Category Archives: US Army

Slow Salute to CAPT Dole and COL Shames

The “Greatest Generation” included over 16 million Americans who served during WWII in uniform. Today, the VA estimates that barely 300,000 of these Vets remain, a number that is growing smaller literally every day.

Case in point, over the weekend we lost esteemed Kansas lawmaker, and the man who charged at the windmill that was an incumbent Bill Clinton in 1996 at a time when the economy was peaking, Robert “Bob” Dole.

Dole, born in Russell, Kansas in 1923, interrupted his college studies at the University of Kansas to enlist in the Army, serving with the famed 10th Mountain Division in Italy where he was gravely wounded and initially left for dead on the battlefield. In postwar rehabilitation, he had to learn to write with his left hand after his right was left with limited mobility. He was medically discharged as a captain in 1947 and returned to his studies, eventually becoming a lawyer. 

Dole died Sunday, aged 98.

He was the last WWII Veteran to be nominated by any party for President. With that, check out his 2008 interview with the National WWII Museum about his service.

Edward Shames

The last surviving officer of the “Band of Brothers,” Edward D. Shames,  died at age 99 on Friday. Participating in some of the most critical WWII battles, Shames parachuted into Normandy during the Overlord as Operations Sergeant with I Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 101st Airborne. Earning a battlefield commission for his actions on D-Day, he transferred shortly thereafter to Easy Company as leader of 3rd platoon and fought in Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.

Notably, Shames, who was Jewish, was credited as being one of the first in Easy Company to enter Dachau to liberate the death camp in 1945.

As noted in his obit, “When Germany surrendered, Ed and his men of Easy Company entered Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest where Ed managed to acquire a few bottles of cognac, a label indicating they were ‘for the Fuhrer’s use only.’ Later, he would use the cognac to toast his oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah.”

Postwar, he remained in the military and retired as a full colonel in the reserves in 1973, and worked for “No Such Agency” at Fort Meade until 1982.

Shames was played by actor Joseph May in Band of Brothers.

Shames is survived by his sons Douglas and Steven, four grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.

A graveside service will be held at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, at 11 a.m. with Cantor David Proser officiating. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in his honor (memory) may be sent to Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758516, Topeka, Kansas 66675-8516 and the American Veterans Center, 1100 N. Glebe Rd., Suite 910, Arlington, VA 22201. Online condolences may be offered here. 

Lost Battalion Actual

Other than Sgt. York, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Pershing himself, perhaps the best-known American Soldier of the Great War was a bookish lawyer from New York City, Charles Whittlesey.

The bespectacled 33-year-old unassuming Harvard-grad– a reformed Socialist of all things– took leave from his succesful Manhattan law firm partnership (Pruyn & Whittlesey) and joined the forming National Army for the great push against the Kaiser in May 1917.

Within a few months, with no prior military service, Whittlesey was a captain and then a major, placed in command of 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry Regiment, a unit with no prior lineage and few veterans. The battalion shipped out for Europe as part of the 77th “Liberty” Division, so-called due to the Statue of Liberty patch it carried, a reference to the fact that its men hailed largely from NYC and its boroughs and trained on Long Island in the summer and winter of 1917. Because of this, it was often referred to as “The Metropolitan Division and “The Times Square Division.”

Receiving additional training from British cadres in France, the 308th entered the trenches in the dreaded Baccarat Sector in July 1918.

After moves to the Vesle front and a subsequent shift to the Argonne Forest to participate in the Oise-Aisne campaign, the regiment was embroiled in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where, overextended with no flank support, nine companies– mostly of 1-308 with other elements of the 77th– under Whittlesey and Captain George McMurtry found themselves encircled in a ravine by at least two enemy regiments (IR122 and IR254) behind German lines following a counterattack.

Holding out for five days under hellish conditions in the pocket before they were finally relieved, the group became known to history as “The Lost Battalion,” later the subject of at least two films of the same name.

“Our Famous ‘Lost Battalion’ in the Argonne Forest. Seven hundred of our boys were surrounded by thousands of Huns. For thirty-six hours they had had no food. Death seemed inevitable. In answer to the enemy’s messenger with an offer to spare them if they would surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Whittlesey roared his historic “Go to Hell!” –which was at once “refusal, malediction, and prophecy.” By Frank Schoonover.

For much more detail on The Lost Battalion, see the extensive piece over at the WWI Centennial’s site.

Hailed for their five days against all odds and refusal to surrender, Whittlesey and McMurtry received the Medal of Honor, feted as “Heroes of the Charlevaux Ravine.”

Whittlesey’s citation:

Although cut off for five days from the remainder of his division, Major Whittlesey maintained his position, which he had reached under orders received for an advance, and held his command, consisting originally of 46 officers and men of the 308th Infantry and of Company K of the 307th Infantry, together in the face of superior numbers of the enemy during the five days. Major Whittlesey and his command were thus cut off, and no rations or other supplies reached him, in spite of determined efforts which were made by his division. On the 4th day Major Whittlesey received from the enemy a written proposition to surrender, which he treated with contempt, although he was at the time out of rations and had suffered a loss of about 50 percent in killed and wounded of his command and was surrounded by the enemy.

When it came to adjusting back to the breakout of peace following the Armistice, Whittlesey became something of a hounded rock star of the day on his return to the City. Constantly hunted down to appear at events and engagements, he worked with the Red Cross and was installed as a colonel of the 108th Infantry Regiment in the NYANG. He was likewise a lightning rod for the demobilized veterans of the 77th who found themselves cast off by the Army with no support in a slack post-war economy.

He told a confidant in 1919 that, “Not a day goes by but I hear from some of my old outfit, usually about some sorrow or misfortune. I cannot bear it much more.” To another, following a Red Cross dinner in which he made the now-expected speech about his experience with the Lost Battalion, “Raking over the ashes like this revives all the horrible memories. I can’t remember when I had a good night’s sleep.”

The final straw, it seems, was serving as a pallbearer for the Unknown Soldier at Arlington on Armistice Day 1921.

He was haunted by the thought that the nameless Soldier in the casket could have been one of the 63 members of his command that disappeared in the Charlevaux Ravine, telling McMurtry, who was also at the ceremony, “George, I should not have come here. I cannot help but wonder if that may not be one of my men from the Pocket. I shall have nightmares tonight and hear the wounded screaming once again.”

With that, just 13 days after the interment, the most eligible bachelor in Manhattan got his affairs in order and, on 24 November 1921– 100 years ago today– boarded the banana boat SS Toloa, bound for Cuba. He had told no one of his sudden trip to the Caribbean, only mentioning to his housekeeper that he would be gone for a few days over the Thanksgiving weekend. 

Two days later, he disappeared after dinner, joining the missing of the Great War in a very real sense. 

As noted by Arlington National Cemetery: 

In Whittlesey’s stateroom, crew members found a letter to the captain requesting that his belongings be thrown into the sea. They also found nine letters addressed to relatives and friends. The letters had not been written on the ship’s stationary, suggesting that the colonel had composed them prior to his trip. After an investigation, the U.S. consul in Havana determined that Charles Whittlesey had “drown[ed] at sea by own intent,” with “no remains found.”

The Lost Battalion marker by the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. 

160 years ago: Just some guys from Mass

Members of Mess 3, Co. C, 13th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry taken at Williamsport, Maryland, on a cool fall morning of November 21st, 1861. Note their mix of kepis and Hardee hats, as well as a personal toboggan cap and what looks like a fez with a tassel. Two are wearing their cartridge pouches but only one is armed, with what looks like a Springfield 1855 rifle, or similar.

Organized at Fort Independence June 16, 1861, at the time of the above image the 13th Mass was part of Abercrombie’s Brigade, Banks’ Division, Army of the Potomac. Before they were mustered out on August 1, 1864, they would fight at Hancock, Cedar Mountain, Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the Siege of Petersburg.

The Center for Civil War Photography’s Craig Heberton IV has the following breakdown of the men shown in the above photo, captured in time and place. 

This high-quality reproduction print of a very well-focused and executed early war photograph of nine members of Company “C” of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, taken at Williamsport, Maryland, does just that. It also reveals that these guys all “messed” together. And what a variety of headwear! It is unlikely that these men, as of November 21, 1861, had any inkling of what lay in store for themselves and their mates at unusually bloody large-scale battles in which they later would be actively engaged, such as Second Manassas and Gettysburg, where their unit suffered around 200 casualties at each.

Randomly picking one of the men, Garry Adelman notes that soldier #5, Albert Sheafe, “was a 21-year-old carver from Boston [who was] wounded at Antietam on the north end of the field, [constituting] one of [the] 130+ casualties [of the 13th Mass.] at that battle. He served till August 1864 and later lived in Roxbury, Mass.”

Expanding thereupon, Tom Boyce writes that: “Albert A. Sheafe was born in Lynn, Mass. in 1840… [In the 1860 Federal Census,] Albert Sheafe is listed as a [carver’s apprentice, living with many other unrelated people in the residence of 50-year-old] Anne M. Cushing [and her two children] in [Boston’s 4th Ward]. He enlisted as a private in Company “C” of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry, 16 Jul 1861. Quickly, he attained the rank of Corporal, although curiously his rank was back-dated to 01 June 1861. He was severely wounded during the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), 17 Sep. 1862… He attained the rank of Sergeant during the first day’s Battle of Gettysburg. His rank was, again, upgraded during the 2nd day’s battle of Gettysburg, where the 13th Massachusetts suffered many casualties. He was mustered out of service, 01 Aug 1864 and died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 25 Mar. 1916.”

I decided to dig a little deeper to learn that on Jan. 5, 1865, Albert A. Scheafe married Clara A. Rand in Portsmouth, N.H. By May 1, 1865, Albert and Clara lived in Newburyport, Mass. in the the home of George F. Smith (aged 25, an engineer) & Frank M. Smith (aged 24). I’d bet a dollar that “George F. Smith” is the same fellow as soldier #6, “Geo. H. Smith,” seen in the Nov. 21, 1861 photograph. Scheafe’s occupation, then, was described as “cabinet maker.”

By 1870, the Sheafes were the parents of a 4-year-old daughter and living in South Boston, Mass. Albert still “work[ed] as a carver.” The family lived in the home of his wife’s uncle (a 49-year-old Canadian-born policeman named Emery Dresser) and aunt Mary Francis R. Dresser.

It appears that the Sheafes lost their daughter before 1880, at which time they and Albert’s mother, Rhoda (a nurse), apparently rented space in the residence of Abram Wolfsen (a dealer in watchmaker’s tools) on Sharon St. in Boston. Albert’s occupation remained a “carver” as of 1880.

Skipping ahead to 1910, the Scheafes are found living in Portsmouth, N.H., where they would have celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. At the age of 69, Albert (or his wife) told the census taker that he still engaged in furniture cabinetry work. From 1907 until his death on March 25, 1916, Albert received a military pension. He was buried in Portsmouth’s South Street Cemetery. After her husband died, Clara received an army widow’s pension up until 1924. She lived to the age of 98 or 99, dying in 1941. Clara A. Rand Scheafe is buried in the same plot with her husband.

Plastic Reminders

While visiting the offices of my local parish, I came across this and thought it was a good idea. For a sub-$20 donation, something small like this can have a big impact on people’s hearts and minds. These little plastic soldiers are a tangible reminder that can lead to folks reaching out to help support their local Veterans groups, USOs, and military non-profits. 

Tombstones and mud

Venafro, Italy. November 1943: An “American engineer gun crew” is shown entrenching an M1921 Browning-designed water-cooled heavy machine gun near the Volturno River.

L. to Right: Pfc. Joe Hicks, N.Y.C., Pvt. Harlan Stout, of Elizabeth, Tenn., Pvt. Frank Kennedy, of Smithville, Ill. and in the background, Pvt. Joe Lynch, Indianapolis, Ind., with shovel.

Made by Colt in Connecticut, the M1921 is being fed with big “Tombstone” boxes capable of holding 200 belted .50 caliber BMG rounds, typically seen used on other large-format .50s such as the M-45 Maxon quad mount, M-33 twin Mount, and M-63AA mount.

For a frame of reference, the M1921 weighed 79 pounds (without water or ammo) and 121 on its pedestal mount with three horizontal legs.

Intended originally as an AAA weapon, such guns, when dug in like the top image, also proved big medicine against ground attacks by troops in the open.

Post-9/11 M1911s Downrange

Other than a couple of heirlooms that are steeped in family history, the most cherished firearm in my collection is the Colt M1911A1 mixmaster that I received through the Civilian Marksmanship Program via the “Army’s attic” at Anniston Army Depot.

I just refer to it as “No.24” for obvious reasons. Gotta love the 19-year old PFC that probably put the dummy mark on it…

So far about 20,000 of these veteran pistols have been transferred to the CMP over the past few years from the Army’s stockpile of about 100K held in long-term arsenal storage at Anniston. The guns, remnants of more than two million produced for the Army between 1912 and 1945, were withdrawn from front-line duty in the mid-1980s, replaced by the M9 Beretta.

However, to be clear, some of these guns were very much in recent 21st-century martial service.

Retired Green Beret Jeff Gurwitch covers the “re-adoption” of the M1911A1 by U.S. Special Forces after 9/11 in the below very interesting video. The half-hour piece covers the timeline, how it was employed, accessories, and its performance in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cross of Lorraine

76 years ago today, while the Navy was fighting off the last major sortie of the Japanese fleet in the Philipines, the ground war in Europe was slogging away.

Battered but happy Soldiers of the 79th “Cross of Lorraine” Infantry Division, enjoying some Luckies on their way to a rest camp after being relieved from combat near Laneuveville, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France.

Left to right; Pfc. Arthur Henry Muth, Sergeant Carmine Robert Sileo, and Sergeant Kelly C. Lasalle. October 25, 1944. Note the e-tool, bayonets, skrim covers on their M1 helmets, carbine pouch on Muth, and M1 pouches on Sileo, map case and binos on Lasalle. Photo via NARA

Ordered into active military service 15 June 1942 at Camp Pickett, Virginia, Maj. Gen. Ira T. Wyche (USMA 1907) in command, the 79th landed at on Utah Beach on Normandy on D+6 and spent the next 248 days in combat through Northern France with the Third Army then the Ardennes and into Central Europe with the Seventh Army, including several spates of brutal house-to-house fighting.

You are now entering Germany, courtesy of the 79th Inf. Div

The 79th suffered 15,203 battle casualties as well as 8,582 non-battle casualties, 166.5% of their TOE strength, ending the war at Recklinghausen, Westphalia.

Ruger’s oft-Forgotten Budget Falling Block (and Anti-Tank Weapon Trainer)

For 13 years, Ruger produced an inexpensive yet elegantly simple falling-block single-shot rifle, the Ruger No. 3.

Based on the company’s more aristocratic No. 1 under-lever John Farquharson-style single-shot rifle, except in a simpler “American” design that evoked memories of the old Sharps series from the late 19th century, the No. 3 was introduced in 1973.

The Ruger No. 1

Vs the Ruger No. 3

Besides its production as an inexpensive and utterly reliable single-shot chambered in .22 Hornet, .30-40 Krag, .45-70 Govt., .223 Rem., .44 Mag., and .375 Winchester, the Ruger No. 3 was also a part of General Dynamics’ Viper tank buster.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Shadow Warriors: The Unsung Story of the 112th Signal Battalion in Panama

CPT Steve Kestner (right) and another unidentified Company A, 112th Signal Battalion soldier (left) conduct rappel training at Fort Bragg, NC (circa 1989-90). (Photo courtesy of James S. Kestner)

From Veritas, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2020. “Formed in 1986, the 112th Signal Battalion first experienced combat in Panama, during Operation JUST CAUSE, December 1989. Their support to Special Operations Command, South, validated the need for a dedicated Army Special Operations signal battalion.”

All in all, an interesting (and free) online read. 

Barrett Ships First New MK22 Army Precision Sniper Rifles

The MK22 is a version of Barrett’s popular MRAD bolt gun, which can be swapped between three different calibers on the fly, hence the “Multi-Role Adaptive Rifle” abbreviation.

Tennessee-based Barrett Firearms recently announced the first batch of new MK22 Precision Sniper Rifles have been shipped to the U.S. Army.

The U.S. Special Operations Command in 2019 tapped Barrett to produce what were then termed new Advanced Sniper Rifles identified in SOCOM’s budget justification book as part of an effort to continue “development of enhanced capabilities to improve performance” of “individual sniper weapons to engage out to 1500 meters.”

They soon followed up with this award earlier this year with a five-year $49.9 million contract under the Army’s Precision Sniper Rifle program for Barrett’s MRAD (Multi-Role Adaptive Design) MK22 MOD 0 rifle, paired with a Leupold’s Mark 5HD 5-25×56 optic, complete with a flat dark earth coating and the Army’s patented Mil-Grid reticle and sniper accessory kit. The MK22 will replace several currently fielded Army sniper rifles.

A special operations sniper participating in the MK22 Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) test conducts vertical wind tunnel testing with his MK22 in the “front-mount” configuration. (Photo: Mr. Michael Zigmond, audiovisual production specialist, U.S. Army Operational Test Command)

More in my column over at Guns.com.

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