Historical Highlights - June 22nd

Christian Beekman

Photo by Pvt Bob Bailey, USMC

 

The last major battle of World War II came to a bloody end on June 22nd, 1945  when the last few Japanese soldiers remaining on the southern peninsula of Okinawa.

82 days of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific Theatre had begun on April 1st, 1945. Okinawa was to be the last objective in a long campaign of island hopping. it would serve as a base for aircraft supporting the planned assault on the home Japanese islands.  Casualties were immense on both sides, with US forces suffering 12,520 killed in action, and 55,162 wounded, while estimates of Japanese killed in action totals range from 77,000 to 110,000. Over 7,000 Japanese soldiers would surrender, a significant departure from previous battles in the Pacific. However, some of these were local Okinawan civilians who had been pressed into service by Japanese forces.

The presence of civilians on Okinawa provided a dark contrast to to previous island campaigns. Okinawa had an estimated civilian population of around 300,000. By the end of the battle, nearly half of them would be dead. Many, including children were forcibly drafted by the Japanese, or used as human shields. Others were directed to commit suicide, as Japanese propaganda indicated that the Americans would brutalize them. And many were simply caught up in the fighting, killed by airstrikes or artillery, or indiscriminate gunfire.

The unprecedented carnage on all sides got amplified by the dismal conditions  Heavy rains turned Okinawa into a thick, muddy soup. Vehicles were nearly useless in those kinds of conditions. Bodies would be swallowed up by the muck, so it was difficult to retrieve them for burial. As a result, thousands of dead would litter the battlefield, permeating everything with the stench and taste of death. These horrifying conditions, coupled with constant artillery and mortar fire, lead to more cases of what we would today call PTSD than any other Pacific Theatre engagement

While the US did eventually capture the island, securing the needed airbase to support a direct invasion of Japan, the sheer brutality may have contributed to American military leaders seeking an alternative to an amphibious landing on the mainland. That would come in the controversial use of two atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and so Okinawa was the last major battle of the war.  

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Historical Highlights- June 20th

Christian Beekman
June 20th, 1925 is the birthday of America’s most decorated service members, Audie Murphy. In his service as a US Army infantryman in WWII, Murphy would receive virtually every combat valor award the Army had to offer, as well several high profile awards from France and Belgium.
 
Audie Murphy came from humble beginnings. Born into a large, impoverished family of Irish sharecroppers in Texas, Murphy was the seventh of twelve siblings. His father Emmett, was largely absentee, and eventually left his family altogether. Dropping out of middle school to support his family by picking cotton, Murphy also helped feed his family buying hunting small game and honed his shill with a rifle. Tragically, his mother Josie died of pneumonia and endocarditis in May 1941 when Murphy was only sixteen.
 
Audie Murphy had wanted to be a soldier since an early age, and after his mother's death, that desire intensified. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, Murphy attempted to enlist. He was turned down by the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, all for the same reasons: He was underage and underweight. Undeterred, Murphy tried again, gaining some weight and getting a fake signed affidavit from his sister that stated he was of age for military service. On June 30th, 1942, Audie Murphy enlisted into the United States Army in Dallas. Even after packing on the pounds, Murphy was considered undersized at 112 pounds and 5 feet 5 inches of height. He had to resist attempts to transfer him out the infantry to a non-combat role. After completing basic training and advanced infantry school, Private Audie Murphy was sent to the North African theatre assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Infantry Division.
 
Murphy would see combat in Sicily and Italy, and earn many awards and commendations, but his most famous action is the one cited for earning him the Medal of Honor. Murphy ,who had by this point received a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant, was the only officer left to lead Company B as they awaited badlyneeded reinforcements near Holtzwhir, France. On January 26th, 1945, a German infantry counterattack supported by six tanks began. Company B was woefully under strength with only 18 soldiers of it’s original 235 available for action. After a M10 tank destroyer got struck German rounds, setting it ablaze and forcing the crew to dismount, Murphy ordered his men to fall back to prepared positions in a treeline. Reaming at his post with just an M1 carbine, he fired at the advancing German force, while using his wire telephone to direct artillery onto the enemy force. He then mounted the flaming M10, and engaged the enemy formation with the mounted M2 heavy machine gun while under withering fire from German troops for an hour. Murphy continued to pour on the rounds even after getting wounded in the leg. After running out of ammo for the M2, Murphy returned to his men and rallied them for a counterattack, with total disregard for his wound. When asked about why he mounted the M2 to fight alone, Murphy replied “They were killing my friends.”
 
Murphy’s Medal of Honor joined a staggering list of battlefield awards: A Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars (one with “V” device), and three Purple Hearts. Murphy also received the both the French and Belgian version of the Croix de Guerre, as well as the French Legion of Honor. After the war, Murphy began a burgeoning career in films in the late 1940s, famously playing himself in the screen adaption of his autobiography To Hell and Back. Murphy struggled heavily with post traumatic stress, financial issues, and addictions to drugs and alcohol. He spoke honestly about the horrors of his military services and advocated for a greater investigation into the effects of battle stress, and improved health care for returning veterans. Murphy died in a plane crash on May 28th, 1971. He was only 46.
 
Audie Murphy’s life is a testament to the diverse circumstances that lead to military service. Never the prototypical chiseled image of a soldier, he rose above perceived physical limitations with his dedicated character and service above and beyond all expectations . His struggles later in life also serve to highlight the continued need to help servicemembers deal with the trauma that war will always bring.

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Historical Highlights - June 14th

Christian Beekman1 comment
June 14th means it's time to wish the United States Army a well-deserved happy birthday!

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Historical Highlights - June 7th

Christian Beekman
The 7th of June marked the end of a four day clash between a Japanese and American carrier task force. US intelligence had cracked Japanese naval encryption, and learned of a operation to seize Midway in early June 1942.  The only 3 carriers in the Pacific Fleet, YorktownHornet, and Enterprise, were sent to lay in wait for the Japanese invasion force. . 

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Historical Highlights - June 6th

Christian Beekman1 comment

For most people reading this, June 6th is a date that needs no introduction

It marks the anniversary of one of the most important military events in human history: the invasion of Normandy, known as Operation Overlord. 

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Historical Highlights - May 22nd

Christian Beekman
Today marks the founding date for Air Force Special Operations Command, (AFSOC) which was stood up as a major command of the Air Force, and a subordinate to Special Operations Command (SOCOM), on May 22nd, 1990.

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Historical Highlights - May 12th

Christian Beekman
Photo by Department of Defense
Today marks the anniversary of a little-known epilogue to the Vietnam War, the Mayaguez incident. On May 12th, 1975, the S.S. Mayaguez, an American-owned container ship, was seized inside Cambodian territorial waters by Khmer Rouge swift boats who took the ship's crew captive. The Khmer Rouge had ousted the US-backed Khmer Republic government less than a month prior, so the US government had few diplomatic avenues to pursue with the Khmer Rouge forces holding the Mayaguez crew. President Gerald Ford and the National Security Council members felt, in light of the recent evacuation of the US Embassy during the fall of Saigon in South Vietnam, a strong message need to be sent that the US was still willing to meet challenges to American interests with force.
 
US Navy and Air Force aircraft were instructed to prevent the captured S.S. Mayaguez from reaching the Cambodian mainland with warning shots, and a naval task force was hastily assembled to serve as a platform  for a rescue attempt. On May 14th, elements of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines assaulted the island of Koh Tang as well as the Mayaguez itself which was anchored nearby.  But due to the ad-hoc nature of the operation, the Marines lacked crucial intelligence regarding the heavy defenses on the island, and their helicopters took heavy fire during the initial landing. and 7 of the 8 assault helicopters were destroyed or severely damaged. The Marines who managed to make it to their beach landing zones were now pinned down in close contact with Khmer Rouge fighters.
 
Ironically, at the same time of the assault, Khmer Rouge officials announced the release of the Mayaguez crew via radio, who were also being held at different island than one currently under assault by the United States. The US continued to fly strikes and close air support until the Marines on Koh Tang were evacuated Unfortunately during, the confusion of the pullout, 3 Marines were left behind, and were executed by the Khmer Rouge on Koh Tang.
 
The dual failures of planning and coordination during the Mayaguez rescue attempt would provide painful lessons that would eventually lead to a reevaluation and reorganization of joint operations in the the wake of another failed rescue, Operation Eagle Claw. This would lead to a major shift in the organization of special operations, with the establishment of the Joint Special Operations Command, and the Special Operations combatant command.

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Historical Highlights - May 8th

Christian Beekman

Photo by CPL Neill A. Sevelius

May 8th is quite the eventful day in American military history.

It's most well known as Victory in Europe Day in Britain and the United States, marking the official unconditional surrender of German forces to the Allies in Reims, France on May 8th, 1945.  

Elsewhere in the World War II, May 8th, 1942 was the final day of the Battle of the Coral Sea, where American and Australian naval and air forces attempted to contest a Japanese invasion of New Guinea and the southeastern Solomon Islands. The battle was a pivotal moment in history: it was the first time opposing aircraft carriers faced off and was the first naval engagement where the fleets never made visual contact. The battle signified the end of the age of the battleship, and the rise of naval aviation began.

Speaking of naval aviation, today marks the genesis of naval aircraft in the US Navy, when Captain Washington Irving Chambers placed an order for two Curtiss A-1 Triad floatplanes in 1911. 

Finally, in more recent history, the Battle of Al-Qaim began in Al-Anbar Province, Iraq. Also known as Operation Matador, the 2005 engagement lasted until May 19th and was part of a larger Marine Corps effort against Al-Qaeda-In-Iraq (AQI) fighters in the Western Euphrates river valley called Operation Sayeed.  The Marine task force in Al-Qaim suffered 9 men killed in action, and 40 wounded, while over 125 AQI insurgents were killed The fierce running battle was another indication that even in the wake of the Second Battle of Fallujah, Anbar Province was still one of the most dangerous places in Iraq.
     

This marks the beginning of what will be a daily dive into America's military and law enforcement history. If you've got a cool moment in history to share, let us know on Facebook or Twitter! 

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