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 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?”