Blue Heron

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Master Sergeant John C. Woods

 

John C. Woods on troopship — this photo and several other photos of Woods in The Fifth Field were graciously supplied by the Associated Press archives

During World War II, Master Sergeant John C. Woods served as a hangman assigned to the Loire Disciplinary Training Center at Le Mans, France; in his capacity, he hanged at least twenty-three soldiers – and possibly up to thirty-five – and was the assistant hangman for five others in the European Theater of Operation.
Woods was born in Wichita, KS on June 5, 1911.  Woods, who came from a broken home and was placed in the custody of his grandmother and grandfather when his parents were divorced when he was ten, completed freshman year at Wichita High School, but the dropped out.  He enlisted in the Navy in 1929, but deserted.  Authorities apprehended him, convicted him by a Summary Court-Martial and dismissed him for being mentally unstable and unsuitable for military service.
He received a dishonorable discharge from the Civilian Conservation Corps after six months in 1933, when he went AWOL and refused to work.  Prior to his induction in the Army on August 30, 1943, he lived in Eureka, Kansas; he was married to Hazel Chilcott on September 30, 1933 in Eureka, Kansas; the couple had no children.  At his Army induction, he was listed as having blue eyes, brown hair with a ruddy complexion, standing 5’4½” tall and weighing 130 pounds.
He reported to Fort Leavenworth, KS to begin training on September 19, 1943; he was assigned to Company B of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion in the 5th Engineer Special Brigade on March 30, 1944.  Woods may have participated in the landings on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 with his unit.  He was attached to the 2913th Disciplinary Training Center in October 1944; orders in December 1944 show him assigned to the Provost Marshal Section in the Headquarters of the Brittany Base Section.  Woods was formally assigned to the 2913th DTC on February 12, 1945; on May 7, 1945, he was assigned to the Headquarters of the Normandy Base Section, but was attached back to the 2913th for duty.  On September 3, 1945, Woods was released from attachment and assigned to the Headquarters CHANOR Base Section.
Woods gained international fame in October 1946, as the official hangman for the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg.  There, he executed ten senior German military and civilian officials previously convicted of egregious crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and war crimes.  During his career as a hangman, he reportedly executed 347 men, but this is a large exaggeration.
Woods was accidentally electrocuted on July 21, 1950 on Eniwetok Atoll.  He is buried in the city cemetery in Toronto, KS, a small town sixty miles east of Wichita, next to his wife.  John Woods was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with one campaign star), the Good Conduct Medal, the Occupation (Germany) Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and a Distinguished Unit Badge.
John C. Woods was a central figure in The Fifth Field, but he deserves his own biography that is now in the making!

Master Sergeant John C. Woods2016-07-26T13:53:18-06:00

Marksmanship Training

Skeet Range (Fort Stewart)

The best years of my life were spent in the United States Army Infantry.  I was lucky enough to be a rifle platoon leader for fourteen months and then a weapons’ platoon leader for three more.  Then, undoubtedly because the lieutenant colonel who was the battalion commander was leaving and would not have to put up with me, I became the scout platoon leader for the battalion.

In these positions (I hesitate to call them jobs because I was having too much fun), as I look back, I can see that I did not spend as much time as I should have ensuring that every soldier in the platoon was a crack shot.  I should not have been satisfied when one of our soldiers qualified sharpshooter, or God forbid, marksman.  I should have made the whole platoon shoot until everyone achieved expert or dropped down exhausted.  I was always able to achieve this level, but that was because I loved to shoot and would buy ammunition out of my own pocket to fire as often as I could, and if I was not the best pistol shot among the officers in the battalion, I was darn close.

The same feeling should have been present when I was a company commander at Fort Benning and an armored cavalry troop commander back in Germany.  But the higher you go, the more requirements are placed on your unit and you seem to have even less time for the really important things.

As an older officer, I was able to read about pivotal battles throughout history and one thing that struck me was that the side that could shoot the best most likely would win the battle.  This conclusion really struck home when I walked the Little Bighorn half a dozen times in preparation for writing Custer’s Best.  Seeing the skirmish lines in the valley and atop what would later be called Reno Hill, both locations occupied by Company M of the Seventh Cavalry, it became obvious that most of the troopers in the company couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with their rifle shooting.

“Most” isn’t really accurate; my conclusions were that maybe only four or five men were actually expert with their weapons and that included the company commander and the first sergeant.

After I retired and spent time out east, we moved back to Illinois and I met a few guys who urged me to go skeet shooting with them, a sport I had never tried before.  Of course, the first few times I was terrible.  I was firing a shotgun of course, with each shell discharging perhaps 500 tiny pellets, but the targets were all moving very fast.  These little disks, called birds, came almost straight at me on some shooting stations and went away from me on others.  Often they cris-crossed in front of me, requiring that I shoot two targets in a matter of just a couple of seconds.

I got better and better and then it struck me.  We should have shot skeet in the infantry; in fact, every soldier in every branch should have shot skeet.  First, skeet forced me to keep both eyes open when I shot, which greatly increased my field of vision and my awareness of what was going on around me.  Second, I finally started to understand the concept of lead and how the intent was not to fire directly at a moving target, but to fire at a point where I believed the target would be when the round got out there to the same point.

Third, skeet was fun and competitive, which makes anyone do better, especially soldiers who are quite competitive by nature.  Fourth, shotgun ammunition is a WHOLE lot cheaper than rifle ammunition and this would really count with unit training budgets seemingly shrinking year after year.  Finally, skeet pellets travel only a small fraction of the distance a rifle bullet will travel.  This makes it easier to set up a skeet range and can be done with available distances as little as a couple hundred yards instead of the large range fans that traditional small arms need.

Many military posts have skeet ranges.  Try your hand at it and then take some non-commissioned officers out to shoot skeet and watch them compete against each other in marksmanship as if their lives depended on it.

Because on the battlefield, it will.

Marksmanship Training2015-08-17T12:19:28-06:00

This Day in History: December 5th

The following recommendation for promotion, dated December 5, 1942, requests promotion for Kurt Bühligen to the grade of first lieutenant. “Lieutenant Bühligen’s intellectual and physical attributes are above average. He is tough and persevering; a decent, open-minded character, very reliable, well-liked by superiors, the men under him and within his circle of comrades. He has good technical capabilities and for weeks substituted for the Technical Officer of the group. Since July 3, 1942, he has been the action commander of the 4th Squadron and (from November 5, 1942 on) as Squadron Commander and has proven himself very well in flying as well as troop duty. He possesses élan, pulls the men in his command along with him and knows how to differentiate between the essential and unessential. Bühligen is generous. Lieutenant Bühligen has proven himself in more than 100 combat missions. On September 6, 1941, he received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. To date, he has shot down 27 enemy planes. Bühligen has initiative and knows how to respond in every situation. He is a National Socialist.” (Luftwaffe Efficiency and Promotion Reports for the Knight’s Cross Winners)

This Day in History: December 5th2020-10-28T13:15:59-06:00

Looking for Information

If you are a related family member of these soldiers, PLEASE Email me; I need additional information on them and hopefully a picture in uniform.  I can also provide additional information on them to you.

Looking for Information2013-02-23T18:30:16-06:00

Landsberg Prison in Lieu of Sharks

(November 26, 2012)  After extensive research, there just isn’t enough to do a book on shark attacks and the survivors of the USS Indianapolis.

With that project on hold, have started a historical novel on Landsberg Prison, with Dante, and his sidekick Virgil, coming back and redoing a new version of Dante’s Inferno, featuring Auschwitz, Landsberg, Plötzensee Prison, the Wannsee Conference and Lublin, Poland and Operation Reinhard.  This will be the author’s first attempt outside of pure non-fiction.  It may become an E-book.

Landsberg Prison in Lieu of Sharks2013-01-13T16:50:49-06:00

New Info on Germany’s Most Prolific Hangman

(October 14, 2012 — Washington)  Another research trip to the National Archives uncovered information on Johann Reichhart, probably Germany’s most prolific hangman of the last century.  See how the U.S. Army hired Reichhart to hang dozens of his former employers in the Historical Sketches section.

Regarding the USS Indianapolis, our search found dozens of survivor hand-written accounts of the sinking, as well as finding that the Navy “sanitized” the archives’ file in the early 1990s of information regarding burials at sea of the dead.

New Info on Germany’s Most Prolific Hangman2013-01-10T17:28:36-06:00

Company L and Shark Attacks?

(September 2, 2012)  Now that Stalingrad is in to the publisher, there are two future projects that are starting to get interesting.  One is another company history of the 7th Cavalry to go with that of Company M.  It would be about Company L and Lieutenant Jimmy Calhoun.  A second book project may be on the USS Indianapolis, concentrating on the exact scope of the shark attacks against the men in the water after the ship sank.  Send an email in if you have any preference and we’ll see where readers’ interests are.

Company L and Shark Attacks?2013-01-10T17:26:51-06:00
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