It was an honor to have served in the US Army, although, at the time there were situations in which I was engaged that did not conjure up the word honor. Pulling KP (Kitchen Police), scrubbing pots and pans in a hot greasy mess hall from 3:30 AM to 9:00 PM, pulling police call (picking up cigarette butts) on a Sunday morning because I happened to be in the barracks, or cleaning the latrine (bathroom) at 10:00 PM for an inspection the next morning, or landscaping a parade field with entrenching tools, that’s a folding shovel with a two foot handle. It is an honor to serve this country, but the real honor I feel from my time in the Army was the people with whom I served. Overall, they were America’s best, and still are. Some of my observations in life are that most people are capable of much more than they do, and that intelligence and education are not necessarily related. Veterans Day goes back to World War I, and from that war is one of the most vivid examples of a citizen-soldier hero, just doing what had to be done, at the time. Alvin Cullum York was the third child born to William and Mary York on December 13th, 1887 in a two room cabin in Wolf Valley in the area of Pall Mall, Tennessee. Pall Mall has a few buildings and a name, but not much more. Eight more siblings were born to that family, all raised in that two room house. William York worked the farm, did some blacksmith work, and hunted for food. Alvin, quit school after the third grade, to help his dad. He became a crack shot, and was at home in the woods, which was necessary to keep food on the table. Alvin was the oldest of the children living close to home when William died in November 1911, so it fell to Alvin to help his mother raise his younger brothers and sisters. Alvin went to work in railroad construction, then as a logger and devoted himself to supporting his mother and siblings, but he was also a real rebel, becoming a heavy drinker and bar room brawler. Then in the winter of 1914, a good friend of Alvin’s was beaten to death, in a fight. It shook him, he was afraid that if he didn’t change his ways, he could end up with the same fate, so he attended a revival meeting. Then he joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union, where he met Gracie Williams, who helped turn wild hillbilly Alvin York into a Christian. The Church of Christ preached against violence, drinking, and dancing. Alvin became a believer, teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir.
Then in April 1917, the United States entered World War I. Alvin, afraid that he would be drafted, spoke to his pastor who advised him to seek conscientious objector status. On his draft registration card, in response to a question, “Do you seek exemption from the draft?”, he wrote, “Yes, don’t want to fight”.
His case was denied because his church wasn’t a recognized Christian sect, and conscientious objectors were still being drafted, but assigned to support jobs. Alvin was drafted in November 1917 and assigned to Company G, 328th Infantry, 82nd Infantry Division at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Basic training was conducted within the units then. Alvin attracted attention because he was a crack shot who did not want to fight. His Company Commander Captain Danforth, and his Battalion Commander Major Buxton, had long conversations with Alvin about Biblical justifications for war. Major Buxton was a devout Christian and cited a variety of Biblical sources to counter Alvin’s concerns. They were able to convince Alvin that war could be justified. He took a 10 day leave to visit home and returned accepting the belief that God meant for him to fight.
The 82nd Infantry Division arrived in France in late May 1918. Alvin’s unit had more training and then participated in the St Mihiel Offensive in September, when Alvin was promoted to Corporal. On October 7th, his unit entered the fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, to relieve units of the 28th Infantry Division. They were ordered to advance the next morning to take Hill 223 and press on to sever the Decauville railroad north of Chatel-Chehery. They took the hill, but moving from the hill they were forced through a triangular shaped valley where they started taking German machinegun fire from the hill sides. The attack was stopped and the Americans were taking heavy casualties. Sergeant Bernard Early was ordered to take 17 men, including Alvin and work around into the German rear to get to those machineguns. They succeeded in slipping through the German lines, and in moving toward the machineguns found a German headquarters unit, which they captured. There were several soldiers and a Major. When the German machine gunners saw what was happening, they turned their guns around and fired on the Americans, killing six and wounding three, including Sergeant Early. That left Alvin in charge. He left the seven able bodied soldiers, under cover, guarding the prisoners, and he turned to deal with the machine guns. The machineguns were only 30 yards away, they couldn’t miss. Alvin wrote in his diary after the action: “Those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful…. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush, I didn’t even have time to kneel or lie down…. As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. In order to sight me or to swing their machine guns on me, the Germans had to show their heads above the trench, and every time I saw a head, I just touched it off. All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had. Suddenly a German officer and five men jumped out of the trench and charged me with fixed bayonets. I changed to the old automatic (pistol) and just touched them off too. I touched off the sixth man first, then the fifth, then the fourth, then the third and so on. I wanted them to keep coming. I didn’t want the rear ones to see me touching off the front ones. I was afraid they would drop down and pump a volley into me. — and I got hold of the German major, and he told me if I wouldn’t kill any more of them, if he would make them quit firing. So, I told him all right, if he would do it now. So, he blew a little whistle, and they quit shooting and came down and gave up.” The German Machine Gun Commander, First Lieutenant Paul Vollmer took into account his mounting losses and offered to surrender to York – who gleefully accepted. Corporal Alvin York had killed 28, captured 35 machineguns and 132 German Soldiers, which he and the seven patrol members marched back to his battalion headquarters. Upon arriving, his Regimental Commander is said to have said, “York, I hear you captured the whole damn German army.”, Alvin answered, “No Sir, only 132 of them”. Alvin was immediately promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was soon upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He was returned to the United States as a celebrity and given a ticker tape parade through New York. He was pestered by filmmakers and advertisers, but he returned home to Tennessee. A week after he returned home on June 7th 1919, the Governor of Tennessee, Albert H. Roberts came to Pall Mall and before a crowd of hundreds, performed the marriage ceremony for Alvin and Gracie.
The Rotary Club of Nashville offered to raise the money to buy the newlyweds a new home, one of the few early gift offers he accepted, but he insisted that the home be in Pall Mall. Alvin and Gracie had 10 children during their life, eight of whom survived infancy. He founded an educational foundation to assist area children to get an education and did occasional speaking tours, primarily to high schools promoting the importance of education. Alvin was approached by movie makers several times, but refused all until the war in Europe was growing in the late 1930’s. He finally consented to a movie, about him, but with conditions. First, his share of the profits would go to a Bible school he wanted built, second, no cigarette smoking actress could play the role of his wife, and finally, only Gary Cooper could play him. Gary Cooper first refused, because he was 40 at the time and Alvin was 30 when the action happened, but he consented when Alvin personally asked him. “SERGEANT YORK” was released in 1941. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for best actor and the film got one for best editing. It is a four star movie, and was the highest grossing film of 1941. It is 78 years old, black and white, and still a great, great movie. Alvin suffered a debilitating stroke in 1953, and died of a brain hemorrhage in September 1964. At that time, I was in the 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry in the 82nd Airborne Division. It was determined to be the closest, in lineage, to Alvin’s 328th Infantry, so we sent the burial detail to Pall Mall, Tennessee.
Currently one of the most prestigious “bragging rights awards” in the 82nd Airborne Division, is the annual Sgt Alvin C York Award, which goes to the company with the highest overall marksmanship scores in the division.
This was originally published in the Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri, on April 13th 2020. The Belle Banner has since closed. I have often written about the trust and confidence the US Army places in the individual soldier, the enlisted men and women. That trust goes back to the very beginning of this country. In 1780, Thomas Stockton, a nephew of my sixth great grandfather, Thomas Stockton, was living close to the French Broad River in what is now Sevier County, Tennessee. He had spent three years exploring that “back country” before settling there. About 50 miles north of Thomas, his uncle William Stockton was living close to the Nolichucky River in Greene County, Tennessee. The settlements where Thomas and William Stockton lived, had at first been called illegal by the British government, because that was Cherokee land. They had leased their land from the Cherokee, and finally fought them for it, until it was accepted by the government. So, most of them were Whigs, American patriots opposed to the British Monarchy. On the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in what is now York County, South Carolina, Newberry Stockton, brother to my fifth great grandfather, Thomas, was living along Clarks Fork of Bullocks Creek. His neighbors were his two sisters, Jemima Lattimore and Rachel Lattimore with their families, also his aunts, Martha Ann Welchel, and Hannah Goudylock with their families. More family, including Newberry’s uncle, Samuel Stockton, and his aunt Elizabeth, whose husband William Whiteside had died in 1777, lived about 25 miles north, in North Carolina. After the British lost the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, they turned their attention to the south. On the day after Christmas 1779, General Henry Clinton, the overall commander of British troops in North America, with his second in command Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis, sailed south with 8,500 troops and 5,000 sailors on 90 troop ships and 14 warships. After six weeks of fighting, on May 12th 1780, American Major General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered Charleston, South Carolina to the British. It was one of the worst American losses and a great British victory. During the summer of 1780, groups from the frontier, west of the mountains, began making excursions across the mountains and engaging loyalist groups. Isaac Shelby lead one group and joined another group, led by Colonel Charles McDowell. They captured Fort Thickety on the Pacolet River, and aided in a Patriot victory at Musgrove Mill. The Overmountain Men, as they were called, were true pioneers, used to living off the land, often having to hunt for food. Almost without exception they carried what came to be known as the Kentucky Rifle. The Kentucky Rifle was made in America, and was the first with a rifled barrel, which greatly increased its accuracy. It was made in calibers from .28 to .50, with a 44 inch barrel, and was deadly accurate to over 200 yards. The Overmountain Men were excellent shots, used to having to shoot game, on the run. The loyalists carried the “British Brown Bess” musket, which was a large caliber, smooth bore, only accurate out to about 50 to 60 yards. It was devastating when it hit, but unpredictable. On August 16th 1780, at Camden, South Carolina, Lord Cornwallis’ forces routed the American forces of Major General Horatio Gates, who had defeated the British at Saratoga. Cornwallis’ intention was then to move into North Carolina. South Carolina appears to have been almost equally divided between American patriots, and those loyal to the British Crown. So, enlisting forces of loyalists was not hard for the British, in South Carolina. Lord Cornwallis sent British Major Patrick Ferguson to organize a force of loyalists to protect his west flank, as he moved his army toward North Carolina. Major Ferguson had recruited and trained a very effective loyalist force of about 1,100. By fall, most of the Overmountain Men had to return home to harvest crops. Colonel McDowell stayed behind with about 160 men, to continue harassing the loyalists, but when he ran into Major Ferguson’s loyalists, he was greatly outnumbered and had to retreat back over the mountains. One of McDowell’s group, who happened to be a cousin of Isaac Shelby, was captured by Ferguson. Major Ferguson sent him home with the message that if they didn’t lay down their weapons and stop fighting, and “declare for the crown”, he would cross the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste to the country with fire and sword. Upon receiving the message, Shelby rode 40 miles to Watauga to consult with John Sevier, and the two decided to raise a force, go east over the mountains and strike Ferguson, before he could get to them. These were American Frontiersmen, temperamental and cantankerous backwoodsmen, who definitely did not “declare for the crown”. Shelby raised 240 men from Sullivan County and John Sevier gathered another 240 from Washington. William Stockton was in the John Sevier group. I believe that must have been young William, who would have been about 30 at that time, whereas his father, William, who was a brother to my sixth great grandfather Thomas, would have been about 60. Colonel William Campbell brought 400 from southwest Virginia. They came together at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River on September 25th. Lead had been mined at nearby Bumpass Cove for ammunition, Sullivan County merchant John Adair volunteered funds for the expedition, and women prepared clothing and food for the long march. Black powder for the expedition was manufactured by Mary Patton at the Patton mill along nearby Powder Branch. On September 26th, after a fiery sermon by Reverend Samuel Doak, they started across the Blue Ridge Mountains. It took three days to cross the mountains, in which they met with Colonel McDowell and his group, bringing their numbers to just over 1,000.
On September 30th they spent the day and the night at the McDowell family plantation at Quaker Meadows (Morganton, North Carolina), where they also joined with 300 Carolina Patriots led by Colonels Benjamin Cleveland and Joseph Winston. In that group were sons of sisters of my sixth great grandfather Thomas, Elizabeth’s sons Davis and John Whiteside, and Martha Ann’s sons Davis, Francis, John, and William Welchel. That brought the force to about 1,400. On October 1st they camped on top of Bedford Hill and chose an overall leader. There was argument, at first, but then Shelby suggested that Campbell, who commanded the largest group, be given overall command. Cleveland, McDowell and Sevier agreed. Major Ferguson had camped at Gilbert Town (Rutherfordton, North Carolina), but when he got reports of “a swarm of backwoodsmen” he turned east to get closer to Lord Cornwallis’ British regulars. On October 4th the Overmountain Men reached Gilbert Town to find that Ferguson had gone east. By then they were so tired that they were no longer capable of hot pursuit, but they pushed on reaching Cowpens on October 6th, where they found a loyalists’ cow herd, which they slaughtered and feasted. They had brought very little food with them and only a small bag of corn for the horses, which had to eat grass found along the way. While at Cowpens they learned that Ferguson had camped at Kings Mountain, which was a flat top hill shaped like a footprint with the highest point at the heel, a narrow instep, and a broad rounded toe. The Loyalists camped on a ridge west of Kings Pinnacle, the highest point on Kings Mountain. Upon learning Ferguson’s location, the most weakened members were left behind, and the remaining force of about 900 set off in the rainy darkness for Kings Mountain. Many were on foot, but swore to keep up with those on horses. They marched through the night, stopping the next morning when outriders captured a pair of loyalists, who described Kings Mountain. They reached the western side of the mountain about noon on October 7th. They tied their horses to trees and moved forward on foot. By around 3:00 PM they had everyone in position, forming a U around the mountain, with Shelby, Sevier, Williams, and Cleveland on the north side, and Campbell, Winston, and McDowell on the south side. Loyalist officer Alexander Chesney later wrote that he didn’t know the Patriots were anywhere near them until the shooting started. William Campbell told his men to “shout like hell and fight like the devil”, and two companies opened fire on the loyalists. Both Campbell and Shelby tried to charge up the mountain, but were driven back. The mountain was hard to scale, but it was heavily wooded, providing cover for the mountain men, then they realized that the loyalists shooting downhill were consistently shooting high. That, I believe, is when those “backwoods” Mountain men and their Kentucky Rifles took over. The fire from the Overmountain men was described as devastating. After an hour, Major Ferguson, who wore a colored hunting shirt so his men could always locate him, was hit several times and knocked dead from his horse, that is when the loyalists ran back to their tents and tied handkerchiefs on their gun barrels, trying to surrender, but the backwoodsmen, now on them, continued to kill loyalists, until the leaders finally got control and stopped the killing. The final result was loyalists 157 killed, 163 wounded so severely they were left on the field, and 698 captured. The Patriots suffered 28 killed and 62 wounded.
Colonel James Williams from South Carolina was Killed, as was John Sevier’s brother Robert. Davis Whiteside, whose mother was Elizabeth, sister to my sixth great grandfather, Thomas, died from his wounds, and Clarks Fork of Bullocks Creek, runs off of Kings Mountain. The battle was literally in the back yards of the Stockton family in South Carolina.
Some have written that Kings Mountain was a turning point in the war. I agree, because instead of continuing on to North Carolina, Cornwallis turned back south, albeit temporarily. Hardly more than a week after being threatened, a force that had not previously existed, came over the mountains and wiped out his 1,000 strong western flank security. In January 1781, a force of 1,000 of his British regulars, under Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton met an equal force of the Continental Army, under Lieutenant Colonel William Washington at Cowpens. Tarleton barely escaped with his life, leaving behind 839 wounded, killed, or captured. In March 1781, Cornwallis did defeat American General Green’s forces at Gulliford Court House (Greensboro, North Carolina), he then moved into Virginia thinking that he would find the same loyalist support for the crown, as in South Carolina. He did not, and in October 1781, a year after King’s Mountain, he was forced to surrender to General Washington, at Yorktown, Virginia, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri, March 4th, 2020. I usually don’t post these stories online until a period of time after they have been published in The Belle Banner, but I decided to throw this one at the 82nd, in case there is something they may want to use in preparation for All American Week.
Why is the 82nd Airborne Division called the All American Division, and why is it called America’s Guard of Honor?
Paratroopers in the air.
ALL AMERICANS; In 1914, when war exploded in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the United States would be neutral, and history says that the majority of the American people agreed. In 1915 Germany announced unrestricted warfare against any ship headed for England. Ships with Americans on board were blown up with mines and torpedoed by German submarines. In March 1917 Germany sank four United States Merchant ships. On April 2nd President Wilson called for a declaration of war against Germany. It was approved by congress on April 4th. The Selective Service Act of 1917 or the “Draft Act”, was approved and signed into law on May 18th. By the end of the war about 4.2 million men had been drafted into the service. During the summer of 1917, hundreds of thousands of men were drafted into the Army forming new divisions and training as units. A total of 62 divisions were formed and 42 were shipped overseas. The 82nd Infantry Division was constituted in the National Army on August 5th 1917, and filled with all drafted soldiers directly from civilian life to go through training as a unit, and activated on August 25th, at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Initially a contest was held in Atlanta to choose a nickname for the division, but when it was discovered that there were soldiers from all 48 states in the division, the Division Commander, Major General Eban Smith, chose the name “All American”, and the AA shoulder patch was created. The 82nd Infantry Division spent more consecutive days on the front lines in France than any other American Division and suffered 7,422 casualties, including 1,298 killed. Its’ battle streamers included Lorraine, Saint-Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. One of its’ soldiers was the most famous Medal of Honor winner of World War One, Alvin C. York. The 82nd Division returned to the States in April and May 1919, and was deactivated at Camp Mills, New York on May 27th.
Red headed, blue eyed, Alvin C. York.
AMERICA’S GUARD OF HONOR: Following the surrender of Germany, the 82nd was ordered to Berlin for occupation duty. In Berlin General George Patton was so impressed with the 82nd’s honor guard he said, “In all my years in the Army and all the honor guards I have ever seen, the 82nd’s honor guard is undoubtedly the best.” Hence the “All-Americans” became known as “America’s Guard of Honor.” That’s the short answer, but there is always more to the story. What else, besides sharp looking paratroopers was in General George (old blood and guts) Patton’s mind when he said that?
82nd Airborne Division Honor Guard at the Brandenburg Gate – Berlin 1945
General Patton knew and respected the 82nd Airborne Division, and he knew and respected its commander, Major General James Maurice Gavin, the youngest division commander, in fact the youngest general in the Army, at age 37. Clay Blair wrote in “Ridgeway’s Paratroopers”; “Gavin was tall and slim (Slim Jim), handsome, soft-spoken, a dedicated athlete and a master in the art of leading men. He was also dazzlingly brilliant – considered by some to be a military genius. In conversation, his mind raced at breathtaking speed over such a vast canvas. Ridgeway later wrote that Gavin was “one of the finest battle leaders and one of the most brilliant thinkers the Army ever produced.” General Patton may have thought back to his first meeting with the 82nd Airborne Division, when he was commanding the 7th Army during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. Two Infantry Divisions were to land on the beaches, led the night before by an 82nd Airborne Division reinforced regiment parachuting inland, in front of the invasion forces, to block the German army from reaching the beaches. He may have remembered how high winds blew the 82nd’s planes wildly off course, with most becoming lost and dropping paratroops scattered over an area almost 100 miles wide, instead of in front of the invasion forces. How paratroopers formed together in little groups, cut every telephone line, attacked German convoys and road blocks. How then Colonel Gavin, carrying an M-1 rifle and leading an engineer platoon, then a battalion attacked Biazza Ridge, with small arms, bazookas, and small modified artillery pieces, against German tanks. He may have seen Gavin frantically digging a body sized hole, with his helmet, to keep from being crushed by the tanks, but he would have definitely remembered Gavin and his ad hoc band of paratroopers stopping the German armored column at Biazzza Ridge. James Gavin recalled meeting General Patton, after the Biazza Ridge battle. General Patton’s first words were; “Gavin you look like you could use a drink. Here have one”, and handed him a flask. In spite of starting in complete disaster, the 82nd accomplished all its objectives. General Patton may have remembered how the 82nd Airborne Division was assigned, what some called, the suicide mission of blocking several German Armored Divisions from reaching the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and again being scattered over the area, but accomplishing every objective and stopping the German armor. He may have also thought about Operation Market Garden in Holland, where the 82nd accomplished all its objectives, only to be stopped by a superior German force at the Nijmegan bridge over the ¼ mile wide Waal river. Then sending a battalion across the river, in boats, against German infantry on the far bank, over running the Germans and taking the bridge. Then spending the next two months fighting the German army on the ground, in Holland. The Battle of the Bulge must surely have been on General Patton’s mind, when he was given the mission of stopping the German breakout in December 1944, and the 82nd Airborne Division hurriedly thrown into the battle, succeeded in stopping the main German column. General Patton may or may not have known exact figures, at that time, but he knew what divisions did what in the war. There were 73 American divisions engaged in combat during World War II. The 82nd Airborne Division spent 422 days engaged in active combat, number four out of the 73, and “never lost a foot of ground”. Early on Thursday morning, August 30th 1945, Major General Gavin wrote a letter to his daughter, Barbara. He wrote that in about an hour he was having General Eisenhower and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as guests for an airborne division review. So, in the airborne tradition of never doing anything half way, an honor guard was organized of all combat veterans, with several rows of ribbons, all six feet tall, with spit shined jump boots, with white laces, white parachute silk scarfs around their neck, and chrome plated bayonets on their rifles. When General Patton uttered those words, that morning, the stands were filled with news reporters, who put the General’s words on wire services around the world, and that is when the 82nd Airborne Division became America’s Guard of Honor. The 82nd returned to the United States and led the World War II Victory Parade through New York City on January 12th 1946, before finally returning to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Since World War II, the 82nd Airborne Division has been the United States Military immediate reaction force. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower chose not to use the 82nd in Korea, but to keep it ready if needed elsewhere. The 82nd is now the US military Global Response Force, and how it has responded.
Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the first Iraq war 1990, hurricane Andrew, Haiti – Restore Democracy, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, hurricane Katrina, and today the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is in Afghanistan, and the 1st Brigade just deployed to Kuwait, with one battalion guarding the American Embassy in Baghdad.
Today the 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters is located in Gavin Hall. Slim Jim Gavin set the standard for airborne officer leadership. When saluting a superior officer in the 82nd, the proper greeting is a boisterous “All the Way, Sir” (or Ma am). The officer answers with a smile and a hearty “Airborne”.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri, in four issues, beginning December 18th 2019 and ending January 15th 2020.
In December 1944, the almost 2,000,000 American soldiers and Allied Armies had fiercely fought the German Army back across France and Belgium to the German border. In front of the Allied front lines was The Siegfried Line, a deep series of concrete pillboxes and tank traps, with walls from 5 to 11 feet thick, stretching 390 miles across the western border of Germany.
Those Armies had moved across France more rapidly than leadership had anticipated. Troops were exhausted from weeks of continuous combat. Supplies had been dangerously depleted, and supply lines stretched to the breaking point. In August the Red Ball Express had been created. It was almost 6,000 trucks, with two drivers in each truck. About 75 percent of the drivers were black, because at that time the Army was segregated and black men were normally assigned to support jobs. When it started the highways were too congested, so parallel highways, which were eventually extended across France, were designated as “Red Ball Express Traffic Only”, no civilian or military traffic. Each was one way, one going out from Normandy and Cherbourg and the other coming back. The highways were marked with white signs with a red ball, warning all others to stay off, and the trucks were marked with a red ball. It started with a speed limit of 25 MPH and a convoy of at least five trucks, but it soon turned into a truck leaving when it was loaded, and the drivers learned how to disable the trucks governors, which restricted the trucks to 56 MPH. The stories are that they drove flat out, as fast as the truck would run. The problems were finding enough drivers, sleep and maintenance. The Red Ball Express ran for three months, until the seaport at Antwerp, Belgium was recaptured from the Germans and reopened. During that time, they had delivered about a half a million tons of supplies to the Army.
By December 1944, the drive across France had beaten and battered the German army, but the allied armies were also battered and exhausted. The winter of 1944/1945 in Europe was extreme. It was very wet and had warm days with thawing and mud scattered in with extremely cold days and heavy snow. Those conditions, by December 1st, caused General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, to realize that winning the war by Christmas wouldn’t happen, that it would probably be May 1945 before victory. Allied forces in December 1944 were arranged with the British 21st Army Group in the north, commanded by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the US 12th Army Group in the central section, commanded by General Omar Bradley, and the 6th US Army Group in the south, commanded by General Jacob Devers, all under the command of General Eisenhower.
On November 16th, General Bradley had initiated an offense to try to break through the German defensive line. In the north, Bradley’s First Army commanded by Lieutenant General (LTG) Courtney Hodges, fighting in miserable weather, through the Hurtgen Forest, ran into punishing German resistance. They did manage to slightly punch through the Siegfried Line, but at a cost of 35,000 casualties. In the south, LTG George Patton’s Third Army, bulled its way 40 miles, but was stopped at the Siegfried Line, after incurring 27,000 casualties in three weeks. Clay Blair wrote in “Ridgway’s Paratroopers”, “The Allied Armies from Nijmegan to the Saar were mired in a ghastly war of attrition and winter was upon them”.
A typical snow covered entrenchment in the Ardennes area December 1944.
Believing that the German army was all but beaten and incapable of mounting any serious offense, the American and Allied armies settled in for the winter. In early December, General Bradley assigned the new 106th Infantry Division, fresh from the United States, to a thinly manned, relatively quiet area around St Vith in the Ardennes to get acclimated, get some experience and finish training. His staff called it a “Ghost Front”. He later described his decision as a “calculated risk”. General Eisenhower added that because of a shortage of divisions, risk had to taken somewhere, and the German Ardennes front was a “quiet” sector, or a training ground, manned by inferior Volksgrenadier divisions (composed of sailors and airmen and new recruits, many of them hastily trained old men and young boys), incapable of major offensive operations. The 106th became part of VIII Corps, commanded by LTG Troy H. Middleton, which was headquartered at Bastogne. After sleeping in the mud for two nights while crossing France and Belgium, the 106th relieved the battle hardened 2nd Infantry Division, which was being pulled back to prepare for an attack on the Roer River Dams. Moving into defensive positions already prepared by the 2nd Infantry Division, the change was completed on Wednesday, December 13th. The 106th commander, Major General (MG) Alan Jones assumed responsibility for the defense of that sector.
In early December, Colonel Ben “Monk” Dickson, the G2 (Intelligence Officer) of LTG Hodges First Army, which VIII Corps was part of, had pieced together information from various sources and concluded that the Germans were planning offensive operations in the Ardennes area. Senior leaders didn’t think so. General Bradley’s G2 dismissed Dickson’s report, and stated, “It is now certain that attrition is steadily sapping the strength of German forces on the Western Front.” Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expedition Forces (SHAEF) joined Dickson’s critics, General Eisenhower’s G2 issued a report that the Germans were all but finished, and the British concurred. Montgomery had stated flatly that the Germans “cannot stage major offensive operations.” Colonel Dickson had been wrong once before, so he went on leave to Paris. General Hodges put up his Christmas tree, as did Montgomery, who attended to his Christmas cards, and prepared to go home for Christmas.
The only battle experienced command in reserve was the XVIII Airborne Corps, consisting of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division. Both divisions had been pulled back to France in late November, after having spent 60 days in continuous hard combat in Holland after operation Market Garden. All who could be spared were given leaves and passes. Ross Carter wrote in “Those Devils in Baggy Pants” about he and the original old guys in his platoon attempting to “take in” the culture, hotels, restaurants, night clubs, bars, and women of Paris on a 48 hour pass. The XVIII Airborne Corps commander, Major General (MG) Matthew B. Ridgeway, was in England at XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters Rear, observing training of the 17th Airborne Division. MG Maxwell Taylor, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division was in Washington, DC making a pitch to the War Department for increasing the strength of Airborne divisions. The Assistant Division Commander (ADC) of the 101st, Brigadier General (BG) Gerry Higgins, and five senior commanders of the 101st were in England conducting a critique on Operation Market Garden. The remaining senior officers in the area were the 82nd commander, MG James M. (Jim) Gavin, who was, at that time, the youngest general in the army at 37 years old, and his brand new ADC Colonel Ira Swift, the 101st Artillery commander, BG Anthony (Tony) McAuliffe, and BG Doc Eaton, the XVIII Airborne Corps Chief of Staff.
On Friday December 15th, a woman was brought to LTG Middleton’s headquarters in Bastogne, who claimed that she had been taken and placed on a work party by German soldiers. Before slipping away, she said that she saw German troops and tanks massing east of Clervaux, twenty miles away. Elsie Dele-Dunkel told that she had seen horse-drawn wagons loaded with pontoons and small boats, and troops in SS uniforms, and overheard soldiers talking about their three week struggle to get there from Italy. She was sent to LTG Hodges First Army headquarters at Spa, but the G2 himself, Colonel Dickson, was on leave, so she was listened to by intelligence officers and politely told to go home.
Meanwhile on the other side. In September, Hitler called in General Alfred Jodl, his Chief of Staff to review a map of the Ardennes, the area lightly manned by the Americans. Noting that American defensive positions in some areas were only manned during the day, not at night. Hitler’s plan was to mass all forces available, and drive a wedge between the allied forces, thrusting 125 miles to the north and retake the port at Antwerp, hoping to bring the allies to the negotiating table at the German border. German Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt commanded all German forces on the Western Front, but for this operation Hitler had moved close to the front lines to personally supervise. Hitler also gave SS Lieutenant Colonel Otto Skorzeny the task of organizing a regiment of commandos dressed in American uniforms, fluent in American language, and using American vehicles and equipment, to wreak havoc behind the American lines. When Hitler revealed the plans to Von Rundstedt and his chief field commander, Walter Model, they were shocked. Model confided privately to Von Rundstedt, “This damned thing hasn’t a leg to stand on.” They knew that the Americans could bring in reinforcements by the thousands.
In “PATTON: Ordeal and Triumph”, Ladislas Farago wrote about General George Patton’s sixth sense – what Eisenhower had praised as Patton’s uncanny ability to worm himself mentally into the enemy’s thinking and anticipate his moves. The last week of November 1944, Patton said; “The First Army is making a terrible mistake by leaving Middleton’s VIII Corps static where it is. It is highly probable that the Germans are building up east of them for a terrific blow.”
In the First Army area, in the Ardennes Forest area in Belgium, there was a two mile wide gap between the V Corps and VIII Corps. The connecting units, the 106th Infantry Division’s 14th Cavalry Group, of VIII Corps, and north of them, the 394th Infantry of the 99th Infantry Division of V Corps, patrolled back and forth to cover the area. On Saturday morning December 16th 1944, the only unit in that sector was the I&R (Intelligence and Reconnaissance) Platoon of the 394th. There were 18 men in the platoon plus four artillery forward observers (FO’s). Twenty year old Lieutenant Lyle Bouck, from Fenton, Missouri, was the Platoon Leader. A Recon Platoon’s job is not to engage the enemy, but to find what the enemy is doing and report it. The Recon platoon members are usually the best troops, hand-picked. The platoon had dug in and fortified their positions with logs, on a ridge over-looking the town of Lanzerath. Lanzerath, was a village of about 15 houses on the only road network which would support major military traffic through the Losheim Gap, a narrow valley about five miles long, along the base of the Schnee Eifel, a heavily wooded mountainous range.
That road network was the northern route of attack planned in Hitler’s operation “Watch on the Rhine”, for General Josef “Sepp” Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army, consisting of the best German troops available, with the German 1st SS Panzer Corps leading. The lead element was commanded by a ruthless 28 year old lieutenant colonel Joachim Peiper. A battalion of 500 German paratroopers was the lead element. Dietrich’s mission was to attack from Monschau to the Losheim Gap, through the gap in the American lines, roll over Elsenborn Ridge, across the Meuse River and on to Antwerp and recapture seaport there. South of the 6th Panzer, General Hasso Von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army was to encircle the Schnee Eifel salient, trapping the US 106th Division, and then capture St Vith, the most vital rail and road center east of Bastogne. South of the 5th Panzer, General Ernst Brandenberger’s 7th Army was to basically protect the left flank of the 5th Panzer from Patton’s US 3rd Army in the south.
It was bitterly cold, that morning, foggy and overcast. At 5:30 AM an eighty mile wide front, literally exploded with German artillery, mortars, and railway guns firing 14 inch shells. The barrage went on for an hour and a half, destroying most all telephone lines. Radio traffic was jammed with the Germans playing loud music on all known American military frequencies. About 8:00 AM, the 394th I&R Platoon spotted white clad German soldiers, with rifles slung over their shoulders, moving along the road. The Germans didn’t expect to meet any resistance. The I&R platoon fired on the column, the Germans scattered, some into the town buildings, some platoon members went into the town and ran the Germans out. The Germans organized a direct attack across an open field, they were sitting ducks for hand picked American troops. The attacks went on all day, but were unable to dislodge that I&R platoon. Finally, at dusk, an overwhelming number of German Infantry over ran the platoon and captured them. One artillery forward observer had been killed, fourteen were wounded, all were taken to the rear as prisoners of war, and all refused to provide the Germans with any information about their units. The Germans reported 16 killed, 63 wounded, and 13 missing in action. Because of the high volume of accurate fire, the Germans thought that they had captured just one platoon of a much larger force, and that the woods were full of American troops, only when Peiper arrived after midnight, did they prob and find that there were no more Americans to their front. Finally, at 4:30 AM on December 17th, the German column started moving again. That one American Recon Platoon had stopped the entire German 6th Army, which was now 18 hours behind its planned time table. Knowledge of that action was lost for years, because Lyle Bouck thought that by being captured, he had failed. In 1981, after a push by Bouck, to gather statements, including information from German records, the platoon members were presented valor awards, making it the most decorated platoon of World War II.
Lieutenant Lyle Bouck
By around noon on the 17th, a frustrated Joachim Peiper had pushed about 30 miles further to the Baugnez crossroads about two miles south of Malmedy, when his lead element encountered a US convoy of about 30 vehicles of B Battery of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. The German Tiger tanks destroyed the first and last vehicle in the convoy and surrounded the unit. Armed with only rifles and pistols, B Battery surrendered. About 125 American soldiers were grouped in a field, next to a café, and machine gunned. Those appearing to be alive were shot in the head. Some played dead and survived. Of the 84 bodies recovered at the “Malmedy Massacre”, 40 had wounds in the head, some with powder burns. American POW’s were also reported massacred in Stavelot, Cheneux, La Gleize, and Stoumont. At Stavelot Peiper’s men murdered about 100 Belgium civilians – men, women, and children. Word quickly spread that the Germans were killing POW’s.
American soldiers massacred as POW’s at Malmedy, Belgium December 17th 1944.
South of the Losheim Gap, when the shelling stopped, the Germans turned on giant anti-aircraft search lights behind their own lines. The light reflected off the clouds and light up the American front lines. Americans came out of their positions to see hundreds of white clad German Infantry moving toward them, with tanks following them. With each regiment, the 422nd, 423rd, and 424th Infantry, of the 106th Infantry Division, covering an area over seven miles wide, the front line was too thinly manned to prevent the German Infantry from simply bypassing many positions and encircling them.
German soldiers advancing past burning and abandoned American equipment
Elements of the 422nd counterattacked toward the village of Auw, preventing the Regimental Command Post (CP) from being overrun. The Germans drove a wedge between the 423rd surrounding some companies. The 106th Division Reconnaissance Troop and a company of the 424th were overrun and captured. The 424th began pulling back, giving up ground slowly.
South of the 106th Division, was the 28th Infantry Division, full of new recruits, having recently suffered high casualties in the Hurtgen Forest. The 28th was also covering an area 25 miles wide, three times that normally assigned to a division. In the center of the 28th area was the 110th Regimental Combat Team (RCT), with around 5,000 men. Facing the 110th, across the Our river was Germany’s entire 47th Panzer Corps with 27,000 infantry and 216 tanks intending to smash through the 110th positions in one day, seize the Clerf river bridges intact and drive on to reach Meuse two or three days later. Throughout the night, before the attack, German Infantry had crossed the river and snuck into positions surrounding much of the 110th. When the artillery barrage ended, the German Infantry came out into the open and started moving toward the American positions. A couple of shivering guards in a water tower in Hosingen spotted an entire company of white clad Germans, and alerted their fellow GI’s, who put up a serious defense, stopping the German advance. Many elements of the 110th fell back to defend the Regimental CP in the town of Clervaux. The Germans expected the 110th to simply surrender, being surrounded by overwhelming numbers. The 110th did not surrender, they fought the Germans down to house to house fighting, until around 6:45 PM on the 17th, when they ran out of ammunition. Many, including the Regimental Commander, Colonel Fuller, tried to escape on foot through the forest, but were captured. By that time most of the 422nd and 423rd regiments of the 106th had also been surrounded and forced to surrender, but they had bought valuable time for the US, because the German attack was now two days behind schedule, giving the American command time to realize what was happening, and respond.
Saturday morning, December 16th 1944, General Bradley, the 12th Army Group commander and Lieutenant General (LTG) Hodges, the First Army commander, visited a Belgian maker of custom shotguns, then General Bradley got in his armored Cadillac staff car for the trip to Versailles to confer with General Eisenhower about replacements, arriving around mid-afternoon. About dusk, a message arrived that the enemy had counter attacked at five separate points across the First Army sector. General Bradley said, “Let them come”, thinking that it was just a spoiling local attack. General Eisenhower was among the first to realize that this was no local “spoiling” attack, he surmised that five points in our weakest sector meant a major attack. He suggested that Bradley divert two armored divisions to that area. General Bradley called his own headquarters and ordered that the 7th Armored Division be diverted from LTG Simpson’s Ninth Army, and the 10th Armored be diverted from LTG Patton’s Third Army. General Bradley also asked General Eisenhower to release the reserves consisting of the XVIII Airborne Corps’ 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, resting in France. General Eisenhower was reluctant to release the airborne divisions, but did so the following day.
General Bradley dreaded telling Patton, who had once been his superior, to give up a division, that Patton was planning to use in a major offensive operation. General Eisenhower said; “Tell him Ike is running this damned war.” Patton did protest, but the tone of General Bradley’s conversation caused him to believe that something serious was happening up north. Shortly later, when Patton learned that the German 7th Army was moving into his own XX Corps area, he said; “One of these is a feint, one is the real thing. The more I think of it though, the more I become convinced that the thing in the north is the real McCoy.” Patton then directed his staff to start working up plans for the Third Army to swing north. The next morning, Monday December 18th, General Bradley personally called Patton to meet him in Luxembourg, as soon as he could get there. After laying out the situation, Bradley asked Patton, “What can you do to help Hodges?” (LTG Hodges First Army) Patton answered that one division could be on the move immediately, one in the morning, and one on standby. Bradley was expecting an argument, instead he got help. Just after 11:00 PM that evening, Bradley called Patton again. He said, “Georgie, Ike is coming to Eagle Main tomorrow morning for a special confab. Be there at 1100 sharp”. By the next morning, having worked through the night, the Third Army staff had completed plans, and operations orders for three different movements, one of which Patton believed he would be asked to do. Each with a code word that Patton would call back with to initiate the chosen operation. The meeting was filled with brass and intelligence people. There was a brief presentation, then General Eisenhower took over, he knew what he wanted and needed only a few words to outline his plan. He then turned straight to Patton, he said, “George, I want you to go to Luxembourg and take charge of the battle, making a strong counter attack with six divisions.” Patton answered “Yes sir”. “When can you start? Ike asked. “As soon as you’ve finished with us here”, Patton answered. Bradley asked, “How soon will you be able to attack, George?” “In forty eight hours, but with only three divisions, they are ready and if we wait for six, we will lose surprise”. There was a shuffling of chairs, and Eisenhower frowned and said, “Don’t be fatuous, George”. Patton would have to turn the entire Third Army 90 degrees. Patton then explained that his staff had already prepared plans for just this eventuality, and he had only to call and give them a code word to start the operation. Patton then lit a cigar and pointed to the bulge on the map of the Ardennes, and said, “Brad, this time the Kraut has stuck his head in a meat grinder, and this time I’ve got hold of the handle”, holding up his fist. Even Eisenhower grinned and said, “All right George, start your attack”.
As previously mentioned, when the German Army counter attacked through the Ardennes Forest on December 16th 1944, the XVIII Airborne Corps commander, Major General (MG) Ridgeway, was in England observing training, MG Taylor, the 101st commander was in Washington, DC, the Assistant Division Commander (ADC) of the 101st, Brigadier General (BG) Higgins, along with five senior commanders from the division were in England.
Early on Sunday evening, December 17th, MG James M. (Jim) Gavin, the 82nd Airborne Division commander had just sat down to dinner, with his staff at their house in Sissonne, France when he received a call from BG Eaton, the XVIII Corps Chief of Staff. He was informed that he was now the Acting Corps Commander, and that both divisions were to be ready to move to the front, within 24 hours of daylight in the morning. He told the Corps Chief to tell BG Anthony (Tony) McAuliffe, the 101st Artillery Commander, that he was now the Acting Division Commander of the 101st, and to immediately start preparing the division to move. Two hours later MG Gavin received another call directing that the divisions move as quickly as humanly possible.
Ross Carter wrote in “Those Devils in Baggy Pants”, on that very evening, a group was sitting around in their barracks planning a big Christmas party. “Suddenly, the new company commander dropped in our midst like a shell.” “Men, we’re hot! An urgent mission is coming up. There’s been a break-through. We’ve got to be ready to leave eight o’clock in the morning with complete combat equipment. I want to see all non-coms. (sergeants).” “There would be no Christmas!”
John Toland wrote in “Battle”, “That evening, the men of these two airborne divisions were enjoying the wine and women of Reims, France. Pfc. Edward Peniche, a native of Yucatan, Mexico, was sitting at a bar with a group of 101st men. “Throw a beer at that table, Peniche,” a buddy suggested, nodding at a group wearing the “AA” patch of the 82nd. “AA—All-American crumbs!” Peniche obliged, the can hit a big 82nd man. He picked it up and walked over to Peniche. “Well, who threw it?” A French girl pointed at Peniche. “It just fell out of his hand,” Peniche’s buddy explained. The 82nd man hit Peniche, and the riot began. Soon the whistles were blowing, but not primarily to stop this latest skirmish between the two rival divisions. “Okay, 101, back to Mourmelon!” shouted an MP. “Trucks are outside!” The men of the 82nd were also ordered to their camp at Suippes. All over Reims men were being dragged from boites, bistros, and bordellos. Some dead drunk, some still fighting, others not quite dressed, they were thrown into trucks and hustled home to camp. What was up? Where were they going? Everyone had a different idea: a new jump; rest camp in the south of France; back to England. But they were going somewhere, and the brass was in a terrific heat to get them there”.
Having set movement plans, for the two airborne divisions, in motion, about 11:30 PM MG Gavin with his G1, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Al Ireland, and Aide Captain Hugo Olson, got in an open jeep and drove through light rain and fog to Spa, Belgium, to meet with LTG Hodges, at First Army Headquarters, arriving around 9:00 AM the next morning. LTG Hodges directed that one division be sent to Bastogne. Seven major roads converge on Bastogne, making it essential for the Germans to control in their march to Antwerp. The other division to be deployed along a dominating hill mass centered on the small town of Werbomont. The 82nd, having been on stand down longer than the 101st, was the first to move. MG Gavin decided to put the 82nd in the blocking position at Werbomont, and when the 101st arrived a few hours later it moved into Bastogne. The 82nd Airborne Division was being placed directly in the path of Peiper and the 6th Panzer Army, with the mission of stopping the Germans.
Ross S. Carter was an infantryman in Company C, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 82nd Airborne Division. He wrote in “Those Devils in Baggy Pants’; “we rode in rain-soaked trucks all day and all night, piled off in the cold of a rain-fog morning on December 19 and slogged along for miles through squashy piles of watery snow. We spent the day in a drippy pine forest and then at nightfall resumed our march, which lasted until our muscles became numb and the bone in our feet dissolved into formless, motileless paste. At dawn (December 20) we finally halted on a road that circled the top of a high hill and began to dig into the hard clay.
82ns Airborne paratroops on the march in Belgium, December 19-20, 1944
War is hell. Plato said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” When evil arises, as did Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, and deny other nations and peoples their freedom, war is inevitable. Generals run the wars. They move armies and make decisions to defeat the enemy and end the war. Soldiers fight and die.
The Battle of the Bulge or officially the Ardennes Counteroffensive, was the largest, most fiercely fought battle of World War II. It lasted from December 16th 1944 to January 25th 1945, when the German Armies were pushed back into Germany and lines were restored to where they were on December 15th. Germany committed about 450,000 troops and 1500 tanks. The German high command reported 81,834 casualties, of which 12,652 were killed, 38,600 were wounded, and 30,582 missing or captured. Others estimate the German casualties at around 100,000. The Allies committed around 610,000 men. The US Army reported 108,347 casualties, of which 19,246 were killed, 62,489 were wounded, and 26,612 captured or missing. There were hundreds of stories of exceptional, gutsy actions by soldiers. Heroism. After the battle, someone suggested that General Patton was the hero of the Battle of the Bulge. His response was; “The only hero of the Battle of the Bulge was the individual soldier – on both sides.” Here are a couple of those stories.
LTG Bradley, Gen Eisenhower, LTG Patton.
The 82nd Airborne Division was in a blocking position, spread out over a twenty five mile wide area of high ground centered on Werbomont. In some places there was 200 yards between individual positions. By their nature, paratroopers are not static, and Major General (MG) Gavin, the 82nd commander, was of the same military mindset as General Patton, in that the best defense is often a good offense.
Major General Jim Gavin 82nd Airborne Division Commander in Belgium 1944.
The afternoon of December 20th it was learned that Joachim Peiper’s command in the 1st SS Panzer Division was in Cheneux, a few miles northeast. A bridge over the Ambleve led to Cheneux, if left in German control, it gave Peiper a route west to Werbomont. MG Gavin ordered Colonel Tucker, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) commander to attack Cheneux, destroy the German forces and capture the bridge. Col Tucker committed his 1st and 3rd battalions. Having survived serious combat in Sicily, Italy, and Holland, Ross Carter was then a squad leader in the first platoon of Company C of the 1st battalion, he wrote;
82nd’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment December 21st 1944.
“In the early twilight the company moved to the left and stopped in a dense forest to await orders. They came. Orders always came. Lieutenant Freisinger (the new Platoon Leader) called his noncoms together: “Men, there is a strong Krauthead roadblock a few hundreds away on the edge of an open field opposite the woods. Just behind the roadblock is a town called Cheneux. At seven thirty we are going to shove off with our platoon in a skirmish line in the lead for C Company. B Company will push off at the same time on the other side of the road. Headquarters’ 1st Battalion is going to back us up with 81’s (mortars) and machine guns. Be sure to keep the line dressed. Make as little noise as possible. The enemy will be shelled for fifteen minutes before we take off. We’re going to break through that roadblock, take that town and hold it. That is all, men.” Just that and nothing more …” “..had nearly reached mid-field and were beginning to climb another fence when it happened.. The air was filled with the yellow glow of hissing 20 mm cannon shells, the sputter of machine guns and the roar of exploding mortar shells dumped on our comrades just behind us. I was half way over a fence when little Finkelstein, already across and a few feet in front of it, was struck by a 20mm shell which exploded his hand grenades and set him afire. He ran back a few feet and collapsed in the barbedwires. … I continued forward in a daze. About five feet to my left a steady stream of tracers felt for me. A field piece methodically shelled the center of our advance. Mortar shells kept chewing up the second and third platoons behind us. Machine guns warped and woofed their straight stitches across and through the zone ahead. It was worse than a Dantesque nightmare; it was man made mechanized hell. . . . Ahead three forms skulked in the darkness by a machine gun. I reloaded and charged. A burst of slugs smoked past me. When I was withing a few feet of them, they started to run. I put one knee on the ground and leveled off eight slugs. Then I hit the ground and rolled to escape a machine pistol blast. I found Casey, riddled by MG 42’s, lying a few yards in front of a machine gun nest. In it were four dead SS troopers. I roared in rage and hate and started toward the right where B Company seemed to be having rough going. At that moment, Berkely (the platoon sergeant) surged out of the night, his little finger bleeding from a machine gun slug, his hand paralyzed. Casey is over there, I said. The Arab is gone too. Dusquesne got it in the head and Gruening in the belly. Both bad! . . . something hit and numbed my back . . . . the hatch cover opened and three men hurtled out. I leveled my gun and fired until they fell either because they were hit or in order to take cover. Behind me erupted the horrible thudding growl of a machine cannon. As I bounded I felt a red-hot rip tear through my right arm.”
Ross Carter survived the war to write “Those Devils in Baggy Pants”, he died of cancer in 1947. He was 28.
Ross S. Carter, author of “Those Devils in Baggy Pants”
The 504 did take the town of Cheneux, destroying the German command there. It was costly. Out of the 33 men in Carters’ platoon, that started the attack that night, only nine were able to walk the next morning. The 504 lost 225 men, mostly from B and C companies. C Company finished with 38 men and three officers. B Company had eighteen men and no officers, but Peiper’s command, leading the 1st SS Panzer Division of the German 6th Panzer Army had been stopped.
South, the 101st Airborne Division had barely beat the Germans to Bastogne, which was a major road junction town of about 4,000 people with several small villages surrounding it. LTG Troy Middleton had moved his VIII Corps command post to Neufchateau and left the 101st, with Brigadier General (BG) Tony McAuliffe in command, in Bastogne. The 101st moved into positions in the villages surrounding Bastogne literally on the run. The Germans were three kilometers from them. There were four divisions of German Armor surrounding them, about half of the German forces moved on while the rest remained to try to destroy the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne. When German tanks attacked small units around Bastogne, the 101st lowered their artillery cannons level and destroyed the tanks.
On the morning of the 21st, the Third Army was moving north on a twenty mile wide front. General George Patton was running by jeep from unit to unit, bantering and joking with enlisted men and telling commanders to be aggressive or be relieved.
At 6 AM on the 22nd, after having moved one hundred miles over icy, strange roads, in less than 48 hours, the Third Army attack started. That morning BG McAuliffe received a message, “Hugh is coming”. MG Hugh Gaffey’s 4th Armored Division was driving toward Bastogne up the left flank of Patton’s attack.
About 11:30 that morning, Sergeant Oswald Butler of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 101st, saw four German soldiers walking toward him carrying a pole with a bed sheet attached. They requested to see the Commanding General. They had two letters, one in German and one in English, from the German Commander to the American Commander requesting that the Americans surrender. They were blind folded and escorted to the 327th Command Post (CP), where the 327th commander, Colonel Joseph Harper called, then escorted them to the Division CP. BG McAuliffe was asleep. Colonel Ned Moore, the 101st Chief of Staff shook the General awake and told him that Harper was on the way with German officers and a letter. When BG McAuliffe came out of the room yawning, he asked; “What’s on the paper Ned?” “They want us to surrender.” McAuliffe glanced at the papers, laughed and said “Aw, nuts.” He dropped the papers, walked out, got in his jeep and went to visit troops who had just wiped out a German roadblock. When he returned, the German officers were demanding an answer to their letter. BG McAuliffe sat down with a pencil and said; “What the hell should I tell them?” The Division Operations officer, Colonel Kinnard said; “That first remark of yours would be hard to beat, General.” “What did I say?” “You said, ‘Nuts’.” BG McAuliffe’s letter read; “To the German Commander: Nuts! — The American Commander. Colonel Harper delivered the letter and escorted the German officers back to their lines. They didn’t know what it meant. Colonel Harper replied; “If you don’t know what ‘Nuts’ means, in plain English it’s the same as ‘Go to Hell’.” Word of the answer spread quickly throughout the division, and morale shot up among the surrounded 101st, who came to be known as “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne.”
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Creighton W. Abrams was commander of the 37th Tank Battalion, the spearhead of the 4th Armored Division’s drive toward Bastogne. About 1:30 PM on the day after Christmas he was five miles south of Bastogne, scheduled to attack a village several miles to the northwest. He was down to twenty tanks, only enough for one good assault. He radioed MG Hugh Gaffey, the 4th Division commander and asked permission to make a drive straight for Bastogne. MG Gaffey called General Patton, who said GO! Lieutenant Charles Boggess was commanding the lead element of nine Sherman tanks, which jumped off with all guns firing. Lt Boggess said that his gunner, Dickerson, fired that big gun like a machine gun, putting out 21 rounds in just a few minutes. Infantrymen jumped off the tanks and attacked the German positions, by 4:30 they arrived at the 101st Airborne’s 326th Engineer Battalion positions. Bastogne would be secured.
Lt Boggess tank in Bastogne – December 26th 1944.
LTG George Patton presenting BG Anthony McAuliffe the Distinguished Service Cross.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri April 24th and May 1st and 8th 2019. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
The American soldier fought as bravely and as hard in Vietnam as in other war. The Vietnam War is a black mark on the United States not on the American soldier. This is just the background about what got us into that war and the start of the war.
April 29th was the 44th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. Over 58,000 Americans died there, and over 300,000 wounded out of over two and half million who served in over 11 years of active war. The average infantryman in World War II in the South Pacific saw 40 days of actual combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw 240 days of combat in one year, thanks to the helicopter.
The Vietnam War was fought by a lot of people who didn’t understand what was actually going on in Vietnam, including me, and history has revealed that neither did some of our national leaders. We thought we were simply trying to stop communist aggression and keep South Vietnam free. Some Vietnamese now say that it was a civil war, some say it was not that outside invaders caused the war. General Bruce Palmer Jr., who in Vietnam was a three star corps level commander said, “We didn’t understand the Vietnamese or the situation, or what kind of war it was. By the time we found out, it was too late.”
Vietnam had been ruled by one dynasty after another for thousands of years. In 1858 France invaded and conquered Vietnam making it a French colony. Ho Chi Minh, who was born in 1890 in central Vietnam as Ngyuen Sinh Cung, and later took the name Ho Chi Minh, which roughly translates to “one who has been enlightened”, went to France and for several years traveled the world working as a chef or an orderly. He actually worked in New York or Boston for a year or more. He became fascinated with communism and became a communist organizer in France. When the Japanese invaded Indochina in 1940 they kept the French puppet government in place. That is when Ho Chi Minh went back to Vietnam and organized the Viet Minh, which means “League for the Independence of Vietnam”. It was a collation of groups fighting the Japanese. The groups initially squabbled and fought among themselves, but the communists won by killing off their opponents. They opposed both Japanese and French occupation. Ho Chi Minh met with American OSS (forerunner of the CIA) agents providing intelligence information to the allies. When World War II ended in 1945, the Japanese left and Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam”, with himself as chairman. In the first national election in 1946 the Viet Minh won in Central and North Vietnam. In the south, French backed politicians formed the “Republic of Cochinchina”, and full scale war broke out between the Viet Minh and the French. Ho Chi Minh is reported to have told a Frenchman, “If I kill one of your men, and you kill 10 of mine I will still win”. The French brought a former Emperor Bao Dai back in the south with Ngo Dinh Diem as prime minister. That was the start of another Indochina War. I remember seeing newsreel films of the “Indochina War” at the Belle Theater. We weren’t involved in it so people didn’t pay that much attention to it. In 1950 Ho Chi Minh met with Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong in Moscow and got their pledges to provide training, weapons, ammunition, and equipment to the Viet Minh. The French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in March 1954, with over 2,000 killed, over 5,000 wounded, and almost 12,000 taken prisoner, of whom about half survived marches to prison camps.
The Geneva Convention of 1954 divided Vietnam in half at about the 17th parallel. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) ruled by Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) under Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon. The Soviet Union and China backed North Vietnam, and the United States and our allies backed South Vietnam. The accords of the Geneva Convention directed that a general election be held in July 1956 to unify the country and decide which government would run the country. That is also when the “Peoples Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam” (the Viet Cong) was created as the military arm of the National Liberation Front, whose goal was the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government and the reunification of Vietnam. Many people who moved north after the country was divided were trained and sent back south to help the Viet Cong. In North Vietnam the Viet Minh ruled from a central government, instituted “land reform” and assassinated any who resisted. In South Vietnam there was a de-centralized, representative government, but in reality Ngo Dinh Diem ruled with an iron fist. The majority of the population was Buddhist, Diem was Catholic and oppressed the Buddha’s, and used the same tactics as the communists in eliminating any opposition.
President Harry Truman sent the first Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to Vietnam in 1950 to assist the French in their fight against the communist Viet Minh, but the French wouldn’t take advice from the Americans, and neither would they let us train the Vietnamese Army. After the French were defeated by the Viet Minh, Diem ask for help from the United States, but wouldn’t allow American military advisors into tactical units. He was afraid the Americans would gain control or influence over his military units. In 1955 there was an election in South Vietnam, rigged by Diem. He claimed more votes than there were registered voters and proclaimed himself President of South Vietnam. He surrounded himself with family and friends and ruled by command. He was not popular with the common Vietnamese people. When the Viet Minh were fighting the French they had distributed land to peasant farmers for helping them fight the French. Diem started taking that land in the south and giving it back to the large land owners, causing those who were losing their land to be more than willing to fight with the Viet Cong.
The US backed Diem in ignoring the requirement to have the 1956 elections, because Ho Chi Minh was more popular with the common people than Diem, and President Eisenhower didn’t want to just give the country to the communists. Diem made a state visit to the US in 1957, and was warmly received by President Eisenhower, who promised continued support, but urged Diem to lighten up on his governing style.
The Viet Cong continued to become stronger and more aggressive. In the summer of 1957 Viet Cong attacked the MAAG-Vietnam compound in Saigon wounding 13 Americans. The first “casualty” of the Vietnam War occurred in October of 1957, when Special Forces Captain Harry Cramer was killed in a training accident near Nha Trang. He was part of a Special Forces Mobil Training Team from Okinawa, which was training the South Vietnamese in counterinsurgency. By the end of that year 75 South Vietnamese officials had been kidnapped or assassinated by the Viet Cong. In 1959 Viet Cong attacked the MAAG compound in Bien Hoa, about 20 miles north of Saigon, killing two Americans and three Vietnamese. MAAG personnel then started carrying weapons. In 1960 the number of MAAG advisors increased to 685.
In 1959 the Viet Minh invaded Laos with 30,000 troops and built a logistics route through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam, which became known as the “Ho Chi Minh Trail”.
Soon after John F Kennedy was sworn in as President in 1961, he sought the advice of retired General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, concerning Vietnam. MacArthur commanded the allied forces against the Japanese in the Pacific in World War II and was the commander in Korea for part of that war. General MacArthur’s advice was to not get into a land war in Asia. He said there was no end to Asian manpower. He told JFK that if we put a million American infantrymen into that continent we would still be outnumbered on every side.
The Kennedy administration and MAAG-Vietnam started developing a counterinsurgency plan, at the same time supporting an increase in the size of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) (South Vietnam Army). The number of advisers increased and Diem allowed US advisers to be at battalion level, actually advising combat troops.
President Kennedy sent several fact finding missions to Vietnam during 1961. Some recommended sending combat troops, while others argued against it. Special Forces was the only element of the military to have studied and trained in guerrilla warfare. US generals and admirals had no experience in unconventional warfare and believed that conventional military action could always win. At a meeting with top military brass in November 1961 the President berated them for dragging their feet in the counterinsurgency effort. He said, “I want you guys to get with it.” But the generals were products of World War II where the conventional army won. They did not believe in unconventional warfare and continued to train the South Vietnam Army as a conventional force.
At a meeting of the communist politburo in Hanoi in 1961 it was revealed that the National Liberation Front in the south had compiled statistics that between 1954 and 1960 Diem had killed over 77,000 and imprisoned over 270,000 political dissidents. At the end of 1961 there were an estimated 35,000 communist party members in South Vietnam and the Viet Cong controlled 20 percent of the 15 million population and influenced 40 percent. The Viet Cong controlled seven of 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta. There were 3205 US military personnel in South Vietnam.
Everything stepped up in Vietnam in 1962. Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) was formed, absorbing MAAG-Vietnam. General Paul D. Harkins was placed in command. Neither he nor his staff had any experience in counterinsurgency warfare. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintained operational control of Special Forces. Green Berets were training and leading CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) units formed around villages.
President Kennedy had seen serious action as a PT boat commander in the Pacific in World War II, and seemed to have a clearer understanding of what was happening in Vietnam than some military leaders. In his address to the graduating class of West Point in June 1962 he said, “This is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin–war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him….It requires…a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of military training.”
In October 1962 there was another event which shaped the course of the war. General Maxwell D Taylor was originally an Engineer officer then switched to Artillery. He was a Brigadier General, commanding the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery in May 1944 when the Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, Major General William Lee, suffered a heart attack. Taylor was promoted to Major General and placed in command of the 101st. He retired, as Chief of Staff of the Army in 1959. He was a smart man, but also somewhat of a showman. After retiring from the Army he wrote a book titled “The Uncertain Trumpet”, which was highly critical of the Eisenhower administrations embracement of the Nuclear Age and ignoring conventional military forces. For a time, the Air Force with its strategic bombers, had a budget twice that of the Army. John Kennedy used Taylor’s book in his campaign for President, and Taylor became a close friend and advisor of the Kennedys’, in fact Taylor was the “Military Advisor” in the White House to the President, overshadowing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then in October 1962 President Kennedy recalled Taylor to active duty and made him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Harkins had been an aide to Taylor.
In November 1962 Senator Mike Mansfield led a congressional fact finding delegation to Vietnam. They received an optimistic briefing from US Ambassador Nolting and General Harkins, but news reporters there told them a more pessimistic story. The Deputy Chief at the Embassy hinted that the news people were correct. There were then over 11,000 US ‘advisors’ in Vietnam.
Then in January 1963 the South Vietnamese were soundly defeated by the Viet Cong in a battle 40 miles southwest of Saigon in the Mekong Delta. General Harkins called it a victory because the Viet Cong left the area. They did, after inflicting around 200 casualties on the South Vietnamese Army, killing three American advisors, and shooting down five helicopters. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr was appointed ambassador to South Vietnam replacing Ambassador Nolting. Viet Minh infiltration from the north increased and tensions within South Vietnam increased. South Vietnam government troops opened fire on a group of protesting monks killing nine. The Diem government started raiding Buddhist monasteries. Seventy percent of South Vietnam people were Buddha’s, but Diem was Catholic. Finally a Buddhist monk burned himself to death at a busy intersection in Saigon. It was captured on film and published worldwide.
General Harkins continued to send optimistic reports to Washington, then in October the State Department issued a classified Secret report that we were doing little more than holding our own in Vietnam, which infuriated the Department of Defense. Then on October 11th 1963 President Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum 263, which directed that 1,000 US military personnel be withdrawn from Vietnam by the end of the year, and that all be withdrawn by the end of 1965. The announcement and the start of the withdrawal were to be initiated after the November 1964 elections.
On November 2nd 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother were killed in a successful coup by South Vietnamese generals. On November 22nd President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas. The official US policy on that day was to get out of Vietnam by the end of 1965. Newly sworn in President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed that he “would not loose in Vietnam”. By the end of 1963, Robert F McNamara the Secretary of Defense had gone from being very optimistic about Vietnam to being pessimistic. The US had about 16,000 military in Vietnam and 132 had been killed that year.
The new President of South Vietnam, Duong Van Minh, didn’t want American advisors in the rural countryside. He said they would be perceived as more imperialistic than the French. French President Charles de Gaulle, and others recommended neutralization of South Vietnam. Most of President Johnson’s advisors recommended against it because a neutral South Vietnam would result in a communist takeover, weaken the US position in Asia and cause problems for the Democratic Party.
General Vo Nguyen Giap commanded the Viet Minh military from fighting the Japanese to defeating the French, constructing the Ho Chi Minh trail, the “Tet Offensive” to the fall of Saigon and ouster of American forces. He is now considered, by much of the military world as one of if not the most brilliant military strategists and logisticians of the 20th Century. He and Ho Chi Minh were considered “moderates” by much of the communist party. On January 20th 1964 one of the most significant occurrences of the war was when the Central Committee of the Communist Party of North Vietnam issued Resolution Number 9, which called for all-out war on South Vietnam to defeat it before the US could send large numbers of combat troops there. It was over the objections of Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap and it called for the purge of party members who emphasized anything other than victory in South Vietnam. It was when the Communist Party hard-liners actually took control of the Communist Party and North Vietnam. It also called for the expansion of diplomacy to “gain the sympathy of anti-war groups in the United States and around the world.
On January 30th 1964 there was another coup, Duong Van Minh was out, this time bloodless, and Nguyen Khanh was in, most people in the know didn’t think it would make much difference in the government or the army of South Vietnam. In March 1964, Secretary of Defense McNamara visited Vietnam and upon returning wrote a memo to the President that 40 percent of Vietnam was controlled by the Viet Cong, the Khanh government was ineffective, the South Vietnam Army pathetic, and the Americans there were frustrated. He recommended the US finance a 50,000 man increase in the South Vietnamese Army, and that the US Air Force be prepared to start bombing North Vietnam. President Johnson approved the memo and directed its implementation. In May after a conversation with Senator Richard Russell, President Johnson called National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy and said; “I don’t think it [South Vietnam] is worth fighting for and I don’t think we can get out. It’s just the biggest damn mess I ever saw. …I just don’t know what to do.”……..
In June 1964 General Harkins was replaced by General William C Westmoreland as commander of MACV, over the objections of many army officers who knew Westmoreland. When the announcement was made, an army brigadier general went to the Secretary of the Army to protest, saying that Westmoreland was all show, “spit and polish”, but the decision had already been made. Westmoreland had worked for Maxwell Taylor over the years and was his pick. Thomas E. Ricks wrote in “The Generals” that many generals considered Westmoreland all show and not that smart. In July 1964 Maxwell Taylor retired again and was appointed US Ambassador to South Vietnam, in effect making him “in charge” in South Vietnam.
On August 2nd 1964 the US Navy Destroyer “Maddox” was performing an +intelligence gathering patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, which is the northern part of the South China Sea, bordering North Vietnam and the southern part of China. It was attacked by three North Vietnamese Navy Torpedo Boats. Four North Vietnamese sailors were killed and six wounded with no US casualties. The US claimed that the “Maddox” was engaged in peaceful surveillance, but the South Vietnamese Army was conducting guerilla operations on nearby islands. Two days later destroyers “Maddox” and “C Turner Joy” again reported that they were under fire. Evidence over the years has shown that probably didn’t happen. President Johnson told congress that he was ordering retaliatory air strikes on North Vietnam. On the 5th planes from our aircraft carriers flew 64 sorties against North Vietnam, two of those planes were shot down, with one pilot killed and one taken prisoner of war. Also, that day China ordered its forces on the North Vietnamese border to a full state of readiness, sent 51 Mig fighter planes to North Vietnam and offered to train the pilots and build sanctuary airfields for those planes and pilots in southern China. In recent years China admitted that it also sent 320,000 troops to Vietnam in the early and mid-60s. Also, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Premier Alexei Kosygin was visiting Hanoi during the air strikes, causing the USSR to send surface-to-air missiles, jet fighter planes, technical support, and military advisors to North Vietnam.
On August 10th 1964 the US Congress voted on the “Tonkin Gulf Resolution”, which basically gave the President a “free hand” to use whatever force necessary in Vietnam. The House of Representatives voted 416 – 0, and the Senate 88 – 2. Meanwhile Khanh in South Vietnam had declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution, which triggered large demonstrations.
Tension and Viet Cong aggression continued to escalate, then on November 20th 1964 the first regular North Vietnam Army units, three regiments, started down the Ho Chi Minh trail for South Vietnam.
In February 1965 the Viet Cong attacked Pleiku Airbase killing 8 Americans, wounding 128, and damaging or destroying 24 aircraft. They also blew up a hotel in Qui Nhon which was used as US enlisted barracks, killing 23 Americans. General Westmoreland requested two battalions of US Marines to protect the air base at Da Nang. Another coup was attempted but failed by a South Vietnamese general who was later revealed to be a communist agent, but Khanh left Vietnam, leaving South Vietnamese Air Marshall Nguyen Cao Ky in charge in South Vietnam.
Democrat Senator Frank Church spoke on the Senate Floor against further US involvement in the Vietnam War. He was supported by several prominent Democrat Senators, but former President Eisenhower advised President Johnson not to negotiate from weakness.
On March 25th 1965 the first “Teach in” (forum) to protest the Vietnam War was held at the University of Michigan, 3,500 people attended. Also on that day, China announced that it would, “send its personnel to fight together with the Vietnamese people to annihilate the American aggressors”.
General Westmoreland reported to Washington that there was no longer an effective chain of command in the South Vietnam Armed Forces. By the end of March 1965 about 5,000 Marines were at Da Nang.
On April 17th 1965 about 20,000 people gathered in Washington, DC in the first large protest against the war. There was, at that time, about 33,000 US military in Vietnam.
In May 1965 the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived at Bien Hoa. In July they made a search and destroy sweep through Zone D north of Saigon. They suffered 10 killed and 42 wounded. Viet Cong casualties were inflated. The 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division arrived in July 1965, and Maxwell Taylor resigned as Ambassador because he did not agree with deployment of US ground combat troops in Vietnam. He was replaced by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr for his second term as ambassador. Also the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division arrived. In August Maxwell Taylor, now an adviser to President Johnson, told the President: “By the end of 1965, the North Vietnamese offensive will be bloodied and defeated without having achieved major gains.” North Vietnam would be forced to change its strategy.” In September the first full US Army division, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) arrived.
In October the 32nd and 33rd regiments of the North Vietnamese Army arrived in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam and hid their base camps in the mountains around the Ia Drang River. The 32nd Regiment attacked a nearby Special Forces camp at Plei Me. The camp consisted of a 12 man Special Forces Team, a 14 man South Vietnamese Special Forces Team and about 400 CIDG soldiers. The battle went on for eight days and the 32nd withdrew hoping to lure the South Vietnamese Army in Pleiku into an ambush set up by the newly arrived 66th Regiment, but the 66th Regiment got ambushed themselves – by one US platoon. Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) John B Stockton, commander of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry was ordered to scout a particular trail alongside the Ia Drang River close to the Cambodian border. One platoon of about 40 infantry soldiers discovered a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalion of about 700 moving along a trail and set up an ambush. They fired one magazine of ammo into the NVA battalion, then turned and “ran like hell”, with a very angry NVA battalion after them. They reached the rest of the company and fought back two attacks by the NVA battalion. The company commander radioed LTC Stockton for reinforcements. LTC Stockton radioed his boss Brigadier General Richard Knowles for permission to send in another company. His request was denied, but Stockton squawked, squealed, and whistled into his radio handset and waved the next company onto the helicopters. That was the first night helicopter assault, even the helicopter crews got out of their birds and joined the fight, but they turned the NVA back and got all their troops back to base camp. LTC Stockton was relieved of his command and sent to a desk job in Saigon, knowing that he had probably saved the lives of at least 100 of his men.
As a result of the 9th Cav action, LTC Hal Moore was ordered to take his 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry on a search and destroy mission in the Ia Drang River Valley to search for a possible NVA Regiment. He did an aerial reconnaissance and selected a football field size landing zone at the base of the mountains. On November 14th 1965 he had to shuttle his understrength 450 man battalion into the landing zone. There was not one NVA Regiment, but three within walking distance of that landing zone. For the next four days and three nights that battalion and the reinforcements flown in under fire engaged in the most brutal close combat, sometimes hand to hand, one can imagine. Up to that time there had been about 1,100 US personnel killed in Vietnam. By the time both sides withdrew on November 17th, 234 Americans were killed and over 250 wounded. That battle is very realistically portrayed in the book “We were Soldiers – and Young”, by Hal Moore and Joe Galloway, and the movie “We were Soldiers”
Late in the day on the 18th BG Knowles, the Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Cavalry Division called a news conference in his tent. He told dozens of reporters that it was just a “meeting engagement” and that casualties were light. Reporter Joe Galloway, who had been with LTC Hal Moore through the entire battle, stood and said; “That bullshit sir and you know it.” The tent erupted into angry shouting.
In Washington President Johnson told Defense Secretary McNamara, who was in Europe, to come home by way of Vietnam and find out what happened at Ia Drang. McNamara visited with Ambassador Lodge in Saigon, then went to An Khe the 1st Cav division headquarters. He spent time with Major General Harry W.O. Kinnard, the Division Commander, and with LTC Hal Moore. On the flight home he wrote a Top Secret memo to President Johnson. The memo said basically that we either get out of Vietnam now or give General Westmoreland the 200,000 additional troops he is asking for, which will mean 500,000 by 1967, and Americans will be dying at the rate of a thousand a month (it was actually 3,000 a month in 1968). He added that all this would accomplish would be a military stalemate at a much higher level of violence.
On December 15th 1965 President Johnson’s council of “wise old men” met at the White House to decide what to do about Vietnam. When the President walked into the room he was holding McNamara’s memo, he said; “You mean to tell me no matter what I do I can’t win in Vietnam?” McNamara nodded yes. They talked for two days and decided to continue the war.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri June 6th 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email email@example.com, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
On June 6th 1944, 75 years ago, the United States of America led the way in changing world history. In June 1944 Hitler’s Nazi German army occupied almost all of Europe, including France. In order to push the German army back into Germany and defeat it, the Allies (primarily the United States, Britain, and Canada) had to get a foothold on the European Continent, they had to do a beach landing invasion. Hitler also knew that, and he was convinced that the invasion would happen at Pas De Calais, France (pronounced “Pa Dee Calay”). Pas De Calais is located on the French coast opposite England on the narrowest part of the English Channel. The Allied forces encouraged that idea by running Operation Fortitude, which was a giant intricate plan of deception to convince the Germans that the invasion would happen at Pas De Calais.
The entire coast line of France was fortified and heavily defended by the German Army, plus the Germans had around 40 divisions in France which could move in any direction. A large part of the German Army was armored. Tanks which could move fast. Pas De Calais was the quickest way to get from England, where the allied forces were staging and training, but it is located on a peninsula which would have made it easy for the German army to cut off an invading force. The Normandy area of France was chosen because it has several beaches on a wide front, which provided enough room to land an invading force large enough to get established on the shore. The invasion area was over 60 miles wide. Normandy is also on a peninsula, the Cotentin also known as the Cherbourg Peninsula, but it is a much larger area. In 1942 when the planners started developing the invasion plan they looked at the Cotentin Peninsula. A spider web of roads connects the towns and villages across the peninsula. At the center of that web is the town of Sainte-Mère-Église. Five roads pass through the town, plus it is only seven miles from Utah Beach. Control Sainte-Mère-Église and they felt that they had a good chance of controlling the Cotentin Peninsula and preventing German reinforcements located at Cherbourg in the north and Brittany in the west from reaching the beaches. The flanks of the invasion area had to be secured, if not, German tanks could have swept into the invasion area and possibly have defeated the Allied forces on the beaches. The only way to get forces into the invasion area before the landings from the sea was with airborne troops (paratroops). The specific mission of the airborne forces was to block the approaches to Utah Beach. There were two areas of higher ground on the flanks. The 101st Airborne Division was assigned to the high ground overlooking the beach with primary objective of securing four causeway exits from Utah Beach, which were to be used by the 4th Infantry Division to move off of the beach.
82nd Airborne paratroopers chute up before loading planes in England June 5th 1944
The 82nd Airborne Division was assigned to the ridgeline centered at Sainte-Mère-Église, with the mission of blocking the German armor from coming into the invasion area. The 82nd Airborne Division mission was key to the success of the entire invasion, it could not fail. Many senior planners for the operation felt that the 82nd had no chance of obtaining its objectives. Some said that it was a suicide mission. General Eisenhower gave them a 50-50 chance for success.The 101st Airborne Division had not seen combat, it was shipped to England in the fall of 1943 to train for the invasion of Europe. It was commanded by Major General Maxwell D Taylor, who had been promoted to two stars and moved from the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery in March 1944 after the 101st commander Major General William Lee suffered a heart attack.
The 82nd Airborne Division was commanded by Major General Matthew Ridgeway, who had commanded the division in combat in Sicily and Italy. The Assistant Division Commander was Brigadier General James M Gavin, who at 37 was the youngest general in the army, and as a colonel had led the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment on night parachute jumps into combat in Sicily and Salerno. Ridgeway and Gavin knew from experience that their paratroops would be scattered upon landing, so they conducted their training with that in mind. They conducted night training jumps until injuries became too numerous, then they trucked the troops out into the field, at night to train for taking objectives, but they would mix-up the units. They had organized competition in football, basketball, volleyball, and baseball, but they couldn’t play unit against unit. Teams had to be players from different units, such as three from A Company, 1st Battalion, three from C Company, 2nd Battalion, and three from D Company, 3rd Battalion. They wanted the paratroopers to learn to trust each other, even if they didn’t know each other. They also gave the paratroops lots of free time, which was spent by most of them in the bars in the local villages. The troops would have plenty to drink and get into fights sometimes between the 82nd and 101st, but mostly between the paratroops and the legs (non-airborne soldiers). The military police would come to the generals and tell them that their paratroopers were getting out of hand, they needed to do something, and the generals would say; “OK, we’ll look into it”, and nothing happened. They wanted the paratroopers to be full of bravado, gusto, and aggressiveness.
The 82nd was organized into two elements for the assault. Force A, which was the main combat element, was commanded by Brigadier General Gavin and consisted of three Parachute Infantry Regiments, with Artillery, Engineers, and Signal attached. Force B, commanded by Major General Ridgeway, consisted of a Glider Infantry Regiment and the remainder of the divisions’ Artillery, Engineers and support elements. So, after all the equipment and ammunition had been issued, knives and bayonets sharpened, last letters written home, faces blackened with burnt cork, and last prayers said, Force A took off in England at 11:15 PM, June 5th 1944. Three five man pathfinder teams jumped in 30 minutes ahead of the main element. They sustained casualties, but still managed to set up beacons to guide the incoming aircraft. The 378 airplanes carrying Force A kept good formation across the English Channel, but ran into a fog bank between the beach and the three drop zones, which caused some to move out of the formation, then anti-aircraft fire opened up and when planes started getting hit and shot out of the air some pilots panicked and started trying to evade. Some scattered and some were flying too high and faster than they should have been at jump time. One lieutenant said that when his plane ran into heavy flak, the pilot panicked, turned on the green light and started climbing at full throttle. The lieutenant said that the prop blast was so strong that all his equipment was ripped off of him, when he got to the ground the only weapon he had was his jump knife. The first jumpers went out the door at just before 2:00 AM and all were on the ground by just after 3:00 AM. The gliders started crash landing about 4:00 AM. Both paratroops and glider troops were scattered.
82nd Airborne paratroopers jumping into France about 2:00 AM June 6th 1944
The 3rd Battalion 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 82nd, got the mission of taking the town of Sainte-Mère-Église. Their drop zone was planned just outside the town, but many landed directly on the town. There was a house fire in Sainte-Mère-Église which lit up the sky and made the paratroopers very visible, plus the Germans were already alerted because two planes of 101st Airborne paratroopers, wildly off course, had dropped on Sainte-Mère-Église just 30 minutes prior to the 505th jumping. Many were killed in the air, if they got caught in trees or lines, they were killed, at least one landed in the house fire, and two got caught on the church steeple. Within an hour Sainte-Mère-Église was firmly secured in the hands of the Americans. The American flag was raised making Sainte-Mère-Église the first French town liberated by the allies.
Out in the countryside on the ground, a little group of paratroopers would get together, the ranking man would take charge and start trying to find their unit or their objectives, but they engaged the Germans wherever they found them. They conducted ambushes, they attacked bridges and road intersections and generally created havoc, causing the German commanders to think they were facing a much larger force than was actually there. The 82nd and the 101st accomplished all their objectives, but the cost was high. Each division jumped just over 6,500 paratroopers and each division suffered about 20 percent casualties, but the strategic importance to the overall success of the Normandy invasion was huge. Those two Airborne Operations are still considered two of the most daring in the history of modern warfare.
The following is a quote from 82nd’s After Action Report of the Normandy action; “Enemy reaction to the landing of the 82d Airborne Division in the NORMANDY area was prompt and severe, but from the time the first member landed until 35 days later, when the Division was finally relieved, every mission was accomplished and no ground gained was ever relinquished.”
Throughout the day of June 6th 1944 over 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft delivered about 176,000 troops onto the beaches of Normandy.
Over 4,000 of them died on the beach and another 6,000 were wounded, but they captured the beaches and the seaport of Cherbourg, establishing the Allied forces in France with a solid beach-head, from which they would begin the push across France and into Germany.
“The Longest Day” is a four star movie about D-day. It was written by Cornelius Ryan, who was a war correspondent in World War II. It is one of the best and most historically accurate movies about that day.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri March 21st 2018.
This is a story of pain, terror, pride, courage, and compassion. It is also about the magnificent spirit of the men and women who make up America’s military community.
Today is Wednesday March 21st. In 1994 the 23rd of March fell on a Wednesday. That was a bright sunny day with very little wind and temperature in the mid 60’s, in North Carolina. A perfect day for parachute jumps. At Fort Bragg, North Carolina the 82nd Airborne Division had paratroopers from the 504th and the 505th Infantry and the 782nd Support Battalion at the area called “Green Ramp”, which is the area on Pope Air Force Base (at that time, now Pope Field) where parachutes are issued and pre-jump rehearsals are conducted. Also there, were troops from the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, and the 59th Aviation Battalion of XVIII Airborne Corps. This was to be a “Hollywood” jump, no equipment, just a helmet, a parachute and a reserve chute.
The Green Ramp area has some buildings used by the 82nd Jumpmaster School, a jumpers assembly building called the pack shed, some steel CONEX containers, two Air Force buildings, trailers, a snack bar and the Jumpmaster School training area with C-130 and C-141 airplane mockups on foot high concrete platforms where paratroopers rehearse aircraft exits and taller wooden platforms for practicing parachute landing falls. Two C-141 Starlifters were parked on the runway, waiting to load the paratroopers, about 75 feet from the mockups. Some C-130 Hercules were parked further away. F-16 and A-10 Fighter planes were in the air conducting training. There was a total of about 500 paratroopers at Green Ramp in various stages of preparing for a jump. About 1400 (2:00 PM) Capt. James Rich, the 525th MI Brigade’s S 4 (logistics officer) who was the jumpmaster on one aircraft, had just finished rehearsing duties with his jumpmaster/safety team. Cards in hand, he began to practice a briefing he was to give to the paratroopers at 1430. Members of his group were located under the trees near a C-141 mockup. A short distance away paratroopers from the 504th and 505th were listening to a briefing on static line safety, their backs to the runway, many were sitting, most had their helmets off. Second Lieutenant (2LT) Judson “Jay” Nelson, a Platoon Leader in Company D, of the 2nd Battalion 504th was standing at the back of that formation. Some troops already had their parachutes on and were walking back from the pack shed.
At 1410 (2:10 PM), Capt. Gerald Bebber, the 525th MI Brigade chaplain, remembered that he had left the C-141 mock-up and was about 20 feet from the pack shed when he heard the high pitched screech of a jet fighter airplane at open throttle from beyond the pack shed suddenly give way to a deep reverberating thud and massive explosion. He said; “I recognized the sound from my experience in battle in Desert Storm. As soon as I could think this, a great roaring rush of fire entered my sight above and to the left of the pack shed. It was at tree-top level, slanting down as it gushed into the mockup area at terrific speed…. The flame came though the tops of the trees that stood in a small open area beside the pack shed. In the torrent of flame I saw pieces of wreckage and machinery hurling along. As the torrent rushed in I could hear cries of alarm, curses, and someone yelling “run” from the mock-ups. The fire blast crackled as it blasted in, and at its sides it curled outward as it went forward. I was standing perhaps thirty feet beside the edge of the blast, and could see eddies of the flame curling out toward me. I turned and ran from the flame, to just beyond the right end of the pack shed, where . . . I no longer felt the intense heat, so I stopped. To my left, out on the aircraft ramp, now in my line of sight I could see a parked C-141 engulfed in flames. I turned to face the training area and saw “a scene from hell.” To my right side were two crushed food vendor trucks, one in flames. One of the vendors was on fire, and a soldier standing over him was trying to put out the flames. The row of mock-ups also was in flames, and burning debris and hot metal were everywhere. Within about 25 feet I came across my first victims, two soldiers on fire. While two other rescuers smothered the flames on one soldier, I took off my shirt and knelt down beside the other casualty to extinguish the flames. But the soldier’s uniform top was soaked with fuel, which kept reigniting the fire. Finally, I shoveled sand and gravel from the path that ran along the mock-ups onto the soldier’s back and successfully quenched the flames. I tried not to get sand on the soldier’s left leg, which flying wreckage had virtually cut off.
A C-130 and an F-16 had tried to land on the same runway at the same time. At first it was thought to be all Air Traffic Control error, but was later determined to be partly pilot error. The nose of the F-16 severed the C-130E’s right elevator. On impact, the F-16 pilot applied full afterburner to try to recover the aircraft, but it began to disintegrate. The C-130 was able to circle around and land safely. Both pilots ejected from the F16, but their aircraft, still on full afterburner, continued on an arc towards Green Ramp. The F16 hit the ground between two C-130’s and skidded into one of the C-141’s parked next to Green Ramp, puncturing fuel tanks. The explosion hurled the fireball and the F-16 wreckage directly into Green Ramp where the paratroopers were sitting and standing. 2LT Jay Nelson said that he heard two popping sounds (which were the F16 pilots ejecting) behind him and looked back to see the F-16 coming at them. He said, “It looked like it was broken in half and on fire. I took two steps and dove for the ground and the whole world at that point turned orange. It was literally so hot, the air was sucked out of my lungs and I blacked out. I woke up and I was on fire,”
Captain Rich realized that he couldn’t outrun the fireball and dropped to the ground behind the one foot high concrete platform of a mockup. He remembered the sensation of intense heat as the fireball passed over with a weird low pitched roaring sound like that of a blow torch, and debris hitting all around like banging of metal pipes. His back was on fire. Rolling on the ground to put the flames out, he noticed the fireball had gone. Near him was a man “burning like a human torch.” Rich lunged at the soldier and knocked him to the ground. With his bare hands he tried to extinguish the flames, but the soldier’s fuel-soaked clothing kept reigniting. “No matter how hard you patted you couldn’t get the fire out.” He ripped off the man’s shirt and quenched the flames. A few feet away Rich helped another soldier put out spots of fire on the back of a female soldier lying on the ground. He decided to look for others who might need help. It was then that the sheer devastation on Green Ramp hit him: The number of wounded was almost overwhelming. Everywhere there were groups gathered around the injured trying to help them. Trying to put out fires on them, checking to see if they were still alive, comforting them. Others were running around in half panic, half dazed, looking for someone to help or something to do. Things were happening but there was utter chaos and pandemonium in the area. As 2LT Jay Nelson got the fire on his body put out, he saw a chaplain that knew him and his wife of nine months, Beth. He asked the chaplain to call Beth and tell her that he was OK. He wasn’t.
Sgt. Gregory Cowper of the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, started rolling when the fire caught up with him. “Ammunition from the F-16 chain guns was going off. I couldn’t tell where it was. I looked to my left and there was a man on fire. I looked to my right and there was a man on fire.” Cowper helped about five or six people before realizing that he had a broken leg. Someone helped him out the gate and into a Humvee for transportation to Womack Army Medical Center. Cowper considered himself lucky.
Sgt. Waddington “Doc” Sanchez, a combat medic with the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, “was . . . one of the first to see the explosion come his way….” He yelled for everyone to get down or out of the way. In taking time to warn others, he perished in the fireball’s wake. “He gave the ultimate sacrifice, his own life,” said Lt. Ronald Walker, Sanchez’ medical platoon leader. The father of five had planned to make a career in the Army.
Specialist Estella Wingfield, an information systems operator with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, remembered: “A sergeant I didn’t know looked me in the eye, grabbed me by the shirt, threw me several feet in the air and jumped on top of me…. An instant later, I heard the blast, felt the extreme heat from the explosion and the debris falling on us…. After the explosion and the rounds stopped going off, he whispered in my ear, “Crawl out from underneath me.” I did and took off running.” When she realized the sergeant was not running behind her, she ran back to the spot where he had protected her from the explosion. He was dead. Staff Sergeant. Daniel E. Price of the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, sacrificed his life to save a female soldier he had never met before.
Sergeant First Class Juan Gonzales of the 44th Medical Brigade was there waiting to make a jump and he had a cell phone. He immediately called Master Sergeant Richard Young in his brigade operations section. All staffed ambulances were immediately directed to Green Ramp. Firing ranges were closed and their ambulances also sent to the scene.
Many people not involved in the accident had rushed onto Green Ramp to offer assistance. They included instructors from the jumpmaster school; medics from Special Forces, who were in the jumpmaster school that day; members of Fort Bragg’s 44th Medical Brigade, who were training nearby; and others who happened to be in the parking lot. The fireball never reached them, but they saw what happened and instinctively went to help.
To transport wounded to the Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, troops commandeered all sorts of vehicles—trucks, Humvees, military vehicles, and privately owned cars belonging to jumpmaster school students. Instructors, students, Joint Special Operations Command medics, trained medical personnel from nonmedical units, and Air Force personnel, who either had witnessed the explosion or were nearby, tore up the jumpmaster school to make litters of plywood, doors, and black boards, for the victims. “If you could put someone on it, they used it,” said Tech Sgt Ricardo A. Gonzales, an aeromedical technician with the 23d Medical Squadron. Rescuers then drove the casualties to the hospital. Military Police descended on Green Ramp and escorted anything carrying casualties, as fast as they could through Fort Bragg to the hospital.
Specialist Brian Powell, an emergency medical technician, described the Humvees he saw taking injured soldiers to Womack under escort of military police: “The back of the hummer was full of bodies…. They were piled on top of each other and one of the guys was keeping them down, trying to keep them calm. They were black, covered with soot. Some were hurt really bad. All casualties who were still alive were evacuated to Womack’s main hospital within forty-five minutes of the accident, most of them within 30 minutes. Nine were dead at the scene, two died on the way to the hospital, twelve more soon would die of wounds and burns, and one almost 10 months later.
As soon as the 911 alert of the accident at Pope was initiated many things happened almost simultaneously. The 82nd Airborne Division Commander, Major General (MG) William Steele, immediately sent a team to Green Ramp to establish an EOC (Emergency Operations Center) to help verify the names of all the casualties, their status, and their evacuation destination. The Division Chief of Staff, Colonel John Marcello, sent Lieutenant Colonel Randy Standsfield, the Division G1, with some personnel from the division operations section to set up an EOC in the Patient Administration Division of Womack Army Medical Center. There they would build a data base on all the casualties and become the central point of contact for soldiers in the hospital and for family support. MG Steele also ordered the 1st and 3rd Brigade Commanders, Colonel John P Abizaid and Colonel John Schmader to immediately conduct casualty assistance training for their officers and non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) (sergeants). The majority of the casualties were in those two brigades.
MG Steele’s said; “We will take care of families. We will do this. I don’t care what it costs…. This is what we are going to do. This is my intent.” The general’s statement provided direction for his officers and their wives; they worked as partners in the aftermath of the tragedy and facilitated the tasks of the family support group.
The XVIII Airborne Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Henry Shelton, directed that an EOC be established at XVIII Corps Headquarters and at Fort Bragg Garrison Headquarters.
At that same time, Major (Doctor) Craig Corey, the chief of the emergency medical department, at Womack Army Medical Center, activated their mass casualty plan and called in extra emergency room physicians, nurses and medical technicians. Also at the time of the explosion, Brigadier General (BG) (Doctor) Robert Claypool, the commander of Brooke Army Medical Center, which includes the Army Burn Unit, at Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio), Texas, was attending a video teleconference. Upon being interrupted and told of the accident, all participants in the conference were informed, which included the Surgeon General of the Army and the Surgeon General of the Air Force. BG Claypool had a Burn Team already in North Carolina diverted to Fort Bragg, and directed that three more Burn Teams, each consisting of a physician, nurse, respiratory therapist, and an LPN, with sufficient equipment and fluids to handle 40 to 60 burn patients, get in the air to Fort Bragg. The Air Force immediately shipped 20 ventilators directly to Fort Bragg.
MG Steele had a nine man liaison team organized, which departed at 0300 on the 24th for Fort Sam Houston, to provide information back to Fort Bragg and to assist patients and families however they could.
The first two casualties to arrive at Womack were two food venders with minor burns, the next one arrived on a plywood stretcher. He had a leg amputated with a tourniquet held in place with a crow bar. Another had burns on 100 percent of his body. He was treated and transferred to a regional burn facility.
The Head Nurse of the Emergency Room was an extremely competent Major Patricia D Horoho. Major Horoho’s assignment to Fort Bragg had been like coming home, because she was an army brat, who was born in that hospital and grew up on Fort Bragg. The 22 bed Emergency Room was quickly overwhelmed, so taking advantage of the mild weather, Major Horoho began triage in the driveway. That spilled over into the grass, with the injured on plastic sheets. Volunteer soldiers held sheets up to protect the injured from the view of reporters who had gathered across the street. Practically every doctor, nurse, and medic on Fort Bragg, stopped what they were doing, closed their clinics and rushed to the hospital to help. A hospital spokesperson said, “They just put on gloves and went to work.”
Womack Chaplains went to the Emergency Room before the casualties arrived. They helped carry litters and moved from patient to patient offering consolation and prayer in attempts to calm ” the “frightened injured” and the frantic caregiver.” Chaplains from all of Fort Bragg went to assist families, patients and staff at Womack.
By 10:00 PM that night, the hospital had treated and released 51 casualties, their follow-up care to be on an outpatient basis, and admitted 55. Twenty five to intensive care units and 30 to inpatient wards. Another 13 casualties were transferred to regional hospitals, 7 to the Jaycee Burn Center at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 5 to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, and 1 to Highsmith-Rainey Memorial Hospital, both in Fayetteville. There were 130 casualties from the Green Ramp disaster.
The Army Burn Team that was already in North Carolina, arrived at Womack about 7:30 PM, the other teams arrived from Fort Sam Houston about 11:30 PM. They immediately evaluated the 55 patients admitted to Womack, and selected 20 to be transferred to the Army Burn Unit. An Air Force C9 Nightingale Medivac plane, with the first 11 burn victims, took off from Pope Air Force Base at 7:20 AM. Another C9 took off at 12:50 PM with the remaining nine. They were wrapped in aluminum-lined blankets to keep their bodies warm, and thirteen were on ventilators.
At battalion level, disseminating information, notifying and caring for families, and caring for the needs of the casualties fell squarely on the unit commanders. The majority of the casualties were in the 2nd Battalion of the 504th, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Stanley McChrystal and the 2nd Battalion of the 505th, commanded by LTC Lloyd Austin. LTC McChrystal established a battalion EOC at battalion headquarters under the command sergeant major and the S-3 (operations officer). He also set up a small command post at Womack and for three hours on the 23rd, on the airfield. LTC McChrystal ordered the two units that were away training to return to Fort Bragg, prohibited early dissemination of information about casualties, and tried to bring the wives of his injured paratroopers into the company areas to ensure that they received the care and support they required. He stayed at the hospital command post until 0500 on the twenty-fourth, creating master lists of tasks and the people to perform them. He sent soldiers from each company to Womack to serve “almost as reaction type guys,” to take care of “the thousand little things that would come up.” He appointed liaison people to be with the families of casualties, whether dead or alive, and soldiers to participate in the next-of-kin notification process. He coordinated everything with corps, division, and brigade personnel and “got tremendous support from them.”
Beth Nelson made it to the hospital to find that Jay was in surgery to relieve the swelling from the burns. She was led to a room with other Family members. She said, “”This young Soldier in PT clothes kept going back between the doctors and me to tell me what was going on with Jay. I don’t know who he was but he stuck with me for the afternoon.” She finally went home to wait for a call about when Jay would be moved to San Antonio. The battalion commander’s wife, Anne McChrystal, called her that Jay was back in surgery. When she arrived back at the Family Room in the hospital, the look on Anne McChrystal’s face scared her. “Just tell me he’s alive. That’s all I want to know”, she said. Anne answered “He’s alive.” She had intended to tell Beth that they didn’t expect Jay to make it through the night, but didn’t, and he did make it. Beth did get to see her husband that night. She said, “He didn’t look anything like Jay. I went home and prayed all through the night.” The next morning she was on the plane with Jay, along with family members of the other injured who were on board, to the Army Burn Unit at Fort Sam Houston. They would be there for two months.
Emergency medical evaluation boards were established to provide early retirement for the soldiers who were near death in order to increase their dependents’ benefits; the widow would receive the retirement and the child the death indemnity compensation, about $750 a month. The division EOC had to ascertain who was married, who had children, who was critically injured, and who should be processed first among the casualties. Because of this effort, only one soldier with children died before the division was able to retire him early. “Retiring people was a focused effort, day and night,” recalled Colonel Stansfield, who coordinated the work with the XVIII Airborne Corps casualty assistance personnel. General Steele recalled that “Corps, Department of the Army, all of them just opened the door and said: ‘Call. We have the board ready; we can do this procedure in a matter of minutes.’ Things that would take a year when it’s not a crisis were happening in a matter of minutes over the phone.” Later, the corps recommended clarification of Army policy to allow posthumous medical retirement for all casualties.
A nucleus of military wives arrived at Womack shortly after the accident and stayed until the early hours of the morning, providing support to the families that gathered there. They gave hugs, held hands, listened, obtained food, made contacts for plane tickets, and did what was necessary to organize assistance. According to Pam Steele, the wives dealt with the emotions by keeping a sense of levity, a sense of humor; by talking about the accident; and by “feeling the sorrow.”
The Fayetteville and Fort Bragg communities have traditionally come together in times of trouble. But the magnitude of the tragedy on Pope Air Force Base resulted in a new level of community response. The community shared the enormous grief and offered untold practical assistance. When asked what they needed, the Womack staff said, first would be food to feed these hundreds of extra people working in the hospital and for the people waiting for word about their loved ones. Pizza Hut immediately sent free Pizzas to the hospital, and when the work got out, food started pouring in from McDonalds, Taco Bell, Hardees, Papa John’s, Domino’s Pizza, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Fayetteville community flew their flags at half-staff, and drove with their head lights on during the day. Housewives baked brownies and cookies and delivered them to the post. People donated money that the family support group set aside for the families. Bags of food and toiletries showed up in the foyer of the Fisher House, where families of sick soldiers stayed. Hundreds of volunteers offered their time and energy. The Fayetteville Regional Airport reserved two runways for military use.
Two days after the accident, President Bill Clinton toured the crash site and visited the Green Ramp casualties at Womack. Clinton talked to the injured paratroopers for about an hour and then mingled with the crowd that gathered outside the hospital. At a press conference in front of Womack the president spoke of the soldiers’ courage and spirit: “I wish everyone in America could see the faces and the eyes and the spirit of these people. They would realize how fortunate we are to be served by men and women like them. They are so brave and selfless.” Also on that day, the Secretary of Defense, the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force visited those in the hospital.
The XVIII Airborne Corps chain of command visited the injured paratroopers and their families as well. General Steele, as the 82d Airborne Division commander, involved himself with his wounded troops, calling on them frequently. He spoke of the phenomenal spirit of American soldiers. “They will not lie down and quit . . . even when the Lord deals them a blow like this…. They do not give up. Soldiers, with their eyes swollen shut and their hands burned and bandaged so you could not touch them, would say to you when you visited: “Airborne all the way, Sir!”
General Steele also made several trips to Fort Sam Houston to visit the troops in the Burn Unit. His first visit was on March 26th, in the Secretary of the Army’s C-20 airplane. Accompanying him were my old friend, Division Command Sergeant Major Steve Slocum (we were in the same company in Italy, he was run over by a cow out in a training area, no injury, just funny and embarrassing); Colonels Schmader, Abizaid’ and McChrystal; the division chaplain, Lt. Col. Jerome Haberek; and the division surgeon, Maj. Jeffrey B. Clark. They all wore their battle dress uniforms and maroon berets. Pam Steele, Kathy Abizaid, and Anne McChrystal also accompanied the group. General Steele felt that “it was important to take the ladies with us,” since women have the facility to comfort and console. During the visit General Steele showed how much he cared about his troops: He cried with them, he held their hands, and he prayed with them. Later, he would say that he “learned from the whole process that there is nothing wrong with showing your emotions.”
The road to recovery was long and painful for many. Therapy, rehabilitation and surgeries, lasting for months and in some cases for years. Lieutenant Jay Nelson, with burns on his back, legs, and hands, had five skin grafts and ten other surgeries, enduring nearly unbearable pain. The key to his survival was his refusal to quit. “I just grit my teeth and . . . just try to gut it out,” recalled Nelson, hoping each time to be able to “just hold on a little bit longer.” At age twenty-four, he had to learn again how to walk and how to feed himself. A year later he needed more surgery. “Scar tissue pulled his left thumb back to a strange angle.” Cold weather brought on stabbing pains in his hands, and his back and legs itched. Although no longer able to be an infantry soldier, he did remain on active duty, and two years ago was a Lieutenant Colonel commanding the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Bragg.
Many, no longer able to be combat soldiers went into the medical field, both in and out of the military. Some became nurses, LPN’s, physical therapists, and many into counseling patients with serious injuries.
One of the first casualties from the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, to be airlifted to San Antonio on March 24th was Sergeant Christopher “Chris” J. Burson. He remembered nothing that had happened to him on Green Ramp, in the emergency room at Womack, or on the flight to San Antonio. With burns on his feet, legs, hips, and hands and with part of his left ear missing, he woke up delirious in the burn unit. He experienced more mental anguish than physical pain because, in his words, “all the nerve endings in my legs were burned and dead.” He endured painful scrubs and underwent three skin grafts and six surgeries. Three weeks after the accident his spirit soared on the day he took his first few steps; “it was like being a baby again learning to walk.” To his delight, Burson discovered that he enjoyed occupational therapy. He practiced stepping on and off a 4-inch block and picking marbles out of playdough with his stiff left hand. Before the accident Burson had aspired to a career in the infantry, with a lifelong dream of becoming a sergeant major, but now, as soon as he was sufficiently recovered, he wanted to become an occupational therapist. “God makes things happen for a reason,” he said.
Leadership was evident throughout the response. Officers and noncommissioned officers, commanders, and command sergeants major, supported by their spouses, became personally involved in the welfare of the 130 Green Ramp casualties and their families, as well as those who were not injured but affected by the crash. By taking charge of the response, unit leaders decisively influenced the process. I have often written about quality of officers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and Fort Bragg. The XVIII Airborne Corps Commander, LTG Henry Shelton, retired as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, MG William Steele retired as a three star, Colonel John Abizaid retired as a four star, as did LTC Lloyd Austin, and LTC Stanley McChrystal, and the competent nurse Major Patricia D Horoho, retired as a three star Lieutenant General, as the first nurse to be Surgeon General of the Army.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri October 10th 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
I met Roy Benavidez in May 1966, after I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant and reassigned from the 3rd Battalion to the 2nd Battalion 325th Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division. I was assigned as the Personnel Sergeant for a month before I went to Vietnam. Sergeant Roy Benavidez was also an infantryman working in the S1 (Administrative) Shop doing jobs for the Sergeant Major and some reenlistment paperwork. At the time, to me, he was just a happy Mexican sergeant, bouncing along doing his job. What I didn’t know, at the time, was that he was just getting back into shape after weeks of drinking and pain pills because of extreme pain. In October 1965 he had gone to Vietnam as an advisor to a South Vietnamese Infantry unit, and stepped on a land mine. The mine didn’t explode, but the ignition charge blew the whole mine into his butt. He was evacuated to the Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he was told that he would never walk again.
At Fort Sam Houston he was wheeled into “wheel chair therapy” classes with amputees, where they were taught how to live in a wheel chair. Doctors told him that they would start processing a medical discharge for him, but Roy Benavidez was determined to walk and to stay in the Army. At night, against doctors’ orders, he would get out of bed and crawl to the wall where he would try to push himself up. Enduring the most excruciating pain, he would sit against the wall, pull his knees up and try to push. He first got his toes to wiggle, then he was able to put his feet flat, and finally push up against the wall, to the cheering of the other patients. Finally, with his wife at his side determined not to show the extreme pain he was experiencing, he walked into the doctors’ office and demanded that he be allowed to return to active duty. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 325th Infantry at Fort Bragg. Still in the most unbearable pain, he saw a doctor friend on the sly who gave him Darvon prescriptions off the record. As soon as he got off work he went to the club and drank until he could go home and go to sleep. He said that the Darvon helped him make it through the day, and the alcohol helped him sleep at night. Finally when the doctor told him that he was killing himself, he quit both cold turkey and started running. That’s when I met him. We both left about the same time. I went to Vietnam, and he went to Special Forces training.
On February 24th 1981 President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant, then retired, Roy Benavidez. Before reading the citation, the President turned to the press and said; “If the story of his heroism was a movie script, you would not believe it.” The thirteen year delay from the time of the action to the presentation was due to the mission being classified until 1980, and finding an eye witness still alive. The official citation;
Master Sergeant (then Staff Sergeant) Roy P. Benavidez United States Army, who distinguished himself by a series of daring and extremely valorous actions on 2 May 1968 while assigned to Detachment B56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Republic of Vietnam. On the morning of 2 May 1968, a 12-man Special Forces Reconnaissance Team was inserted by helicopters in a dense jungle area west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam to gather intelligence information about confirmed large-scale enemy activity. The area was controlled and routinely patrolled by the North Vietnamese Army. After a short period of time on the ground, the team met heavy enemy resistance, and requested emergency extraction. Three helicopters attempted extraction, but were unable to land due to intense enemy small arms and anti-aircraft fire. Sergeant Benavidez was at the Forward Operating Base in Loc Ninh monitoring the operation by radio when these helicopters returned to off-load wounded crewmembers and to assess aircraft damage. Sergeant Benavidez voluntarily boarded a returning aircraft to assist in another extraction attempt. Realizing that all the team members were either dead or wounded and unable to move to the pickup zone, he directed the aircraft to a nearby clearing where he jumped from the hovering helicopter, and ran approximately 75 meters under withering small arms fire to the crippled team. Prior to reaching the team’s position he was wounded in his right leg, face, and head. Despite these painful injuries, he took charge, repositioning the team members and directing their fire to facilitate the landing of an extraction aircraft, and the loading of wounded and dead team members. He then threw smoke canisters to direct the aircraft to the team’s position. Despite his severe wounds and under intense enemy fire, he carried and dragged half of the wounded team members to the awaiting aircraft. He then provided protective fire by running alongside the aircraft as it moved to pick up the remaining team members. As the enemy’s fire intensified, he hurried to recover the body and classified documents on the dead team leader. When he reached the team leader’s body, Sergeant Benavidez was severely wounded by small arms in the abdomen and grenade fragments in his back. At nearly the same moment, the aircraft pilot was mortally wounded, and his helicopter crashed. Although in extremely critical condition due to his multiple wounds, Sergeant Benavidez secured the classified documents and made his way back to the wreckage, where he aided the wounded out of the overturned aircraft, and gathered the stunned survivors into a defensive perimeter. Under increasing enemy automatic weapons and grenade fire, he moved around the perimeter distributing water and ammunition to his weary men, re-instilling in them a will to live and fight. Facing a buildup of enemy opposition with a beleaguered team, Sergeant Benavidez mustered his strength, began calling in tactical air strikes and directed the fire from supporting gunships to suppress the enemy’s fire and so permit another extraction attempt. He was wounded again in his thigh by small arms fire while administering first aid to a wounded team member just before another extraction helicopter was able to land. His indomitable spirit kept him going as he began to ferry his comrades to the craft. On his second trip with the wounded, he was clubbed with additional wounds to his head and arms before killing his adversary. He then continued under devastating fire to carry the wounded to the helicopter. Upon reaching the aircraft, he spotted and killed two enemy soldiers who were rushing the craft from an angle that prevented the aircraft door gunner from firing upon them. With little remaining strength, he made one last trip to the perimeter to ensure that all classified material had been collected or destroyed, and to bring in the remaining wounded. Only then, in extremely serious condition from numerous wounds and loss of blood, did he allow himself to be pulled into the extraction aircraft. Sergeant Benavidez gallant choice to join voluntarily his comrades who were in critical straits, to expose himself constantly to withering enemy fire, and his refusal to be stopped despite numerous severe wounds, saved the lives of at least eight men. His fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty, and extremely valorous actions in the face of overwhelming odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.
When the enemy soldier clubbed him from behind it knocked him down and broke his jaw. The NVA soldier then tried to stab Benavidez with a bayonet on his rifle, Roy grabbed the bayonet, knowing it would cut his hand, and pulled the enemy to him while he stabbed the NVA with his knife in his other hand. From that point on he couldn’t talk because of the broken Jaw. When he was pulled into the helicopter, he was trying to hold his intestines in his stomach. He was unconscious when the helicopter landed. Thinking he was dead, the medics put him in a body bag, and a doctor who was checking the bodies in the body bags started to zip up Roy’s bag. Roy said he woke up and realized where he was, but he couldn’t talk. He said he could hear that zipper moving and he then said that he made the greatest shot of his life, he spat in the doctor’s face.
After being stabilized in Vietnam, Roy Benavidez was moved to the Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, with over thirty wounds. While he was there, General William C. Westmoreland, the Chief of Staff of the Army, flew to Fort Sam and awarded Roy the Distinguished Service Cross.
Roy had a mentor and friend from Special Forces training who was killed while in Detachment B-56. Roy couldn’t find out much about how he died, because most of what B-56 did was classified, but Green Berets talk to Green Berets. I can tell you from personal experience, spend a little money and a few nights at the Special Forces Playboy Club at Nha Trang, the SF headquarters, and you could get a lot of information. Roy requested and got an assignment to B-56 and soon acquired a reputation for being a stand up fearless guy in action. Everyone in SF had a radio call sign not associated with their real name. Roy’s was Tango Mike/Mike. That mean Mexican, but Roy was only half Mexican, his mother was a Yaqui Indian. The Yaqui were the fiercest Indian tribe in North America, even the Apache would not enter Yaqui lands.
Roy retired from the Army in 1976, and after the Medal of Honor presentation in 1981 he became a motivational speaker to school students. He was in demand all over the world, and many of his speeches are still on youtube. He wrote a book about his life titled, “Medal of Honor – One man’s journey from poverty and prejudice.” He once said; “Faith and perseverance will win out over sheer ability every time.”
Roy died from diabetes complications November 29th 1998. He was 63. He is buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Military Cemetary.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri February 21st 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email email@example.com, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
This is the story of a little girl who became a paratrooper and won a medal.
Monica Lin Brown was born May 24th 1988, she was three when her parents divorced. Her brother Justin was a year older. Her mother worked night shifts, as a nurse in hospitals in the Houston, Texas area. Her mother was seriously injured in a car accident and grandma moved in to raise the kids. Kopperl High School near Waco was Monica’s ninth school in eleven years. She played tennis, volleyball, softball, was a cheerleader and ran cross country. Running was her passion. She said; “Running is like meditation for me, I can just think, without anyone talking to me.” Brother Justin had been fascinated with the army since he could remember, and by the time he was 13 he had decided that was what he was going to do. Monica graduated from high school a year early, when she was 17. After graduating from high school, Monica and Justin moved to Lake Jackson, Texas to be near their father’s mother. Monica had become interested in radiology through an aunt who was an X-ray technician. Accompanying her brother to the Army Recruiter’s office in November 2005, she found that she could get that training in the Army. Unfortunately that field was closed, so she enlisted to be a Healthcare Specialist (Combat Medic). She went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, then transferred to Fort Sam Houston, Texas (San Antonio), for AIT (Advanced Individual Training) the 16 week 68W course. The first eight weeks is the national EMT course, during which they are National EMT certified, the second eight weeks is army combat medic training. It was there that Monica met a drill sergeant whose impact would help define who she would become in the Army. She said; “She was high-speed and airborne-qualified. Her independence and strong personality set her apart. I wanted to be high-speed like that. She was from the 82nd and had that maroon beret and the Airborne patch. I knew I wanted to be like her.” After AIT and Airborne School she was assigned to the Forward Support Company which was attached to the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry, 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Soon after her arrival, her unit started preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. On February 7th 2007 she arrived at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Salerno. At that time all the medical facilities were in tents, the operating room, CT machines, everything. At first she didn’t leave the base. She said; “The first actual patient I worked on was an Afghani man who had a gunshot to his leg. My reaction was ‘My gosh, this is a real person and these are real injuries, this isn’t training anymore.’ That’s when the switch flipped and I think everything changed over from training to me really liking my job.” Then in March a small outpost occupied by Charlie and Delta Troops of the 4th 73rd Cav requested a female medic. Brown got the assignment. It was little more than a cluster of tents walled off with dirt filled barriers and no running water. Brown’s aid station was an 8-by-5 foot area barely big enough for a stretcher. “I loved it,” she said. She went on some resupply and humanitarian missions with Delta Troop. Any treatment of an Afghanistan woman had to be by another woman.
Charlie Troop was running combat patrols and in April its medic went on leave. At that time women weren’t supposed to be assigned with front line units, but PFC (Private First Class) Monica Brown was the only available medic. Charlie Troop received orders to go on a Search and Capture mission. They would be out for five nights. The patrol consisted of four up-armored Humvees and one Afghan National Army (ANA) pickup truck. Having spent the night just outside the small village of Jani Khel, Charlie Troop was informed on Wednesday morning, April 25th 2007 that two Taliban activists lived in the village. They spent the day searching the village and found nothing, the bad guys had gone. At dusk they started moving out of the village, one by one turning off of the road into a dry river bed adjacent to the road.
PFC Brown was riding in the Humvee with the Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Jose Santos. She didn’t hear the explosion, but the .50 cal gunner on her Humvee yelled down “Two one’s hit. I see smoke and a tire rolling through the field.” The trail Humvee, with five soldiers inside, had rolled over a pressure plate IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Looking back they saw the Humvee engulfed in a fireball as its fuel tank and fuel cans ignited. PFC Brown instinctively grabbed her bag and her weapon and opened the door. The .50 cal gunner yelled down “Shut the door”, as incoming machinegun fire started pinging the Humvee. They were caught in an ambush. As the .50 cal gunner turned around and started putting suppressive fire at the enemy, SSG Santos yelled “Let’s go Doc”. With SSG Santos a couple steps ahead, they ran through the heavy silt of the river bed about 300 meters (that’s about 1000 feet) through machinegun and rifle fire to the burning vehicle. Four of the injured had crawled or been thrown from the vehicle, the fifth, Specialist Larry Spray was caught inside by his boot and was on fire. Sergeant Zachary Tellier managed to pull him out.
Exhausted when arriving, Brown saw that all five of the soldiers were stumbling, burned and cut. Specialists Stanson Smith and Larry Spray were critical. Spray had severe burns and Smith was in shock from a severe laceration on his forehead blinding him. Brown and one of the lessor injured grabbed Smith by his body armor and dragged him into a ditch about 15 yards away. Sergeant Tellier got Spray to the cover. The other vehicles were turning around to form a crescent formation and began to return fire. As soon as they got to the ditch, the enemy started dropping mortar rounds around them. Brown threw her body over Smith, shielding him and yelled to another soldier to “cover up” the other casualty, as more than a dozen rounds landed around them. Then the ammunition inside the burning Humvee started exploding, 60mm mortars, 40mm grenade rounds and rifle ammunition. Again, Brown lay over the wounded. Lieutenant Robbins, the Platoon Leader, moved his Humvee near the injured and was incredulous that Brown had survived. He said, “I was surprised I didn’t get killed and she’d been there for 10 to 15 minutes or longer. There was small arms fire coming in from two different machine-gun positions, mortars falling, a burning Humvee with 16 mortar rounds in it, chunks of aluminum the size of softballs flying all around. It was about as hairy as it gets.” SSG Santos drove the ANA pickup over to get the wounded, he would later recall that bullets were flying within inches of Brown, but she was focused on the casualties. Lieutenant Robbins said of her calm demeanor under fire, “She was focused on the patients the whole time. She did her job perfectly.” Brown and SSG Santos hoisted Smith onto the truck, while Spray crouched behind the back window and Brown dived onto a bench in the back. There, she put pressure on Smith’s head, which was bleeding heavily, and also held the hand of Spray, who was charred and shaking. She told Spray “Talk to him”, trying to keep Smith conscious. Spray, his face contorted with pain and fear, responded, “It’s going to be okay”. SSG Santos drove across the river and stopped behind one of the Humvees, there Brown set up her Casualty Collection Point. Smith was bleeding heavily and slipping in and out of consciousness, Spray had extensive burns on his legs, chest and back. Brown bandaged Smith, started IV’s on both, and covered Spray’s burns with gauze and put him in a hypothermia bag. She soon had them stabilized and prepped for medevac, but it was another 45 minutes before the helicopters arrived. Eighteen year old Monica Brown recalled; “When the medevac bird was taking off and everything was quiet, my ears were still ringing. I couldn’t hear anything. I was walking through the field back to the Humvees, through shin-high green grass, blowing because the bird was taking off. I remember thinking, ‘Did that just really happen? Did I do everything right?’ When I got back to the trucks the guys were all hugging me and thanking me.”
Staff Sergeant Aaron Best, who was Lieutenant Robbins .50 cal gunner that day, said; “I’ve seen a lot of grown men who didn’t have the courage and weren’t able to handle themselves under fire like she did. She never missed a beat.”
Two days later she was abruptly pulled from the field. She had attracted too much attention.
Specialists Smith and Spray were flown back to the US and recovered from their wounds.
On March 21st 2008, the Army flew Monica’s brother Justin to Bagram Air base to stand beside her as Vice President Dick Cheney presented nineteen year old, five foot two, 120 pound, Combat Medic, Army Specialist Monica Lin Brown the Silver Star, making her the second and last female to be awarded the Nation’s third highest award for valor in combat, since World War II.
Monica said she never expected to be in a situation like that and credits her training and instructors for her actions that day. She said; “I realized that everything I had done during the attack was just rote memory.”
All the major news services did stories on Monica, but unfortunately notoriety sometimes attracts the wrong kind of attention. Some scammers from some country in Africa used her pictures and story in a money scam, so she has since dropped completely out of the public eye. She was promoted to Sergeant, before she left the Army, but she only left temporarily. In December 2010 she was in the Bachelor of Science Nursing program at University of North Carolina-Pembroke and was in the Army ROTC program. My guess is that she is now a Captain in the Army Nurse Corps.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri in three installments November 29th, December 6th and 13th 2017. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
Occasionally I like to throw some history into this column. Looking back at World War II history, one might think that there was some divine intervention into the placing of our great Generals, Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton into position at the same time. Perhaps, but if so God had some help. Since George Washington is considered the father of our country, George C. Marshall is surely the father of our Army, at least the modern Army. George Marshall’s history is known to all career army soldiers, but to very few civilians under the age of 70.
George Catlett Marshall, Jr., was born to middle class parents in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, December 31st, 1880. Historically after every war, the United States has reduced funding its military to the point of rendering it ineffective. When the Spanish – American War broke out in 1898, the Army was quadrupled in size to around 100,000 soldiers. George C Marshall graduated from Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1901, and as part of that military buildup, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army in February 1902. He served as an infantry platoon leader and company commander, attended the army schools and served as an instructor. He graduated first in the Infantry-Cavalry Course in 1907 and first in the Army Staff College in 1908. He served a couple tours in the Philippines in the guerilla wars, and returned to the United States in 1916. Again, when World War I started in Europe the US was totally unprepared for war. In August 1914, as Britain was preparing to enter the war to stop Germany, H.G. Wells wrote an article in the British newspaper The Daily News titled “The War that will End War”. It was picked up worldwide as “The war to end all wars”.
The war in Europe had been under way for about 30 months, when the United States declared war in April 1917. The United States only had divisions on paper. George Marshall was assigned to the staff to help organize the first US combat division, which became the 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One). Marshall’s commanders commented that he had the ability to reduce complex problems to simple answers.
General John J (Blackjack) Pershing, a former farm boy from Laclede, Missouri, was made Commander of American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I. The French and the British had little confidence in American troops, and in fact initially insisted they simply be integrated into the British forces, so General Pershing was under pressure to get American units trained. He conducted unannounced inspections of the training, including one with the French President, which was a disaster. On October 3rd, 1917, General Pershing again inspected the 1st Division, after which he called the Division Commander, Major General Sibert, and his staff out and “just gave them hell”. As Pershing turned to leave, a tall major who had been serving as the division acting chief of staff spoke up, angrily protesting Pershing’s unfairness. Pershing was in no mood to listen and began to walk away. Suddenly, he felt the major’s hand grabbing his arm. “General Pershing,” the major said, “there’s something to be said here and I think I should say it because I’ve been here the longest.” Pershing turned back and gave the impertinent young officer a cold, appraising glance. “What have you got to say?”
A torrent of facts poured forth: the promised platoon manuals that never arrived and had set back training; the inadequate supplies that left men walking around with gunnysacks on their feet; the inadequate quarters that left troops scattered throughout the countryside, sleeping in barns for a penny a night; the lack of motor transport that forced troops to walk miles to the training grounds. Finally, the deluge subsided. Pershing looked at the major and calmly said: “You must appreciate the troubles we have.” The major replied, “Yes, I know you do, General, I know you do. But ours are immediate and every day and have to be solved before night.” Major George C Marshall’s friends offered their condolences, because they were sure that was the end of his career. Instead he was moved up to AEF Headquarters to help plan training and operations, and when General Pershing became Chief of Staff of the Army in 1921 he made Major George Marshall his Aide-de-camp.
It was there, in France, that Marshall first met and observed the rapid rising Colonel George Patton. Patton had graduated from West Point in 1909. Patton organized and commanded the tank school, in France, and finally commanded the Tank Brigade. Patton had come to France as General Pershing’s Aide. General Pershing was engaged to Patton’s sister Nita. Pershing’s wife and three daughters had died in a house fire at the Presidio of San Francisco, while Pershing was commanding the 8th Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas preparing to go into Mexico after Poncho Villa. Only Pershing’s six year old son survived the fire. General Pershing was Chief of Staff of the Army from 1921 to September 1924, when he retired.
It was in France, that Marshall saw George Patton personally teach the soldiers how to drive the tanks and maneuver them, organize them into battalions and finally a brigade, then “on foot”, lead them into battle. George Marshall also rose to the rank of Colonel in World War I, was reverted to his permanent rank of Captain on June 30th and promoted to major on July 1st, 1920. The same for George Patton on the same days.
After World War I, the war to end all wars, the US congress reduced the authorized strength of the Army to 12,000 commissioned officers and 125,000 enlisted men, and funded the War Department at about half of its minimum request. The Army was stabilized at that level until 1936. Many units existed only on paper, and those that did have troops were at less than one third strength. There were practically no promotions. Many officers spent years as lieutenants or captains. Some infantry units trained close to their barracks with sticks instead of rifles, and yelled “bang”.
George Marshall was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1923. After General Pershing retired, George Marshall worked as a key planner and writer in the War Department. He commanded the 15th Infantry Regiment for three years in China, and taught at the Army War College. In 1927 he was assigned as the Assistant Commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he initiated major changes to modernize command and staff procedures.
When Lieutenant Colonel George Marshall arrived at Fort Benning, he briefly met Major Dwight Eisenhower, who had just completed his command of a battalion. One of Marshall’s instructors in the Infantry School was Major Omar Bradley, Marshall called him “quiet, unassuming, capable, with sound common sense. Absolute dependability. Give him a job and forget it.” Eisenhower, from Kansas, and Bradley, from Missouri, had graduated together from West Point in 1915, the “class the stars fell on”, 36 percent of their class would become general officers. Early in his career, Eisenhower had commanded a tank unit and became a big proponent of tank warfare, and as such he became good friends with George Patton.
There is an old army rumor that George C Marshall had a “little black book” of promising young officers to keep his eye on for future promotions and jobs. None was ever found, and I doubt that the list existed anywhere but in George Marshall’s mind. While he was aide-de-camp to General Pershing, he listed his qualities of the successful leader, in the following order. Good common sense, have studied your profession, physically strong, cheerful and optimistic, display marked energy, extreme loyalty, and determined. He consciously considered character over intellect, for he feared that the United States would forever be unprepared for war, thereby forcing Army officers to lead un-trained and poorly equipped units into battle. He decided that the American military needed officers who were optimistic, quick thinkers, with common sense, and who were aggressive, and took immediate action. He wrote that leaders who looked at the negative side of things should be removed immediately. He definitely valued effectiveness over appearance.
After the Infantry School, George Marshall commanded an infantry brigade in Georgia, was promoted to full Colonel in September 1933, and commanded Fort Moultrie, South Carolina and District I of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). He was promoted to Brigadier General in October 1936, and commanded the 5th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division at Vancouver, Washington, which also made him Post Commander and responsible for 35 CCC camps in Oregon and Washington.
In July 1938, Brigadier General George Marshall was assigned to the War Plans Division in Washington DC, and subsequently reassigned as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army. On November 14, 1938, Marshall and eleven other senior government officials gathered at the White House. That was five days after the Nazis launched nationwide attacks, in Germany, on Jews and their shops and synagogues. The subject was whether to commission the building of ten thousand war planes. That was huge since the Army Air Corps, at that time, only had 160 fighter planes and 50 bombers. Marshall saw the plan as not considering the time and great amount of funding necessary to recruit and train aircrews, to build and staff the bases they would need, and to manufacture the ammunition and bombs, if war came. No one else, at the White House meeting, seemed very concerned, and when President Franklin D Roosevelt polled the room the others present were agreeable and “very soothing”. When asked by the President “Don’t you think so too”, Marshall responded “I am sorry, Mr. President, but I don’t agree with that at all”. The President gave him a “startled” look, thinking that Marshall would be pleased, since he had been pushing for increased military readiness, but Marshall wanted a balanced plan. Again, many believed that Marshall had ended his career, but when General Craig, the Chief of Staff, retired on July 1st, 1939, Marshall was made Acting Chief of Staff, and on September 1st, 1939 George C Marshall was promoted to General and sworn in as Chief of Staff of the Army. Coincidently that was the same day that the German Army invaded Poland.
One of General George C Marshall’s first missions as Chief of Staff of the Army, was a trip to Brazil. There was worry about a growing pro-German sentiment within the Brazilian military. Marshall secured agreements, from Brazil, to freely move American forces by air and sea across the South Atlantic. Colonel Matthew Ridgway, from the War Plans Division, accompanied Marshall on that trip. They spent their hours aboard ship discussing how to get funding for the military buildup, and how to find and promote good officers to lead that growing force. Even before he became chief of staff of the Army, Marshall had started thinking about how to get rid of the “dead weight” in the Army’s senior ranks. He considered most of the senior officers too old and too set in their minds with outmoded procedures, to lead a new Army in the war they would surely face.
On May 10th, 1940 Germany invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. On the morning of May 13th the Luftwaffe conducted the largest air strike in history, in moving three divisions into France, where French troops ran from the battlefield, and in London Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned, after having tried to appease Hitler. Winston Churchill was sworn in as Prime Minister. President Franklin D Roosevelt was still trying to avoid war, telling the American people that he would not send American boys to war in Europe.
Thomas E Ricks, wrote in “The Generals” that on the morning of May 13th, 1940; “Marshall spent the morning with Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., explaining the nature and rationale of a major increase in the size of the military. Then, joined by War Department officials, who made it clear to Marshall and Morgenthau that he “was not desirous of seeing us”, as Marshall recalled. Roosevelt disliked the Army expansion proposal and tried to quell dissent by calling an end to the session prematurely. Morgenthau said that he supported the increase, but “the President was exceedingly short with him,” Marshall said. When Morgenthau finished, FDR shrugged him off: “Well, you filed your protest.” Morgenthau asked if the President would hear out Marshall. Roosevelt responded that he didn’t need to listen to the new Army chief, because, he said airily, “I know exactly what he would say. There is no necessity for me to hear him at all.” Marshall’s two civilian overseers – Secretary of War Harry Woodring and Assistant Secretary Louis Johnson – sat mutely, offering Marshall no support. Roosevelt ended the meeting. Marshall stood, but instead of leaving the room he walked over to the President and looked down on him. “Mr. President may I have three minutes? He asked. “Of course, General Marshall,” Roosevelt said. He did not invite Marshall to sit back down. When the President started to say something else, Marshall interrupted him, fearing that otherwise he would never get another word in. Marshall spoke in a torrent, spewing facts about military requirements, organization, and costs. “If you don’t do something . . . and do it right away, I don’t know what is going to happen to this country,” he told Roosevelt. “You have got to do something, and you’ve got to do it today.” He finally had the President’s attention. The next day the President asked Marshall to draw up as soon as possible a list of what the military needed”.
After World War I, George Patton had commanded a tank unit, served in staff positions, attended Army schools, and served in Washington, DC. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1934 and assigned to Hawaii, where in 1937 he wrote a paper, with which some have called “chilling accuracy” about a Japanese attack on Hawaii. In July 1938, he was promoted to Colonel and given command of the 5th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Clark, Texas. He thoroughly enjoyed training the regiment for war, but six months later, he was called back to Washington, DC to command Fort Myer. The reason for the transfer was that he was to replace Colonel Jonathan Wainwright, who was in debt as a result of the social expenses connected with the job. Patton was independently wealthy and enjoyed an outside family income and could afford the post, but he was dejected and demoralized at having to leave his command. The real reason, for his move, was that George C Marshall wanted Patton close to Washington, DC. Marshall said; “Patton is by far the best tank man in the Army”. When George C Marshall was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army, Marshall’s house at Fort Myer was being remodeled and repainted, so he stayed with George Patton, whose family was away at the time. Patton served as an umpire on the giant Louisiana Maneuvers in 1940, and as a result helped develop an armored force. The force was formed, and Patton was made commander of the 2nd Armored Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division. Patton was in charge of training the division. He was promoted to Brigadier General on October 2nd, made Acting Division Commander in November, and on April 4th, 1941, was promoted to Major General and made Commanding General of the 2nd Armored Division, at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Major Dwight Eisenhower was appointed Aide-de-camp to General Douglas MacArthur, when MacArthur was Chief of Staff of the Army in 1932. He accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines in 1935, where he served as assistant military adviser to the Philippine government in developing their army. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1936 and returned to the states in 1939. He commanded an infantry battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington, was promoted to Colonel in March 1941, and made Chief of Staff of the Third Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and after successfully participating in the Louisiana Maneuvers, he was promoted to Brigadier General on September 29th, 1941.
Major Omar Bradley left the Infantry School to teach at West Point. He then attended the Army War College. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1936 and worked at the War Department. When George C Marshall was made Chief of Staff, Omar Bradley worked directly for Marshall. In February 1941, Bradley was promoted to Brigadier General, bypassing Colonel, and given command of the Infantry School at Fort Benning.
Once, in discussing the new generation of commanders, Marshall said; “I’m going to put these men to the severest tests which I can devise in time of peace. I’m going to start shifting them into jobs of greater responsibility than they hold now . . . . Then I’m going to change them, suddenly, without warning, to jobs even more burdensome and difficult . . . . Those who stand up under the punishment will be pushed ahead. Those who fail are out at the first sign of faltering.”
In the summer and fall of 1941, it has been estimated that, as Chief of Staff, Marshall forced about 600 officers, from general to captain, out of the Army, either retired or discharged. Marshall promoted “can do’rs” and fired “can’ts”. In March 1939, BG Charles Bundel, Commandant of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas told George Marshall that it would take 18 months to update the complete set of Army Training Manuals. Marshall offered him three, then four, Bundel still said that it couldn’t be done. Marshall then said, “I’m sorry then you are relieved”. He was replaced by BG Lesley J McNair, who got the job done on time.
When Marshall testified before the Senate Military Affairs Committee in 1940, which was questioning his purging and firings, he answered; “You have to lead men in war by requiring more from the individual than he thinks he can do. You have to lead men in war by bringing them along to endure and to display qualities of fortitude that are beyond the average man’s thought of what he should be expected to do. You have to inspire them when they are hungry and exhausted and desperately uncomfortable and in great danger; and only a man of positive characteristics of leadership, with the physical stamina that goes with it, can function under those conditions.”
Once the war started, there was even less sympathy for the “can’t do’rs”. Marshall once ordered a general to France immediately, and was informed that the man said that he couldn’t leave immediately because his wife was away and his household goods weren’t packed. Astounded, Marshall called the general, whom he had known for years, as a friend. “My god man were at war and you are a general”. “Well I’m sorry, the man said. “I’m sorry too,” Marshall concluded, “but you will be retired tomorrow”.
Major General George S Patton trained his 2nd Armored Division, with an intensity that had not previously been seen in the US Army. His men said he looked like a general but talked like a top sergeant. His vulgar and earthy talks to his men earned him the nickname “old blood and guts”. Staff Sergeant Pullen said, while they were at Fort Benning, “He has the damndest way of showing up when things go wrong. He dashes leg-long into a creek, gets a stalled tank and its wretched crew out of the water, and back into the line of march practically by the power of his curses.” He staged a mass exercise in which 1,000 tanks and vehicles were driven from Columbus, Georgia, to Panama City, Florida, and back. He repeated the exercise with his entire division of 1,300 vehicles the next month. The New York Times wrote articles about him, and his picture was on the cover of Life magazine. After a very large exercise designed to test the effectiveness of an armored force, in which Patton’s division far out performed anything the designers of the exercise dreamed of, executing 48 hours’ worth of planned objectives in only nine, he marched the division back to Fort Benning, and wrote an order complimenting his officers and men on their fine performance. The order was published on December 6th, 1941. The next morning the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States was at war.
On December 12th 1941, five days after the Japanese attack, Brigadier General Dwight D Eisenhower sat in his office at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, writing a letter to George Patton asking for a command in Patton’s division, when his telephone rang. He recognized the voice of Colonel Bedell Smith, who worked in the War Department, for the Chief of Staff of the Army. George Marshall wanted Eisenhower to come to the capital immediately. Ike’s heart sank, he had missed World War I working on staff, and he was afraid that this meant a repeat. But, George Marshall already had Eisenhower in mind as the possible commander in Europe. He did not know Eisenhower well personally, but he knew a lot about the man. For a boy who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Abilene, Kansas, Ike was a very sophisticated man, well read and well traveled, and outwardly displayed an even tempered and congenial personality. George Marshall had witnessed the friction between the French, the British, and the American generals in World War I and did not want it repeated.
It was Sunday, December 14th 1941, when BG Dwight Eisenhower arrived at General Marshall’s office. Ike said, “I walked into his office and within ten seconds he was telling me the problem he wanted me to attack . . . . He just said, ‘Look, there are two things we have got to do. We have got to do our best in the Pacific and we’ve got to win this whole war. Now, how are we going to do it? Now, that is going to be your problem.’” Ike said, “Give me a few hours”. Later that afternoon Ike returned to General Marshall’s office with a three page typed memo, which said that we have to keep the air and sea lanes open in the Pacific, which means holding Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, and the other islands along the route, as well as Australia itself. Sacrifice the Philippines, until we win the war in Europe. Win the war in Europe. Marshall read the memo and said’ “I agree”. Ike had passed his first test with George Marshall. Then Marshall said, “Now, tell me how to implement this.” Ike later wrote, “Marshall said, ‘Eisenhower, the War Department is filled with able men who analyze their problems but feel compelled to bring them to me for final solution. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they have done.’ I thought, as General Marshall spoke, his eyes were awfully cold.”
In January 1942, George Patton was given command of I Armored Corps. He personally mapped out and established a 10,000 acre Desert Training Center in California to train his Corps.
Omar Bradley was promoted to Major General in February 1942 and in March assumed command of the newly reactivated 82nd Infantry Division. Dwight Eisenhower was promoted to Major General in March 1942 in the War Plans Division at Army Headquarters.
In May 1942, General Marshall sent Lieutenant General Henry H (Hap) Arnold, Commander of the Army Air Corps, and Major General Dwight Eisenhower to England to assess the condition of the American command there. They found it working peacetime hours, and the staff unfamiliar with the overall world Army plans for the war. Major General James B Chaney was relieved and sent back to the states, and Dwight D Eisenhower was sent back to England and made Commanding General of the European Theater of Operations (ETOUSA). He was promoted to Lieutenant General in July 1942.
On July 28th 1942, the German Army, under General Erwin Rommel, captured the Egyptian seaport of Mersa Matruh, only 140 miles from Alexandria.
It was 120 degrees at the Desert Training Center, at 10:45 in the morning on July 30th 1942. George Patton was alone in his big air conditioned office, when he received a phone call. Colonel John Hull was on the other end of the line, he said; “General, I am calling you by order of General Marshall. He wants to see you here in Washington, as soon as you can leave the Center.” Patton immediately felt that was a turning point in his life. He went down on his knees and prayed.
In August 1942, Omar Bradley turned over the 82nd Division to Major General Matthew Ridgeway, as the division was re-designated the 82nd Airborne Division. Bradley was then given command of the 28th Infantry Division, with the mission of getting it “trained up”.
In Washington, George Patton was assigned the mission of planning and commanding the allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch, which was under the overall command of Lieutenant General Eisenhower. On November 8th 1942 Patton’s force of 100 ships and 33,000 men landed on the shores of North Africa, centering on Casablanca, Morocco. Vichy French forces opposed the landings, but by November 11th, Casablanca was captured and an armistice negotiated with the Vichy French. Patton then converted Casablanca into a military port.
On February 19th 1943, eight days after Dwight D Eisenhower had been promoted to full General, Major General Lloyd Fredendall was commanding the US II Corps, under operational control of the British 8th Army. For the first time the US Army met and engaged the German Army at the Battle of Kasserine Pass. They suffered a terrible defeat, being pushed back 50 miles by General Erwin Rommel’s German Afrika Corps.
General Marshall sent Omar Bradley to North Africa to be Eisenhower’s front line trouble shooter. Fredendall was relieved, George Patton was given command of II Corps and promoted to Lieutenant General. Patton requested Bradley as his deputy. Eisenhower approved, but retained a direct line to Bradley. Patton defeated the German Army at every engagement, and in April turned II Corps over to Bradley, who was promoted to Lieutenant General in June. On July 10th 1943, Patton commanded 90,000 troops of the US 7th Army as it invaded Sicily, Operation Husky.
In August 1943, George Patton got in trouble for slapping two “battle fatigued” troops, and was sent to England to be commander of a fake army, conducting a ruse to convince German intelligence that Patton would be commanding an invasion to take place at Pas de Calais. Omar Bradley was also sent to England to be commander of the US First Army and prepare for the Normandy invasion.
In January 1944. George Patton was formally given command of the Third US Army, which was newly arrived in England, and told to prepare it for combat in Europe.
Omar Bradley commanded the US First Army during the Normandy invasion on June 6th 1944, then took command of the 12th US Army Group, under which George Patton’s Third Army was assigned on July 10th 1944.
On December 16th 1945, George C Marshall was promoted to five stars General of the Army, four days before Dwight D Eisenhower was promoted to the same rank. George Marshall saw the Army peak at 8.3 million soldiers in 1945. After the war ended, Marshall left active duty and became a special envoy to china. He was Secretary of State 1947 – 1949, responsible for the “Marshall Plan” in the rebuilding of Europe. When the Korean War started, President Truman ask Marshall to be his Secretary of Defense, because once again the US Army was woefully unprepared for combat in Korea. It was in that capacity that he recommended to President Truman that General Douglas MacArthur be relieved in Korea. MacArthur was replaced by General Matthew Ridgway, who turned the war around.
George C Marshall retired, in 1951, to his home in Leesburg, Virginia, and served as Chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, until his death in 1959
A look at what real life is in the Army, not what is portrayed in movies