The Watermelon Patch* # 2 –February
Gideon D. Asche.

*the place where Watermelons grow –A collection of historical military obscurities worthy of your file of useless information.

As Warriors, we assume the lineage of those who went before us, and only in knowing our lineage can we honor them.  There is plenty to honor in the month of February, but – I’ll start this one with a lame joke.

Two protestant Ministers, a Rabbi, and a Catholic Priest show up at the Pearly gates at precisely the same time…  soaking wet…  looking like drowned rats and expecting to be let in…

…What do you think St. Peter said?

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My bet is he didn’t say diddly; he snapped to attention, rendered a crisp salute, and opened the gate – The Four Dorchester Chaplains were home.

On 3 February 1943, the troop transport ship Dorchester was torpedoed while en route to Greenland. Onboard were over 900 Americans including 4 chaplains of different faiths.  Aside from attending Harvard together, the four men had but two significant things in common – the same God and the same flock.

When it became clear there was a shortage of lifeboat space – the four gave up their place in the boats and then when it was clear there was also a shortage of life belts—they gave up theirs to four of their Soldiers.

Only 230 of the men who went into the water that day were rescued.  Four who survived were wearing life belts bearing the names: Chaplain George Fox, Chaplain Clark Poling, Rabbi Alexander Goode, and Father John Washington.

The four were observed, by rescue personnel, mistering to their flock right up until the end – they were last seen standing together, on Dorchester’s deck, with locked arms singing hymns as she went below the icy waves.

The Four Dorchester Chaplains were recommended for the Medal of Honor, but the stringent requirement of “actions under enemy fire” was technically not met. It was denied.

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As a result, President Eisenhower ordered a one-time-only Posthumous Special Medal for Heroism to be authorized by Congress and awarded.  The special medal was intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.


Other Notable February events:

In February 1778, USS Ranger, under the command of John Paul Jones, appeared on the French horizon marking the first time The Stars and Stripes reached across the oceans.

Seeing the warship enter French territory, flying the newly adopted American Flag as her ensign, Admiral Toussaint-Guillaume Picquet de la Motte ordered the gun crews on his flagship to prepare their batteries to fire.

He then, in an act of respect and recognition of the new Republic called The United States of America, gave the order to fire, rendering a nine gun salute as Ranger entered the French port.  The world soon learned to respect the sight of the Stars and Stripes.

1932 – The Purple Heart award was reinstituted as the Award we know today.

Feb 1961, Operation Looking Glass began.   A Doomsday aircraft with the capability of taking direct control of U.S. Nuclear weapons remotely and serving as SAC command remained in flight 24/7 until the mid-1990s.

Feb. 1964 – The United States cut off military assistance to Britain, France, and Yugoslavia in retaliation for their continuing trade with the communist nation of Cuba. The move was pure political theater – none of those nations required U.S. military aid.

11 February 1765 – The term “Sons of Liberty” was first used in a letter written by Loyalist Jared Ingersoll, Sr.  The name would soon be adopted by American patriots. Oddly enough, his son, Jared Jr., was an active patriot and would be one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution.

23 February 1778 –Valley Forge, Baron von Steuben, entered the Continental Army. The German Speaking Von Steuben spoke little English. Never the less, Von Steuben created a rigorous and effective training program that whipped the Continental Army into a fighting force to be reckoned with.

Washington’s aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton as well as Nathanael Greene acted as feb 6translators – Von Steuben would curse the men in French and German and the American officers would, in turn, translate and curse the men in English.  I’m pretty sure I had one of the Baron’s kin as a TAC officer back in the 70’s – I never knew what language he was gonna curse me in.

The term “Larboard” was replaced with “Port” to overcome the confusion of mixing the terms “Starboard” and “Larboard” on U.S. Vessels in Feb. 1846 – If you aren’t familiar with the terms Port and Starboard, they are Left and Right in Maritime terms and coincide with the red and green position lights found on watercraft and airplanes.

I can’t swear to the accuracy of it but…  I was told that the reason we use “Port” for left is so Sailors could remember by merely looking at their hands.  A memory tool like the rock your Drill Instructor told you to put in your pocket to remind you which way was left.

Port wine is red, and you always carry your wine in your left hand just in case you need to salute – Port is left and left is Red.

On 14 Feb. 1971 – President Richard Nixon installed a secret taping system in the White House. What was he thinking?

Feb. 1974 – Private First Class Robert K. Preston, a Flight School washout, crept across the tarmac at Fort Meade and stole a UH-1H.   Preston flew the helicopter to the White House and buzzed it several times at approx. 0100 hrs.

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Two Maryland State Police helicopters were scrambled to intercept Preston. An extended Nap of the Earth chase ensued with Preston handily out-flying his pursuers.

Pfc. Preston, flying an unarmed Huey, engaged both aircraft, forcing one to land damaged and the other to break off.

It turned out that Pfc Preston was a fair-to-middly pilot after all.

His fuel running low, Preston returned to the White House to land. Secret Service officers opened fire as he hovered.  Preston was slightly wounded by a shotgun blast and landed the damaged helicopter.

On the ground, the Secret Service and Maryland Police rushed Preston, who fought them hand to hand.  Ultimately, he was taken into custody and sent to a military hospital, all civil charges were dropped, and he was sentenced under the UCMJ to one year in a Correctional Custody Facility.

Ask any TAC officer at Mother Rucker and they’ll tell you, “Even our washouts are better pilots than most.”

February 1825 – No presidential candidate received a majority of electoral votes in the election of 1824. As a consequence, the legislative branch appointed John Quincy Adams as president.  Andrew Jackson won considerably more votes in the popular polls than Adams, yet the House chose Adams.  The people had no voice in that election.

Feb 1918 Stephen W. Thompson was the first American Aviator to win an aerial victory in combat. Thompson was visiting a French unit when he was invited to fly as gunner-bombardier on a bombing raid over Saarbrücken, Germany.

On the way home, they were attacked by a squadron of Albatross D. III fighters. Thompson scored a kill – the first aerial victory by any member of the U.S. military.

29 February 1504 – Christopher Columbus, stranded in Jamaica facing hostile natives, proved his power when made a prediction the moon would go dark.  The frightened hostile natives decided to provide food and shelter for his crew.  Fortunately, the Lunar Eclipse predicted in his navigation charts was correct.

February Birthdays

1896 – Tootsie Roll was introduced by Leo Hirschfield. Tootsie rolls are still found in some of today’s MREs, but  I have heard that DOD replaced cigarettes and John Wayne Bars with Skittles and other left-wing snacks.

February 1918 – Army Chaplain School was organized at Ft. Monroe, Va.

feb 4Feb. 1893 –USS Indiana (BB-1) was launched. She was the first true battleship in the U.S. Navy inventory.  USS Indiana (Battleship No. 1) was small for a battleship, but she carried heavy armor and ordnance.

She was decommissioned final time in 1919 being reclassified as Coast Battleship Number 1 so that the name Indiana could be reused. Indiana was sunk in shallow water as a target in aerial bombing tests in 1920, and her hulk was sold for scrap in 1924.

The February Watermelon Award       

In July of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure authorizing a “Medal of Honor” to be awarded in the name of Congress.  It was to become our Nation’s highest award for bravery in the face of an enemy. The men who had the watermelons to earn this award should be remembered.

February’s Watermelon award goes to: Herman C. Wallace, Company B, 301st Engineer Combat Battalion, 76th Infantry Division.

Prumzurley, Germany, 27 February 1945. While helping clear enemy mines from a road, wallace HermanWallace stepped on a well-concealed S-type “Bouncing Betty” anti-personnel mine. The S-type was designed to hop to chest height, then detonate spraying a large area with shrapnel.

Hearing the characteristic noise indicating that the mine had been activated and knowing if he stepped aside, would be thrown upward to explode above ground and spray the area with fragments, surely killing 2 comrades directly behind him and endangering other members of his squad, he deliberately placed his other foot on the mine even though his best chance for survival was to fall prone.

Pvt. Wallace was killed when the charge detonated, but his supreme heroism at the cost of his life confined the blast to the ground and his own body and saved his fellow soldiers from death or injury.

In the same spirit as the 3 Dorchester Chaplains, Pfc Wallace had time to think it over – he knew he had a good chance of surviving if he fell flat and let the mine hop – yet … He chose to protect his brothers, knowing the consequence. Having the time to think it over and still giving that “last full measure of  devotion” is the epitome of Heroism  – Watermelons