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The Extraordinary Life of Merian C. Cooper – Forgotten Hero of Two Nations… And Creator of King Kong

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H/T War History OnLine.

Merian C. Cooper had an extraordinary life to say the least a war hero and an author of a classic King Kong.

Chasing a Dream

Merian C. Cooper was born in Jacksonville, Florida, United States. He was the youngest of his siblings and at the age of six, he started to dream about exploration and adventures, a common dream among future aviators. Then he studied at the United States Naval Academy, but didn’t finish it and became a journalist.

It was not enough to satisfy his taste for adventure. In 1916, Cooper joined the US National Guard and was to help catch Pancho Villa in Mexico. The year after, he was appointed lieutenant, yet he refused the promotion because he wanted to participate in direct combat. To fulfill his desires, he went to the Military Aeronautics School in Atlanta to learn how to fly and graduated with the top grades in his class.

World War I

In autumn 1917, Cooper went to France as a rookie, then learned the skills of a bomber pilot in Issoudun, France, and served with the 1st Day Bombardment Group. On one of his missions in 1918, he was shot down over Germany and suffered burns and injured his hands. His general signed a death certificate for him, but that’s not the end of the story. Cooper survived somehow and was taken prisoner.

DH.4 above the clouds in France (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
DH.4 Bomber above the clouds in France

 

After World War I came to an end, he returned to France, but not for long. On February 1919, Captain Cooper went to Poland with a mission from the American Relief Administration to provide aid to the destroyed countries of Europe. In the meantime, Russia transformed into the Soviet Union after the October Revolution in 1917. This would prove fateful for the future life of Merian C. Cooper.

Merian C. Cooper in Polish Air Force uniform, circa 1920 (Public Domain / Wikipedia)

Merian C. Cooper in Polish Air Force uniform, circa 1920

Polish-Soviet War 1919-1921

In Poland, he often discussed the importance of the air force in modern warfare. Cooper also had a second motive to help Poland – as he often mentioned, his grandfather John Cooper served under Casimir Pulaski in the Siege of Savannah and considered him as a friend. Merian wanted to repay this debt and the possibility was soon on the horizon.

With the outbreak of the Polish-Soviet War, Cooper got permission to form a squadron, so he went back to France, recruited eight more pilots and returned to Poland with Cedric Fauntleroy. All of them were assigned to the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, better known as the Kościuszko Squadron. Faunterloy was a commander, Cooper led the second group “Pulaski”.

In 1920, Cooper and his Escadrille fought on the front. They supported many actions, including the Advance on Kiev, mostly on reconnaissance missions and fights against Budyonny’s Cavalry Army. On one of these missions, Cooper and his crewmate Crawford were shot down, yet they managed to escape on foot. Two months later Cooper became a commander of the squadron assigned to the city of Lviv.

On 13th of July 1920, Merian C. Cooper was shot down for a third time. This time, it happened behind enemy lines. The Soviets captured him. He tried to escape and because of that Russians sent him to a labour camp near Moscow. Free spirits like his were impossible to tame, and he tried to escape again with two others Polish POWs. This time, he was successful and after 700 kilometers they reached Latvia and from that point they headed back to Poland.

Thanks to the supplies and volunteers from many countries, Poland managed to win that war. In Polish historiography, it’s often called the “Miracle over Vistula”. Merian C. Cooper repaid the debt of his family and gave back even more. For valor, he was decorated by Józef Piłsudski with the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.

American volunteers, Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy, fighting in the Polish Air Force (Public Domain / Wikipedia)

American volunteers, Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy, fighting in the Polish Air Force.

 

Cooper wrote “Things Men Die For”  during his time as a prisoner-of-war. It was a hapless autobiography published in 1927. Why was it hapless? In 1928, Merian started to regret releasing some details about “Nina” (Małgorzata Słomczyńska) as it was proof of his relationship outside the wedlock, so he bought back over 5,000 copies of the manuscript, almost all the amount which had been printed. His life in Poland was also an inspiration for the movie “The Starry Squadron,” a romantic story about Polish girl and an American volunteer pilot. Unfortunately, all copies of this movie were destroyed by Soviets after the WW II.

His most famous work is “King Kong” from 1933, a movie that everyone knows. He wrote the screenplay and was co-director of it and even flew in the scene where an aircraft was shooting at the giant gorilla. He was the one who finished off the King Kong. The movie was a huge success that brought over 1,8 million $ (and a single ticket cost 0,15$).

As well as “King Kong,” Cooper also worked with the following movies: “Grass” (1925), “Chang” (1927), “Gow of the Head Hunter” (1928), “The Four Fathers” (1929), “Gow the Killer” (1931), “Roar of the Dragon” (1932), “Headline Shooter” (1933), “Flying Devils” (1933), “The Son of Kong” (1933) and “She” (1935), along with many others, in total he was a producer of 67 movies, writer of 12, director of 6, cinematographer of 5 and an actor in one.

King Kong movie poster (Public Domain / Wikipedia)
King Kong movie poster

The War again…

World War II for the United States started in 1941. Cooper was 47 years old, yet he re-enlisted and was commissioned a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He served with Colonel Robert L. Scott in India and also worked as logistics liaison for the Doolittle Raid. He later served in China as chief of staff for General Claire Chennault of the China Air Task Force, which was the precursor of the Fourteenth Air Force and served then from 1943 to 1945 in the Southwest Pacific as chief of staff for the Fifth Air Force’s Bomber Command.

At the end of the war, he was promoted to brigadier general. For his contributions, he was also aboard the USS Missouri to witness Japan’s surrender.

It’s worth mentioning that the famous 303 Squadron inherited all traditions from the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, including the honor badge design. It was one of the most successful squadrons during the Battle of Britain.

Merian C. Cooper with the pilots of Polish 303 Squadron in England (Public Domain)
Merian C. Cooper with the pilots of Polish 303 Squadron in England

Recognition and Death

He was awarded the Order of Virtutti Military, Poland’s highest military decoration for heroism and courage and also the Polish Cross of Valour.

Additionally, he was awarded the Mexican Border Service Medal, the World War I Victory Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. Also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but he declined to accept the medal.

Cooper was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1952 and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though his first name is misspelled “Meriam”.

Merian C. Cooper died in 1973 at the age of 79 in San Diego, California.

 

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The Last of 4 Brothers to See Combat Captain Jay Vargas Picked up the Medal of Honor in Vietnam

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H/T War History OnLine.

Captain Jay Vargas kept up his family tradition of military service and became a Medal Of Honor recipient.

Left: Jay R. Vargas, Medal of Honor recipient. Right: 2/4 Marines search Dai Do village, May 1968. Photo: USMC.

It can easily be said that fighting is a family affair when it comes to military service. It is not uncommon for sons to follow in their father’s footsteps or for brothers to meet each other’s challenge to serve and fight.

Such was the case for the Vargas family where all four brothers were involved in combat. The military service of this family spanned three wars – from the sand of Iwo Jima to the frozen hills of Korea and finally the jungles of Vietnam. Jay Vargas, the youngest, undoubtedly endured his fair share of teasing and fighting from his older brothers as they became combat veterans. However, it was the youngest son who emerged from his combat experience with the nation’s highest military honor.

Despite not having slept for 36 hours due to combat also worthy of merit, Capt Vargas and Company G were inserted near the village of Dai Do. Leading an attack across 700 yards of open ground, Vargas destroyed multiple machine-gun positions by himself. He did it despite wounds he had received during the prior action and more during this assault. Once Company G had taken the village, they were subjected to a voracious counter-attack. Taking refuge in the cemetery and digging up fresh graves for foxholes, Vargas led Company G to hold on. After three days of battle, Captain Jay Vargas had gained the nation’s highest military honor.

A Family Ready to Fight

Jay Vargas was born in 1938 Winslow, Arizona to a family of immigrants. His father was Hispanic while his mother was Italian and together they raised four, fighting fit boys. The oldest Vargas, Angelo, fought his way through the black sands of Iwo Jima. Next, Frank took part in the action during the bloody struggle for Okinawa. Joseph fought during the Korean War, and that left the youngest, Jay, to see if he would follow in their footsteps.

Jay Vargas graduated High School in Winslow, Arizona where he was a standout player in baseball. Moving on to Northern Arizona University, Vargas eventually joined the Class A Portland team of the Los Angeles Dodgers club team. Realizing that a career in baseball was unlikely to happen, Vargas decided to put on another uniform.

His mother reportedly implored him to join the US Air Force but to no avail. In 1963, Jay Vargas entered the United States Marine Corps and became a commissioned officer. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. By 1968, Vargas was genuinely following in the footsteps of his brothers experiencing heavy combat throughout the jungles of Vietnam.

Jay R. Vargas, Medal of Honor recipient

From One Fight to the Next

On April 29, Captain Jay Vargas was serving with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines near the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam. The last unit in that particular area of operations, Company G was unable to be airlifted out due to heavy enemy fire making any helo lift too dangerous. The result was Vargas leading Company G on foot out of the area under heavy artillery fire to the base camp. Arriving relatively unscathed, rest for Vargas and the men of Company G was short-lived. Despite a lack of sleep for nearly 36 hours, and Vargas wounded, they were sent back into action.

A short distance away, two Marine Companies were under heavy fire from a North Vietnamese Regiment near the village of Dai Do. Upon the arrival of Company G, Vargas was ordered to lead the assault across 700 yards of fire-swept terrain to take the village. Braving the gunfire, Vargas led his men as far as he could until they were pinned down by heavy machine gun fire. Realizing the danger to his Company, Vargas grabbed the reserve platoon and immediately charged the entrenched positions.

Upon arriving at the hedgerows used for cover, Vargas led the assault, destroying three machine guns by himself. During the attack, he was again wounded by grenade fragments but refused care or evacuation. He continued the assault and set up a defensive perimeter as the village was taken. The North Vietnamese wanted their village back, and they executed a ferocious counter-attack. Taking refuge in the cemetery, Vargas and the men of Company G used fresh graves for cover, tossing the buried bodies aside.

Marines provide machine gun cover for a CH-46 near Đông Hà, 5 May 1968. Photo: USMC.

Holding the Line

Throughout the night, Vargas encouraged his men to hold their line and resist the enemy’s efforts. Reinforcements arrived the next morning, and the call to renew the assault on Dai Do was given. The Marines pressed forward and pushed through the village. The North Vietnamese responded, and the result was a brutal hand-to-hand struggle to the death.

In the open, Vargas continued to fight with both small arms and knife while shouting encouragement to his Marines. While assisting wounded Marines, he was hit again for the third time. When he saw his Battalion Commander go down, he ran across the fire-swept terrain to pull him to cover. After three long days of battle, the enemy finally began to pull back, and the Marines were in control of Dai Do.

When Captain Jay Vargas returned from Vietnam to his brothers, he did so having more than lived up to the Vargas family name. In 1970 he was presented with the Medal of Honor as his proud family looked on.

Jay Vargas rightfully earned his distinct place in both the Vargas family and the halls of military history.

 

Finding A Hero – Veteran Receives Medal of Honor 24 Years After Valorous Actions

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Joseph Epps May 16,1870-June 20,1952. 

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.

Though little is known about the early life of Joseph Epps, the veteran of the conflict known at the Philippine Insurrection gained a level of national notoriety when he received the nation’s highest award for gallantry—but 24 years after the heroic actions which earned him the coveted distinction.

Born May 16, 1870 in Jamestown, Mo., Epps was known to be a quiet man and lacking in friends, said Richard Schroeder, a California, Mo., resident who has studied the life of the late veteran.

“I’ve researched newspapers articles about him and interviewed some of his relatives (who are now deceased),” said Schroeder. “He had one close friend while growing up, a neighbor girl who was ten years older. It wasn’t a romance,” he added, “just a close friendship”

As Schroeder explained, the girl died when Epps was 21 years old and his parents passed within the following year, which inspired the quiet man from Jamestown to pull up roots and move to Oklahoma with aspirations of becoming a cowboy.

Though the specific date that Epps left his Missouri home remains uncertain, the December 1, 1928 edition of the The Nashua (Iowa) Reporter noted that in 1899, the Panama, Okla., resident “left his horse and lariat to join the army for service in the Philippines.”

An article in the July 27, 1926 edition of the Reading (Pennsylvania) Times explained that the former cowboy first entered service with Company D, First Regiment of the Territorial Volunteer Infantry from the Oolagah Indian Territory; however, it was his later service with Company B, 33rd United States Volunteer Infantry that would earn him an unexpected recognition.

According to the Texas Military Forces Museum, the 33rd was organized at San Antonio and “recruited almost entirely from Texas.” The regiment deployed to the Philippines in 1899 to help quell an insurrection brewing on many of the islands in the region.

Documentation from the National Archives and Records Administration explains that the Philippine Insurrection unfolded when the U.S. gained territorial control of the Philippines on December 10, 1898 through the Treaty of Paris. Previously, the they had been under the colonial authority of Spain and “(m)any in the islands were not eager to see one colonial power replaced by another.”

Under the leadership of revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo, the islands soon erupted into struggles of armed resistance, which resulted in the United States sending troops to help suppress the guerrilla activity.

Gregory Statler penned an article for the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in which he states Company B, to which Epps was attached, was stationed near the Philippine town of Vigan when chaos erupted around 4:00 a.m. on December 4, 1899.

“Shots were being fired; men were yelling; and the sounds of battle were coming from the plaza …,” wrote Statler.

The revolutionaries or “insurrectos” as they became known, with their forces of 850 men, had begun their attack against the town held by a mere 84 soldiers from Company B.

During the battle that ensued, Epps and another soldier received orders to protect an area near a wall adjacent to a churchyard and, to prevent the insurrectos from crossing the wall. Although Company B was able to repulse the initial attack, some snipers remained behind to harass the American forces with intermittent gunfire from behind the wall.

“I want to go and get those fellows behind the wall,” Epps said, according to the January 28, 1932 edition of The Waterloo (Indiana) Press. His request was granted and Epps was accompanied in his mission by Private W.O. Thrafton of Texas.

The article also stated the pair cautiously approached the churchyard, at which point Epps crawled to the top of wall and yelled at the insurrectos in both Spanish and English, ordering them to throw down their rifles and place their hands in the air. Concurrently, Private Thrafton “let loose a typical Texas whoop,” giving the impression there were additional American troops at their call.

“(Epps) believed that his friend from Jamestown (who had died years earlier) was serving as his guardian angel,” said Schroeder. “Before he jumped up on the wall, he heard her voice tell him, ‘They can’t hit you.’”

Complying with the persuasive command, the insurrectos abandoned their weapons, resulting in Epps’ single-handed capture of 21 armed men.

Congress awarded Epps the Medal of Honor in 1902; however, he essentially disappeared from the public eye after his discharge from the Army, thus leaving the medal unclaimed. It was not until he ran across his former captain years later that he learned of the honor he had been bestowed.

“At first,” Schroeder explained, “he didn’t want a big fuss made about the award. But when he learned it included a $10 bonus, he decided to accept it because he thought he could use the money to start up a chicken ranch in Oklahoma.”

On August 13, 1926, a reluctant Epps stood at attention and received the long overdue medal.

“Epps actually received two medals,” said Schroeder. “The first was the medal that was in effect 24 years earlier and the second was the newly designed medal,” he added.

After the award ceremony, Epps, who had previously avoided any recognition, again faded into the background to live his life in seclusion. The veteran passed away on June 20, 1952 and was laid to rest at Greenhill Cemetery in Muskogee, Okla.

“It is truly a unique and interesting story,” said Schroeder, while discussing Epps. “To have a man who was so quiet and essentially friendless while growing up, to then go on to perform such a heroic task during his military service—it’s amazing.

“It is really a great example of humility, that even when in the receipt of the nation’s highest honor (for valor), Epps did not crave the spotlight; he simply wanted to move on with his life and become a chicken farmer.”

 

Tackling a Suicide Bomber Captain Florent Groberg Saved Lives and Picked Up the Medal of Honor

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H/T War History OnLine.

Calling Captain Florent Groberg a hero is an understatement. 

Left: Florent Groberg patrols the city streets of Asadabad, Afghanistan, on Feb. 9, 2010. Right: Florent Groberg received the Medal of Honor on November 12, 2015.

 

Soldiers in war are repeatedly faced with complex decision making under stressful and ambiguous circumstances – with life and death hanging in the balance. The situation is then profoundly complicated when serving and fighting amongst an active and innocent civilian population.

Captain Florent Groberg was serving as the Commander of a Personal Security Detachment tasked with protecting over 20 coalition and Afghan leaders when he faced such a decision. While escorting them to the Governor’s mansion, he noticed an Afghan male walking suspiciously towards them. Rather than shoot and risk killing an innocent, he rushed toward the approaching man. As Groberg neared him, he realized it was a combatant wearing a suicide vest. With little time to think and lives at risk, Groberg tackled the man. The suicide vest exploded, throwing Groberg 20 feet away. When he awoke, he had become the nation’s newest recipient of the Medal of Honor.

From France to America

Florent Groberg was born in 1983 Poissy, France to a French mother of Algerian descent. Groberg did not speak English until he was 11. Then, having gained an American stepfather, the family made their way to the US. There, he sharpened his English and grew up as a typical American boy. He went on to attend college at the University of Maryland and later joined the Army in 2008. After gaining his commission and working through subsequent training, Groberg joined the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.

He was sent to Afghanistan in 2009 where he served primarily in the Kunar Province. However, it was not that deployment where he earned his revered place in military history although he did serve with distinction. Returning home in 2010 he continued to serve with the 4th Division as a Company XO. Then in 2011, he was appointed Commander of the brigade Personal Security Detachment of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

By February 2012, he was back in Kunar Province, Afghanistan as part of Task Force Mountain Warrior. It was there he earned his distinction with an act of inexplicable gallantry that saved the lives of countless men. A meeting had been organized between coalition and Afghan leaders at the provincial governor’s compound in Asadabad. Groberg’s mission was to ensure everyone arrived safely and it was obviously a mission he took seriously.

Andrew Mahoney and Florent Groberg.

Sacrificing Everything for the Mission

On the morning of August 8, 2012, Florent Groberg was escorting 28 Afghan National Army and coalition leaders. Included were many military commanders so if the Taliban were to make a successful strike it would be a terrible blow to the coalition. Arriving at the governor’s compound required a risky foot patrol from a Forward Operating Base known as FOB Fiaz.

As the patrol came upon the compound, they encountered a known choke point due to a bridge along the path. Halting and taking stock of the situation, Groberg noticed irregularities. While the presence of Afghan civilians was a normal occurrence, he saw two motorcycles approaching the bridge. Remarkably, the riders dismounted and took off running in different directions.

Alerted, Groberg observed a single individual approaching the group while walking backward. Whether it was a civilian or combatant was a decision Groberg had to make quickly. As Groberg approached him the individual turned towards Groberg and he saw a large bulge under the man’s clothing. Groberg rushed toward the individual and upon reaching him, confirmed it was a suicide attack. Calling for help from another soldier, Groberg pushed the man away from the group. That is when Groberg paid a hefty price for his gallantry.

Groberg with President Obama, his parents Klara and Larry Groberg, and friend, Matthew Sanders, on September 11, 2012 at Walter Reed National Medical Center.

Stepping into Military History

As Groberg tackled the bomber, the suicide vest detonated throwing Grobert over 20 feet away and sending shrapnel into the closest members of the group. Unfortunately for them, there was a second suicide bomber in waiting. Fortunately, the blast caused the second suicide bomber to explode prematurely.

The blasts killed three US military personnel and a US Foreign Service Officer, but the bulk of the group of over 28 military leaders survived unscathed. Were it not for the courage and gallantry of Captain Florent Groberg it could have been a military disaster. Miraculously, Groberg survived. He suffered the loss of nearly 50 percent of his left calf muscle, nerve damage, and a traumatic brain injury.

After recovering for over two years at Walter Reed Medical Center, Groberg retired in 2015.

However, his story was not over. On November 12, 2015, Captain Florent Groberg received the nation’s highest military honor from the President of the United States. America was not the country of Groberg’s birth, but it was the country that he was determined to defend. In doing so, he earned a hallowed place in Military History and the eternal appreciation of 28 military leaders who entrusted their lives to him.

 

Warrior Frank Baldwin Received Two Medals of Honor One, for Fighting the Confederates & Another for Fighting the Indians

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H/T War History OnLine.

Major General Frank Baldwin is one of only nineteen men to be the recipient of two Medals Of Honor and one of even few recipients that was alive.

Major General Frank Baldwin went on to have a long a distinguished military career. 

Receiving the Medal of Honor for valor in combat puts one in the hallowed company of but a few thousand individuals to ever grace the earth.  But by the time you earn two Medals of Honor, you are one of 19 persons to have ever done so.

Perhaps it is because the Medal of Honor is quite often awarded posthumously, but receiving two and living to talk about it is a rare feat in the world.  Frank Baldwin would do just that in the 1800’s and live to become a General by World War 1.  His first would come during the American Civil War in an era where men lined up in pretty neat rows and took turns shooting at each other.

The next would be on the American frontier as the rapidly expanding America put itself in increasing conflict with the Native Americans pushed west.  And while each conflict is the subject of intense historical debate, the gallantry of a man on either side when the bullets start to fly is often the least controversial part of it all.

From Michigan to the Deep South

A native of Michigan, Frank Baldwin was born in Manchester Michigan in 1842.  As fate would have it, he came of age just as America was embarking on a costly Civil War that few could have predicted would take the toll on the nation that it did.  Over 600,000 would die in this conflict, but Frank Baldwin would not be one despite his conspicuous gallantry in the face of heavy enemy fire.

He initially joined the US Volunteer Army as a 2nd Lieutenant for the Michigan Horse Guards in 1861 before eventually making his way to the 19th Michigan Volunteers in 1862.

Confederate Artillery outside of Atlanta via commons.wikimedia.org
Confederate Artillery outside of Atlanta. By GoShow – CC BY-SA 3.0

By early 1863, he would find himself fighting in Tennessee against the Confederate Army.  In March, he would actually find himself a POW after being captured near Brentwood, TN by General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates.

However, a prisoner exchange in August allowed him to return to the fight.  Fighting his way with the Union Army through Chattanooga, he would eventually find himself under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman during his infamous march to Atlanta.

At Peachtree Creek, Georgia on July 12th, 1864 his actions as a Captain with Company D 19th Michigan Infantry would earn him his first Medal of Honor.  When his unit came under an intense Confederate attack, Captain Baldwin led a countercharge that would find him well ahead of his men.

It is reported in this citation that he singly entered the enemy’s lines due to being so far ahead and when it was all said and done, he brought back two fully armed Confederate officers as well as the guidon of a Georgia regiment as if just to rub it in that the Confederates could not stop him.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Peachtree Creek.

As the war ended, he returned to Detroit and was discharged as a Captain on June 10th, 1865.

One More for Good Measure

Like most good things in life, why to have one when you can have two seemed to be the mantra of Frank Baldwin.  After the war, he was commissioned in the 19th United States Infantry in 1866 and served in a variety of duty stations that took him everywhere from being a quartermaster to recruiting duty over the next eight years.

In 1874, he was assigned to join the Indian Territory expedition under the leadership of General Nelson A. Miles of the Fifth Infantry.  Setting out from Fort Dodge, Kansas, he participated in the campaigns against the warriors of the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapahoe, and Comanche, who were resisting American westward expansion.

A depiction of Frank Baldwin's charge at McClellan's Creek Texas via commons.wikipedia.org
A depiction of Frank Baldwin’s charge at McClellan’s Creek Texas

On November 8th, 1874 Baldwin’s unit was called into action when a group of hostile Native Americans had captured two local American women.  Rather than wait for reinforcements as one might think given the numerically superior Native American force, Baldwin led a charge with just two companies.

The attack was a success as it prevented the enemy from escaping and killing the captives.  For his actions that day at McClellan’s Creek, Texas, Frank Baldwin would receive his 2ndMedal of Honor.

He would go on to serve in a variety of campaigns against the Indian forces over the next 15 years to include engagements against the famed Native American Chief Sitting Bull.

His service would take him from Texas to Yellowstone before eventually being transferred to the Philippines for service during the Spanish-American War where for the first campaign against an enemy in his life, he didn’t receive a Medal of Honor.

A Quiet End as General

By 1906, Baldwin had earned the rank of General before being retired from active service after over 40 years of service.  He would otherwise live a quiet retirement before being called upon by his now home state of Colorado.  He would later be recalled to service as a Major General for the Colorado National Guard during World War 1.

While he didn’t deploy to Europe, the recall was more of an admiration for his extensive military experience and an earnest need for men of his character to mentor the next generation of warriors.

Frank Baldwin (right) and Buffalo Bill in 1891 via commons.wikimedia.org
Frank Baldwin (right) and Buffalo Bill in 1891

Major General Frank Baldwin died in 1923 in Denver, Colorado. With over half of his life spent toward military service, his contribution to his nation stands tall.  But when you consider he picked up two Medals of Honor along, history can’t help but take notice.

A Medal of Honor serves as a bookmark in history for all to take notice regardless of what one might think about the nature of the conflict.  For it tells us in modern times that a remarkable feat of human nature took place in the history of war.

Wounded, He Sacrificed Himself to Clear the way for his Platoon – James Stokes .VC

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H/T War History OnLine.

We need to know about and honor the bravery of our Allies in World War II.

Private James Stokes’ thirtieth birthday was February 6th, 1945. On the 1st of March, less than one month later, he came to the end of his life.

James Stokes was born in Glasgow, Scotland, near the Clyde River around which Scotland’s biggest city stretches. He was brought up in the area known as the Gorbals. This area has been notorious throughout the city’s history, and conditions there after World War One, when Stokes was a boy, would have been hard. But for the poor, busy, multicultural community in the Gorbals in the 1920s and 30s, there was also a sense of togetherness, dignity and mutual respect that can be easy to forget. Life was hard, but life was not bad, and there was still a powerful affection for home and community in Stokes as he advanced with his companions, mile after muddy mile, toward Germany.

Life was hard, but life was not bad, and there was still a powerful affection for home and community in Stokes as he advanced with his companions, mile after muddy mile, toward Germany.

The army had been progressing toward the Rhine for months. The conditions were poor, sustenance was limited, but by this time everyone was used to it, and nobody complained. It was the end of winter, and the Allies could feel the approaching victory.

John Stokes
John Stokes VC

James Stokes had landed in France on the 6th of June 1944, a private with the 2nd Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. The King’s Shropshires were part of the 3rd division of the United Kingdom army, and, like the rest of the division, they had taken heavy losses on the day of the landing. After consolidation, the advance had begun. Steadily the 3rd Division moved south and east, part of the long undulating line that made up the Allied front.

And they had fought. In the ruins of the City of Caen, at Manneville, at the crossing of the river Seine, they had fought. The losses had been heavy, but the advance continued. By the time they reached Kervenheim, there were no strangers to battle, loss, and hardship in James Stokes’ small Platoon.

In peacetime, the town of Kervenheim in the Rhineland would have barely been visible on a map, but in this, the last great Allied push in the Northern European theater, it became a strategic position of immense importance. The Wehrmacht was under direct orders from the Nazi High Command. No surrender of ground, no matter what the cost. This had made for slow and difficult progress against determined resistance, but progress they did, nonetheless. Belgium was behind them, and they were approaching the river Rhine.

When they reached the area outside Kervenheim, the Allied forces had already been massing for the assault for some days. The supply lines were stretched thin, and the many hundreds of tons of goods that were required daily at the front had to travel all the way from the port at Normandy to their destinations.

Supplies arrived, all the same, and when the Shropshires ended their march on the 28th of February, 1945, they found the huge vast of the Allied army’s infrastructure already in operation. The artillery was pounding the nearby town. There were columns of men and vehicles moving everywhere. There was digging of ditches and pitching of tents, the smells of fuel exhaust and of cooking food. They rested.

Infantry of 3rd Division climbing into Kangaroo personnel carriers prior to the attack on Kervenheim, 2 March 1945.

Infantry of 3rd Division climbing into Kangaroo personnel carriers before the attack on Kervenheim, 2 March 1945.

In the morning of the 1st of March, the attack began.

Private Stokes’ platoon moved in good order toward the outlying farms of the town, but their advance was soon halted by a cacophony of machine gun and rifle fire from a building which loomed out of the smoke in front of them. Men of the Platoon fell, silent in death or crying out in pain. The order rang out through the racket and the Platoon sought cover. The storm of bullets continued over their heads.

Some men, including Stokes, returned an ineffective volley through the haze. The Platoon commander was having a shouted conversation with his lieutenant, who was stabbing at a crumpled, filthy map with one black fingernail. Without warning an explosion rocked the ground only yards away, and they both cringed instinctively, grabbing at their helmets.

Stokes took a breath and assessed the situation. The building was not far ahead, a solid, two storied structure of grey stone. Its windows were gone, and the doorway showed black behind the ruins of a kitchen garden. He watched for a moment, noting which windows the irregular flashes of rifle fire came from, and where more regular bursts indicated the position of at least one machine gun.

Further away and to the left he could see another smaller building, and further still, their objective: a larger group of buildings hard to make out at this distance. He thought he could see small figures there, scurrying to prepare for the onslaught.

Allied forces massing near Kervenheim, March 1945.
Allied forces massing near Kervenheim, March 1945.

He looked at his commanding officer, who now began to give orders to reform the platoon. In the eyes of the men around him, he could see what would happen next. The platoon would advance into the teeth of the suppressing fire, relying on force of numbers to cross the ground and enter the building.

Many would be lost in the advance, and then the building would be taken in a costly, vicious hand-to-hand fight. They might take the first building, and maybe even the second in this way, but the final objective would be near impossible to reach. His platoon would probably clear the way for another unit, but it would mean the end of the war for most of them.

The Platoon Commander swore in disbelief as, from the corner of his eye, he saw one of his men leap from cover and begin to zig-zag toward the occupied building ahead of them. He cried out a question – “Stokes!” came the reply. “It’s Jim Stokes!”

Lance Corporal R. Hearn and Private F. Slater (nearest camera) of the 1st Royal Norfolk Regiment, 3rd Division, aim their weapons in the ruins of Kervenheim, 3 March 1945. Corporal Hearn is using a captured German MP40 'Schmeisser' submachine gun.

Lance Corporal R. Hearn and Private F. Slater (nearest camera) of the 1st Royal Norfolk Regiment, 3rd Division, aim their weapons in the ruins of Kervenheim, 3 March 1945. Corporal Hearn is using a captured German MP40 ‘Schmeisser’ submachine gun.

So it was. The little Scotsman was crouched over as he dashed away from his Platoon. He held his Enfield at his side, but he was firing as he ran. The rifle held a ten round magazine, and the commander counted in mingled horror and admiration as he saw Stokes empty the magazine, timing his shots so that he fired off the tenth round right through the doorway before crouching down beside the black opening. He saw Stokes change his magazine with incredible swiftness. There was the glint of steel as the Private drew his fighting knife from his belt. Then he disappeared inside.

The Shropshires watched from their covered positions. The hail of bullets from the farm building faltered, then stopped altogether. There was a long, breathless moment of relative silence. Then a figure appeared in the dark doorway, then another, and another. A small knot of the enemy stumbled from the building, their helmets gone and their hands in the air. Behind them, wielding his bayonet came Stokes, and he ran, driving his prisoners toward the Shropshires’ position.

The platoon commander gave the order to advance, and the King’s Shropshires poured forward and gathered around Stokes, securing the prisoners and slapping the young man on the back. He was bleeding from an ugly cut on his neck, and his jacket was torn. The Platoon Commander glanced at the wound and clapped Stokes on the shoulder.

“That was well done, lad!” he said. “Now, off to the medic post with you and get that seen to. You’ve done enough for today.”

Around them, the Platoon was already advancing toward the second building.

“I’ll be alright, sir,” said Stokes, turning away. His eyes were smoldering as he gazed toward the second building.

The Commander took a breath to protest, but Stokes was moving, eyes fixed on his next target. The Private began to gather speed, and all at once the roar of gunfire was all around the commander. His men dived for cover and began to return fire, but Stokes kept running.

Men of the 1st Royal Norfolks, 3rd Division, clearing enemy resistance in Kervenheim, Germany, 3 March 1945.

Men of the 1st Royal Norfolks, 3rd Division, clearing enemy resistance in Kervenheim, Germany, 3 March 1945.

“He’s off again!” someone shouted.

Halfway to the house, Stokes fell. All around him, bullets threw up clods of earth where they struck the ground. The shooting from the occupied house was so intense that the Platoon Commander could barely see through the haze of smoke, bullets and flying mud. He drew a breath to order the advance, but then choked back his cry as Stokes leaped up again.

The Shropshires watched in disbelief as Private Stokes picked up his rifle and continued his charge. Again, he disappeared inside the building. Again, the thunder of suppressing fire faltered and stopped, and again Stokes reappeared, preceded by a small group of stumbling, terrified prisoners.

The fortified group of buildings that made up the Platoon’s objective could now clearly be seen. The prisoners were secured, and the commander moved toward Stokes, intending to send him back away from the line, but the private was now dashing across the sixty yards of ground toward the main objective. Behind him, the Shropshires let out a roar as they charged.

James Stokes fell twenty yards from his objective and did not get up again. As his unit surged around him toward their victory he raised his hand in farewell.

“Goodbye, lads,” He shouted in a loud voice. “Goodbye!”

It was found that he had been wounded eight times in the upper part of the body and he is buried at the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, near Kleve.

His magnificent courage, devotion to duty, and splendid example inspired all around him, and ensured the success of the attack at a critical moment; moreover, his self-sacrifice saved his Platoon and Company heavy casualties and he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

 

Cornfield “Bomber” – The F-106 Delta Dart that Landed Itself After Pilot Ejected

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H/T War History OnLine.

This sounds like a story from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

The Convair F-106 Delta Dart is a delta wing interceptor aircraft, not a medium range bomber. Yet when a unique event involving this airplane occurred in the frozen plains of Montana wheat country, someone coined the phrase, “The Cornfield Bomber,” and the name stuck.

A Cold War interceptor often called, “The Six,” this single engine jet propelled fighter could outperform Soviet intercontinental bombers. It was used extensively by the United States Air Force from the 1960’s well into the ‘80’s. The incident in question happened on February 2, 1970, in the area of the Louis and Clark Trail-a series of highways which roughly follow the track of the famed explorers during their journey from Saint Louis, Missouri to the Pacific Ocean. In other words: out in the middle of nowhere.

A flight of four Delta Darts took off on a training mission that day from Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana. One pilot had trouble and returned to base while another split off to become the “opponent” in the exercise. The two remaining aircraft were piloted by an instructor and then Lt. Gary Foust. They quickly ascended to 40,000 feet but found the opponent approaching from below.

The objective was for one pilot to gain the advantage over the other and establish an acceptable firing position. The opponent came at Foust at Mach 1.9, inviting the chase. The two aircraft went into a vertical scissors maneuver during which Foust found he was losing control of the plane.

Track of Plane in Snow
Cornfield Bomber Aerial View

 

His Delta Dart spun into a left-hand flat spin, rotating on an unseen axis and was falling fast from 35,000 feet. Foust and his plane descended rapidly as he struggled for control using all the techniques he could manage. The instructor radioed to deploy the drag chute, which he did, but the spinning aircraft just wrapped the lines around its tail. Finally, at 8,000 feet, Foust ejected from the aircraft and parachuted to Earth. He landed in the Bear Paw Mountains, but his airplane had another plan.

Going into a nose dive after the ejection, the Delta Dart recovered from the spin and flew, unmanned, toward the horizon. A theory exists that the explosion from the ejection seat somehow shocked the plane out of the spin. Regardless, traveling at a straight and level trajectory. The “Six” pointed its nose away from the mountains and glided off into the distance.

Side View with Open Canopy
Cornfield Bomber Landed Side View

Several miles later, the plane landed in a wheat field outside Big Sandy, Montana. Snow was on the ground and likely cushioned the big jet as it skated through piles of rock, fences, and came to a rest far from any dwelling or road. The engine was still running and the jet did not lose fire for almost two hours. There was no crash. There was no fire. It just slid to a stop.

A law enforcement officer arrived on the scene after farmers reported a plane going down and radioed back to his department. No, they didn’t need the fire department and it appeared to be in one piece. His request was to find out how to turn off the engine. No such information was readily available, so he was advised to simply watch it until the military arrived.

Fuselage Damage
Cornfield Bomber Belly

Occasionally the heat buildup from the jet engine would melt the snow and ground beneath it. With this contact with the ground, the small amount of thrust available surged the aircraft forward, further spooking onlookers and adding to the mystery of the strange landing.

After being retrieved by citizens from the snowy mountains on a snowmobile, Lt. Foust learned his plane had landed itself. Personnel from Malmstrom assessed the situation and determined the aircraft was salvageable. In fact, it was sent to McClellan AFB for repairs and, after a few months, returned to service. Foust was sent to Tyndall AFB in 1979 for IWS training.

He didn’t know it, but the officer in charge made sure he was assigned to fly tail number 58-0787-the plane that landed itself after Foust had ejected. By then reaching the rank of Major, he was happy to fly it again and learn it had survived and served well. In 1986, the aircraft was taken to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio and is on display there with over 360 other aircraft.

 

A 7 Inch Yorkie Saved 250 US Soldiers three days of digging and kept 40 US Planes Operational During WWII

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H/T War History OnLine.

The story of Smoky is amazing to say the least.

 

Dogs have been a part of warfare since the beginning of history. What people usually envisage is a German Shepherd or some other trusty and above all sizeable canine companion – probably not a 4 pound (1.8 kg) female Yorkshire terrier!

The terrier, Smoky, indeed proved that size is not everything and that even the smallest of creatures can be brave. Smoky was first found in an abandoned foxhole in February 1944, in a jungle in New Guinea. Soon afterward she was purchased by Corporal Bill Wynne, for two Australian dollars.

Wynne became very attached to Smoky, allowing her to sleep in his tent and sharing his food with her. As she was not officially a “war dog” Smoky could not receive veterinary medicine nor a balanced diet suitable for the jungle climate.

Nevertheless, the dog never fell ill, nor was she underfed. Smoky soon became an irreplaceable part of the 5th Air Force, 26th Photo Recon Squadron, flying up to 12 air/sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions. During the flights she usually ran around the PBY Catalina flying boat’s fuselage, dangling below the waist gunners feet.

PBY riding at sea anchor.

Smoky took part in 12 combat missions, receiving eight battle stars. She survived more than 150 Japanese bombing raids and even a typhoon which ravaged the coast of Okinawa.

Becoming more and more popular among the troops, Smoky learned numerous tricks and was even parachuted from 30 feet (9.1 m) out of a tree. The amusement that the tiny dog provided to the soldiers was priceless, for they were always in desperate need to keep their minds off the horrors of war.

In 1944 she was named the Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area by the Yank Down Under Magazine, all due to her willingness to learn various tricks and participate in gags, often performing for wounded soldiers.

Her owner, Bill Wynne credited her for saving his life while they were on a transport ship when she warned him of incoming shells. Unfortunately, the other eight men who were standing next to Wynne were not so lucky, as they were blown away, while Smoky’s owner managed to duck just in time.

Perhaps her most significant accomplishment was running a telegraph wire through a 70-foot-long (21m) pipe that was 8 inches (200 mm) in diameter while under heavy bombardment. She was small enough to fit through the pipe, and her efforts proved to be crucial for winning the 1944 Luzon campaign in the Philippines.

P-47D with his maintenance team after returning from a combat mission over Luzon.

Wynne himself described in detail Smoky’s mission in a TV interview for NBC after the war:

I tied a string (tied to the wire) to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert . . . (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. “Come, Smoky,” I said sharply, and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say “what’s holding us up there?” The string loosened from the snag and she came on again. By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound . . . at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes.

Her act of courage resulted in relieving 250 ground crewmen from risking their lives, for the work she had done in a matter of minutes would have taken three days of digging under daily enemy bombing attacks. The quick resolution of the telegraph wire malfunction kept 40 United States fighters and reconnaissance planes operational in a crucial moment.

After the war, Smoky became a pioneer in dog-therapy in veteran hospitals and had a career in Hollywood and television, presenting her performing skills.

In 1957, after a long and fulfilled life, Smoky the Yorkshire terrier died. Nearly 50 years later in 2005, she was commemorated. A monument was erected in her honor depicting the terrier sitting in a GI helmet. It was dedicated to:

“Smoky, the Yorkie Doodle Dandy, and the Dogs of All Wars.” 

Already Wounded from his Gallant Action Cpl Richard Bush Hugged a Grenade On Okinawa to Save His Marines

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Master Gunnery Sargent Richard E.Bush  December 23, 1924-June 7, 2004 

 

For many Marines, the cries for “Doc” on the battlefield signal the end of their time in combat. If the doc can patch them up and send them back into the battle, he will. But in most cases, it is time to extract the Marine from the battlefield and send them to the rear with the gear.

Such was seemingly the case for Marine Corporal Richard Bush during the Battle of Okinawa. Leading his Marines through the rocky ridges of Mount Yaedake, Bush braved a heavy barrage of artillery fire and a relentless enemy determined to pay for every square inch of their homeland with blood. Leading from the front, his unit was the first to break through the enemy’s inner defenses, resulting in severe wounds to Bush.

Having been evacuated and under medical care, Bush was resting with others under cover of protecting rocks when an enemy grenade fell among the Marines and Corpsmen. Despite his injured and weary state, Corporal Bush pulled the grenade to his body ready to make one last sacrifice for his Marines and country. The grenade exploded causing devastating injuries to Bush. With those around him safe, Bush had earned himself the Medal of Honor for this action. Most importantly he somehow survived his gallant deed and lived a long and fruitful life.

From the Farm to the Pacific

Richard E. Bush was born just before Christmas in 1924 Glasgow, Kentucky. Like many men of the area and time, agricultural needs took precedent over his education. Working with his father on a tobacco farm as a tractor driver, Bush had only completed one year of high school by the time his nation came calling. In September 1942, Bush enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve and was sent to Camp Elliott, California to await his fate in the Pacific.

Bush later joined the famed Marine Corps Raider unit. The Raiders were initially intended to be deployed for special warfare operations but were primarily used as regular infantry during the many island assaults needed in the Pacific Theatre. By April 1945, Bush was serving as a squad leader with 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 6th Marine Division. For Bush, it meant a rendezvous with military history during the brutal assault on Okinawa.

The Battle of Okinawa pitted hundreds of thousands of American troops against over 100,000 Japanese soldiers and conscripts. Just 340 miles from the Japanese mainland it was considered hallowed Japanese territory. Its defenders understood the importance of the battle and were determined to make the Allies pay a hefty price. It took 82 days of hard fighting to secure the island and resulted in the horror of thousands of Japanese civilians committing suicide to avoid being captured by the allies.

Richard E. Bush

The Battle for Mount Yaedake

On April 1, 1945, hundreds of thousands of American troops hit the beaches of Okinawa and began to push inland. The fighting was as dense and fierce as the Americans had expected on land, air, and sea. Offshore, American ships were subjected to hundreds of sorties from Japanese kamikaze aircraft. With devastating effect, the Japanese had turned their once-prized aircraft into missiles of destruction and death. Inland, the Marines were finding the rocky terrain of Okinawa a tough fight.

By April 16, 1945, Bush and the Marines of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines were pushing up against an enemy stronghold centered on Mount Yaedake. Rimmed with sharp rocky ridges, the terrain was a strong, natural defense. The Japanese had trained their guns and artillery on the American approach, and the mountainside lit up with fire from their massive bombardment. Bush could be seen leading his squad from the front.

With confidence and serving as an inspiration to his Marines, Bush led them over the face of the mountain, and they were able to sweep the enemy of the ridge. Despite the Japanese being heavily entrenched, Bush continued to press the assault and was successful at dislodging the determined enemy. His unit was the first to break through the inner defenses of Mount Yaedake and paid a heavy price for their achievement. During the final assault, Bush was severely wounded and required evacuation. Having already displayed gallantry worthy of commendation, he was withdrawn to the cover of a rocky precipice to receive emergency aid.

Group of marines on a hillside.

One Last Act of Gallantry

Despite having been withdrawn from the front, every square inch of Okinawa was still very much a dangerous place to be. As Bush was being treated, a Japanese grenade rolled down the hill and came to rest next to the Marines and Corpsmen. Despite being attended to, Bush was cognizant enough to analyze the situation quickly. Either he would have to act immediately, or the already wounded Marines all around him would be killed. With just seconds to decide, Bush corralled the grenade and drew it to his body while bracing himself for the worst.

The grenade exploded, sending hot metal shrapnel through his body. When the Marines and Corpsman looked up to see what had taken place, they knew they had seen one of the bravest acts of the war. Fortunately, due to the skill of the Corpsman and the indomitable spirit of Corporal Bush, he survived. He lost several fingers along with his vision in one eye, but Bush emerged having earned the nation’s highest military honor.

He received his Medal of Honor in October 1945 from President Harry S. Truman. After the war, he continued to serve his fellow veterans by working as a counselor with the Veterans Administration. Despite his willingness to invite death that April day in 1945, Bush lived to the ripe old age of 79 before passing away in 2004. One of the few men to jump on a grenade and live to talk about it, Bush had rightfully earned his place in military history.

 

Korea: Marine Manned Machinegun Alone – Found Dead Next Morning With Over 200 Dead Enemies Around Him

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Corporal Joseph Vittori August 1, 1929-September 16, 1951.

The history of war is comprised of many occupational specialties necessary for military victory.  Within the culture of Military Service, one would often find rivalries associated with these roles.  For the Marine Corps, which is an organization centered around the infantry, this is most certainly the case.

Modern Marines will refer to infantry as Grunts and non-infantry types as POGs, or Persons other than Grunts.  The POGs are reported not to be very fond of that term while Grunts are reported as caring very little about what the others think.  Past eras – such as Vietnam – would demonstrate this rivalry as well where infantry were still known as Grunts, but those not on the front lines.

Those who had no front line experience were lovingly referred to as REMFs. RE stands for Rear Echelon – I’ll leave the rest of that acronym to the reader’s imagination. It may not quite be publishable, but it’s no less part of the nuance of military history for that.

Soldiers from the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division in action near the Ch'ongch'on River, 20 November 1950.

Soldiers from the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division in action near the Ch’ongch’on River, 20 November 1950.

For one Infantry Marine in Korea, a combat wound would place him in the rear with the equipment as a property Sergeant.  Within a week, he was begging to be sent back to his unit fighting in the hills of Korea where he would eventually fall in combat and be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Corporal Joseph Vittori

Born in the small Massachusetts town of Beverly in 1929, Joseph Vittori would grow up as a teenager watching the Marines battle the Japanese in the Pacific.  Upon graduating High School in 1946, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island to begin what would be a legendary career in the Marines.  However, this legendary career would get off to a somewhat mundane start.

When a new Marine joins the fleet in modern times, they are often referred to as a “boot,” in reference to their having just left boot camp.  Life can be hard as a boot, but it must have been spectacularly difficult for a new Marine in 1946 when the Corps was comprised of battle-hardened veterans who had fought their way from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima.

Joseph Vittori, posthumous Medal of Honor recipient.

Joseph Vittori, posthumous Medal of Honor recipient.

Upon becoming a Marine, Vittori would serve in a variety of roles from 1946 to 1948 including time at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, sea duty aboard the USS Portsmouth, and the Philidelphia Navy Yard before he was eventually transferred to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In 1949, Vittori was discharged after three years of service, and in these non-combat years, he returned home to Beverly where he would work as a plasterer and bricklayer. Then war broke out in Korea in June of 1950.  He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in September of 1950 for what he knew would mean a combat deployment to Korea.

The Marine, who had been too young for World War 2, no doubt spent his active duty time listening to the stories of that war from combat veterans. Well, he was about to get his chance to jump into the fray.  After a period of training, he landed in Korea to join Company F, 2nd Battalion First Marines.

Fighting for Hill 749

U.S. Marines move out over rugged mountain terrain while closing with hostile North Korean forces.

U.S. Marines move out over rugged mountain terrain while closing with hostile North Korean forces.

Once in Korea, he would quickly find himself immersed in the back and forth struggle between the two Koreas.  The South was bolstered by American and UN forces while the North would be aided by hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops.  Vittori was wounded in June of 1951 near Yanggu and spent time in a field hospital where he was promoted to Corporal.

Once he recovered, he was assigned to be a property sergeant, which was a hard role for this Grunt to accept.  Within a week, he was pleading to be sent back to his unit fighting it out in the hills of Korea so that he could serve alongside his friends.

His request was granted, and while it would prove a fatal decision for him, the Marines he likely saved with his heroic actions would have much reason to be thankful.  In September of 1951, during the Battle of the Punchbowl, Company F was given the task of assaulting up Hill 749.

Coming head-on towards the fortified positions, the Marines assaulted and made great progress until they were hit by a counter-attack that pushed them back.  During the chaotic attempt to consolidate their positions, Corporal Joseph Vittori gathered up two other volunteers and charged the counterattacking North Koreans.  In what would become a fierce hand-to-hand struggle, Vittori overwhelmed the enemy giving his company time to prepare for more attacks.

Marine Helo delivers supplies during the Battle of the Punchbowl via commons.wikimedia.org

Marine Helicopter delivers supplies during the Battle of the Punchbowl.

The next phase of his Medal of Honor action that day would see him volunteering to defend a machine gun position on the northern point of the line that was almost entirely isolated from the rest of the unit.  When a 100-yard breach was made in the American lines due to dead or wounded, Vittori would find himself running from flank to flank firing upon the enemy from this position during the North Korean night attack.

In the pitch black, Vittori held off the enemy and manned the machinegun alone after the gunner was killed.  The enemy had approached within 15 feet of Vittori’s position, but he held until mortally wounded by machine gun and small arms fire.

The Morning After

Vittori’s gallant one man stand allowed the Americans to hold the lines and deny the enemy physical occupation of the ground.  His Medal of Honor citation would go on to say that he prevented the entire battalion position from collapsing.

When Vittori was found the next morning, there were over 200 dead enemy bodies strewn out in front of his position.  And while he can’t be credited with all 200 himself, it is a safe bet that a high percentage of those dead North Koreans wished Corporal Joseph Vittori would have stayed a POG, REMF, or whatever they might have called those who spend the war in the rear with the gear.

US Marines in Korean War via commons.wikimedia.org

US Marines in Korean War.

All positions are of value in warfare and any who wear the uniform serve with honor and respect.  However, it would seem that for some men the infantry is a calling and despite the high probability of death in a fierce struggle, they truly belong on the front lines rather than inventorying property in the rear.

Joseph Vittori’s Medal of Honor was presented to his parents in 1952 by President Harry Truman as a grateful nation, Marine Corps, and the men of Company F 2nd Battalion 1stMarines were truly thankful for his sacrifice.

 

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