That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II - We Are The Mighty
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That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Five days after Hitler ate a bullet in his bunker in Berlin and two days before Germany would ultimately surrender, American and German troops were fighting together side by side in what has been dubbed World War II’s “strangest battle.”


It was the last days of the war on May 5, 1945 when French prisoners, Austrian resistance fighters, German soldiers, and American tankers all fought in defense of Itter Castle in Austria.

In 1943, the German military turned the small castle into a prison for “high value” prisoners, such as French prime ministers, generals, sports stars, and politicians. By May 4, 1945, with Germany and its military quickly collapsing, the commander of the prison and his guards abandoned their post.

The prisoners were now running the asylum, but they couldn’t just walk out the front door and enjoy their freedom. The Waffen SS, the fanatical paramilitary unit commanded by Heinrich Himmler, had plans to recapture the castle and execute all of the prisoners.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Schloss Itter (Itter Castle) in July 1979. (Photo: S.J. Morgan. CC BY-SA 3.0)

That’s when the prisoners enlisted the help of nearby American troops led by Capt. John ‘Jack’ Lee, local resistance fighters, and yes, even soldiers of the Wehrmacht to defend the castle through the night and early morning of May 5. The book “The Last Battle” by Stephen Harding tells the true tale of what happened next.

From The Daily Beast:

There are two primary heroes of this—as I must reiterate, entirely factual—story, both of them straight out of central casting. Jack Lee was the quintessential warrior: smart, aggressive, innovative—and, of course, a cigar-chewing, hard-drinking man who watched out for his troops and was willing to think way, way outside the box when the tactical situation demanded it, as it certainly did once the Waffen-SS started to assault the castle. The other was the much-decorated Wehrmacht officer Major Josef ‘Sepp’ Gangl, who died helping the Americans protect the VIPs. This is the first time that Gangl’s story has been told in English, though he is rightly honored in present-day Austria and Germany as a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance.

As the New York Journal of Books notes in its review of Harding’s work, Army Capt. Lee immediately assumed command of the fight for the castle over its leaders — Capt. Schrader and Maj. Gangl — and they fought against a force of 100 to 150 SS troops in a confusing battle, to say the least.

Over the six-hour battle, the SS managed to destroy the sole American tank of the vastly outnumbered defenders, and Allied ammunition ran extremely low. Fortunately, the Americans were able to call for reinforcements, and once they showed up the SS backed off, according to Donald Lateiner in his review.

Approximately 100 SS troops were taken prisoner, according to the BBC. The only friendly casualty of the battle was Maj. Gangl, who was shot by a sniper. The nearby town of Wörgl later named a street after him in his honor, while Capt. Lee received the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery in the battle.

As for the book, apparently it’s been optioned to be made into a movie. With a crazy story like this, you’d think it would’ve already been made.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what a Marine can expect from IRR muster

So, you’ve been navigating the vast ocean of civilian life, all while growing an impressive beard and wearing that veteran’s hat to places. Suddenly, one day, you get a letter — orders for Individual, Ready Reserve Muster. But at this point, you’ve been out for so long, and you’re wondering why they’re calling you back. Well, the Marine Corps wants to check in and make sure you’re still ready to be called back into active service should they need you back in the rain, dealing pain.

It may seem like an inconvenience and, sure, it might be, but it’s really not that bad. It’s only a few hours on the weekend, and you can choose to go in the morning or the afternoon. On top of that, you’ll get paid somewhere around $250, for three hours of time. You might show up and hear a bunch of fellow Marines complain, but it’s not a field op. It’s not raining. You just sit in a few rooms, fill out some paperwork, and then you’re on your way.

Overall, here’s what you can expect:


That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

It almost brings a tear to your eye. Almost.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lucas Vega)

You get treated like a human being

There’s going to be a ton of staff NCOs and officers hanging around muster. None of them are going to yell at you for your lack of shave, haircut, or proper greeting of the day. Not a single one will hit you with a, “hey there, Devil Dog,” just to chew your ass for not saying good morning.

Furthermore, when you talk to the admin clerks and other Marines running the muster, they won’t even require you to address them by rank. Here’s the thing: they know you’re a Marine, but they actually just treat you like another person, which is an improvement.

Waiting in lines

Did you expect anything different? Most of your time at muster will be spent in lines… go figure. Waiting to leave rooms, waiting to have someone look at a medical form, etc. You know the drill. Honestly, it’s not as bad as any other line you’ve been through in the Marines. Not even close.

The only thing that makes those lines bad is the fact that you’re trying to get out of there to go do civilian things, like eat real food, not shave, and not worry about formation.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

It’s seriously not bad.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Daniel Hughes)

Briefs

No, not your underpants — you know what we mean. You’re going to get two briefs for a max of, like, 20 minutes, tops. One is from the VA and the other is to tell you about your options in the Reserve. It’s definitely not anywhere near as bad as annual training briefs, which span the course of several days, and last for about eight hours each.

Medical screening

Right after you go through the briefs, you’ll fill out a medical form to list any ailments you may have. If you do have some medical issues, you’ll wait to go into a room for a screening where they’ll decide whether or not you’re still in good enough condition to deploy if necessary. Otherwise, you go straight to the administrative room.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

It doesn’t take long, honestly.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Daniel Hughes)

Administrative tasks

This part probably takes the longest, and it’s mostly just waiting (again, go figure). You’re just there to verify that your contact information is correct as well as your Record of Emergency Data and other things. It’s just a quick scan, sign, date, and then you verify your bank information, turn in the paperwork, and you’re out of there.

A lot of other people might complain but, realistically, IRR Muster is not the worst thing you could do on a Saturday — especially when you compare it to your Saturdays spent as a Marine.

Articles

17 Photos That Show Why Troops Absolutely Love The .50 Caliber Machine Gun

The M2 .50 caliber machine gun has been in production longer than any other, and it’s easy to see why troops love it.


Since the 1930s, “Ma Deuce” has been serving troops on the ground, in vehicles, and in aircraft, and with its effectiveness and reliability, it doesn’t look like this weapon is going out of style any time soon. Originally developed during World War I by John Browning, the weapon is now in the hands of U.S. troops and a number of NATO allies.

Here’s why:

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

The M2 .50 cal has served troops well in Iraq and Afghanistan as a fearsome automatic weapon usually mounted to vehicles.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

But it was just as deadly in Normandy in 1944 …

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

… As it is overlooking remote bases in Afghanistan today.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

With a belt-fed .50 BMG round, it packs serious punch that can effectively hit targets out to 1,800 meters.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

The weapon can fire a variety of ammunition types, such as standard ball, blanks, armor-piercing (AP), armor-piercing incendiary (API), armor-piercing incendiary tracer (APIT) …

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

… And the crowd favorite: Saboted Light Armor Penetrator (SLAP), which can bust through steel.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Troops can find the .50 cal everywhere from the perimeter of the forward operating base …

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

… to the rails of U.S. Navy ships.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Of course, two is better than one.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Before they can fire it, soldiers usually learn how to disassemble, assemble, and adjust headspace and timing — tweaks made to the gun that allow it to fire safely. (The U.S. Army upgraded a number of their .50 cals to the M2A1, which doesn’t require headspace & timing adjustments).

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Once it’s ready to go, soldiers place the rounds on the feed tray, make sure the cover is closed, and pull the bolt to the rear to load the weapon.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Then it’s ready to rock and roll. The .50 can fire in single shot or fully automatic mode.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

At the rear, soldiers grab the “spade” handle and fire it using a butterfly trigger. They need to be careful however: There’s no safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge (Some variants have been fielded which feature a positive safety selector).

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

While it’s most often mounted to vehicles in a rotating turret …

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

… Ma Deuce can also be found on the side of helicopters.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

And with the use of a tripod, it can also be fired very effectively from the ground.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Correction: This post was updated with new information to reflect the fielding of the M2A1 variant and other versions, which feature safety selectors, and don’t require the need for adjustments to headspace and timing.

Articles

This airman is a survivor — and a leader

Air Force Staff Sgt. Srun Sookmeewiriya — or “Sook,” as many people know him — may seem like a happy and carefree airman at first glance.


The 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron’s noncommissioned officer in charge of reports regularly puts forth an earnest effort here to keep his unit alive and running, so his dark past and his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts come as a surprise to many.

“He’s like the morale person — that’s what everybody else refers him to,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Melissa Vela, the 313th EOSS NCO in charge of console operations. “He’s so full of energy. He’s so infectious, he makes everybody laugh.”

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Air Force Staff Sgt. Srun Sookmeewiriya, 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of reports, holds a picture of himself with his younger brother, Thana, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Feb. 16, 2017. Sookmeewiriya, who attempted to commit suicide twice, said he draws inspiration from his brother to remain resilient and encourages airmen to open up about their struggles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Unknown to many of his wingmen, Sook’s current persona is possible only because he recovered from serious trauma he experienced as a young man. When Sook still lived in his native Thailand, both of his parents committed suicide. He witnessed his mother’s suicide, and he found his father’s body after his father had taken his own life and attempted to kill Sook’s younger brother, Thana.

“I saw him lying there in bed,” he recalled. “I wasn’t sure what happened. I tried to wake him up to see if he was still alive. I thought I was alone, and I didn’t know who I would go to now. My head was just spinning at that point. It was a shock.” Thana survived the gunshot wound, but was never the same, physically or mentally, Sook said.

Suicide Attempts

With his mother and father gone, Thana was the only family Sook had left. He went to a boarding school, where he said depression haunted him and other children bullied him for not having parents. This led to a suicide attempt by ingesting a large amount of over-the-counter medication. He was in a coma for two days.

Sook finished boarding school and eventually immigrated to the United States, where Thana would join him soon afterward. Sook spent his early time in the U.S. with relatives from his father’s first marriage. He would bounce from family to family because of his troubled personality, he said, and he also felt as if he was just an outsider because of his status as a “half-relative.”

“I felt like I didn’t belong, because I wasn’t a part of their family,” Sook said. “I didn’t feel any emotion when I hugged them.”

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Trauma can take many forms; in recent years the military is striving to raise awareness of its symptoms and provide treatment.

The feeling of being an outsider overwhelmed Sook, and he tried to kill himself again.

“I didn’t want to deal with the state I was in: not feeling welcome and not feeling like I was part of the family,” he said. “At that time as a kid, I thought that the best way was to just end it all and leave.”

Sook said he tried to hide his attempted suicide, but his relatives eventually found out and sent him to a doctor to get help. His half-sister, Kim, was especially appalled, and confronted him about what he done. She asked, “What about your brother?”

Also read: 5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

“When she mentioned my brother, I totally thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m leaving him behind,'” Sook said. That’s when he decided to turn around and confront his issues instead of running from them. Sook described his brother as his inspiration in his fight against depression.

“He was the only family I had up to that point. It was me and him. He has been through a lot tougher things than I had. Because of the gunshot wound, he was scarred for life. He didn’t grow up normally, but he never gave up. That’s one reason why I should not and will not give up on him, because he didn’t either.”

Strength in Recovery

As part of his recovery process, Sook found strength in his faith and from Kim, who helped him get back on his feet.

“It took me a while — basically, a couple years,” he said. “I think I’m still bouncing back to this day. I think of this tragedy as a lesson, and that lesson is to not repeat the same thing that [my parents] did.”

Sook joined the Air Force as a civil engineer airman, and cross-trained to be an air mobility controller. He adopted Thana as his dependent, and eventually married and started a family. He noted that although his life still has its ups and downs, he copes by confiding in his wife. He also expressed gratitude for the support his coworkers give him continuously.

“Having a good work center in the Air Force actually helped me out a lot,” he said. “When I have other issues, they continue to help me out.”

Vela described how surprised she was when Sook opened up to her about his past, saying that she would have never guessed that an airman like Sook would have experienced so much trauma.

“I was speechless the whole time he told his story,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, are you OK?’ To me, I can see the strength in his words and his actions. Seeing the strength that he had to come forth and tell his story is amazing.”

Encouragement for Others

Sook shares his story occasionally with the public, hoping to encourage people suffering from depression to seek help and not to try to survive on their own. He said he emphasizes how important it is to open up to people who care, and that many people are standing by at agencies on the base ready to assist in their battle against depression.

“Don’t bottle up those issues,” he added. “If you stress out, talk it out. Find somebody who is willing to listen.”

Sook said he encourages airmen to look for a cause and to do what it takes to survive so they can continue to fight for it.

“Don’t give up. Look for what you’re fighting for,” he said. “I fight for my brother, my wife, and my kids. It’s their future and my future.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is what happened to all the old US F-14 Tomcats

There was only one foreign customer for the advanced F-14 Tomcat fighter during its heyday: Iran. The Shah chose to buy 80 Tomcats instead of the F-15 Eagle – and it was a good investment. Even after Imperial Iran gave way to the Islamic Republic of Iran after the 1979 revolution, the Iranian Air Force was still stacked with some of the best Tomcat pilots in the world.

And the U.S. doesn’t want any of them in the air again ever.


Iran is the United States’ ex-girlfriend that we just can’t stop thinking about. After the Islamic Revolution, the U.S. could just not leave Iran alone. A major sticking point for the United States was that our ex still had 30 of our best fighter aircraft, and they were using it to great effect against our new boo, Iraq, in the Iran-Iraq War. The Iranian Air Force was so skilled in the Iran-Iraq War that a lone tomcat could clear the skies of enemy aircraft without firing a shot. Many of the successful downings of Tomcats were at the hands of ground-based SAM batteries… Iranian SAM batteries.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Watching Iranian Tomcats fly is like watching your ex wearing the ring you bought her that she won’t give back.

But the United States eventually gets better stuff, no matter how iconic Top Gun is. Since the Tomcat, we’ve had the major advances in fighter technology that led us to develop the F-22 and F-35 fighters, technology so amazing it might seem like magic to some. So it made sense to retire our fleet of F-14s in 2007, given that we had an air superiority fighter that had the radar cross-section of a bumblebee and could take out enemy planes before it could physically see them. When Iran got wind of its retirement, you could practically hear the CEO of Northrop Grumman’s tummy growling at the idea of parts sales.

But nope. This was 2007 and Iran was still firmly placed in President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” along with North Korea. The idea of selling Iran rare F-14 parts, so it didn’t have to cannibalize its own F-14 inventory was preposterous. It was this concern that led the Pentagon to shred every last leftover F-14 Tomcat.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Kinda like this, except with millions of dollars worth of metal and avionics.

Did the United States have to take a million plane and reduce it to scrap metal just so Iran couldn’t repair its aging fleet? No, according to many national security experts, it did not. They said the move was more symbolic than practical. F-14 parts were considered sensitive equipment just for this reason, so the U.S. ended all parts sales to anyone, not just Iran, for fear that Iran might get them eventually. But that doesn’t matter, there isn’t much Iran could do with their F-14s if they were airworthy.

“Those planes as they age are maybe the equivalent of Chevrolets in Cuba. They become relics of a past era,” said Larry C. Johnson, a former deputy chief of counterterrorism at the State Department in President George H.W. Bush’s administration. “Even if they can put them in the air, they are going to face more advanced weapons systems.”

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Goose is rolling around in his grave.

 

The decision to destroy all the surplus Tomcats was the defense equivalent of taking the house and the car despite not needing or wanting either – a purely spiteful move that makes Tomcat fans wish they would have just donated to museums.

Articles

These are the 10 deadliest self-propelled howitzers

A longtime saying in war is that artillery is the king of the battlefield.


But some artillery are better than others, but the best are those that can drive themselves to battle.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
An ARCHER Artillery System. (Wikimedia Commons)

For a long time, all artillery was towed. First the towing as done by horses, then by trucks or other vehicles. But there was a problem. The artillery took a while to set up, then, when the battery had to move — either because troops advanced or retreated – or the enemy found out where the artillery was located, it took time to do that.

Fighter pilots say, speed is life.” Artillerymen would not disagree. Towed artillery had another minus: It had a hard time keeping up with tanks and other armored fighting vehicles.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Night falls at Fort Riley, Kan., as an M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer with 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, fires a 155 mm shell during 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division’s combined arms live-fire exercise Oct. 30, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John Portela/released)

The way to cut the time down was to find a way a howitzer could propel itself. The advantage was that these guns not only could support tanks and other armored units, but these guns often had an easier time setting up to fire. They could also be ready to move much faster, as well.

This ability to “shoot and scoot” made them much harder to locate.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
2S19 Msta self-propelled howitzer. (Wikimedia Commons)

Most self-propelled howitzers fire either a 152mm round (usually from Russia and China, but also from former communist countries like Serbia) or a 155mm round (NATO and most other countries). Often these guns are tracked, but some have been mounted on truck chassis, gaining a higher top speed as a result.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
A PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer belonging to the Dutch Army fires on the Taliban in 2007. (Wikimedia Commons)

Some of the world’s best self-propelled howitzers include the American-designed M109A6 Paladin, the Russian 2S19, the South Korean K9 Thunder, and the German PzH-2000.

You can see the full list of the ten deadliest self-propelled howitzers in the video below.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How vets answer the ridiculous ‘have you ever killed someone’ question

Have you ever been asked whether you have ever killed someone?


If you are a military veteran, chances are you probably have — and it’s always been awkward. Because honestly, what are you really supposed to say? It’s not a question that most troops want to answer: If it’s a yes, it was likely in combat and just part of your job. If it’s a no, should you feel bad that you weren’t one of the cool kids on your block with a confirmed kill?

From a civilian perspective, most simply don’t know it’s an inappropriate question. In their eyes, troops are taking out bad guys all day long, and they are genuinely curious about how that goes. And for veterans who end up on the receiving end of this question, it’s important to remember this ignorance — and that you were once this clueless too.

So how do vets respond? There are a few ways, ranging from the super-serious to the sarcastic as hell.

1. The super-serious: “That’s not an appropriate question to ask.”

If you want to shut it down right here, you can answer back with this. Because really, it’s hardly ever appropriate to ask that question. No one runs up to World War II vets and asks whether they killed anyone. They are just thanked for their service and left alone, not burdened with potentially rough memories.

2. The serious: “Yes/No, but that’s not something I want to talk about.”

You’ve given the answer to that morbid question, but made it clear that’s all they are going to get. If pressed,  you  can always revert to explaining that it’s inappropriate.

3. The uncomfortably silent: “Yes/No [pause for dramatic effect]”

If you want to flip the uncomfortableness around on the person asking the question, respond with a simple yes or no and then just look straight back at them, with unblinking eye contact. Talk about awkward.

4. Answering the awkward question with a awkward question: “Have you ever slept with your sister?”

With this one, you can effectively turn the tables and demonstrate just how awkward the question made you. The questioner will likely recoil when asked — similarly to your reaction — and you can then add, “No, huh? Ok let’s talk about something else then.”

5. The True Lies answer: “Yeah, but they were all bad.”

Take a page out of Arnold’s playbook from the film “True Lies.” If you haven’t seen it (what?!), Schwarzenegger plays an international spy but his wife has no clue. When she finds out and starts asking him questions, she gets to the killing question. He tries to soften the blow of this shocking news. I think it went ok.

 

6. The funny: “You mean today, or in total?”

You could always give an unexpected answer dripping with sarcasm. Go with this one, dramatically saying “not yet,” or give a ridiculous number: Like 67.

“Well my official number if 67, but that’s only confirmed. Pretty sure I’ve gotten a lot more than that.”

So how do you respond? Let us know in the comments.

SEE ALSO: 30 ‘facts’ about World War II that just aren’t true

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US just tested a new missile 16 days after scrapping an arms treaty

From St. Nicolas Island, Calif., the United States fired its latest gift for Vladimir Putin’s Russian Army – a new medium-range missile that would have been banned under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987. The accord, also known as the INF Treaty, bans nuclear-capable weapons with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The United States left that treaty earlier in August 2019, after blaming Russia for violating the agreement first. The Russians aren’t happy about it at all.


That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Russia’s 9M729 missile, the one that broke the 1987 INF Treaty.

The Aug. 18, 2019 missile test saw the projectile deliberately fly beyond the 500-kilometer range that would have seen it banned by the INF Treaty. Newly-minted Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wants missiles like this new one deployed throughout the Asia-Pacific region, but that effort was hampered under the old agreement. Now the U.S. is free to pursue the relevant technology.

“Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities,” the Defense Department said.

Meanwhile, the Russians were openly upset about the Americans pulling out of the treaty and then having a new weapon within the same month.

“All this elicits regret, the United States has obviously taken the course of escalating military tensions. We will not succumb to provocations,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. “We won’t allow ourselves to be pulled into a costly arms race.”

Bold words from a government who has, according to the United States government, already violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty on several occasions, most notably after it developed and deployed a prohibited missile, known by its apparent Russian designation Novator 9M729, a land-based cruise missile with a range of more than 500 kilometers.

“Russia has violated the agreement; they have been violating it for many years,” Trump said after a Oct. 20 campaign rally in Elko, Nevada. “And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to.” But it’s not just the President who is denouncing the Russian military. The State Department came to the same conclusion.

“The United States has determined that in 2016, the Russian Federation (Russia) continued to be in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” according to the State Department’s April 2017 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments report.

The new U.S. missile isn’t nuclear-equipped (at least, not for this particular test) and resembles the more common Tomahawk missile in looks and the once-banned intermediate-range Tomahawk missile last seen in 1987. But the Russians weren’t the only ones upset about the looming new Cold War.

“This measure from the U.S. will trigger a new round of an arms race, leading to an escalation of military confrontation, which will have a serious negative impact on the international and regional security situation,” Chinese Foreign Minister Geng Shuang said, adding that the U.S. should ditch its Cold War mentality.

Articles

15 years later, Pararescueman awarded Air Force Cross for valor

Fifteen years after a 17-hour battle on an Afghan mountaintop, a pararescueman’s extraordinary heroism was recognized with an Air Force Cross, upgraded from a Silver Star, following a service-wide review of medals awarded since 9/11.


That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
The Air Force Cross is the service’s highest combat medal for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy)

Then-Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller –against overwhelming odds and a barrage of heavy fire from Al Qaeda militants– dashed through deep snow into the line of fire multiple times to assess and care for critically-wounded U.S. service members, March 4, 2002.

Miller was previously awarded the Silver Star medal for these actions, Nov. 1, 2003. The Air Force Cross is the service’s highest combat medal for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor.

“We are blessed to have Airmen like Keary in the Special Tactics community,” said Col. Michael Martin, the 24th Special Operations Wing commander, who directed training for Miller’s pararescue team before their deployment in 2002. “In an extraordinary situation, Keary acted with courage and valor to save the lives of 10 special operations teammates. This medal upgrade accentuates his selflessness despite an overwhelming enemy force…although Keary may humbly disagree, he belongs to a legacy of heroes.”

Miller was deployed from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, an Air National Guard unit based in Standiford, Kentucky. During the mission, he was the Air Force combat search and rescue team leader assigned to a U.S Army Ranger quick reaction force.

Also read: Special tactics airman receives medal upgrade for dramatic rescue

“I would describe Keary as a dedicated pararescueman – dedicated to his craft and dedicated to the motto ‘That others may live.’ That’s how he defined himself and that really defines his actions that day,” said Lt. Col. Sean Mclane, the 123rd STS commander, who was a second lieutenant in Miller’s home unit during that time. “We have a proud legacy and a tradition of valor, and Keary is a big part of that.”

On March 4, 2002, his team was tasked to support a joint special operations team on a mountaintop called Takur Ghar, occupied by Al Qaeda forces– an engagement commonly known as the Battle of Roberts Ridge after the first casualty of the battle, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts.

One of the most significant events in recent Special Operations history began when a joint special operations team attempted to infiltrate Takur Ghar, which held a well-fortified and concealed force. The ensuing battle would result in the loss of seven special operations team members.

“We were notified there was a missing aircrew and we were launching a team to go find them,” said Maj. Gabriel Brown, a Special Tactics officer, formerly an enlisted combat controller. “It was unknown who exactly was missing, but we loaded up two helicopters full of Rangers and the (combat search and rescue) package, which included me, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham [pararescueman] and Keary, who was my team leader. I trusted him.”

As the quick reaction force helicopter made its approach over the landing zone, they were struck by rocket propelled grenades at close range –they returned fire with mini guns, but the helicopter impacted the ground hard, lurching into the snow.

“Once we landed, 7.62mm rounds ripped through the fuselage–the daylight popping through, smoke aglow; then the rotors decelerated to a grinding halt,” Brown said. “Immediately, we had several casualties; I remember seeing two Rangers face down. Keary and I were deep in the aircraft—and we made eye contact and shared kind of a ‘here we go’ moment.”

The team disembarked from the aircraft to combat the blistering fire of a waiting enemy. At great risk to his own life, Miller moved through the snowy terrain, crossing into the line of fire on several occasions in order to assess and care for critically wounded servicemen.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

“I saw Keary taking action on the wounded, worried about collecting the casualties and triaging them,” Brown said, who was in charge of aircraft communications and precision strike. “He was careful in his thoughts and actions, conducting himself calmly and coolly – relaying the casualty information to me all morning.”

As the battle continued, Miller collected ammunition from the deceased to distribute it to multiple positions in need of ammo, moving through heavy enemy fire each time.

“I was listening to the updates as they were coming in; I was so proud because my friends were on that mountain and their future was so uncertain but they were rocking it – they were doing everything right,” Mclane said, who was listening real-time to satellite communications of the battle. “It’s like, these guys might not make it off this mountain, but by God, they’re going down swinging.”

When Cunningham was killed during another attack, the casualty collection point he was at was compromised. Miller assumed Cunningham’s role — providing medical aid under fire to the wounded – and braved enemy fire to move the wounded to better cover and concealment.

Related: 12 Airmen may get Air Force Cross or Medal of Honor upgrades

“I wholeheartedly believe the Air Force Cross accurately represents Keary’s actions that day,” said Brown. “I know those lives were saved that day were because of his efforts within that environment…the steps he took to ensure they made it off the battlefield.”

Miller is credited with saving the lives of 10 U.S. service members that day, and the recovery of seven who were killed in action.

Following his deployment, Miller returned to the 123rd STS as a mentor for the newest generation of operators. The events he experienced helped him to shape tactics, techniques and procedures for years to come.

“Keary was already a mature pararescueman before he went on that mission,” Mclane said. “But, when he returned, he really dedicated himself to improving our body armor, our equipment, our (tactics, techniques and procedures) when under fire – he was driven to be better, and to make his teammates better.”
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The B-29 Superfortress debuted 73 years ago – relive it’s legacy in photos

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
A B-29 from the 468th Bombardment group attacking Hatto, Formosa on 18 October 1944 with high-explosive bombs. Overshot runway due to prop failure Jun 17, 1945 at West Field, Tinian. (Photo by US Army Air Forces Birdsall, Stephen via Wikimedia Commons)


On September 21, 1942, 73 years ago, the maiden flight of the Boeing B-29 “Superfortress” took place.

The plane was the successor of Boeing’s ultra-tough B-17 “Flying Fortress,” and the predecessor to the B-52 “Stratofortress,” which is still in use today.

The plane would become the long range, heavy bombing workhorse of the Pacific theater of World War II, where it achieved fame and infamy for dropping Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Relive the legacy of this iconic bomber in the pictures below.

The B-29 was very advanced for its time, featuring a pressurized cabin, tricycle dual-wheeled landing gear, and remote controlled gun turrets.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Photo: USAF via Wikimedia Commons

Only the front and back compartments were pressurized, meaning that the crew had to crawl over the bomb bay via a narrow 35-foot tunnel.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Photo via US National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons

At the time, it was the heaviest production plane in the world, weighing in at 105,000 pounds with an optional 20,000 pounds of bombs.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Photo by US Army Air Forces Birdsall, Stephen via Wikimedia Commons

A B-29 from the 468th Bombardment group attacking Hatto, Formosa on 18 October 1944 with high-explosive bombs. Overshot runway due to prop failure Jun 17, 1945 at West Field, Tinian.

In addition to bombs, the B-29 was armed with 12 remotely controlled .50 caliber Browning machine guns and a 20 millimeter cannon at the tail gun.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Photo by US National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons

Kenneth W. Roberts, of Weitchpee, Calif., assigned to the Japan-based 98th Bomb Wing, checks his trio of .50 caliber tail-stingers before another mission over North Korea in his U.S. Air Force B-29 “Superfortress.”

Here is rare color footage of a formation of B-29s dropping bombs.

via GIPHY

And watch the .50 caliber Browning machine guns take out a Japanese Zero.

via GIPHY

Famously, the Enola Gay bombed Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Three days later, another B-29, the Bockscar, bombed Nagasaki.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Photo by US Department of Energy

The crew of the Enola Gay stands outside the plane.

After World War II, the B-29 went on to face jet-powered fighters in the Korean war.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Photo by US Air Forces via Wikimedia Commons

A US F-84E refueling from a B-29 Superfortress over Korea.

Of about 4,000 B-29s produced, only one, the Fifi, remains airworthy. It is owned and maintained by the Commemorative Air Force, based at Addison, Texas.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
Photo by Ilikerio via Wikimedia Commons

The last flying B-29 at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

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This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense. Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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4 surprising things North Korean spies have to learn

North Korea and the United States don’t have a lot in common. What they do share is a need for gathering intelligence — typically about each other. While the United States’ intelligence agencies might have a difficult time penetrating the North’s rigid class system and meticulous tracking of its citizens, the Hermit Kingdom can exploit the open societies of the West to plant its operatives – and it does.


Kim Hyon-hui was one of those operatives. The daughter of a high-level North Korean diplomat during the Cold War, she trained rigorously in the North as an intelligence operative. She went on a number of missions, including the infamous 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines flight 858, which was personally ordered by President Kim Il-Sung to frighten teams from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Much of her training would not surprise anyone, but some of it might.

Japanese national Yaeko Taguchi was kidnapped after dropping her kids off at school at age 22. She’s been training spies ever since.

Japanese

There’s a special school for North Korea’s spy agents, located outside the capital city of Pyongyang. There, they learn the usual spy stuff we’ve all come to expect from watching movies and television: explosives, martial arts, and scuba diving. What’s most unusual is not just that this school also teaches its agents Japanese, but who teaches it to them.

For the longest time, North Korea denied ever having abducted Japanese citizens for any reason. But a number of defectors, including the captured spy, Kim Hyon-hui, described learning Japanese from a native speaker, Yaeko Taguchi. North Korea has been accused of abducting a number of Japanese citizens to put them to work for similar reasons. The North’s disdain for Japan dates back to World War II, owing to the atrocities committed on Koreans by Japanese troops. North Koreans like Japan as much as they like the United States. Maybe less.

North Korean spies
Image by tragrpx from Pixabay

Supermarkets

It may or may not surprise you to learn that North Korean grocery stores are very much unlike any Western grocery stores. Most of the time, North Koreans don’t actually go to supermarkets, no matter how much food is available to them. North Korea doesn’t have supermarkets as we know them.

North Korean spies
Image by Free stock photos from www.rupixen.com from Pixabay

Credit Cards

The idea of using plastic instead of hard currency was a huge surprise to Kim. She had to be trained not just to use a credit card, but how credit cards work in general, considering much of the technology used to create this system of payment wasn’t available to North Korea back then (and still isn’t, but that’s by choice).

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II
It somehow took practice to dance like this

Nightclubs

The nightlife of North Korea seems like something from the pre-sexual revolution 1960s. While beer and soju are widely consumed in Pyongyang, even in the capital there are no obvious bars or nightclubs. Many North Koreans spend their evenings with their families at the dinner table or by going to concerts and family fun parks, small carnivals that stay in the same place all the time. To go to a European disco and party like a Westerner required training.


-Feature image by Ryan McGuire via Pixabay

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens when rocket and missile launches go wrong

These days, when you see a rocket or missile launch, it almost seems routine. The engines fire and the rocket starts taking off, either sending an object directly to orbit or carrying enough firepower to blow something into orbit. What looks like standard procedure from the outside masks the fact that these rockets and missiles are very complex pieces of technology — and when this routine process goes wrong, it goes wrong very quickly and very violently.


Missiles are complex pieces of technology that are surprisingly delicate (a dropped tool once destroyed a Titan missile and its silo). With so many critical details involved, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong — and occasionally, they do. For example, in the 1980s, two RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles were accidentally launched, one by the United States Navy and one by the Royal Danish Navy. Thankfully, no injuries (outside of the respective captains’ pride) occurred in either incident.

www.youtube.com

A 2016 Trident II test for the Royal Navy is the most recent launch to have gone bad — and this test led to some disagreements between the Americans (who claimed the missile had to be destroyed) and the UK (who called the test a success). Thirty years earlier, the United States Navy had egg on its face when the first at-sea Trident II launch went out of control. Thankfully, in both of these cases, nobody was injured.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Mitrofan Nedelin’s tenure as the Soviet Army’s chief marshal of the artillery ended when the test of a SS-7 ended in a horrific explosion.

Other failed launches, however, have not had such fortunate endings. For instance, a test of a Soviet SS-7 Saddler intercontinental ballistic missile in 1960 killed the then-chief marshal of the artillery for the Soviet Army, Mitrofan Nedelin, and at least 100 other people. In 1996, a Chinese Long March rocket crashed down in a village, with some estimates claiming as many as 500 people were killed.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Video stills showing a Chinese Long March rocket going out of control before it crashed into a nearby village.

(United States Congress)

Today, failures are fewer and further between. One big reason for this is that many missiles now use solid fuel as opposed to liquid fuel. Liquid fuel is far more volatile and leads to explosions more frequently.

The launches you see nowadays may look routine from the outside, but remember, that’s the result of thousands of tests.

Watch the 1965 Air Force video below to see some missile launches, both successes and failures.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOl4Jzfm6YU

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why there are shipwrecks underneath the farms of Kansas

As you may or may not know, the U.S. state of Kansas isn’t exactly a coastal state. The body of water it does have access to is the Mississippi River System and its tributaries, namely the Missouri River. It turns out the mighty river system that once provided a vital artery for American commerce is still hiding a few hidden surprises, namely steamboat shipwrecks in farm fields, far from where any ships should reasonably belong.


That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

This is way more dangerous than you think.

(Arabia Steamboat Museum)

Anyone reading at this point is likely wondering how on Earth shipwrecked steamboats are under farmers’ fields instead of at the bottom of the Missouri River. Just outside of Kansas City lies the wreck of the steamboat Great White Arabia, a ship that sunk in the Missouri in 1856. Rumors circulated for decades that just such a ship was somewhere under Kansas City, but this was written off as local legend. The locals believed it was filled with barrels of Kentucky bourbon. The truth is the ship was still there, but instead of bourbon, it was filled with champagne.

The champagne, along with all its other cargo, furniture, and provisions, were perfectly preserved by the dirt and silt beneath which it was buried. In 1987, a team of locals from Kansas City decided to see if the rumors were true and began to research where it might be – and how it got there.

They found it within a year.

That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

(Arabia Steamboat Museum)

It turns out that Steamboat travel along the Mississippi River and the rivers that make up the Mighty Mississipi was incredibly dangerous. Hundreds of steamboats were sunk in its powerful waters and along with their hulls, so went the lives of passengers, crews, and whatever else the boats were carrying. The Great White Arabia was carrying 220 tons of cargo and 130 passengers when it went down. The boat was hit by an errant log in the river, the most common reason for boats sinking at the time, and went down in minutes. The passengers survived. This time.

The crew who worked on unearthing the Great White Arabia has discovered another wreck, the Malta. The reason both ships ended up at the bottom of cornfields instead of the rivers is due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It turns out the Missouri River hasn’t always been in the same place. The Army actually altered the shape of the river at the end of the 1800s. It made the river narrower, thus speeding up the river’s current and making travel times much shorter. When it moved the river, ships that were once sunk suddenly found themselves buried.

For more information about Kansas’ farm shipwrecks, check out the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which houses the ship’s perfectly preserved cargo.

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