May is officially Military Appreciation Month. Not only do we pause on Memorial Day to remember the sacrifice and service of those who gave all, but the month also holds several other military anniversaries including Armed Forces Day.
There are three “official” days each year where we remember our present and former military members. Armed Forces Day, the 3rd Sat in May, is when we salute those still in uniform, active duty, national guard, or reserves. Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is when we remember those who served and are no longer with us. And Veterans Day, the 11th of Nov, is when we recognize those still with us but no longer in uniform.
Welcome to the second half of May:
On 18 May 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant surrounded Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, in one of the most brilliant campaigns of the war.
Beginning in the winter of 1862-63, Grant made several attempts to capture Vicksburg. In March, he marched his army down the west bank of the Mississippi, while Union Admiral David Porter’s flotilla ran past the substantial batteries that protected the city. They met south of the city, and Grant crossed the river and entered Mississippi. He then moved north to approach Vicksburg from its more lightly defended eastern side. In May, he had to split his army to deal with a threat from Joseph Johnston’s Rebels in Jackson, the state capital that lay 40 miles east of Vicksburg. After defeating Johnston’s forces, Grant moved toward Vicksburg.
On May 16, Grant fought the Confederates under John C. Pemberton at Champion Hill and defeated them decisively. He then attacked again at the Big Black River the next day, and Pemberton fled into Vicksburg with Grant following close behind. The trap was now complete and Pemberton was stuck in Vicksburg, although his forces would hold out until July 4.
In the three weeks since Grant crossed the Mississippi in the campaign to capture Vicksburg, his men marched 180 miles and won five battles. They took nearly 100 Confederate artillery pieces and nearly 6,000 prisoners, all with relatively light losses.
On 19 May 1864, President Abraham Lincoln wrote to anti-slavery Congressional leader Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts proposing that widows and children of soldiers should be given equal treatment regardless of race.
Lincoln shared many of his friend Sumner’s views on civil rights. In an unprecedented move, Lincoln allowed a black woman, the widow of a black Civil War soldier, Major Lionel Booth, to meet with him at the White House. Mary Booth’s husband had been killed at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in April 1864 by a Confederate sniper. The massacre of African-American Union forces that followed the subsequent fall of the fort was considered one of the most brutal of the Civil War. After speaking with Mrs. Booth privately, Lincoln sat down and wrote a letter of
introduction for Mrs. Booth to carry to Sumner and asked him to hear what she had to say about the hardships imposed on families of black soldiers killed or maimed in battle.
As a result of his meeting with Mrs. Booth, Senator Sumner influenced Congressional members in 1866 to introduce a resolution (H.R. 406, Section 13) to provide for the equal treatment of the dependents of black soldiers. According to the Library of Congress, though, there are no records that Mrs. Booth ever applied for or received a widow’s pension after the bill’s passage.
On 20 May 1801, four warships were sent to Mediterranean to protect American commerce form Barbary pirates. I guess it didn’t work, because 14 years later, on 20 May 1815, Commodore Stephen Decatur sailed with 10 ships to suppress Mediterranean pirates’ raids on US shipping.
On 20 May 1951, Air Force Captain James Jabara, 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, became the first Korean War ace and the first jet ace in aviation history after downing his fifth MiG. He accomplished this feat in an F-86 Sabre with one hung drop tank.
On 21 May 1942, during WWII, 4,300 Jews were deported from the Polish town of Chelm to the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor, where all are gassed to death. On the same day, the German firm IG Farben sets up a factory just outside Auschwitz, in order to take advantage of Jewish slave laborers from the Auschwitz concentration camps.
Sobibor had five gas chambers, where about 250,000 Jews were killed between 1942 and 1943. A camp revolt occurred in October 1943; 300 Jewish slave laborers rose up and killed several members of the SS as well as Ukrainian guards. The rebels were killed as they battled their captors or tried to escape. The remaining prisoners were executed the very next day.
IG Farben, as well as exploiting Jewish slave labor for its oil and rubber production, also performed drug experiments on inmates. Tens of thousands of prisoners would ultimately die because of brutal work conditions and the savagery of the guards. Several of the firm’s officials would be convicted of “plunder,” “spoliation of property,” “imposing slave labor,” and “inhumane treatment” of civilians and POWs after the war. The company itself came under Allied control. The original goal was to dismantle its industries, which also included the manufacture of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, so as to prevent it from ever posing a threat “to Germany’s neighbors or to world peace.” But as time passed, the resolve weakened, and the Western powers broke the company up into three separate divisions: Hoechst, Bayer, and BASF.
21 May 2022 is Armed Forces Day. It is celebrated on the third Saturday in May. On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department — the Department of Defense. Each of the military leagues and orders was asked to drop sponsorship of its specific service day in order to celebrate the newly announced Armed Forces Day. It didn’t work. Each of the services continues to celebrate its own birthday. I am unaware of anywhere that this day is celebrated by anyone. It is, however, the day we honor those men and women that wear the uniform of our nation, active duty, national guard, and reserves.
On 22 May 1939, Italy and Germany agreed to a military and political alliance, giving birth formally to the Axis powers, which would ultimately include Japan.
Mussolini coined the nickname “Pact of Steel” (he had also come up with the metaphor of an “axis” binding Rome and Berlin), to describe this historic agreement with Germany. The Duce saw this partnership as not only a defensive alliance, protection from the Western democracies, with whom he anticipated war, but also a source of backing for his Balkan adventures. Both sides were fearful and distrustful of the other, and only sketchily shared their prospective plans. The result was both Italy and Germany, rather than acting in unison, would often “react” to the precipitate military action of the other. In September 1940, the Pact of Steel would become the Tripartite Pact, with Japan making up the third constituent of the triad.
On 23 May 1777, during the Revolutionary War, at Sag Harbor, New York, Patriot troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Meigs captured several British vessels and burned Redcoat supplies. With the help of two local men, Meigs and his Connecticut raiders grabbed the British commander from his bed in the wee hours of the morning, firing only one gunshot. Instead of guns, the Patriots used silent but deadly bayonets to capture the British fort, successfully avoiding announcing their presence with gunfire.
The British had built their fort on the site of a burial ground because it was the highest land in the area and had the best view of the harbor. The Redcoats desecrated colonists’ family gravesites, and in the process, lost the important battle for the hearts and minds of the residents. Nearly half of Sag Harbor’s families fled to Connecticut during the British occupation.
With six Redcoats dead and 53 captive from their success on land, the Patriots moved from the hilltop fort towards the harbor. The British ships anchored there eventually noticed the body of men moving towards them and opened fire. The Patriots, though, went on to burn 24 British ships and their cargoes of hay, rum, grain and other merchandise. With an additional 37 prisoners in custody, the 170 Yankee raiders returned to Connecticut without having lost a single man in their party.
The Sag Harbor ambush was the only successful Patriot attack on Long Island between the British takeover in 1776 and their departure following the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
On 26 May 1865, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi division, was the last general of the Confederate Army to surrender. Smith, who had become commander of the area in January 1863, was charged with keeping the Mississippi River open to the Southerners. Yet he was more interested in recapturing Arkansas and Missouri largely because of the influence of Arkansans in the Confederate Congress who helped to secure his appointment. Smith officially laid down his arms at Galveston on June 2. He was the last surviving full Confederate general until his death in 1893.
On 26 May 1945, during WWII, some 464 American B-29 Superfortress bombers fire-bombed Tokyo with about 4000 tons of incendiaries. Parts of the imperial palace were damaged as was
the nearby business district of Marunouchi, which was the targeted area. A total of 26 of the Marianas-based bombers were lost.
On 28 May 1754, in the first engagement of the French and Indian War, a Virginia militia under 22-year-old Lieutenant Colonel George Washington defeated a French reconnaissance party in southwestern Pennsylvania. In a surprise attack, the Virginians killed 10 French soldiers from Fort Duquesne, including the French commander and took 21 prisoners. Only one of Washington’s men was killed. The French and Indian War was the last and most important of a series of colonial conflicts between the British and the American colonists on one side, and the French and their broad network of Native American allies on the other.
On 28 May 1945, during WWII, over 100 Japanese planes were shot down near Okinawa. This was the last major effort against the Allied naval forces surrounding the island. One American destroyer was sunk in the otherwise unsuccessful air strikes.
On 30 May 1868, by proclamation of General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first major Memorial Day observance was held to honor those who died “in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” Known to some as “Decoration Day,” mourners honored the Civil War dead by decorating their graves with flowers.
By the late 19th century, many communities across the country had begun to celebrate Memorial Day, and after WWI, folks began to honor the dead of all of our wars. Now, it is generally a time to honor all those who have served in our nation’s military and who have died, whether or not they served in combat. Traditional Memorial Day continues to be cerebrated on the 30th of May.
In 1971, in order to create a 3-day weekend, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.
1. I used to have a fear of hurdles, but I got over it.
2. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
3. Did you know they won’t be making yardsticks any longer?
4. I used to be allergic to soap but I’m clean now.
5. The patron saint of poverty is St. Nickeless.
6. What did the man say when the bridge fell on him? The suspension is killing me.
7. Do you have weight loss mantras? Fat chants!
8. My tailor is happy to make a new pair of pants for me. Or sew it seams.
9. What is a thesaurus’s favorite dessert? Synonym buns.
10. A relief map shows where the restrooms are.
11. There was a big paddle sale at the boat store. It was quite an oar deal.
12. How do they figure out the price of hammers? Per pound.
The Frontlines of Freedom Newsletter is published twice monthly; the dates of publication each month depend on the events and history of that month.