the condemned to have their last meal with him and sometimes other select guests.
Of course, as with Susanna Brandt and Lawrence Brewer, it’s quite common for death row inmates to forgo eating their “last meal”, as the whole impending death thing generally leaves many without an appetite. To try to get around the problem, the so-called last meal is sometimes not actually the last meal at all, with it generally designated the “special meal” by prison officials. Even when it is literally the person’s last meal, it is usually scheduled far enough ahead that they might still be able to eat, but not so far away that they’ll have to go an extended time without eating before their execution. For example, in Virginia the rule is the meal must be served at least four hours before the execution. In Indiana, they go even further with the special meal often coming a few days before the big show, in a time when the person can actually enjoy it on some level.
For those who don’t have an appetite, they often share. For example, in places like Florida, in certain cases family or friends may be allowed to enjoy the meal with the condemned. Some inmates instead donate it to others. For example, in 1951, Raymond Fernandez, one of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” along with his lady love Martha Jule Beck, made a request that his meal be given to another inmate to enjoy.
On a similar note, in the early decades of this tradition in Texas, it was relatively common for the condemned to order and be given large portions of food for their special meal precisely so they could have enough to share with every other inmate on death row in the prison. This extra food request was usually honored by prison officials because it was seen not just as a mercy, but something that helped keep all those on death row in line directly before executions.
That said, not all inmates have trouble eating. Perhaps the most famous case of this was murderer Rickey Ray Rector. After committing two rather senseless murders, he attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. However, he ended up living through the ordeal owing to shooting himself in the temple- a common way to kill one’s self in the movies, but in reality very survivable if medical aid is nearby, with the person effectively having just given themselves a lobotomy.
Despite his rather deficient mental faculties as a result of the whole bullet through the brain thing, Rector was controversially sentenced to death. The issue became even more of a media sensation after the fact when it was learned that while he happily ate his last meal, he chose not to eat the pecan pie that he got with it. Why? He told the guards he was “saving it for later.”
Once again showing the humanity of the guards involved, they went ahead and saved the piece of pie just in case there was a last minute stay of execution.
This all brings us to what prisoners actually usually request for their last meal. While exact fare is rather diverse (for example in one case a person simply requested a “jar of pickles” according to the aforementioned Brian Price), if categorizing this into groups, it often comes down to either things you’d find at McDonald’s or KFC (or literally McDonald’s or KFC meals in many cases), something fancy, or a favorite home cooked meal from the person’s childhood or the like.
As for the first two categories there, it’s noted that the vast majority of death row inmates come from rather impoverished backgrounds, and thus often go with favorite food items they are accustomed to and haven’t gotten while in prison- things like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, french fries, and soda, or the like. That said, some go the other way, picking foods they couldn’t really afford when in the land of the free, or may have never even tried at all, like lobster or filet mignon. As for favorite home cooked meals, the aforementioned Brian Price states when he prepared these meals, he always did his best to make it just as the inmate described, or even potentially getting a specific recipe from the condemned’s loved ones.
Regardless of what camp one goes with, some choose their last meal not on what they necessarily intend to eat, but rather to make a statement.
As for such statements, going back in time a bit in 1963, murderer Victor Feguer requested nothing more than a single solitary unpitted olive for his last meal. He then requested the seed be buried with him in the hopes that it would grow an olive tree as a symbol of peace and rebirth.
On a similar note, one Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who apparently had been on drugs since he was 8 years old living in foster homes, as an adult murdered two women while high on a cocktail of substances. In prison, however, he got off the drugs and became a devout Catholic and, not just model inmate, but model person. As one example, at one point he attempted to save the life of a random woman he heard about who was dying from kidney failure. However, while he did successfully find a doctor willing to perform the procedure to take one of his kidneys out and give it to the woman, it ultimately turned out the pair were did not have matching blood types and the woman died. Doubling down, Nobles later attempted to have all his organs donated after his execution, but this request was denied as Texas did not allow death row inmates to donate their organs. Going back to his last meal request, he simply asked for the Eucharist (communion).
To end on a lighter note- well… relatively speaking…- in the 1940s Wilson De la Roi, who murdered a man while in prison, was slated to be killed via a somewhat newly minted poison gas chamber in San Quentin. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he merely requested a bunch of indigestion tablets. When asked why, he stated that he felt sure he was soon to have rather severe case of gas…
As far back as documented history goes, war has crushed civilizations and built new empires. Regardless of era, military leaders and warlords have long sent visual (or “FU”) messages to their enemies in hopes that emotions, not tactics, take over the battlefield.
With both sides desperate for a victory, the art of mind manipulation can trigger a response that just might reduce the enemy’s will to fight.
1. Tossed in a gutter
ISIS controls many areas in Iraq, but that doesn’t stop members of the Iraqi forces from showing their own progress.
According to Fox News, Iraqis toss the dead bodies of ISIS members in the street gutters as a form of intimidation to ISIS sleeper cells and their supporters.
2. Drawn and Quartered
Most of us are familiar with William Wallace’s legacy, especially if you’ve seen Mel Gibson’sBraveheart. What the award-winning filmmaker didn’t show was what King Edward did after the end credits rolled.
According to duhaime.org, the King of England ordered his soldiers to cut Wallace’s body into four pieces and post them at the four corners of Britain. Wallace’s head was stabbed with a spike and set on London Bridge for an epic “screw you” message.
3. Capture the flag of your enemies
Those who have had the opportunity to fight in a Taliban-infected area probably noticed the white flags flapping in the wind over extremist strongholds.
Marines love flags, too — especially their own, which wave high above American positions. They also enjoy taking the Taliban flags and putting them on display for the bad guys to see.
4. A good slicing
Around 500 B.C., a war between the State of Yue and the State of Wu in China broke out.
Gou Jian, the King of Yue, was unsure of his victory over the Wu. To try to gain an element of surprise, Jian ordered 300 of his men to stand in front of the enemy, remove their swords and cut their own throats before the battle began.
The Wu were so completely stunned, Jian was able to send in his attack on the unsuspecting army and defeat them.
Dennis Wolfe, Retired U.S. Army sergeant major, received U.S. Special Operations Command’s 2018 Bull Simons Award April 18, 2018, in Tampa, Florida. His remarkable five decade career in and out of uniform pioneering explosive ordnance and disposal tactics for special operations was the basis for the award. His expertise established a world class program to counter weapons of mass destruction becoming the standard for the United States government and our international partners.
The lifetime achievement award recognizes recipients who embody the true spirit, values, and skills of a special operations warrior. Col. Arthur “Bull” Simons, whom the award is named after, was the epitome of these attributes.
Wolfe was born in Port Trevorton, Pennsylvania and raised in humble surroundings where there was not much of a chance to make a decent living and travel.
“It was 1962 following graduation from high school and there was very little opportunity where I grew up and was raised and I always had this dream of seeing the world and knew there was a lot out there and probably the way to do it was to join the service,” Wolfe said. “I, of course, had no idea what I was getting into.”
During basic training an unfortunate injury would turn out to be a fortunate career opportunity for him.
“My basic training was in Fort Gordon, Georgia and I wanted to go airborne, but I injured my knee so they put me in a garrison unit. The guys in the garrison unit convinced me I should go to explosive ordnance disposal school, which I did,” said Wolfe. “In the EOD field I was on presidential support, VIP support, supporting the secret service.”
After serving more than a decade, he became a mentor in the EOD career field and was teaching future conventional Army EOD specialists. Then his career took an unexpected turn.
“One of my assignments in the EOD field was as an instructor at Redstone Arsenal and that is where I got a call to come to Fort Bragg for an assessment and selection process for a unit that was starting up,” said Wolfe.
The assessment and selection was for a unit whose mission would be hostage rescue and counter-terrorism. During the assessment and selection process he was noticed right away by future USSOCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Mel Wick.
“The assessment and selection process that Dennis went through was one of the toughest mental and physical selection processes in the world,” said Wick. “There were several reasons Dennis was chosen. We did some psychological testing. We did a lot of interviews with people he had worked with and he had a very important skill that was missing in the group we were assembling. It didn’t take him long at all to earn the respect of the other more experienced Soldiers that he was in the training course with.”
Another famous special operator from that era, former USSOCOM Commander Gen. Peter Schoomaker, and 2016 Bull Simons Award recipient recognized that Wolfe was a unique asset. “Dennis was a little different than most the rest of us because he came with a specialty [EOD] that wasn’t familiar to us which in the long run was fortuitous,” said Schoomaker.
It would not be long before Wolfe would take part in some of the country’s most dangerous missions, among them the invasion of Grenada, and the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt known as Operation Eagle Claw.
“We got word that the embassy in Iran had been taken over by terrorists. They said that probably was going to be a mission that this unit was going to be involved in,” Wolfe said. “That mission eventually became Eagle Claw where we planned to rescue 52 hostages.”
“When we were preparing for Eagle Claw Dennis was able to provide a lot of assistance there for the planning and preparation for that,” Wick said. “He was heavily involved in figuring out the breaching charges for the walls. He was also going to be key to looking for and disarming booby traps.”
The failed Iranian hostage rescue during Operation Eagle Claw had an impact on many special operators and Wolfe was no exception.
“I think the experiences of Eagle Claw had a deep impact on everyone that was there. I think that was definitely shown throughout the rest of his career with the lessons he learned there,” Wick said. “His ability to analyze things, to anticipate things, to always look forward, and to always be considering the broader picture rather than the small technical piece that he was focused on.”
Wolfe was noted for his calm demeanor in any stressful situation. The years of training dealing with weapons of mass destruction gave him the ability to keep his teams focused.
“In a crisis situation he was also a very steady anchor that people could hang on to, to calm themselves down by looking at Dennis,” Wick said. “I mean if Dennis can be calm in this situation, well the rest had to be.”
Wolfe became much more than an EOD specialist for the special mission unit and learned to master the essential special operator skills.
(Photo by Michael Bottoms)
“Of course when you learn when someone has this extraordinary specialty you figure that would limit what they do. The truth is Dennis ended up being an extraordinary operator as well,” Schoomaker said. “He went through what all of us went through and became extraordinary operator in the special mission unit. He ended up being a team leader and eventually being the sergeant major of the selection and training detachment.”
Being an operator means you have to take on many personas and Wolfe was very skilled at going from noticed to unnoticed.
“Dennis was able to fit into whatever conditions he was faced with. He could be out in the mud and two hours later he’s cleaned up in a suit in front of an ambassador or a senator giving a briefing. One hour after that he is with a bunch of scientists going through the very technical details of disarming a nuclear weapon,” Wick said. “I’ve seen him sit on the corner in dirty ragged clothes with a bottle of wine while he is observing a target. He could adapt very rapidly in his speech. He could sound like a redneck or he could sound like a scientist and he could switch from one to the other very easily.”
Retiring from the Army, Wolfe became a civil servant and carried on the special operations EOD mission that eventually would have a global impact.
“Even after he retired we retained him in a civilian capacity where he could put his full time effort into developing a full scale program as the field evolved,” said Schoomaker.
In his civilian capacity, Wolfe would go on and write the tactics, techniques, and procedures that would greatly enhance the security of the United States.
“When Dennis Wolfe and I met the Soviet Union recently collapsed and there was a big concern about the loss of control of weapons of mass destruction,” said James McDonnell, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. “Dennis was the guy that brought EOD into special operations. So he had the vision to understand how the terrorist threat was evolving and that vision was absolutely critical because all the planning had to be done in advance. All techniques, tactics and procedures had to be done in advance and they really didn’t exist.”
Wolfe was a master at dealing with people who weren’t in special operations and incorporating their expertise into a special operations mission.
“So for example, scientists had all kinds of tools they thought were great, but you couldn’t necessarily jump out of an airplane with. You couldn’t dive with them,” McDonnel said. “So what Dennis was able to do was bring that into this national laboratory complex and say ‘if you take this tool and modify in this particular way then we can use it.'”
Echoing Secretary McDonnell’s sentiment, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. James Bonner, who today is the commander of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Command, and was as an officer who served with Wolfe, thinks he has had lasting, legacy impact on the entire EOD community.
“When we talk about weapons of mass destruction we are talking about chemical, biological, nuclear, it can be radiological, it can have an explosive element to it and when you look at an explosive ordnance disposal technician it takes about one year to go through EOD school, just to be able to work basic EOD problems. Then if you are fortunate to be assigned to the special mission unit, the training plan Dennis incorporated with the national lab takes another year of training before you are ready for a role in the special mission unit. That is the level of expertise and capability that Dennis was able to build.”
“Dennis was able to bring highly technical skills into the special operations community that it didn’t have before and build that capability literally over decades into a national asset that is globally unique,” said McDonnell.
Reflecting on his fifty years of government and in special operations, Wolfe’s humility is readily apparent.
“I never turned anything down. I never planned anything specifically. The unit said they needed me because of my skills. I couldn’t refuse. I’ll go. I never thought I had all those skills people were looking for. Sometimes they had more faith in me than I had in myself. I felt as a Soldier I couldn’t turn anything down,” Wolfe said. “During my time SOF has gone from reactive to proactive. I think we are still there today. At least I hope we are.”
“He had the courage to do some really amazing things and has made contributions that are just unmeasurable to the security of the United States,” Wick said.
Modern Americans can join the military and go to war without too much fuss, since the U.S. still needs people for ongoing fights in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots around the world.
But our forefathers didn’t always have a place to go if they got the martial itch. Sometimes, they really wanted to join a war that the American people didn’t want to get involved in.
That’s when truly bold Americans would just join another country’s military and get to work.
1. Polish 7th Air Escadrille
As a victor of World War I, Poland grew in size, gained a border with Russia, and quickly found itself at war with the communist Bolsheviks. American volunteers were allowed to form the Polish 7th Air Escadrille and the aviation unit engaged in fierce ground attacks against Russian cavalry from 1919 to 1920.
2. The gendarmeries and national guards of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
In the early 1900s, Marines were sent to Caribbean nations to protect American business interests and to help shore up governments friendly to the U.S. The Marines who were dispatched to the islands often ended up holding ranks in both the U.S. military and the local forces at once. For instance, then Maj. Smedley Butler was the commandant of the Haitian Gendarmerie and then Cpl. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller was a second lieutenant in the Gendarmerie.
3. Eagle Squadrons
Americans who wanted to take the fight to Nazi Germany before Pearl Harbor had few legal options, but some lied about their citizenship and risked exile from America to join the Royal Air Force in 1939 and 1940. Eight Americans took part in the 1940 Battle of Britain that saw the RAF narrowly defeat attempts by Luftwaffe to open the British Isles to invasion.
Dozens more Americans arrived after the Battle of Britain and helped the U.K. hold the line until America’s entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Unfortunately, the fighting went badly for the American volunteers. Nearly one-third of them died in Spain and the Republic was overthrown by Fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.
5. The Flying Tigers
The Flying Tigers of World War II were a group of American pilots and ground crew who President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly authorized to go to China and help that country fight the Japanese invasion. Despite the presidential authorization, the Americans had to resign their military positions and travel under assumed identities.
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)
By the summer of 1953, the Korean War had raged on for three years. The back and forth maneuvers up and down the peninsula had given way to a stalemate known as the Battle of the Outposts.
All along the 38th Parallel, the belligerents attacked one another’s outposts in the hopes of affecting a breakthrough. Blocking the Communist forces from driving straight on Seoul through the Cheorwon Valley, in an area known as the “Iron Triangle,” were three lonely outposts: Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Outpost Harry was situated on a hilltop in front of the Main Line of Resistance and opposite a Chinese position known as Star Hill. Being so far out in front meant that resupply was difficult and always under enemy observation. Harry’s 1,280-foot elevation did nothing to help matters.
On the night of June 10, 1953, as negotiations to end the war took place just over 50 miles away, elements of the Chinese 74th Division attacked in force. The task of defending the outpost that night fell on K Company, 15th Infantry Regiment. Having spent the previous days improving their defenses and sighting in weapons, they were given the order to hold at all costs.
The attack began with a bombardment by mortars, rockets, and artillery. Suddenly the outpost was illuminated by enemy flares. Bugles and whistles sounded and over 3,600 Chinese soldiers rushed toward the outpost. The Americans rained fire down on the advancing Chinese. They exploded 55 gallon drums of Napalm in the midst of the attackers and blasted them with artillery. They were able to repulse two determined waves before the Chinese made it to the trenches and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The Chinese were overrunning the outpost.
Lt. Sam Buck, Forward Observer from the 39th Artillery Battalion, was in the Command Post on Harry when it was overrun by the Chinese. As Chinese grenades exploded in the bunker and his comrades were wounded, he continued to resist, dropping any Chinese that came through the door with a burst from his carbine. Eventually wounded and unable to continue firing, he played dead while the Chinese occupied the bunker. The fighting was so intense, one of his last actions before being evacuated later that night was to put the Company Commander’s eyeball back in its socket.
With the defense of the outpost in peril the defenders were rallied by Sgt. Ola Mize. Throughout the attack Mize moved about the outpost tending to wounded, resupplying ammunition, and killing numerous enemies. Three times he was knocked down by explosions and three times he continued his mission. For his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Eventually artillery strikes called right on top of the outpost, along with reinforcements from C and E Companies, drove the Chinese out of the trenches. A diversionary attack by F Company, 65th Infantry Regiment also helped in clearing the area. The next morning only a handful of the original defenders were still in fighting shape. K Company was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their gallantry at the outpost.
B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment relieved K Company and took up the defense of Harry on June 11. Again darkness fell, and the Chinese began bombarding the American positions. Advancing through their own artillery barrage, the Chinese were able to gain the trenches once again. The defenders threw back several attacks before being reinforced by B Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team. Together the two companies defeated a second Chinese regiment in as many nights. B Company, 15th Infantry was awarded the regiment’s second Presidential Unit Citation.
The next night it was A Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team’s turn on the outpost, and once again the Chinese sent a reinforced regiment against the American position. As before, the Chinese advanced through both their own artillery and the Americans’ before entering the trenches where bitter hand-to-hand combat took place. The 15th Infantry Regiment sent L Company to reinforce and drive out the Chinese while another unit of tanks and infantry assaulted through the valley in a diversionary attack. For their actions in the defense, A Company, 5th RCT was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
The following night, June 13, was relatively quiet. The main action was against a Chinese screening force that attempted to recover their dead from the area around the outpost.
On the night of June 14, a small Chinese force was able to close in on the trenches through their own artillery barrage and attack G Company, 15th Infantry from the rear of the outpost. Reinforcements from E Company, 15th Infantry and a diversionary attack by elements of the 65th Infantry drove the Chinese from the outpost once again.
The next two nights were quiet on the outpost and allowed for some much needed repairs. Men from the Sparta Battalion of the Greek Expeditionary Force were also brought into the area to reinforce the depleted and beleaguered defenders. The Chinese used this time to cobble together what was left of the 74th Division for one more attack on the outpost.
That attack came on the night of June 17. The Chinese threw everything they had left in one last desperate attempt to dislodge the defenders of Outpost Harry. That night the men of P Company, Sparta Battalion, bore the brunt of the Chinese attack. Friendly artillery pounded the slopes around the trenches while the Greeks threw back wave after wave of communist attackers. N Company, Sparta Battalion reinforced their brothers and drove off the Chinese. The 74th Division retreated from the area, combat ineffective after the battle with U.N. Forces. P Company was awarded the American Presidential Unit Citation for holding Outpost Harry the final night.
In total there were five Presidential Unit Citations given for action at Outpost Harry, as well as one Medal of Honor and numerous other personal awards for valor. Just over a month later the armistice was signed, and the defense of Outpost Harry was crucial in ensuring a favorable agreement.
People say “chivalry is dead” like that’s a terrible thing.
In the popular imagination, chivalry seems to harken back to some mythical era when armored knights rode about the land going on quests, saving maidens, and fighting evildoers.
But chivalry is really a word “that came to denote the code and culture of a martial estate which regarded war as its hereditary profession,” Maurice Keen writes in “Chivalry.”
He argues that medieval chivalry had a major part in molding “noble values,” and, as a result, has had an impact felt long after troubadours and jousting tournaments fell out of fashion. The romantic notion of the daring, pure-hearted knight errant lingers on, even today.
It’s difficult to speak broadly about the medieval era in Europe, given that it encompasses several centuries and an entire continent. Generally speaking, however, in many cases, knights and medieval warriors served as a local lord’s private military. That meant that sometimes, regional conflicts set a group of armed toughs tearing through the countryside and doing whatever the heck they wanted.
Codes of chivalry didn’t take hold in vacuum. There was no uniform “code of chivalry,” and those codes that existed were often far more religious in nature than our modern concept of “hold the door for ladies.” They also cropped up in part to keep knights and warriors from acting on their worst impulses and attacking or extorting weaker individuals.
Starting in the late 900s and lasting till the thirteenth century, a movement known as the Peace and Truce of God rose in Europe. Basically, the Church imposed religious sanctions in order to halt the nobility from fighting among themselves at certain times and committing violence against local noncombatants. You can think of these as rules for knighthood.
One 1023 oath, suggested by Bishop Warin of Beauvais for King Robert the Pious and his knights, gives us a good sense of some of the unexpected rules warriors might be asked to adopt, in response to their often violent behavior.
It includes some rather unusual injunctions and “illustrates the kind of oath that parties were expected to swear after having been caught breaking the peace,” according to Daniel Lord Smail and Kelly Gibson, who edited the sourcebook “Vengeance in Medieval Europe.” A main idea behind the movement was to use spiritual sanctions to give people a break from all the conflict and fighting that plagued certain areas at some points during the Middle Ages.
With that in mind, here are some of Bishop Warin of Beauvais’ proposed rules for knights, which indicate some truly bad and largely unchivalrous behavior on the part of medieval warriors:
1. Don’t beat up random members of the clergy
Bishop Warin of Beauvais barred knights from assaulting unarmed clerics, monks, and their companions, “unless they are committing a crime or unless it is in recompense for a crime for which they would not make amends, fifteen days after my warning.”
Gunald of Bordeaux also condemned anyone who “attacks, seizes, or beats a priest, deacon, or any other clergyman who is not bearing arms — shield, sword, coat of mail, or helmet — but is going along peacefully or staying in the house,” according to Fordham University’s medieval sourcebook.
Instead of formally cursing the offenders, Gunald vowed to excommunicate any attackers “unless he makes satisfaction, or unless the bishop discovers that the clergyman brought it upon himself by his own fault.”
2. Don’t steal livestock or kill farm animals for no reason
The oath includes an injunction against making off with bulls, cows, pigs, sheep, lambs, goats, donkeys, mares, and untamed colts.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
It also came out against seizing mules and horses at certain times of the year: “I will not exact by extortion mules and horses, male and female, and colts pasturing in the fields from the first of March to All Souls’ Day, unless I should find them doing damage to me.”
However, the bishop of Beauvais allowed that knights could kill villagers’ animals if they needed to feed themselves or their men.
In Gunwald’s proclamation, he also announced that any knight who robbed a poor person of a farm animal would be formally cursed.
3. Don’t assault, rob, kidnap, and torture random people
This rule should have probably gone without saying, but Bishop Warin of Beauvais felt that he needed to include it in the oath.
The bishop wanted knights to swear against mistreating male and female villagers, sergeants, merchants, and pilgrims. This abuse he cited included robbery, whipping, physical attacks, extortion, and kidnapping for ransom.
4. Don’t burn down or destroy houses unless you have a good reason
Arson was a big no in the bishop of Beauvais’s oath — for the most part.
Exceptions were made in the event a knight discovered “an enemy horseman or thief within” a certain house.
That sounds harsh, but Kaeuper writes that, while wrath was a sin, “vengeance is a cornerstone of the chivalric ethos, the harsh repayment justly given for an dimunition of precious honor.”
“Nocturnal fire” by Egbert van der Poel (1621–1664)
Knights were also warned against plundering and stealing from the poor, even “at the perfidious instigation” of a local lord.
Kaeuper cite’s Alan of Lille’s declaration that knights achieved the “highest degree of villainy” by supporting themselves by looting from impoverished people.
5. Don’t assist criminals
Knights had a bad rap in certain parts.
Kauper writes that Alan of Lille once said that knights had the “cruel nature of marauders” and that “soldiers have been made the leaders of pillaging bands; they have become cattle-thieves.”
Photo by Glenn Brunette
Considering such a borderline criminal element, it’s not surprising that the Bishop Warin of Beauvais wanted knights to swear not to harbor and assist any “notorious public robber.”
He allows that, if a criminal comes to a knight for protection, that the knight should either make amends for the wrongdoer, force him to make amends within fifteen days, or deny him protection.
6. Don’t attack women — unless they give you a reason
The oath included a stipulation telling knights not to assault noblewomen traveling without their husbands. It also expanded protection to those attending them, along with widows and nuns, in general.
However, this shield was revoked if a knight “should find them committing misdeeds against” him.
7. Don’t ambush unarmed knights from Lent to Easter
A major part of the Peace and Truce of God movement was declaring that fighting should not take place during certain parts of the year.
Photo from Public Domain
Yale Law School’s Avalon Project features a 1085 decree from Emperor Henry IV, which declares that peace should be observed every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, on apostles’ feast days, and from the ninth Sunday before Easter until the eighth day after Pentecost, among other times.
In a similar vein, Bishop Warin of Beauvais ordered medieval warriors not to attack unarmed knights “from the beginning of Lent until the end of Easter.”
In April 1944, an intrepid pilot swooped into the jungle in Burma and scooped up three wounded British soldiers and began to fly them out. It would have been a grand escape, a small part of the growing story of air ambulances in World War II. But this story isn’t about that pilot, Tech Sgt. Ed Hladovcak.
An L-1A Vigilant similar to the plane piloted by Tech. Sgt. Ed Hladovcak before he went down.
They were alone behind enemy lines. Low-flying planes of the 1st Air Commando Group, of which Hladovcak was a member, found the struggling survivors. But while the air commandos had planes specially made for jungle and short airstrip operations, even those planes couldn’t get the four men out of the jungle they were in. So the order was given to send in a YR-4B, the first military production helicopter.
The YR-4B was an experimental aircraft, but it worked and went into production. The early models had bomb racks and were used in a variety of combat trials while the later R-4 had the racks stripped off. There were so few helicopter pilots in the world in 1944 that there was only one qualified pilot in the China-Burma-India Theater: 1st Lt. Carter Harman.
1st Lt. Carter Harman, standing at left, and other members of the 1st Air Commando Group medical evacuation mission.
(U.S. Air Force)
Harman had joined the Air Corps to avoid being drafted into the infantry, but fate steered him into helicopter flight. Despite Harman’s martial misgivings, he took to the “whirlybirds” and became just the seventh Army pilot to fly a helicopter solo. When he shipped to India, he was the only one who could fly the “eggbeater.”
And he was needed 600 miles away, over mountains and through thin air which his helicopter could barely traverse, as fast as possible if the four men on the ground were going to get away without being captured or killed by the Japanese troops already searching for them.
Harman packed the YR-4B with extra fuel and took off on a marathon flight, hopping through the terrain until he reached a jungle airstrip known as “Aberdeen.” Then, despite the jungle air inhibiting the performance of his air-cooled engine and the lift of his rotors, he took off over the trees.
A liaison airplane, one of those models built to perform in the jungle, led Harman to the downed airmen. But thanks to that jungle air mentioned above, Harman could only lift one patient at a time. So, he landed April 24 and spoke to Hladovcak, and Hladovcak helped load a British soldier. It was Hladovcak’s first time seeing a helicopter.
Harman carried him and then a second British soldier back to Aberdeen and came back for the third man, but his engine gave out under the strain. He was forced to land on a small sandbank as Japanese troops prowled the nearby jungle, searching for him. Alone behind enemy lines, Harman slowly repaired his engine. On the morning of April 25, he was back in the air.
He quickly got the third British soldier to a waiting liaison plane and then pulled out Hladovcak, flying his 1st Air Commando counterpart to Aberdeen. Harman would later receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. This and other rescues in World War II proved the value of helicopter evacuation, leading to its extensive use in Korea and then Vietnam.
It was there, in the jungles of Vietnam, that the helicopter cemented its place in military aviation. It didn’t just serve medical evacuation; it was used extensively to move supplies and troops, and Bell Helicopters sold the Army its first dedicated attack helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra.