Friday, June 23, 2017

A TOUGH GUY NAMED LUCAS

6/23/1936 - Following in the tradition of Texas hard cases like John Wesley Hardin and Clyde Barrow, by the time James Crittenden Lucas turns 22-years-of age, the Texas hoodlum has robbed the First National Bank of Albany, Texas, violated the Dyer Act by transporting a stolen vehicle over state lines (the same act the FBI uses in 1934 to go after bank robber John Dillinger), been caught, escapes jail, gets caught again, and is sentenced to 30 years behind Federal bars (and has 128 years of hard time waiting back in Texas on murder, robbery, and escape charges).  Correctly identified as a troublemaker, he is initially sent to the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, but then almost instantly reassigned to Alcatraz Island, becoming convict #224.  Not cowed by the Rock's hardness, or the criminal celebrity of some of his island companions, on Alcatraz he participates in a work strike over conditions within the prison, and is caught several times breaking rules or manifesting behaviors that appear he might be planning an escape.  And he soon butts heads with the most notorious convict within the prison, inmate #85, Chicago mobster, Alphonse Gabriel "Scarface Al" Capone.
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Lucas 

Believed to be receiving preferential treatment at the Federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia, Capone is transferred to the hard time of serving his income tax evasion sentence of eleven years on Alcatraz Island, and almost instantly discovers he has no pull with either the guards or his fellow inmates.  Moving to the front of a line of convicts waiting for their hair to be cut, the mob boss almost gets his throat cut instead when he is grabbed from behind by Lucas. "Get to the back of the line you bum," Lucas tells the 250-pound gangster, who responds by threateningly asking the young convict, whom he calls a punk, if he knows who he is. Reacting instantly to Capone's query, Lucas grabs a pair of cutting shears off the barber's table and puts a blade to the mobster's throat.  "Yeah, I know who you are greaseball," Lucas responds with a snarl, "and if you don't get back to the end of the line, I'm going to know who you were!"  Realizing he has no juice, Capone complies with Lucas' request, and the two men become wary enemies, bad blood that is exasperated with rumors of a money loan to Lucas being denied because of Capone, and Capone offering a handsome payday for anyone who will kill the bank robber.  
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Capone

Animosity between the pair finally come to a head on the morning of 6/23/1936, when while working in the barber shop, Lucas discovers Capone mopping the floor of the laundry, only ten feet away.  Opportunity provided. grabbing a pair of scissors, at 9:45 in the morning Lucas rushes Capone from behind, stabbing and slashing at the gangster, but is unable to put a killing blow together before guard Thomas J. Sanders and his billy club put an end to the attack (Capone fights back with his fists, and a mandolin laying on a table in the room). Bleeding profusely, Capone goes to the prison infirmary for medical treatment with cuts to his back, chest, and hands (defensive wounds trying to block the scissors), while Lucas is put in solitary confinement on the prison's infamous D-Block.  Asked why he attacked Capone, the bank robber responds, "Well, he threatened to kill me," showing a lack of remorse that has prison officials kill 3,600 days of "good time" the convict has somehow managed to accrue.  When Lucas is finally returned to the prison population the feud does not continue however because Capone has started to lose his mind to the ravages of venereal disease and doesn't even know Lucas is a foe, and because the bank robber has a more important matter on his agenda ... a 1938 escape attempt from the Mat Shop with fellow bad apples, Thomas Limerick (36-years-old and serving a life sentence for bank robbery and kidnapping) and Rufus Franklin (24-years-old and serving a 30 years for bank robbery, auto theft, and assault). 
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Barber Shop Area

Assigned to the top floor of the model industries building where the prison's woodworking shop is located, on 5/23/1938, the trio launches the third escape attempt from the prison by taking Correctional Officer Royal Cline (supervising the wood shop) out things entirely with a hammer beating to the head that kills the 36-year-old guard two days later (he will be survived by his wife and four children.  That problem eliminated, the men then gain access to the roof by cutting through a barred window, and from three sides, rush Tower Guard Harold Stites, with the intent of gaining his weapons and then using the guns to take over the prison launch that can get them off the island.  Unfortunately though, Stites sees the men coming and calmly shoots Limerick fatally in the head, pivots and drops Franklin with a bullet through his arm, and then turns to deal with Lucas ... who seeing what has happened to his pals, raises his hands in surrender.  
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Limerick
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Franklin
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Stites
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Cline

Brought to trial for the murder of Cline, Franklin and Lucas will both be found guilty of murder, and have life sentences added to the already existing time behind bars they are serving ... they are also thrown in dark cells on D-Block for years ... Lucas for six, Franklin for fourteen (Franklin is still in solitary confinement when he is almost set free (the key to his confinement can't be located) by convicts trying to get off the island in 1946.  Mellowed finally, Lucas breaks no more prison rules once he is placed back in the general prison population, and behaving himself, is granted a parole in 1958 (Texas by this time is uninterested in continuing the outlaw's incarceration).  Violating his parole for a minor infraction, he is briefly placed back in Federal custody on McNeil Island ... where he receives a presidential pardon and is freed.  Last confrontation with authorities, out of prison and with nothing hanging over his head, Lucas completes his transformation from Alcatraz tough guy to law abiding citizen ... holding down a good job in the oil industry, marrying, and becoming a father of four children.  Born in Midland County, Texas in 1912, Lucas dies of natural causes in Sacramento, California on 11/28/1998 at the age of 86, with few people at his funeral ever knowing that once-upon-a-time, he tried to kill Al Capone with a set of barber scissors!   
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Lucas & Franklin
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Lucas

Friday, June 16, 2017

BLOODY SAIPAN

6/15/1944 - Continuing the American island hopping campaign towards Tokyo Bay, one of the great Pacific battles of WWII begins at 7:00 in the morning (after two days of aerial and naval bombardment), when, supported by eleven fire support vessels (that include Pearl Harbor veteran battleships, Tennessee and California), 300 LVTs land 8,000 Marines (the count will be 20,000 by evening) of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions on the Japanese held island of Saipan (30,000 troops of the 31st Army, under the command of Lt. General Yoshitsugu Saito) in the Mariana Islands.  An island roughly 12 miles long and 5.6 miles wide, with a offshore coral reef, large lagoon, and a high point of Mount Tapochau standing 1,560 feet above the Pacific Ocean, the landings are resisted immediately, but despite beach defenses of zeroed in artillery (which destroy 20 amphibious tanks), barbed wire, trenches, machine gun emplacements, and crazed Imperial soldiers, by nightfall, the Marines have established a beachhead on the island that is roughly six miles wide and half a mile deep ... just enough of a toehold to beat off a Japanese banzai attack of soldiers and tanks at 10:00 in the evening (Marine and naval gunfire blunt the assault and cost Saito 700 soldiers of his command). Carnage all about, the blood letting will go on for 24 more days.
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Saipan
Saito
LVTs heading for shore.
The LVTs Head For Shore
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Just Ashore
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Chaos
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Beachhead

Too much activity to weave into a narrative tale of the battle, here are some low points and highlights of the clash that takes place on Saipan:

*Saipan centrally located, invasion of the island cuts off the major Japanese naval base at the island of Truk, a plus for its acquisition ... along with hopes it will goad Japan into a major fleet action the American Navy can crush ... which is exactly what happens, the Japanese fleet comes out and is savaged in a naval engagement which goes down in history as the "Great Mariannas Turkey Shoot" (or the "Battle of the Philippine Sea" if that is your preference) for the ease with which Japanese aviators are shot down, an American victory sends three enemy carriers to the bottom of the Pacific, destroys 645 aircraft, and costs Japan 2,987 military personnel's lives.
U.S. Navy Fighter Ace Lt. Alexander Vraciu
After Downing Six Japanese Dive Bombers
*The battle basically ends with the largest banzai attack of the Pacific War, which takes place 7/7/1944 ... at dawn, with 12 men in the lead holding a huge red flag, over 3,000 soldiers swarm American lines for 15 hours ... 650 American lives lost, when the attack is over, for all intents and purposes, there are no more fighting Japanese left to challenge American possession of the island ... in all, the Japanese will lose over 30,000 soldiers (only 921 Japanese become prisoners) and the 31st Army will cease to exist.
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Burial Trench For Japanese Dead - Piled Up
On The Left
*And yet, a small unit of Japanese led by Captain Sakae Oba will manage to evade capture for 512 days, until 12/1/1945, three months after all of Imperial Japan has surrendered.
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Oba
*Navajo code talkers play a big part in the battle, especially in coordinating naval gunfire on to Japanese targets ... and in one case, prevent scores of Marine casualties by preventing friendly fire from falling on Corps units entering the town of Garapan.
Navajo Code Talkers
*Bloody for America too ... of the 71,000 American troops that land on the island, 2,949 will be killed, and an additional 10,464 men are wounded ... with the most famous casualty being a future Academy Award winning actor who is shot in the butt by a Japanese machine gun, a private first class of "I" Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division named Lee Marvin.
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Marvin
*Mountainous central terrain made for defense, the Marines and Army personnel will be forced to reduce Japanese positions one by one, for the most part using demolition charges and flame throwers (a tactic the Marines call "Corkscrew and Blowtorch") ... and areas of intense fighting enter Marine Corps lore with their descriptive names ... Hell's Pocket, Purple Heart Ridge, Death Valley, and Hot Potato Hill (for the number of grenades both sides throw at each other).
*And Saipan is sadly also has locations dubbed Suicide Cliff and Banzai Cliff for the roughly 1,000 Japanese civilians that leap to their deaths near the northern tip of the island ... egged on by an Imperial Order from Japanese Emperor Hirohito, and propaganda about Marines raping and torturing their captives (just the opposite will actually be true), and helped in many cases, by Japanese officers wielding pistols and bayonets at the reluctant.
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Suicide Cliff
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Marines And Japanese Girll
*In a change from the jungle fighting they have grown somewhat use to, on Saipan the Marines will also have to engage in the street fighting necessary to take the island city of Garapan.
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Garapan Street Fighting
*Marine Corps and U.S. Army fighting beside each other on the northern drive up the island under the command of Marine General Holland McTyeire "Howlin' Mad" Smith, inter-service rivalry and animosity rears its ugly head during the battle when frustrated by the slow speed with which the 27th Division of the U.S. Army is moving up the center of the island, Holland relieves U.S. Army Major General Ralph C. Smith of his command ... a controversial decision that later will prevent Holland Smith from having command of all troops on Okinawa, and also stop the general from one day becoming Commandant of the entire Marine Corps.
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Holland Smith & Ralph Smith
*Payback for Pearl Harbor ... put out to pasture after his poor performance at the Battle of Midway and eventually placed in charge of naval personnel on Saipan, on 7/6/1944, with the battle for the island lost, 57-year-old Japanese Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, avoids the traditional painful knife to the stomach suicide of seppuku, and in a cave on the northern tip of the island, puts a pistol to his head and pulls the trigger!
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Nagumo
*When 25-year-old U.S. Platoon Sergeant Robert H. McCard of Syracuse, New York has his tank cut off and shot up, he carries on firing at the Japanese until the severity of the fire being brought on his tank causes him to order the rest of the crew to flee ... while McCard stays behind and provides covering fire and throws hand grenades at the attacking enemy soldiers, out of grenades, the sergeant then dismantles a machine gun and uses it to keep the Japanese at bay, killing 16 before he is himself killed ... actions which win the Marine a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor.
McCard
*Unit wiped out save for one other man, despite being seriously wounded by an enemy grenade, 23-year-old U.S. Marine Private First Class, Seth T Garner of Colorado, holds the American line by beating back a Japanese attack of 30 soldiers in which he shoots down the enemy officer leading the charge ... actions for which he will be awarded a Silver Star.
*Saving his comrades, 20-year-old U.S. Marine Private First Class, Harold G. Epperson of Akron, Ohio, selflessly throws himself on a live grenade ... an act for which he is awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor.
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Epperson
*Surprised in the final banzai attack of 7/7, 45-year-old U.S. Army Lt. Colonel, William J. O'Brien of Troy, New York rallies troops being swarmed by thousands of rabid Japanese soldiers, firing at the enemy with pistols in both hands, wounded, he refuses evacuation, and after he runs out of ammo for his pistols, he mounts a jeep, and standing upright, uses the vehicle's .50 caliber machine gun to fire into the Japanese ... body recovered the next day, the gallant colonel is surrounded by dead enemy troops.  For his actions on Saipan, O'Brien is awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor.
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O'Brien
*Wounded during the banzai attack of 7/7, 28-year-old U.S. Army Private, Thomas Baker of Troy, New York, is seriously wounded but refuses evacuation until he runs out of ammo and has his weapon destroyed ... finally okay with leaving, he is carried 50 yards towards the rear by a comrade, until the comrade is wounded himself ... thinking he is a hindrance and already doomed by his wounds, Baker convinces his comrade to flee without him, but only after he is is placed against a nearby tree, and given a pistol with eight rounds of ammunition ... killed in the mindless mayhem of the suicidal charge, Baker's body is recovered the next day ... surrounded by eight Japanese corpses.  For his heroic last stand, Baker is awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor.
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Baker
*Serving as a surgeon for the U.S. Army 27th Infantry Division, 29-year-old Captain Benjamin L. Salomon first responds to the 7/7 banzai attack of the Japanese by beginning medical treatment for the thirty soldiers that arrive at his aid station early in the clash ... seeing enemy soldiers arrive in the area and begin bayoneting Americans near the aid tent awaiting treatment, the captain grabs a rifle and quickly dispatches three of the enemy.  About to return to his medical duties, when four Japanese climb under the wall of the tent, Salomon instantly attacks with a rifle and bayonet, and with the help of a wounded man lying nearby, takes out this latest Japanese threat. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Salomon then orders all of the wounded to make their way back to the regimental medical station as best they can ... as he starts to try to do too.  Stepping out of the tent, Salomon sees four Americans shot down trying to man a machine gun, and without hesitation, the captain runs to their aid, but finding the men dead, instead of trying to escape, he takes over the weapon ... body found the next day, Salomon is found surrounded by the corpses of 98 enemy soldiers he had taken out with the machine gun before being killed himself.  For his heroic acts, Salomon is awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor.
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Salomon
*Brought up by a Japanese-American family in Los Angeles, where he learns how to speak Japanese, 18-year-old U.S. Marine Corporal Guy L. Gabaldon, earns a Silver Star (later upgraded to a Navy Cross, which family members have petitioned Congress to further upgrade to a Medal of Honor as of 2006) and the nickname of "The Pied Piper of Saipan," by risking his life and the wrath of his commanding officers, approaching Japanese held caves, and by using their language and his knowledge of their culture, convincing roughly 1,000 soldiers, sailors, and Japanese civilians to surrender instead of committing suicide ... exploits that will be immortalized in Allied Artist production, "Hell to Eternity," starring Jeffrey Hunter as Gabaldon.
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Gabaldon, Nurse, And Four Of The Saved
*Batting a thousand, 1.000, Marine PFC's Herbert Hodges and Bob Reed knock out 11 tanks with 11 bazooka shells ... then out of ammo, Reed gets a 12 tank by throwing grenades into the open top hatch.

Saipan declared officially taken on 7/9/1944, with the nearby islands of Guam and Tinian soon captured too, the victory provides American forces with a springboard for the final conquest of Imperial Japan ... only 1,300 miles from the Japanese home islands, long-range U.S. Army B-29 Superfortress bombers can now strike directly at Japan ... closer and closer, the war in the Pacific has a little over a year left before it ends ... a blink of an eye that is horribly long enough to see gallons and gallons of blood shed in the Philippines, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the atomic bomb destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
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Hiroshima

Why today mattered ... it mattered because of the events that take place when American sailors, soldiers, and fliers begin fighting troops of Imperial Japan for possession of the island of Saipan ... 6/15/1944!
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Tank
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Landing Craft
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Plane
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Japanese Tank
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Suicide Cliff
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Banzai Cliff
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6/15/1944
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The Battle Of Saipan
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Victory