Famous Military-Related Deaths for the Week of September 20-26

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Famous Military-Related Deaths for the Week of September 20-26

Chief Joseph of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce
Photograph by O.S. Goff, in November of 1877
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

September 21, 1904 – Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it, aka "Chief Joseph" of the Nez Perce, age 64

One of the more famous Native American leaders, Chief Joseph fought efforts to kick his Nez Perce tribe off their ancestral lands. In 1877, they were given 30 days to vacate their lands and move to a nearby smaller reservation. Persuaded to physically resist the order, Joseph led about 750 warriors and their wives and children on a 1170 mile fighting retreat through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. They tied down hundreds of U.S. soldiers and horsemen, fighting six battles and nearly reaching safety in Canada.

On October 5, 1877, his band was trapped by soldiers under the command of General Nelson A. Miles. For five days, two cavalry regiments and an infantry regiment attacked the Nez Perce positions, but could not force them into attacking or surrendering. Finally, two Nez Perce Army Scouts went into the Indian camp, and helped convince Joseph that further bloodshed was useless. A message was sent to Gen. Miles, supposedly a transcription of the words of Chief Joseph to Miles. It said in part:

Our chiefs are killed…the old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, to see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.

Despite receiving assurances they would be allowed to return to their native lands, Joseph and the Nez Perce spent the rest of their lives in virtual exile. They were first sent to Fort Leavenworth, KS; then to Oklahoma, then finally to the Colville Reservation in eastern Washington. Joseph spent the last years of his life seeking justice for himself and his people. He died in 1904, and is buried at the Colville Reservation.

Statue of Nathan Hale by Frederick MacMonnies; Located in City Hall Park, New York City, NY
Statue of Nathan Hale by Frederick MacMonnies
Located in City Hall Park, New York City, NY

September 22, 1776 – Lt. Nathan Hale, Continental Army, age 21

Nathan Hale was born in June of 1755 in Coventry, CT. In 1768 he and his older brother Enoch were sent to Yale College. Nathan graduated from the institution in 1773 and became a teacher.

When the Revolutionary War began, he joined a Connecticut militia unit and was elected first lieutenant. His unit participated in the siege of Boston, but Nathan remained behind to continue his teaching. In the summer of 1775, Hale joined the 7th Connecticut Infanry and was commissioned a first lieutenant.

His unit, as part of the Continental Army, the following spring moved to the outskirts of New York City, one of the most important port cities of the American colonies which was under threat by the British. Gen. George Washington was desperate to obtain information about British troop movements, and requested volunteers to spy behind enemy lines. Young Hale volunteered for the dangerous mission. [Up to this point, Lt. Hale had seen no action, and was probably looking for some way to make a positive contribution to the Patriot cause.]

During his mission, New York City fell to the British on September 15. Sometime in the next week, Lt. Hale was captured in a tavern by Major Robert Rogers of the Queen's Rangers. [Rogers was an American-born hero of the French and Indian War, but fell on hard times and remained nominally loyal to the British crown in order to pay his debts.] Not believing Hale's cover story that he was a teacher, he lured Hale into revealing himself and was promptly arrested.

Hale was taken before British Gen. William Howe and questioned; physical evidence of his spying was found on Hale's person. According to the standards of the time, spies were usually hanged without benefit of trial, as illegal combatants. On the moring of September 22, 1776 Hale was marched to the corner of 66th Street and Third Avenue (now the site of a Gap store). After giving a short speech, Lt. Nathan Hale was hanged. His body was never recovered.

His final words were purportedly, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." However, no single source gives these exact words. He may have paraphrased a passage from the play Cato which stated, "What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country."

Irving Berlin, c. 1941, photographer unknown; From the book Irving Berlin's Show Business
Irving Berlin, c. 1941, photographer unknown
From the book Irving Berlin's Show Business

September 22, 1989 – Irving Berlin, age 101

He was born Israel Isidore Beilin in May of 1888 in Tyumen, Russian Empire. His family left Russia when he was about five years old, arriving in New York City in 1893. His father was a cantor in a synagogue. His family was incredibly poor, and Irving made money as a newspaper boy, a "street musician" singing songs of the day, and eventually became a singing waiter. He sold his first song at age 18, earning 37 cents. This early success spurred him to begin his career as a songwriter. [Berlin learned to play the piano on his own, but could only write in a single key. He later acquired a piano which had transposing levers to change keys.]

Eventually obtaining paid employment with a music publisher, Berlin achieved worldwide fame with the 1911 song, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." By 1918, he had written hundreds of songs, from ragtime to ballads, from dance songs to Southern parody music. In 1917 he was drafted into the U.S. Army, but never saw Europe; he was assigned to the 152nd Depot Brigade at Camp Upton on Long Island, to write songs of patriotism. While at Camp Upton Berlin composed a musical which included the songs, "Mandy" and "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning."

Berlin wrote music for 19 shows, 18 films, and his songs were nominated 8 times for Oscars. According to ASCAP records, 25 Berlin songs went to the top of the charts.Some other songs written by Berlin include: "God Bless America," "Blue Skies," "Putting on the Ritz," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Easter Parade," "There's No Business Like Show Business," and "White Christmas."

"White Christmas" was first featured in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby. The song went right to the #1 spot on Billboard's Top 100. The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. At the award ceremony in March of 1943, Berlin was chosen by the Academy to present the Oscar to the winner of the category. SURPRISE!!! Berlin opened the envelope and saw his own name, thus becoming the only person to present an Oscar to himself. [The academy changed its criteria for being a presenter years later.]

Berlin died in his sleep on September 22, 1989. On the evening following the announcement of his death, the marquee lights of all Broadway playhouses were dimmed before curtain time in his memory.

In 1924, lyricist Jerome Kern wrote a letter to Alexander Woolcott, who was preparing a biography of Berlin. In the letter Kern said, "Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world – simplified, clarified and glorified."

Daniel Boone (1820); Oil sketch by Chester Harding (Only known portrait of Boone)
Daniel Boone (1820)
Oil sketch by Chester Harding
(Only known portrait of Boone)

September 26, 1820 – Daniel Boone, age 85

Daniel Boone was born November 2, 1734 (New Style) in Berks County, PA. His family were members of the Society of Friends (aka Quakers). The Boones ran afoul of the church for allowing two of the Boone children to marry "worldling" (non-Quakers). The family sold their Pennsylvania property and moved to western North Carolina.

In about 1755, the governor of North Carolina called up a militia. Boone joined, and participated in the ill-fated Braddock expedition to capture Fort Duquesne. Twelve years later, he made a "long hunt" into the lands of the Shawnee (present-day Kentucky), spending months at a time shooting deer and trapping beaver. A few years later, Boone and some companions blazed the Wilderness Road through the Blue Ridge Mountains into Kentucky; it became one of the first major routes into the lands formerly forbidden to European settlers by the British crown. He led a number of pioneer families in establishing the settlement of Boonesborough.

He lived at Boonesborough from 1775 to 1779. On one hunting expedition, he was captured by the Shawnee and adopted into the tribe (to replace a warrior killed by the members of Boone's hunting group). After several months living with the enemy, he learned the Shawnee were preparing to attack Boonesborough; he escaped and traveled 160 miles in five days back to the settlement to warn the residents. He helped lead the defense of the town, finally driving the Shawnee away after ten days. He engaged in land speculation in Kentucky, but went into debt quickly, and spent many years repaying his debts. He was forced to return to his old hunting/trapping ways. Boone also found time to serve as a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly.

In 1799, Boone moved his family to eastern Missouri, which at that time was owned by Spain. He was appointed a local judge and militia commander. He remained in Missouri for the balance of his life, dying there in 1820. Though buried in Missouri, the remains of Boone and his wife were disinterred in 1845, and reburied in Frankfort, KY. However, there are claims that the Kentuckians dug up the wrong remains…

Daniel Boone has become the iconic standard of the American explorer. He was immortalized in print by James Fennimore Cooper, as the character Natty Bumpoo in The Leatherstocking Tales and The Last of the Mohicans. The modern-day public perception of this famous frontiersman is probably set by the TV show Daniel Boone, starring Fess Parker. It was broadcast on NBC from 1964-1970.

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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.