Military-Related Deaths for the Week of December 10-16

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Military-Related Deaths for the Week of December 10-16

Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598) in Ghanghwamun Plaza, Seoul, ROK
Erected in 1968, later renovated and re-installed in 2010
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

December 16, 1598 – Admiral Yi Sun-sin, naval innovator, strategist, ship-builder; died of wounds suffered in battle of Noryang against the Japanese, age 53

Yi Sun-sin is considered one of Korea's greatest military heroes. He helped repel a Japanese invasion in 1598, pushing the enemy back to their homeland.

Yi was born in 1545, in a district of Seoul, to a noble family. However, it seems they were on the wrong side of the prevailing ruling house. He passed the Korean civil service exam (similar to one used in China) in 1577. He was posted to the northern border of the kingdom, where he achieved success against Jurchen raiders. His early successes fostered jealousy in the royal court. For a time, he was stripped of rank, imprisoned, and tortured.

However, in late 1590 Yi was given a number of important assignments, including command of a naval district. Soon, he used his experience in land fighting and applied them to naval combat. This is fortunate, for in 1592 the Japanese – seeking to use Korea as a bridge to invade Ming China – launched an invasion of Korea in 1592. In quick succession, Yi fought and won a number of sea fights with the invaders.

There were numerous reasons why Yi was so successful against the Japanese fleets. Yi had prepared for the war by checking the status of his soldiers, granaries, and supplies, replacing them when it was necessary. As part of this preparation, Yi resurrected and built the turtle ship, which was a considerable factor in his victories. Yi also had a great deal of information about the southern Korean coast and he planned his battles using the sea tides and narrow straits to his advantage.

Yi was a charismatic leader, and was able to maintain his soldiers' morale despite constantly being low on supplies and food, and continuous news of countless Korean losses in ground battles. Admiral Yi became immensely popular among his soldiers and the Korean people, who often provided him with intelligence reports at great risk to themselves.

In mid-December of 1598, the remaining Japanese fleet was seeking to traverse the Noryang Strait in order to sail for home. They were confronted by a combined Chinese-Korean fleet. The allies numbered about 150 vessels versus the nearly 500 Japanese ships. Again, using his knowledge of the tides, Admiral Yi's forces sank 200 enemy ships, captured a further 100, and killed 13,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors, losing no ships but sustaining about 500 casualties.

As the Japanese retreated, Yi ordered a vigorous pursuit. During this time a stray arquebus bullet from an enemy ship struck him near the armpit, on his left side. Sensing that the wound was fatal, the admiral said his son and nephew, "We are about to win the war – keep beating the war drums. Do not announce my death." and with those words he died.

Admiral Yi has at times been compared to Admiral Horatio Nelson of the Royal Navy, and even some Japanese naval officers said that Yi had no equal. Today statues of Admiral Yi can be seen in Seoul and Busan, South Korea.

Red Cloud (1822-1909) Oglala Lakota leader; Photograph taken in 1880 by Charles Milton Bell
Red Cloud (1822-1909) Oglala Lakota leader
Photograph taken in 1880 by Charles Milton Bell

December 10, 1909 – Red Cloud, leader of Oglala Lakota, died of natural causes, age 86 or 87

Red Cloud was one of the most photographed Native American in the late 19th and early 20th century. In addition, he was one of the most important leaders of the Oglala Lakota. He led from 1868 to 1881. One of the most capable Native American opponents that the U.S. Army faced in its mission to subdue the western territories, he led a successful campaign in 1866–1868 known as Red Cloud's War over control of the Powder River Country in northeastern Wyoming and southern Montana.

Red Cloud was born close to the forks of the Platte River, near the modern-day city of North Platte, Nebraska. His mother, Walks As She Thinks, was an Oglala Lakota and his father, Lone Man, was a Brulé Lakota leader. They came from two of the major seven Lakota divisions. As was traditional among the matrilineal Lakota (in which the children belonged to the mother's clan and people), Red Cloud was mentored as a boy by his maternal uncle, Old Chief Smoke (1774–1864). Old Chief Smoke played a major role in the boy's childhood. He brought Red Cloud into the Smoke household when the boy's parents died around 1825. At a young age, Red Cloud fought against neighboring Pawnee, Crow, Ute, and Shoshone bands, gaining much war experience.

His stature among the Oglala Sioux rose early, having acquired a reputation as a fierce warrior and a man of pronounced ruthlessness to enemies of his people, particularly in campaigns against the Pawnees. He counted "coup" more than 80 in his early lfe.

In 1851, the American government promulgated a treaty with the Crow, Lakota, Northern Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne tribes. The treaty set boundaries for the various tribes' hunting grounds, which also supposed closed the area to European settlers. Shortly afterward, due to dwindling game in the treaty areas, several of the Lakota bands began pushing the Crow out of their treaty-assigned areas.

However, even worse, gold was discovered in the non-Native American areas of Montana Territory. As a result, the Bozeman Trail was developed to allow gold seekers and settlers to journey through the Crow/Lakota treaty territory to the gold fields of southwestern Montana. To reinforce the federal government's actions, three new forts were constructed to guard the new travel route – Forts Reno, Phil Kearney, and C.F. Smith.

In 1866, Red Cloud led the Lakota opposition to the Americans continued despoiling of the treaty lands in a conflict known as Red Cloud's War. The largest action of the war, the Fetterman Masscre in December, 1866 (with 81 men killed on the US side), was the worst military defeat suffered by the U.S. on the Great Plains until the Battle of the Little Bighorn ten years later. After 2 years of fighting, the tribes prevailed, and the three Army posts guarding the Bozeman Trail were dismantled.

Red Cloud supported the tribes involved in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but he did not participate in the fighting personally. Afterwards, Red Cloud agreed to move his tribe onto the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern Dakota Territory. He was removed as his band's war chief in 1881, and lived at Pine Ridge in enforced retirement.

He outlived all the other major Lakota leaders of the Indian Wars. He died in 1909 at age 87 on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where he was buried. He is quoted as saying in his old age, "They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept [just] one – they promised to take our land...and they took it."

Charles Laughton (1899-1962); Photo taken by Clarence Bull, 1933
Charles Laughton (1899-1962)
Photo taken by Clarence Bull, 1933

December 15, 1962 – Charles Laughton, British veteran of First World War, actor, died of spinal cancer, age 63

Charles Laughton was born July 1, 1899 in the town of Scarborough, Yorkshire, England. After attending a prestigious Jesuit school, he enlisted in the British army, participating in the First World War, where he was gassed.

Laughton began his acting career in 1926, appearing on stage. He appeared on both the British and American stage throughout his career. He made his first motion picture in 1928 in England, making three films with his wife Elsa Lanchester. One of his first Hollywood films was The Old Dark House (1932), co-starring with Boris Karloff. His next well-regard role was as the vivisectionist Dr. Moreau in The Island of Lost Souls that same year, based on a novel by H.G. Wells.

In 1933, he won his only Academy Award for his portrayal of the lead character in The Private Life of Henry VIII. [He would reprise the role in 1953's Young Bess.] He played two very different characters in 1935. First, he played Inspector Javert in Les Misérables; this was followed by his portrayal of the dictatorial Captain William Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, playing opposite Clark Gable as Mr. Christian.

Laughton made many films in the 1940s, my favorite is The Canterville Ghost (1944) a comedy mixing a 17th century ghost seeking to cleanse his name of shame, with World War II GIs (including Robert Young of Father Knows Best fame). One year later, he played the lead character in Captain Kidd. He would revisit that role in 1952's comedy film Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd.

In 1955 Laughton directed his only movie, The Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. At the time of its release, it was a critical and box-office failure; Laughton never directed another film. In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Laughton played Roman senator Gracchus in 1960's Spartacus, working with a young Stanley Kubrick. In his final film, Advise and Consent (1962), he portrays U.S. Senator Seabright Cooley under the direction of Otto Preminger. To get his American accent correct, Laughton listened to recordings of then-Senator John Stennis.

Laughton died on December 15, 1962 of spinal cancer. For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Laughton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard.

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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.