Happy 246th Birthday, U.S. Marine Corps

Today marks the 246th birthday of the United States Marine Corps (USMC).

On November 10, 1775, the 2nd Continental Congress passed the Continental Marine Act of 1775, a resolution that called for two battalions of Marines to serve as landing forces with the fleet. The resolution served to establish the Continental Marines and the birth date of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Birth Letter of the Marine Corps

“That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines.”

The Continental Marine Act of 1775, 2nd Continental Congress, Philadelphia, PA

Since then, the U.S. Marine Corps has served as protectors of the nation’s interests around the world and has participated in every war since 1812. In most cases, Marines were the first servicemembers to fight. As a result, many Marines are proud of their service’s heritage and traditions.

Over the years, the Corps developed many traditions. One of the most prominent traditions is the Marine Corps Ball that involves dancing, presenting the Colors, and cutting a birthday cake with a sword. Commands across the globe plan the ball to celebrate the birth of the Corps, bringing Marines together for a sometimes raucous but respectful celebration.

Additionally, every year, the Commandant of the Marine Corps releases a birthday address Corps-wide along with a video.

The Corps also issues a MARADMIN (639/21) outlining Marine Corps Birthday content. Below is taken from this year’s message from General Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps.

“The character of Marines, our unwavering commitment and relentless pursuit of excellence, remains unchanged from that of past generations, even as the character of warfare is ever-changing. These changes will require us to do what Marines do best – adapt and innovate to win any battle or respond to any crisis. Just as Marines who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan over these past 20 years adapted to the demands of protracted counterinsurgency operations – which would have been all too familiar to the Marines of 1970 – we will adapt to the demands of the present and the future, while learning the hard lessons from our recent past. We can’t know for certain where future battlefields will be, or how our methods of warfighting will be redefined as threats to our Nation evolve, but we can ensure that the Marines who fight those battles will be forged of the same courage, spirit, and warfighting excellence as all Marines before them.”

A Message from the Commandant of the Marine Corps (2021), David H. Berger, General, U.S. Marine Corps, Commandant of the Marine Corps

With all its history and tradition, the United States Marine Corps brings with it nearly two and a half centuries of Honor, Courage & Commitment, the core values that serve as the bedrock of each and every Marine’s character.

This all said, to each and every Marine, past and present, thank you for your service in defense of the Nation.

And, again, Happy 246th Birthday, United States Marine Corps!

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LGBTQ+ History Month: Christine Jorgensen, U.S. Army

Nature made a mistake, which I have had corrected.

Soldier/Transgender Pioneer

b. May 30, 1926
d. May 3, 1989

Christine Jorgensen was the first nationally known transgender American. She used her fame to speak out on behalf of transgender people.

Born George Jorgensen Jr. and raised in the Bronx, she described herself as a “frail, tow-headed, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games.” In 1945, after graduating high school, Jorgensen was drafted into the Army.

Jorgensen researched gender reassignment surgery. While visiting Copenhagen, she met Dr. Christian Hamburger, an endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. With Hamburger’s help, Jorgensen became one of the first to combine hormone therapy with gender reassignment surgery. She chose the name Christine to honor Dr. Hamburger.

In 1952, based on an intercepted letter to her parents describing her transformation, the New York Daily News ran the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty.” The media incorrectly called Jorgensen the first person to undergo the surgery, which had been performed since the late 1920’s in Europe. She returned to New York City and used her fame to advocate for transsexual and transgender people.

Jorgensen continued her transition by having a vaginoplasty. In 1959, she became engaged to Howard Knox. They tried to wed, but the marriage license was rejected because Jorgensen was legally a male. The media reported the story, Knox lost his job, and the relationship ended.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Jorgensen spoke at universities across the nation about her life. She became a singer and actress performing in Las Vegas, New York City and Hollywood. Jorgensen appeared in the documentary “Paradise Not For Sale” (1984) and was the focus of “The Christine Jorgensen Story” (1970). Jorgensen authored “Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Biography” (1967).

Segment from the daily talk series Hour Magazine hosted by Gary Collins. This segment is from the early 1980s and features the first person to come out as having had gender reassignment surgery (sex change), Christine Jorgensen. Source: Finding By W.D. F. (YouTube)

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Bibliography

  • “Christine Jorgensen.” ChristineJorgensen.org. July 18, 2012.  
  • McQuiston, John. “Christine Jorgensen, 62, Is Dead; Was First to Have a Sex Change.” NYTimes.com. July 18, 2012.  
  • “Christine Jorgensen: Biography” Biography.com. July 18, 2012.

Books

Movies

LGBTQ+ History Month: Mary Edwards Walker, Surgeon, Union Army

Surgeon
b. November 26, 1832
d. February 21, 1919

You men are not our protectors… If you were, who would there be to protect us from? 

A steadfast feminist, Mary Edwards Walker defied nineteenth century patriarchal society by refusing to live within the confines of gender-based roles. As a student, physician, and activist, Walker defined her place in society while paving the way for future generations of women.

Diverging from the norm, Walker’s liberal parents encouraged her and her five sisters to attend college and pursue careers. Her father, a self-taught doctor and advocate of women’s dress reform, largely influenced Walker.

In 1855, Mary Edwards Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College, becoming one of only a few female physicians in the country. She married fellow student and physician Albert Miller in an unconventional ceremony. Walker wore trousers and a man’s coat and chose to keep her last name. The marriage ended four years later.

At the onset of the Civil War, having been denied a position as an Army medical officer, Walker volunteered as a nurse for the Union Army. During the next few years she served in several battles including the First Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Fredericksburg. Despite her service, Walker often found herself at the scrutiny of male superiors who questioned her credentials.

The Confederate Army captured Walker in 1864 and held her captive for four months.  Shortly following her release, Walker became the first woman commissioned as Army Surgeon, earning a monthly salary of one hundred dollars.

The following year, Walker became the first and only woman in history to receive a Medal of Honor, the highest military honor in the United States. The bill, which President Andrew Johnson signed upon the recommendation of two major generals, reads:

Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, has rendered valuable service to the Government, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon…It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the actual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.

After the war, Walker continued to live a nonconformist lifestyle. A strong advocate of dress reform, she wore men’s clothing exclusively and was arrested on several occasions for impersonating a man. In 1917, Congress revoked her Medal of Honor after revising the criteria for receiving the medal. Walker refused to return the medal, wearing it until her death.

Bibliography

Mary Edwards Walker Papers, Syracuse University

LGBTQ+ History Month: Robert W. Wood, 36th Infantry Division, U.S. Army

“Is it proper for two of the same sex to enter the institution of marriage? To which I must reply, ‘Yes.’ ”

Soldier/Gay Pioneer

b. May 21, 1923
d. August 19, 2018

Reverend Robert Watson Wood was the first member of the clergy to picket for gay rights. He wrote the first book in the United States on Christianity and homosexuality and was the first to call for church-sanctioned gay marriage.

Wood began his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in September 1941, three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Soon after, he left and enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II in North Africa and Italy with the 36th Infantry Division. He was severely wounded in battle during the invasion of Italy. He received an honorable discharge, a Combat Infantry Badge, a Purple Heart, two battle stars and a Bronze Star for heroic achievement in combat. A chapter of the book “We Went to War: New Hampshire Remembers” recounts his story.

With the help of the G.I. Bill, Wood graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and then the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology. In 1951 he was ordained at the Congregational Church in Fair Haven, Vermont. He spent 35 years as a parish pastor.

In 1956 Wood wrote “Spiritual Exercises,” an article for a gay physique magazine that featured a photo of him in his clerical collar. It was his way of coming out. After meeting Edward Sagarin, who wrote the groundbreaking book “The Homosexual in America” (using the pen name Donald Webster Cory), Wood was inspired to write “Christ and the Homosexual” (1960) under his own name. In the book, Wood called for the Christian Church not only to welcome homosexuals, but also to recognize same-sex marriage, which he had performed long before it was legal. In 1960 The Mattachine Society and The Prosperos honored Wood with Awards of Merit.

From 1965 to 1969, Wood bravely protested in his clerical collar at the Annual Reminders, the first public demonstrations specifically demanding gay and lesbian equality. Held each Fourth of July in front of Independence Hall, the Annual Reminders launched the LGBT civil rights movement and paved the way for the Stonewall riot. At the first Annual Reminder, 40 gay and lesbian activists from New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia participated. By 1965 their numbers had more than tripled.

In 1962 Wood met Hugh M. Coulter—an artist, a cowboy, and a fellow World War II veteran—in a gay leather bar in Manhattan. A month before the first Annual Reminder, the couple marched in the nation’s first gay picket line in Washington, D.C., with 18 other gay men and seven lesbians.

Wood and Coulter spent 27 years together and wore matching gold wedding rings. Coulter died in 1989.

Wood appeared in “Gay Pioneers”, a documentary about the Annual Reminders co-produced by WHYY/PBS and Equality Forum. In 2001, the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania honored him as a gay pioneer and, in 2004, the United Church of Christ Coalition of LGBT Concern presented him with its pioneer award.

Wood’s long career as a pastor also allowed him to officiate many same-sex weddings as he continuously advocated in both the Christian world and society for the rights and spiritual integrity of LGBTQ+ people.

After he retired, Wood moved to New Hampshire where he spent the remainder of his years. In 2018, at the age of 95, Reverend Wood passed way at his home. The New York Times published his obituary.

Bibliography

Websites

October is LGBTQ+ History Month

October is LGBTQ+ History Month. First celebrated in October 1994, the month originated as Lesbian and Gay History Month and was founded by Missouri high school history teacher Rodney Wilson. Wilson was the first openly gay public school teacher in Missouri.

The month of October was chosen to celebration LGBTQ+ history because the 1st and 2nd Marches on Washington, in 1979 and 1987, happened in October. Also, October was selected because public schools were in session and traditions such as October 11th’s Coming Out Day occur during the month.

According to the LGBT History Month site, the LGBTQ+ community is the only community worldwide that is not taught its history at home, in public schools, or in religious institutions. To this, LGBTQ+ History Month serves to provide role models, build community, and make the civil rights statement about the LGBTQ+ community’s extraordinary national and international contributions.

In 2006, Equality Forum, a national and international LGBTQ+ civil rights organization with an educational focus, picked up the mission of coordinating LGBTQ+ History Month. The organization began selecting 31 LGBTQ+ icons from all over the world throughout history to highlight for every day of the month of October.

For the rest of this month, the SITREP will attempt to publish a biography a day commemorating the lives and contributions of LGBTQ+ people who have served in the military, either U.S. or internationally.

For more information on LGBTQ+ History Month, check out the following resources:

Transgender Flag Day: A Brief Story of U.S. Navy Veteran & Flag Creator Monica Helms

Picture it: Phoenix, AZ. August 1999.

It was during this period that Navy Veteran Monica Helms would create a symbol, a flag to represent her community: the transgender community.

Encouraged by the creator of the bisexual flag, Michael Page, Helms put together a flag comprised of five stripes: two light blue, two pink, and a single, centered white stripe.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, Helms would say that the pattern for the flag just “came to her” one morning upon waking. It wasn’t a dream per say but a vision among the first thoughts of the day; in Helms’ words: “you’re starting to think and your mind is starting to fill with images.” From within this parade of pictures, she saw it, the flag, patterned as a play on gendered colors with a stripe for those living outside the binary.

A case of “divine intervention” was what Helms credited with a laugh.

At this point, it is vital to the story of Monica Helms though what most remember will be the symbol she created.

sitrep_monica-helms
Monica Helms (Gotham/Getty Images)

The Story of Monica Helms, Creator & Veteran

Monica Helms was born in 1951 in Sumter, South Carolina and grew up in the sunny state of Arizona. In 1969, she graduated from high school and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970.

From 1970 to 1978, Helms would serve as a nuclear-trained machinist mate on two submarines: the USS Francis Scott Key and the USS Flasher. It was four years into her enlistment that she began dressing as a woman and kept it secret for fear of being kicked out of the Navy. “It was the deepest, darkest secret in my entire life,” she wrote, “I would tell someone that I’d murdered someone before I’d tell someone I cross-dressed.” Her exploration took place while she was based in Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1976, Helms was assigned to the San Francisco area where she found the LGBT community and started to come out to more people publicly but kept herself closed off in the military. After eight years of service, she left the Navy to start her life as an activist in 1978.

It would be about 19 years before Helms began her transition in 1997. A year later, she reapplied for membership at the Phoenix chapter of the U.S. Submarines Veterans, Inc. under her name but faced pushback. Eventually, she was able to rejoin as Monica Helms and became one of the first women to join the organization.

The Birth of a Symbol

sitrep_transflag

In August 1999, the Transgender Pride flag was born with its colors: light blue for boys, pink for girls, and the middle white stripe for those transitioning, the gender neutral, or the intersex. In the many years that followed, the flag would encompass more of the community as society progressed and gender became less confined to simply male and female.

Although the Transgender Pride flag was birthed in August 1999, the flag would not make its debut to the world until the following year during Phoenix’s 2000 Pride Parade. The theme that year was “One Heart, One Mind, One Vision, Take Pride, Take Joy, Take Action.”

The Lead Up to Transgender Flag Day

Following its unveiling, Monica Helms’ creation was picked up by the transgender community and was incorporated into the LGBTQ collective, even becoming an emoji on mobile phones.

“It does please me but I am overtaken now, a little,” she said of the flag’s spread across the world over the years, “It’s overwhelming that something I created is being used all over the world.”

As for Helms, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia to be close to Washington, D.C., where she worked to advocate for transgender people and Veterans. In 2003, her activism led to the founding of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) where she was president until 2013. TAVA continues to this day as an active Veteran Service Organization for transgender Veterans.

In 2014, Monica Helms decided to donate the original Transgender Pride flag to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., as part of a special LGBTQ collection. That day was August 19, 2014.

Today, Transgender Flag Day serves to commemorate the day the original Transgender Pride flag was added to the Smithsonian’s permanent collection which documents the story of the LGBTQ community in America.

Donation table
The National Museum of American History expanded its LGBT collections, including the first transgender pride flag and Renée Richards’ tennis racket. (Max Kutner)

When parted with the Transgender Pride flag, Helms’ was sad but humbled. Humbled that her “baby” was now a part of the nation’s story housed in an institution the will protect and preserve it.

“Our symbol,” Helms said, “is part of Americana. It’s treated as that.”

She currently resides in Atlanta, GA, and has published her memoir, “More Than Just A Flag.”

The SITREP thanks Monica Helms for her contribution to LGBTQ history and the LGBTQ community. The Transgender Pride flag serves as a beacon and symbol for the transgender-plus community worldwide. It also goes without saying that we thank her for her service in the U.S. Navy and out in the world of activism and advocacy.

Read More

Monica Helms, Wikipedia

Monica Helms: Creator of the Transgender Flag, VAntage Point, 10 June 2021

Here’s the Meaning Behind the Colors of the Trans Flag, Seventeen, 03 June 2021

The Designer Of The Transgender Flag Is A Navy Veteran, Fast Company, 28 July 2017

‘Divine Intervention’ Helped Monica Helms Create The Transgender Pride Flag, The Daily Beast, 30 June 2017

The History of the Transgender Flag, Point of Pride, 23 April 2015

A Proud Day at American History Museum as LGBT Artifacts Enter the Collections, Smithsonian Magazine, 19 August 2014

Today is Agent Orange Awareness Day

Sixty years ago today, the toxic herbicide known as Agent Orange was first sprayed. Developed by Dow Chemical, Agent Orange was a chemical compound designed to defoliate areas of the Vietnamese countryside. This killing of vegetation would disallow the enemy potential cover and destroy crops that fed the people. Agent Orange was one of a group of “tactical use” chemicals known as the Rainbow Herbicides used by the U.S. military in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Chemically, Agent Orange was composed of equal parts 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and 2-4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D); in the mix, there were found to be traces of the most toxic form of dioxin known as 2,3,7,9-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD). Even in traces, TCDD was found to cause major health problems to many who were exposed and would later to be found to affect the offspring of those exposed.

Photo credit: Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. Collection: Agent Orange; U.S. Army Operations in Vietnam, Huey Defoliation, National Archives. Texas Tech Image Source: https://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/resources/agentorange/images.php

First sprayed in August 1961, it wasn’t until November 1961 that Agent Orange was authorized for use in Operation Ranch Hand, the codename for the U.S. Air Force’s herbicide program in Vietnam. On January 9, 1962, the first batch of Agent Orange was unloaded at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam. From there, records show that at least 6,542 spraying missions took place during the course of Operation Ranch Hand from 1962 to 1971. American combat troops did not begin to officially fight in Vietnam until 1965.

Although initial research suggested that the use of Agent Orange could create health problems for those exposed, the compound was employed widely anyway. While in Vietnam, U.S. troops were told not to worry and were reportedly persuaded that Agent Orange was harmless. Upon return home, Veterans of the Vietnam War began experiencing health issues in note only themselves but also in their spouses; those affected would miscarry or have children with birth defects. At that point, Vietnam Veterans started to suspect that their exposure to Agent Orange was the cause of all these problems.

The Aftermath
Source: Getty Images

It would be about six years after the U.S. ended operations in Vietnam when Veterans began filing claims for disability compensation for health conditions they believed were tied to exposure to Agent Orange. However, claims were denied unless it could be proven that these conditions began during time in service or within a year of being discharged.

This ultimately placed Veterans of the Vietnam War in the difficult position of having to prove exposure to Agent Orange after being told by the military that Agent Orange was harmless. All the while, these Veterans developed one or several medical conditions associated with exposure to the chemical compound or, most likely, to dioxin. Health conditions caused by Agent Orange include the following:

From 1977, when Veterans began filing claims for Agent Orange exposure, to about April 1993, only 486 of 39,419 Veterans had been compensated.

In 1979, about 2.4 million Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange filed a class action lawsuit that was settled out of court to the tune of $180 million by seven large chemical companies that made the herbicide. The settlement occurred five years after the lawsuit was filed. In the years that followed, the settlement was challenged and some 300 Veterans filed additional lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the settlement in 1988. At that point, the settlement had gained interest and had risen to $240 million.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed the Agent Orange Act into law. The act mandated that the some diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure and other herbicides be treated as the result of wartime service. This helped codify the VA’s response to Veterans with health conditions related to exposure to Agent Orange.

Approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange was used in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971, it’s been reported that roughly 300,000 troops have died from exposure and an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese people have also died.

For Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

Over the years, the VA has stepped up its efforts to reach out and address health conditions in Veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Veterans can now file claims for disability compensation for exposure to the herbicide. The conditions are outlined above.

The VA’s Agent Orange page also states: “If we denied your claims for any of these conditions in the past, we’ll automatically review your case again. You don’t need to file another claim. We’ll send you a letter to let you know we’re reviewing your case.” This pertains to the most recent additions to the list of presumptive conditions: Bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.

If you are a Veteran of the Vietnam War and served in locations that exposed you to Agent Orange, the VA states that you have a presumption of exposure. You will need to do the following to put together a claim:

  1. File a claim for disability compensation and submit your evidence (supporting documents).
  2. Submit a medical record that shows you have illness related to Agent Orange exposure and military records showing how you were exposed to Agent Orange during your service.
  3. If your illness isn’t on the list of presumptive diseases, you’ll need to provide one of the following types of evidence: Evidence showing the problem started during – or got worse because of – your military service, or scientific or medical evidence stating that the illness you have is caused by Agent Orange. This scientific proof may include an article from medical journal or publish research study.
  4. If you meet the service requirements for presumption of contact, you can schedule an Agent Orange Registry health exam. This is a free health exam that could alert you to illnesses that may be related to contact with herbicides. By being part of the registry, you’ll also be helping the VA better understand and serve those affected by Agent Orange-related illness. Keep in mind that this is not a VA claim exam, that exam is associated with your claim for disability compensation. To schedule an Agent Orange Registry exam, contact your local VA environment health coordinator and learn what to expect at the exam.

Below are some helpful links should you decide to pursue a disability claim with the VA:

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Happy 231st Birthday, U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard is one of the oldest organizations of the federal government. On August 4, 1790, President George Washington signed the Tariff Act that called for the construction of ten vessels to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling. The organization served as the nation’s only armed force afloat up until 1798 when the Navy Department was established.

For nearly 125 years after its formation, the Coast Guard was known by several names: “revenue cutters,” the “system of cutters,” the Revenue Marine, and finally the Revenue Cutter Service. In 1925, the service adopted its present name the U.S. Coast Guard under an act of Congress that merged the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service.

It was also under that same act of Congress that the Coast Guard was codified alongside the nation’s other armed services in that it “shall constitute a part of the military forces of the United States.” In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the transfer of the Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard and in 1946, Congress transferred the Commerce Department‘s Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation. Both transferred placed lighthouses and merchant marine licensing and merchant vessel safety under the Coast Guard‘s purview. At this point, the Coast Guard served as the nation’s single maritime federal agency dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the United States’ maritime laws.

In 1967, the Coast Guard was transferred to the newly-formed Department of Transportation after serving under the Treasury Department for 177 years.

In 2003 and as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Coast Guard was transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) where it serves as the front-line agency for enforcing the nation’s law at sea, protecting the marine environment and the nation’s coastline and ports, and saving life. The Coast Guard operates under the DHS during peacetime but serves as part of the Navy Department in times of war or at the direction of the President of the United States.

Today, the U.S. Coast Guard has approximately 43,000 active duty personnel, more than 8,000 Reservists, and 30,000 Auxiliary personnel that serve in several fields including operation specialists, small-boat operators, maintenance specialists, electronic technicians, and aviation mechanics. These men and women carry out the Coast Guard‘s responsibilities of providing search and rescue (SAR), maritime law enforcement (MLE), aids to navigation (ATON), ice breaking, environmental protection, port security, and military readiness.

To all our U.S. Coast Guards, Reservists, and Auxiliaries, thank you for stepping up to serve and defend our nation!

Read more:

August 2021 Observances

Do you ever wonder how organizations, businesses, and individuals know when a certain observance or awareness month, week, or day is? If so, below is a tailored list of observances for the month of August 2021 specifically for military, Veterans, and LGBTQ+ folx. We may issue graphics for some of the events listed below. Because there are so many events and awareness campaigns, the listing is not all-inclusive; that said, if you do not see something here, it’s not because it’s not important, it’s likely because it was unknown at the time of this post’s publication.

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Daily

May 2021 Observances

Do you ever wonder how organizations, businesses, and individuals know when a certain observance or awareness month, week, or day is? If so, below is a tailored list of observances for the month of May 2021 specifically for military, Veterans, and LGBTQ+ folx. We may issue graphics for some of the events listed below. Because there are so many events and awareness campaigns, the listing is no all-inclusive; that said, if you do not see something here, it’s not because it’s not important, it’s likely because it was unknown at the time of this post’s publication.

Monthly

Weekly

Daily

On This Day in 2003, the War in Iraq Began

On March 19, 2003, the United States along with a coalition of forces mostly from the UK started the war on Iraq. It would served as the first stage of the war with the air campaign commencing on March 19th followed by the ground campaign on March 20, 2003.

The justifications for the Iraq war started with Iraq’s failure to disarm as the “single trigger.” Over time, the Bush Administration would state Iraqi violation of UN resolutions, the Iraqi government’s repression of its citizens, and violations of the 1991 ceasefire as additional justifications for war. To the disarmament, it was alleged that then-leader/dictator Saddam Hussein possessed or was attempting to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that Hussein had terrorist ties, specifically al-Qaeda.

It would be about three weeks before the Iraqi government and military would collapse. U. S., British, and other coalition forces overwhelmed the Iraqi Army and Iraqi civilians with U.S. soldiers pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad.

As for Hussein, he went into hiding and was captured in December 2003 outside his hometown in Tikrit. After standing trial, Saddam Hussein was executed three years later in 2006.

Back to the war in Iraq, on May 1, 2003, President Bush formally declared an end to the military phase to take down the Hussein regime. Bush would speak from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln beneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

However, the Iraq war was quite far from over as loyalists to the Hussein regime went on to lay the foundation of a postwar insurgency. In the meantime, no WMDs were ever found in Iraq and the U.S. would remain in Iraq for eight years before declaring an end to the war on December 15, 2011.

In 2021, the U.S. military completed troop-level drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq; there are reportedly now 2,500 servicemembers each in both areas of operation.

Most recently, U.S. and coalition forces came under a rocket attack in western Iraq on March 3, 2021. No U.S. troops were injured; however, a civilian U.S. contractor died of a heart attack during the attack at Al Asad Air Base.

Read more:

VA Resources

On This Day in 1941, the Tuskegee Airmen were Established

On March 19, 1941, the U.S. War Department established the 99th Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC) that would become the first unit consisting of African American pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. In a time when segregation was the law of the land, the Tuskegee Airmen pushed back on the prevalent racism within and outside the ranks of the U.S. military. Following accomplishments in flight by pilots like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart in the decades before (1920s & 1930s), young men and women lined to up follow their flight paths; among them were young African Americans looking for their chance to take flight.

Unfortunately, African Americans were regarded as less-than and this widespread way of thought presented significant obstacles. In fact, black people were regarded as inferior in combat and seen as unable to become trained pilots. In 1938, President Roosevelt, seeing war was on the horizon, expanded the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) in the U.S. to ramp up the number of pilots in the nation; black people were excluded. But, in 1939, the CPTP opened up to historically black colleges which helped increase the number of black aviators. In 1940, the Roosevelt Administration announced that the AAC would begin training black pilots. At the start of 1941, it was announced that an all-black fighter pilot unit would be trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama located in the heart of the Jim Crow South.

Tuskegee airman Instructor Daniel “Chappie” James

The Tuskegee Airmen would go on to confront racism at home and abroad while racking up an exemplary record in World War II. The Tuskegee program would train some 1,000 pilots and nearly 14,000 navigators, bombardiers, instructors, aircraft and engine mechanics, control tower operators, and other maintenance and support staff. The Tuskegee Airmen flew about 1,600 missions and destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft in Nazi-controlled territory. In addition to the airmen’s amazing record, they would help lay the foundation for President Truman’s decision to finally desegregate the armed forces in 1948.

Following the war and desegregation, the Airmen carried on in the newly formed U.S. Air Force (USAF) and some taught in civilian flight schools. They were instrumental in developments in aviation and one Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. became the first African-American to attain the rank of four-star general. Another Airmen Marion Rodgers went on to work for NORAD and served as a program developer for the Apollo 13 project.

Time has seen the Tuskegee Airmen cement a remarkable legacy of breaking barriers and accomplishments during and after World War II.

Time has also seen members pass on with age. Robert Holts, the last known member of the Tuskegee Airmen, died on February 12, 2021 at the age of 96.

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On This Day in 1942, the Navy Seabees were Formed

When Japanese forces carried out the infamous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. Navy was alerted of the need for a militarized construction force as the attack marked the United States’ entry into World War II. On December 28, 1941, three weeks after Pearl Harbor, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell requested the authority to create Naval Construction Battalions which would be comprised of military-trained, skilled American laborers who could build anything, anywhere under any conditions.

Admiral Ben Moreell, CEC, USN
The father of the US Navy Seabees
“The King Bee”

Before World War II (the last 1930s), the U.S. observed the need to prepare militarily and Congress authorized the expansion of naval shore activities to the Caribbean, then to the Central Pacific. The U.S. Navy awarded contracts to civilian construction firms that employed native civilian populations and U.S. citizens who fell under the command of naval officers overseeing construction projects. These firms would go on to build several large bases on Guam, Midway, Wake, Pearl Harbor, Iceland, Newfoundland, Bermuda, and Trinidad. However, international law dictated that civilians that came under enemy military attacks would not be able to resist and could be executed. This remarkable mandate added to the U.S. concern to have a military-trained construction entity if and when war arrived.

Unfortunately, Pearl Harbor served as a tragic wakeup call that pushed Rear Admiral Moreell’s December 28th authorization request to create Naval Construction Battalions. It would be just over a week when the Bureau of Navigation would give the go-ahead and on January 5, 1942, the original Construction Battalions (CBs) were formed at the new naval base in Davisville, Rhode Island. On January 17, 1942, less than two weeks later, the First Construction Detachment made up of 296 men deployed and arrived in Bora Bora on February 17, 1942.

On March 5, 1942, the Department of the Navy officially named all Construction Battalion personnel the now famous Seabees. Their motto, Construimus, Batuimus (We Build, We Fight), was personally supplied by Rear Admiral Moreell. Their logo, the Fighting Bee, was created by Rhode Islander Frank J. Iafrate, a civilian file clerk who later enlisted and served as a Chief Carpentersmate with a CB Maintenance Unit.

The history of the Seabees is storied by legendary deeds spanning the globe. World War II saw them construct over 400 advanced bases in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of operation. More than 325,000 Seabees served in WWII and they were among the first to go ashore during D-Day of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944 (See below) as members of naval combat demolition units. When the war entered demobilization, the Bees’ base depot and training center were closed in December 1945 and the units were renamed Mobile Construction Battalions (MCBs) where members carried out support ops in Cuba and throughout the Pacific.

This would not be the end of the Seabees however…

In June 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea in a move that would kickstart a civil war that later involved the U.S. and China. The Davisville base was reactivated and the Seabees once again got into the fight, this time providing pontoon causeways, serving side by side with the Marine Corps and Army, building and defending what they built. Perhaps the largest accomplishment in the Korean War was building Cubi Point that saw the Seabees essentially cut a mountain in half to make way for a two-mile long runway. Cubi Point would be comprised of an air station with an adjacent pier capable of docking the Navy’s largest carriers.

Following the Korean War, Seabees distinguished themselves in the following operations:

  • Annual deployments starting in 1955 to Antarctica to build and expand scientific bases that included constructing a 6,000-foot ice runway on McMurdo Sound despite a blizzard.
  • From 1965 to 1970, they supported Marines in Vietnam by building aircraft support facilities, roads, and bridges but also helped the Vietnamese by paving roads, digging wells, providing medical treatment, and building schools, hospitals, utilities systems, roads and other community facilities.
  • Building a base on Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean, a project that lasted 11 years and cost $200M. The base would provide invaluable during Operations DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM.
  • During the Gulf War, more than 5,000 Seabees built advanced bases, constructed airfields, provided petroleum and water facilities, and went with the Marines into Kuwait.
  • Seabees deployed to Beirut following the 1982 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon to build underground bunkers for the Marines.
  • Relief and recovery efforts following Hurricanes Camille, Andrew, George, Mitch, Katrina, Ivan, and Maria.
  • Construction support and disaster relief in the wake of the Haiti earthquake.

Today, the Seabees continue to serve in the Global War on Terrorism. They have repaired runway facilities in Afghanistan and built aircraft parking, munitions storage, landing pads, bridges, and camps in Kuwait and Iraq. About two-thirds of Seabees today are reservists with active duty members serving in six active Battalions, two Amphibious Construction Battalions (ACBs), and two Underwater Construction Team (UCTs).

The U.S. Navy continues to reach out to recruit Seabees as builders, construction electricians and mechanics, engineering aids, equipment operators, steel workers, and utilitiesmen. Check out the video below for more information on today’s Seabees.

Last and very certainly not least, to all our Seabees, past and present, out there: Thank you for building up and defending the nation!

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Happy 106th Birthday, U.S. Navy Reserve

Today the U.S. Navy Reserve turns 106!

Formed in 1915 in response to the outbreak of World War I, the U.S. Navy Reserve was first only open to Navy Veterans. By 1916, general enlistment requirements opened up the reserve and the number of serving Naval Reservists grew to 245,789 which accounted for about 54% of the total U.S. Naval Force at the time. At the end of World War II, the ranks of the Navy Reserve numbered to about 3 million, making up 85% of all Sailors serving at the time.

Over the past 106 years, the U.S. Navy Reserve has seen five future U.S. Presidents and 15 Medal of Honor recipients in its ranks. Today, the Reserve delivers operational support to the fleet and to combat forces. In its time since 9/11, the Reserve has mobilized over 70,000 times and has deployed more than 4,500 times by reservists on Full-Time Support.

To ALL U.S. Naval Reservists out there, thank you for stepping up in service of the nation and Happy Birthday, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve!

On This Day in 1931, “The Star-Spangled Banner” Officially Became the National Anthem; Today is National Anthem Day

On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional act making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem of the United States.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” could be considered a mashup of sorts. The lyrics to the anthem were written in 1814 and the music comes from the British as far back as 1773.

The music is a popular British song known as “To Anacreon in Heaven,” written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society. The song is also known as “The Anacreontic Song” that served as the official song of the Society, an 18th-century gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians in London. The earliest mention of the song dates back to journals from 1773 by composer John Marsh. “The Star-Spangled Banner” took on the tune of the song which was popular in the United States at the time the lyrics were written.

The Anacreontic Song – The song became extremely popular in America, where it was used to accompany a number of verses, including the patriotic song called “Adams and Liberty,” before 1814. Key himself used the tune for his 1805 song, “When the Warrior Returns from the Battle Afar.” Credit: Smithsonian

The National Anthem’s lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 titled, “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Key wrote the poem after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. The battle was carried out by British Ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor on September 13, 1814. The next day, an oversized American flag was raised for reveille and that moment inspired Key to pen his famous poem on September 14, 1813.

Key reportedly gave the poem to his brother-in-law Joseph H. Nicholson who saw that Key’s words fit the melody of “The Anacreontic Song.” On September 20, 1814, the song was printed in two publications after which the song gained popularity; it went viral after 17 newspapers from Georgia to New Hampshire printed it. Initially, the song was printed with the note “Tune: Anacreon in Heaven” and was published as “The Star-Spangled Banner” shortly after going viral.

Fast forward to 1889, the U.S. Navy recognized “The Star-Spangled Banner” for official use and, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the song be played at military and other appropriate functions. In 1918, a bill was introduced in Congress to officially recognize “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem; however, that bill failed. The bill was introduced a total of six times until 1929 after which, in 1930, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) started a petition to recognize the song as the national anthem.

It’s reported that approximately five million people signed the petition which was subsequently presented to the House of Representatives in January 1930. A floor vote approved the bill in the House later that year and the Senate passed the bill in March 1931. On March 3, 1931, President Hoover signed the bill into law making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem in the United States of America.

The Star-Spangled Banner performed by the U.S. Army Band

Today is National Anthem Day

So, how can you commemorate National Anthem Day? There are a few ways to do so:

The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail invites visitors to explore the trail from wherever they are!
  1. Learn the lyrics to the National Anthem. If you haven’t taken the time to check out the words of the anthem, take the day to look them over so you can show your solidarity when the occasion comes up for you to sing. But, really, it’s only appropriate that Americans know the words to the National Anthem.
  2. Check out the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. Due to the pandemic, travel is an issue for most. Fortunately, you can visit the 560-mile trail virtually here. You can read more about the history of the trail and visit the trail spots noting key events that led to the Battle of Baltimore, Key’s inspiration for the National Anthem.
  3. Display your Star-Spangled Banner. If you’re already displaying the flag, you’re good to go but, if not, take the day to show the Colors to mark National Anthem Day. There are rules and guidelines for displaying the Flag, you can find them here.

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