These days, the general public knows George Takei for two things: his role as one of the most hilarious people on social media, and his role as Starfleet veteran Hikaru Sulu.
But there’s a lot more to the man. Born in 1937, he grew up at an interesting time for Japanese-Americans.
“When Pearl Harbor was bombed,” Takei said in a recent TED talk, “young Japanese-Americans, like all young Americans,rushed to their draft boardto volunteer to fight for our country.That act of patriotismwas answered with a slap in the face.We were denied service,and categorized as enemy non-alien.”
His grandparents immigrated to the United States from Japan. His mother and father met in Los Angeles, where Takei was born. Now 78, he was four years old on December 7, 1941, when the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and took the U.S. into World War II. 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast were rounded up and put into ten internment camps for the duration of the war. This was by all counts an unlawful imprisonment of American citizens. No one was excluded, including the Japanese-American being imprisoned in the Life photo below.
Takei goes on to describe the Japanese-Americans conscripted from the internment camps and their two-pronged fight in the war – the fight against the enemy and their fight for recognition as proud American citizens.
“…the astounding thing,” Takei says, “is that thousands of young Japanese-American men and womenagain went from behind those barbed-wire fences,put on the same uniform as that of our guards,leaving their families in imprisonment,to fight for this country… They said that they were going to fightnot only to get their families outfrom behind those barbed-wire fences,but because they cherished the very idealof what our government stands for.”
He refers to the U.S. Army’s 442d Regimental Combat Team. Sent to Europe in 1944, the 442d boasted over 9,000 Purple Hearts, 8 Presidential Unit Citations, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, and 21 Medals of Honor. For a unit of just over 3,000 troops, they also had the extremely high casualty rate of 93%. They are best known for their actions against Nazi General Albert Kesselring’s Gothic Line in Italy, which Takei describes in his talk.
“They are my heroesand my father is my hero,who understood democracyand guided me through it.They gave me a legacy,and with that legacy comes a responsibility,and I am dedicatedto making my countryan even better America,to making our governmentan even truer democracy,and because of the heroes that I haveand the struggles that we’ve gone through,I can stand before youas a gay Japanese-American,but even more than that,I am a proud American.”
These days, tattoos are so commonplace in the U.S. military that every branch has its own policy as part of its uniform regulations, but a few years ago that wasn’t the case. The U.S. Navy, however, has a long tradition of tattoos.
Here’s the meaning behind a few of the classics:
1. Fully-Rigged Ships
A tattoo of a fully-rigged ship from the age of sail means the sailor had been around Cape Horn, the rough, stormy waters around the southern tip of South America. A fully-rigged ship is one with three or more masts, square sails fully deployed.
2. Nautical Star
The star is a symbol of a sailor always to be able to find his way home. The nautical star is a five-pointed star in dark and light shades counterchanged to resemble a compass rose.
3. Shellback Turtle
Sailors can wear the Shellback Turtle when they get initiated into King Neptune’s Court after crossing the equator. If you’re unsure what exactly this means, We Are The Mighty has an explainer for you:
The crossed cannons mean a veteran has seen military service as a sailor.
Sailors earn a new swallow tattoo for every 5,000 nautical miles traveled, which is about 5,754 regular miles, roughly the distance between New York City and Tel Aviv. The circumference of the earth is 21,639 nautical miles, just about 4.16 sparrows.
A single anchor means the sailor crossed the Atlantic or has been a member of the merchant marine, a fleet of civilian ships that carries military cargo. In wartime, this fleet is mobilized to carry war materiel, including troops and supplies.
During World War II, the Merchant Marine took a beating with high casualties, entering the European war long before the United States itself. Since the U.S. was delivering war supplies to Britain through Lend-Lease, Nazi u-boats targeted U.S. shipping bound for the UK. The Merchant Marine casualty rate was 3.9 percent, whereas the Marine Corps’, the next highest, was only 2.94 percent.
7. Rope on the Wrist
A knot of rope on a sailors wrist identifies him as a deckhand, someone who maintains the hull, decks, superstructure, mooring, and cargo handling. Deckhands are still common in ocean-going vessels, though they’re far less likely to be maintaining wooden ships.
8. Hula Girl
Hula girls signify the sailor has been to Hawaii.
9. Crossed Anchors
Sailors wearing the crossed anchors on the webbing between their thumb and index finger are identifying themselves as boatswain’s mates, the guys who maintain the deck and take care of smaller boat operations and damage control parties.
10. HOLD and FAST
These words are a charm spelled out on the four front-facing fingers on each hand. Sailors hope it brings them good luck while gripping the rigging. Holding fast means the sailor isn’t going to let the line go, no matter what. Sailors were a superstitious bunch and life on a sailing ship was tough (to say the least). Anything that gave them the edge in saving their own lives was worth doing.
11. Pig and Rooster
The foot tattoos of pigs and roosters were worn by sailors in WWII in the hopes it would keep the sailor from drowning. The Navy shipped these animals in crates at the time. When ships went down, the crates floated, and the animals inside would sometimes be the only survivors
12. Compass Rose
Another good luck charm that allows a sailor to find his way home.
Worn on the soles of a sailor’s feet, these are thought to ward off sharks
14. Dagger through a Rose
This tattoo means the sailor is loyal and willing to fight anything, even something as sweet and beautiful as a rose
Wearing a dragon means the sailor has served in China.
16. Golden Dragon
When a sailor crossed the International Date Line, he earns the right to wear the Golden Dragon tattoo. The International Date Line is the imaginary line of longitude that separates two calendar dates. When someone sails from East to West, they set their clock back one hour for every 15 degrees of longitude they pass. When they pass the date line, they’ve gained a full 24 hours.
Sailors tattooed with harpoons were serving or had served in a whaling or fishing fleet.
18. King Neptune
Another badge of honor earned for crossing the Equator.
19. Palm Tree
The palm tree has two meanings, depending on your navy. Sailors in the Royal Navy during World War II could wear it after sailing on Mediterranean cruises. It can also be worn by U.S. sailors who served in Hawaii.
The early 1970s were a weird time in the U.S. military in terms of the social fabric across the force. As was the case for the American public, the Vietnam War was increasingly unpopular among service members and that feeling had a big impact on morale and caused myriad challenges for military leaders trying to maintain mission focus. And one of the most dramatic examples of this dynamic was the race riot aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) in October of 1972.
A subset of the antiwar movement was a sense among African-Americans that they were being taken advantage of because of their economic status and were used as cannon fodder against the enemy without any consideration for advancing their quality of life in society. This was felt acutely by black service members across all branches of the military.
The seeds of unrest aboard Kitty Hawk were sown the night before the riot happened, which happened to be the ship’s final night in port at Subic Bay, Philippines. The ship’s crew had just received word that they would be headed back to the waters off of Vietnam and not heading home to San Diego as planned. Morale was lower than ever and tempers were ready to flare.
A group of African-American sailors from the crew got into a fight with some other sailors at the enlisted club on base. Once the carrier put to sea, one of the black sailors was called to the investigating officer’s space to answer some questions about the incident. That black sailor showed up with 9 others, all very belligerent. The sailor was informed of his rights under the guidelines of non-judicial punishment. He was told he could make a statement, and he refused. He was allowed to leave.
Mayhem quickly swept across the ship, mostly centered on the mess decks. Black sailors began attacking their white shipmates without warning. The Marine detachment was called into action to try and put down the violence. One Marine started to draw his weapon, which made things worse.
The carrier’s executive officer, the second in command, was Captain Benjamin Cloud. Believing the fact he was black would be a calming factor, he confronted a large group of rioters in one of the aft mess decks. Cloud ordered the Marines who were there to stand down and leave the area. Once the Marines left he tried to reason with the rioters, asking the leaders among them to join him in his cabin to discuss the nature of their grievances.
At that point the carrier’s commanding officer, Captain Marland Townsend (who was white), approached the discussion and saw the XO had things under control, so he left without letting Cloud know he was there. The lack of coordination between CO and XO proved to be a problem as the day wore on.
The CO, having noted the hostile attitude of the group being addressed by the XO, left the area and instructed the the Marines to establish additional aircraft security watches and patrols on the hangar and flight decks. The Marines were given additional instructions by their CO to break up any group of three or more sailors who might appear on the aircraft decks, and disperse them.
As the XO released the group with whom he had been talking, the major portion of them left the after mess deck by way of the hangar deck. Upon seeing the black sailors come onto the hangar deck, the Marines attempted to disperse them. The Marines at the moment were some 26 strong and, trained in riot control procedures, they formed a line and advanced on the black sailors, containing them to the after end of the hanger deck. Several sailors were arrested and handcuffed while the remainder, arming themselves with aircraft tie-down chains, confronted the Marines.
At this point, the ship’s CO appeared and, moving into the space between the Marines and the black sailors, attempted to control the situation. The XO, upon being informed of this activity, headed there, arriving in time to see a heavy metal bar thrown from the area of the black sailors land near and possibly hit the CO. At this point, the XO was informed that a sailor had been seriously injured below decks, so he departed. The CO, meanwhile, ordered the prisoners released and the Marines to return to their compartment while he attempted to restore order personally.
The XO, after going below, became aware that small groups, ranging from 5 to 25 black sailors, were marauding about the ship attacking white sailors, pulling many from their berths and beating them with their fists and chains, dogging wrenches, metal pipes, fire extinguisher nozzles and broom handles. The ship’s dispensary was busy with doctors and corpsmen working on the injured personnel. Alarmingly, another group of black sailors harassed them and the men waiting to be treated.
The XO was then informed by at least two sources that the CO had been injured or killed on the hangar deck. Not sure of the facts but believing the reports could be true, the XO made an announcement over the ship’s public address system ordering all the ship’s black sailors to the after mess deck and the Marines to the forecastle, thereby putting as much distance between the two groups as possible.
The CO, still on the hangar deck talking to a dwindling number of the black sailors, was surprised and distressed at the XO’s announcement. At this point he was still unaware of the various groups of black sailors assaulting their white shipmates in several different areas of the ship, and he was, obviously, neither dead nor injured.
He headed for the nearest public address system microphone, found the XO there, held a brief conference with the XO, and made an announcement of his own to the effect that the XO had been misinformed and that all hands should return to their normal duties. The announcements by the CO and XO, occurring around midnight, were the first indication to the majority of the crew that there was troubled aboard.
The black sailors seemed to gravitate to the forecastle. Their attitude was extremely hostile. Of the 150 or so who were present, most were armed. The XO followed one group to the forecastle, entered and, as he later stated, he believed that had he not been black he would have been killed on the spot. He addressed the group for about two hours, reluctantly ignoring his status as the XO and instead appealing to the men as one black to another. After some time he acquired control over the group, calmed them down, had them put their weapons at his feet or over the side, and then ordered them to return to their compartments. The meeting broke up about 2:30 in the morning and for all intents and purposes, the violence aboard Kitty Hawk was over.
The ship fulfilled its combat mission schedule that morning and for the remainder of her time on station. During this period Kitty Hawk established a record 177 days on the line in a single deployment. After the incident senior enlisted men and junior officers were placed in each berthing compartment and patrolled the passageways during night-time hours to ensure that similar incidents would not recur.
The 21 men who were charged with offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and who requested civilian counsel, were put ashore at Subic Bay to be later flown to San Diego to meet the ship on its return. The remaining 5 charged were brought to trial aboard the ship during its transit back to the United States.
(The Naval Historical Center contributed to this article.)
A new book by a former SEAL dives into the gritty detail one of the most vicious fights of the 10-year Iraq War and helps fill in the blanks of the story about the legendary sniper who’s heroism propelled his memory into a blockbuster film.
Kevin “Dauber” Lacz is a former Navy SEAL whose career saw time in some of the most violent and contentious battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the 2006 Battle of Ramadi. Lacz’ SEAL Team Three included names that are now familiar (and famous) in American popular culture, including “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, Mike Monsoor, Ryan Job and Mark Lee.
While Lacz was deployed to Ramadi with SEAL Team Three, he kept track of the accomplishments of his unit — not just the Chris Kyles of the war, but the Marines and Soldiers who fought alongside him and the officers who lead them. The book does a lot more than highlight the stories of SEAL door-kickers, but instead describes how the entire U.S. military team battled the enemy in the darkest days of the Iraq insurgency.
“We started doing some cool stuff I wanted to remember,” Lacz says. “There were a ton of heroes from the SEAL teams to the support manual to help us. I felt it was necessary to go into detail because a lot of people don’t hear about the supporting cast. That was the pulse of this narrative.”
Grossman proposes that 2 percent of the male population is able to participate in combat without psychological consequences – that this 2 percent can kill without the psychological trauma usually associated with taking a life. That theory made sense to Lacz, an admitted 2-percenter.
“People talk about Chris [Kyle] and Mike [Monsoor],” says Lacz, “but to talk about a gentleman who came back after being in the reserves, in his late forties, and acting like a 26-year-old lethal badass when the platoon needed him most? It’s stuff like that that makes storytelling unique.”
Chris Kyle asked Lacz to help with his book “American Sniper,” and Lacz was also involved in the film — helping write the screenplay and portraying himself on screen.
One of the things that struck Lacz most was the portrayal of post-traumatic stress in the Clint Eastwood film.
“When I saw the PTSD cues that it had, I felt it was necessary to write about the 2 percent of people that go to war, fight in combat and come back normal,” Lacz remarks. “I wanted to try and get away from the perception that everybody who goes to war and sees combat has PTSD.”
That’s one of the driving themes of “The Last Punisher.” Lacz gives detailed accounts of sniper overwatch missions all over Ramadi. He doesn’t skip the grimy, bloody details, either. He tells the story of how one SEAL teammate had to move a dead enemy, tactically, toward a hospital while wearing his full kit. Lacz describes in detail how pulling the trigger on his Mk 11 – how the shots crumple the enemy’s body after creating the telltale “pink mist” of a good kill.
None of the violence is gratuitous. The consequences of an illegal kill are grave. Lacz talks about the confirmation necessary for a sniper to take a shot, the rules of engagement to kill an insurgent.
“As a professional warrior – a steward of the American flag – you operate under a strict set of guidelines. My rules of engagement were clear. Hostile action or hostile intent were the behaviors for which I could kill an insurgent. The presentation of the artillery round left no doubt. I felt the switch as my breathing deepened and my heart slowed even more. I felt every muscle in my body relax as I tightened the slack in the match-grade trigger of my Mk 11. The muj [mujahideen, or enemy combatant] stood, looking up in my direction and, from behind a pair of binoculars, Chris [Kyle] said, ‘Dump him.'”
“I wanted to give a visceral feeling of war,” Lacz says. “I wanted them to get an intense feeling of what camaraderie is. It’s a simple story, but it’s a powerful story and it shows why the teams were important to me. I want to tell stories like that.”
His stories are powerful and Lacz does not paint himself to be a superhuman operator. He writes about his first run as a new guy SEAL, clearing an entire house in Iraq without a magazine in his weapon.
He gives the same treatment to his teammates. Ralphie misses a shot. The Legend can’t pick a lock. Dauber (Lacz) leaves for a mission without hydrating.
This is war. This is special operations. This is reality.
And while it would be difficult to put ourselves in the mindset of a recruit going through BUD/S (the SEALs’ basic underwater demolition course) we can all relate to being the FNG — no matter the unit.
“I think people are enthralled with Navy SEALs, from their training down to their operations,” says Lacz. “You don’t know what qualities guarantee you’ll make it through training. I wanted to pull all that together and say the best I can, ‘These are the type of people I worked with and these are the qualities, this is why they made it.’ ”
“People want to hear that,” he adds. “We always look towards SEALs in one way or another, and I think giving them a better background and writing it more like a non-fiction novel helped do that.”
Don’t be put off by the human side of Naval Special Warfare portrayed in Lacz’ book. He includes many of the anecdotes loved by veterans and military history buffs. He describes his own anger and desire for revenge against the enemy every time he loses anyone in uniform — whether SEALs or Marines. He (and other SEALs) feel a deep, intense rage seeing Americans in uniform make the ultimate sacrifice.
The muj opened up on the patrol with what sounded like an insane amount of fire. I heard AKs, PKCs, and RPGs going off like Armageddon a few blocks to the southeast.
“Jesus Christ,” Tony said. “Anybody got a line of sight on that contact?” Nobody did. We couldn’t engage.
“Well, sh*t,” Chris said. “What do we do now?”
“I’ve got a flag in my body armor,” I said.
“Well, sh*t yes, let’s run it up. Draw some attention away from that patrol.” Chris got off his gun and crawled over to my position. I took the flag out of my body armor while Chris found a big aluminum pole. He grabbed the flag and tied it to the pole.
“Let’s f*cking hoist it,” he said.
Marc pulled out his little video camera and started filming the historic event while Jeremy joined Chris and me as we hoisted the flag up, flying it high on the rooftop in the middle of Muj country. We all crouched there, beaming at what had to be one of the most America-f*ck-yeah moves in the entire war.
Lacz wrote “The Last Punisher” with the help of his wife Lindsay and journalist and Marine Corps veteran Ethan Rocke. Lacz acknowledges the 10-year gap between the book and his deployments, saying he delayed writing the book to make sure it was as accurate as possible. If he couldn’t remember the details, he didn’t include it in the book.
“Each chapter has a specific theme,” Lacz says. “I think it’s more of a literary work than just a memoir of some guy putting a tape recorder down and just spewing everything he can remember about deployment. That’s what I want people to take away.”
Lacz believes doing this project with his wife was integral to the quality of the work. He believes all warriors should write about their experiences, from SEALs to Rangers to Marines.
“I wanted all veterans to write their stories, especially for their spouses,” he says. “It answers questions for them. The spouse will never know 100% of what they did or what they’ve gone through, but I think it’s important for more people to tell their stories. Lindsay didn’t pry, she just needed to find the details out. She has a better pulse about who I am.”
It’s actually amazing the Galactic Empire managed to control as much of the galaxy as they did. Logistically, they had the funds and the manpower of a giant imperial power but there were serious issues with the Imperial Defense Contractors.
Frankly, the Empire seemed to buy anything and everything.
Like the United States and Russia during the Cold War, the Galactic Empire obviously bought technology and weapon designs with little consideration for anything other than their ongoing effort to have the latest and greatest.
Some are just cumbersome and inefficient, like a moon-sized space station. Others were egregiously flawed from the start, reckless enough to be considered treasonous.
1. The Emperor’s Royal Guards’ Armor
With what armor do you equip the guys who guard the most powerful person in the universe? Bright red robes, of course. Then give them a giant, long, plastic helmet which restricts their neck movement and you’ve got a winner.
It’s a good thing the Emperor moves like a senior citizen walking out of a Golden Corral, because his Royal Guardsmen only have a six inch slit in those helmets for what looks like a 60-degree range of vision. But that hardly matters anyway, because even if they had to defend the Emperor for any reason, they’ve been issued what looks like pikes to fight with in a world full of lightsabers and blaster rifles. Their unit patches should probably just say “cannon fodder.”
2. TIE Fighters
When you need a fleet of superfast fighter spacecraft to defend your giant, lumbering Star Destroyers and planet-sized space stations, what better way to pump out a bunch of placeholders than the TIE Fighter, the galaxy’s most elite floating targets?
With only two chin-mounted cannons, dual ion engines, these pilots are expected to tackle fleets of superior X-Wing and A-Wing fighters head to head, with the only strategy employed in their use being the Empire’s ability to throw an overwhelming number of them at any given time. Also, there is not pilot ejection system.
On top of all that, they come fully equipped with a set of giant walls acting as blinders on either side of the craft, effectively restricting the pilot’s vision of roughly half of the battlespace.
This is another example of the Empire favoring numbers over combat ability. The Empire’s signature shock troops, the average Stormtrooper hasn’t successfully killed anything since the Clone Wars ended.
The only exception was the Snowtroopers at the Battle of Hoth but lets be honest – the Rebel Alliance depended completely on ONE giant ion cannon to protect the entire planet from an invasion.
You might defend the stormtroopers by blaming their rifles but that’s all the more reason to execute whomever procured the rifles and/or negotiated the clone trooper deal. The blasters would be a lot more effective if they didn’t come permanently set to “miss.”
Finally, the white PVC armor does nothing for them either. Why bother wearing bright white armor if it does nothing to protect you from the flaming death bolts the other side is shooting your way. Han Solo does just fine in combat and he’s wearing a vest.
4. AT-ST Walkers
The All Terrain Scout Transport, the two-legged version of The Empire Strikes Back’s famous four-legged snow invaders, are supposed to be an environment-adaptable version of the same. Except whomever convinced the Empire to deploy them on Endor didn’t tell the Imperial Army about the height of the trees being taller than that of the walkers. It doesn’t take a protocol droid to know how to bust into one of those from the treetops.
And if the AT-ST was the right tool for the job on Endor, it would have been able to navigate a series of rolling logs, the armor shouldn’t have crushed like an empty beer can between two trees, and the Empire wouldn’t have been beaten by an army of Care Bears.
5. Speeder Bikes for a Giant Forest World
While we’re on the Battle of Endor, who put it in the Empire’s mind that the ideal ground transport for scouts was a hyper-fast moving, one person bike in a world full of giant primeval trees? These bikes are begging to be wrecked left and right.
The Ewoks could have just set up random strings of rope all over the forest and taken out half these Imperial Scouts. Speeder Bikes on Endor are a safety brief waiting to happen. Even in Return of the Jedi, no one who drives a Speeder Bike ever lands one, they all just wreck or are punted off in some way.
6. Death Star Exhaust/Ventilation Systems
It’s actually difficult to blame an engineer for putting a thermal exhaust port on a giant, roving space station. The thing’s gotta have a tailpipe. Should it have led directly to the Death Star’s reactor core? Why isn’t there a few twists and turns leading up to the core?
They should have installed a few vents, maybe a more complex system would have worked better. Still, at only two meters, it’s hard for any engineer to predict the effects of what is essentially magic on the trajectory of a proton torpedo.
Who we can blame are the engineers who designed the second Death Star’s reactor core. Despite the lessons learned from the destruction of the first Death Star at the Battle of Yavin, the new team of engineers not only kept the big gaping hole design flaw, they made it so big it could fit the Millennium Falcon, two X-Wings, an A-Wing, and a few TIE fighters.
They didn’t need magic torpedoes the second time, the Rebels just flew right up to the reactor core and blew it to smithereens.
Update: The Star Wars film “Rogue One” covered #6 on the list. The design flaw was a purposeful attempt to give the rebels a chance against the space station.
The author stands by his assertion that the second Death Star didn’t need a hole leading directly to its core.
Most people set their sights on big ambitions as a kid. For those youngsters who dream of being in the military, it typically includes visions of becoming a fighter pilot, a ship commander or Navy SEAL.
But for one California resident, those lofty goals weren’t nearly enough.
Dr. Jonny Kim enlisted the Navy in 2002 and successfully made it through BUD/s and onto SEAL Team 3. During his service in the SEALs, Kim worked as a combat medic, sniper, navigator and point man on two deployments.
Kim completed more than 100 combat missions during his time in the Middle East, earning a Silver Star and Bronze Star with Combat “V.”
During Kim’s first combat tour, he lost a fellow SEAL which helped steer him towards a career in the medical field.
“The moment I knew I wanted to go into medicine was during my first deployment to Ramadi which is when one of my best friends was shot,” Kim has said. “After doing everything I could for him, securing his airway, controlling his bleeding, there wasn’t much more I could do for him but watch the spectacular team of emergency medicine physicians save my friend’s life.”
Kim decided to complete one more deployment with the SEALs before heading off to college to pursue his medical career.
He attended the University of San Diego earning a degree in mathematics and then a Doctorate in Medicine at Harvard. According to NASA, Kim received an officer’s commission in the Medical Corps following his graduation.
Kim went on to perform his residency at Massachusetts General and Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston for emergency medicine .
In June 2017, Kim received some incredible news — he’s one of 12 to be selected for the 2017 NASA Astronaut Candidate Class. The training will take up to two years before he could become a fully certified astronaut.
Soon, Dr. Kim could be wearing a space suit instead of his medical scrubs.
Just a few years ago, Americans were stunned at the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico by the British Petroleum-leased oil rig Deepwater Horizon. On April 20, 2010, a blowout during the drilling of an exploratory well caused an explosion visible from 40 miles away that killed 11 of its crew.
Over nearly three months, the spill from the Deepwater Horizondumped 210 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Now a film about the disaster, “Deepwater Horizon,” is set to hit theaters Sept. 30.
Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, an electrician and Deepwater Horizon survivor, in a film that takes an in-depth look at the people who were working on the rig that night. Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, and Kate Hudson round out the ensemble cast.
We Are The Mighty met up with the cast – and the real Mike Williams – at the film’s premiere in New Orleans and talked with them about the film and the motivations behind it.
On any given weekend, visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art might notice a gathering of fledgling filmmakers behind cameras capturing some action or seated in front of desktop editing station assembling their footage into a coherent narrative.
And the sight of filmmakers hard at work might not strike passersby as unusual — after all, this is LA, home of Hollywood and the epicenter of the movie business. But this group at LACMA isn’t just any collection of potential Spielbergs or Bays.
Welcome to “Veterans Make Movies,” a three-year initiative focused on highlighting the veteran experience presented in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Library. In 2013, LAPL launched Veterans Resource Centers within library branches throughout Los Angeles in response to the growing need for veteran support programs and social services.
Watch “Tacit Veritas” by veteran filmmaker Levi Preston:
The library identified the lack of an expressive outlet for veterans to share their perspectives about service or their unique coming home story to a wider audience of both veterans and civilians, so LACMA offered to develop a multilayered filmmaking program tailored to veterans’ personal, creative, and social needs, building on the museum’s ongoing initiative to engage communities through art and film. The program is free to students, in part due to the support of organizations like the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and The Safeway Foundation.
VMM is an 8-week curriculum that takes a group of 16 military veterans through a series of 3-hour workshops taught by artists and industry experts. The graduation exercise for each student is to create a 3-minute short film suitable for screening at the end of the session.
“These classes are designed to take somebody who’s never picked up a camera before and learn how to make a film,” says Sarah Jesse, LACMA’s associate vice president of education.
Watch “A Chaos Within” by veteran filmmaker Jason Fracaro:
Jesse explains that the basic premise of the course is that when it comes to the medium of film, “you can’t separate the technical aspect from the story aspect.”
The course starts with analysis of a wide variety of filmmaking technics “to give students a sense of how others have communicated,” Jesse says. That’s followed by reflective writing exercises that are then morphed into storyboards that guide the filmmakers as they actually shoot the footage. After that comes the extensive process of editing and post producing the work, arguably the most important part of realizing the artistic vision.
Jesse points out that an important part of getting vet students into the right frame of mind is creating the right atmosphere.
“It’s a safe place where vets feel comfortable sharing experience,” she says. “It’s not a therapy program, but art-making is cathartic.”
Jesse explains that halfway through the second session the instructors, who are also veterans, feel like they have added to their knowledge of the military community as much as they’ve managed to teach the students about filmmaking.
“The vet experience is diverse and people can have a lot of different types of jobs in uniform,” she says. “We went into this thinking we were going to bridge the military-civilian divide but we’ve also seen a vet-vet divide.”
Jesse says the instructors have noted a camaraderie develop between the vets over the course of the eight weekends they spend together.
“They crew for each other’s films,” she says. “They help each other out.”
Word-of-mouth about VMM has quickly spread around the LA veteran community.
“We’ve had a ton of people apply,” Jesse says. “It’s catching on.”
Veterans can begin to apply for VMM’s winter/spring session starting October 15, 2016. Access the application here.
To watch other veteran-made movies created in the VMM program go here.
And if you’re going to be in LA on October 30, check out VMM’s celebration of Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day. Television legend Norman Lear (creator of “All in the Family,” “One Day at a Time,” and “Maude”) will be in attendance to screen a collection of veteran films. For more information go here.
On May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat.
From the first shots of the Great War, Germany was desperate to gain an upper hand by any means necessary. They warned the world that their submarines patrolling the North Atlantic would target any ships belonging to Great Britain or her allies. Germany stated that anyone sailing in the waters around Great Britain did so at their own risk.
On May 7, at just after 2 PM local time, the Lusitania was bound for Liverpool from New York, when two German torpedoes hit the starboard side of the ship near the bridge. The Lusitania went down — and took 1,198 people to the bottom with her in under 18 minutes.
Despite the German warning, with 128 Americans dead aboard the sunken ship, President Woodrow Wilson rejected the German explanation for the sinking in a series of notes to the German government.
Privately, the Lusitania incident turned the President against Germany, convincing him that America should soon be a British ally. It became a key motivator for America’s entry into World War One nearly two years later when, on April 2, 1917, President Wilson would ask Congress to declare war on Germany.
117,465 Americans would be killed in The War to End All Wars.
It is a civilian version of the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon developed for paratroopers and, like its full-sized brother, is certain to turn heads when it’s pulled out to send some rounds downrange.
The FN Military Collector Series is a line of faithful reproductions built to exacting standards by the same builders of the actual government-issue service rifles. While other black rifles look like M4s and M16s, FN America Military Collector Series guns are M4s and M16s, with the only meaningful difference the lack of select fire capability.
While the two rifles in the series take “replica” to a whole new level, the M249 SAW models take things a step farther. Though semi-automatics rather than machine guns, there just aren’t other guns like this available without signing up for a term of service.
“The M249S Para is the fourth in our series of classic, semi-automatic FN military rifles and like the Standard, the Para is authentic to the last possible detail,” said John Keppeler, senior vice president of sales and marketing for FN America, LLC. “You’ll notice only two major differences between the semi- and full-auto versions — the barrel length and reconfigured internal components to change the rifle’s operation from open-bolt to closed-bolt.”
“Authenticity was critical in this series and we changed as little as possible,” he added.
The FN M249S Para has a machine gun grade 16.1-inch barrel, flip-up feed tray, integrated bipod, and the adjustable telescoping and rotating buttstock. It has an overall length of 31.5 inches to 37 inches and weighs in at a hefty 16 pounds — slightly lighter than the FN M249S Standard.
It can operate with linked ammunition or a standard M16 or M4/AR15 magazine.
Like the M249S Standard, the M249S Para has a top cover with an integrated MIL-STD-1913 rail for optics or other accessories, a folding carrying handle, crossbolt safety, non-reciprocationg charging handle, and quick-change barrel capability.
While the military M249 Para was originally intended for use by airborne infantry, the weapon’s shorter length and lighter weight have made it popular with many gunners, particularly those who spend a lot of time getting in and out of vehicles and those deployed to urban combat zones where space is tight and ranges are often short.
The FN Military Collector Series guns are top-notch firearms and draw a lot of attention when they’re sighted, but that quality and near-military authenticity does not come cheaply.
The FN M249S Para has an MSRP of $8,799 in black and $9,199 in flat dark earth. But owning and shooting one of these guns, particularly with a belt of 5.56, could make the steep price seem like a good deal.
President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, had a dream in the early 1980s: A 600-ship fleet. And while growing that fleet, Lehman wanted to bring back some of the elegance and esprit that had been lost during the Vietnam War era. And in his mind, nothing said “elegance” like the Iowa class battleships that were originally built to fight World War II.
The USS Iowa (BB 61) was originally commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1958 following service in World War II and the Korean War. After sitting in mothballs pierside at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard as part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet for 26 years, Iowa was overhauled, modernized, and recommissioned. But in order to meet SECNAV’s expectation, many necessary repairs were either skipped or rushed, and as a result Iowa failed the first major inspection in 1984. The inspecting officer recommended that the battleship be taken out of service immediately, but Secretary Lehman personally rejected that input and instead ordered the Atlantic Fleet leadership to fix the problems and get Iowa sailing as soon as possible.
In late May of 1988, the Iowa’s brand-new commander officer, Capt. Fred Moosally canceled a $1 million repair to the gun turrets, deciding to use the funds to upgrade the ship’s power plant instead. According to an article written a few years later by Greg Vistica of the San Diego Union-Tribune, between September 1988 and January 1989, sailors aboard Iowa reportedly conducted little training with her main guns, in part because of ongoing, serious maintenance issues with the main gun turrets. According to Ensign Dan Meyer, the officer in charge of the ship’s Turret One, morale and operational readiness among the gun-turret crews suffered greatly.
On April 19, 1989 the Iowa was scheduled to conduct a live-fire exercise in the waters off of Puerto Rico. The Second Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Jerome Johnson, was aboard, and Captain Moosally was eager to impress. The night before, fire-control officer, Lieutenant Leo Walsh, conducted a briefing to discuss the next day’s main battery exercise. Moosally, Morse, Kissinger, and Costigan did not attend the briefing. During the briefing, Skelley announced that Turret Two would participate in an experiment of his design in which D-846 powder would be used to fire 2700 lb (1224.7 kg) shells.
The powder lots of D-846 were among the oldest on board Iowa, dating back to 1943–1945, and were designed to fire 1900-pound shells. In fact, printed on each D-846 powder canister were the words, “WARNING: Do Not Use with 2,700-pound projectiles.”D-846 powder burned faster than normal powder, which meant that it exerted greater pressure on the shell when fired. Skelley explained that the experiment’s purpose was to improve the accuracy of the guns.
Skelley’s plan was for Turret Two to fire ten 2,700-pound practice (no explosives) projectiles, two from the left gun and four rounds each from the center and right guns. Each shot was to use five bags of D-846, instead of the six bags normally used, and to fire at the empty ocean 17 nautical miles away.
Ziegler was especially concerned about his center gun crew. The rammerman, Robert W. Backherms, was inexperienced, as were the powder car operator, Gary J. Fisk, the primerman, Reginald L. Johnson Jr., and the gun captain, Richard Errick Lawrence. To help supervise Lawrence, Ziegler assigned Second Class Gunner’s Mate Clayton Hartwig, the former center gun captain, who had been excused from gun turret duty because of a pending reassignment to a new duty station in London, to the center gun’s crew for the firing exercise. Because of the late hour, Ziegler did not inform Hartwig of his assignment until the morning of 19 April, shortly before the firing exercise was scheduled to begin.
At 08:31 on 19 April, the main turret crewmembers were ordered to their stations in Turrets One, Two, and Three. Thirty minutes later the turrets reported that they were manned, swiveled to starboard in firing position, and ready to begin the drill. Vice Admiral Johnson and his staff entered the bridge to watch the firing exercise. Iowa was 260 nautical miles northeast of Puerto Rico, steaming at 15 knots.
Turret One fired first, beginning at 09:33. Turret One’s left gun misfired and its crew was unable to get the gun to discharge. Moosally ordered Turret Two to load and fire a three-gun salvo. According to standard procedure, the misfire in Turret One should have been resolved first before proceeding further with the exercise.
Forty-four seconds after Moosally’s order, Lieutenant Buch reported that Turret Two’s right gun was loaded and ready to fire. Seventeen seconds later, he reported that the left gun was ready. A few seconds later, Errick Lawrence, in Turret Two’s center gun room, reported to Ziegler over the turret’s phone circuit that, “We have a problem here. We are not ready yet. We have a problem here.”
Ziegler responded by announcing over the turret’s phone circuit, “Left gun loaded, good job. Center gun is having a little trouble. We’ll straighten that out.”
Mortensen, monitoring Turret Two’s phone circuit from his position in Turret One, heard Buch confirm that the left and right guns were loaded. Lawrence then called out, “I’m not ready yet! I’m not ready yet!”
Next, Ernie Hanyecz, Turret Two’s leading petty officer suddenly called out, “Mort! Mort! Mort!”Ziegler shouted, “Oh, my God! The powder is smoldering!” About this same time, Hanyecz yelled over the phone circuit, “Oh, my God! There’s a flash!”
At 09:53, Turret Two’s center gun exploded. A fireball blew out from the center gun’s open breech. The explosion caved in the door between the center gun room and the turret officer’s booth and buckled the bulkheads separating the center gun room from the left and right gun rooms. The fireball spread through all three gun rooms and through much of the lower levels of the turret.
The resulting fire released toxic gases that filled the turret. Shortly after the initial explosion, the heat and fire ignited 2,000 pounds of powder bags in the powder-handling area of the turret. Nine minutes later, another explosion, most likely caused by a buildup of carbon monoxide gas, occurred.
When it was all over 47 members of Iowa’s crew were dead.
Several hours after the explosion, Admiral Carlisle Trost, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), issued a moratorium on the firing of all 16-inch guns.Vice Admiral Joseph S. Donnell, commander of Surface Forces Atlantic, appointed Commodore Richard Milligan to conduct an informal one-officer investigation into the explosion. An informal investigation meant that testimony was not required to be taken under oath, witnesses were not advised of their rights, defense attorneys were not present, and no one, including the deceased, could be charged with a crime no matter what the evidence revealed.
Milligan boarded Iowa on 20 April and toured Turret Two. He did not attempt to stop the ongoing cleanup of the turret. Accompanying Milligan to assist him in the investigation was his personal staff, including his chief of staff, Captain Edward F. Messina. Milligan and his staff began their investigation by interviewing members of Iowa‘s crew.
During Meyer’s interview by Milligan and his staff, Meyer described Skelley’s gunnery experiments. Meyer stated that Moosally and Kissinger had allowed Skelley to conduct his experiments without interference or supervision. At this point, according to Meyer, Messina interrupted, told the stenographer to stop typing, and took Meyer out into the passageway and told him, “You little shit, you can’t say that! The admiral doesn’t want to hear another word about experiments!”
The investigation went downhill from there, shifting from any attempt to find command-wide leadership issues or maintenance malpractice to blaming the entire mishap on Second Class Gunner’s Mate Clayton Hartwig. Navy investigators extrapolated the fact that Hartwig had taken an insurance policy out with a shipmate, Kendall Truitt, as the beneficiary into a homosexual relationship gone wrong between the two men that caused Hartwig to commit suicide by sparking the turret explosion with an incendiary device.
The Naval Investigative Service (NIS, now known as Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS) agents were ham-fisted and ruthless in their pursuit of what they already believed to be true or the direction in which they’d been ordered — tacitly or otherwise — to focus. NIS agents interviewed Truitt and repeatedly pressed him to admit to a sexual relationship with Hartwig. Other agents interviewed Truitt’s wife Carole, also pressing her about the sexual orientation of Hartwig and Truitt, asking questions about how often she and her husband had sex, what sorts of sexual acts they engaged in, and whether she had ever had sex with any of Truitt’s crewmates.
At the same time the Navy’s public affairs command at the Pentagon leaked NIS findings to a host of media outlets, and reports started appearing in newspapers and on TV that said that Hartwig had intentionally caused the explosion after his relationship with Truitt had gone sour.
On July 15, 1989 the officer in charge of the investigation submitted his completed report on the explosion to his chain of command. The 60-page report found that the explosion was a deliberate act “most probably” committed by Hartwig using an electronic timer. The report concluded that the powder bags had been over-rammed into the center gun under Hartwig’s direction in order to trigger the explosive timer that he had placed between two of the powder bags.
When the official report hit the streets there was a great public outcry by the families of the victims, and many of them began feeding members of the media with insider information that, in turn, led to a host of reports that pointed out the myriad ways the Navy’s investigation was deeply flawed. Those reports led to an investigation by the House Armed Services Committee.
In early March 1990, the HASC released its report, titled USS Iowa Tragedy: An Investigative Failure. The report criticized the Navy for failing to investigate every natural possible cause before concluding that the explosion was an intentional act. The report also criticized the Navy for allowing the turret and projectile to become contaminated; for permitting evidence to be thrown overboard; and for endorsing the investigator’s report prior to completing the technical investigation. The NIS’s actions in the investigation were described as “flawed” and the NIS agents assigned to the case were criticized for unprofessional interviewing techniques and for leaking sensitive documents and inaccurate information. Finally, the report concluded that officer put in charge of the investigation was unfit to oversee it.
A subsequent investigation conducted by a group of engineers and scientists concluded that the explosion had been caused by the over-ram of powder into the breech after they were able to replicate the condition several times under test conditions. In spite of this, the second Navy investigation doubled down on the original finding that the explosion had been intentionally set by Hartwig.
Finally, on 17 October 1991, 17 months after the Navy reopened the investigation, Adm. Frank Kelso, the Chief of Naval Operations, conducted a press conference at the Pentagon to announce the results of the Navy’s reinvestigation. Kelso noted that the Navy had spent a total of $25 million on the investigation. He stated that the Navy had uncovered no evidence to suggest that the gun had been operated improperly, nor had it established a plausible accidental cause for the explosion.
Kelso stated, “The initial investigation was an honest attempt to weigh impartially all the evidence as it existed at the time. And indeed, despite the Sandia theory and almost two years of subsequent testing, a substantial body of scientific and expert evidence continue to support the initial investigation finding that no plausible accidental cause can be established.” Kelso added that the Navy had also found no evidence that the explosion was caused intentionally. He further announced that he had directed the Navy to never again use an informal board composed of a single officer to investigate such an incident.
Kelso concluded by offering “sincere regrets” to the family of Clayton Hartwig and apologies to the families of those who died, “that such a long period has passed, and despite all efforts no certain answer regarding the cause of this terrible tragedy can be found.
Iowa decommissioned in Norfolk on October 26, 1990. In May of 2012, the battleship was towed to the Port of Los Angeles and is now a floating museum.
From August 1990 to February 1991, the Iowa-class battleships Wisconsin and Missouri were deployed to the Persian Gulf. The two battleships fired 1,182 16-inch shells in support of Desert Storm combat operations without mishap.