On January 21, 1968, North Vietnam achieved an impossible feat. With its Viet Cong counterparts, it managed to launch a large-scale, coordinated assault on American and South Vietnamese military bases and cities across South Vietnam, and they caught their capitalist enemy completely by surprise.
Nowhere was this surprise felt stronger by the Americans and South Vietnamese than in the ancient city of Hue, which was situated near the demilitarized zone between North and South. The communists caught the city completely unprepared. The U.S. response in its wake was so piecemeal because military planners couldn’t believe they could capture the city.
When a division of North Vietnamese soldiers attacked the city in the early morning hours, the defenses were minimal. Much of the force from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was away for the Tet holiday. No matter what the remaining forces could muster, it would not be enough to repel the communists.
The Americans, at first, didn’t fare much better. United States Marines responded with a counterattack but had no idea what they were actually walking into. In fact, in the immediate aftermath, almost no one in the U.S. Army command knew the extent of the losses or of the enemy’s real strength in the city.
But those inside the city knew. Defenders of a small Military Assistance Command – Vietnam compound and a South Vietnamese Army Base were under heavy assault from the Viet Cong and had taken many casualties. Inside of Hue, they were fighting for their lives. The enemy quickly took control of the old citadel and were assaulting the ARVN base.
U.S. troops in an American UH-1 Huey helicopter were shot down over the ARVN installation. Once on the ground, they were surrounded by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers. Luckily for them Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Ferguson was flying nearby in a Huey of his own.
The Americans knew Hue was under attack. While they may not have known yet the full scope of the situation, they knew it was bad. Ferguson was advised not to try to assist the survivors of the crash but he wasn’t going to let them just die.
He immediately disregarded his resupply mission and made his way to Hue, where he also started taking anti-aircraft fire. He took his bird on a low-level flight along the Perfume River at maximum airspeed as he flew to the city and found the isolated ARVN compound where the remains of the downed helicopter still lay.
Under heavy small arms fire, he landed his aircraft in a space so tight it was almost impossible to operate the helicopter. The bird kicked up a storm cloud of dust as it landed and CWO Ferguson began to jettison everything aboard the airship that wasn’t necessary or nailed down.
As they loaded the wounded and exhausted survivors of the crash, the Huey began to take an enormous amount of small arms and mortar fire, nearly crippling it where it sat. Somehow, though, Ferguson skillfully got the ship airborne in spite of the damage and flew it and the survivors to safety. He flew back at the same speed and altitude at which he came in, taking even more damage to the aircraft.
His swift decision and cool head under fire saved the lives of five fellow soldiers, safely returning them to Phu Bai.
On Flag Day, 1969, Frederick Ferguson was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon. It was the first one presented to an Army aviator in the Vietnam War. That was far from the end for Ferguson, though. Over the course of his career he was awarded two Silver Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, and 39 Air Medals. He is even one of a handful of Americans to appear on a postage stamp while still living.
Though the latest explosive ordnance tech may trace an innovation curve toward tiny/powerful similar to that of the smartphone, for the purposes of terrorism, a few sacks of the right garden-variety chemicals packed in a vehicle is all it takes to cause mass destruction and appalling casualties. A car bomber doesn’t even necessarily need to die behind the wheel to detonate it. He or she can live to attack again.
That was certainly Timothy McVeigh’s thinking on Apr. 19, 1995, when he lit timed fuses to a massive homemade explosive device in the yellow Ryder truck he’d parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The ensuing detonation, registered by seismometers at the nearby Omniplex Science Museum at approximately 3.0 on the Richter scale, destroyed one third of the building, killed 168 people (including 19 children) and wounded over 680 others.
McVeigh’s truck bombing was, to date, the deadliest act of domestic terror in U.S. history. It was the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil prior to the September 11th attacks, which would eclipse the memory of McVeigh’s villainy just three months after he was executed by lethal injection on June 11th, 2001.
Terrible as it was, the Oklahoma City bombing paled in comparison to the strength and lethality of the 1983 car bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport. In that attack, a suicide bomber drove a truck packed with over 2,000 lbs. of explosives directly into the heart of the facility.
The blast, which FBI investigators later qualified as the largest non-nuclear detonation since WW2, killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers. Estimated to have delivered an explosive force equivalent to 21,000 pounds of TNT, it was the largest car bomb ever detonated. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the building levitate off its support columns on a cloud of concussive fire before thundering down into a plinth of stratified rubble.
The 1st Battalion 8th Marines stationed there was part of a multinational peacekeeping force supervising the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Beirut. Under the peacetime rules of engagement, security around the barracks was relatively light, with sentry’s weapons unloaded and on safe. However, given the size of the explosive device, investigators concluded that the barracks would have been destroyed even if the bomber had been stopped at the last checkpoint and detonated it there.
Converting cars into mass-casualty weapons has been repeatedly demonstrated as an effective, go-to tactic for insurgent forces and terror organizations. It works to create chaos and inflict collateral damage and serves to erode the momentum of the mission wherever the U.S. deploys its armed forces.
But the sowing of terror has as much to do with the conversion aspect as the deaths that result from the bombs. The psychological shock of a terrorist act is heightened in the imaginations of those left alive by the awareness that a common token of peaceful, everyday life — a yellow box truck, a commercial jet, some dude’s underwear — has been turned, by fanatical human creativity, into a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a move tailor-made to mess with the mind of comfortable society. And even though it’s been happening with increasing frequency since the turn of the 20th century, the shock of the vehicle bomb never seems blunted or dulled, and the dread of it, never fully absorbed.
We can’t get used to the horror of it. To the moral mind, it smacks of such desperation and depravity, we won’t allow it to become normal. And in that, there’s some small hope to be had.
While Congress might have tinkered with the benefits many former servicemembers will receive when they leave the military beginning in 2018, the dizzying array of calculations, percentages, and investment tools now a part of a veteran’s future nest egg may come with a silver lining.
Potentially tax-free shopping for life.
The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act included significant changes to the military retirement system, including a reduction in retirement pay and matching contributions to a military Thrift Savings Plan. The so-called “blended retirement system” is similar to the kind of portable 401(k) that many civilian workers already have.
But in a separate deal, the Pentagon is set to approve a change to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service that would allow former honorably discharged servicemembers to shop at AAFES online for life.
For those not in the know, the Exchange is a department store-like retail outlet that also operates food courts, gas stations, liquor stores, and military clothing stores on U.S. military installations worldwide. While items do not have to be sold at cost (as they do at the commissary – the military grocery stores which are also on bases) if they are sold at the Exchange, they are sold tax-free.
This could mean tax-free commercial electronics for all!
The deal would not include access to the military commissary system.
Opening the Exchange service to all veterans would mean 20 million new customers and hundreds of millions in revenue for Morale, Welfare, Recreation services, which is where the dividends from Exchange services are reinvested, Military.com reports.
Access to the Exchange is currently restricted to military members who are active duty, guard, or reserve, retired or disabled military members, authorized family, and Medal of Honor recipients.
Hollywood is known for riddling military movies with technical errors, but from “Full Metal Jacket” to “Stripes,” the movie industry gets it right with plenty of quotable military movies.
Here are WATM’s picks for 32 of the best ever:
1. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end.” — Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, “Apocalypse Now” (1979)
2. “When I go home people will ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?’ You know what I’ll say? I won’t say a goddamn word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.” — Norman “Hoot” Hooten, “Black Hawk Down” (2001)
3. “You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about.” — Michael, “The Deer Hunter” (1978)
4. “Keep the sand out of your weapons, keep those actions clear. I’ll see you on the beach.” — Capt. John Miller, “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
5. “Are you smoking this sh-t so’s to escape from reality? Me, I don’t need this sh-t, I am reality. There’s the way it ought to be, and there’s the way it is.” — Staff Sgt. Barnes, “Platoon” (1986)
6. “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” — Gen. George Patton, “Patton” (1970)
7. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” — Maximus, “Gladiator” (2000)
8. “The Almighty tells me he can get me out of this mess, but he’s pretty sure you’re f–ked.” — Stephen, “Braveheart” (1997)
9. “Aim small, miss small.” — Capt. Benjamin Martin, “The Patriot” (2000)
10. “Out here, due process is a bullet!” — Col. Mike Kirby, “The Green Berets” (1968)
11. “Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war? … He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.” — Gen. Jack D. Ripper, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)
12. “I feel the need . . . the need for speed.” — Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, “Top Gun” (1986)
13. “Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps… And I want my scalps!” — Lt. Aldo Raine, “Inglourious Basterds” (2009)
14. “Are you quitting on me? Well, are you? Then quit, you slimy f–king walrus-looking piece of sh-t! Get the f–k off of my obstacle! Get the f–k down off of my obstacle! NOW! MOVE IT! Or I’m going to rip your balls off, so you cannot contaminate the rest of the world! I will motivate you, Private Pyle, IF IT SHORT-D–KS EVERY CANNIBAL ON THE CONGO!” — Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, “Full Metal Jacket” (1987)
15. “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” —Wardaddy, “Fury” (2014)
16. “I ain’t got time to bleed.” — Blain, “Predator” (1987)
17. “I could have killed ’em all, I could kill you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it. Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go.” —Rambo, “First Blood” (1982)
18. “Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… For tonight, we dine in hell!” — King Leonidas, “300” (2006)
19. “All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps!” — Sgt. Apone, “Aliens” (1986)
20. “You still think it’s beautiful to die for your country. The first bombardment taught us better. When it comes to dying for country, it’s better not to die at all.” — Paul Baumer, “All Quite on the Western Front” (1930)
21. “Sir, Custer was a p-ssy. You ain’t.” — Sgt. Maj. Plumley, “We Were Soldiers” (2002)
22. “Sir, I got lost on the way to college, sir.” — Anthony Swofford, “Jarhead” (2005)
23. “Remember Sully when I promised to kill you last? I lied.” — John Matrix, “Commando” (1985)
25. “Only two kinds of people are gonna stay on this beach: those that are already dead and those that are gonna die. Now get off your butts. You guys are the Fighting 29th.” — Brig. Gen. Norman Cota, “The Longest Day” (1962)
26. “F–kin’ badass, I was there. F–kin’ took him out at 400 yards, head popped up three feet in the air. Crazy shot, man.”
27. “Yes they had weapons! You think there’s a script for fighting a war without pissing somebody off? Follow the rules and nobody gets hurt? Yes, innocent people probably died. Innocent people always die but I did not exceed my orders.” — Col. Terry Childers, “Rules of Engagement” (2000)
28. “We’re Airborne. We don’t start fights, we *finish* ’em!” —Galvan, “Hamburger Hill” (1987)
29. “Lighten up, Francis.” — Sgt. Hulka, “Stripes” (1981)
30. “My name is Gunnery Sergeant Highway. I’ve drunk more beer, banged more quiff, pissed more blood, and stomped more ass than all of you numb-nuts put together.” — Gunny Highway, “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986)
31. “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.” — Master Sgt. Ernie Bilko, “Sgt. Bilko”
32. “You see Danny, I can deal with the bullets, and the bombs, and the blood. I don’t want money, and I don’t want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that f–goty white uniform and with your Harvard mouth extend me some f–king courtesy. You gotta ask me nicely.” — Col. Nathan Jessep, “A Few Good Men” (1992)
There aren’t a lot of places in the world that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency hasn’t been. Communist China became one of those places almost as soon as the agency was created. But for the Dalai Lama, they made an exception.
For much of the CIA’s formative years, it was locked in a struggle to stop the spread of Communism anywhere in the world. One of its earliest stops was the newly “liberated” Chinese Autonomous Region of Tibet.
In 1950, China and Tibet were in diplomatic talks over the future of an independent, sovereign Tibet. China, now headed by the Chinese Communist Party, held that Tibet was part of China and sought to incorporate it. Anything else would lead to war. It was either a great negotiation tactic or a terrible one.
But Chairman Mao would soon have an ace up his sleeve. As the talks continued, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army advanced into Tibet, captured the town of Qamdo, and occupied it. The Tibetan Army was weak and obsolete in the face of PLA forces fresh from winning the Chinese Civil War. The PLA held their positions as word got to the Tibetan delegation at the ongoing talks in India.
Negotiators were sent to Beijing in 1951, where they were presented with the Seventeen Point Agreement. Under threat of force, Tibet would become part of China.For its part, China guaranteed religious freedom and that the government, including the Dalai Lama, would remain in place. The Chinese Communist Party run Tibet’s defense and international affairs.
The Chinese did not allow for negotiations or for the delegates to confer with the Tibetan government.
With the agreement signed, the PLA marched into the Tibetan capital at Lhasa in what the Chinese call the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.” As Communist land reforms began to be implemented, however, Tibetans began to fight back.
Those resistance fighters were trained by the CIA’s Special Activities Division, who had been in Tibet for years. Tibetan fighters were trained in Colorado, Saipan, Nepal, and India in order to slow the spread of Chinese authority and sap the strength of the PLA. The 60,000 troops necessary to occupy Tibet required massive resources from Beijing and the CIA was happy to keep those troops busy.
Gyalo Thondup, brother to the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama reached out to the Americans from exile in India and helped coordinate the effort. Fighting broke out in 1956, as Tibetan rebe;s began destroying Chinese government offices and killing Communist officials. China responded by bombing a monastery.
In 1959, rumor spread that China was planning to kidnap the Dalai Lama and remove him from the country. Tens of thousands of Tibetans took to the streets in protest and revolt. Though the PLA responded by killing scores of them in retaliation, the rebels were able to shuttle the Lama out of Lhasa.
Tibetan resistance fighters smuggled him out of the city dressed as a common soldier and into the countryside where rebels had taken control of the area. There, they met with CIA-trained rebels who secured passage to India for the Tibetan leader. Only the CIA knows how he managed to escape the country.
When the Chinese discovered the Dalai Lama escaped, they killed even more Tibetans, allegedly stacking bodies in the street like “cordwood.”
After the 1959 uprising, China began to aggressively expand Communist influence in Tibet’s government while turning the tide against the Tibetan rebels. As the PLA began to advance, Tibetans fled their country for India and Nepal. The CIA stepped up its efforts in Tibet, supplying trained commandos, along with arms, munitions, and other supplies.
The clandestine undermining of Chinese efforts there continued until 1974, when President Richard Nixon changed U.S. policy toward China.
Spies have had all sorts of great tools and gadgets, from self-inflating blow-up dolls during the Cold War to special listening devices deployed around the world today. But perhaps one of the most surprising devices was the rectal toolkit issued to some CIA officers deployed into Soviet-era Europe.
As more and more CIA officers were sent into dangerous places in Europe, including the democratic enclave of West Berlin, the dark times called for dark solutions that could be stored in a dark place — a place so dark the sun don’t shine.
Talkin’ about butts. The CIA turned to officers’ butts.
There was a high chance that CIA officers and assets could and would be jailed by secret police, even if it was just on suspicion of being aligned with the U.S. or other western countries. So, the CIA wanted to give these people the best possible chance of escaping custody. But since assets would likely be strip searched, there was really only a couple places left to hide the tools.
And so the large capsule was created, filled with tiny tools that would help officers pick locks and cut through fine materials. The exact tools and materials used varied between different “rectal toolkits,” but all of them were made with materials that were thought unlikely to splinter. They were also very carefully made to prevent leaks that would allow, uh, outside materials into the capsule.
If an officer were captured, he would go through the search, hopefully retain his toolkit, and then fish it out after the guards had left. Not exactly the moment that anyone dreams about when joining an espionage service, but still way better suffering a prolonged hostile interrogation.
Searches of the CIA history archives have not shown a specific case where a U.S. asset fished out this toolkit and used it to make good their escape, so it’s not clear if it saved any specific person’s life or government secrets from Soviet spies.
You can run, but you can’t hide – especially the age of satellites, hand-held GPS devices, Google Earth and inexpensive, camera-bearing drones.
So with easy surveillance tools in the hands of a technologically unsophisticated enemy, how does a unit hide its command post?
During the recent Large Scale Exercise 2016, I Marine Expeditionary Force experimented with a new tent setup for its command post, or CP, that included big swaths of tan-and-drab camouflage netting draped over hard structures and tents.
The idea, of course, was to disguise – if not hide – the presence and footprint of the command post that I MEF Headquarters Group set up for the exercise, a de facto MEF-level command wargaming drill that ran Aug. 14 to 22. During a similar exercise in February 2015, its top commander acknowledged the large footprint occupied by his field command post, then set up in a field at Camp Pendleton, California, but without any camo netting.
It was, frankly, large and obvious that the tents and structures were something important to the battle effort. And that makes it a big target, whether seen on the ground from line of sight or from the air from drones, aircraft or satellite imagery, officials say.
This year, intent on better concealment, headquarters group Marines looked at ways to hide the lines and structures of the CP. They came up with a new camo netting design and refined it with some bird’s-eye scrutiny.
The Leathernecks went “back to basics,” one officer said.
“We flew a drone over it. Now, it’s a little bit more ambiguous,” Col. Matthew Jones, the I MEF chief of staff, said last week as the command worked through the exercise’s final day from its CP set up in a dusty field. “It’s just camouflaged, it’s a lot better concealed.”
MEF officials declined to reveal the secret sauce of the new CPX camo set they used. “This is the state of the art right now,” said Jones.
Still, he acknowledged camouflage netting has some limitations, saying, “I won’t say it won’t look like a hard military installation.”
“The fact is, it’s clearly visible from space,” he added. “You can’t mistake it. Even if it’s camouflaged. … It’s big enough to be worth shooting at.”
In fact, camouflage and concealment are as basic to warfighting – whether on the offensive or defense – as weaponry.
It’s all about deception – hiding your capabilities and your location, which taken together might help spell out your intentions, unintentional as that may be. Deception like camouflage can mask your true force strength, combat power and, more so these days, technological capabilities. But a collection of tents and structures, and the presence of radio antennas, satellite dishes, power generators and containers, can spell out the obvious presence of an important headquarters.
“If you can be seen, you will be attacked,” Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told a Center for Strategic and International Studies audience on Aug. 6.
Neller relayed I MEF’s experience with camouflaging the field CP, which despite netting efforts still had the vulnerability of detection from light shining off concertina wire that encircled the facilities. He wants Marines to get back to the basics of fieldcraft, like “digging a hole, preparing a defensive position, and camouflaging that, living in the field, and not going back to a [forward operating base] overnight to check your email.”
That will be more relevant, top leaders have noted, as more Marines deploy and operate in the dispersed, distributed battlefield of the near future.
And it’s not just the physical look that I MEF and the Marine Corps wants to change. Trendy gadgets and new technologies make it easier to detect and interfere with electronic signals. Such electronic surveillance poses real threats to military command networks and command and control.
“We are working really hard on our electronic signatures … that would make it easier for the enemy to detect you,” Jones said. It’s especially critical if U.S. forces get into a fight against a peer or near-peer adversary with similar surveillance capabilities, so “maybe we need to be thinking of other ways.”
Military dogs see extensive use on the modern battlefield, especially with special operations. The concept goes back to Roman times where legionnaires fielded heavy Mastiffs with armored collars to attack an enemy’s legs and force them to lower their shields. In WWII, the United States Marine Corps decided to experiment with the use of dogs in the Pacific.
The Marine Corps University attributes the idea of using dogs in jungle warfare to a Marine Officer serving as a Garde d’Haiti in the 1920s. He trained a dog to work on his patrols to expose bandit ambushes. By 1935, the Smalls Wars Operation doctrine published by the Marine Corps Schools noted, “Dogs on Reconnaissance, – – Dogs have been employed to indicate the presence of a hidden enemy, particularly ambushes.” The concept was revived in 1942.
On November 26, 1942, the Commandant of the Marine Corps penned a letter to the Commanding General, Training Center, Fleet Marine Force, Marine Barracks, New River, North Carolina, which was redesignated Camp Lejeune the next month. In it, the Commandant dictated for the General to “inaugurate a training program for dogs for military employment when personnel and material become available.” At that time, 24 Marines were in dog-related training at other bases and would bring 42 Army dogs with them back to New River. The Commandant noted that a further 20 dogs would be procured by Miss Roslyn Terhune, given obedience training in Baltimore, Maryland, and shipped to New River around the end of January 1943.
The Marine Corps also received dogs from Dogs for Defense, Inc., the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, and even private citizens looking to help the war effort. Individual owners wrote to the Marine Corps and volunteered their animals on a donation basis. The Marine Corps’ standard for dogs was 1-5 years old, at least 25 inches high, and weighing a minimum of 50 pounds. Breed was of secondary importance to other attributes like obedience, but certain breeds stood out as more favorable. The most suitable breeds for the Marines were: German Shepherds, Belgian Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, Collies (farm type, with medium length coat), Schnauzers (Giant), Airedale Terriers, Rottweilers, and positive crosses of these breeds. Eskimos, Malamutes, and Siberian Huskies were used exclusively as sledge or pack dogs.
In the early days of the war dog training program, Doberman Pinschers were held in high regard. Their short hair was believed to be more adaptable to the heat of the tropics and their keen senses and athletic ability made them excellent scout and messenger dogs. Moreover, the Marine Corps received the largest portion of donated dogs from the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. In fact, the majority of dogs that went overseas as part of the 1st War Dog Platoon were Dobermans.
Unlike the dog training programs of the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, the Marine Corps dogs were trained exclusively for combat roles. Being a strictly combat organization, the Corps had no interest in training dogs unless they contributed directly to killing the enemy or saving Marines. This concept split the training program into scout dogs and messenger dogs. These specialized dogs would prove invaluable against the Japanese in the Pacific.
In addition to the Dobermans, German Shepherds were found to be adept at the war dog training. Both breeds were trained in scout or messenger roles. The training at Camp Lejeune took approximately 14 weeks and included regular exposure to small arms fire and explosions. Two Marines were assigned to each dog as a trainer and attendant. This trio formed a single dog unit. Throughout training, dogs and their handlers grew accustomed to each others mannerisms and personalities. Dogs alerted their handlers to potential threats in different ways like tugging at the leash or crouching, and handlers learned to recognize these signs. Similarly, dogs learned to be on alert when their handler put them on “watch” to be wary of potential threats. This close relationship was vital for the dog units to work effectively.
The first Marine Corps dog unit sent to the Pacific was the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon. Sailing from San Diego, California on June 23, 1943, the Marines and their dogs arrived in the South Pacific on July 11. In November, the platoon was attached to the 2d Marine Raider Regiment during the Bougainville operation. This was the war dogs’ trial by fire and they exceeded every expectation. The official report of the Commanding Officer, 2d Marine Raider Regiment (Provisional) states:
The War Dog Platoon had proven itself to be an unqualified success and the use of dogs in combat was on trial. This first Marine War Dog Platoon was admittedly an experimental unit and minor defects were found that need to be remedied. But the latent possibilities of combat dog units proved itself beyond any doubt. To prove this only a few of the feats of the dogs need to be cited.
(1) On ‘D’ day Andy (a Doberman Pinscher) led ‘M’ Co. all the way to the road block. He alerted scattered sniper opposition and undoubtedly was the means of preventing loss of life.
(2) On ‘D’ day Caesar (a German Shepherd) was the only means of communication between ‘M’ Co. and Second Battalion CP, carrying messages, overlays and captured Jap papers. One’s’Plus 1, ‘M’ Co. ‘s telephone lines were out and Caesar was again the only means of communication. Caesar was wounded on the morning of ‘D’ plus 2 and had to be carried back to Regimental CP on a stretcher, but he had already established himself as a hero. While with ‘M’ Co. he made official runs between company and Battalion CP, and on at least two of these runs he was under fire.
(3) Otto (a Doberman Pinscher) on ‘D’ plus 1 while working ahead of the point of a reconnaissance patrol, alerted the position of a machine gun nest and the patrol had time to take cover with no casualties when the machine gun began firing. Otto alerted the position at least one hundred yards away.
(4) On ‘D’ plus 6 Jack (a German Shepherd) was shot in the back but even though wounded carried the message back from the company on the road block that the Japs had struck and sent stretcher bearers immediately. This was a vital message because the telephone lines had been cut. One of Jack’s handlers, Wortman, was wounded at the same time and thus Jack was the means of bringing help to his master.
(5) On the night of ‘D’ plus 7 Rex (a Doberman Pinscher) alerted the presence of Japs in the vicinity. At daybreak of ‘D’ plus 8 the Japs attacked. This was not a surprise, however, because the dog had already warned of their presence.
(6) During the night of ‘D’ plus 7 Jack (a Doberman Pinscher) frequently alerted a tree near ‘M’ Company CP. When it became light enough in the morning Jack’s handler pointed out the tree to a B.A.R. man near him. A Jap sniper was shot down out of the tree. This sniper was in a position to do real damage in the company C.P., but due to Jack, the sniper was eliminated.
(7) Night security is an intangible. Dogs on night security have less chance to show spectacularly how they may be the means of saving life. One fact stands out, and that is that the troops have confidence in the dogs.
(8) From ‘D’ day until the Second and Third Battalions were relieved from front line duty on ‘D’ plus 8, there were dog squads with every company on the front line.
More instances could be cited but this should suffice to show that the dogs have proven themselves as message carriers, scouts, and vital night security; and were constantly employed during the operation of securing and extending the beachhead.
The Bougainville report validated the war dog concept. Following it, the Marine Corps continually improved their war dog doctrine. The dogs saw further use in Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Kima, Okinawa, and even Saipan and the Japanese mainland. Today, the National War Dog Cemetery on Guam honors the service of these loyal animals. Fittingly, the Doberman sculpture that tops the memorial is titled “Always Faithful.”
Vietnam veteran Brian Delate won a screenplay competition by the MVP Foundation for his script “Dante’s Obsession” on Friday, at We Are The Mighty Headquarters in Los Angeles.
The Staff Sgt. John Martin Veteran Writing Competition was open to active military personnel and veterans.
“Dante’s Obsession” follows the story of a young lieutenant fighting in the tunnels around Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War and the beautiful Viet Cong spy he falls in love with who attempts to steal information from him. It was previously a finalist at the 2015 G.I. Film Festival.
Delate works as a writer, actor, and director for film, theater, and TV. He recently performed a play, “Memorial Day,” that was also about his experiences in Vietnam. In 2014, he performed the play in Hanoi on the National Stage in front of Vietnamese and American veterans of the Vietnam War, including his former enemies.
The second place prize in the competition went to Navy Veteran Joshua Katz for his script, “The Ivory Coast.” The screenplay is about a Kenyan Wildlife Services official investigating the slaughter of a family of elephants in a national reserve.
Third prize went to Michael Brown, an Iraq War veteran and former Marine Corps platoon commander. Brown’s script, “Broken, in the Land of Dragons,” tells of a Navy SEAL who meets a local school teacher in Pakistan and works with friendly fighters to defend her school from a concerted attack by religious extremists.
The contest and award ceremony were put on by the MVP Foundation, a charitable corporation that supports veterans in the arts. It was founded in 2014 by Iraq War veteran and Army officer Brian J. Martin. WATM Co-Founder and CEO David Gale was one of the judges.
Few people have lived a life as hardcore and fulfilling as that of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow. He attended college and became the first member of his tribe to obtain a master’s degree. While working on his doctorate, he taught at the Chemawa Indian School. Then, World War II broke out and everything changed. Before he knew it, he was a full-fledged war chief.
Medicine Crow started working at a naval shipyard in Washington before enlisting in the Army in 1943. He became an infantry scout assigned to the 103rd Infantry Division and was almost immediately sent to Europe. In keeping with Crow traditions, he went into battle donning red war paint under his uniform and a sacred eagle feather under his helmet- a chief in character just as much as battle prowess.
(PBS: The War)
Also in line with tradition, he set out to complete the four required tasks in becoming the “War Chief of the Crow Indians,” a title reserved for only the most hardened warriors who have proved their worth with death-defying feats of combat. The requirements were as follows:
Lead a successful war party on a raid.
Capture an enemy weapon.
Touch an enemy without killing them.
Steal an enemy’s horse.
The first task was nearly inevitable for any competent platoon leader or sergeant, but Pvt. Medicine Crow didn’t have such a rank. After fighting hard on the western border of France, Medicine Crow proved himself fearless among his peers. He finally got an opportunity when his CO told him to stealthily clear out a German bunker with seven men and some TNT. He was told by his CO,
“If anyone can do this, it’s probably you.”
His CO was right. Not only did they cross German machine-gun and artillery fire, they got into the bunker and blew a hole right through the Siegfried Line without losing a single man. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions — and he completed the first of his four tasks. Rumor has it that after Medicine Crow destroyed the defenses, he jumped through the breach and was the first American GI to step foot into Nazi Germany.
As the 103rd made its way into Germany, it wasn’t uncommon for forward scouts to get separated and flanked by the enemy. One night, Medicine Crow was alone when a Nazi soldier got the jump on him and charged headlong into combat. He charged right back, leading to a helmet-to-helmet collision that quickly devolved into a fist fight.
Medicine Crow beat the Nazi bloody and had his hands around the Nazi’s near-lifeless neck. The Nazi chose “momma” as his almost last words. Medicine Crow didn’t kill him. Instead, he took the German as a POW and confiscated his rifle, completing the next two tasks on his list.
The last task, to steal an enemy horse, seemed implausible on a battlefield dominated by tanks. Chief Medicine Crow got his chance, however, in early 1945 when his recon team found a camp for senior German staff officers. With them were nearly 50 thoroughbred race horses.
Medicine Crow snuck into the camp in the dead of morning with nothing but some rope and his 1911. He tied the rope into a makeshift bridle and took the best horse of the group. He let out a mighty Crow war cry to herd the rest out of the corral, which woke the Germans. He had successfully gotten away with 50 horses and sang a traditional Crow war song as he returned to his men.
Joe Medicine Crow returned to his tribe after the war ended as a war hero and assumed the mantle of war chief. He was knighted in the French Legion of Honor, finished his doctorate along with three honorary PhDs, wrote almost a dozen books on military and Crow history, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for his military service and work done to improve the lives of his people. Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow passed on April 3rd, 2016 at the age of 102 and was given full military honors.
With the Cold War raging and the Soviets securing victory after victory in the Space Race, America’s CIA wasn’t sitting on the sidelines. The Soviet Union’s space technology was beating America’s in just about every appreciable way, and America’s intelligence agencies were working overtime to monitor and decipher data spilling out of Soviet rockets as they poured into the sky. It was a time of uncertainty–and perhaps even a bit of desperation–for the burgeoning superpower that was America in the 1950s. So, when a Soviet Lunar satellite was sent out on a global tour to parade their successes before the world, it offered a unique opportunity for the CIA to hijack the satellite for a bit of research while it was still firmly planted on the ground.
From our vantage point in the 21st century, we have a habit of looking back on the Space Race as though America’s ultimate victory was a sure thing. After all, in the decades that followed World War II, America was uniquely positioned to help rebuild the Western world, gaining diplomatic, economic, and military leverage around the globe and rapidly ascending to the lofty position of the planet’s only remaining superpower by the close of the century.
But the truth is, to paraphrase famed Marine general James Mattis, America had no pre-ordained right to victory in the Cold War, and perhaps least of all in the Space Race that ran in parallel to the America-Soviet military arms race of the day. The Soviet Union didn’t just beat America and the rest of the world into orbit with Sputnik in 1957, they proceeded to pummel the United States’ space efforts without mercy for years to come.
The Sputnik Crisis and Soviet space supremacy
Let there be no mistake, the importance of Sputnik in terms of how it framed America’s contemporary perception of the Soviet threat, both military and ideological, can’t be overstated. Immediately following Sputnik’s beeping transmissions from low earth orbit, the United States, and indeed much of the Western world, plummeted into what has since come to be known as the “Sputnik Crisis.”
In no uncertain terms, early Soviet space victories were seen by many around the globe as a clear argument in favor of the efficacy of the Soviet communist model of government and societal structure. With each subsequent win at the technological forefront of human reach, the Soviet Union wasn’t just proving what could be done through their approach to economics and policy, they were also demonstrating what America’s capitalism couldn’t do… or at least, couldn’t do as quickly.
That overarching fear that the communists were not only winning in terms of nuts and bolts but also in terms of hearts and minds directly led to the establishment of NASA, the reshuffling of resources toward rocket and orbital sciences, and of course, a flood of funding into both defense and prestige programs meant to offset the Soviet advantages that were becoming manifest on multiple fronts. In the New York Times alone, Sputnik 1 was mentioned in articles an average of 11 times a day between October 6 and October 31 of 1957, so pronounced was America’s general fear regarding the Soviets in space.
It didn’t get better from there. In November of 1957, the Soviet Union became the first nation to put a living animal in orbit with Sputnik 2 carrying Laika the dog. The following month, America made its first attempt to put a satellite into orbit with the Naval Research Laboratory’s Vanguard TV3 (Test Vehicle 3). The rocket made it approximately four feet off the launch platform before collapsing back down onto itself and exploding.
The following month, however, America would make it into space with Explorer 1, and later that year, NASA would replace the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) and help to steer the nation toward its eventual space supremacy–but that supremacy wasn’t to come for some time yet. In 1959, the technically failed Soviet Luna 1 rocket flew further than any platform before it, escaping the moon’s orbit and finally settling into orbit around the sun. Later that same year, the Soviets claimed yet another first with Luna 2; the first spacecraft ever to reach the surface of the moon.
Soon, Luna 3 would send back images of the moon’s surface from orbit and by 1960, the Soviets were the first to send animals (two dogs, Belka and Strelka) and plants into space and bring them back alive. Within just another year, they would secure their crowning achievement to that point: Putting an actual human being in space with Yuri Gagarin.
There was no doubt, no debate, and no uncertainty. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet Union wasn’t just leading the Space Race, it was dominating it. If America wanted to turn the tables on the Reds, they’d need a closer look at what they were packing under the hoods of their rockets.
How to plan a spacecraft heist
In 1959, the Soviet Union decided to leverage their recent technological victories for a little PR, choosing a number of technologies, vehicles, and equipment that represented the very cutting edge of Soviet advances for a traveling exhibit. You might expect that the Soviet Union would know better than to send their actual top-tier tech for what amounted to little more than a bit of show-and-tell, and the CIA thought so too… but with the Soviets continuing to extend their lead in space, the opportunity to take a closer look at the crown jewel of the exhibition, a Lunic spacecraft very similar to Luna 2, housed within a modified rocket upper stage, was simply too great.
After a few plain-clothes agents got as close as they could without drawing any suspicion, they were surprised to see that the spacecraft tucked away behind glass-covered cutaways in the rocket housing appeared to be the real deal. Declassified reports have a habit of sucking the humanity out of a situation, but one has to assume this revelation came with some open mouths, raised eyebrows, and perhaps even a bit of covert intelligence officer hand-wringing within the CIA when word reached Langley.
Immediately, plans began to form to get an even closer look at Lunic, but the Soviet’s seeming naivety in parading a real satellite around didn’t extend to the security at their exhibitions. Soldiers guarded the satellite at all times while on display, including during off-hours when the museums and exhibition halls housing it were closed. It seemed clear that accessing Lunic while it was on display would be practically impossible, so the CIA turned their attention to how it was transported from exhibition to exhibition.
While all of the items were transported from city to city by rail car (with accompanying guard), the CIA identified some vulnerability in the way each item was transported from each exhibition to that rail car. The items were simply placed in unassuming crates and loaded into trucks that would drive them to the train station for loading. This transition was not heavily monitored by Soviet security, with items arriving at the train at random intervals and little coordination between drivers and the train personnel to speak of. In fact, the guards at the rail depots weren’t even provided with a list of what deliveries to expect, perhaps as a part of compartmentalizing information, but it was this specific shortcoming in the Soviet security strategy most of all that granted the CIA the opportunity they needed.
Hijacking a rocket is easier from the highway
Intelligence operatives are often thought of as superhuman, as though it takes a unique biology to be a truly successful spy. The truth, as history so often reveals, is that spies are most often regular people like the rest of us; superhuman not in capability, but arguably perhaps, in audacity.
When the night came to enact the CIA’s plan, the agents responsible were hopelessly lacking in James Bond-esque gadgets to assure victory. It began, quite simply, with agents in plain clothes following the crate containing Lunic out of an exhibition, looking intently for signs of supplemental Soviet security. Surprisingly, despite their air-tight security during showings, no guards manifested and it soon became clear that the unassuming box truck carrying a nondescript crate full of Soviet state secrets would be making its short trip to the train station utterly unaccompanied.
So as the truck approached its turn off toward the train station, the CIA simply pulled the vehicle over and escorted the driver to a nearby hotel. From there, an agent hopped in the driver’s seat and guided the truck into a nearby salvage yard that had been chosen specifically for the high walls intended to hide the interior scrap from the rest of the neighborhood. It was one of the most daring espionage capers of the Cold War, and certainly had the potential to ignite a conflict between the planet’s two nuclear powers… But at the point of execution, the best the CIA could muster was little more than a carjacking and a local junkyard. Sometimes, it really is audacity that makes all the difference.
For thirty long minutes, CIA agents hovered in the shadows surrounding their freshly stolen truck, waiting for some sign that the Soviets had noticed Lunic’s absence. Once it seemed the coast was sufficiently clear, they descended upon the truck, and the 20 foot long, 11 foot wide, and 14 foot-deep crate housed inside. For their plan to work, it wasn’t enough to get to the satellite, disassemble it, and photograph what they could–they also had to re-assemble it, tuck it back inside its crate, and deliver it to the train station before morning, to keep the Soviets from knowing anything had even taken place.
Take off your shoes and hop in the rocket
To their relief, the crate itself had been re-used a number of times, making it fairly easy to open without leaving any clear signs of tampering. However, with no means to pull the rocket stage out of the crate, the team soon realized they’d have no choice but to do their work inside the wooden box. Agents took off their shoes and split into teams, climbing to the bottom of the crate using rope ladders they’d brought specifically for the job, and delicately removing hardware and panels to gain access to the secrets held within.
Soon, their plan hit a snag, however. The Lunic spacecraft wouldn’t be hard to access through the rocket stage it was housed in, but as they attempted to make entry, the CIA agents found a small, plastic seal with a Soviet logo emblazoned on it. In order to get to the spacecraft, the seal would have. to be broken, but doing so would almost certainly reveal their meddling to Soviet authorities. Quickly, calls were made to CIA assets in the area, who assessed that they could replicate the seal and get their replacement to the salvage yard in time to re-assemble and return the rocket by morning.
Although the engine had been removed, its mounts, as well as tanks for both fuel and the oxidizer remained, granting the CIA enough information to extrapolate the rocket’s engine size and payload capabilities. With the seal removed, Lunic itself was pulled out, prodded, disassembled, and photographed extensively. Information gleaned wasn’t only valuable from a design perspective, it also offered important context regarding the Soviet rocket program. Having measurements and weights recorded for a Luna 2-esque payload, the CIA would be able to make more sense of telemetry data they were gathering around each Soviet launch. It was a significant intelligence victory for the United States, and would go on to shape plans and policy regarding America’s own space efforts for years to come.
But getting the information was only part of the job. Getting it back unnoticed would require a similar degree of good luck and proper planning.
With the moonlight waning, CIA operatives working with hand tools and clad in their socks feverishly re-assembled Lunic and its rocket housing, adding the replica seal, removing their rope ladders, and re-securing the top of the crate. By 5 a.m., the original driver was reunited with his truck and payload, and he delivered it to the train station in time to beat the first guard’s arrival at 7 a.m.
The information gleaned from the operation gave America a fuller understanding of what the Soviets were capable of, which allowed them to plan their own efforts accordingly. No longer was America operating under the looming anxiety of the Sputnik Crisis without the real data they needed to make an honest assessment of the situation. And one could argue, it was in that newfound knowledge that America’s future space dominance would begin to sprout. In order to beat the enemy, you have to know where they are and what they can do… and the CIA learned more about that in the back of a stolen truck, with their shoes off and their flashlights on, than they had through the rest of their combined efforts to that point.
Less than ten years later, the United States would declare victory in the Space Race when Apollo 11 landed on the moon right before a Soviet lander crashed into the other side. A bit more than twenty years after that, the Soviet Union would collapse, and the Cold War would officially come to an end.