Wednesday, December 18, 2013

PT-305, Restoration Under Way

USS PT-105 running at high speed, during
exercises off the U.S. east coast, with
other units of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron
Five, 12 July 1942.
Okay, everybody knows what a PT boat is, right? You did see the movie "PT-109" with Cliff Robertson, yes? Or certainly "They Were Expendable" with John Wayne? If not go get those classic movies today. The "PT" stands for "Patrol Torpedo." Pretty straightforward, it's a patrol boat that is armed with torpedoes. The PT boats were designed similar to pre-WWII motor racing boats, so they were fast. But they were made out of wood, so they were vulnerable. PT boats were used in every theater of WWII, but are particularly well known for their work in the Pacific.

An article in the Times-Picayune came up on my radar this morning about the project to restore PT-305 at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Apparently this project has been ongoing for more than a year. The article has a great video embedded that is certainly worth viewing. The dedication of the skilled volunteers who are putting in their time and effort to extend the life of this boat is amazing. I was so impressed by the article, that I wanted to know more. I found a video on YouTube that has some shots of the boat when it was brought it to the museum. Contrast that image with the shots in the video in the Times article. Those volunteers have come a long way in a year.

PT-305 has basically been in service since it was built at the Higgins Industries shipyard in New Orleans in 1943. The video gives the boats service history, so rather than tell you, I thought it would be easier to just show you:

An amazing project, isn't it? Of course, PT-305 is not the last or only PT boat to be restored. The restoration of PT-658 has already been completed in Portland, Oregon. But once the boats are brought back to their original condition, they have to be maintained, hence there will always be a need for volunteers and donations. Help save our history where you can, when you can, and however you can.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book R & R: Hazelet's Journal

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "Hazelet's Journal" by George Cheever Hazelet, edited by J.H. Clark.

I admit that I predominantly read (and write!) military history. But I also have a fascination for American History of the western frontier. The last true frontier, and the last rush to claim it, was the Alaska Gold Rush. So when I was contacted by editor and publisher J.H. Clark, asking if I would enjoy receiving a review copy of "Hazelet's Journal," I readily agreed.

George Cheever Hazelet was a former school principle and business owner living with his wife and two sons in Nebraska in 1897. His business collapsed that year due to the financial panic and economic downturn that swept the country in the mid-1890s. Hazelet felt his opportunity to get his family back to their previous economic status was to try his hand at prospecting as part of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush. He left his family behind and struck out with his partner, Andrew Jackson Meals, for Alaska. An educated man, Hazelet kept a detailed journal of his experiences.

Hazelet and Meals outfitted in Seattle. Most of the thousands of prospectors who were headed for the Klondike landed in Skagway or Dyea (in southeast Alaska) to take either the White Pass or Chilikoot trails to the Yukon River, then raft down to Dawson (in the Yukon Territory, Canada). The Hazelet party was one of the fewer numbers who landed in Valdez, Alaska to climb the Valdez Glacier and cross over the mountains to the headwaters of the Copper River. In Hazelet's Journal, you'll read about the struggle to overcome the terrain, the climate, and the loneliness of prospecting the Alaska wilderness. Mortal danger exists on a daily basis from river crossings, freezing temperatures, and claim jumpers. Hazelet is straightforward in his entries, his journals are engaging yet hyperbole is refreshingly absent. His descriptions ring true. This is a primary source document at its entertaining best.

George Hazelet did not "strike it rich" in Alaska in that he was not able to set up a commercial mining operation. He and his partner did, however, homestead 720 acres in what is today the city of Valdez, Alaska. Hazelet and Meals returned to Alaska with their families and left behind a legacy that is part of the collective history of the 49th state. Editor J.H. Clark is George Hazelet's great grandson. He is also president of the Port Valdez Company, which traces its history back to those original 720 acres of land and the various other business ventures started by George Hazelet. Clark has done a wonderful job of editing and publishing "Hazelet's Journal," keeping the original voice of the author. I must also comment that the book is beautifully formatted, with dozens of historic photos, and maps that can only be described as works of art. My only criticism of the work is that I would have liked to see a more in-depth introductory chapter on the various gold strikes in Alaska and the Yukon. For those that are not familiar with this segment of American History, I would recommend also reading "Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush" by Pierre Berton. But even still, this does not detract from "Hazelet's Journal," as few are familiar with the exploration of the Copper River Country.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book R & R: Giap

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam" by James A. Warren.

Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap recently passed away on October 4, 2013 at the age of 102. From the time he was born in 1911 until the communist victory over South Vietnam in 1975, his country was either occupied by a foreign power, or at war. Next to Ho Chi Minh, Giap is probably the most revered Vietnamese "founding father." Certainly the most well known in the United States. He is the mastermind behind the French defeat at Dien Bin Phu, the Tet Offensive, the Easter Offensive, and the 1975 Spring Offensive (which finally defeated South Vietnam and united the country under the communist government).

The publication of Warren's book is timely, but that's not the reason to read a biography of this man. Vo Nguyen Giap's life is a history of Vietnam in the Twentieth Century and the United States was one of the key players. His leadership and military decisions were instrumental in ending the American involvement in Southeast Asia. James Warren conveys this without pounding the reader over the head with it. The book is not lengthy (at just over 200 pages) but it is thorough enough so that the reader gets a clear picture of not only the life of a self-taught military genius (too much?) but also a summary history of the French and American involvement in Vietnam.

Giap was in fact a self-taught military strategist. While studying in Hue before WWII, he was a voracious reader of military history and politics (p. 7). He also spent time as a history teacher (p. 10). However, his greatest insight (with a little help from his political mentor Ho Chi Minh) and implementation of the concept, was that "the army and the people are one."(p. 25) This set the stage for building a guerrilla army whose key to victory was outlasting their opponent. Although it took thirty years, Giap served as commander-in-chief of an army that defeated both France and the United States.

Warren's writing style is straightforward and readable. His conclusions are also clear and in my view inarguable. When I was an army officer, I read quite a few biographies of military figures. It was part of how you learned your trade. I would have added this book to my reading list. If you would read a book about Rommel or Robert E. Lee, then you might want to read a book about Vo Nguyen Giap. James Warren's book is a great choice.

Palgrave Macmillan provided a review copy of "Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The 187th Airborne Infantry, the "Rakkasans"

Bob Broumley (my dad) at Kumwha, Korea.
I've always thought that the 187th Airborne was another seriously under appreciated 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 as the theater's strategic reserve were 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. I recently wrote a summary history of the 187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) for Military Vet Shop. I thought I'd share it here with you:

A Summary History of the 187th Infantry Regiment


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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book R & R: The True German

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge" by Werner Otto Muller-Hill, introduction by Benjamin Carter Hett.

Werner Otto Muller-Hill was an upper-middle class German from Frieburg. He served as a military judge in the First World War before he went home to pursue a legal career. He was recalled to active duty in the German Wehrmacht, again to serve as a military judge in 1940. He was very pro-German, and very anti-Nazi. He started keeping a journal in March 1944 as a record for his young son, in the event he did not survive the war. Defeatism and criticizing the Fuhrer were crimes in Hitler's Germany, so if the things Muller-Hill wrote in his diary were ever found out, it could mean his death. But he survived the war, closing his journal two weeks after the German surrender to the Allies. He was sixty years old at the end of the war. Muller-Hill died in 1977.

German military justice was draconian during WWII. For example, the introduction provides the statistic that during WWI, German military courts sentenced 48 soldiers to death. However, under Nazi rule from 1933 to 1945 at least 20,000 and maybe as many as 33,000 or more soldiers, civilians, and POWs subject to military justice were put to death. (p. xvi) As Benjamin Carter Hett says, "Nazi military law...specified both harsh penalties and a speedy procedure, with few rights for defendants." (p. xix) Werner Otto Muller-Hill was one of the "good" judges though, who obviously thought a soldier would perform better back in his unit rather than hanging on the end of a rope.

What makes Muller-Hill's diary so interesting, and so valuable as a historical tool, is the amount of information he had, or moreover, what he knew. On April 5, 1944 Muller-Hill wrote that "We are rushing head-long into the worst kind of defeat...In a year we'll know more!!!" He almost predicted the outcome of the war and the date of Germany's defeat. Filtered through propaganda, briefings through his chain of command, newspaper and radio, this rear echelon officer knew quite a bit about things that previously we thought the average German did not. Along with his insight, he was often sarcastic and sometimes humorous. He talks of missiles being fired at London as "retribution" for the landings in Normandy (pp. 49-52) and also predicts the futility of the Battle of the Bulge (p. 131). He praises the attempt on Hitler's life (p. 59) and is upset about the use of 14-year old boys being put into defensive positions toward the end of the war (p. 92).

Most startling is Muller-Hill's rant about a speech given by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, where he writes "What nerve this man has! How dare he talk about gruesome maltreatment of women and children, when we've summarily murdered hundreds of thousands of Jewish women and children in Poland and Russia!" (p. 155). For me this helps to dispel the myth that the general populace of Germany, particularly the Wehrmacht, had no knowledge of the Holocaust before the end of the war.

"The True German" is a quick read, and in the real voice of an astute observer of what was going on around him. Reading this book provides the opportunity to hear what a very knowledgeable German officer was thinking at the time the events unfolded around him. His words are not filtered by a historian or other writer. The book is, in fact, a primary source document, both enlightening and entertaining. A nice addition to your WWII library.

The publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, provided a review copy of "The True German."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pinnacles National Park

This is not an article about the government shutdown. Occasionally I share pictures or video when we go out to a National Park or Bicycle Rail Trail that we'd like to recommend to others. My wife, Sheila, and I just happened to visit Pinnacles National Park in California on the day before the government shutdown. We were blissfully unaware that the park would be closed the following day. Please be aware that the best source of information about this park, is the National Park Service website at However, the website is unavailable during the federal government shutdown, as is the park. :-( 

We searched the sides of the canyon all day, but there was no sign
of the elusive creature.
Pinnacles is one of our newest national parks, but it has been around forever. (That's a joke, get it? Been around forever?) Actually President Theodore Roosevelt established the area as a National Monument on January 16, 1908. The monument boundaries were expanded over the years. A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was located there during the Great Depression in order to improve the trails. Pinnacles received National Park status on January 10, 2013. The park is very popular with hikers and rock climbers. Birders can spot up to 181 different species in the park at different times of the year. However, you've hit the jackpot if you happen to spot a California Condor. The Condor is an endangered species and reportedly 32 of the elusive creatures live in and around Pinnacles NP. The Park is one of three release areas for rehabilitated Condors. If you can't visit the National Park Service website because of the shutdown, try a rather good Wikipedia article for more information on the history, geology, climate, flora, and fauna of Pinnacles National Park.
Sheila: photographer, birder, adventurer.

While it's true that Sheila and I went to Pinnacles for an enjoyable day hike, we really wanted to see a California Condor. (Sheila is a "birder" and this was a perfect opportunity to add to the life list.) Unfortunately, the day was pleasant and cool, the first real fall day here in Central California - weather-wise. What that meant was without some heat there were no thermals rising up the sides of the canyons. That means pitiful conditions for soaring, and nothing was, no regular buzzards, no eagles, nada. Oh well, maybe some other day, because we really will go back. The hike was a lot of fun. We chose to go up the Bear Gulch trail to a small reservoir that was created when the CCC built a dam across the top of the canyon (gulch?) in the 1930s. The hike took us through some talus caves that in some spots required not only a flashlight, but for this big guy to get on hands and knees. All-in-all a great place to visit if you are every in the neighborhood.

I've included some pictures of our day at Pinnacles, but also a video from YouTube that shows you what the park has to offer:

This sign warns you before you go in...
And eventually come out through here...

To see this, and hope we don't have an earthquake right now.

At the top of the canyon you find the Bear Gulch Reservoir.

We have to assume that this is how "Pinnacles" got its name.

Perfect big black bird habitat, but none to be found on this day.

After a wonderful day, Jim and Sheila leave Pinnacles National Park, with
a photo-bombing buzzard, the California Condor that they never saw. ;-)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book R & R: Operation Barbarossa

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "Operation Barbarossa: Nazi Germany's War in the East, 1941-1945" by Christian Hartmann.

Regular readers know that recently I have advocated viewing WWII through different perspectives, for example reading about some myth-breaking facets of the war like sex crimes committed by Allied Forces, or how we treated deserters, or the experiences of soldiers from different nationalities. Operation Barbarossa was the German invasion of the Soviet Union, what we commonly refer to as "the Russian Front." Because there were no U.S. forces fighting in that Theater, the typical American knows as much about it as they do say, the British fight for Singapore. "Operation Barbarossa: Nazi Germany's War in the East, 1941-1945" can remedy that. It is a quick read (208 pages including back matter) and a palatable history of the major theater of World War II.

In June of 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union along an 1800 mile front with over four million Axis soldiers. By the fall of 1941, the German offensive pushed into Russia to within twenty miles of Moscow. The Russians held and later pushed the Germans back, with the help of war material sent from the United States under the Lend-Lease program. The fighting on the Eastern Front involved the largest battles of the war, some of which are know to use in the west, like the siege of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kiev, and the Battle of Kursk. The latter being the largest tank battle in history. By the end of the war in 1945, Operation Barbarossa would account for an estimated 26.6 million Soviet casualties, 13 million of which were civilians. These numbers represent as much as sixty-five percent of all Allied casualties incurred during the war, including the war with Japan. The German Army lost 2,743,000 soldiers on the Eastern Front (pp. 157-158). That's about half of Germany's military casualties during the Second World War.

Christian Hartmann is a military historian at the Institut Fur Zeitgeschichte in Munich and is a senior lecturer at the Staff College of the German Armed Forces in Hamburg. In his book, Operation Barbarossa: Nazi Germany's War in the East, 1941-1945, Hartmann has given us a succinct, yet very readable history. I found his concluding chapter on the aftermath of the war particularly insightful. Hartmann points out that Operation Barbarossa was the clash between the two largest totalitarian systems existing prior to WWII. The war between the Nazis and Stalinist Russia laid waste to both countries. While this condition gave rise to the Cold War, it also allowed for a new Germany to be built from scratch. And because of the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union, the western Allies were forced to take a chance on creating a new, industrialized and autonomous Germany from the beginning, rather than focusing on punishment and reparations. Hartmann also posits that a factor in the Cold War staying cold was the memory of the destruction wrought during the German-Soviet war. I agree.

Why do we study military history? When I was an army officer, I thought it was to learn how to better fight the next war. I'll allow that's probably still true. But as a much older and wiser civilian I'd have to say that one reason we study a past war is so we'll learn the lesson of how terrible war is. I recommend being familiar with the shocking scale of Operation Barbarossa, especially in relation to our operations on the Western Front. Christian Hartmann's book is an excellent resource for that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Comanche Code Talkers

Photograph from the article "Charles Chibitty: Comanche Code Talker"
posted on the U.S. Army website.
It never ceases to amaze me how much I don't know. I'm working as hard as I can to fix that, the not knowing part, but I'm afraid I'm going to run out of time. Whenever I run across some factoid that I'm not familiar with or I don't think was explained well enough, I have to run down some more information on it. Here's a perfect example from this morning: I ran across a newspaper article that caught my eye while doing an Internet search for something completely different (yep, that still happens). This article in the Lawton Constitution informed me (before I hit information cutoff and they demanded a subscription to read the rest of the article) that the annual Comanche Fair this year would be honoring the Comanche Code Talkers from World War II. In fact, if you can't make it to the fair, there is a museum exhibit dedicated to the Code Talkers that you can visit year-round at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center, in Lawton, Oklahoma.

I know what you're thinking, Comanche Code Talkers? I thought the Code Talkers were Navajo, like the movie, right? I had to do some quick research on this. Turns out, members of several tribes served as Code Talkers during both WWI and WWII. Code Talkers are soldiers who can use their native language in radio and telephone communications like a code, since to the enemy the language is so obscure they have virtually no hope of translating it. During WWI the Army started the practice using Native American soldiers of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Comanche tribes. They proved to be very effective. So much so that during the inter-war years, Adolf Hitler sent about thirty anthropologists to Oklahoma to try to learn Native American languages. They failed. The languages were too difficult and there were too many dialects.

During WWII the United States Marine Corps accelerated the program and recruited more than 400 Navajo Code Talkers. (The USMC also experimented with the Basque language, utilizing about 60 native speakers of that language.) The size of the Marines' Code Talker program and exposure in popular culture has resulted in most of us associating "Code Talkers" with the Navajo tribe. Because of Germany's attempt to learn Native American languages, the U.S. Army was hesitant to use Code Talkers in the European Theater. However, on a limited scale, the U.S. Army employed some Native American speakers against the Germans. That included recruiting from 27 Meskwaki (Fox) men from Iowa who joined the Army as a group. Eight of them eventually became Code Talkers and served in combat against the Germans in North Africa.

The United States Army also recruited seventeen Comanche Indians to serve as Code Talkers. As a further safety measure they developed a "code within a code" by coming up with over 100 code words within their own language. Fourteen of these men were assigned to the 4th Infantry Division and landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Two of the Code Talkers were assigned to each regiment in the division and the rest were assigned to division headquarters. Their unique skills were put to work on their first day in Normandy. Although several were wounded, all of the Comanche Code Talkers survived the war.

The last Comanche Code Talker passed away in 2005. However, a grateful nation does not stop honoring these men who through their special skill and service saved untold numbers of their fellow American soldiers.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book R & R: The Deserters

This Book Review and Recommendation is for "The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II" by Charles Glass.

The United States put approximately sixteen million men and women in uniform during WWII. Only about ten percent of them actually saw combat as front line soldiers, marines, and sailors. If you have ever read even one book on the combat history of a unit, you will come to realize that most combat units during the Second World War, once initial training was complete and sent to a theater of operations, saw combat over and over, for weeks at a time. Units would participate in a campaign, then be sent to a rear area to receive and train replacements, before heading into combat again for the next campaign. It was not uncommon, like in the case of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, to see at the end of the war only a handful of men still remaining who had been with the unit from the start.

Of course we all now know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the affect it has on military personnel in every echelon. However, during WWII, "combat fatigue" was commonly believed to be something you could more or less cure in a few days with a little rest, recreation, and a hot meal. About 50,000 men deserted from the battlefields of Europe during the war. (There were negligible desertions in the Pacific, as the soldiers and marines really had no place to desert to.) According to author Charles Glass, many of these soldiers left the line as a result of "shell shock" or "battle fatigue," or what we now call PTSD. Others became disillusioned with the war, wondering what they were going to die for. Over seventy percent of deserters were from front line units, and they were judged harshly and treated quite unfairly by their rear echelon peers and commanders.

Charles Glass is the former Chief Middle East Correspondent for ABC News, and has authored other highly praised narrative histories with a World War II theme like "Americans in Paris." In "The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II" he examines the reality of what it cost in terms of human sacrifice to win the Second World War. To accomplish this Glass tells us the stories of three soldiers, one British and two American, who ran afoul of the system's treatment of those soldiers who deserted as a reaction to "battle fatigue" (PTSD). It is well researched and engagingly written. Along the way you will learn about the incompetence of the medical evaluation of these men and the cruelty of the military justice system. You will read how the military handled executions, (for crimes other than desertion, Private Eddie Slovak was the only soldier executed during WWII for that offense), and learn about criminal gangs of deserters in Paris and London who were actually slowing the war effort because of their theft of Allied military supplies for sale on the black market. If you are like me, "The Deserters" will expose a facet of the war in Europe that you have never considered.

Here's an anecdote for you: During my masters program, I took a class on the Civil War. On the first night of class the professor stated clearly that "in this class we will never read or discuss anything having to do with anyone pointing a gun at another person." He meant that the class was about the results and reactions to the war, not the tactics and strategy of it. We read and discussed books about the literature of the war, the medical and burial systems during the war, the home front during the war, and so on. We read, wrote a paper on, and passionately discussed (some might say argued) thirteen books in thirteen weeks and it was one of the best classes on military history I've ever had, a real eye-opener.

If you wish to have a well informed, thorough understanding of war, and particularly WWII, then I cannot urge you strongly enough to read this book. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

MACV and How To Fix History

MACV Shoulder Patch
Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fascination with the history of military units. To date I've written forty-two summary histories of military units that have been posted on the Military Vet Shop website. I think of them as "the story behind the shoulder patch," and as such, most of them are about army units. However, I've done a few marine and navy articles as well. Yesterday we put up a history of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, which is more commonly referred to as MACV (pronounced "mac-vee" for those who haven't heard the term before).

If you like, and I would be grateful, you can read this short article at this link: MACV History. But if you're pressed for time, I'll give you the gist of it. Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) was the equivalent to the theater headquarters for the Vietnam War. Although it was dominated by the Army and commanded by a succession of Army generals, it was a joint services command that was responsible for any and all army, navy, marine, and air force assets that were "boots on the ground" in Vietnam. In existence from 1962 to 1973, MACV was commanded by a succession of only four generals, two of which were quite famous in their association with the United States Army's involvement in Vietnam: William Westmoreland and Creighton Abrams. (Okay, I can't help it, I have to throw in that "it's a small world thing": Westmoreland was my dad's regimental commander in Korea - 187th Airborne, and Abrams' son John was my regimental commander in Germany - 11th ACR) Since MACV was created before regular combat forces arrived in South Vietnam, and was disbanded not quite sixty days after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, the history behind the MACV shoulder patch is in a way the history of the Vietnam War.

Now, why did I title this post How To Fix History? I have an acquaintance that writes for a regional newspaper and occasionally does a feature on an area veteran. As part of that he writes a short history of the combat events that the veteran was involved in. My friend shared with me an email he received in response to one of his articles that was, quite frankly, a flamer. The point of contention was the impact a particular event had for the course of military history, not that it really matters, because this individual was so incredibly rude, not to mention incoherent. I told my friend, "Hey! I get those too!" And there I was prior to this thinking I was the only one. So I thought I'd address this phenomenon here.

Napoleon supposedly said that "history is a set of lies agreed upon." Well, sometimes we don't agree and we need to debate the issues a bit. I get that. Sometimes writers make mistakes. Sometimes the references that writers use are in conflict with other references. Sometimes you were there and just know it didn't happen that way. But why do so many fans of history, passionate they may be, just run into the ring and start swinging? There's rules in polite society, don't you know? Are you drunk emailing? Here's what I'm asking you to do: 

By all means if you dispute a fact in one of my histories, then send me an email. If you want to be taken seriously and have any action considered you must be civil, you need to identify yourself, state what the issue is, and give me a reference for your correction. Easy, right? If you will do that, I will reply to you and I will sincerely consider your argument. Crazy, ranting, angry emails get deleted, no action taken. By the same token, if you have a positive comment to make on a blog posting, then please feel free to leave a comment. Positive doesn't mean that you can't disagree with me. But hateful comments or gibberish gets removed immediately.

There, I feel better already. Don't you?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why You Should Write A History

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because friends don't let friends read blog posts that have not been properly proofed. 

Because History Needs You
I’m writing to those people who enjoy reading history, watching documentaries, visiting museums, and traveling to historic sites. In other words, people like me. Why should you write a history book? Because all history is local and our collective memory needs you to document it.

Let me give you an example. Perhaps during WWII there was a POW camp that housed German or Italian prisoners, or maybe a Japanese-American Internment camp near where you live. If you write a book about that site, perhaps a historian who is working on our treatment of prisoners of war or Japanese internees on a national scale will use your book and others about camps at other locations for references in writing his or her tome. Congratulations! You just added to the historical record and helped to maintain our collective national memory. This is the same scenario that benefits me when veterans write about their experiences or a history of their military unit.

Yes, you have to write it. Audio oral histories are great, so are documentary videos, but the written word is still our medium of expression in the field. If you want, you can make someone help you, but you still have to write it down. One of the “writer’s blocks” I've heard most often is the idea that one shouldn't bother writing a book if they think they will never get it published. Well, that’s where today’s technology makes that kind of stinkin’ thinkin’ completely obsolete.

There are plenty of books and articles about researching and writing a nonfiction book. I just want to add in my admonition to edit, fact check, and then proofread. Make sure you can document every factual statement in your text (that’s what footnotes are for). Once you’re done, give your manuscript to someone else to proofread, and then someone else and someone else. The more eyes on the manuscript the better. When I wrote my book, “The Boldest Plan is the Best,” I had three people review the manuscript and there were still errors found after publication. If you need help in this area, you might look at an automated editor like Grammarly, or hire a low cost human to proof your book. Luckily, it doesn't cost you anything to make corrections when you are self-publishing with print-on-demand.

With print-on-demand services like CreateSpace, you can be both writer and publisher. Check out some of these services. I like CreateSpace and highly recommend it. You can format your manuscript in Microsoft Word, upload it to your account, and have it automatically produced in both print and Kindle format, listed for sale on Amazon. The proceeds from any sales will be paid to your bank account every month. But making money is your business. I’m pleading with you to add to the historical record, so I want you to donate a few copies to some very specific places.

First I want you to register the copyright on your book with U.S. Copyright Office. To accomplish this, you will have to send two copies of your book. One copy will go into the vault and the other will be available for circulation in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Next donate copies to your local libraries, both public and university. Finally, if you would be so kind, make sure to donate a copy to every archive and research library, especially your local historical society, where you found information to include in your book. That way, the historians who follow will be able to locate your book, read what your thoughts were, and add to them with their own work.

What’s in it for you? There are definitely some great benefits to writing a book; unfortunately money isn't one of them. Face it, the vast majority of history books sell in the hundreds of copies, not the tens and hundreds of thousands. We are an extreme niche market, we consumers of history. So unless you are Rick Atkinson, Nathaniel Philbrick, Hampton Sides, or Eric Larson (some of my favorite narrative history authors) you will be lucky to earn enough to pay for picture rights or even just the postage to mail out some promotional copies. However, what is more valuable in my opinion is the feeling of accomplishment you gain from writing a book and “putting it out there.” You will have completed something that very few people ever start, much less complete. And you will have left a lasting legacy that will be appreciated for a long time. So I thank you in advance and wish you luck on your project!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book R & R: The Last Battle

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe" by Stephen Harding.

"The Last Battle" is the story of the Battle for Schloss Itter in Austria that took place on May 5, 1945. This was five days after Adolf Hitler committed suicide and just two days before the end of WWII in Europe. The castle outside the village of Itter, Austria was used by the Nazis as a VIP prison for (mostly French) political prisoners during the war. It was under the administration of the Dachau concentration camp, less than a hundred miles to the north in the suburbs of Munich. As the war was winding down and American forces were advancing, the castle's guards deserted and left the prisoners to their own devises. The French diplomats correctly assumed that retreating SS units would arrive at the castle and execute them. They sent runners to find American forces to come to their aid, while also contacting the local Wehrmacht (German Army) commander who had let the local resistance forces know that he was anti-Nazi and wished a peaceful surrender.

An American rescue mission comes in the form of a platoon-sized task force from the 12th Armored Division commanded by CPT Jack Lee. Unfortunately because of various problems on the road during this behind the lines mission, Lee arrives with only one Sherman tank and about fourteen American soldiers. The Wehrmacht contingent who voluntarily chose to join the Americans and help defend the castle against the approaching SS forces consisted of two officers and about ten soldiers. This small force of Americans and Germans, along with a few of the French prisoners, defend Schloss Itter against an attack by the Waffen-SS from the early morning hours of May 5th until a relief column from the American 142nd Infantry Regiment arrives late in day.

This story is a perfect example of the legitimacy behind the cliche that "sometimes truth is stranger than fiction." Stephen Harding tells a good story and is to be congratulated for bringing it to us. Unfortunately it is a short story, although that is not the fault of the author. The Battle for Schloss Itter is too long a tale to be abridged into a magazine article, but too short for a 300-page monograph. "The Last Battle" comes in at about 173 pages not counting the back matter. That includes a thorough history of the castle and the biography of each of the French prisoners, which slows the story down for those who are anxious to hear of this unique situation where "regular" German soldiers joined with their American and French enemies to fight the SS. Other than that, once the Americans come into the area of operations, the story becomes a "page turner." What I found most interesting (as I usually do) is the epilogue where the reader learns what the players in this story did with the rest of their lives.

"The Last Battle" is a good story well told of an improbable episode in WWII history.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book R & R: The Sword of St. Michael

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "The Sword of St. Michael: The 82nd Airborne Division in World War II" by Guy LoFaro.

There are books that cover all airborne operations in WWII like "Paratrooper!" by Gerard Devlin. There are books that cover airborne operations in the European Theater of the Second World War like "Ridgway's Paratroopers" by Clay Blair. Additionally there are multiple unit histories of the parachute infantry regiments and battalions that were part of the 82nd Airborne. But until "The Sword of St. Michael" was released in 2011 (practically on the same day that we published "The Boldest Plan"), there was a real scarcity of books that were devoted strictly to the All American Division's WWII combat history. (Contrary to what the book description for "The Sword of St. Michael" claims, it is not the only history of the 82nd Airborne in WWII. Most notably, Phil Nordyke's "All American, All the Way" from 2005 comes to mind, also with very positive reviews.)

Author Guy LoFaro is a West Point graduate with a Ph.D. who served several tours with the 82nd Airborne Division. He has written a comprehensive (and I do mean comprehensive, coming in at 784 pages) history in an engaging style that will hold the reader's attention.  I found it interesting how LoFaro treats the points where the history the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion intersect with that of the 82nd Airborne Division. Since there is not much more that I can add to the twenty 5-star reviews (at the time of this writing) of the book on, I thought I might share those points with you here.

Of course LoFaro covers the history of airborne from da Vinci to the Test Platoon. That's pretty much obligatory for a book on the early days of the airborne. Though I was disappointed that the author did not mention the deployments of the 509th PIB (then as the 2/503rd PIR), or the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment as preceding that of the All-American Division. However, the book is about the 82nd Airborne Division, so I have to concede that in the long view that information was not germane to the unit's history.

The first mention of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion is when the units came together in Oudja (p.70). LoFaro talks about the attachment of the Geronimos and is very forthright in explaining General Matthew Ridgway's dislike of Edson Raff. He also explains the tiff between Ridgway and British General Browning. The author confesses that because of these situations, for the 509th PIB, "it meant banishment to Ridgway's doghouse."

"The Sword of St. Michael" discusses the Geronimos' Avellino jump in conjunction with the 82nd Airborne's jump on the Salerno beachhead (pp. 142-144). In my opinion, the author took the view that the 509th PIB's Avellino operation had no affect on the battle for Salerno. In fact, he says that the drop was "a disaster," which is not untrue. However, he further submits that the Geronimos' operations behind the lines were only "a minor nuisance" to the Germans. LoFaro quotes General James Gavin when he said that "it is doubtful that it had any decisive bearing on the outcome of the Battle of Salerno." But the author chose not to include any quotes of those who felt the Avellino jump was necessary and paid dividends. Like General Mark Clark, the Fifth Army commander, for example.

The only other point where the Gingerbread Men appear in "The Sword of St. Michael" is when the author mentions that the 82nd received replacements from the 509th and the 551st PIBs (p. 526). He states simply that those units were disbanded because of such heavy combat losses.

Overall "The Sword of St. Michael" is an outstanding history of the All American Division. It is, however, a very pro-82nd Airborne book and my only other criticism is that I would have liked to hear more from the veterans of the Division describing their experiences in their own voices. Nevertheless, if you are only going to read one book about the 82nd Airborne Division during WWII, "The Sword of St. Michael" would be a good choice.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Museum Visit: Presidio of Monterey

The Presidio of Monterey Museum
Corporal Ewing Road in Lower Presidio Historic Park
Monterey, California

The Presidio Museum is a small building located in the
Lower Presidio Historic Park in Monterey, California.
Some of our most interesting history trips materialize on the fly, and for some reason that seems to happen quite often in California. For example, a few years ago Sheila and I were headed out for a day hike in Pinnacles National Park when a rain drop hit the windshield (Californians DO NOT go hiking in the rain, unlike our Seattle-selves). So we just steered right over to Salinas to see the Steinbeck Center, which turned out to be one of my favorite museum experiences of all time. But I's how we wound up at the Presidio:

A couple of weeks ago, Sheila and I are headed over to Monterey to ride our bikes on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. This "Monterey Bay bike path" runs about 18 miles from Castroville through Seaside and old Monterey right past Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row up to Pacific Grove. Anyway...we unload the bikes and we've got a flat with no spare tube or patch kit. As I almost never say (out loud), when disaster strikes go find a museum. Instead of biking we decided to spend the day walking around Monterey, which included a stop at the Presidio of Monterey Museum.

During our visit the museum was staffed by a very
well-informed docent.
The Presidio of Monterey started out as a Spanish military installation established by Captain Gaspar de Portola in 1770, the same year that Father Junipero Serra founded the nearby Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. The mission and military presence in Monterey Bay was, according to Portola's orders, "to occupy and defend the port from the atrocities of the Russians, who were about to invade us." Makes sense. But as I'm sure you know, the Russians did not exploit their position in California. Not did the Spanish fully occupy California either. The port, the fort, and the rest of the Golden State came into U.S. possession in 1846 during the war with Mexico. Since then, the Presidio has been an American military installation to some degree or another. Most important to me is that the Presidio of Monterey was home to the 11th Cavalry Regiment from 1919 until 1940. As a veteran of the Blackhorse Regiment, you feel kind of drawn to the place. Today, the Presidio is home to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) or, as everyone in the Army called it, "the army language school."

Unfortunately, the museum has only a few artifacts, but
has well prepared waysides and photo displays.
The Presidio is a small post, surrounded by the city of Monterey. But the post museum is easy to drive to. The Defense Department gave a portion of the installation to Monterey, which has dubbed it "Lower Historic Park" and there is no gate guards or security to pass to reach the museum. I highly recommend driving up to the museum though. Although you can see it from Fisherman's Wharf, traffic and lack of sidewalks makes it really not feasible to walk or bike there from the marina area. The museum is a small building, and unfortunately they do not hold a great many artifacts. Also, if you are a fan of museum bookstores, there really isn't one here. So I would suggest you read up on the history of the Presidio before you come. If you don't want to invest in some pre-visit reading, not to worry. The volunteer docent on duty during our visit was quite knowledgeable and very eager to share that knowledge with everyone who stopped by. There were two things that I enjoyed most about the Presidio of Monterey Museum. First was that the museum had acquired some copies of old Signal Corps film footage and had set up small theater station to watch it. My favorite video of course was the film of cavalry recruits in the 1930s learning how to ride and care for their horses. The second thing was simply the location. If you walk across from the small museum parking area toward the bay, you'll see a monument to Father Serra. From the location of that monument you'll be able to see why that position was originally chosen as a location for a fort. One has a commanding view of Monterey Bay.

The location of the Spanish Fort would have had command
over the entire Monterey Bay.
Although the museum visit probably only took about 30-45 minutes, by an odd coincidence, we were there at the same time, and we had the opportunity to meet the current Command Sergeant Major of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, CSM Stephen J. Travers. He was on vacation with his family (on their way back down to Fort Irwin, the current home of the 11th ACR), when they decided to stop and see the former home of the 11th Cavalry, just like us. Did I tell you that this place has a certain draw? CSM Travers was a very personable and impressive individual and I enjoyed meeting and talking with him briefly. He graciously invited us to visit the Fort Irwin and 11th Armored Cavalry Museum at the National Training Center (NTC), which I fully intend to do one day soon.

Recommended Reading
I'm going to hazard a guess that the Presidio of Monterey does not get as much visitor traffic as they would like. Heck, even the Monterey County Convention and Visitors website fails to mention the POM museum from their "Historic Attractions" page! I admit that it is a small museum that doesn't take much time to walk through, but it is an enjoyable visit. Additionally, with no maneuver units based at Presidio and Fort Ord now closed and turned into a park, a visit to the Presidio of Monterey Museum will show you how important the Army was to the development of the central California coast. You won't regret adding the museum to your Monterey itinerary.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book R & R: The Last of the Doughboys

Today's Book Review and Recommendation is "The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War" by Richard Rubin.

The Doughboys are what we called the soldiers and marines who fought in WWI, like calling the soldiers of the WWII era "G.I.s." The 100th anniversary of the First World War is going to be upon us very soon. I don't know as much as I'd like to about that conflict, so I thought I'd pick up a couple of titles to rectify that situation. One that caught my eye was Richard Rubin's "The Last of the Doughboys" that was just recently released (May 2013). The book's back cover said that Rubin had interviewed some of the last surviving World War I veterans. Being into applied history and oral history interviews, I thought this book would be a great place to start. Well, every once in a while I make a brilliant decision without even knowing that I'm doing it. "Last of the Doughboys" was a great book on so many levels.

I really enjoy Richard Rubin's writing style. His voice is very conversational and his pacing in this book keeps the reader engaged. I suspect that comes from Rubin's experience in writing feature articles for magazines like the Atlantic, The New Yorker, Smithsonian, and others. He has one other book out, but it is not a work of military history. You see, what I like about Richard Rubin is that not only is he an outstanding writer, but he follows through on his natural curiosity. And as a result he accomplished something that I think the rest of us who are "doin' history," whether it's academic or popular, should be a little chagrined that we didn't think of it first and then act on it.

So one day around 2003, Richard Rubin the writer hears the declaration that many of us have heard in one form or another: "We're losing up to 1,000 WWII veterans every day! We have to hurry and collect their stories while we still can!" But Rubin took the thought process one step further and asked himself if there were any veterans of WWI still alive, and was anyone scrambling to get their stories. Rubin then went about finding out. Initially, no one knew the answer. The Department of Veterans Affairs didn't have a list, they only estimated (based apparently on actuarial tables) that there were as many as fifteen hundred still living. After repeated inquiries from Rubin, the VA then reduced that estimate to "fewer than two hundred."

Rubin did find dozens of WWI veterans to interview: men and women, American and Canadian, Army, Marine, and Navy, all between the ages of 101 to 113. His best and main source for locating these veterans was the French government, who maintained a list of recipients of the Legion d'Honneur. The French awarded this medal during the late 1990s to American veterans who had served on French soil during the "Great War." Others he found through media research. It turns out that this forgotten war from our distant past wasn't so distant after all. Rubin traveled the country, conducting his interviews from 2003 to 2010. Some of his subjects had vivid memories of the events that had occurred eighty-five years or more in their past and were interviewed on more than one occasion. Others, let's just say they proved to be less than successful. His last interview subject was the last surviving American veteran of WWI, Frank Buckles, who passed away in February 2011.

I'm amazed at what Rubin did as far as thinking up this project, and then unrelentingly following up until the last veteran of WWI had passed away. In addition, I am more than impressed with what he did with the information. If the veteran was a combat veteran of say, Belleau Wood, then Rubin explains the circumstances, events, and effects of that battle to the reader. You'll also hear about what conditions were like on the home front, how we treated the immigrant population, the military's handling of "shell-shocked" soldiers, how we suppressed free speech with the Sedition Act of 1918, and how we deployed cavalry (yes, still using horses) to guard the Mexican border. You'll even learn about media coverage of the war and popular culture as expressed in song lyrics of the day. Every aspect of the war is covered, and accompanied by the voice of the young person who lived through it and experienced it. This book is a "page turner." The history is accurate and provided in a voice that is entertaining and engaging.

If you are looking for a book that covers only the military actions, strategy, etc., of the First World War placed on a timeline, then "The Last of the Doughboys" is probably not the book for you. If instead you are looking gain an insight on the whole of the war and its effect on regular people whose lives were forever changed by it, then I cannot urge you strongly enough to read this book. It will have a prominent place on my bookshelf, ready for a re-read in the near future.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate)

A Norwegian-American Unit formed during World War II.

One of the reasons I enjoy studying and writing about WWII is that during that time the concept of "special operations" was really taking root. There are a lot of interesting stories in the histories of these types of military units. Quite a few units were conceived on paper, or actually formed and began training, to fulfill specific missions or operate in a particular theater or environment. Units like the 1st Special Service Force, Darby's Rangers, Merrill's Marauders, etc, easily come to mind. Even the airborne was initially conceived as a small unit, special operations force, according to General William Yarborough. (The general made that statement in an oral history interview that I used as a reference while researching the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion.)

99th Infantry Battalion Patch
Another of these unique units conceived during the early days of the Second World War was the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate). This particular unit was made up of Norwegian Americans, originally destined to conduct military operations in Norway. The Army put out the call for native Norwegian speakers, and many immigrant and sons of immigrants answered the call. All of these volunteers were either American citizens or had applied for citizenship. The soldiers started out training with the Devil's Brigade and went through a fair amount of mountain and winter warfare training. It could be argued that the 99th Battalion was the best winter warfare trained unit in the United States Army during WWII. Unfortunately, the operations in Norway were scrubbed and the 99th Infantry Battalion's mission was given to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). About 100 members of the unit joined the OSS for that mission. The remainder of the 99th Infantry Battalion went on to fight in Europe during the Normandy Campaign, the Battle of the Bulge, and through to the end of the war. The "Norwegian Avengers" ended their war as occupation troops in Norway, helping to process the surrender of over a hundred thousand German soldiers before the unit was returned to the United States for deactivation.
The 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) in Norway. 

I found the story of these Scandinavian immigrant soldiers to be really captivating. So much so that I wrote an article for Military Vet Shop on the unit: "A Summary History of the 99th Infantry Battalion." I hope you'll give it a read and share it with others, as this unique unit deserves recognition and remembrance.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Will the Army retire the "Band of Brothers"?

The wars are winding down and the budget is shrinking. The United States Army, as it has done after every period of conflict, will go through a cycle of downsizing. The goal this time around is to reduce active army forces by about 80,000 soldiers. This move will be accomplished in the deactivation of 12 combat brigades. One of those on the chopping block is the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Part of this BCT is the first and second battalions of the 506th Infantry Regiment (1/506 and 2/506), therefore making this brigade the modern manifestation of the "Band of Brothers."

As expected, there is a collective howl coming from those veterans and others with an affinity toward the lineage of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. To their credit, The Huffington Post published a well done article on this, explaining that the 506th PIR of WWII fame earned that moniker of "Band of Brothers" for the title of the Stephen Ambrose book and the HBO miniseries of the same name. I can't do better than the Huff article for explaining the situation and what it means to keep storied units like this in an active status. The article also has a nice summary history of the 506th Infantry from its birth during WWII, through Vietnam and their recent participation in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, I will say that from the beginning of this blog a recurring theme I write about is the importance of a military unit's history to the esprit of its soldiers and veterans.

Unfortunately I've come to the conclusion that the Department of the Army just doesn't get it. When the Army went from organizing by regiment to divisions, that was okay from a lineage standpoint because soldiers have always taken pride in the shoulder patch of their parent unit and regiments were the building
blocks of the Army that could move from one division to another. However when the Army began to create brigade combat teams that would deploy separately, without their division headquarters like some kind of "plug and play" component, the shoulder sleeve insignia lost a lot of its meaning. The Army's plan was to provide the battalions within these BCTs a regimental affiliation so that the soldiers would have an anchor of unit history and tradition, that - with a few exceptions like the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Armored Cavalry Regiments - really had nothing to do with the BCT or the division the battalion was assigned to. And now that disregard for lineage, tradition, and unit history has come full circle because apparently decisions on which brigades to deactivate are being made with a total disregard for the regimental affiliations of the battalions within that brigade.

Why bother with unit crests or shoulder sleeve insignia at all? Maybe soldiers could just wear bar codes?

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