Not all acts of heroism take place on the battlefield. Here are 6 times when troops jumped into harm’s way:
1. Sgt. George Long helped protect his leaders during a Fort Hood shooting
On Apr. 12, 2014, Sgt. George D. Long was in a meeting with leaders in his battalion at Fort Hood when shots broke out in the building. When the shooter approached the conference room, Long and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson sprinted to the door and held it shut, continuing even when shots began coming through the door. This saved the lives of the other soldiers in the room.
2. A Fort Drum soldier pulled people from a burning tour bus
On the New York State Thruway in 2011, Then-Sgt. Jacob Perkins spotted a burning tour bus that had struck a semi-truck. He rushed into the blaze and began pulling out the survivors. 53 people were on the bus when it hit and 30 were injured but everyone survived thanks to Perkins’ quick actions.
“This is a momentous occasion,” said then-Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, now the Army Chief of Staff, at the Soldier’s Medal ceremony for Perkins. “If there were bullets flying and it was the Taliban, Sergeant Perkins would be getting the Medal of Honor.
3. Two sailors and an airman rescued the crew of a crashed helicopter
A resupply helicopter carrying mortar rounds and other munitions crashed on the flight line of Forward Operating Base Kala Gush, Afghanistan on May 3, 2010. Immediately, troops sprinted to rescue the aircrew. Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven R. Doty arrived in seconds and avoided the still-spinning rotor blades while he forced an opening into the wrecked bird. Once the crew began evacuating, Doty climbed inside and attempted to shut down the engines.
After Burditt, DeSeta, Jaquez, and others got the crew safely away, Doty finally gave up on shutting off the engines and escaped the crash site. All four heroes received Soldier’s Medals.
4. An airman lead a rescue attempt in the middle of burning jets
On Jan. 26, 2015 a Greek F-16 crashed into French jets at a refueling point during an exercise at Los Llanos Air Base, Spain. The flames from the wreck killed two Greek pilots and nine French troops, but U.S. airmen moved in to save everyone they could.
One of the first on the scene was U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Greggory Swarz who rushed into the flames to start pulling out the wounded. Swarz actually burned his own hands while pulling others from the fire, according to another airman at the scene. As Swarz was doing his work, other airmen used mobile fire extinguishers to put out people and loaded the wounded into a van.
5. An Air Force master sergeant saved dozens after Haiti earthquake
Master Sgt. Keith M. O’Grady was on the first plane to land in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there. O’Grady and his team pulled 13 people from the rubble by tunneling into fallen debris with bare hands, concrete breakers, and digging bars. O’Grady voluntarily climbed through miles of these unsupported tunnels to rescue survivors, often burrowing past the remains of people who didn’t survive.
The team also provided advanced medical care to 27 patients and transferred 18 patients to trauma centers. O’Grady received the Airman’s Medal for his work and valor.
6. A soldier in Germany evacuated most of a burning apartment building before police arrived, then helped pull out two final survivors
Spc. Willie Smith was returning from a night out in Stuttgart, Germany when he saw flames rising from a wooden apartment building. His friend called emergency services and Smith began moving through the building, sounding the alarm. Smith’s warnings allowed approximately 30 people to escape before the flames grew too large.
But when the German police arrived, they discovered that an elderly couple was missing. So Smith rushed back in with them. Smith helped the man out while police woke and escorted out the woman. He received the Soldier’s Medal for his actions.
In April 2003, the Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines entered Baghdad, headed for the Iraqi Intelligence Ministry. Sergeant Jesus Vindaña, a radio operator, was relaying orders from his command when a sniper’s bullet tore through his helmet from behind.
His buddies tried to revive him, but the company corpsman declared him dead at the scene.
Except he wasn’t dead — Vindaña’s heart was beating, but it was so weak it didn’t register a pulse.
Nearby, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, was working as a reporter for the cable news network.
Gupta was embedded with “Devil Docs,” a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and others who operate out of medical tents called “Forward Resuscitative Surgical Suites” in some of the most dangerous combat zones in the world. It was in this FRSS that Gupta found Vindaña – and his pulse.
Luckily for the wounded Marine, Dr. Gupta is a member of the staff and faculty of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. He is the associate chief of Neurosurgery there, and routinely works in its operating rooms.
As the FRSS team worked frantically to save the Marine (who had twice been declared dead already), they asked Gupta for his Neurosurgery expertise, he later recalled in an article on CNN. Turns out, the military didn’t send many brain surgeons to the front-line FRSS units.
They also didn’t have the medical equipment necessary to open skulls during surgery. Not a problem for the resourceful doctor. Gupta borrowed a set of tools from the Marines there and used a Black and Decker power drill to open Vindaña’s head.
Within an hour, Gupta removed the bullet in Vindaña’s brain and the Marine was in the recovery room.
“In all the years I have worked in hospitals, I have never seen resources mobilized so quickly and health care workers move with such purpose,” Dr. Gupta wrote just three years later. “And, remember, it was a tent in the middle of the desert by the dark of night in the most dangerous place on Earth.”
Vindaña now advocates for health care reform and maintains contact with Dr. Gupta. (CNN/YouTube)
Years after the surgery, Gupta met with Vindaña again in the Marine’s native Los Angeles. The only noticeable remnants of his bullet to the brain was a “slight limp and weakness in his left hand.”
Chief Gunner’s Mate Frank William Crilley recognized the urgency unfolding 265 feet below the surface. Responding to a lost submarine in April 1915, a fellow Navy diver was operating at extreme depths when his life line and air hose became tangled in the hawser cables of a salvage ship. He could not ascend or descend without help. Crilley, a Navy diver with 15 years of experience in the fleet, immediately volunteered to don a diving suit and descend to reach Chief Gunner’s Mate William F. Loughman.
As Crilley entered the water off the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii, he knew that the US Navy didn’t want to lose any more sailors. A month prior, the USS F-4 submarine belonging to the 1st Submarine Group, Pacific Torpedo Flotilla, had plummeted to the ocean’s floor. An investigation later determined a corroded battery had caused an explosion, killing all 21 submariners.
It was the first underwater disaster for the US Navy. And despite attempts by four tugboats with the assistance of Navy divers to attach heavy lifting cables around the submarine, their efforts at rescue or salvage had so far failed.
“Any attempt at raising the F-4 and rescuing any possible survivors presented the Navy with a situation in which [it] had practically no experience,” wrote Alfred W. Harris in a June 1979 edition of Sea Combat magazine. “While fires, explosions and numerous other types of accidents had occurred about other U.S. submarines, F-4 was the first of our boats to take her crew to the bottom, unable to return.”
Crilley braved the pressured depths, reaching 306 feet, where he could touch the side of the wrecked submarine. He needed to get a better angle to rescue his shipmate. No diver had previously ever reached such depths. In the two hours and 11 minutes it took to bring Loughman to the surface, the pair collectively experienced “depth narcosis” or underwater drunkenness — a condition that makes doing the most simple of tasks difficult.
Loughman was semiconscious but alive and needed nine hours in the recompression tank to recover. For his actions on April 17, 1915, Crilley was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929 (shown at top, with Coolidge at left). Although the Medal of Honor is awarded for heroism in combat, the US Navy had authorized the award for heroism in peacetime up until 1940. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal or the branch equivalent is awarded today for heroism in a non-combat capacity.
The F-4 submarine was later salvaged and recovered in August 1915. Four members of the 21-member crew were identified and delivered to their families. The remains of the other 17 sailors were sealed in four coffins and placed together in Arlington National Cemetery under a single headstone that read “Seventeen Unknown US Sailors, Victims of USSF–4, March 25 1915.” In 2000, submarine veterans lobbied in Washington, and Arlington installed a larger joint headstone. The old headstone was delivered to the USS Bowfin Museum at Pearl Harbor and is the only headstone ever transferred from a national cemetery.
Amongst the backdrop of our relatively male-dominated world, women have often taken supporting roles. This is especially true in male-dominated fields like the military. Despite the perception that women weren’t suited to physically demanding jobs, many women have gone on to take leading roles in several branches of the U.S. military. Today, we’re turning the spotlight to shine on some of the most badass women warriors around.
1. Captain Linda Bray
Captain Linda Bray was the leader of the 988th Military Police Company in 1989. Out of the 700 women who took part in Operation Just Cause in Panama, Bray was the first woman to command American soldiers on the battlefield. In several interviews, Bray said that she joined the Army to be challenged on a personal level, as well as to represent her country.
And boy, she did not disappoint. Bray’s leadership shined a light on the marginalization of female soldiers in the U.S military and ultimately caused leaders to reconsider the prohibition of women in the military. The ban officially ended in 2013. To this day, Linda Bray serves as a role model to many female soldiers who still often find themselves challenged within the military system.
2. General Ann E. Dunwoody
In 2008, Ann E. Dunwoody became the first female officer to reach four-star rank in United States military history. Before retiring in 2012, Dunwoody led Army Materiel Command. During the First Gulf War in 1992, she was also the first female commanding a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division. Regardless of her achievements, Dunwoody retains a humble vision of her military career, stating that she “sees herself as simply a soldier.”
Perhaps this viewpoint can be attributed to Dunwoody being a fourth-generation Army officer. In her family, serving your country isn’t an extraordinary achievement; it’s just what you do. She stresses the importance of recognizing the journeys of other women in the military, as the women serving today are paving the way for those to come. In 2015, Dunwoody compiled all her knowledge from past military campaigns and experience in leadership, releasing a book called “A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General.”
3 & 4. Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver
In 2015, Captain Griest and 1st Lieutenant Haver became the first female soldiers to successfully finish Army Ranger School and subsequently earned their ranger tabs. The Ranger School, established in 1950, has had over 77,000 tabbed soldiers, but Griest and Haver were the first women to qualify. Both graduates of the U.S Military Academy at West Point, Haver served as an AH-64 Apache pilot, and Griest was a military police platoon leader. Both women viewed Ranger School as an excellent way to prepare themselves for leadership positions.
Haver has stated before that she wanted to attend for much of the same reasons men do: to gain experience and be exposed to potential opportunities. In addition, she’s also said that normalizing female representation in the military will not only make the military atmosphere more diverse and accepting, but also a better institution all around. Griest and Haver’s trailblazing mission has proved even more successful; over 30 women, including National Guardsmen and enlisted soldiers, have since earned their Ranger tabs.
5. Eileen Collins
Eileen Collins, perhaps better known for her role as the first female space shuttle commander, also had a highly accomplished military background in the Air Force. Collins was one of the first women to be recruited for Air Force training right after graduating from Syracuse University and completed her training in 1979. After graduating, she also became the first female flight instructor for the Air Force, teaching pilots how to fly complex military aircraft.
By 1989, Collins had not only received several more advanced degrees but had also logged over a thousand hours in flight time. Combined, her degrees and flight time were more than enough to be accepted into the competitive Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. From there, Collins proceeded to be the first female pilot for NASA, spending 419 hours in space. She was assigned to the historic Columbia space shuttle in 1999. Now retired from both the Air Force and NASA, she has received a great deal of recognition for her accomplishments, including indictment into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
6. Mary A. Hallaren
According to Colonel Mary Hallaren, there was never a question about whether women should serve in the military. With the onset of Wolrd War II and the shockingly gruesome events at Pearl Harbor, Hallaren enlisted in the first training class of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, commonly known as WAC, in 1942. Hallaren’s pension for leadership proved beneficial; she was quickly promoted to commanding the most expansive female unit overseas.
By 1948, she was the director of WAC and earned the first commissioned officer position in the Regular Army. Unlike most military positions offered to women at the time, it was a non-medical role. Throughout the rest of her career, Hallaren’s passion and dedication made her instrumental in the fight for inclusion. Her work eventually earned her a spot in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
I’ve long been aware of the old Marine Corps axiom that sergeants are the backbone of the Corps, and when I was a sergeant serving on active duty, I was certain that it was right. In the years since, however, I’ve had to opportunity to view service with a broader scope, and to be honest, I think the backbone of our nation’s military isn’t any specific rank… I think the backbone title actually rightfully belongs to military moms.
Military moms come in a number of varieties: there are the mothers that serve on active duty or in the reserves, there are moms that raise their kids alone, sometimes for months on end, to support their spouses in uniform, and of course, there are the moms that worry about their sons and daughters as they ship off to basic training.
There may be more than one type of military mom, but there’s one thing that they all have in common: they’re all too often forgotten when we’re expressing our gratitude to the military community. Military moms give of themselves while honoring the service of their peers, their children, or their spouses. And all too often, we forget to let them know just how much that means to us.
“I joined to make a difference in my life,” Marine veteran Cheyenne Weaver told Sandboxx News, “And then once I became a mom, to make a difference in her life too. Being in the service matters because it helps show children that moms can do anything.”
I got to witness Cheyenne’s experiences as a military mom first hand, as the non-commissioned officer in charge of the shop she and I worked together in back in our days aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty-Nine Palms. Serving in the Marine Corps is ripe with challenges, and I saw as those challenges multiplied once she became responsible not only for her duties in uniform, but for the well being of her beloved kids as well.
Another military mom I had the honor of serving with was Nicole Yager. She joined the Marine Corps to make her parents proud, and today, she carries that same drive when it comes to making her kids proud too.
“I joined the Marine Corps because everyone doubted that I could even make it through boot camp. I ended up being voted into the leadership position, Guide, and graduated boot camp with the honor graduate title,” Nicole told Sandboxx News.
“I still have the same mentality today, the same longing to do something bigger. The only difference is now, in addition to wanting my parents to be proud, I want my children to be proud (all four) and to see that, with hard work and dedication, you really can accomplish whatever you want in life.”
Of course, raising kids with a spouse in the military isn’t easy either. Bree Salas, the proud wife of a Marine and mother of three has been working full time on Sandboxx’s Customer Happiness team while taking care of their kids on her own for the past nine months. Her husband is on a 24-month unaccompanied tour of duty overseas.
“Being a military spouse has allowed me to grow as an individual and learn my own place in the military world. I have filled the shoes of ‘dad’ for two separate 6-month deployments and I’m currently 9 months into a 24 month unaccompanied tour. Each of these stretches of time have come with their own sets of battles–to include blowing out a knee, needing emergency surgery on a gallbladder, home issues, car issues, broken bones on our rambunctious boys, and currently navigating through parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Bree explained to Sandboxx News.
Without Bree’s hard work and sacrifices, her husband couldn’t complete his mission. He certainly deserves our respect and admiration for his duty to our country, but we can’t forget that Bree and thousands of mothers like her are doing their duty at home as well.
“While my spouse consistently has my back and we currently talk daily through FaceTime and email, being the soul parent handling it all has given me immeasurable strength and opportunities to learn about myself,” Bree says.
While my wife and I were together throughout my time in uniform, we didn’t have our beautiful daughter until after I’d already transitioned off of active duty. My wife is an incredible mother and takes great pride in her time as a military spouse, but there’s another military mom in my family that I can assign credit for my own successes in the Corps: my amazing mother–an infection control nurse that has put off her retirement to continue working through the COVID-19 pandemic that remains ongoing.
Of course, I had to reach out to my mom to ask her what being a military mom has been like for her.
“Being a military mom makes me part of a larger body in the world that I would not be if it were not for my Marine son,” she explained.
“As a result of him, my family has an increased appreciation of family values, strength, thoughtfulness, and love. I value the qualities he bestows in his every day life and to my family.”
I only cried a little when she sent me that.
My mom was there to talk on the phone when I was a young corporal struggling with leading my first teams. She helped me weigh my options when it came time to re-enlist, and when I became a funeral honors NCO tasked with some of the most difficult work of my life, she was there to remind me that what I was doing was potentially some of the most important work of my life as well. She was there once again as I transitioned back into the civilian world, and I’ll never forget my mom and I both finishing our bachelor’s degrees together shortly after I got out.
My mom raised me to go after challenges head first, to roll with the punches when they came, and above all else, to be able to laugh at myself, even in the hard times. Without my mom’s support, there never would have been a Sergeant Hollings. Without her telling me to go after what I cared about, there may never have been an Editor Alex Hollings either.
So as we roll into this Mother’s Day weekend, take a minute to honor the military moms: the women raising their kids while serving their country, the women running the Homefront while their husbands are overseas, and the women that gave us the heart and the tenacity we needed to chase our own dreams of earning the title Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Coast Guardsman.
These strong women represent the best of us, and through that, they help to bring out the best in us. For their hard work, their sleepless nights, and their sacrifices… thank you military moms, from the bottom of my heart. And to all moms, military or otherwise, happy Mother’s Day!
In the United States military, the Purple Heart is a revered, if unwanted, military accolade bestowed upon those individuals who have been wounded in action with the enemy. The Military Order of the Purple Heart describes it as “awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.”
The Purple Heart traces its lineage all the way back to the Revolutionary War when it was called the Badge of Military Merit. After World War I, renewed interest in reviving the Badge of Military Merit led to the establishment of the modern Purple Heart. When the new Purple Heart was authorized in 1932, it superseded the short-lived Army Wound Ribbon and the wear of Wound Chevrons – devices on the sleeve that denoted the number of times someone had been wounded in combat.
Two million Purple Hearts have been awarded since it was created. The men below earned more of them per individual than any others.
1. Staff Sgt. Albert L. Ireland – Marine Corps
Staff Sergeant Albert Ireland has the distinction of being awarded the most Purple Hearts of any individual across all branches of service. During his 12 years of service – spanning two wars from 1941 to 1953 – Ireland was wounded a total of nine times. Albert fought his way across the Pacific with the Marines during World War II, during which time he was wounded five times. During the Korean War, he was wounded four more times, and the last one was severe enough that he was medically discharged.
2. Lt. Col. Richard J. Buck – Army
Richard Buck graduated from West Point in 1951 before being shipped to the Korean peninsula. During his service in the Korean War, Buck was wounded a total of four times. After the Korean War, Buck stayed in the Army and eventually joined Special Forces before being deployed to Vietnam. There, Buck was again wounded four times, bringing his Purple Heart total to eight for his career. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1970.
3. Maj. Gen. Robert T. Frederick – Army
Major General Frederick began World War II as a Lieutenant Colonel tasked with raising the 1st Special Service Force. With this force he would fight in the Aleutian Islands, North Africa, and Italy before being promoted to Brigadier General and taking charge of the 1st Allied Airborne Task Force. During his time with 1st Special Service Force, he was wounded numerous times. At Anzio he was wounded twice in the same day. Frederick was once again promoted and took command of the 45th Infantry Division until the end of the war. Major General Frederick ended WWII with eight Purple Hearts, two Distinguished Service Crosses, and a Silver Star. He retired in 1952.
4. Col. David H. Hackworth – Army
Colonel Hackworth was awarded eight purple hearts over the course of the Korean and Vietnam wars. During the Korean War, Hackworth served with several elite units – 8th Ranger Company, 25th Recon Company, and the 27th Wolfhound Raiders – before earning a battlefield commission and volunteering to serve another tour, which he completed with the 40th Infantry Division. During his time in Korea he was awarded three Purple Hearts. During the Vietnam War, Hackworth served multiple tours in Vietnam in multiple capacities but was well known for creating the Tiger Force with the 101st Airborne and revitalizing the demoralized 4/39th into the ‘Hardcore Recondo’ Battalion. There he received another five Purple Hearts. Col. Hackworth also holds the record for the most Silver Stars with ten awards.
5. Capt. Joe Hooper – Army
Joe Hooper enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Airborne Infantryman in 1960. He was stationed at a number of locations before being assigned to D Co., 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment just prior to that unit’s deployment to Vietnam. On February 21, 1968, Hooper’s actions outside of Hue earned him the Medal of Honor as well as one of his Purple Hearts. Hooper would serve a second tour in Vietnam from 1970-71, during which time he received a direct commission to 2nd Lieutenant. During his tours, Lt. Cooper received eight Purple Hearts, the Medal of Honor, and two Silver Stars as well as numerous other awards.
6. Col. Robert L. Howard – Army
Robert Howard enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1956 and by 1967 found himself assigned to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) in Vietnam. Howard served a total of 54 months in Vietnam. During one thirteen month tour, he was recommended for the Medal of Honor on three separate occasions, but due to the covert nature of the operations, two were reduced – to the Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart for actions in December 1968. In the remainder of his time in Vietnam, Howard was given a commission to 2nd Lieutenant and wounded a further seven times giving him a total of eight Purple Hearts for his career. He retired as a Colonel in 1992.
7. Col. William L. Russell – Army
William Russell first enlisted in the 153rd Infantry Regiment of the Arkansas National Guard during World War II, seeing action in the Aleutian Islands before being given a direct commission. After Advanced Infantry Officer Training, he was assigned to I Co., 330th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division. During his time with the 83rd Infantry Division, he earned a Silver Star, was nominated for the Medal of Honor, and was wounded seven times, earning him the nickname ‘The King of the Purple Hearts.” After WWII, Russell returned to Arkansas before being called up to participate in the Korean War where he led the 937th Field Artillery Battalion into combat. Russell retired from the military in 1965 with the rank of Colonel, having been awarded eightPurple Hearts.
8. Sgt. Maj. William Waugh – Army
William Waugh enlisted in the Army in 1948 and was briefly assigned to the 187th Parachute Regimental Combat Team in Korea before earning his Green Beret in 1954. Waugh deployed to Vietnam with Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha team in 1961. During numerous tours in Vietnam, Waugh was involved in many different operations including multiple combat High Altitude Low Opening insertions. During the Battle of Bong Son, Waugh was grievously wounded and was later awarded the Silver Star and his sixth Purple Heart. By the time Sgt. Maj. Waugh retired in 1972, he had been wounded two more times for a total of eight Purple Hearts. After his illustrious Special Forces career, Waugh continued on working for the CIA during which time, at the age of 71, he participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Tech. Sgt. Charles Coolidge, who fought the Nazis throughout Europe and North Africa with the Army‘s 36th Infantry Division, earned the Medal of Honor for his courage during a fierce forest battle in France in 1944.
The Defense Department on Sunday reposted archival video of the June 18, 1945, award ceremony near Dornstadt, Germany. The video shows then-Lt. Gen. Wade Haislip, who commanded the Army’s XV Corps in Western Europe and after the war served as vice chief of staff of the Army, presenting the Medal of Honor to Coolidge.
In October 1944, Coolidge took command of a small group of men when they encountered a German force, estimated to be a company, in the woods near the French village of Belmont-sur-Battant. For four days, through the rain and cold, Coolidge rallied his men and beat back one German attack after another.
When the Germans made a final assault, with two tanks in tow, Coolidge tried to take them out with a bazooka. When the bazooka malfunctioned, he threw it away, grabbed as many grenades as he could carry, and hurled them at the German infantry. When it became clear the Germans would overrun their position, Coolidge organized his men in an orderly withdrawal and was the last to leave.
Until his April 6 death in Chattanooga, Tenn., Coolidge was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.
Then-Capt. William F. Andrews was flying an F-16 over Iraq Feb. 27, 1991 when American and Iraqi tanks were engaged in heavy fighting at Basra. Andrews led his flight into the battle and targeted the Iraqi tanks until his Fighting Falcon was hit by a surface-to-air missile and he was forced to eject.
As he descended in his parachute, he pulled out his survival radio and immediately began feeding information to his buddies flying above him. When he hit the ground, he broke his leg but in spite of the pain he kept right on working.
With his radio still out and a decent view of the battlefield, he began watching for enemy missile launches that threatened his fellow pilots. He would alert pilots that they were in danger and tell them which way to turn to avoid the missiles and when they needed to deploy flares to trick the infrared targeting sensors.
A short time later, an OA-10 showed up. When it came under missile attack as well, Andrews gave the OA-10 pilot a heads up on when to bank and when to deploy flares.
Bot the F-16 and OA-10 pilots later told investigators that their aircraft would likely have been shot down or heavily damaged if it weren’t for the threat calls that Andrews made while severely injured on the ground, under fire, and surrounded by Iraqi forces attempting to capture him. He was later awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions on Feb. 27.
He also received two Distinguished Flying Crosses with “V” device for valor during Desert Storm. In a Feb. 24 engagement, he led a flight to kill Iraqi soldiers who had pinned down a Special Forces team. During a Jan. 23 mission, he flew through thick anti-aircraft fire and dodged six surface-to-air missiles to destroy a SCUD missile facility.
Andrews was captured by Iraqi forces the morning after he was shot down and was held prisoner for eight days before being released. He was flown to the USNS Mercy for treatment and sent back to the states. He rose to the rank of colonel before retiring in 2010. Tragically, he died of brain cancer only five years later.
Typically, losing a limb is a career ender for troops. After all, they’ve already given enough and surely they won’t be able to withstand the rigors of combat without all four limbs.
Except, yes, they can. These 6 warriors lost limbs in battle, laughed in the face of death, and came back to fight another day:
1. Gen. Frederick M. Franks, the architect of Desert Storm
Gen. Frederick M. Franks was the commander behind the “Left Hook” of the American invasion of Iraq in Desert Storm. Franks’ armored formations surged north into Iraq and toppled over a dozen Republican Guard divisions. And he led the whole operation with one leg.
He and Gen. Eric Shinseki, who survived a partial amputation of his foot in Vietnam, used to show their prosthetics to new amputees in Walter Reed. The tours were designed to remind the younger soldiers that they could still achieve great things after an amputation.
2. Alexei Maresyev, a Hero of the Soviet Union
Alexei Maresyev had just graduated flight training when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and he was called on to fly against the technologically advanced Luftwaffe. In Jun. 1942, the young pilot was shot down over German-occupied territory and had to crawl for 18 days back to Russian lines. The frostbite and the injuries from the wreck resulted in both his legs being amputated.
But Maresyev fought his way back to active duty, partially because he was already respected for four aerial kills before he was shot down. In 1943 he again took to the air against the Nazis and shot down another seven enemy aircraft before the war ended, earning him the title “Hero of the Soviet Union.”
3. Douglas Bader, legendary pilot in the Battle of Britain
Like Maresyev, Bader was a respected pilot who lost his legs in a crash. Bader’s injuries resulted from an air show crash in 1931. The Royal Air Force retired him but said he might be able to return if war broke out. He spent the next eight years perfecting flight with prosthetics.
4. Capt. Jean Danjou, the Legionnaire who fought “France’s Alamo”
Jean Danjou graduated the French military school at Saint-Cyr and joined the army as an officer. After fighting Algerian nationalists in the 1840s, he volunteered to serve in the French Foreign Legion. At the Battle of Sevastopol, Danjou lost his left hand.
In 1863, Danjou led a 66-man element which came under attack by approximately 2,000 Mexican soldiers. He led a fighting withdrawal to a nearby estate at Camerone and rallied his men for an 11-hour battle. The unit was nearly wiped out but inflicted hundreds of Mexican casualties. Danjou died in the fighting. His prosthetic hand is now paraded in France every year at commemorations of the battle. The battle is sometimes described as “France’s Alamo.”
He repeatedly attacked Union Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s troops in an attempt to stop the march to the sea and relieve the pressure on Atlanta in 1864. After fighting there, Hood led troops in the defense of Tennessee in the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. With the Union Army marching south, he attempted to rally troops in Texas in 1865 but was eventually captured.
American hero Michael Collins passed away on April 28, 2021 at the age of 90 after a battle with cancer. Along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Collins was one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who made the legendary trip to the moon in 1969. He also served as an Air Force test pilot and reached the rank of Major General in the Air Force Reserves.
Collins was born on October 31, 1930 in Rome, Italy. He was the son of a U.S. Army officer serving as the U.S. military attaché. As a military child, Collins spent his youth in a number of locations including New York, Texas and Puerto Rico. It was in Puerto Rico that Collins first flew a plane. During a flight aboard a Grumman Widgeon, the pilot allowed Collins to take the controls. Though this ignited Collins’ passion for flight, the start of WWII prevented him from pursuing it.
When the U.S. entered WWII, Collins’ family moved to Washington, D.C. where he attended St. Albans School and graduated in 1948. He decided to follow his father and older brother into the service and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. His father and brother were also West Point graduates. Collins graduated in 1952. In his graduating class was fellow future astronaut Ed White who tragically perished in the Apollo 1 disaster.
Collins’ family was famous in the Army. His older brother was already a Colonel, his father had reached the rank of Major General, and his uncle was the Chief of Staff of the Army. To avoid accusations of nepotism, he opted to commission into the newly formed Air Force instead.
Collins received flight training in Mississippi and Texas and learned to fly jets. He was a natural pilot with little fear of failure. After earning his wings in 1953, he was selected for day-fighter training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where he learned to fly the F-86 Sabre. Although 11 pilots were killed in accidents during the 22-week course, Collins was unfazed.
After training, Collins was stationed at George Air Force Base, California until 1954. He moved to Chambley-Bussières Air Base in France where he won first place in a 1956 gunnery competition. He met his future wife, Patricia Mary Finnegan, in an officer’s club. A trained social worker, Finnegan joined the Air Force service club to see more of the world. Their wedding was delayed by Collins’ redeployment to West Germany during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. However, they were married the next year in 1957. Their first daughter, future All My Children actress Kate Collins, was born in 1959. The Collins’ had a second daughter, Ann, in 1961 and a son, Michael, in 1963.
In 1957, Collins returned to the states to attend the aircraft maintenance officer course at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. In his autobiography, Collins described the course as “dismal” and boring. He preferred to fly planes rather than maintain them. Afterward, he commanded a Mobile Training Detachment and a Field Training Detachment training mechanics on servicing new aircraft and teaching students to fly them.
Eager to get back into the cockpit, Collins applied to the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School. He was accepted to Class 60C in 1960. His classmates included fellow future Apollo astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Irwinn and Tom Stafford. The test pilot school put Collins at the controls of the T-28 Trojan, F-86 Sabre, B-57 Canberra, T-33 Shooting Star and F-104 Starfighter. Notably, Collins quit smoking in 1962 after a suffering bad hangover. The next day, he flew four hours as the co-pilot of a B-52 Stratofortess. Going through the initial stages of nicotine withdrawal, Collins described the flight as the worst four hours of his life.
Following the historic Mercury Atlas 6 flight of John Glenn in 1962, Collins was inspired to become an astronaut. However, NASA rejected his first application. Undeterred, Collins flew for the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School. He later applied and was accepted to the Air Force’s postgraduate course on the basics of spaceflight. He was joined by future astronauts Charles Bassett, Edward Givens, and Joe Engle.
In June 1963, Collins applied to the astronaut program again and was accepted. After basic training, Collins received his first choice in specialization: pressure suits and extravehicular activities. In June 1965, he was received his first crew assignment as the backup pilot on Gemini 7. Following the system of NASA crew rotation, this slated Collins as the primary pilot for Gemini 10.
Along with John Young, Collins lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 0520 on July 18, 1966. Gemini 10 took them to a new altitude record of 475 miles above the Earth. Collins later said that he felt like a Roman god riding the skies in his chariot. On Gemini 10, Collins also became the first person to perform two spacewalks on the same mission. At 0406 on July 21, Young and Collins splashed into the Atlantic and were safely recovered by the USS Guadalcanal.
After Gemini 10, Collins was reassigned to the Apollo program. He was slated as the backup pilot on Apollo 2 along with Frank Borman and Tom Stafford. However, Collins’ future in Apollo was put on hold when he began experiencing leg problems in 1968. He was diagnosed with cervical disc herniation and had to have two vertebrae surgically fused. Originally slotted as the primary pilot for Apollo 9, Collins was replaced by Jim Lovell while he recovered.
Following the success of Apollo 8, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were announced as the crew of Apollo 11. While training for the mission, Collins compiled a book of different scenarios and schemes during the lunar module rendezvous. The book ended up being 117 pages.
Collins also created the mission patch for Apollo 11. Backup commander Jim Lovell mentioned the idea of eagles which inspired Collins. He found a painting in a National Geographic book, traced it, and added the lunar surface and the Earth. The idea of the olive branch was pitched by a computer expert at the simulators.
At 0932 on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off. Collins docked the Command Module Columbia with the Lunar Module Eagle without issue and the combined spacecraft continued on to the Moon. Apollo 11 orbited the Moon thirty times before Aldrin and Armstrong entered the Eagle and prepared for their descent to the lunar surface. At 1744 UTC, Eagle separated from Columbia, leaving Collins alone in the command module.
While Aldrin and Armstrong performed their mission on the Moon, Collins orbited solo. During each orbit, he was out of radio contact with the Earth for 48 minutes. During that time, he became the most solitary human being alive. Despite that, Collins did not feel scared or alone. He later recalled that he felt, “awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation.”
Collins orbited the Moon a further 30 times in the command module. After spending so much time in the spacecraft, he decided to leave his mark in the lower equipment bay. There, he wrote, “Spacecraft 107 – alias Apollo 11 – alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP.”
At 1754 UTC on July 21, Eagle lifted off from the Moon and rejoined Columbia for the trip back to Earth. Columbia splashed into the Pacific at 1650 UTC on July 24. The crew was safely recovered by USS Hornet. As the first humans to go to the Moon, Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong became worldwide celebrities. They embarked on a 38-day world tour of 22 foreign countries.
Satisfied with his legendary space flight, Collins retired from NASA after Apollo 11. He was urged by President Nixon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. However, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, and the Kent State shootings, sent waves of protests and unrest across the country. Collins did not enjoy the job and requested to become the Director of the National Air and Space Museum. Nixon approved and Collins changed jobs in 1971.
Along with Senator and former Air Force Major General Barry Goldwater, Collins lobbied Congress to fund the building of the National Air and Space Museum. In 1972, Congress approved a budget of $40 million. With a smaller budget than what Collins had hoped for, he also had a short suspense to meet. The museum was scheduled to open on July 4, 1976 for the country’s bicentennial. Not one to back away from a challenge, Collins got to work hiring staff, overseeing the creation of exhibits, and monitoring construction. Not only was the museum completed under budget, but it opened three days ahead of schedule on July 1, 1976.
Still a member of the Air Force Reserve, Collins reached the rank of Major General in 1976 and retired in 1982. He served as the museum’s director until 1978 when he became undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1985, he started his own consulting firm. He has also wrote books on spaceflight, including a children’s book on his experiences. Collins enjoyed painting watercolors of the Florida Evergreens or aircraft that he flew. He lived with his wife in Marco Island, Florida and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.
Following Collins’ passing, NASA released a statement. “NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the envelope of human potential,” the release said. “Whether his work was behind the scenes or on full view, his legacy will always be as one of the leaders who took America’s first steps into the cosmos. And his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons.” Michael Collins will forever be remembered as an American hero and a champion for humanity on its quest into space.
For Megan Dursky, a registered nurse working in pediatrics in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, keeping perspective during COVID-19 has helped her perform to the best of her capabilities.
“When I do get scared – I think about how I would hope my child/nephew/niece would be taken care of when they are ill,” Dursky said. “What sort of treatment would I want for them? I then try to provide that for my patients.”
Megan and her husband, Trevor. Photo courtesy of Megan Dursky.
Dursky, whose husband Trevor serves in the Iowa National Guard, shares that when she first heard about the novel coronavirus, it seemed far away.
“Like many Americans, I did not think it would affect me personally, especially since I live in a rural area of the United States. I brushed it off for the most part and went about my normal routines of life. As I started to hear about how it was affecting Italy and began reading and seeing pictures of healthcare providers there — I started feeling uneasy — fearful of the unknown or what was to come.”
Almost immediately, Dursky began noticing changes in her day-to-day protocols at work.
“Things began to change in my workplace on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis,” she shared. “Some of us wore paper masks while conducting patient care — others thought this was maybe a little over the top. We began to have daily, sometimes twice daily huddles to discuss new guidelines/procedures to implement. My work inbox began to fill with COVID-19 updates and our patients’ families began calling with questions regarding the outbreak. Things really sunk in when positive COVID-19 cases began to pop up locally in our communities and further PPE and protocols were put into place. By this point, our office was in the process of establishing a specialized clinic to receive patients with possible COVID-19 symptoms.”
Dursky, left, in PPE. Photo courtesy of Megan Dursky.
While the threat of insufficient PPE looms and seeing stress on her co-worker’s faces happens more regularly, Dursky admits that working with families has sustained her in such an emotional and uncertain time.
“My favorite part of being a nurse is connecting with my patients and their families,” she said. “A high point for me is being able to educate them on ways to protect their families, keeping them as healthy as they can be during this difficult time. Providing reassurance that we will be available in the clinic to take their calls and questions; even as other services of the community are shutting down.”
While the nature of her job is to reassure the community, the thought of work coming home with her is never far from Dursky’s mind.
Megan and Trevor Dursky with their family. Photo courtesy of Megan Dursky.
“I’m fearful of contracting the virus myself and bringing it home to my family,” she shared. “Trying to serve patients while protecting those closest to me in my home. Every time you grab a door handle and then rub your forehead without thinking only moments later, have you just made a potentially life-changing mistake?”
Through it all, she says that nurses are truly there for patients.
“Without you — we would not be essential,” she said. “A smile from my patient can clear the day’s troubles from my mind and make everything we do worthwhile.”
We Are The Mighty will be featuring different heroes on the front lines of the battle with COVID-19. From health care workers to teachers, kind neighbors, grocery store employees and other mission essential personnel, if you know someone going above and beyond, please email us to feature them: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marine Cpl. Salvatore Naimo was awarded the Silver Star on March 17, 2021 — his 89th birthday — for actions that took place when he was a member of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment nearly 70 years ago. In September 1951 Naimo, a rifleman in “Howe” Company, found himself in the midst of bitter fighting along the 38th parallel, fighting for “the Punch Bowl.” High casualties among Naimo’s company meant his heroism was nearly lost to history.
The year 1950 had seen maneuver warfare up and down the Korean Peninsula with the Communist North sweeping aside allied resistance in June 1950 until the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter. Gen. Douglas MacArthur regained allied initiative with a brilliant counteroffensive landing Marines at Inchon in September 1950.
With Marines spearheading an Allied sweep North to the Yalu River, MacArthur all but guaranteed victory by the end of 1950 by declaring troops would be “Home by Christmas.” China entering the war in November 1950 once again changed the balance, leading to the fabled “Battle of the Chosin Reservoir” and a mass retreat south by Allied forces on the peninsula. By the summer of 1951, they were increasingly locked in stalemate with the front lines settling along the 38th parallel.
June 1951 began with armistice talks, but they began to fall apart by the end of summer. In August 1951, in an effort to drive the North Koreans and Chinese back to the negotiating table, Naimo, along with some 30,000 other members of the Allied task force, found themselves attacking a mountainous region on the far eastern part of the 38th parallel in what would become known as The Battle of the Punch Bowl.
The operation lasted from Aug. 31 until Sept. 21, 1951, and featured frequent and vicious engagements in mountainous terrain resulting in at least 5,000 Chinese and North Korean dead. On the Allied side, 69 Americans and 122 South Koreans would be killed in action and more than 1,000 Allied troops wounded.
On the morning of Sept. 14, 1951, Naimo and his fellow members of Howe Company were digging into a key ridge atop the Punchbowl, with Naimo’s platoon occupying the far left flank of Howe Company’s position. Suddenly, the Chinese Army began to drop well-aimed and concentrated mortar fire on the Marines, effectively suppressing the company.
With a mortar scoring a direct hit on the position adjacent to his, and critically wounding two Marines, cries for help rang out. Naimo immediately rushed from his position to the aid of his fellow Marines. Picking up the first wounded Marine and rushing back out into the barrage, Naimo proceeded to carry him toward the aid station when another round detonated — this time wounding Naimo and knocking him to the ground. Undaunted, Naimo picked up his fellow Marine and pressed on, reaching the aid station.
“The normal reaction when under fire is fear; that is the reaction. It’s a very difficult and deliberate decision to act, especially to put yourself at risk to save or protect your fellow Marine,” said Col. John Polidoro, chief of staff, US Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, who awarded the Silver Star on behalf of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Going against the will of corpsmen and others at the aid station, Naimo ignored his own injuries and again rushed to the aid of another wounded Marine, bringing him to the aid station as well.
It was at this point in the engagement that Chinese forces began transitioning from indirect “prep” fire into a ground attack on Howe Company’s position. Observing Chinese soldiers advancing up the hill, Naimo once again ignored his own wounds and sprang into action. He jumped into a fighting position and began firing his weapon and throwing grenades into the ranks of the advancing enemy. Naimo continued to do this until he was nearly out of ammunition and the Chinese assault broke on Howe Company’s rocky ridge.
“I earned this for something I was trained to do,” Naimo said.
While immediately recognized for heroism by his platoon commander, Naimo waited 70 years before being awarded — two days after this engagement, and before he could submit the paperwork, Naimo’s platoon commander was killed in action.
On his 89th birthday, Naimo, surrounded by family and friends rather than Marines, was presented the nation’s third highest award for valor.
“It doesn’t matter if the Marine’s actions took place yesterday, or 70 years ago, we will always ensure our Marines are recognized for their performance,” Polidoro said.
The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor must have been a strange time for the U.S. military. But many didn’t get the chance to ponder the new world order they lived in.
As Hawaii came under attack, other American military forces were under the gun from Japan at the same time. While the Imperial Navy left the U.S. Pacific Fleet in ruins within hours, the Battle of Wake Island would last for 15 days.
Unfortunately for the invading Japanese, the Marines posted an aviator named Capt. Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Elrod to Wake Island four days prior to the attack.
Elrod and his fellow pilots started with 12 F1F-3 Wildcats to defend the island. After the initial Japanese aerial bombing, only four survived.
That’s when the full Japanese invasion fleet arrived.
The Marine pilots provided air cover for the defenders of the island. They helped the 450 Marines on the ground fend off a large naval bombardment from three light cruisers and six destroyers.
Marine artillery, using WWI-era battleship guns, struck the Japanese destroyer Hayate – they hit its magazine and the ship exploded. Elrod then bombed and strafed the destroyer Kisiragi, sending it to the bottom of the Pacific. His plane was heavily damaged and had to be scrapped for parts.
The Marines repelled the invasion, but that didn’t stop the Japanese attack. The commander shelled the island incessantly.