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.”
Two calls to 911 had reported a man firing shots, and a police-run listening system had located the sound of gunfire in Chicago’s West Douglas Boulevard, about 5 miles west of downtown. Within minutes, officers found a man matching caller descriptions in a nearby alleyway. As two officers followed the man, identified as 45-year-old Bruce Lua, on foot, Garcia and Nakayama pull into the alley ahead of him, cutting him off and leaving him surrounded.
Garcia and Lua are a few feet apart as they fire at each other, almost simultaneously. One frame from Garcia’s camera appears to capture the exact moment that he both fires his weapon and is hit by Lua’s shot. In the frame, a brass casing is ejecting from Garcia’s weapon as he fires, but his hand appears to be deflected by Lua’s bullet.
Following the shooting, Garcia can be seen with blood dripping down his right arm and hand. He then almost immediately switches his weapon from his right hand to his left, covering Lua.
This officer body camera video includes graphic images of three shootings including the shooting of two police officers.
Nakayama — who on his body camera footage can be heard telling other officers he is shot in the leg — falls but appears to fire at least one shot that strikes Lua, causing him to fall as well.
Garcia covers Lua until other officers arrive who disarm and cuff Lua and begin to treat Nakayama.
At one point, a fellow officer can be heard yelling, “Where the f*ck is that ambulance?”
Both officers and Lua were transported to the hospital and released. The CPD Case Incident Report lists the officers’ injuries as “serious,” with Garcia shot once and Nakayama shot twice. Lua is being held on $10 million bail and charged with two counts of attempted murder.
Tang, the orange-flavored drink mix that intrepid American astronauts took into space, wasn’t selling so well until it famously went into orbit. And there’s at least one astronaut who wishes it never left the ground.
Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second person to step foot on the moon, told the audience of the 2013 Spike TV Guys Choice awards that “Tang sucks.”
For those unfamiliar with Tang, it’s the orange-flavored breakfast drink that has somehow managed to stick around grocery store shelves for the past 60-plus years, as if there wasn’t already an orange beverage closely associated with mornings. Except the only thing Tang has in common with oranges is its color.
Aldrin, the famous West Point graduate and Air Force astronaut, was not only the second man on the moon, he was a combat pilot in the Korean War. After notching two MiG kills in 66 combat missions, he earned a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined NASA. So if Buzz Aldrin says Tang sucks, he’s probably right.
Much of the Twitterverse agreed with him. An informal poll conducted by NPR following his controversial statement found that more than 57.1% of respondents agreed. Another 29.43% disagreed and 13.47% didn’t know what Tang is — and their lives are better off for it.
If you disagree with Aldrin, that’s fine. Just keep in mind that old-school astronauts don’t take guff from laymen. The one time someone tried getting into his face about how the moon landing was faked ended with Aldrin punching that person in the face.
Because NASA took this orange-like beverage on space flights, sales of the drink took off, too. It was so closely linked with the United States’ space program that people came to believe NASA developed the powdered beverage especially for astronauts. That built-in marketing gave it the lift it needed to stay on shelves ever since.
For this American hero’s sake, let’s be clear about Tang. If orange-scented furniture polish tasted exactly how it smelled, it would taste like Tang. The closest Tang powder ever gets to an orange is the picture of an orange on the label. Although it provides 100% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, that’s about all the benefit you’ll get from it.
Tang also contains two artificial yellow dyes, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, which studies by the Center for Science in the Public Interest say can cause allergic reactions, contain possible carcinogens and may cause hyperactivity in children. It also contains BHA, which the label says is used to “protect flavor,” as if that was something we wanted. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health says BHA “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.“
Two good reasons to ditch BHA altogether.
For real food, NASA created dehydrated edibles for the astronauts to consume while in space, including scrambled eggs, curried chicken and raisin rice pudding, all packed in sealed plastic bags.
The Kiowa Native Americans have a strong and proud warrior culture. Their enemies feared and respected them on the battlefield. In fact, the most decorated Native American in United States military history is a Kiowa.
Pascal Cleatus Poolaw was born on Jan. 29, 1922 in Apache, Oklahoma. In 1942, he joined his father and two brothers in the military to fight in WWII. Upon completing basic infantry training, Poolaw was sent to the European theater.
On Sep. 8, 1944, Poolaw was assigned to the 8th Infantry Regiment’s M Company near Recogne, Belgium. There, his unit launched an attack on German forces. Despite heavy enemy machine gun fire, Sgt. Poolaw led his company forward while hurling grenades at the German positions. Although he was wounded during his assault, Poolaw did not waiver. For his actions, he was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star — the first of many. His Silver Star citation noted, “Due to Sergeant Poolaw’s actions, many of his comrades’ lives were saved and the company was able to continue the attack and capture strongly defended enemy positions. Sergeant Poolaw’s display of courage, aggressive spirit and complete disregard for personal safety are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”
After WWII, Poolaw stayed in the Army and served again in Korea. On Sep. 19, 1950, Sgt. First Class Poolaw and his company made an attack on an enemy position. However, they were halted by intense enemy fire. Poolaw volunteered to lead a squad in a flanking assault on the enemy’s perimeter. With Poolaw at the front, the American counterattack hit the enemy hard and fast. Through intense hand-to-hand combat and absolute determination, Poolaw successfully led his squad and routed the enemy, earning him his second Silver Star.
Less than a year later, on April 4, 1951, Master Sgt. Poolaw earned a third Silver Star. During an attack near Chongong-ni, one squad of Poolaw’s platoon became trapped by enemy mortar and machine gun fire. With complete disregard for his own safety, Poolaw exposed himself and charged across open terrain at the enemy, firing his weapon as he progressed. The solo assault drew the enemy fire off of Poolaw’s squad and they were able to move to a more advantageous position. In addition to his two new Silver Stars, Poolaw also earned another Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross in Korea.
In 1952, Poolaw returned to the states. After serving another 10 years in the Army, he retired. However, the Vietnam War brought the Kiowa warrior out of retirement.
By 1967, all four of Poolaw’s sons were in the military. Pascal Cleatus Poolaw Jr. was wounded by a landmine in Vietnam and lost his right leg. When the youngest of Poolaw’s sons, Lindy, was drafted, Poolaw re-enlisted in the Army to fight and keep Lindy off the front lines. However, by the time the elder Poolaw reached the point of departure on the West Coast, Lindy had left for Vietnam just the day before.
Poolaw deployed to Vietnam as the 1st Sgt. of Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. On Nov. 7, 1967, his unit conducted a search and destroy mission near the village of Loc Ninh. There, Poolaw and his men were ambushed by a numerically superior Viet Cong force. He immediately sprung into action and led a squad to lay down a base of fire, bearing the brunt of the attack. Under a hail of bullets and rockets, Poolaw moved amongst his troops, ensuring they were in proper fighting positions and returning effective fire.
During the engagement, Poolaw pulled wounded men back to safety despite being wounded himself. As he assisted one of his wounded soldiers, Poolaw was struck by an RPG and killed. His fourth Silver Star citation states, “His dynamic leadership and exemplary courage contributed significantly to the successful deployment of the lead squad and undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers.” Poolaw was also posthumously awarded his third Purple Heart.
Shortly before his death, Poolaw wrote a letter home explaining that he rated his job as more important than his own life. His wife, Irene, echoed this sentiment in her eulogy for Poolaw at the Fort Sill Post Cemetery.
“He has followed the trail of the great chiefs,” she said. “His people hold him in honor and highest esteem. He has given his life for the people and the country he loved so much.”
Over the course of three wars, Poolaw earned 42 medals and citations including the Distinguished Service Cross, four Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars for valor and three Purple Hearts—one for each war.
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
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.
In the United States military, the Purple Heart is a revered, if unwanted, military accolade bestowed upon those individuals who have been wounded in action with the enemy. The Military Order of the Purple Heart describes it as “awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.”
The Purple Heart traces its lineage all the way back to the Revolutionary War when it was called the Badge of Military Merit. After World War I, renewed interest in reviving the Badge of Military Merit led to the establishment of the modern Purple Heart. When the new Purple Heart was authorized in 1932, it superseded the short-lived Army Wound Ribbon and the wear of Wound Chevrons – devices on the sleeve that denoted the number of times someone had been wounded in combat.
Two million Purple Hearts have been awarded since it was created. The men below earned more of them per individual than any others.
1. Staff Sgt. Albert L. Ireland – Marine Corps
Staff Sergeant Albert Ireland has the distinction of being awarded the most Purple Hearts of any individual across all branches of service. During his 12 years of service – spanning two wars from 1941 to 1953 – Ireland was wounded a total of nine times. Albert fought his way across the Pacific with the Marines during World War II, during which time he was wounded five times. During the Korean War, he was wounded four more times, and the last one was severe enough that he was medically discharged.
2. Lt. Col. Richard J. Buck – Army
Richard Buck graduated from West Point in 1951 before being shipped to the Korean peninsula. During his service in the Korean War, Buck was wounded a total of four times. After the Korean War, Buck stayed in the Army and eventually joined Special Forces before being deployed to Vietnam. There, Buck was again wounded four times, bringing his Purple Heart total to eight for his career. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1970.
3. Maj. Gen. Robert T. Frederick – Army
Major General Frederick began World War II as a Lieutenant Colonel tasked with raising the 1st Special Service Force. With this force he would fight in the Aleutian Islands, North Africa, and Italy before being promoted to Brigadier General and taking charge of the 1st Allied Airborne Task Force. During his time with 1st Special Service Force, he was wounded numerous times. At Anzio he was wounded twice in the same day. Frederick was once again promoted and took command of the 45th Infantry Division until the end of the war. Major General Frederick ended WWII with eight Purple Hearts, two Distinguished Service Crosses, and a Silver Star. He retired in 1952.
4. Col. David H. Hackworth – Army
Colonel Hackworth was awarded eight purple hearts over the course of the Korean and Vietnam wars. During the Korean War, Hackworth served with several elite units – 8th Ranger Company, 25th Recon Company, and the 27th Wolfhound Raiders – before earning a battlefield commission and volunteering to serve another tour, which he completed with the 40th Infantry Division. During his time in Korea he was awarded three Purple Hearts. During the Vietnam War, Hackworth served multiple tours in Vietnam in multiple capacities but was well known for creating the Tiger Force with the 101st Airborne and revitalizing the demoralized 4/39th into the ‘Hardcore Recondo’ Battalion. There he received another five Purple Hearts. Col. Hackworth also holds the record for the most Silver Stars with ten awards.
5. Capt. Joe Hooper – Army
Joe Hooper enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Airborne Infantryman in 1960. He was stationed at a number of locations before being assigned to D Co., 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment just prior to that unit’s deployment to Vietnam. On February 21, 1968, Hooper’s actions outside of Hue earned him the Medal of Honor as well as one of his Purple Hearts. Hooper would serve a second tour in Vietnam from 1970-71, during which time he received a direct commission to 2nd Lieutenant. During his tours, Lt. Cooper received eight Purple Hearts, the Medal of Honor, and two Silver Stars as well as numerous other awards.
6. Col. Robert L. Howard – Army
Robert Howard enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1956 and by 1967 found himself assigned to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) in Vietnam. Howard served a total of 54 months in Vietnam. During one thirteen month tour, he was recommended for the Medal of Honor on three separate occasions, but due to the covert nature of the operations, two were reduced – to the Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart for actions in December 1968. In the remainder of his time in Vietnam, Howard was given a commission to 2nd Lieutenant and wounded a further seven times giving him a total of eight Purple Hearts for his career. He retired as a Colonel in 1992.
7. Col. William L. Russell – Army
William Russell first enlisted in the 153rd Infantry Regiment of the Arkansas National Guard during World War II, seeing action in the Aleutian Islands before being given a direct commission. After Advanced Infantry Officer Training, he was assigned to I Co., 330th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division. During his time with the 83rd Infantry Division, he earned a Silver Star, was nominated for the Medal of Honor, and was wounded seven times, earning him the nickname ‘The King of the Purple Hearts.” After WWII, Russell returned to Arkansas before being called up to participate in the Korean War where he led the 937th Field Artillery Battalion into combat. Russell retired from the military in 1965 with the rank of Colonel, having been awarded eightPurple Hearts.
8. Sgt. Maj. William Waugh – Army
William Waugh enlisted in the Army in 1948 and was briefly assigned to the 187th Parachute Regimental Combat Team in Korea before earning his Green Beret in 1954. Waugh deployed to Vietnam with Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha team in 1961. During numerous tours in Vietnam, Waugh was involved in many different operations including multiple combat High Altitude Low Opening insertions. During the Battle of Bong Son, Waugh was grievously wounded and was later awarded the Silver Star and his sixth Purple Heart. By the time Sgt. Maj. Waugh retired in 1972, he had been wounded two more times for a total of eight Purple Hearts. After his illustrious Special Forces career, Waugh continued on working for the CIA during which time, at the age of 71, he participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Police officer Corporal Allan Ervin arrived at a burning home at 8:30 am on a Friday in July. He works for the Columbia Police Department in Tennessee and was wearing a body camera when he arrived at the scene at the Riverside neighborhood home.
Loud screams shatter a calm morning
When a woman heard someone screaming in her quiet Tennessee neighborhood one morning, she immediately called the police. When she rushed over to the origin of the sound, she could see a house was on fire. Two parents had escaped the blazing house before the explosions began, but their disabled daughter remained inside. When the neighbor arrived, she could see April Chumley, age 37, lying close to the front door.
Because Chumley is non-communicative and cannot walk, she had no way of getting out on her own. Both the woman’s father and the neighbor tried to get her out of the house, but to no avail. That’s when Ervin arrived and rushed out of his patrol vehicle. Ervin yelled that everyone should get away from the burning house as he ran inside to save Chumley.
An ambulance rushed her to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where doctors treated her for smoke inhalation and burns. Both parents were also taken to the hospital but were released shortly thereafter. Ervin miraculously sustained no injuries in rescuing Chumley.
Ervin’s body-cam footage shows him running into the home, engulfed in flames from explosions.
The police department decided not to release the rest of the video, including the rescue itself where Ervin carried the victim out of the house, due to its graphic nature.
Police officers think of others first
“As a police officer, the first thing you think of is the preservation of life, and fortunately, we were able to do that,” Ervin said in his statement to the Columbia Daily Herald. It was his quick response as a first responder that saved Chumley’s life. “We know the risks we take when we go out there,” he said. “You just have to react and use your best judgment.”
Bursting oxygen tanks inside the home caused the explosions and rapid spread of the fire.
It’s thanks to the mentality of first responders like Ervin that people walk away from deadly situations alive. First responders wake up every single day to help their communities. They realize lives depend on them and dedicate themselves to the communities in which they serve.
The job requires first responders to be both adaptable and flexible. Quick reaction times and the ability to adapt to any situation are necessities of the job. It takes an eagerness to learn and stay up-to-date on new skills and technology to perform this vital role.
Everything a first responder learns, they take with them on the job, allowing them to save lives at a moment’s notice no matter which uniform they’re wearing.
Being a first responder requires an incredible amount of self-sacrifice. They work non-traditional hours and give up time with their families for the sake of their communities.
Similar to the men and women who serve in the military, first responders face intense and dangerous situations all the time. This often creates a special type of bond among the first responder community.
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.
Marine Cpl. Salvatore Naimo was awarded the Silver Star on March 17, 2021 — his 89th birthday — for actions that took place when he was a member of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment nearly 70 years ago. In September 1951 Naimo, a rifleman in “Howe” Company, found himself in the midst of bitter fighting along the 38th parallel, fighting for “the Punch Bowl.” High casualties among Naimo’s company meant his heroism was nearly lost to history.
The year 1950 had seen maneuver warfare up and down the Korean Peninsula with the Communist North sweeping aside allied resistance in June 1950 until the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter. Gen. Douglas MacArthur regained allied initiative with a brilliant counteroffensive landing Marines at Inchon in September 1950.
With Marines spearheading an Allied sweep North to the Yalu River, MacArthur all but guaranteed victory by the end of 1950 by declaring troops would be “Home by Christmas.” China entering the war in November 1950 once again changed the balance, leading to the fabled “Battle of the Chosin Reservoir” and a mass retreat south by Allied forces on the peninsula. By the summer of 1951, they were increasingly locked in stalemate with the front lines settling along the 38th parallel.
June 1951 began with armistice talks, but they began to fall apart by the end of summer. In August 1951, in an effort to drive the North Koreans and Chinese back to the negotiating table, Naimo, along with some 30,000 other members of the Allied task force, found themselves attacking a mountainous region on the far eastern part of the 38th parallel in what would become known as The Battle of the Punch Bowl.
The operation lasted from Aug. 31 until Sept. 21, 1951, and featured frequent and vicious engagements in mountainous terrain resulting in at least 5,000 Chinese and North Korean dead. On the Allied side, 69 Americans and 122 South Koreans would be killed in action and more than 1,000 Allied troops wounded.
On the morning of Sept. 14, 1951, Naimo and his fellow members of Howe Company were digging into a key ridge atop the Punchbowl, with Naimo’s platoon occupying the far left flank of Howe Company’s position. Suddenly, the Chinese Army began to drop well-aimed and concentrated mortar fire on the Marines, effectively suppressing the company.
With a mortar scoring a direct hit on the position adjacent to his, and critically wounding two Marines, cries for help rang out. Naimo immediately rushed from his position to the aid of his fellow Marines. Picking up the first wounded Marine and rushing back out into the barrage, Naimo proceeded to carry him toward the aid station when another round detonated — this time wounding Naimo and knocking him to the ground. Undaunted, Naimo picked up his fellow Marine and pressed on, reaching the aid station.
“The normal reaction when under fire is fear; that is the reaction. It’s a very difficult and deliberate decision to act, especially to put yourself at risk to save or protect your fellow Marine,” said Col. John Polidoro, chief of staff, US Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, who awarded the Silver Star on behalf of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Going against the will of corpsmen and others at the aid station, Naimo ignored his own injuries and again rushed to the aid of another wounded Marine, bringing him to the aid station as well.
It was at this point in the engagement that Chinese forces began transitioning from indirect “prep” fire into a ground attack on Howe Company’s position. Observing Chinese soldiers advancing up the hill, Naimo once again ignored his own wounds and sprang into action. He jumped into a fighting position and began firing his weapon and throwing grenades into the ranks of the advancing enemy. Naimo continued to do this until he was nearly out of ammunition and the Chinese assault broke on Howe Company’s rocky ridge.
“I earned this for something I was trained to do,” Naimo said.
While immediately recognized for heroism by his platoon commander, Naimo waited 70 years before being awarded — two days after this engagement, and before he could submit the paperwork, Naimo’s platoon commander was killed in action.
On his 89th birthday, Naimo, surrounded by family and friends rather than Marines, was presented the nation’s third highest award for valor.
“It doesn’t matter if the Marine’s actions took place yesterday, or 70 years ago, we will always ensure our Marines are recognized for their performance,” Polidoro said.
I’ve long been aware of the old Marine Corps axiom that sergeants are the backbone of the Corps, and when I was a sergeant serving on active duty, I was certain that it was right. In the years since, however, I’ve had to opportunity to view service with a broader scope, and to be honest, I think the backbone of our nation’s military isn’t any specific rank… I think the backbone title actually rightfully belongs to military moms.
Military moms come in a number of varieties: there are the mothers that serve on active duty or in the reserves, there are moms that raise their kids alone, sometimes for months on end, to support their spouses in uniform, and of course, there are the moms that worry about their sons and daughters as they ship off to basic training.
There may be more than one type of military mom, but there’s one thing that they all have in common: they’re all too often forgotten when we’re expressing our gratitude to the military community. Military moms give of themselves while honoring the service of their peers, their children, or their spouses. And all too often, we forget to let them know just how much that means to us.
“I joined to make a difference in my life,” Marine veteran Cheyenne Weaver told Sandboxx News, “And then once I became a mom, to make a difference in her life too. Being in the service matters because it helps show children that moms can do anything.”
I got to witness Cheyenne’s experiences as a military mom first hand, as the non-commissioned officer in charge of the shop she and I worked together in back in our days aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty-Nine Palms. Serving in the Marine Corps is ripe with challenges, and I saw as those challenges multiplied once she became responsible not only for her duties in uniform, but for the well being of her beloved kids as well.
Another military mom I had the honor of serving with was Nicole Yager. She joined the Marine Corps to make her parents proud, and today, she carries that same drive when it comes to making her kids proud too.
“I joined the Marine Corps because everyone doubted that I could even make it through boot camp. I ended up being voted into the leadership position, Guide, and graduated boot camp with the honor graduate title,” Nicole told Sandboxx News.
“I still have the same mentality today, the same longing to do something bigger. The only difference is now, in addition to wanting my parents to be proud, I want my children to be proud (all four) and to see that, with hard work and dedication, you really can accomplish whatever you want in life.”
Of course, raising kids with a spouse in the military isn’t easy either. Bree Salas, the proud wife of a Marine and mother of three has been working full time on Sandboxx’s Customer Happiness team while taking care of their kids on her own for the past nine months. Her husband is on a 24-month unaccompanied tour of duty overseas.
“Being a military spouse has allowed me to grow as an individual and learn my own place in the military world. I have filled the shoes of ‘dad’ for two separate 6-month deployments and I’m currently 9 months into a 24 month unaccompanied tour. Each of these stretches of time have come with their own sets of battles–to include blowing out a knee, needing emergency surgery on a gallbladder, home issues, car issues, broken bones on our rambunctious boys, and currently navigating through parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Bree explained to Sandboxx News.
Without Bree’s hard work and sacrifices, her husband couldn’t complete his mission. He certainly deserves our respect and admiration for his duty to our country, but we can’t forget that Bree and thousands of mothers like her are doing their duty at home as well.
“While my spouse consistently has my back and we currently talk daily through FaceTime and email, being the soul parent handling it all has given me immeasurable strength and opportunities to learn about myself,” Bree says.
While my wife and I were together throughout my time in uniform, we didn’t have our beautiful daughter until after I’d already transitioned off of active duty. My wife is an incredible mother and takes great pride in her time as a military spouse, but there’s another military mom in my family that I can assign credit for my own successes in the Corps: my amazing mother–an infection control nurse that has put off her retirement to continue working through the COVID-19 pandemic that remains ongoing.
Of course, I had to reach out to my mom to ask her what being a military mom has been like for her.
“Being a military mom makes me part of a larger body in the world that I would not be if it were not for my Marine son,” she explained.
“As a result of him, my family has an increased appreciation of family values, strength, thoughtfulness, and love. I value the qualities he bestows in his every day life and to my family.”
I only cried a little when she sent me that.
My mom was there to talk on the phone when I was a young corporal struggling with leading my first teams. She helped me weigh my options when it came time to re-enlist, and when I became a funeral honors NCO tasked with some of the most difficult work of my life, she was there to remind me that what I was doing was potentially some of the most important work of my life as well. She was there once again as I transitioned back into the civilian world, and I’ll never forget my mom and I both finishing our bachelor’s degrees together shortly after I got out.
My mom raised me to go after challenges head first, to roll with the punches when they came, and above all else, to be able to laugh at myself, even in the hard times. Without my mom’s support, there never would have been a Sergeant Hollings. Without her telling me to go after what I cared about, there may never have been an Editor Alex Hollings either.
So as we roll into this Mother’s Day weekend, take a minute to honor the military moms: the women raising their kids while serving their country, the women running the Homefront while their husbands are overseas, and the women that gave us the heart and the tenacity we needed to chase our own dreams of earning the title Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Coast Guardsman.
These strong women represent the best of us, and through that, they help to bring out the best in us. For their hard work, their sleepless nights, and their sacrifices… thank you military moms, from the bottom of my heart. And to all moms, military or otherwise, happy Mother’s Day!
Army Pfc. Craig H. Middleton was the Mk. 19 gunner on his convoy when it came under an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan. But despite his grievous wounds, Middleton was able to beat back the ambush and help save the lives of two wounded airmen — an action that earned him the Silver Star.
Middleton and his unit, Apache Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, were making their way through a dry riverbed bordered by steep hills in Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2011, when a series of rocket-propelled grenades rained down from the hills on one side.
The first RPG impacted a scout truck, the second hit the truck behind Middleton, and the third flew through the back window of Middleton’s Mine-resistant, Ambush-protected, All-Terrain Vehicle and exploded inside it. Middleton was instantly peppered with shrapnel up and down his legs, but he was still doing better than the two Air Force joint terminal attack controllers in the back of the vehicle. Both of them had received shrapnel and blast damage to their upper bodies.
(Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Phillip Steiner)
The wounded and embattled gunner opened up with his Mk. 19, firing 40mm grenades where the rockets had come from as well as any muzzle flashes or fighters he could spot. Out of targets, Middleton dove into the back of the MATV and applied a tourniquet to one of the JTACs.
While he treated the first JTAC, another RPG hit the vehicle, so Middleton rushed back up to engage the enemy.
The Army platoon inflicted an estimated 25 kills against the insurgents despite tough odds. As the fighters retreated, Middleton reassessed the casualties and spotted a severe groin bleed on the second JTAC which he treated with another tourniquet.
For his actions in Nangarhar Province that day, Middleton was awarded the Silver Star in a 2012 ceremony. Unfortunately, his wounds proved severe enough that he underwent a medical separation from the military. In an interview during that process, the cav scout told Army Staff Sgt. Elwyn Lovelace that he hoped to become a dentist and enjoy a nice, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work life.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Gutierrez is a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) who was awarded the Air Force Cross for heroism during an intense firefight in Afghanistan in 2009.
JTACS are military personnel who direct combat support aircraft like the A-10, calling in air strikes to support ground operations.
Gutierrez was part of a nighttime raid with an Army special forces detachment to capture a high-value Taliban target, a “brutal” man living outside of the city of Herat in Western Afghanistan.
The team was attacked with heavy fire from a numerically superior and battle-hardened enemy force. Gutierrez was shot in the chest, his team leader was shot in the leg, and the ten-man element was pinned down in a building with no escape route.
“We were just getting hammered, getting peppered,” he recalls in a six-minute interview. He talked to his team’s leader who wanted to drop bombs on the enemy targets.
“If you put a bomb on that it’ll kill us all,” he told his leader. “Guys are getting wounded. Our best chance is a 30mm high-angle strafe.”
Gutierrez is having this discussion as bullets pepper the walls behind him, as a medic works on his chest wound, a through-and-through which the medic couldn’t find the entrance wound. He is also still holding off Taliban fighters with his M4 rifle.
“This is danger close, I need your initials,” he told his team lead.
“Less than 10 meters.”
Gutierrez needed the support of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, aka “Warthog,” whose 30mm GAU-8 Cannon rounds are the size of beer bottles, to make a precision strike on the attacking insurgents.
Capt. Ethan Sabin, an A-10 pilot based at Kandahar Airfield, asked a nearby F-16 pilot to mark the target with the laser on his targeting pod.
The A-10 attack was so close, Gutierrez’s right eardrum burst and his left eardrum was severely damaged from the noise. He lost five-and-a-half pints of blood getting away from the combat zone.
After the first A-10 strafing, the medic had to re-inflate Gutierrez’ collapsed lung so he could direct two more strafing runs. For four hours, the team held off the enemy fighters and escaped the battlespace.
To give an idea of the kind of interactions JTACs have with close-air support pilots in the heat of the moment, the video below is a prime example of the extraordinary actions Gutierrez and airmen like him perform on the battlefield every day.