World War II

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

On June 23, 1943, three American soldiers had been drifting in the Pacific Ocean for twenty-seven days. The rafts were deteriorating, their bodies were covered in salt sores, and they didn't know it at the time, but there would be another twenty days of drifting ahead for them. Only two of the three would survive. One of them was former Olympic runner Louis Zamperini whose life would never be the same.  Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken is an amazing study in resilience, defiance, and strength that takes you on the journey of one man's lifetime. Zamperini was an incorrigible child, a natural runner, and a man who would not be broken. He survived unspeakable torture and deprivation at the hands of his Japanese captors only to find himself being tortured by his memories after returning home at the end of the war. Being overtaken with the reoccurring tortures that resided in his mind, Zamperini turned to alcohol. He reclaimed his life after hearing an inspiring speaker in a tent on a street...

read more
Eileen Nearne – British WWII Heroine

Eileen Nearne – British WWII Heroine

The "Croix de Guerre" or "Cross of War," is a French military decoration honoring people for their resistance against the Nazis in WWII. Furthermore, being appointed a "Member of the Order of the British Empire" by King George VI for services rendered in France during the enemy occupation was a high British honor. Any man who was awarded such honors must have been a remarkable one. Only, in this case, we are dealing with a woman and a brave and tenacious one at that. The Perilous Life of Eileen Nearne in WWII Eileen Nearne, the woman who received these accolades, lived a perilous life in WWII. To a large extent, her exploits mirrored those of Charlotte Gray in the 2001 movie bearing the same name. The film, based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks, features the adventures of female agents in German-occupied France. But why have most of us never heard of Eileen Nearne? Is it because her missions were so top-secret that information never leaked out? Or is it like many events during the...

read more
Famous Army Units: 1st Alaska Combat Intelligence Platoon

Famous Army Units: 1st Alaska Combat Intelligence Platoon

The Aleutian Islands are unknown to many Americans and in 1941, upon entry of the US into WWII, even fewer. Remote volcanic islands (1200 miles from Alaska), barren and plagued by harsh weather and unforgiving winds make them seemingly unlivable and bear little consideration except to the native Aleuts that call them home.  Nonetheless, with US-Japanese tensions running high, as early as February 1941 efforts were underway to form the Alaskan Defense Command.  Recognizing broad strategic value in the Alaskan territories, Colonel Lawrence Castner argued that ultimate success in these regions lay in creating an intelligence brigade, resources that knew the land, how to live off it unaided and move about undetected-a perfect fit for spying on the Japanese.  Given authorization only weeks prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor recruiting began to form the 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platoon, or Alaska Scouts.  Shortly thereafter (February 1942), by authority...

read more
Famous Army Units: 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Demolition Platoon

Famous Army Units: 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Demolition Platoon

By 1944 the tide of battle in World War II was turning in favor of Allied forces across the various theatres.  With momentum building in Europe and the Mediterranean through the successive invasions of North Africa in November 1942 (Operation Torch), the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 (Operation Husky), and the invasion of Italy in September 1943 (Operation Avalanche) a much broader front was necessary to redirect Axis forces and free Russian troops.  A keystone to accomplishing this was debuted by US forces in 1942 and would prove invaluable in spearheading further ground combat operations, the parachute infantry.  Though the US was late in establishing airborne capability it would quickly become the centerpiece of Operation Overlord, the assault of Western Europe on June 6th, 1944.  And one fledgling unit in particular would prove the most audacious of US airborne troops leading this invasion, the 1st Demolition Platoon, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment...

read more
Cpl Mel Brooks, U.S. Army (1944 – 1945)

Cpl Mel Brooks, U.S. Army (1944 – 1945)

Mel Brooks's Military Service “Springtime for Hitler” is one of the songs that made Mel Brooks famous. But did you know that this prolific actor, comedian, composer, and filmmaker served in World War II as a young man? Mel Brooks’s Early Life Mel Brooks was born Melvin James Kaminsky in 1926, the youngest of four boys. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a Jewish family of modest means. When Brooks was two years old, his father passed away from kidney disease. Mel was raised by his mother and three older brothers: Irving, Lennie, and Bernie. It is often said that his father’s untimely death fueled Brooks's comedy career.  Later in life, Brooks reflected on his father’s death with these words: "there's an outrage there. I may be angry at God, or at the world, for that. And I'm sure a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility. Growing up in Williamsburg, I learned to clothe it in comedy to spare myself problems - like a punch in the face." Brooks was a small, sickly boy,...

read more
PFC Shizuya Hayashi, U.S. Army (1942 – 1945)

PFC Shizuya Hayashi, U.S. Army (1942 – 1945)

During the Italian Campaign of World War II, German troops were faced with a sight they had never expected: Japanese-American soldiers. These troops were members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, which was comprised entirely of Nisei (children of Japanese Immigrants) troops. What makes this story all the more amazing is knowing how these troops, and their families, had been treated by a scared and hateful populace at home. Their families, friends, and neighbors were being imprisoned by the American government, over suspicions of seditious or treasonous behavior. But the men of the 100th were proud patriots and wanted to prove to the American populace that one's heritage doesn't dictate one's nationality. The Battalion fought bravely through the Italian campaign and earned the respect both of their peers and their enemies. But when this unit made the first contact with the enemy, one man showed his courage above the rest. Shizuya Hayashi was born in Hawaii, on November 28, 1917. The...

read more
Maj Clark Gable, U.S. Army Air Forces (1942-1947)

Maj Clark Gable, U.S. Army Air Forces (1942-1947)

Clark Gable, of the U.S. Army Air Forces between 1942 and 1947, is best known as the ‘King of Hollywood’, the womanizing man’s man with a filmography of over 60 productions. However, he had a passion for flying combat missions and defied death in World War II. Born William Clark Gable in 1901, his father Will was an oil-well driller living in Cadiz, Ohio. Baptized Catholic, his mother Adeline died when he was just ten months old, and his father refused to raise him in the faith. Gable’s father remarried in 1903, and he was raised by his stepmother Jennie. She taught him the piano, and Will taught him to repair automobiles and hunt. Young Clark also developed a taste for literature, and would recite Shakespeare. Gable’s Childhood and First Marriage Gable was inspired to become an actor at 17 after seeing the play The Bird of Paradise. However, he worked with his father in Oklahoma in the oil industry, his stepmother had passed away. At the age of 21, Gable received an inheritance from...

read more
Taco Rice and the Legacy of Marines on Okinawa

Taco Rice and the Legacy of Marines on Okinawa

In 1984, Matsuzo Gibo added traditional Mexican-style spices to ground beef and put the spicy meat mixture on a bed of rice, then added lettuce and shredded cheese. He started selling it from his food stall as a quick lunchtime meal. The simple dish, now known the world over as "taco rice," conquered Okinawa faster and with far less resistance than the U.S. military did during World War II.  Gibo, who died in 2014, was the owner of the Parlor Senri food stall outside of Camp Hansen's Gate 1 in Kin Town, Okinawa. Being just a mile away from the gate, his primary customer base was U.S. Marines and had been for a long time.  The Fight For Okinawa The fight for Okinawa was the last major battle of World War II and was also one of the war's bloodiest. On Apr 1, 1945, the United States landed Marines and soldiers on the island. It was the largest amphibious landing of the Pacific War.  For a little over three months, the United States, with Allied naval support, fought...

read more
PFC Sixto Escobar, US Army (1941-1945)

PFC Sixto Escobar, US Army (1941-1945)

Sixto Escobar, of the United States Army between 1941 and 1945, was Puerto Rico’s first world boxing champion, and International Boxing Hall of Fame member. Remembered today with the Estadio Sixto Escobar, the San Juan home of River Plate Puerto Rico, as well as many buildings, roads, and statues, he is a favored son of the island territory. Not as many people know, though, that he served in the military during the Second World War as an Army PFC. Remembering Sixto Escobar Escobar was born in the town of Barceloneta, in March 1913. Early in his childhood, his family moved to San Juan, where he was schooled until the seventh grade. At this point, he left school to focus on his athletic career. Boxing was illegal in Puerto Rico while he was growing up, though this restriction was lifted in 1927. In ‘28, Angel ‘Sotito’ Soto moved from New York to Escobar’s area of San Juan, and established a boxing gym in his backyard, giving boxing classes to Escobar and other young athletes. Despite...

read more
Lt. Henry Fonda, U.S. Navy (1942-1946)

Lt. Henry Fonda, U.S. Navy (1942-1946)

Lt. Henry Fonda, of the US Navy between 1942 and 1946, interrupted a prominent career as a film actor in order to serve his country when it needed him most. Fonda’s commanding screen presence made him a favorite of theatergoers for five decades, culminating in an Oscar for his final performance. Henry Fonda’s Stage Beginnings Born in Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1905, Fonda was the son of a printer. Raised in Omaha, he witnessed and was profoundly affected by the horrors of the Omaha race riot of 1919. After high school he attended the University of Minnesota, but did not graduate. At the age of 20 he joined the Omaha Community Playhouse. He grew to be fascinated by the stage and learned many aspects of stagecraft, eventually growing to enjoy acting as taking on a role and speaking someone else’s words gave him respite from his shy personality.  In 1928 he moved to Massachusetts and met his future wife Margaret Sullavan while working for the University Players, a theater troupe....

read more
War in the Pacific – The Battle of Manila

War in the Pacific – The Battle of Manila

On February 3, 1945, American forces entered the outskirts of Manila, capital of the Philippines, beginning the Battle of Manila, a ferocious and destructive urban battle against the Japanese that would leave Manila the second-hardest hit Allied capital (following Warsaw) of World War II.  American Troops Were Able to Rapidly Advance to Manila As part of his campaign to retake the Philippines from the Japanese (who had captured it from the Americans in 1942), General Douglas MacArthur first invaded the island of Leyte and then moved on to the island of Luzon, the largest of the Philippine islands and home to the capital, Manila.  American troops were able to rapidly advance to Manila, leading MacArthur to believe it would be a relatively easy fight. They entered the city limits on February 3, quickly liberating Allied (mostly American) POWs and civilians from their incarceration at the University of Santo Tomas and Bilibid Prison. However, Japanese forces dug in and put up a fierce...

read more
The Most Decorated Enlisted Sailor in Navy History

The Most Decorated Enlisted Sailor in Navy History

In the history of the United States Navy, only seven men have earned all of the big three valor awards: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, and Silver Star. Six were World War II officers, including one aviator. The seventh was James Elliott "Willy" Williams - considered the most decorated enlisted man in the history of the Navy. Biography of James Williams Williams, a Cherokee Indian, was born November 13, 1930, in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Two months later he moved with his parents to Darlington, South Carolina where he spent his early childhood and youth. He attended the local schools and graduated from St. John's High School.   In August 1947, at the age of 16, Williams enlisted in the United States Navy with a fraudulent birth certificate. He completed basic training at Naval Training Center San Diego. He served for almost twenty years, retiring on April 26, 1967, as a Boatswain's Mate First Class (BM1). During those years, he served in both the Korean War and Vietnam...

read more