The Coast Guard doesn’t always get a lot of respect, but the fact remains that the service and its predecessors have fought in every American war since the Revolution, they deploy to locations around the world, and were absolute slayers in World War II. For the naysayers out there, here are just seven of the awesome things puddle pirates did in the greatest generation:
The USCGC Northland in World War II.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
The Coast Guard conducted the first U.S. raid of WWII
On Sep. 12, 1941, nearly three months before the Pearl Harbor attack, the crew of Coast Guard cutter Northland conducted the first U.S. raid of the war. The cutter was operating under a defensive treaty with Greenland and moved to investigate a tip that a suspicious landing party was operating in a nearby fjord. They investigated and found the SS Buskoe.
While interrogating the ship master, they found signs that the ship was acting as a relay for Nazi radio stations. The Coast Guardsmen went after the landing party and raided an onshore radio station, capturing three Norwegians and German communications equipment, code words, and military instructions. Members of the ship and radio station crew were arrested.
Coast Guard led the operating, maintaining, and salvaging of landing craft
The Coast Guard’s war started in the Pacific, but they were quickly employed in the Atlantic overseas as American deployed to Africa, the Mediterranean, and Europe. In all of these deployed locations, the Coast Guard was tasked with providing many of the crews for landing crafts, and it was Coast Guardsmen who were landing troops under fire everywhere from Guadalcanal to Normandy.
This was a natural evolution for the service, which had greatly increased its shallow water capabilities during Prohibition in America, learning to land teams and send them against bootleggers, possibly under fire. This led to the only Medal of Honor earned in Coast Guard history as Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro gave his life while saving Marines under machine gun fire at Guadalcanal.
At Papa New Guinea, Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Richard Snyder was landing supplies when he and his unit came under Japanese fire. He grabbed weapons and hand grenades from the supplies cache and rushed the caves from which the fire originated. The grenades went in first, followed quickly by Snyder himself. He slaughtered four Japanese fighters and re-secured the beach, which earned him a Silver Star.
The Coast Guard Cutter 16, the “Homing Pigeon,” crew celebrates their D-Day success pulling 126 drowning men from the waters off the Normandy coast on June 6, 1941.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
The Coast Guard scooped 400 men out of the water on D-Day
Part of that landing craft mission was landing troops at D-Day, but, given the sheer size of the operation, the Navy and Army asked that the Coast Guard also provide a flotilla of ships to rescue Americans stranded in the water. The puddle pirates quickly rose to the challenge, pulling from their experience saving mariners for over a century.
The “Matchbox Fleet,” a flotilla of small cutters and other craft, went to war on D-Day right behind the first wave of landing craft. They had been told to stay two miles out, but most boats moved closer to shore where they could rescue more men. Overall, the service pulled over 400 men out of the water. A single boat, the “Homing Pigeon,” rescued 126.
The USS Callaway, crewed by Coast Guardsmen, in World War II.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
Coast Guardsmen defended the fleet during the Philippines landings
Similarly, the Coast Guard provided landing support and lifesaving services during the amphibious landings to retake the Philippines. Many of the supply ships and landing craft piloted by the Coast Guard came under attack, making many of their personnel de facto guardians of the fleet.
And Coast Guardsmen distinguished themselves during this defense. In one, the men were defending their portions of the fleet from attack when three kamikaze pilots made their final approach at the supply ship USS Callaway. The Coast Guard crew were rattling off all their rounds in defense, but the gunners started to melt away when it became clear that at least one plane was going to make impact.
At least seven stayed in position, downing two of the planes but suffering the impact of the third and dying instantly. But the ship survived the fight, and the landings were successful.
The Coast Guard manned floating weather stations under fire in the Atlantic
The U.S. advantage in the Battle of the Atlantic sometimes came down to weather reports. D-Day was partially successful because the U.S. knew about a break in the storms that wasn’t obvious to the Nazis. But manning weather stations, especially ones at sea, was risky in the wartime environment.
The Coast Guard sent relatively old and under-armed ships to the weather monitoring missions where they would stay in one spot and collect data, making them highly susceptible to attack. In September 1942, the USCGC Muckeget suddenly disappeared in what was later found to be a torpedo attack, claiming the lives of over 100 Coast Guardsmen as well as four civilians. Those civilians would receive posthumous Purple Hearts in 2015 for their sacrifice.
John C. Cullen.
(U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program)
Coasties interrupted German saboteurs landing on American soil
In June, 1942, a German U-boat surfaced off the coast of New York and dropped off a team of four saboteurs that made their way to the coast. Their goal was to cripple U.S. aluminum production and hydroelectric power production through a terror campaign, weakening the U.S. and hopefully coercing the U.S. population to vote against the war.
The endeavor was quickly foiled thanks to the Coast Guard beach patrol. Coast Guard Seaman 2nd Class John Cullen came upon the group changing into disguises in the sand dunes on the beach, and offered them shelter and food at the Coast Guard station. They refused, and Cullen quickly became suspicious of the group. He played along like he believed their story of illegal fishing, but then immediately contacted the FBI.
The FBI arrived after the saboteurs had left the beach, but they were able to recover the German’s buried supplies and launch an investigation that rounded up all four men before a single attack. It also allowed them to learn of a similar landing in Florida which resulted in four more arrests with no damage done.
In fact, the U.S. actually reached deep into the bench and called up civilian sailors to help with the task of hunting subs, then put the Coast Guard in charge of them. The Coast Guard allowed the civilians to help look for enemy vessels, but then sent their own crews to hunt the enemy when they were found.
The civilian vessels and crews were often surprisingly good at the task, especially since many of them were wooden-hulled, sailing boats. German sonar couldn’t detect the sound of the sails like they would an engine, and they couldn’t bounce other signals off the wooden hulls, so they only knew one of the ships had spotted them when a Coast Guard hunter bore down on them.
Look, this whole article is basically a rant written because we’re getting tired of seeing comments about this every time we talk about NASA and/or Roscosmos. Somewhere in the comments on those articles, on our videos, or really anywhere across the internet as a whole, you’ll see someone sharing that same stupid story of NASA investing millions in space pens while Russia sensibly used pencils instead.
Nearly all of that story is complete and utter nonsense.
NASA astronaut and former Air Force test pilot Col. Gordon Fullerton, wearing communications kit assembly mini headset, watches a free-floating pen during checklist procedures on the aft-deck of Space Shuttle Columbia during the third shuttle mission, STS-3, in 1982.
A few quick things: First, neither NASA nor Roscosmos spent a single dime developing the space pen. NASA and Roscosmos both gave their spacefarers pencils and both of them hated to do so because floating graphite flakes can cause fires in sensitive electronics in zero gravity.
NASA, to cut down on the chance of a fire destroying their multi-million dollar spacecraft and killing their priceless astronauts, invested in insanely expensive mechanical pencils. The pencils were 8.89 each, or a grand total of ,382.26 for 34.
Man, imagine having to go to the supply sergeant for a box of those every time the major loses a few.
Astronaut Walter Cunningham writes with a space pen during the Apollo 7 mission in 1968.
Taxpayers, predictably, freaked out. They felt like pencils shouldn’t cost over 0 — fair enough.
So, NASA went back to cheaper pencils, but remained worried about their spacecraft and astronauts. Russia, in a similar vein, was worried about their cosmonauts.
Thus concludes NASA’s total sunk costs for the first delivery of pens. They paid in development or research costs. None.
Now, the Fischer Pen Company did spend a lot of money developing the pens — about id=”listicle-2608414142″ million, but they’re a private company counting on future sales to make up for the development costs.
And that was a sound bet. After all, lots of industries and the military need pens that can write in any situation. Miners, loggers, divers, soldiers, and a ton of other people in other professions need to be able to write in wet environments. So, Fischer would earn their research money back regardless.
So, please, when you want to make fun of the military or the government for wasting money, point to something else. The multi-million dollar space pen is and has always been bupkis.
By October 1942, American Marines and the Japanese were fighting a vicious battle around Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. Marines held a perimeter around Lunga Point while the Japanese controlled the remainder of the island.
The Marines guarding the perimeter mostly consisted of those from the 1st Marine Division. Holding a small ridge along the Lunga River, known as Lunga Ridge, were Marines from the 1st Raider Battalion and the 1st Parachute Battalion.
Those Marines were led by the indomitable Lt. Col Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, commanding officer of the 1st Raider Battalion. Edson was already on his way to becoming a legend having earned two Navy Crosses during his career. He would cement his status on Guadalcanal.
The fact that the Marines were even in place to meet the Japanese was due to Edson’s foresight. Edson, along with Col. Gerald Thomas – Vandegrift’s operations officer, believed that the Japanese were likely to attack at Lunga Ridge. However, Vandegrift believed the attack would come from another area and would not approve the placement of Marines along the ridge. Thomas finally convinced him it would be a good place for Edson’s Raiders to rest, thus plugging a significant gap in the line.
On the night of September 12, 1942, after trudging through Guadalcanal’s thick jungles, Japanese troops, preceded by an artillery barrage, emerged from the jungle and engaged the Marines on the ridge. However, the Japanese attack was somewhat premature as many other units had failed to reach their jump-off points for the attack.
After some skirmishing and an attack that drove the Marines back, most of the Japanese withdrew to regroup for an attack the next night.
Edson’s men made what preparations they could to improve their defenses.
Unbeknownst to them, they were outnumbered by over three to one.
That afternoon, as darkness approached, Edson stepped up onto a grenade box to address his men:
You men have done a great job so far, but I have one more thing to ask of you. We have to hold out just one more night. I know we have been without sleep a long time, but I expect another attack and I believe they will come through here. If we hold, I have every reason to believe we will be relieved in the morning.
Just after dark on Sept. 13, the Japanese surged out of the jungle into the Marine positions on Lunga Ridge.
A Japanese attack on the right flank dislodged the Marine Raiders of Company B from their hilltop position.
Almost simultaneously, another Japanese assault drove back the Marines of Company B, 1st Parachute Battalion. In the face of the Japanese onslaught, Edson ordered the two companies to fall back towards his command post on Hill 123 in the center of the ridge.
A third Japanese assault slammed into the Marines of C Company, 1st Parachute Battalion, which sent them reeling. With three companies in the midst of falling back, confusion and fear began to take hold. The situation was heading towards a rout for the Marines when Edson appeared with several officers from his staff and, with forceful language and spirit, turned the Marines around to face the Japanese.
Meanwhile, the remaining Raider companies were desperately holding the line against the Japanese.
Over 2,500 Japanese were facing just over 800 Marines. Wave after wave came on.
Edson sent the reinvigorated Paramarines against the exposed left flank with fixed bayonets. They caught the surging Japanese by surprise just as they were preparing to roll up the Marines’ flank and drove them off the hill.
Still, the Japanese attacks continued.
Marine artillery fire pummeled the area in front of the Marines’ positions, inflicting heavy casualties on the Japanese.
Those that survived were met with heavy fire from the Marine defenders on the ridge. When this was not enough, the Marines fought off their attackers in hand-to-hand combat in the pitch-black night.
As each successive wave was mowed down, another formed to take its place.
Eventually, the beleaguered Raiders and Paramarines were joined by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment who helped to repulse the final two Japanese assaults before dawn.
The final Japanese positions on Lunga Ridge were destroyed by U.S. Army Air Corps AiraCobras early that morning. What remained of the Japanese assault force retreated into the jungle and away from Lunga Ridge.
The terrific fighting on Lunga Ridge came to be known to many as the Battle of Bloody Ridge. But for the Raiders and Paramarines that fought there, it was known as Edson’s Ridge.
Throughout the battle, Edson was never more than a few meters from the front lines. And, according to the account of one Marine officer, he boldly stood in his position while most of them hugged the ground. Edson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership during the battle.
The tenacity of the Marines in holding their position saved Henderson Field and, with it, the American effort on Guadalcanal. Had the Japanese broken through, it is likely they could have driven the Marines from the island. The Japanese losses in the battle were difficult to replace.
The result of the battle likely had a large impact on the overall Japanese strategy in the Pacific, as resources were diverted to Guadalcanal that were needed elsewhere. And for the Americans, it was the closest they came to losing their toehold in the Pacific.
At the age of 88, he has to walk gingerly down the steps. Coming around a bend in the stairway, he points to a “Moran St.” sign encased behind glass in a wooden box.
“They named a street at Fort Meade after me, too, right there,” he says, almost in passing.
No big deal. There’s more to show below.
The basement is like a private museum — time capsules dating back to the Korean War hung and displayed everywhere. Pictures, plaques, trophies, statues, banners, posters, flags, awards, books, newspaper clippings, most of which are about him: Raymond Moran, a man whose career is stacked with achievement.
As a recruiter, Moran enlisted so many men and women that the U.S. Army Recruiting Command named its Hall of Fame after him. In 2017, he received a Lifetime Service Award. Yet Moran is so low-key that the ceremony took place at a local barbecue joint. He keeps the newspaper articles in several binders, so many that they might fill a whole wall if they were framed.
Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” poses for a portrait on Fort Meade, Maryland, March 9, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
Near the bar, there’s even an M1 rifle, returned from Korea decades after the war. It was a Veterans Day gift from his eldest son, Ray. The M1 is the same style rifle the ‘Old Soldier’ carried in combat when he was a young infantryman.
“I never put one nail on the wall,” said Raymond Moran as he offered the private tour.
In fact, every memory was hung by a professional: his wife, Barbara, who spent a decade working at the museum on Fort Meade. The couple has been married 65 years, celebrating their wedding anniversary at home on Valentine’s Day.
Like his marriage, Moran devoted 65 faithful years serving and loving the Army. He spent 30 years on active duty as an infantryman and recruiter, living all over the world: Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Germany. The other 35 years came as a civilian recruiter for the U.S. Army Reserve.
When the Gulf War broke out, Moran was 61 and had been retired for 21 years, but he convinced the Army to allow him back to duty in uniform.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” flips through a book on the Korean War during a portrait session in his home in Odenton, Md., while sharing stories about his military commitment to the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Reserve during 65 years of service both as an enlisted soldier and as a Department of the Army civilian.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“You’ve got to help me put my uniform together. I’ve never worn these,” he told his son, Ray, holding a camouflage-patterned uniform, known as “battle dress.”
“He was in the old, starched, OG-107 green Vietnam uniforms from that era,” recalls his son, Ray, who was an Army Reserve soldier himself at the time. “So he’d never worn battle dress until he got recalled for Desert Storm.”
“The age cutoff was 63, and he was just a few months shy,” said his son, Ray. “He volunteered again later at age 74 when Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off. The Army sent him a very nice, ‘Thanks, but not this time,’ letter.”
Moran served stateside during Desert Storm as a casualty escort sergeant major, a job with a heavy toll. One of his most difficult tasks was taking wedding rings off the bodies of soldiers after a scud missile attack killed 13 from an Army Reserve unit in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Moran had recruited soldiers into that unit, located less than 10 miles from his hometown of Latrobe.
“That was a perfect example of him giving himself to the remembrance of those soldiers,” said his younger brother, Jim Moran. “He put on his uniform, went to Dover (Air Force Base) and did one of the most difficult jobs in trying to show mercy and gratitude for these young men and women that lost their lives, and accompanied those bodies back to their hometown. People remember things like that.”
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” catches up friends during a welcome luncheon after a military ceremony hosted by the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, Md., March 9, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
Yet, Moran recalls his years with only gratitude and joy. His 65 years of total service are equivalent to three military careers.
“I loved it. Enjoyed every minute of it. Never complained at all any time that I served in uniform. It was just an honor for me to serve. And I have all of this as a result of it,” he says, pointing to the walls.
“All this” is more than military trinkets displayed on some walls. These objects point to the memories of people whose lives he touched. His brother and son said all those plaques and pictures are a reflection of the people Moran has helped, either through his recruiting years or otherwise.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” shakes the hand of a Soldier who recognizes him during a ceremony hosted by the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, Md., March 9, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“He’d always help other people. I remember so many people would call Dad for assignments,” said Ray. “And he’d call buddies, guys he had worked with … It was crazy because Dad never did that for himself. Even if he had a lousy duty assignment, he would never ask for a better one. But when it came to everybody else, he was always pressing for the best.”
In the Army, he eventually became the sergeant major of the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, responsible for hundreds of recruiters across multiple states. When he retired, he humbly (and eagerly) accepted a civilian position as a GS-7, basically working at the lowest level of the recruiting food chain. He reported to a staff sergeant, a rank that was three grades below his retired rank. And yet, he never acted like the work was beneath him. Instead, he loved it. He recruited for the Army Reserve and found plenty of active duty recruits to pass onto others, which helped everyone else meet the recruiting numbers they needed.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” grabs his veteran cap from his son, Ray, as they head out the door to attend a ceremony on Fort Meade, Maryland, March 9, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“Recruiting is something close to my heart. I have a lot of pride in the Army Reserve, so encouraging them to join was an easy job for me,” he said.
“He genuinely is that kind of person. Positive. Upbeat. I hope to someday love anything as much as that man loves the Army and Barbi,” said Sgt. Maj. Luther Legg, former recruiting command sergeant major and long-time friend of Moran.
“If you have something in your life you aspire to, if you can feel that much affection toward anything, then you should consider yourself blessed,” he said.
He, Barbara and their three children, Ray, Rich and Robbi — all grown into parents and some into grandparents by now — have lived in so many places during Moran’s time on active duty, but one town in particular is still a point of pride for the Old Soldier: Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” holds an honorary Korean War Memorial medal that he keeps on display in his home in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
If anyone mentions Latrobe, he is quick to mention Arnold Palmer, the famed golfer whose smiling picture is in his basement — autographed and all. Palmer and Moran were high school friends, along with Fred Rogers, who was one year ahead of them.
“He never had any tattoos underneath his sweater,” Moran reminds others of Mister Rogers, dispelling the silly rumor, which had made its way around some internet circles.
As the basement tour continues, Moran jumps from one life event to another. Historical references spanning decades press against each other. Within minutes of mentioning high school (which he attended while the world was engaged in its second war), he jumps three-quarters of a century in time to another picture.
“Happy Veteran’s Day, Pap-Pap,” he reads from one inscribed portrait of a baby named Penelope, his great-granddaughter. “Kinda cute,” he says with a chuckle.
Then, another family picture. This time, a young soldier: Christopher, his grandson, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2007-2008. Moran had recruited him into the Army.
“And of course he got pinned with a (Combat Infantry Badge), and he was so proud because the first thing he wanted to show me was his CIB,” said Moran.
An oversized Combat Infantry Badge hangs on the wall beneath a genuine M1 rifle in the basement of retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
He mentions his grandson’s CIB, because he, too, earned one in Korea.
In fact, there it is, hanging on the wall beneath the M1: An oversized replica of the award — a ribbon given specifically to infantrymen who engage in combat.
“That was pinned on me by my battalion commander in the Korean War … We were in mud up to our ankles in combat boots, and he told everyone, ‘Unbutton your top button on your field jacket. And then he came and pinned our CIB on … That day, it must have been at least 100 (of us). We were all lined up from one end to the other in a parade field. That was the only time we ever got together,” said Moran.
When the Korean War first broke out, Moran was a corporal serving in Japan on peacekeeping occupation duty. Then, the war brought him to the Korean peninsula. When he returned home to his parents in Latrobe, he was a 21-year-old master sergeant. He’d been promoted from E-4 to E-8 in one year.
“He got a lot of field promotions,” said his brother, Jim. “Which tells you that he saw a lot of action.”
A U.S. Army recruiting poster leans against the wall in the basement of Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran’s home in Odenton, Md., Feb. 22, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
Jim is 84 now. He was too young to serve in Korea, but their middle brother, Sam fought at the same time as Ray. The two brothers ran into each other several times during the war, even though they were assigned to different units. Ray was with the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. Sam was assigned to the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion in support of a British regiment known as the “Glorious Glosters.” During one encounter, they wrote a joint letter home to their parents. They missed two Christmases, which the Moran family refused to celebrate without them. Somehow, they returned home from across the world within a few hours of each other.
It’s hard to imagine Raymond Moran as a combat-fierce infantryman. Not because of his age, but because of his gentleness.
He’s an encourager, often saying to friends and family, “Good job. I’m real proud of you,” over the littlest things.
“Good job, Barbara, you remembered your medicine. You do such a great job,” he says for example.
“That was real nice of you. You take such good care of me,” he tells his sons and daughter repeatedly as they take turns visiting him on weekends.
Or, “Oh you’re right on time. I’m real proud of you,” he tells a visitor on their way out the door together.
Various portraits — including that of famed golfer Arnold Palmer — hang on the basement wall of retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran’s home in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
When he says those things, his voice is not that of a dog owner training a puppy. It’s filled with genuine kindness. It’s more like the voice of his high school mate Mister Rogers making a neighbor feel welcome in his home.
When visitors leave his home, Moran stands on the front door waving a little American flag and salutes them goodbye.
“He’s always positive. He’s always upbeat … At first you think, ‘He’s a recruiter and he’s been a recruiter for years and years and years, so he’s taught to be that way because he wants to be positive around people when talking to them about joining the Army.’ But then you realize that he’s just like that. There’s no one left for him to convince to join the Army,” said Legg.
“I remember one sergeant major one time saying to me, ‘I’ve never heard your dad say a bad word about anybody,'” recalled his son, Ray. “There was one guy who was just like the worst person in the world. Somebody said something like, ‘I hate that son of a bitch.’ And Dad wouldn’t, just wouldn’t cross that line,” he said.
Ray remembers how his dad would give fatherly care and advice to all his soldiers.
“Dad kind of adopted (them) like a second son, or third son, or tenth son, at this point. He’s got so many,” he said.
Wedding anniversary and Valentine’s Day cards sent by friends and family are on display in the home of Raymond and Barbara Moran in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
He was a father and mentor to all who came in contact with him, and beyond.
“If you track (soldiers’) mentors back, somehow they all find their way back to Sergeant Major Moran. He may not have been your mentor, but there’s a good chance that he was your mentor’s mentor … I used to kid, he’s like the (game) ‘Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’ Eventually you find your way back to Sergeant Major Moran,” said Legg.
Moran earned his nickname in Vietnam because he called a lot troops “Ol’ Soldier” when he couldn’t remember their names. Eventually, the nickname stuck back on him, especially because he was older than most around him. Yet, long before Vietnam, Raymond was known as “Smiley Moran” because of his constant smile and infectious positive attitude.
“Dad used to tell a story when I was a kid that they were digging ditches or something in Korea, and Dad was whistling,” his son said. “The captain came over and said, ‘You’re Morale-Builder Moran.’ And everybody called him Smiley Moran after that.”
What made his cheerfulness unusual was that the Korean War was no place for smiling. The winters were so brutal that some soldiers recall their gravy freezing on their plates by the time they walked back to their foxholes from the chow line. Bodies of American soldiers — frozen stiff — were stacked by the truckload after China sent 200,000 troops to fight alongside the North Koreans against the Americans. The History Channel produced a documentary on the war, titled, “Our Time in Hell.” It features Moran, among several other soldiers who fought there. The images and video clips shown in that documentary don’t evoke any desire to smile, yet “Smiley Moran” managed to earn that nickname.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” leans in to kiss his wife, Barbara, of 65 years marriage at their home in Odenton, Md., Feb. 11, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“I would (imagine) Ray was a smart fighter,” his brother, Jim, said. “He’s not one to have (made) many mistakes as a fighter. He was the one always looking to take advantage of the situation. To change the situation. To make it better for them … He was a thinking-man’s fighter.”
The Old Soldier himself talks very little of whatever combat he saw or hardships he experienced.
He’s proud of his service in Korea, summarized simply, “It was infantry. It was mud. It was hardship. Good buddies … The guys had each other’s backs. Got to know each other so well.”
He typically resorts to the same few anecdotes: seeing his brother in Korea on several chance encounters and coming home to hug his father. Yet not every story is offered as easily as his smile, nor found framed inside a picture. Some stories surface over the years in the most unexpected ways.
Like the time his son, Ray, accompanied him to receive an award in Texas in 2002 and a young sergeant major came up to him and said, “Hey! You’re Smiley Moran, aren’t you? … My dad says you saved his life.”
That was a story he’d never told his son before, and even when asked about it now, he treats it as if it was no big thing.
“I just patched him up. Did the best I could, the way they teach you in the Army,” he said, and that was it. He wouldn’t linger there any longer or brag about saving someone else’s life.
A sign reading “Raymond loves Barbara” hangs on their front door as Barbara Moran heads out for a hair appointment before celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary married to retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
Another story that surfaced unexpectedly was after Vietnam, when he went for a haircut with Barbara. The barber nicked Raymond’s neck, but instead of a little trickle of blood, it shot off in gushes. Barbara was scared. She thought maybe the barber’s scissors had fallen out of his pocket and stabbed her husband in the neck.
They managed to stop the bleeding, and Raymond was fine, but the whole incident upset his wife.
“We’re not going back to that barber shop anymore,” Barbara told her husband.
But in his typical gentleman fashion, Raymond Moran took the blame away from the barber.
“No, no. Not his fault,” he said. “I didn’t tell him to be careful. I had a wound on my neck.”
The wound was from a helicopter crash in Vietnam. This was a shock to his wife because he had never mentioned it before. After all, Moran was a 41-year-old retention sergeant major in Vietnam, not the fighting infantryman he once was in Korea.
The crash happened in the spring of 1970. He recalls how a medic had to administer an injection to his scalp because of the profuse bleeding from his neck. The medic was freaked. He’d never given a shot in the scalp before.
“Do it anyway. You have to do it,” someone told him.
He injected Moran, stopped the bleeding, and they evacuated him.
Though retired, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” still has a recruiting office at Fort Meade, Maryland, filled with Army memorabilia.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
After the incident, Moran wanted to keep a memento to remember the man who helped save his life. So he gave him a “Mickey Mouse” bill — it was fake money used by soldiers during the war. Moran asked the medic to write his name so he could keep it to remember him. He also told him to write “New Hampshire” on the bill because that’s where the medic said he lived back home.
“I went to New Hampshire (later on) to look him up, and I could never find him, and I felt bad. But I still think of him, often, up in New Hampshire. He helped me,” Moran recalled now, years later.
Unfortunately that paper bill is gone, lost somewhere in a box or maybe slipped between the pages of a book. Moran had tried several times looking for that bill, but couldn’t retrieve it.
That’s how it happens. That’s how Moran has managed to collect so many mementos. But it’s usually Moran doing the helping, and the recipient sending him a token of appreciation in return. Barbara said there are even more boxes of items in a backroom of the basement they couldn’t fit on the walls. A few miles from their home, Moran still has an office at an Army Reserve center. He doesn’t go there often, but like his basement the walls of that office are plastered with reminders: autographed portraits of sergeants major and generals, coffee mugs from all corners of the Army, a rack full of challenge coins, pictures, banners, trophies, even the Korean flag draping from one corner of the room. And stacks of business cards.
That’s the one thing everyone else keeps as an Old Soldier memento: his business card. Even though he’s long retired, he keeps some at home and hands them to anyone who visits. Sometimes he will hand out a second or third business card.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” smiles at his wife before she goes for a nap at home in Odenton, Md., Jan. 18, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“No, this one is different, take it,” he’ll say. And sure enough, this time the business card has a different picture on the back. It’s a wedding photo of him and Barbara, dated 1953.
Nowadays, he doesn’t give out as many as he used to. At 88, he spends most of his days at home with Barbara, whom he calls his “wonderful Army wife.” But on the rare occasions he makes his way to Fort Meade, he’s like a local celebrity. soldiers at the gate recognize him and many stop him to take a picture together.
At home, a nurse visits daily to take care of Barbara and checks both of their temperatures and blood pressure in the morning while eating breakfast.
After she reads his vitals, Moran asked, “Is that good?”
“That’s very good. You’re strong and healthy.”
“Good,” he responded. “I guess I’ll re-enlist then.”
Almost 42 years after the Vietnam War officially ended, veterans of that unpopular campaign in Southeast Asia will finally get some official recognition.
Thanks to the efforts of Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and his colleague, Indiana Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly, Congress recently passed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, and it is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump soon.
On March 26, Toomey hosted a conference call with reporters to discuss his legislation.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner was awarded a Silver Star for his service as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
The Toomey-Donnelly bill also designates March 29 as “National Vietnam War Veterans Day.” March 29 marks the anniversary of the day that combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam.
The Senate approved the bipartisan bill Feb. 8, and it was approved by the House on March 21. It’s now been on President Trump’s desk since March 23 awaiting his signature.
“In many cases, Vietnam veterans did not receive the warm welcome they deserved when they came home,” Toomey said. “It’s time we put a heartfelt thank you to Vietnam veterans into law.”
He added that all Americans should be grateful to those who served in Vietnam.
Toomey was joined on the call with Harold Redding, a Vietnam veteran from York who came up with the idea for the legislation, and John Biedrzycki, a Vietnam veteran of McKees Rocks and past national commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Redding said he worked on getting the legislation passed for 27 months. He thanked Toomey for his efforts in seeing it through.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me and all Vietnam veterans,” Redding said.
Biedrzycki said the legislation was long overdue.
“Every day is Veterans Day,” he noted.
Toomey said he would like to see more public recognition for Vietnam veterans, such as at civic events. Those veterans should be emphasized in our classroom as well, he believes.
“Teachers should teach about the Vietnam War,” the senator explained. “These were difficult times in our history.”
In a news release issued by Toomey’s office after the Senate approved the measure, Donnelly said, “This bipartisan bill would help our country honor this generation of veterans who taught us about love of country and service and who deserve to be honored for their selflessness and sacrifice.”
Here’s what other veterans groups had to say about the legislation:
— Steven Ryersbach, past state Commander/AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania: “It’s outstanding that Sen. Toomey is working to support and honor our Vietnam vets. Sen. Toomey’s overall work on behalf of veterans is commendable and we thank Sen. Toomey for all his efforts.”
— Tom Haberkorn, president of Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America: ” The Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America supports the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of those who answered our country’s call and served, with honor, in Southeast Asia.”
— Thomas A. Brown., Pennsylvania VFW State Commander: “All Vietnam War veterans deserve high honor and respect that many of them did not get when they returned home from war. Designating March 29 of each year to say ‘welcome home’ and ‘thank you’ to our Vietnam War veterans is a strong signal that America appreciates the service of these special patriots of freedom.”
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most well-known cultural icons of Great Britain. To date, he’s been portrayed by 254 actors and has been referenced in over 25,000 Holmes-related products. Some of these works are masterpieces, such as BBC’s Sherlock (2010) and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009).
It should come as no surprise that a character as intelligent as Sherlock Holmes was written by an equally smart man, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What most people don’t know is that his life’s story played out nearly identically to his characters’.
He was knighted outside his novels
Although the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887, he struggled to gain public recognition. It took until 1901’s release of The Hounds of Baskervilles for him to truly reach fame.
His recognition would reach far beyond fiction, however. In 1902, he wrote the war pamphlet entitled The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct. In it, Doyle counters every charge levied against the British Empire for the then-contemporary Boer War. The pamphlet became so popular with bureaucrats and politicians that he was knighted in October of that year.
He was a Doctor, like Watson
After studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Doyle searched for adventure. He became a whaling boat’s medical officer and traveled to the Arctic. He would write throughout his travels. Then, in 1900 (seven years after writing The Final Problem), the onset of the Second Anglo-Boer War prompted Doyle to travel to South Africa and serve as a medic. He was ultimately deemed unfit for frontline duties but, since he was already there and was an actual doctor, he served the British Empire regardless.
He compiled personal accounts from both the British and Boer troops he treated, which would later be inspiration for his non-fiction work, The Great Boer War. It should be noted that some of the accounts were said to be a bit dramatized.
He was a huge family man — unlike his characters. (Courtesy Photo)
He actually solved crimes, like Sherlock
Sherlock’s deductive reasoning skills didn’t simply materalize out of thin air. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle cleverly investigated crimes himself as an advocate for justice. He took on two high-profile, closed cases, both of which ended with proper justice.
The first was George Edaliji, a half-Indian lawyer accused of threatening harm to and then mutilating animals. Doyle proved that the incriminating letters used to sentence the lawyer didn’t match Edaliji’s handwriting and linked the crimes to another animal mutilation that occurred while he was in custody. The second was of Oscar Slater who was accused of murdering an elderly woman. Doyle proved his innocence. He showed that Slater’s behavior and suspicious lifestyle wasn’t because he was a murderer, but rather because he was trying to hide his mistress from his wife.
Imagine trying to feed literally tens of thousands of men. You and a couple of dozen others are in charge of buying all the food necessary fill all those bellies as they march across continents or charge from trench to trench and burned 4,600 calories per day, almost 30 percent more than a farmer would need. You would likely take whatever food was available in large quantities, and you might feed the men so much of it that they never wanted to see it again.
World War 2 propaganda poster shows soldier receiving a massive piece of freshly cooked meat under the slogan “After the fighters, you come first. SHARE THE MEAT.”
But while canned mutton was stable and safe to eat, it wasn’t exactly desirable. And that’s especially true since military buyers weren’t discerning customers, and so they were often delivered particularly gamy and poor meat. And so American troops ran into the MRE problem of today but on a much greater scale.
Mutton looks so delicious in the wild.
Anyone who has had an MRE can tell you it’s not that bad for food that can be safe on a shelf for years. Most of the components taste fine, the nutrition is pretty balanced for someone who is expected to work and sweat all day, and it can be transported easily.
But while an MRE tastes OK the first couple of times or first dozen times you eat one, eating one every day gets repetitive. Eating two a day becomes onerous. It becomes a task that you force yourself through, not a meal, not a welcome morale boost or a respite from the fear and monotony.
Now imagine that, instead of 24 separate meals like the MRE program offers, you had only a few meals, all of them based around meat. And so you would be eating that canned mutton multiple times per week, potentially as much as a couple of days a week. Poor cuts of meat, canned for weeks or months or years, and then delivered to troops that had been eating it repetitively for years.
Oddly enough, when troops got home from war, some of them told their families that they never wanted to see the stuff again.
And some allege that it’s because of this that mutton fell out of favor in the U.S. and, to a lesser degree, in Britain, after the war. The British drop off was even more noticeable because the country had been so culturally tied to sheep and the wool industry for centuries before World War II.
But there are some historians who allege that the story is overblown, that the damage to the mutton industry was already in the cards. Wool clothing gave way, increasingly, to cotton and synthetic fibers after the war, and so no one was raising sheep to adulthood for wool. That reduced the sizes of the herds that mutton was harvested from. And lamb, harvested from younger sheep, became more popular.
Here’s hoping the MRE pizza is properly rotated with other meals. We’d hate to have that ruined for an entire generation.
The history of Communism goes way far beyond the rise of Vladimir Lenin and the Soviet Union. The idea of a class struggle had been kicking around before Marx even started writing Das Kapital. In fact, the idea of a worker’s paradise was much more popular in even the United States before the Bolsheviks went and killed the Americans’ friend Tsar Nicholas II. There were even avowed Communists in the Union Army fighting the Civil War.
J. Edgar Hoover does not approve.
In the days well before the Communist revolutions that put the Red Scare into everyday Americans, everyday Americans weren’t totally against the idea. One such American was Johann August Ernst von Willich, a Prussian-born American who emigrated to Ohio in 1853. Less than a decade after coming to his adopted homeland, the Civil War broke out, and the man who dropped his noble Prussian titles and settled on being August Willich, a newspaper editor from Cincinnati soon took up the Union blue as Brigadier General August Willich.
Before coming to the United States, however, he led a very different life.
Okay, maybe a similar life but for different reasons.
Born into a military family, Willich’s father was a Prussian captain of the Hussars, an elite light cavalry regiment. His father was killed in the Napoleonic Wars that ravaged Europe in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. He was sent to live with a relative who sent him to military schools in Potsdam and Berlin. He was soon a distinguished Prussian Army Artillery officer. But his experiences in wartime Europe began to change his political views.
At a time when much of Europe was still raging over the idea of republicanism and democracy versus long-established monarchies, Willich was just turning Republican when he decided to leave the Prussian Army. After a brief court-martial, he was allowed to resign. Then he lent his martial skills to the wave of political uprisings engulfing Europe in 1848. From Spain in the West to Hungary in the East, and Sweden in the North to Italy in the South, regular working people were tired of the conditions of their daily lives, under the boot of absolute monarchs and began to rise against their entrenched kings and queens – with varying degrees of success.
Thomas Jefferson approves.
But Willich’s views were much further to the left than mere Republicanism allowed. Willich was forced to flee to London after the uprisings of 1848 were largely put down. That suppression only strengthened his resolve and pushed him further. He became a Communist to the left of even Karl Marx, a man considered by Willich and his associates to be too conservative to be the face of the movement. While Willich’s friends plotted to kill Marx, Willich simply insulted the writer publicly and challenged him to a duel. Marx declined, but a close friend of Marx decided to fight the duel – and was wounded for his troubles.
Willich then came to the United States working in Brooklyn before making the trek to Ohio. When the Civil War broke out, the onetime Prussian field commander raised an army of Prussian-Americans and took the field with the Union Army at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Kennesaw Mountain, among other places. Willich would rise to the rank of Brevet Major General, having fought in the entirety of the Civil War.
That famous 216 CE battle is now regarded as one of the most impressive tactical victories of all time. After spending two years rampaging about the Italian peninsula, Carthaginian leader Hannibal Barca cemented his status as a military legend by surrounding and defeating his enemies with a much smaller force.
Ramsay’s forces used a similar pincer movement during the Battle of the Bastards. Jon was ultimately able to subvert the historical model and break free of Ramsay’s circle of death, with the help of reinforcements from the Eyrie.
In Hannibal’s case, the Roman legions were butchered, leaving up to 70,000 dead, including Roman consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus.
Paullus’ son-in-law Scipio Africanus would ultimately defeat Hannibal once and for all at Zama.
The Boltons share their habit of skinning people alive with an ancient regime
Getting flayed alive is probably one of the worst ways to go out.
But this antagonist’s gruesome hobby didn’t simply come from the dark side of Martin’s imagination.
In fact, one ancient kingdom was famous for skinning its enemies.
According to the blog History Buff, the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II claimed to have “flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me and draped their skins over the pile of corpses; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile … I flayed many right through my land and draped their skins over the walls.”
Westeros’ colossal ice wall has a real-world counterpart
Martin first thought of the Wall on a trip to Scotland.
“I stood on Hadrian’s Wall and tried to imagine what it would be like to be a Roman soldier sent here from Italy or Antioch,” Martin told the SF Site. “To stand here, to gaze off into the distance, not knowing what might emerge from the forest.”
Hadrian’s Wall was hardly an imposing ice wall. And it didn’t protect England from scary, winter zombies. Construction on it began in 122 CE, ostensibly to separate the Romans from the native Britons.
The blog “The History Behind Game of Thrones” explains that the Westerosi Wall and the initial treatment of the Wildlings mirrors “the Roman perception of the native Britons as the ‘Other’ — a distancing strategy employed to dehumanize, alienate, exclude and justify ill treatment of groups outside of one’s own.”
There have been several Red Wedding-style attacks throughout the centuries
A strikingly similar attack took place in Ireland in 1574.
An Irish chieftain named Sir Brian mac Felim Ó Néill ruled over the kingdom of Clannabuidhe and had previously been knighted by the English Crown. When he lost the Queen’s favor, he began to fight against the English invaders. Eventually, however, he invited Walter Devereux, the Earl of Essex, to his castle to discuss peace terms over a Christmas feast, according to Wayne E. Lee’s “Barbarians and Brothers.”
At the Earl’s signal, Sir Brian, his wife, and the rest of his family were seized, while 200 of their followers were indiscriminately slaughtered.
Sir Brian Ó Néill and his family were all subsequently executed.
A similar situation occurred in Scotland, during the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe.
Captain Robert Campbell and 120 of his men were given hospitality at Clan MacDonalds’ castle. After two weeks, a message arrived ordering Campbell to attack, according to Britannica.
One winter’s night, the soldiers played cards with their victims and bid them pleasant dreams, as usual. Then they massacred all the MacDonald men they could find, including the chief.
Another Red Wedding-esque incident — the similarly-named Black Dinner — went down in Scotland in 1440. Advisers of the 10-year-old King James II grew concerned that Clan Douglas was growing too bold and powerful, according to the Week.
These advisers invited the 16-year-old Earl of Douglas and his younger brother to come over to Edinburgh Castle. The king and the Douglases had an enjoyable time. Nothing seemed amiss.
Then, at the end of the dinner, the severed head of a bull — a symbol of Clan Douglas — was tossed on the table. Like the “Rains of Castamere” at the Red Wedding, this was the signal. Much to the young king’s horror, his two friends were dragged outside, put through a mock trial, and decapitated.
Generals “rediscover” vertical envelopment every few years, and even fairly casual followers of military news are sure to have heard the phrase. Even still, it’s a fairly wonky term that plenty of folks, even regular readers, military game players, and history buffs won’t necessarily know.
Luckily, it’s not too hard to explain. The Navy created a video in the 1950s to explain the concept — and its importance in Atomic-Age warfare — to its officers and sailors.
A quick bit of background that the Navy would’ve expected Marine and Navy officers to know, but average readers might not: Vertical envelopment is an evolution of an ancient strategy known as “envelopment.”
The idea was to surround (or envelop) your enemy, and it’s not exaggeration when we call this tactic “ancient.” One of the greatest historical uses of the strategy came at the Battle of Cannae, which, according to some sources, may have been the bloodiest battle in the history of the world. A massively outnumbered Hannibal of Carthage managed to draw Rome’s legions against his formation’s center. Then, Hannibal sent more mobile units around the Roman legions, hitting them on the flanks and rear.
The Roman legionnaires, now surrounded, were slowly whittled down by Carthaginians, leading to one of Carthage’s greatest victories. A few thousand legionnaires escaped, but the vast majority of them were killed.
The famous “pincer” movement, when an attacking force hits its enemy from two sides, is sometimes known as the “double envelopment.” It’s two forces working to surround the enemy at once.
A screenshot shows the final maneuvers of Hannibal’s envelopment of Roman legions at Cannae. Hannibal’s forces are in blue, the legions in the large red block.
And, since most military units and hardware are directional, meaning that tanks and infantry are better at fighting what’s in front of them than what’s behind, envelopment leaves the surrounded force at a huge disadvantage as they try to re-direct forces to counter all the threats.
So, what’s vertical envelopment? It’s the use of aircraft to surround an enemy all at once by passing over them vertically and then coming down. While it was adopted as doctrine in the Marine Corps just before the Korean War, Allied and Axis paratroopers had conducted a sort of “light” version of vertical envelopment during World War II.
During some battles, including Operation Overlord on D-Day, paratroopers and glider troops were dropped into Nazi occupied Europe miles behind the German front line. As troop carriers were hitting the Germans on the beaches, the paratroopers were cutting off German supply lines and forming blocking positions behind the beaches.
British glider troops unload gear on June 6, 1944.
(Imperial War Museum)
But there’s a key difference between the vertical envelopment of battles like D-Day and what the Marines figured out for the Korean War and later copied in Vietnam, Panama, and across the world.
During World War II, airborne and glider assaults were typically launched to seize key objectives behind enemy lines or eliminate deadly artillery. They typically hit their targets, seized the objectives, and then waited for the forward line of troops to catch up with them or fought their way to a rally point.
In true vertical envelopment, troops land at pre-planned areas behind enemy lines and might seize some objectives, but the focus still on surrounding an enemy force and forcing it to fight in 360 degrees.
Airborne troops in Carentan, France, June 1944. If the paratroopers were used in a true vertical envelopment strategy, they would’ve landed in German-occupied France and then headed back towards the beaches, assisting the troops landing in the amphibious assault. Instead, they were sent deeper into the country, securing key crossroads and waiting for the troops on the beaches to make their way south and east.
(U.S. National Archives)
So, on D-Day, a true vertical envelopment strategy would’ve seen paratroopers landing miles behind German positions and possibly still seizing some key objectives to the rear of the German force. But the paratroopers would have also fought their way back west and north, hitting the Germans on the landing beaches from the rear.
That seemingly small but extremely important detail was the big change that the Marines introduced in the late-1940s and proved in Korea with helicopters. Rather than dropping troops behind enemy lines solely to capture objectives, they also dropped Marines behind enemy lines to isolate and overwhelm the enemy’s forward lines. Defenders suffered a full, 360-degree envelopment, achieved thanks to vertical maneuvering.
That sounds great, bravo Marines — but what does that have to do with the Atomic Age and nuclear warfare? Well, the Marines knew in 1948 that the Soviets would soon get “the bomb.” Spoiler: The Soviets got it in 1949.
U.S. Marines land in Vietnam. The Marines used vertical envelopment, surrounding an enemy using airborne or heliborne troops, heavily in Korea and Vietnam.
(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant R. B. Williams)
The big strength of tactical nuclear weapons — weapons made for use on a battlefield as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons made to bring down cities or bases on their own — is that they can quickly destroy troop concentrations with just a few shots. D-Day relied on a huge troop concentration and a single nuclear weapon could’ve killed everyone, according to Dwight D. Eisenhower, a president and, ah, yes, the architect of D-Day.
So, the Marines came up with a plan. Disperse the troops before they reach an enemy’s nuclear range. Instead of sending out a concentrated thrust of landing forces in amphibious vehicles, send out dozens of helicopters with a squad in each in addition to the amphibious vehicles.
An enemy nuke would still be catastrophic, but it could only down a few helicopters at once if they were properly dispersed.
Meanwhile, enemy forces would be surrounded by dozens of squads of U.S. Marines, all fully armed, supplied, and on the attack. The Marines proved the value of the concept in Korea and the Army used it heavily in Vietnam. Today, it’s still used across the world, and paratroopers have adopted the tactic in many of their operations and exercises.
The United Kingdom’s highest award for valor in combat, the Victoria Cross, is notoriously difficult to earn. It is awarded for “conspicuous bravery… pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”
Like the United States’ Medal of Honor, not many survive earning their nation’s highest honor. Even more rare is earning two of such medals. Since the Victoria Cross was introduced in 1857, some 1,358 medals have been awarded. Only three recipients have been awarded two.
Only one of them survived earning his second.
Charles Upham enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in 1939 at the age of 30. He was a seasoned soldier, a non-commissioned officer in New Zealand’s home army, then known as the “Territorial Force.” He signed on to the expeditionary army as a private, but his skills as a soldier soon saw him retain his previous rank of sergeant.
By July 1940, he was headed for Egypt and was placed in an officer’s training unit. The New Zealander’s first action in World War II was to reinforce the Greek Army in the face of an imminent Nazi invasion. That invasion came on Apr. 6, 1941, which forced the Kiwis to withdraw to the island of Crete.
It was on Crete that Upham earned his first Victoria Cross. The Battle of Crete was unique in the history of warfare in that it was led by a massive force of Nazi paratroopers. The British controlled the seas around Crete, but the Nazi luftwaffe maintained air superiority. The Nazis captured the island’s most important areas and soon they were reinforced by airlifted supplies and weapons. The British and Commonwealth forces would soon have to retreat to Egypt.
But first, 2nd Lt. Upham and his men were going to make the Nazi pay for evey inch of Crete they could.
In three separate actions, Upham destroyed four machine gun positions (often at close range), removed wounded men from the battlefield, and led his men to relieve a surrounded allied unit. Over the course of a week, he took out more than 70 enemy troops while wounded, exhausted, and suffering from dysentery. For this, he was awarded his first Victoria Cross.
He and his men retreated to Egypt, where he recovered and recuperated. He saw combat again in 1942, at Minqar Qaim and at the First Battle of El-Alamein, where he would earn his second Victoria Cross.
Here, the British and Commonwealth forces would fight the Nazis under Erwin Rommel to a draw. Now a Captain, Upham was leading a company of New Zealanders on El Ruweisat Ridge. They were part of the reserve force but soon lost communications with the headquarters. Not knowing what was happening, Upham himself went to assess the situation.
He found enemy machine gunners, which he was able to evade. Most importantly, he reestablished communications.
His unit was ordered to take their objectives at dawn on the second day of fighting, but found it was more heavily defended than they’d anticipated. His company was pitted against four machine gun nests and four tanks. Upham led the company in a flanking maneuver against the Nazi strongpoints.
Upham destroyed one of the enemy tanks on his own, taking a bullet to the arm for his trouble. That bullet broke his arm at the elbow. He then moved forward to cover the retreat of some of his men who had been cut off by an enemy counterattack. As they enemy retook the objective, he fought back as his men reconsolidated. One would think he had already earned a second Victoria Cross, but he wasn’t finished.
After being patched up at an aid post, he rejoined his unit, which again began to take heavy artillery fire, wounding him again. This time his position was overrun and he was captured. Only six men from his unit survived the battle.
Superior officers in Upham’s chain of command recommended him for another Victoria Cross for not only his actions at El-Alamein, but also his previous engagement at Minqar Qaim. Instead they rolled both events into the same recommendation to present to King George Vi.
The New Zealander recovered from his wounds and spent most of the rest of the war in POW camps, where he became known as an extreme escape risk. He eventually found himself in Colditz Castle, a prison for enemy officers from which escape was notoriously difficult.
The U.S. had laid a lot of plans for late World War II. After the fall of Italy and then Germany, America wanted to finally crush the empire of Japan and get final payback for Pearl Harbor. Luckily for the infantrymen and other troops slated to die against a determined Japanese defense, the empire surrendered after two atomic bombs and Russia deploying troops. Here’s what the U.S. Army had planned in case that didn’t happen.
U.S. plans for the invasion of Kyushu in Operation Olympic, the first phase of the planned invasion of Japan.
The assault on Japan was expected to take 18 months, starting with an intense blockade and air bombardment of Japan. Basically, stop Japan from pulling any more men and equipment back to the main islands and bomb the sh-t out of all equipment and forces already there.
While America had already captured or isolated many of the Japanese troops in the Pacific, there was the ongoing problem of Japanese forces in China that could slip back to Japan if the blockade wasn’t firmly in place for months ahead of the invasion.
It was hoped that the blockade and bombardment would weaken the defenses on Kyushu Island, the southernmost of the main islands and the first target. This assault was Operation Olympic, the first phase of Downfall. The Army wanted to land on Kyushu with soldiers and Marines from the Philippines, the Nansei Islands, and others. A total of 14 divisions were scheduled to take the beaches and push north.
This was slated to take months starting in November 1945. Wartime realities would push the date to December 1, and there was pressure to push it even further amid concerns that the blockade needed more time.
U.S. plans for Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese home islands via two amphibious landings, one at Kyushu Island and one at Honshu.
But that invasion through Kyushu was just phase one, a way of preparing for a second, larger invasion through the Tokyo Plain on Honshu Island, the largest island in Japan and the home of the capital. This was Operation Coronet, and it was thought to require 25 divisions just for the initial assaults, not counting the Air Force’s Pacific divisions held in reserve for additional bombardment and resupply.
The tentative date of March 1 was set for the Coronet invasion, but some officers pushed for a later date as soon as March 1 was announced. They wanted to delay the invasions to allow for a much larger air and sea bombardment as well as all sorts of preparatory operations. This group wanted to hit multiple points on the Chinese coast, in Korea, the Tsushima Strait, and other places.
Worst case scenario, this would’ve made the invasion of Japan much easier, though it would have used a lot of valuable resources. Best case scenario, it might have so crippled the Japanese war machine that it couldn’t hold its territory, allowing America to force a surrender without an invasion.
But these preparations would have required a massive supply of troops and machines, and that would have necessarily delayed Operation Downfall. Worse, the operations in China could have entangled America into the civil war there, preventing them from invading Japan for months or years.
An Army graphic showing the organization of forces for Coronet, the invasion of Kyushu Island.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, voted for the full invasion of Japan as soon as logistically feasible. For him, this was the third proposed course of action, and he said:
I am of the opinion that the ground, naval, air, and logistic resources in the Pacific are adequate to carry out Course III. The Japanese Fleet has been reduced to practical impotency. The Japanese Air Force has been reduced to a line of action which involves uncoordinated, suicidal attacks against our forces, employing all types of planes, including trainers. Its attrition is heavy and its power for sustained action is diminishing rapidly. Those conditions will be accentuated after the establishment of our air forces in the Ryukyus. With the increase in the tempo of very long range attacks, the enemy’s ability to provide replacement planes will diminish and the Japanese potentiality will decline at an increasing rate. It is believed that the development of air bases in the Ryukyus will, in conjunction with carrier-based planes, give us sufficient air power to support landings on Kyushu and that the establishment of our air forces there will ensure complete air supremacy over Honshu. Logistic considerations present the most difficult problem.
Nimitz agreed, and the two top commanders began to assemble their forces for the largest amphibious assault ever planned. They relied on all troops, ships, and heavy equipment in the Pacific as well as a steady flow of troops from Europe after the victory there.
And, if the fighting continued past June 1946, they would need to pull an additional four divisions per month from the U.S.
Japan, for its part, dragged its feet in preparing to counter a ground invasion. Even as late as March 1945, there had been little planning and troop buildup for the defense, but Japan finally addressed it. By July 1945, they had 30 line divisions, 2 armored divisions, 23 coastal defense divisions, and another 33 brigades of various types.
The Japanese plans for troop deployment to throwback or slow an American invasion of the home islands in 1945.
Those 39 U.S. divisions for Olympic and Coronet are suddenly looking like they’ll struggle, right? Like they could take heavy losses and would require those reinforcements from Europe and America?
Luckily, Japan decided to surrender instead. There are some arguments about whether this was predominantly because of the Russian invasion of Japanese islands to Japan’s north or if it was because of the atom bombs that America dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but either way it allowed America to shelve Operation Downfall and execute Blacklist instead, the plan for the peaceful, unopposed occupation of Japan.
On May 8, 1945, Navy Seabee Andrew Del Regno sent a letter to his wife from the front lines of the Pacific Front of World War II. It was one of some 600 letters the couple sent each other over the course of the war. His wife, Helen Del Regno, who was home in Nyack, New York, received it much later — after the end of the war in Europe. The war against the Japanese Empire would continue until September of that year.
Decades later, their son, filmmaker Vic Del Regno, would meticulously compile those letters to tell the story of his parents’ undying love for one another in the background of one of the most turbulent times in American history, World War II. That effort culminated with the younger Del Regno’s hour-long documentary, Till Then: A Journey Through World War II Love Letters.
The books have a different title, ‘Who Knew?’
(Photo by Vic Del Regno)
Vic Del Regno found his parents’ correspondence in the garage of their New York home. He had them compiled in leather-bound books to preserve them for posterity. Upon finding them, he was inspired to retrace his father’s service in the Pacific Theater on a trip that took him to legendary places in American military history, including Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands.
In the book’s introduction, Vic Del Regno writes that he wanted to capture “the deep loneliness and hardship many couples experienced during the war, caused by being separated by thousands of miles and long periods of time. This is a real life story, taken from the letters, that ties together the elements of love, betrayal, forgiveness, tragedy, and hope.”
The book, entitled Who Knew? A World War II Journey Through Love Letters, was changed because Del Regno wanted the film’s title to reflect how his parents signed off their letters, with a reference to a popular song of the era by the Mills Brothers, ‘Till Then.’
The Del Regno’s original correspondence, saved and bound in 12 notebooks.
(Vic Del Regno)
The letters pull no punches, documenting the war’s grim realities, along with the pain and hardships of a relationship torn apart by a seemingly unending, brutal war. Despite their dismal situation, you can also see the hope brought by each letter and the importance of receiving correspondence from home for a sailor deployed thousands of miles away.
Vic Del Regno wanted to capture the sacrifices made, not just by his parents or by the soldiers and sailors who fought the war, but by all Americans at a time when victory was anything but assured. He also hopes that it might shed some light on the struggles faced by those troops (and their families) who are fighting today’s wars overseas.
“It reaches the many sides of war experienced by those who have served and those who were left behind,” writes Jack Sprengel of the Seabee Museum and Memorial Park. “History repeats itself in many ways and this film tells a story just as important as the battle stories told.”
Vic Del Regno’s untiring work is emblematic of the motto his Seabee father shared with his fellow veterans:
“With willing hearts and skillful hands the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer.”
It took Vic Del Regno just five years and now, that labor of love – the letters of his parents – are preserved forever in the U.S. National Archives.