Posts tagged ‘World War II’

SHAKO: Native American Heritage Month

THE LAST CROW WAR CHIEF.

Updates with new White House photo and more information on Medicine Crow’s life.

November 1 marks the beginning of National American Indian Heritage Month. Since a law passed by Congress in 1990, November is designated to honor American Indians/Native Americans “for their respect for natural resources and the Earth, having served with valor in our nation’s conflicts and for their many distinct and important contributions to the United States,” according to the Pentagon’s Equal Opportunity Management Institute.

(Joseph Medicine Crow Image: U.S. Defense Department)

This year’s poster for the month-long recognition is focused on the late U.S. Army Technician 5th Grade Joseph Medicine Crow, the last Crow War Chief.

How Medicine Crow earned that distinction is quite a story.

While serving as an Army scout in the 103rd Infantry Division during World War II, Medicine Crow went into battle wearing war paint under his uniform and a sacred eagle feather under his helmet, according to the University of Southern California (USC), where Medicine Crow earned a master’s degree before the war and an honorary doctorate in humane letters years later. 

Medicine Crow had to accomplish four essential tasks — traditionally insults or defiance aimed at an enemy force — to become a war chief:

* counting coup (touching an enemy without killing him)

* taking an enemy’s weapon

* leading a successful war party, without the loss of a Crow life, and

* stealing an enemy’s horse.

During a combat operation, Medicine Crow ran into a young German soldier, knocking him to the ground. Because the German lost his weapon in the collision, Medicine Crow dropped his own weapon and they fought hand-to-hand. As Medicine Crow was choking the German, the enemy soldier cried out for his mother. The 20th century Crow warrior released the German and let him go. In a later action, Medicine Crow led a successful war party and stole 50 horses from a German Nazi SS Camp. As he rode off, he sang a traditional Crow war song.

For his actions in WWII, Crow received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, multiple service ribbons, including the Bronze Star medal, and from France, the Legion of Honor. In 2009, Medicine Crow received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his academic work as well as his community leadership in war and peace. At the ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama had a little difficulty reaching around Medicine Crow’s large traditional Crow headdress to attach the presidential medal around his neck. The President introduced him as “a good man” in the Crow language. In English, Obama said, “Dr. Medicine Crow’s life reflects not only the warrior spirit of the Crow people, but America’s highest ideals.”

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last War Chief of the Crow Nation, speaks with President Barack Obama at White House Medal of Freedom award ceremony in 2009. (White House photo by Pete Souza, via wikipedia)

“His contributions to the preservation of the culture and history of the First Americans are matched only by his importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the country,” the White House noted.

Medicine Crow was in some heady company at the 2009 awards ceremony. Other recipients of the medal that year included Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, physicist Stephen Hawking, actor Sidney Poitier, human rights and peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Medicine Crow was 95, the tribal historian and oldest member of the Crow Tribe when he received the Medal of Freedom. His master’s degree in anthropology from USC in 1939 represented the first postgraduate degree earned by a male from his tribe. He stayed on at USC to pursue a doctorate and had completed all his coursework when he was called to duty in World War II.

His oft-cited USC thesis was on “The Effects of European Culture Upon the Economic, Social and Religious Life of the Crow Indians.” It was truly original research and contained no references or footnotes, as there was almost no prior research on the topic, the university said. At 72, Medicine Crow wrote his first book, From the Heart of Crow Country: The Crow Indians’ Own Stories. Even in old age, he continued to lecture at universities and notable institutions like the United Nations.

Former US Army Crow Scouts at the Little Bighorn battlefield in Montana, circa 1913. (Left to right) White Man Runs Him, Hairy Moccasin, Curly and Goes Ahead. (U.S. Army photo)

In his historian’s role, Medicine Crow lectured extensively on the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer’s Last Stand), where his grandfather, White Man Runs Him, served as a scout for Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

The Crow people, also called the Absaroka or Apsáalookey in their language (People of the of the large-beaked bird) migrated from the Eastern woodlands to the Northern Great Plains in the early 18th century, where they adopted the lifestyle of Plains Indians, hunting bison and living in tipis in Montana and Wyoming. They were fierce warriors and renowned for their horses. During the Indian Wars they supported the U.S. military, providing scouts and protecting travelers on the Bozeman Trail. Despite their assistance, the Crow — like the other plains tribes — were forced onto a reservation, located on part of their traditional homeland in Montana.

The last member of the Crow tribe to be designated a war chief, Medicine Crow died in 2016 at the age of 102.

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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.

November 1, 2022 at 11:56 pm Leave a comment

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

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

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

SHAKO: Black History Month — African Americans in War Movies Part II

An Additional Four Movies to explore how Hollywood changed in its treatment of black actors and black history in films about war and life in the military.

RED BALL EXPRESS (Universal Pictures, 1952)

This film is on this list for all the wrong reasons. Puportedly, it’s the story of one of the little known Army operations involving a great many black soldiers during World War II, the eponymous Red Ball Express.” But there aren’t many blacks in the film.

Three months after D-Day, it was hard to supply Gen. George Patton’s hard-charging Third Army which was advancing as much as 80 miles a week. French railroads, as well as highways and bridges had been wrecked by Allied bombing. The only open seaport was in Normandy, far from the front.

To meet the need, thousands of trucks and hundreds of soldiers to drive them were pressed into service to deliver food, fuel, ammunition and other supplies to the front-line troops. The truck convoys had a dedicated route marked by round red signs — red balls — an old railroad term for high priority freight trains.

Almost 75 percent of Red Ball Express drivers were African Americans, who dealt with breakdowns, accidents, land mines, air attacks, bad roads and exhaustion on their 57-hour round trips.

But it’s hard to find many black actors in the movie. One of the few was a young Sidney Poitier in his third motion picture. Poitier’s character, Private Robertson, has a run-in with his C.O. and practically disappears for the rest of the movie. Nearly all the heroics are performed by white soldiers in the movie.

In a 1979 symposium at UCLA, the director, Bud Boetticher, revealed that the Defense Department pressured Universal Pictures to alter its portrayal of the tense race relations that existed at the time and to emphasize an upbeat, positive spirit, according to the IMBd website. Commenting on the studio’s whitewashing of history, Boetticher said, “The army wouldn’t let us tell the truth about the black troops because the government figured they were expendable. Our government didn’t want to admit they were kamikaze pilots. They figured if one out of ten trucks got through, they’d save Patton and his tanks.”

That sounds plausible when you see the official 1945 Army short film about the Red Ball Express, “Rolling to the Rhine,” only shows black drivers taking a break smoking and drinking coffee. This contemporary footage, which includes much of what’s shown in “Rolling to the Rhine,” shows blacks loading, driving and repairing trucks.

By The Way: Actor James Edwards (“Home of the Brave” and “The Steel Helmet’) was originally cast in the role of Robertson, but was fired during production when he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was replaced by Poitier, according to IMDb.

PORK CHOP HILL (United Artists, 1959)

While peace talks are underway at Panmunjom to end the Korean War, reluctant U.S. troops fight to retake a hill from Communist Chinese forces and then hold on to it despite rising casualties, in this film based on actual events. Directed by veteran war film maker Lewis Milestone (1930’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “A Walk in the Sun” from 1945), racial tensions in the recently desegregated U.S. Army are a key element in the film.

Instead of white bigotry against Soldiers of color, the focus in “Pork Chop Hill” is on a Black soldier, Franklin, played by Woody Strode (in the photo above on the right), who doesn’t want to die fighting for Korea when he’s sure he wouldn’t even die for the squalid conditions he lives in back home. After two confrontations, his company commander orders another Black Soldier, Corporal Jurgens (James Edwards, same photo on the left), to keep an eye on Franklin and shoot him if he refuses to fight. A verbal confrontation between the two black men is equally tense.

SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (Warner Brothers, 1960)

This movie is the only one that strays from wars in the 20th Century, but it’s one of the first films, if not the first, to portray the black Buffalo Soldiers of the Old West. Directed by legendary film maker John Ford, it’s part Western, part crime thriller, part courtroom drama and part social justice advocacy.  

Woody Strode is Sergeant Braxton Rutledge, the black 1st Sergeant of the 9th Cavalry in the Jim Crow Army. At an Arizona Army post in the early 1880s, he is being tried by a court martial for the rape and murder of a white girl as well as for the murder of the girl’s father, who was the fort’s commanding officer. The story of these events is told in several flashbacks.

Strode gives a memorable performance as a Top Soldier who loves his regiment and fellow black troopers but knows he can’t get a fair trial because he’s in the worst kind of trouble a black man can get in — “white woman trouble.” While the film is another paean to the U.S. cavalry and an attempt at a fair telling of the heroism and professionalism of its black soldiers, this trailer from Warner Bros. makes it look more like a lurid thriller.

 

ALL THE YOUNG MEN (Columbia, 1960)

This Korean War drama is much like some of the others listed before, a small group of Marines must hold a farmhouse that controls a valley their battalion will pass through, despite relentless enemy attacks.

What sets it apart is that it takes place in winter (filmed in Glacier National Park) and the sergeant in charge is black. Also unusual for it’s time, Sidney Poitier’s name appears with co-star Alan Ladd’s above the title in the opening credits. In fact, the film was written as a star vehicle for Poitier, but the studio would only back it if a major white co-star could be found. Ladd (“This Gun for Hire,” “The Blue Dahlia” and “Shane”) apparently was the only one who would agree. In fact his Ladd Company co-produced the movie.

The Story:  Poitier plays a young sergeant unexpectedly placed in command of the survivors of an ambushed platoon. Not only does he have to win the trust and respect of the other men who are all white, but he has to contend with the contempt of one who is an out-and-out racist, and the second-guessing of Ladd’s character, a more experienced former top sergeant from the South who was was busted down to private.

TO SEE PART I, CLICK HERE

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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

February 28, 2021 at 1:08 am 1 comment

VETERANS DAY, November 11, 2020

Remember the Veterans and their Families.

A soldier assigned to the Oklahoma National Guard walks with loved ones at an Army aviation facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after returning on October 19, from a yearlong deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

This Soldier is from Bravo Company, 834th Aviation Support Battalion, of the 90th Troop Command, Oklahoma Army National Guard. They returned from a 12-month deployment, where they provided support to another National Guard unit — the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade — from Minnesota.

 

(Oklahoma Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. C.T. Michael)

In May, on Memorial Day, America remembers the honored dead, those who gave their lives in this country’s wars since 1775.

U.S. Soldiers celebrate the Armistice near Remoiville, France in November 1918. (archival photo via the Fort Hood Sentinel)

 

But on Veterans Day every November, Americans honor the living who served or continue to serve in uniform. November 11 is the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I – the “War to End All Wars” — in 1918. Unfortunately, history has proven that was an overly optimistic term for what turned out to be the First World War.

After years of bloodshed in the 20th and early 21st centuries, we’d like to pause here to remember the sacrifice of all those who serve their country in both war and peace. Even far from a combat zone, many of them have risky jobs on aircraft carrier decks, in fast moving armored vehicles and high flying aircraft. There is hard work, as well as danger, in airplane hangars and  ships at sea. Depots and warehouses are stuffed with equipment and supplies that can blow up, burn, sicken or maim the humans working nearby.

We also don’t want to forget veterans from the Greatest Generation who are still with us, like 102-year-old Vivian Corbett, or Arthur Rinetti.

November 11, 2020 at 6:48 pm 3 comments

SHAKO: Guadalcanal Redux?; Congress Honors Merrill’s Marauders; RIP Ed Bearrs

The Next Pacific War.

The challenge a peer competitor like China poses for the U.S. military in a future conflict across the Indo-Pacific region bears striking similarities to the war between the United States and the Empire of Japan in the same battlespace more than 75 years ago. And two top Marine Corps planners say American forces today have to prepare for a fight unlike anything they’ve seen since the Gulf War, your 4GWAR editor writes in Seapower magazine.

The United States pursued a two-pronged offensive across the central and southwest Pacific to roll back the Japanese advance. (Image: The National WWII Museum.)

Like the Marines who landed on Guadalcanal in August 1942, today’s Marines will face the same sweeping distances of the world’s largest ocean, on scattered, remote islands of steaming jungle or barren volcanic rock. As in the early days of World War II, U.S. naval and Marine forces will have to deal with vulnerable supply lines, and sea, air and cyberspace contested by one of the largest and best armed militaries in the world. That’s the framework for the next conflict,” Major General Gregg Olson, director of the Marine Corps Staff, told the virtual Modern Day Marine Exposition on Sept. 23.

Japan in 1941 was a near-peer adversary of the United States, with advanced technology, expansionist policies and a bullying attitude toward neighboring countries, Olson, notes.  While the foes and times have changed “the concepts and realities of war in the vast distances that occur in the Pacific remain the same,” he added.

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F4F Wildcat fighters lined up on Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, January 1943. (National Archives)

Victory on Guadalcanal and the rest of the Pacific came “at the cost of capital ships and thousands of lives,” Olson pointed out. Another speaker at Modern Day Marine, Major General Paul Rock, director of Marine Corps  Strategies and Plans, said high casualties could be likely again. “Attrition is going to be a factor in a future fight,” Rock said.

While that may prove true, the Marines are not resigned to taking the same heavy casualties they suffered in the Pacific island-hopping campaign of World War II, General David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, insisted a day later at a State of the Marine Corps event livestreamed by the Defense One website.

For a closer look into Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands campaign click here and for an even deeper dive (if you like historical records)  click here. It’s all your tax dollars at work.

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Remembering Merrill’s Marauders.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill September 22 that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed World War II special operations Army unit, the 5307th Composite Unit, better known as Merrill’s Marauders.

The Senate passed a version of the bill late last year, and supporters say they expect President Donald Trump will sign the legislation, the newspaper Stars and Stripes reports. 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.

Merrill’s Marauders crossing Tanai River, Burma, on March 18, 1944  with pack animals. (U.S. Army photo)

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. “I fought in World War II, in Korea in the Pork Chop Hill sector and did two combat tours in Vietnam. But the worse fighting I experienced was in Burma with Merrill’s Marauders,” said Gilbert Howland, 96, one of eight still living members of the nearly 3,000-man outfit.

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.

Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill, commander of “Merrill’s Marauders,” poses between Japanese-American interpreters, Tech/Sergeant Herbert Miyasaki and Tech/Sergeant Akiji Yoshimura in Burma, May 1, 1944. (National Archives and Records Administration.)

Weakened by disease, malnourishment and enemy attacks during the march, the Marauders, effective force dwindled to 1,500. However, the reduced numbers of the 5307th were 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.

Distinctive Unit Insignia of the 75th Ranger Regiment

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.

 

 

 

 

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Ed Bearrs: Leatherneck, Civil War Historian.

We recently learned that respected Civil War historian Ed Bearrs passed away on September 15 at the age of 97. Among historians, military students and Civil War buffs Bearrs was highly regarded, especially for his guided tours of historic battlefields. But he is probably best known as one of the historians explaining the War Between the States on the landmark 1990 PBS documentary, “The Civil War,” by Ken Burns.

Ed Bearrs in Ken Burns’ landmark documentary “The Civil War” on PBS.

One thing we didn’t know here at 4GWAR until we started reading the obituaries and recollections of Bearrs’ long career was that he was a World War II veteran, a Marine severely wounded by machine gun fire in early 1944 on the island of New Britain.

Bearrs spent 26 months in military hospitals recovering from his wounds at a place fellow Marines dubbed Suicide Creek. Numerous surgeries saved his shattered arms but he was left with permanent nerve damage that affected his dexterity. Following his discharge from the Marines in 1946, Bearrs went to college on the GI Bill, earning a bachelors degree at Georgetown University and and a master’s degree in history from Indiana University.

He  began working for the National Park Service in 1955 at Vicksburg National Military Park, where he served as the park historian. While there he was instrumental in locating the resting place of the Union gunboat Cairo. He was also a tour guide of historic battlefields for The Smithsonian Associates and served as Chief Historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994. In 1995, after his retirement, he was named Chief Historian Emeritus, a position he held until his death. But he was best known for his dramatic commentary on Civil War battles in the 1990 PBS documentary, that sparked renewed interest in the Civil War.

Corporal Ed Bearrs, USMC with Purple Heart medal.

Bearss wrote numerous books and articles about the Civil War, including a three-volume history of the Vicksburg campaign. Bearss started interpretative tours as part of his official duties in Vicksburg. Even after he was promoted and became heavily involved in battlefield preservation efforts across the country, Bearrs kept giving tours as an avocation on weekends. He attracted ROTC classes, active-duty military officers and VIPs — and other historians.

The Civil War Preservation Trust created the Ed Bearss Award for achievements in historic preservation and made him the first recipient in 2001. Other awards and honors include: the 1962 Harry S Truman Award for Meritorious Service in the field of Civil War History; Distinguished Service Award from the Department of the Interior in 1983 and the American Battlefield Trust’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

 

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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.

September 26, 2020 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: The End — Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945

The Final Act

Seventy-five years ago, on September 2, 1945, the Second World War came to an end, after six and a half horrendous years of destruction and slaughter.

Sailors aboard the battleship USS Missouri watch the signing of the Instrument of Surrender, Sept. 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay.  Photographed looking forward from USS Missouri’s superstructure.  (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives)

The ceremony in Tokyo Bay aboard the jam-packed battleship USS Missouri on the morning of September 2, was the culmination of a hectic and brutal month of developments. Following the bloody battles to capture the Japanese outer islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in early 1945 — both resulting in spectacular carnage, according to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans — the allies were preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home Islands and even more casualties, perhaps as many as 1 million American and allied soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

At the Potsdam Conference in Germany, following the defeat of the Nazis in Europe, U.S. President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (who was about to be replaced by Clement Attlee) and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin issued a declaration July 26, demanding Japan’s “unconditional surrender.” Back channel negotiations failed to move the Japanese despite continued bombing raids that shattered or incinerated Japan’s cities.

Unwilling to negotiate terms for a conditional surrender and convinced that the Japanese would not surrender before a final, apocalyptic battle, Truman authorized the world’s first atomic attack.  On August 6, the American B-29 Superfortess bomber, Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, killing as many as 140,000 people. Two days later, August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, pouring 1 million troops into Manchuria. The next day, August 9, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb over Nagasaki, ultimately killing approximately 70,000. A 2015 article in Stars and Stripes reveals Truman’s thinking before and after making this shattering choice in two diary entries and other writings.

President Harry S. Truman announces Japan’s surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, a little more than a week after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, followed by a second atomic bombing of Nagasaki. (U.S. National Archives)

Truman announced on August 14, that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, and war-weary citizens around the world erupted in celebration. The next day in his first ever radio address to the Japanese people, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan had surrendered. While most hostilities stopped (it took a while to get the word out to Japanese troops in far flung parts of Asia and the Pacific), it was decided that the official Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day) would officially be celebrated in the United States on the day formal surrender documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay: September 2, 1945.

Japanese delegation on board the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945. (U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)

The 11 Japanese delegates assigned to make the surrender arrived at 8:56 a.m. local time, led by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and representatives of the Japanese military. Assembled around them were thousands of American sailors as well as representatives of all of the Allied nations—and, of course, dozens of journalists, for this ceremony would be broadcast across the world. “A million eyes seemed to beat on us with the million shafts of a rattling storm of arrows barbed with fire,” recalled Japanese diplomat Toshikazu Kase. “Never have I realized that the glance of glaring eyes could hurt so much. We waited . . . standing in the public gaze like penitent boys awaiting the dreaded schoolmaster,” the National WWII Museum recounted.

Five-star General of the Army Douglas MacArthur signed the document as the supreme commander in the Pacific Theater of War. Five-star  Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz signed it as the chief U.S. representative. In addition to the Japanese delegation, the instrument of surrender was signed by representatives of China, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union (which declared war on Japan in the final days of the conflict.) Japan had invaded British, French and Dutch Far East colonies in 1941-42 and bombed northern Australia, as well as attacking the Philippines — then a U.S. Territory — along with Guam, Wake Island, Midway and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Japan went to war with China in 1937.

In addition to the dignitaries from nine countries on the Missouri that day was the American flag flown in 1853 by Commodore Matthew C. Perry (see in the background of the photo below) when his four-ship squadron arrived in Japan. Perry flew the flag on the first of his two expeditions to Japan, which resulted in the Convention of Kanagawa, that  forced the Japanese to open the country to American trade.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander, reading his speech to open the surrender ceremonies, on board USS Missouri. Commodore Perry’s 1853 flag hangs in the background.

Perry’s successful mission was the first time American military might forced the Japanese Empire to do something it didn’t want to do. We wonder if the flag display in 1945 was meant to be ironic, spiteful or simply triumphant.

That night, at 9:56 p.m., Truman addressed the American people about the surrender terms in a broadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System. Click on the link to hear his remarks to a war weary, but grateful, nation — and its forces overseas.

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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.

September 2, 2020 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO:Go For Broke!

April 5 Honors Japanese-American Soldiers

SHAKO 4-4-2019 GO FOR BROKE

The Color Guard of the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team stands at attention while citations are read following the fierce fighting in the Vosges area of France, November 12, 1944. (U.S. Army photo)

Did you know April 5 is National “Go For Broke” Day? At 4GWAR we didn’t either until recently. The phrase comes from Hawaiian pidgen gambling slang. It means roughly “bet it all” or  “wager — and risk — everything for a potential big payoff.”

The term, popularized by Japanese-American soldiers in World War II, is also the motto  of one of the most decorated units in U.S. military history — the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In addition to fighting the Germans in Italy and France in the European Theater of Operations — the soldiers of the 442nd RCT had to battle racial animosity in the wake of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Because of the U.S. military was caught completely by surprise, rumors arose that Japanese living in the Hawaiian Islands and the West Coast — most of them citizens — had served as spies and Fifth Columnists for Japan. The Army and FBI found no evidence that Japanese-Americans aided the Pearl Harbor attack. However, a presidential commission created to investigate the disaster noted Japanese “spies” were in Hawaii before the attack, although most were attached to the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, but others had no known connection with the Japanese foreign service. The vagueness of this description led many Americans to conclude there were indeed Fifth Columnists among the Japanese-American population.

Newspaper Japs

(Photo from National Archives and Records Administration)

That prompted the Army — with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s authorization and the acquiescence of Congress and the Supreme Court — to exile all Japanese, both U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, from the the three West Coast states and parts of Arizona to remote inland internment camps under armed guard and harsh living conditions.

Hundreds of young American-born, ethnic Japanese men, known as Nisei, drafted before war broke out, were discharged or segregated in California. A Hawaiian National Guard unit made up of ethnic Japanese was dissolved. Yet, many Nisei wanted to prove they were loyal Americans by fighting for their country. Many older community leaders encouraged them to enlist in the Army as one of the best ways to convince U.S. officials to release the 120,000 Japanese-American men, women and children from the so-called relocation camps.

The 442nd RCT was activated on February 1, 1943, and was composed of Nisei men who had volunteered from Hawaii and internment camps on the mainland. They trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, before deploying to Italy in June 1944, where they joined in combat with the 100th Infantry Battalion — the first Nisei Army unit to be activated in the war — consisting of men from the previously terminated Hawaiian National Guard unit. By mid-August, the 100th officially became part of the 442nd RCT. That’s when “go for broke” became their motto. In 1951, MGM released a motion picture about the 442nd’s combat exploits and battles against racism called “Go For Broke.”

https://4gwar.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/442nd1.jpg

The 442nd at Anzio Beach 1944. (Photo courtesy of Go For Broke National Education Center)

In their two years of service, the 442nd RCT and the 100th Battalion, before it joined the 442nd, earned: 7 Presidential Unit Citations; 36 Army Commendation Medals and 87 Division Commendations.

Individual soldiers were awarded 18,000 decorations, including: 21 Medals of Honor; 29 Distinguished Service Crosses (the second-highest decoration for bravery); 560 Silver Stars (the third-highest bravery medal) and nearly 9,500 Purple Hearts for wounds in battle. The units lost 650 men, more than 3,700 were wounded in action, and 67 were declared missing in action.

On April 5, 1945, the 442nd RCT’s first Medal of Honor recipient, Private First Class  Sadao Munemori, was killed in action near Seravezza, Italy. That’s why April 5 is deemed “Go for Broke” day.

In December 2011, more than 450 Japanese American soldiers of World War II were honored for their heroic actions in combat and steadfast loyalty in the face of discrimination, the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award for service presented out by the U.S.

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SHAKO-West Point cadets

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 5, 2019 at 1:32 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: Buffalo Soldiers UPDATE

Remembering the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buffalo Soldiers-2 10th Cav

The Buffalo Soldiers from A Company, 10th U.S. Cavalry regroup to move out after battle. Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson (center) issues orders to Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper (left), the first black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, to keep the Chiricahua Apache renegade Victorio bottled up near the Rio Grande. (Photo courtesy http://www.donstivers.com via U.S. Corps of Army Engineers, Southwest Division)

UPDATES and CORRECTS: To add material about Buffalo Soldiers serving as early park rangers, include a photo of Buffalo Soldiers in World War II and to CORRECT that Buffalo Soldier units did not fight in World War I and only the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments still existed in World War II.–the Editor

As February and Black History month draws to a close, here at 4GWAR we’ve been wracking our brains trying to decide how best to honor the month and the people it celebrates. Should we focus on individuals like Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Henry Johnson, or Dorie Miller, the first African American awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism at Pearl Harbor? Or should we examine a unit like the Tuskegee Airmen of the Second Word War or the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I?

In doing our research we came across four all-black units, the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments, in the segregated Army of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Collectively, they were known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” Created right after the Civil War, these four regiments at times battled or protected Native Americans on the plains, deserts and mountains of the American West. They charged up San Juan Hill in 1898. Five members of the 10th Cavalry were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery above and beyond the call of duty in Cuba.  and fought insurgents in the Philippines in the early 20th Century after the United States annexed the islands in 1899. They also chased Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa with General John “Black Jack” Pershing in the 1916-1917 Mexican Punitive Expedition.

Buffalo_soldiers1

Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes, at Fort Keogh, Montana. (Library of Congress)

None of the regiments served as units in France during World War I, although some veteran non-commissioned officers were dispatched to other segregated units that served on the Western Front. The two cavalry regiments were disbanded in World War II but the 24th Infantry and 25th Infantry, both served in the Pacific. In 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order eliminating racial segregation and discrimination in America’s armed forces; the last all-black units were disbanded during the early 1950s.

Between 1891 and 1913, Buffalo Soldiers served during the summer months in Sequoia and Yosemite national parks, in effect as the nation’s first park rangers, introducing the broad brimmed campaign hat that is now part of the standard park ranger uniform, according to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.   Their duties in the parks included fighting wildfire, curbing poaching of the park’s wildlife, ending illegal grazing of livestock on federal lands, and constructing roads, trail and other infrastructure, according to the National Park Service.

Buffalo soldiers WWII

Troops of the 24th Infantry, attached to the Americal Division, wait to advance behind a tank assault on the Japanese, along Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville in 1944. (U.S. Army archive photo) 

An 1866 Act of Congress created six peacetime regiments of exclusively black soldiers. Later, these regiments were melded into four—two infantry and two cavalry—colloquially referred to as the Buffalo Soldiers. There are a few competing theories as to how they got this name, but as the National Museum of African American History and Culture notes, the soldiers “considered the name high praise.”) Throughout their history, the soldiers had a rocky relationship with the American government they served.

The regiments faced extreme and sometimes deadly racism. Especially in some towns near where they were based. Buffalo Soldiers were attacked during racial disturbances in Texas at Rio Grande City in 1899, Brownsville in 1906, and Houston in 1917. The regiments were first commanded only by whites, and the rank and file often faced extreme racial prejudice from the Army establishment, according to the museum. “Many officers, including George Armstrong Custer, refused to command black regiments, even though it cost them promotions in rank.

One who did, was Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a music teacher-turned Civil War cavalry officer (the 1959 John Wayne movie “The Horse Soldiers,” was based loosely on the long- range cavalry raid into Mississippi he led in 1863). Grierson organized the 10th Cavalry in 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Another officer was then-Lieutenant John J. Pershing who took command of a troop of the 10th Cavalry in 1895.  His nickname of “Black Jack,” stems from his service with the 10th Cavalry, although “Black” was a euphemism for the “N” word, which resentful white officers and West Point cadets attached to Pershing’s name. Tenth Cavalry troops were with Pershing’s expedition into Mexico to capture or kill Pancho Villa.  They participated in one of the last cavalry battles fought by U.S. troops at  Carrizal.

SHAKO

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.

February 28, 2019 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

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