This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HEROES

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

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.”

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

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.”

MIGHTY HEROES

Why this heroic Navy diver was awarded the Medal of Honor after a submarine sank

Chief Gunner’s Mate Frank William Crilley recognized the urgency unfolding 265 feet below the surface. Responding to a lost submarine in April 1915, a fellow Navy diver was operating at extreme depths when his life line and air hose became tangled in the hawser cables of a salvage ship. He could not ascend or descend without help. Crilley, a Navy diver with 15 years of experience in the fleet, immediately volunteered to don a diving suit and descend to reach Chief Gunner’s Mate William F. Loughman.

As Crilley entered the water off the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii, he knew that the US Navy didn’t want to lose any more sailors. A month prior, the USS F-4 submarine belonging to the 1st Submarine Group, Pacific Torpedo Flotilla, had plummeted to the ocean’s floor. An investigation later determined a corroded battery had caused an explosion, killing all 21 submariners. 

It was the first underwater disaster for the US Navy. And despite attempts by four tugboats with the assistance of Navy divers to attach heavy lifting cables around the submarine, their efforts at rescue or salvage had so far failed.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Chief Gunner’s Mate Frank Crilley was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing another Navy diver during the salvage of the USS F-4 submarine in 1915. Photo courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command.

“Any attempt at raising the F-4 and rescuing any possible survivors presented the Navy with a situation in which [it] had practically no experience,” wrote Alfred W. Harris in a June 1979 edition of Sea Combat magazine. “While fires, explosions and numerous other types of accidents had occurred about other U.S. submarines, F-4 was the first of our boats to take her crew to the bottom, unable to return.”

Never had the US Navy successfully rescued or salvaged a submarine beyond 20 feet. The F-4 submarine lay 304 feet below the surface. Loughman had ascended to 265 feet when he began the struggle for his life.

Crilley braved the pressured depths, reaching 306 feet, where he could touch the side of the wrecked submarine. He needed to get a better angle to rescue his shipmate. No diver had previously ever reached such depths. In the two hours and 11 minutes it took to bring Loughman to the surface, the pair collectively experienced “depth narcosis” or underwater drunkenness — a condition that makes doing the most simple of tasks difficult.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Frank Crilley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in the salvage operation of the USS S-4 submarine in 1927. This photograph of the salvage crew was likely taken at the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts, circa March 19-20, 1928, shortly after the salvaged S-4 entered dry dock there. Crilley is believed to be kneeling at left. Photo courtesy US Naval History and Heritage Command.

Loughman was semiconscious but alive and needed nine hours in the recompression tank to recover. For his actions on April 17, 1915, Crilley was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929 (shown at top, with Coolidge at left). Although the Medal of Honor is awarded for heroism in combat, the US Navy had authorized the award for heroism in peacetime up until 1940. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal or the branch equivalent is awarded today for heroism in a non-combat capacity.

The F-4 submarine was later salvaged and recovered in August 1915. Four members of the 21-member crew were identified and delivered to their families. The remains of the other 17 sailors were sealed in four coffins and placed together in Arlington National Cemetery under a single headstone that read “Seventeen Unknown US Sailors, Victims of USSF–4, March 25 1915.” In 2000, submarine veterans lobbied in Washington, and Arlington installed a larger joint headstone. The old headstone was delivered to the USS Bowfin Museum at Pearl Harbor and is the only headstone ever transferred from a national cemetery.

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

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!)

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.”

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.

MIGHTY HEROES

This Navy SEAL knew how to have fun and get to work

Navy SEALs have dominated the battlefields they’ve stepped on since the concept of their existence was developed during WWII.


The Navy SEALs were officially declared in 1962 when former President John F. Kennedy had them established to conduct Unconventional Warfare — and they’ve been kicking a** ever since.

Related: This is why the Navy SEAL swim challenge is not for just anyone

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.”

Also Read: Navy SEALs are prowling the Middle East on these stealthy boats

Check out the HISTORY channel’s video below hear what exactly brings a SEAL platoon together.

YouTube, HISTORY

MIGHTY HEROES

Korean War Marine Veteran awarded silver star 70 years after action

Marine Cpl. Salvatore Naimo was awarded the Silver Star on March 17, 2021 — his 89th birthday — for actions that took place when he was a member of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment nearly 70 years ago. In September 1951 Naimo, a rifleman in “Howe” Company, found himself in the midst of bitter fighting along the 38th parallel, fighting for “the Punch Bowl.” High casualties among Naimo’s company meant his heroism was nearly lost to history.

The year 1950 had seen maneuver warfare up and down the Korean Peninsula with the Communist North sweeping aside allied resistance in June 1950 until the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter. Gen. Douglas MacArthur regained allied initiative with a brilliant counteroffensive landing Marines at Inchon in September 1950.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Cpl. Salvatore Naimo, a Korean War Veteran, answers questions from local news agencies after being awarded the Silver Star in Sarasota, Florida on March 17, 2021. Cpl. Naimo was awarded the Silver Star for his actions and bravery while serving as a as a rifleman in Howe Company 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment during the Korean War on Sept. 14, 1951. US Marine Corps By Gunnery Sgt. Eric Alabiso II, courtesy of DVIDS.

With Marines spearheading an Allied sweep North to the Yalu River, MacArthur all but guaranteed victory by the end of 1950 by declaring troops would be “Home by Christmas.” China entering the war in November 1950 once again changed the balance, leading to the fabled “Battle of the Chosin Reservoir” and a mass retreat south by Allied forces on the peninsula. By the summer of 1951, they were increasingly locked in stalemate with the front lines settling along the 38th parallel.

June 1951 began with armistice talks, but they began to fall apart by the end of summer. In August 1951, in an effort to drive the North Koreans and Chinese back to the negotiating table, Naimo, along with some 30,000 other members of the Allied task force, found themselves attacking a mountainous region on the far eastern part of the 38th parallel in what would become known as The Battle of the Punch Bowl. 

The operation lasted from Aug. 31 until Sept. 21, 1951, and featured frequent and vicious engagements in mountainous terrain resulting in at least 5,000 Chinese and North Korean dead. On the Allied side, 69 Americans and 122 South Koreans would be killed in action and more than 1,000 Allied troops wounded.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
The natural beauty of this quiet scene in North Korea means little to these 1st Marine Division Leathernecks as they rest during a “lull” in the UN struggle for “Punchbowl Valley.” Photo courtesy of defenseimagery.mil, public domain.

On the morning of Sept. 14, 1951, Naimo and his fellow members of Howe Company were digging into a key ridge atop the Punchbowl, with Naimo’s platoon occupying the far left flank of Howe Company’s position. Suddenly, the Chinese Army began to drop well-aimed and concentrated mortar fire on the Marines, effectively suppressing the company. 

With a mortar scoring a direct hit on the position adjacent to his, and critically wounding two Marines, cries for help rang out. Naimo immediately rushed from his position to the aid of his fellow Marines. Picking up the first wounded Marine and rushing back out into the barrage, Naimo proceeded to carry him toward the aid station when another round detonated — this time wounding Naimo and knocking him to the ground. Undaunted, Naimo picked up his fellow Marine and pressed on, reaching the aid station. 

“The normal reaction when under fire is fear; that is the reaction. It’s a very difficult and deliberate decision to act, especially to put yourself at risk to save or protect your fellow Marine,” said Col. John Polidoro, chief of staff, US Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, who awarded the Silver Star on behalf of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Marine Corps Col. John Polidoro, chief of staff, US Marine Corps Forces Central Command, awards the Silver Star to Korean War veteran Cpl. Salvatore Naimo in Sarasota, Fla., on March 17, 2021. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Eric Alabiso II, courtesy DVIDS.

Going against the will of corpsmen and others at the aid station, Naimo ignored his own injuries and again rushed to the aid of another wounded Marine, bringing him to the aid station as well.

It was at this point in the engagement that Chinese forces began transitioning from indirect “prep” fire into a ground attack on Howe Company’s position. Observing Chinese soldiers advancing up the hill, Naimo once again ignored his own wounds and sprang into action. He jumped into a fighting position and began firing his weapon and throwing grenades into the ranks of the advancing enemy. Naimo continued to do this until he was nearly out of ammunition and the Chinese assault broke on Howe Company’s rocky ridge.  

“I earned this for something I was trained to do,” Naimo said.

While immediately recognized for heroism by his platoon commander, Naimo waited 70 years before being awarded — two days after this engagement, and before he could submit the paperwork, Naimo’s platoon commander was killed in action.  

On his 89th birthday, Naimo, surrounded by family and friends rather than Marines, was presented the nation’s third highest award for valor.

“It doesn’t matter if the Marine’s actions took place yesterday, or 70 years ago, we will always ensure our Marines are recognized for their performance,” Polidoro said.

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

MIGHTY HEROES

This wounded cav scout saved his unit during an enemy ambush

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


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

Related video: Wounded soldier saved his unit from enemy ambush

 

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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
The Mk. 19 can hurl 40mm grenades like they’re going out of style.

(Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Phillip Steiner)

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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

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

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

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

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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

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

We’re pretty sure he’s earned it.

MIGHTY HEROES

The 7 greatest animal war heroes

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.

 

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Cher Ami as she is displayed at the Smithsonian Museum. Photo: US Army Signal Corps

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.

Since the 77th just refused an offer to surrender and was very much still in the position, this was a problem. Maj. Charles Whittlesey ordered a message sent back to headquarters, but the group’s three pigeons were quickly shot down. Cher Ami, despite a hole in her chest and a nearly amputated leg, got back into the air and delivered her message. 194 soldiers made it out alive thanks to her actions.

2. Sgt. Stubby

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia

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.

His most heroic moment came when he found and seized a German spy moving near the American position. He bit into the German’s pants and raised a ruckus, holding the spy in place until the infantrymen could relieve him of his prisoner.

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.

3. Wojtek

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Photo: imgur coveredinksauce

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.

When the unit re-entered the war in Egypt, they had to make Wojtek a soldier since pets weren’t allowed. As an official member of the unit, the 440-pound bear became an ammo carrier that ferried heavy artillery rounds to the guns. He survived the war and lived out his days in a zoo in Edinburgh.

4. The horse that ferried ammunition and wounded Marines despite two wounds from enemy fire.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Photo: US Marine Corps

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.

Moving over difficult terrain, she moved 386 rounds and traveled 35 miles despite suffering two wounds on the fiercest day of fighting. The first injury occurred when a piece of shrapnel struck her above her eye and the second was a cut to her flank.

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.

6. The duck that fought the Japanese at Tarawa.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Photo: US Marine Corps Lt. Col. Presley M. Rixey

When the U.S. invaded the island of Tarawa, thousands of Marines clashed with thousands of Japanese soldiers in an effort to control the two-mile wide speck of land. Amidst the fierce fighting on the beach, an American duck flew from ship to shore to attack a Japanese rooster.

Despite suffering multiple pecks to the head, Siwash the Duck of the 1st Battalion, 10th Marines continued her assault and eventually overcame her adversary, according to her Marine Corps citation published in Life magazine. She refused medical aid until the rest of her gun section was cared for. She later saw action at Saipan and Tinian.

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.

Throneburg was able to kill two of the guerrilla attackers but would have fallen to the rest if Nemo hadn’t ignored his own injuries to attack the remaining guerrillas while guarding his handler. Nemo bought enough time for reinforcements to find and rescue the pair. He was allowed to retire to a personal kennel after the firefight.

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 reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
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 reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
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 reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
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. 

MIGHTY HEROES

8 men who earned the most Purple Hearts

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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Four Marines man a machine gun in Korea, where they are serving with the 1st Marine Division. (Photo: U.S. 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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Dressed in parkas (Overcoat, parka type, with pile liner), Missouri infantrymen pose for a New Year greeting, 19th Infantry Regiment, Kumsong front, Korea, 14 December 1951. (Photo: U.S. 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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
(Photo: U.S. 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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
(Photo: U.S. 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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
(Photo: U.S. 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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
(Photo: U.S. 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

 

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
(Photo: U.S. 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.

MIGHTY HEROES

MIGHTY HEROES: Meet pediatric nurse, Megan Dursky

For Megan Dursky, a registered nurse working in pediatrics in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, keeping perspective during COVID-19 has helped her perform to the best of her capabilities.

“When I do get scared – I think about how I would hope my child/nephew/niece would be taken care of when they are ill,” Dursky said. “What sort of treatment would I want for them? I then try to provide that for my patients.”


This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

Megan and her husband, Trevor. Photo courtesy of Megan Dursky.

Dursky, whose husband Trevor serves in the Iowa National Guard, shares that when she first heard about the novel coronavirus, it seemed far away.

“Like many Americans, I did not think it would affect me personally, especially since I live in a rural area of the United States. I brushed it off for the most part and went about my normal routines of life. As I started to hear about how it was affecting Italy and began reading and seeing pictures of healthcare providers there — I started feeling uneasy — fearful of the unknown or what was to come.”

Almost immediately, Dursky began noticing changes in her day-to-day protocols at work.

“Things began to change in my workplace on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis,” she shared. “Some of us wore paper masks while conducting patient care — others thought this was maybe a little over the top. We began to have daily, sometimes twice daily huddles to discuss new guidelines/procedures to implement. My work inbox began to fill with COVID-19 updates and our patients’ families began calling with questions regarding the outbreak. Things really sunk in when positive COVID-19 cases began to pop up locally in our communities and further PPE and protocols were put into place. By this point, our office was in the process of establishing a specialized clinic to receive patients with possible COVID-19 symptoms.”

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

Dursky, left, in PPE. Photo courtesy of Megan Dursky.

While the threat of insufficient PPE looms and seeing stress on her co-worker’s faces happens more regularly, Dursky admits that working with families has sustained her in such an emotional and uncertain time.

“My favorite part of being a nurse is connecting with my patients and their families,” she said. “A high point for me is being able to educate them on ways to protect their families, keeping them as healthy as they can be during this difficult time. Providing reassurance that we will be available in the clinic to take their calls and questions; even as other services of the community are shutting down.”

While the nature of her job is to reassure the community, the thought of work coming home with her is never far from Dursky’s mind.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

Megan and Trevor Dursky with their family. Photo courtesy of Megan Dursky.

“I’m fearful of contracting the virus myself and bringing it home to my family,” she shared. “Trying to serve patients while protecting those closest to me in my home. Every time you grab a door handle and then rub your forehead without thinking only moments later, have you just made a potentially life-changing mistake?”

Through it all, she says that nurses are truly there for patients.

“Without you — we would not be essential,” she said. “A smile from my patient can clear the day’s troubles from my mind and make everything we do worthwhile.”

We Are The Mighty will be featuring different heroes on the front lines of the battle with COVID-19. From health care workers to teachers, kind neighbors, grocery store employees and other mission essential personnel, if you know someone going above and beyond, please email us to feature them: tessa.robinson@wearethemighty.com.

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 

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

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 

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

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

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

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 

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill

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 HEROES

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

Then-Capt. William F. Andrews was flying an F-16 over Iraq Feb. 27, 1991 when American and Iraqi tanks were engaged in heavy fighting at Basra. Andrews led his flight into the battle and targeted the Iraqi tanks until his Fighting Falcon was hit by a surface-to-air missile and he was forced to eject.


As he descended in his parachute, he pulled out his survival radio and immediately began feeding information to his buddies flying above him. When he hit the ground, he broke his leg but in spite of the pain he kept right on working.

With his radio still out and a decent view of the battlefield, he began watching for enemy missile launches that threatened his fellow pilots. He would alert pilots that they were in danger and tell them which way to turn to avoid the missiles and when they needed to deploy flares to trick the infrared targeting sensors.

A short time later, an OA-10 showed up. When it came under missile attack as well, Andrews gave the OA-10 pilot a heads up on when to bank and when to deploy flares.

This reporter performed brain surgery on a Marine using a handheld drill
Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon

Bot the F-16 and OA-10 pilots later told investigators that their aircraft would likely have been shot down or heavily damaged if it weren’t for the threat calls that Andrews made while severely injured on the ground, under fire, and surrounded by Iraqi forces attempting to capture him. He was later awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions on Feb. 27.

He also received two Distinguished Flying Crosses with “V” device for valor during Desert Storm. In a Feb. 24 engagement, he led a flight to kill Iraqi soldiers who had pinned down a Special Forces team. During a Jan. 23 mission, he flew through thick anti-aircraft fire and dodged six surface-to-air missiles to destroy a SCUD missile facility.

Andrews was captured by Iraqi forces the morning after he was shot down and was held prisoner for eight days before being released. He was flown to the USNS Mercy for treatment and sent back to the states. He rose to the rank of colonel before retiring in 2010. Tragically, he died of brain cancer only five years later.

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