This Week in American Military History

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June 26, 1948: The Berlin Airlift – a series of some 300,000 air-transport flights into West Berlin delivering an average of 5,000 tons of life necessities every day for nearly a year – begins.

Led by the U.S. Air Force, the airlift – codenamed “Operation Vittles” and unofficially known as “LeMay’s Feed and Coal Company” – is launched in response to a Soviet blockade of West Berlin; cutting off all highway and rail routes into the Western zones.

(Gen. Curtis LeMay – affectionately known as “Old Iron Ass” – was the Air Force’s brash, cigar-chewing master of strategic bombing.)

U.S. Army Gen. Lucius Clay, the military governor of the American zone of occupied Germany, writes: “When the order of the Soviet Military Administration to close all rail traffic from the western zones went into effect …, the three western sectors of Berlin, with a civilian population of about 2,500,000 people, became dependent on reserve stocks and airlift replacements. It was one of the most ruthless efforts in modern times to use mass starvation for political coercion… .”

The blockade and subsequent airlift was the first serious confrontational crisis between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union following World War II. But the airlift, which gained wide public support around the world, was an enormous success. In May 1949, the Soviets conceded and reopened the land routes, though strict – in fact, harsh – control continued for the remainder of the Cold War.

June 28, 1776: In what has been described as the “first decisive victory of American forces over the British Navy” during the American Revolution, the garrison at Fort Sullivan, S.C. (today Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston harbor) under the command of militia Col. William Moultrie repulse Royal Navy forces under the command of Admiral Sir Peter Parker.

The 12-plus hour battle begins around 9 a.m. when Parker’s ships open fire on the fort: many of the British shells sinking harmlessly into the soft palmetto logs of which the fort is constructed. The ships, on the other hand, (some of which run aground on the harbor’s shoals) are constructed of oak, which Moultrie’s artillerists quickly shatter sending deadly splinters into the unfortunate British crews.

Moultrie is destined to become a Maj. Gen. in the Continental Army and a S.C. governor. And S.C. will forever be known as the “Palmetto State.”

(Incidentally: This author’s five-times great grandfather, Capt. Thomas Woodward – commanding a company of S.C. Rangers on Moultrie’s extreme left – helps thwart an attempt by Royal Marines to land on the island.)

June 28, 1778: The Battle of Monmouth, N.J. is fought between Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army (including the legendary Molly Pitcher) and British forces under Gen. Sir Henry Clinton. Though tactically inconclusive, the battle is a strategic victory for the Americans who prove they can go toe-to-toe with the British Army in a large pitched battle.

July 1, 1898: U.S. Army Lt. Col. (future U.S. pres.) Theodore Roosevelt leads several of his “Rough Riders” – a crack regiment of U.S. cavalry troopers during the Spanish American War – in the famous charge up San Juan Hill, Cuba.

For his actions, Roosevelt will receive the Medal of Honor. A portion of his citation reads: “Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt, in total disregard for his personal safety, and accompanied by only four or five men, led a desperate and gallant charge up San Juan Hill, encouraging his troops to continue the assault through withering enemy fire over open countryside. Facing the enemy’s heavy fire, he displayed extraordinary bravery throughout the charge, and was the first to reach the enemy trenches, where he quickly killed one of the enemy with his pistol, allowing his men to continue the assault.”

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