Truscott, The General Who Apologized To The Dead Soldiers, Memorial Day 1945

H/T War History OnLine. 

truscott-cemetery

When asked to give a Memorial Day speech in 1945, General Lucian Truscott who had just spent the past 3 years retaking Europe from Nazi Germany reluctantly agreed.  Not one to pursue the glory of the camera or headline of a Newspaper, Truscott preferred to let his competence on the battlefield speak for itself.  After all, there was no short supply of Generals to take up the mantle as premier media diva.

Truscott who would fight the war relatively unknown to many quickly proved himself as one of the most reliable Generals of the entire conflict.  First seeing combat as an observer on the famed Dieppe Raid, Truscott would rise through the ranks as he chased the enemy out of North Africa, through Italy and on into the heart of Germany.

However, it would be his Memorial Day speech at the Rome-Sicily Cemetery in 1945 that would set him apart as an orator as much as a General.  The words were neither fancy nor long, but the manner in which he delivered this speech have become the most genuine remembrance of Memorial Day one could imagine.

Memorial Day Origins

Memorial Day originated in the aftermath of the American Civil War and its history is can often be as confusing as its modern interpretation.  Placing flowers on the graves of the fallen had long been a tradition before the Civil War, but with over 600,000 dead the notion of decorating the graves of the fallen become much more culturally significant in both the North and South.

Multiple cities lay claim to being the site for the original Memorial Day that cover ground from as far South as Charleston, SC and as far north as Waterloo, NY.  There is even a story that the first true Memorial Day occurred when freed slaves decorated the graves of fallen Union Soldiers in South Carolina.

columbusga1866-640x488
Decoration Day ceremony Columbus, GA in 1868

And while you can inject yourself into the debate over who created Memorial Day if you like, it is more worth noting that after the war that had killed so many Americans honoring the fallen took on a heightened significance.  All of the various Memorial Day events were then referred to as Decoration Day noting the need to place flowers on the graves of the fallen. By 1868, Decoration Day ceremonies were being held in 27 States and over 180 cemeteries.  By 1869 the number of cemeteries participating had doubled.
Appropriately enough, the date of May 30th was chosen for Decoration Day as it was determined that was the date in which flowers would be most-ready to bloom.  After all, what’s a Decoration Day without the appropriate flowers.  By 1882, the name Memorial Day had begun to be used to describe the holiday and became much more prevalent by World War 2.  However, it would be a 1967 law that cemented the name Memorial Day and also moved it from May 30th to the last Monday in May.
Moving the date would prove controversial as it was designed to create a 3-day weekend and is thought by many to cheapen the holiday.  Until his death in 2012, Hawaii Senator and WW2 Medal of Honor Recipient Daniel Inouye proposed a resolution every year to move Memorial Day back to the original date.  And while celebrations of Memorial Day can vary wildly, it is General Truscott’s words that still strike at the heart of every man and woman to ever wear the uniform.

Addressing the Fallen

The Rome-Sicily cemetery would be the final resting place for thousands of Truscott’s men.  Having fought the vicious campaign up the Italian Peninsula, General Truscott would always hold the hallowed ground in honor as he saw first-hand the cost it took to reclaim it.  The podium from which he was to speak was situated with the crowd of dignitaries, journalist, and military brass to the front with the graves of his fallen men behind him.

As he stepped on stage he looked out on the crown eager to hear his words and then did something absolutely remarkable.  General Truscott turned his back on the crowd and began to address directly the graves of his fallen men.

landing_at_anzio
Americans landing at Anzio Beach in Italy

He wouldn’t stand to listen to older men speak that death on the battlefield was glorious saying “he didn’t see much glory in getting killed in your late teens or early 20s.”  He promised that if indeed encountered such living men he would “straighten them out” on behalf of his fallen soldiers.

And while there is no recording of Truscott’s words, famed WW2 cartoonist Bill Mauldin was present to write down the words.  Mauldin would describe it as the most moving gesture he ever saw.

Memorialize the Fallen

In modern times, there is often as much confusion about Memorial Day as there is about its history.  In part because of the date change, many have trouble separating the day from any other 3-day weekend.

Often, living Veterans receive thanks and well-wishes much to their frustration as they above all recognize this day is not marked for the living.

Some Veterans will graciously accept it and then grizzle under their breath, while some will take the opportunity to bluntly correct those who make such a mistake.

sicily-rome-cemetery-73-of-144-640x268
Sicily Rome American cemetery via abmc.gov

One can only imagine General Truscott would have been in the latter camp.  The man who didn’t spare any Memorial Day words to the living, but instead gifted them to his fallen understands the true nature of Memorial Day.

For living Veterans, Memorial Day is a somber event but equally a call to live life.  The fallen in combat have purchased the opportunity to live an abundant for their surviving comrades and most would consider living life to the fullest as the most appropriate way to honor the fallen.

General Truscott’s speech remains as one the most fitting tributes to fallen soldiers from a man who knew better than most the true cost of war.

10 U.S Memorial Day Facts you might not know

This is from War History OnLine.

For Gold Star families every day is Memorial Day.

I am a Gold Star family member.

img_8448-640x480

The Memorial Day in United States commemorates all those men and women who lost their lives while protecting the nation. Following are some important facts about the American Memorial Day.

  1. Since its very humble beginning on May 5, 1866, the Memorial Day was celebrated on 30th May every year. However in 1971 US congress established a new date for the day, and announced the last Monday of May as official Memorial Day.
  2. Initially the memorial day only commemorated U.S. personnel died during a deadly civil war from 1861 to 1865, but later it took under its wing all those who died for the country.
  3. A total of 620,000 Americans perished in the civil war, while 644,000 Americans lost their lives in all the other conflicts since then. American Civil War is still the single most deadly conflict of the American history.
  4. The ‘national moment of remembrance’ was set at 3 pm on Memorial Day. This was made possible by ‘the national moment of remembrance act’ in 2000 signed by President Clinton on Dec. 28.
  5. The Memorial Day had varying standings in past, one of which was a different name for the day. It used to be called the Democratic day. It was believed that soldiers died upholding the democratic values of the young nation.
  6. Red poppies have always been associated with the remembrance of the dead soldiers. People wear poppies to pay respect and tribute to those who made sacrifices for the nation.
  7. The most interesting fact about the memorial day is that although Federation celebrates the memorial day along with most of states remembering the union soldiers, however many states still celebrate the memorial days for confederate dead soldiers.
  8. About 5,000 people attended the first ever Memorial Day ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery, the Democrat and Chronicle reports.
  9. Most of the deaths that took place during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 were as a result of a small pox outbreak. The total number of deaths is estimated to be around 620,000 – 365,000 Union while 260,000 confederate soldiers.
  10. Following is the estimate of the total number of American causalities since the Civil War.
  • In the Civil War 620,000 Americans died
  • WWI, 116,516 U.S soldiers died
  • In the Second World War 405,399 Americans died
  • Korean War killed 36,574 Americans.
  • 58,220 American soldiers were killed in Vietnam War
  • In Operation Desert Storm a total of 148 Americans died in the battlefield while another 145 died elsewhere during the operation.
  • 4,422 Americans died in the Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • In Operation New Dawn 66 U.S Army personnel were killed
  • 2,318 Americans perished in the Operation Enduring Freedom.

 

George H. W. Bush: Shot Down by the Japanese in WWII

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. George Herbert Walker Bush June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018.

Thank you for your service.

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Richard Nixon, George Bush, Ronald Wilson Reagan and James Earl Carter

He then parachuted out of the burning plane, hitting the tail with his forehead and tearing parts of his parachute.

Among all the positions and duties that service members had during the Second World War, one of the most difficult was being a pilot. The position required excessive training along with a serene focus, not to mention skill.

This was the position that George H. W. Bush would serve in during the Second World War. Somehow, whether by chance or some other reason, he managed to be the only survivor of a mission that began with a total number of nine airmen.

George Bush had just finished high school when he decided to join the U.S. military and fight in WWII. If it wasn’t for the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, he may not have chosen that course, but regardless, it is known that Pearl Harbor inspired Bush (along with many others) to join the military.

George Herbert Walker Bush, US Navy, August 1942 – September 1945

Because he was still underage, he had to wait a little longer before he could begin training. The wait turned out to be worth it, because during a Christmas dance that year he would set his eyes on his future wife, Barbara Pierce.

Right after he turned 18 on June 12th, 1942, Bush left for Boston to be sworn into the Navy.

One year after being sworn into the Navy, George H. W. Bush became one of the youngest flying officers in the U.S. Naval Reserve. His mission was to fly Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers over the Pacific in the fight against the Japanese.

Bush in his Grumman TBM Avenger aboard USS San Jacinto in 1944

At sunrise on a September day in 1944, Bush and his two crew members along with several other planes were sent on a mission over a Japanese island called Chichijima. Since the island was a strategic point for communications and supplies for the Japanese, it was Bush’s duty to bomb a radio tower there, cutting the Japanese lines of communication.

Unfortunately the mission did not go as planned and almost every one of the airmen involved became casualties.

Crewmen of the submarine USS Finback rescue Bush

Bush’s plane was crippled by enemy fire and the cockpit filled with smoke. The 20-year-old Bush told his crew to escape the plane immediately as it was in danger of exploding. Disregarding this danger himself, he completed the mission by launching the 500 pounds torpedoes and destroying the radio tower.

He then parachuted out of the burning plane, hitting the tail with his forehead and tearing parts of his parachute. Bush had enough luck to land in the water and escape the Japanese boats with the help of other U.S. planes that patrolled overhead.

His own crew members did not survive, as one of them went down with the plane and the other one’s parachute did not open. Several of the airmen from the other planes shot down were captured by the Japanese.

Personal Report of Howard Ward of War Crimes at Chichi Jima

Nine airmen escaped their crashing planes, but only George Bush ultimately survived. The rest of the crew suffered terrible fates, including war crimes, at the hands of their Japanese captors on Chichijima.

 

Meanwhile, Bush floated on a life raft for hours, vomiting and in pain from the blow to his head. The submarine USS Finback eventually came to save him.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Bush

Bush assisted in the rescue of other downed pilots during the month he spent onboard Finback. He would later receive several awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to USS San Jacinto.

Read another story from us: 10 U.S. Presidents Who Served in the Military

George H. W. Bush would later marry Barbara Pierce and go on to become the 41st President of the United States of America. He passed away in 2018, and is remembered by some among the public as one of the luckiest men ever to fight and survive the Second World War.

 

The Celebrities who Fought for Their Country During WWII

H/T War History OnLine.

Another look at celebrities that answered their countries call to arms during World War II.

Celebrities and war only seem to come together in the movies these days. However, after the outbreak of WWII, things were different.

Both average people and celebrities joined the armed forces and resistance movements to protect their countries.

Some celebrities fought on the front lines while others worked behind the scenes.

Sir Alec Guinness

Before Sir Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi was Princess Leia’s only hope, Guinness was in the Royal Navy. Before the outbreak of WWII, he was a trained thespian and well into his career on the theatre stage. However, in 1939, he put his career on hold to join the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Cropped screenshot of Alec Guinness and Rita Tushingam from the trailer for the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago.

By 1942, Guinness would be promoted to the rank of officer and would get his first command the next year. His command was a landing craft which he successfully sailed and landed in North Africa. From there, he would be responsible for ferrying troops to Sicily for the invasion of Italy.

The Invasion of Sicily July 1943. Infantry from the 51st Highland Division wade ashore from a landing ship, 10 July 1943.

On July 1943, Guinness was able to land 200 soldiers on the island of Sicily. However, communication had broken down before the invasion, and Guinness arrived early because the landing had been delayed by an hour.

After the invasion, he was transferred to the Eastern Mediterranean where he ferried supplies and agents.

A charcoal drawing reprint of Alec Guinnes after winning an Academy Award in 1957.

During the war, Guinness said that he thought about becoming a priest after the fighting ended. Fortunately, he decided to continue his acting career instead. He used his wartime experience to portray military officers in Tunes of Glory and The Bridge on the River Kwai.

 

Paul Newman

Paul Newman has a lot of achievements to his name, from acting to philanthropy. Most people do not realize that service during WWII can be added to that list. In the years before he reached Hollywood fame, Newman was a member of the United States Navy.

Original studio publicity photo of Paul Newman.
Date 1954

While he was studying at Yale University, Newman joined the V-12 program hoping to become a pilot. This dream was not to be as it was discovered that he was color blind. Instead of completing the V-12 program, Newman went to basic training. There he trained to be a gunner and radioman for bombers.

United States Navy portrait of Paul Newman. Date 1944 or 1945

In 1945, he was on the USS Bunker Hill when it served in the Battle of Okinawa.

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) at sea in 1945.

This was to be a close brush with death as Newman’s pilot developed an ear infection which forced them to land on the way back from Okinawa. This landing saved Newman and the pilot from destruction along with the rest of their squadron when Bunker Hill was hit by a Kamikaze attack.

Clark Gable

One of the biggest names to join the armed forces during the war was Clark Gable. After the death of his wife, who had pushed for him to be part of the war effort, he released a public statement expressing a desire to help.

Publicity photo of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. Date 1939

He was offered a special assignment by Commanding General Arnold and enlisted in the Air Corps on August 12, 1942.

He joined as an aerial gunner and became a Second Lieutenant after completing a 13-week training course. At the time of enlistment, Gable was over 40 years old. His age did not stop him from participating in many high-profile combat missions.

Clark Gable with 8th AF in Britain, ILN 1943/06/12 Quelle

The knowledge that Gable was completing combat missions reached the Germans, and Hitler offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who could capture him. This plan was unsuccessful, and Gable returned to America where he was awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett was drafted into the army in 1944, long before he released the hit songs that would make him famous. During the later parts of the war, he would serve with the 63rd Infantry Division stationed in France and Germany. As a member of this division, he would see combat across the two countries.

Bennett (right) with Chicago columnist and talk show host Irv Kupcinet, during the 1950s

His unit was responsible for clearing the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge. He would also take part in urban combat while searching for German soldiers in bombed-out towns.

A roadblock is set up with 30 caliber heavy machine gun, and a tank destroyer is ready for action on Adolf Hitler Strasse, Niederbronn les-Bains, France, by the 1st Battalion, 157th Regiment, 45th Division.

Bennett was part of the unit which liberated the concentration camp at Landsberg. He has said that his experiences in the war are what transformed him into a life-long pacifist. However, his time in the army was his first chance to perform as part of a military band, setting off a talent that was to soar in the post-war years.

 

Four Hollywood Legends That Were in WWII

H/T War History OnLine.

These four people are indeed heroes.

In recent years, movie, TV, and athletic stars have done a great deal of work, either directly or indirectly, for the US war effort or veterans. Football player Pat Tillman comes to mind, as do Gary Sinise and Tom Hanks.

In WWII, movie stars of the day and the future filled the ranks. Books have been written about the hundreds of people in Hollywood that contributed to the war effort in one way or another. Some lost their lives, such as Gone With the Wind star Leslie Howard and movie star Carole Lombard.

Here are four quick stories about some Hollywood legends – or legends to be – who did their part for victory in WWII.

Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart had been an established star in Hollywood for years, working in many box office and critical successes. He is, perhaps, the most famous of all the stars that took part in actual combat during the war.

As an actor, he came to be known as sort of a “guy next door type” – relatable and steady with a biting wit. He was equally talented in both comedies and dramas. However, Stewart’s most dramatic role was his real-life one of a B-17 pilot in Europe during the war.

Maj. Jimmy Stewart confers with a B-24 crew member.

Stewart was drafted before the war began for the United States and made no attempt to get out of it. As a matter of fact, he was rejected for being too skinny for his height. He went back home and ate and ate, gaining the weight needed, then headed back to the draft board to join up.

James Stewart in front of a Boeing B52.

Stewart had learned how to fly years before. That fact, combined with his celebrity status, resulted in officers putting him behind the lines as a flight instructor.

James Stewart air force photo

Stewart constantly badgered anyone with pull to send him to combat flight training. Eventually, he wore them down. He moved swiftly through the ranks, drafted as a private and ending the war as a colonel.

Jimmy Stewart getting medal

He also flew 20 missions over occupied Europe. He remained in the Air National Guard for years, ending his military career as a brigadier general, all while making movies.

Lt. Col. James T. Stewart & Major Clark Gable – RAF Polebrook, 1943.Photo: Bwmoll3 CC BY-SA 3.0

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks is 92 years old as at the time of writing. He has been a Hollywood fixture for decades, spawning some of the most legendary comedies of the 20th century: The 2,000 Year Old ManThe Producers, and Blazing Saddles, to name just three. He has also acted in countless films.

In 1944, he took part in the biggest battle that the US was involved in during WWII – The Battle of the Bulge.

Brooks not only took part in the battle but played an integral role as part of the 1104 Engineer Battalion, 78th Infantry Division. Brooks was often in the lead, defusing mines as his comrades prepared to move forward.

Battle of the Bulge

He was also involved in countless combat actions that cold winter. Showing his sense of humor, Brooks (who is Jewish and whose original name was Kaminsky) got tired of hearing the constant drum of mindless Nazi propaganda coming from loudspeakers in German lines.

So, he secured loudspeakers himself and played Al Jolson records (another American Jewish star, and one the Germans would know) at full volume to drown out the Nazi nonsense.

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

In the 1950s and 60s, Audrey Hepburn was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Of course, her most famous role was that of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).

In that role and two of her other famous roles, Hepburn played breathy, ingenue types who were smarter than they let on — much like the Hepburn in real life.

Hepburn was actually British but born in Belgium and lived in Holland. Small, thin and waif-like, her dream was to become a ballerina, but the war interrupted such plans. When the Germans invaded that country, she was 11 years old.

Members of her family (both in Belgium and Holland) paid the ultimate price during the war: an uncle was executed by the Germans, and her brother was a forced laborer in Germany.

For a long time, people propagated the story that Hepburn had been a member of the Resistance during the war, acting as a child courier and helping to hide Jews. That is still being debated.

Hepburn herself was silent about it throughout her life, other than to relate some horrible wartime experiences.

In 2016, the Dutch museum Airborne Museum Hartenstein reported that it had done extensive research and could not turn up any evidence that Hepburn had been in the Resistance.

 

However, her parents reportedly were, and in 2018, author Robert Matzen in his book, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn in WWII, claimed that he had found proof that Hepburn had been involved as well.

Regardless of whether or not she actively resisted, she did see more than a little girl should see, later saying “We saw young men put against the wall and shot, and they’d close the street and then open it and you could pass by again… Don’t discount anything awful you hear or read about the Nazis. It’s worse than you could ever imagine.”

James “Jimmy” Doohan

James Doohan Photo: C Thomas CC BY 2.0

Of course, most people know Doohan better as “Scotty,” the beloved engineer on the Starship Enterprise of the original series of Star Trek. But long before that, Doohan was a stage, radio, and TV actor, known for doing accents – like a Scotsman.

Photo of James Doohan as Scotty from the television program Star Trek.

In actuality, Doohan was Irish, but like Scotty, he was a tough customer, and he proved that fact during the war.

As part of the artillery in the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, Doohan landed on Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944 — D-Day. After taking out two snipers single-handedly, he led his men through an active field of anti-tank mines to continue their hard-fought advance.

That evening, a green and startled Canadian Bren gunner stitched Doohan from top to bottom with his machine-gun. The future spaceman took four bullets in the leg, one in the chest, and one took off his right middle finger.

After his recovery, he learned to fly and was able to act as a reconnaissance pilot before the war ended.

 

 

 

 

16 Images of George S. Patton You Probably Haven’t Seen Before

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. General George Smith Patton Jr November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945.

A true warrior general.

George S. Patto

General George S. Patton went down history as one of America’s most beloved military figures whose popularity was only exceeded by his accomplishments in the field of battle.

Hailed as one of WWII’s most uncompromising leaders, he began his military education at the prestigious West Point Academy, where he proved to be a promising candidate.

The would-be legendary general first saw action during the 1915 Pancho Villa Expedition in Mexico. He served as a personal aide to John J. Pershing, who would later assume the commanding role over all American forces in Europe during the First World War.

George S. Patton, Jr., 1st Tank Battalion, and a French Renault tank, summer 1918.

It was this campaign that enabled him to remain Pershing’s aide in Europe and receive the rank of captain. During WWI, Patton would establish the Light Tank School within the American Expeditionary Corps.

From that point on, he would become a cutting-edge tactician of armored warfare ― a trait that would put him at the very center of the war that followed.

General George S. Patton Jr.

As the U.S. involvement in the Second World War brought an unprecedented reliance on tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, Patton’s knowledge in this area landed him the role of establishing the United States Army’s first armored divisions.

Alongside Adna R. Chaffee Junior, he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a commanding general of the 2nd Armored Division by 1941.

General Patton looking through binoculars.

 

Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton (right) in Bastogne, Belgium.

Patton quickly gained ground in Africa. He was making a name for himself not only among his own troops but among enemy soldiers as well.

In fact, by 1944, after great success in the Sicilian campaign, the German High Command considered him a key figure in the subsequent invasion of Europe that was to take place from England.

General George S. Patton Jr. on Sicily, Italy, 1943. Note the ivory handed revolver.

 

Patton near Brolo, Sicily, in 1943.

The Allies used this to their advantage, forming an intricate web of fake rubber tanks, weaponry, and misinformation to create the so-called “Phantom Army.”

The Germans were fed false information that this huge troop movement commanded by none other than Patton was the invasion force.

Patton as a lieutenant general.

Due to such subterfuge, the German 15th Army remained locked in Pas De Calais instead of Normandy, even after the initial landings took place on the morning of June 6, 1944.

Once unleashed, Patton’s tanks were decisively victorious in relieving the American troops besieged at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

Bradley and Patton at Bastogne.

 

Maj. General George Patton and French Gen. Auguste Nogues reviewing American and French troops during a combined parade in French Moroccan city.

He personally considered this accomplishment the peak of his career.

Patton would see the end of Second World War in Germany, but would soon suffer a car accident that led to his death on December 21, 1945.

General George S. Patton in command of US forces on Sicily, 1943.

 

Gen. George Patton’s homecoming at the end of WWII.

It is interesting to note the diary entry he made upon learning about the capitulation of Japan, as it gives a chilling closure to his remarkable achievements in combat:

“Yet another war has come to an end, and with it my usefulness to the world.”

General George S. Patton is honored with a parade through Los Angeles and a reception at the Memorial Coliseum before a crowd of over 100,000.

 

Lt. Gen. Patton with Maj. Gen. Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June.

 

General Patton with his beloved dog Willie.

 

Gen. George S. Patton Jr. inspecting a tanker’s helmet while on training maneuvers in the desert in California.
US generals Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Terry Allen, and George Patton. Patton led the US Army to its first victory against German forces at El Guettar.

One of the First Ever Navy SEAL Forerunners, Celebrates his 94th Birthday

H/T War History OnLine.

Happy 94th birthday Bill Dawson.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson talks with Bill Dawson, the last surviving member of the very first Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU) during Navy appreciation night at Nationals Park. NCDUs were the precursor of the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and today’s Navy SEALs. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)

In April 2019, the last living member of the original Navy SEAL team, Bill Dawson, celebrated his 94th birthday.

Bill went to fight in the Pacific theater of operations in 1943, when he was just 17 years old, and he remained in that area until the Japanese surrendered in 1945. He was a member of the first team of men that formed the Naval Combat Demolition Units, which were the forerunners of today’s much-famed SEAL teams.

Dawson was not only engaged in dangerous work during the war, but he also continued his hazardous occupations in peacetime, serving the Washington, D.C. Fire Department for more than 20 years.

He celebrated his birthday surrounded by friends and four generations of his family, as both his granddaughter and his great-granddaughter were in attendance. Sherrie Soos, Dawson’s granddaughter, said that Dawson would chat for hours about his travels and the work he had done. He was very proud to have served his country.

U.S. Naval Combat Demolition insignia.

Many of his friends from the fire department were also there to help celebrate the auspicious day. Greg Turnell paid tribute to the service that Dawson had rendered to his country and quipped that his courage was not the only exciting thing about Dawson—the fact that he had collected a pension for 45 years was surprising, said Dawson’s old comrade.

Bill is not only a WWII veteran but also a published author. His book Before They Were SEALs They Were Frogs details the work done by this remarkable band of men.

A US Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) team member enters the water from an inflatable boat while preparing for a stringline recovery operation. The raft is being towed by another boat.

The very first ancestors of what we today know as Navy SEALS were Scouts and Raiders, created in May 1942 at Fort Pierce in Florida. They were tasked with reconnoitering enemy beaches regarding things such as the gradient of the beach, the types and composition of the soil, and the defenses positioned on the beach. These brave men had no means of defending themselves; all they had to rely on was their stealth.

A year before D-Day, the military created Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) that trained alongside the Raiders and Scouts at Fort Pierce.  They were led by Lieutenant Commander Draper Kaufman, who was an explosives expert.

Rear Admiral Draper L. Kauffman

The training of the NCDUs was different in that they were trained to clear the beaches of obstacles along what was known as the Atlantic Wall—the string of obstacles that stretched along the northern French coast and extended as far as Belgium and Holland.

The men that manned the NCDUs were volunteers drawn from the “Seabees,” or Construction Battalions (CBs), and these men were the “frogmen” of WWII. In popular fiction, they were portrayed as wearing swim trunks and having a knife strapped to their legs.

NCDU 45, lead by Ensign Karnowski CEC with 2 seabees and 3 sailors

The facts were somewhat different, as these men operated primarily from rubber boats and did not spend much time in the water. The teams trained by Kaufman wore traditional fatigues, boots, and steel helmets.

These teams boasted men in peak physical condition, but they were not trained swimmers, as they operated in shallow waters. The teams later deployed to the Pacific were closer to the popular image of frogmen, as they served in warmer waters. They wore fins and face masks while scouting Japanese-held islands.

U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team 21 lands in Tokyo Bay

The image of these men wearing scuba gear is incorrect, as that type of equipment had not yet been invented. Scuba gear was developed by a French naval officer, Jacques Cousteau, in 1944, and was only used by the US military after WWII.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau in 1972

The NCDU teams undertook the dangerous task of clearing the beaches for D-Day. At Omaha Beach sixteen teams were deployed, with each team comprising seven trained Navy personnel alongside five Army engineers. They were given the task of clearing a 50-foot wide corridor to the beach.

The casualties in these teams were heavy, with 31 men killed and 60 wounded out of a total of 175 men. In spite of these casualties, the teams managed to clear around a third of the obstacles on the first day before they were forced to retreat due to the rising tide.

It is not surprising that Bill Dawson was incredibly proud of his service with this unusual and exceptional group of sailors. He was there at the start of what is today an elite and extraordinary band of men.

Slugs of War Detecting Gas & Other Creatures Who Helped Win Wars

H/T War History OnLine.

A look at critters during wartime.

A military working dog accompanies U.S. Soldiers conducting an inspection of an Afghan Border Police checkpoint near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border

Mice and canaries also deserve credit for saving many lives during the First World War. These creatures were used to detect poisonous fumes in underground tunnels.

There are many moving stories of how animals helped in wars. During both the First and Second World wars, many dogs were called up for action. They played important roles such as rescuing, tracking, guarding, and other duties.

Carrier pigeons are well known for delivering secret messages. And of course, horses played an important role in cavalries since ancient times. But there were many other animals who contributed their services and even their lives to war efforts.

The variety of different species is much greater than many people realize. Some of these joined regiments as working animals, others as mascots. Many undertook both roles by doing practical work as well as providing some comfort and keeping up soldiers’ morale.

Dispatching of a message by carrier pigeon within the Swiss Army during World War I. Photo: Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, CH-BAR#E27#1000/721#14095#4508* / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Working animals

Camels

Camels were frequently employed in desert terrain which would have been difficult for horses, because camels had the advantage of being able to travel long distances with little water. In the 20th century, these animals played an important role in the First World War, replacing horses in the desert for carrying both loads and riders.

The officer most known for riding a camel must have been T. E. Lawrence, immortalized as “Lawrence of Arabia,” who led an Arab offensive against the Turks in the years just before the outbreak of the First World War.

Lawrence at Aqaba, 1917

During WWI, the Imperial Camel Corps was a camel-mounted infantry force that operated in the Middle Eastern and African deserts. The Corps played an important role in campaigns such as Palestine and Sinai during the war. As the war progressed, the role of mounted infantry declined due to the nature of the fighting, and camels were used more for carrying loads.

Mules, donkeys, oxen, and even elephants also provided an alternative to horses for carrying equipment and heavy lifting.

A posed photograph of Australian, British, New Zealand and Indian Camel Corps troopers

Mice, Canaries and Slugs

Mice and canaries also deserve credit for saving many lives during the First World War. These creatures were used to detect poisonous fumes in underground tunnels.

Part of the Allies’ strategy was to build networks of tunnels under the trenches to reach the German front, which they would then attack from below by filling the tunnel with explosives. However, after the explosions had taken place, the tunnels would be filled with dangerous gases. Soldiers could not enter the tunnels until the gas had cleared.

To check if it was safe to enter the tunnels, mice or canaries would be sent in to test the air quality. If the animal was overwhelmed by the fumes it would pass out. Fortunately, they would often be revived and were able to continue carrying out their important service.

British soldiers with rescued canaries, France, during World War I.

Even slugs could play a part in detecting gases. These creatures were particularly sensitive to mustard gas, which posed a real danger for soldiers in the trenches. The slug would respond by closing up its breathing holes and compressing its body.

Slugs were more sensitive to the gas than humans, so they detected it before the soldiers did. When the soldiers saw the slug behaving in this way, they knew it was time to put on their gas masks.

German soldiers with gas masks, 1915.Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R52907 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Cats

Cats also earned their place by keeping mice, rats, and other vermin in check. The conditions in the trenches created a breeding ground for rats and in some areas, cats were kept and trained to catch the rats which threatened to make the already appallingly unhealthy environment even worse.

Cats were of course also common on naval ships during the world wars, as they had been for previous centuries. Mice and rats were a particular problem on ships. They could not only eat or contaminate the limited food rations held on board but could also be a danger by gnawing through ropes and wires.

Pooli, cat who served aboard a United States attack transport during World War II celebrates 15th birthday.1959

Pets and Mascots

As well as working animals, a large number and variety of animals became mascots. Dogs, cats, pigs, goats, and even monkeys could be found traveling along with soldiers. Some of them were even kitted out with their own uniforms.

Mascots were considered lucky and soldiers, particularly in the First World War, were known to be superstitious. Many soldiers would have found the presence of a lucky mascot reassuring. Animals also helped to keep up the soldiers’ morale and would have provided a comforting presence amid the brutality of war.

Tank Corp’s mascot, ‘Stunter’, and his officer, France, during World War I.

Mascots were often small animals like dogs and cats. Those who did not have a working role often had to be smuggled in. But there were also some more unexpected species including bears, baboons and foxes.

During the Second World War, a Polish regiment adopted a bear cub as a mascot. The Syrian brown bear turned out to be remarkably tame and seemed to enjoy wrestling and play fighting with the men. They named him Wojtek, and once full grown he was over six feet tall and weighed around 250 pounds.

Wojtek sits in front of a soldier.

When the Polish II Corps was sent to Italy the bear went with them and was formally enlisted as a member of the unit. He was given the rank of private and was even given his own number. Once in the front line, he contributed to the effort by carrying heavy items like shells and boxes of ammunition.

Troops of the Polish 22 Transport Artillery Company (Army Service Corps, 2nd Polish Corps) watch as one of their comrades play wrestles with Wojtek (Voytek) their mascot bear during their service in the Middle East.

Like Wojtek, Jackie the baboon started his army career as a pet but soon made himself useful. He was found wandering on a farm in South Africa and was adopted by the owner of the farm. When he enlisted, he brought the baboon along, which turned out to be a good move.

Jackie earned his place in the unit because his hearing and eyesight were superior to those of humans. This meant that he could sense enemy movements before the soldiers did. He would warn the soldiers by making a noise or pulling on their clothing

Corporal Jackie the baboon injured as a soldier in the South African army.

Meanwhile, a “flying fox” joined the Royal Air Force. The fox cub was found in France and adopted as a mascot. The fox even appeared to enjoy flying and was photographed accompanying an airman during a flight.

The roles that animals played in wars is now also commemorated during some veteran events. In Britain, some people wear a purple poppy to honor animal veterans along with the traditional red poppy.

And although horses and dogs are most often in people’s thoughts, it is good to also remember the important work done by other creatures such as camels, canaries, and even slugs.

You Have to Survive First: Caterpillar Club The Club That No One Wants to Join

H/T War History OnLine.

The Catapiller Club is a club I do not think I would want to join.

A membership certificate of the Caterpillar Club.Photo: JHvW CC BY-SA 3.0

While many clubs might difficult to join, not many have such unusual requirements for membership as the “Caterpillar Club.”

It has been described as the club that no one wants to join. And those who become members do so, quite literally, by accident. All you need to do is successfully bail out of a damaged airplane using a parachute.

The club began in 1922 after Harold Harris successfully bailed out of a damaged aircraft using a parachute made by the Irvin Airchute Company of Canada. The company marked the occasion by sending Harris a gold pin.

Harris wasn’t actually the first person whose life had been saved by a parachute. That honor should go to William O’Connor, a pilot who landed on McCook Field, an air station near Dayton, Ohio on August 24, 1920.

Although there is a reference to this event in an early brochure for the Irvin Airchute Co, his fall received little publicity.

Facing a certain crash, Harris bailed out of the stricken aircraft, landing in a backyard grape arbor at a house at 335 Troy St., suffering only bruises on his legs and hand from fighting with the control stick.

Previously, parachutes could not be opened once the pilot was out of the plane. When a plane was spinning due to damage, the parachute could not be put into operation.

Irvin, a former stunt man, devised the first free-fall parachute which allowed you to jump and then pull the chord. He tested the device out on himself in 1919. Having landed with only a broken ankle, Irvin considered the trial to be a success.

Leslie Leroy Irvin made the first premeditated free-fall parachute jump in 1919.

Freefall parachutes were a relatively new concept at the time, and they had been met with skepticism. Some people thought they would be useless as there would not be time to put the parachute into operation.

Much depended on the pilot’s training and fast action to get the parachute open before he lost too much altitude. But the successful bailout by Harris proved that these parachutes could indeed save lives.

Irvin’s company was keen to promote this new piece of equipment. It promised to send a card and a gold pin to anyone whose life was saved by one of the company’s parachutes.

The pin was in the shape of a golden caterpillar. The eyes were originally made of rubies, although these were later replaced with red garnet.

A pin from a parachute company, possibly Switlik or Standard Parachute. This style is common in catalogs and auctions of military memorabilia.

The choice of design was a way of acknowledging the important role of the caterpillar who spun the silk used to make the parachutes. The club’s motto is “Life depends on a silken thread.”

Shortly after Harris’s bailout, two newspaper reporters from the Drayton Herald suggested he should start a club as they realized that, in time, there would be more people receiving the gold caterpillar pin.

Irvin’s company, not surprisingly, thought this was a great idea. After all, it provided good publicity while also celebrating lives saved by the parachute.

And so, the Caterpillar Club was hatched and grew quickly. By 1928, the club had 87 members. Unsurprisingly, the war brought a large increase in numbers so that, by the end of the war, membership had risen to around 34,000.

Membership certificate issued 1957.Photo: JHvW CC BY-SA 3.0

Although fewer pins are given out these days, membership is currently believed to be around 100,000.

It was not long before other parachute manufactures such as The Switlik Parachute Company caught on to the idea and started up similar initiatives. Switlik also used a caterpillar pin, but one that was black and silver.

Today, membership is open to anyone, anywhere in the world, who has used a parachute to jump to safety from a disabled aircraft, regardless of the manufacture of the chute.

The Caterpillar Club distinction awarded to Mieczysław Halicki in 1934.Photo: Jacek Halicki CC BY-SA 3.0

Some Notable Members

Although fame and fortune won’t help you buy your way into this exclusive club, it does have some famous members.

Bram Van der Stok was a Dutch fighter pilot who became famous in 1944 for tunneling his way out of the notorious Stalag Luft III prison camp. The story was the basis of the famous film The Great Escape although Van der Stok had little use for a parachute on that occasion.

Former President George Bush was one of the Switlik caterpillars. His life was saved thanks to a Switlik parachute he used to bail out of a plane on September 2, 1944.

Bush in his Grumman TBM Avenger aboard USS San Jacinto in 1944

As the first person to fly an airplane across the Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh was no stranger to aeronautical innovations. Lindbergh’s membership dates back to before he made his famous flight.

He is also a four times member of the club. He had to bail out once while testing a plane and again during a practice flight. He made two more emergency jumps during night time flights while working as an airmail pilot.

Lindbergh with the Spirit of St. Louis before his Paris flight

The astronaut John Glenn was also a member, as was the aviation pioneer Major James Harold (Jimmy) Doolittle.

John Glenn sitting in the cockpit of a jet aircraft at the U.S. Navy Test Station at Patuxent River, Maryland, 1954.

The first woman to join the club was Irene McFarland. Unlike most other early members who had a military background, McFarland was a stunt flyer with an aerial circus.

While flying in a show over Cincinnati on June 28, 1925, MacFarland had to bail out. Her first parachute actually failed to open but, fortunately, her back up parachute worked. She landed safely and became the first female member of the club.

In general, men greatly outnumber women in the club due to the large numbers who gained their membership in the course of their military service.

Laminated membership card to the Caterpillar Club. It was awarded to airmen who saved their lives by parachuting out of an aircraft by the Irvin Air Chute Company. Photo:Dmercado CC BY-SA 3.0

The youngest person to achieve membership is Scottish teenager, Ruari Tait. Aged only 12 at the time, Ruari and his father were forced to bail out of their glider when it was hit by another glider while flying over Aberdeenshire in 2014.

Thanks to their parachutes, they both came down safely while the other pilot managed to fly his damaged glider back to the glider club base. The boy was clearly not put off by his experience and went on to become a qualified solo glider pilot at the age of 14.

The Club today

Today, there are still branches of the Caterpillar Club in Britain, Canada, and the USA. The local branches play an important role in helping caterpillars keep in touch with each other, share news, and also arrange reunions from time to time.

Irish Troops & The Medal of Honor

H/T War History OnLine.

 An estimated 2,021 of those Medals of Honor have gone to Irish American recipients.           

McCloughan was awarded the Medal of Honor for distinguished actions as a combat medic assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, during the Vietnam War near Don Que, Vietnam, from May 13 to 15, 1969. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

19 men have so far been awarded the medal twice, and of these, five were born in Ireland.

On July 31, 2017, during a concise but poignant White House ceremony, President Donald Trump hosted the first Medal of Honor presentation of his administration. It was in this event that the most recent Irish American to receive America’s most prestigious military decoration emerged.

“I know I speak for everyone here when I say we are in awe of your actions and your bravery,” the President said, referring to the recipient, who stood stoically just a few feet from him

James C. McCloughan, aged 73 and a retired high school teacher, received the Medal of Honor for “acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” as an Army medic 48 years earlier near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill during the Vietnam War.

During the 48 hour period of close combat, then-23 year old McCloughan repeatedly jumped into the rain of gunfire to save his comrades, getting injured on numerous occasions, and ignoring direct orders to stop going into the Kill Zone.

McCloughan in front of the 22nd Replacement Bn Snack Bar in 1969

With his recognition and award, McCloughan did not become simply the latest Irish American to receive the Medal. His award also drew attention to one of the fascinating facts about the Medal of Honor: a disproportionate number of its recipients have Irish roots.

The most distinguished military honor of the United States of America, created during the Civil War and first awarded in 1863, the Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,525 times to date. Indeed, this is a rather minute percentage of the millions of people that have served the US in combat, and it illustrates how sparingly the Medal of Honor gets awarded.

Acting Secretary of the U.S. Army Robert M. Speer presents a citation to former Spc. 5 James C. McCloughan during the Medal of Honor Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

Out of this pint-sized percentage, an estimated 2,021 of those Medals of Honor have gone to Irish American recipients.

That’s a staggering 57 percent.

Although the award is only meant for personnel of the US Armed Forces, US citizenship is not always a prerequisite to serving in the US military. As a result, thirty-three countries are represented in over 500 foreign-born recipients of the Medal of Honor. This may not come so much as a surprise, but out of these foreign-born recipients, 257 are Irish-born, representing about half of the people in this category.

Even better, 19 men have so far won the medal twice, and of these, five were born in Ireland: Henry Hogan, John Laverty, John Cooper, John King, and Patrick Mullen. Also among these 19 double medal recipients are three Irish Americans: Daniel Daly, John McCloy, and John Joseph Kelly.

McCloughan receiving the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump on 31 July 2017

The first Irish American to receive the Medal of Honor was Private Michael Madden for his heroism during the Civil War. He swam with a wounded comrade, while under heavy enemy fire, to successfully take the injured soldier across to a branch of the Potomac to the safety of the Union lines.

Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable Irish recipients of the Medal of Honor is Michael Dougherty of Falcarragh in County Donegal, Ireland, who fought in the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry of the Union Army during the Civil War. 

He received the Medal of Honor for leading a charge against a hidden Confederate detachment at Jefferson, Virginia, foiling what would have led to the flanking of the Union forces, and preventing a potential loss of about 2,500 lives.

President Donald J. Trump presents the Medal of Honor to Specialist Five James C. McCloughan.July 31, 2017 (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Dougherty was captured along with 126 others from his unit. He spent 23 months in prison, ultimately arriving at the dreaded Andersonville POW camp in Georgia. Dougherty was the sole survivor from his unit, but he was reduced to a mere skeleton, “more dead than alive.”

He managed to get aboard the steamship Sultana which had over 2,000 people aboard, six times its acceptable capacity. As the ship dragged on across the Mississippi, its boilers exploded and the ship was ripped apart, with its passengers getting flung into the river. Only 900 managed to survive the incident, and among these was Dougherty, who somehow managed to swim to a small island before help came.

James C. McCloughan, the recipient of the Medal of Honor, poses for a portrait with the medal in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)

Amazed by his impeccable story of bravery and survival, John J. Concannon referred to him as “Super Survivor” Michael Dougherty in his article for the website The Wild Geese.

Whether it is inherently Irish traits or just coincidence that explains why the Medal of Honor list is dominated by Irish blood, this fact has become something in which the Irish can’t help but revel. In a bid to explain why the Irish have dominated the Medal of Honor list, James McCloughan made reference to Irish history and culture.

A plaque bears former U.S. Army Spc. 5 James C. McCloughan’s name during his Medal of Honor Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

“If you go back to the culture of the Irish you know we’ve been fighting each other and fighting the Scottish and so on and so forth for years and years and years,” he said.

According to him, his own family has a military history that dates all the way back to the Picts, who lived in Scotland in the early medieval period.

“You learn to stick up for your rights and the rights of others,” said the Vietnam War veteran. “When you go into the service, maybe you are thinking about serving your country but I’m going to tell you what once you get there you [are] just worried about surviving and then helping as many of your brothers survive as possible.”