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Posts from the ‘Amazing Stories from WWI’ Category

26
Dec

Military Myths & Legends: The World’s First Black Fighter Pilot

A largely unsung and non-known hero of the World War I was the fascinating Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard of the Lafayette flying Corps.

Bullard was born in a three-room house in Columbus, Georgia, the seventh of ten children born to William (Octave) Bullard, a black man who was from Martinique, and Josephine (“Yokalee”) Thomas, a Creek Indian. His father’s ancestors had been slaves in Haiti to French refugees who fled during the Haitian Revolution. They reached the United States and took refuge with the Creek Indians.

An adventurer by nature, he left the small town of Columbus and moved to Atlanta by himself while still in his teenage years. He had been told that the way to escape racial prejudice was to head to Europe, particularly France (he once said he witnessed a near lynching of his dad). A long time back his father had pointed out to him that Bullard was a French name and that at least one ancestor had hailed from there. Stirred by all the possibilities, he stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland, arriving at Aberdeen and made his way south to Glasgow. On a visit to Paris, he liked what he saw and how he was treated and decided to settle in France. He became a relatively good boxer in Paris and also worked in a music hall.

France had been good to Bullard, and he quickly fell in love with the country. So when World War I broke out in August 1914, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion at a time when volunteers from overseas were only allowed to serve in the French colonial troops. Assigned to the 3rd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment as a machine gunner, he saw combat near the Somme River. It was during this time when he learned Americans and other volunteers were now allowed to transfer to Metropolitan French Army units, including the 170th French Infantry Regiment – nicknamed “Les Hirondelles de la Mort,” or “The Swallows of Death.”

Liking the idea of being part of a unit with crack troops appealed to Bullard, so he put in his request to join the regiment. In February 1916, his requested was granted just as the 170th Infantry was sent to Verdun, one of the largest and longest battles of the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies. The battle took place on the hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France. It was during this battle that Bullard was severely wounded on March 5, 1916 and sent to a Parisian hospital where he spent the next six months recuperating. During convalescence, he was cited for acts of valor at the orders of the regiment on July 3, 1917 and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

While convalescing in Paris, his friend and fellow Southerner Jeff Davis Dixon bet Bullard $2,000 that he could not get into the French Air Force. Bullard contended that he could, accepted the bet and on October 5, 1916 arrived at the French aerial gunnery school at Cazaux on the Atlantic. It was here that he met Edmond Genet (the first American flier to die in the First World War in April 1917). He told Bullard about the Lafayette Escadrille which inspired him to be a pilot and not a back seat gunner. In mid-October with Genet’s help he transferred to the flight school at Tours for pilot training. The training took a few more months, but it was inevitably given Bullard’s persistence that it would pay off. Bullard earned his pilot’s license and then Dickerson faithfully paid the $2,000. It was a considerable sum at the time, especially for a gentleman’s bet. Dixon admitted that he hated to lose the money, but was delighted that at least Bullard was from Dixie. The result of the bet was to launch Eugene Bullard into history as a first ever African-American aviator.

Like many other American aviators, Bullard hoped to join the famous Lafayette Escadrille, but after enrolling 38 American pilots in spring and summer of 1916, it stopped accepting applicants. After further training he joined 269 American aviators at the Lafayette Flying Corps on November 15, 1916. American volunteers flew with French pilots in different pursuit and bomber/reconnaissance aero squadrons on the Western Front.

On August 27, he was assigned to the Escadrille N.93 based at Beauzee-sur-Aire south of Verdun. The squadron was equipped with Nieuport and Spad VII aircraft that displayed a flying duck as the squadron insignia. He took part in over twenty air combat missions, and he is sometimes credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft. However, the French authorities could not confirm Bullard’s victories. His Spad had an insignia lettered “All blood runs red” and his nickname became the “Black Swallow of Death.”

When the United States entered the war, the United States Army Air Service convened a medical board to recruit Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps for the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Forces. Bullard went through the medical examination, but he was not accepted, as only white pilots were allowed to serve. Sometime later, on a short break from duty in Paris, Bullard allegedly got into an argument with a French commissioned officer and was punished by being transferred to the service battalion of to the 170th infantry Regiment of the French army. He was discharged in October 1919 and returned to Paris.

After the war, Bullard settle down, and in 1923 married a French Countess from a wealthy family named Marcelle Straumann. They settle down and had two daughters Jacqueline and Lolita.

Post war Bullard bought a bar named “Le Grand Duc” on the north side of Paris. In the late 1930s, prior to the outbreak of World War II, he was recruited by French intelligence to spy on the Germans who come by his bar. He remained very devoted to France and tried to join the French army but was considered too old. In 1940, he managed to find a way out of German occupied France, biked all the way down to Portugal and returned to the United States on a Red Cross ship. He settled in New York City. He was able to extradite his daughters, but Marcelle remained in France and eventually they divorced.

In 1954, along with two other French veterans, he was invited by French Pres. Charles de Gaulle to light the flame of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Eugene Bullard received fifteen decorations from the government of France. He was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor, France’s most coveted award. He also was awarded the Medaille militaire, another high military distinction.

He died in New York City of stomach cancer on October 12, 1961 at the age of 66 with his achievements all but forgotten.

While Eugene Bullard is not as famous as a Tuskegee Airmen or Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Junior, as an African-American aviator, he came before all of them. The Chicago Tribune herald him as “as probably the most unsung hero in the history of the U.S. wartime aviation.”

8
Jun

Battle Chronicles: Meuse-Argonne Offensive

World War I will be remembered as one of the bloodiest wars in human history. Millions of soldiers died on both sides, and whole generations of young men were wiped out. Armies were bogged down in impenetrable trenches, resulting in thousands dying in futile assaults against fortified enemies. The war also introduced new and terrible weapons, such as the machine gun, which made the war even more horrific and bloody. There were many terrible battles, but the worst one for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) was the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

On August 30, 1918, the supreme commander of Allied forces, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, arrived at the headquarters of General John J. Pershing’s 1st US Army. Foch ordered Pershing to effectively shelve a planned offensive against the St.Mihiel salient as he wished to use the American troops piecemeal to support a British offensive to the north.

Outraged, Pershing refused to let his command be broken apart and argued in favor of moving forward with the assault on St. Mihiel. Ultimately, the two came to a compromise: Pershing would be permitted to attack St. Mihiel but was required to be in position for an offensive in the Argonne Valley by mid-September. Foch also placed Pershing as the overall commander of the offensive since the American Expeditionary Force was to play the main attacking role in what would be the largest American-run offensive of World War I.

This required Pershing to fight a major battle, and then shift approximately 400,000 men sixty miles all within the span of ten days. Stepping off on September 12, Pershing won a swift victory at St. Mihiel and began moving his troops to the Argonne. Coordinated by Colonel George C. Marshall, this movement was completed in time to commence the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on September 26.

Unlike the flat terrain of St.Mihiel, the Argonne was a valley flanked by thick forest to one side and the Meuse River on the other. This terrain provided an excellent defensive position for five divisions from General Georg von der Marwitz’s Fifth Army.

Flush with his St. Mihiel victory, Pershing’s objectives for the first day of the attack were extremely optimistic and called for his men to break through two major defensive lines dubbed Giselher and Kreimhilde by the Germans. In addition, American forces were hampered by the fact that five of the nine divisions slated for the attack had not yet seen combat.
The Meuse-Argonne ground campaign began in the early morning fog on September 26, 1918. The previous night, Allied Forces had bombarded German positions. The fog gave good cover to the more than 700 Allied tanks that were advancing, with numerous infantry troops following behind.The Germans were taken by surprise and the Allied forces were gaining ground. They’d captured 23,000 German prisoners and moved almost 6 miles forward.

While the goal of the offensive was to destroy the Germans, the strategy to do this was to cut off their main supply route. The Germans controlled the land between the Argonne Forest and the River Meuse in France, just inside its border with Belgium. The Sedan-Mezieres railroad, Germany’s main supply link, was in this area. Taking control of this railroad was the Allied Force’s main objective.

Both the Allied Forces and the Germans understood how critical this area was to Germany’s ability to continue its offensive into France. For this reason, both sides invested all available troops to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and surrounding battles.

The Meuse-Argonne presented a number of challenges to the U.S. forces, which made up the largest part of the Allied Forces fighting. First, the overgrown, bushy, terrain of the area was difficult. The forest had no roads over which tanks and troops could easily move. Furthermore, the Germans had been in control of the area for the past four years and had well-fortified it.

The other key challenge was logistical. Most of the Americans were some miles away where they had just fought a battle at St. Mihiel Salient. Moving that many troops and their armory in such a short time period was an unprecedented logistical operation. Without the successful troop movement, the Germans would have likely held their supply lines.

However, one American division had difficulty capturing its assigned land and the entire Allied advance was slowed down.During this day-long stoppage, the Germans were able to retreat back to the Giselher line, where they prepared to make stand.

German General Max von Gallwitz directed six reserve divisions to shore up the line. The arrival of additional German troops ended American hopes for a quick victory in the Argonne. While Montfaucon was taken the next day, the advance proved slow and American forces were plagued by leadership and logistical issues. By October 1, the offensive had come to a halt. Traveling among his forces, Pershing replaced several of his green divisions with more experienced troops, though this movement only added to the logistical and traffic difficulties.

On October 4, Pershing ordered an assault all along the American line. This was met with ferocious resistance from the Germans with the advance measured in yards. It was during this phase of the fighting that the 77th Division’s famed “Lost Battalion” made its stand. Elsewhere, Corporal Alvin York earned the Medal of Honor for capturing 132 Germans.

On October 8, Pershing made a push on the east side of the Meuse with the goal of silencing German artillery in the area. This made little headway. Two days later he turned command of the 1st Army over to Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett.

As Liggett pressed on, Pershing formed the 2nd U.S. Army on the east side of the Meuse and placed Lieutenant General Robert L. Bullard in command. From October 13-16, American forces began to break through the German lines with the capture of Malbrouck, Consenvoye, Cote Dame Marie, and Chatillon. With these victories in hand, American forces pierced the Kreimhilde line, achieving Pershing’s goal for the first day. With this done, Liggett called a halt to reorganize. While collecting stragglers and re-supplying, Liggett ordered an attack towards Grandpre by the 78th Division. The town fell after a ten-day battle.

On November 1, following a massive bombardment, Liggett resumed a general advance all along the line. Slamming into the tired Germans, the 1st Army made large gains with the V Corps gaining five miles in the center. Forced into a headlong retreat, the Germans were prevented from forming new lines by the rapid American advance.

On November 5, the 5th Division crossed the Meuse, frustrating German plans to use the river as defensive line. Three days later, the Germans contacted Foch about an armistice. Feeling that the war should continue until the German’s unconditionally surrendered, Pershing pushed his two armies to attack without mercy. Driving the Germans, American forces allowed the French to take Sedan as the war came to a close on November 11, 1918.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive cost Pershing 26,277 killed and 95,786 wounded, making it the largest and bloodiest operation of the war for the American Expeditionary Force. American losses were exacerbated by the inexperience of many of the troops and tactics used during the early phases of the operation. Germans losses numbered 28,000 killed and 92,250 wounded.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest American military campaign and one of the world’s greatest battles.

13
Jan

Cpl Mel Brooks US Army (Served 1944-1946)

View the Military Service of Comic, Writer, Actor, Producer, Director:

mel brooksCpl Mel Brooks

US Army

(Served 1944-1946)
Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/336110

Short Bio: Singlehandedly won World War II! Okay, that not true, but lots of our boys in uniform might not have made it home without Brooks’s help. At 17, young Melvin Kaminsky joined the Army Corps of Engineers and was assigned to the 1104th Engineer Combat Group — just in time to be shipped over for the Battle of the Bulge. His unit fought through Europe, building bridges, destroying pillboxes, and occasionally fought as infantry. Brooks, née Kominsky, had the duty of defusing landmines in front of the advancing army.

9
Dec

The Christmas Truce of 1914

During World War I, in the bitter winter of 1914, on the battlefields of Flanders, one of the most unusual events in all of human history took place. The Germans had been in a fierce battle with the British and French. 1Both sides were dug in, safe in muddy, man-made trenches six to eight feet deep that seemed to stretch forever.

All of a sudden, German troops began to put small Christmas trees, lit with candles, outside of their trenches. Then, they began to sing songs. Across the way, in the “no man’s land” between them, came songs from the British and French troops. Incredibly, many of the Germans, who had worked in England before the war, were able to speak good enough English to propose a “Christmas” truce.

A spontaneous truce resulted. Soldiers left their trenches, meeting in the middle in fortified trenches to shake hands. 2The first order of business was to bury the dead who had been previously unreachable because of the conflict. Then, they exchanged gifts. Chocolate cake, cognac, postcards, newspapers, tobacco. In a few places, along the trenches, soldiers exchanged rifles for soccer balls and began to play soccer in the snow.

According to Stanley Weintraub, who wrote about this event in his book, “Silent Night”, “Signboards arose up and down the trenches in a variety of shapes. They were usually in English, or – from the Germans – in fractured English. Rightly, the Germans assumed that the other side could not read traditional gothic lettering, and 3that few English understood spoken German. ‘YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT’ was the most frequently employed German message. Some British units improvised ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS’ banners and waited for a response. More placards on both sides popped up.”

Rare photo shows German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment and British soldiers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment meeting in “no man’s land” on December 26, 1914.

It truce didn’t last forever. In fact, some of the generals didn’t like it at all and commanded their troops to resume shooting at each other. After all, they were in a war. Soldiers eventually did resume shooting at each other. But for a few precious moments there was peace on earth good will toward men. 4There’s something about Christmas that changes people. It happened over 2000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem. It’s been happening over and over again down through the years of time.

Although the Christmas Truce of 1914 may seem like a distant myth to those now at arms in parts of the world where vast cultural differences between combatants make such an occurrence impossible, it remains a symbol of hope to those who believe that a recognition of our common humanity may someday reverse the maxim that “Peace is harder to make than war.”

Photos:
From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”
A cross, left in Saint-Yves (Saint-Yvon – Ploegsteert; Comines-Warneton in Belgium) in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce. The text reads: “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years  “Lest We Forget”
German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment and British soldiers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment meet in no man’s land, December 26th.

5
Nov

Honoring the Fallen

As reported by Reuters

On Feb. 24, 1968, Don Skinner was in charge of maintaining bombing radars in Vietnam when his unit came under attack. The Air Force sergeant was critically wounded, spending three months in a Saigon hospital, before being air-lifted to the States where he says he spent nine more months at a hospital “being put back together.”

Three of his comrades were killed during that assault, and overall, 19 members from Skinner’s unit lost their lives during the war.

But the memories of those 19 men – and hundreds of others spanning different wars – live on, thanks to Skinner’s efforts. Today, the 83-year-old sits in front of a computer at his Aiken, S.C. home working on remembrance profiles for fallen soldiers. The retired veteran is one of more than 200 volunteers who work around the clock building the Roll of Honor on TogetherWeServed.com, an online war memorial that claims 1.5 million members and has more than 100,000 pages honoring fallen service members.

For Skinner, who has personally completed more than 850 profiles, it’s about putting stories to names, bringing those killed in action from “obscurity back to reality.”

“They are now honored and remembered,” Skinner said. “These people are no longer forgotten or lost in the mist of history.”

Erasing that mist is not always an easy task. For example, there’s a dearth of information on many Korean War and World War II veterans, whose numbers are dwindling. Volunteers rely heavily on battle history archives, gravesite information and public records to glean information, but they often must track down surviving family members to fill in the holes.

One of those working to fill the gaps is Carl “Krusty” Elliott. During the Vietnam War, the Army staff sergeant worked at Walter Reed hospital, where he says the wounded soldiers “left a lasting impression” on him.

The 67-year-old Elliott, who has built more than 2,000 online memorials from his Rochester, New Hampshire home, says it was especially gratifying to complete the profile of 1st Lt. Verne Kelley, a 10-year Army veteran who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1969. Kelley grew up not far from Elliott’s hometown and was friends with his older brothers.

Diane Short, a Navy veteran who oversees operations and management of the website’s memorial teams, says the site hopes to complete unfinished profiles by year’s end but the task is daunting. The online memorial includes almost 48,000 fallen soldiers in the Army alone and TWS has completed about 65 percent of those remembrance profiles.

The veterans who add photos, medals and remembrances to the online memorials are giving an emotional lift to families of the fallen. Just ask Debra Booth, whose 23-year-old son Marine Lt. Joshua Booth was killed in Iraq in 2006 — just five weeks after deployment. She hadn’t seen any photos of her son in Iraq until she stumbled upon three images of Josh posted on Together We Served. “What an amazing surprise that day,” said Booth, who added that she has since corresponded with Josh’s captain, hopes to connect with more men who served with her son.

Josh left behind a daughter Grace, who is now 8 years old. Debra Booth says Grace recently asked Santa Claus to bring her pictures of her daddy. Thanks to the images posted to Together We Served that wish was granted. “It’s an amazing gift,” Booth said of the online memorial.

Building the remembrance profiles is a healing process for the volunteer veterans, according to Short.

“A lot of these guys are dealing with PTSD,” Short said. “It is their way of getting into their head and dealing with their memories and putting pen to paper honoring those who they lost.”

Denny Eister, a 69-year old Vietnam War veteran who lives in Destin, Florida, says he suffers from PTSD and repressed his war memories for nearly four decades. One day, his kids uncovered some medals in his desk drawer and he says it triggered a renewed interest to track down his fellow soldiers. Eister, who works part time as an insurance agent, has since built nearly 1,000 remembrance profiles.

“You develop a bond that’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced combat in military,” Eister said. “It’s an honor to do it for the guys who didn’t come home.” Eister said through his work he was able to track down his company commander at the time, Walter Dillard, who retired as a colonel and now lives in Virginia. “We still communicate to this day,” he said.

Indeed, Together We Served has become a coveted social network for veterans. Barbara (Bobbe) Stuvengen served in the Navy in World War II as a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). A few years ago, when the 89-year-old Wisconsin resident lost her husband (also a sailor) to Alzheimer’s disease, she credits the website for “preserving my sanity during some very stressful times.”

“It’s just kind of a way to keep in touch with the outside world,” said Stuvengen, who communicates regularly with other members. “It means a lot to me to have TWS to go into. … I begin to feel like they’re my family.”

As for Skinner, 65 years after enlisting in the Air Force, he is still devoting his time to serving his country. The author of several military books, he continues digging into databases, scouring archives and phoning families to piece together the lives of fallen service members. More than four decades after making it through that deadly assault in Vietnam, Skinner is battling cancer – but his doctors have declared him healthy and he remains focused on his work.

“I guess I’m a survivor in more ways than one,” he says.

18
Sep

V-Mail

vmailV, or Victory mail, was a valuable tool for the military during World War II. The process, which originated in England, was the microfilming of specially designed letter sheets. Instead of using valuable cargo space to ship whole letters overseas, microfilmed copies were sent in their stead and then “blown up” at an overseas destination before being delivered to military personnel.

V-mail ensured that thousands of tons of shipping space could be reserved for war materials. The 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack. The weight of that same amount of mail was reduced dramatically from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45. The blue-striped cardboard containers held V-mail letter forms.

The system of microfilming letters was based on the use of special V-mail letter-sheets, which were a combination of letter and envelope. The letter-sheets were constructed and gummed so as to fold into a uniform and distinctively marked envelope. The user wrote the message in the limited space provided, added the name and address of the recipient, folded the form, affixed postage, if necessary, and mailed the letter. V-mail correspondence was then reduced to thumb-nail size on microfilm. The rolls of film were sent to prescribed destinations for developing at a receiving station near the addressee. Finally, individual facsimiles of the letter-sheets were reproduced about one-quarter the original size and the miniature mail was then delivered to the addressee.

The first large Army operated V-mail station overseas was opened on April 15, 1943 at Casablanca, North Africa. Hastily set up in a field following the Allied invasion of North Africa, this makeshift station continued to operate until September 15, 1943. Between June 15, 1942 and April 1, 1945, 556,513,795 pieces of V-mail were sent from the U.S. to military post offices and over 510 million pieces were received from military personnel abroad. In spite of the patriotic draw of V-mail, most people still sent regular first class mail. In 1944, for instance, Navy personnel received 38 million pieces of V-mail, but over 272 million pieces of regular first class mail.

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