Category Archives: man card

A guy walks into a bar with a Cessna

Saturday night, September 29, 1956: While sitting at his local watering hole–Joe’s Bar on St. Nicholas Avenue and 191st Street in NYC– having a drink and laughing with friends, Thomas Fitzpatrick, a combat vet turned steamfitter, accepted a challenge to fly from New Jersey to Washington Heights in 15 minutes.

Now Tommy Fitz happened to be a man of many skills, having lied about his age (just 15) to serve in the Marines in China, and going on to fight first with the Devil in the PTO then with the Army in Korea, learning to fly a Grasshopper along the way.

AVG pilots inspecting an L-2 Grasshopper in SE Asia, by the amazing Romain Hugault

Shortly after Fitz left to prove his point, he showed up outside with a (borrowed) Cessna 140 and taxied up just before last call.

Responding police took Fitz off for flying a stolen plane while drunk and later had the Cessna dismantled to get it out of there. For his illegal flight, he was fined $100 after the plane’s owner refused to press charges

Nonetheless, Fitz repeated the stunt two years later. 

Vale, Capt. Groom

He may have been born in D.C. but Winston Francis Groom Jr. was a true “Son of the South,” having graduated from UMS-Wright Military Academy and then the University of Alabama before spending much of his life as a Mobile Bay fixture. Commissioned through the Crimson Tide’s ROTC program, he served with the 245th PSYOP Company as a PSYOP Team Leader supporting the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of Vietnam from 1966 to 1967.

Groom in Vietnam

“My age and lowly rank notwithstanding, my impression was that I was headed for some exalted position worthy of a John le Carré novel,” Groom later wrote of his time as a “dirty trickster” in Vietnam.

Following four years on active duty and an honorable discharge, he spent eight years as a reporter and columnist for the Washington Star newspaper before, with the encouragement of Willie Morris, a literal Good Old Boy from Mississippi, he resigned and began making pages of his own.

In the end, Groom finished some 20 books, many of them excellent military non-fiction works such as Shiloh 1862, Vicksburg 1864, 1942, and his Aviators/Generals/Allies trilogy of WWII. He was a Pulitzer finalist for Conversations with the Enemy: the story of P.F.C. Robert Garwood.

He also dabbled in fiction, with the main characters often having a connection to both Vietnam and Alabama. Write what you know, they say…

A natural raconteur in that most Southern of ways, I saw Capt. Groom speak on two occasions and was all the better for it.

He passed last week, aged 77. He will certainly be missed.

As noted in his obit: 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the University of Alabama Libraries Special Collection, Post Office Box 870266, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487, or the Gary Sinise Foundation, Post Office Box 368, Woodland Hills, California, 91365. A graveside service will be held Wednesday, September 23, at 11:00 am at Pine Crest Cemetery, 1939 Dauphin Island Parkway, Mobile, Alabama 36605.

Testing the Bhojpure

Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria has been cleaning and testing a relic Bhojpure kukri (khukuri) from the large collection of original 19th century Nepalese Government military stores that IMA and Atlanta Cutlery scored back in 2003. Of course, he is a little late to the party as I picked up one of these a few years back and found it to be just a remarkable edged weapon. Truly excellent once you got the yak grease off.

Here is Matt testing it:

Speaking of Gurkas, this year’s intake at Infantry Training Centre Catterick has gone off swimmingly.

However, with Nepal still in COVID-19 lockdown, the 2021 Intake could be delayed, which could mean some uncertainty in the manning of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the Indian Army’s seven Gorkha regiments, and the Singapore Police Force’s Gurkha Contingent.

Meet Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne, MOH

From the DOD & the White House: On September 11, 2020, President Donald J. Trump will award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry while deployed five years ago as an assistant team leader in Iraq as part of a Special Operations Joint Task Force in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Then-Sgt. 1st Class Thomas “Patrick” Payne on Oct. 22, 2015, was part of a force given a mission to rescue over 70 Iraqi hostages being held by ISIS in a prison compound in the northern town of Hawija.

The rescue footage:


His story in his own words:

The power of Bangalore compels you!

“A sapper assigned to 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, operating in support of 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, clears a mine with a bangalore torpedo during combined arms live-fire exercise in Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, July 29, 2020.”

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob Sawyer

First envisioned by British Army CPT R. L. McClintock, Royal Engineers, while attached to the Madras Sappers and Miners at Bangalore, India, in 1912, the “banger” has been smiting booby traps and barricades ever since.

Happy 151st, Herr Lerch, err, Lerch-San

In Japan today is a 100~ strong Alpine-style skiing club named Lerch no Kai, or the Society of Lerch in honor of one Theodor Edler von Lerch, late a general officer in the Imperial and Royal Army of the Austro-Hungarian Kaiser.

This guy, note his bamboo ski pole


Lerch, born 31 August 1869 in Pressberg–now the capital of Bratislava in Slovakia– to a noble family, graduated from the Theresian Military Academy which still trains Austrian Army officers today, in 1891 before a series of postings in Galicia along the Russian frontier. This included the 102nd Infantry Regiment, then on the staff of the 59th Infantry Brigade in Czernowitz, and finally the 11th Infantry Brigade in Lemberg.

Finding a posting to 14th Corps headquarters in Innsbruck as a captain in 1902, he trained with famed Alpine ski pioneer Mathias Zdarsky, who was perhaps Europe’s greatest ski bum in the 1900s, and was a member of the prestigious Internationale Alpen Ski-Verein, then probably the largest ski club in the world.

Austrian ski troops– Gruppenaufnahme von Infanteristen mit Alpinausrüstung- (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum)

Following the Russo-Japanese War, then-Major Lerch was detailed to the Austrian military mission (Instruktionsoff) to Japan in 1910, where he remained for two years, specifically requested to train the Emperor’s soldiers in the work of Gebirgstruppe, or mountain troops. This included not only alpine-style climbing but also distinctive single-pole skiing, in the style popularized by Zdarsky and the IAS-V.

Lerch taught the techniques to officers and soldiers of the Imperial Army’s 58th Infantry Regiment of Count Gaishi Nagaoka’s 13th Infantry “Mirror” Division in Jōetsu and in 1911 was the first man on record to ski up Mt. Fuji, to a delighted crowd.

Japanese soldiers practice skiing using the method taught by Austro-Hungarian Army Maj. Theodor Edler von Lerch in this photo believed to have been taken around 1912 in Niigata Prefecture. (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum)

Imperial Japanese Army officers’ wives in 1911 with the “Von Lerch method”

He later toured Japanese troops in Korea and Manchuria, where he no doubt brought his skis along.

The Mirror Division was later tapped to serve in Siberia during the Japanese 1918-1922 intervention there in Russia’s Civil War, as it had ski-equipped infantry, a skill later abolished in 1925 as a cost-cutting measure. Meanwhile, at about the same time, the old single-pole method of alpine skiing was forgotten in Europe.

As for Lerch…

Returning to Austria in 1913, Lerch was made commander of the 4th Tiroler Kaiserjager Regiment (4.TJR), a crack force of alpine sharpshooters along the Italian border and his star continued to rise when war beset Europe. He went on to become a brigadier general, command the 20th Gebirgsbrigade in Albania, then the 93rd Infantry Brigade, and, as a major general, was assigned to the staff of German Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern in Flanders in October 1918.

Demobilized in 1919 with the rest of the Austrian army, he wrote and skied late into life. Too old for WWII, he died in Allied-occupied Vienna on Christmas Eve, 1945, aged 76.

A formal portrait hangs at the Austrian military’s Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna, noting him as the father of modern skiing in Japan.

Nonetheless, in Japan, he is much better remembered.

January 12, the day he began instruction there, is considered “Ski Day” in the country and at least two monuments exist to Lerch, including a 21-foot persona erected in 1960, complete in K.u.K officer’s uniform, bamboo ski pole, and alpine skis, in Jōetsu.

Further, he is still very much alive, in mascot format.


Warship Wednesday Aug 26, 2020: Hazard Pay

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Aug 26, 2020: Hazard Pay

George Bain Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Here we see the experimental submarine USS Plunger (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 2) broadside with what looks like her entire crew on deck, 115 years ago this month. The tiny boat, only 64-feet long, was only the second official submarine that the U.S. Navy-owned and some of the most iron-willed men of the 20th Century would walk her decks.

After Revolutionary War forerunners such as the David Bushnell Turtle and Civil War beasts like the oar-powered Alligator and the follow-on hand-cranked Intelligent Whale, on 3 March 1893, Congress authorized the first “submarine torpedo boat” to be built for the U.S. Navy. Irish inventor and early submarine expert John P. Holland won the design competition in 1895 to build the craft, which he intended to be a submarine with triple propeller shafts powered by a steam engine with a retractable smokestack!

General arrangement plans, dated 4 September 1895 steam-powered submarine, NHHC 19-N-11812

A 150-ton, 85-foot-long steel beast with a pair of early torpedo tubes, the craft spent five years at Holland’s yard before the contract was canceled. Instead, the first U.S. Navy submarine became Holland’s personally-funded Holland VI prototype, a 53-footer with a gasoline engine for puttering around on the surface and an electric motor for use while under the waves. This vessel would go on to be the USS Holland (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 2, or SS-1), which had a reloadable 18-inch torpedo tube with three torpedoes as well as a dynamite gun.

Following immediately on the heels of the Holland was Plunger, effectively a more advanced version of the Navy’s first submarine, being larger, faster, and capable of carrying five torpedoes.

USS Plunger SS-2 Midship Section 9.19.1903 NARA cross-section 

Using a 160-hp Otto gasoline engine, Plunger could streak along at about 8 knots on the surface while churning 7 knots while submerged on a set of Electro Dynamic electric motors. Period photos gave her the illusion of being a speedy craft.

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), going full speed ahead, August 30, 1905. From the bottom of the keel to the top of her sail, she was just shy of 14 feet high, not counting her masts. George Bain Collection. LC-USZ62-89964

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), passing the presidential yacht USS Sylph (PY-5), August 30, 1905. George Bain Collection, LOC

Laid down on 21 May 1901 at Elizabethport, N.J., by the Crescent Shipyard of Lewis Nixon, a subcontractor for Holland, Plunger commissioned at the Holland Company’s Long Island yard on 19 September 1903, Lt. Charles P. Nelson in command.

USS Plunger (Submarine # 2) outboard of USS Shark (Submarine # 8) At the Electric Boat Company facility, New Suffolk, Long Island, New York, in 1902. Note the surface navigation lights of these two submarines, and their differing superstructure arrangements. NH 42621

She was something of a novelty and was assigned to the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, R.I., for experimental torpedo work.

As noted by DANFS,

“Plunger operated locally from that facility for the next two years, a period broken only by an overhaul at the Holland yard at New Suffolk between March and November 1904. Besides testing machinery, armament, and tactics, the submarine torpedo boat also served as a training ship for the crews of new submersibles emerging from the builder’s yards.”

USS Plunger (Submarine # 2) Officer in the submarine’s conning tower hatch, circa the early 1900s. Published on a contemporary picture postal card. Courtesy of Alfred Cellier, 1977. NH 85735

On 22 August 1905, she had the distinction of visiting former Secretary of the Navy and then-current President Teddy Roosevelt at Oyster Bay. The Old Bull Moose spent some time aboard, taking the conn himself and even submerging five times in the shallow water, the first President to dive on a submarine while in office.

The story made national news.

Roosevelt wrote from Oyster Bay to Hermann Speck von Steinberg:

“I myself am both amused and interested as to what you say about the interest excited about my trip in the Plunger. I went down in it chiefly because I did not like to have the officers and enlisted men think I wanted them to try things I was reluctant to try myself. I believe a good deal can be done with these submarines, although there is always the danger of people getting carried away with the idea and thinking that they can be of more use than they possibly could be.”

To another correspondent, he declared that never in his life had he experienced “such a diverting day … nor so much enjoyment in so few hours.”

According to the Navy, a sitting president would not cruise on a commissioned U.S. Navy submarine again until Dwight D. Eisenhower dropped in on the USS Seawolf (SSN 575) in 1957–ironically a boat that LT James Earl “Jimmy” Carter was to be engineering officer on. 

Further, Plunger’s 1905 presidential dive would prove vital to submariners’ wallets for the next century, as noted by FTGC(SS) Larry Smith, a submarine vet from the 1970s and 80s.

The Naval hierarchy in 1905 considered submarine duty, neither unusual nor dangerous, and classified it as shore duty. Therefore, submariners received twenty-five percent less pay than sailors going to sea in Destroyers, Cruisers and similar surface ships.

Roosevelt’s two-hour trip on Plunger convinced him that this discrimination was unfair. He described submarine duty as hazardous and difficult, and he found that submariners “have to be trained to the highest possible point as well as to show iron nerve in order to be of any use in their positions…”

Roosevelt directed that officer service on submarines be equated with duty on surface ships. Enlisted men qualified in submarines were to receive ten dollars per month in addition to the pay of their rating. They were also to be paid a dollar for every day in which they were submerged while underway. Enlisted men assigned to submarines but not yet qualified received an additional five dollars per month.

Roosevelt did not dilly-dally once he made a decision. He issued an Executive Order directing the extra pay for enlisted personnel. This was the beginning of submarine pay!

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), alongside tug Apache, August 30, 1905

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), with crew on deck, August 30, 1905. George Bain Collection

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), with crew on deck, August 30, 1905. USS Slyph to the left. George Bain Collection

Submarine Boat Plunger 1905 L.H. Nelson Company news photo NYPL collection

USS Plunger (Submarine Torpedo Boat # 2) Hauled out of the water at a Navy yard, circa 1903-1905. USS Alabama (Battleship # 8) is in the right background. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Cahn, 1990. NH 102428

In 1907, Plunger was under the command of one very young and very wet Ensign Chester Nimitz who lead a huge crew of one Chief and five sailors.

USS Plunger (Submarine # 2) Underway off the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., circa 1909. Note the canvas “fighting top” platform. This print is autographed in red ink by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, who was one of Plunger’s Commanding Officers, specifically at the time the image was taken. NH 49357-KN

Nimitz would go on to successively command three other boats after leaving PlungerUSS Snapper, USS Narwhal, and USS Skipjack— remaining in the submarine service until 1913 at which point he was in command of the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla.

The small but hearty young boat served for ten years in more or less active duty, then spend almost another ten in mothballs as a target before she was scrapped in 1922.

She spent the Great War hoisted aboard the hulk of the former Civil War monitor USS Puritan, then more than 50-years old, a blend of the Navy’s past and future if there ever were one.

Full Circle

The little submarine’s name was quickly recycled for the Porpoise-class fleet boat, USS Plunger (SS-179), which was ordered in 1935. Off Diamond Head when Japanese planes attacked on 7 December 1941, she scored an important victory for the country when she sent a Japanese freighter to the bottom just weeks afterward while on her first war patrol.

USS Plunger (SS-179): Members of the submarine’s crew display her battle flag. The man seated in the center appears to be wearing a Japanese sailor’s hat. The photograph is dated 21 June 1943, following Plunger’s sixth war patrol. 80-G-72010

After earning 14 battle stars across 12 war patrols in WWII, she entered reserve in 1945 and was sold for scrap in 1957.

In 1960, retired Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, trekked down to at Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California to speak at the keel-laying ceremony of the new Permit-class attack boat, USS Plunger (SSN-595), the third such submarine to carry the name, bringing the story of Submarine No. 2 full circle.

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, speaks at the keel-laying ceremony of USS PLUNGER (SSN-595) at Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California, 2 March 1960. The third Plunger would go on to decommission 2 February 1990 after earning four Navy Unit Commendations as well as multiple Meritorious Unit Commendations, Battle Efficiency, and other awards. NH 58448

Nimitz was of course something of a sentimental man, often signing photos of ships he had a connection with. In his papers, which were turned over to the Navy after his death he had kept this snapshot.

USS Plunger alongside a coal dock at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., July 1906. The names of three of the submarine’s Commanding Officers are written on the print: Lieutenants C.P. Nelson, P.P. Bassett, and C.W. Nimitz. The print was presented to Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz by Chief Torpedoman’s Mate H.J. Chagnot, USN (Retired), who wrote on its reverse: “Admiral Nimitz: Remember this old battle wagon? As I remember it you were skipper of it after ‘Juggie Nelson. You may keep this for yourself if you see fit. Sorry to hear about English he was my skipper on the old ‘D-3’ and O-4.” Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 62730


USS Plunger (Submarine # 2) Hauled out of the water, during the early 1900s. Note the bollard in the foreground, made from an old muzzle-loading cannon. Courtesy of the Electric Boat Company, Groton, NH 42622

Displacement: 107 long tons (109 t)
Length: 63’10”
Beam: 11’11
Draft: 10’7″
Propulsion: 160-hp Otto gasoline engine, Electro Dynamic electric motors.
Speed: 8 kn surfaced, 7 kn submerged
Complement: 7 (1 officer, 1 chief, 5 sailors)
Armament: 1 × 18 in (460 mm) torpedo tube, with four reloads.

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General Order of a Sentry, No. 5

Faithful Unto Death, by Edward Poynter, 1865, via the Walker Art Gallery in London, where it is on display.

On what was believed by many to be the night of 24/25 August in AD 79, Italy’s Mount Vesuvius lost its top in a spectacular way, burying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under firey ash.

Scholarly excavations, which have taken place off and on since at least the 18th century, have recovered over 1,000 sets of remains, including at least two who died while wearing armor and carrying arms. In other words, men of the night watch who died at their post.

Herculaneum soldier’s armor and weapons, 79 AD. Via the Royal Historical Society.

The last surface action of World War II

While the daring overnight anti-shipping raid in July 1945 by the nine American destroyers of DesRon 61in Tokyo Bay, an action remembered today as the Battle of Sagami Bay, is largely seen as the last fleet combat involving commissioned warships in WWII as they tied up with a Japanese minesweeper and submarine chaser, it was not the last surface action.

No, that claim goes to a scrap between (sail-powered) gunned-up junks off the coast of China 75 years ago today, a full week after VJ Day. Ironically, by American military personnel who were previously training pirates to fight to the common enemy.

A junk in Chinese waters, prior to World War I. A U.S. Navy armored cruiser is in the background. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California, 1973. NHHC Catalog #: NH 77414

A force of two Ningpo junks with Chinese fishermen crews under the command of one LT Livingston “Swede” Swentzel, Jr., USNR manned by six other Americans along with 20 Chinese guerrillas, were set upon by a heavily-armed Japanese junk– carrying a crew of 83 as well as a 75mm pack gun– while at sea between Haimen and Shanghai, China.

From Swentzel’s citation:

The first round from the 75-mm. howitzer struck Swentzel’s junk shearing off the foremast. The Chinese crew left their posts and Swentzel took over the helm. Meanwhile, he established contact by means of handy talkie with his second junk and gave orders to close with the enemy. He also ran up the American Flag…

The ensuing 45-minute action saw the Americans fight it out with everything from bazookas and Thompson submachine guns to carefully tossed grenades. When the smoke cleared, the Allied junk force counted 10 casualties across their two vessels while the Japanese craft, boarded by a prize crew while dead in the water and smoking, held 45 dead and another 35 injured.

Not a lot of ballistic protection in a junk, it would seem.

The story ran in the October 5 Stars & Stripes (CBI Edition) and was picked up by papers stateside. 

Both Swentzel and Gunner’s Mate Third Class James Ralph Reid, Jr., USNR each received the Navy Cross in February 1946 from Commander Naval Group China, “in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” They were the last two Navy Crosses issued in WWII.

The Pirate Connection

The reason why Swentzel and Company were in China was that they were assigned to the Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO), working at Camp Eight training local forces against the Japanese, with their first clients being the rather infamous Chang Kwei Fong’s pirate group, the “Green Circle Brotherhood.” 

It would seem that Swentzel and his boys learned a little bit from the pirates as well.

Of course, it would not be the last time the U.S. Navy fought from junks– with Tommy guns.

Tommy guns, aviators, and khakis! “Ensign Caldwell of Houlton, Maine, stands guard in a motor whaleboat with a .45 caliber submachine gun M1928AL (it is actually an M1A1) off the coast of South Vietnam. The Vietnamese men wait as their junk is searched by USS FORSTER (DER-334) crewmembers, 15 April 1966.” Catalog #: K-31208. Copyright Owner: National Archives Original Creator: Photographer, Chief Journalist Robert D. Moeser

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