1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

It almost seems like something out of a James Bond movie — heavily armed submarines suddenly disappearing without a trace while underway.


But sadly, in 1968, the truth would turn out be far worse than fiction when four countries reeled after the successive losses of four submarines. 318 sailors from Israel, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States were tragically committed to their eternal rest in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.

While some details have surfaced over the years, the causes behind the losses of each of these four submarines remain unclear to this day, posing a mystery for historians, researchers, and naval engineers alike.

INS Dakar

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
INS Dakar departing the United Kingdom for its fateful trip to Israel (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Dakar, an Israeli vessel, was the first of the four submarines to go missing that fateful year. Originally produced for the British Royal Navy in 1943 during the Second World War, Dakar was a diesel-electric submarine sold to Israel in the mid-1960s after being put through a considerable refurbishment which streamlined the sub’s hull and superstructure, upgraded the engines, and diminished the sub’s noise while underwater.

After spending most of 1967 undergoing a refit and sea trials after being sold to the Israeli navy, Dakar set sail on its trip across the Mediterranean Sea to Israel in mid-January of the following year, where she would be formally welcomed into active service with a large ceremony. Expected back by Feb. 2, Dakar never arrived.

Transmissions from the sub ceased after Jan. 24. Immediately, all nearby naval vessels from a number of countries, including Great Britain, the United States, Turkey, and Greece, began a sweeping search-and-rescue mission to find the Dakar. Despite finding one of the sub’s emergency buoys in 1969, Dakar remained hidden in the murky depths of the Mediterranean, lost with all hands.

It wasn’t until 1999 that Dakar was be found, laying on the seabed near Crete and Cyprus. Parts of the submarine were raised to the surface, including its conning tower and a few smaller artifacts. To this day, a number of theories on the loss of Dakar exist, though none of them appear to be the definitive answer behind why the submarine went down.

Minerve (S647)

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Doris, a Daphne class submarine similar to the Minerve (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Minerve, another diesel-electric submarine, was the second loss of 1968, going down just two days after Dakar in January. Typically staffed with a crew of 50 sailors, the Minerve was a smaller patrol sub, though retooled to conduct experiments on behalf of the French Navy. Able to carry missiles, it could stay submerged for 30 days before resurfacing to recharge its batteries and resupply.

On Jan. 27, Minerve was roughly 30 miles from base when its crew made contact with a French Navy aircraft to confirm their arrival time of less than an hour. After that transmission, the Minerve went silent. Now with their submarine overdue and unresponsive, the French Navy kicked into high gear, launching a large search-and-rescue operation including an aircraft carrier and smaller research submersibles.

To this day, the Minerve has never been found, even though it was lost a relatively short distance from its homeport. The sub’s entire crew of 52 sailors perished with their ship.

K-129

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
A Golf II class submarine, similar to K-129, running on the surface in 1985 (Photo from U.S. Navy)

Built for the Soviet’s Pacific Fleet as a ballistic missile submarine, K-129 had been active for over 7 years by the time it was lost in early March of 1968. With sharp and sleek lines, the K-129 looked more like a shark than it did a traditional submarine. Armed with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and missiles, it was far more dangerous than the average diesel-electric submarine in service at the time.

While on a combat patrol in the Pacific Ocean, the submarine went unresponsive, having failed to check in on assigned dates. The Soviet Navy began a frantic search for their lost sub, worried that it was lost with all hands. After sweeping the area where K-129 was supposed to conduct its patrol for weeks, the search was called off and the sub was declared lost with its 98-man crew.

That, however, wasn’t the end of the K-129’s story. The U.S. Navy, with its SOSUS intelligence system, was able to triangulate the location of the missing sub, having detected an underwater “bang” on March 8.

After the K-129’s loss, the Central Intelligence Agency saw a major opportunity in finding the wreck and extracting code books and encryption gear from the sub’s bridge. It would give them a huge advantage in snooping on Soviet military and espionage activities. Code-naming the operation “Project Azorian,” the CIA used a gargantuan ship called the Glomar Explorer, outfitted with a big mechanical claw to grip and collect the submarine.

Project Azorian proved to be something of a mixed bag of results. While attempting to raise the K-129 from the seabed, the large grappling claw holding the stricken submarine malfunctioned and the vessel cracked in two. The forward half of the submarine was lifted into the Glomar Explorer, but the aft fell back into the ocean, taking with it the control room and all-important code books and cryptographic gear.

Nevertheless, the bodies of six of the sub’s lost crew were recovered and buried by the CIA at sea with full military honors. The CIA has still kept silent on what else they recovered from the front section of K-129. The sub’s missiles remain in the ocean.

USS Scorpion

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
An image of the wreck of the Scorpion, taken in 1986 (Photo from U.S. Navy)

Commissioned in 1960, the Scorpion was a Skipjack-class fast attack submarine designed to prowl around near Soviet patrol sectors, waiting to hunt down and destroy enemy surface and subsurface warships. In early 1968, Scorpion departed for the Mediterranean from Norfolk, Virginia after undergoing a hasty 9-month refit.

In May, the Scorpion and its crew found themselves at Rota, Spain, where they provided a noise cover for a departing Navy ballistic missile submarine by making high-speed, “loud” dashes as the larger missile sub slipped away. This was to keep nearby Soviet subs and spy ships from monitoring and recording the Navy’s newest nuclear deterrent’s noise signature for further reference.

Less than a week later, Scorpion went missing. Overdue by nearly a week for its return to Norfolk, its homeport, the Navy began searching for its submarine. Five months later, the remains of the attack submarine were found on the ocean floor near the Azores. It had been lost with all hands.

A number of differing theories exist on the destruction of the Scorpion, with some claiming that the sub was deliberately torpedoed by the Soviet Union in retaliation for supposed American involvement in the loss of K-129. The last received transmission from the submarine seems to lend a margin of credibility to these claims — the sub’s captain reported contact with Soviet vessels and declared his intention to reconnoiter the area.

Others say that the unusually fast refit that Scorpion underwent in 1967 left considerable room for technical error, thanks to Navy contractors cutting corners to get the sub back out to sea. As a result, mechanical failure was to blame. Further groups of researchers and historians believe that the submarine could have gone down due to a malfunctioning torpedo exploding aboard the vessel.

Even to this day, the majority of Scorpion’s last patrol is still classified, and the Navy’s official position on the loss is “inconclusive.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

Few feats of engineering are as impressive as a military-grade helicopter. Today worth millions of dollars each, these high-tech birds are a formidable military asset, including, among many other uses, for rescue operations — all a fact US military personnel helpfully chose to ignore during Operation Frequent Wind when they pushed several dozen of them into the sea, in one case for no other reason than to save a mother, a father, and their five children.


For anyone unfamiliar with it, Operation Frequent Wind was the name give to the final phase of evacuations during the Fall of Saigon — effectively the final days of the Vietnam War. Noted as being one of the largest military evacuations in history and the largest involving helicopters as the primary means of evacuation, Operation Frequent Wind is celebrated as a logistical success for the US due to the fact that a few dozen helicopter pilots were somehow able to evacuate over 7,000 people in around 18 hours. This is made all the more impressive when you realize that the mass evacuation was never supposed to involve helicopters much at all.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

A South Vietnamese helicopter is pushed over the side of the USS Okinawa during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975.

(US Marine Corps photo)

You see, while Operation Frequent Wind is now famous for being the most successful mass helicopter evacuation ever organised, using helicopters as the primary means of evacuation was never the original plan — it wasn’t even the backup plan. It turns out that it was the backup to the backup to the backup plan.

Known initially as Operation Talon Vise until North Vietnamese spies heard whispers of it, the plans for a mass evacuation of Vietnam had been in place for several years and were originally supposed to involve the primary use of both commercial and military aircraft which would evacuate at-risk citizens and military personnel, with the total slated to be evacuated estimated to be about 2 million people.

Failing or in addition to this, the idea was to dock ships at Saigon port and load them with as many people as possible. In the event none of these options were possible, the final, Hail Mary plan was to instead use military helicopters to transport people to ships off shore.

Of course, evacuating the original estimate of 2 million people was never an option for the helicopter plan alone, nor even the extremely whittled down number of about 100,000-200,000 that military brass eventually reduced that figure to. Instead, at this point it was just as many people as they could as fast as they could.

So why did the US have to fall back to literally their least effective option if they’d been planning the evacuation for years? Well, much of the blame falls somewhat unbelievably to the actions of a single man — Graham Anderson Martin, the American ambassador to South Vietnam at the time who steadfastly refused to agree to start an evacuation for fear of mass panic and given his unshakable faith in the notion that the threat of the “superior American firepower” would keep the enemy at bay.

Despite this, recommendations did go out in advance of Operation Frequent Wind that at risk people should leave the country, resulting in a total of around 50,000 people, including a few thousand orphans, leaving via various planes in the months leading up to an actual evacuation being started. This was mostly done via supply aircraft who would bring supplies in, and then load up as many people as they could for the trip home. Yet an official full scale evacuation, which would have seen these efforts massively ramped up, was continually stalled by Martin.

Military brass tried and failed to persuade Martin to change his mind, with Brigadier General Richard E. Carey going as far as to travel to Saigon to plead personally with with the ambassador. This was a meeting Carey would later diplomatically call “cold and non productive” and should be noted took place on April 13th, 2 weeks after preparations were already supposed to have begun for the mass evacuation.

This back and forth continued until April 28th when North Vietnamese forces bombed the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, effectively eliminating any possibility of getting people out via large aircraft capable of mass evacuation. When this was pointed out to the Martin, he still refused to call for the evacuation, deciding to wait until the next day so he could drive out to the base and confirm the damage for himself.

Upon confirming that North Vietnamese forces had indeed destroyed the air base and the best option for a mass evacuation, he finally relented.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

South Vietnamese refugees arrive on a U.S. Navy vessel during Operation Frequent Wind.

This was an order that was relayed to soldiers on the ground via the official Armed Forces Radio station by the words “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising,” followed by the playing the song I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by Bing Crosby.

As a direct result of Martin’s stubbornness, the military had no choice but to rely on the least effective means of mass evacuation — via helicopter, with the operation officially commencing later that afternoon at 14:00.

Even as the operation began, Martin’s bullheaded refusal to prepare in anyway for an evacuation caused problems for certain helicopter pilots, most notably the ones trying to evacuate him and his staff.

How?

Well there was a large tree in the embassy courtyard that military brass had “strongly advised” Martin cut down so as to better allow helicopters to land there should the worst happen. Martin, believing that doing so would be as good as admitting the war had already been lost, absolutely refused to do this. As Henry Kissinger would later note, “Faced with imminent disaster, Martin decided to go down with the ship.”

On that note, to his credit, Martin refused to leave once the evacuation had begun, though this was much to the annoyance of the pilot, Colonel Gerry Berry, sent to fetch him. Instead, Martin continually had refugees boarded while he simply waited with his staff in his office, knowing that as long as he was there, the helicopter would keep coming back allowing more lives to be saved.

It wasn’t until the 14th trip that an exhausted Berry finally reached his wits’ end. Said Berry, “I called the sergeant over. And he got up in the cockpit. And I said, ‘This is it. Get all these people off. This helicopter’s not leaving the roof until the ambassador’s on board. The President sends.'”

With an order supposedly from the President himself, though not actually in reality, Martin finally relented and allowed Berry to complete his mission by transporting Martin and his entourage.

Of course, what the military brass had failed to remember after this supposed last flight was that they’d accidentally left almost a dozen soldiers behind at the compound… This wouldn’t be realized for many hours, but all 11 Marines were rescued after being forced to barricade themselves on the rooftop for the night in case of an attack.

Leaving the evacuations as late as Martin did understandably resulted in mass panic across Saigon with many thousands of South Vietnamese citizens fleeing in everything from cars to stolen planes and helicopters.

In addition, lack of time meant that helicopter pilots had a laughable number of people to rescue, resulting in many ignoring the “recommended” weight limit of their craft and massively overloading them to the very extremes of what they could handle given the pilot’s assessments and weather conditions. In one case, one pilot noted he was overweight to the point that he could only hover inches off the ground, but no one was willing to get off as for many it would mean their life if they could not get out of the country.

He then stated he thought if he could get some forward speed he could get the additional lift needed, so simply pitched the craft forward and took a dive off the rooftop he was on, barely recovering before hitting the rooftops below and then managing to very slowly climb from there.

As for these pilots, they were instructed to ferry evacuees to waiting ships in the South China Sea, many of which quickly began to run out of space resulting in people sleeping double in the small bunks, as well as just anywhere on the ships there was available space for someone to sit or lie down on.

On top of that, any South Vietnamese pilots that could manage to get a hold of their own helicopters and flee to sea were also crowding the decks as they arrived. This resulted in the order to push some of these South Vietnamese helicopters overboard to make more space, or orders for some pilots to simply crash their helicopters into the ocean and await rescue after they’d dropped off any passengers.

This all brings us around to the incredible story of Major Buang Lee. Knowing he and his family — a wife and five children — would in all likelihood be executed if they couldn’t find a way out of the country immediately, the Major managed to commandeer a small Cessna O-1 spotter plane. Under heavy fire, he managed to take off and flee the country with two adults and five children jam packed aboard the tiny, slow moving aircraft.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

A South Vietnamese UH-1H is pushed overboard to make room for a Cessna O-1 landing.

He then headed out to sea in search of a ship to land on or ditch the plane next to. About an hour and a half off the coast and with only about an hour of fuel left, he finally found one in the USS Midway.

The issue now was there was not sufficient room to land on the ship, owing to the number of helicopters on the deck. Unable to find the right frequency on the radio to talk to those on the Midway, Buang resorted to dropping notes.

The first two notes, unfortunately blew away before anyone aboard could grab them. Buang tied the third to his gun and dropped it. When the crew aboard retrieved it, they saw it read: “Can you move the helicopters to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me. -Major Buang, Wife and 5 child.”

The captain of the vessel, one Lawrence Chambers then had a decision to make. While it was possible to move some of the helicopters out of the way, there was no room to move them all. The young captain, only appointed to that post some five weeks before, decided that there was little chance the family would all survive if they tried to ditch in the sea next to the Midway and be rescued that way.

Said Lawrence of the event, “When a man has the courage to put his family in a plane and make a daring escape like that, you have to have the heart to let him in.”

So, thinking he’d likely be court-martialed for it, he made the call to move what helicopters could be moved and dump the rest in the ocean after stripping them of any valuable gear that could be removed quickly. In total, some million (about million today) worth of helicopters were ditched in this way.

There was another problem, however. The plane in question typically needs a minimum of a little over 600 feet of runway to land and come to a full stop. The Midway itself in total was about 1,000 feet long, but the runway deck was only about 2/3 of that, meaning there was zero margin for error here.

Thus, in order to land such a craft on the deck with enough margin of safety, the ship really needed to be moving as fast as possible to make the plane’s relative speed slow enough that it could stop in time before falling off the end. Using the cable system to stop the craft faster wasn’t deemed a good option as in all likelihood it would have just resulted in the landing gear ripping off and/or the plane flipping over in a spectacular crash.

Unfortunately, Chambers had previously granted the ship’s engineers permission to take the Midway’s engines partially offline for routine maintenance. After all, helicopters did not need nor want that relative wind, especially when landing on such a crowded deck.

Said Chambers, “When I told the chief engineer that I needed 25 knots, he informed me that we didn’t have enough steam. I ordered him to shift the hotel load to the emergency diesels.”

With this, the ship was able to achieve the requested speed and Buang’s landing was also helped by another 15 knots of headwind, further reducing his needed stopping distance.

With that done and deck cleared as it could be, Buang was given the greenlight to land, ultimately doing so with textbook precision and with plenty of deck to spare, becoming a rare individual in relatively modern times to land such an aircraft aboard a military carrier.

And, thankfully for Captain Lawrence, he was not court-martialed for ditching rather valuable military hardware to save Major Buang and his family, and instead enjoyed a continuance of his successful career, eventually retiring as a Rear Admiral.

In the aftermath of Operation Frequent Wind, the U.S. ships continued to hang around for a few days off the coast, trying to pick up as many refugees from the water as they could. Finally, the order was given to head home, forcing the commanders to leave many thousands of people that had been promised evacuation behind.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the origin of the 21-gun salute

If you ever attend a military funeral or memorial ceremony, you may notice a group of men and women proudly holding rifles. Then, at a specific time, they aim their weapons up to the sky and fire, usually causing a slight stir in the crowd, even though everyone was expecting it to happen.

Don’t worry — those rounds are just blanks.

This practice is quite common throughout the world and, as with many traditions, it has a practical origin. Back when ships carried cannons, it was universally understood that immediately after firing, these weapons were rendered ineffective for a period of time — after all, reloading took a while. So, in order to demonstrate peaceful intent, ships would turn their cannons to the sky and discharge, telling those ashore that a ship’s weapons weren’t live.

Nobody knows why ships were designed, at one point, to carry precisely seven cannon. Some theorize that it’s related to the seven phases of the moon, others think it has to do with the biblical week, and some say it’s simply because seven is a lucky freakin’ number.


1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, embarked on Indianapolis, receives a 21-gun salute from Coast Guard Cutter Mojave, during the presidential fleet, 1934.

The cannon in shore batteries (with ample stores of dry, usable gunpowder) would fire three shots in return for every single shot they heard coming from the sea. For all you math geniuses out there, that equals 21 cannon shots. Upon hearing the return fire, ships at sea knew that the harbor was friendly — and the 21-gun salute was born.

It isn’t always 21, though. During a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the POTUS, former presidents, and presidents elect receive the traditional 21-gun salute. Other high-ranking officials, however, like the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers in command over multiple branches, receive a 19-gun salute.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Members of the honor guard’s rifle team fire off a salute to remember twelve veterans during a burial at sea ceremony held aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).
(Photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Christine Singh)

Although hearing the 21-gun salute typically means you’re mourning the loss of a fellow patriot, know that this is a practice rooted in peace and history. With this salute, the fallen join those who gave us traditions so long ago.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This why the national anthem is played before sporting events

During the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet pulled into port on a mission to negotiate the release several POWs from British forces.


Before a deal could be reached, the British started bombing the city of Baltimore, restricting Key’s access to the fort. Key witnessed the devastation of the battle and documented the events in a poem — which we know today as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Francis Scott key by Joseph Woods. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The song grew in popularity, often playing at public events and various celebrations throughout the nation.

Fast forward to 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered Key’s song to play during the each raising of the flag at the beginning of the day.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that the “The Star-Spangled Banner” be played at all military ceremonies and other various occasions.

Soon after America entered WWI, Major League Baseball started to feature a variety patriotic rituals like pregame military drills.

During game one of the 1918 World Series, the players took their traditional seventh-inning stretch, and a band started to play the anthem. The song caused the Cubs and Red Sox to stand at attention and face the centerfield flag pole.

The crowd stood on their feet and sang along to the anthem — applauding afterward. Since the song had gotten such positive feedback, the band continued to play the tune during the next few games.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
M.L.B. 1918 World Series.

Once the series moved to Boston, the anthem was played at the beginning of the game under the Red Sox owner’s request. In March 1931, the patriotic song passed through congress, confirming it as America’s official national anthem.

President Herbert Hoover signed the document, and the tradition spread throughout the major sporting events.

Articles

New ‘Dunkirk’ trailer focuses on pilots, civilians who saved thousands

The main trailer for ‘Dunkirk’ is out, and it seems that Christopher Nolan will be telling the amazing story of Operation Dynamo from all angles as weekend sailors, Royal Air Force pilots, nurses, fishermen, and others appear in the footage.


Operation Dynamo, often called “The Miracle at Dunkirk,” was the evacuation of nearly 400,000 British and allied troops from the coast of France in 1940 after the German blitzkrieg cut through Allied defenses much faster than anyone anticipated.

The German invasion was expected to take months, but Nazi forces slashed a corridor through France to the English Channel in just over two weeks before they halted their advance. But the Nazis hadn’t been stopped by force of arms.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
French troops fill a ship evacuating Dunkirk. (Photo: Public Domain)

Rather, the high command decided that they didn’t want to risk panzers in pitched fighting near Dunkirk. So the German army kept the expeditionary force pinned down on the beach and sent the Luftwaffe to kill British ships in the English channel and strafe and bomb survivors on the beaches.

On May 26, the British launched Operation Dynamo, a Hail Mary attempt to rescue those dying troops through Royal Navy assets and, when those proved to be too few, hundreds of small fishing and pleasure boats piloted by civilians. Nearly 340,000 troops were evacuated from May 26 to June 4.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

Previous trailers for Nolan’s movie about the event have focused on the plight of soldiers on the beach who waited for days, sometimes in shoulder-deep water while under fire from the Luftwaffe, for rescue. The new trailer shows them, but it also spends a lot of time on a father crossing the channel with his sons, as well as the nurses and pilots who made the mission possible.

It looks like World War II buffs may get to see one of the war’s most miraculous moments played out on the screen through perspectives of everyone who made it possible. Many of the troops rescued from the beaches went on to fight in North Africa, the D-Day landings, and on to Berlin.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 heroes who earned a Medal of Honor in Hue City

At the end of January in 1968, the Viet Cong launched an offensive that turned the tide of the Vietnam War.

The Tet Offensive began on January 30 as the North Vietnamese occupied the city of Hue. US Marines spent nearly a month fighting a brutal urban battle to retake the city — which was 80% destroyed by the battle’s end, according to H.D.S. Greenway, a photographer embedded with the Marines during the war.

An estimated 1,800 Americans lost their lives during the battle.


But in the midst of the chaos, five men who faced harrowing circumstances risked their lives to save those of their comrades — and earned the nation’s highest award for courage in combat, the Medal of Honor.

During one of the ceremonies honoring these heroes, President Richard Nixon remarked on the incredible risks they took.

“They are men who faced death, and instead of losing courage they gave courage to the men around them,” he said.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense inducts U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) John L. Canley into the Hall of Heroes during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, 2018, after being awarded the Medal of Honor by the President.

(DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley received his award over 50 years after carrying wounded Marines to safety.

Gunnery Sgt. John Canley, suffering from shrapnel wounds, led his men in the destruction of enemy-occupied buildings in Hue City.

When his men were injured, he leapt over a wall in plain sight — twice — to carry them to safe positions.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor in October 2018, over 50 years after he risked his life for his men.

Read the award citation here.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

Medal of Honor recipient Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Ferguson shakes hands with President Richard Nixon after receiving his award in May 1969.

(Richard Nixon Library/YouTube)

Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Ferguson flew his helicopter through a barrage of anti-aircraft fire to rescue wounded comrades.

Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Ferguson ignored numerous calls to avoid the airspace surrounding Hue City during the early days of the battle.

He flew his helicopter through enemy fire, guiding the damaged aircraft so he could rescue wounded comrades and fly them back to safety.

His bravery saved the lives of five wounded soldiers.

Read the award citation here.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

A photo shows Sgt. Alfredo Gonzalez with Gunnery Sgt. John Canley during the Vietnam War. Both have earned the Medal of Honor for actions taken during the brutal Battle of Hue City.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tessa Watts)

Sergeant Alfredo Gonzalez

Sgt. Gonzalez and his unit were among the first to deploy into the Viet Cong-occupied Hue City.

Through five days of fighting, Gonzalez repeatedly exposed himself to direct enemy fire, leading his men despite his personal wounds.

Although he died during the battle, his actions ensured his comrades’ survival.

Read the award citation here.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

Medal of Honor recipient Joe Hooper listens as his citation is read during the award ceremony in March 1969.

(National Archives/YouTube)

Sergeant Joe Hooper is described as the most decorated soldier of the Vietnam War.

Sgt. Hooper earned the Medal of Honor on the same day as company mate Staff Sgt. Sims.

Hooper suffered extraordinary wounds as he fought during the Battle of Hue City, during which he destroyed numerous enemy bunkers and raced across open fields under intense fire to save a wounded comrade.

Read his full award citation here.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

Mary Sims accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of her husband, Staff Sergeant Clifford Sims, who died during the Battle of Hue City.

(National Archives)

Staff Sergeant Clifford Sims, once an orphan, flung himself on top of an explosive device to save his platoon.

During an intense search-and-rescue mission, Staff Sgt. Sims heard the click of a booby trap as his platoon approached a bunker.

Shouting for his team to stay back, Sims jumped on top of the device to absorb the explosion.

Read the full award citation here.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

How the Allies defeated one of their deadliest WWII adversaries

Entering the Imperial German Navy in 1911, Karl Dönitz, a Berlin native, served as a submarine commander in WWI as Hitler was coming into power. While underway on deployment in 1918, his UB-68 was badly damaged by British forces and eventually sunk, but Dönitz was captured and transported to a POW camp.


After nine months of captivity, Dönitz was released from custody back to German hands where he was appointed by General Admiral Erich Raeder to command and create a new German U-boat fleet.

Under his new position, he developed a U-boat patrolling strategy called “wolfpack” formations — meaning groups of submarines would maneuver in straight lines. Once the patrolling U-boats came in contact with enemy vessels, they would signal the wolfpack who would then charge forward and attack.

Related: This is the disease Hitler hid from the public for years

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Admiral Karl Dönitz meets with Adolf Hitler (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In 1943, Dönitz replaced General Admiral Raecher as Commander-in-Chief (the same man who originally assigned him) and with his naval warfare expertise began winning Hitler’s trust.

During his role as Commander-in-Chief, Dönitz was credited with sinking nearly 15 million tons of enemy shipping, coordinating reconnaissance missions, and allowing his U-boat commanders to strike at will when they believed they could inflict the most damage. At that same time, he commanded of 212 U-boats and had another 181 on standby used for training. His tactics proved to be superior to those of his enemys until the invention of microwave radar which managed to spot his German created U-boats sooner than before.

After Hitler died, his last will and testament named Dönitz as commander of the armed forces and the new Reich president. For the next 20 days, he served the last leader of Nazi Germany until the British once again captured him on May 23, 1945.

During the Nuremberg Trials, Dönitz was charged with multiple war crimes and sentenced to 10 years in Berlin’s Spandau prison. Upon his release, he published two books and continued to state he had no knowledge of any crimes committed by Hitler.

The German admiral died on Christmas Eve, 1980.

Also Read: This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

Check out the Smithsonian Channel video below to discover some of the German U-boats effects on the war.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the most decorated enlisted sailor in US military history

When James Elliott Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1947, World War II was over, and the South Carolina native probably thought he might have a career no different, better, or worse than any other enlisted sailor. History would have other ideas. He just wanted to join the Navy, so bad in fact, he was only 16 when he enlisted. He and a county clerk altered his birth certificate to make him old enough to join. That was just the first bold move of his career.


It’s notable that the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history isn’t a SEAL or anything like that, he was a Boatswains Mate.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

Chief Ryback approves.

Today’s Boatswain’s Mates now train, direct, and supervise the ship’s personnel in the maintenance of the ship as well as operate machinery to load and unload supplies. They’re kind of the jack of all trades sailor, the oldest rate in the Navy. They repair the ship, provide security, and even drive the damn things. Not three years into James William’s enlistment, the Korean War broke out, and Williams was aboard the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. Being a Boatswain’s Mate, he ended up on numerous small boat raiding parties into North Korea.

It suited him just fine. Williams continued his enlistment even after the war ended. His real moment to shine came during his time in Vietnam.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

Yeahhhhhhhh buddy. I don’t know this guy, but I’d follow him anywhere.

Williams was the Petty Officer in charge of overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta as the Vietnam War was heating up in 1966 and 1967. At the time in his career when other NCOs would be seeking a quiet place to end their enlistment, Williams was tossing ammunition over his shoulder and telling junior sailors everything was going to be okay – and it was, because Williams was going to see to that.

That’s what happened on Oct. 31, 1966, when Williams’ two boat patrol was ambushed by two enemy boats on the river. He collected his “19-year-old and scared to death” gunners, and directed a return fire that destroyed one boat and sent the other running away for dear life. It wouldn’t get away, as the sailors chased the damaged enemy boat right into…

An enemy stronghold.

Suddenly, they were outnumbered 65-to-1. The VC opened up on the Americans with withering AK-47 and RPG fire. You can probably guess what happened next.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

If you guessed the Americans retreated, I’m showing you this photo again because you clearly forgot about it.

Williams led his boat and its crew into the enemy formation, with fortified bunkers shooting at them from the riverbanks, enemy boats swirling around them, and all kinds of different ordnance being thrown their way. As he attacked enemy sampans, junks, and other river craft, he called in for help from UH-1B Huey helicopters as the night fell on the South Vietnamese inlet where Williams and his crew were absolutely laying waste to the Viet Cong.

For three hours, Williams and company fought and wrecked an entire hub of VC shipping and supply along with the 65 boats and untold manpower defending it. The Navy wrecking crew killed 1,000 enemy troops in the process while disrupting the VC supply lines in the entire region.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

That’s how James Williams earned the Medal of Honor.

Aside from the Medal of Honor he earned on that day, Williams other awards and decorations include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with gold star, the Legion of Merit with combat V, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, the Bronze Star with combat V and two gold stars, the Purple Heart with two gold stars, and a ton of other unit commendations and service medals.

He left the military as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class, E-6, but was made an honorary Chief in 1977.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this soldier earned the Medal of Honor while stoned

It is absolutely forbidden to do drugs in a war zone. It’s illegal to do drugs as a member of the Armed Forces — it always has been. Still, by the 1970s, marijuana use by U.S. troops in Vietnam was widespread. Tim O’Brien even wrote about it in The Things They Carried. One U.S. troop even earned the nation’s highest honor while high on it.


Peter Lemon was stationed at Fire Support Base Illingworth in Tay Ninh province, South Vietnam on Apr. 1, 1970. It was that day he became one of the youngest-ever Medal of Honor recipients at just 20 years old.

He was born in Toronto, an immigrant who willfully joined the U.S. Army to fight against the spread of Communism. He was from a family of military veterans, after all. He became an American citizen at 11 and enlisted as soon as he could. His optimism about the war in Vietnam quickly fell away after a series of disappointing events: allied troops killing surrendering enemy combatants, the fragging of a hated lieutenant, and the loathing the locals had for American troops.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Lemon in Vietnam.
(Photo from Peter Lemon)

So, when things got slow, he and his buddies passed the time by smoking a little pot. After a recon patrol one night, they blew off some steam with a little partying. He had no idea the next day would be the defining event of his life.

“We were all partying the night before,” Lemon said. “We weren’t expecting any action because we were in a support unit. It was the only time I ever went into combat stoned. You get really alert when you are stoned because you have to be.”

His fire base was located near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, admittedly bait for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops to attack as they entered South Vietnam. There were many fire bases like it, as it was a common tactic to draw out masses of enemy troops. Unfortunately for the tired revelers at Illingworth, the night wasn’t as quiet as they expected.

At 2:06 am, the enemy struck in full force. 400 hardened NVA troops swarmed the 220 Americans at the fire base. The Americans lacked the critical piece to their fire base tactics: air support. The NVA destroyed the base’s communications and rained mortars and artillery on the sleepy Americans.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
A hastily-constructed fire support base like Fire Support Base Illingworth.

Lemon, despite finishing a joint before bed, jumped out of his rack and manned a heavy machine gun until it couldn’t fire anymore. He did the same with his rifle. Both weapons malfunctioned. When those no longer worked, he switched to tossing hand grenades at the oncoming enemy. The NVA returned with a grenade of their own, injuring Lemon. He managed to take down all but one enemy. As soon as the Communist soldier reached his position, Lemon dispatched him in hand-to-hand combat.

That’s when fate stepped in. The day before, Illingworth received a shipment of 40 tons of 8-inch artillery shells it couldn’t use. The ammo was dumped in the middle of the base, and as soon as Lemon killed his attacker, the shells all detonated. The blast knocked Lemon to the ground and tore apart anyone near it.

Still, he managed to pick himself up, take a buddy to the aid station, and grab more grenades. He was shot by incoming NVA bullets for his trouble, but he pressed on. Then, realizing the base was about to be overrun, he charged the incoming enemy waves, tossing grenades and knocking them down with his fists as he moved, completely routing them.

He then retook another machine gun and fired into the NVA hordes (while standing fully in the open) until he passed out.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Lemon manning his machine gun.
(Artist’s rendering)

If all of that wasn’t enough, he refused medical evacuation until his more seriously wounded friends took off first. Lemon, now a motivational speaker, dedicates his Medal of Honor to his three friends who died in the fighting, Casey Waller, Brent Street, and Nathan Mann.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘indomitable determination’ of John Paul Jones lives on in the Navy

April is a great month to remember the namesake of one of our Pearl Harbor guided-missile destroyers, USS John Paul Jones, named for a founding hero of our Navy and proudly known by the crew and their families and friends as “JPJ.”

On April 19, 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord lit the match of Revolution against British tyranny. At the time Great Britain had more than 250 warships with nearly half having 50 or more guns – cannons. Our tiny naval force consisted of a few ragtag privateers and some humble sailing vessels. Even before our nation began, the founders commissioned 13 frigates and recruited warfighters, including immigrants like John Paul Jones.


In April 1776, Jones was aboard the large converted merchant ship Alfred, taking the fight against the British with a contingent of Continental Marines. On April 6 the colonial mariners attacked and heavily damaged the British cruiser HMS Glasgow, which had been harassing the colonies’ shipping. It was our Navy’s first sea battle.

After that victory Lt. Jones was awarded with an assignment to captain of the Providence. A year later he was assigned to the sloop Ranger. Jones bristled at the state of readiness and combat capability of his new ship. Throughout his career he demanded the best, deadliest and fastest; he trained, equipped and operated with precision and rigor.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Depicting the capture of the HMS DRAKE by the Continental ship RANGER after a sea battle off Cerrick-Fergus in the Irish Sea on 24 April 1778. The RANGER was under command of Captain John Paul Jones.

On April 24, 1778, Jones, aboard Ranger, captured HMS Drake after thunderous fusillades of cannons and muskets and bloody close combat with cutlasses and boarding pikes.

We remember John Paul Jones for his courage and tenacity against all odds. His heroism aboard Bonhomme Richard and his bold attacks against the British homeland are well-known. He owned the fight, willingly going in harm’s way.

That legacy continues.

On April 5, 1956, the Navy commissioned USS John Paul Jones (DD-932), which made a shakedown cruise to Europe. The Forrest Sherman-class destroyer was re-designated DDG-32 and served our navy for more than 25 years.

Our current JPJ, DDG 53, was launched in October 1991, and ten years later – less than a month after 9/11 – fired the first Tomahawk missiles in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
PEARL HARBOR (Aug. 15, 2014) The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) prepares to moor at her new homeport, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, following a homeport swap with the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70).
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Johans Chavarro)

JPJ is the first Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer to be stationed in the Pacific Fleet, and in the summer of 2014 became one of our go-to Ballistic Missile Defense System supporting ships in Hawaii, with the latest SM-3 missiles and updated, advanced Aegis capabilities.

During JPJ’s four years home ported in Pearl Harbor, the ship has participated in numerous operations and exercises, working closely with our Pacific Missile Range Facility test and training range, and cooperating with the forces of key allies like Japan and Republic of Korea. Here in Hawaii we are uniquely able to put new innovation to the test so our fleet can have proven, effective weapons systems.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the Japan Ministry of Defense, and U.S. Navy Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jonesu00a0successfully conducted a flight test.
(U.S. Navy photo by Leah Garton)

JPJ helps the Navy determine the accuracy of weapons systems, detect potential system anomalies and demonstrate advances in surface force lethality and defensive capabilities. At the same time, JPJ, along with our other nine gray hulls in Pearl Harbor, conducts effective community outreach.

Back in 2006, Sailors of USS John Paul Jones and USS Preble (DDG 88) participated in the 99th Rose Festivalin Portland Oregon. One imagines gentlemanly Capt. John Paul Jones, who was known for writing poetry, being pleased to be part of the festival.

As with many of our Navy’s namesakes, Capt. John Paul Jones was not without his flaws. He was a complicated man with conflicting personality traits, both sensitive and tough, reflective and extremely vain, paranoid and exceptionally self-assured.

In the words of Navy veteran Sen. John McCain, writing about Jones, “I challenge you to show me someone flawless who has made a significant contribution to history. It is not perfection that characterizes greatness. It is, rather, the ability to achieve great things in spite of ourselves.”

In many ways resilient warfighting John Paul Jones serves as a namesake for our entire Navy.

One final April reference: On April 24, 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt spoke at Annapolis at a re-interment ceremony commemorating John Paul Jones:

“Every officer in our Navy should know by heart the deeds of John Paul Jones. Every officer in our Navy should feel in each fiber of his being an eager desire to emulate the energy, the professional capacity, the indomitable determination and dauntless scorn of death which marked John Paul Jones above all his fellows.”

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson addresses the crew aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones during their 240th Navy birthday celebration.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Martin L. Carey)

Today our men and women of JPJ, along with their shipmates everywhere, continue to emulate their namesake’s resilience and willingness to fight, with the ability to survive and return, and with the commitment to adapt and overcome. Our Sailors are able to go in harm’s way, if necessary, with indomitable determination and the will to win.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first and only female Buffalo Soldier joined the Army disguised as a man

Before women were allowed to join the military, Cathay Williams decided that she wouldn’t let her gender, or the color of her skin, get in the way of her ambitions. She became the first known African American woman in American history to join the armed forces by disguising herself as a man.


Williams was born into slavery in the year 1842 in Independence, Mo. She was a house slave for William Johnson, a planter in Jefferson City, Mo. During the beginning of the Civil War, Williams was claimed to have been “freed” by Union soldiers, but was forced to work for the Federal Army as a paid cook and laundress.

During her time serving in the Federal Army, she gained an insight into military life by answering directly to two Union Generals, one of whom was General Philip Sheridan. After the war ended, Williams did not have the means of supporting herself, but she wasn’t about to let her newly garnered freedom get snuffed out like a flame.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
In 1866, Cathay Williams became the first African-American woman to enlist in the U.S. Army. She posed as a man, enlisting under the pseudonym William Cathay. (Image from U.S. Army)

In November 1866, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the U.S. Army as William Cathay. Full-on medical exams weren’t mandatory at the time, and Williams was able to pas a quick, general health check before filing in among the ranks.

She was found fit for duty and assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry, Company A, an all-black regiment in St. Louis, Mo. which, eventually, became a part of the renowned Buffalo Soldiers. Apparently, the only two people knew her secret — a friend and a cousin — both of whom served alongside her in the same regiment. They never divulged her charade.

Williams traveled with her regiment and helped protect miners and immigrants from Apache attacks at Fort Cummings, Mo. Unfortunately, military service took its toll on Williams. She was in and out of the hospital for most of her service due to neuralgia (pain caused by a pinched nerve). Surprisingly, it was six months after her first hospitalization when they found out that she was a woman.

After the truth was revealed, Williams was discharged from the Army honorably on October 14, 1868. Little of her life is known after she was discharged, except for her attempts to get a pension for the disabilities that she incurred from military service.

Sadly, Williams never received compensation for her medical issues. The Pension Bureau claimed her illnesses were pre-existing and, because she was a woman, her service was not considered legal, disqualifying her from pension pay.

She may not have intended to become a prominent figure in history, but one thing is for sure, Cathay Williams will forever be regarded as the first and only female Buffalo Soldier to have served in the U.S. Army.

Articles

4 things you may not know about USS Constitution

The sailing frigate USS Constitution (ex-IX 21) was re-floated on July 23 in an event overshadowed by the commissioning of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).


The ship has been around for 220 years. But here are a few things you may not have known about this ship.

1. Paul Revere provided some crucial materials for the ship’s construction

According to the Copper Development Association, Paul Revere, best known for his midnight ride prior to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, provided a number of copper bolts and a copper bell for USS Constitution.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

2. The Constitution had a hull number

In 1941, the Constitution was given the hull number IX 21, along with a number of other vessels. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, the list included the prize USS Reina Mercedes (IX 25), the sloop USS Constellation (IX 20), the cruiser USS Olympia (IX 40), and the training carriers USS Wolverine (IX 64) and USS Sable (IX 81).

The hull number was rescinded in 1975 at the suggestion of the ship’s commanding officer, Tyrone G. Martin, who instituted a number of traditions that carry on to this day.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

3. She is the only survivor of her class

Of the first six frigates, the Constitution is the only survivor. Sister ship USS Constellation was thought to have been converted to a sloop and preserved in Baltimore, but later research determined the Navy had scrapped the original vessel. The frigates USS Chesapeake and USS President were captured by the British. USS United States was captured by the Confederates, but eventually scuttled and scrapped.

USS Congress was scrapped in 1834.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

4. She was the battlecruiser of her era

The Constitution and her sisters were designed to be able to outgun enemy frigates and to out-run enemy ships of the line. She had a mix of 24-pound cannons and 32-pound cannons, compared to the 18-pound cannons used on the British Leda-class frigates, built around the same time as Constitution and her sisters.

In fact, late in the war of 1812, British frigate captains were ordered to avoid combat with the Constitution and her sisters.


Articles

This Marine came back to his family 5 years after he died

On Feb. 25, 1968, a patrol left the besieged Khe Sanh garrison — where U.S. Marines were outnumbered by North Vietnamese forces almost 4 to 1 — and was drawn into a well-executed ambush.


The patrol, conducted by two squads, was nearly wiped out and few survivors managed to crawl out of the jungle. It was later dubbed “The Ghost Patrol.”

One of the Marines listed as lost in the battle, Pfc. Ronald L. Ridgeway, actually spent the next five years in solitary confinement in a North Vietnamese prison camp before returning to the family that had “buried” him months after his disappearance.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Marine Pfc. Ronald Ridgeway (Photo: YouTube/Vietnam Veteran News Podcast)

The Battle of Khe Sanh began when the North Vietnamese attacked one of America’s northernmost garrisons near the border between Vietnam and Laos. Army Gen. William Westmoreland had predicted the attack months before and reinforced the base with additional men and munitions and ordered repairs and upgrades to the base’s airfield.

When the North Vietnamese attacked on Jan. 21, 1968, it quickly became clear that the preparations weren’t enough. The 6,000 troops were attacked by an enemy force that would eventually grow to an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 enemies, and the carefully hoarded supply of artillery and mortar rounds were 90 percent destroyed by an enemy artillery attack that hit the ammo dump.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
And the Marines needed that ammo. They went through it at a prodigious rate while trying to beat back the siege. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Westmoreland convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that the base should be held at all costs, triggering a 77-day siege that required planes to constantly land supplies on the improved airfield.

The Marines and other troops on the base sought continuously to knock the North Vietnamese off balance and to relieve the pressure on the base. The February 25 patrol aimed to find North Vietnamese and either kill them or take them captive to collect intelligence.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
F-100 strikes close to the lines while supporting the Marines at Khe Sanh on March 15, 1968. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

It was led by an inexperienced lieutenant who, after his men spotted three enemy fighters who quickly fled, ordered a full-speed chase to capture or kill them despite advice to the contrary from others.

The three enemies turned out to be bait, and they drew the Marines into a nearly perfect crescent-shaped ambush.

The Marines fought valiantly, but they were taking machine gun and other small arms fire from three sides mere moments after the fight began. Grenades rained down on their position as they sought cover, concealment, and fire superiority.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII
Infantry Sgt. Kregg Jorgenson is rushed behind friendly lines during a firefight in the Vietnamese jungle.(Image: YouTube/CBS Evening News)

Under increasing fire, Ridgeway and another Marine attempted to break contact and return to the base, but they came across a wounded Marine on their way. Unwilling to leave an injured brother, they stopped to render aid and carry him out.

As they stopped, bursts of machine gun fire hit the three Marines, wounding all three. One was killed by a grenade moments later, another died of wounds that night, and only Ridgeway survived despite the enemy shooting him in the helmet and shoulder. He was later captured when a Vietnamese soldier tried to steal his wristwatch and realized the body was still breathing.

1968 was the deadliest year for submariners post-WWII

That September, his family was part of a ceremony to bury unidentified remains from the battle and memorialize the nine Marines presumed dead whose bodies were only partially recovered.

But for five years after the battle, Ridgeway was an unidentified resident of the Hanoi Hilton, undergoing regular torture at the hands of his captors.

It wasn’t until the North Vietnamese agreed to a prisoner transfer as part of the peace process in 1973 that they released his name to American authorities, leading to Ridgeway’s mother getting an alert that her son was alive.

Five years after the battle and four years after his burial, Ridgeway returned to America and was reunited with his family. He later visited the grave and mourned the eight Marines whose names shared the list with his. A new memorial was later raised with Ridgeway’s name removed.