Hill 875

Charles J. Watters

Medal of Honor

On January 17, 1927  Charles Joseph Watters first saw the light of day.  Attending college at Seton Hall, he made the decision to become a priest and went on to Immaculate Conception Seminary.  Ordained on May 30, 1953, he served parishes in Jersey City, Rutherford, Paramus and Cranford, all in New Jersey.

 

While attending to his priestly duties, Father Watters became a pilot.  His longest solo flight was a trip to Argentina.  He earned a commercial pilot’s license and an instrument rating.  In 1962 he joined the Air Force National Guard in New Jersey.  A military tradition ran in his family with his uncle, John J. Doran, a bosun’s mate aboard the USS Marblehead, having been awarded a medal of honor for his courage at Cienfuegos, Cuba on May 11, 1898.

In August 1965 he transferred to the Army as a chaplain.  At the age of 38, a remarkably advanced age to be going through that rugged course in my opinion, Father Watters successfully completed Airborne training and joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Sky Soldiers.  In June of 1966 Major Watters began a twelve month tour of duty in Vietnam with the 173rd.

Chaplain Watters quickly became a legend in the 173rd.  He constantly stayed with units in combat.  When a unit he was attached to rotated to the rear, he joined another unit in action.  He believed that his role was to be with the fighting units serving the men.  Saying mass,  joking with the men, giving them spiritual guidance, tending the wounded, Chaplain Watters seemed to be everywhere.   PFC Carlos Lozado remembered decades later that when he lacked the money to buy a crib for a new-born daughter Father Watters sought him out and gave him the money.  The word quickly spread in “The Herd”, as the 173rd was called, about the priest who didn’t mind risking his life with them, a reputation sealed when Father Watters made a combat jump with the troops during  Operation Junction City on February 22, 1967. (more…)

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Published in: on May 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hill 875  
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Official History of US Army Involvement in World War I

Shockingly, there isn’t one.  In the Spring of 1918 the US Army created a historical section at the Army War College to prepare an official history.  Drastic budget cuts and rapid demobilization after World War I derailed that effort.  Instead, what we have are 17 volumes of documents, and these were not published until 1948.  They provide useful information for historians, but they are raw materials for a history and not a history.  This was the method that the Army took in regard to the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion in 128 books.  Of course at the time that this was done, the concept of an official history of a conflict did not exist, while in the wake of World War I most of the major participants, except for the US, did prepare official histories.  A good way for the Army to observe the centennial of the War would be to finally prepare an official history.  There are valuable lessons for the Army to learn from US participation in World War I, and an official history, with the advantage of a century of perspective, would be a worthwhile undertaking.  The Army did such a many volume history after World War II and it still is a prime resource for historians.  Time to remedy this gap in our history.  Go here for links to access the seventeen volumes of documents of Army involvement in the Great War.

Published in: on August 2, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Official History of US Army Involvement in World War I  
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Mort Walker: Requiescat in Pace

 

Mort Walker has passed away at 94.  The creator of the comic strip Beetle Bailey, for 68 years he poked gentle fun at the absurdities of the US Army.  Walker served as an Army officer during World War II.  Post war he became a cartoonist and drew about what he knew about:  the Army and the comic possibilities of any massive hierarchical organization.  Throughout almost seven decades Walker followed the same formula.  His soldiers never went to war, they stayed at camp Swampy in perpetual peace time, the issues of the day were ignored, no politics were to intrude on the strip, the same set of characters, with very few additions and subtractions, served perpetual timeless enlistments, the officers were almost always clueless and the men often lazy and shiftless.   Stated that way it might be hard to see how the strip endured, but it did, and proved especially popular with kids and veterans.

Ironically, this non-controversial strip for its first ten years was banned from the pages of Stars and Stripes by the Army, humorless military bureaucrats disguised as officers taking umbrage with the strip’s depiction of officers as fools and the men as shirkers, completely missing the deep love that Walker had for the Army he kidded.

 

At ease Mr. Walker, your tour of duty is over.

 

Published in: on January 29, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Mort Walker: Requiescat in Pace  
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The Long Ride of Colonel Young

 

 

“Get a good life insurance policy, with your family as beneficiary. Bring your Bible and yourself.”

Advice of Charles Davis Young to a friend joining the Tenth Cavalry

 

 

The first black colonel in the United States Army, Charles Davis Young, was born in 1864 in Tennessee, the son of slaves.  His father escaped from slavery in January 1865 and served in the Fifth Regiment Heavy Artillery, United States Colored Troops.  Settling in Ripley, Ohio after the War, Young’s father had saved enough from his military pay to buy land and build a house.  Charles Young attend an otherwise all white school in Ripley and graduated at the top of his class.  Young greatly admired his father, and decided to follow in his footsteps and embark on a military career.  In 1883 he earned appointment to West Point by coming in second on the competitive examination in his Congressional District.  When the first place candidate decided not to go, Young was admitted.

Young’s years at West Point were trying.  He roomed for three years with John Hanks Alexander, the only black cadet at West Point.   The attitude of the rest of his class to him can be gauged by the nickname he was tagged with:  ” the load of of coal”.  As many cadets before and since, he struggled with mathematics and had to repeat his first year as a result.  However, he discovered a hitherto unknown facility for foreign languages and learned several.    The disdainful attitude of most of his fellow cadets was constant, but his endurance and good humor throughout ultimately led to friendships with some white cadets that lasted the remainder of his life.  Young graduated last in his class in 1889.  He was the third black to graduate from West Point and would be the last until 1936.

His service with the Army was largely with the segregated “Buffalo” black cavalry regiments of the Ninth and the Tenth which had earned reputations for valor and professionalism.  On duty Young developed a reputation as all Army, a stern disciplinarian and stickler for regulations.  Off duty he was a kind and cultured man who took an interest in the professional development of his subordinates.  One of those subordinates in 1900 was Sergeant Major Benjamin O. Davis.  Young encouraged him to take the Officer Candidates’ test and tutored him for the test.  Davis passed and was ultimately commissioned.  In 1940 he was promoted to Brigadier General, the first black to attain that rank in US military history.

During the Spanish-American war Young was promoted to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers and commanded the 9th Ohio, a black volunteer regiment, Young thus becoming the first black to command a regiment in American military history.  Due to the brevity of the War, the 9th Ohio did not see service overseas, a fate common to most of the volunteer regiments raised in that War.  Young did serve in combat in the Philippines, commanding a troop of the Ninth Cavalry in the fight against Insurrectos on Samar.  His courage and leadership caused his men to give him the nickname “Follow me”.

Interspersed with command duties with troops, Young had the usual variety of assignments that were common for Army officers during this time period.  He served as superintendent of two national parks and was assigned as military attache in Haiti and Liberia.  In 1912 he wrote The Military Morale of Nations and Races, which postulated that with good training, and good leadership and fair treatment, the members of any race could make good soldiers.  He dedicated the book to Theodore Roosevelt, a personal friend who had taken an interest in Young’s career.  During the Punitive Expedition in 1916 into Mexico, Major Young attained notoriety due to successful cavalry charges against Mexican bandits while commanding a squadron of the Tenth Cavalry.  Young was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned to command Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

With the US heading to War in Europe it was assumed that Young might become the first black general in the US Army.  That prospect came to an end when Young failed a medical exam in early 1917 due to high blood pressure and damage to his kidneys, a legacy from his service in Liberia.  Young was retired, a retirement that Young protested.  It is likely that racism played a large factor in his retirement, more than a few white officers reacting with dismay to the prospect of serving under a black general.   Writing to Theodore Roosevelt for help in gaining reinstatement, Roosevelt immediately offered him command of one of the two black regiments Roosevelt planned to serve in the Rough Riders that Roosevelt had received Congressional approval to raise for service in World War I. Roosevelt said Young would have carte blanche in choosing the officers of his regiment.  Alas, President Wilson refused to authorize the raising of the Rough Riders.

In June 1918, to show he was physically fit for service, Young rode horseback the 500 miles from Xenia, Ohio to Washington DC.  The trip to Washington took 16 days.  Young experienced both racism and respect from the various Whites he encountered.  In a town with a bad reputation for racism against blacks, Young’s attempt to gain reinstatement was met with sympathy by local whites who asked what they could do to help.  Young responded that there was nothing they could do for him, but he would be grateful if black troops traveling through the town would receive a kind welcome.

Young met with Secretary of War Baker who promised to look into the situation.  On November 6, 1918 Young was placed back on active duty and promoted to Colonel.  He remained on active duty until his death in 1922 when he died of nephritis.  He is buried, appropriately, in Arlington.  When he was buried, an estimated 100,000 people lined his funeral procession.

 

Published in: on January 15, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Long Ride of Colonel Young  
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Army Vietnam Studies

 

“The internet has changed everything” is a trite saying, but in regard to historical research it is also true.  Travel and expense were often the lot of historians as they chased documents.  Now, so much is available free with a few mouse clicks.  Case in point is the Army series Vietnam Studies, twenty-six volumes that examine the Army’s role in Vietnam.  A feast for historians or those who simply want a detailed look, for example, at Army air mobile operations in Vietnam.  Each volume is now available free in PDF downloads.  Go here to access them.

Published in: on July 24, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Army Vietnam Studies  
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General William Sibert

 

 

A skilled engineer, General William Sibert led the First Division initially in France during World War I.  Sibert was an engineering officer who had won accolades for his work on the construction of the Panama Canal Zone.  In 1915 Congress had promoted him from Lieutenant Colonel to Brigadier General.  However, the Army Corps of Engineers at that time was authorized only one general.  Sibert thus found himself at age 55 suddenly an infantry General who had never led an infantry unit or been in the infantry.  The Army put him in command of the West Coast artillery where it was reasoned an inexperience general could do little harm.

However in 1917 he suddenly found himself in command of the infantry units that landed in France on June 26, 1916 and which would eventually make up the First Division.  Sibert had a great deal of doubt as to whether he was suitable for this command.  Eventually Pershing shared his doubts, and along with several other general officers, Pershing relieved him in January 1918 prior to the First Division before the Division began duty in the trenches.

Pershing bore Sibert no ill will, understanding that he was not responsible for the attempt by Congress to force a round peg into a square hole.  When the Chemical Warfare Service was created later in 1918, Pershing recommended Sibert to command it in the continental United States, which he did.  After retirement as a Major General, Sibert would go on to work as an engineer in Mobile, Alabama and he served on the Presidential Commission which led to the construction of Hoover Dam.  He died in 1945.  Two of his five sons would go on to be Major Generals in the Army.

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 1:42 pm  Comments Off on General William Sibert  
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The Big Red One Goes to France

President Wilson realized it would be many months before the US ground forces could be trained, equipped and shipped across the Atlantic in numbers sufficient to make a difference on the battlefields of France.  However, he also knew that Allied, and American, morale would soar with the news that the Americans had landed in France, no matter how many they were.  Thus on May 19, 1917 Wilson ordered that the First Expeditionary Division be formed, and that units of the Division sail to France as soon as possible.  Thus was born the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One.  By the end of the War the Division would incur casualties of 4,964 killed in action, 17,201 wounded in action, and 1,056 missing or died of wounds.  It would be the first Division to cross the Rhine into occupied Germany.  Five soldiers of the Division earned Medals of Honor during the War, out of a total of 92 earned by the Army.   The Big Red One has been in continuous service with the Army since its creation in 1917. (more…)

Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Big Red One Goes to France  
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Flag Day and the Army

On June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress passed this resolution:

 “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

The Flag was designed by member of Congress Francis Hopkinson who requested a quarter cask of wine for his services.  Payment was denied him on the sound ground that he was already being paid as a member of Congress.  Two years previously on June 14, 1775, Congress voted to adopt the New England militia army besieging Boston and so the Continental Army was formed.

I have always thought it appropriate that the Flag and the Army share the same birthday.  The Flag is the proud symbol of the nation but without military strength to back it up, it would quickly become a mere colorful piece of fabric.  John Wayne in a brief speech at the end of the movie Fort Apache (1948), part of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy, captured the spirit of the Army:

As did this passage the following year in the second of the cavalry trilogy, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon:

 

So here they are: the dog-faced soldiers, the regulars, the fifty-cents-a-day professionals… riding the outposts of a nation. From Fort Reno to Fort Apache – from Sheridan to Startle – they were all the same: men in dirty-shirt blue and only a cold page in the history books to mark their passing. But wherever they rode – and whatever they fought for – that place became the United States.

The song That Ragged Old Flag understands the necessity of men willing to fight for the nation, for the Flag if the country is to endure: (more…)

Published in: on June 14, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Rodger Young

Born on April 28, 1918 in Tiffin, Ohio, Rodger Young had a happy childhood until in a basketball game in high school he received a head injury which affected his hearing and his eyesight.  He dropped out of high school in his sophomore year because he could not hear the teachers and could not see the blackboards.

A small man physically, along with his hearing and eyesight problems, Young would have seemed to have been totally unsuited to be a soldier.  Nevertheless, Young joined the National Guard in Ohio in 1938.  He made a good soldier and rose to the rank of Sergeant. He was assigned to Company B of the 148th Infantry Regiment.  With the coming of World War II his regiment was assigned to fight on New Georgia.

Shortly before his unit arrived in New Georgia Young took a voluntary demotion to private.  He was by now almost completely deaf and his eyesight was worse.  With these disabilities his commanding officer wanted to send Young to the hospital.  Young pleaded his case to remain with his unit with such passion, that he was allowed to stay with Company B.

A week after his unit landed in New Georgia, Young was part of a 20 man patrol near Munda that ran into a Japanese ambush.  What he did next earned Young the Medal of Honor and cost him his life.  Here is the text of his Medal of Honor citation: (more…)

Llewellyn M. Chilson: One Man Army

Many brave men served in our armed services during World War II, but certainly one of the bravest was Llewellyn M. Chilson.  Born on April 1, 1920 in Dayton, Ohio, his father Frank was a veteran of World War I.  He was drafted into the Army on March 28, 1942.  He served with the 45th “Thunderbird” Infantry Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany.  By the end of the War he had risen in rank from Private to Technical Sergeant and earned the following decorations:  3 Distinguished Service Crosses (the second highest decoration for valor in the United States Army), 3 Silver Stars, 2 Bronze Stars, 1 Legion of Merit and two purple hearts.  Go here to read his citations for the decorations that he earned. (more…)

Published in: on June 22, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Llewellyn M. Chilson: One Man Army  
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