How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

Some 53 years ago, in a faraway Special Forces camp in southeast Asia, Sergeant First Class Eugene Ashley Jr achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War.

Ashley joined the Army in 1950. After finishing boot camp and Advanced Infantry Training, Ashley went to Germany. When the Korean War broke out in 1953, Ashley deployed in Korea with the 187th Regimental Combat Team. Then, for a brief period, Ashley got out of the Army and was placed in the Inactive Reserves. A few months later, he reenlisted and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. Up to that point, Ashley had trained in numerous military occupational specialties, including as an infantryman, ambulance driver, anti-aircraft ammunition handler, heavy weapons specialist, and parachute rigger; he had also held leadership positions at the squad and company level.

 In 1966 he decided to make the jump to Special Forces and graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) a year later. Upon completion of training, Ashley was assigned first to the 7th Special Forces Group and later to the 3rd Special Forces Group. In 1968, he deployed to the Republic of Vietnam with Charlie Company, 5th Special Forces Group.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
Sergeant First Class Eugene Ashley Jr. He would end up getting the Medal of Honor for his actions during on the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War (US Army Special Operations Command).

Ashley’s arrival to Vietnam coincided with the Tet Offensive, which began in January 1968 and would last till September. During Tet, the NVA and Vietcong took US and South Vietnamese forces by surprise and attacked several large cities throughout South Vietnam, including the capital Saigon where they briefly penetrated the US Embassy.

Once in country, Ashley found his way to the large Marine Corps base at Khe Sanh, which was under siege by the North Vietnamese. Although the majority of the NVA and Vietcong attacks during the Tet Offensive were quickly dealt with, the siege of Khe Sanh continued for months. Carrying morbid similarities with the Siege of Dien Bien Phu, where the French were defeated by the Vietminh in 1954 and were forced out of Indochina, the fighting at Khe Sanh drew international attention.   

Close to Khe Sanh was the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp, which was just a mile-and-a-half from the border with Laos. Green Berets stationed in Lang Vei were no foreigners to NVA attacks. Artillery and sniper fire was a pretty common occurrence even before the Tet Offensive. But what was coming next was not common at all.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
A wounded Special Forces operator after having been evacuated. The battle of Lang Vei was one of the fiercest of the entire Vietnam War (Wikimedia.org).

On the night of February 6, the NVA launched a tank assault on the Special Forces base. Radioing Khe Sanh for assistance, the Marines there couldn’t believe that NVA armor was within the Lang Vei perimeter—this was the first time the NVA had used tanks in force. During the initial hours of the battle, Ashley coordinated airstrikes and mortar and artillery fire in support of his fellow Green Berets in the camp. Then, seeing that reinforcements from Khe Sanh weren’t going to reach the overran camp in time, Ashley and other Green Berets took matters into their own hands.

Ashley hastily organized a relief force comprised of Special Forces operators and partner forces and led them to the nearby camp. In the ensuing hours, Ashley would lead five assaults against NVA tanks and heavy infantry. Time after time, Ashley led by example and destroyed numerous enemy positions. The fifth assault, however, would be his last.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
North Vietnamese tanks entering Saigon in 1975. The NVA first used tanks en masse during the battle of Lang Vei (History.net).

Ashley’s Medal of Honor citation offers a glimpse of his actions on that fateful night.

“During his fifth and final assault, he adjusted airstrikes nearly on top of his assault element, forcing the enemy to withdraw and resulting in friendly control of the summit of the hill. While exposing himself to intense enemy fire, he was seriously wounded by machinegun fire but continued his mission without regard for his personal safety. After the fifth assault he lost consciousness and was carried from the summit by his comrades only to suffer a fatal wound when an enemy artillery round landed in his area. Sergeant Ashley displayed extraordinary heroism in risking his life in an attempt to save the lives of his entrapped comrades and commanding officer. His total disregard for his own personal safety while exposed to enemy observation and automatic weapons fire was an inspiration to all men committed to the assault. The resolute valor with which he led five gallant charges placed critical diversionary pressure on the attacking enemy and his valiant efforts carved a channel in the overpowering enemy forces and weapons positions through which the survivors of Camp Lang Vei eventually escaped to freedom. Sergeant Ashley’s conspicuous gallantry at the cost of his own life was in the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve

The United States Coast Guard Reserve is a flexible, responsive operational force that exists to support the Coast Guard roles of maritime homeland security, national defense, and domestic disaster operations. The Coast Guard depends on the Reserve force to be always ready (Semper Paratus!) to mobilize with critical competencies in boat operations, contingency planning and response, expeditionary warfare, marine safety, port security, law enforcement and mission support.


On Feb. 19, 2018, we will celebrate 77 years of extraordinary Coast Guard Reserve service!

Also read: These Coasties were tougher than your first sergeant

While I’m fortunate to know many of our reservists, I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about the history or inner-workings of our Reserve force. To learn more, I reached out to our incredible reserve community and the wonderful people who work with them. I was amazed by what I learned and I think that you will be, too!

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp speaks to members of Coast Guard Reserve Port Security Unit 305, deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo, during an all-hands meeting. (U.S. Navy photo)

1. The Coast Guard Reserve played a significant role in Coast Guard operations during World War II.

More than 92 percent of the 214,000 personnel who served in the Coast Guard during WWII were reservists, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the Temporary Reserve. From manning Coast Guard and Navy ships, to acting as coxswains on invasion landing craft – their service and heroics were present from Iwo Jima and Guam, to Normandy and North Africa.

2. The Coast Guard Reserve is Semper Paratus (always ready).

Since 1972, reservists have been subject to involuntary activation for domestic contingencies and have up to 48 hours to report for active duty upon notification. In 2017, nearly 1,300 reservists were activated in support of hurricane response operations.

3. A reservist will be serving at the White House.

A Reserve Physician’s Assistant (PA) will be serving on active duty with the White House Medical Unit beginning this summer. She will be the first reservist to serve in this capacity.

4. RESERVIST Magazine has been continuously published since 1953.

The original purpose was “the dissemination of up-to-date information of interest to all Coast Guard Reservists, on active and inactive duty” and that purpose continues today.

5. On November 23, 1942, the Women’s Reserve was established as a branch of the Coast Guard.

Members became known as SPARs, an acronym derived from the Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus, Always Ready.” SPARs became the foundation for women in the Coast Guard today.

6. Reservists have deployed all over the world and served in multiple conflicts.

Whether at home or overseas, whether man-made or natural, whatever the reason, wherever the need, the Coast Guard Reserve will be there when needed most.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
Coast Guard Reserve Seaman Christopher Knight, removes an M-240 machine gun from a Viper patrol boat for cleaning, Dec. 11, 2008. (Photo by Army Spc. Erica Isaacson)

7. In addition to the Coast Guard’s core values, there are three Coast Guard Reserve tenets.

Professionalism, preparedness, and patriotism: These are prominently displayed on the Emblem of the Coast Guard Reserve.

8. A number of celebrities have served in the Coast Guard Reserve and/or Temporary Reserve.

The Coast Guard Reserve has some celebrity connections, including Humphrey Bogart, Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Senator Sam Nunn, Rep. Bill Delahunt, and Rep. Howard Coble.

9. Many Coast Guard reservists have other jobs.

Coast Guard reservists often perform very different functions in their civilian lives – they’re teachers, police officers, firefighters, pharmaceutical salesmen, and real estate agents. For two weeks out of the year (or more), they put their lives on hold to commit to fulfilling their obligations to the service. And, once a month, they often work seven days straight.

10. Our reservists don’t serve for the pay or the glory.

To quote Chief Eric McCusker, one of the reservists that I have the honor of knowing, “We do this for a few hundred dollars which is sometimes not enough to cover the cost of airfare when we have to travel out of state to our drilling units on our own dime. We don’t perform our jobs in the Reserve for the pay or the glory. We do it because we love it. We love feeling that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We love the opportunity to get to help assist our active duty brothers and sisters (even though sometimes we catch a lot of grief for being “Weekend Warriors”). We leave our drilling units each weekend with a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that we have done our best.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Saddam Hussein buried Iraq’s air force in the desert

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 looking for nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, American troops found a lot of bizarre things – toilets and guns made of gold, a Koran written in blood and Saddam’s romance novel. While they didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, they did manage to find some weapons. Specifically, they found aircraft buried in the sand next to a perfectly good airfield.


How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
Saddam was apparently not familiar with what a FOD hazard is (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. T. Collins)

 

One day in 2003, American forces near al-Taqqadum Air Base in Iraq began pulling scores of Mig-25 Foxbat fighters and SU-25 Frog Foot fighter-bombers out of the sand. The aircraft were missing wings but, for the most part, remained fairly well-kept despite being in the sand for who-knows-how-long. If Saddam wasn’t giving inoperable planes a good burial, one wonders why he would intentionally put his planes in the ground.

The answer starts with the fact that the Iraqi Air Force sucked at defending Iraqi airspace.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
But they were suuuuuuper good at bolting to other countries to escape the enemy.

 

In the Iran-Iraq War that lasted until the late 1980s, the Iraqi Air Force could reasonably hold its own against the superior U.S.- bought aircraft flown by the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time. But Iranian fighter pilots were very, very good and Iraqi pilots usually had to flee the skies before the onslaught of Iranian F-14 Tomcats. Against other Middle Eastern powers, however, Saddam Hussein’s air power could actually make a difference in the fighting – but that’s just against Middle Eastern countries. The United States was another matter.

Iraqi pilots were ready to go defend their homeland from the U.S.-led invasion, but the Iraqi dictator would have none of it. He knew what American technology could do to his aircraft, especially now that the U.S. was flying the F-22. They would get torn to shreds. He also remembered what his pilots did in the first Gulf War when sent to defend the homeland. They flew their fighters to the relative safety of Iran rather than face annihilation, and Iran never gave them back.

Saddam wanted his air force. So he decided to keep them all safe.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
(US Air Force)

 

At al-Taqqadum and al-Asad air bases, the dictator ordered that his most advanced fighters be stripped and buried in the sand near the airfields. In retrospect, this was probably a good decision for the aircraft. Whatever was left unburied was quickly and forcibly dismantled by the U.S. Air Force on the ground during the invasion. In trying to fight off the Coalition of the Willing, Iraq’s air forces all but disappeared.

Saddam hoped that by saving the aircraft in the sand, he could prevent their destruction and when he was ready (because he assumed he would still be in power after all was said and done), he could unbury them and use their advanced status to terrify his enemies and neighbors.

That, of course, didn’t happen.

Articles

The last soldier killed in WWI died one minute before the war ended

Sergeant Henry Gunther was actually a private the day he charged a German machine gun nest for the last time in World War I. He had just been busted down in rank for criticizing the war in a letter he wrote home, and he wasn’t happy about it.


Luckily for millions of other soldiers and civilians in Europe, everyone knew the Armistice would come into effect on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

This is why so many question why Sgt. Gunter charged a German machine gun nest at 10:59 that same day.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
A memorial to Gunther built on Nov. 11, 2010 at his gravesite in Baltimore.

Gunther and his unit came across a German position north of Verdun on Nov. 11, 1918. As they took cover from the machine guns, they received word that the war would be over in less than an hour.

That’s when Sgt. Gunther charged the position with a fixed bayonet.

The Germans fired a number of warning shots and tried to yell at Gunther – in English – to stop.

But Gunter wasn’t the only troop to die in that last hour of World War I. Some 3,000 men died in that short time. Some historians even speculate that Gunther was ordered to charge the machine guns.

Even though so many others died around the same time, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force General John J. Pershing declared that Gunther would be known as the last man killed in action in the war.

Sergeant Henry Gunther was engaged before the war started and just secured a job as a bookkeeper in the Baltimore area before he was drafted in 1917.

After his death was recorded at 10:59, his fellow troops moved his body and buried him near where his company was posted. His remains were moved to the United States in 1923.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
A man in WWI-era French uniform stands beside a memorial stone at the spot where Henry Gunther fell on Nov. 11, 1918. The stone was unveiled by the French government as part of a 90th anniversary event in 2008. (Photo by American War Memorials Overseas)

On Veteran’s Day 2008, a memorial was constructed on the site where he was killed in Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France.

Articles

‘Ensign Dilbert’ taught pilots to not accidentally kill their friends

Your grandparents and great grandparents fighting in World War II were hit with just as much safety rules as troops are today, it’s just those rules rarely make it to the history books.


But they weren’t always given their safety rules in boring briefings. When the 1940s War Department and Department of the Navy really wanted to drive safety rules home, they made snazzy safety videos and posters.

The Navy used “Ensign Dilbert,” a soup-sandwich who always breaks safety rules, to highlight the grisly results of incompetency in aviation.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
Shocker: This guy is the idiot. (Photo: YouTube/Nuclear Vault)

And Dilbert does some truly stupid stuff. He mishandles his weapons, tows aerial targets into ground crews, and even accidentally kills a civilian his first flight of the day. And the Navy isn’t afraid to show the (PG-13) bodies of his victims.

Check out the Dilbert video on aerial gunnery, Don’t Kill Your Friends, below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Before he was a U.S. senator, and later a presidential candidate, John McCain was a naval aviator over the skies of Vietnam. But the 1958 graduate of the Naval Academy is probably known less for his flying skills and more for what he did on the ground, as a prisoner of war for more than five years.


“I hated it, and yet I made some of the most important discoveries and relationships of my life in prison,” McCain wrote in a post on Quora, in response to the question of what it was like to be a P.O.W.

When he was shot down, McCain was on his 23rd mission: A bombing run over Hanoi. “A Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up — the sky was full of them — and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber,” he recalled in U.S. News World Report.

 

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
John McCain being captured in Vietnam. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With his jet traveling at roughly 575 mph, he was able to eject. But when he landed in enemy territory, he had broken his left arm, his right arm in three places, and his right leg near the knee. He was captured soon after, and taken to the infamous Hỏa Lò Prison, better known by its prisoners as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

In his Quora post and in his book “Faith of my Fathers,” he recounted his poor treatment and very limited contact with the outside world. But there were two big things McCain learned:

“I learned I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, but I was strong enough,” he wrote. “And I learned there were things I couldn’t do on my own, but that nothing is as liberating as fighting for a cause that’s bigger than yourself.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only enlisted submariner to receive the Medal of Honor

The U.S. Navy submarine service was barely two decades old when the submarine USS O-5 began taking on water in the Panama Canal Zone in October 1923. A cargo ship slammed into the submarine without warning and the boat began taking on water. The crew began to abandon ship.

One lifelong sailor, Henry Breault, could have escaped, too, but he went down with a shipmate that couldn’t escape. The two were trapped in the sunken hull until the next day. For that heroism, President Calvin Coolidge presented Breault with the Medal of Honor.


He was the first member of the submarine service to receive the award and the only enlisted submariner to receive it for duties aboard a sub.

The USS O-5 was never a very lucky ship. Fifth in the line of 16 O-class submarines, she entered service six months too late for World War I. Before even leaving for Europe, an explosion killed her skipper and one of her officers. By Oct. 28, 1924, Breault and the USS O-5 were among a contingent of submarines moving to enter the Panama Canal. That’s when disaster struck.

Or more accurately, that’s when the United Fruit Company struck.

Either through human error or miscommunication (or likely a mix of both), the UFC’s SS Abangarez was moving to dock when it hit the USS O-5 on its starboard side, creating a 10-foot hole in its control room. The ship rolled to the left and then right before sinking bow first.

Most of the crew were rescued but five were missing, including Breault and Chief Electrician’s Mate Lawrence Brown. Breault had actually escaped the sinking boat when he realized Brown was still asleep down below. He went back into the submarine and closed the deck hatch behind him. The two ended up trapped in the torpedo room below the surface.

When divers discovered crewmen were alive inside, work began to get them out. The only way to do that was to lift the boat the full 42 feet above the waterline. Luckily for them, they happened to be in the Canal Zone, the home of some of the world’s heaviest lifting cranes. The crane barge Ajax, one of the largest in the world, made its way to the wreck as soon as possible.

After three failed attempts and a full 31 hours, the canal crews and sailors were able to lift the sub up high enough to open the torpedo room hatch and free their comrades.

Breault had been sailing since age 16 and was a sailor for the rest of his life, dying just two days before the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5, 1941.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How brave World War II-era pilots flew the now-classic C-47

The C-47 is a classic transport plane — it flew with the United States Air Force in World War II and remained in service until 2008. It’s been used by dozens of countries as a transport. A re-built version, the Basler BT-67, currently serves in a half-dozen air forces, from Mauritania to Thailand, in both transport and gunship versions. In fact, classic C-47s are still around — either under civilian ownership or as warbirds.


This shouldn’t be a surprise. Over 10,000 C-47s were produced by the United States alone. Japan and the Soviet Union also built this plane — and these durable, reliable birds don’t just disappear. Versions of this plane also served as electronic warfare assets, either listening in to enemy communications or serving as jammers.

The baseline C-47 has a top speed of 230 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,600 miles. It can carry 27 combat-ready troops or up to three tons of cargo. The latter might not sound like much when compared to modern cargo-carrying birds, but again, over 10,000 of these planes were produced. With those kinds of quantities, you’re able to move a lot of volume on demand.

The C-47 was used in the European and Pacific theaters of World War II, the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. C-47s helped drop the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in Normandy and also dropped supplies to besieged troops in Bastogne.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
C-47s were used in all theaters of World War II – and training the tens of thousands of pilots was an immense task.
(Imperial War Museum photo)

The fact that so C-47s remain many out there in the world means that, one day, you might just get the chance to own one. Then, like tens of thousands of pilots before you over the last nearly 80 years, you will have to learn how to fly this legend.

Start by watching the video below.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

The origin of the A-10 Warthog’s shark mouth goes beyond the Flying Tigers

Today, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately known as the “Warthog” or “Hog,” is the premiere close air support aircraft of the United States Air Force. The Warthog is best known for the massive 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon fitted in its nose. Further highlighting this feature, the aircraft’s nose is often painted with a warthog head or shark mouth. Most fans of the Warthog believe the latter nose art to be derived from the famous shark mouthed P-40 fighter planes of the Flying Tigers, and this is partly true. However, the true origin of shark mouth nose art goes all the way back to the genesis of aerial combat.

WWII enthusiasts will be familiar with the American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force, better known as the “Flying Tigers”. Their Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter planes were painted with a distinct shark mouth nose art—partly as a form of psychological warfare, partly as self-expression, and generally as a display of aggression. These motivations are echoed in the Warthog with its own shark mouth nose art, but the Flying Tigers didn’t come up with the idea on their own.


How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

Flying Tiger P-40 Warhawks over China. (Photo by AVG pilot Robert T. Smith/Repository: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Doug Revell of WARBIRDS INTERNATIONAL did some research on this topic and found that the Flying Tigers were actually inspired by 112 Squadron of the British RAF. 112 Squadron was one of the first to receive the P-40 Tomahawk (the British Commonwealth and Soviet name for the P-40B and P-40C variants of the Warhawk). The large air intake on the P-40’s nose lent itself to the aggressive shark mouth feature. The Flying Tigers saw a photograph of 112 Squadron’s shark mouthed Tomahawks operating in North Africa, and adopted the design for themselves. However, while the RAF inspired the Flying Tigers with their shark mouth nose art, they too drew inspiration from another country’s pilots.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

A P-40 of 112 Squadron taxis in Tunisia. Note the RAF roundel on the wing. (RAF photo from the Imperial War Museum)

112 Squadron had encountered the Luftwaffe’s Zerstörergeschwader (heavy fighter wing) 76 earlier in the war. ZG 76 flew Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter/fighter-bombers which they decorated with shark mouth nose art, though notably without the inclusion of eyes. Other variations of shark mouth nose art existed on German-made aircraft including shark mouth art on the lower engine cowling of Swiss Air Force Messerschmitt Bf 109s and a shark mouth with round eyes on the nose a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter. However, it was the shark mouths of ZG 76’s Bf 110s that inspired 112 Squadron to adopt the shark mouth with the addition of the teardrop-shaped eyes.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

A ZG 76 Bf 110 with shark mouth. Note the lack of eyes. (Photo from Bundesarchiv)

Revell was able to trace ZG 76’s shark mouthed Bf 110s back to a German Air Force reconnaissance plane in the First World War. “The first noted mouth was on a World War I German Roland C.II,” Revell said. “The design fell into disuse in the interwar period but reappeared on the ZG 76 Me 110s (the unofficial but more commonly used name for the Messerschmitt Bf 110) operating from Norway…” The Walfisch (German for whale), as the C.II was called, was often painted with an open shark mouth and beady eyes on its nose. ZG 76 omitted the beady eyes when they adopted the shark mouth for their Bf 110s during WWII.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

The shape of the C.II inspired both its nickname and nose art. (Photo from aircorpsart.com)

With the more commonly known history of the Flying Tigers, it’s difficult to imagine that the shark mouth art on the nose of the Warthog can be traced back to a WWII Luftwaffe heavy fighter and a WWI German recon plane. In a way, these historical connections are appropriate, since the Warthog is used to provide forward air controller-airborne support (like the C.II) as the OA-10 and close air support for ground troops (like the Bf 110). Despite the Air Force’s intention to replace the A-10 with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, support for the Warthog from troops on the ground and the pilots that fly it are helping to ensure that the shark mouth tradition lives on in the skies.


MIGHTY HISTORY

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

The first World War was a horrific time to be a soldier on the frontlines. Nations were in a rush to quickly develop and implement the newest and most effective tools of destruction. Before the war, troops had no idea of the true devastation that a tank, fighter pilot, or the various gas canisters could bring. And then there were evil darts.

Flechette darts that — thankfully — never really took off. To be frank, they sound a little silly. They’re just oversized versions of the darts that troops would toss around at their local pub — what’s the big deal? In reality, they were more like something out of a freakin’ horror movie.


How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
The darts were also mostly silent. One minute, you and your platoon are fine in the trenches. The next, you’re all being turned into pincushions. (Illustration from the Petit Journal, August, 1915)

First, let’s talk about the physics behind these darts from Hell. They were roughly five inches long, weighed just over a pound, and were made of sharpened steel. When they were dropped from hundreds of feet above the ground, they’d strike the ground with enough force to pierce helmets and even vehicles.

If you filed grooves into the top or added a bird’s feather to the dull end, the dart would always land pointy-side down. Now consider the fact that a single pilot could release a canister filled with around 250 of these darts at a time and you can understand the sheer terror that these things wrought.

The Italians invented the darts before the war, but soon, countries on both sides of No Man’s Land were dropping them on opposing trenches. They were also extremely cheap to make and implement, which means they were used constantly — although the Royal Flying Corps felt they were “unsportsmanlike.” The Germans, on the other hand, were very keen on using the darts on the French. In fact, they had them specially imprinted with the text, “invention Française, fabrication Allemande.” Which roughly translates to, “a French invention, German made.”

The flechette darts didn’t last past the early years of the war when bombs were deemed more effective. But the design of sharp darts being used for war later resurfaced with the flechette rounds used in shotguns and the infamous Beehive artillery round used in the Vietnam War.

To learn more about the flechette darts, check out the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This flawed government report triggered nuclear panic in Cold War

Anyone who survived the Cold War likely remembers the fear that, with almost no notice, an endless rain of Soviet missiles and bombs could begin that would end the war. Even if your city wasn’t hit, the number of nukes that America and Russia would have exchanged would have ended the war. But there was a problem: the Soviet Union had a tiny fraction of the missiles necessary. The confusion can be traced back to one flawed report.


In the early 1950s, rumors were growing that the Soviet Union was developing better ballistic missiles, massive weapons that took off, reached a high altitude, and then fell on or near a specified target. Early ballistic missiles were used in World War II, and they were unguided and crude weapons.

But the U.S. and Russia had seized as many German scientists as they could in the closing days of World War II, and the U.S. and the Soviet Union were each suspicious of what the other was doing with the co-opted scientists. If the Soviet Union was concentrating on missile research, they could beat America to space, and they might get a massive missile arsenal that could deliver nuclear warheads by the dozens.

And then the Soviets launched a missile test, sending a ballistic missile 3,000 miles across Siberia and other Soviet territories.

Worried about the possibility of Soviet attacks, President Dwight D. Eisenhower assembled a panel to try and figure out how many nuclear warheads, bombs, and ballistic missiles the Soviet Union might have, as well as how to defend against them. Two brilliant scientists led the research into the ballistic missile numbers.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

Intercontinental ballistic missiles are a highly inefficient way to deliver warheads, but they’re also hard to defend against and you don’t have to risk the lives of your own troops to attack your enemy.

(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

Herb York was part of the scientific director at Livermore Laboratory, a nuclear research lab. And Jerome Weisner was a science adviser to the president. They were both capable men, but they had to do their research with very little information.

They figured out how much factory floor space the Soviet Union had and then tried to work out how many rockets they could build per year. But they didn’t know how much of that factory floor space was actually dedicated to rocket production, whether sufficient quantities of materiel was dedicated to the cause, or how efficient the Soviet’s manufacturing methods were.

So York and Weisner prepared a worst-case number to the president. Basically, if the Soviets were as efficient as America in rocket production, dedicated most of their available factory space to the effort, and gave sufficient labor and materiel to the project, they could produce thousands of missiles in just a few years. That was at least one new missile a day, and potentially as many as three to five missiles, each capable of taking out an American city.

Now, this wasn’t a complete stab in the dark. York and Weisner had looked at Soviet factory output, and there was a curious gap between America and the Soviet Union on the production of consumer goods and some war materials. Basically, Soviet factories were either drastically under producing, or else they were producing something hidden from America.

And what America did know of Soviet re-armament after World War II indicated a nation that was preparing for war. They had rapidly developed an arsenal of atomic and then nuclear bombs, produced hundreds of heavy bombers, then developed capable jet engines and re-built their air force for the jet age, all while churning out thousands of radar systems and armored vehicles and tanks.

So, if you thought the Soviet Union had a lot of unused factory space and wanted to create a massive missile capability, you would probably assume that they were going to churn them out by the thousands, just like they had with radar and other capabilities.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

Explosions like this, but in American cities. It’s a problem.

(U.S. Navy)

And York and Weisner’s numbers were included in the document Deterrence Survival in the Nuclear Age, better known as the Gaither Report in November 1957. It was supposed to be secret, but it quickly leaked, and the American people suddenly learned that the Soviets might already have hundreds of missiles with thousands on the way.

Oh, and Sputnik had just launched, so it was clear to the public that Soviet missile technology was ahead of American. Eisenhower tried to play down the report, and might have comforted some people, but plenty of others saw it as a sign that he was hiding an American weakness.

And so the idea of a “missile gap,” that the U.S. was far behind the Soviet Union in terms of missile technology and numbers was born. This set off a short-lived panic followed by years of anxiety. It also underlined the importance of two other aspects of the Gaither Report: deterrence by America’s nuclear arsenal and survival through shelters and, later, civil defense.

America would drastically increase its missile development and other aspects of its nuclear arsenal, seeking to close the gap from the Eisenhower through the Kennedy administrations. But, under Kennedy, the U.S. would learn through improved spy satellite and plane imagery that the missile gap actually went the other direction.

America’s arsenal was massively larger than the Soviets’. At the time of the Gaither report, the Soviet Union only had four intercontinental ballistic missiles, the really capable ones.

And, instead of building thousands by 1960, they constructed about 100 more in the first few years after 1957.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Andrew Jackson was held captive during the Revolutionary War

For Andrew Jackson, living through the Revolutionary War did more than just decide to whom the land belonged. It shaped his entire family … and him into an eventual politician and leader. It was a war that made him into an orphan — both his brothers and mother were killed (his father died while he was still in the womb). 

A family who emigrated from Ireland two years before he was born, the Jacksons made their home along the North Carolina/South Carolina border, where they worked as farmers. 

Only to be torn apart by the onset of war. 

Less than two decades later, at 14, Andrew Jackson was left alone, with incredible life experience under his belt. Including a stint as a prisoner of war. Yes, the future president was captured by the British and held against his will.

Jackson joins war efforts as a teen

Jackson’s eldest brother, Hugh. was first to join the efforts of the Revolutionary war. He fought in the Battle of Stono Ferry in 1779, but succumbed shortly after due to heat exhaustion. This was the first slight that Jackson is said to have felt personally from the British. 

But he wasn’t alone, soon after, widespread British distaste would grow among the locals. 

During the battle of Battle of Waxhaws in 1780, the Continental Army was losing and attempted to surrender. However, a British commander was shot during the transaction, causing the British to charge full force on the remaining Continental forces. It’s now known as the Waxhaw Massacre.

Outraged and encouraged by their mother, Elizabeth, Andrew and his brother, Robert, joined themselves. Just young teenagers — Andrew was 13 — they began attending local militia drills, where they found work as messengers.

Captured by the British

andrew jackson revolutionary war
Revolutionary War reenactors

It was in April of 1781, that the pair was captured by the British while delivering mail. In captivity, the brothers were severely malnutritioned and were struck with smallpox and became close to death.

Jackson himself was slashed from a sword after he refused to clean an officer’s boots. His brother, too, refused and was slashed, but less noticeably so. The scars on Andrew’s  head and left hand were still visible in adulthood. It’s also said to have even further intensified his hatred for the British.

Meanwhile, their mother negotiated their release. She met them upon said release to take them home, some 40-plus miles away. With one horse between the three of them, Robert was placed on the animal due to his declining health. Unfortunately, Robert died two days after making it back home. Andrew was able to recover.

Elizabeth returned to the war efforts, volunteering to nurse other prisoners of war back to health. However, she contracted cholera and died in November of that year, leaving her youngest son as an orphan at just 14 years old.

It’s said that, even as an adult, Jackson personally blamed the British for all three deaths.

Life after the Revolutionary War

Jackson went on to live with distant relatives, until he received an inheritance from his grandfather, who remained back in Ireland. Jackson then went to school and worked as a teacher, before embarking to study law at just 17. Then by 21, he began his career as a politician. He is said to have been wild, ambitious, and one who loved to gamble in taverns and carry on with friends. 

He’s the last U.S. President to have involvement in the Revolutionary War, and the only U.S. President to have been a prisoner of war.

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Listen to these D-Day ‘frogmen’ explain their crazy role in the historic battle

Despite a limited number of submarines and other surveillance assets, naval forces in World War II had to find a way to spot enemy obstructions and defenses at fortified islands and beaches.

Into the gap stepped the frogmen and recon swimmers, brave sailors and Marines who swam into enemy waters and surveyed defenses with just snorkels and fins, often with enemy fire raining around them.

On D-Day, these brave men played a critical role ensuring that landing craft could make it to shore and take part in one of the most daring, important assaults of World War II. Hear what it was like to be in the waters at Normandy on that fateful day from the frogmen who were actually there in the interview below:


But the heroics of Naval Combat Demolition Units didn’t stop at D-Day; they played key roles in many defining operations of World War II:

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
Navy and Marine Corps personnel landing at Tarawa had to do so with limited intelligence and with nearly all obstacles in place at the start of the battle. (U.S. Marine Corps painting Sergeant Tom Lovell)

 

Beach landings around the world, but especially the frequent landings in the Pacific during World War II, require good intelligence. Enemy mines and underwater obstacles can cripple a landing force when it’s most vulnerable. To ensure the landing works, attackers have to either avoid or clear such obstacles before the landings are affected.

The Navy learned this lesson the hard way when forces landing at Tarawa just hours after their arrival were forced to fight past a reef, beach obstacles and mines, and machine gun positions that had all been underestimated because no one got eyes directly on them before the fight. The invaders had relied on aerial imagery that couldn’t expose all the hazards.

But when the Navy is short on stealthy assets, like submarines, someone else has to get up close and personal and see where the obstructions are.

“Frogmen,” recon swimmers whose efforts would lead to today’s Navy SEALs, filled this role by jumping out of small boats while wearing just shorts, snorkels, swim masks, and fins. From there, they had to swim along enemy beaches and make mental notes of anywhere they saw natural or man-made obstacles that could hinder a landing.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
A Navy frogman in relatively advanced gear for the time. Many frogmen during World War II, especially in the Pacific, made do with just snorkels, masks, and fins. (National Archives and Records Administration)

 

If the obstacles were thick and foreboding enough, they had to destroy them, swimming up to mines and other countermeasures and dismantling them in place or blowing them up. Most frogmen served in units named for this task, the “Underwater Demolition Teams,” or UDTs.

Worse, if there was any question of the shore composition, the frogmen were tasked with swimming up to the beach itself, gathering sand, and swimming back with their samples.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
Marines landing at Iwo Jima benefited from the swimmers who ensured the approaches were clear of obstacles and checked whether the volcanic sand would allow for the free movement of tracked vehicles. (U.S. Marine Corps)

While Iwo Jima was revealed to be largely bare of obstacles, the swimmers had to collect the volcanic ash of the beach as Japanese defenders in pillboxes were laying down a thick blanket of fire on the swimmers and their fire support ships. The hail of bullets was so thick that the ships frequently had to leave the line to put out fires and repair damage.

The swimmers had no such safe space. When they landed at Utah and Omaha beaches on D-Day, the Utah team suffered 17 casualties and the Omaha team lost 91 killed and wounded. 37 men died on the two beaches to reduce the threat to the follow-on attackers.

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War
Members of a Naval Combat Demolition Unit hit the beach during training.

 

They had to sneak up to obstacles and place dozens of pounds of explosives on them to prepare them for destruction, sometimes while close enough to German patrols and sentries to hear them speaking to each other.

One swimmer, part of a Naval Combat Demolition Unit, interviewed a few years ago by Stars and Stripes, recalled a woman on the beach waving to him from her beachfront house as the sailor laid the foundation for the invasion that would start in less than an hour.

According to a book review of Iwo Jima Recon by the Marine Corps Association Foundation,

The frogmen avoided mortar and small-arms fire by ducking underwater as they swam into the beach. One diver’s account simply stated, “Bullets drifted down like falling leaves.” Amazingly, all but one of the divers returned safely.

Their sacrifices, while great, saved lives. Have a look at the video at the bottom to learn more about the frogmen on D-Day.

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