U.S. troops and their playing cards have a long history. A large chunk of deployment is spent killing time until the action starts – and card games have long been the weapon of choice for that mission.
After more than a century, the U.S. Playing Card Company, manufacturer of playing card brands like Bee, Aviator, and Hoyle, is still the world’s leading card company. In that time, the company has been very good to U.S. troops. Its original brands were decks of Army and Navy cards, later merged to one “Army Navy” brand, featuring military imagery.
The USPCC even made a cheap deck so soldiers in World War I could easily purchase one for the battlefields.
It was the company’s signature brand, Bicycle, that did the most for troops in the field. During World War II, Bicycle teamed up with British and American intelligence agencies to create a deck of cards that peeled apart when wet. The cards then revealed secret escape maps so downed pilots and captured soldiers could navigate their way back to Allied lines.
Once the map pieces were revealed, all it took was to assemble the cards in the right order to get the full map layout.
The decks were given to POWs in Europe through the Red Cross’ special Christmas parcels, which contained (among other things) a deck of playing cards. Cards were a common occurrence among troops, so they aroused no suspicion from the Nazi camp guards.
Decks of these cards are said to have helped at least 32 people escape from Colditz Castle and prompted some 316 escape attempts. No one knows for sure how many decks were produced, but the only two known surviving decks are in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
Among the many planes flying sorties against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a version of the C-130. No, not the AC-130 gunship – although that plane did help blow up a lot of ISIS tanker trucks according to a 2015 Military.com report.
Here we’re talking about the EC-130H Compass Call. And while the highly-modified cargo plane doesn’t have the firepower appeal of the AC-130, it brings a lot of lethal wizbangery to the fight.
Things can go pear-shaped even with the best-laid operational plans when comms are crystal clear. Commanders can issue orders, and subordinates receive them and report information up the line.
Now imagine being an ISIS commander who is unable to send orders to units, and concurrently, they can’t send you any information. You’re now fumbling around, and figuratively blind as a bat against the opposition.
When the anti-ISIS coalition comes, backed up by special operators and air power, pretty soon you find yourself in a world of coalition hurt.
According to an Air Force release, the EC-130H has been doing just that against ISIS. This plane is loaded with jamming gear that cuts off communications.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, it works with the EA-18G Growler, the F-16CJ Fighting Falcon, and the EA-6B Prowler. The plane, though, has been in service since 1983. It was first designed to help take down air-defense networks, usually by working with other planes like the F-4G Wild Weasel and the EF-111 Raven.
These are old airframes. The plane may have entered service in 1983, but the airframes are old.
“We have a 1964 model out here on the ramp and you run the gamut of issues from old wiring to old structural issues (and) corrosion. You find that many of the items on the aircraft have been on there for well over 20 or 30 years, and parts fail all the time. So the aircraft more often than not come down and they need us to fix it before it can fly again safely,” 1st Lt. John Karim, the Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge with the 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, told the Air Force News Service.
They might be old, they don’t make things go boom, but they still help kick some terrorist ass.
One minute you set your rifle down against a tree to go take a leak, the next minute you realize it’s nowhere to be found. Your rifle — the one thing you cannot lose during this training exercise — is missing. Here is what goes through your head in that moment:
Oh my God. Oh God. Oh no. I’m doomed. My life is over.
Well, maybe my platoon sergeant won’t notice.
If I just pray enough, it will appear and everything will be just fine.
Jones over there isn’t paying attention. Maybe I can steal his.
Crap, that won’t work. My rifle is serialized, so they are going to know it’s a different number.
Ok that’s it. I’ll fake an injury and tell the Lt. I fell down and my rifle was lost in a swamp.
No that’s not going to work. There are no swamps anywhere. Oh my God. Oh God. I’m doomed. My life is over.
A North Korean guard handed Sgt. Berry F. Rhoden, a POW, a card which read:
“You are about to die the most horrible kind of death.”
The guard then shot Rhoden in the back. These are the kinds of stories collected by Michigan Senator Charles E. Potter after the Korean War ended. Potter documented more than 1,800 atrocities committed by the Communists against civilian populations and UN military personnel during the Korean War.
The 1954 Potter Report is more than 200 pages of testimony from Korean War veterans and massacre survivors before Congress. Sgt. Rhoden was one of just a few of those survivors.
When the Korean War started, victory was far but assured. The North Korean attack on June 25, 1950 took the U.S. and South Korea by complete surprise, and the Communists were able to make large gains in a very short amount of time.
The battle lines swung as wildly as the momentum of the war itself before grinding into months of stalemate as the two sides haggled at the negotiating table. Every time the pendulum shifted, more American and UN forces were captured by the North Korean and Chinese forces. The first reports of enemy atrocities filtered into the UN headquarters as early as two days after the invasion started.
The report found the Communist forces in Korea “flagrantly violated virtually every provision of the Geneva Convention” as well as Article 6 of the Nuremberg Tribunal Charter. It also lists the abuses American and UN POWs suffered at the hands of the North Koreans:
“American prisoners of war who were not deliberately murdered at the time of capture or shortly after capture, were beaten, wounded, starved, and tortured; molested, displayed, and humiliated before the civilian populace and/or forced to march long distances without benefit of adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, or medical care to Communist prison camps, and there to experience further acts of human indignities.”
On top of the numerous forced marches and torture, seven Korean War Massacres stand out as egregious examples of the systematic, inhumane treatment of POWs at the hands of Communist forces. According to the Potter Report, as of June 1953, the estimated number of American POWs who died from enemy war crimes was 6,113. The total number of UN forces who were victims ranged between 11,662 – 20,785.
1. The Hill 303 Massacre
On August 14, 1950, 26 U.S. troops were caught by surprise and captured by North Koreans. Their hands were bound and their boots were stolen by their captors. The next day, more American POWs joined the group, bringing their number to 45.
The prisoners were led to a ravine where they were all shot with their hands still tied. Only 4 survived. Cpl. Roy Manring, Jr. gave his testimony before the commission:
“They come by and they started kicking and you could hear the fellows hollering, grunting, groaning, and praying, and when they kicked me they kicked my leg and I made a grunting sound and that’s when I caught it in the gut, got shot in the gut at the time.”
2. The Sunchon Tunnel Massacre
In October 1950, UN troops were approaching Pyongyang when 180 U.S. prisoners were loaded onto rail cars and moved north. The men had already survived the Seoul-Pyongyang Death March and were starving, dehydrated, and wounded. The ride north exposed them to the elements for five days when they were unloaded near the Sunchon Tunnel. The North Koreans led the men to a ravine and shot them to pieces. 138 died from the shooting, starvation, and disease after being left there.
Pvt. 1st Class John Martin, one of the survivors, gave his account of the incident:
“We went around the corner, into this ditch. They said, “Get down; the planes. Get down; the planes. So when we all ducked down some more of them came up on us over a little rice paddy and they just opened up.”
3. The Taejon Massacre
On September 27, 1950, 60 U.S. prisoners of war held in the Taejon prison were bound by their hands and taken to the prison yard. As the sat in shallow ditches, the North Korean guards shot them at point blank range with an American M-1 rifle. Only one survivor lived to tell the story.
Civilians killed by the North Korean People’s Army forces Identify bodies. October 1950 (U.S. Army photo)
Sgt. Carey Weinel told Congress about the slaughter of the Americans but also told them about the 5,000 – 7,000 Korean civilians and South Korean soldiers who also died at Taejon. Weinel allowed himself to be buried alive to escape the massacre.
“As I say, I was shot around 5 o’clock in the morning, and I stayed in the ditch until that eveninq, until what time it was dark. I woula say approximately 8 hours, 8 or 7 hours. “
4. The Bamboo Spear Case
Five airmen in a truck convoy were ambushed by North Korean troops in December 1950. Their bodies were found by a South Korean patrol, punctured with 20 different stab wounds from heated bamboo sticks. None of the wounds were fatal by themselves.
Lt. Col. James Rogers of the Army Medical Corps testified before Congress that the five airmen were tortured and then murdered.
“After torturing them with the superficial wounds they then bayoneted them with the same instruments and these fellows mere allowed to bleed to death. “
5. The Naedae Murders
Near a Communist propaganda bulletin board that accused the UN of committing atrocities against Koreans, 12 American soldiers were imprisoned in a hut and then shot by North Korean troops. Five were able to survive by faking their own deaths.
Cpl. Frederick Herrmann survived the October 1950 murders and told the Potter commission about the surprise shooting:
“I heard the first shot go off and this fellow sitting right across directly from me was hit and he fell forward. When he fell forward. I just spun around and stuck my head under the desk. While I was laying there playing dead, I heard all kinds of shots. Pretty soon I felt somebody kick me. I got shot in the leg. I still played dead…”
6. The Chaplain-Medic Massacre
In July 1950, just after the North Korean invasion that started the Korean War, the Communists surprised 20 gravely wounded U.S. soldiers and their attendants. Attending the wounded was a regimental surgeon wearing the red cross armband and a non-combatant Christian chaplain. The chaplain was slaughtered with the injured troops, but the surgeon, Capt. Linton J. Buttrey, was the sole survivor.
Senator Potter: He was administering the last rites to the patient, to a patient on a litter?
Captain Buttrey: Yes.
Senator Potter: And how did they kill him?
Captain Buttrey: He was shot in the back, sir.
7. The Kaesong Massacre
Just north of what we today call the Demilitarized Zone, 13 American soldiers were captured by North Koreans near the city of Kaesong in November 1950. They were stripped of all their possessions and imprisoned in a small hut. After 3 hours, they were marched out of the hut for two miles, thinking they were headed to a POW camp. The men were then shot from behind without warning.
There was one survivor, Cpl. William Milano, who told his story to Congress.
“I heard the bolt go back and as I heard the bolt, I turned around to see what it was, and he fired. He hit me through the right hand and it threw me up against the hill. As it did, blood either squirted on me, or blood squirted on my face. He took another shot and it skidded off my left leg and took a piece of flesh away. The third hit me high and I felt the dirt. They were still firing on the other men. About 5 minutes later all the firing stopped.”
In all, the war crimes perpetrated by the Communist forces left “several thousand” unrepatriated Americans wounded, killed in action, or otherwise left confined behind the Iron Curtain.
While he’s more famous for being “The Man In Black,” Johnny Cash served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War and was the first man outside of the Soviet Union to learn of Premier Joseph Stalin’s death.
The Man In Black passed the message up the chain and returned to work. Cash’s job already required that he have limited off-post privileges and contact with locals. Still, he couldn’t discuss what happened with even his close friends.
The rest of the world would soon learn of Stalin’s death and the ascent of Georgy Malenkov.
Cash, meanwhile, would leave the service honorably just over a year later and return to Texas where he had trained. He married his first wife the same year and signed with Sun Records in 1955.
He played the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time the same year.
Over the following 48 years, Cash wrote thousands of songs and released dozens of albums before his death in September 2003 at the age of 71.
In the Battle of Stalingrad a group of 25 men in a nearly abandoned apartment held off thousands of German soldiers during nearly two months of fighting. Time and time again, the assaulting Nazi forces attacked the building occupied by Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov and his platoon.
In the fighting at Stalingrad, Russian and German soldiers clashed in bloody, close-quarters combat. Some buildings held Germans and Russians on different floors for days, fighting the other side through the stairwells.
When 21 Russian soldiers arrived, they helped prepare the building for an extended siege. A PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle was placed on the roof, machine guns were placed in every available window facing the main square, mortars were emplaced, and walls were knocked out to facilitate communications between the men.
Then the Nazis came. Armored and infantry columns would move up the streets to try and take out the building. They were forced to cross “9th January Square,” a wide open space named for Russia’s Bloody Sunday. While the Germans were in the square, the Russians would strike.
The Russian soldiers would open fire with the anti-tank rifle on the roof, piercing the thin turret armor of the tanks. The men found that if they waited until the tanks were within 25 meters of the building, the enemy tanks could not elevate their own guns high enough to retaliate.
Meanwhile, machine gunners would begin firing from the windows, shattering the bodies of German infantrymen. When they had the rounds, the men would begin lobbing mortars out of the building and onto the attacking column.
The Germans were devastated in the fight for the building that they eventually marked on their maps as a fortress. Inside, the Russians were sticking to Order 227 which demanded that Soviet soldiers take, “Not one step back!”
They held out until Nov. 25 when a Russian counterattack allowed fresh soldiers to replace Pavlov and his men in the defense of Pavlov’s house. The civilians in the basement were also allowed to evacuate.
The building was reconstructed after the war. Bricks and materials from the bombed out structure that Pavlov and his men held was used to construct a monument on the corner of the new building.
Frank Lee served as a Marine Corps combat cameraman in Vietnam, collecting spool after spool of footage of other U.S. Marines and soldiers fighting in the hottest parts of the conflict.
Like many recruits, Lee was surprised to learn what his job entailed. He had originally enlisted into electronics and photography to stay away from combat as a concession to his mom who had worried about his safety.
Lee decided to finally go through some of his more violent footage with his son who had only seen the “G-Rated” footage. In this video, Frank and his son dicuss the day that Lee was wounded in an North Vietnamese Army ambush that left all of those superior to LeeFrank either severely wounded or dead.
Lee had to step up, relaying instructions from the pinned down, wounded platoon sergeant while calling in air strikes on the village from which the fire was coming. While the film is silent, Lee says that he heard the cries of women and children caught in the fighting, sounds that have haunted him since.
American napalm burned through the fields and village. The Marines maintained their perimeter until darkness fell and their brothers from Kilo company were able to reach them.
A corpsman attached a casualty card to Lee and he was medevaced from the bush. For his contributions to saving the patrol, he was awarded the Bronze Star with V Device. Watch him tell the story to his son in the video below:
Interpreters who have been caught up in the executive order by President Donald Trump suspending immigration from seven countries have picked up some high-powered help from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and some veterans in Congress.
According to a report by the Washington Examiner, Mattis has begun to compile a list of interpreters and other Iraqis who provided assistance to the United States during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“There are a number of people in Iraq who have worked for us in a partnership role,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told the Examiner. “They are fighting alongside us or working as translators, often doing so at great peril to themselves, and we are ensuring those who have demonstrated their commitment tangibly to fight alongside us and support us that those names are known.”
The Examiner also reported that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a combat veteran and Marine Corps Reserve officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who currently serves in the Air National Guard and who received six Air Medals for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, have written President Trump in support of Mattis’s request for exemptions for the interpreters.
“We are concerned that, with specific application to individuals who worked with the U.S. Government on the ground, certain immigrants deserving prompt consideration are likely to be overlooked,” Hunter said in a statement. “We encourage you to make special consideration in the review process for these individuals, who are certain to face threats to their own lives as part of the broader pause in refugee and immigrant admissions.”
The Examiner noted that the Special Immigrant Visa program for interpreters and others who have aided the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan has seen a flood of applications. As many as 12,000 interpreters and family members re seeking entry into the United States from Afghanistan.
Germany’s highest awards for valor, the Iron Cross, was the most awarded of the top tier medals of any nation in World War II. But Germany awarded more top-tier valor awards than any other country for two very good reasons. First, most German troops fought for the duration or the war unless they were crippled.
As German ace Gunther Rall put it, that meant Third Reich troops’ destiny “was either the Iron Cross or the wooden cross.” They would be heroes or they would die in the attempt.
Second, German troops could earn the Iron Cross with a series of events, like succeeding in enough aerial battles, rather than for just a single act of extreme valor like in most militaries. While the medal was awarded for singular military achievements and bravery, it was also automatically warranted after a service member completed a challenging act.
Here are four things that would get a World War II German soldier an automatic Iron Cross:
1. Destroying a set number of enemy tanks
For German tankers, the “easiest” way to earn an Iron Cross was to achieve enough tank victories to qualify. While the number required increased as the war ground on, 50 was the magic number for a few years. That’s 50 Allied tank kills before a single tank managed to kill them.
2. Killing a set number of Allied planes
German Luftwaffe pilots could net an Iron Cross by accruing an ever-increasing number of points. Single-engine aircraft were worth one point, dual-engines netted two points, and four engines were worth three points. Fighters could get the Iron Cross second class for becoming an ace (downing five enemy aircraft).
3. Sinking a set amount of Allied shipping
For submariners, the Iron Cross was usually awarded for sinking tons of Allied supplies. The Iron Cross second class usually required sinking 50,000 tons of shipping, while the Knight’s Cross, a higher level of the same award, would be granted to those who sank 100,000 or more tons.
These were older, frail planes piloted by Soviet women who would carry a few bombs at a time and drop them on Nazi massed forces, breaking up German attacks on Soviet positions. But the planes were so slow and quiet that they were hard to find and harder to fight, so the Luftwaffe promised an Iron Cross for a single kill.
Asked on Thursday by Rep. Tim Ryan of the House Appropriations Committee to explain why the US doesn’t just go to war to stop North Korea from developing the capability to hit the US, Secretary of Defense James Mattis painted a grim scenario.
“I would suggest that we will win,” Mattis said. “It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953.
“It will involve the massive shelling of an ally’s capital, which is one of the most densely packed cities on earth,” Mattis said of Seoul, South Korea, which boasts a metro-area population of 25 million.
North Korea recently launched one of the nation’s largest military exercises, displaying a deadly barrage of artillery. (Photo from North Korean news service)
“It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” Mattis said, but “we would win at great cost.”
Mattis explained that because the threat from North Korea loomed so large and a military confrontation would destroy so much, he, President Donald Trump, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had all made a peaceful solution a top priority.
Mattis said the topic of North Korea dominated Trump’s meeting in April with President Xi Jinping of China, North Korea’s only ally, and that the US intended to make China understand that “North Korea today is a strategic burden, not a strategic asset.”
China argues it has limited influence on Pyongyang, but as one expert explained, Beijing could at any moment cripple North Korea through trade means, forcing it to come to the negotiating table.
Mattis made clear that the US was nearing the end of its rope in dealing with North Korea, saying: “We’re exhausting all possible diplomatic efforts in this regard.”
North Korea recently taunted Trump by saying it was capable of hitting New York with a nuclear missile, but Mattis said a war today would hurt our Asian allies.
“It would be a serious, a catastrophic war, especially for innocent people in some of our allied countries, to include Japan most likely,” Mattis said.
Firing from a hillside position using an Unertl 8X scope on a .50-caliber machine gun stabilized by a sandbag-supported M3 tripod, Hathcock engaged a Vietcong pushing a weapon-laden bicycle at 2,500 yards. Hathcock’s first round disabled the bicycle, the second struck the enemy soldier in the chest.
At the time this was the longest sniper kill in history, and it was made with a machine gun in single shot mode. The record stood until March 2002 when Canadian sniper Master Cpl. Arron Perry beat it. Since then, at least three other snipers have beaten Hathcock’s distance.
Hathcock wasn’t the only sniper to use the M2 instead of a traditional sniper rifle. The weapons had been used as sniper weapons in Korea and Vietnam before, but no one else made a shot at nearly the distance of Hathcock’s.
In fact, Hathcock’s shot beat a record that had stood for nearly 100 years. On June 27, 1874, Buffalo Hunter Billy Dixon killed a Comanche leader during the Second Battle of Adobe Walls from 1,538 yards. But while Dixon was firing at a group of warriors silhouetted against the sky, Hathcock fired against a single target.
Check out WATM’s podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss the Vietnam War adventures of Carlos Hathcock.
Journalist Javier Espinosa described the horrifying experience of being an Islamic State hostage in The Sunday Times.
In the piece, Espinosa, a correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo who was held by the jihadist group for several months, recalled in vivid detail how infamous executioner “Jihadi John” would psychologically and physically torture his victims.
“Feel it? Cold, isn’t it? Can you imagine the pain you’ll feel when it cuts? Unimaginable pain,” the notorious militant would say as he tickled Espinosa’s neck with a long knife. “The first hit will sever your veins. The blood mixes with your saliva.”
“Jihadi John” also staged mock executions for his hostages, whom were often captured in Syria by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
“Jihadi John wanted maximum drama. He had brought along an antique sword of the kind Muslim armies used in the Middle Ages,” Espinosa wrote, according to The Telegraph. “After finishing with the sword he holstered his pistol, a Glock. He placed it against my head and pulled the trigger three times. Click. Click. Click. It’s called a mock execution. But not even this terrifying intimidation seemed to satisfy them.”
“Jihadi John,” gained infamy last year after appearing as the executioner in Islamic State videos, including those where US journalists were beheaded. In February, The Washington Post identified the militant as Mohammed Emwazi.
An Islamic State defector told Sky News last week that Emwazi was the “boss” in the jihadist group’s hostage operations. According to Sky News, the mock executions had a dark purpose: to make the hostages more relaxed for their ultimate execution videos.
“The execution rehearsals took place so that when the moment of death finally came, the hostages were not expecting to be killed and were relaxed to appeal for their release on camera,” the outlet reported.