The Battle of Alcatraz

Today in History, May 4, 1946:

Call in the Marines! The Battle of Alcatraz.

On May 2nd, three inmates on D Block of Alcatraz prison managed to overtake the block of cells. One of them managed to expand and crawl between bars leading to the catwalk above the cells and overpower the guard there.

Soon they had imprisoned the guards in two cells and taken their weapons. Now they only needed to find the key to the “yard” and they could steal the island’s launch to escape. However by the time they found the key, they had tampered with the lock so much that a security feature kicked in and they were sealed inside.

Over the next couple of days they fired on guards outside and on the guards they had imprisoned inside, killing 3 and injuring 14.

The Warden called for help from Marines stationed at the nearby Treasure Island Naval Base, many of whom were fresh from fighting Japanese hidden in caves in the Pacific. The Marines assaulted D Block with machine gun fire, grenades and mortars. When the guards went to secure the building, they found the three ringleaders dead in a utility corridor to which they had retreated. Two more inmates would later be executed for their role in the attempted escape.

1st Joint Navy & Marine Amphibious Op…in 1776

Today in History, March 3, 1776:

The Continental Navy transports a contingent of Continental Marines to Nassau, Bahamas where the Marines make their first amphibious landing. The mission was to raid and capture gunpowder and munitions stored at the British possession for use in the American Revolutionary War. The Continental Navy and Marines are of course the origins of the US Navy and US Marines.

“Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”

Today in History, February 23, 1945:

After a hard fought battle, the US Marines reach the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.

5 Marines and 1 US Navy Corpsman raised the US flag at the peak, and photographer Joe Rosenthal caught it on camera.

3 of the flag raisers would be dead before the Battle for Iwo Jima was won. After many deaths and the earning of 27 Medals of Honor (half posthumous), the tiny island was deemed “secure” on March 16. Then B29 Superfortress bombers and long range fighters could use the airstrip in the bombing of Japan.

The photo became famous, and inspired the US Marine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first flag was considered too small, and a second larger flag, scrounged up from one of the landing ships, was raised to replace it.

Admiral Chester Nimitz described the battle as one “where uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Send in the Marines!

Today in History, November 10, 1775:

The First Continental Congress commissions a local innkeeper to raise two battalions of Marines to serve in the Revolutionary War. At Tun Tavern in Philadelphia the recruiting took place, and the United States Marine Corps was born. Aboard numerous US Navy ships during the Revolution, at Tripoli, during the Civil War, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima and dozens of places in between, when the chips were down, the cry went out, “Send in the Marines!”

Halsey Takes Command – Its All About Attitude

Today in History, October 18, 1942:

Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey is named commander of the South Pacific forces.

Things had not been going well after the invasion of Guadalcanal; a series of losses due to indecision by the previous commander, Admiral Ghormley, had left the troops demoralized.

CINCPAC (Commander in Chief, Pacific) Chester Nimitz knew the man for the job and appointed Halsey. Halsey was a no nonsense, get er done leader.

He had issued orders to his task force to shoot first and ask questions later if they spotted Japanese ships or aircraft…on November 28, 1941, ten days before the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.

He was famously quoted as saying, “Before we’re done with ’em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.” His operational order for his command was simple: “Kill Japs, Kill Japs, Kill more Japs!” In retrospect, this attitude made be considered harsh or even racist. But during the largest conflict in human history, it was all about winning.

The demoralized Sailors and Marines serving on and around Guadalcanal had a sudden burst of confidence when they heard Halsey was their new boss. Things turned around almost immediately. The people under Halsey’s command knew he was willing to take chances for them, and they returned the sentiment.

Harper’s Ferry

Today in History, October 16, 1859:

Abolitionist John Brown leads a small group of followers on a raid of the US Army Armory in Harper’s Valley, Virginia. Brown planned to seize the weapons in the armory and start an insurrection. He believed he would be sparking a firestorm of slaves and abolitionists around the country to end slavery.

However local militia grabbed their weapons and responded quickly, surrounding the armory. A contingent of US Marines led by US Army Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lt. JEB Stuart arrived and attacked the armory, killing several of the raiders and arresting a wounded Brown. Brown was hanged on Dec. 2nd of the same year.

It may not have happened as he envisioned, but within months of the raid at Harper’s Ferry, the nation would be in the midst of a Civil War that would result in his goals being achieved.

The men that led the contingent that arrested him would be Confederate leaders. John Brown’s legacy would include an inspirational marching song that would be come immensely popular in the North, entitled “John Brown’s Body”. The ballad would have many versions, but the final song matched to the tune would become “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.

The Mighty Eighth

Today in History, October 14, 1943:

During it’s Second Raid on Schweinfurt, Germany’s ball bearing plants, the Mighty US Eighth Air Force loses SIXTY B-17 Flying Fortress bombers to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.

That number becomes more ominous when you know that each aircraft had at least a 10 man crew, meaning that 600 airmen either lost their lives or were captured that day. Many don’t realize that the casualties of the Eighth Air Force over Europe accounted for more than half of the losses for the entire US Army Air Corps, and at over 26,000 dead, surpassed the horrific losses of the US Marine Corps during the war by far…the USMC having lost almost 18,000 dead in the bitter battles in Pacific Islands.