There’s a cast of characters that pop up in any military unit: you have the “grandpa,” the “fighter,” and the “smiley-jokester” that everyone loves immediately.
For SEAL Team five, Rob Guzzo was the “smiley jokester” — everyone who encountered him loved him right away.
“As soon as Rob checked in and he was going to be a comms guy, I mean we just hit it off right off the bat,” one Navy SEAL states. “We were just laughing all the time.”
Rob’s teammates commonly remember him as being a “walking holiday.” Sadly, Rob passed away in 2012, but this popular and fun-natured SEAL will live on through the memories in which he made with family and the SEAL community.
“Rob was a total jokester, which is awesome but at the same time was serious,” another SEAL admits. “His parents were both military, and he had that sense of pride.”
American hero Michael Collins passed away on April 28, 2021 at the age of 90 after a battle with cancer. Along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Collins was one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who made the legendary trip to the moon in 1969. He also served as an Air Force test pilot and reached the rank of Major General in the Air Force Reserves.
Collins was born on October 31, 1930 in Rome, Italy. He was the son of a U.S. Army officer serving as the U.S. military attaché. As a military child, Collins spent his youth in a number of locations including New York, Texas and Puerto Rico. It was in Puerto Rico that Collins first flew a plane. During a flight aboard a Grumman Widgeon, the pilot allowed Collins to take the controls. Though this ignited Collins’ passion for flight, the start of WWII prevented him from pursuing it.
When the U.S. entered WWII, Collins’ family moved to Washington, D.C. where he attended St. Albans School and graduated in 1948. He decided to follow his father and older brother into the service and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. His father and brother were also West Point graduates. Collins graduated in 1952. In his graduating class was fellow future astronaut Ed White who tragically perished in the Apollo 1 disaster.
Collins’ family was famous in the Army. His older brother was already a Colonel, his father had reached the rank of Major General, and his uncle was the Chief of Staff of the Army. To avoid accusations of nepotism, he opted to commission into the newly formed Air Force instead.
Collins received flight training in Mississippi and Texas and learned to fly jets. He was a natural pilot with little fear of failure. After earning his wings in 1953, he was selected for day-fighter training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where he learned to fly the F-86 Sabre. Although 11 pilots were killed in accidents during the 22-week course, Collins was unfazed.
After training, Collins was stationed at George Air Force Base, California until 1954. He moved to Chambley-Bussières Air Base in France where he won first place in a 1956 gunnery competition. He met his future wife, Patricia Mary Finnegan, in an officer’s club. A trained social worker, Finnegan joined the Air Force service club to see more of the world. Their wedding was delayed by Collins’ redeployment to West Germany during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. However, they were married the next year in 1957. Their first daughter, future All My Children actress Kate Collins, was born in 1959. The Collins’ had a second daughter, Ann, in 1961 and a son, Michael, in 1963.
In 1957, Collins returned to the states to attend the aircraft maintenance officer course at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. In his autobiography, Collins described the course as “dismal” and boring. He preferred to fly planes rather than maintain them. Afterward, he commanded a Mobile Training Detachment and a Field Training Detachment training mechanics on servicing new aircraft and teaching students to fly them.
Eager to get back into the cockpit, Collins applied to the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School. He was accepted to Class 60C in 1960. His classmates included fellow future Apollo astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Irwinn and Tom Stafford. The test pilot school put Collins at the controls of the T-28 Trojan, F-86 Sabre, B-57 Canberra, T-33 Shooting Star and F-104 Starfighter. Notably, Collins quit smoking in 1962 after a suffering bad hangover. The next day, he flew four hours as the co-pilot of a B-52 Stratofortess. Going through the initial stages of nicotine withdrawal, Collins described the flight as the worst four hours of his life.
Following the historic Mercury Atlas 6 flight of John Glenn in 1962, Collins was inspired to become an astronaut. However, NASA rejected his first application. Undeterred, Collins flew for the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School. He later applied and was accepted to the Air Force’s postgraduate course on the basics of spaceflight. He was joined by future astronauts Charles Bassett, Edward Givens, and Joe Engle.
In June 1963, Collins applied to the astronaut program again and was accepted. After basic training, Collins received his first choice in specialization: pressure suits and extravehicular activities. In June 1965, he was received his first crew assignment as the backup pilot on Gemini 7. Following the system of NASA crew rotation, this slated Collins as the primary pilot for Gemini 10.
Along with John Young, Collins lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 0520 on July 18, 1966. Gemini 10 took them to a new altitude record of 475 miles above the Earth. Collins later said that he felt like a Roman god riding the skies in his chariot. On Gemini 10, Collins also became the first person to perform two spacewalks on the same mission. At 0406 on July 21, Young and Collins splashed into the Atlantic and were safely recovered by the USS Guadalcanal.
After Gemini 10, Collins was reassigned to the Apollo program. He was slated as the backup pilot on Apollo 2 along with Frank Borman and Tom Stafford. However, Collins’ future in Apollo was put on hold when he began experiencing leg problems in 1968. He was diagnosed with cervical disc herniation and had to have two vertebrae surgically fused. Originally slotted as the primary pilot for Apollo 9, Collins was replaced by Jim Lovell while he recovered.
Following the success of Apollo 8, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were announced as the crew of Apollo 11. While training for the mission, Collins compiled a book of different scenarios and schemes during the lunar module rendezvous. The book ended up being 117 pages.
Collins also created the mission patch for Apollo 11. Backup commander Jim Lovell mentioned the idea of eagles which inspired Collins. He found a painting in a National Geographic book, traced it, and added the lunar surface and the Earth. The idea of the olive branch was pitched by a computer expert at the simulators.
At 0932 on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off. Collins docked the Command Module Columbia with the Lunar Module Eagle without issue and the combined spacecraft continued on to the Moon. Apollo 11 orbited the Moon thirty times before Aldrin and Armstrong entered the Eagle and prepared for their descent to the lunar surface. At 1744 UTC, Eagle separated from Columbia, leaving Collins alone in the command module.
While Aldrin and Armstrong performed their mission on the Moon, Collins orbited solo. During each orbit, he was out of radio contact with the Earth for 48 minutes. During that time, he became the most solitary human being alive. Despite that, Collins did not feel scared or alone. He later recalled that he felt, “awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation.”
Collins orbited the Moon a further 30 times in the command module. After spending so much time in the spacecraft, he decided to leave his mark in the lower equipment bay. There, he wrote, “Spacecraft 107 – alias Apollo 11 – alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP.”
At 1754 UTC on July 21, Eagle lifted off from the Moon and rejoined Columbia for the trip back to Earth. Columbia splashed into the Pacific at 1650 UTC on July 24. The crew was safely recovered by USS Hornet. As the first humans to go to the Moon, Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong became worldwide celebrities. They embarked on a 38-day world tour of 22 foreign countries.
Satisfied with his legendary space flight, Collins retired from NASA after Apollo 11. He was urged by President Nixon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. However, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, and the Kent State shootings, sent waves of protests and unrest across the country. Collins did not enjoy the job and requested to become the Director of the National Air and Space Museum. Nixon approved and Collins changed jobs in 1971.
Along with Senator and former Air Force Major General Barry Goldwater, Collins lobbied Congress to fund the building of the National Air and Space Museum. In 1972, Congress approved a budget of $40 million. With a smaller budget than what Collins had hoped for, he also had a short suspense to meet. The museum was scheduled to open on July 4, 1976 for the country’s bicentennial. Not one to back away from a challenge, Collins got to work hiring staff, overseeing the creation of exhibits, and monitoring construction. Not only was the museum completed under budget, but it opened three days ahead of schedule on July 1, 1976.
Still a member of the Air Force Reserve, Collins reached the rank of Major General in 1976 and retired in 1982. He served as the museum’s director until 1978 when he became undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1985, he started his own consulting firm. He has also wrote books on spaceflight, including a children’s book on his experiences. Collins enjoyed painting watercolors of the Florida Evergreens or aircraft that he flew. He lived with his wife in Marco Island, Florida and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.
Following Collins’ passing, NASA released a statement. “NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the envelope of human potential,” the release said. “Whether his work was behind the scenes or on full view, his legacy will always be as one of the leaders who took America’s first steps into the cosmos. And his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons.” Michael Collins will forever be remembered as an American hero and a champion for humanity on its quest into space.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
War heroes can emerge from plenty of unexpected places, and that includes kennels, lofts, and stables. Here are seven awesome war heroes who didn’t let being an animal get in the way of winning human conflicts.
1. The pigeon who saved 194 American lives after being shot through the chest.
Cher Ami was a messaging pigeon serving in the Argonne Forest with the 77th Infantry Division when the battalion of 550 soldiers she was with was completely cut off by German forces. After four days of heavy fighting, friendly artillery decided the battalion must have surrendered already and began firing on the 77th.
In 1917, Stubby joined a group of American soldiers training for the trenches of World War I. He deployed with the men overseas and proved himself in battle multiple times, waking soldiers as he sensed incoming artillery attacks and infantry assaults that human sentries hadn’t yet detected.
Despite being caught in multiple gas attacks, Sgt. Stubby survived the war and the supreme commander of American Forces in World War I, Gen. John Pershing, personally awarded him a gold medal in 1921 for his efforts.
Wojtek the bear was bought and adopted by Polish soldiers making their way back east after they were released from a prison camp in Siberia in 1942.
4. The horse that ferried ammunition and wounded Marines despite two wounds from enemy fire.
Sgt. Reckless was a Marine in an anti-rifle platoon during the Korean War. She served in a few battles as an ammo carrier and evacuated wounded troops when necessary. In the Battle of Vegas in early 1953, Reckless carried rounds for three days straight.
5. Simon continues catching rats during a siege after nearly dying of injuries from artillery fire.
In April 1949, the HMS Amethyst was ordered up the Yangtse to guard the British embassy in Nanking during the war between Communists and Nationalists in China. As the Amethyst moved up the river, it came under heavy fire from a Communist shore battery and ran aground.
Besieged by Communist forces, the Amethyst was trapped for a total of 101 days. The ship’s cat, Simon, was riddled by shrapnel and partially burnt by artillery fire in the initial attack but forced himself back into service to combat a surge of rats that were damaging the limited rations in the ship. His efforts allowed the men to just barely survive the siege as rations nearly ran out. He was the first member of the Royal Navy to receive the Dickin Medal for animal valor.
7. Nemo the dog fights off attackers after being blinded.
Nemo and his handler, Airman 2nd Class Bob Thorneburg, were patrolling a cemetery near their base in Vietnam on Dec. 4, 1966 when they were attacked by the Viet Cong. Nemo was shot in the eye while Throneburg took a round to the shoulder.
When Emil Kapaun entered seminary school to become a Catholic priest in 1936, he probably didn’t foresee himself being declared a Servant of Godby the Pope some 80 years later. He also probably didn’t foresee how he would end up there.
Kapaun was called to serve as a U.S. Army chaplain during World War II and he answered that call. As the war ended and the United States entered a conflict in Korea, he stayed in the Army to shepherd his soldiers through their most trying times.
He was with them until the end, but what exactly happened to him wasn’t really known until an entirely new century had turned.
As a new chaplain, Kapaun didn’t make it to World War II until 1945, when he arrived in the China-India-Burma theater of the war. But he didn’t turn around and go home. He crossed thousands of miles in little more than a year to go wherever there were GIs in the theater. He went home in 1946 and briefly left the Army to continue his education.
By 1948, however, he was back in a chaplain’s uniform, spending time at Fort Bliss before shipping off to occupied Japan in 1950. This was the year everything would change. North Korean tanks invaded South Korea that same year, and the war nearly pushed the South and its American allies into the Sea of Japan.
Emil Kapaun was in Korea a month after the Korean War started. Kapaun and his assistant did more than tend to the spiritual needs of the men in their care. They picked up stretchers and became litter bearers during combat as the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter raged around them.
When United Nations forces managed a breakout and Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed a significant western force at Inchon, Capt. Kapaun marched north with the rest of the United Nations. He was there when they crossed the 38th parallel into North Korea, when they captured Pyongyang. He helped rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead and dying.
When Kapaun and the 1st Cavalry came within 50 miles of North Korea’s border with China, the Chinese intervened in the war. His unit was surrounded by 20,000 Chinese soldiers and Kapaun stayed with 800 men who were cut off from the main force, despite pleas for his own escape. Braving the enemy’s unending heavy fire, he rescued 40 of his comrades in arms.
His daring rescues in the face of hostile fire earned Emil Kapaun the Medal of Honor. He would never live to receive the award, however. He and other members of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment were captured by the Chinese and marched more than 80 miles to a North Korean prisoner of war camp.
While a prisoner, Kapaun did everything he could to improve the lives of the men held there. As they fought hunger, disease and lice, their chaplain dug latrines for them, stole food and smuggled necessary drugs into the camp. But even he was feeling the harshness of prison camp life and eventually succumbed to malnutrition and pneumonia. His remains were left in a mass grave near the Yalu River, along North Korea’s border with China.
After the armistice that ended the fighting on the Korean Peninsula went into effect, Kapaun’s remains, along with the others interred at the mass grave site were repatriated to the United States. Since his were unidentifiable, they were buried in Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In 2018, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency launched the Korean War Disinterment Project, an all-out effort to identify the remains of Korean War remains in a seven-phase plan. On March 4, 2021, Capt. Emil. Kapaun, Medal of Honor recipient and future Catholic saint, was positively identified.
Feature image: U.S. Army photo by Col. Raymond Skeehan
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.
“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.
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.”
“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.”
Not all acts of heroism take place on the battlefield. Here are 6 times when troops jumped into harm’s way:
1. Sgt. George Long helped protect his leaders during a Fort Hood shooting
On Apr. 12, 2014, Sgt. George D. Long was in a meeting with leaders in his battalion at Fort Hood when shots broke out in the building. When the shooter approached the conference room, Long and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson sprinted to the door and held it shut, continuing even when shots began coming through the door. This saved the lives of the other soldiers in the room.
2. A Fort Drum soldier pulled people from a burning tour bus
On the New York State Thruway in 2011, Then-Sgt. Jacob Perkins spotted a burning tour bus that had struck a semi-truck. He rushed into the blaze and began pulling out the survivors. 53 people were on the bus when it hit and 30 were injured but everyone survived thanks to Perkins’ quick actions.
“This is a momentous occasion,” said then-Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, now the Army Chief of Staff, at the Soldier’s Medal ceremony for Perkins. “If there were bullets flying and it was the Taliban, Sergeant Perkins would be getting the Medal of Honor.
3. Two sailors and an airman rescued the crew of a crashed helicopter
A resupply helicopter carrying mortar rounds and other munitions crashed on the flight line of Forward Operating Base Kala Gush, Afghanistan on May 3, 2010. Immediately, troops sprinted to rescue the aircrew. Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven R. Doty arrived in seconds and avoided the still-spinning rotor blades while he forced an opening into the wrecked bird. Once the crew began evacuating, Doty climbed inside and attempted to shut down the engines.
After Burditt, DeSeta, Jaquez, and others got the crew safely away, Doty finally gave up on shutting off the engines and escaped the crash site. All four heroes received Soldier’s Medals.
4. An airman lead a rescue attempt in the middle of burning jets
On Jan. 26, 2015 a Greek F-16 crashed into French jets at a refueling point during an exercise at Los Llanos Air Base, Spain. The flames from the wreck killed two Greek pilots and nine French troops, but U.S. airmen moved in to save everyone they could.
One of the first on the scene was U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Greggory Swarz who rushed into the flames to start pulling out the wounded. Swarz actually burned his own hands while pulling others from the fire, according to another airman at the scene. As Swarz was doing his work, other airmen used mobile fire extinguishers to put out people and loaded the wounded into a van.
5. An Air Force master sergeant saved dozens after Haiti earthquake
Master Sgt. Keith M. O’Grady was on the first plane to land in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there. O’Grady and his team pulled 13 people from the rubble by tunneling into fallen debris with bare hands, concrete breakers, and digging bars. O’Grady voluntarily climbed through miles of these unsupported tunnels to rescue survivors, often burrowing past the remains of people who didn’t survive.
The team also provided advanced medical care to 27 patients and transferred 18 patients to trauma centers. O’Grady received the Airman’s Medal for his work and valor.
6. A soldier in Germany evacuated most of a burning apartment building before police arrived, then helped pull out two final survivors
Spc. Willie Smith was returning from a night out in Stuttgart, Germany when he saw flames rising from a wooden apartment building. His friend called emergency services and Smith began moving through the building, sounding the alarm. Smith’s warnings allowed approximately 30 people to escape before the flames grew too large.
But when the German police arrived, they discovered that an elderly couple was missing. So Smith rushed back in with them. Smith helped the man out while police woke and escorted out the woman. He received the Soldier’s Medal for his actions.
In April 2003, the Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines entered Baghdad, headed for the Iraqi Intelligence Ministry. Sergeant Jesus Vindaña, a radio operator, was relaying orders from his command when a sniper’s bullet tore through his helmet from behind.
His buddies tried to revive him, but the company corpsman declared him dead at the scene.
Except he wasn’t dead — Vindaña’s heart was beating, but it was so weak it didn’t register a pulse.
Nearby, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, was working as a reporter for the cable news network.
Gupta was embedded with “Devil Docs,” a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and others who operate out of medical tents called “Forward Resuscitative Surgical Suites” in some of the most dangerous combat zones in the world. It was in this FRSS that Gupta found Vindaña – and his pulse.
Luckily for the wounded Marine, Dr. Gupta is a member of the staff and faculty of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. He is the associate chief of Neurosurgery there, and routinely works in its operating rooms.
As the FRSS team worked frantically to save the Marine (who had twice been declared dead already), they asked Gupta for his Neurosurgery expertise, he later recalled in an article on CNN. Turns out, the military didn’t send many brain surgeons to the front-line FRSS units.
They also didn’t have the medical equipment necessary to open skulls during surgery. Not a problem for the resourceful doctor. Gupta borrowed a set of tools from the Marines there and used a Black and Decker power drill to open Vindaña’s head.
Within an hour, Gupta removed the bullet in Vindaña’s brain and the Marine was in the recovery room.
“In all the years I have worked in hospitals, I have never seen resources mobilized so quickly and health care workers move with such purpose,” Dr. Gupta wrote just three years later. “And, remember, it was a tent in the middle of the desert by the dark of night in the most dangerous place on Earth.”
Vindaña now advocates for health care reform and maintains contact with Dr. Gupta. (CNN/YouTube)
Years after the surgery, Gupta met with Vindaña again in the Marine’s native Los Angeles. The only noticeable remnants of his bullet to the brain was a “slight limp and weakness in his left hand.”
When retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Goldsworthy joined the United States military, there was no independent Air Force. He was joining to get a commission in the Army infantry. Little did he know he would serve during the Air Force’s most important moments, under one of its legends: Curtis LeMay.
Goldsworthy reflected on his life and career on his 107th birthday, April 6, 2021. To celebrate, he rode in a parade driven by the Southern California Patriot Guard Riders.
“I get asked all the time, ‘What did you do to live so long?’ I tell them I think it’s just God’s will. Sometimes I wonder whether he’s rewarding me or punishing me,” he jokingly told WCAX News.
The centenarian also says his secret to a long life is to drink a shot of vodka every night before bed. That’s just how the old timers roll – and no one is more “old timer” than Harry Goldsworthy. He and a friend joined the military in 1936 near their hometown in Washington state. Within three years, he found himself at Texas’ Kelly Field, learning to fly single-engine aircraft.
After the outbreak of World War II, Goldsworthy cut his teeth hunting German U-boats in the Caribbean Sea, using B-18 Bolo bombers, specially fitted to hunt submarines. It was his job to keep them from being able to surface.
In 1945, he was relocated to the South Pacific theater, where he was flying combat missions in support of Allied operations in the Philippines, Balikpapan and Borneo. He was forced to bail out on his last combat mission. Over the island of Luzon, his B-25 Mitchell bomber took heavy fire from the ground.
Goldsworthy landed safely in the jungles, and even kept part of the parachute that saved his life. The war eventually ended and Goldsworthy opted to stay in the newly-created U.S. Air Force. His work as a unit commander at every level was worthy of recognition – he was eventually awarded the Legion of Merit for his staff officer work.
He would soon find himself in the Pentagon, where he would help shape the new service, ushering in the era of jet-powered flight. Far from the skies above Japan, Korea or Vietnam, Goldsworthy tackled the Air Force’s biggest logistical problems, including transportation, supplies and foreign sales.
He was also instrumental in building the silos for yet-to-be-constructed nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) during the Cold War. It was Goldsworthy who made haste, with which Atlas, Minuteman, and Titan ICBMs capable of launch, countered the Soviet Union’s first-strike capability.
In his 33-year career, the retired general also flew more than 30 different Air Force aircraft, many of them instrumental to the Air Force’s air power achievements overseas, including the B-52 Stratofortress and F-105 Thunderchief. He even drew up specs for the F-15 Fighter.
Goldsworthy first retired from the military as a Lt. Gen, in 1973 before going to work for Boeing. At 107, he is believed to be the oldest living general. He told Military.com that the fighter aircraft they have today, such as the F-35 Thunderbolt II, are so advanced and technical, he’s not sure he’d be able to fly one of them.
There is a Goldsworthy at the stick of the latest generation of fighters, however. One of his great-nephews is an F-35 pilot.
Then-Capt. William F. Andrews was flying an F-16 over Iraq Feb. 27, 1991 when American and Iraqi tanks were engaged in heavy fighting at Basra. Andrews led his flight into the battle and targeted the Iraqi tanks until his Fighting Falcon was hit by a surface-to-air missile and he was forced to eject.
As he descended in his parachute, he pulled out his survival radio and immediately began feeding information to his buddies flying above him. When he hit the ground, he broke his leg but in spite of the pain he kept right on working.
With his radio still out and a decent view of the battlefield, he began watching for enemy missile launches that threatened his fellow pilots. He would alert pilots that they were in danger and tell them which way to turn to avoid the missiles and when they needed to deploy flares to trick the infrared targeting sensors.
A short time later, an OA-10 showed up. When it came under missile attack as well, Andrews gave the OA-10 pilot a heads up on when to bank and when to deploy flares.
Bot the F-16 and OA-10 pilots later told investigators that their aircraft would likely have been shot down or heavily damaged if it weren’t for the threat calls that Andrews made while severely injured on the ground, under fire, and surrounded by Iraqi forces attempting to capture him. He was later awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions on Feb. 27.
He also received two Distinguished Flying Crosses with “V” device for valor during Desert Storm. In a Feb. 24 engagement, he led a flight to kill Iraqi soldiers who had pinned down a Special Forces team. During a Jan. 23 mission, he flew through thick anti-aircraft fire and dodged six surface-to-air missiles to destroy a SCUD missile facility.
Andrews was captured by Iraqi forces the morning after he was shot down and was held prisoner for eight days before being released. He was flown to the USNS Mercy for treatment and sent back to the states. He rose to the rank of colonel before retiring in 2010. Tragically, he died of brain cancer only five years later.
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.
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.
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.
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.