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Today in U.S. military history: ‘Chips’ and ‘The King’

[Featured image: “Chips,” a military police sentry dog with the 3rd Infantry Division, earned the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart during World War II. (U.S. Army photo)]

1865: Desperate for manpower on the front lines, the Confederate government approves enlisting and arming slaves. Although Gen. Robert E. Lee requested that slaves who fought should be granted freedom, the bill did not allow such a provision. A few thousand slaves would go on to fight for the Confederacy; over 200,000 blacks fought for the Union.

1942: The U.S. Army establishes the “K-9 Corps” – training dogs to serve in sentry, scout, messenger, and mine detection duties during World War II. The Quartermaster Corps puts the dogs through an 8-12 week basic training at camps across the United States, weeding out the animals who can’t handle the sound of gunfire or handle the military lifestyle. Starting with 32 acceptable breeds, the Army eventually cuts down the list to seven: German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Siberian huskies, farm collies, Eskimo dogs, and Malamutes.

Military dogs during training at Camp Atterbury, Ind. (U.S. Army photo)

Some even serve on the front lines. The Japanese are said to have never attacked a patrol accompanied by a war dog. A German Shepherd named “Chips” serving with a military police company on Sicily attacked a German pillbox, forcing the occupants to surrender. Wounded in his attack, Chips was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

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Today in U.S. military history: Day Two of Operation DESERT STORM

Today’s post is in honor of Lt. William T. Costen and Lt. Charles Turner, whose A-6 Intruder was shot down on this date in 1991 during Operation DESERT STORM. Costen (27, from St. Louis, Mo.) and Turner (29, of Richfield, Minn.) had just finished their mission of mining the naval base at Um Qasr and were returning to their aircraft carrier when their plane was hit. They were assigned to Attack Squadron 155 (VA-155), on board USS Ranger.


1911: During the San Francisco Air Meet, exhibition pilot Eugene B. Ely lands his Curtiss Pusher Model “D” aircraft on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania, which had been fitted with a special 119-foot-long wooden platform with makeshift tailhook system. Ely’s feat marks the first-ever airplane landing aboard a ship.

1945: In a speech to the House of Commons, British prime minister Winston Churchill recognizes the immense American sacrifice in the Battle of the Bulge. Possibly alluding to British general Bernard Montgomery’s reluctance to engage, resulting in only 1,400 British casualties compared to well over 100,000 Americans, Churchill states “U.S. troops have done almost all the fighting, suffering losses equal to those of both sides at the Battler of Gettysburg.”

Churchill adds, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”

1951: Following their return to action after the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir, the First Marine Division begins mopping-up guerillas in the Pohang area of South Korea.

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Dec. 11 in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of Spc. Marshall L. Edgerton, who was killed when suicide bombers attacked his camp in Ramadi, Iraq on this day in 2003. The 27-year-old native of Rocky Face, Ga. was assigned to Company A, 82d Signal Battalion, 82d Airborne Division.


1941: The small American garrison on Wake – consisting of a few hundred Marines, sailors, and civilian contractors – repels a Japanese invasion force seeking to capture the island. The 5-inch coastal defense guns (taken from the former battleship USS Texas) hammer the incoming warships, sinking one destroyer and damaging several others, the island’s four remaining F4F-3 Wildcat fighters take off to intercept a flight of Japanese warplanes.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, Marine Capt. Henry T. Elrod will shoot down two aircraft before he and his fellow aviators set their sights on the Japanese ships. Elrod becomes the first American pilot to sink a surface ship during World War II when his bombs detonate the depth charges on Kisaragi. The destroyer goes down with all hands.

That same day, Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States. Although Nazi Germany and Japan had signed an agreement stating that Germany would come to Japan’s aid if they were attacked, Germany was under no such obligation since Japan was the aggressor. However, and with virtually no consultation with his staff, Hitler declares war against the United States anyways. Within hours, Congress responds with a unanimous declaration of war against Germany.

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Nov. 15: Today in U.S. military history

1942: Off Guadalcanal, the U.S. and Japanese fleets engage in one of only two battleship-on-battleship engagements of the Pacific War. While Kirishima hammers USS South Dakota (BB-57) in the early morning hours, USS Washington (BB-56) slips away undetected and maneuvers to near point-blank range, raking the Japanese battleship with devastating salvos. Japanese naval guns and torpedoes send three U.S. destroyers (Walke, Preston, and Benham) to the bottom of Ironbottom Sound, while U.S. warplanes destroy four troop transport ships carrying soldiers and badly needed supplies. The Allies have inflicted such heavy losses on the Japanese that they abandon the mission to retake Guadalcanal.

USS South Dakota in 1943

Injured in the attack on South Dakota is 12-year-old Seaman 1st Class Calvin L. Graham, who lied about his age that summer to join the Navy. Graham earns the Bronze Star with Combat “V” and the Purple Heart during the battle. Shockingly, Graham is thrown in the brig for three months, dishonorably discharged, and has his medals stripped when the government learns his actual age. He enlists in the Marine Corps when he turns 17.

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Nov. 9: Today in U.S. military history

United States Army Captain James D. Nehl

Today’s post is in honor of Capt. James D. Nehl, who was killed by enemy small-arms fire on this day in 2012 during a patrol in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province. Nehl was a company commander in 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and had served as an enlisted soldier in the 75th Ranger Regiment before earning his commission.


1822: During an anti-piracy cruise in the Caribbean, the brig USS Alligator – the third of four so-named U.S. warships – intercepts a flotilla of American ships captured by pirates near Cuba. Lt. William H. Allen, Alligator‘s commanding officer, is mortally wounded when he and his sailors board the heavily-armed schooner Revenge, but his crew retakes all but one of the eight ships.

1906: Theodore Roosevelt boards the battleship USS Louisiana (BB-19) and heads south to inspect construction on the Panama Canal – marking the first foreign trip by a sitting U.S. president.

1942: U.S. troops advance on Oran, capturing 2,000 French soldiers after some hard fighting. Off the coast, Allied warships sink three French destroyers. Meanwhile to the east, German paratroopers land in Tunisia. And to the west, Maj. Gen. George Patton’s soldiers fight to secure the beachhead at Casablanca.

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Nov. 6: Today in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of Sgt. 1st Class William R. Brown, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Sperwan Gar, Afghanistan on this date in 2006. Brown, 30, of Fort Worth, Texas, was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group.


1941: While searching for blockade runners in the Caribbean, the cruiser USS Omaha and destroyer USS Somers spot a cargo ship flying U.S. colors but behaving oddly and whose sailors looked “uniquely un-American.” When Omaha attempts to make contact, the ship’s crew attempt to sabotage the vessel and a boarding crew is sent over. The captured ship turns out to be the German Odenwald, transporting rubber and other supplies from Japan. The sailors from the boarding party are each awarded $3,000 as bounty from the seized cargo and everyone else involved receives two month’s pay – the last time U.S. sailors will be awarded prize money.

1942: The 2d Raider Battalion sets out on a month-long patrol to cut off Japanese forces attempting to escape encirclement at Guadalcanal’s Koli Point. Over the next four weeks, Lt. Col. Evans Carlson’s Raiders march 150 miles through dense jungles, using their trademark guerilla tactics to kill 500 enemy troops in several engagements. Only 16 Marines died during the operation, but virtually the entire battalion suffered from tropical diseases that were said to be worse than combat.

1944: Capt. Charles Yeager becomes one of the first U.S. pilots to shoot down a Messerschmidt Me-262 jet fighter, scoring his victory as the warplane attempts to land on a German airfield.

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Nov. 5: Today in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of Sgt. 1st Class Jose A. Rivera, who was killed in action on this day in 2003 in Mumuhdyah, Iraq. The 34-year-old native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.


1862: Realizing an army led by Gen. George McClellan would never defeat the Confederates, Pres. Abraham Lincoln removes the cautious Army of the Potomac commander, choosing Gen. Ambrose Burnside as his replacement. Two years and three days later, Lincoln would defeat McClellan – a Democrat – in the 1864 presidential election.

1915: Lt. Commander Henry Mustin catapults from the USS North Carolina in a Curtiss AB-2 flying boat, becoming the first American to make a catapult launch from a ship underway.

1917: U.S. Army Maj. (future Brig. Gen.) Theodore Roosevelt Jr​. and his younger brother Lt. (future Lt. Col.) Archibald Roosevelt​ – both sons of former Pres. Theodore Roosevelt – lead the first American patrol into “No Man’s Land” during World War I​. “Archie” will be wounded severely enough to merit a retirement with full disability, only to rejoin the Army during World War II. When an enemy grenade destroys the same knee wounded in the previous world war, Lt. Col. Roosevelt becomes the first person declared 100 percent disabled in two wars.

Theodore Jr. also rejoined the Army during World War II and earned the Medal of Honor while leading his troops at Utah Beach during the Invasion of Normandy. He died one month later of a heart attack. His brother Kermit left basic training and joined the British Army during World War I, transferring back to the U.S. military as a captain when the American Expeditionary Force arrived in Europe. He rejoined the British military during World War II, serving in Finland and Africa before being medically discharged. He would later serve as an Army intelligence officer in Alaska. The youngest Roosevelt son, Quentin, was a pursuit pilot and was shot down over enemy lines, becoming the only son of a U.S. president killed in combat. He and Theodore Jr. are buried side-by-side at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial near Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

Theodore Jr. (left), Archibald (middle), and Quentin Roosevelt (right) all served during both world wars. Youngest brother Quentin (not pictured) was killed on 14 July 1918 and buried with full military honors by the Germans.

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Nov. 2: Today in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of Sgt. 1st Class Johnny C. Walls, who died of wounds sustained from small-arms fire in Uruzgan, Afghanistan on this date in 2007. Walls, 41, of Bremerton, Wash., was assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and had previously deployed to Iraq in 2003.


1783: Gen. George Washington​ delivers his “Farewell Address to the Army” near Princeton, N.J., in which he refers to the Continental Army as “one patriotic band of brothers.”

1861: Pres. Abraham Lincoln removes Union Gen. John C. Fremont as commander of the Western Department, following Fremont’s unilateral decision to declare martial law in the border state of Missouri and thus freeing all slaves.

1943: One day after the 3rd Marine Division lands at Bougainville, the cruisers and destroyers of Admiral Aaron S. “Tip” Merrill’s Task Force 39 defeat Japanese naval forces attempting to attack the landing force in the Battle of Empress Bay. Two Japanese ships are sent to the bottom, with numerous enemy warships receiving heavy damage.

(Featured image) Meanwhile, in the skies over the nearby Japanese fortress of Rabaul, Maj. Raymond H. Wilkins, Commander of the Army Air Corps’ 8th Bombing Squadron, led an attack against Japanese-held Rabaul. His bombs destroyed an enemy transport and destroyer, and although his plane was badly damaged and his bombs expended, Wilkins strafed a Japanese cruiser, sacrificing himself by drawing their fire so his fellow pilots could escape the deadly air defenses. The raid sinks 30 of the 38 Japanese vessels anchored at Rabaul, and Wilkins will posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor.

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