January 2014 – Letters From Readers

10/30/2013 • MH Letters

Several sources identify the cover subject as U.S. Army Sergeant Angelo Klonis. But our own research suggests the man was U.S. Marine Pfc. Thomas Ellis Underwood. What's your opinion?
Several sources identify the cover subject as U.S. Army Sergeant Angelo Klonis. But our own research suggests the man was U.S. Marine Pfc. Thomas Ellis Underwood. What's your opinion?

Who Is That Man on the Cover?
On the cover of the November 2013 Military History you show a photo of a solider identified as “U.S. Army Sergeant Angelo Klonis at Saipan, July 1944.” This is incorrect. The man shown is a Marine, and his name is PFC T.E. Underwood. The Saipan part is correct.

Gary Killean
Akron, Ohio

‘A cursory online search turned up two pieces of evidence that the man in the cover image may indeed be Underwood and not Klonis’



Editor responds: Several readers wrote in regarding the caption information on our November cover (above left). We, too, initially thought the man in the photo was a Marine named Underwood, as photographer W. Eugene Smith’s own film notes record, “I believe that the images 6–8 on Roll 10 on July 8, final days of Saipan Invasion, were 4th Division Marine PFC T.E. Underwood (24th Bat.) of St. Petersburg, Florida.” However, photo researchers, with the help of the Klonis family, had since identified the man in Smith’s image as Angelo Klonis. In 2002 the U.S. Postal Service agreed with that identification when it issued its Masters of American Photography stamp series, which included another image of the man by W. Eugene Smith on the same roll of film. Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images has recently updated its archive and also identifies the man as Klonis. Still, Klonis is not known to have served in the Pacific Theater during the war, and several readers questioned why an Army soldier would be wearing a Marine-style camouflage helmet cover. That made us curious.

A cursory online search turned up two pieces of evidence that the man in the cover image may indeed be Underwood and not Klonis. First is a headstone in St. Petersburg, Fla., bearing the name Thomas E. Underwood, identified as a corporal in the 4th Marine Division who served in World War II and was killed on March 4, 1945, on Iwo Jima. A year earlier the 4th Marine Division had fought the Battle of Saipan. Right time, right place, right name. But what about the face? On a website honoring the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, who were on Saipan, we found an image (above right) of Thomas E. Underwood that could certainly be the man in Smith’s iconic photograph. Tell us your opinion. We’d like to correct the record and honor a brave fighting man.

Why Rome Fell
I very much enjoyed Richard A. Gabriel’s article “Why Rome Fell” [September 2013]. It was a great refresher piece and taught me new facts, especially how agriculture played a role in the development of the German state. I am surprised, however, that neither the Antonine Plague nor Christianity was mentioned, even in passing. Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire cited these two major events, as did Zosimus in the early sixth century.

First, Rome’s inability to defend its borders was in large part due to plague and the inability to conscript new soldiers from the Italian peninsula. This was evidenced by the postponement of a major campaign against the Marcomanni in 169, secondary to a shortage of troops. Second, by approving Christianity as the state religion, Rome directly undermined its religious traditions. The Christian belief in one God—who was not the emperor—weakened the authority and credibility of the emperor as more funds went to the church and less to the state.

Dr. John Kiriakatis
Union, N.J.

Rick Gabriel responds: The figure of 5 million dead during the Antonine Plague (165–180) is only a guess, based on Galen’s account, about which demographers cannot be certain. Even if we accept it—that is, 5 million dead of a population of 60 million over 15 years—that is hardly enough to make a dent in Roman military manpower. Roman military garrisons were renowned for their sanitation, hospitals, medical expertise and nutritious rations, all factors that would have mitigated the death rate in the army itself. Rome may have had difficulty filling its ranks, but it was not due to the plague (probably smallpox, which requires direct contact to spread).

Christianity was initially a religion of the Roman urban elite, with the overwhelming majority of Roman citizens remaining pagans until well into the fourth century. Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–396) declared war on paganism with a two-decade persecution of its priests and followers, and the destruction of its libraries, archives and temples. Over the next two centuries the Roman state persecuted the various heretical Christian sects that sprang up all over the empire. It was such persecution that weakened the Byzantine empire, not a voluntary turning away from traditional Roman religions.

Remember Lancastria
The November issue What We Learned [“From Dunkirk, 1940,” by Stephan Wilkinson] features Dunkirk. This caused me to wonder once again, What happened to Saint-Nazaire? I have never read an account in any American publication of the evacuation that took place from the Breton port and only one in a British publication. During this evacuation Britain suffered her greatest naval disaster ever when RMS Lancastria sank in a matter of minutes after being hit by German bombs. Lancastria, a Cunard passenger liner requisitioned by the Royal Navy, was estimated at the time to have had at least 6,000 aboard, consisting of troops and civilian refugees. There were only 2,477 survivors. My father was one of the British troops among the casualties. He was buried in a mass grave at the village of Le Clion-sur-Mer with others who had gone down with the ship.

Michael A. Sawyer
West Jefferson, N.C.

In the November 2013 issue Robert Guttman reviews the book Death in the Baltic and makes comparisons of the losses of Titanic and Lusitania with Wilhelm Gustloff. A much more valid comparison would be the loss of RMS Lancastria during Operation Ariel on June 17,1940, at Saint-Nazaire, France. While the official guesstimate is around 4,000 dead, some estimates run up to 9,000.

Ronald Nass
Ellicott City, Md.

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