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The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

Future President Harry S. Truman was a new artillery captain in World War I during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where his battery would be called to provide artillery fire for advancing American troops. One of his unit’s barrages would get him threatened with a court-martial, but the men who were saved by the barrage named him a hero.


The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Tanks push forward into action. (National Archives)

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September and November in 1918 was the largest American offensive in history at the time with over a million men taking part. The job of Capt. Truman and most artillery units in the battle was to both clear enemy trenches with artillery and to take out German artillery units, thereby protecting American troops.

But the rules for artillery during these engagements were strict. Every division had a specific sector of fire, and these sectors were often further broken down by artillery regiment and battery. So Truman had specific targets he was supposed to hit and could engage basically anything else in the 35th Division’s sector.

The start of the offensive was legendary. Truman was part of the 60th Field Artillery Brigade which fired 40,000 rounds during the opening barrage, Truman’s battery, specifically, was firing in support of Lt. Col. George S. Patton’s tank brigade as the armor churned forward.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
“Truman’s Battery” depicts Battery D in battle in World War I. (Dominic D’Andrea)

But the overall offensive would not, immediately, go well for America. The German defenses were still robust, even after the opening salvo. And the limits on American artillery allowed German batteries to fire on American advances, sometimes with impunity.

Worst, America wasn’t yet used to dealing with the traffic jams that came from rapid advances through mud, and Germany made it harder for them by bombarding roads as they withdrew, filling them with shell craters that would trip up horses and cars.

Even with these and other setbacks, Battery D was typically in position to support their infantry and armored brethren.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Artillery soldiers fire in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in World War I. (U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

Truman and Battery D focused on fire support of Patton and the other advancing troops, but they also fired at any threats to the 35th Division’s flank. So, when Truman saw an American plane drop a flare near his position on the 35th flank during the second day of the offensive, he grabbed his binoculars and tried to find what the pilot was pointing to.

Underneath the falling flare he spotted an entire German artillery battery setting up to send rounds into the American troops, either attacking Truman and his men or hitting the maneuvering forces ahead of him. The Germans were technically in the 28th Division’s sector, not Truman’s. If Truman turned his guns from their current mission to hit this threat, the action would break a direct order.

But the Germans were nearly within rifle range, and Truman wasn’t going to sit on his hands while a threat to Americans matured. He ordered his guns to take on the new mission, holding fire only until the German horses were pulled away. This ensured that the Germans wouldn’t be able to quickly withdraw. They would be forced to die at their guns or abandon them.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Traffic snarls slowed the American advance as artillery and supplies struggled to get into place to support the forward line of troops. (National Archives)

It worked. Battery D’s fire crippled the Germans before they could get firing, and the survivors abandoned their guns permanently. But Truman, knowing that his own position had been spotted, pulled his own troops to the southwest and resumed operations.

All good, right? Well, no. The regimental commander, Col. Karl Klemm, somehow got it in his head that wiping out a German artillery battery was less important than following orders to a T, and he threatened Truman with a court-martial.

It didn’t seem to have much effect on Truman, though. After all, the 129th Field Artillery Regiment was already short qualified leaders, so it was unlikely he would get relieved of command on the spot. So he filled some notes and letters home with choice insults for Klemm, but he also kept his men moving forward with the advance.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Artillery Observers worked to find enemy targets and direct artillery fire onto them. (National Archives)

And the next day, despite the threat of court-martial, Truman fired out of sector again. Twice. The first breach came the very next morning when Truman saw a German observation post being set up in an abandoned mill right in the middle of the 28th Infantry Division’s sector. Truman ordered his 75mm guns to smack it down.

And just hours later a German artillery battery tried to re-position in the 28th sector, and Truman spotted it. Again, he turned his guns and slammed them with his own artillery fire.

Later that same day, the order restricting artillery units to their own sectors of fire was withdrawn. From then on, artillery units could engage anything in their sector as well as any target they directly observed, exactly as Truman had been fighting the whole time.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA asks for more veterans to sign up for Burn Pit Registry

An overall goal of scientific research on groups such as veterans is generalizability — the measure of how well the research findings and conclusions from a sample population can be extended to the larger population.

It is always dependent on studying an ideal number of participants and the “correct” number of individuals representing relevant groups from the larger population such as race, gender or age.

In setting the eligibility criteria for the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, VA researchers used generalizability as an important consideration.

Simply put, they want as many veterans and active-duty service members who had deployed to specific locations to join the registry. Participants could have been exposed to burn pits or not. They could be experiencing symptoms or not. Or, they could receive care from VA or not.


Helping to improve the care of your fellow veterans

For researchers, everyone eligible to join the registry has a unique experience critical in establishing empirical evidence. By signing up and answering brief questions about their health, veterans and active-duty service members are helping researchers understand the potential effects of exposure to burn pits and ultimately helping improve the care of their fellow veterans.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

It is estimated that 3 million veterans and active-duty service members are eligible to join the registry. However, just over 173,000 have joined as of April 1, 2019, and 10 out of 100 have had the free, medical evaluation, which is important to confirm the self-reported data in the registry.

See what questions are asked

In hopes of encouraging more participation in the registry, VA is sharing a partial list of registry data collected from June 2014 through December 2018. This snapshot will give you a sense of the type of questions on the questionnaire as well as how the data is reported when shared with researchers and VA staff.

As a reminder, the registry is open to active-duty service members and most Veterans who deployed after 1990 to Southwest Asia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti and Africa, among other places.

Check your eligibility and sign up.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first machine gun was invented before the Revolutionary War

If you don’t think East-West relations have come very far in the past few centuries, consider the fact that James Puckle’s flintlock revolver fired two types of ammo: round shot for use against Christians, and square shot for use against Muslims. The square shot was supposed to hurt more, convincing Muslims of the superiority of Christian life.


The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

Invented in 1718, his “Puckle Gun” is the first weapon to be called a “machine gun,” even if it doesn’t fit the modern definition of the word. The Puckle Gun was tripod mounted, intended for use on ships but had field uses as well. The cylinders revolved manually, firing 32mm shot through a 3-foot barrel and loaded while detached from the main gun.

The main problem was that instead of shooting a series of shots, the chamber had to be unscrewed before the handle could revolve the ammo, then screwed in again to seal the breech to the barrel. In demonstrations, the Puckle Gun could fire nine rounds per minute, tripling the output of disciplined troops, whose rate was three rounds per minute.

The armed forces of Britain didn’t respond favorably to the weapon. As a result, neither did the investors of the time. Only two models of the Puckle Gun exist today, at the homes of members of the Montagu family, the only people to ever buy Puckle Guns with the intention of using them.

Montagu, while acting as Britain’s Master-General of the Ordnance, purchased this first machine gun for use on a doomed expedition to capture St. Vincent and St. Lucia. It’s unknown if they were ever used in combat.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

4 steps you need in your battle plan for marriage resiliency

If you’re not walking forward into your military marriage with the tactical proficiency of any well-planned operation, it’s time to revisit the field guide.

It’s been one helluva make or break year so far with thousands stranded in PCS limbo and plenty of others facing even longer deployments. The recent Blue Star Families survey noted both family stability and time away from family as the two of the top issues, so there’s nothing like making hard things even harder.


While we’re no experts, we’re guessing talks between you and “Household six” might need a full set of EOD gear to survive the unforeseen schedule bombs without casualties. Luckily for you, there’s plenty of similarities between navigating marriage and planning a flawless mission. Here is your field guide to military marriage.

1. Understand your mission 

Troop leading procedures (TLP) requires the receipt and understanding of a mission. The mission for marriage is to accomplish your mutual goals with as few friendly fire incidents as possible. Unlike the military where a single commander dictates the plans, the role in marriage is shared. Creating operation orders with both points of view is how successful couples see the entire picture and arrive at the many battles in life fully prepared.

Each move, each deployment or change in life requires a new look at the mission.

2. WARNO

The WARNO issues a set of parameters, expectations and what is minimally acceptable. Applied to marriage, clearly outlining your own WARNO for situations like the grocery shop, the family vacation or simply a Saturday full of to-do lists.

“Go to this grocery store, not the other where the selection is not up to standard. You are to secure the following list of items. Should the brand names (listed in detail) not be available, you have clearance to initiate the following protocol. If the children become hostile, employ this tactic. If you reach this status with said children, abort the primary mission and begin digital reinforcements. It is unacceptable to return to base without the minimum requirements as stated below. Good luck.”

In theory, if a service member is used to working within the left and right barriers, a clearly defined home front mission should be successful.

3.  Identify obstacles

A good leader identifies the existing and potential threats to his troops to ensure the success of the mission. If you find yourself walking into contact daily, you clearly need to revisit this point. No one would walk into any mission without this step, so why not do the same for your marriage? Ask yourself the following.

“How will obstacles affect the success and forward movement of my marriage?”

“How can I use weapons within my arsenal to force the enemy where I want him and disrupt his movement?”

What is all too often forgotten in marriage is that your spouse is your battle buddy. Your spouse is and always will be on the same team for the same mission. If a snake is wrapped around the leg of your battle, you wouldn’t attack the man, you’d attack the snake. The same goes for your spouse in marriage.

If there is an enemy, attack it. If you foresee obstacles, plan for them. If you encounter them, work together not against each other.

4. Call for support if necessary

Your marriage team is in danger of being overrun. To call in support and save yourselves you need to know the following- where you are, where (or what) the enemy is, and what type of support you’re calling for.

Every marriage occasionally walks into battles that despite plans or preparation, can become too much to handle. Your options are to walk away or call in support. Unfortunately, in marriage, people often refuse support out of pride or stubbornness resulting in the complete failure of the mission and dissolution of the team. No good leader would let his team go down without deploying every single option available, so don’t do the same to your marriage.

Marriage in the military is one of the longest and toughest battles service members and their spouses will fight. It takes consistent training, plenty of planning and the unwavering dedication to the team to succeed. Luckily for all of us out there, the military has provided these skills, we all just need to deploy them.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the legendary Stinger missile is about to get more dangerous

The Stinger missile is America’s premier short-range air defense weapon, featuring in-flight guidance and an almost 7-pound warhead that sends shrapnel ripping through planes, helicopters, and pretty much anything else flying low. It can even be shot against ground vehicles when necessary.

Recently, the missile’s manufacturer has created a new proximity fuse for the weapon — and it just passed qualification testing with flying colors.


The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Aaron Kiser, assigned to the USS Bataan (LHD 5), practices target tracking with a Stinger missile training system aboard the Bataan, May 8, 2014.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Austin Hazard)

The Stinger is a hit-to-kill weapon, meaning it always tries to physically impact the enemy target before it goes off. That turns the skin of the targeted aircraft into shrapnel that rips through the rest of the aircraft, maximizing damage to engines, fuel tanks, and even the pilots. It usually ends up near the engine, since the weapon uses heat to track targets.

But making contact with the target isn’t always necessary, as the missile itself creates some shrapnel that will tear through the target’s skin. So, if it were to explode nearby its target, it’s still likely to damage or destroy the craft.

Now, the missile is being outfitted with a better proximity fuse that achieved a 100-percent hit rate during testing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

That’s great news for Stinger missile shooters. The weapon can be carried by ground troops or mounted on ground vehicles or helicopters, but firing the weapon is risky, especially against ground-support jets or helicopters.

If the Stinger crew fires the weapon and misses, whether because of a malfunction, shooter error, or the target’s defenses, they’re potentially in for a world of hurt. That’s because it always takes time to fire a second missile, especially for ground troops firing the MANPADS, which is a tube with a single missile in it.

That means a very pissed off and scared pilot is going to turn around and follow the smoke plume back it its source, and the pilot is likely going to hit the missile source with everything they have available to drop and fire.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua L. Field, a low altitude air defense (LAAD) gunner, with 2nd LAAD Battalion fires an FIM- 92 Stinger missile during a live fire training exercise on Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Oct. 10, 2017.

(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira)

But with a proximity fuse, a missile that would otherwise be a near-miss will still go off, generating as much damage and shrapnel as it can. That means the helicopter that would be pivoting to attack is now suffering from damage. Hopefully, the damage is in the cockpit, control surfaces, or engine. A proximity detonation might even still be enough to destroy the target outright.

If not, then at least the crew on the ground has some breathing room as the air crew tries to get an idea of how damaged they are. This could be enough time for troops on the ground to get under cover or concealment or even to get off another shot.

This is especially useful against drones which typically don’t require as much damage to be completely destroyed. And, considering just how much more prevalent drones are becoming, that could be key for future air defenders trying to maintain an air defense umbrella as Chinese or Russian forces test their defenses. All four Department of Defense branches carry the missile in combat.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

Col. David Shank, commander of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, speaks with Avenger team leader, Army Sgt. Jesse Thomas, and Avenger team member Army Spc. Dillion Whitlock with Charlie Battery, 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment, South Carolina National Guard, during an air-defense live-fire exercise in Shabla, Bulgaria, July 18, 2017.

(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ben Flores)

Currently, the weapon is most widely deployed in single-shot missile tubes and carried by air defense squads on the ground. There’s even an Army air defense battery that can jump these tubes into combat with other airborne troops. There’s also the Avenger system, a modified Humvee with eight missiles mounted on it.

Finally, there is an Apache variant that can carry the missile, and all new Apache’s come with the necessary mounting point and other hardware.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. Navy veteran detained in Iran freed, on his way home

U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who has been detained in Iran for nearly two years, is returning home as part of a prisoner swap between Washington and Tehran.

White’s release on June 4 is part of a back-channel deal involving the release of an American-Iranian doctor prosecuted in the United States, U.S. and Iranian officials said.


U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter he had spoken by phone with White, who took a Swiss plane to Zurich on his way to the United States.

“Thank you to Iran, it shows a deal is possible!” Trump wrote, in an apparent olive branch to Iran.

White was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year for allegedly insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posting private information online.

In March, he was temporarily released on medical grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic to the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

The navy veteran was detained in July 2018 while he was visiting a woman he had met online and fallen in love with.

White’s mother, Joanne White, said in a statement that “the nightmare is over, and my son is safely in American custody and on his way home.”

The AP news agency quoted U.S. officials as saying his release was part of an agreement involving Majid Taheri, an Iranian-American physician prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Taheri served 16 months for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and on June 4 a federal judge released him to go see family in Iran.

The developments follow the deportation to Iran this week of Sirios Asgari, an Iranian scientist detained in the United States.

U.S. and Iranian officials have denied that Asgari’s release was part of a prisoner swap.

Switzerland, the intermediary between the U.S. and Iranian governments, has facilitated months of quiet negotiations over prisoners, reports said. Qatar, which has good relations with both the United States and Iran, reportedly also facilitated the prisoner swap.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter he was pleased the two Iranians and White will join their families.

“This can happen for all prisoners. No need for cherry picking. Iranian hostages held in — and on behalf of — the U.S. should come home,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iranian authorities had been “constructive” on freeing White but urged the release of three other U.S. citizens, all of Iranian descent, who are detained in Iran.

Observers have speculated that prisoner swaps can offer a rare opportunity for back-channel diplomacy between the two adversaries to start official dialogue, but few see any serious progress before the U.S. election in November.

Relations between Washington and Tehran have become increasingly hostile since 2018, when Trump withdrew the United States from a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The spectacular naval origin of the phrase, ‘son of a gun’

These days, Americans are less likely to exclaim “son of a gun” than the more-explicit “son of a b*tch,” but there was a time when “son of a gun” itself was not used in mixed company — and that time was more than 200 years after the age of sail.


It seems the Royal Navy, while not keen on having women aboard its ships, sometimes overlooked the practice. Different times throughout its history saw sailors of the Royal Navy either bring either their wives or lovers aboard ships that might be out at sea for a while. While it wasn’t officially tolerated, there are instances of a ship’s company turning a blind eye to it.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
At this point, it’s important that everyone knows I’m talking about prostitutes.

 

Everyone aboard a ship was counted in the ship’s log back in those days. The log was a detailed account of who was working, who came aboard, who left, who died, etc. It also kept track of who was born aboard one of the King or Queen’s ships. It was uncommon, but it did happen. Women had to get around the world just like anyone else. The Royal Navy kept this count, just like any other ship.

But say there was one of the aforementioned female guests aboard a ship. If that woman just happened to give birth aboard ship, that child would have to be kept in the log. If a child was born with uncertain paternity — that is to say, there were too many possibilities as to who the father could be — the newborn still had to be counted in the log.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Like an old-timey recording of the Maury Show.

 

If this was the case, the child’s name was recorded as the “son of a gun” — the son of a seaman below decks. Eventually, the common use of the phrase began to refer to any child born aboard a ship, even those of officers accompanied by their wives. Then, it began to refer to any child of a military man, not just the bastard children of sailors.

Some 200-plus years later, it’s used to lovingly refer to a mischievous person or as an expression of awe or esteem. To use an expletive or insult in the same vein, we’ve moved on as a society. Who knows where language will go next?

MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Described as “the bravest man you’ve never heard of,” Captain Humbert Roque Versace’s story is one that is not as well known as it should be. So allow us to remedy that by discussing how he spent two years basically being a huge pain in the ass for his captors in a Vietnamese POW camp — so much so that he managed to become the first person in the U.S. Army to earn a Medal of Honor for his conduct as a prisoner of war.

Born in 1937 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Versace was the son of decorated army colonel, Humbert Joseph Versace, and famed author, editor, and pilot Tere Rios, who, among other things, wrote The Fifteenth Pelican, which would inspire popular 1960s TV show The Flying Nun.


The oldest of five children, “Rocky” as he was known was a smart and headstrong child who would later be described by his brother, Steve, as being “infuriatingly opinionated” and “If he knew he was right, he was absolutely atrocious…” — a trait that played a role in his earning a Medal of Honor.

Like his father before him, Versace joined the army, attending West Point Academy in 1959 and graduating with honors. Over the next two years Versace received training as both an Army Ranger and a parachutist, eventually rising to the rank of Captain during a tour in North Korea as a tank platoon leader. In 1962, the newly minted Captain Versace was assigned to serve in a mostly ceremonial role with the distinguished Old Guard at Fort Meyer. Soon enough, however, he volunteered to serve in Vietnam.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

Humbert Roque Versace.

Prior to being shipped off to Vietnam, Versace received yet more training, this time to become an Intelligence Officer. As part of his training, he received a crash course in Vietnamese, a language he was fluent in by the time his tour of duty began in May of 1962. This, combined with Versace’s fluency in French, made him an invaluable asset to the Army and incredibly popular with the South Vietnamese forces and civilians of the Mekong Delta.

His fluency in Vietnamese was important to Versace as his dream was to eventually become a Catholic priest and missionary to the people of South Vietnam. Thus, Versace spent much of his free time as a soldier there volunteering at local orphanages, assisting townspeople and securing vital and not-so-vital supplies to make life a little easier for the locals. In regards to the latter, in addition to securing food and building materials, Versace also continually wrote letters to schools in the United States asking for toys and learning materials for the children of the villages he visited.

A year later, with his tour of duty coming to an end, Versace applied to stay in Vietnam for another 6 months despite receiving news that his application to seminary had been accepted. As it would later emerge, Versace had decided that he still wanted to be a priest but his decision to embark on a second tour of duty was born out of an earnest desire to continue helping the orphans he’d become so attached to during his time in the country.

Two weeks before this second tour was set to end, Versace volunteered for a highly dangerous mission to assist South Vietnamese troops take down a North Vietnamese command post located deep in the U Minh Forest.

During the mission Versace and his fellow soldiers were ambushed and overrun by Viet Cong forces. Hopelessly outnumbered, he called for a tactical retreat, along with First Leiutenant Nick Rowe and Sergeant First Class Dan Pitzer, covering the exit of South Vietnamese soldiers with sustained rifle fire as a hail of bullets tore overhead. During the ensuing firefight, Versace was hit in the back and legs by bullets and shrapnel as he stood, completely exposed to the hellstorm raging around him firing his weapon into jungle.

Running low on bullets, Versace charged the enemy in an apparent effort to single-handedly beat them all to death with the butt of his rifle. During his charge, he was injured once more, falling to the ground and being quickly set upon and beaten by the enemy forces.

After being physically overpowered, Versace, along with Pitzer and Rowe, were stripped of their weapons and boots, before all three were marched barefoot into the jungle towards a POW camp…. Which is when Versace got mad.

Remembering Captain HR ‘Rocky’ Versace on Memorial Day 2016

www.youtube.com

For the next two years Versace made life for his captors hell as they tried and failed to do the same to him. Strikingly handsome with a tall, imposing frame and a magnetic personality, Versace became the pseudo-leader of his fellow POWs. Frequently tortured and interrogated, he refused to give them any information and relentlessly badgered his captors about their treatment of his friends and comrades, citing articles from the Geneva Convention and using his time in isolation to think up ever more creative insults.

Tired of his antics, in an effort to keep him away from other POWs, Versace was eventually locked inside of a bamboo cage away from everyone else, which didn’t stop him from boosting the morale of everyone around him by cheerily singing pop songs. When the Viet Cong locked Versace in an isolation cage even further away from the rest of the POWs, he just sang louder. When they began gagging him so that he couldn’t speak or sing, he started leaving messages of support in the toilet.

Not content to just sit around singing, during his imprisonment, Versace escaped four times, each time being captured not long after. In the first instance, he was so severely injured at the time that he couldn’t walk, but instead crawled away from the camp in agonizing pain through marshland. As you might imagine, it didn’t take the Viet Cong very long to locate him once they’d discovered he’d managed to escape.

Each time he was recaptured, Versace was noted as telling his captors that he’d do it again the first change he got, prompting them to redouble their efforts to break him. As you can probably guess by now, these efforts failed miserably.

At first the Viet Cong tried “re-educating” Versace, attempting to brainwash him with political propaganda. Versace reportedly spent much of his time during these sessions loudly arguing with his indoctrinators.

Along with inspiring his fellow POWs, this saw to it that the bulk of his captor’s frustrations and anger were directed towards him, something his fellow POWs were also reportedly very grateful for. As noted by President George Bush some four decades late, “By focusing his captors’ anger on him, he made life a measure more tolerable for his fellow prisoners, who looked to him as a role model of principled resistance.”

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

Humbert Versace’s memorial plaque outside MacArthur Barracks at West Point.

In addition to inspiring POWs, Versace’s tenacity inspired the people of Vietnam; when the Viet Cong tried to parade a beaten and bloodied Versace through local villages, he’d offer words of encouragement in Vietnamese to those gathered. This was much to the annoyance of the Viet Cong who’d warned against such insubordination by threatening to viciously beat him within an inch of his life if he did so.

Frustrated with their inability to break this man, the Viet Cong eventually made the decision to execute Versace. When he was informed of this, he reportedly responded by singing God Bless America for 5 hours straight the night before his execution was to take place. This song was the last thing any of his fellow prisoners ever heard from Versace.

Following through on their threat, Rocky Versace was executed on Sep. 26, 1965. His body was never recovered, but a headstone was placed above an empty grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

For his conduct as a POW, initially Versace only received a silver star, the Army’s third highest award. This was something his fellow soldiers didn’t feel reflected the full extent of his actions and sacrifice while a POW, resulting in a concerted effort from a “hodgepodge group of soldiers and civilians” aware of the full details of what Versace endured to see him awarded America’s highest military honor.

In 2002, this request was finally fulfilled, with one of Versace’s brothers, Dr. Stephen Versace, accepting the medal from then President George Bush. In his speech, Bush noted:

In his defiance and later his death, he set an example of extraordinary dedication that changed the lives of his fellow soldiers who saw it firsthand. His story echoes across the years, reminding us of liberty’s high price and of the noble passion that caused one good man to pay that price in full.

In addition to being the first American POW to earn a Medal of Honor for his conduct during his time as a prisoner, Versace is an inductee in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes as well as a member of the Ranger Hall of Fame.

Said his former fellow prisoner Sergeant Dan Pitzer of the man himself,

Rocky walked his own path… for that guy, duty, honor, country was a way of life. He was the finest example of an officer I have known… Once, Rocky told our captors they might as well kill him then and there if the price of his life was getting more from him than name, rank, and serial number… He got a lot of pressure and torture, but he held his path… He was brutally murdered because of it… I’m satisfied he would have it no other way…. [He] valued that one moment of honor more than he would a lifetime of compromises.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 7 finest moments in Army history

The U.S. Army has over 240 years of storied history, defending America in war after war. The branch ensures American ideals around the world and has stood strong against fascists, dictators, and kings. These are seven of their finest moments.


The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
American infantrymen in the snows of Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.
(U.S. Army)

1. The Army stops the German’s massive counterattack

The Battle of the Bulge was, ultimately, Hitler’s fever dream. The thought was that the German Army could buildup a massive force, cut apart the western Allies, destroy them, and then turn around and beat back the Soviet Union. It was never possible, but someone had to do the nitty-gritty work of shutting down Hitler’s advance and then resume the march to Berlin.

American Army paratroopers rushed in to hold the line at key crossroads, and soldiers dug in and slowly beat back the 200,000 troops and 1,000 tanks of the German Army. Artillery barrages rained down on German armor even as it crawled up to the firing positions. American armor got into legendary slugfests with German Panzer columns and infantrymen traded fire at close range, even as shells rained down.

From December 16, 1944, through January, 1945, the Americans cut apart the German bulge and prepared for the drive into the German heartland.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
The British surrender to America on Oct. 17, 1777, after the Battles of Saratoga. The victory at Saratoga convinced France to openly enter the war in support of the Continentals.

2. The Army embarrasses the world’s greatest military power at Saratoga

During the American Revolution, the nascent United States needed a large victory to prove to foreign countries that the rebellion was viable and that they should be recognized as a new nation. A great chance came in late 1777 when British forces coming down from Canada prepared for a massive attack against American General Horatio Gates and his men.

British commander Gen. John Burgoyne lacked the troops during the First Battle of Saratoga, which took place on September 19. He attacked and was barely able to take the field by end of day, suffering twice as many casualties as he inflicted. On October 7, they fought again and the Americans looked good in early fighting — but their attack began to falter. Right as it looked like as though a reversal may occur, Brig Gen. Benedict Arnold charged in with a fresh brigade and saved the day.

Burgoyne managed to retreat the next day, but was eventually surrounded and was forced to surrender on October 17, leading to French recognition of America and open support for the continentals.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, fire a 37mm gun during the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
(U.S. Army)

3. America drives the final nails in Germany’s coffin in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

On September 26, 1918, America launched a massive offensive in support of its French allies against the Germans. The operation was under the control of the American Expeditionary Force and Gen. John J. Pershing. They led 37 American and French divisions under artillery cover against the German 2nd Army.

The Americans captured 23,000 Germans in the first 24 hours and took another 10,000 the following day. American and French forces took ground more slowly than expected, but fairly persistently. The Germans were forced into a general retreat and just kept falling back until the armistice was signed on November 11.

The American offensive helped lead to a nearly complete surrender, negotiated in a train car between Germany and France, by which Germany was forced to give into nearly every French demand. America’s victory there solidified America’s prominence as a true world power.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Crew of an M24 tank pulls security in Korea in August, 1950.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Riley)

4. America rolls back the Communists in Korea

The Korean War was initially a war between the two Koreas, with communist forces invading south on June 25, 1950. America sent troops within days to help protect the democratic South Korea, and Task Force Smith fought its first battle on July 5. Early on, American troops fought with limited equipment and reinforcements, but gave ground only grudgingly.

Still, the tide was unmistakable, and democratic forces were slowly pushed until they barely held a port on the southern coast by September, 1950. The Army landed reinforcements there and sent an Army and a Marine division ashore at Inchon, near the original, pre-war border. The two forces manage to break apart most North Korean units and drive north.

By Oct. 19, they had captured the communist capital at Pyongyang and were continuing to drive north. This is the “forgotten victory” as U.S. troops had successfully destroyed the communists on the field. Unfortunately, China would soon join the war, overshadowing the Army and Marine’s success in 1950.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Lee surrenders in 1865.

5. The Army peacefully accepts the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House

The Union Army was very effective during the Appomattox campaign, harrying the retreating Confederates and pinning down Lee’s forces to ensure the war didn’t drag on much longer, but that wasn’t the reason that Appomattox Court House represents one of the Army’s finest moments. The real miracle there was that the two forces, both of which would later be accepted as part of Army lineage, were able to negotiate a peaceful end to the hostilities, despite the animosity.

The war had raged for four years, and Gen. Robert E. Lee still had 28,000 men with which he could have drug out the fighting. But when it became clear that his army would be destroyed or descend into broken looting, he contacted Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to surrender at a house near the fighting.

Grant silenced a band that tried to play celebratory songs, declaring,

“The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.”

He gave generous surrender terms, allowing those with horses to keep them so that they could use the animals for late planting. For everyone who remained at the field, the Union opened up their rations to ensure all would eat.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
American troops and equipment are moved ashore after the success of D-Day.
(U.S. Army)

6. Allies land at Normandy on D-Day

It’s one of the most storied and iconic moments in U.S. military history. Thousands of boats carried tens of thousands of troops against reinforced, German-held beaches of France. Machine gun fire rained down from concrete bunkers and engineers were forced to blow apart wire, mines, and other obstacles for the men to even get off the beaches, most of which extended 200 yards before offering any real cover.

Rangers climbed steep cliffs to capture enemy artillery and paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines to secure key infrastructure and silence the big guns inland. Engineers constructed new harbors to rapidly land all the materiel needed to push forward against the staunch German defenses in the hedgerows of France.

In the end, over 1,400 U.S. soldiers were killed in the first 24 hours of fighting, and four men were later awarded Medals of Honor for their valor. Their incredible sacrifices were honored with success. The western Allies had their toehold, and a new front opened in the war against Germany during the Holocaust.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
An Army Multiple Launch Rocket System fires during training. Rockets like these saw combat for the first time in Desert Storm.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Carlos R. Davis)

7. The dissection of Saddam Hussein’s Army

Operation Desert Storm was a true joint fight with the Navy providing a fake amphibious landing, the Marines conducting operations on the coast and inland, and the Air Force dropping bombs across the country while downing enemy planes.

But the U.S. Army formed the bulk of the maneuver forces, and the huge left hook through the desert was a logistical nightmare that allowed the coalition to absolutely wallop Iraqi forces. Within that left hook, then-Capt. H.R. McMaster led an armored cavalry charge where one troop cut a huge swath through an Iraqi division while suffering zero losses.

Meanwhile, an Army artillery battery conducted a rocket raid from inside enemy territory, and the unit’s battalion destroyed 41 Iraqi battalions and a tank company in less than 72 hours. The Iraqi military had been one of the largest in the world when the war started, but it lost roughly half of its tanks and other equipment in the fighting while inflicting little losses on the U.S.

The ground war had lasted only 100 hours.

Articles

4 battles where paratroopers could have made a big difference

In the brief period of time since their inception the American paratrooper has seen combat and spearheaded assaults all over the world.


Despite their usefulness, however, there have still been numerous times when paratroopers were not used in which they could have had a significant impact on the battle. These are four of those battles:

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
U.S. paratroopers awaiting orders to jump. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1942)

1. The Battle of Bastogne

In December 1944 the Germans launched a massive offensive into the Ardennes forest that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

As the situation deteriorated, Gen. Eisenhower decided to commit his strategic reserves, primarily the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, in an attempt to blunt the German attack. In the ensuing melee, the 82nd helped hold back the Germans at Elsenborn Ridge while the 101st became encircled holding Bastogne.

The effort to relieve the 101st fell to Patton’s Third Army to drive through the Germans and reach Bastogne.

However, Eisenhower had one remaining airborne division in reserve in England.

On Dec. 23, the same day Pathfinders landed in Bastogne to guide in supply drops, the 17th Airborne Division flew to France in order to join Third Army in its counter-offensive.

A more decisive move would have been to have the paratroopers of the 17th jump into the perimeter of Bastogne in order to shore up the lines and bring much needed relief to the beleaguered paratroopers of the 101st. This tactic had been used to great effect during Operation Avalanche in Sicily in which 82nd paratroopers reinforced the Allied beachhead at Salerno.

This would have then allowed the defenders to affect a breakout towards friendly lines or to go on an offensive of their own to drive the Germans back and break the siege.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Waves of paratroopers fill the skies during a combat exercise. (U.S. Army)

2. The Landing at Inchon

On Sept. 15, 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces as part of Operation Chromite assaulted the beaches and harbor of Inchon — then well behind enemy lines.

In a coordinated effort with the forces encircled at Pusan, the United Nations forces delivered a striking blow against the North Koreans driving them back towards the 38th Parallel and recapturing Seoul.

The attack was a textbook amphibious assault comparable to those undertaken in Europe during World War II in which paratroopers spearheaded an assault followed by seaborne infantry. However, MacArthur had been in command in the Pacific and thus had utilized airborne forces much differently. His assault plan did not include the use of paratroopers.

Though only the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team was available, they could have been put to good use.

Their first order of business could have been the seizure of Kimpo Airfield, a task not completed until Sept. 18 by a battalion of Marines. The early capture of the airfield would have allowed American fighters a forward base sooner and would have allowed follow-on forces to be flown in.

Other elements of the 187th could have also been used to cut off the forces retreating from Pusan. Though the UN was able to eliminate nearly half of the 70,000 North Koreans in the South, the other half was able to regroup in North Korea.

Had paratroopers been employed they could have potentially stopped more — if not all — from reaching North Korea, leaving the communists with virtually no military.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
(U.S. Army paratroopers conduct an airborne operation on Oct. 20, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez)

3. The Siege of Khe Sanh

Just before the launch of the Tet Offensive in January 1968, the North Vietnamese attacked and laid siege to the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Though they held their positions in the hills around the base and the base itself, they were soon cut off from ground support and resupply when Route 9 was closed. The Marines in and around the combat base — mostly the 26th Marine Regiment as well as 1st Battalion, 9th Marines — held out against the North Vietnamese for 11 weeks before finally being relieved by elements of the 1st Cavalry Division as part of Operation Pegasus.

However, the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade was alerted and deployed to Vietnam in early February 1968 in order to shore up defenses against the Tet Offensive.

The brigade could have instead been dropped into the Khe Sanh Combat Base in order to strengthen the defenses there and improve the offensive capabilities of the defenders. The paratroopers could have been used to seek out the NVA artillery that continually pounded the base and silenced it. This would also have freed up other units that were instead used to break the siege.

Furthermore, the paratroopers would have brought with them valuable assets such as artillery, engineers, and intelligence that would have improved the fighting ability of the defenders.  

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
A Paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade prepares to land. In the background, a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

4. Operation Iraqi Freedom

Although there was one large and several smaller airborne operations during the invasion of Iraq the role of paratroopers in the initial assault should have been much greater. Another operation, a likely jump by the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Ranger Battalion onto Saddam International Airport, was scrapped after an overzealous journalist revealed the plan on public television.

However, there were many other targets of opportunity and uses for the available paratroopers. Much like the Rangers’ seizure of H-1 Airbase in Western Iraq, the paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade could have opened an airhead just north of Baghdad with an airborne assault of Balad Air Base.

Reminiscent of WWII operations in Europe, they could have cleared the way for the 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division as they made their way toward Baghdad. The seizure of key infrastructure was vital to keep Saddam from repeating his scorched earth retreat from 1991.

This could have been more quickly facilitated if paratroopers had been employed. With air superiority from the beginning, the possibilities for airborne assaults were great though unfortunately under-utilized.

When the paratroopers did enter the fight they proved their mettle when they earned a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions at As Samawah.

Humor

This famous bridge adds an Army LMTV to its list of kills

Right off North Carolina Highway 147 in Durham sits a relic of older railroad overpass regulations. The 78-year old bridge that runs along South Gregson Street has a clearance of only 11 feet 8 inches. It has become known across the internet as “The Can-Opener Bridge” because of the astounding number of overconfident truck drivers who think they can squeeze their vehicle under it. Recently, the bridge claimed its 130th victim: an Army LMTV.


Local truck drivers know to avoid the overpass, so nearly every vehicle that gets clipped is either a rental or from out-of-state. The costs of raising the railroad tracks would be astronomical and the city’s main sewer line runs underneath, meaning lowering the road is impossible.

Thankfully, to date, there have been no fatalities and only three minor injuries. The city of Durham is content to plaster the area with a ridiculous amount of warnings to drivers, including a traffic light and gigantic, flashing sign that triggers if a height sensor is tripped. But all of these cautions don’t deter idiots drivers who aren’t willing to take a short detour.

To be completely honest, I don’t think they even want to fix it because it’s too funny.

 

So, what’s a city to do that has a hilarious problem that only affects morons who obviously don’t know their vehicle and fail to acknowledge the many signals? Put up a 24/7 webcam and create an internet attraction, obviously!

The most recent addition to the bridge’s long list of victims is a U.S. Army LMTV from an undisclosed unit. Many sites have erroneously claimed that the truck was carrying some “top secret device that needed to be covered” when it hit the bridge. In actuality, it was just a regular ol’ weapon mount that’s kept covered as not to freak out civilians. The driver of the vehicle has also not been named, but the Private (or soon-to-be-Private) is definitely never going to live this one down.

 

 
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a single photograph allowed the Japanese emperor to stay in power

On September 2nd, 1945, the foreign affairs delegation of the Japanese Empire boarded the USS Missouri and signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender under the guidance of Emperor Hirohito, finally putting an end to bloodiest war mankind has ever seen. From that moment on, the world and Japan could start to rebuild.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan into an unconditional surrender, accepting all terms stated by the Potsdam Declaration. Among other stipulations, the terms of surrender meant that Japan must give up all lands outside of the mainland unless allowed by the Allied Forces, disarm their military, remove all obstacles to building a democratic society, and eliminate, for all time, “the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest.”

Despite those terms, it was Emperor Hirohito who vowed to maintain the peace — which was met with much disdain by many Americans and Japanese alike, with the exception of General Douglas MacArthur.


The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

This photo.

(U.S. Army Photo by Lt. Gaetano Faillace)

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East was set up and those responsible for the many war crimes committed were brought to justice. Prime Ministers Tojo, Hirota, Koiso, and twenty-three others were all found guilty of Class-A war crimes and sentenced to execution. Another 5,700 would be tried for Class-B and -C war crimes. Hirohito and the other members of the Japanese Imperial family were simply exonerated at the request of Gen. MacArthur.

Gen. MacArthur knew that Japanese culture was very intertwined with the throne. Since the Japanese throne was willing to cooperate fully, America was able to turn its eyes to the burgeoning communist threat lurking in Asia. This plan could only work, however, if the people of Japan believed the Emperor when he said that peace between the two nations had been achieved.

With the announcement of that newly struck peace came a photo that was taken by Gen. MacArthur’s personal photographer, Lt. Gaetano Faillace that captured the General and the Emperor’s first meeting on September 27th, 1945.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

As devastating as the nuclear bombs were, the firebombings of Tokyo and the rest of Japan were just as bad.

The Japanese press was reluctant to run the photo, but the Americans insisted. At this point in Japanese history, the people had just fought and died for the Emperor because they saw him as having incarnate divinity. Suddenly, some occupying force stepped in and showed the people a picture of their 5′ 5″ Emperor next to a 6-foot-tall American general.

General MacArthur knew the significance of the photo. The Japanese people knew the significance of the photo. And yetEmperor Hirohito gave his blessing for it to be published — affirming his commitment to bringing peace and rebuilding Japan at the expense of the height comparison.

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero

It humanized him and would allow him to stay as head of state well into the 80s.

Calls for Hirohito’s abdication were growing among the Imperial family. While most would call for Hirohito’s son (and current Emperor), Akihito, to assume the throne when of age, other family members scrambled to make cases sit on the throne themselves. Their claim was that Hirohito was, in fact, not divine if he drove the Empire into the ground. Many of those claimants could have spelled ruin for MacArthur’s rebuilding process as some harbored a strong hatred for America.

So, the Humanity Declaration was given on New Year’s Day, 1946. In it, the Emperor stated in front of his entire people that the emperor was not divine and that the Japanese people were no more superior than any other people. MacArthur was pleased because it meant that Japan would move more towards more democratization.

The declaration, in essence, meant that Emperor Hirohito went from being a divine imperial sovereign to a regular constitutional monarch.

Emperor Hirohito formalized the 1947 Constitution of Japan — officially an amendment to the Meiji Constitution — and stripped himself almost entirely of political control. In the following years, Hirohito’s commitment to Japan led to restructuring and the entering of an era called the Japanese Economic Miracle. Japan became the world’s second largest economy by the time of Hirohito’s death on January 7th, 1989.

popular

An Army officer was why Teddy Roosevelt had to quit boxing

America’s 26th President was well-known for his love of fisticuffs. He could be considered one of the world’s first mixed martial artists, considering his love for jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and, of course, boxing. He would have to give up boxing after holding a series of bouts at the White House. He challenged an Army artillery officer to a match, and the officer rung the Commander-In-Chief’s bell so hard, TR couldn’t see straight.

Literally.


Theodore Roosevelt’s glasses were so synonymous with the President, they might as well have been trademarked. The President had eye troubles from an early age and wore spectacles for all of his adult life. His glasses never prevented him from doing any of the amazing feats to which he is credited, including boxing matches. Just don’t call him “four eyes.”

Read more: This is how Teddy Roosevelt wins a bar fight

The artillery mission that made Truman a criminal and hero
Seriously though, don’t. (Library of Congress)

Even as President, he would get so caught up in his enthusiasm for boxing that he would ask professional boxers to hit him in the jaw as hard as possible, even while in the West Wing. And the President had no reservations about hitting those same boxers right back.

He challenged a military aide, Capt. Daniel T. Meade, to a boxing match at the White House. Knowing the Commander-In-Chief’s demand for the highest possible effort at all times and that he would be in trouble only if he didn’t give his boss the fight of his life, Capt. Meade delivered a blow that changed Roosevelt’s life forever.

Teddy Roosevelt boxing
“I guess I’ll just have to stick with Judo and Jiu Jitsu. Sincerely, Theodore.” (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Meade, the President, and Kermit Roosevelt were in the White House gym one day when Roosevelt told Meade to put on his boxing gloves.

“When you put on gloves with President Roosevelt, it was a case of fight all the way,” Meade later wrote. “… he wanted plenty of action, and he usually got it. He had no use for a quitter or one who gave ground and nobody but a man willing to fight all the time and all the way had a chance with him.”

Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography that Meade’s punch smashed the blood vessels in his left eye and “the sight has been dim ever since. … Accordingly, I thought it better to acknowledge that I had become an elderly man and would have to stop boxing.” Doctors later believed Meade’s hit may have detached part of Roosevelt’s retina.

This just seems rude.

For Meade’s part, he had no idea the hit blinded the President. Roosevelt would not reveal the fact that he was blinded by the hit until relaying the story in 1917, twelve years after the incident occurred. By this time, Capt. Meade had become Col. Meade and confirmed the story to The New York Times.

“I give you my word I didn’t know I had blinded the Colonel until I read about it in the paper a few days ago,” Meade told the New York Times. “I shall write the Colonel a letter expressing my regrets at the serious results of the blow.”


-Feature image: Public domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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