Fighter aces are a rare and legendary breed: People who are not only skilled enough to fly jets in combat, but so good at it that they can knock down at least five of the enemy without dying themselves. But there’s an even more elite subset of pilots who were able to kill at least five of the enemy in a single day, sometimes a single engagement.
Here are 7 of these elite pilots:
1. 1st Lt. James Swett
Marine Corps 1st Lt. James Swett was sent against Japanese fighters near the Solomons Island on April 7, 1943. He led his four-plane flight against 15 enemy bombers and successfully shredded three of them in a single dive. Now separated from the rest of his flight, he attacked a group of six bombers and downed four of them. While lining up on a fifth bomber, he ran out of ammo.
His plane had been damaged in the fighting and he had suffered cuts to his face from a broken cockpit window. He managed to land his stricken plane into the ocean and was picked up by the Navy. His seven kills from that day were accompanied by eight more over the course of the war. He received the Medal of Honor and six Distinguished Flying Crosses.
2. 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc
During fighting in the Solomon Islands on January 31, 1943, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc was sent up to escort dive bombers targeting Japanese ships. A swarm of Japanese Zeroes rose up against them. DeBlanc and his men were able to keep the Zeroes off the dive bombers, but then he got a call for assistance from low-flying bombers that they were under attack by Japanese float planes.
DeBlanc banked down into the fight and shot his way through three of the float planes. Low on fuel and ammo, he finally banked away towards home, only to notice that two Japanese fighters were coming up behind him. DeBlanc turned back to fight and killed the two Zeroes before being forced to bail out of his plane because of the damage from all the fighting. He earned the Medal of Honor for his actions and survived the war.
Caldwell went after a group of three bombers and took out the 2nd and 3rd planes in formation with quick bursts, then he made more passes through the now-dispersed bombers and hit two more in wings and engines. Finally, he came up towards the belly of a fifth bomber and waited until he was right against it to open fire, engulfing it in flames and sending it down.
4. Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare was a legend in early World War II, and his most famous battle came just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On February 20, 1942, a flight of Japanese “Betty” bombers headed for the USS Lexington. One flight of Navy F4F Wildcats went after the first wave, and O’Hare and his wingman were the only ones left to defend against the second wave.
But O’Hare’s wingman experienced a gun jam, and so O’Hare had to go after eight Japanese bombers on his own. He went after the rear bombers on the right side, first, downing two of them quickly with bursts through the engines and fuel tanks. On a second pass, O’Hare destroyed two more with shots to an engine and to a left wing and cockpit. Finally, he hit two more on a third pass, leading him to believe that he had downed six. The engagement had lasted less than six minutes.
During the evacuation of Dunkirk in May, 1940, British Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke and his gunner, Cpl. Albert Lippett, were sent to help keep the beaches open for evacuation. On May 29, they were in their Defiant when their formation engaged with a group of German Bf 109 fighters and they killed one. Later in the mission, they engaged a group of Bf 109s and Bf 110s, killing one of each.
They refueled and rearmed and headed out for another mission, this time finding a group of dive bombers attacking at the beaches. Cooke positioned the plane near the ground and gave Lippett a stable platform to shoot from. The young gunner targeted the fuel tanks that sat between the German pilot and navigator, killing five over the beaches and helping kill two more.
Only two days later, they would go missing over the English Channel.
His greatest one-day total came on September 18 when he made a run on balloons and downed two, then killed two of the German fighters that came up to kill him, and then spotted and killed a German reconnaissance plane on his way back to U.S. lines.
7. Capt. Stanley Vejtasa
Navy Capt. Stanley Vejtasa is one of the few “double aces” with 10.5 confirmed aerial kills. He achieved ace status in a single day on October 26, 1942, when he killed two Japanese dive bombers attempting to sink his carrier and then turned to interrupt a torpedo attack, killing five of them for seven kills in a single mission.
But his greater contribution to the war may have been his skill in dive bombers and other planes while attacking Japanese planes. He was credited with sinking at least five ships including a carrier and damaging seven more, making him one of the very few pilots who can claim ace status against ships.
Paratroopers are a force to be reckoned with. They can slip far behind enemy lines and wreak havoc against an enemy’s support units, making life easier for those in the main assault and striking fear into those who assumed they were safely behind defenses. What’s worse (for the enemy), after the initial airborne assault, you’re left with the famous “little groups of paratroopers” — small pockets of young men brave enough to jump out of an airplane, all armed to the teeth, ready to defend themselves, and devoid of supervision.
But for as daring and lethal as paratroopers are, they’re still, essentially, light infantry once they hit the ground. Light infantry can do a lot of things, but when they’re tasked with hitting prepared positions or facing off against enemy tanks, they tend to take heavy casualties.
So, how do you reinforce troops that drop from the sky? You drop armor out of the sky, too.
The BMD-1 was the Soviets’ answer to the question of bringing armored support to their paratroopers.
In 1965, the Russians began designing an infantry fighting vehicle that could be air-dropped. Eventually, this came to be known as the BMD-1. BMD stands for Boyevaya Mashina Desanta or, in English, “airborne combat vehicle.”
The BMD-1 packs some impressive firepower: it uses the same turret as the BMP-1, packing a 73mm gun, a launcher for the AT-3 Sagger missile, a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun, and a bow-mounted 7.62mm machine gun. This vehicle has a crew of two and carries five infantry. It has a top speed of 40 miles per hour and can go a little over 370 miles on a tank of gas.
The BMD-1 was widely exported. Saddam Hussein’s regime was one of the purchasers.
(USMC photo by LCPL Andrew P. Roufs)
Unlike its American contemporary, the M551 Sheridan, a vehicle designed to support American paratroopers in similar ways, the BMD was exported to a number of Soviet clients. The BMD saw action in the Angolan Civil War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq War, Desert Storm, and fought in the Second Chechen War and the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.
Learn more about this 7.5-ton hunk of metal that’s designed to be dropped from the sky in the video below!
The city of Konstanz put itself in the record books in World War II. Not for its fighting heroics or involvement in the war, however. But for something else altogether: bluffing their way to safety. With their creative fix to making it through the war unscathed, this town was able to save its citizens and its buildings, coming out on the other side completely intact.
And how they did it is less sophisticated than you might think. They didn’t crack hidden communications or scramble GPS — this was WWII after all — they left their lights on. Yes, just like Motel 6, the town refused to go dark.
This is significant because, at the time, German towns went under blackouts during bombing raids. These were nighttime attacks when bombs were sent upon Germany and their Axis partners.
It’s a concept that’s so simple, it’s smart; without allowing American pilots light to see their targets, it was harder to be hit by subsequent bombs.
They got the idea as the neighboring town, Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, kept their lights on. Konstanz simply followed suit, pretending to be another country.
And it worked. While flying overhead, U.S. pilots assumed the lights were in Switzerland — a neutral country in the war — and avoided them as a target.
Bombing raids in WWII
During the second World War, bombing raids were a regular event. Known as air raids or strategic bombings, these events targeted key areas, with the goal to cripple enemy forces. Target areas included civilian housing, political buildings or important infrastructure, industrial markets, such as warehouses or factories, and areas of transportation, like railways or harbors. The attacks were often paired with ground forces and were most common at night to cause destruction and disrupt enemy activity.
Berlin alone saw 314 bombings, leaving at least a third of the city in ruins, and by 1945, Germany lost an average of more than 13,000 civilians a month to bombings.
The history of Konstanz
Konstanz is more than 1,000 years old and is located in South Germany near Lake Constance. It sits near the edge of the Swiss Alps and was home to a Roman Catholic principality for more than 1,200 years. Unlike actual Switzerland, however, they were quite active in the war. The town created parts for submarine radars, developed flying torpedos, and manufactured gun parts.
It’s a town full of cobblestone streets, epic stone buildings, and plenty of old world charm. Because of their successful stunt, the town is also one of the few German cities that has original buildings that are still intact. Because of this, it’s now a common tourist attraction.
The impact on the future
While something as simple as lights near the border was effective against technology during WWII, it’s unlikely that a similar tactic could be pulled off today. With more sophisticated machines, like GPS targeting down to the exact coordinate, a city — even right against the border — would likely have a different fate.
However, their braveness and ingenuity is still celebrated to this day, including their buildings and structures, which can still be toured today.
Major’s unit approached the town of Zolle in the Netherlands in April 1945 and asked for two volunteers to scout for enemy troops, an easy observe and report mission. Major and his buddy, Willy Arseneault, volunteered to go.
They were told to establish communications with the local Dutch resistance and warn them to take cover if possible, since the morning’s attack would open with heavy artillery and the Canadians wanted to limit civilian casualties.
Major could have turned back at this point and reported the loss of his friend, or he could have carefully completed the mission and carried news of the German strength back to his command. Instead, he decided to go full commando and sow terror in the hearts of his enemies.
He captured a German driver and ordered his hostage to take him into a bar in Zwolle. There, Major found a German officer and told him that a massive Canadian attack was coming.
The Canadian then gave the German hostage his weapon back and sent him into the night on his own. As the rumor started to spread that Canadians were in the town and preparing a massive assault, Major went on a one-man rampage.
He tossed grenades throughout the town, avoiding civilians and limiting damage to structures but sowing as much panic as possible. He also fired bursts from a submachine gun and, whenever he ran into Germans, he laid down as much hurt as possible.
At one point, he stumbled into a group of eight Germans and, despite being outnumbered, killed four of them and drove off the rest.
He also lit the local SS headquarters on fire.
Major’s campaign of terror had the intended effect. The German forces, convinced they were under assault by a well-prepared and possibly superior force, withdrew from the city. Hundreds of Germans are thought to have withdrawn from the town before dawn.
A group of Dutch citizens helped Major recover Arseneault’s body and the sniper returned to his unit to report that little or no enemy troops were present in Zwolle.
The Canadians marched into the town the next day and Major was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He is the only Canadian to receive DCMs for two wars.
He was nominated for a capturing 93 German troops in 1944 but refused it because he though Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery was too incompetent to award medals. But Major received the DCM for capturing Zwolle. In the Korean War he received another DCM after he and a team of snipers took a hill from Chinese troops and held it for three days.
He became an honorary citizen of Zwolle in 2005 and died in 2008. Soon after his death, Zwolle named a street after their Canadian liberator.
A few World War II movies feature incredible scenes of troops — usually soldiers or Marines — fighting tooth and nail against an enemy until they’ve expended most of their ammo, all of their grenades, and are stuck in their final defensive position.
That’s when someone does something crazy and starts throwing mortar rounds at the oncoming onslaught. The huge bursts of shrapnel wipe out groups of the enemy forces, breaking up the attack and allowing the heroes to emerge victorious.
Skip ahead to 0:28 in this clip to see this happen:
But most mortar rounds in World War II could be thrown this way. It was just incredibly dangerous and rarely done.
While new proximity fuzes — those which detonate a specified distance from the surface — were developed during World War II, most mortar rounds carried impact fuzes that used the physical force of the mortar striking a rock or something to trigger the charge.
So weapon designers made fuzes that were very sensitive. To prevent the fuzes from exploding prematurely, designers incorporated impact fuzes with a two-step arming process. This meant a safety pin had to be removed followed by a sudden force such as the propellant exploding to fire the round from the tube.
For soldiers looking to use these mortar rounds as a grenade, they had to remove the safety pin and slam the tail of the mortar round against something solid to simulate the force of the weapon firing. After that, the round would explode from any sudden force applied to the fuze.
This method of triggering, combined with the greater explosive force of a mortar, made them way more deadly than grenades.
Most grenades work using a timer, meaning that a soldier throws it and hopes that the enemy can’t grab the weapon and throw it back before it detonates.
But a hand-thrown mortar round will usually explode as soon as it hits the ground or a solid object, making it nearly impossible to throw back.
At least two soldiers used this to their advantage in World War II. Technical Sgt. Beauford T. Anderson threw mortar rounds to drive off a Japanese attack on Okinawa, and Cpl. Charles E. Kelly used mortar ammunition during his final defense of a storehouse being overwhelmed by the Germans in Italy.
This procedure comes with high risks. A round that falls short of the intended throw will almost certainly go off, potentially killing friendly troops and the thrower, and a round that is dropped after arming could go off, killing the operators. Still, for a happy few, the risk was worth the reward.
Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair.
In 1968, American involvement in Vietnam was reaching a boiling point. Casualties that year were the highest of the war to that point and North Vietnam had just scored a major PR win with the Tet Offensive. Things were looking grim for the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Johnson ascended to the Oval Office after the death of President John F. Kennedy. Having served Kennedy’s last two years and one full term of his own, he was legally allowed to pursue a second full term. But the tide was turning against Johnson.
As if the pressures of the office, the war, and trying to accomplish his “Great Society” ideals weren’t hard enough, he received some chilling news – all of which led to him rejecting another term.
Even back then, it was unorthodox for a sitting president to get a primary challenge from members of his own party. Then Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the race. Next, it was Robert F. Kennedy. By the end of March 1968, segregationist George Wallace was also running. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson took to the airwaves to announce he would not seek re-election.
His presidency was turbulent from the first day. He took the oath of office aboard Air Force One, with Jacqueline Kennedy standing next to her, still covered in the blood of the assassinated John F. Kennedy. He inherited a growing conflict in Vietnam that would come to overshadow his ambitious domestic programs and Civil Rights legislation.
If the war in Vietnam wasn’t bad enough, the cultural fabric of the United States itself was upended during his administration. America experienced cultural revolution after cultural revolution, as Black citizens demanded their civil rights, women fought to change their societal roles and America’s youth demanded a louder voice.
In short, Johnson presided over a violent time in American history. But that’s not the entire reason he opted not to run. In fact, he was not only certain he would clinch the Democratic Party nomination in 1968, he believed he would be Richard Nixon in the general election and sail to a second term.
But in 1967, he commissioned a study on his health and family history. The study was done by actuaries, like the ones insurance companies use to assess the risks associated with providing life insurance to a potential client. The study was supposed to be a closely-guarded secret – and it largely was.
They looked at his own medical history as well as those of the men in his family, dating back generations. The Johnson men, he said, had a history of dying young. LBJ’s own father died at age 62. Johnson, with a history of heart trouble, believed he wouldn’t last much longer than his father and would die in office if he served another term. The actuaries agreed. Based on their research, they determined that President Johnson would die at age 64.
Johnson believed that, after the death of John Kennedy, the American people had enough of their leaders dying in office and opted to leave the office after the end of his first term. When President Nixon was inaugurated the next year, LBJ returned home to his Texas ranch to live a life away from the media.
President Johnson died of a heart attack at the ranch in 1973 – at age 64.
Just like today, when it comes to leave, the leadership will reluctantly approve leave only when they’ve run out of excuses not to. In ancient Rome, if commeatus (leave) is granted, it affected the readiness of the army. Essentially, the needs of the army come first. The troops of ancient Rome had to accept that visiting families was not guaranteed. However, as much as the empire tried to prevent their soldiers from having human needs, they couldn’t stop nature.
When anyone receives leave of absence (commeatus), and for how many days, it is noted down in lists. For in antiquity (referring here to the early empire) it was difficult to be given unless for very good approved reasons. It seemed incongruous that a soldier of the Emperor, maintained in uniform and pay and rations at public expense, should have time to serve private interests.
Translated from Epitoma rei militaris, Book II, section XVIII
How dare you have a life outside the legion? Having feelings is bad, legionnaire. What does the emperor pay you for? Also, we’re extending your service from 16 years to 25. – Some Roman general probably.
Worst case scenario of granting leave
Once a troop is allowed to go on leave, the world is still not a safe place. War stops for no one and the road home also had its fair share of dangers. For the troops staying behind it meant lowered security with dire consequences.
The bridge was now complete, and the hills in front were occupied, […] with a speed and a display of strength which induced the Parthians to drop their preparations for invading Syria and to stake their whole hopes upon Armenia; where Paetus, unconscious of the coming danger, was keeping the fifth legion stationed far away in Pontus, and had weakened the rest (the fourth and twelfth legions) through unrestricted grants of leave, until he heard that Vologeses was coming with a large and threatening army.
Tactitus Annals Book XV
Commanders had good reason to deny leave because of the threat of fighting the enemy with a smaller force. Similarly, in today’s military leave can be denied due to important training. It is at the discretion of the commanding officer to consider if will not affect crucial training.
Best case scenario of granting leave
The Roman troop on leave would attend financial and administrative tasks at home. The best time to request leave, just like today, would be during a holiday season. Saturnalia was practically the purge with less murder. A troop would go on leave, have fun, and return when he said he would.
Originally celebrated on December 17, Saturnalia was extended first to three and eventually to seven days…All work and business were suspended. Slaves were given temporary freedom to say and do what they liked, and certain moral restrictions were eased. The streets were infected with a Mardi Gras madness; a mock king was chosen (Saturnalicius princeps); the seasonal greeting io Saturnalia was heard everywhere.
Lupercalia was another holiday that Romans looked forward to on February 15. It was tied to the founding of Rome myth and promoted fertility. The holiday would start with a ritual sacrifice called the Comitium at a cave named Lupercal at the foot of Palatine Hill. Roman priests would then run naked through the streets and slap women on the breast with bloody bits of goat hide to promote fertility. Additionally, men and women would be paired at random during the festival and there would be a great feast. The holiday consisted of lovemaking and copious amounts of wine. ‘I need my leave approved for…reasons, sir.’
A Roman soldier on leave is not on vacation
While on leave any number of things could happen such as a volcano explosion causing the mass evacuation and destruction of a major city. Normal stuff in the ancient Roman Empire. One Roman soldier on leave experienced the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and found himself with a tough decision to make – save himself or save civilians. At an archeological site at the ancient Herculaneum marina reveals a daring last stand of a Roman soldier attempting to keep order and cross civilians as the world around them burned. When A roman soldier went on leave he could either tend to his family, party like an animal, or take charge of a life or death situation. The following video shows the bravery of solider against impossible odds.
In 1991, a lone Russian-built MiG-21 approached the Florida coast from Cuba. The plane began “wagging” its wings, a recognized signal for friendly intent. The pilot was Orestes Lorenzo, and he was bringing the MiG to the United States in an attempt to defect from Cuba. The only problem was his wife and kids were still in Cuba.
Not for long.
If you want it done right…
That’s the thing about fighter pilots – no one will accuse them of being timid. Lorenzo was no different. He did fly a 40-year-old MiG straight at the coastline of the world’s lone superpower. In fact, Lorenzo was so daring, he wasn’t even in the Cuban Air Force when he took the jet. He told American officials he’d “borrowed” it to make the flight. Lorenzo didn’t even speak a word of English, he just yearned for freedom.
While he was in Cuba’s Air Force, he learned to fly in the Soviet Union and was deployed to fly air missions in Angola. After a second tour of duty in the Soviet Union, he and his family moved to an air base far from the Cuban capital of Havana. They found themselves unhappy with their situation, facing poverty, repression, and a government more concerned with itself than its people. Lorenzo and his wife hatched a plan to escape with their children, but it was only Lorenzo who landed at Naval Air Station Key West that day in 1991.
That’s where his daring comes in. Lorenzo was whisked away to Washington, where he was (presumably) debriefed, and received his asylum paperwork, as well as visas for his wife and two sons. All was almost set to go as planned, except now the Cuban government wouldn’t authorize his wife and children to leave the island nation. Orestes Lorenzo didn’t just accept his station in life like Castro wanted him to, and he sure as hell wasn’t about to accept this. Lorenzo launched a PR campaign that culminated in President George H.W. Bush giving a speech directed at Cuba, imploring Cuba to let his family go, all to no avail.
Castro refused, so the fighter pilot took matters into his own hands.
Spoiler alert: fighter pilots are brave.
Lorenzo raised ,000 to purchase a 1961 Cessna 310, a small, simple civilian aircraft. He even took lessons to learn to fly the Cessna like an expert. He got word to his family that they should be in a certain spot they all knew well, wearing orange t-shirts. At 5:07 p.m. on Dec. 19, 1992, Lorenzo took off from the Florida Keys in his 30-year-old Cessna and flew just 100 feet above the ocean.
Flying up above a set of cliffs on Cuba’s coastline, some 160 miles from Havana, he pulled up and saw three bright orange t-shirts waiting for him by the side of a road. He landed the plane, got his family inside, and took off again, headed for Marathon in the Florida Keys. Two hours later he and his family were safe.
The Lorenzo family lands in Marathon.
The U.S. returned the MiG to Cuba, and the Lorenzo family settled in Florida, starting a concrete business. Very few Cuban pilots were able to defect to the United States during the entire Cold War.
Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, has been called “The first computer programmer” for writing an algorithm for a computing machine in the mid-1800s.
Here’s how that program impacts us — and our military — today.
Nicknamed the “Enchantress of Numbers,” Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, on Dec. 10, 1915. Her mother, Annabella Byron, was referred to by Lord Byron as “Princess of Parallelograms,” and she insisted on an education for her daughter that included mathematics and science. Some suggest that Lady Byron hoped to quell the Byron tendency toward imagination and moodiness, but Lady Byron also described their daughter as “chiefly exercised in connection with her mechanical ingenuity.”
On June 5, 1833, at a party, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the famed mathematician and mechanical engineer who originated the concept for the first automatic digital computer. There, he spoke of a “Difference Machine,” an invention of his that served, essentially, as an automated calculator — the first of its kind.
Though the prototype was incomplete at the time, Lovelace went to his home a few days later to see the device in person. The two began a profound correspondence that would last nearly twenty years.
When Babbage began exploring a new design for what he called the “Analytical Engine,” Lovelace contributed her own notes and translations in extensive detail. Her translation of a paper written by Luigi Federico Menabrea on the machine elaborated the original writings from eight thousand words to twenty thousand, which was published in 1843.
Her paper is still considered one of her greatest contributions to computer science, distinguishing it from the science of mathematics. One of her notes within the piece included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. Known as “Note G,” it is considered the first computer program in history.
Lovelace’s diagram from ‘Note G’ from Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage by Luigi Menabrea with notes by Ada Lovelace
“The science of operations, as derived from mathematics more especially, is a science of itself, and has its own abstract truth and value,” Lovelace wrote.
Biographer James Essinger, author of A Female Genius, said of Lovelace: “Ada is here seeking to do nothing less than invent the science of computing, and separate it from the science of mathematics. What she calls ‘the science of operations’ is indeed in effect computing.”
Computer science has grown exponentially since Babbage and Lovelace first began to imagine complex automated algorithms specifically designed for machine implementation. Her groundwork contributed to the development of advanced computing machines that would change the very face of warfare — and our world today as we know it.
Minutes after Tate Jolly arrived at the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, a mortar hit the compound where an ambassador and another American had been killed and dozens more were trapped.
The Marine gunnery sergeant was one of only two U.S. troops with a small task force that rushed to respond to what quickly became clear was a coordinated attack on the U.S. State Department facility.
It was a remarkable mission. The closest military backup was hours away, which later led to fierce debate about how U.S. troops should be postured to protect Americans and diplomatic posts overseas.
“There was no one even remotely close to being able to go and get them in North Africa,” a source familiar with the operation planning said. “The nearest airplanes were hours away and the nearest ground troops a day away or further.”
The source spoke under the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the Sept. 11, 2012, incident, which remains a topic of controversy in Washington seven years later.
The scene was chaotic when the team arrived, and they quickly tried to restore order. There were nearly 30 panicked people who needed to be evacuated quickly, but the compound was under fire from multiple sides.
“Unfortunately, it was not a whole lot of offense; it was a whole lot of just holding guys off as long as they could to try and get out,” the person familiar with the mission said.
Jolly, who declined a request for an interview, would ultimately be awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism there. The soldier with him, Master Sgt. David Halbruner, received the Army‘s Distinguished Service Cross. The valor awards are exceeded only by the Medal of Honor.
Little has been known about the Jolly’s actions in Benghazi. There was no public ceremony when he received his valor award and, until recently, his name has not been publicly tied to the mission in media reports.
His hometown paper in North Carolina,the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, recently reported that the 36-year-old who’d graduated from high school about 90 miles north of Charlotte was the Marine who’d gone above and beyond to save other Americans. Jolly recently retired as a master sergeant.
According to testimony, public documents and the person familiar with his actions, Jolly was calm in the face of deadly chaos. He and Halbruner are credited with saving numerous lives that day.
With a rifle strapped to his back amid an onslaught of mortars and machine-gun fire, Jolly tended to the wounded, at one point throwing a man onto his back and shuffling him down a ladder amid a barrage of enemy fire. He helped some get back into the fight and provided vital care to others with life-threatening injuries.
Here’s how then-Gunnery Sgt. Jolly helped get other Americans to safety during a situation that caused a years-long political firestorm thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.
A Delta Force Marine
Jolly, an infantry assault Marine, was assigned to a Delta Force detachment in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack. It’s rare, though not unheard of, for Marines to join the elite Army special-operations teams.
The Marine had deployed to Iraq twice before joining the secretive counterterrorism force, spending about five years carrying out clandestine missions before the Benghazi attack and another five after, according to information about his career obtained by Military.com.
He racked up more than a dozen total deployments with Delta Force.
The Navy Cross Jolly received for his actions in Benghazi was his fourth valor award. He has two Bronze Stars with combat “V” devices — one of which he earned for undisclosed reasons during his time with Delta Force, and a second from a 2004-2005 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq.
Jolly also earned a Navy Commendation Medal with combat distinguishing device and a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during that deployment.
(Senior Airman Dennis Sloan)
According to his award citations, Jolly repeatedly braved enemy fire in Ramadi to help take out an enemy sniper who had ambushed a government center. He received the Navy Commendation Medal for risking his life to destroy roadside bombs when an explosive ordnance disposal team couldn’t reach his unit.
On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jolly was about 600 miles away from Benghazi in Tripoli — roughly the same distance between Chicago and Washington, D.C. Since Jolly and Halbruner were some of the only troops in-country, the operation was coordinated not by U.S. Africa Command, but the CIA.
Team Tripoli, made up of Jolly, Halbruner and five others, arrived in Benghazi at about 1:30 a.m. That was about four hours after the attack began, and two since Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens had last been seen alive.
The team was led by Glen Doherty, a Global Response Staff (GRS) security officer and former Navy SEAL, who was later killed. He was Team Tripoli’s medic.
The plan, according to the person familiar with the mission, was to leave the airport and head to the hospital, where they believed Stevens was being treated. When they found out Stevens had died, the first ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979, the team headed to the consulate to bolster the diplomatic security personnel and GRS, a group of private military contractors who were fending off the attackers.
“It could’ve gone really, really bad,” said the source familiar with the mission. “It could’ve become 30 American hostages in North Africa. There were seven shooters going in to protect people who don’t shoot for a living.”
By the time they arrived, Sean Smith, a State Department foreign service officer, had also died. It was still dark, just after 5 a.m., according to a congressional timeline of the attack. Within minutes, the first mortar hit.
The attacks continued, with one witness estimating there were as many as 100 insurgents spotted surrounding their location in 20- or 30-man groups. It was a skilled enemy, one of the troops there later told members of Congress.
“It’s not easy … to shoot inside the city and get something on the target within two shots — that’s difficult,” the witness testified. “I would say they were definitely a trained mortar team or had been trained to do something similar to that.
“I was kind of surprised,” the service member added. “… It was unusual.”
They were there a matter of hours, but at times witnesses said the team feared they wouldn’t make it out alive. It began to “rain down on us,” one of them told lawmakers.
”I really believe that this attack was planned,” the witness said. “The accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any regular revolutionaries.”
In total, six 81-millimeter mortars assaulted the annex within a minute and 13 seconds, a congressional report on the attack states. Doherty and Tyrone Woods, another former SEAL with the GRS, didn’t survive.
Dave Ubben, a State Department security agent, and Mark “Oz” Geist, another GRS member, were badly hurt. The men were defending the compound from the rooftop, determined to make it look like they had a lot more firepower than they actually did.
“There was a lot of shooting, a lot of indirect fire and explosions,” the source with knowledge of the response said. “It was just guys being really aggressive and doing a good job at making it seem like their element was bigger than it was, like they were less hurt than they were.”
Ubben — who’d testified before a federal court in 2017 that he took shrapnel to his head, nearly lost his leg, and had a grapefruit-sized piece of his arm taken off — was losing blood fast. Geist also had a serious arm injury that needed immediate attention.
Jolly and Halbruner were determined to save them. Amid the fight, they were tying tourniquets to the men’s bodies.
Ubben is alive because Jolly helped move him from the rooftop to a building where diplomatic personnel were hunkered down. Gregory Hicks, who became the acting chief of mission after Stevens died, later described how the gunny did it during a congressional hearing.
Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens.
“One guy … full of combat gear climbed up [to the roof], strapped David Ubben, who is a large man, to his back and carried him down the ladder, saved him,” Hicks said.
Jolly and Halbruner also went back out to the rooftop to recover the bodies of the fallen.
“They didn’t know whether any more mortars were going to come in. The accuracy was terribly precise,” Hicks said. “… They climbed up on the roof, and they carried Glen’s body and Tyrone’s body down.”
It was for Jolly’s “valorous actions, dedication to duty and willingness to place himself in harm’s way” to save numerous unarmed Americans’ lives that he earned the Navy Cross, according to his citation.
Bracing for the worst
That attack was traumatic for many of the civilians trapped inside one of the buildings, according to the person with knowledge of the operation. They’d lost their ambassador and another colleague, and they had no experience being caught in a life-and-death combat situation.
Once Jolly and Halbruner brought the injured men in from off the rooftop, the diplomatic staff helped treat their wounds, according to the source familiar with the situation. It gave them a mission as the onslaught continued outside.
As the sun came up, the remaining team members worried that terrorists would overtake the facility. First believed to be the work of the Benghazi-based Ansar al-Sharia group, the attack was coordinated by several networks in the region, including al-Qaida affiliates.
Throughout the night, the Americans had the advantage of night vision, the person familiar with the mission said. In the daylight, it could quickly become an even playing field.
Surprisingly though, it got quieter. They gathered inside one of the buildings and formed an evacuation plan to move the diplomatic staff to the airport and eventually out of Benghazi.
“[They had to talk about] things like, ‘What happens if they came under attack on the way out? Do you know where to go if you are separated from the group or are being shot at?'” according to the person familiar with the plans.
They prepared for the worst: that as the convoy left the compound, they’d be ambushed, everyone would panic, and the terrorists would take hostages. But they made it to the airport without issue and, by 7:31 a.m., the first plane with survivors took off for Tripoli.
“Who would’ve thought seven people could go into Benghazi and get more than 25 people out? Especially without traditional military support?” the person familiar with the mission said. “… But you can do a lot if you’re determined and have no other choice.”
The Defense Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later faced a host of criticism over their response to the attack. Critics called it too slow — a congressional investigation finding that despite President Barack Obama and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta clearly ordering the military to deploy response forces, none were sent until almost eight hours after the attacks began.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton honor the Benghazi attack victims at the Transfer of Remains Ceremony held at Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 14, 2012.
(State Department photo)
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey was asked to explain why he hadn’t dispatched F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from Italy. He told lawmakers it would’ve been “the wrong tool for the job.”
The Marine Corps, the nation’s go-to crisis-response force, has been particularly responsive in the aftermath of the attack. Since there aren’t enough amphibious ships to stage Marines everywhere they’d like to be at sea, they’ve set up land-based crisis-response forces built to respond to emergencies quickly. Those units include up to 2,200 personnel, along with aircraft and logistics capabilities.
Those units are now based in Europe, the Middle East and Central America. Those assigned to Africa and the Middle East have fielded several State Department requests to evacuate embassy personnel or shore up security when intelligence has indicated a high risk for attack.
The Marine Corps and State Department have also bolstered the number of embassy guards placed at diplomatic posts around the world, standing up dozens of new detachments that previously did not have military personnel.
It was a tragedy to see a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed in Benghazi but, sadly, it sometimes takes an awful situation to get the attention of those in charge of policy, the person familiar with the response said.
“It was a bad situation, but a lot of priorities changed after this tragedy that would otherwise never have gotten fixed.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The United States owes its success in the Revolutionary War to help from France. The chief architect of that help was Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. In America, we simply call him “Lafayette.”
When France needed help during World War I, a squadron of American airmen volunteered their skills to fight against Germany. They called themselves the Lafayette Escadrille. When American troops finally arrived in France years later, their leaders walked into the tomb of the nobleman and announced, “Lafayette, we are here.”
The relationship between the Marquis and the United States has endured for many centuries because of his admiration and service to a country that was not his own. That admiration runs so deep, that the nobleman is buried in American soil – in Paris.
When the Marquis de Lafayette came to the United States to fight the British in the Revolution, he was so committed to the cause that he volunteered to serve without pay. Unlike other French officers volunteering, Lafayette had the military pedigree to be of use and soon came to be the right hand man to Gen. George Washington himself.
That pedigree didn’t come with much experience. Lafayette would be learning as he served the American cause. Luckily, as a wealthy man, his personal contributions more than made up for what he lacked in military experience. But as he gained that valuable experience, he proved himself an able commander.
A dedicated Enlightenment thinker, his devotion to the cause of American ideals led him to fight in several battles, to be wounded at the battle of Brandywine, and encourage France to recognize American independence. Most crucially, it was Lafayette’s forces that harassed Cornwallis on his way to Yorktown.
This forced the British to move across the James River, where they were eventually trapped by Washington, Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau by land and the French fleet by sea. He was forced to surrender his army after an almost three-week siege. It was the beginning of the end of the war, and the start of the American experiment.
Lafayette fought in the Continental Army all over the colonies, from New England to the Mid-Atlantic to the South, and was one of the few things that all the new states of the United States had in common. He so loved the ideals of the American Revolution that he tried to export them to France when he returned home.
His advocacy for American liberty would serve him and his wife well in the coming years of the French Revolution. The French admiration for American values saved the lives of the noble and his wife.
Lafayette would return to the United States many times in the years following the revolution. His visits would confirm the idea that the Founding Fathers had created a functioning democracy, based on the egalitarian values of the Enlightenment. He came to love the United States and proclaimed that he wanted to be buried in American soil.
On his final visit to the United States, Lafayette filled a trunk full of earth from the land near Boston’s Bunker Hill. When the noble died in 1834, his son interred him in the dirt from America. The American flag has flown over his grave continuously since 1850, a simple site behind an innocuous high stone wall.
The incident started on Oct. 22, 1961, when America’s senior diplomat in West Berlin, E. Allan Lightner, Jr., attempted to cross the newly-erected Berlin Wall at a major checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie. He was stopped by East German authorities who wanted to see his papers, but Lightner insisted that only the Soviets had the authority to check his papers.
He eventually turned back from the border, but Gen. Lucius Clay ordered that the next U.S. diplomat who needed to cross the border would be accompanied by military police in armed Jeeps. The next diplomat did cross the border with the Jeeps.
But Clay still wasn’t satisfied. He sent M48 tanks to the checkpoint and had them rev their engines. The Soviet commander requested permission to call an equal number of tanks out in response and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev approved it.
So T-55 tanks pulled up to the opposite end of the street and, approximately 82 yards away from each other, the two sides threatened each other for 16 hours from Oct. 27-28, 1961.
But neither country wanted to fight World War III over paperwork in Berlin. President John F. Kennedy ordered back channels to be opened to reach a negotiation. Khrushchev agreed to a deal where the countries would take turns withdrawing a single tank at a time.
The Soviets withdrew a T-55 and, a few minutes later, America pulled back an M48. The process continued until Checkpoint Charlie and its Soviet counterpoint had returned to their normal garrisons of a few soldiers on either side.
Today, the intersection has a replica checkpoint and a number of historical exhibits. Aside from the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year, Checkpoint Charlie may be the closest America and Soviet Russia came to blows in open warfare.
When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in April, 1982, the Royal Navy sent two carriers — the HMS Invincible and the HMS Hermes — to support the forces that would have the job of taking those islands back.
In essence, the ability of the British to take back the Falklands rested on pilots and aircraft fighting while outnumbered six-to-one.
The Sea Harrier pilots did have an advantage. The Argentinians only had two aerial refueling aircraft – and that shortage meant only so many planes could be sent on a given strike. Furthermore, their most capable fighters, the Mirages and Daggers, were not equipped for mid-air refueling.
One of the most notable dogfights involving the Sea Harrier took place on June 8, 1982. A pair of RAF Sea Harriers, lead by RAF Flight Lt. David Morgan, engaged four A-4 Skyhawks following up on an attack that had inflicted severe damage on the landing ships HMS Sir Galahad and HMS Sir Tristan.
Morgan engaged the Skyhawks first, firing two Sidewinders and scoring two kills. His wingman shot down a third. The last Skyhawk fled. Morgan and his wingman then returned to the carrier HMS Hermes. Morgan would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
Six days after that engagement, the Argentinean forces on the Falkland Islands would surrender. The Sea Harrier had proven it was capable of winning a war, even when badly outnumbered. Below, check out this clip from the Smithsonian Channel, which shows footage from Morgan’s engagement with the Argentinean Skyhawks, and see how the Fleet Air Arm was Britain’s 1982 version of “The Few.”