A Potpourri of Famous Military Deaths

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A Potpourri of Famous Military Deaths

Colt Navy Model 1851 Revolver, caliber .36
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are from Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: January 10

Early January is not really rife with a lot of battles, so I decided to try another tack for my many readers and fans. Therefore, today's edition will be about a number of famous military-related folks who met the Grim Reaper on various years on this date.

To make it a little more interesting, I will present these persons in the form of a "Celebrity Death Triad," a little game that I play with my co-workers. So, here we go…

1862 – Samuel Colt, at age 47

Samuel Colt (1814-1862); Engraving by Henry Wright Smith from 1857 Mathew Brady photo
Samuel Colt (1814-1862)
Engraving by Henry Wright Smith from 1857 Mathew Brady photo

Sam Colt did not invent the revolving pistol, but simply improved another inventor's design. He also developed interchangeable parts, which sped up the manufacturing process. Colt's legacy was set when the Texas Rangers ordered 1000 of his Walker Colts for use in the Mexican American War (1846-1848). In 1851, the 1851 Colt Navy revolver was used not only by the U.S. Navy, but by the Army and was widely purchased for civilian use. His design – and those of later years – is credited with the word "Colt" becoming the generic term for any revolver.

His innovative use of art, celebrity endorsements and corporate gifts to promote his wares made him a pioneer in the fields of advertising, product placement and mass marketing, although he was criticized during and after his life for promoting his arms through bribes, threats and monopoly. When he died in 1862 from the effect of gout, his fortune was calculated at $15 million (or $350 million in modern dollars). An early advertisement by the Colt Manufacturing Company said, "God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal."

1917 – William F. Cody, "Buffalo Bill" at age 70

W.F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846-1917), albumen print photo taken c. 1875; From the George Eastman House Collection, Rochester NY
W.F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846-1917), albumen print photo taken c. 1875
From the George Eastman House Collection, Rochester NY

Born in Iowa, Cody rode for the Pony Express early in his life. He later acquired fame as an Indian scout and buffalo hunter. In 1872, while a civilian scout for the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Cody rallied a raiding party attacking an Indian village, then led the charge, driving the Indians away. For this act of bravery received the Medal of Honor. His most enduring legacy is probably the Wild West shows which traveled through the U.S., England, and Europe between 1883 and 1906. "Buffalo Bill" Cody died of kidney failure, and was buried in Golden, Colorado.

Army Medal of Honor, 1862-1895; Same design as the medal awarded to W.F. Cody
Army Medal of Honor, 1862-1895
Same design as the medal awarded to W.F. Cody

In 1917, after Congress approved higher standards for receiving the Medal of Honor, an Army review board recommended the removal of 911 previously-awarded MOHs from the military's official rolls. One of those was Cody's, as he was a civilian when his actions occurred. Fortunately, in 1989 a special review re-instated Cody's MOH to the official rolls.

2011 – William "Bill" Bower, at age 93

William M. Bower at 62nd Doolittle Raider reunion, c. 2007; Photo courtesy of http://www.pacaf.af.mil
William M. Bower at 62nd Doolittle Raider reunion, c. 2007
Photo courtesy of http://www.pacaf.af.mil/

A native of Ravenna, Ohio, Bill Bower was a member of the Ohio National Guard 107th Cavalry from 1936-1938. In 1940, he graduated from the U.S. Army Air Corps Flying School and received a 2nd lieutenant's commission. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bower volunteered to be a part of the Doolittle Raid on Japan in April of 1942. He piloted one of the sixteen B-25B Mitchell bombers, with his crew dropping their bombs on the city of Yokohama. The crew bailed out over China, where they were taken in by Chinese peasants.

After returning to the U.S., Bower saw further action in North Africa and Italy He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1966, and his family moved to Colorado. He was active in community affairs, and faithful attended every reunion of the Doolittle Raiders until his death from complications of a 2009 fall in his home. He was the last surviving pilot among the Raiders.

Last November, three of the four surviving Doolittle Raiders met at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio for the final toast to their deceased comrades. The roster of the 80 men who participated was read, and each survivor drank cognac from silver goblets present to each man in 1959. A reunion of family members of Doolittle raiders is planned for this year.

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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.