Articles

7 first-world problems only Post-9/11 troops will understand

Troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere face plenty of hardships, from the threat of enemy fire to spending time far away from their loved ones.


While these can be serious problems for troops in harm’s way, there are also some other “first-world problems” that some of today’s military members are dealing with that their forefathers didn’t have time for. The keyword here is “some.”

Plenty of Post-9/11 troops have it rough on deployment and serve under extremely spartan conditions, while others live on sprawling bases with plenty of amenities. In Iraq and Afghanistan, experiences may vary. Your grandfather wasn’t complaining about the WiFi going down before he stormed the beach at Guadalcanal. Just sayin’.

If you find yourself complaining about the things below while overseas, you should stop, read the book “With the Old Breed,” then hang your head in shame. [Editor’s note: If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is lighthearted ribbing, all in good fun, and not to be taken too seriously.]

1. “The port-a-johns are too far away from my tent.”

Most forward operating bases (FOBs) in Iraq and Afghanistan are outfitted with plenty of general-purpose tents, Hesco barriers, and portable toilets. Unlike your old man having to dig a slit trench in Vietnam, you just have to walk to an outhouse that gets cleaned out every day.

The struggle is real.

2. “The guy at the DFAC won’t give me seconds.”

In the Post-9/11 era of war-fighting, the U.S. tried to bring all the creature comforts of home to Iraq and Afghanistan, including your base chow hall. Except this one is not just any chow hall. It’s a dining facility with a salad bar, and steak and lobster on Fridays.

World War II veterans want to throw their C-rations at your face right now.

3. “The bazaar doesn’t have the latest season of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ that I wanted.”

Plenty of FOBs have bazaars where locals sell everything from cheap TVs, rugs, and bootleg DVDs. Locals come on base and sell their wares and troops happily oblige, but not all is well in Afghan-land. You just got finished watching the last of your “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes and if the shopkeeper doesn’t have the latest, you’re going to be forced to watch some movie you’ve already watched ten times this deployment.

What? You watched a movie ten times this deployment? That old-timer at the VFW who served in Korea worried about more important things, like not freezing. How’s the A/C in your tent working, by the way?

4. “The internet is down.”

You are thousands of miles away from home — singularly focused on delivering 5.56 mm of freedom to the enemies of the United States — and working hard to serve that end, and, OH GOD, THE INTERNET IS DOWN.

While you are calling the S-6 shop to whine about not being able to access your Facebook account to instantly message your girlfriend, remember to think about your grandfather handwriting letters back home that would be delivered four months later.

5. “Is that incoming? No, that’s outgoing. That’s gotta be outgoing.”

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve actually said this one. When you’re sitting inside your nice tent watching a riveting episode of “The O.C.” you definitely don’t want to be interrupted. On heavily-protected FOBs, big attacks rarely happen, since the bad guys mostly harass with indirect fire from rockets and mortars. It’s usually ineffective.

The boys of Easy Co. don’t really relate.

6. “Ugh. We have to go sit in the bunker until IDF stops.”

When you finally figure out that yes, it is in fact, incoming. Those ineffective rockets need to be kept ineffective, so off to the concrete bunker you go. Yes, that’s right, you have a bunker made of concrete that some Seabee put there with a crane.

That’s almost the same as the grunts in Vietnam who built bunkers entirely with wood and thousands of sandbags, filled with their hands and e-tools. Almost.

7. “I’ve got blisters on my thumb from playing Playstation so much.”

Ok, fine. Pass me the damn controller. I want to learn what fighting in World War II was like by playing “Brothers in Arms.”

SEE ALSO: 7 first-world problems only sailors will understand

Articles

The 4 biggest stories around the military right now (July 27 edition)

Attention to orders: It’s Monday. Here’s what you need to know to get the week started right:


 

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes of the week

The weekly, funny military memes rundown! Now with more Chris Farley!


1. Seriously, she’s been an E4 for decades. You’re not getting her (via The Salty Soldier).

Grandma’s gotta skate.

2. Air power for the win (via Pop Smoke).

SEE ALSO: Here’s who’d win if an Airborne brigade fought a MEU

3. Remember to drink lots of water with it and be sure to take a knee (via Devil Dog Nation).

If you’re really sick, you may need Ibuprofen as well.

4. When you finally realize you’ll never escape the barracks, not really (via Coast Guard Memes).

5. Why are all these people arriving at the same time as me? Don’t they know I have formation!?

(via Air Force Memes Humor)

Work faster, gate guards!

6. Seriously, should have joined the Air Force (via The Salty Soldier).

7. Ponchos and poncho liners have more uses than duct tape (via The Salty Soldier).

Wet weather and cold weather, shower curtain and towel, tent cover and blanket ….

8. Having duty is no reason to let your Tinder game suffer.

(via Sh-t my LPO says).

You still need to find someone to help you get out of the barracks.

9. Very close, sir (via Sh-t my LPO says).

10. It’s required that you keep the muzzle out of the water…

(via Do you even Marine, bro?).

… it’s recommended that you keep the water out of your nostrils as well.

11. Should’ve kept track of them a little better (via Sh-t my LPO says).

Lose them one more time and they’re getting an anchor attached.

12. From back when mustache proficiency and fighting proficiency went hand-in-hand:

(via Air Force Nation)

If he had grown a full beard, the Soviet Union would have fallen 5 years earlier.

13. The Marine Corps has a new retention strategy (via Military Memes).

It’s funny because it’s true.

Articles

8 troops who kept fighting after they were wounded

To observe Purple Heart Day, WATM is celebrating some of the heroes we’ve featured on the site who kept fighting after they were wounded:


1. Air Force combat controller Robert Gutierrez thought he would die within three minutes after being shot through the lung in Afghanistan, but he kept calling in air strikes, saving his element and earning himself the Air Force Cross.

More: This combat controller kept taking it to the enemy after he was shot in the chest

Photo: US Air Force

2. Joe Pinder left professional baseball to volunteer for the Army in World War II. He was wounded almost immediately after leaving his boat on D-Day, but refused medical aid and searched through the surf and chaos to find missing radio equipment. He finished finding and assembling the missing equipment right before he was killed.

More: Meet the 4 heroes who earned Medals of Honor for heroism on D-Day

3. Marine Cpl. Brady Gustafson kept directing heavy fire on insurgents despite an RPG partially amputating his leg.

Now check this out: 8 post-9/11 heroes who should have received the Medal of Honor — but didn’t

Photo: US Marine Corps Pfc. Michael T. Gams

4. Jack Lummus shrugged off wounds from two grenades to take out three hidden Japanese positions in World War II.

More: 13 professional baseball players who became war heroes

5. Nine Green Berets and Afghan Commandos were seriously wounded but kept fighting in the Battle of Shok Valley, including Staff Sgt. Daniel Behr who had his leg nearly amputated by enemy fire at the start of the conflict but stayed in the fight for another 6 hours.

More: This single Afghan battle resulted in 10 Silver Stars and an Air Force Cross

Photo: US Army Sergeant David N. Gunn

6. Five of the medics on this list continued aiding other wounded after they were injured themselves, some continuing to render medical attention until they died of their own wounds.

More: 10 incredible Post-9/11 combat medics who risked their lives to save others

7. The possible first casualty on D-Day was an airborne lieutenant who was mortally wounded before jumping into Normandy, meaning he could have stayed on the plane and sought medical attention. He led his paratroopers out the door anyway.

More: 7 crazy facts you didn’t know about the D-Day invasion

American paratroopers wait to depart their aircraftPhoto: Wiki Commons

8. 2nd Lt. Daniel Inouye was shot just before he took out two German machine gun nests with grenades and a Thompson submachine gun. Then, after his arm was nearly severed by an enemy grenade, he took out a third machine gun nest.

Now: This World War II hero was shot multiple times and still managed to destroy three machine gun nests

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 of the most irritating troops to have in your squad

In a perfect world, you’d have a squad of hardcore and dedicated troops to your left and your right who you can count on to always have your six. For the most part, this is true. Your standard squad within the military is a ragtag group of misfits who are ready to kick ass and take names.

But there’s always that one guy who’s just there. Everyone else is close knit but, for whatever reason, while everyone begrudgingly accepts that guy in an official capacity as technically one of them, you’re unlikely to see anyone invite that person out for a beer on the weekends.

Now, nobody’s perfect. And someone in your squad might exhibit a couple of the following traits and still be cool with everyone. But we can all admit that there are some troops who’ve stepped over the line into being plain annoying — and they typically fall under one or more of the categories:


“Oh, wow! Your feet are hurting on this ruck march? No way! You’re literally the only person that that has ever happened to!”

(U.S. Army photos by Pvt. Adeline Witherspoon)

The whiner

Give this person a brick of solid gold and they’ll complain that it’s too heavy. They never see the good in any situation and they’re constantly reminding everyone that they’re out of their comfort zone.

Even just yelling at this person to stop whining starts getting on peoples’ nerves after a while.

“Stop trying to get ahead in your career! You’re making us all look bad!”

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth, 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office)

The Captain America

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be the best at any given thing. PT standards are meant to be exceeded and rule-abiding troops are rarely going to bring the hammer down on the rest of you. But there’s something about this person that just makes everyone else just look bad.

You may not be doing anything wrong, but you’re hot garbage compared to this guy. The “Captain America” of your squad is the type of person that the chain of command points to and says, “why can’t you guys be more like him/her?”

“As seen in their natural habitat, this brown-noser has gone a step too far.”

(U.S. Navy photo by Midshipman 3rd Class Dominic Montez)

The brown-noser

While Captain America is great and the command knows it, the brown-noser is ate-the-f*ck-up and still tries to make everyone think they’re on Cap’s level.

Given even the most minor of accomplishments, this dude is trying to show off to the world. Any mistake and they’re trying to brush it under the rug or shovel it onto someone else.

“Guys?”

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael Giles)

The loner

This guy lives by the “Army of One” mentality. It’s one thing for a troop to be quiet and shy around the rest of the squad, but this guy makes it a point to show he’s above hanging out with you lot.

Paradoxically, this guy is also the one person trying to make everyone look at him when he does something good and expects a ticker-tape parade in his honor.

“Can you schedule that wisdom tooth removal for the 17th? We’re going to the field soon.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Teresa J. Cleveland)

The escape artist

There’s not a single soul in the U.S. military that enjoys the pointless details that just keep everyone under the eye of the first sergeant until close-of-business formation. No one’s special and you can’t wiggle out of it — except this guy somehow.

They always have an ace up their sleeve. One day it’s dental, another it’s finance, and the next it’s some nondescript family emergency. For some reason, these things only manage to crop up when there’s a detail coming up. Their goldfish never needs to go to the vet when fun stuff is going down…

“As my first sergeant once said; You can either be smart or strong in this Army. The choice is yours.”

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)

The “can’t get right”

Bless this troop’s heart. They aren’t inherently a bad troop, they’re just… stupid.

They’ll give their all and have the best of intentions, but they’re just not cut out for the intense lifestyle of the military. They wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t dead weight that everyone else needs to carry.

“Ka-caw!”

The Blue Falcon

F*ck this guy. The rest of the troops on this list can be forgiven if they’re genuinely pleasant to be around or can occasionally bring the funny. These f**kers have no remorse about intentionally screwing over their battle buddies and will throw anyone under the bus if it means personal gain.

Anyone can be accepted into the team if they’re willing to try to be a team player — except these f*cks.

Humor

8 ways enlisted people could get mistaken for officers

How is it possible that two members of the same military service branch are so different? Like so many other behavioral traits, it all has to do with upbringing.


Enlisted troops go straight from the recruiter’s office and into active service while officers study to get a bachelor’s degree, go through officer leadership training, and learn a service-specific career field.

If you don’t know the ranks structure and two military people look the same age, check out their ribbon racks.

Neither is better than the other, but there are a few old tropes that make each easy to identify — even out of uniform. But sometimes, the lines start to blur…

1. Having gray hair in civilian attire

Every so often a Marine will have the blessing (and the curse) of naturally gray hair. Sometimes the cause is hereditary, other times it’s because they’re the only one with common sense. When I was in the Corps, one platoon would send a particular gray-haired Marine to the Postal Exchange because nobody would stop this distinguished-looking man from cutting to the front of the line. In the case of acquiring energy drinks and tobacco before a month-long field operation, the ends justify the means.

For example, Tech. Sgt. Pogge here is only 28.

2. Saying things like ‘outstanding’ instead of ‘great work’

Officers are notorious for saying this unironically. It’s succinct and professional, but if used enough, it will spread faster than that “cold” everyone got before pre-deployment leave.

3. Never helping when you see others struggle

If you ever see an officer lend a hand in loading or unloading gear, report them to the nearest law enforcement agency because that person is a spy.

To be fair, this is everyone. Ever.

4. Walking around with a green log book and clipboard

If you want to be left alone, these two items will render you invisible. Troops will avoid you because it’s safer to assume you’re doing something important than to find out for certain. Even senior enlisted will about-face if the words ‘staff duty’ are overheard in conversation.

5. Getting lost during land navigation

Land navigation is an important skill to master because a GPS will not always work in-country. The sheer weight of a lieutenant’s butter bar will offset the azimuth of even the strongest compass.

(via Pop Smoke)

6. Marrying for love, not BAH

Barracks life can become so unbearable that you’ll be willing to sign another contract. Some Marines will roll the dice with just about anyone to escape the bullsh*t on base. Officers have had time to nurture their relationships prior to their service, before the green weenie tries to break them up.

7. When you get in trouble, the command has your back

Rank has its privileges and officers are often given the benefit of the doubt or a slap on the wrist. If you receive the same courtesy, you’re in danger of promotion.

8. Thinking your opinion matters

Freedom of speech is for civilians.

Instructions for opinions.

Articles

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Lockheed Martin announced the F-35 program in 2001. Since then, hundreds of billions of dollars and 15 years of testing have brought the program to where it is today — on the verge of becoming the world’s premier fighter/bomber and the future of the US Air Force, Marines, and Navy.


But while the idea of launching a single, advanced, stealthy plane for all three service branches seemed good on paper, and ultimately won approval from US military planners at the highest level, it was never the only option.

Also read: The Pentagon wants a half-billion more dollars for the F-35

Former US Navy Commander and aviator Chris Harmer, also a senior naval analyst for the Middle East Security Project at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider that the F-35 only really holds a single advantage over the Cold War-era legacy aircraft it’s set to replace — stealth.

“The F-35 is very capable in a very specific way. The only thing it does that legacy can’t do is stealth,” said Harmer.

Lockheed Martin photo

Indeed the F-35’s low observability and integrated stealth design are central to the plane’s mission and tactics. Throughout its development, the F-35 notoriously lost to older legacy fighters in up-close dogfights. Combat-aviation expert Justin Bronk told Business Insider flat-out that the F-35 could “never in a million years” win a dogfight with an advanced Russian or British plane.

However, defense officials never planned for the F-35 to revolutionize dogfighting, but rather aerial combat as a whole. The F-35, nearly impossible for enemy aircraft to spot, can simply shoot down foes from long distance before they’re ever close enough to really dogfight.

But according to Harmer, who has spent much of his life around carrier-based aircraft, the F-35’s advantages begin and end with stealth. Harmer suggests that instead of building the F-35, the US simply should have updated existing aircraft, like the F-15, F-16, and F-18.

These platforms — proven, legacy aircraft — could easily be retrofit with the advanced avionics and helmet for targeting that set the F-35 apart.

An air-to-air view of two F-15 Eagle aircraft armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. | McDonnell Douglas photo

“For a fraction of the cost for F-35 development, we could have updated legacy aircraft and gotten a significant portion of the F-35 capabilities.” said Harmer. The F-18 for example, has already undergone extensive reworkings, and the F-18 Super Hornet, which is 25% larger than the original F-18, has a smaller radar cross section than its predecessor and is one of the US’s cheaper planes to buy and operate.

However, an F-15, the Air Force’s best air-dominance fighter, with fifth-generation avionics and targeting capability, still lacks the integrated stealth design of an F-35. Stealth must be worked into the geometry of the plane and simply won’t do as an afterthought. In today’s contested battle spaces, a legacy fighter, no matter how you update it, still lights up brightly and clearly on an enemy radar and is therefore less survivable to the pilots — something US military planners have refused to accept.

“The only advantage of the F-35 is to go into highly contested airspace,” said Harmer, adding that the US has “literally never done that.” Additionally, the US already has another fifth-generation aircraft with an even better stealth in its inventory — the F-22. In fact, when the US does discuss operations in the world’s most contested airspaces, it’s the F-22 they talk about sending.

The US already has a super-stealthy fighter — the F-22. | US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

“There are other, less expensive ways to address highly contested airspace — cruise missiles, standoff weapons, radar jamming,” Harmer added.

But the F-35 ship has sailed. Despite a very troublesome development, the program is now at or very near readiness with all three branches.

“As a practical matter, the F-35 is a done deal; we’ve incurred the ‘sunk cost’ of the R D, and neither the USAF or USMC has any intentions of buying any more legacy airframes.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what Mattis and his would-be assassin talked about

On a summer morning in a desolate corner of Iraq’s western desert, Jim Mattis learned he’d narrowly evaded an assassination attempt.


A Sunni Arab man had been caught planting a bomb on a road shortly before Mattis and his small team of Marines passed by. Told the captured insurgent spoke English, Mattis decided to talk to him.

After Mattis offered a cigarette and coffee, the man said he tried to kill the general and his fellow Marines because he resented the foreigner soldiers in his land. Mattis said he understood the sentiment but assured the insurgent he was headed for Abu Ghraib, the infamous U.S.-run prison. What happened next explains the point of the story.

“General,” the man asked Mattis, “if I am a model prisoner, do you think someday I could emigrate to America?”

In Mattis’ telling, this insurgent’s question showed he felt “the power of America’s inspiration.” It was a reminder of the value of national unity.

Mattis, now the Pentagon boss and perhaps the most admired member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, is a storyteller. And at no time do the tales flow more easily than when he’s among the breed he identifies with most closely — the men and women of the military.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command, speaks to Marines with Marine Wing Support Group 27, May 6. Mattis explained how things in Iraq have gotten better since the first time Marines came to Iraq. (Photo from U.S. Marine Corps)

The anecdote about the Iraqi insurgent, and other stories he recounted during a series of troop visits shortly before Christmas, are told with purpose.

“I bring this up to you, my fine young sailors, because I want you to remember that on our worst day we’re still the best going, and we’re counting on you to take us to the next level,” he said. “We’ve never been satisfied with where America’s at. We’re always prone to looking at the bad things, the things that aren’t working right. That’s good. It’s healthy, so long as we then roll up our sleeves and work together, together, together, to make it better.”

The stories tend to be snippets of Mattis’ personal history, including moments he believes illustrate the deeper meaning of military service.

On a trip last month to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and three domestic military installations, Mattis revealed himself in ways rarely seen in Washington, where he has studiously maintained a low public profile. With no news media in attendance except one Associated Press reporter, Mattis made clear during his troop visits that he had not come to lecture or to trade on his status as a retired four-star general.

“Let’s just shoot the breeze for a few minutes,” he said at one point.

Another time he opened with, “My name is Mattis, and I work at the Department of Defense.”

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis answers questions from the press during a flight to South Korea., Feb. 1, 2017. (US Army photo by Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Mattis used stories to emphasize that today’s uncertain world means every military member needs to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

He recalled the words of a Marine sergeant major when Mattis was just two years into his career:

“Every week in the fleet Marine force is your last week of peace,” the sergeant major said. “If you don’t go into every week thinking like this, you’re going to have a sick feeling in the bottom of your stomach when your NCOs (non-commissioned officers) knock on your door and say, ‘Get up. Get your gear on. We’re leaving.'”

By leaving, Mattis meant departing for war.

A recurring Mattis theme is that the military operates in a fundamentally unpredictable world. He recalled how he was hiking with his Marines in the Sierra Nevadas in August 1990 when he got word to report with his men to the nearest civilian airport. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait, and the Marines were needed to hold the line in Saudi Arabia.

Also Read: Why Secretary Mattis’ press briefings are so intense

In an exchange with Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Mattis recalled sitting in the back of a room at the Pentagon in June 2001 while senior political appointees of the new George W. Bush administration fired questions at a military briefer about where they should expect to see the most worrisome security threats. At one point, Mattis said, the briefer said confidently that amid all the uncertainty, the one place the U.S. definitely would not be fighting was Afghanistan.

“Five and a half months later, I was shivering in Afghanistan,” Mattis said, referring to his role as commander of Task Force 58, a special group that landed in southern Afghanistan aboard helicopters flown from Navy ships in the Arabian Sea to attack the Taliban in and around Kandahar.

Regardless how much they resonate with his young audience, Mattis’ stories illustrate how he sees his military experience as a way to connect with troops who often feel distant from their political leaders. They also are a reminder Mattis’ boss is one of the most politically divisive figures in recent history.

President Donald J. Trump, right, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (center) and Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (DoD Photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

Speaking to troops and family members at an outdoor movie theater at Guantanamo, Mattis pointed directly to the political battles.

“I’m so happy to be in Guantanamo that I could cry right now, to be out of Washington,” he said, adding jokingly that he wouldn’t mind spending the rest of his tenure away from the capital. He said as soon as he gets back in the company of uniformed troops, he is reminded of why the military can set a standard for civility.

“Our country needs you,” he said, and not just because of the military’s firepower. “It’s also the example you set for the country at a time it needs good role models; it needs to look at an organization that doesn’t care what gender you are, it doesn’t care what religion you are, it doesn’t care what ethnic group you are. It’s an organization that can work together.”

Articles

This is what a modern torpedo does to a ship

If you have seen films from “Operation Pacific” to “Run Silent, Run Deep,” the portrayals of torpedo attacks have often involved a spread of torpedoes, hoping to get at least one hit to cripple an enemy vessel allowing the sub to close in and finish it off.


Technicians perform maintenance on a Mark 48 advanced capabilities torpedo at Keyport, Washington in 1982. (U.S. Navy photo)

For American submariners, though, their Mark 14 torpedoes were one technical failure after another.

First, they ran too deep. Then there was that magnetic exploder (which premature all too often), and then, the firing pins were a hot mess.

The problems got fixed…in September, 1943. To paraphrase what John Wayne’s Duke Gifford said in Operation Pacific, “Now, we had torpedoes.”

A torpedo hits a Mk 48 ADCAP during a SINKEX. (Youtube screenshot)

Today, our subs use the Mark 48. Unlike the Mark 14, the Mark 48 is a guided torpedo that can adjust its course to pursue a target using active and passive sonar.

The Mark 48 has reinstated that magnetic exploder in a “proximity fuse” approach (yeah, we’ll see how it does outside a test range), and it is also very capable of handling submarines and surface ships.

This is what the torpedo did to the bow of the Perry-class frigate. (Youtube screenshot)

With a top speed of at least 55 knots, the Mark 48 can catch just about any vessel if fired from a close enough range.

So, what can the torpedo do? Watch the video below to find out. The target, in this case, is an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate – a 4,200 ton warship. By comparison, a Yugumo-class destroyer, a typical Japanese destroyer of the World War II era, displaced about 2,500 tons.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A Purple Heart was donated — can you help find its owner?

Sometimes things are donated because they’ve lost their value. Sometimes, they’re donated because their value isn’t understood.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Historic Iwo Jima footage shows individual Marines amid the larger battle

When most Americans think of the World War II battle for Iwo Jima – if they think of it at all, 75 years later – they think of one image: Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest point.


That moment, captured in black and white by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and as a color film by Marine Sergeant William Genaust, is powerful, embodying the spirit of the Marine Corps.

But these pictures are far from the only images of the bloodiest fight in the Marines’ history. A larger library of film, and the men captured on them, is similarly emotionally affecting. It can even bring Americans alive today closer to a war that ended in the middle of the last century.

Take for instance, just one scene: Two Marines kneel with a dog before a grave marker. It is in the final frames of a film documenting the dedication of one of the three cemeteries on the island. Those two Marines are among hundreds present to remember the more than 6,000 Americans killed on the island in over a month of fighting. The sequence is intentionally framed by the cinematographer, who was clearly looking for the right image to end the roll of film in his camera.

I came across this film clip in my work as a curator of a collection of motion picture films shot by Marine Corps photographers from World War II through the 1970s. In a partnership between the History Division of the Marine Corps and the University of South Carolina, where I work, we are digitizing these films, seeking to provide direct public access to the video and expand historical understanding of the Marine Corps’ role in society.

Over the past two years of scanning, I have come to realize that our work also enables a more powerful relationship with the past by fostering individual connections with videos, something that the digitizing of the large quantity of footage makes possible.

The campaign within the battle

Iwo Jima, an island in the western Pacific less than 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, was considered a key potential stepping stone toward an invasion of Japan itself.

During the battle to take the island from the Japanese, more than 70,000 Marines and attached Army and Navy personnel set foot on Iwo Jima. That included combat soldiers, but also medical corpsmen, chaplains, service and supply soldiers and others. More than 6,800 Americans were killed on the island and on ships and landing craft aiding in the attack; more than 19,200 were wounded.

More than 50 Marine combat cameramen operated across the eight square miles of Iwo Jima during the battle, which stretched from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945. Many shot still images, but at least 26 shot motion pictures. Three of these Marine cinematographers were killed in action.

Even before the battle began, Marine Corps leaders knew they wanted a comprehensive visual account of the battle. Beyond a historical record, combat photography from Iwo Jima would assist in planning and training for the invasion of the Japanese main islands. Some Marine cameramen were assigned to the front lines of individual units, and others to specific activities, like engineering and medical operations.

Most of the cameramen on Iwo Jima used 100-foot film reels that could capture about two and a half minutes of film. Sgt. Genaust, who shot the color sequence atop Suribachi, shot at least 25 reels – just over an hour of film – before he was killed, roughly halfway through the campaign.

Other cameramen who survived the entire battle produced significantly more. Sgt. Francis Cockrell was assigned to document the work of the 5th Division’s medical activities. Shooting at least 89 reels, he probably produced almost four hours of film.

Sgt. Louis L. Louft fought with the 13th Marines, an artillery regiment; his more than 100 film reels likely resulted in more than four hours of content. Landing on the beach with engineers of the 4th Division on Feb. 25, 1945, Pfc. Angelo S. Abramo compiled over three hours of material in the month of fighting he witnessed.

Even taking a conservative average of an hour of film from each of the 26 combat cameramen, that suggests there was at least 24 hours of unique film from the battle. Many surviving elements of this record are now part of the film library of the Marine Corps History Division, which we’re working with. The remainder are cataloged by the National Archives and Records Administration.

While military historians visiting the History Division in the past have used this large library, the bulk of its films have not been readily available to the public, something that mass digitization is finally making possible.

For many decades, the visual records made by Marines have been seen by the public only piecemeal, often with selected portions used as mere stock footage in films, documentaries and news programs, chosen because a shot has action, not because of the historical context of the imagery.

Even when they are used responsibly by documentary filmmakers, the editing and selection of scenes imposes the filmmaker’s interpretation on the images. As a historian and archivist, though, I believe it is important for people to directly engage with historical sources of all types, including the films from Iwo Jima.

The ‘highest and purest’ form

After the battle, the Americans buried their dead in temporary cemeteries, awaiting transportation back to the U.S. The film segment just before the graveside scene shows a service honoring the Americans of all backgrounds who had bled and died together.

At that service, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, the Marines’ first-ever Jewish chaplain, gave a eulogy that has become one of the Marine Corps’ most treasured texts. Noting the diversity of the dead, Gittelsohn said, “Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor … together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color.”

Gittelsohn called their collective sacrifice “the highest and purest democracy.”

Connecting to the present

After the dedication ceremonies, Marines walked the 5th Division cemetery, looking for familiar names. The photographers were there, and one recorded the footage of the two Marines – names not known – and the dog, at a grave with only the number 322 as a visible marking.

The image stood out. The two Marines looking directly at the camera seemed to reach across the decades to compel a response. Researchers at the History Division identified the Marine beneath marker 322 as Pfc. Ernest Langbeen from Chicago. It felt appropriate and important to add his name to the online description for that film, so I did.

I then located members of the Langbeen family, and told them that this part of their family’s history existed in the History Division’s collections and was now preserved and available online after more than seven decades.

Speaking with the family, I learned more about the Marine in grave 322. One of the two Marines in the picture may well be his best friend from before the war, a friend who joined the Corps with him. They asked to serve together and were assigned to the same unit, the 13th Regiment.

Now, family members who never knew this Marine have a new connection to their history and the country’s history. More connections will come for others. The digital archive we’re building will make it easier for researchers and the public at large to explore the military and personal history in each frame of every film.

The visual library of more than 80 online videos from Iwo Jima carries in it countless Pfc. Langbeens, ordinary Americans whose lives were disrupted by a global war. Each film holds traces of lives cut short or otherwise irrevocably altered.

The films are a reminder that, 75 years after World War II, all Americans remain tied to Iwo Jima, as well as battlegrounds across the world like Monte Cassino, Peleliu, Bataan and Colleville-sur-mer. Americans may find their relatives in this footage, or they may not. But what they will find is evidence of the sacrifices made by those fighting on their behalf, sacrifices that connect each and every American to the battle of Iwo Jima.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

Articles

Congress passes Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act

Almost 42 years after the Vietnam War officially ended, veterans of that unpopular campaign in Southeast Asia will finally get some official recognition.


Thanks to the efforts of Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and his colleague, Indiana Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly, Congress recently passed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, and it is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump soon.

On March 26, Toomey hosted a conference call with reporters to discuss his legislation.

Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner was awarded a Silver Star for his service as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

The Toomey-Donnelly bill also designates March 29 as “National Vietnam War Veterans Day.” March 29 marks the anniversary of the day that combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam.

The Senate approved the bipartisan bill Feb. 8, and it was approved by the House on March 21. It’s now been on President Trump’s desk since March 23 awaiting his signature.

“In many cases, Vietnam veterans did not receive the warm welcome they deserved when they came home,” Toomey said. “It’s time we put a heartfelt thank you to Vietnam veterans into law.”

He added that all Americans should be grateful to those who served in Vietnam.

Related: How to honor Vietnam War Veterans

Toomey was joined on the call with Harold Redding, a Vietnam veteran from York who came up with the idea for the legislation, and John Biedrzycki, a Vietnam veteran of McKees Rocks and past national commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Redding said he worked on getting the legislation passed for 27 months. He thanked Toomey for his efforts in seeing it through.

“I can’t tell you what this means to me and all Vietnam veterans,” Redding said.

Biedrzycki said the legislation was long overdue.

“Every day is Veterans Day,” he noted.

Toomey said he would like to see more public recognition for Vietnam veterans, such as at civic events. Those veterans should be emphasized in our classroom as well, he believes.

“Teachers should teach about the Vietnam War,” the senator explained. “These were difficult times in our history.”

In a news release issued by Toomey’s office after the Senate approved the measure, Donnelly said, “This bipartisan bill would help our country honor this generation of veterans who taught us about love of country and service and who deserve to be honored for their selflessness and sacrifice.”

Here’s what other veterans groups had to say about the legislation:

— Steven Ryersbach, past state Commander/AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania: “It’s outstanding that Sen. Toomey is working to support and honor our Vietnam vets. Sen. Toomey’s overall work on behalf of veterans is commendable and we thank Sen. Toomey for all his efforts.”

— Tom Haberkorn, president of Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America: ” The Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America supports the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of those who answered our country’s call and served, with honor, in Southeast Asia.”

— Thomas A. Brown., Pennsylvania VFW State Commander: “All Vietnam War veterans deserve high honor and respect that many of them did not get when they returned home from war. Designating March 29 of each year to say ‘welcome home’ and ‘thank you’ to our Vietnam War veterans is a strong signal that America appreciates the service of these special patriots of freedom.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The chemical weapon so deadly even the Nazis couldn’t use it

In World War II, every country was looking for an edge, so it’s pretty amazing that the Nazis found one and then decided against it – and rightly so. Chlorine trifluoride ignites on contact with almost any substance, burns at over 2000°C, and will melt tanks, bunkers, schools, and pretty much anything it comes into contact with.

Some things are better left alone.


It must have been one helluva weapon if even Hitler didn’t use it (Spoiler Alert: It was).

In 1930, German scientists came across a volatile new discovery. Dubbed “Substance N,” the concoction boiled at room temperature and produced a toxic gas. When ignited, this toxic gas also burned at thousands of degrees Celsius. After decomposing, it turned into the slightly-less-dangerous-hydrochloric acid (that was actually more dangerous because it occurred as steam). It was also corrosive and exploded on contact with water. Or carbon, which is everywhere. This stuff set fire to asbestos.

At first glance, it might seem like an ideal weapon of war, one that keeps killing in many, many forms and doesn’t stop. And the Nazis thought so too. For years they tried to produce enough of the material to effectively weaponize it. The stuff ate through everything, and what it didn’t eat through, it burned.

It burns concrete. No joke.

Nazi Germany would have totally used this weapon if they could have produced and stored enough of it to actually convert to weapons. If they could have safely transported those weapons and used them before the chemical violently exploded, burned, or otherwise ate through whatever it was in.

Turns out the only safe way to store it is to seal it in containers made of steel, iron, nickel, or copper after they’ve been treated with fluorine gas. The fluorine protects the other substances from the Chlorine Trifluoride. The stuff is so unstable, Chemist John D. Clark once said the best way to deal with a failure to contain the resulting fire from a chlorine trifluoride storage failure is “a good pair of running shoes.”