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15 May: This Day in Military History

1862: Cpl. John F. Mackie becomes the first Marine awarded the Medal of Honor when he mans the guns of the ironclad USS Galena after most of the Naval gun crew are killed or wounded during the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff.

USS Galena
Portrait of Medal of Honor recipient John F. Mackie

1864: As 9,000 Union troops led by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel march into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge musters a defense force that includes cadets from the nearby Virginia Military Academy. The cadets are held in reserve, but when the Union breaks the Confederate lines, Breckenridge declares “Put the boys in… and may God forgive me for the order.”

Within moments, 47 cadets are wounded and ten lay dead in the Battle of New Market. Sigel’s men retreat after taking heavy casualties from the outnumbered defenders.

VMI ruins circa 1864

1918: Privates Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts of the all-black “Harlem Hellfighters” become the first American soldiers to be awarded the Croix de Guerre – France’s highest decoration for military valor. When a German raiding party attacks their outpost and captures Roberts, Johnson fights back with grenades, gun fire, his rifle butt, knife, and fists, rescuing his fellow soldier and forcing the Germans to retreat. Johnson is wounded 21 times in the fight, but is not awarded the Purple Heart until 1996 – decades after his passing – and is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2015.

Sgt. Needham Roberts and Sgt. William Henry Johnson

1963: (featured image) U.S. Air Force Maj. (future Col.) Leroy Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, Jr. blasts off aboard “Faith 7”, the final Mercury mission. Cooper will spend over 34 hours in space – circling the globe 22 times – before a short circuit kills the capsule’s automated control system. Cooper has to use the constellations and his watch to manually fly the capsule back to Earth, splashing down just four miles from the recovery ship in the Pacific Ocean.

The former U.S. Marine private (serving in the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington, D.C.) was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army before his days as an Air Force fighter jock and test pilot.

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Chris Carter

Chris Carter is the Director of the Victory Institute, and deputy regional director of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team. His work appears at The US Report, International Analyst Network, Human Events, Canada Free Press, Family Security Matters, Deutsche Welle, NavySEALs.com, Blackfive and other publications. Chris is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, non-commissioned officer in the South Carolina State Guard, and retired firefighter.

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