It’s hard to imagine a time when the Marine Corps made black troops drill on separate fields, but that’s how it was for African-American leathernecks who were preparing to fight during World War II.
Dubbed the “Montford Point Marines” after their segregated training grounds at Montford Point on the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the 20,000 black Marines were finally honored July 29, 75 years after their service. The 15-foot tall memorial outside the gates of Camp Johnson is largely the result of efforts by the Montford Point Marine Association to commemorate the first African-American units in the Corps.
CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina – U.S. service members and guests listen to the National Chaplain of the Montford Point Marine Association, Reverend James E. Moore, as he delivers the invocation during the Montford Point Marine Memorial dedication ceremony held at Jacksonville, North Carolina, July 29, 2016.
“Today, as a result of the hard work and perseverance of so many of you here, across the country and those no longer with us, that vision is now a reality,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East at the memorial dedication.
“This inspiring memorial takes it rightful place among the other silent testimonials to the courage, dedication, and sacrifice of our men and women who have worn the cloth of this nation.”
The Montford Point Marines made up the 51st and 52nd Composite Defense Battalions, which mainly operated artillery and anti-aircraft guns. They were initially trained by white officers, but soon after their enlistment, several black NCOs took over the training and drilling of the first African-American Marines.
The units saw little action in the Pacific since the 51st and 52nd were assigned to outlying islands away from the main action. But some Montford Point Marines from ammunition and depot companies did see combat on Guam, Saipan, and Peleliu.
“This is something that I never thought would be possible,” Ivor Griffin, a Montford Marine who served 23 years, told Marines.mil. “I heard about it being in the making, and I thought it couldn’t be true, I thought we were the forgotten 20,000.”
The Montford Point Marines served from 1942 until 1949 when President Harry Truman desegregated the U.S. military and abolished all-black units.
Let’s say you need to make a very sensitive tool to detect radiation. Maybe you need to use it for medical purposes, detecting specific isotopes as they move through a human body. Or perhaps it’s for the tools to detect radiation to prevent dirty bombs and nuclear smuggling. Wherever your radiation is, if you want super accurate measurements of it, you have to make your tools out of low-background steel, and that’s hard to get.
Here’s the problem with new steel: It’s made in a radioactive environment. The very air we breathe contains little molecules leftover from the approximately 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. Irradiated coral from Bikini Atoll tests, snow melted by the Tsar Bomba, and air particles in the wrong spots during the development of the Genie air-to-air rocket are all still radioactive.
That doesn’t make it useless for detecting radiation. But any radiation in the steel makes the resulting device less sensitive. It’s like if you’re trying to listen for a distant sound while a band plays. The louder and closer the band is, the harder it will be for you to hear a distant or faint sound. A radiation detection device with radioactive steel in it will never be able to detect radiation that’s beneath the threshold its own components put out.
But steel can last. And any steel manufactured before the first nuclear tests in July 1945 is filled with low-background radiation steel. Basically, since it has much fewer radioactive particles in it, it can detect radiation at much lower levels. So, if you need to run a radioactive dye through a medical patient, you can use a much lower level of radiation if the detector is made with low-background steel.
Same with scientific and law enforcement instruments.
But how to get low-background steel today? If you mine ore now, melt it down, and mix it with limestone, you’ll be most of the way through making low-background steel. But you also have to pass air through it. And the only air available has radiation in it.
So, instead, you could go find steel manufactured before 1945. Preferably steel that wasn’t exposed to the air during the testing or in the years immediately afterward.
You read the headline. You know where this is going.
Sunken warships have literally tens of thousands of tons of steel in them, and the water has shielded them from radiation for decades.
So, with the consent of governments, some warships have their steel removed. It’s done carefully both to prevent contaminating the metal as well as to avoid disturbing the dead. And it’s not just steel. A British warship from before the Revolution had a large amount of lead that is now maintained by the University of Chicago.
It’s even been suggested that some illegal salvage efforts were conducted by black market outfits looking to make millions by stealing entire ships off the ocean floor. And at least two British ships lost in World War II have disappeared, though some researchers think it was more likely straight steel salvage. It doesn’t appear the thieves had the wherewithal to properly protect the salvage from modern radiation, so it was probably sold as normal scrap.
So the thieves disturbed the grave of thousands of sailors and contaminated tens of thousands of tons of rare low-background steel.
In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.
The trouble was that these were all the same person.
Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.
Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.
*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.
1. Walter Banks Beacham
The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.
But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.
“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.
2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.
Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.
For about six months.
The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.
What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.
3. Walter Banks Beacham
When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.
“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”
A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.
4. Mark Richard Gerardi
In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.
He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.
“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.
Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.
5. Cedrick L. Houston
In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.
He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.
“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said. “And they put me out of the Navy for that.”
6. Chris Villanueva
Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.
He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.
7. Zachary Pitt
Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.
“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
Army basic training graduates in 1992.
8. George Perez
In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.
“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”
Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.
The HMS Conquerer is the only nuclear-powered submarine to engage an enemy with torpedoes. In a sea engagement during the Falklands War in the 1980s, two of the three shots fired at an Argentine cruiser hit home. Her hull pierces, the General Belgrano began listing and her captain called for the crew to abandon ship within 20 minutes.
In line with Royal Navy tradition, the Conquerer flew a Jolly Roger – a pirate flag – to note her victory at sea.
Submarines were considered “underhand, unfair and damned un-English,” by Sir Arthur Wilson, who was First Sea Lord when subs were introduced to the Royal Navy. Hs even threatened to hang all sub crews as pirates during wartime.
The insult stuck. When the HMS E9 sunk a German cruiser during WWI — the Royal Navy’s first submarine victory — its commander had a Jolly Roger made and it flew from the periscope as the sub sailed back to port.
The pirate flag soon became the official emblem of Britain’s silent service.
The British submarine HMS Utmost showing off their Jolly Roger in February 1942. The markings on the flag indicate the boat’s achievements: nine ships torpedoed (including one warship), eight ‘cloak and dagger’ operations, one target destroyed by gunfire, and one at-sea rescue. (Imperial War Museum)
The 1982 sinking of the Argentine General Belgrano was only the second instance of a submarine sinking a surface ship since the end of World War II.
Argentinian sailors reported a “fireball” shooting up through the ship, which means it was not cleared for action. If the crew was ready for a fight, ideally, the ship’s doors and hatches would have been sealed to keep out fire and water, author Larry Bond wrote in his book “Crash Dive,” which covers the incident.
The Royal Navy’s Cmdr. Chris Wreford-Brown, the captain of the Conqueror, later said of the sinking:
“The Royal Navy spent 13 years preparing me for such an occasion. It would have been regarded as extremely dreary if I had fouled it up.”
Ships from Argentina and neighboring Chile rescued 772 men over the next two days. The attack killed 321 sailors and two civilians.
The Argentine Navy returned to port and was largely out of the rest of the war.
In 1989, Denzel Washington won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Private Silas Tripp, a runaway slave-turned-freedom fighter, in Glory. Although Private Tripp was not a real person, the movie took its inspiration from a real-life volunteer unit in the Civil War — the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
The first African American regiment to serve in the United States military, the 54th Massachusetts was led by a 25-year-old abolitionist. The men were a pivotal part of the frontal assault of the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, one of the Civil War’s most memorable battles. Made up of hundreds of volunteers, the 54th Massachusetts regiment achieved incredible things — easily meriting their nickname, the “Glory” regiment.
Established in February 1863, just one month after the Emancipation Proclamation officially authorized the recruitment of African American soldiers, the 54th Massachusetts regiment spent the next three months recruiting and training their soldiers before going on to become one of the most iconic units ever to serve in the U.S. military.
The 54th was comprised of 1,100 soldiers, the majority of whom were recruited by local abolitionists — white and black alike. The likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass boosted morale, helping recruit black Americans into military service for the first time. Douglass even contributed two of his own sons to the cause, both of whom enlisted in the 54th.
The Northern states knew that strong African American enlistment could help turn the course of the war, as both a symbol and as additional manpower for the bloody conflict. President Lincoln’s Secretary of War personally charged John Andrew, governor of Massachusetts, with staffing the officer corps of the 54th regiment. Andrew selected a bright-eyed, 25-year-old man, the son of abolitionists, to lead the 54th. His name was Robert Gould Shaw. Although Shaw was only a captain at the time, he was quickly promoted to colonel, and his second-in-command, Norwood Penrose “Pen” Hallowell was promoted from captain to lieutenant colonel–just a few days after his 24th birthday.
At first, the all-white officers were controversial. Both white and black citizens were dismayed that a black regiment would have to be led by white men. But the recruiting efforts of men like Douglass soon turned the tide, and volunteers began showing up in larger and larger numbers.
Morale was strong during enlistment, and the 54th received an influx of hopeful recruits — so much so that the unit implemented a “rigid and thorough” medical exam, with the aim of enlisting only the most physically and mentally fit into its ranks. The company trained at Camp Meigs just outside of Boston, for a period that lasted only several weeks.
On May 28th, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts regiment marched out of Boston on its way to Beaufort, South Carolina. They did so despite a December 1862 proclamation by President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, which stated that any captured African American soldier or white officer in charge of an African American company would be put to death.
As portrayed in Glory, the 54th Massachusetts’s first action was the looting and burning of a small town in Georgia. The action came on the orders of Colonel James Montgomery, a rabid abolitionist and controversial officer in the Northern Army who often implemented extreme tactics when dealing with pro-slavery populations.
Montgomery had been charged with raising an African American regiment around the same time as Colonel Shaw. His 2nd South Carolina unit rampaged through the South with their most famous battle, the Raid at Combahee Ferry, coming just before they linked up with the 54th Regiment Massachusetts. With the help of Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad, Montgomery and his men freed nearly 800 slaves at Combahee Ferry.
But Colonel Shaw wasn’t impressed with Montgomery’s tactics. He wrote a sternly-worded letter to the military higher-ups, complaining of Montgomery’s rampant destruction of Confederate towns and wanton cruelty towards their civilians. As a result, the 54th was shipped off to fight in a skirmish on James Island, South Carolina, in which they repelled a Confederate assault.
It was then that the 54th entered into its most famous battle: the raid on Fort Wagner, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina.
The climactic scene of Glory, depicting the Battle of Fort Wagner.
Charleston was considered a prize by many in the North, having been the birthplace of the Confederate rebellion. Charleston’s Fort Sumter was where the Confederacy fired its first shots, overtaking a Union garrison and precipitating the Civil War.
Colonel Shaw was tasked with leading the 54th Regiment on a dangerous frontal assault of Fort Wagner, with the aim of keeping the 6,000 men garrisoned inside occupied long enough for a rear-guard attack to penetrate the fort’s walls. It was a bold proposition, and the 54th was a mere 48 hours removed from their battle at James Island. Yet on July 18, 1863, the men of the first African American regiment bravely charged the battlefield and made history in the process.
The raid on Fort Wagner was ultimately a failure and led to the loss of many lives. No unit was more decimated than the 54th Massachusetts. 270 of its 600 men who charged the fort were killed, wounded, or captured. Colonel Shaw was among the dead, having been shot three times through the chest just outside the fort’s parapet.
Despite the heavy losses, the 54th Massachusetts regiment was commended for its valor. Tales of the unit’s bravery spread far and wide, prompting many African Americans to enlist in the Union army. President Lincoln ultimately cited the mobilization of African American troops as a key ingredient in the North’s victory over the South.
Many decades later, in 1900, Sergeant William Harvey Carney, then 60 years old, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of Fort Wagner. Carney had spotted the flag bearer fall during battle, and quickly rushed over to raise the American flag. Carney then led troops to the parapet, waving the flag high to boost morale despite receiving multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds in the process. Upon the Union’s call to retreat, Carney somehow escaped with the flag intact, and crawled back to his encampment. As he handed the flag off to fellow soldiers, he famously told them, “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground.”
The 4th United States Colored Infantry, mustered in Baltimore, Maryland
Although numerous African American soldiers received the Medal of Honor prior to Carney, his actions at the Battle of Fort Wagner preceded theirs. As such, he is considered the first African American to be granted the military’s highest honor.
Despite the bravery of the many men amongst their ranks, the 54th Regiment had still often been treated as second-class soldiers. Upon enlisting, the men who joined the 54th Massachusetts regiment were promised the same wages as white men who enlisted: a month, with food and clothing included. But as soon as the regiment arrived in South Carolina, they discovered that they would only be paid — and three of those hard-earned dollars would be taken by the Department of the South to pay for their clothing. Rather than accept this, the men of the 54th refused all pay. It would not be until late September 1864 that equal pay for the regiment was issued. Most of the men had served 18 months at this point.
After the Battle at Fort Wagner, the 54th Massachusetts continued to fight in several more battles and skirmishes, with and without pay, right up until the end of the war. The regiment gained international fame after the war, and was immortalized by poets and artists both in America and Europe. A memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th was erected on the Boston Common as part of its Black Heritage Trail. The bust serves as the closing shot of Glory, over which the final credits roll.
On Nov. 21, 2008, the 54th Massachusetts regiment was reactivated as part of the Massachusetts National Guard. Today, the unit conducts military honors at funerals and state functions.
Given that their country’s humor is so steeped in subtle and sophisticated irony, Russian officials’ frequent inability to get a joke can be pretty mind-blowing.
And it appears that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter just had a good laugh at Moscow’s expense.
Speaking this weekend, the 91-year-old Carter said he had offered to provide Russia with accurate maps of Syria so its pilots could actually target Islamic State positions in the country — rather than U.S.-backed opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Carter, who was among a group of prominent former global leaders who met Putin this past spring, said the Russian president had provided him with an email address.
“I sent him a message on Thursday [October 15] asking him if he wanted a copy of our map so he could bomb accurately in Syria,” Carter said.
He added that the next day the Russian Embassy “called down and told me they would like very much to have the map. So in the future, if Russia doesn’t bomb the right places, you’ll know it’s not Putin’s fault but it’s my fault.”
The maps Carter spoke of are publicly available on the Carter Center’s website, which on October 8 published a report saying that the vast majority of Russian airstrikes in Syria were not hitting Islamic State targets.
In the video of Carter’s remarks posted in YouTube, it is clear that the 39th U.S. president, who is known to have a playful sense of humor, was just having a little fun.
WATCH: Jimmy Carter Jokes About Offering Maps To Putin
But it appears that Moscow didn’t pick up on the joke. The Interfax news agency flashed the following: RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONFIRMS THAT EX-U.S. PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER HANDED MAPS INDICATING ISLAMIC STATE’S CURRENT LOCATIONS IN SYRIA TO RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON
Russian news sites followed up with stories citing Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying that “it was with a big thanks that we accepted this gesture by the former U.S.president who obviously is sincerely calling for joint efforts in the fight against terror and is concerned about the fate of the Syrian people.”
Zakharova added that she hoped that another Carter — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter — would continue this spirit of cooperation.
Perhaps Zakharova was joining in on the joke. But history suggests otherwise.
The Foreign Ministry is far from the only part of official Russia that has trouble understanding contemporary humor.
Back in May, prosecutors in Rostov questioned the organizer of a local spelling bee about whether he has any connections to so-called “grammar Nazis.”
Grammar Nazi, of course, is a slang term for somebody who habitually — and often annoyingly — corrects other people’s grammar. In recent years, it has developed into a satirical Internet meme, which uses imagery that vaguely resembles swastikas.
But prosecutors in Rostov didn’t get the joke. They interrogated spelling bee organizer Aleksei Pavlovsky, asking him whether he believed people who make spelling and grammatical mistakes should be exterminated.
Chappy poses in front of an F-4 Phantom II during the Vietnam War. (Photo from the United States Air Force)
Airmen and 80s movie buffs are likely to be familiar with the 1986 cult classic Iron Eagle. Sometimes called the “Top Gun of the Air Force,” Iron Eagle did not have the big budget, box office success or star power that its Naval-based counterpart did (although the soundtrack did have its fair share of great songs). However, the film did feature Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. (of An Officer and a Gentleman fame) as Colonel Charles “Chappy” Sinclair, the wise Vietnam Veteran fighter pilot who gave Top Gun‘s Jester a run for his money. Chappy serves as a mentor to the main character, teenager Doug Masters played by Jason Gedrick, and guides him throughout the film.
As a mentor, Chappy shares his knowledge and experience, gained in the unforgiving skies above Vietnam, with teenage Masters. An accomplished fighter pilot, Chappy helps Masters to acquire intelligence, create a rescue plan and steal two F-16 fighter jets to attack the fictional Middle Eastern country of Bilya where Masters’ father is being held. While these fictional feats are impressive, they pale in comparison to the accomplishments of the real-life Chappy.
Daniel “Chappy” James, Jr. was born on February 20, 1920 in Pensacola, FL. He graduated Tuskegee University in 1942 and received his pilot wings and commission as a 2nd LT at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Alabama on July 28, 1943. He remained at Tuskegee to train pilots for the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron. Having completed training in the P-40 Warhawk fighter, Chappy trained on the B-25 Mitchell bomber and was stationed in Kentucky and Ohio until the end of the war.
Chappy first saw action during the Korean War. In 1949, he went to the Philippines as a flight leader in the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing at Clark Field. In July of the next year, he left for Korea where he also flew with the 44th and 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons in P-51 Mustang and F-80 Shooting Star fighters. During the war, Chappy flew a total of 101 combat missions.
After the war, Chappy continued his Air Force career, holding commands and serving at a number of bases. In 1954, while stationed at Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts, Chappy was given the “Young Man of the Year” award by the Massachusetts Junior Chamber of Commerce for his outstanding community relations efforts. In June 1957, he graduated from the Air Command and Staff College.
After serving on staffs, and later as assistant director and director of operations for a number of wings, Chappy went to Thailand in 1966 to support combat missions in Vietnam. He became the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing vice commander under triple (then double) ace Col. Robin Olds. Flying from Ubon Air Base in Thailand, the two men created a strong and effective tactical command, earning them the nickname “Blackman and Robin.” In total, Chappy flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam during the war.
Following his service in Vietnam, Chappy became the commander of the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing at Wheelus Air Base in the Libyan Arab Republic. Following the coup by radical Libyan military officers, including Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S. announced plans to close Wheelus Air Base. Wanting to see how far he could push the Americans, Gaddafi sent a column of armored half-tracks through the base housing area at full speed. Unamused by the stunt, Chappy closed the base gates and confronted Gaddafi. During their confrontation, Gaddafi kept his hand on the pistol in his hip holster. “I told him to move his hand away,” Chappy recalled having had his own .45 strapped to his hip. The future Libyan dictator complied. “If he had pulled that gun, his hand would have never cleared the holster.”
Chappy’s Air Force career saw him serve as principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, vice commander of the Military Airlift Command, commander in chief of NORAD/ADCOM, and special assistant to the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force. Chappy retired in 1978 as a four-star general, the first African-American to achieve the rank.
The next time you watch Iron Eagle, remember General Daniel “Chappy” James, Jr., the trailblazing African-American pilot who served in three wars, stared down Gaddafi, and dared to see just how far he could go.
A Chinese pilot apparently watched too much “Top Gun” because he decided recently to pull one of Maverick’s classic stunts.
According to a report by CNN, the Chinese Su-30 Flanker jockey flew inverted while directly over a United States Air Force WC-135W Constant Phoenix aircraft in international airspace over the East China Sea.
The WC-135W is designed to monitor the atmosphere for radiation from nuclear tests and other radiological incidents. Notable operations have included monitoring the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl.
The BBC reported that the Chinese plane came within 150 feet of the U.S. jet. It marks the second time there has been a close encounter. The incident was viewed as “unprofessional” by the crew of the Air Force plane, primarily due to the “Top Gun” maneuver. In February, a Chinese KJ-200 radar plane came close to a United States Navy P-3, which had to change course to avoid a collision. Other close encounters have occurred with Russian and Iranian forces in recent months.
While not as well-known – or complicated – as the South China Sea, the East China Sea has a number of maritime territorial disputes, notably over the Senkaku Islands. China lost an international arbitration ruling over its actions in the South China Sea in July, due to boycotting the process.
The Su-30 is a two-seat multi-role version of the Flanker. MilitaryFactory.com notes that it has a range of over 1,800 miles, a top speed of Mach 1.73, and can carry a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. GlobalSecurity.org reports that China bought 76 from Russia, and has been building more of these planes as the J-11B “Flanker.” The Su-30 has also been purchased by a number of other countries, including Algeria, Angola, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
When a soldier is wounded on the battlefield, medics get the call.
Medics are sort of like paramedics or emergency medical technicians in the civilian world, except paramedics and EMTs are less likely to carry assault rifles or be fired at by enemy forces. When everything goes wrong, soldiers count on the medics to keep them alive until they can be evacuated to a field hospital.
Ninety percent of soldier deaths in combat occur before the victims ever make it to a field hospital; U.S. Army medics are dedicated to bringing that number down.
To save wounded soldiers, the medic has to make life or death decisions quickly and accurately. They use Tactical Combat Casualty Care, or TCCC, to guide their decisions. TCCC is a process of treatment endorsed by the American College of Surgeons and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.
First, medics must decide whether to return fire or immediately begin care.
Since the Geneva Convention was signed, the Army has typically not armed medics since they are protected by the international law. But, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have mostly been fought against insurgencies who don’t follow the Geneva Convention and medics have had many of their markings removed, so they’ve been armed with rifles and pistols.
When patients come under fire, they have to decide whether to begin care or return fire. The book answer is to engage the enemies, stopping them from hurting more soldiers or further injuring the current casualties. Despite this, Army medics will sometimes decide to do “care under fire,” where they treat patients while bullets are still coming at them.
Then, they treat life-threatening hemorrhaging.
Major bleeding is one of the main killers on the battlefield. Before the medic even begins assessing the patient, they’ll use a tourniquet, bandage, or heavy pressure to slow or stop any extreme bleeds that are visible. If the medic is conducting care under fire, treatment is typically a tourniquet placed above the clothing so the medic can get them behind cover without having to remove the uniform first.
Now, they can finally assess the patient.
Once the medic and the patient are in relative safety, the medic will assess the patient. Any major bleeds that are discovered will be treated immediately, but other injuries will be left until the medic has completed the full assessment. This is to ensure the medic does not spend time setting a broken arm while the patient is bleeding out from a wound in their thigh.
During this stage, the medic will call out information to a radio operator so the unit can call for a medical evacuation using a “nine-line.” Air evacuation is preferred when it’s available, but wounded soldiers may have to ride out in ambulances or even standard ground vehicles if no medical evacuations are available.
Medics then start treatment.
Medics have to decide which injuries are the most life-threatening, sometimes across multiple patients, and treat them in order. The major bleeds are still the first thing treated since they cause over half of preventable combat deaths. The medics will then move on to breathing problems like airway blockages or tension pneumothorax, a buildup of pressure around the lungs that stops a soldier from breathing. Medics will also treat less life-threatening injuries like sprains or broken bones if they have time.
Most importantly, Army medics facilitate the evacuation.
Army medics have amazing skills, but patients still need to get to a hospital. Medics will relay all information about the patient on a card, the DA 7656 and the patient will get on the ambulance for evacuation. The medic will usually get a new aid bag, their pack of medical materials, from the ambulance and return to their mission on the ground, ready to help the next soldier who might get wounded.
During World War II and the Korean War, the United States trained over 1.5 million African American soldiers. Aside from gaining the combat experience of a lifetime, the role of a soldier in patriotic America gave Black veterans an even bigger opportunity; specifically a much larger platform from which to fight for equality.
Even in the military, Black and white soldiers were segregated.
While this was mostly true of American training bases in the south, even outside of segregated spaces, Black soldiers held fewer privileges than prisoners of war and faced increased hostility throughout the U.S military. Though both Black and white soldiers weren’t subjugated to different levels of combat and violence, Black soldiers were frequently given low-status positions such as cooks or janitors.
Despite continuous discrimination, many African Americans in the military stepped up to the plate and persevered. The following are just a few of the remarkable Black vets who paved the way for a more equitable American military force.
1. Dorie Miller
Dorie Miller was a Mess Attendant, Third Class on battleship West Virginia. Miller enlisted in 1935 when African Americans were not allowed to be trained in combat, let alone wear the Navy’s insignia. During his time on the West Virginia, Miller witnessed Japanese fighter pilots attack Pearl Harbor. Despite only having trained as a cook, he manned an anti-aircraft machine gun, shooting down several enemy fighters and saving dozens of critically injured soldiers. He was one of the last three men to jump ship, continuing to seek out and retrieve injured servicemen before saving himself.
However, when newspapers reported the heroes of Pearl Harbor, the Navy’s public relations official referred to Miller as “an unnamed Negro messman.” Though the Navy’s blatant discriminatory omission of Dorie Miller’s name might never have let his heroism go unrecognized, the Pittsburg Courier, a Black-owned newspaper, officially identified him in 1942. Yet while Miller continued to be denied accolades by persistent, white conservative politicians, his actions broke barriers in the Navy; Finally, allowing Black men were eligible to receive combat training and to hold rank. Miller continued his career in active service and through persistent lobbying from the NAACP, he became the first Black man to be awarded the Navy Cross. Although he died while on active duty during World War II, he was also posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor award.
Though many African American soldiers were forced to navigate racism within the military, enlisting and being stationed in other countries also allowed them to experience new perspectives. The military provided opportunities to escape poverty and meet more open-minded people and cultures where legalized segregation didn’t exist. In addition, Black veterans were given educational opportunities many may have never gotten otherwise. Though discrimination kept a lot of Black veterans from receiving benefits, the GI Bill of 1944 gave veterans and servicemen free college tuition.
When WWII ended, Black soldiers returned home to much of the same.
Despite their accomplishments on the field, they faced the same discrimination at home as they always had. Now, however, they had something they didn’t have before they joined the military; perspective. Now that they had witnessed the ideological landscape of the rest of the world, they found a renewed determination to fight for civil rights. If other countries had civil rights, why not America?
African Americans’ combined fight against fascism and racism was referred to as the “Double V” by the famed Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. White supremacists fired back at the fight for equal citizenship, threatening Black veterans with violence if they ‘stepped out of line’. Black veterans were dissuaded from going out in uniform, as it supposedly implied they were too confident in their own presence. Several Black veterans were murdered.
2. Amzie Moore
Amzie Moore, a Mississippi native, was already an established business owner in Cleveland and had been one of the first Black men to register to vote in 1935 in the state of Mississippi. However, upon visiting Mississippi after finishing his service overseas, Moore discovered that white men had organized a ‘home guard’ as a way to protect women from African American veterans. Though Moore had already become involved in midwestern politics before enlisting, the white backlash against Black veterans pushed him to involve himself more in the blossoming civil rights movement. Moore’s success in business had put him in the spotlight for collaboration with other civil rights leaders, which ultimately led him to be elected as president of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP.
3. Medgar Evers
In 1946, Medgar Evers, who was also from Mississippi, gathered a group of fellow Black veterans together to try and register to vote. They were forcibly ejected from the courthouse by an armed mob of white men, but this didn’t stop Evers from pursuing equality. He later attempted to integrate the University of Mississippi law school. He was rejected yet again, so rather than become a lawyer, Evers chose a career with the NAACP. There, he served as the organization’s first field secretary in Mississippi.
Evers and Moore shared past experiences working together as two of the four founders of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. Moore and Evers continued working together, interviewing witnesses of the Emmett Till trial. The two were a perfect team and used the knowledge they’d acquired while in the military, with one NAACP organizer stating that veterans werw specifically scouted because they “don’t scare easy.”
4. Hosea Williams
Another black veteran, Hosea Williams had gone into battle under the command of General George Patton and was the only member of his unit to survive a Nazi bombing. After spending over a year in a hospital recovering from his severe injuries, Williams returned to the U.S. However, rather than being thanked for his service and respected, he was beaten “like a common dog,” for using a whites-only water fountain. Williams is quoted as saying “At that moment, I truly felt as if I had fought on the wrong side…Then, and not until then, did I realize why God, time after time, had taken me to death’s door, then spared my life … to be a general in the war for human rights and personal dignity.” It was then that Williams joined the NAACP and later became a trusted colleague of Martin Luther King Jr. He’s best known for carrying out voter registration initiatives in 1964 and marching with John Lewis on the infamous “Bloody Sunday.”
5. Grant Reynolds
One can’t talk about Black veterans and their influence on civil rights without mentioning Grant Reynolds. Reynolds was incredibly ambitious and was prepared to defend his country during WWII no matter the cost. He trained as a chaplain but soon resigned, citing “brazen racism” as his primary reason for leaving. Later on, Reynolds worked with A. Philip Randolph to record his experiences. In 1947, he also founded the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training. Reynold’s efforts in the organization paid off, as it led to President Truman’s order to integrate the military in 1948.
All in all, Black veterans played a pivotal role in civil rights in America. They broke barriers, made strides for racial equality, and never backed down from a fight- not even when it happened in their own backyard.
Brig. Gen. Diana Holland has been named the first female commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Holland is serving as the deputy commanding general (support), 10th Mountain Division (Light) on Fort Drum, New York. She will replace Maj. Gen. John C. Thomson III, who relinquished command of the Corps of Cadets during a ceremony at West Point Monday. He has been named commanding general, 1st Cavalry Division on Fort Hood, Texas.
Acting Army Secretary Eric Fanning praised the selection of Holland. “Diana’s operational and command experiences will bring a new and diverse perspective to West Point’s leadership team,” Fanning said. “She is absolutely the right person for this critical position.”
Holland will assume command as the 76th commandant of cadets during a ceremony scheduled at West Point, Jan. 5.
“I am very honored to be named the next commandant of the U.S. Corps of Cadets,” Holland said. “It’s a privilege to be part of the team that trains and develops leaders of character for our Army. I look forward to continuing the legacy set by Maj. Gen. Thomson and all previous commandants.”
Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, superintendent at West Point, said Holland will be a valuable addition to the team.
“Diana Holland is a superb leader who has a phenomenal reputation throughout the Army,” Caslen said. “She is immensely qualified for the job and we look forward to her joining the West Point team as commandant.”
Holland graduated from West Point and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers in 1990.
Her military service began in Germany, where she served as a vertical construction platoon leader in the 79th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), and as a company executive officer and battalion assistant operations officer in the 94th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy).
Following company command with the 30th Engineer Battalion (Topographic) on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Holland earned a Master of Arts degree at Duke University en route to a teaching assignment at West Point. She then attended the Army Command and General Staff College and the School of Advanced Military Studies, known as SAMS, where she earned a Master of Military Arts and Sciences degree.
She was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in July 2004, and deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving as a division plans officer and then as the operations officer in the 92nd Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy).
Upon return from Iraq, she served as a plans officer in the Operations Directorate, U.S. Central Command on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
Holland commanded the 92nd Engineer Battalion (Black Diamonds) from July 2008 to June 2011. She deployed with Task Force Diamond to eastern Afghanistan from May 2010 to April 2011. After relinquishing command, she was a U.S. Army War College Fellow at Georgetown University.
In 2012, Holland assumed command of the 130th Engineer Brigade at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The following year, she deployed with the brigade headquarters to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where the unit served as the theater engineer brigade, Joint Task Force Sapper. The brigade redeployed to Schofield Barracks in June 2014 and Holland relinquished command in July.
During the first half of this year, Holland served as executive officer to the director of the Army staff at the Pentagon. In July, she was appointed as the deputy commanding general for support, 10th Mountain Division (Light) on Fort Drum. She was the first female deputy commanding general of a light infantry division.
Christopher G. Baradat would have just as well had the Air Force mail him his medal.
It’s been more than four years since the Afghanistan battle in which the former Air Force staff sergeant was credited with saving the lives of more than 150 allies, both American and Afghan. And three years since Baradat, who served with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Fort Bragg, received the Silver Star for those heroics.
And to this day, the former airman believes he was only doing his job when he braved enemy fire to communicate with vital air support amid a frantic battle with insurgents in the Sono Valley, a treacherous area known as a sanctuary for insurgents in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
“I don’t feel that I was doing anything above and beyond and heroic,” Baradat said shortly before being honored yet again in a historic ceremony in Florida. “I was doing the job that I was supposed to do.”
On April 20, Baradat and retired Master Sgt. Keary Miller, a former pararescueman, were each presented with the Air Force Cross in a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, home of Air Force Special Operations Command.
It was the first time in history the Air Force had awarded two Air Force Cross medals — the highest honor for valor an airman can receive outside the Medal of Honor.
Baradat and Miller previously received Silver Stars for their respective heroics. But after a Department of Defense-wide review of valor awards from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were among eight airmen who were selected to receive an upgraded medal.
The ceremony to honor them was hosted by the 24th Special Operations Wing and began with a flyover from the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds; included remarks from the highest-ranking Air Force officer, Gen. David L. Goldfein; and ended with memorial pushups for special operations airmen who have died in battle.
Baradat’s heroics are related to a battle in which he directed 13 500-pound bombs and more than 1,100 rounds of ammunition during three hours of intense fighting amid a mission to rescue allies trapped in a valley under Taliban control.
Miller, who served with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, is credited with dashing through deep snow and heavy fire multiple times to care for critically wounded U.S. troops during a 17-hour battle against al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002.
Baradat, who left the Air Force last year and now lives in California, said he was not seeking medals during the fight on April 6, 2013.
“I was just concentrating on doing my job,” he said. “It was a very busy, hectic situation.”
According to accounts of the battle, Baradat put his life on the line even as members of the Special Forces team and Afghan commandos he was attached to shouted for him to take cover.
The former combat controller, who provided an important link between ground forces and overhead aircraft, stood in an open Afghan courtyard as bullets hit the ground around him and zeroed in on the roughly 100 enemy fighters bearing down on his teammates with sniper fire, machine gun fire, and rocket-propelled grenades.
Baradat orchestrated supporting fire from AC-130 and A-10 aircraft, synchronizing the attacks and coordinating flight paths overhead amid heavy enemy fire on the ground.
“It was very steep, rocky terrain,” he said. “There was some difficulty in identifying where stuff was happening.”
Baradat said his Special Tactics training prepared him for the battle. But at the same time, he credited the soldiers from the Fort Bragg-based 3rd Special Forces Group whom he fought alongside.
“I was just one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I’m proud of how my team worked together that day and that I was able to do my job the way that I was trained to.”
Baradat and Miller are the eighth and ninth airmen to receive the Air Force Cross since Sept. 11, 2001.
All nine airmen have been part of the Special Tactics community. And five have come from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, which is the most decorated Air Force squadron in modern history.
On April 20, Baradat said he wished his old unit well.
“I hope that those guys are doing great,” he said. “I hope they all stay safe as they continue to do the work and continue the legacy of Air Force Special Tactics.”
Baradat spent roughly eight years in the Air Force, deploying three times to Afghanistan and once as part of a crisis response force in the Middle East.
In April 2013 he was part of a quick reaction force called to rescue 66 Afghan allies pinned down by fighters in the Sono Valley.
According to an account of the battle, Baradat and eight Special Forces soldiers went ahead of their convoy of armed vehicles, which were slowed by narrow and restrictive terrain.
About half a mile from the allies they were sent to rescue, the troops came under attack and sprinted the length of several football fields to reach safety in a small mud compound.
There, Baradat began to communicate with overhead aircraft to try to repel the attack.
Then, as they moved closer to their trapped allies and the intensity of the enemy fire increased, Baradat left his concealed position to better coordinate a counterattack.
Ignoring the warnings of his teammates, and with the help of six A-10s and two AC-130s, he cleared the way for members of the team to reach their allies and leave the valley, continuing to direct a counterattack as the convoy left.
Baradat is credited with destroying 50 enemies and 13 enemy fighting positions.
Speaking on April 20, Goldfein said Baradat and Miller represent “the finest traits America can ask of its warriors.”
“When lives are on the line, you move carefully and deliberately into harm’s way with the protection of others on the mind,” he said. “You do what others cannot or will not do. And you do it because it must be done. And because there is no one better.”
By April 1862, the American Civil War was a year old and neither side had the upper hand. The fighting was particularly brutal in Tennessee, a border state heavily divided between Union and Confederate sympathizers. Grant won a pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Shiloh in western Tennessee while Union operations in the eastern part of the state stalled.
One enterprising Union supporter — a civilian merchant, scout, and part-time spy, James J. Andrews — proposed a plan to Union Maj. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel that would cut off the supply lines to Chattanooga and allow Union forces to take the city. This would help Mitchel in his ultimate goal of cutting off Memphis from the Confederates.
The plan called for Andrews to lead a group of volunteers to Atlanta where they would steal a train and then race towards Chattanooga while laying waste to the railway, telegraph wires, and bridges.
Mitchel agreed to the audacious plan.
So Andrews gathered 22 volunteers from the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio regiments stationed in Nashville with Mitchel. He also recruited another civilian, William Hunter Campbell.
Andrews ordered his raiding party to arrive in Marietta, Georgia, by midnight on April 10th, 1862. They were to travel in small groups and wear civilian clothes. Bad weather caused a 24-hour delay and two members of the party were caught in transit. On the morning of April 12th, the rest of the raiders – minus two who overslept and missed the mission – boarded a train in Marietta.
It was one year to the day since the war had started.
The train stopped just outside of Marietta at Big Shanty (modern day Kennesaw) for fuel and to allow the passengers to eat breakfast. The town had no communication lines and couldn’t alert stations further down the track. While the others ate, Andrews and his team sprang into action. They uncoupled most of the cars leaving only three empty boxcars, the tender, and a locomotive called the General to make their escape.
As the train pulled away, The General‘s engineer and two other men ran after the train for two miles before commandeering a handcart and following the train on the rails.
As they went, the raiders cut telegraph lines and tore up tracks to slow down their pursuers and disrupt future travel.
But as the raiders crossed the Etowah River, Andrews made a potentially fatal decision. He and his men spotted another engine, the Yonah, on a spur track. One raider suggested they destroy the engine and burn the bridge over the river. Unwilling to start a fight, Andrews chose instead to continue on.
Although slowed by a missing rail, the General‘s engineer, William Fuller, was still in hot pursuit on a handcart when he came upon the Yonah. He commandeered it and continued the chase.
Andrews and his men continued cutting telegraph lines and disrupting train traffic. When they reached Kingston, Georgia, they ran into a large traffic jam. General Mitchel did not halt his advance to wait for the raiders, so trainloads of supplies and civilians were pouring out of Chattanooga, clogging the lines. This traffic jam cost the raiders an hour — with the still intact bridge across the Etowah River allowing their pursuers to catch up.
The General departed the station just as the Yonah arrived. Andrews’ raiders stopped to cut the telegraph lines and remove another section of track. During that time, Fuller and his party abandoned their train and took one that was ahead of the traffic jam at Kingston. They took off after the Union men but were stopped by the damaged track.
Abandoning their train again they continued to pursue the raiders on foot. They commandeered a southbound train called Texas butsince the Southerners didn’t have a turntable to change directions, Fuller ran the train in reverse. He also picked up a small group of Confederate soldiers to help retake the train.
In an effort to slow down their pursuers, the raiders uncoupled two of their three boxcars. When this didn’t work, they tried to use the last boxcar to burn a bridge. The car ignited but the bridge itself failed to catch. The increasingly desperate raiders watched as Fuller’s train pushed the burning boxcar off the bridge and continued the chase.
By this time the General was running out of wood and water to power its boiler. Unable to proceed with the planned destruction of Tunnel Hill – which would have completely shut down the line – Andrews ordered the train stopped and the raiders to scatter just 18 miles short of their goal at Chattanooga.
All the raiders, including the two men who overslept and missed the train, were captured within two weeks. Andrews, Campbell, and six Union soldiers were tried as spies and executed. The rest were interred in POW camps in the South.
Six of the raiders received the first Medals of Honor ever. Their exploits would come to be known as “the Great Locomotive Chase.”