November 11, 2012

REMEMBRANCE: TRIBUTE TO SOLDIERS



World War II Tribute (00:05:33m)


We are a nation of hero-worshippers yet we know more about fictional characters like Batman, Ironman and the Green Lantern - even Rambo is regaled as a superhero. But we seldom pay our respects to the real heroes - soldiers, whose acts of valor have elevated them far above the common thread. Sadly, few of us can name more than one or two war heroes.

This blog is in memory of soldiers who went beyond the call of duty, whose bravery was awe-inspiring, and who sacrificed their life for freedom and justice. Only a few among them have been praised as heroes but just to have taken up arms and forged bravely into battle has made heroes of them all.

Here are but a few of the soldiers who have earned their place in history as real Super Heroes. Their courage serves not only inspire us but restores our faith in the great power of the human spirit.



 AUDIE MURPHY

Audie Murphy, the sixth of twelve siblings, came from humble beginnings.He was only twelve years old when his father abandoned the family. As a result Murphy had to drop out of fifth grade and worked for a dollar per day in an effort to help his family make ends meet.  He even turned to hunting to put food on the table and the skills he attained as a marksman would serve him well.  When he reached 17 years of age, he tried to enlist in the marines and the army but was rejected twice due to his height and weight (5'5" at 110 lbs).  When Murphy finally succeeded, he quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted several times until he became company commander.  Throughout his distinguished service Murphy was decorated numerous times for his acts of valor. When his division invaded Sicily on July 10, 1943 he killed two Italian officers as they tried to escape on horseback; two months later while on night patrol at Salerno, Murphy and his men were ambushed by German soldiers, but fought their way out, killing three Germans and captured the others. His combat skills at Monte Cassino were nothing short of legendary.  By August 1944, Murphy was part of Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France.  A German soldier, feigning surrender took aim and killed Lattie Tipton, Murphy's best friend. At that moment all hell broke loose as Murphy charged the enemy and single-handedly wiped out the entire German machine gun crew in retaliation.  His steely-nerved courage earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.  His other medals included the Congressional Medal of Honour, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, French Legion of Honour, French Croix de Guerrre, and more. After the end of the war he returned home to a heroes welcome and honoured with parades, lavish banquets and speeches.  Soon afterwards Murphy embarked on a career in acting and earned critical acclaim in the production of the Red Badge of Courage, among other films. He also wrote a book "To Hell and Back" in which he wrote about his friend Lattie.  



JOHN MALCOLM THORPE FLEMING
aka Fighting Jack Churchill, Mad Jack

John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming British WW2 hero - Mad Jack with sword in hand during a training exercise in Inveraray Scotland

John Fleming graduated in 1926 from Royal Military academy, a prestigious institution
otherwise known as "Sandhurst". For the following ten years he served in Burma with the Manchester Regiment followed by a short stint in civilian life.  But when Poland was invaded in 1939 by Germany and the Soviet Union he hastily returned to join his Regiment.  In May 1940 at L'Epinette France, Fleming earned his infamous reputation as "Mad Jack" when he attacked and killed the enemy using only barbed arrows. He was the only British soldier ever to have cut down the enemy using only a long bow.  After Dunkirk, he joined the Commandos and became second in command of his unit.  On December 27, 1941 he took part in Operation Archery in an invasion of the German garrison at Vagsoy, Norway.  As his landing craft approached the bay and the ramps were dropped ashore, Fleming lept forward like a madman while playing his bagpipes, flung a grenade at the enemy and dashed into the fighting fray.  He was decorated with the Military Cross and bar for his immense valor.

Mad Jack with sword in hand during a training exercise in Inveraray Scotland

During the invasion of Sicily, Fleming led Commando unit 2 during the landing at Catania and Salerno, armed with nothing more than a Scottish broadsword dangling at his waist, a longbow and arrows slung around his neck, and cradling his bagpipes under his arm.  At Salerno his Commandos invaded the town capturing the post and succeeded in taking 42 prisoners (which included the mortar squad).  Fleming and his men headed headed back to base while the wounded followed behind, transported in carts pushed by the German POWs.  Fleming commented that the scenario reminded him of "an image from the Napoleonic Wars".  He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order for his valor. 

The most awe-inspiring Operation took place in Yugoslavia in 1944.  Fleming led the Commandos on a raid against German positions on the island of Brac.  With an army of 1,500 partisans, 43 Commando, and one troop consisting of 40 Commando, Fleming landed amid a hail of German fire, but decided to postpone the attack until the next day.  It was not until the second day that his company launched into battle;  as 43 Commando was moving into position along the flank, Fleming led the 40 Commando, while the partisans remained at the landing site.  Only Fleming and six other men succeeded in reaching the objective.  The rest of the unit was either killed or wounded. Legend has it that Churchill was playing on his bagpipes the tune, ""Will Ye No Come Back Again?" as the Germans advanced.

Fighting Jack Churchill was born to be a soldier and reveled in the danger and thrill of it all. When the Americans dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mad Jack was purported to be disgruntled by the sudden end of the war.  He was reported to have said, "It it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going for another 10 years



THOMAS GEORGE PRINCE
"Tommy"

Thomas George Prince was an aboriginal Canadian of the Ojibwe Nation and was born in Manitoba. He was one of eleven children and lived with his family on Brokenhead Reservation at Scanterbury. With his siblings he has the distinction of being a descendant of Chief Pequis. As a boy growing up in the wilderness Prince became an exceptionally skilled marksman and hunter. By the time he became a teenager his sights were set on joining the army.

When WW2 broke out Prince volunteered for active service but was turned down several times even though he met all the requirements. However several months later he was finally accepted and commenced training as a sapper for the Royal Canadian Engineers. He later joined the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and was promoted to Sergeant. And soon after volunteered for the 1st Special Service Force (SSF) also known as the "Devil's Brigade". Prince and his unit were subjected to the most rigorous of training drills, accompanied by live fire and honed their skills in hand-to-hand combat, explosive demolitions, amphibious ware, mountain fighting, and ski troops, among other disciplines.

In November 1943, the SSF were deployed to Italy with the objective of clearing enemy lines which had been preventing the Allies from advancing towards Rome. In the following two months they succeeded in capturing Monte la Difensa, Hill 720, Monte Majo and Monte Vischiataro. From there they advanced to Anzio. By early February 1944, Prince was dispatched to scout the location of several German positions near Littoria. At his stake-out in an abandoned farmhouse just 200 metres (660 fit) from enemy lines, Prince secretly reported enemy positions, through the use of 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) of telephone wire. But communications were inadvertently lost when allied artillery fire aimed at German positions accidentally cut the telephone wire. Prince was able to locate the severed wires and rejoin them. He had calmly strolled out into the open dressed as a farmer weeding his crops, and every so often kneeling down and pretended to tie his shoelaces. For added effect, he would shake his fists at the Germans. Prince then turned to the direction of the Allied lines and shook his fist at them as well. He then resumed transmitting his reports and over the course of the next day, Allied troops succeeded in destroying four German battalions. Prince spent a total of three days behind enemy lines. The Germans never knew what hit them. Prince was decorated with the Military Medal for his "courage and utter disregard for personal safety". He was "an inspiration to his fellows and a marked credit to his unit."

On June 4, 1944, Operation Dragoon was launched, and the SSF was ordered to advance to southern France. Their first objective were the Hyeres Islands, followed by Sylvabelle on the French Riviera. By the 1st of September, Prince was sent through German lines, accompanied by a soldier, private class in the mission to scout for German positions near L'Escarene. They spotted a German reserve battalion, and were on the way back to camp to submit their report when they came upon a battle in progress between some German and French partisans; they aided in French in sniping the enemy forcing them to withdraw. When Prince finally reported to the French commander, he was asked where his company was located. Prince merely pointed to the private and said "Here". The French officer was quite astounded and thought that there were fifty troops. Prince rejoined the battle with his unit and captured the entire German battalion, about 1000 men. It was more than a battle, rather an odyssey. Prince walked for over 70 km through treacherous mountains, without food, water or sleep for 72 hours. From start to finish Prince had endured hardships that would have diminished lesser men. He was decorated with the American Silver Star. In the citation, Prince was commended for his "keen sense of responsibility and devotion to duty...in keeping with the highest traditions of...military service..of the Armed forces of the Allied Nations."

Altogether, Tommy Prince received nine medals, more than any aboriginal soldier. On February 12, 1945, Prince was called to Buckingham Palace where King George VI decorated him with the Military Medal. In April, Prince received his Silver Star from U. S. General Koening. Prince was among only 59 Canadians who received this medal, and only one of three who received the Military Medal.




Simo Häyhä
"The White Death"




Hayha was born in Rautjarvi, near the Finnish-Russian border. Before he embarked on military service, he was a farmer and hunter. When he reached the age of 20, he had joined the Finnish militia and was winning numerous shooting competitions where he demonstrated his exceptional skill at sniping. It was a skill that would prove to be invaluable during the Winter War (1939-1940)between Finland and the Soviet Union. Hayha was enlisted in the Finnish Army, with 6th Company of JR 34. He was deployed to the Kollaa River, where, dressed in white camouflage, he fought against the Red Army, enduring temperatures as low as 40 degrees below Celsius.

Wielding a Mosin-Nagant, Hayha recorded the highest number of sniper kills accomplished by one soldier,in any war - 505 confirmed kills. The records show that these kills were achieved in less than 100 days so on average, Hayha achieved five kills per day - a remarkable feat given the fact that Finland at that time of year experiences very short daylight hours.

The Red Army nick named him the White Death and tried several tactics to eliminate him, including counter-snipping and artillery attacks. On March 6, 1940, the Russians had the opportunity to strike. Hayha was shot by a bullet which struck him in the lower left jaw - it literally pulverized half his head. Despite the gruesome injury, Hayha was not dead. He regained consciousness on March 13, when peace was finally declared.

Soon after the war Hayha was promoted from Corporal to Second Lieutenant. Such a rise in rank was unprecedented in the history of the Finnish Military, but a fitting tribute to man of Hayha's great service.

In an 1998 interview, Hayha was asked how he became such a good marksmen. He answered quite simply - "Practice.". When he was questioned about whether he had any regrets for his part in the war, he replied, "I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could."



WLADYLSAW RAGINIS


Wladyslaw Raginis was a hero of the Polish Defensive War of 1939. He commanded a small force of soldiers who bravely faced battle against an enemy that was much stronger and vastly larger in numbers. It was during the Battle of Wizna in which Polish soldiers met with such tragic end, yet their courage in the face of such overwhelming odds has emblazoned their memory in the collective consciousness of a nation.

Raginis came from an affluent family who nurtured in him love of God and country. After having graduated from gymnasium, Raginis enlisted in the NCO, and fromthere to Infantry Officers school. He graduated in 1930 and was deployed to Grodno with the 76th Infantry Regiment, as commander and instructor at the Cadet Corps. He continued to rise through the ranks, to lieutenant, captain, and then commander of the 3rd company of the Border Defense Corps Regiment. On September 7, 1939, Raginis' soldiers were poised for battle. They numbered only 720 against a horde of 42,000 German soldiers yet despite the overwhelming disparity, the Polish unit was not deterred and continued to defend its position for three days. The situation was hopeless and in an effort to boost the morale of his men, Raginis pledged that he would not leave his post alive. On the third day, the Polish resistance was wearing thin. Raginis was severely wounded, but refused to surrender and continued to command his troops. The German commander, Guderian sent a message stating that unless the last remaining bunker ceased defensive measures, he would order the execution of all Polish POWs.

Raginis turned to his soldiers expressing his gratitude for their dutiful service, and promptly ordered them to leave the bunker and surrender to the enemy. Raginis kept his word and stayed behind. The last man to leave the shelter was Seweryn Bieganski who documented what followed. He said that Raginis " looked at me warmly and softly urged me to leave. When I was at the exit, I was hit on my back with a strong gust and I heard an explosion." Raginis had committed suicide by throwing himself on a grenade.


When the Battle of Wizna had ended, 650 Polish soldiers had been killed in action. According to Guderian, about 900 Germans were killed by Raginis' forces, and at least ten tanks and various other AFV's were destroyed.

Though Raginis' company was virtually decimated, their efforts at pinning down German forces at Wizna made it possible for remaining Polish troops in Western Poland to defend the capital city, Warsaw. Moreover, the Polish government was able to prepare for evacuation to Romania.

Raginis' corpse along with that of Lt. Stanislaw Brykalski were buried in a makeshift grave next to the bunker. When the Red Army entered Wizna, the bodies were exhumed and reburied next to the Lomza-Bialystok road. A monument stands next to the ruins of the bunker in which he died.


One of the bunkers now a Memorial site.


Upon its tablet is the following inscription.

Przechodniu, powiedz Ojczyźnie, żeśmy walczyli do końca, spełniając swój obowiązek.


Translated to English, it means,

Passerby, tell the Fatherland that we fought to the end, fulfilling our duty.






Soldiers: Faces of War
Please visit my other blog entitled History of War in Pictures for another special tribute to Soldiers.   It consists almost exclusively of photographs of Allied and Axis soldiers. Their eyes tell the story of war.  




November 10, 2012

MOST DECORATED SOLDIER OF WORLD WAR TWO

Matt Urban (Urbanowitz) most decorated soldier of WW2
Matt Urban (Urbanowitz)


President Jimmy Carter called him "the greatest soldier in American history".  He was a man with immense courage in the face of overwhelming odds and demonstrated to the world what freedom really means.  This man was Lt. Colonel Matt Urban, a Polish American.  He was the most decorated soldier of WW2, but one medal continually eluded him - the highest commendation of the United States - the Congressional Medal of Honour.  

That he finally received the prestigious award was due entirely to the intervention of a close friend.  Urban was too modest a man to meddle in self promotion.  Despite the recommendations, it was decades before the military brass finally bestowed Urban with the recognition and respect owed to him.  In July 1980 Urban finally received the highest of honours. Several years later he stated, "When I came home, I never thought about the war.. that's why the medal was 35 years late...I just never pursued it.'


60th Infantry Regiment Coat of Arms
Though Matt Urban was born in Buffalo, New York, he was of Polish heritage.  The son of Helen and Stanley Urbanowitz, he was baptized Matty Louis Urbanowitz.  As WW2 raged throughout Europe, Urban was studying at Cornell University where he graduated in June 1941 with a degree in history and government. He immediately enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and by the following month was already on active duty training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. As part of the 60th Infantry Regiment, he was dispatched overseas and saw combat action in Sicily, France, Belgium and Germany.  Urban is most praised for his heroic actions on D-Day.

During the landing at Omaha Beach Urban broke his leg, but was not deterred. His buddies were trapped on the beach, and despite his injury, Urban climbed atop a tank and led them on a concentrated attack on German position.  The Germans called Urban by the nickname the "Ghost' because he kept returning to the front lines despite his many injuries. He was wounded six times, and returned to fight six times.

But he was injured a seventh time.  A bullet ripped out one of his vocal cords, a wound which the doctors expected to be fatal.  It was a miracle that Urban survived the attack. Despite the threat to his life, Urban adamantly refused to be evacuated, and was determined to carry on and  lead his battalion. (The objective was to secure their position at the crossing-point on the Meuse River).  Against all odds, Urban did survive the injury, though it was a two year battle for recovery.  The damage to his vocal cords affected his speech for the rest of his life - he could only speak with a raspy voice. 

Urban was praised for his heroism, evident throughout the D-Day invasion. There were ten acts of bravery documented. He suffered a leg wound from a bazooka attack while fighting in Northern France and shipped to an Army hospital in England.  Remarkably within six weeks he went AWOL and returned to the battlefield.  In another incident when his unit was virtually under siege by German firepower, Urban dashed across an open field in a hail of machine gun bullets, towards an unmanned American tank.  He climbed into the tank and proceeded to return fire, successfully routing the German position.

Omaha Beach on D Day - low tide
Lt. Col. Urban was decorated with a total of  29 medals, which rival that of any military officer in the United States Forces.  Among his many awards were 7 Purple Hearts (one for each wound) with silver and bronze oak leaf clusters;  Silver Star (1 OLC); Bronze Star (2 OLC) with V Device;  NYS Conspicuous Cross with 4 Silver and 1 Gold Clusters; Legion of Merit; French Croix de Guerre; and Belgian Croix de Guerre with palm.

What was the act that earned Urban the Congressional Medal of Honour?  A sergeant who was an eyewitness to the event said that Urban, "one of the craziest officers suddenly appeared before us, yelling like a madman and waving a gun in his hand...He got us on our feet, though, gave us our confidence back and saved our lives."

US Congressional Medal of Honour
US Congressional Medal of Honour

Matt Urban passed away on March 20, 1995 from a collapsed lung (due to his numerous war injuries). His remains have been laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Matt Louis Urbanowitz will be remembered for his outstanding leadership, and amazing courage under heavy fire.  He served the United States Army, the men of his battalion, and most dear to his heart, the cause of freedom and liberty.


President Jimmy Carter congratulates Matt President Jimmy Carter congratulates Matt Urban - Congressional Medal of Honour
President Jimmy Carter congratulates Matt Urban