From the Flag at Derna to Dewey at Manila Bay

This Week in American Military History:

Apr. 26, 1777:  Just after 9:00 p.m., 16-year-old Sybil (also Sibbell) Ludington – “the female Paul Revere” – begins her 40-mile, all-night ride (much of it in the rain) across an isolated circuit of New York–Connecticut backcountry, warning villagers of a British attack on nearby Danbury, Connecticut.

The daughter of a militia colonel, Ludington will be recognized for her bravery and patriotism by Gen. George Washington.

Apr. 26, 1865:  Just over two weeks after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders his Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrenders the once-vaunted Army of Tennessee to U.S. Army Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham Station, N.C.

Apr. 27, 1805:  Following an extremely difficult march across a 500-to-700-mile stretch of North African desert; U.S. Army officer and Naval agent to the Barbary regents William Eaton, U.S. Marine Lt. Presley Neville O’Bannon and seven American leathernecks – leading an unlikely and often near-mutinying Christian-Muslim army of Arabs, Western European adventurers, and Greek mercenaries – attack and seize the fortress at Derna commanded by the ruling pasha Yusuf Karamanli, on “the shores of Tripoli” (Yes, that’s where the line comes from in the Marine Corps Hymn.)

Supported by the offshore guns of USS Argus (the first of two so-named U.S. Navy vessels), USS Hornet (the third of eight so-named U.S. Navy vessels), and USS Nautilus (the first of six so-named U.S. Navy vessels), O’Bannon’s men storm the enemy’s works in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, turn the enemy’s guns on the pasha’s palace, and ultimately raise the stars and stripes over the “Old World” for the first time.

So-impressed with O’Bannon’s leadership and heroics, newly installed pasha Hamet Karamanli (Yusuf’s pro-American brother), will present O’Bannon with a Mameluke sword. U.S. Marine officers today still carry the Mameluke sword, whereas Marine NCOs carry the traditional Naval infantry saber.

Apr. 28, 1965:  Almost 160 years to the day after the storming of Derna, U.S. Marines land in the Dominican Republic.

Apr. 30, 1798:  The U.S. Navy Department – parent company of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps – is established.

Apr. 30, 1945:  German leader Adolf Hitler and his new bride, Eva Braun, commit suicide in Hitler’s Berlin Bunker. German Army forces will surrender to the Allies within days.

Apr. 30, 1970:  Pres. Richard M. Nixon announces, “In cooperation with the armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border. … This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which these attacks will be launched are completely occupied and controlled by North Vietnamese forces. Our purpose is not to occupy the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.”

May. 1, 1898:  The Battle of Manila Bay opens when U.S. Navy Commodore George Dewey utters his now-famous words, “You may fire when ready, Mr. Gridley [speaking to Capt. Charles Vernon Gridley, commanding Dewey’s flagship USS Olympia].”

Within a few hours, Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron – several cruisers including Olympia (the first of two so-named U.S. Navy vessels), gunboats, and supporting vessels – will destroy the Spanish fleet in the Philippines.

May. 1, 1960:  Francis Gary Powers, a former U.S. Air Force officer now flying high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft for the CIA, is shot down over the Soviet Union and captured. 

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).