18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes

Larry Holzwarth - October 15, 2018

In every war heroes emerge, some to everlasting fame and some revert to relative obscurity. Some preferred to remain in near anonymity during their lifetime, some made their contributions in the course of suffering a defeat, and some had their efforts and sacrifice overshadowed by another event. There are those who are remembered through monuments, place names, national shrines, and other memorials, while others, equally deserving, are granted an honorary mention on roadside markers or the names of local geographic features. Some, such as Benedict Arnold, became antiheroes after first gaining the adulation of their contemporaries. Benedict Arnold in the United States is a synonym for betrayal, though he was at the time of his treachery the most respected field commander in the Continental Army. It was the lack of recognition and appreciation from Congress which was part of the impetus for his betrayal.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Benedict Arnold, who signed this oath of allegiance in May 1778, was one of America’s greatest heroes before his treachery became known in 1780. Wikimedia

But there are many other forgotten American war heroes who remained loyal to their nation and their personal beliefs, and in so doing performed courageous and noble acts, only to be ignored by posterity while others have been lauded for similar deeds. Their sacrifices and actions deserve to be remembered. For example, though John Paul Jones is remembered as the Father of the United States Navy it was actually the virtually unknown Edward Preble, who trained the officers which won America its great naval victories during the War of 1812, who has a greater claim to that title (the United States Naval Academy Museum in Preble Hall is named in his honor).

Here are some American war heroes who are largely forgotten to popular history, who deserve to be remembered.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
The romanticized death of Joseph Warren on Bunker Hill ignores the fact that the British dumped his body in an unmarked grave. Wikimedia

1. Dr. Joseph Warren and Boston’s Sons of Liberty

The names of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere have come down through the ages as the leaders of rebellious Boston in the days leading up to the first shots of the American Revolution, augmented by John Adams and others. During the days of the British occupation of Boston and the actions of the Royal Government to suppress what the British called treason, and the Americans patriotism, Dr. Joseph Warren was one of the most critical of the American leaders. It was Warren who wrote the Suffolk Resolves, which called for resistance to the British Coercive Acts, (Intolerable Acts) and it was Warren who operated the system of couriers which kept like-minded colonists informed of the activities in Boston, one of whom was Paul Revere. It was Warren who obtained the information that the British would attempt to capture Adams and Hancock in April 1775, and Warren who rightly deduced that they would continue on to Concord to seize colonial property there.

It was Warren who dispatched Revere on his famous ride (as well as William Dawes and other riders) and it was Warren who wrote to his mother, after he narrowly missed being wounded during the fighting on April 19 (his wig was shot off his head), “Where danger is, dear mother, there your son must be”. After the battle of Lexington and Concord he remained with the Continental Army as a private until commissioned as a Major General on June 14, 1775. Warren declined command of troops on Breed’s Hill outside of Boston, deferring to officers there with more military experience, though he was credited with inspiring the men around him during the British assault on June 18. He was killed during the third assault, bayoneted until his body was beyond recognition, and buried in a shallow grave. Outside of Boston he is scarcely remembered as one of America’s earliest founders.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Major General John Stark managed to see action in nearly all of the major engagements of the American Revolutionary War. Wikimedia

2. John Stark was known as the Hero of Bennington

John Stark, while well-known in his native New Hampshire, is mostly forgotten in the rest of the United States, though he was a hero of two American wars. Before the French and Indian War he demonstrated his personal courage when he was captured by the Abenaki and when ordered to run the gauntlet instead charged one of the Indians in line to beat him. He served with Rogers’ Rangers during the war, gaining military and leadership experience. His militia company responded to the call on April 18, 1775, and established the position on the American flank at the Battle of Breed’s Hill which repulsed three British assaults, inflicting heavy losses on the regulars, before covering the American retreat when the British finally carried the hill. He served in the New York Campaign, the retreat across New Jersey, and at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.

After being sent to New Hampshire to recruit additional companies Stark resigned when he learned that be had been bypassed for promotion in favor of a political officer of no combat experience. When General John Burgoyne’s expedition began thrusting down from Ticonderoga Stark returned to the militia, commanding local companies against Britain’s Indian and Hessian allies. Stark’s command crushed a force of British and Hessians at the Battle of Bennington, a critical victory in the campaign which led to the surrender at Saratoga in the autumn of 1777. Stark then returned to the Continental Army, serving as commander of the Northern Army three times from 1778-1781. After the war Stark retired to his New Hampshire farm, where he died at the age 93 in 1822. Few Revolutionary war generals served in more engagements, or with greater distinction, than he.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
It was John Glover’s Marblehead Regiment which helped Washington’s Army escape from Long Island and which ferried him across the Delaware in December, 1776. Wikimedia

3. John Glover and the Marblehead Regiment

George Washington had no navy to speak of, making his orders from Congress to defend New York from the British virtually impossible to carry out with any prospect of success. Had it not been for the talents and skills of the Marblehead regiment, comprised of seamen and fishermen from Gloucester and Marblehead, Washington’s entire army would have been trapped on Long Island and the American Revolution brought to an end in September, 1776. Instead, the regiment under its commander, John Glover, after distinguishing itself in the fighting during the Battle of Long Island (an American defeat) evacuated Washington’s entire army, with its horses, artillery, and equipment, across the East River to Manhattan under the noses of the British in the course of a single night. It was not the last time Washington would use Glover’s regiment to befuddle the enemy.

On Christmas night later that same year Glover’s regiment successfully transported Washington’s attack columns and artillery across the ice clogged Delaware River, allowing Washington to launch the attack on Trenton which saved the Revolution the following morning. The following year Glover served along the Hudson River, building and maintaining the defenses which made British probes upriver difficult and often deadly. After service in the Saratoga campaign Glover was instrumental in developing the defenses at West Point and other strongholds along the Hudson. But it was his services in rescuing Washington from calamity at New York and carrying the Continental Army to its eventual victory at Trenton which were his greatest contributions to the Revolution. The famed painting Washington Crossing the Delaware depicts the general’s determination, but it was the skill of Glover and his men which made the victory possible.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Edward Preble trained most of the young officers who gave the United States Navy its early reputation for professionalism and valor. USNA

4. Edward Preble and his boys during the First Barbary War

Edward Preble served in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War, was captured and spent time in a prison ship, and eventually was released to serve in the Massachusetts Navy. Following the war he sailed on merchant ships until commissioned in the United States Navy when it was formed in the late 1790s. In 1800 he commanded USS Essex during that ship’s cruise to the Pacific, the first by an American man-o-war to those waters. In 1803, with the rank of Commodore, he sailed to the Mediterranean in USS Constitution during the First Barbary War, to take command on that station. Preble forced a peace treaty with Morocco and then sailed to Tripoli, while there completing his greatest contribution to the United States Navy.

Among the young officers he trained there – they became known as Preble’s boys – were Isaac Hull, who commanded Constitution when it defeated HMS Guerierre in 1812; James Lawrence, who gave the Navy the motto “Don’t give up the ship”; Stephen Decatur, whose heroic exploits made him a legend in his lifetime; Thomas MacDonough, who defeated the British at the crucial battle of Lake Champlain in 1814; David Porter, whose epic cruise in Essex severely damaged the British whaling industry; Oliver Hazard Perry, who won the Battle of Lake Erie; and several others. Preble instilled the fighting spirit and professionalism which became the hallmark of the US Navy, and the beginnings of most of its most cherished traditions. He has a legitimate claim of being the true Father of the United States Navy, but beyond naval tradition he is virtually unknown today.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
A monument to the Battle of Bladensburg depicts a wounded Joshua Barney, who commanded one of the few American units on the field which did not flee in panic. Wikimedia

5. Commodore Joshua Barney and the Battle of Bladensburg

Joshua Barney was an American naval officer who served in the Continental Navy with distinction and later joined the United States Navy, eventually in 1814 commanding a gunboat flotilla in Chesapeake Bay. The gunboats were the result of President Jefferson shifting the focus of the navy to coastal defense, rather than the big frigates which had been the goal of the navy under John Adams. Barney used the gunboats to frustrate the British Navy in the Chesapeake, when their deeper draft ships couldn’t pursue him into shallow waters and the ship’s boats sent to pursue him were outgunned by the Americans. Tiring of trying to subdue the American Commodore, the British moved on to attack Washington. After landing in Maryland, the British marched on the nation’s capital. A ragtag American army moved to oppose them at Bladensburg, Maryland.

Barney took about 350 sailors and just over 100 US Marines to join them. When the American army was routed (the battle became known as the Bladensburg races for the speed with which the American army fled the field) Barney and his men stood fast. Repeated assaults by the cream of the British army, veterans of the Peninsula War in Spain, failed to dislodge the American seamen. Finally overcome by sheer weight of numbers, the Americans withdrew, leaving their badly wounded commander on the field, where he was saluted by the British for his bravery and leadership. Barney recovered somewhat from his wounds, though a bullet in his hip was lodged too deeply to be removed. He survived being captured by the British, though he died from complications of his wound in 1818. His heroism was in vain, as the British troops advanced to capture and burn Washington, and Barney passed mostly unremembered into history.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
New Hampshire’s Henry Dearborn was an accomplished soldier of the Revolutionary War whose name has faded from the national memory. Wikimedia

6. Dearborn, Michigan was named for Revolutionary War veteran Henry Dearborn

Henry Dearborn was a New Hampshire militiaman who rose to prominence in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, serving with distinction at Bunker Hill under John Stark. He was a participant in the invasion of Canada in 1775, enduring the epic march through the Maine swamps under Benedict Arnold, and was captured in the failed assault on Quebec on New Year’s Eve of that year. Paroled and later exchanged, he served in the Saratoga campaign and later fought with Washington’s army at the Battle of Monmouth Court House. He also fought in Sullivan’s punitive expedition against the Iroquois, and commanded a regiment during the Yorktown campaign. He was one of the very few regimental commanders to be present at the three major turning points of the Revolutionary War, Saratoga, Monmouth, and Yorktown.

He later served as Secretary of War under President Jefferson, and was instrumental in founding the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1812 he was appointed to command the US Army as its most senior officer. During the war of 1812 he commanded the northeastern theater of operations, though by then in his sixties he was less than aggressive in prosecuting the war. By 1813, though still in official command, he delegated most of the operations to Winfield Scott, though troops under his command achieved victories over the British at the Battles of York (now Toronto) and at Fort George. Dearborn was later assigned to an administrative position in New York, his health inadequate to the rigors of the field. He later served as the American Minister to Portugal. He died in 1829, having served his country in the field and in political positions for more than fifty years, and faded into history.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
William Eaton’s national fame did not survive political disputes, a gambling addiction, and heavy drinking. Library of Congress

7. William Eaton and the shores of Tripoli

The United States Marine Hymn tells of the Marines going “to the shores of Tripoli”. The song refers to an attack on the Tripolitan city of Derne in 1805, and the Marine complement which took part consisted of eight men. They along with two Navy midshipmen and a force of unknown size consisting of Arab tribesmen under Hamet Caramelli, brother to the Tripolitan Pasha, assaulted and captured the city during the First Barbary War on April 27, 1805. It was the first time the American flag was raised over a captured foreign territory (Americans had captured Canadian territory during the Revolution, but not under the Stars and Stripes). The American force was commanded by a diplomat, naval officer, and soldier named William Eaton. The victory made him a national hero, though by the end of his own lifetime he was a forgotten man.

Eaton’s victory was a significant factor in the treaty which ended the First Barbary War, which temporarily curtailed the activities of the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Eaton himself expressed dissatisfaction with the treaty, and after being called to testify in the treason trial of Aaron Burr he retired to Massachusetts an embittered man. Drinking and gambling led to indebtedness, and political differences with the Federalists led to reproach. His two sons were early graduates of the Military Academy at West Point, but Eaton found his reputation and legacy besmirched by drunken behavior and debt. He died in 1811, at the age of only 47, all but forgotten as the hero of America’s first foreign war. The small city of Eaton, Ohio was named in his memory.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Jefferson Davis was an American war hero from the Mexican War who voted against secession before becoming the only president of the Confederate States of America. Library of Congress

8. Jefferson Davis was a hero of the Mexican War

Before he became the President of the Confederate States of America (he voted against secession) Jefferson Davis was an American war hero. Davis graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1828, and as a young lieutenant served in the Black Hawk War. It fell to Davis to escort Chief Black Hawk to prison after that event. Davis was often ill, likely from recurrent malaria, and in 1835 he married the daughter of his commanding officer, Zachary Taylor, against the father’s wishes and resigned his commission later the same month. His wife, the former Sarah Taylor, died in September of that year on his sister’s Louisiana plantation. Davis became distant and a loner for several years, though he made his first forays into politics in the 1840s, and eventually remarried in early 1845. When the Mexican War broke out, Davis mustered a regiment of militia.

Although most of the army still used smoothbore muskets, Davis armed his companies with rifles, and his command became known as the Mississippi Rifles. In February 1847, Davis led his unit during the Battle of Buena Vista, where he was badly wounded by a shot in the foot while he rallied his men. His commander, Zachary Taylor, told Davis, “My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was”, ending a long-standing grudge between the two men. Taylor recommended to President James K. Polk that Davis be promoted to the rank of General of Volunteers, to which Polk acceded. Davis declined the appointment, arguing that the federal government had no right to create or promote militia, which was reserved to the states. It was Davis’s war service which saw him appointed to a vacant Senate seat, launching his national political career.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Cadet Custer in West Point uniform in 1859. Within two years he was a celebrated American cavalry leader. Wikimedia

9. George Armstrong Custer was national hero during the Civil War

George Armstrong Custer is mostly remembered for the debacle in Montana on June 25, 1876, when he and most of his command were wiped out at the Little Big Horn. History has not been kind to his memory. To some he was a blustering fool, to others a racist butcher of women and children, an egomaniac whose legend was created and burnished by his widow. Regardless of Custer’s actions in the west following the Civil War, he was a national hero during that conflict, and deservedly so. His actions on the battlefields of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were legendary within the army and in the northern press, and he was promoted, albeit temporarily, to the rank of Major General at the age of twenty-three, making him the youngest man to hold that rank since the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolutionary War.

At the Battle of Gettysburg an incident which is often overlooked in discussions of the fight occurred. Pickett’s Charge was supported by one of the largest artillery bombardments in history before the Confederate regiments moved forward, a fact which is well known. Less well known was that the charge was also supported by a planned cavalry attack to the Union rear. Confederate cavalry led by Jeb Stuart were attempting to attack Union positions on Culp’s Hill in support of Pickett’s attack on the Union center. Custer, with about 2,700 men, fought off Stuart’s more than 6,000 troops, disrupting the Confederate attack. Custer’s stand at Gettysburg is far less remembered than his fatal stand at the Little Big Horn, but it made him a national hero, a status he retained until the Indian Wars.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
French ships visiting Ganghwa in 1866. As with the Americans, the French were denied trading rights by the Korean regime. Wikimedia

10. Hugh McKee and America’s first intervention in Korea

One of the lesser known events of American history was the military expedition to Korea in 1871. It was the first time American newspapers reported on events on Ganghwa Island and the nearby region known as Inchon, which would become familiar names to Americans eight decades later. The expedition was dispatched by the United States Navy and Marine Corps to discover what had happened to the merchant ship General Sherman, which had been attacked by the Koreans after it attempted to establish trade relations in 1866. Two visiting American warships were bombarded by Korean shore batteries five years later and the United States sent a punitive expedition in early June, 1971. What had originated as a diplomatic mission became America’s first military operation on the Korean Peninsula.

On June 10, an American force of about 650 sailors and marines landed on Ganghwa Island to capture Korean forts and batteries. One of them was Navy lieutenant Hugh McKee, an 1866 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. During the battle for one fortress, no less than fifteen sailors and marines took action, under McKee’s leadership, which led to them being awarded the Medal of Honor (often erroneously referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor). One of them, William Troy, was awarded the medal for his actions rescuing his severely wounded commander. McKee later died of his wounds aboard USS Monocacy. The hand to hand combat which saw more than a dozen men eventually awarded the Medal of Honor is all but forgotten in American history. They were the first Americans to receive the award for actions in a foreign conflict.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Headquarters of the US 89th Division near St. Mihiel, September, 1918. National Archives

11. David Barkley and the Meuse River in France

When the United States finally entered what was then known as the Great War, later to be called World War One after an even larger conflict surpassed it, American’s flocked to recruiting stations. Among them was a young Texan of Mexican-American descent named David Bennes Barkley Cantu. Cantu was his mother’s maiden name, which he used as his last name after his father abandoned the family. When it became time for him to join the army he used his father’s last name – Barkley – in order that he not be sent to a Mexican-American unit, the United States Army being racially segregated at the time. By 1918 he was with the American 89th Division, 356th Infantry regiment, serving at the front near the Meuse River in France. In November, 1918 he and a fellow infantryman, Sergeant Waldo Hatler, were sent to observe German positions along the Meuse.

The two Americans swam across the river near Pouilly-sur-Meuse, allowing them to approach the German positions and observe their deployments from the rear. After obtaining the necessary information regarding the German defenses and deployments they returned by the way they came. In his Medal of Honor citation, Barkley is referred to as having been, “seized with cramps” which led to his drowning in the chilly waters of the Meuse. Sergeant Hatler was successful crossing the river and the information was provided to American leaders. It proved unnecessary. Two days later an armistice was announced and combat action ceased at 11:00 AM, on the eleventh day of November, the eleventh month of the year. The date became noted as Armistice Day, which was later changed to Veteran’s Day, though David Barkley’s heroism is all but forgotten.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
American troops at the front in France in 1918, during the final months of the First World War. Wikimedia

12. Thomas Hall and the Fort Mill (South Carolina) National Guard

Thomas Hall served with the Fort Mill National Guard along the Mexican border before the unit was transferred to France in the spring of 1918. The unit was moved to the front lines when the American Expeditionary Force fully deployed, and in the late summer and autumn of 1918 they were heavily engaged with German forces along the Hindenberg Line, a series of fortified positions established to blunt the Allies’ thrust towards Germany. The war, which had been stalled in trench warfare since 1915, became fluid again as the Allies moved forward. Casualties among the Americans mounted. On October 8, 1918, Hall’s company numbered 185 men fit for combat when the day began. By its end only 37 men remained unwounded or otherwise uninjured. One of the Americans who did not survive the heavy combat of that day was Thomas Hall.

Hall was a sergeant in charge of a squad that day, when they encountered a series of entrenched German heavy machine gun positions. Each encounter led to Hall approaching the German position alone, subjecting himself to danger rather than sending the squad forward. In this manner Hall silenced several German positions before being struck by machine gun fire. Prior to his receiving his mortal wounds he eliminated one machine gun nest, occupied by five German soldiers, using nothing but his bayonet. For his actions on October 8, 1918, just over one month before the fighting ended, Hall was awarded the Medal of Honor. Hall was one of the 96 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who were awarded the Medal of Honor during the First World War.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Troopship believed to be USS President Lincoln, which was sunk by a German U-Boat after conveying five loads of American troops to Europe in World War I. Wikimedia

13. Edouard Izac escaped from German captivity

Edouard Izac was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, serving on the troop transport ship USS President Lincoln (a former German passenger liner impounded by the Americans). Between October 1917 and May 1918 the ship made five voyages across the Atlantic, helping to deliver the American Expeditionary Force to Europe. On May 31, President Lincoln was on the return leg, bound for New York, when it was torpedoed and sunk by the German U-Boat U-90. Though most of the more than 700 men aboard survived and were rescued by American destroyers from lifeboats or the water, 26 died in the attack, and Lieutenant Izac was captured and taken aboard the German U-Boat as a prisoner of war. While aboard the vessel he paid particular attention to the German operations and communications, retaining the information in his memory. He was put ashore in Germany and immediately attempted what became several escape efforts.

In one attempt, as he was being taken by train to a German prisoner of war camp, he jumped through a window from the moving railway car, but was quickly recaptured. The incident caused injuries from which he never fully recovered. He finally escaped from a German camp in early October, 1918, reaching Switzerland along with another American prisoner. The neutral Swiss expatriated him to London, from which he passed the information to American Vice Admiral William Sims, who ran US Navy operations in the Atlantic. By the time Izac provided the information the war was nearly over, and Sims didn’t act to use what Izac told him regarding U-Boat tactics and capabilities. Izac returned to the United States to recover from his injuries, arriving on November 11, 1918, the last day of the war. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions two years later.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Members of the New York National Guard aboard USS President Lincoln being shipped to France in 1918. National Guard

14. Henry Johnson and the Argonne Forest

Henry Johnson was of indeterminate age (he recorded different dates of birth on several documents) working as a Red Cap in the Albany Union Station in 1917, when he joined the all-black 15th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard. The unit became the 369th Infantry Regiment when the Guard was nationalized and was sent to France in late 1917 and early 1918. Unlike most of the American regiments, which General John J. Pershing, the American commander, retained as an autonomous force, Johnson’s regiment was assigned to serve under the direct command of French forces. The 369th wasn’t strictly all-black, its officers were white. Some historians have suggested that Pershing assigned the unit to a French command due to American soldiers refusing to share encampments and later trenches with black troops, though other all-black units served alongside American units at the front.

The French assigned Johnson’s unit to a region in Champagne, near the Argonne Forest. Johnson was manning an observation post in May, 1918, when a German patrol attacked. Estimates of the number of Germans in the patrol vary according to sources, but may have been as many as two dozen. Johnson fought the German patrol using his rifle and sidearm, hand grenades, and finally in hand to hand combat using a knife, before the German attack was repulsed. During the encounter he was wounded a total of 21 times. The story of his defense of his position was reported first in French newspapers before being picked up by The Saturday Evening Post in the United States, which told the tale in August, 1918. Johnson returned to the United States in 1919, for a short time gave lecture tours, and then faded into obscurity, dying of complications from tuberculosis in 1929. In 2015 he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
USS Pope underway off China between the World Wars. US Navy

15. Richard Antrim was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a prisoner of war

Richard Antrim was a US Naval officer serving as the executive officer of USS Pope when World War II in the Pacific broke out in 1941. The ship was sunk during the Battle of the Java Sea, and after three days in the water the survivors were picked up by the Japanese, Antrim among them. The Japanese turned the Americans, now prisoners of war, over to a POW camp near Makassar, in the Celebes Islands. There the Americans were quickly subjected to the brutality of life in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, where food was scarce and what there was abysmal, forced daily labor (in violation of the Geneva Convention) was a requirement, medical care and medicines were unavailable, and the prisoners were subjected to the individual violent tendencies of the camp guards. Beatings were commonplace and often severe.

When Antrim observed a Japanese guard administering an exceptionally brutal beating on an American prisoner, Lieutenant Junior Grade Allen Fisher, he physically intervened to stop the violent attack on the helpless prisoner, demanding that he be allowed to receive the remaining punishment. The action placed him at considerable risk, and he eventually was awarded the Medal of Honor for it. In another act of defiance, when the Americans were ordered to dig slit trenches for their protection during air raids, Antrim convinced the Japanese to allow him to lay out a pattern of trenches which would be more effective. He laid out the trenches so that from the air they spelled out US. Had his deception been detected he would have been subject to execution by beheading. Antrim remained on active duty until his retirement in 1954.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
The Japanese carrier Hiryu sinking on the morning of June 5, 1942, one of four fleet carriers the Japanese lost. Partly in retaliation, they brutally executed at least three captured American aviators. US Navy

16. Japanese execution of American airmen during the Battle of Midway

The Battle of Midway in June of 1942 is often described as the turning point of the Pacific War. Certainly it was one of the turning points, since it ended the six month period in which the Japanese ran amok throughout the theater. With knowledge of Japanese intentions, the United States Navy was able to prepare an ambush of Japanese strike forces aimed at neutralizing the Midway Atoll and then occupying it with aircraft capable of threatening the sea lanes between Hawaii and the American west coast. On June 4, 1942, American aircraft from three carriers, Hornet, Yorktown, and Enterprise, destroyed four Japanese aircraft carriers, causing the loss of hundreds of aircraft and airmen, and dealt the Imperial Japanese Navy a costly and humiliating defeat.

The United States took heavy casualties too among its airmen, especially those flying torpedo bombers and the Douglas Dauntless dive bombers. Three such airmen were shot down during the battle and subsequently taken aboard Japanese ships as prisoners. The three men were Ensign Wesley Osmus, a flyer from USS Yorktown; Ensign Frank O’Flaherty, who flew a Dauntless from USS Enterprise, and his gunner, Bruno Gaido. All three were “interrogated” by Japanese officers aboard ship before all three were executed by weighing them down and throwing them overboard. The fact that the three men were executed from two different ships indicated that it was a command decision. It was neither the first nor the last of the many brutal executions conducted by the Japanese over the course of the Pacific War. None of the men were honored with medals, but all three were heroes.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
US sailors secure a towline to take the captured U-505 into an American port in 1944. US Navy

17. Albert David led the capture of an intact German U-Boat

In 1815 the United States Navy used boarding parties to take possession of enemy vessels which had surrendered, or in the case of the enemy still resisting to force a surrender. Boarding was a common naval tactic in the age of sail. By 1944 it was all but unheard of, capital ships with big guns, such as battleships, could engage their enemies while they were barely in sight, the fire control system taking into account the curvature of the surface of the earth. On June 4, 1944 the cry of “boarders away” was heard on an American warship, USS Pillsbury, for the first time since the War of 1812 and the last time in its history, when American sailors captured a German U-Boat, U-505, off the coast of West Africa. The U-Boat had been forced to surface by an anti-submarine task force led by USS Guadalcanal.

Nine US sailors led by Lieutenant Albert David lowered a boat from USS Pillsbury and boarded the German submarine, which had not surrendered and the crew of which were preparing to scuttle. The Americans overwhelmed the Germans, removed explosive charges designed to sink the vessel, and realigned the control system to prevent flooding. The submarine was then taken under tow. The capture of the German U-Boat was an intelligence treasure trove, and the crew was kept incommunicado to prevent the German Command from learning that the boat was in American possession. David was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions preventing the Germans from destroying the submarine, though he died of natural causes before he received it, and it was presented to his widow by President Truman. The submarine today is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois.

18 All But Forgotten American War Heroes
Edward “Butch” O’Hare posed in the cockpit of an F4F Wildcat after becoming the US Navy’s first official flying ace in 1942. US Navy

18. Edward O’Hare was the first flying ace of the United States Navy

Edward O’Hare was serving in the United States Navy, a graduate of the Naval Academy, when gunmen working for Al Capone killed his father, in revenge for testimony during Capone’s tax evasion trials. The younger O’Hare trained as a naval aviator in 1940, and by 1941 was serving in various aircraft carriers, known as Butch by his fellow flyers. In February 1942 he was serving in USS Lexington when that ship was attacked by Japanese bombers while operating near Rabaul. O’Hare was credited with shooting down five of the bombers himself (in fact he destroyed three) and thus became the United States Navy’s first flying ace, the first American ace of the Second World War, and was awarded the Medal of Honor. For the next several months he appeared in goodwill and morale building roles in the United States, and then as an instructor in Hawaii.

In 1943 O’Hare returned to combat operations. In November he became missing in action and for decades was presumed to have been the victim of a friendly fire incident. Later evidence revealed he had in fact been shot down by gunners from a Japanese bomber during an early night mission. O’Hare remained one of the most well-known Navy pilots of the war even after he was declared missing in action, and declared killed in action in November 1944. In 1949 the Chicago native whose father had been a victim of the notorious Al Capone was honored by his home town. Orchard Depot Airport was renamed for O’Hare, and is today known as O’Hare International Airport, known to travelers around the world simply as O’Hare. A restored F4F Wildcat similar to the one flown by O’Hare during his Medal of Honor winning flight is on display there in Terminal Two.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Paul Revere’s Ride”. David Hackett Fischer. 1994

“Stark: The Life and War of John Stark, French and Indian War Ranger, Revolutionary War General”. Richard V. Polhemus, John F. Polhemus. 2014

“General John Glover and his Marblehead Mariners”. George Athan Billias. 1960

“Preble’s Boys: Commodore Preble and the Birth of American Sea Power”. Fletcher Pratt. 1950

“Humiliation and Triumph”. Walter Lord, American Heritage Magazine. August, 1972

“The War of 1812, the Forgotten Conflict”. Donald R. Hickey. 1989

“‘General’ Eaton And His Improbable Legion”. William Harlan Hale, American Heritage Magazine. February, 1960

“Jefferson Davis, American”. William J. Cooper. 2000

“Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg and Why it Failed”. Tom Carhart. 2005

“Race and Civilization in the Unknown United States-Korea War in 1871”. Gordon H. Chang, Journal of American History. March, 2003

“Barkley, David Bennes”. Entry by James Myers in Texas State Historical Association Handbook. Online

“Hall, Thomas Lee”. Entry in Medal of Honor recipients, US Army Center for Military History. Online

“Prisoner of the U-90”. Edouard Izac. 2012

“Remembering Henry Johnson, the Soldier Called ‘Black Death'”. Gilbert King, Smithsonian Magazine. October, 2011

“Antrim, Richard N. Rear Admiral USN (Retired)”. Entry, Naval History and Heritage Command. Online

“The Pacific War: The Story of the Bitter Struggle in the Pacific Theater of World War II”. Edited by Bernard C. Nalty. 1999

“Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea”. Daniel V. Gallery. 2012

“Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O’Hare”. Steve Ewing and John B. Lundstrom. 1997