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Medals of the Forgotten War

Medals of the Forgotten War

Medals of the Forgotten War

 

Above are medals that were presented to an American soldier during that the Korean War. Starting from the top left the medals are:

Bronze Star

Army Commendation Medal

Purple Heart

Army Good Conduct Medal

National Defense Medal

Korean Service Medal

Quite a selection.

Being sandwiched between WWII and the Vietnam War it truly seemed to earn its sobriquet of The Forgotten War, unless you were one who served or had family that did. In fact, it can probably be said that if not for the television show M*A*S*H, it would still be mostly forgotten. Which is sad when you consider that over 36,000 American soldiers gave their lives in just shy of three years. Of course, that pales in comparison to the approx 140,000 South Korean soldiers that died. In comparison though to the just under 7,000 deaths of American soldiers during the 13+ years of the War on Terror, it sort of makes you wonder it is still so forgotten.

The Korean War was the first major confrontation in the post-WWII world and pit the forces of the United Nations (28 nations participated in the war in various roles, 17 with combat troops) against North Korea, China, the Soviet Union and their allies (6 other nations). Quite a scrum, which could have easily swung out of control to become World War 3, the fact that it didn’t is sort of miraculous. In fact maybe instead of the Forgotten War, we should start calling it the Close Call War. Regardless of the name, one thing can be said. There are plenty of medals to go around.

Flintlock

Flintlock

Flintlock

For almost two hundred years the flintlock firearm was the state of the art for the military around the world. First developed by Marin le Bourgeoys for King Louis XIII of France around 1610 they continued to be refined and developed until the mid-19th century when percussion caps became more the norm.

The flintlock pistol was normally used in conjunction with another weapon, sword or cutlass and would fire one shot before having to be reloaded. They ranged from six inches up to twenty and were mostly smooth bore. Effective and powerful in the short-range their greatest deficiency was that time it took to reload. For those that have never done it here are the steps:

Load the flint into the lock.

Half-cock the cock

Pour the proper amount of black powder down the muzzle

Tamp it down

Wrap the ball in a patch, usually linen or cotton

Put the ball in the muzzle

Tamp the ball and power down with the ramrod

Prime the flash pan

You are ready to fire!

Now imagine that in the middle of a fight, probably not going to happen which is why you would normally carry more than one.

Not only is the load process time-consuming, but the actual flick that makes the spark can sometimes be an issue. They wear out, and if not produced right is just plain ineffective.  Of course, keeping your powder dry was a major issue. Even when it was you would have to constantly clean the powder residue from the weapon to keep it functioning. Since most of the pistols were made by hand the parts were mostly not transferable from one to another. So if something broke, you may be out of luck.

Still, though they were good weapons and were integral in not only the military but taming the new frontiers found on the American Continent.

Minié Balls

Minié Balls

Minié Balls

 

Prior to the Civil War, most of the military was armed with smoothbore muskets that fired round shot made out of lead. This is one of the reasons that accuracy was generally a wishful thought and while getting shot but a ball was not pleasant it was nothing compared to what was coming.

During the Crimean War, 1853-6 (a war we may look at later, but not now) a new shot was being used to great effect. This type of shot was named the Minié ball, after the doctor. In the picture above you can see what the Minié ball looked like, and also a piece of round shot.

The Minié ball was conical with rings around the base and a depression in the bottom, it normally would be slightly smaller than the barrel of the musket to make loading easier. Once fired the soft lead would expand and fill the gap around the bullet making its own sort of wading. When this new kind of ammunition was introduced on both sides during the Civil War, something else became very evident.

The round shot was easily deflected once it hit the target. It would tend to bounce around inside a human body before becoming lodged somewhere. The Minié ball, which was heavier and traveled faster, would simply cut through the body like a ripe melon. If by chance it struck a bone, the bone would simply shatter. Leaving amputation the only way to save the person .

Eventually, the Minié ball would be replaced by something even more deadly. For a time though it reigned and there was nothing mini about it.

Old Ironsides

Old Ironsides

Old Ironsides

 

Yep a twofer today and no this is not a post about a wheelchair-bound detective. (Does anyone actually get that joke?) This is about The USS Constitution or “Old Ironsides” as she was called. In the top picture above, on the plaque is a piece of copper from its hull.

No, that copper is not why it was called Ironsides. Stay tuned for that.

The Constitution was launched in 1797 and was one of the first frigates in the fledgling United States Navy. Named by President Washington for our guiding document, it became the centerpiece of small yet tenacious presence on the ocean.

She was armed with 30 24 pound cannon, 15 on each side, 22 32 pound cannon, 11 on each side, as well as 4 smaller “chase” cannons. She was armed for war and during the War of 1812 she would end up becoming a legend.

On 19 August 1812 the Constitution faced off against the HMS Guerriere, a slightly smaller vessel but with a veteran crew. As the battle was joined several of the Guerriere’s cannonballs bounced off the sides of the ship doing no damage but causing one of the American sailors to shout out, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!” The name sort of stuck after that. The battle would end with the Constitution victorious and more victories would follow.

She would stay in service until 1853 when she was converted into a training ship where she served as a classroom and barracks for the Naval Academy until 1871 when she was retired, eventually becoming a museum ship, and something you can still visit today and as she never lost her commission, should time get really bad, maybe Old Ironsides will be called on again.

The Hardtack Life….

The Hardtack life...

The Hardtack Life….

See that piece of hardtack in that frame there? I bet you could still eat it today. Which is one of the reasons that hardtack and its variations have been since ancient Egypt. A little water, a little flour, some salt if you were lucky and bam! Hardtack.

For this discussion we will talk about its widespread popularity(?) during the Civil War. Both sides produced it as it was quick and easy and the three by three square that came in was packed full of stomach filler. Heck, mix in a little bacon grease and you really had something.

Two things really stand out about the hardtack that you see above.

At the beginning of the war, when people thought it would only last a few weeks, there was not a massive amount of ready to eat provisions ready for either army. So they looked in the military warehouses and found plenty of hardtack from the previous war, ready made provisions on the go. Just one little problem. The previous conflict was the Mexican-American War which ended in 1848, the Civil War started in 1861, so these biscuits were over thirteen years old. Think about that when you see milk a day past the sell by.

The other thing is that bugs really liked it So much so they would live in it. In the card that goes with the picture you can see that it was not unusual for the men to dunk the hardtack in their morning coffee to soften it. Then scoop the bugs out of their coffee. Sometimes though they would just eat the infected squares that were writhing with worms and larvae. Protein wasn’t cheap!

Want to give it a try? The recipe is really easy and can be found here.

Of course they leave the bugs out, but you can add them to your hearts content.

Relics of the Frontier

Relics fo the Frontier

Relics of the Frontier

In 1691 on the banks of the St. Joseph river in what would someday be South Western Michigan, the French built a fort that would become a mission that would have an incredible history.  The fort was finally abandoned in 1795 and during the 100 years it traded hands between the French, The English, The Spanish, the English again, and eventually to the United States. That does not actually count any of the Indian incursions against the fort itself, but you get the idea.

Life on the frontier was not easy, and it took a certain breed of people to pull it off. Life in a frontier military post was not easy either. No one looked forward to being posted out in the boondocks. Long winters, lack of supplies, being at the end of the chain of fortifications meant you may not see reinforcements for a very long time. All said, not a happy place, but life goes on.

In 1998 the fort was “rediscovered” and since then it has become a fantastic archaeology site that has provided valuable insights into the life on the frontier, especially under four different flags. In the picture above are just a small sample of the relics that have been found. If only we knew the stories that came along with them.

Pictured above you have several firing mechanisms from a flint-lock rifles. Lead shot of various sizes, a very cool looking hammer/pry bar which could still be useful today. And a number of nails or fastening devices.

The Spanish-American War Aftermath

Spanish American War Victory Medal

The Spanish-American War Aftermath

Yes, once again the Spanish-American War is a topic for this site. One of the reasons we touch upon it so much is that it falls in that odd period of American history after the Civil War and before WWI that a lot of people seem to think nothing happened during. The causes of the war are denoted elsewhere, the big names are listed elsewhere, this is a conflict that has a deep bench of personalities that bring their own stories.

Treaty of Paris

On December 10, 1898 the Treaty of Paris (yes there were a lot of treaties with that name) was signed between the US and Spain. In the treaty Spain renounced all claims to Cuba and outright ceded to the US Guam and Puerto Rico and for the tidy sum of $20 million ownership of the Philippines was transferred.  In effect the war ended the Spanish empire and gave birth to an American Empire that brought the US to the center of the world stage.

To this day Guam and Puerto Rico are still US territories with the issue of statehood for Puerto Rico under constant consideration. Guam is an important US military base that proves incredibly valuable today.

The last two on that list, well it gets complicated.

Complications

Cuba was granted full independence in 1902 and for the first time stood on its own. Mostly, the US still reserved the right to basically interfere and help guide the Cuban people as it saw fit. The island  was always ripe for revolution. For its part the US stepped in many times to ensure its interests during periods of unrest.  Revolutions in the 50’s and 60’s saw the communists brought to power and the USSR favored over the US. The US reacted a little childishly with a boycott that lasted until just recently. Stay tuned, this is a continuing story…

The Philippines did not go as well. The US fought an ongoing war to “subdue” the islands until interrupted by the Japanese and WWII. Yep close to thirty years fighting the Philippine Insurrection and that was only put on hold for a bigger war. After WWII, on July 4th 1946 the US finally recognized the Philippines as a sovereign state. The two countries have been close since with a number of treaties binding them together.  Glad to see there were no hard feelings.

 

Beaver

Beaver

 

The New World was rich with resources which drew the interest of those in the Old World. For the Spanish Central and South America gave them gold, more gold than anyone ever thought existed. This gold fueled the Spanish Empire and caused the other nations in Europe to take notice.

France, England and The Netherlands looked upon North America with interest, some hoping to find the same gold that the Spanish found in the south, some hopping to find something even more valuable. One that they found, were beavers.

Yes, beaver, or more accurately their fur, spurred a gold rush of a different kind in North America and became a flash point for generations as France and England wrestled for control of the resource. The key though was relations with the Native Americans whose land this trade crisscrossed.

France looked upon the natives as partners in the endeavor, they did their best to treat them fairly and not subjugate them. Of course this was not purely altruistic. The French never colonized in the numbers that the British did and keeping on good terms with the natives was truly in their own self-interest,

The British took a slightly different view on the fur trade. They looked upon the natives as subjects and where the French were fairly free wheeling in their dealings, the English looked for a much more regimented structure and as their population grew, conflict with the natives and the French was inevitable.

And this all came on the back of the beaver and the incredible military uses that the little buggers provided. What? No military value? OK, then it must have been because of the beaver has a special gland that provides eternal life? No? Not that either huh? Yes, their fur was prized, and most of it went to the creation of hats. Yes, hats. The photo above shows a beaver pelt and the end product, a beaver pelt hat. A pelt and hat that would eventually lead to the founding of the United States of America.

 

Supper Time! (Revisited)

In the original version of this article we focused on the chow line. I have been d asked if we had any pictures of what a C-Ration Looked like, above is pretty much it.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “An Army travels on its stomach.” If any one would know it should be him.  During war, sometimes finding time to eat is one of the biggest challenges. The body is an engine and the engine needs fuel.

C Rations were what  the individual soldiers would prepare for themselves. Often from a package, and of dubious quality and taste. The kit in the picture above consists of a Chocolate Nut Roll, a can containing Crackers and Cocoa Beverage Powder, a can opener (P38) and waterproof matches. Just a light snack full of calories to give the soldier a pick me up.

“We ate when we could and what we could,” Bill Hatfield, who took the picture above, reminisced. “Sometimes we would be out on patrols that lasted longer than we planned and we never had enough of anything. After a couple of days of C-Rats, we didn’t really care how the food at the fire base tasted, just that there was plenty of it.”

 

B Rations were the next best scenario. These sorts of meals were usually prepared in a field kitchen from non-fresh ingredients, then shipped to the units where they were heated up and served.  Not needing to be frozen or refrigerated means that even the guys far from the supply center would have the chance for a hot meal on occasion.

A Rations were the goal though. A warm meal, made in a real kitchen, served in a nice safe dining hall.

Feeding an army is never easy, but from the all round looks of things, being the army that needed fed left much to be desired.

 

The Symbol of Domination

 

The New World brought untold riches to the powers of the Old World. Gold, silver, furs, tobacco, and many, many other resources became the currency of conquest. There was however one other resource that can not be left off that list, souls. Religion, as is almost always the case, became a weapon and resource in the New World.

The natives that lived in North America had beliefs and religion of their own, but that didn’t really matter. The Catholic Church, under the auspices of both Spain and France saw the natives as savages and pagans. They sought to “rescue” their souls for God.

To do so they established missions all through the New World. These missions often became the center of life for many of the Europeans living in the frontier and became crucial to not only gaining support of the natives, but converting them to Christianity.

In particularity unsafe or contested areas, some times these missions would become forts and used as bases to attack enemies and to aggressively spread the word of God.

Not all native tribes took to the missionaries very well. They saw no reason to change their traditions and beliefs, just for favors from the Europeans. For the most part, along with trying to convert the natives, their was an effort to make them more like the white man by encouraging them to move from the hunter/gatherer society they had always known to an agrarian based society. All too often the attempts to “civilize” the natives lead to bloody conflict that never ended well for them.

The crosses that are shown in the picture above came were found in the area of one of the old mission/forts. Where the meaning of cross to some is death and rebirth, to others it could just as easily be about the end of way of life.