Audie Murphy (U.S. Army photo)

Editor's note: a version of this post first appeared in 2018

On January 26, 1945, the most decorated U.S. service member of World War II earned his legacy in a fiery fashion.

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U.S. service members celebrate Christmas Eve near what is now Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, on Dec. 24, 1942. (Flickr/John Atherton)

America's battle against alcohol in the 1920s failed to attract many foreign allies and ended in defeat. By the time World War II broke out, the nation's short-lived prohibition experiment had long ended. In some countries, such as France, drinking had been celebrated and encouraged during the interwar years, and consumption surged. Indeed, the French remained so devoted to their wine that securing enough wine for the troops was deemed essential to mobilizing for the next war. A third of the country's railroad cars designed to carry liquid in bulk were reserved for transporting wine to the front lines. When Germany attacked France in May 1940, 3,500 trucks were tasked with delivering two million liters per day to the troops.

But when France fell to the Germans within two months, praise turned to condemnation. Wine was blamed for making the country soft. Philippe Petain, the WWI hero who had credited wine for saving France, now pointed a finger at drunkenness for "undermining the will of the army." He became the leader of the collaborative government of Vichy, where new restrictions on the sale of alcohol were quickly imposed, including setting a minimum drinking age for the first time (no one under 14 could purchase alcohol).

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The rediscovered dog tags of fallen WWII soldier Roger Taylor that will be presented to the Beloit Historical Society at their "Remebering Roger" memorial service Sunday Dec. 29, 2019. (CantonRep.com / Aaron Self via Tribune News Service)

BELOIT, Ohio -- Pfc. Roger W. Taylor left his family's farm in the Beloit area 75 years ago for deployment to Europe during World War II.

He never came home.

But the dog tags he wore during his 22 months of Army service finally finished their journey back to his home town.

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A de Havilland DH 98 Mosquito at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Just shy of 80 years ago — a lifetime by many people's standards —Thomas Horton trained to fly in a bomber made of balsa wood.

Yes, that wood: The lighter-than-air material you buy in pre-punched sheets to assemble your kids' toy gliders, the wood that sinks to the thickness of a saltine when you step on it.

Horton flew three generations of the World War II wooden aircraft, formally titled a de Havilland DH 98, but nicknamed the Mosquito, in 111 missions over Germany. And nearly 80 years after he left New Zealand to do it, his native country bestowed its service medal on him.

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A U.S. infantryman crawls under a wire fence as he and his comrades advance over snow-covered terrain toward surrounded U.S. forces in Germany's Luxembourg-Belgium salient toward Bastogne, Jan. 6, 1945. (Associated Press photo)

"All I remember is thinking if I hit the ground, I'm dead."

It was just after 8 a.m. on Christmas morning, 1944, outside the village of Echternach, Luxembourg, when a bullet from a Nazi machine gun found its way into Lt. James P. Teehan's helmet.

Teehan, who died in 2000 at the age of 78, had been dispatched as a forward observer for the Army's 802nd Field Artillery Battalion. He was about as far from the family dairy in Springfield as he could have imagined when he and his party set out to capture a Nazi-held chateau that stood between them and Bastogne, Belgium.

For nine days, the Nazis had been battling their way back into Luxembourg and Belgium from which the Allies had chased them only weeks earlier. On Dec. 16, the Germans had launched what would be Adolf Hitler's last great blitzkrieg of World War II.

It began with a massive attack by three German armies of close to 200,000 soldiers along a 40-mile front in the Ardennes Forest of Luxembourg and continued with the Nazis pressing westward into Belgium and aiming for the port city of Antwerp.

It became known as the Battle of the Bulge, so named for the bulge the Nazi forces managed to make in allied lines. "This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be recognized as an ever-famous American victory," British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would tell the House of Commons on Jan. 18, 1944.

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(Left) Cpl. Barney Ross and his mother on March 11, 1943, after the battle of Guadalcanal. (Right) Lt. Frederic P. Gehring (Chicago Tribune/Harold Revoir , FindAGrave.com/PL)

Often when I hear carolers singing, my inner ear segues into "My Yiddishe Mamma." A schmaltz pop song of the 1920s, it was part of a Christmas Eve service on a World War II battlefield.

Unlikely as that might now seem, it was a perfect musical metaphor for the values our GIs were defending. America was far from perfect; black people were second-class citizens. But it was a beacon of brotherhood compared with the totalitarian countries we were fighting. Japanese soldiers were drilled in the idea that Westerners were barbarians. Germans were taught that Jews were a pestilence that had to be eradicated at Auschwitz and Treblinka.

But on Dec. 24, 1942, a Catholic priest from Brooklyn, New York, and a Jewish boxer from Chicago put together a midnight Mass for U.S. Marines of various hues and creeds. The service was held amid the foxholes of Guadalcanal, a South Pacific island.

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