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Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

Four Famous Flags

February 27th, 2011 No comments

I love the red, white and blue image of the “Stars and Stripes” against a sky-blue background. Our flag produces a positive visceral reaction for me, as I suspect it does for a lot of Americans. As with any nation’s flag, our flag is more than just the symbol of our country, it becomes a visual representation of our feelings of patriotism and love of home. Certain individual flags, in time of crisis, become a physical channel for our collective passions.

The Star-Spangled Banner

The Star-Spangled Banner

Star-Spangled Banner: One of our most famous flags is the Star-Spangled Banner, the popular name given to the 15-star, 15-stripe flag which flew over Ft. McHenry while the British bombarded it on September 13-14, 1814 during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. The sight of the huge garrison-sized (30 by 42 feet) flag defiantly flying over the fort as the sun rose on the morning of the 14th after an all-night bombardment was witnessed by Francis Scott Key, who was inspired to write the poem “Defence of Fort McHenry”. After being set to the tune of an old British drinking song it became our National Anthem. The flag itself was not well treated during the 19th Century. Modern sensibilities about the preservation of historical artifacts were not widespread, and bits of it (including one of its fifteen two-foot-wide stars) were snipped off and given out as souvenirs, eventually reducing the flag’s length by eight feet. What remains of the original flag is now preserved in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Ft. Sumter Flag

Ft. Sumter Flag

Ft. Sumter Flag:When the seven states of the deep South seceded following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Federal installations in the South were marooned. Most, such as Federal armories, were easily accessible to the Confederates and were quickly taken. A few Federal forts in and around Charleston Harbor, however, were isolated from land approaches and remained under Union control. The Union officer in charge, Major Robert Anderson, moved his garrison to Ft. Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, as hostilities became increasingly likely. After Major Anderson refused their ultimatum to evacuate, Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard gave the order, and the Confederates fired the first shots of the Civil War at Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861. On the 14th, after some 34 hours of bombardment, out of food and with parts of the fort burning (but with no casualties), Major Anderson was compelled to surrender. He requested as part of his surrender terms permission to fire a 100-round salute to the flag which flew over the fort, which Beauregard granted. Unfortunately, a shell exploded prematurely on the 47th shot, killing one man and wounding another, and the salute was reduced to 50. After lowering the flag, the Union soldiers were allowed to simply board a ship for the North, taking their ensign with them.
Major Anderson was proclaimed a hero in the North, and he and the flag went on a fund-raising tour where the flag was “auctioned” off (and then promptly re-donated by the winner) again and again to raise funds for the nascent war effort. After the four bloodiest years of our history, with the South beaten, (now) Major General Anderson returned to Ft. Sumter with the same flag and raised it again over the fort. The dramatic flag-raising ceremony was on April 14, 1865, four years to the day after the fort’s surrender. Ironically, it was also the night Lincoln became the first U.S. President to be assassinated.
U.S. Marines Raising the Flag on Mt. Suribachi

U.S. Marines Raising the Flag on Mt. Suribachi

Iwo Jima Flag: One of the most iconic images of World War II (or any war, for that matter) was captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal at the height of one of the fiercest fights, the Battle for Iwo Jima. Four days after landing on Iwo Jima, amid terrible fighting, Marines of the 5th Division reached the top of Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island. Actually the second flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi that day (February 23, 1945), the moment captured on film was on the front page of newspapers across the country within 18 hours. President Franklin D. Roosevelt immediately saw its value in helping the war effort, and the inspiring image, along with the three survivors of the six soldiers who raised the flag, were soon on a tour to sell U.S. War Bonds. Roosevelt was right: the 7th Bond Tour raised an incredible $24 billion for the war effort, the largest borrowing from the American public in history. To put that amount in perspective, the entire budget of the U.S. Government in 1946 was $56 billion.
Raising the Flag at Ground Zero

Raising the Flag at Ground Zero

Ground Zero Flag: Out of the tragedy of the September 11, 2001 attacks came a new iconic image for a new generation: the sight of three dust-covered New York firefighters raising a flag on an improvised flag pole at Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center. Shot by Thomas E. Franklin of The Bergen Record, the resilience and defiance this photo conveys lifted our spirits even as we mourned the victims of that senseless act of terror. Shortly after the 9-11 Attacks, my son Michael, who was a Damage Controlman (firefighter) in the Navy, deployed on his ship the USS Theodore Roosevelt in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the War on Afghanistan. Soon after the ship embarked, the Navy asked to borrow the Ground Zero Flag, and so New York City lent the flag to the Navy who forwarded it to the Theodore Roosevelt, then in the Arabian Sea supporting the air war in Afghanistan.
On September 30, 2001 a ceremony was conducted on board the Theodore Roosevelt wherein the Ground Zero Flag was presented to the Theodore Roosevelt firefighters. I’m proud to say that Michael was one of the firefighters to participate in that ceremony. On this deployment, the Theodore Roosevelt remained at sea for 159 consecutive days, longer than any warship since World War II. I remember Michael saying they worked 16 hours a day for 79 straight days before they got a day off. When the guys on the ground need air support, they need it now.
Flying the the Ground Zero Flag

Flying the the Ground Zero Flag

While participating in Operation Enduring Freedom, the Ground Zero Flag was flown from the Theodore Roosevelt’s halyards, an especially poignant reminder to the sailors and airmen what we were fighting for, and an especially “in-your-face” reminder to the Taliban what we were fighting for. At the end of Theodore Roosevelt’s deployment, the flag was formally transferred back to police and firefighters representing New York City. There’s a sad footnote to this story, however. In August 2002, New York City lent the flag back to the original owners prior to its transfer to the Smithsonian. To their dismay, the owners realized that the flag the city returned to them was not the flag taken from their yacht the Star of America and hoisted by the firefighters at Ground Zero. They have tried to force New York City to find the original flag, but so far have not met with success.
Vox’s Take: I think it’s a shame that the original Ground Zero Flag has been lost, just as it’s a shame part of the Star-Spangled Banner was cut up for souvenirs over 150 years ago. I hope the Ground Zero Flag can be found. Despite this, both flags have served their purpose, and the images they have given us, which can never be lost, are just as powerful as the actual artifacts.

Sources:
[1] Battle of Baltimore, United States History.com
[2] Star-Spangled Banner, National Museum of American History
[3] Battle of Fort Sumter, Wikipedia
[4] Oral History- Iwo Jima Flag Raising, Naval History & Heritage Command
[5] Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945, Navy Department Library
[6] Bond Tour, IwoJima.com
[7] Raising the Flag at Ground Zero, Wikipedia
[8] Operation Enduring Freedom, Wikipedia
[9] Help Find the Flag, findthe911flag.com

Ted Williams

February 13th, 2011 2 comments

Ted Williams

Ted Williams

Theodore Samuel “Ted” Williams has been called the greatest hitter the game of baseball has ever seen. With a lifetime batting average of .344, with 2,364 hits including 521 home runs, Ted Williams is the last player to have batted over .400 in a season, in 1941. [1] Ted had a burning desire to be the best baseball hitter ever, and studied the science of hitting with a passion. This was combined with exceptional eyesight and athletic ability.
I love this story about him: in 1941, on the last day of the season, Ted’s average stood at .39955, which would have rounded up to .400. Ted’s manager gave him the option of sitting out the double-header to be played that day, so he could protect his record (no-one had hit .400 in a season since 1930). [2] Ted declined, explaining that “if I can’t hit .400 all the way, I don’t deserve it.” Ted had 6 hits in 8 at-bats that day, and finished with a final average of .406. [3]
So, what happened right after the baseball season of 1941? Well, of course the “Day of Infamy”: the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and America entered World War Two. At first Ted appealed his “eligible” draft status, since he was his mother’s sole support. He made a public statement that he would join up as soon as he built up his mother’s trust fund a bit. The draft board agreed with him, but public opinion did not, and under some duress and loss of endorsements he enlisted in the Navy on May 22, 1942. [3] Williams could have had an easy assignment, playing baseball for the Navy. Instead he entered flight training to become a fighter pilot, flying the Vought F4U Corsair. His intelligence, eyesight and athletic ability made him a natural pilot, and he excelled in learning and then teaching flying. The war ended, however, while he was awaiting his combat orders.
Ted returned to baseball after being released from the Navy, but remained in the Naval Reserve. In June 1950, the Korean War broke out, and Ted’s baseball career was once again interrupted by military service. Ted was not a saint – he was understandably upset at being called up from the Inactive Reserves when there were people in the Active Reserves not called up. However, he once again declined all offers at an easy assignment and went back to flying status, this time flying the Grumman F9F Panther. In Korea he did see combat, flying 39 combat missions and being awarded the Air Medal [3]. He served part of this time as wingman for another famous aviator, John Glenn.
Vox’s Take: Williams was just one example of the “Greatest Generation”, those Americans with a sense of patriotic duty that overrode any concerns for something mundane like a stellar professional baseball career. One more telling fact about Williams: despite serving in the Korean War, and though he referred to “the Marines” as the best team he ever played for, he was still dominant enough in baseball to be named Player of the Decade, 1951 to 1960.

Sources:
[1] Williams, Ted, Baseball Hall of Fame
[2] .400 Hitters Club, Baseball Almanac
[3] Ted Williams, Wikipedia

Willit Run?

January 29th, 2011 No comments

Some time ago we visited the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. I had to smile when I saw the name of the North American P-51 Mustang on display there. The P-51 is named “Willit Run?”, but the nose art on this plane is not talking about this particular aircraft or any P-51 for that matter. It’s an inside joke of WWII vintage.

P-51 Mustang "Willit Run?"

Willit Run?


During WWII, as in every big war, private industry is called upon to produce war goods rather than civilian goods – “guns vs. butter”. Henry Ford took on a huge project to contract-build Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers in a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to be built on a farm which Henry Ford owned at Willow Run near Detroit. The facility was to be a prime example of Roosevelt’s “Arsenal of Democracy”, conceived and built on an unprecedented scale. Begun in April, 1941, it was the largest enclosed room in the world, with 3.5 million square feet. But Willow Run had a long and troubled construction and start-up time. So long and troubled a start-up, that after two years with little results the public became disillusioned with the project and derisively nicknamed the plant “Willit Run?”.
Willow Run Assembly Line

Willow Run Assembly Line

Ford persevered however, and Willow Run finally hit its stride, eventually producing at the prodigious rate of 650 B-24 bombers per month by August, 1944. At war’s end, Willow Run had produced about half of the 18,000 B-24′s which saw service in the war.
Sources
[1] Willow Run, Wikipedia
[2] Willow Run and the Arsenal of Democracy, Michigan History, Detroit News

Evolution of Naval Armor, Part 3: “Mighty Mo”

January 17th, 2011 No comments

(To see all the posts in this series, click here: Naval Armor.)
In part three of our survey of the evolution of naval armor, let’s look at the pinnacle of the heavily armored ship, the World War II battleship. The last battleship commissioned by the US Navy was the USS Missouri (BB-63). The Missouri – nicknamed “Mighty Mo” – was numbered the third of four Iowa-class battleships, but was the last one completed. She was launched January 29, 1944, at the height of World War II.

USS Missouri after modernization

USS Missouri after modernization

The USS Monitor, which we discussed in Part 2, was a radically new design, an untested experiment which during the pressure of war went from laying the keel to launch in 118 days. The Missouri on the other hand was the culmination of all of our years of experience and evolutionary development of big-gun, heavy-armor warships. Her main armament was nine 16-inch “Mark 7” guns, arranged in three turrets of three guns each. Each individual Mark 7 is 66 feet long and weighs 267,900 pounds with the breech. A Mark 7 can hurl a high-explosive shell weighing 2,700 pounds (a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle weighs 1,764 pounds) some 24 miles, and land it in an area the size of a tennis court. Just one salvo from one turret exceeded the normal 6,000 pound bomb capacity of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
A two-shot salvo at night in 1944

A two-shot salvo at night in 1944

As for armor, she carried 7.5 inch steel deck armor, a 12.1 inch armor belt to protect against torpedoes, and her gunners enjoyed 19.7 inch armor on the turrets. Her turrets had nearly the thickness of the USS Constitution’s sides, but with steel, not oak. This was not even the most armor seen during the war. The largest battleship ever, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Yamato, had 26 inch armor on the face of her main turrets.
A Zero about to impact the Missouri

A Zero about to impact the Missouri

Remember in Part 2 the dents in the turret of the Monitor, caused by Confederate shells? The Missouri also suffered a dent in her armor, caused not by shells but by a Japanese Zero in a kamikaze attack on April 11, 1945. The dent remains to this day.
Japanese Surrender Delegation

Japanese Surrender Delegation

The Missouri participated in many of the famous battles of the Pacific in World War II: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, the Japanese home islands. She became famous as the site of the Japanese surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945 while anchored in Tokyo Bay, ending World War II. The Missouri fought again in Korea, supporting the Incheon Landings, screening aircraft carriers and bombarding North Korean positions. With the end of the Korean war, she was mothballed (put into the reserve fleet) in 1955 after only 11 years of service. There she remained until 1984 when she was reactivated and modernized as part of the “600 ship Navy” program. She last fought in Operation Desert Storm – the 1990 Gulf War in Iraq. During this fight she had far greater firepower than the Mark 7 guns, for during her modernization she was fitted to launch “Tomahawk” cruise missiles. On March 31, 1992 she left active service again – as the last United States battleship to be decommissioned. Today she is a museum ship anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, watching over the USS Arizona Memorial. It is fitting that our last battleship resides at Pearl Harbor, because the Japanese carrier attack of December 7, 1941 proved conclusively that the battleship had been superseded. The aircraft carrier, not the battleship, was to be the future means of projecting naval power.

Sources:
[1] USS Missouri (BB-63), 1944-1998, Selected Views, Naval Historical Center
[2] USS Missouri BB-63, Wikipedia
[3] Battleship Missouri Memorial, USSMissouri.com

Pheatured Photo – January 9, 2011

January 9th, 2011 No comments

Consolidated B-24 (LB-30) Liberator

The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, with substantial help from the Ford Motor Company, produced over 18,000 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers for the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. The ubiquitous B-24 was seen in every theatre of the war, and because of it’s long range (second only to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress) served as a long range bomber, maritime patrol aircraft, cargo plane (C-87 Liberator Express) and anti-submarine aircraft.

This photo was taken by me at the Aviation Nation airshow at Nellis Air Force Base on November 11, 2007.

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