Famous Deaths for the Week of June 8-14

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Famous Deaths for the Week of June 8-14

King Hardicanute of Denmark and England
Image courtesy of http://www.findagrave.com
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

June 8, 1042 – Hardicanute, King of Denmark (1035-1042) and England (1040-1042)

Hardicanute was born in 1018, the son of Danish monarch Canute the Great and his second wife Emma of Normandy. His father had welded Denmark, Norway, and England into a North Seas empire. Upon Canute's death in 1035, Hardicanute secured the throne of Denmark, but Norway slipped from his grip. His half-brother Harold Hairfoot, held the English throne until his death in 1040, at which time Hardicanute sailed to England with a war fleet to secure the throne.

Hardicanute dealt with his new kingdom quite harshly without benefit of consulting the council of nobles that usually advised the king. He expanded the English war fleet from 16 to 32 vessels, and raised taxes to pay for it. The inhabitants of the town of Worcester were so outraged that when two tax collectors dealt harshly with the townspeople, they rioted and killed the publicans. Hardicanute ordered the then-legal punishment of "harrying," which allowed his earls to burn the town and kill the inhabitants. Few people were killed, as they knew their punishment was coming and fled in all directions.

On June 8, 1042, Hardicanute attended a wedding in a London suburb. The groom was a former standard-bearer of his father. During the reception, the king began drinking heavily. At one point as he drank to the health of the bride, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he "died as he stood at his drink, and he suddenly fell to the earth with an awful convulsion; and those who were close by took hold of him, and he spoke no word afterwards..." His cause of death has been variously ascribed to cardiac arrest or poison. He was about 24 years old, and had no heir. Shortly afterwards, Edward the Confessor – his half-brother through his mother Emma of Normandy – became king of England.

"Portrait of Andrew Jackson" by Thomas Sully (1824); Oil on canvas, portrait used as basis for American $20 bill
"Portrait of Andrew Jackson" by Thomas Sully (1824)
Oil on canvas, portrait used as basis for American $20 bill

June 8, 1845 – Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States (1829-1837)

Jackson, the son of Scotch-Irish immigrants, was born in 1767 somewhere on the border of North and South Carolina. He served as a militia courier during the American War of Independence, was captured by the British along with his older brother. A British officer struck Jackson with his sword when the teenager refused to shine the man's boots. After being released from English custody, Jackson nursed a deep hatred for the British.

Jackson became a lawyer in Tennessee, and served a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives and two short terms in the Senate. He was a prominent planter and landowner for his entire life. However, Jackson soon discovered he had an aptitude for military affairs. Appointed to command the Tennessee militia in 1802, he led them to victories in the Creek War (1813-1814) and later the War of 1812. His most stunning victory took place on January 8, 1815 at New Orleans, when he defeated a British invasion force. In 1817, he launched an unauthorized invasion of Spanish-held Florida as part of the First Seminole War.

In 1824, Jackson ran for President against three other candidates, including John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. He lost the election – despite winning the popular and electoral vote but not a majority of the Electoral College – after the election was thrown to the House of Representatives. Nominated again in 1828, Jackson won the election, as well as re-election in 1832. During his presidency, Jackson opposed a national bank, supported the spoils system in government appointments, battled an attempt at secession, and engineered the removal of Native Americans from their lands in southern states. He was also the first President to weather an assassination attempt.

After the end of his second term, Jackson retired to the Hermitage, his plantation near Nashville, TN. He died there in 1845 at age 78, from tuberculosis, dropsy (edema), and heart failure. He once said that he had only two regrets from his presidency, that he "had been unable to shoot Henry Clay [his rival in the 1824 presidential election] or to hang John C. Calhoun [his one-time Vice-President and the leader of the secession crisis of 1832]."

Bust of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; Located at the Capitoline Museum, Rome, Italy
Bust of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
Located at the Capitoline Museum, Rome, Italy

June 9, AD 68 – Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, 5th Roman Emperor (AD 54-68)

Born Marcus Domitius Ahenobarbus in December of 37, Nero was nephew to the emperors Caligula (reigned AD 37-41) and Claudius (reigned AD 41-54). He was also a great-grandson of Mark Antony. When Nero came to the throne, he was suspected of collusion with his mother in the death of the late emperor Claudius.

The first few years of Nero's reign were fairly moderate, as Nero sought the acclaim of the lower classes. He was a fair administrator, but was known for making numerous visits to brothels. Nero also lower certain taxes, and built a number of gymnasiums and theatres. He was known to write poetry and evened performed his works in public. Nero's sexual appetites caused great stress within the Roman government. Rumors abounded that he killed one wife by kicking her to death (doubted by modern scholars) and ordered the execution of his mother Agrippina the Younger.

However, his most enduring legacy is the Great Fire of Rome, which started on July 18, 64 and burned for five days. Three of Rome's fourteen districts were devastated. Accidental fires were not uncommon in the ancient world. Rumor of Nero's complicity in the destruction are just that: rumors. He helped organize relief for the victims, participated in searches for survivors, and even allowed victims shelter in the imperial palace. To squelch stories of Nero's guilty in starting the fire, he blamed the new sect of Christians, which began large-scale persecutions.

In early 68, several provincial governors revolted and Servius Sulpicius Galba marched on Rome to depose Nero. Deserted by supporters and losing the support of the Praetorian prefect, he first fled Rome, then returned and with the help of his secretary, committed suicide by falling on a sword. Nero's dying words were, "What an artist dies in me." With his death, the Julio-Claudian dynasty ended and civil war broke out. Within the next 13 months of Nero's demise, three different men would become emperor – Galba, Otho, and Vitellius – before Vespasian would come to power and end the "Year of the Four Emperors."

"Mickey" Marcus (1901-1948)
Photographer and date unknown

June 10, 1948 – Col. David Daniel "Mickey" Marcus

Born in New York City, Mickey Marcus's parents immigrated to America from Romania. He graduated from West Point in 1924. After completing his active duty requirement, he attended Brooklyn Law School. He spent most of the 1930s as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York, prosecuting gangsters. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia named Marcus commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections in 1940.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Marcus was recalled to active duty from the Organized Reserve Corps, where he served as a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps. He was ultimately assigned to Civil Affairs in Washington, and given the mission to plan for the establishment of occupation governments after Axis-occupied territories were liberated. Despite having no paratrooper training, Marcus volunteered for the D-Day invasion and parachuted into Normandy. He helped draw up the surrender documents for Germany and Italy. Marcus was eventually appointed to the War Crimes Division, given the job of planning legal and security measures for the Nuremberg trials.

In early 1948, Marcus volunteered to become a military advisor to the fledgling state of Israel. He traveled to Palestine under an alias, and began developing strategic plans and a command structure for the Haganah – the Jewish paramilitary organization which became the Israeli Defense Forces – to defend the nation's weak points.

Early in the morning of June 10, 1948 Marcus left his billet to take walk. [One source says he was also seeking to relieve himself…awkward!] He was wearing a white blanket to cover himself. Marcus was challenged by a sentry – in Hebrew, a language he didn't understand – and Marcus answered in English, which the sentry did not speak. The sentry fired several shots at Marcus, who began running for his quarters. His body was found shortly afterwards.

Marcus was buried in the West Point Cemetery; he is the only person interred there who died fight under the flag of another country. His story was told by Hollywood in the 1966 film Cast A Giant Shadow, starring Kirk Douglas, Angie Dickinson, Yul Brynner, and John Wayne.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936); Photograph taken in 1934, author unknown
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936)
Photograph taken in 1934, author unknown

June 11, 1936 – Robert E. Howard, Creator of "Conan the Barbarian"

OK, I may be stretching the "military" moniker a bit with REH, but please bear with me…

Born in Texas in 1906, Howard was the son of a traveling country doctor. His family spent his early childhood traveling to various oil boomtowns, before settling in the town of Cross Plains. Robert was an indifferent student, but enjoying reading about faraway and exotic locales. He held a number of jobs, including one as a soda jerk, before he found his life's work.

Beginning in 1924, Howard made his first short-story sale. Over the next 12 years he wrote short stories, travelogues, and poetry in a number of genres (Western, Oriental fantasy, boxing, and horror to name a few). Howard created a number of fantasy characters that were published in the pages of the pulp magazine Weird Tales, including Kull the Conqueror and Solomon Kane. Finally, in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales, appeared the story, "The Phoenix on the Sword." It was a story featuring a new character, Conan of Cimmeria.

Over the next four years, Howard had 18 stories devoted to the barbarian wonderer, thief, mercenary, and monarch of a foreign nation. Many of the stories combine action and magic, as Howard almost singlehandedly invented the "sword-and-sorcery" genre. Several of Howard's stories concentrate on military actions, including "Beyond the Black River," "Black Colossus," "The Hour of the Dragon," "The People of the Black Circle," and "The Scarlet Citadel." He also wrote a short story entitled, "The Sowers of the Thunder," which gave a decent depiction of the 1244 battle of LaForbie. [Anyone interested in that story can go here: The Sowers of Thunder or may read my Burn Pit post from October of 2012: Battle of La Forbie: Egyptians & Turkic Allies Defeat Crusaders & Syrian Allies.]

While not making large amounts of money, Howard made a comfortable living as a writer. In his correspondence with other writers, he stated he was growing bored of Conan, and was thinking of going on to other characters. He even had several Western stories scheduled for publication.

On the morning June 11, 1936, Howard's mother fell into a coma after battling tuberculosis most of his life. When told she wouldn't recover consciousness, Howard went outside the house, got into his car in the driveway, took a borrowed .380 Colt Automatic pistol from the glove box, and shot himself in the head. He died eight hours later.

Portrait of Alexander the Great, from the "Alexander Mosaic"
Found in ruins of Pompeii, Italy dated to ca. 100 BC
On display at National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Italy

June 10 or 11, 323 BC – Alexander III of Macedon "the Great"

Born in 356 BC, Alexander was the son of Phillip II, king of Macedon, and his wife Olympias. Alexander was tutored for several years by the philosopher Aristotle until he turned 16. In 338 he struck the decisive blow at the battle of Chaeronea, defeating a coalition of Greek city-states opposing his father's ambitions. After his father was assassinated in 336, Alexander assumed the Macedonian throne. He also took over his father's ambitious plan to invade and conquer the Persian Empire.

After putting down a number of revolts, Alexander and his army invaded Asia in the spring of 334. Over the next eight years, his Greco-Macedonian army was consistently outnumbered but triumphed time and again. Alexander and his men conquered lands that today include the nations of Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan.

After winning a hard-fought battle in modern-day Pakistan, Alexander's army revolted and refused to march deeper into India. Alexander reluctantly agreed to return westward. He reached the city of Babylon. In late May of 323, he threw a party which last a night and day, drinking heavily. Alexander developed a fever, and then lost the power of speech. He died on either the evening of June 10 or the morning of June 11, 323. Various causes of death have been postulated, from typhoid fever, to meningitis, to various poisons.

Alexander believed that he was a descendent of Achilles, the hero of the Iliad. He was a brilliant military commander, but also quite vain and arrogant, a quick temper and a rash, impulsive nature. In his later years he devolved a distrustful paranoid nature. His campaigns greatly increased contacts and trade between East and West, and vast areas to the east were significantly exposed to Greek civilization and influence. Some of the cities he founded became major cultural centers, many surviving into the 21st century.

Undated photo of Bill Blass, photographer unknown
Undated photo of Bill Blass, photographer unknown

June 12, 2002 – William Ralph "Bill" Blass, fashion designer and deception specialist

Born in 1922 in Fort Wayne, IN, Blass life was heavily influenced by his mother, who was a dressmaker. In his autobiography, Blass wrote that the margins in his school books were filled with sketches of Hollywood-inspired fashions instead of notes. At fifteen, he began sewing and selling evening gowns for $25 each to a New York manufacturer. At seventeen, he had saved up enough money to move to Manhattan and study fashion, and, at eighteen, he was the first male to win Mademoiselle's Design for Living award. He spent his salary of $30 a week on clothing, shoes, and elegant meals.

In 1942, Blass enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the 603rd Camouflage Battalion with a group of writers, artists, sound engineers, theater technicians, and other creative professionals. Their mission was to fool the German Army into believing the Allies were positioned in fake locations. They did this by using sound recordings, dummy tanks, and other false materials. He served in this unit at several major operations including the North Africa, Sicily, the Normandy breakout, Battle of the Bulge, and the Rhine river crossing.

Blass began his fashion career in 1945. In 1970, he bought Maurice Rentner Ltd., a company he joined in 1959, and renamed it Bill Blass Limited. His company's produced not only clothing, but swimwear, furs, chocolate, luggage and perfume. Between 1979 and 1992, he lent his talents to the Ford Motor Company to interior and exterior designs for the company's Continental Mark series of cars. He was also an art collector and a connoisseur of antiquities.

Blass sold his company in 1999, and retired to Connecticut. A year later he was diagnosed with tongue cancer, which turned into throat cancer. He began writing his autobiography, which he completed six days before his death on June 12, 2002, ten days before his 80th birthday.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.