10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve

The United States Coast Guard Reserve is a flexible, responsive operational force that exists to support the Coast Guard roles of maritime homeland security, national defense, and domestic disaster operations. The Coast Guard depends on the Reserve force to be always ready (Semper Paratus!) to mobilize with critical competencies in boat operations, contingency planning and response, expeditionary warfare, marine safety, port security, law enforcement and mission support.


On Feb. 19, 2018, we will celebrate 77 years of extraordinary Coast Guard Reserve service!

Also read: These Coasties were tougher than your first sergeant

While I’m fortunate to know many of our reservists, I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about the history or inner-workings of our Reserve force. To learn more, I reached out to our incredible reserve community and the wonderful people who work with them. I was amazed by what I learned and I think that you will be, too!

10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve
Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp speaks to members of Coast Guard Reserve Port Security Unit 305, deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo, during an all-hands meeting. (U.S. Navy photo)

1. The Coast Guard Reserve played a significant role in Coast Guard operations during World War II.

More than 92 percent of the 214,000 personnel who served in the Coast Guard during WWII were reservists, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the Temporary Reserve. From manning Coast Guard and Navy ships, to acting as coxswains on invasion landing craft – their service and heroics were present from Iwo Jima and Guam, to Normandy and North Africa.

2. The Coast Guard Reserve is Semper Paratus (always ready).

Since 1972, reservists have been subject to involuntary activation for domestic contingencies and have up to 48 hours to report for active duty upon notification. In 2017, nearly 1,300 reservists were activated in support of hurricane response operations.

3. A reservist will be serving at the White House.

A Reserve Physician’s Assistant (PA) will be serving on active duty with the White House Medical Unit beginning this summer. She will be the first reservist to serve in this capacity.

4. RESERVIST Magazine has been continuously published since 1953.

The original purpose was “the dissemination of up-to-date information of interest to all Coast Guard Reservists, on active and inactive duty” and that purpose continues today.

5. On November 23, 1942, the Women’s Reserve was established as a branch of the Coast Guard.

Members became known as SPARs, an acronym derived from the Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus, Always Ready.” SPARs became the foundation for women in the Coast Guard today.

6. Reservists have deployed all over the world and served in multiple conflicts.

Whether at home or overseas, whether man-made or natural, whatever the reason, wherever the need, the Coast Guard Reserve will be there when needed most.

10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve
Coast Guard Reserve Seaman Christopher Knight, removes an M-240 machine gun from a Viper patrol boat for cleaning, Dec. 11, 2008. (Photo by Army Spc. Erica Isaacson)

7. In addition to the Coast Guard’s core values, there are three Coast Guard Reserve tenets.

Professionalism, preparedness, and patriotism: These are prominently displayed on the Emblem of the Coast Guard Reserve.

8. A number of celebrities have served in the Coast Guard Reserve and/or Temporary Reserve.

The Coast Guard Reserve has some celebrity connections, including Humphrey Bogart, Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Senator Sam Nunn, Rep. Bill Delahunt, and Rep. Howard Coble.

9. Many Coast Guard reservists have other jobs.

Coast Guard reservists often perform very different functions in their civilian lives – they’re teachers, police officers, firefighters, pharmaceutical salesmen, and real estate agents. For two weeks out of the year (or more), they put their lives on hold to commit to fulfilling their obligations to the service. And, once a month, they often work seven days straight.

10. Our reservists don’t serve for the pay or the glory.

To quote Chief Eric McCusker, one of the reservists that I have the honor of knowing, “We do this for a few hundred dollars which is sometimes not enough to cover the cost of airfare when we have to travel out of state to our drilling units on our own dime. We don’t perform our jobs in the Reserve for the pay or the glory. We do it because we love it. We love feeling that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We love the opportunity to get to help assist our active duty brothers and sisters (even though sometimes we catch a lot of grief for being “Weekend Warriors”). We leave our drilling units each weekend with a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that we have done our best.”

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Destined for the Medal of Honor: The legend of Col. Ralph Puckett

In the closing days of 2020, the Department of Defense released its 2021 Defense Budget. A voluminous document that contains the projected spending for all services for the next year, the Defense Budget also includes small tidbits of seemingly unrelated information, including proposals for awarding the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor under fire, or upgrading a lesser award to the Medal of Honor

In the 2021 Defense Budget, there were four recommendations for an upgrade. Specialist Dwight Birdwell (Vietnam War), Sergeant First Class Earl Plumlee (Global War on Terror, Afghanistan), Sergeant First Class Ashlyn Cashe (Global War on Terror, Iraq), and finally retired Colonel Ralph Puckett (Korean War).

Although the first three of their families are still waiting for news, Col. Puckett’s case moved forward, and the legendary Ranger was awarded the Medal of Honor last month. A true warrior, Puckett received the Medal of Honor at the age of 94.

Destined for Glory

10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve
President Joseph Biden presents the Medal of Honor to retired Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2021. (Spc. XaViera Masline)

Puckett was born in 1926 in Tifton, Georgia, and commissioned in the Army as an infantry second lieutenant in 1949 after he graduated from West Point. His first duty station was in Okinawa, as part of the occupation force there.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Puckett volunteered for the Rangers, a light infantry, special operations unit. During World War Two, the Rangers had undertaken a series of the hardest and most sensitive missions, including scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and destroying fortified German positions in Normandy during D-Day and the Cabanatuan prisoner of war rescue mission in the Philippines.

10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve
Modern-day Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment reenact the scaling of the Pointe du Hoc in 2019 (US Army).

By now a 1st Lieutenant, Puckett was selected to lead the only Ranger company at the time, the 8th Ranger Company, 8213th Army Unit, 8th U.S. Army. He had only a little over a month to train his troops to work as a team before they deployed to the front.

A Leader to Follow

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Col. Ralph Puckett on the radio in Vietnam (Photo courtesy of the Puckett Family)

On 25 and 26 November 1950, Puckett and his Rangers were attached to Task Force Dolvin and led the advance of the 25th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Unsan. His unit attacked and captured Hill 205. However, the Chinese were determined to recapture the strategic position regardless of casualties.

For over four hours, the Chinese threw wave upon wave of troops at Puckett and his men. The Americans were outnumbered by ten to one but they kept fighting into the night. Finally, after having repelled five counterattacks, the Rangers were overrun in the sixth. By that point, they had no supporting artillery and were low on ammunition with multiple casualties. Hand-to-hand combat reminiscent of the trenches of World War One ensued, and the Rangers were forced to fall back in the face of overwhelming numbers.

By that point, Puckett had suffered multiple wounds throughout his body, a testament to his dedication to his troops and to leading from the front. He exposed himself to enemy snipers and machine-gun fire several times to reveal their positions so his Rangers could take them out. When the Chinese eventually overran their position, Puckett ordered his men to leave him behind, an order which they openly disobeyed, fighting their way to their wounded leader and taking them with them. For his actions, leadership, and fighting spirit, Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross at the time, the second-highest award for valor in combat.

The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, Puckett received is telling:

“With complete disregard for his personal safety, First Lieutenant Puckett led his company across eight hundred yards of open terrain under heavy enemy small-arms fire and captured the company’s objective. During this operation he deliberately exposed himself to enemy machine-gun fire to enable his men to spot locations of the machine guns.

After capturing the objective, he directed preparation of defensive positions against an expected enemy counterattack. At 2200 hours on 25 November 1950, while directing the defense of his position against a heavy counterattack, he was wounded in the fight shoulder. Refusing evacuation, he continued to direct his company through four more counterattacks by a numerically superior force who advanced to within grenade range before being driven back During these attacks, he left the safety of his foxhole in order to observe movements of the enemy and to direct artillery fire. In so doing, he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy small-arms and mortar fire.

In the sixth counterattack, at 0300 hours on 26 November 1950, he was wounded again, so seriously that he was unable to move. Detecting that his company was about to be overrun and forced to withdraw, he ordered his men to leave him behind so as not to endanger their withdrawal. Despite his protests, he was dragged from the hill to a position of safety.”

A short video about Colonel Ralph Puckett and his actions.

Warrior for Life

Despite the action he saw in Korea and the wounds he received as a result, Puckett decided to stay in the Army and continue to serve his country. A decision he affirmed even after the Army offered him a medical retirement.

After he recovered from his wounds, Puckett was assigned as an instructor to the U.S. Army Ranger School, West Point, and as a Ranger advisor to the Columbian Army, where he established the famous Escuela de Lanceros special operations course. Puckett, however, had had enough of cozy assignments, and he volunteered and completed the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1960 and was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tolz, Germany.

In 1967, Puckett, a lieutenant colonel at that point, found himself again on the front lines as commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

On August 13, 1967, elements of his unit came upon a North Vietnamese battalion and a fierce fight ensued. Puckett went straight to the frontline and coordinated defense. He moved through a heavily mined area several times while directing the fight. Day gave way to darkness and the battle was still going. Puckett repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to visit foxholes and rally his troops. At one point, he personally evacuated two wounded soldiers after a mortar barrage. Even as the battle was going badly, he refused evacuation and instead stayed with his men.

One of his lieutenants who was preparing his platoon for a final stand recalled that “word of Colonel Puckett’s arrival spread like wildfire. We all stiffened up and felt that nothing bad could happen now because the Ranger was with us.”

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Colonel Ralph Puckett receiving his second Distinguished Service Cross from President Lyndon B. Johnson “To the family of Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. – Who distinguished himself in very exceptional service to his country – a proud son of Georgia – a great national patriot.” (Photo courtesy of the Puckett Family via US Army.)

Puckett retired in 1971, after 22 years of service.

After his retirement, the 75th Ranger Regiment made him an Honorary Colonel of the Regiment from 1996 to 2006 and also established the annual Colonel Ralph Puckett Leadership Award, which is awarded every year to the best junior Ranger officer in the unit whose actions and leadership during demanding circumstances made the difference. Given that the 75th Ranger Regiment has been continuously deployed in Global War on Terror for more than 7,000 consecutive days, competition for Colonel Ralph Puckett Leadership Award is fierce.

In 1992, Puckett was inducted into Ranger Hall of Fame, in 2004 he was selected a distinguished graduate of the US Military Academy, and in 2007 he received the Infantry’s Doughboy Award.

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Retired Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. poses for a photo with then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bannister, 75th Ranger Regiment, and a local national friend, Afghanistan, 2005. Puckett was an honorary colonel of the 75th RR. (Photo courtesy of the Puckett Family via US Army)

“He feared no man, he feared no situation and he feared no enemy. Clearly a unique, courageous Soldier in combat and even more importantly, in my opinion, Col. Puckett was an ultimate Infantry leader,” General Jay Hendrix, a former commander of the US Army Forces Command, the largest Army formation, said.

Puckett’s awards include the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars (the third-highest award for valor), two Bronze Stars for Valor (the fourth-highest award for valor), two Legions of Merit, five Purple Hearts, ten Air Medals, and the Army Commendation Medal, among other decorations.

Puckett also earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with star, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Wings, Glider Badge, and the Columbian Lancero Ranger Badge.


This article by Stavros Atlamazoglou was originally published by Sandboxx News

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6 wild facts about the deadly creator of SEAL Team Six

These days, Richard Marcinko is a business instructor, author, and motivational speaker. In his earlier years, “Demo Dick” was the United States’ premier counterterrorism operator. Marcinko enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1958 and eventually worked his way up to the rank of commander, graduated with degrees in international relations and political science, and earned 34 medals and citations, including a Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and four Bronze Stars. But that’s just his military resume.

Even among the ranks of American special operators, Marcinko, his record, and his reputation are all exceptional — and it’s easy to see why. At 77, he is still training business executives as well as U.S. and foreign hostage rescue teams. He even worked as a consultant on the FOX television show 24. His memoir, Rogue Warrior, is a New York Times bestseller.

“I’m good at war,” Marcinko once told People Magazine. “Even in Vietnam, the system kept me from hunting and killing as many of the enemy as I would have liked.”


1. North Vietnam had a bounty on his head

As a platoon leader in Vietnam, Marcinko and his SEALs were so successful, the North Vietnamese Army took notice. His assault on Ilo Ilo Island was called the most successful SEAL operation in the Mekong Delta. During his second tour, Marcinko and SEAL Team Two teamed up with Army Special Forces during the Tet Offensive at Chau Doc. The SEALs rescued hospital personnel caught in the crossfire as an all-out urban brawl raged around them.

Because of Marcinko’s daring and success, the NVA placed a 50,000 piastre bounty on his head, payable to anyone who could prove they killed the SEAL leader. Obviously, they never paid out that bounty.

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(US Navy)

2. He was rejected by the Marine Corps

Marcinko joined the military at 18 but, surprisingly (to some), he didn’t first opt to join the Navy. His first stop was the Marine Corps, who rejected him outright because he did not graduate from high school. So Marcinko, who would leave as a Commander, enlisted in the Navy. He later became an officer after graduating from the Navy’s postgraduate school, earning his commission in 1965.

3. He designed the Navy’s counterterrorism operation

You know you’ve made it when they make a video game about your life story.

After the tragic failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the U.S. attempt to free hostages being held by students in Iran, the U.S. Navy and its special operations structure decided that they needed an overhaul. Marcinko was one of those who helped design the new system. His answer was the creation of SEAL Team Six.

4. He numbered his SEAL Team “Six” to fool the Russians

When he was creating the newest SEAL Team, the United States and Soviet Union were locked in the Cold War — and spies were everywhere. Not trusting that anyone would keep the creation of his new unit a secret, he numbered it SEAL Team Six in order fool the KGB into believing there were three more SEAL Teams they didn’t know about.

5. His job was to infiltrate bases — American bases

The Navy needed to know where their operational sensitivities were — where they were weakest. Even in the areas where security was thought tightest, the Navy was desperate to know if they could be infiltrated. So, Vice Admiral James Lyons tasked Marcinko to create another unit.

Marcinko created Naval Security Coordination Team OP-06D, also known as Red Cell, a unit of 13 men. Twelve came from SEAL Team Six and the other from Marine Force Recon. They were to break into secure areas, nuclear submarines, Navy ships, and even Air Force One. Red Cell was able to infiltrate and leave without any notice. The reason? Military personnel on duty were replaced by civilian contractor security guards.

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Just like the A-Team, except real. And Marcinko is in command. And he’s the only one. And he killed a lot more people. (NBC Universal Television)

 

6. He spent 15 months in jail

Toward the end of his career, he was embroiled in what the Navy termed a “kickback scandal,” alleging that Marcinko conspired with an Arizona arms dealer to receive $100,000 for securing a government contract for hand grenades. Marcinko maintained that this charge was the result of a witch hunt, blowback for exposing so many vulnerabilities and embarrassing the Navy’s highest ranking officers. He served 15 months of a 21-month sentence.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Story Behind Chesty Puller’s 5 Navy Crosses and 2 Other Major Valor Awards

Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller is something like a god to United States Marines. To call Chesty a legend feels like an understatement for any Marine who has been properly indoctrinated in the ways of the World’s Finest Fighting Force. Marines are taught in boot camp about the most decorated Marine in the service’s history.

Over a 37-year career in the Corps, Chesty rose from the rank of private to lieutenant general. He saw combat in numerous conflicts and earned an unprecedented five Navy Crosses, a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Silver Star Medal. The Navy Cross is the nation’s second-highest military award for valor in combat — second only to the Medal of Honor. The Distinguished Service Cross is the Army equivalent of the Navy Cross, which is awarded by the Navy and Marine Corps. The Silver Star is the United States’ third-highest military award for valor in combat.

While most Marines are familiar with Chesty’s chest candy, the stories behind his biggest awards are less known. Strap in, folks.

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First Navy Cross, Nicaragua

As a first lieutenant, Chesty earned his first Navy Cross for commanding a Nicaraguan National Guard unit. From February through August 1930, Chesty led five successful engagements against superior numbers of armed bandits, completely routing the enemy forces each time, according to his award citation.

“By his intelligent and forceful leadership without thought of his own personal safety, by great physical exertion and by suffering many hardships, Lieutenant Puller surmounted all obstacles and dealt five successive and severe blows against organized banditry in the Republic of Nicaragua,” his citation reads.

Second Navy Cross, Nicaragua

Chesty earned his second Navy Cross while commanding a 40-man Nicaraguan National Guard patrol from Sept. 20 to Oct. 1, 1932. The first lieutenant and his men patrolled nearly 100 miles north of their nearest base, penetrating deep into isolated mountainous bandit territory. Chesty’s patrol was ambushed Sept. 26 “by an insurgent force of 150 in a well-prepared position armed with not less than seven automatic weapons and various classes of small arms and well-supplied with ammunition,” according to Chesty’s award citation.

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Chesty Puller, second from left, and William Lee pose for a photo with Carlos Gutierrez and Carmen Torrez, members of the Nicaraguan National Guard Detachment, circa 1931. Official US Marine Corps photo.

After a Nicaraguan soldier was killed by the initial burst of fire and Chesty’s second in command was seriously wounded and reported dead, the legendary combat leader went to work.

“With great courage, coolness and display of military judgment, [Puller] so directed the fire and movement of his men that the enemy were driven first from the high ground on the right of his position, and then by a flanking movement forced from the high ground to the left and finally were scattered in confusion with a loss of 10 killed and many wounded by the persistent and well-directed attack of the patrol,” the award citation reads. “This signal victory in jungle country, with no lines of communication and 100 miles from any supporting force, was largely due to the indomitable courage and persistence of the patrol commander. Returning with the wounded to Jinotega, the patrol was ambushed twice by superior forces on Sept. 30. On both occasions the enemy was dispersed with severe losses.”

Third Navy Cross, Guadalcanal

Chesty earned his third Navy Cross as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal in World War II. On the night of Oct. 24-25, 1942, Lt. Col. Puller’s battalion was holding a mile-long defensive front under heavy rain and in some areas of dense jungle when a massive Japanese force launched a violent assault against the Marines.

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Chesty Puller, center, on Guadalcanal in 1942. Official US Marine Corps photo.

“Courageously withstanding the enemy’s desperate and determined attacks, Lieutenant Colonel Puller not only held his battalion to its position until reinforcements arrived three hours later, but also effectively commanded the augmented force until late in the afternoon of the next day,” Chesty’s award citation reads. “By his tireless devotion to duty and cool judgment under fire, he prevented a hostile penetration of our lines and was largely responsible for the successful defense of the sector assigned to his troops.”

The famous battle at Guadalcanal was immortalized in HBO’s The Pacific miniseries, which also recounts in inspiring detail the heroic actions of Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone (another highly decorated Marine legend) and Chesty’s push for Basilone to receive the Medal of Honor.

Fourth Navy Cross, Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain

Chesty earned his fourth Navy Cross while serving as executive officer of the 7th Marines during the Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain from Dec. 26, 1943, to Jan. 19, 1944.

“Assigned temporary command of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, from Jan. 4-9, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay,” his award citation reads. “Assuming additional duty in command of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Jan. 7-8, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign.”

Fifth Navy Cross, Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Korea

Known for its miserable subzero conditions and nightmarish brutality, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir holds a special place in Marine Corps lore (the gut-wrenching documentary Chosin does a great job of capturing the absolute hell that battle was), and Chesty Puller had a pretty big role there. So central that his actions at Chosin earned him his fifth Navy Cross and his only Distinguished Service Medal.

As a colonel, Chesty was serving as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Regiment when he learned his Marines were completely surrounded by tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers and famously declared, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now, we’ve finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them.”

During the period of Dec. 5-10, 1950, “Colonel Puller drove off repeated and fanatical enemy attacks upon his regimental defense sector and supply points,” his award citation reads. “Although the area was frequently covered by grazing machine-gun fire and intense artillery and mortar fire, he coolly moved along his troops to insure their correct tactical employment, reinforced the lines as the situation demanded, and successfully defended the perimeter, keeping open the main supply routes for the movement of the Division. During the attack from Koto-ri to Hungnam, he expertly utilized his Regiment as the Division rear guard, repelling two fierce enemy assaults, which severely threatened the security of the unit, and personally supervised the care and prompt evacuation of all casualties. By his unflagging determination, he served to inspire his men to heroic efforts in defense of their positions and assured the safety of much valuable equipment, which would otherwise have been lost to the enemy. His skilled leadership, superb courage and valiant devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds reflect the highest credit upon Colonel Puller and the United States Naval Service.”

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Distinguished Service Cross, Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Korea

Apparently Chesty bolstered his Battle of Chosin bling and scored the Army’s equivalent of the Navy Cross for his actions Nov. 29 to Dec. 4, 1950. Chesty’s citation for this award is sparse on details but cites his “extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as commanding officer, 1st Marines […] Colonel Puller’s actions contributed materially to the breakthrough of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Chosin Reservoir area and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”

Silver Star, Inchon Landing, Korea

Before Chosin, Chesty pulled off an extraordinary feat when he executed Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s bold gamble to change the course of the Korean War with an amphibious landing of forces at the Port of Inchon.

The Marine Corps Times reported in 2019, “The bold landing at Inchon was a major gamble by MacArthur. Critics of the Army general’s plan noted Korean defenses, a heavily mined approach to the port and obstacles like seawalls.” MacArthur, who commanded American and United Nations forces during the Korean War, awarded the Silver Star to Chesty as a symbol of respect for the Inchon landing.

Chesty’s Silver Star citation highlights his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while commanding the 1st Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces during the amphibious landing resulting in the capture of Inchon, Korea, on Sept. 15, 1950, in the Inchon-Seoul Operation. His actions contributed materially to the success of this operation and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Military Service.”

At this point, any Marine reading this listicle should be standing at attention and saluting while sounding off with a chesty “OOHRAH! Semper Fi!”

Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are.

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

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These daring defectors turned the Vietcong against itself

In 1966, the Marines in Vietnam found themselves with an unusual opportunity – to turn the tables on the enemy.


This came by way of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese defectors who were willing to be retrained to work and fight with American combat units. In exchange, they would receive better treatment and pay than they had at the hands of the communists.

This program dubbed “Chieu Hoi” (translated as “open arms”) offered defecting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese amnesty, healthcare, money, and employment assistance. After barely surviving under communist oppression, many were more than willing to give it up.

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Kit Carson scouts were recruited from Vietcong defectors for their knowledge of the terrain and the local population. (Photo from AirborneOCS.com)

These incentives were enough to convince thousands of Viet Cong to desert and join the Americans. Due to their inherent knowledge of the terrain and the locals, the Marines called them Kit Carson scouts after the famous American frontiersman.

To the Vietnamese they were Hoi Chanh – or “one who has returned.”

To prepare for missions with American forces, communist defectors first had to pass training to become Kit Carson scouts.

For the 3rd Marine Division, an early proponent of the Kit Carson program, this training took place at Quang Tri City. Sergeant Maj. Tran Van Tranh, a communist infiltrator who defected when he saw the good life in South Vietnam, led the school there.

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Recruiting leaflet for the Chieu Hoi program. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

At the school he lectured on mines, booby-traps, snipers, and ambushes. And how to detect and disarm each one.

In 1967, after seeing the effectiveness of the program with the Marines, U.S. commander Gen. William Westmoreland ordered all divisions to recruit and train at least 100 scouts each.

Other schools with other divisions soon followed. In the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division the Hoi Chanhs became known as Tiger Scouts.

Despite their training and experience many Kit Carson Scouts lacked English language skills. This was overcome in the Marine Corps by training young Marines in the Vietnamese language prior to arriving in country. These Marines were then assigned as “handlers” to the scouts assigned to their unit.

The Kit Carson Scouts were able to perform numerous tasks that made them priceless to the American fighting men. They were able to talk to the local Vietnamese in their native language and could identify Viet Cong guerrillas in the villages.

Through their training and experience they became adept at spotting booby traps – often having laid some themselves – saving countless Americans from death and dismemberment.

Due to the nature of their work and being out in front of American forces the Kit Carson scouts often found themselves engaged in combat as well. Relying on their guerrilla instincts and proper military training from the Americans, they excelled.

Many were recommended for awards for their bravery.

The scouts proved their value early on. In a short period of time in late 1966 the few Kit Carson Scouts assigned to the Marines were credited with nearly 50 enemy kills and the detection of nearly 20 mines, booby-traps, or tunnels.

Another scout led Marines through unfamiliar territory, at night, allowing them to surprise and capture a 15-man contingent of Viet Cong.

In another instance, a scout on patrol with Recon Marines fought savagely when the unit was ambushed. His suppressive fire in the face of overwhelming odds drove the enemy back. He then located a suitable landing zone for extraction and single-handedly carried two wounded Marines there. It was only after he fell, exhausted, while working to clear the landing zone that the Marines realized he had been shot three times but had never stopped.

The usefulness of the Kit Carson Scouts did not stop on the battlefield though.

They were equally as valuable in civil affairs and psychological operations due to their understanding of the local population and the enemy. Most importantly, they could help recruit more Viet Cong to rally to the government’s cause.

In total, over 83,000 Viet Cong were convinced to defect to South Vietnam, though only a small number would become Kit Carson Scouts.

In a paper detailing his experiences as the Officer in Charge of Kit Carson Scouts for the 3rd Marine Division Capt. William Cowan explained “the methods of effective Scout employment are restricted only by the imagination…success varies proportionally with the unit’s attitude and methods of employment.”

He gives the example of a Kit Carson Scout, Nguyen Thuong, who worked with 2nd Battalion 9th Marines. This particular scout could do it all.

In one instance Thuong discovered a well-concealed trap but because of his experience he suspected an enemy observation post in the area. His keen instinct was correct and the Marines were able to sweep through and destroy it.

In a later mission, Thuong braved enemy mortars to determine their firing position and called out the coordinates, in English, to the Marines who were able to call for fire and silence the position.

Thuong also made broadcasts for the Marines psychological operations efforts and acted as a clandestine agent in the villages around the Cam Lo artillery base. His intelligence gathering was far superior to anything the Marines could hope to accomplish on their own.

The service of men like Thuong proved invaluable to the overall war effort. By wars end over 200 Kit Carson Scouts had been killed in action out of less than 3,000 who served with the Americans.

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The day we saved 2,147 POWs from Los Baños Prison

By February 1945, the cruel and inhumane treatment by the Japanese against their enemies was well known. As the Allies liberated the Philippines, the decision was made to attempt a rescue effort at the Cabanatuan Prison.


This rescue, often referred to as the Great Raid, liberated over 500 prisoners from Cabanatuan on Jan. 30, 1945. These prisoners then described their horrific treatment as well as the atrocities of the Bataan Death March.

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POWs interned by the Japanese in the Philippines were malnourished and subject to brutal conditions. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

This convinced the Allied commanders to attempt more rescue operations in order to save the lives of those held by the Japanese.  

A plan was quickly drawn up, this time using paratroopers from the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

The target would be the University of the Philippines campus-turned POW camp at Los Baños. There the Japanese were holding over 2,000 Allied personnel, mostly civilians who were caught up in the Japanese onslaught of late 1941.

The plan was divided into four phases.

The first phase involved inserting the 11th Airborne’s divisional reconnaissance platoon along with Filipino guerrillas as guides.

Prior to the attack they would mark the drop zone for the paratroopers and landing beach for the incoming Amtracs. Others from the platoon would attack the sentries and guard posts of the camp in coordination with the landing of the paratroopers.

The second phase consisted of the landing and assault by the paratroopers. These men were from Company B, 1st Battalion, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment along with the light machine gun platoon from battalion headquarters company. They were led by 1st Lt. John Ringler.

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U.S. paratroopers awaiting orders to jump. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1942)

Simultaneous to the landing of the paratroopers, Filipino guerrillas from the 45th Hunter’s ROTC Regiment would attack the prison camp itself.

Together these two groups would eliminate the Japanese within and the Americans would gather them for transport from the camp.

The third phase of the operation would bring the remainder of the 1st Battalion, 511th PIR across the Laguna de Bay in Amtracs. These would then be used to transport the prisoners to safety.

Finally, another 11th Airborne element, the 188th Glider Infantry Regiment, would make a diversionary attack along the highway leading to the camp. The intent would be to draw the Japanese attention away allowing the paratroopers to escape with the prisoners.

All of this would happen nearly simultaneously. The amount of coordination of forces was tremendous.

Everything was set to go off at 7 AM on Feb. 23, 1945.

The first to depart for the mission were the men of the division reconnaissance platoon who set out the night of Feb. 21 in small Filipino fishing boats. Once across the Laguna de Bay, they entered into the jungle and made their way to hide sites to wait for the assault to begin.

On the morning of the 23rd at 0400, the 1st Battalion minus B Company boarded the 54 Amtracs of the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion and set out across the bay toward their landing beach.

At 0530 the men of B Company boarded the C-47’s for the short flight to Los Baños. By 0640 they were in the air toward their destination.

At 0700 on the morning of Feb. 23, 1945, the coordinated assault on the prison camp at Los Baños began.

Lt. John Ringler was the first man out the door of the lead C-47 coming low at 500 feet.

Having already marked the drop zone, the reconnaissance platoon and their accompanying guerrillas, spotting the incoming troop transports, sprung from their hide sites and attacked the Japanese guard post and sentries. Many were quickly overwhelmed.

At the same time, the 45th Hunter’s ROTC Regiment of Filipino guerrillas attacked three sides of the camp. As this was happening, the paratroopers were assembling on the drop zone and the lead elements were breaching the outer perimeter of the camp.

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Filipino guerrillas worked with the U.S. Marine Corps across the Pacific during WWII. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The assault had been perfectly timed to coincide with not only a changing of the guard shift but also morning formation for both the prisoners and Japanese soldiers.

Many Japanese were caught in the open, unarmed, preparing to conduct morning physical training. They were cut down by the gunfire of the assaulting forces.

Some Japanese were able to mount a defense but many simply fled in the face of the charging Americans and Filipinos. By the time the balance of the 1st Battalion arrived at the camp in their Amtracs, the fight was all but over.

In very short order the raiding force had overwhelmed and secured the prison.

Out on the highway, the 188th GIR was making good progress against the Japanese and had successfully established blocking positions by late morning. The sound of their battles reminded the men at the camp that time was of the essence — the Japanese were still nearby.

Due to their harsh treatment, many of the prisoners were malnourished and extremely weak. Those that could walk began making their way towards the beach for evacuation. Others were loaded into the Amtracs at the camp and transported back across the lake.

It took two trips to get all the internees across the lake and a third to evacuate the last of the assault troops, but at the end of the day 2,147 prisoners were liberated from the Los Baños prison camp. The cost to the Americans and Filipinos was just a handful of casualties — no paratroopers were killed in the raid.

Among those evacuated was Frank Buckles, a World War I veteran, who would go on to be the last living veteran from the conflict.

“I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid,” said Gen. Colin Powell. “It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Austria gave the Ottoman Turks the greatest taunt of all time

Simply put, the 1529 Siege of Vienna did not go the way the Ottoman Empire hoped it would. Sultan Suleiman I, the Magnificent, was coming off a fresh string of victories in Europe and elsewhere when he decided that the road to an Ottoman Europe had to be paved through the legendary city of Vienna. He boasted that he would be having breakfast in Vienna’s cathedral within two weeks of the start of his siege.


When the day came and went, the Austrians sent the Sultan a letter, telling him his breakfast was getting cold.

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When you drop sick taunts, you must then drop sick beats.

The Sultan had a reason to be cocky going into the Siege of Vienna. He had just brought down the Hungarians, the longtime first line of defense for European Christendom. Hungary lost its king and fell into a disastrous civil war which the Ottomans intervened in. The Habsburgs, who controlled half of Hungary and all of Austria at this time, weren’t having any of it and Hungary was split for a century after. For the time being, however, the Ottomans and their Hungarian allies were going head-to-head with Austrian Archduke Ferdinand I, pushing the Austrians all the way back to Vienna in less than a year.

But Europe’s Christian powers were not going to let Austria fall without a fight and so sent help to the besieged city. That help came in the form of German Landsknechts, Spanish Musketeers, and Italian Mercenaries. It was the furthest the Islamic armies had ever penetrated Europe’s heartland. But Suleiman would fail to take the city.

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Look, if you want to have breakfast in church, most Christians will happily oblige you.

(Woodridge Congregational United Church of Christ)

The torrential rains started almost immediately, meaning the Turkish armies had to abandon its powerful cannons, along with horses and camels who were unaccustomed to the amount of mud they had to trudge through. Even so, they still came with 300 cannons and outnumbered the defenders five-to-one. The allied troops inside the city held their own against the Turkish onslaught as the rain continued.

Sickness, rain, and wounds hounded the Ottoman armies until snowfall took the place of the rain. The Ottomans were forced to retreat, leaving 15,000 men killed in action behind.

The Sultan would never get his breakfast in the cathedral. No sultan would ever get breakfast in an Ottoman Vienna.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These strange WWII forts are eerily abandoned today

Naval fortifications aren’t unusual in themselves. Land-based coastal artillery and forts to block enemy landings and bombardments have existed for centuries. In England, dozens still exist from the Napoleonic Wars and before, although they are now put to more peaceful uses. During World War II, British engineer Guy Maunsell gave this old idea a makeover. His forts were designed to destroy incoming enemy aircraft and, contrary to standard practice, they’d be sited out at sea. At a time of limited resources and unprecedented demand, the Maunsell sea forts could have been regarded as expensive white elephants of doubtful military value. They soon proved their worth.


Also read: How Marines get an official history lesson on Iwo Jima

The location of the forts was unusual: the Thames Estuary to protect London and the Mersey Estuary, guarding the vital convoy port of Liverpool. Unusual, perhaps, but entirely sound. Liverpool received countless convoys delivering the goods that Britain needed and that Roosevelt’s “great arsenal of democracy” could provide. Because of its location, Liverpool was quite vulnerable to bombers flying across England, then turning and attacking from the West. The Thames Estuary forts were directly on the Luftwaffe’s flight path to bomb London and industrial centers like the city of Birmingham.

Maunsell designed two types of fort, which would be built on the coast and moved, virtually intact, to carefully chosen spots guaranteed to provide maximum protection. Innovative in concept and design, they were also heavily armed. Searchlights, heavy 3.75-inch quick-firing guns, and Bofors 40mm cannon initially gave Luftwaffe crews a nasty surprise, as they were located in the water, where no guns were expected. The Thames Estuary forts proved particularly effective.

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The Thames forts

Granted, the forts couldn’t completely stop mass raids, but by their installation in 1942, raids of that style were increasingly rare. The Germans’ defeat in the Battle of Britain and the worsening situation on the Eastern Front were becoming a sinkhole into which Luftwaffe resources, now increasingly scarce, disappeared. Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering was also falling out of favor with Hitler for failing to defeat the RAF in 1940. Losing the Battle of Britain and then invading the Soviet Union forced Hitler into what he’d most wanted to avoid, fighting on two fronts. He was loath to forgive Goering’s failure and the resulting crisis.

Maunsell’s designs were innovative and came in two forms: Army and Navy. Navy forts were smaller and, as you’d expect, crewed by sailors. The Army forts had a more complicated design, comprising separate platforms linked by catwalks and carrying more guns than their naval counterparts. Most of the Army forts were concentrated off Liverpool while most Navy forts guarded against bombers attempting to use the Thames Estuary as a landmark for attacking London.

More: 5 of the world’s strongest fortifications ever

The forts depended on supplies coming from the sea. Without regular deliveries of food, water, ammunition and rotating crewmen on and off duty, they’d have been useless. The Thames estuary forts also did far more than destroy incoming bombers. At the time, London had one of the largest dock complexes, making the Channel the world’s busiest shipping lane. German aircraft routinely tried to lay minefields in the area, but the Thames Estuary forts were there to hinder them.

Later in the war, Hitler’s Vergeltungswaffen (“vengeance weapons”) often flew over the forts toward London. Their guns could do nothing about the V2, a supersonic rocket and the world’s first ballistic missile. They could, however, pick off the slower, pulsejet-powered V1s nicknamed “buzz bombs” and “doodlebugs”. Efforts to stop V1s raining down on Central London were a top priority and the Thames forts destroyed over 30 of them along with 22 enemy aircraft. One fort’s gunners even destroyed an E-boat, despite not being designed to handle enemy torpedo boats.

With the war over, the forts became redundant. One by one, they were decommissioned and abandoned to crumble into the sea. Many were damaged by under-scouring, time and tide eroding the bedrock and steel legs supporting them. Saltwater steadily corroded the metal. One fort was demolished after a ship collided with it. One by one throughout the 1950s, the Maunsell sea forts were abandoned and mostly destroyed, but their story didn’t quite end there.

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The Red Sands Forts were used as pirate radio bases in the 1960s.

In the 1960s, pirate radio stations used some of the old forts as broadcasting stations. Pirate radio broadcasted their (usually rock) music illegally, without the proper licensing needed. Annoyed though the authorities were, there was nothing they could do as the forts were in international waters. That is, until the British territorial waters were extended – from including three miles offshore to a full 12. With the extension, the pirates lost their advantage and were quickly shut down.

The Liverpool forts were demolished in the 1950s, considered a danger to the shipping they’d once protected. Most of the surviving Thames forts are extremely hazardous to board, as they’re simply too badly damaged by the ravages of time and tide. Only a couple of the forts remain, and one of them, Fort Roughs (just outside British territorial waters) was taken over by pirate radio in the 1960s. It later declared itself an independent nation named Sealand. Granted, no government has ever recognized Sealand as an independent state and probably never will, but technically at least, it remains the world’s smallest independent island state.

Related: This is how the War of Independence was won in the trenches

In 2005, an artist named Stephen Turner took on a strange project. He decided to live in one of the remaining sea forts, Shivering Sands Fort, for 36 days — the length of a typical tour of duty during World War II. Turner posted updates during his time to a website and later wrote a book about his experience alone on the waters.

Maunsell’s forts are long gone, as are most of the troops who once manned them. But they served their purpose well. They destroyed almost two full squadrons of bombers before they could hit London. Nearly thirty V1’s that would have caused great destruction (and killed countless Londoners) never reached their targets. Today the V2s, bombers, buzz bombs, and most of the Maunsell sea forts reside permanently on the ocean bottom.

All told, they did far more than merely boost morale.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 things you didn’t know about the Battle at Teutoburg Forest

In the year 9 AD, the Roman Empire suffered a devastating military defeat. In the dark forests of Germania, three entire legions were wiped out in the span of a few days, by an enemy that the Empire didn’t even know existed. This battle changed the very course of Roman history. Here are 8 things you didn’t know about the Battle at Teutoburg Forest.

1. It was a revenge plot

Under Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire had conquered large swaths of Western Europe. One of the Empire’s frontiers was the Rhine River, east of which were the “barbarian” Germanic tribes. This arrangement, however, left the emperor Augustus unsatisfied. He sent his adoptive son Drusus to conquer the barbarian land that the Romans called Germania, and Drusus succeeded in subjugating Germanic tribes east of the Rhine. The Romans thought that these tribes were under their control, but only a few short years later, these tribes would strike back at the Empire in the Teutoburg Forest.

2. It was a betrayal

One of the Germanic tribes conquered by the Romans was the Cherusci, whose chief was forced to send his son Arminius to Rome as a hostage. Despite being a barbarian, Arminius was treated well; he acquired a military education and became a Roman citizen, even earning the command of his own forces. Many of these soldiers were Cherusci tribesmen like himself. Because he was a German, Arminius was stationed in Germania, where he could communicate with the Germanic tribes on Rome’s behalf. However, during those visits to the Germanic chiefs, Arminius was plotting with them to attack the Empire that had raised him.

3. It was a trap

In the autumn of 9 CE, Arminius reported to the Roman commander in Germania, Quinctilius Varus, that a rebellion had broken out in northwest Germania. Varus was persuaded to march his legions into unfamiliar Germania to crush the supposed rebels. Arminius was even given leave to rally support from the Roman-allied Germanic tribes. There was, however, no rebellion. In the previous months, Arminius had created an alliance of Germanic tribes and fabricated a rebellion to lure the Romans into unfamiliar territory and decimate them. 

4. The Romans were unprepared

Before 6 CE, the Romans had eleven legions in Germania. However, just a few years before the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, there was a revolt in the Balkans that forced the Empire to withdraw eight of those legions. This left only three for Varus, who on the way to the “rebellion” marched all of them through the Teutoburg Forest. The legions were formidable, but their fighting style was suited to wide, open plains, not the dark, claustrophobic German forest. On top of that, they were marching through torrential rainfall, on muddy and slick ground, and not in fighting formation. It was the perfect opportunity for an ambush.

5. The Germans used guerrilla tactics

During his time in Rome, Arminius studied Roman military strategies. He knew exactly how to hit the Romans where it hurt the most. The battle began shortly after the Romans entered the Teutoburg Forest, in a line of men that stretched for miles. Germanic warriors stood on high ground, hurling javelins down on the legions and sending out small bands of warriors to pick off isolated groups of soldiers. Many survived the barrage and were able to set up camp for the night, but spent the next day under continuous barrage of German attacks from the trees.

6. Arminius set a second trap

In order to escape, the Romans had to cross a small strip of land between the Kalkriese Hill and a large swamp. What they didn’t know was that the Germans had already constructed walls along this pass to attack the Romans from above. The Romans tried to storm these walls and failed miserably, and when the Germans came pouring down from these walls, military discipline collapsed. One commander deserted with his men, only for them to be caught and killed; Varus and his commanding officers committed suicide, the only honorable way out for a disgraced Roman commander; and the remaining legionaries were entirely slaughtered.

7. The emperor was personally devastated

By the end of the battle, between 15,000 and 20,000 Roman soldiers were dead. Three entire legions were wiped out. When he heard the news, the emperor Augustus was horrified. He was said to have beat his head against the walls, crying out “Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!” It was one of the greatest Roman military catastrophes of Augustus’ long rule.

8. It changed European history

The Germanic tribesmen under Arminius succeeded in sweeping their territory clean of Roman soldiers and outposts. The Rhine River became the boundary between the Roman Empire and the free Germanic tribes for hundreds of years. The Romans’ inability to conquer the Germans laid the foundations for the Western Empire’s fall, when Germanic tribes started carving their own kingdoms out of Roman territory. The Battle of Teutoburg Forest occurred nearly half a millennium before the Romans started to fall, but in an interesting way, the Western Empire’s collapse in 476 AD was sealed all the way back in 9 AD.

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This is how salty old Vietnam drill sergeants and instructors were made

If you’ve seen Full Metal Jacket, then you likely agree that Gunny Hartman was the breakout character of the film. That over-the-top, engrossing performance launched the career of R. Lee Ermey — even though his character met an arguably-deserved end.

But how do they really train the non-commissioned officers responsible for breaking in fresh recruits?


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Staff Sgt. Jeremy Beals, a drill sergeant stationed at Fort Knox, demonstrates instructor technique during a media campaign.
(US Army photo by Tammy Garner)

 

Believe it or not, in some ways, it’s a lot like boot camp. Both the Army and Marine Corps schools for those who instruct recruits (drill sergeants for the Army, drill instructors for the Marines – we’ll refer to both as “DI” for the purposes of this article) are designed this way on purpose: The DI needs to be an expert on basic training, so they must experience it for themselves.

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Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego – Recruits from Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, receive instructions from a drill instructor during pick up at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. (USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Kailey J. Maraglia)

 

But are they all really like Gunny Hartman? No. Let’s face it, some of what Gunny Hartman did to Pvt. Pyle (as played by Vincent D’Onofrio) would have landed him in some serious trouble. Furthermore, his overly aggressive technique simply isn’t always the best method.

“You can’t yell at everyone. You have to use, as my [non-commissioned officers] used to tell me, your tool box and you need to use those different tools. You can’t always yell at someone to get them to do what [they need to do,]” Army Drill Sergeant Dashawne Browne explains.

It’s not easy to become a DI. The Marines take in roughly 240 prospective DIs in a given year, and as many as twenty percent drop out. That might sound low for such an important position, but neither the Army nor the Marines take just anyone who applies. The Army seeks “the most qualified NCOs” who are willing to take on the responsibility of teaching recruits “the proper way to do absolutely everything in the Army, from making a bed, to wearing a uniform, to firing a rifle.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Author traces family’s MIA journey through Laos

When Jessica Pearce Rotondi lost her mother to breast cancer in 2009, she had no idea of what she would gain: the chance to become a part of her military family’s history. The unexpected journey took her from her childhood home in Massachusetts to the lush mountains of Laos, where her airman uncle was shot down in 1972.


“Sending a loved one away and not knowing if they’ll walk through the door again is an incredible sacrifice,” Rotondi said.

It’s a sacrifice her mother’s family made multiple times. For not only was her Uncle Jack shot down alongside his AC-130 crew during the “secret war” in the neutral nation of Laos, her grandfather — Jack’s father — fell from the sky too, spending two and a half years in a German POW camp during WWII.

As “What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family’s Search for Answers” so arrestingly confesses in its first sentence, Rotondi comes from “a family that loses children.”Rotondi spent a decade researching and writing her debut novel, a deeply personal family memoir and obscure history lesson released this April. Historical supporting evidence, it turns out, would be hard to come by.

Read more about Vietnam War vets traveling to find answers.

“Much about what happened in Laos has only recently been declassified. I embedded photographs of some of the reports and letters I found directly into the book, because I wanted to recreate that sense of expectation to show how the force of a single document can change a family’s hopes,” Rotondi, a Brooklyn resident, said. “Getting CIA officers, refugees and former soldiers on the record about their role in the war was a slow exercise in trust-building but led to some incredible conversations.”

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Before her mother’s death, conversation about Rotondi’s uncle and grandfather’s wartime experiences were few. A chance discovery of a hidden-in-the-closet file cabinet just hours after her mother’s passing launched Rotondi onto what would eventually become “What We Inherit.” It involved thousands of hours of research, sifting through redacted files, yellowed newspaper clippings and maps of questionable accuracy.

Rotondi, whose work has been published in the likes of The Huffington Post and The History Channel, traveled to Southeast Asia in 2013 to locate her uncle’s crash site. She was not the first family member to do so; she was simply retracing her grandpa’s steps through Laos as he obsessively searched for answers about his missing son years earlier.

The process of writing her family’s tragedies reminded Rotondi of the incredible strength of military families.

“I had the incredible privilege of speaking to other families of the missing for this book, and the biggest takeaway from them was the strength of the unspoken bond between military families,” she said. “I read somewhere that we never truly die until our name stops being spoken aloud. There is power in talking about our lost and missing veterans — especially with the next generation.”

What We Inherit,” a book worth reading, ensures that will never happen on Rotondi’s watch.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Ranger fought in Mogadishu before becoming a country music star

On October 3, 1993, Task Force Ranger conducted a raid in the Black Sea neighborhood of Mogadishu, Somalia to capture high-ranking lieutenants of the Aidid militia. The task force was an all-star special operations team composed of elements from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st SFOD-D, 160th SOAR, Navy SEALs from DEVGRU, and PJs and CCTs from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.


As Nightstalker MH-6 Little Birds inserted Delta Operators on the target building, Rangers fast-roped down from MH-60 Blackhawks to the building’s four corners to secure a perimeter. During the insertion, Pfc. Todd Blackburn missed the rope and fell to the street below. Undeterred, the rest of the Rangers fast-roped out of the Blackhawks to establish security. The last Ranger out of the Blackhawk in front of Blackburn’s was team leader Sgt. Keni Thomas. As he reached for the rope, Thomas turned to the Blackhawk’s crew chief who yelled to him, “NO FEAR!”

“SCREW YOU!” Thomas responded as he dropped into the gunfire below. In his mind, it was easy for someone to say “no fear” if they’re the ones that get to fly away from the bullets. But Thomas was a Ranger, one of America’s elite, highly trained warriors. He led his team and maintained the perimeter around the target building from the Somali militia who were shooting at them, but mostly missing by his account.

Thirty-five minutes later, the target individuals were secure, loaded up on the trucks, and everyone was ready to return to base. With everything looking good, Thomas’ thoughts drifted as he thought about how he was now a bona fide combat veteran and could qualify for a VA loan. It was then that CW3 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley’s Blackhawk was shot down. What was supposed to be a quick mission on a day off had turned into a battle against an entire city; after all, an American Soldier will never leave a fallen comrade.

Super 61 went down about five blocks from the target building. As the Rangers stepped off to secure the crash site, Thomas’ squad leader was shot in the neck. As the medics treated the squad leader’s neck wound, the platoon sergeant came up to Thomas and told him, “You’re in charge now.”

“What do you mean I’m in charge sarn’t?” Thomas asked, not wanting the increased responsibility.

“Hey, hey, sarn’t Thomas,” Sgt. Watson snapped his fingers to focus Thomas’ attention. “You’re in charge.” It was then that Thomas’ NCO training kicked in and he rogered up. Taking his squad leaders’ radio, he reassigned positions in his own team and took lead of the squad. The Rangers continued to make their way to the crash site as they took fire from unseen enemies.

Suddenly, one of the Rangers spotted a hostile Somali. “He’s in the tree sarn’t! He’s in the tree!” Pfc. Floyd, Thomas’ SAW gunner, yelled out frantically.

“Well if you see him, why don’t you shoot him?” Sgt. Watson responded self-evidently. It dawned on Floyd that he had, in fact, joined the Army and was allowed to shoot at people who shot at him. But rather than firing in 3 to 5 second bursts, Floyd proceeded to let out a constant stream of cyclic fire until Thomas hit him and told him to stop.

With the barrel of his machine gun glowing from the heat, Floyd stood up, lifted his goggles, and asked naively, “Did I get him?”

As the tree fell over, cut down by Floyd’s gunfire, Thomas said sarcastically, “Floyd, I don’t know if you got him, but you got the whole tree.”

Thomas and his squad continued to fight their way to the crash site and defended it until the bodies of the crew were recovered the next day. Incredibly and in spite of their casualties, their chalk was the only one to return with everyone alive that day. Thomas credits this accomplishment to the skill of their medic and the leadership of Sgt. Watson.

After Somalia, Thomas went on to serve in the Ranger recon teams. He ended his military career in 1997 as a Staff Sergeant, having earned the Master Parachutist Badge, the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, the Special Operations Diver badge, British and Belgian jump wings, and a Bronze Star for Valor with a “V” device.

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Thomas served in the Army with distinction (Photo from KeniThomas.com)

Upon leaving active duty, Thomas worked as a youth counselor and eventually became a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in the Ranger Regiment. He also served as a consultant on We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down where he was portrayed by actor Tac Fitzgerald. However, it was Thomas’ passion for music that he focused on most after the army.

Thomas formed the country music band Cornbread and began his music career by performing in and around Columbus, Georgia. By the late 90’s, the band started to make a name for itself, playing shows on college campuses like Auburn University. In the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama, Thomas and Cornbread perform a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the movie’s featured song. To date, the band has released three albums as Cornbread and four under Keni Thomas’ name. Thomas has also performed several times at the prestigious Grand Ole Opry, with his most recent performance in May 2014.

Though he’s broken into the country music world, Thomas has not forgotten his military roots. He has performed overseas on USO tours during which he takes the extra time to connect with each servicemember that he meets and exchange stories. His favorite venues are the remote outposts where he performs for groups as small as a platoon. He also donates some of his proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships and financial aid to the children of wounded or deceased operators.

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Thomas performing in Kuwait on a USO tour in 2006 (U.S. Navy photo)

From the streets of Mogadishu to the music halls of Nashville, Thomas has lived up to both the Soldier’s Creed and the Ranger Creed in never leaving a fallen comrade. He continues to tell the stories of his fallen brothers in his music and his motivational talks. Rangers like Thomas lead the way…all the way!

MIGHTY HISTORY

This famous mobster’s son was a West Point grad

Meyer Lansky was the mind behind the mob. Active in the criminal underworld since the days before Prohibition, Lansky – the “Mob’s Accountant” – was able to figure out how to make mafia earnings and turn them into legitimate businesses. It was because of his acumen that the mob was able to form a kind of national crime syndicate with the likes of Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel. He would become the highest-ranking non-Italian in the Mafia.

His kids were going to do something very different.


To the Sicilians, being in the mafia was an honorable occupation. According to the onetime head of the Bonnano crime family, Joe Bonnano, one of the terms that designated a mafioso was loosely translated as “Man of Honor.” For Jewish men like Meyer Lanksy, however, it wasn’t so honorable. In fact, Lanksy found the business shameful, despite spending his life building it. Still, he wanted a different life for his children.

One of his children, Paul, would actually attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point – on his own merit.

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Meyer Lansky with his family: Sons (from left) Paul and Buddy, who had cerebral palsy, daughter Sandra, and first wife Ana.

“The Lansky boy has justified the confidence which was placed in him,” wrote Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver upon appointing Paul Lanksy to West Point. It was a far cry from the life his father lived, having created Las Vegas with his friends, other legendary members of America’s most notorious organized crime families. The younger Lansky would graduate from the Academy in 1954 and join the Air Force.

Lansky was in the Air Force until 1963, ultimately resigning his commission while at the rank of Captain so he could take a civilian engineering job in Tacoma, Wash. He stayed far from his famous father’s profession, going so far as to pretend that he and the elder Lansky had some sort of falling out and didn’t speak.

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