Posted in Military History

Today in U.S. military history: holocaust survivor earns the Medal of Honor

The Nazis sent Rubin and his family to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria. Tibor survived, but his parents and two sisters perished. Following his liberation by American soldiers, he wanted to join the U.S. Army. He passed in 2015.

On this day in 1950, the 8th Cavalry Regiment is falling back to the Pusan Perimeter during the opening days of America’s involvement in the Korean War. The job of holding up the North Koreans goes to Cpl. Tibor Rubin, who over the next 24 hours, single-handedly fights-off overwhelming numbers of enemy, inflicting “staggering” casualties while his fellow troopers withdraw.

In October, Chinese forces hammer his unit and Rubin is captured. Almost every night during his captivity, Rubin sneaks out to gather food and supplies from enemy depots and gardens to assist his fellow captives. When offered the chance to be sent to his native Hungary, he refuses and will spend nearly three years as a prisoner of war. Dozens of American lives were saved due to Rubin, and in 2005 he is finally awarded the Medal of Honor.

75 years ago today on Dutch New Guinea’s Noemfoor Island, Sgt. Ray E. Eubanks leads a squad against an enemy position that is devastating his company with machinegun, rifle, and mortar fire. Once the soldiers reach a spot 30 yards away from the enemy, Eubanks orders his men to keep firing at the position while he moves forward alone through the intensely fire-swept terrain. When he reaches a spot just 15 yards away, he opens fire with his automatic rifle, inflicting serious casualties on the Japanese defenders, but rendering his firearm useless in the process. Ignoring his wounds, he rushes forward and uses his broken gun as a club to kill four enemy soldiers before Eubanks is himself killed. For his actions, Sgt. Eubanks is awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Continue reading “Today in U.S. military history: holocaust survivor earns the Medal of Honor”

Posted in Military History

Buzz Aldrin’s lunar communion

While looking into the food that the Apollo 11 astronauts ate during their lunar mission, I learned that not only did Buzz Aldrin — a Presbyterian elder — read Bible verses during journey, but also took communion once he and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

“I would like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in — whoever and wherever they may be — to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way,” Aldrin radioed back to Earth. He then read John 15:5 silently to himself from a 3-by-5-inch notecard. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” Once Aldrin completed his reading, he poured his wine and ate his bread.

The first food and drink on the moon was communion. Continue reading “Buzz Aldrin’s lunar communion”

Posted in Images Military History

Sea of Tranquility

Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin carries science modules to their deployment area after landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. Good news: The laser ranging retroreflector Aldrin carries in his right hand is so accurate that NASA scientists could measure the distance between the earth and moon to within one millimeter. Bad news: we have learned that each year, the moon drifts 1.5 inches further away from the earth.
Posted in Military History

This day in U.S. military history: Glory and Gemini 10

1863: At 7:45 p.m., Union soldiers led by Brig. Gen. Truman Seymore launch a second attack against Battery Wagner, in Charleston (S.C.) Harbor. Spearheading the attack is Col. Robert G. Shaw’s all-black 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (portrayed in the 1989 film GLORY). Shaw’s regiment reaches the fortification walls, fighting hand-to-hand until they are driven back by devastating fire. The Confederates inflict 1,500 casualties on the attackers, killing several of the top Union officers, including Shaw. During the battle, Sgt. William H. Carney (featured image) becomes the first African-American soldier awarded the Medal of Honor.

1918: When Marine Corps Sgt. Matej Kocak’s battalion is stopped by a German machinegun during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Kocak single-handedly advances on the enemy position. He charges forward under fire and drives off the Germans with his bayonet. Later that day, he organized a unit of French colonial soldiers and led a successful attack against another German machinegun emplacement. Kocak will die a few weeks after his heroic actions, but is posthumously awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor.

Another Marine earned both versions of the Medal of Honor on this date. When an enemy machinegun position targets his unit, Gunnery Sgt. Louis Cukela crawls forward until he is behind the nest. He then springs up and charges the Germans, killing and driving off several with his bayonet. Using captured grenades, he kills or captures those that remained behind.

That same day near Belleau, France, a German machinegun opens up on Army Private First Class George Dilboy and his platoon leader as the Americans are conducting reconnaissance. Despite the position being only 100 yards away, Dilboy stands up and fires at the enemy gun crew, then moves through a wheat field until he is 25 yards away. He fires again, and is torn to pieces by the enemy gunners. Dilboy manages to silence the gun, but is killed in the process. For heroism and valor that American Expeditionary Force commander Gen. John J. Pershing refers to as “super-human,” Dilboy is awarded the Medal of Honor. Continue reading “This day in U.S. military history: Glory and Gemini 10”

Posted in Military History

Today in U.S. military history: the Port Chicago disaster

1898: Spanish forces under the command of Gen. José Toral surrender Cuba to Gen. William R. Shafter, practically ending Col. (and future president) Teddy Roosevelt’s “splendid little war.” In December, the Treaty of Paris puts an official end to the Spanish-American War.

1927: When Nicaraguan rebels attack the Marine garrison at Ocotal, Maj. Ross E. Rowell’s Marine Corps DeHavilland DH-4 biplanes disperse the force with strafing runs – and the first use of dive bombing in support of ground forces. The American occupation of Nicaragua will last another six years, but after Ocotal, rebels will never again make the mistake of mounting a large scale attack on U.S. forces.

1944: Two transport ships are destroyed – along with over 300 sailors and civilians killed and nearly 400 wounded – when ammunition being loaded aboard the ships at Port Chicago, Calif. explodes. One vessel is so badly obliterated that no identifiable pieces can be found. The explosion was reportedly heard 200 miles away, and registered a 3.4 on the Richter scale. Continue reading “Today in U.S. military history: the Port Chicago disaster”

Posted in Military History Society

From horses to space travel: what a difference 50 years makes

Gen. Pershing (left) and Lt. Collins in 1916

I came across an old photo while digging into the history of the Apollo 11 astronauts, which oddly enough dates back to 1916. Lt. James Lawton Collins served as an aide to Gen. John J. Pershing during the Philippine-American War and the Punitive Expedition into Mexico just before World War I. Lt. Collins would go on to serve in both World Wars, ultimately becoming a major general.

Collins served in the 8th Cavalry Regiment, and this was back when troopers still rode into battle on horses. Apart from when they began carrying firearms in the 18th Century, cavalry hasn’t changed a great deal since humans began riding into combat on horseback. A cavalryman from 1916 could easily go back 50 years and fight Apaches and the 1866 trooper wouldn’t have much trouble chasing down Pancho Villa’s men.

But 50 years later, American cavalry was seemingly light years ahead and had long since abandoned horses — now riding into battle in Southeast Asia on helicopters. In 1966, Maj. Gen. Collins had retired and his son Michael, already a seasoned jet and rocket plane pilot, would walk in space. Just three years later, Michael orbited the moon.

What a difference 50 years made. Airplanes and motorized vehicles were new when Pershing took his men into Mexico. Surely his son’s accomplishments would have been inconceivable to a cavalry officer whose only brushes with military technology were primitive, jankety planes and automobiles. For most of human history, people’s lives had been limited to how fast a man or horse could travel and how much they could carry. Unless he boarded a train, which wasn’t too common since the first transcontinental railroad wasn’t even 50 years old by the time of this picture, Lt. Collins couldn’t travel any faster than George Washington, Julius Caesar, or King Leonidas. Lt. Collins watched his world transform from marches and cavalry charges to tanks, Wright flyers to X-15s, air travel to space travel. In 50 years, airplanes quickly transformed from wooden, fabric-covered machines that couldn’t go much more than 100 m.p.h. to sleek planes that could travel nearly three times the speed of sound. Continue reading “From horses to space travel: what a difference 50 years makes”

Posted in Military History

Just where did Apollo 11 land?

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. If you are out admiring the moon tonight and find yourself wondering just where “the Eagle has landed,” look towards the southwest edge of Mare Tranquillitatis — the Sea of Tranquility. More specifically, this map I came across this map today (featured image above, signed by several Apollo crew members) shows us where that is.

My arrow marks the approximate landing site of Apollo 11.

While we are on the subject, a few things you may or may not have known about the Apollo 11 astronauts: Before becoming the first human to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong was a Naval aviator, flying 78 combat missions in Korea. On an armed reconnaissance mission southwest of Wonson, a cable (which the North Koreans would string up as booby traps for U.S. pilots) sheared six feet off his wing during a bombing run, causing Armstrong to limp his mortally wounded F9F Panther back to friendly skies in South Korea. The future astronaut bailed out over the water, which it turns out had been mined, but the winds blew him safely into a rice paddy. Continue reading “Just where did Apollo 11 land?”

Posted in Military History

Today in U.S. military history: Invasion of Sicily

1942: A PBY Catalina crew spots an intact Japanese A6M Zero fighter that crash-landed on the Alaskan island of Akutan. The fighter is salvaged and shipped to the United States, where test pilots will use the captured warplane to identify tactics that negate the formidable Zero’s advantages. The newly developed F6F Hellcat is modified to take full advantage of the Zero’s weaknesses discovered during tests, and Hellcat aviators will enjoy an impressive 13:1 kill ratio against Zeroes in the Pacific War.

1943: Just after midnight, paratroopers from the 82d Airborne Division perform their first combat jump behind enemy lines on the island of Sicily. That morning, over 100,000 American, British, and Canadian troops will hit on the beach in one of the biggest airborne and amphibious invasions of the war. The Allied force captures the island after six weeks of fighting, but is unable to prevent the withdrawal of many of the Axis forces.

“Chips,” a German Shepherd military police dog serving in Sicily with Company I, 30th Infantry Regiment, attacks a hidden German pillbox, forcing four enemy soldiers to surrender. Chips is wounded in the attack, but the canine will be awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart by the 3rd Infantry Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott. Continue reading “Today in U.S. military history: Invasion of Sicily”