Military Milestones from Devil Dogs to the Great Crusade

This week in American military history:

June 1, 1864: The bloody battle of Cold Harbor opens in earnest between Union Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Grant will launch a series of futile attacks over the next three days. Lee will defend and hold. Union losses will be staggering: 13,000 to the Confederacy’s 2,500.

In his memoirs, Grant will express regret for having attacked at Cold Harbor.
Jun. 3, 1942: The great Naval battle of Midway opens between U.S. Naval and air forces under the command of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and Japanese forces under Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, who had hoped to lure the U.S. Pacific Fleet into a great air-sea battle and destroy it.

Considered a turning point in the Pacific theater of operations, the Japanese fleet is intercepted near Midway atoll, engaged, and will be decisively defeated by Nimitz. The Americans will lose one carrier, USS Yorktown (the third of five U.S. Navy warships named in commemoration of the famous Battle of Yorktown), but four Japanese carriers will be sent to the bottom.

According to the U.S. Naval Historical Center: [Midway] represents the strategic high water mark of Japan’s Pacific Ocean war. Prior to this action, Japan possessed general naval superiority over the United States and could usually choose where and when to attack. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals, and the United States soon took the offensive.”

June 6, 1918: U.S. Marines attack and destroy Imperial German Army positions during the Battle of Belleau Wood (an old French hunting preserve near Chateau-Thierry, France) in a grisly close-quarters slugfest, after which the Germans — convinced the Marines are special American “shock troops” — nickname their foes, teufelhunden (devil dogs).

At one point during the fighting, Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly — a two-time Medal of Honor recipient — dashes out in front of his Marines and shouts to them: “Come on you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?!”

A German after-action report, reads: “The Marines are considered a sort of elite Corps designed to go into action outside the United States. The high percentage of marksmen, sharpshooters, and expert riflemen, as perceived among our prisoners, allows a conclusion to be drawn as to the quality of the training in rifle marksmanship that the Marines receive. The prisoners are mostly members of the better class, and they consider their membership in the Marine Corps to be something of an honor. They proudly resent any attempts to place their regiments on a par with other infantry regiments.”

Assistant Secretary of the Navy (future pres.) Franklin D. Roosevelt will authorize the wearing of Marine Corps emblems — the famous eagle, globe, and anchor — on the collars of enlisted men’s uniforms (a privilege previously reserved for officers) in recognition of “splendid work” at Belleau Wood.

June 6, 1944: Just after 2:00 a.m., U.S. Army paratroopers (members of the famous 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions) as well as the British 6th Airborne Division, begin jumping behind German lines in the opening hours of Operation Overlord, the great Allied invasion of Normandy. Accompanying the paratroopers are waves of gliderborne forces.

Offshore, thousands of warships, freighters, and supporting vessels have crossed — or are crossing — the English Channel and moving into position off the French coast.

In less than five hours, the first seaborne assault waves of the initial 175,000-man Allied amphibious force will begin storming the beaches along a 50-60 mile front in the Bay of Seine between Caen and the Cherbourg peninsula. Supporting the invasion force are thousands of Allied warplanes.

Hours before the invasion, U.S. Army Gen. (future pres.) and Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, issued his battle message, a portion of which reads: “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade … Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: “This Week in American Military History,” appears every week as a feature of HUMAN EVENTS.

Let’s increase awareness of American military tradition and honor America’s greatest heroes by supporting the Medal of Honor Society’s 2010 Convention to be held in Charleston, S.C., Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, 2010 (for more information, click here).