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Still coming home

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission earlier this month held a ceremony at Messines Ridge British Cemetery for two unknown soldiers whose remains were recently recovered near the town of Wijtschate, south of Ieper, in the Belgian province of West Flanders.

Despite the best attempts by the Commission, the two lads were only identified as a member of the Royal Irish Rifles (Now part of the Royal Irish Regiment) and an unknown soldier of an unknown regiment, both of which will bear a headstone marked “Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”

Raven 42: Citizen soldiers at their ‘part time’ job 14 years ago today

“Raven 42” by James Dietz Via U.S. Army Center of Military History

March 20, 2005: Two U.S. convoys were about to converge at a crossroads 30 miles south of Baghdad. They were attacked by one of the largest groups insurgents ever to hit a convoy. This stretch of road happened to be guarded by the 617th Military Police Company-Kentucky National Guard, from Richmond, Kentucky. The 4th Platoon’s 2nd Squad, 10 men and women in three armored Hummers, operated as “Raven 42.”

As both convoys came under heavy attack and the insurgents were closing in Raven 42 fought through heavy fire aimed at them to go on the offensive in protecting the convoys. By the end of the firefight, 30+ insurgents were dead, wounded or captured and only a few American Soldiers were wounded.

The citizen soldiers reacting to contact that day included a shoe store manager, hotel worker, printing press operator, and several students.

Specialists William Haynes, Casey Cooper, and Ashley Pullen received Bronze Stars for valor. Medic Jason Mike received the Silver Star, as did SGT Hester and SSG Nein. Nein’s award was later upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross. Pullen and Hester were the first women in U.S. history to receive medals for valor in actual combat.

Note: Back to Warship Weds next week!

Vraciu remembered

On 19 June 1944, during the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” VF-16 Hellcat flyer Lt. Alexander Vraciu splashed not one or two or three but six (6) Japanese Yokosuka D4Y Judys in eight minutes, firing just 360 rounds of .50 cal to get the job done– 60 rounds per bogey.

The event led to this iconic image:

Battle of The Philippine Sea, June 1944 (Catalog #: 80-G-23684): Lieutenant Junior Grade Alexander Vraciu, USNR; fighting squadron 16 “Ace”, holds up six fingers to signify his “kills” during the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, on 19 June 1944. Taken on the flight deck of the USS LEXINGTON (CV-16). Note: Grumman in the background and sailor A.L. Poquet at right.

An Indiana native, Vraciu was a first generation American of Romanian parents and cut his teeth as “Butch” O’Hare’s wingman. He finished the war with 19 confirmed aerial victories (plus 21 on the ground) and, although nominated for the MOH, he walked away with the Navy Cross instead and 3 DFCs, among other decorations. Overall, he is the 4th highest U.S. Naval ace in history when ranked in terms of victories.

Retiring from the Navy in 1964 after 23-years in uniform, he was still one hell of a good shot late in his career. In 1957, he won the individual gunnery championship at the U.S. Navy’s Air Weapons Meet at NAS El Centro, California, while pushing 40 as while skipper of VF-51, then flying the FJ-3 Fury.

To commemorate Vraciu, who died in 2015, the Navy has dedicated the field at El Centro in his honor.

EL CENTRO, Calif. (March 9, 2019) The U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, conduct a flyover during the naming ceremony of Vraciu Field at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, March 9, 2019. The Blue Angels are conducting winter training at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, in preparation for the 2019 show season. The team is scheduled to conduct 61 flight demonstrations at 32 locations across the country to showcase the pride and professionalism of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to the American public in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Schumaker/Released)

Vale, RADM Ed Keats, (USNA 1935)

Edgar Salo Keats was born in Chicago in 1915.

Let that sink in.

When he was minted, Eugene Ely had just four years before took off in a Curtiss pusher from a temporary platform erected over the bow of the light cruiser USS Birmingham— a first in U.S. Naval Aviation history. He was six years old when USS Langley (CV-1) joined the fleet.

By the time Keats graduated from Annapolis at the ripe old age of 20, the Navy had just commissioned their first ship designed from the keel up as an aircraft carrier, USS Ranger (CV-4). The future icons of Midway, USS Yorktown, and USS Enterprise, were still under construction at Newport News and had yet to be launched.

Keats earned his wings at Pensacola in 1938 and flew Dauntless dive bombers extensively. He was named skipper of Bombing 16 (VB-16) early in WWII but was soon appointed Air Officer for Commander Amphibious Force, Pacific, a role that put him in the driver’s seat for the air attack portion of amphibious landings at Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

“I was part of the group that wrote the aviation portion of the amphibious course plans for the capture,” said Keats modestly on the occasion of his 100th birthday bash at Bancroft Hall. “You just don’t go out there with a lot of people. It takes a lot of planning, and everyone doing their part. I don’t claim that I was a hero. I flatter myself that I helped contribute some little bit to our victory.”

After the war, he went on to fly F9F Panthers and command the Air Group on USS Shangri-La before being appointed director of the Armament Division at NATC Patuxent. He continued to rise to the rank of rear admiral before he retired in 1958 after 23 years of active duty across two shooting wars.

After an active career in business once leaving the military, including over a decade spent at Westinghouse, Keats continued to weigh in on naval topics and was a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

Keats, the oldest Annapolis alumni, died over the weekend while in hospice care. He was 104.

His oral history of the war is in the Library of Congress.

The last groundpounder in Liechtenstein

Herr Kieber, late of the Royal Liechtenstein Army, shown hanging around Schlosses Vaduz in 1935, aged 91. Note the Schutzenschnur cord award for rifle marksmanship. The medal? That’s for the 1866 War, of course. Photo via Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum

The tiny principality of Liechtenstein, cuddled between Austria and Switzerland, today has a population of about 37,000 and has always been one of the smallest modern nations since its inception. With alliances going back to the old Holy Roman Empire, the country was smushed up by Napoleon into the Confederation of the Rhine and later became part of the 38-member German Confederation in the 19th Century after he was sent to Elba. Membership in the latter forced the principality to form its own military force, by terms of the confederation.

Garrisoned at Vaduz Castle, they drilled on its grounds and mounted regular guard duty. With a national population of just 6,000 souls at the time, the entire force was less than the size of a small light infantry company.

When the Seven Weeks’ War broke out in June 1866, which was basically a family feud among all the German-speaking nations of Europe, Fürst Johann II of Liechtenstein eschewed direct combat in the campaign but instead sent his mighty 80-man Army to guard a key pass near Aufkirchen/Santa Maria on the Tyrolean border of Austria against the Italians, releasing its normal garrison of Austrian troops to fight elsewhere.

Legend has it that, once peace broke out, on September 4, 1866, the Army returned home without incident, all its men in tow to include one Kaiserjäger Lieutenant Radinger, formerly of the Austrian Army, proving that “Liechtenstein has gone to war with 80 soldiers and returned with 81!”

In 1868, the thrifty country, with the Confederation dissolved, disbanded their required military and furloughed their soldiers, remaining officially neutral and disarmed during both World Wars. A Veterans group was formed in the 1890s and counted over 100 members.

However, at least one of the veterans of the Seven Weeks’ War remained on tap for photos.

Andreas Kieber, born in 1844 in Mauren, lived until 1939 and his image was captured, in his old uniform, at Vaduz Castle several times in the twilight of his life, still standing post.

The images were used in a number of postcards of the day, and show the soldier complete with his cartridge box and Mannlicher rifled musket topped with a giant Yataghan sword bayonet.

Liechtenstein 1957 colored tourist postcard: The Last Soldier. At the point in which the card was made, Kieber had been dead for two decades. The color of his tunic is very close to a Prussian blue. Also, note the highly polished brass dragoon-style helmet. 

A B&W version of the above. Note, he is carrying a hanger in addition to his mounted bayonet.

With a felt shako cover rather than a metal helmet, still identified as “Liechtenstein’s letzter Soldat.”

Today a wax statue of Kieber is in the Landesmuseum in Vaduz.

While the country’s constitution requires men under 60 to stand ready for service, the closest thing the principality has to a military is  Harmoniemusik Vaduz a group of 55 musicians who wear a variant of the old Army’s uniform complete with a badged and plumed cylinder shako– but do carry swords, just in case.

That time the Navy needed binos so bad it asked for loaners

To say that the U.S. entered the Great War in 1917 unprepared was an understatement. With a standing Army that was smaller than almost any European combatant with the possible exception of Portugal (who could still field 8 deployable divisions in addition to colonial troops in Africa and the Far East), the U.S. Navy was by far more ready for war than Uncle’s lean green machine. Nonetheless, with the need to add hundreds of destroyers, subchasers and other escorts to protect vital sea lanes to get the boys “Over There,” the American maritime lift was going to be a big one.

With that in mind, the most vital tools used for surface navigation in the days before surface search radar were soon in short supply– good binoculars.

Lieutenant Frank E. Beatty, Jr. Caption: Standing aboard USS NEW YORK, performing submarine lookout. Photographed in the North Sea in 1918. NH 56125

To meet this pressing and urgent need, Asst. SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt kicked off the public appeal known as the “Eyes for the Navy” program run by the Naval Observatory.

Will you supply eyes for the Navy Poster; by Gordon Grant; 1917; Unframed Dimensions 29H x 20W 99-064-l

The concept was simple: Americans could loan Uncle the use of their privately held binoculars (Zeiss or Bausch & Lomb, preferred), spyglasses, etc. for the duration to help do their part for the push against the Kaiser.

In return, they would get a $1 rental fee, a certificate for their effort, and, if still available once the war ended, their often well-traveled glass back.

Letter for the return of Binoculars, WWI NHHC 2016.062

The letter reads:

Navy Department
U.S. Naval Observatory
Washington, D.C.

Subject: return of articles, in connection with the NAVY’S call for binoculars, telescopes, spyglasses, and other navigation instruments.

1. There is being returned to you by registered mail the article received from you in response to the NAVY’S call.

2. An engraved certificate evidencing the participation of this article in the war, is now being prepared and will be forwarded to you at a subsequent date.

3. It is hoped that any evidence of wear or damage will be compensated for by the fact that a great service has been performed and that historic interest has been added to the article returned.

Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Pay order issued by the Treasurer of the United States to C.A. Bonnell, dated Oct. 19, 1918, for the amount of one dollar as part of the “Eyes for the Navy” program. NHHC 1966-332-A

“Eyes for the Navy”, WWI certificate issued to one Edward Mann, whose glasses “did their part.” NHHC 1991-125-B

The text of the certificate reads:

The United States of America
Department of the Navy

The thousands of binoculars, telescopes, spyglasses, and navigation instruments furnished the Navy by individuals in response to its appeal for “Eyes for the Navy” have been a vital contribution in the protection of our warships, transports and supply vessels against the submarine activities of the enemy during the Great War.

The Navy acknowledges with thanks and appreciation your cooperation and this certificate is issued to Edwin Mann in recognition of the sacrifice made for the safety of our ships and the assurance of final victory.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Assistant Secretary of the Navy

Remembering the Tampa

Signal boost here, from the USCG:

R 261000 FEB 19
UNCLAS //N05700//
ALCOAST 062/19

1. The U.S. Coast Guard needs your help with locating and contacting descendants of the USS TAMPA, which was tragically sunk during World War I with all hands lost. The Service has yet to present 84 of the outstanding Purple Heart Medals awarded posthumously to the crew. We intend to recognize as many of the descendants as possible this Memorial Day. We need your help to do this.

2. Background:
   A. USS TAMPA, a Coast Guard ship and crew serving under the Department of the Navy, was lost with all hands after being torpedoed by a German U-boat off Wales on 26 September 1918. This tragic loss occurred just weeks before the end of World War I. It was the single largest loss suffered by the Coast Guard during that conflict.
   B. At the time of TAMPA’s loss, the Purple Heart Medal was not in use. In 1942, eligibility was extended to include the Coast Guard, but it was not until 1952 that the awarding of the Purple Heart Medal was made retroactive for actions after 5 April 1917. However, TAMPA was overlooked until 1999, when a retired Coast Guardsman submitted a proposal to award the Purple Heart to her crew.
   C. In 1999, then-Commandant Admiral James Loy authorized the posthumous awarding of the Purple Heart Medal to the crew of USS TAMPA. Today, over one hundred years after TAMPA was lost and twenty years after the first TAMPA Purple Heart was awarded, the Coast Guard is still
attempting to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ Purple Heart.

3. The purpose of this ALCOAST is to raise awareness of the Purple Heart award program and to continue to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ medals. You can help.

4. Summary of USS TAMPA Purple Heart Medals awarded:

   A. There were 130 men on TAMPA, including 111 Coast Guardsmen and 4 Navy men.
   B. 26 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals have been claimed since 1999.
   C. 3 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals are presently in progress.
   D. 84 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed.

5. The names of the 84 TAMPA crew whose Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed are listed here:

6. To submit applications for TAMPA Purple Heart Medals, please contact Ms. Nora Chidlow, Coast Guard Archivist, at or 202-559-5142. She has served as the primary point of contact between the Coast Guard and many TAMPA descendants, and also with the Medals &
Awards branch.

7. To apply for their ancestor’s Purple Heart Medal, descendants are required to provide documentation showing the descendant’s relationship to the TAMPA crew member, such as family trees, pages from family Bibles, birth/death certificates, and/or pages from Ancestry or other
genealogical applications. Please expect about 4-6 weeks’ time for processing.

8. I encourage all members of our Coast Guard family to share this ALCOAST with the widest possible audience. We owe it to our shipmates in USS TAMPA and their descendants to ensure their heroism and sacrifice are recognized and remembered.

9. RDML Melissa Bert, Director of Governmental and Public Affairs, sends.

10. Internet release is authorized.


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