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American World War 2 Medal Of Honor Recipient Became Commandant Of The Marine Corps

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P.General Louis H.Wilson Jr. February 11, 1920, June 21, 2005.

There have been a few Commandants who had been recipients of the Medal of Honor, but Louis H. Wilson was the last.  And given that the entire ranks of the modern Marine Corps are currently devoid of any officers with the nation’s highest military honor it could be quite some time before the world would ever see it again.  His tenure as the nation’s top Marine from 1975 to 1979 would be one of remarkable transition.

The World War II generation had all but faded out, and the Commandant who followed him would, in fact, be the last World War II veteran to serve in that position. The nation had wound down from the war in Vietnam, and the Marine Corps was subsequently struggling to reorganize and refit for a new generation.

Who better to lead them through this task than the man who received the Medal of Honor for reorganizing and refitting Marines under heavy Japanese fire on the island of Guam 30 years prior.

Just in Time for War

Lewis Wilson was born in Brandon, Mississippi in 1920 and attended college at Millsaps in Jackson, Mississippi. He graduated in 1941 and was shortly thereafter given a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps just in time to lead men in the war that would forever define the Corps.  By 1943, Wilson would find himself serving in the Pacific with 9th Marines as they worked their way towards Japan one island at a time.

However, his hallowed place in Marine Corps history would be earned fighting for the beaches and hills of Guam.  The largest of the Marianas, Guam was still only 32 miles long and 10 miles wide. The island had been in the possession of the United States since they captured it from Spain in 1898 and it was one of the earliest chunks of real estate was taken by the Japanese in December of 1941. And on July 21, 1944, it was time for the United States to take it back.

By July 25, Wilson was in command of Company F and was tasked with taking a heavily defended portion of an enemy occupied hill. The rocky terrain was wide open providing little cover for the advance forcing Wilson to lead his men over 300 yards through heavy machine gun and rifle fire.

Despite the resilient enemy, Wilson achieved his objective and began to organize for the defense.

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Wilson as a captain receives his Medal of Honor.

 

Defending the Hill

Nearby units didn’t fare as well as the Marines struggled to organize themselves after the assault. Without hesitation, Wilson jumped in to assume command of those units and began to give directions. For the next five hours throughout heavy Japanese shelling and sniper attacks, Wilson would organize the ad hoc unit for a proper defense of their position.

They knew night would bring the Japanese counter-attack and the time to dig in was limited.

Marines thanking the Coast Guard for the ride go Guam via commons.wikimedia.org
Marines thanking the Coast Guard for getting them to Guam

 

During his efforts to plan the defense under fire he was actually wounded three separate times, but refused medical attention until the task was done. It was only then that he retreated to the company command post to receive medical attention. However, as night fell the first of the anticipated Japanese assaults began and Wilson left the aid station to attend to his men.

Throughout the night in the face of heavy Japanese fire, Wilson could be seen racing from unit to unit to support the Marines in their defense. On one such occasion, he dashed out 50 yards in front of the lines to rescue a wounded Marine who was lying helpless. For the next 10 hours, they would see wave after wave of Japanese assault with the fighting often turning to hand-to-hand combat.

 

Marines working their way through Guam via commons.wikimedia.org
Marines working their way through Guam.

By morning, the last of the Japanese assaults were defeated, but this was no time to rest for Wilson. Their current position was dangerously threatened by an opposing slope prompting Wilson to organize a 17-man patrol that would once again head into the face of Japanese fire.

The mortars and machine-gun fire were so heavy, 13 of the 17-man patrol were struck down by enemy fire. And yet, Wilson and what remained succeeded in taking the strategic position from the enemy. His actions were directly credited with supporting the entire regimental mission in the annihilation of over 350 Japanese troops. For his actions that day, Louis Wilson was awarded the Medal of Honor and was about to embark on what would be a long and illustrious career in the Corps.

Three Marine officers of an amphibian tractor battalion who took part in the invasion of Guam.
Three Marine officers of an amphibian tractor battalion who took part in the invasion of Guam.

 

The Road to Commandant

Due to his wounds, Wilson was evacuated back to the United States where he would recover and continue to serve stateside throughout the rest of the war. Over the next ten years, he would attend various staff officer courses while serving in various commands building a reputation for his ability to organize and lead in peace time as well as he did under fire.

In 1965, Wilson deployed with the first Marine Division to Vietnam and served as the Assistant Chief of Staff for the Division. After returning in 1966, he put on his first star and began on the road to taking over the Marine Corps as its leader.

Japanese tank knocked out of action.
Japanese tank knocked out of action.

 

On July 1, 1975, he was promoted to full General and assumed his duties as Commandant of the Marine Corps. Emphasizing the need to transition during the post-Vietnam era, Wilson was a champion of developing fast-moving and highly responsive expeditionary units with a single integrated system of combined ground and air power.

These expeditionary units will become the backbone of the post-Vietnam Marine Corps and ensured a group of lethal Marines were nearby in the world wherever you should need them.

Commandant General Louis Wilson via commons.wikimedia.org
Commandant General Louis Wilson.

 

Retiring in 1979, Wilson would symbolize the ending of an era as the World War II Marines became few and far between in the active ranks. And while the Marines will always revere their commandants with respect and honor, the fact that your Commandant happens to hold the nation’s highest military honor only increases that reverence.

Wilson was undoubtedly proud of his tenure as Commandant, but it was the Marines in the hills of Guam with whom he bled that day in July 1944 who would always hold a special place with the General.

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Marine Who Held Machine Gun Alone Was Found Next Morning With Over 200 Dead Enemies Around Him

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H/T War History OnLine.

This man’s bravery is beyond description.

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.

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.

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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.

25 Things You Didn’t Know About “Schindler’s List”

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H/T War History OnLine.

 

Here are 25 things you probably didn’t know about the making of this cinematic masterpiece:

1. One of the 1,200 Jews Schindler saved from the Nazis emigrated to the United States in 1948. After opening a luggage store in Beverly Hills, he spent 40 years trying to make a film about his savior. In 1951 he approached director Fritz Lang, but it didn’t work out. Later on, he convinced Thomas Keneally, an Australian author, to write the novel “Schindler’s Ark,” in 1982.

2. Although Steven Spielberg was one of the very first to acquire the rights, he didn’t feel he was mature enough to direct the movie, so he tried to engage other directors. Roman Polanski felt too close to the story as he himself survived the Holocaust as a child in Krakow. However, he did direct the 2002 “The Pianist,” another true-life Holocaust story. The same thing happened when Martin Scorsese was asked to give it a go, but he insisted that the film should be made by a Jewish director.

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Still from the movie

3. Although some extremely famous names were up on the list for Schindler’s part in the film, Spielberg didn’t want a movie-star actor like Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson or Warren Beatty. Instead, he chose Liam Neeson after seeing him in a Broadway production of “Anna Christie.”

4. Branko Lustig became the producer of “Schindler’s List” after showing Spielberg his tattooed serial number from Auschwitz on his arm.

5. For the part of Amon Goeth, Spielberg chose Ralph Fiennes after seeing his performance in  “Wuthering Heights” in 1992 and “A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia.”

6. Spielberg agreed to direct the film but only after shooting “Jurassic Park.”

7. Fiennes had to put on 28 pounds to play the part of Goeth.

8. Spielberg didn’t accept payment for directing the film, saying that it would be “blood money.”

9. When he filmed at Auschwitz, Spielberg didn’t film inside the camps, out of respect for the people who died there.

A photograph of Oskar Schindler (centre) and what is thought to be the original list.
A photograph of Oskar Schindler (center) and what is thought to be the original list.

10. Spielberg wanted to shoot the film in black and white because it reminded him of the black and white documentary footage of the Holocaust, the Moviefone reports.

11. Most of the film was shot in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow. However, the Plaszow concentration camp was also built on the edge of the town.

13. During an interview, Spielberg confessed that “The most moving thing that happened for me was on Passover. We had Passover at the hotel and all the young German actors who were playing Nazis came in with yarmulkes and Haggadah [Passover prayer books] and sat with the Israeli actors and took part in the Passover service. I wept like a baby.”

14. Spielberg spent his days shooting “Schindler’s List” and his evenings editing footage from “Jurassic Park”.

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Still from the movie

15. In an interview with Time magazine in 2013, Lustig recalled one of the most painful moments for him; the time he had to recruit children to sing songs as they were being herded onto trucks.

16. There were parts of the shoot Spielberg could not watch without breaking into tears. One of them was when some of the Polish extras playing concentration camp prisoners had to be stripped off and humiliated.

17. Spielberg insisted on starring the Shoah Foundation and recording the testimony of numerous Holocaust survivors.

18. During the shoot, Spielberg captured the image of a little girl in a red coat, one of the very few colored scenes in the film. The actress who played the little girl, Oliwia Dabrowska – three years old at the time – had to promise the director she would not watch the film until she was 18.

redcoat

19. There was a real life little girl in a red coat, who survived the Holocaust and wrote a book based on her life, “The Girl in the Red Coat,” in 2002.

20. She did watch it when she was 11, and it was traumatizing. However, she watched it again at 18; “I realized I had been part of something I could be proud of Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watch the film.”

20. The film was made on a $22 million budget, earned $96 million in North America and $225 million overseas.

21. During the Warsaw premiere, Spielberg picked up the saxophone and played five or six minutes of traditional Eastern-European Jewish music.

22. Neeson and Fiennes were also seen together in “Clash of the Titans” in 2010 and 2012’s “Wrath of the Titans.”

23. “Schindler’s List” was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven of them.

24. There were also some complaints. Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, who directed the major Holocaust documentary “Shoah,” called “Schindler’s List” a “kitschy melodrama” and a “deformation of historical truth.”

25. To cheer himself up and carry on with the project, Spielberg had Robin Williams phone him.

What You Didn’t Know About Indian Code Talkers

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H/T Freedom Daily.

The Navajo Code Talkers were the group most mentioned but there was little mention of the other tribes that were used for Code Talkers.

Most everyone has heard about Navajo Code Talkers. They are widely known as tribal members who spoke their language during World War II while communicating with various units of our armed forces. Their purpose was to prevent the enemy to listen to our wartime communications between various combat units. But, actually, they developed their own code using the Navajo language. Yes, in fact, no other Navajo could even understand what was being transmitted. And neither could the enemy.

But the Navajo tribe was but one of many nations who became code talkers. There were other Native American tribes involved with code talking throughout the last two centuries. Various tribes worked with our military beginning during the the Indian Wars of the 19th Century.

Members of a number of tribes communicated with 26 languages and dialects during World War I. These code talkers came from Choctaw, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, and Yankton Sioux tribes.

During World War II, code talkers were used on both war continents. The Army and Marine Corps used a group of 24 Navajo code talkers in the Pacific Theater. Seminoles were used in the Battle at Iwo Jima. Eight Soldiers from the Meskwaki tribe in Iowa served as code talkers in North Africa in Europe.

A total of 33 different tribes served in World Wars I and II including Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Osage, Lakota, Dakota, Chippewa, Oneida, Sac and Fox, Meskwaki, Hopi, Assiniboine, Kiowa, Pawnee, Akwesasne, Menominee, Creek, Cree Seminole Tribes, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, with Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, and other unlisted tribes.

Unfortunately, the code talkers didn’t get proper recognition for their service untilCongress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act in 2002. The goal of the law was to

Recognize the important part that these Soldiers played in “performing highly successful communications operations of a unique type that greatly assisted in saving countless lives and in hastening the end of World War I and World War II.

And further, it recognized that code talkers worked

Under some of the heaviest combat action … around the clock to provide information … such as the location of enemy troops and the number of enemy guns.

Indeed, 25 members of various Indian tribes have been recognized with the Medal of Honor. This medal is our highest award presented to those military service members for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. Their actions took place alongside other members of our military dating from various Indian Wars in the 19th Century (16), the Korean War (4), and World War II (5).

In 2008, Congress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act. And, on Nov. 20, 2013, code talkers from 566 tribes were honored with Congressional Silver Medals. This medal is

Congress’s highest expression of appreciation – was awarded in recognition of the valor and dedication of these code talkers as members of our Armed Forces during World War I and World War II.

At the time, Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) remarked about code talkers:

“Because of them, deeds that may well have been relegated to legend will now live on in memory. And heroes who for too long went unrecognized will now be given our highest recognition.”

And finally, you take time to visit the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. It would certainly be worth your time to honor those who helped the U.S. win both of our world wars.

 

When Norwegian Commandos Stopped the Nazis’ Nuclear Bomb Project

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H/T War History OnLine.

I read a book titled Assault In Norway that was about this commando mission to destroy the heavy water production facility.

These brave men helped save the free world from the horrors of a Nazi atomic bomb or bombs.

German infantry attacking through a burning Norwegian village, April 1940. Photo Credit

Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Norway in 1940. Though a relatively poor country (at the time) with only a population of about three million people, Norway had one thing no other country did – the ability to produce heavy water which could be used to build an atomic bomb. The Allies tried to destroy the facility several times, but it took Norwegian commandos to finally bring it down.

The Vemork Hydroelectric Power Plant in Rjukan, Norway opened for business in 1911. Located near the Rjukan waterfall, it was the world’s biggest and was devoted to the processing of nitrogen for use as fertilizer. Then in 1933, the Norwegian Institute of Technology suggested a method of isolating heavy water from normal water through electrolysis for use in scientific study. The process required a lot of energy, and the Vemork plant was ideal.

The Vemork Hydroelectric Power Plant in 1935

The following year, the scientific community began proposing nuclear fission as an alternative form of energy. Then in 1939, German scientists published an article about how nuclear fission might be done using various materials such as uranium and deuterium. Naturally, it didn’t take them long to consider the military applications of atomic power.

 Considering Germany’s rapid militarization, France panicked and bought all of Vemork’s stock of deuterium in 1940. Then in April of that year, Germany invaded Norway, so French agents snuck it out and brought it back to France. Unfortunately, France was also invaded in May, so the substance was sent to Britain to keep it out of German hands.

Airspeed Horsa glider, of the type used by the airborne troops during the operation Freshman.

But the Vemork was now under Nazi control and was still able to produce heavy water. Given how advanced German technology was, few had any doubts that they would eventually develop an atom bomb. So now the race was on to develop one before the Germans did. To buy themselves time, the British had to take out the Vemork.

The Special Operations Executive (SOE – a British organization devoted to espionage, reconnaissance, and sabotage operations in Nazi-occupied territories) launched Operation Grouse on 19 October 1942. Many Norwegians had fled to Britain when their country fell to help the Allied cause against Germany, some of these were trained to be commandos.

The experimental apparatus with which the chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission of uranium in 1938. Photo Credit.

Operation Grouse involved sending four Norwegian commandos who knew the terrain to Rjukan to act as an advanced force. This group was called the Swallows, but they had landed far off-course, requiring a long march through sub-zero temperatures while avoiding detection. Because they had been separated from some of their supplies, they resorted to eating moss to stay alive.

Then Operation Freshman was launched on 19 November 1942. British engineers were flown into the area and were to meet up with the Swallows, but they failed. Most of the operatives died on the way – some because they crashed on a mountainside, others at the hands of the Gestapo. Realizing that Vemork was an important target to the British, the Germans beefed up its security.

SF Hydro at Mæl in 1925

So the SOE launched Operation Gunnerside on 16 February 1943. Six more Norwegian commandos, trained in explosives, were to join the Swallows. They were parachuted in by the Royal Air Force and met up with the half-starved Swallows after several days. By the time they reached Vemork, the facility was surrounded by mines, floodlights, and extra German soldiers.

Among Vemork’s staff was another Norwegian agent (also trained by the SOE) who provided detailed sketches of the interior, as well as shift schedules. Since the failure of Operation Freshman, the Germans had become slack, focusing on the area surrounding the facility, but not the interior of the complex.

Vials of the heavy water produced at Vemork. Photo Credit.

There were only three ways to reach the plant: (1) via a single-track rail which entered the building, (2) a guarded bridge over a ravine, and (3) the ravine with icy water at the bottom. The operatives chose the ravine because the water was at its lowest point in winter.

Making it to the other side, they slipped out of their camouflage suits and into British Army uniforms so that they would not be confused with local resistance fighters. If the Germans thought the latter were responsible, they’d would kill or imprison some of the locals.

The men entered the building through a cable tunnel into the main basement when they were caught by the caretaker. Fortunately, he was a patriotic Norwegian who hated the German occupation and offered to help. The men planted their explosives around the heavy water electrolysis chambers and timed them all for a delayed detonation… but then they had a problem.

The Vemork hydroelectric plant in the snow in 2008. Photo Credit.

The caretaker had misplaced his glasses. With the war on, supplies were low and he couldn’t easily get a replacement. So the men had to waste precious minutes scouring the basement looking for his spectacles. They finally found them and exited the building, making sure to leave behind a Thompson submachine gun which was only available to the British military.

The explosions destroyed all the heavy water produced since the German invasion, more than 1,102 pounds of it. Also ruined were the equipment required to produce more.

The saboteurs split up – five crossed over into neutral Sweden, some 248 miles away. The rest stayed in Norway, resulting in a massive manhunt involving 3,000 soldiers and thousands of gallons of precious fuel. But their quarry refused to leave – they wanted to help more anti-German actions from their native land.

A reconstruction of the Gunnerside agents setting explosives at Vemork

Operation Gunnerside was so successful that Vemork was only fully operational again by April. Since the Americans had finally joined the war, a joint Allied bombing of Vemork was launched in early November. Despite dropping 711 bombs in broad daylight, it did no good. The Allies had timed the raid at noon since that was when the workers were on their lunch break. Nevertheless, about 600 bombs missed their target, causing a number of civilian deaths.

Ten Norwegian commandos had succeeded in doing more damage than an entire aerial squadron armed with hundreds of bombs. The SOE deemed Operation Gunnerside to be its most successful sabotage mission in WWII. And since commandos were a new force, Gunnerside’s success ensured that they would remain important in the British military. Many other nations later copied the commandos and developed their own special forces units.

Battle of Wake Island – All Those Who Surrendered Were Tortured, 98 Were Machine-Gunned

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H/T War History OnLine.  

The Japanese were as brutal or worse than the Nazi’s at times.

Before the threat of war in the Pacific and the outbreak of World War II, Wake Island was a stopping off point for vacationers aboard Pan American flights to and from the Orient. Bird watching, sports fishing, and swimming were the principal activities on the ten-mile-long island.

Situated roughly halfway between Hawaii and Japan and under the control of the USA, the atoll became a strategic dot in the vast Pacific Ocean. Early in 1941, almost frantic work was underway to complete an airstrip with defensive fortifications.

About 1150 civilian construction workers joined 450 Marines, a few Navy men, and a five-man Army radio section in the effort to establish a base of operations close enough to Japan for American bombers to strike the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands should such action be necessary.

Across the International Date Line, December 7, 1941, dawned in Hawaii. An Army radioman caught the broadcast at 7:00 a.m. December 8 at Wake Island. “Hickam Fields has been attacked by Jap dive bombers. This is the real thing.”

The personnel on Wake knew a war was looming, having installed five-inch anti-aircraft guns and stockpiled ammunition. Twelve Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters were standing by with Marine pilots at the ready. Within minutes after the radio message, the American flag was raised, as it was every day. But this day the bugle call of “General Quarters” gave men pause. They stopped all activity, stood at attention, and saluted the flag.

Then a sound caused the construction crews to run for cover and the Marines to head toward the guns. The deafening drone of thirty-six Japanese Mitsubishi G3M2 Nell bombers flying over Wake in strict formation assaulted their ears.

The fragmentation bombs and machine gun fire spewing from the aircraft ripped and tore at the tiny island. Pearl Harbor and Wake Island were being attacked almost simultaneously. Where the Pearl attack ended after a few hours, for several days the Japanese bombarded Wake from the air.

The wreckage of Wildcat 211-F-11, flown by Captain Henry T. Elrod on December 11 in the attack that sank the Japanese destroyer Kisaragi

 

On December 11, a Japanese invasion task force steamed toward the beaches of Wake Island. Marine gunners played them like the sports fish in the water beneath the war machines. They watched the cruiser and six destroyers carefully and blasted them with the five-inch naval guns at 4500 yards.

One destroyer was sunk. Several of the other ships were damaged. The flotilla retreated with the knowledge there were true fighting men on Wake Island.

After the initial raid was fought off, American news media reported that, when queried about reinforcement and resupply, Cunningham was reported to have quipped “Send us more Japs!” In fact, Commander Cunningham sent a long list of critical equipment—including gunsights, spare parts, and fire-control radar—to his immediate superior. It is believed that the quip was actually padding that is a technique of adding nonsense text to a message to make cryptanalysis more difficult.

The Japanese kept hammering at the island defenses, and ten days later the only surviving Wildcat fighter was lost. Pilots were assigned rifles and bayonets. A renewed enemy landing force sailed onto the beach, and 900 trained infantrymen invaded during the night of December 23. Construction workers and Marines fought side-by-side with everything they could, but by dawn, it was clear that there were too many Japanese.

The Commander Cunningham radioed Pearl Harbor. “Enemy on island. Issue in doubt.”

Japanese Patrol Boat No.32 (left) and Patrol Boat No.33

The Commander would later be quoted as saying, “I tried to think of something…We could keep on expending lives, but we could not buy anything with them.” He gave the order to surrender. The surviving eighty-one Marines and eighty-two civilians obeyed but destroyed everything they could find that the enemy could use as a weapon and disabled all the equipment they could. The Japanese claimed the victory at a great price.

Two destroyers and one submarine had been sunk by the Americans. Seven other ships were damaged, and twenty-one aircraft were shot down. The total lives lost by the Japanese was close to 1000. Their leaders were furious and exacted revenge on the prisoners. Stripped and tied with wire in such a way a sudden movement would cause strangulation, soldier, and civilian alike were made to sit in the sun on the concrete they had recently poured.

No water or food was given to them for two days. At one point, the captors installed machine guns near them, for a mass execution, they imagined. But, at last, they were fed spoiled and unsavory bits of food, and instructed to put quickly on clothing but not necessarily their own. Marines donned civilian pants, and construction workers were in khaki.

A spit polished, crisply white uniformed Japanese commander addressed the prisoners. An interpreter informed the group “the Emperor has graciously presented you with your lives.” One unfazed Marine replied, “Well, thank the son of a b**** for me!”

Toward the middle of January 1942, a merchant ship laid anchor at Wake Island. The prisoners were transported to China by ship. But as they were shoved toward the ship, two columns of Japanese sailors with clubs and belts formed and the prisoners were made to run between them, enduring savage beatings.

They were stuffed into the ship’s hold, became despondent, and were savagely treated. Shuffled about China and Japan, the Marines regained their spirit and endured tremendous hardships for the next three years. Eventually, after the atomic bomb attacks and Japanese surrender, they were rescued.

 

Attack by Yorktown planes in October 1943.

Ironically, the prisoners left on the island received a worse fate, working as slave labor until October 1943. Then on 5 October 1943, American naval aircraft from Yorktown raided Wake. Two days later, fearing an imminent invasion, the Japanese Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara ordered the execution of the 98 captured American civilian workers who had initially been kept to perform forced labor.

The 98 were taken to the northern end of the island, blindfolded and executed with a machine gun.

One of the prisoners (whose name has never been discovered) escaped the massacre, apparently returning to the site to carve the message 98 US PW 5-10-43 on a large coral rock near where the victims had been hastily buried in a mass grave. The unknown American was recaptured, and Admiral Sakaibara personally beheaded him with a katana. The inscription on the rock can still be seen and is a Wake Island landmark.

Before the final rescue, in July 1945, a strange thing happened in the prison camp. Japanese officers provided a formal dinner for the American officers, offering toasts and speaking of friendship. In the end, a high-ranking Japanese officer proposed a toast to “everlasting friendship between America and Japan.”

His side of the table smiled, nodded and waited for the American response. The skeleton faces of the Americans were still. At last a Major stood and said lightly, “If you behave yourselves, you’ll get fair treatment.”

The formal surrender of the Japanese garrison on Wake Island – September 4, 1945. Shigematsu Sakaibara is the officer in the right foreground.

The proverbial tables had turned. And the Americans promise of fair treatment far outshines the despicable behavior of the Japanese.  On August 16 the prison guards were gone. Small children were assigned to protect the prisoners from possible civilian attack.

On September 1, the Marines patched a makeshift American flag together and hoisted it into the air. Supplies were air-dropped and at last, the 1stCavalry Division liberated the prisoners. The war was over.

After the war, Sakaibara and his subordinate were sentenced to death for the massacre of the 98 and for other war crimes. Several Japanese officers in American custody had committed suicide over the incident, leaving written statements that incriminated Sakaibara.

Admiral Sakaibara was hanged on 18 June 1947. Eventually, Tachibana’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. The murdered civilian POWs were reburied after the war in Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly known as Punchbowl Crater.

Six Men Killed at the WWII Battle of Arnhem Identified

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H/T War History OnLine.

Now these six families will get the peace of mind knowing their loved ones were identified and properly laid to rest. 

The Battle For Arnhem

72 years after they were killed at the Battle of Arnhem during World War II, six soldiers have been located.

They were killed while trying to defend against the Germans during the failed Operation Market Garden, a mission depicted in the film A Bridge Too Far.

Thousands of Allied paratroopers landed in Holland, which was occupied by Germany in September 1944. They waited eight days for reinforcements that never came.

The six men were infantry soldiers that arrived in Arnhem on gliders. Their mission was to securing landing sites for supply drops and then holding part of Oosterbeek, a village along the Rhine River.

Aerial view of the bridge over the Neder Rijn, Arnhem; British troops and destroyed German armoured vehicles are visible at the north end of the bridge. September 1944.

In a span of four days the six soldiers from the Border Regiment, Lance Corporal Raymond Halliday, Corporal Jack Carr, Corporal Thomas Edgar, Private Thomas Stanley, Private Harry Vasey and Private George Wilson, were all killed in battle.

They were buried in unmarked graves, some by the British and others by the Germans after they retook the area.

Their names are on the list of servicemen with no known burial site at the Grossbeek Memorial in Holland.

Dutch historians who work to identify unmarked war graves felt that they had found the six men last year. They use exhumation reports from 1945 to find them.

According to the reports, after Arnhem was liberated, the bodies were exhumed and buried at the military cemetery at Oosterbeek.

They presented their findings to the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre which researched the British archives before confirming the identification of all six men.

While most of the 9,000 men who fought at Arnhem on September 18, 1944 were paratroopers, there were three battalions of infantrymen from the Border Regiment who flew in on gliders.

The families of the six men will attend a dedication ceremony in Holland. For the first time, they will be able to lay wreaths on headstones with the names of their family members on them.

Joanne Pritchard is Halliday’s granddaughter. Halliday died when her father, also named Raymond, was only two years old. She recalls that, even though her father didn’t really know his father, he was always proud to say he had fought and died in the war. She said it was an honor to finally be able to stand before her grandfather’s grave and pay her respects. Her daughters and nephew have received permission to leave school for the ceremony.

Prithchard’s father searched in Holland for his father’s grave in the 1970s, but never found it.

About 1174 men were killed and 6000 captured during the battle.

Stuart Eastwood is the curator of Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life for the former Border Regiment. He said it was “wonderful” that the six men have been found and that their family members know where they have been laid to rest after decades of wondering.

Wilson, 22, was the first of the six men killed on September 21. Three days later Edgar was shot and taken to the “Angel of Arnhem,” Kate Ter Horst, who cared for 250 injured men. Edgar later died from his wounds. On the same day, Edgar was shot, Halliday was shot and killed in a trench.

The Royal Netherlands Army’s Recovery and Identification team worked with the reports from 1945 to locate the six men. The JCCC confirmed their findings this year. In the case of Halliday, they were able to use dental records to positively identify him, Mail Online reported.

The objective at Arnhem had been to seize the Arnhem Bridge which crossed the Rhine into Germany and gain control of parts of the town. The paratroopers and infantrymen were to receive support from the XXX Corps tank division. The tanks never made it; the Arnhem Bridge was “A Bridge Too Far.” The troops lasted eight days until food and ammunition ran out.

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