The name Giora Epstein might not ring a bell at first, but it is one you should know.
After all, he is the top-scoring jet ace of all time.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces web site, Epstein has 17 confirmed kills. The Jewish Virtual Library breaks them down as follows: two were MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters; one was a Mi-8 “Hip” helicopter; three were Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack planes; two were Su-20 “Fitter” attack planes; and nine were MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters.
The site notes that Epstein’s first five kills were in the Mirage III, the rest in the Nesher (a “pirated” Mirage 5).
Eight of those kills came over two days during the Yom Kippur War.
It is an impressive total. To make it even more impressive, Epstein, who flew until 1997, was skunked in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot of June, 1982.
Perhaps his most impressive aerial feat was when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-v-11 dogfight against Egyptian MiG-21s. According to the “Desert Aces” episode of the series “Dogfights,” Epstein’s flight of four Nesher fighters was jumped by over a dozen MiG-21s, just after Epstein shot down one of two Fishbeds that had drawn the assignment of being the decoy pair.
Epstein’s wingman shot down one MiG, but his engine was damaged by the exhaust from his Shafrir-2 air-to-air missile. Another of Epstein’s flight ran low on fuel, and headed back to base, while another of the Nesher pilots chased a MiG out of the main dogfight.
That left Epstein alone against 11 Fishbeds. It was not a fair fight… for the MiGs.
Epstein shot down the lead MiG of the decoy pair, then managed to outduel the other five pairs of MiG-21s shooting two of the Fishbeds down. When he returned to base, having scored four kills that day, ground crew had to lift him from the plane. Four days later, Epstein bagged three more Fishbeds, giving him 11 kills in less than a week.
If a bad guy wants to mess with someone, they should probably make sure that someone is not a Gurkha. Gurkha are a legendary class of Nepalese warriors whose lineage dates back to the Middle Ages. Gurkhas fought first against the British during the colonial era, and the Brits were so impressed by their ability in combat, they decided to enlist them in their military efforts.
They’ve been with the British since the days of the British East India company, through to World War II, and even through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their distinctive knife, the Khukuri, is symbolic of their heroism, bravery, and skill in combat.
A true testament to the ability of these renowned Nepalese warriors is praise for their prowess from friend and foe alike. Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, once stated “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Prince Charles once said, “In the world there is only one secure place, that’s when you are between Gurkhas.” Osama bin Laden once claimed he would “eat Americans alive” if he had Gurkhas on his side. Adolf Hitler said of them, “If I had Gurkhas, no armies in the world would defeat me.”
On Sep. 2, 2010, when Bishnu Prasad Shrestha was returning home after a voluntary retirement from the Indian Army, the train incident happened. At around midnight on the Maurya Express train from Ranchi to Gorakhpur, 40 armed bandits boarded the train and started looting the passengers. He allowed himself to be robbed by the gun- and knife-toting train robbers. When they soon began to mess with an 18-year-old girl in front of her parents, who were watching helplessly, he couldn’t sit down any longer. Shrestha lost it.
He took out his Khukuri and fought the entire group of 40 robbers single-handedly, killing three of them and injuring eight others. The rest fled. After the incident, he explained:
“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers. They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn’t fire. The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister.’ I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister.
During the fight, he took a serious knife wound on his left hand and the girl took a small cut on her neck. He was able to recover what the bandits stole, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops, a significant amount of jewelry, and nearly $10,000 in cash.
When the intended rape victim’s family offered him a large cash reward, he refused it, saying:
“Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier. Taking on the thugs on the train was my duty as a human being.”
Bishnu Prasad Shrestha held himself to the traditions of his Gurkha regiment and training. Today, Gurkhas fight with British, American, Indian, Nepalese, and Malaysian forces all over the world. After their service ends, they usually return to Nepal to become subsistence farmers. In 2009, the United Kingdom granted pensions at settlement rights to any Gurkha who served the UK for at least four years.
Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared Nepalese warriors.
Just before the climax of Top Gun — during which Iceman, Maverick, and their comrades have to provide cover for a rescue mission — there’s a moment where the hard-driven CAG (played by James Tolkan) lays out the situation. Despite some Hollywood liberties, the commander’s briefing is somewhat grounded in reality — but the real thing is much more complex.
When the Navy or Air Force sends planes to hit a target, it’s not as simple as just grabbing some bombs, loading ’em up, and going to blow up the target. No, executing a flawless, effective air strike takes planning.
You see, you’re not just planning a route and target for the strike planes. You’re actually putting together a package to deal with the enemy target and anything protecting it and, throughout the process, you need to make sure your assets remain safe. So, that means sending proper escorts, too. If you want to know what happens when strike planes go in without proper escorts… well, Torpedo Squadron 8 is what happens.
An operations airman helps Indian Air Force pilots complete a mission brief prior to a scheduled sortie. Briefings make sure everyone is on the same page.
(USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Cassandra Whitman)
For instance, let’s say there’s a bridge you want gone. This hypothetical bridge is defended by a couple of ZSU-23 self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and a battery of S-60 anti-aircraft guns. A battery of SA-11 Gadfly missiles are in the area as well. And, for good measure, let’s say there are MiG-29 Fulcrums patrolling in the area, too.
To take out said bridge, you might send four F-15E Strike Eagles equipped with GBU-24 laser-guided bombs. Next, you’ll want to handle the local air defenses. Sending a pair of F-16C Fighting Falcons armed with AGM-88 HARMs should counter the SA-11s and two more, armed with cluster bombs, can deal with the anti-aircraft guns. Add in an EA-18G Growler to jam the radars and a couple of F-22 Raptors to “redistribute” some MiG parts, should the patrol come near.
Even crews of cargo planes brief their missions. No mission too small for a thorough briefing.
(USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Cody H. Ramirez)
But before they take to the skies, all the pilots need to know what their part in the mission is, what they will be facing, and who will deal with what. So, in an actual briefing, the crews in the package will (if they’re at the same base) meet up and go over the threats and the assignments.
During World War II, the process was very similar. The crews going out would assemble, be briefed on the threats, and have a plan to deal with each target and any escorts. Watch the video below to see one such briefing and get a glimpse into how American pilots planned their combat missions.
Frank Clark was 15 years old when Pearl Harbor was brazenly attacked by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941. On that fateful Sunday morning in Hawaii, 2,403 people lost their lives and 1178 more were wounded. The next day, the United States entered World War II.
Clark’s two older brothers, Charles and Pat immediately enlisted into the Air Corps. “Our patriotism among the young men was unbelievable. They just flooded the enlistment,” he shared. Since he was too young to join, he had to wait. On December 23rd, 1943, his mother signed the paperwork that would allow him to become a United States Marine.
He was just 17 years old.
Clark had a twinkle in his blue eyes and a sly grin when he shared that he chose to serve as a Marine because of their beautiful uniforms. He had no way of knowing what was waiting for him.
Clark turned 18 two weeks before he graduated from Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, CA and was chosen to become a radio operator. When he finished his training, he joined the 4th Marine division in Hawaii. On February 17th, 1945 – he and those he described as “on his level” were told of the plan to invade Iwo Jima in two days time.
The 4th Marine division was told that the invasion would give the United States a staging facility to eventually attack Japan, since Iwo Jima was just 750 miles from its coast. Iwo Jima boasted two air strips that would be needed for a successful attack on Japan. Clark also shared that the officers told them that the recent air and naval bombardments over thirty days had taken out 95% of the Japanese’s fighting force on Iwo Jima. Officers assured the Marines that they’d be off the island in five days and back in Hawaii.
Clark shook his head and said, “What they told us was wrong and we paid dearly for it.”
As a radio operator, he was on a small communications ship off the shore of Iwo Jima as the Army and Marine divisions hit the island all at once. Clark watched in horror as the men who stepped off the landing ship were killed without warning.
Unbeknownst to those officers who planned the attack on Iwo Jima, the Japanese had created underground tunnels. It was there that they hid, safely waiting out the month long bombings from the United States. As those soldiers and Marines stepped onto the beaches of Iwo Jima, on February 19th, 1945, a camouflaged mountainside artillery awaited them.
It would take all day under intense fire, but eventually the Marines and soldiers were able to take the first part of that coveted airfield. The price for that piece of land was heavy. Hundreds of bodies laid on the volcanic ash sand beach bearing witness to the cost of that day.
On the third day of the battle of Iwo Jima, Clark got off the boat and made his way on the island – with an extra forty pounds of radio equipment on his back. He and the other Marines he was with struggled through the tough sand to make their way to safer positions.
At one point, he and three other radio operators were in a hole about five feet deep with all of their equipment communicating with their leaders. Clark vividly remembers what happened next. He bent over to get something and within a second, the Marine behind him was shot in the forehead, dying instantly. That bullet was meant for Clark, but bending over saved his life.
It wouldn’t be the last time Clark narrowly evaded death.
He remembers the feeling of that volcanic ash sand on his body. He stopped to take a quick break to catch some sleep, burying himself in the sand and covering his head with his poncho. “When I started getting up and pushing myself to get out, I felt a hand there. As it turned out, I had taken my little nap laying in the lap of a dead Japanese soldier. It wasn’t a good feeling, but there was nothing you could do about it,” Clark said.
Clark shared another memory of his time on Iwo Jima. He recalled seeing six rows – each the length of a football field – of bodies covered in white lime. He was unsure if they were American or Japanese bodies, but seeing that gave him an eerie feeling. Clark said you won’t find pictures or videos of that, as he was sure the government told the media not to show it. That image of those bodies has stayed fresh in his mind.
The Marines and soldiers continued their advancement onto Iwo Jima, slowly taking the island. On day six of the bloody battle, that now infamous picture was taken of the Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The image would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become an iconic image of the war.
It would take almost another month before they captured the island completely. When they left that island, Clark didn’t look back.
The Marines in his division never made their way to Japan – they didn’t have the fighting power like they originally planned for. The Battle of Iwo Jima took the lives of 6,800 brave men and US troops suffered 26,000 casualties. After the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Japanese quickly surrendered.
After leaving Iwo Jima, Clark was informed that his two brothers, Charles and Pat, had both been killed in action.
Clark left the Marines after the war ended and went on to live a quiet civilian life. He was married for 68 years and 8 months to his beautiful wife Nadine, before she passed away in 2017. After her death, he moved into the Missouri Veterans Home.
Frank took a break from his interview to ask WATM writer Jessica Manfre for a dance.
These days, Clark enjoys spending time on his computer and visiting with the ladies that work at the Veterans home.
When asked what advice he would give incoming service members as we approach twenty years at war he laughingly joked, “Do what you can to get into officer’s training – live the better life.”
The Israeli media dubbed it the “Double Miracle In Gaza” — a Hamas fighter took shots at an IDF soldier, hitting him in his cache of grenades. If life were a movie, we know what would happen next.
Luckily life is most definitely not like the movies. The soldier in question (his name was not released by the media) was operating in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.
After the murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, the IDF launched Operation Brother’s Keeper. The goal was for the IDF to move in and arrest Hamas leadership and the militants responsible for the killings. In response, the terror group fired a number of rockets into Israel from Gaza.
That’s when the IDF moved in on the missile sites.
The soldier’s unit was in Shuja’iyya, in the north of Gaza, where many of Hamas rockets are fired into Israel. Shuja’iyya is a major urban center and is also densely populated. Hamas fired an estimated 140 rockets from the city during the conflict.
His unit was looking for the secret tunnels Hamas uses to sneak into Israel across a blockade. As they moved, an AK-47 round hit a grenade attached to his protective vest. The grenade stopped the bullet and –miraculously – didn’t explode.
The Israelis determined that the bullet was at the end of its effectiveness range, that it was fired from very far away, and didn’t have the energy required to penetrate the vest.
As for the grenade, it’s designed that way. A series of combat incidents involving grenades hitting grenades and exploding in the IDF caused the Israeli military to revamp their grenade design.
After the incident, the IDF cleared Shuja’iyya of Hamas fighters, then bulldozed a number of buildings to collapse the illegal tunnels — tunnels used to smuggle small arms, missiles, and other weapons into Gaza. The IDF then moved on to secure other areas near Gaza’s northern border with Israel.
“Fore!” is what a golfer typically yells to warn other golfers in the area of an incoming slice. In the midst of World War II there were no drives, chips, or putts at the Congressional Country Club located in Bethesda, Maryland, about 12 miles from Washington. Instead, the 400-acre golf course was leased by the US government for the training of commandos, saboteurs, and spies from the then-secret Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to the CIA.
The driving range was transformed into a firing range. The sandy bunkers were used for grenade practice. The water hazards or nearby creeks tested the trainees’ aptitude for imaginative innovation. They would be tasked with building a stone bridge to safely cross, then instructed on the best ways to destroy it with plastic explosives. The greens were ideal targets for mortar practice, the fairways on the 17th and 18th holes simulated minefields, and the wooded areas between holes had commandos sneaking through them on nighttime exercises. On more than one occasion, the milkman was a target for a snatch-and-grab raid.
“It was malice in wonderland,” recalled OSS veteran Alex MacDonald. “It was the 10 Commandments in reverse: lie and steal, kill, maim, spy.”
The soldiers and civilians recruited into the OSS trained in groups of 200 to 400 between 1943 and 1945, and more than 2,500 OSS recruits would go through the program at the Congressional Country Club. The officers lived in the clubhouse, the ballroom became a classroom, and the dining room served as the mess hall. They were taught tactics, espionage, demolitions, sabotage, parachuting, and weapons handling. Some of the residents came to the Congressional only to complete a three-day crash course before being posted on an overseas assignment. This was the case for Betty McIntosh, who later ran black propaganda operations in China during the war.
“It was serious work, but I had fun,” McIntosh remembered. “We fired guns. We burrowed into sand traps for cover. I learned to throw grenades on one of the fairways.”
Following World War II, the Congressional returned to its traditional self, swapping out the rifles and bullets for golf clubs and golf balls. Beginning in 2005, the OSS Society hosted OSS veterans and their families at their old training ground. While they reminisced and shared stories about their wartime service, OSS Society president Charles Pinck was quick to remind them not to blow anything up.
“Back then, it would have been hard just finding the greens,” said Al Johnson, an OSS veteran who served in North Africa, France, and China. “And we left some divots that no golfer could have gotten out of in less than three shots.”
Frank Praytor, the U.S. Marine photographed nursing a kitten during the Korean War, recently passed away at the age of 90.
In the heat of the Korean War, Sgt. Frank Praytor was a combat correspondent in the 1st Marine Division. He had previously got into journalism in 1947 with the Birmingham News and, eventually, the Alabama bureau of the International News Service. In 1950, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and soon found himself in Korea.
He was a well-respected and highly successful journalist for Stars and Stripes. His many accomplishments include reporting firsthand accounts of PoW exchanges, the truce-signing at Panmunjom — which brought the ceasefire on the Korean War, and photographing a Navy corpsman treating a wounded Marine on the battlefield — which won an award from Photography Magazine.
All of this pales in comparison to the stardom he received when he was photographed by a fellow combat cameraman, Staff Sgt. Martin Riley, tenderly caring for a kitten in the middle of a battlefield. Praytor adopted two baby kittens after their mother was killed. The kitten in the photograph was named Miss Hap because, “she was born at the wrong time and wrong place.” He nursed them both back to full health, feeding them meat from his rations, and they served as the unofficial mascots of the Marine press office in Korea.
Riley sent the photo to the Associated Press as a sign of the “goodwill” the Marine Corps represents. Time passed and he snapped his previously mentioned award-winning photo. Soon after, he was brought on court-martial charges for releasing a war photo without the consent of superior officers. When he was called into the commander’s office, he had accepted his fate — then the commander ripped up the condemning papers.
The photograph of him and Miss Hap was picked up by over 1,700 newspapers across the United States. He had become a celebrity back home. A handsome Marine caring for a two-week-old kitten brought favorable eyes upon the Marine Corps from all across the United States. Hundreds of letters were sent, addressed to “Kitten Marine, Korea.” “I got letters from girls all over the country who wanted to marry me,” Praytor told the U.S. Naval Institute in a 2009 interview.
He was reassigned to Tokyo and had to leave Miss Hap with a fellow Marine, Cpl. Conrad Fisher. During his visit to report on the truce at Panmunjom, he visited Fisher, who was still taking care of Miss Hap. Fisher was happy to bring her back home stateside. Praytor would continue his life as a freelance journalist well into his 80s.
On every map of the European Union, there’s a gray blob right in the middle. That’s Switzerland, a country synonymous with political neutrality. During both World Wars, they hid away in the mountaintops and watched from the sidelines. They don’t really care to join the EU, but are apart of the Schengen Area because “meh.” And even their citizens share the same “whatever” mentality about everything. Switzerland is probably the last country you’d expect to invade Liechtenstein, a country smaller than Washington D.C., three different times.
In Switzerland’s defense, it was all on accident and Liechtenstein was surprisingly cool after each trespass. A spokesman from Liechtenstein said, “It’s not like they invaded with attack helicopters.”
1. December 5th, 1985
The first time was probably the only aggressive accident of the bunch. During an artillery exercise, the Swiss Army had launched munitions in the middle a winter storm. Instead of landing on the designated target, the wind took the munitions and they landed way off course, in the Bannwald Forest of Liechtenstein, and started a forest fire.
No one was injured and the Swiss paid several million Swiss Francs in compensation for damages.
2. October 13th, 1992
The second invasion of Liechtenstein was by two Swiss recruits. They were given written orders to establish an observation post and set up a perimeter in Triesenberg — and they followed their orders to a ‘T.’
The problem being: Triesenberg isn’t in Switzerland.
3. March 2nd, 2007
On a rainy March night, 171 Swiss troops were training near the border, doing land navigation training. The company commander took his men through the Alpine forest near the border, leading his men about 2 km (about 1.25 miles) into Liechtenstein before realizing he caused an international incident.
Everything would have been forgotten if the Swiss Armed Forces hadn’t apologized for it. Liechtenstein had no idea it had even happened, but accepted the apology nonetheless.
Gilbert Bates knew what a lack of understanding between people could lead to: violence and war. Bates was a Civil War veteran of the Wisconsin artillery who knew that people were basically good, no matter what the rumors said. If there was an area that was supposed to be hostile and dangerous for Americans, Bates would set out to prove the rumors wrong.
And he did so on more than one occasion.
After the Civil War ended, Sgt. Bates returned to his Wisconsin farm. Tensions between North and South were still high, even though the war had resolved the major issues. Northerner and Southerner were still mistrustful of one another. But Bates knew the South was in the Union for good. The victory was hard-won, but won nonetheless. So when his Wisconsin neighbors began to circulate rumors that the South was rising once more in rebellion and that any Northerner was not safe down there, Bates set out to prove them wrong by marching across the South with the U.S. Flag in hand.
Bates’ march received so much notoriety at the time that even Mark Twain, the famous American author wrote of it, predicting that Bates would “get more black eyes, down there among those unreconstructed rebels than he can ever carry along with him without breaking his back.” But everyone who predicted his demise greatly exaggerated.
Bates walked across the unreconstructed South, some 1,500 miles, through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to Washington, DC. He didn’t arrive on one leg and with an eye missing, as Twain predicted. The opposite was true, actually. Bates received genteel Southern Hospitality everywhere he went, even flying the American flag he carried over the former Confederate capital at Richmond. The only place he wasn’t allowed to fly it was over the U.S. Capitol building.
This march led to Bates taking on a bet. A wealthy friend of his bet the flag carrier that he could not do the same march across England without receiving a single insult. Bates, who had an incredible belief in the goodness of his fellow man took that bet.
Relations with England at the time of the Civil War were much different from the “Special Relationship” we enjoy today. In the 1860s, the British were more interested in King Cotton than supporting the United States against its rebels. In many ways, the English Crown supported the Confederacy, if not openly, then as an open secret. Still undeterred, Bates marched on foot – in full Union uniform – across the country. He walked some 400 miles from the border of Scotland to London to great fanfare. The English could not support him enough. He never paid for a meal or a place to sleep. By the time he got to London, the crowds swelled so much he had to take a carriage to the raise the Stars and Stripes next to the Union Jack.
Upon arriving, he telegrammed his friend, canceling the bet. To Bates, the event was worth more than any sum.
With the news that Army Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster has been chosen to serve as National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, this marks the fourth time an active-duty military officer has filled this position.
Here is a look at the previous three.
1. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
Brent Scowcroft was active-duty for less than a month while serving as National Security Advisor to President Gerald Ford, taking the job on Nov. 3, 1975, and retiring on Dec. 1, 1975. Still, he is technically the first active-duty military officer to serve in this position.
Scowcroft served for the remainder of the Ford administration, then was tapped to serve as National Security Advisor for a second stint under George H. W. Bush – holding that post for the entirety of that presidency. During his second run as NSA, Scowcroft’s tenure saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, Operation Desert Storm, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
2. Navy Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter
Perhaps the most notorious active-duty officer to hold the position due to his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, Poindexter was National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan during the 1986 Freedom of Navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that turned violent, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and the Reykjavik Summit in October, 1986.
Poindexter was initially convicted on five charges connected with Iran-Contra, but the convictions were tossed out on appeal. In 1987, he retired at the rank of Rear Admiral (Upper Half).
3. Army Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell
Probably the most notable active-duty officer to serve in the post, Colin Powell served as National Security Advisor from November 1987 to the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term. While he was in that position, the U.S. and Iran had a series of clashes culminating in Operation Praying Mantis and the downing of an Iranian Airbus by the guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes (CG 49).
After his tenure as National Security Advisor, Powell went on to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – then was Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s first term as president.
As a note for the fashion-watchers, while all three predecessors wore suits, We Are The Mighty has learned from a source close to senior Trump staffers that incoming Nationals Security Advisor McMaster has been given the option to wear his uniform while holding the post.
A spokesperson for Scowcroft noted, “It is not against the law but it is not usually done.”
Neither Powell nor the White House Press Office responded to a WATM request for comment by post time.
In November 1978, 909 members of a fanatical cult died — killing themselves and their children using a cyanide and Valium-laced grape drink — to make a political statement: they would die on their own terms in a “revolutionary suicide.” It would be the largest single loss of civilian life until the September 11th terror attacks.
The People’s Temple, as the cult was called, was founded by Jim Jones, a former monkey salesman and self-ordained minister in 1950s Indianapolis. He later moved the church to California. There, the size of the cult grew to around 20,000.
With that growth, Jones became a public figure and fled to the South American country of Guyana to escape the negative press surrounding the People’s Temple. Jones faced accusations of financial fraud and child abuse and sought to escape what he thought was the persecution from U.S. intelligence agencies.
More than 1,000 members went with him.
Jones and his cult founded Jonestown, an agricultural cooperative on 4,000 acres of poor soil and limited access to fresh water. Temple members worked long days and were punished for disobeying Jones’ orders. They were allowed limited contact with friends and family. Jones even confiscated their passports.
Toward the end of the Jonestown experiment, Jones became inceasingly paranoid as his mental state broke down. Congressman Leo Ryan came to Jonestown to investigate allegations that his contituents’ loved ones were actually hostages there. People’s Temple members asked to return home with the Congressman, who took them back to his plane.
That’s when tragedy struck.
After arriving at the airstrip that took Congressman Ryan to the People’s Temple collective, Jones’ armed thugs gunned down the contingent, along with members of the press and some of the defectors. At the same time, Jones was distributing the poisoned punch (which was actually Flavor-Aid, not Kool-Aid, as the saying goes) to the cult members.
An aerial view of the bodies of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy. U.S. Army personnel from Fort Bragg, North Carolina (NC), are placing the remains into body bags. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Nov. 20, 1978.)
There is evidence that those who didn’t want to imbibe were forced to drink the punch. Jones himself was found dead with a bullet in his head, among the other 900+ bodies.
Within hours of learning about Congressman Ryan’s death, the U.S. State Department received assistance from the 437th Military Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina. Charleston C-141 Starlifters led what would be “the most unusual airlift operation since the Berlin Airlift.”
Col. Bruce M. Durvine, vice commander of the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing, and members of the 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron carry boxes of plastic body bags to an HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter for use in the evacuation of bodies from Jonestown. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Jonestown, Nov. 20, 1978.)
Air Force Combat Controllers were the first American forces on the ground, securing the airstrip area, providing security, and operating the airspace. The Starlifters had to be staged more than 150 miles away from the dirt airstrip where Ryan’s body was found because they were too large for the field.
The military Aeromedical Evacuation Team repatriated eight wounded survivors from the area. It wasn’t until November 20th that Guyanan Defense Forces could reach the Jonestown Compound. The small contingent was overwhelmed by what they found there and asked the Americans to take over.
A U.S. Air Force HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter from the 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron stands by to assist in the removal of the remains of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)
Jonestown victims’ bodies were to be airlifted to Dover Air Force Base, but first they had to be moved by three HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopters to the Starlifter staging area. There were so many bodies, the Air Force ran out of remains transfer cases.
U.S. Army UH-1 Iroquois helicopters are loaded aboard a C-141 Starlifter aircraft for transport back to their home base in the Canal Zone. The helicopters were used during humanitarian relief efforts following the Jonestown tragedy. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)
“Stacked like cordwood,” the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition. It took 30 helicopter sorties carrying 30 bodies each to get the remains to the Starlifters for transport. Each C-141 could handle 81 remains cases — as long as they were stacked on pallets.
The stench of death in the helicopters was so bad, they were deemed medically unsafe. Task Force personnel who handled the bodies burned their clothing on the runway at the end of the mission.
U.S. military personnel place a body bag containing the remains of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy in a coffin for transport to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Pedro J. Gonzalez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)
Jeff Brailey, the Army medic who entered Jonestown, wrote a book about his experience, “The Ghosts of November.”
It might surprise the casual student of history to learn that the United States was not alone in supporting South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. America’s traditional list of allies joined us in trying to contain the spread of Communism in South East Asia, including Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia. Each one of them brought the pain to the enemy in their own way.
South Koreans were so zealous in their fight against Communism that everyone else actually had to restrain them at times. Aside from the powerful bombing campaigns, America employed precision special operations units, which North Vietnamese called “the men with green faces.” It was the Australians they feared most, however.
At any given moment, everything would be fine and then, suddenly, you’d see all your men killed in the blink of an eye. That’s how they knew the Aussies were in the area.
Even though Aussies had been in Vietnam since 1962, the Australian Special Air Service Regiment first arrived in Vietnam in April 1966 with the mission of conducting long-range reconnaissance patrols in the dense Vietnamese jungles.
They were so effective in the field, the NVA called the Australians the “Ghosts of the Jungle.” They even provided instructors to the United States’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol school. They would operate on 24-hour missions in the areas surrounding friendly bases.
Small fire teams of four to six men moved much more slowly than any other unit, even other special operations units. But once in contact with the enemy, the Australians unleashed a barrage of fire, designed to make the enemy believe there were more men on the opposing side than there really were.
The slow, quiet movement and hellish raking fire the Australians brought to the NVA and VC made them the most feared enemy unit in the areas of South Vietnam. Even the most quiet VC infiltrators could easily walk into a devastating Aussie ambush.
An SASR patrol during Operation Coburg, South Vietnam 1968.
(Australian Defense Ministry)
Each Aussie SASR unit operated with an attached New Zealand SAS trooper and each of the three “Sabre” squadrons did, at least, a one-year tour in Vietnam, operating throughout Phuoc Tuy province as well as in Bien Hoa, Long Khanh, and Binh Tuy provinces. They also deployed with American Special Forces and Navy SEALs throughout the country.
The Australian SASR first came in contact with the enemy in May, 1966, when they met a Viet Cong force in the area around Nui Dat. It did not go well for the VC. From there, the Aussies spread their recon patrol range by several kilometers. By the end of their time in Vietnam, the unit performed 1,200 combat patrols with one killed in action, one dead from wounds, three accidentally killed, one missing, and one death from illness. Another 28 men were wounded in action.
Before leaving in 1971, the ANZACs killed 600 enemy troops, the highest kill ratio of the entire war.
In 1947, British officer Yahya Khan offered his colleague 1,000 rupees for his spiffy red motorcycle. His colleague, Sam Manekshaw, agreed. But before Khan could pay, he was off to what was going to become Pakistan. The British split its Indian colony, and things on the subcontinent have been pretty tense ever since. To top it all off, Yahya Khan didn’t pay for the motorbike.
But he would, even if it took almost 25 years.
Manekshaw (middle) whose mustache game was top notch.
The Partition of India was much more than the splitting of the British Raj into two independent states. It was a catastrophic split that tore apart the country and created millions of refugees, cost millions of lives, and split the armed forces of the country in two, all based on religion. Violence erupted almost immediately between the two groups on such a large scale that much of it has never been forgotten or forgiven. Animosity continued between both sides for decades, and the two have fought war after war because of the myriad issues left unaddressed.
By 1970, Sam Manekshaw was a Field Marshal, the Chief of Staff of India’s Army, and war hero known to the people as “Sam the Brave.” Yahya Khan was a General who fought for Pakistan against India in 1947 and again in 1965. Now he was the president of Pakistan who had taken power using the Pakistani military. East Pakistani refugees were flooding into India because Yahya would not accept the most recent elections, and India’s President, Indira Gandhi, told Manekshaw she wanted Pakistan split into two by force, creating the new country of Bangladesh. Gandhi gave him free rein to do it however he could.
Khan would be deposed and die under house arrest after being stripped of his honors during the rest of the decade.
In Pakistan, the ever-present tensions with India were ready to boil over once again. But the Pakistanis didn’t send the Army to India; they sent it into East Pakistan – where the Pakistanis immediately began slaughtering Bengalis in East Pakistan. By 1971 Bengalis in Pakistan declared independence from Pakistan in response. India immediately supported the new country, first vocally, then though training the Bangladeshis, and next with air support. Finally, in 1971, Manekshaw was ready. He had spent much of the year readying and positioning Indian armor, infantry, and air units. On Dec. 3, 1971, he struck.
The Pakistani Navy’s fuel reserves were destroyed. The Indian Air Force hit Pakistan with almost 6,000 sorties in the next two weeks, destroying much of Pakistan’s Air Force on the ground as the Indian Army advanced, capturing some 15,000 square kilometers. Within two weeks, Pakistan folded like a card table. All Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to India, the genocide ended, and Bangladesh was born.
After the surrender agreement was signed, Manekshaw was said to have remarked:
“Yahya never paid me the 1,000 rupees for my motorbike, but now he has paid with half his country.”