Amphibious Assault in the Pacific - We Are The Mighty
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Amphibious Assault in the Pacific

By 1943, the war in the Pacific burned in its full fury. On November 20th, the Allies launched the first amphibious assault against heavily defended beaches in US history. The 2nd division of the US Marine Corps, used amphibious tractors and assault boats to reach the beaches of the Tarawa atoll, an enemy stronghold protected by 5,000 hardened Imperial Japanese marines. Ed Moore and Tommy Reed were decorated veterans of the 2nd Marine Division during the island campaigns in the Pacific War.

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Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sept. 18, attended the week-long war games with Belarus that have demonstrated the Russian military’s resurgent might and made neighboring countries nervous.


Putin observed the Zapad 2017 drills — tank attacks, airborne assaults, and air raids that got underway Sept. 14 — at the Luzhsky range in western Russia, just over 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) east of Estonia’s border.

As part of the maneuvers, the Russian military on Sept. 18 also test-fired its state-of-the-art cruise missile at a mock target in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, showcasing the weapon’s extended range and precision strike capability.

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Russian Zapad ’17 military exercises. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Some nervous NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized an alleged lack of transparency about the war games and questioned Moscow’s intentions.

Related: This video of a Russian helicopter accidentally firing on observers is crazy

The exercises, held in several firing ranges in Belarus and western Russia, run through Sept. 20. Russia and Belarus say 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops are participating, but some NATO countries have estimated that up to 100,000 troops could be involved.

With Russia’s relations with the West at a post-Cold War low point over the fighting in Ukraine, worries about the war games ranged from allegations that Russia could permanently deploy its forces to Belarus to fears of a surprise onslaught on the Baltics.

Russia and Belarus have said the exercises simulate a response to foreign-backed “extremists” and insisted the maneuvers don’t threaten anyone.

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Russian Zapad ’17 military exercises. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Their troops are fighting three invented “aggressor countries” — Veishnoriya, Lubeniya, and Vesbariya. However, the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — and Poland see the monikers for the made up enemies as thinly disguised references to their nations.

NATO has rotated military units in the Baltics and Poland and staged regular drills in the region, activities Moscow has criticized as a reflection of the alliance’s hostile intentions.

Also read: Watch Russia kick off this year’s massive ‘Zapad 2017’ wargame

Russia and Belarus kept the stated number of troops involved in the drills just below 13,000, a limit allowing them to dodge more intrusive inspections by NATO in line with international agreements. The practice maneuvers nonetheless have put Russia’s massive military mobilization capability on display.

They also have involved various branches of the Russian military, including the air force’s long-range bombers and missile forces. In a reflection of the drills’ broad scope, they featured the Sept. 18 launch of the Iskander-M cruise missile, a new weapon that has drawn concern from the United States.

Amphibious Assault in the Pacific
USMC Photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon.

The missile, launched from the Kapustin Yar firing range in southwestern Russia, hit a mock target at a range in Kazakhstan, some 480 kilometers (nearly 300 miles) away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The US has accused Russia of developing cruise missiles banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with a goal to threaten US facilities in Europe and the NATO alliance. Moscow has rejected the accusations and insisted it has adhered to the pact.

The INF Treaty bans an entire class of weapons — all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,410 miles). The Iskander-M’s stated range puts it just below the pact’s threshold.

The Zapad 2017 maneuvers are intended to underline the close military cooperation between Russia and Belarus, but also revealed signs of strains between the allies.

While Putin watched the previous drills in 2013 with his Belarusian counterpart, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said he would watch them separately on Sept. 20.

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Zapad ’13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Lukashenko has relied on subsidized Russian oil and gas supplies and billions of dollars in loans to keep his nation’s Soviet-style economy afloat. At the same time, he often has bristled at what he described as the Kremlin’s attempts to subdue Belarus and force it to surrender control over prized economic assets.

Lukashenko also has flirted with the West to try to reduce his dependence on Russia. His decision to dodge a joint appearance with Putin at the military exercises was seen by observers as an attempt to put some distance between Belarus and its giant eastern neighbor.

“Lukashenko is trying to mend ties with the West to get new loans, and the Kremlin’s military games don’t help that,” Alexander Klaskovsky, a Minsk-based political analyst, said.

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This is Mattis’ response to skepticism about ISIS plans

As the Islamic State group loses its remaining strongholds in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is facing a growing chorus of questions from NATO allies and partners about what the next steps will be in the region to preserve peace and ensure the militants don’t rise again.


Heading into a week of meetings with Nordic countries and allies across Europe, Mattis must begin to articulate what has been a murky American policy on how the future of Syria unfolds.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him to Finland, Mattis said the main question from US allies is: what comes next? And he said the key is to get the peace process on track.

“We’re trying to get this into the diplomatic mode so we can get things sorted out,” said Mattis, who will meet with NATO defense ministers later this week. “and make certain (that) minorities — whoever they are — are not just subject to more of what we’ve seen” under Syrian President Bashar Assad until now.

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Russia President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Syrian President Assad. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in late October repeated Washington’s call for Assad to surrender control, looking past recent battlefield gains by his Russian-backed forces to insist that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”

Tillerson made the comments after meeting with the UN’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who later announced plans to resume UN-mediated peace talks Nov. 28. It will be the eighth such round under his mediation in Geneva since early 2016.

Related: How the US is caught between Turkey and the Kurds

Mattis said intelligence assessments two to three months ago made it clear that the Islamic State group was “going down.” He said information based on the number of IS individuals taken prisoner and the number of fighters who were getting wounded or were deserting the group made it clear that “the whole bottom was dropping out.”

But while he said the effort now is to get the diplomatic process shifted to Geneva and the United Nations, he offered few details that suggest the effort is moving forward.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.

In addition to the diplomatic efforts, Mattis said the US is still working to resolve conflicts with Russia in the increasingly crowded skies over the Iraq and Syria border, where a lot of the fighting has shifted.

On Nov. 3, Assad’s military announced the capture of the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zour, while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proclaimed victory in retaking the town of Qaim on the border, the militants’ last significant urban area in Iraq.

Focus has now turned to Boukamal, the last urban center for the militants in both Iraq and Syria where Syrian troops —backed by Russia and Iranian-supported militias — and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are vying for control of the strategic border town.

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Fighters of the Euphrates Liberation Brigade, part of the Manbij Military Council of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the city of Manbij in northern Syria. Wikimedia Commons photo from user Kurdishstruggle.

The proximity of forces in the area has raised concerns about potential clashes between them as they approach Boukamal from opposite sides of the Euphrates River, and now from across the border with Iraq.

Mattis said that as forces close in, the fighting is getting “much more complex,” and there is a lot of effort on settling air space issues with the Russians.

He also declined to say whether the US will begin to take back weapons provided to Syrian Kurdish fighters, known as the YPG. The US has argued that the YPG has been the most effective fighting group in the battle to oust IS from Raqqa, but Turkey opposed the arming effort because it believes the YPG is linked to a militant group in Turkey.

The US has pledged to carefully monitor the weapons, to insure that they don’t make their way to the hands of insurgents in Turkey, known as the PKK. The US also considers the PKK a terrorist organization, and has vowed it would never provide weapons to that group.

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A Kurdish YPG militant. The US has provided arms to this group, with a stated intent to recollect them. Photo from Kurdishstruggle Flickr

Turkish officials have said that Mattis reassured them by letter that arms given to the Syrian Kurds would be taken back and that the US would provide Turkey with a regular list of arms given to the fighters.

Also Read: 17 Brilliant Insights From Legendary Marine General James Mattis

While in Finland, Mattis will attend a meeting of a dozen northern European nations, which are primarily concerned about threats from Russia.

“They are focused on the north,” said Mattis, adding that he plans to listen to their thoughts on the region and determine how the US can help, including what types of training America could provide.

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DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

“It is an opportunity to reiterate where we stand by our friends,” said Mattis, “if any nation, including Russia, seeks to undermine the rules of international order.”

During a press briefing later on Nov. 6, Denmark Defense Minister Claus Hjord Frederiksen told reporters that allies must continue to be present in the region because of the risk that IS would rise again.

“We’re not so naive that we think that terrorism is removed from this earth, but of course it is very important to have taken geographical areas from them so they can’t attack or rob or whatever — using the income from oil production to finance their activities,” said Frederiksen. “We foresee therefore years ahead we will have to secure that they cannot gain new ground there.”

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5 of the worst things about standing in a ceremonial formation

In the military, there isn’t much that matches the pride of standing in a ceremonial formation. There you are, in front of a respectable crowd. Your dress uniform is perfectly pressed, your medals are shining bright, and the weather is outstanding — what the hell could go wrong?

Well, since there are many elements to a military ceremony, from the posting and retiring of the Colors to several long-form speeches, things usually run a lot longer than you’d expect — that’s when these happen .


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Needing to pee

As you can imagine, it takes a minute to prepare everyone to march out in formation. Everyone needs to be accounted for before stepping off. You’ll be out there in the sun, so it’s essential that you drink plenty of clear fluids. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between being hydrated and being a bit too hydrated.

Suddenly, halfway through the proceedings, your full bladder tells your brain that you need to hit the head. Guess what? The ceremony won’t pause so one troop can take a leak. So, good luck holding it in until the end.

Passing the f*ck out

Service members are trained to properly move into the position of attention, hold the pose, and move out of it in a smooth, choreographed motion. We’re taught how to stand at that position for prolonged periods of time by keeping our knees slightly bent and wiggling our toes — even still, many end up passing out.

Most of us have passed out for one reason or another in our lifetimes, but doing it in front of a big crowd is super embarrassing.

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Overthinking

Most people aren’t born to entertain a crowd. When you suddenly become the subject of a crowd’s direct attention, you may start to overanalyze the little things, leading to dumb mistakes. How fast are you supposed to snap up a salute? Wait — do I start out on my right foot or my left?

It happens.

Getting the shakes

When standing in the same position for too long, people get tired and, to compensate, end up shifting their weight to find some type of relief. Although this might be subtle individually, when you’re up against a backdrop of stone-still troops, the movement sticks out.

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Losing track of time

Since ceremonies can last a long time and they can be pretty dull, our minds will wander. Because we’re thinking of something else, we tend to lose track of time, which can lead to making a stupid mistake, like snapping into parade rest at the wrong moment.

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This is how NATO is restructuring in the face of rising Russian tensions

The US and its European allies have been boosting their presence in Eastern Europe in recent months, responding to a period of tense relations with Russia. Now, NATO forces are looking for ways to reestablish military capabilities that have eroded since the end of the Cold War.


US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other NATO military leaders are set to review changes to the military bloc’s command structure next month, with an eye on enhancing their rapid-deployment abilities and reinforcing their supply lines.

Also read: Russian lab admits it took secret NSA code from US computer

“Fast-evolving security challenges mean new demands on our command,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told Stars and Stripes. “So work is underway to ensure that the NATO command structure remains robust, agile, and fit for purpose.”

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NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu. Photo from NATO.

A NATO internal report seen by German news outlet Der Spiegel concluded that the bloc’s ability to rapidly deploy throughout Europe has “atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”

According to the report, even the alliance’s designated response force was not up to standard. It found that NATO would be unable to move troops fast enough and lacks sufficient officers and supplies in Europe.

Neither military officials nor the NATO report see hostilities with Russia as imminent, but, after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, NATO members regard an enhanced military presence as a way to deter aggression from Moscow, which has called NATO’s moves provocations.

“The alliance has to move as quick or quicker than Russian Federation forces for our deterrent to be effective,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the top US Army commander in Europe, said this month. Recent months have seen close encounters between Russian and NATO aircraft over Eastern Europe and between Russian and NATO ships in the waters around Europe.

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Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander, US Army Europe, is awarded the German Federal Armed Forces Golden Cross of Honor by German Lt. Gen. Joerg Vollmer, the chief of staff of the German Army. Photo courtesy of US Army.

The report, citing the need to reorganize supply procedures, recommends setting up two new command centers. One, based in the US and modeled on the Cold War-era Supreme Allied Command, would oversee the shipment of personnel and supplies to Europe. The other, which could end up in Germany or Poland, would oversee logistics operations on the continent, particularly between Central and Eastern Europe.

NATO members in Europe are also working on legislation to bolster infrastructure and to allow military equipment to move across national borders faster. The latter problem has hindered military exercises in Europe in recent months.

Also Read: How much of a threat does Russia pose to NATO and the US?

While NATO has the ability to suspend civilian laws on transportation and travel in the case of war, preparations for combat would need to be done before hostilities break out. The bloc must also find ways to maintain an eastern flank that now extends beyond its Cold War boundaries, running right up to Russia’s borders in some places.

NATO forces have been gathering information about infrastructure in Eastern Europe, like bridge and rail networks. Many roadways and bridges have weight restrictions that limit which NATO vehicles that can use them, and some railways cannot move heavy equipment.

“We are also looking at making sure air, rail, and sea lift is readily available and in sufficient numbers,” a NATO official told Stars and Stripes. In 2016, US A-10 Thunderbolts practiced landing and taking off on an Estonia highway for the first time since 1984. And US troops in Europe have started making preparations like painting tanks and vehicles with green color schemes — reminiscent of Cold War camouflage.

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An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 127th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard, lands on a remote highway strip near Jägala, Estonia, June 20, 2016. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Amy Lovgren.

The US Marine Corps in particular is looking to boost its capabilities in Europe in response to potential conflict with Russia. The Corps now wants to restore combat functions to the Marine Expeditionary Force — the largest Marine combat unit, which can have up to 25,000 Marines.

“The MEF command element will have to be ready to support a warfighting effort in Europe,” Lt. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force, said this week.

The decision follows other increases in the Marine presence in Europe. US Marines have deployed a rotational force to Romania and have conducted back-to-back deployments in Norway, positioning gear and doing exercises near the Russian border. The rotational force’s arrival in Norway was the first time a foreign force had been posted there since World War II.

The US deployed dozens of helicopters and thousands of pieces of military equipment to Germany this spring, and another detachment of US helicopters are headed to Eastern Europe this week.

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US Marines with Black Sea Rotational Force 17.1 prepare to board a bus after arriving in Vaernes, Norway, Jan. 16, 2017. The Marines are part of the newly established Marine Rotational Force-Europe, and will be training with the Norwegian Armed Forces to improve interoperability and enhance their ability to conduct operations in Arctic conditions. USMC photo by Sgt. Erik Estrada.

While these preparations come at the direction of senior military leadership, a shift to Eastern Europe is one that many US troops believe necessary.

A recent Military Times poll of US servicemembers found that, even though many troops don’t think a military fight is likely, 42% think the US military should increase its activities in Eastern Europe to counter Russia. The poll also found that troops rated Russia the fifth biggest threat to US national security — behind cyberterrorism, North Korea, and domestic and foreign terrorism tied to Islam.

Only one-quarter of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of relations with Moscow, but their feelings about Trump’s dealings with NATO were more mixed: 32% said US relations with NATO were good, 35% said poor, and 30% said average.

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These are the 3 soldiers going to the 2018 Winter Olympics

Every time the Olympics roll around, we’re proud to cheer for the American veterans who make the team. Not only have they made their country proud with their service; as world-class athletes, they’ll represent the United States and try to bring home the gold.


For the 2018 Winter Olympics, three of the current 102 American competitors are U.S. Army soldiers, part of Army’s World Class Athlete Program. They are Sgt. Emily Sweeny, Sgt. Taylor Morris, and Sgt. Matt Mortensen.

Sgt. Emily Sweeny — Women’s Singles Luge

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(Image via Army MWR)

Sweeny was the first soldier to secure a spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team. She is a military police officer in the New York National Guard. After joining the Guard in 2011, she took on more of a leadership role within the USA Luge team where she not only competes, but helps identify and recruit talented youth to the sport.

She won the Gold Medal at the 2017 Winterberg Germany World Cup sprint race. Currently, she is ranked 8th in the world for women’s luge.

Sgt. Taylor Morris — Men’s Singles Luge

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(Image via Army MWR)

Morris secured his place at the Olympics when he earned the Bronze medal at the Lake Placid World Cup sprint race. He solidified his position on the USA Luge team after his career-best run. He joined the U.S. Army in 2011 as a Human Resource Specialist in the New York National Guard.

Sgt. Matthew Mortensen — Doubles Luge

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(Image via Army MWR)

Mortensen is an Engineer out of the New York Army National Guard, joining in February 2010. He is a two-time Olympian who missed the bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics by a mere 0.005 seconds with his luge teammate, Sgt. Preston Griffall. For PyeonChang, Griffall chose to focus on his studies and Jayson Terdiman stepped into his role.

Mortensen and his new teammate finished the 2016-2017 seasons ranked 3rd internationally and together have won three straight Norton National Championships.

The 2018 Winter Olympics will begin Feb. 9, 2018 and end on Feb. 25, 2018.

Go Team USA!

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This is how an open ocean battle between the American and Chinese navy could go

With the tensions in the South China Sea rising, there’s always a chance that things could explode into open warfare. But how would the first major naval battle between the United States and China go?


For starters, let’s assume that China has deployed the Liaoning and one of its home-built copies of that carrier, and that each has a single Type 55 destroyer, two Luyang II-class destroyers, and a Lyuang I-class destroyer as escorts.

Figure China will also have some nuclear submarines, land-based H-6 “Badger” bombers, and a number of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles. China will also have the use of island bases in the South China Sea, including Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross Reef.

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A H-6 Badger bomber. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The United States would probably deploy the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), currently the forward-deployed carrier based in Japan, escorted by two Ticonderoga-class cruisers and four Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, with a pair of Virginia-class submarines and a pair of Improved 688-class submarines in support, along with land-based bombers out of Andersen Air Force Base (eight B-1B Lancers, four B-2A Spirits, and eight B-52H Stratofortesses).

This first battle will possibly be fought after China makes an aggressive move against the Philippines in the South China Sea. China would then seek to consolidate the gains. The United States would hope to inflict a significant reverse on China, which would be putting all of its carriers eggs into the fight. The Type 001 Liaoning and Type 001A would each be able to carry a small air wing of roughly 18 J-15 Flankers and a dozen helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.

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An F-35C takes off from the deck of the USS George Washinton. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kris R. Lindstrom)

By way of comparison, the Reagan will be operating 12 F-35C Lightings, 24 F/A-18E Super Hornets, 12 F/A-18F Super Hornets, and more importantly, support aircraft like EA-18G Growlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, and MQ-25 Stingray UAVs. Furthermore, this may not include Marine F-35Bs and Air Force F-16s, F-15s, and F-35s operating out of Okinawa.

China will try to get a targeting solution for the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles. However, both the length of time to target and send orders to fire the missiles mean that their biggest effect will be virtual attrition. However, the United States will make its own play – and inflict real attrition on the Chinese.

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USS Hopper (DDG 70) fires a RIM-161 SM-3 missile in 2009. (US Navy photo)

First, the U.S. will use its edge in maritime patrol to locate the enemy groups. Then, the Reagan will launch what appears to be a massive Alpha Strike targeting the carriers. The Chinese carriers will scramble their ready planes… only to find out that the “strike” is really a sea-going version of Operation Bolo.

The Flankers will be shot out of the sky in a flurry of AMRAAMs.

Then, the Amercian submarines will target and sink the Chinese air-defense destroyers with torpedoes. Even though the Kuznetsov design has a lot of problems, at 65,000 tons, it will still take punishment. But killing some of the destroyers will set the stage for the B-1B bombers to launch AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles.

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LRASM anti-ship missile. (Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

Each B-1B can carry up to 24 of those weapons, and soon, each carrier and its surviving escorts will be facing up to 96 of these stealthy missiles closing in. They might get some of the missiles, but enough will get through to sink or cripple the Chinese carriers.

With that, the United States would then proceed to take out the island bases.

In short, China’s first major naval battle against America could very well be the last one.

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B-29 Bomber Pilot in WWII

Charles L. Phillips was a 26-year-old Captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps, piloting B-29 bombers in the Pacific theater during the final years of WWII.   He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics during the strategic bombing campaign over Japan. One of Phillip’s last missions was on August 6, 1945, the same day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.   During the air battle he was forced to ditch his B-29 into the sea.  We interviewed Charles Phillips in 1991 and he told us remarkable stories, from his early training in Texas to the firebombing of Tokyo.

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