NORTH SEA (Oct. 10, 2020) Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 conduct pre-flight checks on F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R 08) in the North Sea, Oct. 10, 2020. VMFA-211 is an F-35B Lightning II squadron assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Its mission is to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft under all weather conditions and attack and destroy surface targets in support of Fleet Marine Expeditionary Forces. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Zachary Bodner).
The Second World War saw extensive international cooperation amongst the allied militaries. US and UK aircraft and aircraft carriers conducted joint operations in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. In fact, the British even loaned an aircraft carrier to the U.S. Navy during WWII. Renamed USS Robin, HMS Victorious launched American aircraft into combat alongside her compliment of British aircraft. Despite continued partnerships in fights against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the 21st century, American warplanes have not flown combat missions from a foreign aircraft carrier again until now.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest vessel that the Royal Navy has ever put to sea. The 65,000-ton warship is the pride of the British fleet. Still, she is smaller than the Nimitz-class carriers sailed by the U.S. Navy. As such, her flight deck still requires a ramp to launch aircraft. This, however, is exactly the kind of operating environment that the F-35 Lightning II was designed for.
Capable of short-takeoffs and vertical-landings, the F-35B is flown by the Royal Air Force and Navy as well as the U.S. Marine Corps. Marine F-35Bs trained aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018 to validate interoperability. However, the assignment of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) to the Queen Elizabeth marks the first combat deployment and sortie of American warplanes from a foreign carrier since WWII.
The 10 F-35Bs from VMFA-211 are joined by 8 F-35Bs of the RAF’s 617 Squadron, the famous “Dambusters.” It is the largest deployment of the F-35 to date.
On June 22, 2021, the Ministry of Defence announced that an undisclosed number of US and UK F-35Bs flew combat missions against ISIS from HMS Queen Elizabeth. The missions were flown in support of Operations Shader and Inherent Resolve. The MoD did not specify the locations of the missions or the targets that were struck. Also on June 22, the Marines announced that the blended air wing began combat operations on June 18.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the lead ship of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group 21. British Secretary of State for Defence described the carrier strike group as, “the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.” The seven-month, 30,000-mile mission will take it to 40 countries through the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The carrier strike group includes a U.S. destroyer and a Dutch frigate and is expected to transit the South China Sea as a show of force.
Feature image: U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Zachary Bodner
A 94-year old World War II veteran received his long overdue medals during a ceremony at the Louisville Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Louisville, Kentucky, Aug. 23, 2018.
Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, former Program Executive Officer for Submarines, awarded William Edward Gilbert, a Kentucky native, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and American Campaign Medal during Louisville Navy Week.
In his opening speech, Jabaley spoke about the importance of honoring our surviving World War II veterans.
“There are not many of them left and the ones that are, we need to treasure, and we need to take every opportunity to make sure they get the recognition that they so richly deserve,” said Jabaley.
Gilbert was drafted into the U.S. Navy from Jan. 6, 1943, until his honorable discharge in Jan.11, 1946. He served as a Steward’s Mate aboard the South Dakota-class battleship USS Indiana (BB 58) in the Pacific Theater, earning the medals he would receive 72 years later.
The U.S. Navy battleship USS Indiana (BB-58) in a South Pacific harbor, December 1942.
(US Navy photo)
“He put in a lot of work,” said Bruce Coleman, Gilbert’s son. “I feel really good that they finally recognized him as a veteran.”
VA psychologist, Gina Salisbury, learned about the issue on her initial visit with Gilbert and helped him take action. Salisbury consulted with VA geriatrics and extended care social worker, Tina Strobel, who worked with the National Archives to retrieve the medals.
“It’s probably the coolest day at the VA that I’ve ever had, and I’ve worked here for over 10 years,” said Salisbury. “It just really makes my job meaningful, being able to give back to veterans that have served our country.”
Friends and family were at the ceremony to share in this moment, including his son, Bruce and daughter-in-law, Wanda.
“I’m overjoyed,” said Wanda. “I wish all my children could’ve been here to witness this. I wish that everybody that I know could witness this. I’m just overjoyed.”
After the awards, Gilbert addressed the audience, expressing his feelings at finally receiving the medals and the value of perseverance.
“Never give up,” said Gilbert.
The Navy Office of Community Outreach uses the Navy Week program to bring Navy Sailors, equipment and displays to approximately 14 American cities each year for a week-long schedule of outreach engagements designed for Americans to experience firsthand how the U.S. Navy is the Navy the nation needs.
A 200-strong force of U.S. special operators, led by the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force, recently arrived in Iraq. Until now, the bulk of U.S. efforts against the terror organization have been through aerial operations, bombing and air support for Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground. The United States now has this significant ground combat force in the country, the first combat troops on Iraqi soil since the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2011.
Taking a page from General Stanley McChrystal’s special operations playbook from the Iraq War circa 2004-2006, today’s operators established internal intelligence networks to tackle the ISIS networks working against Iraqi and American forces. This strategy led to the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (what would become ISIS) most notorious leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. Now, the strategy has led to the capture of a “significant” ISIS operative in Iraq and is currently questioning him for intelligence information.
This isn’t the first time an ISIS (or Daesh, as the group loathes to be called) fighter has been captured but it is the first time a “significant” member of the terror group has been captured. It is also the first time the “network vs. network” strategy yielded such a result – just weeks after it was was raised. The high value detainee has not been identified. The “key operative” has been moved to Irbil, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, where, eventually he will be handed over to Iraqi authorities.
The ground force is known as a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” at the Pentagon, and their missions will include intelligence gathering through raids on ISIS strongholds, grabbing papers, hard drives, and capturing operatives. The presence of the U.S. special operators also gives the United States the ability to conduct hostage rescue raids. These raids will continue and will look like the May 2015 raid that killed Abu Sayyaf, the ISIS oil minister, along with mobile phones, laptops, and other intel.
The exact timing of the latest raid was not disclosed.
U.S. Army Delta Force soldier Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed by enemy gunfire during a raid to rescue 70 hostages from an ISIS compound in Iraq in 2015. His death was the first American combat fatality since the U.S. returned to Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve.
Hours after the Islamic State (IS) group released a video threatening to behead two Japanese hostages, Japanese Twitter users were defying the militant’s threats by creating and sharing images mocking the militants.
In a January 20 video, a British militant believed to be the infamous “Jihadi John” demands that Tokyo pay $200 million within 72 hours to spare the lives of the two hostages.
If the Japanese public does not pressure the government to pay the $200 million ransom, the militant warns, then “this knife will become your nightmare,” referring to the serrated weapon he brandishes in the video, and with which he is believed to have beheaded several Western hostages.
It is reasonable to assume that “Jihadi John” was not expecting that the “Japanese public” (or at least Japanese social-media users) would react to his threats in quite the way they have — with a Photoshop contest.
Using a Twitter hashtag that translates roughly as “ISIS crappy photoshop grand prix,” the Japanese Twitter meme has gone viral, with hundreds of images being shared. On January 20, there were around 40,000 mentions of the hashtag on Twitter.
Some of the photoshopped images poke fun at what is now an all-too familiar image — that of the black-clad “Jihadi John” flanked by hostages dressed in bright orange jumpsuits designed to evoke images of Guantanamo Bay inmates.
Some images mock “Jihadi John” directly, such as this photoshopped picture that shows the British militant using his knife to make a kebab:
Some of the images shared under the hashtag can be seen as a subversion of a trend popular among IS supporters on social media — that of using Photoshop to create an imaginary and fantastical world in which IS militants and ideology are dominant.
Islamic State supporters have shared photoshopped images that show militants from the extremist group destroying key Western landmarks such as London’s Big Ben and riding victorious on white steeds.
In one image mocking this genre, IS militants — including “Jihadi John” — are photoshopped invading a city in spacecraft. One militant laughs as he holds aloft an IS flag:
While it is the largest and most popular phenomenon to date of using humor as a counter to the Islamic State group’s propaganda, the Japanese “Photoshop grand prix” is not the first case of its type.
A group of anonymous Russian Internet users have been mocking the Islamic State group — and Russian-speaking militants in Syria and Russia in general — for months via a parody group known as TV Jihad, which claims to be a “joint project of Kavkaz Center (the media wing of the North Caucasus militant group the Caucasus Emirate) and TV Rain (a liberal Russian TV channel).”
“We fight against infidels, apostates, polytheists, Shabiha (pro-Assad militia), harbis (non-Muslims who do not live under the conditions of the dhimma, i.e. those who have not surrendered by treaty to Muslim rule), hypocrites, and rafidis (a term used by Sunni militants to refer to Shi’ite Muslims),” the Twitter account says, parodying terms used frequently by Russian-speaking Islamic State and Caucasus Emirate militants.
This tweet shows an image of IS military commander Umar al-Shishani in the snow and asks, “Motorola?” — a reference to Arseny Pavlov, a pro-Russian separatist in the Donbas:
Often as the direct memories of events fade, our ability to place them into context and understand their meaning only increases. It only makes sense, then, that some of the best writing about the Civil War, the World Wars, and Vietnam is happening now.
As you prepare your reading lists for holiday travel or look for items to give to family and friends, we present our choices for this year’s best books on Military History.
5. Grant By Ron Chernow
Ron Chernow is an exceptional writer. Among his achievements have been an exceptional biography of Alexander Hamilton that served as the foundation of the Broadway show. His portrait of the Ohio general is equally beautiful. Chernow delves into the relationships and temperament that made Grant a terrific leader as well as his lifelong belief in emancipation.
Grant was a quiet, even shy man, who had concern even for animals, yet was called a “butcher” during the War. It was tacitly assumed that Robert E. Lee was the great General of the Civil War for years and that Grant was merely lucky to have been on the right side of history. The facts do not perfectly align with that viewpoint. Lee may have been a very good strategist, but several skilled men before Grant tried and failed to do what he did. Chernow’s biography gives wonderful insights into what made Grant different.
4. Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden
In the early part of 1968, the 400,000 strong armies of the North Vietnamese and Vietcong launched a general offensive against South Vietnamese and American troops, which, at the time, numbered 1.3 million. The American strategy had been to win a war of attrition in which the enemy reached a point where the number of soldiers being killed exceeded the number of new recruits, making clear the hopelessness of continuing the struggle. With that mindset, the American military elite, politicians, and journalists were shocked by the aggressiveness of the offensive. After the initial shock, the South and the United States regained control of the situation and 60,000 Communist troops died by the end of the year.
Of all the targets of the Tet offensive, the assault on the city of Hue was the most consequential. Hue was the third largest city in Vietnam and at a key logistical point in the country. While the fighting that began with the Tet offensive was generally over within a week, the battle for Hue lasted six weeks and the urban bloodbath changed the war.
Bowden does a wonderful job telling this story from the perspective of the ordinary soldier who fought for his life while being burdened with poor leadership.
3. Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 by Stephen Kotkin
A brilliant recounting of the disastrous period of 1929 and 1941 in the Soviet Union, in which Stalin maintained his absolute grip on power, but whose purging of the military and terrible economic policies almost cost the Soviet Union the war with Germany that started in 1941. What is remarkable is how Kotkin is able to tell the tale from the viewpoint of a monster like Stalin and never loses his readers’ attention.
2. Alone by Michael Korda
Alone follows one of the heroes of history, Winston Churchill, as he rallies a country and averts disaster at Dunkirk before getting help from the previously neutral countries of the Soviet Union and the United States.
1. Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson
An incredible story that few had heard before its recounting by Bruce Henderson, author of And the Sea Will Tell. After escaping Hitler’s clutch, about 2,000 Jews trained at Camp Ritchie in Maryland were deployed in Europe as a key intelligence asset during the War. This is their story.
The Battle of the Bulge was a Hail Mary pass by a führer who was quickly running out of options. Hitler desperately needed a decisive victory on either his Western or Eastern front. Remembering his series of victories after sneaking through the Ardennes forest in 1940, he went for a repeat in 1944.
On Dec. 16, 200,000 German troops and 1,000 tanks slammed into 80,000 Allied troops. Listen to troops who were there explain what it was like to turn away Hitler’s desperate gambit.
1. Over 1 million men were involved in the battle.
Instead, rookies became veterans overnight and fatigued veterans dug deep to slow the German advance. Anti-tank teams targeted choke points in villages and mountain passes, creating flaming barricades of destroyed German armor that slowed the Blitzkrieg to a crawl.
3. The famous “NUTS!” response to a surrender request was basically bored paratroopers joking around.
Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe and Col. Harry Kinnard II at Bastogne after the battle. Photo: US Army courtesy of the Eisenhower Archives.
McAuliffe had twice said, “Nuts,” when briefed on the surrender request, first to his acting chief of staff that woke him and then to his headquarter staff. When it came time to draft the formal response, McAuliffe couldn’t think of what to write. His men, who had found the “nuts” comments funny, urged him to just respond with those four letters.
4. German soldiers illegally wore American uniforms to sneak behind enemy lines.
A major part of Hitler’s gamble was the belief that he could sow disorder in the American lines by sneaking English-speaking Germans in and having them sabotage equipment.
5. One of the worst war crimes committed against Allied troops in World War II took place during the battle.
The Malmédy Massacre occurred Dec. 17, 1944, when a group of over 100 Americans, mostly artillerymen with the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, were captured by German SS troops taking part in the German attack.
Ultimately, the Battle of the Bulge failed and the Americans continued their advance. With the large losses of both men and material Germany suffered in the Battle of the Bulge, the Third Reich was doomed. Hitler would go on to kill himself Apr. 30, 1945 (or, maybe not) and Germany surrendered May 8.
Over the course of the past two wars, Marines learned a lot of lessons and gained a lot of new weapons and equipment to increase their effectiveness on the modern battlefield. But when we started to realize just how outdated the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon became, the search for a replacement began.
The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle did just that for the standard Marine infantry squad, much to the disdain of many Marines until they realized its application fit a larger spectrum than the M249. Every Marine has their favorite gun and once the M27 became more widely used, it wasn’t long before it became a grunt’s best friend and greatest ally.
Once you hear an automatic weapon begin firing bursts, adrenaline and primal instinct start flowing and you get this sudden urge to break things. The M27 offers this experience to infantry Marines everywhere and that can be reason enough for a grunt to fall in love with it — but the love they have for the IAR goes beyond the feeling of automatic fire.
Here are the main reasons the M27 gets so much love:
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)
The M27 is insanely precise and when its shooter has mastered the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, it creates a dangerous duo. An automatic weapon is only as good as the rifleman holding it. Let that Marine also be an expert in ammo conservation and they’ve become one of the most effective players on the board.
The weight makes it easier to maneuver and shoulder-firing isn’t a problem, either.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Holly Pernell)
As opposed to the M249 SAW’s 17 pounds unloaded, the M27 comes in 8 pounds lighter when it’s loaded. Unfortunately, you’ll make up that weight with the amount of ammo you’ll have to carry but at least the weapon’s weight isn’t a problem.
You’ll be surprised at how clean it is even after it’s fired 800 rounds.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tojyea G. Matally)
An automatic rifle that’s easy to clean
The M27 features a gas-operated short-stroke piston which means the carbon residue is mostly outside of the chamber which means most of the clean-up is done on the inside of the hand guards.
They can even be fired from helicopters.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Breanna L. Weisenberger
In the case of urban combat, size matters. The shorter barrel, the easier your life will be. Maneuverability is key and being able to fit yourself and your weapon in tight quarters helps a lot. Also considering the fact that it can fire on semi-automatic and is a closed-bolt system, this weapon can be the first through the door.
Just look at that design.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)
Let’s be honest, the Heckler Koch design just looks good in your hands and when an automatic gun is both pleasing to the eyes and functionally sound, it’s good for the soul.
In 2014 the ride service Uber launched “Uber Military,” a veteran hiring initiative designed to get transitioning service members interested in becoming a “partner,” as the company calls its drivers. Since that time Uber has signed up more than 50,000 veterans as drivers.
As a result of the milestone, Uber just announced that they are donating $1 million dollars to a host of veteran charities including the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Homes for our Troops.
“Over the past 18 months, we’ve crisscrossed the country to hear the stories of servicemembers and veterans,” Uber’s Emil Michael wrote in a company blog post. “Everywhere we go, they tell us that they want opportunities to make money on their own terms and set their own schedules. We’re thrilled to be able to give more servicemembers and veterans the on-demand work opportunities they’ve been asking for.”
The charities were picked by the Uber Military Advisory Board, an impressive collection of veterans that includes former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former ISAF commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen (who’s also on WATM’s Board of Directors).
There are other elements to the Uber Military initiative beyond a big donation to military charities. Uber has incentivized drivers to begin or end a ride on military installations by paying higher rates for those trips. The company has also partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to create awareness about the perils of driving while intoxicated, particularly in military communities that tend to be spread out and require the use of cars to get around.
The Uber Military promotional campaigns are currently centered around the big military populations in California, Texas, and Florida, but the company wants to encourage veterans nationwide to sign up to be drivers.
Kia Hamel is a Navy vet as well as a Navy spouse. Her husband is stationed in Hampton Roads as the executive officer of an amphibious ship, and she has remained in the DC Metro region to keep working as a paralegal while she pursues her master’s degree. Kia has a 4th-grader at home and a son nearby who’s attending college. She first heard about Uber through an email from a third-party employment company, and almost on a whim she clicked on the company’s site link.
“The first thing I noticed was that the drivers didn’t fit the classic cabbie profile,” Hamel says. “I filled out the forms and two weeks later I downloaded the partner app and I was an Uber driver.”
Before Hamel got her part-time job with the law firm, she was driving more than 40 hours a week. “You can make a living wage,” she says. Now she drives when her schedule allows — in the morning during rush hour or on weekends. “For me it’s all about the flexibility.”
Todd Bowers, Marine veteran and Uber’s director of military outreach, points out that Uber’s military vet drivers have driven in 175 cities in all 50 states and that their combined trip distance to date adds up to 78,309,082 miles.
As Bowers travels around the country trying to create awareness in military communities and with veterans everywhere, he’s always amazed at the wide range of profiles of those driving with Uber. “I went to an MBA program a couple of days ago and asked if any of them had driven for Uber, and five officers in the classroom raised their hands,” Bowers says.
“We understand our utility in the veteran employment timeline,” Bowers says. “We’re probably not anyone’s ‘forever’ job, but we’re a great way for vets to earn income when they’re in transition or in need of a part-time job that has max flexibility.”
Here’s some more at-a-glance data:
If you’re a military veteran or active duty servicemember who wants to know more about how to get started as an Uber driver go here.
Not everyone joins the military right after hearing a news report about Pearl Harbor attacks, after seeing the Twin Towers fall, or after hearing a speech by President Polk talking about “American blood” shed “on American soil.” No, most troops who will join a war make the decision slowly, over time. These are the posters from World War II that might have helped your (great) grandpa or grandmother decide to contribute to the fights in Europe, the Pacific, and Asia.
(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
This iconic poster from 1942, “Man the Guns,” encouraged men to join the Navy and do their bit for victory on the open ocean.
(U.S. Army Military History Institute)
World War II saw the first use of paratroopers and other airborne commandos in combat. Germany kicked off airborne combat history during its invasions of Western Europe, but all of the major Allied and Axis powers fielded some sort of airborne force.
“The Marines have landed” was a World War II recruiting poster that capitalized on the expeditionary nature of the Marine Corps. It was first completed in 1941 but was aimed at 1942 recruiting goals. The Marines focused on the Pacific Theater in the war, chipping away at Japan’s control of Pacific islands until the Army Air Forces were in range of the home islands.
(United States Army Air Forces)
The air forces of the world saw huge expansions in World War I and then the inter-war years. By the time World War II was in full swing, thousands of planes were clashing over places like the English Channel and the Battle of Kursk. American air forces launched from bases in the Pacific, England, Africa, and more in order to take the ultimate high ground against the Axis forces.
(U.K. National Archives)
This poster from England referenced a Winston Churchill speech in 1941 that reminded the English people of their great successes in late 1940 and early 1941. Hitler’s planned invasion of the British Isles had been prevented, and Churchill was hopeful that continued English resistance would pull America into the war. He finished the speech with this passage:
We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
American men who joined the Army started at a bare a month, equivalent to about 0 today. Joining the Airborne forces could more than double that pay, but it was still clear that fighting the Nazis or the Japanese empire had to be done for patriotism, not the insane pay.
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Not everyone could serve on the front lines. Whether restricted because of age, health, or some other factor, people who wanted to serve their country’s defense in the states could join the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense. If it sounds like busy work to you, understand that America’s coasts were being regularly attacked by submarines while the occasional raid by planes or balloons was an ever-present threat.
(U.K. National Archives)
England took some of the worst hits from Germany in World War II, so British propagandists found it important to remind a scared English public that they’d been here before, that they’d survived before, and that Germany had been turned back before. It might have been cold comfort after France fell so quickly in World War II after holding out for all of World War I, but even cold comfort is preferable to none.
1. Marine Brian Chontosh’s incredible response to an Iraqi ambush
Working Title: Killing Up Close
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hardy
Hollywood has a reputation for embellishing “true stories” with an extra dose of drama, special effects, and too-beautiful-to-be-real actors. “Brian Chontosh: The Movie,” however, would require no exaggeration — this story of military valor is unbelievably badass from start to finish.
Then-Lt. Brian Chontosh was a Marine platoon leader during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On the morning of March 25, he was sitting shotgun in a Humvee when a large berm appeared in the distance. Before he and his men knew what was happening, Iraqi soldiers began showering the vehicle detail with machine gun fire, grenades and mortars from behind the shelter — instantly killing a medic and damaging a tank.
Most people would try to organize a hasty exit at this point. Not Brian Chontosh. As bullets and explosives screamed past their Humvee, Chontosh ordered driver Cpl. Armand McCormick to drive forward, straight through the berm. McCormick floored it as another Marine, Cpl. Thomas Franklin, manned the Humvee’s .50-caliber machine gun, crashing through the obstruction and into the trench on the opposite side.
As Iraqi soldiers began to swarm the Humvee, Chontosh swung out of his vehicle guns-a-blazing, firing from his pistol and rifle until he was out of bullets. Iraqi soldiers dropped dead left and right, and Chontosh continued to pull the trigger, machine gun fire clouding his senses as he pushed his way through the maw. It was the first time he had ever killed anyone.
“It’s nothing like TV,” Chontosh told Newsweek. “It’s ugly. It’s contorted. People fall how they fall. It’s not like the bullet hits and they’re blown back or anything like that.”
When his rifle jammed, Chontosh ripped an AK-47 off of a dead Iraqi, unloading every bullet in it before picking up a second AK as he ran, shooting everything he could. By the end of the battle, he would shoot and kill nearly two-dozen Iraqis single-handedly. At this point the exhausted Marine finally reconnected with his men and headed back towards the Humvee, when they noticed an Iraqi soldier huddled on the ground, playing dead but holding a grenade.
The men scrambled for weapons but were out of ammo. Amazingly, Chontosh saw a cluster of live M-16 rounds glinting in the dirt, where they had fallen when his rifle jammed. He dove for the rounds, loaded a single bullet — and shot the soldier in the head, saving himself and his men. Can you imagine that scene on an IMAX screen?
If that’s not Hollywood-blockbuster enough for you, they still had to get medical help for the Marines who had been wounded. Oh, and a sandstorm rolled in. Totally casual.
Chontosh would later be awarded the Navy Cross and two Bronze Stars for heroism, and is currently considered one of the top CrossFit athletes in the world. If that isn’t prime movie material, we don’t know what is. Your move, Hollywood.
2. The story of Larry Thorne’s military valor under three different flags
Have you ever watched a movie that you loved so much you didn’t want it to end? This is that movie — and don’t worry about a short running time, either. Lauri Törni’s story is filled with so many twists and turns that even a conservative film adaptation would give The Hobbit’s running time a run for its money — so maybe a two-part series would be best.
Törni’s story begins in Finland in 1938, when he joined the army at 19 years old, determined to fight the Soviet Union. It didn’t take long for his natural leadership skills and military instincts to shine, and he was soon promoted to captain — of a skiing troop. Törni and his men would pursue their enemies on skis, kicking up powder on the Finnish slopes. Is anyone else thinking of that chase scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel? Just add guns and Soviet Russians.
Everything was going great until Törni skied into a mine in 1942, leaving him badly wounded. The young soldier was soon back on his feet, however, and would later be honored with the Mannerheim Cross for his war efforts (the Finnish equivalent of the Medal of Honor).
But Törni wasn’t ready to give up the fighting — though he would give up his Finnish uniform. When Finland agreed to a ceasefire with the Soviet Union in 1944, he decided to switch teams to keep up with the action, joining the German SS for the promise of future combat against the Communists.
Unfortunately, as we know, Törni picked the wrong team. When the war ended, he was arrested by British forces for being a Nazi officer. Didn’t think the protagonist was going to get tangled up with the bad guys, did you? But he wasn’t in prison for long. Törni successfuly escaped his POW camp and snuck back into Finland, where, unfortunately, he was arrested again, this time by his own people. Things really went downhill after that skiing accident.
Luckily, however, the president of Finland had a soft spot for this adventurous turncoat, and Törni only served half his sentence before he was pardoned and released in 1948.
But wait, the story’s not over. In June of 1950, America would pass a law that would create an opportunity for foreigners to serve under the U.S. military, granting them citizenship if they stuck with it for five years. It was called the Lodge-Philbin Act, and it came right around the same time a new military unit was created — The Special Forces.
Törni, along with 200 other Eastern Europeans, joined the American military under this law. This wasn’t merely an opportunity to continue military service, however — the Soviet Union forced Finland to arrest Törni for his time fighting alongside the Nazis. When he found out he would be shipped to Moscow and tried for war crimes, Törni knew it was time to get out of dodge and start a new life. So he escaped — again — and changed his name to Larry Thorne, ready to embrace an American identity.
Not surprisingly, Thorne thrived in his new military environment. Originally enlisting as a private, he was quickly singled out for his skill and experience, and began teaching at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, where he instructed recruits on guerrilla fighting tactics and survival skills. Soon after, he would become a Captain in Special Forces, and successfully retrieved classified documents from a U.S. Air Force plane that went down in the mountains near the Turkish-Soviet border.
Thorne quickly made it into the U.S. Special Forces and in 1962, as a Captain, he led his detachment onto the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and classified material from an American C-130 airplane that had crashed. It was a mission in which others had failed, but Thorne’s unrelenting spirit led to its accomplishment. This mission initially formed his status as a U.S. Special Forces legend, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction exploits with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG, that solidified his legendary status.
If this wasn’t cool enough, Thorne was also awarded five Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star medal for his military bravery. His last ever mission was in Vietnam in 1965, when he led the premiere MACV-SOG cross-border mission into Laos. While his men successfully entered a clearing within Laos, Thorne watched and waited in a chase helicopter, ready to provide assistance if necessary. When his men had made it safe, he began flying his helicopter back to base.
Only a few minutes later, the helicopter lost control and crashed — likely the result of stormy weather conditions. The Army reported Thorne as MIA, and many of his comrades refused to believe this military legend was dead. Their beliefs were further cemented when the chopper and air crew were found without Thorne’s body, and many hoped that he had escaped the crash and was still making his way out of the jungle.
The legend of Larry Thorne and his mysterious disappearance lived on until 1999, when a second exploration of the crash site produced a body who’s DNA and dental records matched that of the beloved Special Forces soldier. His life was cut short, but the legacy he left behind was larger than life, and completely worthy of a couple hours on the big screen.
3. The story of the orthodontist who became America’s first Navy SEAL
Working Title: Another Navy SEAL Movie
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Starring: Christoph Waltz
Everyone loves a good underdog, and Navy Lt. j.g. Jack Taylor is one of the best “little guys” we’ve ever heard of. Before the start of World War II, Taylor was an orthodontist in Hollywood, California. When the U.S. declared war on Japan, however, Taylor swapped his dental scrubs for a Navy uniform, planning to teach boat handling skills to American and Allied servicemen — a pretty safe wartime occupation.
Fate had other plans for Taylor however, and they were way more exciting than pulling teeth or rigging sails.
He didn’t know it yet, but DDS Jack Taylor would soon become Lt. j.g. Taylor, and would prove his worth as the first ever Navy SEAL, undertaking ocean operations in Greece, land operations in Albania, and parachuting into Austria — 20 years before the first SEAL team had ever been assembled.
In the Maritime Unit, Taylor personally commanded fourteen missions into the enemy-occupied Greek and Balkan coasts. He and his team delivered spies, weapons, explosives, and other supplies to friendly forces from Sep. 1943 to March, 1944.
Taylor also commanded a land team in Central Albania around this time, escaping near-capture by enemy forces at least three times. For his valor, he received the Navy Cross.
Before Taylor and his men could head to Italy to meet up with American troops, the group was captured on Dec. 1, 1944, and sent to prison in Vienna before being transferred to Mauthausen, a camp that was notorious for its cruel treatment and deplorable living conditions. There Taylor was jailed as a political prisoner, and watched as inmate after inmate was executed — a brutal reminder of what his own fate would surely be.
Taylor was nearly executed on two different occasions. The first time a friend who worked in the camp’s office found his papers among a stack of to-be executed prisoners and removed it, burning it before his superiors noticed it was gone.
Eventually the Nazis realized Taylor had evaded his sentence, and scheduled a second execution. But just when it seemed that his number was up, the 11th Armored Division liberated the camp, only days before he would have been killed.
When an American film crew arrived and asked him for an interview, Taylor got the chance to tell the world what he and so many others had experienced under Nazi prison conditions, later recounting the same information at the Nuremberg trials, where his testimony of the horrors of Mauthausen would lead to the conviction of all 61 camp personnel.
4. “Mad Jack” Churchill’s sword-wielding World War II victories
Working Title: Mad Jack
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Star: Harvey Keitel
When it comes to movie characters, American viewers seem to agree on the same cinematic mantra: The more eccentric, the better. If you’re skeptical, just Google John Malkovich, or ponder how “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise continues to grind out terrible sequels that people continue to pay for. Sometimes, people don’t want quality, they just want crazy.
Luckily, however, we’ve found a story that fits the bill in both categories: A war account so bizarre it sounds more like an urban legend than a part of America’s WWII history.
Lt. Col. John Malcom Thorpe Fleming Churchill, or “Mad Jack” as he would later be known, may have been one of the most badass — and insane — people to ever walk the earth. Picture the weirdness of Jeff Bridges a la “The Big Lebowski” crossed with sheer majesty of Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” and you’ll be in the ballpark.
Churchill joined the British military in 1926 at age 20, only to leave shortly after to pursue professional bagpiping and compete in the World Archery Championship in 1939 — because why not. But when WWII rolled around, Churchill was more than ready to jump back into the fray, and racked up a war record so unbelievable we’re shocked his story hasn’t already made it to the big screen.
Churchill stormed the beaches of Normandy carrying a Scottish sword, wore his bagpipes in battle and made many of his kills with a longbow he wore on his back. During a night raid on the Nazi lines, Churchill led his men to capture 136 enemy soldiers — and he himself captured 40 plus Germans at sword point. During a different battle on the Nazi-controlled island of Brac, “Mad Jack” fought until he was the last of his men standing. Then when he ran out of ammo, he stood his ground, playing his bagpipes on top of a hill until a grenade knocked him out and he was captured by the Germans. That scene alone could win an Academy Award.
Churchill would later escape his POW camp and meet up with American troops, only to find out — to his profound disappointment — that two atomic bombs had been dropped, and the war was essentially over. According to Vice, Churchill reportedly complained, “If it hadn’t been for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going for another ten years!”
Who knows, with the film industry being so sequel-happy these days (we’re looking at you, Peter Jackson), maybe his movies could go on for ten years.