Who fired the shot that killed Richthofen? And who was Richthofen anyway? First, Richthofen was also known as the Red Baron. Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was born on May 2, 1892. He was a fighter pilot with the German Air Force during World War I, and is considered the ace-of-aces of the war. He was officially credited with 80 air combat victories.
Nevertheless, as it goes with fighter pilots, their lives are always in jeopardy, and not all of them will come out of war alive. Such was the case with the Red Baron. The end came for him on April 21, 1918. It’s possible that he made mistakes on that final flight. Richthofen was a highly experienced and skilled fighter pilot, who was fully aware of the risk from ground fire. Furthermore, he concurred with the rules of air fighting created by his late mentor Boelcke, who specifically advised pilots not to take unnecessary risks. With that in mind, one must wonder if Richthofen’s judgement during his last combat was unsound or somehow compromised.
Several theories have been proposed to account for his behavior. In 1999, a German medical researcher, Henning Allmers, published an article in the British medical journal The Lancet, suggesting it was likely that brain damage from the head wound Richthofen suffered in July 1917, played a part in the Red Baron’s death. This was supported by a 2004 paper by researchers at the University of Texas. Richthofen’s behavior after his injury was noted as consistent with brain-injured patients, and such an injury could account for his perceived lack of judgement on his final flight…a flight in which he was flying too low over enemy territory and suffering target fixation, which is an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object, that they inadvertently increase their risk of colliding with the object.
Still, the biggest question is not why the Red Baron made the mistake that would get him killed, but rather who killed him. The RAF credited Arthur Roy Brown, an RNAS lieutenant with shooting down the Red Baron, but it is now generally agreed that the bullet that hit the Red Baron was fired from the ground. The Red Baron died following an extremely serious and inevitably fatal chest wound from a single bullet, penetrating from the right armpit and resurfacing from his left chest. Brown’s attack was from behind and above, and from Red Baron’s left. Even more conclusively, Red Baron could not have continued his pursuit for as long as he did…up to two minutes…had this wound come from Brown’s guns. Brown himself never spoke much about what happened that day, claiming, “There is no point in me commenting, as the evidence is already out there.”
Many sources, including a 1998 article by Geoffrey Miller, a physician and historian of military medicine, and a 2002 British Channel 4 documentary, have suggested that Sergeant Cedric Popkin was the person most likely to have killed Richthofen. Popkin was an anti-aircraft (AA) machine gunner with the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company, and was using a Vickers gun. He fired at Richthofen’s aircraft on two occasions…first as the Baron was heading straight at his position, and then at long range from the right. Given the nature of Richthofen’s wounds, Popkin was in a position to fire the fatal shot, when the pilot passed him for a second time, on the right. Some confusion has been caused by a letter that Popkin wrote, in 1935, to an Australian official historian. It stated Popkin’s belief that he had fired the fatal shot as Red Baron flew straight at his position. In the latter respect, Popkin was incorrect. The bullet that caused the Baron’s death came from the side.
A 2002 Discovery Channel documentary suggests that Gunner W. J. “Snowy” Evans, a Lewis machine gunner with the 53rd Battery, 14th Field Artillery Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery is likely to have killed Red Baron. Miller and the Channel 4 documentary dismiss this theory, because of the angle from which Evans fired at Richthofen.
Other sources have suggested that Gunner Robert Buie, also of the 53rd Battery, may have fired the fatal shot. There is little support for this theory. In 2007, a municipality in Sydney recognized Buie as the man who shot down Richthofen, placing a plaque near Buie’s former home. Buie, who died in 1964, has never been officially recognized in any other way. I suppose that, in reality, we will never really know for sure who killed Red Baron, but the theories present an interesting puzzle, and one that will most likely never be solved.
The Gallipoli campaign took place between April 1915 and December 1915 in an effort to take the Dardanelles from the Turkish Ottoman Empire…an ally of Germany and Austria, and thus force it out of the war. About 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders were part of a larger British force. Among the wounded were some 26,000 Australians and 7,571 New Zealanders, while 7,594 Australians and 2,431 New Zealanders were killed. Numerically, Gallipoli was a minor campaign, but it took on considerable national and personal importance to the Australians and New Zealanders who fought there.
The Gallipoli Campaign was Australia’s and New Zealand’s introduction to the Great War. Many Australians and New Zealanders fought on the Peninsula from the day of the landings (April 25, 1915) until the evacuation on December 20, 1915. The 25th April is the New Zealand equivalent of Armistice Day and is marked as the ANZAC day in both countries with Dawn Parades and other services in every city and town. Shops are closed in the morning. It is a very important day to Australians and New Zealanders for a variety of reasons that have changed and transmuted over the years. This campaign, while small in losses, was huge in the hearts of the Australians and New Zealanders.
While many losses came out of this campaign, it seems that there were two who were saved…potentially anyway. After the campaign was over, and people were wandering the area, someone came across an unusual, and seriously rare, find. There on the ground were two bullets that had collided with each other in mid-air, thus saving the lives of the two combatants who fired the rounds. Obviously, they could have been hit by another round, in which case the mid-air collision only slightly prolonged their lives. At least this scenario might be what you would think. The reality is that you would be wrong. Taking a look closer at the bullets, it is quite obvious that one round collided with another. But the round on the left doesn’t have any rifling on it, whereas the round on the right does. They collided, but in reality, the round on the left probably wasn’t moving as fast as an actual speeding bullet. Maybe it was part of a clip on an ANZAC soldiers webgear as he was in an attack, or some other bizarre reason. But this most certainly wasn’t the intersection of two trajectories between the lines…making such a collision between two bullets even more rare. Nevertheless, the picture itself is quite interesting, and would have caught the eye of anyone looking at it. How they got there really makes no difference, but the fact that they were found on the Gallipoli battlefield makes them an interesting find. If you ask me, it is still a very rare occurrence.
Stagecoach drivers like Charley Parkhurst were tough as nails. Not everyone could handle a stagecoach. The stagecoach driver was respected…sometimes even more than was the millionaire statesman who might be riding beside him, or anyone else who had been given that honor. Parkhurst had been through the good times and bad times of driving stagecoach. Twice, Charley was held up. The first time, he was forced to throw down his strongbox because he was unarmed. The second time, he was prepared. When a road agent ordered the stage to stop and commanded Charley to throw down its strongbox, Parkhurst leveled a shotgun blast into the chest of the outlaw, whipped his horses into a full gallop, and left the bandit in the road.
Charley Parkhurst was one of the more skillful stagecoach drivers, not only in California, but throughout the west. He was often called “One-eyed” or “Cockeyed” Charley, because he had lost an eye when kicked by a horse. He drove a stagecoach in California for 20 years. One-eyed Charley was known as one of the toughest, roughest, and the most daring of all stagecoach drivers. Like most drivers, he was proud of his skill in the extremely difficult job as “whip.” A “whip” is what stagecoach drivers were often called. Proper handling of the horses and the great coaches was an art that required much practice, experience, and not the least, courage. Whips received high salaries for the times, sometimes as much as $125 a month, plus room and board. While most stage drivers were sober, at least while on duty, nearly all were fond of an occasional “eye opener.” A good driver was the captain of his craft. His timid passengers feared him. He was held in awe by stable boys, and was the trusty agent of his employer…and Charley was the best.
Nevertheless, little was really known about Charley Parkhurst before or after he came to California. It wasn’t until his body was prepared for burial that his true secret was discovered. Charlotte “Charley” Parkhurst was a woman. One doctor claimed that at some point in her life, she had been a mother. Unknowingly, Parkhurst could claim a national first. After voting on Election Day, November 3, 1868, Charley was probably the first woman to cast a ballot in any election. It wasn’t until 52 years later that the right to vote was guaranteed to women by the nineteenth amendment.
For many years, I have admired Albert Einstein. His mind and his level of intelligence intrigued me, as did his quirkiness. When you think of a genius, your mind automatically produces a picture of a very organized person, who is able to handle any situation, but even geniuses have their issues with things. One well know “weakness” for Einstein was the fact that if something can be written down, it need not take up space in his brain. His brain was very full after all, and clutter was always an issue. That said, if he couldn’t find his train ticket…for the train he took every day from home to work and back…he didn’t know at which stop to get off, because he relied on his ticket to tell him that. I don’t think most of us could even begin to filter our brain in such a way…but Einstein could, and did.
Einstein was a gifted scientist and mathematician. He was most famous for his theory of relativity and the resulting formula relating mass and energy…E = MC². He was the winner of 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the photoelectric effect, which is also known as the Hertz effect. Einstein was born in Ulm, in the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire, on March 14, 1879. His parents were Hermann Einstein, a salesman and engineer, and Pauline Koch. He didn’t feel the need to celebrate his birthday,saying “It is a known fact that I was born, and that is all that is necessary.” Friends, colleagues and complete strangers still felt the need to send telegrams, cards, letters, gifts, and an elaborate birthday cake.
Being a Jewish man, circumstances in Germany became life threatening for Einstein in the early 1930s, so early in 1933, while on a trip to the United States, he knew he could not go home again, so he moved permanently to the United States, and worked at Princeton University…a career that would take him to the end of his life on April 18, 1955. Einstein could have been saved, but when he was asked if he wanted to undergo surgery, he refused, saying, “I want to go when I want to go. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.” After an autopsy, Einstein’s body was cremated and his ashes spread in an undisclosed location.
After his passing, another of the multiple quirky aspects of Einstein’s personality came to light when LIFE magazine wrote about a famous picture taken in Albert Einstein’s Princeton office. Einstein’s desk was just as he left it. Here, the picture says, is where Einstein worked, dreamed, lived his singular, principled life to its fullest. “When I was young, all I wanted and expected from life was to sit quietly in some corner doing my work without the public paying attention to me,” said Einstein after being honored at a social function. “And now see what has become of me.”
When I look and Einstein’s desk, it takes me back to the many times my own desk has looked exactly like that. It is another way that the famed scientific and mathematical genius and I are alike. Now, I do not claim to have the IQ of this man, but we do have a few things in common, and the ability to work on top of a stack of papers seems to be one of them. Maybe that and the ability to somewhat filter things out of my mind if they are stored in my phone which could be the same thing as filtering because I have it written down. And because of my shy side, I suppose I can understand his concern over public attention, and yet knowing that sometimes it can’t be helped. When I look at his desk, I can see a man whose mind was fill with many thoughts, making it easy to lose himself in his thoughts to the point of seeming to ignore those around him. Those who met Einstein recalled his human side. He “walked to work or rode the bus in bad weather; visited the neighbors’ newborn kittens; greeted carolers on winter nights; refused to update his eyeglass prescription; and declined to wear socks because they would get holes in them. But he didn’t seem to mind fuzzy slippers!” He was his own man with his own ideas, and if those ideas didn’t make sense to those around him, it was simply not his problem. On April 18, 1955, Albert Einstein died soon after a blood vessel burst near his heart. The world mourned Einstein’s death, but true to form, at his request, his office and house were not turned into memorials.
It was a typical day in Texas City, Texas…a port city in Galveston Bay. April was always warm, in the mid-70s, so it was perfect outdoor weather. Fires around the docks were a fairly common occurrence in Texas City, and it was not unusual for residents to travel down to the docks to watch the fires and the firemen working. Fires tend to attract the casual observer as well as the local news agencies. This day started out just as any other typical Texas day, but all that would change very soon. On the morning of April 16, 1947 a fire broke out on the S.S. Grandcamp. The fire produced a dense, brilliantly colored smoke that could be seen all over town. On board Grandcamp, among other things, was a supply of ammonium nitrate, which was producing the brilliant colors. The ship was docked in the Texas City port, so the smoke could be seen all over town. This fire, like any other, brought anybody who had any free time down to the dock to watch the action. This would be a fatal mistake for many of the bystanders.
The ammonium nitrate on board the Grandcamp detonated at 9:12 am, blowing he ship apart and sending the cargo of peanuts, tobacco, twine, bunker oil and the remaining bags of ammonium nitrate 2,000 to 3,000 feet into the air. Fireballs streaked across the sky and could be seen for miles across Galveston Bay as molten ship fragments erupted out of the pier. The blast sent a fifteen foot tidal wave crashing onto the dock and flooding the surrounding area. Windows were shattered in Houston, 40 miles to the north, and people in Louisiana felt the shock 250 miles away. Most of the buildings closest to the blast were flattened, and there were many more that had doors and roofs blown off. The Monsanto plant which was only three hundred feet away, was destroyed by the blast. Most of the Texas City Terminal Railways’ warehouses along the docks were destroyed. Hundreds of employees, pedestrians and bystanders were killed. At the time of the Grandcamp’s explosion, only two additional vessels were docked in port…the S.S. High Flyer and the Wilson B. Keene, both American C-2 cargo ships similar to the Grandcamp.
The intensity of the blast sent shrapnel tearing into the surrounding area. Flaming debris ignited giant tanks full of oil and chemicals stored at the refineries, causing a set of secondary fires and smaller explosions. The Longhorn II, a barge anchored in port, was lifted out of the water by the sheer force of the explosion and landed 100 feet away on the shore. Buildings blazed long after the initial explosion, provoking large scale emergency relief efforts throughout the day, that night, and into the following day. The fires in nearby industrial buildings and chemical plants spread the destruction even farther. The chief and 27 firefighters from the Texas City Fire Department were killed in the initial blast. Official estimates put the death toll at 567 and injuries at more than 5,000. Some of the dead were never identified, and some may never have been found at all.
The blast registered on a seismograph as far away as Denver, Colorado. Dockworker Pete Suderman remembers flying thirty feet as the blast carried him and several of the dock’s three-inch wooden planks across the pier. Nattie Morrow was in her home with her two children and sister-in-law Sadie. She watched the billowing smoke near the Monsanto plant from her back porch just prior to the blast. “Suddenly a thundering boom sounded, and seconds later the door ripped off its facing, skidded across the kitchen floor, and slammed down onto the table where I sat with the baby. The house toppled to one side and sat off its piers at a crazy angle. Broken glass filled the air, and we didn’t know what was happening.”
At the time of the explosion, phone services in Texas City were not working because of a telephone operators’ strike. When the operators learned of the accident, they quickly went back to work, but the strike caused an initial delay in coordinating rescue efforts. Once operators began calling for help, rescue workers from all over the area began responding immediately. The U.S. Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Reserve and the Texas National Guard all sent personnel, including doctors, nurses and ambulances. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston sent doctors, nurses, and medical students. Firefighters from Galveston, Houston, Fort Crockett, Ellington Field, and surrounding towns arrived to help. The cities of Galveston, Houston and San Antonio sent policemen to assist the Texas City Police Department in maintaining order after the explosion. The U.S. Army flew in blood plasma, gas masks, food, and other supplies, provided bull-dozers to begin clearing the wreckage, and set up temporary housing for the survivors at Camp Wallace in Hitchcock. The Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Boy and Girl Scouts of America sent a flood of volunteers who provided first aid, food, water and comfort to city residents. Volunteers from other local organizations, and others who were not part of any organization, felt compelled to help. There was no operational hospital in Texas City at the time of the disaster, so volunteers converted city hall and chamber of commerce buildings into makeshift infirmaries. Many wounded were evacuated to John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, the hospital at Fort Crockett, and hospitals in Houston.
On April 10, 1912, Titanic set sail from Southampton. Titanic called at Cherbourg in France and Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland before heading west to New York. For the passengers and crew, Titanic was the ultimate in luxury, and to be on it was the ultimate thrill. The ship was the most luxurious ship of its day, and to add to their sense of excitement, it was unsinkable. The passengers were assured that the ship had so many fail-safes in place that the builders didn’t even think the lifeboats were necessary, and any that were considered to be in the way, were removed, in what would prove to be a fatal mistake. In the end, there were 20 lifeboats on board the ship, when she was supposed to have 64 lifeboats. Each had a capacity of 65 people. Most lifeboats were lowered to the water with less than half their actual capacity.
The night of April 14, 1912 was very cold, and the route Titanic was on was littered with icebergs. Other ships in the area tried to warn Titanic, but the radio operator of Titanic did not take the warnings seriously. He was operating under the mistaken idea that Titanic could sail right through any ice field she might come upon, and have no problems whatsoever. The radio operator was wrong. Nevertheless, he shut of the radio after the 6th warning transmission. The iceberg strike came at 11:40 pm…but the first distress call was sent almost an hour later and even then the ships receiving the calls could did not believe it could be real. Finally, at 12:40 am, Carpathia’s radio operator gave the call to head for Titanic’s last known position.
Help would come too late for Titanic. By 2:20 am on April 15, 1912, Titanic sank, but she was not without her heroes. As the Titanic was sinking, the deck crew began loading passengers onto lifeboats. The engineering crew stayed at their posts to work the pumps, controlling flooding as much as possible. This action ensured the power stayed on during the evacuation and allowed the wireless radio system to keep sending distress calls. These men bravely kept at their work and helped save more than 700 people…even though it would cost them their own lives. When Titanic went down, she took with her 1500 people. of those, 688 were crew members, including all 25 of the engineers who worked tirelessly, at their own peril to buy what little bit of time they could for the passengers in their care. Many of the crew members forfeited their lives so that the passengers might live. Were serious mistakes made…yes, of course, but by the same token, the sinking of Titanic saw some of the most amazing bravery ever.
We have long known that my sister, Cheryl Masterson’s family is related to the notorious Bat Masterson…gunfighter, gambler, lawman, and well-known Old West character, but I didn’t really know very much about Bat Masterson. William Barclay “Bat” Masterson was born on November 26, 1853 in Iberville County, Quebec, Canada. His father, Thomas Masterson was born in Canada and by occupation was a farmer. His mother, Catherine McGurk, was an immigrant of Ireland. Bat was the second child in a family of five brothers and two sisters. They were raised on farms in Quebec, New York, and Illinois, until they finally settled near Wichita, Kansas in 1871. During his boyhood years he became an expert in the use of firearms, and accompanied expeditions that went out to hunt buffalo.
In the Fall of 1871, when Bat was 18 years old, he and his 19 year old brother, Ed decided to head west to Kansas, looking for adventure by hunting buffalo. During this time, they camped with hunters working along the Salt Fork River in what is present day Comanche and Barber Counties in Kansas. It was during their visits to other buffalo hunting camps that the brothers met several men who would also become legends in western history, including Wyatt Earp, Billy Dixon, Tom Nixon, and “Prairie Dog” Dave Morrow.
Bat Masterson was one of the very few who lived during the lawless days of the Old West who wasn’t there to make a name for himself, or to count the notches on his belt. In reality, he was a genuine and honest man, who didn’t have a reputation for violence, but was loyal to the end, and would defend his friends, if necessary. The nickname “Bat” was given to him by his companions one day while out on one of these hunting trips, the name coming from Baptiste Brown, or “Old Bat,” whose fame as a leader, hunter, and trapper was well known in the generation that preceded Masterson upon the Western stage.
In the summer of 1872, Bat and Ed worked on a construction crew that was expanding the Santa Fe railroad to Colorado. That winter, they returned to buffalo hunting and were joined by their younger brother, Jim in their camp along Kiowa Creek southeast of Dodge City. In January, 1873, the Masterson brothers gave up buffalo hunting. Bat remained in Dodge City, but his brothers returned to the family farm in Sedgwick County, Kansas. Ed, after deciding that farming really wasn’t for him, was soon back in Dodge…just a month later, in fact. Ed went to work in the Alhambra Saloon. For a time, Bat returned to buffalo hunting, but the number of buffalo were becoming fewer and fewer. By 1874, the vast numbers of buffalo roaming Kansas had been slaughtered, so many of the hunters moved south and west into what was hostile Indian Territory.
While this venture would prove profitable, the Indians tribes in the area correctly perceived the post and the buffalo hunting as a major threat to their existence and attacks were being made on some buffalo hunters. The hostile environment didn’t stop Adobe Walls saloon owner, James Hanrahan, from leading a party of Dodge City buffalo hunters, including Bat Masterson, southward on June 5, 1874. Along the way, a band of Cheyenne Indians ran off their cattle stock about 75 miles southwest of Dodge City. The hunters soon joined a wagon train en route to Adobe Walls, arriving just hours before the Indian attack, known as the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, took place.
Early in the morning of June 27, 1874, a combined force of some 700 Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho warriors, led by Comanche Chief Quanah Parker and Isa-tai, attacked the buffalo camp. The 28 men, including Bat Masterson and Billy Dixon, took refuge in the two stores and the saloon. Despite being dramatically outnumbered, the hunters’ superior weapons repelled the Indian assault. After four days of continuous battle, about 100 men arrived to reinforce the post and the Indians soon retreated. Loss numbers vary, but as many as 70 Indians were killed and many others, including Parker, were wounded. The men at Adobe Walls suffered four fatalities.
Of course, the attacks brought retaliation in the form of an expedition against the Indians of the Texas Panhandle in what would become known as the Red River War. Masterson joined the expedition that was order by Colonel Nelson A. Miles, as a civilian scout and a teamster working out of Fort Elliot in what was then called Sweetwater, Texas (now Mobeetie). However, the next spring he was back to buffalo hunting and spending time at his friend Charlie Rath’s store, located about five miles from the fort, which had become the “headquarters” for the buffalo hunters. He was also a frequent visitor to the many saloons in the area. By early 1876, he was working as a faro dealer in Henry Fleming’s Saloon.
On January 24th, he became embroiled in an argument with Sergeant Melvin A. King over a card game and a dance hall beauty named Mollie Brennan. The argument quickly led to a gunplay and King was left dead. However, in the melee, King’s shot passed through Mollie Brennan’s body, killing her, and then hit Masterson in the pelvis. The injury caused Bat to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. After he recovered, Masterson returned to Dodge City, Kansas where he became a lawman along with his friend Wyatt Earp under Ford County Sheriff, Charles Bassett. These were the years that Dodge City was known as a “wicked little town.” Cattle drives had replaced the buffalo hunters as longhorn cattle were driven up from Texas along the western branch of the Chisholm Trail to the railroad. For the next ten years, over 5 million head were driven on the trail into Dodge City.
In July, 1877, Bat was appointed under-sheriff of Ford County under Sheriff Charlie Bassett. That very same month, his brother Ed Masterson became an assistant marshal in Dodge City. Just a few months later, in October, Bat announced in the Dodge City Times that he was a candidate for sheriff of Ford County, stating: “At the earnest request of many citizens of Ford County, I have consented to run for the office of sheriff, at the coming election in this county. While earnestly soliciting the suffrages of the people, I have no pledges to make, as pledges are usually considered, before election, to be mere clap-trap. I desire to say to the voting public that I am no politician and shall make no combinations that would be likely to, in anywise, hamper me in the discharge of the duties of the office, and, should I be elected, will put forth my best efforts to so discharge the duties of the office that those voting for me shall have no occasion to regret having done so. Respectfully, W. B. Masterson.”
Masterson never again fought a gun battle in his life after the battle with King, but the story of the Dodge City shootout and his other exploits ensured Masterson’s lasting fame as an icon of the Old West. He spent the next four decades of his life working as sheriff, operating saloons, and eventually trying his hand as a newspaperman in New York City. The old gunfighter finally died of a heart attack in October 1921 at his desk in New York City. He had certainly lived an interesting life.
Recently, I found out that my family is related to Alvin Cullum York, who was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. York is my 8th cousin once removed on my dad’s side of the family. York received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132. York’s Medal of Honor action occurred during the portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was led by the United States, and was intended to breach the Hindenburg line and force the Germans to surrender.
York was born in rural Tennessee on December 13, 1887, the third of eleven children of William and Mary (Brooks) York. His parents farmed, and his father worked as a blacksmith. The York children had minimal schooling because they helped provide for the family, which included hunting, fishing, and hiring out as laborers. After the death of York’s father, he assisted in caring for his younger siblings, and found work as a logger and on construction crews. York wen to church on a regular basis, but he also drank heavily and had a reputation for fistfighting. In 1914 he had a conversion experience, and vowed to improve. He became even more devoted to the Church of Christ in Christian Union.
Upon being drafted into World War I, York initially claimed conscientious objector status on the grounds that his denomination forbade violence. It was because of his internal struggle about whether or not war was the same as murder. York prayed about it for the better part of a whole night, before feeling led to proceed with his military assignment. York joined the 82nd Division as an infantry private, and went to France in 1918. He was a part of the group of soldiers know as dough boys. In October 1918, York was promoted to corporal, as one of a group of 17 soldiers assigned to infiltrate German lines and silence a machine gun position. After the American patrol had captured a large group of enemy soldiers, German small arms fire killed six Americans and wounded three. York was the highest ranking of those still able to fight, so he took charge. While his men guarded the prisoners, York attacked the machine gun position, dispatching several German soldiers with his rifle. By the time six Germans charged him with bayonets he was out of rifle ammunition, so he drew his pistol and shot them all. The German officer responsible for the machine gun position had emptied his pistol while firing at York, but missed. This officer then offered to surrender, and York accepted. York and his men marched back to their unit’s command post with more than 130 prisoners. York was immediately promoted to sergeant, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After further investigation the award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. York became a national hero and international celebrity. He also received decorations from several foreign countries, including France, Italy, and Montenegro.
To reward their hero, some businessmen in Tennessee organized the purchase of a farm for York, his new wife, and their growing family. York later formed a charitable foundation to improve educational opportunities for children in rural Tennessee, as a way of giving back o his home state. In the 1930s and 1940s, York worked as a project superintendent for the Civilian Conservation Corps and managed construction of the Byrd Lake reservoir at Cumberland Mountain State Park, after which he served for several years as park superintendent. In his later years, York was confined to bed by health problems. He died in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 2, 1964 and was buried at Wolf River Cemetery in his hometown of Pall Mall.
On April 11, 1945, the American Third Army liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany. Buchenwald was a camp that will be judged second only to Auschwitz in the horrors it imposed on its prisoners, but on this day in 1945, those horrors came to an end. The camp held thousands of prisoners, mostly slave laborers, many of whom were required to work 15 hour days. There were no gas chambers at Buchenwald, but hundreds, and sometimes thousands of prisoners, died every month from disease, malnutrition, beatings, and executions. Doctors performed medical experiments on inmates, testing the effects of viral infections and vaccines. Beginning in 1941, a number of physicians and scientists carried out a varied program of medical experimentation on prisoners at Buchenwald in special barracks in the northern part of the main camp. Medical experiments aimed at testing the efficacy of vaccines and treatments against contagious diseases such as typhus, typhoid, cholera, and diphtheria resulted in hundreds of deaths. The people these doctors were experimenting on were considered, non-human, and so their lives, or the loss thereof, were of little or no consequence to these evil doctors and scientists.
Among the camp’s most gruesome characters was Ilse Koch, wife of the camp commandant, who was infamous for her sadism. Her cruelty and heinous acts earned her the nickname, The Witch of Buchenwald. She often beat prisoners with a riding crop, and collected lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the skin of camp victims. She was always in attendance when new prisoners were brought in. She required that they be stripped so she could examine their skin. When she found something she liked, the prisoner was killed and their skin removed for her to use. Koch was truly an evil person, and in the end, I think it all came back to haunt her, because after she was tried for a second time and given a life sentence she hanged herself at Aichach women’s prison on September 1, 1967. She was 60 years old. She was said to suffer from delusions and had become convinced that concentration camp survivors would abuse her in her cell. I think her evil ways drove her insane.
As American forces closed in on the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, on April 11, 1945, Gestapo headquarters at Weimar telephoned the camp administration to announce that it was sending explosives to blow up any evidence of the camp…including its inmates. What the Gestapo did not know was that the camp administrators had already fled in fear of the Allies. A prisoner answered the phone and informed headquarters that explosives would not be needed, as the camp had already been blown up, which, of course, was not true. That act of quick thinking, saved countless lives. The sights the Allied troops saw as they entered the camps must have been sickening. People emaciated due to starvation, the smell of death everywhere, the signs of the horrific experiments that took place there. This place should never have been allowed to exist, and yet here it was. The prisoners who had managed to survive were most likely staring in stunned disbelief, not quite able to believe their eyes. Nevertheless, they had survived and they were liberated. Among those saved by the Americans was Elie Wiesel, who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
With new technology, always comes some risk of failure. Sometimes, the the failure doesn’t hurt anything, but other times, it can be deadly. In the world of submarines, the atomic submarine was the latest thing in the 1960s. The USS Thresher was launched on July 9, 1960, from Portsmouth Naval Yard in New Hampshire. It was built with the latest technology, and was the first submarine assembled as part of a new class that could run more quietly and dive deeper than any that had come before it. The designers and the Navy expected great things from Thresher, and initially, the submarine met their expectations.
Then on April 10, 1963, at just before 8am, the Thresher was conducting drills off the coast of Cape Cod. At 9:13am, the USS Skylark, another ship participating in the drills, received a communication from the Thresher that the sub was experiencing minor problems. Unfortunately, the minor problems turned into a very major problem…almost instantly. Other attempted communications with Thresher failed and, only five minutes later, sonar images showed the Thresher breaking apart as it fell to the bottom of the sea, 300 miles off the coast of New England. Sixteen officers, 96 sailors and 17 civilians were on board. All were killed.
On April 12, President John F. Kennedy ordered that flags across the country be flown at half-staff to commemorate the lives lost in this disaster. A subsequent investigation revealed that a leak in a silver-brazed joint in the engine room had caused a short circuit in critical electrical systems. The problems quickly spread, making the equipment needed to bring the Thresher to the surface inoperable. The submarine went into a freefall to the bottom. There was no time to do anything to stop it or find a way of escape…if one existed.
The disaster forced improvements in the design and quality control of submarines. Twenty-five years later, in 1988, Vice Admiral Bruce Demars, the Navy’s chief submarine officer, said “The loss of Thresher initiated fundamental changes in the way we do business–changes in design, construction, inspections, safety checks, tests, and more. We have not forgotten the lessons learned. It’s a much safer submarine force today.” I don’t think there was necessarily anything that was done so wrong that it could have prevented what happened, but I could be wrong. Obviously, there is always room for improvement in any design, but unfortunately, sometimes the only way to know that an improvement is needed, is to have a disaster strike.