In the early days of the U.S. Navy, boarding and capturing enemy vessels was common practice. As naval firepower increased, the practice became to sink the other ship rather than capture it. Then in 1944 with some daring actions–and a stroke of luck–the U.S. Navy captured a German U-boat, its first such accomplishment since the War of 1812.
The German U-boat, U-505, was known as a hard-luck case, though it could also be said that it was a boat that wouldn’t sink. On her fourth patrol of the war, a British Hudson bomber scored a direct hit in an attack run so low that the explosion caused the plane to crash as well. The captain gave the order to abandon ship but the technical crew insisted on staying aboard to save the vessel. After two weeks of repairs, the U-boat was able to limp back to Europe and had the honor of being the most heavily damaged submarine to ever return to port.
Despite numerous abortive cruises due to French saboteurs, U-505 finally sailed for another patrol; this time, however, it earned another dubious honor when her skipper became the first–and only–known submarine commander to crack and commit suicide while under attack.
Finally, in the spring of 1944, fully-repaired and under the command of a new captain, U-505set a course for the coast of West Africa for an 80-day war patrol.
Also heading towards West Africa during that time was Task Group 22.3, commanded by Captain Daniel Gallery from his flagship, the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal. Task Group 22.3 was employed as an anti-submarine Hunter-Killer group as part of the Battle of the Atlantic. Along with Guadalcanal the group also consisted of five destroyer escorts.
During Task Group 22.3’s second Hunter-Killer cruise, Captain Gallery had an important revelation. A long-running battle with U-515 ended when the U-boat was too heavily damaged to continue and surfaced so its crew could abandon ship. As the Germans abandoned ship, the task group blasted it until it finally sank. Gallery realized that if he had a trained boarding party ready they could quickly board a scuttled U-boat and save it from sinking. As the task force returned to port, Gallery began making preparations for just such an event during the next sortie.
On June 4, 1944, Task Group 22.3 found the perfect prey. As U-505 was returning from its war patrol, it inadvertently stumbled right into the middle of the task group. The sub tried to dive but the clear waters allowed the Guadalcanal’s aircraft to maintain visual contact and use their guns to mark the submarine’s location in the water. The task group’s destroyer escorts then moved in for the kill.
USS Chatelain began its attack by launching its Mark 4 Hedgehog anti-submarine weapon at the U-boat. When those failed to score a hit, Chatelainrepositioned and dropped a pattern of depth charges against the sub.
A U-505 surviving crewmember, Hans Goebeler remembered the attack vividly. “They really gave it to us,” he said. “The explosions were the biggest I ever heard.” The depth charges caused severe internal and external damage to the U-boat. With all hope seeming lost, the commander gave the order to surface and abandon ship–just as Gallery had anticipated.
As the sub came to the surface, the American ships and aircraft raked it with gunfire, hoping to quickly drive off the German sailors before they could properly scuttle the ship. The fire had the intended effect. The Americans killed one German and wounded two others as the rest of the crew quickly jumped overboard to escape the maelstrom of bullets.
Normally the American destroyer escorts would have moved in to finish off the U-boat and send it to Davy Jones’ Locker but Captain Gallery’s decision to try to capture a German submarine called for a different action. As the Germans fled the sinking sub, a nearby destroyer escort, the USS Pillsbury, launched a boarding party to rescue the stricken vessel. The other ships picked up their new German POWs.
Led by Lt. Albert David, the boarding party plunged through the conning tower and into the submarine. It was a race against time–the ship sinking beneath them was rigged with scuttling charges that could explode at any moment. The boarding party quickly found the open sea strainer, an 11-inch pipe pouring water into the submarine, and capped it. To their relief, the party found that in their haste to abandon ship, none of the Germans had taken the time to arm the scuttling charges. Most of the submarine was below the water with just the front portion and most of the conning tower still visible. The sub was hanging on by an air bubble in one of the dive tanks.
The boarding party quickly secured the biggest prize of all: U-505’s log books, charts, codes, and its Enigma machine. The ship was still in danger of sinking, however, and with little working knowledge of German submarines, the task of salvaging U-505 fell on the task group’s chief engineer, Commander Earl Trosino. As Gallery would later say when the situation was the most precarious, “thanks to Trosino’s uncanny instinct for finding the right valves, and his total disregard for his own safety, we succeeded in saving U-505.”
With the submarine secured, the task group took it under tow and headed for Bermuda. The intelligence gained from the capture of U-505 was invaluable. By maintaining strict secrecy of the operation, the Germans were never aware that the Americans had captured their U-boat intact with its precious cargo of information. The entire task group was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions. Lt. David was awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in leading the boarding party.
Outside of the Merrimack fighting the Monitor, the U.S. Navy doesn’t get a lot of attention when it comes to histories of the Civil War. But it deserves some. And maybe its finest moment came at the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay, where Adm. David Farragut forced his way through a Confederate minefield and fought the Confederate Navy to a standstill.
His victory over the last port on the Mississippi River completely cut the South off from moving cargo that could be sold abroad or importing critical weapons and supplies. It also helped secure an election victory for President Lincoln, ensuring the war would continue until the Federals won.
The enduring memory of the Navy at Mobile Bay is Adm. Farragut’s order, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” But if submarines weren’t exactly a common thing in 1864, what did he mean by that? The answer starts with his order to sail through the minefield.
Farragut was the U.S. Navy’s first Admiral – a Rear Admiral, to be exact – and after 53 years in uniform by that time, one could argue that he deserved the title. Mobile Bay was the Confederacy’s last port on the Gulf of Mexico, so taking it was critical to the North’s plan to cut the South off from the rest of the world. It would be no easy undertaking.
The harbor was defended by three forts that guarded the entrance to the bay, as well as three smaller gunboats, the ironclad CSS Tennessee, and a large minefield made up of what was then called “torpedoes.”
During the Civil War, underwater mines were referred to as “torpedoes” after the seagoing electric ray, known then as a torpedo fish, that could deliver electric shocks. Civil War-era mines were often modified beer barrels filled with gunpowder. If they stayed in the water too long, they could get waterlogged, and the gunpowder rendered useless.
Farragut was attacking the defenders with 18 ships of many different types. Some were wooden hulls, others were ironclads, a mix of sail and steamships. When the flotilla steamed into Mobile harbor on August 5, 1864, the Confederate ships took positions just beyond the minefield.
Leading the charge was the USS Tecumseh, an ironclad monitor which was ordered to stay east of the minefield. For whatever reason, the Tecumseh ran right into the minefield and was immediately struck by a torpedo. The ship sank in just two minutes, and so did the hearts of the Union sailors. But Farragut wasn’t deterred. He ordered the fleet to continue sailing.
Farragut had been in Navy uniform since he was nine years old and he knew a thing or two about naval combat, whether it was sails or steam, iron or wood. When he ordered his ships to sail into the minefield, he knew two things many others may not have. The first is that the torpedoes were marked by floating black buoys. Their intent wasn’t necessarily to sink ships, it was to steer them closer to the guns of the coastal defenses.
Secondly, even though the torpedoes had just sunk the Tecumseh, he knew that they had been submerged for so long that they were likely going to be ineffective in the fighting. The crew did hear the sound of barrels hitting their hulls, but as Farragut predicted, they did not explode.
During the crossing of the minefield, Farragut had lashed himself in the upper rigging of the USS Hartford, so that he could better see the fighting unobscured by the smoke of the battlefield. Farragut didn’t give his now-famous order until after the Tecumseh sank (if he did at all).
According to lore, Farragut noticed the USS Brooklyn slow as it approached the remains of the Tecumseh, apparently hesitant to enter the minefield. That’s when Farragut shouted the famous phrase, “”Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” which later, through a historical game of telephone, became, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
The latter is likely just easier for landlubbers to understand.
Farragut’s order was successful and the Union Navy hit the gunboats and the CSS Tennessee so much that they all struck their colors eventually. It was still a gamble for the admiral, however. Not all of the mines had become waterlogged. When clearing the minefield the next day, one exploded, killing some of the sailors sent to clear them.
The Roman Empire had one of the best militaries of ancient times. It steamrolled over the Carthaginians, Greeks, Egyptians, Gauls, more than held their own against many other forces for centuries.
So, how did the world’s most powerful government organize its deadly legions? Well, it started with a group of eight men known as a contubernium – which was a little smaller than a typical infantry squad (usually nine personnel). Ten contuberniums, plus the command staff, formed a century of 85 men.
Six centuries – about 540 men – made up a cohort. This unit was roughly the size of a present-day infantry battalion. Ten cohorts, plus attachments including a force of cavalry, made a legion of about 6,000 men, roughly the size of a brigade.
The legions were the largest force in the Roman military. Only citizens could serve in the legions but the Roman military also had cohorts of auxiliaries which allowed non-citzens to serve in the Roman army.
These auxiliaries were usually slingers, archers, and additional cavalry. Many Roman citizens, who had to provide their own equipment, served as infantry.
After 25 years of service in the Roman army, legionnaires and auxiliaries could look forward to a generous retirement. Those who weren’t citizens gained Roman citizenship and all that meant, plus a plot of land and a generous retirement bonus.
Jimmy Ward was a 22-year-old pilot when he received the Victoria Cross. World War II had been ongoing for a year and the British Empire stood alone against Axis-occupied Europe. Things looked grim as a whole, but small time pilots with stories like Sgt. Ward’s added up to a lot in the end.
The New Zealander was flying with his crew back from a raid on Münster, in northeast Germany. The resistance was light; there were few search lights and minimal flak. He was the second pilot, positioned in the astrodome of his Wellington bomber when an enemy interceptor came screaming at them, guns blazing.
An attacking Messerschmitt 110 was shot down by the rear gunner before it could take down the plane, but the damage was done. Red-hot shrapnel tore through the airframe, the starboard engine, and the hydraulic system. A fire suddenly broke out on the starboard wing, fed by a fuel line.
After putting on their chutes in case they had to bail, the crew started desperately fighting the fire. They tore a hole in the fuselage near the fire so they could get at the fire. They threw everything they had at it, including the coffee from their flasks.
By this time, the plane reached the coastline of continental Europe. They had to decide if they were going to try to cross over to England or go down with the plane in Nazi-occupied Holland. They went for home, preferring a dip in the channel to a Nazi prison camp.
That’s when Sgt. James Ward realized he might be able to reach the fire and put it out by hand. His crewmates tied him to the airplane as he crawled out through the astrodome and tore holes in the plane’s fuselage to use as hand holds as he made his way to the fire on the wing.
He moved four feet onto the wing, avoiding being lifted away by the air current or rotor slipstream and being burned by the flaming gas jet he was trying to put out. He only had one hand free to work with because the other was holding on for dear life.
Ward smothered the fire on the fuel pipe using the canvas cockpit cover. As soon as he finished, the slipstream tore it from his hands. He just couldn’t hold on any longer.
With the fire out, there was nothing left to do but try to get back inside. Using the rope that kept him attached to the aircraft he turned around and moved to get back to the astrodome. Exhausted, his mates had to pull him the rest of the way in. The fire flared up a little when they reached England, but died right out.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill personally awarded Sgt. Ward the Victoria Cross a month later.
“I can’t explain it, but there was no sort of real sensation of danger out there at all,” Ward later said. “It was just a matter of doing one thing after another and that’s about all there was to it.”
A Rasmussen poll released at the end of June 2018 revealed a fear among voters that political violence is on the rise, with one in three concerned a second US Civil War is on the horizon. The poll was conducted among likely American voters who were asked via telephone and online survey how likely that war would be.
The poll also revealed that 59 percent of voters are fearful that those opposed to President Trump will resort to violence to advance their cause and another 33 percent were very concerned. A similar poll was conducted in the second year of Barack Obama’s presidency that revealed similar fears in similar numbers.
The difference this time around lies in the recent public confrontations of Trump Administration officials, something neither Obama nor Bush officials faced during their Presidents’ tenures. Media outlets posture that the public pressure is backlash from this administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy that pulled migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
By no means did civility rule the day for Obama officials. By this time in President Obama’s presidency, South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson interrupted the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress with a shout of, “You lie!” The heretofore unheard of interruption earned him a public rebuke in the House, and also led to his constituents chanting the same at him less than a decade later.
Obama’s first two years as President dealt largely with the global financial crisis of 2008, automaker bailouts, and financial regulations. As the Brookings Institution points out, no one in power thrives when the economy suffers and the Democrats lost their Congressional majority in the 2010 midterms.
A Second American Civil War would not be as clean cut as the pro-slavery vs. anti-slavery arguments or the federal authority vs. states’ rights arguments of the actual Civil War. The United States is now almost three times the size it was in the 1860s and belief systems and population are very different than they were back then. The issues facing the country are also much different, separated by more than 150 years.
The solution to this is to simply let your vote speak for your beliefs instead of your fists, or worse, a weapon. The peaceful transition of power ensures American democracy will endure, no matter who wins in 2020. The only Civil War sequel America needs is another Captain America movie.
The Battle of the Frontiers, as it would come to be known, began in August, 1914, but historians disagree about the exact date on which it started in earnest. Basically, the French forces mobilized in early August to arrest Germany’s quick progress westward, setting off a series of smaller clashes as the armies maneuvered for position.
By August 22, France’s armies were in position and the command wanted to push forward, always advancing. A general assault was ordered, and French forces pressed against their German counterparts in fifteen distinct locations. French forces attempted to use old-war tactics in a new, industrialized state of war, and it didn’t go better for France than for anyone else in World War I.
French troops tried to force wedges between German armies that had machine guns in defensive positions, tried to conduct bayonet charges against enemies behind cover, and kept sending wave after wave of troops when the first few attacks didn’t work.
Possibly the fiercest of the fighting came at Rossignole when the French 3rd Colonial Infantry Division ran into the entire German 6th Army Corps. The French forces fought bravely with officers leading from the front, but outnumbered and in dire straits, the division was whittled down to virtually nothing.
Of the division’s three generals, two were killed and one was injured and captured. The commanding general, thought to have gone mad during the battle, simply waded into the worst of the fighting until he was shot dead. Some of the division’s units lost all but a handful of their officers, and the more conservative estimates for French soldiers killed at Rossignole say up to 7,000 perished. Some estimates are 50 percent higher.
But while Rossignole was fierce, Charleroi to the north was nearly as contested and featured much larger groups of men, resulting in even more casualties. France’s 15 divisions at the Charleroi were reinforced by three from Britain, and higher headquarters thought it was a sufficient force to pit against a suspected 18 German divisions.
Because of the French belief at the time that it was always better to be on offense, they sent division after division into the meat grinder. Thousands more Frenchmen, as well as large numbers of British and German troops, were lost in the bitter fighting.
In all, the Battles of the Frontiers resulted in over half a million casualties in a single month of fighting. The painful lessons learned would all too slowly cause both sides to rethink their tactics and strategy, but years of trench fighting and pointless cavalry charges and bayonet assaults against machine guns would be needed before truly modern tactics were adopted across the board.
Unfortunately for those who sacrificed their lives for France in that bloody month, the large collection of smaller battles are mostly forgotten when held up next to gargantuan fights, like the Battle of the Somme, where over a million men were killed, wounded, and captured in just under five months of fighting.
Of course, there are some ancient battles where larger numbers of troops were reported killed in a day or a few days of fighting, but the numbers are not always considered reliable. One day of battle, which may have been even larger and more deadly than August 22, 1914, was the day in 216 B.C. when Carthage and Rome fought the Battle of Cannae. There, Hannibal managed to encircle a much larger Roman force and kill nearly all of its troops.
Carthage reportedly lost as many as 6,000 men while the Romans, if the reports are accurate, lost over 50,000, who were either killed or committed suicide on the battlefield.
Gemini 3 was the first American space mission to be crewed by more than one astronaut. Gemini 3 performed the first orbital maneuver ever by shifting its orbit mid-flight. This breakthrough performance also showed that a re-entry vehicle could change its touchdown point. What it will be remembered for in the annals of NASA history, however, is a corned-beef sandwich.
For just shy of five hours, the Gemini 3 mission experienced very few setbacks — none of them major. From the takeoff aboard a Titan-II Rocket to the capsule’s recovery by the USS Intrepid, the crew would tell you it was a very smooth, well-run mission. The 89th U.S. Congress, however, had a different opinion.
The crew of Gemini 3. Not pictured: pocket sandwich.
Strangely enough, one of Gemini 3’s other mission requirements was to test space food in the capsule — specific food, not just whatever food the astronauts wanted to bring. The mission took five hours, but the non-rated food incident lasted less than a minute. The two astronauts were working in the capsule when pilot John Young, who was on his first spaceflight, pulled out a corned-beef sandwich.
“I was concentrating on our spacecraft’s performance, when suddenly, John asked me, ‘You care for a corned-beef sandwich, skipper?'” Grissom later recounted. “If I could have fallen out of my couch, I would have. Sure enough, he was holding an honest-to-john corned-beef sandwich.”
“Where did that come from?” Grissom asked. Corned-beef sandwiches were his favorite. “I brought it with me,” Young answered. “Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?” The smell of corned beef did indeed fill the spacecraft. The astronaut picked up the sandwich from a local deli called Wolfie’s inside the nearby Ramada Inn in Cocoa Beach. Wally Schirra gave the sandwich to Young, who stowed it away in a pocket in his spacesuit.
Grissom took a bite, but the sandwich was not holding its integrity in zero gravity. The astronauts opted to put the sandwich away. Young admitted that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to bring the sandwich into low earth orbit. Grissom told him the sandwich was “pretty good, if it would just hold together.” With crumbs of rye bread floating around the cabin, the crew continued their mission.
“It didn’t even have mustard on it,” Young wrote. “And no pickle.”
While mission control at NASA and Young’s superiors were less-than-thrilled with the smuggled sandwich, the rest of the mission went ahead as planned and though the two were given slaps on the wrists and told, in no uncertain terms, that non-man-rated corned-beef sandwiches were out for future space missions, nothing more was really thought of it.
Until Congress stepped in.
Vietnam, civil rights, and corned beef.
It was the height of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Gemini 3 was supposed to be the first orbital mission ever to have more than one astronaut, but the Soviets had beaten NASA to the punch by a week — when it launched the Voskhod 2 mission. Regardless, the United States was behind in the race and the costly program was under close scrutiny.
The House Appropriations Committee began a full review of the incident, concerned that those rye crumbs were a serious threat to the safe operation of the spacecraft. It’s true that the greasy crumbs could have played havoc on the craft’s electronics and computer systems. The sandwich was nicknamed the “-million sandwich.”
A replica of the million sandwich.
(Grissom Memorial Museum)
Congress thought the astronauts were ignoring the space food they were sent to evaluate and were wasting taxpayer money. John Young later wrote that he didn’t think it was that big of a deal and that it was common to carry sandwiches aboard. The offending corned-beef sandwich wasn’t even the first smuggled sandwich — it was the third. These days, astronauts make sandwiches in space all the time, they just use ingredients that keep the crumbs to a minimum.
What they were supposed to be eating.
Young commanded the first space shuttle mission in 1981. And carried aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia was a menu that included corned beef. The smuggled sandwich itself is lost to history, but a good likeness of the original can be found preserved in acrylic at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Mitchell, Indiana.
Sen. John McCain, a giant of American politics who died on Aug. 25, 2018, at 81, was perhaps most profoundly shaped by his military service and more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.
And McCain’s survival through years of nearly fatal torture and hardship in the Hanoi prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton” was made more impressive by his refusal to be repatriated before the release of all the American POWs captured before him.
President Donald Trump, whom McCain criticized extensively, has repeatedly disparaged McCain’s military service, suggesting at a rally in July 2015 that the senator didn’t deserve the title of war hero.
“He was a war hero because he was captured,” said Trump, then a Republican presidential candidate. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
But McCain’s military service and suffering have made him as something of an anomaly in American political history, and a hero in the eyes of many.
McCain was offered an early release — but he refused it
A graduate of the US Naval Academy, McCain followed his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals, into the Navy, where he served as a bomber pilot in the Vietnam War.
On Oct. 26, 1967, when McCain was a US Navy lieutenant commander, his Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down over Hanoi. Shattering his leg and both arms during his ejection from the fighter plane, McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese and spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war.
Lieutenant McCain (front right) with his squadron and T-2 Buckeye trainer, 1965.
(US Navy photo)
Less than a year into McCain’s imprisonment, his father was named commander of US forces in the Pacific, and the North Vietnamese saw an opportunity for leverage by offering the younger McCain’s release — what would have been both a propaganda victory and a way to demoralize other American POWs.
But McCain refused, sticking to the POW code of conduct that says troops must accept release in the order in which they are captured.
“I knew that every prisoner the Vietnamese tried to break, those who had arrived before me and those who would come after me, would be taunted with the story of how an admiral’s son had gone home early, a lucky beneficiary of America’s class-conscious society,” McCain later recalled.
The North Vietnamese reacted with fury and escalated McCain’s torture.
‘Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.’
McCain soon reached what he would later describe as his lowest point in Vietnam, and after surviving intense beatings and two suicide attempts, he signed a “confession” to war crimes written by his captors.
“I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine,” McCain wrote in a first-person account published in US News World Report in May 1973.
For the next two weeks, McCain was allowed to recover from his debilitating injuries — a period he later described as the worst in his life.
“I was ashamed,” he wrote in his 1999 memoir, “Faith of My Fathers.” “I shook, as if my disgrace were a fever.”
For the next several years, the high-profile POW was subjected to prolonged brutal treatment and spent two years in solitary confinement in a windowless 10-by-10-foot cell.
President Richard Nixon Greets Former Vietnam Prisoner of War John McCain, Jr. at a Pre-POW Dinner Reception,1973.
McCain’s courage bolstered his political bona fides
In March 1973, two months after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, McCain and his fellow prisoners were released in the order in which they were captured. An emaciated 36-year-old with a head of white hair, McCain returned home to continue his service in the Navy.
McCain retired from the Navy in 1981, moved to Arizona, and began his political career in the Republican Party, serving two terms in the House of Representatives. In 1986, he won a landslide election to the Senate, where he served for 30 years, during which time he launched two unsuccessful presidential bids.
McCain’s courage during his brutal captivity bolstered his political bona fides. As David Foster Wallace wrote in a profile of McCain in 2000, when he was a presidential candidate, the former Navy captain commanded the kind of moral authority and authentic patriotism that eludes the average politician.
“Try to imagine that moment between getting offered early release and turning it down,” Wallace wrote of McCain’s decision to remain in Vietnamese captivity. “Try to imagine it was you. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would have cried out to you in that moment, and all the ways you could rationalize accepting the offer. Can you hear it? If so, would you have refused to go?”
McCain, a military hawk, forever remained a staunch supporter of the Vietnam War, during which 58,000 Americans and nearly 3 million Vietnamese were killed. But he worked closely with John Kerry, a Democrat and fellow Vietnam veteran who advocated against the war, to normalize relations between the US and Vietnam in the 1990s, bringing the devastating conflict to a close.
Amanda Macias contributed to this report.
Featured image: Lieutenant Commander McCain being interviewed after his return from Vietnam, April 1973.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It’s African-American History Month and a fitting time to recall the black soldiers of the New York National Guard’s 15th Infantry Regiment, who never got a parade when they left for World War I in 1917.
There were New York City parades for the Guardsmen of the 27th Division and the 42nd Division and the draftee soldiers of the 77th Division.
But when the commander of the 15th Infantry asked to march with the 42nd — nicknamed the Rainbow Division — he was reportedly told that “black is not a color of the rainbow” as part of the no.
Children wait to cheer the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment as they parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home. More than 2,000 Soldiers took part in the parade up Fifth Avenue. The Soldiers marched seven miles from downtown Manhattan to Harlem.
But on Feb. 17, 1919, when those 2,900 soldiers came home as the “Harlem Hell Fighters” of the 369th Infantry Regiment, New York City residents, both white and black, packed the streets as they paraded up Fifth Avenue.
“Fifth Avenue Cheers Negro Veterans,” said the headline in the New York Times.
“Men of 369th back from fields of valor acclaimed by thousands. Fine show of discipline. Harlem mad with joy over the return of its own. ‘Black Death hailed as conquering hero'” headlines announced, descending the newspaper column, in the style of the day.
“Hayward leads heroic 369th in triumphal march,” the New York Sun wrote.
“Throngs pay tribute to the Heroic 15th,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.
“Theirs is the finest of records,” the New York Tribune wrote in its coverage of the parade. “The entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Under fire for 191 days they never lost a prisoner or a foot of ground.”
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
For that day, the soldiers the French had nicknamed “Men of Bronze” were finally heroes in their hometown.
In the early 20th Century, black Americans could not join the New York National Guard. While there were African-American regiments in the Army there were none in the New York National Guard.
In 1916, New York Gov. Charles S. Whitman authorized the creation of the 15th New York Infantry to be manned by African-Americans — with white officers — and headquartered in Harlem where 50,000 of the 60,000 black residents of Manhattan lived in 1910.
When the New York National Guard went to war in 1917, so did the 15th New York. But when the unit showed up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to train, the soldiers met discrimination at every turn.
New York City residents cram the sidewalks, roofs, and fire escape to see the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
To get his men out of South Carolina, Col. William Hayward, the commander, pushed for his unit to go to France as soon as possible. So in December 1917, well before most American soldiers, the men from Harlem arrived in France.
At first they served unloading supply ships.
But the French Army needed soldiers and the U.S. Army was ambivalent about black troops. So the 15th New York, now renamed the 369th Infantry, was sent to fight under French command, solving a problem for both armies.
In March 1918, the 369th was in combat. And while the American commander, Gen. John J. Pershing, restricted press reports on soldiers and units under his command, the French Army did not.
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
When Pvt. Henry Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts won the French Croix de Guerre for fighting off a German patrol it was big news in the United States. A country hungry for war news and American heroes discovered the 369th.
The 369th was in combat for 191 days; never losing a position, never losing a man as a prisoner, and only failing once to gain an objective. Their unit band, led by famed bandleader James Europe, became famous across France for playing jazz music.
When the 369th arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Feb. 10, 1919, the New York City Mayor’s Committee of Welcome to the Homecoming Troops began planning the party.
On Monday, Feb. 17, the soldiers traveled by ferry from Long Island and landed at East 34th Street.
Sgt. Henry Johnson waves to well-wishers during the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
They marched up Fifth Avenue and passed a reviewing stand that included Gov. Al Smith and Mayor John Hylan at Sixtieth Street. The official parade route would cover more than seven miles from 23rd Street to 145th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem.
“The negro soldiers were astonished at the hundreds of thousands who turned out to see them and New Yorkers, in their turn, were mightily impressed by the magnificent appearance of these fighting men,” the New York times reported.
“Swinging up the avenue, keeping a step spring with the swagger of men proud of themselves and their organization, their rows of bayonets glancing in the sun, dull-painted steel basins on their heads, they made a spectacle that might justify pity for the Germans and explain why the boches gave them the title of the “Blutdurstig schwartze manner” or “Bloodthirsty Black men,” the Times reporter wrote.
Wounded Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment are driven up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
Lt. James Reese Europe marched with his band, the New York Tribune noted, while Sgt. Henry Johnson, who had killed four Germans and chased away 24 others, rode in a car because he had a “silver plate in his foot as a relic of that memorable occasion.”
“He stood up in the car and clutched a great bouquet of lilies an admirer had handed him,” the Tribune wrote about Johnson. “Waving this offering in one hand and his overseas hat in the other, the ebony hero’s way up Fifth Avenue was a veritable triumph.”
“Shouts of ‘Oh you Henry Johnson’ and ‘Oh you Black Death,’ resounded every few feet for seven long miles followed by condolences for the Kaiser’s men,” the New York Times reported.
Along the route of the march soldiers were tossed candy and cigarettes and flowers, the newspapers noted. Millionaire Henry Frick stood on the steps of his Fifth Avenue mansion and waved an American flag and cheered as the men marched past.
When the 369th turned off Fifth Avenue onto Lennox Avenue for the march into Harlem the welcome grew even louder, the New York Sun reported.
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
“There were roars of welcome that made all the music of the day shrink into itself,” the Sun reporter wrote. And although the 369th Band had 100 musicians nobody could hear the music above the crowd noise, the reporter added.
People crammed themselves onto the sidewalk and into the windows of the buildings along the route to see their soldiers come home.
“Thousands and thousands of rattlesnakes, the emblem of the 369th, each snake coiled, ready to strike, appeared everywhere, in buttonholes, in shop windows and on banners carried by the crowd,” the New York Times reported.
“By the time the men reached 135th Street they were decorated with flowers like brides, husky black doughboys plunking along with bouquets under their arms and grins on their faces that one could see to read by,” the Sun reported.
At 145th Street the parade came to its end and families went looking for their soldiers.
“The fathers and mothers and wives and sweethearts of the men would no longer be denied and they swooped through police lines like water through a sieve,” the Sun wrote.
“The soldiers were too well trained to break ranks but when a mother spied her son and threw her arms around his neck with joy at getting him back again, he just hugged her off her feet,” the paper wrote.
The color guard of the 369th Infantry Regiment parades up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.
With the parade over, the men were guided into subway cars and headed to the Park Avenue Amory, home of the 71st Regiment, for a chicken dinner and more socializing. The regimental band, which had begun playing at 6 a.m. and performed all day, finally got a break during the dinner and the men lay down to rest.
The New York Times noted that the band boasted five kettle drums presented to the unit by the French Army “as a mark of esteem.” They also had a drum captured from a German unit that had been “driven back so rapidly that they lost interest in bulky impedimentia.”
The New York Times estimated that 10,000 people waited outside the armory and “all the spaces about the Armory were packed with negro women and girls.” The soldiers inside ate quickly and came back out to find their families.
“I saw the allied parade in Paris and thought that was about the biggest thing that had ever happened, but this had it stopped,” Lt. James Reese Europe, the band’s commander, told the New York Sun reporter as the party ran down.
The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.
Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.
Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.
The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.
As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.
The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.
The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.
As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.
An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.
“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”
As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.
He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.
“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”
Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.
From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.
“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.
There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.
“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”
The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.
When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.
It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.
At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.
“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”
Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.
Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”
“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”
They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.
At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.
Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.
“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”
With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.
Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.
Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.
“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”
But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”
Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.
The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.
Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.
“Are you serious?” Russell replied.
Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.
Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.
As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.
“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.
Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.
“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.
Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.
As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.
“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.
But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”
Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.
“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.
Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.
“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.
He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.
Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.
“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.
The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.
During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.
Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.
That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.
Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.
“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”
Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.
Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.
Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.
One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.
Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.
“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.
Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”
Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.
The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.
“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”
The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.
Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.
Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.
Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.
Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.
After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.
“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.
The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.
Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.
“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”
The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.
The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.
“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.
He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.
Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.
Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.
As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.
Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.
Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.
As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.
The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.
Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.
Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.
“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.
The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.
“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”
Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.
As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.
“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.
When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.
“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.
Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.
Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.
The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:
Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature
Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby
Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles
Major Stephen C. Reich
Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach
Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III
Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.
The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.
Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.
Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.
The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.
Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.
For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.
Farrier (Hardy) sets his plane on fire to keep it out of German hands. (Credit to Warner Bros. Pictures)
The pilot checks his watch and does another calculation. The fuel gauge on his Spitfire had been shot out by a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, and he was reduced to estimating his remaining fuel level with quick arithmetic. As he approaches the Dunkirk coast, the engine begins to sputter and the prop slows to a lethargic, useless spin. Now gliding, the pilot spots a German Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber making a dive on the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force troops attempting to evacuate below. He lines up his gunsight and lets out a burst of fire from his .303 Browning machine guns, sending the smoking Stuka into the water.
The men on the ground cheer and wave at their airborne savior as he glides his Spitfire over the beach. Once he is clear of the British beachhead, the pilot lowers his flaps for landing. The landing gear release lever malfunctions and he is forced to manually crank his landing gear down as the beach below him grows closer and closer. He skillfully sets the Spitfire down on the beach with no bumps or bounces—a perfect landing under any circumstances. After setting fire to his plane, the pilot reflects on his long day of fighting before he is captured by German troops.
This account follows the story of an RAF Spitfire pilot named Farrier, played by Tom Hardy, in the 2017 Warner Bros. film Dunkirk. Written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk tells the suspenseful story of the British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. What most people don’t know is that Farrier’s actions depicted in the film are based on the real-life exploits of New Zealand fighter ace Alan Deere.
Deere was born in Westport, New Zealand in 1917. During his school years, he excelled in sports and took up rugby, cricket, and boxing. After school, he convinced his mother to sign an “Under 21” form, allowing him to join the RAF at the age of 20. Deere moved to England in 1937 to begin his flight training. After graduating flight school, Deere was assigned to No. 54 Squadron and flew the Gloster Gladiator before converting to the Supermarine Spitfire in March 1939.
During Operation Dynamo, the BEF evacuation at Dunkirk that began on May 26, No. 54 flew several sorties every day to provide air cover over Dunkirk and the English Channel. On May 27, Deere destroyed a Junkers Ju 88 bomber that was attacking a hospital ship, much like Farrier did in the film. The intense aerial combat and high operational tempo of Dynamo meant that, by May 28, No. 54 Squadron had been attrited to just eight serviceable aircraft.
Deere led the squadron on a dawn patrol, Deere spotted a German Dornier Do 17 bomber. He split off a section of his patrol to engage the enemy aircraft. During his attack on the Do 17, Deere’s Spitfire was hit by machine gun fire from the bomber’s rear gunner. He was forced to make an emergency landing to the east on a Belgian beach, during which he was knocked unconscious. After he came to, Deere torched his plane and made his way into a nearby town where he received first aid and hitched ride on a British Army truck back to Dunkirk. During the boat ride back to England, Deere received harsh words and criticism about the RAF’s fighter cover from the BEF soldiers (this experience was portrayed in the story of a different RAF pilot in the film).
After the Battle of France, Deere flew during the Battle of Britain and the Invasion of Normandy. During the war, Deere scored 22 aerial victories, 10 probable kills, and damaged 18 enemy aircraft. He became a quadruple ace and the second highest scoring New Zealand fighter pilot in history. For his contributions during the war, Deere was awarded two British Distinguished Flying Crosses, the American Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, the British Distinguished Service Order, and appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Deere’s military career also brought him numerous near death experiences, including having his Spitfire’s wing shot off, and a head-on engagement with a Bf 109 which resulted in an aerial collision and another glide to an emergency landing. Befitting an unkillable man like Deere, his autobiography is titled Nine Lives.
After the war, Deere continued to serve in the RAF and achieved the rank of Air Commodore before retiring in 1967. He returned to his boyhood passion of athletics and became the RAF’s Director of Sport as a civilian. During his later years, Deere suffered from cancer. He died on September 21, 1995. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the River Thames from a Spitfire.
Memorabilia from Deere’s military career, including medals, trophies, and even the engine from one of his Spitfires, are on display at museums in both Britain and New Zealand. Perhaps his best tribute, however, is a restored Spitfire Mk IX bearing his markings when he served as a Wing Commander during the war. The Spitfire was restored by Deere’s nephew, Brendon Deere, and is flown at air shows in New Zealand.
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.
Wars are generally long, bloody, and horrible affairs that everyone is anxious to wrap up so that everyone can go back home.
But for some reason, there have been wars that don’t end on time. Here are four times that the U.S. found itself in a battle after the war it was fighting was technically already over:
1. The Battle of New Orleans propels Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to nationwide fame after the War of 1812
The War of 1812 officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent on Dec. 24, 1814, but Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson repelled an attack on Jan. 8, 1815, by approximately 8,000 British regulars who hadn’t yet heard about the treaty. Jackson’s defense of the city inflicted 2,000 casualties — including three generals and seven colonels — on the British and made Jackson an American hero.
2. American Gen. Sterling Price fought an extra battle in Mexico because he didn’t believe the peace news
American Gen. Sterling Price had orders to hold and defend southern New Mexico near the end of the Mexican-American War — orders that he ignored to attack the city of Chihuahua in early 1848. When he arrived at the city, a group of citizens told him that the garrison had withdrawn from the town to avoid bloodshed as the war had ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the previous month.
Price basically wrote the treaty off as fake news and just assaulted south anyway, catching up to the Mexican forces at the city of Santa Cruz de Rosales. The Mexican commander attempted to defend the town, repelling attacks from the north and west but falling to a thrust from the south.
3. The Battle of Palmito Ranch may have been a colonel trying to pop his combat cherry before the war ended
While there was no official peace treaty ending the Civil War, everyone had pretty much agreed it was over by May 1865. Lincoln was dead, the Confederate cabinet was scattered, and the War Department was getting ready to release most of the Union Army from the service.
But Union Col. Theodore H. Barrett found himself occupying an island near Confederate forces who were slowly negotiating a surrender with a major general. Rather than let those negotiations play out, Barrett led his regiment against the Confederate forces despite the fact that he had no combat experience and no orders to do so.
The blow-by-blow of the battle is farcical where it isn’t boring, but it basically amounts to a useless Union defeat at the hands of barely interested rebels and some French soldiers who were stationed in Mexico just across the river. Barrett later claimed the defeat was the fault of another colonel, but a court martial supported no charges against the other officer.
4. The last troops to die in the Vietnam War fought weeks after the war ended and two years after America withdrew
While the American involvement in the Vietnam War officially ended with the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the actual war drew on for another two years until South Vietnam surrendered to Communist North Vietnam on April 30, 1975.
The operation suffered from a lack of intelligence and the Marines hit the wrong island, one that was being guarded by 150 to 200 dug-in fighters when the Marines expected light resistance. America lost 41 Marines and airmen killed and wounded, but recovered the ship and the crew.