Yesterday morning, I was startled to learn that two Oregon men were killed during a live fire demonstration aboard a 1944 M18 Tank Destroyer at a BLM firing range in Bend, Oregon on Tuesday. I thought I recognized the particular vehicle in the news video, but I was in a hurry to get to work, and once I hat was only later that I had seen that M18 in person at a WWII airshow almost a year and a half ago. Also, I was shocked to learn that a man my own age had lost his life, somebody I had done events with and had chatted with at the campfire. Steve Preston (51) and Austin Lee (22) were doing a live fire demonstration of the M18's 76mm main gun for the benefit of a film crew. According to one source in the WW2 Reenacting community, they had a hang fire, where the shell failed to fire. Instead of waiting for the round to cook off safely in the chamber, the cannon breech was opened and the shell detonated in the confines of the open top turret. The Oregon and Washington WWII reenacting community is fairly small, somewhere between two to three hundred people clustered along the I-5 corridor, and most of us knew or at least met one or both men. Farewell gentlemen. You went out of this world doing what they loved, retelling history to any audience that would listen.
The DeHaviland Mosquito was among the fastest tactical bombers of WW2. When developed in the early part of the war, there was a serious concern about a possible shortage of typical construction materials, so the DeHaviland design team used laminated plywood for the entire structure of the airplane. The Mosquito was fast and usually capable of eluding most German interceptors. With a crop of restoration projects finally taking off, some knowledge about the airplane has again come to light as the video below shows.
Every once and a while, hobby historians will come across little artifacts that are simply too neglected or have been forgotten, relegated to the bargain bin at antiques stores and military surplus shops all across the country. Case in point is the object in the photograph below, which a friend found in a small shop not far from where I work.
This is a WWII era company guidon, a small flag mounted on a pole for use in unit parades and formations. It is the symbol of a company sized element and denotes its affiliation with its parent unit. It was and for ceremonial purposes treated like the unit colors of the Civil War era, with respect and protected at all costs. Original guidons are extremely hard to find, and generally come at a premium. What makes this guidon important in the preservation of US military history is its parent regiment.
The 186th Infantry Regiment was the Oregon National Guard's contribution to the 41st Infantry Division, a formation comprised of troops from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The 186th saw combat in New Guinea, Biak, and the Philippines. This may very well be the only HQ Company guidon from the period still in existence. Any research regarding the fates of the other company guidons from the regiment have turned up empty. I don't know what my buddy paid for it, but all I can say is he scored a magnificent deal.
It's been a few weeks since I've been able to write up a post for the internet. Some issues crippled World War II Trail Guide, so I was forced to move on and finish my days on that site. It'll take me a little bit to pick up speed on this site. Hopefully I am going to be able to discuss a wider range of subjects and contexts as I share what I've learned from history.
Till next week.
John Emmert - Historian