World War II
The real heroes are dead.
When Audie Murphy starred in his aptly titled World War II biopic, To Hell and Back, his battlefield exploits were downplayed. Partially this was due to Murphy’s modesty, he had not wanted to appear in the movie and did so only after he was promised that much of the focus of the film would be on his buddies who died during the War, and partially due to the fact that what he did during the War was so unbelievably courageous that film audiences might have refused to believe it. Here is his Medal of Honor citation that he earned in truly hellish fighting near Holtzwihr, France on January 26, 1945:
|By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:
Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. It’s crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. the enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminated Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.
|* * * * *|
|BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR:|
|EDWARD F. WITSELL
Acting the Adjutant General
Chief of Staff
For some American soldiers in World War II, the War was not simply a matter of foreign affairs, but intensely personal. That was certainly the case with Staff Sergeant Isadore S. Jachman of the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division. His family had come from Germany to America when he was two. The Nazis murdered several of his relatives, including six uncles and aunts. Maybe that was part of his motivation when the chips were down for his unit seventy-one years ago. His Medal of Honor citation tells us what happened:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at Flamierge, Belgium, on 4 January 1945, when his company was pinned down by enemy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, 2 hostile tanks attacked the unit, inflicting heavy casualties. S/Sgt. Jachman, seeing the desperate plight of his comrades, left his place of cover and with total disregard for his own safety dashed across open ground through a hail of fire and seizing a bazooka from a fallen comrade advanced on the tanks, which concentrated their fire on him. Firing the weapon alone, he damaged one and forced both to retire. S/Sgt. Jachman’s heroic action, in which he suffered fatal wounds, disrupted the entire enemy attack, reflecting the highest credit upon himself and the parachute infantry. Continue reading
Broadcast on December 18, 1945, the Bob Hope Christmas show for 1945 gives an interesting insight into America as it observed its first peacetime Christmas in five years. Hope mentions product shortages in his jokes and in a skit the housing shortage comes up. His guest star was actor Wayne Morris. Morris had served as a Navy flier, shooting down seven Japanese planes and contributing to the sinking of five ships, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He earned four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals. A rising star before the War, Morris never recovered from putting his career on hiatus during the War. He spent the rest of his career mostly in low budget Westerns. He died of a heart attack in 1959 at age 45 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1944 at Christmas the American and German armies were slugging it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.
Patton’s Third Army rammed its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces. The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless. Patton had a prayer written for good weather. Patton prayed the prayer, along with an extemporaneous one he prayed for good weather on December 23, 1944. The skies cleared after Patton prayed, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101rst Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle. On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101rst troops at Bastogne, in attendance. Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.
General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops: Continue reading
And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o’er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.
George S. Patton, Jr.
Fate denied General Patton the death he deserved: in battle, at the head of his men. His death was much more prosaic, the result of an automobile collision on December 8, 1945 caused by drunk joyriding GIs. He spent most of the next 13 days in traction, paralyzed from the neck down. His verdict on his situation was succinct and characteristically blunt: “This is a hell of a way to die.” He died on December 21, 1945 in his sleep. It is perhaps superfluous to note that Patton met death with calm courage. At West Point as a cadet he had already discerned the essential reality of death: “What then of death? Is not the taps of death but the first call to the reveille of eternal life?” Per his request he was buried with other Third Army dead in the Luxembourg American Cemetery, the simple white cross above his grave precisely the same that marked the graves of the Christian GIs who had fallen in what Eisenhower had aptly called the Great Crusade. Continue reading
A nightmare for every Jewish GI serving in the European Theater of Operations was to be captured by the Nazis. For a group of American Jewish POWs on January 27, 1945, their worst nightmares seemed about to come true. The previous day Commandant of Stalag IXA, Major Siegmann, had ordered that the Jews among the thousand American POWs report outside their barracks the next morning. Their probable grim fate could be imagined. Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, a resident of Tennessee, was the ranking NCO at the camp and he was not going to allow the Nazis to murder some of his men. He ordered every American in the camp to show up outside the barracks, and informed the astonished Commandant that they were all Jews. The Commandant exclaimed that they could not all be Jews and took out his pistol. Edmonds remained calm: “According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.” The Commandant turned around and stalked off. No further attempts were made by him to get his hands on the Jewish GIs. Continue reading
After Pearl Harbor war between the US and Nazi Germany was inevitable, but Hitler relieved FDR from the tricky business of turning the attention of Congress and the US, riveted on Japan, to Germany, by obligingly declaring war first. Here is the German declaration of war: Continue reading
Seventy years ago the nation remembered Pearl Harbor for the first time in peace time. Japan was now conquered, our troops occupying it. Pearl Harbor had been avenged many fold. It would perhaps have seemed that it was time to relegate the Pearl Harbor attack to the pages of History, but such has not been the case. Spurred on by the families of the men who were murdered that day in the sneak attack, Pearl Harbor has been remembered each year. As the World War II generation began passing from the scene, Congress passed on August 23, 1994 an act designating each December 7th as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Only a handful of Pearl Harbor survivors remain with us, but still news stories, blog posts and other events mark the day and it is fitting that this is done. The heroism of the Americans who fought at Pearl Harbor should be remembered, along with the terrible price that a nation can pay when it puts its guard down in the face of an aggressive would be adversary.
At the end of the epic movie Tora, Tora, Tora, (1970), Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the head of the combined Japanese fleet, after the successful attack on Pearl Harbor, refuses to join in the elation of his staff, and makes this haunting observation: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” The line is almost certainly apocryphal. The director of the film, Elmo Williams, claimed that Larry Forester, the film’s screenwriter, had found the line in a 1943 letter written by Yamamoto. However, he has been unable to produce the letter, and there is no other evidence that such a letter exists.
However, there is no doubt that Yamamoto would fully have endorsed the sentiment that the line contained. He had studied at Harvard in 1919-1921, and served two tours as a naval attache at the Japanese embassy in Washington DC. He spoke fluent English, and his stays in the US had convinced him of that nation’s vast wealth and industrial power. He had also developed a fondness for both America and Americans.
In the 1930’s Yamamoto spoke out against Japan allying with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, fearing that such an alliance would lead inevitably to a war with the US that Japan would lose. He received frequent death threats as a result from fanatical Japanese nationalists. These were not idle threats, as such nationalists did assassinate a fair number of Japanese politicians and military men during the Thirties who were against war with the US. Yamamoto ignored the threats with studied contempt, viewing it as his duty to the Emperor and Japan to speak out against a disastrous course. Yamamoto wrote in a letter to one nationalist:
Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it would not be enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians (who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war) have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. Continue reading
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. Continue reading
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”
The famous “weather prayer” of General Patton was written by a Catholic Chaplain, Colonel James H. O’Neill. Here is his article on the incident written in 1950.
Patton was an interesting mixture of contradictions in his spiritual life. Foul mouthed even by the standards of an army known for profanity, and much too fond of war for a Christian, he also read the Bible and prayed each day. A firm Episcopalian, yet he also firmly believed in reincarnation. While in command in Sicily he began attending mass, initially largely for political reasons to build a bridge to the Catholic population, but then found that he enjoyed worshipping at mass. He believed firmly in God and did not think that He stood aloof when men were fighting against one of the most evil regimes ever devised by Fallen Man. Continue reading
“But the most interesting — although horrible — sight that I encountered during the trip was a visit to a German internment camp near Gotha. The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they [there] were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda’.”
General Eisenhower letter to General George Marshall 4/15/45
The Nuremberg Trials got under way seventy years ago today. One may cavil at some of the procedures used during the trials and the presence of Soviet judges and prosecutors at the trial, but no decent human being can ever claim that the crimes committed by the leaders of the Third Reich, in Eisenhower’s phrase, beggar description. The video at the beginning of this post consists of film shot by the Army Signal Corps, at Eisenhower’s order, of the Nazi death camps and was admitted into evidence at the Nuremberg trial. It makes for grim viewing, but the reality it reflected must never be forgotten.
As I said in the Manila Supreme Court that I have done with my all capacity, so I don’t ashame in front of the gods for what I have done when I have died. But if you say to me ‘you do not have any ability to command the Japanese Army’ I should say nothing for it, because it is my own nature. Now, our war criminal trial going under your kindness and right. I know that all your American and American military affairs always has tolerant and rightful judgment. When I have been investigated in Manila court I have had a good treatment, kindful attitude from your good natured officers who protected me all the time. I never forget for what they have done for me even if I had died. I don’t blame my executioner. I’ll pray the gods bless them. Please send my thankful word to Col. Clarke and Lt. Col. Feldhaus, Lt. Col. Hendrix, Maj. Guy, Capt. Sandburg, Capt. Reel, at Manila court, and Col. Arnard. I thank you.
Yamashita’ s last statement, through a translator, on the gallows. February 23, 1946
General Tomoyuki Yamashita won early fame in World War II by leading the conquest of Malaya. With inferior forces he decisively defeated the British and earned the popular title of Tiger of Malaya. Troops under his command did engage in massacres and looting, but Yamashita, unlike most Japanese commanders, severely punished the troops involved, up to and including execution of the guilty. His humane attitude towards prisoners placed him at odds with the Japanese government, and he spent much of the war in virtual exile in Manchukuo commanding the First Area Army. Worsening Japanese military fortunes caused him to be placed in command of the Philippines, ten days before MacArthur and his army returned. Yamashita conducted a skillful defense of the Philippines, marred by massive atrocities against civilians in Manila. It must be noted that Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi commanded the forces defending in Manila. Yamashita had ordered the evacuation of Manila which Iwabuchi disobeyed, just as his men disobeyed Yamashita’s standing orders against ill treatment of civilians.
Yamashita was put on trial for war crimes in Manila from October 29, 1945-December 7, 1945 by an American military tribunal. The principal accusation was that he had failed to keep his troops in the Philippines under control and that as a result he was responsible for their crimes. This was a novel theory of criminal responsibility either under American military or civilian jurisprudence as his military defense counsel pointed out time and again. Yamashita was impressed by the dedication and zeal of his defense counsel and stated several times that his respect for the United States had been reaffirmed by their efforts.
Behind the scenes MacArthur expressed impatience at the length of the trial, clearly wanting a quick guilty verdict. When Yamashita was found guilty and sentenced to death, he swiftly affirmed the verdict and sentence when it was appealed to him. Yamashita’s defense team then appealed to the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, In re Yamashita, 327 US 1, rejected the petitions for habeas corpus and writ of prohibition ruling:
It thus appears that the order convening the commission was a lawful order, that the commission was lawfully constituted, that petitioner was charged with violation of the law of war, and that the commission had authority to proceed with the trial, and, in doing so, did not violate any military, statutory, or constitutional command. We have considered, but find it unnecessary to discuss, other contentions which we find to be without merit. We therefore conclude that the detention of petitioner for trial and his detention upon his conviction, subject to the prescribed review by the military authorities, were lawful, and that the petition for certiorari, and leave to file in this Court petitions for writs of habeas corpus and prohibition should be, and they are
Justices Murphy and Rutledge wrote memorable dissents: Continue reading
(I originally ran this post back on Veteran’s Day 2010. I have updated it and am running it again since the passage of time renders it more urgent.)
Time is doing what the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese could not do: vanquishing our World War II generation. The youngest American veteran of that conflict would now be 88, and in the next fifteen years or so they will all be in eternity. Time now to express our heartfelt gratitude for what they accomplished for the country. They have been called the greatest generation. I am sure that most of them would reject that title, maybe putting in a vote for the generation that won the American Revolution or the generation that fought the Civil War. Modesty has been a hallmark of their generation. When I was growing up in the Sixties, most of them were relatively young men in their late thirties or forties. If you asked them about the war they would talk about it but they would rarely bring it up. They took their service for granted as a part of their lives and nothing special. So those of us who knew them often took it for granted too. Uncle Chuck, he works at the Cereal Mills, and, oh yeah, he fought in the Pacific as a Marine. Uncle Bill, he has a great sense of humor and I think he was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered to MacArthur. When they talked about the war it was usually some humorous anecdote, often with some self-deprecating point. They’d talk about some of the sad stuff too, but you could tell that a lot of that was pretty painful for them, so you didn’t press them. They were just husbands and fathers, uncles and cousins. The fact that the janitor at the school won a silver star on Saipan, or the mayor of the town still walked with a limp from being shot on D-Day, was just a normal part of life, like going to school or delivering papers. Continue reading
Eighth of December 1941
People went crazy
Right here in Guam.
Oh, Mr. Sam, Sam
My dear Uncle Sam,
Won’t you please
Come back to Guam.
Resistance song sung by the people of Guam during World War II
Acquired by the US pursuant to the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War in 1898, by the time of the Japanese invasion of Guam in 1941, the people of Guam, Chamorros, were largely pro-American, enjoying prosperity under American rule. Thus they were hostile to the Japanese invasion of Guam which occurred in December 1941. The Japanese occupation was brutal, murdering 1000 of the 20,000 people of Guam.
Devout Catholics, the people of Guam looked to the Church in this dark hour, and they did not look in vain. The head of the Church in Guam was a young priest, Father Jesus Baza Duenas, the second Chamorro to be ordained a priest. He became the head of the Church when Bishop Miguel Olano was taken away as a prisoner of war by the Japanese. The Bishop’s parting instruction to Father Duenas was that he defend the Chamorros from the Japanese. He was an untiring advocate of his people with the Japanese military, fearlessly demanding food and shelter for the many people displaced by the Japanese invasion. At the same time he instructed his people not to cooperate with the Japanese, telling them that the Americans would be back some day and drive the Japanese out. He knew about the six Americans who had initially escaped Japanese capture, including sailor George Tweed who would be the only one of the six to survive and evade capture successfully until the liberation of Guam, and who radioed information about the Japanese defenses to the Navy, and that members of his flock were risking their lives, and always paid with their lives when caught by the Japanese, to help the Americans. Father Duenas refused to give any information about any of this to the Japanese although often questioned by Japanese officers.
Father Duenas was looked upon by the people of Guam as a hero, riding upon his white horse around the island to say mass in remote areas, and to conduct marriages, baptisms and funerals. To attempt to lessen his influence, the Japanese imported two Japanese Catholic priests, which had absolutely no impact on the esteem in which the people of Guam held their priest. In frustration, the Japanese would often literally hold a gun to the head of Father Duenas as he said mass, and beat him periodically in public. This only certified his hero status and increased his influence among his people, to the rage of the Japanese.
On July 8, 1944, with the liberation of Guam coming close, Father Duenas and his nephew, Attorney Eduardo Duenas, were arrested by the Japanese. Tortured, they refused to give up information about the whereabouts of George Tweed. Father Duenas when questioned said that he answered only to God and that the Japanese were not God. Father Duenas was offered a chance to escape by some of his people who got a message to him. He refused, saying: “You must know what would happen to our families if we escape. I’m positive the Japanese will retaliate against them. Go look after you families. God will look after me. I have done no wrong.”
As the sun rose on July 12, 1944, just nine days before the American marines and soldiers stormed ashore on Guam, a date known as the holiday Liberation Day ever since on Guam, Father Duenas and his nephew were beheaded. Father Duenas was thirty years old. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem.
And so World War II ended with the people of Japan standing at attention or bowing as they heard their Emperor tell them, in a classical Japanese that most of them probably found hard to follow, that it was time to endure the unendurable:
TO OUR GOOD AND LOYAL SUBJECTS:
After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in Our Empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.
We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.
To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of Our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by Our Imperial Ancestors and which lies close to Our heart.
Indeed, We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.
But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone – the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people – the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.
Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.
Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.
We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to Our Allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia.
The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families, pains Our heart night and day.
The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their homes and livelihood, are the objects of Our profound solicitude.
The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.
Having been able to safeguard and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, We are always with you, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.
Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strife which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.
Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its sacred land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibility, and of the long road before it.
Unite your total strength, to be devoted to construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution – so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world. Continue reading
Allied bombers had been used on August 13, 1945 dropping leaflets over Japan which described, in Japanese, the surrender offer and the Allied response. On August 14, 1945 met with his military leaders, several of whom spoke in favor of continuing the War. Hirohito urged them to help him bring the War to an end. Meeting then with the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War and heard out those who recommended a rejection of the Allied offer unless there was a guarantee that the Emperor would continue to reign. Hirohito then spoke:
I have listened carefully to each of the arguments presented in opposition to the view that Japan should accept the Allied reply as it stands and without further clarification or modification, but my own thoughts have not undergone any change. … In order that the people may know my decision, I request you to prepare at once an imperial rescript so that I may broadcast to the nation. Finally, I call upon each and every one of you to exert himself to the utmost so that we may meet the trying days which lie ahead.
In normal times in Japan that would have been that. It was quite rare for the Emperor to so overtly intervene in a decision of the government, indeed it was forbidden under the then current Japanese constitution, but when he did, it would have literally been unthinkable for any Japanese not to instantly obey. However, these were far from normal times.
The rest of the day was taken up with Hirohito preparing an address to his people and having a recording played to be broadcast on August 15, 1945. Washington was advised that Japan had surrendered via the Japanese embassies in Switzerland and Sweden and the Allied world went wild with joy. Continue reading