Army Commendation Medal

Army Commendation Medal

Army Commendation Medal

 

The Army Commendation Medal is a mid-level award given out for “sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.” It entered service in 1945 as the Army Commendation Ribbon. By 1960 it had achieved full medal status.

The medal can be awarded to any member of the US Armed Forces (except general officers) that distinguishes oneself while doing service with the US Army anytime after December 6, 1941.  Members of a friendly foreign military are eligible as of  June 1, 1962.

The commendation is awarded on the approval of a Colonel or higher. The medal is a bronze hexagon approximately 1 3/8 inches wide. The medallion shows a bald eagle with the wings spread, three arrows grasped in its talons. On its chest is a shield with thirteen stripes. The reverse of the medallion contains the words For Military Merit. There is a space between the military and merit for the recipient’s name along with a laurel sprig. The ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide in myrtle green with five white stripes spaced evenly apart.

The Secret Origin of Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam

The Secret Origin of Uncle Sam

During the War of 1812 a New York meat packer named Samuel Wilson provided barrels of beef to the army. Stamped on the barrels were the initials U.S.  Soldiers, being soldiers, started calling the food “Uncle Sam’s”. A newspaper picked up on the phrase and eventually it became widely accepted to refer to the Federal Government as Uncle Sam.

The actual image of Uncle Sam evolved in the 1860’s to 70’s when famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast began featuring the character in his cartoons. He would eventually grant the character the long white beard and striped pants that became part of the icon. (Nast also was responsible for the modern depiction of Santa Claus and for deciding that the donkey would symbolize Democrats.)

WWI

During the WWI era artist James Montgomery Flagg updated the symbol with a top hat and blue coat. In his famous rendition the character pointed directly at the viewer. This image would become famous as the recruiting poster telling the viewer, “I Want You For The U.S. Army”.

In 1961 the US Congress officially recognized Samuel Wilson as the creator of the symbol. In 1989 President Bush even declared the September 5th would be Uncle Sam Day as already celebrated in Wilson’s hometown of Troy, New York.

Interestingly enough the original “personification” of America was the figure Columbia, a woman most often portrayed with arms held wide open.  The name most like was a play on Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America. Though eventually she would give way to Lady Liberty (before the statue) and Uncle Sam, Columbia is still around us today. Columbia University in New York, the capital of South Carolina is Columbia and even in Washington DC (District of Columbia).  Eventually Uncle Sam would surpass poor Columbia and become the personification of the country all across the globe.

Thanks to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Orlando for the picture and articles inspiration.

Why the red coat?

Why the red coat?

It has been said in some circles that the British Army used red coats for their uniforms as a way to hide blood should a soldier get shot. This could be important to the moral of a unit. It would be hard to see who was wounded and who was not. Such consideration is foolish and patently untrue. While the red may hide the blood, the gaping holes in the fabric would probably be a giveaway. Also, they wore white pants, which are not good for hiding the blood that would accompany most wounds. So the question is why red?

In the days before synthetic dyes made almost any color cheap and easy to produce, some colors were more difficult and expensive to dye into clothing than others. Red and purple were by far the most difficult. Which is why they were used to project a sense of power. Purple has long been associated with kings and red with the Catholic church, the two groups that could afford the most expensive dyes.

So cladding their army in coats of red was meant to project power onto the battlefield. A sense of status to the soldiers themselves. Yet it was very expensive so the British put a little twist on it. The red dye for the enlisted men’s uniforms came from madder, a plant that is actually in the coffee family whose roots will provide a reddish color. Still costly, but affordable to the army. The officers however needed a red that was a little brighter and would stand out from the enlisted men. Their uniforms were dyed with cochineal, which is an insect. Yep, their uniforms were dyed with dead bug shells.

 

 

The USS Gerald R Ford CVN-78

The USS Gerald R Ford CVN-78

 

Or at least a model right now.

The USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) is the first in a new class of supercarriers that will project American power to all corners of the globe. Construction began in November 2009 and she was launched for trials in October 2013. On May 31st, 2017 she was put officially in service.

The actual carrier itself is fairly impressive displacing approximately 100,000 tons and having a length of about 1,106 feet. Her 25 decks put her height at about 250 feet she can carry over 75 aircraft. More than enough to lay a major smackdown. The two nuclear reactors that power the ship give her a top speed of about 30 knots (35mph). They also allow for an unlimited service range.

The ship was named after President Gerald R Ford, a veteran of WWII. In 2007 a defense spending bill first proposed the name for the unbuilt carrier.  A few weeks before his death Ford was told of the final decision to name the ship after him. This makes him one of the few with a US Navy ship named after him while still alive.

New Technology

Being the newest ship to the fleet and the first of its line the ship carries a number of technological improvements. A new multi-function radar increases its field of vision, and several structural changes give the ship a lower profile and more carrying capacity while allowing for a smaller crew. The biggest advancement is the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) which replaced the tradition steam catapults. The Ford can handle up to 25% more aircraft launches per day that the previous family of carriers.

All in all the Ford is a great addition to the fleet and with an expected life of 50 years, she will be around for quite a while.

 

A Sign Of The Times (Preservation)

Signpost

A Sign Of The Times

In the middle of the picture, you will see a sign of the times.  You can just make it out in the middle of this intersection in what is now a suburb of Atlanta. Right next to the mailbox. See it? Good. That sign marks the spot where the Battle of Atlanta started on July 22, 1864.

Federal forces were lined up along what is now that road waiting for the Confederates to come at them. This portion of the battlefield now consists of roads that were not there, houses that were not there, a school, parks, etc. The point is time has marched on leaving the battlefield behind. Do you think the people who have that sign in their front yard know what happened there? Do you think they care?

One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War we are seeing a large number of the battlefields being encroached upon by the march of time and progress. Popular battlefields like Gettysburg, Antietam,  Shiloh and such are winning the fight or at least slowing the march of time. Gettysburg better than any of the others. Other sites, such as Atlanta and Fredericksburg have all but surrendered their past glory.

The issues of preservation versus progress have been fought in a number of battlefields itself, at the parks, in the local, state and Federal governments, between private donors and corporate interests. At some point we need to ask how much of our history do we keep and how much do we allow to be paved over?

A Sign Of The Times (Preservation)

Explanation and New Schedule

Manassas Battlefield

Explanation and New Schedule

 

Some may have noticed a lack of content that last month or so and I wanted to take a chance to address the situation. It is actually quite simple, I took on a new job. Being the main contributor tot he site, that really cut into the number of contributions I could be generating. It is my hope as the new job sorts itself out and the schedule solidifies I can go back to the 3 days a week schedule that was maintained for almost 5 years!

For the summer we will for sure get out at least one post a week, Wednesday will be the day we shoot for. We will also try and do more sharing and such on the Facebook page so we keep people coming back.

I can not wait until the time that we can get back to the regular schedule. Stick with us as we have plenty more stories to tell!

 

 

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

 

In the days before the American Revolution, the great European powers explored the wilds of North America. They presented the leaders of the various native tribes with silver medals. The medals were symbols of friendship. They also singled out the leaders as special people. They were effective tools that tied the leadership of various tribes to the major powers.

In the wake of the Revolution, it was decided that the United States of America would continue the tradition. Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, saw the medals as just trinkets that were the continuation of a long-standing European tradition to give small presents to treaty negotiators, one that was harmless and really had no meaning. Sort of like when you stop at a truck stop and buy a spoon with the name of whatever state you are visiting.

When Jefferson, as President, sent Lewis and Clark on their great adventure to the Pacific Ocean they were loaded down with these medals in 1804 through 1806. Along the way, as they handed out the medal to the various tribes they encouraged their “new friends” to send back or turn in any such trinkets they had received previously from other Europeans. There is no record to indicate how many were returned. Odds are not many.

The medal above is one of these medals. The original medals were made of thin silver plates connected with a small silver band. On the front, President Jefferson, the back the crossed tomahawks and clasped hands indicating peace and friendship. Each successive President would strike their own medallions. Whether or not they worked in promoting friendship… well that may be another story.

 

The Telegram No One Wants

The Telegram No One Wants

 

The iconic image of Western Telegraph telegraph showing up at the door of a loved one in the military is one that is both poignant and unforgettable. Telegrams were used by the War Department and the branches to break the news to the distraught family member. If you don’t know the feeling there are no words. This clip from We Were Soldiers actually captures it well. In time the telegram gave way to the phone call and the visit from a representative.

In the Civil War, there was no such mechanism in place to let family members know their loved one had been killed in battle. If you knew the unit of the army they served in you could watch your local paper. They would publish casualty lists after battles. Some newspapers discontinued this towards the end of the war.

The best you could hope for was that soon after a letter from your loved one would arrive telling you they survived. Sometimes when they did not survive a friend or fellow soldier would write the family to break the news. Eventually the unit commander may follow-up with a note and their condolences, but most often there was nothing.

The absolute worse part was that at the time of the Civil War dog tags were not a standard. Most men carried no form of identification. Some before a battle may have written their name and next of kin on a piece of paper and pinned it to themselves. Just in case, but many more died fighting and were never identified. In 1865 Clara Barton started the Office of Missing Soldiers that searched to put names to the unknown. Over the next four years, she was responsible for identifying almost 20,000 unknowns.

 

The First Congressional Medal

The First Congressional Medal

So, you think that Congress is slow to act now?

The medal above was commissioned by Congress in 1776 to honor General George Washington for his role in forcing the British to abandon the besieged city of Boston.

A gold one was to be struck and given to General Washington.  Silver ones would be struck and given to dignitaries and VIPs.

The front of the coin, which should look a little familiar is based on the bust of Washington Jean-Antoine Houdon. The back side showed a scene of Washington and four of his men on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston.

Over the next twelve years, Congress would authorize six additional medals. In 1777 they honored General Horatio Gates and 1779 General Anthony Wayne. Major Henry Lee, General’s Morgan and Greene would follow over the next couple of years and the last of the era went to John Paul Jones for his capture of the Serapis.

So about the delay. Congress approved each of these medals in a quick form, but it turned out that there was nowhere in the colonies that could actually produce the medals. So they looked to France to produce the awards. And they took their time.

On March 21, 1790, President Thomas Jefferson presented former President Washington with his medal. Also as a box containing the other five medals commissioned fourteen years after they were ordered. If only they had Amazon!

Over the years the Congressional gold medals would be given to prominent military men. Later recipients would expand to include actors, artists, musicians and other entertainers.

 

 

The Lilies of Yorktown

The Lilies of Yorktown

The Lilies of Yorktown

In October 1781 British General Cornwallis found himself, along with his army, under siege in the small Virginia town of Yorktown. The French and American armies took their final positions and the battle began in earnest. The American Revolution was about to enter into its final phase.

The French played an integral part in the war on the side of the Americans. Without their navy, there would have been no chance for the US to gain any ground against the mighty British Navy. Without their army, their professional and well-armed army things may have turned out different. At Yorktown, it was French siege guns and artillerymen that bore the brunt of the siege operations.

As the siege went on, both sides knew the end was coming. On the far end of the British lines were two redoubts, fortifications, that had housed British artillery at one time. To complete the siege the redoubts had to be taken. Called #9 and #10 the French and American forces prepared for the final investment. The Americans, led by a young Alexander Hamilton would take #10. The French would take #9 sending 400 men against the 120 defenders.

The French would carry their redoubt with a loss of fifteen men killed and seventy-seven wounded. Almost a quarter of their force. With both redoubts taken the circle around the British tightened and several days later they surrendered.

Today in redoubt #9, as pictured in the photo above, lilies grow bright and strong. Some people say that since the lily is the symbol of France it must have been the blood of the French soldiers that caused the lilies to spring up there in the redoubt. Hard to say if that is true or not, but there they are on the French redoubt paying tribute to our friends and allies.

 

 

People, Places and Things from US Military History

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