Sunday, July 3, 2022

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment

For regular readers of this blog, you know that the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion started out the World War II designated as the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. When I was doing my research for The Boldest Plan is the Best, I of course wondered what happened to the rest of the original 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment that the Geronimos left behind at Fort Bragg in 1942. After some reading, I found out that the 503rd PIR had an equally fascinating combat history. While I was living in Pennsylvania I visited the National Archives and the Army Heritage and Education Center and conducted the research to write a combat history of the 503rd PIR, "The Rock Regiment," during their time in the Pacific Theater. Unfortunately, life gets in the way (as does writing fiction) and that book (which I thought would make an excellent companion to The Boldest Plan is the Best so that the pair will cover early WWII airborne operations) will not be completed until next winter. In the meantime, I thought I would take the opportunity to provide some of the highlights of this little-known unit's record during WWII here.

July 2, 1944 – Members of 503rd Parachute Infantry
descending on Kamiri Airstrip, Noemfoor Island.
SC-287126 from the National Archives
After the departure of the 2nd Battalion for England in June 1942, the 503rd PIR formed its 3rd Battalion at Fort Bragg and continued to train as a two battalion regiment. They departed Fort Bragg on October 10, 1942, headed to Australia to join MacArthur's growing force in the Pacific Theater. On the way, they formed their missing 2nd Battalion from a company out of the 504th PIR recently formed at Fort Bragg, and three companies of the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion that had been serving in the Panama Canal Zone. The old 2nd Battalion was at this time in England preparing to jump into North Africa as part of Operation Torch.  They were now designated the 2/509th PIR.

It took the 503rd PIR until December 2 to make it to Australia. The regiment spent the next nine months training in Australia and New Guinea. At the time of their first combat operation, one could argue that they were the most well-trained airborne unit in the American army. The first entry into combat was a jump on Nazdab airfield, in the Markham Valley of New Guinea, on  September 5, 1943.

Two battalions of the 503rd Parachute Infantry made an unopposed jump on Kamiri airfield on Noemfoor Island, off the coast of Dutch New Guinea beginning on July 3, 1944. The third battalion made an amphibious landing a few days later. Once Noemfoor was secured, the regiment was moved to Leyte in the Philippine Islands. The 503rd PIR was turned into a regimental combat team with the attachments of the 462nd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and Company C, 161st Airborne Engineers. On December 15, 1944, the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team made an amphibious landing on the Philippine island of Mindoro, where they fought to secure airstrips that would be used to support the invasion of the island of Luzon, and hence the retaking of Manila.

February 16, 1945 – Parachutists of the 503rd Parachute
Infantry landing on “B” field, Corregidor Island.
SC 201041 from the National Archives
The 503rd PRCT earned their nom de guerre when, on February 16, 1945, they made a combat jump onto the island fortress of Corregidor, "The Rock." Corregidor had become an important symbol to the United States as the last outpost of any size to fall to the enemy in the early stages of the Pacific War. Japanese sources have estimated that there were 6700 Japanese soldiers on the Island when the 503d Combat Team landed. Only fifty of those defenders survived. Almost 200 American soldiers died taking back Corregidor. The 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for taking back "The Rock."

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment finished WWII fighting on Negros island in the Philippines. They were deactivated shortly after the war. After a history of activation and deactivation and a redesignation as the 503d Infantry, two battalions of "the Rock Force" are serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, the "Sky Soldiers." Their home station is Vicenza, Italy, but the soldiers of the 503d Infantry have participated in multiple deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan (where they are currently deployed) during the Global War on Terror.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Nonfiction R&R: Fire and Fortitude

This book Review and Recommendation is on "Fire and Fortitude, The US Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1943" by John C. McManus.

If you are like me, when you think of World War II in the Pacific, you immediately think of the Marine Corps. Maybe it’s all those old war movies like “Sands of Iwo Jima,” or the marine narratives by Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie? But I must admit my ignorance. I was shocked when I read in “Fire and Fortitude” about the contribution of the Army versus the Marines.

This in no way detracts from the amazing accomplishments of the USMC during the Second World War. That being said, the Army presence in the Pacific dwarfed the marines. In the Pacific Theater during WWII, the Marine Corps fielded six combat divisions. The United States Army, on the other hand, deployed twenty-one combat divisions, along with several regimental combat teams and separate battalions. Not to mention massive numbers of logistics, medical, intelligence, and transportation personnel. With so many army personnel fighting against Japan, why aren’t some of the battles and campaigns that were predominantly army operations more well-known?

In “Fire and Fortitude," the author cites historian and writer Cole Kingseed for five reasons the Army is not known for its contribution to the war in the Pacific Theater: The “Germany first” strategy that prioritized the European Theater, a maritime nature of the war in the Pacific that led to a naval-dominated narrative, MacArthur’s PR campaign that failed to credit the accomplishments of subordinate units, press coverage weighted to the European Theater because correspondents found it a more pleasant environment over remote Pacific islands, and the racial aspect of fighting Japan and their approach to war.

I'm glad to see that we’re starting to take a long-overdue look at the Army in the Pacific. There seem to have been a number of books that focus on an aspect of this huge subject area published over the last couple of years. “Fire and Fortitude” (2019) is the first volume in a trilogy chronicling the US Army in the Pacific. McManus begins this book with a look at the pre-war army. He then provides a review of Pearl Harbor from an army perspective that I found unique. He, of course, covers Bataan and Corregidor, but I found the chapter on the struggle to take Buna during the Papuan Campaign in New Guinea to be the most interesting. Probably because it is one of the least highlighted battles in the media and popular history.

The second volume of the trilogy is already out in hardback. I’m looking forward to the release of the third. I’ve read a couple of other works by McManus, like “The Dead and Those About to Die.” “Fire and Fortitude” has the same level of readability combined with historical detail. What Ian Toll has written about the Navy in the Pacific, and Rick Atkinson accomplished for the European Theater, John McManus has tackled for the Army in the Pacific. Definitely a must read. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

A Short History of the 187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne)


Bob Broumley (my dad) at Kumwha, Korea.
I've always thought that the 187th Airborne was another seriously underappreciated parachute infantry unit in American military history. Especially for their service in Korea. I was even more amazed at the dedication of these paratroopers after I read Edward Flanagan's "The Rakkasans: The Combat History of the 187th Airborne Infantry." Not only did they make two combat jumps, but the theater's strategic reserve was used as a stopgap to avert disaster on more than one occasion. As some of the regular readers know, my dad is a Korean War veteran who served with the 187 Airborne Regimental Combat Team (RCT), as did one of my uncles. Pictures in this article are courtesy of his photo album.

The 187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne)


Shoulder Sleeve Insignia of the 187 RCT.
Soldiers of the 187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) have the distinction of belonging to the only airborne regiment that has served in every conflict since the inception of American airborne forces. Today, the First Battalion (1/187) and Third Battalion (3/187) of the 187th carry on the tradition while assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 101st Airborne Division. The 3d BCT carries on the nickname “Rakkasans,” the nom de guerre of the 187 Airborne.

The Regiment was constituted on November 12, 1942, and activated on February 25, 1943, as the 187 Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) at Camp MacKall, North Carolina. The two-battalion regiment was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division for the duration of World War II.

The first major milestone for the 11th Airborne Division, which along with the 187th Glider Infantry included the 188th Glider Infantry and the 511th Parachute Infantry, was to convince the War Department that the divisional airborne concept was viable. Airborne operations during 1943 in Sicily and the Italian mainland had not gone well. The 11th and 17th Airborne Divisions conducted the Knollwood Maneuvers in late 1943 and early 1944 that demonstrated to observers that an airborne division could be flown at night, land on their planned drop zones, be resupplied by air, and hold their objective until relieved. The success of the Knollwood Maneuvers was a major factor in the approval of future parachute operations during WWII.

Paratroopers of the 187th Airborne RCT
on a training jump in Korea, circa 1953.
The 187th Glider Infantry and the rest of the 11th Airborne Division embarked for the Pacific Theater out of Camp Stoneman, California in May of 1944. Their first combat action was to join the campaign in New Guinea on May 29, 1944. The regiment joined the fight in the Philippines, landing on Leyte on November 18, 1944. The 187 GIR then landed on Luzon on January 31, 1945. The regiment, along with the 188th GIR, entered Luzon by making an amphibious landing on the enemy-held Lingayen Gulf in order to flank the Japanese lines. The 187th Glider Infantry fought in other notable actions on Luzon, like “Purple Heart hill,” Tagatay Ridge, Nichols Field, and Mount Macelod. As part of the 11th Airborne Division, the 187 GIR was one of the units instrumental in liberating the Philippine capital of Manila. The regiment was given the honor of garrisoning the city. Moreover, the 187th was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for action at Tagatay Ridge and later a Philippine Presidential Citation for valorous combat performance in the liberation of Luzon and Manila.
At the end of WWII, the 11th Airborne Division was selected as the first troops to enter Japan on occupation duty. On August 30, 1945, flew to Atsugi Airfield in Yamamoto, Japan. The 187th Infantry was the first American occupation troops, and the first foreign military force to enter Japan in more than 2,000 years. It was in Japan that the regiment earned its nickname. The regiment had been converted from glider infantry to the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. The Japanese had no word to describe these soldiers falling from the sky, so they used the made-up Japanese word “rakkasan” to describe what the American soldiers did. The literal translation means “falling down umbrella men.” The locals started calling the troopers “Rakkasans,” and the name stuck.

The 11th Airborne Division, along with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, was returned to the United States in 1949. The 11th Airborne Division was stationed at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. Along with the 82nd Airborne Division, the 11th was part of the strategic reserve of the American Armed Forces. In February and March of 1950, the Rakkasans took part in Operation Swarmer, the largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever to be conducted. Their performance in these maneuvers was instrumental in being redesignated an Airborne Regimental Combat Team on August 27, 1950. The 187 Airborne RCT returned to Japan to serve as General MacArthur’s airborne forces during the Korean War. While attached to the 1st Marine Division, the 187 RCT followed up on the success of the Inchon Landing, clearing the Kimpo Peninsula between the Han River and the Yellow Sea.

Training jump during the Korean War Era
On October 20, 1950, the 187 Regimental Combat Team made combat jumps near the towns of Sukchon and Sunchon in North Korea in an attempt to cut off fleeing communist forces. The Rakkasans fought named engagements at Suan, Wonju, Kaesong, and Inje. In Operation Tomahawk the 187th Airborne made the second combat parachute jump of the Korean War at Munsan-ni on March 23, 1951. The regiment returned to Japan to serve as the strategic reserve in June 1951. In May 1952, the Rakkasans were ordered to quell a North Korean and Chinese Communist prisoner of war (POW) uprising on the Japanese island of Koje-do. The 187 was inserted into the line on two other occasions, in October 1952 and June 1953, as a stop-gap against Chinese offensives at Wonton-ni and Kumwha.

During their time in the Korean War, the Rakkasans were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and two Korean Presidential Citations, as well as earning five more Battle Streamers for their flag. Three soldiers from the 187 were awarded the Medal of Honor: Lester Hammond, Jr., Rodolfo Hernandez, and Richard Wilson. Their success in Korea re-energized the belief in using paratroopers as a strategic response. Soon after, the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina was reactivated.

During the early 1960s, the Rakkasans were part of a series of transfers and redesignations to help experiment with new division formations for the Cold War. This included being part of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test). By 1964, the 3/187th Airborne was the only battalion of the regiment on active duty. They were assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the newly reactivated 101st Airborne Division. The 3rd Brigade, which included the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 506th Airborne, deployed to Vietnam in December 1967. The Rakkasans spent the next four years in Vietnam, fighting in twelve major engagements. They earned two Valorous Unit Awards and two Presidential Unit Citations for the battles at Trang Bang and Dong Ap Bia Mountain. The latter is better known as “Hamburger Hill.” Another Rakkasan, Captain Paul W. Bucha, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions near Phuoc Vinh in March of 1968. The 101st Airborne, along with the 3/187, returned to Fort Campbell in 1972.

By the Persian Gulf War in 1990, the 101st Airborne, along with the Rakkasans of the 3rd Brigade had converted from airborne to air assault troops. During that 100 days of ground combat, the 1/187 Infantry conducted an air assault 155 miles behind enemy lines to Objective Weber capturing over 400 Iraqi soldiers on February 25, 1991. The operation into the Euphrates River valley cut off the retreating enemy out of Kuwait. The Rakkasans had advanced further than any other Allied unit, proving the viability of the air assault on the modern battlefield, and did so without a single soldier killed in action.

As part of the Global War on Terror (GWT), the Rakkasans deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in December 2001. As such, the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne became the first Army brigade to deploy in the ongoing war on terror. The Rakkasans fought against the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, which included Operation Anaconda in March 2002.

Seven months after their return from Afghanistan, the 3rd Brigade deployed to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF1). On March 20, 2003, the Rakkasans led the 101st Airborne Division into Iraq, establishing Forward Area Refueling Points (FARPs) to support deep attacks into Iraq. They seized the city of Hillah and participated in the liberation of Saddam Hussein International Airport before going on to occupy portions of Baghdad. The BDE then moved to western Ninewah province along the Syrian border for the remainder of the deployment, establishing fledgling governance and reconstruction projects for the betterment of the local population, while continuing operations against insurgents.

The 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division returned to Fort Campbell in early 2004 and was reorganized under Army Transformation as the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT). The 3BCT then began a train up for returning to Iraq. They deployed in September 2005 for OIF rotation 05-07. During this year-long deployment, the Rakkasans fought the growing Sunni insurgency in Salah Ad Din Province, which included Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

The Rakkasans deployed again to Iraq for OIF 07-09 as part of the Iraq Surge in September 2007. This rotation took the 3BCT to southwest and southern Baghdad between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This time the brigade was deployed for 15 months and conducted operations against both Sunni and Shia insurgents.

The Rakkasans returned home in November 2008. After their fourth refit and re-training period since 9/11, the 3d Brigade Combat Team deployed again in January 2010. This time they went to Afghanistan in support of OEF 10-11 as part of Regional Command-East near the Afghan-Pakistan border. The Rakkasans were home in early 2011 but redeployed to Afghanistan again in September 2012. They came home to Fort Campbell in May 2013 and are again preparing for their next deployment.

The banner under the distinctive unit insignia of the 187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) bears the Latin words Ne Desit Virtus, meaning “Let Valor Not Fail.” The soldiers of the 187 Infantry from every era have certainly upheld their motto.

View the Index of Unit Histories

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The History Behind the Patch

If you have been reading this blog for a while (hey, we started in 2008!), you know that I had written a number of unit histories for Unfortunately, that site is no longer available, so I thought I would start posting them here on the blog. I think that the "story behind the patch" is not only important to those who wore that shoulder sleeve insignia but will also be interesting to those who are not associated with the unit. Here's what I said about it back in 2008

"The patch we’re talking about is the shoulder insignia worn on the uniform. A soldier wears the patch of the unit they are assigned to on their left shoulder, and the unit they have been in combat with on their right. The reason that the patch that a veteran had on his shoulder is so important is that each of those colorful patches has a story behind it. When you become a part of a military unit, you become part of its history, part of the story behind the patch."

I hope you enjoy these. I will add more to the list as they get posted.

Index of Unit Histories:

A Short History of MACV

View the Index of Unit Histories

MACV shoulder sleeve insignia
MACV shoulder sleeve
insignia (unit patch).
The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)

The United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, known as MACV (pronounced “mac-vee”), was a joint service command under the Department of Defense. MACV was created on February 8, 1962, in order to increase assistance to South Vietnam as well as command and control all advisory and assistance efforts in Vietnam. The command was dissolved on March 29, 1973, after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Vietnam. MACV was the highest level of command “in-country.” Therefore, the history of MACV is really the military history of the Vietnam War.

Prior to WWII, the territory that is the modern country of Vietnam was part of French Indochina, a colonial possession of France. During the Second World War, the Japanese occupied the country, temporarily removing French rule. At the end of the war, the French returned to once again establish their authority over the region. However, a communist revolutionary movement under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, known as the Viet Minh, had established itself by fighting the Japanese. Both the French and the Viet Minh were in a weakened state after the war, so both existed in what would become North Vietnam for several years. But Ho was a passionate Vietnamese nationalist and planned for an independent, united, and communist Vietnam.

In what is called the “Indochina War” in France, and the “Anti-French Resistance War” in Vietnam, the Viet Minh fought the French for control of North Vietnam from December 1946 until France’s departure in August 1954. South Vietnam was granted independence in 1949 as the State of Vietnam, an anti-communist country whose capital was established in Saigon. After the defeat of the French, the Viet Minh established the communist government of North Vietnam with their capital in Hanoi.

During the Indochina War, the United States provided some limited military assistance to France, mostly in the form of military equipment, some naval and sir support, and CIA covert operations. In September 1950, U.S. President Harry Truman sent the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to Vietnam to assist our French and Vietnamese allies. With the departure of the French, the communist insurgency in South Vietnam continued to grow, and with it, U.S. military aid. For example, in 1961 military aid jumped from $50 million per year to $144 million. U.S. advisors were pushed down to the battalion level and their numbers increased from 746 in 1961 to over 3,400 when MAAG was placed under the command of MACV when it was created in 1962.

The commanding general of MACV (and MAAG) was General Paul Harkins. In May 1964, combat deployments became too complicated for an advisory group to control. Therefore reorganization was effected that expanded the role of MACV and absorbed MAAG's mission and personnel. The following month General William Westmoreland took command of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. During his tenure, MACV would grow to command and control the following major command components:

  • -      United States Army, Vietnam (USARV)
  • -      I Field Force, Vietnam (I FFV)
  • -      II Field Force, Vietnam (II FFV)
  • -      XXIV Corps
  • -      III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF)
  • -      Naval Forces, Vietnam (NAVFORV)
  • -      Seventh Air Force (7AF)
  • -      5th Special Forces Group
  • -      Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS)
  • -      Studies and Observations Group (SOG)
  • -      Field Advisory Element, MACV

The commanding general of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (COMUSMACV) was therefore responsible for four corps-sized maneuver commands, all naval and air assets within the territorial borders of Vietnam, all special operations assets, as well as all military advisors to South Vietnamese forces. At the height of American involvement in the war in Vietnam, there was 9,430 Army personnel acting as advisors on the district and battalion levels training, advising, and mentoring Vietnamese in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps, Republic of Vietnam Navy and the Vietnam Air Force.

The major special operations command within MACV was the Studies and Observation Group (SOG). Contrary to popular belief, the acronym “SOG” does not officially stand for “Special Operations Group.” Although “Studies and Observation” was an attempt to hide what the command did, which was unconventional warfare and highly classified operations throughout Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. MACV-SOG was comprised of U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets), Navy SEAL teams, Air Force Combat Controllers, Marine Recons, Air Force Special Operations pilots of the 90th Special Operations Wing, and other special operations personnel.

Naval Forces Vietnam (NAVFORV) was made up of those naval forces which were in direct operational support to ground forces within the borders of South Vietnam. This excluded the aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, and naval gunfire support. However, it did include the Navy's units in the II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. Over the course of the war the Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115), River Patrol Force (Task Force 116), and Riverine Assault Force (Task Force 117) came under the control of NAVFORV. TF 116 and TF 117 were used in the joint Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force. MACV, through the Commander Naval Forces, Vietnam (COMNAVFORV), also commanded the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, and the NSA Danang. These bases provided logistical support to the naval and marine forces in South Vietnam. Also under NAVFORV were the Naval Advisory Group, the 3d Naval Construction Brigade (the Seabees), the Military Sea Transportation Service Office (coordinating sealift of supplies to Southeast Asia), the Officer-in-Charge of Construction (civilian construction projects), the Naval Research and Development Unit (testing new equipment in the field), and Commander, Coast Guard Activities, Vietnam.

The news of the enemy’s Tet Offensive which began on January 31, 1968, proved to be contrary to what General Westmoreland had touted as “positive indicators” in the progress of the war. The American public’s support for the war spiraled. In June 1968, General Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams. While Westmoreland is best known for his prosecution known as “search and destroy,” Abrams implemented the “winning of hearts and minds” and the “Vietnamization” of the war. Abrams was largely successful, demonstrated through the ability of the South Vietnamese Army to repel the NVA’s Easter Offensive of 1972. However, public and political support for the war in Vietnam could never be regained after Tet. Abrams was replaced by General Frederick Weyand in June 1972 and, like Westmoreland before him, went on to serve as Chief of Staff of the Army.

General Weyand oversaw the drawdown of U.S. armed forces in Vietnam during the last half of 1972. The Paris Peace Accords that ended the United States' combat involvement in Vietnam were signed on January 27, 1973. The agreement provided for a 60-day ceasefire during which time all remaining American and other United Nations combat forces were required to be withdrawn from Vietnam. Therefore, with no forces to command, MACV was no longer needed. The command was disbanded on March 29, 1973. Any American military personnel remaining in Vietnam at that time came under the control of the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) in Saigon.

The huge complex that was built to house MACV Headquarters and the ARVN Joint General Staff at Tan Son Nhut Airbase was dubbed the “Pentagon East” during the war. After the disbanding of MACV, Pentagon East housed the DAO. This compound was used as one of the two evacuation points for Operation Frequent Wind, the removal of American civilian and Vietnamese evacuees from Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon in April 1975 (the other was the U.S. Embassy, Saigon). It is also the site of the last American ground casualties in Vietnam. At 3:30 a.m. on April 29, 1975, a North Vietnamese rocket hit Guard Post #1 at the gate of the DAO Compound, killing 21-year-old Marine Corporal Charles McMahon and 19-year-old Lance Corporal Darwin Lee Judge.

View the Index of Unit Histories 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Mary Hays, AKA: Molly Pitcher

The Molly Pitcher Monument
Last week I posted about Hannah Duston and her escape from the Indians. Another monument to a strong female historical figure is the Molly Pitcher grave and statue in the Old Public Graveyard in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Molly Pitcher is one of those stories that can be filed under the heading of “If it ain’t true it outta be.” Of course, that’s my Texas heritage coming out. But I’m convinced that there really is only one Molly Pitcher, her real name was Mary Hays, and she’s buried in Carlisle.

Here's her story: During the American Revolution, Mary Hays followed her husband, William Hays, to war, as a large number of women did. In those days, women would follow the army to care for their soldier family members in a variety of ways, like cooking, sewing, laundry, or assisting with medical care. One other task these volunteers provided was bringing water to the soldiers during training, or even during battle. These women earned the nickname “Molly Pitcher.” Molly is a way of saying Mary, and Pitcher of course is for the pitcher of water they’d carry.

The current monument is from 1916.
William Hays enlisted in Proctor’s 4th Pennsylvania Artillery in 1777. Mary first went with the battery to Valley Forge, then the next year to the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in New Jersey. This is not disputed. During the battle, Mary was bringing water to the artillerymen in her husband’s battery. When her husband fell, either from a wound or heatstroke, Mary took over his job, using a ramrod to swab and load the canon.

Legend has it that during the battle she was seen working with the gun’s crew by General George Washington. The General supposedly congratulated her and made her a sergeant as a reward for her bravery. None of that can be proven, although Mary reportedly went by the nickname “Sergeant Molly” for the rest of her life. However, in 1830 a war veteran’s narrative was published that described the incident of a woman taking over for her husband on an artillery piece during the Battle of Monmouth. In it, the writer says that a British cannon ball passed between the woman’s legs, tearing through her skirt but leaving her unharmed.

After the battle, Mary Hays and her husband returned to their home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. William Hays died in 1786. Mary later married again, to a man named John McCauley. In 1822, Mary was granted a pension by the state of Pennsylvania for her service. Mary died in 1832 and is buried in the Old Public Graveyard as Mary McCauley. The current Molly Pitcher monument was erected in 1916.

Union troops were behind this wall
during a Civil War skirmish.
There are a number of Molly Pitcher monuments. Some are in the form of street names, murals, and even business names. I believe that Molly Pitcher is a moniker given to women who followed their husbands to war during the Revolution. Mary Hays is the personification of that. Much like Rosie the Riveter was a name for women working in the defense industry during WWII and Naomi Parker was the inspiration for that. However, there is still controversy. You can read a Wikipedia article that does not question the existence of Molly Pitcher. An article on the American Battlefield Trust website, says that she is a composite character, made up of the many Molly Pitchers. Yet finally, there is an article from Smithsonian that says she probably never existed.

If you ever get the chance to walk around Carlisle, please do. Lots of history there from the Revolution to the Civil War. Take a look at the Old Public Graveyard on South Street at Bedford. It’s an interesting place, with the oldest burial from 1757. The east wall protected approximately 200 Union soldiers when Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry raided Carlisle during the Gettysburg Campaign. They traded shots with Confederate skirmishers who were deployed in what would become Letort Park, on the other side of the creek. But that’s a story for a future post. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Hannah Duston and Two Massacres

Hannah Duston's Capture and Escape from the Indians

The Hannah Duston statue is in
Haverhill, Massachusetts.
I did not make a special post for Women’s History Month last March. But I should have written about Hannah Duston (or sometimes it’s spelled Dustin). When I told my wife about Duston the first woman in the United States to have a statue erected in her honor - she said, “This woman sounds like a badass.” I’d have to agree with that, based simply on her story. But the memory of Hannah Duston is also an example of how we interpret our history through the years.

I really enjoy it when I catch myself in some preconceived notion. When you think of Puritan settlers in 1600s Massachusetts, do you think of a bunch of devoutly religious, passive people, kind of like the pilgrim mythology? Me too! Then while I was on the west coast, I read the story of Hannah Duston in the book “Massacre on the Merrimack: Hannah Duston's Captivity and Revenge in Colonial America” by Jay Atkinson. That book dissuaded me from my preconceptions and when we were recently passing through Massachusetts, I just had to take a look at the area where this story took place.

On the base of the statue you'll 
find a panel that shows Thomas
Duston defending his children.
First, here's the story in a nutshell:
Haverhill, Massachusetts, is on the north side of the Merrimack River, just 14 miles west of the Atlantic, or thirty-five miles north of Boston as the crow flies. Puritan settlers first arrived as early as 1640. Almost fifty years later, when our story takes place, it was still the edge of civilization, assuming the perspective of the English settlers. One of those settler families was the Dustons: Thomas and Hannah and their nine children.

During King William’s War (1688 – 1697), the governor of New France encouraged Native American tribes to raid English settlements. On March 15, 1697, Abenaki Indians from Quebec, made a raid on Haverhill. A “garrison house,” that was more heavily fortified (think brick, stone, or heavy logs) than your average farmhouse was on a hill above the Duston farm, but some distance away. As they had been instructed, eight of the Duston children headed that way when they heard the raid begin. Hannah, age 40 at the time, had given birth to her ninth child a couple of weeks earlier. She had a difficult birth and was still recovering. Present that morning was a neighbor/nurse, Mary Neff. Husband Thomas was working on building a brick garrison house of his own about half a mile away. When he heard the gunfire and whoops of Indians, he mounted his horse and headed for his house.

Another panel shows the killing
of the Indians.
When Thomas got to his house, he saw Indians heading across his fields. He knew that they would be able to catch his other children heading for the garrison house, so he grabbed his rifle and went to get between the Indians and his kids. Hannah, Mary, and the newborn were to sneak out a back door and make a run for it on their own. Thomas was successful in blocking the Indians who were after his kids. They withdrew when Thomas and the children made it to within rifle range of the three militiamen who were in the garrison house. Thomas borrowed a fresh horse and headed back with one of the militiamen to find his wife, but it was too late.

The Abenaki killed 27 colonists and took 14 captives, two of those were Hannah and Mary. The Indians took them on a speed march away from any potential pursuers. If any of the captives slowed them down, they were killed. Hannah’s newborn was stripped from her arms and killed in front of her. On the trail she and Mary received help in their survival from a fourteen-year-old boy named Samuel Lennardson who had been taken from Worcester, Massachusetts up to a year prior and had some modicum of trust from their captors.

The Duston Garrison House.
After weeks on the trail, other captives had all been killed or traded away. Hannah, Mary, and Samuel were left with a family group of two warriors, three adult women, and seven children. Along the trail Hannah had, along with the horrors she had witnessed, been told that her husband and children had all been killed and that when they arrived at their destination she would be tortured and either killed or sold into slavery. While camping on an island in the Merrimack River near present-day Boscawen, New Hampshire, the Indians let their guard down and all went to sleep. One version says that the warriors shared a bottle and passed out. Regardless, Hannah enlisted Mary and Samuel to participate. After the Indians went to sleep, they were able to get ahold of hatchets. Hannah and Samuel each killed one of the men while they slept. The three then proceeded to attack the women and children. Hannah left one of the children alive, a boy who had been kind to her on the trail. He subsequently fled. One of the women was severely wounded but also escaped. Hannah scalped the bodies in order to collect a bounty offered by the colony and to prove her story. The three captives made their escape in one of the Indian canoes, heading down the river to an English settlement.

The Aftermath
Hannah never wrote down her story, nor did Mary or Samuel. Hannah died in Haverhill sometime between 1736 and 1738. However, several people have written the story, claiming that they interviewed Hannah for the details. The most prominent of these was Cotton Mather. We know that she really did take the Indian’s scalps because her husband petitioned the government of the Massachusetts Colony to collect the bounty.

About a hundred years after Hannah’s death, her story was resurrected and she became a heroine. Some historians believe the story resonated with the public because of the Indian removal efforts that began in the 1820s. The first statue in her honor was erected in 1874 in Boscawen, New Hampshire (the site of her escape). The 35-foot statue depicts her with a hatchet in one hand and scalps in the other. In 1879 a statue of Hannah was placed in the GAR park in Haverhill. This one has Hannah holding a hatchet, but she’s pointing with the other hand as if to say, “You were bad.” On the sides of the base are depictions of the four events in her story: her capture, her husband’s defense of the children, killing her captors, and returning in a canoe. Today, some question why Hannah Duston was elevated to hero status, particularly considering that she killed six children along with the adults, like the tone of this article from Smithsonian. I’m afraid I don’t agree. You just can’t judge someone in those circumstances through the lens of our modern morality. And although it’s not right to say “they did it too” as an excuse, one source said that many of the settlers killed in the Abenaki raid were children. And what about Hannah's newborn?

By the way, the garrison house that Thomas was working on got finished. You can visit it, just outside of Haverhill. Like visiting a Civil War battlefield, when you’re stopping off at Dunkin’s and fighting the going to work traffic, it’s hard to visualize what it was like there in the 1600s. The Hannah Dustin statue and the Duston Garrison House help us remember. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Changes to the C & O Canal NHP

Picture from 2011 post. You can
see the missing wall on the side
of the aqueduct. Click on the
picture to see a larger version.
We revisit the C & O Canal National Historical Park in Williamsport, Maryland.

After a ten-year stint on the west coast we’ve returned to the mid-Atlantic and the first thing we did was visit some of our old haunts and favorite historical sites. One of the first places we went to was the C & O Canal National Historical Park site in Williamsport, Maryland. I did a post on the canal towpath and the park back in 2011, as well as a post about the Paw Paw Tunnel, located up the canal about thirty miles. Give that first post a read to find out the history of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and what it is today. Here is a pretty good video that will also give you a rundown on the history of the canal.

An aqueduct is a bridge
for water.
Okay, if you didn’t go to those sources above, let’s review. Before roads and railroads, passengers and freight were moved by water. To conquer unnavigable rivers, canals were built that included aqueducts and locks to cross rough terrain and move boats through rises in elevation. These canal projects were a product of the industrial revolution and Europe got a big head start on the United States. Our most famous, the Erie Canal in New York state, opened in 1825 (you have the song stuck in your head now, don’t you?). The C & O Canal got a late start, not opening until 1850, navigating the Potomac River from Georgetown in Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. It continued to operate until the 1920s, so through the efforts of some dedicated individuals, we have a well-preserved example of these kinds of narrow boat canals AND a 184-mile recreational trail for biking and hiking.

Now there is water in the
aqueduct at Williamsport.
So what changed since I was in Williamsport a decade ago? First off, there is a new park headquarters building just up the hill from the visitors center and the turning pond. This makes sense to me, as Williamsport is just about midway between Cumberland and Georgetown. They have also restored the aqueduct over Conococheague Creek where it flows into the Potomac. That needs a little more explanation.

An aqueduct is built to carry water. In the case of the C & O, the aqueducts were built to carry boats over existing rivers. When I visited ten years ago, the aqueduct in Williamsport was missing a wall and visitors used it like a bridge to cross Conococheague Creek. The old canal had been filled in so you could walk from the visitors center around the turning pond and immediately be on the towpath. Now the aqueduct has been restored. The canal was dug out so that it connects to the turning pond, fills the aqueduct, and runs maybe forty yards beyond the north end of the aqueduct. This is a great improvement. My wife shared with me that before the improvement, she couldn’t visualize what the aqueduct did, since it looked like, and was used as, a bridge. Now that it has been repaired and has water in it, its function is clear.

That small portion of the
canal connects to the 
turning pond.
One more plug: I also think it’s a good place to put the park headquarters as Williamsport is (again in my humble opinion) the best place to visit the C & O if you only have a day to spend there. In Williamsport there is a turning pond, which you only find at the two ends of the path. There is a restored aqueduct with water. There is the elevated railroad bridge to see. Less than half a mile walk down the towpath is Lockhouse 44 with an excellent example of a canal lock. (If you need to know how one of these locks works, here’s a video I found that shows how one works, it’s from a canal in Great Britain, but I chose it to share with you because it looks very similar to the C & O.) And for a bonus, there is some Civil War history as well. Confederate forces crossed the Potomac here and in other locations along the canal during both campaigns in the north. Williamsport is an hour and a half drive from Washington D.C., less than an hour from Gettysburg, and only fifteen minutes from Antietam Battlefield. If you’re planning a trip in the area, consider adding this piece of history to your itinerary.

Less than a half mile walk down
the towpath is Lock #44.

A walkway on the elevated 
railroad bridge allows access to
the towpath.

There is a new park headquarters
up the hill, but the Visitors Center
is still in the barn by the pond.

The towpath trail is pet
friendly. Elvis the Corgi
approves. Please stay 
leashed and pick up. ;-)

Friday, April 8, 2022

The National Guard's Birthday: The First Muster

"The First Muster," a National Guard Heritage
Painting by Don Troiani, courtesy of the
National Guard Bureau.
For many Marines, the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday is the social event of the year. The Corps was first established on November 10, 1775, by an act of the Second Continental Congress. That means this year the Marines will turn two hundred and forty-seven years old. The Navy beats them though, also established by an act of Congress on October 13, 1775, making that service just short of a month older. How about the Army you say? The United States Army claims June 14, 1775, as its birthday. On that date, the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year. This was only two months after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the event that kicked off the American Revolution.

However, the National Guard has them all beat by well over a hundred years. The roots of the modern National Guard are the colonial militias. The first formal militia was born on December 13, 1636, when the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered the organization of the Colony's militia companies into three regiments. The regiments were simply named the North, South, and East Regiments. Simple enough naming convention since the perceived threat was to the west, namely the Pequot tribe of Native Americans. All males between the ages of 16 and 60 were required to maintain arms and participate in the defense of the Colony. They drilled once a week and guards were posted in the event of an attack. The threat manifested itself in the Pequot War that took place from 1636 to 1638.

Although the order to organize the militia was given in December, the birthday of the National Guard is considered to be the date of the first unit to muster. You have to consider those New England winters, the colonists had to wait until the following spring to formally gather. The exact date has been lost, but we do know that the first regiment to muster was the East Regiment in Salem, Massachusetts. This year will mark the 385th year since that first muster, making the National Guard the oldest component of our military. On Saturday, April 9, 2022, a ceremony and reenactment will be held commemorating the event on Salem Common.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Raid on El Djem, A Nonfiction Excerpt

Since we recently released our first historical fiction work, The Bridge at El Djem, I thought I would share an edited section from the nonfiction book it was based on. The Boldest Plan is the Best: The Combat History of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion is an amazing story for a nonfiction book, (forgive me if that sounds less than humble, really I’m talking strictly about the true history of the unit). But I’m a sucker for a pulpy adventure story, so when it came to writing a fiction work, I took a number of liberties with history. And I don’t really think that’s a bad thing. Growing up I learned a lot of history reading mass-market paperbacks and watching old movies on Saturdays. That being said, I wanted to provide the opportunity for fiction fans to know the true story that inspired The Bridge at El Djem.

So here it is, footnotes removed, an excerpt from The Boldest Plan is the Best:

Raid on El Djem

By mid-December [1942], the Germans had two armies in Tunisia. General Juergen von Arnim’s Fifth Panzer Army was in the north around the ports of Tunis and Bizerte. General von Arnim had counterattacked the British First Army and held them at the mountain line approximately fifty miles west of Tunis. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps had retreated from Libya into southern Tunisia under pressure from the British Eighth Army. Rommel, under orders from the Axis high command not to retreat further, held the Mareth Line, a fortified border between Tunisia and Libya.

Hitler was attempting to resupply his armies in North Africa through the ports in the north. Those supplies for the Afrika Korps that were not lost to Allied attacks at sea, were sent south by rail. Rommel’s army was consuming 400 tons of fuel a day. Stopping the flow of supplies would cripple Rommel’s ability to maneuver in the south. General Anderson’s First Army headquarters believed that the German supply line would be cut by destroying a key railroad bridge near the village of El Djem. The steel girder bridge was on the coastal railroad line between the cities of Sousse and Sfax. The Air Corps had hit it multiple times with bombers and again with fighters shooting rockets. The bridge would not come down.

The original concept for parachute troops was more like what we think of today as Rangers or Special Forces. The 2/509’s initial training emphasized hand-to-hand fighting and demolitions. Some unknown staff officer must have remembered this or perhaps they had read of the exploits of the paratroopers in the press. Regardless, the order came down from Allied Forces Headquarters for a platoon from the 2/509th to jump into the area of El Djem, some sixty air miles behind enemy lines, and blow up the bridge from the ground.

The original order called for two officers and twenty-one enlisted men, making up an assault-security team and a demolition team, to jump in at 2100 hours on December 20. After blowing the bridge, the raiders were to move to a spot for a pickup by aircraft. Whoever wrote the original order must have thought that the paratroopers were supermen who could do anything. It specified that each man would “act as [an] Intelligence agency,” capturing papers and documents, capturing officers, and cutting telephone lines. Secondary tasks were included such as creating diversions in the enemy’s rear area and acting “generally as guerrillas.” First Lieutenant John Martin, the demolitions platoon leader, was chosen to lead the raid, with Second Lieutenant Dan DeLeo leading the assault team.

Ignoring the fanciful “intelligence agency” directives, the mission was actually doable. That is, if the platoon was dropped where they needed to be, they did not encounter any sizeable enemy force and were able to make it to their pickup point before daybreak. Then the changes came. First, the aircraft pickup was canceled. Reasons were not provided, but it was assumed that the Air Corps thought the risk of losing their aircraft was too great. Nevertheless, the risk of losing paratroopers was not. The raiding force would have to walk out and exfiltrate to the nearest Allied unit.

Lieutenant Colonel Doyle Yardley, as battalion commander, could make the final call on who would go on this mission. Rather than arguing with higher headquarters and getting the mission canceled (as the men believed Raff would have done), Yardley decided that he did not want to lose his best men on an operation that was starting to look like a suicide mission. He based his roster decision on men he thought would “most easily be replaced.” Yardley removed Lieutenant Martin and Corporal Lloyd Bjelland from the demolition team and radioman Ellis Bishop. Second Lieutenant DeLeo would now command the operation.

Dan DeLeo was new to the Geronimos, but he was not an inexperienced soldier. DeLeo had joined the Illinois National Guard in 1937 and rose to the rank of sergeant. He obtained his commission in 1942 just before entering active duty. After jump school, he came to England with the replacements for the 2/509th PIR. DeLeo had been placed in charge of the rear detachment of replacements in England. He and the other replacements had come to North Africa by ship a couple of weeks after Operation Torch. They were reunited with the rest of the battalion at Maison Carrée.

The changes to the mission were made before Yardley briefed DeLeo. The Lieutenant did not know that he or any of the men on his roster were considered to be “easily replaced.” On the bright side, foreign languages would not be a problem on this mission. DeLeo spoke Italian. One of his men, Sergeant John Betters, could speak Arabic. Another, Private Roland Rondeau, also spoke fluent French. Added to the raiding force were two French paratroopers, First Sergeant Jean Guilhenjouan and Corporal Paul Vullierme, to act as guides. Both had served in the area for several years and both spoke Arabic. The mission was postponed until Christmas Eve and then rescheduled again. DeLeo’s group, now numbered at 32 men, left Maison Blanche the morning of December 26 in three C-47s. After a brief stopover at Tebessa, they continued on to the airstrip at Thelepte where they spent the remainder of the day. The jump was scheduled for 2200 hours that night.

Colonel Raff says that he did not “know that much” about the mission until the three C-47s landed at Thelepte. He tried to stall the mission for a day in order to arrange an aircraft pickup. Unfortunately higher headquarters overruled him and the mission still had to go that night. Knowing how much trouble transport pilots had in finding drop zones in the dark, Raff asked Lieutenant Colonel Phil Cochran to go along as a copilot. Cochran was the commander of the P-40 fighter squadron and had personally attacked the bridge in daylight. Raff figured that if any pilot could find the bridge at night, Cochran could. Raff also advised some of the men going on the mission to kill any Arabs that they encountered, as they could not be trusted and would probably alert the enemy to their presence. Oddly, and for reasons unknown, Raff did not have this discussion with Lieutenant DeLeo.

The flight to the drop zone took about an hour. As the aircraft crossed the “lines” near Godsin there was some flak, but none of the aircraft were hit. Even with Cochran on the flight, they were unsure of the exact location of the bridge. They circled a small town, decided it was El Djem, and then flew to where they thought the drop zone was. No injuries were sustained on the jump, but one man was missing and the troopers were unable to locate one of their equipment bundles. This was a common occurrence on a night jump, and they decided that there was probably enough TNT in the one bundle to drop at least the center span of the bridge.

Before the raiding party set out for the bridge, a group of five Arabs appeared at the drop zone. Some of the men insisted that they follow Raff’s advice and kill them, but the lieutenant would not allow it. DeLeo offered them some of their parachutes, prized by the Arabs, for their silence. The platoon headed east toward the rail line under the heavy burden of their equipment plus an extra 500 pounds of explosives.

An hour and a half later, they reached the railroad tracks. Here they turned south, assuming they had been dropped at the right location. In the dark of night, they could only see a few yards, so it was difficult to fix their location in the desert. They had to trust their plan. The paratroopers encountered another Arab, this one with a donkey cart. The Americans pressed the Arab into service to help carry the burden of the large amount of TNT. But an extra 500 pounds was too much for the donkey and after a time DeLeo let that Arab go free as well. We do not know why the lieutenant did not confirm his position with Arabs, unless perhaps at this point he was confident that they had been dropped at the right location and all was going to plan. Regardless, after hours of marching in the dark, DeLeo realized that they should have come to the bridge by now.

The men took cover in an olive grove to rest. In the morning twilight, the lieutenant was able to take a compass reading on some nearby hills and, with the help of his French guides, fix his location. He now knew for sure that the pilots had dropped them south of the bridge instead of north of it. They had spent the night walking away from the bridge. He told the men that they were nearly twenty-two miles south of their objective.

All of the paratroopers knew that there was no way they could march twenty-two miles back to their objective in broad daylight. The best that DeLeo could do was to cause some damage and then get his men out. Their chosen target was a small building next to the tracks that they spotted another hundred yards down the tracks, near a cut through a small hill. It had electrical wires leading to it and they thought that the building was for controlling switches on the line. The demolition men set their charges to the building and roughly 100 yards of track, all set to blow at the same time.

By now the enemy was closing in on them. DeLeo had posted security men up and down the tracks. Within minutes of each other, paratroopers came running up to report enemy soldiers in at least platoon strength were approaching on foot from both the north and the south. While they were setting their charges, a switching car came down the tracks, and German soldiers onboard traded shots with the paratroopers. The Germans decided to wait for their reinforcements to arrive and withdrew back up the line. DeLeo shouted for everyone to move west and take cover. The demo men lit a three-minute fuse. They could see more enemy soldiers arriving in trucks farther down the tracks.

The ground shook under their feet as 500 pounds of explosives went off all at once. Dirt, ties, rails, and other debris flew hundreds of feet in the air. While the explosion must have shocked the approaching enemy into momentary inactivity, the paratroopers immediately started double-timing to the west. The Americans quickly split up into groups of two to six each and headed for home as best they could with enemy soldiers closing in on them from three directions.

The two French paratroopers, Sergeant John Betters, Private Frank Romero, and Private Roland Rondeau stayed with Lieutenant DeLeo. The six men moved out together almost at a dead run. They came to a road and followed it. Soon a cargo truck appeared with a lone driver. The six paratroopers stepped out into the road with their weapons leveled and commandeered the truck. DeLeo sat in front with the Italian driver. The lieutenant wrapped a sheet over his head to look like an Arab while the other men climbed in the back and remained hidden under a tarpaulin. This guise allowed them to travel for some miles that included a harrowing passage right through a column of German soldiers marching on the road. Sensing the need to get off the main route, DeLeo had the driver turn onto a secondary road heading west which soon degenerated into nothing but a camel track. Eventually, the truck landed in a ditch, broken beyond repair.

Before proceeding on foot, Sgt Betters advocated killing the Italian. As with the Arabs they had encountered, DeLeo wouldn’t hear of it. The Lieutenant gave the Italian 300 francs to compensate him for his broken truck and hoped that he would think favorably of the Americans, or at least not report their presence for a while. The group proceeded on foot, traveling by night and hiding during the day. The language skills of the group came in handy in gaining information and bartering for food during their odyssey. According to Rondeau, “After a couple of days, we gave it up [hiding during the day]. I guess we got a little cocky, and we hiked all the way in day and night until we got to our lines.”

DeLeo’s group eventually stumbled into a French outpost, only after walking into a minefield while approaching it. The French defenders were kind enough to show them the way out of the minefield, after which they called Raff’s headquarters to let them know that the paratroopers were back. A truck was sent to pick up the wayward Americans. They had been gone nearly two weeks and DeLeo estimated that they had traveled about 120 miles to get back to Allied lines.

Besides DeLeo’s group, only Private Charles Doyle and Private Mike Underhill made it home to the 2/509th while they were still in North Africa. Those two privates, moving individually, endured a similar ordeal to those who were with DeLeo. That meant that only eight soldiers who went on the raid at El Djem made it back to Allied lines. Sixteen others survived the war after serving time as prisoners of the Axis. One, Staff Sergeant Manuel Serrano, would rejoin the unit in Italy after escaping from a POW camp there. The remaining eight raiders are presumed to have been killed by the enemy. Just prior to leaving North Africa, Lieutenant Dan DeLeo had the opportunity to visit the bridge near El Djem. It was still standing. The lieutenant knew when he saw the sixteen stone pillars that held up the double-tracked steel girder bridge, that his raiding party could have never carried enough explosives to blow it. He was confident that he and his men had done as much damage twenty miles south as they would have been able to do had they found the bridge that fateful night. The raid at El Djem was the third and last combat jump for the 2nd Battalion of the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment in North Africa.

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