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Born Stanley Martin Lieber, Stan Lee spent much of his life in the comics industry– with a break for WWII service in the Army– and with fellow artists, co-created legions of iconic characters.

Lee grew up in the Bronx and by age 17 was working at Timely Comics, a company that would later grow into Marvel. Some seven months before the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor brought the country into World War II, Lieber, using the Lee pseudonym, wrote his first comic, Captain America #3.

Setting down his pencils, Lee soon put on a uniform and joined the Army Signal Corps shortly after hearing of “The Day Which Shall Live in Infamy,” working as a lineman before his skills were put to use in making training posters and doing technical writing– so just think, some of those horrible WWII TMs could have included work by Lee!

In 2012, Lee was inducted into the Signal Corps Regimental Association and presented with an honorary membership into the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment.

“This is one of my proudest moments,” Lee said.

The move came just after he popped up in a classic WWII “pink and green uniform” during a cameo as a four-star general in the first Captain America film. Quite a promotion from the T-5 days!

Always a class act, he occasionally appeared at Veterans events over the years and made sure to interact with Servicemembers whenever possible.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers

Stan, you will be missed.


Vouching for an unsung specialist, 174 years ago today

Below we see a letter of recommendation of one Asa Curtis from Commodore William Montgomery Crane to SECNAV John Young Mason, on this day in 1844.

Mr. Asa Curtis, Gunner in the Navy, has requested that I would give my opinion of him to the Department. This officer entered the Navy in 1812, was on board the Constitution at the capture of the British frigates “Guerriere” and “Java”; he afterwards served with me five years – two at the Boston Navy Yard, and three years at sea on board two ships of the line and a frigate. I found him a capable and meritorious officer, and I take pleasure in recommending him to the notice of the Department.

If you haven’t heard of Curtis, you should have.

Born in Scituate, Massachusetts in 1794, Curtis not only served on Constitution, joining the famous warship as an able seaman at age 18, but also on the sloop-of-war Ontario, the frigate Constellation, and the 74-gun ships of the line North Carolina and USS Delaware, among others.

Importantly, the meticulous Curtis left behind detailed notes and logs on everything from watchbills, cordage tables and dimensions to tacking, mooring and gunnery surveys on these vessels, all of which provide some of the most thorough information about the early 19th Century Navy as could be asked for.

In all, his career spanned 46 years, most of it underway, and died in 1858 while on the 50-gun frigate USS St. Lawrence in Brazilian waters during the punitive expedition to Paraguay over the Water Witch incident.

As for Crane, who recommended him for further service his own career ranged from fighting the Barbary pirates to being installed as the first Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance (and Hydrography) and, for the latter, Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division is named in his honor.

More on Curtis, here.

The buck stops here

With the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I looming, it is only fitting that we take a look at the gun carried by the only President to see combat in the conflict.

While the former Spanish-American War veteran President Teddy Roosevelt (R/ Bull Moose) volunteered to return to service to fight the Kaiser in 1917, his offer was not accepted by President Woodrow Wilson (D). Further, although a career Army officer at the time, future President Dwight D. Eisenhower was stuck in training duties stateside and never made it to the frontline in France. One man who did go “Over There” was Missouri-native Harry S Truman, whose past jobs had included farmer and clerk.

Having served as a company clerk in a National Guard artillery unit for a few years before the war, Truman, then 33, reenlisted and was elected lieutenant. By 1918, he was in France with Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force as a captain in command of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 35th ID– in essence 200 Doughboys, four French 75mm guns and 160 horses to pull them and their shells.

Truman’s Battery fired over 10,000 shells in the course of their time on the Western Front, mainly during hard service in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (Photo: Truman Library)

Post-Armistice, he brought his men home, B/129 losing none to combat, and opened a haberdashery in Kansas City, later getting into politics.

Since he elected to remain in the service, transferring to the Army Reserve (which he remained a member of until 1953) he kept the M1911 Colt .45ACP, serial No. 227577, issued to him in 1918 but did eventually turn it over to the federal government– to the Truman Presidental Library and Museum in 1957, where it, and his Great War uniform, are on display to the public.

Truman’s 1911 was made in January 1918 and was part of a batch of 4,000 guns shipped to Springfield Armory the next month. The Missourian kept it immaculate through an overseas war and 34 years of stateside service in the Army Reserve (Photo: NPS)

Bearing the Torch, 76 years ago today

U.S. troops aboard a landing craft head for the beaches during Operation Torch of the North African Campaign Oran, Algeria. 8 November 1942.

Imperial War Museum photo. Hudson, F A (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer

Note the man wearing the old school “Brodie” helmet in the back of the boat, probably a Royal Navy man, as the group had spent 22 days aboard the converted ocean liner RMS Orbita on the voyage from Scotland to North Africa. The men aren’t wearing unit patches, but the cased gear to the front right look to be marked “1-19” which could be 1st Bn/19th INF Regt, which at the time was in the States and would later serve in the Pacific. In fact, they are men of the 1st coy, 19th Engineer Battalion, who did take part in the Torch landings.

Less than a year after Pearl Harbor, the Torch landings would be the U.S. Army’s first brush with war in the ETO. Other than a few officers and NCOs with Great War experience or service in the National Guard, most of these men were recent volunteers and draftees, living ordinary lives in George Bailey’s America and had only held a gun when going hunting or at a carnival shooting gallery. It’s a good thing the French didn’t really have the inclination to mix it up. The 19th Engineers went on to serve at the horrors of the Kasserine Pass (where they lost 3/4 of their active strength and it was reported that “the 19th Engineers no longer exist”) and the Rapido River, where the Germans were much more ready to fight.

As noted by the Army “During World War II, The battalion conducted five amphibious landings while accompanying the victorious allied armies through Africa, Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. The battalion had suffered 902 combat casualties including 144 killed in action. For their gallantry and service, the battalion was awarded 10 campaign streamers from World War II, and soldiers from the battalion were awarded 7 Silver Stars and 13 Bronze Stars”

Below is a great doc on the 19th, with several interviews with vets, and directly shows the above image as a reference.

The 19th is still on active duty, based at Fort Knox.

Cole’s bell ‘picked’ and recovered

Here we see the original brass bell from the USS Cole (DD-155), a Wickes-class “four-piper” destroyer laid down in the last year of the Great War, named for Maj. Edward Ball Cole, a Marine killed at Belleau Wood, and commissioned in 1919.

The hard-charging vessel helped evacuate refugees from the Greco-Turkish War, looked for survivors of the wreck of the airship Akron, and served on FDR’s risky Neutrality Patrol in the early pre-Pearl Harbor days of the U.S. involvement in WWII.

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Langley (CV-1) and the destroyer USS Cole (DD-155) underway in the South Pacific, probably in the mid-1930s.

Once the balloon went up took part in the Torch Landings– where Cole raced in with two other four-pipers and landed 175 raiders drawn from the Army’s 47th INF Rgt under Vichy French fire at Safi, Morocco.

Notably, this landing took place exactly 76 years ago today, on 8 November 1942.

USS Cole, photographed during the North African Invasion Campaign, in November 1942. Her mast was removed to facilitate her role in the landings at Safi, Morocco (NARA 80-G-31435)

Batterie Railieuse, on PointeDe La Tour, Safi Morocco, on 8 November 1942, after being bombarded by U.S. Navy ships. Guns have been spiked by occupying U.S.Troops (Army SC# 165757)

She also escorted 7 convoys across the North Atlantic and took part in the invasion of Sicily. For her wartime service, she picked up a Presidential Unit Citation (for the Safi action) and three battle stars.

Decommissioned 1 November 1945, Cole was sold for scrap in 1947 and her bell, seen above, placed in storage by the Navy.

Well, it was apparently loaned out and then fell off the map for 70 years.

Last year, the guys from American Pickers came across it at a location in New Hampshire and, after doing the research, have it back to the Navy.

The episode where they brought it to the National Museum of the United States Navy aired this week.

I met the guys from the show a couple years ago in Louisiana when I literally bumped into them while combing through an antique store for militaria. Great guys and good on em.

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a .50 cal at your side, kid

In a case study of why a sword is of little use against a .50 caliber BMG, take this Japanese Kai-gunto sword, broken in three pieces in the collection of The Australian War Memorial.

The hilt has the standard Japanese Navy guilded brass fittings of a Fushi, kabuto-gane and cherry blossom menuki under the brown handle binding over black rayskin. A gilt family mon is attached to the kabuto-gane of a square with a diagonal line within a circle. The guard is a plain blackened brass tsuba with two large Seppa of a sunray pattern (one on each side) and four smaller Seppa (two on each side) with serrated edges. On the rear of the broken blade parts are solder marks where the sword has been mounted on a board for display.

The tang has three peg holes with the remains of a signature that translates as Hida no-kami and possibly the top section of the character for Fuji.

This Japanese sword was captured in action at Marova, New Georgia, by Major Donald Gilbert Kennedy, D.S.O., a New Zealander of the British Soloman Islands Protectorate Defence Force.

This guy:

He served in WWI with the ANZACS, from the 15th of April 1918 to 9th September 1920, rising from the rank of Corporal to be 2nd Lieutenant, in the 10th North Otago Rifles.

In the interwar years was a school teacher and later headmaster in the Pacific Islands, principally in the Solomons. In that line of work, he became fluent in several native languages and became adept in the use of wireless radios– two skills that would become useful during his WWII exploits as

Kennedy became an outstanding leader of the Coastwatchers in that area in 1942- 1943. His exploits are described in Commander E. A. Feldt’s book “The Coastwatchers” and in “Among Those Present,” an official U.K. publication.

Outstanding among his many clashes with the Japanese was an action between his 10-ton schooner Dadavata and a patrol of Japanese in a whaleboat during which the whaleboat was rammed and all the Japanese accounted for. Termed the Battle of Marovo, Kennedy and 12 islanders were armed with a Browning machine gun salvaged from a downed American plane. Donald fired his recycled machine gun, although he was wounded in the thigh until it jammed. The Islanders threw Japanese-made grenades among the hapless and bewildered occupants of the whaleboat until there was no more resistance.

It was during this action that the sword was captured. The incident is described in “Among Those Present” page 52. The sword is broken in two places. One break approximately 4 inches from the hilt bears the mark of a bullet but the other break 5 inches from the point is unaccounted for.

Kennedy’s simple account as to how the sword became broken is as follows:

“It was broken by a bullet fired by me from a Browning 50 at the same time as the Japanese N.C.O. who wore it fired a burst from a Bren gun from which I collected a bullet in the leg. This was at Marovo Lagoon in New Georgia in May 1943 in an encounter between my native scouts and a Japanese patrol which was hunting for us.”

Besides the DSO, he was awarded the Navy Cross, “for extraordinary heroism in action against Japanese forces as a Coast Watcher at Sergi Point, New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. Capt. Kennedy led his men in numerous skirmishes and destroyed or captured many Japanese troops, machine guns, and barges, with a negligible injury to his own force. He also rescued many downed American airmen.”

Admiral A.W. Fitch and Major Kennedy D.S.O. Photo: Feldt p.107.

He died in 1976 and the sword has been in the AWM collection ever since.

100 years ago today, a man from Wichita

Here we see “The Highest Possible Courage,” by John D. Shaw, courtesy of the U.S. National Guard Bureau. It depicts the last moments of 2LT Erwin Russell Bleckley, the first of three National Guard aviators to receive the Medal of Honor during the 20th Century. They gave the medal to his family.

A Wichita bank teller by trade, Bleckly joined the Kansas Guard in June 1917, aged 22, and soon found himself attached to the federalized 130th Field Artillery, which was part of the newly-formed 35th Infantry Division. Volunteering to be seconded as an artillery observer to the 50th Aero Squadron once “Over There” in France, he was in the air in a DH-4 attempting to locate and resupply by air the famous “Lost Battalion,” some 554 men of the 77th Infantry that were trapped by German forces in the Argonne over the first week of October 1918.

Bleckley’s MOH citation:

2d Lt. Bleckley, with his pilot, 1st Lt. Harold E. Goettler, Air Service, left the airdrome late in the afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division, which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of his mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machine gun fire from the ground, resulting in fatal wounds to 2d Lt. Bleckley, who died before he could be taken to a hospital. In attempting and performing this mission 2d Lt. Bleckley showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage, and valor.

As noted by the Guard, “Goettler was dead when the French troops reached him. Bleckley died before the French could evacuate him to a medical aid station. However, his notes from the mission narrowed the search area where the trapped soldiers might be found.”

Of the Lost Battalion, only 194 walked out unwounded after a relief force linked up with them on October 8.

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