When a Canadian soldier is killed in action, the remains are repatriated to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, near Trenton, Ontario, operated by the Royal Canadian Air Forces. From there, they are driven to the coroner’s building in Toronto for examination before being released to the families.
Part of the 401 Highway connecting CFB Trenton and the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto is now called the “Highway of Heroes” in honor of the Canadian Forces who gave their lives to Canada’s military missions. This is also the stretch of road the remains of the fallen take in funeral convoys on the way to Toronto.
The funeral processions are marked by a ceremony at CFB Trenton before the 100 mile drive to the morgue. When this process first started, something extraordinary happened: Canadians spontaneously started to line the route, waving flags and rendering salutes in a grassroots phenomenon to remember their country’s sons and daughters.
Pete Fisher is a photographer who first saw the procession in 2002, when his father tipped him off that four soldiers would be driven that day. He petitioned the government for a formal name change for the stretch of highway. He now has a 185-page book featuring every Canadian soldier whose remains traversed the road.
“Each picture means so much,” Fisher told Canada’s CTV News. “All these families were so amazing… In their worst moment of sadness, there they are in these limousines screaming ‘thank you’ to the people on these bridges. But it was reciprocal. The people on these bridges were thanking them.”
Most recently, Sgt. Andrew Doiron of Moncton, New Brunswick, was repatriated on the Highway. Doiron was a Canadian Forces special forces advisor in Iraq, killed by Kurdish Peshmerga in a friendly fire incident. His death is the first Canadian fatality of the new phase of the Iraq War.
Thousands of people — firefighters, policemen, civilians — line the bridges and overpasses on the stretch of highway waiting for hours to pay tribute to the soldiers and remind the families their grief and sacrifice is not forgotten.
The family of a decorated special operations Marine killed in Afghanistan in 2011 received his Silver Star after the U.S. Army took the unusual step of upgrading one of his prior medals.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Sprovtsoff, 28, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with MARSOC’s 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion earned the Bronze Star with combat valor device in 2011 for working heroically to disarm a bomb in Afghanistan before an explosion left him fatally wounded.
But a prior deployment to Afghanistan with an Army unit in 2007, Sprovtsoff had already distinguished himself as a hero. While serving as a sergeant with Marine Corps Embedded Training Team 5-1, attached to the Army’s 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, Sprovtsoff had conducted himself with distinction during a 48-hour firefight.
According to a medal citation obtained by Military.com, he fought with “disregard for his own safety and in spite of wounds sustained in combat,” coordinating his unit’s defense during the long fight.
The medal was approved and awarded as a Bronze Star, but upgraded to a Silver Star last year, said Capt. Barry Morris, a spokesman for MARSOC. The news was first reported by Marine Corps Times Friday.
“[Sprovstoff’s] command at the time nominated him for a Bronze star with “V,” Morris explained. “As it went up the chain, his actions were so heroic, the Army upgraded him to a Silver Star; but at the end of the day, when someone hit the approve button, it was approved as a Bronze Star, rather than a Silver Star.”
Morris said the Army ultimately caught the error and coordinated with the Marine Corps to upgrade the award.
Calls from Military.com to the Army’s awards branch, which oversaw the medal upgrade, were not returned Friday.
The commander of MARSOC, Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, presented Sprovstoff’s widow, Tasha, with the award in a ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colorado, according to Marine Corps Times.
“[Sprovtsoff’s] courage, dedication and sacrifice inspire us on a daily basis to help others, to cherish our freedom, and to try to make a positive difference in the world,” Osterman said in a statement. “Also, the individual sacrifices [his] family have made is extremely important for MARSOC to recognize. We will always be inspired by the actions of our fellow Raiders and we will strive to operate at a level that honors them and their family.”
Sprovtsoff was killed Sept. 28, 2011 in Helmand province, Afghanistan and buried in Arlington Cemetery Oct. 6 of the same year.
According to his Bronze Star citation from that deployment, Sprovtsoff had fearlessly and safely led a team of Marines through a region filled with improvised explosive devices following an enemy ambush. His work during the deployment had led to the elimination of 40 IEDs.
Sprovstoff and his wife Tasha are featured in Oliver North’s 2013 book “American Heroes on the Homefront.”
While Sprovtsoff’s award upgrade appears to be an outlier due to an administrative error, there could be more upgrades coming for American troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.The Pentagon announced in January that it would review all Silver Stars and service crosses awarded after Sept. 11, 2001 — some 1,100 awards — to determine whether a higher upgrade is warranted. The military services have until Sept. 30, 2017, to turn their recommendations in to the secretary of defense.
The Army’s top surgeon said Aug. 18 the service is working with its combat medics to deal with casualties that can’t be airlifted immediately out of the battle zone and back to surgical facilities for hours or days, arming the first responders with new gear and techniques designed to keep a soldier alive well past the so-called “Golden Hour” that’s contributed to a record-level survival rate for wounded troops.
Lieutenant Gen. Nadja West said the Army’s 68W Healthcare Specialist cadre will have to be armed with sophisticated sensors to measure a patient’s vital signs, be trained to use new lifesaving equipment like tourniquets that can wrap around a patient’s waist or chest and be given technology that will allow them to “reach back” from the battlefield to surgeons in the rear who can deliver expert advice far from the operating room.
“We’ve had the luxury of air superiority so we could evacuate our casualties at will,” West told WATM at a recent meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C. “We’re trying to make sure that in an environment where it’s not as permissive — where we’re going to have to retain casualties longer — we have the ability to do this prolonged care.”
West added that in Afghanistan, for example, there were cases where patients were flown out of the combat zone and back to Bethesda Naval Medical Center and on the operating table within 24 hours. But in future wars, that capability might not exist.
In the wars since 9/11, the Army has benefitted from American air dominance which allowed slow-moving, poorly-armed medical evacuation helicopters to speed to the battle and pick up wounded in a matter of minutes. That’s led to a 93 percent survival rate for wounded soldiers, a 75 percent increase since the Vietnam war.
But the Army is worried that wars in the near future won’t allow a speedy MEDEVAC, so its medics will have to deal with situations like potential limb loss from tourniquets staying on longer than usual to fluid pooling in the brain or organs, West said. That doesn’t mean that all of the sudden 68Ws have to be trained as vascular surgeons, but they do have to be able to get detailed information that’ll help keep their patients alive.
“Telehealth is going to be very important and we’re working on that,” West said of capabilities being developed for detailed medical communication on the battlefield.
“So you’re actually talking to a vascular surgeon when you’re down range and say ‘Hey I’m looking at this vessel, what do I need to do?’ ” West explained. “You’re not going to make them trauma surgeons, but at least you have someone that can give them the expertise that can do things right there.”
West also said the Army was experimenting with ways to attach sensors to soldiers so that intensive care specialists in the rear can get detailed information about a patient’s condition and be able to render advice to a medic on managing the casualty over a longer period.
“So I see not having to train them on every single thing, but having the reach-back capability to say okay, I’m looking at this, what do I need to do?” she said. “That’s what I see in the future. Rather than trying to overload them with everything, give them the reach back to help them answer those questions.”
Among the fighters that allowed America to win World War II, the P-38 Lightning was uniquely successful and was dubbed the “fork-tailed Devil” by the Germans even though its greatest successes came in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North African theaters.
Army Air Corps leaders first solicited for what would become the P-38 in 1937 with the specification X-608, a request for a new pursuit aircraft that could fly 360 mph at 20,000 feet, reach 20,000 feet in six minutes, and run at full power at that altitude for at least an hour. They also wanted a long combat radius and plenty of firepower.
Lockheed, a newcomer to the military market, submitted the XP-38, a radical departure from conventional aircraft design that featured three pods and two tails. The outer pods lined up with the tails and each carried an Allison V-1710 engine with 1,000 hp.
The plane went through continued testing and design refinements before reaching Army pilots in 1940. Upon its debut, it was capable of reaching an altitude of 3,300 feet in one minute and could hit 400 mph with a range of 1,150 miles.
But production was slow and the Army had only 69 P-38s, so Lockheed was forced to subcontract parts to get the plane into combat for the U.S. But the P-38 arrived on the front lines with a vengeance. In early 1942, its pilots became the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe plane and P-38s carried seven of the top fighter aces of the Pacific theater.
The Lightning’s finest hour probably came on April 18, 1943. Naval Intelligence had learned that Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander and architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks, would be inspecting troops in the Pacific on that date.
The military rushed together a plan to attack the admiral. The scheme called for fighters to fly approximately 600 miles out and 400 miles back with enough fuel available in the middle for fierce fighting. The only Pacific fighter capable of the feat in 1943 was the P-38 equipped with drop tanks.
All of this is not to say that the P-38 was perfect. It suffered a number of drawbacks including a tendency to become unstable at speeds approaching Mach 1 and to become unresponsive to controls during high-speed dives.
Pilots suffered hypothermia and frostbite in the barely heated cockpit and the engines were prone to failures as their intakes over-cooled incoming air.
The commander of the 20th Flight Group, Col. Harold J. Rau, was ordered to provide a written report as to why the P-38 wasn’t more successful in Europe. He asked the recipient to imagine a fresh-out-of-flight-school with less than 30 flight hours who was suddenly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters.
He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich, increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch, turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.
And the process was unforgiving of errors. Reversing the order of the engine steps or skipping a step could cause the engine to explode or throw a rod, either of which would rob the pilot of vital power during a dogfight. And all of this has to be done while German rounds are already ripping past or through the plane.
This week’s meme roundup is dedicated to the friends you go to war with: Your battle buddies. These friends would do anything for you, even take a bullet, or in the case of Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter, jump on a grenade. The bond between battle buddies is second to none, and most people will never experience friendship on this level. Although it’s difficult to capture the bromance in 13 memes, here’s our attempt:
1. Battle buddies depend on each other.
When the leadership fails, your buddy won’t.
2. Battle buddies aren’t always human.
Man’s best friend is just as dedicated.
3. War is intense, so jokes and pranks are also elevated to the same level.
This is their version of “kick me.”
4. You get in trouble together.
No worries, it’s a just a mouth lashing.
5. You find creative ways to entertain each other.
This would make a great, “shut the fu– up Carl” meme.
6. Their idea of going to the movies is a little different.
Their camaraderie makes up for the lack of screen size.
7. They fight together, they watch movies together, and they also drink together …
… because sometimes you need someone to stagger home with.
8. Buddies look after each other, they don’t report each other.
Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II is commander of Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
Our nation expects a great deal from its military, but it comes at a cost. Air Mobility Command — the organization responsible for airlift, aerial refueling, aeromedical evacuation, and enroute support — is constantly faced with challenges testing the resilience of our airmen.
Whether airdropping combat supplies, fueling fighters and bombers on the way to destroy terrorist camps, or aiding natural disaster victims around the world, Mobility airmen perform the mission with professionalism and at great personal risk and sacrifice.
I’m painfully aware our airmen have been subject to high operations demand for quite some time. Most are tired, as are their families. They do what we ask them to do, and they are always there, conducting the mission professionally, selflessly and with great effect.
However, a concern is how much longer they can sustain the pace and whether they will leave our Air Force.
The manning shortage extends beyond fighter pilots. What happens when we face a potential exodus of mobility skill and talent? Consider approximately 1,600 mobility pilots are eligible to leave the military in the next four-plus years. We are already more than 300 total force mobility pilots short of what we need today.
Commercial airlines are projected to be short 16,000 pilots by 2020. The math demonstrates the challenge is not looming, it is here. The time to find solutions is now.
A Pilot Shortage
This is a national problem with real security implications. As a result of new safety regulations, increased experience requirements, and attrition through commercial airline pilot retirement, experienced aviators are in high demand.
Mobility pilots are some of the best in the world and represent a lucrative talent pool for the civilian industry. As a natural feeder system for the airlines, we lose talent as civilian airlines’ needs increase.
This comes at a time when our airmen are feeling the strain. Consider aerial refueling tanker pilots as an example. These professionals flew nearly 31,000 tanker missions in support of operations in Iraq and Syria alone. We ask them to do this with a 60-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker or vintage KC-10 Extender aircraft, relying on the strong backs and tremendous pride and skill of our maintainers.
Many yearn for newer equipment; consistent work schedules; family, personal time; and a homestead. Many believe that commercial pilot life offers the potential to achieve balance.
The need for skilled military and civilian pilots will put us in an unfortunate and natural competition with our industry partners — not a good position for either party.
Pilots departing is a problem, but if they don’t consider serving in the Reserves and Guard, that problem becomes a crisis. If our airmen don’t continue to serve with our total force partners, the active force will face additional strain.
Productive dialogue can help us find great opportunities amidst the challenges, but it requires industry, academia, and airman ingenuity.
Recently, I sat down with some of our airline partners to begin this discussion, and I am confident that this is a start toward better understanding and a collaborative approach to improving circumstances.
We are focused not only on the pilot shortage challenges, but also addressing aircraft maintainer shortages.
Air Mobility Command never fails to deliver rapid global mobility anywhere, anytime. The mobility mission is similar to an offensive line in football. When the capability isn’t there, everyone notices, and scoring — or, in our case, striking a target, delivering relief or helping to save a life — wouldn’t occur.
The value of mobility airmen to national defense is critical.
This issue calls for a national dialogue and understanding before strain becomes breakage, and national objectives and security are at risk.
On July 18, 1925, the first volume of Adolf Hitler’s infamous autobiography, Mein Kampf (“my struggle”), was published.
In the book, Hitler laid out his political agenda, a rambling tirade against all of Germany’s problems, which he blamed on other races, religions, and foreign powers — especially the French. The book is notoriously racist and anti-semitic, featuring an aggressive foreign policy geared toward expansion across Europe.
Hitler wanted to create an authoritarian dictatorship with the goal of expanding Germany eastward and clearing out the people there so Germans could have more space. This blueprint for the Third Reich sold fewer than ten thousand copies the first year it was published, but when Hitler became chancellor sales skyrocketed to the millions.
It became customary to gift the book to newlyweds — because nothing gets you hotter on your wedding night than National Socialism. As the Nazi propaganda machine swelled, Hitler’s rise to power boosted the sales of his book. There were even editions printed in Braille, though blindness was a condition introduced into the Nazi’s sadistic Sterilization Law in 1933.
Sales from the book made the author a millionaire — though he never saw American royalties. While the textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin released the first English language version of Mein Kampf in America in 1933, U.S. courts held the royalties through World War II on the basis of copyright infringement linked to Hitler’s citizenship (Austrian? Stateless German? Details details…).
Finally in World War II, the U.S. enacted the Trading with the Enemy Act, which allowed the government to seize all profits from Mein Kampf. According to the New Statesmen, “During the Second World War, the U.S. government made more than $20,000 from royalties on Mein Kampf… By 1979, the Justice Department had collected more than $139,000 in royalties.” These profits were handed over to the War Claims Fund, and, “eventually, the monies were paid on a pro-rata basis to claimants, many of them American ex-POWs.”
According to Mental Floss, Houghton Mifflin bought the publishing rights back from the U.S. government in 1979 with the promise to “donate all royalties and profits from the book to organizations that promote diversity and cross-cultural understanding. These have included The Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation and Facing History and Ourselves.” Hitler’s stupid plan probably didn’t end like the book does — unless Mein Kampf ends with a million angry Russians tearing down his stupid flags.
The Navy’s new “first-of-its-kind” stealthy destroyer will soon go to San Diego, Calif., where it will go through what’s called “ship activation” – a process of integrating the major systems and technologies on the ship leading up to an eventual live-fire exercise of its guns and missiles.
As part of this process, the Navy will eventually fire long-range precision guns and missiles from its lethal, stealthy new destroyer — in anticipation of its ultimate deployment on the open seas, service and industry officials explained.
The new Destroyer, called DDG 1000 or the future USS Zumwalt, is a 610-foot land and surface warfare attack ship designed with a stealthy, wave-piercing “tumblehome” hull.
On Friday May 20, 2016, the new ship was formally delivered to the Navy at Bath Iron Works in Portland, Maine.
“The shape of the superstructure and the arrangement of its antennas significantly reduce radar cross section, making the ship less visible to enemy radar at sea,” a Navy statement said.
“The US Navy accepted delivery of the most technically complex and advanced warship the world has ever seen,” Rear Adm. (select) James Downey, DDG 1000 Program Manager, said in a written statement.
Several reports have indicated that ships off the coast of Maine recently thought the DDG 1000 was a small fishing boat due to its stealthy design. That is precisely the intent of the ship – it seeks to penetrate enemy areas, delivery lethal attack while remaining undetected by enemy radar. The ship is engineered for both land attack and open water surface warfare, Navy officials explain.
“In the next phase, the Navy will be driving, connecting, integrating and proving the functionality of the ship systems such as the radar, sonar and gun. The Navy will test out the basics make sure the ship can work then by testing those components of the ship that actually make it a warship,” Wade Knudson, DDG 1000 Program Manager, Raytheon, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“The Navy will be making sure that the propulsion system works to create the power to drive the ship at the speeds it is supposed to go.”
Ship delivery follows extensive tests, trials and demonstrations of the ship’s Hull, Mechanical, and Electrical systems including the ship’s boat handling, anchor and mooring systems as well as major demonstrations of the damage control, ballasting, navigation and communications systems, Navy officials said.
The ship is slated to be commissioned in Baltimore, Maryland Oct. 15.
“Zumwalt’s crew has diligently trained for months in preparation of this day and they are ready and excited to take charge of this ship on behalf of the US Navy,” Capt. James Kirk, commanding officer of the future Zumwalt, said in a written statement.
DDG 1000 Weapons
The ship is engineered to fire Tomahawk missiles as well as torpedoes, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and a range of standard missiles such as the SM2, SM3 and SM6.
The ship also fires Vertical Launch Anti-Submarine Rockets, or ASROCs. ASROCs are 16-feet long with a 14-inch diameter; a rocket delivers the torpedo at very high speeds to a specific point in the water at which point it turns on its sensors and searches for an enemy submarine.
The first weapons to fire from the Mk 57 vertical launch tubes will be the ship defensive weapons called the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and the Standard Missile 2, or SM-2.
The ship is also built with Mk 57 a vertical launch tubes which are engineered into the hull near the perimeter of the ship.
Called Peripheral Vertical Launch System, the tubes are integrated with the hull around the ship’s periphery in order to ensure that weapons can keep firing in the event of damage. Instead of having all of the launch tubes in succession or near one another, the DDG 1000 has spread them out in order to mitigate risk in the event attack, developers said.
In total, there are 80 launch tubes built into the hull of the DDG 1000; the Peripheral Vertical Launch System involves a collaborative effort between Raytheon and BAE Systems.
Also, the launchers are especially designed with software such that it can accommodate a wide range of weapons; the launchers can house one SM-2, SM-3 or SM-6, ASROCs and up to four ESSMs due to the missile’s smaller diameter, Knudson added.
“It has a common launcher to you can change the adapter or computer function which connects the ship to the missile,” he said.
The ship also has a 155mm long range, precision-capable gun called the Advanced Gun System made by BAE Systems. The weapon can, among other things, fire a munition called the Long-Range Land Attack Projectile which can strike target at ranges out to 64 nautical miles.
Most deck mounted 5-inch guns currently on Navy ships are limited to firing roughly 8-to-10 miles at targets within the horizon or what’s called line of sight. The Advanced Gun System, however, fires GPS-guided precision 155m rounds beyond-the-horizon at targets more than three times that distance.
New Sonar, Power Systems, Radar Technology
The DDG 1000 is unique in that it uses what’s called a dual-band sonar system; this includes both medium and high frequency sonar designed to detect both submarines as well as mines and incoming enemy fire. Most ships have only longer-range, lower frequency medium frequency sonar which provides an ability to detect submarines at long distances. Higher frequency brings a much more precise degree of detection, Knudson explained.
Sonar works by sending out an acoustic “ping” and then analyzing the return signal to process information through a receiver designed to help determine the shape, distance, speed and dimensions of an object or threat.
“High frequency is better for detecting small objects. If you are only going after submarines, then medium frequency would be sufficient. You are going to find the submarine — then you would be able to fire one of the vertically launched ASROCs to engage that target,” Knudson said. “What makes this unique is that high-frequency enable mine detection and mine avoidance,” he added.
It makes sense that the DDG 1000 would be engineered detect mines because the destroyer is, in part, being developed for land-attack missions, an activity likely to bring the vessel closer to shore than previous destroyers might be prepared to sail. The ship is engineered with a more shallow-draft to better enable it to operate in shallower waters than most deep-water ships.
“It has a dome that is transparent to those acoustic waves. The acoustic signal detects sea life and submarines and then sends the signal back to the receiver which processes the information. Inside the bulb, ceramic tiles transmit the acoustic wave out through the water,” Knudson said.
The DDG 1000 is built with what’s called a total ship computing environment, meaning software and blade servers manage not just the weapons systems on the ship but also handle the radar and fire control software and various logistical items such as water, fuel, oil and power for the ship, Raytheon officials said.
The blade servers run seven million lines of code, officials explained.
Additionally, as a survivability enhancing measure, the total ship computing environment also ensures additional layers or redundancy to ensure that messages and information can be delivered across the ship in the event of attack, Raytheon officials said.
Many of the blade servers and other technical items are housed in structures called electronic modular enclosures, or EMEs. There are 16 EME’s built on each ship, each with more than 235 electronics cabinets. The structures are designed to safeguard much of the core electronics for the ship.
The ship’s integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate up to 78 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to ship technologies and the application of anticipated future weapons systems such as laser weapons and rail guns. The ship’s electric drive uses two main turbine generations with two auxiliary turbine generators which power up two 35-megawatt advanced induction motors, Knudson explained.
“The induction motors drive the propellers,” Knudson added.
The speed of the propellers is run through the total computing environment as part of the ship’s controls.
The DDG 1000 also has an AN/SPY-3 X-band multi-function radar which is described as volume-search capable, meaning it can detect threats at higher volumes than other comparable radar systems, Raytheon officials added. The volume search capability, which can be added through software upgrades, enables the radar to detect a wider range of missile flight profiles, he added.
The ship will employ active and passive sensors along with its Multi-Function Radar capable of conducting area air surveillance, including over-land, throughout the extremely difficult and cluttered sea-land interface, Navy officials said.
As the first Zumwalt-class destroyer is delivered to the Navy, construction of the second is already underway at Bath Iron Works, Portland, Maine. The DDG 1001, the Michael Monsoor, is already more than 75-percent complete and fabrication of DDG 1002, the future Lyndon B. Johnson, is already underway, Navy officials said.
On April 25, 1945, Eight Russian armies linked up with the American troops on the western bank of the Elbe river. Germany was, for all intents and purposes, Allied territory. The end of fighting on the Eastern Front of World War II was in sight.
This event signaled the first contact between Soviet and American troops after years of fierce fighting. Both forces successfully cut through multiple Wehrmacht divisions and met in the middle of Torgau, Germany.
The Allied powers had effectively cut Germany in two.
By the 27th, the American and Soviet armies met for a photo op to reenact the meeting, and the Allied powers released statements in London, Moscow, and Washington, reassuring the world that the Third Reich was in its final days.
Although the date isn’t an official holiday, that doesn’t mean it isn’t celebrated. In 2015, 70 years after the original encounter, American and Soviet military units met up once again at the very site of the first meeting to reenact the historic event.
Happy Elbe Day!
Featured Image: In an arranged photo commemorating the meeting of the Soviet and American armies, 2nd Lt. William Robertson (U.S. Army) and Lt. Alexander Silvashko (Red Army) stand facing one another with hands clasped and arms around each other’s shoulders. In the background are two flags and a poster. (National Archives image)
Museums, by definition, are repositories of the past.
But the good ones continue to keep things fresh – and not with small changes.
That certainly applies to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which continues to add exhibits and space.
Following the success of its Air Power Expo and the launching of the restored PT 305, the museum’s latest permanent exhibit, “The Arsenal of Democracy,” opens to the public Saturday, the week of the anniversary of D-Day.
The 10,000-square-foot salute to the homefront is funded by the Brown Foundation, of Houston, which is linked to the war by Brown Shipbuilding, a major supplier to the military during WWII.
“Until now, the museum’s main focus has been on the fighting,” said Rob Citino, the museum’s senior historian. “But if you want to tell the story of World War II, you have to give at least equal time to the homefront.”
Indeed. Although 16 million Americans were in uniform during the war, that’s only a little more than 10 percent of the country’s population at the time.
And not all of the young men were away. Of the major combatants, only the U.S. and China had less than half of its men ages 18-35 in the military.
But there were few, if any, American families who weren’t directly affected by the war to some degree, even those without a close relative in the service.
“There are so many stories wrapped up in the big story of World War II,” said Kim Guise, the museum’s assistant director of curatorial services. “We’ve kind of kept the homefront on the back burner until now.
“But now it’s time to bring it forward.”
The exhibit also is a reminder of the origins of the museum – outgoing museum CEO Nick Mueller and museum founder Stephen Ambrose, both then history professors at the University of New Orleans, were intrigued by the contributions of the Higgins boat, manufactured in New Orleans, in helping to win the war. The desire to tell that story resulted in what began as the D-Day Museum, which opened in 2000.
“Arsenal of Democracy,” which has been two years in development and is on the second floor of the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, spotlights the massive mobilization of American manufacturing, which produced more goods than the Axis combined, tipping the scales in the Allies’ favor.
It’s a tribute to American ingenuity and know-how. Seemingly overnight, factories went from making typewriters to machine guns and from refrigerators to airplane parts, because there was no time to waste.
The exhibit also highlights the domestic side, complete with a “Main Street” showing how shop windows and movie marquees of the time looked, along with a home decorated in the style of the period – right down to a Radio Flyer, the classic little red wagon, sitting on the back porch full of metal collected for a scrap drive.
There are poignant reminders of the human cost of war, too, such as letters home from Myron Murphy, a sailor from Vermont who died aboard the battleship Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor, along with the gold star flag his mother hung in her window to signal her loss.
There’s also the oral history of Lorraine McCaslin, who was alone at home when the word was delivered that her brother had been killed in action.
Noble sacrifice was a hallmark of the times. But there also were discordant voices.
The first gallery – “The Gathering Storm” – addresses the arguments made by isolationists that America should stay out of the war.
After the fall of France in spring 1940, those voices were less prominent, and in December, Roosevelt coined the phrase “arsenal of democracy” in a radio address, announcing manufacturing support for Great Britain.
The war effort demanded that the nation utilize more of its human capital than ever. Women went to work, and new employment opportunities emerged for African-Americans, both in the South and in places such as Ford’s Willow Run assembly line in Michigan.
It’s cliché now to say that the homefront was unified in its fight against the Axis. And it’s not entirely true.
Thousands of Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps during the war. There were riots in Detroit and Los Angeles and continuing discrimination against African-Americans. The military was still segregated.
In fact, the war created tremendous social upheaval from the beginning of civil rights movement to the diaspora of thousands of African-Americans from the South to the Midwest and West Coast. Women’s horizons broadened with the absence of so many men in previously all-male fields.
Those are issues that didn’t get much play when the museum opened in 2000, when the heroism of “The Greatest Generation” was unquestioned.
“History can be messy sometimes,” Citino said. “As heroic as the American war efforts were, then and now this country has work to do to build a just society.”
The war changed American life in other ways, too.
There were momentous developments in science, technology, food production and medicine, ranging from the creation of the atomic bomb to the invention of MM’s because ordinary chocolate rations for soldiers melted too easily.
The exhibit itself has more interactive features than its predecessors. And, Citino added, the museum isn’t finished. “Liberation” is the next major project, and the postwar world has yet to be addressed.
“With visionary leadership and good fundraising, you can move mountains,” he said. “We’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeves.”
Poor farmers and fishermen the world over need all the help they can get. Sometimes, buying a boat is just too costly, no matter how critical it is to their livelihood. So when the raw materials necessary to create exactly what is needed start raining from the sky, no one would think twice about using them.
That’s exactly what the people of Vietnam began doing during the Vietnam War and the decades that followed.
On Jan. 2, 1967, Col. Robin Olds was leading a flight of F-4 Phantom II fighters in a surprise raid over North Vietnam. The raid itself wasn’t a surprise; Olds wanted the enemy to see him coming and take off to intercept. The surprise was what the North Vietnamese would find once they were airborne. “Operation Bolo” was a go.
Olds and his Phantoms were outfitted with special gear that would make the enemy air base believe they would engage slower, less dangerous F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers. By the time the communists realized they were going up against waves of nimble, faster F-4 Phantom fighters, it would be too late.
And it was. As soon as the North Vietnamese MiG-21s cleared the cloud cover, the Air Force another flight of Phantoms, led by Col. Daniel “Chappie” James were already in the area. Olds, like many other fighter pilots of his day, jettisoned his external fuel tanks and engaged the enemy MiGs.
Air combat isn’t the only reason for pilots to jettison external tanks. Once they began to run empty, tanks were often dumped to lower the weight of the aircraft and extend the life of what fuel was remaining. Once dropped from the plane, the tanks simply fell into the countryside, landing wherever they landed.
The U.S. Air Force alone flew some 5.25 million sorties over North and South Vietnam during the American involvement there. While not all of those were fighter missions and not all of those required pilots to dump their external fuel tanks, a lot of tanks were dumped into Vietnam.
In Vietnam, however, the tanks weren’t simply taken to some waste dump or discarded out of hand. In the 1960s, Vietnam’s rural population was comprised of mostly farmers and fishermen, many of which lived in the coastal areas of the South China Sea or near the Mekong River. When the F-4s dropped fuel tanks, they were dropping materials that could be repurposed.
F-4 Phantoms carried three external fuel tanks, a large 600-gallon tank in the center under the fuselage, along with two 370-gallon tanks under its wings. This means tens of thousands of drop tanks were potentially dropped into Vietnam’s jungles and farmlands throughout the war.
While dropping empty aluminum from thousands of feet in the air would likely cause a lot of damage to them, enough survived to where Vietnam’s population was able to upcycle them for a new purpose: river canoes.
Today, visitors to Vietnam’s rural areas along the rivers can see potentially dozens of repurposed Air Force drop tanks being used as canoes by the locals. Many are cut in half, others have been refitted to look more like canoes, carry an onboard motor, or hold fish and other supplies.
Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book “The Right Stuff” documented the United States’ postwar love affair with high-speed, high-powered aircraft, rocketry, and the test pilots who flew them. Wolfe used an interesting term to describe how military personnel and veterans speak English, “Army Creole.”
Army Creole, according to Wolfe, was a “language in which there were about ten nouns, five verbs, and one adjective.” In the book, the word “f*ck” is used for all of these.
The original Army Creole as described by Wolfe was a manner of speech similar to actual creole. The term now refers to the military-veteran propensity toward including swear words as intensifiers and the sometimes overwhelming use of acronyms.
Accoring to Wolfe, no one was more proficient in Army Creole than Mercury 7 astronaut Deke Slayton, who made people cringe whenever he got near a microphone, for fear he was “going to Army Creole the nationwide TV and scorch the brains of half the people of the U.S.A.”
The unique name given to the dialect is not to be confused with Seaspeak, the official, universal language of mariners the world over. Developed in 1983, shipping experts and linguists devised a communication system, defining the rules for speaking on the ship’s radio.
In 1988, the International Maritime Organization made seaspeak official.
On the morning of July 4, 1989, alarm bells blared at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, home of the US Air Force’s 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Within minutes, a pair of armed F-15 Eagles, manned by Capts. J.D. Martin and Bill “Turf” Murphy, were launched on a scramble order. Their mission was to intercept what appeared to be a lone fighter making a beeline from Soviet-controlled airspace into Western Europe.
Though the Cold War’s end was seemingly not too far away, tensions still ran high between the two sides of the Iron Curtain, and any incursion by an unidentified aircraft would need to be responded to swiftly.
As JD and Turf were vectored in on the aircraft, now identified as a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger supersonic fighter, ground controllers notified them that all attempts to contact the inbound jet had failed and the intentions of its pilot were unknown and potentially hostile.
When they got close the the Flogger, the two Eagles were primed and ready to shoot down their silent bogey if it didn’t respond and carried on its flight path. But when the two F-15 pilots closed in on the aircraft to positively identify it, they noticed that the pylons underneath the Flogger — used to mount missiles and bombs — were empty.
By then, the Flogger was firmly in Dutch airspace, casually flying onward at around 400 mph at an altitude of 39,000 ft.
What JD and Turf saw next would shock them — the Flogger’s canopy had been blown off and there was no pilot to be found inside the cockpit. In essence, the Soviet fighter was flying itself, likely through its autopilot system.
After contacting ground control with this new development, the two Eagle pilots were given approval to shoot down the wayward MiG over the North Sea, lest it suddenly crash into a populated area. Unaware of how long the pilotless MiG had been flying, and battling poor weather which could have sent debris shooting down the MiG into nearby towns, JD and Turf opted to let the jet run out of fuel and crash into the English Channel.
Instead, the aircraft motored along into Belgium, finally arcing into a farm when the last of its fuel reserves were depleted. Tragically, the MiG struck a farmhouse, killing a 19-year-old. Authorities raced to the site of the crash to begin their investigation into what happened, while the two F-15s returned to base. French Air Force Mirage fighters were also armed and ready to scramble should the MiG have strayed into French airspace.
Details of what led to the loss of the Flogger began to emerge.
As it turns out, the Soviet fighter had originated from Bagicz Airbase — a short distance away from Kolobrzeg, Poland — on what was supposed to be a regular training mission. The pilot, Col. Nikolai Skuridin, ejected less than a minute into his flight during takeoff when instruments in the cockpit notified him that he had drastically lost engine power. At an altitude of around 500 ft, it would be dangerous and almost certainly fatal if Skuridin stayed with his stricken fighter, trying to recover it with its only engine dead. The colonel bailed out with a sense of urgency, assuming the end was near.
But as he drifted back down to Earth, instead of seeing his fighter plummet to its demise, it righted itself and resumed climbing, its engine apparently revived.
The ensuing debacle proved to be thoroughly embarrassingfor the Soviet Union, which was forced to offer restitution to Belgium and the family of the deceased teenager. By the end of the MiG’s flight, it had flown over 625 miles by itself until it ran out of fuel and crashed.