It is known by several names but the most widely used is Hinomaru, “circle of the sun”. Like many flags through history, it has seen its share of good and bad. This flag has represented Japan since 1870. Even before that the sun motif was used to represent Japan and the history of the Japanese people. During WWII it became a symbol of empire and domination. Since the end of the war, it has become a symbol of a past that many would soon forget.
It has been a long road since the war ended. Mainly among the Japanese themselves who turned away from their militaristic past and have tried to distance themselves from it. For a period the flag was seldom used, almost hidden from sight but once Japan sought to rejoin the world it could no longer be hidden raising the question on the validity of having such a symbol representing their nation.
Protests at home and abroad have sought the removal of the flag for generations now. The issues of displaying it in their schools have divided the people. In many places across the country, it is never seen flying, even on national holidays. Yet there are many that see it as a symbol of pride and strength, and while many wrongs were done under it they question the validity of attempting to erase the history that it represents.
In August 1999 the Diet, Japan’s ruling body, officially passed legislation making the Hinomaru the official national flag of Japan. It would seem that it was decided that the best way to avoid repeating the past is to never forget it.
In a previous post, we looked at the history of the M60 Patton tank that served the US during the Cold War and beyond. Above is an action shot of an M48 Patton charging off into battle during the Vietnam War.
During the course of the war, there were very few “tank on tank” battles. The tanks served mainly in the role of infantry support. No sight was more welcomed than to see one of these bad boys flying down the road. This variant, used by both the US and South Vietnamese units, provided ample protection for the crew. They were able to win in most engagements against enemy armor. Of course, having the war fought in the jungle and mountains of the region did limit its deployment capabilities.
After the United States pulled out, many of the M48s were turned over to the South Vietnamese. They went to good use in several engagements against their Northern counterparts. However, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress began cutting off the military aid to the South and eventually actually passed laws that made the selling of fuel and ammunition to our former allies illegal.
Without that support, the tanks were unable to be put into the field and eventually the South Vietnamese were defeated. A number of the surviving tanks found their way into service with the victors but were soon abandoned in total.
So looking at the picture it is hard to say where that tank was headed, but I for one would not want to be on the other end when it got there.
The morning of July 3rd, 1863 at Gettysburg Pennsylvania the Union and Confederate forces were in day three of an epic battle. This was a battle for all the marbles. If the South could win they would have almost free rein in the Pennsylvania countryside. From there they could make a run at anywhere they wanted in the north, including Washington DC. A war-weary North may even consider bringing the war to an end.
General Lee decided this morning that he was going to play for the win. He ordered the men to make a strong focused attack on the Union center. That should have been the weak point. Break that line and win the war. He gave command of the attack to General Longstreet even though he opposed it. As such he delayed the attack longer than he should have. Eventually, after an artillery duel seemed to prepare the field Longstreet sent General George Pickett and his Virginians to attack.
One of the men leading the assault was General Lewis Armistead. A good man and a true soldier. He had been part of the US Army before the war and now served the South. That day he led the men from the front as the artillery and rifle fire rained down. He kept them moving forward. After what seemed like a week in Hell his men closed in on the stone wall the marked the Federal line. Waving his hat perched on his sword he lead the men over the wall. For a brief shining moment they drove the Yankees back and almost, maybe could see victory.
It was not to be the Union forces rallied and Armistead fell and with him the hopes of the Confederate victory. The spot that he fell, marked in the photo above became known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. After that hope for victory would change to hope for survival as the long, slow death spiral of the CSA began.
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.
The picture above shows a meal being served to troops in the field during the Vietnam War. In this case, the food is classified as “B Rations”. 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.
These were usually better than the C Rations or MRE’s that the individual soldier would prepare for themselves. Often from a package, and of dubious quality and taste. However that A Ration is the holy grail. A warm meal, made in a real kitchen, served in a nice safe dining hall.
“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.”
With the war in America blossoming into a world war, the British had to come up with a new strategy. Settling for a stalemate in the north they moved the active theater south. The idea being that they could pacify the rebels and let the strong loyalist population regain control of the regions, thus re-establishing the region to the crown. In May 1780 the plan kicked off with the capture of Charleston after a siege that saw a sizable patriot force surrender. In August of that year the British and American forces meet at Camden. The British succeeded in not only winning the battle, but caused the American army to all but disintegrate. With organized resistance removed in South Carolina, the British looked to implement their plan of turning the area over to the loyalists.
Enter Patrick Ferguson and his band of loyalists. Building on the support for the crown in the region, Ferguson began a campaign of rooting out rebels and restoring the countryside to British rule. Far from just a lone detachment, Ferguson’s corps was integral to the plans of General Cornwallis. It would act as the left flank of the army. It would also be the main defense for the string of British outposts in the west. Ferguson was effective enough in his actions to allow Cornwallis to move forward with his plans of invading North Carolina, Ferguson however made one major mistake.
The Overmountain Men
Looking to extend control over the mountains into the frontier, Ferguson issued an edict that anyone who did not cooperate with the Crown would be hung. Needless to say this caused a great deal of agitation to the men on the frontier. They were called the “Overmountain” men for where they lived. After Ferguson called them out their resistance to the British began to stiffen. The Americans raised a large force of militia and struck out to take Ferguson down. Hearing that he was being shadowed by this force, Ferguson decided to take a stand on Kings Mountain and force a confrontation.
On October 7, 1780, he set up his position on the heights and awaited the rebels. What transpired was one of the largest battles of the war that contained no “regulars”. The rebels advanced from multiple directions using rocks and trees for cover. They were able to us a withering fire to great effect against the loyalists. In less than an hour the position was over run. Ferguson was dead. The British left flank becmae completely exposed.
The victory for the rebels at King’s Mountain effectively crippled the loyalist cause in the south. It also forced Cornwallis to rethink his strategy. This set the stage for patriot resurgence in the area. Suddenly the south was in play once again.
That above is a glider of the model used by the Allied forces during D-Day. A glider, if you are not familiar, is a plane shaped vehicle that has no engines, is towed by another plane and when released, glides gently to the ground.
That is until you load it with infantrymen, equipment, and everything needed to confront the Nazi’s. At that point it basically becomes a rock that falls quickly and instead of the nice soft landing, generally becomes a controlled crash. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? Well, it was, but it served a really good purpose.
First of all, gliders once released from their tow plane are basically silent. No noise means they are more difficult to find in the sky and thus more difficult to shoot down. It also makes it harder to determine where the will land.
Second of all, the troops that were parachuted onto a battlefield, they would often scatter and be dispersed. This means that it would take longer to get them into the fight and time would be lost getting them organized. Coming in with a glider meant the troops would land in the place and in theory be ready to get into the fight. (If they survived the landing.)
Lastly, they were cheap. Most of the trips for these were one way, as many did not survive the experience. So they were made of the wood and cheaper materials, which meant the could be mass-produced cheap.
End of an Era
The end of WWII saw pretty much the end of gliders. The advent of helicopters pretty much replaced them for military use. Unlike gliders, helicopters can pick the troops back up after the battle is over. Today some special forces teams will use gliders for their missions, but pretty much the gliders were something that had its one specific moment in time.
When people start shooting at you it is generally a good idea to find some sort of cover. Tree, fence, big hole in the ground, whatever works. Early in the Civil War the armies matched up in the Old World Style, line up shoulder to shoulder, get as close as you can and shoot in the general direction of the enemy.
Today we look at the paintings and read the descriptions of such battles and wonder what the heck they were thinking doing that. It is however the only way it would work. See guns at the time, for most of the “black powder” era, were incredibly in accurate. Mainly because they were smooth bore. Basically every time you fired it there was no way to tell where the shot would go. So your only hope of hitting anything was to have a lot of people shooting at it.
As the accuracy progressed and the armies started seeing more rifles (grooved barrels) the idea of standing in lines, getting close and shooting started to be a losing proposition for all sides. As such more fighting started being done from cover, this would eventually evolve into the precursor of trench warfare that made WWI such a joy.
The pic above is a fence post that has become a bullet catcher. In battles all over the country trees and fences absorbed more lead than a five-year old eating paint chips. Think for a second what it would have been like to be on the other side of the fence. Hearing it whittled down more and more with each shot. I count seven bullets, how many do you see?
What I think makes it interesting is that it breaks down all the different flags you would see on a warship and what they mean. I’ll provide the definitions, the picture can give you an idea of what the flags look like. While this is showing US and Confederate examples, these should be pretty universal for the time.
The definition for the terms we are going to define will be based on what is provided at Sea Talk Nautical Dictionary. The are a free site that takes donations (what a great idea!) so feel free to visit and toss them a few bucks.
In flag terms, the ships ensign is the flag of the nation that the ship is sailing under. Sometimes it is the same as the normal flag, but with nautical symbols (like anchors) or a slightly different design. Sometimes it is just a bigger version of the normal flag. It will be the biggest flag on a ship. From far away you will know who you are dealing with.
The smaller flags, or jacks, usually flown on the front (bow) of a ship. Again, this is a national flag and where you will see some of the cooler designs.
This long streamer designates the ship as being “commissioned”, or on active duty. It is flies at all times. With the advent of professional navies, these pennants distinguish military ships from merchant ships. They remain a source of great pride among the navies of the world.
Naval officers over the rank of Captain get to fly special flags that denote their rank. If you saw a ship flying one of these you would know immediately who was in charge. Interesting enough, if you ever have heard the term “Flag Officer” this is where it comes from.
The purpose of all of these flags was to provide as much information as possible. In a time of limited communication these visual cues were important That is of course assuming the ship is playing by the rules.
For such a young country, the United States has a lot of history. Just taking into account the American Revolution and the Civil War, we also have a lot of battlefields in the east. Many of these battlefields are still full of relics that enterprising people will go out and find. Sometimes they do it to sell what hey find, sometimes they do it to try to persevere history. For the most part, relic hunting on government-owned land is illegal and some may even question the morality of it. These battlefields are mass grave yards where many hundreds even thousands of people have died.
For collectors there is a draw to these relics. Holding a piece of history in your hand is something beyond words. Stories become real and a sense of magnitude takes over. Guessing how the pieces got to where they were found, who may have touched them, what stories do they hold. Sure, you can go to a museum and see them behind glass, in cases, up on walls, but you can’t touch them or feel them.
Now of course besides the legal issue, you also have the issue of authenticity. Generally of the price is too good to be true, it is. Sometimes though that doesn’t really matter if you need a certain piece for your collection. Price and value are relative in many ways.
Above is a picture of some pieces from my personal collection. They were supposedly dug from the Seven Pines battlefield in Henrico County Virginia. The battle took place May 31st to June 1st 1862 as part of the Peninsula Campaign during the Civil War.
As you can see they are not cleaned up and only a few pieces are easily recognizable. In the upper left you the broken pieces of an artillery shell (round hollow ball with a fuse that explodes into shrapnel). The Lower left you have a prick, which was used with cannons, once the tube was loaded you would shove the prick into the touch hole to expose the powder. In the upper right is a nail. The rest appears to be iron banding and other scraps.
Are these really artifacts from a Civil War battlefield? I can not say for certain, but I think they are and that makes it pretty cool to have.
Gettysburg is more than a battlefield. It is also the home to a very good museum with a number of fantastic exhibits and artifacts at the visitor center. One artifact worth mention is the plaster mask of President Abraham Lincoln pictured above.
The practice of creating “life” and “death” masks dates far back into antiquity when men of note would allow a mask to be made of their features using plaster. Sometimes done during their life, sometimes not until after they died. These masks are the closest we may ever get to seeing what these men of legend actually looked like.
Lincoln himself had two life masks done . The first in 1860 before becoming president. The second in 1865, just months before his untimely death. The one pictured above comes from a cast of the 1860 original. It shows a Lincoln, sans beard, before the tolls of politics and war took their toll.
For more information on the masks themselves and the story of their castings visit Abraham Lincoln Online via this link.
Lincoln: Myth or Man?
No matter how you view Lincoln seeing his face, even in plaster, is sobering. Generally considered the best President of the United States he has become more myth than man. In recent years there has been a movement to try to demystify him, to make him more human and flawed. From efforts to paint him as a racist, who only used the issue of slavery as a political tool, to efforts underway to prove he was homosexual, Lincoln is still a touchstone for controversy.
But seeing that face, as close to reality as you will ever get, shows that he was a man upon which the history of the nation turned on. Standing in front of the exhibit at Gettysburg just adds to the over all feeling of awe at the place.
People, Places and Things from US Military History