August 31, 1959 Sergeant Reckless

Reckless “went straight up” the first time she heard the weapon go off, despite being loaded down with six shells. All four feet left the ground and she came down trembling with fear, but Coleman was able to soothe her. The second time she snorted. By the fourth she didn’t bother to look up. She was happily munching on a discarded helmet liner.

A Recoilless Rifle is a type of lightweight tube artillery.  Kind of a bazooka, really, only the Recoilless fires modified shells rather than rockets.  Think of a portable cannon, excepte the back blast of these shells compensates for the mule’s kick which would otherwise be expected from such a weapon, making the rifle “recoilless”.

While that reduces projectile range, reduced gas pressures permit a thinner-walled barrel, resulting in a weapon light enough to be served by a 2 to 3-man crew, and shoulder fired by a single infantryman.

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The “RCLR” weapon system has provided the punch of artillery to mobile troop formations since the early days of WWII, including Airborne, Special Forces and Mountain units.

The problem arises when combat operations consume ammunition faster than the supply chain can replace it. Mountainous terrain makes the situation worse. Even today in the more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, there are times when the best transportation system, is horsepower.

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Ah Chim-hai was a chestnut mare of mixed Mongolian and Thoroughbred lineage, a race horse at a track in Seoul, South Korea, her name translating as “Flame of the Morning”.
Lieutenant Eric Pedersen of the recoilless rifle platoon, anti-tank company of the 5th Marine Regiment, needed a pack animal to carry the weapon’s 24-lb shells up Korean mountain passes. In October 1952, Pederson received permission from regimental commander Colonel Eustace P. Smoak, to buy a horse.

Lt. Pederson and stable boy Kim Huk-moon agreed on a price of $250, which Pederson paid with his own money.  Kim cried on watching his “Flame” leave the stable, but the sale had a higher purpose.  The boy’s sister had stepped on a land mine, and badly needed a prosthetic leg.

The Marines called the new recruit “Reckless” – a nod to the weapon system she was intended to serve, and to the fighting spirit of the 5th Marines.

Pederson wrote to his wife in California to send a pack saddle, while Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham and Private First Class Monroe Coleman provided for her care and training.

Navy Hospitalman First Class George “Doc” Mitchell provided most of Reckless’ medical care.  Latham taught her battlefield skills: how to step over communication wires, when to lie down under fire, how to avoid becoming entangled in barbed wire. She learned to run for cover at the cry of “Incoming!”

The platoon built Reckless a bunker and fenced off a pasture, but soon she was allowed to roam freely throughout the camp. She’d enter tents at will, sometimes spending the night if it was cold.

Reckless would eat just about anything: bacon, mashed potatoes, shredded wheat.  She loved scrambled eggs.  Just about anything else a Marine wasn’t watching closely enough. Reckless even ate her horse blanket once, and she loved a beer. Mitchell had to warn his fellow Marines against giving her more than two Cokes a day, which she’d drink out of a helmet. Once, she ate $30 worth of winning poker chips.

General Randolph McCall Pate, a veteran of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Korea, served as the 21st Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1956 – ’59.  Pate wrote: “I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence, and believe it or not, her esprit de corps. Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades. She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance. If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk into a group of Marines and, in effect, enter the conversation. It was obvious the Marines loved her.”  Reckless was a Marine.

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Reckless “went straight up” the first time she heard an RCLR go off, despite being loaded down with six shells. All four feet left the ground and she came down trembling with fear, but Coleman was able to soothe her. The second time she snorted. By the fourth she didn’t bother to look up.  She was happily munching on a discarded helmet liner.

Recoilless rifle tactics call for fire teams to fire four or five rounds, and then relocate before the enemy can shoot back. Reckless usually learned the route after one or two trips, often traveling alone to deliver supplies on the way up, and evacuate wounded on the way down.

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In February 1953, Captain Dick Kurth and his Fox Company were fighting for a hill called “Detroit”. Reckless made 24 trips by herself, carrying a total 3,500lbs of ammunition over 20 miles.

She made 51 solo trips that March, during the battle for Outpost Vegas. Reckless carried 9,000lbs of ammunition in a single day, over 35 miles of open rice paddies and steep hills. At times, artillery exploded around her at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. She was wounded twice during the battle. That night, she was too exhausted to do anything but hang her head while they rubbed her down.

Reckless was the first horse in Marine Corps history to participate in an amphibious landing. She was wounded twice, and later awarded two Purple Hearts and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. Her name appears on Presidential Unit citations from the United States and the Republic of Korea.

On August 31, 1959, Reckless was promoted to Staff Sergeant in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton. 1,900 of her 5th Marine comrades attended, as did two of her sons, “Fearless” and “Dauntless”.  A third, “Chesty”, was unavailable to attend.

General Pate wrote: “In my career I have seen many animals that have been adopted by Marines, but never in all my experience have I seen one which won the hearts of so many as did. . .Reckless.”

 

Life Magazine published a collector’s edition in 1997, listing 100 heroes from American history. Alongside the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Sally Ride and Abraham Lincoln, was that of a small Mongolian race horse. Sergeant Reckless.

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August 27, 1896 The Shortest War in History

The episode went into history as the Anglo-Zanzibar War.  The whole thing lasted 38 minutes.  Less time than it took me to write this story.

The late 19th century was period of friendly but competing relations between Imperial Germany and Great Britain in Colonial East Africa, as each vied for control of territory and trade rights.

In 1886, Sultan Khalifah granted rights to the land of Kenya to Great Britain, and that of Tanganyika, modern day Tanzaniya, to Germany. The Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty between Britain and Germany officially demarcated each nation’s sphere of influence in East Africa, in the process ceding Germany’s rights in the island nation of Zanzibar to the United Kingdom.

The agreement effectively ended the slave trade in much of East Africa, upsetting many among the Arab ruling classes who profited handsomely by this lucrative trade.

The shortest war in history began with the unexpected death and probable assassination of Sultan Hamad of Zanzibar, who died suddenly on August 25, 1896.

Many suspected Hamad’s 29-year-old nephew Khalid bin Bargash of the assassination, as he took up residence in his uncle’s palace complex.

Anglo-Zanzibar_war_mapBritish authorities demanded that Khalid order his forces to stand down and leave the palace. Instead, the new Sultan called up his personal security and barricaded himself inside.

Several English warships arrived on the 26th, as a cable was sent to Lord Salisbury that afternoon, requesting authorization to use force if necessary.

The reply came back from Her Majesty’s government: “You are authorized to adopt whatever measures you may consider necessary, and will be supported in your action by Her Majesty’s Government.”

Then followed one of the great examples in recorded history, of government covering its behind at someone else’s expense: “Do not, however, attempt to take any action which you are not certain of being able to accomplish successfully”.AngloZanzibarWar(1)

At 8:30 on the morning of August 27th, a message came from Khalid: “We have no intention of hauling down our flag and we do not believe you would open fire on us”.

Diplomatic Consul Basil Cave replied “We do not want to open fire, but unless you do as you are told we shall certainly do so”.

No further messages being forthcoming, General Lloyd Mathews ordered his ships to commence bombarding the palace complex at 9:00am, East Africa time.

Her Majesty’s ships Raccoon, Thrush and Sparrow opened fire at 9:02, Thrush’s first shot disabling an Arab 12-pounder cannon.  

In all, 500 shells, 4,100 machine gun rounds and 1,000 rifle rounds were expended against the palace complex.  By 9:40, the weapons of the 3,000 palace defenders, servants and slaves, had gone silent. The palace and attached harem were burning, the Sultan’s flag cut down.  The order was given to cease fire.

One Reuters news correspondent reported the Sultan had “fled at the first shot with all the leading Arabs, who left their slaves and followers to carry on the fighting”.

The episode went into history as the Anglo-Zanzibar War.  The whole thing lasted 38 minutes.  Less time than it took me to write this story.

August 18, 1942 Ghosts of the Butaritari

The old man spoke no English, save for a single song memorized during those two days back in 1942, taught him by those United States Marines:   “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli…”

Military forces of the Japanese Empire appeared unstoppable in the early months of WWII, attacking first Thailand, then the British possessions of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, as well as American military bases in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines.

The United States was grotesquely unprepared to fight a World War in 1942, and dedicated itself to beating Adolf Hitler, first. General Douglas MacArthur abandoned the “Alamo of the Pacific” on March 11 saying “I shall return”, leaving 90,000 American and Filipino troops without food, supplies or support with which to fight off the Japanese offensive.

That April, 75,000 surrendered the Bataan peninsula, beginning a 65-mile, five-day slog into captivity through the heat of the Philippine jungle. Japanese guards were sadistic,  beating marchers at random and bayoneting those too weak to walk. Japanese tanks would swerve out of their way to run over anyone who had fallen and was too slow in getting up. Some were burned alive. Already crippled from tropical disease and starving from the long siege of Luzon, thousands perished in what came to be known as the Bataan Death March.

The Imperial Japanese Navy asserted control over much of the region in 1941, installing troop garrisons in the Marshall Island chain and across the ‘biogeographical region’ known as Oceana.

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WWF Map of the biogeographic region ‘Oceana

The “Island hopping strategy” used to wrest control of the Pacific islands from the Japanese would prove successful in the end but, in 1942, the Americans had much to learn about this style of warfare.

Today, the island Republic of Kiribati comprises 32 atolls and reef islands, located near the equator in the central Pacific, among a widely scattered group of federated states known as Micronesia. Home to just over 110,000 permanent residents, about half of these live on Tarawa Atoll.  At the opposite end of this small archipelago is Butaritari, once known as Makin Island.

marine-raiders-about-to-deployA few minutes past 00:00 (midnight) on August 17, 1942, 211 United States Marine Corps raiders designated Task Group 7.15 (TG 7.15) disembarked from the submarines Argonaut and Nautilus, and boarded inflatable rubber boats for the landing on Makin Island. The raid was among the first major American offensive ground combat operations of WW2, with the objectives of destroying Japanese installations, taking prisoners to gain intelligence on the Gilbert Islands region, and to divert Japanese reinforcement from allied landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

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Makin Island as seen by Nautilus

High surf and the failure of several outboard engines confused the night landing.  Lt. Colonel Evans Carlson in charge of the raid, decided to land all his men on one beach instead of two as originally planned, but not everyone got the word. At 5:15, a 12-man squad led by Lt. Oscar Peatross found itself isolated and alone but, undeterred by the lack of support, began to move inland in search of the enemy. Meanwhile, the balance of TG 7.15 advanced inland from the landing, encountering strong resistance from Japanese snipers and machine guns.

Two Bansai charges turned out to be a tactical mistake for Japanese forces. Meanwhile, Peatross and his small force of 12 found themselves behind the Japanese machine gun team engaging their fellow Marines.  Peatross’ unit killed eight enemy soldiers along with garrison commander Sgt. Major Kanemitsu, knocked out a machine gun and destroyed several enemy radios, while suffering three dead and two wounded of their own.

Unable to contact Carlson, what remained of Peatross’ small band withdrew to the submarines, as originally planned.  That was about the last thing that went according to plan.

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View of Makin Island from USS Nautilus, waiting to withdraw Marine Corps raiding force

At 13:30, twelve Japanese aircraft arrived over Makin, including two “flying boats”, carrying reinforcements for the Japanese garrison. Ten aircraft bombed and strafed as the flying boats attempted to land, but both were destroyed in a hail of machine gun and anti-tank fire.

The raiders began to withdraw at 19:30, but surf conditions were far stronger than expected. Ninety-three men managed to struggle back to the waiting submarines, but eleven out of eighteen boats were forced to turn back. Despite hours of heroic effort, exhausted survivors struggled back to the beach, most now without their weapons or equipment.

Wet, dispirited and unarmed, seventy-two exhausted men were now left alone on the island, including only 20 fully-armed Marines originally left behind, to cover the withdrawal.

Many survivors got out with little but their underclothes, and a few souvenirs

A Japanese messenger was dispatched to the enemy commander with offer to surrender, but this man was shot by other Marines, unaware of his purpose.  A rescue boat was dispatched on the morning of the 18th to stretch a rescue line out to the island. The craft was attacked and destroyed by enemy aircraft.  Both subs had to crash dive for the bottom where each was forced to wait out the day. Meanwhile, exhausted survivors fashioned a raft from three remaining rubber boats and a few native canoes, and battled the four miles out of Makin Lagoon, back to the waiting subs. The last survivor was withdrawn at fifty-two minutes before midnight, on August 18.

The raid annihilated the Japanese garrison on Makin Island, but failed in its other major objectives.  In the end, Marines asked the island people to bury their dead.  There was no time.  Casualties at the time were recorded as eighteen killed and 12 missing in action.

The war in the Pacific continued for another three years, but the Butaritari people never forgot the barbarity of the Japanese occupier.  Nor did they forget the Marines who had given their lives, in the attempt to throw out the occupier.

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Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson holds a souvenir with his second-in-command from the Makin Island raid, James Roosevelt.  The President’s son. 

Neither it turns out, had one Butaritari elder who, as a teenager, had helped give nineteen dead Marines a warrior’s last due.  In December 1999, representatives of the Marine Corps once again came to Butaritari island, this time not with weapons, but with caskets.

The old Butaritari man spoke no English, save for a single song memorized during those two days back in 1942, taught him by those United States Marines:   “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli…”

August 3, 1908 The Old Man of La Chappelle

This wasn’t an “old man” by our standards.  The skeleton is currently estimated to have been that of a man between 25 and 40 years, demonstrating the Hobbesian adage that life was indeed once “Nasty, Brutish and Short”.

In the 17th century, German Reformed Church teacher and hymn writer Joachim Neander enjoyed hiking a certain valley outside of Düsseldorf.  Neander found the beauty of nature inspirational, clearing the writer’s mind and inspiring verses like “See how God this rolling globe/swathes with beauty as a robe…Forests, fields, and living things/each its Master’s glory sings.”

The theologian contracted tuberculosis and died in his thirtieth year but lived on in a way, in the valley which came to bear his name.  Some 200 years later and three years before Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, workers quarrying Neander Valley limestone discovered an unusual skull.  This was no ordinary head, elongated and nearly chinless as it was, with heavy ridges over the eyes.  Heavy bones found alongside fitted together, albeit oddly.

From top, clockwise:  a) Neander Valley by Friedrich Wilhelm Schreiner, oil on cardboard, 1855, b) original bones discovered the following year, and c)Artist’s conception of what he looked like, H/T Artist: Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions

Archaeological science had much to learn in 1856.  Perhaps future historians and scientists will look back at our time, and say the same of us.  At the time, even to discern fossils from ordinary rock was beyond the ability of many scientists. One common method involved licking the fossil. It was believed if the thing had animal material, it would stick to your tongue.

Despite such misconceptions, scholars of the day had no shortage of theories. This was a lost Cossack, a bowlegged rider suffering from rickets, a painful condition resulting in weak and misshapen bones. To some, the life of pain resulting from such a condition made perfect sense, the bony eye ridges resulting from perpetually furrowed brow.

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British geologist William King suspected something different. Something more radical. This was no aberrant human being nor even a lost ancestor. This was a member of a long lost alternate humanity.   An extinct but parallel species to our own.  King published a paper in 1864 hypothesizing his idea of an evolutionary dead end, naming the long lost species after the poet who had once wandered the valley in which it was discovered. He called it Homo Neanderthalensis: Neanderthal Man.

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“Neanderthal sculptures, named Nana and Flint, at the Gibraltar Museum”. H/T Jaap Scheeren, New York Times

Having no context from which to draw conclusions, King fell back on the pseudo science of phrenology to describe Neanderthal man, along with preconceptions of “primitive” and “savage” races. The image of a stupid and grunting brute emerged from this analysis. King opined that “The thoughts and desires which once dwelt within it never soared beyond those of a brute.” Today we may look at such thinking as itself savage and primitive, but applying modern ideas to earlier times is a dangerous undertaking. Ideas of Eugenics survived well after King’s time, and into the modern era.

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The Old Man of La Chapelle-Aux-Saints reconstructed burial in the Musée de l’Homme de Néandertal, France

On this day in 1908, the brothers Amadee and Jean Bouyssonie found the most complete Neanderthal skeleton to date in a small cave near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in France.  This skeleton includes the skull, jaw, most of the vertebrae and several ribs, along with most of the long bones of the arms and legs, plus a number of smaller bones from the hands and feet.

French palaeontologist Marcellin Boule studied the remains and envisioned a brutish, hairy and gorilla-like beast with opposable toes and bent spine, walking on bowed legs with bent knees.  Boule’s reconstruction was influential. Decades later, scientists and popular culture viewed Neanderthal as bent and stupid brutes. Boule got it wrong that time but, to his credit, he was one of the first to recognize Piltdown Man as a paleoanthropological hoax.

Subsequent analysis of the “Old Man of La Chappelle” revealed not the bent-over beast of Boule’s imagination, but a fully erect biped, bent with advanced osteoarthritis.

What’s more, massive tooth loss and lack of mobility revealed that this specimen could neither hunt nor scavenge with ease, and would have had great difficulty in chewing his food. This and the unmolested state of the skeleton compared with animal bones found nearby suggest a man greatly cared for by his contemporaries, as well as deliberate burial of the body.

This wasn’t even an “old man” by our standards.  The skeleton is currently estimated to have been that of a man between 25 and 40 years, demonstrating the Hobbesian adage that life was indeed once “Nasty, Brutish and Short”.

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Today, to call someone “Neanderthal” is to insult him as a stupid savage.  It appears our cousin was nothing of the sort.

The hyoid bone at the floor of the mouth serves as a connecting-point for the tongue and other musculature, giving humans the ability to speak. A delicate structure is likely to be lost in most fossilized remains, the first Neanderthal hyoid was only discovered in 1989.

An international team of researchers analysed this fossil Neanderthal bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modeling and, it turns out yes.  Neanderthal could not only speak, but was capable of highly complex speech not unlike our own, though his voice was likely high and grating.  Certainly not the base grunting commonly associated with “cave-men”.img_1054neanderthalsm

Shorter in stature and more powerfully built than Cro-Magnon, our direct ancestor and all but indistinguishable from ourselves, Neanderthal bodies were suited to the ice age of the early and middle Paleolithic era.

Neanderthal emerged on the Eurasian landmass between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.  Possessed of a brain only slightly smaller than Cro-Magnon, Neanderthals walked upright, formed and used simple tools and controlled fire.  They buried their own dead, at least sometimes, and some researchers theorize they built boats and sailed the Mediterranean.  Imperfectly formed tools and weapons found alongside more sophisticated specimens suggest he educated his children.

He might even fit in if you brought him back today, provided you dressed him right.

Despite all that, Neanderthal man is an evolutionary dead end and not our ancestor, though he did “coexist” for a time, with our Cro-Magnon forebears.  It’s possible if not probable the two bred together and produced children, though this was likely your random hookup rather than the result of long-term cohabitation.

Modern DNA analysis suggests the two species even shared some genetic disorders, such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and a variety of auto-immune conditions such as Lupus.

image_1481e-NeanderthalResearch suggests that we ourselves carry Neanderthal genes, those among us of Eurasian ancestry.  These genes may have changed our immune systems leaving us vulnerable to diseases such diabetes and cancer.

The idea is not as strange as it sounds. Recently, Sir Richard Branson was in the news, claiming to have looked into his family ancestry. Forty generations back, it turns out that Branson is related to Charlemagne.  That’s no big deal according to Genetecist Adam Rutherford. Speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival, Rutherford explained that “Literally every person in Europe is directly descended from Charlemagne. Literally, not metaphorically. You have a direct lineage which leads to Charlemagne,” adding “Looking around this room, every single one of you … is directly descended between 21 and 24 generations from Edward III.”

The only difference between celebrities and the rest of us it seems, is the means to prove it.

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Hundreds of generations have come and gone, since our cousin trod the earth.  Perhaps calling someone ‘Neanderthal’ isn’t such an insult, after all.  That might be one of them, peering back from our bathroom mirror.