In the Civil War, it was not uncommon for soldiers to write their name and hometown on pieces of paper to be pinned onto their backs. The idea was that if they were to fall in battle someone would know who they were. Maybe even there would be a chance for their body to make it home.
To that extent, the Civil War saw innovations in embalming techniques that would allow for a body to be preserved for the trip home. If they could afford it. A soldier who purchased the service would be issued a medallion that they were to wear around their neck. After the battle representatives of the embalming company would search through the bodies to find their clients. These men would be embalmed and sent home.
What would eventually become “dog tags” was born.
On December 20, 1906, War Department General Order No. 204 that was issued. This order made the “identification tag” standard military issue. This tag was to be an aluminum disk approximately the size of a silver half-dollar. It would be stamped with name, rank, company, and regiment. The order provided that the tags would be issued to enlisted men for free, but officers had to purchase theirs at cost.
In 1916 the regulations were changed to provide two tags to each individual. One to be kept with them and one for the burial services and record keeping. At a later point, the religious beliefs of the wounded were added to ensure the proper services during burial.
The tags in the picture above are from the Pre-WWI era and were most likely issued to American soldiers that were engaged in the Philippine Insurrection.
The War to End All Wars (WWI)
The medals in the picture above were given to participants in WWI. Given for heroics and valor, for bravery and performing above and beyond the call of duty. On April 6, 1917, the Great War on the European continent finally drew in the United States. On that day the US House of Representatives voted 373 to 50 to approve the Senates (82 to 6) declaration of war against Germany.
There were many that wanted us in the war since it began and many more that saw a war across the ocean as something that should stay there, but when American civilian lives were put at risk, and even lost thanks to German navy, it was not long before we would seek our retribution. The last straw, the straw that saw us turn toward war instead of away was not the sinking of the Lusitania, which may be the ship you are most familiar with, but the Houstanic.
Days later on February 22, 1917, Congress passed a $250 million appropriations bill to prepare us for war. By the time March had come and gone Germany had sunk four more US merchant ships and President Wilson called for war to be officially declared.
The Yankees Arrive
The first US troops landed in France on June 26, almost 14,000 total began their adventure Over There. About seventeen months later the war was finally over with more than 2 million Americans having joined in the fighting. Almost fifty thousand of them didn’t come home. Those that did came home to a country that had proven itself on the world stage as never before. As a military power and as a true industrial power.
The medals above were given for heroics and valor. For bravery and performing above and beyond the call of duty. They also served as proof to the world that America was poised to take its place on the world stage.
You Audie Know This Guy!
Quick question. When asked to name a WWII hero, what names come to mind? If Audie Murphy is not one of the first names you think of, you need to learn more about this man.
Born June 20, 1925, In Texas, he lied about his age to join the military during WWII. He tried to get into the Navy and the Marines before finding a home in the Army. In 1945, at the ripe old age of 19, he won the Medal of Honor after single handily holding off an entire German company. For over an hour! BY HIMSELF! What did you do today?
But wait, that is not all. After holding them off he helped to lead the counter-attack even though he was out of ammunition and wounded.
During the war, he served with distinction in Tunisia, Sicily, Naples, Anzio, Rome, France, the Ardennes and on into Germany. During that time he won every single award for valor that the US Army had. Then added several from France and Belgium for good measure.
After the war, Audie became an actor, best known for playing himself in the movie To Hell and Back and numerous westerns. For the rest of his life, he fought against what would be known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and worked hard for the cause of getting this disorder into the spotlight. Even our greatest heroes did not go untouched by their experiences. In 1971 he finally met a foe he could not defeat and died in a plane crash.
The picture above shows one of his caps and just a few of the multitude of ribbons that this man earned. There is no greater example of the American Warrior than this man and I behoove you to find out more of the details of his life and actions.
Patton the Olympian?
On display at the National Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning is this sweatshirt that belonged to General George S. Patton. With all his bombast, all his skill and his incredible military aptitude it’s kind of hard think of him as a guy that liked to play sports. In fact, he was always a bit of a sportsman.
In fact, during the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, he competed for the United States in the first modern version of the Pentathlon which was only open to military officers since it focused mainly on the skills every good officer was expected to have. The five events that made up the Pentathlon included pistol shooting from 25 meters, fencing, swimming (9300-meter freestyle) horseback riding (800 meters) and a four-kilometer cross-country run.
Twenty-six-year-old Patton did remarkably well in the multi-event sport, consisting of pistol shooting from 25 meters, sword fencing, a 300-meter freestyle swim, 800 meters horseback riding and a 4-kilometer cross-country run. He did very well in the competition. Ending up finishing fifth overall. If not for the shooting portion he may have won.
Are you saying he didn’t do well on the shooting portion? Patton? Well, see what happened was that for the competition all the other competitors used .22 caliber revolvers. Patton, however, felt that since the competition had its foundation in military training, a more appropriate weapon was needed.
So he used a .38 for his round. Unfortunately, after his score was tallied up he found that he had lost points when one of his shots missed the target. He tried to explain that he didn’t miss. One of the shots had gone through the hole left by a previous shot. The .38 leaving much bigger holes than the .22. The judges, however, did not agree with his contention and his score was docked.
Not to worry though, he bounced back from the defeat and did pretty good for himself.
Il Duce Was Here (Mussolini on Display)
Yes, the epaulets on display here were worn on the uniform of Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy. He was not always a dictator, however.
Through the use of force, intimidation and pure outright politics he climbed to the top of the heap of the Italian fascist movement. In 1922 he reached the very top. In the March on Rome he and 30,000 of his “black shirts” quickly and surprisingly bloodlessly was handed control of the Italian government. On October 28, 1922 King Victor Emmanuel III signed the order making Mussolini the Prime Minister.
Over the course of the next few years he used the democratic system to set himself up as a dictator. Eventually granting the fascist one-party control of the country. Looking to flex his muscle in a world on the brink of war, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. What proved to be an opening act in a decade of war. He took the chance to side with Germany as a member of the Axis powers.
Knowing that Italy was not completely prepared for a continental war in 1939 he hoped that Germany would be able to defeat France and England quickly. His forces would remain focused on North Africa. He was looking for a seat at the victory celebration without a lot of effort.
In 1943 the Allied invasion of Italy sort of blew up his plan. By 1945 he found himself deposed and on the run. Eventually, he was captured and executed by Italian partisans. An ignominious end for Il Duce, but maybe not ill deserved.
The Soldiers of Imperial Japan
In 1931 the Imperial Japanese Army numbered just under 200,000 men and officers. It was with this force that they invaded Manchuria under the guise of protecting Japanese owned railroads against Chinese bandit attacks. This eventually blossomed in all out war between China and Japan. That war that lasted until 1945.
Not content to be fighting bandits and the Chinese army, they used their client state in Manchuria as a launching pad into the Soviet Union. Yes, from 1932 to 1941 the Russians and Japanese were fighting all along the Chinese border. Remember that from the history books? In 1941 the two sides agreed on a non-aggression pact that ended that conflict. There were only a few actual battles. Most of which the Russians won. Very little territory changed hands. Bigger wars were on the horizon for each.
The men that made up the army were conscripted, given medical examinations and classified with Class 1-A. The highest classification that said the men were fit for duty. There were a total of five classifications. Depending on if the nation was at war or not would depend on what happened to the men after they received their classifications. It was possible that a full mobilization of the male population would have been serving in the military in some way shape or form.
In 1941 the Imperial Army numbered around 1.7 million troops, most of which would be serving in China with the rest spread out across the Pacific. By the 1945 the army numbered more than 5.5 million.
As far as casualties suffered during World War Two, approximately 2.5 million killed. Presumed dead and missing totaled around 800,000 and just about 7,500 prisoners of war. Yes, that number is correct and reflects that something in the men behind those numbers. Death was preferable to capture and dishonor. Let that sink in for a minute when you look at the photo.
One other thing to think about. The last official surrender by an Imperial Japanese soldier occurred in December 1974, almost thirty years after the war ended.
Who would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Well, there were many men who did during WWII. In operations that ranged from the Normandy Invasion to Operation Market Garden to the final jump into Germany the Airborne troops took their life in their hands to end up where there were needed, when they were needed.
101st Airborne Division
The most famous of the airborne troops in the US Army came from the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles who first saw battle during the Normandy invasion. Tasked with jumping behind the German line to capture strategic targets in advance of the landings, they were to use a combination of parachute drops and gliders to reach their targets. It did not go well. The start of their offensive led to the troops ending up widely scattered, sometimes miles from their targets.
That first night they lost almost 1,500 men. But with an incredible fighting spirit and some reinforcements they were eventually able to reach their goals. During the rest of the campaign they would serve as a mobile reserve, filling gaps in the line and relieving other units. As one of the best units they saw a lot of action. But the heavy losses of men and material took its toll. The spent the summer of 1944 refitting and reinforcing the unit. Called upon several more times to make drops and fill gaps in the lines the 101st would eventually find its place in history at Bastogne where they stood surrounded by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge.
The uniform in the picture would be an example of the in from these men wore. They were light troops, fast and mobile but often lacked the heavier weapons of regular infantry. But all things considered it was not the weapons that made them the best . It was the warrior nature, the never say die attitude. Whatever drove these men to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, showed itself even more once they hit the ground.
Have you ever wanted your own person Atomic Weapon? Why bother with missiles and bombs when this little beauty will allow you (with help from a couple of friends) lay the smack down on your neighbors, stray cats, or that pesky town down the road that never has enough parking when they put on their farmers market.
What you see above is the M29 Davy Crockett.
This 155MM short-range nuclear weapons system allowed the infantry to get into the atomic fun at a maximum range of 2.5 Miles and warhead that was equivalent to 40 tons of TNT.
It could fire both directly at targets or be lobbed for greater range. It was designed to be used against enemy infantry, armor or against fortified positions.
Two versions of the system were deployed. One was mounted on a jeep and could be fired from that platform. The other was deployed in an armored personnel carrier, when at the firing location the launcher would be set up on a tripod. A later variant was employed at the end of its service by the US 82nd Airborne Division. This version was attached to 1/2 ton truck and could be airdropped wherever it was needed.
Production of this piece started in 1956 and in the just over 2,000 were made and were deployed in units from 1961 through 1971.
Tested several times with live rounds (read as atomic warheads), and more often with depleted uranium rounds, they suffered from very poor accuracy and while they did provide a big boom, their most devastating effect was radiation. From the point of detonation to 500 feet the radiation dosage would be lethal, and probably lethal out to about a quarter-mile. Which really gave the crews very little margin for error.
That just goes to prove, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and portable atomic warhead launchers. Like its namesake though, I am fairly certain it could take down a bear.
One thing was for certain during WWII, the Nazis were committing all sorts of war crimes in occupied areas throughout Europe. As early as 1942 the Allies began trying to figure a way to hold them accountable, so sure were they that the Nazis would be defeated.
By August 1945 the Allies all agreed to the London Charter that set out the legal argument for the military tribunals that were going to take place where the highest tanking and most foul offenders would be brought to justice. The limits the placed on themselves were that the tribunals would only deal with the European Axis powers and that they would not take into account any acts that occurred before September 1, 1939.
Where the trials would take place was the next consideration. The German city of Leipzig was considered as well as the country of Luxembourg, for a time Berlin itself was even considered. Instead the historic German city of Nuremberg was chosen for a number fo reasons. First was that the Palace of Justice was still standing, something not said for many German cities. This building was large enough to hold the proceedings and also had a prison attached to it, which was handy. Also Nuremberg was considered the birthplace of the Nazi Party. What more fitting place for the trials to take place?
The trials at Nuremberg opened on November 19, 1945 with its last official acts occurring on October 1st, 1946. During this time much was uncovered as to the origins of the war and the depths of the crimes committed by the regime. While the focus of the main tribunal was the 24 major criminals and seven organizations (including the Gestapo and the SS) it also set the stage for numerous smaller proceedings where hundreds of lesser criminals were brought to justice.
The picture above is of a visitor pass that allowed the hold to sit in and view the trial. Imagine how it would have felt to sit there during the trials and hear men justify their evil and the death of over 40 million people. On second thought, I think I will pass on the visitor pass.
On February 18, 1898 the American battleship, USS Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana Cuba and catapulted the United States onto the world stage. Above is a photo of a porthole that was recovered from the wreckage and is on display at the National Infantry Museum.
Tensions between the US and Spain had been on the rise as the people of Cuba were fighting Spain for the freedom. America supported the rebels but was in such a position where they could not do so openly. In fact President McKinley sent the Maine to Havana, with permission from the Spanish government, to protect Americans in the country. When the ship inexplicably exploded that night over 200 American sailors lost their life and all any one could ask was why?
The initial investigation placed the cause for the explosion on a mine that had detonated underneath a powered magazine. When the results of the inquiry were made public, the American press immediately laid the blame on the Spanish and demanded that the US intervene in the rebellion on the side of Cuba. Before long the fervor for war grew and led to Congress declaring war on Spain on April 23, 1898. The war itself did not last long, Spain had long been on the decline and none of the other powers felt compelled to help. Before long the US Navy had all but obliterated the Spanish Navy while the ground forces took Cuba and the Philippines, among others.
Several years later, a follow-up inquiry into the fate of the Maine, contradicted the mine findings and instead suggested that the cause of the explosion was spontaneous combustion inside the power magazine. Even today the actual cause of the explosion is debated and serves as fodder for conspiracy theorists. It does seem mighty convenient that such an event occurred just when the desire to create and American Empire at the expense of a dying European power seemed the most, opportune.
To read more about the Maine click here.