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.


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.

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.

Resting in foreign soil

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

My uncle P.F.C.Frank L.Walters is one of thousands of Americans resting in foreign soil.

His resting place is in the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten,Holland.


The American Battle Monuments Commission.

For most of history, soldiers killed on the field of battle were either abandoned there or given a hasty mass burial. It was only in the 19th century that dignity for the rank and file fallen was recognized as an important issue. One particular example of this trend is Arlington National Cemetery, built on the grounds of General Robert E. Lee’s residence as an unofficial punishment for him joining the Confederacy.

Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery (not managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission)

During the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States became the first country in the world to pass legislation according to which soldiers dying in foreign lands had to be returned to the care of their next of kin if possible. This state of affairs served the country until World War I. However, the large number of losses in Europe scattered over a very wide area rendered the policy impossible to follow in practice. The Department of War established eight cemeteries to consolidate and hold close to 31,000 fallen servicemen, the sites chosen after discussions with the host countries and with regard to such safety and health issues as the effect of many buried people on nearby water sources. It was also during this period that the fundamental look of American military headstones was decided: a plain white cross or David’s Star. For unidentified soldiers, a certain percentage of their graves was given a David’s Star to express the general presence of Jews among them, a practice that was not carried over to World War II.

Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France for U.S. soldier who fell in the First World War

The American Battlefield Monuments Commission (ABMC) was established in 1923 with the original mission of constructing memorials to honor the American Expeditionary Forces. Soon after, it was given the task of landscaping the eight European cemeteries and building non-sectarian chapels at each. The management of these burial grounds, along with the responsibility of designing, building and operating similar cemeteries in the future, was transferred to the Commission in 1934. During the design of the cemeteries and the exact shapes of the headstones, Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious experts were consulted. Due to Islam’s strict rules on the use of holy symbols, the third group eventually decided not to ask for a specific headstone shape, accepting the “standard” cross instead. There are also many Jewish soldiers who lie under a cross: fearing maltreatment by the Nazis if they were ever captured, they decided not to identify themselves as Jews in their official papers and on their dogtags.

A Jewish private’s headstone at the Netherlands American Cemetery

World War II, fought on a larger scale than any conflict in human history before, saw the establishment of hundreds of temporary burial grounds for American personnel around the world as well as uncountable makeshift gravesites in remote locations. After the war, fourteen of these sites were selected to serve as permanent cemeteries and the bodies from the others were transported to them. Similarly to the First World War cemeteries, these burial sites stand on ground provided by the host countries free of charge.

Graves at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, with the English Channel in the background

During the relocation of bodies to permanent cemeteries, next of kin were contacted and given a year to decide whether they wanted their relative to be laid to rest abroad or repatriated at the government’s expense and given over to their care in a local graveyard. Those interred overseas rest under a pristine marble headstone with their name, rank, unit, home state and date of death carved on it. Unidentified soldiers are marked with the words “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God” in World War I cemeteries; headstones in World War II ones have “American Soldier” replaced by “Comrade in Arms.” The headstones of those who have received the United States’ highest military award also bear a star and the words “Medal of Honor.” Other than this, no distinction is made in regard to rank, creed or ethnicity.

The headstone of an unknown soldier at the Luxembourg American Cemetery

There is one single exception to the above, born of necessity. After his death in 1945 General George S. Patton was buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery. In accordance with the principles of ABMC’s cemetery layout principles, he was laid to rest at the next available spot, which happened to be at the site’s farthest corner from the entrance. The throng of visitors to his grave, however, had trampled a path, completely destroying the lawn along the shortest route. In order to protect the ground, Patton was reburied at a special site of honor, in front of and facing the other graves, and not coincidentally closer to the entrance.

Patton’s irregularly place headstone at the Luxembourg American Cemetery

Generally, only U.S. soldiers are buried at AMBC cemeteries, with a few exceptions. Civilian technicians, Red Cross workers and entertainers serving the military could also be buried there if they died overseas during the war. Also, a special agreement allows members of the Philippine Army to be buried at the Manila American Cemetery if they fought alongside U.S. troops during the war.

Pope Francis visiting the American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy in 2017

The cemeteries are open every day of the year, except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, managed by U.S. citizen employees of the AMBC and with daily maintenance task performed by local workers. A representative of the AMBC is always present during opening hours and is prepared to take visitors to a relative’s grave. If notified in advance, a small memorial ceremony is performed during such a family visit.

President Woodrow Wilson and his wife laying a wreath at the Suresnes American Cemetery in France in 1919

Today, the America Battlefield Monuments Commission operates 26 cemeteries and 29 additional memorials, monuments and markers worldwide. In addition to World War I and World War II cemeteries, there is also a Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines where non-World War Two dead are also buried, as well as a cemetery in Panama and one in Mexico City: both predate the ABMC and are mainly for American soldiers who died during the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American Wars. More than 218,000 American soldiers are at their final rest far from home but cared for, honored and remembered by their countrymen.

You can learn more about how the soldiers of the world wars are honored abroad, on our historical tours, several of which involve visits to overseas American military cemeteries.


The Pals Battalions: Comradeship and Tragedy in the First World War

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H/T War History OnLine.

This story gives us some insight to our English brethren’s comradeship during World War I.


The 10th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, known as the ‘Stockbrokers’ Battalion’, smiling as they march to the trenches.

Few stories better exemplify the spirit of the First World War than that of the Pals battalions. These British units embodied comradeship, courage, unwavering national loyalty in the face of devastating loss and the frantic improvisation of governments faced with the new phenomenon of industrialised war.

What Were the Pals Battalions?

The Pals battalions were units recruited in Britain during the early months of the First World War. First emerging in late August 1914, they were usually recruited from a single local community. Most became infantry battalions.

The Pals tapped into the patriotic spirit stirred by the outbreak of war. Organised by mayors, Members of Parliament and other local leaders, with permission from the War Office, these battalions were made up of volunteers eager to fight for king and country.

They also tapped into community spirit. Because they were locally organised and recruited, they allowed men to join up alongside friends, neighbours and relatives. Brothers and lifelong friends went to war together, buoyed up by each others’ presence. It was a new take on the long tradition of local volunteer regiments, and one that answered a specific problem of the day – how to quickly recruit a large army.

A 1915 recruitment poster for 2nd City of London Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.
A 1915 recruitment poster for 2nd City of London Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.

The Problem of Recruitment

On 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany, and the next day Field Marshal Lord Kitchener was persuaded to become Secretary of State for War. He found himself in charge of an army woefully short of the numbers needed to fight. British forces had long been recruited to defend colonial territories and provide home defence if required. Even as the possibility of European war had loomed ever closer, there had not been enough political will to recruit a large land army, but this was what Kitchener now needed.

The total size of the British army, including reserves, was around 733,000 men. Kitchener gained permission to recruit an initial wave of 500,000 more but lacked a suitable mechanism to do this. He didn’t want to draw them from the existing Territorial Force County Associations, as these might be needed for home defence, and regular recruitment methods could not handle the sudden huge growth.

There could be no delays. The war had already begun, and a way was needed to recruit hundreds of thousands of soldiers fast.

22 August 1914: Men of "A" Company of the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), resting in the town square at Mons.
22 August 1914: Men of “A” Company of the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), resting in the town square at Mons.

The Origin of an Idea

On 19 August, the Director of Recruiting, Major-General Sir Henry Rawlinson, suggested that the army recruit a battalion of employees from the City of London, assuring them that they would serve alongside their friends. It was a natural extension of the community military tradition embodied in the County Associations, and a way to tap into the large population of the capital. While the City, Britain’s financial district, played a large role in the national economy, the largely male workforce there was not seen as critical to the war effort.

In just over a week, the “Stockbrokers’ Battalion” drew 1,600 volunteers.

Men of the 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) marching to the trenches, St Pol (Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise), France, November 1916. © IWM (Q 1607).
Men of the 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) marching to the trenches, St Pol (Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise), France, November 1916. © IWM (Q 1607).

It was when the idea spread to the northern industrial cities that it really took off. Lord Derby got permission from Kitchener to repeat the exercise in Liverpool, where he recruited enough volunteers in five days to fill three battalions. Manchester raised four battalions in two weeks. In Scotland, the Glasgow Corporation Tramways Department gathered a list of 1,100 volunteers in a single night.

Every patriotic young man wanted to join the Pals.

The Success of the Pals

The iconic, much-imitated 1914 Lord Kitchener Wants You poster.
The iconic, much-imitated 1914 Lord Kitchener Wants You poster.

Kitchener had a phenomenon on his hands, and he made the most of it. By the end of September, fifty battalions had been formed or were in the process of being formed in this way. They had taken the strain off the regular army’s recruitment procedures.

Now Kitchener used them to lessen the financial strain as well. Word went out that local battalions would only be authorised if their communities bore the cost of supporting them until the army was ready to take over. Locals would house, feed and clothe the new recruits while the establishment geared itself up to integrate them into the armed forces.

As a result, the Pals had a smoother transition into military life than most. They joined their units and started preparing themselves for war while still living at home. When they finally marched away they did so in the company of people they knew, and who they had got to know better through the raising of the battalions.

145 service and 70 local battalions were raised in this way. The Pals allowed Britain to mobilise for war.

Kitchener with General Birdwood at Anzac, November 1915.
Kitchener with General Birdwood at Anzac, November 1915.

The Decline of the Pals

Integration into the army saw the Pals start to lose their local flavour. Officers were brought in from elsewhere in the army establishment. Men unfit for duty were sent home. Some men deserted or died of accident or illness before they reached the front, and their places were filled not by local lads but by recruits brought in by conventional means.

Still, these units retained their community atmosphere until war took its toll. It was in the nature of the First World War that losses from particular battalions were often huge. Entire units could be almost wiped out by a successful artillery barrage or an unsuccessful assault across no man’s land.

British casualties at the Somme
British casualties at the Somme.

Whether losses came gradually or in sudden, dramatic moments, they whittled away at the groups that had volunteered together. Replacements were not recruited in the same way as the original battalions but came from all over the country. Once conscription took over as the main source of recruits, replacements were no longer even volunteers. The comradely local spirit of the Pals was lost.

Community Tragedies

These losses affected not only the units but their communities back home. Families lost all their male members. Whole neighbourhoods lost most of their young men in a single day, as volunteer battalions took heavy losses at battles such as Ypres and the Somme.

The Pals battalions began in a communal spirit of patriotism and camaraderie. They left behind communities saturated with loss.

Eugene Bullard, the black swallow of death

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

R.I.P. Eugene Bullard October 9, 1895 – October 12, 1961.

  The first African American pilot is largely forgotten today.

The name of Eugene Bullard (1895-1961) is unfamiliar even to most history buffs today, just as it was to most of his American contemporaries after World War II. Nevertheless, he was not only a veteran of both world wars, but also the first African-American combat pilot ever.

Eugene Bullard, the first African-American combat pilot

Bullard was born to William Bullard, a black man whose ancestors were Caribbean slaves who fled and took refuge with the Creek Indians, and Josephine Thomas, a Creek woman. After he saw his father almost get lynched by a mob, Bullard ran away from home at the age of 11 and wandered around Georgia for five years. While doing odd jobs, he fell in with the Stanley clan, a group of English gypsies roaming the same state. They gave him the idea that black people could live in Europe without constantly facing racism. At the age of 16, Bullard stowed away on a German ship headed for Europe, ending up in Scotland.

Working with a vaudevillian troupe and as a prize fighter, Bullard traveled down to England and crossed the Channel to France, where he found a new home, later writing “it seemed to me that French democracy influenced the minds of both black and white Americans there and helped us all act like brothers.”

A Spad S.VII, similar to the one flown by Bullard

The next year the Great War broke out and France was attacked by Germany. Bullard enlisted in the Foreign Legion, from where he was later transferred to the crack 170th French Infantry Regiment, also called “the swallows of death,” where he earned his own nickname: “the black swallow of death.” He fought in several battles including at the Somme and Verdun, where he received a serious wound in March 1916 while acting as a messenger between officers.

Bullard in his French Foreign Legion uniform

While recovering, he decided to join the French Air Service. According to some sources, he bet a friend $ 2,000 that he would be accepted despite being black. Whether the story is true or not, he joined the Aéronautique Militaire. At first, he was trained as a gunner but he then heard of the Lafayette Escadrille, the squadron of American volunteers serving in the French military, which inspired him to earn a pilot’s qualification instead. Though the escadrille proper no longer accepted volunteers, he still joined the ranks of the Lafayette Flying Corps, the collective group of Americans flying for various French air units.

Bullard in front of a training plane at the French Air Service

Bullard flew a total of 20 missions and made a name as a trusted and competent pilot. His Spad S.VII C1 plane carried his personal insignia: a heart with a dagger through it and the caption Tout le Sang qui coule est rouge! (“All blood runs red!”). He had a pet rhesus monkey named Jimmy, whom, according to some sources, he often took with himself on missions.

Bullard with Jimmy the monkey in front of a Nieuport.
The duck on the plane is the squadron insignia.

When the U.S. entered the war, Bullard volunteered for the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force so he could fight alongside the men of his country of birth. The experienced pilot was rejected: ostensibly because he wasn’t a commissioned officer, but in fact because of the racial prejudices that were running rampant in the army at the time. Soon after his request, he was also removed from the French Air Service. Some theories claim the Americans pressured the French into doing so, but other sources suggest it might have been due to an altercation with a French officer.

A group photo taken sometime during the Great War, Bullard on the left

Bullard returned to Paris after the war and became a successful and well-known figure in the entertainment industry. He managed the nightclub Le Grand Duc and was the owner of an athletic club and an American-style nightclub called L’Escadrille. He had many celebrity friends, including Louis Armstrong, French flying ace Charles Nungesser, Josephine Baker (who allegedly babysat for him), poet Langston Hughes (who washed dishes at his cabaret), and Ernest Hemingway, who based a character on him.

Bullard later in his life

The time of jazz and nightlife was, however, drawing to a close in the 1930s with the rise of Hitler and the rearmament of Germany. A good German speaker, Bullard agreed to work with French counterintelligence, spying on pro-Nazi Germans who often met at his venue and thought he couldn’t understand them. Once the World War II broke out, Bullard, already in his 40s, volunteered to fight for France again. He was seriously wounded by an artillery shell but he managed to escape to neutral Spain and eventually back to America.

He never fully recovered from his wound and also found that despite being a famous person in France, he was completely unknown in the United States. He worked as a nameless perfume salesman, a security guard and sometimes as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong. His last job was elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center, where nobody knew of his military past. His nightclub in Paris was destroyed in the war and he used the settlement he got from the French government to buy an apartment in Harlem, New York.

Bullard beaten up during the Peekskill Riots

He originally fled America to escape racism in Nazi Europe; when he was back, racism found him again. In 1949, he was caught up in the Peekskill Riots, an anti-communist, anti-black, anti-Semitic riot at Cortlandt Manor, New York, sparked by the concert of a black singer. During the riots, Bullard was knocked to ground and beaten by the mob, which included several white members or local and state police. Though the assault was captured on film, none of the attackers were ever prosecuted.

In 1954 he briefly traveled to France again to be one of the three veterans to relight the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. Five years later

Charles de Gaulle awarded him the Légion d’Honneur, the highest French order of merit, and the last of over a dozen decorations he received for his service in two wars. In the same year, as a tiny gesture of recognition, he was interviewed on The Today Show, aired by NBC, which is seated at Rockefeller Center, the same building he was working at. Bullard appeared on the show in his elevator operator’s uniform.

Bullard on The Today Show

You can learn more about the heroic Americans who fought in the Great War on our Fields of World War I Tour in June 2018. There are only a few rooms left, so make sure you don’t miss this year’s opportunity.

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.


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
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
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
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.

Ten Strange Mysteries Of World War One

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H/T War History OnLine.



Looking back at the First World War there are many events and that sparked controversy to this day and mysteries to be cleared up. We are looking at 10 of these and try if we can make sense of them.

1. Who Fired The First Shot?

Most people think the first battle of World War One took place on 5 August 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium. The first fighting, however, occurred nine days earlier on the night of 28 July, mere hours after Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. This battle was an

Most people believe the first battle of the war began on August 5, 1914, when the Germans invaded Belgium. The very first skirmishes though actually took place nine days earlier on July 28, hours after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The skirmish involved an amphibious assault attempt to take the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

The British war effort is less clear on who fired the first shots. As per the Daily Mirror, Corporal E. Thomas of the 4th Dragoon Guards fired the first shots on August 22, 1914. Thomas was a member of a 120-person force sent to investigate German cavalry advances in the Belgian village of Casteau. At 6:30 am on August 22, 1914, Thomas and his squad encountered a unit of 4 German cavalrymen who they engaged in combat. Thomas fired the first shot. History is unclear if anyone actually died in this skirmish.

The Australians, however, lay claim as the first to actually fire shots on behalf of the British Empire during the war. As per ABC News, within four hours of the British joining the war on August 5, 1914, the Australians fired the first shots of the war 17,000 kilometers away from the European Theater at Point Nepean when a German cargo ship named the SS Pfalz tried to leave Australian waters.

The SS Pfalz was just 10 minutes shy of escaping Australian port for open seas when Australian artillery headquarters received orders to stop or sink the ship.

Austro-Hungarian River Monitor Shelling Belgrade


Upon receipt of orders, gunners at Fort Nepean fired a warning across the SS Pfalz bow. This came as a surprise to Australian pilot Captain Montgomery Robinson who was on the Pflaz as a guide to navigate them out.

Relates Mr. Graynor of the incident, “So for a second or two there was a physical tussle on the bridge [of the ship] between the German captain and the Australian pilot. The pilot was adamant that they must stop because the next shot was going to be into the ship.” The Pfalz surrendered.

2. Who Killed Jon Parr?

The grave of John Parr – Simon at – CC BY-SA 2.5

John Henry Parr was a British soldier. A private, he is believed to be the first British soldier killed in action by enemy fire during the war.

A reconnaissance cyclist, Private Parr specialized in riding ahead of his unit to uncover information about the enemy or other necessary intelligence and then returning with all possible speed to update the commanding officer. Upon the start of the war in August 1914, Parr’s battalion was moved from Southampton to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. When the German Army started its advance into Belgium, Parr’s unit settled in near the village of Bettignies alongside the canal in the town of Mons. On August 21, Parr and another cyclist were sent forward to the village of Obourg which is north east of Mons and over the Belgian border to locate the enemy. Most believe that they encountered a cavalry patrol from the German First Army and Parr stayed behind to hold them off while his partner rushed back to deliver their report. It is believed Parr was killed in the ensuing battle.

What truly happened to Parr remains a controversy to this day. What is known is that he was killed in action, but because the British army retreated to a new position around the Marne following the battle of Mons, Parr’s body was left behind. In the months that followed because of the nature of trench warfare news and accounting of Parr’s death was not recognized till much later. After not hearing from him for a while Parr’s mother wrote to the army inquiring on his status. The army was not able to tell her of his condition. It is believed that at the time they may have believed he had been captured. During that period dog tags did not exist to help ID casualties. The true circumstances of Parr’s death remain a secret in history. With the front line 11 miles away it is just as luckily he died from friendly fire vs a German patrol encounter or the Battle of Mons itself on August 23.

Parr was recovered, identified and buried in the St Symphorien military cemetery, just southeast of Mons. His gravestone marks his age at 20 as the army was unaware of his true age of just seventeen. Almost poetically, his grave faces that of George Edwin Ellison, the last British soldier killed during the Great War.

3. What Happened To The USS Cyclops?

USS Cyclops; Anchored in the Hudson River, off New York City.


The USS Cyclops (AC-4) was the first of four Proteus-class ships built for the United States Navy in the years preceding World War I. Named after the mythical race of one-eyed beings in Greek mythology, the Cyclops was the second U.S. navy ship to bear that name. On or shortly after March 4, 1918, the ship and her crew of 306 simply disappeared off the face of the earth in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle. Till this day it remains the single largest loss of life in U.S. naval history not involving direct combat.

As the disappearance occurred during a time of war, it was theorized she was captured or sunk by a German raider or U-boat because she was carrying 10,800 long tons of manganese ore used to produce munitions. At the time and in the years since the German government has consistently denied knowing anything with regard to the vessels whereabouts. Officially, the Naval History & Heritage Command has stated that she “probably sank in an unexpected storm” but the true and ultimate cause of the ship’s fate is unknown.

On March 10, 1918, the day after the ship was rumored to have been sighted by Amolco, weather reports indicated that a violent storm swept through the Virginia Cape area. Many believed that a combination of overload, engine troubles, and bad weather lead to the Cyclops sinking. However, the extensive naval investigation concluded: “Many theories have been advanced, but none that satisfactorily accounts for her disappearance.” Bizarrely, though, this finding was reported before Cyclop’s two sister ships, the Proteus and Nereus, also vanished in the North Atlantic during WWII. Much like their sister, both ships were transporting heavy ores similar to those the Cyclops carried on her final, fateful voyage. Like the Cyclops, theories were raised that their loss was the result of things ranging from catastrophic structural failure to bizarre mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle herself.

4. What happened to the Lost Treasure Of The Tsars

The story of the Tsars gold has transcended to the status of legend amongst treasure hunters. Debaters have varying opinions of what exactly happened and where the treasure is located. The known facts of the case are as follows. At the height of the Russian Civil War, the White Army named Admiral Alexander Vasilievich Kolchak as the Supreme Ruler of the Russian state. His crowning as the anti-communist leader was backed by a large portion of the Russian governments gold reserves which the White Army transported from Kazan to Omsk. The gold was estimated to be worth 650 million rubles ($20.8 million) by a bank in Omsk. Following Kolchak’s defeat in 1921, the gold was returned to the government. An inventory found bullions missing with an estimated value of 400 million rubles ($12.8 million).

So what exactly did happen to the 250 million rubles ($80 million) that was unaccounted for? According to an Estonian soldier named Karl Purrok who had served in Kolchak’s army in a Siberian regiment, they unloaded the gold at Taiga train station near the town of Kemerovo and buried it nearby. In 1941 the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) located Purrok and ordered him to travel with investigators to locate the Siberian stash. Despite numerous excavations and attempts, they were never able to locate the stash. It is still out there waiting to be claimed by a lucky treasure hunter.

5. The Flaming Onions

The mysterious ‘flaming onions’ instilled fear into WWI fighter pilots because no-one knew what they were and they outmaneuvered regular aircraft making pilots unable to take evasive action.

Cambridge historian Denis Winter describes in this book, “The First of the Few” that the flaming onions “green glowing balls which twisted about like live things and seemed to chase an aeroplane, turning over end on end in a leisurely way.”

What it actually was, was a 37 mm revolving-barrel anti-aircraft gun used by the Germans. From a technical standpoint, it was a Gatling type, smooth bore, short barreled automatic revolver. Nicknamed a ‘lichtspucker’ (light spitter), it was designed to shot flares at low velocity in rapid sequence across a battle area. The gun had five barrels and had capabilities of launching 37 mm artillery shells five thousand feet. To help maximize chances of connecting with a target, all five rounds were discharged as rapidly as possible, thus producing the “flaming onion” visual and effect. Anti-aircraft artillery of the time fired very slowly. Because the flaming onion fired rapidly, many pilots thought the rounds were attached to a string and feared being shredded by it in the process. Not designed for anti-aircraft use, the weapon did not have purpose-designed ammunition, however, the flares would have been dangerous to fabric-covered aircraft.

6. The Vanished Battalion of Gallipoli

norfolk badge

By 1915, The Great War was a year old, and a coalition of British, Australian and New Zealand troops were deployed at Gallipoli on the Dardanelles in Turkey with a mission to take the Turks out of the war. Amongst the coalition fighters were 250 soldiers and 16 officers from the Royal Norfolk Regiment. This fighting group was composed of servants, grooms, and gardeners from the British Royal family estate, at Sandringham in Norfolk.

The air was full of enemy fire on August 12, 1915, when the Royal Norfolk Regiment was ordered to advance against the Turks. Tired, hungry, thirsty and sick, the men made a mistake and turned the wrong way getting separated from the larger 163rd Brigade they were a part of. Even once they realized their mistake, they continued to advance against the Kavak Tepe ridge despite having no support or reinforcements. They were immediately gunned down by machine-gun fire and picked off by snipers both on the ridge and up in the trees.

Despite the odds, the Norfolk Regiment pressed forward through all the blood and bullets actually pushing back the enemy towards the forest which by then was engulfed in flames from the artillery fire. Beauchamp and the Norfolk continued to charge into the burning forest and would vanish into history never to be seen again. It is the image of these brave men pressing on through the smoke and trees that raises the lost Royal Norfolk Regiment into immortality.

Most believe the men were captured by Turkish forces and became POWs. Through the duration of and even after the war, the British government inquired with the Turkish government as to the whereabouts of the Royal Norfork Regiment, but the Turks consistently denied any knowledge of them.

7. Who Killed the Red Baron?

Manfred von Richthofen

The infamous Red Baron, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, was a German fighter pilot and widely renowned as the greatest flying ace of The Great War with an official record of 80 air combat victories. The Baron was shot down and killed near Amiens on 21, April 1918.

Who exactly was it that took out the greatest fighter pilot of the era? Controversy and contradictory hypotheses continue to reign.

Though at the time the Royal Air Force credited Roy Brown as the pilot who bested the Red Baron, it is now generally agreed that the bullet that killed him was shot from the ground. Richthofen died as a result of a fatal chest wound from a single bullet that penetrated his right armpit and resurfaced next to his left nipple. Brown’s attack came from behind and above to Richthofen’s left.

Most conclusively, studies showed that it was near impossible for The Baron to have continued his chase of May for the amount of time he did (up to two minutes) had his wound actually came from Brown’s guns. Various sources, including a 1998 article written by physician and military medicine historian Geoffrey Miller and a 2003 PBS documentary, believe the fatal shots came from Sergeant Cedric Popkin. An anti-aircraft (AA) machine gunner with the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company, Popkin is believed to have killed The Baron with his Vickers gun. On two occasions he shot at Richthofen. The first occasion was as the Baron was heading straight at his position.

The second time was at long range from the right. Due to the nature of Richthofen’s wounds, Popkin was in the position to fire the fatal shot, when the The Baron passed him for a second time, on the right. Some confusion does exist due to a letter that Popkin wrote, in 1935, to an Australian official historian. In his letter, Popkin stated his belief that he had fired the fatal shot as Richthofen flew straight at his position. In this latter respect, Popkin was incorrect: the bullet that caused the Baron’s death came from the side.

In 2002, Discovery Channel published a documentary naming Gunner W.J. “Snowy” Evans as the actual shooter. Evans was a Lewis machine gunner assigned to the 53rd Battery, 14th Field Artillery Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery forces. Miller and the PBS dismiss this claim because of the angle from which Evans fired at Richthofen.

Still, other sources have suggested that Gunner Robert Buie (also of the 53rd Battery) as the soldier to have scored the fatal shot. There is very little support for this claim. In 2007, a municipality in Sydney recognised Buie as the man who shot down The Red Baron, placing a plaque near Buie’s former home. Buie, who passed away in 1964, has never been officially recognized in any other way.

8. The Mystery of Celtic Wood

Battle of Poelcappelle, 1917, the approximate location of Celtic Wood has been highlighted – MWadwell CC BY-SA 3.0

At the Battle of Poelcappelle which was fought on October 9, 1917, in Celtic Wood, Flanders, seventy-one (71) soldiers from the 10th Battalion of the 1st Australian Division disappeared without trace. Originally the plan called for the 10th to charge the woods, blow up German dugouts and pull back on a flare signal.

The 2nd Division would stage a large assault on the 10th’s northern flank to help defend the flanks of the main British advance force on its own northern flank. To further confuse the Germans, the troops attacked at dawn instead of at night to make them think the attack was part of the main advance.

Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Wilder-Neligan, 10th Battalion commander, wrote the following in a report of the action, “…a desperate hand encounter followed; in which heavy casualties were inflicted upon the enemy…I am only able to account for 14 unwounded members of the party.” A survivor reported that only seven survived to return to Australian lines. Another said 14 survived. Official army records report that 37 of the 85 involved as missing without trace.

The official German records do not mention the attack which leads to speculation that men were massacred and buried en masse. Rumors persist to this day that the soldiers simply walked into the mist and vanished without a trace. Observers attribute the lack of record of the missing to confusion, miss-reporting and clerical error.

9. The Angel of Mons

Illustration by Alfred Pearse 1915


Between 22–23 August 1914, the British Expeditionary Force fought their first major engagement of the First World War at the Battle of Mons. Though heavily outnumbered and suffering heavy casualties forcing a retreat, they pushed back the advancing German troops. The retreat was perceived by the British public as a key moment of the war. Despite ongoing censorship at the time, the Battle of Mons was the first sign the British people had that stopping the Germans was not going to be as easy as some had believed.

On 29 September 1914, Arthur Machen, a Welsh author, published a short story entitled “The Bowmen” in London’s The Evening News newspaper. Inspired by news accounts he had read of the Battle of Mons along with a series of factual articles he had written on the battle for the paper, Machen’s tale described phantom archers from the Battle of Agincourt summoned forth by a soldier invoking St. George, destroying the Germans. The story was set during the retreat from the Battle of Mons in August 1914. Despite the fact that it was, Machen’s story was not labeled as fiction.

The British Spiritualist magazine printed a story on April 24, 1915, recounting stories of a supernatural power that miraculously intervened to help British fighters at a key moment during battle. The article resulted in a continued and rapid flurry of similar accounts and continued the spread of wild rumors. Descriptions of the apparitions varied from everything from medieval longbow archers fighting alongside St. George to a strange luminous cloud. The most popular accounts though was of a host of angelic warriors. Stories of similar battlefield sightings have recurred through both ancient and medieval warfare.

By May 1915 controversy was in full-swing with the angel sightings being used as proof of divine intervention in favor of the Allies in sermons throughout Britain with subsequent publication into newspaper reports published widely across the world. Machen, amused at what was happening, sought to end the rumors by republishing his original story in August in book form. He wrote a long preface debunking the stories as false and how they originated in his story. The book became a bestseller and resulted in a vast series of other publications claiming to prove evidence of the Angels’ existence. Machen continued to try to set the record straight, but many saw the attempts to downplay such an inspiring tale as blasphemous and treasonous. The new works included popular songs and artistic renderings of the angels. Reports of other angels and apparitions continued to persist from the war front including that of Joan of Arc.

The only credible evidence of visions from the frontlines from actual soldiers serving on the front were those of phantom cavalrymen, not angels or bowmen. These reports occurred during the retreat rather than during the actual the battle itself. These particular apparitions did not intervene to attack or deter German troops which was a key element in Machen’s tale and the later reports of angels. As by the time of retreat most troops were exhausted and had not slept properly for days, and if one is already skeptical of the supernatural, the visions can be attributed to being mere hallucinations.

10. Crucified Soldiers

Austrian war veteran and artist Arthur Stadler (1892-1937) drew this crucifixion of a soldier in 1927.

Arthur Stadler (1892-1937), an Austrian war veteran and artist made this rendering of the crucifixion of a soldier in 1927.

The Times printed a short article entitled “Torture of a Canadian Officer” on May 10, 1915. The piece was attributed to a Paris correspondent.

According to the story, wounded Canadian soldiers at Ypres reported of how one of their officers was crucified to a wall “by bayonets thrust through his hands and feet” after which another bayonet attack was pushed through his throat before he finally shot and “riddled with bullets”. The soldiers shared that the events had been observed by the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and that they had overheard the Fusiliers’ officers discussing it afterward.

Two days later, on May 12, Sir Robert Houston asked Harold Tennant, the Under-Secretary of State for War, during a session of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, “whether he has any information regarding the crucifixion of three Canadian soldiers recently captured by the Germans, who nailed them with bayonets to the side of a wooden structure?” In response, Tennant shared that no such incident had been reported to the War Office. Houston followed up by asking if Tennant was aware that Canadian officers and Canadian soldiers who witnessed the events of concern made affidavits and whether or not the officer in charge at Boulogne had reported it to the War Office. Tennant replied that inquiries would be made.

A few days later on May 15, The Times printed a letter from an army member. He shared the crucified soldier was a sergeant who was found transfixed to the wooden fence of a farm building. The letter recounted he had repeatedly been stabbed with bayonets leaving numerous puncture wounds in his body. The unnamed correspondent had not heard that the crucifixion had been witnessed by any Allied forces. He commented that it was possible that the man had already been dead by the time he was crucified.

The Canadian chief censor, Colonel Ernest J. Chambers, began an inquiry into the story soon after it began circulation. In his search for eyewitnesses, he met a private who testified under affidavit that he had observed three Canadian soldiers being bayonetted to a barn door just three miles from St. Julien. However, sworn testimony from two British soldiers who testified having seen “the corpse of a Canadian soldier fastened with bayonets to a barn door”, was debunked when it was discovered that the part of the front the events were set had never under German occupation.

The tale made headlines worldwide with the Allies repeatedly using the incident in their war propaganda. A U.S. propaganda film called The Prussian Cur (1918) produced by the Fox Film Corporation includes scenes of an Allied soldier’s crucifixion. Contemporary theories hold that the story is mere propaganda intended to make the German army look bad.



Nicknamed the “Black Swallow of Death”, This Fighter Pilot Fought With The French in WW1


H/T War History OnLine.

A little more history never taught in our public schools.

Occasionally in history, an individual will come along whose story is almost too inexplicable to be true.  To be a runaway youth in early 1900s Georgia one minute and a World War I fighter pilot for the French the next would be quite a story to tell if nothing else remarkable ever occurred throughout the rest of your life.

However, history had a way of finding Eugene Bullard or perhaps, he just had a way of thrusting himself right into the middle of it. Transatlantic stowaway as a teen, prizefighter in England, decorated member of the French Foreign Legion, and the first African-American fighter pilot to take to the skies is not too shabby of a resume to throw on one’s gravestone.

Nicknamed the “Black Swallow of Death”, this is the inexplicable story of Eugene Bullard.

A Hard Road to War

Born in 1895 Columbus, Georgia, Eugene Bullard would learn early on and from first-hand experience the discrimination facing African-Americans in the Deep South during that era. Somewhere around the age of nine or 10 years old, Bullard ran away after watching his father nearly become lynched by a mob.

Heading north and making money any way that he could, which included proving to be a quite accomplished drummer, Bullard was content to grow up at the school of hard knocks. And while he would survive on his own quite well in America, his intent was always to make his way to Paris. He recalls his father telling him that Paris was a city where the color of his skin would not matter.

During his teen years, Bullard hopped on a transatlantic steamer headed for Scotland as a stowaway. Once in England, he would continue to earn money picking up odd jobs and learning new trades as they came along. However, after working jobs at a gymnasium, his friendly disposition, and warm demeanor quickly made him friends with the boxers that trained there.

In a short time, they began to train a young Bullard and by 16 years old he began winning fights as a welterweight. After becoming noticed as quite the accomplished fighter, Bullard had the opportunity to fight in Paris and after finally seeing his beloved city he knew this would be his home.

In early 1914, Bullard would make his way back to Paris but this time for good. However, as fate would have it, this meant Eugene Bullard had arrived just in time for the Great War.  Initially too young to enlist, Bullard had to sit by and watch as many of his friends became casualties of what the world was realizing was going to be a very costly war.

By late October, Eugene Bullard would join other expatriates living in France and become a member of the highly esteemed French Foreign Legion. Becoming a machine gunner, Eugene Bullard would prove to the Germans that this boxer knew more than one way to fight.

The Croix de Guerre

Bullard was initially assigned to the 1st Moroccan Division of the French Foreign Legion. Here he would participate in some of the heaviest fighting of the war. The Legion suffered high casualties in 1915 due to their willingness to attack any position and their refusal to surrender. By late 1915, the Legion would undergo massive reorganization and Bullard’s particular unit was essentially disbanded.

Being an American, he was allowed to transfer to the 170th Light Infantry Regiment of the French army. Nicknamed “The Swallows of Death” the 170th would take Bullard into the fighting at Verdun in early 1916 and serve as the inspiration for his self-proclaimed nickname.

Eugene Bullard in Legionnaire Uniform via
Eugene Bullard in Legionnaire Uniform

On March 5, 1916, Bullard would be seriously wounded at Verdun in an action that would award him the Croix de Guerre. In recovery, some thought Bullard would never walk again. However, this was just another obstacle for Bullard to overcome. No longer able to serve in the infantry, Bullard jumped at the opportunity to join the French Air Corps.

After flight training on the biplanes of the era, this elementary school dropout and runaway from a small town in Georgia will become the first African-American fighter pilot in history.  Assigned to the Lafayette Escadrille, he would fly the famed Nieuport and Spad biplanes.

He flew his first mission on September 8, 1917, as a reconnaissance mission over the city of Metz. All in all, he would fly 20 combat missions in World War I and claimed two kills. And while they were not officially verified according to the standards of the day, few doubted that he indeed shot down those planes.

Unfortunately for Bullard, a November 1917 quarrel with a French officer who found out the hard way that Bullard was an accomplished boxer ended his flying career. He was sent back to the 170th where he would perform non-combat duties throughout the rest of the war. But having been wounded four times and becoming the first African-American fighter pilot in history with a reported two kills made for a pretty reputable war record.


Bullard exhibit and the National Museum of the US Air Force via
Bullard exhibit and the National Museum of the US Air Force

After the War

In keeping with Bullard’s tradition of living a remarkably fascinating life, he would remain in Paris after the war where he would perform as a drummer in jazz clubs while being somewhat of a local celebrity. He would eventually become part owner in the nightclub, Le Grand Duc, where he would become friends with all the jazz greats of the day who toured Paris to include Josephine Baker and Louie Armstrong.  During the years prior to World War II, he is reported to have worked as a French spy in the nightclub reporting on German agents who would visit the venue.

When the Germans invaded France in May 1940, Bullard and his two daughters fled West. Never afraid of a fight, Bullard volunteered for the 51st infantry defending Orleans. But after being seriously wounded, he finally returned to the United States eventually settling in New York.

While he was a highly decorated veteran of World War I in France, his fame would unfortunately not follow him to the United States. He worked a variety of odd jobs in the United States before finally becoming an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center.

It is unlikely that those he ferried to the top floors had any idea that they were ascending with the “Black Swallow of Death” as his final years were spent in relative obscurity.

He passed away in 1961 due to cancer and was buried with military honors in the French Veteran’s War section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens. And while he might have passed away in obscurity, the history of war ensures that those who display inexplicable gallantry against heavy odds will always be remembered as an inspiration for the next generation who might be called upon to do so.

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