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.
Some 80 years after the start of World War II, many of us whose parents may not even have been born yet are familiar with the sound – a slow droning noise getting ever closer, ever louder, and deeper in pitch. It’s the sound of a plane falling to earth, but it was first associated with a very specific plane, for a specific reason – the Nazi Luftwaffe just wanted to scare the bejeezus out of English and Russian civilians.
At the start of World War II, the Junkers 87-B dive bomber was the Nazi’s first mass-produced fighter aircraft, already perfected in the Spanish Civil War and ready to take on the French, British, and later, the Red Army. Nicknamed the Stuka (from the German word for “dive bomber”), the Junkers 87-B would become the iconic Nazi warplane. It was less about its ability in the air (which was top of the line for the time) it was because of the sound the dive bomber made when zooming toward an earthbound target. The Nazis called it the “Jericho Trumpet” – and it was totally unnecessary.
It was all for a propaganda effect.
You can hear it just watching this gif.
Siren devices were attached to the wings’ leading edge just forward of the Stuka’s fixed landing gear. The sound was meant to be memorable, weaken the morale of the enemy, and cause mass fear of the German dive-bomber. It was so effective the sound became associated with the fast Nazi blitzkrieg across Europe and feared the world over, even across the Atlantic where newsreels entranced the American public.
The only problem with the Jericho Trumpets was that they affected the aerodynamics of the Junker 87-B, causing enough drag to slow the plane down by 20 miles per hour and making them easier targets for defenders. Eventually, the Sirens would be scrapped, and whistles were placed on the bombs to create the same psychological effect.
Charles Norman Shay was just a young private in the 1st Infantry Division when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 — D-Day. He was in the first wave, landing some time around 6:30 while the German defenses were still untouched, firing artillery and machine guns into the open holds of boats as American troops attempted to land.
Shay and the other medics on the beaches had the option of sticking to cover or trying to survive in the water, floating with just their nostrils exposed to minimize the chance that German machine guns found them.
Today, Shay is a 90-something year old tribal elder of the Penobscot Tribe in Maine. There’s a memorial park on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach named for him that honors the sacrifices of American Indians who landed at Normandy.
The Allies landed 156,000 troops on D-Day across five beachheads. It was the fulfillment of a promise to the Soviet Union to open a new front against Germany as Soviet forces fought on the opposite side of Europe. Less than a year after D-Day, as the armies landed at Normandy crunched onward toward Berlin, Hitler killed himself in a bunker and German leaders sued for peace, ending the war in Europe.
Massive explosions at an in central have prompted the evacuation of more than 30,000 people and the closure of airspace over the region, the country’s emergency response agency has said.
The blasts late on Sept. 26 sparked a blaze at the depot near Kalynivka in the Vinnytsya region, some 270 kilometers west of Kyiv, the September 27 statement said.
military prosecutor’s office said investigators were treating the explosions and fire as an act of sabotage, Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) spokeswoman Olena Hitlyanska said on September 27.
National Police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said in a statement on September 27 that hundreds of police officers from the Vinnytsya, Zhytomyr, Khmelnitskiy, Kyiv, and Chernivtsi regions were providing security and safe evacuation of people at the site.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman, who arrived in Vinnytsya hours after the blast, said that “external factors” were behind the incident.
Zoryan Shkiryak, an adviser to the head of the Interior Ministry, said on Facebook that he was “convinced that this is a hostile Russian sabotage,” and said it was the seventh fire at military warehouses in Kalynivka.
He said a state commission of inquiry will be set up to investigate the cause of the explosions.
Some 600 National Guard troops were deployed to the area to assist with the evacuation of the residents and to ensure the protection of their property from looters, the National Guard said in a statement. Some 1,200 Ukrainian firefighters were working to contain the blaze, UNIAN reported.
Witnesses said that after an initial loud explosion, bright flashes were visible in the night sky. Some residents said they feared the smoke and fire from the explosion might produce toxic gases.
Local media reported that the explosive wave knocked out the windows in the Kalynivka district state administration, where an emergency headquarters for teams seeking to put out the explosions and fire was later gathered.
Witnesses said the sound of explosions could be heard as far away as Kyiv. Local media said that in Kalynivka, officials turned off the lights and disconnected gas and electricity supplies.
Shortly after the explosions, the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of , General Viktor Muzhenko, arrived in Vinnytsya, authorities said.
A volunteer of the Avtoevrozile organization of Vinnytsya, Ihor Rumyantsev, told RFE/RL that he saw about 10 buses arrive to evacuate people. He said he was helping to evacuate residents, giving priority to women and children.
Early on September 27, Rumyantsev said the explosions started to increase, doubling in size, prompting people to hide in their cellars.
Rumyantsev said the railway connection in the area had completely stopped. Ukrzaliznytsya reported a change in railroad routes due to the explosions.
An employee of the Vinnytsya Oblast Council, Iryna Yaroshynska, confirmed the rerouting of trains going through Kalynivka.
Ukraerocenter closed the airspace within a radius of 50 kilometers from the zone of explosions in the military warehouses, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Yuriy Lavrenyuk said on Facebook.
Residents posted video online showing what appeared to be a fire burning, lights flashing, and smoke billowing into the night sky.
Good news for U.S. Air Force retirees: The service has expanded plans to not only welcome back retired pilots into active-duty staff positions, but also combat system officers and air battle managers.
To help alleviate its manning shortage, the service is encouraging retirees from the 11X, 12X and 13B Air Force Specialty Codes to apply for the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program, it announced May 23, 2018.
It could take in as many as 1,000 former airmen.
“Officers who return to active duty under VRRAD will fill rated staff and active flying staff, test, training and operational positions where rated officer expertise is required,” said VRRAD Rated Liaison Maj. Elizabeth Jarding of the Air Force’s Personnel Center.
“We can match VRRAD participants to stateside or overseas requirements where they’ll fill critical billets that would otherwise remain vacant due to the shortage of rated officers,” Jarding said in a service release.
Airmen who are currently in rated positions in those specialties but have already put in their retirement orders will also be welcome to extend their service in the VRRAD program, the release said.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
The program expansion comes as the Air Force faces a growing deficit of 2,000 pilots, or roughly 10 percent of the total pilot force.
Previously, the VRRAD program — one of many efforts the service is making to ease the shortage — accepted only the 11X career field and remained limited in scope, said Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson.
“The program was limited by law to a maximum of 25 participants and for a maximum 12-month tour, which limited officers to serving in non-flying staff positions,” Dickerson told Military.com on May 23, 2018.
Active-duty tour lengths have now increased to a minimum of 24 months and a maximum of 48 months, he said. VRRAD participants will deploy only if they volunteer, unless they are assigned to a combat-coded unit, the release said.
“Many who inquired expressed interest in the stability afforded by a longer tour. In addition, longer tours also afforded the potential to utilize these officers in flying as well as non-flying positions, providing more time to requalify and be effectively utilized in various airframes,” Dickerson said in an email.
To date, the 2017 VRRAD program has approved 10 officers, and five have returned to active duty, he said.
“We anticipate that will continue with the expanded authorities,” Dickerson said, adding the officers currently in the program could expand their tour lengths.
Some of the criteria for the expanded VRRAD program have changed: Eligibility applies to rated officers who received an active-duty retirement within the last five years or those in the window to retire within 12 months of their VRRAD date of application, the personnel center said.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel King Jr.)
Airmen must have previously served in the ranks of captain, major or lieutenant colonel, and must be under age 50. Those who are 50 and older may be considered on a case-by-case basis. Previously, the criteria applied to those age 60 and younger in those ranks.
“Applicants must be medically qualified for active duty and have served in a rated staff position within 15 years or been qualified in an Air Force aircraft within 10 years of application for flying positions,” the release said.
Officers who retired for physical disability reasons are not eligible to apply.
The personnel center will accept applications for VRRAD until Dec. 31, 2018, or until all openings are filled, the release said. Those who return to active duty will not be eligible for the service’s aviation bonus nor promotion consideration.
In 2017, the Air Force asked for expanded authorities for its retention shortfalls. As a result, in October 2018, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13223, which allowed the service to recall up to 1,000 former pilots.
The trio shuffled into the small room with canes and walkers to record their testimonies of the first confrontations of the Cold War and how the allies prevailed without firing a shot, saving a former enemy from oppression.
The Royal Air Force Museum American Foundation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of Berlin Airlift at their annual “Spirit of the Battle of Britain” banquet October 2019 to honor these veterans for their contributions to the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.
The trio retold their stories of using soft air power to deter Soviet aggression in post-World War II Berlin, and current U.S. Air Force and RAF airmen were honored for continuing to further the partnership between the two nations.
Prior to the dinner, the trio transported family, listeners and caregivers back to 1940s Germany.
“I remember the war,” said Mercedes Wild, who was seven years old at the start of the Berlin Airlift. “They (Allied bombers) destroyed Berlin. It was a hard time for the kids in West Berlin. Berlin is a destroyed city. We will never forget the sound of the bombers.”
After WWII, the German capital was divided with Soviet Russia controlling East Berlin and British, French and American Allies responsible for the west. The city was located more than 100 miles inside the Russian controlled portion of Germany. On June 24, 1948, the Russians implemented a blockade of West Berlin to prevent food and supplies, such as coal, from entering the town. The effort attempted to break the spirit of the West Berlin people to reject democracy and embrace communism.
A C-54 Skymaster piloted by retired Col. Gail Halvorsen drops candy with attached parachutes to children during the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen earned the nickname “Candy Bomber” for his operation Little Vittles candy drops. Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Enter, veterans and the Berlin Airlift.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, widely known as the “Candy Bomber,” described volunteering for the mission that changed his life and the lives of millions in West Berlin. Halvorsen, a 28-year-old lieutenant at the time, grew up on a farm in Utah, where helping a neighbor in need was a way of life.
“My dad was an example to me,” he said. “He had plenty to do himself, but when a neighbor, a farmer, needed help and couldn’t get enough help, my dad would drop some of the things that weren’t so important on our farm to help the next-door neighbor.”
Halvorsen saw his first aircraft flying overhead on the farm while he was working the fields. He was hooked and signed up for a non-college pilot training program. Soon he received his flight training and was flying cargo aircraft in Mobile, Alabama. When the word came of the attempts by Russia to stomp out freedom in West Berlin by starving its residents, there was no doubt of his next step.
“I volunteered to fly supplies in early,” Halvorsen recalled.
At first, the citizens of West Berlin didn’t know what to think of hearing heavy aircraft over their heads again.
“The noise of the airplanes during the airlift in the beginning I feared, because it was the same noise while bombing Berlin,” Wild said.
They would soon learn the aircraft were not carrying bombs but food and supplies to keep them alive. The logistics of flying 2.3 million tons of goods and equipment was not without risks. In total, 101 airmen from around the world perished in the Berlin Airlift.
“Two hundred meters from our house, there was the first airlift airplane crash in the night,” Wild remembered. “The next morning I went with my mother. It was destroyed. The two pilots were dead. The people were very sorry about this … They feared that the west allies would now stop the airlift.”
A hard winter already made food in short supply, Wild explained. The only meal she might get would come from school and she would sneak part of this food to her mother, who was sick. She also took care of the family chickens, whose eggs she would trade on the black market for meat or shoes. Still, none of these hardships compared to the fear of the Russians returning to West Berlin as they had done in the final days of the war.
“The normal West Berliner did not want to become Soviet,” she said. “The Soviet regime was near the same as Nazi time and they feared the Russians. They remembered the Russian soldiers.”
As Halvorsen flew food and coal into the city of Berlin, a 19-year-old RAF pilot flew gasoline into Berlin.
Then-Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“The Halifax aircraft was a converted bomber,” said Dereck Hermiston. “The bomb racks had been taken and we flew, I think it was 40 or 41, 45-gallon tanks of gasoline. They had wooden beams, and they (used them) to roll these drums up. Quite unstable, and it stank to high hell.”
The son of a WWI pilot, Hermiston was among the youngest airmen to participate in flying the airlift. Yet, even as a teenager, the reversal of roles did not escape him.
“I realized, as a British officer, that we had bombed, and bombed, and bombed Berlin with the Americans, and it was a reversal,” he said. “We were now trying to save the Berliners from what was quite an oppressive regime from the Russians. I met a few Russian officers, and they were very sure they wanted to stop Germany from growing ever again.”
There was always worry of an international incident turning the Cold War operation hot, as Hermiston told.
“We were buzzed by a Russian MiG-9 one morning,” Hermiston, very much still a kid at heart, said with a chuckle. “I think it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was just getting daylight. There was this great shudder, and this fighter aircraft flew underneath us … and looped around us. As he came down, I had no room to maneuver. I suppose he missed us by about 200 to 300 feet. It was enough to make the aircraft shudder. Little things like that I remember because I was frightened.”
Despite the harsh weather conditions and aero acrobatic antics of the Soviets, the Allies continued to do what was needed to feed and fuel a city. In some cases this involved evacuating Berliners in need of medical attention.
“I flew out something like 220 people in my aircraft from Berlin that were sick or were children needing operations,” Hermiston said. “My aircraft was a tanker aircraft, so they had to sit on these wooden beams that were going up the fuselage in stinking conditions. It stank of petrol oil from all the gasoline. Yet, they were all so very grateful — very, very grateful. I found the people extremely grateful.”
The British pilot was not the only person struck by the grateful nature of the people of Berlin. In a previous interview, Halvorsen recalled how he became known as the “Candy Bomber” after a trip to Berlin, seeing children line up along the fence line outside the flightline of the Templehof airport.
“I had been to other countries where the kids had chocolate,” he said, recalling that moment nearly 70 years later. “When George Washington visited his troops, he had little hard candies in his pocket for the kids. That was nothing new. But these kids had not had chocolate for a couple of years. Not one out of the 30 broke ranks and said, ‘do you got candy?’ When I realized that, it just hit me like a ton of bricks — black and white. I just could not believe that quality of character called gratitude. They were so grateful. They were thankful for their freedom. When I realized that, I thought I got to do something. I reached in my pocket, and all I had was two sticks of gum.”
Convinced that everyone deserved a treat or no one did, Halvorsen took about three more steps and the little voice came clear as a bell directing him back to the fence.
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“Boy, when I stopped and started back, those kids came to attention,” he said. “I pulled out two sticks of gum and broke them in half and passed it to the kids doing the translating. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The other kids didn’t push or shove or try to grab it. The kids that got half a piece of stick of gum tore off the wrapper and passed it. The kids that got a strip of paper, put it up to their noses, smelled it and their eyes got big. They were dumbfounded. They clutched it in their hands to go home and show their parents, if they had any.”
An idea came to Halvorsen — return the next day.
“I will be flying overhead, and I will drop enough chocolate for all of you,” he announced to the children. “When that translated to everybody, there was a celebration going on.”
Halvorsen made one demand of the children. They must share the candy. They agreed, but another question arose. With planes arriving every few seconds, how would the children know which one was Halvorsen’s?
“When I would fly over the farm (back home), I would wiggle the wings back and forth. So I said, ‘kids, you watch the airplane. When I come over the center of Tempelhof, if it is clear, I will wiggle the wings.’ That is how it began.”
The “Candy Bomber,” with his parachutes of chocolate, was born, and the act would soon be named operation Little Vittles.
One little girl never caught one of the treats — the 7-year-old Wild.
“I was never quick enough,” she said.
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
To make matters worse, the chickens whose eggs brought a fortune on the black market had stopped laying because of the noise from the aircraft landing every few seconds over head.
“Therefore, I decided to write a letter because I was so sad about the situation, and I cried,” she said. “My grandmother told me don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t weep, do something. I decided to write a letter.”
The letter was addressed to her “Chocolate Uncle,” and she asked him to aim his parachute for the garden with the white chickens.
No parachute ever came, despite nearly 20 tons of candy being dropped from the C-54 Skymasters flown by the Americans.
A letter from her “Chocolate Uncle” did come, with two special treats — a lollipop and peppermint-flavored stick of gum. Between the war and the blockade, the smell of peppermint was unknown to the child.
“I exchanged it on the black market, this peppermint gum, for a glass marble; I have this glass marble,” Wild said, pulling the smooth glass toy from her pocket and placing it on the table with as much pride as any seven-year-old. “This is the same glass marble.”
The lollipop was saved for a Christmas treat, but the greatest gift that day was not the candy.
“The most important was the letter; the letter changed my whole life,” she said.
Offered a chance to join an aunt in Switzerland where food and supplies were not held hostage by the Soviets, Wild turned it down with the hopes of one day meeting her “Chocolate Uncle.”
Around-the-clock supplies continued flying into Berlin as British and American pilots made three round trips a day. After nearly a year, the Soviets lifted the blockade, reopening the transportation routes on the ground.
“The Soviets gave up,” Halvorsen said. “They said we can’t compete with that. They got red-faced and backed off. The airlift was the reason they had to do that; it broke the blockade. I was proud to be a part of that.”
With the blockade lifted in May 1949, British and American aircraft continued to fly supplies into Berlin to rebuild the stocks. On Sept. 23, 1949, the last RAF aircraft landed in Berlin with supplies.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster.
(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Time passed, and in 1970, Halvorsen returned to Germany, now as a colonel and the commander of Tempelhof. A now grown and married Wild decided now was the time to meet her “Chocolate Uncle.”
“First, we went to airport Templehof, and I took the letter with me,” Wild said. “Then I invited him to our home for dinner with the family.”
The two families have remained close all these years.
Seventy years later, these veterans of the Berlin Airlift travel the world telling the story of how the gratitude of the Berlin Airlift shaped their lives and the world.
“We must give the good spirit to the kids to have good society and future…” Wild said. “This was a very good thing that Colonel Halvorsen decided to have those candy droppings because I think he is the best ambassador for mankind–for humanity. It is not only Col. Halvorsen, but the other pilots and the people of Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and USA. The people were standing behind the airlift.”
A military kid is learning about her dad’s life and experiences through the eyes of her mom.
Ever since Britt Harris first met her husband, Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, eyes have played an important part of her story.
Chris and Britt Harris. Courtesy photo.
From the beginning, she couldn’t help but notice his baby blues, so different from her own hazel eyes. The North Carolina natives fell in love and married in October 2016. A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Chris deployed to Afghanistan the next summer.
Then came the eyes of the nation on her when her 25-year-old husband was killed in a vehicle explosion on August 2, 2017, making her a Gold Star wife. Just one week earlier, Britt thrilled him with the news that they were expecting their first child.
Britt’s grief felt all-encompassing, but she still wanted to feel connected to her husband’s unit. She included them in her gender reveal, shipping confetti poppers with the appropriate color to Afghanistan. The men and women celebrated amidst a shower of pink in a now-viral video.
When her daughter, Christian Michelle, arrived on March 17, 2018 — the day Chris’ unit returned — Britt knew the story wasn’t over. So she arranged for a photoshoot featuring Christian, herself and Chris’ fellow soldiers.
With the same otherworldly blue eyes as her father, Christian quickly captivated millions. The moment wasn’t just for show, however; the men and women who served alongside Chris (he and Britt are only children) are viewed as family.
“We still see each other. We get lunch, or send texts, or social media,” says Britt, 28. “It makes me feel like I’m still part of the group even though I don’t have Chris anymore.”
Yet thanks to Christian’s uncanny resemblance to Chris — especially his eyes — Britt still does, in a way. Christian loves doing handstands now, the result of toddler gymnastics classes.
“She does them everywhere we go,” Britt laughs. “She dances all day, every day.”
Living as a single mom in Moore County, North Carolina, was never Britt’s original plan. But she has plenty of new accomplishments to list since her world came crashing down in 2017, including hiking Kilimanjaro in Africa and starting a PhD program in psychology at Liberty University.
“My husband was really adventurous and he was always the person to push me to do something new,” Britt says. “When he passed away, I didn’t have anyone to push me anymore, so I started pushing myself to try new things.”
And in going after those firsts, Britt now holds the title of Mrs. North Carolina Universal 2020. Though this year’s national pageant fell victim to quarantine, she still plans to compete in 2021. Her platform will be bringing awareness to families of the fallen.
“A lot of people don’t even know what Gold Star means,” Britt said. “I’ve met veterans who don’t know what Gold Star is.”
The publicity that pageants offer could majorly change that, giving Britt a wider audience to educate on the definition and needs of Gold Star families, perhaps even affecting future related legislation.
“The pageant world isn’t really a place where widows go,” she said. “I’m hoping out of curiosity people will read up on Gold Star or ask when I give my interviews so I can speak more about it.”
Besides getting ready to eventually compete in a national pageant, 2020 has held another rookie experience for Britt and Christian: being the recipients of a Gold Star canine training program.
Ridgeside K9 Carolinas recently boarded Atlas, the Harris’ one-year-old Blue Heeler, and professionally trained him to be a well-behaved family dog. The Harrises were the first selected for this free service for families of the fallen.
“Atlas is a very high-energy dog that was by no means a ‘bad dog,’ but I certainly needed help teaching him obedience,” Britt said. “He’s very patient and well-behaved now. He listens and the stress of chasing him and him avoiding and ignoring my calls and demands is long gone!”
Now, Atlas could happily join Britt and Christian on their road trips to places where Chris visited. Britt documents each trip in photos.
“I want to show the re-creations of her in the places Chris went, to walk where he walked, to feel close to him,” she says. “I want her to feel connected to him and the things he enjoyed.”
As a Gold Star wife, Britt understands that Chris is physically absent. But he — and those blue eyes he passed on to the daughter he never met — will always be a part of their lives.
The theft prompted many to question how it could have been lost, why the Air Force has an M240, does the Air Force really need an M240, how many do they have or need, and would the Air Force notice if I took one.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations obtained a federal search warrant, executing it at the off-base residence of a Team Minot airman on June 19, 2018.
Missing for little over a month, the automatic weapon and the fallout of its theft made waves across the military-veteran community and in the military news cycle. After a box of 40mm MK 19 grenades fell off the back of a humvee while traversing a Native American reservation, the subsequent inventory of the Air Force arsenal on Minot discovered the missing M240 machine gun. This prompted the 5th Bomb Wing, 91st Missile Wing, and other installations to make a thorough inventory of their weapons.
The theft also caused the dismissal of 91st Security Forces Group commander Col. Jason Beers, who was moved from Minot to his new job as Chief of Air Force Special Operations Command’s installations division. With AFSOC being based primarily in Florida, I think we can call that an overall win for the Colonel but unfortunately Chief Master Sgt. Nikki Drago was also fired as the unit superintendent.
Our military does an incredible job of protecting our global interests, but they don’t do it alone. They’ve got a bunch of very good doggies that help them out.
Case in point: President Donald Trump announced in October 2019 that a military dog named Conan played a role in the raid against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northwest Syria, but he’s far from the first dog to help out the military.
Dogs have been working as bomb sniffers, message carriers, and guards for US military branches since at least World War I, when a stray Boston bull terrier wandered on to an Army training field and went on to become a unit’s mascot as they traveled to Europe.
In the decades following, trained dogs traveled across the world as they worked with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. And their natural skills and instincts are honed in training, making these dogs become the perfect working companions for the troops.
Some of the dogs even became military heroes, sniffing out the enemy, and attacking when needed.
Here are some of the good dogs who have helped the US military over the years.
1. Stubby, a Boston bull terrier, is the most famous US military mascot from World War I.
Before Stubby became the famed dog he is today, he was just a stray pooch who wandered his way on to an Army training center in New Haven, Connecticut.
While on the training grounds in 1917, Private First Class Robert Conroy took him in and Stubby ended up on the front lines of World War I as the mascot for the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division of the United States Army.
According to The Purple Heart Foundation, Stubby took part in 17 battles, detected traces of gas to warn soldiers, located wounded men on battlefields, and learned drills and bugle calls, and how to decipher English from German.
Following his efforts, Stubby participated in parades, met three presidents, and received dozens of awards, including a Purple Heart.
Rags with Sergeant George E. Hickman, 16th Infantry, 26th Division.
(US Army Signal Corps)
2. Rags was a message carrier for troops in Europe during World War I.
Rags, a stray terrier in Paris during World War I, became a war hero after befriending US Army Private James Donovan in 1918, according to K9 History.
The dog soon became a carrier for Donovan’s unit, carrying messages from the 26th Infantry Regiment to the supporting 7th Field Artillery Brigade.
Rags lost an eye and Donovan was injured by poisonous gas during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, a major battle in France in 1918. Donovan later died of his injuries.
Rags, meanwhile, lived out his life in Maryland, and died in 1936.
3. Chips is the most famous dog of World War II — and he once single-handedly attacked a hidden German gun nest.
After the US entered World War II, thousands of people donated their dogs to be trained for guard and patrol duty, and Chips was one of them.
The German shepherd-collie-husky mix took part in Allied campaigns in North Africa, Italy, France, and elsewhere in Europe, and was able to take down a hidden German gun nest during the 1943 invasion of Sicily, according to Inside Edition.
He later went on to guard a conference between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Lee’s family ended up adopting Lex when he took an early retirement.
“We knew that’s what Dustin would have wanted out of this,” Jerome Lee, the slain Marine’s father, told the Associated Press at the time. “He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own.”
Lex died in 2012.
A United States Air Force Belgian Malinois.
6. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, was part of the SEAL team that took down al-Qaida’s longtime leader, Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Cairo was part of the SEAL Team 6 that helped take down al-Qaida’s longtime leader, Osama bin Laden, in a 2011 raid in Pakistan.
Though there are no available photos of Cairo, his story should be known.
Her handler, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, ran past a known IED to apply a tourniquet and carry her back to safety.
Lucca then retired to California to live with Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham.
“She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her,” Willingham said at the time. “In addition to her incredible detection capabilities, Lucca was instrumental in increasing morale for the troops we supported.”
She received a Dickin Medal in London in 2016, the highest valor award for animals in the UK.
Wonderful dog, Conan.
(White House photo)
8. Conan was injured while taking down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group.
A Belgian Malinois named Conan helped take down Islamic State terrorist group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019.
President Donald Trump published a photo of the Conan on Twitter, after announcing he had “declassified a picture of the wonderful dog” after the Pentagon had declined to reveal any information about the dog.
India and China are the world’s two most populous countries.
But they’re not the best of friends, and they’ve had years of military tension, including a brief war in 1962. Even today, there’s an off chance that tensions over Bhutan could spark another one.
In the 1962 war, air power didn’t play much of a role. Today, though, both sides have modern capable air forces, and they could go head-to-head.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, by 2020, the Indian air force will operate a mix of Su-30MKI Flankers, Dassault Rafales, Mirage 2000s, MiG-29 Fulcrums, modernized MiG-21s, and the indigenous Tejas fighter. Older planes in service would include the Jaguar ground attack plane and possibly MiG-27s. The backbone of this force would be as many as 280 of the Flankers.
GlobalSecurity.org notes that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, like the Indian Air Force, relies heavily on Flankers — though these are primarily the J-11, China’s copy of the Su-27. By 2020, China could have as many as 312 of the baseline J-11s, plus about 24 Su-35S Flankers, roughly 65 Su-30MKK Flankers, and 75 J-11B Flankers. China also would be able to add a large number of J-10 Firebird multi-role fighters, older J-7 Fishbed and J-8 Finback fighters, and JH-7 Flounder fighter-bombers.
China technically has a larger force. However, with the tensions in the South China Sea, as well as a maritime territorial dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, the Chinese cannot focus all of their force on India, at the risk of facing a conflict on three fronts.
FlightGlobal.com notes that the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force has roughly 190 fighters and fighter-bombers on hand, but over 100 of them are older J-7, J-8, and Q-5 aircraft that would be overmatched by Japan.
India faces a somewhat similar division problem due to Pakistan’s relatively close military relationship with China, but that is arguably more of an extension of a single front. Most of Pakistan’s combat aircraft are also older designs like the Mirage III, Mirage 5, and J-7.
This becomes the biggest factor in any Sino-Indian air war. China could theoretically crush the Indian Air Force by focusing all its fighting power on the task.
The problem China faces is that such a focus would prove a Phyrric victory, as its claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea could become highly vulnerable. But if China sends in only part of its force, it risks seeing the People’s Liberation Army Air Force be defeated in detail.
India, on the other hand, faces no such problems. As such, it has a good chance to win an air war with China, simply because the Indians don’t face a potential second front.
Marine One is an icon of the presidency and for the most part, one helicopter has carried that load for almost 60 years: The VH-3, which first carried President Eisenhower in 1961. The current D model of the VH-3 entered service in 1978 and was later backed up with the introduction of the VH-60N in 1987. But, the fact remains that both of these helicopters are getting older by the day.
The first effort to replace them was the VXX program. This program got started in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when some possible shortcomings in the current Marine One airframes were identified. The program was marred by frequent delays, cost overruns, constantly changing requirements, and unresponsiveness on the side of the U.S. government. In 2009, the program was called off.
The need for a new Marine One remained.
The VH-3D Sea King has been used as Marine One since 1978.
(White House photo by Paul Morse)
So, the Corps started work on a new Marine One program in 2010, culminating with a requests for proposals in 2012. Sikorsky, now a division of Lockheed, won the second round of the competition in 2013. This time around, the Marines are going about getting their new Marine One very differently. The Marine One replacement’s acquisition strategy is centered on two main principles: First, well-defined and achievable requirements, and second, a low-risk, technical approach.
The latter is epitomized by the use of the S-92 helicopter (in essence, a souped-up UH-60) that has seen service with a number of civilian, government, and military operators ranging from China Southern Airlines to the Canadian Navy (as the CH-148 Cyclone). Plans call for 23 VH-92s, as it is designated, to replace both the VH-3 and VH-60 by 2023. These choppers can be hauled anywhere in the world on a C-17 Globemaster III or C-5 Galaxy cargo plane.
The other Marine One, the VH-60N, has been used since 1987.
(White House photo by Eric Draper)
Now, you may wonder why so the US government wants so many of these helicopters? Well, the current composition of HMX-1’s Marine Ones is a total of 11 VH-3Ds and 8 VH-60Ns. That’s because, these days, Marine One never flies alone. Often, as many as five “Marine Ones” will be in the air, creating, in essence, a five-card monte game for a terrorist. While Marine One hasn’t been attacked in real life, it was shot down by a narco-terrorist in the 1990 novel Under Siege written by Navy veteran Stephen Coonts. Of course, the new Marine One is equipped with multiple countermeasure systems to protect against such an attack should the worst happen.
The VH-92 will be expected to handle the important duty of Presidential transport for a long time. It certainly will have big shoes to fill coming after the distinguished service provided by the VH-3 and VH-60.
In 1979, there wasn’t a single woman working a fire season as a smokejumper in the United States.
Since their beginnings in 1939, the smokejumpers were exclusively an all-male unit, famously known as the wildland firefighters who parachuted from airplanes to fight forest fires. Throughout the years they encompassed unorthodox programs such as the Triple Nickles, an all-Black US Army Airborne unit, which protected the Pacific Northwest against Japanese balloon bombs during World War II. A detachment of smokejumpers was even contracted by the CIA to work as “kickers” to kick out supplies in remote areas all over the world, including in Tibet and during the secret war in Laos.
For some 40 years the smokejumpers were a boys’ club, unaffected by the evolving wildland firefighting culture of the 1970s and 1980s — one in which women were proving they belonged. In other highly trained units, such as the hotshots and helitack crews, the women excelled. Then Deanne Shulman came along to show why the smokejumpers should be open to women, too.
Shulman, a Californian, had begun her career working in the fire community with an engine crew only five years prior. She cut her teeth on a helitack crew rappelling from helicopters to suppress forest fires for the 1975 and 1976 fire seasons. In the two years that followed, she was a valued member of the hot-hots, a hotshot crew where she used chain saws to fell trees and Pulaski tools to dig fire lines. Digging fire lines is a common strategy wildland firefighters employ to set a break between the moving fire and oxygen-enriched vegetation.
When Shulman completed her physical and mental tests to become a smokejumper in 1979, she was kicked out of the program because she was underweight, just 5 pounds below the 130-pound requirement. She filed an Equal Opportunity Commission complaint and was allowed to volunteer again in 1981.
Her rookie training class was at the McCall Smokejumper Base in Idaho. Among the grueling physical tests required for each candidate to pass was carrying a 115-pound pack 3 1/2 miles to mimic the backcountry conditions smokejumpers often find themselves in. She also had to complete eight jumps to be certified, and when she passed she became the first female smokejumper in the country.
“When I showed up at McCall, some [smokejumpers] were openly supportive and receptive,” she said, reported the East Oregonian in 2015. “Others withheld judgment until they could see how I did. Some would not talk to me the whole five years I was there.”
The smokejumping community has a certain allure, and those outside it often romanticize the profession. Shulman made sure to not attach any elitism to the blue-collar profession.
“I’ve worked on a lot of different crews and stuff and the main difference is just the transportation to the fire,” she recalled in a 1984 interview. “That’s the main difference. And […] you know, that transportation does require some finesse to it, but we’re all firefighters. I worked real hard on the hotshot crew I was on; I’ve worked real hard on all the crews I’ve been on.”
Shulman is a trailblazer who paved the way for women in the wildland fire community. “It probably will encourage other women just to know other women are smokejumpers,” Shulman said in 1981 after being accepted into the unit. “It would have helped me. It would have been nice to have someone.”
For the women who make up approximately 15% of the smokejumping community in the United States, Shulman became that someone.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group while conducting dual carrier and airwing operations in the Philippine Sea June 23, 2020 (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Zachary Wheeler)
The crew has seen a challenging six-month deployment, fraught with sickness and leadership upheavals since it deployed to the Asia-Pacific region in January. Two other ships with the carrier strike group — the destroyer Russell and guided-missile cruiser Bunker Hill — returned to California on Wednesday, officials with Third Fleet announced.
Electronics Technician 1st Class Vincent Testagrossa, a sailor assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Russell, hugs his family following his return to Naval Base San Diego after a six-month deployment, July 8, 2020. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin C. Leitner)
The Roosevelt’s crew lost two sailors during the deployment. Aviation Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Justin Calderone, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 146, died last week following a medical emergency. In April, Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. died of complications due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Weeks earlier, the ship’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, was relieved of command over his handling of an emailed warning about the carrier’s growing health crisis as COVID-19 cases began to spread rapidly. Crozier was one of the 1,273 crew members to contract the virus in the Navy’s largest outbreak to date.
Crozier’s relief was followed up with an unplanned visit from then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who flew nearly 8,000 miles from Washington, D.C., to Guam, where the carrier was sidelined for about two months as the crew was evacuated and isolated. Modly, who had fired Crozier, slammed the captain’s decision to send an emailed warning about the coronavirus cases on the Roosevelt, calling him “too naïve or too stupid” to serve as their commanding officer.
The speech was recorded and obtained by media outlets, including Military.com. Modly faced backlash over his speech and the decision to fly across the globe to deliver it. He stepped down April 7, leaving the Navy secretary position suddenly vacant for the second time in six months.
The Roosevelt spent about one-third of its deployment docked in Guam. Much of the crew was moved into hotels and other facilities as the ship was disinfected, but the coronavirus spread rampantly among its personnel, eventually infecting about a quarter of the sailors on the ship.
That was after Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday recommended that Crozier be reinstated as the Roosevelt’s commanding officer. When pressed to address his reversal, Gilday said his initial recommendation was based only on a “narrowly scoped investigation” that examined Crozier’s email warning.
“I was tasked to take a look at those facts against then-Acting Secretary Modly’s justification for relieving him,” Gilday told reporters, “and I did not feel that the … facts supported the justification.”
“It is because of what he didn’t do that I have chosen not to reinstate him,” Gilday said, adding that Crozier was slow to put in place measures to keep the crew safe during the outbreak and released some members who’d been quarantined too quickly.
In June, the Roosevelt saw another crisis when an F/A-18F Super Hornet crashed into the Philippine Sea during a routine training flight. Both the pilot and weapon systems officer safely ejected and were recovered by an MH-60S helicopter.
Hundreds of members of the Roosevelt’s crew opted to participate in a study between the Navy and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looking at how coronavirus affects young people living in close quarters. The study found about a third of participants who’d tested positive for COVID-19 developed antibodies for the illness.