Tag Archives: Uniforms

The Hero From Shangri-La

The Hero From Shangri-La

The Hero From Shangri-La


On December 7, 1941 the Japanese Imperial Navy undertook a surprise attack on the American Naval base at Pearl Harbor Hawaii. With that America launched head first into World War 2. Up to that point most average Americans saw the events transpiring in Europe as something that didn’t concern them, sure people had opinions but that was an ocean away. Now however we had been attacked. Americans died. Japan steamrolled across the pacific. The shaken people demanded President Roosevelt do something.

He put the call out to the military. We had to strike back. That is where Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle came in. His plan was to launch a bombing mission against the Japanese Home Islands using B-25 Medium bombers, launched from an aircraft carrier. Something never attempted before. Sixteen aircraft needed retrofitted to allow them to be launched from the carrier, and the crews would need to be trained.

The Raid

On April 18, 1942 the raid launched. All the planes reached their targets and dropped their payloads. They then headed for their landing sites in China. Unfortunately the planes did not have the fuel. The crews had no choice but to bail out. Most of the crews survived, assisted by the friendly Chinese and good dose of luck. The actual damage done to the Japanese was minimal. That was not the point, We had struck a blow in retaliation.  We proved we would fight.

Doolittle was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation reads, “For conspicuous leadership above and beyond the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, Lt. Col. Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.”

What he did was brave beyond measure. It was also a little crazy, but in times of war we could use a little more crazy…



A Simple Shirt, A Complicated Story

The placard under this shirt tells the story as such:

Shirt worn by Joseph Mobley during his time as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He was shot down in 1968 over North Vietnam and taken prisoner. Mobley spent 1,724 days in captivity. Once he returned in 1973, he began a steady rise in leadership within the U.S. Navy, ascending to Commander of the Naval Air Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

In the case of Joseph Mobley his incarceration in a POW camp had a happy story, but for many, many more that were forced to wear the same shirt, it did not turn out so well.

According to the Defense Prisoner of War * Missing Personnel Office there are still 1,639 unaccounted for soldiers from the Vietnam conflict. That is almost one missing soldier for every day the Joseph Mobley was held in captivity.

When you look at the other conflicts managed by the department you see some other shocking numbers.

From World War II there are over 73,000 soldiers unaccounted for.

From the Korean War, almost 8,000.

Look at the shirt above, then spend some time on the DPMO website, only then can you even start to get an idea of the losses these wars are still costing us.

For an even more incredibly picture, take a look at this chart maintained by the Mobile Riverine Force Association that numbers as closely as possible the missing and unaccounted for from all US conflicts up to Somalia. Yes, there are still unaccounted for troops from the conflict that was popularized by Black Hawk Down.

Never forget the soldiers that didn’t make it home, and cherish the ones that did.


William H. Carney, 54th Massachusetts Volunteers


William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers was born a slave in Norfolk Virginia. His father was able to make good his escape and years later was able to purchase his family’s freedom. William spent the rest of his childhood in New Bedford Massachusetts and with the Civil War playing out in the background on February 17, 1863 he joined the 54th Massachusetts one of the first “colored” units in the Federal Army.

Colored troops had been used up to this point on both sides of the conflict, mainly as manual labor. For the North the question as to whether or not they could fight as well as white man was something openly discussed. When the 54th was formed men such as William were ready and desperate to fight but they were seen mainly as tokens. One of Williams compatriots in the 54th wrote the following, “There is not a man in the regiment that does not appreciate the dangers, and maybe ignoble death that awaits him if captured and when a thousand men are fighting for their very existence, who dare say them men wont fight determinedly?”

On 18 July 1863 the 54th  and William had their chance at Ft. Wagner in South Carolina. While the unit was devastated they proved themselves to many people that day. The question of whether they would fight was answered with blood and steel. William would survive the battle and finish his enlistment.

The picture above is of his uniform and shows a good idea of what the standard 1863 Federal uniforms looked like.

History in a Hat


In the distance of this photo sitting on the red background in an alarmed case, under lock and key and in constant sight of a museum worker is a very distinct and special historical artifact.  One of several stove-pipe hats that belonged, and was actually worn by, President Abraham Lincoln.

The tall black hat, usually felt sometimes silk, seemed somehow to make the tall man even taller. He was easily picked out of a crowd while wearing that hat and at least once the hat possibly saved his life.

See, in August 1864 with the Civil War in full swing President Lincoln was not a very popular man in some circles. In a time  before the Secret Service and twenty-four hour protection Lincoln too his life in his hands every time he stepped way from the White House. On this night he was riding his horse to the Soldiers Home, a small stone cottage a few miles north of Washington DC. Lincoln would spend time there sometimes when the pressure of the war would get to him during the summers.  Suddenly a shot rang out from the side of the road and the President’s hat flew off.

Private John W. Nichols of the Pennsylvania 150th Volunteers was standing guard duty at the Soldiers Home that night and witnessed the bareheaded President come riding down the road and through the gates. Later soldiers found the missing hat with a bullet hole just above the crown. It would seem that in the low light the would be assassin could not see where Lincoln’s head ended and his hat began.

The hat above is not that one but the story is still kind of neat. It should be mentioned that you are not allowed to take pictures inside the exhibit where the hat is currently being shown.  This pic was taken from a hallway and timed perfectly so that the wandering Docent didn’t see it. The things I do for you people…



Red Pants and a Funny Name

In April 1861 The Confederate States of America fired on the Federal position at Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The war that had been simmering for years finally boiled over. The United States was split and the Civil War was underway. President Lincoln sent the call out for 75,000 volunteers to assist in putting down the rebellion. After putting out the order he reached out to one of his acquaintances, Elmer Ellsworth who deliver to him the 11th New York Zouaves whose baggy red pants you see in the (grainy) picture above.

in 1830 the French Army created the first of the Zouave light infantrymen regiments in Algeria. The first regiments were mixed Berber, Arab, Black and European volunteers who were known for fierce fighting and their unique uniforms. High boots, baggy pants and long sleeves, a very distinct look that became adopted by regiments in many countries.

Elmer Ellsworth in the United States had been touring a drill company across the country prior to the start of the Civil War. Demonstrating military drill and maneuvers in the bright and gaudy Zouave uniforms they put on quite a show. When President Lincoln reached out to him Ellsworth was in New York already putting together his regiment. He recruited from the volunteer fire departments from the city and put together a full strength regiment of 1,100 men, When the allotted money  for the regiment ran out they raised almost $60,000 to complete their fitting out including brand new red baggy pants and high-tech Sharpe’s rifles.

The 11th New York took place in the First Battle of Bull Run being in the worst of the fighting but maintaining enough cohesion to act as the rear guard of the retreating army.  The survivors would be sent back to New York to be refitted and to get replacements and would be sent to Virginia during the Peninsula Campaign. Ellsworth was killed in action very early in the war but the regiment would go on until June of 1862 when the regiment was mustered out of the service.

During the course of the war there were a number of Zouave regiments formed, both North and South. The unique uniforms will always be a reminder of the early days of the war and the enthusiasm that each side felt. Until the bullets started flying that is.


So That Happened…


That is a Nazi armband. It was worn by an actual Nazi soldier during an actual war. Very seldom in the course of writing for this blog have I allowed much in the way of personal feelings, but there is something going that just needs stopped. People here and elsewhere are going through an unbelievable amount of effort to pretend that the Nazis never happened and by doing so allowing them to be swept under the rug.

Last summer a 93-year-old man in Germany was charged as an accessory in 300,000 murders for his role as a prison guard at Auschwitz. That trial is currently under way. but it is getting less press, especially in the United States than the Apple iWatch (or whatever they are calling it). This man was a Nazi, this country went to war to stop them from carrying out their plans. That man, even at 93, is only coming to justice because what we did to end the war and end the regime that he was a part of.  and this story gets barely a mention.

This is the thing. What they did was terrible and that sort of thing, not just in terms of the Holocaust, not just in the number of Jewish, Romanian, Polish, Russian, and all other races they felt unclean must never be allowed to happen again. The way to stop it i not through laws, nothing international agreements, not through erasing part of our collective history, but through remembering what they did. As each generation gets farther and farther from that truth, from that evil, it will take work to remember.

See that symbol in the picture above. That is the Nazi symbol. That armband was real and was worn by a real person that carried out their evil. we must never forget.

The Gulf War Revisited


While I have plenty of pictures of the A-10’s, affectionately known as the Warthog, this picture of a unit patch from a flight suit deserves special notice.  The Gulf War was not that long ago, a little more than twenty years, but for many of my generation it our first real experience of our country being at war. Growing up in the shadow of Vietnam, the Gulf War almost seemed like  shot at redemption. Since this week has had a sort of “remembrance” theme, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the Gulf War and that patch is a great reminder of a different time and a different war.

The Western World’s dependence on oil has kept the Persian Gulf a strategic theater for the US for a very long time. Like South America the US has always had this vested interest and has taken steps to insure that “friendly” leaders we in place to keep the oil flowing. This particular strategy did not pan out so well in Iran. In fact we did such a poor job of trying to keep Iran friendly that in the end we had to prop up their neighbor and help them fight a long drawn out and bloody war against them. That neighbor was Iraq, lead by Saddam Hussein, who with our help was able to keep Iran in check. Unfortunately, as often happens with us, the lesser of two evils grew beyond our control and decided to invade a neighbor, in this case Kuwait. This lead to the first Gulf War.

In the Gulf War the United States was able to gather a large multi-national coalition to face off against Saddam and remove his army from Kuwait. Most impressively the coalition contained several Muslim nations, something important to keeping the conflict from become a West vs Middle East conflict. This alone was a great start to what would be a historic campaign. For the US this was an attempt to wash the lingering taste of the Vietnam era out of its collective mouth. For the first time since WWII the US faced a black and white conflict without the shades of grey that were cast over South East Asia. This war was going to be different.

Different it was. The Gulf War was carefully planned and had clearly defined goals, the idea being to bring as much military force to bear against the enemy as possible. The air campaign that opened the war was surgical in the way it destroyed the enemy’s ability to fight. By the time the ground war started and the famous “left hook” was employed the Iraqi army was not only driven out of Kuwait, but stood substantially weaker. The coalition was a success, but even in the glow of victory came the seeds of another war. Saddam would be left in power and allowed to rebuild.

The US after the war stayed active in the region with mixed results. Promising help and support to the native Kurds and those opposed to Saddam, we stood by and watched as at least one attempted coup was put down. We did enforce no fly zones and supported the UN in trying to keep the Iraqi stockpile of chemical and biological from growing. This led to almost a decade of air strikes and economic sanctions designed to keep Saddam under control, which failed. All the time this was happening, Iran came back to world stage in attempting to obtain and build nuclear weapons, an effort that was helped tremendously by the first Gulf War and the flood of Iraqi material and minds that fled the country.
Militarily the strategy was almost perfect and highly effective. The enemy military was defeated, casualties were low and the objectives were met. The peace was not planned for  and we ended up in another war where many, many more people on both sides died and the results of which we are still waiting to see if it was worth it. Politically the strategy is still up in the air and its effectiveness is up for debate. Even though we maintain talking relationships with many of the Persian Gulf countries, the effects of 9/11 undid much of what the Gulf War accomplished.