This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HEROES

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin

This article is sponsored by World of Tanks Console.

We all know Stone Cold Steve Austin from his years when he was the face of World Wrestling Entertainment. “The Texas Rattlesnake” was one of the toughest, most badass wrestlers who left an indelible mark in the ring — both on TV and on the silver screen.

Through partnering with Wargaming, the company responsible for the hit game World of Tanks, Austin recently sat down to interview three gentlemen who exhibited an entirely different type of toughness and heroism – World War II tankers. Their stories are powerful, harrowing and heartbreaking. In his first interview with Walter Stitt, Austin learned about the importance of foxholes. In his second interview with Clarence Smoyer, you could tell Austin was truly humbled hearing about Smoyer’s loss of a close friend.

The third veteran interviewed is tanker Joe Caserta.

When asked about joining the Army, Caserta said almost every male his age wanted to do their part. They felt betrayed by the Japanese and wanted to sign up. Caserta talked about being in the lead tank during the push into Europe. “The captain would assign somebody to be in the lead tank. ‘Okay Caserta, you’re gonna lead off the day.’ I went from the hedgerows all the way to France, Belgium and Germany.”

Caserta lived in his tank for weeks at a time. His unit was close because of this and they depended on each other. When Austin asked if the tank made them feel safe, Caserta told him that it did from small arms, but when it came to the 88 or the Panzerfaust (German version of the bazooka), “We didn’t stand a chance.”

Caserta told a great story that everyone who has ever been deployed can relate to. He talked about being sent a package which contained an Italian bread. His mother hollowed out the bread and hid a nice bottle of booze in it for him. (Talk about mom of the year!)

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin

Austin asked Caserta about how he received his Purple Heart and we heard another harrowing story.

Caserta was driving his tank and couldn’t see much and ran into a bomb crater. The tank was teetering. (When the tank is stopped in combat, you get the hell out.) Caserta bailed out and headed toward the rear in the midst of artillery and small arms fire. An artillery shell came in behind him and knocked him out. He had a concussion, a hole in his helmet and a shoulder injury.

“When I came to, my buddy was up on top of me and I shook him. His head was blown off. He was my tank commander. They peeled off my clothes, treated my wounds, pulled out the shrapnel and sent me back to my outfit. They made me a tank commander.”

Being in a tank was a scary time. Caserta recalled, “The worst was knowing that if you got hit, if anything, it’s gonna go right through the tank and it’s gonna burn up and catch fire. My greatest fear was burning up in the tank, which a lot of guys did, but it didn’t happened to me.”

Castera is proud he served his country and survived. “Not much more I can say about that.”This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin

Caserta was reunited with Clarence Smoyer who Austin also interviewed. Caserta talked about how it was good for him to see Smoyer as he was dealing with depression as he got older.

“It was wonderful to see him again, because I’m starting to get a little depressed and feel that I don’t have too much time left.”

To continue the tank action, be sure to check out World of Tanks on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One today. Through the World of Tanks Tanker Rewards program, Wargaming offers tons of benefits and exclusive rewards both in-game and in person for all registered players. Be a part of our current WWE season and get endless opportunities to claim WWE and Tanker rewards. To learn more about the program, click here.

This article is sponsored by World of Tanks Console.

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Why this Green Beret was nominated for three Medals of Honor but only got one

Robert Howard may have spent more time in Vietnam than any other soldier and he has the wounds to prove it. For an astonishing 54 full months, the Special Forces soldier slugged it out with any number of North Vietnam’s finest, receiving 14 wounds.

He also received a battlefield commission, eight Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and four Bronze Stars. To top it all off, he also received the Medal of Honor. Robert Howard was the most decorated soldier since Audie Murphy in World War II.

He should have topped Murphy by becoming the first-ever three-time Medal of Honor recipient, but it could never have been. Some say he really is the most decorated soldier ever produced by the Army. The problem is that most of Howard’s war was classified. 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Then Sgt. 1st Class Robert L. Howard carries a North Vietnamese Army prisoner of war (U.S. Army)

Howard spent 36 years in the United States Army, first enlisting in 1956. He arrived in Vietnam in 1967, and his first 13 months were a doozy. It was this initial time period that Howard was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times. 

It’s easy to realize why he was put in a position to earn the Medal of Honor three times. As a member of Army Special Forces, he was assigned to the top secret Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). The classified command participated in the war’s most important and prominent operations.

It also participated in the war’s least prominent operations, especially those conducted in Laos and Cambodia. The top secret operations that put Howard in the position of being nominated for three Medals of Honor would be the reason two of them were downgraded to a Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross, respectively.

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Then-Capt. Robert Howard is awarded the Medal of Honor by Pres. Richard M. Nixon, during a March 2, 1971, ceremony at the White House. (U.S. Army)

While leading a mission of American and South Vietnamese soldiers looking for the missing soldier Robert Scherdin, his platoon was attacked by two companies of enemy troops. Howard was unable to walk and his weapon had been destroyed by a grenade. He still managed to crawl through a hail of gunfire to rescue his platoon leader.

He dragged the downed officer back to the American-South Vietnamese unit and reorganized it to put up a stiff defense against an overwhelming enemy. Unable to fight, he still directed the unit and crawled around administering first aid to the wounded. Under his direct leadership, they were able to fight until rescue helicopters could land. 

Howard was the last person to get aboard the helicopters and was awarded the Medal of Honor. He learned about his award via radio on his way back from another mission in Cambodia. Since his other two medal recommendations were based on classified missions into Cambodia, which is the reason many believe they were downgraded. 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Then-Maj. Robert Howard was present in 1982 at the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Army)

If it bothered Howard that his two other medal recommendations were downgraded, you’d never know it. He spent four and a half years fighting in Vietnam and 36 total years in the U.S. Army in some form. After retiring from the Army in 1992 (as Col. Robert L. Howard), he continued working with veterans and would even visit American troops stationed in Iraq until his death in 2009. 

Robert L. Howard died of pancreatic cancer and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Fellow Soldiers pay their respects to Medal of Honor recipient Col. Robert L. Howard, who was buried Feb 22, 2010 in Section 7A of Arlington National Cemetery. (U.S. Army)
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This pilot crashed his plane into the guns that shot him down

Air Force Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr. was a veteran of World War II, former prisoner of war, and an accomplished fighter and bomber pilot when he took off on a mission over Korea on Nov. 22, 1952. When North Korean batteries scored hits on his plane that would normally force the pilot to abort the mission, Loring turned his dive bomber into a kamikaze plane instead.


This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Maj. Charles Loring, U.S. Air Force pilot and Medal of Honor recipient. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

 

Loring received his commission in the Army Air Forces in late 1942 and flew combat missions over Europe, notching up 55 combat missions and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross before he was shot down on Christmas Eve 1944 over Belgium and made a prisoner of war.

He survived the ordeal and was promoted to captain. He served as an instructor for the first few years of the Korean War but was sent forward in 1952. He once again stacked up combat missions quickly, flying another 50 in four months.

When Chinese and North Korean forces concentrated their artillery—including their anti-aircraft artillery—in two locations, Loring was called up to lead a bombing mission against them. Loring’s target featured 133 large guns and 24 rocket launchers for use against ground troops and 47 anti-aircraft weapons to keep men like Loring at bay.

Loring, newly promoted to major, was in the cockpit of an F-80 with three other jets on November 22 when he initiated the dive-bombing run against the Chinese positions.

But it all went to hell from there. The Chinese troops manning the guns were accurate, and they scored some hits when Loring lined up to dive on them. According to after-action reports and his medal citation, Loring had plenty of time to abort the drop, but he didn’t:

Major Loring aggressively continued to press the attack until his aircraft was hit. At approximately 4,000 feet, he deliberately altered his course and aimed his diving aircraft at active gun emplacements concentrated on a ridge northwest of the briefed target, turned his aircraft 45 degrees to the left, pulled up in a deliberate, controlled maneuver, and elected to sacrifice his life by diving his aircraft directly into the midst of the enemy emplacements.

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr. (second from left) poses with other members of the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at Suwon Air Base, Republic of Korea, in 1952. (U.S. Air Force)

Yeah, Loring turned his already stricken plane into the guns, hitting a cluster of them and burying them in the metal and burning fuel of his F-80. Of course, he lost his own life in the maneuver.

The U.S. Air Force nominated him for the Medal of Honor which he later received posthumously. He was one of only four airmen to receive the honor. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded the medal to Loring’s wife, he also announced that a new Air Force base in Maine would be named in his honor.

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How the Vietnam War changed the Navy SEALs forever

When the war in Vietnam kicked off, the Navy’s special warfare operations weren’t exactly the same as we know them today. During World War II and the Korean War, the Navy’s special operators were mostly “Frogmen,” members of the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT).

Within months of the start of the Vietnam War, the Frogmen were carrying rifles and became experts in special operations tactics. The Navy SEALs were about to be reborn and tested in the jungles of Vietnam. 

The Navy SEALs, as we know them today, were established in 1962 in a commitment from the Kennedy White House to develop America’s unconventional warfare capabilities. The SEALs were descended from the World War II-era joint “Scouts and Raiders” and the Navy’s UDTs used extensively throughout that war. 

Although they kept a low profile throughout the Korean War, the UDTs’ Frogmen perfected many of their operations along the North Korean coastline (even moving inland in many cases) and honed their commando abilities against a real-world enemy. 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
The UDT/ “Frogmen,” predecessors to today’s SEALs, on a mission to clear mines off the coast of North Korea in 1950 (U.S. Navy / National Archives)

But Vietnam was the first war in which the Navy SEALs were fully funded and fully developed, graduating three classes of SEALs from the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Course (BUD/S) every year. 

By 1967, the number of BUD/S classes increased to five per year. Before the mid-1960s, SEALs in Vietnam were being used to reconnoiter beaches and landing sites, survey waterways and train South Vietnamese commandos. The CIA began to use SEALs in its Phoenix Program, an effort to undermine the Viet Cong in South Vietnam through counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations.  

In the late 1960s, the Viet Cong, the guerrilla forces of the North Vietnamese communist government, had created an entire shadow government of its own in North Vietnam. The bread and butter mission of the U.S. Navy SEALs was to deploy into the jungle and take down VC leaders. 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
SEALs in the Mekong Delta, 1967 (U.S. Navy/ National Archives and Records)

Most of these leaders were mid-level, and the SEALs would deploy in nine-man  teams, with two of those being South Vietnamese commandos and one being a Navy SEAL officer. The team would head out into the jungle for a couple of days, complete the destruction of a VC official, and then head back to base. 

These direct action, search-and-destroy missions were a far cry from the SEALs earliest days of carrying demolition explosives to a specific structure and destroying it before leaving the area. On top of killing the enemy, SEALs also had to gather intelligence in Vietnam. This meant they had to actually capture enemy troops and interrogate them. 

Sometimes, this meant learning to speak Vietnamese. The SEALs had truly come into their own as a complete, well-rounded special operations force. For the duration of the war in Vietnam, there were at least eight full platoons of Navy SEALs in the country.

The elite status of the special operators also included the look they’re still known for to this day: relaxed uniform and grooming standards. One of the favorite items among Vietnam-era Navy SEALs, were Levi’s blue jeans – because the government-issued camouflage just didn’t hold up against the dense jungle foliage.  

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Why Levi’s didn’t capitalize on this with a marketing campaign, we may never know… (U.S. Army)

For all the trouble SEALs had at the start of the war, including high casualty rates, public anger over the Phoenix Program, and internal Navy division over the relaxed grooming and uniform standards, the SEALs proved they were worth the trouble. They were willing to do what other units weren’t willing to do, in the face of overwhelming odds. 

And the Navy SEALs still do it, almost 60 years later. 

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.

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2 Daughters honor slain police and firefighter dads at high school graduation

Two teenagers on opposite sides of the country paid tribute to their fathers — one a cop, one a firefighter, both killed on the job — as they graduated from high school last week.

In Anderson, South Carolina, Karlee Burdette crossed the graduation stage at Crescent High School wearing her father’s graduation cap and gown, applauded by about 30 members of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. Her father, Alex Burdette, was an Anderson County sheriff’s deputy when he died in 2005 helping to clear a traffic accident.

In California, Joslyn Carlon was saluted by lines of over 100 firefighters as she arrived to her Saugus High School graduation ceremony outside Los Angeles. She accepted her diploma wearing a turnout coat worn by her father, Tory Carlon, who was shot and killed in a workplace shooting while on duty in Agua Dulce just two days before the ceremony.

Tory Carlon was 44 and a 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. A firefighter captain wounded in the shooting remains in the hospital.

In South Carolina, Karlee Burdette graduated as the valedictorian of her high school, the same school her father, Alex Burdette, had attended. 

“I had to get a little bit creative to find a way to get him to be here,” Burdette told WSPA. “I thought I would wear his cap and gown as a way to honor him and also to have him with me on that stage.”

Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride brought 30 deputies and employees, some who had known Alex and even been present at his death, and saluted Burdette as she crossed the stage.

Today was a day of celebration for the Sheriff's Office family. Karlee Burdette, daughter of fallen Master Deputy Alex…

Posted by Anderson County Sheriff's Office SC on Thursday, June 3, 2021

“I was actually very surprised at how many of them actually came,” said Burdette’s mother, Nicole Burdette. “Some of the guys that were here, were working with Alex that night. One of the guys was the first one on scene. So I know it means a lot to me to have him here and have them all here.

In California, where the death of Tory Carlon was only two days old, over 100 firefighters attended Joslyn Carlon’s graduation. As she received her diploma, the group took a knee.

At a Tuesday vigil, according to KABC-TV, a fellow firefighter said of Carlon, “When it comes to being a father, when it comes to being a fireman, when it comes to being a mentor, there was nobody that could parallel that.”


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

Feature image: Photo courtesy of Anderson County Sheriff’s Office

MIGHTY HEROES

These 6 heroes show that bravery happens everywhere in the military

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

 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Photo: Army Capt. Devon Thomas

 

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.

Long received the Soldier’s Medal but remains humble about his service. He opened an interview with an Army journalist by listing other people who saved lives during the Fort Hood shooting, especially Ferguson. Ferguson tragically died during the event.

2. A Fort Drum soldier pulled people from a burning tour bus

 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Jacob Perkins, after a promotion to staff sergeant, accepts the 2012 Soldier of the Year Award. Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega

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

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
A Chinook loads passengers at Forward Operating Base Kala Gush’s flight line. Photo: US Army Maj. Christopher Thomas

 

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.

Meanwhile, as leaking fuel spread from the wreckage and coated the mortar rounds strewn on the ground, Hospitalman Corpsman 2nd Class Roy D. Jaquez yelled for non-essential personnel to stay back and used his bare hands to rip out the windshield. He then climbed to one of the injured crewmembers and got him or her to the aid station for treatment.

At the same time, Navy Lt. Kyle Burditt and Army First Lt. Alex DeSeta assisted two aircrew members as they evacuated the helicopter.

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

 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Staff Sgt. Greggory Swarz speaks to French journalists after receiving the French Legion of Honor. Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane

 

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.

Three French service members survived thanks to the airmen’s actions. Swarz received the Airman’s Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and the Spanish Cross of Aeronautical Merit for his actions. Four airmen received French National Medals of Defense and five airmen received Crosses of Aeronautical Merit.

5. An Air Force master sergeant saved dozens after Haiti earthquake

 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David J. Beall

 

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

 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Photo: US Army Richard Herman

 

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.

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 WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
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 WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
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 WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
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.

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. 

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How WWII submarine commander Roy Davenport was awarded 5 Navy Crosses

World War II was the golden age of American submarine warfare. By war’s end, seven submarine commanders and one enlisted crew member had received the Medal of Honor. The US submarine fleet, often referred to as the “Silent Service” for its secretive undersea missions, operated independently and in wolf packs while patrolling contested sea lanes in the Pacific.

During war patrols beyond the range of American airpower, US submarines exacted a heavy toll on Japanese naval forces, sinking four fleet carriers, four escort carriers, one battleship, four heavy cruisers, nine light cruisers, 38 destroyers, and 23 submarines. 

Although Rear Adm. Roy Davenport was never awarded the Medal of Honor, he was the first and only US Navy sailor to be awarded five Navy Cross medals, an honor Davenport shares with US Marine Corps legend Chesty Puller. Even though the submarine commander is one of the most decorated sailors from World War II, the heroic exploits that made him so remain largely unknown.

FIRST NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS

Before he assumed command of the USS Haddock, Davenport had four submarine war patrols under his belt, having served as an executive officer on the USS Silversides under the command of Lt. Cmdr. Creed Burlingame. As the Haddock’s lieutenant commander, Davenport was awarded his first Navy Cross for conducting numerous hazardous missions into enemy-infested waters off the Caroline Islands between June 30 and Aug. 10, 1943. 

During a patrol near Palau, an island country that connects the western chain of the Caroline Islands with Micronesia, Davenport torpedoed and sank the 5,533-ton Saipan Maru, a Japanese transport ship. On July 26, 1943, Davenport fired a total of 15 Mark XIV torpedoes at ranges between 2,000 and 4,000 yards in four separate attacks. 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
The crew of the USS Haddock (SS-231) pose for a group photo. Photo courtesy of navsource.org.

Davenport “pressed home his attacks with cool and courageous determination and despite intense and persistent hostile opposition, succeeded in sinking over 10,500 tons of enemy shipping and damaging over 35,500 tons,” his citation states.

SECOND NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS

Davenport was awarded his second Navy Cross while serving as the commanding officer on the sixth war patrol of the USS Haddock between Sept. 2 and Sept. 28, 1943. Over the course of the 27-day war patrol, Davenport engaged with four different Japanese ships. On Sept. 15, he fired four torpedoes, claiming two hits and a fire aboard the target vessel. When the enemy ship attempted to ram Davenport’s submarine, Davenport released two more torpedoes “down the throat.”

Five days later, Davenport came into contact with the Tonan Maru II, a 19,000-ton tanker. He fired six torpedoes from 3,700 yards; half of the volley impacted its target. Between Sept. 21 and Sept. 23, the Haddock engaged two more ships, missing the first with two torpedoes from 3,000 yards. However, the US submarine later claimed three confirmed hits on the second ship after releasing at least eight torpedoes. 

“He conducted daring attacks during this patrol which resulted in sinking over 39,000 tons of enemy shipping and damaging over 4,000 tons,” Davenport’s citation reads. “By skillful maneuvering, he successfully evaded enemy counter-attacks and brought his submarine through with no damage.”

THIRD NAVY CROSS: CAROLINE ISLANDS

Davenport was awarded his third Navy Cross while serving as commanding officer of the USS Haddock on its seventh war patrol from Oct. 20 to Nov. 15, 1943. The Haddock patrolled off the coast of the Truk Islands (now called Chuuk Islands), a cluster of 16 volcanic islands, which form part of the eastern Caroline Islands. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 2, Davenport attacked a freighter and a troopship with five torpedoes. The freighter was destroyed, while the troopship survived after catching fire.

“He skillfully conducted a surface torpedo attack against an enemy destroyer search group,” Davenport’s citation reads. “One destroyer was sunk and he thereafter conducted a successful surface retirement during the ensuing confusion. During the patrol, he also delivered highly successful attacks against two heavily escorted enemy convoys which resulted in sinking over 32,000 tons of enemy shipping.” 

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
The ship’s sponsor, Mrs. R. M. Davenport, with a champagne bottle for christening; Lt. Cmdr. Roy Davenport; and the matron of honor, Mrs. Garvey, with roses, are seen before the launching at Mare Island, March 23, 1944. Photo courtesy of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum/navsource.org.

FOURTH NAVY CROSS: HONSHU, JAPAN

After returning from the Caroline Islands, Davenport requested a transfer and became the first skipper of the USS Trepang, a brand-new, Balao-class submarine. Davenport led the first war patrol of the USS Trepang into enemy-controlled waters south of Honshu, Japan. On his first engagement, he fired six torpedoes at two large tankers, a freighter, and an escort. The engagement sunk the Takunan Maru, a 750-ton freighter.

“By excellent judgment, outstanding skill and aggressiveness, he closed and launched intelligently planned and smartly executed torpedo attacks,” Davenport’s fourth Navy Cross citation reads. “His skillful evasive tactics enabled his ship to escape enemy countermeasures and return to port safely.”

Between Sept. 13 and Oct. 23, 1944, Davenport was credited with sinking three ships and inflicting damage to a Yamashiro-class battleship. According to the Military Hall of Honor: “Davenport weathered a typhoon and, on 10-11 October, picked up a convoy of two tankers and one escort. Firing four stern tubes, he claimed three hits but no sinkings were confirmed in Japanese records. The next night, he fired four torpedoes at a Japanese landing craft, believing all missed. Postwar, he was credited with the 1,000-ton Transport No. 5.” 

FIFTH NAVY CROSS: LUZON STRAIT

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Lt. Cmdr. Roy M. Davenport of Los Angeles, Calif., wears the Navy Cross recently presented to him for sinking “many thousands of tons” of enemy shipping. Davenport stands beside his vessel’s conning tower, on which are painted Japanese flags, indicating the enemy victims. Photo courtesy of navsource.org.

On Nov. 16, 1944, the USS Trepang departed for its second war patrol from Majuro, a chain of the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. On his 10th war patrol, Davenport braved the hazardous waters of the Luzon Strait, which is located between Taiwan and the Philippines’ Luzon Islands.

During the 34-day patrol, Davenport led a wolf pack comprising three American submarines called “Roy’s Rangers.” The US submarines fired 22 torpedoes and destroyed four enemy ships, totaling 35,000 tons. However, the postwar Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee — the US interservice agency that determined Japanese naval and merchant marine shipping losses during the war — reduced the tally from four to three ships sunk, for a revised total of 13,000 tons.

According to his fifth Navy Cross citation, “Daringly penetrating a strong hostile escort screen to deliver a series of night surface attacks, Commander Davenport launched his torpedoes into an escorted convoy, holding to his targets grimly in the face of heavy countermeasures and sinking an important amount of Japanese tonnage.

“During this excellently planned and brilliantly executed engagement, the TREPANG effectively coordinated her efforts with other submarines and, as a result of the combined firepower of these gallant ships, contributed to the destruction of the entire convoy within a period of three hours.”

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

Feature image: navsource.org

MIGHTY HEROES

Military moms: America’s all too often forgotten heroes

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.

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Cheyenne with the rest of our shop while pregnant with her first child.

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.

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“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.”

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin

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.

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin

“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.

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
Shaking my moms hand as a newly minted U.S. Marine.

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.

This WWII tanker vet shares his amazing story with Stone Cold Steve Austin
My mom and I celebrating when we both completed our Bachelor’s Degrees.

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!

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HEROES

6 badass women in the military

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 

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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 

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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 

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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

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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 

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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.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Watch: California firefighters go toe-to-toe with wildfire

Firefighter helicopters, bulldozers, and airplanes —oh my! When a wildfire sparked in the scrubby hills outside Sacramento, California, on May 1, Cal Fire sent ground crews, machinery, and multiple aircraft after it, in what was both a rapid response and an early season warmup for what authorities expect to be a fire-heavy summer. Cal Fire officials from Butte addressed the need to pre-position equipment and personnel during a May 5 press conference for fire preparedness week.

Dubbed the Salmon Fire, the blaze that sparked on May 1 was 100% contained by May 4, burning only 32 acres.

Watch the video below to see how they did it:

The video covers nearly every element of wildfire attacks.

Field crews chop and cut trees near the fire to limit fuel with chain saws and hand tools, within feet of the blaze. There are also specially equipped fuel-clearing bulldozers on hand.

Overhead, helicopters circle to dump water, including both California’s new Fire Hawk H-60s (modified versions of the military H-60 Black Hawk), which use internal water tanks, and older helicopters carrying so-called “Bambi Buckets.” The video captures the helicopters refilling with water from a pond.

Above the helicopters, Grumman S-2T aircraft (former Navy submarine hunters) orbit and wait their turn to dive over the flames to release chemical retardants.

During the Cal Fire Butte Unit event on May 5, the California Office of Emergency Services Fire Chief Brian Marshall said that pre-positioning personnel and equipment enables them to catch the fires when they are small and more easily extinguished.

“To date, we’ve spent almost $24 million in pre-position funding to make sure that local jurisdictions have the resources available to have the capacity available to stop the fires when they’re small,” Marshall said. “Because when they’re a million acres — it’s difficult, it’s time-consuming, but if we can jump on that fire when it’s small, we will be highly successful.”

YouTube user Max McGregor posted the video of the Salmon Fire operations.


This article by Joshua Skovlund was originally published by Coffee or Die. Follow Coffee or Die on Facebook.

-Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube video above

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