Military-Related Deaths for the Week of January 21-27

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Military-Related Deaths for the Week of January 21-27

Charles Gordon, dressed in uniform of Egyptian officer
Photographer and date unknown; c. late 1870s-1880s
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

January 26, 1885 – Charles Gordon, British officer and administrator; died of wounds, age 51

Charles George Gordon was born January 28, 1833. He was an "army brat," following his father wherever he was posted. He himself attended the British Military Academy, Woolwich, graduating in 1852 with a 2nd lieutenant's commission in the Royal Engineers. Early in his career, he was introduced to Protestant evangelicalism. Though he never joined a particular church, Gordon was something of a Christian fanatic for the rest of his life.

Gordon served in the Crimea, putting his engineering and reconnaissance skills to work. After the war, he was bored with peacetime duty in England, and requested to be sent to China. The Taiping Rebellion (1851-1866), was one of the bloodiest wars in human history. Military and civilian casualties have been conservatively estimated to total 20-30 million (most from plague and famine).

In 1864, Gordon was assigned command of Imperial Chinese forces known as the "Ever-Victorious Army" (earning him the nom de guerre of "Chinese" Gordon). He led these European-trained and –officered Chinese troops to a succession of victories over the "long-haired devils." Gordon then successfully acted as governor of the Sudan from 1876-1879 and left North Africa with a high reputation for hard work – putting down revolts and suppressing the slave trade – and working cheaply. His experience in the Sudan brought him back to the region in 1884.

In June of 1881, Mohammed Ahmed, an apprentice boat builder, declared himself to be the Mahdi or Saviour of the people of Sudan and began a revolt against the Khedive of Egypt, the ruler of Sudan under the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The Khedive's Egyptian garrisons were scattered across the country. The revolt was a Jihad, or Muslim holy war.

With much of the Sudan groaning under Anglo-Egyptian rule – especially heavy taxes to keep the Egyptian government functioning – many local tribesmen rallied to the Mahdi's black banner. Within three years, most of southern Sudan had fallen to the Mahdist forces, known generally as the Ansar or Dervishes. The situation was untenable for the Egyptian military, which had quite low morale and training to start with, though officered by British or Turkish officers.

The Khedive resolved to evacuate his garrisons from Sudan and leave the country to the Mahdi. The problem was in finding someone who could carry out this difficult operation. In January 1884, at the urging of the British Government of William Gladstone (a dedicated anti-colonialist), the Khedive appointed General Gordon to conduct the withdrawal operations from the Sudan. It was the expectation of the British Government that Gordon would arrange the evacuation of the Egyptian forces and then leave the Sudan without endangering himself.

Gordon's orders were not properly articulated, enabling Gordon to interpret his instructions as he saw fit. Gordon began to view his mission to the Sudan from a certain messianic perspective. He managed to secure the evacuation of 2500 British civilians from the Sudan. Then, against his orders, Gordon remained in Khartoum – capital of the Sudan – and organized the city's defences against the approaching Mahdist army.

After a siege of 10 months, the Mahdist forces attacked Khartoum on January 26, 1885. The entire garrison – and most of the inhabitants of the city – were put to the sword. Gordon was killed during the fighting. His head was presented to the Mahdi, despite his strict injunction against the killing of his opponent. A British rescue force arrived two days later.

Recruit photo of Ira Hayes, August 1942; Photographer unknown
Recruit photo of Ira Hayes, August 1942
Photographer unknown

January 24, 1955 – Ira Hayes, carpenter, U.S. Marine; died of exposure/alcoholism, age 32

Ira Hamilton Hayes was born in Sacaton, AZ in the Gila River Indian Community, belonging to the Pima tribe. He was one of six children; his father was a veteran of "The Great War." Ira was described as a quiet child who might go days without saying anything unless spoken to. Hayes learned to read and write English by age four, and became a voracious reader.

Hayes attended high school for two years, then joined the Civilian Conservation Corps working as a carpenter until his enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps. He trained as a Marine parachutist, and eventually was shipped to the Pacific Theatre as part of the 3rd Marine Division. Hayes participated in the Bougainville campaign, and eventually sent back to California for further training. He was re-assigned to the newly-activated 5th Marine Division. After further training in Hawaii, the 5th Division was assigned to the invasion of Iwo Jima.

The 5th Division landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. One of the first major objectives was the capture of Mount Suribachi, which was dominated the skyline of the island. On February 23, some Marines reached the top of the volcanic mound and raised a U.S. flag.

However, this first could not readily see this first flag, and Marine Gen. Holland "Howlin' Mad" Smith – who witnessed the first flag raising – then ordered the raising of a larger one. A 96"x 56" flag was borrowed from an LST on the beach, and was sent up the slopes of Suribachi with other supplies. A contingents of six Marines, including PFC Ira Hayes made it to the top of the hill.

Sometime after noon, the second American flag was attached to a used Japanese water pipe. It was raised and photographed by a number of Marine and civilian journalist. In the icon photo by photographer Joe Rosenthal, Ira Hayes is the Marine on the far left.

When the Second World War ended, Ira Hayes went home to great fame, none of which he sought. He had even told one of the surviving flag raisers not to identify him as one of the participants. The man finally identified Hayes, and both men went on a war bond drive. However, Hayes began to drink heavily, and was sent back to Hawaii to join his unit before the bond drive's end.

After his discharge, Hayes was unable to hold onto a steady job for a long period, as he had become an alcoholic. He was arrested 52 times for alcohol intoxication in public at various places throughout the country. In 1949, Hayes had a cameo as a Marine rifleman in the film The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) starring John Wayne.

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington VA; Ira Hayes is the figure on the far left
U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington VA
Ira Hayes is the figure on the far left

Hayes was present for the unveiling of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA in November of 1954. During the ceremony, President Eisenhower referred to Hayes as a hero. A reporter in attendance approached Hayes and asked him, "How do you like the pomp and circumstance?" Hayes hung his head and said, "I don't."

On January 24, 1955 Ira Hayes was found outside near his home in Sacaton, after drinking and playing cards all night with some friends and two of his brothers. The Pinal County coroner ruled Hayes had died of exposure and alcohol poisoning. The reservation police did not investigate further, and no autopsy was performed. Eight days later, Hayes was buried in Section 34 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Ira Hayes was the subject of the 1961 film The Outsider, which starred Tony Curtis as Hayes.

Bob Keeshan in costume as Captain Kangaroo; Photographer and date unknown, c. 1955-1960
Bob Keeshan in costume as Captain Kangaroo
Photographer and date unknown, c. 1955-1960

January 23, 2004 – Bob Keeshan, U.S. Marine, TV actor; died of natural causes, age 76

Robert James Keeshan was born in Lynbrook, NY on June 27, 1927. In 1945, he graduated high school early and promptly enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He was still training when Japan surrendered. Despite seeing no action, he used his GI Bill funds to attend college.

In 1948, Keeshan was hired for the role of Clarabelle the Clown on the "Howdy Doody Show." For his entire run on the show, he had no dialogue, communicating by sounding a number of horns attached to his belt. Keeshan also committed practical jokes and squirting the host Buffalo Bob Smith with a seltzer bottle. Keeshan left the role in 1952.

After "Howdy Doody," Keeshan developed two children's shows for local TV affiliates. Finally, in 1954 he submitted a show concept to the CBS Network, it was approved, and on October 3, 1955 the "Captain Kangaroo" show premiered on CBS's early weekday programing. Keeshan described his character as based on "the warm relationship between grandparents and children." His character wore a bright red coat with large pockets (like a kangaroo's) from which he pulled out many interesting objects. The show was an immediate success, and he served as its host for nearly three decades.

In 1981, Keeshan suffered a heart attack then underwent heart bypass surgery. Despite receiving three Emmy awards for Outstanding Performer (1981, 1982, and 1983), CBS began tinkering with the length and time placement of "Captain Kangaroo" with regard to the expanding "CBS Morning News." Finally, at the end of 1984, Keeshan simply left the show when his CBS contract expired. [By 1987, many PBS stations across the country were broadcasting his show.]

After leaving "Captain Kangaroo," Keeshan continued to devote himself to projects that benefited young children. This included other TV shows, writing books for children, and lobbying for children's TV programming that were instructional.

Bob Keeshan died in January of 2004.

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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.