Afghan War Medal of Honor
Former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha became the fourth living recipient of the Medal of Honor for the Afghanistan War when President Barack Obama presented him the United States’ highest valor award in a February 11, 2013, White House ceremony. Romesha joins Soldiers Salvatore Giunta and Leroy Petry and Marine Dakota Meyer as the only living recipients of the Medal of Honor for combat actions occurring after the Vietnam War.
Romesha, who retired from the Army in 2011, received the medal for his October 3, 2009, heroism at Combat Outpost (COP) Keating, near the village of Kamdesh in Nuristan province, Afghanistan. On that morning, COP Keating, situated at the bottom of a steep valley and manned by only 53 U.S. Soldiers, came under attack by as many as 300 Taliban fighters.
During the intense engagement, known as the Battle of Kamdesh, the enemy breached the perimeter of COP Keating. Romesha, who was wounded in the battle, led the fight to protect the bodies of fallen Soldiers, provide cover to those seeking medical assistance, and reclaim the American outpost that was later deemed “tactically indefensible.” Romesha’s Medal of Honor citation reads, in part:
Staff Sergeant Romesha took out an enemy machine-gun team and, while engaging a second, the generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, inflicting him with shrapnel wounds. Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight and upon the arrival of another soldier to aid him and the assistant gunner, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers. Staff Sergeant Romesha then mobilized a five-man team and returned to the fight equipped with a sniper rifle. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Romesha continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire, as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets.
The White House ceremony was attended by lawmakers, defense leaders, Romesha’s family, and team members from his Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. Other distinguished attendees included Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Chief of Staff of the Army General Ray Odierno, and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III.
President Obama noted that Romesha wasn’t the only Soldier to earn recognition for bravery that day; dozens of others did, as well. Nine Silver Stars were awarded, as were 27 Purple Hearts, 18 Bronze Stars and 37 Army Commendation Medals. “These men were outnumbered, outgunned and almost overrun,” said Obama. “Looking back, one of them said, ‘I’m surprised any of us made it out.’ But they are here today. And I would ask these Soldiers, this band of brothers, to stand and accept the gratitude of our entire nation.”
– From a story by C. Todd Lopez at army.mil, the official homepage of the U.S. Army.
World War II Hero
Armchair General sadly notes the passing of World War II hero John M. Robinson, who died of a heart attack January 19, 2013, in Severna Park, Md.
On January 13, 1945, as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s 311th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division, “Robbie” Robinson led his platoon in an attack against a German bunker complex in the Hürtgen Forest near Simmerath, Germany, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. (See Battle Studies, “Costly Diversion at Simmerath,” March 2010 ACG.) During the savage fighting following the repulse of German 272d Volksgrenadier Division’s determined counterattacks, many of Robinson’s men lay wounded in no-man’s-land calling for help. With total disregard for his safety, Robinson repeatedly crawled through the snow, braving a hail of German machine-gun and sniper fire, and personally rescued nearly two dozen men. Two days later, he collapsed from internal injuries suffered during the ordeal and was hospitalized.
Sixty years after the battle, Soldiers of Robbie’s platoon, spearheaded by former platoon member Ed Malouf and assisted by congressional aide Kathy Abey, repeatedly requested the Army’s Military Awards Branch to retroactively present Robinson with his long-overdue Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross for his valor and exemplary leadership under fire. While the U.S. Army has rebuffed these efforts, Malouf and Abey, supported by award-winning author Edward G. Miller, continue to seek the recognition Robbie Robinson deserves for his heroic actions during World War II.
– Submitted by Colonel (Ret.) Douglas Nash
A Higher Call
One of the most extraordinary stories of World War II – perhaps the most incredible aerial encounter of the war – occurred December 20, 1943, in the deadly skies over Germany.
That day, when German Luftwaffe ace Franz Stigler flew his Bf 109 Messerschmitt fighter plane into position to attack the B-17 bomber Ye Olde Pub, he found the U.S. Army Air Forces bomber already shot to pieces, heavily damaged and barely limping along. The B-17’s pilot, Lieutenant Charles L. “Charlie” Brown, and the bomber’s surviving crew members knew they were essentially helpless against a German fighter plane attack. Stigler, a veteran of aerial combat since the North African campaign, agreed – he realized that a burst or two of fire from his fighter’s guns would send the stricken bomber and its crew fatally crashing to the ground. But remarkably, Stigler held his fire.
Instead of doing what he was trained – and expected – to do, Stigler showed mercy to his enemies and escorted the crippled bomber out of German airspace. Ye Olde Pub successfully made it back to England. Stigler later explained that downing Brown’s helpless B-17 would have been akin to “shooting a man in a parachute.”
The postscript story to this incredible aerial encounter is nearly as remarkable. After decades of searching, Brown finally tracked down Stigler, and in 1990 the two former wartime enemies met in an emotional reunion.
A new must-read book presents the complete account of the incident as well as the story of Stigler’s and Brown’s World War II careers. A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-torn Skies of World War II by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander (Berkley Hardcover, 2012) is a compellingly written and superbly crafted book based on thousands of hours of interviews. Makos is a journalist and historian with over 15 years of experience in the military field who has interviewed countless veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and today’s conflicts. Alexander is a well-known author whose previous books include The New York Times best-seller Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, the Man Who Led the Band of Brothers.
ACG highly recommends A Higher Call, a terrific book about one of the most extraordinary incidents of World War II – or any war!
We Shall Triumph Mural
In December 2011, the U.S. Army Center of Military History acquired the painting We Shall Triumph by Henry J. Soulen (1888-1965), an American artist and illustrator of The Golden Age of American Illustration (1895-1945). This large, wall-mounted mural painting, measuring 84.5 inches by 181 inches, is actually a series of four wooden panels covered by dense, woven fabric, prepared with a heavy ground. The emulsion painting was commissioned in 1944 for the Valley Forge Army Hospital near Philadelphia, where Soulen worked as an art teacher during World War II.
This figurative landscape painting depicts George Washington kneeling, presumably at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. Soulen worked with a variety of media, including oil paint; but unlike many illustrators of his era who worked solely in black and white, Soulen’s palette was colorful, bright and intense. Visually, this mural’s muted, pastel-tone paint appears almost milky. At first glance, the media does not seem fully saturated, but instrumental analysis indicated that the primary media is oil-based. The analysis also diagnosed that both the ground and the media are cohesively bound with animal hide glue. This and the lack of a varnish layer, perhaps due to a botched restoration attempt, may explain the milky appearance.
Many variables have contributed to the mural’s deterioration. Some relate to the painting’s size, travels, and its long-term exhibition in the uncontrolled environment of the lobby at Valley Forge Army Hospital. Other factors include the composite structure of paint, on canvas, glued to wooden boards. The rigid boards helped to sustain the structural integrity of the painted surface when it was moved after the hospital closed in 1975, but the mural’s exposure to fluctuating temperatures and relative humidity undoubtedly is to blame for the varied and large number of cracks to the paint and ground layers. These disparate and thick layers of paint on a rough fabric surface have reacted differently to the changing climates the painting has endured. The physical movement of the various layers set up a mechanism of stresses and strains, shrinking and swelling, that resulted in cracking, cupping, flaking and vulnerability to surface loss. Surface damage appears to be exacerbated by the well-meaning but unprofessional cleaning in the past.
Today, the historic mural is part of the Army Art Collection stored at the Army’s Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., which has a well-controlled and steady environment to halt further deterioration.
– Submitted by Colonel (Ret.) Robert Dalessandro and Jane Smith Stewart, Chief Conservator, U.S. Army Center of Military History.
For information about the National Museum of the U.S. Army, slated to open in 2015, visit armyhistory.org.
VFW 2013 National Convention
The Veterans of Foreign Wars will hold its National Convention – the 1.9 million member organization’s largest annual meeting – July 20-24, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. The host hotel for this year’s convention is the Galt House Hotel, located at 140 North Fourth Street (ph: 502- 589-5200), while the events and exhibits will be held at the Kentucky International Convention Center at 221 Fourth Street (ph: 1-800-701-5831).
The VFW’s mission is to foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts and to serve all U.S. veterans, the military and VFW members’ local communities. The organization’s stated vision is to ensure that veterans are respected for their service, always receive their earned entitlements, and are recognized for the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made on behalf of the United States.
For more information about the VFW, the 2013 National Convention, and the organization’s many other activities, visit vfw.org. And to read ACG’s interview with the current VFW commander in chief, John Hamilton, see 10 Questions, p. 18.
– Submitted by Rob Wilkins, Weider History Group Director of Audience Development.
Found: King Richard III
Scientists at the University of Leicester recently announced that they have “positively identified” the human remains exhumed in September 2012 at an archaeological site in Leicester, a city in central Britain, declaring that they are those of English King Richard III. The remains were unearthed during excavation of Greyfriar’s Church, which was demolished in the 1530s and subsequently covered by a modern car park. Richard, the last king in England’s Plantagenet dynasty – who was famous as the villainous, hunchbacked monarch in Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of King Richard III – was killed August 22, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field. (See Battlefield Detective, November 2012 ACG.)
Scientists based their identification of the remains on forensic analysis of the bones, radiocarbon dating and mitochondrial DNA testing of a confirmed descendant of the king. The bones indicate a man in his early 30s afflicted by scoliosis (curvature of the spine) who died from massive head trauma inflicted by sharp, heavy weapons – all of which are consistent with Richard’s age, physical deformity and reported manner of death (blows to the head by a halberd and/or sword).
The mayor of Leicester has announced that Richard’s remains will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral in 2014.
– Submitted by Zoe Miller.
Tin Shed Museum Appeal
The Tin Shed Experience – the museum in Laugharne, Wales, dedicated to portraying life in Britain in the 1940s – is appealing to Americans for any information they might have regarding the U.S. Army’s 28th Infantry Division while it was stationed in Wales prior to the 1944 Normandy invasion during World War II. According to the museum’s Seimon Pugh-Jones, “The division arrived in Wales in October 1943 and remained until April 1944. The division’s 14,000 Soldiers were based along the whole coastline of south Wales and made a huge impact on the local communities, where they are still fondly remembered.”
After training in Wales and other parts of Britain, the men of the 28th entered combat in Normandy, France, in July 1944 and subsequently fought in some of the fiercest fighting of the war. Notably, the unit endured horrific combat and suffered appalling casualties in the bloody Battle of the Hürtgen Forest. (See Battle Studies, September 2012 ACG.) After its ordeal there, in December 1944 the 28th found itself directly in the path of the German Ardennes offensive (the Battle of the Bulge), where its heroic sacrifice helped prevent the Germans from overrunning the key city of Bastogne. The 28th Infantry Division paid a heavy price for victory, losing nearly 10,000 of its Soldiers during the war.
Since 2013 is the 70th anniversary of the division’s arrival in Wales, the Tin Shed Experience would like to hear from anyone having information about the unit’s stay there. The museum can be contacted via its website, tinshedexperience.co.uk.
– Submitted by Seimon PughJones, the Tin Shed Experience.
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Armchair General.