Posts filed under ‘World War II’

SHAKO: More Heroics of the Greatest Generation

WORLD WAR II.

Last Surviving WWII Medal of Honor Recipient Passes.

Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died June 29.

Williams’ passing at age 98 “marks not just the death of a hero, but the end of a line of heroes of the Greatest Generation,” the Defense Department said .

President Harry Truman congratulates Hershel “Woody” Williams at the White House on October 5, 1945 after awarding the Marine the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle of Iwo Jim in World War II.

Williams landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 21, 1945, with 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. Two days later, he famously destroyed enemy emplacements with a flamethrower, going forward alone into machine gun fire, covered only by four riflemen, according to Marine Corps Times.

Williams’ Medal of Honor citation can be found here:

He was discharged in 1945, but stayed in the Marine Corps Reserve until his retirement. He continued to serve through his foundation, the Woody Williams Foundation, which honors families who have lost a loved one in service to their country.

“From his actions on Iwo Jima to his lifelong service to our Gold Star Families, Woody has left an indelible mark on the legacy of our Corps,” Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black, said in a statement, SEAPOWER reported.  “As the last of America’s “greatest generation” to receive the Medal of Honor, we will forever carry with us the memory of his selfless dedication to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to our great nation. The Marine Corps is fortunate to have many heroes, but there is only one Woody Williams. Semper Fidelis, Marine,”

Hershel “Woody” Williams was a guest at a sunset parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 2, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sergeant Jason Kolela)

In 2020, the Navy commissioned the expeditionary sea base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams in his honor.

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Last Survivor Of Malmedy Massacre.

Harold Billow, the last known survivor of the infamous Malmedy Massacre during World War II died May 17 at the age of 99, The Associated Press reported.

Harold Billow, last known living survivor of World War II Malmedy Massacre died May 17, 2022. (Photo: The World War II Foundation tweet)

Billow was attached to the Army’s 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944-January 1945 when German forces launched a last ditch offensive in Belgium to try to stem the war’s tide.

On the second day of the surprise German offensive, December 17, 1944, Billow’s lightly armed unit surrendered after a brief battle and he was taken prisoner by Waffen SS soldiers. According to various accounts, the Germans opened fire on the unarmed prisoners in a field, killing more than 80 in what came to be known as the Malmedy Massacre.

“As soon as the machine gun started firing, I went face down in the snow,” Billow told Lancaster Online in 2019. He played dead as the Germans checked for survivors. Billow said he stayed there for several hours before he and other survivors bolted. He made his way through hedgerows before reaching the safety of American lines.

After the war, he was called to testify at a war crimes trial in which 43 German soldiers were sentenced to death for the Malmedy Massacre. However, they were eventually released after investigators determined U.S. guards had coerced confessions.

Massacred American Soldiers Near Malmédy December 17, 1944. (US Army Center for Military History)

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York in the photo.

West Point cadets in dress parade uniform. (U.S. Military Academy)

June 30, 2022 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (June 10, 2022)

Tall Ship Comes Calling.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley J. Johnson.)

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle — known as “America’s Tall Ship” is shown arriving at Maurice Ferre Park, Miami on May 19, 2022. (Click on the photo to enlarge image).

The Eagle is a three-masted sailing barque and the only active (operational) commissioned sailing vessel in the U.S. maritime services.

The ship was built in 1936 by the Blohm + Voss Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, and commissioned as Horst Wessel.  Four identical sister ships were also built. Originally operated by Nazi Germany to train cadets for the German Navy, the ship was taken by the United States as a war prize after World War II. In 1946, a U.S. Coast Guard crew – aided by the German crew still on board – sailed the tall ship from Bremerhaven to its new homeport in New London, Connecticut.

Homeported at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut., the Eagle is used as a training platform for future Coast Guard officers.

Today, a permanent crew of eight officers and 50 enlisted personnel maintain the ship year-round. They provide a strong base of knowledge and seamanship for the training of up to 150 cadets, or officer candidates, at a time.

On a summer-long, five phase training cruise, the Eagle was scheduled to arrive at Galveston, Texas today (June 10) and return home to New London on October 1.

For more information about the Eagle, click here.

June 9, 2022 at 11:43 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: D-Day Remembered and Other Greatest Generation Notes

D-DAY, PLUS 78 YEARS.

One of the monuments to U.S. D-Day Landings in Normandy, France. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sergeant Akeel Austin)

D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, is the day when more than 160,000 Allied forces landed in Nazi-occupied France as part of the biggest air, land and sea invasion ever executed. It ended with heavy casualties — more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded in those first 24 hours.

Still, D-Day is largely considered the successful beginning of the end of Hitler’s tyrannical regime and the war in Europe.

A bird’s-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons and Allied troops landing in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Photo By: U.S. Maritime Commission)

In the past we’ve mostly written about the airborne landings the night before D-Day, largely because 37 years ago your 4GWAR editor once interviewed a Catholic priest who jumped into the dark as a chaplain with the 101st Airborne Division. But this year, we thought we’d try something different.

Here’s a D-Day quiz that Defense Department had on their website for the 78th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy. See how you do.

And here’s a 2016 article the Defense Department rolled out again this year: Five Things You May Not Know About D-Day.

And let’s not forget the Boys of ’44.

(U.S. Army photo by Specialist Vincent Levelev)

These are some of the World War II Veterans, and representatives of those who could not be in attendance, receiving a challenge coin at the Eternal Heroes Monument in Normandy, France, on June 2, 2022. World War II Veterans and representatives of the 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division’s (Air Assault) came to honor fallen Paratroopers who liberated Ravenoville in June of 1944.

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BATTLE OF MIDWAY REMEMBERED.

Another decisive battle in World War II also took place in June — on the other side of the world against a different enemy.

June 4, marked the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, considered by most military historians to be the turning point in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Torpedo bombers on the flight deck of the US Enterprise CV-6 just before the Battle of Midway (Navy archival photo)

In 1942, a large Japanese fleet, led by four heavy aircraft carriers, planned to destroy the three U.S. carriers they missed during the Pearl Harbor attack six months earlier. But by early June, Naval Intelligence had cracked the Imperial Japanese Navy code and Admiral Chester Nimitz, the head of the Navy’s Pacific forces, knew where the enemy was and what their plans were.

After three days of battle, where the opposing surface ships never saw each other, Japan lost all four of its heavy carriers as well as hundreds of planes and thousands of sailors and pilots. U.S. losses were limited to one carrier – the USS Yorktown (CV-5) – a destroyer, the USS Hammann (DD-412), less than 150 planes and 305 men. After Midway, Japan was never able to launch a large naval offensive again.

To commemorate that historic victory, two EA-18G Growlers — electronic warfare aircraft — conducted a fly-by during a ceremony being held aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111). In the photo below one can see the Growlers approaching as the ship’s crew salute the ensign (flag) during the playing of the National Anthem.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Taylor Crenshaw)

The Spruance is named for Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, considered the victor at Midway. He commanded Task Force 16, which included the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV 6). Once within range of the advancing Japanese fleet, he capitalized on the element of surprise to launch the decisive attack near Midway.

Spruance is part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in the Western Pacific. The June 4 ceremony was held less than 1,000 miles from the 1942 battle zone.

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GOLD MEDAL FOR MERRILL’S MARAUDERS.

The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded May 25 in a virtual Capitol Hill ceremony to a famed World War II Army special operations outfit, the 5307th Composite Unit, better known as Merrill’s Marauders.

Merrill’s Marauders crossing a jungle river with pack animals.
(U.S. Army photo)

Created as a long range, light infantry unit trained in jungle warfare, the 5307th, code-named Galahad, was tasked with penetrating deep into Japanese-held territory to disrupt communications, cut supply lines and capture an airfield in Burma.

The volunteer unit was formed in 1943, with more than 900 jungle-trained officers and men from Caribbean Defense Command, 600 Army veterans of Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands campaign, a few hundred more from Southwest Pacific Command, veterans of the New Guinea and Bougainville campaigns, and another 900 jungle-trained troops from Army Ground Forces stateside. Fourteen Japanese-American (Nisei) Military Intelligence Service translators were also assigned to the unit. In just five months in 1944, the Marauders fought often larger Japanese forces in 32 engagements including five major battles across some of the toughest conditions of the war: the disease-infested jungles of Burma and the rugged foothills of the Himalayas.

“Merrill’s Marauders stand among the great heroes of our history. Nearly 80 years later, Americans remain in awe of their courage, valor and patriotism – willing to go where no others would dare,” Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said during the gold medal ceremony.

“On behalf of the United States Congress and all Americans, I’m honored to present this Congressional Gold Medal to Merrill’s Marauders in recognition of their bravery and outstanding service. May this medal serve as an expression of our nation’s deepest gratitude and respect. And may its place in the Smithsonian remind future generations of the Marauders’ fight for freedom and democracy,” Pelosi said.

She also cited lawmakers who worked for years to get the congressional recognition for the Marauders — the late Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Congressman Sanford Bishop Jr. of Georgia and former Congressman Peter King of New York.

Dubbed Merrill’s Marauders after their commander, then-Brigadier General Frank Merrill, the men were tasked with a “dangerous and hazardous mission” behind Japanese lines in Burma, where the fall of the country’s capital of Rangoon had severely threatened the Allied supply line to China. In their final mission, the Marauders were ordered to push enemy forces out of the town of Myitkyina, the only city with an all-weather airstrip in Northern Burma, according to Military Times

Brigadier General Frank Merrill, commander of “Merrill’s Marauders,” poses between two of the 14 Japanese-American interpreters assigned to the unit, Tech Sergeants Herbert Miyasaki and Akiji Yoshimura in Burma on May 1, 1944. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Weakened by disease, malnourishment and enemy attacks during their march through Burma, the Marauders, effective force dwindled from nearly 3,000 men to 1,500. Even with reduced numbers of the 5307th was still able to take the airfield on May 17, 1944. But the nearby town of Myitkyina proved to have a larger Japanese garrison than intelligence reports indicated. It was only with Chinese reinforcements that the town fell to Allied troops on August 3. After five months of combat, 95 percent of the Marauders were dead, wounded, or deemed no longer medically fit for combat.

Although operational for only a few months, Merrill’s Marauders gained a fierce reputation for hard fighting and tenacity as the first American infantry force to see ground action in Asia. Considered a forerunner of today’s Special Operations troops, the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment’s distinctive unit insignia honors the legacy of the Marauders by replicating the design of their shoulder shoulder sleeve insignia.

The colors used to identify the Marauders can be found on every tan beret worn by a Ranger, said Colonel J.D. “Jim” Keirsey, commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment. The Rangers’ crest displays a star, sun and lightning bolt to symbolize the “behind enemy lines, deep-strike character” of their predecessors, he said, according to the Stars and Stripes website.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

June 6, 2022 at 11:52 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: 80 Years Ago, Doolittle Raiders Bombed Japan

Target Japan.

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942 . (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.)

At 1:15 p.m. (local time) Saturday, April 18, 1942 — about 600 miles east of  Japan — 16 U.S. Army Air Force twin-engine, B-25 Mitchell medium bombers began taking off from the wet, windy, rolling deck of America’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet. Their destination: The industrial cities of Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka and Japan’s capital, Tokyo. Their mission, a largely symbolic act of revenge for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii four months earlier, and to shake Japanese confidence in their military invincibility and the security of their islands from attack by a distant foe.

The “joint Army-Navy bombing project” was to bomb Japanese industrial centers, to inflict both “material and psychological” damage upon the enemy. Planners hoped that the former would include the destruction of specific targets “with ensuing confusion and retardation of production.” Those who planned the attacks on the Japanese homeland hoped to induce the enemy to recall “combat equipment from other theaters for home defense,” and incite a “fear complex in Japan.” Additionally, it was hoped that the prosecution of the raid would improve the United States’ relationships with its allies and receive a “favorable reaction [on the part] of the American people,” according to documents held by U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

U.S. Army Air Force bombers crowd the flight deck of the USS Hornet. The B-25 was picked for the Doolittle Raid because it was the only aircraft available with the required range, bomb capacity and short takeoff distance. The B-25Bs and volunteer crews came from the 17th Bombardment Group, Pendleton Field, Oregon. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

The odds seemed to be against the daring operation. It was the first combat mission for the both the B-25 bombers and the carrier that transported them. The pilots had been intensely training for a little more than a month — mostly on how to take off from an aircraft carrier with a large land-based plane never designed for that kind of performance.The Navy Task Force escorting the Hornet, was spotted by Japanese surveillance boats more than 600 miles from Japan. The decision was made to launch the Army bombers even though they were 200 miles farther from Japan than planned. Extra gasoline was loaded on the planes which were stripped of excess equipment — including their machine guns. While the B-25s would make it to Japan, whether they would have enough fuel to land safely at airfields in China was unknown.

Doolittle on his Curtiss R3C-2 Racer, the plane in which he won the 1925 Schneider Trophy Race (NASA photo)

Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, 45, — who planned the operation, trained the crews to take off from an aircraft carrier, and then flew the lead bomber in the risky all-volunteer mission — had no combat experience. He was, however, one of the best pilots in the world. In the 1920s and ’30s, he made early coast-to-coast flights, record-breaking speed flights, won many flying races and pioneered the use of “blind flying”, relying  on flight instruments alone. That gutsy experiment won him the Harmon Trophy and made all-weather airline operations practical. Doolittle also earned the first doctorate in aeronautics issued in the United States from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1925.

The planes did make it to Japan and mostly hit their targets (one bomber dumped its load of explosives in the sea to evade pursuing Japanese fighters). All the bombers made it out of Japanese airspace. One, very low on fuel landed in the Soviet Union, which was not at war with Japan, and the crew was interned for 13 months before the Soviets let them “escape” to Iran/Persia. The other 15 planes all crashed in China or into offshore waters when they ran out of fuel. Three of the U.S. airmen died in crashes. Eight were captured by the Japanese. All were tried as war criminals by a military court because civilians were killed in the raid including some children in an elementary school that was mistakenly strafed. Three of the POWs were executed. Another died of starvation and abuse in prison. The remaining four managed to survive harsh conditions and were liberated in 1945.

Furious about being caught off guard by the Americans, the Japanese Army unleashed its rage on the region where Doolittle and his men evaded capture with the aid of local Chinese. The Nationalist Chinese government said the Japanese killed more than 250,000 men, women and children, leveled villages leaving thousands destitute and burned crops leaving thousands more to starve.

Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle (left front) and Captain Marc Mitscher, commanding officer of USS Hornet, pose with a 500-pound bomb and Army aircrew members during ceremonies on Hornet’s flight deck prior to the raid. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The remaining 64 airmen were able to make it to unoccupied China, with the help of local villagers and missionaries. Doolittle, who thought he was going to be court-martialed for losing all of his planes, was instead awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt and promoted to brigadier general. The raid was a major morale booster for the United States and prompted Japanese leaders to move up their planned attack on Midway to June, which ended in disaster for the Imperial Japanese Navy and became the turning point of the Pacific War. All the raiders became national heroes, forever known as the Doolittle Raiders.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

 

April 18, 2022 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: New Medal of Honor Museum; Movies About MoH Heroes; Medal of Honor Quiz

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

Friday, March 25, was National Medal of Honor Day, established by Congress to “foster public appreciation and recognition of Medal of Honor recipients.”

Since the medal was created in 1861, 3,511 members of the U.S. military have received the Medal. Some of the names are quite famous like movie star and World War II legend Audie Murphy, frontier scout and showman Buffalo Bill Cody, and William “Wild Bill” Donovan, commander of the fabled Fighting 69th New York regiment in World War One and head of the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II.

But most are names that are famous briefly when they receive the Medal, like Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, cited for his heroism on Guadalcanal in 1942, but largely forgotten until the HBO Series The Pacific, rediscovered Basilone’s story.

Standards to award the Medal of Honor have evolved over time, but the Medal has always stood for actions that go above and beyond. The current criteria were established in 1963 during the Vietnam War, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor website.

The Medal is authorized for any military service member who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty

The Defense Department announced on March 25 that ground had been broken for a Medal of Honor museum in Texas.

Medal of Honor recipients are honored at the National Medal of Honor Museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in Arlington, Texas, March 25, 2022.

At the museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in Arlington, Texas, Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the stories of selfless service deserve a permanent home. Their stories of heroism, service and valor must be shared, he added. And that’s exactly what the museum will do.

Milley told stories of some of the 15 Medal of Honor recipients who attended the groundbreaking, as well as others not present.

“It’s those stories that will document our country’s bravery, that gives purpose to our entire military. It’s their heroism,” he said.

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Movies About MoH Heroism

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth tens of thousands.

Here’s a short list of seven Hollywood movies over the years that told the stories of Medal of Honor awardees from the Civil War, the First and Second World Wars, Vietnam, Somalia and Afghanistan.

 

1. Hacksaw Ridge (World War II, 1945)

This 2016 film recounts the selfless bravery of Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, during the Battle of Okinawa. A pacifist who refused to kill or even carry a weapon in combat, Doss became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

 

2. Sergeant York (World War 1, 1918)

Tennessee farmer and marksman Alvin York was another pacifist who didn’t even want to serve in the Army when he was drafted in 1917, according to this 1942 film. However, his nearly single-handed assault on German machine guns resulting in more than a dozen Germans killed and 132 captured earned him the nickname “One Man Army,” as well as the Medal of Honor. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of York.

 

3. Black Hawk Down (Somalia, 1993)

This 2001 film recounts the story of 160 U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators who dropped into Mogadishu in October 1993 to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord, but found themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis. Posthumous MoH recipients Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart were played in the film by Johnny Strong and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

 

4. Lone Survivor (Afghanistan, 2005)

This 2013 film is about Marcus Luttrell, the only member of his SEAL team to survive a vicious running gun battle with Afghan insurgents during a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The team commander, Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, portrayed by Taylor Kitsch, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

 

5. We Were Soldiers (Vietnam, 1965)

The story of the battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War, pitting U.S. Air Cavalry troopers against North Vietnam Army regulars. The movie also shows the stress on soldiers’ families back home waiting for news of their loved ones. Helicopter pilot Major Bruce ‘Snake’ Crandall, the Medal of Honor for his heroism ferrying supplies and troops into and wounded soldiers out of a “Hot LZ,” a landing zone under heavy fire, was played by Greg Kinnear.

 

 

6. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (World War II, 1942)

Spencer Tracy plays then-Army Air Force Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, the commander of the first air attack on Tokyo less than six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Doolittle, who planned the mission, trained the crews of B-25 land-based bombers to take off from an aircraft carrier, and then flew the lead bomber in the risky all-volunteer mission, was awarded the Medal of Honor.

 

7. The Great Locomotive Chase (Civil War, 1862)

During the Civil War a Union spy and volunteer soldiers, who risked hanging as spies if captured, plotted to steal a Confederate train and drive it to Union territory while destroying the Confederate railway system along the way. The survivors of this daring raid were the first U.S. troops to receive the new Medal of Honor. The raid failed in its main objective and all the raiders were captured. Eight were hanged. Eight others escaped and the rest were traded in a prisoner exchange. In all, 19 were awarded the first Medals of Honor, including Private Jacob Parrott of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, who is considered the first soldier awarded the MoH. Claude Jarman Jr., played Parrott in the 1956 Disney live action film about the raid.

The Mitchell Raiders receive the first Medals of Honor in The Great Locomotive Chase. (Disney via Military.com)

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Last, but not Least — a Quiz.

The Pentagon web site asks how much do you know about the the nation’s highest medal for valor in combat?

Click here, to take the quiz.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York in the photo.

West Point cadets in dress parade uniform. (U.S. Military Academy)

March 28, 2022 at 2:05 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: Celebrating Two Ground Breakers — USAF Gen. Charles McGee and USN Cmdr. Billie Farrell

A Red Tail Remembered.

Retired Air Force General Charles McGee, who flew combat missions in three wars, has died at the age of 102. McGee was one of the last surviving members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen, black fighter pilots who battled Nazis in the air over Europe and racism on the ground back in America during World War Two.

Former Tuskegee Airman, retired then-Colonel Charles McGee, high-fives Airmen during his visit December 6, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. He served a total of 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, beginning with the U.S. Army Air Corps, and flew a total of 409 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Quail)

McGee, who died at home on January 16, was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black training unit of fighter pilots in the segregated Army Air Forces. In February 1944, McGee was stationed in Italy with the 332nd Fighter Group. He flew the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, then the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and finally the North American P-51 Mustang, escorting B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers over Germany, Austria and the Balkans. He also engaged in low level attacks over enemy airfields and railyards.

After the war, McGee stayed in what became the U.S. Air Force in 1947, flying a total of 405 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam — an Air Force record. He retired as a colonel in 1973 and was honorarily promoted to brigadier general in a 2020 White House ceremony.

The son of a preacher, McGee was born in Cleveland on December 7, 1919. A lifelong leader, he distinguished himself as an Eagle Scout in his youth and remained an inspirational leader throughout his three-decade military career and beyond, the Air Force magazine website reported.

Then Captain Charles McGee and his crew chief Nathaniel Wilson in 1944, stand beside McGee’s P-51C Mustang, named “Kitten” for McGee’s wife, Frances, but also because Wilson kept the plane purring like one.

McGee enlisted in the Army on Oct. 26, 1942—one day after his wedding—and earned his pilot’s wings June 30, 1943. McGee flew his first combat mission on Valentine’s Day, 1944, with the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, in Italy. When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s red, they were nicknamed “Red Tails.” Unlike other fighter pilots who abandoned their bomber escort duties to engage in one-on-one dogfights with Luftwaffe fighters, the Red Tails earned the respect of the bomber crews by staying with their charges and losing very few bombers on their watch.

McGee was promoted to major in the Air Force during the Korean War, flying 100 more combat missions in P-51 Mustangs from the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron. In Vietnam, as a lieutenant colonel, McGee flew another 172 combat missions in the McDonnell RF-4 reconnaissance aircraft. He retired January 31, 1973 as a full colonel and accumulated more than 6,300 flight hours.

In 2007, as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, McGee received the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

For more information and photos of General McGee, see this Defense Department posting.

Artist’s illustration of McGhee’s P-51 Mustang, “Kitten,” (U.S. Air Force art via Wikipedia)

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New Commander for ‘Old Ironsides’

For the first time in its 224-year history, the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”, will have a woman skipper.

Commander Billie J. Farrell will take charge the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy during a change-of-command ceremony in Boston, scheduled for Friday, January 21, at noon.

USS Constitution is underway during Chief Petty Officer Heritage Weeks in Boston Harbor on October 29, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alec Kramer) Click on photo to enlarge the image.

As the 77th commanding officer of USS Constitution, Farrell will become the first woman to serve as captain since 1797.

“I am honored to have the privilege to soon command this iconic warship that dates back to the roots of both our nation and our Navy,” Farrell said, according to a Navy press release. “I hope to strengthen the legacy of USS Constitution through preservation, promotion and protection by telling her story and connecting it to the rich heritage of the United States Navy and the warships serving in the fleet today,” she added.

Constitution, is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, and played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, actively defending sea lanes from 1797 to 1855.

During normal operations, the active-duty Sailors stationed aboard Constitution provide free tours and offer public visitation to more than 600,000 people a year as they support the ship’s mission of promoting the Navy’s history and maritime heritage and raising awareness of the importance of a sustained naval presence. Constitution was undefeated in battle and destroyed or captured 33 opponents.

The ship earned the nickname of Old Ironsides during the war of 1812 when British cannonballs were seen bouncing off the ship’s wooden hull.

Commander Billie J. Farrell, new skipper and first woman to command USS Constitution. (U.S. Navy photo)

Commander Farrell previously served as the executive officer aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69).

She is a native of Paducah, Kentucky, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Arkansas.

As USS Constitution’s crew welcomes Farrell, they will say farewell to the ship’s current commanding officer, Commander John Benda

“I know the crew is in great hands with Commander Farrell,” said Benda. “This historic barrier is long overdue to be broken. I cannot think of a better candidate to serve as USS Constitution’s first female commanding officer. I look forward to watching what she and the crew accomplish in the next few years.”

While Farrell is Constitution’s first female skipper, she won’t be the first woman to serve aboard the old frigate.

The first female commissioned officer aboard Constitution was Lieutenant Commander Claire V. Bloom, who served as executive officer and led the historic 1997 sail, the first time Old Ironsides sailed under her own power since 1881.

The first female crew member was Rosemarie Lanam, an enlisted Sailor, who joined Constitution’s crew in 1986.

Today women comprise more than one third of the frigate’s 80-person crew.

Seaman Jaida Williams, assigned to the USS Constitution, climbs the mizzenmast shroud during weekly sail training in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey Scoular) Click on photo to enlarge image.

January 20, 2022 at 11:12 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Date of Infamy, Date of Remembrance

Dec. 7, 80 Years On

On December 7, 1941, 80 years ago, aircraft of the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the U.S. Naval Base Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu, in what was then the U.S. territory of Hawaii.

In the wake of the attack, three stricken U.S. battleships struggle to survive. From left to right: USS West Virginia (severely damaged), USS Tennessee (damaged), and the USS Arizona (sunk). (Photo from National Archives)

 

Also hit during the 75-minute air raid was Hickham Army Air Forces Field and what was then Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay. More than 2,400 military personnel and civilians were killed that day, 1,178 more were wounded. The attack by Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes also sank or damaged 20 Navy vessels and destroyed more than 180 Army, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

Fortunately, three planned targets — the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga — were away from Pearl Harbor that day. They played a key role at the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, as well as other operations in the Pacific Theater. Japanese airmen also failed to attack key infrastructure at Pearl Harbor, including the power station, dry dock, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building — which also housed the intelligence section.

For a detailed account of events during the attack, and developments leading up to war in the Pacific, click here.

After defeating Japan in late summer 1945, United States forces occupied the island nation and began rebuilding its shattered economy and creating a democratic form of government. The United States still maintains air and naval bases in Japanese territory and Japan is considered a staunch partner and ally in the Asia-Pacific region.

Each December, a dwindling number of Pearl Harbor survivors visit Oahu for commemorative ceremonies and remembering their lost comrades and shipmates.

In the photo below, one of those grizzled veterans, Gil Nadeau, pays his respect to fallen service members at the USS Arizona Memorial during a harbor tour as part of the 80th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Remembrance. To the left of the Arizona Memorial, one can see the battleship USS Missouri, on which the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay took place on September 2, 1945,

The U.S. military, State of Hawaii and National Park Service hosted a series of remembrance events throughout the week to honor the courage and sacrifices of those who served throughout the Pacific Theater. Today, the U.S.-Japan Alliance is a cornerstone of peace and security in a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean La Marr)

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

December 7, 2021 at 10:32 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (November 26, 2021)

Native American Heritage Day.

(U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery ) released)

November is National American Indian Heritage Month, honoring the hundreds of Native American tribes and peoples of the United States. And the day after Thanksgiving is Native American Heritage Day.

Mindful of that, we thought this would be a good FRIDAY FOTO as we near the end of November. It shows Vincent Goesahead Jr. of the Crow Nation during the opening ceremony commemorating the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, on November 9, 2021.

The road to a national commemoration of that heritage has taken several twists over the 20th Century. Originally treated as members of sovereign “nations” for treaty-making purposes, Native Americans were not extended U.S. citizenship — and the civil rights that went with it — until 1924.

Nevertheless, a significant number of Native Americans have served in all of the nation’s wars beginning with the Revolutionary War, according to the Defense Department website.

Twenty-nine service members of Native American heritage have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest medal for valor: 25 soldiers, three sailors and one Marine. That Marine is the fabled Greg “Pappy” Boyington of the Cactus Air Force in World War II — who a member of the Brule Sioux tribe.

In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial commemoration, President Gerald Ford proclaimed October 10-16, 1976, as “Native American Awareness Week.”

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed November 23-30, American Indian Week.

It wasn’t until November 14, 1990, President George H. W. Bush declared the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month to honor the hundreds of Native American tribes and people in the United States, including Alaska. Native Hawaiians and those in U.S. territories in the Pacific are honored in Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month each May.

Those who claim to be American Indians in the active duty force as of July 2021, number 14,246, or 1.1 percent of the total force, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center.

In the past, we here at 4GWAR Blog have celebrated the Native American code talkers: Navaho Marines and Comanche, Choctaw and Meswaki Soldiers who thwarted German and Japanese troops listening in on U.S. field telephone and radio communications in World War I and World War II.

On the Pentagon website there are feature stories on Comanche, Lakota and Lumbee Native Americans serving in today’s Army and Navy.

For those who see bitter irony in celebrating the Native Americans who wore the uniform of the national government that frequently warred on them, took their land and tried to obliterate their culture, we offer this photo, of the Apache leader Geronimo, and a caption dripping with irony, that grew out of the response to the 9/11 attacks on the Homeland.

November 27, 2021 at 12:31 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (November 19, 2021)

Yellow Sky.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Jonathan Willcox) Click on image to enlarge.

Marines with the Light Armored Reconnaissance Company of the 4th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, tend their Light Armored Vehicle (LAV-25) during Exercise Iron Sky 21.2 on Wake Island, November 6, 2021.

Iron Sky demonstrated joint integration and operational mobility with the U.S. Air Force 62nd Airlift Wing and other units. The exercise allowed the Marines to fine-tune expeditionary airfield security operations.

The Marines have been using the amphibious, eight-wheeled reconnaissance and assault vehicle since the 1980s, and now they’re in the market for a replacement – the  Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle.

In the shift from two decades of fighting in the deserts, mountains and towns of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marines are returning to their amphibious roots as part of Navy’s plan to create a highly mobile, dispersed force to counter China’s area-denial, anti-access capabilities in the Western Pacific.

The Marine Corps has shed its Abrams battle tanks and most of its heavy artillery for mobile, long range rocket and missile systems that will create a persistent — but mobile — force of small units on key islands and choke points that could knock out enemy ships from a great distance, creating their own anti-access zone. The concept is known as expeditionary advanced base operations or EABO.

Wake Island has a long history in the defense of strategic points in the Pacific. A undermanned Marine Corps defense battalion and a handful of Marine aviators (aided by hundreds of civilian contractors) held off invading Japanese troops from December 8 to December 23, sinking two destroyers and a submarine, downing 21 Japanese planes and inflicting more than 1,000 casualties — including 900 dead — before being overwhelmed. The failed Japanese landing on December 11 marked one of the few times in World War II (on either side) that an amphibious assault was repulsed. That first victory was also the first U.S. tactical success in the war, boosting morale as seen in this movie trailer for Wake Island (1942).

November 19, 2021 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 24, 2021)

Under Delft blue clouds.

(U.S. Army photo by Army Captain Nadine Wiley De Moura)

A soldier with the Texas National Guard descends to the first drop zone at Houtdorpeveld, in the Netherlands during  NATO’s largest airborne technical exercise on September 14, 2021. Exercise Falcon Leap , with more than 1,000 paratroopers from 12 different nations, led by the Royal Netherlands Army to highlight interoperability in observance of the 77th Anniversary of Operation Market Garden during World War II.

Market Garden was a massive Allied attempt to leapfrog the German Siegfried defense line with two sub-operations:

Market — an airborne assault by two American and one British airborne divisions, joined by a Polish airborne brigade to seize key bridges in the Netherlands — the last one crossing the Rhine River bordering Germany.

And Garden — a ground attack led by British armored forces, moving over the seized bridges to create a 64-mile salient into German territory with a bridgehead over the Rhine, creating an Allied invasion route into northern Germany.

For a number of reasons — including incomplete planning, bad intelligence about German forces, weather delays and insufficient aircraft to ferry an airborne Army of more than 40,000 troops — the operation failed in its ultimate objective: Punching a hole in German defenses and crossing the Rhine. More than 15,000 Allied troops were killed, wounded or captured. German casualties exceeded 6,000.

September 24, 2021 at 5:39 pm Leave a comment

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