The conflict that afternoon at the Old North Bridge in Concord was the first instance of the American Revolution, when colonists fired to deadly effect on British regulars.
The column of British soldiers moved out from Boston in the late night hours of April 18, with the mission of confiscating the American arsenal at Concord and capturing the Patriot leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding in Lexington.
Patriots had been preparing for such an event. Sexton Robert John Newman and Captain John Pulling carried two lanterns to the steeple of the Old North church, signaling the Regulars were crossing the Charles River to Cambridge.
Dr. Joseph Warren ordered Paul Revere and Samuel Dawes to ride out and warn surrounding villages and towns, the two soon joined by a third rider, Samuel Prescott. Prescott alone would make it as far as Concord, though hundreds of riders would fan out across the countryside before the night was through.
The column arrived in Lexington with the first moments of sunrise on April 19, bayonets gleaming in the early morning light. Armed with a sorry assortment of weapons, colonial militia poured out of Buckman Tavern and fanned out across the town square. Some weapons were hand made by village gunsmiths and blacksmiths, some decades old, but all were in good working order. Taking positions across the village green to block the soldiers’ line of march, eighty “minutemen” turned and faced seven hundred of the most powerful military, on the planet.
Words were exchanged and no one knows who fired the first shot. When it was over, eight Lexington men lay dead or dying, another ten wounded. One British soldier was wounded.
If you’ve never see the dawn reenactment of the Battle of Lexington, I highly recommend it. It’s a regular feature of the Patriot’s Day festivities around the city of Boston, and well worth getting up early. Hat tip Gethin Coolbaugh for this film of the 2018 event
Vastly outnumbered, the militia soon gave way as word spread and militia gathered from Concord to Cambridge. The King’s Regulars never did find the weapons for which they had come, nor did they find Adams or Hancock. There had been too much warning for that.
Regulars clashed with colonial subjects two more times that day, first at Concord Bridge and then in a running fight at a point in the road called “The Bloody Angle”. Finally, hearing that militia was coming from as far away as Worcester, the column turned to the east and began their return march to Boston.
Hat tip DiscerningHistory.com, for this brief video on the Battle of Concord Bridge.
Some British soldiers marched 35 miles over those two days, their final retreat coming under increasing attack from militia members firing from behind stone walls, buildings and trees.
One taking up such a firing position was Samuel Whittemore of Menotomy Village, now Arlington Massachusetts. At eighty years old, he was the oldest known combatant of the Revolution.
Whittemore took his position by the road armed with his ancient musket, two dueling pistols and the old cutlass captured years earlier from a French officer whom he had once explained had “died suddenly”.
Waiting until the last possible moment, Whittemore rose and fired his musket at the oncoming Redcoats. One shot, one kill. Several charged him from only feet away as he drew his pistols. Two more shots, one dead and one mortally wounded. He had barely drawn his sword when they were on him, a .69 caliber ball fired almost point blank tearing part of his face off, as the butt of a rifle smashed down on his head. Whittemore tried to fend off the bayonet strokes with his sword but he didn’t have a chance. He was run through thirteen times before he lay still. One for each American colony.
Hat tip, The History Guy, for this presentation on Sam Whittemore. The ages given vary slightly from that engraved on his memorial but, age 78 or 80 at the time of this story, it seems a small matter.
The people who came out of their homes to clean up the mess afterward found Whittemore, up on one knee and trying to reload his old musket.
Doctor Nathaniel Tufts treated the old man’s wounds as best he could, but felt there was nothing anyone could do. Sam Whittemore was taken home to die in the company of his loved ones, and that’s what he did. Eighteen years later, at the age of ninety-eight.
A Trivial Matter
Just after midnight, April 19, 1775 , William Dawes, Dr. Samuel Prescott and Paul Revere were intercepted by a British patrol, just outside of Lexington. Prescott and Dawes bolted but Revere was captured, held through the small hours and interrogated. Revere was finally released, without his horse. The “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, humiliatingly ended on foot. Revere arrived in Lexington just in time to witness the last moments on Lexington Green. The conflict that afternoon at the Old North Bridge in Concord was the first instance of the American Revolution, when colonists fired to deadly effect on British regulars. In the 1837 classic “Concord Hymn”, American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson called it the “shot heard round the world”.
This was no rear-echelon scribe. Ernie Pyle was right out front with the infantry and the tankers, the Marines and the soldiers who fought and bled and died to put the murderous and totalitarian regimes of the 1940’s, on the garbage pile of history.
Earnest “Ernie” Taylor Pyle was born at the turn of the century, the only child of a tenant farmer and his wife, from the Vermilion County of rural Indiana. The boy disliked life on the farm, and looked for a life of adventure. Following high school graduation, Pyle enlisted in the US Naval Reserve, beginning training at the University of Illinois at Champaign–Urbana.
The Great War came to an end before he completed training, and Pyle enrolled at Indiana University. He wanted to write, it was in his blood, but IU offered no degree in journalism. He majored in economics and took every journalism course he could find, while writing for the student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student.
During his junior year, Pyle and a few fraternity brothers dropped out for a year, to follow the IU baseball. The 1922 trip across the Pacific brought the group to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila and Japan, leaving the the young writer with a lifelong love of travel, and exploration.
Ernie Pyle met Geraldine Elizabeth “Jerry” Siebolds at a Halloween party in 1923, the year he moved to Washington to work for the Washington Daily News. Two years later, the couple were wed.
The year before the “Mother Road” became part of the national highway system, Ernie and Jerry Pyle quit their jobs to begin an epic, 9,000 mile trip across the United States. In a Ford Model T, no less.
Though never himself a pilot, Pyle flew some 100,000 miles as a passenger between 1928-’32, writing one of the earliest and best-known aviationcolumns, in the nation. No less a figure than Amelia Earhartonce said “Any aviator who didn’t know Pyle was a nobody.”
He wrote in an easy, conversational style, the way of the story teller. Scripps-Howard newspapers editor-in-chief of G.B. (“Deac”) Parker found in his articles “a sort of Mark Twain quality and they knocked my eyes right out.”
Ernie Pyle went to work for himself in 1935, driving from South America to Canada with Jerry, “That Girl who rides with me,” writing human interest stories. His column appeared six days a week in Scripps-Howard newspapers, published under the name “Hoosier Vagabond”.
The series continued until 1942, two years after Pyle began the most famous part of his career. The part for which he would give his life.
Ernie Pyle initially went to London in 1940 to cover the Battle of Britain, later becoming war correspondent for the Scripps-Howard newspapers.
Pyle’s travels read like a summary of the war itself: from North Africa to Europe, to the Asiatic-Pacific theater. Ernie Pyle traveled with the U.S. military during the North African Campaign, the Italian campaign, and the Sicily landing. He went where they went, slept where they slept and ate what they ate.
He landed on an LST-353 with American troops on D-Day, writing from Omaha Beach:
“The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York city on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around the horizon and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many”.
Pyle returned to the United States in the Fall of 1943 and again in 1944, badly in need of rest and recuperation from the stress of combat. This was no rear-echelon scribe. Ernie Pyle was right out front with the infantry and the tankers, the Marines and the soldiers who fought and bled and died to put the murderous and totalitarian regimes of the 1940’s, on the garbage pile of history.
What Bill Mauldin was with his cartoon characters “Willy and Joe”, Ernie Pyle was to the written word. He was free to go anywhere and speak to anyone, from the commander-in-chief to the lowliest private soldier. Harry Truman himself once said “No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told. He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.”
Exhausted, repeatedly hospitalized with “war neurosis” and subject to epic drinking binges, Ernie Pyle reluctantly accepted his final assignment in 1945, to cover the Battle of Okinawa. Somehow, he knew this would be his last. Before landing, Pyle wrote to his friend Paige Cavanaugh, and playwright Robert E. Sherwood, predicting his own death.
On April 17, 1945, the war correspondent landed with the U.S. Army’s 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th “Liberty Patch” Division on the island of Ie Shima. The small island northwest of Okinawa had been captured by this time, but was by no means clear of enemy soldiers.
On this day in 1945, Ernie Pyle was killed by a Japanese sniper. Traveling by jeep with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge and three other officers of the 305th, the vehicle came under fire from a Japanese machine gunner. All five dove for cover, in a ditch. Let Colonel Coolidge take the story from here:
“A little later Pyle and I raised up to look around. Another burst hit the road over our heads … I looked at Ernie and saw he had been hit.”
The bullet entered the left temple, just below his helmet. Ernie Pyle was dead before his body hit the ground.
The best loved reporter of the second World War was buried wearing that helmet, between the remains of an infantry private and a combat engineer.
The men of the 77th Infantry Division erected a monument which stands to this day, inscribed with these words: “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945.” Half a world away, General Eisenhower echoed those same sentiments: “The GIs in Europe––and that means all of us––have lost one of our best and most understanding friends.”
A Trivial Matter
Ernie Pyle rejected an offer to cover the D-Day landing from General Omar Bradley’s command ship, electing instead to wade ashore with the troops, on Omaha Beach.
What must it be like to be at sea, frantically defending yourself against a human bomb, hurtling toward you at 500 miles per hour.
By the end of 1944, a series of naval defeats had left the Imperial Japanese critically short of military aviators, and the experienced aircraft mechanics and ground crew necessary to keep them aloft.
On October 14, the Atlanta class light cruiser USS Reno was hit by a Japanese aircraft in what many believed to be a deliberate crash. The following day, Rear Admiral Masafumi Arima personally lead an attack by 100 Yokosuka D4Y “Judy” dive bombers against a carrier task force. Arima was killed and part of one bomber hit the USS Franklin, the Essex-class carrier known as “Big Ben”.
Japanese propagandists were quick to seize on Arima’s example. Whether this was a deliberate “kamikaze” attack remains uncertain. The tactic was anything but the following week, during the battle of Leyte Gulf. Japanese aviators were deliberately flying their aircraft, into allied warships.
By the end of the war, this “divine wind” would destroy the lives of 3,862 kamikaze pilots, and over 7,000 American naval personnel.
American Marines invaded Iwo Jima in February 1945, the first allied landing on Japanese territory. It was a savage contest against a dug-in adversary, a 36-day battle costing the lives of 6,381 Americans and nearly 20,000 Japanese.
The table was set for the bloodiest battle of the Pacific war.
On April 1, Easter Sunday, 185,000 troops of the US Army and Marine Corps were pitted in the 85-day battle for Okinawa, against 130,000 defenders of the Japanese 32nd Army and civilian conscripts. Both sides understood, the war would be won or lost in this place.
While Kamikaze attacks were near-commonplace following the October battle for Leyte Gulf, these one-way suicide missions became a major part of defense for the first time in the battle for Okinawa. Some 1,500 Kamikaze aircraft participated in the battle for Okinawa, resulting in US 5th Fleet losses of 4,900 men killed or drowned, and another 4,800 wounded. 36 ships were sunk and another 368 damaged. 763 aircraft, were lost.
What must it be like to be at sea, frantically defending yourself against a flying bomb, hurtling toward you at 500 miles per hour.
On April 16, 1945, the Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey was assigned to radar picket duty, thirty miles north of Okinawa. At 8:25 a.m., the radar operator reported a solid cluster of blips at 17,000 yards, too numerous to count and approaching fast. 165 kamikazes and 150 other enemy aircraft were coming in, from the north
The Aichi D3A “Val” dive bomber appeared near the destroyer at 8:30. This was a reconnaissance mission and, fired upon, the Val jettisoned her bombs, and departed. Four more D3As were soon to follow, tearing out of the sky in a steep dive toward USS Laffey. 20mm AA fire destroyed two while the other two crashed into the sea. Within seconds, a Yokosuka D4Y “Judy” dive bomber made a strafing run from the port beam while another approached on a bomb run, from the starboard side. These were also destroyed but, close enough to wound three gunners, with shrapnel. The flames had barely been brought under control when another Val crashed into the ship’s 40mm gun mounts, killing three sailors while another struck a glancing blow, spewing aviation fuel from a damaged engine.
Immediately after, another D3A came in strafing from the stern, impacting a 5″ gun mount and disintegrating in a great column of fire as its bomb detonated a powder magazine. Another Val came in within seconds, crashing into the burning gun mount while yet another scored a direct hit, jamming Laffey’s rudder to port and killing several men. Within minutes, another Val and yet another Judy, had hit the port side.
It was all in the first fifteen minutes.
Soon, four FM2 Wildcats followed by twelve Vought F4U Corsair fighters from the escort carrier Shamrock Bay waded into the Kamikazes attacking Laffey, destroying several before being forced to return, low on fuel and out of ammunition.
By the time it was over, some fifty Kamikazes were involved with the action. USS Laffey suffered six Kamikaze crashes, four direct bomb hits and strafing fire that killed 32 and wounded another 71. Lieutenant Frank Manson, assistant communications officer, asked Commander Frederick Becton if he thought they should abandon ship. Becton snapped “No! I’ll never abandon ship as long as a single gun will fire.” He didn’t hear the comment, from a nearby lookout: “And if I can find one man to fire it.”
For USS Laffey, the war was over. She was taken under tow the following day, April 17, and anchored near Okinawa. She would not emerge from dry dock, until September.
Today, the WW2 destroyer is a museum ship, anchored at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. A bronze plaque inside the ship is inscribed with the Presidential Unit Citation, received for that day off the coast of Okinawa:
For extraordinary heroism in action as a Picket Ship on Radar Picket Station Number One during an attack by approximately thirty enemy Japanese planes, thirty miles northwest of the northern tip of Okinawa, April 16, 1945. Fighting her guns valiantly against waves of hostile suicide planes plunging toward her from all directions, the U.S.S. LAFFEY sent up relentless barrages of antiaircraft fire during an extremely heavy and concentrated air attack. Repeatedly finding her targets, she shot down eight enemy planes clear of the ship and damaged six more before they crashed on board. Struck by two bombs, crash-dived by suicide planes and frequently strafed, she withstood the devastating blows unflinchingly and, despite severe damage and heavy casualties, continued to fight effectively until the last plane had been driven off. The courage, superb seamanship and indomitable determination of her officers and men enabled the LAFFEY to defeat the enemy against almost insurmountable odds, and her brilliant performance in this action, reflects the highest credit upon herself and the United States Naval Service.
For the President,
Secretary of the Navy
The Battle for Okinawa
“The Battle of Okinawa was an intense 82-day campaign involving more than 287,000 US and 130,000 Japanese troops. It was considered the bloodiest battle of the Pacific Theater, and more than 90,000 men died from both sides, along with almost 100,000 civilian casualties. During this conflict, Kamikazes inflicted the greatest damage ever sustained by the US Navy in a single battle, killing almost 5,000 men. All told, Kamikazes sank 34 ships and damaged hundreds of others during the entire war”. H/T Listverse.com
The siege of the mountaintop fortress of Masada ended this day in 73. Two women and five children who had taken shelter in a water pipe, alone remained to tell the tale.
Built under the reign of King Solomon in the 10th century BC, Solomon’s Temple was the first holy temple in ancient Jerusalem. According to Rabbinic sources the temple stood on part of the Temple Mount, also known as Mount Zion for 410 years, before being sacked and burned to the ground by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, in 587 BC.
So important is this event to the Jewish people that it is commemorated still as the bitterest day of the Jewish calendar, a day of fasting and mourning known as Tisha B’Av.
A second temple was built on the site in 516BC, and expanded during the reign of Herod the Great. This second temple stood until the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 70AD, according to Jewish tradition falling on the same day as the first temple.
The first Roman involvement with the Kingdom of Judea came in 67BC. The client Kingdom of the Herodian Dynasty became a Roman Province in the year 6AD.
Long standing religious disputes erupted into a full scale Jewish revolt in 66. Thousands of Jews were executed in Jerusalem and the second temple plundered, resulting in the Battle of Beth Horon in which a Syrian Legion was destroyed by Jewish rebels. The future emperor Vespasian appointed his son Titus as second in command, entering Judea in 67 at the head of four legions of Roman troops.
A three year off and on siege followed, with Vespasian being recalled to Rome in 69 to become Emperor. The Great Jewish Revolt was now Titus’ war.
The Jewish historian Josephus acted as intermediary throughout much of the siege, though his impartiality has been questioned since he was both friend and adviser to Titus. Josephus entered the city at one point to negotiate but later fled, wounded by an arrow in a surprise attack which very nearly caught Titus himself.
A brutal siege of Jerusalem followed through most of the year 70, in which Jewish Zealots burned their own food supply, forcing defenders to “Fight to the End”. During the final stages, Zealots following John of Giscala still held the Temple, while a splinter group called the Sicarii (literally, “Dagger Men”), led by Simon Bar Giora held the upper part of the city.
The Second Temple, one of the last fortified bastions of the rebellion, was destroyed on Tisha B’Av, July 29 or 30, 70AD. By September 7 the Roman army under Titus had fully occupied and plundered all of Jerusalem.
The first Jewish-Roman war would last for three more years, culminating in the Roman siege of the mountaintop fortress of Masada.
Masada rises nearly fifteen-hundred feet above the dead sea, occupying the 18-acre plateau of a mountain described by modern Arabs as al-Sabba. “The Accursed”.
The rhomboid-shaped mesa was briefly settled around the time of the first temple (ca. 900BC), and fortified during the Hasmonean Dynasty of ancient Judaea. The plateau ends in steep cliffs falling some 1,300 feet to the east and about 300-feet on the western side. Already a natural fortress, Herod the Great equipped the place with a 13-foot wall some 1,300-feet in length, a barracks, armory and a cistern holding 200,000 gallons of water.
Masada remained the last remnant of Jewish rule in Palestine in 70, following the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the second temple. A defending force of fewer than 1,000 (including women and children) held out for nearly two years as the 15,000-strong legions of General Flavius Silva placed stone upon stone, building the sloping ramp of earth and stone seen above.
In the end, Zealot defenders led by Eleazar ben Ya’ir, never had a chance. Preferring death to enslavement, Josephus tells us of their drawing lots, each man bearing his throat to his comrade until there remained only one.
Mountaintop excavations in 1955-’56 and resumed in 1963-’66 support this version of the end, pottery shards bearing inscribed names, in Hebrew.
It was all over on this day in 73. Two women and five children who had taken shelter in a water pipe, alone remained to tell the tale.
There would be two more Jewish-Roman wars: Kitos War (115–117), sometimes called the “Rebellion of the Exile”, and the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132 through 135. The wars had a cataclysmic impact on the Jewish people, the resulting diaspora transforming a major Eastern Mediterranean population to a scattered and persecuted minority.
The Jewish people would not reestablish a major presence in the Levant until the State of Israel was constituted, in 1948.
By the time the war got going, every seceding state but South Carolina sent regiments to fight for the Union, and even that state contributed troops. A surprising number of northern soldiers resigned commissions and fought for the south, including Barre, Massachusetts native Daniel Ruggles, Ohio Quaker Bushrod Johnson and New York native Samuel Cooper, to name a few.
When the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, the state government considered itself to be that of a sovereign nation. Six days later, United States Army Major Robert Anderson quietly moved his small command from the Revolution-era Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston harbor, to the as-yet to be completed Fort Sumter, a brick fortification at the mouth of the harbor.
President James Buchanan, a northern democrat with southern sympathies, believed secession to be illegal, but there was nothing he could do about it. For months the President had vacillated, offering no resistance as local officials seized every federal government property, in the state. Buchanan’s one attempt to intervene came in January, with the attempt to reinforce and resupply Anderson, via the unarmed merchant vessel “Star of the West”. Shore batteries opened up on the effort on January 9, 1861, effectively trapping Anderson and his garrison inside the only federal government property in the vicinity.
Mississippi followed with its own ordnance of secession that same day, followed quickly by Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. Texas seceded on February 1.
The newly founded Confederate States of America could not tolerate the presence of an armed federal force at the mouth of Charleston harbor. Secessionists debated only whether this was South Carolina’s problem, or that of the national government, located at that time in Montgomery, Alabama. Meanwhile, the Federal government refused to recognize the Confederacy as an independent state.
Neither side wanted to be seen as the aggressor, both needing support from the border states. Political opinion was so sharply divided at that time, that brothers literally wound up fighting against brothers. By the time the war got going, every seceding state but South Carolina sent regiments to fight for the Union, and even that state contributed troops.
A surprising number of northern soldiers resigned commissions and fought for the south, including Barre, Massachusetts native Daniel Ruggles, Ohio Quaker Bushrod Johnson and New York native Samuel Cooper, to name a few. But now I’m getting ahead of the story.
Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (I love that name) had resigned his post as superintendent of West Point and offered his services to the Confederacy. Beauregard was placed in charge of Charleston in March, and immediately began to strengthen the batteries surrounding the harbor.
Fort Sumter was designed for a garrison of 650 in the service of 130 guns, nearly all of them pointed outward, positioned to defend the harbor against threats from the sea. In April 1861 there were only 60 guns, too much for Major Anderson’s 9 officers, 68 enlisted men, 8 musicians, and 43 construction workers.
Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4. The resupply of Fort Sumter became the first crisis for the new administration. Lincoln notified South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens that he was sending supply ships, resulting in Beauregard’s ultimatum: the Federal garrison was to evacuate immediately, or Confederate batteries would open fire.
When Major Anderson’s response was found lacking, shore batteries opened fire at 4:30 am on April 12th, 4,003 guns firing in counter-clockwise rotation. Abner Doubleday, Federal 2nd-in-command and the man erroneously credited with the invention of baseball, later wrote “The crashing of the shot, the bursting of the shells, the falling of the walls, and the roar of the flames, made a pandemonium of the fort.”
Two years later at Gettysburg, Norman Jonathan Hall would lose over 200 men from his brigade, in furious fighting at a critical breach in Union lines, near the”copse of trees”. One day, a brass plaque would mark the spot of the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy. On this day, Lieutenant Hall raced through flames to rescue the colors, after a direct hit on the main flagpole knocked the flag to the ground. His eyebrows were permanently burned off his face, but Hall and two artillerymen were able to jury-rig the pole so that, once again, Old Glory flew over Fort Sumter.
Thousands of shells were fired at Fort Sumter over a period of 34 hours. Federal forces fired back, though vastly outgunned. For all that, the only casualty was one Confederate horse.
The first fatalities of the Civil War occurred after the federal surrender on April 13. Allowed a 100-gun salute while lowering the flag the following day, one cannon misfired, killing Private Daniel Hough and mortally wounding Pvt. Edward Galloway.
The following day, Colonel Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the United States Army. Lee’s home state of Virginia seceded three days later, followed by Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.
The Civil War had begun, but few understood what kind of demons had just been unleashed. Robert Rhett, the rabble rousing editor of the Charleston Mercury Newspaper, offered to personally eat the bodies of all the slain in the coming conflict. Not wanting to be outdone, former Senator James Chesnut, Jr. said “a lady’s thimble will hold all the blood that will be shed,” promising to personally drink any that might be spilled.
The war between the states would destroy the lives of more Americans than the Revolution, WWI, WWII, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.
A Trivial Matter
Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 with only 39.8 per cent of the popular vote in a four-way race against Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Constitutional Unionist John Bell and Southern favorite, Kentucky Democrat John Breckenridge. President Lincoln did not receive a single electoral vote from south of the Mason-Dixon line.
77 Americans of the Army and Navy Nurse Corps and a handful of civilians were captured with the fall of Corregidor, becoming the largest group of female POWs, of the war.
Military forces of the Japanese Empire appeared unstoppable in the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, invading first Thailand, then the British possessions of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, as well as American military bases in 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. 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.
Some 75,000 American and Filipino troops surrendered on April 9, abandoning the Bataan peninsula to begin a 65-mile, five-day slog into captivity. Starving and sick with any number of tropical diseases, Japanese guards were sadistic in the 100-degree tropical sun. Marchers were beaten, decapitated or shot at random and bayoneted, if too weak to walk. Japanese tank drivers swerved out of the way to run over those who had fallen and were 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 American nurse Margaret Elizabeth (Doolin) Rowley came to the Philippines the late 1920s, a twenty-something widow and single mother to her young son, Charles. There she met and fell in love with John “Jack” Utinsky, a former Army Captain working as a civil engineer. The couple was married in 1934, and settled down to a life in Manila.
As the likelihood of war came to the far east, the US military ordered American wives out of the Philippines. Utinsky refused and took an apartment in Manila, while Jack went to work on the Bataan peninsula.
Margaret was forced aboard the last ship to leave as Japanese troops occupied Manila on January 2, 1942, but sneaked off the ship and returned to her apartment. Years later, Margaret Utinsky wrote in her book, “Miss U”:
“To go into an internment camp seemed like the sensible thing to do, but for the life of me I could not see what use I would be to myself or to anyone else cooped up there. … For from the moment the inconceivable thing happened and the Japanese arrived, there was just one thought in my mind—to find Jack.”
The weeks came and went while Margaret remained undiscovered. She ventured out in mid-March and sought help from the priests of Malate Convent, there using contacts to gain false identity papers as Rena Utinsky, a fictional nurse from the non-belligerent state of Lithuania.
On the eve of the American surrender, Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright ordered all military and civilian nurses off the Bataan peninsula, and onto the island of Corregidor.
77 Americans of the Army and Navy Nurse Corps and a handful of civilians were captured a month later with the fall of Corregidor, becoming the largest group of female POWs, of the war.
The group was sent to Santo Tomas prison camp in July, joining a group of Navy nurses who had been there, for six months.
Conditions were horrendous in these camps, with disease, starvation and cartoonish levels of violence from sadistic guards. Up to and including summary execution. Army nurse Mary Bernice Brown-Menzie entered into captivity weighing 130-pounds in 1942. By the time of her liberation in February, 1945, she weighed 75.
Brown wrote in her diary of one prisoner who was tied up for three days and nights in the burning sun before being shot in the back, and left to die. ““Whether he died instantly or wounded and bleeding lived on until he finally died, we will never know. But this cruel, heartless and brutal treatment filled us all with deep grief and sorrow.”
Carlos and Tina Makabali Jose talk about their mother, Adelaida Garcia Makabali, a nurse in Bataan and Corregidor. H/T BataanLegacy.org
Margaret Utinsky used her false identity papers to secure a position with the Red Cross by this time, and went to Bataan looking for Jack. Dismayed by conditions among survivors of the Death march, Utinsky began to do little things for the thousands of prisoners of Camp O’Donnell. Money. Quinine. A little medicine.
Learning that Jack was dead, Utinsky became part of a small clandestine network, determined to do what they could for American POWs and Filipino resistance movements. Code named “Miss U”, she joined with 22-year-old Filipina hairdresser Naomi Flores (code name “looter”), American club owner Claire “High Pockets” Maybelle Snyder, a number of Filipino priests and a Spaniard named Ramon Amusategui.
Suspected of aiding POWs, Utinsky was arrested and brought to Fort Santiago prison. There she was sexually assaulted and tortured, for thirty-two days. When confronted with that ship’s passenger log showing her real name, she claimed she had lied in order to secure work as a nurse. Imagine being beaten, and then beaten again, and again. For thirty two days. When that failed to gain a confession, her jailers decapitated five Filipino prisoners, in front of her cell. Another night, an American POW was tied to the bars of her cell and beaten so savagely that chunks of his flesh, wound up in her hair. Even beating the man to death in front of her was not enough, and she was thrown into a dungeon. For four days, without food or water.
She was finally released, provided she sign a statement attesting to her “good treatment”.
Utinsky was six weeks in hospital, recovering from the ordeal. Doctors wanted to amputate a leg infected with gangrene but she refused. The place was teeming with Japanese spies. She feared what she might give up, while under the influence of gas. In the end, the gangrene was cut out, without benefit of anesthesia.
Amusategui was found out and executed. Flores and Utinsky took refuge in the mountains, working with guerrilla groups for the remainder for the war. By the time it was over, Utinsky had lost 45 pounds, 35 percent of her body weight, and lost an inch in height. Her face was aged twenty-five years and her once auburn hair, turned white.
Back in the camps, POWs fashioned nurse’s uniforms made from khaki, under the leadership of Veteran Army Captain Maude Davison. Despite themselves suffering from disease and starvation, each was expected to finish her shifts, providing what care they could for the “The Battling Bastards of Bataan.”
It was the same for Navy nurses, led by Lieutenant Laura Cobb. In 1943, these women volunteered for transfer to Los Baños. The work gave them purpose. A reason to live.
Following the December 14, 1944 massacre at Palawan, United States Army Rangers and their Filipino allies staged a daring raid on Cabanatuan on January 27 and Camp O’Donnell, three days later. Santo Tomas was liberated on February 3, 1945 along with nearby Bilibid Prison and Los Baños on February 23.
Emaciated, tormented by tropical disease and without a day’s survival training between them, every one of the 66 Army nurses, eleven Navy nurses and one Nurse Anesthetist: Angels of Bataan and Corregidor lived to tell the tale and continued to perform their nurse’s duties, to the end.
On the inside, most would have told you the men they cared for were the heroes of this story. They never sought recognition. After the war, many of those men credited their survival to the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor. It was they who sought the recognition these women so richly deserved.
Today, none of the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor are believed to survive. Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Cantrell is an historian with the US Army Nurse’s Corps “They were a tough bunch,” Cantrell said in an interview with Soldier’s Magazine. “They had a mission. They were surviving for the boys … and each other. That does give you a bit of added strength.”
Without order and work we will never survive.
This camp is guarded, you see, by Japanese
but we run it ourselves. And I was the one
(though many take credit) who labelled the quinine
Soda Bicarbonate so it wouldn’t be taken
and the one who said we’d care for the internees
imprisoned with us: Aussies, Brits, French —
other enemies of the Rising Sun, men, women,
children, all of them civilians. In khaki clothes
we’ve made by hand, we work our shifts.
No days off for heat waves or monsoon.
Only the bedridden are excused. These girls
are unprepared, call me Battle-Axe, but I know
how to whip them into shape. No whining.
No complaints We may be short on emetine
or anesthetic and have no reserves of insulin,
but what we do isn’t free choice. It’s a higher calling.
From ANGELS OF BATAAN, Susan Terris (Pudding House
A Trivial Matter
Some 76,000 prisoners of war (66,000 Filipinos and 10,000 Americans) began the Bataan death march in April 1942. There are no precise numbers of those killed over those 65-miles. Estimates of the dead range from 2,500 Filipinos and 500 Americans, to 30 per cent of the entire force.
For the future Georgia colony, the War of Jenkins Ear was an existential threat.
A series of escalating trade disputes had already taken place between British and Spanish forces, when the Spanish patrol boat La Isabela drew alongside the British brig Rebecca in 1731. After boarding, Commander Juan de León Fandiño accused the British commander of smuggling. The discussion became heated, when Fandiño drew his sword and cut off the left ear of Captain Robert Jenkins. “Go, and tell your King that I will do the same”, he snarled, “if he dares to do the same.”
Seven years later, Captain Jenkins was summoned to testify before Parliament where, according to some accounts, he produced his own severed ear in a pickling jar, as part of his presentation.
This and other incidents of “Spanish Depredations upon the British Subjects” were considered insults to the honor of the British nation and a provocation to war.
A squadron of three 70-gun British third-rates was patrolling off the coast of Cornwall on April 8, 1740, when a mast was sighted to the north. What at first appeared to be a French vessel was revealed to be the 70 gun ship-of-the-line Princesa, when she struck her French colors and hoist the Spanish flag. Outnumbered 3-to-1, Princesa put up a good fight, but the issue was never in doubt. She was brought into Portsmouth for repairs, entering British service as HMS Princess in 1742. What had once been described as “the finest ship in the Spanish Navy”, would serve Her Britannic Majesty for another 42 years.
For the future Georgia colony, the War of Jenkins Ear was an existential threat. Spain had laid claim to Florida, when Ponce de Leon first mapped the territory in 1513. The territory which later became North & South Carolina joined the British Colonies to the north in 1663, leaving the areas in-between in dispute. James Oglethorpe founded the 13th colony of Georgia as a buffer to Spanish incursion, two years after Mr. Jenkins lost his ear.
By 1736, Oglethorpe established Fort Frederica on the barrier island of St. Simon, off the Savannah coast. The Spanish landing force of 4,500 to 5,000 men arrived on St. Simon’s Island in July of 1742, opposed by only 950 British Rangers, Colonial Militia and Indian Allies.
Oglethorpe’s forces attacked a Spanish reconnaissance in force at the Battle of Gully Hole Creek in the early morning hours of July 7, followed by the ambush of a much larger force that afternoon, in what would be known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh. In the smoke and confusion, the Spanish never did figure out how puny the forces were who opposed them. These two victories were as big a boost to British morale as they were a blow to that of their adversary. The last major Spanish offensive into Georgia ended with a complete withdrawal, a week later.
The conflict which began in 1739 ended in 1748, though major operations ceased in 1742 when the War of Jenkins Ear was subsumed by the greater War of Austrian Succession, involving most of the major powers of Europe at that time. Peace arrived with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.