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.
The Civil War Trust, known for its great maps and historical accounts of the war, has branched into animated maps that show move-by-move accounts of important battles like Antietam, Vicksburg and Shiloh.
The trust’s still maps are known for their accuracy and detail, and these new animated maps continue that tradition. The big difference is the motion; it’s like watching the battle play out on a sand table during a ROC drill.
A narrator provides context for the action, telling viewers everything from how the crippling heat affected the repeated clashes at Little Round Top to why Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-advised deployment of artillery on the Union’s front.
Meanwhile, short video clips try to put the viewer on the ground with soldiers during the most fierce and important events, showing things like when Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was shot in the neck and killed.
The full videos for each battle are a little long, about 15-20 minutes each. But they let you get a better understanding of each battle that you can knock out in a lunch break. Check out Gettysburg below:
The 1916 Battle of the Ancre was a weeklong British offensive against German positions on the Ancre River in France. It was part of the first Battle of the Somme, and it was one of the first times a tank was filmed in battle.
That’s because the Battle of the Ancre from Nov. 13-19, 1916, was one of the better-documented fights in the war. A film crew was on hand for much of the fighting and put together an over hour-long movie of their footage.
The filmmakers captured everything from a tank crew taking their cat mascot into the steel belly with them to horses drawing artillery into position to men going over the top to attack enemy trenches.
Unfortunately for the film crew and worse for the British soldiers, the rainy conditions made the terrain too muddy for the tanks and slowed down assaults by infantry, giving a huge advantage to the German defenders.
In this modern world, earning a nickname is generally a piece of cake. Show up for work one day with a half-shaven face and you will quickly be slapped with one or two ‘loving’ and memorable nicknames that follow you for years.
In previous generations, nicknames were a bit harder to come by. Add in the legal segregation and racism that characterized the early 20th century and imagine what exactly had to be done for a black soldier to be known as “Black Death” by both friendly and opposing forces. It all stems from one night.
Henry Johnson was born on July 15, 1892. On June 5, 1917, standing at approximately 5’4″ and weighing roughly 130 pounds, he enlisted in the 15th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard (colloquially known as the Harlem Hellfighters).
He joined them on deployment to France to augment the Fourth French Army and would go on to become the first black soldier to engage in combat during World War I.
Why “Black Death?”
On May 14, 1918, Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts were augmenting the Fourth French Army, standing as sentries in Argonne Forest. Outfitted with French weapons and gear, Johnson and Roberts soon began taking sniper fire as German forces advanced.
Roberts was severely wounded trying to alert standby forces, leaving Johnson to fend off the German advance, essentially alone, using any and everything he could get his hands on. Johnson successfully held the German forces up long enough for American and French troops to arrive, forcing the Germans to retreat.
Johnson took bullets to the head, lip, sides, and hands, suffering 21 total wounds in all. Using a combination of grenades, rifles, pistols, buttstocks, and a bolo knife, Johnson killed four enemy soldiers and wounded another 20. Following the events of that night, he was known as, “Black Death.”
On June 28, 1914, an assassin supplied by terrorists shot and killed the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, igniting an already tense situation between Serbia and the Hapsburg-controlled monarchy in Vienna. By July 1914, a month later, the world was at war, and by the end of the war, Austria-Hungary would no longer exist, and Germany would be punished in the treaty that ended it.
Even though Germany had nothing to do with igniting “the powder keg of Europe.”
A Bosnian terrorist kills an Austrian noble in Serbia so Germany and Russia go to war. Get it?
It’s a little more complicated than who started what but Germany gets the brunt of the blame for the war because of how the fight between Austria and Serbia escalated so fast, and no attempt was made to de-escalate it. The resulting deaths of millions worldwide along with the destruction wrought on European battlefields and the use of poison gas left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth (sometimes literally) throughout the duration of the war.
While Germany didn’t necessarily start World War I, it didn’t do much to stop it, either. In fact, many historians believe Germany actively encouraged the war, despite the systems of alliances in place that should have deterred the European powers from fighting. The Germans knew if Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, the Russians would intervene on Serbia’s behalf. Then Germany would have to come to Austria’s aid.
That’s what the Germans wanted.
Russians were still carrying religious icons into battle instead of modern weapons.
Even though Austria was satisfied with Sarajevo’s attempt to smooth things over, Germany convinced the Hapsburg Emperor that he could not only invade and win against the Serbians, but that Germany would have an easy time against all the other European allies. Germany really, really wanted a war with Russia to acquire new territory in the east, but couldn’t justify it. Going to war to back its Austrian ally was more than enough and Austria had a reason to go to war with Serbia. So Germany kept pushing its ally despite calls for peace from the rest of Europe.
Finally, Austria agreed and attacked Serbia, which caused the Russians to come to Serbia’s aid, which forced Germany to back Austria and France to back Russia. Then the Germans invaded France through Belgium, requiring England to intervene in the war as well. So Austria-Hungary technically started the war, but Germany tried to finish it. For four years.
That’s why Germany takes the blame for World War I.
A number of U.S. presidents have served in the military. One, though, flew jets and went supersonic. That was George W. Bush, who served as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard- the first President to break Mach 1.
This plane had a top speed of Mach 1.25, a maximum range of 1,350 miles, and could carry six AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missiles and 24 unguided rockets.
In a 2004 report, NationalReview.com noted that Bush sought to get into the Palace Alert program, which involved F-102s being deployed to Vietnam. He was passed over due to a lack of experience. The F-102 provided air defense and served as a bomber escort during the Vietnam War, and 15 were lost to hostile action, including one shot down by a MiG-21.
The F-102 served from 1956 to the 1970s with the Air Force, and was with Air National Guard units until 1976. The plane also saw service with Greece and Turkey – helping protect NATO’s southern flank. A refined version of this plane became the F-106 Delta Dart.
If you’d like to see the fighter in action, you can catch a video on the supersonic F-102 below.
Airships like zeppelins and blimps lost their appeal somewhere between World Wars I and II. It might have had something to do with the Hindenburg going down in a massive, fiery wreck in front of the whole world. By the time World War II came about, airships were a thing of the past for every military except the United States, which is a shame because you did not want to f*ck with an airship.
They seem like goofy floating targets just begging to be shot down but getting to them was a lot harder than anyone might think. More than that, they were really effective at locating enemy submarines and then blowing them into oblivion. Of the 89,000 ships protected by airships during WWII, only one was ever lost.
And only one airship was ever lost, and it happened off the coast of Florida in July 1943.
Blimp-Submarine combat seems like it would be adorable.
The missions of blimp crew was an easy one, use the massive range of sight the blimp had over the ocean waters, locate enemy submarines, then call in for fighters and bombers to come finish the subs off. They had some weapons, a few depth charges, and a .50-cal machine gun, but not something to take on a submarine head-to-head. But K-74 did just that.
A 252-foot airship, K-74 was performing its usual mission in the Florida Straits when it spotted German U-boat 134 on radar. The airship came down from the cover of the clouds to find the boat on the surface of the water. Seeing that the U-boat was headed for a merchant convoy, Lt. Nelson Grills decided he couldn’t just wait for backup and had to act fast. As the ship moved to intercept the boat, the sub’s conning tower exploded with 20-mm rounds.
U-134 under attack from the RAF earlier in 1943. The sub survived the meeting.
K-74 was able to drop two charges on the sub as it flew overhead, but the charges did nothing to silence the 20mm guns. The blimp returned fire, but the submarine had hit one of the airship’s engines, and she was losing altitude fast. Then it caught fire. The next thing he knew, the crew had begun to abandon ship – all because he couldn’t follow protocol. But the ship didn’t explode in a Hindenburg-like burst of flame. It gently fell to the surface of the water, and the crew climbed aboard the deflated ship.
Gills helped his crewmen escape, but as they climbed the balloon part of the ship, Grills got separated when he stayed behind to destroy the ship’s classified documents and top-secret cargo.
The ship’s commander was found when another K-ship spotted him in the water below just a few hours after his ship went down. His crew was in the water all night and was found by a seaplane the next day. Most of them survived, except for one. The crew was being circled by sharks as planes flew overhead and surface ships moved in for a rescue. The USS Dahlgren had come on scene to pick them up, and even though the Dahlgren’s crew managed to keep some sharks away with small arms, one of the K-74 crewmen was pulled under by a shark and disappeared.
All was not lost, however. K-74 damaged the enemy submarine in the action. The U-boat was forced to limp home heavily damaged. Eventually, it was found at sea by the British Royal Air Force, who swiftly finished it off near the Cies Islands.
Lasting five years, eight months and five days, the Battle of the Atlantic was the longest military campaign of WWII. Allied supply convoys were being continuously threatened by German U-boats and Luftwaffe aircraft, and when Italy’s Regia Marina introduced submarines into the mix when they entered the war in June of 1940, Allies were exhausting every idea possible to protect lives along with invaluable resources. Enter Winston Churchill, an unmatched powerhouse of a leader during the war who, in this instance, spearheaded a project more akin to a fictional Bond villain than a 1940’s combat strategy.
The idea itself was simple enough in theory: create an aircraft carrier using as many natural resources as possible, in an attempt to mitigate the high cost of materials like steel, which was in short supply. Pike’s solution was ambitious to say the least. Instead of costly materials that were in high demand, he’d build his aircraft carrier out of one of the most plentiful materials on earth: water, or more accurately, ice.
Invented by an outside-the-box thinker
The concept came from British journalist, educator, and inventor, Geoffrey Pyke. Pyke was no stranger to the perils of war, having been in a German internment camp during WWI after being caught traveling there using someone else’s passport, in an attempt to work as a war correspondent. He had been arrested just six days after he arrived, and spent over 100 days in solitary confinement before escaping. Despite his continued contributions to both war efforts, he would go on to struggle both personally and professionally, before committing suicide in 1948 at age 54. The British paper “The Times” printed his obituary, which included, “The death of Geoffrey Pyke removes one of the most original if unrecognized figures of the present century.”
The aircraft carrier would be the second significant proposal Pyke would make during WWII. The first was following Germany’s invasion of Norway, when it became clear there needed to be a better way to transport troops through the snow and another difficult-to-traverse terrain. Project Plough was Pyke’s motion to build a screw-propelled vehicle, based loosely off of old patents for Armstead snow motor vehicles. It would be the first time he would get the attention of Louis Mountbatten, the newly appointed Chief of Combined Operations. Mountbatten would bring the inventor, and his ideas, in front of Winston Churchill. Despite the interest in the project, Canada and the U.S. beat Britain to the punch when they began producing the M28 (then T15) and M29 Weasel, both inspired by Pyke’s original design.
It wouldn’t be long before Pyke and Churchill would see eye to eye on another idea. Project Habakkuk, as it would be known, was supposed to be the answer to the increased presence and efficacy of Allied air forces in the Atlantic.
Pyke chose the name based on the bible verse Habakkuk 1:5, which reads as hubristic optimism for the success of the project.
“Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”
What would Pike’s Habakkuk apart from traditional aircraft carriers was the fact that it would be made almost entirely of a combination of ice and wood pulp. Eventually dubbed ‘Pykrete’ (named dually after Pyke and its strength compared to concrete), these two materials would become the main focus of his research and development. With the help of molecular biologist, glacial expert, and eventual Nobel Prize-winning protein chemist Max Perutz, and a hidden refrigerated meat locker underneath London’s Smithfield Meat Market, Pyke was able to fine-tune the functionality of the pykrete, while also discovering some of its unavoidable challenges.
Perutz determined 14% sawdust or wood pulp to 86% ice was the ideal breakdown for structural soundness, and championed the prospective benefits of a full-scale carrier that could utilize seawater when necessary to repair damages. It wouldn’t be easy, however. Expansion during freezing made construction more difficult than Pike anticipated, and the ice/sawdust mixture would start bowing under its own weight at temperatures above five degrees Fahrenheit (-15°C).
Despite the new structural considerations, a small-scale model of the Habakkuk was greenlit, and a team started work in Jasper National Park, a 4,200 square mile park within the Canadian Rockies. In addition to troubleshooting the known issues, the goal of the scale model was to test environmental durability as well as how pykrete held up against various weapons and explosives. The 60 foot long, 1,000-ton model took eight men around two weeks to complete, and seemed to hold up well enough to both nature and manmade adversaries. Upon its completion, Churchill almost immediately announced the order for the real thing, full scale, and with the highest priority of importance.
A full-scale Habakkuk was a tall order, and while completion was optimistically slated for mid-1944, the supply list would prove to be a living document. The original list called for 300,000 tons of wood pulp, 25,000 tons of wood fiber insulation, 35,000 tons of timber and a conservative 10,000 tons of steel. All of this totaled around £700,000 (equivalent to just under $10.6 million today). Seasonally driven temperature changes quickly made the team realize that using steel as internal support was not only necessary, but would require much more of it than they had initially estimated. Factoring in more steel, the final proposed cost would be triple what had been anticipated, sitting at £2.5 million.
A False Prophet: Issues in the ice
The project also wasn’t without some creative differences and office politics. Britain wanted to ensure America was invested in the idea, and began to phase Pyke out of the process. Back during Project Plough, Pyke had some significant conflicts with Americans working on his designs, causing him to be removed from that project well before it was ultimately scrapped. While Pyke’s exclusion had little bearing on the final outcome, the timing of it fell towards the beginning of the end for Habakkuk.
The summer of 1943 welcomed more criticisms and observations, and with them, higher expectations for the carrier. With a 2,000 foot runway to accommodate the Royal Navy’ heavy bombers, and 40-foot thick walls to withstand torpedos, the Habakkuk carrier would end up displacing 2,000,000 tons of water (compared to the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz class carrier, which at just over 1,000 feet, only displaces about 100,000 tons). It was also expected to have a 7,000 mile range and be able to handle the highest recorded waves on the open sea. However, its immense size, along with concerns about speed and steering, soon made it more and more clear that the odds may be stacked against Pike’s Habakkuk.
The last meeting about the build took place in December of 1943. By this time, a number of factors had changed in regards to the war itself, and that, coupled with the challenges they were already facing, ended up being the final nail in the coffin for the project. Portugal had given the Allies permission to use their airfields in the Azores, which allowed them the opportunity of deploying more airborne U-boat patrols over the Atlantic.
An increased number of traditional aircraft carriers, as well as newly introduced and integrated long-range fuel tanks that allowed for longer flight times over the Atlantic, essentially made the Habakkuk obsolete before it could even take shape. The prototype found its final resting place at the bottom of Jasper’s Lake Patricia.
In his collection of essays titled, “I Wish I’d Made You Angry Earlier: Essays on Science, Scientists and Humanity,” Pertuz concluded:
“The US Navy finally decided that Habakkuk was a false prophet.”
Myth Busting: The return of the Habakkuk
While the world never got to see the larger-than-life, movie-villain-worthy tactical ice island, there were two special effects experts who decided to put Pyke’s pykrete to the test.
In a 2009 episode of MythBusters (ep. 115 “Alaska Special”), fabrication wizards Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman wanted to explore the validity of some of the claims made about pykrete. The first was the idea that it was bulletproof, which the two believed they confirmed after their test of firing .45 caliber rounds into a block of solid ice, which shattered on impact, and a block of their own pykrete, which only sustained a 1-inch deep gash when it was hit.
The second “confirmed” theory was that pykrete was inherently stronger than ice on its own. Through a mechanical stress test using a cantilever, Adam and Jamie found that the solid ice broke at only 40lbs of pressure, while their pykrete supported all 300lbs – and a few hits with a hammer- before it fractured.
The third test was the culminating event, trying to determine whether or not Project Habakkuk was even possible. They set to work building their own (much smaller) boat, made from Hyneman’s “super Pykrete”–a mixture of ice and newspapers–which they had found to be even stronger than the original Pykrete formula.
In a conclusion they deemed “plausible but ludicrous,” the Mythbusters team were able to get about 20 minutes of smooth sailing in, reaching up to 23mph, before the boat began to deteriorate. They stayed afloat for the ten minutes it took them to get back to shore, but weren’t confident their particular design would have lasted much longer. While they loved Pyke’s ingenuity, they felt the Habakkuk was, at best, highly impractical.
Project Habakkuk sits comfortably among a long line of attempted military innovations that were never fully realized. What it does prove however, is that tough times can inspire some of the most unconventionally inventive ideas, and there’s sometimes something to be said for those who err on the side of eccentricity.
Crewman aboard a ship owned by A and T Recovery on Lake Michigan dropped cameras into the deep to confirm what sonar was telling them – there was a German U-boat resting on the bottom of the Great Lake. Luckily, the year was 1992, a full 73 years removed from the end of the Great War that saw German submarines force the United States to enter the war in Europe. How it got there has nothing to do with naval combat.
Unlike how we got into World War I in the first place.
In the days before a true visual mass medium, the American people were restricted to photos in newspapers to get a view of what the war looked like. World War I was the first real industrial war, marked for its brutality and large numbers of casualties, not to mention the advances in weapons technology that must have seemed like magic to the people who had never seen poison gas, automatic machine guns, and especially boats that moved underneath the waves, sinking giant battleships from the depths.
So after years of hearing about evil German U-boats mercilessly sinking tons and tons of Allied shipping and killing thousands of sailors while silently slipping beneath the waves, one of those ships began touring the coastal cities of the United States – and people understandably wanted to see it.
WWI-era submarines after being surrendered to the Allied powers.
The Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice demanded that the German navy turn over its ships to the British but instead of doing that, the Germans scuttled the bulk of their fleet near the British base at Scapa Flow. The submarines, however, survived. Seeing that there were so many U-boats and that German technology surrounding U-boats used some of the best technology at the time, the British offered them out to other nations, as long as the submarines were destroyed when their usefulness came to an end.
The United States accepted one, UC-97, and toured it around the country to raise money needed to pay off the enormous war debt incurred by the government of the United States. When they successfully raised that money, the Navy continued touring the ships as a way to recruit new sailors. The UC-97 was sailed up the St. Lawrence Seaway into Lake Ontario and then Lake Erie.
It was the first submarine ever sailed into the Great Lakes.
UC-97 sails into New York Harbor in April 1919.
Eventually, though, the novelty of the ship wore off, and after raising money, recruiting sailors, and giving all the tech she had on board, the boat just sat on the Chicago River. All the other subs taken by the U.S. were sunk according to the treaty’s stipulations. UC-97 couldn’t really move under her own power and was towed to the middle of Lake Michigan, where she was sunk for target practice by the USS Wilmette, forgotten by the Navy for decades after.
“Once the pin is pulled, Mr. Hand Grenade is no longer your friend.”
In war, troops who cover enemy grenades (or badly-thrown friendly grenades) with their own bodies have usually been awarded the Medal of Honor. Some lived, but all too often, the award is posthumous.
But the opening statement is also true in peacetime training. When recruits are taught to throw grenades, they use the real M67 fragmentation grenade. MilitaryFactory.com notes that this has about 6.5 ounces of Composition B explosive, and can kill people standing roughly 50 feet away. Fragments have gone as far as 750 feet from where the grenade goes off – and they don’t care who is in the way.
So it’s important that trainees handle grenades with care — and have fellow troopers who’ll step in to avert tragedy.
Here are eight badass troops who saved lives during grenade training.
1. Marine Sgt. Joseph Leifer
On June 13, 2013, Sgt. Leifer was manning a grenade pit when a student’s toss bounced back into the pit. According to the Marine Corps Times, Leifer grabbed the student, threw him out of the way, and covered him with his body. Leifer received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on Nov. 7, 2014.
2. and 3. Marine Staff Sgt. Shawn M. Martin and Marine Staff Sgt. Jason M. Kuehnl
According to a Marine Corps release, these Marines received their Navy and Marine Corps Medals on the same day, June 23, 2009. The previous year, each had saved recruits when mishaps took place during grenade training. The Military Times Hall of Valor notes that Kuehnl’s actions took place on Oct. 31, 2008, while Martin’s took place on Sept. 12, 2008.
4. Marine Sgt. William Holls
A 2010 Marine Corps release noted that on Sept. 28, 2009, Holls noticed one recruit seemed very nervous as he prepared for the grenade toss. When the recruit froze, Holls moved to assist. The recruit panicked and dropped the live grenade. Holls threw the recruit out of the way and shielded the recruit with his body. Both the recruit and Holls were wounded by the blast. Holls provided first aid to the recruit before help arrived. He received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on July 15, 2010.
In June 2014, Sgt. Kenneth Kam saw a recruit fail to get a grenade over the wall of the grenade pit at Fort Leonard Wood. With what an Army release described as “three to four seconds” to act, he grabbed the recruit, moved her out of the pit, and saved her life. For those actions, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.
7. Army Staff Sgt. John King
According to a report from Newson6.com, Staff Sgt. John King, with less than a half-dozen seconds to react, threw a hand grenade over a wall after a recruit’s bad toss, then pulled the recruit to the ground. The report noted that King was nominated for the Soldier’s Medal. KSWO.com added that King received an Army Commendation Medal while the nomination was being processed.
8. Army Staff Sgt. Gary Moore
A 2013 report from Cleveland19.com described how Staff Sgt. Gary Moore had been doing grenade instruction when a recruit was about to throw a grenade the wrong way. While Moore was correcting the recruit’s aim, the recruit dropped the grenade. Moore was quoted as saying, “I proceeded to get the soldier and myself out of the bay as quickly as possible.”
More like Moore threw the recruit out of the bay and jumped on top of him. Moore received the Soldier’s Medal for his actions.
These near-tragic incidents remind us that even in peacetime, our troops are risking it all.
Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller is something like a god to United States Marines. To call Chesty a legend feels like an understatement for any Marine who has been properly indoctrinated in the ways of the World’s Finest Fighting Force. Marines are taught in boot camp about the most decorated Marine in the service’s history.
Over a 37-year career in the Corps, Chesty rose from the rank of private to lieutenant general. He saw combat in numerous conflicts and earned an unprecedented five Navy Crosses, a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Silver Star Medal. The Navy Cross is the nation’s second-highest military award for valor in combat — second only to the Medal of Honor. The Distinguished Service Cross is the Army equivalent of the Navy Cross, which is awarded by the Navy and Marine Corps. The Silver Star is the United States’ third-highest military award for valor in combat.
While most Marines are familiar with Chesty’s chest candy, the stories behind his biggest awards are less known. Strap in, folks.
First Navy Cross, Nicaragua
As a first lieutenant, Chesty earned his first Navy Cross for commanding a Nicaraguan National Guard unit. From February through August 1930, Chesty led five successful engagements against superior numbers of armed bandits, completely routing the enemy forces each time, according to his award citation.
“By his intelligent and forceful leadership without thought of his own personal safety, by great physical exertion and by suffering many hardships, Lieutenant Puller surmounted all obstacles and dealt five successive and severe blows against organized banditry in the Republic of Nicaragua,” his citation reads.
Second Navy Cross, Nicaragua
Chesty earned his second Navy Cross while commanding a 40-man Nicaraguan National Guard patrol from Sept. 20 to Oct. 1, 1932. The first lieutenant and his men patrolled nearly 100 miles north of their nearest base, penetrating deep into isolated mountainous bandit territory. Chesty’s patrol was ambushed Sept. 26 “by an insurgent force of 150 in a well-prepared position armed with not less than seven automatic weapons and various classes of small arms and well-supplied with ammunition,” according to Chesty’s award citation.
After a Nicaraguan soldier was killed by the initial burst of fire and Chesty’s second in command was seriously wounded and reported dead, the legendary combat leader went to work.
“With great courage, coolness and display of military judgment, [Puller] so directed the fire and movement of his men that the enemy were driven first from the high ground on the right of his position, and then by a flanking movement forced from the high ground to the left and finally were scattered in confusion with a loss of 10 killed and many wounded by the persistent and well-directed attack of the patrol,” the award citation reads. “This signal victory in jungle country, with no lines of communication and 100 miles from any supporting force, was largely due to the indomitable courage and persistence of the patrol commander. Returning with the wounded to Jinotega, the patrol was ambushed twice by superior forces on Sept. 30. On both occasions the enemy was dispersed with severe losses.”
Third Navy Cross, Guadalcanal
Chesty earned his third Navy Cross as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal in World War II. On the night of Oct. 24-25, 1942, Lt. Col. Puller’s battalion was holding a mile-long defensive front under heavy rain and in some areas of dense jungle when a massive Japanese force launched a violent assault against the Marines.
“Courageously withstanding the enemy’s desperate and determined attacks, Lieutenant Colonel Puller not only held his battalion to its position until reinforcements arrived three hours later, but also effectively commanded the augmented force until late in the afternoon of the next day,” Chesty’s award citation reads. “By his tireless devotion to duty and cool judgment under fire, he prevented a hostile penetration of our lines and was largely responsible for the successful defense of the sector assigned to his troops.”
Fourth Navy Cross, Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain
Chesty earned his fourth Navy Cross while serving as executive officer of the 7th Marines during the Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain from Dec. 26, 1943, to Jan. 19, 1944.
“Assigned temporary command of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, from Jan. 4-9, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay,” his award citation reads. “Assuming additional duty in command of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Jan. 7-8, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign.”
Fifth Navy Cross, Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Korea
Known for its miserable subzero conditions and nightmarish brutality, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir holds a special place in Marine Corps lore (the gut-wrenching documentary Chosin does a great job of capturing the absolute hell that battle was), and Chesty Puller had a pretty big role there. So central that his actions at Chosin earned him his fifth Navy Cross and his only Distinguished Service Medal.
As a colonel, Chesty was serving as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Regiment when he learned his Marines were completely surrounded by tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers and famously declared, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now, we’ve finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them.”
During the period of Dec. 5-10, 1950, “Colonel Puller drove off repeated and fanatical enemy attacks upon his regimental defense sector and supply points,” his award citation reads. “Although the area was frequently covered by grazing machine-gun fire and intense artillery and mortar fire, he coolly moved along his troops to insure their correct tactical employment, reinforced the lines as the situation demanded, and successfully defended the perimeter, keeping open the main supply routes for the movement of the Division. During the attack from Koto-ri to Hungnam, he expertly utilized his Regiment as the Division rear guard, repelling two fierce enemy assaults, which severely threatened the security of the unit, and personally supervised the care and prompt evacuation of all casualties. By his unflagging determination, he served to inspire his men to heroic efforts in defense of their positions and assured the safety of much valuable equipment, which would otherwise have been lost to the enemy. His skilled leadership, superb courage and valiant devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds reflect the highest credit upon Colonel Puller and the United States Naval Service.”
Distinguished Service Cross, Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Korea
Apparently Chesty bolstered his Battle of Chosin bling and scored the Army’s equivalent of the Navy Cross for his actions Nov. 29 to Dec. 4, 1950. Chesty’s citation for this award is sparse on details but cites his “extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as commanding officer, 1st Marines […] Colonel Puller’s actions contributed materially to the breakthrough of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Chosin Reservoir area and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”
Silver Star, Inchon Landing, Korea
Before Chosin, Chesty pulled off an extraordinary feat when he executed Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s bold gamble to change the course of the Korean War with an amphibious landing of forces at the Port of Inchon.
The Marine Corps Times reported in 2019, “The bold landing at Inchon was a major gamble by MacArthur. Critics of the Army general’s plan noted Korean defenses, a heavily mined approach to the port and obstacles like seawalls.” MacArthur, who commanded American and United Nations forces during the Korean War, awarded the Silver Star to Chesty as a symbol of respect for the Inchon landing.
Chesty’s Silver Star citation highlights his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while commanding the 1st Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces during the amphibious landing resulting in the capture of Inchon, Korea, on Sept. 15, 1950, in the Inchon-Seoul Operation. His actions contributed materially to the success of this operation and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Military Service.”
At this point, any Marine reading this listicle should be standing at attention and saluting while sounding off with a chesty “OOHRAH! Semper Fi!”
The Germans were not ashamed of using performance-enhancing drugs on the front lines of World War II. After all, anything that gives your side an edge really matters when the stakes are life and death. Nazi soldiers used Pervitin, a kind of methamphetamine, to stay awake, alert, and march that extra mile during the blitzkrieg conquest of Western Europe. It was so effective that the allies even started experimenting with similar drugs, but none was really perfect for the Allied cause, so the matter was dropped.
Not so in the Soviet Union.
The USSR had some problems unique to their theater of war.
(Museum of the Great Patriotic War)
Aside from the brutality of the fighting between the Nazis and the Communists, two competing ideologies who downright hated each other, the Eastern Front was one of the deadliest of World War II because of one terrifying factor: the weather. Neither side was properly equipped to fight in the long, harsh Russian winter. Hitler didn’t trust meteorologists and instead listened to occultists when deciding how to outfit his Eastern armies. The first winter of the Soviet War began in earnest in September 1941 and would get so cold that German troops’ eyelids were lost to the cold. Some temperatures were recorded at -45° Fahrenheit near Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg).
The Red Army had its own problems with the cold and its own problems in dealing with the cold. Its solution was to use a drug of its own, which they called “heat pills,” but the rest of the world knows it as 2,4-Dinitrophenol – a potent high explosive, herbicide, and weight-loss drug.
In Soviet Union, drug eats YOU.
When your choices are to take a potentially dangerous weight-loss drug that makes you feel warm when you’re definitely not warm and risk a heart attack or maybe feel every moment of freezing to death while a hundred Nazis try to murder you, the choice becomes very clear when you’re the average Red Army Ivan trying not to be one of the 26 million or so dead Soviets by the end of the war. For the USSR chain of command however, they quickly realized they had a problem.
Weight-loss drugs sped up the metabolism of their already too-hungry front line soldiers. It also actually fatigued them further by burning fat for heat instead of energy. Also, it killed a lot of Russian troops, either through heart attacks or fever. But what was the Soviet high command supposed to do? Properly clothe them? That’s not how the Red Army works, comrade.
There’s no limit to the amount of vitriol the military-veteran community can muster for actress Jane Fonda. Now 80, the actress is the subject of a new HBO Documentary film, Jane Fonda In Five Acts. Since the film covers her 50-year career, it could not avoid a discussion about her anti-war activism during the Vietnam War.
Her experience with war and the U.S. military before the Vietnam War was limited to her World War II-veteran father, actor Henry Fonda, and her work as “Miss Army Recruiter” in 1954. It was a famous photograph of her sitting on a Communist anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam in 1972 that earned her the eternal scorn of veterans and the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”
To this day, the actress says she is confronted by veterans of the Vietnam War who are still angry about her visit to the enemy in 1972. If you need further proof, look at the Facebook comments on this article — yes, the one you’re currently reading.
In a meeting with television critics in Beverly Hills, Calif. on July 25, 2018, she talked about how she came to her anti-war beliefs and what led her to sit on that anti-aircraft gun. She says she didn’t know much about the war or what was happening in Vietnam. She told the group she met some American soldiers in Paris who told her what was going on and it infuriated her.
The actress said before that meeting, she “didn’t even know where Vietnam was,” but “believed that if there were men fighting, they were ‘on the side of the angels.'” While she doesn’t regret her visit to North Vietnam, she does regret the photo and the effect it had on the men and women fighting in the war and their families, she told Variety.
“What I say in the film is true: I am just so sorry that I was thoughtless enough to sit down on that gun at that time. The message that sends to the guys that were there and their families, it’s horrible for me to think about that. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh I wish I could do it over’ because there are things I would say differently now.”
The actress says she uses the confrontations with Vietnam War veterans as a chance to apologize and explain, to talk to them with what she calls, “an open mind and a soft heart.”