How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has launched a fascinating new exhibition about the arts and crafts soldiers created during World War II, often using castoff war materiel to create beautiful objects treasured for generations.

SOLDIER | ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II is on display now through Jan. 2, 2022, in the museum’s Senator John Alario Jr. Special Exhibition Hall, giving visitors a chance to plan a safe trip after we’ve all had a chance at getting a COVID-19 vaccination.Advertisement

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
Soldier Artist: Trench Art in World War II (National World War II Museum)

The museum opened in 1991, and curators have spent much of the last two decades systematically collecting the more than 150 pieces featured in the show. Most were donated by the original artists or their families.

Time can move slowly between battles, and soldiers have been occupying themselves with creative projects since the beginning of warfare. Trench art came to describe the handiwork during World War I, and the term has survived even though soldiers had far more tools and opportunities during World War II.

The museum has shared some photos from the exhibit, but you’ll have to visit to see the entire collection up close.Advertisement

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
Portable machine shops expanded the tools available for World War II trench artists. (National World War II Museum)

The United States managed to get an enormous amount of support gear into the fields, and soldiers suddenly had access to portable machine shops in almost all theaters of war. More powerful tools led to far more elaborate art.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
This knife’s rotted leather washers were replaced with Plexiglas washers in the field. (National World War II Museum)

Plexiglas was a revolutionary new material that transformed design, repair and maintenance during the era. Here’s an example of a knife repaired with Plexiglas washers. Most American military knives of the era were created with stacked leather washers. Take those to the South Pacific’s heat and humidity, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for handle rot.

This handle features green Plexiglas salvaged from tinted portions of aircraft canopies and red Plexiglas from marker lights.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
This P-38 sculpture made from bullet casings is also an ashtray. (National World War II Museum)

Spent bullets and shell casings were plentiful and sturdy, so these leftovers became a popular medium for trench artists. The P-38 Lightning featured twin booms that lent themselves to bullet art. Abstract representations such as this one are immediately identifiable as the American plane.

Something else that soldiers did with their downtime was enjoy the free cigarettes sent by U.S. tobacco companies, and these sculptures are designed to be used as ashtrays.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
This vase was made from a 105mm shell casing. (National World War II Museum)

Vases made from shell casings were particularly popular during World War I, and the practice continued into World War II. This vase was created in 1943 from a 105mm shell casing.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
This violin was made from wood scraps by an American held in a German POW camp. (National World War II Museum)

This incredibly ambitious project was undertaken by POW 1st Lt. Clair Cline, 448th Bombardment Group, 714th Bombardment Squadron, while he was imprisoned in Germany’s Stalag Luft I during 1944. Cline had serious woodworking skill and created this violin with makeshift tools such as broken glass and table knives.

He scavenged wood bed slats, table legs and aid cartons for materials and put the whole thing together with glue scraped from the bottom of German mess-hall tables. He finished the instrument in time to perform a short Christmas concert for his barracks.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
This swagger stick was made for an American by the German POWs he supervised. (National World War II Museum)

Technician 3rd Grade John D. Sweitzer of the 551st Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company oversaw a detail of German POWs at the 6960th Ordnance Depot at war’s end. The Germans thought Sweitzer needed to look more like a man in charge, so they made this elaborate swagger stick and gifted it to him.

Sweitzer, who obviously inspired respect even from enemy troops, kept the piece and later donated it to the museum.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
There are over 150 pieces on exhibit in the SOLDIER | ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II exhibit. (National World War II Museum)

The rest of the exhibit includes frames, cigarette cases, airplane models and even a vessel for communion wafers. If you’re looking for insight into what troops did before video games and social media, you’ve got almost a year to visit New Orleans and see for yourself.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This B-2 crash was the most expensive in American history

Ten years ago, the U.S. Air Force lost one of its 21 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers.


The aircraft, #89-0127 “Spirit of Kansas”, belonging to the 393rd Bomb Squadron with the 509th Bomb Wing, from Whiteman Air Force Base, was taking off from Andersen Air Force Base, along with three other stealth bombers, at the end of 4-month deployment in support of U.S. CBP (Continuous Bomber Presence) in the Pacific. Both crew members successfully ejected from the aircraft at low altitude. The B-2 hit the ground, tumbled and burned for a total loss worth about US$1.4 billion, reportedly, the most expensive crash in the history of the U.S. Air Force.

Also read: These are the new upgrades coming to the B-2 Stealth bomber

Since take off of the aircraft was being filmed, a couple of interesting videos show the crash pretty well.

Here’s one recorded from a nearby taxiway:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhuFcT-PnsU
(Ron Grajeda | YouTube)

 

Here’s a second video, seemingly filmed from Guam’s control tower:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNnM_8WahcQ
(Ron Grajeda | YouTube)

 

The investigation found out that the root cause of the accident was moisture in the air-data sensors: heavy, lashing rains caused moisture to enter skin-flush air-data sensors that gave wrong inputs to the flight-control computers. The combination of slow lift-off speed and the extreme angle of attack resulted in an unrecoverable stall, yaw, and descent.

Here’s what the U.S. Air Force website reported after the report was released:

Moisture in the aircraft’s Port Transducer Units during air data calibration distorted the information in the bomber’s air data system, causing the flight control computers to calculate an inaccurate airspeed and a negative angle of attack upon takeoff. According to the report, this caused an, “uncommanded 30 degree nose-high pitch-up on takeoff, causing the aircraft to stall and its subsequent crash.”

Related: The Air Force wants to fly the B-2 Bomber into the 2050s

Moisture in the PTUs, inaccurate airspeed, a negative AOA calculation and low altitude/low airspeed are substantially contributing factors in this mishap. Another substantially contributing factor was the ineffective communication of critical information regarding a suggested technique of turning on pitot heat in order to remove moisture from the PTUs prior to performing an air data calibration.

The pilot received minor injuries, and the co-pilot received a spinal compression fracture during ejection. He was treated at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, and released. The aircraft was assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

At the time of the crash, the B-2 had logged 5,100 flight hours and wasn’t carrying armament.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who took 42 Nazis captive with a longsword

We’ve talked about British officer John “Mad Jack” Churchill before. He waded ashore on D-Day with his trademark Scottish claybeg sword, he killed at least one Nazi with his longbow, and he was an all-around BAMF having served in World War II, Israel, and Australia.

Today, we want to talk about that time he took approximately 42 German soldiers captive in World War II.


How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Churchill leads a simulated assault during training for the D-Day assaults.

(Imperial War Museum)

The insane capture took place in 1943 during the invasion of Italy. Churchill, then the commanding officer of Britain’s No. 2 Commando, had taken part in the capture of Sicily and then landed at Salerno with other British troops. He and his men fought for five straight days, grinding through mostly German defenders. They were even lauded for defending a rail and road hub from a determined counterattack at Vietri, Italy, until U.S. armored vehicles arrived to relieve them.

The commandos were granted a short rest and the time for showers and bathing, though they had to avoid enemy mortar fire while enjoying it. Even that rest was short-lived, though. They were serving in reserve for the U.S. 46th Infantry Division, and German forces managed to grab three hills overlooking the division area, imperiling the American forces.

So the British soldiers of No. 41 Commando and No. 2 Commando were sent in to secure two of the three hills in two attacks. Churchill, as the commander of No. 2, was in charge of that second attack.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Col. John “Mad Jack” Churchill after World War II.

(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY 2.0)

The logistics of the assault were daunting. The men would have to attack uphill across terraces covered in vines and rocky terrain at night while trying to flush out and engage the enemy. Typically, commando attacks at night like this are conducted as silent, stealthy raids. But Churchill decided to bring nearly all of his men, broken into six columns so each column could support those to either side of it.

Churchill himself marched just ahead, spaced evenly between the third and fourth column. To ensure the columns didn’t drift apart or accidentally maneuver against one another in the darkness, he ordered them to yell “Commando!” every five minutes.

For the German defenders in the darkness, this created a sort of stunning nightmare. First, they heard No. 41 Commando take the nearby hill under heavy artillery bombardment as night was falling. Then, as pure dark set in, an unknown number of assailants began churning their way through the vines and across the terraces below, yelling to each other every few minutes. Whenever the Brits found Germans, they’d open up with Tommy guns, rifle fire, and grenades.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Churchill examines a captured 75mm gun during World War II.

(Imperial War Museum)

It caused confusion in the German ranks, and the columns were able to take dozens of prisoners. Churchill, meanwhile, grabbed one of his corporals and went to hunt out those Germans still attempting to organize their defenses.

First, he and the corporal found an 81mm mortar crew and took them prisoner. Churchill led this attack with his trademark sword, a Scottish claybeg. Then, Churchill and the corporal began moving from position to position, grabbing all the German soldiers they could find. By the time the two men made it back to the rest of the commandos, they had taken over 40 Germans prisoner (Reports vary between 41 and 43, but the more authoritative books on the Salerno invasion typically agree on 42, so that’s the number we’re using.)

The rest of the commandos had grabbed plenty of prisoners, and the total for the night between No. 41 and No. 2 Commando was 135, more than the 46th had taken in the five previous days of fighting.

This was a big coup for the intelligence folks who suddenly had access to all these prisoners. More importantly, two of the hills over the 46th were now clear of potential attackers just hours after German forces had staged there to attack.

Churchill would fight through the rest of the war, earning new accolades despite being captured once in Italy and later in Yugoslavia. After World War II, he served in Palestine and then Australia before retiring from the military.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This crazy Mustang fighter had two planes on one wing

During World War II, the P-51 Mustang emerged as a superb long-range escort fighter. There was a problem, though. While it had long range, it also only had one pilot, and that pilot could get very tired by the end of a long mission. Sometimes, after flights, the ground crew would need to lift an exhausted, sweat-drenched pilot out of the cockpit — and sweat might not be the only thing the pilot was drenched with.


The Army Air Force had begun to address that need in 1943 as a tool for the Pacific Theater of Operations. They sought a fighter with a crew of two so one pilot could relieve the other when fatigue set in. North American Aviation came up with an interesting idea — use two Mustang fuselages on one wing. That took some serious re-design work.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
The North American F-82E Twin Mustang — used as an escort. (USAF photo)

The plan was to have one cockpit with the usual instruments for the pilot. This was to be on the left fuselage. The cockpit for the co-pilot/navigator, on the right fuselage, was to have a more basic set. The six M2 .50-caliber machine guns would be in the center wing that joined the two fuselages. An additional eight guns could be added in a gun pod underneath. Initially tested with the famous Packard Merlin engine, the Twin Mustang was soon equipped with older Allison engines. Later versions were equipped with radars to serve as night fighters.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
A North American F-82 Twin Mustang flying with two F-94 Starfires. The F-94s replaced the F-82 in Korea. (USAF photo)

The plane entered service in 1948; only 273 were built. At the start of the Korean War, the Twin Mustang was thrown into action, where it escorted transports and bombers and carried out a number of other missions. On June 27, 1950, the F-82 scored the first kills for the United States Air Force in that conflict. But the beginning of the Jet Age — and the very short production run — meant the F-82 wasn’t going to stick around.

By 1953, it had been retired from the Air Force.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Censorship in the time of war: How the DoD controlled information

The War Office has the unique ability to censor letters, media reports and controls the flow of information from forward-deployed units to the general public. While most military members know this inherently, it might surprise you to understand how censorship got its legs in America and what it looks like today.

With all likelihood, there was probably some censorship happening during the Civil War, but because so many service personnel were illiterate, it’s hard to know exact numbers. But there had to be some censorship since often letters crossed into enemy territory. But the real start to military censorship started during WWI and the Espionage Act of 1917.


This act allowed the government to fine citizens for interference with recruiting troops or the refusal to perform military duties. The charge came with a fine of $10,000 and 20 years in prison. Within six months of the act being signed, there were over 1,000 people imprisoned.

The Sedition Act of 1918 meant that it became a crime to criticize the government, the Constitution, the flag, or the uniform of men in military service. This applied to both speeches and writing. Under the two laws, thousands of people were imprisoned for acts of nonviolent protest against the war. Additionally, at least 75 newspapers lost mailing privileges and were under governmental pressure to change their outward-facing editorial attitudes.

President Wilson went so far as to create a Committee on Public Information. This committee created a “voluntary censorship code” with newspaper journalists. The committee released a sanitized version of the news to over 6,000 newspapers every single day.

By WWII, censors were on the lookout for anything a soldier might say that would be of value to the enemy or anything that would contradict the official Committee on Public Information reports. The formal establishment of the Office of Censorship in 1941 gave e formal power to censor all communication between the US and foreign countries and prevented news organizations from publishing information that might inadvertently aid the enemy.

By 1942, the Office of War Information took over the flow of information into and out of the government to pass on “approved” versions of news events to news organizations. The OWI prevented any pictures of graphic photos from being released. It also severely limited the letters that it allowed to get through from forward-deployed service members to their families. Letters sent in foreign languages were intercepted, and since most censors didn’t understand what was written, the letter simply wasn’t delivered.

The Vietnam conflict saw the introduction of “5 O’Clock Follies” where press and military officials would gather to receive information about battles ahead of time. Then, the press would wait to report on them until after the battle started. Service member’s letters were heavily censored during this time as well.

During the Gulf War, censorship was not only blatantly accepted by all media outlets, but it was also expected. News reports were submitted to a security review before being released, and a press pool was established to allow one reported to accompany soldiers to combat areas. Letters from service members continued to be intercepted, and information relating to operational security was removed.

Our current conflicts in the War on Terror are still heavily censored, both in what’s allowed to be known ahead of time (like re-deployment dates and precise locations) and in the access the press has to battles. Most often, journalists are no longer allowed to embed in units, and the government has purchased the exclusive rights for commercial satellite imagery of Afghanistan.

Now more than ever, OPSEC is important, since we all have smart devices that we carry with us. Imagery is shared in our modern world in ways it has never been in the past, making it even more important to keep up situational awareness and not give up secrets. For military members and this community, it’s not as much about free speech as it is protecting and defending the ones we love.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy’s next ship will be named for this Korean War hero

On December 1, the Navy will commission a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named for Capt. Thomas Hudner, a pilot who landed his plane in contested territory to save his wingman who was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.


How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

A Corsair fires rockets at Okinawa in World War II.

(U.S. Navy Lt. David D. Duncan)

Hudner would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions, and now an entire destroyer crew will serve on a ship named for him.

Hudner’s wingman was Ens. Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator. They were piloting F4U Corsairs in support of Marines on the ground during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Chinese forces had joined the war after the U.S. and democratic Koreans had nearly won it. And so, previously victorious U.S. forces were conducting a fighting withdrawal south.

Aviators had to fight tooth and nail to buy time for the withdrawing ground forces. Corsairs and other planes were sent to drop bombs and fire rockets at enemy armor and formations, then strafe for as long as they could, then re-arm, re-fuel, and re-attack.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator, died after being shot down in December, 1950.

(U.S. Navy)

On December 4, 1950, Hudner, Brown, and four other pilots were searching for camouflaged Chinese troops in the snowy mountains. They finally found them when the snow started blinking with the muzzle flashes of Chinese riflemen firing at them.

With the Corsairs flying so low, the rifles were actually an effective anti-aircraft weapon, and Brown’s Corsair started streaming vapor. It was oil from the damaged engine, and Brown’s plane wasn’t going to make it. The ensign was going down 17 miles behind enemy lines.

The crash was rough, and the pilots in the air were worried that Brown died on impact. That was, until they saw him move. Still, Hudner was worried about Brown on the ground, exposed to the elements, especially when Brown didn’t emerge from the cockpit.

So, Hudner crash-landed his own plane.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Lt. j.g. Thomas Hudner received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for his attempted rescue of Ens. Jesse Brown.

(U.S. Navy)

Hudner rushed to Brown’s Corsair, only to find him trapped inside. He attempted to get him out while taking breaks to pack snow around the engine and prevent a fire. When he was unable to get Brown out, he radioed for a rescue, but even then, they couldn’t save him.

Brown died in the cockpit, and Hudner was nominated for the Medal of Honor, which he would later receive for his efforts.

The new destroyer which will bear his name is of the Arleigh Burke Class. These guided-missile destroyers use the Aegis Combat System, which can fire all sorts of missiles and rockets to target enemies on land, on the sea, under the water, and in the air. They often pop up in the news during ballistic missile tests because they can shoot down missiles in flight and even hit satellites in space.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Members of the 1804 Concord Independent Battery render honors as the future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) arrives in Boston, Massachusetts on November 26, 2018..

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Hammond)

But they’re also often used in Tomahawk missile strikes. The USS Higgins, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, fired 23 missiles from the North Arabian Gulf into Syria during that large strike in April.

While the destroyers cost over four times as much as littoral combat ships, smaller vessels with a similar mission set and armament, the destroyers’ eye-watering billion cost per ship is generally considered well worth the price. That’s partially because the Aegis system on the destroyer is so much more capable, but also because the Arleigh Burkes are thought to be much more survivable than the LCS variants.

The USS Thomas Hudner will be the 66th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the U.S. Navy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Activists are restoring these war monuments after years of neglect

A World War I monument in Rhode Island no longer bears the names of soldiers who died fighting; the bronze plaques were stolen decades ago. A statue of a WWI soldier in New York City has a dented helmet and missing rifle. The wooden rifle stack on top of a monument in Washington state has rotted away. Trees memorializing soldiers from Worcester, Massachusetts, have died.


The 100th anniversary this year of America’s involvement in the “Great War” has drawn attention to the state of the monuments to its soldiers and galvanized efforts to fix them.

Many were forgotten about over time, or no one took responsibility for their care. Some were looked after, but they’re in need of repairs, too, after being outside for so long.

“There are some cases of vandalism, but in general it has been time and a lack of maintenance and really nobody paying much attention,” said Theo Mayer, program manager for the US World War I Centennial Commission’s 100 Cities/100 Memorials program. “Somehow the war slipped into our historic unconscious, and so did the memorials.”

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
The World War I Memorial Grove in Worcester, Massachusetts. Photo from TreeWorcester.org/

The centennial commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago are helping communities that are restoring and rescuing their memorials. Fifty matching grants of up to $2,000 each were awarded in late September. They’re accepting applications for another 50 grants, to be awarded in April.

The nation owes it to WWI veterans, “lest we forget,” said Kenneth Clarke, president and CEO of the military museum.

“They can’t speak for themselves. There’s none of them left. It’s up to us to carry this legacy forward,” Clarke said. “That’s a responsibility we have as citizens of this great country.”

The first group of grant recipients includes a project to replace the plaques in Newport, Rhode Island; repairs to the World War Memorial in Raymond, Washington, and to the Highbridge Doughboy statue in New York City; and tree plantings and restoration work for Memorial Grove at Green Hill Park in Worcester.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
World War I memorial tower on the hill at the park. Wikimedia Commons photo by Swampyank.

The plaques were stolen from the Miantonomi Memorial Park Tower in Newport nearly 40 years ago.

“Why hasn’t anyone replaced them? I don’t know. Apathy? I just don’t understand,” said Bob Cornett, who’s working with the city on the project.

The Washington memorial, tucked in the corner of a park, was becoming an eyesore because of the missing top and paint peeling off the pillar, said Army veteran Gordon Aleshire. Now it has been recoated, a bronze rifle stack has been made and it’s being moved next to another war memorial.

“We were embarrassed over it,” said Aleshire, coordinator of the project. “The VFW thought the city was going to take care of it, and the city thought the VFW was going to take care of it, and no one did. Now we’ll have a plan to make sure we won’t let it get into such disrepair in the future.”

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
Victory Monument at Chicago in Illinois, USA. Wikimedia Commons photo by Joe Ravi.

The Highbridge Doughboy was erected in the Bronx in 1923. It was later vandalized and moved into storage in the 1970s. It’s currently on display in Central Park. It will be relocated to a park near Yankee Stadium when it is cleaned and fixed. The grant will help the city’s parks department replicate the main dedication plaque.

In Worcester, an American Legion post planted maples to honor those who died in WWI, dedicating it in 1928. The post later closed, and about half of the trees have died. The Green Hill Park Coalition is working with the city to restore the grove.

The first 50 memorials selected are in 28 states. The Victory Memorial in Chicago, also known as Victory Monument, commemorates the 370th Infantry Regiment, an all-black unit that served with French soldiers. It has been well cared for. Local residents are going to plant a memorial garden and teach high school students more about the war. A poppy garden is being planted at North Carolina State University’s Memorial Bell Tower, as well.

The projects that received grants must be completed by the centennial of the war’s end, Nov. 11, 2018. The centennial commission is building the National WWI Memorial in Washington, DC.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 things you didn’t know about Operation Market Garden

It’s been 75 years since the launch of Operation Market Garden – the World War II mission to secure key bridges across Belgium and the Netherlands while pushing an Allied advance over the Rhine into Germany and ending the war in Europe by Christmas 1944. Unfortunately, many of Market Garden’s main aims failed, and the Christmas victory was not secured.

That doesn’t mean this brainchild of British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery was a total failure, it was just slightly more ambitious than the Allies were prepared for. Here’s why.


How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

It was actually two operations.

Market Garden was divided into two sub-operations. The first was “Market,” an airborne assault that would capture the key bridges Allied forces needed to advance on German positions and cross into Germany. The second was “Garden,” where ground forces actually crossed those bridges and formed on the other side. In the north, the push would circumvent the Siegfried Line, creating the top part of a greater pincer movement of tanks inside Germany’s industrial heartland, as well as a 64-mile bulge in the front line.

Getting there would be slow going.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Six American paratroopers of the First Allied Airborne Army receive a final briefing from their commanding officer before Operation Market Garden.

(Imperial War Museum)

It was the largest airborne operation ever.

The British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were dropped around Oosterbeek to take bridges near Arnhem and Grave. The U.S. 101st Airborne was dropped near Eindhoven, and the 82nd was dropped near Nijmegen with the aim of taking bridges near there and Grave. In all, some 34,000 men would be airlifted into combat on the first day, with their equipment and support coming in by glider the next day. In the days that followed, they would be relieved by Allied troops zooming North to cross the river.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

British POWs captured by the Germans at Arnhem.

The Allies thought the Nazis weren’t going to fight.

Isn’t that always what happens in a “surprise” defeat? Underestimating the enemy is always a mistake, no matter what the reason. In this case, the Allies thought German resistance to the invaders would be minimal because the Nazis were in full retreat mode after the Allies liberated much of occupied France. They were wrong. Hitler saw the retreat as a collapse on the Western Front and recalled one of his best Field Marshals from retirement, Gerd von Rundstedt. Von Rundstedt quickly reorganized the German forces in the West and moved reinforcements to the areas near key bridges and major cities.

Even though Dutch resistance fighters and their own communications intercepts told the Allies there would be more fighting than planned, they went ahead with the operation anyway.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Cromwell tanks speed toward Nijmegen, Sep. 20, 1944.

Speed was essential and the Allies didn’t have it.

The surprise of using 34,000-plus paratroopers definitely worked on the German defenders. But still, some attacks did not proceed as planned, and though most bridges were taken, some were not, and some were demolished by their defenders. The British were forced to engage their targets with half the men required. What’s worse is that the paratrooper’s relief was moving much slower than expected, moving about half of its planned advance on the first day. To make matters worse, British Gen. Sir Brian Horrocks halted his advance on the second day to regroup after assisting in the assault on Nijmegen Bridge.

It was the halt that would keep British troops at Arnhem from getting the forces they needed to be successful and spell the ultimate failure of Market Garden.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

British Engineers remove explosives set by German engineers on a bridge near Arnhem.

The British took the brunt of the casualties.

Overall, Market Garden cost the Allies between 15,000 and 17,000 killed, captured, or wounded. The British 1st Airborne Division was the hardest hit, starting the battle with 10,600 men and suffering 1,485 killed and some 6,414 captured. They failed to take and hold the bridge at Arnhem, encountering stiff resistance and reinforcement from the Nazi troops there. Because of that bridge, the invasion of Nazi Germany over the lower Rhine could not proceed.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

“Monty” still saw Market Garden as a success.

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a steadfast supporter of the operation, even after considering all its operational successes and failures. Despite the lack of intelligence and overly optimistic planning in terms of the defenders, Montgomery still considered the operation a “90 percent” success.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last combat soldier to leave Vietnam was killed in the 9/11 attacks

Max Beilke was in the Army for 20 years already by the time he deployed to Vietnam in 1972. His time there would be much shorter than the many others who did tours in the Vietnam War. His last day in Vietnam was the U.S. military’s last day in Vietnam. What made his last footstep on Vietnamese soil so unique was that it was captured on tape for the world to see.


On March 29, 1973, Master Sgt. Beilke was given a rattan mat before he boarded a C-130 bound for home. The giver of the gift was Bui Tin, a North Vietnamese observer, there to ensure the last hundred troops at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport left as agreed. Back home, his family watched live as the man they loved, drafted to fight in Korea in 1952, headed for home from the next American war.

His service didn’t stop when he landed back in the United States. Beilke retired from the Army and, in the next phase of his life, he worked to support American veterans. Eventually, he became the deputy chief of the Retirement Services Division, with an office in Virginia. But it was part of his duties that brought him to the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Max Beilke’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

Beilke was meeting with Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude and retired Lt. Col. Gary Smith. Just as they were sitting down to begin talking, United Airlines flight 77 hit the outer ring of the Pentagon. The three men never knew what hit them. They were all killed instantly. Traces of their remains could only be found through DNA tests on the disaster site, according to the Beilke family.

Max Beilke was 69 years old. Three months later, his remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The man who had survived the ends of two American wars was one of the first casualties of a new one, the longest one in American history. He left behind a legacy of gentleness and fondness for everyone who met him – including the North Vietnamese colonel sent to ensure he and the other Americans left Vietnam.

According to his biography on the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial site, he traveled extensively for his work and ended every presentation with the same Irish blessing,

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the incredible Paddy Mayne captured a German city to save his outnumbered men

Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne was a rock star of military history, in that he wasn’t just a renowned and legendary soldier, he was also known to trash hotel rooms along the way – although The Who never left a bloody antelope carcass in a Holiday Inn. 

This Irishman was the epitome of the man’s man. In his younger years, he was a rugby player, marksman and championship boxer, but World War II cut his athletic career short. But during the war, he would build a career – and a legend – that reads like something from an action movie. 

His first taste of combat came in Syria against the Vichy French with the Ulster Rifle, where he was immediately recognized for his skill in combat. But the action movie-style life of Paddy Mayne didn’t begin there. It began in Egypt while he was sitting in a prison cell for striking his commanding officer.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art
The Special Air Service during the Second World War Portrait of Lt Col Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne, SAS, in the desert near Kabrit, 1942. (This is photograph MH 24415 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.)

One day, Lt. Col. David Stirling walked into his cell and gave him a choice. He could sit in jail and wait for his court martial or he could join a new group of extraordinary gentlemen who were going to take the war to the German Afrika Korps while the German Army was at its most powerful. 

Stirling offered Mayne the chance to parachute into the Sahara Desert with other, like-minded commandos, and drive jeeps around blowing up enemy airfields and generally wreaking havoc on their supply lines, airfields, and support groups. Stirling would be captured, but that stopped nothing. Mayne took command and things only got worse for the enemy.  

Paddy Mayne and the men who would become known as the Special Air Service did just that. They drove specially-modified Jeeps around the desert at night on their way to blowing up supply and ammo dumps, airstrips, camps, and anything else that was even vaguely German. For almost a year, they went on these daring hit-and-run raids that crippled the Afrika Korps, destroying hundreds of enemy aircraft, knocking out communications, and depriving the Germans of food, fuel, and water. 

By the time the Axis forces met the British and Commonwealth army at El Alamein, Egypt for the second time, the Axis commander, Erwin Rommel, was unable to maneuver effectively on the battlefield and was forced back to Tunisia. The Axis would leave North Africa entirely within the next six months. 

But Paddy Mayne and the SAS weren’t done with them. They would bring their show to Western Europe before the Allied invasion of Normandy. They parachuted into Fortress Europe and began wrecking enemy supply lines, communications, and railways, just as they had done in North Africa. Even after the Allies had a foothold in France, the SAS continued their fun all the way to Germany. 

That’s where Paddy Mayne made the most epic advance of his career, which is saying a lot, if you haven’t been paying attention to his story. While he was supposed to be clearing the way for the Canadian 4th Armored Division he got word that some of his men were pinned down by the Germans near Oldenburg during their advance. He was going to come to the rescue. 

He drove a jeep to where they were outnumbered and surrounded and ran into the closest house with just his sidearm. After clearing the house by himself, he took a Bren light machine gun and got one of his men on the Vickers machine gun mounted to his jeep. He then drove right into the Germans who were bearing down on his trapped comrades.

With one hand on the wheel and the other on his machine gun, he drove up and down the road, killing Germans as passed them. He stopped to load the wounded onto the jeep as the gunner poured rounds into the enemy positions. The men who weren’t wounded were able to regroup as Mayne cleared snipers and enemy positions inside houses. 

Then he led the 1st SAS back to Oldenburg, with the men he had just rescued, and outflanked the German defenders there, annihilating them and capturing the town.  

Even today, some people hope he will be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

He would receive his fourth Distinguished Service Order for the individual act of bravado. Many thought Mayne deserved the Victoria Cross for the effort, but even after his death in 1955, the British government declined to give him the award, Britain’s highest honor for bravery in the face of the enemy. Regardless, Mayne is one of the United Kingdom’s most decorated heroes of World War II. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Ross Perot was a veteran to be admired

Nowadays, people may not remember much about H. Ross Perot outside of his boisterous personality, his third-party Presidential run, or maybe even just comedian Dana Carvey’s spot-on impression of the Texas billionaire. Perot was a naval officer and eight-year veteran whose work ethic and subsequent success is the very ideal vets strive to achieve. He not only helped himself, he helped others achieve their potential.

The onetime Eagle Scout even demonstrated his love for country after leaving the military, by remembering POWs, supporting American troops by opposing a war, and taking care of the Americans who worked for him. His Presidential run was just the most visible part of the former Midshipman’s life.


As far as Dana Carvey’s impression goes, Perot loved it.

“The number one rule in leadership is to always be accountable for what you do,” Perot famously said in the middle of the 1992 Presidential Debate. “When you make a mistake, step up to the plate and say you made a mistake. That’s leadership, folks.”

Perot knew a thing or two about leadership. He joined the Navy via the Naval Academy at Annapolis, becoming the class President for the Academy’s 1953 class. It was there he helped establish the Academy’s honor concept, a code of conduct that forbids Midshipmen from lying, cheating, or stealing. He graduated from the USNA a distinguished graduate, forever changing the experiences of Midshipmen at the Academy.

“I had never seen the ocean, and I had never seen a ship — but I knew that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy,” he reportedly said of his appointment to Annapolis.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

But his determination didn’t end with his service. Like most of us, Perot transitioned into civilian life and found the standards much lower than he was used to. In his first post-military job as a salesman for IBM, he filled his entire annual quota in two weeks. He would eventually go on to found his own information technology company, Electronic Data Systems, the one that would make him a billionaire. Within a week of going public, he increased the EDS stock price tenfold. It was the fastest fortune ever made by any Texan.

When called upon to serve his country as a civilian, he did so, traveling to Laos in 1969 to investigate the conditions of American POWs held by the North. Perot was apparently appalled, as he tried to organize a relief airlift that rubbed the Cold War superpowers the wrong way. He also took care of his people, as many veterans instinctively do, even when he was at the top. When two of his employees were taken captive by Iranians in 1979, he organized and paid for the rescue operation that freed the two hostages.

It was with this life of service, hard work, and success that Perot was able to take the fight to two entrenched parties represented by longtime politicians, and change the American political scene forever. For all the jokes made about his demeanor, Perot earned nearly 20 percent of the popular vote, a return that forced President Bill Clinton to reconsider his economic policies and end his term with a budget surplus – a practically unthinkable feat in today’s politics.

MIGHTY HISTORY

11 facts you should have learned about World War I

On this day in history, WWI began. Here’s everything you were always supposed to know about the Great War but may have never learned.


1. The first World War was a global war centered in Europe that began on July 28, 1914, and ended on November 11, 1918. The war lasted four years, three months and 14 days.

2. Before WWII, WWI was called the Great War, the World War and the War to End All Wars. During the four years of conflict, 135 countries participated in the conflict. More than 15 million people died.

3. WWI involved some of the most significant powers of the world at that time. Two opposing alliances – the Allies and the Central Powers – were at odds with one another. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his pregnant wife Sophie triggered the start of the war. Ferdinand was the nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the throne of Austria and Hungary.

4. A Serbian terrorist group, the Black Hand, planned the assassination. The man who shot Ferdinand and his wife, Gavrilo Princip, was a Bosnian revolutionary.

5. Though the assassination triggered the start of WWI, several causes factored into the conflict.

Alliances between countries to maintain the power balance in Europe were tangled and not at all secure. All across Europe, countries were earnestly building up their military forces, battleships and arms stores to regain lost territories from previous conflicts. By the end of the war, the four major European empires – the Russians, the Ottomans, the Germans and the Austro-Hungarian had all collapsed.

Austria-Hungary took over Bosnia, a former Turkish province, in 1909, which angered Serbia. Two years later, Germans protested against the French possession of Morocco.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment man a trench in France during World War I. The Signal Corps photograph collection includes every major aspect of the U.S. Army involvement in World War I.

6. US forces joined WW1 when 128 Americans were killed by a German submarine while aboard the British passenger ship Lusitania. In total, 195 passengers were killed. This put pressure on the U.S. government to enter the war. President Woodrow Wilson wanted peace, but in 1917, Germany announced that their submarines were prepared to sink any ships that approach Britain. Wilson then declared America would enter the war, with the goal of restoring peace to the region. Officially, the war began for US forces on April 6, 1917.

7. U.S. forces spent less than eight months in combat. During that time, 116,000 US service members were killed in action, and 204,000 were wounded. Overall, 8 million service members died during the duration of the war, and 21 million were injured. A total of 65 million military members were mobilized during the war.

8. By 1918, German citizens were protesting against the war. Thousands of German citizens were starving because of British naval blockages. The economy in Germany was beginning to collapse. Then the German navy experienced a significant mutiny, which all but quashed the national resolve to continue with the conflict. German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9, 1918, which helps to encourage all sides to lay down arms.

9. The peace armistice of WWI was signed on November 11, 1918, in Compiegne, France. One year later, the Treaty of Versailles officially ended the war. This treaty required that Germany accept full responsibility for causing the war. The country was required to make reparations to some of the Allied countries and surrender much of its territory to surrounding countries. Germany was also required to surrender its African colonies and limit the size of its standing military.

10. The Treaty of Versailles also established the League of Nations to help prevent future wars. By 1923, 53 European nations were active members of the League of Nations. However, the U.S. Senate refused to allow the US to participate in the League of Nations.

11. Germany joined the League of Nations in 1926, but much of the German population was resentful of the Treaty of Versailles. Just five years later, Germany (along with Japan) withdrew from the League. Italy followed three years later. Shortly after, German nationalism gave rise to the Nazi party. Some historians argue that WWI never actually ended, only that the conflict paused briefly and that WWII was, in fact, a continuation of the Great War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How American GIs brought Spam to the world

No, we’re not talking about automated, unsolicited emails trying to sell you fat-burning pills or hair-loss recovery foam. The original Spam is a brand of precooked canned meat product made by the Hormel Foods Corporation. Today, there are 15 varieties of Spam sold in 41 countries and trademarked in over 100. It has transcended social classes and become an integral part of culinary cultures worldwide. So how did this canned luncheon meat product become a worldwide phenomenon? It’s due in large part to American GIs and WWII.

Introduced by Hormel in 1937, Spam aimed to increase the sale of pork shoulder, an unpopular cut of meat. Its name is the result of a contest won by Ken Daigneau, the brother of a Hormel executive. Hormel claims that the true meaning of the Spam name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Food executives,” however it is commonly accepted that it’s an abbreviation of spiced ham.


How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

A World War II-era can of Spam (Photo by Hormel Foods Corporation)

During WWII, delivering fresh meat to frontline troops was an extremely difficult task. Spam offered the military a canned solution that didn’t require refrigeration and possessed an extremely long shelf life. As Spam became an integral part of the GI diet, troops gave the meat a variety of nicknames like “ham that didn’t pass its physical,” “meatloaf without basic training,” and “Special Army Meat.” The grease from the luncheon meat was used to lubricate weapons and waterproof boots, and the empty cans could be filled with rocks and strung from wire perimeters as intruder alarms. By the end of the war, the military had purchased over 150 million pounds of Spam. For reference, a can of Spam today weighs 12 ounces.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Sgt. Arnold Bourdreau eating canned corned beef in Italy in 1945 (National Archives photo)

Troops across all theaters of the war brought Spam with them as a convenient and preserved meat ration. As a result of the war and the following occupations, Spam was introduced to European and Asian countries where it was quickly assimilated into local diets.

In the UK, Spam’s popularity grew out of necessity as the result of rationing. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remembered Spam as “a wartime delicacy”. The canned luncheon meat has been adopted into various British recipes like Spam Yorkshire Breakfast, Spamish Omelette, Spam Hash and Spam Fritters.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Spam Fritters with chips and peas (Photo from SpamBrand.com.au)

Spam was also included as a part of Allied aid to the post-war Soviet Union. Strict food rations made meat even more scarce there than in Britain. “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev declared in his memoir.

East Asian countries also adopted Spam as a result of rationing and the scarcity of meat. In Hong Kong, the canned meat was incorporated into local dishes like macaroni with fried egg, ramen and chicken soup. Spam was ingrained so deeply in Okinawan culture that it is used in traditional onigiri (rice balls or triangles usually wrapped in seaweed) and is used in the traditional dish chanpurū. In Korea, Spam’s popularity rose out of the Korean War. As fish became scarce, Spam was used as a replacement in kimbap (rice and vegetable seaweed rolls). The cans of luncheon meat were also used by U.S. troops to trade for goods, services and even information around their bases. Today, Korea is second only by the United States in Spam production and consumption.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Spam Classis Kimbap (Photo from Spam.com)

In Southeast Asia, Spam is most popular in the Philippines. Following WWII, Spam became a cultural symbol on the islands. It is most commonly eaten in Spamsilog, a twist on a traditional Filipino breakfast composed of rice (usually garlic fried rice), a sunny-side up egg, and a meat dish. Though Spam is commonly sliced and fried, it is also used in sandwiches, burgers and spaghetti. In the Philippines, Spam transcends social class and is extremely popular across all walks of life. There are at least 10 varieties of Spam sold in the Philippines that mimic the flavors of traditional meats. It’s estimated that 1.25 million kilos of Spam is sold annually in the Philippines. After Tropical Storm Ketsana in 2009, Hormel Foods donated over 30,000 pounds of Spam to the Philippine Red Cross.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

Spamsilog is a breakfast dish that’s acceptable at any time of day (Photo from ThePeachKitchen.com)

In the United States, Spam is especially popular in Hawaii whose residents have the highest per capita consumption in the country. Spam is used most heavily in Spam musubi where a slice is placed on top of rice and wrapped in a band of nori seaweed. The Hawaiian market also features exclusive Spam variants like Honey Spam, Spam with Bacon, and Hot and Spicy Spam. Spam is even served in local McDonald’s and Burger King chains. Every spring, Oahu hosts an annual Spam festival called Waikiki Spam Jam where local chefs and restaurants compete to make new spam-themed dishes which are then sold at the street fair.

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

A selection of Spam variants at Waikiki Spam Jam (Photo by This Week Hawaii)

Although it is seen by some as a food of poverty or hard times due to its affordability and long shelf life, Spam’s popularity around the world is undeniable. Thanks in large part to the GIs that brought it with them, Spam was able to fill food gaps in countries ravaged by war and evolve into a dietary staple and cultural icon.


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