Colonel Paris Davis is one of the first Black officers to earn the coveted Green Beret of U.S. Special Forces. In the 1960s, America underwent the trials of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, both of which Davis took head on. “I said, ‘Look, you can call me Captain Davis, but you can’t call me a n****r,'” he said of his experience as a Black officer. In spite of the discrimination that he faced, Davis was a bonafide hero.
On May 13, 1965, Davis earned the Soldier’s Medal for actions at Bong San. An aviation fuel truck jackknifed and rolled on its side, pinning the driver against the steering wheel. He reacted quickly and ordered his men to stay clear of the truck. With complete disregard for his own safety, Davis ran to free the driver from the now burning truck. Despite the driver’s pleas to abandon him, Davis refused to leave a man behind. His citation reads, “Major Davis worked his comrade loose and then carried him away from the truck just as it exploded.” The award was presented in 1968, by which time Davis had been promoted to Major. Davis is a real-life action hero and his story only get better.
The month after his heroic rescue of the fuel truck driver, Davis commanded what would become a 19-hour raid and a fight for survival. On June 18, Davis led an A-Team of 90 men to hit what they thought was a Viet Cong camp. However, it turned out to be a group of 4,000 North Vietnam regulars. In 1965, it was rare for U.S. troops to come across conventional soldiers. Still, Davis and his men hit and hit hard. “We were stacking bodies the way you do canned goods in a grocery store,” Davis said of the raid. Absolute badass. However, things soon went wrong for the A-Team.
During the raid, Davis was wounded by enemy gunfire and grenade shrapnel. He wasn’t the only one who got hit. Two of his men, Billy Waugh and Robert Brown were gravely wounded. Waugh was hit in the knee, foot, ankle, and head, and so was Brown. “I could actually see his brain pulsating. It was that big,” Davis recalled of Brown’s wound. “He said, ‘Am I gonna die?’ And I said, ‘Not before me.'” With the raiders under heavy fire, Davis was ordered to withdraw. “Sir, I’m just not gonna leave. I still have an American out there,” was Davis’ reply. Refusing to abandon his men, Davis disobeyed the order. Another Green Beret on the raid, Ron Deis, recalled Davis’ commitment to his men. “Captain Davis refused and said, ‘No, I’m not leaving while I still have men out on the field,'” he emotionally recalled.
During the fighting, Waugh became separated from the team and lost consciousness. He was stripped naked and left for dead by the Vietnamese soldiers. Davis, with the help of a Sgt. First Class John Reinburg, carried Waugh to a hill where they could be extracted by helicopter. As Reinburg crested the hill above Davis and Waugh, he stood up to catch his breath. As soon as he did, he was shot twice and fell. With Reinberg dead, the wounded Davis carried Waugh by himself on his shoulders to the Huey and got him out of there.
For his actions during the raid, Davis was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commander, Billy Cole. However, the paperwork vanished. An army review in 1969 revealed no such file for Davis. The recommendation was resubmitted following the review. However, army records still showed no paperwork for Davis’ Medal of Honor. In an effort to recognize Davis’ heroism, many of the soldiers who served under him lobbied Congress. Waugh, who went on to serve in special forces and the CIA until Operation Enduring Freedom, submitted a statement in 1981. “I only have to close my eyes to vividly recall the gallantry of this individual,” he wrote.
Davis’ heroism in Vietnam cannot be overstated. His dedication to the mission and his men embodies everything that the army and the Green Berets stand for. “When you’re out there fighting, and things are going on like that, everybody’s your friend, and you’re everybody’s friend,” Davis said of combat. “The bullets have no color, no names.” An expedited review of Davis’ twice-lost Medal of Honor nomination has been submitted. When asked what it would mean to him to receive the medal, Davis said, “It would mean all the things that I haven’t been able to dream about.”
It may surprise amateur historians to discover that wars can take a humanitarian turn. There are many, many recorded instances of exceptional displays of humanity, even during the most brutal fighting. Considering the Nazis’ monstrous reputation, it would surprise many others to discover that kind of kindness among the German officers in World War II.
Even in the Wehrmacht’s most desperate days, there were some among them who retained their humanity in the middle of one of the world’s deadliest conflicts. In the Hürtgen War Cemetery in Hürtgen, Germany, you’ll find a small monument to one of these brave souls.
“No man hath greater love than he who layeth down his life for his enemy.”
As the Allies pressed their post-Normandy advantage against the Nazis in Europe, they began to outrun their supply lines. Unfortunately, the men and materiel required to bring down the Nazi regime weren’t as fast at replacing the men and materiel who were actively taking down the regime. The Allies were forced to slow down and, in some places, pause as their supplies caught up to their breakneck drive toward Germany.
This lull gave the Germans time to regroup and rest.
The worst was yet to come.
Before the Allies could enter Germany, there were a few things they had to consider. They had to cross the Rhine, the city Aachen was under siege and refused to surrender, and the Allies were afraid the Germans would destroy the Ruhr Dam. To avoid this, the Allies needed to enter the dense woods that lay between the city and the dam and do it before the Germans thought to blow the dam.
During the relatively brief lull in the fighting, the Germans made good use of the Hürtgen Forest. Its hills and ravines were loaded with minefields, booby traps, barbed wire, and anything else they could think of that might halt the Allied advance or end it entirely. What’s more, deep inside the woods were the overgrown and abandoned remains of the concrete Siegfried Line. The advantage in numbers and air superiority the Allied troops enjoyed would be completely negated by the forest. The dark woods were now almost impenetrable, and the Allies were walking into it.
This is not the place you want to assault.
For four months, the Allies sent men into the German-held meat grinder trying to dislodge the Nazis. Among the Germans trying to keep the Americans out was a Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld. Lengfeld was a young officer who had just taken command of his unit in November 1944, after his commander was killed in combat. He and his men were holed up in a lodge of some kind, sheltering themselves from the elements and trying to stave off their hunger. Next to their shelter was a minefield known as the Wilde Sau.
An American attack pushed Lengfeld’s Germans from their shelter, but his men quickly counterattacked and retook it the day after. The U.S. troops scrambled out so fast that one of them walked right into the Wilde Sau and immediately stepped on a mine. The man survived and began calling for help.
None came. And to this day, no one knows who the wounded American was.
This road once bisected the Wilde Sau minefield.
Lieutenant Lengfeld ordered his troops that no one was to fire at any Americans who would come for the man. Hours passed, the man begged anyone within earshot to help him. But no one came. The man cried for his compatriots the entire time, but still, no one came to his aid. Lengfeld decided he would help, and took a team of his medics along a road that led to the minefield. He was determined to help the man, but while his team had placed anti-tank mines along the road, he did not know the location of anti-personnel mines. Lengfeld stepped on one immediately, shredding his back. He would die later that night.
In 1994, a monument was erected at the Hürtgen Forest Cemetery, bearing the name and wartime deeds of Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld. It read:
Here in Huertgen Forest on November 12, 1944, Lt. Lengfeld, a German officer, gave his life while trying to save the life of an American soldier lying severely wounded in the “Wilde Sau” minefield and appealing for medical aid.
The monument was placed there by the American members of the 22nd Infantry Regiment to honor Lt. Lengfeld.
Wars are generally long, bloody, and horrible affairs that everyone is anxious to wrap up so that everyone can go back home.
But for some reason, there have been wars that don’t end on time. Here are four times that the U.S. found itself in a battle after the war it was fighting was technically already over:
1. The Battle of New Orleans propels Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to nationwide fame after the War of 1812
The War of 1812 officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent on Dec. 24, 1814, but Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson repelled an attack on Jan. 8, 1815, by approximately 8,000 British regulars who hadn’t yet heard about the treaty. Jackson’s defense of the city inflicted 2,000 casualties — including three generals and seven colonels — on the British and made Jackson an American hero.
2. American Gen. Sterling Price fought an extra battle in Mexico because he didn’t believe the peace news
American Gen. Sterling Price had orders to hold and defend southern New Mexico near the end of the Mexican-American War — orders that he ignored to attack the city of Chihuahua in early 1848. When he arrived at the city, a group of citizens told him that the garrison had withdrawn from the town to avoid bloodshed as the war had ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the previous month.
Price basically wrote the treaty off as fake news and just assaulted south anyway, catching up to the Mexican forces at the city of Santa Cruz de Rosales. The Mexican commander attempted to defend the town, repelling attacks from the north and west but falling to a thrust from the south.
3. The Battle of Palmito Ranch may have been a colonel trying to pop his combat cherry before the war ended
While there was no official peace treaty ending the Civil War, everyone had pretty much agreed it was over by May 1865. Lincoln was dead, the Confederate cabinet was scattered, and the War Department was getting ready to release most of the Union Army from the service.
But Union Col. Theodore H. Barrett found himself occupying an island near Confederate forces who were slowly negotiating a surrender with a major general. Rather than let those negotiations play out, Barrett led his regiment against the Confederate forces despite the fact that he had no combat experience and no orders to do so.
The blow-by-blow of the battle is farcical where it isn’t boring, but it basically amounts to a useless Union defeat at the hands of barely interested rebels and some French soldiers who were stationed in Mexico just across the river. Barrett later claimed the defeat was the fault of another colonel, but a court martial supported no charges against the other officer.
4. The last troops to die in the Vietnam War fought weeks after the war ended and two years after America withdrew
While the American involvement in the Vietnam War officially ended with the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the actual war drew on for another two years until South Vietnam surrendered to Communist North Vietnam on April 30, 1975.
The operation suffered from a lack of intelligence and the Marines hit the wrong island, one that was being guarded by 150 to 200 dug-in fighters when the Marines expected light resistance. America lost 41 Marines and airmen killed and wounded, but recovered the ship and the crew.
In 1775, the Royal Navy sent a fleet to Falmouth, Maine, the site of modern-day Portland, and rained heated shells down on it for eight hours, burning nearly the entire town to the ground — but also pouring tinder onto the burgeoning flames of American rebellion.
The idea was to cow the rebels into submission, but it was basically a Revolutionary Pearl Harbor.
An American ship resists a British boarding party during the War of 1812. Naval engagements like this were common in the Revolutionary War as American raiding parties stole British ships or British forces tried to enforce tax laws against American merchants.
(U.S. Coast Guard archives)
The struggle leading up to the burning of Falmouth began with the rebels and smugglers in the colonies blowing off British taxes. A 26-ship fleet was sent to back up the revenue collectors, but they had over 1,000 miles of coastline to patrol, and their efforts were largely unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. George Washington and his 16,000-man army had the 6,000 British troops under Lt. Gen. Thomas Gage pinned up near Boston. The British were getting frustrated as rebel colonialists repeatedly embarrassed one of the most powerful militaries in the world.
Amidst all this tension and simmering violence, rebels in Falmouth captured multiple British merchant ships as well as the commander of one of the ships of that 26-ship fleet sent against them, Lt. Henry Mowat, in May, 1775. He was held for ransom for a few days, but returned to his ship after town leaders pressured the rebel leader.
So, when the British senior command sent orders to the fleet to conduct whatever operations were necessary to quell the rebellion, Vice Adm. Samuel Graves ordered the elimination of whatever rebellious sea port towns that the Royal Navy could reach. Multiple towns were selected, including ones where residents had kidnapped or killed British officers.
Mowat returned to the town of Falmouth with four ships sporting over 20 cannons and ordered the town to evacuate before he destroyed it. The town petitioned for mercy, and Mowat conceded to delay the attack as long as all arms and powder, including artillery and gun carriages, were turned over and the residents swore an oath of loyalty.
Falmouth quietly turned over a few muskets, but then everyone just evacuated quietly. No one was giving an oath to the Mad King. At 9 a.m. on October 18, Mowat ordered the final evacuation. At sometime before 10 a.m., he ordered the flotilla to open fire, even though people were still visibly making their way out of town.
Heated shot was a great weapon in the age of wooden ships and buildings. Cannon crews would get their ammo from ovens where the shots were heated for hours, allowing them to stay red hot even when skipping across the water and flying through the air.
For the next eight hours, the ships heated cannonballs in their ovens, got them red hot, and sent them into the wooden buildings of the town. Whenever a neighborhood of the town failed to catch fire, the ships landed marines and had them get the job done up close.
A group of armed town residents attempted to put out some of the flames, and the winds were on their side, but the construction of the town made it nearly impossible. The town consisted of hundreds of wooden buildings, most of them packed tightly together. Fire spread from building to building, slowly but steadily.
In the end, over 400 buildings were destroyed, many of them homes or places of business. 1,000 people were left homeless and destitute.
Colonial leaders, even many of those formerly loyal to the crown, were pissed. State legislatures and the provincial congress ordered aid, mostly corn and other foodstuffs, sent to the families now forced to weather the Maine cold without shelter.
“In a word,” one reverend wrote, “about three quarters of the town was consumed and between two and three hundred families who twenty four hours before enjoyed in tranquility their commodious habitations, were now in many instances destitute of a hut for themselves and families; and as a tedious winter was approaching they had before them a most gloomy and distressing prospect.”
Revenue Cutter Service personnel prepare to defend their wreck against British attack during the War of 1812. In 1776, many seaport towns had built quick defenses like these to prevent themselves suffering the fate of Falmouth, Maine.
(Coast Guard archives)
The political backlash against the attack was real and immediate. Damage was estimated at 50,000 British pounds — converted to modern U.S. dollars, that’s nearly million. Royal subjects in Britain were outraged and those living in America were livid.
Even France, which was closely watching the progress of the rebellion in their rival’s colonies, was shocked.
But the greatest consequences came when former residents of Falmouth, their family members, and other outraged colonial citizens began turning up for duty in colonial militias. Other seaport towns immediately beefed up their defenses, making an attempt against another town nearly impossible to conduct without losses.
By the start of 1776, it was clear that the American rebellion had grown from an effort by an angry minority to throw off a perceived yoke to a growing revolution that would eventually hamstring the British Empire.
Falmouth, for its part, eventually re-built and re-grew into modern Portland, Maine. This was actually the third time the town had to re-build after a major fire, and it would happen a fourth time in the 1800s. The town seal now features a phoenix, for obvious reasons.
Snipers are considered one of the most dangerous warfighters in the battlefield — taking out targets from concealed and undisclosed locations while homing in on prey that has no clue that they’re in the crosshairs.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, the massive damage the city suffered provided insufficient cover for ground troops, but it was perfect for sharpshooters who could hide in the crumbled buildings and wrack up kills.
Out of all the snipers that were most feared, none came close to Soviet Red Army sharpshooter Vasily Zaitsev.
Reportedly within 10 days of fighting in the streets of Stalingrad, Zaitsev’s body count reached about 40 kills. Once the Soviet press learned of the Siberian native’s incredible progress, they promoted it by releasing propaganda to anyone who would read it — even the Germans.
In response, the Germans sent their first-rate sniper, Maj. Erwin Konig into Stalingrad. Konig’s mission was to eliminate the Red Army’s most efficient marksmen and to display the Nazi’s superiority.
Word broke out that Konig was inbound after a German POW bragged to the Russian Army that it was only a matter of days before Zaitsev and the other snipers would be defeated. This news reached Zaitsev nearly immediately.
After a few days, there were no signs of Konig being in the area until three Russian snipers were wiped out within a small section of town. With a hunter’s caution, Zaitsev worked his way into the area where Konig claimed the three Russians lives for an epic duel.
On the second day of Zaitsev’s stalk, a political commissar joined him to report the news of the kill after it had occurred. But the political commissar soon saw something move down the street, and as he stood up to point it out to Zaitsev, Konig killed him with a single well-placed shot.
This kill helped Zaitsev zero in on Konig’s hide. He removed his glove from his hand and placed it on a stick. He then raised the glove up, and Konig accurately shot it — exposing his muzzle flash.
Zaitsev quickly aimed and fired scoring a direct kill shot. The story’s finale isn’t exactly what audiences saw in 2001’s feature film “Enemy at the Gates” starring Jude Law.
Check out Gun Crazy 81’s video below to hear how this epic duel between these historic snipers went down.
In 1862, the Union Army was in striking distance of Richmond and the Union commander hoped to wrap up the entire war with just a few more engagements, but surprising aggression by the Army of Northern Virginia’s new commander would cause a Union defeat, leading to two more years of warfare.
Union Gen. George B. McClellan had been making his way towards Richmond as part of the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, but Gen. Robert E. Lee attacked and managed to turn the skittish McClellan south.
(James F. Gibson, Library of Congress)
In May 1862, the Union’s top officer was Gen. George B. McClellan, a railroad man turned military officer. While he had many drawbacks, his organizational skills were top notch and he had managed to fight way into position just miles east of Richmond, the political and industrial heart of the Confederacy. If he could capture the city, the Confederacy would fall apart or be forced to withdraw south to Atlanta or another city while losing massive amounts of manufacturing power.
And, the Confederacy had just fought a stalemate at the Battle of Seven Pines. Both sides claimed victory, but the Confederate commander was wounded and the Southern president promoted Gen. Robert E. Lee to the position. Lee was known for caution at this point in the war, and McClellan decided to take time to wait for good weather and reinforcements before pressing his attack home.
It was a hallmark of McClellan’s actions during the war, and it gave Lee time to order a large network of trenches dug, allowing him to defend the city with a small force while preparing the larger portion of his army for a much more aggressive move. Lee didn’t want to just defend Richmond, he wanted to attack the Union force’s supply lines, forcing a retreat.
A sketch and watercolors depiction of the Battle of White Oak Swamp, one of the Sevens Days Battles.
(Alfred Waud, Library of Congress)
The Union Army in the field was much larger than the Confederates’, 100,000 facing 65,000. But the Union Army was fighting far from home and needed over 600 tons of supplies per day, almost all of it shipped by rail and packtrain from northern cities.
Lee began his assault when the Union Army was sitting astride the Chickahominy River with a third of it on the northern side and two-thirds on the southern side. That meant that Lee could attack the northern side and potentially even destroy the railroad there before the rest of the Union forces could get into position to fight him.
On day two, Jackson once again ran into trouble and Union forces were able to regroup, forming a united front against the Confederate forces. But McClellan still didn’t press home his numerical advantage, withdrawing under the assumption that the aggressive Lee outnumbered him.
On June 28 and 29, the Confederate forces were able to launch successful attacks against the retreating Union forces, but they were unable to land a crippling blow. And so, McClellan was able to reach a great defensive position on July 1. From Malvern Hill, he could defend against any number of Confederate attacks.
In the end, the Confederacy lost approximately 20,000 men while the Union lost 15,000.
McClellan’s failure to capture Richmond in 1862 caused the Civil War to drag on for two more years.
(Kurz Allison, Library of Congress)
But while Lee had failed at his goal of landing a significant blow against Union forces, but he had succeeded in his larger goal. McClellan had been mere miles from Richmond and on the offensive, but one week later he was driven south, begging for more troops and supplies before he would attack again. Instead, he let Lee rebuild his forces and move north, achieving another victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run and opening the door for Lee’s first invasion of the North.
Lee, previously known for his caution, had gone on the offensive despite being outnumbered, and it had saved the capital and its industry. McClellan would later lose his command, partially because of the failure to attack Richmond and his failure to attack off of Malvern Hill.
Lincoln would have to go search for his own Lee, his own aggressive general to carry the attack against the enemy, to force the initiative. It took Lincoln another few years to get him into position, but this would eventually be Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, a man known at the time for his alcohol consumption and his butchery, but now possibly known best for receiving Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, propelling Grant to a successful 1868 presidential run.
Emus are the second largest birds in the world, right behind their cousin, the ostrich. Unable to fly but able to run at 30 miles per hour, these big creatures are considerably useless and extremely dorky. But appearances can often belie great (inadvertent) military prowess, as is proven by that time the Australian army lost a “war” to a massive herd of emus in 1932.
Western Australia, still undergoing a settlement period, found itself in an economic mess tied to an abysmal agricultural situation. Farmers, already beleaguered by falling wheat prices, were further affected by a horde of 20,000 emus converging on their lands. These emus began eating crops and seeds, destroying planted land, and causing a general ruckus.
Something had to be done, and it had to be done fast. To that end, in late 1932, Australian Defense Minister Sir George Pearce dispatched three soldiers and a pair of machine guns with the hopes of curbing the emu population, so that the settlers wouldn’t starve.
An officer of the Royal Australian Artillery, Major G. Meredith, was granted command of the operation and ordered to terminate any emu on sight with extreme prejudice. Additionally, he was to return with the skins of 100 emus so that farmers could make hats out of them — an obviously enviable mission for any military officer aspiring to higher ranks.
Placed in charge of two soldiers, Sergeant S. McMurray and Trooper J. O’Halloran, Meredith was to lead this elite emu-slaying strike team into the lands surrounding the town of Campion, set up his guns, and unleash unholy hell on the unsuspecting, dimwitted birds.
McMurray and O’Halloran carried one Lewis gun apiece — a First World War-era machine gun able to spit out between 500 to 600 rounds per minute. The team carried with them around 10,000 rounds of ammunition to feed their guns, and marched into town with a plan of merely walking up to the birds and spraying fire randomly until their pan magazines ran dry.
Oddly enough, the emus somehow outsmarted the trio.
On Nov. 2, Meredith and company happened upon a herd of approximately 50 emus just outside of Campion. Sighting them with their emu-blasters, McMurray and O’Halloran started shooting, aiming for larger groups of the flightless birds. However, the emus split up into smaller groups and used their speed to their advantage, quickly running out of the Lewis guns’ effective ranges.
When the smoke cleared, only 12 emus lay dead, the rest had successfully escaped. Undeterred, Meredith and his team carried on with their mission. On Nov. 4, another opportunity appeared near a dam. Deciding to use textbook tactics instead of random gunfire, Meredith and crew set up an ambush.
After spotting a herd of over 1000 emus heading in their general direction, McMurray and O’Halloran readied a gun and waited patiently. This time, they would hold their fire until the emus got closer, giving them more of an opportunity to drop their targets before they ran off.
Soon, they opened fire… and their guns jammed. The birds fled and the trio only accounted for around 12 confirmed kills. Meredith began noticing a peculiar smartness about the way the emus evacuated the kill box, saying that, “each mob has its leader… who keeps watch while his fellows busy themselves with the wheat.”
According to Meredith, as soon as the “leader” emus noticed something suspicious, they would alert the rest of the herd, which would then scramble off to safety. Weirdly, these leader emus always stayed behind until all the other birds reached safety, then ran away themselves.
Instead of giving into frustration, Meredith decided to go mobile to try and keep up with the emus as they ran off. Borrowing a truck, he mounted a Lewis gun in the rear and had his two subordinates drive and fire when chasing after their feathered prey.
And still, they proved to be no match for the emus.
The truck could neither keep up with the fast birds nor could the gunner aim and fire a round decently — the ride was far too bumpy for that. By Nov. 8, the team had expended over 2,500 rounds with the majority of the emu population surviving the conflict.
Sir George Pearce, now sarcastically dubbed the Minister of the Emu War, pulled the team from the field, signaling an unofficial victory for the emus. A stunned Meredith later commented, “if we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds, it would face any army in the world … They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.”
Meredith would be sent back into emu combat soon afterward, as he was the only officer who actually had any experience in fighting these weird creatures. By mid-December, Meredith had earned the title, “Slayer of Emus,” having accounted for 986 kills. However, he was recalled once more. Repeated requests for military intervention from farmers in later years were shot down by the Australian government.
There were just too many emus.
Today, emus still roam the Australian Outback, though they’re far less of a problem to Aussie farmers today than they were to their predecessors back in the 1930s. This remains the only recorded instance in military history where birds unwittingly won a military engagement.
Interestingly enough, no military force has tried to mess with these dorky warrior-birds (or any other flightless bird) since.
For most soldiers in the Vietnam-era, the time between getting drafted or volunteering and their heading to war was short. The Army had each draftee for only two years. After they were shipped to basic, trained, shipped overseas, plus the time needed to ship home and use their two months of accrued leave, each draftee could expect a year of deployed time preceded by 4-6 months of training.
Volunteers, especially officers, had it a little better. They may train for up to a year before deploying — attending advanced training like Ranger School after basic and job training.
A recently recovered film of the Battle of Dak To shows two hours of fighting in and around Hill 724, another tough terrain feature captured. Bob Walkoviak, one of the veterans in the discussion above, fought on the hill and helped find the lost footage.
Bizarre, seemingly impossible anachronistic historical matchups aren’t just for wargaming or Sid Meier’s Civilization. There’s at least one instance in recorded history where European regular infantrymen were called on to take down some of Japan’s elite samurai warriors: the Battle of Cagayan.
In 1573, Japanese pirates, known as wokou, sailed into Cagayan, a city on the Philippine island of Luzon. The pirates were made up of ronin (samurai without a feudal master), soldiers of fortune and sailors from Japan and China. When their flat-bottom boats entered Caguyan, they demanded the locals submit to their will.
At the time, Cagayan was an important gold and silver trading area between the Japanese and Spanish, who controlled the Philippines. The pirates were looking to take control of the precious metal trade – and they were reasonably successful.
The Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, wrote to King Phillip back in Spain that the pirates were becoming a nuisance, carrying not just the traditional weapons of the ronin, but also gunpowder weapons like arquebusiers and artillery, weapons he believed were built by the rival Portuguese.
King Phillip dispatched Juan Pablo de Carrión of the Spanish Navy to deal with the problem. Almost immediately, Carrión sank a wokou ship while sailing the South China Sea. That got the pirates’ attention. They responded by sending a fleet of ships to Cagayan, 18 flat-bottomed sampans, led by a junk.
When Carrión learned of the incoming attack, he assembled the best force he could manage; 40 soldiers on a total of seven ships, with a Spanish galleon at its head. The only advantage they had was that they were much better with firearms than their oncoming enemy. The Spanish had been proficient with them for decades, and made much better weapons and gunpowder than the Japanese carried.
Carrión and his ships arrived at Cagayan in time to catch the pirates abusing the natives of the town from a sampan. He and his men headed straight for it, and boarded the ship with rodeleros, shield-carrying swordsmen. Once on board, the rodeleros went into combat against sword-carrying Japanese sailors.
The Spaniards lost the first act of the fight, being forced back to their ships but came back twice as hard. The decks of the ships were a mess of men, bodies and sharp weapons. But the Spanish turned the tide with gunpowder weapons, forcing the Japanese pirates to abandon ship and swim for safety.
With the first sampan effectively out of the fighting, the flotilla of Spaniards sailed up the Cagayan River. It wasn’t long before they found the pirate fleet near a newly-constructed fortress. The turn of events didn’t deter them; they quickly opened up on the wokou ships with their ships’ artillery.
After blasting their way through the enemy ships, they managed to land on shore and bring that artillery to bear on the pirates from hastily-dug trenches. The pirates called for a cease-fire and asked to be compensated for the gold they would lose by leaving. Carrión refused and the pirates determined they would hit the Spanish with an overwhelming force.
They assembled a pirate army of 600 men to attack the Spanish trenches and hit them in successive waves. The first and second were easily repelled by superior firepower, but by the third wave, the Spanish were running low on powder. The samurai ran at them with full force, katanas glinting in the sunlight and almost forced the Spaniards out of their defensive positions.
But the pirates never managed to dislodge their Spanish enemy. The third wave was devastating for the attackers, so the Spanish left the trenches and finished the pirates off with long pikes. Those Japanese soldiers who could run away did, leaving their weapons and booty behind.
The victorious Spanish troops kept the strange Japanese weapons and armor they found scattered on the battlefield as war trophies.
Fear is not in John Nixon’s dictionary. Nor should it be. An elderly man, Nixon, who fought in the Korean War, had no reservations about stepping in to stop five armed punks from mugging a young woman in the Kentish Town area of London — despite being 88 years old.
There’s no age limit on bravery, and the old Korean War vet has had plenty of reason to be brave over the years.
Nixon was interviewed by the London Evening Standard after intervening in the attack. He told the newspaper that he saw five young men attacking a young woman, trying to rob her of her purse and ripping at her clothing.
He shouted at the men to leave her alone, in an attempt to divert their attention away from the screaming woman. His plan worked. They quickly switched their sights onto the old man and the girl ran off, still screaming.
A mural welcomes visitors to Kentish Town. Photo by Danny Lines on Unsplash. “But they turned on me, saying ‘We’ll take your money instead,’ and I said ‘No you don’t,’” Nixon told the newspaper. “Kids this age are full of bravado, you see, they weren’t expecting a surprise.”
The surprise was that over the years Nixon had seen a lot worse than five hooligans harassing one young girl. He was trained as a special operator at Commando Training Depot Achnacarry in Scotland’s West Highlands. The setting was particularly brutal for trainees, given the severe weather in the area. Those conditions would serve him well.
He was later shipped off to fight communists during the 1950-53 Korean War as a commando. He also served in British Commando units in Egypt, occupied Germany, and the greater Middle East. After he left the British military, he joined Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) as a bodyguard in Nigeria.
He couldn’t have survived those kinds of environments and the dangers he faced there without the hardcore training he picked up as a young man in the 1940s.
That training “kicked in” Jan. 27, 2018, when one of five attackers came at Nixon, who took down the attacker with a single karate chop to the back of the man’s head. The blow knocked the punk down to the ground, half-dazed and half-conscious. Then one of the muggers pulled a knife on the old man.
“It was more of a pocketknife,” Nixon said. “He wasn’t trained.”
Nixon, a widower with an adult daughter, was only interested in helping the vulnerable young woman. He didn’t think of his own safety. He’d been shot in the leg long before this encounter on a London street, and even a bite from a venomous snake couldn’t kill the old man.
“The venom lay dormant in my spine for years,” he said. “I’ve been near death so many times that situation just doesn’t worry me.”
When the knife-wielding assailant came after him, Nixon attempted to defend himself and took a number of stab wounds to his arms. He was bleeding profusely but told reporters his wounds were shallow.
A local resident finally witnessed the altercation, shouted at the men, and called the police. By the time cops arrived on the scene, the attackers had fled. Nixon was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for his still-bleeding wounds. His only other injury came from where his hand met the back of that criminal’s skull. Five harsh lessons were learned that day.
The hoodlums were never arrested for the crime, and the female victim of the attack was never identified.
“I hope she is okay,” Nixon told the Evening Standard.
For more than 50 years, the Northrop T-38 Talon has been the principal supersonic jet trainer used by the U.S. Air Force. The twin jet-powered aircraft, which has tandem-seats for the instructor and student pilot, is the world’s first supersonic trainer.
Air Education and Training Command is the primary user of the T-38 for joint specialized undergraduate pilot training. Air Combat Command and the Air Force Materiel Command also use the T-38A in various roles.
Its design features swept wings, a streamlined fuselage and tricycle landing gear with a steerable nose wheel. Critical components can be easily accessed for maintenance and the aircraft boasts an exceptional safety record.
More T-38s have been produced than any other jet trainer and have been used by the U.S. Navy, NASA, and many foreign air forces in addition to the Air Force.
More than 1,100 were delivered to the Air Force between 1961 and 1972 when production ended.
In 1953, Northrop Corporation engineers envisioned developing a small twin-engine “hot-rod” fighter. It would be decidedly different from the majority of early jet designs, which tended towards large, single and heavy engines.
A Northrop YT-38-5-NO 58-1191 in flight over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., 10 April 1959.
(US Air Force photo)
The N-156 project began in 1954 with the goal of producing small, agile fighters that could operate from the decks of the Navy’s smallest escort carriers. That market disappeared as the Navy focused on large carriers. However, Northrop continued development with the goal of selling the lightweight fighter to allied air forces.
Then, in the mid-1950s the Air Force issued a General Operating Requirement for a supersonic trainer. Northrop entered a modified N-156 and won the competition, receiving an order for three prototypes, the first of which, designated YT-38, flew in April 1959. The first production T-38 Talons were delivered to the Air Force in 1961. By the time production ended in 1972, 1,187 T-38s had been built.
AETC utilized the T-38A to train Air Force pilots that would eventually fly diverse operational aircraft, such as the F-4 Phantom II, the SR-71, the KC-135 and the B-52 in the 1960’s and 70’s. At the same time, the AT-38B variant was equipped with a gun sight and practice bomb dispenser specifically for weapons training.
A T-38 Talon flies in formation, with the B-2 Spirit of South Carolina, during a training mission over Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Feb. 20, 2014.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
In 2001, most T-38As and T-38Bs were being converted to the T-38C, with its “glass cockpit” of integrated avionics, head-up display and electronic “no drop bomb” scoring system, which has prepared student pilots for flying everything from the A-10 to the B-2 to the F-22.
Advanced JSUPT students fly the T-38C in aerobatics, formation, night, instrument, and cross-country navigation training. Test pilots and flight test engineers are trained in T-38s at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
AFMC uses the T-38 to test experimental equipment, such as electrical and weapon systems.
Two T-38 chase planes follow Space Shuttle Columbia as it lands at Northrop Strip in White Sands, NM, ending its mission STS-3.
Pilots from most NATO countries train in the T-38 at Sheppard AFB, Texas, through the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program.
NASA uses T-38 aircraft as trainers for astronauts and as observation and chase planes on programs such as the Space Shuttle.
Did you know?
In 1962, the T-38 set absolute time-to-climb records for 3,000, 6,000, 9,000 and 12,000 meters, beating the records for those altitudes set by the F-104 in December 1958.
A fighter version of the N-156 was eventually selected for the U.S. Military Assistance Program for deployment in allied air forces. It was produced as the F-5 Freedom Fighter, with the F-5G advanced single-engine variant later renamed the F-20 Tigershark.
Although upgrades are expected to extend the T-38C’s service life past 2020, the Air Force has launched the T-X Program and is engaged in a prototype competition to replace it.
In response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, from 1974 to 1983, the U.S. Air Force flight demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, adopted the T-38 Talon, which used far less fuel than the F-4 Phantom.
The USAF Thunderbirds, T-38A “Talon” aircraft, fly in formation in this autographed picture dating back to 1977.
(US Air Force photo)
Primary Function: Advanced jet pilot trainer
Builder: Northrop Corp.
Power Plant: Two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines with afterburners
Thrust: 2,050 pounds dry thrust; 2,900 with afterburners
Thrust (with PMP): 2,200 pounds dry thrust; 3,300 with afterburners
Length: 46 feet, 4 inches (14 meters)
Height: 12 feet, 10 inches (3.8 meters)
Wingspan: 25 feet, 3 inches (7.6 meters)
Speed: 812 mph (Mach 1.08 at sea level)
Ceiling: Above 55,000 feet (16,764 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms)
Range: 1,093 miles
Armament: T-38A/C: none; AT-38B: provisions for practice bomb dispenser
Unit Cost: 6,000 (1961 constant dollars)
Crew: Two, student and instructor
Date Deployed: March 1961
Inventory: Active force, 546; ANG, 0; Reserve 0
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
But there were other heroic deeds during the attack.
According to the 9/11 Commission report, when word reached North American Aerospace Command, also known as NORAD, of the first hijacking, two F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard were scrambled to try to intercept the planes. They took off just as Flight 11 hit the North Tower – WTC 1 – at 8:53 AM on that Tuesday morning.
NORAD had last dealt with a hijacking in 1993. One thing that worked against NORAD during that terrible day was the fact that that there were very few sites from which interceptors could launch.
During the Cold War, the 9/11 Commission Report noted, there had been 26 sites.
Other military jets — F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Virginia, and F-16s from the District of Colombia Air National Guard based at Andrews Air Force Base — had also scrambled. Pilots from the latter unit were armed only with dummy rounds for their M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon.
The F-15 pilots, according to the commission report, didn’t even know they were looking for hijacked airliners. The lead pilot would later be quoted in the report as saying, “I reverted to the Russian threat. …I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea.”
It as a credit to NORAD, that even though they were unable to keep the airliners from hitting targets, military personnel were able to face an unprecedented threat and challenge with an improvised air-defense system cobbled together in a matter of hours, despite having never trained to face that threat.
On the first day of what one unidentified officer called “a new type of war,” they reacted with skill and professionalism.
(Writer’s note: This article contains descriptions of real-world violence and there is a video embedded that shows attack helicopters firing on insurgents on the burning outpost. Obviously, viewer/reader discretion is advised.)
The attack on the U.S. forces near Wanat in Afghanistan centered on Kahler, a combat outpost in the area. COP Kahler was a strong position, but it faced a number of defensive weaknesses. First, it wasn’t the high ground in the valley. That’s a compromise military leaders sometimes have to make, but you really don’t want to have to defend a position where an enemy can fire on it from above.
Another problem was that civilian buildings came close to the outpost. This included a mosque that the attackers would misuse as a fortress to get an advantageous position against the defenders.
Finally, and probably most importantly, COP Kahler was not yet done. Engineers had been working for weeks to prepare for construction, but the actual building only began on July 9, four days before the attack would come. And a number of important defensive measures wouldn’t be complete for weeks or potentially months.
Some of the defensive positions on July 13 were still just concertina wire and guns, though some positions were protected by boulders, HESCOs, or hasty earthworks. The task force had planned for the possibility that an attack would come early, while the outpost was still vulnerable. But the intelligence estimates did not anticipate an attack by hundreds, and the assets at the base didn’t either.
But Chosen Company of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was holding and building Kahler, and they had prepared well for an attack with what they had.
The defenders’ TOW missile launcher was mounted on a HMMWV that could be driven around the site, but a platform was quickly built to give it better fields of view and fire. And there were two mortars, a 120mm and a 60mm, to provide additional muscle.
And the Americans had built observation posts in the territory around the outpost. These would allow American forces to inflict casualties from higher ground, but it would also deny the enemy a chance to occupy those three positions, meaning that was three fewer positions the insurgents could attack from.
And the engineers were busy from July 9 to 13, filling as many HESCOs and digging out as many fighting positions as they could. They were able to provide significant protection to the 120mm and many fighting positions before the attacks came. The 60mm mortar had a pit and a few sandbags, providing some protection. (Some of the defenses and fighting can be seen in this video.)
There were signs in the buildup to the attack that it was coming. Men in the nearby bazaar were seen watching the Americans and seemingly doing pace counts to figure out distances. The number of children in the village slowly dropped, and Afghan contractors refused to bid on some services for the base.
So when Capt. Matthew Myer saw five shepherds traveling together near the base he immediately prepared for a complex attack, using his TOW and mortars to hit the men shifting around the base. Five shepherds will rarely travel together because that many shepherds signals that there are either too many shepherds or too many goats in one area for normal grazing.
But before Myer could give the order to attack, two bursts of machine gun fire signaled the enemy forces, and then a rain of rockets came onto the U.S. warriors. The Battle of Wanat was on, and the enemy had seized the initiative.
That first volley came in the first hours of July 13, and it contained a very large amount of RPGs. While the Army history of the battle gives no official number to the rockets that hit the base, quotes from the men who fought in the battle described an absolute rain of rockets that left dozens and dozens of tail fins on the ground around the Americans. A radiotelephone operator later said that the “RPG fire was like machine gun fire.”
The insurgent forces had sneaked up close to the outpost and unleashed hell, and the volume of fire indicated that there had either been a major buildup of rockets at these positions or else runners were keeping the shooters well supplied. This rain of explosions took the TOW launcher out of the fight and suppressed a mortar and some machine guns and grenade launchers.
Myers and his men were suddenly struggling to achieve fire superiority. The mortar crew got at least four high-explosive rounds off despite the incoming fire, but were driven back from the weapon by the RPGs and machine gun fire. Rounds were flying in from buildings and trees near the outpost, and the fire was concentrated on the mortarmen.
But they weren’t the only ones in trouble. Another main objective of the enemy force was cutting one of the observation posts, OP Topside, off from the main force. While the OPs provided protection to the COP, they would also be vulnerable to enemy attack until the engineers were done clearing vegetation from the fields of fire.
A mortar crewman was injured by an RPG, and then another was hurt while dragging the first casualty to safety at the command post. The TOW launcher and HMMWV exploded, and it injured an Afghan soldier, knocked out some American communications equipment, and dropped two unexploded but unstable missiles back onto the defenders.
The artillery assets supporting the outpost sent death back at the attackers whenever they could, but they were firing 155mm howitzers at high angle. Danger close starts at just over 700 yards, and anything closer than 600 yards in rough terrain is simply too risky to fire. The automatic grenade launchers on the base had a similar problem.
The weapons that were available were fired at such a high rate that many of them began to overheat, and then the only .50-cal went down after an enemy round struck it in the feed tray cover.
But the worst of the fighting for the Americans took place at OP Topside. Only nine Americans were there at the start of the fighting, and the insurgent activity made reinforcing them a dangerous and tricky task, though the paratroopers would do so successfully multiple times.
The OP had its own artillery observer, but he was wounded in that first RPG volley. A paratrooper at Topside was killed in that same volley, and another died just moments later while attempting to throw a grenade. Another was wounded so badly that he could not fight.
The six men able to fight, including the forward observer, were forced to work through their own injuries and beat back the attack. Fortunately, the observer had sent a list of pre-planned targets back to the gun lines days before, and so artillery was able to send some assistance despite the fact that the observer could not conduct the calls for fire.
The defenders attempted to get the upper hand, but their own crew-served weapons went down from overheating or ammo shortages, and then one gunner was killed while firing his M4.
Finally, reinforcements from the main COP moved out. But the three-man team lost one soldier en route to a wound in the arm. Soon after they arrived, the enemy made it through the wire.
The attack was repulsed, but the two reinforcements were killed, and so was another soldier. A short time later, a sergeant moved forward to suppress fighters in a nearby building and was killed. Only one soldier was left in fighting shape with another three seriously wounded.
The defender managed to take out an enemy position with a light anti-tank weapon, giving most of the survivors just enough time to fall back to another position. But in their haste, they missed that the forward observer was severely wounded but still alive.
This artilleryman grabbed a grenade launcher and fired every round he had and threw every hand grenade he could reach. Just before he was forced to make a last stand at the OP, four men from the COP reinforced him, and Topside remained in American hands.
But a new attack, once again led by RPGs, strained this control. Every paratrooper on the OP was wounded, and one would die soon after. A platoon sergeant gathered a new force of seven paratroopers and two Marines and once again reinforced the OP, arriving shortly before the Apache attack helicopters.
Gun runs by the helicopters with their 30mm cannons finally drove the attackers back and allowed this larger force to protect the OP. Another platoon from Chosen Company arrived to help out their brothers-in-arms. This force brought multiple machine guns and two automatic grenade launchers with them on HMMWVs as well as multiple anti-tank rocket launchers.
The quick reaction force assaulted into the bazaar, driving the enemy from nearby buildings while suppressing other positions with the trucks. QRF fighters threw out smoke to mark insurgent positions and the Apaches eliminated them. Slowly, the volley of RPG fire lessened and, four hours after the attack began, the terrorist forces finally began to retreat.
Medical evacuation crews landed under fire to get the wounded out, in at least one case evacuating a casualty while an Apache made a gun run just 30 yards away. This limited American losses to the nine paratroopers already killed. A massive surge in U.S. and Afghan forces occurred July 13 with Afghan commandos coming in to clear the nearby village house-to-house and gain intelligence.
The biggest surprise for the Afghan commandos came when they searched the Afghan National Police station near the compound. A massive cache of weapons was there with most of them having been recently fired. But the evidence was that they had fired in support of the insurgents, not against them. The police chief and others were arrested.
Over the following days, American air assets pummeled insurgent positions, and future Chief of Staff of the Army Mark Milley set up operations in Wanat. An estimated 20-50 enemy fighters were killed in the fighting.
Despite the hard-won tactical success, senior leaders decided that holding Wanat was simply too costly and drained resources from more fruitful fights elsewhere. Chosen Company was pulled out.