Germans Wore Gas Masks, Too
The fear of a gas attack (Portfolio, May 2010) was universal for the warring European states—vestiges of World War I. The Nazis issued gas masks, Volksgasmasken (“people’s gas masks”) to every man, woman and child—and horse—in Germany. Special gas masks with hoods for mothers with infants, and for babies in carriages, such as the British one on P. 63, were also provided to those too young to wear the normal one. My grandfather, a farmer and veteran of the Great War, thought and was not shy to say (guardedly in close family circles only) that the top Nazi was nuts. Grandfather received six gas masks for his horses; he threw them contemptuously behind the feed locker in the horse stable. Germany had no gas masks for cows, dogs and pigs. In Germany the gas fear subsided rather quickly in late 1939.
Gerhardt B. Thamm
Sergeant First Class
U.S. Army (Ret.)
Fernandina Beach, Fla.
Sealed, not Signed
I noticed on P. 53 of the May 2010 issue [“1215 and All That,” by James Lacey] the illustration showing King John signing the Magna Carta [at Runnymede] with a quill pen. John sealed the Magna Carta rather than signing it. He is not known to have read or written. I learned this from a lecture given when the Mag-na Carta toured American universities back in the 1980s.
Excellent article as always, though.
Mount Dora, Fla.
Editor replies: Good catch. Neither the barons nor the king signed the Magna Carta. John alone affixed his seal to the document before witnesses at Runnymede. But apparently the rumor he was illiterate is just that—rumor. Contemporary sources indicate the king was well educated and kept a personal library.
Your excellent article “Thieves Among Honor” [by William H. McMichael] in the March issue left out one case [of Stolen Valor], one by far the most disgraceful. I’m referring to Mary Walker, the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor and the most undeserving person ever to wear it.
I’m not saying she didn’t serve well or honorably. That she did. What I’m saying is that she didn’t do it heroically enough to deserve the Medal of Honor. In the final analysis, she was just one of hundreds of spies and one of thousands of doctors to serve on both sides in the Civil War.
When Congress tightened the Medal of Honor requirements in 1917, they struck her name. She only [had the award restored] in 1977 because the wimpy Congress of the day didn’t have the guts to say “No.” It is nothing short of a disgrace that she be allowed in the same company as true heroes, and it poisons the well for any and all future female recipients of the Medal of Honor.
One of the most notorious [Stolen Valor] cases was that of Douglas Stringfellow [1922–1966], who, while he was an injured veteran of the war in Europe, padded his record, claiming he had been a derring-do OSS agent, operating behind German lines, and had been awarded a raft of decorations for bravery.
Stringfellow was actually a [U.S. Army private, who was wounded by] a leftover mine after the German surrender. But he parlayed his phony record into a successful race as a congressman from Utah in 1952.
Gordon Eliot White
I have two hobbies: The first is my interest in military history, and I enjoy reading your magazine. My second hobby is collecting comic books. In the January 2010 issue of Military History, in the article “Secret Weapon, Hidden Cities,” is a picture of a young boy selling comics for 5 cents. I was able to identify two on his stand: The first is the #18 issue of Mutt & Jeff, and the second is the #31 issue of Captain Marvel Jr.
Depending on condition, each of these could be worth more than $500 today. I hope his big sale failed and this boy (now probably 80) still has them!
Donald D. Levi
Folly at Dieppe
Regarding Mountbatten and Dieppe [“What We Learned from the Dieppe Raid,” January]: Nigel Jones was being too kind. Mountbatten’s combat record was something less than mediocre, seeing as he managed to get three destroyers shot from under him. He was no coward; unfortunately, his courage was of the sort that tends to attract more than its fair share of hostile fire.
If anyone cares to check any Canadian military history accounts, such as those by Jack Granatstein, one will find out why no heavy bombers or capital ships were involved: Neither Bomber Command nor the Admiralty were being run by political sycophants (Winston Churchill more than made up for that). Similar illogic saw Prince of Wales and Repulse being sent to Singapore (without an aircraft carrier) and Mackenzie King (Canada’s prime minister) volunteering the Winnipeg Grenadiers and another battalion to reinforce the garrison at Hong Kong in the autumn of 1941. If one digs deeper, it is also apparent that King also pushed for Canadian participation in Jubilee [the Dieppe raid], wanting to run with the big dogs.
[Re. “Dale Dye: On Point in Hollywood,” Interview, Oct/Nov:] In the picture of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Dale Dye, there is visible in the background one of the egregious errors in the movie [Saving Private Ryan]. The beach obstacles consisting of a long pole with a mine at the end are shown facing the sea. Actually, these poles faced landward such that the flat-bottomed landing craft would ride up onto them and hit the mine on the top of the pole.
Brent F. Moody
Captain, U.S. Army (1964–68)
In “Hats Off!” (War Games, May), we inadvertently flopped the answer key for hats 6 and 8. Hat 6 is a Hungarian hussar’s busby, while hat 8 belongs to a French grenadier of the guard. We tip our hats to readers who caught the error.