Air Force veteran, founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and absolute giant of a man, Frank Shankwitz, passed away earlier this week at the age of 77.
This is his story.
To say Frank Shankwitz had a rough childhood is an understatement. Shankwitz was born in Chicago and his mother left him when he was young. His grandparents took him, which he recalled as “happy times,” until one day his mother kidnapped him off a playground and told him they were heading back to Arizona.
They stopped in Michigan for five years.
When he was 10, they finally reached a tiny town in Arizona on Route 66. “We were broke,” Shankwitz said. “We had no gas, no food, no money, but a family took us in. We slept on their kitchen floor. It was the first time we’d ever been permanent somewhere, kitchen floor or not. A man named Juan became like a father-figure to me, and he introduced me to the idea of giving back. This was the 1950s – ‘give back’ was not a real popular term yet. But he taught me that you can always give back. It doesn’t have to be money – it can be your time or your talents.”
In the seventh grade, Shankwitz’s mom informed him that she could no longer afford to keep him; she was moving and he needed to find a new place to live.
Juan found him a place to stay in town with a widow and Shankwitz paid the weekly rent by finding a job as a dishwasher that paid per week. “All of a sudden I had an extra a week,” he said. “Juan taught me how to turn a negative into a positive and that has been something I’ve carried with me through my entire career.”
Shankwitz went to the Air Force after high school. “It was the Vietnam era,” he recalled, “but they decided I needed to protect England. I remember when we were informed we were not to wear our uniforms during traveling – they were afraid we’d offend the public. I’m so proud today to see our service members wearing their uniforms at airports. I love hearing people thanking them and clapping for them. You should never be embarrassed of the uniform. It’s so important that our military always be proud of their service.”
Following his time with the Air Force, Shankwitz went to work for Motorola. He describes himself then as “somewhat of an adrenaline junkie,” so when a friend of his suggested joining the Arizona Highway Patrol, he jumped at the chance. Shankwitz got involved with the Special Olympics in his off time. “I began to think about Juan,” he shared, “and how maybe I was starting to give back. I enjoyed that so much.” At work, Shankwitz was asked to join a motorcycle patrol that traveled to schools to teach kids about bike safety and he felt like he was getting closer to where he needed to be in serving others.
In 1978, Shankwitz was in a high speed chase with a drunk driver when another drunk driver broadsided him going 80 miles per hour. “I was pronounced dead immediately,” he explained, “and they’d already radioed in ‘963, Officer killed in the line of duty.’ An emergency room nurse from California stopped at the scene and did CPR for four minutes, and brought me back to life. I love California! They said the crash was spectacular. I’d gone through the tunnel and I saw the light. And then I came back. I remember when my senses came back. The sense of smell was first. I smelled this very nice perfume. Then the sense of touch; something was tickling my face. Then the sense of hearing – sirens all around and someone saying, ‘We’ve lost him.’ Last was the sense of sight. And I saw that a beautiful blonde had her lips locked on me and I thought it was heaven! Later, I was told I was saved for a purpose, and that God believed I had more to do. I needed to find out what that purpose was.”
Not two years later, Shankwitz received a radio call from his dispatcher saying she needed him to find the nearest telephone, which was 40 miles away. She put him through to a border patrol agent who had an assignment for him. Shankwitz remembers verbatim: ‘There’s a little boy named Chris. He’s 7 years old. He has leukemia, and he has 2 weeks to live. He likes to watch a show called CHiPs and he wants to be a motorcycle cop just like Ponch and Jon. We’re going to pick him up and have you standing by so he can meet a real motorcycle cop.’ I was in. I got on the bike and flew to the hospital.”
When the helicopter landed, Shankwitz was surprised that Chris wasn’t super sick looking. “Instead,” he said, “this tiny pair of red sneakers jumped out and came running over. He knew every button and switch on that motorcycle. I am watching him thinking, ‘He’s a typical 7 year old, and yet he’s going to die.’ Then I saw his mom, tears in her eyes, seeing her little boy again instead of just this sick patient. Chris became the first and only honorary officer of the Arizona Highway Patrol. We felt pretty good about what we’d done but we knew there was more for him.”
The troopers rallied around Chris. “We went to the uniform store, and asked if they could make Chris his own uniform,” Shankwitz said. “Two women spent all night custom-making a uniform for him. The next morning, we took several motorcycles and cars, lights going, and brought the uniform to him and a smokey hat. He was ecstatic. He asked if he was an official motorcycle police officer, but we told him that he had to earn his wings. We set up traffic cones for him in his driveway and gave him a test, which of course he passed.”
Chris told Shankwitz, “I’m so happy my wish is coming true.” It was the first time Shankwitz had really ever heard that: “my wish.”
Shankwitz and his team went to pick up the custom-made wings they had commissioned for Chris when he got a radio call: the little boy had been taken to the hospital and was in a coma. Shankwitz was devastated.
“We took the wings to his room anyway,” he said, “and just as I pinned his wings on the uniform, Chris came out of the coma. He started giggling. ‘Am I a motorcycle officer now?’ he asked. I told him yes. A few hours later he passed away. I like to believe those wings carried him to heaven.”
The Arizona Highway Patrol did a full police funeral for Chris. Shankwitz explained, “In Chris, we lost a fellow officer that day. When we got to Illinois where he was going to be buried, we were pulled over by the Illinois State Police. When we told them what we were doing, they escorted us. We were met at the cemetery by Illinois Police, all in dress uniform. Like I said, we lost a fellow officer that day.”
“Chris was buried in his uniform. His tombstone reads Chris Greicius, Arizona Trooper. It was a truly unbelievable sight. When we got home, we asked, ‘Why can’t we do this for other children?’ And Make-A-Wish was born. It started with in a bank account. There are now 60 chapters in the United States and Make-A-Wish International has 39 affiliates, serving children in nearly 50 countries on five continents. Over 500,000 wishes have been granted.
Shankwitz said, “Every 34 minutes a child gets a wish, because of one little boy. Never underestimate the difference one person can have on the world.”
More about Frank Shankwitz and the Make-A-Wish Foundation can be found in his memoir, Wish Man, which has also been developed into a movie by the same title, available on Netflix. Rest in peace, good sir.
The US Marine Corps’ recent proof of concept for the F-35B short takeoff, vertical landing variant aboard the USS America produced “the most powerful concentration of combat power ever put to sea in the history of the world,” according to one F-35 test pilot.
Indeed the America is the US’s newest amphibious assault ship, designed for waging war on beaches and coastal zones with the F-35’s revolutionary technologies in mind.
Both the America-class and the F-35 programs have faced criticisms, sometimes harshly, for their departure from traditional warfare roles, among other things. But lately these programs seem to be shaping up nicely.
The America abandons well decks, or the space to launch landing vessels to take beaches, in favor of increased hangar space to haul and maintain more aircraft. In its most plane-heavy configuration, the America can carry 20 F-35Bs.
In the video below, the Marines placed 12 F-35Bs on the America to prove a concept that’s been literally decades in the making, and thereby creating a ship that’s not even technically classified as an aircraft carrier, yet one of the biggest and deadliest ships in the world.
On July 2, 2021, the Kansas City Royals had 106-year-old Mabel Johnson throw the first pitch. As America’s oldest Coast Guard veteran, it was a special moment.
She was 28 years old and living in New York City when America entered into World War II. Johnson felt called to serve and walked down to the Armed Forces Recruiting Office. The newly created Coast Guard Women’s Reserves caught her eye, she said in an interview with KCTV from 2019.
Johnson enlisted in what was known as the SPARS (Semper Paratus – Always Ready) and boarded a train to Florida for boot camp. With the world at war and fighting-able men needed at sea, this was the Coast Guard’s answer to fulfilling the vital positions on land. Over 10,000 women volunteered to enlist and fill these roles.
The Coast Guard SPARS were also the first women allowed into a military academy.
After basic training, Johnson was assigned as a storekeeper with the Coast Guard’s 9th District in Cleveland, Ohio as a Second Class Petty Officer. In March of 1945, she married a Merchant Marine while on approved leave from her Coast Guard duties. Just two months later, victory was declared in Europe.
In an interview with the Coast Guard Compass, Johnson shared how bells were ringing throughout the day, whistles were blowing and everyone was throwing paper out of windows. “Euclid Avenue was knee deep in paper,” she said.
Following the end of the war, Johnson requested a “mutual” transfer to New York City to be near her husband where she served until 1946 when the SPARS was officially dissolved. Despite its official end, it marked a new beginning for the Coast Guard. Johnson has continually been recognized by modern Coast Guard leadership throughout the years and repeatedly honored for her service.
With Johnson living outside of Kansas City since 1991, throwing the first pitch for the Royals was extra special. The scheduled event was a celebration of the 75th anniversary of World War II ending, which had been delayed a year due to the pandemic.
Looking back on her time in the Coast Guard during World War II, Johnson told KCTV that she’d serve and do it all over again if she could.
“I am extremely proud of our Coast Guard SPARS. No matter their age, they continue to represent our core values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden said. “Bravo Zulu Ms. Mabel Johnson, you are a role model for all.”
Cannabis advocates are criticizing the Department of Veterans Affairs for wasting time and resources on recently published research that produced inconclusive results on the effects of medical marijuana in treating pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I find the funds spent on regurgitating these studies to be worthless,” said Sean Kiernan, a veteran and advocate for the Weed for Warriors project.
VA researchers last week published two studies that reviewed previous analyses and evaluations of the effects of marijuana on treating chronic pain and PTSD. The meta-analysis was led by researchers at the VA Portland Health Care System.
Mr. Kiernan, a combat veteran who served in Central America in the 1980s and ’90s, has advocated for access to medical marijuana for veterans since 2013. Today, he works with Arizona-based physician Dr. Suzanne Sisley, who is enrolling veterans in a clinical trial evaluating cannabis in treating PTSD.
He accuses the VA of frustrating Dr. Sisley’s efforts to recruit veterans for her trial.
“Couple that with the active blockade the VA has undertaken with [Dr. Sisley’s] study and one is left scratching one’s head on what is really going on. It doesn’t make sense unless the screams for research are intended to be words only,” he said. “They say, ‘We don’t have research,’ and then they’re blocking the rigorous research.”
Dr. Sisley said the published article was “not helpful.”
Dr. Suzanne Sisley. Photo from High Times.
“[The VA researchers are] just retreading all the same material. There’s been so many meta-analyses. The fact that government money was wasted, again…” she said, her voice trailing off.
“These aren’t controlled trials, they’re all observational studies fraught with tons of human bias,” Dr. Sisley said of the research.
The VA researchers reached the same conclusion, writing that the available studies were insufficient to make recommendations on the medical benefits of marijuana. The researchers were barred from talking with the media to discuss their results.
Media inquiries were directed to a previous statement made by Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin during a White House press conference in May. At that time, he tread lightly on endorsing medical marijuana because of its status as an illegal substance under federal law.
“My opinion is, is that some of the states that have put in appropriate controls, there may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful,” Mr. Shulkin said. “And we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that. But until the time that federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”
The National Institutes of Health lists at least 18 completed clinical trials with results that analyze the effects of cannabis on pain. For cannabis and PTSD, Dr. Sisley’s is one of about 10 studies underway, but hers is the only study evaluating military veterans and specifically those with chronic and treatment-resistant PTSD.
“It’s the most rigorous kind of science you can do — triple blind, everybody’s blinded in the study. Vets don’t know what they’re getting, I don’t know what anybody’s on, the independent raters don’t know what anybody is getting, so that way we eliminate any chance of human bias,” she said.
Completion of the phase two trial and positive results will set researchers on the path of phase three — replicating the findings in a larger test pool. But that’s years down the road and Dr. Sisley first is concerned with what the science will show in this study.
“I don’t know what this data will show. As much as I believe, there are certain studies that suggest cannabis could be helpful, we know we’re on the right track with this,” she said. “Until there’s a controlled trial, you can’t make any definitive conclusions.”
About 10 percent to 11 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have PTSD, with similar numbers of Vietnam-era veterans, according to the VA. At least 20 veterans kill themselves every day.
Advocates for marijuana say bureaucratic and legal barriers hinder access for a substance that could have immeasurable benefits for this population.
The Navy announced Wednesday that sailors interested applying for fall classes should get their applications for tuition assistance turned in as soon as possible.
The Navy tuition assistance program covers up to 100 percent of tuition for eligible sailors. Eligibility depends on grades, active duty time (for activated reservists), accreditation of the chosen institution, and whether the sailor agrees to fulfill an obligatory 2 years of service beyond the his or her scheduled end of active service.
Covered under tuition assistance are high school and general equivalent degrees, vocational and technical programs, undergraduate and graduate programs, and certification programs. The funds can only be applied toward tuition, and may not be used for books, fees, and other course materials.
Tuition assistance is capped at 16 semester hours at $250.00 per semester hour, 24 quarter hours at $166.67 per quarter hour, and 240 clock hours at $16.67 per clock hour.
The Navy requires that sailors wishing to utilize tuition assistance follow these steps:
Notify the command
Complete required training
Complete education counseling and formulate an education plan
Submit education plan to Navy and review with counselor
Submit WebTA application at My Education Portal
Generate voucher and submit to institution
Command approval is required for tuition assistance, and that approval must come from the sailor’s commanding officer or by Direction Authority. Sailors will be required to enter their commanding officer’s email into the application.
There are specific obligations required for sailors utilizing tuition assistance. Grades must be a C or higher for undergraduate studies and a B or higher for graduate studies. Tuition assistance must be reimbursed for any grades that are determined to fall below those requirements.
Sailors must notify their Virtual Education Center of any changes in courses (including those changes which are not controlled by the sailor). Failure to notify the Virtual Education Center of changes can result in loss of tuition assistance and a requirement for reimbursement to the institution.
For more information and to apply for tuition assistance, Sailors can visit the Navy College Program.
North Korea launched its longest-range, most capable missile ever on July 28, and experts say that all of the US, besides Florida, now lies within range of a nuclear attack from Kim Jong Un.
Fortunately, unlike an attack from a nuclear peer state like Russia, North Korea’s less-advanced missiles would only be expected to hit a few key targets in the US. And even that limited attack would still take North Korea years to prepare, since it still needs to perfect its missiles engines with more tests, in addition to guidance systems. It also needs to build and deploy enough of them to survive US missile defenses.
But a North Korean propaganda photo from 2013 showing Kim Jong Un reviewing documents before a missile launch (pictured below) may have inadvertently leaked the planned targets for a nuclear attack on the US. On the wall besides Kim and his men, there’s a map with lines pointing towards some militarily significant locations.
In Hawaii, one of the closest targets to North Korea, the US military bases Pacific Command, which is in charge of all US military units in the region.
San Diego is PACOM’s home port, where many of the US Navy ships that would respond to a North Korean attack base when not deployed.
Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana holds the US Air Force’s Global Strike Command, the entity that would be responsible for firing back with the US’s Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Washington D.C., of course, is the home of the US’s commander-in-chief, who must approve of nuclear orders.
All in all, the targets selected by North Korea demonstrate a knowledge of the US’s nuclear command and control, but as they come from a propaganda image, they should be taken with a grain of salt.
North Korea has developed nuclear weapons as a means of regime security, according to more than a dozen experts interviewed by Business Insider. If Kim ever shot a nuclear-armed missile the US’s way, before the missiles even landed, US satellites in space would spot the attack and the president would order a return fire likely before the first shots even landed.
As unique as Kim is among world leaders, he must know a swift disposal awaits him if he ever engages in a nuclear confrontation.
Marine corporal and well-known TV and film actor Tim Matheson spent a morning with We Are The Mighty. He discussed everything from growing up in Hollywood, to his service in the Corps in the late 1960s and 1970s, to his starring in many great, classic films.
Matheson is notable to audiences worldwide for his performances in John Landis’ Animal House, Steven Spielberg’s 1941, Mel Brooks’s To Be Or Not To Be, with Chevy Chase in Fletch, as Vice President John Hoynes in the award-winning show West Wing and more recently as President Ronald Reagan in the TV movie Killing Reagan. He got his start in TV back in the 1960s on such series as Leave It to Beaver with Jerry Mathers; being the voice of Jonny Quest in Jonny Quest and guest-starring on Bonanza, The Virginian and Adam-12. His early film roles offered him the chance to work with Dick Van Dyke, Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Debbie Reynolds and Jane Wyman in such films as Divorce American Style; Yours, Mine, and Ours; and How to Commit Marriage. He starred with Clint Eastwood, David Soul, Hal Holbrook, Robert Urich and Kip Niven in the second installment of the Dirty Harry series Magnum Force.
Matheson described coming up in the industry as: “I learned on the job as an actor. I took classes when I was younger, but most of it was OJT. I’d get a day job here and a day job there. I sort of got the hang of it and it evolved into me learning my craft. The most interesting show I did was Yours, Mine, and Ours with Lucille Ball. It was like my first big movie and it was a big part with Henry Fonda, and he played a Naval Officer. It was based on a real story about this family. My character had a draft physical and then enlisted in the Marines. I think I was 18 and the day I was to shoot that scene. It was the day I actually had a draft physical. Passed it of course and became 1A, which means I am available to be drafted. Then I am wearing a Marine uniform (for the scene), I remember walking and didn’t know any of the etiquette or anything, I just knew I felt really strange wearing a uniform. I was actually out on the street. I had to walk from where I had lunch over to the studio, where someone yelled, ‘Hey Marine!’ I didn’t know what to do.”
Shortly after that experience, Matheson enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and went to bootcamp at MCRD San Diego. He kept his identity incognito during his bootcamp experience so as not to stick out as the “Hollywood” type in his platoon. During boot camp, he was chosen to be a squad leader and he picked up PFC out of bootcamp.
Matheson told a story while marching on base by the base theater which was showing a film he had worked on. The base was showing Divorce American Style with Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds as they marched by. He thought, “Oh dear, I don’t want to blow my cover now!” He considers boot camp the toughest time of his life. He described it as, “One of those things that you hated every minute of it and yet when you look back at it you learn so much. I think mostly about yourself and what you can do and what you are capable of doing. I was a Hollywood actor. I had never really done anything physically, I could run … there were these kids in my squads who were from the south and played football; I remember one kid, in particular, that would just break down. He couldn’t run. He’d just say, ‘I can’t do it,’ and broke down in tears. I would tell him, ‘Listen, look at me, if I can do it you can do it. I’m telling you seriously, you are in better shape than me. It’s all here (points to mind)…Get your mind right,’ and we nursed him all through that. That is the training that everybody gets. You all have your breaking point and you all have to learn how to get beyond it.
“There is a reserve and a resource inside you can call upon when is necessary and you can go farther than you think you can.” The Marines offered him the opportunity to compete for a slot at OCS. He declined the offer and was happy with being enlisted. He was stationed at the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Chavez Ravine, which is close to Dodger Stadium. It is now the Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center and run by the LAFD. He would go to 29 Palms with his reserve unit in the summers. He was part of his unit’s press department that would put out a paper even though he served in an artillery unit. Matheson made good friends in the Corps and enjoyed going through training with fellow Marines. He said, “There is a bond there you created that will never, ever go away. You have gone through something together. You’ve supported each other. You are there for each other….such a memorable time.”
One of Matheson’s funniest moments in boot camp was during pugil sticks training. His platoon fought against one of the platoons that was mostly made of up inner-city tough guys from Chicago. The tough guy platoon had a recruit named “Melson”, who looked, sounded and acted like Mike Tyson. Melson was considered the baddest guy in all of the platoons. While waiting for his pugil stick match, Matheson realized he was about ten recruits back from the start in which case Melson was about seven back, so he was in the “clear” or so he thought. He had not been paying attention when he realized he was six back and Melson was six back. His fellow recruits had been peeling off and going to the back, so they didn’t have to face Melson. Matheson was too close to the front of the line to get out of it. At the time he weighed about 160lbs and Melson was, “formidable.” His DI’s suited him and wished him luck in the pugil stick bout. Matheson said, “I’m just gonna go for it, I’m not going to just jab him. So, I go out there, KABAM! I hit him as hard as I could. He (Melson) looked at me, he throws down the pugil stick and dives on me. We have helmets on and he starts pounding my helmet. Everybody is laughing so hard.” The DIs separated the two of them.
Matheson found his way to the Corps through one of his industry friends, Mike Stokey Jr. Stokey’s family was in the Hollywood business as well. Matheson would take Stokey down to Camp Pendleton at times and his experiences of the Corps led him to pursue enlistment in the Marines. After boot camp, he did four weeks of ITR, which was that era’s infantry training. During ITR, the students of the school that ran the show were hardened street kids from Chicago. If other students didn’t go along with how things were being run, at night they would be chased through the billeting, likely en route to a beating of sorts. Matheson then went to radio school for his primary MOS of Field Radio Operator and was trained on the PRC-25.
While finishing up his time after radio school he was put on mess duty and then was sent to NYC to be on the “Ed Sullivan Show”. He shared, “…the Sergeant in charge of wherever I was….he said, ‘Matheson there is a car coming to pick you up tomorrow and you’re getting four days to go to NYC to do the Ed Sullivan Show for Yours, Mine, and Ours.'” Lucille Ball had called Bob Hope who then called HQMC to get Matheson permission to appear on the show. A car picked up Matheson and took him right to the airport. He had only one dollar in his pocket on the way to NYC; he didn’t have enough time to eat breakfast and couldn’t afford it arriving at The Plaza Hotel in the city. Until given some money, he was unable to eat. He said of being in NYC, “It was night and day different from being in training.” The Bee Gees were the guest of the week on the Ed Sullivan Show and he said, “It was a thrill to be on The Ed Sullivan Show (Matheson does his best Ed Sullivan impersonation).” Sullivan was filmed on Sunday and he was sent back to Camp Pendleton on Monday morning. By Tuesday he was back to swabbing the deck and he kept the visit to the show under wraps with Marines in his unit. He said of potential reactions, “Oh, here comes Hollywood, oh yeah, let’s get you down here. Scrub that toilet.” He made sure to fly below the radar most of the time, which made for a smooth enlistment.
When asked about Vietnam, Matheson shared, “I had mixed feelings about it and mixed feelings about what I should do, yet I did feel an obligation and sense of devotion to my country that I needed to do something. The Marine Corps Reserve was the perfect solution for me. If I am activated, at least I will be a Marine. With all due respect to the US Army, I did not want to be one of a huge number of people that was not seriously training. I knew the training in the Marine Corps was going to serve me well, so that if I ultimately ended up in combat I would be better prepared to handle it than I would if I had just been drafted and rushed through with the herd….it made me proud to be a brother of theirs (Marines that served and went to Vietnam), to stand alongside them and to feel that I had done a little bit for my country. And then it made me realize the obligation a citizen really does have in terms of service. It is so different today.” He said of the Corps, “I was proud to be part of that organization…I totally respected the price that was paid by all my brothers and sisters who did what they did and paid the ultimate price.” He shared, “It grew me up from being some kid in the valley…to seeing really what it was like to be trained and then shipped right over. Getting to know them when they came back or didn’t come back….You really learn the mettle of the men and women that you train with.”
Matheson retains a strong sense of pride, maturity and appreciation from his service. He carries over many values from his service such as, “Your word is your bond. It takes a team and you need leaders. Leadership was the thing I learned. I was a squad leader and then a guide at ITR. I learned how to take control and command. You couldn’t just stand in the back.” He credits the Corps with helping him ultimately become a director in TV and movies because of his leadership and initiative training. He believes running a film set is similar to running a military unit, especially in getting people to do things they don’t want to do yet need to be done. He was taught during automatic weapons training at Camp Pendleton if caught out in the open with no possible cover, to turn and to run toward the guns. His unit crossed paths in the chow hall with Navy SEALs and he was impressed with their toughness. “I had never seen any group eat as much and as fast as those guys. I thought we Marines were tough, and then I saw those guys! That was the first time I’d ever heard of SEALS. I never forgot them!”
Matheson is proud of his work with Clint Eastwood on Magnum Force. He said of Eastwood, “He was quiet, but filled with authority. He was the real deal.” He trained and qualified with the pistol for his role in the film. Matheson also did ride alongs with the police. He shared, “Clint always had a crew that just stayed with him through the years and they were the best.” Prop master Eddie Aiona on the film gave Matheson a .357 magnum to practice speed loading with to take back to his hotel room. Eastwood told Matheson of running lines and rehearsing before their scene, “No, I think there is something very special the first time that you hear those words and it should be on camera.” Eastwood’s comments surprised Matheson. He said of Eastwood, “He was the best listener I had ever worked with….he is totally listening to what I say and then I say what I had to say, and then he responded and changed one word that affected my next line…it was totally natural and totally spontaneous. I walked away at the end of that day saying, ‘This guy is the real deal; I mean wow.’ He was gracious to everybody and in public, he was very personable. Generally speaking, he had a way of moving around the city that you didn’t notice him. He just cut through all the blather. But if anybody stopped him, he would say ‘Hi’ and he would sign his autographs. He was the real deal and I just loved working with him.”
When asked who some of his more memorable colleagues were, Matheson shared, “Certainly John Belushi on Animal House was one of my favorites. He was one of the greatest guys, tremendous actor, wonderful improv. I remember the scene in the cafeteria where he is eating his lunch and stealing the food — he did it in one take. ” Belushi invented a lot of his work on the spot. “He couldn’t have been more gracious and generous to me. It was my first comedy.” Matheson speaks of the rivalry between New York and Los Angeles actors with, “None of that with John. Belushi set the tone of the film. John was just generous and loving and supportive of everybody and just great. Heartbreaking that his multiple successes took his life…that was when drugs weren’t bad for you…he just couldn’t get away from it. It was just a tragedy that we lost him.”
Matheson as a young actor got to work with many Vaudeville performers turned actors; Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope. “I learned a sense of discipline and how professional they were. Lucy was like a DI. I remember one scene with Lucille Ball where there were 11 kids around and there is a prop guy hiding under the sink … he has got to pop toast up that she’s gotta catch on a certain line. And at one point she looked around at everybody and she said, ‘Always rehearse with your props.’ It was just like a DI…it was one of those moments where this is what you do.” He is grateful for his good fortune in working with such greats and in the wisdom they imparted to their cast-mates.
Additionally, Matheson is grateful for having been able to work with great voice actors such as Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny), Dawes Butler (voice of Yogi the Bear, Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, etc.) and Don Messick (voice of Papa Smurf, Scooby-Doo, Bamm Bamm Rubble, etc.). He got to see Mel Blanc perform a scene as two different characters/voices talking to each other, which floored Matheson. He said, “One of the finest actors I have ever worked with was Mel Blanc. Because he created the third-dimension voice, and you could see the character.” Matheson was a series regular on The Virginian,Bonanza and his own western with Kurt Russell called The Quest for a year each. His career was part of the waning time of western TV shows in the 1970s. He decided to start doing improv comedy to change the kind of parts he got which opened the door for doing Animal House, which opened even more doors for him.
He plans to keep on working as an actor with his current characters being more doctor roles now. “I must say the one thing I also learned from the Marine Corps was, ‘Get your ass in shape.’ I ran and ran and ran for years and did marathons until my knees started acting up. Now I am into spinning bikes and stuff like that. That was the main thing it instilled in me a sort of discipline; get up, work out…I see actors come to the set at 6:30 or 7 o’clock in the morning. They just woke up. I have been up for two hours, worked out because I want the blood flowing in my brain before I get to the dialogue — film is forever and pain is temporary so you are not embarrassed when your kids look at it in 20 years.”
Regarding veteran stories in Hollywood, Matheson sings high praises of Rod Lurie’s work directing The Outpost. He said, “ I thought it was an exemplary piece of work.” Matheson has positive feelings for Eastwood’s film Letters from Iwo Jima, as well. He shared, “I thought that was a masterful film…that he just threw together….I actually liked it better than the other film (Flags of Our Fathers)…I just think that those personal stories like that show the valor, gumption, strength and what it takes to be a leader in the service.” He said of working with Steven Spielberg on 1941: “Steven was one of the most wonderful, giving….and was very collaborative and encouraged me and my directing life and was quite an inspiration. He is just one of those guys that thinks differently. He is a genius and I look at his films and just study them because I find I learn so much in simply watching how he does things.” Working with Lurie on Killing Reagan was a great experience for Matheson and he describes Lurie as, “What a gem…and a gift he gave to me and Cynthia Nixon who played Nancy…to create an environment for us to play in…it was a memorable experience….I hold him (Lurie) in the highest esteem.” He said of political candidates that have served in the military: “I want them in our government. I want them to run a lot of different things.” His faith in military service and the Corps is still intact.
The Corps provided him with the following leadership takeaways: “The buck stops with me and I should be there for people that need help….To create a team in whatever situation you are in to do it better.” He is most proud of his kids in life and making them into responsible adults. He is glad to be in a position to keep learning his craft and is grateful to share the screen with great artistic craftsmen.
About 35 local boat captains simulated swarming attack maneuvers in fishing boats rigged with machine guns while fighter jets, attack helicopters, and the A-10 “Warthog” simulated attacks from above in the Choctawatchee Bay, Florida.
The Navy was already aware of the threat posed to their large, multi-million dollar ships by small, cheap ships — but the January Houthi attack demonstrated the threat was even more acute.
The Air Force’s annual Combat Hammer exercise sought in part to answer the question of how the Navy would deal with a large mass of erratic attack craft — and that involved A-10 Warthogs firing inert 30-millimeter rounds at unmanned ships.
The exercise also included attack helicopters, multi-role fighter jets, and Canadian F-18s dropping simulated guided munitions.
“We evaluate precision guided munitions against realistic targets with realistic enemy defenses,” said Lt. Col. Sean Neitzke, the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron commander in an Air Force statement. “There are plenty of places in the world where low-tech adversaries can mount 50-caliber machine guns and rocket launchers on small boats for use against us. They could also use other types of shoulder launched weapons, all of which could be a threat to American assets.”
The situation described by Neitzke bears eerily similarities to the situation with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy.
Patrick Megahan, an expert on Iran’s military with the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, told Business Insider that even without the Air Force, the US Navy has plenty of ways to counter the threat posed by Iranian-style swarm attacks.
“US Army Apache attack helicopters also frequently drill aboard US Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf for countering exactly this threat,” Megahan said of the swarming boats.
“This doesn’t include the Navy’s own Hellfire-equipped Seahawk helicopters or the Marine Corps’s very capable attack helicopter squadrons that maintain an almost constant presence in the waters off the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. In fact, two fully-load American attack helicopters would likely wreak havoc on an Iranian small boat swarm.”
Bonnie Carroll, the founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama at a ceremony held in the East Room of the White House on November 24. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Carroll founded TAPS after her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992, TAPS provides comprehensive support to those impacted by the death of a military family member. The organization’s programs like Good Grief camps and National Military Survivor seminars have brought effective comfort and care to families of the fallen since 1994, most acutely in the years since 9-11.
“This is a tremendous honor,” Carroll told WATM immediately following the ceremony. “It’s a recognition of American respect and reverence for all of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and the families they loved and left behind.”
Sixteen others were recognized by President Obama during the event including entertainers James Taylor, Gloria Estefan, and Barbara Streisand, baseball legend Willie Mays, lawmakers Shirley Chisholm and Lee Hamilton, NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, composer Stephen Sondheim, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
“It was wonderful to meet [the other awardees],” Carroll said. “Gloria Estefan lost her dad in the Army, so she’s kind of a TAPS kid. And Steven Spielberg was telling me about a project he’s working on to bring awareness to those dealing post traumatic stress and veteran suicide. So this was a tremendous opportunity to meet those who’ve made a difference in the county and also take our work forward.”
Carroll is also a retired major in the Air Force Reserve. She serves on the Defense Health Board and co-chaired the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces.
“From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans,” President Obama said during the ceremony.
For more about the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors go here.
CAMP PENDLETON, California — Maj. David Palka had seen combat before in Iraq and Afghanistan, but roughly 90% of the Marines under his command — tasked with setting up a remote fire base in northern Iraq in 2016 — had only heard the stories.
Their trial by fire in March 2016 came just hours after they landed on Army CH-47 helicopters under cover of darkness in Makhmur, Iraq. Getting off the helicopters at around 2 a.m., the Marines were in what was essentially open farmland with a large protective berm of dirt around their small perimeter.
“By 0900, we received the first rocket attack,” Palka told Business Insider. As a captain, Palka had led the Marines of Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment when it was attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) from Oct. 2015 to June 2016.
On Monday, Palka was awarded the Bronze Star medal (with combat “V”), the fourth-highest combat award, for what his battalion commander called “sustained valorous leadership.” He’ll also receive the Leftwich Award later this week, a trophy presented annually to a Marine company or battery commander who displays outstanding leadership.
Palka and his unit’s foray into Iraq to set up an artillery support base was previously shrouded in secrecy. But new details have emerged from that mission, showing that they were under constant threat and directly attacked more than a dozen times during their two-and-a-half months there, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Business Insider.
“When they got the call, they were ready,” Lt. Col. Jim Lively, the commander of Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, and Palka’s battalion commander at the time, told Business Insider.
‘It was no surprise that we were rocketed’
When Palka and others among his advance party left their helicopter on March 12, they marked the first American boots on the ground in Iraq to set up a quasi-permanent base since US forces left in 2014.
At what would be named Fire Base Bell — in honor of Staff Sgt. Vincent Bell, a Marine who died in Afghanistan in 2011 — Palka and his Marines began to establish security and build bunkers to protect from enemy fire.
The base was initially protected by 60 infantry Marines from Echo Co. 2/6 armed with rifles, machine-guns, and mortars, along with an Army unit providing radar equipment that would detect and zero in on rockets fired from ISIS positions. Marine artillerymen brought four M777A2 Howitzers to the base just days later.
The base was small and had no creature comforts, and troops dug holes where they would man their guns, fight, and sleep.
“It was austere. There was the constant threat 24/7,” Palka said. “My other deployments, you’d come back to a [forward operating base]. Or we’d remain on a FOB and shoot fire support in support of maneuver. We didn’t have an adjacent unit to our left and our right. We were the only general purpose ground force forward. There was no wire.”
Though the Pentagon tried to keep the presence of Marines being back in Iraq quiet, those efforts were thwarted just one week after Palka arrived.
On March 19, Bell was hit once again by rockets fired from ISIS positions located roughly 15 miles away.
“It was no surprise that we were rocketed,” Palka said, noting that military planners had determined that Russian-made 122mm Katyusha rockets were the weapon of choice for ISIS at the time.
“I had received indirect fire on previous deployments, but nothing that large,” he said.
Unfortunately, the first rocket impact that day was a direct hit on the 1st gun position on the line. “As soon as it impacted, it was obvious there were casualties,” he said.
27-year-old Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed, and eight other Marines on Gun One were wounded. Immediately, the other Marines began running toward the rocketed position to render medical care, despite a second rocket landing just a few hundred meters away.
“It was amazing to see them,” Palka said. “The manifestation of all of our training coming to fruition.”
Meanwhile, the Army counter-battery radar site honed in on where the rockets had come from. And Palka, according to a military document summarizing his performance, calmly assessed casualties, called for medical evacuations, and executed an artillery counter-fire mission of seven rounds back at ISIS’ firing point. The document noted that the enemy’s rocket position was “effectively” suppressed.
“Dave kept the team focused while they did the evacuation of casualties,” Lively said. “They ran the counter battery mission [as] the fire base was attacked.”
‘This was as kinetic as anything that I had experienced before’
Echo Battery’s mission in Iraq was to set up a small outpost that could provide indirect fire support to Iraqi troops on the front lines. Artillerymen kept busy doing just that. Over the course of slightly more than 60 days at the site, the unit fired more than 2,000 rounds, including high-explosive, illumination, and smoke.
Those efforts made them a big target, as ISIS shot more than 34 rounds at their positions during that time. All told, the unit was attacked on 13 different occasions, which included rockets, small arms, and suicide attacks.
“This was as kinetic as anything that I had experienced before,” Palka said.
On two occasions, the base was attacked in a coordinated fashion by about a dozen or so ISIS fighters armed with suicide vests, small arms, machine-guns, and grenades.
The first, which came just two days after Cardin’s death, began with an ISIS fighter detonating his suicide vest against an obstacle of concertina wire.
The Marines fought back over a period of three hours on the night of March 21, eventually killing all of the ISIS fighters with no American casualties. The artillerymen, just over 2,000 feet from the enemy positions, fired illumination rounds as the grunts on the perimeter engaged with their rifles and machine guns.
“I’d say that ISIS and the enemy that we encountered in Iraq this past time… they were more bold. The fact that they would infiltrate the forward line of troops and attempt to engage a Marine element with foreign fighters,” Palka said. “Their weaponry, and their tactics were more advanced. They were more well-trained than any other force that my Marines had directly engaged on previous deployments.”
While Echo Battery fired its guns almost “daily,” it expended much of its ammunition in support of Iraqi forces gearing up to assault the city of Mosul later that year. Ahead of the October offensive to take back Iraq’s second-largest city from the Islamic State, the unit fired off more than 1,300 rounds in support of Iraqi troops attempting to take back villages on the outskirts of the city.
“Our mission was to provide force protection fire support to Iraqi security forces, which we did,” Palka said.
The unit also had a number of “firsts” besides its presence back in Iraq, to include the Corps’ first combat use of precision-guided fuses — which make artillery rounds hit with pinpoint accuracy — and the successful employment of the Army’s TPQ-53 Radar system alongside Marines, which helped them quickly identify where rockets were coming from so they could be taken out.
“There’s nothing I can put into words about how I feel about the Marines in that unit,” Palka said. “Words don’t do it justice. There’s something that you feel and sense when you walk into a room with them.”
Preliminary results of an Army test to see how the service’s M855A1 5.56mm round performs in Marine Corps weapons show that the enhanced performance round causes reliability and durability problems in the Marine M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, service officials say.
The Marine Corps in March added the M27 and the M16A4 rifles to the Army’s ongoing testing of M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland after lawmakers questioned why the Army and the Marines use two different types of 5.56mm ammunition.
“One of the reasons we were doing that test was because of congressional language from last year that said ‘you two services need to look at getting to a common round,’ so we heard Congress loud and clear last year,” Col. Michael Manning, program manager for the Marine Corps Infantry Weapon Systems, told Military.com in a Dec. 15 Interview.
Lawmakers again expressed concern this year in the final joint version of the Fiscal 2017 National Defense Appropriations Act, which includes a provision requiring the secretary of defense to submit a report to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees explaining why the two services are using different types of 5.56 mm ammunition.
Congress has approved the provision, but the bill is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature. The report must be submitted within 180 days after enactment of the legislation, which includes the entire defense budget for the coming year.
If the secretary of defense does not determine that an “emergency” requires the Army and Marine Corps to use the two different types of rifle ammo, they must begin using a common 5.56mm round within a year after the bill is passed, it states.
“The 2017 NDAA language doesn’t surprise us; we kind of figured they were going to say that,” Manning said.
The Army replaced the Cold War-era M855 5.56mm round in 2010 with its new M855A1 EPR, the result of more than a decade of work to develop a lead-free round.
The M855A1 features a steel penetrator on top of a solid copper slug, making it is more dependable than the current M855, Army officials have said. It delivers consistent performance at all distances and penetrates 3/8s-inch-thick steel at ranges approaching 400 meters, tripling the performance of the M855, Army officials maintain.
The Marine Corps still uses the M855 but since 2009 has also relied heavily upon the MK 318, a 5.56mm round that’s popular in the special operations community.
The Army’s M855A1 test, which involves the service’s M4 and M4A1 carbines and the Marine M16A4 and M27, is still ongoing and Marine officials are expecting a final test report in the April-May 2017 timeframe, Manning said.
Preliminary findings of the test show that the Army’s M855A1 round meets all the requirements for a 5.56mm general purpose round in Army weapon systems, “but does not meet the system reliability requirement when fired from the USMC M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jesse Stalder said in a Dec. 16 email.
The Marine Corps began fielding the M27 in 2010 to replace the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry squads.
The M27, made by Heckler Koch, is a version of the German gun-maker’s HK 416, an M4-style weapon that used a piston gas system instead of the direct gas impingement system found on the M4 and M16A4.
“In testing the Army states there was a reliability issue; that is true,” Chris Woodburn, deputy branch chief for the Marine Corps’ Maneuver Branch that deals with requirements, told Military.com in a Dec. 20 telephone interview.
Reliability refers to mean rounds between stoppages, Woodburn said.
“In this case, it appears the stoppages that we were seeing were primarily magazine-related in terms of how the magazine was feeding the round into the weapon,” he said. “We don’t know that for sure, but it looks that way.”
After further testing, Woodburn said the Marines have found a solution in the Magpul PMAG, a highly-reliable polymer magazine that has seen extensive combat use in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It appears we have found a magazine that takes care of the reliability issues,” Woodburn said.
Marine Corps Systems Command on Monday released a message which authorizes the PMAG magazine for use in the M27, the M16A4 and M4 carbines, Woodburn said.
“The reason they did that is because when Marines are deploying forward, they are sometimes receiving M855A1, and we need to ensure they have the ability to shoot that round,” Woodburn said.
“In terms of the cause analysis and failure analysis, that has not been done, but what we do know is that the PMAG works,” he said.
Preliminary tests also show that the M855A1 also causes durability problems in the M27, Woodburn said.
“Where it still appears that we still have an issue with it is it appears to degrade the durability,” Woodburn said. “Durability is mean rounds between essential function failures, so you are talking bolt-part failures, barrel failures and the like.
“It is a hotter round and we think, that may be contributing to it, but we won’t know for sure until the testing is complete,” he said.
In 2008, the Marine Corps came out with a requirement for a new 5.56mm round that would penetrate battlefield barriers such as car windshields with our losing performance better than the older M855 round, Marine officials maintain.
The service had planned to field an earlier version of the Army’s M855A1 until the program suffered a major setback in August 2009, when testing revealed that the earlier, bismuth-tin slug design proved to be sensitive to heat which affected the trajectory or intended flight path.
The Army quickly redesigned the M855A1 with its current solid copper slug, but the setback prompted Marine officials to stay with the current M855 round as well as start using the MK 318 Special Operations Science and Technology, or SOST, round developed by U.S. Special Operations Command instead.
The MK 318 bullet weighs 62 grains and has a lead core with a solid copper shank. It uses an open-tip match round design common with sniper ammunition. It stays on target through windshields and car doors better than conventional M855 ammo, Marine officials maintain.
The MK 318 and the Army’s M855A1 “were developed years ago; they both were developed for a specific requirement capability separate and aside from each other,” Manning said. “The bottom line is both of these rounds are very good rounds.”
Both the Army and the Marine Corps “would like to get to a common round,” Manning added.
The Army, however, maintains that it is “committed to the M855A1” round and so far has produced more than one billion rounds of the ammunition, Stalder said.
“It provides vastly superior performance across each target set at an extremely affordable cost and eliminates up to 2,000 tons of lead that would otherwise be deposited annually onto our training bases,” Stalder said. “More than 1.6B rounds have been produced and reports on combat effectiveness have been overwhelmingly positive.”
The LARS system provides the A-10 pilots with GPS coordinates of ground personnel and enables them to communicate via voice or text, according to Staff Sgt. Andre Gonzalez, 355th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics technician.
The systems upgrades are being installed by the 309th Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group.
“This urgent operational need arose in August (2016),” said Timothy Gray, 309th AMARG acting director. “Air Combat Command and the A-10 Program Office asked me if AMARG could complete 16 aircraft by 16 December. I said ‘Absolutely!’ It was awesome to see Team AMARG take on this massive logistical challenge, build a production machine, find facilities, manpower, equipment, tools, and make material kits (to) execute the requirement.”
In the last three months, the technicians have completed LARS installations on 19 aircraft from Davis-Monthan and Moody AFB, Ga., which will ultimately provide pilots and ground personnel downrange with a valuable search capability.
“A-10 pilots take the Combat Search and Rescue role very seriously,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Hayde, 354th Fighter Squadron commander and A-10 pilot. “While this is just one tool, it can assist us in bringing them back to U.S. soil safely.”
On July 16, 1945, the atom bomb was successfully tested by the United States.
During World War II, the Manhattan Project was created to continue the efforts to develop a uranium bomb. Albert Einstein himself wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt to chime in theories about the potential of such a weapon.
In 1943, Robert J. Oppenheimer, director of Project Y at a lab in New Mexico, and his team made significant progress in the development of harnessing a nuclear explosion and the creation of a deliverable bomb.
The next step was to put their theories to the test.
From about five and a half miles away, the scientists watched as “Trinity” – the first atomic bomb – was detonated in the New Mexico desert. Years later, Oppenheimer recalled an expression from a Hindu holy book that came to his mind after the test quote:
“Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”
Less than a month later, similar devices would be dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing at least 129,000 people, and finally — and violently — ending the second World War.