These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you - We Are The Mighty
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These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you

This year the GI Film Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary of sharing the military experience in and out of the arena of war. The festival is the first in the nation to exclusively celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the service member through the medium of film.


Over the last 10 years, the GIFF has presented films from new and established international and domestic filmmakers that honor the heroic stories of the American military and the universal lessons of war and conflict.  All of them in some way express the courage and selflessness of our fighting men and women and the value of their work.

The GI Film Festival is open to filmmakers of every experience level, from first-timers to veteran directors and producers.  Prizes are awarded annually to winners in three main categories: feature, documentary, and film shorts.

Here are the trailers of 7 of this year’s best. Watch them and be moved:

1. The Last Man Club

https://player.vimeo.com/video/165420834?color=f3ec19byline=0portrait=0

The Last Man Club is a story about four World War II veterans who served together on a B-17 Bomber. After losing touch over the years they each find themselves trapped in life circumstances and are all too compliant to live out their last days in their own “private little hell”. Pete is dying in a veteran’s hospital and it’s his nurse, Ripley who helps him find the last known address of Eagle, his captain and the pilot of their beloved B-17.

Pete’s letter finds Eagle living in his son’s home, stripped of his privileges and housebound. The letter informs him that he is the last man after Pete passes and he must fulfill the oath they had all taken after the war. What Eagle first sees as impossible, he is jarred from his fears when he learns that he will soon be going to a retirement home.

Dressed in his reunion military uniform he steals the battery from his son’s car and escapes in his late wife’s 1958 Ford Fairlane. At the start of his journey, Eagle meets up with the most unlikely of accomplishes. Romy is an attractive young woman on the run from her abusive gangster boyfriend. Through a series of happenstances, Romy becomes Eagle’s unwilling tour guide. As they travel cross country Eagle teaches Romy to respect herself and through Romy’s friendship, Eagle conquers his own limitations, finds vitality and a life worth living. They venture through the backroads of America, in a race to complete their mission, as the police, the FBI, a dangerous gangster and Eagle’s family try to figure out this band of geriatric’s next move.

As they travel cross country Eagle teaches Romy to respect herself and through Romy’s friendship, Eagle conquers his own limitations, finds vitality and a life worth living. They venture through the backroads of America, in a race to complete their mission, as the police, the FBI, a dangerous gangster and Eagle’s family try to figure out this band of geriatric’s next move.

2. Ride the Lightning

Ride The Thunder is the true heroic story of a friendship between American military legend and recipient of the Navy Cross, John Ripley and one of South Vietnam’s most decorated Heroes, Le Ba Binh. The film is based on a book by the same name by Richard Botkin, former Marine Infantry Officer (1980-1995) The storyline follows Ripley’s and Binh’s fight together against the communists at the Battle for Dong Ha during the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, as Ripley goes home to a divided America while Binh is imprisoned in a communist re-education camp. After the war, their wives struggle to adjust to their changed lives. Immersed in this true story are interviews and rare historical footage that educates the moviegoers on the truth of the war along with the heroes who fought in it, while exposing the opportunists who betrayed them. The main Vietnamese actors in the film are Vietnamese refugees.

3. Thank You For Your Service

The U.S. military faces a mental health crisis of historic proportions. Thank You for Your Service takes aim at our superficial understanding of war trauma and the failed policies that have resulted. Director Tom Donahue interweaves the stories of four Iraq War veterans with candid interviews of top military and civilian leaders. Observing the systemic neglect, the film argues for significant internal change and offers a roadmap of hope. Interviews include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, Generals David Petraeus and Loree Sutton, Sebastian Junger, Nicholas Kristof, Dexter Filkins, Senator Patty Murray, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Colonels Lawrence Wilkerson and Dave Sutherland.

4. The Unimaginable Journey of Peter Ertel

At the time of filming, Peter Ertel is 95 years old. He is a published author and an avid pianist. Using his skill as a riveting storyteller, Ertel recounts his experiences as a soldier in the German army – from his early days as an “unsoldierlike” recruit who was deemed an “unreliable follower of the Fuhrer” to his becoming a highly respected platoon leader, who routinely risked his life to save the lives of his men, as well as the lives of the enemies he encountered on the battlefield. Though Peter takes us through the hell of front-line combat in both France and Russia, perhaps the most ‘unimaginable’ part of his journey begins after he becomes a prisoner of war. The Unimaginable Journey Of Peter Ertel is a documentary portrait of a man who maintained his humanity despite being thrust into a world of hatred, destruction and death. Peter Ertel tells his own story as only he could tell it – with unflinching honesty and raw emotion.

5. Rising Fear

https://player.vimeo.com/video/165078202?color=f3ec19byline=0portrait=0

Marine Ryan Taylor is given a phone number by a pretty, mysterious girl. Believing it’s hers, he calls and it detonates a bomb in downtown Pittsburgh. The marine then becomes the main suspect in the bombing. Now, he must evade the authorities and hunt down the people who set him up before they can launch a second attack. Rising Fear is an indie action thriller boiling with twists, turns, and a deadly conspiracy that threatens to destroy the US government–and freedom itself. Buckle in as writer director Tom Getty takes you on a roller coaster ride that starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until its explosive finale.

6. The Last Time I Heard True Silence

https://player.vimeo.com/video/165078200?color=f3ec19byline=0portrait=0

Noah Cass was a machine gunner for the Marine Corps during the 2005 Operation Spear in Iraq. During an over-watch mission, his team was ambushed and a mortar round hit his truck leaving him with permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. When Noah returned home, he dealt with issues common to veterans transitioning into civilian life: aggressive behavior, alcohol addiction, depression, difficulty keeping a job, and relationship problems. Noah eventually hit rock bottom and was desperate for a change. He decided to get sober and started running in the woods nearby. Noah, now a father and husband, enters the 50-mile wilderness race having only completed one 26-mile marathon. This race represents the journey a young soldier faces to help cope with a past that haunts him every day.

7. No Greater Love

Chaplain Justin David Roberts served 6 years active duty as an Army Chaplain. Before he left the Army in 2015, he found that beneath the collar of ministry he was struggling with depression and PTS. Wondering what kind of father he would be if he didn’t face his issues, he set out on a journey to meet up with members of his old unit. Along the way, they recall their tour of duty. In total, 17 soldiers were killed in action and over 200 were wounded during the deployment. Almost all of the men lost died while either trying to save someone or protect others. The common thread in every one of these stories of valor is love. This film layers the footage Roberts shot on missions in Afghanistan with heartfelt interviews of the men he served with, as well as surviving family members. Through telling these stories, the soldiers that deployed with the legendary No Slack battalion are finding healing and purpose after combat.

For show times for these films and a complete rundown of the other films and events going on at this year’s exciting GI Film Festival go here. If you’re in the greater DC metro area you’re not going to want to miss it.

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5 of the best moves from Air Force Combatives

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Army recognized a problem with their existing combatives program. At that point, the program had withered to having whatever martial arts enthusiast they happened to command at the moment teach techniques to units. For the Army, being a fighting force and all, this was a huge no-go and a revamp ultimately led to the advent of the Modern Army Combatives Program, which has been all the rage since the beginning of the All-Army tournament in 2004.


We all know the Air Force likes to copy big brother Army in a lot of areas, and this one is no different. Well, it is a little different. Did you even know there’s an Air Force Combatives Program? No worries, most of us didn’t.

The difference, and the problem, is that the AFCP isn’t nearly as widespread nor is proficiency in combatives seen as important as it is to Soldiers or Marines. Nonetheless, there is an Air Force Combatives Program and here are 5 of the best moves.

Related: This is what it was like being in the military on 9/10

5. Guard, sweep, mount

This is a basic flow that could be very useful in real-world situations where the goal isn’t just tapping out your rolling partner.

These two basic positions, along with a sweep, are taught in AFCP/MACP and are consistent with traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training. The basic idea here is to gain top position. With some practice, this becomes a vital combination for any airman.

When to use: After you’ve established dominant position from the bottom (i.e. closed guard).

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Staff Sgt Mark Velasquez is in a perfect position to sweep Sgt 1st Class Jesse Thorton. Just sayin’. (U. S. Air Force photo by Alan Boedeker)

4. Rear naked choke

The rear naked choke is one of the most popular submissions in existence. It’s seen on film and television, it was once used by law enforcement, and everyone seems to know it. At least everyone thinks they know it.

There are some finer points (hint: hand placement and back contraction) to the move that take it from a good positional hold on an opponent to an almost-immediate night-night for any unruly tough guys you encounter.

When to use: When your opponent has surrendered their back.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
We’ve all wanted to choke an airman or two, am I right? (Image from Wikimedia commons)

3. Guillotine choke

Another super well-known submission, the guillotine choke also has some finer points that many of us that “know” the move tend to miss.

This is much more than just a headlock. Master the fine points and this move becomes a sometimes-lethal fight-ender.

When to use: When your opponent is charging/rushing you with their head down, in a tackling motion.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Guillotine in 3… 2… (USMC photo by Alfred V. Lopez)

2. Arm triangle

A much less popular but equally valuable move is the arm triangle. This move can be applied in all circumstances. Standing, laying, from the top or the bottom, the arm triangle can be thrown and landed to subdue an overly aggressive opponent with relative ease.

It’s essentially choking your opponent with their own failing/punching arms.

When to use: When your opponent is throwing punching or extending their arms.

Also read: 5 best reasons why the Air Force doesn’t need warrant officers

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Wanna hear a bedtime story? (USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Joshua J. Garcia).

1. Double tap

What’s the one move you absolutely must develop for your own safety? Steady trigger manipulation and consistent aiming.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Really hard to find an escape from some gun-fu. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Charlie Emmons)

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It’s surprisingly easy to earn a modern-day knighthood

Being knighted today holds a much different meaning than it did in the days of old. Nations with a monarch as their head of state would, once upon a time, issue knighthoods to their loyal subjects and foreign citizens who have done great deeds for their country.


Today, you can earn a knighthood through military badassery or if your artistic, scientific, or civil service shines greatly upon the crown. No squiring or learning to fight on horseback required! Then again, you could also be a genocidal Marxist dictator who overthrows the government and you’ll eventually be knighted — or you could just be a penguin.

While various knighthoods exist, we’ll be discussing the two most recognized: The United Kingdoms’ Order of the British Empire and the Holy See’s Order of St. Gregory the Great. Fun fact: Bob Hope earned both of these.

Order of St. Gregory the Great

To be knighted by the Pope into the Order of St. Gregory the Great, you must do something good for the Holy See by setting an excellent example for their community and country. Though usually reserved for Catholics, there have been exceptions made for converts and non-Catholics.

A notable knight is Wilfred Von der Ahe, co-founder of the Southern California supermarket chain, Vons. He and his wife were well-known philanthropists in Los Angeles and would donate much of their earnings to Catholic churches in the area. Von der Ahe was a founding donor to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles after the previous mother church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was severely damaged in an earthquake.

So, in short, help out a church and you could become a knight.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Which, in a way, happens in Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire. (Image from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire)

Order of the British Empire

Formal knighthood is definitely the easiest. The Queen remains fairly neutral in political matters, so she chooses to not elect her own knights and appoints everyone chosen by the Cabinet Office twice a year. The only real stipulation is you have to be recommended for doing something good for the Commonwealth of Nations. Though highly illegal, because you need to be nominated by British politicians, people in the past have been nominated to knighthood through political donations.

You don’t need to go that far, though. It seems like every British general officer, professor, and celebrity is knighted eventually. Since you don’t nominate yourself, there have been a few instances where people have turned down the honor. David Bowie, for example, was offered the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000 but politely declined. He was offered full knighthood in 2003 and again declined. He said, “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.”

Anyone can get this award, but only Brits get the title of ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’ before their first name.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
On the bright side, Americans don’t kneel. (Photo by Jack Tanner. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museums)

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Air War Over Europe in World War Two

By 1942, the skies over Germany were aflame with German fighters battling Allied bombers for the survival of Europe and the free world. Central to victory in this air war were the fighter planes of the Allies.  At first they were obsolete and woefully inadequate. But with the advent of advanced aircraft like the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang, the tide of war was about to change. In this episode we hear the powerful words of fighter aces Clarence “Bud” Anderson in his revolutionary North American P-51 and Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, flying the Republic P-47, as they battle the Luftwaffe in the war torn skies over Europe during World War II.

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Airborne Assault On D-Day

June 6th, 1944…D-Day. It was the greatest military assault ever staged. Code named Operation Overlord, the massive invasion of Normandy by the Allies involved more than a quarter of a million soldiers, sailors and airmen as well as 5000 ships and 3000 aircraft.  

Tom McCarthy and Francis Lamoureux were Parachute Infantrymen during the epic conflict. They tell their riveting first-hand accounts in this dramatic presentation, Airborne Assault on D-Day. 

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The USS Squall fired shots after an ‘incident’ with Iranian navy ships

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
The USS Squall transits the Persian Gulf during exercise Spartan Kopis on December 9, 2013. | MC1 Michelle Turner


Just one day after video emerged of Iranian ships swarming and harassing the USS Nitze, Business Insider has confirmed a separate incident on Wednesday involving the USS Squall, a coastal patrol ship, in the northern Arabian Gulf.

CNN’s Barbara Starr reports that the Squall was harassed by Iranian fast-attack craft that came within 200 yards of the ship.

After repeated attempts to contact the boats by radio, the Squall had to resort to firing warning shots, according to Starr.

Business Insider has reached out to US naval officials for comment.

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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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Quiz: Are you smart enough to be an Air Force fighter pilot?

Fighter pilots have to pass a lot of tests before they get control of a jet. One of their first tests is the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. We’ve pulled 15 questions from Air Force Personnel Test 997, an information pamphlet on the AFOQT. All questions included here are questions that would, on the AFOQT, count towards the pilot composite score. (We’ve also included awesome jet photos whenever a visual isn’t needed to answer a question.  You’re welcome . . .)


Please wait for the quiz to load…

NOW: The top 7 videos of ISIS getting blown away

AND: Which Marine Corps legend are you? Take the quiz

OR: Watch ‘Pearl Harbor’ in under 3 minutes:

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7 epic ways you can troll your commo shop

Messing around with your fellow Joes is always good fun. It’s a lighthearted way of letting them know that they’re “one of the guys.” After all, if you didn’t care about someone, you wouldn’t mess with them — right?


Every unit has a communications (commo/comms) person. Oftentimes, the guy spending his time in the commo shop (S-6) gets a little lonely, toiling away at fixing the internet or the Commander’s computer. What better way is there to let them know that they’re a part of the team than by messing with them from time to time?

Doing any of the things on this list should come from a place of mutual friendship. Don’t do anything that would get you UCMJed, impede the mission, or cost you your military bearing. Basically, don’t be a dick about it.

Related: 9 epic ways you can troll your radio guy

7. Call them ‘nerds’

Enlisting in the Army as a computer guy is one of the least ‘grunt’ things you can do. Chances are, they’re well aware of how ‘POG-y’ they really are and will brush it off.

If you really want to push their buttons, just slyly refer to them as ‘nerds’ in conversation. They’ll try to deny it, but we know. We all know.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Anyone want to try and guess their MOS? (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Manuel A. Estrada)

6. Say, “but I tried turning it off and back on again!”

A good computer guy will know the ins and outs of how to fix the problem. But as everyone in the military knows, being in a position doesn’t always mean they’re qualified for the task.

An easy solution that many of the younger, more inexperienced computer guys will default to is called a “power cycle,” which is literally just turning it off and back on again.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you

5. Give them a dumb but effective password

Say something like, “one two, three fours, five sixes, and seven.” When typed out, it should look something like, ‘244466666seVEN!’

Technically, it meets all DoD guidelines — with the added benefit of the commo guy looking at you funny.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
It’s not like our admin passwords are that much more difficult, though. (Photo by Timothy Shannon)

4. Ask if that red cable you snipped was important

The red cable is “SIPR Net,” or “Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.” It’s used for much of the highly-classified communication that needs to remain secure and separate from everything else you’d normally do on the internet.

The commo shop is supposed to be the custodian of the secret internet. Sometimes, they need a little reminder that its security is important.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
That, or they just ran out of every other color cable. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Renae Pittman)

3. Tell them to fix their loose cables

Ever see someone spend way too long to get whatever they’re setting up juuuuust right? That’s how the S-6 is when it comes to arranging the internet stacks.

After they spend hours working on making it beautiful, tell them it’s slightly off. If their cables actually look jacked up, tell them they fail as a commo guy.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Hours upon hours of work. And if it’s not color-coded, it’s time to start over again. (Photo by Sgt. Frank O’Brien)

2. Ask if they can get it done faster

It may not seem like it, but there’s a method to the madness. If the problem can be solved at the lowest level, they’ll do it. If the problem is too big to handle, they’ll try anyway.

But a third of the time, the issue is locked behind higher level administrator rights than their shop can access. Now, everyone is working on the civilian contractor’s time. When the commo shop can’t do anything about it, make sure to remind them to go faster.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
The work order is put in — no need to remind us every few months about getting it back… (Image by Headquarters, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

1. Fake-spoil some nerdy TV show or movie

Remember a few points ago when I said they hate being called nerds? Drive that knife in deeper by fake-ruining something they like.

Don’t be that asshole who actually ruins the movie (or do. I don’t care and you’re an adult), but if the film just came out and you know they haven’t seen it yet, make up some random crap just to mess with them. If they’ve already seen it, they’ll get that you’re messing with them, but if they haven’t, it’ll throw off their entire day until they realize you’re full of sh*t.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Just watch out for the small, squirrely bastards… Unless you can take them. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Lance Pounds)

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North Korea may have had no idea US bombers were so close during latest flyby

Military analysts say North Korea doesn’t have either the capability or the intent to attack US bombers and fighter jets, despite the country’s top diplomat saying it has every right do so.


They view the remark by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and a recent propaganda video simulating such an attack as tit-for-tat responses to fiery rhetoric by US President Donald Trump and his hardening stance against the North’s nuclear weapons program.

By highlighting the possibility of a potential military clash on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea may be trying to create a distraction as it works behind the scenes to advance its nuclear weapons development, said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Another possibility is that North Korea is trying to win space to save face as it contemplates whether to de-escalate its standoff with Washington, he said Sept. 26.

Speaking to reporters before leaving a UN meeting in New York, Ri said Trump had “declared war” on his country by tweeting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “won’t be around much longer.” Ri said North Korea has “every right” to take countermeasures, including shooting down US strategic bombers, even when they’re not in North Korean airspace.

 

The US frequently sends advanced warplanes to the Korean Peninsula for patrols or drills during times of animosity. Last weekend, US bombers and fighter escorts flew in international airspace east of North Korea to the farthest point north of the border between North and South Korea that they have in this century, according to the Pentagon.

Hours after the flights Sept. 24, a North Korean government propaganda website posted a video portraying US warplanes and an aircraft carrier being destroyed by attacks. The video on DPRK Today, which was patched together from photos and crude computer-generated animation, also included footage of North Korean solid-fuel missiles being fired from land mobile launchers and a submarine. The North was clearly trying to claim it has the ability to conduct retaliatory strikes against US attacks, said Hong Min, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nz9AE15nD0M
(stimmekoreas | YouTube) 

Moon Seong Mook, a former South Korean military official and current senior analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said it’s highly unlikely North Korea has the real-world capability to match Ri’s words. North Korea’s aging MiG fighters won’t stance a chance against much more powerful US fighters escorting long-range bombers. And while North Korea touted in May that it’s ready to deploy new surface-to-air missiles that analysts say could potentially hit targets as far as 150 kilometers (93 miles) away, it’s questionable how much of a threat the unproven system could pose to US aircraft operating far off the country’s coast, Moon said.

It’s also unclear whether North Korea would be able to even see the advanced US warplanes when they come. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing on Sept. 26 that the North’s inadequate radar systems failed to detect the B-1B bombers as they flew east of North Korea.

The last time North Korea fired on a US aircraft was in 1994 when it shot down a US Army helicopter around the heavily armed inter-Korean border, killing one of the pilots and capturing the other. The surviving pilot said after his release he was pressured by North Korean officials to confess that the helicopter had crossed into North Korea. In 1969, a North Korean fighter jet shot down an unarmed US reconnaissance plane and killed all 31 crewmembers on board.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Republic of Korea F-15K fighters drop munitions over Pilsung Range during operations alongside U.S. F-35B stealth fighters and B-1B Lancer bombers. Photo by Republic of Korea Air Force.

It’s highly unlikely North Korea would attempt a similar attack now, experts say. Amid tension created by the North’s nuclear weapons tests and threat to detonate a thermonuclear missile over the Pacific Ocean, such an attack would pretty much guarantee retaliation from the United States that could lead to war, Cha said.

“The most obvious reason Ri made those comments was because North Korea simply can’t tolerate such high-profile insults to its supreme leadership,” Cha said. It’s also possible that the North is trying to fan concerns about a potential military clash in the region now so that it can win room to save face later when it tries to de-escalate, he said.

“If Kim Jong Un ever offers a moratorium on his missile tests or makes whatever other compromise, he could say he made a big-picture decision to reduce military tension in the Korean Peninsula,” Cha said. He said Ri’s comments also allow China and Russian to restate their calls for a “dual suspension” of North Korean weapons tests and displays of military capability by the US and South Korea.

These 7 military movies are so good that even the trailers will move you
Weapons dropped from U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers and U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II practicing attack capabilities impact the Pilsung Range, Republic of Korea, Aug. 30, 2017. Photo by Republic of Korea Air Force.

The Trump administration’s stance on North Korea has been hardening in recent months as the North has been stepping up the aggressiveness of its nuclear and missile tests. It conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, which it said was a thermonuclear weapon built for intercontinental ballistic missiles. It tested two ICBMs in July, displaying their potential ability to reach deep into the continental United States. North Korea has also fired two powerful midrange missiles over Japan in recent weeks.

Trump in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if provoked, which prompted Kim to pledge to take the “highest-level” action against the United States. Ri then said North Korea might conduct the “most powerful” atmospheric hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean, but added that no one knew what Kim would decide.

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Vietnam POWs remember the code that became their lifeline


 

Questions consumed Capt. Carlyle S. “Smitty” Harris’ mind in the early days of his eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

Harris’ thoughts focused mostly on his pregnant wife and two children back home near Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Harris also wondered how the POWs could maintain any semblance of leadership and morale without a way to communicate with each other.

For eight long years of captivity, the questions lingered and gnawed at his mind.

Within five months after he’d joined the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Thailand, Harris launched his second F-105 Thunderchief mission on Thanh Hoa Bridge April 4, 1965. After Harris hit his target, his F-105 was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and he was forced to eject. About 20 people from a nearby village immediately captured the pilot, and he was quickly surrounded by almost 50 villagers armed with hoes, shovels and rifles. Just as he was about to be shot, an elderly man stepped in because of the government’s orders to capture American pilots alive. Harris remained in captivity for 2,871 days, much of it at the Hoa Lo Prison, which POWs nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton.

After Louise Harris learned her husband was missing, she remained at their home in Okinawa with their two young daughters, Robin and Carolyn, until after their son Lyle was born. Six weeks after Lyle’s birth, she took her family to Tupelo, Mississippi, where her sister lived. Even before she received her first letter from her husband from Vietnam, Louise believed he was alive and made certain the children kept the faith, too. As Lyle grew older, he’d tell his mother, “There goes Daddy,” when an airplane flew overhead.

Shortly after his capture, Harris was placed in a cell in the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,”with four other POWs, and, at that time, he remembered a conversation with an instructor at his survival school training. The instructor had told him about a tap code Royal Air Force POWs used during World War II, and Harris taught the other four POWs the code. Their captors put them back in solitary confinement a few days later, but that only helped them spread the code throughout the seven-cell area, and ultimately, to POWs throughout North Vietnam.

“As we were moved to other camps away from Hanoi, someone always took the tap code with them and was able to pass it on,” said Harris, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1979 and spent the next 18 years working in business, law and marketing in Mississippi. “So no matter where you went in the POW system in North Vietnam, if you heard a tap, the guy on the other side of the wall would respond with two knocks in return, and you’ve started the communication process.”

At the Hanoi Hilton and other POW camps in Vietnam, the tap code was not only a means to communicate with each other, but it also became a lifeline. In the code, the alphabet was arranged on a grid of five rows and five columns without the letter K, which was substituted with C. The first set of taps indicated which row the letter was on, and the second represented the column. So one tap followed by another tap meant the letter A, and a tap followed by two taps indicated B.

As soon as a POW returned from interrogation, he would begin tapping the wall to communicate what happened. When a prisoner returned from a particularly brutal interrogation, as soon as the guard turned the key and left the block, he’d hear a series of taps that communicated three letters: G, B and U for “God bless you.”

When Harris was being interrogated, for strength to resist demands for information, he thought back to his squadron commander in the 67th TS, Lt. Col. James R. Risner.

“While I was being interrogated the first couple of weeks, when it was pretty darned intense, I thought so much about Robbie Risner,” Harris said. “Mentally, I put Robbie Risner on a stool right beside me. It was my greatest effort to not do or say anything that he would not approve of. That really helped me.”

Risner was later captured, and confirmed the birth of Harris’ son after another POW first relayed the news through the tap code.

As the U.S. began its withdrawal from Vietnam, almost 600 POWs returned home in 1973, and Harris was finally released on Feb. 12. As he looked forward to his reunion with his family at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, one question remained in his mind: the reception with his children after eight years of captivity, especially the 8-year-old son he’d never met.

When Harris stepped into the quarters where his family was waiting, Robin and Carolyn squealed and ran to his arms. “Oh, thank you, Lord,” he said, “they haven’t forgotten.” But when he saw Lyle for the first time, his son didn’t hug him back. However, about a half-hour later, as his father opened his arms, Lyle ran across the room and fell into his embrace.

After eight years, Harris had the answers to all of his questions.