In the early morning of May 15th, 1967, U.S. Army soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division were ambushed near Song Tra Cau riverbed Duc Pho in the Republic of Vietnam. Outnumbered and outgunned, they faced an entire battalion of North Vietnamese soldiers with heavy machine guns and recoilless rifles. The 101st couldn’t hit their attackers and quickly took casualties.
Charles Kettles was a UH-1 Huey pilot on his first of two tours in Vietnam. When he learned soldiers on the ground were taking intense fire and many were wounded, he didn’t hesitate. Then-Maj. Kettles volunteered to lead a flight of six Hueys (including his own)into the firefight to drop off reinforcements and pick up the wounded.
“There wasn’t any decision to be made,” Kettles was quoted as saying in a recent Army Times piece. “We simply were going to go and pick them up.”
When the helicopters approached the landing zone, they came under the same intense fire. Kettles stayed in the fight until all the wounded were loaded and the 101st received their supplies. He then went to pick up more reinforcements. After dropping off the second wave, his gunner was injured and the small arms fire caused a ruptured fuel line. He got his bird back to Duc Pho but later that same day, the last 40 U.S. troops, with eight members of Kettles’ own unit (their helicopter was shot down) requested an emergency extraction. Maj. Kettles volunteered to go back with five other Hueys.
“The mission was simple,” Kettles said. “The situation was anything but simple.”
Kettles had what he thought was everyone, and so he departed the area. Once airborne, however, he learned that eight troops were pinned down due to the intense fire and didn’t make it to the helicopters. Kettles immediately broke off from the main group, turned his bird around, and went back for the missing eight men on his own. With no gunship or artillery support, Kettles flew what was now a giant, lurking target into the ambush area. A mortar immediately his tail boom, rotor blade, and shattered his front windshield. His Huey was raked by small arms fire. Despite the constant attack and severe damage to his helicopter, he held firm until the eight men were aboard and flew everyone to safety. When he landed, he was “unrattled and hungry.”
“I just walked away from the helicopter believing that’s what war is,” Kettles told USA Today. “It probably matched some of the movies I’d seen as a youngster. So be it. Let’s go have dinner.”
He did another tour in Vietnam, then retired in 1978 as a Lieutenant Colonel. He started a car dealership with his brother after his retirement, happy to receive the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism in Vietnam. He had no expectations of receiving the Medal of Honor. That came about from the work of amateur historian William Vollano. Vollano, in the course of interviewing veterans for the Veterans History Project, heard Kettles’ story. With written accounts of men from the 101st who were there that day, Vollano was able to push the Army to reexamine Kettles. They determined that Kettles’ actions merited the nation’s highest honor.
“Kettles, by himself, without any guns and any crew, went back by himself,” said Roland Scheck, a crew member who had been injured on Kettles’ first trip to the landing zone that day. “I don’t know if there’s anyone who’s gotten a Medal of Honor who deserved it more.”
It’s been six years since 1st Lt. Kimberly Colby, a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, made her first visit to a dying veteran as part of the Honor Salute program.
It still sticks out in her mind.
He was a Marine infantryman during Vietnam and had earned the Purple Heart while overseas. He was dying of colon cancer.
During the visit, she and a fellow comrade, both in their service blues, saluted the Marine and thanked him for his service.
“He was stoic throughout the ceremony despite being in immense pain,” Colby said.
When she was about to leave he said, “You know what? That’s the first time I have ever been thanked for my service.”
At the time, Colby was a cadet (midshipman) in the Naval Academy and was one of the first volunteers to sign up as a project leader with Honor Salute, then known as Final Salute. The program began in 2010 at Hospice of the Chesapeake in Pasadena, Md., for young military members at the beginning of their careers to pay tribute to veterans at the end of their lives.
“The program struck a chord with me,” said Colby, whose father and grandfather were in the military. Her grandfather was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and her father served in the Marine Corps during the post-Vietnam era.
Now after being stationed at Camp Pendleton, Colby has become instrumental in honoring San Diego-area veterans as a volunteer with the Escondido-based Elizabeth Hospice and the Carlsbad-based Hospice of the North Coast.
Colby has visited veterans at their homes and in senior living communities across the county and has spearheaded efforts to recruit fellow Marines as volunteers at the nonprofit hospices.
The hospices conduct pinning ceremonies throughout the year to recognize aging veterans and thank them for their military service. Ceremonies are held in dining halls of area senior living communities and at bedside for hospice patients. The ceremony includes a “Final Salute” where an active-duty service member salutes the veteran.
Since 2012, The Elizabeth Hospice has recognized more than 2,300 veterans.
Colby and the other Marines from Camp Pendleton who participate in the ceremonies spend time talking with the veterans. Some patients are able to share stories and some put on their old uniforms for the occasion, while others depend on family members to share the memories.
“It is especially meaningful for those who were never welcomed home or thanked for their service,” said the hospice’s veterans specialist Lisa Marcolongo, whose husband served in the Marine Corps.
“Kimberly’s smile lights up a room as she shakes the hand of a veteran,” Marcolongo said.
For Colby, the best part are the stories and instant camaraderie that can be built. The hardest part is saying goodbye to the veteran and his family and friends.
“Honoring veterans is something I consider a sacred obligation for those of us who wear the cloth of our nation,” Colby said.
Colby’s advice for current service members: “Go out of your way to honor veterans. It is within our lifetime that we will lose all WWII and Korean War veterans. Their stories and sacrifices should be honored.”
The Elizabeth Hospice is looking for veterans and active-duty service members to participate in its veteran pinning ceremonies.
Airmen from the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing and the 26th Weapons Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, made history earlier this week by employing the first GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition from an MQ-9 Reaper.
While the JDAM has been around since the late ’90s, the munition has just recently been validated and now proven for real world engagements marking a significant step in the Reapers’ joint warfighter role.
“We had a great opportunity to drop the first live GBU-38s in training,” said Capt. Scott, a 26th WPS weapons instructor pilot. “The GBU-38 is a weapon we’ve been trying to get on the MQ-9 for several years now and we had the opportunity to be the first to drop during training.”
While waiting for the aircraft to approach the target area, members of the weapons squadron waited anxiously. After the bombs successfully struck their practice targets in a controlled environment, the entire room cheered.
For the past 10 years skilled MQ-9 aircrew have been employing AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, but the JDAM brings new global positioning system capabilities to the warfighters.
“The GBU-38, just like the Hellfire and GBU-12, is a very accurate weapon and the fact that it’s GPS-guided gives us another versatile way to guide the weapon, specifically, through inclement weather onto targets,” Scott said.
The JDAM being added to the arsenal is another step in furthering the attack capabilities of the MQ-9 Reaper force.
“There’s definitely times when I could’ve used the GBU-38 in combat prior to this,” Scott said.
Not only does the GBU-38 perform through poor weather conditions, it also helps the munitions Airmen and the weapons load crew members who load them.
“The GBU-38 has a 20 minute load time compared to the GBU-12, which has a 30 minute load time,” said Senior Airman Curtis, a 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member. “The GBU-38 is a quicker load compared to the GBU-12 and gets the plane in the air quicker.”
Incorporating this new munition into the total strike package will give MQ-9 aircrews additional capabilities.
“Our job at the weapons school is to train to the highest standard possible,” Scott said. “We’re going to take the GBU-38 and incorporate it into our advanced scenarios, prove the weapon and integrate with all Air Force assets. What that gives us is the ability to take it downrange and employ in the most demanding circumstances possible.”
The JDAM will add flexibility and efficiency to the targeting process. Aircrews will continue to employ the AGM-114 Hellfires and GBU-12s downrange in addition to the GBU-38 that is now ready for combat.
“The overall impact of the GBU-38 is aircrew will have more versatility for the commanders to provide different effects and make a difference for the guys on the ground,” Scott said. “It has a different guidance system and it opens the bridge to more GPS-guided weapons in the future.”
In the wake of the revelation that a large group of active-duty Marines is under investigation for sharing nude photos of female troops without their consent, a senior congressman is calling on the Marine Corps to take swift and decisive action.
Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement Sunday calling the alleged behavior by Marines and Marine Corps veterans “degrading, dangerous, and completely unacceptable.”
A 2014 study revealed the U.S. Marine Corps has the highest rate of sexual assault against women in the military (8% of female Marines were sexually assaulted in the year the study was conducted). (U.S. Marine Corps Photo: Cpl. Adam Korolev)
“I expect that the Marine Corps Commandant, General Neller, will use his resources to fully investigate these acts and bring to justice any individuals who have broken the law and violated the rights of other servicemembers,” the Washington Democrat said.
“He must also ensure that the victims are taken care of. The military men and women who proudly volunteer to serve their country should not have to deal with this kind of reprehensible conduct,” Smith added.
The investigation was made public Saturday evening by reporter Thomas James Brennan, who reported for Reveal News that members of the private Facebook group Marines United had shared dozens of nude photos of female service members, identifying them by name, rank and duty station. Group members also linked out to a Google Drive folder containing more compromising photos and information, Brennan reported.
A Marine Corps official confirmed an investigation was ongoing, but could not confirm that hundreds of Marines were caught up in it, as Brennan reported. The official referred queries about specifics to Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which did not immediately respond Sunday.
“The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Ryan Alvis said in a statement provided to Military.com. “This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual.”
Of allegations are substantiated, active-duty Marines involved in the photo-sharing ring could be charged with violating UCMJ Article 134, general misconduct, for enlisted troops, and Article 133, conduct unbecoming, for officers, Alvis said. If Marines shared a photo taken without the subject’s consent and under circumstances for which there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, they may be charged with Article 120, broadcasting or distribution of indecent visual recording, she said.
“A Marine who directly participates in, encourages, or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions,” Alvis said.
To underscore the significance of the allegations to Marine Corps leadership, both Neller and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green released statements condemning the alleged behavior.
“I am not going to comment specifically about an ongoing investigation, but I will say this: For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect,” Neller said in a statement provided to Military.com. “The success of every Marine, every team, every unit and command throughout our Corps is based on mutual trust and respect.”
Green went further, releasing a 319-word statement in the form of an open letter calling the online photo-sharing “demeaning” and “degrading” and adding there was no place for it in the Corps.
“We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and each other. This behavior hurts fellow Marines, family members, and civilians. It is a direct attack on our ethos and legacy,” he said. “As Marines, as human beings, you should be angry for the actions of a few. These negative behaviors are absolutely contrary to what we represent. It breaks the bond that hold us together; without trust, our family falters.”
Messages Brennan shared with Military.com show that some members of the group responded to his report by threatening him and his family and attempting to publish information about where he lived.
“‘Amber Alert: Thomas J. Brennan,'” wrote one user, referring to the child abduction emergency system. “500.00 $ for nudes of this guys girl,” wrote another.
Brennan is a former infantry Marine and combat veteran.
This is not the first time the bad behavior of Marines online has captured the attention of Congress.
In 2013, the harassment of civilian women and female troops on several so-called “humor” Facebook pages with Marine Corps members prompted Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, to call on then defense secretary Chuck Hagel and then-commandant Gen. Jim Amos to intervene.
But in that instance, Marine Corps leadership opted to address the behavior privately, and on a case-by-case basis. No criminal prosecutions of Marines connected to the Facebook pages were ever publicized.
A later 2014 report on similar behavior resulted in investigations into 12 Marines, according to internal public affairs guidance published by Marine Corps Times.
As the first female Marines join infantry units in the wake of a 2015 Pentagon mandate opening all ground combat jobs to women, it’s possible service leaders now feel an additional mandate to quell the online exploitation of female service members by their colleagues publicly and decisively.
“Standup, speak out, and be a voice of change for the better. Hold those who misstep accountable,” Green said. “We need to realize that silence is consent–do not be silent. It is your duty to protect one another, not just for the Marine Corps, but for humanity.”
We’ve all heard about those legendary astronauts and fighter pilots who did those things that live in the annals of history, but here are five lesser-known and seldom-told tales about noteworthy airmen who served around the Wild Blue Yonder:
1. The Tuskegee Airman Who Almost Shot Muammar Qaddafi
Wheelus Air Force Base was located right outside the city of Tripoli in Libya. In 1968, a coup brought then 27-year-old Muammar al-Qaddafi to power. The young dictator demanded the closing of the American bases in what he now considered his country.
Before the base could be formally closed and handed to the Libyans, Qaddafi ordered a column of half-tracks to drive at full speed right through the middle of the base’s housing area. Qaddafi himself waited outside of Wheelus’ main gate for the armored column to return.
Unfortunately for Qaddafi, the commander of Wheelus Air Force Base was already legendary – he was Colonel Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. “Chappie” was a veteran of World War II and had also flown missions in Korea and Vietnam. And he was not happy with the Libyans. When he found out what was happening, James strapped his .45 onto his belt and went right to the base’s main gate. He immediately shut down the barrier and walked to face off with Qaddafi. The Tuskegee Airman was not impressed with the dictator.
“He had a fancy gun and holster and he kept his hand on it,” James recalled. He ordered Qaddafi to move his hand away from the weapon. The dictator complied with Colonel James. “If he had pulled that gun, he never would have cleared the holster.”
Qaddafi never sent another column.
2. The Original Airman Snuffy
By the time airmen leave Joint Base San Antonio, they have come to know the stories of Airman Snuffy; he’s the Every-Airman, the average Airman, sometimes the slacker Airman. Airman Snuffy is the example Air Force instructors use to describe a situation. “Let’s say you’re charge of quarters duty one night and Airman Snuffy reports a fire…” or “Airman Snuffy applies a tourniquet to the injured area. What else should he do?”
Airman Snuffy is not just an example… he’s a real person who did something legendary. During WWII, Sgt. Maynard “Snuffy” Smith was the 306th Bomber Group’s slacker in residence. Before joining the Army Air Corps, Smith was known as “spoiled,” living off an inheritance and was forced to join the Army by a judge as a sentence for failure to pay child support. No one wanted to fly with him. He didn’t like taking orders, especially from younger officers. He chose to be an aerial gunner because it was the fastest way to make rank and thus, pay.
His first mission took him over St. Nazaire, France – aka “Flak City.” On the way back from the mission, the pilot mistook what he thought was Southern England for the heavily fortified city of Brest, France. German fighters suddenly ripped his plane to shreds: the wing tank had been shot off and was pouring fuel into the plane. The fuel caught fire, and then everything else caught fire. The plane became a flying inferno. Soon, the fire on the plane started to burn so hot it set off ammunition and melted a gun mount, camera, and radio. Airman Snuffy started to throw whatever wasn’t bolted down out of the plane, lest it melt or explode.
When the German fighters returned, he manned the B-17’s machine guns to repel them. Then he had to start putting out the fire. When the extinguisher ran out, he dumped the plane’s water and urine buckets on the fire. He even peed on the fire in the middle of repelling another German fighter attack. When all else failed, he wrapped himself in available clothing and started to put out the fire with his body.
Airman Snuffy administered aid to the six wounded men on the plane. So, he spent 90 minutes alternatively shooting down German fighters, putting out fires, throwing hazardous material out of the plane, and giving first aid to his wingmen. The plane made it back to England and landed with 3,500 bullet and shrapnel holes in the fuselage and nothing but the four main beams holding it together. Ten minutes after landing, the whole thing collapsed. For his actions on board the plane, Airman Snuffy was awarded the Medal of Honor, the first enlisted Airman to receive the award.
When Secretary of War Henry Stimson arrived to give Airman Snuffy the Medal of Honor, he was noticeably absent from his own ceremony, having been put on KP duty for disciplinary reasons.
3. The Combat Cameraman Who Lived the Entire History of the US Air Force
Douglas W. Morrell was a US Army Air Corps (and later US Air Force) combat cameraman with a long service record. In World War II, he was assigned to bombers in Europe and North Africa. He flew 33 combat missions over German, Austria, Italy, Hungary, France, Yugoslavia, and Albania. In March 1944, his B-24 was shot down over the Iron Gates of Romania. Evading capture in Romania (an Axis country from the beginning of the war), he walked for 25 days across occupied Yugoslavia and Albania where he bribed fishermen his .45-caliber pistol and $100 in gold certificates for a lift to Italy across the Adriatic Sea.
Two months later, he was documenting bombing raids against the oil fields of Ploesti when his bomber was knocked out of formation. He bailed out right before it exploded, killing half the remaining crew. He was immediately captured by the Germans upon landing and was held as a POW in Bucharest. Morrell made an escape attempt from his POW camp via a trap door in the mess hall.
He walked halfway through Bucharest before a German army truck stopped him. Morrell told the Germans he was Italian pilot, trying to make it back to Bulgaria. He caught a ride with the Germans until he reached a post near the Danube, where he was outed by an Italian kid who spoke to Morrell in Italian.
“I couldn’t understand him, ” Morrell recalls. “He told the Germans I wasn’t Italian and they took me back.”
Morrell was held in the POW camp until Romania capitulated in August of 1944. He stayed in Bucharest for a few days until the Russians, who treated the American POWs as allies, liberated it.
“They found out I was an ‘Americanski’… they got me in there, said ‘we drink!’ and poured glasses of vodka. They’d toast: ‘ Stalin. Roosevelt. Churchill,'” he remembered. “I’ve never been that blasted in all my life.”
He left the US Air Force in 1947. This was not the end of his combat career, however. Morrell was soon right back in, re-enlisting in 1952. He saw service in the Sahara documenting missile tests, the Pacific islands documenting nuclear tests, Iceland documenting Russian movements, and even the Panama Canal Zone.
By the time the Vietnam War started to heat up for the US, Douglas Morrell had become Chief Master Sergeant Morrell. At age 50, he was documenting operations over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, when his O-2 Skymaster’s wing was shot halfway off by anti-aircraft fire. He and the pilot bailed out at 5,000 feet, taking fire the entire way down. He landed in the jungle, just yards from a truck depot on the Ho Chi Minh Trail itself, guarded by six anti-aircraft gun positions. For nine hours, he called in rescue teams and directed fire on the enemy positions, before finally allowing himself to be rescued.
4. The Racecar Driver Who Taught Himself to Fly, Then Broke all the Records
Teaching yourself to fly seems like a terrible idea, especially during World War I when most pilots were college-educated and you’re an enlisted aircraft mechanic. Not so for Eddie Rickenbacker, the racecar driver-turned Airman who learned to be an engineer through a correspondence course.
Rickenbacker enlisted immediately after the US entered The Great War and arrived in France in June of 1917. By May of the next year, he had taught himself to fly, earned an officer’s promotion, and had shot down his fifth enemy craft, earning the title of “Ace.”
By September 1918, Rickenbacker was in command of his entire squadron, the 94th Aero Squadron. By the time of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, he had racked up 26 victories, a record he held until World War II, and had flown 300 combat hours, more than any other US pilot in the war. Captain Rickenbacker was known for flying right at formations of enemy aircraft, no matter how outnumbered he was, and winning every time. Through the course of the War, Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with six oak leaf clusters, the Croix de Guerre with two palms, the Legion d’Honneur, and was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After the Great War, Rickenbacker went on to found his own car company, his own airline, and wrote a popular comic strip – which became a film and radio program.
5. Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler, Enemies Who Became Friends
In 1943, Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown was piloting his B-17 Flying Fortress, Ye Olde Pub, back to England after bombing industrial centers in Bremen. During its run, the nose was torn apart by flak fire, causing the plane to drop out of formation and come under attack from fifteen enemy fighter planes. The plane lost sixty percent of its electric capacity, lost its oxygen, and half its rudder. Of the ten crewmen on board, the tail gunner had been killed, the rest wounded. Brown himself was hit in his right shoulder. He then passed out from oxygen deprivation and woke up to find the bomber in a 4,000-foot dive. He pulled the plane up and headed home, having been left for dead by the pursuit fighters.
On the way back to England, Germans on the ground spotted the bomber. The Luftwaffe dispatched ace fighter pilot Oberleutnant Franz Stigler to finish it off. He had already shot down two B-17s that day and needed one more kill to earn the Knight’s Cross – the highest Iron Cross award for bravery and leadership. Stigler easily caught up to the Allied plane in his Messerschmitt 109, but wondered why the Flying Fortress hadn’t started shooting at him. From his cockpit, he could see how badly damaged the plane was, how the crew struggled to care for the wounded, and even Brown’s face as he struggled to bring Ye Olde Pub and its crew back home alive with one good engine. He’d never seen a plane so badly damaged and still flying.
“You are fighter pilots first, last, always,” A commander had told Stigler’s unit when he was stationed in North Africa. “If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” He looked to the man struggling at the bomber controls. Brown looked back. To Stigler, these men were like men in parachutes. Even though getting caught letting the bomber go would mean execution, he just couldn’t shoot them down.
Stigler moved to fly in a formation on Brown’s left, a formation German ground spotters would recognize as friendly. He escorted Brown’s bomber halfway over the North Sea and departed with a salute.
After the war, Stigler moved to Canada. Brown returned to the US. Over forty years later, Stigler responded to an ad Brown placed as he searched newsletters of former Luftwaffe pilots for the German ace who spared his crew. One day, Stigler responded:
“Dear Charles, All these years I wondered what happened to the B-17; did she make it or not?”
The two became close friends after meeting (on the ground) in 1990. The story of Stigler and Brown is told in detail in the 2012 book A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II.
In early 1943, the 1st Ranger Battalion, known as Darby’s Rangers, was still relatively unknown and rather untested. All of that was about to change.
The Rangers had been formed less than a year before at the insistence of Gen. George Marshall. Marshall believed that the Americans needed a commando unit and ordered Major Orlando Darby to make it happen. On June 19, 1942, the 1st Ranger Battalion was activated from “volunteers not adverse to dangerous action.”
Though over 2,000 men had volunteered, only 575 officers and enlisted men were accepted into the battalion. The British Commandos then trained these men at their training facility at Achnacarry, Scotland.
Less than six months after their formation, the Rangers spearheaded the Allied invasion of North Africa by taking out Vichy French artillery batteries at Arzew, Algeria. In a quick but decisive move, the Rangers captured the guns and some 60 prisoners.
After helping secure the port facilities and a nearby town, the Rangers were withdrawn from action. They began an intense training period, focusing on forced marches and night fighting. Both would prove useful in the near future.
With the rapid advance of Allied forces across North Africa, and commanders unsure of what to do with a specialized raiding force like the Rangers, they were not involved in the ongoing combat.
That changed in February when the Rangers were called upon to conduct raids against Axis forces to gather intelligence and weaken enemy morale.
Darby devised a plan to attack the Italians at Sened Station.
Trucked to within 20 miles of their objective the Rangers set off in total darkness. The Rangers set a blistering pace and stealthily covered some fourteen miles before taking shelter among the rocks for the day.
Word was passed around for that night’s mission — the Rangers would leave their mark.
“They’ve got to know that they’ve been worked over by Rangers,” Capt. Roy Murray said. “Every man is to use his bayonet as much as he can. Those are our orders.”
While his men concealed themselves among rocks and brush, Darby and his executive officer, Major Herman Dammer, conducted a leaders’ reconnaissance of the Italian outpost.
With the final plan set, the Rangers prepared to move out as the sun set. Faces were blackened and anything that jingled or rattled was secured to ensure silence. Helmets had been traded for wool caps the night before.
Once the moon set, the Rangers began their movement toward the objective.
The raiding force consisted of three line companies and a detachment of 81mm mortars. They moved out three companies abreast, toward positions within 500 yards of the outpost.
Darby was able to track the movement of his men by an ingenious method. Using red-lensed flashlights covered with a shroud mounted on the pack of a few men, he was able to see when his units were in position. This also ensured that no man wondered off course.
When all was ready, Darby sent forward the order to fix bayonets and move out.
Slowly, silently, the Rangers crept toward the unsuspecting Italian garrison.
Some amount of noise must have made it to the Italians at their posts because they became suspicious. With the Rangers still some 200 yards out, Italian machine guns opened fire. In the pitch black, their fire was wild and inaccurate. The Rangers held their fire and continued to creep forward.
As the Rangers made it to within 50 yards of the wire, the Italian’s fire became too close for comfort. Italian sentries called out into the night, “Qui va la? Qui va la?” (“Who goes there?”)
All at once the Americans responded. The Rangers leapt up and charged across the short distance to the Italian perimeter. American Tommy Guns riddled the outpost as riflemen tossed hand grenades and stormed across the Italian defenses with their bayonets.
One Ranger, Cpl. James Altieri, stumbled into a trench and right on top of an Italian soldier. In the brief struggle, Altieri dispatched the man by stabbing him in the stomach. It was his first hand-to-hand kill. He immediately vomited before continuing the fight.
Altieri later described the fighting by saying, “We worked them over furiously, giving no quarter.”
As the Rangers cleared the outpost, the 81mm mortars pounded the Italian positions and cut off their retreat.
The victory had cost the Rangers one man and another 20 wounded.
As Darby conferred with the assault commanders and consolidated his position, he could hear the distant rumble of tracked vehicles — German armor. This was expected; the raid had been intended to draw out the Germans to help commanders determine their strength. But it also meant it was time for the Rangers to get out of Dodge.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the US Naval fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii suffered a devastating attack from the air and sea.
The Japanese assault began at 7:48 a.m., resulting in the death of 2,402 Americans, numerous injuries, the sinking of four battleships and damage to many more. Surprised US service members who normally may have slept in on that Sunday morning, or enjoyed some recreation, instead found themselves fighting for their lives.
Now, 74 years later, the US Navy is remembering the “day of infamy” with a series of photographs that compare scenes from that horrifying day to the present.
Defenders on Ford Island watch for planes during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
The battleship USS California burns in the foreground as the battleship USS Arizona burns in the background after the initial attack on Pearl Harbor.
Defenders on Ford Island watch for planes during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Sailors on Ford Island look on as the Mahan-class destroyer USS Shaw explodes in the background.
A view of the historic Ford Island control tower from 1941. The tower was once used to guide airplanes at the airfield on the island and is now used as an aviation library.
The Mahan-class destroyer USS Shaw explodes in the background after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The battleship USS Arizona burns in the background during the attack on Pearl Harbor as viewed from Ford Island.
Hangar 6 on Ford Island stands badly damaged after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Admiral James Stavridis, a former leader of the US Southern Command and once the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, has shared some of his favorite books in an interview with Marcia Desanctis from The Millions.
Stavridis, who is now the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is a voracious reader with broad literary tastes. For a person who was once one of the most important figures in the world’s most powerful military, books serve as a crucial way to make sense of a complicated world.
“Reading is integral to my life … And I think, in the end, we solve global problems not by launching missiles, it’s by launching ideas,” Stavridis told The Millions.
Here are some of Stavridis’ favorite books, along with his favorite naval movie.
“My Life In France” is a memoir documenting Child’s move to France with her new husband, Paul. The book follows the culinary icon’s growing career as a chef and author, and captures all of her successes and failures.
The book left Stavridis in tears.
“This is an incredibly quirky, wonderful book about discovering yourself and discovering your life,” Stavridis said. “The voice in the book is so authentic and so beautiful, so wonderfully rendered.”
“The Circle” is a disconcerting look at the future of online privacy. Imagining a world in which transparency is valued more than privacy, Eggers evokes a world that may not be too far off in the future.
“In the largest sense, by one of our most creative contemporary writers, David Eggers, it is a story about what we hold to ourselves, what is privacy, and what transparency can provide but take away from each of us,” Stavridis told The Millions. “It’s a profoundly important novel that helps us deal with this collision between privacy and transparency.”
“Gulag: A History” documents the rise of the Soviet prison camp system from the Russian Revolution through its collapse during glasnost towards the end of the Cold War. Applebaum’s research documents both the details of individual camp life and the greater significance of the gulag system for the USSR and its leaders.
“It’s a brilliant book,” Stavridis said. He also featured the book on the reading list at the end of his autobiography, “The Accidental Admiral.”
“Generation of Winter” is a novel that follows the saga of the fictional Gradov family from 1925 to 1945. With a vast range of characters and settings, the novel shifts from Moscow to the frontlines of WWII battles in Poland and Ukraine, capturing the difficulties of Russian life during that twenty-year time period.
“It’s a beautiful novel,” Stavridis said. “It’s also, I think, a portrait of a really interesting period in Russian society that transitioned from the World War II generation and how they were effectively betrayed.”
We sometimes overlook the accurate and fantastic portrayals of veterans and troops in fiction, instead criticizing Hollywood’s typical depiction of us as hyper-macho, high-speed ass-kicking machines or broken and fragile husks of human beings.
For a good portion of the armed services, this is far from the truth. This isn’t a grunt versus POG (Person Other than Grunt) thing. It’s a symptom of the civilian-military divide.
There seems to be a perpetual cycle of fiction blowing real military service out of proportion. Civilians who never interacted with service members often believe that fictional portrayal.
Let’s be honest. Veterans are combating the stigma, but it’s an uphill battle.
Hell, most of the stories we tell at bars aren’t helping.
This one goes out to the creators, writers, directors, and actors that gave the world a veteran and stayed away from the stigma. Either intentionally or not, these characters either embody what it was truly like in the service or have exceptional moments that can overlook some of the more silly moments.
If you can think of any others left out, leave them in the comment section.
1. Sgt. Bill Dauterive – “King of the Hill”
Though the 022 MOS doesn’t exist anymore, Bill from “King of the Hill” was a U.S. Army Barber. There are several episodes dedicated to his military service. The 2007 episode “Bill, Bulk and the Body Buddies” even revolved around him trying to get in shape to pass his APFT.
How he manages to go on all the adventures in the show and not be considered AWOL is also a plot point.
2. Capt. Frank Castle, aka “The Punisher” – Marvel Comics
Not every superhero gets their powers from a science experiment, being an alien, or just being super rich.
Frank Castle, The Punisher, learned his skills in the Marine Corps. Sure. He’s an extreme representation of a veteran. But The Punisher earns his spot on this list because of Jon Bernthal’s monologue in Season 2 of “Daredevil.” His performance and his story about his return from a deployment hits close to home for many people.
3. King Robert Baratheon – A Song of Fire and Ice, “Game of Thrones”
Let’s take away medieval fantasy elements of “Game of Thrones” and recognize that Robert Baratheon used to be a proud, respected, and feared soldier on the front lines.
Ever since putting his service behind him, he got fat, grew a glorious beard, spent his time drinking, hunting, and talking about his glory days. Sound like anyone you know from your old unit?
4. Pfc. Donny Novitski and his band — “Bandstand”
A Tony Award winning musical may seem an unlikely place to find a true to life depiction of a WWII veteran, but it’s the only Broadway musical with an official “Got Your 6” certification.
The musical is about a group of young vets returning home who form a band to try to reach stardom (the same half thought out plan we all had while we were downrange).
The lead character, Donny, spends most of the story showing his bandmates and the world their sacrifice and talents.
Veterans who’ve seen the show praise it. At the end of every show, they thank the troops around the world and dedicate each performance to a different veteran.
5. Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce – “M*A*S*H”
The Capt. Hawkeye character is beloved by many for its accuracy. He was drafted right after his medical residency to deploy to the Korean War. Everything about his character was a fresh change to the ordinary war hero cliche.
He resented the Army for drafting him. Each loss of life affected him as the series progressed. He used humor to help cope with the daily stress of combat.
In the 1978 episode “Commander Pierce,” Hawkeye is temporarily in charge of the 4077th. For one episode, he drastically made the very real change to become the leader that his soldiers needed before reverting back to fit the semi-episodic formula.
6. Capt. Kathryn Janeway – “Star Trek: Voyager”
While on the topic of the burdens of leadership, the character that best exemplifies this is the commander of the USS Voyager. Many of the ongoing struggles in the series revolve around how Capt. Kathryn Janeway deals with the safety of the crew, the dream of returning home, and hiding her internal doubt.
Oh, and she always drinks coffee, and she always drinks it black.
The senile grandpa of the Simpson family is often the butt of many jokes. His long term memory is hazy and his short term memory isn’t any better.
But then there’s the 1996 “Flying Hellfish” episode. Art and story-wise, this episode is vastly different from most, and is regarded as one of the best in the series.
Grandpa Abe and Bart go on an adventure to reclaim the treasure Abe found back in World War II. Back in the day, Grandpa was a very competent and tactful leader.
When his unit, which also included series antagonist Mr. Burns, discover a fortune in stolen Nazi paintings, they place a life bet on who keeps them.
While Mr. Burns is willing to kill for the prize, Abe still holds onto his honor and loyalty to his unit after all those years. At the end, when the paintings are confiscated by police, Abe tells his grandson why he went after the paintings. “It was to show you that I wasn’t always a pathetic old kook,” he said.
8. Sgt. Donald Duck – Disney
The sailor suit he always wears isn’t just for show or stolen valor, Donald Duck legitimately was in the Navy and Army Air Force (hence why, in 1984, he was officially given the rank of sergeant and discharge by the real world Army on his 50th anniversary).
Hear me out on this.
In World War I, Walt Disney attempted to join the U.S. Army but was rejected for being too young. He then forged documents to join the Red Cross.
In France, the cartoons he sketched grabbed the attention of Stars and Stripes, later becoming the icon we all know today. In WWII, his love of country and understanding of how propaganda worked lead Disney to use Donald Duck to help the troops.
The “Buck Sergeant Duck” was used in counter-propoganda cartoons and recruitment shorts, even winning an Oscar for “Der Feuhrer’s Face.”
His time in both the Army and Navy is well depicted in many forms — from cartoons to comics. In “DuckTales,” Donald leaves his nephews because he’s being shipped out, which starts the series. The cartoon “Donald Gets Drafted” shows Donald learning (in an exaggerated manner) that recruiters sometimes tell fibs to get bodies in the door.
Even his short temper, aggression, loud voice, cynical attitude, and unprovoked tantrums aren’t a concept lost on veterans.
When most think of ancient warfare, nothing more sophisticated than spears, bows, and maybe catapults come to mind. But like in modern warfare, few things breed ingenuity more than the need to outgun the enemy. Here are some of the more elaborate examples:
1. Claw of Archimedes
Archimedes, the famed Greek mathematician and inventor, developed a variety of weapons to aid in the defense of his home city of Syracuse, Sicily. This included improved versions of conventional artillery like catapults and ballistas, but he also designed more exotic devices to defend Syracuse’s seawall from attacking Roman ships during the Second Punic War.
Though the exact design of the Claw of Archimedes is not known, it is believed to have been a large crane fitted with a gigantic grappling hook. As Roman ships approached the wall, it would be deployed over them, snagging them with the hook, and then lifting the ship at least partially out of the water. When released, the ship would capsize or at least be dropped violently back into the water, damaging the vessel and throwing crewmen overboard.
The Roman historian Livy contended that the Roman fleet suffered terrible casualties from this device. A team working for the Discovery Channel recreated the device using technology that would have been available at the time and used it to capsize a replica of a Roman galley, proving that the device could have been effective.
2. Heat Ray
Another of Archimedes inventions–far more controversial and shrouded in mystery–is a form of heat ray designed to set enemy ships on fire. A strategically placed series of mirrors would focus the sun’s rays onto a single point on an enemy ship and ignite it, like a magnifying glass used to ignite paper. Most Roman ships of the era were coated with pitch as a sealant, which would only make the target more flammable.
Though some ancient historians record that such a weapon was used during the 212 B.C. siege of Syracuse, attempted recreations conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others concluded that the weapon was almost ridiculously impractical. It was completely dependent on the position of the sun and a utter lack of cloud cover, and could only function on a completely stationary target due to the time required for it to achieve ignition.
Even if it succeeded, at best it could create small, easily extinguishable fires. Regular flaming arrows and catapult ammunition would have far more range and effectiveness, not to mention being easier to deploy.The only practical function such a weapon would have is to use its rays to temporarily blind the crews and marines of the attacking ships. Despite its shortcomings, the novel concept of using light as a lethal weapon presages modern laser technology that is still under development to this day.
3. Biological Warfare
After a series of disputes, the Mongolian Golden Horde laid siege to the Genoese trading city of Caffa in 1346, in what is in the modern day Crimea. The bubonic plague had already started to ravage Crimea, and it rapidly spread to the besieging Mongolian forces, killing thousands.
According to the memoirs of the Italian Gabriele de’ Mussi, the Mongolian Khan Janibeg had ordered the bodies of his soldiers killed by the plague hurled over Caffa’s walls. De’ Mussi wrote: “Soon the rotting corpses tainted the air and poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army. Moreover one infected man could carry the poison to others, and infect people and places with the disease by look alone. No one knew, or could discover, a means of defense.”
It has been theorized that Italian ships fleeing the city helped spread the bubonic plague to Europe and start the Black Death, which may have killed more than a quarter of the continent’s population. Considering how many other sources there were for the plague, however, the siege at Caffa may have only played a small role in the ghastly pandemic.
Various flaming liquids and incendiary weapons are known to have been in use since antiquity, but it was the Byzantine Empire that created what could be considered an ancient precursor to napalm, though its exact composition has been lost. The substance known as naptha, or Greek fire, was typically used in clay pots thrown by hand or catapult to ignite enemy ships, siege engines, and troops, but it also was used in some the first flamethrowers.
When used on ships, large brass tubes mounted on the prow were filled with naptha, and large blacksmith’s bellows were rapidly pumped to spray the flaming liquid onto enemy ships. Naptha reputedly could only be extinguished with sand, and water would only spread it about and make the fire worse.
Small hand units, called cheiroseiphon, were scaled down versions of the ones used by ships. They were typically used to ignite enemy siege towers, but some ancient Byzantine strategists recommended its use on the battlefield to terrify enemy formations. It may have only been used to spray the liquid before a secondary fire source ignited it, but contemporary Byzantine illuminations show it being used to directly shoot fire.
In addition to myriad other “brown water” missions the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for all icebreaking operations done by the U.S. government. Coast Guard assets include two arctic icebreakers, a Great Lakes-based icebreaker, and a fleet of smaller cutters to clear bays, rivers, and other waterways.
The first icebreaker in the Coast Guard was not a true icebreaker, but the Revenue Cutter Bear, which featured a reinforced hull and spent its career with the Coast Guard’s predecessor, the Revenue Cutter Service, serving from Seattle to present day Dutch Harbor.
The Great Lakes and areas like the Hudson Bay are also serviced by 140-foot icebreaking tugs, such as the Biscayne Bay and Sturgeon Bay. In addition to icebreaking, these cutters also conduct search and rescue, law enforcement, and aids-to-navigation.
Today, ocean-going icebreakers serve several purposes. In addition to opening up shipping channels, they conduct scientific experiments, escort ships, conduct law enforcement and search and rescue, as well as enforce treaties and environmental protections. The Healy also boasts more than 4,000 square feet of laboratory space for civilian, military, and NOAA scientists to collect data and conduct experiments while the cutter is underway. The crews help facilitate environmental protections, such as cleaning up oil spills or other issues, as well as rescue operations and law enforcement as needed.
Life on an icebreaker is hardly easy. The crew may be out of home port for more than eight months a year. Every person aboard must be accounted for twice a day. The job is hazardous, with deaths of crew members being documented due to accidents on both ocean-going icebreakers. Temperatures in the Arctic Circle can get lower than 35 to 50 degrees below zero.
A variety of cutters were used for icebreaking in the north Pacific, but the first true icebreaker was built for the Coast Guard in 1942. The Staten Island was the first of seven Wind-Class cutters built for the Coast Guard. At 269 feet in length, the cutters had the ability to list, or tilt, side to side to break free from ice.
The two iterations of the Mackinaw were both created to serve upon the five great lakes. The main reason for the icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes is to keep commercial vessels moving throughout the winter. The first cutter was built in 1944 and served for 62 years before being decommissioned and turned into a floating museum.
Today, the Polar Star and the Healy make icebreaking voyages. The Healy and Polar Star have participated in voyages to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, to help resupply the missions there. In 2015, the Healy became the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied. While the Healy has made voyages south, she generally is the Arctic icebreaker due to her lighter weight. The heavier Polar Star is an Antarctic icebreaker.
While it may seem that two icebreakers is enough for America’s needs, it hardly compares to other Arctic nations. Russia boasts twenty-seven nuclear powered icebreakers, and even Sweden has a fleet of five. There is little room for failure in missions to the Arctic and Antarctic, as there is only one cutter to service each area and there are no other backups. The Coast Guard has requested new icebreakers from Congress, but they have not been authorized due to the $1 billion price tag that comes with each new icebreaker.
The icebreaker USCGC Glacier is shown approaching McMurdo Station, Antarctica. A cargo vessel is seen in the left foreground docked at a floating ice pier. The U.S. Navy commissioned the Glacier in August 1955, after which she participated in the first Operation Deep Freeze, which included the construction of McMurdo. The Navy transferred the Glacier to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1966.
A lack of funding for the Coast Guard has long been one of the service’s biggest issues, and with an aging fleet of cutters and aircraft, the small allowance the USCG gets yearly to replace assets is spent elsewhere first. As the ice melts in the Arctic, traffic and commerce will continue to increase, and other Arctic nations are beginning to create a larger foothold in the area. Both Russia and Finland have contracts for even more icebreakers, leaving the U.S. stranded in the ice if the government cannot compete.
Editor’s note: A special thanks to Ensign Sam Krakower, USCG for his expertise in Coast Guard Arctic Policy.
The most-epic military movie of all time needs your help in getting made.
Veteran-owned companies Article 15 Clothing and Ranger Up have teamed up on an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign for “Range 15,” a film project the companies say will be the “military movie you’ve always wanted someone to make.”
What does that mean exactly? According to the launch video and campaign page, that would include appearances by not only the crew of fine folks at Article 15 and Ranger Up, but also Special Forces veteran/UFC fighter Tim Kennedy and Medal of Honor recipients Dakota Meyer and Leroy Petry.
Sidenote: When Article 15 visited WATM a few months ago, we got a look at the script. While we can’t reveal the storyline, we can say that it became clear very quickly that the movie is going to be awesome and very, very funny.
Both companies have already put in $500,001 (not a typo) to make the movie. Now they are looking for $325,000 more to provide the following (via the IndieGoGo page):
Crazy special effects.
Non-stop Act of Valor style knee slide shooting.
Forget about 3. That’s not happening.
Even bigger explosions.
More badass celebrity cameos.
Did we mention hot chicks?
Check out the launch video below (which is actually quite hilarious) and support the movie on the IndieGoGo page here.
An Army Ranger veteran who plays Santa was called for an emergency visit to a dying child in Tennessee, arriving just in time to present the boy with a present and hold him as he passed away.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen is a 60-year-old engineer and the president of Packing Seals Engineering, according to Fox News. He carefully cultivates Saint Nicholas’s appearance and performs at approximately 80 events throughout each year.
A nurse contacted him from a hospital near his home in Tennessee to ask that he rush over and comfort a dying child. According to the BBC, he was given a PAW Patrol toy by the child’s mother.
“She’d bought a toy from [the TV show] ‘PAW Patrol’ and wanted me to give it to him,” he told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I sized up the situation and told everyone, ‘If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job.’ ”
Schmitt-Matzen told the sick boy that he was Santa’s “Number One Elf” and that no matter where the boy went next, that title would get him in. Schmitt-Matzen gave the boy the gift and the child asked, “Santa, can you help me?”
“I wrapped my arms around him,” Schmitt-Matzen said, according to the Independent. “Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.”
The Ranger veteran left the hospital in tears that any soldier could easily understand. Rangers Lead The Way.