This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966, Raymond Clausen was trained as a helicopter mechanic and had already completed a tour of duty before heading back to the jungles of Vietnam — against his mother’s wishes.


Continuing his military service was something Clausen felt like he had to do.

On Jan. 31, 1970, Clausen would go above and beyond his call of duty as his helicopter deployed to the enemy-infested area near Da Nang in South Vietnam.

Clausen’s crew’s mission was to search for enemy activity in the area when, suddenly, they noticed some concealed bunkers near the tree line.

Directed by higher command, Clausen and his crew landed in a nearby grassy field. Once the troops dismounted from the cargo bay, the helicopters lifted out and patrolled in circles, approximately 1,500 feet above the LZ.

Shortly after, the enemy engaged the ground troops, causing them to disperse, fanning outward. As they separated, Marines stepped on the various landmines in the area.

Clausen knew he had to help the troops below, so he leaned out of the helicopter’s window and directed his pilot as he landed the bird in a safe area to retrieve the wounded Marines.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
Troops unload from CH-47 helicopter at Landing Zone Quick to begin a search and destroy mission in the Cay Giep Mountains, 29-30 Oct 1967. (Photo from U.S. Army)

 

Once they landed, Clausen leaped from the aircraft with a stretcher and ran through the minefield and helped carry the wounded Marines back to his helicopter.

Clausen knowingly made six separate trips across a minefield and is credited with saving 18 Marines that day. Once he knew all the men were accounted for, he signaled to the pilot to take off, taking the men to safety.

In total, Clausen has logged more than 3,000 hours of flight time as a crew chief and earned 98 air medals during his career.

President Nixon awarded Marine veteran Raymond Clausen the Medal of Honor on Jun. 15, 1971

Check of Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to hear one Marine’s heroic tale of sacrifice and determination:

(Medal of Honor Book | YouTube)

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

The “Flying Tigers” (formally known as the American Volunteer Group or AVG) were famous for being in the fight very early in World War II. They were recruited to fly for the Republic of China — with the quiet approval of the United States government.


Despite the fact many had no flight experience in fighters like the P-40s made famous by the AVG, they were able to inflict heavy casualties on the Japanese — even as they had to fall back due to being badly outnumbered.

So it’s not surprising that some of the Flying Tiger pilots became legends later in the war and beyond.

1. Gregory Boyington

Probably the best-known Flying Tigers alum (due to the TV series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” or “Black Sheep Squadron”), Boyington claimed six kills while with the Tigers — although CAMCO gave him credit for only 3.5.

Some historians dispute that total, but what is beyond any doubt is the fact that Boyington would later become the top Marine ace of all time with 28 kills. He would also receive the Medal of Honor for his service.

 

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

 

2. James H. Howard

Howard was recruited for the Flying Tigers from the Navy. His kill total with the Flying Tigers was six and a third, per CAMCO bonus records (pilots received a $500 bonus for every confirmed kill).

Not bad, but his real moment of glory came when the son of American missionaries in China was all that stood between 30 German fighters and a group of B-17 Flying Fortresses on Jan. 11, 1944.

At least three of the Nazi fighters were shot down in that incident, and Howard probably put lead in more. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions.

He modestly said, “I seen my duty and I done it.”

 

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
James H. Howard, after returning from combat duty in Europe. (USAAF photo)

 

3. Robert L. Scott

The Georgia native unofficially flew with the Flying Tigers before he took command of their successors, the 23rd Fighter Group, and was known as a “one-man air force.” Scott ultimately scored 13 kills with the 23rd Fighter Group, but was better known for writing the book “God is My Co-Pilot,” which later became a movie.

 

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

 

4. Robert W. Prescott

A 5.5-kill ace with the Flying Tigers, Prescott was best known for being among those who founded the Flying Tigers Line. While that aviation firm is now part of Federal Express, it did gain a measure of immortality in an episode of the 1960s iteration of Dragnet.

 

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
A 747 with the Flying Tigers airline founded by Robert Prescott, an AVG veteran. The airline was later bought by FedEx. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

5. Robert Neale

Neale scored at least 15 kills with the Flying Tigers, per AVG records. Had he accepted a commission from the United States Army Air Force, he could have racked up a much higher total.

Instead, he stayed on, and was the first commander of the 23rd Fighter Group — while still a civilian — until Robert Scott officially took command. Neale then became a civilian ferry pilot for the duration of the war.

6. David “Tex” Hill

Hill was born in Korea — like Howard, the son of missionaries.

Prior to joining the AVG he served in the Navy, where he flew two planes that were notable during the Battle of Midway: The TBD Devastator torpedo bomber (notable for the losses suffered by torpedo squadrons) and the SB2U Vindicator (the plane flown by Richard Fleming, the only Medal of Honor recipient for the Battle of Midway).

Hill scored 10.25 kills with the AVG, then stayed on afterwards with the Air Force.

Hill ended the war with 18.25 kills, and not only commanded the 23rd Fighter Group, but later commanded an Air National Guard fighter group during the Korean War.

 

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

 

7. Charles Older

Older wasn’t only a double ace with the Flying Tigers, he scored eight more later in World War II.

Then he flew a night intruder bomber in the Korean War before graduating from law school and becoming a judge, presiding over the Manson trial.

Manson took a swing at the former Flying Tiger, but bailiffs restrained him. Probably lucky for Manson…with his experience of fighting against long odds, Older probably could have taken the punk down.

 

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
A Flying Tiger in front of Charles Older’s P-40. Older had 10 kills with the Flying Tigers, and added eight more later. (AVG photo via Wikimedia Commons)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Thousands more died so World War I would end at 1100

“I may be one of the few people in this room who remembers when Veterans Day was called Armistice Day, commemorating the armistice that ended the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918,” Reagan said in 1982, repeating the memorable line about the end of World War I, a war so horrible that it was known for decades as “The War to End All Wars.”


This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

British troops man their artillery piece while defending against German attacks during the Spring Offensive, a failed German advance.

(Imperial War Museum)

But that tidy line, “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918,” came at a cost. Thousands more soldiers, 1,100 of them in one unit, would die during the morning before the Armistice took effect.

See, the end of World War I, like the end of most large wars, was clear for months before it actually came. With the introduction of the tank in 1916 and of American troops in 1917, the stalemate in Europe turned slowly but inexorably in favor of the Allies. The Central Powers, including Germany, were doomed to eventually drown under the industrial might it faced.

But they would fight on for over a year after America entered the war, attempting counter attacks and bloody defenses in order to improve their position at the bargaining table. It was a messy and futile business. The creeping crush of American and Allied steel slowly slaughtered its way east.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
British troops hold the southern bank of the River Aisne in May 1918 during Germany’s Spring Offensive.
(Imperial War Museum)

By October, 1918, the writing was on the wall. Germany hadn’t achieved a major victory since February, and the Spring Offensive that was supposed to shift the tide back in their favor had been utterly defeated. Berlin was starving under a British blockade and the front lines were quickly approaching the German border. Turkey surrendered at the end of the month and Austria-Hungary did so on November 3.

On November 7, 1918, the Germans sent a three-car delegation to the front lines and played a loud bugle call through the forest. The Germans informed some very surprised French troops that they were there to discuss terms of surrender with the French commander.

This is the first point where the top French and American officers, Field Marshall Ferdinand Fochs and Gen. John Pershing, could have slowed their advance. They could have ordered subordinate commanders to avoid costly advances against terrain or defenses that favored the Germans. In a war that generated over 2,000 deaths per day, a relatively calm November 7-11 could have saved thousands.

But Pershing and Fochs didn’t know, for sure, that Germany would actually go through with the surrender. The Germans had already committed a number of acts during the war that would’ve been beyond the pale before the conflict. They had introduced chemical gasses to the conflict, killed thousands of innocent, civilian ship passengers with their U-boats, and ignored multiple treaties and other legal agreements in their prosecution of the war.

So, the leaders resolved to continue fighting until the last legal moments and then see whether German forces actually stopped fighting. Fochs and the German delegation met in train cars in the Ardennes Forest, and Fochs quickly made it clear that he wasn’t looking to negotiate nicely. When the German delegation approached his car he ordered his interpreter to ask what the gentlemen wanted.

They said they had come to hear the Allies’ proposal for surrender. Fochs replied that he had no proposals. Count Alfred von Oberndorff of the German foreign ministry told Fochs in French that his men sought the conditions for the Armistice. Foch replied, “I have no conditions to offer.”

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

The German and French delegation pose at Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch’s rail car after the November 11, 1918, armistice ending World War I was signed.

The Germans would have to beg, or Foch was prepared to push the front on to German soil. And so the German delegation, with added urgency as riots broke out in Berlin amid the ever-worsening food situation, begged. And it turned out that Foch did have conditions, and they were tough.

First, Germany had to cede dozens of ships, hundreds of submarines, and massive tracts of land to France including land then under control of German troops. And, Germany would have to give up massive amounts of transportation equipment, from planes to train locomotives to railway cars. When it came to the submarines and railways cars, France was actually asking for more than Germany physically had.

And the German government had to agree to the deal before November 11 at 11 a.m., or the offer would be withdrawn.

But Foch was unmoved by German pleas. In his and Pershing’s minds, the idea of stopping the war short of German soil was insane. If Germany was allowed breathing room, it could only serve German interests. Either they would be allowed to quit the war without suffering at home the way the French people had, or they would simply use the armistice to re-organize their forces and then resume their attacks without agreeing to a full treaty.

Finally, just after 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918, the German delegation agreed to the terms. They would later seek, in some cases successfully, to negate the most onerous terms of the agreement during the treaty process, though many of them stuck.

But that left the long morning from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., Foch’s original deadline for an agreement and the legally binding time that the agreement would go into effect. Until then, the war was still raging.

If the ceasefire had taken place immediately after the agreement was signed, then hundreds would have still died as word made its way to the trenches — but the alternative was worse. Commanders were told that an armistice had been signed and that it would take effect at 11 a.m. They were given little or no instructions on how to spend the remaining hours.

For some, the answer was obvious: you don’t get your men killed to capture ground that you can walk safely across in a few hours or days. But for others, this was one last chance to punish the Germans, one last chance to improve France and America’s place at the peace table, one last chance at glory, awards, and promotions.

And so, after the armistice was signed, some Allied forces launched new attacks or decided to continue ongoing ones. Marine Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall ordered the 5th Marine Regiment to conduct a contested crossing of the Meuse River, acknowledging, as he briefed his officers, that he would likely never see them again.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
Two American soldiers run towards a bunker in a classic photograph that may have been staged after the actual fighting.
(Library of Cogress)

When word came down that the armistice had been signed, the general left his men on the attack, notifying them only that they must cease attacking at 11. And so they continued. Eleven-hundred Marines died at the crossing before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month arrived. The artillerymen on each side reportedly increased their fire when they learned, at 9 a.m., that the war was almost over.

The 157th Brigade kept fighting, as well, when they learned about the armistice at 10:44. With only 16 minutes left in the war, the American brigade still had a chance at taking a tiny, insignificant French village back. The general gave the order that attacks would continue until 11.

A supply soldier assigned to the brigade went forward with the 313th Regiment and took part in an attack through the fog against a German machine gun. Most of the Americans stopped short as the first German rounds zipped overhead, but Pvt. Henry Gunther pressed on.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
A captured German machine gun team moves their weapon.
(National Library of Scotland)

The German gunners, aware that the war would end in mere minutes, attempted to wave him off. They yelled, but Gunther came on. So, finally, the German gunner gave one, last tug on his trigger, sending a burst into the charging private. Gunther was killed, the last official American casualty of the war.

Another town was attacked, and successfully captured, in the final minutes. Stenay was taken by the 89th U.S. Division at the cost of 300 casualties.

Up and down the front, artillery batteries fired until the last seconds. All-in-alll, the belligerents suffered an estimated 2,738 deaths on the final morning. American forces are thought to have suffered over 3,500 casualties of all types. Congress would later look into the “inefficiencies” of American troops being sent to their likely deaths in the final hours of fighting.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
Americans celebrate the signing of the armistice that ended World War I.
(Chicago Daily News, Public domain)

But, it’s important to remember that military leaders couldn’t be sure the war was actually over, and they saw Germany admitting weakness as a sign it was time to press home the final attack in order to guarantee peace. If the Allies had rested, it might have allowed Germany to solidify their forces and improve their defenses.

The Allied leaders had heard only rumors or nothing at all about the events eating Germany from the inside. The Kaiser had abdicated and fled into exile. German sailors were in mass mutinies that crippled the already under-powered fleet. The aforementioned riots in Berlin were threatening to overwhelm the new republic, only days old and formed in crisis.

But that doesn’t restore to life the thousands lost in the final days to ensure victory, men whose brave sacrifices didn’t gain a much ground, but did cement the peace that ended mankind’s worst conflict up to that point in history. Their sacrifice may feel more tragic, but is no less noble than the millions lost before November 11.

MIGHTY CULTURE

9 retorts that prove the Ancient Spartans were funnier than you thought

The ancient Spartans are legendary for their courage and discipline, but these warriors were also famous in their time for their dry, sarcastic humor. A “laconic phrase,” a phrase that is especially concise and blunt, is actually named after Laconia, the Greek region where Sparta was located. Some Greeks attributed the Spartan terseness to ignorance, but others thought differently. The Athenian philosopher Plato wrote, “If you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child.” Here are some of the best examples of Spartan wit.


1. King Demartus

According to the ancient Roman historian Plutarch, King Demaratus of Sparta was once being pestered by a man with endless questions, especially who was the best among the Spartans. The irritated king finally responded, “Whoever is least like you.”

2. King Pleistoanax

Plutarch also describes King Pleistoanax, who heard an Athenian orator claim that the Spartans had no education. Pleistoanax retorted, “True, we are indeed the only Greeks who have learned no evil from you.”

3. Stellos 

In Zack Snyder’s 300, after hearing from a Persian emissary that the Persian archers’ arrows would blot out the sun, the Spartan soldier Stelios jokes that the Spartans will fight in the shade. This actually comes from Herodotus’s Histories, the ancient source on the Persian War, except it is spoken by the soldier Deinekes. However, an ancient source from Plutarch does mention King Leonidas telling his men, “Eat well, for tonight we dine in Hades.”

4. Commander Pausanias

After the Spartans routed the Persian invasion at the Battle of Plataea, the Spartan commander Pausanias decided that the banquet the Persians had set out for themselves should be served to himself and his officers instead. Upon seeing the feast, Pausanias cracked that, “The Persian is an abominable glutton who, when he has such delicacies at home, comes to eat our barley-cakes.” Spartan food was notoriously disgusting. When a traveler from Sybaris visited Sparta and tasted their infamous “black broth” he exclaimed, “No wonder Spartans are the bravest of men. Anyone in their right mind would rather die a thousand times than live like this.”

5. Spartan women

It wasn’t just the Spartan men who cracked jokes. Unlike most Greek women who were expected to be subservient to their husbands, the women of Sparta held considerable political and economic power. The Spartan men were always preparing for a war or fighting one, so the women were expected to manage their households themselves. A non-Spartan woman once asked Queen Gorgo, wife of Leonidas, why the Spartan women were the only ones who could rule over men. Gorgo responded, “Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.”

6. Short but sweet

When King Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) invaded southern Greece, he sent a message to the Spartans asking if he would be received as a friend or enemy. The Spartans’ reply was brief: “Neither.” Offended, Philip sent a threat: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” The Spartans’ reply was just as short as before: “If.”

7. Spartan response 

The Macedonians eventually did conquer Greece, and the later Macedonian king Demetrius I offended many Greeks through his extravagance and prideful attitude. He even forced the ambassadors of Athens, his favorite of the Greek cities, to wait two whole years at court before speaking to them. Sparta resented the Macedonian rule, and sent only one ambassador to the court on behalf of the city. Demetrius was infuriated and demanded to know if Sparta had really sent only one man to speak with the king; the Spartan responded, “Aye, one ambassador to one king.”

8. King Agesilaus II

King Agesilaus II of Sparta was respected for his martial virtue as well as his wit. Someone asked him what the boundaries of Sparta were, as unlike most Greek cities Sparta had no defensive walls. Agesilaus drew his spear and extended it, claiming that the borders were “as far as this can reach.” When asked why Sparta had no walls, he pointed to the armored citizens and explained that “these are the Spartans’ walls.” After Agesilaus was wounded in a battle against Thebes, the Spartan warrior Antalcidas joked that “The Thebans pay you well for having taught them to fight, which they were neither willing nor able to do before.”

For the Spartans, humor was more than just entertainment. It taught them how to think on their feet, how to conserve resources by training them to be economical with their words, and encouraged camaraderie between the citizens. All of us have something to learn from this warlike people, not just from their wisdom, but from their wisecracks.

MIGHTY TRENDING

4 reasons why Doc is not in formation

It’s a known fact that Marines are territorial by nature and do not play well with other branches while in garrison. It stems from our culture. Even though other branches have more funding and better promotion mobility, our intensity on an individual and unit level cannot be matched.

This intensity means Marines will always choose to save face over admitting they’re hurting, tired, or sick to anyone — with one exception: the Navy Corpsman, often affectionately known as “Doc.”

No other MOS in any branch will ever earn the amount of unwavering loyalty shown to the corpsman by a ferocious pack of Devil Dogs. Not many can understand our way of life because, simply, they weren’t there. No one else was there — nobody except our corpsman.

When they’re not in formation, they get a pass, which is fine — but they’re often gone without explanation. Here’s what they’d tell you:


This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
“You don’t want to distract me while I’m practicing this, Staff sergeant.”

 

They’re honing their craft

The Marine Corps does not have medics, but as a department of the Navy, the Navy sends us those who have the cajones to enter the fires of combat. They’re usually the only medical caregiver on deployments and will perform a wide range of duties, from preventing diseases to rendering urgent emergency treatment on the battlefield. They will utilize their weapon to protect the life of the patient under their care. Badasses.

Their chief may have some training planned for them or they may be fulfilling a class required by the Navy. It is not uncommon to hear that chief himself was in Iraq or Afghanistan at the outset of the conflict and is sharing his wisdom with the next generation. Whatever Navy sorcery is going on in the Battalion Aid Station that demands Sick Call to be canceled must be important. By all means, carry on.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
Those who do not qualify for Marine Regs will be issued standard utility uniforms instead.

 

They’re embracing our beloved Corps

According to Article 6501, personnel serving with Marine Corps, officer and enlisted Navy personnel may wear Marine Corps service and utility uniforms, including insignia, following the Marine Corps uniform regulations. If, after a series of tests and inspections, one qualifies to wear Marine Regs (regulation), they will be issued service and dress uniforms at no cost to the service member including all accessories.

The corpsman must also abide by Marine Corps grooming standards. They are required to maintain both Navy and Marine uniforms while attached to the Fleet Marine Force until they return to a Naval unit once again. No one is going to have a problem with Doc missing formation because he’s adopting our customs and traditions.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
“First Platoon used crayon on these forms… again…”

 

They could be attacking endless waves of paperwork

Behind every light-duty chit is a mountain of paperwork we’ll never have to deal with. Unfortunately for the corpsmen, they have to process, file, and report everything. They don’t only have to keep up to date with Navy readiness training but Marine Corps readiness as well.

If something is beyond the medical capabilities of the BAS, a troop will be sent to the Navy Hospital for advanced treatment. They will also have to explain — in writing why they made their recommendation. When you have thousands of Marines under your care, the administrative element of medicine piles up.

They’re probably skating, too

Corpsmen have inherited not only our sense of humor, but also our prowess to avoid stupid games when possible. Several have witnessed a Doc pop smoke before their very eyes in a masterful display of “not my pasture, not my bullsh*t,” inspiring envy and respect.

Corpsmen have done what few people have been able to do: become accepted by Marines as one of their own. Loyalty to a platoon goes both ways, and if anybody messes with a corpsman, they’re going face injuries that will warrant that same corpsman’s medical expertise.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This airman gave his life to rescue soldiers from a massive firefight

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

The Air Force Pararescue community lives according to the motto, “These Things We Do, That Others May Live.” There may be none who lived that motto more fully than Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger who was killed in action in March, 1966, after intentionally placing himself in harm’s way to rescue infantryman pinned down by snipers, mortars, and machine gun fire.

For his valor, he became the first enlisted airman to receive the Medal of Honor.


This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

A1C William Pitsenbarger

Pitsenbarger, or “Pits,” as he was known, first tried to join the military as a Green Beret when he was 17, but his parents prevailed upon him to wait until after high school. In 1962, he became a graduate and answered the call — this time, with the Air Force instead of the Army. As a pararescuemen, he would be responsible for grabbing downed airmen and others from contested and enemy-held areas around the world. Becoming a PJ was no easy feat, and it wasn’t a job for the timid.

After completing SCUBA training with the Navy, paratrooper training with the Army, and survival and medical training with the Air Force, he was ready to go to work. Before his deployment to Vietnam, he was called upon to help rescue two hunters stuck in the California wilderness. After rappelling down a sheer cliff face to reach them, he and another pararescueman encountered an angry bear. Pits charged the bear, yelling and screaming, chasing it off. It was immediately clear that he was cut out for this kind of work.

Pitsenbarger finally got orders overseas — to Okinawa, Japan. Wanting to go where his help was needed most, he requested to go to Vietnam instead, and his request was approved. Before shipping out, his parents later said that they were sure they would never see him alive again. Sadly, they were right.

In Vietnam, Pits proved himself an exceptionally capable medical and rescue professional. He helped treat lepers at a colony in Vietnam, escorted singer Mary Martin during a USO tour, and inserted into a burning minefield to rescue a South Vietnamese soldier who had lost a foot trying to stomp out a grass fire. For the minefield rescue, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Airman’s Medal.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

A1C Pitsenbarger receiving the Airman’s Medal in Vietnam.

But Pitsenbarger’s most consequential moments came in 1966. On April 11, three companies of the Big Red One, the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, were engaged in a risky sweep across two provinces in search of Viet Cong units. Charlie Company was on one end of the formation and realized too late that it had drifted from the others — and was exposed to sniper fire.

Company leadership realized they were in danger and set up a defensive perimeter, but they were already outnumbered and surrounded. The North Vietnamese triggered their attack, sending mortar and sniper fire ripping through the American formation. The other companies attempted to come to their aid, but mounting casualties quickly made it clear that Charlie Company needed a rescue.

The Air Force sent two rescue helicopters to begin getting the wounded out. The first flight was challenging but, for a jungle firefight in Vietnam, fairly uneventful. Both helicopters took the first flight of wounded to a nearby hospital and doubled back for more. Once back in the field, it became clear to Pits that the Army soldiers no longer had the manpower necessary to hold back the attacks, treat the wounded, and put them on litters for extraction. He volunteered to insert into the jungle and help out.

The pilot reluctantly agreed to the risky request, and Pits began sending men up to the two helicopters despite bursts of fierce mortar and machine gun fire. Pitsenbarger was responsible for getting nine wounded men out in three flights, refusing his own extraction each time, before ground fire nearly downed one of the helicopters and forced them to leave.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

Poster art for ‘The Last Full Measure’ depicting Pitsenbarger’s rescue in Vietnam.

On the ground, Pits continuously exposed himself to enemy fire to recover rifles and ammunition from the dead to redistribute to the living. He was wounded at least twice before he reached his final position. He had given away his pistol to a soldier too wounded to use any other weapon, and so Pits used one of the recovered rifles to resist a North Vietnamese advance until he was hit again — this time fatally.

The Army fought on through the night, relying on danger close artillery and airstrikes to survive the night. When the Air Force was able to get rescue helicopters back in the next morning, an Army captain told the next pararescueman on the ground what had happened to Pits.

Charlie Company had 134 men when the battle started. 106 of them were wounded or killed in the fighting, but Pits had gotten an extra nine of them out and kept others alive overnight.

Five months later, on Sept. 22, 1966, the Air Force presented the Air Force Cross to Pitsenbarger’s parents. It was the first awarding of the Air Force Cross to an enlisted airman for service in Vietnam. After decades of campaigning from the men he saved from what seemed like certain demise, Pitsenbarger’s citation was finally upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Pitsenbarger is the first enlisted airman to receive such an award.

Now, Pits’ story is headed to the big screen. The Last Full Measure is scheduled to release on Jan. 24, 2020. Be sure to watch the trailer below and secure your tickets to honor this true American hero.

THE LAST FULL MEASURE Official Trailer (2020) Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan Movie HD

www.youtube.com

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

Articles

Bea Arthur was a Marine before starring on Golden Girls

Thank you for being a friend … and a MARINE! Yes, the very same Bea Arthur that we know and love as Dorothy Zbornak from the “Golden Girls” and Maude from “All in the Family” served in the U.S. military. 

Arthur, who passed away in 2009 of lung cancer, was originally named Bernice Frankel. She later changed her first name, and used an alternate spelling of her former husband’s last name, Aurthur. 

In 1943, the Marines became the last military branch to accept women into their ranks. They announced a call for enlistments with the marketing slogan, “Be a Marine … Free a Man to Fight.” With the addition of women into their force for administrative and behind-the-scenes work, men who were previously performing those jobs were able to head to the frontlines. 

Just five days later, Arthur enlisted. However, not yet 21 (the age required to enlist at the time) she had to obtain permission from her parents. All of this, and more, is listed on her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), which is available to this day via the National Archives. 

It’s worth noting that, because the Marines had just begun accepting women, they hadn’t even provided paperwork to do so. Therefore, Arthur, and hundreds of others, were processed into the Marines through Navy paperwork and exam schedules. 

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
USMC photo

In one of her incoming interviews, a processing worker wrote comments like “frank and open,” “argumentative,” “over aggressive,” and “probably a good worker if she has her own way!”

She joined the military during World War II, in February of 1943, when she served for two years before being honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant in September of 1945. She was one of the first women to enlist with the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She worked as a typist in Washington, D.C., before requesting to attend the Motor Transport School. She then worked as a dispatcher and truck driver. Throughout her career, she was stationed between Washington, D.C. and two bases in North Carolina. 

After her discharge, Arthur went to school to become a lab tech, even interning at a hospital. However, she didn’t enjoy the work and left to attend drama school in 1947. By the late ’40s, she was performing in off-Broadway shows. She went on to perform on Broadway, winning a Tony for her performance as Vera Charles in “Mame”, before transitioning to television, where she was one of the most famous actresses throughout the ’70s and ’80s. 

It’s worth noting that Arthur publicly denied her time in the Marines throughout her acting career; she also did so blatantly, on-the-record, in a 2001 interview. Her military records were made public a year after her death, in 2010, proving her enlistment. It’s unknown why she denied her involvement as a Marine. Though one running theory is that it was to hide a misconduct report, when Arthur was written up for contracting a sexually transmitted disease. The stint left her “incapacitated for duty” for five weeks, for which she received a cut in pay. 

However, at the time of joining, records show her as eager and “willing to do her part” to help with the war. 


Feature image: National WWII History Museum

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 American jet fighters that later became devastating bombers

Some planes have long had a reputation for being deadly in air-to-air combat. That is an arena built for the fast and evasive — and planes get faster and more evasive all the time. But what do we do about the older fighters? Retirement or being passed on, second-hand, to other countries happens to some models, and some of these designs are so good, they last for decades (the P-51 served in a military role until 1985). Other planes, however, undergo a little role change and start dropping bombs instead.


This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
An F-51 Mustang of the U.S. Fifth Air Force’s 18th bomber wing releases two Napalm bombs over an industrial military target in North Korea. The Mustang was a preview of jet fighters that later proved very capable at bombing the enemy. (USAF photo)

In fact, when you look at the most prominent fighters from World War II (the P-51, the F6F Hellcat, the F4U Corsair, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-38 Lightning), they were all multi-role fighters. The jet age was no different — many planes designed for air-to-air became very good at dropping bombs on the enemy on the ground. Here are some of the most prominent.

1. North American F-86 Sabre

The F-86 Sabre dominated the skies during the Korean War, but as the war went on, this plane also had a significant impact as a fighter-bomber. This plane did so well dropping ordnance that the Air Force eventually bought the F-86H, a dedicated fighter-bomber version of the F-86, which served until 1972.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
F-86H Sabres deployed during the Pueblo Crisis. While F-86A/E/Fs were rapidly retired, the F-86H served until 1972. (USAF photo)

2. North American F-100 Super Sabre

Like the F-86, the F-100 was initially intended for air-to-air combat. But the F-100A had its teething problems, and it never saw much combat as a fighter. The F-100D version, however, became a very reliable fighter-bomber. In fact, a later model, the F-100F operational trainer model, was among the first of the Wild Weasels — Vietnam-era bombers that were responsible for taking out enemy air defenses. The F-100 fighter-bombers stuck around until 1979.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
A North American F-100D Super Sabre drops napalm on enemy positions. This plane hung around with the Air National Guard as a fighter-bomber until 1979! (USAF photo)

3. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom

The Navy’s version of the Phantom, the F-4B, was an all-weather interceptor. The Air Force was the first branch to use this airframe as a tactical fighter, and the others quickly followed suit. As F-14s and F-15s emerged into service, F-4s took on more ground-attack missions. Today, those still in service with Turkey and other countries are primarily used for bombing.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
20 years after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the F-4 was still a reliable plane for attack missions, dropping precision-guided weapons like this TV-guided GBU-15. (USAF photo)

4. Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Lessons learned from Vietnam and the development of new Soviet bombers spurred the development of the F-14 as a pure fighter. It had quite the long reach, too. With the end of the Cold War, though, the Tomcat quickly ran thin on targets in the air and was quickly retooled to attack ground targets. Sadly, it also saw its production ended shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and was retired in 2004. It leaves us to wonder just what could have been for carrier air wings.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
Maverick, Goose, and Iceman made the Tomcat a movie star as a fighter in Top Gun, but in the War on Terror, it was carrying laser-guided bombs to blast terrorists on the ground. (DOD photo)

5. McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle

While the Navy replaced its F-4s with the F-14, the Air Force chose to replace them in the air-to-air role with the F-15. The F-15 dominated as an air-superiority fighter (it still hasn’t lost a for-real dogfight). Then, the Air Force sought to replace the F-4 for the ground-attack missions – and the F-15 was selected. Today, the F-15E is still going strong, bringing the fight to ground forces.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

The fact is, an air-superiority fighter need not despair when newer jets come along. It can earn a second lease on life by dropping bombs on the bad guys. It might not be as thrilling as a dogfight, but it’s plenty effective.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The Fighting McCooks’ were the Civil War’s largest military family

Few states were as pivotal to the Union victory in the Civil War as the state of Ohio. Ohio lent 320,000 soldiers to the cause, among them Generals Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan. After the big names, one Ohio family famously lent more of its flesh and blood than any other family in the Union. Known as “The Fighting McCooks,” Daniel and John McCook were the sons of George McCook, a Pennsylvanian and veteran of the Whiskey Rebellion who immigrated from Ireland. As young adults, Daniel moved his family to Carrollton. John raised his sons in Steubenville.

As older men, the two would join the Union cause – along with 13 of their sons and numerous other family members. 

The elder brother, Daniel McCook, was already 62 years old when South Carolina Confederates began shelling Fort Sumter. Advanced in age, he volunteered to be a Union paymaster. His brother James, a physician, was also in his 60s. He volunteered his services as a doctor with the Union. 

George, another McCook brother and surgeon, also joined the Union army along with his son, George. The father and son surgical team donated their time to the cause, working for free. But it was the other two brothers and their “tribes” who would earn the McCook family their belligerent nickname. 

Daniel McCook was killed during Morgan’s Raid, the largest battle to take place in Ohio. Nine of his sons joined the U.S. military, most becoming officers and many did not survive either. Three from the “Tribe of Dan” (as they came to be called), died in combat.

John and his five sons were known as the “Tribe of John” – and all of them survived the war.

The McCooks
The McCook Family

The Tribe of Dan

The oldest son of Dan McCook, Latimer, joined as an infantry officer and fought in General Sherman’s March to the Sea. Though wounded on two separate occasions, he survived the war. George Wythe McCook was already a former Attorney General for the State of Ohio and a veteran of the Mexican War. He led the 157th Ohio infantry and after the war, he ran for governor (he lost). 

One of the middle children, Robert Latimer, raised his own regiment of infantry, trained them, and then led them into combat. He was soon transferred to the Army of Ohio. He would later lead troops in an attack against Confederates in Alabama, where he died from a gunshot wound. 

Alexander McCook spent his entire adult career in the U.S. Army. A graduate of West Point, he was a veteran of the Indian Wars and the Mexican War when the Civil War started. He fought at the First Battle of Bull Run, Nashville, Shiloh, and Chickamauga. He stayed in the Army long after the war ended. 

Daniel McCook, Jr. also became a Union general. A former law partner of William T. Sherman’s, he would end his career as a brigade commander under Sherman. It was Sherman who appointed him to lead a frontal attack on Confederate positions on Kennesaw Mountain. Daniel died in the assault. 

Edwin Stanton McCook was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who also raised his own infantry regiment. He joined Sherman’s March along with his other brothers and fought a Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. The youngest McCook was John James, who started his adult life as 1st Lt. McCook, fighting at Chattanooga and Chickamauga, among other places. Both of these brothers died after the war. 

Charles Morris McCook was the only brother to enlist as a private in the Union Army. He died at age 18 at First Bull Run. It was his first engagement of the war.

The Tribe of John

Though the patriarch of the tribe died shortly after the war’s end, all of John’s tribe lived at least 20 years after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. His eldest son Edward joined a regiment of cavalry in Indiana and led them throughout the war, moving south and gaining rank, going from lieutenant to brigadier general in three years. It was Edward McCook that read the Emancipation Proclamation in Tallahassee, securing the Florida capital for the Union.

Just after becoming a lawyer, Anson McCook joined the Union Army. – twice. He fought under Sherman in Atlanta and was discharged after his term of service ended. He was later called to serve under Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, a call he answered.

There were two members of the “Fighting McCooks” who did not actually fight. Henry McCook was a Presbyterian chaplain in a volunteer infantry regiment.  John James was also a Presbyterian chaplain for a three-year infantry unit. 

The only McCook who fought the Civil War in the Navy, Roderick McCook was out capturing slave ships before the war started. During the war, he harassed Confederate shipping and naval forces in South Carolina and Virginia, most notably aboard a newly-mined Union ironclad warship.

Articles

What would happen if the Battle of Little Bighorn was fought today

The fall of Custer and five of the companies under his command at the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, known by the Sioux Nation as the Battle of Greasy Grass, was as much a failure of reconnaissance and intelligence as of strategy and tactics, and a modern battle between the 7th Cavalry and the Sioux Nation would play out differently.


First and foremost, modern military formations have better intelligence gathering assets. While Gen. George A. Custer labored under the false impression that Sitting Bull, the Lakota leader, had only 800 warriors with him, it’s more likely that he had well over 1,000 and possibly as many as 2,500.

When Custer first spotted the signs of the camp on June 25, he wanted to spend time scouting and resting his men before attacking but thought his presence had been detected by Sioux forces and would soon be reported. So, he ordered hasty preparations for an attack.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
The Battle of Little Bighorn. (Lithograph: Library of Congress by Charles Marion Russell)

But modern drones and listening devices would have let him know that the fighters who spotted his men were actually leaving the encampment and not reporting to Sitting Bull. Once Custer knew that and was able to spend time gathering intelligence, he would have learned of the size of the enemy force and at least hesitated to attack with his 647 men without getting reinforcements.

His force was just part of one of three columns of U.S. government forces in the area.

But if he did press the attack anyway, that battle would be most similar to a clash between uneven forces of cavalry and mounted infantry. While Custer’s men would likely have enjoyed a technological advantage, the four-to-one numerical advantage of the Lakota, Dakota, Sioux, and Northern Cheyenne forces would have been too much to overcome.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
Photo: U.S. Navy Journalist 2nd Class John J. Pistone

While Custer tried in 1876 to break through to the civilian parts of the camp to force the enemy to either fire in the direction of their loved ones or surrender, a modern Custer would likely try to draw out the enemy forces instead.

To help overcome his shortage of manpower, Custer would likely do this with a careful attack, trying to minimize civilian casualties while inflicting maximum damage on enemy vehicles.

Custer’s best chance would likely have been to send anti-armor missile teams into cover and concealment near the Sioux while one or two mechanized infantry companies deployed their Strykers just below the peak on nearby ridge lines.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
Photo: U.S. Army Pfc. Victor Ayala

Then, at a prearranged signal, the Strykers would roar over the ridge and fire TOW missiles at the Sioux vehicles. To keep the technological gap between the U.S. and Sioux forces, we’ll say the Sioux predominantly have Bradleys and HMMWVs.

As the Sioux, who were mostly sleeping or resting at the start of the battle, rushed to their vehicles and started moving them to the battlefield, the hidden anti-armor teams could start hitting the vehicles as they passed through chokepoints in the camp and the terrain around it, penning up vehicles.

The mortars embedded in the infantry companies could then start laying it on thick, slamming rounds into the top armor of enemy vehicles and hitting treads and tires with shrapnel to get mobility kills.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
Paratroopers fire a mortar system during a call-for-fire exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 3, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

But Custer’s force of almost 650 troops would find it nearly impossible to keep over 2,000 enemies penned in for long, and the Sioux vehicles would make it into the open sooner or later. Once they did, their superiority in numbers would quickly turn the tide.

Custer could claim a victory at this point, satisfy himself with the large losses already inflicted and conduct an orderly withdrawal while radioing other U.S. government forces to be ready to attack the Sioux forces if they dispersed across the area.

If the Sioux followed him as a large group, he would be able to draw them to a larger government force and wipe them out.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
The Bradley main armament is the M242 25mm (Bushmaster) Chain Gun. The standard rate of fire is 200 rounds per minute, and has a range of 2,000 meters, making it capable of defeating the majority of armored forces including some main battle tanks. (Photo: Department of Defense)

If, instead, he pressed his luck, and continued to fight near the Little Bighorn River, it’s likely that the final result would once again be a victory for the Sioux. Once the government anti-tank Strykers and anti-armor teams had expended their missiles, attempts to take the Bradleys out with the Stryker guns would take much longer.

Sitting Bull would be able to get a force assembled, likely by staging it behind one of the hills that dominate the area, and then launch it from behind cover and into the American flank.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
An M2A2 Bradley in action during a mission in Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Once the American lines were properly disrupted, more and more Sioux vehicles would be able to escape from the camp and launch additional attacks against the beleaguered 7th Cavalry.

While the Sioux would have suffered much heavier losses than in the actual 1876 battle, the end result of a standing battle between the 7th Cavalry and the Sioux nation would always be subject to the huge numbers disparity on the ground.

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This is why Fallujah is one of the Marine Corps’ most legendary battles

On Nov. 10, 1775, a man named Samuel Nicholas went to Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Penn. There he began a recruitment process to put sharpshooters on Naval vessels to protect them. He also wanted to create a landing force for some of the most intense battles in the Revolutionary War.


Those that signed became the very first United States Marines. Over the centuries, Marines gained status as their very own military branch and earned a reputation as one of the most hardened, violent, and distinguished fighting forces in military history.

 

From here, it would be easy to go into the long and honorable history of the Marine Corps. Instead, it’s important to focus on a more recent Marine Corps birthday, one of which took place during The Battle of Fallujah. Though the Marine Corps’ birthday has landed on many the days of battles over time, Fallujah is the most recent and was called, “the biggest urban battle since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam.”

The Battle of Fallujah was the biggest battle of the Iraq War yet many don’t know about the battle itself, let alone a significant day in this battle. It marked some of the fiercest fighting the U.S. military had seen in some thirty years.

The city had been a stronghold for insurgent forces since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Different coalition forces tried to secure the city and bring order — to no avail; coalition troops backed out of the city and it quickly grew into a bastion for all enemy fighters in the area.

 

Marines were sent to start taking over the city in early 2004, but many political problems arose and the advance was stopped. They made quite a big push, but were quickly told to pull out. November then came, and the Marines were sent in again to liberate the city and eliminate the enemy from of every inch of it.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ruben D. Maestre)

 

The 10th of November was three days into the second battle. By this time, the enemy inside began to mount a major defense – a complex, formidable one. I started the battle with an entire machine gun squad, until mortars rained down on a street where were pulling security. Once the smoke started to clear, only two of us were what remained of a seven-man machine gun squad.

Many Marines of 3rd battalion 1st Marines engaged in grueling house-to-house fighting. Our platoon crashed through a door of a house and engaged in one firefight after another. It seemed as if everyone was wounded from enemy small arms fire and indirect fire, like RPGs and mortars. Still, we all continued the fight, clearing houses of multiple enemy occupants. Some houses were even leveled to take out any enemy defenses and personnel who might have been hiding within. Why send in men when a single good Bangalore can do the job?

 

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield
U.S. Marine Corps

But this day felt different from any other day of the battle. That’s when many of us suddenly realized was it was the Marine Corps Birthday, “OUR” birthday. Instead of getting drunk and eating lobster and steak, we were doing the one thing every Marine trains for, thinks about, and begs to do.

We were celebrating our birthday in the heat of battle.

While Marines celebrate our birthday every year with exuberance and tradition, some of us remember Fallujah, the birthday that exemplified what it means to be a United States Marine.

Feature image: U.S. Marine Corps/ Lance Corporal James J. Vooris

MIGHTY HISTORY

A fighter pilot shot his own fuel tanks mid-flight over Korea

In 1952, Lt. Col. A.J. D’Amario took off from an airstrip at Suwon, Korea in a F-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. He wasn’t going into combat and his plane was – he thought – in perfect working condition. He was wrong. 

D’Amario’s seemingly inconsequential flight was soon turned into a mid-air fight for his life that would see him turn his sidearm on his own plane before he could land safely. 

Writing on TailSpinTales, an aviation enthusiast blog, the then-retired Lt. Col. D’Amario recalled his 1952 flight at the height of the Korean War. He wasn’t going to see the enemy and his mission, as he put it, was “have fun boring holes in the sky for about an hour and a half.”

But almost immediately after takeoff, he could feel there was something wrong with his F-80 Shooting Star. The F-80 was the United States first operational jet fighter aircraft. It saw some action over Italy during World War II, but didn’t see extensive combat until years later in the Korean War. 

D’Amario writes that his F-80 felt heavy in the left wing and he quickly surmised that the left fuel tank was not feeding into the engine. Since he could neither land with the fuel (as prohibited by the tower) nor use the fuel, he was told to fly over to a bomber training field and drop the tank there before landing. 

U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
(Lockheed)

So the pilot flew to the assigned bomber training field. But when the time came to drop the tank in a simulated bomb run, nothing happened. So D’Amario made another simulated bombing run. This time nothing still happened when he pressed the release button. So the pilot decided to give the bomb run one last shot.

This time, he was going to use the manual release for the drop tank. Nothing. On his fourth and final attempt to rid himself of the jammed fuel tank, he pressed what he called “the panic button.” This button was supposed to release everything attached to the wings of the airframe. It almost worked as advertised.

To D’Amario’s dismay, he did drop everything hanging off the Shooting Star’s fuselage. Except that left wing external fuel tank was still holding on strong. When he told the control tower that his tank wasn’t coming off, they advised him to give his coordinated, eject and wait for a rescue party. 

Fighter pilot D'Amario
D’Amario retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Col.
(U.S. Air Force)

“Well, pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane and I figured I still had one option worth trying,” he wrote. 

Dropping to the lowest possible speed he could for an F-80, he opened his canopy at 220 miles per hour and drew his .45 sidearm. Knowing the fuel would not burn in its liquid form, he aimed his issued Colt 1911 pistol at an area of the tank where he knew the fuel would be liquified.

He fired the pistol at least four times in a desperate attempt to shoot himself down. He had a few solid hits, large enough to watch the liquid pouring out of the errant fuel tank. The airman at the stick of the Shooting Star decided to flay in a manner that would drain the excess fuel from his fuel tank.

With three solid holes and some fancy flying, the American drained the fuel as fast as they could. He flew in a series of so-called “fancy” maneuvers that would help drain the fuel out as fast as possible for another 30 minutes. 

That’s exactly what happened. He was finally cleared to land.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Vietnamese and U.S. Navy SEALs worked together in this famous rescue

During the famous rescue of navigator “Bat 21 Bravo,” a U.S. and a Vietnamese Navy SEAL took the lead role in a dangerous operation behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, rescuing two aviators with no friendly losses despite running into enemy patrols and positions during the 11-day ordeal.


This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

Numerous attempts to destroy North Vietnamese resistance from the air and rescue the downed aviators by helicopter failed, causing 14 American deaths and additional casualties before air rescue was outlawed for the men.

(U.S. Air Force)

While the rescue was widely popularized in a movie and book, both named Bat 21, the stories told were written before the events were declassified, so they were highly fictionalized to ensure that no sensitive information was inadvertently released.

But the true story is more amazing. Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton was forced to eject over Vietnam on April 2, 1972, triggering a mad dash by the U.S. to recover him before he was captured. Then, multiple rescue attempts went sideways in the first week. Seven more aircraft were lost, 14 Americans were killed, two were captured, and a new aviator was missing behind enemy lines. The theater commander forbid more helicopter extractions and the SEALs were ordered up.

A U.S. Navy SEAL, Lt. j.g. Tom Norris, led the mission alongside a Vietnamese Sea Commando team with its own lieutenant team leader.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

An Air Force composite photo shows the tough terrain that the downed aviators had to cross to reach the river in hopes of rescue in April 1972.

(U.S. Air Force)

The men started by swimming their way up the river as the two targets of their rescue were directed to move to the river and start floating down. The aviators were given coded directions that combined landmarks from their home states and their hobbies. Clark was rescued on April 10, but Hambleton had trouble reaching the river.

Hambleton finally reached the river on the night of April 11, but the SEAL command post, meanwhile, had come under artillery barrage and two of the Vietnamese commandos had to be evacuated. The rest of the team was increasingly hesitant to risk their necks for American service members.

An April 11 rescue attempt with four members failed, and two of the Vietnamese commandos were obviously too frightened to continue.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

Viet Cong irregulars move through a river in shallow boats like the one used by U.S. and Vietnamese commandos during the rescue of Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton in April 1972.

(U.S. Army)

So, Norris asked for volunteers to make another, even deeper penetration into NVA territory. Nguyen was the only volunteer. The two men stole a sampan from a bombed-out village, disguised themselves as fisherman, and started making their way back upriver during the night of April 13.

The two commandos nearly ran into enemy troops multiple times despite the dark, but managed to get their hands on Hambleton, weak and confused from his ordeal in the jungle. They started back towards friendly lines, but were spotted and had to fight a running gun battle down the river.

They were forced to pass NVA position after position, taking fire at each point and trying to keep their wounded, sick, and delirious package alive. Norris was forced to call in multiple airstrikes, and the Air Force dropped smoke bombs after their explosives to create a screen for the SEALs to maneuver behind.

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton after his rescue.

(U.S. Air Force)

Finally, the three men made it back to friendly lines and were able to get Hambleton to medical care. For their efforts, both the Vietnamese and the U.S. SEAL would be awarded medals for valor.

Nguyen received the Navy Cross while Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor for his days of risky search and rescue.

Nguyen was ineligible for the Medal of Honor because he was not an American service member. He was admitted to U.S. SEAL schools following the ordeal, though, and graduated the underwater demolition team course and the SEAL advanced course. He later became an American citizen.

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