4 badass operators you should know more about - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

4 badass operators you should know more about

The US Army’s premier special missions unit, commonly known as “The Unit,” has participated in several major military operations since its establishment in 1977. Thomas Patrick Payne was the latest member to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq after helping rescue more than 70 hostages in 2015. At Coffee or Die Magazine, we have shared the stories of some who served within this elite unit. 

Most recently, we sat down with Jamey Caldwell and discussed how he went from an operator chasing Usama Bin Laden through the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, to a burgeoning fly-fishing career. We also talked to retired Sgt. Maj. Kyle Lamb about his career and experiences during the Battle of Mogadishu. And then for the 27th anniversary of that battle, we spoke to former Army Ranger Brad Thomas to gain a perspective through his eyes of the events that occurred before and after the famous battle. Thomas went on to serve a career in the Unit and now is a guitarist for the rock band Silence and Light.

Here are four other operators that you should know more about. 

Col. Charles Beckwith

4 badass operators you should know more about
Col. Charles Alvin Beckwith, the founder of the US Army’s special missions unit. Photo courtesy of USASOC.

Special operations forces within the US military have been present since as early as the American Civil War, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the Army established a highly trained force to respond to evolving crises happening all over the world. Col. Charles Beckwith was the man to lead the charge. The Army Special Forces soldier served with 7th Special Forces Group and spent two years operating with covert “White Star” teams during Operation Hotfoot. Their mission was to harass North Vietnamese Army troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

In 1962, Beckwith conducted counterinsurgency operations in Malaya while attached to the British 22nd Special Air Service. This led to an epiphany, and Beckwith conceptualized an equivalent unit in the United States. After the exchange program, Beckwith returned to Vietnam with Project Delta, Detachment B-52, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which became the most decorated unit in the Vietnam War. Beckwith led a 250-man element in 1965 to rescue a Green Beret base in Plei Me

The next year he was struck through the abdomen with a .50-caliber bullet and seriously wounded. In 1977 Beckwith went on to be the founder of the nation’s first counterterrorism and hostage rescue unit. Beckwith later participated in Operation Eagle Claw, the infamous rescue mission during the Iranian hostage crisis, and retired afterward. 

Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining

4 badass operators you should know more about
Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining attended and graduated from the very first selection course. Photo courtesy of the US Army.

Mike Vining served 31 years in the US Army before retiring as a sergeant major. For a one-year tour of duty to Vietnam between 1970 and 1971, Vining served with the 99th Ordnance Detachment as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician. His team was responsible for destroying Rock Island East, the largest enemy ammunition cache in the war.

Vining later attended and graduated from the first Operator Training Course (OTC-1) in 1978 and went on to participate in Operation Eagle Claw, Operation Urgent Fury for the assault on Richmond Hill Prison, Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. He also served as the explosive investigator of the Downing Assessment Task Force for which he investigated the truck bombing at Al Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. 

Maj. Thomas Greer

4 badass operators you should know more about
Operators on the hunt for Usama Bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in November 2001. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Greer, better known by his pen name, Dalton Fury, was among the very first operators to write a book about the initial invasion of Afghanistan. His 2008 book, Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man, discussed the unsuccessful mission of tracking Bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. Prior to joining the Unit, Greer served as an enlisted soldier in the 75th Ranger Regiment for eight years. Throughout his 15-year career in special operations units, he hunted war criminals in the Balkans, served as an assault force commander on direct action raids against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and tracked Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq. 

Greer retired in 2005 after more than 20 years of military service. In civilian life, Greer consulted on strengthening the security of all the nation’s nuclear power plants and was a military consultant for the popular video games Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. He died in 2016 after a battle with cancer; he was 52.

Sgt. Maj. Dennis Wolfe

4 badass operators you should know more about
Dennis Wolfe served his country in the US Army and as a civil servant for 48 years in total. Photo courtesy of USSOCOM.

Dennis Wolfe contributed 48 years of combined military and civilian service to his country. When Wolfe first joined the Army he planned to go the Airborne route, but after suffering a knee injury in basic training, he chose to enter the EOD career field.

“In the EOD field I was on presidential support, VIP support, supporting the secret service,” he said at the US Special Operations Command ceremony where he was the recipient of the 2018 Bull Simons Award for lifetime achievements as a special operator. 

“One of my assignments in the EOD field was as an instructor at Redstone Arsenal and that is where I got a call to come to Fort Bragg for an assessment and selection process for a unit that was starting up,” Wolfe recalled. This assignment was for the US Army’s new special missions unit. Wolfe, as well as Mike Vining on this list, were pioneers in the EOD world. Like Vining, Wolf also attended and graduated the very first OTC-1 in 1978. He participated in Operation Eagle Claw and Operation Urgent Fury and after his retirement was a trailblazer bringing together civilian scientists with military strategists to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

“I never turned anything down. I never planned anything specifically. The unit said they needed me because of my skills. I couldn’t refuse. I’ll go. I never thought I had all those skills people were looking for. Sometimes they had more faith in me than I had in myself. I felt as a soldier I couldn’t turn anything down,” Wolfe said, reflecting on his career. “During my time SOF has gone from reactive to proactive. I think we are still there today. At least I hope we are.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These four photos are the only ones ever taken inside a Nazi death camp

The “Sonderkommando Photographs” are the only known photos taken of the gas chambers and cremation pits at Auchwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp. Shot by a Greek prisoner, the four photos were smuggled to the Polish Resistance where they were cropped and retouched to make them clearer. They were published in a 1945 Polish legal report about the camp. They were later published in a Polish-language book, called “We Have Not Forgotten.”


 

4 badass operators you should know more about

The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in occupied Poland was among the most notorious of the Nazi death camps. The SS guards there methodically killed inmates once they were no longer deemed fit to work by leading them into a gas chamber under the auspices that they were taking a shower.

4 badass operators you should know more about
Photo 280

The Nazi death camp used Jewish inmates — called sonderkommandos — to work the gas chambers and the four crematoria. The sonderkommandos would collect the dead inmates’ personal belongings and dispose of the bodies.

4 badass operators you should know more about
282 shows women being taken into the Auschwitz gas chamber.

One such prisoner was Alberto Errera, a Greek naval officer who was eventually killed by the guards after punching a Nazi SS officer. He took the photos with a German Leica that was smuggled into the camp by four other prisoners. They had to be careful when taking the photos, as the SS guards would have surely killed them had they been were discovered.

4 badass operators you should know more about
A cropped and corrected version of 281

The Greek prisoner shot the photos from the hip while the other four men kept an eye out for the guards. As a result, some of the photos are strangely framed, showing only trees. All of the photos were reportedly taken within 20 minutes of each other.

4 badass operators you should know more about
Cropped, corrected 280

The film was smuggled out of the camp via a toothpaste tube carried by the woman who ran the SS’ canteen. She got the film to the Polish Resistance, along with a note from two political prisoners that read the following:

Urgent. Send two metal rolls of film for 6×9 as fast as possible. Have possibility of taking photos. Sending you photos of Birkenau showing prisoners sent to gas chambers. One photos shows one of the stakes at which bodies were burned when the crematoria could not manage to burn all the bodies. The bodies in the foreground are waiting to be thrown into the fire. Another picture shows one of the places in the forest where people undress before ‘showering’ – as they were told – and then go to the gas-chambers. Send film roll as fast as you can. Send the enclosed photos to Tell – we think enlargements of the photos can be sent further.

4 badass operators you should know more about
283. Just the branches of a nearby tree.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch an interview with the last surviving witness to the Lincoln Assassination

Samuel J. Seymour was away from his home for the first time at just five years old. He was with his father on a business trip to Washington, D.C., a city filled to the brim with soldiers and other men with guns. He was nervous and scared at the sight of so many firearms. To put him at ease, his nurse decided to take him to a play, and President Lincoln himself would be there.

It was an event he would never forget, as he recounted it to a TV audience and celebrity contestants Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball some 90-plus years later.


“It wasn’t a pleasant thing,” Seymour told Meadows when describing his night at Ford’s Theater on a 1956 episode of I’ve Got A Secret. “I was scared to death.”

When Lincoln arrived, he smiled and greeted the crowd from a flag-draped booth in the balcony. The President’s smile and the mood of the theater relaxed the young boy. Until a shot rang out. Strangely, the five-year-old Seymour was very concerned about the man who appeared to have fallen from the balcony of the theater in the middle of the performance. He had no idea someone had been shot, let alone that it was President Lincoln.

“Pandemonium” then swept through the theater, Seymour recalled, as his nurse hurried the boy out of the theater. He heard calls of “Lincoln’s shot! The President is dead!”

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Seymour died two months after his TV appearance.

The man, of course, was Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth waited until the play’s funniest line when the shot would be masked by the sound of laughter. Booth calmly walked into the President’s booth, barred the door, and fired a single shot into the President, who was laughing at the line. Union Army Maj. Henry Rathbone, who accompanied Lincoln that night with their wives, fought Booth for his single-shot derringer and was stabbed for his effort. His constant wrangling with Booth caused the assassin’s boot spur to get tangled in the flag as he jumped from the President’s box. This is why Booth landed awkwardly on his leg.

Many in the crowd were confused. Not everyone heard the shot, and many thought it was still part of the play. Little Samuel Seymour didn’t understand it either.

“I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat,” the old man said. “That night I was shot 50 times, at least, in my dreams – and I sometimes relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Remembering the USS Indianapolis (CA 35) on its 75th Anniversary

In the first minutes of July 30, 1945, two torpedoes fired from Japanese submarine I-58 struck the starboard side of USS Indianapolis (CA 35). One ripped off the ship’s bow, followed by another that hit crew berthing areas and knocked out communications.

In the dead of night, chaos ensued. It took only 12 minutes for the decorated warship that had carried President Roosevelt in the interwar years and earned ten battle stars for its World War II service up to that point to begin a descent to the bottom of the Philippine Sea.

Around 300 crew died in the initial blasts and went down with the ship. Between 800 and 900 men went into the water.


Indianapolis had completed a top-secret delivery of atomic bomb components to Tinian, an island in the Northern Marianas, days earlier. Unbeknownst to crew at the time, this mission would in the weeks to come contribute to the end of the war.

At the time of its sinking, the ship was returning unescorted to the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of mainland Japan and to resume its role as flagship of Admiral Raymond Spruance and the Fifth Fleet. Damage prevented transmission of a distress signal and misunderstood directives led to the Navy not reporting the ship’s failure to arrive.

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Shortly after completing a top-secret delivery of atomic bomb components to Tinian, the USS Indianapolis was struck by torpedo and sank 75 years ago today.

Surviving Sailors and Marines were adrift for four days before the pilot of a U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 twin-engine patrol bomber located them. It was by pure chance that, on the afternoon of August 2, that the bomber spotted an oil slick while adjusting an antenna.

A massive air and surface rescue operation ensued that night and through the following day. Out of 1,195 crew, 316 survived the ordeal; four additional Sailors died shortly after rescue.

The survivors faced incomprehensible misery. Some found themselves scattered miles apart in seven different groups. Some were fortunate to have gone in the water near rafts and floating rations. Others, including the largest group of around 400 men, had nothing but life vests and floater nets. Men suffered from exposure, dehydration, attacks by hallucinating shipmates, exhaustion, hypothermia, and sharks.

Hallucinations were contagious as many dived underwater thinking that they were entering their ship to drink ice cold milk, only to guzzle sea water and initiate a horrible death. Others swam off alone to reach hotels or imaginary islands. Crew supported each other as best they could, some at the expense of their own lives. The captain of the ship’s Marine detachment swam himself to death circling his group to keep them together. The crew’s beloved chaplain succumbed to exhaustion after providing days of last rites to dying shipmates. Rescue crews had to fire at sharks feeding on the dead with rifles in order to recover bThe crew that went down with the ship or died in the water are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing in the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Manila American Cemetery. At last count, fifty survivors rest at NCA locations. Interments at Riverside National Cemetery in California and Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota contain the largest groups of these Veterans.

The few remaining Indianapolis survivors, now in their 90s, will be celebrated at a virtual 75th anniversary reunion this July. A Congressional Gold Medal has been struck for the event.

On this anniversary, we reflect on the service and experience of Indianapolis‘s final crew, give thanks to those still with us, and remember those who passed. Their ordeal compelled the Navy to make safety improvements, such as mandatory movement reports and improved lifesaving equipment and training – all of which undoubtedly saved the lives of countless Sailors and Marines. Additionally, their successful final mission hastened the end of World War II.odies for identification and a proper burial at sea.

Today

The crew that went down with the ship or died in the water are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing in the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Manila American Cemetery. At last count, fifty survivors rest at NCA locations. Interments at Riverside National Cemetery in California and Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota contain the largest groups of these Veterans.

The few remaining Indianapolis survivors, now in their 90s, will be celebrated at a virtual 75th anniversary reunion this July. A Congressional Gold Medal has been struck for the event.

On this anniversary, we reflect on the service and experience of Indianapolis‘s final crew, give thanks to those still with us, and remember those who passed. Their ordeal compelled the Navy to make safety improvements, such as mandatory movement reports and improved lifesaving equipment and training – all of which undoubtedly saved the lives of countless Sailors and Marines. Additionally, their successful final mission hastened the end of World War II.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Old Ironsides and Operation Torch: The Army’s 1st Armored Division

They’re the oldest and the most recognized armored division in the Army. The first division to see combat in Germany during WWII and the first mash-up of reconnaissance and cavalry units in all of Army history. Here’s everything you thought you knew but didn’t about America’s Tank Division.


Kentucky Wonders, Fire and Brimstone or Old Ironsides?

After the division was organized in 1940, commanding general Maj. Gen. Bruce Magruder was the division’s first commander. His friend, Gen. George Patton, had just named the 2nd Armored Division “Hell on Wheels,” and Magruder didn’t want to be left behind. So, he held a contest to find an appropriate nickname for the new division.

Over two hundred names were submitted, including “Kentucky Wonders” and “Fire and Brimstone.” Gen. Magruder hated all the names submitted and decided to take the weekend to find the best one. It just so happened he’d recently purchased a painting of the USS Constitution, whose nickname was, wait for it, Old Ironsides. It’s said that Magruder was impressed by the correlation between the Navy’s unwavering spirit during the war and his new division’s. It was then that he landed on the nickname Old Ironsides, and the name’s been the same ever since.

The first enemy contact was in North Africa, and it was rough.

Contrary to what many think, the Old Ironsides didn’t engage with the Germans as their first combat experience. Instead, they traveled to North Africa and participated in Operation Torch, part of the Allied Invasion.

Operation Torch was intended to draw Axis forces away from the Eastern Front and relieve pressure on the Soviet Union. It was a compromise between the US and British planners. The mission was planned as a pincer movement with the Old Ironsides landing on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The primary objective for the Old Ironsides was to work toward securing bridgeheads for opening a second front to the rear of German and Italian forces. Allied soldiers experienced unexpected resistance from Vichy-French units, but the Old Ironsides helped suppress all resistance and were heading toward Tunisia within three days.

The invasion of Africa helped win the war

The invasion of North Africa accomplished a great deal for the Allies since American and British forces finally had the offensive against the Germans and Italians. For the first time, US and UK directives were able to dictate the tempo of events. Forced to fight on both the western and eastern fronts, the German-Italian forces had the additional burden of having to plan and prepare for attacks in North Africa.

However, the harsh conditions of North Africa were quick teachers for the new Old Ironsides soldiers. In February 1943, the Old Ironsides met a better trained German armored force at Kasserine Pass, and the division sustained heavy losses in both service members and equipment.

The division was forced to withdraw, but the Old Ironsides used their retreat time to review the battle and prepare for the next one. After three more months of hard fighting, the Allies claimed victory in North Africa.

The Old Ironsides were recognized publicly for their efforts and then moved to Naples to support Allied forces there.

The Infamous Winter Line Attack

As part of the 5th Army, the 1st Armored Division took part in the attack on the Winter Line in November 1943. Old Ironsides flanked Axis forces in the landings at Anzio and then participated in the liberation of Rome in June. The unit continued to serve in the Italian Campaign until German forces surrendered in May 1945. One month later, Old Ironsides was moved to Germany as part of the US occupation forces stationed there.

WWII to present 

In the drawdown after WWII, the 1st Armored Division was deactivated in 1946 but was then reactivated in 1951 at Fort Hood, where it was the first Army unit to field the new M48 Patton tank. Currently, the unit home is Fort Bliss, Texas, but it previously was housed at Baumholder, Germany. With the relocation, the unit went from roughly 9,000 soldiers to more than 34,000.

In 2019, the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team turned its smaller vehicles in for Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

OORAH: The Marine Battle Cry Origin Story

Walk onto any Marine Corps base and you’ll hear all sorts of celebratory grunts. These almost words coming from the mouths of new Marines and seasoned NCOs sound like Errrr and Yut. Echoing across the well-trimmed grounds, humming through the DFAC, in the hallowed halls of Marine history, one grunt stands out. Oo-rah is the tried and true, battle-tested and history provided Marine call that defines the service. 


It’s no secret the military has way too many slang words and acronyms to count. Most are impossible for the civilian ear to understand. But there are some that translate just fine. One of those is the Marine battle cry, “oo-rah.” Anyone who’s heard it knows it has only one meaning.

Used as a motivational tool to push recruits and Marines beyond their limit, the classic grunt actually stems from another traditional sound.

Related: Here’s where the term ‘Bravo Zulu’ comes from

Although they are a few theories about how the legendary shout started, several sources point to a single origin — aboard a Naval submarine.

4 badass operators you should know more about

Many historians believe that “oo-rah” came from, of course, Marines, assigned to 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance while traveling aboard a submarine in 1953.

When a sub is about to submerge, “dive, dive” is called out over the intercom system followed by a klaxon alarm, which makes a very distinct “aarugha.”

Click play below to hear the klaxon alarm.

(Lord Sandwich | YouTube)

Also Read: Here’s how ‘Taps’ got its name

Reportedly, aboard one of the submarines used during the Korean War was Gunnery Sergeant John R. Massaro, who shortened the sound into “oo-rah,” shouted as Marines dove out of the vessel.

As the grunt become more popular, it spread quickly throughout the Marine Corps. Soon, it became one of the ways Marines responded to various questions.

The symbolic grunt oo-rah has since become one of the most recognized sounds used in the military today.

As for its accredited originator, Gunnery Sergeant John R. Massaro, he served in the Marine Corps for 31 years and retired as the 8th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps in 1979.

MIGHTY HISTORY

When the enemy brought the war to America

Imagine the following scenario: A bloody war rages overseas as a fanatical, totalitarian ideology conquers entire countries. The U.S. government announces it will send military forces abroad to stem the tide of the aggression. Despite increasingly dire news headlines, however, life in America proceeds uneventfully.

After all, America is thousands of miles from the battlefields and surely far beyond the enemy’s immediate reach.

That sense of security abruptly ends only weeks later when the enemy suddenly launches a fearsome assault against the U.S. homeland itself. Thousands die as American cities witness explosions and raging infernos. Worse yet, the U.S. military seems powerless to stop the assault.


If that story sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. It isn’t the plot of Call of Duty– the scenario described above actually happened during World War II. December 1941 saw the U.S. finally join the war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. Many Americans understandably assumed that geography insulated them from any direct threat.

However, while U.S. leaders in Washington debated how to deploy their forces overseas, Adolf Hitler made the first move. In January 1942, Hitler’s forces began a massive naval offensive against the U.S. east coast.

The German navy, or Kriegsmarine, lacked a formidable surface fleet. What the Kriegsmarine did possess, however, was a technologically and tactically sophisticated submarine force: the infamous unterseeboots, or “U-boats.”

The U-boats had proven deadly in World War I, to include a limited number of attacks near the U.S. east coast, but the scale of the U-boat offensive against America in 1942 was without precedent. Only weeks after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, war had come to the American homeland.

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Rendition of the U-995

(oil painting by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau)

Cargo ships and even U.S. Navy warships began going down in flames. Many vessels were torpedoed within sight of coastal cities. Coastal residents saw the ships burning off the Jersey Shore and the Outer Banks. Debris and bodies washed ashore for months as the U-boats struck from New England to Texas.

U-boat commanders returning to port in occupied Europe reported that U.S. waters offered more targets than the U-boats had the means to attack. The easy hunting lead German crews to dub 1942 die glückliche zeit: “the happy time.”

4 badass operators you should know more about

(Alamy Stock Photos)

Compounding the fear and destruction was America’s apparent inability to stop it. A combination of factors limited the U.S. military’s ability to stop the U-boats. These included a shortage of warships suited to anti-submarine operations, a lack of convoy procedures, and a reluctance to implement nighttime blackouts of coastal cities to deny U-boat commanders the benefit of ship silhouettes to target.

While U.S. leaders debated how to stem the onslaught, the Kriegsmarine dispatched more waves of U-boats to North America. Hundreds of ships were sunk, and thousands died as desperately needed war material was sent to the bottom of the Atlantic.

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The U-123, one of the German subs that prowled the American coast in 1942.

(German Federal Archives)

Fortunately, 1942 would prove to be the apex of Hitler’s U-boat assault against America. The Allies began implementing convoys, and more American air and naval assets were allocated to anti-submarine duties.

These changes eventually led the Kriegsmarine to shift its priorities away from American coasts towards the mid-Atlantic. U-boats would continue to strike in American waters until the end of the war, but the scope and effectiveness of their operations steadily decreased. U-boat losses mounted too as the hunters eventually became the prey.

The U-boat fleet, considered one of the most prestigious assignments for a German serviceman, ultimately suffered the German military’s highest casualties: 3 out of 4 U-boat crewmen did not survive the war.

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The crew of the U-550 abandons ship after being crippled by a U.S. Coast Guard attack off Massachusetts in April 1944.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

U.S. waters today are littered with the wrecks of U-boats and their victims. Many of these wrecks have become popular sites amongst scuba divers. This chapter of World War II, however, has mostly disappeared from American public memory.

This is to our discredit, as the memory of Hitler’s naval assault against America bears several important lessons for a post-9/11 world. These lessons include the naiveté of assuming that large oceans can be counted on to deter foreign aggression and a sobering reminder of what a small but motivated and capable force can inflict on a much larger power.

The thousands of men lost during this forgotten campaign is a testament to the human cost of global conflict and its ramifications for national security in the 21st century.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: One of the last living Marines from Iwo Jima shares his story with WATM

Frank Clark was 15 years old when Pearl Harbor was brazenly attacked by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941. On that fateful Sunday morning in Hawaii, 2,403 people lost their lives and 1178 more were wounded. The next day, the United States entered World War II.


Clark’s two older brothers, Charles and Pat immediately enlisted into the Air Corps. “Our patriotism among the young men was unbelievable. They just flooded the enlistment,” he shared. Since he was too young to join, he had to wait. On December 23rd, 1943, his mother signed the paperwork that would allow him to become a United States Marine.

He was just 17 years old.

Clark had a twinkle in his blue eyes and a sly grin when he shared that he chose to serve as a Marine because of their beautiful uniforms. He had no way of knowing what was waiting for him.

Clark turned 18 two weeks before he graduated from Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, CA and was chosen to become a radio operator. When he finished his training, he joined the 4th Marine division in Hawaii. On February 17th, 1945 – he and those he described as “on his level” were told of the plan to invade Iwo Jima in two days time.

The 4th Marine division was told that the invasion would give the United States a staging facility to eventually attack Japan, since Iwo Jima was just 750 miles from its coast. Iwo Jima boasted two air strips that would be needed for a successful attack on Japan. Clark also shared that the officers told them that the recent air and naval bombardments over thirty days had taken out 95% of the Japanese’s fighting force on Iwo Jima. Officers assured the Marines that they’d be off the island in five days and back in Hawaii.

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Clark shook his head and said, “What they told us was wrong and we paid dearly for it.”

As a radio operator, he was on a small communications ship off the shore of Iwo Jima as the Army and Marine divisions hit the island all at once. Clark watched in horror as the men who stepped off the landing ship were killed without warning.

Unbeknownst to those officers who planned the attack on Iwo Jima, the Japanese had created underground tunnels. It was there that they hid, safely waiting out the month long bombings from the United States. As those soldiers and Marines stepped onto the beaches of Iwo Jima, on February 19th, 1945, a camouflaged mountainside artillery awaited them.

It would take all day under intense fire, but eventually the Marines and soldiers were able to take the first part of that coveted airfield. The price for that piece of land was heavy. Hundreds of bodies laid on the volcanic ash sand beach bearing witness to the cost of that day.

On the third day of the battle of Iwo Jima, Clark got off the boat and made his way on the island – with an extra forty pounds of radio equipment on his back. He and the other Marines he was with struggled through the tough sand to make their way to safer positions.

At one point, he and three other radio operators were in a hole about five feet deep with all of their equipment communicating with their leaders. Clark vividly remembers what happened next. He bent over to get something and within a second, the Marine behind him was shot in the forehead, dying instantly. That bullet was meant for Clark, but bending over saved his life.

It wouldn’t be the last time Clark narrowly evaded death.

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He remembers the feeling of that volcanic ash sand on his body. He stopped to take a quick break to catch some sleep, burying himself in the sand and covering his head with his poncho. “When I started getting up and pushing myself to get out, I felt a hand there. As it turned out, I had taken my little nap laying in the lap of a dead Japanese soldier. It wasn’t a good feeling, but there was nothing you could do about it,” Clark said.

Clark shared another memory of his time on Iwo Jima. He recalled seeing six rows – each the length of a football field – of bodies covered in white lime. He was unsure if they were American or Japanese bodies, but seeing that gave him an eerie feeling. Clark said you won’t find pictures or videos of that, as he was sure the government told the media not to show it. That image of those bodies has stayed fresh in his mind.

The Marines and soldiers continued their advancement onto Iwo Jima, slowly taking the island. On day six of the bloody battle, that now infamous picture was taken of the Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The image would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become an iconic image of the war.

It would take almost another month before they captured the island completely. When they left that island, Clark didn’t look back.

The Marines in his division never made their way to Japan – they didn’t have the fighting power like they originally planned for. The Battle of Iwo Jima took the lives of 6,800 brave men and US troops suffered 26,000 casualties. After the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Japanese quickly surrendered.

After leaving Iwo Jima, Clark was informed that his two brothers, Charles and Pat, had both been killed in action.

Clark left the Marines after the war ended and went on to live a quiet civilian life. He was married for 68 years and 8 months to his beautiful wife Nadine, before she passed away in 2017. After her death, he moved into the Missouri Veterans Home.

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Frank took a break from his interview to ask WATM writer Jessica Manfre for a dance.

These days, Clark enjoys spending time on his computer and visiting with the ladies that work at the Veterans home.

When asked what advice he would give incoming service members as we approach twenty years at war he laughingly joked, “Do what you can to get into officer’s training – live the better life.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 astonishing battles that came to be called ‘Turkey Shoots’

There have been many closely-fought battles that could have gone either way.


The Battle of Midway was one. The final outcome of Japan losing four carriers and a heavy cruiser compared to the United States losing a carrier and a destroyer looks like a blow out. But that doesn’t reflect the fact that the Japanese fought off five separate attacks before Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers fatally damaged the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

Other battles, though, were clearly blowouts from the beginning. As in, you wonder why the losing side even wanted to pick that fight in the first place. Three of these battles were so one-sided, they were labeled “turkey shoots.” Here’s the rundown.

1944: The Marianas Turkey Shoot

Within four days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured Guam. Two and a half years later, the United States Navy brought the Army and Marines to take it back.

It was arguably a finer hour for Raymond Spruance than the Battle of Midway, when on June 19, 1944, the United States Navy shot down 219 out of 326 attacking Japanese planes. By the time the battle was over and done, Japan’s carriers had just 35 planes operational.

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Sailors aboard USS Birmingham (CL 62) watch the Marianas Turkey Shoot. (U.S. Navy photo)

1982: The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot

In the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians and Egyptians surprised the Israelis with very good ground-based air defenses. The Israelis overcame that to win, but it was a very close call. When Syria and Israel clashed over Lebanon in 1982, three years removed from the Camp David accords, it was the Syrians’ turn to get handled roughly.

In the nine years since the Yom Kippur War, Israel started adding F-15 and F-16 fighters to their arsenal, but the real game-changer for the two-day battle of June 9-10, 1982 was the E-2 Hawkeye, which was able to warn Israeli planes of over 100 Syrian MiGs.

Final score over those two days: Israel 64 Syrian jets and at least 17 missile launchers, Syria 0.

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Israeli Air Force

1991: Desert Storm

While the air campaign was noted for what some sources considered a perfect 38-0 record for the Coalition (recent claims that Scott Speicher was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat notwithstanding), there was one other incident called a “turkey shoot.”

That was a large convoy of Iraqi tanks, trucks, and armored personnel carriers. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least one pilot labeled that a “turkey shoot.”

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(USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Joe Coleman)

These one-sided fights still didn’t come without costs for the winners. But you have to wonder what the losing side was thinking when they started them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Red Cloud was the only American Indian to win a war against the US

The famous Chief of the Oglala Lakota, Red Cloud, led the only successful native war against the United States. At the Fetterman Massacre, he inflicted the Army’s greatest defeat at the hands of any native leader until the Battle of Little Bighorn a decade later. 

He was able to force out the Americans by uniting the many tribes in the Wyoming area and pursued the Army through his relentless attacks on Army-held forts and the reinforcements that were supposed to relieve the recipients of his seemingly endless attacks.

By 1868, the Army abandoned its plans for expanding in Red Cloud’s area of operations. The natives, for once, were victorious. 

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Red Cloud. Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society. Taken by Charles Milton Bell while Red Cloud was on a delegation in 1880.

Red Cloud grew up fighting wars. He was born in what is today Nebraska, but like many other American Indian tribes, his Oglala Lakota were pushed westward by American expansion into the Great Plains. The expansion also pushed the tribes into conflict with one another, and Red Cloud became a warrior fighting neighboring Crow and Pawnee tribes. 

In 1851, the U.S. and several tribes entered into the Treaty of Fort Laramie in Wyoming, which gave up any claims the United States had to the land held by nine American Indian nations. In return, the tribes guaranteed the safety of settlers making their way west along the Oregon Trail. The agreement also allowed the Army to construct forts in Indian territory in exchange for a 50-year annuity. Finally, it allowed the tribes to set their own land claims in the region. 

It was broken immediately after being signed, when gold was discovered in Colorado. American miners set up homesteads and towns in Indian-controlled territories as the U.S. government did nothing to stop them. Discoveries of Gold in Montana is also what led to Red Cloud’s War and his subsequent victory over the Army. 

With white settlers moving into native territories unchecked, bison numbers began to dwindle and native hunters were forced to expand their hunting grounds, even into the lands held by other tribes. The tribes began fighting over hunting grounds and the Lakota were winning. The Lakota and other tribes were also harassing settlers on the Bozeman Trail into Montana on their way to look for that gold. 

The U.S. Army sent a punitive expedition after the natives but failed to win a decisive battle, so another conference was held at Fort Laramie, but when Red Cloud arrived, he saw 1,300 troops from the 18th Infantry Regiment and accused the Army of trying to bully them out of their treaty. He and a number of other leaders left without settling any disputes. The Army set out to subdue Red Cloud and the restless warriors. 

It was a bad situation from the start for the soldiers. They were not equipped to fight a mobile war against Red Cloud. They carried obsolete weapons and many were infantry, not cavalry – and they were outnumbered on the Indians’ home turf.

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As the Army moved northward, they built a series of forts, and stopped for the winter in Montana at Fort C.F. Smith, which they built. The natives struck first, hitting military civilian wagon trains along the Bozeman Trail, which soon scared any settlers from using the trail. Then 500 warriors hit the series of forts along the trail, stealing cattle and killing settlers. 

Red Cloud’s attacks soon became a constant harassment to the soldiers, so the Army sent in a cadre of Civil War veterans. That might have seemed like a good idea, but while they were hardened veterans, they had no experience in the kind of fighting happening on the plains.

One of those veterans was Capt. William J. Fetterman, who led a party to relieve a wagon train under attack by the Lakota in December 1866. Fetterman led a team of 81 soldiers out into the plains and immediately came across Crazy Horse and a handful of warriors along Lodge Trail Ridge. Despite being warned not to pursue the enemy beyond the ridge, Fetterman went after them anyway. 

Coming over the ridge and into the valley below, Fetterman and the 81 troops found a trap of at least 1,000 Oglala and Cheyenne warriors, who promptly massacred them. There could be no help from the fort, as Fetterman was warned. 

The tribes continued harassing the forts, wagons, and civilians until the U.S. Army sued for peace. They needed the troops along the Bozeman Trail to help protect the Transcontinental Railroad. Not having the soldiers necessary to subdue the natives and protect the rails, they called Red Cloud for talks at Fort Laramie. 

Red Cloud demanded the full withdrawal of the Army from the forts along the trail as a precondition to open talks, and the Army complied. When they did, the natives burned the forts. After two years of fighting, the U.S. and the natives signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868. It created the Great Sioux Reservation and prevented white settlers from occupying any portion of the Powder River area. Anyone crossing the territory had to get permission from the tribes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Army’s Caribou cargo plane supplied troops in Vietnam

The United States Army has a little-known fleet of fixed-wing cargo planes. Currently, the major player in that fleet is the C-23 Sherpa, but throughout the years, there have been some other planes that proved very capable of handing the Army’s needs. One such plane was the C-7 Caribou.


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When the C-7 entered service, it was first called the CV-2B. (U.S. Army photo)

Like the C-23, the C-7 Caribou filled a vital niche for the Army. Instead of providing that support in the deserts of the Middle East, however, it proved to be a valuable cargo asset in the jungles of Vietnam. The C-7 could carry four tons of cargo or 32 troops, had a top speed of 216 miles per hour, and could go 1,308 miles.

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The C-123 Provider was too big for some re-supply missions. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Army had taken a look at the Air Force’s C-123 Provider and C-130 Hercules and quickly realized that there was a big gap in cargo-delivering capabilities between these massive planes and the small loads carried by helicopters of the time (the famous UH-1 Huey had flown in 1956, but was trickling into service). So, they sought a small transport plane to fill that gap.

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The Royal Australian Air Force used the Caribou until 2009. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

A Canadian company, de Havilland Canada, ended up fielding a design that would fit the bill for the Army. It was unique in that it could take off and land given just 1,000 feet. It could pull this off despite the fact that it had less horsepower in its two engines than in a single R-2800, the engine that powered World War II planes, like the F6F Hellcat and the P-47 Thunderbolt.

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A privately owned DHC-4T Turbo Caribou cargo plane approaches a remote Special Operations Task Force South East outpost in the province of Uruzgan, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessi Ann McCormick)

The Army bought 173 C-7s and used them in Vietnam until 1967, when the Air Force took these planes on in exchange for dropping performance restrictions of Army helicopters. The C-7s continued to serve until 1985, when the C-23 replaced them. Some C-7 stayed in service with Australia until as late as 2009!

Learn more about this impressive cargo plane in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNggrKE3qAQ
(Jeff Quitney | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The ships with guns that weighed more than entire battleships

Prior to WW2, knowing that they couldn’t compete with the numbers of the US navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy quietly authorized the construction of the two largest battleships by weight ever seen in warfare — the Musashi and her sister ship, the Yamato.

The origins of these two behemoths can be traced back to Japan’s 1934 withdrawal from the League of Nations. Amongst other things, doing this allowed Japan to ignore rules set by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the London Naval Treaty of 1930, both of which aimed to limit the size of battleships as well as the right of participating nations to construct them.


Almost immediately following Japan’s withdrawal, a team working for the Japanese Navy Technical Department helmed by an engineer called Keiji Fukuda began submitting designs for a class of battleships superior in size and firepower to anything ever seen before.

While initially planning to build five of these battleships, ultimately only two were completed, with a third being converted to an aircraft carrier mid-way through construction.

The two completed ships, the Musashi and the Yamato, were quite literally in a class of their own, designed to displace some 73,000 long tons when fully equipped. For reference here, the United States’ Iowa class battleships created around the same time, while of similar length, weighed about 40% less.

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Japanese battleship Yamato under construction at the Kure Naval Base, Japan, Sept. 20, 1941.

As one Japanese officer, Naoyoshi Ishida, described, “How huge it is! When you walk inside, there are arrows telling you which direction is the front and which is the back—otherwise you can’t tell. For a couple of days I didn’t even know how to get back to my own quarters. Everyone was like that…. I knew it was a very capable battleship. The guns were enormous.”

On that note, not just big, these ships also featured nine of the largest guns ever put on a battleship, featuring 460 mm barrels and weighing an astounding 3,000 tons each, with all nine combined weighing approximately as much as the United States’ Wyoming, New York, and Nevada class battleships.

These weapons were capable of firing shells that weighed up to 3200 pounds (1450 kg)- or, in other words, in the ballpark of what a typical full sized sedan car weighs. While you might think the range when shooting such an object must have been poor, in fact, these guns could hit a target over 25 miles (40 kilometers) away. They could also be fired at a rate of about once every 40 seconds.

The shockwave produced by one of these guns firing was noted as being powerful enough to tear the skin off of a human if an unlucky individual stood within 15 metres of it without proper shielding. This shockwave also resulted in nearby anti-aircraft guns having to be specially armored to protect them from this.

Speaking of anti-aircraft guns, ultimately these ships were equipped with approximately 150 25 mm guns. In between these and the massive 460 mm cannons previously described, the ships also featured six 155 mm and 24 127 mm guns.

Further, if not needing the 460 mm cannons for hitting ships far away, these battleships were equipped with so-called “beehive rounds” to fire from those cannons. In a nutshell, these rounds were filled with nearly a thousand incendiary tubes and hundreds of shards of steel. The round also included a fuse and explosive that would cause the shell to explode out, with the incendiary tubes igniting shortly thereafter, producing a wall of flame and molten steel meant to absolutely obliterate enemy aircraft. Essentially, the idea here was to convert these guns into comically large shotguns, able to pick any enemy birds out of the air.

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Japanese Battleship Musashi taken from the bow.

Armor-wise, each ship possessed on its outer shell a protective layer some 16 inches thick.

While you might think this all combined must have made these ships slow as molasses, it turns out, they had a top speed of about 27 knots (31 mph). While not the fastest battleship in the world, this compared favorably to, for instance, the aforementioned Iowa class battleships that weighed about 40% less, but could only go about 6 knots faster.

Despite their awe-inspiring power and the full confidence of Japanese military brass that each ship was “unmatchable and unsinkable”, neither saw much combat. In fact, the Yamato spent so much time protecting Japanese ports that it was nicknamed the “Hotel Yamato”.

The reluctance of the Japanese navy to commit either ship to combat was motivated by both the scarcity of fuel in Japan during the war, with these battleships taking copious amounts of such to go anywhere, and the fact that military brass believed losing either ship would be a massive blow to the morale of the rest of the Japanese military.

Of course, in the closing months of WW2 with their forces almost completely obliterated, Japan reluctantly began committing both battleships to naval engagements. Unfortunately at this point these super battleships were so absurdly outnumbered in the limited engagements they’d ultimately take part in that they mostly just functioned as sitting ducks.

Most notably, they proved especially vulnerable to aircraft attacks. Even the aforementioned beehive rounds, which the Japanese believed would decimate aircraft, proved to be little more than a visual deterrent, with some American pilots simply flying straight through the flaming shrapnel they produced.

And while the near couple hundred anti-aircraft guns made it so it took a brave pilot to dive bomb the ships, the sheer number of aircraft that the Americans could throw at these battleships at the same time and how chaotic the battles got, ultimately saw these guns prove just as worthless in practice.

It didn’t help that at this point in the war Japan’s own aircraft were ridiculously outnumbered and outclassed, providing little to no air cover to try to protect the massive battleships. (See our article, How Were Kamikaze Pilots Chosen?)

Ultimately the Musashi was lost during the battle of Leyte Gulf in October of 1944, taking 19 torpedo and 17 bomb strikes to sink it.

As for the Yamato, it took part in her final engagement in April of 1945 in operation Ten-Go, which was an intentional suicide mission.

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Japanese battleship Yamato is hit by a bomb near her forward 460mm gun turret.


The Yamato was to be the tip of the spear of this final, last-ditch effort to repel the American advance. Its crew was ordered to beach the ship near Okinawa and use its main battery to destroy as much of the invading force as possible. Essentially, the ship would function as a base on the island, and members of the near 3,000 strong crew not needed to operate weaponry aboard the ship were to wage a land battle with any enemy forces encountered.

The mission plan was flawed from the outset, however, and performed under protest of some of the Japanese Navy brass involved, who noted there would be no chance of even reaching the target island in the first place given the stated plan, including no air support whatsoever, and time of day they were to execute the plan (broad daylight).

This turned out to be correct- en route on April 7, 1945, the Yamato and handful of accompanying ships were completely, and quickly, overwhelmed by a combined assault from 6 cruisers, 21 destroyers, 7 battleships, and a few hundred aircraft.

One surviving member of the Yamato crew, junior officer Yoshida Mitsuru, had this to say of the battle that they all had known was a suicide mission from the start,

How many times, in target practice, have we conducted such tracking? I am possessed by the illusion that we have already experienced searches under the same conditions, with the same battle positions, even with the same mood.
What is going on before my very eyes, indisputably, is actual combat — but how can I possibly convince myself of that fact?
The blips are not an imagined enemy but an enemy poised for the kill. The location: not our training waters, but hostile waters.
More than one hundred enemy planes attacking!” Is it the navigation officer who calls this out?
… The battle begins….
As my whole body tingles with excitement, I observe my own exhilaration; as I grit my teeth, I break into a grin. A sailor near me is felled by shrapnel. In the midst of the overwhelming noise, I distinguish the sound of his skull striking the bulkhead; amid the smell of gunpowder all around, I smell blood….
The tracks of the torpedoes are a beautiful white against the water, as if someone were drawing a needle through the water; they come pressing in, aimed at Yamato from a dozen different directions and intersecting silently. Estimating by sight their distance and angle on the plotting board, we shift course to run parallel to the torpedoes and barely succeed in dodging them.
We deal first with the closest, most urgent one; when we get to a point far enough away from it that we can be sure we have dodged it, we turn to the next. Dealing with them calls for vigilance, calculation, and decision…. That these pilots repeated their attacks with accuracy and coolness was a sheer display of the unfathomable undreamed-of strength of our foes.

In the end, it took only 2 hours for American forces to destroy the single most powerful ship constructed during WW2, along with most of the tiny fleet it set out with. When the smoke cleared, around 4,000 were dead on the Japanese side vs. just around a dozen dead on the American side and a few more wounded.

Bonus Fact:

  • Early in WW2 the Imperial Japanese Navy had plans to construct even bigger ships than the Yamato and Musashi as part of an even more powerful class of ships they called the Super Yamatos. These ships, if constructed, would have possessed 510 mm guns, displaced upwards of 82,000 tons and could have moved at speeds approaching 30 knots. Lack of resources stopped Japan from ever building the ships however.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This one simple factor is why the US Allies won World War II

At first glance, it might seem obvious why Japan would choose to take on a country like the United States. While Americans were still struggling with the Great Depression, Japan’s economy was growing and hot. Japan had hundreds of thousands of men in uniform and a string of military victories under its belt. The U.S. was a third-rate military power whose day had come and gone in World War I – and Americans weren’t thrilled about another war.

But the Japanese seriously underestimated one important factor: The American Worker.


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Up yours, Japanese Empire.

Judging the United States’ capacity for war during the 1930s was Japan’s fatal mistake. Sure, we’d had a little too much fun at the speakeasy during the 1920s, but we were poised for the most incredible puke and rally the world had ever known, and anyone looking for it would have been able to see it. Unfortunately, the Japanese were a little high on their own supply at the time. Convinced of Japanese superiority, they thought themselves nigh-invincible and that the U.S. would crumble if it needed to unify or die.

In reality, things were much different. The U.S. had twice the population of Japan and 17 times more tax revenues. Americans produced five times more steel, seven times more coal, and could outproduce the Japanese automobile industry by a factor of 80:1. The American worker had the highest per capita output of any worker in the world.

What’s more, is we were one of very few countries willing to let women work in our very modern factories.

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So don’t f*ck with the Arsenal of Democracy.

Even before the war, U.S. industrial capacity was greater than all of the Axis countries combined. As a matter of fact, the United States’ output was almost greater than all the other major powers involved in the war. And that was before the U.S. declaration of war allowed the President to take control of American industry. By the time the U.S. entered the war, the Lend-Lease Act had already pulled America out of its depression and was basically supplying the Allied powers with American-built equipment and vehicles as it had for years.

All we had to do was start using them ourselves.

As time went on, the U.S. economy was growing by 15 percent annually, while every other belligerent saw a plateau in growth or the destruction of their economies altogether. By the end of the war, American industrial output wasn’t even close to overheating – we were just getting started.

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