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LtCol Mike Christy, US Army (Ret)
Parallel Lives, Shared History
Herb Heilbrun and John Leahr were twenty-one when the United States entered WWII. Herb became an Army Air Forces B-17 bomber pilot. John flew P-51 fighters. Both were thrown into the brutal high-altitude bomber war against Nazi Germany, though they never met because the Army was rigidly segregated - only in the air were black and white American fliers allowed to mix.
Both came safely home but it took a chance meeting 20 years ago when the two retired salesmen met at a reunion of the Tuskegee Airmen in Cincinnati. That meeting led them to review their parallel lives and discover their shared history.
It began in 1995 when Herb read in the newspaper that the city was honoring the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen; the all-black 332nd Fighter Group. They flew "Red-Tail" P-51s on missions escorting bomber squadrons from Italy into Germany and German held territories. Herb could still remember hearing, amid the radio chatter over the target, the distinctive voices of the Tuskegee Airmen. He felt that his thanks were overdue.
So Herb went down to the hotel where they were having a reception and told somebody he flew B-17s in Europe during WW II and that the Tuskegee Airmen escorted him.He then asked if there was a fighter pilot around that was over there and that he'd like to give him a hug for saving his behind. One guy pointed telling him there was a fellow standing across the room that he thinks flew fighters.
The man was John Leahr. When the two were introduced, Herb hugged John and said, "I've been waiting 50 years to meet one of you guys. You saved my tail on many a day." John, who felt for many years that the nation he had served had paid him back with prejudice and discrimination, had been waiting just as long for one of those white bomber pilots to come along and say thanks. That was all he ever wanted.
It did not take long for the black ex-fighter pilot and the white ex-bomber pilot to become friends. They went out for lunch. They visited each other's homes for dinner. Both men had their old mission logs and Herb also kept a diary. They began matching up dates and other details of combat missions they'd flown. Turns out John had flown cover on at least two of Herb's 35 missions: once on Dec. 16, 1944 on a bombing raid on an oil refinery on Brux Czechoslovakia and the next day a strike on an oil refinery in Blechemmer Germany. Flying through a wall of flak in Brux on Christmas Day 1944, Herb's fuel tanks were hit, his high-altitude oxygen system was smashed, and his armor gunner ended up getting wounded in the foot. Herb left John sitting and returned moments later with one of the 89 chunks of shrapnel that ventilated his bomber on that mission.
As the two got to know each other even better, they discovered other things in common. The men had been born within a mile of each other, and only seven months apart. Both had come up through Cincinnati public schools, and both had managed to scrape together two years of college during the Depression. Both had enlisted in the Air Corps within weeks of Pearl Harbor. Both had to wait months to be called for flying school, so both took jobs at the same airplane engine factory: Wright Aeronautical in Lockland, Ohio. Herb tested engines, firing up Cyclone Engines on test stands. John worked in the plant foundry. The work was filthy, hot, and done exclusively by blacks.
Following flight training, Herb got assigned to Italy as part of the 32nd Squadron of the 301st Bomb Group. He arrived well-schooled in the elaborate squadron takeoff ritual that quickly launched and stacked dozens of bombers into box formations. Rising from field all around Foggia, Italy the bomber echelons assembled themselves until hundreds of aircraft were swarming up the Adriatic.
Like Herb, John too had always wanted to fly and volunteered for flight school, ending up at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for primary pilot training. Travelling to the deep-south in that era scared him to death. There were so many stories. At that time, there was no federal anti-lynch law, and black people were beaten up and killed and nothing was being done about it.
John earned his wings in February, 1944 and was assigned to the all-Black 332nd "Red Tail" Squadron located at Ramiltelli Airfield on the Adriatic Coast in Italy. The black airmen completely segregated from the white Air Corps. The pilots also flew hand-me-down aircraft. When John's squadron first went into combat with the 12th Tactical Air Force, they were the only Americans in Europe flying the cranky and obsolete P-39 Airacobra. That July, the squadron was given weary P-51Bs and Cs Mustang fighter planes left them by white squadrons trading up to the more advanced P-51Ds.
Initially, they were little used and looked down on by the military establishment, but eventually they were given brand-new P-51Ds and, at the insistence of their commander Col. Benjamin O. Davis (retired as a Brigadier General), given the mission of dive-bombing and strafing missions. They were so successful that they were assigned to one of the most important tasks in the Army Air Force: escorting bombers deep into Europe on strategic bombing missions.
On missions, the bombers would be about two hours out when the fighter escorts caught up with them. The escorts were supposed to handle enemy interceptors, but nothing seemed to lessen the flak. The Germans moved mobile flak units around to surprise the Allies while they were crossing the Po Valley or near the mountain passes that they followed into Austria and Germany. And once the bombers reached their target, all the anti-aircraft guns on earth seemed to be waiting for them, altitude fuses set.
John recalled seeing those poor bomber boys line up and go straight into that flak. "Those bombers would fly right through it," he said. "We watched those guys go through hell. We're sitting out on the side waiting for them to come out and we could see them getting hit. If they got hit in the bomb bay, the plane just exploded into a great big ball of fire. The whole plane blew up and then it was nothing." None of the B-17s that survived the missions were lost with the Tuskegee squadron escorting them home.
Once he was out of the military, John discovered that he was a pretty good salesman. He sold securities and managed a brokerage office before retiring as an office administrator from Cincinnati Gas & Electric. Herb became a salesman too, selling radio ads and then commercial real estate. Today, John is a widower with children and grandchildren. Herb is remarried and busy with his own children and grandchildren, as well as his step-children and step-grandchildren, plus the kids who attend his wife Carol's in-home daycare center. When their paths crossed at the Tuskegee Airmen's reception, the men were living 10 minutes apart.
One night, Herb were having dinner when John said he had grown up in Avondale. Herb said he had also. John reminded Herb there were only five black families in Avondale, and that he went to a school on Clinton Springs Avenue which had at one time been an old mansion. Surprised, Herb reported he too had gone to that school.
Both claimed they did not remember the other but that wasn't surprising. When it came to racial matters, Cincinnati had Southern ways. During World War II, Cincinnati's railroad station had the distinction of being the southbound point where passenger segregation began. Most of Cincinnati's hotels, restaurants, and even hamburger stands were for whites only.
After Herb learned that he and John had gone to the same school, he wondered if they had ever crossed paths. When he got home he went through his photo album looking for his second grade picture taken more than 75 years ago in front of North Avondale School. After a short search, he found the 1928 photograph.
In it are 40 kids; 38 are white and two - a boy and a girl - are black. Herb sent the photograph to John with a note that read, 'John, this thing is getting crazier and crazier by the minute. If that little black guy in this picture is you, well, that kid behind him who is almost touching him is me.'
The two men now in their early 90s have been speaking publicly for years telling their stories in words and picture, putting on record not just their valor at war but the ugliness they confronted at home. An underlying theme is about the segregation that kept them apart.
John begins by showing a video - a segment from a TV documentary on the Tuskegee's. He talks about his training, about shipping out, and about getting jumped over Linz, Austria, by 40 German Bf 109s. Two of his wing mates were shot down at once, his flight leader was driven off, and, surrounded by enemy aircraft, he discovered that his machine guns had frozen at the high altitude and were unable to fire. He tells the audience that he owed his escape to a mixture of aerial acrobatics and applied religion. He then introduced Herb, gives him a hug to the wide applause from the audience.
When it's Herb's turn, he tells the audience about the bomber war. He tells them about the wooden boards in the briefing room where each crew member's last name was posted on a metal strip; one morning Herb watched the operations officer take down a stack of strips and toss them in the trash. They were shot down, the officer explained. They're not coming back. Herb reaches into his pocket and with a grin hold up a battered metal strip with "Heilbrun" written in white. The audience claps.
He talks about his homecoming in 1945, about meeting John all those years later, and about piecing together their past.
Herb hits the button of the projector and up comes the black and white photo of the second grade kids standing in front of North Avondale School. When he points out the two 8-year-old boys squeezed together shoulder-to-shoulder, the audience cheers wildly.
At the end of their presentation, John wraps his arm around Herb and says the two have one request: "Don't forget us," he says.
In 2003, the men were honored guests of The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations for their mission of telling young people why race once made all the difference and why it shouldn't anymore.
In January 2012, they were both honored in a private screening ceremony in Cincinnati for the George Lucas film "Red Tails". The movie tells the story of a fictional squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group who fought discrimination and prejudice to become one of the most decorated fighting units of World War II earning 1,000 awards and decorations; and the respect of the white bombers pilots whose tails they protected on thousands of mission.
As the movie ended, John and Herb, trim and erect and dressed in his Army Air Force uniform, slowly made their way up the stairs out of the theater, surrounded by fellow movie-goers who wanted to shake their hands and thank them for their service.
"It was real," John said, leaning on his cane at the top of the steps. "That was pretty much the way it was."
John and Herb were featured on NBC and The History Channel. Please go to the URLs below and check it out.
Four-legged Military Hero - MWD Lucca
During the long war in Iraq and Afghanistan, coalition forces relied on thousands of military working dogs to help keep them safe by detecting explosives, finding illegal drugs, searching for missing comrades, or targeting enemy combatants. Dozen died in the line of duty. Others struggle with wounds and post-traumatic stress. Many have earned recognition for heroism. Among the heroes is Lucca, a highly skilled German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix trained to sniff out explosives and protect the combat Marines and Special Forces she served.
Lucca and her military dog handler Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham were together on two combat tours in Iraq. Later Lucca would have an Afghanistan tour with her new dog handler, Marine Corporal Juan Rodriguez.
According to the Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc. website (http://mwdtsa.org/lucca.html), Lucca is among the most legendary military working dogs. Through almost six years of military service, Lucca went on more than 400 missions and has 40 confirmed finds of explosives, saving countless lives. Her list of accomplishments is long: two IEDs, one car bomb, countless caches of homemade explosives, concealed AK-47s with magazines. She has also found Dsh-Ks, which are vehicle mounted .50 caliber Soviet guns. These were hidden along the Tigris River. She also found deadly Dsh-K rounds buried in a cemetery tomb. Her finds led to the arrest of numerous insurgents.
Beginning in 2006, Willingham trained and handled Lucca and in 2008 the pair deployed on their first Iraqi tour. For that tour and another one in Iraq, they spend countless hours searching for IEDs or improvised explosive devices considered the top killers of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On missions where Lucca sniffed out explosives, she worked off-leash at long distances from Willingham. Her job was to alert on the explosives beforehand and have them rendered harmless so the troops could move on.
Once she finds the smell she is looking for she will lie down, stare at the scent and communicate the find to Willingham. This action was repeated dozens of time and saved the lives of service members and civilians. As Willingham put it, "Your lives are literally in each other's hands."
With Lucca's training and instincts combined with Willingham's knowledge on how best to employ her, they were highly successful and became so sought-after that platoons frequently requested the team by name.
Upon returning from his second tour in Iraq in December 2010, Willingham received orders to Marine Security Guard School. Before he left, he was able to select the handler to take over as Lucca's handler. Willingham selected Cpl. Juan Rodriguez - a Marine he sensed had the right personality and skills to make a great team with Lucca.
In March 2012, close to Luca's six-year anniversary as a Marine, she and Rodriguez were walking point in direct support of a Special Operations unit in Nahri Saraj District, in southern Afghanistan
They were about four hours into the patrol when Lucca located an IED, her second of the day. When she moved closer to the secondary device it exploded. Rodriguez, hearing Lucca squealing and screaming in pain, ran forward to give her first aid and a tourniquet, which saved her life. He then called in a Medevac and continually petted and spoke quietly and reassuringly in an attempt to keep her calm.
Waiting for the Medevac was agonizing for both Rodriguez and Lucca. She had suffered burns to her neck and torso and her front left paw was blown off making it necessary for her leg to be amputated. Fortunately, no member of the patrol was hurt.
After her injury, Lucca returned to Camp Pendleton where she was rehabilitated and in just 10 days, was back up and walking and in less than a month, she was running around on her three legs just as she had done when she had all four legs. It was obvious she had the same spirit, same personality as before the injury.
Once she was cleared to retire from the Marine Corps, Lucca was flown from San Diego to Chicago and then to Helsinki to be reunited with Willingham who was serving at the U.S. Embassy. Her flight was paid by the carrier, American Airlines, which also bumped her up to business class. When asked by a reporter at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Rodriguez - ever the
Marine - did not elaborate on what saying goodbye will be like. "It will be hard," he acknowledged. "But seeing Lucca bounce off to a safe home will ease the farewell."
Nonplused by all the strangers petting her at O'Hare's Terminal 3, Lucca worked away at a treat inside the treasured red toy she carried and kept close to her trainer. Rodriguez looked at his partner with love.
"She's back to normal," he said. "She hasn't skipped a beat."
Lucca now lives in southern California with Gunny Sgt. Willingham and his family and in a recent interview, Willingham credits Lucca with saving his life twice on deployments.
"We've got a lot of loyalty between us. We've been together for two deployments now and she saved my life a couple of times, so I've definitely got a tight bond with this dog," he said while affectionately, scratching and petting Lucca who was enjoying every second of the loving attention. She also enjoys the occasional visits by Juan Rodriguez. And she even has her own Facebook page.
America's Secret War - Operation Shining Brass
The guerrilla war was not going well for the Viet Cong in the late fifties. Badly needed supplies moving down jungle trails from North Vietnam were constantly being spotted by South Vietnamese warplanes and often destroyed. To give themselves a fighting chance, existing tribal trails through Laos and Cambodia were opened up in 1959. The North Vietnamese went to great lengths to keep this new set of interconnecting trails secret.
The first North Vietnamese sent down the existing tribal trails carried no identification and used captured French weapons. But the Communists could not keep their supply route secret for very long. Within months, CIA agents and their Laotian mercenaries were watching movement from deep within the hidden jungle.
But keeping an eye on what the North Vietnamese were doing in Laos was not enough for Washington.
They wanted to put boots on the ground in a reconnaissance role to observe, first hand, the enemy logistical system known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the Truong Son Road to the North Vietnamese).
By late 1964 South Vietnamese recon units were inserted into Laos in 'Operation Leaping Lena'. After a number of disastrous missions, it was determined U.S. troops were necessary and Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was given the green light to take over the operation.
Thus was born the secret war in Laos that would eventually kill about 300 hundred Special Forces troops, with fifty-seven Missing in Action, and some fifteen known to have been captured. But the Communist never admitted to having captured any Special Forces troops.
In November the first American-led insertion was launched against target Alpha-1, a suspected truck terminus on Laotian Route 165, fifteen-miles inside Laos.
A newly formed reconnaissance team selected for the initial mission was Recon Team (RT) Iowa.
Team leader was Master Sergeant Charles Petry along with Sergeant First Class Willie Card, a South Vietnamese Army Lieutenant and five Nungs (fierce fighters of Chinese decent used extensively and paid by U.S. Special Forces). They were the first U.S.-led cross-border secret operation into Laos, code-named 'Shining Brass,' to reconnoiter and interdict infiltration along Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The Special Forces officer supervising the mission was Capt. Larry Thorne, the subject of last month's Dispatches article "Three Wars under Three Flags".
It was the rainy season in Vietnam and RT Iowa prowled the Special Forces camp at Kham Duc, near the Laotian border, waiting for the rain to let up and for the clouds to break.
Tension during the idle days ran high, for their highly classified mission could open a new phase of the war. Finally, the rain stopped, but visibility was still poor on the Laotian border to the West where mountain peaks poked above the clouds. It was finally agreed, however, to try an infiltration despite the unfavorable flying conditions.
Hence, toward the end of the third day, October 18, 1965, two South Vietnamese operated CH-34 helicopters unmarked and sprayed with camouflage paint, lifted off and climbed above the clouds over Kham Duc and banked to the West toward a suspected truck park 15 miles inside Laos.
Recon Team Iowa members set on the floor of the lead chopper. Dressed in camouflage fatigues and soft bush hats or rags tied around their heads, they carried no identification and all their gear and weapons were 'sterilized' - non-U.S. government issue. This was a highly secret mission the United States did not want traced back to the American forces.
Thorne was the only American passenger aboard the South Vietnam Air Force flown command and control aircraft. U.S. Army Huey gunships launched at the same time to provide air cover should it be needed at any time during the mission.
As the CH-34s and Huey gunships flew low over the countryside, all they could see were rolling hills, wild rivers and waterfalls. The weather proved especially hazardous, forcing them to weaving between thunderheads and sunbeams while avoiding sporadic .50 caliber machinegun fire, all of which missed.
The flight arrived over the target area just before sundown. All aircraft circled the area looking for a way to get down to the clearing through the thick angry clouds that blanketed the area. A decent seemed hopeless and darkness was closing in. Minutes before Thorne intended to cancel the mission and return to Kham Duc, the clouds opened up slightly allowing the CH-34 carrying RT Iowa to spiral into the slash-and-burn clearing, rapidly discharge its passengers and immediately climb for altitude. As Thorne's helicopter attempted to descend, the clouds again closed up. Thorne ordered the now empty CH-34 to return to Kham Duc.
As the weather worsened, Thorne continued to orbit near the landing zone in case RT Iowa ran into trouble. After received a message from the team that their insertion was successful, he transmitted that his aircraft was also on its way back.
Approximately 5 minutes after receiving the patrol's report, the other aircrews heard a constant keying of a radio for roughly 30 seconds. After that, only silence was heard in response to repeated attempts to raise anyone aboard Thorne's helicopter.
The disappearance of Thorne's aircraft and Vietnamese crew men, without so much as a radio distress call, was never explained, nor was any wreckage found after days of trying. Operation 35 had claimed its first victims, and a shot had yet to be fired.
After three days on the ground, deep behind enemy lines, the seven-man patrol ran into a heavily defended enemy ammunition dump. One team member was killed. The rest withdrew to a hill, called in tactical air and within minutes, bombs were destroying the enemy's precious ammunition. The team was extracted without further incident.
For the next five years, Special Forces led patrols scouted the Ho Chi Minh Trail on a regular basis and fought the North Vietnamese they found there.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was no longer a mystery, and ultimately became a killing ground for many of the North Vietnamese who worked there, or were just passing through.
During those five years the cross-border operations in Laos were active, it changed names three time; "Operation Shining Brass" was renamed "Operation Prairie Fire" in 1968 and finally, "Operation Phu Dung" in April 1971. But whatever name it went by, countering NVA infiltration through Laos into South Vietnam became the largest and most important Special Forces strategic reconnaissance and interdiction campaign in Southeast Asia.
In 1999, Thorne's remains were found by a Finnish and Joint Task Force-Full Accounting team that was excavating a helicopter crash site near Thorne's last suspected location. DNA on remains found at the site were those of Thorne and the South Vietnamese airmen. He was buried on June 26, 2003 at Arlington National Cemetery, section 60, tombstone 8136, along with the Vietnam casualties of the mission recovered at the crash site.
Against All Odds - Survival at Oradour-sur-Glane
Prior to D-Day, the Allies conducted a large-scale deception campaign designed to mislead the German High Command as to the location of the imminent invasion of Europe. The purpose was to make the Germans believe the invasion would occur at Pas-de-Calais rather than at Normandy. The plan worked perfectly. A large number of German divisions were moved to the port of Pas-de-Calais, including units from the Normandy region.
Caught with their pants down, the German High Command was stunned to learn on the morning of June 6, 1944, some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces had landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the coast of France's Normandy region. At first most high-ranking German officers clung to the notion it was a diversion and that the actual invasion would still occur at Pas-de-Calais.
Slow to react, it took a few days before the German High Command realized they had been deceived and ordered divisions to Normandy in an effort to stop the Allies from advancing. One division was the 2nd SS Panzer Division (Das Reich).
Nearly 440 miles southeast near the French town of Valence the division moved north to Normandy. With French rail network nearly destroyed by strategic Allied bombing, the division was forced to move by road. Along its rush north, it came under constant harassing attacks by the French resistance (Maquis) which over several days managed to kill or wound some 40 German troops near the village of Tulle.
In retribution for each German casualty, Das Reich soldiers hanged three male citizens of Tulle - 120 men in all.
By June 10 elements of Das Reich had advanced only about 190 miles when word came down that the Maquis had captured a German officer.
According to the Vichy French collaborationists the Maquis had taken SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Helmet Kampfem and was holding him in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres.
Later that day SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Adolf Diekmann, commander of 1st Battalion, 4th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, moved into Oradour-sur-Glane, possibly mistaken it for nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres.
His aim was exacting revenge and teaching the French a lesson for supporting the French Resistance movement. They assembled all of the townspeople in the central square under the guise of having their identity papers checked. In addition to all of the local residents who were present on that day, the SS also ensnared six young people who did not live there but had the great misfortune of just having ridden through town on a bicycle trip when the Germans arrived.
The women and children were separated from the men and locked inside the village church. The men were taken to six barns where the SS had already moved machine guns into place.
The Nazis shot the men in their legs to prolong the agony. Once all the men in the barns were immobile, the structures were doused with fuel and set on fire. 190 men perished there. Six were able to escape.
The SS then returned to the church where the women and children were held and ignited an incendiary device. As the church burned from the inside, many of the women and children attempted to jump through windows. Many suffocated or were burned alive. The few children who were still screaming were executed by the Nazis. (Photo is the ruin of the church were the women and children died.)
In total, 247 women and 205 children were killed there. Only one woman survived. Forty-seven-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche slid out of a rear sacristy window along with a young woman and her child. All three were shot; only Madame Rouffanche survived her
wounds. She crawled to some bushes behind the church and lay bleeding all night until she was rescued the following morning.
She was hospitalized for over a year; but her psychic wounds never fully healed. She grieved and held vigil for her loved ones and her village for the rest of her life. She died in 1988.
Among those to escape death in the burning barns was Robert Hebras. His mother Marie and two sisters, Georgette, 22, and nine-year-old Denise were not so fortunate. They were among those brutally murdered at the church.
Although he lives in another Village, Hebra sometimes visits the remains of what had once been Oradour-sur-Glane.
Walking through the ruins, tears in his aged eyes, the 87-year-old remembers the warm, thriving little community that was his village...before the Nazis and their trucks came.
He said he was not concerned when the Germans rounded everyone up but after putting him in a barn he realized what might be going on. That is when the Germans began firing their machine guns. "Men in front of me just started falling. I got caught by several bullets but I survived because those in front of me got the full impact," he said. "I was so lucky. Four of us remained completely still under piles of bodies. One man tried to get away before they had gone, he was shot dead."
Hebras crawled out of the back of the barn as it was engulfed by fire and hid in the woods with burnt hair and a burnt left arm. When he felt it was safe he ran through the woods and took shelter with a relative who lived six miles away. There he was reunited with his father who had been out of the village working on a farm.
During the night of the massacre, the village was looted and torched.
In the following days, relatives of the dead were permitted to recover the charred bodies and bury them. The village was left as a ghost town in the aftermath of the massacre, and burnt-out cars and ruined buildings serve as a solemn reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
In 1953 a military tribunal in Bordeaux heard the case against 21 lower-ranking Waffen-SS troops who had been at Oradour-sur-Glane, 14 of whom were actually Alsatians. The 2nd SS Panzer Division's commander, SS-Brigadefuhrer Heinz
Lammerding, was tried for the massacres at both Tulle and Oradour-sur-Glane, convicted and sentenced to death in absentia but West Germany never extradited him. The court convicted 20 of the defendant and sentenced them to prison. French authorities soon granted the Alsatians amnesty and within five years the German defendants were also released.
Today, the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane are preserved as a memorial to the dead, and to acknowledge similar events that were perpetrated around Europe during the Second World War.
Military Facts and Legends: The Origins of 'Taps'
It is just 24 notes sounded on a bugle - and it lasts only 50 to 60 seconds.Yet no piece of music is more widely known in America than the strains of Taps or more apt to render emotion with a melody that is both eloquent and haunting.
According to legend, Taps was composed in July 1862 during the American Civil War near Harrison's Landing, Virginia during the Peninsular Campaign. On one side of a narrow strip of land, Union Army soldiers faced elements of the Confederate Army camped on the other side.
During the night, moans of a mortally wounded soldier awaked Union Captain Robert Ellicombe. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention.
Crawling on his stomach through no-man's land as periodic gunfire coming from both sides pierced the air above his head, the captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment.
When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered in the dim light of a lantern it was actually a Confederate soldier who was already dead. Suddenly, he caught his breath and went numb with shock when he saw the face of the soldier; it was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he had enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status.
The captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band
members play a funeral dirge for the son at the funeral. That request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. Out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician.
The captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of his dead son's uniform. This wish was granted.
As romantic and gut-wrenching as this story is, it is not true; there was no dead son, Confederate or otherwise; no lone bugler sounding out the dead boy's last composition. More importantly, there is no record whatsoever of a Union Army captain by the name of Robert Ellicombe. When or where this fable began is uncertain but it persisted for decades supported by many believers.
The revision that gave us present-day Taps was made during America's Civil War by Union Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac camped at Harrison Landing, Va. Up to that time, the U.S. Army's infantry call to end the day was the French final call, "L'Extinction des feux." Gen. Butterfield decided the "lights out" music was too formal to signal the day's end. One day in July 1862 he recalled the tattoo music and hummed a version of it to an aide, who wrote it down in music.
Summoning his brigade's bugler, Private Oliver Willcox Norton to his tent one evening, Butterfield showed him the notes written in pencil on the back of an envelope. Several times Norton would sound them on his bugle. Butterfield changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to Norton. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed Norton to sound that call for 'Taps' thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night, and was heard far beyond the limits of the brigade.
Although no general order was issued from army headquarters authorizing the substitution of this for the regulation call, each brigade commander exercised his own discretion in such minor matters. Before long Taps was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac call for "light's out" signal. It quickly came into use by the Army of Confederate States of America as well.
It was officially recognized by the United States Army in 1874.
The first use of Butterfield's Taps at a funeral was also at Harrison's Landing a few days later when a soldier of Captain John C. Tidball of Battery A, 2nd Artillery was buried at a time when the battery occupied a concealed position in the woods.
It was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave on account of the proximity of the enemy, and it occurred to Captain Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be used instead. Thus began the custom of playing Taps at a military funeral although it did not become a standard component to U.S. military funerals until 1891. (Capt. Tidball is the second officer from the left in this photo.)
Ten months after it was composed, Taps was also played at the funeral of Confederate Gen. Stonewall "Stonewall" Jackson at Lexington, Virginia.
This brings us to how 'Taps' got its name. One story claims it was a derivation of "Tattoo," a French bugle signal that notified soldiers to cease an evening's drinking and return to their garrisons.
It was sounded an hour before the final bugle call to end the day by extinguishing fires and lights. The word 'tattoo' itself comes from the Dutch term 'taptoe,' meaning "close the (beer) taps (and send the troops back to camp)."
The more likely explanation, however, is that it carried over from a term already in use before the American Civil War. Three single, slow drum beats were struck after the sounding of the Tattoo or "Extinguish Lights." This signal was known as the "Drum Taps," "The Taps," or simply as "Taps" in soldier's slang.
This first sounding of Taps at the Capt. Tidball's soldier's military funeral is commemorated in a stained glass window at The Chapel of the Centurion (The Old Post Chapel) at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The window, made by R. Geissler of New York and based on a painting by Sidney King, was dedicated in 1958 and shows a bugler and a flag at half-staff. In that picture a drummer boy stands beside the bugler.
The site where Taps was born is also commemorated by a monument located on the grounds of Berkeley Plantation. This monument to Taps was erected by the Virginia American Legion and dedicated on July 4, 1969.
The haunting yet beautiful melody of Taps can be heard at the following site:
TWS Bulletin Board
If you wish to make a post to our new Bulletin Board - People Sought, Assistance Needed, Jobs Available in Your Company,Reunions Pending, Items for Sale or Wanted, Services Available or Wanted, Product or Service Recommendations, Discounts for Vets, Announcements, Death Notices - email it to us at email@example.com.
Last Days of Vietnam Nominated for Academy Award
Directed and produced by Rory Kennedy, Last Days in Vietnam chronicles the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War as the North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon.
Last Days in Vietnam will premiere on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 9/8c ET (check local listings) on PBS in conjunction with the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
The 87th Academy Award airs Sunday, February 22nd at 7pm EST/4pm PCT
Together We Served
We are hosting our 2nd All Service Reunion
in Williamsburg,VA on Oct 30-Nov 1st. Our hotel is the Woodlands Hotel and Conference Center located within walking distance to Colonial Williamsburg. For reservations call 800-447-8679, TWS Group Number: 35389
Looking forward to seeing you there!
US Air Force Red Horse
50th Anniversary Celebration of US Air Force RED HORSE and Prime BEEF
Oct. 12 - Oct 16, 2015 at the Ramada Inn in Fort Walton Beach Florida
For more information contact Greg MacDougal at (912) 884-7273, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Dick Aldinger at (407) 859-7436, email: email@example.com or visit our website at www.rhassn.us
An important continuation of a soldier's commitment to service is the unit associations administered by unit veterans. As President of the 28th Infantry Regiment Assn, I find our younger generation of soldiers in need of post deployment affiliation with like-minded people. Whether it be struggles with the VA, the absence of camaraderie and sense of belonging, membership in associations keeps you touch with those you served with. Most of our members are Vietnam veterans but more and more current Black Lions are finding us and joining. The future of unit associations depend upon new members who want to make a difference.
Looking for anyone that flew with the KC-135 Q models refueling the SR-71 spy planes, need help to prove that we went into Thailand and sometimes remained overnight.
Marvin J. Bohrer
U.S. Air Force 1969 -1980
Recent Letters to the Editor-Mike Christy
Just a note to say I enjoy the different stories presented. I spent three years in the army and I don't think I could write as much as I sometimes see. Keep up the good work.
My brother who got me to join Together We Served spent twenty years in the army and passed away a year ago next month. I salute him for telling me about you.
Re: Civil War Lady Doctor
I read with great interest the article on Dr. Mary Walker and her Medal of Honor. I am recently retired from the Federal Government where I worked for 35 years as a military Historian for the National Park Service and for the US Army Signal Corps. I write to correct some errors in the article.
Dr. Walker was a contract surgeon called to minister to BG Daniel McCooks Brigade after the Battle of Chickamauga. The museum collection at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park held the papers of Col. Langley who succeeded McCook after he was killed at Kennesaw Mountain June 27, 1864. These papers include a document of assignment of Dr. Walker to that brigade.
She was never an official Army surgeon or doctor.
As a contract surgeon she was a civilian and not eligible for the MH. For example: the first MH were awarded to members of the Andrews Raid, known as the "Great Locomotive Chase." The only member of the raiders not to receive a MH was James Andrews, a civilian who led the raid and was executed as a spy by the Confederates.
The Civil War era MH was the only award given by the Union and as such many medals were awarded not for valor but many were given to staff officers for "their valued service." The review board separated and revoked many of the medals those given for service as opposed for valorous action.
Dr. Walker has been portrayed as a feminist "victim" of the army bureaucracy when in fact, despite what she may have done, was a civilian and not eligible for the medal.
Daniel A. Brown
U.S. Navy 1966 - 1971
Re: "I Flew with Heroes" Book Review
Thanks again Mike for another great Dispatches. Another good book for me to read; "I Flew with Heroes".
US Army 1966-1969
TWS Receives WWII Soldiers Letters: Epilogue
About eight months ago I wrote a story about receiving a package of letters sent from SSgt James Halliday to Miss Shirley Talbot during WWII. A woman had found them in a house she had bought and had no idea what to do with them so she asked if TWS would like them. Having a historian's heart, I could not turn her down.
In doing research, I found that he had been killed in the Ardennes in the last days of the war in Europe. I was disheartened when I could not find traces of any of his family.
Last week I received an email from the last surviving member of his family. She said her grandmother never got over losing Uncle Jimmie. Her dad, Jimmie's brother John, did 23 years in the navy and is ironically buried in the national cemetery at Hampton VA, not far from where I live.
I thought that these historical treasures deserved more than just pouring them into a package and sending them off so I found this strongbox shown in the photograph above. It's been my pleasure to be the guardian of these historic treasures. They are now going home, where they belong.
TWS Chief Admin
Book Review: Restless Hearts
By Dennis Baker
What if Fallen Heroes Could Go Home?
Silver in the Military Writers Society of America for 2014
Dennis Baker fictional novel takes the reader into a highly detailed, realistic setting that is invaded by something that breaks the rules of our real world - five fallen warriors get a chance to return home as they search for closure to their unfinished lives. Using the names of real live heroes who once fought for our country beginning with WWI to current day, Baker's story take us to the depths of our emotion of sorrow for those who are gone and joy for the outcome of the choices in their journeys to their past lives.
The main character is Pete Baker, a Navy SEAL and his teammate Lt. Frankie Leonardo who is killed in Afghanistan. Escorting Frankie's body back to the United States, the plane runs into extremely turbulent weather causing Pete to get knocked out for the entire 10-hour trip. That's when Frankie reappears and takes Pete on an adventure to Arlington Cemetery where they meet warriors killed in all of America's wars. From the hundreds gather there, Pete choses four who have concerns about those they left behind. His buddy Frankie talks him into making him the fifth.
Baker's skill as a writer gives us characters in his world of mystical realism that seem completely plausible and in reading it, it will captivate your heart as it did mine. It may even sooth your restless heart.
Recently I picked up Restless Hearts to scan, but could not put it down. The story is very innovative in its approach to the loss and sacrifice of the Families of the Fallen. Your perspective and sensitivity to "what might have happened" is unique and powerful. I was immediately enchanted and immersed in the journey. The depth and description of the characters, their thoughts and their values is overwhelming.
Near the end, the theme hit me like a thunderbolt with Andrew's story...I married a Vietnam Gold Star Widow with a five year old daughter. Sgt. Gary V. Clark died in combat support on December 17, 1969, the funeral was December 26, 1969, and Tina Jo was born December 29, 1969 never to see her father. One of the proudest days of my life was walking Tina Jo down the aisle on her wedding day, all the time thinking I wish her real father was present for this sacred task. Tina Jo knew about her father's sacrifice, and I know she is proud of her heritage. Restless Hearts reminded me what a sacred privilege it was to raise that little five year old girl.
Commander Baker, I salute you for you deep thoughts and reflections, creating this powerful story and keeping the memories of our fallen warriors and their families alive and honored. Restless Hearts is priceless!
Richard "Dick" Stobbs
Chairman, Gold Star Family Committee
When we met at the airport and you began setting the stage for "Restless Hearts" I couldn't wait to read it. Yesterday was the first time since you so generously gifted me that I had to quietly devote time to read. And read I did, until I finished!
After I had told you that my husband was buried in Arlington, you never mentioned that Arlington was an integral part of the story. To tell you that I imagined what went on after the gates closed at night is almost exactly what you have put into words! I have always wanted to visit Arlington at night so I thank you for your fascinating insight. I just knew that great things transpired with all the brave, brilliant men and women buried there. Oh the stories. . .
I absolutely loved the book. Your sensitivity to humanity is beautiful. Thank you so much for appealing to my "restless heart"!
Gold Star Wife
Who amongst us would not want to be offered a second chance to correct a previous mistake? Who amongst us would not want the support and participation - even in a dream - of national heroes to help us turn failed missions into mission competed? Writing in a smooth, easily reading style, Commander Baker weaves a complex, but almost plausible story of a group of modern-day heroes who use a dream to gain the support and participation by a group of earlier national heroes to turn a failed mission into a mission completed. Drawing on his own experiences as an enlisted man and then an officer in the Navy, he learned about living right as you go, making amends if need be, and the importance of second chances. I commend this to your reading.
Lieutenant General Lawrence F. Snowden, U.S. Marines Corps (Ret.)
Veteran of WW II, Korea and Vietnam;
Highest ranking survivor of battle of Iwo Jima
For those many patriots, past and currently served, who have crossed into the line of fire and returned home, especially those bearing the scars of conflict, Dennis Baker's uniquely woven and reflection provoking story of service and sacrifice will be an emotional and satisfying read. We were all changed by our experiences in the combat arena, no matter how brief the experience. Restless Hearts speaks to the humanity of every American warrior, and the countless motivations that lead a soldier, sailor, marine or airman to shield a comrade in mortal combat.
Rear Admiral James H. Flatley III, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
One of three generations to command a carrier fighter squadron in combat
About the Author
Dennis Baker enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970 and retired twenty-seven years as a Commander. Many of his assignment were in aviation. He continue to be inspired by past and present military who honorably served. He currently lives in Florida.