In February 1942, U.S. Navy personnel tracked a Japanese submarine lurking just outside of San Francisco. A few nights later, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Santa Barbara and fired a few shells at an oil storage facility. With the memories of December 7th 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor still fresh, the threat of a Japanese invasion seemed more than possible, perhaps likely.
Fear of further Japanese attacks on vital installations along the Pacific coast, the War Department ordered the implementation of ‘passive defense measures,’ which included use of cover, concealment, camouflage and deception. The man selected to oversee this arduous task was Col. John F. Ohmer, a pioneer in camouflage, deception and misdirection techniques. At the time he commanded a camouflage training center at March Field east of Los Angeles.
Ohmer visited England during the Battle of Britain in late 1940, when the full force of the Luftwaffe was attempting to bring England to her knees. He witnessed first-hand how carefully made and positioned camouflage could be used. The camouflage caused the Luftwaffe to waste thousands of tons of bombs on empty fields.
With help of scenic designers, painters, art directors, landscape artists, animators, carpenters, lighting experts and prop men from major movie studios Colonel Ohmer began the task of disguising key factories and assembly plants that would be likely targets for a Japanese assault on the Pacific Coast. Facilities included the Douglas Aircraft plant in Long Beach, and the Lockheed-Vega aircraft plant in Burbank.
As you can see in the top photo, Lockheed-Vega would have made a fairly obvious target. But after the illusionists finished their magic, it looked like a nice, friendly neighborhood as shown in the bottom photo.
The Lockheed-Vega plant was fully hidden beneath a complete suburb replete with rubber automobiles and peaceful rural neighborhood scenes painted on canvas. Hundreds of fake trees and shrubs were positioned to give the entire area a three dimensional appearance.
The entire factory was covered with a huge burlap tarpaulin, painted to resemble a rural landscape. On top of this were placed fake trees made from chicken wire covered in chicken feathers and then painted. There were even fake rubber cars and mock buildings. Air ducts for the bustling factory beneath were disguised as fire hydrants on empty streets. But the Hollywood illusionists knew that the scene couldn’t look too inanimate.
Maintaining the illusion of a neighborhood required careful timing and planning. The suburb had to show signs of life and activity. To do this, workers occasionally emerged to relocate automobiles, and through hidden trap doors in the canopy, appeared to take walks on hidden catwalks and pretended to do maintenance work. Flights over camouflaged areas tested positively as pilots were unable to identify the bases, factories and plants.
Thirty-four military air bases were also camouflaged, including March Field. This sometimes involved creating decoy air bases with aircraft made of canvas scraps, ration boxes, and burlap on chicken wire as well as flattened tin cans dominated the landscape. None of these aircraft looked real up close but looked great from a distance. Fake runways were made by burning grassy strips.
Soon orders came from other areas of the US. In Seattle, the gigantic 26-acre Boeing Aircraft complex ordered the same treatment, blanketing the plant under netting; disguising the area as a suburb complete with municipal buildings, parks, schools and homes.
As the war continued, the threat of Japanese invasion seemed unlikely, especially after the U.S. Navy dealt a crippling blow to the Japanese carrier task force at Midway Island. Eventually the camouflage would be removed but had the Japanese ever mounted an aerial attack it would have been fascinating to see if the camouflage netting would have proved successful.
Lt Robert Taylor
Shadow Box: http://navy.togetherweserved.com/profile/512049
Short Bio: Actor Robert Taylor enlisted in the Naval Air Corps; was commissioned as a Lt but was deemed to old for active/overseas service. As USNR, he became a flight instructor for the Naval Air Transport division. He contributed greatly to the war effort, serving as a flying instructor and narrating the 1944 documentary “The Fighting Lady”. He also directed 17 United States Navy training films during World War II.
Cpl. Jericho W. Crutcher/Marine Corps
Since the days of the Barbary pirates, United States Marines have called themselves “leathernecks.” Legend and lore have it that the term leatherneck was derived from leather neckbands worn in the late 1700s to protect Marines from the slash of the cutlass. Another more likely reason is that the high stocks were worn for discipline to keep the Marines’ heads high and straight. Neither explanation has ever been verified.
Whatever the reason, the name leatherneck stuck and the distinctive dress blue uniform blouse still bears a high stock collar to remind Marines of the leatherneck legacy.
During WWI the Marines fought with such ferocity and valor that they were called GI’s. But Marines hate being called GI’s. They want to be called Marines. Somewhere along the line the GI and Marine got mixed resulting in the word “Gyrene.”
Another nickname given Marines was “Devil Dogs.” According to United States Marine Corps legend, the moniker was used by German soldiers to describe U.S. Marines who fought in the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. The Marines fought with such ferocity that they were likened to “Dogs from Hell.” The term “Devil Dog” is historically a well-accepted term of endearment, as a title of honor and is a common mascot in the Corps. Devil Dog tattoos are very popular among Marines.
Since World War II, Marines have been called “jarheads”. The term originates from the “high and tight” haircut that many Marines have, which makes their head look like a jar. When used by civilians or other U.S. military it could be considered derogatory, but it is used often among Marines.
It did not originate from their uniform or cover as is widely believed.
Marine serving aboard Navy ships as sentries, security, orderlies, honor guards for special occasions, and the nucleus of the ship’s landing party among other things are called “Sea-going bellhops”. Sea duty is one of the oldest traditions of the Corps, so this is a good epithet for starting a fight with any Marine, especially if said with plenty of sarcasm.
The phrase “grunt” grew in popularity during the Vietnam War when referring to Marines serving as infantry rifleman. The opposite of a “grunt” is a “pougue”, which is a derogatory reference to pretty much anyone who isn’t a grunt, but normally reserved for Marines who work in an office or some other rear-echelon job as part of their regular duties (“In the rear with the gear”). Call a pougue a “grunt” and they love it, but call a grunt a “pougue” and see what happens 🙂
PVT Harvey Keitel
US Marine Corps
Short Bio: Actor, producer. Born May 13, 1939 in Brooklyn, New York. The son of a Polish mother and Romanian father who ran a Brooklyn luncheonette, Keitel was frequently reprimanded for cutting class at P.S. 100 and Abraham Lincoln High School. After being asked to leave Alexander Hamilton Vocational School for truancy, he was sent to Lebanon with the Marine Corps.
Personal Service Reflections of US Navy Sailor:
Captain J. Charles Plumb
(1960 – 1992)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I needed an education. I was a hayseed from Kansas, had never seen the ocean, never ridden in an airplane and my parents couldn’t afford college. I had started applying for scholarships, but I really had no idea what I was doing and I certainly had no idea what they did at the Naval Academy.
My closest relative in the military was a cousin in the Coast Guard. I’d like to say that I had grand dreams of Command at Sea, and all of the things associated with that, but basically, I needed a “full ride” [and I thought the United States Naval Academy might provide it].
I’ll never forget that day when we got the telegram. My father opened it while I was at school. He was in a hurry, but he took the time to grab the nearest thing to write with, which was a green crayon, and he wrote me a note — “Congratulations. Proud of you, son”. He was a tough man, and I can’t remember him ever telling me that before that day. When I got that appointment [to the Naval Academy], there was no question in my mind as to whether I would accept it. It wasn’t, “Do I really want to do this?
‘… I don’t think I hesitated for a millisecond.
I was 17 when I got on the bus to Maryland, and 2 days later, I was raising my right hand with a bunch of other bald guys in jump suits. It was a real rude awakening — an eye opener. I was a long way from Kansas, Toto!
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1964, married my high school sweetheart and we headed for Pensacola, and Navy Flight Training.
I felt very, very lucky to get into flight school. At the time, maybe 1 in 3 applicants got to go — I got down there and really enjoyed the airplanes. I fell in love with them. Through no fault of my own, my first assignment was F-4 Phantoms, which was “the plum assignment”. They were the hottest thing flying at the time. I went to Naval Air Station Miramar for the Replacement Air Group, which was Fighter Squadron (VF-121/Pacemakers). I was fortunate to become one of the early founders of the Navy Fighter Weapons School “Top Gun”, flying some of the first adversarial flights in F-9 Cougars.
My first fleet orders made me the junior pilot of VF-114, the Fightin’ Aardvarks. We deployed on my wife’s birthday, November 5, 1966. When we got to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, we had our last liberty before going to fight the big war, and I broke my leg on a motor scooter. Here’s how that happened:
A bunch of guys went to the beach looking for girls and drinking, and I wasn’t a very big drinker, so I decided to see the island. I rented a Vespa motor scooter and drove out towards Diamond Head. I looked behind me for just a second and suddenly I was “bore-sighted” on the back of a parked 18 wheeler. I slid right under it. My ankle was trapped between the body of the scooter and the truck. I couldn’t walk, so I hobbled to the closest house and knocked on the door, and this lady said, “come on in, I’ll take you to the hospital.” When I got to Tripler, the Army hospital, the Doctor took a couple of x-rays, put this huge cast from waist to toe and said, “You can go to Ward 7B. That’s where all of the other broken bones from motorcycles are.” I couldn’t believe it — there were like 150 guys with broken bones from riding motorcycles around Hawaii.
I told the Doc, “I can’t go to Ward 7B, I’m a fighter jock and I need to go to war.” The Doc said, “No, you don’t need to go to war, you’ve got a broken ankle.” I wasn’t about to miss everything I had trained for, so I called the ship.
The Ship’s Doc wasn’t there, so I talked to the Corpsman on Duty. We managed to convince the Army Doc at Tripler that the Ship’s Doc would accept full responsibility for my safety, if he would send me back to the USS KITTY HAWK (CVA-63). The Doc gave me a set of crutches, and sent me to the ship in a cab.
I got back to the ship, hobbled up the gangplank, and worked my way into sick bay where I spoke with the same Corpsman. He sent me down to a berth to rest, where I passed out.
The other officers arrived back and couldn’t find me, so they formed a search party and went looking everywhere on the island. No luck.
I slept in the sick bay that night and woke to the sound of the ship’s engines warming up. I was still in a ton of pain, but I knew we were about to get underway, and I still hadn’t spoken with anyone. I was in so much pain I couldn’t move so I started banging on the hatch with my crutch. Eventually, this Sailor opens it up to find me and pretty soon the CO of the Squadron is standing at my door.
“Plumb, I had 17 pilots in the ready room and now I’ve got 16. I can’t fight a war missing a pilot. I’m sending you home”.
I begged him, “I’ll work a desk job”. He asked me how long my leg would take to heal, and I told him six weeks (instead of the six months the Doctor had quoted me). I asked him to put me ashore in Cubi Point, in charge of the repair detachment for the first line period, and that I”d be ready to fly by the time my relief showed up — “Honest, Skipper!”
The Det was composed of a hundred mechanics and a dozen chiefs and we repaired battle damage and installed new electronic counter-measure equipment. We’d have from 7 to 10 airplanes at any given time. Now, I wasn’t a qualified Test Pilot, but we needed to test the repaired birds. I didn’t have much use of my right leg, meaning I couldn’t push on my right brake, so I used my left one a lot. To turn right, I would make 3 left turns! They would actually hoist me up on a forklift to fly the airplane because of my cast.
I flew 74 successful combat missions, still limping on my right leg. It was only 7 months after my injury, but I had a week left and was heading home.
And then – on the 75th mission, I was shot down.
The following is excerpted with permission from CAPT Charlie Plumb’s incredible POW story of 2,103 days spent in communist training camps in North Vietnam. His story and his stunning recovery are memorialized in his autobiography, I’m No Hero, available through www.charlieplumb.com.
Parachuting deep into hostile territory, here’s what was on his mind:
“Gary and I were much too far inland to expect any successful Sea Air rescue. There was no need to get a chopper shot down with three or four men in it. We would be landing near the village and would not be able to evade for five minutes, much less the forty-five it would take for a rescue team to get there. I’d seen helicopters shot down during rescue operations for pilots who had already been killed or captured, and I would not initiate such an incident. If I were to make it out, it would have to be unassisted.
As soon as I completed the radio transmission, I broke off the aerial [antenna], threw it one direction, and the radio the other. Then I remembered my flight schedules book! I yanked it from my pocket and started shredding the pages. I also tried gulping down bits of paper, but it was too much — fifty pages or so — and I never had been a fast eater. I ripped out pages containing unclassified information, released them, and watched them flutter away. Then I bowed my head. “Well, Lord, here I am. I’m really in a bind now, and I need some help. Give me strength, and give Anne strength.”
Richard Drew/The Associated Press
Early in 1851, during the frenzy of the California Gold Rush, an armed group of white men were scouting the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They called themselves the Mariposa Battalion. They were searching for Indians, intent on driving the natives from their homelands and onto reservations when they stumbled upon an area of awe-inspiring beauty, later to be known as Yosemite. It was this discovery of Yosemite that set into motion events that would lead to the U.S. Congress proclaiming it a national park in October 1890, as it had done several weeks earlier for Sequoia and Yellowstone in March 1872. However, it had made no provision for an authority to oversee them. Instead it required the U.S. Army to patrol and protect federal lands making them, in essence, America’s first national park rangers.
It was a mammoth task for the army to patrol the millions acres of no-man’s land on horseback. While they did their best to stop poachers and vandals, the soldiers had no authority to punish offenders. No laws had been defined and so the wrongdoers were only issued warnings or, in severe cases, expelled from the parks. Nevertheless, the presence of these soldiers as official stewards of park lands brought some sense of law and order to the mountain wilderness.
Protecting the park was also dangerous work. In the frigid winter season, cavalrymen on skis patrolled for poachers. Conditions were often treacherous; soldiers died in avalanches and snowstorms, or were killed by poachers.
Among these earliest stewards were four segregated black army regiments formed just after the Civil War and sent west to fight in the “Indian Wars.” Native Americans living on the plains called them “Buffalo Soldiers.” They saw a resemblance between their dark, curly hair and the matted cushion between the horns of the buffalo. It has also been written that the Cheyenne called them “Buffalo Soldier” because their fierce, brave nature reminded them of the way buffalos fought. Whatever the reason, the term was used respectfully and with honor.
Many of the African-American troops of the 24th Infantry and the 9th and 10th Cavalry were also veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War in which they were called “Smoked Yankees.”
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, these units were consistently assigned to the harshest and most desolate posts. They were sent to subdue Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws, Comancheros, rustlers, and hostile Native Americans. They also explored and mapped the Southwest and established frontier outposts that would become future towns and cities.
Even though the Buffalo Soldiers wore the uniform of the U.S. Army, their ethnicity combined with the racial prejudice of the time made the performance of their duties quite challenging. In the early 1900s, African-Americans were routinely abused, or even killed, for the slightest perceived offense. They occupied one of the lowest rungs of the social ladder; a fact which served to undercut the authority of any black man who served in any position of power. Yosemite and Sequoia’s Buffalo Soldiers had to be simultaneously strong and diplomatic to fulfill the duties of their job but to avoid giving offense.
Although officers were mostly Euro-American, an exception to this was Charles Young, the third African-American graduate of the U.S. military academy at West Point. He served as the acting military superintendent of Sequoia National Park in 1903. Although his tenure was brief, it was groundbreaking. Young is considered by some to be the first African-American superintendent of a national park as well as the first black military attache, first black to achieve the rank of colonel, and highest-ranking black officer in the United States Army until his death in 1922.
Most of the men under Young’s command in Sequoia, as well as the 9th Cavalry soldiers serving in Yosemite, were war veterans, but service in the Sierra brought about an astonishing change in geography and function for these battle-weary men.
Their duties included confiscating firearms as well as curbing poaching of the park’s wildlife, suppressing wildfires, ending illegal grazing of livestock on federal lands, and stopping thefts of timber and other natural objects. They oversaw the construction of roads, trails, and other infrastructure.
Their accomplishments included the completion of the first usable road into Giant Forest and the first trail to the top of Mt. Whitney (the tallest peak in the contiguous United States) in Sequoia National Park in 1903; and the building of an arboretum in Yosemite National Park near the south fork of the Merced River in 1904. One scholar considered the latter area to contain the first marked nature trail in the national park system. Thus, an integral part of that history played by the 500 Buffalo Soldiers, comprising eight troops of cavalry and one company of infantry, will no longer be forgotten. Their noteworthy accomplishments were made despite the added burden of racism.
Soldiers from the 25th Infantry, referred to at the time as a “crack black regiment,” were famously called in during the Great Fire of 1910 – the same year Glacier National Park was established – to fight the largest blazes. The forest fires raged over 2,000 square miles of northern Idaho and western Montana and consumed more than 100,000 acres of park forests, killing 70 people and destroying timber worth $13 billion.
In 1914, civilian employees of the Department of the Interior replaced the Army in administration and protection of Yosemite National Park, thus ending the U.S. Army’s role as the official administrator of Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. Between 1891 and 1913 the U.S. Army helped create a model for park management as we know it today.