Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) place U.S. flags at headstones as part of Flags-In at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, May 21, 2020. (Elizabeth Fraser/U.S. Army).
Memorial Day, once called Decoration Day, originated after the Civil War as a way to honor those who died on the battlefield. There are multiple stories in history as to where it started but the federal government officially designated Waterloo, New York as its birthplace. For a long time, each war had different days to honor the fallen. World War I would change that.
The leader of the Northern War Veterans declared May 30 as Decoration Day in 1868 in a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. It would be held on that date until 1968 when the Uniform Monday Holiday act was passed, making it the last Monday in May going forward.
But just like the country evolved to include all lives lost on every battlefield in every war on the somber day of remembrance, it’s time for us to evolve once again as a country.
In the 1980s, we were losing thousands of active duty service members every single year and not to war, but training for it. By 1999, we’d lost almost 25,000 troops to accidents and suicide. Since the War on Terror began in 2001, America has lost more service members to training accidents and suicide than combat with the enemy.
Not only are we continually losing men and women to suicides and accidents, but we lose them to sicknesses associated with their time in service. Agent Orange is still wreaking havoc from the Vietnam War and now we have proof that the current war’s burn pits are creating devastating health impacts, too. Let us not forget all the implications of service.
Whether a service member dies in combat, training for it, illness or by suicide due to invisible wounds while serving this country, the loss is the same. Their family and friends don’t grieve any less or more depending on how they died. The cost and risk of wearing the uniform remains high, but it’s something they willingly do because they believe in the purpose they’re serving.
It is with this in mind that Memorial Day should truly begin focusing on honoring all service members America has lost in the line of duty and not just those who died directly in combat. This is the way that we can truly honor every single sacrifice in the name of American security and freedom, by leaving no one behind. The weight of service to the country is heavy and it’s a burden that they carry for all of us. The very least we can do is take time to remember them and sit in gratitude for what they gave up so we didn’t have to.
The 1965 movie “The Battle of the Bulge” is generally considered by war movie buffs to be the most inaccurate war movie ever made. It stars Henry Fonda leading a large cast of fictional characters (though Fonda’s Lt. Col. Kiley was based on a real U.S. soldier). The film was made to be viewed on a curved Cinerama screen using three projectors. Watching it on DVD doesn’t give the viewer the intended look, which especially hurts the tank battle scenes, according to the film rating website Rotten Tomatoes.
There are so many inaccuracies in the film that it comes off as interpretive instead of dramatic. In the film’s opening, a precursor to the errors to come, the narrator describes how Montgomery’s 8th Army was in the north of Europe; they were actually in Italy. The inaccuracies don’t stop there.
The weather was so bad at the launch of the German offensive that it completely negated Allied air superiority and allowed the Nazi armies to move much further, much fast than they would have had the weather been clear. In the 1965 film, the weather is always clear. When the film does use aircraft, the first one they show is a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog, a 1950s-era plane.
Despite the time frame of the real battle, December 1944- January 1945, and the well-documented struggles with ice and snow in the Ardennes at the time, there is no snow in the movie’s tank battle scenes. Also, there are few trees in the movie’s Ardennes Forest.
In an affront to the men who fought and won the battle, the film uses the M47 Patton tank as the German King Tiger tanks. The filmmakers show U.S. tanks being sacrificed to make the Tiger tank use their fuel so the Germans will run out. The U.S. didn’t need to use this tactic in the actual battle, as the Germans didn’t have the fuel to reach their objectives anyway.
Speaking of tactics, a German general in the film orders infantry to protect tanks by walking ahead of them after a Tiger hits a mine, which ignores the fact that a man’s weight is not enough to trigger an anti-tank mine and therefore none of them would have exploded until tanks hit them anyway.
Other inaccuracies include:
The uniforms are all wrong.
Jeeps in the film are models that were not yet developed in WWII.
Salutes are fast, terrible and often indoors.
The bazookas used in the films are 1950s Spanish rocket launchers (the film was shot in Spain)
American engineers use C-4, which wasn’t invented until 11 years after the war’s end.
Soldiers read Playboy Magazine from 1964.
The technical advisor on the film was Col. Meinrad von Lauchert, who commanded tanks at the Bulge… for the Nazis. He commanded the 2nd Panzer Division, penetrating deeper into the American lines than any other German commander. Like the rest of the Nazis, he too ran out of fuel and drove his unit back to the Rhine. He swam over then went home, giving up on a hopeless situation.
The reaction to the movie was swift: That same year, President Eisenhower came out of retirement to hold a press conference just to denounce the movie for its historical inaccuracies.
The Army is in the early stages of creating requirements for a new externally mounted weapon to replace both the M2 .50-cal machine gun and the MK-19 grenade launcher.
The idea is to simultaneously lighten the load of mobile attack forces while increasing their lethality and envelope of attack with a single system that achieves the offensive firepower, and desired combat effects, of both weapons.
“This will be one weapon with a totally different new type of ammo that is not yet even in the developmental phase,” Laura Battista, product management engineer, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The effort is still very much in the early or conceptual phases, though future engineering and requirements initiatives plan to give shape, contours, and direction to the new weapon; as a result, Army officials did not yet specify a time frame as to when this might be operational. It is reasonable, however, to assume that requirements, designs, and then prototypes could emerge in the next few years.
The details of how this will be accomplished have not yet emerged, though the planning is to engineer a weapon that has the attack and suppressive fire ability of a .50 cal along with an explosive “area weapon” effect of a grenade launcher.
The new, combined-fires weapons would bring both logistical and tactical advantages. A single unit on the move could much more easily attack a wider range of targets with one weapon, laying down suppressive fire or attacking with machine gun fire and also achieving the effects of firing grenades at enemy locations when needed.
The Army will also embark upon a simultaneous excursion to develop a lighter profile barrel for the .50 cal.
“We will have many barrels that will lessen the logistic burden of having a spare barrel all the time,” Battista said. “We are also hoping to save a lot of weight. We are hoping to save 16 pounds off of a 26-pound barrel.”
The Army’s .50-cal program is looking at a longer-term project to engineer a lighter-weight caseless ammunition that will reduce the amount of brass needed, Lt. Col. Paul Alessio, product manager for crew-served weapons, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
In addition, the Army plans to engineer a laser rangefinder, new optics, and fire-control technology for the .50 cal. Alessio said a new, bigger machine-gun mounted optic would most likely be put on the gun within the next five years.
A laser rangefinder uses an algorithm created to identify the exact distance of a target by combining the speed of light, which is known, with the length of time it takes the laser to reach the target.
New lightweight .50 cal
The Army is creating a new, lightweight version of its iconic .50-caliber machine gun designed to better enable soldiers to destroy enemies, protect convoys, mount weapons on vehicles, attack targets on the move, and transport between missions.
The new weapon, engineered to be 20 to 30% lighter than the existing M2, will be made of durable but lighter weight titanium, Army officials said.
The emerging lightweight .50 cal, described as still in its infancy stage, still needs to be built, riveted, and tested.
The parts for the titanium prototypes will be built at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey and then go to Anniston Army Depot in Alabama for riveting and further construction.
“We always want to lighten the soldier load,” Battista said. “A major requirement is to engineer a 60-pound weapon compared to an 86-pound weapon.”
“We will procure 30 and then go into full-blown testing — air drop, full reliability, durability, maintainability, and government standard testing,” Battista added. “We’ll see how it did compared to the M2, and we will try to go to turn it into a program of record.”
An intimidating combat-tested weapon
The M2 crew-served machine gun, referred to as the “Ma Duece,” was first introduced in the 1930s; it has both a lethal and psychological effect upon enemies.
“When enemies hear the sound of the gun, they tend to run in the other direction,” Battista said.
The machine gun is used on Humvees, tactical trucks, M1 Abrams tanks, Strykers, some Navy ships, and several aircraft such as CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawks. The gun can also be mounted on a tripod on the ground by infantry in a firefight or combat circumstance; the M2 has a solid range and can fire at point targets up to 1,500 meters away and destroy area targets at distances up to 1,800 meters.
The .50 cal is effective in a wide variety of circumstances, such as convoy protection, air attacks, and attacks upon small groups of enemies on foot or moving in small vehicles. Several variants of the machine gun can fire more than 500 rounds a minute.
“It can be used for antipersonnel (enemy fighters) and also against lightly armored vehicles and light unarmored vehicles,” Maj. Keith Muehling, assistant product manager for crew-served weapons, told Scout Warrior in an interview. “Any time you get into an up-armored (more armor) situation or reactive armor — it is not going to be very effective. It works against anything that does not have thick armor.”
The Army owns what is called the Technical Data Package, or TDP, for the new lightweight .50 cal; vendors will have to “build to print” and execute the government’s existing specs, Battista said.
The Army now operates 24,000 standard M2 machine guns and roughly 25,000 upgraded M2A1 .50-caliber weapons designed with numerous improved features. The improved M2A1 is, among other things, engineered with what is called “fixed head space and timing” designed to better prevent the machine gun from jamming, misfiring, or causing soldier injury, officials said. The M2A1 is also built to be more reliable that the standard M2; the M2 barrel extension can last up to roughly 25,000 rounds, whereas the M2A1 barrel extension can fire as many as 80,000 rounds, Alessio said.
The Army plans to have initial prototypes of the new lightweight .50 cal built by this coming summer as a preparatory step to release a formal Request For Proposal, or RFP, to industry in the first quarter of 2017, Alessio said. An acquisition contract is expected several months after the RFP is released.
The lighter weapon will bring additional an additional range of mission sets for soldiers who will be better able to transport, mount, and fire the weapon against enemies.
“If you are a top gunner and you are having to move this weapon around, it is on a pedestal tripod,” Meuhling said. “If it is lighter, you are going to be able to traverse the weapon a little bit easier than a 20-pound-heavier weapon. That is one of the added benefits as far as getting it on and off the vehicle. If a soldier can do that by himself, that is an added benefit.”
The M2 uses several different kinds of ammunition, including some rounds engineered to be “harder penetrating.” The weapon also uses an ammo can with 200 rounds; a top cover can be lifted off and the links between rounds are spaced to provide accurate timing as they are dropped into the weapon, service officials said.
China’s newest maritime patrol aircraft has made a debut by deploying to Hainan Island, a sign that Beijing wants to improve its anti-submarine warfare capabilities in the disputed South China Sea, a major maritime flashpoint.
According to a report by DefenseNews.com, the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force has deployed a new version of the Y-8 maritime patrol plane. This version, the Y-8Q, appears to have a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) on the tail, giving it a profile similar to the P-3 Orion. Both planes are four-engine turbo-prop aircraft.
The aircraft was seen by commercial satellites at Lingshui, a base the Chinese have on Hainan Island. Scramble.nl notes that the 9th Air Division is deployed at Lingshui, and also has the KJ-500H, an airborne early warning variant. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the baseline Y-8 is a version of the Antonov An-12 transport.
China has been strongly asserting claims to the South China Sea. In 2001, a PLANAF J-8B Finback based out of Hainan Island collided with a United States Navy EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft. The Chinese pilot, Lieutenant Wang Wei, was killed, while the American EP-3E landed at Hainan Island and the crew was held for almost two weeks.
On Aug. 15, 1944, a massive flotilla carrying approximately 200,000 heavily armed invaders surged from the Atlantic Ocean into Southern France. The men of the 6th Army Group were there to kill Nazis and chew bubblegum, and they were all out of bubblegum. It’s the invasion you’ve never heard of but should have.
The invasion of Southern France was originally planned as part of D-Day, but was pushed back due to a shortage of landing craft and slow progress of forces moving up Italy. By the time the allied armies were ready to make their landings, some leaders were pushing to change the plan.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to use the resources and manpower dedicated to Operation Dragoon, as the invasion was called, to instead push harder through Italy or to land in the Balkans.
An Italian operation could have knocked the country out of the war faster. The Balkan operation would have robbed Germany of needed oil while also limiting the amount of territory that was gained by the Red Army, putting the other Allied powers in a better position against the Soviets after the war.
But Allied commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was adamant that Operation Dragoon should be launched to draw away German forces battling the Allied troops marching east from Normandy. Operation Dragoon would also deliver Marseille and Toulon, large port cities that could facilitate reinforcements and supplies for the push to Berlin, to the allies.
Army Group G began preparations to retreat in the first day of fighting.
By Aug. 17, Hitler had authorized the retreat and the U.S. 6th Army Group and the German Army Group G engaged in a chase across miles of southern France. As most of the American and British soldiers in the invasion pushed north to chase the Germans, a number of French troops swung west to liberate the ports at Marseilles and Toulon.
The Allied push north stayed on the offensive, liberating town after town. The American forces eventually met up with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army in early Sep. 1944. The German Army Group G did escape with many of their men.
Allied casualties in the fighting approached 20,000 but the Allied forces captured 100,000 German troops while killing and wounding a number of others.
At least seven torpedoes struck the ship and two bombs pierced the outer hull but failed to detonate. Knowing West Virginia was going down, the captain and crew counter-flooded the starboard side of the ship so that is would go down on its keel instead of capsizing. An oil fire raged through the ship for the next 30 hours, buckling the metal.
One of the men who carried the dying captain from the fight was Navy Cook Dorie Miller who then returned to the fight. He noticed an unmanned .50-cal. machine gun and used it to destroy three or four Japanese planes that were still attacking the ships. He became the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross.
Recovery of the West Virginia was a long process. Patches of concrete and wood were used to plug the damage and the ship was sent to Washington State for a full repair. Entire decks and much of the armor belt had to be replaced. When the work was completed in late 1944, the West Virginia was a state of the art battleship, more capable than it had ever been.
The crew wasted no time in getting her back into the fight to achieve vengeance. The ship returned to Pear Harbor, fueled, and rushed into the Pacific War.
West Virginia pounded Japanese positions on Leyte during the Army’s Oct. 17 invasion of the Japanese-held Philippines. After nearly a week of their army getting destroyed by the American bombardment and infantry, the Japanese navy finally arrived in force and the Battle of Leyte Gulf began.
On the night of Oct. 24, West Virginia and three other battleships resurrected after Pearl Harbor spotted four Japanese ships approaching the Philippines. The Americans got the jump on them, sinking two battleships and a cruiser in a nighttime firefight. It was the last time opposing battleships fired on each other in combat.
West Virginia left for some small repairs but returned and supported other operations in the Philippines until Feb. 1945.
In Feb., West Virginia joined the 5th Fleet in their invasion of Iwo Jima. The ship got to 5th fleet as the invasion was already beginning and began firing at targets onshore. It later headed to Okinawa where it again supported amphibious landings by Marines.
West Virginia was present in Tokyo Bay Sep. 2 when the Japanese formally surrendered to the U.S. It continued in active service until 1947 when it joined the reserve fleet. In 1959, it was sold for scrap.
According to legend, Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain is a sleeping dragon that many years ago saved the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. In the Native American story, the Great Spirit punished the people by sending a massive flood, but after they repented, it sent a dragon to drink the water away. The dragon, engorged by the massive amount of water, fell asleep, was petrified and then became the mountain.
Unlike the dragon of legend, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex has never slept during 50 years of operations. Since being declared fully operational in April 1966, the installation has played a vital role in the Department of Defense during both peacetime and wartime.
Though the complex may have changed names during the past five decades, its mission has never strayed from defending the U.S. and its allies. Today, it is known as Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, with a primary role of collecting information from satellites and ground-based sensors throughout the world and disseminating the data to North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command — a process Steven Rose, Cheyenne Mountain AFS deputy director, compares to the work done by the stem of the human brain.
“Those sensors are your nerves out there sensing that information,” Rose said, “but the nerves all come back to one spot in the human body, together in the brain stem, entangled in a coherent piece. We are the brain stem that’s pulling it all together, correlating it, making sense of it, and passing it up to the brain — whether it’s the commander at NORAD, NORTHCOM or STRATCOM — for someone to make a decision on what that means. That is the most critical part of the nervous system and the most vulnerable. Cheyenne Mountain provides that shield around that single place where all of that correlation and data comes into.”
In the 1950s, the DOD decided to build the installation as a command and control center defense against long-range Soviet bombers. As the “brain stem,” it would be one of the first installations on the enemy’s target list, so it was built to withstand a direct nuclear attack.
Cheyenne Mountain’s 15 buildings rest on more than 1,300 springs, 18 inches from the mountain’s rock walls, so they could move independently in the event of a nuclear blast and the inherent seismic event. In addition, an EMP, being a natural component of a nuclear blast, was already considered in Cheyenne Mountain’s original design and construction features, Rose said.
“Back then, it was just part of the effect of a nuclear blast that we were designed for at Cheyenne Mountain,” he added. “If you fast forward 50 years from our construction, the EMP threat has become more important to today’s society because of the investment that has been made into electronics. Just by sheer coincidence, since we were designed in the 50s and 60s for a nuclear blast and its EMP component, we are sitting here today as the number one rated EMP protected facility. The uniqueness of the mountain is that the entire installation is surrounded by granite, which is a natural EMP shield.”
The station, built 7,000 feet above sea level, opened as the NORAD Combat Operations Center. When NORAD and the newly stood up NORTHCOM moved their main command center to Peterson Air Force Base in 2008, many believed Cheyenne Mountain had closed. Today, Cheyenne Mountain hosts an alternate command center for NORAD and is landlord to more than a dozen DOD agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“When I bring official visitors up here, not only are they surprised that we’re still open,” said Colonel Gary Cornn, Cheyenne Mountain AFS Installation Commander. “Many are impressed by the original construction, the blasting of the tunnels, how the buildings are constructed inside, and some of the things we show them, such as the survivability and capability we have in the blast valves, the springs, the way we do our air in the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) filtering and the huge blast doors. It’s funny to see senior officers and civilians become sort of amazed like little kids again.”
The threats and sources have drastically changed from when the station opened at the height of the Cold War, but the station’s iconic 25-ton steel doors remain the same, ready to seal the mountain in 40 seconds to protect it from any threat. The underground city beneath 2,000 feet of granite still provides the protection to keep the station relevant as it begins its next half-century as “America’s Fortress.”
Longtime Cheyenne Mountain employees like Rose and Russell Mullins, the 721st Communications Squadron deputy director, call themselves “mountain men.” Mullins’ time in the mountain goes back to the Cold War era, about halfway through its history to 1984.
Although the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was the main focus, today’s Airmen conduct essentially the same mission: detect and track incoming threats to the United States; however, the points of origin for those threats have multiplied and are not as clearly defined.
“The tension in here wasn’t high from what might happen,” Mullins said. “The tension was high to be sure you could always detect (a missile launch). We didn’t dwell on the fact that the Soviet Union was the big enemy. We dwelled on the fact that we could detect anything they could throw at us.
“There was a little bit of stress back then, but that hasn’t changed. I would say the stress now is just as great as during the Cold War, but the stress today is the great unknown.”
The 9/11 attacks added another mission to NORAD and the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate – the monitoring of the U.S. and Canadian interior air space. They stand ready to assist the Federal Aviation Administration and Navigation Canada to respond to threats from the air within the continental U.S. and Canada.
Airplane icons blot out most of the national map on the NORAD/NORTHCOM Battle Cab Traffic Situation Display in the alternate command center. To the right another screen shows the Washington, D.C., area, called the Special Flight Restrictions Area, which was also added after 9/11.
Whenever a crisis would affect NORAD’s vulnerability or ability to operate, the commander would move his command center and advisors to the Battle Cab, said Lt. Col. Tim Schwamb, the Cheyenne Mountain AFS branch chief for NORAD/NORTHCOM.
“I would say that on any given day, the operations center would be a center of controlled chaos; where many different things may be happening at once,” Schwamb said. “We’re all trying to ensure that we’re taking care of whatever threat may be presenting itself in as short an amount of time as possible.
“I would describe it as the nerve center of our homeland defense operations. This is where the best minds in NORAD and U.S. Northern Command are, so that we can see, predict, and counter any threats that would happen to the homeland and North American region. It’s really a room full of systems that we monitor throughout the day, 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, that give us the information to help us accomplish the mission.”
Protecting America’s Fortress is a responsibility that falls to a group of firefighters and security forces members, but fighting fires and guarding such a valuable asset in a mountain presents challenges quite different from any other Air Force base, said Matthew Backeberg, a 721st Civil Engineer Squadron supervisor firefighter. Firefighters train on high-angle rescues because of the mountain’s unique environment, but even the most common fire can be especially challenging.
“Cheyenne Mountain is unique in that we have super challenges as far as ventilation, smoke and occupancy,” Backeberg said. “In a normal building, you pull the fire alarm, and the people are able to leave. Inside the mountain, if you pull the fire alarm, the people are depending on me to tell them a safer route to get out.
“If a fire happens inside (the mountain), we pretty much have to take care of it,” Backeberg added. “We’re dependent on our counterparts in the CE world to help us ventilate the facility, keep the fire going in the direction we want it to go, and allow the occupants of the building to get to a safe location – outside the half mile long tunnel.”
Although Cheyenne Mountain, the site of movies and television series such as “WarGames,” “Interstellar,” “Stargate SG-1” and “Terminator,” attracts occasional trespassers and protesters, security forces members more often chase away photographers, said Senior Airman Ricardo Pierre Collie, a 721st Security Forces Squadron member.
“The biggest part of security forces’ day is spent responding to alarms and getting accustomed to not seeing the sun on a 12-hour shift when working inside the mountain,” Collie said.
Security forces must also be ready to respond at a moment’s notice because, when charged with protecting an installation like Cheyenne Mountain AFS, the reaction time is even more crucial. Airmen like Collie feel their responsibly to protect America’s Fortress remains as vital today as it was during the Cold War.
“The important day at Cheyenne Mountain wasn’t the day we opened in 1966,” Rose said. “The next important date isn’t in April 2016 (the installation’s 50-year anniversary), it’s about all those days in between. The Airmen who come here to Cheyenne Mountain every day will be watching your skies and shores in (the nation’s) defense.”
As Cheyenne Mountain AFS enters its next 50 years, the dragon remains awake and alert to all threats against the U.S.
After about ten to twelve years, it’s usually time for a military working dog (MWD) to retire.
Unlike us, they don’t get out and start celebrating life immediately. Hundreds of them are sent to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas every year. Before November 2000, most of the dogs were euthanized or just left in the battlefield troops just left (because despite the rank and funeral honors, they’re listed as equipment).
Thankfully, “Robby’s Law” opens up adoption to their former handlers, law enforcement, and civilian families.
When a dog is retired out, it is usually because of injury or sickness and the best person to care for the puppy is the handler. More than 90% of these good dogs get adopted by their handler. Makes sense — calling a military working dog your “battle buddy” seems less awkward when the context is with a Labrador Retriever.
Next on the order of precedent in MWD adoption is law enforcement. Their services would be invaluable within police forces because they are trained to do exactly when the police would need them to do. However, the dogs are contractually agreed to belong to the department. They are the only ones allowed to allow the dogs to perform patrol, security, or substance detection work and the DoD has strict restrictions otherwise.
Sadly, even the police force won’t take the rest of the military working dogs because of their age or injury. This is where civilians come in. Bare in mind, adoption isn’t a quick process and applicants are carefully screened. It may take about a year on the waiting list to get your first interview.
They are not some goofy pug you can just adopt and take home. These dogs have usually deployed and show the same symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. These dogs were trained to sniff out roadside bombs and to fight the Taliban and now have trouble socializing with other dogs and aren’t as playful as they were before.
The MWD selection process demands that the most energetic and playful puppies are needed for combat. After years of fighting, these old dogs show signs of nervous exhaustion and distress. If that pulls at your heart strings because it hits close to home, it is scientifically proven that dogs (including these MWDs) can aid and benefit those with Post Traumatic Stress.
If you don’t mind the wait, have an appropriate living space for a large dog, and are willing to aid these four legged veterans, there are organizations that can help. Save-A-Vet and Mission K9 Rescue are great places to start.
The United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan in August of 1945, attacks that convinced the Japanese leadership to surrender by destroying the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killing 120,000 people, most of them civilians.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi has the dubious distinction of having been within two miles of both blasts.
Yamaguchi designed tankers for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. He was in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 finishing up a three-month business trip to the shipyards there when he heard the low, distinctive drone of a bomber overhead.
“It was very clear, a really fine day, nothing unusual about it at all,” he said in 2005. “I was in good spirits. As I was walking along I heard the sound of a plane, just one. I looked up into the sky and saw the B-29, and it dropped two parachutes. I was looking up at them, and suddenly it was like a flash of magnesium, a great flash in the sky, and I was blown over.”
He rushed to an air raid shelter where he found two of his colleagues who were on the trip with him. They rushed to grab their belongings and flee back to their hometown of Nagasaki. As they made their way to the train platform, they saw firsthand the destruction and carnage around the city.
“They didn’t cry,” Yamaguchi said. “I saw no tears at all. Their hair was burned, and they were completely naked. Everywhere there were burned people, some of them dead, some of them on the verge of death. None of them spoke. None of them had the strength to say a word. I didn’t hear human speech, or shouts, just the sound of the city in flames.’
He made it to the hospital in Nagasaki and was treated for the burns that covered much of his body. Despite his injuries, he reported Aug. 9 for work at Mitsubishi.
There, his boss did not believe the rumors that the devastation at Hiroshima was the result of a single bomb.
“Well, the director was angry,” Yamaguchi told the Daily Mail. He quoted his superior: “‘A single bomb can’t destroy a whole city! You’ve obviously been badly injured, and I think you’ve gone a little mad.'”
As his boss was discounting his story, the second bomb went off overhead. “Outside the window I saw another flash,” Yamaguchi said. “The whole office was blown over.”
Again, Yamaguchi was less than two miles from the bomb when it detonated. The second blast blew off his bandages and severely injured the formerly skeptical director he’d been talking to.
This time, the hospital that had treated Yamaguchi was destroyed so he simply ran home. He sheltered there, dazed by a bad fever until Aug. 15 when he heard that Japan had surrendered.
Yamaguchi went on to become an advocate against nuclear proliferation. In 2010 he died of cancer.
There’s a very good reason Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated veterans to every wear the US Army uniform.
Murphy was born on June 20, 1925 in Texas. His family was extremely poor, partially due to having twelve young mouths to feed. When his father abandoned the family when Audie was fifteen years old, he was forced to pick up some of the slack by hunting and doing what work he could to keep food on the table. Unfortunately, his mother died just a year after his father left.
Shortly thereafter, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Audie attempted to join the various branches of the U.S. military but was turned down in each case owing to his age and diminutive stature -five and a half feet tall (1.66 meters) and weighing only about 100 pounds (45 kg).
About seven months later, just ten days after he turned seventeen, he tried again. Having gained some weight (getting up to a whopping 112 pounds / 50.8 kg) and with falsified testimony from his sister claiming he was actually 18, this time Audie was able to get into the army. He was then shipped off to North Africa and later deployed to Sicily.
Despite his small size, Murphy proved to be a phenomenal soldier. In 1944, after witnessing the death of a friend during Operation Dragoon, he charged a group of German soldiers, took over their machine guns and other weapons, and proceeded to take out the other enemy soldiers within range using their own artillery. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, the first of many medals.
During another battle shortly after this, to cover retreating Allied soldiers, he jumped onto a tank that had been hit and was on fire, exposing himself to the advancing enemy soldiers. Why did he put himself in such an exposed position on a tank that could potentially explode at any minute? There was a .50 caliber machine gun on the tank.
As Private Anthony Abramski said of the event,
It was like standing on top of a time bomb … he was standing on the TD chassis, exposed to enemy fire from his ankles to his head and silhouetted against the trees and the snow behind him.
Nevertheless, over the course of the next hour, he held off six German tanks and several waves of enemy soldiers, who were all trying desperately to take out the little American who was the only thing in their way at that point. He only retreated when he ran out of ammo. Once this happened, having sustained a leg wound and completely exhausted, Audie said in his book To Hell and Back,
I slide off the tank destroyer and, without once looking back, walk down the road through the forest. If the Germans want to shoot me, let them. I am too weak from fear and exhaustion to care.
Despite the leg wound, as soon as he caught up with his retreating soldiers who had now re-formed, he turned them around and managed to reclaim a stretch of forest from German occupation. According to the official report, in that battle, he killed or severely wounding at least fifty German soldiers by himself. For this act of bravery and for “indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground [saving] his company from possible encirclement and destruction…” he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.
He rose through the ranks and was a captain when he was pulled out of the war in 1945. All in all, he earned 33 awards and decorations for his exemplary service during the war. He was just 20 years old at the time and, as one movie critic later put it, knew more of death than he did of life.
When Murphy returned from the war, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that often went undiagnosed at the time. After being featured on the cover of Life magazine, he found himself in Hollywood without work, sleeping in rough conditions. He caught his big break in 1949 when he starred in the film Bad Boy. That same year, he released the aforementioned autobiography titled To Hell and Back, which topped the bestseller charts. He went on to star as himself in a movie with the same title in 1955; it was Universal’s top-grossing film for nearly 20 years until Jaws usurped it.
Acting seemed to suit him. He made no less than 44 feature films while he was in Hollywood, many of them westerns, and also filmed a 26-episode western TV series called Whispering Smith, which aired in 1961 on NBC. It was criticised for being too violent, however, and cancelled after just 20 episodes were aired.
A man of many talents, Murphy also dabbled in poetry and song-writing as well as horse breeding and racing. Thanks to his earnings from acting, he was able to purchase a ranch in Texas. He was living an incredibly comfortable life, far grander than what he had known as a child.
Yet all was not well with Murphy. Back to his post traumatic stress disorder, he became dependent on sleeping pills to combat the insomnia he experienced after the war. Realizing he had become addicted to them, he locked himself in a motel room for a week, while he worked through the withdrawal symptoms. He ended up beating the addiction and went on to break the taboo of talking about the mental disorders many soldiers suffered when they returned home. His willingness to do so opened up discussions about psychological care for veterans upon their return to the US.
Murphy ended up marrying twice, divorcing his first wife after just two years, and having two sons with his second wife. He appeared to be happy with his family, with more than enough money in the bank to keep them comfortable (though he squandered much of it on gambling in his later years); had acted in dozens of movies; and had amazing war stories to tell his grandkids about. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get to that stage of his life.
On May 28, 1971, Murphy was in a private plane flying on a business trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Martinsville, Virginia. The weather conditions were less than ideal: rain and fog shortened the pilot’s visibility considerably, and he had a questionable instrument rating. He called in to the Roanoke, Virginia airport to say that he would be landing shortly due to poor conditions. The plane, carrying five passengers including Murphy, never landed in the Roanoke Valley. It crashed into Brush Mountain twenty miles away, close to Blacksburg. Everyone in the crash was killed. Murphy was just 45 years old. The site of the crash has since been turned into a monument, and in the 1990s, the Appalachian Trail was rerouted to go past it.
That wasn’t quite the end for Murphy, though. After a funeral in Arlington Cemetery, where his grave remains the second most visited (after Kennedy’s), he was posthumously awarded his final medal, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. It was presented to his last remaining sister, Nadine Murphy, on October 29, 2013 by Governor Rick Perry.
When troops deploy overseas to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, they usually get a pay increase thanks to combat and hazardous pay bonuses. And given that they are working longer days and away from most of the comforts of home, they usually save a bunch of money in that time.
Usually returning with a large balance in their bank account, they are what some would call “post-deployment rich.”
But that wealth usually doesn’t last forever. Some troops save their money for the future, while others making big purchases soon after they are home. These are the six things they are usually buying.
1. A new car or motorcycle
The barracks parking lot is guaranteed to be filled with new cars and bikes shortly after a unit returns from deployment. The vehicular staple of the returning Marine, soldier, sailor, or airman usually spans the gamut of Ford Mustang to Jeep Wrangler.
That’s it. The barracks parking lot is just filled with Mustangs and Wranglers. That and a ton of crotch rockets.
2. Post-deployment booze
I’m not going to lie. When I came back after a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, I drank a lot. Think—drinking at a minimum a six-pack of beer every night for months—a lot. Was it healthy? No. A good idea? No. Helpful during morning PT? Oh, good lord no.
But hey, I hadn’t drank in a long time and I had to make up for lost time. At least that made sense in my then-21-year-old brain. My story is not unique, however. While the military tries to crack down on binge-drinking, for many troops, it’s still a big part of the lifestyle.
3. Epic parties in Vegas (or some other awesome place)
When you are post-deployment rich, it’s no problem picking up the tab at the bar. “Oh yeah! I got this,” the young private says. “Drinks are on me!” Come back to this same young private about two months later and he probably won’t be saying this one again.
That’s definitely true of throwing big parties. While they initially start out in the barracks and involve kegs, beer pong, and midget-tossing (no? that’s not allowed Sergeant Major?), the parties eventually head off base to a better location. Sometimes this means the strip club, but let it be known: Las Vegas is always the best option.
Just don’t buy the next item while you are drinking.
4. Engagement rings
Spending seven to 12 months (or more) overseas can get some service members thinking about elevating their relationships to the next level of marriage. For some, that means saving up their deployment cash to buy an expensive engagement ring for their honey. Hopefully it all works out, because if it doesn’t, the post-deployment splurge may be spent on…
5. Divorce lawyers are, unfortunately, another common deployment side effect
Most service members have heard a horror story or two about a fellow soldier returning home with no greeting at the airport, a completely empty refrigerator (even sans ice cubes), and an empty bank account. The sad homecoming for some troops means one thing: Divorce.
There’s a good reason why tattoo parlors are strategically located near military bases. Troops love ink (including this writer). Whether it’s a simple U.S. Army or USMC on your arm to show pride in your service, or a listing of fallen friends, tattoos are a big part of the military culture.
Just make sure you get it spell-checked.
What did you buy right after deployment? Let us know in the comments.
The actual translation of Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak’s epic nickname might be “The White Lily of Stalingrad,” depending on the language you speak. Considering the Lily’s association with death and funerals, it’s rather fitting for such an incredible pilot.
Litvyak was only 20 years old when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The young girl rushed to the recruiter and tried to join to be a fighter pilot. The recruiters sent her packing. In their minds, she was just a small, young girl.
In truth, she was flying solo at 15 and was an experienced pilot. A biographer estimated she trained more than 45 pilots on her own. She knew she could do this. So instead of giving up, she went to another recruiter and lied about her flying experience, by more than a hundred hours. That did the trick.
The Soviets, probably realizing that this fight was going to kill a lot of Soviet people (and it did, to the tune of 27 million), were foresighted enough to consider gender equality when it came to their military units. Where American women pilots were only allowed to transport planes, Stalin was forming three fighter regiments of all-female pilots.
Young Lydia Litvyak flew a few missions with the all-female unit before transferring to a mixed-gender unit — over Stalingrad. It was here she earned her illustrious moniker, “The White Rose of Stalingrad.” She flew around a hail of anti-aircraft fire to engage an artillery observation balloon from the rear. She shot it down in a blaze of hydrogen-fueled mayhem — a notoriously difficult task for any pilot.
Litvyak wasn’t finished; she later became one of two women to be crowned “first female fighter ace” as well. She wasn’t flawless — she was shot down more than once and bled more than her share over Russian soil.
But even when forced to make belly landings, she hopped right back into the closest cockpit.
She was so good, the Russian command chose her to be Okhotniki, — or “free hunter” — a new tactic that involved two experienced pilots who were free to hunt the skies on seek and destroy missions. She terrorized German pilots all over the Eastern Front.
“The White Rose of Stalingrad” was last seen being chased by eight Nazi ME-109 fighters on an escort mission south of Moscow. Her body was lost until 1989 when historians discovered the unmarked grave of a female pilot in the Russian village of Dmytrivka.
The next year, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev awarded Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak the title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the USSR’s highest military honor.
Memorial Day is a time to remember the lives lost to preserve American freedom. It’s a solemn holiday most often spent by sharing a day off with loved ones, usually around a grill with a cold one in your hand. But as you enjoy a burger and a beer and share laughs with friends and family, take a minute to remember everyone who can’t be with their loved ones.
It’s really astonishing just how many people celebrate Memorial Day in America by having a cookout, watching a parade, and enjoying a frosty beverage. In fact, a staggering sixty percent of American households will spend one day during the Memorial-Day weekend at a barbecue — second only to Independence Day. Memorial Day is the second biggest period for beer sales in America and $1.5 billion will be spent on meat and seafood.
Even more astonishing is the number of volunteers that go out to cemeteries to plant the Stars and Stripes on the graves of fallen troops and veterans. While 1.5 million people watch more than a thousand active duty service members in the National Memorial Day Parade and 900,000 people gather for the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle rally in our nation’s capital, over 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery will be adorned with flags by volunteers.
More than 45 million men and women have served the United States in a time of war (you know, doing that thing we all got our National Defense Service Medal for) and more than 1.35 million American men and women have died fighting in armed conflicts around the globe. So, with all these numbers in your head, remember that the most important of all is “three.” At 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, Americans everywhere will put down the burger, turn off the TV, and take a moment in silence.
The National Moment of Remembrance is where we forget our personal and political differences for and come together as a nation to remember those who lost their lives fighting for our rights, freedoms, and privileges as Americans — so we can enjoy that burger, watch that TV, and ride our motorcycles.
So, take a moment. 3pm, Memorial Day. Be there.
Here are a few more interesting numbers surrounding Memorial Day.