Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy's Purple Heart - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

John F. Kennedy was born into privilege, graduated from Harvard, and did not have to fight in World War II, but he did — he insisted.


Related: 6 alternated names troops have for military awards

Ironically, Kennedy was not allowed to serve in the military on his first attempt. He was disqualified from entering the Army’s Officer Candidate School in 1940 because of a severe back injury. Historian and Kennedy biographer, Robert Dallek suggests his vertebrae started degenerating while treating his intestinal problems with steroids in the late 1930’s, according to the New York Times.

Thanks to his father’s political influence as the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain and the help of his friend, Captain Alan Kirk, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Kennedy got his foot in the door despite his back problems. He was commissioned as an ensign on October 26, 1941, and assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington D.C.

Not satisfied with simply serving, Kennedy made his way to the Naval Reserve Officers Training School at Northwestern University in Chicago, Il. After completing his training on September 27, 1942, he entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island and promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) on October 10, 1942. On December 2, he received orders to his first command aboard PT-101 with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Four in Panama.

His stint in Panama was short lived, in February 1943, he was transferred to the Island of Tulagi in the Solomons as a replacement officer to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two. By April 1943 he was the commanding officer of PT-109, the boat that distinguished his Naval career and arguably his path to the White House.

 

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USNR, (standing at right) with other crewmen on board PT-109, 1943. Image: Collections of the U.S. National Archives, downloaded from the Naval Historical Center.

After the sinking of PT-109 by a Japanese destroyer, he gathered the remaining survivors of his crew to vote on whether to fight or surrender. It was there that he famously said, “there’s nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families, and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose.”

This American Heroes Channel video profiles John F. Kennedy’s actions that earned him the Purple Heart along with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Watch:

American Heroes Channel, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

George H.W. Bush’s overlooked legacy in space exploration

On July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, President George H. W. Bush stood on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and, backed by the Apollo 11 crew, announced his new Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). He believed that this new program would put America on a track to return to the moon and make an eventual push to Mars.


“The time has come to look beyond brief encounters. We must commit ourselves anew to a sustained program of manned exploration of the solar system and, yes, the permanent settlement of space,” he said.

As a political scientist who seeks to understand space exploration’s place in the political process, I approach space policy with an appreciation of the political hurdles high-cost, long-term and technologically advanced policies face. My research has shown that policy change both in general and in space policy, is often hard to come by, something exemplified by the Bush administration.

Vice President George W. Bush, Sr. talks to STS-1 Flight Crew

www.youtube.com

Among Bush’s many political accomplishments, few recall SEI, probably because it was largely panned immediately following its announcement. However, Bush’s presidency came at a key turning point in NASA’s history and ultimately contributed to the success of the International Space Station, NASA leadership and today’s space policy. As the country mourns his passing and assesses his legacy, space should rightly be included on Bush’s list of accomplishments.

While presidents are usually the most closely associated with the American space program, vice presidents often play a vital role. As Ronald Reagan’s vice president, Bush was intimately involved with NASA throughout the 1980s. He visited the astronauts who crewed the second shuttle mission in 1981, commiserating with them about their mission which had been shortened. And, he often enjoyed speaking to astronauts mid-flight.

In a 1985 White House speech, Bush announced that teacher Christa McAuliffe would fly aboard the ill-fated Challenger. In the wake of the disaster, Reagan dispatched Bush to meet with the families at Kennedy Space Center given his ties to the mission. After a private meeting with the families, Bush addressed NASA employees at Kennedy and pledged the space program would go forward, a promise he kept as president.

SEI and the Space Station

Shortly after taking office, the Bush administration sought to provide a vision for NASA. Bush reinstated the National Space Council and, allied with Vice President Dan Quayle, developed the SEI to coincide with the anniversary of Apollo 11. With less than six months between Bush’s inauguration and July 1989, there was little time to flesh out specific deadlines or funding sources. What resulted was a vague promise to build a planned space station in the next decade, return to the moon and venture onto Mars. With this lack of specifics, the SEI aroused immediate suspicion from both NASA and Congress.

The SEI faced a number of political hurdles upon its announcement. But 90 days later, opposition to SEI grew exponentially when a follow-up analysis of the initiative revealed a 30-year plan with a half-a-trillion-dollar price tag. Then the discovery of a flawed lens on the Hubble Space Telescope after its launch in 1990, the massive cost overruns on what was then called Space Station Freedom (the program had grown from billion in 1984 to billion in 1992), and an economic downturn all combined to threaten overall funding for NASA. While Bush lobbied aggressively for the SEI, the program failed to receive support and was largely shelved.

But what emerged from the SEI was still significant. When Congress threatened to cut funding to and essentially end the nascent space station, the Bush administration pushed to save it. Although NASA’s overall funding was cut, Bush’s support and the rationale behind the SEI gave the space station enough continued importance that Congress restored 0 billion to the space station budget.

Finally, the moon to Mars framework has remained relevant in human spaceflight. George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration, proposed in 2004, retained the same goals but grounded it with a clear timetable and budget. Proposing a moon-Mars program is nothing revolutionary, but the SEI kept the idea of an expansive exploration agenda alive.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

President George H. W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle joined Apollo 11 astronauts to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first lunar landing.

One of most significant impacts a president can have on a bureaucracy is choice of agency leadership. In that area, Bush succeeded in placing his stamp on NASA for years to come. Bush’s first choice for NASA administrator, former astronaut Richard Truly, was out of his depth politically. Truly did not support SEI and other space initiatives and was fired in 1991, partially at Vice President Quayle’s urging.

Bush’s choice to replace Truly was Dan Goldin, who became NASA’s longest serving administrator, staying on through the Clinton administration. Characterized as one of the most influential administrators in NASA history, Goldin took on the job of finding more support for the space station. He convinced Clinton that it could be useful in foreign policy. As a result, Clinton used the space station as a tool to ease Russia’s transition to a democratic state. The International Space Station was launched in 1998 due in large part to the support from the Bush administration. Having hosted 232 people from 18 countries, the ISS recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

More importantly, Goldin initiated a program known as “faster, better, cheaper” (FBC), which required NASA to do more with less by bumping up the number of lower cost missions. Although this mindset led to several high-profile failures, including a crashed Mars probe, Goldin successfully shifted NASA onto a more sustainable political footing. As a result, Bush’s choice of NASA leadership was crucial to the direction and success of American space exploration.

Bush’s legacy

Space exploration is a difficult policy field. It requires long-term planning, consistent funding and visionary leadership, any one of which is difficult to achieve. Further, space policy is incredibly sensitive to overall economic dynamics, making it susceptible to continual budget cuts.

One can certainly debate the benefits of the International Space Station or the scientific value of human space exploration but, for better or for worse, NASA is the agency it is today because of the choices George H.W. Bush made as president. Ad astra, President Bush.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This soldier saved his crew under fire while covered in white phosphorous

Not everyone can maintain composure when the aircraft he’s in starts to lose control. But that’s just what this Medal of Honor recipient did, despite being severely wounded while it was happening.

Rodney Yano was born on the Big Island of Hawaii nearly two years to the day after the U.S. entered World War II. His grandparents had immigrated to the U.S. from Japan well before that.


According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, he’s one of 33 Asian-Americans to receive the Medal of Honor.

Yano joined the Army in 1961 before graduating from high school. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant and was on his second tour of Vietnam when he became an air crewman with the 11th Air Cavalry Regiment.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Rodney Yano

On Jan. 1, 1969, Yano was the acting crew chief and one of two door gunners on his company’s command-and-control helicopter as it fought an enemy entrenched in the dense Vietnamese jungle near Bien Hao.

The chopper was taking direct fire from below, but Yano managed to use his machine gun to suppress the enemy’s assault. He was also able to toss grenades that emitted white phosphorous smoke at their positions so his troop commander could accurately fire artillery at their entrenchments.

Unfortunately, one of those grenades exploded too early, covering Yano in the burning chemical and causing severe burns. Fragments of the grenade also caught supplies in the helicopter on fire, including ammunition, which detonated. White smoke filled the chopper, and the pilots weren’t able to see to maintain control of the aircraft. The situation wasn’t looking good.

But Yano wasn’t ready to go down with the ship, as they say. The initial grenade explosion partially blinded him and left him with the use of only one arm, but he jumped into action anyway, kicking and throwing the blazing ammunition from the helicopter until the flaming pieces were gone and the smoke filtered out.

One man on the helicopter was killed, and Yano didn’t survive his many injuries. But his courage and concern for his comrades’ survival kept the chopper from going down, averting more loss of life.

For that, Yano was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant first class. On April 7, 1970, his parents received the Medal of Honor for his actions from President Richard Nixon.

In his honor, the cargo carrier USNS Yano was named for him, as well as a helicopter maintenance facility at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and a library at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Texas Revolutionary was the original ‘Maverick’

In the later days of 1835, Samuel Maverick and his two friends were held on house arrest in what would one day be called San Antonio, Texas. The Texas Revolution was in full swing and the local Mexican military commander, Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos, didn’t trust the former Americans one bit, holding them prisoner in their own homes. They still somehow managed to inform the incoming Texian army about Mexican movements in the city. On the first day of December, Cos finally allowed the men to leave.

The first thing they did was join the Texian forces and lead an attack on the town.


By the time Maverick and his friends reached the Texians, the army was ready to retreat. Instead, the men offered to lead a series of attacks against their former city. After rousing a few hundred volunteers to join them, they headed back to San Antonio de Bexar. Four days after being forced out of the city, the men were leading attacks against its garrison commander, Gen. Cos. Maverick guided Col. Ben Milam’s troops into the city, while Maverick’s friend John Smith led the other detachment.

Milam was killed minutes into the fighting and Maverick was forced to lead the rest of the men into the streets and the house-to-house fighting that followed their entrance into the city. For five days, the revolutionaries fought Mexican government regulars in fierce urban combat. The Mexicans would surrender on the sixth day.

Since Milam had fallen early in the fighting, Maverick took his place at the surrender ceremony. He stayed around the San Antonio area, eventually joining the defenders of the Alamo. While in garrison at the famed citadel, Maverick was elected as one of two San Antonio delegates to the Texas Independence Convention. Maverick would not be able to leave the Alamo until March 2, 1836, because it was surrounded by Mexican troops. When he finally got away, the garrison commander, William Travis, begged him to ask the convention for reinforcements.

They would, of course, be too late. The day a special session of the convention was to be held was also the day of the Battle of the Alamo. All of the fort’s defenders were then dead. Maverick signed the Texas Declaration of Independence the next day.

He left Texas briefly to get married and have a baby, but soon returned to a state still considered to be in rebellion by the Mexican government. He became the Mayor of San Antonio and joined the city militia to fight off Comanche raids. But raids weren’t the biggest threat to San Antonio. Mexico was still bent on recovering its lost land. Eventually, the Mexican Army arrived outside San Antonio. The Anglo citizens of the city mustered a defense but were captured and forcibly marched back to Mexico. Despite being in prison, Maverick was still elected to the Texas Congress. He was released by Mexico the same day as his daughter’s birthday, after refusing repeatedly to publicly back Mexico’s claim to Texas. He served in the Texas legislature even after annexation by the United States – but none of this is how the word “Maverick” came to have its accepted meaning.

Maverick refused to brand his cattle because he was against the pain it caused the animals. He cared very little for his herd of cattle which was given to him as payment for a debt in lieu of cash. He transferred the care of the herd to a family in another part of Texas. It’s said that stragglers from Maverick’s herd were often found roaming. The unbranded cows were known as “mavericks” and often returned.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This fake amphibious assault saved hundreds of lives in Desert Storm

Deep into night on Feb. 23, 1991, the U.S. military and its coalition partners launched the long-anticipated invasion of Iraq with a three-pronged attack that crippled Iraqi command and control, isolated and devastated enemy units, and resulted in one of the fastest land wars in military history as the U.S. secured victory in 100 hours.


But the three-pronged attack consisted of two real prongs — an infantry assault as well as the famous “left hook” of tanks cutting through the Kuwaiti and Iraqi deserts — and one ruse attack. The ruse was an amphibious assault of Marines hitting the beaches of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and pushing west towards Baghdad.

 

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
The USS Wisconsin fires a Tomahawk cruise missile during Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

If the ruse was successful, the Iraqi units would continue to look east, orienting defenses and their attentions towards a fake amphibious assault as light infantrymen and paratroopers secured positions to their rear and one of history’s greatest armored thrusts smacked them right in the capital.

The Navy called on two of its greatest weapons to ensure that the Iraqis looked east, the USS Wisconsin and the USS Missouri, massive battleships taken out of retirement in the early 1980s by Ronald Reagan.

The two Iowa-class battleships bristled with guns and had already seen heavy fighting in the mine-laden waters off the coast of Iraq and Kuwait. They took part in the initial Tomahawk cruise missile attacks that January. They also provided naval artillery support to American and coalition troops on the ground by hurling shells of up to 2,700 pounds against Iraqi artillery and bunkers.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
The USS Missouri fires during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Dillon)

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, U.S. commanders kept everyone’s eyes on the big ships, calling in shots from the battleships throughout the fighting and getting the effects of those 16-inch guns onto the front pages of newspapers like The New York Times.

The NYT even reported on the likelihood that America would invade by sea, saying in the second paragraph of an article on February 4:

Powerful guns aboard the battleship Missouri lobbed 2,700-pound shells against Iraqi command bunkers near the Kuwaiti coastline, military command officials said, describing the shore bombardment as a further indication that an American-led amphibious assault on occupied Kuwait might be drawing near.

On Feb. 23, the battleships cleared their throats once again. A targeting drone from the Wisconsin was flying over the coast as the shells ripped into Iraqi positions once again, softening up the coast and sowing panic into the defenders.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
The Pioneer drone is moved on the USS Wisconsin during Desert Storm. The small aerial vehicle was used to observe naval artillery and its effects during the war. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate John Kristoffersen)

The bombardment was so effective that, when the drone flew back over the target, Iraqi troops attempted to surrender to it by waving small white flags.

But the U.S. wasn’t done.

Just a few hours later, the ground offensive began. The British Special Air Service was the first military unit to cross into Iraqi territory, but multiple troops poured over the border by the thousands throughout the morning.

Throughout the day on Feb. 24, coalition forces hit ground target after ground target and American tanks began tanking out bunkers in the armored thrust that would stun the world.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
USS Wisconsin fires her main battery during Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

But America still wanted Iraqi commanders too scared to pull their forces back from the coast to counter the growing threat of armor and infantry. And so the battleships were called up once again.

On Feb. 25, the Missouri once again fired into Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. And this time, the Marine Corps sent in 10 helicopters to simulate a landing force. The Iraqis launched anti-ship missiles at the Missouri, but a British ship shot down the only one that actually threatened the battleship. Coalition planes quickly found the launch site and destroyed the missiles based there.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Abrams tanks and a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle move out during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy D. W. Holmes II)

The Iraqis near the coast stayed put even as coalition armor was slamming into their best units. On Feb. 26, then-Cpt. H.R. McMaster fought the famous Battle of 73 Easting that saw one armored cavalry troop of Abrams and Bradleys wipe out 44 enemy tanks and armored vehicles with no losses.

A ceasefire was declared on Feb. 28, halting the fighting until Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein accepted the terms of the peace deal. The coalition forces lost 300 troops in the fighting, much fewer than they would have lost if the Iraqi forces had been able to concentrate on the real threat.

The Iraqi forces lost an estimated 8,000-10,000 killed.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This European city has been destroyed by invaders 44 times

“War ends only when it has carved its way across cities and villages, bringing death and destruction in its wake,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Americans are pretty lucky when it comes to where they are on the map. Only a handful of times in the country’s history has war ever come home to its cities and villages.

The Revolution, the British burning Washington, DC, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 are just a few attacks on American soil that come to mind — luckily, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without that kind of a conflict. The aforementioned attacks are also spread out across the nation’s nearly 250-year history.

Other nations aren’t so lucky.


Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

Here’s an ink drawing from the 1600s.

Belgrade, the capital and largest city in Serbia (the former Yugoslavia), is one of those who has not enjoyed such luck. Its location on the crossroads of the Sava and Danube Rivers and its fertile valleys means it will always be an attractive area to any potential invader.

But it’s also right on the path from European Turkey into the heart of Western Europe. You can’t invade the Middle East from Europe without going through Belgrade and, as logic would have it, you can’t invade Europe from the Middle East without passing Belgrade either. All told, the city has been completely destroyed and rebuilt 44 times and has seen 115 different wars.

It’s amazing just how many different art styles throughout the years depict the destruction of Belgrade.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

Here’s an Ottoman miniature of another Siege of Belgrade.

Flashback to pre-historical times: As mentioned, a land so well suited for growing crops is going to be settled rather quickly by the early Slavic farmers of Europe. The area’s inhabitants were first known as Thracians and Dacians before the area was conquered by Celts, who ruled for more than 200 years.

Until Belgrade was captured by Rome.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

To be fair, Attila razed cities like it was his job. Because it was.

Rome held the city for some 400-plus years until the Roman Empire was split in two. Roman Dacia was on the edge of the Eastern Roman Empire and they could not protect it properly. In 441, the city we call Belgrade was captured and razed by Huns, who sold its population off into slavery.

The Huns held the city for more than ten years before the Romans could come recapture it, but it was soon taken again, this time by Ostrogoths. It was quickly captured and retaken in succession by the Eastern Romans, Avars, and later, Attila the Hun.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

“Here they come… Shit, there goes the city. Again.”

After Attila, the Romans (now called Byzantines) wrestled for control over the city with Avars, Gepids, Hungarians, and Bulgarians for some 400-plus years. The city saw armies of the first, second, and third crusades march through it as the Serbian Empire began to establish itself in the area. That empire was relatively short-lived, however, and Belgrade was firmly in Hungarian hands.

Until it wasn’t. The site became a focal point for the ongoing Ottoman-Christian struggle in the Balkans. Eventually, the Ottomans captured the city, destroyed it, and sent its Christian population to Istanbul in chains. But it thrived under Turkish rule and became an appetizing target for the rising Hapsburg Empire based in Austria.

The two powers fought over the city of Belgrade all the way through the First World War, even though Serbia was an independent kingdom for much of the time.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

Who not only mine the streets, but also spray paint the old buildings. Good work, a-hole.

After World War I, Serbia becomes part of the greater Yugoslavia, which was great for Belgrade until Yugoslavia joined the Axis pact. The citizens rebelled and declared the twenty-something (and anti-Axis) Peter II the rightful king and the one calling the shots on Yugoslavia’s foreign relations. The only answer the Axis had was to bomb the sh*t out of Belgrade and invade with literally every Axis power available.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

“Leave us alone, literally everyone ever!”

Of course, this means the city had to be retaken by the Allies, who decided to bomb the city into oblivion… on Easter. It was then captured by the Red Army and Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito. The city (and Yugoslavia) remained firmly in Tito’s good hands until the Balkan Conflicts of the 1990s, where it was bombed by NATO forces.

And the locals have not forgotten.

Articles

Did the phone call for fire scene in ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ really happen?

While typically rooted in true events, war films often take “creative liberties” in the portrayal of military members and their exploits. Heartbreak Ridge is no exception, but there’s one famously far-fetched scene in the cult classic that may have actually happened.

The 1986 film depicts the efforts of Medal of Honor recipient and thoroughly crusty Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood) as he whips a group of undisciplined Marines into combat shape just in time for the 1983 invasion of Grenada. While Heartbreak Ridge is known for its over-the-top depictions, the scene where Gunny Highway finds himself in a jail cell for bar fighting and urinating on a police cruiser might be the most accurate depiction of a battle-hardened Marine staff NCO in history.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Gunny Highway stands trial for urinating on a police cruiser. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

In the film’s depiction of Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, there is no shortage of hip firing from the highly trained Recon Marines, who use almost no structure or tactical maneuvering. And at a climactic point in the battle, the pinned-down Marines use a house phone and credit card to make a collect call back to Fort Bragg to request air support. 

As unlikely as that last one seems, it may have actually happened. 

Operation Urgent Fury is infamous for the innumerable blunders and SNAFUs that occurred before and during the operation. The US military of the early ’80s was a largely untested force that was undergoing a large-scale downsizing and restructuring (stop me if this sounds eerily familiar). 

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Gunnery Sgt. Highway whipping young Marines into shape. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

President Ronald Reagan sent an initial force of 2,000 troops to rescue the nearly 1,000 Americans in Grenada at the time and settle the turmoil there, but the Pentagon ultimately had to send in roughly 4,000 additional military members to complete the operation. Short notice, bad planning and intel, and poor interservice communication plagued the operation.

US forces ultimately succeeded, and that was due, in no short part, to the boots on the ground doing what they do best — adapting and overcoming. Many stories are told from this operation, but none encapsulate the event and also the versatility of the American warrior quite as well as the legend of the American who called for indirect fire from a pay phone. 

As the tale goes, US service members were pinned down by enemy fire and were in dire need of artillery to gain the upper hand. Communication to any kind of support was cut off, spurring one quick-thinking soldier to action. The soldier allegedly took out his credit card and utilized the nearest pay phone to call Fort Bragg. The call was relayed through several channels and the necessary artillery was provided — saving the soldiers and winning the day.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
War movie or Discover card ad? Mario Van Peebles as Cpl. Stitch Jones. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

To date, there are a couple of different versions of this legend. One involves a Navy SEAL making the call from a governor’s mansion for air support from an AC-130. However, Marines claimed the fire came from a naval destroyer positioned just off the island. Another involves a member of the 82nd Airborne actually using a pay phone to call his wife back at Fort Bragg who then relayed the message to his command. 

We may never know what really went down, but the legend of the phone call for fire inspired screenwriter and Vietnam veteran James Carabatsos to incorporate the impromptu call in his script for Heartbreak Ridge

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle. 

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

Feature image: Warner Bros.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

A few years back in the first Democratic Primary debate of 2015, former Senator Jim Webb, a Marine who served in Vietnam, was asked about the enemies he made in his political career of whom he’s most proud. Webb alluded to a Vietnamese solider who threw a grenade at him. Webb doesn’t say it explicitly, but that guy is probably dead.


Webb wasn’t kidding. He was awarded the Navy Cross for that action. His citation is up on the Military Times’ Hall of Valor.

“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant James H. Webb, Jr. (MCSN: 0-106180), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as a Platoon Commander with Company D, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb’s platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker. By his courage, aggressive leadership, and selfless devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Webb upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”

The former senator from Virginia is a understandably a longtime supporter of the military-veteran community. He attempted to run for President in 2016, but unfortunately didn’t get much traction. Even so, he leaves an impressive legacy behind; He was the chief architect of what would become known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

NOW: This US Army general was rescued from Vietnam as a young boy

OR: 17 Wild facts about the Vietnam War

Articles

This is the distinguished service of Little Green Army Men toys

The Little Green Army Men toys we all know and love have a long tradition stemming since the 1930s. In 2014, the toys were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame for their service on the imaginary battlefields. The Army Men have also deployed to theaters all around the world – movie theaters, that is. From cameos in Disney movies to their own video game franchise, this is the history of the Army Men toys that captured our imaginations as children.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Saluting while in the field — what a turd… (Wikimedia Commons)

Originally made of lead

Manufactured by Bergen Toy and Novelty Co. in 1938 in various poses depicting the combat roles of mid-20th century soldiers, they took backyards by storm. One could buy hundreds of the mass-produced troops sold in supermarkets, department stores or by mail-order. Before the widely adopted plastic, Army Men toys could also be found made of glue and sawdust called simply “composition” and were unpainted. By the 1950s the cost of producing them in plastic drastically decreased to pennies per unit in bulk. Additionally, the lead poisoning scare of the ’60s made companies quickly shift to non-toxic plastic in 1966.

German troops were molded in grey, Japanese forces in yellow. Though the little warriors have undergone several changes over the years, their most famous identity is as World War II–era soldiers with “pod feet” attached to keep them standing during battle.

Allie Townsend, Time Magazine

The competitor to Bergen Toy and Novelty Co. was Marx Toy Company. They had a different strategy when it came to own plastic legions. They leaned on the appeal of making movie-themed sets such as Ben-Hur, The Alamo, The Untouchables, The Guns of Navarone and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Marx Toy Co. experimented with historically themed sets and also expanded their distribution through Sears catalogs. When we thought the Little Green Army Men were fighting a war, there were two brands actually doing it.

By the mid-1960s and 1970s, there were a plethora of competitors waging for market share. William Britains, Timpo, Cresent and Cherliea’s profits took a hit when lead was banned. The war in Vietnam was in full swing and public opinion was another major blow to the toy companies’ bottom line. After 20 years, the original toy maker, Bergen Toy and Novelty Co., sold its molds to Banner Plastics in 1958 and shut down. Banner Plastics went bankrupt in 1965 but was able to fight its way out of bankruptcy long enough to be sold to Tal-Corp, a Minnesota based company in 1967.

In 1980, they started putting them in buckets, which were very popular and became so iconic they were used in the movie Toy Story.

Kent Sprecher, Owner of Toy Soldier HQ Inc.

Unfortunately, Chinese knock offs have undercut the American toy manufacturers and many have closed their doors. Fortunately for America, we have Disney. You don’t f*** with Disney – even if you are China. The Little Green Army Men have established a foothold in Disney theme parks and movies. The Little Green Army Men will see another era under General M. Mouse.

They have their own subreddit

The Green Dawn is a subreddit where people show off their Little Green Army Men Toys in battles. There is even a running joke that posts have to be made using radio jargon. If you reply to a post, you have to say “over,” too. A nod the community does to itself is that they hide the plastic figures in places for others to find.

They have their own shows at Disney theme parks

The Army Men toys can be seen entertaining crowds before live shows or patrolling the park complete with a drum line.

Army Men Video Games

Army Men video games have had a range of developers ranging from major studios such as the now-closed 3DO to independent developers on the Steam platform.

Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Special Forces soldier gave his life to save his allies

Army Staff Sgt. Richard R. Arsenault was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross for valorous actions taken only two weeks apart in Vietnam.


The action that netted him the Distinguished Service Cross ended in his tragic death.

Arsenault was assigned to Advisory Team 43 supporting Republic of Vietnam forces opposing the North Vietnamese Army. On May 12, 1972, he accompanied a Vietnamese Regional Force unit in a combat operation in the Hua Nghia Province. Arsenault not only went on the mission, but he volunteered to act as the radio operator.

 

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
A U.S. Army Ranger and military advisor trains Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

The radio operator is a high-value target for an enemy force. The antennas clearly point out who is carrying the system, and taking down a radio and its operator cuts the force off from certain battlefield tools like artillery and close air support.

Despite the risks, Arsenault carried the system into battle and maneuvered near the front under heavy concentrations of mortar, machine gun, small arms, and rocket fire, according to his Silver Star citation. Arsenault moved up with the senior American advisor to Vietnamese forces in the district and used his M16 to suppress enemy fire.

As the fight ground on, it become a closer and tighter affair until the two forces were within 40 yards of one another, throwing grenades and using pistols to try to gain the upper hand. When eight NVA soldiers tried to flank Arsenault’s element at close range, he took them out with hand grenades and his rifle.

 

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Marines with Company G, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, direct a concentration of fire at the enemy during Operation Allen Brook, 8 May 1968. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps).

 

The friendly Vietnamese forces were victorious, and Arsenault continued to work with them as a military advisor.

Exactly two weeks later, Arsenault and Army Capt. Ed Schwabe were accompanying 12th Regional Force Group soldiers as they searched out North Vietnamese soldiers in the province. The unit met light resistance from an enemy bunker, according to an excerpt from “Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages,” by Stuart Harrington.

Just a little later, Schwabe and Arsenault’s column was struck by a company-sized enemy ambush. Arsenault spotted the rocket being fired and tackled Schwabe to the ground while alerting others to the threat just before the rocket hit.

 

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Staff Sgt. Richard R. Arsenault gave his life to safe others in Vietnam in 1972. (Photo: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Wall of Faces. Submitted by Shirley Arsenault.)

 

The friendly forces were able to dart to limited cover in a nearby graveyard, saving the lives of the 12th Group command element and allowing them to devise a response to the ambush.

Unfortunately, while Arsenault had saved Schwabe’s life, Arsenault was killed by the first rocket and Schwabe was wounded and knocked unconscious.

Schwabe was pulled to safety by his interpreter and Arsenault was later posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on May 12 and the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on May 26.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Warriors In Their Own Words: The sniper that scored 16 headshots in 30 seconds… at night

Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney was one of the most lethal snipers of the Vietnam War with 103 confirmed kills. In a particularly daring engagement, Mawhinney stopped a Viet Cong assault by hitting 16 headshots in 30 seconds at night in bad weather.

So, what does it take to be a precise, lethal sniper? Hear from the man himself as he describes his experience in the jungles of Vietnam.


“Chuck was extremely aggressive,” retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Limpic, Mawhinney’s squad leader, later told LA Times. “He could run a half-mile, stand straight up, and shoot offhand and drop somebody at 700 yards.”

Mawhinney was operating out of a base near Da Nang in what the U.S. military called, “Arizona Territory.” A large North Vietnamese Army force was spotted moving its way south towards the U.S. base, but a monsoon shut down air support. So, Mawhinney volunteered to cover a river crossing where the force was expected to march.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
A US Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam.
(US Marine Corps archives)

Mawhinney left his sniper rifle at the base and moved forward with an M14 semiautomatic rifle and a Starlight scope, an early night-vision device.

The sniper and his spotter positioned themselves overlooking the shallowest river crossing. A few hours later, the NVA appeared.

A single scout approached the river first, but Mawhinney waited. When the rest of the NVA began to cross the river, Mawhinney kept waiting. It wasn’t until the men were deep into the river that Mawhinney began firing.

He engaged the enemy at ranges from 25 to 75 meters, nailing one man after the other through the head. As he describes it,

“They started across the river and as soon as the first one started up the bank on our side, I went to work. I got 16 rounds off that night as fast as I could fire the weapon, every one of them were headshots. They were dead center… …They never did cross the river that night.”

The two Marines then hastily fell back as the NVA tried to hit them with small arms and machine gun fire.

“To this day,” Mawhinney continues, “I’ve always wondered what their company commander’s report was of what happened to them… “

To hear more war stories from the men and women who were there, check out Warriors In Their Own Words.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

Kelly Johnson wasn’t the first man to build an airplane, nor was he the first to push the limits of what an airplane could do, but few men have played a more vital role in shaping mankind’s ascent into the skies.

According to the latest expert estimates, human beings just like you and I have been walking on earth for over 200,000 years. That figure gets even tougher to wrap your head around when you consider that a mere 200 years ago, mankind had yet to develop matches or typewriters. A century ago, we didn’t have antibiotics or movies with sound. These, along with countless other advancements, played a roll in a technological revolution that continues to this day, like a snowball rolling down hill, enveloping everything in its path.

Of course, mankind didn’t come by these incredible advancements by accident (most often, anyway) and behind each groundbreaking technology is a man or woman, dedicated to solving the problems of their day, and to getting out in front of those coming tomorrow. Nowhere is this human-driven rapid advancement of technology more prevalent than in one of our species most recent civilization-altering breakthroughs: aviation.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson with famed aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. (Lockheed Martin)

In 1903, the Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk. Less than forty years later, the first B-29 took to the skies with a pressurized cabin and a wingspan that stretched further than the length of Orville Wright’s entire first flight. A mere 19 years after that, Yuri Gagarin flew in space.

There’s no doubt that countless hands, hearts, and minds played vital roles in our rapid progression from the steam engine to the SpaceX Starship, but even amid this sea of engineers and aviation pioneers, some names stick out. Because while millions may have helped mankind reach the sky, some men’s contributions stand head and shoulders above the rest; Men, like Kelly Johnson.

Forged in the fires of World War II

Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers changed the world in Kitty Hawk. The son of Swedish immigrants, Johnson would win his first prize for aircraft design at the age of 13. By the time he was 22 years old, he was working as an engineer at the legendary aviation firm Lockheed.

At 28, Kelly Johnson’s role at Lockheed would bring him to London, where the island nation was preparing for the onslaught of Nazi Luftwaffe fighters and bombers that were to come just three years later in the Battle of Britain. The British were unconvinced that such a young man could produce an aircraft that could turn the tides of an air war, but the fruit of Kelly Johnson’s labor, dubbed the P-38 Lightning, would go on to become one of the most iconic airframes of the entire war.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Steve Hinton flies “Glacier Girl,” a P-38 Lightning dug out from 268 feet of ice in eastern Greenland in 1992. The aircraft was part of a heritage flight during an air show at Langley Air Force Base, Va., on May 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

At the start of the fighting in Europe, many Allied air units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of World War II, Kelly Johnson and his team delivered the United States its first ever operational jet-powered fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Johnson had been tasked with building an aircraft around the new Halford H.1B turbojet engine that could compete with Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. In just an astonishing 143 days, Kelly had gone from the drawing board to delivering the first operational P-80s.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (WikiMedia Commons)

The original Skunk Works

It was during World War II that Kelly Johnson and fellow engineer Ben Rich first established what was to become the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works. Today, the Skunk Works name is synonymous with some of the most advanced aircraft ever to take to the skies, but its earliest iteration was nothing more than a walled-off portion of a factory in which Johnson and his team experimented with new technologies for the P-38, developing the first 400 mile-per-hour fighter in the world for their trouble, in the XP-38.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
XP-38 (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Later, Kelly’s secretive team again came through with the P-80, and again with the design and production of the C-130 Hercules, which remains in service for the U.S. and a number of other Air Forces around the world today. Then, in 1955, they received yet another seemingly impossible assignment: The United States needed an aircraft that could fly so high it could avoid being shot down, or potentially even detected.

Soviet Radar and intercept fighters of the era were limited to altitudes below 65,000 feet, and the highest any American aircraft could reach was just 48,000. In order to continue keeping tabs on the Soviets, the Air Force solicited requests for an airplane that could fly at an astonishing 70,000 feet with a long 1,500 mile fuel range.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, chief designer at Lockheed’s secret “Skunk Works” facility, initially designed the U-2 around the F-104 Starfighter fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works responded with a design that they claimed could fly as high as 73,000 feet with a range of 1,600 miles, based on the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, a slender and supersonic intercept fighter. The Air Force rejected his design… but it caught the attention of America’s secretive spy agency, the CIA.

President Eisenhower wanted eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, and Johnson’s unusual aircraft design with long slender wings and no retractable landing gear seemed like it could do the job, despite its shortcomings. Johnson and his team were given a contract to design and build their high-flying spy plane, and in just eight months, they delivered the U-2 Dragon Lady.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

In order to test this incredible new aircraft, Kelly Johnson needed a remote air strip, far from the prying eyes of the American public. He chose a dry lake bed in Nevada for the job, and it proved particularly well suited for testing classified aircraft. Eventually, that little airstrip and accompanying hangars and office buildings would come to be known popularly as Area 51.

Taking spy planes to the next level

The U-2 may have been an immense success, but just as aviation advancements were coming quickly, so too were air defenses. In 1960, Soviet surface-to-air missiles finally managed to get a piece of a CIA operated U-2 flown by pilot Gary Powers. The aircraft was flying at 70,000 feet, higher than the Americans thought could be spotted or targeted by Soviet radar, when it was struck by an SA-2 Guideline missile. Powers had to ride the Dragon Lady down from 70,000 feet to 30,000 feet before he could safely eject, and as the secretive spy plane plummeted to the ground, Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works were already developing a platform to replace it.

With spy satellites still more than a decade away, the United States needed a new aircraft it could rely on to keep tabs on the Soviets. It would need to not only fly higher than the U-2, but faster–much faster, so even if it was detected, no missile could reach it.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
SR-71 Blackbird (NASA)

Johnson and his team designed a twin-engine aircraft with astonishing capabilities in the A-12, which then led to the operational SR-71 Blackbird — an aircraft that retains the title of fastest operational plane in history to this very day. Lockheed’s SR-71 could sustain speeds in excess of Mach 3.2, flying at altitudes higher than 78,000 feet. During its 43 years in service, the SR-71 had over 4,000 missiles fired at it from ground assets and other aircraft. Not a single one ever found its target.

Another aviation revolution

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
(USAF Photo)

Kelly Johnson and the team at Skunk Works were on the cutting edge of speed and power, but as the Cold War raged on, it was Johnson and his team that recognized how the battle space was shifting. For years, the United States had focused on developing aircraft that could fly ever faster and ever higher, but with the advent of computer-aided engineering, yet another technological leap was within Lockheed’s grasp.

Johnson and his team needed to develop an aircraft that could defeat detection from not only enemy radar, but also other common forms of detection and targeting, like infrared. Using the most advanced computers available at the time, Skunk Works first developed an unusual angular design they dubbed “the hopeless diamond,” as it seemed unlikely that such a shape could ever produce aerodynamic lift.

Undaunted, development continued and by 1976, they had built a flyable prototype. The aircraft was called Have Blue, and it would lead to the first operational stealth aircraft ever in service to any nation, the legendary F-117 Nighthawk.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Have Blue flying in testing (WikiMedia Commons)

The F-117, or “stealth fighter” as it would come to be known, played a vital role in America’s combat operations over Iraq in Desert Storm and elsewhere, but this program produced more than battlefield engagements. The technology developed for the F-117 directly led to America’s premier stealth fighters of today: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The latter of those two is expected to serve as the backbone of America’s air superiority strategy for decades to come.

“The damn Swede can actually see air.”

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Kelly Johnson (Lockheed Martin)

In total, Kelly Johnson had a hand in the design and development of some 40 aircraft for commercial and military purposes, with seemingly countless awards and credits to his name for his engineering prowess. The man had a genuine affection for his work, to the degree that he turned down the presidency of Lockheed on three separate occasions to retain his role within the Skunk Works he helped to found.

Kelly’s boss at Lockheed, Hall Hibbard, once exclaimed, “The damn Swede can actually see air,” as he tried to understand how one man managed to play such a pivotal role in so many aircraft, and in turn, in how the Cold War unfolded. Finally, Kelly retired in 1975, but remained a senior advisor to Skunk Works for years thereafter.

He passed away in 1990 at age 80, just one year before the United States, with all its incredible military technology, would emerge the victor of the Cold War.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The spectacular naval origin of the phrase, ‘son of a gun’

These days, Americans are less likely to exclaim “son of a gun” than the more-explicit “son of a b*tch,” but there was a time when “son of a gun” itself was not used in mixed company — and that time was more than 200 years after the age of sail.


It seems the Royal Navy, while not keen on having women aboard its ships, sometimes overlooked the practice. Different times throughout its history saw sailors of the Royal Navy either bring either their wives or lovers aboard ships that might be out at sea for a while. While it wasn’t officially tolerated, there are instances of a ship’s company turning a blind eye to it.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
At this point, it’s important that everyone knows I’m talking about prostitutes.

 

Everyone aboard a ship was counted in the ship’s log back in those days. The log was a detailed account of who was working, who came aboard, who left, who died, etc. It also kept track of who was born aboard one of the King or Queen’s ships. It was uncommon, but it did happen. Women had to get around the world just like anyone else. The Royal Navy kept this count, just like any other ship.

But say there was one of the aforementioned female guests aboard a ship. If that woman just happened to give birth aboard ship, that child would have to be kept in the log. If a child was born with uncertain paternity — that is to say, there were too many possibilities as to who the father could be — the newborn still had to be counted in the log.

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart
Like an old-timey recording of the Maury Show.

 

If this was the case, the child’s name was recorded as the “son of a gun” — the son of a seaman below decks. Eventually, the common use of the phrase began to refer to any child born aboard a ship, even those of officers accompanied by their wives. Then, it began to refer to any child of a military man, not just the bastard children of sailors.

Some 200-plus years later, it’s used to lovingly refer to a mischievous person or as an expression of awe or esteem. To use an expletive or insult in the same vein, we’ve moved on as a society. Who knows where language will go next?

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