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The “Man Killer” Lives Up To His Name – by Richard F. Johnston

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Private Joseph Oklahombi May 1, 1895- April 13, 1960.

  Joseph Oklahombi should be awarded the Medal Of Honor.                       

War History Online presents this Guest Article from Richard F. Johnston

When World War I broke out, Choctaw Indian Joseph Oklahombi from Wright City, Oklahoma, felt it was time to “Do his duty”. With a name which translates to “Man Killer”, he knew he must uphold his name and follow in the footsteps of his ancestors. After completing basic training as a 26-year-old army private, he along with his fellow Choctaws were shipped overseas as part of Company D, 141st Infantry, 26th division.

Arriving in Champagne, France in September 1918, a frontal assault is scheduled to begin on October 8th at 5:30 am near the village of Saint-Etienne-à-Arnes.  Lacking grenades, he carves one out of a potato and waits impatiently with his patrol composed of 23 men. With his adrenaline pumping and tiring of the wait, Joseph charges “over the top” earlier than the others and lets out a blood curdling war cry.

Making his way through the barb wire, crossfire from 50 machine guns and exploding shells, he attacks a German machine gun nest and shoots several soldiers before taking over the position. Later, his patrol catches up to Joseph but they’re all pinned down by German counter attacks for four days without food and water.

When re-enforcements finally arrive, the patrol has accumulated 171 prisoners and their weapons(machines guns and trench mortars)  Lt. Ford, recommended each soldier be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross but so many had been previously been awarded that the citation was lowered to that of a Silver Star.

Here is Joseph’s French citation translated into English:

“Under a violent barrage he dashed to the attack of the enemy position covering 200 yards through barbed wire entanglements. He rushed on machine gun nests, contributing to the capture of 171 prisoners. Took part in storming a strongly held position containing a number of trench mortars and helped turn the captured guns on the enemy and held said position for four days, in spite of a constant barrage of large projectiles and gas shells. He crossed No Man’s land many times to get information on the enemy and rescue his wounded comrades.”

For this bravery, he was presented the French Croix De Guerre medal with Silver Star (given at the division level). As the war was grinding to a bloody end, Joseph’s unit had suffered 75% casualties and the current offensive had stalled. Apparently, the Germans were tapping the communications lines and intercepting most all radio transmissions. Thus, they knew what the Americans were about to do and blocked their every move.

The Croix de Guerre. By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen – CC BY-SA 3.0

An American officer noticed a group of Choctaws (including Oklahombi) talking in their native tongue and got an idea for thwarting the Germans by allowing the Choctaws to control all the communications. This worked brilliantly as the enemy had no idea what they were saying and the last major offensive by the Americans was successful, resulting in a shortening of the war and saving lives.

Due to the prejudices of the times, no minority soldier was ever recommended for a Medal of Honor. In addition, American Indians weren’t given U.S. citizenship until 1924.

It wasn’t until later, that the Dept. of the Army in 1992 was asked to review Black American records and as a result, upgraded two black soldiers’ medals from a distinguished service cross to the highest medal.

Many have attempted and are still attempting to get Oklahombi’s Silver Star upgraded to a Medal of Honor but because prejudice against minorities was very evident at the time and witnesses of his other acts of valor weren’t documented by his fellow soldiers, upgrades to date have been futile. Asked by Oklahombi what he thought of Army he quipped “Too much salute, not enough shoot!” Contributor – Nellie Garrone.

Richard F. Johnston

Photos provided by the author.

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With 8 Silver Stars and 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, General John Corley Was Born To Lead

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Brigadier General John Thomas Corley August 4, 1914 – April 16, 1977.

To say Brigadier John Corley had an amazing career would be an unserstatement.

His awards would span two wars, and when it was all said and done, General John Corley would retire as one of the most highly decorated officers in the United States Army.

Most of his combat action would occur while he wore the ranks of Major through Colonel, but it became clear from the first time he heard the crack of a bullet fly overhead that this was an officer who felt most comfortable near the front with his men.  When the war in Korea broke out, Corley was one of a handful of Army officers personally requested for action by General Douglas MacArthur.

Corley had already established himself in World War 2 with one Distinguished Service Cross and 5 Silver Stars and would prove MacArthur’s faith in him true has he picked an additional Distinguished Service Cross and three more Silver Stars in Korea.  It would appear that leading in combat was his calling and this Army Officer was born at just the right time in history to put it all on full display.

A Hard Fought War

John Corley was born in 1914 Brooklyn, New York.  A short time after graduating from High School in 1932, he received an appointment to attend the United States Military Academy.  He proved early on that he was capable of a fight as he showed himself to be quite a force to be reckoned with in the boxing ring while in West Point.

He graduated in 1938 where an unconfirmed report continues to float around to this day that after being initially assigned to the Army Air Corps, a flight under the Brooklyn Bridge got him a quick reassignment to the Infantry.

BG John T. Corley
BG John T. Corley

Whether that lingering report is true or not, it would appear that the infantry is where such a man belonged and whatever it took to get him there was good for the men he would lead.  Corley would fight in World War 2 as a Major and then Lieutenant Colonel with the 1stInfantry Division.  Within days of storming onto the beaches of North Africa in late 1942, Corley would pick up the first of his 8 Silver Stars when he braved heavy small arms fire to scout out observation points for artillery observers.

Acting completely on his own initiative, as the battlefield dictated, his actions helped sway the battle in the favor of the Americans.  He wouldn’t leave North Africa without a Distinguished Service Cross as when a well-entrenched machine gun nest halted the advance of his battalion in Tunisia, Corley crawled to its rear under heavy fire and personally threw the grenade that silenced the gun.

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D-Day – Normandy landings.

As the 1st Division pushed through North Africa and eventually invading Sicily, Corley picked up his second Silver Star in July of 1943 when he remained at the front of an assault force to maneuver his men in an attack against heavy resistance when other units had faltered and held back.

A theme was quickly developing that if you need to find Lieutenant Colonel Corley in the middle of a fight, just go look at the front which was not as common for other higher ranking officers.  After the fight in Italy, Corley would earn three additional Silver Stars for actions in Normandy on through to Germany by despising the rear with all the gear and feeling at home where the bullets would fly and the shells would rain down.

He also accepted the first unconditional surrender of the first German city to fall into American hands during the war, when he accepted the surrender of Aachen by Col. Gerhard Wilck.

The war would end with Corley as one of the most highly decorated officers of the conflict, but the outbreak of hostilities in Korea meant that Corley would have to make addition room on his uniform for a few more awards.

Military Insignia

Leading Best When the Bullets Fly

Just as soon as Corley jumped back into the action, it became quickly apparent that he had not forgotten the location of the front lines.  Colonel Corley would command the 24thInfantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division which, as a segregated regiment consisted of black enlisted men lead by mostly white officers.

And while there is an accusation against Colonel Corley that he downgraded a Medal of Honor nomination for a black soldier to a Silver Star, it appears that Corley’s willingness to lead from the front gained the respect of the mostly segregated unit.

By August 10th of 1950, He had picked up Silver Star number 6 when he again pressed to the front to coordinate the attack under heavy small-arms and mortar fire.  When a radio man was injured, he personally administered first aid and carried him back for evacuation.

24th Infantry Regiment advancing in Korea via commons.wikimedia.org
24th Infantry Regiment advancing in Korea

But as if Silver Stars were becoming a little boring to him, he would add another Distinguished Service Cross to his resume just a few weeks later.  Near Haman, Korea, his battalion was fighting to take hilly and mountainous terrain when they came under a withering North Korean counter-attack.

On multiple occasions when his company was beaten back by superior numbers, Corley rushed to the front and personally reorganized the retreating men to halt the enemy advance.  Under heavy fire, he personally called for fire missions with devastating effect on the enemy and brutal accuracy.

It just so happens that after this action Corley would go on to pick up two additional Silver Stars in Korea for you guessed it, leading from the front.  His later Silver Star citations would note that Corley would only return from the front when the Division Commander ordered him to do so.

Born to Lead

As one might imagine, Corley did pick up a Purple Heart as well due to constantly subjecting himself to enemy fire, but how this man walked away from battle after battle unscathed is remarkable.  When the men fighting at the front see a higher ranking officer side by side with them, it inspires confidence and gallantry in the soul of each man fighting.  When the battle seemed to be at its most grim moment, they could always count on John Corley coming along to inspire them to victory.

After the wars, Corley would go on to pin on his first star as a Brigadier General and serve in a variety of functions to include Director of the Infantry School’s Ranger Department.  He retired from the Army in 1962 and passed away in 1977 at the relatively young age of 62.  His children would go on to continue his military legacy and Corley lost a son in Vietnam.

The history of war would prove that some men just seem to thrive under the pressure of combat and the evidence would suggest that the calm of the rear command didn’t suit such a man like General John Corley.

MoH: 8 German soldiers moved in to try to capture one wounded Edward Carter – It Didn’t End Too Well

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Medal of Honor recipient Army Staff Sergeant Edward Allen Carter May 26, 1916 – January 30, 1963.

One look at the life of Medal of Honor recipient Edward Allen Carter and it doesn’t take you long to realize that this was a man who just wanted to get into the fight wherever he could find it.

His parents service as missionaries in Asia would mean the first fight he could find at age 15 was the Chinese National Army battling the Japanese in Shanghai. When that fight was no longer available to him, he decided to jump into the fighting taking place during the Spanish Civil War and fought with the Loyalist.

Then with the rest the world decided to get in on the fighting as well, this veteran of two wars would finally enlist in the United States Army to serve the country in which he was originally born. And while his race as an African-American would initially hinder his ability to fight in Europe, the man with the nose for it found his way to the action and picked himself up a Medal of Honor along the way.

An Early Start to the Fight

Edward Carter was born in California in 1916 to an African-American father and East Indian mother who served as missionaries. Their service would take them to India where he would spend many of his early years growing up and then eventually settling Shanghai China.

Fortunately, if you’re a 15-year-old young man looking for a fight in 1932, China Shanghai was the place. The Shanghai incident which would be a prelude to the greater Sino-Japanese war erupted and Edward Carter decided to fight on behalf of the Chinese.

Unfortunately, while he did see action, it was short-lived when the Army found out he was only 15 years old and forced him out.

Chinese military police fight during the Shanghai incident in 1932 via commons.wikimedia.org
Chinese military police fight during the Shanghai incident in 1932

Taking his combat experience with him, Carter would come of age and find his next opportunity for a fight in Spain. The Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, and Carter jumped at the opportunity to serve as a Corporal in the socialist Abraham Lincoln Brigade which was an American volunteer unit opposing the fascist.

He was quickly able to distinguish himself, perhaps due to fighting his first war at age 15, and became a hardened veteran before most Americans had even contemplated the idea of war. However, when his side of the Civil War took a turn for the worse, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was forced to flee in 1938.

He subsequently made his way back to America where he met his wife and heading into his mid-20s contemplated settling down. But the world was not done with war yet and war was not done with Edward Carter. Just before the US entry into the war, Carter enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1941 once again quickly established himself as a man who knew what he was doing.

Standing out above the average recruit, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant in less than a year, but his race and suspicions about his involvement with the socialist in Spain would hamper his military career.

From Suspicion to Gallantry

The Army quickly opened a counterintelligence file on Carter and monitored his activities due to his exposure to the socialist in Asia and Spain. His mail was read, his whereabouts reported, and the fact that he had a speaking knowledge of Chinese only seemed to add to the paranoia.

Finally, in 1944, he would eventually get his chance to at least get close to the fight, but was assigned to supply duties due to his race. One might think that a veteran of two wars could be of some use in combat, but it was a different era for the United States military at that time.

However, when replacements in the combat arms began to run short in December 1944, Eisenhower created a volunteer force called replacement command that allowed rear echelon soldiers of any race to jump into the fight.

African American troops serving in an anti-aircraft battery in Europe via commons.wikimedia.org
African American troops serving in an anti-aircraft battery in Europe

Carter enthusiastically volunteered despite the fact that he would have to accept a reduction in rank to private so as not to find himself in a position to command white soldiers. Wanting nothing more than to fight, Carter happily accepted and just as one might expect his experience showed up in a big way when it mattered most.

On March 23, 1945, Carter was riding on a tank when it was hit by a bazooka and caught fire. Without hesitation, Carter dismounted and led three of his fellow soldiers to engage the Germans forces.

Under heavy fire, two of the men were initially killed and the third wounded. Undeterred Carter pursued the enemy in a lone charge that resulted in him being wounded up to five times before he eventually had to take cover.

At that time, eight German soldiers moved in to try to capture one wounded Edward Carter. But little did the Germans know, those odds were not in their favor. At close range, Carter killed six of the German soldiers who attempted his capture and then captured the final two.

Being the wily veteran that he was, he used the two prisoners as cover from the enemy fire as he crossed back over the field.

A Medal of Honor Never Seen

The captured German soldiers provided valuable intelligence and those who witnessed Carter’s actions couldn’t deny his inexplicable capacity for combat. Due to his race, he was initially awarded the Distinguished service cross rather the Medal of Honor many believed he duly warranted.

Carter would recover from his severe wounds that day and return home hoping to pursue a future career in the military. However, post-World War II fears of socialism were at an all-time high and he was denied reenlistment in 1949 because of his prior affiliations from the Spanish Civil War.

Edward Carter died of lung cancer in 1963 and took with him a remarkable story that belongs in the halls of history. When subsequent investigations decades later examined whether soldiers had been denied the medal of honor due to race, Carter’s name was quickly evaluated.

In 1997, Pres. Bill Clinton posthumously awarded Edward Carter the Medal of Honor. And while Carter may never have gotten to see that medal or live to see the day when his exploits were truly appreciated, his undeniable gallantry and commitment to the fight are an inspiration for all who would have the courage to pick arms and enter into the fray of combat.

Fight on – the Story of an Australian Sailor Who Went down with the Ship While Firing His AA Gun from Underwater

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Seaman  Edward “Teddy” Sheean  Royal Australian Navy   December 28, 1923 – December 1, 1942.

Personal sacrifice has always been the pinnacle of heroic acts in war. When a man is ready to give his own life in order to save the lives of his brothers-in-arms, it is a sight to admire and pay great respect to. One out of many such endeavors which happened during WWII is most definitely the valorous act of an Australian seaman, Edward “Teddy” Sheean.

Sheean was born into a family of fourteen children in Lower Barrington, Tasmania, in 1923. In 1941, he joined the Australian Navy. Five of his brothers had already enlisted in the Armed Forces and Teddy wanted to follow in their footsteps, as the country was facing its worst time of peril.

He was stationed on the Bathurst-class corvette HMAS Armidale as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun loader when his wartime adventure began. Little did he know that he would be the man whose courage and sacrifice saved the lives of his fellow sailors.

The first year of the war went rather dully for Teddy Sheean, as HMAS Armidale was bestowed upon routine escort duties just off the coast of Australia and rarely encountered the Japanese. But in November 1942, all of that was about to change.

Teddy Sheean c.1941

At that time, a small Australian commando unit was stationed on Timor, a Pacific island under the colonial rule of both the Dutch and the Portuguese, located just north of the Australian coast. The island was under threat of Japanese invasion and HMAS Armidale, along with ships Kuru and Castlemaine, was sent to evacuate the Aussie troops, together with some 150 Portuguese settlers and 190 Dutch soldiers who were stationed on the island.

The invasion of the island was a direct threat to the Australian mainland and the operation was of utmost importance for securing the Indonesian archipelago.

The garrison was to be replaced with 50 Dutch guerrilla fighters who would engage in sabotage operations against the Japanese invaders until a counter-attack could be organized. Armidale and Castlemaine were sailing together and were supposed to meet up with Kuru in order to proceed towards Timor.

Due to bad weather, Kuru’s arrival at the port of Betano on Timor was delayed for three hours. Armidale and Castlemaine failed to meet up with the third ship and were in the meantime harassed by Japanese aircraft. First, a single fighter started strafing and bombing the corvettes. The commanding officers of both Armidale and Castlemaine agreed that the attacks were about to become more frequent and, since they had failed to meet up with Kuru, they decided to apply evasive maneuvers.

HMAS Armidale in Port Moresby harbour c. September 1942.

Their predictions quickly became very true ― a squadron of Japanese bombers was already on their tails. Two more attacks soon followed, bombing and strafing the ships with machine guns. Strangely enough, both vessels came through with minor damage and without casualties.

In the meantime, Kuru had already reached Betano, collecting 77 of the Portuguese refugees and one critically wounded Australian commando. The ship set sail for Darwin, realizing that they had failed to accomplish the rendezvous with the other two corvettes. By a stroke of luck, they managed to spot the ships on their way back and exchanged a portion of Portuguese passengers with HMAS Castlemaine.

HMAS Armidale and HMAS Castlemaine received orders to continue the operation on their own. Then suddenly, the Japanese bomber squadron was inbound. The ships went their separate ways and the Japanese pilots decided to follow Armidale. The corvette proved to be easy prey for the Imperial bombers, who dispatched two aerial torpedoes and achieved a direct hit.

The situation aboard Armidale was clear ― abandon ship. In the midst of the growing panic and confusion, Ordinary Sailor Teddy Sheean was assisting the evacuation, selflessly running back and forth in order to save as many as his fellow sailors he could. During this action, he was shot twice with 7.7×56mm bullets coming from a Japanese fighter’s machine gun.

Members of the Sheean family c.1941. L to R, back row: Edward (Teddy); Frederick. Front row: James (father); Mary (mother); William.

He was badly wounded, receiving a shot in the back and one in the chest. Sheean decided to go down with the ship. Strapping himself into the aft Oerlikon 20 mm cannon, he fired away, shooting a Japanese bomber down and relentlessly gunning the harassing aircraft as his comrades-in-arms were loading the rescue rafts.

One sailor’s testimony put his actions into words, which later served for his posthumous decorations:

“During the attack, a plane had been brought down and for this, the credit went to Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean. Teddy died, but none of us who survived, I am sure, will ever forget his gallant deed … When the order ‘Abandon ship’ was given, he made for the side, only to be hit twice by the bullets of an attacking Zero. None of us will ever know what made him do it, but he went back to his gun, strapped himself in, and brought down a Jap plane, still firing as he disappeared beneath the waves.”

Sailors reported that they could still see tracer bullets raging up towards the air even when the ship was well underwater. Sheean kept firing until he drowned, his stiff dead finger still holding the trigger.

The Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG 77) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii (USA), after participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.

Armidale‘s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander David Richards, made a posthumous mention in dispatches about the “bravery and devotion when HMAS Armidalewas lost,” dedicated to Teddy Sheean.

The story of Sheean’s valor and sacrifice remains legendary within the ranks of the Australian Navy. A Collins-class submarine was named after him ― HMAS Teddy Sheean ― adopting the motto which best illustrates his determination that shines as an example for others ― “Fight on!”

WWI Diaries Tell Of Life and Death In The Trenches

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 H/T War History OnLine.

We could never in our wildest imagination could we envision the horrors of life in the trenches in World War I.

During World War I, many soldiers kept diaries while fighting from the trenches. Recently one written by a British soldier has surfaced and the 162-page book will go up for auction on April 10 with Bellman’s. The identity of the soldier is unknown, but it appears he was a member of the 3rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers on the Western Front for almost a year in 1914 and 1915, one of the Battalions that participated in the Christmas Day truce. After getting together for a friendly game of football and socializing all day, it was difficult to go back to being enemies.

The soldiers worked out a plan. When an attack on the British troops was forthcoming, the Germans would signal the British troops to let them know, and the British soldiers would do the same for the Germans. The diarist noted that “General HQ would be pretty sick if they knew this.” The diary also tells of the compassion the men felt for each other after meeting and speaking with each other when a German soldier was wounded. When the British men were unable to pull him from the battlefield, the diarist lamented the fact that the soldier had to die a slow and inhumane death.

1st Lancashire Fusiliers, in communication trench near Beaumont Hamel, Somme, 1916. Photo by Ernest Brooks.

World War I trench diaries have been found by family members, buried away in old houses and among old books. One, written by Sergeant Horace Reginald Stanley during the battles of Ypres and the Somme, was found by his daughter, Heather Brodie, when she was cleaning out the attic. In the diary, Sargent Stanley recounts seeing his brother killed at Arras, France, when a shell hit his dugout.  Stanley wrote of the incident, “Could we return to the happy days of 1914, things can never be the same again, my brother is dead. I expected this but my poor mother will never be the same again.”

Stanley also tells of seeing nearby soldiers being horrifically wounded, “Some poor wretch has the side of his skull blown away and it is obvious nothing can be done for him. Oh the horror of it all. Why does it take so long for a man to die? We are trapped like rats, we cannot go forward, the way is barred and even if we could, machine guns and rifles are waiting to mow us down like a scythe. We cannot go right or left, we cannot go back, we can only wait numbed or stupefied.”

Stanley survived the war, but his family was not aware of the diary until Heather found it. Her daughter, Juliet, published the diary with Poppyland Publishing in 2007, under the title Grandad’s War – The First World War Diary of Horace Reginald Stanley.

Trenches of the 11th Cheshire Regiment at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, on the Somme, July 1916. One sentry keeps watching while the others sleep. Photo by Ernest Brooks.

Another British soldier in France, Captain Charlie May, also kept a diary during the war that was stored in an attic for eighty years. As a journalist before the war, May was accustomed to writing and documented his wartime experiences, fears, and longing for his family in seven notebooks. May, who was a member of B Company, 22nd Manchester Pals Battalion, spoke of the ghastly deaths of his comrades in arms and the dreadful conditions in the trenches having to deal with rain, mud and rats.“They ran over my legs, body, chest and feet. But when they started on my face I must own that I slavishly surrendered, fell to cursing horribly and finally changed my lying place. I can tell you they are some rats, these.”

Sadly, Captain May did not survive the war as he was killed by a shell when he and his Company charged the German line on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. His aide, Private Arthur Bunting, braved three hours of gunfire as he stayed with May’s body until he could bring it back to the trench. Bunting retrieved all of the diaries and mailed them to May’s wife and baby daughter.

Gerry Henderson, Captain May’s great-nephew, published the diary called To Fight Alongside Friends: The First World War Diary of Charlie May in 2015.

Blazing trails – Daughter of Foreign Service Officer served in WAC in WWII, and later in CIA

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H/T War History OnLine.

The story of Doris Van Wickel is an amazing story.

War History online proudly presents this Guest Piece from Jeremy P. Ämick, who is a military historian and writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

Bruce Berger, of Jefferson City, Missouri, has a number of reasons to take pride in the memory of his mother. Not only did she demonstrate her patriotism while supporting her country in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II, years later, after her husband passed away, she was able to raise three sons while at the same time completing a career in an American intelligence agency.

Born November 19, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York, Doris Van Wickel was the daughter of  Jesse Van Wickel, who was at the time serving as a Foreign Service Officer for the United States. Due to his chosen career field, his daughter was exposed to many cultures while growing up in several different countries.

“My mother lived in several places in her youth to include Shanghai, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; The Hague; Netherlands East Indies; and England,” said Berger. “Until 1939, most of her time was spent outside of the United States,” he added.

Records maintained by Van Wickel indicate that in the early 1930s, she attended the Malvern Girls’ College in Great Malvern England and later completed coursework at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Columbia University in New York.

During her early years abroad, she acquired proficiency in seven languages to include German, French, Dutch and Chinese. She also worked for companies in Holland before returning to the United States, where she was hired in 1941 by the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department in New York.

WACs operate teletype machines during World War II.

“The work she did with the War Department was confidential,” said Berger. “In 1942, she became an assistant economic analyst with the Board of Economic Warfare in Washington, D.C. There she acted as an assistant chief for the Southwest Pacific Unit and researched conditions of the occupied Netherlands, East Indies and M alaya.”

In October 1943, she made the decision to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC)—an organization created during World War II to allow women to support the war effort by serving in non-combat positions. As Berger explained, his mother completed her WAC boot camp at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa.

Military records indicate Van Wickel was discharged at the rank of technical sergeant on February 16, 1945 and the following day was appointed a second lieutenant. She remained on active duty as an intelligence research analyst until February 18, 1946, spending her entire period of military service at the Pentagon and achieving the rank of first lieutenant.

“While my mother was with the WACs, she met my father in Washington, D.C. after he whistled at her as she walked into a hotel,” said Berger. “Apparently, they dated for awhile and then married.” He added, “My father had served in the Army and after the war worked for the Census Bureau. My mother was eventually discharged from the WACs after she became pregnant with my oldest brother.”

The family remained living in the Washington, D.C. area where Van Wickel Berger’s first son, Ken, was born in 1946; a second son, Darrell, born in 1948; and Bruce, the youngest, was born in 1949. Sadly, Berger explained, his father passed away from Hodgkin’s disease in Janauary 1953, leaving behind their mother to raise three young boys.

Doris Van Wickel Berger retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 1970. She remained a contractor for the CIA for a couple of years before retiring to Florida, where she passed away in 1989.

“After my dad passed, my mother worked a couple of months for the Census Bureau and was then hired by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the spring of 1953,” Berger said. “She went on temporary duty assignments to places like Iran, Hong Kong and Thailand while us boys went to boarding school at Girard College in Philadelphia.”

The intrigue of their mother’s new chosen career field soon drew the boys into an exciting adventure when she brought them to live in Saigon in early 1962. While her sons were attending school during the day, Van Wickel Berger was involved in operations that remain shrouded in relative secrecy.

“She never talked too much about what she did and always joked that if she told us, she would have to kill us,” Berger chuckled.

Berger and his brothers have pieced together many facets of her service in Vietnam, which included her invovement in coordinating flights for “Air America”—a covert passenger and cargo operation operated by the CIA during the Vietnam War. The pilots, Berger noted, would deliver goods needed by various hamlets and bring their produce back into towns, collecting military intelligence during the process.

When the situation in Saigon grew more dangerous in early 1965 following bombings of locations such as a movie theater, Van Wickel Berger sent her children back to California to live with her brother. In 1967, she was sent to Udorn, Thailand, where she worked closely with the 7th Radio Reseach Field Station and was involved with radio intercepts.

Doris Van Wickel enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and served as an intelligence research analyst. After her husband passed away in 1953, she went to work for the CIA. Courtesy of Bruce Berger

 

 

“My mother returned to the United States in 1970 and worked at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, retiring later the same year,” said Berger. “She then went on to work for them as a contractor for a couple of years before retiring to Florida.”

The former member of the WACs and CIA agent passed away in 1989 from emphysema and was laid to rest alongside her husband in Arlington National Cemetery. As Berger went on to explain, although his mother may have at one time embraced the possibility of a “traditional” lifestyle of raising a family, the adventure that became her life demonstrates she was a woman before her time.

“When my father died, I think that my mother felt the American dream wasn’t really holding true for her—being married, having a nice house and raising children. But,” he paused, “I’m not really sure that ideal would have lasted for her.”

He continued, “My mother would joke during the 1960s and 1970s, at the time when women were burning their bras for equality as part of the women’s liberation movement, that she was working as a field operative for the CIA in several war zones.

“She was a trailblazer as a woman, not only because she served her country in uniform in the WACs, but she went on to demonstrate the value women could offer by working for the CIA at a time when women really had to fight to get a job that wasn’t just clerical in nature.”

He’s Called The Ghost, Has The Same Medal Count As Audie Murphy, And Is Virtually Unknown

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Louis Urban (born Matthew Louis Urbanowicz) August 25, 1919 – March 4, 1995.

By the time a man earns seven Purple Hearts and lives to talk about it, he could either be described as one of the luckiest men alive or perhaps just one of the bravest.  At the very least this is a person who has proven he won’t quit even under the direst circumstances – even when those circumstances include being shot in the neck.

Such is the case of Matt Louis Urban, or as he was more appropriately known: “The Ghost.” By the time World War 2 ended, the Ghost would be awarded the Medal of Honor along with seven purple hearts, two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars with a V, and a number of other honors making him one of the most highly decorated soldiers of the war.

For Urban, it seemed he did his best fighting when wounded and with each Purple Heart, one could always expect to find an act of inexplicable gallantry to follow.

Destined for Gallantry

Matt Urban was born August 25, 1919, in Buffalo, New York to an immigrant Polish Catholic family. After High School, he would go on to attend University at Cornell where he ran track and proved an accomplished boxer along with joining the ROTC. He joined the regular Army in 1941 and went on to receive a 2nd Lieutenant Commission before serving in seven Campaigns in the coming war and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

While his story before the war it not unlike most men of that era, it was his ability to take a hit and then keep on fighting that would distinguish him.

US Army soldiers and jeeps on their way to the front lines, Saint-Lô, France, July 1944.

Throughout the war, Urban would find himself wounded time and time again and yet would often have to be wrestled and dragged away from the fight by his own men – even after being severely wounded. Once he even left a hospital without permission and hitchhike back to France to join his men at the front.

By the time Normandy rolled around, Urban would already find himself wounded by shrapnel from his time in Africa and the subject of several gallant actions worthy of accommodation.  In Tunisia, he sparked a counterattack against all the odds when the Germans attacked, and his unit began to retreat. He continued to press the attack and rushed a German with only his trench knife, stabbing him to death.

After that, he grabbed the German’s gun and sent their own ammo back at the charging Germans with a devastating effect. As the Germans mounted a counterattack, Urban was wounded and would reluctantly earn the first of his many Purple Hearts.

But Urban wasn’t sent home and was ordered to aid in the effort to invade Normandy. Between the 14th of June, 1944 to the first week of September, Urban would prove his North Africa heroics were just the opening act.

Refusing to Leave the Fight

Assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division on June 14th he and his company were near Renouf, France when the company came under an intense barrage of tank and small arms fire. They immediately began taking heavy casualties from the relentless and withering tank fire, and Urban knew he had to take action if his men were to survive.

He grabbed a nearby bazooka and a man to carry the bazooka rounds, and together they charged through the hedgerows to find the enemy tanks raining destruction down upon their friends. Urban and his ammo carrier managed to avoid taking any hits from the small-arms fire and eventually found the two tanks firing on the other men.

Urban took careful aim at the first tank, then blasted it. He then reloaded and carefully aligned the sights before sending the round toward the enemy. This knocked the second tank out. The company then surged forward and drove off the remaining enemy soldiers.

Heavy fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy via commons.wikimedia.org
Heavy fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy

The day’s heroics weren’t over for Urban and his men. Near Orglandes, France a few miles away, Urban was leading his men forward when they came under fire from a 37 mm tank gun. Urban was hit, but as the men moved to evacuate him, he physically fought them off and went on to lead his men to set up defenses to secure their position for the night.

It became clear through the night that he was badly wounded and in need of evacuation but still Urban refused to relent.   Despite the obvious wounds, the next day he led his Company in an attack where he was again hit. Seriously wounded his men got help, and he was evacuated to England for the time being.

A month later Urban was still recovering from his wounds when word arrived that the unit was being devastated in the hedgerow fighting in Normandy. Urban was not the type of man to lie on a cot while his men took fire and checked himself out of the hospital.

He hitched rides all the way back to the front at St. Lo, France and there he found that his men had just departed for the opening stages of Operation Cobra. Despite a serious limp which slowed him down, Urban raced ahead to reclaim command of his company.

Back in the Fight

Once he made it, he found the attack was stalled and in serious danger of faltering. Two of his support tanks had been destroyed, and the third was operational but with no gunner, and no tank commander, it was useless and going nowhere. So Urban rounded up a lieutenant and sergeant and ordered them to take over the tank and use it to take out the enemy defense. Both men ran to the tank and scaled it, but the Nazis were waiting and opened up, killing the two before they could get in the tank.

Urban once again took immediate action. Though crippled by his leg wound he charged toward the tank, totally disregarding his own safety. Injured, and fully aware of the enemy accuracy, he threw himself into the fire, climbed the tank and took over the machine gun turret. There he sent scathing fire back at the enemy position with such a devastating effect that his men counterattacked and destroyed the Nazi positions.

60th Infantry soldiers alongside of a Sherman “Rhino” tank in Belgium

Later in August, Urban was wounded twice more and once in the chest by shrapnel. Still suffering from all his prior wounds, that didn’t stop him from taking over command of 2ndBattalion. Even though he was in a command position and in no expectation to be on the front lines, Urban was not willing to sit out a fight.

In early September, at the Meuse River close to Heer, Belgium, Urban personally led a charge against Nazi small-arm positions, mortars and artillery. In open terrain, he was struck in the neck by enemy fire. After the shock had subsided, he realized he couldn’t speak above a whisper and must have finally known he was dangerously close to death.

Once more he would not let his men take him out of the battle until he was sure the US forces had beaten back the Germans and took the Meuse River Crossing.  With success ensured and bleeding heavily from the neck, Urban finally relented to leave the fight.

Matt Urban receiving the Medal of Honor in 1979 via http://www.toledoblade.com/Michigan/2005/05/30/Monroe-hero-may-have-most-WW-II-medals.html
Matt Urban receiving the Medal of Honor in 1979

In 1944, Major Max Wolf filed a report recommending Urban for the Medal of Honor.  However, when Major Wolf was killed in action, the report was misfiled lost to time until 1979.  When an inquiry was made why his actions didn’t warrant the Medal of Honor, the missing report was found, and the Army finally finished the paperwork.

In 1979 he received the Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter and the long overdue thanks of a grateful nation.  The man who likely should not have survived the war continued to press on until he passed away in 1995 from a collapsed lung.

In WW2 This USAAF pilot defected he flew his P-38 to Milan & joined the SS

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H/T War History OnLine.

He should have been shot just like they shot Eddie Slovik 

Close view of P38 Lightning (WWII American fighter plane)

During WWII, an American pilot defected to Nazi Germany. Despite this, he was allowed to reenlist in the US military.

Martin James Monti was born on October 24, 1921, in St. Louis, Missouri. One of seven children, four of his brothers would go on to serve in the US military. Monti had every reason, therefore, to be a patriotic American. And he was, in a way.

The Coughlin way, that is. It all started in the 1930s with Charles Edward Coughlin – a Canadian-American Roman Catholic priest who ran a very popular radio program from Detroit, Michigan.

By 1934, Father Coughlin had a following of tens of millions throughout the US and Canada – making him the first televangelist, albeit via radio. Though initially supportive of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he had a change of heart and became a hostile critic of the New Deal – a series of liberal social programs.

It didn’t take long for Coughlin to become anti-capitalist, however. From there, he became virulently anti-Semitic, as well as fiercely anti-communist. His views made him very unpopular with the Catholic Church which tried to silence him in 1936.

Not that it made a difference, since it made him even more popular among his followers. This encouraged Coughlin to take things a step further by supporting the Fascist regimes of Germany and Italy. It was only when WWII broke out in 1939 that his broadcasts were finally taken off the air.

Father Charles Edward Coughlin in 1933
Father Charles Edward Coughlin in 1933

 

By then, however, Coughlin had a devoted fan – Monti, who had been listening to the priest’s broadcasts since childhood. In October 1942, the 21-year-old Monti visited his childhood hero and spiritual guide. Whatever happened during their meeting must have had a major impact on the younger man, according to his later psychologists.

A Bell P-39Q-1-BE Airacobra at Hamilton Army Airfield in California in July 1943
A Bell P-39Q-1-BE Airacobra at Hamilton Army Airfield in California in July 1943

Because the following month, Monti joined the US Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet. He finished flight training in 1944, became a commissioned flight officer qualified to fly the P-39 Airacobra and the P-38 Lighting, and got promoted to the rank of second lieutenant.

In August of that year, he was sent to Karachi (then in India, but now in Pakistan) to join the 126th Replacement Depot as a replacement pilot. Shortly after, he was made a first lieutenant. It’s still unknown if he went to India planning to do what he did next, or if something happened there to push him over the edge.

On October 2, Monti went AWOL and flew to Cairo, Egypt aboard a Curtiss C-46. From there, he made his way to Tripoli, Libya which had just been liberated from Axis control. He then made it to the Foggia Air Base in Italy (also under Allied control) where he became chummy with the 82nd Fighter Group… but not for long.

A Lockheed P-38H of the AAF Tactical Center at Orlando Army Air Base in Florida in March 1944
A Lockheed P-38H of the AAF Tactical Center at Orlando Army Air Base in Florida in March 1944

Monti’s next stop was at the Pomigliano Airfield with the 354th Air Service Squadron. It was there that he found a reconnaissance P-38 that had just been fixed and was in need of a test flight. He volunteered to fly it, of course. Not knowing about his AWOL status, they let him.

He flew toward northern Italy, landing in Milan on October 13 – which was still under German control. That they didn’t shoot him down was amazing.

“I defect,” he said… or something to that effect.

They didn’t believe him, of course, which is why they chucked him into a POW camp. But he was consistent with his story. Like Coughlin, he was virulently anti-capitalist, anti-communist, and anti-Semitic.

 

Curtis C-46 "Commando" in flight
Curtis C-46 “Commando” in flight

What he wasn’t, according to his own later testimony, was anti-American. He did what he did to save his country from its true enemy – Bolshevism. It wasn’t his fault that America couldn’t understand the real threat.

Cautiously impressed, the Germans took him to Berlin. There Monti was brought into the SS-Standarte Kurt Eggers studio – a propaganda arm of the Waffen-SS where many foreign defectors worked. He made his first mike test in December and was deemed good enough to make radio broadcasts.

In January 1945, he was employed by the Reich Broadcasting Corporation (RRG) and given the pseudonym, “Captain Martin Wiethaupt.” His job was to be the equivalent of Coughlin, but over German radio.

It was there that he met another defector – “Axis Sally.” Her real name was Mildred Elizabeth Gillars – an American who had married a German and found herself stuck on German soil when the war broke out. It could have been a match made in heaven, but it wasn’t.

Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, aka "Axis Sally"

Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, aka “Axis Sally.”

Gillars couldn’t stand Monti and threatened to resign rather than continue working with him. Fortunately for her, Monti was useless as a radio personality, so the RRG sacked him. Fortunately for him, he got a job with the SS – writing propaganda leaflets.

It didn’t last. The war ended, and he surrendered to the US military on May 10, 1945… still in his SS uniform. He claimed to have been caught by the Germans, but had escaped thanks to the Italian underground. The uniform? He stole it for his protection and to gather intelligence for the Allies.

No one bought it, of course. As to his brief stint as “Captain Martin Wiethaupt,” he claimed that it was done at the point of a gun. They didn’t believe that either, but they weren’t exactly sure what he did do. All they could do was charge him with desertion and stealing a plane – for which he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

US Pentitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas
US Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Americasroof – CC BY-SA 3.0

On February 11, 1946, Monti was given another choice – rejoin the military as a private and all would be forgiven. So he became a sergeant when he was honorably discharged on January 26, 1948… then arrested minutes later by the FBI. Military intelligence had found out about his SS affiliation. A federal grand jury charged him with 21 counts of treason on October 13 – remanding him to 25 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Monti pleaded guilty to all charges on January 17, 1949 – surprising everyone who had expected a long, drawn-out trial. He changed his tune in 1951, however, claiming he had been pressured into it.

He tried again in 1958, but failed, serving out his term at the Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. They finally paroled him in 1960.

 

MoH: Private Towle of the 82nd Airborne Stopped a German Armored Counter Attack in Holland with a Bazooka

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Private John Roderick Towle October 19, 1924 – September 21, 1944.

Many might hold the common assumption that in the battle of man versus tank, heavy armor is sure to win.  However, students of the history of war know full well that aggressive infantry can wreak havoc on armor, and one would be hard pressed to find an infantryman as aggressive or tough as Private John R. Towle of the US 82nd Airborne.

Army Pvt. John R. Towle, 19, of Cleveland, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II for breaking up a German attack of troops and tanks in Holland.

Near Oosterhout, Holland during Operation Market Garden, Private Towle would take on not one, but two tanks along with a half-track and a good number of German infantry.  And while he wasn’t exactly fighting alone, he rushed forward through intense enemy fire to position his rocket launcher so that infantry could score a few more wins in the historic battle of man versus tank.

He would fall in combat that day, but not before he carried on the gallant legacy of the mighty 82nd Airborne.

A Big Impact in a Short War

For the young 19-year-old Towle, it would be a short war as he enlisted in 1943 before subsequently falling in combat a little over a year later.  However, that was the case for many young men who reached fighting age in the last years of the war and unfortunately, these last years would see the heaviest casualties as an increasingly desperate enemy fought for every inch.

A son of Cleveland Ohio, Private Towle’s enlistment in 1943 would take him to Company C, 504th Parachute Regiment 82nd Airborne Division.

 

Members of the 504th manning a mortar position in Italy via commons.wikimedia.org
Members of the 504th manning a mortar position in Italy

The 504th would see action from North Africa to Italy.  In Italy, the unit would pick up the nickname “The Devils in Baggy Pants” after the following journal entry was taken from a German officer killed at Anzio: “American parachutists…devils in baggy pants…are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere, and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…”

That same fighting spirit would carry with the 504th all the way to Germany.  After the Italian campaigns, including an extended stay at Anzio, the 504th was transferred to England in early 1944 in preparation for the invasion at D-Day.  However, the 504th would not take part in the massive invasion and would instead be held back waiting for replacements and subsequent missions to jump over Europe.

Instead of D-Day, fate would have the 504th participating in the largest paratrooper drop in history as they descended over the fields of the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden.

Operation Market Garden

In September of 1944, the Allies conducted Operation Market Garden, which was an attempt to gain a foothold across the Rhine river in hopes of then moving into Germany and ending the war as early as possible. However, the Germans were still capable of putting up quite a fight, and the success of this mission would require paratroopers securing key bridges in advance of rapidly advancing ground forces.

A few days after the jump, Private Towle would find himself holding a defensive position near the recently established Nijmegen bridgehead.

Members of the 82nd descending over Holland via commons.wikimedia.org
Members of the Polish Parachute Brigade descending in The Netherlands on the same dropzone as the 504th landed earlier.

On September 20th, the 3rd Battalion of the 504th gallantly crossed the Waal River in canvas boats in broad daylight. A small bridgehead was established, and both the Road and Rail bridges were finally captured, thereby allowing XXXCorps to cross the last water barrier before Arnhem. For the Germans, taking back the bridges across the Waal was of the utmost importance thus it launched sharp counterattacks on the 504th perimeter.

Defending the north-west side of the bridgehead, on September 21st, Private Towle was serving as a rocket launcher gunner when he observed a German force comprising of 100 plus infantry, two tanks and a half-track massing for a counterattack with the potential to threaten the entire American position.

Recognizing the danger and without orders, Private Towle left the cover of his foxhole and raced 200 yards towards the enemy in order to secure a firing position for his rocket launcher.  Finding a dike roadbed with very little cover, he took on the two tanks to his immediate front and scored direct hits on both.

While the enemy armor was not penetrated by the rocket attack, they were both damaged and forced to withdraw minimizing their ability to support the attack.  Still under heavy small-arms fire, Private Towle noticed 9 Germans head into a nearby house to serve as a firing position.  Without hesitation, Towle loaded up another rocket and gifted one to the enemy in that house killing all 9 German occupants.

After resupplying his ammunition, he continued to aggressively take on the counterattack head on.  He rushed over 100 yards forward in order to fire upon the half-track and just before pulling the trigger with the vehicle in his sights, a mortar shell landed nearby mortally wounding this heroic 19-year-old Private from Cleveland, Ohio.

A Medal of Honor

United States Medal of Honor

Although he didn’t get to take out that final half-track, his actions inspired the rest of the men in that position as he personally broke up the German counterattack.  For his actions that day, Private John R. Towle was awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and action above and beyond the call of duty.

XXXCorps never made it to Arnhem and Operation Market Garden was considered an Allied operational failure. The Allies suffered heavy casualties during this campaign with estimates ranging from 15,000 to 17,000.

However, were it not for men such as Private Towle who carried on the legacy of the mighty 82nd Airborne the cost could have been much higher.  For when the bullets start flying in battle, war always becomes a battle for the man next to you and in that manner, Towle and the men of the 504th performed above expectation.

The people of the Netherlands saw much during this long struggle and in September of 1944, anyone who looked up into the sky would have witnessed the largest airborne assault in history and one Private Towle descending towards his future in the hallowed halls of military heroism.

She was a heroine of WWI: In 1916 she was betrayed & arrested, despite interrogation, she refused to break

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Gabrielle Alina Eugenia Maria Petit February 20,1893-April 01,1916.

A brave woman that needs to be remembered and honored for her heroism.

Left: Gabrielle Petit, picture from the cover of “The Illustrated Journal” June 7, 1919. Right: German troops marching through Blankenberge in 1914.
 Some people get no breaks in life. Sometimes, they have to die before getting the recognition they deserve. Take the case of the Belgian heroine no one had heard of until she was dead.

Gabrielle Alina Eugenia Maria Petit was born on February 20, 1893, in Tournai, Belgium to a very poor family. When her mother died when she was nine years old she was sent to an orphanage because her father could not afford to raise her. Petit had wanted to become a teacher, but given her poverty, it simply was not possible.

Upon leaving the orphanage, she worked at several jobs – as a nanny, laundry supervisor, waitress, etc. Estranged from her family, she shunted from one rented bed space to another unil Marie Collet (a neighbor) took her in. Everything changed for her then.

In early 1914, Petit fell in love. His name was Maurice Gobert, a career officer in the Belgian Army with ambition. Gobert promised her not just a future, but a better life. They were engaged, but sadly, on July 28, 1914, WWI broke out. Petit joined the Red Cross.

Gobert went with his regiment to Antwerp. Despite being protected by Belgian, British, and French forces, the city was besieged by the Germans on September 28. By October 10, the Allies had retreated while the Germans marched deeper into the rest of Belgium.

The injured Gobert went into hiding to heal from his war wounds. In May 1915, he made his way to Brussels where Petit hid and cared for him as best she could.

La Libre Belgique, one of the best known underground newspapers of the occupation

So that Gobert could reunite with his regiment they made their way into neutral Netherlands – not an easy task. The Germans had sealed off the Dutch border with the Wire of Death – a lethal electric fence to prevent saboteurs from entering Belgium and keep a valuable workforce (the Belgians) from leaving.

Petit passed on information about the German Army to the British who asked her to return to Belgium and spy for them. She was reluctant at first but she was patriotic and she hated Germany. After a few weeks of training in London, she made her way back to Belgium sometime in mid-August.

Her duties were simple – observe the border between the Belgian Hainaut region and northern France where the German 6th Army was based.

Becoming bolder, she extended her surveillance work to Brussels. To relay information on troop movements, strength, and weapons back to her superiors in the Netherlands, she depended on reliable couriers – some of whom worked with the Red Cross. She got so good at it the British considered her to be among their most reliable agents in Belgium.

Picture of the tir national by Ch. Trumper in 1872.

The Le Patriote (The Patriot) was a French newspaper founded in 1884 and was fiercely anti-occupation. The Germans had banned it. In 1915, the paper changed its name to La Libre Belgique (The Free Belgium) and continued publishing in secret. Petit helped to distribute copies of the illegal publication.

Deprived of vital information the Belgians relied on the Mot du Soldat (Word of the Soldier). It was an underground mail service connecting families with Belgium soldiers who fought for the Allies. Petit assisted them and she also helped several other soldiers escape to the Netherlands.

In February 1916 she was betrayed and arrested, together with another female agent. Despite interrogation, she refused to break. According to eyewitness accounts, she took every opportunity to tell the Germans just how much she hated them.

Petit’s trial began on March 2 and ended the following day with a death sentence. However, her execution was delayed because of another woman.

Edith Louisa Cavell was a British Red Cross nurse who was caught helping Allied servicemen escape German-occupied Belgium. Her execution in October 1915 had caused an international outcry and boosted the number of British men who enlisted in the military. The German government had qualms about executing Petit.

Petit’s monument in Place Saint-Jean, Brussels. Photo: Michel wal / CC-BY-SA 3.0

She was offered amnesty if she would reveal agents names, but Petit consistently refused.

On April 1, 1916, she was marched to the Tir National execution field in Schaerbeek. Refusing to take the hand of a soldier who tried to steady her or to accept a blindfold, she famously said, “I do not need your assistance. You are going to see that a young Belgian woman knows how to die.”

At age 23 she died for her country but there was no outcry, this time. The Belgians knew nothing about her until May 1919 when the royal family held a state funeral for her and officially declared Petit a national heroine. In her hometown of Tournai, they named a square after her – a permanent home for an unwanted half-orphan.

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