It’s not widely known that Marine Corps Raiders trained operatives for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. The forerunner to the CIA, the OSS would conduct clandestine resistance, sabotage, and intelligence-gathering operations all over the world. One of those operatives was a member of UDT-10, an underwater demolition team, who would play a critical role in the recapture of the Philippines during the war, then help create the foundation of maritime special operations forces for the U.S. military and the intelligence community. That operative was a sailor named Hank Weldon and he died on Oct. 5, 2018 in his San Marcos, Calif. home. He was 95 years old.
“My point of view of the war is a little different than a lot of people,” he told the Valley Road Runner in 2013. “I let them [U.S. Marines] in and left. I didn’t see a lot of action on the ground. I went in and cleared the areas for the ships,” says Weldon. “Opened the lanes for them. Took care of mines. Or eliminated markers that the Japanese were using as markers for their artillery.”
That was just the beginning of a storied career in service to his country.
Born in 1923 and graduating from high school in 1942, Hank Weldon came of age at the outbreak of World War II. He played football at Villanova for two semester before joining a Navy commissioning program. It was while training for that program that General “Wild Bill” Donovan came looking to recruit strong swimmers for the OSS.
His swimming test involved pulling a manhole cover from the bottom of a pool and putting it in an empty canoe without tipping it. He passed. That’s when he was ordered to Camp Pendleton – but he had no idea what branch of the service he was actually in. The truth was, they were from all branches.
The OSS recruited men from the Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Marines to come train with a Marine Raider battalion. When their training was complete, the unit was split up. Some were deployed to hit the beaches at Normandy, while Weldon and others prepared to hit the beaches of the occupied Philippine Islands.
Their trial by fire came when they were sent on the first underwater recon mission of World War II, gathering intelligence on the island of Yap. From there, they saw action at Palau and in five missions in the Philippines – but they didn’t lose a single man there. He even saw General MacArthur as he returned to the island nation, as promised.
When the war ended, so did Hank Weldon’s time in the military.
But his career in service didn’t stop. He spent 26 years as a beat cop on the Los Angeles Police Department and served during some of the most dangerous times in the force’s history. He served during the 1965 Watts Riots, a six-day civil disturbance that damaged million worth of property and was the most destructive urban uprising of the entire Civil Rights Era. It took a 45-mile exclusion zone enforced by 13,000 California National Guardsmen to quell the violence – with Hank Weldon riding and holding shotgun through it all.
Some 50 years after leaving the military and the OSS Maritime unit, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Special Forces – with good reason. He helped inaugurate the use of fins in maritime clandestine operations and pioneered tactical technology, including the first rebreathers. The tactics, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat techniques he and other OSS operative learned from the Marine Raiders were passed on to other operatives throughout the war and then handed down to new special operations units thereafter.
Members of the OSS were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on March 21, 2018, and Hank Weldon was the surviving member of his OSS team, UDT-10. Weldon’s family turned down an invitation for Hank to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Instead, he will receive a military burial ceremony at home, in the Valley Center Cemetery in California.
In August 1942, the Allies and Japanese would meet in the pivotal battle for Guadalcanal.
With the Americans precariously holding Henderson Field, the Japanese desperately sought to reinforce the island and to drive the Americans back into the sea.
To accomplish this, the Japanese would run warships with troops and supplies down “the Slot” (New Georgia Sound) at night to avoid the Cactus Air Force operating out of Henderson Field.
The quick, nocturnal nature of the trip led the Japanese to call it Rat Transportation. To the Americans, it was the Tokyo Express.
The New Georgia Sound ended at Savo Sound, just off Guadalcanal where the American fleet was stationed to protect the Marines on Guadalcanal.
After a number of brutal, pitched naval battles, this place would earn a new name: Ironbottom Sound.
The first night, after the landings on Guadalcanal, a small Japanese naval force of seven cruisers and a destroyer surprised a larger American force and decisively defeated them at the Battle of Savo Island.
The Allied contingent, eight cruisers and fifteen destroyers, paid dearly. The Americans lost three heavy cruisers while the Australians were forced to scuttle another.
The USS Chicago left its bow on the bottom as well.
The American and Japanese navies would meet again in October 1942, in what became known as the Battle of Cape Esperance. This time the Americans had a surprise of their own for the Japanese thanks to a bad radio call between American commanders.
Despite the confusion, Rear Adm. Norman Scott deftly commanded his ships in a ferocious night time engagement.
The American ships hit the unsuspecting Japanese with everything they had. In a quick, violent action at close range the American ships sent a Japanese cruiser and destroyer to the bottom, heavily damaged another cruiser, and killed the Japanese commander.
The engagement cost the Americans one of their destroyers with damage to two other ships.
Undeterred, the Tokyo Express continued down the Slot and into the carnage of Ironbottom Sound.
A month after the action at Cape Esperance, the Japanese and Americans would square off once again. Often called the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the incident was actually two separate battles on back-to-back nights.
The first night of the battle, November 13, 1942, saw an inferior American force intercept a larger Japanese force intent on shelling Henderson Field.
Leading the American force was Rear Adm. Daniel Callaghan. His second-in-command was Rear Adm. Scott who, a month earlier, had turned back the Japanese at the Battle of Cape Esperance.
In the confusion of the night, the two forces nearly ran right into each other. When Callaghan realized he was surrounded by the enemy, he gave a simple order to his column: “Odd ships fire to starboard, even ships fire to port!”
Despite being outgunned and mismatched, the American ships unleashed a maelstrom of fire on the Japanese.
The situation quickly deteriorated and turned into the naval equivalent of knife-fight in an alleyway at night. Ships fired on one another with virtually flat trajectories. The battleship Hiei blew two American destroyers out of the water before being incapacitated herself.
After 40 minutes of intense fighting, the two sides broke contact. The engagement had cost the Japanese one battleship and one destroyer, along with damage to nearly every other ship. The Americans had once again paid dearly.
Two cruisers and four destroyers joined their sisters at the bottom of the sound. Both Admirals Callaghan and Scott had also been killed. Both were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, along with three other sailors in the battle.
The Japanese weren’t done though and on the night of Nov. 14 once again sent a force to attack Henderson Field. They sent a battleship, four cruisers, and nine destroyers and this time were accompanied by troop transports intent on landing men and materiel on the island to retake the airfield.
Running low on serviceable ships, Adm. Halsey dispatched two battleships and four destroyers from his carrier’s escort. Most of the ships had never operated together as a unit. Their saving grace was their commander, Rear Adm. Willis Lee, an adept seaman and master of radar.
As the Americans intercepted the Japanese, the four destroyers were badly mauled. The battleship South Dakota was quickly pounced on as well and endured a terrific shelling. However, Lee, aboard the battleship Washington, had managed to maneuver around the Japanese undetected.
Though the Japanese landed their transports, they were quickly destroyed by American aircraft sinking desperately needed supplies.
With the situation on Guadalcanal becoming dire, on Nov. 30 the Japanese made plans to reinvigorate the Tokyo Express in a last ditch effort to hold onto the island.
Alerted to the plan by intelligence, a superior American force moved in to intercept. American destroyers spotted the Japanese first and, after a command order delay, fired a spread of torpedoes that all missed their mark — the Battle of Tassafaronga was on.
The Japanese destroyers were prepared for American interference and, according to plan, unleashed a torrent of torpedoes of their own at the American ships.
As the American cruisers pounded one of the destroyers, the torpedoes found their marks.
The cruiser Minneapolis had her bow collapsed in front of the number one turret. New Orleans took a torpedo strike in her forward magazine and lost a full 125 feet of hull, including the forward turret, but remained afloat.
The cruisers Pensacola and Northampton also took torpedo hits, sending Northampton down.
Though the Americans had paid a high price, their efforts began to convince the Japanese to abandon Guadalcanal.
By the time the fight for Guadalcanal was over, Ironbottom Sound had become the final resting place to some 50 ships and thousands of sailors from both sides.
We in the west have a tendency to focus on the European tensions that led to World War II. And while the rise of Mussolini and Hitler caused a massive conflict that rocked Europe and Russia, open fighting was going on in Asia for years before Germany’s encroachment into Sudetenland. And Japanese officers triggered a round of fighting in 1931 by attacking their own railroad.
Japanese troops enter Tsitsihar, a city in northeast China.
(Japanese war camerman, public domain)
The Mukden Incident took place in 1931. Japan had ambitions on the Asian continent, but the Japanese political establishment was, shall we say, less aggressive about it than the Japanese military would have preferred.
There was a railroad running through the Liaodong Peninsula near Korea. It connected key cities in the peninsula to the rest of the continent. Japan acquired the railroad and peninsula after the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, giving it a much larger foothold on the continent. The railroad became one of Japan’s most economically important assets on the continent.
And, worse, China was politically unifying at the time. It created a real risk that China may become resilient to further expansion. There was even a possibility that Japan would eventually be kicked off the continent.
The site of the 1931 railway sabotage that became known as the Mukden Incident and kicked off the fighting in Asia that would become World War II.
So, in the middle of all this tension, someone blew up a short section of the railroad on Sept. 18, 1931. An under-powered bomb did little lasting damage, and the railway was operating again almost immediately.
But even more immediate was the counter-attack. In just a day, Japanese artillery was sending rounds into Chinese-held territory. In just a few months, Japan had conquered the most resource-rich areas bordering the peninsula. The limited damage, the quick Japanese retaliation, and the brutal invasion has led some historians to believe that mid-level Japanese Army officers conducted the bombing to give themselves a pretext for invasion.
Japan occupied the area for the next 14 years, and its troops continued to conquer China. It attacked Shanghai in 1932, threatening European and American interests as well as, obviously, Chinese security and sovereignty.
The American and European navies stepped up their game in the Pacific, reinforcing Pacific outposts and building new ships. Meanwhile, Japan remained on the march, continuously expanding until 1942. It would conquer vast portions of China and all of Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Burma, and more.
And it all started with a shady as hell attack against its own railroad in 1931.
The trenches of World War I were a vicious place, but it was the No Man’s Land between opposing trenches that became killing fields. Attackers from either side had to cross hundreds of meters of machinegun-swept territory under artillery assault to initiate an offensive against the other.
Invented by Benjamin Holt in 1904, the machine used tracked wheels to cross soft sand, mud, and other obstacles on the farm. Swinton figured that the tractor could be put to better use attacking German machine gun and artillery positions with armor plating and its own mounted artillery.
The Aletti Hotel bar was reserved for field-grade officers. The bartender served drinks to an out-of-place group of muscular soldiers; one had a pair of jump boots slung over his shoulder by the laces. Their antics over the next hour grew too much for the other bar patrons to handle, and they were asked to leave, not the proper send-off for their last Saturday in Algiers before they would receive new assignments in war-torn Europe.
Jim Russell — an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Jedburgh who had three combat jumps into North Africa, Italy, and Sardinia to his name — hopped into the driver’s seat of their three-quarter-ton truck. A pair of jump boots sat next to his leg. John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway had purchased them earlier in the evening at the Allied Forces Headquarters PX. Hemingway, simply known as “Jack,” was the eldest son of Ernest Hemingway, widely proclaimed as one of the greatest American literary figures of the 20th century. He was leaving for jump school in the coming days and had managed to convince Russell to grab a nightcap at a civilian sidewalk cafe located on the outskirts of town.
The rumbustious group of OSS commandos funneled into the cafe. Hemingway would bring his jump boots with him everywhere but decided to leave them within his view on the truck’s dashboard. The commandos were soon engulfed by curious “threadbare urchins” who begged to shine and polish their footwear, in a clever diversion. Hemingway’s prized jump boots were snatched from his sight, and the thief disappeared around the corner of a back alley. Hemingway, Russell, and the others gave chase and watched as the Arab thief threw the jump boots over a wall and into a courtyard.
Now the commandos were furious, as their drunken night turned from a celebration into a violent encounter. Three of the thief’s friends arrived holding knives. In an instant, all of the thieves were disarmed, sprawled flat on their backs, and on the receiving end of a well-choreographed lesson in hand-to-hand combat. The thieves had picked the wrong set of American soldiers that night because despite their heavy drinking, all were unarmed combat instructors for the OSS.
Hemingway never found his beloved jump boots, and he ended his night with a court-martial. An Arab workman threw a rock at their truck while they were returning to the OSS training base in Chréa. The commandos jumped out and beat the man senseless. The man reported the incident, and although Hemingway and Russell didn’t take part, they were threatened with being thrown out of the OSS.
An upcoming airborne operation was their saving grace because the planning stages were moving forward and they couldn’t be replaced. Hemingway’s orders to jump school were canceled, and he reported to a colonel leading a Jedburgh mission.
The Fly-Fishing Commando
Jim Russell had experience as a seasoned radio operator. Hemingway described Russell as “the complete antithesis of an OSS staff person.” The OSS had gained two reputations since its inception in 1942, one as an extremely competent paramilitary force and another as “Oh So Social” for its staff officers’ participation in diplomatic cocktail outings.
“Part of our OSS team at Le Bousquet, with a downed U.S. flier, seated left. I am in the center, Jim Russell, right, and two French ‘Joes.'” Photo courtesy of The Hemingway Project.
Russell and Hemingway, however, wouldn’t be handling the radios on this mission. Two French noncommissioned officers named Julien and Henri were tasked with the job. Their mission was to parachute into occupied France, take over existing information networks, and support the local resistance forces in their insurgency against the Germans.
France wasn’t some foreign land to Hemingway. His boyhood infatuation with fly-fishing materialized as he explored the rivers and streams around Paris with his father. His childhood was spent surrounded by his famous father’s friends: Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. His first words were spoken in French, then English, Austrian, and German. The joys of running through the French countryside as a boy and fighting imaginary battles had become a devastating reality.
Their four-man team spent hours in their safe house studying maps, memorizing drop zones and names of contacts, and identifying intelligence on German troop movements. Hemingway had also assisted in previous planning phases to become familiarized with the process of how agents, including a woman and a one-armed man, were dropped into occupied France.
On the airfield’s tarmac, a British officer approached Hemingway before their jump and said, “You can’t take THAT with you, you know?” He was referring to Hemingway’s fly rod, which he deliberately packed in his gear wherever he went. “Oh, it’s only a special antenna,” he lied. “Just looks like a fly rod.”
Two B-17s took to the air. They were loaded with containers filled with weapons, ammunition, explosives, and radio equipment. One B-17’s belly gun turret had been removed, and the commandos used the hole in the floor to parachute safely to the ground. Hemingway’s first jump from a perfectly good airplane was during a real-world Jedburgh mission over France with zero training, and towing along his fly-fishing rod.
Capt. J.H.N. Hemingway, far right, training officer with the 10th Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Screenshot from Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
On the ground they linked up with the French resistance. While Russell and the French commandos were preoccupied with jury-rigging a radio transmitter, Hemingway ventured to a nearby water hole. “Limestone means rich aquatic life and healthy, well-fed trout,” Hemingway wrote in his autobiography. “I was in khaki, civilian garb not uncommon at the time, but wore no cap and there was a U.S. flag sewn to my right shoulder, but no insignia on the left.”
An overwhelming emotion of glee swept over him as he skipped down the mountainside with his fly rod, reel, and box of flies. As he entered the water, he didn’t study the flow of the stream as he normally would have and was oblivious of the world around him. A German patrol with their rifles and machine pistols marched toward him.
“They were all looking toward me and making what sounded like derisive, joking comments as they went along,” Hemingway wrote. “For the first time in my life I made a silent wish that came as close to a real prayer as I had ever come.”
He wished to not catch a fish because if he had, the German patrol would have stopped to watch and, under closer inspection, realized the fisherman had a US flag on his arm. They had mistakenly assumed he was the professional fly fisherman who fished for the local inn at Avesnes and continued their patrol.
This close call wasn’t the fly-fishing commando’s only brush with potential violence.
Escaping a German POW Camp
In October 1944, Hemingway took another assignment to recruit, infiltrate, and train allied resistance forces. While he traveled to his safe house with Capt. Justin Greene, who commanded the OSS team with the 36th Infantry Division, they stepped past a dead tank and into a German hornet’s nest. Greene walked up the slope and then immediately turned around and dove for cover, as if he had seen a ghost. Small arms fire and explosions followed close behind, and two German alpine soldiers appeared in Hemingway’s field of fire.
“After a hectic courtship, I finally got Puck to the altar in Paris, 1949.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
Another German opened fire from above Hemingway’s position, and he was hit with a single round. He dropped to the ground and tried to hide in a ditch as two more bullets ripped through his right arm and shoulder; grenade fragments peppered his side. He called out in German, surrendered, and immediately told them his cover story while they attended to his wounds. A German surgeon later threatened to amputate his arm, but he refused because, he reasoned, it was his casting arm.
Hemingway and Greene boarded the Luft Bandit en route for a German hospital prisoner of war (POW) camp. German civilians called their passenger train the Luft Bandit because it stopped often in tunnels and dense forests to escape American planes.
While in the POW camp, the commandos prepared for their escape. On March 29, 1945, US Army tank divisions broke 50 miles behind enemy lines to free US officers held in POW camps. Their intelligence, however, anticipated only 300 soldiers were being held in these camps — instead, the number averaged close to 3,000. Hemingway hitched a ride on one of these tanks as they rolled through an area the Germans used for army maneuvers and artillery practice.
“Preparing to net the catch on England’s Itchen River.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
From a distance of no farther than 3 yards, Hemingway was knocked off the tank’s turret by a Panzerschreck bazooka. He jumped onto another tank as American infantrymen decimated the hedgerow with their rifles and automatic weapons. Instead of staying with his rescuers, Hemingway decided to leave the tanks and travel on foot with another soldier. The next morning, six German Tiger tanks surprised and destroyed all 57 armored vehicles of the American tank division with overwhelming firepower.
Hemingway evaded German patrols for two days, surviving off raw rabbit and gardens of abandoned homes. He was nearly shot by a patrol of German teenagers who nervously trained their weapons on the unknown Americans. Hemingway spoke slowly in lousy German and was captured unharmed. For 10 more arduous days he and other prisoners death marched away from the evacuated Nürnberg POW camp to Bavaria. After a P-51 Mustang mistakenly strafed their position, they were forced to spell “US POW” on the ground. Once they arrived at their new home, which Hemingway called the biggest POW camp he had ever seen, they spent the next six months as POWs before being liberated on April 29, 1945. His once fit and healthy 210-pound body at the beginning of the war was a gaunt 140 pounds by war’s end.
Field & Stream
After World War II, Hemingway debriefed with X2, the OSS counterintelligence section, and took a commanding officer position at a German POW camp in Camp Pickett, Virginia. Hemingway kept alive his passion for fly-fishing after his service. He wrote for National Wildlife Magazine, describing his adventures hunting in Africa and trolling a fly behind a deep-sea fishing boat off the coast of Tanzania.
Screenshot from Jack Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
“All together, while trolling and casting from shore and around a small atoll on the edge of the Pemba Channel, I caught twenty-seven different species of fish on the fly, including everything from small, brightly-colored reef species to dolphin in the blue water, and I had one big shark for a short while which had swallowed a tuna I was fighting,” he wrote in his autobiography.
In his 40s, Hemingway became the Northwest field editor for Field Stream, “which meant contributing an annual roundup of fishing prospects in my region and any other pieces I could produce that might fit,” he wrote in his autobiography. Hemingway also influenced decision making through the Federation of Fly Fishermen. As the commissioner of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, he successfully swayed the state to adopt a catch-and-release fishing law.
Jack Hemingway was the son of a famous writer and the father to famous children, but he was also a legend in his own right. The former OSS commando, American POW, fly fisherman, conservationist, editor, author, husband, and father died of heart complications in 2000 at age 77.
In the early days of World War II the Germans still had an advantage over the British. Even though the Royal Air Force had won the Battle of Britain, its bombers suffered heavy losses when they crossed the channel into occupied Europe.
British scientist believed this was due to advances in German radar technology.
Reconnaissance photos showed that the Germans indeed had a complex radar system involving two types of systems – long-range early warning and short-range precision – that allowed them to effectively guide night fighters to British bomber formations. In order to develop effective countermeasures against these radar systems the British scientists needed to study one.
Operation Biting was conceived to steal a German “Wurzburg” short-range radar.
A German radar installation at Bruneval, France, was identified as the best target to conduct a raid against.
The plan called for C Company, 2nd Parachute battalion led by Maj. John Frost to parachute into France, assault the German position, steal the radar, and then evacuate by sea back to England with their loot. Accompanying the paratroopers would be a Royal Air Force technician who would oversee the dismantling and transport of the radar.
After extensive training and briefings, the raid was set for late February, 1942, when a full moon and high tides would provide the perfect environment for the assault force.
On the last night of the mission window, the conditions were just right and the men of C Company embarked for France aboard converted Whitley bombers of No. 51 Squadron.
The company was divided into five sections each named after a famous British naval officer: Nelson, Jellicoe, Hardy, Drake, and Rodney. Three sections – Jellicoe, Hardy, and Drake – would assault the German garrison at the station and capture the Wurzburg radar. While this was taking place, Nelson would clear the evacuation beach and the area between it and the station. Finally, Rodney would be in reserve guarding the most likely approach of a German counterattack.
The drop was almost entirely successful with only a portion of the Nelson section missing the drop zone a couple miles. The rest of the paratroopers and their equipment landed on target. Frost and the three assault sections were able to rendezvous in just 10 minutes. The Germans still had no idea British paratroopers were in the area.
That didn’t last long though, as the paratroopers assaulted the villa near the radar station. The paratroopers killed the lone German defending the house with a machine gun on the upper floor. But the attack alerted the rest of the garrison in other nearby buildings who immediately began returning fire killing one of the paratroopers. Frost stated that once the firing started “for the whole two hours of the operation there was never a moment when some firing was not going on.”
As the paratroopers battled the Germans, Flight Sgt. C.W.H. Cox, the RAF technician sent along to dismantle the radar, led the engineers to the radar set to begin its deconstruction under heavy German fire. After a half hour of work they had the parts and information they needed and loaded them onto special carts to haul them to the evacuation beach. The men of C Company had also managed to capture two German radar technicians who had vital knowledge of the operation of the Wurzburg radar.
Frost then ordered the force to withdraw to the beach. This was just in time, as a column of German vehicles began to arrive at the radar station. Almost immediately upon departure the paratroopers encountered a German pillbox that should have been cleared by the Nelson task force. Due to a communications breakdown Frost had not learned about the missed drops of a large portion of the Nelson group.
A small portion of the force had arrived and was fighting to hold the beach but the remainder had been moving at double time to reach their objective. After a brief firefight with a German patrol, the remainder of Nelson arrived on the scene and cleared the pillbox allowing the rest of the force to continue to the beach.
Once on the beach, the communications problem became even worse – the paratroopers had no contact with the Royal Navy flotilla assigned to evacuate them. Frost tried to raise them on the radio and when that failed, he decided to fire signal flares. The flares worked, and just in time, as a lookout spotted a trail of headlights moving toward the beach. Three Royal Navy landing craft came ashore and the paratroopers hastily loaded themselves and their prizes onboard before setting out for home. The return trip was without incident and the raiders returned to England to a hero’s welcome.
The British losses were two killed, two wounded, and six men captured who had become separated during the fighting. But the amount of intelligence they returned to England was near priceless. The information provided by the captured Germans and the radar itself allowed the British to advance their countermeasures.
This would prove crucial in the airborne operations at Normandy two years later.
A New York Times article dated March 3, 1942, predicted that the success of the raid had “changed the nature of warfare itself” and that soon these types of commando units and actions would grow to encompass much larger formations such as the airborne divisions that the Allies formed.
As for the men of C Company and Frost, they would see action in North Africa and Italy before being a part of the ill-fated Operation Market-Garden.
Four Swedish air force pilots received U.S. Air Medals during a ceremony in Stockholm Nov. 28, 2018, recognizing their actions that took place over 31 years ago. Until 2017 the details of their mission remained classified.
During the 1980s, the height of the Cold War was still being felt. The U.S. was flying regular SR-71 aircraft reconnaissance missions in international waters over the Baltic Sea known as “Baltic Express” missions. But on June 29, 1987, during one of those missions, an SR-71 piloted by retired Lt. Cols. Duane Noll and Tom Veltri, experienced an inflight emergency.
Experiencing engine failure in one of their engines, they piloted the aircraft down to approximately 25,000 feet over Swedish airspace where they were intercepted by two different pairs of Swedish air force Viggens.
“We were performing an ordinary peace time operation exercise,” recalled retired Maj. Roger Moller, Swedish air force Viggen pilot. “Our fighter controller then asked me are you able to make an interception and identification of a certain interest. I thought immediately it must be an SR-71, otherwise he would have mentioned it. But at that time I didn’t know it was the Blackbird.”
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John Williams, Mobilization Assistant to the commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, salutes the Swedish pilots who are being awarded the U.S. Air Medal in Stockholm, Nov. 28, 2018.
U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Kelly O’Connor
According to the Air Medal citation, once the Swedish pilots intercepted the SR-71, they assessed the emergency situation and decided to render support to the aircraft by defending it from any potential third-party aircraft that might have tried to threaten it. The pilots then accompanied the aircraft beyond the territorial boundaries and ensured that it was safely recovered.
“I can’t say enough about these gentlemen,” said Veltri, who was at the ceremony. “I am so amazingly grateful for what they did, but also for the opportunity to recognize them in the fashion we are doing. What these guys did is truly monumental.”
Noll, who was not able to be at the ceremony, recorded a message which was played to those in attendance.
“Your obvious skills and judgement were definitely demonstrated on that faithful day many years ago. I want to thank you for your actions on that day,” said Noll. “We will never know what would or could have happened, but because of you, there was no international incident. The U.S. Air Force did not lose an irreplaceable aircraft, and two crew members’ lives were saved. Lt. Col. Veltri and I can’t thank you sufficiently for what you prevented. Thank you for being highly skilled and dedicated patriotic fellow aviators.”
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John Williams, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa mobilization assistant to the commander, presented the Air Medals to Swedish air force Col. Lars-Eric Blad, Maj. Roger Moller, Maj. Krister Sjoberg and Lt. Bo Ignell.
“That day in 1987 showed us that we can always count on our Swedish partners in times of great peril,” said Williams. “Even when there was both political risk and great physical risk in the form of actual danger, there was no hesitation on your part to preserve the pilots on that day.”
The presentation of Air Medals to the Swedish pilots represented the gratitude from the U.S. and the continued longstanding partnership with Sweden.
New York City struggled to meet its recruitment goals during the spring of 1917. The United States had recently entered World War I, which had been raging in Europe since 1914, and the military needed volunteers. While New York City had a population of around 6.5 million at the time, it lagged behind its goal of 2,000 recruits to the United States Navy by under half.
So New York City’s Mayor, John P. Mitchel, decided that he needed a gimmick to spark young men’s interest and convince them to volunteer for the war. What better way to draw attention to the Navy than to construct a battleship in the middle of Union Square? Teaming up with the Navy on the project, the Mayor’s Committee on National Defense raised approximately $10,000 (about $187,000 today) to fund the ship and hired Jules Guerin and Donn Barber to design the appropriately named USS Recruit, basing the design loosely on the USS Maine.
With work rapidly completed by the U.S. Navy, the USS Recruit, also known as the Landship Recruit, was built on the island of Manhattan. Construction finished for a “launch” on May 30, 1917, with the ship being christened by Olive Mitchel, the Mayor’s wife.
The wooden battleship mockup measured over 200 feet long and had a beam, or width, of 40 feet. While not actually armed for battle, the ship featured wooden replicas of two cage masts, six 14-inch guns inside three twin turrets, and ten 5-inch guns. It also had two 50-foot masts, an 18-foot tall smokestack, a main bridge, and a conning tower.
The Landship Recruit contained ample space for the job of recruiting and training sailors, with multiple waiting rooms and physical exam rooms, complete with full amenities. Doctors, officers, and sailors lived aboard the ship in their separate quarters.
As for the latter, the initial complement was thirty-nine sailors-in-training from the Newport Training Station and their commander, Captain C.F. Pierce. The crew maintained a similar routine to the one of a crew at sea. As reported by Popular Science Magazine in August of 1917,
The land sailors arise at six o’clock, scrub the decks, wash their clothes, attend instruction classes, and then stand guard and answer questions for the remainder of the day. There is a night as well as a day guard. From sunup to eleven o’clock all lights of the ship are turned on, including a series of searchlight projectors.
In addition to recruiting volunteers for the Navy and training new sailors, the USS Recruit served as a public relations tool. Citizens were invited onto the ship to learn about then modern battleships, and the sailors aboard routinely answered the public’s questions during their guard duty. Both patriotic and social events were also held on the battleship with the sailors acting as hosts. One patriotic event, according to a contemporary account from The New York Times, was the presentation of a recreation of Betsy Ross’s American flag. Other events were just social in nature, such as dances held for New York’s social elite. There were reportedly even Vaudeville shows held on board.
World War I ended in November of 1918 when both Austria-Hungary and Germany agreed to an armistice while the terms of peace could be negotiated. However, the USS Recruitcontinued its recruitment mission until March of 1920. It had helped the Navy recruit an astounding 25,000 new sailors (enough to man the USS Maine, which the Recruit was loosely modeled after, a whopping 45 times over) during its three years of operation.
At this time, the Navy announced that it would move the wooden battleship from Union Square to Luna Park on Coney Island and maintain it as a recruitment site there.
Yesterday when 10 o’clock came around and with it ‘sailing time’ all of the ceremonies were put on. The crew of eighty men lined up on the quarterdeck and the ship was formally abandoned while the Stars and Stripes and the commissioned pennant were hauled down. The ship’s band struck up ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as the colors were lowered to the deck.
The ship was then carefully dismantled over the course of a few days, with the pieces shipped off to Coney Island. Though The New York Times estimated that it would take just two weeks for the Navy to complete the move of the battleship, it was never rebuilt.
Out of sight, out of mind, no contemporary news source seems to have bothered to cover why the ship, which was supposed to be immediately rebuilt, was not. What happened to the pieces of the dismantled ship is also a mystery to this day. A search through the Navy archives for the period in question likewise turned up nothing insightful concerning the ship’s demise. Presumably it was simply decided at the last minute that rebuilding and maintaining the ship was an unnecessary expense given the Navy’s recruitment needs at the time. Alternatively, perhaps the 1920 New York Times piece simply got it wrong, news outlets, even then, not exactly known for their accuracy on the details of reports for various reasons, such as often having to rush submissions.
While this was the end of the Union Square battleship, it would not be the end of the name in the U.S. Navy. The USS Recruit (AM-285) was launched in 1943 and served during WWII before being decommissioned in 1946 and ultimately sold to the Mexican Navy in 1963. Following this, another landlocked ship was built, the USS Recruit (TDE-1), at the San Diego Naval Training Center in 1949. Built to scale at two-thirds the size of a Dealey-class destroyer escort, the ship was made of wood with sheet metal overlay and was used to train tens of thousands of recruits over the coming decades. It was, however, decommissioned in 1967, funny enough, because it could not be classified in the Navy’s new computerized registry. However, commissioned or not, it was in continuous service from 1949 to 1997 (with a complete re-model in 1982) when the base it is on was closed. While no longer being used, the ship still stands, with some thought to perhaps turning it into a maritime museum at some point.
The Camouflage Corps of the National League of Women helped the original USS Recruit to better resemble battleships in combat in 1918, painting it a camouflage pattern (designed by artist William Andrew Mackay).
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
In the days before naval aviation and submarines, the battleship was the unchallenged king of the seas. Building a bigger and better ship with more and bigger guns was basically the order of the day, and it continued all the way up until the days before World War II, when the world reached peak battleship, and airplanes proved to be deadlier than the Navy ever imagined.
But America almost reached peak battleship before World War I was even a possibility, and it was possibly the biggest battleship ever conceived – it also might have been an ironic joke from someone who hated the Navy.
Benjamin Tillman, famous racist and Navy hater.
Benjamin Tillman was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and a member of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. He was annoyed at the Navy for coming to Congress every year to request money to build more and bigger battleships. Despite this pretty much being what the Navy is supposed to do, Tillman decided it would be best to just get the whole arms race out of the way and build the biggest possible battleship they could at the moment. This led to the creation of the Maximum Battleship design.
No, that’s really what they called it.
Tillman hated the Navy’s battleships, and everyone knew it, but when he requested the Department of the Navy just submit the plans for the biggest battleship they could, the Navy obliged him anyway. There were, however, restrictions on U.S. ship designs at the time. Namely, they had to fit through the Panama Canal.
The first design submitted was a massive 70,000 tons – almost 50 percent heavier than the modern Navy’s USS Missouri – and this was in 1916. It carried 12 16-inch guns and had an armor thickness of 18 inches. In comparison, the Iowa-class battleships of World War II would carry just nine 16-inch guns and have a maximum armor thickness of 14.5 inches. The next iteration of Maximum Battleship designs would have 24 16-inch guns and an armor thickness of 13 inches. It was the third design that really took the cake, however.
Maximum Battleship III – also known as the Tillman III design – weighed 63,000 tons. It had the armor of the second design and the guns of the second design. It could even move at an absurd 30 knots, which is almost as fast as an Iowa-class ship and an insane speed for a ship of that size in 1916. This is a weight equal to the largest battleships ever actually built that moves even faster and was supposed to be built 20 years earlier. That wasn’t the end of the attempt, though. There would be another.
The largest of the Tillman Designs.
The fourth design for Tillman featured the 24 guns and even thicker armor, coming in at 19 inches. It was clear by now the Navy wasn’t expecting to get funding for these. The fourth design would displace 80,000 tons and was practically impossible to build with the technology of the day. In all, six designs were made, each bigger and more ridiculous than the last. It would be as big as the modern American supercarriers and carry the most and biggest weapons of anything on earth, on land, or on the oceans. And it would have been sunk just as easily with the advent of naval aviation.
There were only a few places around the world more tense than in the Cold War showdown between East and West that occurred every day in divided Berlin. In the West, American and NATO guards stared down the barrels of the Soviet-backed East German border guards from the other side of the Berlin Wall. These guards were known to shoot down any East German civilian trying to cross the wall, sometimes leaving their mangled corpse in the barbed wire.
One American decided he was going to do what he could to help.
An East German border guard leaps over barbed wire and away from the East German “utopia.”
It’s a well-known fact by now that life behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Few places in the Eastern Bloc were more repressive than in East Germany, and East Berlin in particular. East Berlin’s proximity to the freedom enjoyed by West Germany and greater Western Europe forced the Communist regimes to be more harsh to those attempting to escape to freedom. Still, many East Germans made the attempt. Scores of people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Untold numbers more likely made the escape.
One of those successful escapees was Hans-Peter Spitzner and his daughter Peggy. Spitzner lived more than 100 miles from East Berlin, but when the Stasi – the East German secret police – came knocking on his door and arrested him in the middle of the night for not voting the Communist Party line, he was done. He resolved to get out of East Germany. When Spitzner’s wife was suddenly able to travel to the West for a family birthday, he decided to make his move.
Spitzner with his wife and daughter.
Spitzner read in a Communist newspaper about how American and other troops were stripping East German stores of their stocks using favorable currency conversion rates. Under the post-World War II agreements, Western allies had free and open access to East Berlin and could come and go as they pleased. The author of the article even mentioned that Western soldiers’ cars weren’t searched. Spitzner rationalized that he and his daughter could hide in one of those cars and escape to freedom.
So the man drove 120 miles to East Berlin, just to hang out at the bus stops frequented by Western troops. All day long, he asked if anyone would be willing to smuggle him and his daughter out. Eventually, a young U.S. Army troop named Eric Yaw was walking up to his black Toyota.
He agreed to smuggle Spitzner and his daughter out of East Germany.
Eric Yaw’s Toyota Corolla.
There was just one hitch: the heat sensors at Checkpoint Charlie. As soon as the family was in Yaw’s trunk, Spitzner was certain they were doomed. If they were caught, they’d be imprisoned. If they ran, they’d be shot. But as luck would have it, that day was particularly warm, and Yaw’s black Toyota retained enough heat to hide Spitzner and his daughter from the border guards. In just a few minutes, Yaw opened the trunk and informed the two they were free.
Spitzner phoned his wife on vacation in Austria and told her the news. Yaw was disciplined by the Army for smuggling the two East Germans, but repeatedly said he would do the same thing again. Today, Yaw is out of the Army but is still a family friend. The Spitzners have returned to their hometown in what used to be East Germany.
The mysterious plane hijacker known as “D.B. Cooper,” who has eluded authorities for more than 45 years, was an ex-military paratrooper from Michigan who boasted about the daring heist to a friend, a publisher plans to reveal May 17, 2018.
Michigan publisher Principa Media says Cooper was former military paratrooper and intelligence operative Walter R. Reca, and Principa worked with Reca’s best friend, Carl Laurin, in compiling the evidence. While the publisher did not disclose if Reca was still alive, an obituary online lists Reca, of Oscada, Mich., as having died in 2014 at the age of 80.
“Evidence, including almost-daily discussions over a 14-year period and 3+ hours of audio recordings featuring the skyjacker, was compiled by Reca’s best friend. It was then analyzed by a Certified Fraud Examiner and forensic linguist,” the publisher said in a news release. “The audio recordings, created in 2008, include Reca discussing skyjacking details that were not known to the public prior to the FBI’s information release in 2015.”
The publishing company worked with Laurin for the memoir “D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend,” and plans to present evidence at a press conference on Thursday in Grand Rapids linking the crime to Reca. Evidence includes:
Witness testimony from an individual who spoke with Reca within an hour of his jump
Documentation concerning how the $200,000 in stolen cash was spent
Confessions from Reca to two individuals at two different times
An article of clothing Reca wore during the jump
In 1971, on the night before Thanksgiving, a man calling himself Dan Cooper, wearing a black tie and a suit, boarded a Seattle-bound Boeing 727 in Oregon and told a flight attendant he had a bomb in a briefcase. He gave her a note demanding ransom. After the plane landed he released the 36 passengers in exchange for $200,000 in ransom money and parachutes. The ransom was paid in $20 bills.
The hijacker then ordered the plane to fly to Mexico, but near the Washington-Oregon border he jumped and was never seen or heard from again.
In one of the audio recordings provided by the publishing company, Laurin is heard asking Reca about how he felt going through life knowing he was D.B. Cooper and if he ever had second thoughts about the heist.
“Never even a second thought,” Reca says.
After the heist, Reca said he put the money in the bank, and that he had “family to take care of” before jobs “overseas” came up. The daredevil said he treated it as any bank heist.
“It was no [big] deal really, it was done,” Reca is heard saying. “It was done, and I lived through it.”
After the skyjacking, Reca later became a high-level covert intelligence operative, according to the publishing company.
Reca possessed skills to survive jumping out of the plane because he was on the Michigan Parachute Team, according to the publisher. He attended the team reunion in 2000 and was pictured in a photo released by the publisher.
Despite the claims of the publishing company, the FBI has never ruled out the possibility that the hijacker was killed in the jump — which took place during a rainstorm at night, over rough, wooded terrain. The hijacker’s clothing and footwear were also unsuitable for a rough landing.
Over the years the most lasting image of Cooper, who became somewhat of a legend, may be the two sketches the FBI released of the suspect.
Many investigators have come forward with their theories for who the infamous hijacker may be. In early 2018, the leader of the private investigative team who has spent years trying to crack the D.B. Cooper hijacking case claimed he believes the mysterious criminal was a CIA operative whose identity has been covered up by federal agents.
Thomas Colbert, a documentary filmmaker who helped put together the 40-member team, said in January 2018, his team made the connection from work a code breaker uncovered in each of the five letters allegedly sent by Cooper.
Since January 2018, the FBI has released more than 3,000 documents to Colbert’s team investigating the hijacking. The FBI said in court papers that it has more than 71,000 documents that may be responsive to Colbert’s lawsuit.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
One was Mel Blanc. You never saw him. But you probably heard him. He was the voice of Bugs Bunny. Well, Bugs did his part for the war effort in some cartoons, including one that Warner Brothers pulled due to offensive stereotypes of the Japanese. America’s favorite “wascally wabbit” is an honorary Marine as a result of his service on the screen.
But Blanc did more than just entertain. He also helped train some of the soldiers who were putting it all out there. Specifically, he helped train the gunners on heavy bombers. The B-17 Flying Fortresses had a lot of gun positions. Some of the ten-man crew manning them had other jobs (like the bombardier, the navigator, and the radio operator). Others just had to shoot.
No matter what, though, they needed to know how to aim their guns so that some Nazi or Japanese fighter didn’t shoot their bomber down. In a 14-minute film, Blanc portrays a waist gunner on one Flying Fortress who starts out with some bad habits. Over that course of time, the trainees were given a crash course and the bare essentials needed to know how to aim their machine gun.
When American military units are established or disestablished, it’s usually done on American soil. There are exceptions, but, for the most part, it is done in the United States. But one Marine division has the distinction of never setting foot in the United States for the duration its service.
During World War II, the Marine Corps underwent a massive expansion. The 1st Marine Division was established in February of 1941. Eventually, the Marines grew to six infantry divisions (today, there are four – three active and one reserve). Five were formed in the United States, but the 6th Marine Division was formed on the Pacific island where Marine legends, like John Basilone, made their mark on history – Guadalcanal – on September 7, 1944, a little over two years after the invasion of that island.
The division trained until it was sent to help take the island of Okinawa from Japan. The Japanese troops on that island didn’t give up easily. The battle spanned almost three months, leaving 12,520 Americans dead, including Lieutenant General Simon Buckner. Over 110,000 Japanese troops and at least 40,000 civilians were killed during the fighting.
During the fight for Okinawa, five Marines and one sailor with the 6th Marine Division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. The entire division was recognized with the Presidential Unit Citation. After Okinawa, the division was pulled back to Guam in order to prepare for the invasion of Japan — on an American territory, but not in the United States. Soon thereafter, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and forced Japan’s surrender. The division was instead sent to Tsingtao, China, where it was disestablished in 1946.
Today, the 6th Marine Division remains inactive. To learn more about what their courageous actions on Okinawa, watch the video below.