5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about - We Are The Mighty
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5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about


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Hundreds of heroes have emerged through the ranks of all service branches with remarkable stories of courage and selflessness.

And while some stories are well known, the ones we talk about in this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast are seldom told. You’d think these stories are made up, like the tale of airman “Snuffy,” or propaganda ploys to recruit more troops. Either way, every service member should know about these Air Force legends and their badassery.

Also read: 10 legendary heroes of the US Air Force

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Here’s a brief description of our heroes for reference:

1. Col. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the Tuskegee airman who almost shot Muammar Qaddafi. Chappie was already a legend before calling out Qaddafi in 1968, having served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

2. Sgt. Maynard “Snuffy” Smith, the original airman Snuffy. Despite being an undisciplined slacker avoided by everyone, Snuffy rose to the challenge in the face of certain death to save his crew.

3. Douglas W. Morrell, the combat cameraman who lived the entire history of the Air Force.

5. Eddie Rickenbacker, the race car driver-turned airman who broke all of the Air Force’s records.

6. Charlie Brown, the B-17 Flying Fortress pilot who was spared by German ace fighter pilot Oberleutnant Franz Stigler. These two rivals became close friends after meeting in 1990.

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Articles

These awesome memes show that Santa is operator AF

Operator Santa is coming to town, boys and girls.


The hilarious meme writer(s?) over at The Salty Soldier have released a new line of Santa-themed memes and they’re pretty spectacular:

1. You’ll be lucky if you even hear the boards creak before the breach charge goes off:


2. Santa’s so quiet in your house because he’s used to doing a few raids per night the rest of the year.


3. It’s not like Santa’s getting three square from the DFAC every day. Leave him some complex carbs and protein for crying out loud.


4. Why not sleigh and fast ropes? That thing flies at supersonic speeds.


5. Santa’s collects a lot of data before he puts you on the “Naughty,” “Nice,” or “BOLO” list.


6. Speaking of his BOLO list:


MIGHTY HISTORY

4 tactical blunders the British made in the Revolutionary War

The American War of Independence, as the British like to call it, was the the rebels’ war to lose.


With the superior military and economy of Britain, many expected the rebellion in the colonies to be over quickly. So, how did the world’s greatest superpower of the time fail to subdue an insurrection in the small colonies of America?

The truth is there are numerous reasons, but at least four of those happen to be costly mistakes on the part of the British.

1. The Battle of Bunker Hill

 

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
Maybe if the Brits had issued sunglasses, things could have been different. (Painting: The Battle of Bunker’s Hill by E. Percy Morgan)

The British had a knack for defeating the Americans at such a high cost that they themselves often had to retreat after the battle.

This began very early in the war with the Battle of Bunker Hill. The British charged the American redoubts on Breed’s Hill repeatedly and although they eventually drove the Americans back, they lost so many experienced officers and men that General Clinton remarked, “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”

Due to the British military system, those loses were difficult to replace.

The British attack was a blunder for several reasons.

The preferred British tactics of the time favored bayonet skills over shooting skills. The Americans had defensive works and were crack shots. They were famously told, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”

As the British advanced across open ground they were mowed down by American sharpshooters. Their return volleys were ineffectual because of the American defenses. Once the British successfully stormed the redoubt on their third attempt, the Americans simply retreated, as they lacked bayonets with which to fight the redcoats.

Worst of all for the British, they could have simply cut off the neck of the peninsula and left the Americans with nowhere to run.

2. Howe’s capture of Philadelphia

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
A color mezzotint of General Sir William Howe. (From the Anne S.K. Brown Military History Collection at Brown University | PD-US)

Gen. Howe’s capture of Philadelphia was rife with tactical and strategic blunders that likely spelled the beginning of the end of Britain’s hopes of quelling the American Revolution.

Howe’s first major blunder was wanting to take Philadelphia in the first place. Typical Continental strategy of the day said to drive the enemy from the field and take his capital, at which point he will capitulate. However, after taking several American cities and defeating the Americans in multiple battles, this outcome had failed to materialize.

Yet, Howe, the commander-in-chief of British forces in America, failed to realize this and strove to capture Philadelphia.

This action might not have gone down as such an incredible blunder if it hadn’t been for another issue — it left Gen. Burgoyne’s troops without support in the Hudson River Valley.

As most American high school students know, American forces under Gen. Horatio Gates were able to surround and capture the British force at the Battle of Saratoga. This victory brought the much needed support of France and ended British hopes of conquering New England.

Howe would successfully capture Philadelphia but the Continental Congress escaped into the Pennsylvania countryside. In order to secure New York, Howe would have to abandon Philadelphia the next year.

3. The Battle of Cowpens

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
The Battle of Cowpens, painted by William Ranney in 1845. The scene depicts an unnamed black soldier (left) firing his pistol and saving the life of Colonel William Washington (on white horse in center).

The Battle of Cowpens was a major turning point towards the end of the war, and another costly blunder for the British.

British forces, led by the young, brash, Col. Banastre Tarleton, were seeking to advance into North Carolina after successfully subduing much of Georgia and South Carolina.

Tarleton’s arrogance and overconfidence were playing right into a trap that the American commander, Daniel Morgan, had set for him. Morgan planned to use his militia as bait, to lure Tarleton into a false sense of victory and then hit him hard with his Continental Regulars.

Tarleton helped Morgan’s cause by driving his force relentlessly in pursuit of the Americans. His men had nearly run out of food and had been roused at two in the morning to continue their pursuit of Morgan. They arrived at the battlefield weak and exhausted.

Once engaged, Morgan’s ruse worked like a charm. The British force suffered over 100 men killed, 200 men wounded, and 500 men and two cannons captured. Combined with a defeat at King’s Mountain prior to the battle, the British position in the South was becoming more precarious.

4. The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
Painting of the Battle of Guilford Court House (March 15, 1781) from Soldiers of the American Revolution by H. Charles McBarron.

Exasperated by the losses at King’s Mountain and Cowpens, Lord Cornwallis sallied forth against Gen. Nathaniel Greene’s numerically superior force.

Determined to pin down Greene and decisively defeat his army in the south, Cornwallis sought battle at Guilford Courthouse where Greene’s army was camped. Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, Cornwallis’ troops engaged.

The battle was the largest of the southern theatre and despite his numerical advantage, Greene was unable to defeat Cornwallis’ veteran troops. After over two hours of intense combat, Greene withdrew his army from the field.

Though Cornwallis had defeated Greene, his victory was pyrrhic, and failed to decisively destroy the Patriot army. Cornwallis had lost nearly a quarter of his force killed or wounded in the battle. Losses that were increasingly difficult to absorb for the British army.

Cornwallis’ fateful decision forced him to withdraw to Yorktown to await reinforcements. At Yorktown, Cornwallis’ tactical blunders would cost the British the war. First, he failed to breakout when he had the chance, then he gave up his outer defenses, hastening his defeat.

With no reinforcements and under siege, Cornwallis surrendered his force to Gen. Washington, effectively ending hostilities in the American Revolution.

Articles

This is why officers should just stay in the office

Army Sgt. David Logan Nye just wanted to do his job during his first combat deployment.


But that’s not how the military works.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
Who needs a metal detector when you have hopes and dreams? (Go90 No Sh*t There I Was Screenshot)

Also read: This is why the military shouldn’t completely outlaw hazing

In this episode of No Sh*t There I Was, Nye sets off on a fools-errand with a bunch of high brass and a very stressed out guy charged with detecting IEDs. When they hear a call on the radio that a potential insurgent is fleeing a checkpoint, they take off running to intercept — leaving the metal detector behind.

“Pass the guy protecting us from IEDs…because there are too many probable IEDs on the ground…?” Nye’s inner monologue reflects that of everyone who has ever had to deal with an overly-enthusiastic boss.

Luckily, the rag-tag group of heroes didn’t encounter any IEDs that day, but they did stumble upon something else much more…groovy? Check out the video at the top to see what it was.

Oh, and to my fellow officers out there, let’s try to get in the way of the experts a little less, shall we?

Watch more No Sh*t There I Was:

Why it sucks to report to the ‘Good Idea Fairy’

A Ranger describes what being a ‘towed jumper’ is actually like

Why you should never run through smoke you didn’t throw

Smooth talking your way through gear turn-in is a stinky proposition

Articles

This Delta Force rescue was the first attack of ‘Operation Just Cause’

As the United States was preparing to carry out the invasion of Panama, dubbed “Operation Just Cause,” there was a very real problem that had to be dealt with before any meaningful operation against Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega could take place.


The regime had an American hostage in its prison, and the guards where this hostage was being held had orders to kill him if America attacked.

According to an account posted on SpecialOperations.com, Kurt Muse had been making pirate radio broadcasts until he was arrested in early 1989. He’d received some technical assistance from the CIA to make those broadcasts, which had the goal of taking Noriega down a peg or two.

Muse would daily hear – or see – Noriega’s thugs torture inmates at the prison.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
A MH-6 Little Bird carrying troops on the outrigger, similar to the technique used during Operation Acid Gambit. (DOD photo)

As tensions increased, Muse was visited by a military officer, later identified as Air Force Col. James A. Ruffer, who would pass reports to Delta Force. The special operators constructed a full-scale mock-up of the prison where Muse was held captive, and the Delta commandos carried out numerous rehearsals.

On December 19, 1989, Muse would receive his last visit. In the presence of reporters, prison guards, and others, the colonel asked Muse if he was aware that orders had been issued by Noriega to kill him if the United States carried out any military action against Panama.

Muse said he understood.

The colonel then made a statement that if Muse were to be harmed, nobody in the prison would emerge alive.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
A US Army MH-6 Little Bird. (DOD photo)

Muse knew that something was up.

At 12:45 AM on the morning of Dec. 20, 15 minutes before the official H-Hour, two AH-6 Little Bird helicopters carried out an attack on a nearby military compound using M134 Miniguns and Hydra rockets. One of the helicopters would be damaged and forced to crash-land, with the crew making an escape.

Two AC-130H Spectres then carried out their own attack on that compound, using a tactic called “Top Hat.” The massive volume of fire from the gunships had the effect of drawing the attention of Noriega’s goons.

As that went on, MH-6 Little Birds landed on the roof of the prison and deposited Delta commandos. The operators went through the prison, killing anyone who resisted the rescue. They reached Muse’s cell, forced it open, bundled Muse into body armor and a helmet, then began their exfil.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
A M113 armored personnel carrier. (DOD photo)

The MH-6 Muse was loaded on took some hits. In a display of superb airmanship, the pilot would fly the helo down a side street until it was hit again and crashed. Ironically, Muse would help defend the perimeter until they were retrieved by U.S. Army armored personnel carriers.

Operation “Acid Gambit” ended with the mission accomplished.

Articles

The Marines are testing this machine gun-wielding death robot

The Marine Corps is actively testing a robotic system outfitted with sensors and cameras that can be armed with an M240 machine gun.


It’s called the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, and it looks crazy.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Frank Cordoba

Just last week, infantry Marines from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines were taking the robot out on training patrols at Camp Pendleton. Later this month, they’ll head to the Marines’ desert training site at 29 Palms, California to fire off plenty of live rounds.

If it were actually fielded, MAARS would complement the 13-person infantry squad that typically carries small arms, offering up a tracked vehicle that can zone in on targets with a mounted M240B machine gun firing 7.62mm NATO rounds.

It can carry about 400 rounds, or it can be reconfigured to tote a 40mm grenade launcher instead. The Qinetiq-built robot only hits 7 mph for a top speed (which is fast enough for troops who are walking alongside it) and can run for 8 to 12 hours.

Of course, it does have some limitations. It’s not totally hands-free, since operators need to hand reload it, and it could be stopped by rougher terrain. But MAARS is just one of many technologies the Corps is testing for its Warfighting Laboratory in an effort to field the “Marine Corps of 2025.”

Among other technologies that the Corps is considering are a fully-autonomous ground support vehicle, multiple smaller scale drones, and a precision airborne strike weapon that a grunt can carry in a backpack.

The MAARS also has a big brother nearly five times its weight that can be outfitted with an M134 minigun.

This is the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, or MAARS for short. It’s an unmanned ground vehicle that can be outfitted with a medium machine gun or a grenade launcher.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
Qinetiq

Infantry Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines were testing it out last week to see how it would mesh within their unit and work alongside them.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Frank Cordoba

They control it with the Tactical Robotic Controller, which lets them see what it sees, and target the bad guys. The TRC can also control a bunch of other gadgets, such as drones and ground sensors.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
US Marine Corps

Besides being an awesome death-dealing robot, it can also drag wounded Marines off the battlefield if they are injured.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
US Marine Corps

It also has a much bigger brother: The Robotic Vehicle Modular/Combat Area Robotic Targeting (RVM/CART). Besides its size, it can pack a lot more firepower with an M134 Minigun.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
US Marine Corps

With an insanely high rate of fire of 2,000 to 6,000 rounds per minute, that makes it the grunt’s best friend. Marines can also mount a laser on top to target enemies for precision airstrikes.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
US Marine Corps

Here’s everything it can do right now.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
US Marine Corps

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The only off-duty NYPD officer killed on 9/11 was hours from retiring

It’s usually awesome when life imitates art – especially when that art form is an action movie. The good guys usually overcome big odds and the bad guys usually get put away. But cop life doesn’t work out like that sometimes. In the movies, when a cop is just days away from retirement, the audience knows he may not make it. But real life isn’t supposed to be like that.

Unfortunately for NYPD officer John William Perry, the morning he turned in his retirement papers was Sept. 11, 2001. And he wasn’t about to miss his calling that day.


5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

John Perry was not your average New York cop. A graduate of NYU Law School, he had an immigration law practice before he ever went to the police academy. He was a linguist who spoke Spanish, Swedish, Russian, and Portuguese, among others. Not bad for anyone, let alone a kid who grew up in Brooklyn with a learning disability. He even joined the New York State Guard and worked as a social worker for troubled kids.

He was a jack of all trades, beloved by all. He even took a few roles as an extra in NY-based television and film.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

He was appointed to the NYPD in 1993 and was assigned to the 40th Precinct, in the Bronx borough of New York. The morning of September 11, he was off-duty, filing his retirement papers at 1 Police Plaza. In his next career, he wanted to be a medical malpractice lawyer. That’s when someone told him about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Instead of leaving his badge, he picked it back up.

He dashed the few blocks to the scene and immediately began assisting other first responders with the rescue operation. Perry was last seen helping a woman out of the South Tower when it fell just before 10 a.m. that day.

“Apparently John was too slow carrying this woman,” said Arnold Wachtel, Perry’s close friend. “But knowing John, he would never leave that lady unattended. That was just like him to help people.”

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

Some 72 law enforcement officers and 343 FDNY firemen were killed in the 9/11 attacks that morning. John William Perry was the only off-duty NYPD officer who died in the attack. An estimated 25,000 people were saved by those who rushed to their aid, leaving only 2,800 civilians to die at the World Trade Center site. President George W. Bush awarded those killed in the attack the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor. Perry was also posthumously awarded the New York City Police Department’s Medal of Honor.

Articles

Here are the best military photos for the week of Mar. 18

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


AIR FORCE:

The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team deputes their 2017 routine during the 81st Training Group drill down at the Levitow Training Support Facility drill pad March 10, 2017, on Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The team comes to Keesler every year for five weeks to develop a new routine that they will use throughout the year.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. David J. Murphy

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base (AFB), Texas, takes off March 10, 2017, at Andersen AFB, Guam. The B-1B’s are deployed to Andersen as part of U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence operations. This forward deployed presence demonstrates continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Most importantly, these bomber rotations provide Pacific Air Forces and USPACOM commanders an extended deterrence capability.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Skovo

ARMY:

U.S. Army Spc. Vincent Ventarola, assigned to Cobra Battery, Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, pulls the lanyard on a M777 Howitzer during Exercise Dynamic Front II at the 7th Army Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, March 9, 2017. Dynamic Front is an artillery operability exercise and focuses on developing solutions within the theater level fires system by executing multi-echelon fires and testing interoperability at the tactical level. It includes nearly 1,400 participants from nine NATO nations.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach

Two CH-47 Chinook helicopters from 12th Combat Aviation Brigade conduct environmental qualifications and sling-load training with M777 howitzers, Jan. 18, 2017, outside Grafenwoehr, Germany. Aircrews practice flying in whiteout conditions areas with heavy snow fall and wind.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Armyphoto by Capt. Jaymon Bell

NAVY:

EAST CHINA SEA (March 16, 2017) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Jesse Harris, assigned to amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), braces himself as an MV-22B Osprey, assigned to the “Flying Tigers” of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 262, takes off during an air assault exercise. Bonhomme Richard is on a routine patrol operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to enhance warfighting readiness and posture forward as a ready-response force for any type of contingency.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Jesse Marquez Magallanes

SUEZ CANAL (March 10, 2017) Sailors gather on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) to view the Friendship Bridge as the ship transits the Suez Canal. George H.W. Bush and its carrier strike group are deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael B. Zingaro

MARINE CORPS:

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryce Meeker, a hospital corpsman with 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, scouts out the terrain during Exercise Forest Light 17-1 at Somagahara, Japan, March 10, 2017. Forest Light is designed to maintain readiness of Japan Ground Self-Defense and deployed U.S. Marine Corps forces to ensure an effective and rapid response to any contingency in the region.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaac Ibarra

The U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon performs during the Battle Color Ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, March 2, 2017. The ceremony was held to celebrate Marine Corps history using music, marching and precision drill.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christian Oliver Cach

COAST GUARD:

Coast Guard and NOAA responders confer during whale disentanglement operations off Maui March 11, 2017. The services received a report of an entangled humpback whale off Maui prompting a two-day response to remove a large electrical cable from the mouth of the whale.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Lester

The crew of a Coast Guard MH-65 rescue helicopter rescued overdue kayaker Josh Kaufman (center) during the morning of March 17, 2017, after being stranded on the uninhabited island of Desecheo, approximately 13 nautical miles off Rincon, Puerto Rico. Kaufman, 25, a resident of Fla. was visiting his family in Puerto Rico, when he was reported being overdue to the Coast Guard from a kayak trip in Rincon March 16, 2017.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

Articles

If you watch any Pearl Harbor movie on Dec. 7 it should be this one

When it comes to the events of Dec. 7, 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — two films stand out.


There is the 1970 classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” which featured some of the biggest directors from American and Japanese cinema.

And then there is the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor,” directed by Michael Bay, and which had major stars like Academy Award winners Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Jon Voight.

So, which film was better?

Tora! Tora! Tora!

Pros: This film really delved into the history of the attack, including many of the factors as they were known back then. The strategic context of Japan’s decision to launch the attack is covered here.

Within the very real limits of special effects technology, you experience the attack. The cast plays the roles well — remarkable given the lack of big-name stars. They also catch the American arrogance at the time – underestimating Japan while at the same time knowing they were going to hit us somewhere.

Using American and Japanese talent also brought much more realism to this film, bringing a very good balance. The footage was so good, it was re-used in a number of other World War II epics, and for a flashback in a Magnum, P.I. episode!

Cons: The special effects are pretty cheesy in some cases. You also catch historical anachronisms – like the presence of USS Ticonderoga (CV 14). Also, this film is 46 years old – in some ways, scholarship and history has overtaken it.

Pearl Harbor

Pros: The special effects make the experience of the attack far more intense. You also have some very good talent on screen, including three who won various Academy Awards. There were other future stars as well, including Josh Hartnett (“Black Hawk Down”) and Jennifer Garner (“Alias,” “The Kingdom,” “Elektra”).

Cons: Where do we start? How about the contrived storylines, particularly with Ben Affleck’s character? Maybe the unrealistic stuff as well, like the implausible selection of the characters played by Affleck and Hartnett to take part in the Doolittle Raid?

Not to mention the still-obvious errors (many of the “ships” hit in the film were Spruance-class destroyers in reserve). Not to mention the distracting romantic triangle. The biggest con is that we had a chance to capitalize on 30 years of new scholarship on World War II, and we got melodrama instead.

Which of these films comes out better? Believe it or not, the classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” despite its age, holds up much better.

Articles

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
Oregon National Guardsmen in Afghanistan, 2008. (Photo: Gary Mortensen)


Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.

Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.

I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale  “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.

In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.

Enter Team Cobra

A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army.  They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.

Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece.  Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.

Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.

 

Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.

Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them.  I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.

When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.

In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and  some of them are there today.

I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.

MIGHTY HISTORY

16 facts you never knew about the American flag

It’s time to get out your stars and stripes – it’s Flag Day! June 14, 1777, is the date that Congress officially chose the design for our flag, and Americans have been pledging their allegiance to it ever since. While you’ll only get the day off work if you live in Pennsylvania, the state where the flag originated, the holiday’s history and meaning are important to know. Whether you’re reading this on Flag Day or any other day, these facts are fun enough to learn all year long.


5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

upload.wikimedia.org

1. Betsy Ross may not be the flag’s real designer

Betsy Ross is often cited as the designer of the first American Flag, but we have little evidence to support that claim. Her grandson presented statements by his own family in 1870, but beyond that, there’s no proof. Some historians want to transfer the credit to Francis Hopkinson, who was named as the flag’s designer in journals from the Continental Congress.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

upload.wikimedia.org

2. The celebration of the flag was invented by a teacher

In 1885, a 19-year-old teacher named Bernard J. CiGrand asked his class to write an essay on the symbolism of our flag. He spent the following half-century trying to make Flag Day a national holiday.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

live.staticflickr.com

3. There have been 27 official versions of the American flag

On the American flag, the stripes represent the 13 original colonies, while the stars represent each state. Since there weren’t always 50 states, there weren’t always 50 stars. Each flag was similar, but with a different number of stars. If you visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, you can see the remnants of the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that inspired the national anthem.

4. The colors of the flag have important meanings

Red, white and blue were chosen to represent, respectively, valor, liberty and purity. The colors also have specific names; “Old Glory Blue,” “Old Glory Red”, and white. Just plain white.

5. The current version of the flag was designed by a student

In 1949, 17-year-old Robert G. Heft created an updated flag for a class project, and the poor kid only got a B-. Luckily, that didn’t dissuade him. He submitted his idea to President Eisenhower when Alaska and Hawaii gained statehood. Our of over 1500 submissions, his design was chosen.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

6. The flag has rules of its own. Lots of them.

According to the U.S. Flag Code:

– The flag shouldn’t be flown in bad weather.
– It should be raised and lowered slowly.
– No other flags should be placed above it.
– When flags from two or more nations are flown, they should rest on separate poles at the same height. They should also be about the same size.
– It must be flown at every school and during all school days.
– If flown at night, the flag should be illuminated.
– Flags can be burned if they become damaged and can no longer be flown.
– And many more.

7. You can’t sign your name on it

Despite what flag-signing politicians would have you believe, The Flag Code strictly prohibits adding any markings or drawings to the flag.

8. … or put it on a t-shirt

Every 4th of July, half the country is decked out in stars and stripes. As it turns out, we’re not really supposed to do that. The Flag Code actually specifies that the Stars and Stripes should never be used on clothing, bedding, or decorations. Considering how much Americans love our flag merch, that’s one rule we’ll probably keep breaking for a long, long time.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

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9. Flying a flag upside down isn’t necessarily disrespectful

At least not in the way you’re thinking of. An upside-down flag isn’t usually a signal of protest, rather, it’s a signal of distress. On your next cruise, if you see someone frantically waving an upside-down flag on a nearby island, he’s probably not a rebel. He’s stranded.

10. Burning a flag isn’t technically illegal

Historically, unlike flying a flag upside down, burning the flag WAS done as an act of protest. The Flag Protection Act of 1968 made this illegal, but the act was revoked 20 years later. The Supreme Court ruled that the government couldn’t limit citizens’ First Amendment rights, making it legal to do whatever you want to a flag with no legal consequences.

11. Indestructible flags exist

Historically, enemies of the United States have burned or defaced our flag to make a statement. (That’s why messing with the flag is a really, really bad idea, even if it’s not illegal!) To protect defaced flags from being used as a propaganda tool by enemies, a Green Beret veteran has designed an all but indestructible flag. Made out of kevlar and Nomex, the new materials ensure the flag can’t be burned or torn while still allowing it to fly naturally. Here’s how to order your Firebrand Flag today (and the first 150 WATM readers to order get off and free shipping – a additional savings!)

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

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12. Using the American flag in burial ceremonies isn’t just for veterans

While draping the flag over the coffins of government officials and veterans is common practice, it’s not their exclusive right. Anyone can adopt this tradition if they like it!

13. Old Glory was the nickname of a specific American flag 

We now refer to any ol’ flag as Old Glory, but that wasn’t always the case. It started with a sea captain named William Driver, who nicknamed the flag on his ship “Old Glory” when he saw it flying on his ship’s mast back in 1831. It was such a good nickname that it stuck for good.

14. After 9/11 we held our flag a little closer

National tragedies are known for bringing our country together. According to Karen Burke of Walmart’s Corporate Communications, their stores sold 115,000 flags on September 11, 2001, compared to only 6,400 flags in 2000. In the following year, they sold a whopping 7.8 million US flags- around triple the sales of the previous year.

15. There are 6 American flags on the moon

…but only 5 are standing. Over the course of many moon expeditions, six US flags have been planted. The wind generated by the landing and takeoff of a shuttle, however, dislodged the original flag placed there by Neil Armstrong during the first-ever moon landing.

16. ‘Gilligan’s Island’ directors respected the flag.

During the opening sequence of the first season of the show, the American flag is filmed at half-staff. This was done to honor President Kennedy, who was assassinated the day the pilot episode was filmed.

You don’t have to walk to the moon to honor our flag. Kick off the Flag Day festivities by learning how to properly fold a flag, learn more about its history, or try one of these tasty, patriotic treats!

Which fact was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Kilted Killer’ forced a surrender while outnumbered 23,000 to one

Tommy Macpherson was known to his enemies as the “Kilted Killer.” The Scotsman fought with the British 11 Commando during World War II, roaming the countryside with French Resistance fighters and causing so much havoc and damage that the Nazis put a 300,000 Franc bounty on his head.

No one ever collected.


Especially not any Nazis.

Imperial War Museum

For a guy with a huge bounty on his head, you’d have never known it to look at Macpherson. He dressed in the same tartan kilt he would have worn back home in Edinburgh as he did killing Nazis in Operation Jedburgh. But just getting to Europe for the operation was a slog of its own. Macpherson was captured during a raid on Erwin Rommel’s headquarters near Tobruk in 1941. He spent years making no fewer than seven escape attempts from POW camps across Italy, Germany, and occupied Poland. He was finally successful in 1943, escaping to England via Sweden. He immediately rejoined his commando unit, just in time for Operation Jedburgh.

The Jedburgh operators were going to parachute into occupied Europe and embark on a stream of sabotage and guerrilla attacks against the Nazi occupiers. Macpherson, knowing he would have to use the full force of his personality to take command of the resistance fighters, the Maquis, he chose to wear a full highland battle dress, including his Cameron tartan kilt. It worked.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

Hell yeah it did.

(Imperial War Museum)

Macpherson and his squad immediately began cutting a path of destruction across The Netherlands, destroying bridges and killing or capturing any German troops and officers who came through that path. It was said that Macpherson and company managed to successfully conduct some kind of operation every day he was deployed in Western Europe. But his crowning achievement came in France in the days following the D-Day invasions, stopping the Das Reich Panzer Division in its tracks.

Coming from the Eastern Front, this SS Panzer division was particularly brutal. When Macpherson saw them for the first time, he saw at least 15,000 men and 200 tanks and other armored vehicles that he had to knock out of the war before they pushed the Allies back into the sea.

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
Russland, Appell der SS-Division “Das Reich”

(German War Archives)

Using plastic explosives, grenades dangling from trees, and one anti-tank mine, the British commando, and his Maquis unit managed to slow the Panzers down to a crawl. They chopped down trees at night, used hit and run attacks with their sten guns, and placed booby traps everywhere, anything they could to keep the Panzers away from the Allied landing for as long as possible. The effort worked, and it took the SS two weeks to cover what should have taken three days.

His biggest achievement came without firing a shot, however. He had to keep another Panzer division, some 23,000 men strong, from taking a vital bridge in the Loire Valley. He somehow managed a parlay with the opposing commander, meeting the command deep inside German-held territory. He told the Germans he could call on the RAF to destroy his entire column – which he couldn’t do.

“My job was to convince the general that I had a brigade, tanks and artillery waiting on the other side of the river,” Macpherson later said. “In truth, the only thing I could whistle up was Dixie, but he had no way of knowing that.”

5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

Macpherson was just 23 years old negotiating the surrender of a Panzer division.

The German looked at the young man in full highland battle dress and offered his surrender on the condition they could carry sidearms until they were met by the U.S. 83rd Infantry. Macpherson agreed, almost singlehandedly knocking an entire tank division out of the war, securing the Loire Bridgehead. He survived the war and continued his service in the British military. He died in 2014.

MIGHTY HISTORY

100 years after a grisly murder, rare photos of the last Russian Tsar emerge

After Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries early on the morning of July 17, 1918, a collection of the royal family’s personal photographs was smuggled out of Russia. The albums offer a haunting glimpse into the life of a family destined for tragedy.


5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about
5 Air Force legends with incredible stories you need to know about

28. Tsar Nicholas II and his son Aleksei sawing wood while in captivity. They were killed a few months later. The diary of a senior Soviet leader recalls that Vladimir Lenin made the decision to have the Romanovs executed, after concluding “we shouldn’t leave the [anti-Bolshevik forces] a living emblem to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances.”

(All photos courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.)

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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