A Soldier’s Ascendance


With the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 1945, many in the United States anticipated a quick return to peace. That hope was dashed, however, as America found itself locked in an ideological struggle with Communist nations. Although primarily focused on the Soviet Union, the U.S. also confronted such nations as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly known as North Korea. In 1950 North Korea attacked South Korea. In response, the U.S., along with a sparing number of United Nations troops, launched a campaign to ensure the South’s republican government did not fall. Fighting raged for nearly three years, and in that time, American soldiers performed countless acts of heroism. Among those heroes was a young Hispanic officer from Texas who refused to let a stereotype define him. During America’s “Forgotten War,” he not only won the respect of his superiors and subordinates, but he also established a warrior’s reputation that carried him into history. His name was Richard Cavazos. This is the story of how he valiantly and repeatedly led men in harrowing fights against the North Koreans, setting the course for his amazing life.

Despite coming from humble origins, Richard Cavazos quickly rose above all obstacles in his path. He was born in Kingsville, Texas in 1929, the front end of the Depression years, to a father who served in World War I and later became the cattle foreman for the King Ranch, the largest cattle ranch in the world at the time. Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, young Richard faced intense racism, but his father ensured his future was not limited to the ranch by earning enough money to put Richard through school. He briefly attended North Texas Agricultural College in Denton, Texas, where he was part of the school’s ROTC program, before transferring to Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. There he became one of the first Hispanic athletes to join the football team, and he enjoyed a brief but successful career until he broke his leg during his sophomore year. Although undoubtedly disappointed, the young man chose to dive into his academic studies, ultimately receiving a degree in geology. He also continued with ROTC and built on the military skills he first developed at North Texas Agricultural College. He graduated in 1951 as a Distinguished Military Graduate and was commissioned a second lieutenant. Though proficient in military discipline, young Cavazos still had much to learn about being an officer.

After graduation, Lieutenant Cavazos reported to Fort Benning, Georgia for more officer training, and in the weeks that followed, he developed an abiding love for the military that stayed with him throughout his life. That love led to his desire to become the best commander he could be — one who enjoyed the trust of those he led. Consequently, he intently studied the leadership qualities and characteristics of the finest Army officers of the past, and he concluded some of the most admired were those possessing “moral ascendancy.” In his mind this meant an effective officer must not only instill troops with the confidence they could accomplish anything but also be willing to hazard the same dangers as his men. His studies convinced him one of the greatest examples of this theory was Confederate General Robert E. Lee who so inspired his men they did whatever he ordered because they believed he would lead them to victory. Taking heart from Lee’s example, Cavazos determined to show the same qualities as he awaited the chance to lead men into battle on the far side of the world.

Finishing his courses at Fort Benning in late 1952, the young lieutenant was deployed to South Korea where he joined the 3rd Infantry Division as a staff officer. He performed his duties diligently, but he desperately wanted a battlefield command and petitioned his superiors for such an assignment. He did not have to wait long. Informed that the 65th Infantry Regiment, which originally consisted largely of Puerto Rican troops, was being reorganized through the addition of white troops, Cavazos leapt at the opportunity to command combat troops. He promptly learned the 65th had performed admirably in the war’s early months but had recently suffered a demoralizing defeat at Outpost Jackson on October 26, 1952, with many troops fleeing for their lives. Joining the regiment in November, Cavazos undertook a personal study of the unit, and he came to believe the defeat resulted from two factors. The first was new officers’ inability to communicate with their men in Spanish. The second was fresh recruits’ unpreparedness for the rigors of combat. The young lieutenant determined to overcome both shortcomings. Given command of a platoon in Company E, he spent three months training his men in the hazards of life on the front lines. He conducted most of the training in Spanish and even decided to employ Spanish commands rather than English ones in the midst of battle. His mastery of Spanish was so effective that the South Korean soldiers assigned to his platoon began to speak the language as well. By the time the 65th was ordered back to the front, it was clear that Cavazos was personally invested in the lives and welfare of his men, and he was ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the enemy.

In late February 1953 Richard Cavazos and the rest of the 65th Infantry were assigned to a region just north of the 38th parallel, the modern boundary between North and South Korea. The area was infamously known as the Iron Triangle. Facing Cavazos and his comrades was a large force of North Korean and Chinese communist troops. In the days that followed, Cavazos spent much of his time patrolling the countryside in anticipation of surprise attacks by Chinese forces. Most patrols occurred without incident, but he occasionally engaged in fierce firefights to cover his comrades’ attempts to recover their wounded. On the night of February 25th a large body of Chinese troops unexpectedly attacked Cavazos’ platoon, but he immediately rallied his men and heroically repulsed the attacks. As dawn appeared on the horizon, the enemy began to withdraw. Suddenly, the fearless lieutenant spotted a wounded Chinese soldier lying a short distance away and determined to take the man prisoner. Rising up, he signaled the troops around him to cover him as he dashed forward. Immediately, the enemy opened fire on the lone American with mortars and artillery, but Cavazos was undeterred. He pushed ahead until he reached the enemy soldier, grabbed hold and dragged him back to American lines. For his daring, Cavazos received the Silver Star, the third highest military award for valor. Not long after, he assumed command of Company E and received orders to join the American forces in the Chorwon Valley.

Arriving in May 1953, Cavazos was once again embroiled in the thick of the fighting as he engaged Chinese and North Korean forces trying repeatedly to capture the American bastion at Outpost Harry. On one occasion, he braved enemy fire to repair a communications link between the 65th Infantry and the outpost, a feat which earned him the Bronze Star. He also participated in small actions throughout late May and early June. Then on June 10th Chinese forces attacked Cavazos and his comrades. The action quickly evolved into a massive assault on Outpost Harry. Intense fighting continued for four days straight. As pressure mounted, American officers sought to relieve the garrison by conducting raids. On June 14th Cavazos was ordered to lead such a raid on Hill 412, which protected the crucial western flank of Outpost Harry. As dusk fell, he led his men forward in the face of intense resistance. Heavy machine gun fire forced them to take cover, but knowing they could not stay hidden long, he ordered Sergeant Joseph Lefort and Private First Class Rawleigh Garman, Jr. to take out the enemy position. When that was done, Cavazos leapt up and charged up with the hill with his men right behind him. In moments they reached the top of the hill, and after fierce fighting they drove the Chinese troops down the other side. Although pleased by this initial success, Cavazos ordered his soldiers to prepare for the expected counterattack.

Sure enough, the Chinese almost immediately launched a series of assaults to drive the Americans from their new position, but Cavazos and his men held firm for over three hours. As midnight approached, however, he counted one-third of his company killed or wounded by enemy artillery fire. It was clear his position was untenable, and he knew he had little choice but to fall back. Determined the withdrawal would not turn into a route, he calmly ordered his men to establish a defensive line on the reverse slope of the hill while he recovered comrades unaccounted for. Finding five bleeding troops, Cavazos dragged them inside the company’s perimeter before venturing out two more times. Both times he located groups of lost men and successfully guided them back. At one point during these forays, he was wounded by Chinese artillery fire, but he refused to abandon his mission until all his men were accounted for. Finally he was satisfied the company was reformed, and taking his place at the head of the column, he led the men back to American lines. All along the way, he exercised tight discipline and ensured there was no panic. It was only after he had seen his men to safety that Cavazos reported to the surgeon who removed shrapnel and small bits of rock from his bleeding back. As he recovered from his injury, he had little way of knowing that his actions would win him the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor. It was, however, only the beginning of a long and storied career.

In the years following the Korean War, Richard Cavazos continued to garner accolades for his military service. Returning home in late 1953, he served in such positions as executive officer of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Hood, outside Killeen, Texas, and later as operations officer for the U.S. Army in West Germany. He served as a lieutenant colonel in the Vietnam War, commanding the 18th Infantry’s First Battalion. On October 30, 1967 he led his men against Vietcong guerrillas at Loc Ninh, near the Cambodian border. As he had in Korea, Cavazos unreservedly exposed himself to danger while exhorting his men to attack. When the Vietcong fled towards their fortifications, he led a determined assault that overran the guerrillas and forced them to evacuate their position. Airstrikes then finished the Vietcong off. For his aggressiveness, Cavazos received his second Distinguished Service Cross. His greatest personal achievement, however, came in 1976 when he was promoted to brigadier general — the first Hispanic officer to receive a general’s star. Six years later, he received the four stars of a full general and took charge of U.S. Army Forces Command, which placed him in command of all Army troops in the lower 48 states. He used his position to gain support for the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California and the Battle Command Training Program, both of which heavily influenced the Army’s military capabilities. Although fixated on both programs, Cavazos always had time for those who considered him a mentor. He shaped the careers of Hispanic officers as well as such rising stars as H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell — Cavazos even interceded once on Powell’s behalf to keep him in the Army. General Richard Cavazos retired from the U.S. Army in June 1984 after thirty-three years of service. He lives today in San Antonio, Texas, and although his mind is fading due to dementia, his actions on behalf of his country will never diminish.

Richard Cavazos’ gallantry showcases that heroism is not the sole property of one ethnic group. Rather, he understood it belongs to everyone who refuses to back away from a challenge. It is a matter of character. From an early age, Cavazos refused to submit to the prejudiced view many white Americans had of their Hispanic neighbors, and at every opportunity, he showed himself to be the equal of any man, regardless of race. As well, his actions during the Korean War proved he was one of those rare soldiers who thrived under the rigors of combat. Not once did he ever lose his nerve or observe battle from safely behind the lines. His soldiers could always take pride that he would be with them when they met the enemy in battle. From the humble start of his military career to the star-filled end, Richard Cavazos lived a life that attained the “morally ascendant” standard he set for himself — a true soldier’s soldier.

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The Hero of Manila


The second half of the twentieth century is often called the “American Century.” It was this period that saw the United States become the world’s preeminent superpower, defeat the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and bring down the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union. The country’s unrelenting defense of liberty and democracy led to its position as “leader of the free world.” While the U.S. rose to its global zenith during the twentieth century, it first emerged on the world stage at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1898 the nation flexed its muscles against a respected world power during the Spanish-American War. The war is often remembered today in light of one event — the charge of Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in Cuba. The war was not, however, limited solely to Cuba. It was also fought on the other side of the world. Months before Teddy Roosevelt won fame, an American naval officer attacked the Spanish Philippines. This officer had seen action in America’s bloodiest conflict, and now he sought to win a battle that would earn his country a true presence in world affairs. His name was George Dewey. This is the story of how he launched America’s rise to prominence with his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay.

As a young officer during the American Civil War, George Dewey first demonstrated the courage that earned him national fame forty years later. He was born in Montpelier, Vermont in late December 1837 to a prosperous physician, but having no desire for a life on land, he entered the fledgling U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1854. After graduation, he spent three years in the Mediterranean before being thrust into battle in the country’s most lethal war. Arriving home from Europe, he was ordered aboard the steam frigate U.S.S. Mississippi in April 1861, and a year later he joined Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s squadron as it was preparing to attack the Confederate citadel of New Orleans, Louisiana. Named the ship’s executive officer, Lieutenant Dewey stepped onto the Mississippi’s hurricane deck on the night of April 23rd and ordered the ship to sail past Confederate Forts Jackson and St. Philip guarding the entrance to the Mississippi River. Artillery rounds exploded all around him, but he continued to confidently stride the deck. Not even the appearance of the feared Confederate ironclad ram Manassas unnerved him. His coolness so impressed Farragut that Dewey was specifically chosen to join in the March 1863 attack on Port Hudson, Louisiana, one of the last Confederate bastions on the Mississippi River. As he had at New Orleans, the lieutenant stood tall on the deck while directing fire on Confederate batteries on the shoreline. Suddenly, Dewey heard a loud crash as the Mississippi ran aground on a mud bar, and he watched as Confederate fire on the ship increased as gunners took advantage of such a tempting target. Still, Dewey refused to panic. Instead, he calmly ordered the officers and men to abandon ship, with himself being one of the last to disembark. He left the Mississippi theatre soon after, and in January 1865 he joined Admiral David Dixon Porter in attacking Fort Fisher, outside Wilmington, North Carolina. For his valiant actions, Dewey was promoted to lieutenant commander, but the years to come were to be trying ones as he struggled to find his place in the peacetime Navy.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Dewey watched as the country’s rapid return to peace threatened not only naval power but also his own career. He toured northeastern navy yards and was alarmed to find construction on new warships had stopped. Most work centered on repairing ships. He was further dismayed at the sight of both wooden ships and ironclads rotting and rusting away in the harbor, and he no doubt began to wonder if he too was doomed to such a fate. In 1873 his suspicions seemed to be confirmed when he assumed command of the U.S.S. Narragansett with orders to chart the coastal waters of the Gulf of Lower California. There were occasional bouts of excitement, such as when he threatened to destroy the regional governor’s home if he did not send troops to protect an American businessman who was being harassed by Mexican workers, but mostly, the mission required hours of drudgery. In 1875 he was recalled to the U.S. to serve as inspector of the Second Lighthouse District, which ran from New Hampshire to Rhode Island, and he spent the next few years serving as the naval liaison to the Lighthouse Board. During this time, he frequently indulged in fine dining, a lifestyle that caught up with him in late 1882 when he had to undergo surgery for abscess of the liver. His condition was worsened by typhoid fever to the extent that Dewey wrote his sister, “At one time I fully expected to die.” Upon recovering, he was promoted to captain and assigned to Europe aboard the Pensacola, a ship he remembered from his Civil War years. In Europe he saw how U.S. ships paled in comparison to those from other foreign powers, and he came to understand the Navy had to be revitalized before it could seek a spot in world affairs.

With new determination, Dewey returned to Washington, D.C. in 1889 where he joined the Navy Department as chief of the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting. He enthusiastically supported the Navy’s construction of new steel ships, but he chafed under the orders to salvage old equipment rather than purchase newer, more expensive allotments due to a lack of funds. He was also distressed to find a shortage of coal, which severely limited naval operations. Dewey vigorously appealed to Congress to increase allocations to his bureau, and the Navy soon had enough coal to sustain lengthy maneuvers. After leaving the bureau, he became president of the Board of Inspection and Survey, in which capacity he examined America’s first modern battleships and ensured each met the standards set by Congress. He then supervised the sea trials of the battleships, including the U.S.S. Maine, and watched as they were inducted into the U.S. Navy. While his efforts were vital to the formation of a modern American Navy, newly promoted Commodore Dewey yearned for a return to sea duty. In October 1897 his wish was granted when he received command of the Asiatic Squadron. He boarded his flagship, the U.S.S. Olympia, at Nagasaki, Japan on January 3, 1898 — just over a month before the Maine was sunk inside the harbor of Havana, Cuba, allegedly after hitting a submerged Spanish mine.

As war loomed between America and Spain, U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt cabled Dewey orders to concentrate the squadron at Hong Kong and make preparations to defeat Spanish forces in the Philippines. Since Spain remained a recognized world power, upon reaching his new base the commodore set to work repairing his ships and collecting provisions for up to three months of military operations. All was ready when, on April 24th, he received word from Secretary John Long that war with Spain had begun and he was to “commence operations at once, particularly against the Spanish fleet.” At the same time, Dewey met with the region’s American consul and learned that coastal defense guns were located along the Manila water front as well as on nearby Corregidor and Caballo islands. There were also mines in the channel entrance. Most important, the Spanish squadron, comprising two cruisers and five gunboats, had withdrawn from Manila Bay thirty miles north to Subic Bay where it most likely awaited the American fleet. Seeing no reason for further delay, Dewey raised anchor at 2:00 p.m. on the afternoon of April 27th and steamed for the Philippine coast.

Dewey’s fleet reached Subic Bay on the afternoon of April 30th, but seeing no sign of the enemy, the commodore realized the squadron had undoubtedly returned to Manila. As night fell, therefore, he ordered his ships to run past the forts guarding the entrance to Manila Bay. A brief firefight ensued between two American ships and Spanish batteries on the island of El Fraile, but otherwise, the operation was accomplished without incident. By 5:00 a.m. on May 1, 1898 all American ships were inside the bay. Seven miles away, Admiral Patricio Montojo’s ships rested at anchor in the harbor of Cavite. From the deck of the Olympia, the commodore spied two large warships, the Reina Cristina and the Castilla, along with several smaller gunboats. With battle imminent, Dewey assumed his battle station on the ship’s bridge. Those around him must have inwardly laughed, for his regulation white uniform contrasted starkly with the golfer’s cap he was forced to wear due to the loss of his officer’s cap the day before. Still, he cut an imposing figure as he and the Olympia led the American line of battle toward the enemy. Spanish batteries along the waterfront opened fire on the Americans, but Dewey refused to return fire, wishing to conserve his limited amount of ammunition. When he was only 5,000 yards from Montojo, he ordered his gunners to open fire. Within moments, both sides were thundering away at each other.

Showing the same courage under fire he had during the Civil War, Dewey ordered the Olympia to steam past the Spanish ships five separate times with guns blazing. Spanish gunners trained their sights on the American ship, but inaccuracy ensured many rounds passed harmlessly overhead. Several, however, did find their mark, as shown by one fragment hitting the forecastle deck just below Dewey. Still, the commodore continued to coolly direct fire on the enemy ships. American fire became so intense that by 7:00 a.m. Montojo desperately sought to escape the onslaught, so he ordered the Reina Cristina to close with the Olympia. Olympia’s guns now trained on the Spaniard, and Dewey watched as shells raked the ship from fore to aft, igniting fires. An American shell also struck the Reina’s steering gear, preventing rapid escape. With the enemy flagship out of action, Dewey and his gunners turned their sights on the Castilla.

In the midst of this fight, the ship’s fire control officer warned Dewey each gun only had 15 rounds of 5-inch ammunition left. Consequently, Dewey moved back into the middle of the bay — though the story later was so his men could eat breakfast. Upon finding the situation was not as dire as first thought, the commodore used the lull to evaluate the situation. He questioned his captains as to losses and was pleasantly surprised to discover the squadron had suffered less than ten casualties. He then turned his gaze to the Spanish fleet, which was all but destroyed. The Reina Cristina was burning, and the Castilla had just blown up. As well, several gunboats were sunk. Shortly after 11:00 in the morning Dewey returned to finish off the remaining ships, and when that was done, he turned his attention to the batteries on Manila’s waterfront, which had been firing on him the entire time. Over the next three days, he consolidated his hold by forcing the Spanish troops at Cavite and in the forts surrounding Manila to surrender. With the bay under American control, Dewey dispatched his official report back to the United States, which greeted the news with jubilation. Not only was he granted a coveted promotion to rear admiral, but he was also voted the “Thanks of Congress” for his heroism. It was not long before his was a household name all across the country.

As the country celebrated his astounding victory, Dewey struggled to bring Manila itself under American authority. For three months following the Battle of Manila Bay, he imposed a naval blockade of the city, but Spanish officers rejected his demand to surrender, claiming they could not admit defeat without first satisfying their “honor.” Consequently, Dewey coordinated with U.S. Major General Wesley Merritt in attacking the city on August 13th, which forced the Spanish to capitulate. He remained in the Philippines during the first months of American rule, and in early 1899 he engaged in the opening fights between American troops and Filipino rebels. His heroism garnered such admiration from the American public he was promoted to the rank of full Admiral of the Navy — a rank only David G. Farragut and David D. Porter, both of Civil War fame, had previously held. He returned to the U.S. amid much fanfare in September 1899, and he spent the remaining seventeen years of his life serving on the Navy’s General Board and enjoying the social life of Washington. The Hero of Manila died in January 1917 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in a ceremony officiated by Chaplain John Brown Frazier, a man who had stood beside him on the Olympia and seen him achieve his greatest triumph.

With his conquest of the Spanish at Manila, George Dewey profoundly altered the course of America’s destiny. The raising of the Stars and Stripes over the Philippines signified the U.S. was no longer a second-rate power confined to the geography of North America. Now it could stand as a leader of nations and use its influence to give hope to those suffering from the dark forces of oppression which were to arise in the coming years. Who knows what course would have followed had the courageous admiral not shown what Americans were capable of with his smashing victory over the might of a respected European power. Undeniably the product of the nineteenth century, George Dewey paved the way to American greatness in the twentieth.

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Live Free or Die


For over two hundred years, Americans have acknowledged British General Lord Charles Cornwallis’ surrender at the October 1781 Battle of Yorktown as the official end of the War of Independence. Together with French land and sea forces, the Continental Army surrounded the British Army and after days of bombardment forced Cornwallis to admit defeat. British leaders were then finally compelled to grant the United States its independence. If Americans want to know the origins of that ultimate victory, however, they must look to the Battle of Saratoga, New York four years earlier. It was there the Continental Army struck a fatal blow to British military fortunes by capturing General John Burgoyne’s army, precipitating an alliance between France and the United States. The victory at Saratoga though would not have been possible without the heroic efforts of an American officer a month prior to the climactic fight. This officer served in some of the Revolution’s most crucial engagements, and his fearlessness in battle earned him the respect of his subordinates and superiors alike. His name was John Stark. This is the story of how he won a stunning triumph at the Battle of Bennington, Vermont in August 1777 that paved the way for Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga two months later.

John Stark first attracted national attention with his service in the French and Indian War. He was born in the frontier village of Londonderry, New Hampshire in August 1728 to Scotch-Irish immigrants and spent his early life traversing the New Hampshire wilderness. In 1752 he spent six weeks as an Indian captive, where he earned universal respect for remaining defiant in the face of torture. In 1755 he signed on with a company of rangers led by his close friend Robert Rogers and joined the fight against the French and their Native American allies. He primarily saw action in New York’s Lake Champlain valley. Stark skillfully scouted enemy garrisons and waited for the chance to prove his prowess as a warrior. The opportunity came in January 1757 when, along with his comrades, he was ambushed by the French and Indians while crossing ice-covered Lake George. Refusing to panic, Stark deployed his troops along a hilltop and fought off attacks on the company’s flanks and rear, which allowed the remaining soldiers to escape annihilation. Two months later, he demonstrated similar fortitude when he repulsed a French force attempting to destroy Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George. He spent late 1757 and early 1758 patrolling the region, and in July he participated in the British Army’s bloody assault on the French bastion at Fort Ticonderoga. A second attack in 1759 drove the French out of the region just as other forces were conquering Canada, effectively ending the fighting in North America. With the war over, Stark retired from military service and returned home. In the years to come, however, he shared his countrymen’s outrage as British tyranny mounted. Determined to never submit, he donned his uniform again, this time to fight his former allies.

Learning of the Battles at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, John Stark and one thousand New Hampshire militiamen marched to Cambridge, just outside Boston, where they joined the emerging Continental Army. On June 17th he defended Bunker (actually Breed’s) Hill from British attack. When the Americans ran out of ammunition, it was Stark and his regiment who covered the withdrawal of the American troops. He spent the remainder of the year besieging the British Army in Boston. After the enemy departed the town in March 1776, he led his men north to upstate New York where he joined the remnants of the American Army that had invaded Canada the year before. With the rest of the army, the gallant colonel fortified Fort Ticonderoga, which had been captured by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold in May 1775, and prepared to stop a British drive south. By late 1776 such an invasion had not occurred, so Stark rejoined the main Continental Army in time to cross the Delaware River with George Washington on Christmas night. The next morning he was in the forefront of the charge as the Continental Army swept into Trenton, New Jersey. In a matter of minutes, he and his comrades had captured 900 Hessians. He also participated in attacking the British garrison headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey on January 3, 1777. Shortly thereafter, Stark left the army for personal reasons and returned home to New Hampshire. He did not remain inactive for long, however, as British commanders were planning a new campaign — one in which John Stark was to have a starring role in defeating.

In June 1777 Stark learned the long-anticipated British thrust from the north had begun. In the weeks to come, he followed reports of General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne’s march south from Canada down Lake Champlain. Burgoyne intended to capture Albany, New York and the entire Hudson River Valley, thereby severing New England from the rest of the country and ending the “rebellion” in one swift stroke. At first, all went according to plan. By early July, Burgoyne had reached Fort Ticonderoga where American General Arthur St. Clair and two thousand men blocked his path. To the horror of Stark and many Americans, however, St. Clair abandoned the fort after the British placed artillery on nearby Mount Defiance, which the Americans had left undefended. As British forces pushed deeper into the interior, American forces tried to slow the British advance by felling trees and destroying bridges, but despite these efforts, Vermont and New Hampshire remained vulnerable to British attack. The greatest threat came from British raiding parties sent out to gather food for the army. Vermonters knew local militias were not enough to defend the region and appealed to New Hampshire for assistance. New Hampshire officials voted to raise two brigades of militia and to appoint Stark a brigadier general to lead the forces. He was ordered to protect inhabitants in both states and to engage the enemy when possible. Stark eagerly accepted the position and set about enlisting and equipping nearly 1,500 troops. All preparations were completed by the start of August, and on August 3, 1777 he led his small army into Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Upon arriving in his new theatre of operations, Stark marched to Bennington, but he soon learned 800 German mercenaries, Redcoats, and American Loyalists led by Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum were also advancing on the town with the aim of capturing a supply depot. The general initially attempted to lure Baum into a fight, but the German commander refused to take the bait when he was outnumbered. Instead, Baum sent a request back to General Burgoyne for reinforcements, but while he waited for them to arrive, he foolishly decided to divide his troops into three separate groups. Commanding British regulars and German soldiers, Baum defended a bridge over the Walloomsac River facing the Americans while the remaining Germans manned a hilltop several hundred yards up. A third contingent comprising 200 Loyalists was stationed on high ground across the river to protect the roads heading south. Local inhabitants carried this news to Stark. The American commander saw an opportunity to destroy Baum piece by piece and secure a stupendous victory for the American cause.

On the morning of August 16, 1777, Stark gathered his officers and outlined a strategy whereby two groups would attack the flanks of the German force on the hill above the river while another detachment struck the Tories across the river. Stark himself would lead the main attack against Baum’s troops at the bridge. As the other groups moved into position, the general paraded his men in front of the bridge to give the impression he led a mighty host. It was said he drew his sword and pointed it at the enemy before shouting to his men that he intended to either take the entire army prisoner or die in the attempt. Finally, by mid-afternoon, he was told all his units were in position. Unsheathing his sword, the fearless general ordered two musket shots to signal the attack. Riding at the head of the column, Stark and his men reached the enemy ranks in a matter of moments. Baum and his soldiers were stunned by Stark’s audacity, but they immediately put up fierce resistance. As Stark and his comrades engaged in hand-to-hand fighting, they listened for the sounds of musketry that would prove the other elements of the attack were unfolding as desired.

Suddenly, gunfire erupted from the hill above. Looking up, Stark saw the German troops there were just as surprised by the attack as those defending the bridge. They attempted to hold off the attack, but American sharpshooters killed many as the troops stood to fire. With a shout, men from New Hampshire and Vermont swept into the fortifications forcing the Germans to flee. Sensing the enemy was being overpowered, Stark ordered his men to double their efforts. From his position near the bridge, Stark watched with fire in his eyes as his German counterpart was felled by a musket ball in his abdomen. With their commander dying, the remaining troops fled. Jubilantly, the militiamen took off after them, killing those who resisted and sparing those who surrendered. Among those being rounded up, Stark observed a number of Loyalists, convincing him the attack on the bastion across the river had also been a success. The general was pleased, but he could not rest on his laurels as scouts sighted the reinforcements Baum had requested. He reformed his troops, and, with the help of Continental soldiers who had just arrived, he fended off an enemy attack. By this time, darkness was falling, so both sides withdrew. A significant element of the British thrust into the heart of America had just been eliminated. Though he did not realize it, John Stark had enabled Americans to take the first steps in defeating General John Burgoyne, and ultimately Britain itself.

In the years following Bennington, Stark continued to serve on the northern frontier. He commanded New Hampshire troops during the Battle of Saratoga, New York, and it was he who ensured General Burgoyne had no choice but to surrender by blocking the only escape route. His efforts won him promotion to brigadier general in the Continental Army. In 1779 he helped free Newport, Rhode Island from British control, and in early 1780, he participated in the last major engagement of the war in the north — repulsing a Hessian attack on Springfield, New Jersey. Later that same year, Stark served as one of the officers at the trial of British Major John Andre, Benedict Arnold’s co-conspirator in delivering the American fort at West Point to the British. His final act of service to his country was to command the Northern Department while George Washington marched his army south to Yorktown, Virginia to force Lord Charles Cornwallis to surrender, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. When Britain finally recognized American independence in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the war officially ended, and John Stark went home to New Hampshire, resuming his life as a farmer and lumberman. Despite never serving in public office after the war, he did provide one lasting contribution when in 1809 he was asked to attend a celebration commemorating his great victory at Bennington. Although he declined the offer, he did offer a toast to remember the sacrifice he and other Americans made — “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” Today, it is New Hampshire’s state motto. John Stark died in May 1822, the last general in the Continental Army to quit the field of action in this world.

Throughout his life, John Stark never shied away from a fight. Whether it was battling the French and Indians or humbling Europe’s most professional soldiers, he saw his duty clearly and plainly. It was a rare combination of fearlessness, combativeness and cunning intelligence that allowed Stark to take on and defeat the British-German army outside Bennington, Vermont and in a similar manner force John Burgoyne to capitulate. Ever the patriot, he lived out his immortal words — “Live free or die” — with unwavering devotion to the cause, living proof that one man can make a difference.

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Befitting its status as the leader of the free world, the United States has often sought to bring those individuals guilty of war crimes to justice. The most famous example is the series of trials held in Nuremberg, Germany following World War II. American lawyers prosecuted Nazi leaders and concentration camp guards for the mass murder of Jews and others who died under their brutal hand. When asked how they could commit such atrocities, the accused often replied they were just following orders. There is a clear distinction, not just a fine line, however, between obeying lawful orders and using them to justify heinous acts. All combatants, whether friend or foe, must be held accountable when the rules of war are violated. This was most clearly demonstrated by an atrocity that occurred at the height of the Vietnam War. In March 1968 a young army officer from Florida led a brutal action against Vietnamese inhabitants, and he later claimed he had received such instructions from his superiors. As all came to know, he willingly sacrificed the moral code that traditionally guided U.S. servicemen. His name was William Calley. This is the story of how he engaged in one of the most notorious massacres in American history and was prosecuted by his own country.

For a man later convicted of multiple counts of murder, William Calley enjoyed a rather unremarkable early life. He was born in Miami, Florida in June 1943 to a father who operated a heavy construction company. Along with his three sisters, William grew up in an upper-middle class Miami suburb, but he later admitted he did not acclimate well to such a life. His claims were reinforced by his poor academic performance. He failed 7th grade for cheating and was suspended after arguing with a teacher. Hoping to instill more discipline, his parents enrolled him in the Florida Military Academy and the Georgia Military Academy, where he temporarily improved, before returning to Miami’s Edison High School for his last two years. His grades started to slip as he paid more attention to his social life than to his studies. This was apparent at graduation where he ranked 666 out of 731. He briefly attended Palm Beach Junior College, but once again, he showed little academic promise. He received two Cs, one D and failed the rest. Convinced college was not for him, he dropped out, and with little choice available, he entered the labor force.

In the years following his departure from college, William Calley’s inability to hold a job led him to the U.S. Army. Before that, however, he found work as a hotel bellhop, a short-order cook and even a car wash worker but soon grew tired of such menial work. In 1964 he joined the Florida East Coast Railroad as a switchman and later as a freight train conductor. Unfortunately, tardiness, failure to complete paperwork, and inattention to detail led to his departure. Seeking a fresh start, he traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he investigated claims on houses and automobiles on behalf of insurance companies. He also served as a freelance agent and chased claims across the country, even venturing into Mexico. He soon realized, however, he did not possess the mental acuity to track down those hiding from him, so he left for San Francisco. It was there he found a draft notice waiting for him. Calley was greatly surprised at the news since he had already tried to enlist in the Army but had failed his physical examination due to tone-deafness. Upon asking why he was being called up, he learned the country was so desperate for soldiers it was calling up those previously disqualified as physically and mentally incapable. He was then told he could enlist and thereby preempt conscription. William readily signed the enlistment papers and was inducted into the United States Army.

Although he showed himself a poor soldier, Calley climbed methodically through the ranks due to the Army’s critical need for manpower. After eight weeks of basic training, he was assigned to the Adjutant General’s Corps as a clerk. It was actually a role he excelled at, and had he stayed in such a position, he may well have had a safe and solid career. But by early 1967 with the Vietnam War in full swing, senior Army officials found traditional sources for junior officers, notably the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and college ROTC programs, were unable to meet the rising demand for field officers. This shortage led desperate commanders to select individuals, qualified or not, to undergo training in the Army’s Officer Candidate School (OCS). One of those selected was William Calley after his superiors learned of his stint in military school as a teenager. He reported to the Infantry School at Fort Benning in March for twenty-six weeks of rigorous training. Despite his instructors’ best efforts, he demonstrated a lack of command ability and a marked ineptness using maps and compasses. Still, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in September 1967 and assigned to Company C of the 20th Infantry. He joined the company in Hawaii just before it shipped out for Vietnam.

In December 1967 Calley and the rest of “Charlie Company” landed in South Vietnam, and the lieutenant quickly realized he had joined a struggle unlike any conflict Americans had previously fought. The main difference was the enemy hid in plain sight, often appearing as farmers or otherwise innocent citizens. It became nearly impossible to differentiate “bad” Vietnamese from “good” ones. More unsettling was that the enemy fighters were not always men. Vietnamese women and children proved just as dangerous despite their innocent façade. There were stories of children blowing American soldiers up with grenades or inflicting bodily harm by giving GI’s Coke cans filled with ground up glass. In these circumstances, Calley began to disregard instructions to treat civilians and prisoners according to the Geneva Convention. He found most inhabitants of southern Quang Ngai Province, where he was stationed, supported the Vietcong, Communist guerrilla fighters allied with North Vietnam, and consequently, he began to view all Vietnamese men, women and children as hostile. Calley first demonstrated a loss of humanity when he said that killing Vietnamese children saved future American lives. With this attitude, he could now justify, at least to himself, the actions he was about to take against the Vietnamese populace.

As 1967 turned into 1968, Calley’s animosity for Vietnamese citizens transformed into overt acts such as striking out at inhabitants. On January 30-31, 1968 Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers launched a massive assault — the Tet offensive — against U.S. and South Vietnamese forces all over South Vietnam. One of the targets was Charlie Company’s base camp. In the offensive’s aftermath, the company pursued and engaged the Vietcong’s 48th Battalion, but they faced heavy opposition as snipers inflicted numerous casualties, including Calley’s radioman. Efforts to find the snipers proved unsuccessful when villagers refused to divulge the enemy’s location. In late February Calley’s anger deepened after U.S. soldiers were killed when they stepped on land mines planted by the Vietcong during a routine mission. Like the rest of the company, he was outraged that nearby villagers neither warned the company of the mines nor showed sadness for the victims. Calley now believed “everyone there was VC [Vietcong].” Losing comrades led him and his troops to retaliate against those they perceived as the enemy. As they moved into new villages, soldiers abused inhabitants and refused to take prisoners. At one point, Calley killed an old farmer, even though the man was not VC. The worst was yet to come, however.

On March 16, 1968 Lieutenant William Calley and Charlie Company were ordered into the village of My Lai where it was believed remnants of the 48th Battalion were hiding. Captain Ernest Medina, the company commander, instructed Calley to expect strong resistance and to destroy the village, though he said nothing about killing noncombatants. The young lieutenant and his troops, however, chose to interpret these orders as not to take any prisoners. They saw the mission as a chance to avenge their losses. Even before setting foot on the ground, therefore, Calley’s platoon laid down withering helicopter fire on the villagers, many of whom had just sat down to breakfast. Just before 8:00 A.M. Charlie Company entered the village, and the soldiers split up to search for weapons and Vietcong fighters. Only a handful of weapons were found and there were no enemy forces. Despite orders to ignore civilians, the search quickly degenerated into a wholesale slaughter as soldiers released their long pent-up rage on the inhabitants. Men leveled their rifles and gunned down old men, women and children, some as they were fleeing the carnage. No one contributed more than Calley himself. Rather than try to restore calm, he joined his troops in rounding up prisoners at a trail junction before ordering all to be killed. He also participated in the mass execution of nearly one hundred civilians inside an irrigation canal. Seeing a two-year-old boy had climbed out of the ditch, he chased the toddler down, threw him back in, and shot him. Leaving the canal, he shot a woman attempting to surrender as well as an old man, reported to be a Buddhist monk. By the time the firing died down, over 500 civilians lay dead. Despite his belief he had merely done his duty, his actions that day would soon come to haunt Lieutenant Calley.

Despite efforts by Calley’s superiors, including company commander Captain Ernest Medina, to cover up what happened at My Lai, reports of the massacre soon began to filter out. In March 1969 the Inspector General’s office launched a full investigation into the atrocity, and word of Calley’s involvement spread like wildfire across the country. In September the newly promoted first lieutenant was charged with murder — specifically, violating Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It was not until over a year later, November of 1970, that his court-martial convened at Fort Benning, Georgia. Over the course of several weeks, the prosecutor described how the village was undefended and how Calley ordered his men to “take care” of prisoners, meaning to kill them, even though none had resisted. Witnesses corroborated these explanations and detailed their own experiences, most of which featured Calley as the central character. With each testimony, the likelihood of Calley’s conviction increased. In February 1971 he took the stand in his own defense, but he claimed to have only killed a handful of civilians — and those only on Captain Medina’s directive. On cross-examination, however, he admitted to not discriminating among the Vietnamese since they “were all the enemy.” As the trial ended, the prosecutor observed that under American law and the rules of war Calley had brutally executed innocent people who had committed no crime, and he urged the jury members to affirm those laws by placing the blame where it belonged — on William Calley’s shoulders. On March 29, 1971 Calley was convicted of twenty-two premeditated murders and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Following his sentence, Calley was confined to Fort Benning’s bachelor officer quarters on President Richard Nixon’s authority until the U.S. Court of Military Appeals heard his case. In August 1971 the army reduced his sentence to twenty years imprisonment and ordered his dismissal from the army and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. He remained under house arrest for two years and was under constant guard whenever he left his apartment. In April 1973 the Court of Military Appeals ruled the evidence supported conviction and ordered the sentence to be immediately carried out. In early 1974 Secretary of the Army Howard Callaway agreed, with the proviso that Calley only serve ten years rather than twenty. When it was all said and done, Lieutenant William Calley served only seven months before being paroled in March 1974. Upon his release, he settled in Columbus, Georgia where he married and worked in his father-in-law’s jewelry shop. He is still alive, and likely just as controversial today as 45 years ago.

War is an extreme act, and it calls for extreme actions — none know that better than those who have actually seen combat. It is a risky thing to judge wartime conduct of the combatants from the safety of home where “civilized” behavior is easy. Nonetheless, there is a moral and legal code that must be upheld, particularly in a country such as the United States which pays heed to the rule of law. By his actions on March 16, 1968, Lieutenant William Calley violated his oath as an officer in the U.S. Army and sacrificed his principles, his morals and most definitely, his honor. As citizens of a free and just country, we must always require that those who serve uphold the high ideals and values upon which this nation was founded. If we do not, we, like Lieutenant Calley, will lose our way.

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Warrior Without Equal


In the aftermath of the Civil War, American citizens turned their eyes from the war-torn east to the open prairies of the west where new opportunities awaited them. Thousands of men and women embarked on cross-country journeys, but they encountered fierce opposition from Native Americans who wished to preserve their way of life. A clash of cultures subsequently erupted. Today, interest in the Indian Wars often centers on the Northern Plains and the battles to force the Sioux onto reservations. The principle character in these events is the colorful, and controversial, General George Armstrong Custer of the U.S. 7th Cavalry. For ten years, he led his soldiers into battle across the plains before making his “Last Stand” along the Little Bighorn River in Montana. He was not the only great Indian fighter, however. There was another officer who was just as famous and, quite honestly, more successful. Serving on the Southern Plains, he ferociously dogged the Indians and refused to relent until they were forced to surrender. His name was Ranald Mackenzie. This is the story of a matchless warrior who fought and subdued the Comanches and Kiowas on the frontiers of the wild west.

Claiming a proud military heritage, it was natural for Ranald Slidell Mackenzie to seek a life of glory and national service. He was born in Mount Pleasant, New York in late June 1840 to a father whose lineage dated back to fierce Scottish warriors and a mother who was descended from Revolutionary War General William Alexander, Lord Sterling. As a boy, he listened to his father’s tales of serving in the infant U.S. Navy under Oliver Hazard Perry. No doubt inspired by these tales, Ranald told his father he intended to pursue a career in the U.S. Army. It was an ambition the older Mackenzie cultivated by securing his son a spot at Mount Pleasant Academy. There young Ranald donned his first uniform and learned rudimentary discipline. He went on to attend Williams College in Massachusetts where he authored an article on military tactics for the Junior Exhibition before applying to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He arrived at the storied institution in March 1858 and proved an excellent cadet and student, as shown by his high academic ranking. Ranald also thrived amid the harsh nature of academy life and began to view the military as his second family. He graduated in June 1862 number one in his class and, with the Civil War in its second bloody year, was assigned to the Union’s Army of the Potomac as a second lieutenant. Not long after, he established himself as one of the Army’s rising stars.

Despite initially serving in the Corps of Engineers, within a year, Ranald Mackenzie had won the admiration of his superiors for his bravery under fire. He first displayed gallantry at the Battle of Second Manassas (Bull Run) in August 1862 when he undertook the hazardous duty of acting as a courier. While delivering orders, he was wounded in the right shoulder and spent the night alone on the battlefield before being discovered and sent home to recuperate. He rejoined the army less than two months later to find he had won a brevet (temporary) promotion to first lieutenant. Advancement to captain followed in May 1863 for meritorious conduct at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Then came the climactic July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. On July 2nd it was Ranald who delivered General Gouverneur Warren’s orders to Colonel Strong Vincent and his subordinate Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain to secure the Army’s imperiled left flank on Little Round Top from imminent Confederate attack. While leading the troops forward, he received his second wound and his third brevet promotion. His actions possibly saved the Union and marked him as a candidate for greater responsibility.

In 1864 Ranald was promoted to colonel and left the engineers for a combat command. He was to head the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, which had lost its commander during the bloodbath at the Battle of Cold Harbor. On June 22nd he led his men in attacking Confederate entrenchments surrounding Petersburg, Virginia. During the fighting, Ranald was wounded in his right hand, resulting in the amputation of his first two fingers and giving rise to the name later bestowed by the Indians — “Bad Hand.” A month later, along with the rest of the Union Sixth Corps, he repulsed Confederate General Jubal Early’s attack on Washington, D.C. and then joined General Philip Sheridan’s campaign to destroy Early’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. His greatest success came at the October Battle of Cedar Creek when he rallied the 2nd Brigade following a surprise attack and led the troops in routing the enemy. His unsurpassed courage, heightened by the fact he was wounded three times but refused to leave the field, resulted in his elevation to brigadier general. In March 1865 he assumed command of the Army of the James’ Cavalry Division and led the cavalrymen in capturing the critical railroad juncture at Five Forks, Virginia. He then joined in pursuing Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and ensured Lee’s capitulation at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th. For his efforts in the war’s last days, Ranald Mackenzie was promoted to brevet major general. His actions in the Civil War alone were enough to make him a national hero. The end of the war, however, did not equate to a slide into obscurity, for his greatest success was yet to come.

Ranald refused to allow the end of the Civil War to deter his service to his country, and he soon trained his sights on a new enemy. He rejoined the Corps of Engineers as a captain in the regular army, but he quickly grew unsatisfied with such mundane work after the thrill of combat. He appealed to General Grant for active duty, and in March 1867 he was promoted to colonel of the 41st Infantry, later the 24th Infantry, one of the original Buffalo Soldier regiments. He briefly served in the “Reconstruction” South before transferring to west Texas to protect the inhabitants from Comanche and Kiowa attacks. With the eastward deployment of troops during the Civil War years, these tribes had roamed the region with bloodthirsty impunity. In 1871 he assumed command of the 4th Cavalry at Fort Richardson, near modern-day Jacksboro, Texas. He threw himself into preparing his troops to take on some of the greatest light cavalrymen in the world. As he settled in at the post, he received regular reports of attacks on wagon trains, and in response, he led chases against the warriors. Convinced only a vigorous campaign would end the threat to frontier settlement, he pressured his superiors to let him advance on Comanche and Kiowa villages in the Texas Panhandle and along the Red River. That fall Ranald launched two back-to-back expeditions. While unable to decisively engage the Indians, he refused to abandon his tenacious pursuit of the enemy, clashing with small, independent bands on a frequent basis. He tempered tenaciousness with prudency, however, as when he broke off pursuit of Comanches to seek shelter from a Texas norther blowing rain, sleet, and snow rather than continue on and risk annihilation. These characteristics served him well in the coming months as he faced the Indians in open combat for the first time.

After spending the winter of 1871-72 at Fort Richardson, Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry rode onto the rugged high plains of the Texas “Llano Estacado.” In addition to opening the land up for settlement, the campaign ensured renegade Comanches and Kiowas would no longer find a safe haven there. In the aftermath of the expedition, Ranald was informed that Comanche and Kiowa warriors had left the Fort Sill, Oklahoma reservation. He immediately set out in pursuit. On September 29th he discovered a Comanche village along the North Fork of the Red River and ordered his men to attack. As he had countless times during the Civil War, Mackenzie was in the forefront of the charge as the 4th drove into the heart of the village. Seeing eighty warriors inside a crescent moon ravine, he led his men towards the enemy. He drew his pistol and, alongside his troops, he fired as the Indians charged his position, inflicting heavy casualties. Minutes later the Comanches withdrew, leaving Ranald 120 prisoners and 262 lodges. His smashing victory not only garnered him lavish praise from his commanders and the public alike but also opened up further opportunities

By 1874 Ranald Mackenzie was considered one of the nation’s foremost Indian fighters, so it was only natural the army looked to him to spearhead a campaign to end the Indian menace once and for all. That fall he led a force of cavalry and infantry against a village of Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes, often keeping close enough to spot warriors trailing behind the main body. On September 28th he looked down on the village from the rim of Palo Duro Canyon, near present-day Amarillo, Texas, and ordered his troops down a narrow trail to the valley below. As they descended, an Indian sentry shouted the alarm, but rather than attack, the warriors raced to evacuate the noncombatants and horses. Ranald took advantage of the unfolding pandemonium and pushed his men forward. After sweeping through the village, he ordered most of his troopers to attack the warriors who had taken cover in the canyon’s rocky crevices. To keep from being trapped, he dispatched one company to engage Indian braves threatening his rear while another company dashed forward to capture the Indians’ horse herd. Soon the Indians were fleeing, and he turned to destroying the lodges, food and other supplies. Mackenzie had achieved a stunning victory, but he did not rest on his laurels. He ordered the pursuit to continue, and in the weeks to come, his men engaged the splintered bands. The campaign’s grueling pace wore down men and horses, particularly Mackenzie who already suffered from rheumatism, but he refused to let up. The fierce campaign forced many Comanches and Kiowas to abandon their life on the plains, but some still clung to their traditional ways. Before leaving the Southern Plains, therefore, Colonel Mackenzie had one last battle to wage.

In early 1875 Ranald was transferred from Texas to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and was charged with bringing in the last holdouts to peace. He stationed elements of the 4th Cavalry at Fort Reno and Camp Elliot on Sweetwater Creek in Wheeler County, Texas as well as at Fort Sill. With the support of the army’s two senior commanders, Generals Philip Sheridan and William Tecumseh Sherman, he was determined to complete the mission he had started the year before. The few remaining Indians, however, would not simply await their annihilation. Realizing their inability to sustain a second aggressive expedition, nearly 200 tribesmen capitulated. Ranald was pleased by this acquiescence, but he knew he could not rest until one final renegade band, feared Chief Quanah Parker’s Quahada Comanches, laid down their arms. Eager to end the fighting once and for all but always cognizant of the threat, Colonel Mackenzie dispatched J.J. Sturms to meet with the Comanches and urge their surrender. Unwilling to rely solely on negotiations, however, he developed a military strategy to facilitate their defeat. He intended to advance on the Indian camp, and once in position, he would give battle if the Indians resisted. In preparation for this last great campaign, he gathered his forces, including horses capable of making 70-80 miles per day. These preparations proved unnecessary. Spurred by Sturms’ entreaties and the knowledge Mackenzie would pursue them until they were utterly destroyed, Quanah and his people decided to submit. On June 2, 1875 three hundred Comanches rode into Fort Sill and surrendered to Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, thereby ending the Indian Wars on the Southern Plains.

Although victory was finally achieved, Ranald’s service on the western frontier was not over yet. After the Quahadas surrendered, he oversaw their transition to life on the reservation and earned their respect by dealing generously and forthrightly with them. He also developed a close rapport with Comanche leaders, most especially Quanah Parker. In mid-1876, however, he was ordered to the Northern Plains to participate in the winter campaign designed to subjugate the Sioux and Cheyenne following George Custer’s death on the Little Bighorn. On November 25th Mackenzie attacked Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife’s camp along the Red Fork of the Powder River in Wyoming. After heavy fighting, he drove the Indians into the nearby Bighorn Mountains and destroyed the village. His actions forced Dull Knife to surrender in April 1877, and other bands soon followed suit. With the Northern tribes now pacified, Mackenzie served as commander of the District of New Mexico headquartered in Santa Fe where he directed military operations against Apaches. His heroism throughout the Indian Wars finally resulted in a long-coveted promotion to brigadier general in October 1882. Sadly, in March 1884 his career was cut short when he was forcibly retired after exhibiting erratic shifts in behavior, many believing the once gallant officer on the verge of insanity but more likely being the result of neurological disease or injury. Despite his subsequent retreat from the public eye, he remained popular with those inhabitants he had defended throughout his long and faithful service. That admiration was manifested in January 1889 when the nation’s newspapers reported the passing of Ranald Slidell Mackenzie. His burial in the cemetery at West Point befitted a man once known as “the most promising young officer in the army.”

Throughout his professional life, Ranald Mackenzie was known as one of the most fearless officers in the U.S. Army. He entered military service at a critical time in America’s existence, and virtually his entire career was marked by war. He personally led his troops into combat on countless Civil War battlefields, and he took that same dedication with him to the western prairies. Arguably the greatest Indian fighter ever, he energetically and tirelessly fought the country’s native opponents until they had no choice but to relinquish their war-like ways. Wherever he went and whatever he did, his enemies came to understand that Ranald Slidell Mackenzie was a warrior without equal.

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Defender of the Constitution


In the years immediately following the founding of the United States, the country lacked a vigorous central government needed to truly unify the thirteen independent states. The Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitution, were relatively weak, exemplified by Congress’ inability to levy taxes, for they essentially allowed each state to operate semi-autonomously with little regard for the rest of the country. Recognizing the shortcomings and wishing to establish a stronger national body, delegates from across the country met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to draft a new and stronger constitution. Following the end of the convention, however, critics of the proposed government launched attacks designed to prevent ratification of the document. They argued that a strong central administration would overshadow the states and undermine the republican principles Americans held dear. Influential leaders subsequently authored articles defending the need for such a government. One was a New Yorker who had played a critical role in founding the United States. His experiences convinced him the nation required the central administration provided by this new constitution if it was to survive and be taken seriously by world powers. His name was John Jay. This is the story of his fight to secure adoption of the most important document in American life — the Constitution of the United States of America.

John Jay’s support for the creation of a strong national government dated back to his early dealings in intercolonial affairs. Born in New York City in December 1745, he attended and graduated from King’s College, now Columbia University. In 1768 he was admitted to the bar and opened his own law practice, often handling cases involving colonial relations. In one case, he represented a client who was trying to utilize New York courts to collect on a Massachusetts judgment. He knew New York’s Supreme Court would likely follow the precedent set down by English courts, which refused to accept decisions handed down by Irish courts. As he predicted, the court ruled against him, and in the aftermath, he first advocated the need for laws governing the universal acceptance of judicial decisions, a concept now embodied in the “full faith and credit clause” of the Constitution. He also perceived the necessity of federal government oversight after witnessing the inability of individual colonies to settle disputes. In the late 1760s John served as clerk to a commission tasked with establishing the border between New York and New Jersey. He watched as lawyers for both colonies presented witnesses who testified their colony lawfully controlled the disputed territory. Each side refused to back down, even threatening to appeal to London for a final decision. The commission ultimately proposed, and both colonies accepted, a satisfactory border. No sooner had this dispute ended, however, than Jay was drawn into another clash between New York and New England. These experiences remained with Jay throughout his life, and they were likely the impetus for his support of a unified colonial coalition.

Jay’s dream of American unity was realized as Britain cracked down on the colonies, but he also saw that unity threatened by state and sectional interests. Just as he favored the Stamp Act Congress acting to force Parliament to repeal the 1765 Stamp Act, he vocally supported the First Continental Congress in late 1774 in protesting further acts of British oppression. Meeting in Philadelphia, he and his fellow delegates joined together to denounce the despised Intolerable Acts, passed in response to the December 1773 Boston Tea Party. In May 1775 Jay took his seat in the Second Continental Congress, and three years later, he was elected president of that body. At that time, however, Congress had little real authority. It controlled military matters and foreign affairs, but it could not dictate national policy; rather, it could propose legislation but left implementation up to the states. John witnessed this ineffectiveness firsthand when South Carolina rejected offering slaves their freedom in exchange for military service. He was even more disheartened, however, at Congress’ breakdown over New England’s insistence on being granted the right to fish off the Newfoundland coast as a precursor to any peace treaty with Britain. To avoid an internal splintering of interests, Jay brokered a compromise whereby Northern states gave up fishing rights as a precondition for peace and Southern states promised to join them in military action if Britain denied America this privilege. He understood such internal division and decentralized authority weakened the nation, and he sought to prevent that from happening by giving the national government the ability to mediate conflicts. This was most evident during his final months in office when he encouraged the Continental Congress to adopt resolutions calling on New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to give Congress authority to set new boundaries between the states and to negate the controversy arising over the creation of Vermont. Both New Hampshire and Massachusetts refused to relinquish such control, however. As John prepared to leave Congress, therefore, he realized a robust national government was necessary to bind the states together, but he soon expanded that line of thinking to include dealings with foreign nations.

Diplomatic service throughout the 1780s further convinced Jay America required a more recognized leadership body if it was to secure a place in world affairs.  He formed his opinion almost immediately upon arriving in Madrid as U.S. minister to Spain when he found he was to be denied recognition as the ambassador of a sovereign country. Spanish officials evidenced this lack of respect as they withheld funds needed to secure America’s credit standing and placed preconditions on the U.S. — principally, acquiescing control of the Mississippi River — prior to a formal alliance. In 1782 Jay travelled to Paris where he joined John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in negotiating a final peace treaty with Britain. As the negotiations proceeded, he developed distrust for many European nations, including America’s ally, France. These nations saw America as a threat, and Jay feared they would exploit the U.S.’s internal divisions to prevent the country from becoming a dominant force. His concerns heightened following his appointment as Secretary for Foreign Affairs. For three years, 1784-87, Jay watched European nations seek to undermine American sovereignty, such as when Britain refused to abandon its garrisons along the U.S.’s northern border or when French consular officials petitioned for immunity from U.S. laws. He also grasped how a weakly unified nation was unable to stand up for its rights, as shown in the confrontation with Spain over access to the Mississippi River. Dealing with foreign nations convinced Jay America must show strength, and that was only possible through a stronger national system. Along with his fellow nationalists, therefore, he devoted himself to securing passage of such a government. Nothing less than the survival of the new nation was at stake.

In the fall of 1787 John Jay, who was still serving as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and his fellow citizens read accounts of the new Constitution in the country’s newspapers. One of the document’s most important clauses was the one stating the Constitution and all national legislation would be “the supreme law of the land.” Jay must have felt a burst of pride on reading that passage — he had personally proposed the resolution to colleagues at the Constitutional Convention. He quickly realized, however, that certain other Americans, no less ardent than he, did not share his support for the document. Known as Antifederalists, they perceived a too powerful national government as a direct threat to individual liberty. Determined to overcome these objections, Jay joined Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to write the Federalist essays, a series of articles designed to encourage the Constitution’s ratification. He reminded Americans they were united by a common ancestry and by shared experiences during the Revolution, and therefore, the citizenry should employ maximum effort to prevent division of the country into separate confederations. He went on to illustrate how the disputes with France and Spain evidenced the need for a singular voice to confront external threats and to ensure the unified states remained free of foreign influences. John wrote a total of five essays as well as an Address to the People of the State of New York, in which he described how this new Constitution was the country’s best hope. He was not content to simply wage the fight in print, however; he prepared to follow his words up with action.

In February 1788 New York’s legislature finally called for a state convention to debate ratification. As soon as the delegation was seated, Jay realized he had a difficult task ahead of him — Federalists were outnumbered two-to-one. He grasped that the best chance for success lay with encouraging less-committed Antifederalists to abandon their more-committed leaders. He began by singling out and conversing with those men who were true friends of the union and who wished to see the nation preserved. He further sought to persuade Antifederalist delegates by employing a conciliatory tone when he addressed the convention as a whole. He reported to his friend George Washington these tactics appeared to bear fruit as he perceived a growing desire among some delegates to avoid rejection of the proposed new form of government. Division within the Antifederalist ranks increased after hearing that New Hampshire and Virginia had ratified the Constitution, bringing the number of states to ten and ensuring the document’s implementation. Despite this obvious victory, many Antifederalists continued to hold out, recognizing New York’s crucial position as one of the more powerful states. Hoping to pry more delegates loose, John suggested New York City might split off if New York as a whole rebuffed the new system. He also proposed an adjournment in hopes the Antifederalists would be pressured to favor ratification to appease their constituents. Still, Antifederalists held tight to their convictions, as evidenced by their desire to see immediate adoption of amendments.

As the debate over the Constitution neared a climax, Jay sought to mediate between New Yorkers who insisted on simultaneous adoption of amendments and those who favored immediate ratification. He was incensed by Antifederalist insistence that support of the Constitution would be conditioned upon on acceptance of various amendments. Instead, John proposed New York ratify the Constitution “as is” and then call for those amendments deemed necessary to preserve individual liberty. He voiced support for amendments as long as they did not create unworkable problems for the new administration. Just as it appeared a compromise was reached, however, Antifederalists threatened to derail ratification yet again by insisting on New York’s right to secede if a national convention to consider amendments was not called in an acceptable period of time. Jay argued such a proposal demonstrated a lack of faith in other states. To forge conciliation, he penned a letter to the nation stating New York’s willingness to ratify provided a convention would be called to adopt amendments correcting the Constitution’s perceived flaws. On July 26, 1788 the ratifying convention adopted Jay’s measure and subsequently voted thirty to twenty-seven to ratify the Constitution. The battle was over, and the victory belonged as much to Jay as anyone.

For the remainder of his life, Jay devoted himself to the new federal government he had helped establish. In late 1789 President George Washington appointed John as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In addition to hearing national cases, he also attended sessions of lower circuit courts. Likely due in part to his frequent travels over rugged terrain, he ultimately concluded the government’s ability to “establish post roads” also allowed for the repair of those roads in disrepair. Much of his time, however, was spent establishing federal supremacy over the states, such as when he overturned a Rhode Island monetary statute when it clashed with the Constitution’s currency provisions. Above all, he strove to bring federal justice to all Americans. He was still in the process of doing that in early 1794 when President Washington dispatched him to Britain to negotiate a treaty to prevent America’s involvement in the war raging between Britain and Republican France. Although Jay was forced to give in to critical British demands, he did secure Britain’s abandonment of its forts along the U.S.’s western border, which opened the lands to settlement and brought the inhabitants under the authority of the national government. Upon his return to America in 1796, he served two terms as governor of New York, and because of his past experiences, he continued to advise Presidents Washington and John Adams on foreign policy. He retired in June 1801 but remained in contact with Adams and other colleagues. John Jay died in May 1829. Across the land he had labored to unify he was honored for his long and faithful service.

Like his fellow revolutionaries, John Jay gave his all to the American cause, but his fight took on a different form than many others. He helped forge the political union that took on the most powerful empire in the world, and he fought to gain American acceptance overseas. He was a master negotiator and mediator, both at home and abroad. His greatest contribution, however, was his fight to cement a new national government strong enough to protect American interests from internal and external threats. Unfortunately, the Federalist giants James Madison and Alexander Hamilton have often overshadowed him. Without Jay, however, it is possible New York would not have ratified the Constitution, and the fate of a fledgling nation would have been uncertain. For his unceasing exertions, John Jay, American patriot, could rightfully be known as — “Defender of the Constitution.”


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Rising Above It All


Following the United States’ entry into World War II, African-Americans raced to the recruiting stations to join the U.S. military. Like their white countrymen, they yearned for the opportunity to battle Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Before combating the dark forces of totalitarianism, however, they had to take on the rampant prejudice and mistreatment commonplace throughout the armed forces. Segregation was prevalent inside and outside the military, and bigotry was widespread. All too often, in all branches, the belief lingered that blacks were inferior to whites. Determined African-American leaders launched a campaign to force President Franklin Roosevelt to increase African-American participation in the war effort. He agreed, and one of the measures taken involved the creation of black fighter squadrons. The most famous of those units was the one taking shape outside Tuskegee, Alabama. At the head of this formation stood an African-American colonel who fully appreciated the discrimination his men suffered. He had experienced it firsthand as he climbed through the ranks. Rather than back down, however, he determined to prove just what he and his fellow African-Americans were capable of. His name was Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. This is the story of how he battled through every adversity to lead the Tuskegee Airmen to victory and ultimate glory against America’s enemies.

Even before entering military service, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. well knew the formidable challenges facing black officers. He was born in Washington, D.C. in mid-December 1912 to Lieutenant Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. of the 9th U.S. Cavalry, part of the famed “Buffalo Soldiers.” His earliest memories were of life on a military post outside Cheyenne, Wyoming where white officers and their families oftentimes refused to acknowledge him and his parents when they attended social events. As a boy, he saw his father repeatedly petition for a command in both white and mixed regiments, but institutional biases against black officers limited Davis Sr.’s assignments to outposts such as the Philippines or to African-American colleges as a military instructor at places like Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. Father and son alike saw how discrimination resulted in the promotion of white officers over more capable African-American ones. Ultimately, Davis Sr. gained promotion to lieutenant colonel, but narrow-minded thinking remained entrenched, particularly in the South. For example, in 1923 the Ku Klux Klan paraded through Tuskegee, Alabama to protest a new veterans’ hospital staffed with African-American doctors and nurses. Among those watching the display was young Benjamin who stared in awe as his father fearlessly stood on the family’s front porch wearing his white dress uniform as the white-robed Klansmen marched by. This inspiring image could not help but motivate Benjamin to consider a career in the U.S. military.

Over the next few years, Benjamin Jr.’s resolve to join the armed forces increased as he evaluated the prospects open to African-Americans. Like other middle class blacks, Davis was limited in his career options — primarily to fields like teaching or dentistry. Benjamin not only wished for a more exciting profession, but he also yearned to fulfill a long-held dream. In 1926 he had met a barnstormer and experienced the joy of flying. His desire intensified the next year after Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris. The dream remained alive throughout his time at Cleveland, Ohio’s Central High School, Western Reserve University and University of Chicago, Illinois. Knowing he was unlikely to achieve his goal as a civilian, he focused his sights on securing an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Benjamin saw graduation from the Academy as a way to satisfy his ambition and to secure a victory on behalf of his fellow African-Americans, in particular vindicating the memory of Cadet Alonzo Parham who was forced to leave the Academy in 1930 after flunking mathematics. Supported by Illinois Representative Oscar DePriest, the only African-American in Congress, he undertook and passed the Academy’s rigorous entrance examination. In fall 1932 he entered the hallowed halls of West Point with visions of a glorious future, but he quickly realized his fellow cadets would not go easy on him.

As he stepped onto West Point’s parade ground, Cadet Davis had a long road in front of him. It was not just the multifaceted curriculum or the harsh military discipline that stood in his way, but more importantly was history itself, as the fact remained that no African-American had graduated from the Academy in over forty years. Determined to perpetuate this dubious record, white cadets undertook to isolate the new plebe, or freshman cadet, by forcing him to room alone and silently endure the traditional hazing by upperclassmen. Classmates further denied Davis the camaraderie of the mess hall and compelled him to eat all his meals alone. Worst of all, however, was his being subjected to the “silent treatment” — meaning no one, neither his class nor others, spoke to him outside official duty all four years of his academy experience. It was a punishment normally reserved for those guilty of honor violations, but in Davis’ case it was simply because he was there. Despite this blatant discrimination, Benjamin refused to succumb to despair, and instead, he devoted himself to military life. His perseverance and determination resulted in him graduating 35th out of 278 in the Class of 1936. By then, he had also merited a form of grudging respect from his classmates. The 1936 West Point yearbook, the Howitzer, reflected this hard-earned esteem as it honored his courage, tenacity, and intelligence in warranting him universal admiration. It was believed his “single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.” Unfortunately, the color of his skin still posed an impediment to his future assignments.

Upon being commissioned a second lieutenant, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. became the second of two African-American line officers in the U.S. Army — the other was his father. Neither his unique accomplishment nor his Academy record impressed his superiors, however; they resolved he would not command white troops. It was natural, therefore, for his petition to join the Army Air Corps in late 1936 to be rejected on the basis blacks were not admitted into the flying corps. Rather, he was assigned to the all-black 24th Infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia. He found Southern racism as widespread as ever, as evidenced by the fact he was consistently barred from the fort’s officers club. Davis refused to lose heart and dedicated himself to performing his regimental duties. Occasionally, he would meet someone who suggested he depart the military and enter the civilian world, pursuing some career such as law. He rejected this advice and remained focused on his military career. In June 1937 his decision appeared justified when he was admitted to the Army’s Infantry School at Fort Benning. As at West Point, his classmates shunned him, but he persevered and graduated after a year of training, drill and study. But once again, his superiors dismissed his qualification to command. To avoid upending decades of military tradition, Army brass assigned Lieutenant Davis to Tuskegee Institute as professor of military science, the same position his father had held when Benjamin was a boy. He proved extremely capable and climbed through the ranks to major, but he still yearned to fly. His dream was finally realized in late 1941 when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the incorporation of black pilots into the Army Air Corps as part of the U.S.’s preparations to enter World War II.

Despite finally achieving his dream, Benjamin still confronted the discriminatory views pervasive throughout the Army Air Corps. Air Corps officers established a base for black pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field in compliance with President Roosevelt’s directive, but they were determined to prove African-Americans did not have the reflexes and skills to be fighter pilots. To their shock, Major Davis overcame all obstacles to become the first African-American to solo in an Army Air Corps plane. He graduated in March 1942, and soon after, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was given command of the 99th Pursuit Squadron — the first of the “Tuskegee Airmen.” Within a year he led his men into combat. His unit first saw action in 1943 when they supported the Allied invasion of North Africa and launched the offensive against Sicily by attacking German forces on the island of Pantelleria. To Davis’ dismay, however, certain Air Corps commanders later denounced the 99th for allegedly underperforming and demanded the squadron be removed from active duty. Davis stormed into Washington, D.C. and waged a one-man campaign on behalf of his fellow warriors. Appearing before the War Department, and even holding a press conference at the newly constructed Pentagon, he argued there was no truth to the allegations. Indeed, he said, his pilots flew more than white ones, sometimes as many as six missions a day. He further maintained his pilots never shied away from combat, validated in January 1944 when members of the squadron shot down twelve enemy aircraft over two days. Davis’ spirited defense and a full investigation of the 99th’s actions finally laid to rest questions regarding the capabilities of African-American pilots.

With the future of African-American pilots settled, Colonel Benjamin Davis journeyed to Ramitelli Airfield, Italy to command the 332nd Fighter Group, commonly called” Red Tails” for their distinctive red-tipped aircraft. In June 1944 he climbed into a P-47 Thunderbolt and led his fighters as part of a bombing raid over Munich, Germany. As they approached the city, over 100 German planes descended on them, but Davis and his men held formation. Moments later, Davis led a charge of eight P-47s against eighteen Messerschmitt BF-109s. Benjamin watched in pride as enemy aircraft spiraled out of the sky and the others fled for safety. For his courage, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and he later received the Air Corps’ Silver Star for “gallantry in action” over Austria. His greatest victory, however, came on March 24, 1945 when he led a mission over Berlin itself. Seated in a P-51 Mustang, the hottest fighter in the inventory, he and the Red Tails not only fought but also downed three of Germany’s newest invention, the Messerschmitt Me-262 jet aircraft. More spectacularly, however, was the fact that no American bombers were lost. Shortly thereafter, with sixty combat missions under his belt, Davis was transferred back to the U.S. to command the 477th Composite Group, but Germany surrendered before the group was ready for combat.

Following war’s end, Benjamin Davis continued to break down racial barriers to secure a place for himself and his fellow African-Americans in the new U.S. military. In 1946 he became base commander of Lockbourne Army Air Base, Ohio, and his professional demeanor ensured a harmonious relationship between black pilots and those whites serving on the base. He also won over local residents. Within months, he and the airmen were valued members of the community. Inspired by Davis’ example, the Chief of Staff of the newly established United States Air Force issued a directive in early 1949 racially integrating white and black units — the first military branch to do so. That summer Davis was the first African-American to attend a military war college when he entered the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. Upon graduation in 1950, he was assigned to the Pentagon to head the Air Defense Branch of Air Force Operations before being named Wing Commander of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing flying F-86 Sabres during the Korean War. In each capacity, Davis primarily led white subordinates, but he always enjoyed the confidence of his men. His superiors continued to place great trust in his abilities as well. Finally, in May 1960 he literally became “a star” when he was promoted to brigadier general — the first African-American Air Force officer to receive that rank. Additional promotions to major general and lieutenant general preceded his retirement in 1970. Perhaps the greatest honor, however, came in 1998 when President Bill Clinton awarded Benjamin Davis the four-star rank of full general. The pioneer of black aviation died four years later on Independence Day, July 4, 2002 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. As befitted this true American hero, a Red Tail P-51 Mustang roared across the hallowed grounds.

Benjamin O. Davis’ life story is one of courage and perseverance. Throughout his life, he refused to back down in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. From being shunned by his West Point classmates to convincing his Air Corps superiors to allow African-Americans to fly, Davis refused to allow the forces of oppression to win. He never gave in to bitterness or resentment, and he never gave anyone reason to doubt his absolute commitment to do his duty. He was always at the forefront of the action, whether in the skies over Europe or in challenging prevailing social attitudes. In the end it was his tenacity that won victory for himself, his men, and ultimately, America itself. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. truly was a fighter — in the highest sense of the word.

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Young and Bold


Americans remember the American Revolution as the war of independence, but we often forget there was a “second war of independence” as well. It is now known as the War of 1812. The war largely resulted from England’s continued treatment of the U.S. as if it was still part of the British Empire, most egregiously evidenced by the Royal Navy’s impressment, or forced recruitment, of American sailors. Added to various trade restrictions imposed on the U.S. during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, outrage at these offenses led the U.S. to declare war on Britain in June 1812. The war initially appeared to favor the British, the foremost naval power in the world, particularly in the Great Lakes region. By mid-1813 British forces controlled all of modern Michigan and were poised to lay claim to the enormous area known as the Northwest Territory. It was at this moment a fearless young naval officer stepped forward to save the country. He was a Rhode Islander who had seen combat at home and abroad. His name was Oliver Hazard Perry. This is the story of how he achieved a smashing victory against British forces at the Battle of Lake Erie.

From the time he was a young boy, Oliver Hazard Perry desired nothing more than to serve his country as a naval officer. He was born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island in August 1785 to a former sailor in the Continental Navy, and he spent his childhood in nearby Newport. There he enviously monitored the comings and goings of U.S. frigates, like the Constitution, and dreamed of the day he could stand aboard one. Determined to achieve his goal, Oliver dedicated himself to studying navigation, mastering constellations, and sailing small boats in Narragansett Bay. In 1799 his dream became reality when his father was commissioned captain of the USS General Greene and secured thirteen-year-old Oliver’s appointment as a midshipman, effective April 7, 1799. Their mission was to patrol the Caribbean, attacking and capturing French ships as part of the U.S.’s Quasi-War with France. In January 1800 he witnessed firsthand how bold action resulted in victory when his father took his ship directly under enemy guns at Jacmel, Haiti to destroy the town’s defenses. With the rest of the General Greene’s crew, he returned to Newport in May 1800, only to discover the ship would be decommissioned. To Oliver’s delight, however, he learned he would remain in the service, and soon after, he received the opportunity to serve his country overseas.

Throughout the first decade of the 1800s, Oliver H. Perry participated in operations vital to preserving American interests. In 1802 he sailed to the Mediterranean aboard the USS Adams to combat the North African Barbary States of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, which were plundering American merchant ships. The Adams was primarily responsible for blockading Tripoli Harbor, but Perry did see action in mid-1803 when he fired on Tripolitans in support of a landing party’s attack on twelve boats filled with grain, called feluccas. Despite his best efforts, the Tripolitans saved the boats and drove the American party back to their ships. In response to increasing hostilities, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched the largest American naval force to date to the Mediterranean. As part of the force, nineteen-year-old Oliver assumed command of the USS Nautilus in July 1805. With the Marines storming “the shores of Tripoli,” the Barbary state was ultimately compelled to cease all hostile action against the United States. In the aftermath of the expedition, Perry joined Commodore John Rogers’ eighteen-ship squadron to force a similar resolution to the standoff between America and Tunis.

With American commerce temporarily secure, Perry returned to the U.S. in late 1806 to find tensions brewing with Great Britain. Shortly after his promotion to lieutenant in 1807, HMS Leopard fired on USS Chesapeake while it was inside Chesapeake Bay. Adding insult to injury, British officers seized four alleged British deserters off of the Chesapeake, killing or wounding twenty-one Americans in the process. Infuriated at this affront to national honor, Oliver threw himself into constructing gunboats for the defense of American coastal waters. He commanded a division of such boats in New York before transferring to the schooner Revenge. He diligently trained his crew in naval gunnery and small arms warfare. He was more than willing to employ such tactics, as proven by his readiness to board HMS Goree off Cumberland Island, Georgia in July 1810 if it attempted to fire on him. Fortunately, the British captain backed down. By the time war erupted between the U.S. and Britain in June 1812, it was clear to friend and foe alike that Master Commandant Oliver Perry was fully committed to protecting his country’s rights as a sovereign nation.

Following the war’s outbreak, Oliver petitioned the Navy Department for an active-duty assignment, and within months, he was dispatched to the Great Lakes to curb British aggression. Control of the entire region was at stake, and the situation was dire. Perry would find British squadrons in control of Lake Erie, with new warships about to join them. The U.S., on the other hand, had no real naval resources in the area to combat them. Perry arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania in late March 1813 and immediately set to work constructing gunboats and brigs. He outfitted five commercial ships for battle. He also ensured he had superior firepower to that of the British by obtaining larger caliber guns, which would enable them to deliver a crushing broadside. As the work neared completion, however, Perry feared the British would be waiting to destroy the squadron as it exited Erie’s sandbar protected harbor. Indeed the British did set up a blockade in June, but to Oliver’s joy, the blockade was lifted on July 31st when the ships ran low on supplies. Realizing he had to act, he ordered the squadron ready to sail the next morning. On August 1st the gunboats sailed over the sandbar into the lake for the first time. The painstaking process to get the larger vessels over required long wooden beams to be inserted through sweep ports on each ship with the beams’ ends resting on huge boxes, called “camels” — an ingenious system developed by the Dutch. Water could then be pumped in or out of the camels to raise or lower the ship as necessary. After several failed attempts, Perry’s flagship, USS Lawrence, was stripped to a virtual shell and finally eased over the bar. All vessels were on the lake by mid-day August 4th.

At the same time Perry’s last ship entered the lake, British Commander Robert Barclay’s fleet appeared on the horizon. The British officer saw the Americans were not just preparing for action but obviously outnumbered him nine ships to six. Rather than engage, Barclay departed for his base at Amherstburg, Canada. Perry pursued him, but after reconnoitering the British anchorage, he decided to lure Barclay out into open water. Once this was done, Perry intended to form his ships in a line of battle, allowing him to exert maximum firepower while keeping the enemy from engaging individual ships and increasing the likelihood of defeat. To pressure the British into giving battle, Oliver stationed the squadron at the entrance to the Detroit River and then regularly sailed up the river towards Barclay, essentially daring the enemy to come out and fight. As August turned into September, British forces began running low on supplies and many of their Native American allies were deserting. Finally, on the night of September 9th, Barclay ventured out to meet Perry.

At 5:00 AM on September 10, 1813 the enemy was spotted off Rattlesnake Island, and Commander Perry ordered his squadron into a line of battle. He attempted to gain the island’s windward side but was denied this advantageous position due to a steady southwesterly breeze. Undaunted, the young officer cried out he would fight the British, even at a disadvantage. As if in answer to his declaration, the wind shifted direction and began blowing from the southeast, in favor of the Americans. The two fleets drew closer to one another until they were just over 300 yards apart. It was then that Barclay’s flagship Detroit opened fire on Perry’s Lawrence, and the American ship returned fire. The supporting British and American warships commenced firing as well. American gunners imparted some lethal blows against their British counterparts, killing or wounding several senior officers, including Barclay who was hit in the thigh. Nonetheless, despite the damage to British ships, it appeared the Royal Navy was gaining the upper hand. But the battle was not over yet.

After two hours of fighting, the Lawrence was all but a floating wreck with nearly all its guns destroyed. Despite the carnage, Perry remained calm and cool as he strode the decks urging his men to keep firing, even manning a cannon himself. He knew, however, his flagship could not last much longer — forcing him to choose between surrender and transferring to another ship. He chose the latter and boarded the USS Niagara. He directed Jesse Duncan Elliott, the ship’s commander, to assume command of the gunboats. Within moments, the boats sailed past the crippled Lawrence. Seeing HMS Little Belt fleeing, one gunboat took off in pursuit while the others fired on the remaining British ships. Simultaneously, Oliver ordered the Niagara to close with Detroit. While attempting to turn 180 degrees to meet the American ship, Detroit became interlocked with HMS Queen Charlotte. Unable to bring their guns to bear, they were helpless to stop the Niagara from sailing into the center of the British line and firing on them and their sister ship HMS Lady Prevost. Onboard Detroit, Royal Lieutenant George Inglis, who had replaced the injured Barclay, quickly saw the impending death blow and determined further resistance to be futile, firing a cannon from the ship’s unengaged side to signal surrender. The rest of the British squadron soon followed. In a startling turn of events and at the cost of only one American ship, the U.S. Navy had crushed the British presence on Lake Erie. Perry celebrated the totality of the victory with his famous dispatch — “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” In the weeks to come, word of the triumph spread across the country, and Oliver Hazard Perry became a national hero.

In the years following his victory, Captain Oliver Perry’s reputation continued to rise as he defended his country on land and sea. Following the capture of Barclay’s fleet, he assisted in General William Henry Harrison’s campaign to retake Detroit, and in October he fought beside Harrison at the Battle of the Thames, which ended the British and Indian threat to the Northwest Territory for good. A year later he was called on to command a squad of naval gunners charged with delaying the British advance on Baltimore. After halting the advance for four days, he and his crew entered the city to join their fellow defenders — though illness prevented Perry from participating in the subsequent Battle of Fort McHenry, inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner.” When the war ended in 1815, Oliver assumed command of the USS Java and returned to the Mediterranean to forcefully compel Algiers’ dey (ruler) to comply with the terms of a newly negotiated treaty with the U.S. In recognition of his service, he received a coveted promotion to Commodore and was assigned to South America to combat pirates and end the countries’ commissioning of American privateers in their wars of independence against Spain. It was his final act of service. In late summer 1819, his star still rising, Oliver contracted a debilitating fever, and on August 23rd, his thirty-fourth birthday, the “Hero of Lake Erie” died where he was always most comfortable — onboard a U.S. Navy ship.

Oliver Hazard Perry’s life of national service was a testament to the patriotic zeal that filled Americans during the early years of the United States. Barely a teenager when he first joined the U.S. Navy, he fought to protect America’s honor and independence around the world, and his bravery in the face of danger resulted in growing respect for himself, the fledgling naval force, and his nation. That admiration exploded on the afternoon of September 10, 1813 when the intrepid young commander and his sailors took on and utterly defeated the mightiest sea power in the world. His victory gave the infant navy one of its first and greatest examples of heroism. Despite his untimely passing, Oliver Perry remains a shining example to all those who courageously serve.


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Sam Adams of the South


For most today, the American Revolution refers to the eight-year war waged by the United States to secure independence from Great Britain. The real revolution, however, was the struggle to create a republican government that answered directly to the people. The fracture in colonial ties began in the early 1760s when the British Parliament passed a series of legislative acts designed to exert greater authority over the thirteen American colonies. Many colonists perceived these measures as the first steps on the road to tyranny, and they fully understood the necessity of resisting the mother country’s encroachment on their liberties. One of the foremost leaders of the resistance was Sam Adams of Boston, Massachusetts. Along with his “Sons of Liberty,” he fought to defend Massachusetts from British oppression. He was not the only one wholly committed to the fight, however. Among the others was a Southern colonist just as devoted to the cause as Adams. This colonist possessed as fiery a temperament as Sam, just as he shared his counterpart’s dedication to the principles of liberty. His name was Christopher Gadsden. This is the story of how he launched South Carolina on the road to revolution.

As was the case with many of the leaders in the South during the Revolution, Christopher Gadsden belonged to a well-to-do and prominent family. He was born in Charles Town, South Carolina (now Charleston) in February 1724 to the town’s customs collector. Christopher likely enjoyed a comfortable childhood as his father accumulated a sizable fortune, both in money and in land. The family’s wealth allowed him to attend school in Britain before securing an apprenticeship under a Philadelphia merchant. In 1748 he returned to Charles Town to open a store selling goods from Europe, the West Indies, and the northern colonies. The store’s profitability allowed Christopher to purchase a home in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods as well as large tracts of land along the Pee Dee River in nearby Georgetown. As his reputation grew, he was invited to join several of Charles Town’s most prestigious organizations, such as the Library Society and the South Carolina Society. His involvement introduced him to some of the colony’s most prominent citizens, including Henry Laurens, a future president of the Continental Congress. Gadsden’s prestige continued to rise, and by the mid-1750s he was a vestryman for St. Philip’s parish and captain of the city’s artillery company. In September 1757 he won election to the Commons House of Assembly and was immediately appointed a commissioner of fortifications, charged with overseeing the colony’s defenses to prevent Indian attacks. In this capacity, he first established himself as an opponent of British policy.

The dawn of the 1760s witnessed the first clash between Christopher Gadsden and British officers. Along with his fellow South Carolinians, he bristled under accusations that the colony was not committed enough to defeating the Cherokee Indians along the western border. These attacks were made more loathsome by the ever-present harsh criticisms and haughty attitudes displayed by British officers towards their colonial comrades. Among the worst was Lieutenant Colonel James Grant who condemned colonial troops for deserting at the first hint of combat. Gadsden was outraged, therefore, when Grant was given command of the 1761 campaign rather than the more senior South Carolinian, Colonel Thomas Middleton. As the expedition unfolded, he heard reports that Grant rejected Middleton’s advice on several occasions and the colonel quit the army as a result. Gadsden’s anger finally exploded, and he took up his pen to denounce Grant. He decried the man’s arrogance and disdain for colonists, even insinuating Grant blamed them for his own military ineptitude. Grant and his supporters, most notably Henry Laurens, insisted Christopher’s attacks were unwarranted. Indeed, Laurens said, Grant shared his supplies with militiamen when the provincials ran out. Although forced to back down, Christopher had shown a determination to defend his native South Carolina against any threat — even from the mother country. South Carolinians applauded his actions and began to view him as a champion for the rights of colonists. It was a mantle Gadsden was proud to wear as Britain cracked down on the colonies.

As part of the South Carolina legislature, Christopher understood that a very real part of his duty was to protect the colony from England’s attempts to subject its citizens to oppression. In particular, he contended, the assembly’s integrity was threatened when royal officials replaced locally elected politicians with British placemen, or political appointees. In 1762 he felt the menace personally when Royal Governor Thomas Boone refused to accept his election from St. Paul’s parish since the church wardens had not taken the oaths to serve as election officials, as required by the Election Act of 1721. Boone censured the assembly for not adhering to a Crown-approved law before dissolving the body. Affronted, the populace returned nearly all the membership, including Gadsden, to a new legislative session. Taking his seat, Gadsden drew up four resolutions outlining the prerogatives of the assembly, and when the governor remained intransigent, he supported suspending business until Boone acknowledged the privileges of the legislature. In early 1763 he defended his position in the South Carolina Gazette, basing his argument on the principle that an independent legislature was necessary for the preservation of individual liberty. He repudiated the virtual representation of Britain’s House of Commons in favor of actual representation, with each colonial assembly acting as a miniature Parliament. His zeal for colonial rights grew more intense upon learning British officials passed legislation directly taxing the colonists.

By 1765 Gadsden was one of South Carolina’s most radical and ardent patriots. Seeing the rights of the colonial assembly as sacrosanct, he was outraged when Parliament attempted to override the assembly’s powers by adopting the Stamp Act. He deplored the act as a violation of the principle that no British subject could be taxed without his consent, and he declared it must be contested. Holding firm to his convictions, Christopher lent his voice to those patriots calling for a Stamp Act Congress to demonstrate national opposition against the tyrannical measure. At the Congress, he joined with fellow radical James Otis of Massachusetts to persuade his fellow delegates to stand firmly on the bedrock principles espoused by John Locke regarding the natural rights belonging to every Englishman. He enthusiastically endorsed armed resistance, and upon returning to Charles Town in mid-November, he joined the city’s tradesmen and other “sons of liberty” in forcibly opposing those supportive of the Stamp Act, even employing mob violence against royal officials. As the crisis continued, however, Gadsden’s views became even starker. Writing to an English friend, he questioned if the ministry considered “Americans all a parcel of asses” before asserting that Britain’s treatment of the colonists was “worse than the Egyptian task masters of old [towards] the Israelites.” He ended the letter by declaring his allegiance to liberty before all else, including his loyalty to Great Britain.

In the years following the Stamp Act, Gadsden’s radicalism led him to urge harsher measures to combat encroaching British oppression. He celebrated the Stamp Act’s repeal in 1766 but saw the subsequent Declaratory Act as evidence of British ministers’ intent to accept nothing less than colonial acquiescence to royal authority. Adoption of the Townshend Acts in 1767 seemed to confirm his suspicions, and he called for South Carolina’s participation in a nationwide nonimportation agreement, cutting off trade with British merchants. Simultaneously, Christopher urged increasing the importation of Dutch goods, further utilizing the threat of economic independence to force a redress of grievances. If that failed, he proposed political independence from Great Britain. To those who feared taking such a leap, Gadsden reasoned separation was nothing compared to the destruction of liberty. British ministers, he maintained, cared nothing for the rights of colonists. His vision proved prophetic when, in the early 1770s, British officials censured the assembly for raising revenue in support of English radical John Wilkes, staunch opponent of King George III, even declaring funds could only be used in matters relating to South Carolina. Gadsden was infuriated Britain dared tell the colony how to conduct its affairs. Other legislators shared his views, and relations deteriorated even further.

By early 1775 Christopher Gadsden was convinced Americans had to defend their rights with military force. Disgusted by Parliament’s attempt to manipulate the colonies to purchase taxed tea through the 1773 Tea Act, he attacked royal authorities for unloading the tea despite colonial protests. He was subsequently incensed at Parliament’s passage of the Coercive Acts, which closed Boston Harbor and revoked Massachusetts’s charter. Believing no good existed in Parliament, he asserted that he “would rather see my own family reduced to the utmost extremity and half cut to pieces than to submit to their damned machinations.” His fearless outspokenness resulted in his selection as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. To the shock of those in attendance, including Sam and John Adams, Gadsden was so vehemently opposed to parliamentary authority he was “for taking up his firelock” immediately against British troops. That militant stance did not enjoy widespread support at that point. His position also distanced him from his fellow South Carolinians, many of whom were moderate, and returning to Charles Town, he spent the winter of 1774-75 arguing for military action and against reconciliation. Christopher’s views ultimately prevailed, and as spring approached, South Carolinians gathered weapons and gunpowder — which he stored at his private wharf. Following the outbreak of war at Lexington and Concord, Gadsden took his seat in the Second Continental Congress where he worked to provide military supplies to the army outside Boston. Even more important, however, was his zealous advocacy for a final break with Britain. At last, his efforts bore fruit when the South Carolina Provincial Congress instructed the colony’s delegates to vote for independence, which they promptly complied with.

With adoption of the Declaration of Independence, it appeared Christopher Gadsden’s mission was finished, but he remained a fierce warrior for liberty the rest of his life. In October 1776 he served on a committee responsible for creating a new state constitution, which reduced the president’s (governor’s) power and replaced the Legislative Council with a popularly elected Senate. He also praised the addition of a bill of rights. Although considered too democratic by some, the South Carolina constitution was adopted in 1778 and Gadsden was chosen to serve as the new vice president under it. He maintained the government would be just to all citizens, as demonstrated by his support for a proposal offering leniency to those who had not signed a loyalty oath to the new nation. His stand cost him the support of the tradesmen, but he remained in power as the chief civil administrator during the British siege and subsequent capture of Charles Town. Seen as a symbol of American resistance, Gadsden was imprisoned in the dudgeon of the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine, Florida from September 1780 to July 1781. Despite repeated British efforts, he refused to renounce his commitment to the American cause. Upon being released, he returned to South Carolina where he was elected governor in honor of his long and faithful service, though he refused the office. Choosing instead to serve in the assembly, Christopher sought to achieve a unifying peace following the long and brutal struggle for independence. Though primarily concerned with business affairs after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, he participated in South Carolina’s 1788 ratification of the Constitution and supported Presidents George Washington and John Adams. With Thomas Jefferson’s election in 1800, however, Christopher Gadsden realized his services were no longer needed, and at the end of August 1805, he finally departed this life and the country he helped create.

Although not as famous as other Revolutionary patriots, Christopher Gadsden was certainly one of the most vocal and devoted, particularly at a time when those characteristics could cost a man his life. He never lost his unflagging commitment to the cause of liberty and refused to rest until victory was achieved. He believed individual freedom was the cornerstone upon which America existed, and when that right was threatened, Americans would fight rather than submit. It was a principle he shared with his comrade-in-arms from Massachusetts, so it is only fitting, therefore, that his nickname bear witness to their shared struggle. In tribute and credit to both men, firebrand Christopher Gadsden proudly bore the title of the “Sam Adams of the South.”

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Founding the Force


By the end of World War II, air power had shown itself to be an absolutely essential element for victory in modern warfare. Strategic bombing could devastate the enemy’s war making capabilities as well as its morale, and tactical fighters established control of the air itself for offensive and defensive purposes. The overwhelming success and necessity of air power made it inconceivable, therefore, that in the U.S. the Air Corps should still remain under the purview of the Army. Seizing the moment, advocates pressed civilian and military leadership relentlessly for a separate branch of service, and in September 1947, their efforts gave birth to the United States Air Force. As airmen, past and present, celebrated across the country, they no doubt paused to honor the man who, more than any other, fought harder and longer, and at a higher cost, to achieve the very goal they had just secured. This officer was a visionary commander who early on grasped the merits of and possibilities of air power and sought to mold a small cadre of aviators into a corps worthy of defending a world power. His name was William “Billy” Mitchell. This is the story of how his experiences before and during World War I transformed him into the founding father of America’s modern Air Force.

Billy Mitchell’s military career began just as the United States was emerging as a truly global power. His father was continuing his education abroad when William was born in Nice, France in December 1879 to a prominent Wisconsin family. He grew up hunting and riding horses on the family’s estate outside Milwaukee. His grandfather had built wealth and political prominence which his father ultimately utilized to become a U.S. Senator. The Panic of 1893 and his father’s untimely passing when Billy was in his teens dramatically changed the Mitchell family’s lifestyle. Though he attended prestigious schools in his youth, Billy could not see a life ahead without “horses and guns.” The eruption of the Spanish-American War in 1898 provided the opportunity to pursue those passions. Although only eighteen, he insisted on enlisting, and, with his family’s connections, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Billy found he was well-suited to military life, and he quickly earned the trust of his superiors, most notably General Adolphus Greely, the Chief Signal Officer. Although he missed seeing action against Spain, he arrived in Cuba in time to witness the formal transfer of the island to American authority. He later wrote how this moment was “the beginning of a new policy on the part of the U.S., that of territorial expansion and showing [itself] to the world as one of the greatest of nations.” To help consolidate command and control in Cuba, Billy led his company in stringing up 136 miles of telegraph wire to allow for easier communication between American outposts. As part of the Signal Corps, he also made extensive use of the telephone and camera and watched as other fantastic inventions, like the automobile, made their first appearance on the national scene. As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, he came to believe the Army needed to take advantage of these innovations in order to become a truly modern fighting force.

One of the most transformative inventions of all time was the airplane, and Captain Billy Mitchell became one of the forward thinking strategists who gave early consideration to the full potential of this breakthrough. He dived into studying aeronautics and explored the potential uses for lighter-than-air machines. He knew full well the army used balloons for reconnaissance during the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, but he foresaw dirigibles and airplanes providing offensive capabilities as well. In 1906 Billy penned an article detailing how ordinance could be dropped on enemy forces from above. He also suggested such machines could detect enemy submarines and alert friendly ships of the impending danger. The flying squadrons were placed under the auspices of the Signal Corps, so Billy naturally cultivated relationships with aviation officers. After joining the General Staff in 1913, he served as an adviser on aeronautical matters. Although aviation currently had only a limited role in military affairs, Mitchell shrewdly kept abreast of new developments in Europe and devoured books on aviation warfare. He became familiar with such concepts as “command of the air,” meaning the need to have superiority over enemy air forces. Billy saw the new strategies in action as Europe descended into war.

By 1915 Billy saw America’s entrance into World War I was imminent, so he undertook an investigation into the readiness of the air corps. He was appalled to discover only 23 aircraft, many of which were falling apart, and 289 officers and enlisted men fit for duty. He reported the need to immediately and dramatically increase both manpower and aircraft. Ultimately, Congress appropriated $13 million for new, better airplanes and overturned the ban on officers over thirty from flying. Seeing the need for a qualified officer to prepare the aviation division for war, Billy left the General Staff to become the assistant aviation section chief. The transfer presented him an opportunity to see combat. The repeal allowing older officers to fly meant he could undergo flight training. In late 1916 he began attending Curtiss Aviation School outside Newport News, Virginia. Interestingly, he did not graduate until September 1917 — six months after he arrived in France as an American aviation observer.

Mitchell arrived in France in early April 1917 and immediately sought out Allied pilots to learn all he could about current air operations. After two weeks of inspecting aircraft design and production, he left to observe the French army’s latest offensive against the Germans. While the ground offensive proved unsuccessful, Billy was awed by the French pilots’ audacity in actively seeking out and engaging enemy fighters. He learned the same mindset permeated the strategies of British air officers when he visited General Hugh Trenchard, commander of the Royal Flying Corps. Trenchard told Mitchell he wanted to destroy Germany’s “means of supply, subsistence, and replacements,” but he did not have the air power to accomplish it. Billy determined America should assume responsibility for providing the means to carry out this bold new strategy. In his report conveying his observations, he informed his superiors the country should concentrate production on bombers and fighters. Unfortunately, the military leadership remained committed to traditional thinking. Mitchell’s views were dismissed, and production remained centered on reconnaissance aircraft. Although discouraged by this news, Billy remained adamant that “no decision on the ground would be reached before a decision in the air.” In other words, he knew air power had to “prove” itself. When told America’s top commander would soon arrive in France, Mitchell saw the opening to push for a greater role for aircraft.

In mid-June 1917 Lieutenant Colonel Billy Mitchell reported to General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Upon arriving at the general’s Paris headquarters, Billy learned Pershing had already embraced the idea of air superiority over enemy forces. The general told Mitchell an army without an established air arm would be at a severe disadvantage when confronting an army with one. Billy exulted at the realization that here was a commander receptive to his radical ideas. Before the meeting ended, Mitchell found himself the AEF’s aviation officer. As he settled into his new assignment, Billy proposed a series of reforms that would overhaul military aviation. Most significant was his division of the air corps into two wings — tactical and strategic. Tactical planes would observe and fight off enemy pilots while strategic bombers and fighters attacked military targets inside enemy territory. Billy became so committed to strategic aviation he predicted it would have a “greater influence on the ultimate decision of the war than any other arm.” With the help of American intelligence officers, he selected potential bombing targets, mostly industries along the Ruhr River. At the same time, he oversaw the final phase of training for airmen near the front in the “Zone of the Advance.” Sadly, many pilots, including his brother John, died in accidents. Still, he pressed on, and as spring 1918 approached, Mitchell prepared to personally lead his pilots into combat.

In the final months of the war, Billy Mitchell finally received the opportunity to put his beliefs about air power into practice. In late May 1918 he and his pilots helped repel the German army’s Ludendorff offensive. Despite having limited aircraft, Billy showed tenacity time and again as he led air offensives against enemy forces. Then in mid-September he learned the U.S. was preparing to attack German troops at St.-Mihiel, and the air corps was expected to provide support. As he studied the layout of enemy forces, Billy saw it was imperative for his men to gain control of the skies early. To do so, however, required a larger number of planes than he had on hand. He petitioned British, French, and Italian commanders for support, and a coalition of over 1,400 Allied pilots and planes was assembled. This overwhelming advantage allowed Mitchell to defeat 243 German aircraft and prevent disruption of the American ground attack. Both General Pershing and Air Service General Mason Patrick applauded Billy’s efforts and recommended his promotion to brigadier general. Simultaneously, Mitchell received command of the Air Service for the Army Group mobilizing for the Meuse-Argonne offensive. As the offensive commenced, Billy sought to validate his theories on strategic bombing. On his orders American, French, and British bombers dropped an unheard of 79 tons of explosives on German troops located around Damvillers, France. Billy did not stop there, however. He proposed outfitting the American First Division with parachutes and landing them behind enemy lines. He also advocated using British Handley-Page bombers to allow for American penetration into Germany itself. The war ended before he secured support for all his plans, but Mitchell was still impressed by everything which aviation had shown itself capable. He returned to the United States in March 1919 and dedicated himself to advocate for radical changes in military thinking.

Convinced air power under an independent, unified command was essential to victory, Billy launched a one-man campaign in late 1919 to persuade Americans of the value of military aviation. The war proved aerial combat was as vital to national defense as was sea and ground warfare. The U.S., therefore, should fully develop an independent Air Service with strong offensive capabilities, namely bombers, utilizing tactical aircraft to clear the skies and should include a newly developed navy ship — the aircraft carrier. He foresaw carriers accompanying army and navy forces in their military operations and carrier planes protecting ships and their personnel from enemy aircraft. To his astonishment, however, dozens of Army and Navy brass, including Billy’s one-time commander John J. Pershing and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, derided Mitchell for his ostentatious proclamation that air power would be a decisive factor in future military conflicts. Unwilling to admit defeat, Billy took his case to the American people by publishing articles on America’s vulnerability to air attacks in the New York Times and other newspapers. He preached the same theme in his book, Our Air Force. The public was so aroused the government finally ordered a series of aerial combat tests performed off Virginia’s coast in June and July of 1921. The climactic event was Mitchell’s attack on a captured German battleship, the Ostfriesland, on July 22nd. Leading a flight of Martin bombers, Billy and his men dropped six 2,000-pound bombs on the stationary battleship. In twenty-one minutes, the Ostfriesland disappeared beneath the waves.

The operation solidified Mitchell’s belief that air power was “the first line of offense” — on land and sea. Acting on that conviction, Mitchell provided tactical and doctrinal contributions to the Air Service, most notably a manual on strategic bombardment outlining what targets were suitable and the need to coordinate with tactical fighter aircraft. Despite intense opposition from higher ups, he remained an unrelenting and confrontational advocate. By 1925, however, Billy’s continuous attacks on army and navy administrators spurred his superiors to act against him. Following his criticism of administration officials before Congress, he was court-martialed. Steadfast to the last, Billy used his trial as an opportunity to present a final defense for the cause he held so dear. His conviction and subsequent resignation did nothing to dampen his zeal, however. He pursued a career as an author and lecturer championing the merits of air power. Billy Mitchell died in February 1936, but his life’s work was eventually vindicated with the establishment of the U.S. Air Force eleven years later.

Seldom do big changes occur without an individual of great vision, and oftentimes visionary leaders pushing for transformational change incur the wrath of those who cannot or will not open their eyes to a new world and a new way. William “Billy” Mitchell caught a glimpse of the possibilities for the airplane soon after its invention and particularly during World War I, and he never gave up on his quest to have the air forces attain equal status with that of the land and naval forces. He faced continual opposition from those who simply failed to see the future of air power, but he held true to his convictions. Although it cost him his career and reputation, Mitchell set the United States on course to becoming a true superpower — in the air, as well as on land and at sea. None but Billy Mitchell could ever be the Air Force’s “founding father.”


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