In what would come to be called the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot, 96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs faced off against 100 Syrian fighters backed up by 19 surface-to-air missile launchers in 1982. It was one of the largest jet battles ever fought.
Israel has a history of fighting with its neighbors, especially from the 1960s through the 1980s. A series of small battles with Egypt resulted in some hard lessons learned for the Israel Air Force after they lost a number of fighters to surface-to-air-missiles.
But the IAF learned their lessons and on Jun. 9, 1982, they attacked 19 Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries deployed near their border. In the first two hours of fighting, the IAF destroyed 17 of the missile batteries with no losses. Then, things really went nuts.
The Syrians sent up 100 MiGs to intercept the 96 F-15s, F-16s, and F-4s that were attacking the SAM sites. The Israelis were flying an E-2C Hawkeye airborne warning and control system aircraft that picked up the incoming fighters. It began feeding instructions to the IAF fighters.
The more advanced Israeli fighters, firing both Sidewinder heat-seeking and Sparrow radar-guided missiles, destroyed 29 of the Syrian Air Force fighters.
One of the Syrian Air Force’s main fighters in the conflict was the MiG-21, like this one flown by the Serbian Air Force. Photo: Wikipedia/claudiu_ne2000
But the IAF wasn’t done. There were still two missile sites they wanted gone. So, they returned Jun. 10. Again, the bulk of the Syrian Air Force lifted off to greet them, and the IAF pounded them into the ground, downing another 35 Syrian aircraft with no Israeli losses.
The stunning victory was due to a number of factors. The Israeli pilots had benefitted from great training and a lot of combat experience, but the Syrians had also screwed themselves.
The Syrians fed their pilots instructions from a ground control station that couldn’t communicated due to Israeli jamming. In an Air Power Journal article, a Western military observer of the battle says, “I watched a group of Syrian fighter planes fly figure-eights. They just flew around and around and obviously had no idea what to do next.”
Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency at the time, trashed the lazy deployment of Syrian missile sites. “The Syrians used mobile missiles in a fixed configuration; they put the radars in the valley instead of the hills because they didn’t want to dig latrines–seriously.”
The conflict between the two countries continued through Jul. 1982. In over a month of fighting, Israel lost only two jets while Syria lost at least 87.
In July 1861, Union troops arrived in Boyd’s town and she wasn’t too happy about it. Since her father was a member of the Confederate 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, Boyd (born Isabella Maria Boyd) was “supporting the troops” with Confederate flags in her bedroom.
The Union troops tried to confiscate the flags, then threw up the Stars and Stripes over her house. An argument ensued, a soldier cursed at her mother, and then Boyd pulled out a pistol and shot the guy. She was later cleared of wrongdoing — because in the 1860s it was totally cool to shoot people who cussed at women — but the Union began tracking her activities.
And interestingly enough, she used this to her advantage, and tracked them instead.
Union officials began to monitor Boyd’s movements, but she used conversations with her minders to accumulate detailed information on their movements, sending the intelligence in letters to Confederate commanders. After one such letter was intercepted, Boyd escaped punishment by feigning ignorance. Her parents then sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in even tinier Front Royal (pop. 417), forty miles to the south.
In October 1861, after visiting her father’s camp, Boyd began work as a courier between generals Jackson and P. G. T. Beauregard and was detained briefly for her efforts. Her oft-noted charm was a weapon and, occasionally, a liability. After being captured by a pair of Union soldiers, Boyd claimed to have sweet talked them into escorting her back to Confederate lines, where she promptly had them arrested. When Boyd’s identity was revealed to the two hapless soldiers, they recognized it, suggesting that she already had attained something that spies tend to avoid—notoriety.
Notoriety is exactly what she found, as Boyd appears at least a few times in correspondence between senior Union leaders. While she was getting plenty of hate mail from the Union, she was earning respect from senior Confederates, to include Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp, according to AP.
Perhaps her biggest intelligence “get” came in May 1862, as she spied on a Union general and his staff through a peephole in a closet floor (Great job securing the SCIF, guys). Union forces had recently captured Front Royal, Virginia, but the general was about to pull a large portion of his forces east. It wasn’t long before the town was back in Confederate hands, thanks to Boyd’s messages.
Battle flags were a big thing during the American Civil War. Perhaps the most famous (and now most notorious) is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Often mistaken for the official flag of the Confederate States of America, the crossed stars and bars flag was flown for Robert E. Lee’s Army – and grew more popular than the actual Confederate flag.
The Union had its own battle flags as well. In fact every general, it seems, had their own battle flag, with some more popular than others. The Army of the Potomac’s battle flag was a swallow-tailed flag featuring a golden eagle and wreath on a magenta background.
Custer had one. Sheridan had one. So did Burnside, Breckinridge and Cumming. Even the most famous Civil War general (or notorious, depending one which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on) had one. Except William Tecumseh Sherman’s flag never saw any fighting. In fact he created his flag as a symbol of peace.
To quickly recap, the Civil War career of Gen. Sherman, he had a nervous breakdown early on in the war. After being relieved of military command of Kentucky, he went home to Ohio to recover. He returned to duty that same year and was eventually placed under the command of his good friend, Ulysses S. Grant.
This proved to be the entire South’s undoing. Not just the Confederate Army and not just the Confederate States or America: for the entire South, Sherman’s return to duty was the beginning of the end. As Sherman saw successes on the battlefields of the south, he rose in rank. When Grant took command of the Union Army, he promoted Sherman to his old job.
It was this renewed Gen. Sherman who said such famous lines like:
“War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”
“War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end.”
“I am satisfied, and have been all the time, that the problem of this war consists in the awful fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in the conquest of territory.”
“I regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash — and it may be well that we become so hardened.”
and finally: “I will make Georgia howl.”
Sherman was basically the last guy anyone would want invading their country at the almost 100,000 angry Union troops, but that’s exactly what Georgia got. He proceeded to burn down large areas of the rebel state.
Sherman’s flag wasn’t created in the Civil War, though. He commissioned it in 1880, 15 years after the war’s end when he was General of the U.S. Army. His original flags was made of blue silk and was full of symbolism meant to represent the unity between states.
It featured a flying golden eagle with a white head in the center of the flag, it’s head turned toward the olive branch in its talons, a symbol of peace between states. Above the eagle were 13 stars, representing the original 13 colonies, along with a shield covered by 13 stripes. It was a look back at the days when the country had unity of purpose.
General Sherman died in 1891, and his flag was placed in the care of his daughter, Mary Elizabeth. She donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1918, folded in an envelope and warning the museum that it was in pretty rough shape. It stayed in the envelope until 2013, waiting for the right expert to restore it.
In 2002, the U.S. military tapped Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper to lead the red opposing forces of the most expensive, expansive military exercise in history. He was put in command of an inferior Middle Eastern-inspired military force. His mission was to go against the full might of the American armed forces. In the first two days, he sank an entire carrier battle group.
The exercise was called Millennium Challenge 2002. It was designed by the Joint Forces Command over the course of two years. It had 13,500 participants, numerous live and simulated training sites, and was supposed to pit an Iran-like Middle Eastern country against the U.S. military, which would be fielding advanced technology it didn’t plan to implement until five years later.
The war game would begin with a forced-entry exercise that included the 82nd Airborne and the 1st Marine Division.
When the Blue Forces issued a surrender ultimatum, Van Riper, commanding the Red Forces, turned them down. Since the Bush Doctrine of the period included preemptive strikes against perceived enemies, Van Riper knew the Blue Forces would be cominfor him. And they did.
But the three-star general didn’t spend 41 years in the Marine Corps by being timid. As soon as the Navy was beyond the point of no return, he hit them and hit them hard. Missiles from land-based units, civilian boats, and low-flying planes tore through the fleet as explosive-ladened speedboats decimated the Navy using suicide tactics. His code to initiate the attack was a coded message sent from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer.
How did 19 ships and some 20,000 U.S. troops end up at the bottom of the Persian Gulf? It started with the OPFOR leadership. Van Riper was the epitome of the salty Marine Corps general officer. He was a 41-year veteran, both enlisted and commissioned, serving everywhere from Vietnam to Desert Storm. Van Riper attended the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, The College of Naval Command and Staff, Army War College, and the Army’s Airborne and Ranger Schools.
In fact, the three-star general had been retired for some five years by the time he led the Red Forces of Millennium Challenge. He was an old-school Marine capable of some old-school tactics and has insisted that technology cannot replace human intuition and study of the basic nature of war, which he called a “terrible, uncertain, chaotic, bloody business.”
When Van Riper told the story of Millennium Challenge to journalist Malcolm Gladwell, he said the Blue Forces were stuck in their own mode of thinking. Their vastly superior technology included advanced intelligence matrices and an Operational Net Assessment that told them where the OPFOR vulnerabilities were and what Van Riper was most likely to do next out of a range of possible scenarios. They relied heavily on that. When the Blue took out Red’s microwave towers and fiber optics, they expected his forces to use satellite and cell phones that could be monitored.
Not a chance. Van Riper instead used motorcycle couriers, messages hidden in prayers, and even coded lighting systems on his airfields — tactics employed during World War II.
“I struck first,” he said in “ Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” written by Gladwell in 2005. “We did all the calculations on how many cruise missiles their ships could handle, so we simply launched more than that.”
In fact, Van Riper hated the kind of analytical decision making the Blue Forces were doing. He believed it took far too long. His resistance plan included ways of getting his people to make good decisions using rapid cognition and analog but reliable communications.
The other commanders involved called foul, complaining that a real OPFOR would never use the tactics Van Riper used — except Van Riper’s flotilla used boats and explosives like those used against the USS Cole in 2000.
“And I said ‘nobody would have thought that anyone would fly an airliner into the World Trade Center,'” Van Riper said in reply. “But nobody [in the exercise] seemed interested.”
In the end, the Blue Forces were all respawned and Van Riper was prevented from making moves to counter the Blue Forces’ landing. He had no radar and wasn’t allowed to shoot down incoming aircraft he would have otherwise accurately targeted. The rest of the exercise was scripted to let the Blue Force land and win. Van Riper walked out when he realized his commands were being ignored by the exercise planners. The fix was in.
The three-star wrote a 21-page critique of the exercise that was immediately classified. Van Riper spoke out against the rigged game anyway.
“Nothing was learned from this,” he told the Guardian in 2002. “A culture not willing to think hard and test itself does not augur well for the future.”
“Patton’s Panthers” was one of the most effective tank battalions in World War II, fighting a continuous 183 days at the front and inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans while crews racked up accolades from their peers, including three Medal of Honor nominations in their first month of combat.
The first black armored unit was the 758th Tank Battalion which received 98 black enlisted men in 1941. The 761st followed in March 1942 as a light tank battalion but converted to medium tanks in September 1943.
It was on that day that the battalion struck a German roadblock that could spell doom. The tanks were forced to stop, making them easy targets for German guns.
Despite fierce German fire, Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers rushed out of his tank and attached a cable to the roadblock before dragging it out of the way. The American tanks pushed forward through the opening and the attack was successful.
The next day, Charlie Company 1st Sgt. Samuel Turley found his company under heavy German fire with wrecked tanks. He ordered the crews to dismount and organized a resistance before climbing from a ditch to lay down cover fire. His gamble saved his men, but he was cut down by German machine gun fire.
The day after that, on Nov. 10, Sgt. Warren G.H. Crecy fought his way forward to save his men under fire until his tank was destroyed. He then commandeered another vehicle and killed his attackers with a .30-caliber machine gun before turning the weapon on German artillery observers.
On Nov. 11, Crecy was back at it. His tank was immobilized and he attempted to get it going until he saw German units attacking the nearby infantry. So he climbed onto his .50-cal. and gave them cover. Later that day, he destroyed machine gun nests and an anti-tank weapon.
Rivers was back in the spotlight Nov. 16-19. A mine shot fragments through his leg and destroyed his knee on Nov. 16. Despite the recommendation that he immediately evacuate, Rivers led the way across a brand-new bridge the next day and took on four German tanks, killing two and driving two more back.
By Nov. 18, Rivers’ leg was infected but he still refused to go home. The next day, Rivers directed fierce fire onto German anti-tank guns until two rounds pierced his own tank and went through his head, killing him instantly.
All three men, Rivers, Crecy, and Turley, were nominated for the Medal of Honor but only Rivers received it.
The next month the 761st conducted assaults aimed at breaking up the German forces at the Battle of the Bulge, slowing German resupply and taking the pressure off the units under siege despite the fact that the 761st was fighting a numerically superior enemy.
After another month and a half of fighting, the 761st threw itself against a dug in and numerically superior enemy once again while leading the armored spearhead through the Siegfried Line and fought “the fiercest of enemy resistance in the most heavily defended area of the war theater” for 72 hours according to its Presidential Unit Citation.
On May 5, 1945, the 761st linked up with Russian Forces in Steyr, Austria. Over the course of the war, the unit had lost nearly 50 percent of its starting forces and 71 tanks. It was also credited with inflicting 130,000 casualties.
To celebrate Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Vietnam War,” PBS and USAToday created a Vietnam War Draft Lottery calculator. Simply enter your birth month and day to find out if you would have been drafted for wartime service in Vietnam.
The calculator, of course, does not use your birth year because many of us were born well after the Vietnam War. For those born in 1950, however, being drafted in 1970 was a very real prospect. In today’s all-volunteer military, the idea of someone being forced into that lifestyle change can seem very bizarre. Most of the men who rotated through the country were volunteers, but a significant number were not.
Unlike World War II, there were no lines to sign up for service. And unlike the Civil War, there was no paying a substitute to take your place. But still, the perception existed that with money and connections, someone could avoid serving. So in an effort to make the draft more fair (or appear fair), a lottery was put in place.
Draft age men were assigned a number between 1 and 366, depending on their birthday. The lowest numbers were called first. This was all entirely at random.
Of course, that didn’t stop some of those who were called to service from further avoiding Selective Service. Some went to college or graduate school or faked medical conditions, while others fled to Canada. In all, half a million Americans dodged their Vietnam War service.
They were fugitives until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter ordered a general amnesty. Deserters, however, were not given amnesty.
Ken Burns’ film recalls the accounts of more than 100 witnesses to the war in what he calls a “360-degree narrative.” The 10-part, 18-hour documentary “The Vietnam War” is available for streaming on PBS.
These NASA nerds set a record for how quickly a plane was returned to flight status after being sent to AMARC. They did an impressive job of grafting together parts from the WB-57 Canberra from the boneyard with parts from a second Canberra near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, as well as F-15 parts for the main wheels, the ejection seats from the F-16, and the tires from an A-4 for the nose wheel.
But some Army Air Force mechanics in Australia pulled off something similar in World War II, and did such a good job that their Franken-bomber is still around today. That plane is currently at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.
She’s called “Swoose,” and she is not only the only B-17D to survive, she is the oldest surviving B-17.
Swoose started out being assigned to the Philippines in 1941, flying in combat from Dec. 7, 1941, to Jan. 11, 1942. The plane suffered serious damage, but the mechanics used a tail from another damaged B-17 and replaced the engines. The plane then served as an armed transport for the rest of the war, including as a personal transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett (no relation to the star baseball player from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).
Thank you for being a friend … and a MARINE! Yes, the very same Bea Arthur that we know and love as Dorothy Zbornak from the “Golden Girls” and Maude from “All in the Family” served in the U.S. military.
Arthur, who passed away in 2009 of lung cancer, was originally named Bernice Frankel. She later changed her first name, and used an alternate spelling of her former husband’s last name, Aurthur.
In 1943, the Marines became the last military branch to accept women into their ranks. They announced a call for enlistments with the marketing slogan, “Be a Marine … Free a Man to Fight.” With the addition of women into their force for administrative and behind-the-scenes work, men who were previously performing those jobs were able to head to the frontlines.
Just five days later, Arthur enlisted. However, not yet 21 (the age required to enlist at the time) she had to obtain permission from her parents. All of this, and more, is listed on her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), which is available to this day via the National Archives.
It’s worth noting that, because the Marines had just begun accepting women, they hadn’t even provided paperwork to do so. Therefore, Arthur, and hundreds of others, were processed into the Marines through Navy paperwork and exam schedules.
In one of her incoming interviews, a processing worker wrote comments like “frank and open,” “argumentative,” “over aggressive,” and “probably a good worker if she has her own way!”
She joined the military during World War II, in February of 1943, when she served for two years before being honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant in September of 1945. She was one of the first women to enlist with the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She worked as a typist in Washington, D.C., before requesting to attend the Motor Transport School. She then worked as a dispatcher and truck driver. Throughout her career, she was stationed between Washington, D.C. and two bases in North Carolina.
After her discharge, Arthur went to school to become a lab tech, even interning at a hospital. However, she didn’t enjoy the work and left to attend drama school in 1947. By the late ’40s, she was performing in off-Broadway shows. She went on to perform on Broadway, winning a Tony for her performance as Vera Charles in “Mame”, before transitioning to television, where she was one of the most famous actresses throughout the ’70s and ’80s.
It’s worth noting that Arthur publicly denied her time in the Marines throughout her acting career; she also did so blatantly, on-the-record, in a 2001 interview. Her military records were made public a year after her death, in 2010, proving her enlistment. It’s unknown why she denied her involvement as a Marine. Though one running theory is that it was to hide a misconduct report, when Arthur was written up for contracting a sexually transmitted disease. The stint left her “incapacitated for duty” for five weeks, for which she received a cut in pay.
However, at the time of joining, records show her as eager and “willing to do her part” to help with the war.
On Dec. 8, 2020, U.S. Army Veteran David Harker will celebrate his 75th birthday. He may recognize the accomplishment while on his daily five mile walk, or by taking a drive in his 47-year-old car – a 1973 Corvette he’s owned since it was given to him by classmates when he returned from Vietnam after spending more than five years as a prisoner of war.
A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, Harker is the third of seven children. He was an athlete in high school and received his associate’s degree from Bluefield College before transferring to Virginia Tech in 1966. By 1967, however, his fortunes had changed.
David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.
“I was doing my junior year at Virginia Tech and my grades were low, so I had to take a quarter off in 1967 and during that time, because I wasn’t a full-time student, I had to let the government know. They got me,” he said.
When the draft notice came, Harker’s father, an electrical engineer took the news hard.
“My dad was really upset. He had worked for a power company during World War II and so was exempt from the draft,” Harker recalled. “I didn’t think about the possibility of being killed. My dad’s supervisor said he could get me in the National Guard, but I thought that would be shirking my responsibility. I was called on to serve my country and that’s what I was going to do.”
After basic and advanced infantry training, Harker was approached and offered an opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School.
“I was interested in flying helicopters, but they said I’d have to extend for another year or two, so I said, ‘no, I’ll do my two and go home’.”
Heading to Vietnam
The trip to Vietnam brought Harker through Hawaii, and Guam, before landing in Vietnam Nov. 15, 1967. The recollection of arrival is still fresh even 53 years later.
“There were men on the airstrip who had finished their year and were going to take the plane we had arrived on back home. So, they open the door and it was such a rude awakening when the door opened. The oppressive heat – and I’m sure Vietnam Vets will tell you – the country had a smell of its own.”
The soldiers on their way home watched them deplane and Harker heard them say, ‘there’s my replacement.’
“They wished us well,” Harker said.
David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.
Although trained on a vehicle-mounted recoilless rifle, Harker was made an infantryman upon arrival in-country and reassigned from the 9th Infantry Division to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Six weeks later, he was a POW.
“I was in the 3rd of the 21st in an area of operations at Que Son,” Harker said. “We operated out of a fire base, with one company pulling security while the other three were out doing search and destroy missions. While out, we’d move about 1,000 meters a day and get resupplied every fourth day with c-rations if the helicopters could get through.”
As a 22 year old, Harker was among the older men in his unit. His commanding officer, Capt. Roland Belcher, told the company while they were enjoying in-country RR at brigade headquarters in Chu Lai, that he was proud of the work they were doing.
“Captain Belcher had been in a province southwest of Saigon where we were providing security for elections,” Harker said. “He said it meant a lot to him that we were able to do that – to make sure those people could go to the polls and not get hurt. I remember that because he died in the rice paddies when we were ambushed.”
Harker’s first sergeant, nicknamed Top, was a 41-year old Veteran of World War II and Korea who had earned a Silver Star before joining the company.
“After the ambush, he was the ranking person and he held us together.”
Harker and his company were on patrol when they broke contact with the enemy in a creek bed. The North Vietnamese unloaded on the unit and killed two men. As the most forward man, Harker was pinned down.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to die.’ Top is behind me telling me to switch to auto and fire. They tried to get behind us and eventually I hear a Vietnamese voice and do a 90 degree and within arm’s reach at the top of this creek bank is an NVA soldier with a pith helmet and Top is there with no helmet. There’s a guy with a rifle telling me to get up. The NVA are stripping everything off us – anything they can use. I tried to bury my M-16 in the creek bed but I think they got it.”
After being taken, Harker was left with a soldier with a sidearm who walked in front of him, leading him away from the creek.
“I thought it was odd he was in front of me and I had been taught that you always try to escape. Next thing I know my hand is over his mouth and I have his arm at his side. I know I have to kill him and do it silently, but his bayonet won’t come out of the scabbard, and by that time my hand has come off his mouth and he’s yelling bloody murder. Before I could get his .45, he stabs me in the side with his bayonet. By that time there are a bunch of rifles pointing at me. I’m surprised they didn’t just shoot me, but they took some commo wire and duck-winged me that night.”
A newspaper clipping from the time shows support from his hometown.
Of the 15 men who entered the rice paddy that evening, only four made it out. More men would join Harker in his prison in the Trung Son Mountain Range where he would spend the first three years of captivity. By Harker’s estimation only about 150 U.S. soldiers were captured in South Vietnam – most of whom were taken during the Tet Offensive.
Harker’s first prison was in Quang Nam Province, a difficult, mountainous country that made food scarce and meant deplorable living conditions for the POWs.
“We buried nine Americans there,” Harker said. “That’s how horrific our living conditions were. We had very little to eat so people died from starvation, infectious diseases – malaria was rampant – dysentery. Between September of 1968 and Jan. 4, 1969, we buried six, including the youngest person we had there, a 19-year-old Marine.
“That first year of adjustment to jungle life was really hard on us. You didn’t know what to do. At first you looked out for yourself, but as time went on, you got more altruistic – you realize, it’s not about me, but about the guy next door and you realize you had to take care of each other. We came together really well in that respect.”
During the Vietnam War only one American doctor was ever taken prisoner. Hal Kushner, who grew up in Danville, Virginia, was injured in a helicopter crash in late November. By Dec. 4, North Vietnamese forces found him and marched him toward the camp where he found, according to a speech he gave in February 2018, “four of the saddest looking American creatures I had ever seen in my life.”
“They wouldn’t let him practice medicine,” Harker said of Kushner. “We couldn’t call him doc, but he was a big source of information and help to us. He led the way and showed us how to nurse and take care of men, and that became our goal – to make people in their last hours and days as comfortable as possible – it was our mission, and he was a big inspiration to us.”
In the mountains the men had to forage for food, mostly the manioc root, also known as kasava root.
“There wasn’t a place to grow food, so most of our calories came from manioc,” Harker said. “We were under a 1-to-1 prisoner-to-guard ratio, and the guards would trade manioc and so we would put baskets on our backs and go back and forth over miles of mountain trails carrying 70-80 pounds of root. It’s amazing to think that we could even do it, but we did what we had to do. The little bit of rice they gave us as a ration wasn’t enough to keep a bird flying, so the roots kept us going.”
The guards of Trung Son didn’t physically abuse their prisoners. They didn’t need to.
“We were separated from civilization in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t communicate; had no food, and no medical attention – that’s torture enough for an individual. We were interrogated when we were captured,” Harker said, “but we knew the Code of Conduct and so we’d give that information. But they’d have a guy with a lantern and they’re asking for information about your unit, it’s size, and I just kept repeating. They didn’t pursue it much. They wanted to get us away from the battlefield but a few days later they did it again. When you have a rifle and you’re in front of the enemy, it’s different. But if they put a blindfold on you and all you can hear is round being chambered – that’s different too. In the north they beat pilots and used a lot of torture techniques.”
On Feb. 1, 1971 there were a dozen men still alive in the mountains and they were taken in groups of six to begin their march north up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Harker watched battalions of Vietnamese troops heading south during the 60-day march, as they ground out 10 to 15 miles a day. During the journey an interpreter would give them extra rice.
“He was a military guy who had fought in Laos as a 17-year old in the early 1960s, and he looked out for us. I think he understood the condition – there was a common situation and appreciation among soldiers.”
“We’d get to a camp every day where we got hot white rice – better than we had at the mountain camp. The next morning they’d put a ball of rice on a banana leaf and we’d carry that with us for lunch as we moved. Eventually we were put on a train, in a box car, and taken to Hanoi, to Plantation Garden, an old French plantation with bars in the walls. We were kept in a 15×17 warehouse – six of us on a wooden pallet. Unlike the mountain camp we couldn’t roam around, and the boredom would overtake you and the heat was oppressive, but we had plenty to eat compared to the south. We also had better medical care there as they had a doctor to attend to us.”
In October of 1972 the Vietnamese allowed prisoners to be outside together for the first time since they arrived, and it looked like the war might be over.
“We had a communication system where we’d put a note on the lid of the waste bucket, or use the tap code, and we had to do that because we were only allowed out of our cell for about an hour a day, and never more than one cell was let out at a time. So, when they let everyone out, and then gave us reading material, they knew it was over. Or they thought it was, because before you know it, the doors are all slammed shut again.”
Soon after, Linebacker II started. From Dec. 18-29, 1972, the U.S. Air Force conducted an operation called Linebacker II, a ‘maximum effort’ campaign to destroy targets using B-52 heavy bombers that dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on more than 30 targets.
“B-52s bombed all night long after talks broke down. The SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) shot down a bunch of planes on the third night, after they figured out the flight patterns, and one night they pulled up a deuce and a half and told us to crawl in the back. We thought we were being taken to China.”
Harker would spend his last three months as a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton.
Half a world away, in Paris, a peace accord was signed January 27, 1973, and soon after Harker and other American POWs heard the news they had longed to hear.
“We were ecstatic,” Harker said. “We’d hear doors open and activity and they came and said, ‘you’re going, and you’re going, and you’re going’ dividing us up into groups that would be repatriated. They gave us western clothing and a travel bag and when they pulled us out of a holding cell wearing our red-striped pajamas we were given the clothes. By noon, nothing had happened. They gave us food and told us the peace agreement was broken – and we were right back down in the depths of despair. But a few days later we got out.
A newspaper clipping shows when David Harker returned home.
“I remember saluting an Air Force general who was sitting with a North Vietnamese officer, and when we saluted, we had been officially repatriated. On the plane home, the pilot told us when we had entered international airspace and there was a great cheer.”
The cheers continued when they landed in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Andrews AFB, Maryland. From Maryland, Harker went to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania where he went through medical treatment and rehabilitation, and he was reunited with his family.
“It was different,” Harker said. “I had brothers who were married, and children had been born, but it was exciting coming home. A private airline flew me and my father back and the local TV station had sent a reporter who interviewed me all the way back. There must have been 10,000 people at the Lynchburg airport when we arrived – I had no idea there would be that welcome and response – my big extended family – the high school band was there. It was a long journey and I was glad to be home and for them to be there for me meant so much. I was led to a blue 1973 Corvette and handed the keys. A group of school mates had gotten together and sold bumper stickers for a dollar each to buy me a car and they handed me the keys and a check for id=”listicle-2647726394″,100.”
Being home with his family, Harker said he learned how much anxiety and frustration and worry his parents went through while he was captive.
“Every POW gets a casualty assistance officer whose job it is to let the family know when they hear something – anything – about their son,” Harker said. “My family never heard anything from their CAO. It wasn’t until 1969, when three prisoners were released that they knew I was alive. My parents found out that a couple of those who were released were at Fort Jackson, and so they went there and got onto base and met with them and heard from them that I was alive. That’s all the knew for five years. So they became involved in the National League of Families who organized and tried to have some involvement with North Vietnam to get information about prisoners and try to make the process more transparent as far as information was concerned.”
Life after war
After he returned from Vietnam, Harker took some time off, but eventually returned to Blacksburg and finished his business degree from Virginia Tech in 1976 and found his way to work as a probation and parole officer. In 1977 he married Linda, his high school sweetheart whom he had dated since 1962.
His family now includes his two children, Megan and husband Mike, and Adam and his wife Anza. David and Linda also enjoy their grandchildren: 13-year old Emily, 11-year old Ethan, and 6-year old Eli, children of Megan; and Adam’s 23-month old daughter Ava.
While Harker is open to discussing his time in Vietnam to serve as an education for younger people, he said it was a part of his life that he’s put behind him.
“Kush and I talk about that all the time – we’re not professional POWs. By the grace of God and the help of other men, we made it out. We all serve our country one way or another. This country is what we love. My life has been a real blessing since then, and the staff at the VA hospital, what they do is marvelous, and I appreciate each one of them. I know they have a heart for those Veterans, or they wouldn’t work there,” Harker said. “I love the Veterans, too, and appreciate their service, and institutions like the VA are a great service to our country.”
In the early 2010s Harker had the Corvette he received in 1973 – the car he and his youngest brother Louie drove across the country after his return – restored. He still drives it today.
“I think of all the love behind it every time I drive it.”
During the “Great War”, the United States of America lost over 116,000 of her troops in a span of only 19 months. While initially remaining neutral and refusing to enter into World War I when it began in 1914, that changed after repeated attacks on America’s ships. In 1917 the U.S. entered into the fray, declaring war against Germany.
It can be argued that without American’s force beside the allies, the war wouldn’t have ended in victory, but a stalemate. History has documented this impressive and vital piece of our story. So why don’t we talk about it and those incredible heroes that turned the tide for an entire world in the name of democracy?
Why don’t we discuss how more Marines were killed or wounded in the battle of Belleau Wood than their service’s entire history at that point? That battle alone claimed over 10,000 American casualties in just three weeks. It should also be known that France refused to enter into this particular battle because they felt it was too dangerous. Instead, they insisted that the Americans do it.
In September of 1918, 1.2 million American troops entered into the deadliest battle in its history. Many were undertrained and not yet battle-tested – but their sheer numbers and grit did what other armies could not in four years. It was an incredible offensive effort as the Expeditionary Forces of the United States actually caught Germany completely by surprise with their attack.
America’s troops took an area that had been held for four years in just two short days. This battle ended the war, but America lost 26,277 of their own to win it. We also had 192,000 casualties. It was this specific battle at Meuse-Argonne, or The Battle of Argonne Forest, that pushed Germany into literally pleading for an end of World War I. America brought Germany to its knees.
This war was pivotal for so many things that have occurred in the last hundred years. We need to remember those lost their lives in the name of democracy. Let us also not forget the ones that died slowly years following World War I due to the effects of the lingering bullets, “shell shock” (now called post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of poison gas exposure.
Those who survived through all of that though? Their personal war at home was just beginning.
When service members returned home following the end of World War I, they were celebrated with parades – if they were white. The African American men who returned home after fighting alongside their brothers’ in arms were treated with open hostility and disdain. Some were killed.
The years following the “Great War” were not kind or easy to digest but need to be remembered. They matter.
Following the war, the Great Depression and race riots wreaked havoc on the United States, leading many to question what they fought for. Not only did they question their sacrifice – but they were deeply suffering after their service for their country.
Veterans received just with an honorable discharge. Although they received monetary allotments if they had a disability through the War Risk Insurance Act, it wasn’t enough. They were also required to maintain insurance for care and paid a premium that came out of that allotment, reducing their income even more. Many were too severely disabled to work to make any extra income and the money they received from the government didn’t cover living any kind of quality life.
High unemployment, lack of quality medical care and poor housing was the “thanks for your service” that these veterans received – if they were white.
The African American veterans were often denied housing or any kind of equality – leaving them homeless and destitute. This terrible choice for America to treat these brave men in such an abominable way would go on to pave the way for the next seventy years of struggle, advocacy, and racial tension that the country had ever seen.
The government failed all of its returning servicemen.
America failed its heroes by avoiding that chapter in its history.
Our World War I veterans did fight, suffer, and die for our freedom. Let us not forget it.
Last week marked the anniversary of the birth of Mata Hari, and while she is undoubtedly one of the most famous female spies in history, there have been many, many more. These women worked tirelessly to help the French resistance and Allied forces. There’s no doubt that they played an integral part in the defeat of the Nazis in WWII. In honor of Mata Hari’s birthday, we decided to take a look at a few of the brave women who refused to stand idly by while the world was on fire.
Mata Hari (Wikimedia Commons)
After her mother’s death, Mata Hari, born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, married a military captain stationed in the Dutch East Indies. When their marriage fell apart in the early 1900s, Zelle moved to Paris.
Being familiar with Indian sensibilities, and capitalizing on Europe’s love for all things “oriental.” Margaretha Geertruida Zelle pegged herself as a Hindu dancer and artist, complete with veils and beaded brassieres. During this time, she also adopted her stage name “Mata Hari,” which translated from Indonesian means “eye of the day.”
At the dawn of WWI, Mata Hari became a spy for the Allies. Unfortunately, the Germans caught on quickly. They labeled her a German spy (although some claim that she may have been a double agent). Mata Hari was arrested by French authorities in Paris on February 13, 1917. Although Mata Hari maintained her innocence and loyalty to France, she was found guilty of espionage by a military tribunal and sentenced to death.
Mata Hari was executed (by firing squad) on October 15, 1917. Legend has it that she refused her blindfold and even blew a kiss to her executioners before she met her end. Mata Hari was 41.
Virginia Hall (Wikimedia Commons)
Virginia Hall was an American who dreamed of joining the United States Foreign Service. However, a freak hunting accident in which she shot her foot off, left her with a limp and a wooden leg (that she affectionately named Cuthbert) and barred her from being accepted.
Hall eventually found her way to being an ambulance driver in France but was forced to flee when France surrendered to Germany. When she arrived at the American embassy, Hall was asked to provide intelligence from her time in France. She was later recruited as the first operative for the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) and sent to Lyon, France.
During her time there, Hall helped smuggle information and people out of France, just as she helped and smuggle supplies and agents into France. Hall later joined the O.S.S. (the predecessor of the C.I.A), where her time was spent as a radio operator monitoring German communications and organizing drops of supplies for the war against the Germans.
In 1945, Virginia Hall was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for her efforts in France. It was the only one awarded to a civilian woman in WWII. Hall retired in 1966 at the age of 60. She and her husband moved to a farm in Maryland, where she lived until her death in 1982.
Christine Granville (Wikimedia Commons)
Krystyna Skarbek/Christine Granville
Born into Polish aristocracy, Krystyna Skarbek was determined to contribute to the war effort. However, her attempts to enlist were frequently stalled by the fact that she was a woman.
Skarbek made some headway when she devised a cunning plan to help sabotage Germany’s war efforts and their propaganda machine, a plan which she later presented to the British Secret Service. With the aid of her friends, Krystyna was to pose as a journalist based in Budapest and ski (yes, ski) over the Carpathian Mountains into Nazi-occupied Poland to deliver and spread anti-Nazi propaganda.
When Skarbek was finally recruited into the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), she was given a British passport and adopted her new alias as Christine Granville. As a key player in the resistance, Granville repeatedly evaded capture and smuggled information out of Poland to the Allies. Legend has it that she even bit her own tongue to a bloody mess to fake tuberculosis.
Married to a wealthy French industrialist, Nancy Wake witnessed the devastation caused by the Nazis first hand. Not one to sit idly by, Wake joined the French Resistance early in WWII.
Nancy Wake’s contributions include establishing communication between British intelligence and the French Resistance and ushering downed Allied servicemen (and potential POW’s) into England by way of Spain and the Pyrenees Mountains. Once the Gestapo caught on to Wake’s involvement, they dubbed her “The White Mouse.” Wake leapt to the top of their most-wanted list, and a price of 5 Million Francs was put on her head.
Nancy Wake eventually joined the SOE as well, where she continued her military career. And she was not to be trifled with. As one story goes, when an SS guard spotted Wake and her team, she killed him instantly with a judo-chop to the throat.
Nancy Wake became one of the most decorated servicewomen in WWII. Her honors included her appointment as a Knight of The Legion of Honor by France and the Medal of Freedom from The United States. Nancy Wake lived out the rest of her days in England; she died in 2011 at the age of 98.
Let’s be clear: if the German high command had any respect for American generals at the outset of World War II, they would never have declared war in the first place. But as we all know, respect is earned and not issued, so it took a little time for the United States to earn respect on the battlefield.
History may remember the most audacious personalities and events, while some figures end up quietly stealing the spotlight through bravery and determination. Jimmy Doolittle did both.
That’s right, it’s good ol’ Jimmy “Payback’s a Bitch” Doolittle.
Before the many, many armchair historians start clacking away at their keyboards try to remind me that Gen. George S. Patton existed and that Nazi High Command feared him the most, let me remind readers that fear and respect are not the same thing and that Patton’s history is often apocryphal. Even Patton’s personal biographer wrote he was not a “hero even to professional German officers who respected him as the adversary they most feared in battle.” For most of World War II, the German general staff barely noticed Patton at all.
This isn’t to imply that Patton didn’t deserve his accolades and reputation or that he didn’t do as history says he did. Patton’s shift from entrenched positions in North Africa to a more mobile kind of warfare, one designed to destroy the enemy’s forces rather than hold land, helped turn the tide for the Allies in World War II. But to the Germans, Patton was one threat among many. By 1944, Patton didn’t even warrant a one-paragraph briefing in the German High Command’s War Diary. In their view, the Allied invasion of Sicily was nothing to brag about. Even as 3rd Army commander in Europe, the Germans facing Patton used words like “timid” and “systematic” to describe his tactics.
Harsh words from the Germans. But they still lost.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Jimmy Doolittle was Maj. Jimmy Doolittle. He was promoted after the United States entered World War II, and of course, immediately began planning his infamous raid over Tokyo. The Doolittle Raid involved secretly getting 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers as close to Japan as possible aboard the USS Hornet, and then taking off on a short runway – something that had never been done – then flying these stripped-down tin cans full of bombs over the Japanese homeland and crash landing in China, hopefully avoiding Japanese patrols.
This is a plan so unprecedented and audacious that I can’t even come up with a modern real-world comparison. Three of the Doolittle Raiders died after dropping their ordnance, one crew was interned in the USSR, eight were captured by the Japanese, and all planes were lost. But Jimmy Doolittle was flying in the lead plane. It was his first combat mission. But while the Doolittle Raid may have awed the Japanese and the American public, it did little for Nazis. Doolittle wasn’t finished though. In just two years, he would be promoted to Lieutenant General and go from commanding a squadron of 16 bombers to commanding the entire Eighth Air Force – and the largest aerial formation ever assembled.
Lt. Col. James Doolittle wires a Japanese Medal of Peace to one of the bombs destined for Tokyo in 1942.
The air war over Europe was very, very different from the fighting on the ground and was a much longer war. By 1944, Doolittle was in command of Eighth Air Force in Europe, and the Allies were making preparations for the coming D-Day invasions. Doolittle and the Eighth were tasked with reducing the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe and giving the Allies complete air superiority over Europe. At the time, the German air forces were wreaking havoc on Allied bombers. American bombers would avoid any contact with the Luftwaffe if they didn’t have fighter protection, and even when they did, the Nazi’s twin-engine Zerstörergeschwader heavy fighters and Sturmböcke were still able to take their toll on Army Air Forces. But Operation Argument – better known as “Big Week” – changed all that.
The Germans had pulled their entire air force back to Germany. Doolittle wanted to plan Big Week in a way that would force Germany to respond with fighter interceptions so he could either destroy the Luftwaffe in the air or destroy the production of replacement aircraft. The Nazis, with their new heavy fighter tactics, were more than willing to challenge the Eighth Air Force bombers. But Doolittle had two surprises waiting for them. The first was the new longer-range P-51 Mustang fighter. The second was a revolution in bomber defense tactics: instead of being forced to stay close to the bombers, fighter escorts could sweep the skies clear well ahead of the bombers.
Doolittle targeted factories all over Germany, in 11 cities, including Leipzig, Brunswick, Gotha, Regensburg, Schweinfurt, Augsburg, Stuttgart, and Steyr, to name a few. Some 3,894 heavy bombers and 800 fighters took off from England, including the new P-51 flying well ahead of the bomber force. And the Luftwaffe arrived in force to greet them. The new fighters and their new tactics were devastating to the heavy German fighters. Allied airmen hunted down and picked off the fighters before they could get close to the bomber formations. During 3,000 sorties over six days, the Allies punished the German air force and industrial capacity. The air raids damaged or destroyed 75 percent of the factories that produced 90 percent of Germany’s aircraft. The Luftwaffe was “helpless” in the face of the aerial onslaught.
The Nazis lost hundreds of airplanes and pilots, and had the capacity to replace neither of them. The Allies would soon have total air superiority over Europe, just in time for the June 1944 invasion of France. Doolittle also ordered his fighters to hit any military targets on the ground if the opportunity arose. By the time Allied forces landed in Normandy, flak was taking down more Allied bombers than fighters were. The Nazis noticed, especially Adolf Galland, a fighter ace and senior commander of the Luftwaffe under Hermann Goering.
Courtesy of 8th Air Force.
Galland would become friends with many of the Allied officers he fought after World War II. One of those was James Doolittle. After the war, Galland told Doolittle that the German High Command had no idea what was happening to them until it was much too late, and they were overcommitted. His tactic of allowing fighters to sweep the skies instead of being in formation with the bombers took the Luftwaffe from offense to defense for the rest of the war, and never again would the Luftwaffe be a considerable threat to the Allies in the air. Because of this, the Germans knew Doolittle could destroy the German oil industry, as well as its communications and transportation infrastructure. The Army Air Force did just that.
Leading the way was one extraordinary leader, James Doolittle.
In 168 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV set to quash Judaism among his subjects. Matthias the Kohein and his five sons fled to the hills and assembled a rag tag group of revolutionaries known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees fought the seemingly endless mercenary army until they reached Jerusalem and reclaimed the Temple Mount.
Three years to the day of Antiochus’ rampage against the Jews, the Maccabees held the dedication. The Festival of Lights as we know it came from this celebration and when the tiny jar of oil managed to keep the menorah lit for eight days.
As a fun thought experiment, and because I love AlternateHistoryHub, lets re-imagine and contextualize the Maccabean Revolt with today’s weaponry, training, and armies. To keep the completely fictional and arbitrary scenario fair, Matthias the Kohein and his sons are the Shayetet 13 – the Israeli equivalent to the Navy SEALs. They serve as both instructors and fighters for the rest of the revolt: made up of IDF personnel — because being a “normal” civilian isn’t exactly a thing in modern Israel.
The modern equivalent of the Seleucid Empire is a bit of a gray area. They hired many Syrian mercenaries, but they weren’t exactly modern Syria. Though it spanned across Turkey to India, its culture, customs, and religions were Hellenic. Since Greece and Israel are allies in real life, this seems to help avoid any pitfalls.
As anyone who is aware of Israeli war history knows, Israel has a strong and constantly-tested military. While it has a 176,500 strong standing military, the number of fit military service troops is around 3,00,000. Their current defense budget if $18.6 billion annually and their Merkava main battle tanks are one of the most devastating in the world. All of that on top of a nuclear-triad option.
As for the Hellenic Armed Forces, their peacetime strength is around 113,500 troops with a total 4,000,000 fit for service troops. Their current defense spending budget is around $9.3 billion and they are the largest importer of conventional weapons in Europe and they have the highest G.D.P percentage towards military spending in the EU.
Just by pure numbers alone, Israel would take the fight. That’s not even including the home-field advantage of an insurgency. Even if the Greeks were to hire entire mercenary companies to fight for them, an average mercenary company only has roughly 10k personnel and would eat most of their already dwarfed budget. In $366 billion dollar industry, the modern equivalent Seleucid Empire would just not have the funds to match the Maccabean Forces.
Just as they did over two thousand years ago, the Maccabees would reach the Temple Mount and rededicate it by lighting the golden menorah.