This Week in American Military History:
Jan. 26, 1945: U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Audie L. Murphy’s B Company, 15th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division is positioned on the outskirts of Holtzwihr, France, when suddenly the company is attacked by six tanks and at least 250 snow-white camouflaged German infantrymen – members of the elite 2nd Gebirgsjaeger (Mountain Hunter) Division.
Murphy, the ranking officer (previous fighting had decimated the officer ranks), immediately orders his men to fall back. He remains forward on the command post telephone directing artillery fire against the enemy. When an officer on the other line asks how close the advancing enemy is to Murphy’s position. Murphy replies, “If you just hold the phone a minute, I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards.”
According to his subsequent citation for the Medal of Honor, “With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2nd Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer [the tank destroyer located behind Murphy which had just taken a direct hit], which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver.”
The fighting continues for at least an hour. Murphy is wounded. At one point the Germans close to within 10 yards of his position. When his ammunition is exhausted, Murphy leaps off the tank destroyer (the vehicle explodes shortly thereafter), limps and crawls back to his company, organizes a counterattack, and drives the remaining enemy from the field.
For his actions, Murphy is awarded the Medal of Honor. That and previous decorations make him one of the most-decorated American soldiers in history (He is widely recognized as “the most decorated American soldier of World War II.”). Murphy becomes a post-war Hollywood film star, and is killed in a plane crash in 1971.
Jan. 26, 1948: Pres. Harry S. Truman signs executive order 9981, which essentially directs the desegregation of the armed forces.
Jan. 27, 1837: U.S. soldiers and Marines under the command of Col. Archibald Henderson – a serving Marine Corps commandant – defeat a force of Seminole Indians in the running battle of Hatchee-Lustee Creek (Florida). For his actions, Henderson will receive a brevet promotion to brigadier general, becoming the Corps’ first general officer.
Known to every Marine since as “the grand old man of the Marine Corps,” Henderson was the longest-serving commandant in Marine Corps history (becoming commandant in 1820 when he was a lieutenant colonel and serving for the next 38 years). Prior to departing Headquarters Marine Corps for the journey south, Henderson purportedly tacked a note to his door which read: “Gone to Florida to fight the Indians. Will be back when the war is over.”
Jan. 27, 1862: Pres. Abraham Lincoln issues the first of two war orders. The first, General War Order No. One, directs U.S. Army and Naval forces to move “against the insurgent forces [of the Southern states].” In four days, Lincoln will issue Special War Order No. One, calling for an expeditionary force to seize and hold “a point” along the railroad southwest of Manassas Junction.
Jan. 27, 1942: The submarine USS Gudgeon sinks a Japanese submarine – becoming the first American sub to send an enemy warship to the bottom during World War II – almost one year to the day after she was launched (Jan. 25, 1941) at Mare Island, California.
Gudgeon also becomes the first sub to patrol Japanese waters. She will go on to rack up more than a dozen kills. She will conduct rescue missions and special operations. But in 1944, on her 12th patrol, she mysteriously disappears with all hands.
A second Gudgeon is commissioned in 1952.
Jan. 27, 1943: American bombers – specifically B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators – of the U.S. Eighth Air Force strike German U-boat facilities at Wilhelmshaven. The bombing raid by “the Mighty Eighth” is the first U.S. Army Air Forces mission over Germany.
Jan. 28, 1915: Pres. Woodrow Wilson signs into law the congressionally approved merger of the “Life Saving” and “Revenue Cutter” services, thus establishing the U.S. Coast Guard. Still, the officially recognized birthday of the Coast Guard is Aug. 4, 1790, the day Congress approved Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s proposal to “build ten cutters to protect the new nation’s revenue.”
Jan. 30, 1862: The U.S. Navy’s first ironclad ship, USS Monitor, is launched at Greenpoint, N.Y. Designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, the turreted gunship will make history in March when it trades shots with the Confederate ironclad Virginia (a vessel built from the previously scuttled USS Merrimac) in a duel ending in a draw at Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Jan. 30, 1968: The Vietnamese TET Offensive – launched by jointly operating North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces – kicks off across South Vietnam. We will have more on TET in the coming weeks.