Lost Medal of Honor Returned to Filipino Hero’s Family

In November 1912, Jose Baliton Nisperos became the first Asian and Filipino to receive the Medal of Honor, America’s highest valor award. After he died a decade later, his medal was lost for almost 90 years. It was finally returned to his descendants in 2012.

Nisperos was born December 30, 1887, and grew up in La Union, San Fernando Province, Philippines. In 1907, he enlisted in the Philippine Scouts, a U.S. Army unit created in 1901 featuring native Filipinos serving under American officers. After the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War, it confronted a widespread rebellion against American rule, led by General Emilio Aguinaldo. The Scouts played a vital role in U.S. Army operations against the insurgents.

Nisperos re-enlisted in the Philippine Scouts in 1911 and was sent with his company to fight Moro insurgents on Basilan Island, where his Medal of Honor action occurred. He survived the fighting, but he was severely wounded. His arm was amputated and he was hospitalized for several months.

Nisperos was honorably discharged from the military in June 1912. On February 5, 1913, he was presented with the Medal of Honor by Major General J. Franklin Bell, the U.S. Army commander of the Philippine Department. The citation accompanying the award reads (emphasis added):

General Order No. 64, United States War Department, November 25, 1912. For the President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private Jose B. Nisperos, United States Army, for most distinguished gallantry on 24 September 1911, while serving with 34th Company, Philippine Scouts, in action at Lapurap, Basilan Island, Philippine Islands. Having been badly wounded (his left arm was broken and lacerated and he had received several spear wounds in the body so that he could not stand), Private Nisperos continued to fire his rifle with one hand until the enemy was repulsed, thereby aiding materially in preventing the annihilation of his party and the mutilation of their bodies.

Nisperos died in 1922 at age 34 after a long illness. His wife applied for survivor’s benefits for his family, but his Medal of Honor was lost when a relative took it to Manila to support the family’s claim. The medal was then rediscovered in 2010 when it was listed for sale at an auction. It was finally returned to Nisperos’ descendants in June 2012.

– From an article by Franz TinioLopez, Secretary of the Los Angeles Chapter, Philippine Scouts Heritage Society

Belated Silver Star for Cold War Hero

More than half a century after Air Force Captain Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 spy plane were shot down over the Soviet Union, the heroism he displayed while piloting his aircraft was finally recognized during a June 15, 2012, Pentagon ceremony. Powers, who died in a helicopter crash in 1977, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest valor medal. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton A. Schwartz presented the medal to Powers’ grandson and granddaughter.

The downing of Captain Powers’ plane over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, was one of the most famous incidents of the Cold War. Powers was flying a clandestine mission to photograph Soviet nuclear and missile sites as part of a joint U.S. Air Force-Central Intelligence Agency top secret project. He took off from Peshawar, Pakistan, and flew deep into Soviet airspace. While over Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) in the Ural Mountains, his plane – flying at over 70,000 feet – was brought down by a Soviet SA-2 missile. He was captured and held by the KGB secret police in Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka Prison.

Teams of KGB interrogators worked on Powers to get him to give up information or turn against his country. “For nearly 107 days, Captain Powers was interrogated and harassed by numerous Soviet secret police interrogation teams,” General Schwartz said. “Although weakened by lack of food and denial of sleep and mental anguish of constant interrogation, Captain Powers refused all attempts to glean from him sensitive information that would have proved harmful to the defense and security of the United States.” Powers spent 21 months in the Moscow prison.

The shoot-down of Powers’ U-2 sharply increased tensions between Washington and Moscow. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to admit publicly that the United States was flying spy missions, prompting protests to break out in Japan and Europe, and damaging U.S. relations with Pakistan. A Paris summit meeting of the leaders of the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and the United States was canceled. The incident proved a stunning Soviet Union propaganda coup.

Finally, in February 1962 the Soviets exchanged Powers for Soviet spy KGB Colonel Rudolph Abel. The handover was conducted at “the Bridge of Spies” in Berlin. Powers’ return home was fraught with uncertainty and questions – the program was still top secret and what Powers went through was classified. However, he received the CIA Intelligence Star for Valor in 1965, and the Senate Armed Services Committee declared that he had conducted himself “as a fine man under dangerous circumstances.”

It wasn’t until 1998 that the CIA declassified records of the program and Powers’ full heroism became known, said his son, Francis Gary Powers Jr. At that point, the captain posthumously received the CIA Director’s Award for Extreme Fidelity and Courage, the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and the Prisoner of War Medal.

The award of the Silver Star puts to rest the idea that Powers somehow behaved poorly in captivity, said Gary Jr. “He loved his family, he loved flying and he loved his country.”

– From an article by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service. For more about the Cold War (the 1945-91 global confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union), see “Hard Choices” in the November 2012 issue of “Armchair General.”

“Military Classics” Book Alert

Whitman Publishing has performed a tremendous service for historians – and anyone interested in reading superbly written, exhaustively researched military history – with its publication of eight military classics, all of which are volumes covering the European Theater of Operations in the acclaimed The United States Army in World War II official history series.

Thanks to the early postWorld War II foresight of the U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Military History (now the U.S. Army Center of Military History) and the diligent work of its outstanding historians, a total of 79 volumes were created (originally published 1950-93) to provide a full account of how the Army planned and fought World War II in all theaters of the war.

Whitman Publishing’s new editions of the eight European Theater official history volumes represent an affordable “must-have” set for any military history enthusiast’s library ($29.95 per hardcover volume; on sale nationwide in bookstores and in retail stores’ book departments). These military classics cover all U.S. Army operations in the European Theater from D-Day to V-E Day, plus a Special Studies detailed chronology covers the major events from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day in all theaters of World War II. The new editions also feature a foreword written by ACG Editor in Chief Jerry D. Morelock.

Cross Channel Attack by Gordon A. Harrison (includes 24 foldout maps) is the complete story of Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of France – from initial planning through combat operations in mid-July 1944.

Breakout and Pursuit by Martin Blumenson (includes 15 foldout maps) recounts how the Allies exploited the initial success of the D-Day landings and drove to the border of Germany.

The Lorraine Campaign by Hugh M. Cole (includes 43 foldout maps) follows General George S. Patton’s 3d Army as it faced miserable weather and a surprisingly resilient German army.

The Siegfried Line Campaign by Charles B. MacDonald (includes nine foldout maps) is the story of the U.S. Army’s most prolonged and tragically costly campaign of the European war.

Ardennes: The Battle of the Bulge by Hugh M. Cole (includes nine foldout maps) is the single most important book ever written on how the U.S. Army fought and won its greatest battle.

Riviera to the Rhine by Jeffrey J. Clarke and Robert Ross Smith (includes 35 color maps) details one of the war’s most successful campaigns – the invasion of southern France and drive into Germany by the unfairly overlooked 6th Army Group.

The Last Offensive by Charles B. MacDonald (includes 17 foldout maps) provides a blow-by-blow description of how the Allied armies waged the final months of the European war.

Chronology, 1941-1945, compiled by Mary H. Williams, presents a comprehensive list of the war’s most important events in all theaters, making it a convenient reference to keep handy when reading any book on World War II.

Benton Board Test Rifle No. 9

Five years after the American Civil War, Erskin S. Allin’s “Trapdoor” rifle design dominated production at Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, Commanding General of the Army William T. Sherman favored production of the caliber .50 M1871 Remington-Rider rolling-block rifle. When Congress appropriated $150,000 for production of arms at Springfield, it stipulated an end to the controversy over breech-loaders before any further spending.

Under War Department Special Order No. 107 of May 7, 1872, Major James G. Benton, Ordnance Department, chaired a board responsible for testing various rifles to determine the best caliber size for small arms. The calibers tested included .50-, .45-, .42-, and .40-inch. On June 28, 1872, Special Order No. 58 placed Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry in charge of a board to select a breech-loading system for muskets and carbines.

The rifle shown here – an M1870 “Trapdoor” rifle, in caliber .40, serial number 9 – is believed to be a surviving example of the rifles tested by the Benton Board. The stampings on its barrel include “.40C/18 IN TWIST/LENGTH OF THROAT 28.5.” Records from the Springfield Armory show at least 67 experimental barrel variations were marked consecutively for record keeping. To perform the tests, the armory manufactured numerous test barrels and stamped each one with its caliber and rifling style.

The accuracy test for each barrel consisted of a 20-shot series fired at each of six targets 500 yards away. Ultimately, barrel No. 16 with ammunition No. 58 (caliber .45, 70 grains of propellant, 405 grain bullet) produced the tightest group of resulting shots and, accordingly, was recommended as the most advantageous for military service. The findings were presented to the Terry Board, which in turn selected the trapdoor action and recommended both to Secretary of War William W. Belknap. On May 26, 1873, Springfield Armory received notice to begin manufacturing the new shoulder arm.

This M1870 Trapdoor embodies a near two-decade legacy in firearms that dominated U.S. Army history until the beginning of the 1900s. The rifle is part of the U.S. Army Core Collection at Fort Belvoir, Va.

– Submitted by Colonel (Ret.) Robert Dalessandro and Dieter Stenger, 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

Battle Scene Productions Latest Miniatures

Alex Credidio of Battle Scene Productions has shared some strikingly realistic photos of his detailed military miniatures creations in the latest addition to the company’s “Great Crusade” series. This one features World War II German panzer ace Michael Wittmann’s famous June 13, 1944, tank-on-tank combat in the Battle of Villers-Bocage during the Normandy campaign. In barely 15 minutes on that day less than a week after the Allies’ D-Day invasion of Normandy’s beaches, numerous tanks, anti-tank guns and transport vehicles of British 22 Armoured Brigade were destroyed, most of them by the fire from Wittmann’s Tiger tank. To learn more about this latest project and to view the company’s superb military miniatures creations, visit battlesceneproductions.net.

History Lost at Iwo Jima

Recently, while on a Pacific World War II battlefields tour, Captain Dale Dye (U.S. Marine Corps, Ret. sent this photo of him on Iwo Jima holding his subscriber’s copy of the May 2012 Armchair General. ACG readers are probably familiar with Dye through his many film roles and books (including his newly published “Gunner Shake Davis” novel, The Chosin File) and his tremendous work as founder of Warriors, Inc. (warriorsinc .com), the innovative company responsible for the outstanding historical accuracy of films such as Saving Private Ryan and the acclaimed HBO series Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

Yet Dye’s trip report is a sobering reminder of how we are in danger of losing much of the history of the U.S. Marine Corps’ bloodiest World War II battle. It reveals that nearly the entire famed Pacific War battlefield is now “off limits” to visitors (enforced by Japanese guards), including American veterans of Iwo Jima. Dye states, “About all that’s available to returning veterans, history buffs and vets’ families are the black sand landing beaches and one lone road to the top of Mount Suribachi.”

ACG is deeply saddened to learn how “our history” has been lost at Iwo Jima. During the February-March 1945 invasion and capture of the island, U.S. Marines and Navy sailors suffered 26,000 casualties (including 6,821 killed in action). Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to U.S. Marines (22) and sailors (five), 17 of them posthumously. The most iconic image of the war was the February 23, 1945, flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. Japanese casualties totaled 22,000 killed in action, nearly all enemy defenders. Iwo Jima was returned to Japanese sovereignty in 1968.


Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Armchair General.