Considered the toughest and most disciplined basic training of all military branches, Marine Corps boot camp is a 12-week transformation of civilian recruit to a United States Marine. Tasked with the daunting challenge of transforming recruits to Marines are drill instructors, each of which are the embodiment of the most highly-trained and disciplined Marines the Corps has.
With the recruits every moment from when they step on the yellow footprints to graduation, drill instructors challenge each recruit until they are all instilled with the long standing traditional Marine Corps values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. While earning the title Marine is the most proud moment a recruit will have, every Marine will never forget the terrifying moments they had courtesy of their Drill Instructors.
Here are 23 photos that capture those terrifying moments every recruit will have while earning the title United States Marine.
1. Civilians who have enlisted but have not yet been sent to boot camp are called ‘Poolees’ and will have functions with Drill Instructors where they get a taste of what boot camp will be like.
2. A receiving Drill Instructor gives instructions and orders to new recruits as they stand on the infamous yellow footprints at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
3. The look a Drill Instructor gives to recruits just before they walk through the doors of MCRD can send a chill down their spine. In this moment, recruits realize their challenge to earn the title United States Marine is about to begin.
4. When recruits call home to say they have arrived safely, their family has no idea that their future Marine could be surrounded by Drill Instructors.
5. Some recruits have been known to lose all bowel control when receiving their first knife hand from a Drill Instructor.
6. “Black Friday” is when recruits meet the Drill Instructors tasked with turning them into Marines. Their Senior Drill Instructor makes the recruits feel terrified of not living up to the high expectations and challenges he sets for them.
7. Once the Senior Drill Instructor is finished setting his expectations, he has his DI’s carry out the plan for the rest of the day with speed and intensity.
8. Drill Instructors are skilled at being able to break every recruit down mentally…
9. …and physically.
10. To recruits, it may feel like Drill Instructors hate them. They do.
11. Drill Instructors make it clear that they will never allow you to quit on yourself … even if you do.
12. There is no avoiding the wrath of a DI once their attention is focused on you.
13. Chances are your loud will not be loud enough!
14. No matter if across the squad bay or right in front of them, recruits can feel the glare of a Drill Instructor pierce through them.
15. “Brimming” is an intimidation technique where Drill Instructors get so close to the recruit when they correct them that they can bounce the brim of their “smokey bear” campaign cover off of them.
16. Although physically and emotionally exhausted, the last thing a recruit wants to do is fall asleep during a class and wake up to a DI in their face.
17. Drill Instructors turn disciplining recruits in to an art form.
18. Drill Instructors swarming. Basically, this is a recruits worst nightmare.
19. Whether one foot away or 100 feet from a recruit, Drill Instructors will use the same high level of volume to get their point across.
20. A Drill Instructor doesn’t seem impressed at the skill level of a recruit trying to hold an ammo can over her head during a Combat Fitness Test.
21. There is no place a Drill Instructor won’t go to motivate their recruits.
22. A guaranteed way to be scolded by a Drill Instructor is to have them discover you have an unclean weapon.
23. As recruits progress through boot camp, they are subjected to inspections. The terror they feel is from the discovery of a flaw, no matter how subtle, in their uniform.
But no matter how many terrifying moments recruits may endure, it is all worth it once their Drill Instructors hand them an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor and award them the title United States Marine.
They don’t even put Charms in MREs anymore. Because if everyone is just going to chuck the candy out the Humvee window, that’s just a gross waste of high-fructose corn syrup.
Those who aren’t new to the service and have ever deployed with Marines probably saw the same scene at some point. Hungry Marines pour into their MREs and take out their favorite parts and toss the rest into the MRE box (a process known as ratf*cking). Let’s face it, some MRE parts are definitely better than others.
No matter what an individual’s tastes were, one item was always discarded: the Charms candy. The reason for that was a mixture of superstition and because the younger guys knew someone would slap the candy out of their hands or out of their mouths for the cardinal sin of even opening the wrapper.
The simplest answer is that Marines grow up in the Corps learning that Charms are just plain bad luck. Whether it was learned from saltier Marines or experienced firsthand, those things might as well be pure evil.
Eating Charms is like begging for the world’s largest thunderstorm to rain down on you and your platoon – even in the desert. Or they might set off a roadside bomb. Some think you’ll get mortared just for opening an MRE with Charms in it – unless you bury it.
Some troops have been known to donate them to the more persistent local children – at high velocity. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Grant Okubo)
The luck varied as much as the flavors did. As Sgt. Kenneth Wilson told Agence France-Presse just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a lemon-flavored Charm could cause a vehicle breakdown. The green ones were the ones that brought the rain. Raspberry meant certain death.
Known by such illustrious nicknames as “Mr. E,” “Meal, Rarely Edible,” and “Meal, Ready to Excrete,” the military meals ready-to-eat aren’t exactly known for their delightful taste.
Luckily, the taste of (at least) some MRE’s has improved over the years. Troops these days don’t have to deal with the terror that was the “Four Fingers of Death” — aka hot dogs — or the bean burrito. If you are opening a box of meals out in the field, these are the ones to look for.
#6: Chili with Beans
It’s got a Ranger Bar! Sadly, this bad boy comes with cheddar cheese and snack bread — which sucks — so you should probably trade that out with the one weird guy in your platoon who actually likes snack bread. Oh, and the chili is kind of good too.
#5: Maple Sausage
This is obviously better around breakfast time, since most of the contents are geared toward that very important meal of the day. The sausage, if heated up, isn’t half bad. But the big takeaway here is the Maple Muffin Top. Unfortunately they couldn’t jam a full muffin in there, but hey, the top is the best part anyway.
This also has the trail mix, crackers and cheddar cheese, and orange beverage powder. Don’t eat it all in one sitting.
#4: Cheese Tortellini
There are so many MRE’s with totally crappy main meals. I’m throwing it out there right now: I actually like the cheese tortellini. Unless you don’t heat it up. Not only is the main meal pretty damn good, but it’s got all kinds of goodies, including wet pack fruits, a first strike protein bar, peanut butter and crackers, and beverage powder.
And if you are feeling extra brave, throw that extra hot hot sauce on top of the tortellini. Just make sure a port-a-john is on standby.
#3: Beef Ravioli
If you are Italian, you are going to hate this meal, since calling this concoction ravioli is probably a grave sin. But for the rest of us, it’s actually a decent meal when it’s hot. But the best part: Bacon cheese spread. In the field, you can probably sell that stuff and make serious bank.
#2: Meatballs in Marinara
Just like the beef ravioli, this one is pretty decent. It also has jalapeno cheese spread and tortillas, and who doesn’t like that Jal-op-eno? The potatoes au gratin are fairly terrible, but at least there’s a first strike bar, and beef snack strips. Unless you are a fatty who eats the entire meal, there’s lots of trading opportunity here.
#1: Chili and Macaroni
Chili Mac is the best. There’s no question. Main meal: delicious. But wait, there’s more. This has a pound cake, jalapeno cheese spread and crackers, candy, and beverage powder. Even the accessory packet is the best: There’s coffee AND matches in there. Brew up a cup of joe then burn things when you’re bored.
There are way more MRE’s in existence of course. We didn’t rank them all. If you want to see what’s in the current batch, you can check out MREInfo.com.
“The Finest Hours” depicts the events of Feb. 18, 1952, when a horrendous winter storm broke two large tankers in half. Coast Guardsmen operating out of the Chatham, Massachusetts lifeboat station managed to save 70 of the men from death by hypothermia or drowning.
The two tankers, both 520 feet long and carrying kerosene and heating oil, were called the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer. The Pendleton broke first, cracking in half near dawn in the middle of a nor’easter that created 60-foot waves and 70-knot winds.
The way the Pendleton broke resulted in a circuit tripping, cutting electricity to the front of the ship where the captain could have sent out an S.O.S. signal. The captain and seven other men in the front of the ship would die before anyone knew to rescue them.
In the bow of the Pendleton, 33 men were fighting for their survival. They struggled to keep their ship afloat and sound alarms while knowing they had only hours to live.
A short time later, the Fort Mercer was broken in half by the same storm. The Coast Guard first learned about the Fort Mercer and dispatched a motor boat from Chatham and a number of Coast Guard cutters and aircraft responded.
The rescue of the Fort Mercer crew was dramatic. Crew members tried to climb on ropes from their sinking vessel to a cutter, but were thrown around by the wind and waves. A particularly brave cutter captain ordered his vessel to make runs beneath the stern, allowing survivors to jump from one ship to another as the waves tried to crash them together.
38 men were eventually rescued from the Mercer. It was during this that a Coast Guard aircraft spotted a floating section of the Pendleton and reported that there were two broken ships out there.
So, a second motorboat was dispatched from Chatham station. It is this one that “The Finest Hours” seems to focus on. A small crew of 3 volunteers led by a young boatswain’s mate, Bernard Webber, set out into the storm to attempt the rescue.
En route, their 36-foot lifeboat was twice swamped by the waves. The first simply flipped the self-righting ship, while the second flipped it and broke out the windshield, threw Webber against the deck, and broke the small vessels compass. Webber and his men would complete the rest of the rescue without being sure of where they were going at any time.
When they made it to the Pendleton, the survivors lined the deck and waved their arms to get the Coast Guardsmen’s attention. A nearby cutter had also come to the aid of the Pendleton, but was unable to assist because the Pendleton stern section was crashing against an underwater bar that would destroy the cutter.
So the small motorboat, designed to hold just a few people, began taking on the crew of the Pendleton. It took twenty passes of the motorboat for the entire crew to make it off. For each man that jumped onto the motorboat, the vessel became harder to maneuver and more sluggish, a potentially lethal problem in the turbulent storm.
Finally, on the last pass, the Coast Guardsmen had taken on 32 of the 33 survivors from the Pendleton. But the final survivor dropped too early, crashing into the water between the ship’s stern and the Coast Guard boat. When he floated back to the surface, a wave pushed the vessels together and the man was crushed between them.
Though Webber was hurt by the loss of the man, he began the challenging process of getting his crew and the 32 remaining survivors back to safety. With no compass for guidance, he radioed the shore for help. As Chatham Lifeboat Station and a Coast Guard cutter argued about the best course of action, Webber got fed up and shut off his radio.
He headed in a direction that he thought would let him beach the craft, allowing men to scramble ashore. As he moved forward though, he spotted a navigational buoy and alerted Chatham Station that he was coming up to the pier with his survivors.
Other Coast Guardsmen and civilians from Chatham came out to meet the heroes and help the survivors. The next day, Coast Guard Rear Admiral H. G. Bradbury wrote a letter thanking the men for their heroism. Each member of the crew later received Gold Lifesaving Medals from the Treasury Department for their efforts.
When America’s Strategic Air Command is ordered to Defense Condition 3 (DEFCON 3) or above, it disperses its nuclear bombers fully-armed across the U.S. and certain allied countries so that the bombers are harder to target. This keeps America’s second strike capability intact and hopefully deters an enemy from launching its own nuclear weapons.
The dispersal plan generally calls for the planes to go to Air Force bases rather than civilian airports, but it hinges on a few factors. First, there have to be enough Air Force bases ready to receive the planes and the bases can’t be needed for other missions.
During the Cuban missile crisis, SAC was ordered to DEFCON 3 and carried out its dispersal plan Oct. 22, 1962. Bases in and near Florida were mostly blocked off because they were needed to host troops for a potential invasion of Cuba. Also, they would have been destroyed too quickly in an attack for a crew to attempt to take off. So 183 nuclear-armed aircraft were sent to 33 military bases and civilian airports in the U.S., including the four civilian airports below.
Four bombers were sent to Mitchell Field. One of the co-pilots on the flight told a reporter years later that the crew was ordered to fly for at least four hours to ensure their flight pay would be protected in case they couldn’t get training flights for a while. Since they arrived at Mitchell Field in under four hours, the pilots flew a holding pattern for a few hours over Milwaukee in inclement weather at a lower altitude than their planes were designed to optimally fly while fully armed with nuclear weapons.
Planes at the airport were filmed on the tarmac on Oct. 26, 1962. SAC had been upgraded to DEFCON 2 at this point, meaning they expected nuclear war to pop off at any moment and they had to be prepared to get all of the bombers into the air within 15 minutes of an alert.
Garlin Conner charged alone into the cold abyss, toward the massive silhouettes of German tanks in the distance.
Clutching a telephone, radio and wire, the first lieutenant carried himself through the frigid January air, toward 600 encroaching Germans and the enemy rounds he knew were coming.
Conner could not turn back if he wanted to.
His company needed a guide to cut into the surging German infantry or risk getting overrun. The Kentucky marksman always fought in front of his men, and his fellow soldiers trusted him to lead. Conner often fired at the opposition standing while others ducked for cover.
Conner could see the enemy before they spotted him, fellow soldiers wrote.
The thunder of the German rifles didn’t rattle him. His father had raised him to be fearless while hunting wild game in the woods of southern Kentucky. A bullet wound in his left hip could not keep him from returning to the front lines, nor could orders to remain at a military field hospital. On a frigid winter morning in 1945, Conner would once more put himself between his fellow soldiers and the onslaught of enemy fire.
This time, in a snow-covered forest, 5-foot-6-inch Conner faced the full brunt of German forces. On Jan. 24, the Nazi-led German army mounted a desperate surge to split American units near the French-German border.
Conner headed toward the flurry of bullets until he ducked into a shallow, snowy ditch.
Here in the frozen French countryside, amid rampant automatic fire, Conner would make what could be his final stand, guiding American artillery toward the German infantry. Here, Conner would remain until American forces stopped the Germans, or until a bullet stopped him.
When locals in the rural farming town of Albany, Kentucky, would ask Garlin “Murl” Conner about his time in World War II, he’d hush them quickly.
“I’d done what I had to do,” Conner said in soldier accounts, “and that’s all there is to it.”
After returning to Clinton County following the war and starting a tobacco farm, the decorated Army veteran decided he had seen enough of the world and the horrors of armed combat. Conner had found peace plowing fields in the shadows of the Appalachians.
Conner never boasted about his acts of bravery.
For more than 53 years until his death in 1998, he rarely spoke about the war again — not to his wife, Pauline, or even to a fellow soldier.
During the two decades since Conner died of complications related to heart and kidney failure, others took up the cause the farmer so adamantly declined. Former Army Green Beret Richard Chilton, with the support of seven retired generals, presented Conner’s bid for the Medal of Honor to the Army’s personnel records office.
The curious case of Conner, who held a war record so compelling that it rivals the accolades of the more famous veteran Audie Murphy, baffled those who knew him. In all, Conner spent more than 800 days on the front lines in World War II. He suffered seven combat wounds while earning four Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, the French military decoration Croix de Guerre, and the Distinguished Service Cross.
And yet, in an effort to get Conner recognized with a Medal of Honor, Chilton and his team endured a difficult quest that spanned decades. A federal district court rejected Conner’s initial bid for the award. In the 2014 ruling, a federal judge in Kentucky told a heartbroken Pauline that she had not filed her husband’s paperwork in time.
Conner had for decades shied away from talk of the award, much like he avoided any conversation of his four years in the Army. Still, his family continued to cling to hope that one day Conner would earn the U.S. military’s highest distinction.
Old Kentucky home
A curving paved road leads to Murl and Pauline Conner’s red brick farmhouse wedged near the foothills of the Appalachians in southern Kentucky, two miles north of the Tennessee state line.
Blue skies hang over Albany’s green rolling landscape, as plowed fields seem to shine under the midday sun. Cardinals outside the one-story house chirp as a light wind sweeps by. This farm, cradled in the hilly terrain of Clinton County, hid the story of a man whose steely courage withstood the gravest circumstances.
Just footsteps down the road from the farm, Murl’s son Paul, and his wife Kathy, live in a modular home that was built to replace their home that had been destroyed by a tornado. Paul took over the farm after his father suffered a heart attack on a spring day in 1979.
He spent long hours planting tobacco plants before the farm transitioned into raising cattle as its primary product.
Born nine years after Conner returned from the war, Paul contrasts his dad in appearance. Burly and stout, he sports a much larger frame than his father, who had been thin and wiry, at 5-foot-6-inches tall, and weighing only 120 pounds during active duty.
Paul shares his father’s love of animals. And Paul raised his four children with the same grounded morals he learned from his father. Paul said his father offered sound advice that Paul would later instill in his children. “Be a man of your word,” Paul recalled his dad saying. “Do what you say. If you can’t fulfill a promise, don’t make it. Be mindful of people around you because everyone has feelings.”
In the family’s living room, Paul sits next to a black and white portrait of Murl as a young soldier, flanked by faded portraits of Paul’s children and grandchildren. Decorated with beige ceramic lamps, rustic wooden chairs and shelves, the room has changed little since Pauline and her husband moved into the home more than 50 years ago.
For decades the photo loomed over the room. As a boy, Paul occasionally would stare at the black and white picture in awe.
When he asked his father about his time in the Army, he’d receive the same cold response: “We went over there, we did what we had to do,” Paul recalled his father saying. “And it needs to stay over there.”
Paul grew up without knowing the full extent of his father’s achievements on the battlefield. And for the most part, so did Pauline.
Generations have passed since the soldier with only an eighth-grade education used wit and intelligence to thwart enemy advances. But buried in eyewitness accounts and in the testimonials of fellow soldiers, Conner’s heroic deeds remained etched in history, unknown to his family and many of Albany’s residents.
“I just thought he was a farmer and he did a little something in the war,” said Walton Haddix, a family friend of the Conners. “But he never would talk about it. He never mentioned anything he did in the military.”
Outside of his war medals, this 200-acre farm on the lower east end of Clinton County is Conner’s lasting legacy. The family purchased the plot of land in 1949, after the government bought the family’s previous farm to make way for the Wolf Creek Dam and Lake Cumberland Reservoir. With his time in service long behind him, Conner turned his attention to his farm and raising Paul.
He never boasted about his wartime achievements, telling his wife he didn’t want to appear to be bragging. After all, Conner’s five brothers also served in the military: four in World War II and one in the Korean War.
As a farmer, he took pride in working on his farm, where he could often be found in his long-sleeved khaki shirt, farmer’s billed cap and overalls, riding a tractor or teaching Paul how to grow tobacco from the soil.
But the war never truly left him. Sometimes, at night, Conner would wake, gripped with tension and reliving moments from the battlefield, said his wife. Instead of returning to bed, Conner would retreat to the family’s wooden porch, where he lingered for hours smoking cigarettes.
The episodes at times became so traumatic, Pauline declines to talk in detail about them. Pauline said her husband suffered symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, an illness that had not yet been widely identified until the Vietnam War.
“If anyone had PTSD, it was Murl,” Pauline said.
Conner carried the burden internally, never voicing his anguish to his family. The last time Conner had spoken publicly about the war, it happened to be the same day Pauline laid eyes on her future husband for the first time.
A hero’s welcome
On a bright spring day in May 1945, the Wells family heard that a war hero, a native of Clinton County, would be returning after four years overseas.
The local American Legion post organized a parade in the town square to welcome back a war veteran whose bravery had townspeople talking. They traveled from surrounding counties, some by wagon. Others drove in by car, while some came on foot.
Garlin Murl Conner, a farmer’s son who voluntarily joined the Army in 1941, had come home from the war.
Pauline Wells, still in her teenage years, climbed into the back of the family’s horse-drawn wagon along with her two brothers, two sisters and her parents at the family’s farm in northern Clinton County. They drove the wagon along a dirt trail, 10 miles to the town square. The county’s schools dismissed classes early so students could attend the parade.
Pauline’s family learned that following the parade, Conner would be speaking to the crowd about the war. So townspeople crowded into the second floor of the old courthouse. Sergeant Alvin C. York, the most decorated soldier of the First World War, also attended, beginning what became a lifelong friendship with Conner. Pauline leaned onto the wooden bench in the back row to hear Conner speak.
“I was expecting a giant of a man,” Pauline said.
When Conner finally emerged before the crowd, his appearance stunned Pauline. Wearing his olive-colored military dress uniform, the lieutenant’s small stature underwhelmed the young Pauline. With narrow shoulders, and a slender frame, Conner hardly appeared like heroes in storybooks.
“That little wharf rat,” Pauline said to her mother, Tressie. “He couldn’t have done all the things they said he’d done.”
But unbeknownst to Pauline and her family, Conner had long proved his mettle to U.S. forces, the Allies, and fellow soldiers, his commanding officer would say.
Conner was a quiet man of few words. The native of nearby Aaron, Kentucky, stood before the crowded courtroom and said what would be his last public statements about his time in the war.
“It gives me great pleasure,” Conner began, “to be able to come out here today. I am not a speaker, and did not come here to make a speech.”
“But,” Conner continued, “I will try to explain to you a small part of the war in Europe and some of the things I saw.”
Conner didn’t mince words. He talked first about the early November morning in 1942 when his unit first landed on the shore of Fedala, Morocco, in support of Operation Torch. American and Allied forces wrested control of North Africa from the Axis powers in only three days.
He moved onto the invasion of Licata, Sicily, a war-ravaged city that lay in tatters after 38 days of continuous fighting. Through his 10-minute testimony, Conner didn’t talk about his medals, or the times he fought on the front lines ahead of his men. Instead he spoke of his unit’s achievements, and how they survived the changing elements and terrain.
Finally, Conner touched on his unit’s trek into southern France and a difficult battle in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. But he didn’t say a word about any of his selfless, valorous acts. Nor did he mention a fateful January morning near a small French village during the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge, when for three hours in the winter of 1945, he risked his life so his unit could survive.
At any cost
On the morning of Jan. 24, 1945, the men of the K Company, 7th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division entered the Brunwald Woods near Houssen, France.
As U.S. troops scrambled to reinforce their position in the small village near the German-French border, a bitter cold swept over eastern France, creating a stinging chill.
As the frigid wind stung their faces, K Company’s soldiers marched into the snow to take on a Battalion of desperate German soldiers.
Conner had rejoined his unit in the French countryside while still recovering from a sniper bullet wound in his left hip. Conner, knowing a crucial battle loomed, had earlier slipped out of the field hospital in northern France and returned to the front lines.
Upon his return, Conner learned that his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Lloyd Ramsey, had made arrangements to send him home. Conner had earned eligibility to return to Kentucky based on his time served and accolades earned. Ramsey removed Conner from the front lines and reassigned him to serve as his intelligence officer in battalion headquarters for his own safety.
Hitler’s army, facing looming defeat, countered American forces with desperate barrage after barrage, attacking U.S. forces with ruthless resolve. The German assaults gravely concerned Ramsey. The day before, the Germans had rallied for a fierce offensive against another company, costing the Americans 25 men.
Ramsey needed a patrol team to scout the enemy’s position, but resources ran thin.
Conner, still ailing from his hip injury, once again volunteered to take a patrol and said he would attempt to use direct artillery to halt the German offensive. Ramsey, knowing the weight of Conner’s previous contributions and his pending return home, reluctantly agreed.
“No words can express the outstanding leadership qualities that Lt. Conner had,” the late Ramsey wrote. “(He was) always willing to do more than his part.”
Conner had built a reputation as an expert scout and marksman. The soldier from the Bluegrass State had earned the respect of his fellow soldiers by fearlessly confronting the enemy and taking dangerous missions. Maurice Williams, a soldier who served under Conner, said Conner’s background as a Kentucky outdoorsman helped prepare him to go undetected in combat. Raised on a farm during the Depression era, Conner learned to become a skilled marksman and hunter.
“He could go through the woods unnoticed,” Haddix, the family friend, said. “And if a squirrel (was) in a tree somewhere and move its tail, he could see it.”
While other soldiers would go on night scouting missions with team members, Conner operated alone.
Conner had fostered such a respect from his fellow soldiers, and had performed with such distinction, that he earned a battlefield commission at Anzio. Conner, along with the highly-decorated Murphy, both served in the 3rd Infantry Division, which suffered more casualties than any other during World War II.
“He always led from the front,” wrote Williams, who fought alongside Conner earlier in the war. “And his platoon felt safe following him.”
At about 8 a.m. on Jan. 24, a sudden barrage of light artillery swept on the American troops. Six German Panzer tanks emerged from the frigid air, flanked by a battalion of 600 German soldiers descending on K Company. The powerful, 9-foot tall tanks nearly spanned 27 feet across and 12 feet wide.
“The Americans, the Allies, had nothing like it,” said Luther Conner, President of Clinton County’s historical society. “It was the most potent war weapon at that time. It was just a monster. It caused fear just for a soldier to see the size of it.”
Two thirds of the battalion pushed toward K Company, attempting to split and divide the Americans. A week earlier, a German Panzer division attacked Second Battalion’s 600 soldiers. About 100 returned to their units. Germans killed or took the remainder as prisoners.
Near Houssen, K Company faced similar odds. Conner knew his unit’s only chance in the wintry conditions rested in his hands. He needed to guide artillery fire on the Germans.
Conner saw the towering frames of German Panzers barrelling through the forest. Without a moment’s hesitation, the soldier sprinted straight toward tanks, carrying a telephone, radio, and wire reel.
Conner uncoiled the wire as exploding shells and wood splinters from the surrounding woods showered upon him. Conner ran nearly 400 yards toward the enemy, ignoring warnings from his unit, said Chilton.
He did not stop until he had advanced 30 yards past the American Infantry front line.
There, in a shallow ditch beneath the January snow, Conner planted himself before the oncoming German fire. And for three hours, Conner laid like immovable rock under a violent wave, directing artillery rounds onto the German infantry. As swarm after swarm of German soldiers came like an avalanche upon him, Conner, barked directions and coordinates to battalion headquarters.
“Although he was in a prone position, the ditch only covered part of his body,” wrote 1st Lt. Harold Wigetman, who served as the S-3 in 3rd Battalion. “He was wedged in there so tight, that it was almost impossible for him to move or shift his position.”
The Germans soon grew aware of the lone figure in the snow guiding the American artillery. German soldiers began to swarm and surround Conner and the Americans. The German army mounted a final surge to overwhelm the American forces.
Conner, seeing the enemy close, made a lasting, drastic choice to defeat the German infantry.
Conner directed American artillery rounds toward his position, and the surrounding Germans. As the enemy attack continued to unfurl, Conner put himself in peril so that his unit could achieve victory.
“He cared about his men more than he cared about himself,” Chilton said.
With bullets flying toward him from both directions, Conner never wavered. At one point, a German soldier ran within five yards of Conner clutching a grenade before an American stopped him. Haddix said Conner dispatched German soldiers with his submachine gun.
“With icy self-control, he kept telephoning his directions,” Wigetman wrote, “although he must have seen that the (Germans) would have killed him before he could get on his feet.”
The American onslaught led by Conner overwhelmed the German attack. By the time the final rounds fell, Conner’s actions had resulted in killing 50 German soldiers and leaving more than 150 wounded. American munitions destroyed the six German tanks.
“I saw elements waver … their fighting spirit broken by the deadly concentration of (American) fire,” Wigetman wrote.
Conner paid a heavy toll for his valor during the war. The injury to his left hip would hamper his mobility for the rest of his life. Like many veterans of his generation, Conner did not think highly of anything he had achieved in Europe, his wife said.
“He was always very humble,” Pauline said. “He did what he felt like he had to do to protect our freedom to vote and our freedom of speech, which we have truly earned from what he did and others like him.”
Ramsey called Conner the greatest combat soldier he had ever seen. Troops who remembered him noted Conner’s cool resolve under the most difficult conditions.
Wrote Williams in his journal, “I had such confidence in (Lt.) Conner. I would have followed him anywhere he wanted to go.”
In the years after Conner’s heart attack in 1979, he found a new calling. He listened with concern to stories of soldiers who had not received their veteran’s affairs benefits. Some servicemen struggled with living expenses after they left the service.
Conner and his wife would drive across Clinton County’s 196 square miles of rolling hills and farmland to meet with vets. They extended their travels to 10 neighboring counties. Once a month they would place their paperwork and a suitcase in their Buick sedan and travel to veterans’ homes or meet them at their office in the courthouses. Pauline acted as his secretary, fielding phone calls and helping her husband coordinate his appointments with the veterans in need.
The night episodes continued through the years, Pauline said. And Conner still struggled to sleep on some nights. But helping other veterans, she said, helped him find peace.
“(Assisting veterans) became his life,” Paul said.
But listening to the tales of other soldiers and hearing about their struggles awakened a longing in Conner he thought that he had long buried.
Throughout his four years in the Army, Conner’s concerns rested with his soldiers, never seeking personal glory, but always on the lookout for how he could help, whether scouting the enemy position, or finding ways to help retired vets file their military records. But hearing their stories, Pauline said, she noticed for the first time regret.
That regret became clear in 1996, his wife said.
Chilton, a former Army Green Beret from Wisconsin, wrote a letter to Conner in search of information on his late uncle, Pfc. Gordon Roberts, who was killed after landing at Anzio. Conner, no longer able to speak or write, invited Chilton to his Albany home.
Chilton visited Conner on a fall day in 1996. He sat with Conner in the family living room, and asked him questions about his uncle and the war, while Conner nodded his answers from his wheelchair.
Chilton learned that Conner had indeed served with his uncle, and that Conner had carried his uncle in his last moments to a medical aid station. Conner, reliving a moment from 50 years prior, began to weep.
Pauline suggested that she could sort through her husband’s old war records to search for documentation of Roberts’ service. She carried her husband’s weathered, military green duffel bag out of the living room closet and pulled out old paperwork, records and medals contained inside a cardboard box.
As Chilton skimmed through the pages, his eyes widened. Chilton saw the decorations: the Purple Hearts and Bronze Star and Silver Stars. The Kentucky native had participated in eight major campaigns and had been wounded in each of the countries he toured.
“My God,” a stunned Chilton said to Pauline. “This man should have been awarded the Medal of Honor.”
Chilton, feeling sudden inspiration, asked Pauline and Garlin if he could pursue an application for the medal on Murl’s behalf. Pauline turned to her husband.
“I looked at [Garlin],” she said. “And he was looking at me so straight with tears in his eyes.”
Conner nodded his head yes. After 50 years, he was finally ready to apply for the honor that he had for so long been reluctant to seek.
“He’s my hero,” Pauline said, sitting in the Conner family’s living room, clutching the brown picture frame holding her husband’s black and white service photo. “He always has been.”
Wearing a black blazer and rose-colored blouse, her once-blonde locks have faded into gray. Now 89 years old, her voice wavers when she talks about the life of her late husband. She fondly recalls his humility and his quiet way of voicing his approval.
Finally, she talks about that spring night in 1945, when she and Garlin slipped away from Clinton County in his convertible with nothing but a homemade dress to get married at a courthouse in Rossville, Georgia. They would stop at a neighboring town on the way to Georgia to purchase clothing for Pauline. Pauline said Garlin’s patience and understanding swayed her to marry him after two weeks of dating.
Though their early marriage suffered the occasional bumps, Pauline stood by her husband’s side for more than five decades. Conner suffered a heart attack in 1979, after falling ill riding on the tractor. He underwent open heart surgery later that year, and a second surgery 11 years later.
In the years before his death, Garlin had battled numerous illnesses, including kidney failure, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. He suffered a stroke that left him bedridden and no longer able to speak. Pauline took on the role of caretaker, cooking his meals and driving him to his medical appointments. She took a part-time job for additional income.
Conner passed mercifully on a November day in 1998. He was 79.
“The last few years my dad was alive, he wasn’t really alive,” Paul said. “It progressively got worse. I wish I hadn’t have had to see that part of it. But we can’t choose how we’re going to live and how the last days are going to be.”
At the Weldon Haddix Funeral home along Business Route 127 in Albany, hundreds waited in line to view Conner’s remains. In the rectangular, brick building nestled between local businesses on the north side of Albany, farmers, neighbors and veterans paid their respects. Veterans whom Conner had helped approached Pauline to express their gratitude for Conner’s assistance years ago. Neighboring farmers whom Conner helped as president of the Clinton County Farm Bureau also attended. To this day, Pauline said, veterans still greet her.
“They come up and hug me for what I’ve done, for what [Garlin] has done,” Pauline said. “And I always hug them and tell them I love every one of them.”
Conner’s acts left a lasting impression on Ramsey. The two remained in touch for decades through letters and phone calls. Ramsey later retired as a major general and suffered five combat wounds during his time in service. He encouraged Conner to apply for the medal over the years, Pauline said. But each time, Conner declined and the medals and decorations remained mostly untouched inside the duffel bag, in the living room closet.
Ramsey, whose 34-year career spanned three wars, wrote in 2006: “One of the most disappointing regrets of my career is not having the Medal of Honor awarded to the most outstanding soldier I’ve had the privilege of commanding.” The Army medically retired Ramsey in 1974.
A final plea
Chilton continued to press on Conner’s application for the Medal of Honor, writing letters and contacting politicians.
New evidence had been uncovered by Congressman Ed Whitfield’s office in the National Archives in Washington, including three eyewitness accounts written by fellow soldiers who fought on the front lines with Conner. The three affidavits painted in vivid detail accounts of Conner’s acts in January 1945. But even the affidavits would not be enough.
The Army Board for Correction of Military Records rejected Chilton’s original application for Conner’s eligibility for the medal. Haddix assembled a legal team, headed by Dennis Shepherd of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs as lead trial counsel, and included Luther Conner, who also serves as the Conner family’s lawyer, to begin work on a lawsuit which was filed in federal court. That lawsuit would obtain a ruling ordering the Board to grant Pauline a new hearing and to consider the new evidence.
In 2014, U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell ruled that the statute of limitations to correct Conner’s military record had expired and that the family could no longer continue to seek the award.
After the judge dismissed Pauline’s case in 2014, she said she had lost hope. She returned to Albany and resigned herself to the idea that her husband’s decorated service record would remain as it was, without the addition of the honor that Conner’s family and friends felt he deserved. Despite the backing of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, several generals and Congressman Ed Whitfield, Conner’s chances for the Medal dimmed.
But then, on March 2, 2015, Conner’s case reached a turning point at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. During the appeal for Conner’s Medal of Honor bid, Assistant U.S. Attorney Candace Hill was assigned to represent the government’s stance against Conner’s case. For 15 minutes, Hill defended the Army’s previous stance during the proceedings, saying the case should be left alone.
But then, in a closing moment of abject candor, Hill revealed her true feelings.
Hill broke into tears, as she discussed her father’s service as an officer in the same unit as Conner during World War II. She said her father suffered a severe leg injury on Jan. 25, 1945, one day after Conner’s heroic acts.
“For all I know,” she said. “Garlin Conner may have … helped save his life.”
Hill’s words, according to an Associated Press report, convinced the panel to submit Conner’s case to a federal mediator. The mediator then directed the ABCMR to grant a new hearing and to consider all evidence, including the recently discovered eyewitness accounts. The following October, the Board granted “full relief” to Pauline’s request to upgrade Conner’s Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor.
Still, Conner’s bid for the medal needed further approval from the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense, and the president.
Last March, Pauline received a call from a military officer at the Pentagon who told her to expect an important phone call from a high-ranking DOD official regarding her husband. Could this be the phone call she had been waiting for? It must be a trick, Pauline thought, and she called Luther Conner, the family’s attorney, to confirm its validity. When Luther gave his assurances, Pauline still asked Luther, and his wife Susan, to sit with her for the important call.
The following Monday the phone rang.
“Is this Lyda Conner?” asked a man with a gruff, New York accent.
“I go by Pauline,” she said.
“You sound just like an old country gal,” the man said.
“I am,” Pauline said, soon realizing the caller was the president.
“It’s a beautiful place down there where you live,” President Trump said.
“Yes it is,” Pauline said, as she sat in the family’s tidy living room, amid family photos of Conner, her son, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Outside, redbirds chirped in the cool spring air.
“You are the widow of Lieutenant Garlin Conner?” Trump asked.
“I am,” she confirmed.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Trump said, “Well I’ve got some good news for you. He has a wonderful military record — one of the best I’ve ever seen. I am going to award him the Medal of Honor.”
The news soon spread to the rest of the Conner family, Conner’s legal team and Clinton County’s residents. Chilton, who spent much of his own time and money on Conner’s journey, could breathe a sigh of relief. Chilton traveled across the country in his quest to bring the Medal of Honor to the Conner family. He’d conducted dozens of interviews with former veterans who knew Conner. Nearly all have since passed. Chilton also penned what he said could be hundreds of hand-written letters to congressmen and to the Army.
A 22-year quest for a man who left everything on the battlefield had finally ended. Conner will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony June 26.
“It gets you kind of numb, you know?” Chilton said. “It sinks in and you understand it. You realize how long you’ve been after it and how long you’ve been doing it. I was just kind of numb … I felt good for him. I felt good for his wife; she suffered through all this stuff. I felt good for (Paul). They’ll all know this forever: (he’s) a hero.”
Pauline was asked what she thought her husband would say if he was still alive. Pauline thought for a moment. And she recalled how her husband might not want the honor, and might brush it aside once more. He might defer credit to the men he fought alongside. But Pauline said she sensed her husband’s attitude toward the honor had changed during his waning years. She remembered his regret in the 1996 meeting with Chilton.
Maybe, Conner might just tip his cap, and smile.
“More than anything I miss him,” Pauline said wistfully. “And I wish he was here so he could go get the Medal himself. Because I think he would have been proud of it. I know he would have.”
“I always kept thinking he didn’t want it in his younger days. And he didn’t really. … When he got older, he wished he had.”
The story of Garlin Conner doesn’t lie in his heroic acts or in his courage under the grimmest of odds. His family says it lies in his unending desire to help others, whether guiding soldiers on the battlefields of Western Europe, or helping veterans in the rolling hills of Clinton County, Kentucky.
Chilton, a military veteran of 20 years, traveled the world with both the U.S. Army and the Israeli Army during Desert Storm. Perhaps the Wisconsin resident put it best.
“I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve seen a lot,” Chilton said. “But I’ve never met anyone like Garlin Conner.”
Editor’s note: Garlin Murl Conner will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House June 26, 2018. President Trump will present the Medal to Conner’s widow, Pauline, at the ceremony.
Being so far from home is a challenge for deployed service members in lots of ways. Voting is one of those challenges. Naturally, voting is an essential part of American citizenship, and it’s important for the military to make their voices heard when it comes to choosing the next commander-in-chief, and being a few thousand miles from their voting districts is no excuse for not doing so.
No matter where in the world service members are stationed, under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) military members have the right to register and vote using an absentee ballot. Most states require service members to be registered to vote before requesting an absentee ballot, but both can be done in conjunction by filling out a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA).
When filling out the FPCA form, all changes in legal residency need to be updated. Service members should be careful and not confuse their record home address when they entered the military from their state of legal residence. State of legal residence should be the state listed in service members Leave and Earnings Statement or identified by the state which withholds their taxes.
To request a ballot, service members should go to the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website and select their state of legal residence. Once prompted, voters can register to vote, request a ballot, update their information, and check the status of a voted ballot.
As an emergency back-up service, members can fill out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) to ensure that they meet election deadlines.
It is vital to make sure that service members are aware of the federal election deadlines for their state. Ensure that mail is sent early enough to account for delivery times. The Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA) provides estimated delivery times by location.
All services have voting assistance programs dedicated to ensuring that each service members vote matters. Check with your unit Service Voting Action Officer for more information or issues related to the UOCAVA act.
Go to the FVAP website to verify the requirements, deadlines, and information unique to each state. FVAP is a program vested in ensuring that service members have access to the tools and information they need to vote anywhere.
As laser-guided bombs incinerated Iraqi tanks from the sky, surveillance aircraft monitored enemy troop movements and stealth bombers eluded radar tracking from air defenses in the opening days of Operation Desert Strom decades ago – very few of those involved were likely considering how their attacks signified a new era in modern warfare.
Earlier this year, when veterans, historians, and analysts commemorated the 25th anniversary of the first Gulf War in the early 90s, many regard the military effort as a substantial turning point in the trajectory or evolution of modern warfare.
Operation Desert Storm involved the combat debut of stealth technology, GPS for navigation, missile warning systems, more advanced surveillance plane radar, and large amounts of precision-focused laser-guided bombs, Maj. Gen. Paul Johnson, Director of Requirements for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, told Scout Warrior in a special interview earlier this year.
“We saw the first glimpses in Desert Storm of what would become the transformation of air power,” he said.
The five-to-six-week air war, designed to clear the way for what ultimately became a 100-hour ground invasion, began with cruise missiles and Air Force and Army helicopters launching a high-risk mission behind enemy lines to knock out Iraqi early warning radar sites. Two Air Force MH-53 Pave Low helicopters led AH-64 Apache Attack helicopters into Iraqi territory, Johnson explained.
The idea of the mission was to completely destroy the early warning radar in order to open up an air corridor for planes to fly through safely and attack Iraqi targets. The mission was successful.
“This was the dawn of GPS – the ability to precisely navigate anywhere anytime without any other navigation systems. The Pave Lows had it and the Apaches did not – so the Pave Low was there to navigate the Apache’s deep into Iraq to find the early warning radar sites,” he recalled. “Now, everybody has it on their iPhone but at that day and time it was truly revolutionary.”
Johnson explained the priority targets during the air war consisted of Iraqi artillery designed to knock out any potential ability for Iraq to launch chemical weapons. Other priority targets of course included Iraqi air defenses, troop formations, armored vehicles and command and control locations.
The air attack involved F-117 Night Hawk stealth bombers, B-52s, F-15 Eagles and low-flying A-10 Warthog aircraft, among other assets.
Desert Storm Heroism
At one point during the Air War, Johnson’s A-10 Warthog plane was hit by an Iraqi shoulder-fired missile while attempting to attack enemy surface-to-air missile sites over Iraqi territory.
“I found myself below the weather trying to pull off an attack that failed. I got hit in the right wing. I yelled out and finally keyed the mic and decided to tell everyone else that I was hit. I safely got the airplane back. They fixed the airplane in about 30-days. The enemy fire hit the right wing of the airplane and the wing was pretty messed up, but I had sufficient control authority to keep the wings level,” Johnson said.
On the way back from the mission, while flying a severely damaged airplane, Johnson received in-flight refueling from a KC-10 aircraft at about 25,000 feet. Johnson received the Air Force Cross for his heroism on another ocassion during the war, where he helped rescue a downed F-14 fighter jet.
The Combat Debut of New Technology
While there was not much air-to-air combat during Desert Storm, the Iraqis did try to field a few Mig-29 fighter jets. However, upon being noticed by U.S. Air Force F-15E radar – they took off, Johnson said.
The advent of much great air-fired precision weaponry, aided by overhead surveillance and GPS for navigation is largely referred to as the 2nd Offset – a moment in the evolution of warfare marked by significant technological leaps forward. Johnson explained that the 2nd Offset fully came to fruition in the late 90s during Operation Allied Force in Kosovo.
GPS guided bombs, called Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, did not yet exist at the time of the first Gulf War – but GPS technology for navigation greatly improve the ability of pilots and ground forces to know exactly where they were in relation to surrounding territory and enemy force movements.
This was particularly valuable in Iraq due to the terrain, Johnson explained. There was no terrain or mountainous areas as landmarks from which to navigate. The landscape was entirely desert with no roads, no terrain and no rivers.
In addition, massive use of laser guided weaponry allowed air assets to pinpoint Iraqi targets from a laser-spot – thereby increasing accuracy and mission efficiency while reducing collateral damage.
“Laser weapons had been around since Vietnam but we expended laser guided bombs in numbers that we had never done before,” he explained.
Some of the weapons dropped included Maverick missiles, the 2,000-pound Mk 84 penetrator and a 500-pound Mk 82 along with cluster weaponry. The Maverick missile is an anti-armor precision weapon which uses electro-optical precision weaponry to destroy targets.
“The Maverick has a camera in the front of the missile that would lock on and guide itself to the target. It is old technology but very precise,” Johnson added.
Also, airborne surveillance, in the form of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, provided attacking forces with an unprecedented view from the sky, Johnson said.
The aircraft used Ground Moving Target Indicator and Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, to deliver a “rendering” or painted picture of ground activity below.
“This allowed us to monitor the battlefield day or night regardless of the weather and detect movement of enemy ground formations. The Iraqi forces tried to make a movement on the village of Khafji. It was a large-scale movement by the Iraqi Army in the middle of the night because they thought we could not see them. We saw them,” Johnson explained.
Due to this surveillance technology, the commander of the air war moved an entire theater’s worth of air power to attack the Iraqi formation.
“In Desert Storm you had the ability to dynamically see what was going on in the battlespace and perform command and control in real time and divert assets in real time. You had the ability to navigate incredibly precisely and then the ability to apply precision weapons – one weapon kills one target at a time,” he added.
Desert Storm also involved the combat debut of beyond line-of-sight satellite communications which, among other things, provide missile warning systems, Johnson said.
“We did not shoot at every Scud that came in because we know where it was going to go,” Johnson recalled.
Johnson explained that the Gulf War changed the paradigm for the strategic use of air power by allowing one plane to precisely hit multiple targets instead of using un-guided bombs to blanket an area.
“We began a change in calculus. Since the dawn of air power, the calculus has always been – ‘How many airplanes does it take to destroy a target?’ A-10s can put a string of bombs through the target area and hopefully one of the bombs hits the target. By the end of the 90s, the calculus was – ‘How many targets can a single airplane destroy?’ Johnson said.
Desert Storm Ground War
The 100-hour ground war was both effective and successful due to the air war and the use of tactical deception. U.S. amphibious forces had been practicing maneuvers demonstrating shore attacks along the Kuwaiti coastline as a way to give the Iraqis the impression that that is how they would attack.
“The Iraqis saw these amphibious maneuvers because that is what we wanted them to see,” Johnson explained.
However, using a famous “left hook” maneuver, U.S. coalition forces actually attacked much further inland and were able to quickly advance with few casualties through thinner Iraqi defenses.
There were, however, some famous tank battles in the open desert during the ground attack. U.S. Army tanks destroyed large numbers or Iraqi tanks and fighting positions – in part because advanced thermal infrared imagers inside U.S. Army M1 Abrams battle tanks enable crews to detect the signature of Iraqi tanks without needing ambient light.
Although this gave U.S. forces and an advantage – and the U.S. Army was overwhelmingly victorious in Desert Storm tank battles – there were some tough engagement such as the Battle of Medina Ridge between the Army’s 1st Armored Division and Iraqi Republican Guard forces.
Effects Based Warfare – Changing Air Attacks
The use of such precision from the air marked the debut of what is commonly referred to as “effects based warfare,” a strategic air attack technique aimed at attacking specific targets from the air without needing to destroy the infrastructure of the attack area.
As a result, targets included command and control centers, moving ground troops or armored forces, supply lines and other strategic and tactical targets. Effects-Based warfare experts describe this as a “strategic rings” approach with command and control at the center of the inner circle and other enemy assets in the so-called outer rings.
One idea, among others, was to use precision weaponry from the air to cut off communication and supply lines between the command and control centers and outer forces on the move — in order to paralyze and destroy mobile enemy forces.
This approach was successfully used in Desert Storm, marking a historic shift in the strategic use of air power. In fact, a similar conceptual framework was used more than 10 years later in the opening attacks of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“There once was a time when we thought we had to go into the layers sequentially where we had to start at the out layers and peel it back to get into the inner layers. Desert Storm indicated that this is not the case. The first ordnance to hit the ground was at the inner layer,” Johnson explained.
The first Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) was founded in the areas of Fontana and San Bernardino, California in 1948. From there, the club grew exponentially, becoming one of the largest in the world. The club has since earned a reputation in media and popular culture, thanks to a number of high-profile raids and wars on its various national charters, and in no small part to Gimme Shelter, a 1970 documentary about a riot during a Rolling Stones concert. The Stones’ management allegedly paid the Hell’s Angels to provide security at the concert and paid them in beer, which was a terrible idea. As a banner once read on the club’s website, “when we do right, no one remembers; when we do wrong, no one forgets.”
What the motorcycle club never forgets is its own heritage. While mainstream media gave the club a creation myth involving drunken, misfit airmen who flew bomber missions in World War II and struggled to adapt to life after the war, the real story is much simpler.
The fake story starts with a WWII Army Air Forces unit in Europe during WWII, the 303rd Bombardment Group. The 303rd was not a misfit group, as popular lore has implied, but rather one of the highest performers in the entire air war. In its official history, the motorcycle club tells the story of the B-17 the 303rd named “Hell’s Angels,” and its commander, the capable (and not drunken) Capt. Irl E. Baldwin. Why? To make sure the world knows this aircrew wasn’t a band of drunken misfits, but instead were heroes of the war in Europe. The aircrew has nothing to do with the motorcycle club. The Angels just care that the memory of the crew isn’t dragged through the mud. (They care too much, right? That’s always been a fault of the Hell’s Angels.)
This B-17F, tail number 41-24577, was named Hell’s Angels after the Howard Hughes movie about World War I fighter pilots. The bomber would fly with several commanders and numerous crewmen over 15 months and was the first B-17 to complete 25 combat missions in Eighth Air Force.
The 303rd’s story starts with naming their B-17 “Hell’s Angels” after the 1930 movie by famed aviator Howard Hughes. The plane was the first 8th Air Force B-17 to complete 25 combat sorties in the European Theater. It even participated in one of the first strikes on Berlin 1944. Two of the plane’s crewmen would earn the Medal of Honor. Another four would ear the Distinguished Service Cross. Fifty years later, the entire 303rd would vote to change its name to the Hell’s Angels, with “Might in Flight” as its motto. That name is the only common thread between the bikers and the airmen of the 303rd.
So where did the name Hell’s Angels really come from? The motorcycle club’s official history says it comes from a World War II veteran from the All-Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as “the Flying Tigers.” This Flying Tiger, named Arvid Olson, was a close friend of the founders of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club after the war, but never even tried to become a member.
The Flying Tigers were an all-volunteer group of airmen and maintainers in service to the Chinese Air Force who fought the Japanese Imperial Air Forces in China, preparing for combat even before the U.S. entered World War II. The unit’s 3rd Pursuit Squadron, comprised entirely of Marine Corps aviators, called themselves the Hell’s Angels. They first saw combat against Japan days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Over the life of the unit, the Flying Tigers would down almost 300 Japanese aircraft in combat between December 20, 1941 and July 4, 1942.
The Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club’s copyrighted “Death’s Head” logo (below, left) can even be traced back to two U.S. Army Air Corps patches, from the 85th Fighter Squadron (center) and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron (right).
Any time in life that you do something, you tend to forget the bad and remember the good. I remembered the good. I wasn’t sure I wanted to remember the bad.
For a long time, I talked to a bunch of my peers in the Special Forces community that had made the trip back to Vietnam. They wanted to go back and see what it, see what it was like for whatever reason. Everybody has a personal reason that they want to do it.
I never found a reason because I’ve always had this whole thing in my mind, when I have a traumatic situation – I’ve got a box I put it in my head and I just put it away. After a while, I decided that it was probably time to take some of those back out, and so I said yes going back to Vietnam.
Surprisingly to me, it provided closure to a circle that I didn’t know was open. It was an interesting experience. It was a cathartic experience. It was an experience that closed that loop for me that had been open because I chose not to close it before.
I didn’t know that I needed to do that.
I’ve been back to Vietnam and I would recommend to anyone who has ever been there in a combat role, go back and look at it. Don’t be afraid of your past. Address it and deal with it.
Make your experience count.
Richard Rice 5th Special Forces Group US Army 1966-94 Senior Advisor, GORUCK
As the founder and president of Ranger Up, Nick Palmisciano now commands an empire of apparel sales, MMA sponsorships, digital content, and social media mastery. Started in 2006, the company is on track this year to hit $10 million in revenue, and that’s due in large part to the former Army officer’s ability to overcome significant challenges.
Palmisciano founded the company while pursuing his M.B.A. at Duke University, after he started printing funny military-themed t-shirts for ROTC students there. But the part-time passion that followed him into the corporate world became a full-time job after he refused a promotion that would’ve slapped on the “golden handcuffs,” according to an interview he gave to Steven Pressfield Online.
“I knew that if I took that promotion, the golden handcuffs were being slapped on and Ranger Up was going to die,” he told the site. “And I was going to spend my life working for other people doing something I really didn’t care about that much.”
He left the corporate world soon after his promotion was announced, but it wasn’t an easy decision.
“I was scared, to be honest,” Palmisciano told WATM. “I was scared about giving up the security of the whole thing, but I also felt very free for the first time in ages, because I just — I controlled my destiny — and being able to control your destiny is a very American trait and it’s something I didn’t fully appreciate. Like I thought of myself as an entrepreneur when I was doing it part-time, but you know, when poor performance means you don’t get a paycheck it hits home so much more.”
But less than two months after he went all-in with Ranger Up, Palmisciano was facing disaster when his bank account dwindled to just $1,300. “I was going through a divorce, so I rapidly ran out of personal [funds]. I sold everything that I had, and mutual funds and all that stuff and I was down to $1,300. And the key there, just like the key has been in every other time that I’ve had a crisis with the company is to focus on one thing at a time every single day and try to improve.”
His business improved, Palmisciano said, after he broke down tasks into manageable blocks that would get him to where he wanted to go. He looked at costs and realized the company was bleeding money. Then he found out that most of his sales were coming from just 20 percent of his inventory. “It was embarrassing because I knew this stuff from business school, but it’s completely different when you’re in it, day to day,” he said.
His account went up to $1,350 next month, then to $1,500. The company began growing and it never stopped, due in large part to social media. Though, Palmisciano admits, it never gets easier. “There’s a new [challenge] every year,” he said.
According to Internet Retailer, the company saw $750,000 in sales in 2013 driven from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where it has a large audience of die-hard fans.
“Our whole concept is we want to entertain our friends. That’s the way that we look at our business,” Palmisciano said. “How can we entertain, educate, or just generally amuse our friends, and if we do that right everything falls into place. And if we don’t do that right, we’re just another t-shirt company.”
Now, the company sponsors MMA fighters and also owns rugby apparel brand American Sin Bin and Unapologetically American, a brand meant to reach beyond the military veteran demographic. And Palmisciano personally helps fellow entrepreneurs and continually supports veterans’ causes.
Entertaining friends is what has given rise to Ranger Up’s latest venture: making a feature film. On Tuesday, the company announced its intention to make a movie titled “Range 15,” a post-apocalyptic comedy film made by and for veterans. In partnership with fellow veteran-owned business Article 15 Clothing, Ranger Up launched a crowdfunding campaign to ensure it would be the “military movie you’ve always wanted someone to make.”
At this writing, they are about 75 percent of the way there.
“It’s gonna be really funny and it’s going to be for us, and because we’re doing it for us we don’t have to compromise the message at all. You know we don’t care if someone’s offended by it, we don’t care if this isn’t Hollywood appropriate,” Palmisciano said. “We don’t care about any of that stuff. Because we’re doing a movie that our fans want us to do.”
Want to hear more from Nick? Check out his “how to get a job” series for veterans below, or follow him on Twitter at @Ranger_Up.
Amid a recent wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, current members and veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces are using social media networks to reassure all Muslim Americans, and specifically Sofia Yassini, a Texas-based 8-year-old, they will fight for the rights of all U.S. citizens.
Inspired the social media story of Sofia’s mother reacting to her daughter’s fear of being deported, the hashtag #IWillProtectYou started trending on Facebook and Twitter.
Sofia’s mother, Melissa Chance Yassini, originally took to Facebook to write about her daughter’s reactions to Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States:
“She had began collecting all her favorite things in a bag in case the army came to remove us from our homes. She checked the locks on the door 3-4 times. This is terrorism. No child in America deserves to feel that way.“
The post was shared more than 20,000 times. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and Army veteran Kerri Peek of Colorado, also a mother, saw the story.
“I was up all night, it bothered me,” Peek told ABC News. “I’m a mom, for mother to mother … I know you want to protect your children from everything.”
She posted a photo of herself in her Army uniform with the message “Here’s a picture of me as a mom and soldier and I’ll come to protect you.” Peek then asked her veteran friends to do the same.
“Post on Facebook or Twitter with the #IWillProtectYou and your picture of uniform. Make this go viral so that these children see this.”
Russia’s Kalashnikov company, the maker of the prolific assault rifle, has presented a new product: a formidable crowd control vehicle.
The Shchit (Shield) anti-riot vehicle is based on a heavy truck with a broad extendable steel shield attached to its front. The machine has ports in the shield for firing projectiles and also carries water cannon.
The company has presented the new design at last week’s Moscow arms show, saying it has developed it for Russian law enforcement agencies. Kalashnikov described the new machine as the most advanced such vehicle in the world.
Russia’s newly-formed National Guard has recently received an array of new equipment intended to disperse demonstrations, reflecting what is widely seen as the Kremlin concern about possible mass protests amid Russia’s economic troubles.