This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HEROES

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge

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.

 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Henry T. Elrod (Marine Corps photo)

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
The Kisragi. (Kure Maritime Museum)

The Marines repelled the invasion, but that didn’t stop the Japanese attack. The commander shelled the island incessantly.

When the Japanese bombers returned hours later, only one Wildcat still remained operational. With Hammerin’ Hank at the controls, it flew to intercept 22 incoming enemy planes. He threw everything he had at the incoming planes and managed to take down two of them.

Over the next two weeks, the flightline mechanics managed to fix more planes — two at a time — by using the inoperable ones for parts. There was just too much coming at them.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Wreckage of Wildcat 211-F-11, flown by Capt Elrod on December 11, in the attack that sank the Japanese destroyer Kisaragi. (U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command)

Hank Elrod was killed on the beach at Wake Island as he led a group of Marines against the oncoming invasion troops, but not before capturing an enemy machine gun during an infantry charge.

While 90 percent of the defenders at Wake survived, they were sent to prison camps for the duration of the war. American forces would not attempt to retake the island, but would instead use a blockade to starve the Japanese defenders.

The Japanese would hold Wake Island until September 1945, two days after the formal surrender of Japan.

Henry Elrod was posthumously promoted to major and awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman.

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The Navy SEAL who shot Osama Bin Laden wants you to invest in a new beer company

Robert O’Neill, the former SEAL Team Six operator who is credited for firing the shots that killed Osama bin Laden, has a new venture. This time the only “pop-pop” coming from O’Neill is the pop of a beer tab. 

He has a pre-IPO investment opportunity for anyone who’s both a fan of the armed forces of the United States and of craft brews: Armed Forces Brewing Company

O’Neill made a fun, goofy and at times purposely over-the-top commercial/investment pitch video, recently shared on YouTube. The video takes shots at foreign breweries, beer hipsters and more, all to get you to invest in the company. 

The former Navy SEAL kills aliens, trashes the competition and even pokes fun at himself, referencing the Delta Airlines flight in which he refused to wear a mask and was subsequently banned from the airline. Have a look:

The new venture is a brewing company comprising three brands: Seawolf Brewery, Soldier Brewery and Airmen Brewery. As of July 2021, only two beers under the Seawolf brand appear on the website. Launched by O’Neill and other special operations veterans, it’s designed to pay tribute to all branches of the military (yes, even the Space Force). 

If beers like Special Hops IPA and Cat Shot American Craft Lager sound good to you, then you can not only buy one, you can own a piece of the company. Armed Forces Brewing Company is looking to raise $7.5 million in a campaign to grow its business. With a $200 minimum investment at $10 per share, interested parties can not just get a piece of the company, they can score some fun perks.

According to the investment site, there’s more to the brews than a gimmicky commercial and one of the world’s most famous special operators. The site says its products are brewed by an award-winning brewmaster, that it’s run by successful, seasoned hospitality industry veterans and that there are plans to hire a workforce made up of 70% military veterans.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
The commercial was not clear on whether or not dress blue yoga pants will be issued to employees (screen capture from YouTube)

Right now, the beer is available only in a handful of states but will soon be available in as many as 46. The company also says it’s planning a national expansion and already has a foothold to get three of its beers into military exchange stores.  

As for the perks, $200-$499 will get investors an Armed Forces Brewing Company logo stick, challenge coin, a 5% discount online, along with your name on its online wall of investors and an invitation to the company’s annual shareholder event. Other levels offer VIP access at events, early tastings and even the chance to create and name one of the company’s beers.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge

Perks are all well and good for a casual investor who wants a stake in a veteran-owned business. The biggest question for any serious investor is: is it a sound investment? According to the company’s SEC filing, Armed Forces Brewing Company has some big obstacles:

  • It’s a relatively new entity with limited tangible assets and its continued operation may require substantial additional funding
  • The company has a very short operating history and no assurance that the business plan can be executed
  • The company has entered a highly competitive industry and within this highly competitive industry are companies with established track records and substantial capital backing. 
  • The industry in which the company participates is highly speculative and extremely risky.

But there’s no significant reward without significant risk, as Robert J. O’Neill would likely tell you. Armed Forces Brewing Company could become the veteran-owned longshot-turned-competitor, in the vein of great companies like Black Rifle Coffee and Hire Purpose.

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Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
West Point Cadet Michael Collins (U.S. Army)

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Michael Collins as an Air Force pilot (U.S. Air Force)

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
ARPS Class III graduates (L-R) Front row: Ed Givens, Tommie Benefield, Charlie Bassett, Greg Neubeck & Mike Collins. Back row: Al Atwell, Neil Garland, Jim Roman, Al Uhalt and Joe Engle. Missing: Ernst Volgenau (U.S. Air Force)

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Gemini 10 prime crew portrait (NASA)

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Collins goes through the checklist in the command module simulator (NASA)

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.”

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
The Apollo 11 mission patch designed by Collins (NASA)

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
The Apollo 11 crew (L-R) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin (NASA)

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Collins’ Command Module Columbia at the National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian Institute)

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Collins meets with President Trump in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing (The White House)
MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how ‘Ripley at the Bridge’ became a Marine Corps legend

It’s impossible to describe John Ripley’s most famous action in a single headline. This Marine dangled from the Dong Ha Bridge for some three hours as North Vietnamese soldiers took potshots at him. He took his time attaching 500 pounds of explosives to the bridge, singlehandedly halting an advance of 20,000 Communists during the Easter Offensive.


This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

Then-Captain John Ripley was an American advisor in the northern regions of South Vietnam in 1972. He was at Camp Carroll, a firebase between Khe Sanh and Dong Ha, advising South Vietnamese troops. It was his second tour in Vietnam and things were mostly quiet…until they weren’t.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
That second trip though…

The NVA had been testing the U.S. defenses at firebases in his area but they would quickly disengage. One day in March 1972, they didn’t stop. Enemy artillery started raining shells on the firebases in the area. The NVA was throwing everything they had at South Vietnam, 14 divisions and 26 independent regiments. The Easter Offensive had just begun.

As Camp Carroll was overrun and its ARVN garrison surrendered, Ripley and another American escaped on a CH-47 Chinook. But the helicopter took on too many fleeing ARVN troops and was forced to crash land on Highway 1, near Dong Ha.

At Dong Ha, close to the DMZ that separated North and South Vietnam, he found a number of South Vietnamese Marines who had no intention of surrendering. He also found some 200 North Vietnamese tanks and self-propelled artillery backed up for six miles – and ready to cross the Cam Lo River.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
The tanks would drive down Highway 1 and into Saigon unless someone did something about it… SOME body… hmm…

“We didn’t have the wherewithal to stop that many tanks. We had little hand-held weapons. And we certainly didn’t have anything on the scale that was needed to deal with the threat. Originally 20 tanks had been reported.” Ripley chuckled softly at the memory years later.

With the monsoon season limiting American air support and the North Vietnamese controlling one half of the bridge, Ripley decided he had to blow up the bridge. By himself, if necessary.

Another American, Maj. James Smock drove him to the bridge in a tank and Ripley headed below where he found five ARVN engineers trying to rig the bridge to blow. They had 500 pounds of TNT. The problem was the way the explosives were laid out; the bridge wouldn’t be completely destroyed and the NVA would still be able to cross. They’d have to be rearranged.

By hand. With tanks and guns shooting at those hands.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
And the Marine attached to those hands.

 

Meanwhile, 90-pound South Vietnamese Marine-Sergeant Huynh Van Luom dashed onto the bridge in what Ripley called “the bravest single act of heroism I’ve ever heard of, witnessed or experienced.”

Huynh fired two M72 light antitank assault weapon rounds at the lead NVA tank. The first shot missed, but the second hit the tank turret, stopping it cold. The entire column was stopped. It couldn’t move and couldn’t turn around.

The ARVN engineers below the bridge took off as Ripley climbed over the razor wire barrier designed to keep people from doing what he was about to do. He climbed hand over hand as Smock pushed the explosives out to him. Ripley grabbed the box and moved it to a better location.

“I would hand-walk out, then swing up to get my heels into the “I” beam,” Ripley said, recalling that he was still wearing all his web gear and slung rifle. “Then I’d swing down on one T beam and then leap over and grab another T beam.”

For nearly three hours, Ripley dangled under the Dong Ha Bridge, rigging it to blow, and frustrating the enemy trying to kill him. To make matters worse, Ripley had no blasting caps, so he had to use timed fuses — fuses with an unknown time, set with his mouth.

Smock moved to rig the railway bridge to blow at the same time and moved back to friendly lines. The 500-foot bridges blew up just minutes later. The armored column became sitting ducks for the Navy’s ships offshore and South Vietnamese A-1 Skyraiders.

 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
John Ripley’s legendary action at Dong Ha Bridge, portrayed in a diorama at the U.S. Naval Academy. (U.S. Naval Academy)

 

His effort on the bridge that day may have been the decisive factor that kept the North from taking Saigon until three years later.

Colonel John Ripley died in 2008 at the age of 69, but not before making a trip back to Dong Ha with some of his buddies from L/3/3 Marines in 1997.

 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Colonel John Ripley, hanging out in Dong Ha, one more time.

Feature image: Painting by Col Charles Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret.) captures the spirit of Ripley at the bridge at Dong Ha.

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‘The Red Ball Express’ kept the Allies supplied and armed after the D-Day breakout

After storming the beaches of Normandy and fighting through the hedgerows of the French countryside, the Allied forces invading Nazi-occupied Europe came across one problem they hadn’t anticipated: outrunning their own supply lines. 

By July 1944, the Allied advance nearly ground to a halt. Every operation was decided by one major factor, which was how much supply it required versus how much could be delivered. It would be almost three months before French railways could be repaired and portable gas pipelines could be installed. 

To move the necessary supplies and keep the pressure on the German army, Allied war planners created a massive, truck-based supply convoy run primarily by Black soldiers. It became known as the “Red Ball Express.”

The Allies need a continuous supply of necessary fuel, ammunition, ordnance and food to keep running to the front. After breaking out of the Normandy area, the infrastructure the Allies damaged to hamper the German response needed repair to be used for the German defeat. 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Soldiers from the 4185th Quartermaster Service Company (left to right), Pvt. Harold Hendricks, Staff Sgt. Carl Haines, Sgt. Theodore Cutright, Pvt. Lawrence Buckhalter, Pfc. Horace Deahl, and Pvt. David N. Hatcher, load trucks with rations bound for frontline troops September 1944 in Liege, Belgium. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

There had to be a way to move 750 tons of supplies from the port of Antwerp to multiple locations across the front every day. Just one armored division alone required 350 tons of gasoline.

 After brainstorming for 36 hours straight, planners came up with a solution: a convoy of thousands and thousands of trucks, constantly streaming to and from the front lines. 

No truck could travel alone, they had to travel in a convoy of at least five total trucks and each was marked with a number indicating its position in the line of trucks. To mitigate the risks of high speed driving or of a truck pile up in an accident, trucks were ordered to drive just 35 miles per hour and maintain a specific clear distance from each other. The order to drive slower was rarely followed, many drove at twice that speed. 

When they implemented the plan, there weren’t enough trucks and there weren’t enough drivers. The Army began vulturing trucks from units who weren’t using them and began taking people with non-combat functions and training them to be truck drivers. The vast majority of these men were Black soldiers. 

red ball express
(National Archives)

Without these soldiers at the wheel, World War II in Europe might have dragged on for another full year. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower saw the Red Ball Express as the most critical lifeline to the advancing armies, just as important as the combat units themselves. 

Of course, these early trucks got stuck in traffic, both civilian and military. So the Allies created two priority roads just for the supply trucks, which became known as the Red Ball Line, named for the red spots marking the trucks and the routes that were closed to civilians.

At its height, the Red Ball Express was operating almost 6,000 trucks per day to move 12,500 tons of various supplies, fuel, and ammunition. Since the German Luftwaffe was almost nonexistent by this point in the war, the biggest problems facing the convoys were maintenance of the trucks and the overworked drivers.

Eventually, the rail lines were repaired and the Red Ball Express was no longer necessary. After more than 80 days of continuous operation, the convoy drivers had delivered more than 400,000 tons of supplies to the Allies in combat. 

MIGHTY HEROES

Watch: Charles Coolidge, who charged at German tanks with a bazooka and grenades, gets Medal of Honor in vintage footage

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.

As the nation mourns the loss of Coolidge, who died last week at the age of 99, you can now see the moment he received the nation’s highest honor for valor.

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.

#HonoringVets: Charles H. Coolidge

At one point during the four-day firefight that earned him the Medal of Honor, Charles H. Coolidge's bazooka failed to function. He threw it aside and, grabbing all of the hand grenades he could carry, crawled forward to inflict heavy casualties on the advancing enemy. "I didn't care about me," he said. “I cared about my men. I’d do anything for them.”Watch as Coolidge is presented with the Medal of Honor by Lt. Gen. Wade H. Haislip during a ceremony near Dornstadt, Germany June 18, 1945.Charles H. Coolidge passed away April 6, 2021 at the age of 99. We honor his service.

Posted by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Saturday, April 10, 2021

Read Next: Officer Accused of Force in Stop of Black Army Officer Fired

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.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HEROES

Korean War Marine Veteran awarded silver star 70 years after action

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Cpl. Salvatore Naimo, a Korean War Veteran, answers questions from local news agencies after being awarded the Silver Star in Sarasota, Florida on March 17, 2021. Cpl. Naimo was awarded the Silver Star for his actions and bravery while serving as a as a rifleman in Howe Company 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment during the Korean War on Sept. 14, 1951. US Marine Corps By Gunnery Sgt. Eric Alabiso II, courtesy of DVIDS.

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
The natural beauty of this quiet scene in North Korea means little to these 1st Marine Division Leathernecks as they rest during a “lull” in the UN struggle for “Punchbowl Valley.” Photo courtesy of defenseimagery.mil, public domain.

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Marine Corps Col. John Polidoro, chief of staff, US Marine Corps Forces Central Command, awards the Silver Star to Korean War veteran Cpl. Salvatore Naimo in Sarasota, Fla., on March 17, 2021. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Eric Alabiso II, courtesy DVIDS.

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.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HEROES

This fighter pilot saved his airborne buddies after he was shot down

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.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon

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.

MIGHTY HEROES

These 6 wounded troops became war heroes after losing limbs

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

 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Photo: US Army

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.

Franks began his career in 1959 and received awards for valor in Vietnam before heading to Cambodia. He was injured by a grenade there in 1970 and doctors were forced to amputate much of his left leg. He asked the Army for permission to continue to serve and eventually made it to four-star rank.

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

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Photo: Public Domain

 

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

 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Photo: Royal Air Force photographer Devon S A

 

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.

In 1939, he was admitted back into the RAF and learned to fly Spitfires. His first aerial kill came while he covered the evacuation at Dunkirk but he rose to legendary status in the Battle of Britain and had 23 kills before being shot down and captured on Aug. 9, 1941.

4. Capt. Jean Danjou, the Legionnaire who fought “France’s Alamo”

 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Painting: Public Domain

 

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.”

SEE ALSO: This stunning defeat is a point of pride for the French Foreign Legion

5. Horatio Nelson, the man who shut down Napoleon

 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Nelson’s death at Trafalgar. Painting: Public Domain

 

Then-Rear Adm. Horatio Nelson was already a British hero when he lost his arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797. For most, this would signal time to quietly retire, especially since Nelson had already given up an eye for his country.

Instead, Nelson went into super-admiral mode and just started waging even more intense battles against the French. His 1798 victory at the Battle of the Nile stopped Napoleon’s plans to conquer Egypt and threaten British-controlled India. And it was Nelson who defeated Napoleon’s attempts to cross the English Channel and conquer Britain in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar.

6. John B. Hood, the general who tried to save the Confederacy

 

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Lt. Gen. John B. Hood had already suffered a severe arm injury when he lost a leg at the Battle of Chickamagua in Georgia in 1863. With the Confederacy fighting for its life, Hood took a short convalescence and quickly returned to command.

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.

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This wounded airman saved his team (with an A-10’s help)

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Gutierrez is a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) who was awarded the Air Force Cross for heroism during an intense firefight in Afghanistan in 2009.


JTACS are military personnel who direct combat support aircraft like the A-10, calling in air strikes to support ground operations.

Gutierrez was part of a nighttime raid with an Army special forces detachment to capture a high-value Taliban target, a “brutal” man living outside of the city of Herat in Western Afghanistan.

The team was attacked with heavy fire from a numerically superior and battle-hardened enemy force. Gutierrez was shot in the chest, his team leader was shot in the leg, and the ten-man element was pinned down in a building with no escape route.

“We were just getting hammered, getting peppered,” he recalls in a six-minute interview. He talked to his team’s leader who wanted to drop bombs on the enemy targets.

“If you put a bomb on that it’ll kill us all,” he told his leader. “Guys are getting wounded. Our best chance is a 30mm high-angle strafe.”

Gutierrez is having this discussion as bullets pepper the walls behind him, as a medic works on his chest wound, a through-and-through which the medic couldn’t find the entrance wound. He is also still holding off Taliban fighters with his M4 rifle.

“This is danger close, I need your initials,” he told his team lead.

“How close?”

“Less than 10 meters.”

Gutierrez needed the support of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, aka “Warthog,” whose 30mm GAU-8 Cannon rounds are the size of beer bottles, to make a precision strike on the attacking insurgents.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
An A-10 bombing run, too explosive to support Gutierrez’ team (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capt. Ethan Sabin, an A-10 pilot based at Kandahar Airfield, asked a nearby F-16 pilot to mark the target with the laser on his targeting pod.

The A-10 attack was so close, Gutierrez’s right eardrum burst and his left eardrum was severely damaged from the noise. He lost five-and-a-half pints of blood getting away from the combat zone.

After the first A-10 strafing, the medic had to re-inflate Gutierrez’ collapsed lung so he could direct two more strafing runs. For four hours, the team held off the enemy fighters and escaped the battlespace.

To give an idea of the kind of interactions JTACs have with close-air support pilots in the heat of the moment, the video below is a prime example of the extraordinary actions Gutierrez and airmen like him perform on the battlefield every day.


Feature image: USAF photo

MIGHTY HEROES

WATCH: Dragonman’s Military Museum is unlike anything you’ve ever seen

Dragonman’s Military Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is not your average military museum. You quickly figure that out when you first arrive. The entryway leads you through cars full of bullet holes that have bloody human dummies inside. The signs that accompany the cars say things like, “STAY ON THE ROAD. This family just hit a LANDMINE.” That makes it super clear: This museum experience is going to go the distance.  

Nothing says authentic like working military weapons in a museum

The owner of Dragonman’s Military Museum is a Vietnam Vet known as “Dragon Man.” That’s a way cooler name than his real name, Mel Bernstein. His museum does not mess around. It has 1,200 mannequins in authentic military uniforms. In addition, there are also more than 5,000 helmets and over 2,500 weapons on display. Many of the mannequins are holding weapons. The sheer quantity of military memorabilia at this place is simply awe-inspiring. 

As a matter of fact, all of the restorable items, including the guns and vehicles, have been restored to working condition. While the US government does not allow real bullets in their museums, that certainly is not the case for Dragonman’s Military Museum. 

Military history is not all uniforms and army tanks

Equally important are some of the specific and strange items Dragonman’s Military Museum houses. He showcases every model of Army Jeep, land mine, and German belt buckle from both World War I and World War II. In face, he’s even made a pyramid constructed of 500-pound Vietnam War bombs and even has gas masks for babies. 

Then again, some of the most disturbing items in the museum come straight from the Nazis. In fact, there’s an entire room dedicated to Nazis. Of course, the Swastika flags are off-putting, and Hitler’s original mustard yellow uniform is unsettling as well. However, those are nothing compared to the corpse tongs from Dachau. Or the soap made from human fat. The Dragon Man even has an empty gas chamber complete with Zyklon B cans, the trademarked gas used by the Nazis in their extermination camps. Not a lot of military museums in the world dare to show history with this level of honesty, including the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Dragon Man is doing his part to ensure the world never forgets.

Ambiance is everything

On top of the actual historical pieces in the museum is its atmosphere. Gunfire and explosions sound from the walls, coming straight from the adjacent firing range, also owned by the Dragon Man. Plus, he’s done things to show the history with more than just artifacts. 

For instance, he’s recreated a whole Gulf War field hospital, and he’s got a photo of a suicide bomber who was beheaded by a US sniper bullet from the Iraq War, plus pictures of Saddam Hussein himself captured by soldiers. Dragonman’s Military Museum is a gutsy and genuine display of military history, to say the least—there’s no question about that. 

MIGHTY HEROES

This wounded cav scout saved his unit during an enemy ambush

Army Pfc. Craig H. Middleton was the Mk. 19 gunner on his convoy when it came under an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan. But despite his grievous wounds, Middleton was able to beat back the ambush and help save the lives of two wounded airmen — an action that earned him the Silver Star.


Middleton and his unit, Apache Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, were making their way through a dry riverbed bordered by steep hills in Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2011, when a series of rocket-propelled grenades rained down from the hills on one side.

Related video: Wounded soldier saved his unit from enemy ambush

 

The first RPG impacted a scout truck, the second hit the truck behind Middleton, and the third flew through the back window of Middleton’s Mine-resistant, Ambush-protected, All-Terrain Vehicle and exploded inside it. Middleton was instantly peppered with shrapnel up and down his legs, but he was still doing better than the two Air Force joint terminal attack controllers in the back of the vehicle. Both of them had received shrapnel and blast damage to their upper bodies.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
The Mk. 19 can hurl 40mm grenades like they’re going out of style.

(Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Phillip Steiner)

The wounded and embattled gunner opened up with his Mk. 19, firing 40mm grenades where the rockets had come from as well as any muzzle flashes or fighters he could spot. Out of targets, Middleton dove into the back of the MATV and applied a tourniquet to one of the JTACs.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge

While he treated the first JTAC, another RPG hit the vehicle, so Middleton rushed back up to engage the enemy.

He fired more 40mm grenades, but the nearby hills were too steep for that weapon to reach some of the enemy positions. Middleton switched to his M4 and fired over 100 rounds before going below once again to give the other wounded JTAC a tourniquet. Throughout all of this, Middleton was bleeding from dozens of shrapnel wounds. At some point he was also shot in the thigh.

The Army platoon inflicted an estimated 25 kills against the insurgents despite tough odds. As the fighters retreated, Middleton reassessed the casualties and spotted a severe groin bleed on the second JTAC which he treated with another tourniquet.

The truck then headed to the casualty collection point to get the two wounded airmen to medical care. It wasn’t until Middleton had helped prepare the other wounded for the MEDEVAC that he admitted that he was also severely wounded.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge

For his actions in Nangarhar Province that day, Middleton was awarded the Silver Star in a 2012 ceremony. Unfortunately, his wounds proved severe enough that he underwent a medical separation from the military. In an interview during that process, the cav scout told Army Staff Sgt. Elwyn Lovelace that he hoped to become a dentist and enjoy a nice, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work life.

We’re pretty sure he’s earned it.

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‘Not just a box’ — 9 unclaimed veterans to be laid to rest

Nine unclaimed veterans and two spouses will be laid to rest Friday in Iowa, thanks to the tireless efforts of a woman who treats every urn as if it contains the remains of her own family. 

Funeral director Lanae Strovers has been working on the upcoming ceremony for more than two years, but her passion and reputation for honoring veterans goes back much further in her career at Hamilton’s Funeral Home

Having been put on bed rest for three months because of surgery, Strovers was looking for a way to keep busy when she discovered Hamilton’s had about 300 urns sitting in storage. She made it her mission to follow up with families to see whether they could claim the urns or still needed them stored.

After the arduous process of tracking down relatives or guardians for all the urns, Strover said the funeral home ended up with the remains of three unclaimed veterans and organized a service for them.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Law enforcement in attendance at the 2018 ceremony for unclaimed veterans at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Hamilton’s Funeral Home.

“Since then, people are aware that Hamilton’s makes sure veterans get buried whether they have family or not,” Strovers said. “Local law enforcement has turned in urns, and storage unit owners have turned some in to us, which is an amazing thing because they know that we will hold the ceremony when it’s necessary.”

Strovers was adopted as a child and only recently learned anything about her biological family. Her background made her look at unclaimed remains differently.

“I felt that every person was a possible brother, dad, grandfather, uncle, or family member to me,” she said. “It’s not just a box with cremated remains in it. It’s someone’s family member. For whatever reason, they got separated — that’s not our place to judge those stories at all, but to be respectful that it’s someone’s loved one.”

One of the veterans to be honored Friday is Robert Glen Baumgardner, who served in the Army during the Korean War. He died in 2000. Burglars stole his urn from his sister’s house in 2020 after she died. Police later discovered it in the middle of an intersection and took it to the funeral home.

World War II Army veteran Calvin Dean Sours died in May 2012 at age 93. His urn was later found in the office of an administrator who had failed to bury him.

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Funeral director Lanae Strovers, left, watches as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds receives a flag on behalf of an unclaimed veteran at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in 2018. Photo courtesy of Hamilton’s Funeral Home.

Knowing that a person’s remains could be forgotten on a shelf doesn’t sit right with Strovers. While the ultimate goal is reuniting remains with the person’s family, giving the person a proper send-off is the next best option.

Friday’s ceremony – the third Strovers has organized – will begin with a 12:30 p.m. service at Hamilton’s in West Des Moines, Iowa. Law enforcement personnel, Patriot Guard Riders, and Iowa combat veterans will lead a procession to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery, where Iowa-based country singer Cody Hicks will perform the national anthem. Military honors will be rendered, and local representatives and notable community members will receive the flags on behalf of each veteran.

Rich Shipley, assistant state captain of the Iowa Patriot Guard Riders and a Marine Corps veteran, said the riders would be there to ensure the veterans would be “laid to rest with as many brothers present as possible.”

This Marine pilot took 22 Japanese fighters head on – then led an infantry charge
Nine unclaimed veterans and two spouses will be laid to rest Friday, June 18, 2021, at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery. Photos courtesy of Hamilton’s Funeral Home.

“Our nation’s heroes should never be unclaimed, discarded, or interred with no family present,” Shipley wrote in an email to Coffee or Die Magazine.

“It’s really a great community event where tons of people come together to honor these veterans,” Strovers said. She strongly encourages the public to attend, especially families with children.

“To teach those kids respect for people who served our country is huge,” Strovers said. “And just to see so many people coming to pay respects to people they never knew simply because they served our country is a pretty amazing thing.”


This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

Feature image: US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson, Texas Military Forces Public Affairs.

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