Tag Archive | World War II

Twelve O’Clock High and Frank Armstrong

Frank Armstrong

Image from the U.S. Air Force.

On August 17, 1942, Frank Armstrong led the first daylight bomber attack by the United States. He flew over Axis territory in occupied France and earned the Silver Star, a military honor for valor, for his actions.

A native of Hamilton in Martin County and a graduate of Wake Forest, Frank Armstrong enlisted in the military in 1928 as a flying cadet. He received and conducted bombardment training and witnessed the Nazi blitz bombing of London.

Armstrong’s involvement in the war did not end with the 1942 campaigns. In 1943, he led the first U.S. raids over Germany in a B-17 “Flying Fortress,” and, in 1945, he flew some of the last bombing raids over Japan targeting oil depots in a B-29.

His official military biography states that he “led the first and last heavy bombing raids of World War II.”

In 1948, Beirne Lay, Jr., who had served alongside Armstrong in the bombardment team in Europe, collaborated with Sy Bartlett to publish Twelve O’Clock High! The authors made clear in the foreword that Colonel Frank Savage, the novel’s central character, was based on Armstrong.

The 1949 film version of the book was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Kannapolis Man Laid Claim to Photographic Immortality

V-J Day in Times Square. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

V-J Day in Times Square. Photo by
Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

On August 14, 1945, Life magazine photographer Albert Eisenstaedt captured the spirit of celebration of the United States’ victory over Japan in World War II in an iconic photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square.

The sailor had been running down the street kissing random women when he was spotted by Eisenstaedt, who snapped a few quick pictures when he grabbed a nurse in white nearby. Because of the chaos in the streets Eisenstaedt did not have time to get the names of the couple.

Many people have claimed to be the sailor or the nurse over the years, but North Carolina native Glenn McDuffie went to great lengths to prove that he was the kissing sailor. Tired of disputes as to the sailor’s identity, McDuffie asked Lois Gibson, a forensic artist with Houston Police Department, whether she could make a positive identification.

In 2007, Gibson, who also compared the photo with those of several other kisser-claimants, reported that McDuffie’s features were an exact match to those of the sailor in the photograph. He enjoyed several years of celebrity, being invited to fundraisers and veterans’ events.

Born in Kannapolis in 1927, McDuffie was 15-years-old when he forged documents to join the Navy. He died in 2014 in Texas.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Ace George Preddy of Greensboro: Cripes A’Mighty

Preddy with his plane. Image from the 352nd Fighter Group Association Archive.

Preddy with his plane. Image from the 352nd Fighter Group Association Archive.

On August 6, 1944, Greensboro native George E. Preddy Jr., the top P-51 Mustang ace during World War II, downed six planes on a single day, earning a Distinguished Service Cross—the nation’s second highest award—in the process.

Preddy was a barnstormer pilot before the war. He tried three times to become a naval pilot but was rejected because of health problems. The Army Air Corps accepted Preddy, placing him on a waiting list for a cadet class. In 1940, he joined the National Guard, and he received his wings in December 1941.

In July 1942, Preddy was involved in a midair collision during training. Following a three-month recovery, he returned to the United States, and was eventually assigned to a squadron that was sent to Great Britain. He shot down his first plane in December 1943.

In April 1944, his squadron received the P-51 Mustang, and Preddy named his the Cripes A’Mighty. That same year he became the 487th’s temporary commander Fighter Squadron.

While flying in pursuit of a German plane during the Battle of the Bulge, Preddy was accidentally shot down by friendly ground fire. He is buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery in France.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Camp Butner, Home to Axis Prisoners of War

A postcard showing a bird's eye view of Camp Butner. Image from the State Archives.

A postcard showing a bird’s eye view of Camp Butner. Image from the State Archives.

On August 4, 1942, Camp Butner, a 40,000-acre military training facility, officially opened.

The camp spanned parts of Durham, Granville and Person Counties and was large enough to accommodate more than 30,000 troops. The rolling farmland that covered most of the camp’s acreage was used for a range of exercises, including the rehearsal of gas attacks, camouflage training and simulated river crossings.

As the war progressed, Camp Butner’s mission evolved from being primarily a training facility to include the housing of prisoners of war. It served as one of two principal prison camps in North Carolina, the other being Fort Bragg.

Italian prisoners were the first to arrive, and their numbers swelled to roughly 3,000 in time. After Benito Mussolini’s regime dissolved in September 1943, the Italians began to head home and German prisoners took their place.

Camp Butner’s prisoners attempted a number of escapes, but only one can be considered successful.

In August 1945, Lt. Kurt Rossmeisl, a German linguist, donned plain clothes and dark glasses before calmly walking out the camp’s front entrance. Considered by some to be the “most dangerous” of the nation’s escaped prisoners at the time, Rossmeisl remained at large in the U.S. until he surrendered in Cincinnati in May 1959.

That year, the Toledo Blade ran a six-part series by Rossmeisl in which he described his escape, his new life in Chicago and his eventual surrender.

At the war’s close, the camp’s structures were demolished and most of the land was returned to its previous owners. The state eventually acquired about a third of the property for a mental hospital, prison, research farm and National Guard training facility.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Justice at Nuremburg: Judge Fitzroy Donald Phillips

phillips-district-attorney-poster

A poster advertising Phillips’s run for solicitor. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On July 19, 1982, former Superior Court Justice Fitzroy Donald Phillips died in Rockingham. He was one of two North Carolina judges who participated in the second phase of trials of former Nazi officials at Nuremberg, Germany (the other was Richard Dillard Dixon).

Phillips was born in Laurinburg in 1893, where he practiced law after studying at UNC. After service in the American Expeditionary Force in the First World War, he was elected mayor of Rockingham. In 1923, he was elected solicitor of the Thirteenth Judicial District, a role similar to that of district attorney, and 11 years later he was elected a Superior Court justice for the same district.

Following the major war crimes trials held before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1945 and 1946, the United States established military courts to try lesser Nazi officials. In November 1946, Phillips resigned his judgeship to serve as one of the three judges of what was called Military Tribunal II, which presided over two trials in 1947.

The tribunal met again in 1948 to hear additional details concerning the second case. The Nuremburg trials collectively established the precedents for the successful prosecution of war criminals.

Phillips returned home to serve as Superior Court judge before retiring in 1962.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Marines of Montford Point

A trio of Marines training at Montford Point. Image from National Archives.

A trio of Marines training at Montford Point. Image from National Archives.

On April 26, 1942, the United States Marine Corps opened Montford Point at Camp Lejeune, specifically for the training of African American recruits.

Before President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order that ended segregation in the armed forces, blacks who served did so in segregated units, like the one at Montford Point. In the era of strict segregation, interaction between white and black Marines during training was practically nonexistent.

The larger base, Camp Lejeune, had been established one year earlier as part of mobilization for World War II.  Shortly after that time, the Corps constructed barracks and support facilities including a chapel, mess hall, steam plant and recreational area on the 1,600-acre peninsula that became Montford Point.

More than 19,000 black Marines served in World War II, all in units trained at Montford Point. Among the units organized there were the 51st and 52nd Defense Battalions, which were dispatched to the Pacific but saw no combat action, and 11 ammunition and 51 depot companies that did see action.

The 51st Battalion Band, led by musician Bobby Troup, lent to the sense of esprit de corps.

The facility became obsolete after Navy Secretary Francis Matthews ordered the end of racial division in the Navy and Marines in June 1949.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Enigma Machine Plucked from Its Watery Grave

The USS Roper. Image from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The USS Roper. Image from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

On April 14, 1942, the destroyer USS Roper sank the German submarine U-85 off the Outer Banks between Wimble Shoals and Cape Hatteras.

By January 1942 as many as 19 German U-boats patrolled the Atlantic coastline on any given day, with two or three hiding at Diamond Shoals at any given time to attack ships as they rounded Cape Hatteras. At the height of what is now called the Battle of Torpedo Junction, the Germans were sinking a ship nearly every day; between freighters, tankers and passenger ships the losses were tremendous.

A restored Enigma machine. Image from The Military Museums.

At the same time, the American military was learning how to detect and defeat the U-boats. The first hit was on U-85. Navy divers surveyed the area near the wreck and attempted to salvage the ship, but efforts were not successful. Since men were needed elsewhere, the submarine was left to the elements.

The wreck was explored by recreational divers for many years. In July 2001, divers salvaged the submarine’s Enigma machine. The Germans used the complex coding device for secret communications, especially for divulging locations of enemy vessels and supply convoys.

Although it is still being conserved, the stable parts of the machine are on display at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.