The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

“I want to make sure that the Coast Guard people in Vietnam know that I am hearing about them often and that I am pleased with what I hear.”
–General Wallace Greene, Jr., commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, 1967

As indicated in the quote above, the Coast Guard played a vital role in the Vietnam War, but the service’s combat operations in South East Asia remain unknown to most Americans.


On April 29, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed a “Memorandum for the President” that required “U.S. Coast Guard operating forces assist U.S. Naval Forces in preventing sea infiltration by the communists into South Vietnam” stating “…that the U.S. Coast Guard has operating forces which are well-suited to the mission…” The same day Johnson signed his memorandum, the service announced formation of Coast Guard Squadron One (RONONE). The squadron consisted of 26 “Point”-class 82-foot patrol boats. In five years, RONONE patrol boats cruised over four million miles and inspected over 280,000 vessels. The 82-footers, which were designed for search-and-rescue and law enforcement, were operational approximately 80 percent of their time in theater.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Fireman Heriberto Hernandez, who was killed in action, posthumously received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals, and is the namesake for one of the service’s Fast Response Cutters.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

In early 1967, the Navy requested that the Coast Guard provide five high-endurance cutters for duty with the Navy’s Coastal Surveillance Forces. On April 24, Coast Guard Squadron Three (RONTHREE) was formed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and, in May, the high-endurance cutter Barataria fired the first RONTHREE naval gunfire support mission of the war. In February 1968, cutters Winona and Androscoggin engaged enemy trawlers and destroyed them with the aid of Coast Guard and Navy patrol boats while cutter Minnetonka drove off another. This action was the largest naval engagement of the Vietnam War.

Coast Guard cutters made a vital contribution to the Navy’s effort to limit coastal infiltration, forcing the communists to use the Ho Chi Minh Trail to sustain the insurgency in the South. Wartime statistics show that Coast Guard cutters boarded a quarter of a million junks and sampans and participated in 6,000 naval gunfire support missions causing extensive damage to the enemy. Of the 56 cutters that served in Vietnam, 30 were turned over to South Vietnam and Coast Guardsmen trained their Vietnamese crews to operate the vessels. Former cutters and the Vietnamese who crewed them formed the nucleus of the South Vietnamese Navy for the remainder of the war.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Coast Guard pilots Jack Rittichier and Lonnie Mixon received medals for their role in flying helicopter rescue missions in Vietnam.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Port Security and Waterways Details and Explosives Loading Detachments (ELDs) also proved important to the war effort. On Aug. 4, 1965, the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam requested a Coast Guard Port Security Officer for the Port of Saigon and two Coast Guard ELDs. The Coast Guard sent the officer to Saigon and two ELDs, assigning one to Nha Be and the second to Cam Ranh Bay. These ELDs were highly trained in explosives handling, firefighting, port security, and small boat operations and maintenance. The ELDs were authorized to do anything necessary to enforce regulations. ELD personnel also taught U.S. Army and Vietnamese personnel in small boat operation, port firefighting, pier inspection, and proper cargo handling and storage.

In 1966, the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam requested a Coast Guard buoy tender to install, maintain and service aids-to-navigation (ATON) in South Vietnam. Soon, a buoy tender arrived to set petroleum buoys for offloading fuel. In all, five buoy tenders marked South Vietnamese channels and maintained lighthouses along the South Vietnamese coast. Buoy tender duties included marking newly-dredged channels and coral reefs, positioning mooring buoys, and training the Vietnamese in ATON duties. Vietnamese lighthouse service personnel were assigned to temporary duty aboard Coast Guard buoy tenders that reactivated and automated all South Vietnamese lighthouses.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
An aerial photograph of the LORAN station located at Tan My in Vietnam.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The service built and manned Long Range Aids to Navigation (LORAN) stations allowing mariners and aviators to accurately fix their positions. LORAN’s original purpose was to provide electronic aids to mariners and aviators in areas where surface aids were nonexistent, waters relatively uncharted, or skies frequently overcast. Under Operation “Tight Reign,” LORAN stations were established at Con Son Island and Tan My in Vietnam; and at Lampang, Sattahip and Udorn in Thailand. Tight Reign continued until April 29, 1975, a day before the fall of South Vietnam, when the station at Con Son Island discontinued operations.

The escalation of the Vietnam War meant that supplies had to be transported by ship, which increased the need for merchant vessels under Military Sealift Command (MSTS) contracts. Merchant officers and shipping companies complained about the lack of a Coast Guard Merchant Marine Detail and, in August 1966, MSTS requested a Merchant Marine Detail. By December, a marine inspection officer was assigned to Saigon. Merchant Marine Detail personnel kept merchant vessels in theater moving by providing diplomatic, investigative and judicial services. Coast Guard officers assigned to Merchant Marine Details had the authority to remove sailors from ships, order violations corrected, or stop a ship from sailing.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
A Coast Guard aids-to-navigation expert works on a range marker for ship navigation in Vietnam.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Coast Guard aviators participated in the Coast Guard-Air Force Aviator Exchange Program. Two Coast Guard C-130 pilots took part in the program, but the rest of the aviators were HH-3 helicopter pilots. In the spring of 1968, the service assigned the first of many Coast Guard helicopter pilots to the Air Force’s 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Da Nang. The resulting honors and awards presented to Coast Guard aviators included four Silver Star Medals, 15 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 86 Air Medals.

Today, over 50 years after the service joined the fight in Vietnam, we commemorate the Coast Guardsmen who went in harm’s way, several of whom paid with their lives in a land far from home shores. In all, 8,000 Coast Guardsmen served in Vietnam. Their efforts curtailed maritime smuggling and enemy infiltration, saved hundreds of lives, and proved vital to the war effort in Vietnam.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 amazing pilots who became an ‘ace-in-a-day’

Fighter aces are a rare and legendary breed: People who are not only skilled enough to fly jets in combat, but so good at it that they can knock down at least five of the enemy without dying themselves. But there’s an even more elite subset of pilots who were able to kill at least five of the enemy in a single day, sometimes a single engagement.

Here are 7 of these elite pilots:


The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Colonel James E. Swett earned the Medal of Honor in World War II as a first lieutenant when he killed seven enemy planes in one day.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

1. 1st Lt. James Swett

Marine Corps 1st Lt. James Swett was sent against Japanese fighters near the Solomons Island on April 7, 1943. He led his four-plane flight against 15 enemy bombers and successfully shredded three of them in a single dive. Now separated from the rest of his flight, he attacked a group of six bombers and downed four of them. While lining up on a fifth bomber, he ran out of ammo.

His plane had been damaged in the fighting and he had suffered cuts to his face from a broken cockpit window. He managed to land his stricken plane into the ocean and was picked up by the Navy. His seven kills from that day were accompanied by eight more over the course of the war. He received the Medal of Honor and six Distinguished Flying Crosses.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc flew F4F Wildcats against Japanese fighters and bombers.

2. 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc

During fighting in the Solomon Islands on January 31, 1943, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc was sent up to escort dive bombers targeting Japanese ships. A swarm of Japanese Zeroes rose up against them. DeBlanc and his men were able to keep the Zeroes off the dive bombers, but then he got a call for assistance from low-flying bombers that they were under attack by Japanese float planes.

DeBlanc banked down into the fight and shot his way through three of the float planes. Low on fuel and ammo, he finally banked away towards home, only to notice that two Japanese fighters were coming up behind him. DeBlanc turned back to fight and killed the two Zeroes before being forced to bail out of his plane because of the damage from all the fighting. He earned the Medal of Honor for his actions and survived the war.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Royal Australian Air Force Group Capt. Clive Caldwell was the killingest pilot in Australian history.
(Australian War Museum)

3. Group Captain Clive Caldwell

Group Capt. Clive Caldwell is the highest-scoring ace in Royal Australian Air Force history and was credited with 28.5 kills in World War II. His ace-in-a-day mission came on December 5, 1941, when he was leading two squadrons on patrol in Africa. The allied formation stumbled into a group of German bombers with an Italian fighter escort.

Caldwell went after a group of three bombers and took out the 2nd and 3rd planes in formation with quick bursts, then he made more passes through the now-dispersed bombers and hit two more in wings and engines. Finally, he came up towards the belly of a fifth bomber and waited until he was right against it to open fire, engulfing it in flames and sending it down.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare was a pioneer of naval aviation who earned a Medal of Honor when he killed at least five Japanese bombers in just minutes.

4. Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward O’Hare was a legend in early World War II, and his most famous battle came just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On February 20, 1942, a flight of Japanese “Betty” bombers headed for the USS Lexington. One flight of Navy F4F Wildcats went after the first wave, and O’Hare and his wingman were the only ones left to defend against the second wave.

But O’Hare’s wingman experienced a gun jam, and so O’Hare had to go after eight Japanese bombers on his own. He went after the rear bombers on the right side, first, downing two of them quickly with bursts through the engines and fuel tanks. On a second pass, O’Hare destroyed two more with shots to an engine and to a left wing and cockpit. Finally, he hit two more on a third pass, leading him to believe that he had downed six. The engagement had lasted less than six minutes.

He was only credited with five kills, though. Lt. Cmdr. O’Hare unfortunately met his end in 1943 while defending a carrier from a night raid.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
British Defiant fighters had rear-facing gunners.
(Royal Air Force B.J. Daventry)
 

5. Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke, Cpl. Albert Lippett

During the evacuation of Dunkirk in May, 1940, British Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke and his gunner, Cpl. Albert Lippett, were sent to help keep the beaches open for evacuation. On May 29, they were in their Defiant when their formation engaged with a group of German Bf 109 fighters and they killed one. Later in the mission, they engaged a group of Bf 109s and Bf 110s, killing one of each.

They refueled and rearmed and headed out for another mission, this time finding a group of dive bombers attacking at the beaches. Cooke positioned the plane near the ground and gave Lippett a stable platform to shoot from. The young gunner targeted the fuel tanks that sat between the German pilot and navigator, killing five over the beaches and helping kill two more.

Only two days later, they would go missing over the English Channel.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
U.S. Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Frank Luke downed 18 targets in a single month in World War I.
(U.S. Air Force)

6. 2nd Lt. Frank Luke

Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke was one of America’s most prolific fighters, downing 14 German observation balloons and four planes during his short career. Balloons in World War I were extremely dangerous, well-protected targets, and Luke developed a reputation as a fearless balloon buster. All of this happened in September, 1918.

His greatest one-day total came on September 18 when he made a run on balloons and downed two, then killed two of the German fighters that came up to kill him, and then spotted and killed a German reconnaissance plane on his way back to U.S. lines.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
Then-Lt. Stanley Vejtasa on right as a member of the Grim Reapers, VF-10.
(U.S. Navy)
 

7. Capt. Stanley Vejtasa

Navy Capt. Stanley Vejtasa is one of the few “double aces” with 10.5 confirmed aerial kills. He achieved ace status in a single day on October 26, 1942, when he killed two Japanese dive bombers attempting to sink his carrier and then turned to interrupt a torpedo attack, killing five of them for seven kills in a single mission.

But his greater contribution to the war may have been his skill in dive bombers and other planes while attacking Japanese planes. He was credited with sinking at least five ships including a carrier and damaging seven more, making him one of the very few pilots who can claim ace status against ships.

MIGHTY CULTURE

After 75 years, D-Day veteran is reunited with his long-lost French love

An American D-Day veteran was reunited with his French love, 75 years after they first parted, USA Today reports.

K.T. Robbins kept a photo of the girl he met in the village of Briey in 1944. Jeannine Pierson, then Ganaye, was 18 when she met the Army veteran, who was 24 at the time.

“I think she loved me,” Robbins, now in his late nineties, told television station France 2 during an interview. Travelling to France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, Robbins said he hoped to track down Pierson’s family, the BBC reports. “For sure, I won’t ever get to see her. She’s probably gone now.”


Robbins left Pierson when he was transferred east. “I told her, ‘Maybe I’ll come back and take you some time,'” he said. “But it didn’t happen.” After the war, Robbins returned to the US, got married, and started a family. Pierson, too, married, and had five children.

After Robbins showed the photo of the young Pierson to France 2 journalists, they tracked her down — she was still alive, now 92, and living just 40 miles from the village where they had originally met.

75 years later, D-Day veteran meets long-lost French love

www.youtube.com

Robbins reunited with his wartime love at Sainte Famille, her retirement home in the town of Montigny-les-Metz.

“I’ve always thought of him, thinking maybe he’ll come,” Pierson said. And, 75 years later, he did.

“I’ve always loved you. I’ve always loved you. You never got out of my heart,” Robbins told Pierson upon their reunion.

The two sat together and told reporters about the time they spend together so many years ago.

“When he left in the truck I cried, of course, I was very sad,” Pierson told reporters. “I wish, after the war, he hadn’t returned to America.” She also started to learn English after World War II, in hopes Robbins would return.

“I was wondering, ‘Where is he? Will he come back?’ I always wondered,” Pierson said.

“You know, when you get married, after that you can’t do it anymore,” Robbins said about returning to find Peirson earlier. Robbins’ wife, Lillian, died in 2015.

While the two had to part again — Robbins left for Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion — they promised to meet again soon.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This soldier might be the first female on the moon

The list of female astronauts who could potentially is a short one. Only 12 would be able to go to the moon by 2024, in line with President Trump’s direction that the Space Agency should return to the moon, according to NASA. But only one of those women is Army strong.


The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Lt. Col. Anne McClain goes by the call sign “Annimal,” a reference to her old rugby nickname. She started her career as a Kiowa Warrior pilot flying combat missions in Iraq, graduated from test pilot school, and was eventually chosen to be part of astronaut group 21, the youngest astronaut on NASA’s roster. Her Army career took her to the International Space Station in 2018, and she completed her first spacewalk in March 2019. She has since returned to Earth.

In December 2017, President Trump directed NASA to prepare to send astronauts back to the lunar surface to make way for a long-term human presence on the moon. The project, dubbed Artemis, is not just a vanity project for the 45th President. It’s an effort for NASA to prepare for an even longer trip, sending human astronauts to Mars. When deciding to return humans to the moon, NASA determined they would send a woman.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

McClain took a selfie during one of her spacewalks.

While it may seem odd to send an Army troop to the moon, one could argue there’s no better preparation for going to the moon – or even Mars – than a few years in the Army. Working in austere, desert environments with barely enough tools to complete the mission but still somehow succeeding is what the Army is all about.

For Ann McClain, she’s a decorated Army combat veteran with more than 2,000 flight hours, a West Point-educated engineer, and the perfect soldier to lead a project called Artemis, named after the twin sister of Apollo, who was the namesake of the effort to put a man on the moon.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Chinese rip off Hollywood for their own propaganda films

It is long been an issue with Washington that the Chinese have been able to save billions of dollars in research by stealing American intellectual property and repurposing it for their own use. Resultantly, the Pentagon is always on the trail of espionage directed at stealing years and billions worth of research. Now you can add Hollywood to the list of Chinese theft victims.

The Chinese military has blatantly ripped scenes from several Hollywood blockbuster films to use in its own propaganda video that shows the capabilities of its bomber forces.


The South China Morning Post news service was the first to report that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) posted the aforementioned video to its account on Weibo. The video is titled “The God of War H-6K Attack!” and shows several Chinese planes taking in actual PLAAF footage. But when the planes go on their attack runs, the stylized explosions and cinematic special effects look right out of a Michael Bay film… That’s because in some cases they are.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Chinese video depicting an airstrike is actually a scene from “The Rock.”

Why spend millions on special effects and CGI when a video editor can rip the scenes right out of a film that was already expertly done? Thus, the PLAAF saved on trying to recreate some of Hollywood’s best action sequences. It just ripped them off to show how good Chinese air assets are.

The video in question contains blatant rip-offs of American films “The Rock,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen.”

解放军空军“模拟轰-6K轰炸美军基地”视频

www.youtube.com

The South China Morning Post reported that, according to a source close to the Chinese military, it isn’t unusual for the Chinese military “to borrow” ripped scenes for its own purposes. For example, in 2011, the Chinese military used ripped scenes from the 1986 blockbuster “Top Gun” for another video.

The subjects of the latest video are the H-6K and H-6N bombers. These are heavily redesigned models of the older Soviet Tupolev TU-16 twin-engine bombers that the Chinese have built under license. The Chinese also have newer designs currently in development.

These aircraft give the PLAAF a long-range standoff offensive air capability. The aircraft comes with precision-guided munitions and is capable of aerial refueling and carrying cruise missiles.

However, the scenes from Hollywood aren’t the only disconcerting images included in the video. In an example of extreme saber-rattling, Reuters reported that the airbase attack scene is actually satellite footage of the U.S. military’s Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.

When comparing the satellite imagery of the base to the short clip from the Chinese video, there is no doubt about what the target is purported to be. Andersen AFB is an important strategic location for American operations in the Pacific and would be one of the first targets in any U.S.-China conflict.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Satellite image of Andersen AFB in Guam, the same image used in the Chinese military video. (Google Earth)

This video comes amid tensions between the two countries being at extreme levels. The recent visit to Taiwan by Undersecretary of State Keith Krach, the highest-level U.S. diplomat to visit Taiwan in decades, has obviously angered the Chinese.

And the not-so-veiled threat against the U.S. base in Guam was the message that China’s air force can hit and destroy the base whenever it chooses — with Michael Bay-like precision.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.


MIGHTY CULTURE

5 ways the military-veteran community is changing in the coming years

At the start of the new millennium, the United States military was a very different organization. But then, so too was the United States as a country. In the past 20 years, the military has experienced an incredible shift in not only demographics, but also in the way it is formed. This trend will only continue.


A Pew Research Center study of the Department of Defense analyzed all of the data released by the U.S. military on its demographic makeup and found some key facts about how the U.S. military and the men and women who served in it has changed.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

The Army is still the biggest, and the other branches are shrinking

In 2015, the Army was more than a third of the total active-duty force of the United States military. The Air Force and Navy were about a quarter of the force each, with the Marines and Coast Guard comprising 14 percent and 3 percent, respectively. These days, the Navy and Air Force have seen a sizable shrinkage in terms of how big they are in comparison to Big Army. The Marine Corps has also shrunk, although not to the same extent.

The Coast Guard, however, has grown.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

The profile of the American veteran will shift significantly

Right now, 91 percent of veterans are male, but by 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double while the actual number of female veterans will increase to more than 2.2 million. The number of male veterans is predicted to drop by half, to 9.8 million in 2045. These groups will also become more ethnically diverse as the older generations of veterans die. The share of Hispanic vets is expected to double, and the expected share of African-American veterans will increase to 16 percent.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Fewer Americans are veterans and that number will only drop

As of 2015, seven percent of the American population were veterans, down from 18 percent in 1980. With it came a drop in the number of active-duty military personnel, and the numbers keep on dropping. In 2045, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates the number of veterans will drop by 40 percent of its current population, as Gulf War vets become the dominant era, and Vietnam veterans start to die off.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

More women are joining – and more are in command

The number of women in the U.S. military is rapidly changing. According to the Defense Department, women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army, and almost 9 percent of the Marine Corps. More than one in five commissioned officers were women in 2017, a number that is projected to rise, a far cry from women being just five percent of officers in 1975.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

The U.S. military is getting smaller – troops are seeing more action

One in five veterans today served after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As a result of being a smaller force than the U.S. military of the Cold War Era, which includes the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts of the time, Members of the post-9/11 military generation were more likely to have deployed and served in combat. They are also more likely to have experienced some kind of traumatic incident.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

3 things you should never say to a military spouse

It’s no doubt that those who haven’t lived the military lifestyle have a difficult time with some of the logistics. In everything from decoding thousands of acronyms, to seemingly “hard” dates that change at the drop of a hat, to the mindset of doing without a loved one for months on end, if you haven’t lived it, it’s a foreign reality.


That’s not to say non-military folk aren’t empathetic, simply that they haven’t experienced military happenings firsthand. However, that is to say they should remain impartial at all times. And they definitely shouldn’t tell a milspouse the following three things:

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

You knew what you were getting into.

Yes. That is an actual thing that people say to military members and their spouses alike. A quite common thing.

Sure. We know the main points. But all the details? Some surprises are sure to come along the way with anything in life. No matter how prepared you are, no one can anticipate the emotions of that first deployment (or the tenth).

Saying that a milspouse can’t talk about a situation being hard just because they knew about it upfront, is wholly unfair. We are communicators. When things bother us, we discuss them. When we are having a rough time, we tell others … that’s part of what helps the situation get better.

But to be shut down by someone who has zero idea of what they’re going through and to have them tell you your feelings don’t matter because you knew a military marriage would be hard? Hold me back.

It’s a harder situation than anyone thinks – and instead of being told their feelings are invalid, military spouses should be celebrated and supported for their help within the armed forces community.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
The guided-missle cruiser USS Monterey (CG-61) Homecoming

At least … it could be worse.

Sigh. Another common response to military lifestyle changes is “at least.”

“At least he won’t be gone that long.” “At least he gets to come home for the birth.” “At least he’s not deploying.” It’s a minimizing statement that makes us want to pull our hair out.

Why can’t it just be hard? Why do milspouses have to be told their feelings aren’t as big as they feel them?

Yes, it could be worse. That’s true of anything in life. But we don’t need the Debbie Downers of the world pointing out stats about how much worse off life could be. If you can’t muster up a sincere, “That’s tough! It’s ok to be upset,” then maybe just don’t say anything at all.

But you get great benefits.

And? Anything else you’d like to toss in from left field, Karen? Sure, milspouses are grateful for how wonderful it is to get free flu swabs or take courses via the GI Bill. But we promise, that’s not the first thought that comes up.

There are great benefits of military life. But it’s not exactly an even trade-off for the sacrifices the entire family makes. Really, it’s apples and oranges, and if you talk to milspouses about how they should be grateful for all the benefits during month seven of a deployment, they just might throw said fruit in your direction.

When talking to military family members, be careful what you say. Even when ill intentions aren’t in mind, be careful not to belittle their experience or denounce what’s been gone through. It’s a lifestyle that you can’t understand unless you’ve lived it, and sometimes, when things are hard, we just want to be heard.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Revered film and stage actor Bob Gunton has a great story to tell about his service in the Army during Vietnam

Bob Gunton is a prolific stage actor known for his roles in Evita and Sweeney Todd on Broadway where his most well-known film role is as Warden Norton in The Shawshank Redemption. He served with distinction in the Vietnam War in the last great multi-unit battle of the conflict, The Siege of Firebase Ripcord. This is his story.


Special Note: “Bob Gunton has just completed a memoir entitled “…OR AM I BEING OBTUSE?…”

WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?

My mom and dad met at a USO dance on Santa Monica pier and within two weeks they were married. I am the oldest of six children, three boys and three girls. My parents were from the coal country; my father being from Pennsylvania (Anthracite-hard coal) and my mother being from the coal country of Montana (Bituminous-soft coal), so I have the hard and soft coal running through my blood.

I had been influenced by many folk singers in high school where I was affected by the ethos of folk music through such acts as The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, The Brothers Four, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. I put together a trio called The Deacons. We went around to coffee houses to perform, like the Mon Ami in Orange, CA. Around the same time as we performed at Mon Ami, Steve Martin was on the marquee as well since he grew up in Orange County.

I went to the seminary of Paulist Fathers — St. Peter’s College in Baltimore, Maryland for a few years from 1963 to 1966. I had started out as a supporter of the Vietnam War in 1963. I’d even made a speech at my high school for a Toastmasters Speech Contest about the “domino theory,” but then my views changed rather dramatically after the seminary. My opinion shifted especially after Senator Eugene McCarthy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy moved away from the Democratic party line supporting the Vietnam War.

A friend and fellow seminarian classmate arranged for me to audition for his father, Paul Crabtree, who was a successful Broadway actor, writer and director. He’d written a musical called TENNESSEE, USA! for the new theatre he had founded — The Cumberland County Playhouse — in Crossville, Tennessee. It was going to run during the summer between seminary and Novitiate. I had done a couple of operettas in high school. when my thoughts were of making a difference as a priest. After that wonderful summer I recognized that I was gifted far more in music, acting and performing than in what was required to be a good priest. I left the seminary and had gone to UC Irvine to study theater when I dropped out for a semester to do Carousel in Tennessee. I knew I was chancing being. drafted. And when I returned to California, I was.

When I was called up, I had to spend some time thinking if I was a Conscientious Objector (CO). My father had been in the Marine Corps during WWII in the Pacific and I had grown up steeped in WWII history. My father’s six brothers were all WWII veterans as well. By that time, I was opposed to The Vietnam War. I probably could have gotten a CO because of my divinity school experience. But although I was opposed to the Vietnam War, I was not opposed then to a just war in general. I didn’t feel I had the right to be a CO because of my political beliefs. I also had to ask myself if I could measure up to my father, he was a supporter of the war. My father and I had lots of very agitated and loud arguments about the war.

After my time in Vietnam and I had come home I discovered that my father had grown long hair, sideburns and had himself had come to oppose the war. My willingness to go fight may have affected him in some way. While I was in Nam I had been given the Bronze Star with a V (for Valor.) Our local paper had run a story on it. Many years later, when my father passed as the eldest son, I had to clean out his belongings etc. I found in his wallet a folded-up piece of plastic covered newspaper clipping about my Bronze Star award. He had carried it in his wallet for many years. All of this brought us much closer together than in the first twenty years of my life. I had earned his respect and we could speak to each other as not just father and son, but as survivors of conflict.

WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?

Hmm…It’s a memory shared with me after Dad had died. While he was alive my father’s Marine Corps buddy, Robert Newtbaar, had borrowed my father’s dress blues and wanted to return them. When I came to pick them up, he told me a story about my father. When my father and he were on a troop ship heading to Hawaii, then on to the South Pacific, Newtbaar had become very depressed and anxious about what might happen to him. He decided he was going to jump overboard. Newtbaar made a move and was on his way over the rail, when my father dashed over and pulled him back onto ship amid a volley of curses. Newtbaar said very tearfully that my father had saved his life.

After they got back and were mustered out of the Corps, Newtbar, who was from a fairly wealthy family, came to my father with ,000. He loved to hear my father sing, especially Frankie Lane’s hit songs. like “Georgia,” “Jezebel” and “The Flying Dutchman.” Newtbaar told my father he had the most beautiful voice he had ever heard. He wanted my father to go to Hollywood and be a singer.

However, my father already had a wife and two kids and was working in a grocery store. He was in no position to give up his responsibilities for his family in order to pursue a singing career. He’d actually had to rejoin the USMC at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro just to find housing for our family. A few years later Dad suffered an injury in a grocery store in Santa Monica which resulted in a case of amnesia. He eventually recovered from his injury; however, he lost a lot of memories of WWII and the early post war period. We had some pictures from his time in the service. I also learned from his friends some of what my father had experienced. It was touching for Newtbar to share these stories with me and they impacted my life.

My family would occasionally in the summer and drive up to Montana to visit my grandmother and uncle on my mother’s side. Part of the journey up there was along a stretch of highway which was called the Grapevine which is now the I-5, which was full of steep switchbacks and rapid changes of elevation. My father was agoraphobic which I learned through my childhood. As an adult I took my parents NYC and then to Windows on the World, which was a restaurant overlooking the city in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on floors 106 and 107. My father stood at the back of the elevator once the doors opened to the restaurant, saw the tip-tops of skyscrapers. He barely was able to inch his way around with his back against the center walls. It was the most vulnerable I had ever seen him.

The WTC memory makes me flash back to those trips to Montana where my father would look out the window over the rocks and chasms below. After looking he would get anxious and sweaty. My mother would reach out and touch his shoulder. She’d start singing “Whispering Hope”, which is a gospel song, but also popular at the time. As she began singing, my father would join in. All of a sudden, we kids in the back seat, comforted by the sound of their soothing harmony. For us, their duet signified their love for us and their shared history together.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

The grapevine highway. Photo credit SVC History.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

A view from Windows on the World in the WTC’s North Tower. Photo credit Literary Hub.

WATM: What values were stressed at home?

Our Catholic Faith; our blue-collar status; my parents’ Depression-Era values, sense of responsibility. All of us had to pitch in. My father was self-taught and a great reader but was educated only through the seventh grade. My mother had been a schoolteacher in a one room schoolhouse in Montana. There was a strong expectation that all of us would work hard in school and be a good person. Basic, decent 1950’s values.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting. Photo credit artsy.com.

WATM: What influenced you to join the US Army, what was your experience and what lessons did you take away from your service?

I was drafted. Basic and Advanced Infantry training were tough physically in many ways since I was not particularly athletic. I was appointed cadence caller for our early morning five-mile runs probably because of my loud voice. One of my cadences calls was, “…we are the mighty, mighty mighty Charlie, everywhere we go people want to know who we are, so we tell them, we are Charlie, mighty mighty Charlie…” Classic. Although I sometimes ad libbed a couple, including: “If you got a half a buck….Call someone who gives a (bleep.)” I was sent to Nam near the end of the war during Vietnamization and was put into an S-1 shop for the 101st Airborne in Bien Hoa. What a relief! My thoughts were of a dry hooch, spit-shined boots, pressed combat fatigues, and weekends in Saigon. I lasted at the S-1 just one week. Because American grunts were being phased out of the war, the Division Commander wanted all soldiers with a combat MOS to be sent out into the field to get the ARVN up to speed. I was an 11B-20 –infantry, boonie rat, ground pounder — so off I went to “the bush.”

I was sent up to I Corps in Quang Tri province, in I Corps. I reported to the 2nd of the 501st Battalion Headquarters and then to their Charlie Company, Third Platoon. The platoon leader, SGT Yonashiru, took a look at me — being six feet tall and husky. the PL asked, “who’s the (effing) cherry?” He scoped me out. Given my height and apparent strength he ordered me to take the “gun” or the “radio”. The “gun” was the .50 caliber machine gun. I chose the radio, which seemed kind of “show business” to me. Apparently, some of the grunts initially thought I might be a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) narc because I showed up by myself to the unit with spit shined boots, crisp fatigues. I was also a few years older than the rest of the platoon. I was warned by a fellow soldier about being viewed as a narc and warned me about “fragging.” Fragging described when someone rolls a grenade under another soldier’s hooch to get rid of a “problem”. For the first time in Vietnam I was really scared.

I went into the company area and went up to a soul brother and asked for a doobie. I’d never smoked grass in my life. He handed me a joint. I stood there in the company area and toked up so anyone watching would see. I then went back to my hooch and passed out for like twelve hours. From then on, I was one of the guys and no longer a target of fragging. I was now “in” in the outfit.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Bob in a UH-1N high above Thua Thien Province, Vietnam 1970. Photo credit Bob Gunton

They made me the platoon, eventually company, and then battalion Radio Telephone Operator (RTO). Near the end of my year there in July 1970 our battalion was Op-Con to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st. They were seeking to take over a hilltop above the A Shau Valley where the US had been driven out a few years earlier during the “Hamburger Hill” period. Fire Support Base Ripcord was going to be emplaced during this two-brigade assault operation. At this time, I was just given the battalion RTO job and would be with the battalion CO, XO and the like on Ripcord itself. At the same time, my guys with Charlie company 2nd of the 501st were going to assault the area around FSB Ripcord with fellow companies of the 3rd Brigade. Bn Intel determined that thousands of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) were going to assault the FSB. A day or two after the Brigade-sized assault on the AO, my former unit was caught in a command detonated ambush followed by an early morning assault by the NVA. All during this time I had been talking on the radio to my guys, handling supply and normal stuff.

One of my best friends there was fellow soldier Joe Patterson, a funny guy and great audience for my shenanigans. The night before they were hit, we were talking on the Delta One radio which was scrambled so the enemy could not intercept our transmissions. He told me, “Gunton, I have a really bad feeling about this one.” There had been no contact yet, but he still felt bad about the operation. Sure enough when the unit was hit, Joey was gravely wounded. I called in the MEDEVAC for him and for our company commander. We had one KIA from Charlie’s Headquarters Company where this soldier had had to go out to replace someone’s weapon and had to stay overnight and was killed during the assault. It was a terribly fraught and frightening time.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Bob along the Song Bo River. Photo credit Bob Gunton.

There were many major encounters around Ripcord which turned out to be the biggest, final, multi-unit battle in Vietnam. There have been books and films about it. We went on like that for about a week or longer. In the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) we had three RTOs. The intel suggested that the firebase itself would soon be under attack. At one point the NVA got really lucky when they shot down a Chinook over the ammo dump as it was unloading ammo. All of the crew survived the crash, but the entire ammo dump started cooking off: phosphorus, artillery, HE and CS rounds. All of that CS gas started infiltrating into the bunkers where none of us had gas masks, so we had to take our t-shirts and wet them to put over our face so as not to be forced out of our bunkers.

At one point I had to urinate really badly. With the rounds cooking off and NVA mortars coming in, I wasn’t about to saunter outside to one of the “Piss tubes.” The bunkers were well constructed and had screen doors. I got to the door and decided I would open the door, step out halfway or so and then take a whiz. I was just about to finish when I heard, “TROOP!” right behind me. It was the brigade commander whose call sign was Black Spade. I stood to attention and zipped up. Other soldiers were in that part of the bunker when the Brigade Commander told me with cold anger:, “if you have to go take a piss, go find a piss tube. We are NOT animals in here.” It was a very embarrassing moment. I felt lower than snake shit. A few days later the Brigade Commander was evaluating positions outside when a mortar round landed directly on him. He and a fellow officer were killed immediately. The terrible irony of that sequence of events rocked me for a while.

Companies then started being extracted from around Ripcord and then it was our HQ’s time to leave. We knew Ripcord was going to be abandoned and the Army would blow up what they could, then carpet bomb it with B-52 strikes. We got back to LZ Sally and all of us in HQ company gets called together. A member of the battalion staff informed us about how two Delta One radios had been left behind in our TOC on Ripcord. The NVA could potentially use those radios against us. They needed two “volunteers” to go back and get them, which really meant the two who were least “short” would go. I was pretty damn short — but not short enough. I went with another younger RTO on a slick (Huey helicopter) to head back up there. On the way out, one of the pilots turned around in the chopper and made a hand dunking motion. Ripcord was taking incoming fire. We had to jump off the helicopter at about five or six feet off the ground as he was not going to land because of the incoming.

We found a hole to jump in and then found the Delta One radios. There were a lot of wounded soldiers that needed to be taken off the fire base before anyone else could go. We knew that no one could head back to base until all the wounded had been evacuated. So me and the other RTO jumped in and helped load the wounded onto slicks while the mortars and rockets continued falling. Just before the sun set over Laos we were able to get on a chopper to head back. I don’t think any of that involved any kind of valor much less heroism, but the battalion commander put us in for Bronze Stars, particularly for the MEDEVAC loading.

The questions of what is cowardice, what is heroism, what is self-preservation have been with me all my life. I’ve even used them in my acting. Everything is shades of gray, especially when it comes to combat and moral decisions that we make. Was I wrong not to go the piss tube with the self-preservation involved and the death of Black Spade as he followed his own advice and left the 3rd Brigade without leadership for a while. These experiences have definitely shaped my moral view of the universe. I have to accept that even the worst situations, the best remedies are going to be mixed. How we are trained, our wisdom, and education play their parts in our decisions and choices. But we are human, have mixed emotions, and inner conflicts. I have applied these in my life successfully and unsuccessfully.

MEDEVACs are miles ahead of what we had in Vietnam. There was an instance where a soldier from our recon platoon left the wire at night to take a crap. One of his buddies mistakenly set off a claymore on him and killed him. When the chopper came in to evac the body there were huge winds in the AO and they could not get a jungle penetrator through the triple canopy jungle to get the body out so they threw the soldiers a body bag. The soldiers then had to hump the corpse out for three or four days to get to a place where the chopper could get in.

I helped prevent a mutiny earlier that year where a loach (OH-6 Cayuse helicopter) had been shot down where I was a company RTO then. Our company was tasked to go down into this valley area to find the chopper to see if the pilot had survived. Our company commander was against the war and did all he could to stay out of it. He was one of the only officers I had met like that. The company commander wouldn’t lead down and the battalion commander call sign Driver had to fly out. The company commander was ordered to go down after being chewed out by the battalion CO and I told him, “we got a lawful order to go down and we needed to go otherwise this is bad stuff.” We did end up following orders to go down where we found the loach with the pilot dead. The pilot’s body was able to be sent back to Graves and Registration for eventual burial. I was against the war but found myself on the other side of the argument with the company commander. It was gray even then and was not cut and dried. Our mission was, for most of us, to save each other and our buddies got back.

Charlie company had its 50th reunion, almost 50 years to the day many were injured including Joey Patterson at the FSB Ripcord battle. Due to Covid-19 I was not able to fly out to Pennsylvania. However, I did do a Zoom call and got see them all and meet their wives. Joey and I caught up as well. It was a great virtual reunion due to the COVID pandemic. Keeping the threads of your life together along the way can give you a better sense of where you are from and going.

WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into acting and film?

When filming a movie, you are all in it together where everyone has their own duty. The expectation is that everyone knows exactly what they have to do and to do it as quickly and gracefully as they can. It includes keeping spirits up when waiting out a rainstorm to restart filming and when moving locations and loading up the trucks is like heading to another combat assault. So, I must have my shit together and know my lines cold. There is a lot that carries over from being in the military to working on a film production. You depend on each other and don’t want a weak link and sure as hell don’t want to be that weak link.

WATM: What is the most fulfilling stage and/or film role you have done?

Warden Norton from The Shawshank Redemption without a doubt is the best role I have ever had. It is the best movie I have ever been in. I have been back to many reunions and celebrations at the prison. People go to visit the prison and stay overnight. They even have a Shawshank trail where people get to see all the outside filming locations and then take a tour of the prison where it has artifacts from the movie. I have been to every continent except Antarctica and everywhere I go people come up to me to speak about The Shawshank Redemption. People come up to me in Europe, South America, Australia where to be a part of a movie that is such high quality and well-known across the board is truly a blessing.

I was invited to Akron for a special day celebrating Shawshank Redemption and by the local AA Akron baseball team the Rubber Ducks to throw out the first pitch. They also ordered from China a thousand bobble head Warden Nortons. The first thousand people to come in would get one where I would sign them. I have one for myself and have given a few away too.

*He shares some of the best quotes people request when he signs autographs from the film are, “Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me,” “Lord, it’s a miracle! The man up and vanished like a fart in the wind,” and “…or am I being obtuse.”

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Mr. Gunton as Warden Samuel Norton of Shawshank State Prison. Photo credit to IMDB.com

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Mr. Gunton in Akron with the Warden Norton bobble head. Photo credit Lake Highlands Advocate.

WATM: What was your experience like in working with such theatrical talents as Hal Prince, Patti LuPone, Theodore Mann, Susan H. Schulman, Beth Fowler and then with such film talents such as Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins, Frank Darabont, Clint Eastwood, Sly Stallone, Sandra Bullock and the like?

Hal Prince was a key person in my career and am grateful to him. Oliver Stone was interesting and challenging — a brilliant man. I enjoyed working with Robin Williams perhaps more than anyone else. Jim Carrey is a deep thinker as well as being very charming, well-read and generous. Jim was extremely funny as well. I have liked most everyone I have worked with.

I got to play a chaplain in a film with Stacey Keach named Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis. I enjoy playing priests and military personnel because I feel I can put a little spin on the ball and make them more interesting and factual. My chaplain character got eaten by a shark. I had to do some tricky timing with holding my breath for the scenes of being eaten by the shark. Two divers were holding my feet where they start shaking me and then pull me down really fast. If my timing wasn’t spot on in taking in breath, then having to hold it while they release a blood bag, to show his guy is really gone it can be problematic. It was tricky to film, but nothing like the crew from the Indianapolis though. Floating on a funky, tiny life-raft, off the coast of the Bahamas, with Stacy Keach and I laughing our butts off, was not a hardship assignment.

Working with Clint Eastwood was good. He has a fantastic crew. He was a gentlemen and one of the quietest directors I have ever worked for. He got that from doing so many Westerns where a director would yell “action” and people would get thrown off their horse when it bolted from the shouting. Instead of “action” Clint would just quietly say, “go ahead.”

I have maintained close ties with the Paulist Fathers even done work for Paulist Productions as well. In the film Judas shot in Morocco in 2004, on a huge set representing The Temple in Jerusalem, I played the High Priest Caiphas. Hotter than blazes in very authentic robes etc. But I really enjoyed it.
The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton and Clancy Brown in The Shawshank Redemption.

WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?

After my service I went to NY hoping for a career in Theater. Many of my peers had gone to Yale or Julliard or Northwestern and other great schools. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It wasn’t about their not serving in the war, it was because I felt they had a two- or three-year head start on their careers. Establishing a career in theater means doing low paying jobs, children’s theater and dinner theater etc. out in the boondocks. Then, if you are fortunate you work your way up to Broadway. These guys had already networked with people from their professional schools and had jumped ahead of me. I felt I had missed out on that networking.

While on Broadway after finishing “Evita” my agent told me about a play I should look at doing off-off Broadway, with no pay. Having just come from a big Broadway musical hit it didn’t sound that appetizing it was entitled “How I Got That Story”. It was about Vietnam. There were only two actors. One of the roles was a journalist and the other role was every person in Vietnam that the journalist runs into while trying to get the story of why we were in Vietnam and what it all meant. 22 different characters! Because I had been there and seen and heard and lived with a wide range of people, both genders and three races, I knew who these people were, how they spoke, walked and behaved. The roster of characters included: a Madame Nhu character, a nun, a crazy photographer, a Viet Cong officer and, most surprisingly, a 16-year-old Vietnamese bar girl. The man who wrote this play had served as a CO medic in Vietnam. I told my agent: “I don’t care if I don’t get paid, I have to do this.”

We performed in a tiny rooftop theater behind the building where John Lennon had been killed. The play got excellent reviews and was covered by many journalists who’d gotten their start serving in Vietnam as reporters. It got a lot of ink in all the newspapers, especially in the New York Times. We eventually transferred to an actual Off-Broadway theater in the theater district and we ran for nine months or so. The main thing is everyone in town saw that show including casting directors, fellow actors, movie directors including Alan Pakula (To Kill a Mockingbird, All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice). Alan came backstage after a performance. He said he wanted me to play an Arab in the film Rollover. He asked to meet a couple of days later where we talked mostly about Vietnam and the movie. I never auditioned. I knew he was going to have me do it and he did! It was the largest salary I had ever had for acting up to that point and opened a myriad of doors for me.

“How I Got That Story” really kicked off my career as a dramatic actor and not just a song and dance guy. At the Opening Night Party we had among others, the founders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Also Ed Murphy, my seminarian buddy, who had served in Vietnam as well. This entire chapter was like karma where nothing is ever wasted; that there is always something that even terrible experiences can feed your soul or change your life. In a good way. If, of course, you survive it.

Vietnam was tough, sad, and frightening, although we also often laughed our asses off with our morbid humor in part to expel our anxiety. Vietnam served an important role in my character development as well as my work in theater and in films.

On a side note, Afghanistan is one of the few wars I can say, “yeah we belong there.” We need to be there to keep them from doing anything like what happened on 9/11 ever again. I’d sign up, but I don’t think that they would have me.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

“How I Got That Story” featured in the NYT from the Feb 18th, 1982 paper. Photo credit nytimes.com.

WATM: As a veteran, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood and stage arena?

We need to encourage veterans who have a story to tell them. We have had some good recent movies like American Sniper and The Hurt Locker. Most people who don’t have military experience hear our stories finding them exotic and dramatic. It is life and death with a cast of interesting characters. As an Army draftee I saw the full spectrum of humanity which makes for a lot of interesting stories.

WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?

Being a father to my daughter, Olivia. And happily married to a former high school classmate, Carey. Career-wise Shawshank and my last Broadway show, “Sweeney Todd”, which is the toughest stage role I had ever attempted and was well received. It felt like climbing Mount Everest to do it. It was my “swan song” to Broadway and am glad to have gone out on top. I am proud of my friendships from the seminary, Vietnam, theater and fellow film actors. I am also proud to have made it to this age and to still be working.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Livi with her father. Photo credit Bob Gunton.

Articles

These NASA nerds made a Franken-bomber, but they weren’t the first to do it

Recently, NASA made the news when its engineers managed to cobble together a new WB-57 Canberra out of parts from multiple other planes. This is a particularly notable achievement as one of the airframes had spent roughly 40 years at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.


These NASA nerds set a record for how quickly a plane was returned to flight status after being sent to AMARC. They did an impressive job of grafting together parts from the WB-57 Canberra from the boneyard with parts from a second Canberra near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, as well as F-15 parts for the main wheels, the ejection seats from the F-16, and the tires from an A-4 for the nose wheel.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

 

But some Army Air Force mechanics in Australia pulled off something similar in World War II, and did such a good job that their Franken-bomber is still around today. That plane is currently at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.

She’s called “Swoose,” and she is not only the only B-17D to survive, she is the oldest surviving B-17.

Swoose started out being assigned to the Philippines in 1941, flying in combat from Dec. 7, 1941, to Jan. 11, 1942. The plane suffered serious damage, but the mechanics used a tail from another damaged B-17 and replaced the engines. The plane then served as an armed transport for the rest of the war, including as a personal transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett (no relation to the star baseball player from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

 

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago
DAYTON, Ohio – The B-17D The Swoose rests next to the B-17F Memphis Belle in the restoration area of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

 

After the war, the Swoose narrowly avoided the scrapyard. According to a 2007 Washington Post article, the plane was stored in various locations before the Smithsonian handed it over to the Air Force. The plane is currently being restored for eventual display alongside the famous Memphis Belle.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These are the habitation prototypes for NASA’s ‘Moon-to-Mars’ mission

Over the next several months, NASA will conduct a series of ground tests inside five uniquely designed, full-size, deep space habitat prototypes. The mockups, constructed by five American companies, offer different perspectives on how astronauts will live and work aboard the Gateway — the first spaceship designed to stay in orbit around the Moon, providing the critical infrastructure needed for exploration, science and technology demonstrations on the lunar surface.

NASA doesn’t plan to select one habitat prototype to advance to flight — rather, the tests will help NASA evaluate the design standards, common interfaces, and requirements for a future U.S. Gateway habitat module, while reducing risks for eventual flight systems.

“These tests were formulated so that we can do a side-by-side comparison of very different and innovative concepts from U.S. industry,” said Marshall Smith, who leads human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “While we won’t dictate a specific design when we procure the U.S. habitat, we will enter the procurement phase with far less risk because of the knowledge we gain from these tests.”


NASA assembled a team from across the agency and from U.S. industry to conduct these tests. Engineers and technicians will analyze habitat system capabilities and performance proposed by each prototype concept, while human factors teams consider layout and ergonomics to optimize efficiency and performance. During the tests, future Gateway flight operators at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will collect actual live telemetry streams from each prototype. Flight operators will monitor habitat performance and support realistic mission activities as astronauts conduct “day-in-the-life” procedures within each habitat prototype, providing their perspectives as potential crew members who may one day live and work aboard the Gateway.

In addition to the physical enclosure, each company has outfitted their prototype with the basic necessities to support humans during deep space expeditions — including environmental control and life support systems, avionics, sleeping quarters, exercise equipment, and communal areas.

The prototypes

The NextSTEP Habitation effort began in 2015 with four companies completing year-long concept studies. Those studies set the foundation for prototype development from 2016-2018 — this time with five companies submitting concepts. Their prototype approaches are listed below, as well as a concept study outline from a sixth company, NanoRacks:

1. Lockheed Martin — Testing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The Lockheed Martin prototype is based on a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), which was originally designed to provide logistics capabilities for the International Space Station. The design leverages the capabilities of Lockheed’s robotic planetary spacecraft and the Orion capsule that will transport astronauts to and from the Gateway. The prototype includes a reconfigurable space that could support a variety of missions, and combines hardware prototyping and software simulation during the test.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Concept image of Lockheed Martin’s Gateway concept featuring their habitat design.

(Lockheed Martin)

2. Northrop Grumman — Testing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Texas

Northrop Grumman’s prototype leverages the company’s Cygnus spacecraft that delivers supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus took its maiden flight in 2013, and is already human-rated. Northrop Grumman’s habitat mockup focuses on providing a comfortable, efficient living environment as well as different internal configuration possibilities.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Concept image of Northrop Grumman’s Gateway concept featuring their habitat design.

(Northrop Grumman)

3. Boeing — Testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama

Proven space station heritage hardware is the key ingredient in Boeing’s Exploration Habitat Demonstrator. Named the prime space station contractor in 1993, the company developed multiple space station elements. Their demonstrator will leverage heritage assets, with a focus on optimizing interior volume, with isolated areas offering the capability to use different atmospheres for payloads without impacting cabin atmosphere.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Concept image Boeing’s Gateway concept featuring their habitat design.

(Boeing)

4. Sierra Nevada Corporation — Testing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas

Sierra Nevada’s Large Inflatable Fabric Environment (LIFE) habitat is designed to launch in a compact, “deflated” configuration, then inflate once it’s in space. The benefit of inflatables (also called expandables) is their final configuration is capable of providing much larger living space than traditional rigid structures, which are limited in size by the payload volume of the rocket used to launch it. The LIFE Prototype inflates to 27 ft in diameter and simulates three floors of living areas.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Concept image of Sierra Nevada’s Gateway concept featuring their habitat design.

(Sierra Nevada Corporation)

5. Bigelow Aerospace — Testing at Bigelow Aerospace, North Las Vegas, Nevada

Bigelow’s B330 prototype is an expandable module that expands in space, as its name suggests, to provide 330 cubic meters of livable area. Bigelow sent a smaller module, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the space station in 2015, where astronauts expanded the structure live on NASA Television with compressed air tanks. The BEAM completed a two-year demonstration aboard the station, proving soft-goods resilience to the harsh space environment. Following its demonstration period, NASA extended BEAM’s time aboard the station to become a storage unit.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Concept image Bigelow’s Gateway concept featuring their habitat design.

(Bigelow Aerospace)

6. NanoRacks — concept study

NanoRacks has proposed yet another concept to maximize habitable volume for Gateway astronauts. The company’s idea is to refurbish and repurpose a spent rocket propellant tank, leveraging the natural vacuum of space to flush the tank of residual propellants. The company completed a feasibility study outlining the concept and next plans to develop full-scale prototypes demonstrating robotics development, outfitting and systems integration to convert the tank into a deep space habitat.

The Coast Guard joined the fight in Vietnam 50 years ago

Concept image of NanoRack’s habitat concept docked to the International Space Station.

(NanoRacks)

Operational-driven engineering

“This prototyping approach allows us to design, build, test and refine the habitat long before the final flight version is developed,” said NASA astronaut Mike Gernhardt, principal investigator of the agency’s habitation prototype test series. “We are using this operational-driven engineering approach to gain an early understanding of exactly what we need to address the mission, thereby reducing risk and cost.”

Using this approach, the builders, operators, and future users of the Gateway work together to evaluate concepts earlier and more completely, which helps NASA move forward to the Moon as early as possible.

The Gateway will be a temporary home and office for astronauts farther in space than humans have ever been before, and will be a home base for astronaut expeditions on surface of the Moon, and for future human missions to Mars. The NextSTEP approach bolsters American leadership in space, and will help drive an open, sustainable and agile lunar architecture.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The best American tank of World War II rarely saw combat

Sometimes, a good weapon system never gets a chance to shine. In some cases, there simply aren’t any conflicts going on through which the gear can demonstrate its worth (the B-36 Peacemaker comes to mind). In other cases, a piece of technology might mark an important milestone, but end up virtually obsolete by the time the next war rolls around, as was the case with USS Ranger (CV 4).

Well, the M26 Pershing fits into neither of these categories. While over 2,000 of these tanks were produced, they largely missed World War II because of bureaucratic infighting. The few tanks that did get to the front lines performed well, though — leaving many to wonder what might have happened had an Army general by the name of Leslie McNair been more open-minded.


Here’s the deal. Prior to World War II, the United States Army didn’t think that tanks should fight other tanks. Instead, that job was relegated to the aptly named tank destroyer class of vehicle. These vehicles were fast and had potent guns, but sacrificed a lot of armor to achieve such a speed. Meanwhile, the mission of the tank was to support infantry.

That was the leading theory of the time and, as a result, the Army went with the M4 Sherman – producing over 50,000 of those tanks.

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One of the few M26 Pershing tanks that got to the front lines.

(US Army)

Reality, of course, tells a different story. If tanks support infantry and infantry fights infantry, then logic would tell us that tanks would end up facing off against other tanks as those tanks supported opposing infantry. In essence, a key capability in supporting infantry is the ability to kill the other side’s tanks.

The Pershing could do just that with its 90mm main gun (and the 70 rounds it carried for it). Unfortunately, GIs would never get the chance to witness that.

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M26 Pershings being prepared to embark on LSTs in Pusan, South Korea.

(US Army)

According to tanks-encyclopedia.com, Leslie McNair, who headed Army Ground Forces, stuck with the pre-war theory. His opposition to a new tank delayed the M26’s service entry. Eventually, McNair was given a combat assignment and killed by friendly fire during the fighting near Saint-Lô.

The Pershing reached the front lines after the Battle of the Bulge proved the inadequacy of the M4 Sherman in tank combat.

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The M26 Pershing saw some action in the Korean War, but many were soon shipped to Europe to bolster NATO.

(USMC)

The Pershing went on to see some action in the Korean War, but it was quickly shifted to Europe to bolster the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Eventually, it was replaced by the M46/M47/M48 Patton family of tanks.

Watch the video below to learn more about this great tank that never get a real shot to prove itself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FURywJI-MkU

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Articles

This pilot crashed his plane into a torpedo to save the carrier

Warrant Officer Sakio Komatsu had just taken off from the aircraft carrier Taiho during the Battle of the Philippine Sea when he spotted six American torpedoes bearing down on his ship.


Almost immediately, he banked his “Judy” dive bomber into the path of one, causing it to detonate against the plane and preventing a hit against the carrier at the cost of his own life.

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Near the end of World War II, the Japanese launched one of their best-ever carrier designs. While the carrier Taiho lacked the catapults of many of its American rivals, it was heavily armored, carried 73 aircraft and massive amounts of aviation fuel and ammunition, and boasted radar.

The Taiho launched on April 7, 1943, and was commissioned on March 7, 1944. With the Japanese Navy in retreat across most of the Pacific, the admirals held the Taiho in reserve until it could be sent where it would make a significant difference.

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The Japanese carrier Taiho was an armored support carrier capable of supporting hundreds of planes. (Photo: Public Domain)

It was an armored support carrier, meant to serve on the frontline and protect older carriers launching their planes from the rear. With massive supplies of ammunition and fuel, it would be able to refuel and rearm planes from other carriers.

The ship was committed to combat in June as part of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the largest carrier battles in history. The goal of the Japanese forces was to force a confrontation with the U.S. and wipe out the greater American numbers.

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The Japanese 1st Mobile Fleet maneuvers under fire on June 20, 1944, during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

On the morning of June 19, the Japanese force, with the Taiho as its flagship, launched planes in what would be one of the most lopsided defeats in naval history. The inexperienced Japanese pilots were massacred in what was later known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

But the Taiho only participated in part of the defeat. In the opening hours of the battle, the USS Albacore spotted the carrier and launched a spread of six torpedoes right as the second wave of planes was taking off.

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Komatsu saw the torpedoes immediately after he took off and banked around, crashing his plane into the path and destroying the torpedo at the cost of his own life. Usually, that sort of heroism would mean that the story ends with, “He was awarded a medal and saved the lives of thousands.”

But while Komatsu was heralded for his decision, it wasn’t enough to save the Taiho. Four of the torpedoes missed, one was intercepted by Komatsu, but the sixth impacted the Taiho. It blew through the outer armor and created openings between an aviation tank, a fuel oil tank, and the surrounding ocean.

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The USS Albacore was the submarine that fired the torpedo spread that doomed the Taiho. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Taiho crew gamely patched what holes it needed to and resumed launching aircraft. But there was a danger in its bowels. The leaking fuels were turning into vapors and filling the ship. For just over six hours, the ship continued fighting while the ship turned into a bomb.

Then it blew.

The blast rocked through the ship, blowing out the sides and opening holes that stretched down below the waterline. So Komatsu’s actions were one of the more heroic moments in warfare history, but it wasn’t enough to save his friends or his ship.

Approximately 1,200 men died with the ship.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Super Bowl salute to Pat Tillman will have you in tears

Just as the Super Bowl was about to kick off this Sunday, viewers were treated to an amazing commercial celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NFL. Last season, the NFL broke out its first 100 year celebration commercial which featured an astounding amount of NFL legends playing a black-tie version of “kill the man with the ball.”

This year, the NFL took it outside and showed a kid fielding a kick and running across several NFL stadiums and cities, juking and avoiding tacklers and getting encouragement from various NFL legends telling him to, “Take it to the House Kid!”


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We see Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Christian McCaffrey, Drew Brees, Payton Manning, Jerry Rice, and Barry Sanders, among others, as the kid takes the ball and (in an amazing, cool, interactive moment) runs onto the live Super Bowl field to deliver the game ball to the referees.

But there is one part of the vignette which really tugs at the heartstrings. One of the many stadiums the kid runs by is in Phoenix. As he nears, he stops at the statue honoring the late Pat Tillman.

Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals who famously turned down a .6 million dollar contract shortly after 9/11, so he could serve in the military. He and his brother enlisted in the Army, and Tillman became an Army Ranger. After serving one tour in Iraq, Tillman deployed to Afghanistan, where he was killed on April 24, 2004, in a friendly fire incident.

The homage to Tillman is an emotional moment and an integral part of American history.

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