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The Greatest Hero America Never Knew The true story of Waco’s Col. Robert Howard. By David Feherty

Image
photography courtesy of the Howard family

The name was always spoken with reverence, but I had no idea who he was. Then an Army Ranger I’ll call Leroy (because that’s his name) told me he couldn’t go on my T1F Taliban Pheasant Hunt in South Dakota last year because he had a chance to meet Bob Howard, who was on his deathbed in Waco. Leroy’s decision really piqued my interest. Nobody turns down the Taliban Pheasant Hunt—and, perhaps more telling, nobody goes to Waco without a really good reason. It was then that I decided I had to find out who Howard was.

A-googling I went. And it turned out that Robert Lewis Howard was a Green Beret and a TCU grad. He had appeared in two John Wayne movies, making a parachute jump in The Longest Day and playing an airborne instructor in The Green Berets—not exactly a stretch for him. Howard was the only soldier in the history of the United States to be nominated three times for the Medal of Honor, our country’s highest military decoration, which is awarded to members of the armed forces who distinguish themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.” The men who fought with Howard all agreed that he should have received a Medal of Honor for each one of his three citations—which explains why he was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses (the second-highest honor, given in the Army). No matter. He had plenty of other gongs and ribbons. He had a Silver Star, several Bronze Stars, and eight Purple Hearts (though he was wounded 14 times). Then there was all the stuff awarded to him by the armed forces of other grateful nations.

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why neither I nor anyone else outside of the Army had heard of this extraordinary American. I had theories. First, many of Howard’s actions in theater were still classified. We know he was in Laos and Cambodia before we knew we were in Laos and Cambodia, but we just don’t know what he was up to, apart from getting nominated for the Medal of Honor every few months or so. This was back in the days when a clandestine operation could be run without having to broadcast it on C-SPAN first.

Then there was the rest of the Vietnam war, the part we knew about. Howard received his Medal of Honor from Nixon in 1971, with his sweet little first-grade daughter Missy looking on from the front row. None of the TV networks covered the event. Though Audie Murphy and Alvin York both received a Medal of Honor for their actions in World War II and the Great War respectively, and got the ticker-tape parades, fame, and fortune they both deserved, Howard got nothing, because he fought in the war that the Flower Power generation, led by Jane Fonda and her ilk, who exercised the very rights that the men and women who served in Vietnam fought to protect, demonstrated against by (among other things) spitting in the faces of returning soldiers. You can probably guess how I feel about this issue.

So after reading up on Howard, I decided to follow my friend Leroy’s lead and head down to Waco to meet the man myself. But before I could get down there, on Wednesday, December 23, 2009, Col. Robert Howard died at the age of 70. The next day, the Associated Press ran a 10-sentence obituary. The New York Times and Washington Post followed with slightly longer obits. I couldn’t believe the man’s passing had generated so little notice.

I went to Waco anyway.

Driving down I-35 toward Waco to visit Missy, the second daughter of Col. Robert Howard, I noticed for the first time that this stretch of the interstate is known as The Purple Heart Trail. I was still thinking about the coincidence when I sat down in Missy’s living room to watch a video that few people have ever seen. The video was given to Howard by the Medal of Honor Foundation.

It is Missy’s daddy at 64 years old, with a short, pale blue ribbon and small gold medal covering the knot in his tie, his jaw square and strong, his face still scarred, angular, and violently handsome. He is talking about the day he received his Medal of Honor from President Nixon, of whom he says, “He had nice hands. They were, you know, decent.”

Missy tells me that when her daddy came home to San Antonio, which wasn’t that often, he was a gardener, a gentle man with massive hands and a velvet voice who worked on his roses and never once spoke of what he did in the war. “He could make anything grow,” Missy says.

Now the Colonel’s ocean-blue eyes are focused on some far-away hellhole jungle clearing. Howard says the Hueys took ground fire on the way down to the landing zone, and his platoon suffered casualties even before it landed. But there was no peeling off for this group. Silver wings upon their chests, these are men, America’s best. (No longer do these words remind me of Bill Murray in a greenskeeper’s shed.)

“We finally got in on the ground, and I got with [the] lieutenant,” Howard says. “He says, ‘Bob, we need to secure this LZ [landing zone], and I want you to get a couple of men and secure the exterior of the LZ.’ And I got three men behind me, and I can remember being fired at. I fell backward and they killed three men behind me, and I’m firing and killing the North Vietnamese that’s trying to kill us. So I made my way back to the lieutenant and told him that the LZ was completely surrounded. By that time, one of the helicopters had been shot down.”

This is the only personal account on record of the events for which he received the Medal of Honor. To begin with, Howard seems uncomfortable talking about it. But this is not the most difficult thing he has done. He pauses and draws a breath, then begins to explain dispassionately what happened when the men resumed their operation and a grenade explosion knocked him unconscious.

“When I come to, I was blown up in a crump on the ground, and my weapon was blown out of my hand. I can remember seeing red and saying a prayer, hoping I wasn’t blind. I couldn’t see. And I knew I was in a lot of pain and my hands were hurting. I couldn’t get up, and I really didn’t want to get up anyway because I couldn’t see. And then I finally starting getting the vision back and it was like blood was in my eyes, and I started feeling, but my hands were all blown up.

“And then it was like there was a big flame and there was smoke and there were people screaming and hollering. It in fact was an enemy soldier that was burning the people that would have been ambushed with a flamethrower. And the guy walked up to me and was getting ready to burn me, and he looked at me and he didn’t burn the lieutenant. The lieutenant was about 5 feet away from me, and he’s laying face forward, and he was hollering and he was screaming. I knew he was hurt. And the guy looked at me with the flamethrower, and then I looked at him. I guess I looked so bad and pitiful, he decided not to burn me up. He just turned and walked off.”

Now Howard was unarmed, and his hands had been blown apart. He was peppered with shrapnel. He couldn’t walk. So he grabbed the lieutenant’s shirt and starting dragging him—a big man, maybe 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds—toward safety as an estimated two enemy companies fired on them.
The great man’s face changes as he talks. His jaw stiffens, and his eyes, though narrowing, seem to take on an even more penetrating blueness. I am mesmerized as he relives these moments.

“So I’m pulling him back down the hill, and there was a sergeant that was laying down behind a log with a weapon that hadn’t been wounded that had seen this. But he was crying and not using his weapon. Here I am, begging him to help me because I can’t walk and drag the lieutenant back down.
“I said, ‘Well, give me your weapon,’ and he wouldn’t give me his weapon, but he did give me a .45. Just as he gave me the .45, and I’m trying to tell him to give me a couple more magazines of rounds for it, a bunch of enemy soldiers come running toward us. So here I am trying to fire the handgun, and I can remember shooting this enemy soldier that was fixing to stick me with a bayonet. He was running toward me. In fact, he fell across the lieutenant that I was dragging, and so just as he fell across there was another one behind him. They were trying to get us alive is what they were trying to do.”

The sergeant finally began to fire his weapon, and Howard got hit again. A bullet smashed into a magazine in his ammo belt for his rifle, setting off the rounds he was carrying. Howard estimates he was hit with 15 or 20 rounds of exploding ammunition.

“Here I am thinking, I’m blowing up again,” he says. “And there were other soldiers back behind him that hadn’t been hurt at all that had been watching us being almost executed by the enemy and not doing anything, not even firing their weapons.”

Howard eventually got the lieutenant to a medic. His platoon was trapped under heavy fire and had now suffered too many casualties to fight the enemy on their terms. The medic propped Howard up, and he told his brothers, “We are going to establish a perimeter right here, and you’re going to fight or die.” Then Howard did the unthinkable. He got a radio and called in an air strike on his own position. He ordered the men to make a triangle with three strobe lights around their position to keep from getting hit.

“They brought the fire into our position,” Howard says. “In fact, I remember fire landing right between my feet and, you know, ricochet hitting me in the face. You know, that’s how intense it was.”

Eventually, helicopters were able to extract the men. Out of 37 soldiers who were ambushed that day, six survived, largely due to Howard’s heroics and quick thinking. He acted in a similarly heroic manner and endured similar injuries, saving the lives of many others on two other separate occasions for which he was nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Ten lines. That’s what the Associated Press gave Col. Robert Howard.

Back among the living in Waco, I notice that Missy has inherited her father’s looks. She is slender and beautiful. Her husband Frank Gentsch is athletic and carries his badge and handgun in the comfortable, easy manner one might expect of Waco’s chief of detectives. Frank says that before his first date with Missy, the colonel showed him how he’d kill a man with his bare hands. That must have been a little unsettling, but Frank still has a bullet in his back, so you know the old man was proud of him. On Missy’s lap sits their adopted 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, with a snubby little nose and the cutest fuzzy fro held back with a pink headband. Howard adored her­—as he did his other children and grandchildren.

The life of a soldier, especially a Special Forces one, is complicated. There are top-secret stories that can’t be told and endless questions. “When is Daddy coming home?” Or worse: “Will Daddy come home?” Howard was married three times and remained close only to those who “got him.” Like so many of our fighting men and women, he felt tremendous guilt over the many times he was forced to choose between his country and his family.

After his discharge when he was 53 years old, Howard spent 13 years processing claims for the Department of Veterans Affairs and spent most of the last three years of his life in Iraq and Afghanistan, visiting troops, giving talks, and boosting morale. For a soldier, meeting Bob Howard was like a religious experience. Shaking his hand was an honor never to be forgotten. You see, they knew who he was. They got him.

We American civilians can say what we like about the morality of any war, but we should support the American soldiers and their allies whom we have sent to wage it. I’ve visited military hospitals, psych wards, and VAs in Dallas and around this country, and I’ve seen them. Mostly from Korea and Vietnam. Old, unkempt men, the military bearing and pride they once had now gone. Sometimes the only evidence it ever existed is on a battered regimental or naval ball cap. They rock back and forth, mumbling into full jungle beards, with rheumy, blast-zone-empty eyes. Or they sit in pairs, often holding hands, together and alone with horror-story memories that play over and over in their heads. Some sit with their imaginary long-dead friends, whose body parts still lie in the killing fields upon which they once so bravely fought. To America’s eternal shame, for many of them home is a sterile corner of the Cuckoo’s Nest, freezing and drunk under a highway bridge, or, if they are lucky, a spare room in the house of a worn-out son or daughter.

At least Bob Howard was spared that fate. Pancreatic cancer finally stopped him. As the disease spread to his lungs and lymph nodes, his expiry date drew closer, and he was visited by more and more soldiers, most of them old friends. But there were a few lucky youngsters, too, of whom Leroy was one of the last.

And there was always Missy, there with him every day with Isabella. Sometimes his granddaughter Holley, the starting catcher for the Texas Tech softball team, would visit. Or Tori, whom the colonel always called “Victoria.” Tori was always heartbroken when she had to leave her grandpa’s bedside and was a constant comfort to both the colonel and Missy at the end. Howard’s eldest son, Robert, is at Fort Bragg, going through Special Forces school.

As a soldier, Robert had already seen how his father acted around other military men. But for Missy and the other children, their father’s illness, and the parade of visitors it occasioned, showed them something new about their father. When Missy and the grandchildren were around, Howard was the gentle old gardener, the same man they had always known. But when a soldier entered his hospice room, he would stiffen. His voice changed to gravel, and any sign of vulnerability evaporated. He would laugh and bellow orders until the soldier was gone, and then there he’d be again: the gardener with the sparkling blue eyes, smothered in children whom he’d caress with rough, scarred hands.

By all accounts, Howard was a spectacularly bad patient. He was a nightmare for his nurses, refusing to take the painkillers, often swilling them around, then spitting them out after the nurse had left. He was going to be clearheaded until the end.

After yet another astonishing fight, during which the family was told on several occasions that Howard had only hours left, the head of the world’s most dangerous gardener finally fell sideways onto his beloved Missy’s shoulder, and America lost what was arguably her greatest warrior ever.

The name Robert Lewis Howard belongs beside George Washington, John Paul Jones, Chesty Puller, Alvin York, and Audie Murphy, to name a few of the greatest. By the time anyone reads this, Howard will have been lain to rest at Arlington the day before I became an American citizen. I would have given anything to have been with Missy, Frank, and the rest of the family on that day, but I know the colonel would have barked at me to get my worthless foreign ass to my swearing-in ceremony.

Col. Robert Howard’s funeral cortege should have started at the foot of the Jefferson Memorial. His flag-draped casket should have passed through streets lined with thousands of grateful, flag-waving Americans to Arlington, where, in preparation for his final resting place, some politician had been dug up and tossed into the Potomac. But that didn’t happen.

Ten lines. A couple of longer obits here and there. That’s all he got.

On the drive back to Dallas from Waco, I got to thinking. We should rename that stretch of I-35 after him. The Col. Robert Howard Highway. People would shorten it, of course: the Howard.

His life deserves more. But it’s a start.

David Feherty is a golf analyst for CBS Sports.

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Throwback Thursday: “The Desert Fox” by W.H. “CHIP” GROSS

rommel-public-domain.jpg

Editor’s Note: For today’s #ThrowbackThursday, we’re examining the lessons the Allied powers learned in World War II from one of America’s most formidable enemies at the time.

Arguably the greatest general that Germany produced during WWII was Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1891-1944), The Desert Fox. A career soldier, he fought during both World Wars, and became so revered for his tactical leadership skills and aggressive battlefield style that some Allied forces began to believe he was superhuman. To that point, the British Army Commander-in-Chief C.J. Auchinleck, issued the following order to his officers:

There exists a real danger that our friend Rommel is becoming a kind of magician or bogey-man to our troops, who are talking far too much about him. He is by no means a superman, although he is undoubtedly very energetic and able. Even if he were a superman, it would still be highly undesirable that our men should credit him with supernatural powers. I wish you to dispel by all possible means the idea that Rommel represents something more than an ordinary German general. The important thing now is to see that we do not always talk of Rommel when we mean the enemy in Libya. We must refer to “the Germans” or “the Axis powers” or “the enemy” and not always keep harping on Rommel. Please ensure that this order is put into immediate effect, and impress up all commanders that, from a psychological point of view, it is a matter of highest importance.

No, Rommel was not superhuman, but he did have what the Germans called (big-word warning) Fingerspitzengefuhl, an innate sixth sense of what the enemy was about to do. For instance, a German general, Fritz Bayerlein, Rommel’s Chief-of-Staff at the time, relates the following two anecdotes.

“We were at the headquarters of the Afrika Korps…when suddenly Rommel turned to me and said, ‘Bayerlein, I would advise you to get out of this [location]: I don’t like it.’ An hour later the headquarters were unexpectedly attacked and overrun.”

Bayerlein continues, “That same afternoon, we were standing together when he [Rommel] said, ‘Let’s move a couple of hundred yards to a flank, I think we are going to get shelled here.’ One bit of desert was just the same as another, but five minutes after we had moved, the shells were falling exactly where we had been standing. Everyone…who fought with Rommel in either war will tell you similar stories.”

Rommel also had the ability to quickly size up a battle in progress, and the decision-making skills to then seize the opportunity to attack when one presented itself. Consequently, he earned a reputation for, at times, making rash decisions, but those decisions seemed to pay off for him and his armies more times than not.

A trait that endeared Rommel to his vanguard troops was that he “led from the front,” spending nearly as much time with the frontline, everyday soldier as he did with his officers back at headquarters. As a result, his soldiers were willing to follow him anywhere.

Another characteristic that helped make Rommel the military legend he became was that he was constantly learning, not only from his victories, but also his defeats—especially his defeats, which seemed to haunt him. And he was open to new ideas, new equipment, new weapons, anything that would make his armies more efficient and in turn, more successful.

For example, Rommel did not invent blitzkrieg—a highly mobile style of warfare employing armored, motorized forces—but he and his 7th Panzer Division of tanks certainly perfected it in France during 1940. Later in the war, his Afrika Korps then continued using the technique in the deserts of North Africa to win battle after battle.

Rommel had always been a prolific writer, and following his time in Africa he authored a paper titled The Rules of Desert Warfare, the small portions below being just a few of the more interesting excerpts from the six-page document.

  • The tank force is the backbone of the motorized army. Everything turns on the tanks, the other formations are mere ancillaries. War of attrition against the enemy tank units must, therefore, be carried on as far as possible by one’s own tank destruction units…[they] must deal the last blow.
  • Results of reconnaissance must reach the commander in the shortest possible time, and he must then make immediate decisions and put them into effect as quickly as possible. Speed of reaction in Command decisions decides the battle. It is, therefore, essential that commanders of motorized forces should be as near as possible to their troops and in the closest signal communication with them.
  • It is my experience that bold decisions give the best promise of success. One must differentiate between operational and tactical boldness and a military gamble. A bold operation is one which has no more than a chance of success but which, in case of failure, leaves one with sufficient forces in hand to be able to cope with any situation. A gamble, on the other hand, is an operation which can lead either to victory or to the destruction of one’s own forces. Any compromise is bad.
  • One of the first lessons which I drew from my experiences of motorized warfare was that speed of operation and quick reaction of the Command were the decisive factors. The troops must be able to operate at the highest speed and in complete coordination. One must not be satisfied here with any normal average but must always endeavor to obtain the maximum performance, for the side which makes the greater effort is the faster, and the faster wins the battle. Officers and NCOs must, therefore, constantly train their troops with this in view.
  • In my opinion, the duties of the Commander-in-Chief are not limited to his staff work. He must also take an interest in the details of Command and frequently busy himself in the front line.
  • The Commander-in-Chief must have contact with his troops. He must be able to feel and think with them. The soldier must have confidence in him. In this connection there is one cardinal principle to remember: one must never simulate a feeling for the troops which in fact one does not have. The ordinary soldier has a surprisingly good nose for what is genuine and what is fake.

 

In the WWII movie Patton, released in 1970, actor George C. Scott portrays the brash and flamboyant American General George S. Patton.  Near the end of the movie, after Patton and his army have defeated Rommel and his troops, Patton shouts loudly across the battlefield in victory, “Rommel, you magnificent b______, I read your book!”

The book he was referring to was Rommel’s Infanterie Greift An (Infantry Attacks). Published in 1937, it chronicles his experiences during World War I.  If you’d care to read it, the treatise will give you a look into the mind of one of the greatest tactical military geniuses of the 20th Century. The Rommel Papers, edited by B. H. Liddell Hart and published in 1953, is also highly recommended, relating Rommel’s WWII experiences in his own words.

Categories
Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad Leadership of the highest kind Soldiering War

Throwback Thursday: “The Desert Fox” by W.H. “CHIP” GROSS

rommel-public-domain.jpg

Editor’s Note: For today’s #ThrowbackThursday, we’re examining the lessons the Allied powers learned in World War II from one of America’s most formidable enemies at the time.

Arguably the greatest general that Germany produced during WWII was Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1891-1944), The Desert Fox. A career soldier, he fought during both World Wars, and became so revered for his tactical leadership skills and aggressive battlefield style that some Allied forces began to believe he was superhuman. To that point, the British Army Commander-in-Chief C.J. Auchinleck, issued the following order to his officers:

There exists a real danger that our friend Rommel is becoming a kind of magician or bogey-man to our troops, who are talking far too much about him. He is by no means a superman, although he is undoubtedly very energetic and able. Even if he were a superman, it would still be highly undesirable that our men should credit him with supernatural powers. I wish you to dispel by all possible means the idea that Rommel represents something more than an ordinary German general. The important thing now is to see that we do not always talk of Rommel when we mean the enemy in Libya. We must refer to “the Germans” or “the Axis powers” or “the enemy” and not always keep harping on Rommel. Please ensure that this order is put into immediate effect, and impress up all commanders that, from a psychological point of view, it is a matter of highest importance.

No, Rommel was not superhuman, but he did have what the Germans called (big-word warning) Fingerspitzengefuhl, an innate sixth sense of what the enemy was about to do. For instance, a German general, Fritz Bayerlein, Rommel’s Chief-of-Staff at the time, relates the following two anecdotes.

“We were at the headquarters of the Afrika Korps…when suddenly Rommel turned to me and said, ‘Bayerlein, I would advise you to get out of this [location]: I don’t like it.’ An hour later the headquarters were unexpectedly attacked and overrun.”

Bayerlein continues, “That same afternoon, we were standing together when he [Rommel] said, ‘Let’s move a couple of hundred yards to a flank, I think we are going to get shelled here.’ One bit of desert was just the same as another, but five minutes after we had moved, the shells were falling exactly where we had been standing. Everyone…who fought with Rommel in either war will tell you similar stories.”

Rommel also had the ability to quickly size up a battle in progress, and the decision-making skills to then seize the opportunity to attack when one presented itself. Consequently, he earned a reputation for, at times, making rash decisions, but those decisions seemed to pay off for him and his armies more times than not.

A trait that endeared Rommel to his vanguard troops was that he “led from the front,” spending nearly as much time with the frontline, everyday soldier as he did with his officers back at headquarters. As a result, his soldiers were willing to follow him anywhere.

Another characteristic that helped make Rommel the military legend he became was that he was constantly learning, not only from his victories, but also his defeats—especially his defeats, which seemed to haunt him. And he was open to new ideas, new equipment, new weapons, anything that would make his armies more efficient and in turn, more successful.

For example, Rommel did not invent blitzkrieg—a highly mobile style of warfare employing armored, motorized forces—but he and his 7th Panzer Division of tanks certainly perfected it in France during 1940. Later in the war, his Afrika Korps then continued using the technique in the deserts of North Africa to win battle after battle.

Rommel had always been a prolific writer, and following his time in Africa he authored a paper titled The Rules of Desert Warfare, the small portions below being just a few of the more interesting excerpts from the six-page document.

  • The tank force is the backbone of the motorized army. Everything turns on the tanks, the other formations are mere ancillaries. War of attrition against the enemy tank units must, therefore, be carried on as far as possible by one’s own tank destruction units…[they] must deal the last blow.
  • Results of reconnaissance must reach the commander in the shortest possible time, and he must then make immediate decisions and put them into effect as quickly as possible. Speed of reaction in Command decisions decides the battle. It is, therefore, essential that commanders of motorized forces should be as near as possible to their troops and in the closest signal communication with them.
  • It is my experience that bold decisions give the best promise of success. One must differentiate between operational and tactical boldness and a military gamble. A bold operation is one which has no more than a chance of success but which, in case of failure, leaves one with sufficient forces in hand to be able to cope with any situation. A gamble, on the other hand, is an operation which can lead either to victory or to the destruction of one’s own forces. Any compromise is bad.
  • One of the first lessons which I drew from my experiences of motorized warfare was that speed of operation and quick reaction of the Command were the decisive factors. The troops must be able to operate at the highest speed and in complete coordination. One must not be satisfied here with any normal average but must always endeavor to obtain the maximum performance, for the side which makes the greater effort is the faster, and the faster wins the battle. Officers and NCOs must, therefore, constantly train their troops with this in view.
  • In my opinion, the duties of the Commander-in-Chief are not limited to his staff work. He must also take an interest in the details of Command and frequently busy himself in the front line.
  • The Commander-in-Chief must have contact with his troops. He must be able to feel and think with them. The soldier must have confidence in him. In this connection there is one cardinal principle to remember: one must never simulate a feeling for the troops which in fact one does not have. The ordinary soldier has a surprisingly good nose for what is genuine and what is fake.

 

In the WWII movie Patton, released in 1970, actor George C. Scott portrays the brash and flamboyant American General George S. Patton.  Near the end of the movie, after Patton and his army have defeated Rommel and his troops, Patton shouts loudly across the battlefield in victory, “Rommel, you magnificent b______, I read your book!”

The book he was referring to was Rommel’s Infanterie Greift An (Infantry Attacks). Published in 1937, it chronicles his experiences during World War I.  If you’d care to read it, the treatise will give you a look into the mind of one of the greatest tactical military geniuses of the 20th Century. The Rommel Papers, edited by B. H. Liddell Hart and published in 1953, is also highly recommended, relating Rommel’s WWII experiences in his own words.

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Theodore Roosevelt and the New York Police Department. When a Future President Tried to Reform the Police In the 1890's

Cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt reforming the New York Police

 Theodore Roosevelt depicted as a policeman in a cartoon. His nightstick reads, “Roosevelt, Able Reformer”. MPI/Getty Images
Future president Theodore Roosevelt returned to the city of his birth in 1895 to take on a task that might have intimidated other people, the reform of the notoriously corrupt police department.
His appointment was front-page news and he obviously saw the job as chance to clean up New York City while reviving his own political career, which had stalled.
As the president of the police commission, Roosevelt, true to form, vigorously threw himself into the task. His trademark zeal, when applied to the complexities of urban politics, tended to generate a cascade of problems.
Roosevelt’s time at the top of the New York Police Department brought him into conflict with powerful factions, and he did not always emerge triumphant. In one notable example, his widely publicized crusade to close saloons on Sunday, the only day when many workingmen could socialize in them, provoked a lively public backlash.
When he left the police job, after only two years, the department had been changed for the better. But Roosevelt’s time as New York City’s top cop had been raucous, and the clashes he found himself in had nearly brought his political career to an end.

Roosevelt’s Patrician Background

Theodore Roosevelt was born into a wealthy New York City family on October 27, 1858. A sickly child who overcame illness through physical exertion, he went on to Harvard and entered New York politics by winning a seat in the state assembly at the age of 23.
In 1886 he lost an election for mayor of New York City. He then stayed out of government for three years until he was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to the United States Civil Service Commission. For six years Roosevelt served in Washington, D.C., overseeing the reform of the nation’s civil service, which had been tainted by decades of adherence to the spoils system.
Roosevelt was respected for his work reforming the federal civil service, but he wished to return to New York City and something more challenging. A new reform mayor of the city, William L. Strong, offered him the job of sanitation commissioner in early 1895. Roosevelt turned it down, thinking the job of literally cleaning up the city was beneath his dignity.
A few months later, after a series of public hearings exposed widespread graft in the New York Police Department, the mayor came to Roosevelt with a far more attractive offer: a post on the board of police commissioners. Enthused by the chance to bring much-needed reforms to his hometown, and in a very public post, Roosevelt took the job.

The Corruption of the New York Police

A crusade to clean up New York City, led by a reform-minded minister, Rev. Charles Parkhurst, had prompted the state legislature to create a commission to investigate corruption. Chaired by state senator Clarence Lexow, what became known as the Lexow Commission held public hearings which exposed the startling depth of police corruption.
In weeks of testimony, saloon owners and prostitutes detailed a system of payoffs to police officials. And it became apparent that the thousands of saloons in the city functioned as political clubs which perpetuated the corruption.
Mayor Strong’s solution was to replace the four-member board that oversaw the police. And by putting an energetic reformer like Roosevelt on the board as its president, there was cause for optimism.
Roosevelt took the oath of office on the morning of May 6,1895, at City Hall. The New York Times lauded Roosevelt the next morning, but expressed skepticism about the other three men named to the police board. They must have been named for “political considerations,” said an editorial. Problems were obvious at the outset of Roosevelt’s term at the top of the police department.

Roosevelt Made His Presence Known

In early June 1895 Roosevelt and a friend, the crusading newspaper reporter Jacob Riis, ventured out into the streets of New York late one night, just after midnight. For hours they wandered through the darkened Manhattan streets, observing the police, at least when and where they could actually find them.
The New York Times carried a story on June 8, 1895 with the headline, “Police Caught Napping.” The report referred to “President Roosevelt,” as he was president of the police board, and detailed how he had found policemen asleep on their posts or socializing in public when they should have been patrolling alone.
Several officers were ordered to report to police headquarters the day after Roosevelt’s late night tour. They received a strong personal reprimand from Roosevelt himself. The newspaper account noted: “The action of Mr. Roosevelt, when it became known, made a sensation throughout the department and as a consequence, more faithful patrol duty may be performed by the force for some time to come.”
Roosevelt also came into conflict with Thomas Byrnes, a legendary detective who had come to epitomize the New York Police Department. Byrnes had amassed a suspiciously large fortune, with the apparent help of Wall Street characters such as Jay Gould, but had managed to keep his job. Roosevelt forced Byrnes to resign, though no public reason for the ouster of Byrnes was ever disclosed.

Political Problems

Though Roosevelt was at heart a politician, he soon found himself in a political bind of his own making. He was determined to shut down saloons, which generally operated on Sundays in defiance of a local law.
The problem was that many New Yorkers worked a six-day week, and Sunday was the only day when they could gather in saloons and socialize. To the community of German immigrants, in particular, the Sunday saloon gatherings were considered an important facet of life. The saloons were not merely social, but often served as political clubs, frequented by an actively engaged citizenry.
Roosevelt’s crusade to shutter saloons on Sundays brought him into heated conflict with large segments of the population. He was denounced and viewed as being out of touch with the common people. The Germans in particular rallied against him, and Roosevelt’s campaign against saloons cost his Republican Party in the city-wide elections held in the fall of 1895.
The next summer, New York City was hit by a heat wave, and Roosevelt gained back some public support by his smart action in dealing with the crisis. He had made an effort to familiarize himself with slum neighborhoods, and he saw that the police distributed ice to people who desperately needed it.
By the end of 1896 Roosevelt was thoroughly tired of his police job. Republican William McKinley had won the election that fall, and Roosevelt began concentrating on finding a post within the new Republican administration. He was eventually appointed assistant secretary of the Navy, and left New York to return to Washington.

Impact of Roosevelt on New York’s Police

Theodore Roosevelt spent less than two years with the New York Police Department, and his tenure was marked with nearly constant controversy. While the job burnished his credentials as a reformer, most of what he tried to accomplish ended in frustration. The campaign against corruption proved essentially hopeless. New York City remained much the same after he left.
However, in later years Roosevelt’s time at police headquarters on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan took on a legendary status. He would be remembered as a police commissioner who cleaned up New York, even though his accomplishments on the job didn’t live up to the legend.
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My recommendation for Mother of the Year!

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1SG Bradley Kasal: A Real-Live Superhero Amidst a Company of Superheroes by WILL DABBS

The Second Battle of Fallujah was the fiercest urban combat US forces had faced since Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

In the winter of 2004 a joint US, Iraqi, and British operation kicked off in Iraq. Local forces called it Operation Al-Fajr. Allied troops titled it Operation Phantom Fury. The world came to know this simply epic scrap as the Second Battle of Fallujah.

Fallujah was known for its copious minarets. Radical Islamists frequently used mosques to store weapons and launch attacks.

Fallujah was a typical Middle Eastern craphole located in the Al Anbar Province some 43 miles West of Baghdad on the Euphrates River. The area has been occupied since the days of Nebuchadnezzar. By 2011 more than a quarter-million Iraqis called Fallujah home. Within Iraq, Fallujah was called the “City of Mosques” for its 500 houses of Islamic worship. In 2004 Fallujah was an understudy for hell.

It’s all fun and games until you really piss off the Americans. When Iraqis desecrated the bodies of American contractors it was time to take care of business.

The party started in April of that year during the aptly-named First Battle of Fallujah. In this fight, coalition forces moved into the city to kill or capture insurgents responsible for the violent deaths of an American Blackwater security team. Once Allied forces seized the city they turned over control to an Iraqi government security force.

Turds like these came from all over to take a shot at the Americans. It turned out that being on the receiving end of Uncle Sam’s big stick wasn’t all the travel brochures made it out to be.

It was tough to figure out who the Bad Guys really were in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. Between April and November, enemy forces fortified the place. Insurgents and fanatical foreign Islamist fighters flowed toward Fallujah like zombies after fresh brains. The scene was set for Something Truly Horrible. The Second Battle of Fallujah was to be the first major engagement of the war fought solely against insurgents rather than the previous Iraqi Ba’athist government forces. The end result was to become the bloodiest fight of the Iraq War.

Strategic Details

This inveterate sadist killed in the name of his dark bloodthirsty god. It turns out jihad doesn’t have much of a retirement plan.

The alpha villain in Fallujah was one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi was one serious piece of work. Originally born in Jordan, al-Zarqawi ran a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan before moving his corporate headquarters to Iraq. His repertoire included suicide bombings, hostage takings, and the errant ritual beheading. His stated goal was to transform an insurgency against coalition forces into a full-blown Shia-Sunni civil war. His followers called him the ”Sheikh of Slaughterers.” Al-Zarqawi was the agent of chaos and a simply despicable human being.

British and American checkpoints surrounding the city of Fallujah kept the insurgent tally constant.

Coalition forces established roadblocks around Fallujah that prevented insurgents from escaping while excluding fresh scum from infiltrating into the city. For the hard-core Islamists in the city, this was to be a come-as-you-are fight. The joint coalition force was comprised primarily of US Marines alongside some 1,500 US Army combat troops supported by extensive air and ground assets as well as Iraqi combat forces. The 1st Battalion of the British Black Watch assisted with the encirclement.

Being on the wrong end of these puppies would sure suck.

Entrenched within the city were between 1,500 and 3,000 hardline extremists. These freaking lunatics included Filipinos, Chechens, Saudis, Libyans, Syrians, and native Iraqis all united in their hatred of America. On November 7, 2004, Navy SEAL and Marine Force Recon snipers kicked off the party along with some 2,500 rounds of 155mm high explosive artillery. This was to be an old school fight.

Tactical Details

Nothing makes a more compelling entrance than a 120mm M830 HEAT round from an M1A2 Abrams tank.

There was no shortage of valor to be found among coalition forces as they stormed into Fallujah. US forces ably employed M1 tanks and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Air assets included AC130 gunships, B52’s, F15’s, F16’s, and A10’s. UAV’s and a U2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft kept an eye on things as the fight unfolded. However, this was a city. The only way to take a fortified built-up area is to get out of your vehicles and just go hunting.

Insurgents had planned the defense of Hell House with exceptional skill.

One particularly bloody engagement has become known as Hell House. The dwelling was two stories built around a central atrium with a skylight and multi-tiered stairwell. Bedrooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen surrounded this central space. In better times it would have been a nice place to raise a family. On this day the insurgents had transformed it into a deathtrap.

Assaulting Marines were canalized into a kill zone.

While the insurgents were little more than fanatical cavemen, they weren’t stupid. They had established firing points on the second-floor landing overlooking the interior of the building. Surrounding structures were too low to establish a viable overwatch for snipers or machine gunners. Their well-reasoned defenses had already pinned down eight Marines inside, six of whom were badly wounded.

Marines pressed in to rescue their trapped comrades.

1SG Brad Kasal and PFC Alex Nicoll moved into the house in an effort at extricating wounded US troops. Checking a doorway underneath the stairs Kasal discovered an insurgent hiding. The Islamist fighter fired a burst from a stubby cut-down AK and missed. Kasal shoved the muzzle of his M16A4 into the man’s chest and cut him down at contact range. Then the entire world exploded.

The transformation from combatant to casualty can come shockingly fast in modern urban warfare.

1SG Kasal was shot several times in the legs. His comrade was caught out in the open and wounded even more severely. 1SG Kasal dragged PFC Nicoll into a bathroom to get out of the line of fire.

Several Marines were wounded assaulting the structure.

One proper stud named Corporal RJ Mitchell was already in a 1st-floor bedroom tending to the wounded. He braved the kill zone in the atrium to reach the bathroom where Kasal and Nicoll were holed up. In the process, he was hit in the leg. The insurgents on the top floor dropped in grenades that liberally peppered the three Marines with shrapnel. 1SG Kasal caught the brunt of one when he threw his body over PFC Nicoll to shield him from the blast.

PFC Nicoll, shown here in an image captured by combat correspondent Lucian Read, very nearly died in the exchange.

CPL Mitchell and his wounded comrades found themselves in a seriously bad situation. PFC Nicoll was bleeding out, and 1SG Kasal was struggling to remain conscious in the face of multiple wounds. Mitchell put a tourniquet on Nicoll’s shattered leg and improvised the same thing for 1SG Kasal out of his low-ride thigh holster. Holding his improvised tourniquet in one hand and his Beretta M9 service pistol in the other, 1SG Kasal directed CPL Mitchell to find a way out.

1LT Grapes aggressively coordinated the operation to rescue his injured Marines.

1LT Grapes, the local ground force commander, battered his way through a barred window with a sledgehammer to get into one of the bedrooms. The resulting opening was so small he had to remove his helmet and body armor to gain access. Replacing his gear once inside, Grapes and his men coordinated a proper rescue from within the structure.

These Marines were not going to quit until they had retrieved their wounded and neutralized the insurgent threat.

Two of Grapes’ Marines ran the gauntlet through the atrium to reach the bathroom where Kasal, Nicoll, and Mitchell were trapped. They improvised a stretcher out of a poncho to retrieve Nicoll and took Kasal under the arms to get him out of the building. Mitchell hobbled out under his own power. Marines on the far side of the dwelling finally beat through the walls to rescue the remaining Marines trapped in other rooms.

1SG Kasal emerging from Hell House with an M9 in one hand and his Kabar in the other became one of the most iconic images from the war in Iraq. Note the trigger finger discipline despite the chaos. What a freaking animal.

An embedded reporter named Lucian Read shot a series of iconic photographs during the fight for Hell House that captured the powerful drama that had occurred there. His shot of 1SG Kasal being carried out of the building with his M9 became one of the most famous images of the war. Once his Marines were clear 1LT Grapes leveled the building with satchel charges.

Before leaving the field 1LT Grapes’ Marines returned to police up the sensitive gear that might have been dropped during the fight.

Once the dust settled, Grapes and his men returned to retrieve any sensitive equipment that might have been lost during the fighting. When they approached the collapsed building an insurgent trapped inside deployed a grenade unexpectedly. The Marines leaped clear as the device exploded. 1LT Grapes then ran up to the wounded Islamist fighter and shot him fifteen times in the head. It had been a hard day for all involved.

The Gun

The M9 soldiered on from 1985 until 2017. Most of my time in uniform was spent with the M9. I liked the weapon myself.

The Beretta M9 is the official designation of the Model 92FS handgun adopted in 1985 as a replacement for the original M1911A1 .45. A short-recoil semiautomatic single-action/double-action design, the M9 is typical of the so-called “wondernine” pistols of the day. The M9 feeds from a 15-round double-column, single-feed box magazine.

The M9’s aluminum frame and SA/DA trigger are a bit antiquated today. However, the gun was state of the art in its prime.

The M9 was known to suffer slide failures at extreme round counts, and the design was modified to prevent this after deployment. The M9 was the least respected weapon in the US small arms arsenal according to a post-combat survey conducted by the military. Most of the M9’s reliability problems could ultimately be traced to sketchy aftermarket magazines. The M9 is currently being replaced throughout the military by the SIG SAUER M17 and M18 handguns.

The Rest of the Story

This bronze recreating 1SG Kasal’s extraordinary departure from Hell House is now displayed at Camp Pendleton.

1LT Grapes eventually left the Marine Corps to serve as headmaster for a Catholic High School for boys in Virginia. CPL Mitchell left the Marine Corps the following year to study Mechanical Engineering at Arizona State. He eventually took a job as a gas turbine engineer at a utility company. PFC Nicoll lost his left leg but survived. The image of a shattered 1SG Kasal emerging from the doorway to Hell House, his legs drenched in blood and his M9 safely gripped in his right hand, was eventually transformed into a bronze memorial.

Rapid medical evacuation from a combat zone has saved countless lives. The US casevac system is the best in the world.

By the time 1SG Kasal reached a medical facility, it was estimated that he had lost some 60% of his blood volume. 1SG Kasal caught seven 7.62x39mm rounds to his legs along with 44 pieces of shrapnel. He underwent 21 different surgeries and lost four inches’ worth of bone in his right leg. Nowadays he is said to walk with a limp.

SGM Kasal’s career as a US Marine was the stuff of legend.

1SG Kasal was promoted to Sergeant Major and served with distinction in a variety of combat roles for another eleven years. He retired after 34 years of service as Sergeant Major of the First Marine Expeditionary Force. According to his Linked-In page, he teaches Marine Corps Junior ROTC at the Basic Academy of International Studies in Los Angeles today. I suspect those kids get their money’s worth.

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi escaped Fallujah but ultimately met his gory end two years later in a coalition airstrike.

On June 7, 2006, two F16C fighter jets approached a safe house north of Baqubah, Iraq. The lead plane dropped a pair of guided 500-pound bombs and utterly flattened the structure. Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was blown straight to hell along with five of his reprobate associates. It was a fitting end for such an evil mob.

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Audie Murphy’s .45 Colt Revolver on Public Display by J ABSHER

audiemurphy.jpg

For anyone who grew up in the post-World War II era, his was a household name, one synonymous with “hero,” and “soldier.”

Audie Murphy was known as “the most decorated combat soldier of World War II.”A quintessential soldier, a master of the tools and tactics of ground warfare, he literally wrote the book on military valor—an autobiography entitled, “To Hell and Back.”

He starred in the movie adaptation, too.

This week, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, located in Cody, WY, announced that Murphy’s .45 caliber Colt Model 1905 Bisley flattop target revolver—a gift from western film legend Gary Cooper—is on display to the public in its Cody Firearms Museum. The single-action revolver features mother-of-pearl grips that Cooper had molded to perfectly fit Murphy’s hand. Dr. Jim and Marilyn Phillips of Bakersfield, CA, have loaned the firearm to the Center for a period of one year.

.45 Colt, Audie Murphy, World War II  

In 1942, Murphy lied about his age to join the infantry at 17, after the Marines and paratroopers denied his application due to his small stature. Rising to the rank of First Lieutenant, he fought in nine major campaigns throughout Europe. His gallantry is even more impressive given that victory in Europe was achieved before his 21st birthday.

On January 26, 1945, at the edge of a forest in France, Murphy’s company was pinned down, outnumbered and facing annihilation by a column of German tanks supported by infantry. Ordering his men to retreat into the forest, Murphy commandeered the .50 caliber machine gun on a burning tank destroyer. While directing American artillery over his field telephone, Lt. Murphy swept the German tanks with deadly fire. Shells bursting and bullets ricocheting all around him, and the tank destroyer threatening to explode at any moment, Audie Murphy continued to fire until the enemy force broke and ran.

For his incredible acts of bravery and valor, Audie Murphy received the Medal of Honor. The accompanying citation reported 50 German soldiers killed or wounded and stated, “Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods, which had been the enemy’s objective.”

After the war, Murphy became a Hollywood star, albeit reluctantly, appearing in more than 40 films and receiving critical acclaim for his role in the 1951 movie version of Stephen Crane’s Civil War novel “The Red Badge of Courage.”

Murphy was known to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), known then as “combat fatigue,” sharing his struggles and bringing early awareness to the issue. His advocacy for increased government research and funding for veterans with PTSD was honored by the 1973 dedication of the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital in San Antonio, TX.

Murphy was 45 when he died in a private plane crash near Roanoke, VA. On June 7, 1971, he was buried at Arlington, where his grave remains one of the most-visited at the National Cemetery.

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Hoover fellow Victor Davis Hanson on the type of men who become savior generals