Military Miscellany

Military Miscellany

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by Thomas Ayres

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For armchair generals, history buffs, and military enthusiasts everywhere, A Military Miscellany is an essential and entertaining collection of fascinating and little-known facts, anecdotes, lists, and stories from America’s rich military legacy. Forgotten heroes, amazing blunders, surprising trivia, and strange-but-true stories overlooked by historians,


For armchair generals, history buffs, and military enthusiasts everywhere, A Military Miscellany is an essential and entertaining collection of fascinating and little-known facts, anecdotes, lists, and stories from America’s rich military legacy. Forgotten heroes, amazing blunders, surprising trivia, and strange-but-true stories overlooked by historians, it’s all here in a book that will enlighten and amaze even the most avid student of American military history.

Did you know that American soldiers have been sent to invade foreign nations or their territories more than two hundred times since Thomas Jefferson dispatched troops to North Africa in 1803 to punish Muslim pirates? Or that during the Vietnam War a can opener was called a John Wayne? Or that a downed World War II airman once trekked across Germany, through occupied France, and across the mountains into Spain to avoid capture–only to be treated as a spy because Allied military intelligence said it couldn’t be done?

Open this book anywhere and you’ll find yourself instantly captivated. From the "peace president" who was our most frequent practitioner of gunboat diplomacy to the Revolutionary War hero whose refusal to cut his hair set off a four-year rebellion that went all the way to the White House, there’s plenty of fascinating lore here–from the monumental to the trivial–in an indispensable encyclopedic work that takes up where ordinary history books leave off.

From the Hardcover edition.

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From mid-1940 until 1945, U.S. production of war materials overwhelmed the great Axis factories of Krupp (Germany), Fiat (Italy), and Mitsubishi (Japan). During the war, America produced:

Warplanes 296,429
Tanks 102,351
Artillery pieces 372,431
Trucks 2,455,964
Warships 87,620
Cargo ships 5,325
Aircraft bombs (in tons) 5,922,000
Small arms 20,086,061
Small-arms ammunition (rounds) 44 billion


"To American production, without which this war would have been lost."

–Joseph Stalin, offering a toast at a meeting of Allied leaders in Tehran, Iran, 1943


London (June 1, 1943) – Leslie Howard, who played Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind, was killed when his plane was shot down. He was fifty.


Automobile tires
Bicycle tires
Canned fish

*From February 1942 until the end of the war, no civilian automobiles or trucks were manufactured in the United States. When production stopped, there were 500,000 vehicles in stock. The government promptly took title to all of them, stored them in warehouses, and carefully doled them out to the military and to civilian applicants like country doctors, farmers, scientists, and individuals critical to defense production.

*Owning an automobile was not easy for a nonpriority citizen. A class "A" stamp on the windshield entitled the owner to only three gallons of gasoline a week. Many a vehicle sat idle because tires were unavailable and there were no parts for repairs.

*Some citizens began riding bicycles, until they also were rationed and replacement tires became unavailable. Walking was not a good option because civilians were limited to only two pairs of shoes a year. As a result, Americans witnessed a return of the horse and buggy in some rural areas. Old bicycles built for two (popular at the turn of the century) were hauled out of barns and woodsheds, as were cars from another era. Baker Electric Cars made a brief comeback, and puffing Stanley Steamers, last manufactured in 1925, occasionally were seen.


Hair curlers
Electric trains
Rayon products
Cooking tongs
Kitchen utensils
Bronze caskets
Beer mugs
Lawn mowers
Electric toasters
Many paper products
Waffle irons
Nylon stockings
Tin soldiers
Cocktail shakers
Corn poppers
Sliced bread
Cast-iron skillets

*From autumn 1942 to the summer of 1944, whiskey disappeared from store shelves. Enterprising distillers tried to bridge the drought with substitutes made from some unlikely products. Old Spud, distilled from waste potatoes, required a palate adjustment.

*While GIs lit up Camels and Lucky Strikes, civilian smokers puffed on strange-tasting new brands with names like Fleetwood. Many questioned whether these new cigarettes contained tobacco at all.

*Sliced bread became a delicacy of the past when the government removed slicing machinery from bakeries for the metal content. Bread came in whole loaves.

*Home-front fashion took a beating. Ladies' "stockings" came in a bottle and had to be painted on legs. Seams were drawn down the backs of legs with eyebrow pencils. Men's pants came minus cuffs and coats without lapels.

*Diapers were scarce. Moms coped by using scrap materials. Remarkably, a generation of U.S. babies survived.


Unknown to most Americans and little noted by historians is the fact that 11,000 U.S. troops invaded Russia in 1918 and some remain buried there. Even as the U.S. entered World War I, civil war raged in Russia as the Bolsheviks tightened their grip on the country after overthrowing Czar Nicholas.

Anxious to assist remnants of the czar's White Army opposing the communist takeover, on August 15, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson broke diplomatic ties with the Bolshevik government. Within three weeks, 7,000 U.S. Marines had landed at the port city of Vladivostok on the coast of Siberia. Another 4,000 troops were dispatched to the far north of Russia to join British soldiers already fighting there. In Siberia, Marines fought beside their Japanese allies in support of the White Army.

In the north, the fighting was especially intense and American troops sustained several hundred casualties. The Marines in Siberia took lesser, but still significant, casualties.

In 1920, well after the end of World War I, and with the White Army defeated, Wilson quietly withdrew American troops. Although the venture was quickly forgotten in the United States, it was remembered in the Soviet Union. It set the stage for a cold war that would continue for most of the twentieth century.


And when I die, please bury me
'Neath a ton of sugar by a rubber tree;
Lay me to rest in an auto machine,
And water my grave with gasoline.

–A popular homefront jingle in World War II


*Japan and Russia had been fighting over the sovereignty of several Pacific islands and Manchuria long before World War I. Japan also had ambitions to control part of Siberia. Technically, Japan and Russia are still at war, since both refused to sign a peace treaty at the conclusion of World War II.

*Casualty figures from America's involvement in Russia are included in World War I statistics and still cloaked in secrecy.


1. He would bathe only in cold water, even in winter.
2. Refused to read by artificial light.
3. Would not let his back touch the back of a chair.
4. He thought his spine was out of alignment, causing his internal organs to be out of balance.
5. Believed one leg was shorter than the other.
6. Believed he did not sweat on one side of his body.
7. He would sit in silence and stare at a wall for an hour or more each evening.
8. Consumed large quantities of water at one time to cleanse his body.
9. He liked to suck on lemons.
10. Believed that holding his arm aloft helped keep his internal organs in balance and his blood circulating properly.


General George Patton was a devout believer in reincarnation. He believed in past lives he was:

1. A prehistoric hunter-warrior who "battled for fresh mammoth and warred for pastures new."
2. A Greek Hoplite soldier who fought against the Persians of King Cyrus.
3. A soldier in the army of Alexander the Great at the siege of Tyre.
4. Hannibal, crossing the Alps to invade Rome.
5. A legionnaire in the Roman army under Julius Caesar in northern Gaul.
6. An English knight in the Hundred Years' War who fought at the battle of Crecy.
7. A marshal in Napoleon's army at a time when "one laughed at death and numbers, trusting in the
emperor's star."


Even in the heat of battle, General Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson might be seen sitting on his horse, sucking on a lemon and holding one arm above his head. Those who knew Jackson were more amused than concerned by his eccentric behavior. They knew he was a hopeless hypochondriac. As a teacher at Virginia Military Institute, there was nothing about him to suggest to his students that he would become a famous general. They called him "Tom Fool" and drew caricatures with emphasis on his huge feet. They mocked his nervous mannerisms and imitated his awkward gait as he made his way across the campus. Jackson's hypochondria was not all in his imagination. He suffered from poor eyesight, a recurring throat infection, earaches, and chronic stomach gastritis. Modern doctors believe he might have suffered from peptic ulcers or even cancer of the stomach. In 1858 he had his tonsils removed, but it did not relieve problems with his throat. Contrary to the myth, Jackson did not believe lemons had special medical qualities. In fact, he never had any particular fondness for them until his troops captured a large quantity of lemons from the Union Army. After that he sucked on them to relieve the soreness in his throat. While still a teacher, he set aside an hour each evening for thinking. His wife was forbidden to disturb him as he sat motionless and stared at a wall. Gen. Richard Taylor witnessed similar behavior in the field, noting in his memoirs: "He [Jackson] would visit my campfire, sit and stare straight ahead for a time, then depart without ever having said a word."


1. Lieutenant Lily Litvak, Soviet fighter pilot, seven kills.
2. Lieutenant Katya Budanova, Soviet fighter pilot, six kills.

The early air war between Germany and the Soviet Union took a heavy toll on Russian planes and pilots due to the superiority of German aircraft. Women were pressed into service to fill the depleted ranks of Soviet pilots. Both Budanova and Litvak died in combat when their planes were shot down in 1943.


The concept of an underwater device for military use dates back to the Greeks and Romans, both of whom attempted to build such a craft. Milestones in the development of the modern submarine include the following:

1620–Dutch inventor Cornelius Drebbel constructed an underwater craft of leather and wood. He demonstrated it in the Thames River, taking it to a depth of fifteen feet.

1727–King James I of England reportedly rode in an underwater craft. By this date, fourteen different types of submarines had been patented in England.

1776–The first attempt to sink a ship with a submarine occurred September 7, 1776, when a one-man craft christened the Turtle, piloted by a Continental soldier named Ezra Lee, tried to attach a keg of dynamite to the British warship HMS Eagle in Long Island Sound. The attempt failed. The Turtle was an egg-shaped wooden craft built by a Yale student named David Bushnell.

1800–Working for Napoleon Bonaparte, inventor Robert Fulton designed and built a submarine he christened the Nautilus. Fulton made several successful test runs. The French lost interest in the project, and Fulton tried to sell his craft to the English.
When a deal could not be made, Fulton abandoned the project and left the Nautilus to rot away.

1814–Bushnell built his second submarine during the War of 1812, but hostilities ended before it could be tried.

1861–The Union Navy launched a submarine named the USS Alligator. Designed by Marvin Thomas of Philadelphia, it was forty-seven feet long and had a crew of sixteen, including two divers who were to climb out of the craft and attach explosives to the bottom of an enemy ship. The Alligator was lost at sea while being towed to join the Union blockade at Port Royal, South Carolina.

1862–In the early months of the Civil War, at least three submarines were constructed at shipyards in New Orleans. They were scuttled when it became apparent the city would fall into Union hands in the spring of 1862.

1864–On February 17, the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley rammed a torpedo into the Union warship USS Housatonic, sinking it in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. It was the first time a submarine sank a ship. The Hunley and its eight-man crew went down with the Housatonic. Two other Hunley-type subs were constructed but did not see action.

1892–Simon Lake, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, inventor, came up with the design for a craft he called a "Torpedo Boat." His concept became the prototype for the modern submarine.


In the 1890s, inventor Simon Lake tried to interest the U.S. Navy in his design for a Torpedo Boat. Navy brass called the concept impractical and rejected it. However, the Russian Navy expressed interest and, determined to see his design become reality, Lake went to Russia and supervised the construction of the first practical, modern submarine.

By means fair or foul, the Germans obtained Lake's design, refined it, and built the U-boat that would devastate Allied shipping in World War I. Lake returned to the United States and established the Lake Torpedo Boat Company. He built more than one hundred submarines during World War I–fifty-five for the U.S. Navy and the others for European allies.


SQUAD: Ten infantry enlisted personnel under a staff sergeant.
PLATOON: Four squads under a lieutenant.
COMPANY: Headquarters and four or more platoons under a captain. (An artillery company is a battery; cavalry, a troop.)
BATTALION: Headquarters and four or more companies under a lieutenant colonel.
BRIGADE: Headquarters and three or more battalions under a colonel.
DIVISION: Headquarters and three brigades with artillery and combat support units under a major general.
CORPS: Two or more divisions under a lieutenant general.
FIELD ARMY: Headquarters and two or more corps under a general.


This is my rifle,
This is my gun.
One is for fighting,
The other for fun.

World War II drill sergeants used the rhyme to
teach recruits the difference between the two.


America's highest military award for bravery was conceived by Adjutant General Edward Townsend and signed into law December 21, 1861, by President Abraham Lincoln. Before World War I, 2,625 medals were handed out, most of them during the Civil War, when the award was given freely. Every man in the Maine 27th Infantry got one as an incentive to reenlist.

An army review board later removed the names of 911 medal recipients as undeserving of the award, including all 846 given to the Maine 27th. To date, the following number of medals have been awarded.

Before World War I     
World War I 
World War II   
Korean War
Vietnam Wa
Iraq War 
1 to date


*William (Buffalo Bill) Cody was awarded the Medal of Honor.

*Arthur MacArthur won the medal in the Civil War and his son, Douglas MacArthur, in World War I.

*Nineteen individuals have won the medal twice, among them, Thomas Ward Custer, the brother of George Armstrong Custer.


Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Ayres

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Thomas Ayres was a veteran investigative reporter and an award-winning columnist. He wrote for the Dallas Times Herald, Civil War Times, Columbiad, and many other publications. His hometown was Jonesboro, Louisiana.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Military Miscellany 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im 12 im a medic and i am tall and have blond hair and have 2really good friends ummm yeah
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Age:13 years old and will be 14 on july 26,2013. Looks: dirty blonde air blue eyes and tan skin. Relation stats: currently single looking for the perfect one. Guns: give me one ill show you i can use it. But i prefer snipers pistols d throwing knifes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am 27 and 5'11. I have about 4 rows of ribbons d three medals. I am excellent with military aptitude and drill movements. I prefer to be Squad Leader at inspections. Brown hair blue eyes. I usually wear Dress Blue uniforms but the Navy Service Uniform is good too. Im in a rush so other things ask.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tells you a lot of things that you possibly would never know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago