America’s highest honor for military service, the Medal of Honor, has been awarded to Canadian-born service members 61 times — but only four times since 1900. These four Canadians saved American lives in battles from the Occupation of Veracruz to the Vietnam War.
1. Specialist Peter C. Lemon
Then-Spc. Peter C. Lemon helped beat back a Vietnamese assault that broke into his fire base. (Photo: U.S. Army).
Army Spc. Peter C. Lemon was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1950 but moved to America as a child and later joined the Army. When he was 19, he was serving as an assistant machine gunner at a fire support base in Vietnam near the border with Cambodia.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 71st Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Division was one of the units hard pressed by German forces. After the death of the company commander, some soldiers began talking of surrender. That’s when Sgt. Charles MacGillivary assumed command and slipped off into the forest on his own.
Once again, he snuck up on a machine gun nest and took it out with a single grenade. He then grabbed a submachine gun from the ground and crept close to a third nest, killing the attackers as they tried to swing their own gun onto him. Finally, he hit a fourth machine gun nest and took it out with a grenade and close fighting. He lost his left arm in this final engagement, but survived the war.
3. Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro
The only Coast Guardsman to receive the Medal of Honor, Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro was part of the task force that assaulted Guadalcanal during World War II. On Sept. 27, 1942, he commanded a group of landing craft that carried Marines from one section of the island to another in order to bypass a Japanese defensive line.
Munro dropped the Marines without incident and returned to base only to learn that, soon after the boats left, the Marines were ambushed. They had fought their way back to the base, but were under heavy assault and needed evacuation.
Throughout history, Italy wasn’t known for its dominance or military strength, but these knife-wielding operators made crucial advances using only a small force.
The Arditi, meaning “the daring ones,” were a group of volunteers, chosen from the most courageous of men and considered to be Italy’s most elite soldiers during WWI. Getting their name from the Royal Italian Army in 1917, they were known for engaging the enemy with vicious hand to hand combat and swift tactical movement.
The Arditi organization was much smaller than the regular infantry units, consisting of only five officers, 41 NCOs, and 150 men. Their unique strategy relied heavily on surprise, speed, and their sheath as they strategically advanced towards their opposition behind a curtain of allied artillery fire.
According to The Great War Youtube channel, once the bombardment ceased, the men would charge forward into enemy trenches, with only daggers in their teeth and grenades in their hands, with the goal of clearing and then holding their newly-earned positions until the relief of their fellow troops arrived, which could take up to a full day.
Due to their outstanding production, they were paid almost three times what the regular Army received.
Then, a bonus system was employed for taking enemy prisoners — 10 lire for a Private, 20 for an NCO, and 50 for an officer. Not to mention there was compensation for capturing enemy weapons, ranging from anywhere between 5 to 500 lire depending on the weapon’s size and caliber.
The Arditi seized 3,600 prisoners, 63 machine guns and 26 pieces of artillery over their course of the war. The Arditi were making bank back in 1917 and deserved every cent — according to History Answers.
As their losses in personnel grew, new soldiers were assigned to Arditi units by recommendation only. Before they could officially join, they had to complete a specialized school that mimicked the dangers and conditions of the front lines.
The fatality rates among the recruits were extremely high due to the realistic training methods.
It wasn’t until Battle of Vittorio Veneto Offensive in October of 1918 when the Arditi would make its largest impact on the war. A dozen Arditi units combined, making two monstrous assault divisions. The brave men lead one another on a forceful charge on the Austro-Hungarian forces, resulting in a climatic victory.
Although the Arditi was disbanded in 1920, their bravery, patriotism, and impact on the Great War lives on in Italian military historical lore.
Americans today would have a hard time recognizing the all-out war effort citizens of the United States made during World War II. The idea of government dictating what and how much big business could produce, restricting the use of civilian products available to the public, and the mobilization of civilians in a war effort are all things that we just haven’t faced in the generations since. During World War II, these civilians were putting their lives on the line to hunt submarines. The Civil Air Patrol was born of that mobilization.
Civilian pilots and their resources were marshaled by the military to support the war effort here at home, even before the war began. Some 200,000 men and women of all races served in CAP in every state during World War II. After Nazi submarines sunk more than 400 ships off the U.S. Atlantic coast in the first six months, these civilian pilots took to the skies in their private planes to help hunt them down.
Civil Air Patrol pilots who were forced to bail out of their planes into the sometimes icy water below joined an exclusive club: the Duck Club.
The Civil Air Patrol was open to all races and genders from the get-go. All you needed was a radio and a plane you could fly.
(Civil Air Patrol)
The single-engine civilian aircraft flown by CAP volunteers in those days weren’t nearly as reliable as ones they depend on these days. CAP pilots would fly up to 50 miles off the U.S. coast, looking for enemy submarines in planes with engines that could quit at any given moment. Maybe this isn’t so bad for the pilot if their mission takes them into the Gulf of Mexico, but in the North Atlantic, having to bail could be deadly.
Even wearing their rubber “zoot suits,” designed to protect them from frigid northern waters, was no guarantee of survival in case of a bail out. These civilian pilots lost 59 of their own during the course of the war — 26 of whom were simply lost at sea. Maybe they survived the elements, maybe they didn’t. Being adrift in the middle of nowhere in the 1940s was tantamount to a death sentence.
For those who bailed out, each CAP station had amphibian planes who would attempt to come to the rescue. But even those were susceptible to being lost at sea – and some were. If a CAP pilot was successfully recovered after a bailout, he became a member of “The Duck Club,” those who were forced to ditch their planes by taking a dip in the ocean.
CAP pilots who joined this elite club earned a special badge: a patch featuring Donald Duck, his eyes crossed by the red propellers that symbolized the Civil Air Patrol. The Congressional Gold Medal the CAP received came much later, signed not by President Roosevelt, but President Obama. Their recognition came decades too late.
The history of the Civil Air Patrol is such a big deal because these were volunteers who put their life and property on the line to protect the liberties of their fellow citizens. They would not receive the GI Bill benefits received by veterans who fought overseas, despite finding Nazi subs operating in American water, rescuing airmen adrift at sea, reporting mines, distressed vessels, escorting convoys, and, in some cases, sacrificing their lives.
That’s just the history of the CAP and the tip of the iceberg. Their mission also extended along the southern border, in the wild forests, and elsewhere. Today, the Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and an underrated, oft-forgotten total force partner in U.S. air defense. More than 60,000 civilian airmen still dedicate their time, energy, expertise, money, and personal property to the defense of the U.S. homeland and supporting aerospace education.
Morris “Moe” Berg’s dying words — “How did the Mets do today?” — were on brand for the 70-year-old New York native who enjoyed a 15-year career in Major League Baseball before America entered World War II.
Sports columnist John Kieran called Berg “The Professor” on account of his reputation as an Ivy League-educated linguist and lawyer, a mentor and coach to younger MLB players, and a newspaper-devouring raconteur who earned fanfare as a repeat contestant on the NBC radio quiz show “Information Please.”
But the brainy 6-foot-1-inch bullpen catcher with an unspectacular batting average had another career entirely: He was a World War II secret agent who gathered intelligence on three continents for the US government.
“We often think about athletes just playing ball and going in for records. But Moe, Ted Williams twice, Joe DiMaggio — they went off and risked their lives and their careers to serve,” said filmmaker Aviva Kempner, who illuminates Berg’s life and legacy in her 2019 documentary, “ The Spy Behind Home Plate.”
Washington Senator Joe Kuhel (left) with Moe Berg (right).
Berg’s particular line of work during the war — he ultimately served as a spy for the Manhattan Project while working for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA — further differentiated him. Who else would sit in the dugout talking about whether Mussolini would win or not?” Kempner said.
As the surviving members of the Greatest Generation dwindle and tensions rise among 21st-century nuclear-armed powers, Kempner emphasizes the need to learn about veterans and remember their contributions and sacrifices.
“It’s important to know who our unknown heroes are and what they did,” she said.
Here’s a window into Berg’s life and transition from multilingual ballplayer to World War II nuclear spy.
He was the son of immigrants.
Moe Berg was born in Harlem in 1902. He was the third child of Bernard Berg and Rose Taschker, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, who came to the US seeking economic opportunity and religious freedom.
The Bergs moved to Newark, New Jersey, where Bernard opened a pharmacy. Education was paramount, and Bernard in particular expected his kids to pursue one of three professions: lawyer, doctor, or teacher.
From his early days, Moe had a rocket arm and a photographic memory.
Moe Berg’s passport.
As a 7-year-old, he played baseball on a church team using the pseudonym “Runt Wolfe.” He excelled on the field and in the classroom, initially studying at New York University. He transferred to Princeton University, where he was a star on the baseball team and in the modern languages department.
The popular, idiosyncratic scholar-athlete turned down an offer to join one of Princeton’s exclusive eating clubs, purportedly after being told that while he’d be more than welcome, he shouldn’t think of bringing other Jews around.
He spent off-seasons studying law at Columbia University and traveling the world.
After Berg graduated college, the Brooklyn Robins (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the New York Giants were interested in recruiting him, in part because they thought he’d help draw the city’s relatively large Jewish population.
He joined the Robins and played in the minor leagues. His technical skills and lack of offensive power inspired the phrase “good field, no hit.” He went on to play for the Chicago White Sox.
At the time, major leaguers worked in the spring and summer and were off the rest of the year. Berg used his baseball earnings to travel. He studied Sanskrit at the Sorbonne in Paris and wrote of how much he enjoyed French “wine, women, and song.”
Largely to appease his father, Berg also enrolled at Columbia Law School and arrived late to spring training while finishing his first year. The following year, the White Sox owner denied Berg’s request to arrive late again, so Berg arranged to leave school early and make up his courses. He’d go on to pass the bar and join the firm Satterlee and Canfield.
But baseball was his priority and ultimately how he made his living throughout the 1930s. He said he would rather be a baseball player than a Supreme Court justice.
He became a catcher by accident.
In 1927, White Sox catcher turned manager Ray Schalk, in a pinch during a game, called out to the bench asking if anyone could catch. Berg tried to volunteer the player next to him. But Schalk thought Berg, a shortstop, was volunteering and put him in without being corrected.
“If it doesn’t turn out well, please send the body to Newark,” Berg reportedly told his teammates. He took to catching. He and his second baseman communicated about the opposing team’s base runners in Latin.
If the runner trying to steal understood Latin, Berg said they’d switch to Sanskrit.
He made two trips to Japan “for baseball” in the 1930s, capturing panoramic footage of Tokyo that is believed to have been used to plan the 1942 Doolittle Raid, the US’s first bombing raid on Japan in World War II.
With Japan already at war with China, the Japanese government was becoming increasingly militarized. (Japan and China clashed from 1931 to 1932 and again between 1937 and 1945.) Meanwhile, Japanese citizens were growing interested in America’s favorite pastime.
Two Japanese naval vessels, left foreground, at Yokosuka Naval Base near Yokohama, directly in the path of bombs from Maj. Gen. James Doolittle’s raiders, April 18, 1942.
(Library of Congress)
In 1932, Berg was among a group of major leaguers sent to Tokyo to coach Japanese college players in hitting, base-stealing, and other skills. When the tour ended and Ted Lyons and Lefty O’Doul returned home, Berg stayed, traveling around Asia by himself.
He ended his trip in Berlin, and he saw firsthand the beginning of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, along with then-Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini’s fascist influence on the Nazi movement.
Back in the US, Berg played on the Washington Senators, frequenting embassy parties in DC, before being dropped and picked up by the Cleveland Indians.
In 1934, the Soviet Union briefly invaded China, and with tensions rising in the Pacific, the US sent an all-star roster of American League players on a tour of Japan to compete against Japanese teams in a friendly 18-game series.
The players would also serve as goodwill ambassadors, as the All-American Japan Tour was an attempt to bolster Japanese-American relations through a shared interest in baseball.
While Berg had set a league record for catching 117 games straight without an error, he didn’t have the same hall-of-famer status as other recruits, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averil, and Lefty Gomez. But he had been to Japan before, and when catcher Rick Ferrell dropped off the All-Americans roster just before the tour, Berg readily accepted the invitation.
Moe Berg, second from the left in the first row, with other members of the “All Americans” on a visit Nagoya Castle during a free day on the 1934 exhibition.
He studied Japanese on the deck of the ship during the three-week journey across the Pacific. Upon arriving, Babe Ruth heard Berg greet a fan in Japanese. Ruth said he thought Berg claimed not to know Japanese. Berg said that he hadn’t a few weeks before.
Berg traveled with a 16 mm Bell and Howell movie camera, seemingly undeterred by leaflets distributed by police warning people not to make maps or capture images, which the Japanese feared could be used against them in war.
He also carried an official letter of introduction from US Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
On one occasion, Berg peeled off from his teammates and went to the roof of a Tokyo hospital, then the city’s tallest building. He wore a Japanese kimono and slippers, and he had flowers and an alibi that he was visiting an ambassador’s daughter who’d just had a baby.
But he threw out the flowers and ended up on the roof, where he shot a panorama of the Tokyo skyline, including the harbor and industrial centers. The US would later use the shots as reconnaissance footage to inform wartime military strategy and plan bombing raids.
How Berg delivered the footage to the US government remains murky. He was known for answering questions about his government work by putting his finger to his lips and saying, “shhh.”
When pressed on how he’d left the hospital with the movie camera, he supposedly responded, “What made you think I had anything in my kimono other than my big pecs and biceps?”
During World War II, he retired his Red Sox uniform to work for the government.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killed more than 2,300 Americans and catapulted the US into World War II. Millions of Americans joined up. Before Berg’s father died in January 1942, he asked his sons, “Why aren’t you contributing to this war?”
Berg left the Red Sox to work for the Office of Inter-American Affairs, a government agency President Franklin Roosevelt founded to counter Axis propaganda in Latin America.
In February 1942, Berg made a radio broadcast addressing the people of Japan, in Japanese, asking for peace; he identified himself as “a friend of the Japanese people” and urged listeners to avoid “a war you cannot win.”
That summer, his work took him to Central and South America, ostensibly as an goodwill ambassador distributing baseball gear. He fed reports on the political situation to his boss, Inter-American Affairs Coordinator Nelson Rockefeller.
The OSS tapped him as a nuclear spy who carried out acts of espionage and sabotage to thwart Hitler’s nuclear program.
In the wake of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt recognized the importance of strong foreign intelligence to the Allied war effort. In 1942, he signed an executive order forming the OSS, a clandestine espionage and sabotage agency directed by Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan.
Donovan, a Republican, was Roosevelt’s Columbia Law classmate and a World War I general turned Wall Street lawyer. As the founding father of America’s CIA forerunner, Donovan recruited a diverse cast of military and civilian personnel whom he fondly regarded as his “Glorious Amateurs.”
At its peak in 1944, the OSS employed some 13,000 men and women, with personnel stationed across the world, working not only as field agents but also as codebreakers, researchers, mapmakers, psychologists, scientists, and propagandists who carried out special operations and information warfare.
Berg was recruited to the OSS in 1943.
With his unusual aptitude, agility, language skills, and information-gathering experience, Berg became the OSS agent that Donovan designated to support the government’s top-secret initiative to develop its first nuclear weapons, codenamed the Manhattan Project.
It was an undertaking so covert that Roosevelt supposedly didn’t even tell then-Vice President Harry Truman about it.
Leading researchers and scientists, including Albert Einstein, briefed Berg, teaching him what they hoped would be sufficient background on atomic energy and their adversaries’ efforts so Berg could collect vital information and assets from occupied Europe.
In 1944, Berg moved throughout war-ravaged Italy to track down important Italian scientists and documents in danger of falling into Hitler’s hands.
“I see Moe is still catching very well,” Roosevelt said after learning Berg had located and extracted Italy’s foremost expert in aerodynamics, Antonio Ferri.
Berg in a photo published upon his release from the Red Sox on Jan. 14, 1942.
Ferri had destroyed lab equipment that could help the Axis and gone into hiding in the mountains with a crate of scientific documents. He raised a resistance circuit carrying out guerilla operations to thwart the Axis and enable Allied air drops. Berg and Ferri connected and began parsing and translating the scientific documents.
With special permission from Roosevelt, Ferri entered the US with a suitcase and the crate of documents and was escorted to the nation’s leading aeronautics research center, in Langley, Virginia.
As Manhattan Project scientists raced to develop the atomic bombs that America would drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, its leaders remained concerned with where Hitler stood with any similar efforts.
If the Axis powers were making progress, it would likely involve German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize winner who remained in Germany during the war.
In December 1944, Berg was sent to neutral Switzerland for a conference at the University of Zurich with a pistol, a cyanide tablet, and a false identity as a Swiss physics student. His mission was to attend an intimate lecture that Heisenberg was giving at the conference.
If Heisenberg mentioned working on a nuclear bomb, Berg was to stand up and shoot Heisenberg point blank, with the understanding that this would also mean being killed himself.
Between the German language and the deeply technical physics terminology, Berg left the lecture unsure of what Heisenberg knew. He ended up complimenting Heisenberg on his talk and later insisting on escorting him to his hotel.
In the resulting report, which was read by Roosevelt, Berg determined that Heisenberg had low confidence in the German effort and that Hitler was at least two years behind the Manhattan Project.
Berg died in Belleville, New Jersey, in 1972 at the age of 70, after a fall at his home.
In 2018, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to OSS personnel. The presentation of Congress’s highest civilian honor marked the first collective recognition of the OSS, which President Harry Truman disbanded in 1945.
Truman formed the CIA in 1947 from the old OSS headquarters. While Donovan was not employed by America’s post-war intelligence organization, many of his “Glorious Amateurs” were, and four would go on to hold the agency’s top post.
A bronze statue of Donovan — and an OSS book of honor naming the 116 OSS members who were killed during World War II — are on display in the lobby of the CIA’s current headquarters in Langley.
Berg declined the Medal of Freedom in 1946. He never married or had children. He led a nomadic existence, traveling and, in his later years, living with his sister, Ethel, in New Jersey.
Ethel Berg accepted his Medal of Honor after his death and donated it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York, where it is on display, along with his catcher’s mitt and passport.
Ethel took Berg’s ashes to Israel, but to this day, no one knows where his remains are buried.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US has been able to greatly improve its use of intelligence over the 600-day fight against ISIS, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Business Insider on Tuesday.
“If you want to talk about lessons learned, I‘ll tell you, I’m probably relearning lessons over the last couple of years, and No. 1 is intelligence,” Gen. Joseph Dunford said in response to a question from Business Insider during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“If you want to know why our operation’s quantifiably more effective today than they were a year and a half ago, it’s because our intelligence is getting much better,” Dunford continued.
Dunford had stressed in recent congressional testimony that with nearly 100 nations and approximately 30,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, the US military needed more cooperation from other nations’ intelligence operations.
“I won’t go into great detail right now, but in terms of how you fully harness the intelligence community, getting the right people in the right places to do target development — has been something that’s frustrating to me,” Dunford said Tuesday.
“I think we’ve made some improvements that result in the progress that we have made,” he added.
Dunford’s comments came days after the Pentagon announced the US-led coalition, Operation Inherent Resolve, killed Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, the top financier for ISIS (aka Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh). It was a sign of the progress to which Dunford referred.
“We’re systematically eliminating ISIL’s cabinet,” US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during a briefing last Friday.
As of March 15, the US-led coalition has conducted a total of 10,962 strikes throughout the region, with 7,336 strikes in Iraq and 3,626 strikes being conducted in Syria.
The Department of Defense puts the total cost of anti-ISIS operations at $6.5 billion as of February 29, 2016. And the average daily cost stands at about $11.4 million for 571 days of operations.
In the final six months of World War II, the 104th Division — “The Frontier Division” — launched a series of night attacks against German troops while equipped with only empty rifles, bayonets, and grenades, slicing and exploding their way through enemy lines on the drive to Berlin.
The 104th Division was stood up in Oregon on Sep. 15, 1942, around the same time that its future commander, Maj. Gen. Terry “Terrible Terry” Allen, was loading the 1st Inf. Division into ships for the invasion of North Africa.
One of Allen’s big takeaways from commanding the 1st in Tunisia was that night attacks were generally less costly than daytime assaults, especially against fortifications and massed guns. So, when he handed the 1st over to Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner and was sent to take over the 104th, he insisted that the Frontier Division learn to fight at night.
According to a 1946 news article about the Division, Allen required the men to train 30-35 hours a week at night, well above the Army standard of eight to 12 hours.
After training in the U.S. and England, the 104th finally landed in France in September 1944 and was sent to Antwerp a month later to help capture the port there. In two weeks of bloody fighting that included multiple night assaults, the Timberwolves worked with the Canadians and British to eliminate Nazi defenses.
Even when the “Nightfighters” had rifle ammunition and permission to use it, they seemed to prefer their bayonets and explosives, likely in a bid to reduce tell-tale muzzle flashes that would give away their position.
During the Battle of the Dykes near Antwerp, then-1st Lt. Cecil Bolton tried to use mortars to knock out enemy machine gun positions raining fire on his unit. After being knocked unconscious by German artillery, he awoke and led a two-man volunteer bazooka team against the German lines by sneaking through chest-deep, nearly frozen water in the canals to the enemy positions.
The night attacks were usually reserved for positions in relatively open terrain, but were sometimes conducted against cities. The city of Eschweiler was captured in November thanks to a pre-dawn insertion of troops into the city center. Those men raised hell inside German lines at sunrise while the rest of their unit attacked from the outside.
The second phase, involving the crossing of the Inde River and the advance to the Roer, was even more difficult, but with characteristic skill and dash, in a series of brilliant night attacks, the 104th Division forced a crossing of the Inde, and in a few days had cleared its entire sector to the Roer River. I regard the operation which involved the seizure of Lamersdorf-Inden-Luchererg as one of the finest single pieces of work accomplished by any unit of the 7th Corps since D Day.
On April 26, the 104th met up with Russian troops that had been pushing the Germans west from Moscow. The Allied forces continued to hunt German units until May 5 when they ran out of Nazis to fight. Thus ended 195 days and nights of continuous combat, some of it conducted at night against machinegun nests and artillery positions by attackers armed only with blades and grenades.
This week in history, East German soldiers closed the borders between East and West Berlin. What started as a makeshift wall in 1961, pieced together with barbed wire, soldiers and tanks, eventually morphed into a 15-foot high symbol of division that blotted the landscape. However, the citizens of Berlin proved time and again where there’s a will, there’s a way. In its 28-year history, over 5,000 people risked life and limb to successfully across the border. For today’s history lesson, let’s take a look at a few more things you probably didn’t know about the Berlin Wall.
The wall was built to keep people in
At the height of the Cold War, Germany was politically divided. East Germany represented life under Communism, and West Germany held the promise of democracy. Consequently, between 1949 and 1961, over 2 million East Germans fled from East to West.
Initially, a hasty perimeter was set up, and the wall in the city center was made of men and armored vehicles. On the morning of August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) soldiers laid down barbed wire and ripped up the street known as Friedrich-Ebert Strasse, to build a makeshift wall. More armed guards kept watch, ready to shoot anyone who tried to cross as the wall was erected.
Over time the Berlin wall was shored up, reaching up to 15 feet high in some spots, and barbed wire and pipes perched atop the wall made climbing over impossible.
Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous checkpoint, but do you know why?
Along the Berlin Wall, there were a few checkpoints where those with the proper documentation were able to cross between sides. Among them was Checkpoint Friedrichstrasse — more commonly known as Checkpoint Charlie. The U.S. Army maintained Checkpoint Charlie, and it was the only checkpoint where foreigners and allied forces were allowed to cross into East Germany.
Checkpoint Charlie also gained notoriety because it was the preferred crossing for prisoner swaps. The most notable prisoner swap occurred in 1962, on Glienicke Bridge, which stood only a short distance from Checkpoint Charlie. During this exchange American U-2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers was traded for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy convicted of espionage.
Checkpoint Charlie has often been depicted in film and books as well, perhaps most notably in the James Bond classic Octopussy and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré.
You can own a piece of the wall
On November 9, 1989, East Germany announced relaxed travel restrictions to West Germany, and thousands gathered to demand passage. As East German guards opened the borders, the demonstrations reached a fever pitch. Berliners climbed the wall, defaced it with graffiti, and began chipping away at it, some keeping fragments as souvenirs. While East German guards began dismantling the wall on August 10, 1989, Germany was not officially united until 1990.
Today pieces of the Berlin Wall are available for sale on eBay. You can own a piece of history for .99 plus shipping and handling.
More than 100 people died trying to cross the wall
The M1 Abrams was the best tank in the world for a long time – and its Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom combat record backed it up. But lately, Army officers are warning that other tanks are catching up, including Russia’s T-14 and T-90, the British Challenger 2, and the Israeli Merkava IV.
Yeah, the Israelis have designed their own tank. According to waronline.org, the Merkava came about after the Israelis were unable to buy the British Chieftain main battle tank due to concerns from diplomats. Lessons learned from the 1973 Yom Kippur War were also applied to the tank’s development. What emerged was something that protected its crew, had good firepower, and a lot of ammo storage. In fact, the crew protection aspect was heightened by a decision to put the engine at the front of the tank.
The latest version of the Merkava is the Merkava 4, with a 120m main gun and capacity for up to 48 rounds, according to Army-Technology.com. It also has a 60mm mortar – a unique weapon among tanks – as well as three 7.62mm machine guns. The tank, though, is slow, with a top speed of 29 miles per hour according to militaryfactory.com.
Crew training in both of these tanks is really a wash. The American Abrams crews are probably among the best in the world. So are the Israelis (in fact, during the Yom Kippur War, vastly outnumbered Israeli tanks held the line against a much larger Syrian force in the Battle of the Valley of Tears).
So, which tank wins? Much will depend on which tank’s “game” is being played. If the Merkava is defending, it has the edge. This will be particularly true if the terrain forces a unit with Abrams tanks to come right at the Merkavas.
But if the fight is a mobile fight, then the Abrams’ speed will give it the edge.
On June 11, 1184 BC, Greek soldiers, hiding in an elaborately-built wooden horse, opened the gates to the city of Troy and laid waste to the once famed city.
Renowned historian Homer tells the story of how Paris, a prince of Troy, eloped with Helen, who happened to be Queen of Sparta.
The King of Sparta, Menelaus, was understandably less than thrilled. Helen was dubbed “the face that launched a thousand ships” as Menelaus did just that and set sail for Troy to exact his revenge.
The Greeks laid siege to Troy for ten years but were unable to beat Troy’s impenetrable city walls. One day, they built a massive wooden horse and left it at the city gates as an offering.
Believing they won the war, the Trojans took the horse into the city as a war trophy. As Troy slept soundly that night, Greek warriors snuck out of the horse and opened the gates for the Army outside. Once inside the walls, they sacked and burned the once great city, killing nearly everyone inside.
Scholars and historians continue to debate whether the Trojan War was history or myth. Excavations conducted by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann and others provide evidence to suggest that the city of Troy was indeed real, and located in modern Hisarlik in Turkey. As for Paris, Menelaus, Helen, or the great Achilles, it’s subject to speculation. Classical Greeks treated Homer’s work as history while many believe the epics to have been exaggerated.
Nonetheless, Homer’s rendition of Troy, its downfall, and the glory of Greece remains one of the most significant pieces of military literature for all of mankind.
Featured Image: Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector’s body around Troy, from a panoramic fresco of the Achilleion by painter Franz Matsch 1892.
Suspected Taliban insurgents attacked a US-operated base in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost April 24, officials said, but gave few immediate details of an assault that coincided with a visit to Kabul by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
The attackers had detonated a car bomb at an entrance to Camp Chapman, a secretive facility manned by US forces and private military contractors, said Mubarez Mohammad Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
But he had little immediate information on any damage or casualties.
“I am aware of a car bomb attack at one of the gates in the US base, but we are not allowed there to get more details,” the spokesman said.
A spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, Capt. William Salvin, confirmed the car bomb attack. He said there appeared to be a number of Afghan casualties but none among US or coalition personnel at the base.
The attack came just three days after more than 140 Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack on their base by Taliban fighters disguised in military uniforms.
Daenerys Targaryen has to react after a series of military disasters, one of which left her army of Unsullied stranded at Casterly Rock. In this episode, she properly uses the strengths of her units — and in a coordinated effort.
The Dothraki are mobile, but not the best against heavy infantry. Jamie Lannister (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, notable for playing Medal of Honor recipient Master Sgt. Gary Gordon in “Blackhawk Down”) orders the Lannister/Tarly force to bunch up. That would have worked passingly well…except the other side had the ability to call down an air strike.
Which Daenerys executes tremendously. The dragon delivers the fire and takes out the Lannister ground forces. The Lannister Army is practically wiped out in an Arc Light of napalm, and the objective of avoiding civilian casualties has been met.
2. Do not underestimate the enemy
The problem: Daenerys has decided that, to paraphrase Winfield S. Hancock at Gettysburg, this is a time that a queen’s life does not count. Daenerys has repeated her mistake of splitting her forces. This time, she apparently only sent one dragon, which almost turned very fatal for her.
Now that she knows the Lannisters have developed their “Scorpion” weapon to attack her dragons, she will have to be more prepared. Maybe a “Wild Weasels” sort of tactic is in order to deal with this medieval-era surface-to-air missile?
3. A weapon is only as good as the one who wields it
Let’s head back up to the North.
We’ve been hoping for more Brienne of Tarth. She underestimated her (sparring) opponent — and her weapons. She thought that Needle and a dagger wouldn’t be a match, but Arya had her to a draw. Brienne is a formidable fighter — she took down the Hound in single combat, something not many can claim to do — yet Arya handed Brienne her rear end on a silver platter.
Arya’s training as a Faceless Man enabled her to use those weapons to greater effect. Brienne could deliver a powerful blow with her sword, which was forged from Ned Stark’s Ice, but a miss does no damage. If that fight were for real, Arya would have inflicted a series of wounds on Brienne, and eventually been able to score a killing blow.
This is much like the early years of the Pacific Theater. By all accounts, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero was the best naval fighter. But Stanley Vejtasa was able to shoot down two and cut the wing off a third with an SBD dive bomber. Vejtasa and Arya made the most of the strengths of their weapons.
This is why training is so important. Let’s hope the Targaryen forces can take note.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in history. Over 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, but over 15,000 airborne soldiers dropped in behind enemy lines on D-Day. Most parachuted in, but over a thousand landed in Normandy inside gliders made of plywood.
Ninety-seven-year-old Millcreek, Utah, resident John “Jack” Whipple piloted one of the hundreds of gliders to set down in the fields of France on that June morning.
Tow planes delivered Jack and hundreds of other fearless flyers to the air over Northern France. Whipple was behind the controls of an Airspeed Horsa the day of the invasion.
“When we came over Utah Beach we received some ground fire,” said Whipple. “Then we flew over the Germans, and received a lot more fire.”
Allied forces used two gliders in the invasion: the Waco CG-4A and the Airspeed Horsa. These were not the modern sail planes of today, but cargo and troop carriers. The CG-4 carried a pilot and co-pilot, 13 soldiers and their equipment, or a jeep and two or three soldiers.
Whipple’s Horsa carried him and co-pilot, a jeep, an anti-tank gun, four soldiers that morning, but the Horsa could also be configured to carry 30 soldiers and their gear. The total weight of a loaded Horsa hovered around 15,000 pounds.
After the tow planes cut the gliders loose, pilots had just moments to find their landing zone.
“The quicker the better,” said Whipple. “They were shooting at us – probably 3 to 4 minutes.”
To make matters worse, reconnaissance photos given to pilots were months old.
“The photos had been taken in January or February and the trees had no leaves,” Whipple recalled. When we got there, the trees were in full leaves and we missed our main check point.”
Losing altitude, Whipple picked a field to land in, but quickly realized it wasn’t big enough. He slammed the glider in to the ground, ripping off the landing gear. He then performed an intentional ground loop, digging one wing into the ground, thus slowing the glider and protecting the fuselage. A maneuver, which all these years later, Whipple points out, was authorized.
“We landed, didn’t hurt anybody or the major equipment,” he said.
At this point, his role shifted.
“Glider pilots did the flying, and right after we landed we became infantry men. Most glider pilots were trained as infantry men, but we couldn’t wear the infantry badge because we weren’t in their unit. We were still in the air corps.” Whipple said.
“We landed behind enemy lines. We had about perhaps five or six Horsa gliders. We got together after landing and helped those who were injured. We got attacked that night, but we were able to keep the group together and able to keep the enemy away.”
The airborne assault on German forces was a key part of the allied invasion.
“It made it easier because the Germans then had to fight both sides of a squeeze,” said Whipple, squeezing his hands together. “The people coming on the beach—and the airborne.”
And while hundreds of gliders may not sound like a lot, the gliders provided the airborne units equipment to combat heavy and mechanized infantry, and needed supplies to operate behind enemy lines. Whipple flew two additional combat glider missions—one in Holland and the final one as part of the Rhine Crossing.
After returning from the war, he earned his private pilot license, and flew all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The 1943 Battle of Tarawa was the first of the Central Pacific Campaign. There, 18,000 Marines fought a bloody, 76-hour battle to seize the heavily fortified Tarawa Atoll from 4,500 Japanese defenders, wading through hundreds of yards of surf and scrambling for cover on the nearly flat islands.
Marines take cover on the beaches of Tarawa while planning their next move forward. Conquering Tarawa would take 76 hours and cost thousands of lives.
Importantly for Marine Corps historians, that means that one of World War II’s most bloody and important battlefields will disappear under the waves — with Marine remains and artifacts still on it.
The 1943 battle for the island began with a massive naval artillery bombardment that failed to dislodge most of the pillboxes, obstacles, and defenders on the island. When troops landed on November 20, underwater obstacles in the form of coral reefs, sandbars, and other barriers caused landing craft to get stuck out at sea.
The assault on Tarawa was a nightmare. Shallow waters led to gently sloping beaches and hundreds of yards of obstacles — all factors that favored the Japanese defenders.
Undeterred, the Marines fought through barbed wire and Japanese attackers. On the second day, they were able to land tanks and artillery and punch out from the beach, starting their campaign across the tiny island.
At the end of the three-day battle, the Marines had suffered almost 3,000 casualties, including many men marked missing in action who were either washed out to sea or lost in the sand dunes and vegetation. Of the 4,500 Japanese defenders, there were only 17 survivors left. Most fought to the death as there was no way to escape the island.
After the war, the Kiribati Islands reverted to British control and then became a sovereign country in 1979. The U.S. signed a treaty of friendship later that year and then established full diplomatic relations in 1980. Since then, the relationship has been friendly if not exactly close.
The State Department says that they actively cooperate with Kiribati to repatriate the remains of Marines when discovered on Tarawa or on any other island within the nation.
Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alexander Bonneyman, Jr., thought to be fourth from the right, and his men attack a Japanese position on Tarawa. Bonneyman posthumously received the Medal of Honor and his remains were recovered from Tarawa in 2015.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Obie Newcomb)
The remains of 139 service members were discovered and repatriated in 2015. One of those repatriated was 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island.
Luckily, these were well-documented battles. Historians have recovered many documents and interviewed survivors of each, and With the Marines at Tarawa was an Academy Award-winning documentary produced during the invasion. So, future generations will still see evidence of the Marine Corps’ sacrifice.
But any historians who need additional evidence from the islands better get to work soon. Time is ticking.