Since 9/11, almost 58,000 American troops have either been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism. And according to the Pentagon, each of those casualties qualifies for the Purple Heart medal — whether awarded in person or posthumously.
But it turns out that most of those pinned with the distinctive badge would wear an actual medal that’s been in DoD stocks for over 70 years.
How is this possible? Believe it or not, according to a Dec. 2003 report by HistoryNewsNetwork.com, the military had over 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock at the time, even after suffering almost 81,000 killed in action and nearly 257,000 wounded in action between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
How did the Department of Defense end up with so many spare Purple Hearts on hand? The answer goes back to 1945.
We may remember it as the year the war ended, but back then, the question was how it would end.
The United States was planning for the invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall. The fight was expected to be very nasty. A 1998 article in Air Chronicles cited one estimate of 394,859 casualties. The Department of Defense ordered nearly half a million Purple Heart medals to award to casualties.
According to a 2015 post at HotAir.com, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu involving 14 divisions of troops, was slated to take place on Nov. 1, 1945. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu with 25 divisions, would have begun four months later.
Thanks to a pair of airplanes named Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the invasion of Japan never took place. Many of the implements used to win World War II were either scrapped, sold off, or disposed of. But the medals were kept. The book “Blood Trails” by Christopher Ronnau described how Vietnam vets received Purple Hearts originally meant for use two decades earlier.
HistoryNewsNetwork.com reported that in 2000, the government finally ordered the production of more Purple Heart medals, but only to re-stock what was then known as the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.
According to a report by ynetnews.com, the package includes four frigates based on the Littoral Combat Ship, 115 M1A2S Abrams tanks, the MIM-104F Patriot PAC-3 missile system, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, 48 CH-47 Chinook helicopters, 150 Blackhawk helicopters, and a number of other systems.
Bloomberg News reports that the deal was originally for two ships based on USS Freedom (LCS 1), which is currently in service with the United States Navy, but was increased to four, and there is an option for four more vessels. This is the first export order for the LCS hull.
The Lockheed Martin website notes that this ship adds remotely-operated 20mm cannon, the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile, long-range surface-to-surface missiles, and the AN/SLQ-25 “Nixie,” a decoy intended to draw torpedoes away from a ship.
A separate deal could include up to 16,000 kits for the Paveway series of laser-guided bombs. These weapons are used on Saudi jets, including the F-15S Strike Eagle, the Tornado IDS, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Many of the weapons deals had been initiated during the Obama Administration, but had been placed on hold due to concerns about civilian casualties in the Yemeni Civil War. The Saudi Arabian military has been launching strikes against the Houthi rebels to back the Yemeni government.
Jimmy Doolittle – the man who bombed Tokyo just 5 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – called Bob Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.” Hoover had only been flying for five years by the time World War II broke out.
Hoover was captured by the Nazis after being shot down on his 59th mission over Europe.
The ace wasn’t about to spend the war in a prison camp, though. After 16 months as a POW, he was determined to get out and get back to the action. He staged a fight between fellow prisoners, jumped over the Stalag’s barb wire fence, and stole an unguarded Focke-Wulf 190 from the nearby airfield. He then flew it to newly-liberated Holland.
After the war, Hoover had an illustrious aviation career. He became a test pilot and Air Force legend, even backing up Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 in 1947.
A “pilot’s pilot,” Hoover continued to fly in air shows until 2000.
Sadly, Hoover died on October 25, 2016, but was fondly remembered by his admirers and friends in the aviation community, including Buzz Aldrin, who tweeted:
Despite what many think, the Thompson submachine gun was not the first submachine gun.
But many will argue it was the best submachine gun ever put in the hands of fighting men – whether they were “good guys” or “bad guys.”
Well-made, robust, capable of firing more than 800 rounds a minute in some models and chambered for the man-stopping .45-caliber ACP round, the gun lived up to one of its original names: The Annihilator.
“I knew several soldiers who used Thompsons for special operations in Vietnam,” said Alan Archambault, a retired U.S. Army officer and former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. “Even in the 1960s, the Thompson was still an iconic weapon for U.S. soldiers. Often when one soldier would rotate to the U.S., he would pass the Thompson on to another soldier in theater.”
The brainchild of Gen. John T. Thompson, a former chief of small arms for the Ordnance Department and firearms designer, the stalemate on the Western Front during The Great War (a.k.a. World War I) convinced him the ordinary infantryman needed a new weapon. Thompson wanted something he called “a trench broom.”
“Our boys in the infantry, now in the trenches, need a small machine gun, a gun that will fire 50 to 100 rounds, so light that he can drag it with him as he crawls on his belly from trench to trench, and wipe out a whole company single-handed,” Thompson wrote in a 1918 memo to firearms designers. “I want a little machine gun you can hold in your hands, fire from the hip and reload in the dark. You must use ammunition now available and I want it right away.”
Designers produced a prototype by 1919, but the first practical models were too late for the war. Still, Thompson convinced Colt to produce 15,000 M1921 submachine guns.
Early observers of the M1921 test-fired on the range were impressed by how much firepower the “little machine gun” delivered.
The problem was Thompson had no steady stream of customers, even when Thompson’s company Auto-Ordnance Corp. released the M1928 – considered by many the definitive Tommy gun model.
True, the U.S. Marine Corps purchased Thompsons and used them effectively in China and during the Latin American “banana wars” of the 1920s. The Postal Service armed its security personnel with Thompsons as well.
But the weapon was expensive – very expensive. Adjusted for inflation, its $200 price tag is roughly equivalent to $2,300 today.
To put things in perspective, consider the contemporary cost of prime, high-end arms like the Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal SCAR 17S 7.62×51 millimeter NATO – it costs about the same as a Tommy Gun did during the Roaring ’20s.
Besides, for better or worse the Thompson gained a “bad boy” reputation. A handful of criminals such as John Dillinger and George “Machine Gun” Kelly gave the weapon a bad name.
At first, potential customers such as the British government considered the Thompson “gangster weapons” and refused to purchase the submachine gun.
But by 1939, all that changed. Great Britain entered World War II starved for armaments.
The War Office eagerly purchased every M1928 it could, and the weapon was a hit with the Tommies – particularly the Commandos.
The weapon’s reliability and ability to bring devastating automatic fire to close quarters combat made the Thompson a favorite of the Commandos.
They even honored the weapon in the design of their unit recognition flash: A stylized Thompson superimposed on an anchor headed by an eagle.
There were also many American G.I.s who even relished the gangster panache of the Tommy Gun. Images of actors like James Cagney in “The Public Enemy” – easily one of the most violent movies of its time – ducking around a corner as a gangster fired on him with a Thompson were unforgettable.
“It was often seen in gangster films that were watched by impressionable young men who came of age during World War II,” Archambault said. “So, even before its use in World War II, it was an iconic weapon.”
Sure, the M-1 Garand was the basic weapon for the American infantryman. But the Thompson found its way into the hands of officers, squad leaders, paratroopers, U.S. Marines and any soldier lucky enough to grab one.
Also, G.I.s and Marines were fighting all across the globe in battlefield environments that included deserts, jungles and snow. The sheer reliability of the Thompson, particularly in its less-expensive but equally deadly M1A1 model, made it the perfect weapon to endure the lousiest battlefield conditions.
Eventually, the cost of the Thompson prompted development of the M-3 “Grease Gun,” which could be produced in greater quantities for far less money than even the M1A1.
But by the Korean War, the Army relegated the Thompson to a secondary role. By Vietnam, the first M-16s were in the hands of GIs and the military considered the Thompson obsolete.
Today, Thompson submachine guns are in high demand among collectors legally authorized to own full-auto weapons. On average, the price for a clean Tommy Gun is about $25,000.
After the close of the Great War, the former race-car driver got into business. At first, it was automobiles and racing but he returned to aviation and ran Eastern Air Lines. In Feb. 1941, he was riding on one of the company’s planes when it crashed on a hill near Atlanta.
Rickenbacker was severely injured in the crash. His pelvic bone, a leg, and multiple ribs were broken and an eyelid was torn.
In spite of his injuries and the fact he was pinned down by a dead body and the wreckage, he took control of the situation and sent a group to call for help. He kept everyone safe and calm for the nine hours it took for rescue workers to arrive and get him out of the wreckage.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t done with plane crashes. In 1942 Rickenbacker had mostly recovered from his earlier crash, though he continued to limp. The Army Air Force asked the aviation pioneer, then 52 years old, to consult on operations in the Pacific theater.
With a $1 a day salary, he set out for a tour of the Pacific. He first visited Hawaii en route to bases from Australia to Guadalcanal. On a B-17 with 7 other men, Rickenbacker departed Hawaii for Canton Island, but the B-17 got lost en route.
Rickenbacker again took command, even though he was technically outranked by a colonel who was accompanying him as an aide. Floating in the ocean on three smalls rafts, the Army airmen were subjected to extreme cold at night and blistering heat in the day.
Despite these small successes, Sgt. Alexander Kaczmarczyk died on the 13th day. He had been returning to Australia after recovering from illness and had drank a large quantity of seawater on the escape from the plane. The added toll being soaked with sea water and exposed to extreme temperatures for nearly two weeks overcame him.
A few days later, on the 17th day, the group spotted a scout plane flying about 5 miles away. Efforts to flag it down failed, as did attempt to flag down the next six planes that appeared over the the two days after that.
Luckily, the plan worked. One raft found land where the natives and an English missionary nursed them while waiting on doctors to arrive. The other dispatched raft was spotted by a Navy patrol plane who picked them up. The survivors told the Navy where to look for Rickenbacker’s raft.
Rickenbacker had lost 40 pounds, developed a number of sores from the salt water, and was severely dehydrated, but he spent only two weeks recovering in a Navy hospital before insisting on completing his mission.
On Dec. 16, 1944, the German army launched a massive surprise offensive into the Ardennes forest in Belgium which became known as “The Battle of the Bulge.” The battle, launched 70 years ago, would become the largest American engagement of the war — and the bloodiest — resulting in nearly 20,000 U.S. troops killed over five weeks.
[Clifford] VanAuken, then a 19-year-old combat medic, was sleeping on the kitchen floor of a farmhouse near Nancy, France, when he was woken up at 2 a.m. to travel to Belgium.
“We thought the war was about over and then the Germans launched this horrendous attack,” he said. “It was a battle that surprised all ally commanders.”
In a must-see documentary about the members of Easy Co., 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the survivors talk at length about the battle, the bitter cold, and the intense artillery fire that they had to endure.
“There was on top of this hill there was a ridge, a treeline,” said one veteran, who was there at Bastogne. “We were dug in on that ridge. The Germans knew right where we were, and they really gave us a shellacking.”
The incredible bravery of American troops, with support to come later by Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, ultimately led to an allied victory. But it came at a heavy price, with the U.S. Army suffering over 100,000 casualties, according to The History Channel.
“When a man was wounded, we felt glad for them. We felt happy for them,” Capt. Richard Winters later recounted. “He had a ticket to get out of there, and maybe a ticket to go home. And when we had a man who was killed, we found that he was at peace and he looked so peaceful. And we’re glad that he found peace.”
Watch some of the men who survived the battle tell their stories:
A flotilla led by China’s first aircraft carrier has set out from the port city of Qingdao for what the military called “a routine training mission,” the country’s Defense Ministry said after a report emerged that the vessel would also make an unprecedented port call to Hong Kong early next month.
On June 25, the ministry said that the flotilla, led by the Liaoning carrier, includes the destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan, the frigate Yantai, and a squadron of J-15 fighter jets and helicopters.
It said the training mission, “like previous ones, is expected to strengthen coordination among the vessels and improve the skills of crews and pilots.”
On June 23rd, the South China Morning Post, citing unidentified sources, said the Liaoning — a refitted former Soviet-era vessel that China acquired from Ukraine in 1998 — will visit Hong Kong early next month for the 20th anniversary of its handover to Chinese rule from Britain.
“The People’s Liberation Army is to make its most visible appearance in Hong Kong in 20 years, marking the handover anniversary with an unprecedented port call by its first aircraft carrier,” the report said.
It said the port call will follow President Xi Jinping’s first trip to the former British colony since he became leader in 2013. Xi is scheduled to visit Hong Kong between June 29th and July 1st, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daly reported that upon its arrival, the Liaoning may be open to the city’s residents for the first time.
While US warships, including aircraft carriers, have been known to make port calls in Hong Kong, such symbolic displays of military might by the Chinese Navy are a rarity.
Experts said the visit was likely part of moves by Beijing to help bolster patriotism in the Chinese enclave, especially among younger Hong Kongers who experienced the pro-democracy “Umbrella Revolution” in 2014 and ensuing battle between activists and members of the pro- China establishment.
Zhang Baohui, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said Xi’s decision to visit “shows that he will not be deterred by the prospects of protests.”
“He is a very seasoned political leader and is not so easily intimidated,” Zhang said.
As for the Liaoning’s expected visit, Zhang said he believed this would mainly be used to boost patriotism in Hong Kong.
“Beijing is aware that some Hong Kongers do not want to embrace their Chinese identity,” Zhang said. “Many surveys have shown that this is particularly a problem among the younger people … such as the 20-30 age group.
Zhang said that Beijing has employed a number of measures in recent years “to try to shape the identities of Hong Kong people.”
“In that context,” he added, the visit by the “Liaoning could offer many ordinary Hong Kong people a chance to witness China’s achievements, thereby enhancing their (sense of) Chinese identity.”
The Liaoning carried out its first training drills in the Western Pacific last December, when it cruised into the waterway between Okinawa and Miyakojima Island.
The new carrier and exercises are seen as part of the Chinese Navy’s effort to expand its operational reach as it punches further into the Pacific Ocean.
China’s growing military presence in the region, especially in the disputed South and East China seas, has fueled concern in the United States and Japan.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, where it has built up and militarized a string of man-made islands. In the East China Sea, Beijing is involved in a territorial dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are known in China as the Diaoyus.
World Wrestling Entertainment, better known as the WWE, marked Memorial Day this year by sharing some of their best Tribute to the Troops moments. Tribute to the Troops is a recurring WWE program that hosts wrestling matches specifically to entertain service members deployed around the world.
One of the most popular clips they shared came from a 2003 fight between John Cena and Big Show. The match was held in Baghdad less than two weeks after American soldiers captured Saddam Hussein. It was the first WWE Tribute to the Troops and featured some great action performed in front of soldiers celebrating their victories over the Iraqi military.
If you are a regular reader of Coffee or Die Magazine (you are here, after all), then you have likely read countless stories from military history about the misfits who served during World War II. Some of these may be familiar, while others are new additions to your store of knowledge. We’ve covered soldiers who carried peculiar weapons into battle, such as a longbow or an umbrella, and special operations and guerrilla warfare units that thrived with a diverse cast of characters.
Here’s a roundup of 10 misfits of D-Day and World War II who inspired many to follow them into hell and back.
Oldest Soldier on D-Day
Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was the oldest soldier to land as part of the first wave of the invasion force on D-Day. The 56-year-old veteran of World War I and Distinguished Service Cross recipient rallied his men armed with a pistol in one hand and his walking cane in the other to take Utah Beach. One month later, Roosevelt died after suffering a massive heart attack. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry and courage at Utah Beach on D-Day.
The Rice Paddy Navy
The Rice Paddy Navy was a scrappy group of river pirates, peasants, coast watchers, and saboteurs who were provided weapons and training by a Chinese secret service general and a team of hand-picked US Navy sailors and Marines. The Rice Paddy Navy, better known as the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO) — pronounced “socko” — served mainly as a paramilitary unit.
They collected intelligence and conducted espionage operations but also launched ambushes, assassinations, and sabotage on key officers and infrastructure. In just three years — between 1942 and 1945 — they rescued 76 aviators shot down behind enemy lines, built a guerrilla army of nearly 97,000 fighters, and had 18 camps organized in China, Burma, Indochina, and parts of India.
Jack Hemingway, the eldest son of novelist Ernest Hemingway, famously completed his first combat jump with the OSS on a Jedburgh mission over France while towing along his fly-fishing rod. He even almost got caught by a German patrol midstream carrying his rod, reel, and a box of flies. But the Germans just made jokes about the silly fisherman, not realizing he was an American commando caught in the act.
Prior to Hemingway’s service in Europe, he got into an altercation in a café in Algiers. He and a few other OSS commandos were there for a nightcap when a thief snatched his jump boots and ran down an alley. As the commandos gave chase, the thief linked up with friends around the corner who were wielding knives. The knives were no match for the commandos though — despite their heavy drinking, all were unarmed combat instructors for the OSS, and they easily disarmed the perpetrators without suffering a scratch.
In 1951, a newspaper reported that a detective from Scotland Yard had instantly pointed the finger at “Gentle Johnny” Ramensky, one of the most well-known safecrackers in the criminal underworld. Ramensky was a repeat offender, in and out of jail, yet he had no equals. In World War II, criminal types weren’t overlooked by special operations units. Crooks were even sought after because of their advanced knowledge in demolitions, skill with hand-to-hand combat, and situational awareness. Ramensky in particular was recruited for lock-picking and safecracking and joined Ian Fleming’s crackshot commando unit known as 30 Assault Unit (30AU).
For the 30 AU, he conducted sabotage missions against German railroads and bridges carrying Nazi supplies. He also snuck into the North African headquarters of Erwin Rommel and stole top-secret materials. He targeted Hermann Göring’s luxurious Carinhall estate in the Schorfheide and was dropped by parachute into Rome to investigate Germany’s plans for withdrawing from Italy. In one afternoon, he blew open as many as 10 to 14 safes. “How did you do it?” his officers would ask, and he’d reply, “That, gentlemen, is my secret.”
The Ghost Army
The art of deception is a strategy that must be perfected by military strategists in order to trick the enemy into the belief of authenticity. In the summer of 1944, the US Army had a specialized unit known as the “Ghost Army,” or 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, armed to the teeth with inflatable tanks, phony vehicles, and phantom divisions. The Ghost Army staged more than 20 deception operations across France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
“Its complement was more theatrical than military,” writes the Ghost Army Legacy Project. “It was like a traveling road show that went up and down the front lines impersonating the real fighting outfits.”
The Gas Pipe Gang
Capt. Nieves Fernandez was a schoolteacher before World War II. She had witnessed violence at the hands of the Japanese against the Filipino populace in Visayas, a group of islands in the Philippines. One day she’d had enough and recruited men in her community, known as Waray guerrillas to American forces in the area, to join her resistance force. They were sometimes called the “Gas Pipe Gang” for their use of improvised weapons such as gas pipes loaded with a combination of gunpowder and nails that acted as makeshift shotguns.
The guerrilla commander, born circa 1906, led a loyal following of 110 resistance fighters for two and a half years killing as many as 200 Japanese soldiers. She ran through the port city with a bolo knife and set up ambushes in the forest while barefoot. The Gas Pipe Gang violently defied their Japanese occupiers, since it was the only way to protect themselves.
Motley Crew of Fishermen
The Shetland Bus was an operation led by a motley crew of volunteer Norwegian fishermen that received support from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). They used the disguise of hiding in plain sight to deliver British commandos and saboteurs into Norway to help Norwegian commandos in their irregular warfare campaigns against the Germans. The Shetland Bus also acted as a highway for Norwegians to escape from Nazi oppression.
Skipper Lief Larsen was the most notorious fisherman of the operation, journeying through the harsh North Sea on 52 trips, sometimes for weeks at a time. By the war’s end, the Shetland Bus had transported 400 tons of weaponry and carried out hundreds of missions to the benefit of those in Norway who would have been cut off from the rest of the world without them.
Bagpiper, Swordsman, Archer
“Mad Jack” Churchill, or “Fighting Jack,” was the last British officer to kill an enemy combatant in war with a longbow. This World War II misfit also dressed in a kilt and played the bagpipes during coastal raids to inspire his troops from No. 2 Commando. During Operation Archery, sometimes called the Måløy Raid, he played “March of the Cameron Men” while they were assaulting German positions on the island of Vågsøy, Norway. In Salerno and Sicily, during the Italian amphibious landings, Churchill famously captured 42 German soldiers and an 81 mm mortar team armed with only his sword.
“In my opinion, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed,” he reasoned. After a botched nighttime raid in Yugoslavia, Churchill was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he and a Royal Air Force officer tunneled to freedom. At least that’s what they intended, because they were captured and transferred to a more secure prison camp. Churchill escaped again and was discovered eight days later by an American reconnaissance unit.
La Dame Qui Boite: “The Lady Who Limps”
The CIA’s predecessor during World War II was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and one of its most heralded officers to serve in the outfit was a woman known to them as Virginia Hall and to the French Resistance as La Dame Qui Boite, or “The Lady Who Limps.” Hall served more than 20 years with the OSS, the British SOE, and the CIA, gaining notoriety for her actions as well as for her appearance during the war. She named her wooden prosthetic leg “Cuthbert” and famously received a response from an unsuspecting staff officer that added to her legend. From the snow-covered Pyrenees mountain range she sent a message to London: “Cuthbert is giving me trouble, but I can cope.” An unknown staff officer replied, “If Cuthbert is giving you trouble, have him eliminated.”
Hall was the first woman in SOE to establish resistance networks out of Vichy, France, and went on daring undercover missions for the OSS, often adopting disguises and aliases to remain hidden from the Germans who called her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.” She transmitted coded messages as a wireless operator detailing German troop movements and also coordinated airdrops for the Maquis guerrillas.
The Limping Lady had earned the respect of the most seasoned paramilitary officers. Hall was a “gung-ho lady left over from the OSS days overseas,” CIA official Angus Thuermer later commented. “Young women in sweater sets and pearls listened raptly to Virginia Hall gas with muscular paramilitary officers who would stop by her desk to tell war stories.” Hall was the only civilian to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross medal during the war.
Maj. Allison Digby Tatham-Warter was a British officer who worked as a safari guide shooting tigers and hunting wild boars with a spear in India. During World War II, Tatham-Warter joined the Parachute Regiment, famously known as the “Paras,” and trained his men to rely not on the radio but on a musical instrument, the bugle horn, for communications. The unorthodox officer had difficulty remembering passwords, and thus he carried an umbrella to mark himself as friendly.
“It would be quite obvious to anyone that the bloody fool carrying the umbrella could only be an Englishman,” he later said.
His battlefield heroics could be remade into a satirical comedy film, yet they were completely real. Near the German-held Arnhem Bridge, the battalion’s chaplain became pinned down by enemy fire. Tatham-Warter ran to his aid and quipped, “Don’t worry, I’ve got an umbrella!” His craziest endeavor involved him charging a row of panzers and armored cars and thrusting the point of his brolly into the eye of an operator of an armored car to incapacitate him. When the Germans surrounded his battalion, he was captured, yet Tatham-Warter escaped, stole a bicycle in broad daylight, and rode through the streets until he linked up with Dutch resistance forces to reach safety.
Troops headed into combat know that an entire medical chain exists to keep them alive and as healthy as possible for as long as possible if they’re hit. The goal is to get them out of harm’s way within the “Golden Hour,” the first hour after injury, to maximize their odds of survival and recovery. But while medics and corpsmen are the backbone of that chain, the Air Force has teams of specially trained personnel who exist solely to put their lives on the line to save others in the most dire of combat medical crises.
These Air Force pararescue personnel deploy forward with other elite forces and fly into combat to save troops already under fire. They live by the motto, “that others may live.”
William Pitsenbarger embodied service. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, he volunteered to be lowered into a minefield to save a Vietnamese soldier, and, in April 1966, he volunteered his way into a massive firefight that would claim his life.
Still, he stayed on the ground, running ammo to American positions under fire. Sadly, due to at least two gunshot wounds, he was killed. He was credited with directly saving nine lives and with medical aid and battlefield actions that may have helped save dozens more.
His award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, making him the first airman to earn the award.
His first Purple Hearts came almost immediately after he arrived in Vietnam. A .30-caliber round struck him in the leg and he got a fellow pararescueman to treat it so he could stay in the fight. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for extracting a downed pilot from a fierce firefight, immediately getting shot out of his helicopter during extraction, and then doubling back to the crashed helicopter to check for survivors before finally evacuating again. He received that award in a ceremony where he also got the Silver Star for bravery during a completely unrelated rocket attack. In short, he’s built one hell of a resume.
Despite surviving a combat tour of Vietnam that started with a Purple Heart and ended with an Air Force Cross, Hackney volunteered to stay for another three years.
(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown pose for a photo just weeks before March 4, 2002, where Miller and Cunningham would earn the Air Force Cross and Brown would earn a Silver Star.
(U.S. Air Force)
3. Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller
Pararescue specialist Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller was involved in the Battle of Takur Ghar in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. On March 4, 2002, he was inserting with an Air Force Combat Search and Rescue Team to rescue two service members that had become separated after their helicopter was shot up on the ridge. Miller’s team faced heavy fire while landing and was forced down, crashing onto the mountain.
Senior Airman Jason Cunningham was on the same MH-47E helicotper as Tech Sgt. Miller when it was shot down. Cunningham immediately began treating the wounded when they hit the ground and moved injured personnel from the burning helicopter. He was critically wounded while defending patients, but he kept doing everything he could to save others.
He directed the disposition of the wounded and handed their care over to a medic before succumbing to his injuries. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on Sept. 13, 2002.
(Video Still by Air Force Senior Airman Stephen Ellis)
5. Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz
On Dec. 10, 2013, pararescue craftsman Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz was attached to an Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando team for a raid in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The nighttime operation met enemy contact almost immediately, and Ruiz’s team took out four insurgents. Ruiz moved forward with two others into a courtyard where the others were hit.
He’s credited with saving their lives and helping to pin down and kill 11 enemy insurgents.
(U.S. Air Force)
6. Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper
Pararescueman Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper was part of a call to rescue three members of an Army Pathfinder team trapped in an IED belt on May 26, 2011. One Pathfinder was severely injured and the other two were trying to keep him alive, but extracting them from what was essentially a minefield would be tricky.
As Culpepper was raising the second soldier to the helicopter, it suddenly lost power and entered free fall. Culpepper kept control of his casualty and the helicopter came to a stop just a few feet from the ground. They escaped the IED belt and made it home — the injured soldier, tragically, did not survive his wounds.
Tucked away in a rural corner of western New York is a survivor of D-Day. It is a C-47A Skytrain — an airplane that delivered paratroopers over drop zones around Normandy on June 6, 1944 — that has the distinction of being perhaps one of the few – if not the last – of its kind still in flying condition.
Named Whiskey 7 because of the large W7 painted on its fuselage, the Skytrain was the lead aircraft of the second invasion wave in the skies above France.
“That C-47 is one of our stars,” said Dawn Schaible, media director for the National Warplane Museum, the organization that gives Whiskey 7 a home and maintains it both for flying demonstrations and public viewing.
Skytrains have a storied history. None other than Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander in Europe, called the Douglas aircraft one of the four “Tools of Victory” that won World War II for the Allies along with the atom bomb, the Jeep, and the bazooka.
The museum is proud of the fact that the aircraft is a true C-47, not a DC-3 conversion. The twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft was built in 1943, one of more than 10,000 produced during World War II.
Skytrains like Whiskey 7 were the standard transport aircraft of the old U.S. Army Air Corps but also saw service with the British, who called the plane the Dakota.
The statistics regarding the Skytrain are impressive. When used as a supply plane, a C-47 could carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo. It could also hold a fully assembled Jeep or 37-mm cannon.
When serving in its role as a troop transport, the C-47 carried 28 soldiers in full combat gear. As a medical airlift plane, it could accommodate 14 stretcher patients and three nurses.
On D-Day, Whiskey 7 transported paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
The aircraft was actually one of the few that made it to the drop-zone assigned to the paratroopers: the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.
After D-Day, Whiskey 7 served for the balance of the war. Missions included towing gliders carrying men and equipment during Market Garden, the ill-fated airborne operation in Holland that was the largest airborne battle in history but which ended disastrously for the Allies.
After World War II, a civilian aviation company purchased the plane as surplus and converted it to an airliner. The plane then flew both passengers and cargo for decades.
Purchased by a private collector in 1993, it was eventually donated to the National Warplane Museum where it was restored to its D-Day configuration in 2005.
In 2014, Whiskey 7 participated in the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion when it flew to France so historical re-enactors could jump from the plane.
The group also included Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr., one of the paratroopers the plane carried on D-Day. According to the museum, he was the last surviving member of his unit who jumped from Whiskey 7 when it was above Normandy in 1944.
Now, Whiskey 7 helps educate visitors to the National Warplane Museum about Operation Overlord and World War II.
Located in Geneseo, N.Y., the museum is a labor of love started by a grassroots group of historic aircraft enthusiasts who fly old war birds and restore airplanes. The museum has more than 15,000 visitors a year who come to view exhibits or attend the annual air show.
“We have amazing artifacts here,” said Schaible. “We figure out how we connect those artifacts with people and help them move beyond the idea that it’s just cool stuff. It’s the men and women and the stories behind the aircraft that make them historical.”
Even while he was working long hours at the Joint Special Operations Command and then later overseeing all NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was eating just one meal per day.
The 60-year-old retired general continues to maintain the strict diet as a civilian, but why? He likes the “reward” of food at the end of the day, as he explained on “The Tim Ferriss Show” podcast.
“When I was a lieutenant in Special Forces many many years ago, I thought I was getting fat,” said McChrystal, who cofounded The McCrystal Group and recently penned the book “Team of Teams.” “And I started running, and I started running distance which I enjoyed. But I also found that my personality is such that I’m not real good at eating three or four small disciplined meals. I’m better to defer gratification and then eat one meal.”
For McChrystal, the one meal he eats is dinner after he’s finished with work, which he said was usually around 8 to 8:30 p.m.
“I sort of push myself hard all day, try to get everything done, and [then] sort of reward myself with dinner at night.”
Still, he doesn’t cut out everything during the day. He drinks coffee and water throughout, and he admitted to grabbing a snack during especially strenuous times, like when he’s on a road march. On certain days “your body says eat and eat right now,” McCrystal said. During those times, he grabs a handful of pretzels or some small snack to keep him going.
His unusual diet ended up rubbing off on some of his soldiers while he was in Afghanistan, explained his aide-de-camp Chris Fussell, while noting that he would warn soldiers about the diet.
“He doesn’t do this as a demonstration of personal strength,” he would say. “Don’t think you’re impressing him by not eating lunch or whatever.”
But since he was always with him, McChrystal’s command sergeant major ate just one meal per day like his boss. Then about a year later, he found pretzels in his quarters in Afghanistan and completely lost it.
“I almost whipped out my gun and shot him,” Fussell recalled the sergeant major saying. “You’ve been eating pretzels? I’ve been eating one meal a day for a year and you had pretzels in your room?!”
According to legend, a few actually reputable sources, the entire course of the American Revolution could have been different if one German colonel had just been way better at prioritizing (and for those of you who may be a little rusty on your American Revolution skillz, a number of German soldiers fought for Britain during the war, thus the reason for a German colonel being at the center of this tale).
The story goes that George Washington planned to cross the Delaware River under the cloak of night to sneak attack 1,500 German troops in the very early hours of December 26, 1776. The Germans had way more soldiers, so Washington’s only advantage would be the element of surprise.
However, the thing about crossing an icy river in the dark in the middle of winter is that it takes forever, and Washington’s men were nowhere near where they thought they’d be by morning. They thus had to march towards the Germans in daylight. One local loyalist saw them coming, and frantically ran towards the German camp to warn Colonel Johann Rall.
Rumor has it that Rall was in the middle of a card game and refused to stop playing to listen to the English-speaking loyalist. The loyalist left him a note written in English that said something to the effect of “YOU’RE ABOUT TO BE ATTACKED, BRO,” but Rall was apparently too lazy to go find a translator to read it to him. Washington attacked, won the pivotal Battle of Trenton, and the rest is history.
Meanwhile, Rall was killed that day, and its said that the unread note was found in his pocket. So let this be a lesson to us all: always read early morning messages from frantic English-speaking loyalists.