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Three little known stories

Editor's note: Personal interviews return next week in “A Veteran’s Story.”

Strong pain pills are not playing a significant role in my wife’s recovery from recent surgery. She, is a trooper. Yours truly, however, trounced my recent surgical discomforts with whatever I found rolling around at the bottom of the pill cup.

When I asked my surgeon, Dr. Andy Harper, why I was popping more pain pills than my wife, his clear-cut reply was “You’re a man.”

During the Revolutionary War another female trooper who fought pain, and the enemy, was Margaret Cochran Corbin. Orphaned as a child, she and a brother were raised by their uncle. In 1772, 21-year-old Margaret Cochran wed John Corbin.

Corbin joined the militia to fight in the Revolutionary War and Margaret followed him into combat. She earned money cooking, doing laundry and caring for the sick and wounded. John served as a cannon loader, or ‘matross’. During the Battle of Fort Washington in November, 1776, Margaret helped load the cannon until British cannons killed the Rebel gun crew, including her husband, John. Margaret manned the cannon alone with deadly accuracy. The Rebels noticed as did the Red Coats, who soon zeroed in on Margaret’s position.

Her cannon was the last gun to be silenced by the British. Margaret was later found near death from three musket balls, shrapnel, her chest and jaw damaged and her left arm almost severed. She eventually recovered in an Army infirmary but had lost the use of her left arm for life. Margaret joined the Invalid Regiment at West Point to cook, do laundry, and care for the wounded. Impoverished, she had difficulty bathing and dressing due to her injuries.

On June 26, 1776, Pennsylvania allotted $30 for her military service, but the money didn’t last long. She did not like and was inhospitable to other women in town. They in turn criticized Margaret’s uncleanliness, her smoking, and for spending too much time with soldiers.

A monument to honor her war service was canceled by the Philadelphia Society of Women after they met with Margaret and concluded she was too poor, too rough, and drank too much. Margaret was, however, the first female to receive a life-long pension from the Continental Congress, but at half the amount for a man. In 1782, Margaret requested her rum ration just like any other soldier. She received the rum ration, plus was given additional back pay.

Admired for her spunk, public officials eventually tendered Margaret a personal assistant to help with dressing and bathing. A monument was never built, but 3 commemorative plaques near the Fort Washington battlefield celebrate her exploits.

Margaret’s remains were rediscovered in 1926 and positively identified by the wounds she received in battle. She was reburied at West Point with full military honors, the only Revolutionary War veteran honored in such a way.

* * * *

Patience Bay off the coast of Karafuto, Japan, July 23, 1945: Sub Captain Eugene “Lucky” Flunkey, already a Medal of Honor recipient, had made his decision. A handpicked raiding party of eight volunteers would man tiny boats, paddle to shore, and plant one of the sub’s 55-pound scuttling charges on a rail line that ran along the Japanese coastline. Once safely ashore, the raiders came upon a guard tower, but their luck held; the Japanese sentry was fast asleep. They buried the scuttle charge by the rail then set a micro switch to be detonated by the train’s wheels. The raiders headed back to the beach to signal the sub.

Noting the flashlight signal announcing their departure, Captain Flunkey maneuvered the USS Barb to within 600 yards of the enemy beach with less than six feet of water beneath the sub’s keel. The raiders were only half way back when one of the sub’s machine gunners yelled, “Captain, a train is coming!” Captain Flunkey grabbed a megaphone and hollered into the night, “Paddle like the devil !!!” Within two minutes the train hit the micro switch.

A vivid light, an awesome explosion, the locomotive boilers blew, pieces of the engine flew 200 feet into the air, dozens of freight cars slammed into each other like a giant accordion. Five minutes later the dauntless raiders were lifted onto the Barb’s deck by their ecstatic Captain as the submarine headed for safety deep. Captain Flunkey’s voice came over the intercom, “All hands not needed to man the ship have permission to come topside.”

The officers and sailors of the USS Barb proudly witnessed the distant explosions and fireworks display. Their feat was but one of many odd flukes in WWII, but the USS Barb has two major accolades: the eight sailors in the raiding party conducted the only ground combat operation on the Japanese homeland during WWII, plus the USS Barb is the only submarine ever credited with ‘sinking’ a train.

* * * *

And now, the USS William D. Porter, nicknamed the ‘Willie D’. Recent internet postings claim the Willie D was a ‘goofball’ or ‘hard luck’ ship due to several questionable incidents, one of which had her entire crew arrested for a possible assassination attempt against President Franklin Roosevelt. Presidential intervention pardoned the crew.

The questionable incidents: Accidently firing a live torpedo at the Iowa during practice exercises. At the time, President Roosevelt was aboard the big battleship. Before the Willie D left Norfolk, she scraped the side of another ship, tearing loose its life rafts, ship’s boat, railing, and other valuable equipment. At sea, she accidently dropped a depth charge in the middle of a convoy which exploded thus causing pandemonium. In the upper Aleutians, she mistakenly fired into the front yard of the base commander, destroying his flower garden. In the South Pacific, Willie D accidently riddled a side and superstructure of the USS Luce.

Perhaps a little scoffing is due, but wacky things happen in war, some a lot more wacky than others, yet let’s take a close look at Willie D’s war record. She sank an enemy PT-type boat during convoy duty, shot down one of four Japanese aircraft attacking San Pedro Bay, destroyed a fully loaded enemy barge, possibly shot down 3 other enemy aircraft in night action, and was given credit for helping down a twin-engine Jap bomber. In the Lingayen Gulf she fired on enemy shore batteries, shot down another enemy aircraft then joined the Invasion of Okinawa. She fired 8,500 rounds of 5” shells on land targets, downed five more enemy aircraft then joined the dangerous radar picket line to ward off enemy aircraft. Willie D downed another enemy plane and fighters under her control downed 7 more. On June 10, 1945 a Kamikaze barely missed Willie D but detonated beneath her hull. She sank within 12 minutes. The entire crew was rescued, not one received serious injury.

The USS William D. Porter; a ‘hard luck’ ship? Nada. She was a spirited little spitfire of an American warship.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at or