Before they were big-name celebrities, these nine men served as pilots and aircrewmen in the U.S. military.
In 1942, at age 19, Joseph Heller joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. Two years later he was sent to the Italian Front, where he flew 60 combat missions as a B-25 bombardier.
Heller later remembered the war as “fun in the beginning … You got the feeling that there was something glorious about it.” After his military service Heller went on to write Catch-22, which to many represents the standard of American military sarcasm. (Source: CNN)
Before Jimmy Stewart starred in classic American films like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Rear Window” he was an Army Air Corps pilot. On March 31, 1944 he was appointed Operations Officer of the 453rd Bomb Group. Subsequent billets included that of Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat wing, 2nd Air Division of the 8th Air Force. Stewart ended the war with 20 combat missions. He remained in the USAF Reserve and was eventually promoted to brigadier general. (Source: Military.com)
Clark Gable may have frankly not given a damn when dissin’ Scarlett in the movie “Gone With The Wind,” but he most likely did when he served as an bomber crewman in World War II.
Gable flew five combat missions as an observer-gunner in B-17 Flying Fortresses, which earned him the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. During one of the missions, Gable’s aircraft was damaged by flak and attacked by fighters, which knocked out one of the engines and shot up the stabilizer. In another raid on Germany, one crewman was killed and two others were wounded, and flak went through his boot and narrowly missed his head. (Source: Wikipedia)
Charles Bronson‘s steely-eyed glaze as seen in “The Dirty Dozen” was certainly perfected while staring down Japanese air defenses in the Pacific during World War II.
In 1943, Bronson enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and served as an aerial gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron. In 1945, as a B-29 Superfortress crewman with the 39th Bombardment Group, Bronson flew 25 missions and received a Purple Heart for wounds received in battle. (Military.com)
Dallas Cowboys’ iconic fedora-wearing coach Tom Landry earned his wings and a commission as a Second Lieutenant at Lubbock Army Air Field, and was assigned to the 493d Bombardment Group at RAF Debach, England, flying the B-17 Flying Fortress.
From November 1944 to April 1945 he flew 30 combat missions. During that period he also survived a crash landing in Belgium after his bomber ran out of fuel. (Source: Tom Landry: An Autobiography)
Before Norman Lear created groundbreaking TV shows like “All in the Family” and “Maude” he was a B-17 radio operator/gunner with the 772nd Bombardment Squadron, 463rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 15th Air Force.
He flew 52 combat missions and was awarded the Air Medal. (Source: WNYC)
Paul Newman is best known for his salad dressing and the characters he played in movies like “Cool Hand Luke” and “Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid,” but he was also a sailor during World War II in the Pacific theater. He had hoped to be accepted for pilot training but was dropped when docs discovered he was color blind.
He was redirected to boot camp and eventually flew from aircraft carriers as a turret gunner in the Avenger torpedo bomber. He was aboard USS Bunker Hill during the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. He missed one mission when his pilot developed an ear infection, and all of those who wound up going were killed in action.
The same eyesight that made Ted Williams a legendary slugger for the Boston Red Sox made him a great fighter pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Williams had earned his Wings of Gold at the tail end of World War II and was called back to active duty six games into the 1952 baseball season because the Corps needed pilots for the Korean War effort. Williams flew 39 combat missions, and his plane was hit by enemy gunfire on at least three occasions. He was awarded three Air Medals before being sent home with a severe ear infection and recurring viruses. (Source: Wikipedia)
Before he dominated the challenges and finished third on the hit TV series Survivor in 2005, Terry Dietz attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating with the Class of 1982. He earned his Wings of Gold and served on the USS Carl Vinson with VF-51 flying the F-14 Tomcat.
He also served as an instructor at VF-124, the Tomcat training squadron on the west coast. Deitz left active service in 1992 and continued flying in the Navy Reserves on logistics missions around the world. He retired in 2001 at the rank of commander. In recent years Dietz has kept his hand in the TV game by hosting military-themed shows on a variety of networks.
1. The Green Beret founder of SERE training used a math problem to trick the Viet Cong.
In the grand scheme of things, the Vietnam War tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to great stories of war — maybe it’s too recent or painful an event to be remembered with the nostalgia associated with WWII.
Regardless, the story of James Nicholas “Nick” Rowe is one that deserves a spot in the limelight, and might be one you haven’t heard before. Not only was Rowe a Green Beret during Vietnam, he would also create the Army SERE course, a grueling training course detailing methods of “survival, evasion, resistance, and escape” when captured by the enemy. One of the training’s more notorious tasks is learning how to drink snake blood to keep up your calorie intake, so it’s safe to say Rowe was a pretty hardcore guy.
But even the best of the best can get caught by surprise. While on a mission supporting South Vietnamese irregulars against the Viet Cong, Rowe and his fellow Green Berets walked into an ambush. The men fought valiantly, but after exchanging fire they were overpowered and taken as prisoners. When they reached the POW camp they were separated and locked in cages, entering a living hell that they would endure for the next five years.
It only got worse for Rowe. The Viet Cong knew he was the leader of his unit, and suspected he had information. They were right. Rowe served as the captured unit’s intelligence officer, and possessed exactly the kind of information the Viet Cong desperately needed. As a result, Rowe had to endure near-constant torture, on top of the already deplorable conditions of the prison. At one point Rowe confessed his “true” position, claiming he was just an engineer, but the VC weren’t going to let him off easy.
They cut the torture to give Rowe engineering problems to solve. Amazingly, despite the fact that he was starving, living in a cage and was not an engineer, he completed it correctly. His torturers were satisfied, and Rowe thought he could rest easy thanks to West Point’s mandatory engineering courses.
He was wrong. Around the same time, a group of American peace activists were on a mission to visit American officers in Vietnamese prisoner of war camps. The goal of the excursion was a little fuzzy, but they essentially wanted to prove that the North Vietnamese’s prison methods were above board. Rowe’s name was on their list of officers to visit, along with the fact that he was a Special Forces intelligence officer.
When the Viet Cong discovered the lie, they forced Rowe to stand naked in a swamp for days on end, leaving him ravaged by mosquitos and dizzy with lack of food or water. They were fed up with this phony engineer and his multiple escape attempts, and decided enough was enough. They gave Rowe an execution date, eager to rid themselves of his antics.
When the day finally came, Rowe was led far away from the camp, when suddenly a group of American helicopters thundered overhead, rustling the jungle trees and giving Rowe the split second of time he needed to break free, fend off his captors and sprint after the helicopters. Amazingly, one of the choppers noticed Rowe waving like a maniac in a clearing, and was able to rescue him from his scheduled death.
2. The British soldier who escaped The Gestapo’s “unescapable” castle
Escaping a prisoner of war camp is no easy feat, and many who have made it to freedom recount plotting their escape plans for months, even years, to execute it right on the first try. This, apparently, was not Airey Neave’s style. Instead of biding his time, the British soldier escaped his WWII POW camps whenever he could, undeterred by failed attempts.
Finally, when he and his friend were caught in Poland after escaping German POW camp Stalag XX-A, he was collected by the Gestapo, who sent him to Oflag IV-C, AKA the castle of Colditz, AKA the last stop for all troublemaking POWs.
It may look like a summer home fit for the Von Trapp family, but don’t be fooled, this place was no joke. If you’re doubtful you can read up on some accounts of the “escape proof” castle here.
The castle’s prisoners weren’t as confident in its “inescapable” qualities, and instead just came up with ridiculously complex plans of escape.
Failed attempts included the construction of a small wooden glider, a network of underground tunnels, and prisoners sewing themselves into mattresses to be smuggled out with the laundry. Tempting as these flashy failures were, Neave decided to take a more theatrical approach to his escape.
After he secretly acquired pieces of a Polish army uniform, he painted the shirt and cap green to resemble a German officer’s ensemble. Then he put on his new duds and strolled out of the prison like a Nazi on his way to Sunday dinner with his girl. What he didn’t anticipate, however, was how reflective the paint would be; once outside, he lit up like a Christmas tree under the guard’s searchlight passed over him. It didn’t end well.
But Neave still thought the idea was pretty awesome, and pulled the stunt a second time a few months later, with an updated “uniform” of cardboard, cloth, and more Nazi-green. He also had a partner in crime this time, another prisoner named Anthony Luteyn, who was also sporting a mock German getup.
During an all-inmate stage production that the prison sponsored and put on, Neave and Lutyen quietly slipped off stage, crawled underneath the floorboards that held the dancing inmates and right above the guard’s headquarters.
From there the pair dropped into the room from the ceiling and acted natural, strolling about and exchanging pleasantries in German as if they were simply visiting officers. Once they had ensured no one was suspicious, they calmly made their exit. Once outside of the prison, they threw away the homemade German uniforms and pretended to be two Dutch workers on their way to Ulm from Leipzeg, with (fake) papers to prove it. Unfortunately, the phony documents ended up getting the two stopped by German police, but they bought the disguises and sent them to the foreign aid office, believing they were just confused immigrants.
Despite this and other close calls, Neave and Lutven continued their journey — all on foot — until they made it to Switzerland and were finally free. Neaves would later work to ensure there were quality escape lines for other POWS in Europe, and would also serve on the Nuremberg Trials.
3. The three-prong tunnel system that led 3 POWs to safety
While the above escapists have steered clear of the old tunnel-digging prison cliche, it’s still an effective method. In fact, U.S. airmen Roger Bushell took the wartime tradition a step further by constructing a system of three tunnels in a German Air Force POW camp at the height of WWII. The tunnels, nicknamed “Tom”, “Dick”, and “Harry,” were each 30 feet deep. This way, Bushell hoped, they wouldn’t be detected by the camp’s perimeter microphones. Each tunnel was also only about two feet wide, though there were larger sections that contained an air pump and a space full of digging supplies. Pieces of wood were used to ensure the stability of the tunnel walls.
Electric lighting was also installed and attached to the prison’s electric grid, allowing the diggers to work and travel by lamplight 10 yards under the ground’s surface. The operation even advanced far enough to incorporate a rail car system into their tunnel network, which was used to carry tons and tons of building materials back and forth during the 5-month construction period.
Just as the “Harry” tunnel was completed in 1944, the American officers who had toiled over the escape route were moved to a new camp. The rest of the prisoners attempted an escape about a week later on March 24, but they had unfortunately miscalculated where their tunnels would end. Initially believing the secret tunnel would dump them inside a forest, they emerged to realize that they were short of the tree line and completely exposed. Still, over 70 men crawled through the dark, dank tunnels to the other side, rushing to the trees once they surfaced. Tragically, on March 25th, a German guard spotted the 77th man crawling out of the tunnel, leading to the capture of 73 of the men, and later the execution of 50 of them. Only three would survive and make it to freedom, but the escape had gone down as one of the most elaborate in history.
4. Bill Goldfinch and Jack Best’s plan to fly the Colditz coop
You didn’t really think we were going to just breeze by that wooden glider story, did you? There have been plenty of wacky escape methods, but none as bold or sophisticated as literally building yourself a two-man wooden plane to peace out in.
At least, this was the plan. Jack Best and Bill Goldfinch were similar to Neave in their can-do, slightly certifiable approach to escape. The men were pilots, and decided that the best way to bust out of the German castle was to do what they do best: fly. Or, more accurately in this case, glide. The Colditz castle was built atop a large cliff, perfect for launching a secret and probably highly unstable aircraft off of.
Goldfinch and Best began building the glider’s skeleton in the attic above the prison chapel, figuring the height would give it enough time to glide across the Mulde river, which was situated about 200 feet below the building. To keep the Germans from walking in on the construction, the pair built a false wall out of old pieces of wood, the same stuff they constructed the glider out of. The plane was mostly made up out of bed slats and floor boards, but the men used whatever material they could get their hands on that they thought the Germans wouldn’t miss. Control wires were going to be created from electrical wiring that was found in quieter sections of the castle.
Though the operation was deemed moot before it could ever be carried out (the Allies released the prisoners before it could be flown), we felt this almost-escape deserved some recognition because by many accounts, it would have worked. In 2000, a replica of the Colditz glider was constructed for a documentary entitled “Escape from Colditz”, and was actually flown successfully at RAF Odiham. It gets even cooler, though. Best and Goldfinch were able to watch the whole thing go down, and witness their “escape” firsthand.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Three F-16 Fighting Falcons from Edwards AFB fly past Dodger Stadium after the ceremonial flyover at the beginning of game two of the 2017 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros Oct. 25.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Buck Taylor, explosive ordnance disposal technician assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, provides security as a potential threat is assessed during nighttime counter improvised explosive device training at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Oct. 21, 2017. The scenario, based off of real-world experiences, tested the EOD technicians’ combat operational skills in a low-visibility environment. The Airmen began the night with a simulated air insertion, followed by a five-kilometer movement to a location where they would detect, disarm, detonate and dispose of simulated explosive threats. The training is to prepare for EOD support of special operations forces in a contingency environment.
1st Lt. Tony Gosser with Task Force Talon, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, views a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system as a Soldier preforms a routine maintenance inspection on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Oct. 26, 2017.
Soldiers from various units compete in the FORSCOM Small Arms Competition hosted by the 82nd Airborne Division on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Through out the fourth week of October, 2017, three groups of competitors test their abilities in using one of three small arms weapons, the M249 Saw, Pistol and M4 Carbine.
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) transits the Pacific Ocean during Dawn Blitz 2017. Dawn Blitz is a scenario-driven exercise designed to train and integrate Navy and Marine Corps units by providing a robust training environment where forces plan and execute an amphibious assault, engage in live-fire events, and establish expeditionary advanced bases in a land and maritime threat environment to improve naval amphibious core competencies.
The guided missile destroyer USS Shoup (DDG 86) fires its Mark 45 5-inch gun during a live-fire exercise as part of the trilateral Intrepid Sentinel exercise. Intrepid Sentinel brings together Shoup, Monmouth and the French Marine Nationale anti-air destroyer FS Jean Bart (D 615) for a multinational exercise designed to enhance war fighting readiness and interoperability between allies and partners.
Lance Cpl. Jared P. Baker looks down range with the Carl Gustav rocket system during live fire training at Range 7 aboard Camp Hansen, Oct. 25, 2017. The Carl Gustav rocket system is being introduced to the Marine Corps to eventually replace the MK153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW). Baker, a Rochester, New York native, is an assaultman assigned to Weapons Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. The Hawaii-based battalion is forward deployed to Okinawa, Japan as part of the Unit Deployment Program.
A U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion prepares to land onshore during exercise Bold Alligator 17 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 25, 2017. Bold Alligator 17 is a multinational, naval amphibious exercise that focuses on combined training of multiple forces executing complex shaping, amphibious and sea basing operations to improve U.S. and coalition ship-to-shore capabilities.
The Coast Guard Cutter Active moors at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal in San Diego, Oct. 25, 2017. The crew aboard the active offloaded more than 6,000 pounds of cocaine that was interdicted in the Eastern Pacific from mid September to early October.
The Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office, and Bouchard Transportation representatives continue to respond to an oil discharge from a barge that caught fire and was extinguished on Friday three miles off the jetties of Port Aransas, Texas.
Response efforts continue to minimize impact to the environment and the maritime community, which has enabled the Coast Guard to reopen the impacted ship channels.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl now faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, and if he’s found guilty, he’ll join a list of U.S. military deserters throughout history that includes famous names such as Steve McQueen and Mark Twain.
We looked back and found some of the more infamous cases of soldiers deserting or going AWOL from their military service. Here’s what we found.
1. Mark Twain
Before his writing career took off under his pen name of “Mark Twain,” Samuel Clemens was training as an apprentice steamboat pilot in New Orleans in the late 1850s. According to the Hannibal Courier-Post, he received his pilot’s license in 1859, but his career was cut short after the outbreak of Civil War shut down traffic on the Mississippi River.
The Civil War severely curtailed river traffic, and, fearing that he might be impressed as a Union gunboat pilot, Clemens brought his years on the river to a halt a mere two years after he had acquired his license. He returned to Hannibal, where he joined the prosecessionist Marion Rangers, a ragtag lot of about a dozen men. After only two uneventful weeks, during which the soldiers mostly retreated from Union troops rumoured to be in the vicinity, the group disbanded. A few of the men joined other Confederate units, and the rest, along with Clemens, scattered. Twain would recall this experience, a bit fuzzily and with some fictional embellishments, in The Private History of the Campaign That Failed (1885). In that memoir he extenuated his history as a deserter on the grounds that he was not made for soldiering.
2. Steve McQueen
The actor who became known as “The King of Cool” had a rocky time while serving in the Marine Corps. Having joined the Marines in 1947, McQueen was promoted to Private First Class and was demoted back to private seven times, according to AllDay.com. Yes, SEVEN.
His rebellious nature came to a head when he let a weekend pass turn into a two week tryst with his girlfriend. Shore patrol apprehended him, but he resisted and spent 41 days in the brig; the first 21 were spent living off of bread and water.
3. Gen. George Custer
Before his famous “Last Stand” at the Battle of Little Big Horn, George Custer was court-martialed for abandoning his post to go and see his wife. After taking over the newly-formed 7th Cavalry, Custer led an expedition against the Sioux and Cheyenne indians in 1867.
But he took a slight detour and left his regiment to see his wife Libbie back at Fort Riley, according to History.com. He was court-martialed and convicted on eight counts, including absence without leave (AWOL), and was suspended from duty for one year without pay. Ironically, his court-martial also included testimony that Custer ordered deserters to be shot without trial, according to the Kansas Historical Society.
4. Private Eddie Slovik
A World War II draftee, Eddie Slovik was sent to France to serve with the 28th Infantry in Aug. 1944. As combat replacements, Slovik and a companion become lost while trying to join the unit at the front lines and they ended up joining a Canadian unit that took them in, according to History.com.
History.com has more:
Slovik stayed on with the Canadians until October 5, when they turned him and his buddy over to the American military police, who reunited them with the 28th Division, now in Elsenborn, Belgium. No charges were brought; replacements getting lost early on in their tours of duty were not unusual. But exactly one day after Slovik returned to his unit, he claimed he was “too scared and too nervous” to be a rifleman and threatened to run away if forced into combat. His admission was ignored-and Slovik took off. One day after that he returned, and Slovik signed a confession of desertion, claiming he would run away again if forced to fight, and submitted it to an officer of the 28th. The officer advised Slovik to take the confession back, as the consequences would be serious. Slovik refused, and he was confined to the stockade.
Slovik admitted in his confession that he was so scared at times that he “couldn’t move.” He wrote: “I said that if I had to go out their again I’d run away. He said their was nothing he could do for me so I ran away again AND ILL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THEIR [sic].”
His trial lasted less than two hours, and he was sentenced to death by firing squad. His sentence was carried out on Jan. 31, 1945, Business Insider reported.
Before he was killed, Slovik said (according to The Spectator):
“They’re not shooting me for deserting; thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I’m it … I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that’s what they’re shooting me for. They’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old.”
As was the case in the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army has widely used “air assault” tactics — the warfighting technique of using helicopters to get troops into and out of combat objectives in a hurry — in the war in Afghanistan. We rounded up photos from our own personal collection and military sources to show what it’s like for soldiers to be part of one of these intense missions.
Air assault missions start with rehearsals. Here, soldiers practice getting down the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook in a hurry.
The choreography of the assault is reviewed using a ‘sand table’ — a scale mock-up of the objective that allows soldiers to understand how the mission will unfold.
Get ready to mount up! (Here a CH-47 lands at the FOB to pick up Afghan National Army troops and their U.S. Army trainers for an air assault.)
After a successful ingress, the Chinook launches in a hurry, leaving the troops behind to get to work.
First order of business is to establish a perimeter and make sure there’s no incoming fire.
Once the Chinooks are clear and the landing zone is stabilized, the soldiers make their way toward the village — ever wary of the presence of the enemy.
Contact made with the tribal elders, the best way to assess the immediate threat. In this case the company commander learns that the small band of Taliban fled at the first indication of the assault.
The platoon leader tours the village with the tribal elders who’ve assured him there is no immediate threat now that the few local Taliban have fled. The U.S. Army first lieutenant knows exactly how much to trust them.
Meanwhile, other soldiers patrol the perimeter of the village making sure the Taliban who fled don’t circle back with a few more of their comrades.
On the opposite side of the village, soldiers pull security.
At the center of the village, the platoon leader tries to convince the tribal elder that his people should support the coalition in forcing the Taliban out once and for all.
Local kids gather to hear what the American soldiers have to say. (Cool Batman backpack.)
A village donkey isn’t sure what to make of all the action.
Making friends with the next generation of Afghan citizens is an important part of the mission.
On the edge of the village a handler and his dog sweep for improvised explosive devices.
Beef jerky time! Just outside of the center of the village one of the brave and talented Afghan interpreters kicks back for a bit.
Village architecture looks centuries old and a little bit creepy.
No girls allowed! The company commander gathers the village males for a ‘shura,’ a no-notice gathering to discuss the coalition plan for security and the creation of infrastructure like schools and cell phone towers.
Every captured weapon counts. The enemy may have fled, but the air assault did net a small score: some radios and a handful of RPGs.
After one more sweep it’s time for soldiers to think about getting out of Dodge (or Ateh Khanek in Paktika Province).
And the soldiers load onto the Chinook for the flight back to the FOB. Dinner will taste good tonight, and maybe after that there’ll be time for a Skype session with the wife. (Just another day in the ‘Stan.)
We here at WATM love putting together lists and rankings, so it makes sense for us create one for non-fiction books. We read quite often, and not surprisingly considering we’re a bunch of military veterans, those books often deal with military topics.
These are our picks for best military non-fiction books of all-time. (If you’d like to see our picks for fiction, click here.) The books below are numbered but not in rank order. All of these are great reads.
If you want to gain an understanding of America’s war with radical Islamists, look no further than “The Forever War” by journalist Dexter Filkins. As a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, Filkins begins his book as the Taliban rises to power in Afghanistan, writes of the aftermath following the Sept. 11th attacks, and then continues through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Told from ground level by the only American journalist who reported on all of these events, Filkins does not write a neat history lesson. Instead, he tells individual stories of people — from ordinary citizens to soldiers — and how they are affected by the incidents that happen around them. He does it using beautiful prose, and with little bias.
Former Air Force Col. James Burton gives the inside account of what it’s like when the Pentagon wants to develop a new weapons system. Having spent 14 years in weapons acquisition and testing, Burton details his struggle during the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle with those above him who were often more interested in supporting defense contractors instead of troops in the field.
Burton spends much of the book writing of the small band of military reformers who worked hard trying to fix the problems of Pentagon procurement from the 1960s to the 1980s, and he suffered professionally for “rocking the boat” as a result. For example, after suggesting that the Bradley’s armor should be tested against Soviet antitank weaponry, the Army — knowing it would never hold up — tried to get Burton transferred to Alaska. The very serious book also inspired a very funny movie made by HBO:
Most people have seen the movie, but this is one of those times when you should definitely read the book. This brilliant account by journalist Mark Bowden tells the story of the Oct. 3, 1993 battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, when hundreds of elite U.S. Army soldiers fought back against thousands of militants when a routine mission went wrong.
With remarkable access, research, and interviews, Bowden recreates the battle minute-by-minute and perfectly captures the brutality of the fight and the heroism of those who fought and died there.
This book gives an inside look at the transformation that takes place from civilian to Marine Corps officer. A classics major at Dartmouth, Fick joins the Marines in 1998 an idealistic young man and leaves a battle-hardened and skilled leader after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At times very personal and unpleasant, Fick’s book recounts plenty of combat experiences. But that is not the real draw. His wonderful detailing of the training, mindset, and actions of Marine officers on today’s battlefields makes this a must-read.
Historian Stephen Ambrose’s account Easy Co. in “Band of Brothers” is quite simply, an account of ordinary men doing extraordinary things. The book — which later became a 10-part miniseries on HBO — takes readers from the unit’s tough training in 1942 all the way to its liberation of Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” in 1945.
“Band of Brothers illustrates what one of Ambrose’s sources calls ‘the secret attractions of war … the delight in comradeship, the delight in destruction … war as spectacle,’ writes Tim Appelo in his review.
One of the first significant engagements between American and Vietnamese forces in 1965 was also one of the most savage. The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley is told by Lt. Col. Moore and Galloway, a reporter who was there, and it serves as both a testament to the bravery and perseverance of the 450 men who fought back after being surrounded by 2,000 enemy troops.
While the book was later made into a movie, it’s well-worth reading if only for the stories of Rick Rescorla, the platoon leader featured on the cover of the book whose nickname was “Hard Core.”
More than 2,000 years old and still relevant today, “The Art of War” is a must-read book on military theory and strategy. But its maxims can be applied by those far outside the combat arms. Tzu offers advice relevant to everyone from Army generals to CEOs.
“Absorb this book, and you can throw out all those contemporary books about management leadership,” wrote Newsweek.
There have been many contemporary accounts written of World War II, but “Flyboys” manages to bring to light something that had remained hidden for nearly 60 years. James Bradley tells the story of nine Americans who were shot down in the Pacific off the island of Chichi Jima.
One of them, George H.W. Bush, was rescued. But what happened to the eight others was covered up and kept secret from their families by both the U.S. and Japanese governments. Bradley, who wrote “Flags of our Fathers,” conducted extensive research and uncovered a story that has never been told before.
Written in a compelling narrative style, David McCullough’s “1776” retells the year of America’s birth in wonderful detail. McCullough is an incredible storyteller who puts you right there, feeling as if you are marching in the Continental Army.
From the Amazon description:
In this masterful book, David McCullough tells the intensely human story of those who marched with General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence—when the whole American cause was riding on their success, without which all hope for independence would have been dashed and the noble ideals of the Declaration would have amounted to little more than words on paper.
As a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, Evan Wright rode with the Marines of 1st Recon Battalion into Iraq in 2003. Embedded among the men, Wright captures the story of that first month of American invasion along with the grunt mindset, how the Marines interact, and captures the new generation of warriors that has emerged after 9/11.
Soldiers today are “on more intimate terms with the culture of the video games, reality TV shows and Internet porn than they are with their own families,” Wright told Booklist (One 19-year-old corporal compares driving into an ambush to a Grand Theft Auto video game: “It was fucking cool.”)
A monster of a book at 704 pages, journalist Jake Tapper tells a powerful story of an Afghan outpost that was doomed to fail even before soldiers built it. Beginning with the decision to build a combat outpost in Nuristan in 2006, Tapper reveals a series of bad decisions that would ultimately lead to a battle for survival at that outpost three years later — one that would see multiple soldiers earn the Medal of Honor for their heroism.
Known as Combat Outpost Keating, the story of the base is one that is worth reading. With its bestseller status, rave reviews by critics, and most importantly, the soldiers who fought there, it’s safe to say “The Outpost” gets it right.
Found on many military reading lists, Grossman’s “On Killing” is a landmark study of how soldiers face the reality of killing other humans in combat, and how military training overcomes their aversion to such an act.
A former West Point psychology professor, Grossman delves into the psychological costs of war and presents a compelling thesis that human beings have an instinctual aversion to killing. With this, he also shows how militaries overcome this central trait through conditioning and real-world training.
This Pulitzer-Prize winning book is a masterpiece of military history. Delivering an account of the first month of World War I in 1914, Tuchman tells not just a war story, but an event that would upend the modern world.
“This was the last gasp of the Gilded Age, of Kings and Kaisers and Czars, of pointed or plumed hats, colored uniforms, and all the pomp and romance that went along with war,” reads the publisher’s description. “How quickly it all changed, and how horrible it became. Tuchman is masterful at portraying this abrupt change from 19th to 20th Century.”
Embedded among the soldiers of 2-16 Infantry as part of President Bush’s last-chance “surge” in Iraq, journalist David Finkel captures the grim reality as troops face the chaotic, and often deadly, streets of Baghdad. The book often follows the overly-optimistic Col. Ralph Kauzlarich (motto: “It’s all good”).
But Finkel excels at capturing everyone up and down the chain-of-command, and tells their stories incredibly well. His book is less about big-picture surge strategy, and more about the soldiers on the ground who fought it. That is a very good thing.
Those are our picks. Did we miss one that you loved? Leave a recommendation in the comments.
Dating a service member is different than dating a civilian. But just how much different is it? Here are eight things to consider before jumping into a relationship with someone in uniform.
1. Service members are independent and you should be too.
Troops have to deploy, which means not having him or her around for important events like anniversaries, birthdays and weddings. If you’re a person that constantly needs their physical presence, dating a service member is probably the wrong choice.
2. Don’t be jealous.
Most of the U.S. military is integrated. They deploy to remote locations and work long hours with members of the opposite sex. You’ll have a hard time trusting your significant other if you’re naturally jealous.
3. Don’t overly display supportive military gear like you’re rooting for your favorite sports team.
It’s okay to be proud of your boyfriend or girlfriend serving in the military, but you can take it a bit too far. Gear includes t-shirts, bumper stickers, jewelry and more. You may think it’s cute and supportive, but you’ve just painted a target on the back of your significant other as the butt of many jokes.
4. It’s not being mean, it’s tough love.
Service members are used to direct communication, so avoid that passive aggressive, vague, manipulative language that your mother-in-law likes to use. Direct communication is instilled from day one in the military. I can still remember my drill instructor yelling, “say what you mean, and mean what you say!”
5. There will be secrets.
Depending on their specialty, service members are trained to be more guarded than others. This is especially true with members that require a clearance to do their job. You can poke and prod all you want, but it’s not going to happen. You’ll have to be okay with not knowing that part of their life.
6. You have to be willing to move.
If you’re looking for a life partner in the military, you’ve got to be willing to give up ties to a specific location. This could mean giving up your career and being away from family. Some service members move every three years. Are you willing to live like a nomad?
7. You have to be flexible.
Plans might change or be canceled at the last minute. One moment they’re free to go on a date night, the next day they’re pulling an all-nighter. Same goes for weekends. Just because they spend one weekend with you doesn’t mean that next weekend will be the same.
8. Learn to tolerate his buddies.
The military is a brotherhood. Their lives depend on this special bond, so don’t think that they can just go out and get new friends. Learn to get along with friends, even the annoying immature one.
While most the well-known wars in history dragged on for years, even decades, many wars in the last century were extremely short. Border disputes, tensions over ethnic populations, trade issues, hangovers from the two world wars or long-simmering pent-up hostilities have all exploded into shooting wars – many lasting just a few weeks or even a few days. In one case, the war was over in less than an hour.
Whether these shortest wars were low intensity conflicts with just a few casualties or brutal, bloody wars that were ended before they could get worse, these wars might have been short, but they were all historically important. The shortest wars in history have taken place on all different continents, between many different countries, over many historical eras. A short war is certainly better than a long, drawn-out war, so at least these historical battles and skirmishes were ended quickly.
What was the shortest war in history? Check out this list of short wars to find out!
A new Russian film on the 1968 events in Czechoslovakia has revived accusations that the Kremlin is twisting historical facts to forge a new ideology and justify some of its most controversial actions and policies.
Here is a look at some remarkable recent Russian treatments of history:
Warsaw Pact: The Declassified Pages, which aired on state-run Russian television on May 23, justifies the armed crackdown on the democratic “Prague Spring” movement and claims Warsaw Pact troops were sent into Czechoslovakia to protect its citizens from a purported NATO threat.
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek accused Russia of “grossly distorting” history and summoned the Russian ambassador in protest. Czech President Milos Zeman, who is seen as relatively Kremlin-friendly, dismissed the film as “Russian propaganda lies,” according to his spokesman.
The Slovak Foreign Ministry accused Russia of “trying to rewrite history and falsify historical truths about this dark chapter of our history.”
Defense of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
Putin caused dismay across Europe last year by arguing there was nothing wrong with the infamous 1939 nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which led to the carve-up of Eastern Europe.
“What’s bad about that if the Soviet Union didn’t want to fight?” he asked a meeting with historians in Moscow. “Serious research must show that those were the foreign-policy methods then.”
Last month, Putin again defended the pact during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying the deal was signed “when the Soviet Union realized it was being left one-on-one with Hitler’s Germany” despite what he described as “repeated efforts” by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to form an anti-Hitler coalition with Western countries.
Merkel responded by pointing out that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact encompassed a secret protocol under which Stalin and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler agreed to divide Eastern Europe into respective spheres of influence.
The agreement paved the way for Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, as well as the Soviet Union’s invasion of eastern Poland in the following weeks and its occupation of the Baltic states in 1940.
Hitler was ‘good’ until 1939
Amid Russia’s persistent claims that Ukraine is teeming with neo-Nazis, a pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper caused stupor last year with an article asserting that Hitler was actually “good” before turning against the Soviet Union.
“We should distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939, and separate the wheat from the chaff,” read the piece in Izvestia, which rejected comparisons between Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
The author, Andranik Migranyan — who heads the New York office of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, an NGO set up under President Vladimir Putin in 2007 — credited Hitler with uniting Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland, and Memel “without a single drop of blood.”
“If Hitler stopped at that, he would be remembered in his country’s history as a politician of the highest order,” Migranyan stated.
Critics reminded Migranyan about some of Hitler’s most horrific policies prior to 1939, including the establishment of concentration camps, the purges of “non-Aryans,” the creation of the Gestapo, and the bloody Kristallnacht pogroms in 1938.
Crimea as sacred cradle of Russian civilization
President Vladimir Putin has gone to great lengths to defend Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine by portraying the peninsula as a holy cradle of Russian civilization.
Speaking in a state-of-the-nation address in December, he said Crimea had an “enormous civilizational and sacral meaning for Russia, just as the Temple Mount of Jerusalem does for those who profess Islam and Judaism.”
Grand Prince Vladimir is believed to have converted Kievan Rus to Orthodox Christianity in the 10th century after being baptized in Crimea.
The logic behind the annexation, however, is disputed as the conversion of Kievan Rus established the foundations for both the Russian and Ukrainian states.
The Black Sea peninsula was also home to various populations before Russia first annexed it from the Ottoman Empire in 1783, including Greek colonies some 2,500 years ago and Crimean Tatars, who today are considered the region’s indigenous population — and have been under increasing pressure since the Russian takeover in March 2014.
What the folks back home think troops do while deployed is just a fraction of what actually happens downrange. In many ways, the average Joe is doing the same busy work that they’d be doing back stateside — this time, with the added “benefit” of doing it in full battle rattle with a weapon slung across their back.
Sometimes, Private Snuffy deserves to be put on the detail, but most times, he probably doesn’t. The fact of the matter is that things just need to get done. Having to sweep the motor pool back in the States may suck, but sweeping the motor pool while you’re deployed in the middle of the desert is futile. Details suck, but these tasks particularly suck when you’re deployed.
1. Sandbag Building
Even with the concertina wire, Hecso barriers, and giant-ass concrete walls, the military still seems to think that the only thing separating troops from certain death is having the Joes fill sandbags and use them to haphazardly barricade everything.
This isn’t to discredit the 30lbs of sand stuffed into an acrylic or burlap bag — they probably work. The problem is that they’re a pain in the friggin’ ass to fill, carry, and painstakingly stack.
2. Guard Duty
At first, it sounds like fun. This is what you signed up for and you’re going to do your part to save freedom, one field of fire at a time. Then, the heart-crushing reality sets in. You’re stuck in the same guard tower for 12 hours with someone who smells like they haven’t showered in 12 days. There you are, just watching sand. Occasionally, you get lucky and there’s a farmer out in the distance or a camel herder to break the monotony.
On the bright side, the cultural barrier between you and the ANA (Afghan National Army) guy you’re stuck with can lead to some hilarious conversations.
3. TOC/COC Duty
In a near tie with guard duty, being in the command center for 12 hours blows just a little bit worse. In the guard tower, you have some sort of autonomy. In the TOC, you’re stuck with higher-ups breathing down your neck.
To add insult to injury if you’re a grunt, you’re listening to all of your buddies do the real sh*t while you’re stuck on the bench. You’re just listening to them do all the things you enlisted for while you’re biting your lip. If you’re a POG, I guess watching the same AFN commercial 96 times over sucks, too.
4. Connex Cleaning
Replacing containers, prepping for redeployment back stateside, grabbing that one thing that your Lieutenant swore was in there — whatever the reason, anything to do with the pain-in-the-ass that is heavy lifting inside a Connex that’s been baking in 110 degree heat is just unbearable.
No matter what the lieutenant was looking for, it’s not there. It’s never going to stay clean. Everything inside is going to get shuffled around, regardless of how much effort you put into it.
5. Burn Pit
Whether you’re opting for the quick and easy solution to getting rid of classified intel, destroying old gear left behind, or burning human waste, nothing about burn pit duty is enjoyable.
Big military said that they’ve done away with burn pits and that everything is peachy keen now — too bad that’s not even close to true. Whether being exposed to the pits by KBR facilities or command directed, anything dealing with burn pits is a serious concern for your health. No matter how hard it gets denied in court, veterans are still dying from the “quick and easy way.”
If you believe you might have been affected by burn pits, register with the VA here. It’s a very serious health concern and the more veterans that stand up, the more seriously the issue will be taken.
The Marine Corps is filled with individuals from all walks of life. Regardless of where you came from, every single person who bears the title of United States Marine started out at either the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California or the one at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Marine recruits come from all over the country (some are even originally from other countries) to earn their place among the world’s finest fighting force. So, it should come as no surprise that you’re going to meet several different types of people as you train. Everyone’s different, sure, but you’re definitely going to meet these archetypes.
Atop the list is the most common type of recruit. It’s the people who spent their high school careers bouncing between different sports who have the easiest time with the physical training or “incentive” training. You might also find that some of the more physically fit recruits are some of the dumbest. But, then again, it is the Marine Corps.
At first glance, you might think this guy is the same as The Athlete — he’s not. Someone who has big muscles might not have an easy time with the cardio-based workout regimen put forth by Drill Instructors. Usually, these types are the berserker-class of recruit and they’ll do as much heavy lifting as they can to maintain their mass.
Make no mistake, though, big muscles will not intimidate Drill Instructors. In fact, they’ll probably pick The Bodybuilder out as a prime target to break mentally.
There’re always bigger fish.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Damon A. Mclean)
The JROTC douche
These are the types who show up to boot camp thinking they know how to play the game and usually try to be a guide for others right off the bat. The problem, however, is that they think their military knowledge is enough to get them through. They often underestimate the Drill Instructors and overestimate their own mental fortitude.
These d-bags show up cocky and leave feeling like the common folk.
The military brat
This person might not have been in JROTC, but they grew up hearing stories from one or both of their parents about boot camp from ages ago and show up thinking they know how it works. The truth is, they don’t — and they’ll come to understand that soon enough.
Their parents’ service isn’t encoded in their genetics. It doesn’t count for anything except (maybe) a cool story.
The ninja or thief
They’ll try to tell you that no one steals in the Marine Corps. Yeah, that’s bullsh*t. People steal all the time and it’s certainly no secret. You’ll meet the thieving types during boot camp. The ones who will lie, cheat, and steal, either for personal gain or to help out their platoon.
When it comes time to return gear or someone needs a specific item (i.e. extra undershirts, peanut butter, etc.), you might be willing to cut a deal with them. Maybe you’ll take their midnight firewatch in exchange for their “services.” As much as it sucks to have something stolen, these types often come in handy in saving you (and the rest of the platoon) from an infamous “tornado.”
If they do become a scribe, make sure you’re friends. They may come in handy.
These recruits are not very common but every platoon will have at least one. You often question why they chose the Marine Corps since their intelligence and physical performance level screams Air Force. They may not always be the most physically fit, but they’re often the most mentally strong since they have to compensate in some way.
This can mean a few things. This recruit is good at drawing, painting, singing, or all of the above. Regardless, one thing is for sure: They’re here for the same reason you are. The drawing/painting types might end up as an “artist recruit” who paints emblems or draws cool things for the Drill Instructors, but they strive to be Marines first and foremost.
The grand old man recruit
They’re not actually very old, given the Marine Corps’ recruitment age cap is set to 28 without a waiver. Since a lot of recruits in boot camp are between 18 and 21, the “grand old man” is usually between 24 and 26. Most people around that age get sent during the spring or fall when the 17-year-old prospects are still in high school, but they still might end up in platoon full of much younger recruits.
They usually have a lot of life experience, some might even have college degrees or be married. These are the recruits you want to talk to for some wisdom since they know more about life than you do.