Marine Corps legend Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller is known today for his heroics and his chest full of medals, but some Marines claimed in 1984 that the nickname was a reference to Puller’s metal ribcage, a prosthetic that was placed there after his chest was shot and chopped up by Haitian rebels.
You heard that right: The claim was that Chesty had a metal skeleton like the Marvel hero Wolverine.
His nickname, “Chesty,” actually came from his impressive physique and stance, according to a Marine Corps article originally published in 1948 when Puller was a major and the acting commander of a battalion.
The writer of the article, Marine Sgt. Nolle T. Roberts, goes on to describe some stories that Puller’s men had added to his nickname after the fact, including the story of the Wolverine ribcage:
The nickname, “Chesty,” was a natural in view of the colonel’s ramrod stance and belligerent appearance and nature. However, the men of the wartime First Division boasted that Col. Puller had a false “steel chest,” apparently replacing the natural bone structure which had been hacked away by machette-swinging bandits in the Banana Wars. A few claimed that he developed the chest from shouting commands above the noise of battle.
Puller’s chest was likely made with steel because the Army was hoarding all the Adamantium to eventually create Wolverine.
I agree with you 100% I had done a little soldiering previous to Guadalcanal and had been called a lot of names, but why ‘Chesty?’ Especially the steel part?
The “little soldiering” that Puller is referring to included combat deployments to both Haiti and Nicaragua. Puller supported government forces in Nicaragua and earned his first two Navy Crosses leading units of local fighters against numerically superior rebel forces. So, “a little soldiering” was likely tongue-in-cheek, and it’s easy to see why Puller’s men may have seen him as a man of steel.
While Puller may not have understood the nickname, it’s become a part of Marine Corps culture. Puller is more commonly known by his nickname “Chesty” than by his actual name.
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero is one of the great warplanes of all time. It certainly got a lot of press as the primary fighter the Americans faced in the great carrier battles in the Pacific Theater.
That being said, it wasn’t Japan’s only fighter. In fact, the Japanese Army had its own front-line fighter.
The Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar first took to the skies in 1941, about six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was intended to replace the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate, an earlier monoplane fighter.
In some respects, the Japanese Army was much smarter with the Oscar than the Japanese Navy was with the Zero. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the Ki-43 was continually improved during the war. The Ki-43-Ia started out with two 7.7mm machine guns, but by the time the Ki-43-Ic emerged, that had changed to two 12.7mm machine guns.
Later versions, like the Ki-43-II and Ki-43-III, were constantly improved with things like self-sealing fuel tanks and armor to protect the pilot. The Zero never saw those improvements until it was far too late to affect the outcome of battles like the Marianas Turkey Shoot.
Ultimately, over 5,900 Ki-43s were produced. After World War II, they saw action with the Chinese, French forces in Indochina, North Korean forces, and even with Indonesian rebels. The plane turned out to be a solid ground-attack plane, capable of carrying two 250 kilogram bombs.
Below is a Japanese newsreel showing Ki-43 Oscars in action.
Revenge is a dish best served cold — but it doesn’t always require bloodshed.
On the early morning of July 11th, 1804, two rivals met in the forest outside Weehawken, New Jersey. This bitter reunion was years in the making, as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr finally said enough was enough and decided to settle their differences via a now-famous duel.
The former Secretary of the Treasury missed but the sitting Vice President of the United States did not. Hamilton was shot in the lower abdomen, mortally wounding him. He would die the next day.
Most Americans know this story — but they might not know about the sequel.
After he was shot, Hamilton was ferried into the nearby Greenwich Village and was paid final visits by his friends and family. Among them was his son, Alexander Hamilton Jr., a budding student of law.
This wasn’t the first death in the family as a result of dueling. Hamilton’s eldest son, Phillip, had fallen in a duel to George Eacker, a lackey of Aaron Burr, after Eacker singled out the Hamilton family at a Columbia College commencement ceremony. Eacker’s spite-filled speech contained damning phrases like, “the mistakes of the father are often visited upon the son” as he stared directly toward oldest Hamilton boy. Philip died defending his family’s honor on the same dueling grounds his father would lay upon just three years later.
(Photo by Billy Hatorne)
Alexander Hamilton Jr.’s father was killed just weeks before his graduation from Columbia College. According to the Saint Andrew’s Society, the death held him back and he didn’t graduate on time. But this wasn’t the only toll the deaths of Alexander Sr. and Phillip Hamilton would take on the family. Elizabeth, the matron of the Hamilton family, had to sell off their Harlem estate while Angelica, Alexander Jr.’s sister, suffered a mental breakdown from which she never recovered.
Stricken with sadness, he did what any good American lost in emotions would do — he joined the military. The young Hamilton sailed to Spain in 1811 and fought under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, against Napoleon’s forces. There, he learned military strategy.
(Painting by Thomas Lawrence)
Meanwhile, Aaron Burr fled the country after he was charged with treason for his conspiring to fabricate a war between Spain and Mexico so he could found a new country consisting of the Spanish territory of Florida, the Louisiana Purchase, and the American Southwest. Now a political outcast, he first sought aid from Britain and, when he found no success there, he sided with Napoleon — coincidentally around the same time period Hamilton Jr. was fighting him.
Hamilton Jr. would later use his new-found military knowledge during the War of 1812 as an infantry captain. This gained the attention of his father’s old friend, General Morgan Lewis. Burr, on the other hand, found his political career destroyed and became penniless after his journey to find new roots.
After the war, Hamilton Jr. returned to a life as a lawyer — just as his father and older brother before him did — and would eventually take a seat as a New York state legislator. His prowess in the courtroom landed him the role of United States attorney for the newly formed Eastern Florida territory in 1822. There, he helped shape Florida into an American state.
Years passed and the Hamilton finally returned to New York City. There, he started selling real estate and became a leading name in Wall Street. He used his own money and what remained after his mother’s sale of their Harlem estate to buy his mother a new home on the East side.
Meanwhile, the poverty-stricken Burr took on a new surname of “Edwards” to avoid creditors and to hide from his treasonous past. This is when he married the newly widowed and then-richest woman in America, Eliza Jumel. It’s said that his intentions of preying on her were entirely monetary. Quickly, he tried to use her money to purchase land in Mexican Texas — which was made worthless when the immigration of US citizens was outlawed.
Only four months into the marriage, Burr committed adultery many times and mismanaged almost all of Jumel’s enormous fortune. She did what any reasonable person would do after such a situation: She filed for divorce in 1833.
It was unclear how it happened, exactly, but Alexander Hamilton Jr. came to Jumel’s aid as her attorney in the divorce proceedings. At this point, Hamilton Jr. had lived a long and fulfilling life. He had been the one of the country’s best lawyers, a fantastic military mind, and a New York real estate tycoon. By all logical conclusions, this case should have been leagues below his status — but he took it on anyways.
The divorce court dragged on for almost three years. Hamilton brought every misdeed done by Burr to light. During the trial, Burr suffered a debilitating stroke but, by the end, Burr had been stripped of everything. Eliza Jumel and Alexander Hamilton Jr. took what remained of his money, his health, and his legacy.
Just hours after the divorce was finalized, Burr passed away. He spent his last moments knowing that the son of the man he killed succeed in nearly everything he did, including taking everything away from him in return.
Imagine having to conceal your identity in order to feel safe and protect the ones you love. Changing the route you take to work, wearing disguises so you won’t be recognized, or reducing the amount of vacation you take because you know it’s safer to be at work than not.
For many of us, this way of life would seem farfetched or unrealistic, but for one Airman, this was his reality. Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad, 60th Aerial Port Squadron, transportation Journeyman, used to be an Afghan national working as a head interpreter with U.S. forces at Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan. As the head interpreter, Javad was relied upon for his expertise, which meant he was on all the important missions.
“I would go out on missions and it was like I was actually in the Army,” said Javad. “I would go weeks without a shower, I would carry 100-150 pound bags of ammo, sleep on the ground, walk all day, climb mountains, and jump out of helicopters.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo, Feb. 28, 2018. Javad was a linguist for U.S. forces while living in Afghanistan and fled to the United States in 2014. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
Despite the constant diligence to remain obscured, in 2013, the locals somehow figured out Javad was working with U.S. forces.
“Once they knew who I was, my family and I were no longer safe,” said Javad. “My life was threatened by the insurgents, my wife was accused of helping infidels and was threatened with kidnapping. I knew after that, I couldn’t work here anymore.”
Thus began a courageous and remarkable journey that led Javad to America and enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.
Javad was born in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union. His family fled to Iran because the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan made it too dangerous to stay.
“We left in 1989 when I was two during the Soviet-Afghan War because it was too dangerous for my family to stay,” said Javad “We came to Iran under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so we were discriminated against.”
There were not many educational opportunities for Javad growing up in Iran because of his refugee status. His parents decided to return to Afghanistan in 2004 since it was safer.
“We came back to Afghanistan so I could seek higher education because neither of my parents had that opportunity,” said Javad. “They wanted that option for me. I got my education, my bachelors and a double major in chemistry and biology.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo with his wife Sara, and three children Sana, Yusef, and Benyamin, March 6, 2018. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
After completing his education, Javad still found it difficult to find meaningful work.
“Afghanistan had a new government and it was corrupted,” said Javad. “It was difficult to get jobs unless you knew the right people.”
Javad had taken classes on computers, language, and received a certification in accounting. This helped him find a job where he could now provide for his family.
“After graduating college, I worked for an accounting firm,” said Javad. “After a year and a half, I was promoted to general manager.”
Unfortunately, after a horrific motorcycle accident kept him in the hospital for six months, Javad lost his job as a general manager with the accounting firm.
“I knew that without knowing anyone in the government, I was going to have to start from the bottom again,” said Javad. “The only other option I had was to become a linguist with U.S. forces.”
The day Javad applied for the linguist position, over 200 others were attempting the same.
“There’s a written and verbal skills test, interview, and security background check,” said Javad. “Only 10 of us made it through those stages. Once you get through that, there’s another few months of security screening with the Central Intelligence Agency and medical exams.”
Javad’s first assignment was with the USAF at FOB Shindand.
“I was assigned to the Base Defense Operations Center for the Air Force,” said Javad. “I was translating all the daily, weekly, and monthly security reports.”
While assigned there Javad met Senior Master Sgt. Michael Simon II, who was serving on a 365-day deployment as a Mi-17 crew chief air advisor.
“Javad was assigned to the FOB as an interpreter, translating from Dari or Pashto to English,” said Simon. “We worked together on several occasions in support of the Afghan Air Force training and advising missions.”
What Javad didn’t know at the time was that Simon would play an instrumental role years later as he transitioned from Afghanistan to America. During his time at FOB Shindand, the USAF was replaced by the Army, and his duties and responsibilities changed significantly.
“We were given the option to resign or accept new roles,” said Javad. “Sure enough, within a month, I was riding in convoys outside the wire. Things were a lot different now.”
Javad spent three years at FOB Shindand and witnessed some horrific things.
“I saw Army soldiers get shot and killed. I saw Afghan civilians get shot and killed,” said Javad. “I was the head interpreter and was always going out with Battalion commanders and other high-ranking officials.”
Despite the difficulties of his job and awful experiences he witnessed, Javad felt something for the first time.
“I was a local,” said Javad. “I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, but they never treated me like a stranger. They trusted me, they worked with me. That was a feeling I’d never had in my life before until I worked there.”
After his identity was disclosed and Javad knew he was no longer safe in Afghanistan, he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa so he could come to America. This wasn’t an easy decision because Javad was living as an upper middle-class citizen in Afghanistan.
“I was a homeowner with lots of land,” said Javad. “I owned a car and motorcycle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell anything because no one would buy anything built with the money from America. I was choosing between my belongings or my life.”
In the summer of 2014, Javad took his pregnant wife with only the belongings they could fit in a suitcase, the $800 they received for selling their wedding bands and traveled to the United States to begin a new life.
“When we arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, we had nothing,” said Javad. “I needed a sponsor for my SIV and Simon agreed. With the help of Simon, we were able to sustain some sort of normalcy until we could get on our feet.”
Simon got donations from his church and the local refugee service in Colorado Springs. Lutheran Refugee Service lined up a starter apartment with basic furnishings.
“My sister had coordinated with a group of close friends and churches to get a lot of items needed outside of the basics already provided,” said Simon. “Then the rest was up to Javad and his determination to succeed.”
Despite having an education, Javad found it hard to find work.
“I had to find a job because I barely could afford a month’s rent,” said Javad. “Nobody would give me a job because I didn’t have a history of work in the U.S.”
After meeting a family who had a local business, Javad found some temporary work, but more importantly, a life-long friend.
“They ended up being like family to us,” said Javad. “They called me son and they were the only ones who came to my graduation at basic training.”
Working in a warehouse didn’t bring in a lot of money for Javad and he struggled to make ends meet.
“For the first four months, I didn’t have a car,” said Javad. “I had to walk four miles one way, work eight hours, and walk another four miles back, in the winter, in Colorado Springs.”
After a year in the U.S., Javad felt that serving in the armed forces may provide a better life for him and his family.
“I worked four years with the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and had a little sense of what life was like in the military,” said Javad. “I know there’s a lot of sacrifices you have to make when serving your country, but in the end, I wanted to give back to the country that helped me a lot.”
Javad decided to enlist in the USAF and entered basic training in February 2016.
“I wanted to be part of a really big picture,” said Javad. “I did it mainly because the U.S. military saved my life and I wanted to do my part.”
The decision to join the USAF did not surprise Simon because his commitment, dedication and hard work align with the USAF core values.
For Javad, to start from scratch with just a suitcase and dedicate his efforts to providing for his family is the true American dream,” said Simon. “Now he’s a member of the 1 percent club who voluntarily choose to serve this great nation. To say I’m proud of Javad would be an understatement.”
A week before graduating basic training, Javad received an unexpected gift.
“I was notified that I was officially a U.S. citizen,” said Javad. “I was overwhelmed with pride. When I saw the flag being raised at graduation and we saluted, I couldn’t stop myself from crying because I finally had a flag I could be proud of.”
After basic training and technical school, Javad arrived at his first duty station here at Travis Air Force Base, California. He’s enjoyed the people, mission, and the area.
“My unit treats me like any other Airman,” said Javad. “They don’t see me as a person from Afghanistan, they see me as an Airman.”
Javad has yet to deploy since joining the USAF but said he would like to return to Afghanistan as an Airman and citizen of the U.S.
“I would be happy to deploy to Afghanistan because I know the mission over there is important,” said Javad. “I would love a special duty assignment as a linguist and use my language skills to help my fellow Airmen.”
Javad’s short-term goal is to help his parents get to the U.S.
“My parents had to escape Afghanistan and flee to another country,” said Javad. “I feel responsible because I come from a culture where your kids are your retirement, so now they are struggling until I can find a way to bring them to America.”
Once Javad secures his family in the U.S., he plans on achieving his long-term goal which is to become an officer in the USAF.
“I couldn’t become an officer when I enlisted even though I had the education because I wasn’t a citizen,” said Javad. “Now that I have my citizenship, I will pursue officer training school and get my commission.”
Discipline, self-control, and honor are just some of the defining characteristics of a U.S. Marine who serves as a member of the 24-man silent drill team. Also known as the “Marching Twenty-Four,” the drill team’s function is to demonstrate the outstanding professionalism of the Marine Corps.
In 1948, they first performed at the Sunset Parades at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. Their perfectly executed movements received such an amazing response from the crowd, the drill team was born.
Serving on the team requires extensive discipline, so finding new recruits is a challenge.
The Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon executes their refined movements with hand-polished, 10.5 pounds, M1 Garand rifles with fixed bayonets during the Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Each fall, the drill team prospects are hand-selected from the School of Infantry located in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif. After a detailed interview process and rifle drill audition conducted by experienced personnel, those Marines who are selected are assigned a position and will serve a two-year ceremonial tour.
In addition to their ceremonial duties, the drill team members train alongside infantry Marines in the field to maintain their skills during the offseason.
When experienced team members request to move up in ranks and become rifle inspectors, they will go through a series of inspections graded by rifle inspectors who served in the previous season.
The fight for the Hurtgen Forest was one of the most devastating battles of all World War II Europe and one of few the U.S. Army lost after landing at Normandy on D-Day. The relatively quick advance through France gave Allied commanders the drive to race to enter Germany. The pace was so fast, they outran their supply lines and had to take a pause – a pause that would result in the longest land battle in U.S. military history.
Having to wait for the Allied supply lines to catch up to the front gave the beleaguered Nazis the chance to regroup and settle down in one of Europe’s most dense and dark forests. It was a place the Army should never have entered.
American troops man a machine gun in a captured German position during the 1944 Battle of Hurtgen Forest.
To put it mildly, the forest was the ideal place to defend. As the summer was turning to fall, which would soon see winter, the dense wood would see snow and rain that would churn the dirt to mud. Dense forests, deep ravines, and steep hills also gave the German defenders the advantage in the forest. To top it all off, there were also abandoned and overgrown concrete bunkers, part of the old Siegfried Line of defensive fortifications throughout the forest – and that’s exactly what drove the Americans into the bunker.
So after they gave the Germans time to roll out the barbed wire, booby traps, and minefields, the Americans decided to assault the forest head-on in an attempt to be the first to fight and take the vaunted Siegfried Line and thus be the first to enter Germany.
Not my first choice of target, but okay.
The forest itself was 70 square miles and was situated between Aachen, a city under siege that would not surrender, and the Ruhr Dam along the Rhine, one the Allies were afraid the Nazis would just destroy in an attempt to flood the Allied advance. The Americans decided they would assault the forest directly, and swiftly neutralize the threat to the dam while ensuring the fall of Aachen. That did not happen.
American tanks and airpower were ineffective while fighting in the forest and the machine gun – which the Wehrmacht had in spades – was the most effective weapon, especially considering the difficulty seeing for any kind of distance, along with the hills and ravines throughout the forest. The Germans zeroed in their mortars before the Americans ever arrived. The Americans should never have engaged the forest at all.
Even Ernest Hemingway, who feared nothing and no one, opted not to stay at Hurtgen Forest. No joke.
The U.S. Army didn’t have to go into the woods. The Siegfried Line was being assaulted all along its perimeter. The debacle at Hurtgen cost anywhere from 30,000-50,000 casualties at a cost of just 28,000 German casualties. To make matters worse, the months slowdown in advancement allowed the Germans to break out in a winter offensive, an advance that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
Troops headed into combat know that an entire medical chain exists to keep them alive and as healthy as possible for as long as possible if they’re hit. The goal is to get them out of harm’s way within the “Golden Hour,” the first hour after injury, to maximize their odds of survival and recovery. But while medics and corpsmen are the backbone of that chain, the Air Force has teams of specially trained personnel who exist solely to put their lives on the line to save others in the most dire of combat medical crises.
These Air Force pararescue personnel deploy forward with other elite forces and fly into combat to save troops already under fire. They live by the motto, “that others may live.”
William Pitsenbarger embodied service. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, he volunteered to be lowered into a minefield to save a Vietnamese soldier, and, in April 1966, he volunteered his way into a massive firefight that would claim his life.
Still, he stayed on the ground, running ammo to American positions under fire. Sadly, due to at least two gunshot wounds, he was killed. He was credited with directly saving nine lives and with medical aid and battlefield actions that may have helped save dozens more.
His award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, making him the first airman to earn the award.
His first Purple Hearts came almost immediately after he arrived in Vietnam. A .30-caliber round struck him in the leg and he got a fellow pararescueman to treat it so he could stay in the fight. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for extracting a downed pilot from a fierce firefight, immediately getting shot out of his helicopter during extraction, and then doubling back to the crashed helicopter to check for survivors before finally evacuating again. He received that award in a ceremony where he also got the Silver Star for bravery during a completely unrelated rocket attack. In short, he’s built one hell of a resume.
Despite surviving a combat tour of Vietnam that started with a Purple Heart and ended with an Air Force Cross, Hackney volunteered to stay for another three years.
(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown pose for a photo just weeks before March 4, 2002, where Miller and Cunningham would earn the Air Force Cross and Brown would earn a Silver Star.
(U.S. Air Force)
3. Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller
Pararescue specialist Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller was involved in the Battle of Takur Ghar in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. On March 4, 2002, he was inserting with an Air Force Combat Search and Rescue Team to rescue two service members that had become separated after their helicopter was shot up on the ridge. Miller’s team faced heavy fire while landing and was forced down, crashing onto the mountain.
Senior Airman Jason Cunningham was on the same MH-47E helicotper as Tech Sgt. Miller when it was shot down. Cunningham immediately began treating the wounded when they hit the ground and moved injured personnel from the burning helicopter. He was critically wounded while defending patients, but he kept doing everything he could to save others.
He directed the disposition of the wounded and handed their care over to a medic before succumbing to his injuries. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on Sept. 13, 2002.
(Video Still by Air Force Senior Airman Stephen Ellis)
5. Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz
On Dec. 10, 2013, pararescue craftsman Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz was attached to an Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando team for a raid in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The nighttime operation met enemy contact almost immediately, and Ruiz’s team took out four insurgents. Ruiz moved forward with two others into a courtyard where the others were hit.
He’s credited with saving their lives and helping to pin down and kill 11 enemy insurgents.
(U.S. Air Force)
6. Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper
Pararescueman Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper was part of a call to rescue three members of an Army Pathfinder team trapped in an IED belt on May 26, 2011. One Pathfinder was severely injured and the other two were trying to keep him alive, but extracting them from what was essentially a minefield would be tricky.
As Culpepper was raising the second soldier to the helicopter, it suddenly lost power and entered free fall. Culpepper kept control of his casualty and the helicopter came to a stop just a few feet from the ground. They escaped the IED belt and made it home — the injured soldier, tragically, did not survive his wounds.
Sergeant Fritz Niland had more to do with Band of Brothers than Saving Private Ryan – save for being the inspiration for the movie’s central plot. Historian Steven Ambrose even wrote about Niland in his book, “Band of Brothers – E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.” Niland, like the fictional Ryan, lost three brothers in combat, and found out about them all in the same day.
Sadly, his mother did too.
From left to right, the Niland Brothers, Edward, Preston, Robert, and Fritz.
No one had to go searching for Sgt. Niland. He didn’t need to be saved. Niland went looking for his brothers after D-Day, while assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Europe. His brother Bob was in the 82d Airborne, also fighting in Europe. While looking for his brother Bob, he discovered Bob was killed on D-Day. According to Ambrose, Bob Niland’s platoon was surrounded, so Bob manned a machine gun to harass the Germans so his unit could break through. They did, and Bob went through three boxes of ammo before he was killed in action. Fritz then went searching for another brother, Preston.
Preston Niland was a second lieutenant and platoon leader in the 4th Infantry Division. He too landed on D-Day, but with his men at Utah Beach. Fritz discovered that Preston Niland was killed in action on D+1 at Normandy’s Crisbecq Battery. Fritz returned to the 506th with the heartbreaking news. The news got worse from there.
Frederick “Fritz” Niland is buried at Fort Richardson National Cemetery, Alaska.
Upon returning to his unit, Father Francis Sampson informed Fritz Niland that a third brother was killed by the enemy. Technical Sergeant Edward Niland, who had been imprisoned by the Japanese in the China-India-Burma theater was considered killed in action. Fritz Niland was now the sole surviving son of his family. The Army decided to send him home as soon as possible. His mother had received all three War Department telegrams on the same day. No platoon was sent to take him home, instead, Father Samson escorted Niland to Utah Beach, where he was flown home to complete his service stateside.
Luckily, Edward Niland wasn’t actually dead. He’d been held prisoner by the Japanese after being shot down in May 1944. He was held for over a year before being liberated in 1945. Word had not yet come to the European theater when Fritz found out about his brothers. The two surviving brothers actually moved to their native Tonawanda, N.Y. when they left the Army, and Edward actually outlived Fritz by a full year. Edward died in 1984, while Fritz passed in 1983.
Robert and Preston are buried side-by-side at the American Cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France.
British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a difficult man to get along with. American Generals Omar Bradley and George S. Patton couldn’t stand the guy and even the Royal Navy’s Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay thought promoting Montgomery to Field Marshal was “stupid.” It’s surprising that the United States’ Supreme Allied Commander and later President Dwight Eisenhower disliked him most of all. Even more surprising is probably Ike’s hand-painted portrait of “Monty.”
Historian Anthony Beevor tells the story of Eisenhower’s 1952 portrait of his British counterpart, which Eisenhower signed, “’To my friend Monty from Ike,” by noting that the two men didn’t get along from the moment they met. Eisenhower was incensed at Montgomery’s smoking in his presence. Montgomery didn’t think much of Eisenhower’s abilities as a soldier.
Of course, Montgomery didn’t think any less of himself, no matter what his war record looks like. His men famously took heavy losses when they didn’t need to, due to Monty’s attention to detail, especially in taking the city of Caen. Before the disastrous failure of Operation Market Garden, however, Prime Minister Winston Churchill still prompted him to Field Marshal – a rank above the Supreme Allied Commander’s.
But the invasion of Europe didn’t happen without Ike, and when the American landed in France he took command of the ground forces there. Monty was furious, but there was little he could do. Eisenhower was in charge.
Rank didn’t stop Montgomery from rankling anyone though. The Field Marshal took credit for American wins in the Battle of the Bulge and, as Beevor points out, the British command was told that no American would agree to serve under Montgomery ever again.
Eisenhower painted Montgomery some seven years after World War II ended, probably just enough time to be able to forgive and forget – until Montgomery’s autobiography hit bookshelves.
Monty’s 1958 memoirs were filled with criticisms of his American counterparts, especially Ike. But they didn’t stop at criticizing Americans. Montgomery almost faced a lawsuit for suggesting that British Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck wanted to retreat during the First Battle of El-Alamein in 1942. His lie was so egregious that he was forced to recant it on the BBC that same year.
Having Bernard Montgomery criticize him in memoirs was too much for then-President Eisenhower. Ike railed about Montgomery until the day he died, referring to the Field Marshal as an “egocentric” and a “psychopath.”
Air Canada Flight 143 was supposed to be routine. The crew took possession of their airplane from the departing crew, reloaded on fuel, grabbed the passengers, and headed out of Montreal bound for Edmonton at 41,000 feet.
But then they got a fuel pressure warning. “No big deal,” they may have thought. Pumps fail all the time and gravity can feed these engines, “turn off the alarm.” But then a second one went off. What they would later learn was that the ground crew had entered their fuel measurement using formulas for pounds — but the systems had been converted to work with kilograms.
Shortly after dinner service, the plane ran out of gas.
The “Gimli Glider” was crash-landed on a race track as families watched in horror and fascination after it ran out of gas thousands of feet in the air.
(Aero Icarus, CC BY-SA 2.0)
The crew heard a long warning noise that none of the members had ever heard before, even in the simulators. The warning signaled a total loss of both engines. The plane had ran out of gas. This is an even bigger problem than it would be in your Chevy since the plane needs engine power to run a host of systems, including the hydraulics
Suddenly, the crew was piloting a massive glider with nearly no power, no hydraulics, and limited instruments — and they were still over 1,000 miles from their destination. To make matters worse, air traffic control suddenly had their own issues guiding the flight since the plane’s radio transponders were powered by, you guessed it, the engines.
Luckily, the pilot often flew and towed gliders for fun, and the first officer, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, was intimately familiar with the airspace and landing strips nearby from his time in the service. The two men tapped into their respective skill banks to save the flight and get all 69 people on the plane down safely, eventually netting them awards for their flying in what would later be known as the “Gimli Glider” incident.
This video from Today I Found Out shows how it all went down:
27 years ago, the Black Hawk Down incident was unfolding on the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, when a pair of US Army MH-60 Black Hawks were shot down by Somali militia toting rocket propelled grenades.
Of the many incredible stories of bravery and brotherhood that emerged from the day, one in particular stood out enough that two of the soldiers within would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for their heroism and sacrifice.
In August of 1993, a task force consisting of members of America’s elite special operations units were deployed to Somalia after a deadly IED attack on American military personnel who were, at the time, in country conducting a humanitarian mission.
Known as Task Force Ranger, the deployment package consisted of Rangers from the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, Night Stalkers from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and operators from Delta Force, among many others.
Attached to the Delta contingent were a pair of sharpshooters — MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randy Shughart. Both Gordon and Shughart were old hands in the special operations community, the former having served with 10th Special Forces Group before being selected to join Delta Force, and the latter having served with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
On Oct. 3, an operation was launched with TF Ranger running the show entirely. It would be known as “Gothic Serpent,” though in later years, it would more popularly be known as the Black Hawk Down incident. The mission’s primary intent was to capture a pair of high-ranking officials of the Habr Gedir clan, led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aided.
The events of Gothic Serpent were documented in Mark Bowden’s best seller, “Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War,” and helicopter pilot Mike Durant’s book, “In The Company of Heroes.”
Delta operators and Rangers would be inserted from the air by Night Stalkers in MH-60s near the target building, secure the site and capture the high value targets. A convoy of Humvees and trucks would roll in immediately after to pick up the assault team and the prisoners back to the Mogadishu International Airport, where TF Ranger maintained its headquarters and garrison.
Things began going awry during the mission, however, and Somali irregulars and militia began amassing in considerable numbers, putting up an unexpectedly ferocious fight. Things went south, entirely, when Super 61, one of the Black Hawks attached to the assault element, was shot down killing both pilots and seriously injuring its crew chiefs and two Delta operators in the main cabin during the crash.
Though the momentum of battle was still on TF Ranger’s side, it was firmly lost when a second Black Hawk — Super 64 — was shot down just 20 minutes after Super 61. A nearby Black Hawk, callsign Super 62, circled near the crash site to provide covering fire. Gordon, Shughart and SFC Brad Hallings, another Delta sniper, were aboard Super 62, picking off targets one by one.
The three operators realized that it was highly likely that one if not all of the crew in Super 64 had survived the crash, at least initially. They quickly resolved to request an insertion near the crash site to set up a defensive perimeter to war away an angry lynch mob of Somali civilians and militia starting to stream towards the site. Should the militia get their hands on the survivors, a horrible fate worse than death would potentially await them.
When Gordon radioed in the request, it was nixed twice. Commanders, back at the airport, figured that the three operators would be of more use in the air to Super 64, than on the ground. Repeating his request a third time, Gordon and Shughart were given the go-ahead to insert at the crash site.
Knowing that a supporting ground element wasn’t anywhere nearby, both snipers were fully aware that this would essentially be a suicide mission. Their objective: to buy the crew of Super 64 a little more time until help arrived, even if it meant giving up their lives in the process.
Super 62 swooped in low near the crash site, Gordon and Shughart jumping out with Hallings staying behind to man a minigun in place of an injured crew chief. Super 62 took to the skies again, covering the two operators on the ground as they fought their way to the fallen Black Hawk. Super 62 would soon have to return to base after being hit by an RPG – thankfully, they made it.
Arriving at the crash, the two snipers were proven right when they discovered pilot CW3 Mike Durant alive and conscious, and the other members of the crew – Ray Frank, Tommie Field and Bill Cleveland – still clinging to life, though barely so. They worked quickly to extricate the Night Stalkers from the carcass of the Black Hawk, giving Durant a gun to use defensively while they engaged the oncoming mob.
Dropping targets with the efficiency and effectiveness Delta operators are known for, Shughart and Gordon inflicted major casualties on the mob. Gordon was the first to fall, having succumbed to numerous wounds sustained in the fight. Shughart was killed soon after, having depleted most of his ammunition. Durant was taken alive as a prisoner of war, while the rest of Super 64’s crew tragically died, either due to their injuries from the crash or torture inflicted by the mob.
Gordon and Shughart’s sacrifice was not in vain — Durant would survive his ordeal in captivity, and would later return to fly with the 160th SOAR before retiring. The two operators were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor the following year in 1994, a token of remembrance for their incredible valor and sacrifice in the midst of battle that fateful October day.
“When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby. “Or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.” It was the Golden Age of the Gangster, when bank robbers were folk heroes, cheered on by citizens who were suffering under the weight of Prohibition and the Great Depression. But when the mail started getting robbed by these hoods, the Postmaster General asked President Harding to send in the Marines.
In October 1921, gangsters hit a mail truck in New York City, making off with .4 million in cash, securities, and jewelry – million dollars when adjusted for inflation. That wasn’t the only high-stakes robbery. Between April 1920 and April 1921 alone, thieves stole more than six million dollars in U.S. mail robberies – million when adjusted for inflation. So when the Postmaster asked the President for the Marines, the Commander-In-Chief was happy to oblige.
Harding instructed Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby to meet with Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Lejeune to “detail as guards for the United States mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps to protect the mails from the depredations by robbers and bandits.”
Marines guarding a Chicago mail train.
Marines from both coasts were activated and armed with trench guns, M1911 pistols, and the M1903 Springfield rifle to stand watch as high-value mail deliveries were moved between institutions, large cities, banks, and government offices. They rode mail trucks and trains, often seated with the driver and in with the valuable cargo. The Navy Secretary told his new detachment of 50-plus Marines and officers:
“To the Men of the Mail Guard, you must when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand and, if attacked, shoot and shoot to kill. If two Marines are covered by a robber, neither must put up his hands, but both must immediately go for their guns. One may die, but the other will get the robber, and the mail will get through. When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered, or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.”
That was the spirit of the orders. The orders themselves were just as intense.
1. To prevent the theft or robbery of any United States mails entrusted to my protection.
2. To inform myself as to the persons who are authorized to handle the mails entrusted to my protection and to allow no unauthorized persons to handle such mails or to have access to such mails.
3. To inform myself as to the persons who are authorized to enter the compartment (railway coast, auto truck, wagon, mail room, etc.) where mails entrusted to my protection are placed, and to allow no unauthorized person to enter such compartment.
4. In connection with Special Order No. 3, to prevent unauthorized persons loitering in the vicinity of such compartment or taking any position from which they might enter such compartment by surprise or sudden movement.
5. To keep my rifle, shotgun, or pistol always in my hand (or hands) while on watch.
6. When necessary in order to carry out the foregoing orders, to make the most effective use of my weapons, shooting or otherwise killing or disabling any person engaged in the theft or robbery, or the attempted theft or robbery of the mails entrusted to my protection.
The FAQ section of the Mail Guards’ training manual tells you everything you need to know about how Marines would respond to this robbery problem, once the gangster tried to break in:
“Q. Suppose he [the robber] is using a gun or making threats with a gun in trying to escape?
A. Shoot him.
Q. Suppose the thief was apparently unarmed but was running away? A. Call halt twice at the top of your voice, and if he does not halt, fire one warning shot; and if he does not obey this, shoot to hit him.
Q. Is it permissible to take off my pistol while on duty; for instance, when in a mail car riding between stations?
A. Never take off your pistol while on duty. Keep it loaded, locked, and cocked while on duty.
Q. Is there a general plan for meeting a robbery?
A. Yes; start shooting and meet developments as they arise thereafter.
Q. If I hear the command ‘Hands Up,’ am I justified in obeying this order? A. No; fall to the ground and start shooting.
Q. Is it possible to make a successful mail robbery? A. Only over a dead Marine.”
Marines in a mail car.
Robberies stopped entirely. For four months, the Marines guarded the U.S. Mail, and for four months, there were zero successful robberies. After a while, the Post Office was able to muster its own guard forces, and the Marines were withdrawn from mail duty. By 1926 robberies shot up again and the Marines were called back.
The second time the Marines were withdrawn, people stopped trying to rob the U.S. mail.
There were only a few places around the world more tense than in the Cold War showdown between East and West that occurred every day in divided Berlin. In the West, American and NATO guards stared down the barrels of the Soviet-backed East German border guards from the other side of the Berlin Wall. These guards were known to shoot down any East German civilian trying to cross the wall, sometimes leaving their mangled corpse in the barbed wire.
One American decided he was going to do what he could to help.
An East German border guard leaps over barbed wire and away from the East German “utopia.”
It’s a well-known fact by now that life behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Few places in the Eastern Bloc were more repressive than in East Germany, and East Berlin in particular. East Berlin’s proximity to the freedom enjoyed by West Germany and greater Western Europe forced the Communist regimes to be more harsh to those attempting to escape to freedom. Still, many East Germans made the attempt. Scores of people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Untold numbers more likely made the escape.
One of those successful escapees was Hans-Peter Spitzner and his daughter Peggy. Spitzner lived more than 100 miles from East Berlin, but when the Stasi – the East German secret police – came knocking on his door and arrested him in the middle of the night for not voting the Communist Party line, he was done. He resolved to get out of East Germany. When Spitzner’s wife was suddenly able to travel to the West for a family birthday, he decided to make his move.
Spitzner with his wife and daughter.
Spitzner read in a Communist newspaper about how American and other troops were stripping East German stores of their stocks using favorable currency conversion rates. Under the post-World War II agreements, Western allies had free and open access to East Berlin and could come and go as they pleased. The author of the article even mentioned that Western soldiers’ cars weren’t searched. Spitzner rationalized that he and his daughter could hide in one of those cars and escape to freedom.
So the man drove 120 miles to East Berlin, just to hang out at the bus stops frequented by Western troops. All day long, he asked if anyone would be willing to smuggle him and his daughter out. Eventually, a young U.S. Army troop named Eric Yaw was walking up to his black Toyota.
He agreed to smuggle Spitzner and his daughter out of East Germany.
Eric Yaw’s Toyota Corolla.
There was just one hitch: the heat sensors at Checkpoint Charlie. As soon as the family was in Yaw’s trunk, Spitzner was certain they were doomed. If they were caught, they’d be imprisoned. If they ran, they’d be shot. But as luck would have it, that day was particularly warm, and Yaw’s black Toyota retained enough heat to hide Spitzner and his daughter from the border guards. In just a few minutes, Yaw opened the trunk and informed the two they were free.
Spitzner phoned his wife on vacation in Austria and told her the news. Yaw was disciplined by the Army for smuggling the two East Germans, but repeatedly said he would do the same thing again. Today, Yaw is out of the Army but is still a family friend. The Spitzners have returned to their hometown in what used to be East Germany.