Carrying troops into combat, or at least close enough that they can walk to it, was a fairly basic art for thousands of years. Horses or boats did the job until motorized vehicles started to be used in large numbers in the beginning of the 20th century.
During World War II, airborne and glider troops made mass assaults with thousands of troops possible at long ranges. While this was a huge leap forward, airborne operations came with some major liabilities. As seen during the D-Day landings, the accuracy of these drops was lacking, and troops could end up far from their intended drop zones. Just as importantly, parachutes and gliders were both one-way trips, and troops were largely on their own until their leg counterparts could catch up.
Helicopters promised to change all that. Which helicopter was officially “first” is subject to some dispute, but vertical flight was largely a novelty for many years. Toward the end of World War II, some primitive rotary-wing aircraft saw limited action in the Pacific doing rescue missions, but they were far from a decisive arm.
After World War II, the Marine Corps first saw the utility of helicopters in an air assault role. As the service contemplated how amphibious assaults would remain viable in the Atomic Age, it concluded that the ability to cover much greater distances would be necessary. The Corps stood up Marine Helicopter Squadron One, HMX-1, and experimented with employing helicopters in amphibious warfare, developing the first doctrine on the subject.
The Korean War launched the helicopter from infancy to adolescence. The Marine Corps performed the first mass resupply via helicopter on Sept. 13, 1951. Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 (HMR-161) used HRS-1 helicopters to deliver 74 Marines and more than 18,000 pounds of supplies to an area known as the Punchbowl. A week later, they performed the first combat troop lift, delivering 224 Marines to a hilltop in the area.
It took nearly two more years for the Army to perform its first helicopter assault, but true to form, it was bigger than the Marines’. On July 13, 1953, Army H-19 helicopters of the 1st Transportation Helicopter Battalion lifted more than 800 Republic of Korea troops.
The Kennedy administration’s focus on “brushfire wars” and shift to a doctrine of “flexible response” contrasted with Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation” and gave birth to what the Army would call “air assault.” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara insisted on increasing the tactical mobility of the US Army. Under Lt. Gen. Hamilton Howse, the Army conducted a series of experiments at Fort Bragg in the early 1960s, leading to the formation of the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, which soon became the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
The “1st Air Cav” became one of the most storied units of the Vietnam War, which became known as the “helicopter war.” Given the terrain and the enemy insurgency in that conflict, helicopters — usually the UH-1 “Huey” — gave US forces a tactical advantage. Large insertions of troops into “hot” landing zones would become a trademark of the conflict, and ultimately, more than 5,000 of the roughly 12,000 helicopters used during that war were lost.
After Vietnam, the Marines returned to their traditional focus on amphibious assault and using helicopters accordingly. The Army returned to focusing on Europe and deterring the Soviet bloc. Helicopters, now mostly the UH-60 Black Hawk instead of the Huey, formed the most mobile element first in “Active Defense” and later in “AirLand Battle.”
Fortunately, Europe never needed American helicopter assaults to save it, but 1991 gave those aircraft a chance to shine. The 101st Air Assault Division mounted a brigade-sized lift to envelop the northern flank of Iraqi troops defending Kuwait as part of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s famous “left hook” attack. The operation validated the utility of helicopter-borne forces in maneuver warfare, as opposed to the counterinsurgency role they served in Vietnam.
In almost a “back to the future” moment, after 9/11, helicopters once again became the preferred tool to maneuver quickly against enemy insurgents, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. While generally on a smaller scale than the largest assaults of the Vietnam era, tactical movement by helicopter has been essential throughout what became known as the Global War on Terror.
Modern helicopter insertions look different from those in Vietnam. Insertions into hot landing zones are rare, and losses are less common. This can be attributed to improvements in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technology, as well as tactics. While there have been some failures, such as Operation Anaconda, by and large, helicopters have been key to major successes, including the raid that killed Usama bin Laden in 2011.
As the military exits Iraq and Afghanistan and shifts toward potential threats in the Pacific, the role of the helicopter will undoubtedly change once again. The mobility helicopters provided in the geographical constraints of Vietnam and Afghanistan seems limited in comparison with the vastness of the Pacific.
Vietnam-era Hueys could fly around 120 knots for about 275 miles. The Black Hawks that succeeded them in the US Army can reach 150 and about 300 miles in a basic configuration. A big leap in performance will be necessary if rotary-wing aircraft are to remain a part of future war plans.
The Marine Corps, with its amphibious mission, had to face this problem much sooner. The Marines invested in the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, which cruises nearly twice as fast and flies twice as far as traditional helicopters. The Marines first deployed the Osprey in 2007 and replaced the last of its CH-46 helicopters with it in 2017.
The Army will have to invest in a similar capability to prepare for the type of conflict envisioned in the National Defense Strategy. It is moving ahead with the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program, which aims to produce an aircraft with the necessary speed and range to fight in tomorrow’s battlefields. Both Bell and a joint Sikorsky-Boeing team are competing, but whichever wins, it’s a certainty that air assault will continue to have a long future.
Han-Ulrich Rudel was the kind of pilot that every soldier wants overhead. He was a close air support and dive bomber pilot who flew 3,500 combat missions and kept getting into the cockpit even after he was shot down 32 times and wounded five times.
Rudel began his career as a reconnaissance pilot in the Luftwaffe but entered dive bombing training as soon as he was allowed. After graduation in 1941, he was transferred to a Stuka dive bombing unit and flying in German blitzkrieg attacks. He would spend nearly all of his World War II career on Germany’s eastern front fighting the Soviets.
In Sep. 1941 he was sent against Soviet naval units and successfully sank the battleship Marat. In early 1943 he celebrated his 1,000 sortie. About a month later, in Apr. 1943, he took part in an attack against Soviet amphibious landing craft while flying a Ju-87. He sank 70 boats with the bird’s two 37mm cannons.
During the war, he pioneered a tactic where attack planes would hit the tanks from the rear. The primary benefit was that the planes could fire into the relatively thin armor over the tank’s engine, but it also meant that the planes were flying towards their own lines. That made it easier for pilots hit during an attack to make it back to friendly forces before bailing out.
Rudel’s willingness to fly low and slow to take out Soviet targets left him exposed to ground fire though, and he was shot down 32 times by anti-aircraft batteries. He was also wounded both on the ground and in the air.
His worst injury came while chasing a thirteenth tank kill in a fierce battle. After he fired off his final 37mm rounds, his right leg was shot off by anti-aircraft fire. Another pilot had to talk him through a crash landing and pull him out of the plane before he bled out.
Over his career, he destroyed 519 Soviet tanks, a battleship, a cruiser, a destroyer, 70 landing craft, and 11 airplanes. And he was famous for regularly landing and rescuing downed air crews. For his efforts, Rudel was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, the second highest level of the Knight’s Cross. He was the only recipient of the award.
The only version of the award that was higher than Rudel’s was one specially made for Hermann Göring, and Göring basically got it for being head of the Luftwaffe, not for bravery.
For anyone who is feeling pretty good about Rudel and maybe hoping he was a Rommel-type German, the career military men who turned on Hitler when it became clear he was a monster, sorry. Rudel really was a hateful racist. He spoke out regularly in support of the Third Reich and was a member of a one of the most abhorrent German political parties from 1953 to his death in 1982.
Back in 1987, the world was a very different place. While the Soviet Union was on a crash course with destiny, the power the nation wielded–backed by a massive nuclear arsenal–had left it in a decades-long staring match with the United States.
Mutually Assured Destruction, a doctrine of military strategy that left the two nuclear powers in a stalemate President Ronald Reagan described as a “suicide pact,” had left the world in an uneasy state of both peace and war simultaneously. And nowhere was this dichotomy more present than in the homes of residents of East and West Germany. The nation had been divided since the end of World War II, with NATO’s Western powers in West Germany, and a Soviet puppet-state called the German Democratic Republic in the east.
East German students sit atop the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in front of border guards in 1989 (University of Minnesota Institute of Advanced Studies)
By 1987, the wheels that would ultimately tear down the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany physically and ideological were already turning, and a young man named Mathias Rust was keen on playing his part in history. Like many young adults, Rust was increasingly politically minded. Unlike most 18-year-olds, he also had a pilot’s license and access to a Cessna 172 airplane that had been modified by removing the rear seats for added fuel capacity.
In October of 1986, Rust had watched the Reykjavík summit between U.S President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. As that summit ended in a stalemate, Rust felt the overwhelming urge to find a way to make a difference.
“I thought every human on this planet is responsible for some progress and I was looking for an opportunity to take my share in it,” he would go on to tell the BBC.
Rust soon began forming a plan. President Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have,” and while it’s unlikely that Rust was aware of the axiom, his actions embodied the premise. He took stock of the skills he had, the resources he had available, and the situation to begin forming an idea. He’d take his little Cessna directly into the heart of the Soviet Union in a political spectacle he hoped would inspire others.
“I was thinking I could use the aircraft to build an imaginary bridge between West and East to show that a lot of people in Europe wanted to improve relations between our worlds,” Rust said.
Rust’s rented Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)
By May 13, 1987, Rust was ready to put his plan into action, but he still harbored understandable doubts. Today, Russia is renown for their advanced air defense systems, and the same was true of their Soviet predecessors. The USSR maintained the most elaborate and largest air defense system anywhere on the globe and they had demonstrated a propensity for using it against civilian aircraft. Only about five years earlier, the Soviets had shot down a South Korean airliner that had strayed into their airspace, killing all 269 passengers on board.
Rust told his parents he was leaving on a tour of Northern Europe that would help him accumulate more hours toward his professional pilot’s license, and for the first few days, that’e exactly what he did. After a few days of traveling, he stayed in Helsinki, Finland for a few days and pondered what he was about to do. He wanted to make a big public statement, but he wasn’t keen on dying in the process.
“Of course I was afraid to lose my life. I was weighing if it is really responsible, reasonable, to take this kind of risk. At the end I came to the conclusion, ‘I have to risk it.'”
He filed a flight plan that would have taken him to Stockholm and took off just like he would on any other day. As Rust recalls, he still wasn’t really sure he would go through with it until well after he was already airborne.
“I made the final decision about half an hour after departure. I just changed the direction to 170 degrees and I was heading straight down to Moscow.”
Rust’s flight path (WikiMedia Commons)
It wasn’t long before Soviet air defenses were alerted to his presence. They were tracking him on radar, and within an hour of diverting from his flight plan, fighters had been scrambled to intercept his little Cessna. He was flying low–only about 1,000 feet off the ground or 2,500 feet above sea level, and donned his crash helmet.
“The whole time I was just sitting in the aircraft, focusing on the dials,” said Rust. “It felt like I wasn’t really doing it.”
Fate was on Rust’s side, however, and one of the fighter pilots reported seeing what he believed was a Yak-12–a Soviet plane that looks similar to a Cessna 172. Either the pilot or his air traffic controllers decided that the plane must have been allowed to be there, because they broke off pursuit. At around the same time, Rust descended below the clouds to prevent them from icing up his wings, which also made him disappear from Soviet radar. Once he passed the clouds, he climbed back up to 2,500 feet and popped back up on their radar scopes.
Suddenly, he spotted fighters emerge from the cloud cover in front of him.
“It was coming at me very fast, and dead-on. And it went whoosh!—right over me. I remember how my heart felt, beating very fast,” he explained. “This was exactly the moment when you start to ask yourself: Is this when they shoot you down?”
Before he knew it, Soviet Mig-23 interceptors pulled up alongside him from both beneath him and his left. The single-seat, swing-wing Mig-23 was capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.3 (more than 300 miles per hour faster than an F-35) and was positively massive compared to Rust’s little Cessna. In order to flank him, the Migs had to lower their landing gear and extend their flaps to scrub their speed enough not to scream past Rust and his single-prop 172.
“I realized because they hadn’t shot me down yet that they wanted to check on what I was doing there,” Rust said. “There was no sign, no signal from the pilot for me to follow him. Nothing.”
Rust would later learn that the pilots were indeed trying to contact him, but were using high-frequency military channels. Finally, the Migs pulled their landing gear in, dropped their flaps and screamed off into the distance again, circling rust twice in half mile loops before departing. Rust had once again made it through a brush with Soviet interceptors and was still flying straight for the Soviet capital.
A later investigation would confirm that, either the pilots assumed the Cessna was indeed a Soviet Yak-12, or their command didn’t think the situation warranted any concern. Shortly after the fighters departed, luck would once again deal in Rust’s favor. He unknowingly entered into a Soviet air force training zone where aircraft with similar radar signatures to his own were conducting various exercises. His small plane got lost in the radar chatter, which would save his neck in the following minutes.
The Soviet Yak-12 looks very similar to a Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)
Protocol required that all Soviet pilots reset their transponder at frequent intervals, and any pilot that didn’t reset theirs would immediately show as hostile on radar. At 3pm, just such a switch was scheduled, but because Rust was flying among a group of student pilots, the Soviet commander overseeing radar operations assumed he was a student that had absent-mindedly forgotten to switch his transponder. He ordered the radar operator to change Rust’s radar return to “friendly,” warning that “otherwise we might shoot some of our own.”
An hour later, Rust was little more than 200 miles outside of Moscow, and subject to a new region’s radar and air defense scrutiny. Once again, radar operators spotted the small aircraft and intercept fighters were dispatched, but the cloud cover was too thick and they were unable to find the small Cessna visually. Soon thereafter, another radar operator would mark Rust’s plane as “friendly,” mistaking it for a search and rescue helicopter that had been dispatched to the region.
As Rust approached Moscow’s airspace, the report that was forwarded to the air defense in the area listed a Soviet aircraft seemingly flying with its transponder off, rather than anything about a West German teenager infiltrating hundreds of miles of heavily guarded Soviet airspace.
Rust then flew his small plane over Moscow’s infamous “Ring of Steel,” which was made up of multiple overlapping air defense systems built specifically to protect the Soviet capital from American bombers. Air defense rings surrounded Moscow at 10, 25, and 45 miles out, all capable of engaging a fleet of heavy bombers, but none the least bit interested in the tiny plane Rust piloted.
Shortly thereafter, Rust entered the airspace over the city itself–an area that had all air traffic heavily restricted, even military flights. As Rust flew over Moscow, Soviet radar operators finally realized something was terribly amiss, but it was too late. There was no time to scramble intercept fighters; Rust was already flying from building to building, trying to identify Moscow’s famous Red Square.
“At first, I thought maybe I should land inside the Kremlin wall, but then I realized that although there was plenty of space, I wasn’t sure what the KGB might do with me,” he remembers. “If I landed inside the wall, only a few people would see me, and they could just take me away and deny the whole thing. But if I landed in the square, plenty of people would see me, and the KGB couldn’t just arrest me and lie about it. So it was for my own security that I dropped that idea.”
Moscow’s Red Square
Rust spotted a 6-lane bridge that led into Red Square with sparse traffic and only a few power lines he’d need to avoid. He flew over the first set of wires, then dropped the aircraft down quickly to fly below the next set. As he nearly touched down, he spotted a car directly in his path.
“I moved to the left to pass him,” Rust said, “and as I did I looked and saw this old man with this look on his face like he could not believe what he was seeing. I just hoped he wouldn’t panic and lose control of the car and hit me.”
With his wheels on the ground, Rust rolled directly into Red Square. He had wanted to park the plane in front of Lenin’s tomb, but a fence blocked his path and he settled for coming to a stop in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. He shut down the engine and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as the reality of his situation slowly engulfed him. He had done the impossible.
“A big crowd had formed around me,” Rust recalled. “People were smiling and coming up to shake my hand or ask for autographs. There was a young Russian guy who spoke English. He asked me where I came from. I told him I came from the West and wanted to talk to Gorbachev to deliver this peace message that would [help Gorbachev] convince everybody in the West that he had a new approach.”
Rust next to his Cessna 172 in Moscow’s Red Square
He had anticipated being captured immediately by the KGB, but instead found the crowd confused and delighted by his stunning entrance. One woman gave him some bread. A young soldier chastised him for not applying for a visa, but credited him for the initiative. What Rust didn’t realize was that the KGB was already present, and agents were already worming through the crowd, confiscating cameras and notebooks people had Rust sign.
An hour later, two truck loads of Soviet soldiers arrived. They mostly ignored Rust as they aggressively pushed the crowds back and put up barriers around the teenager and his plane. Then three men arrived in a black sedan, one of whom identified himself as an interpreter. He asked Rust for his passport and if they could inspect the aircraft. Rust recalls their demeanor as mostly friendly and even casual.
The plane was then taken to the nearby Sheremetyevo International Airport where it was completely disassembled during its inspection, and despite the friendly demeanor of the Soviets, he was immediately transported to Lefortovo prison. The prison was infamous for its use by the KGB to hold political prisoners.
A modern view of the Lefortovo prison (WikiMedia Commons)
Initially, the Soviets refused to believe that Rust had accomplished his daring mission without support from NATO forces. The date he chose, May 28, was Border Guards Day in the Soviet Union, and they accused him of choosing the day intentionally to embarrass them. Then they accused him of getting the maps he’d used to reach Moscow from the American CIA… that is, until the Soviet consul in Hamburg confirmed that they could purchase the very same maps through a mail order service.
After realizing Rust was not the world’s youngest and most ostentatious CIA operative, they finally charged him illegal entry, violation of flight laws, and “malicious hooliganism.” Rust pleaded guilty to the first two charges, but refused the third, claiming he had no malicious intent. Nonetheless, he was found guilty on all counts by a panel of three judges and sentenced to four years in the same Lefortovo prison. Despite the prison’s harsh reputation, Rust was mostly well cared for, and even allowed to have his parents visit every two months.
In 1988, Rust was released from prison in a “goodwill gesture” following a treaty between Reagan and Gorbachev that would have both nations eliminate their intermediate range nuclear missiles. It was not quite such a happy ending for many Soviet officials however.
Rust’s re-assembled Cessna on display in the German Museum of Technology (WikiMedia Commons)
In a way, Rust’s flight did exactly what he’d hoped. The stunt had seriously damaged the reputation of the Soviet military and provided Gorbachev with the leverage he needed to outfox those who opposed his reforms.
Almost immediately following Rust’s landing in Red Square, the Soviet defense minister and the Soviet air defense chief were both removed from their posts for allowing such an egregious violation of Soviet airspace. Shortly thereafter, hundreds of other officers were also removed from their positions. Rust’s flight led to the single largest turnover of Soviet officers since the 1930s, according to Air Space Magazine.
Rust would never sit behind the stick of an aircraft again, but would go down in history as the only pilot to defeat the entirety of the Soviet military using a rented, single prop, trainer plane. Unfortunately, Rust’s seemingly heroic stunt has been overshadowed by the troubled man’s continued run-ins with the law. In the early 90s, he received another prison sentence for assaulting a woman that refused his romantic advances. In 2005, he was again convicted of a crime–this time for fraud. Today he describes himself an analyst for an investment bank, seemingly keen to leave his high-flying theatrics behind him.
At the end of a long day of antiwar protests in Washington on Oct. 21, 1967, beat poet Allen Ginsburg was leading the crowd in a Tibetan chanting in an effort to psychically levitate the Pentagon into space. The protests were in a bizarre new phase, having already turned violent, injuring dozens of protestors as well as the soldiers defending the building.
By the time of this protest, the United States had been increasing its presence and roles in South Vietnam while the draft and the body count was taking its toll on the American psyche. There was no precedent in American history for the level of government defiance and protest that was about to take place. With 500 American troops dying in Vietnam every month and no end to the war in sight, groups all over the country decided to convene on Washington – specifically the Pentagon.
It was organized by many groups – it was almost a “who’s who” of the antiwar movement – but the primary organizer was antiwar activist Jerry Rubin. Rubin believed the Pentagon was now the real seat of power in the United States and wanted to make a showing there, instead of the White House or Capitol Building. Also arriving among the tens of thousands of people there that day were Dr. Benjamin Spock, Norman Mailer, and antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman.
The younger people might remember his likeness from a scene in “Forrest Gump.”
Hoffman was one of the co-founders of the Yippies, or Youth International Movement. The Yippies were an anti-establishment anarchist group whose antics bordered on the theatrical when not outright ridiculous. They became known for displays of symbolic protests and street pranks, and often, some kind of merger of the two. Hoffman was present at the October 1967 Pentagon protests as were many of his fellow future Yippies.
The day began with a series of speeches on the National Mall, one of which saw Dr. Benjamin Spock declare President Lyndon Johnson to be the real enemy of the people. The crowd then marched across the Arlington Bridge to the Pentagon, where they were met by members of the National Guard and the 82nd Airborne who firmly stood their ground on the steps of the building. This is where one hippie, calling himself “Super Joel,” famously put a flower in the barrel of one of their rifles.
Hoffman and the Yippies began to call for the Pentagon to levitate, using psychic energy to lift the building 300 feet into the air and to end the war. They even got a permit for it from the General Services Administration, but the permit only allowed them to levitate the building 10 feet. They wanted to circle the building, arm-in-arm, and perform an exorcism ritual on it, to flush out the demons and end the war. They never made it that far.
When they arrived at the Pentagon, the crowd became unruly in some areas, and a group of 3,000 attempted to break the barricade and enter the building. Some of them were actually successful but were beaten back to their protest or arrested. Hoffman and the Yippies stayed put for the duration of their 48-hour permit. They never did finish the exorcism.
There was a row of wheelchairs and walkers for these men as they gathered to dedicate the Chosin Few Battle Monument in the new Medal of Honor Theater in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Yet, when the flag trooped in, they struggled out of their chairs and steadied themselves on their walkers in respect to the flag. Not one remained seated.
‘The Toughest Terrain’
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke of that dedication in his remarks. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford knows the story of the battle, as all Marines do. The 1st Marine Division, two battalions of the Army’s 31st Infantry Regiment and British Royal Marines from 41 (Independent) Commando were attacking north, chasing a defeated North Korean Army up to the Yalu River, when an estimated 120,000 Chinese Communist troops attacked and surrounded the force around the Chosin Reservoir.
It was a battle “fought over the toughest terrain and under the harshest weather conditions imaginable,” Dunford said, and Marines since that time have been living up to the example the Chosin Few set in 1950.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am a United States Marine because of the Marines who served at Chosin,” Dunford said. “In all sincerity, any success I have had as a Marine has been as a result of attempting to follow in their very large footsteps.”
One set of footprints belonged to Joseph F. Dunford, Sr. who celebrated his 20th birthday while carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle with the Baker Bandits of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in the ridges over the reservoir Nov. 27, 1950.
“He spent the night in close combat as three regiments of the Chinese 79th Division attempted to annihilate the 5th and 7th Marines,” the general said.
Growing up, Dunford’s father never discussed how he spent his 20th birthday. “He never spoke of the horrors of close combat or the frostbite that he and many Marines suffered on their march to the sea,” he said. “I was in the Marine Corps for seven years before we had a serious conversation about his experiences in the Korean War.”
The Legacy of Chosin
Still, even as a youngster, the general knew what pride his father felt in being a Marine and a member of the Chosin Few and vowed to join the force. “I am still trying to get over the bar that he set many, many years ago,” Dunford said.
So, his father was his reason for joining the Marine Corps, but it was another Chosin veteran that was responsible for him making the Corps a career.
Dunford served as the aide to Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen Olmstead on Okinawa, Japan, in the early 1980s. Olmstead was a private first class rifleman at Chosin in G Company 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. “I would say that to a young lieutenant, there was something very different about General Olmstead — his character, his sense of calm, a father’s concern for his Marines, a focus on assuring they were well-trained, well-led, and ready for combat. He knew what they might have to experience.”
Olmstead’s example was a powerful one for young Lieutenant Dunford, and he started to think about making the Marine Corps a career. “I wanted to serve long enough to be a leader with the competence, compassion, and influence of General Olmstead,” he said.
The Chosin Few have this effect on the Marine Corps as a whole, Dunford said. Their real legacy is an example of valor, self-sacrifice, and camaraderie that units hand down as part of their DNA, he said.
The battle was a costly one, with U.S. forces suffering more than 12,000 casualties — including more than 3,000 killed in action. The nation awarded 17 Medals of Honor, 64 Navy Crosses, and 14 Distinguished Service Crosses to Marines and soldiers for heroism in that battle. 41 Commando received the same Presidential Unit Citation as the Marines of the 1st Marine Division.
Young Marines all learn about the battle, from recruits in boot camp to those striving to be officers at Quantico.
I don’t know what led me to sit at the foot of my Great Uncle Ray’s rocking chair and hear his story of being at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, at a family reunion. But I won’t ever forget that day. Even though at the time I had no intention of serving in the military, I was fascinated by the stories of those who had served. Oddly enough, sharing the stories of military women is where my passion lies today. My Great Uncle Ray died in 2008. Now his story lives on through my memory and in the book of Pearl Harbor survivors that he’s featured in, that he gave me a copy of.
Ray decided to enlist in the Navy in 1940 for six years. As the next to the youngest of eight children, he knew his father needed any help he could provide to help his remaining family. He began bootcamp on August 26, 1940, in San Diego. After graduation, he headed to Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Cincinnati. Once they arrived at Pearl Harbor, the men were dispersed among the various units. Ray was assigned the USS Pruitt. In approximately October of 1941, the USS Pruitt went in for a general overhaul. The crew was removed to housing at the barracks at the receiving station near the main gate at Hickam Field.
On the morning of December 7, Ray had just put on his brand-new set of tailor-made whites he had picked up the day before. They had cost him $30 a month and a half wage. He had plans of heading ashore for the day. As he was putting on his neckerchief, he heard what sounded like explosions. He ran outside to see what the sound was; there were planes everywhere and black smoke rising in the area of Ford Island. Alarms were going off all over. A group of sailors stood there watching the horror of the attack for a few minutes. All of a sudden, a torpedo plane erupted into a ball of flames. They all hit the deck and then ran for cover. Within a few seconds, a yard workman in a truck drove up and told them to hop on. There was a need for personnel to man guns on other ships.
Ray was taken to the USS Pennsylvania with one other sailor from the USS Pruitt. The USS Pennsylvania was in dry dock. Once they gave their name, rank, serial number and the ship they were assigned, they were sent to a five-inch anti-aircraft gun on the starboard just aft of the superstructure. He recalled being at that assignment for only what seemed like five to six minutes. Then an officer who was quite disheveled – somehow he had eggs on his hat – ordered him to report to the five-inch gun on the port side. Shortly after moving to the port side, they shot down a Japanese plane. About the same time, an armor-piercing bomb took out the starboard side. The shipmate who came aboard the USS Pennsylvania with him was killed. He believes if he hadn’t been reassigned, he would have also been killed too. He regretted that he didn’t remember the man’s name. They didn’t know each other and didn’t talk as they were focused on the mission.
There were two other ships in dry dock with the USS Pennsylvania — the USS Downes and the USS Cassin. Both were completely destroyed. Ray remained aboard the USS Pennsylvania until five p.m. and then was instructed to return to his ship.
When he arrived at the quarterdeck of the USS Pruitt, Ray was informed by the Officer of the Day he had been reported as Killed in Action (KIA) onboard the USS Pennsylvania during the morning. The information had already been reported to the US Naval Command at Pearl Harbor and a notice of his death had been sent to his parents. He said he was not the only one who had this happen to him. Because of this, the Navy came up with a plan three to four days after the attack to inform loved ones of their condition. Unfortunately, the Navy’s solution required you to sign your full name and check a box on what most closely related to your condition.
This was a good solution for most, but because he had never gone by Raymond, but instead Sonny, his parents didn’t believe that he was still alive. They had never seen him sign his name as Raymond and didn’t want to believe he was still alive if it wasn’t true. Letters home were not allowed initially. His parents believed him to be dead with the only communication being signed letters of his physical condition.
Eventually, the Navy allowed members to send letters home. When his parents received his letter and saw it was signed as Sonny and not Raymond, they finally believed that their son had survived the Pearl Harbor attack.
I won’t ever forget the minutes I shared with my great uncle as he shared his story of surviving Pearl Harbor. He was so proud of his service. His eyes lit up in a way that made him look much younger than he was. I’m so thankful for his service. But I am even more grateful he took the time to write his story down so it could be shared with future generations.
At the height of the Vietnam War, up-and-coming commo guys who wanted to learn the art of radio operation would walk into a classroom and see a huge number five written on the chalkboard.
Inevitably, someone’s curiosity would win out and they’d ask what the big number meant. The instructor would then calmly tell them, “That’s your life expectancy, in seconds, in a firefight. So, listen up and you might learn something that’ll keep you alive.”
That number wasn’t some outrageous scare tactic. During the Vietnam War, the odds were tremendously stacked against radio operations — and that 5-second life expectancy was, for some, a grim reality.
To make matters worse, you can’t really control the volume on those radios since the dial was on the wearer’s back. Radio chatter could give your position away, too.
In all fairness, that number was on the more extreme side of estimates. The life expectancy of a radio operator in the Vietnam War ranged between five to six seconds all the way up to a slightly-more-optimistic thirty seconds, depending on your source. If you look at all of the things the radio operators were tasked with, it becomes abundantly clear why commo guys weren’t expected to last long.
The first and most obvious tally in the “you’re screwed” column was the overall weight of the gear radio operators were expected to carry into battle. The PRC-77 radio system weighed 13.5 lbs without batteries. Toss in batteries, some spare batteries, and the unsightly, large encryption device called the NESTOR and you’re looking at carrying 54lbs on your back at all times. Now add your weapon system onto that and try to keep up as you fight alongside your unencumbered brethren. It took a lot of getting used to — but they managed.
If the weight wasn’t problem enough, next comes the antennae. They weren’t all too heavy, but they were extremely uncomfortable to use and would often give your position away to the enemy. The three-foot version was easier on the radio operator, but it wouldn’t work in thick jungles. For that environment, the radio operator needed a ten-foot whip antenna to stick out of their back, which was a great way to draw unwanted attention.
The Viet Cong knew what it meant to take out a guy with a giant, ten-foot antenna sticking out of their back — you might as well have painted a bullseye on them. You take out the radio operator and you effectively avoid dealing with air support. Additionally, it was well known that a radio operator’s place in the marching order was at the heels of the officer-in-charge — two high-priority targets in one spot.
And it wasn’t just the bullets that radio operators had to watch out for. The large antenna also acted as a targeting point for mortars and other explosives. All they had to do was aim for the antenna and they could wipe out anyone near the radio operator. As terrible as it sounds, this meant that the radio operator would sometimes move in isolation, away from the rest of the squad.
It’s unclear exactly how many radio operators lost their lives during the Vietnam War. While many radio operators were fulfilling their MOS, others just had a radio strapped to them in times of need. One thing is for certain, though: Being a radio operator back in the Vietnam War puts you among the most badass troops the military has to offer.
To hear one of these badasses explain what life was like in his own words, check out the video below.
World War II was over. Defense manufacturers had armories full of new goodies that they wanted to sell to the U.S. as it entered the Cold War, but America was no longer desperate for every piece of materiel it could get its hands on thanks to Hitler’s suicide and Japan’s surrender.
A company-owned Sikorsky S-51 Dragonfly helicopter lands on the USS Princeton during trials with the U.S. Navy.
So Sikorsky, looking to sell its new helicopters to the Navy in 1947, did the hard work to find customers. It sent a flight team with the Navy in the Mediterranean for exercises and offered to have its helicopter do all sorts of tasks like delivering mail, ferrying personnel, and even rescuing pilots from the sea if it became necessary.
It did become necessary, and so a civilian pilot conducting what was essentially a sales call conducted the first helicopter rescue of a pilot in the water in history while a fleet of sailors looked on in surprise.
The flight was conducted by D. D. Viner, an employee of Sikorsky. He made it to the fleet in his S-51 helicopter and began flying from the carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. Viner was immediately assigned a Navy observer, Lt. Joe Rullo, and the two were told to go and deliver the mail.
So they took the mail bags and began going to all the outlying ships, even landing on the gun turrets of the larger ships like the battleship USS Missouri. But the fleet quickly needed more dire service from the helicopter. On February 9, Lt. Robert A. Shields had to ditch his Curtiss SB2C Helldiver because of an engine failure.
Typically, this would’ve resulted in the pilot and his radioman, Don K. Little, floating for hours until a ship or boat could come alongside for a rescue. Instead, the S-51 roared to life and flew directly to the floating crew, scooping them up and delivering them safely back aboard in less than 10 minutes.
The rescue took fast so quickly that the flight control officer reportedly didn’t initially believe it when Shields reported back aboard the carrier. He thought there was simply no way that the man, who had radioed his distress just minutes prior, could be out of the water.
A U.S. Navy S-51 takes off from the deck of the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney in 1951.
(R. Miller, Public Domain)
The next rescue took place just nine days later when another Helldiver suffered a failure during a low altitude turn. The helicopter swooped into action again and hovered just over the water. The radioman didn’t make it out of the sinking plane. The pilot, Lt. Cmdr. George R. Stablein was badly hurt, and his life vest didn’t inflate.
Viner got the helicopter over the officer so quickly that Stablein had no chance to sink, and Viner got the rescue hoist directly into the officer’s hands. Stablein got his hands pinched at the top of the hoist and almost fell back into the water, but Viner tipped the helicopter back under him as Rullo, that Navy observer, grabbed onto the superior officer.
The three men flew back to the carrier safely.
Viner conducted a third, more routine rescue later in the exercises and another Sikorsky pilot conducted a fourth.
At the end of Sikorsky’s participation with the fleet, officers were lining up to praise the helicopter’s performance, and the carrier crew decided to honor Viner and Rullo with a Navy tradition. Carriers in World War II had gotten in the practice of gifting 10 gallons of ice cream to any ship crew that rescued one of their pilots.
The carrier counted Viner and Russo as a ship crew and gifted them 30 gallons of ice cream on the day that Viner was scheduled to leave the FDR. They couldn’t possibly consume all of that sugary goodness, so they stashed it all in the ready room and opened it up for anyone to eat.
The Navy soon began buying helicopters to conduct all the same missions that Viner had been doing for the fleet.
When Moscow hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics, games were being played not only in Soviet arenas but at the headquarters of the KGB.
The Kremlin was determined to host an untarnished event after the United States and 65 other countries boycotted the 1980 Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the secret police were heavily involved in the effort.
On the surface, they succeeded.
The Soviets performed like champions in Moscow, winning 195 medals, including 80 golds, enough to top the medal count. And the 1980 games stand alone today as the cleanest on record — the first and only since the testing of Olympic athletes began in 1968 to not disqualify a single athlete for using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
But Soviet athletes and former members of the KGB allege that the Soviet authorities were using dirty tricks to boost performances while maintaining the appearance of a clean competition.
In a scheme that bears some resemblance to the state-sponsored doping program that Russia employed to boost its performance when it hosted the scandal-plagued Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, the Soviet authorities allegedly oversaw a broad effort to tamper with athletes’ drug tests.
In 1977, the KGB’s Fifth Directorate, which handled domestic security issues, created the Eleventh Department. Officially, the new entity’s task was “to disrupt subversive actions by the enemy and hostile elements during the preparation and holding of the Olympics.”
In reality, the employees of the Eleventh Department also worked in the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, which was accredited for the Olympics just two weeks before the games kicked off on July 19, 1980.
‘We Don’t Need Accidents’
Konstantin Volkov, who won a silver medal in the pole vault for the Soviet Union at the 1980 games, told Current Time that when it came time to hand in his urine sample for testing, an employee at the Moscow lab informed him that “we throw all this out” and handed him a different container already filled with urine.
“I said, ‘Well, I don’t have anything [in my urine]. I’m not scared,'” according to the 60-year-old Volkov. But the former pole vaulter said the lab employee insisted that “we don’t need accidents, so go turn this one in.”
When asked if other athletes, including from the 70 other countries competing in the games, were doing the same, the lab employee confirmed that they were.
“Yes, everyone is the same; no exceptions,” Volkov recalled the lab employee saying. “No one will have anything [in their samples].”
Retired KGB Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Popov told Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that two of his former colleagues were accredited to work in the Anti-Doping Laboratory during the 1980 Olympics.
“They filled the containers [of urine] that were purportedly to be from the athletes,” said Popov, who handled sports journalists at the time. “Naturally, they didn’t have any positive doping tests, and that’s how the samples were clean.”
In the event that an athlete like Volkov actually provided samples, they were “simply replaced with obviously clean ones,” Popov added.
Efforts to uncover doping among Olympians first began at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. By 1975, the International Olympic Committee had banned anabolic steroids, which were often used by Soviet athletes. The next year, at the Montreal games, 12 athletes were disqualified for using steroids.
Yet despite the expanded effort to catch drug cheats, not a single athlete was caught doping in Moscow four years later — a result that contrasts sharply with a 1989 report by the Australian parliament that alleged “there is hardly a medal winner at the Moscow Games, certainly not a gold medal winner…who is not on one sort of drug or another: usually several kinds. The Moscow Games might well have been called the Chemists’ Games.”
The Kremlin was under extraordinary pressure to ensure that no scandals tainted the Moscow games, the first Olympics hosted by a communist country, and on which the Soviet Union had spent an estimated id=”listicle-2646453422″.3 billion.
With the “whole world” watching, state-run Moskva 24 TV recollected recently, the Soviet government was looking to “eliminate all elements of chance.”
Soviet citizens, meanwhile, were essentially told to consider the games a view into their own future. And in the sphere of sports doping, they were.
First Moscow, Then Sochi
Thirty-four years later, the Kremlin was once again playing host to the Olympics, this time in winter, in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The 2014 Winter Olympics, won by Team Russia, was held up at the time as a symbol of Russia’s return as a sporting powerhouse and arrival as a tourism destination.
But those victories were soon tainted by allegations that Russia’s security services had been swapping out Russian athletes’ urine samples to avoid the detection of performance-enhancing substances.
“The Winter Olympics in Sochi debuted the ultimate fail-safe mechanism in the Russian’s sample-swapping progression,” concluded a 2016 independent investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). “A protected Winter Olympics competitor likely to medal did not have to worry about his or her doping activities. They could dope up to, and possibly throughout, the games as they could count on their dirty sample being swapped at the Sochi Laboratory.”
Russian officials have never accepted the conclusions of what is commonly called the McLaren Report, and have engaged in a drawn out battle with WADA that continues to this day.
While Russia escaped a ban from the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the fallout from the scandal resulted in the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee in 2017, preventing Russian athletes from competing under the Russian flag in South Korea in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Tens of Russian athletes were banned from international competition, and 13 medals won in Sochi were stripped from Team Russia.
Most recently, the failure by Russian authorities to cooperate fully with WADA’s investigation into the Moscow lab and the country’s state-sponsored doping program led the international anti-doping watchdog in 2019 to impose a four-year ban on Russia participating in or hosting any major international sports competitions, including the Olympics.
Popov told Current Time that the tampering in Sochi was “a remake, let’s say, of what there was in the ’80s…. The experience gained in those years was employed at the Sochi Olympics.”
He added that in 1980 the U.S.S.R.’s State Sports Committee had a “special program” that provided steroids to athletes who, in their coaches’ opinions, had the best chances of winning.
In 1980, then-20-year-old Volkov was seen as a potential gold medalist in Moscow, having won the European Championships just months before.
During the 1980 Summer Olympics, he told Current Time, representatives of the doping program suggested that he use anabolic steroids.
“They had me come in with my coach, my father,” Volkov recalled. He said he was told that he needed to go through “a special drugs program to win a gold medal.”
“But we refused because, first of all, we didn’t know how this works with pole vaulting” or how it would impact a pole vaulter’s technique, Volkov continued. “They said, ‘OK, it’s on you. If there’ll be a failure, then you’ll answer for your actions.'”
The United States had a secret weapon at the beginning of the Vietnam War, one it chose to ignore at its own peril: Lt. Gen. Victor “Brute” Krulak.
Krulak had been fighting his whole life. Born short in stature, he was barely tall enough to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. His nickname, “Brute,” was supposed to be an insult hurled at him by an upperclassman, but it was one he adopted as true in spirit.
He was a lifer Marine, a veteran of World War II, where he led a diversionary raid while the main attack came at Bougainville Island. He also fought at the Battle of Okinawa. In the Korean War, he landed at Inchon, helped recapture Seoul from the communists, and distinguished himself at the Chosin Reservoir.
If that weren’t enough to establish Krulak’s vision, consider his biggest contribution to the Allied victory in World War II. Before the war ever kicked off for the Americans, Krulak was in San Diego reviewing potential amphibious landing craft. None of the designs ever worked. High gunwales and exposed propellers left Marines in terrible danger during the potential landings to come.
In 1937, Krulak had been transferred to China in time to see the Japanese invasion in real-time. He watched the Japanese landing craft in Shanghai, looking for potential solutions to all his problems. The fixes he found would later contribute to the creation of Higgins Boats, which helped win the war on both fronts.
Krulak’s biggest battles weren’t with the Japanese or the North Koreans, however. The toughest fight of his life actually came from within the Pentagon: his adversary was Gen. William Westmoreland.
Marine Corps-Army rivalry has always run deep, ever since the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I saw the Marines not only stop the enemy but push the advancing Germans back. The Army notoriously left the Marines out of its memorialization of the battlefield there, a wrong not righted until 1955.
When it came to Vietnam, however, Westmoreland and Krulak saw the situation two very different ways. Westmoreland was brought up in the large-scale combat of World War II and Korea. He wanted to bury as many Viet Cong and communist troops as possible in a war of attrition that would compel the North Vietnamese to bring out its forces and meet the Americans in a pitched battle.
Krulak saw Vietnam very differently. The Marine Corps had been fighting homegrown insurgencies for decades, even before World War II, in places like Central America, the Philippines, and the Caribbean islands. He knew when a situation called for counterinsurgency tactics – and Vietnam was just the place if there ever was one.
Winning in Vietnam meant pacifying the villages of the country, improving the quality of life for the people, thereby releasing them from the communist grip. Krulak wanted the Marines to be a shield for the South Vietnamese, to protect them while they did this civil improvement and taught the villagers to defend themselves. In his mind, the Marines would pacify one area, then move on to another, eventually spreading the pacification like an “ink blot.”
Westmoreland preferred sending Marines out on search and destroy missions.
Khe Sanh was particularly annoying to Gen. Krulak. In his mind, Khe Sanh had no strategic value and Westmoreland kept up constant pressure for the Marines to leave their bases and search for the enemy. Westmoreland believed Khe Sanh was the perfect place for the U.S. to bring its full firepower to bear on the communists.
In conversations with President Lyndon B. Johnson, Westmoreland promised a quick end to the war, using that firepower to fill enemy body bags. Krulak told the president the Marines already had a playbook for this kind of operation (they literally did, the Small Wars Manual, first published in 1935). He told Johnson it would take longer but wouldn’t take as much American commitment.
Johnson, wanting out of Vietnam as fast as possible, opted to take Westmoreland’s approach. Krulak’s “I told you so” moment came in 1967 and was captured on camera. The photo shows the Marine pointing a finger at an obviously uncomfortable Johnson. Krulak told the president that the firepower approach was needlessly killing Marines.
The president kicked Krulak out of the Oval Office and when it came time to choose who would become the next Commandant of the Marine Corps, Johnson passed over Krulak, forcing him to retire.
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the greatest military commanders of all time.
He brought Revolutionary France back from the brink of destruction with his Italian campaign in 1796 and 1797. He made a fool of Czar Alexander I at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. He encircled an entire Austrian army and forced them to capitulate at the Battle of Ulm in 1805. And these are just a few of his exploits.
But he was also a student of history, and repeatedly instructed his subordinates to pore over the campaigns of seven specific commanders that came before him, arguing that it was the only way to learn the art of war and become a great captain.
Wounded in battle 13 times during his 39 year career, one of Eugene’s greatest conquests was the Siege of Belgrade in 1717 against the Ottoman Empire, in which he led a cavalry attack that helped turn the tide.
“Military science,” Napoleon was quoted as saying by Madame de Remusat, “consists in calculating all the chances accurately in the first place, and then in giving accident exactly, almost mathematically, it’s place in one’s calculations.”
“Prince Eugene is one of those who understood [this] best,” Napoleon said.
6. Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632).
Gustavus Adolphus was king of Sweden between 1611-1632, and helped put Sweden on the map.
One of his greatest victories was at the Battle of Breitenfeld during the Thirty Years War when his forces, together with the Saxons, flanked both sides of the Catholic army and annihilated the enemy.
He was killed during the same war while leading a cavalry charge at the Battle of Lutzen.
5. Frederick the Great (1712-1786).
Frederick II, or Frederick the Great, was king of Prussia from 1740-1786 and greatly expanded his kingdom’s territory through his military victories.
Some of his greatest victories were at the battles of Rossbach and Leuthen during the Seven Years War, where he defeated larger armies with great maneuvering.
But despite being one of Napoleon’s seven great commanders, the French commander appeared to consider the next commander even better.
4. Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne (1611-1675).
Turenne was a French field marshal who served Louis XIV, also known as The Sun King.
Perhaps his greatest victories came in the winter of 1674 and 1675 during the Franco-Dutch War. In December of 1674, he maneuvered around the German army and surprised them weeks later in early January, hitting the enemy’s flanks and driving them away from Alsace.
He was killed later in July 1675, as the Franco-Dutch War was still raging, by a cannonball as he was observing enemy lines.
In 1793, Revolutionary France was bent on erasing anything that had to with royalty and religion, and began destroying royal tombs at St-Denis outside of Paris.
Known as a man of the people, Turenne’s body was one of the few left untouched. His remains now reside in the Invalides.
“You seem to admire [Frederick the Great] immensely,” Napoleon once told a subordinate, according to his secretary, Bourrienne. “What do you find in him so astonishing? He is not equal to Turenne.”
“General,” Napoleon’s subordinate replied, “it is not merely the warrior I esteem in Frederick, but one cannot refuse one’s admiration of a man, who even on the throne, was a philosopher.”
“True … but all his philosophy shall not prevent me from striking out his kingdom from the map of Europe,” Napoleon said.
A few years later, after he crowned himself emperor, Napoleon annihilated Prussia during the Jena-Auerstadt campaign of 1806, and subsumed the kingdom in his empire.
3. Hannibal Barca (247 bc-183 bc).
Hannibal was a general and statesman for the Carthage in present day Tunisia who wreaked havoc on the Roman Empire.
Arguably his greatest conquest came during the Battle of Cannae when he compelled the Romans into attacking in unfavorable conditions, eventually wiping out their cavalry and then its entire army. The Roman historian Polybius wrote that Hannibal’s army killed 70,000 Romans.
Hannibal is also well known for impressively crossing the Alps before entering Italy and the Battle of Cannae, surviving harrowing assaults from the Gauls.
His power diminished, he poisoned himself around 183 BC.
2. Julius Caesar (100 BC-44 BC).
Caesar was a Roman general and politician who is one of the greatest conquerors of all time.
Well known for his victory at the Battle of Alesia and conquest of the Gauls, he was made a consul in the first Roman Triumvarate in 59 BC along with Pompey the Great and Marcus Licinios Crassus.
But civil war later broke out between Caesar and Pompey. In 48 BC, after suffering a series of defeats to Caesar, Pompey was murdered in Egypt.
“I admire the fine campaign of Caesar in Africa,” Bourriene quoted Napoleon as saying.
Shortly after that, he fought a quick war in Anatolia — in present day Turkey — and made quick work of the king of Cimmerian Bosporus. His famous words, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” were from this war.
Caesar was afterwards made dictator, but was assassinated — stabbed to death by the Roman senators — in 44 BC.
1. Alexander the Great (356 bc-323 bc).
Alexander was king of Macedonia who conquered the Persian empire, invaded India and spread Grecian culture across much of the ancient world.
Tutored by Aristotle at a young age, he became king after his father, Phillip II, was assassinated.
While he never officially ranked the seven commanders, Napoleon himself, along with many other historians, seemed to consider Alexander the best.
“I place Alexander in the first rank,” Napoleon told Bourrienne. “My reason for giving the preference to the king of Macedon is, on account of the conception, and above all, for the execution of his campaign in Asia,” adding that he admired the Siege of Tyre, conquest of Egypt and march to the Oasis Ammon most.
Alexander died from illness in 323 bc.
Like his heroes, Napoleon Bonaparte is now considered one of the greatest military commanders of all time.
Here’s what Napoleon had to say about “the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Eugene and Frederick.”
“Model yourself upon them. This is the only means of becoming a great captain, and of acquiring the secret of the war of war. Your own genius will be enlightened and improved by this study, and you will learn to reject all maxims foreign to the principles of these great commanders.”
Bowe Bergdahl was Pfc. Bergdahl when he walked off his post in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was captured by the Taliban. Five years later, however, when the White House exchanged five Taliban detainees for his release, he was Sgt. Bergdahl.
According to the Department of Defense, prisoners of war and those under missing status continue to be considered for promotion along with their contemporaries. They must be considered for promotion to the next highest grade when they become eligible.
For enlisted, it is based on time in grade and time in service. The eligibility for officers is based on the date of rank in their current grade.
A notable story is of then-Cmdr. James Stockdale. When he was captured and sent to the Hanoi Hilton, he was the most senior POW and so was the ranking officer among the prisoners there. When Lt. Col. ‘Robbie’ Risner was also captured, he outranked Stockdale by time in grade.
Later, a newly captured naval pilot informed Stockdale of his promotion to captain, he assumed command again.
This continues for prisoners of war but stops for those on missing status when they are presumed dead under Title 37 of the U.S. Code, section 555.
This happened with 1st Lt. John Leslie Ryder. His aircraft, nicknamed “Bird Dog,” went missing during a visual reconnaissance flight during the Vietnam War on June 9, 1970.
During the flight, the crew failed to report in by radio and calls were not answered. The search could not be mounted until the next day. The search continued until the 19th to no avail. A year to the day later, Lt. Ryder was promoted to captain.
Payment is also changed from regular enlistments. Instead of being involved in DFAS, the payment is authorized by Congress and made directly through the Secretary of the Treasury, tax-free. Any earnings, leave and money, are still given to the individual at their appropriate rank and are held until return.
There is also no limit on leave accrual, meaning it is well deserved for the returning service member to take all of the leave at two and-a-half days per month.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller is probably known best for his legendary actions in World War II where he led Marines at Guadalcanal and in Korea when he and his men broke out from the Chosin Reservoir.
But Puller originally enlisted in the Corps to fight in World War I.
He was eventually assigned to train new Marines and then sent officer school — which combined to keep him away from the front lines of The Great War.
But in 1919 he was offered a deployment to Haiti if he came back to active duty.
The trip was described to young Marine officers as a sort of consolation prize after their trip to France was canceled. Writing about Puller and another Marine officer in Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps, Leo J. Dougherty III wrote:
They saw service in Haiti as a means of compensation for not having served in the World War, and, as then Capt. William H. Rupertus told the young second lieutenants, as a way to “make money and have some fun.”
But Haiti was a real war zone.
Most of the recent Marine Corps officer training graduates were sent to Haiti as American noncommissioned officers who held officer ranks in the Gendarmerie d’Haïti. This was basically a police and counterinsurgency force whose enlisted ranks were filled with local soldiers but whose officers were mostly Marine Corps officers and noncommissioned officers.
The first commander of the Gendarmerie d’Haïti was then-Maj. Smedley Butler, another Marine Corps legend. And the Marines and their gendarmerie fought tooth and nail against determined Caco rebel attacks.
The rebels would hit targets — usually government buildings and forces — and then escape into the jungle.
To catch the rebels, Puller and other gendarmerie officers led their men on hard marches through the jungle and into the mountains, fighting off ambushes along the way.
Puller — who was deployed to Haiti from 1919 to 1924 — later estimated that he fought in about 40 engagements against the Caco rebels in Haiti and learned a lot of lessons, which helped him later in Nicaragua.
Puller was promoted to second lieutenant in 1924 and deployed to Nicaragua for the first time in 1926.
Nicaragua had been racked by political turmoil for over a decade despite an American intervention in 1912, causing instability in Latin America and headaches for American fruit companies. The Marines arrived in 1927 to protect American interests in the country.
In 1928, Puller arrived and again led a local force, this time it was an element from the Guardia Nacional of Nicaragua. These government forces and their Marine mentors were tasked with disrupting rebel operations.
During his first tour of Nicaragua, Puller served for over two years and was awarded a Navy Cross for leading his men through five major engagements from February to August of 1930. Puller’s element was successful in each of the engagements, killing nine of the enemy and wounding more.
After a year break for training at Fort Benning, Puller returned to Nicaragua and commanded local forces once again. He received a second Navy Cross for actions taken in 1932. Puller was leading 40 Nicaraguans alongside Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. William A. “Iron Man” Lee.
The men forced their way into rebel territory a full 80 miles from their base and any reliable reinforcements or lines of communication. Rebels ambushed them, and Puller was in the center of the first attack. When a Nicaraguan fell right next to him and Lee was hit with what were thought to be mortal wounds, Puller quickly rallied the men and got them fighting against the 150 or more rebels.
Despite the fact that they had been ambushed by a numerically superior force, the Marines and Nicaraguans were able to throw off the attack. They killed 10 of the enemy.
Puller led his men back to their base to the south, a full hundred miles away.
But on Sept. 30, 1932, 10 days after the first ambush, the rebels attempted two more attacks designed to wipe out Puller and his men. Both attacks were rebuffed with heavy losses for the rebels, allowing the American-Nicaraguan patrol to arrive at the base on Oct. 31.
Lee survived his wounds and later fought in World War II where he became a prisoner of war. He was awarded the Navy Cross three times for his actions in Nicaragua.
Puller would later take a series of staff and command positions, including a deployment to guard Americans in China, before leading Marines throughout the Pacific in the World War II and Korea battles that made him an icon of the Corps.