The USS Growler was listing at 50-degrees, its bow bent sharply to the side. Japanese machine gun fire raked the bridge. Two men had already been killed and three more wounded — including the submarine’s captain, Cmdr. Howard Gilmore. He was clinging to bridge rail to keep from collapsing. The Growler needed to submerge to survive; there was no time to waste. Gilmore cleared the bridge and, too badly injured to save himself, he gave the order.
Take her down!
He sacrificed himself and saved his boat. He had also earned a Medal of Honor, becoming only the second submariner to be so honored and the first of World War II.
His body was never found.
The Selma, Alabama native graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1926. He served on the Battleship USS Mississippibefore entering the submarine service in 1930 and served on several submarines there before taking command of the newly-built Growler the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After her shakedown cruise, the Growler played a minor role at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and then began wartime patrols.
Gilmore commanded her on four of those patrols.
On his first patrol in July 1942, the Growler was near Kiska in the Aleutian Islands when she spotted three Japanese destroyers. Commander Gilmore attacked, sinking one of destroyers, the Arare, damaging the other two. The action earned him a Navy Cross.
But it’s the fourth patrol that is remembered.
In early February 1943, the Growler was in the area of the Bismarck Islands off the northeastern coast of New Guinea and already sunk 12,000 tons of Japanese shipping and damaged at least one other ship. In the early morning hours of Feb. 7, she was on the surface charging her batteries when the Japanese convoy escort Hayasaki spotted her through the darkness and the overcast. The Japanese ship quickly turned to ram the submarine. Gilmore, who was on the bridge at the time, sounded the collision alarm and ordered “left full rudder,” which brought the Growler on to its own ramming course.
The submarine struck the Japanese ship amidships at eleven knots, damaging Hayasaki‘s plating and her own bow. Eighteen feet of the submarine’s bow was bent to port and the forward torpedo tubes were put out of action. She was listing. The Hayasaki immediately began raking the Growler’s bridge with machine gun fire, killing the junior officer of the deck, Ensign W. Williams, and a lookout, Fireman W. F. Kelley. Two other crewmen on the bridge were also severely wounded, one with a serious leg injury and the other with an arm wound.
Hanging on as the Growler listed and knowing the Growler had to submerge or be lost, Gilmore ordered the bridge cleared. The Quartermaster and Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Arnold Schade, went through the hatch and pulled the wounded men through after them.
They waited in the control room for Cmdr. Gilmore to follow.
Instead, they heard the command: “Take her down!”
The Growler submerged and was able to avoid further damage. When she later surfaced, there was no sign of the Hayasaki — or of Gilmore, Williams, and Kelley.
Schade and the remaining crew of the Growler were able to hold the submarine together enough to get her back to Brisbane, Australia, arriving on Feb. 17. There, she was dry-docked and underwent extensive repairs before returning to the war under the command of Capt. Schade.
Growler continued wartime patrols for the next two years but was lost with her crew off the Philippine Islands in November 1944. It was her 11th patrol on the war.
Gilmore was awarded a Medal of Honor and additionally honored in September 1943 when a new submarine tender was christened the USS Howard W. Gilmore and launched in California.
The command, “Take her down!” became a legend in the submarine service.
Elephantry in the ancient world was the weaponized manifestation of an emperor’s power and wealth. India was the first and the last country to officially use them in direct combat. These majestic beasts were captured and trained to serve as ‘tanks’ from as early as 1500 B.C. to 1800 A.D.
They also served as beasts of burden for engineers in World War II.
Male elephants were captured in the wild and were trained to indiscriminately attack humans. It was once thought that elephants could not tell the ethnic differences between people, but modern studies have debunked this myth. Considering this, armies would dress in vivid colors to differentiate themselves from the enemy. However, it didn’t always work out so well.
Warfare evolves and, as a result, war elephant armor went from mundane and utilitarian to extravagant. Towers were tied onto their backs like saddles to house up to six warriors. Mounted personnel would consist of one officer, archers, and spearmen who, while astride the elephant, would have a mobile height advantage and protection. Spikes or swords were fastened onto the tusks and ankles of the elephant to increase lethality. They were raised to spearhead formations and break the lines of a phalanx. Their purpose was to instill terror and exacerbate the fog of war.
To ensure maximum aggression, handlers would serve elephants wine before battle then prod them at the ankles to direct their anger forward. The elephants would charge into formations, blinded by rage, and unleash a symphony of violence and death.
Dumbo, drinking the grog at the Marine Corps Ball, circa 1996, colorized. (Image from Disney’s Dumbo)
At the Battle of the Hydaspes, in 326 B.C., King Porus of Paurava and King Alexander III of Macedon showcased how elephantry was employed and taken down in battle. Alexander ordered his Phalanx to take on Porus’ elephantry, but their sheer size and fearsome force were enough to break the lines in several places. Seeing his infantry decimated, he ordered his cavalry to reinforce the lines.
On Alexander’s orders, the light infantry sent javelins into the eyes of the beasts in tandem with the heavy infantry who cut at their hamstrings with axes and scimitars. The elephants, wild with pain and fear and unable to defeat the Phalanx, stampeded onto their own troops. King Porus’ ordered a full attack as a last-ditch effort to retake the initiative, but his forces were slaughtered. The surviving elephants were then captured and used by Alexander in subsequent battles.
As exciting as it may be to imagine something out of a Greek epic, the quality of life for these creatures was often abhorrent. Elephants are one of the few animals in the animal kingdom to mourn friends and relatives. Their intelligence and memory have become synonymous with serenity and grace.
These veterans of the ancient world have done their service and are no longer used in battle. Their watch has ended.
“These Kentucky men are wretches,” wrote British Redcoat NCO Sgt. James Commins, ” suborned by the government and capable of the greatest villainies.” The War of 1812 was in full swing by the end of that year, and fighting the war on the British side were contingents of Native American tribes while the Americans called up state militias.
The one thing the British didn’t want was to face the militias from Kentucky. Those guys were maniacs.
(Laughs in Kentuckian)
Kentucky, being on the American frontier at the time, had no fortifications and didn’t have to defend any structures, so its militiamen spent much of their time fighting the enemy wherever they were to be found. Being on the frontier, they spent a lot of time fighting the British Army’s Indian allies. The Indians were really good at taking the scalps of their enemies, a story which the U.S. government used as propaganda. The British tried to get the Indian tribes to cool it with the scalping, but it was too late. The story spread, and the Americans soon had their own savage band: Kentuckians.
The men from Kentucky were reported to have fought almost naked when weather permitted, painting themselves with red all over their body, sometimes carrying only a blanket and a knife with which to take their own enemy scalps. When the British sent Indian Tribes into the Michigan territory, Gen. William Hull, commander of the Michigan forces and governor of the territory, threatened to send Kentucky troops into Canada as a response.
Redcoats must have been sad to find Kentuckians in New Orleans.
(Kentucky National Guard)
And they did invade Ontario.The redcoats weren’t thrilled to be fighting the Kentuckians either. They took enemy scalps not just a war tactic, but as a token of pride in their masculinity. The Kentucky penchant for taking scalps was so well-known, the Indians began to call their militiamen “Big Knives” because of the size of their scalping knives. As a matter of fact, the Indians agreed to stop scalping until the Kentucky militia began their own scalping campaign, and the practice was revived for another half-century or more.
When Redcoats found their pickets and sentries dead and scalped in the mornings, they knew there were Kentucky men in the area, and it made them uneasy. But Kentucky men were not invincible. The Kentuckians took more casualties than all the other state militias combined, fighting in every neighboring state and territory as well as helping the defense of New Orleans while supplying the U.S. with saltpeter.
When William “Wild Bill” Donovan created the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, he was looking to create a truly unique intelligence outfit whose ranks included the least suspicious group of spies, saboteurs, and strongmen who were willing to infiltrate enemy countries and gather intelligence for the Allied cause. This precursor to the modern-day Central Intelligence Agency included a number of famous agents.
Actor John Wayne visiting troops in Brisbane, Australia.
For such a military supporter to not have served in the military seems strange – and it seemed strange to him too. As a matter of fact, his service (or lack thereof) during World War II seemed to follow the actor for the rest of his life. But when he died, a certificate was found among his personal papers, from William Donovan, commander of the OSS, thanking him for his service to the office. All the Duke ever divulged about WWII service was gathering information while on a trip to Brisbane to entertain American troops, but ever since his death rumors swirled about what exactly his roles could have been. Only two people knew for sure – Wayne and Donovan.
Moe Berg was possibly one of the most brilliant Americans who ever lived. And his service to the OSS was invaluable. Berg personally jumped into occupied Norway to help take down a Nazi heavy water plant in an attempt to keep the Third Reich from its nuclear ambitions. But Berg’s most valuable service was capturing film of important Japanese military targets while on a goodwill baseball trip before the war. A film he happily provided American authorities.
Before the United States entered World War II, Marlene Dietrich was way ahead of the game in hating on Hitler. After helping Jews escape persecution with her Hollywood salary, she renounced her German citizenship. During the war, she made so many trips to the front to entertain the troops, it was said she’d seen more action than General Eisenhower. The OSS recruited Dietrich to record propaganda songs in German to demoralize the enemy.
Before she began serving up French cuisine, TV Chef Julia Child was serving up French freedom with the OSS. She began her career working directly for Donovan, writing the names of agents on index cards. She later helped develop shark repellant for the OSS to keep sharks from detonating sabotage charges intended for German u-boats. Child also worked as the head of the OOS registry in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) memorizing every message that passed through her office.
The Of Mice and Men author and World War II correspondent was one of the earliest recruits for the Office of Strategic Services. In 1942, Steinbeck penned The Moon Is Down as an epic piece of pro-Norwegian propaganda that was translated into Danish and distributed by the Danish Resistance.
On Dec. 8, 2020, U.S. Army Veteran David Harker will celebrate his 75th birthday. He may recognize the accomplishment while on his daily five mile walk, or by taking a drive in his 47-year-old car – a 1973 Corvette he’s owned since it was given to him by classmates when he returned from Vietnam after spending more than five years as a prisoner of war.
A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, Harker is the third of seven children. He was an athlete in high school and received his associate’s degree from Bluefield College before transferring to Virginia Tech in 1966. By 1967, however, his fortunes had changed.
David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.
“I was doing my junior year at Virginia Tech and my grades were low, so I had to take a quarter off in 1967 and during that time, because I wasn’t a full-time student, I had to let the government know. They got me,” he said.
When the draft notice came, Harker’s father, an electrical engineer took the news hard.
“My dad was really upset. He had worked for a power company during World War II and so was exempt from the draft,” Harker recalled. “I didn’t think about the possibility of being killed. My dad’s supervisor said he could get me in the National Guard, but I thought that would be shirking my responsibility. I was called on to serve my country and that’s what I was going to do.”
After basic and advanced infantry training, Harker was approached and offered an opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School.
“I was interested in flying helicopters, but they said I’d have to extend for another year or two, so I said, ‘no, I’ll do my two and go home’.”
Heading to Vietnam
The trip to Vietnam brought Harker through Hawaii, and Guam, before landing in Vietnam Nov. 15, 1967. The recollection of arrival is still fresh even 53 years later.
“There were men on the airstrip who had finished their year and were going to take the plane we had arrived on back home. So, they open the door and it was such a rude awakening when the door opened. The oppressive heat – and I’m sure Vietnam Vets will tell you – the country had a smell of its own.”
The soldiers on their way home watched them deplane and Harker heard them say, ‘there’s my replacement.’
“They wished us well,” Harker said.
David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.
Although trained on a vehicle-mounted recoilless rifle, Harker was made an infantryman upon arrival in-country and reassigned from the 9th Infantry Division to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Six weeks later, he was a POW.
“I was in the 3rd of the 21st in an area of operations at Que Son,” Harker said. “We operated out of a fire base, with one company pulling security while the other three were out doing search and destroy missions. While out, we’d move about 1,000 meters a day and get resupplied every fourth day with c-rations if the helicopters could get through.”
As a 22 year old, Harker was among the older men in his unit. His commanding officer, Capt. Roland Belcher, told the company while they were enjoying in-country RR at brigade headquarters in Chu Lai, that he was proud of the work they were doing.
“Captain Belcher had been in a province southwest of Saigon where we were providing security for elections,” Harker said. “He said it meant a lot to him that we were able to do that – to make sure those people could go to the polls and not get hurt. I remember that because he died in the rice paddies when we were ambushed.”
Harker’s first sergeant, nicknamed Top, was a 41-year old Veteran of World War II and Korea who had earned a Silver Star before joining the company.
“After the ambush, he was the ranking person and he held us together.”
Harker and his company were on patrol when they broke contact with the enemy in a creek bed. The North Vietnamese unloaded on the unit and killed two men. As the most forward man, Harker was pinned down.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to die.’ Top is behind me telling me to switch to auto and fire. They tried to get behind us and eventually I hear a Vietnamese voice and do a 90 degree and within arm’s reach at the top of this creek bank is an NVA soldier with a pith helmet and Top is there with no helmet. There’s a guy with a rifle telling me to get up. The NVA are stripping everything off us – anything they can use. I tried to bury my M-16 in the creek bed but I think they got it.”
After being taken, Harker was left with a soldier with a sidearm who walked in front of him, leading him away from the creek.
“I thought it was odd he was in front of me and I had been taught that you always try to escape. Next thing I know my hand is over his mouth and I have his arm at his side. I know I have to kill him and do it silently, but his bayonet won’t come out of the scabbard, and by that time my hand has come off his mouth and he’s yelling bloody murder. Before I could get his .45, he stabs me in the side with his bayonet. By that time there are a bunch of rifles pointing at me. I’m surprised they didn’t just shoot me, but they took some commo wire and duck-winged me that night.”
A newspaper clipping from the time shows support from his hometown.
Of the 15 men who entered the rice paddy that evening, only four made it out. More men would join Harker in his prison in the Trung Son Mountain Range where he would spend the first three years of captivity. By Harker’s estimation only about 150 U.S. soldiers were captured in South Vietnam – most of whom were taken during the Tet Offensive.
Harker’s first prison was in Quang Nam Province, a difficult, mountainous country that made food scarce and meant deplorable living conditions for the POWs.
“We buried nine Americans there,” Harker said. “That’s how horrific our living conditions were. We had very little to eat so people died from starvation, infectious diseases – malaria was rampant – dysentery. Between September of 1968 and Jan. 4, 1969, we buried six, including the youngest person we had there, a 19-year-old Marine.
“That first year of adjustment to jungle life was really hard on us. You didn’t know what to do. At first you looked out for yourself, but as time went on, you got more altruistic – you realize, it’s not about me, but about the guy next door and you realize you had to take care of each other. We came together really well in that respect.”
During the Vietnam War only one American doctor was ever taken prisoner. Hal Kushner, who grew up in Danville, Virginia, was injured in a helicopter crash in late November. By Dec. 4, North Vietnamese forces found him and marched him toward the camp where he found, according to a speech he gave in February 2018, “four of the saddest looking American creatures I had ever seen in my life.”
“They wouldn’t let him practice medicine,” Harker said of Kushner. “We couldn’t call him doc, but he was a big source of information and help to us. He led the way and showed us how to nurse and take care of men, and that became our goal – to make people in their last hours and days as comfortable as possible – it was our mission, and he was a big inspiration to us.”
In the mountains the men had to forage for food, mostly the manioc root, also known as kasava root.
“There wasn’t a place to grow food, so most of our calories came from manioc,” Harker said. “We were under a 1-to-1 prisoner-to-guard ratio, and the guards would trade manioc and so we would put baskets on our backs and go back and forth over miles of mountain trails carrying 70-80 pounds of root. It’s amazing to think that we could even do it, but we did what we had to do. The little bit of rice they gave us as a ration wasn’t enough to keep a bird flying, so the roots kept us going.”
The guards of Trung Son didn’t physically abuse their prisoners. They didn’t need to.
“We were separated from civilization in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t communicate; had no food, and no medical attention – that’s torture enough for an individual. We were interrogated when we were captured,” Harker said, “but we knew the Code of Conduct and so we’d give that information. But they’d have a guy with a lantern and they’re asking for information about your unit, it’s size, and I just kept repeating. They didn’t pursue it much. They wanted to get us away from the battlefield but a few days later they did it again. When you have a rifle and you’re in front of the enemy, it’s different. But if they put a blindfold on you and all you can hear is round being chambered – that’s different too. In the north they beat pilots and used a lot of torture techniques.”
On Feb. 1, 1971 there were a dozen men still alive in the mountains and they were taken in groups of six to begin their march north up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Harker watched battalions of Vietnamese troops heading south during the 60-day march, as they ground out 10 to 15 miles a day. During the journey an interpreter would give them extra rice.
“He was a military guy who had fought in Laos as a 17-year old in the early 1960s, and he looked out for us. I think he understood the condition – there was a common situation and appreciation among soldiers.”
“We’d get to a camp every day where we got hot white rice – better than we had at the mountain camp. The next morning they’d put a ball of rice on a banana leaf and we’d carry that with us for lunch as we moved. Eventually we were put on a train, in a box car, and taken to Hanoi, to Plantation Garden, an old French plantation with bars in the walls. We were kept in a 15×17 warehouse – six of us on a wooden pallet. Unlike the mountain camp we couldn’t roam around, and the boredom would overtake you and the heat was oppressive, but we had plenty to eat compared to the south. We also had better medical care there as they had a doctor to attend to us.”
In October of 1972 the Vietnamese allowed prisoners to be outside together for the first time since they arrived, and it looked like the war might be over.
“We had a communication system where we’d put a note on the lid of the waste bucket, or use the tap code, and we had to do that because we were only allowed out of our cell for about an hour a day, and never more than one cell was let out at a time. So, when they let everyone out, and then gave us reading material, they knew it was over. Or they thought it was, because before you know it, the doors are all slammed shut again.”
Soon after, Linebacker II started. From Dec. 18-29, 1972, the U.S. Air Force conducted an operation called Linebacker II, a ‘maximum effort’ campaign to destroy targets using B-52 heavy bombers that dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on more than 30 targets.
“B-52s bombed all night long after talks broke down. The SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) shot down a bunch of planes on the third night, after they figured out the flight patterns, and one night they pulled up a deuce and a half and told us to crawl in the back. We thought we were being taken to China.”
Harker would spend his last three months as a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton.
Half a world away, in Paris, a peace accord was signed January 27, 1973, and soon after Harker and other American POWs heard the news they had longed to hear.
“We were ecstatic,” Harker said. “We’d hear doors open and activity and they came and said, ‘you’re going, and you’re going, and you’re going’ dividing us up into groups that would be repatriated. They gave us western clothing and a travel bag and when they pulled us out of a holding cell wearing our red-striped pajamas we were given the clothes. By noon, nothing had happened. They gave us food and told us the peace agreement was broken – and we were right back down in the depths of despair. But a few days later we got out.
A newspaper clipping shows when David Harker returned home.
“I remember saluting an Air Force general who was sitting with a North Vietnamese officer, and when we saluted, we had been officially repatriated. On the plane home, the pilot told us when we had entered international airspace and there was a great cheer.”
The cheers continued when they landed in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Andrews AFB, Maryland. From Maryland, Harker went to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania where he went through medical treatment and rehabilitation, and he was reunited with his family.
“It was different,” Harker said. “I had brothers who were married, and children had been born, but it was exciting coming home. A private airline flew me and my father back and the local TV station had sent a reporter who interviewed me all the way back. There must have been 10,000 people at the Lynchburg airport when we arrived – I had no idea there would be that welcome and response – my big extended family – the high school band was there. It was a long journey and I was glad to be home and for them to be there for me meant so much. I was led to a blue 1973 Corvette and handed the keys. A group of school mates had gotten together and sold bumper stickers for a dollar each to buy me a car and they handed me the keys and a check for id=”listicle-2647726394″,100.”
Being home with his family, Harker said he learned how much anxiety and frustration and worry his parents went through while he was captive.
“Every POW gets a casualty assistance officer whose job it is to let the family know when they hear something – anything – about their son,” Harker said. “My family never heard anything from their CAO. It wasn’t until 1969, when three prisoners were released that they knew I was alive. My parents found out that a couple of those who were released were at Fort Jackson, and so they went there and got onto base and met with them and heard from them that I was alive. That’s all the knew for five years. So they became involved in the National League of Families who organized and tried to have some involvement with North Vietnam to get information about prisoners and try to make the process more transparent as far as information was concerned.”
Life after war
After he returned from Vietnam, Harker took some time off, but eventually returned to Blacksburg and finished his business degree from Virginia Tech in 1976 and found his way to work as a probation and parole officer. In 1977 he married Linda, his high school sweetheart whom he had dated since 1962.
His family now includes his two children, Megan and husband Mike, and Adam and his wife Anza. David and Linda also enjoy their grandchildren: 13-year old Emily, 11-year old Ethan, and 6-year old Eli, children of Megan; and Adam’s 23-month old daughter Ava.
While Harker is open to discussing his time in Vietnam to serve as an education for younger people, he said it was a part of his life that he’s put behind him.
“Kush and I talk about that all the time – we’re not professional POWs. By the grace of God and the help of other men, we made it out. We all serve our country one way or another. This country is what we love. My life has been a real blessing since then, and the staff at the VA hospital, what they do is marvelous, and I appreciate each one of them. I know they have a heart for those Veterans, or they wouldn’t work there,” Harker said. “I love the Veterans, too, and appreciate their service, and institutions like the VA are a great service to our country.”
In the early 2010s Harker had the Corvette he received in 1973 – the car he and his youngest brother Louie drove across the country after his return – restored. He still drives it today.
“I think of all the love behind it every time I drive it.”
Letters are a very personal and specific method of communicating, filled with all the details about feelings and moments that would get left out of official reports and summaries. That’s why they’re so loved by historians.
Military police escort a captured Viet Cong fighter during the Tet Offensive.
(U.S. Army Don Hirst)
In these letters from the U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, a man identified as “Cofty” writes to his family about his experiences fighting in the jungles and front lines of Vietnam.
The first letter comes from Feb. 2, 1968, near the start of the Tet Offensive. The author and his unit were part of forces sent to counter the North Vietnamese attacks which had slammed into major U.S. posts at Long Binh and Bien Hoa. Saigon was also already under attack.
Though the writer couldn’t know it at the time, his unit was quite successful in driving the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces back, and attacks on Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would cease the same day he wrote this letter.
(The author mistakenly put that his unit moved out on the 31st of December. The post-it notation on the letter is to amend “December” to “January.” The letter was written on February 2, 1968.)
The attack on the prisoner of war camp resulted in about 26 North Vietnamese dead and no U.S. or South Vietnamese casualties. There were at least two platoons involved in the fighting there, an infantry platoon and a cavalry platoon. It seems that the author was likely part of the cavalry platoon as, in an earlier letter available below, he refers to his squadron and his troop. Troops and squadrons are unit types predominantly used in cavalry organizations.
(A cavalry troop is roughly the same size as an infantry company, and a cavalry squadron is roughly the same size as an infantry battalion.)
While Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would be relatively safe within hours of this letter being completed, attacks would continue across the front for months, including in Saigon where an embassy was partially overrun and then re-secured.
Marines push through the alleys of Hue City in February 1968, attempting to retake areas seized by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces during the Tet Offensive.
(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. W. F. Dickman)
North Vietnamese forces launched approximately 120 attacks during the surprise offensive, greatly overstretching their forces and creating a situation where U.S. and South Vietnamese forces could quickly counterattack and retake the ground.
The offensive resulted in a large military defeat for the North Vietnamese, but early successes by the communist forces broke American morale at home, and the NVA achieved a major strategic victory despite their severe losses.
The other letter from this young soldier is dated January 19, a few weeks before the Tet Offensive began. It provides a little more “day-in-the-life” as the author details what search and destroy missions were, where his unit was located, and how hard it was to fight in the jungles near Cambodia.
With ATACMS, MLRS, HIMARs, the M109A6, and the M777, American artillery can and does deliver a huge punch at a distance. Compared to them, Civil War cannons look downright puny.
Don’t take that to the bank, though. These old cannon were pretty powerful in their day. The Smithsonian Channel decided to take a look at how to fire a Civil War cannon from start to finish using the Model 1841 12-pound howitzer.
According to Antietam on the Web, the howitzer of the time had a 4.62-inch bore (117 millimeters) and a 53-inch long barrel. It had a range of 1,072 yards – or about the same distance an M40 sniper rifle chambered in 7.62mm NATO can reach out and touch someone.
It had three types of ammo: canister, which was essentially a giant shotgun shell; spherical case shot, which became known as a shrapnel shell; and a common shell, which was your basic impact-fused or time-fused explosive shell.
Without further ado, here’s the video from the Smithsonian Channel showing how to fire this cannon, using an authentic replica.
Tucked away in a rural corner of western New York is a survivor of D-Day. It is a C-47A Skytrain — an airplane that delivered paratroopers over drop zones around Normandy on June 6, 1944 — that has the distinction of being perhaps one of the few – if not the last – of its kind still in flying condition.
Named Whiskey 7 because of the large W7 painted on its fuselage, the Skytrain was the lead aircraft of the second invasion wave in the skies above France.
“That C-47 is one of our stars,” said Dawn Schaible, media director for the National Warplane Museum, the organization that gives Whiskey 7 a home and maintains it both for flying demonstrations and public viewing.
Skytrains have a storied history. None other than Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander in Europe, called the Douglas aircraft one of the four “Tools of Victory” that won World War II for the Allies along with the atom bomb, the Jeep, and the bazooka.
The museum is proud of the fact that the aircraft is a true C-47, not a DC-3 conversion. The twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft was built in 1943, one of more than 10,000 produced during World War II.
Skytrains like Whiskey 7 were the standard transport aircraft of the old U.S. Army Air Corps but also saw service with the British, who called the plane the Dakota.
The statistics regarding the Skytrain are impressive. When used as a supply plane, a C-47 could carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo. It could also hold a fully assembled Jeep or 37-mm cannon.
When serving in its role as a troop transport, the C-47 carried 28 soldiers in full combat gear. As a medical airlift plane, it could accommodate 14 stretcher patients and three nurses.
On D-Day, Whiskey 7 transported paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
The aircraft was actually one of the few that made it to the drop-zone assigned to the paratroopers: the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.
After D-Day, Whiskey 7 served for the balance of the war. Missions included towing gliders carrying men and equipment during Market Garden, the ill-fated airborne operation in Holland that was the largest airborne battle in history but which ended disastrously for the Allies.
After World War II, a civilian aviation company purchased the plane as surplus and converted it to an airliner. The plane then flew both passengers and cargo for decades.
Purchased by a private collector in 1993, it was eventually donated to the National Warplane Museum where it was restored to its D-Day configuration in 2005.
In 2014, Whiskey 7 participated in the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion when it flew to France so historical re-enactors could jump from the plane.
The group also included Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr., one of the paratroopers the plane carried on D-Day. According to the museum, he was the last surviving member of his unit who jumped from Whiskey 7 when it was above Normandy in 1944.
Now, Whiskey 7 helps educate visitors to the National Warplane Museum about Operation Overlord and World War II.
Located in Geneseo, N.Y., the museum is a labor of love started by a grassroots group of historic aircraft enthusiasts who fly old war birds and restore airplanes. The museum has more than 15,000 visitors a year who come to view exhibits or attend the annual air show.
“We have amazing artifacts here,” said Schaible. “We figure out how we connect those artifacts with people and help them move beyond the idea that it’s just cool stuff. It’s the men and women and the stories behind the aircraft that make them historical.”
John Ripley was a Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran who singlehandedly slowed down North Vietnam’s entire Easter Offensive in 1972. And he did it by dangling under a bridge for three hours while an entire armored column tried to kill him. They were unsuccessful. Ripley’s next brush with death would come in 2002, when his liver began to fail him.
And all anyone could do was sit and watch. That’s when the Marines came.
It’s good to have friends.
Everyone in the Corps wanted to save John Ripley. At just 63, the colonel still had a lot of life left in him, save for what his liver was trying to take away. But his life was no longer measured in years, months, or even days. John Ripley had hours to live and, unless a donor liver could be found, he would be headed to Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1972, Ripley earned the Navy Cross for moving hand over hand under the Dong Ha Bridge. The North Vietnamese Army would soon be traversing the bridge to complete its three-pronged Easter Offensive, one that would overwhelm and kill many of his fellow Marines and South Vietnamese allies. Waiting to cross it was 20,000 Communist troops and more armored tanks and vehicles than Ripley had men under his command.
Ripley spent three hours rigging the bridge to blow while the entire Communist Army tried to kill him. He should probably have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
He should 100 percent have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
His life was about to be tragically cut short, but a faint glimmer of hope shone through the gloom of his condition. A teenager in Philadelphia was a perfect match for Ripley – but the liver might not make it in time. There were no helicopters available to get the liver from the hospital in Philadelphia to Ripley’s hospital at Walter Reed in Washington. That is, until the Marine Corps stepped in. The office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, James Jones secured the use of one of the Corps’ elite CH-46 helicopters.
In case you’re not in the know, the Marine Corps’ CH-46 Fleet in Washington, DC is more than a little famous. You might have seen one of them before.
A Marine Corps CH-46 in the DC area is sometimes designated ‘Marine One.’
Ripley’s new liver was about to hitch a ride on a Presidential helicopter because that’s how Marines take care of their heroes. A CH-46 would ferry the transplant team to the University of Pennsylvania hospital to remove the donor’s liver and then take the doctors back to Washington for Ripley.
“Colonel Ripley’s story is part of our folklore – everybody is moved by it,” said Lt. Col. Ward Scott, who helped organize the organ delivery from his post at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, which Ripley has directed for the past three years. “It mattered that it was Colonel Ripley who was in trouble.”
Col. John Ripley after his recovery.
The surgical team landed in Pennsylvania and was given a police escort by the state’s highway patrol. When the donor liver was acquired, they were escorted back to the helicopter, where the Marine pilots were waiting. They knew who the liver was for and they were ready to take off. They landed at Anacostia and boarded a smaller helicopter – also flown by a Marine – which took the doctors to Georgetown University Hospital. Friends of the university’s president secured the permission for the helicopter to land on the school’s football field.
This was a Marine Corps mission, smartly executed by a team of Marines who were given the tools needed to succeed. Ripley always said the effort never surprised him.
“Does it surprise me that the Marine Corps would do this?” Ripley told the Baltimore Sun from his hospital bed. “The answer is absolutely flat no! If any Marine is out there, no matter who he is, and he’s in trouble, then the Marines will say, ‘We’ve got to do what it takes to help him.'”
When you picture the Continental Army — as commanded by General George Washington — you see scrappy colonials in ragtag uniforms, made as much of buckskin as breaches, lining up to trade musket volleys with orderly squadrons of Redcoats. You picture young, frostbitten officers fending off ice blocks in the Delaware River.
You picture this:
What you probably don’t picture is this:
You don’t really picture Minutemen grunts grovelling in groundhog holes or Washington commanding from behind a berm. But, at the climactic battle of the War of Independence, that’s exactly how it went down.
The engagement that ended the Revolutionary War —- the 1781 Siege of Yorktown — hinged on the disciplined execution of an early version of trench warfare. It’s a surprising historical tidbit.
We tend to associate trench warfare with World War I and the terrible mechanisms of death dealing shunted into that conflict by the Industrial Revolution. But as early as the Renaissance, siege tactics for breaching fortifications with artillery were designed around the clever engineering of trenches to great martial, as well as psychological, effect.
Before gunpowder and artillery, besieging a fortress was an arduous proposition. If you were really in a hurry, you’d bust out the siege towers and battering rams, doing your best to dodge hailstorms of rocks, arrows and boiling oil.
If that seemed unsavory, and you were happier killing time than your own soldiers, you’d simply blockade the fort and starve out its defenders. No muss, no fuss, but slow.
The explodey stuff changed all that. Cannons (once the diabolical death mongers had managed to dial them up to 11) made mincemeat of castle walls the world over: witness the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The defensive architects responded with burlier walls, but given enough time, nothing made of stone could keep out a cannon ball. Trenches became essential for buying your bombardiers time to operate.
At Yorktown, British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis and 7,000 Redcoats were dug in behind a series of redoubts and batteries, waiting for reinforcement. Washington, joined (and thoroughly out-monikered) by the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau, had Cornwallis surrounded by land and sea.
Showing the tactical facility that made him America’s only six-star general, Washington initiated an artillery-enabled siege protocol by digging a first parallel, or bombardment trench, just out of range of British musket fire. From that position, he was able to blast the relentless crap out of the British encampment.
Under this continuous fusillade, American engineers dug a zigzagging trench forward to within 150 yards of the British earthworks fortifications and then dug a second parallel. From this position, their artillery would make rubble of the two redoubts that stood between Washington and victory.
But even before they began their next barrage, the psychological impact of the American advance impelled British soldiers to begin deserting in large numbers. Washington’s disciplined encroachment through his trench system bore with it the air of inevitability.
By Oct. 15, 1781, both redoubts had been captured and Yorktown was in check. Cornwallis capitulated on Oct. 19, effectively ending hostilities and signalling the beginning of autonomous nationhood for the United States. And all because of Washington’s willingness to get his hands dirty.
From groundhog marauder to Founding Father, the man was put on this Earth to shake it.
We opened fire. . . The battle was a warm one while it lasted. . . While the fight was on, there was nothing to see but Spanish ships burning and sinking. Ship’s Bugler Harry Neithercott, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service McCulloch, Battle of Manila Bay, 1898
The quote above by an eyewitness to the Spanish-American War’s Battle of Manila Bay attests to the fury of this naval conflict as well as the damage inflicted by U.S. warships, including the revenue cutter McCulloch.
The cutter McCulloch was commissioned on Dec. 12, 1897, under the command of U.S. Revenue Cutter Service Capt. Daniel Hodgsdon. Built in Philadelphia, the McCulloch was named for two-time Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch. At 220 feet in length and 1,300 tons displacement, the ship was the largest revenue cutter built up to that time. A “cruising” cutter for high seas deployments, it boasted a main armament of one 15-inch bow-mounted torpedo tube and four 3-inch guns, and had an advanced composite hull design with steel planking sheathed with wood.
Before the Spanish-American War commenced, McCulloch made history by steaming from the East Coast to its first station at San Francisco the long way around the globe. This was the first cutter to sail the Mediterranean and transit the Suez Canal. It was also the first to pass through the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and the first revenue cutter to visit the Far East. Upon arrival at Singapore on April 8, 1898, two weeks before the United States declared war with Spain; orders directed McCulloch to report to Commodore George Dewey and the U.S. Navy’s Asiatic Squadron in Hong Kong. As was common with foreign warships in the Far East at the time, McCulloch hired several Japanese and Chinese men to serve as stewards and in the engine room.
Water color illustration of the McCulloch in combat during the Battle of Manila Bay. Notice the inaccurate hull color of white rather than the navy gray worn at the time of the battle.
(U.S. Coast Guard collection)
On April 27, the squadron stood out of Mirs Bay, China, approaching the Philippines three days later. Dewey’s squadron consisted of cruisers Olympia, Boston, Baltimore and Raleigh; and gunboats Concord and Petrel. McCulloch steamed at the rear of the squadron to protect the storeships Nanshan and Zafire. In the midnight darkness of April 30, Olympia had approached Manila Bay followed by the squadron and McCulloch with the storeships. Just as McCulloch passed El Fraile Rock at the entrance to Manila Bay, built-up soot in the cutter’s smokestack caught fire and lit-up the night. Soon, a Spanish battery on El Fraile opened fire on McCulloch, but USS Boston and McCulloch returned fire and silenced the Spanish gun. During the engagement, McCulloch’s chief engineer, Frank Randall, worked feverishly to quell the blaze and died from the heat and overexertion.
As he entered Manila Bay, Dewey slowed the squadron to four knots. He did this to time his opening salvos to daybreak. He ordered McCulloch to guard the storeships, protect U.S. warships from surprise attack and tow any disabled warships out of enemy range. A little past 5 a.m., the battle commenced with Dewey’s famous command, “You may fire when ready [Capt.] Gridley.” Eyewitnesses to the battle recalled that McCulloch found no need to tow U.S warships out of the battleline. When its duty to protect the storeships and rescue damaged warships had ceased, McCulloch joined the fight firing some of the final rounds of the battle.
Chief engineer Frank Randall of the McCulloch died of a heart attack trying to put out a smokestack fire. His was the only death associated with the Battle of Manila Bay and he was buried at sea.
In the Battle of Manila Bay, Dewey’s warships destroyed the Spanish forces as Manila Bay. Before surrendering, the Spanish had lost their entire fleet including 400 officers and men. No American warship was seriously damaged, eight Americans were wounded and chief engineer Randall the only loss of life. Due to the cutter’s superior speed, Dewey dispatched McCulloch to the closest cable facility at Hong Kong bearing news of the victory and the surrender of Spanish forces. In a message to the secretary of the Navy, Dewey commended Hodgsdon for the efficiency and readiness of the cutter.
In January 1899, over a year after departing the East Coast, McCulloch finally arrived at its new homeport of San Francisco. From San Francisco, McCulloch patrolled the West Coast from Oregon to the Mexican border. During part of this time, the ship sailed under the command of famed cutter captain “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy. Beginning in 1906, the crew undertook the annual Bering Sea patrol duty. During these 20,000-mile cruises, McCulloch became well known for humanitarian relief and its mission as a floating court trying legal cases in towns along the Alaskan coast. McCulloch also enforced fur seal regulations patrolling the waters around the Pribilof Islands and seizing poaching vessels of all nationalities. After returning to San Francisco in 1912, McCulloch resumed patrol operations along the West Coast.
Members of McCulloch’s crew pose with a Spanish shore gun disabled during Battle of Manila Bay.
(U.S. Navy photo)
The 20-year-old cutter joined the fight a second time on April 6, 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I. At 6 p.m., McCulloch received telephone instructions from the division commander to put into effect Mobilization Plan Number One. By 7:25, the cutter received a similar “ALCUT (all cutters)” message from Coast Guard Headquarters. In response, the McCulloch transmitted to the local Navy commander a coded radiogram reading “Commanding Officer, U.S.S. OREGON. Mobilization orders received. Report MCCULLOCH for duty under your command.” McCulloch was one of nearly 50 Coast Guard cutters that would serve under the direction of the U.S. Navy.
On June 13, 1917, still a year before the war’s end, McCulloch was lost in an accident. The cutter collided in dense fog with the Pacific Steamship Company steamer Governor and slowly sank off Point Conception, California, with the loss of one crew member. Fast forward to the summer of 2016, when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) remotely operated underwater vehicles identified a ship lying in deep water off the California coast. The outline and size of the image closely resembled that of the McCulloch. In October 2016, a joint NOAA-U.S. Coast Guard underwater survey positively identified the wreck as the famous cutter. The discovery was announced to the public in mid-June of 2017, 100 years after its final plunge.
McCulloch was one of five ships lost during World War I. In 1917, the ship sank after a collision in the fog off the coast of California.
(San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park)
During the ship’s 20-year career, McCulloch performed the missions of search and rescue, ice operations, law enforcement, environmental protection, humanitarian relief, and maritime defense. The ship recorded many firsts, such as the first cutter to steam through the Mediterranean and Red seas, transit the Suez Canal, and visit the Far East by way of the Indian Ocean. In addition, its West Coast cruising territory extended from the Arctic and Alaska to southern California. Cutter McCulloch and the men who sailed it remain a part of the legend and the lore of the long blue line.
He’s often depicted as an old man with a grey goatee rocking a red, white, and blue suit and top hat. Uncle Sam is synonymous with Americana and is the personification of the United States government. His image has graced recruiting posters and political cartoons alike, but surprisingly little is actually known about how he came to be.
He wasn’t first the unofficial mascot of the United States. That honor originally belonged to Columbia. She was the embodiment of the “Spirit of the Frontier” and the goodwill of its people. Even many years after the introduction of Uncle Sam, Columbia would often be depicted side by side with him. Sadly, she grew out of favor around the 1920’s when immigrants identified more with Lady Liberty as the symbol of America. Then, Columbia Pictures’ rise to notoriety kind of stole the rest of her thunder.
The first reference to an “Uncle Sam” in America is found within the original lyrics to the song Yankee Doodle. The original 13th stanza went,
Old Uncle Sam come there to change, some pancakes and some onions. For ‘lasses cakes, to carry home, to give his wife and young ones.
The original draft of the iconic song was far less metaphorical, so it’s assumed it may have just been a reference someone’s old uncle named Sam.
The next possible origin is one that stems from Brother Jonathan, or the original Yankee Doodle. Long before Colonial Americans adopted the moniker of “Yankee Doodle” as a badge of honor, the term was used disparagingly against Americans by the English. It was their way of saying that we were uncivilized hicks in comparison to the English personification, “John Bull.”
The term “Brother Jonathan” was used in much the same way a few decades prior. The name “Jonathan” is directly pulled from Jonathan Trumbull, the only Colonial Governor to side with the Americans during the revolution. The Brits took his perceived betrayal of the Empire, exaggerated his characteristics and, thus, the caricature of “Brother Jonathan” was born.
Just like Yanke Doodle, Brother Jonathan became a prideful rallying cry for early Americans. It’s agreed that his long coat, luscious locks, and goatee were incorporated into the look of Uncle Sam.
The most widely accepted origin of Uncle Sam, however, stems from the War of 1812 when a New York meatpacker, named Samuel Wilson, supplied many troops with rations labeled with “EU-US.” “EU” were the initials of the contractor, Elbert Anderson, and “US” marked the location. Troops were said to have loved Sam for his food and jokingly referred to it as coming from “Uncle Sam.” This is still disputed, however, because there is no written record of it until 1842.
While there’s no denying the likenesses between Sam Wilson and the Uncle Sam that everyone knows today, his look wasn’t solidified until the printing of James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic “I Want You For U.S. Army” poster. Flagg wrote in his autobiography that he took some liberties when creating the poster. He made him manlier, more chiseled, and is even said to have based some of the looks on himself — a fact that was praised by President Roosevelt.
The Israeli pilots were given clearance to fire, and they started off with a Sparrow engagement. The first Sparrow shots missed, then the F-15s closed.
Moshe Melnik, in the second of the four F-15s, took on the enemy fighters. He selected his infra-red guided missiles for the attack. It wasn’t an American-made Sidewinder, though. The Israelis had their own dogfight missile, the Python 3. Melnik selected one, and fired.
The missile tracked in, taking out one of the Fishbeds. It was thirty seconds into the engagement.
Melnik had secured a place in history as the first pilot to shoot down an enemy plane with the F-15 Eagle. Since then, between small-scale engagements and major conflicts like the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot and Operation Desert Storm, the F-15 has dominated the skies, only yielding as the premiere air-to-air platform when the F-22 Raptor entered service.
Okay, the Raptor is pretty cool, too. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alejandro Pena)
Ironically, while Melnik would make history, he would not be considered the hero of the engagement where the F-15 scored its first kill. That honor would go to another Israeli pilot, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu.