So, you just became friends with a Recon veteran and he’s got a decorated wooden paddle on his wall. What the f*ck is that all about? Well, it’s a tradition. Simple as that. But there’s history behind that tradition and, if you really want to really wow your new Recon Marine friend, you can throw this little tidbit out there.
In fact, there’s a good chance they don’t even know the true story behind it.
Much like Recon, everyone wants to be a viking until it’s time to do viking sh*t.
(Painting by Frank Dicksee)
The Viking misconception
A lot of people believe Recon inherited the paddle tradition from Vikings. While there certainly are similarities between these seafaring badasses of old and today’s Marines, the paddle is not one of those traditions.
The paddle is a little more of a contemporary tradition. It got its start with the Marine Raiders of WWII.
Obviously, no one actually stole it. Who would steal government property?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
The Raider origin
According to legend, modern Recon Marines can trace their military family tree back to the Raiders of the Pacific, who had military-issued paddles because, well, clandestine means f*ck your boat motor, you got good, ol’ fashioned manpower.
Like all most issued gear, these paddles had to be returned prior to parting ways with the unit. Thing is, after spending so much time with these paddles, they started to feel more like yours than the government’s. So, boat-mates would break into supply lockers and steal the paddles back for their “true” owners.
Marine Brad Colbert Discusses the History of the Paddle
Upon successfully stealing your paddle back, your boatmates would decorate that sh*t and give it to you before you left as a going-away present. Today, even non-Recon Marines are gifted paddles, but the tradition started out with the Raiders.
Would you like to know more? Watch the video below for the full story, as told by Brad “Ice Man” Colbert (of Generation Kill fame). Of course, there’s some explicit language in there, so be aware.
While everyone knows about Pearl Harbor, what most don’t remember was that Japan tried hard throughout World War II to hit the U.S. mainland.
Tokyo ended up using very old technology – hot air balloons – to deliver bombs to the United States.
The genesis of this attack was the Doolittle Raid of 1942. The attack had caused the Japanese military to lose face, so they resolved to strike back. After several bomber projects failed, Tokyo turned to what they called the fūsen bakudan, or “fire bomb.” Manufactured primarily by teenage girl laborers, over 9,000 of these balloons were sent America’s way, according to WarHistoryOnline.com, with the goal of creating forest fires to draw American resources away from the front.
In what may be the first intercontinental weapon in military history – the fūsen bakudan, or fire balloon. Japan produced 9,3000 of them. (Youtube Screenshot)
First launched in November 1944, the balloon bombs reached as far east as Detroit, Michigan. These 30-foot balloons used the jet stream to reach America. American and Canadian fighter pilots saw some of them, and shot down about 20. Many others were seen to come down, and at least seven were recovered by the U.S. Army.
The United States covered up knowledge of the ICBM precursor — mostly fool Japan into thinking the balloons weren’t making it to the mainland. Speculation centered around the internment camps and submarines, but geologists traced the sand in the sandbags to Japan.
Only one of the bombs caused any fatalities. On May 5, 1945, a minster, Archie Mitchell, and his wife took five Sunday School students on an outing to the forest. Mrs. Mitchell and the students then found the balloon while Rev. Mitchell was still at the car. The bomb detonated while the students were trying to drag it out, and Mrs. Mitchell and all five students were either killed or later died of their wounds.
An Army investigation determined the balloon bomb had been in the area for weeks before it blew.
The tragedy surrounding that outing was the only balloon attack that was publicized by the military. As a result, Japan cancelled the program. America’s media blackout had worked. Only 300 of the balloon bombs were seen in the United States, according to a 1995 Salt Lake Tribune article. One bomb was found in Canada in 2014, and detonated by EOD personnel.
Check out this National Geographic video for more details of Japan’s WW2 ICBMs.
The USS Philadelphia, a 1,240-ton, 36-gun sailing frigate, was built by the residents of Philadelphia who collected $100,000 to fund her construction during one week in June 1798. She was completed in November 1799 and was commissioned under the command of Capt. Stephen Decatur Sr.
Three years later, during the First Barbary War, the Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor and was captured. A year after that, Capt. Decatur’s son, Lt. Stephen Decatur Jr., devised a plan to keep the enemy from using the ship.
He was going to board her and retake her.
British Lord Horatio Nelson, then a vice admiral, would call the raid that followed “the most bold and daring act of the Age.” It would also make Lt. Decatur a national hero in the fledgling United States — its first military hero since the Revolution.
As darkness fell on Feb. 16, 1804, Lt. Decatur and eighty volunteers, most of whom were Marines, sailed into Tripoli harbor aboard the USS Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan ship that had been disguised with short masts and triangular sails. She flew a British flag. On her deck were Sicilian volunteers who spoke Arabic while the Marines, dressed as Maltese sailors and Arab seamen, huddled below decks. The Intrepid had sailed with the USS Syren, which remained outside the harbor but would supply supporting fire if needed.
To avoid calling attention to the raid, the Marines were told that the use of firearms was prohibited.
As the Intrepid approached the Philadelphia, one of the Arabic-speaking volunteers called out that their ship had lost her anchors. They wanted to use the harbor to rig a replacement but needed a place to tie up for the night. Before her capture in 1803, the Philadelphia’s commander, Commodore William Bainbridge, had jettisoned some of the ship’s guns and three anchors, moved other guns forward, and had had her foremast cut down in an unsuccessful attempt to free her from the reef she was on. He had then tried to scuttle the ship but that, too, failed, and he and his crew became prisoners.
Bainbridge later called his capture “humiliating.”
The Philadelphia had not yet been fully repaired, and her upper yardarms and sails had also been removed.
The guard aboard the Philadelphia gave the disguised Intrepid permission to tie up alongside. When she did, Decatur yelled “Board!” He and his volunteers flooded aboard the captured US vessel armed with pikes and cutlasses.
“Not a man had been seen or heard to breathe a moment before,” the Intrepid’s Surgeon Mate Lewis Heermann later wrote; “at the next, the boarders hung on the ship’s side like cluster bees; and, in another instant, every man was on board the frigate.”
In ten minutes of bloody, hand-to-hand fighting, the US volunteers killed twenty of the Tripolitan crew and captured one. The rest had fled the ship by jumping overboard. One American had been wounded.
Decatur had hoped to sail the Philadelphia out of the harbor after he had taken her but quickly realized that’d be impossible because of her condition. He also realized the smaller Intrepid would not be able to tow the Philadelphia. To keep the ship from being used against American vessels, there was only one alternative and his orders had been clear: If he couldn’t bring her out of the harbor, he was to burn her.
Decatur’s men fired the ship.
As the flames grew, the Americans returned to the Intrepid. Lt. Decatur was the last man to leave the Philadelphia, which he did with a dramatic leap into the Intrepid’s rigging. As the Intrepid pulled away and headed toward the harbor entrance, the flames spread throughout the Philadelphia. The guns still aboard her, which were primed and ready, began firing in the heat, some of the discharges striking the town. The ship also began drifting as her ropes gave way. She finally grounded herself, still burning, on rocks near the entrance to the harbor. By then, the enemy in the town had realized what was happening and began firing on the Intrepid from the shore and preparing to launch small boats.
The American Syren replied with fire from the harbor mouth as Decatur and the Intrepid sailed out of the harbor, the American crew cheering.
More than 100 years ago, European powers were in the middle of World War I and looking everywhere for potential enemies and allies. In 1916, even President Wilson believed it would soon be inevitable for the U.S. to enter the war on the side of England and the Triple Entente. Then, an explosion on July 30, 1916 shattered windows in Times Square, shook the Brooklyn Bridge, and could be heard as far away as Maryland.
But the effect that would have lasting impression was the shrapnel that peppered the nearby Statue of Liberty.
(National Board of Health)
German saboteurs moved to hit a munitions plant in New York City’s Black Tom Island (an artificial island near Liberty Island) that was already making weapons and ammunition bound for Britain and France. They did it in the early morning hours on the poorly lit, poorly defended ammunition depot.
It was part of a two-year German campaign of sabotage in the United States and shook far away America to its core. The outrage over the previous year’s sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the loss of 120 Americans aboard that ship already began to turn American public opinion against Germany.
The Great War had finally come home in a big way.
This was not the first explosion or “accident” that occurred in munitions plants or on ships bound for Europe. German agents operating out of New York and its port facilities hired German sailors and Irish dock workers to plant bombs and incendiary devices on ships and in plants working on war materials. The number of accidents aboard those ships skyrocketed. But the Black Tom incident was different.
Two million tons of explosives were set off in a single instant. Five people died and it’s fortunate more people weren’t killed, considering the size of the blast. The buildings on the landfill island were smashed and flattened.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)
The shrapnel that exploded in every direction damaged the Statue of Liberty and didn’t just scar her lovely face, it popped the rivets that connect the arm that bears the torch of freedom, forcing the the arm to be forever closed to tourists. For a little while, even the years following the end of World War I, Black Tom was all America could talk about.
That is, until a new Germany rose from the ashes of the Kaiser’s Empire.
Known as one of America’s greatest war heroes, Alvin York was a profoundly religious man who found himself plenty conflicted when he learned he’d been drafted into the U.S. Army. Although very worried at the prospect of taking another man’s life, the Tennessee native chose to honor his military obligation and shipped off.
Although York saved many lives, killed many enemy troops, and earned the Medal of Honor, he gained true nationwide notoriety after Sergeant York, a film about his life, debuted in cinemas.
(Warner Brother Pictures)
Not only did the 1941 classic secure York a spot in the history books, it preserved his story and legacy for generations to come. The movie does a great job of showing us the highlights of his wartime heroics, but there are a few things about this humble hero that you probably didn’t know.
Alvin York (as played by Gary Cooper) at a local “Blind Tiger.’
(Warner Brothers Pictures)
Before shipping out to the frontlines to fight, York was considered somewhat of a troublemaker. Although he was known for his marksmanship as a youngster, he was also known to drink and gamble at various bars, known as “Blind Tigers.”
He wasn’t good with money
In his youth, York only attended nine months of a subscription school. In his hometown, education wasn’t a priority and he found work as a semi-skilled laborer at a nearby railroad. This lack of education is likely the reason for his poor money-managing skills.
York was known for spending money as he earned it and giving what he had away to those he felt needed it more.
York’s personal diary.
York kept a detailed diary
York frequently made entries about his time during World War I, and, in great detail, wrote about what it was like being pinned down by the enemy in attempts to capture a narrow-gauge railroad. The Medal of Honor recipient’s diary gives us a glimpse directly into his mind as he explored a range of subjects, from his emotional childhood through to the perils of war.
Representative Cordell Hull, Sergeant Alvin C. York, Senator Kenneth McKellar, and Senator George E. Chamberlain
He avoided profiting off his fame
After York’s deployment ended, he returned home and his story was published in the Saturday Evening Post — which had an audience of approximately two-million readers. He met with members of Congress who gave him a standing ovation.
As York’s name became more famous, he received offers for his movies rights — and he denied them all.
It took many years for Sgt. York to allow for the film’s production, Finally, it was released in 1941. York used his earnings to finance a bible school.
It wouldn’t do much good for a wounded World War I veteran trying to reintegrate into society to have a passersby gasp in shock and horror every time they saw him. The town of Sidcup in England attempted to ameliorate this shocked, audible response by attempting to warn the locals about the tenants of a nearby soldiers hospital.
Seeing a man on a blue bench when all the other benches in town were a different color warned the locals the image of a man sitting on it might come as a shock – and the veterans were grateful.
WARNING: Some of these images might be disturbing to even modern eyes.
A World War I veteran who was treated at Sidcup
World War I was an entirely different kind of warfare than the world had ever known previously. With that new, modern, and mechanized destruction, came new wounds and scars that would mark its veterans forever. Few in any military had ever seen anything like the gruesome scars of war left on World War I vets, so it’s safe to say that few civilians had either.
The Great War was packed with horrifyingly disfiguring weapons similar to wars past. Bullets are nothing new, neither was shrapnel. But the new weapons of war were able to unload hundreds of bullets in a minute and fire high explosives and poison gas from places the soldiers on the ground couldn’t even see. Soldiers on both sides suffered disfigurement at an astonishing rate. For the lucky ones who survived, that meant coming home to a population that wasn’t entirely prepared to see the horrors of the war.
The effects of the earliest plastic surgery on World War I veterans, this work done in London.
Sidcup, England had a hospital devoted to such soldiers. The hospital held hundreds of troops whose facial features were an object of terror to the unprepared. The benches of Sidcup were a warning to passersby that a veteran sitting on the bench might be disfigured, and it’s best not to stare. While this may seem offensive to us these days, for veterans who suffered from these afflictions, it was a blessing. Sidcup became the one place in the world where wounded, disfigured vets could walk around without the gasps and cries found everywhere else.
More than that, such hospitals featured pioneering medical techniques to attempt to mitigate the physical damage and return some kind of normalcy to the subject. World War I veterans were essentially the world’s first plastic surgery recipients. For those who couldn’t get that kind of work done, masks were an option – a painted replica of an unwounded face, covering the wounds of war that marked their daily lives.
Masks for WWI-era wounded soldiers were usually specially designed for the individual, created for the subject’s unique injury or war wound, and then painted one by one to ensure the look and fit of the mask matched the person wearing it. There are many occasions where (albeit in black and white photos) it’s hard to distinguish the masked face from what might be the soldier’s undamaged face.
They were remarkably accurate and allowed the soldiers a degree of freedom, walking around without the horrors of war written upon their faces.
The United States Army has a little-known fleet of fixed-wing cargo planes. Currently, the major player in that fleet is the C-23 Sherpa, but throughout the years, there have been some other planes that proved very capable of handing the Army’s needs. One such plane was the C-7 Caribou.
Like the C-23, the C-7 Caribou filled a vital niche for the Army. Instead of providing that support in the deserts of the Middle East, however, it proved to be a valuable cargo asset in the jungles of Vietnam. The C-7 could carry four tons of cargo or 32 troops, had a top speed of 216 miles per hour, and could go 1,308 miles.
The Army had taken a look at the Air Force’s C-123 Provider and C-130 Hercules and quickly realized that there was a big gap in cargo-delivering capabilities between these massive planes and the small loads carried by helicopters of the time (the famous UH-1 Huey had flown in 1956, but was trickling into service). So, they sought a small transport plane to fill that gap.
A Canadian company, de Havilland Canada, ended up fielding a design that would fit the bill for the Army. It was unique in that it could take off and land given just 1,000 feet. It could pull this off despite the fact that it had less horsepower in its two engines than in a single R-2800, the engine that powered World War II planes, like the F6F Hellcat and the P-47 Thunderbolt.
The Army bought 173 C-7s and used them in Vietnam until 1967, when the Air Force took these planes on in exchange for dropping performance restrictions of Army helicopters. The C-7s continued to serve until 1985, when the C-23 replaced them. Some C-7 stayed in service with Australia until as late as 2009!
Learn more about this impressive cargo plane in the video below.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that World War II wasn’t actually a single, globe-spanning conflict. It was really about a dozen smaller conflicts that had all been openly fought (or at least simmering) in the months and years leading up to the German invasion of Poland — the moment most historians point to as the beginning of the war.
Members of the Russian Liberation Army stand together in 1943. The “POA” patch features the Cyrillic-language abbreviation of the unit’s name in Russian.
(Karl Muller, Bundesarchiv Bild)
One of those long-simmering conflicts was between the Soviets in Russia and the Fascists in Germany. Both countries descended into harsh autocracies between World Wars I and II, but their leaders were deeply distrustful of one another. And, their populations were split as to who the worse evil was, even during the war.
That’s probably why somewhere around 200,000 Russian soldiers were recruited from prisoner of war camps and Soviet defections to form the Russian Liberation Army, a military force of Russian citizens who fought for Hitler against Stalin.
The head of the unit, abbreviated from Russian as the ROA, was a decorated Soviet officer, Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov. Vlasov and his men fought well against the Nazi invasion of Russia.
A Leningrad building burns after a German air raid in World War II. The city was besieged by German forces, and Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov was in charge of a large segment of the forces sent to free it.
(RIA Novosti Archive)
Vlasov commanded the 4th Mechanized Corps, and he and his men retook multiple cities from Nazi forces during counterattacks, escaped encirclement at one point, and even helped save Moscow at one point. His face was printed in newspapers as a “defender of Moscow” and he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
But he was then placed in command of an army and sent to break the siege at Leningrad. He failed, though some historians point to the failure of other commanders to exploit openings that Vlasov created. Regardless, most of his army was eventually slaughtered and he was captured.
While imprisoned in prisoner of war camps, Vlasov was known for making statements against Stalin. Eventually, this led to Vlasov advocating for a new military unit made up of Russians and commanded by Russians — but fighting for Germany.
Russian defector to Germany Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov speaks with volunteers in Germany in 1944.
After months in POW camps, Vlasov was able to convince Germany to create the ROA. He wrote pamphlets and other materials to convince more Soviet POWs to join, and these were also dropped as leaflets over Soviet formations to trigger defections. The main selling point was that, after the war, Germany would allow for a free and democratic Russia.
Unfortunately for Vlasov, the Germans still barely trusted him. Most Russians recruited into the ROA served under the command of other officers, including German ones. Vlasov was promoted to general but only put in command of the ROA against Soviet forces one time. On February 11, 1945, Vlasov led the ROA against the Red Army as the Soviets pressed against a Polish river.
Russian defector Gen. Andrey Vlasov meets with senior Nazi leaders, including Joseph Goebbels at far right.
The ROA performed well, but was ultimately withdrawn and never sent into full-scale battle again. As Germany continued to lose ground, many in the ROA switched sides again, and fought their way through German units towards the western Allies, hoping that British and American forces would accept a surrender and request for asylum.
After all, they had no delusions about what the Soviets would do to captured Russian soldiers who fought against Stalin and the Red Army.
The United States Navy has a history of honoring women – one that goes way back to 1776, when a row galley was named for Martha Washington (George’s wife). Currently, seven Navy ships named for women are in active service with the United States Navy, and an eighth is on the way. Here’s a rundown on these ships:
The destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) has a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System with a total of 90 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standard missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets. She also has eight RGM-84 Harpoons in two Mk 141 launchers, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, and two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes.
In January, 2008, the Hopper was one of several U.S. Navy warships that had close encounters with Iranian speedboats.
2. USS Roosevelt (DDG 80)
This Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is named in honor of both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady for 12 years, then served as a diplomat and spokesperson for the United Nations.
The destroyer USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) has a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) with a total of 96 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standards, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes, and the ability to carry two MH-60R helicopters.
According to a 2006 US Navy release, the Roosevelt and the Dutch Frigate De Zeven Provincien took part in an attempted rescue of a South Korean fishing vessel captured by pirates. In 2014, the DOD reported the destroyer took part in delivering a rogue oil tanker to Libyan authorities.
3. USNS Sacagawea (T AKE 2)
This Lewis and Clark class replenishment ship was named for Sacagawea, the Native American woman who guided the expedition lead by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark across the Louisiana Purchase. A previous USS Sacagawea (YT 326) was a harbor tug that served from 1925 to 1945.
The 41,000-ton replenishment ship USNS Sacagawea carries ammo, food, and other supplies to keep the United States Navy (and allies) fighting. The ship also can transfer some fuel to other vessels. She can carry two MH-60 helicopters to help transfer cargo and have as many as six .50-caliber machine guns.
In 2013, the Sacagawea took part in Freedom Banner 2013 as part of the Maritime Prepositioning Force.
4. USNS Amelia Earhart (T AKE 6)
The first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart was one of the few women who earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 under unknown circumstances. DANFS notes that a Liberty Ship was previously named for the famous aviator.
The 41,000-ton replenishment ship USNS Amelia Earhart carries ammo, food, and other supplies to keep the United States Navy (and allies) fighting. The ship also can transfer some fuel to other vessels. She can carry two MH-60 helicopters to help transfer cargo and have as many as six .50-caliber machine guns.
DANFS notes that on Nov. 20, 2014, the Amelia Earhart collided with USNS Walter S. Diehl (T AO 193).
5. USNS Mary Sears (T AGS 65)
Mary Sears was the first Oceanographer of the Navy during World War II. According to the website for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, her research on thermoclines saved many American submariners’ lives by enabling our subs to hide from enemy forces.
Fittingly, the U.S. Navy named the Pathfinder-class oceanographic research vessel USNS Mary Sears in her honor. The 5,000-ton vessel has a top speed of 16 knots, and carries a number of sensors for her mission. In 2007, the Mary Sears helped locate the “black boxes” from a missing airliner.
6. USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10)
Former Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — whose husband is astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly — served for five years before resigning her seat in the aftermath of an assassination attempt.
The Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords has a 57mm gun, four .50-caliber machine guns, and a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile. The vessel can carry two MH-60 helicopters and MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles.
The ship just entered service in December, 2016, and had a cameo in Larry Bond’s 2016 novel, Red Phoenix Burning, where it was rammed by a Chinese frigate, suffering moderate damage.
7. USNS Sally Ride (T AGOR 28)
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, flying on two Space Shuttle missions (missing a third after the Challenger exploded during launch), who died after a battle with pancreatic cancer in 2012.
A sister ship, the USNS Neil Armstrong (T AGOR 27), named for the first person to walk on the moon, is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.
8. USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123)
Lenah Higbee was the first woman to receive the Navy Cross – being recognized for her service as Superintendant of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in World War I. She was recognized with a Gearing-class destroyer in 1945, according to DANFS, that saw action in the last months of World War II.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee will have a 5-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) with a total on 96 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standards, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes, and the ability to carry two MH-60R helicopters when she enters service. MarineLog.com reported in January that construction of the destroyer had started.
We’ve all heard of General George S. Patton. Maybe you’ve seen the movie. Maybe you did a report on him in school. Maybe you even have a grandfather who served under him in World War II. Maybe you’re a Cav or Armor troop. (Scouts out!) All of these and more are good reasons to know who this man was.
First, let’s cover some basics. Then we’ll jump right into stuff you may not know about this well-known — and sometimes notorious — United States Army General…
George Patton, Jr. (also known as George Smith Patton III) was born on November 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, California. He died following a car accident on December 21, 1945, in Heidelberg, Germany. He is buried at the American Memorial Cemetery in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. In between those two bookends, he was a United States Army soldier and officer from 1909, until his death. As an officer, he commanded the U.S. Seventh Army and the U.S. Third Army during World War II — in the Mediterranean theater, in France and Germany, respectively. He was nicknamed “Bandito” and “Old Blood and Guts.”
Now, that’s enough with what you probably already knew. Let’s dive into the obscure; like what led to Patton being the Army’s master sword instructor.
As a junior officer, Patton was chosen to represent the United States at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. He was selected to compete in the first modern pentathlon, a sport invented by the man who revived the Olympics and founded the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Patton was chosen based on his history with fencing at both the Virginia Military Institute and the United States Military Academy at West Point. Fencing is one of the five sports found within the modern pentathlon, along with 200m freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting, and 3200m cross country running. Patton finished fifth overall, and first among the non-Swedes in the event.
Coubertin considered the Pentathlon to be the core of the Olympic spirit. He was inspired by the ancient pentathlon from the original Olympics, which required the skills of an “ideal” Greek soldier. Coubertin created the modern pentathlon based around the skills of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: “He must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight enemies with pistol and sword, swim, and run to return to his own soldiers.”
Even Gen. George Patton himself noted the difference(s) between his event at the 1912 Olympics, and other “non-military” events:
“The high spirit of sportsmanship and generosity manifested throughout speaks volumes for the character of the officers of the present day. There was not a single incident of a protest or any unsportsmanlike quibbling or fighting for points which I may say, marred some of the other civilian competitions at the Olympic Games.”
“Each man did his best and took what fortune sent them like a true soldier, and at the end we all felt more like good friends and comrades than rivals in a severe competition, yet this spirit of friendship in no manner detracted from the zeal with which all strove for success.”
Once he wrapped up the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, after some work and travel in Germany, Patton traveled to France in order to train directly with the French swordsman and Master of Arms, Adjutant Charles Cléry, at their Cavalry School in Saumur. Cléry was known throughout Europe, at the time, as being the greatest military swordsman. There, Patton picked up several tactics that were specific to French cavalry swordsmanship: stabbing, rather the slashing, for the most part.
The French penchant for piercing over slashing dated back to their heavy cavalry units during the Napoleonic Wars. The French determined/rediscovered that piercing wounds figured into a far larger percentage of fatalities than simple surface cuts — something Roman Legions understood all too well 20 centuries prior.
Upon completion of his training commitments with the French swordmaster, Patton returned to the United States. Once back, he was temporarily assigned to the Office of the Army Chief of Staff. After a flurry of assignment changes, more advanced training back at Saumur, and some publications on his tactical and technical fencing insights, Patton finally unpacked his bags at the United States Army’s Mounted Service School in Fort Riley, KS, and began his new post as both Cavalry student and the Army’s first Master of the Sword (sword instructor).
This culmination found Patton penning his 1914 Saber Exercise and his Diary of the Instructor in Swordsmanship. It also found the Army Ordnance Corps pumping out 20,000 new M1913 Cavalry Sabers (or “Patton Sabers”) based on his new designs, thus replacing the old hack & slash sabers.
In the middle of all of this, Patton was once again chosen to represent the United States as a Pentathlete at the 1916 Olympics… though those games were canceled due to World War I.
As revolutionary as Patton’s sword tactics (both mounted and dismounted) and sword design were, by the time they reached the line units preparing for combat, they were already obsolete.
So, to recap, one of America’s most famous/infamous generals — who led millions of tons of tanks into the heart of Nazi Germany, and who was both feared and respected by his enemies on the field of battle — dug his roots deep into the soil of swordsmanship and understood that the microcosm of combat is just two dudes or dudettes with weapons in-hand trying to bring their opponent down.
And, as to that, Gen. George Patton’s ability to adapt horseback-mounted, bladed combat into his then-modern, lethal counter-Blitzkrieg armored tank warfare is certainly a testament to the lengths a dyed-in-the-wool troop will go to win a war.
So just remember: The dude who helped defeat Nazi Germany on the back of a tank was once the United States Army’s Master of Swords, and he literally wrote the book on the subject (several of them, actually).
Sitting in the White House reading the citation for the Medal of Honor doesn’t give the real flavor of why retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and special warfare operator Britt K. Slabinski is receiving the award.
The nicely air conditioned room with comfortable chairs, impeccable floors, historic artwork and gilt on many surfaces isn’t right, somehow.
The dispassionate words on the award talk of Slabinski’s heroism in assaulting bunkers, rallying his men, and going back into the center of the firefight.
The White House is literally half a world away from a mountain in Afghanistan in 2002, where Slabinski — and America — lost seven good men.
When the master chief talks of the action, you realize he is reliving his time atop Takur Ghar — a 10,000-foot mountain near Ghazni, on March 4, 2002. He is remembering his decisions. He is remembering what he felt. And he is remembering his brothers who were killed.
He speaks in present tense, because in his mind’s eye. It is still happening.
‘I Was Just Doing My Job’
He believes he did nothing special. “I was just doing my job that day,” Slabinski said during an interview.
Slabinski — then a senior chief petty officer — and his men were just supposed to set up an overwatch position on the mountain to support the conventional forces in the valley below. “Now the enemy gets a vote,” he said. “We plan, we train, we rehearse and we rehearse some more for every possible contingency, but sometimes the fog and friction of war is just out of your control and a leader has to adapt.”
The team was aboard an Army MH-47 helicopter and as it was landing, well dug-in al-Qaida fighters opened up. “When we land, the ramp goes down,” he said. “I’m standing on the very back of the helicopter … and almost immediately take an RPG rocket to the side of the aircraft. It goes off, fills the aircraft full of smoke and we are getting shot up right away. There’s bullets flying through the aircraft the size of your finger [from] 12.7 machine guns that were up there.”
The pilot was able to take off, but the bird was wounded and experienced what Slabinski called “the worst turbulence you could imagine.”
Those gyrations caused Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts to fall off the ramp. The crew chief grabbed Roberts’ pack, and the weight of the SEAL pulled him off the ramp, too. But the crew chief was tethered into the aircraft and was able to get back in. Roberts fell 10 feet into the meter-deep snow.
“It happens that fast,” Slabinski said as he snapped his fingers.
He told the pilot that he had lost a man, but with the chopper’s hydraulics shot out, there was no way the bird could circle and retrieve him. “[The pilot] was flying a brick,” Slabinski said. “It was basically a controlled crash into the enemy-held valley.”
The master chief assessed the situation. “Now my mission originally was to support the overwatch, then my teammate Neil fell out, and now I have a downed helicopter I have to deal with,” he said.
Calling For Support
The first problem he dealt with was the helicopter, and he called in a second aircraft to take the crew and team to a safe place. Once there, Slabinski was able to focus his attention on Neil.
The information he received was Roberts was alive. “I knew there was a superior enemy force up there and they had heavier weapons than I had,” he said.
The enemy, the cold, the altitude — “Everything that could be stacked against us, was stacked against us going back, and I had the feeling that this was a one-way trip,” he said. “I knew though, that if I go now, there’s a chance I could rescue Neil. I knew if I tried to develop a battle plan more on my terms, it would certainly be better, but I knew Neil didn’t have that time.”
The weight was on Slabinski’s shoulders. “I remember sitting in the helicopter,” he said. “The [rotors are] turning, it’s cold, trying to sort through the tactical piece of it … and this thought keeps coming back to me: If I go now what’s the cost going to be versus the cost if I wait. If you are the leader and you have peoples’ lives that you are responsible for, the decisions don’t come easy.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Matthew R. Loken)
This was Slabinski’s loneliest moment. He was sitting in the chopper with a headset on and people are talking to him. He was thinking of all the tactical problems and the lives. “And this thought kept coming back to me, and it’s the first line of the Boy Scout Oath … ‘On my honor, I will do my best,'” said Slabinski, who attained the rank of Eagle Scout at his hometown troop in Northampton, Massachusetts “The only thing that is in the back of my mind is, ‘On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best.’
“That’s when I said, ‘I’m gonna go do this.'”
The master chief assigned his men jobs, and the pilot of the first aircraft, Army Chief Warrant Officer Al Mack, went up to Slabinski and told him he would be flying them back in the new MH-47, even though he had just survived a harrowing experience with the first helicopter.
There was no other place to land, so the team had to go right back to the place the first bird took the fire. As the chopper took off, it got quiet for Slabinski and he thought of his son, who was 6 years old at the time. “I remember saying, ‘I love you. Sorry for what’s to come. Be great,'” he said. “Then I put it in another room in my brain and went on with my duties.”
This Chinook also took fire coming in to the landing area, and as soon as the ramp went down, the team went off the back of the ramp. Two men went to the right, two to the left and the master chief and Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, went out together.
Slabinski and Chapman were hit by a burst of automatic weapons fire. “The burst hit John and he went down,” Slabinski said. “The bullets from the same burst went through my clothes on each side, and I jumped behind a rock.”
The belt-fed weapon kept firing at them. “I looked for John and he is lying in a very odd position, and I look to my other guys and they are engaged with another dug-in position and the two to my left are engaged there. There are enemy muzzle flashes on three sides.”
There is no cover, and Slabinski tosses two grenades at the bunker, but the position is too well dug in. He looks to his men and sees Chapman still in the same odd position and the others engaging the enemy. His M60 gunner is next to me. “I have a 40mm grenade launcher … and I have six grenades,” he said. “I’m too close to the big bunker because they won’t go off. They have to spin to arm.”
He fired at the farther bunkers and silenced those, but the big bunker remains a deadly problem. He has the M60-gunner fire on the bunker and he wants to charge to the bunker to clear it under the cover of that automatic fire. Before he could do that, a grenade flies out of the bunker and explodes right in front of the barrel of the M60, wounding the gunner.
Slabinski again assesses the situation. “The gunner is down. John hasn’t moved and my other two guys are still engaged in contact,” he said. “The plan in my head isn’t working so I have to do something different.”
(Painting by Keith Rocco)
He decided to get his small band out of direct fire. As he is doing that another SEAL was hit in the leg from the same machine gun Slabinski was trying to take out. “I sent the wounded over first and I crawled over to John, looking for some sign of life from John and didn’t get anything,” he said.
The place he chose to seek shelter from the fire was just about 30 feet away over the side of the mountain.
Slabinski called for support from an AC-130 gunship to hit the bunkers. At the same time as the aircraft was hitting the mountain he noticed shell fragments were landing around the team. Slabinski thinks at first it is the AC-130, but it is from an enemy mortar that is ranging his position.
He moves again to a more protected area and now the U.S. Army Ranger quick reaction force is coming in. The first chopper is hit and crashes on the top of the mountain. Slabinski contacted the second bird and it lands on another spit of land and the Rangers work their way to the SEAL position and attack up the mountain to secure the top.
The master chief can’t move his wounded to the top of the mountain, so he moved to a place he could secure and await medevac, which came that night.
Estimates of the number of al-Qaida fighters on the top of that mountain range between 40 and 100. They had heavy weapons galore with automatic machine guns, mortars, RPGs and recoilless rifles. It was the headquarters for al-Qaida operating against U.S. forces engaged in Operation Anaconda. The SEAL team went in to try to rescue Roberts with six men.
Footage taken by a remotely piloted vehicle and examined later showed that Chapman was not dead. The technical sergeant regained consciousness and engaged the enemy killing two of them — one in hand-to-hand combat. “I was 100 percent convinced that John was dead,” Slabinski said. “I never lost track of John.”
He never would have left the airman on that mountain, he said, if he thought for an instant that Chapman was alive.
For his actions that day, Slabinski received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. As part of then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s directive to the services to re-examine all of the valor awards beginning in 2001, the Navy recommended upgrading that award to the Medal of Honor. The master chief — who retired from the Navy in 2014 — received a call from President Donald J. Trump in March telling him of the decision.
The master chief is conflicted about the award. He believes he was just doing his job and still feels the loss of the seven men — Navy, Army and Air Force — he served with that day. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about them,” he said. “If I could give up this medal to have them back, I would.”
The word hero is defined as someone who is admired for their courage and noble qualities. Patrick “Paddy” Brown was all of that and more. He was murdered on September 11, 2001.
Paddy grew up in Queens, New York, raised by a father who was an FBI agent and former minor league baseball player, and a mother that taught music. As a kid, he’d loved the firehouse and felt at home there. Paddy joined the Boy Scout Explorer Post which specialized in fire service when he was a teenager. As he got older, Paddy joined the New York Fire Patrol and was assigned to Fire Patrol 1. He was well on his way to becoming a full-fledged firefighter.
But war came calling.
At 17 years old, Paddy enlisted in the Marine Corps with his father’s permission. Feeling the need to be a part of something bigger than himself led him to putting his firefighting dreams on hold. After arguing his way out of a clerk position, he was moved to the 3rd Engineers Battalion and immediately deployed to Vietnam.
It was there that he would crawl through the tunnels constructed by the Vietcong, being one of the first to search and clear them. Paddy completed and survived two full tours of Vietnam, making it home at the rank of Sergeant. For his time in service he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and Vietnam Service Medal.
Paddy came home to a country divided over the war and found himself lost. Paddy turned to alcohol to push down his demons, unable to find hope or good in his surroundings. He confided in fellow firefighter Tim Brown that he recognized he was traveling down a dangerous path and needed to course-correct. Paddy replaced alcohol with boxing and eventually became an AA sponsor. Soon, Paddy was back at the New York Fire Patrol with the goal of becoming an FDNY firefighter.
On January 28, 1977, Paddy graduated and was assigned to Ladder 26 in Harlem, officially a part of the FDNY. It wasn’t long before he began making a name for himself with frequent rescues. By 1982, he was being recruited to Rescue 1 and 2 – units filled with the best of the best in the FDNY. By the time he hit 10 years as a firefighter, his personal awards and recognitions for heroism were astounding. Paddy achieved the rank of Lieutenant on August 8, 1987.
All of this was done quietly. Tim shared that when Paddy would wear his dress uniform, he would often leave off some of his medals to avoid making people feel inadequate, because he had so many. Despite not wanting attention, a daring rope rescue in 1991 would make him known everywhere. By 1993, he was promoted to Captain and on October 21, 2000 he was assigned as Captain of Ladder 3.
September 11, 2001 changed everything.
Paddy was on duty when he witnessed the first plane hit the World Trade Center. He quickly called the dispatcher to tell them what he saw and Ladder 3 was immediately tasked with responding. When he made it to the North Tower, he ran into Tim in the lobby and gave him a hug. Tim shared that there was something in his eyes and voice as he headed up the stairwell.
Paddy knew he’d never make it out.
As the South Tower collapsed, the North Tower swayed. Ladder 6 was told to evacuate, as was Ladder 3, which Paddy was leading. His last known words are as follows: “This is the officer of Ladder Co. 3. I refuse the order! I am on the 44th floor and we have too many burned people with me. I am not leaving them!”
Not long after that radio call, the North Tower collapsed. Tim had just narrowly survived the collapse of the South Tower himself when he watched the North Tower fall.
In that moment, Tim shared, he knew all of his friends were dead.
Paddy and Michael.
Paddy’s brother Michael, who was a doctor and former FDNY firefighter, spent weeks searching for him in the rubble and ash. On November 10, 2001, a day that should have been spent celebrating both the Marine Corps’ and Paddy’s birthdays, a memorial service was held for Paddy, instead. The lines stretched around the block, with people coming to mourn the loss of a hero. Paddy’s family was overwhelmed with incredible stories about their hero that they had never known before.
They wouldn’t find Paddy’s body until December 14, 2001.
In 2010, Michael wrote the book What Brothers Do, about both his search for Paddy and his journey to discovering who Paddy really was. The book is being relaunched and has a new urgency to its message of what makes a true hero. Michael was diagnosed with cancer, caused by searching in the ruins of the towers. His hope is that the story of Paddy and all of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, will never be in vain.
For every purchase of What Brothers Do, a portion will be donated to the Tunnel To Towers Foundation. Click here to grab your copy today.
The Crew of the ARLIGH BURKE-class USS COLE (DDG 67), escort their wounded ship aboard Navy tug vessel, USNS CATAWBA, to a staging point in the Yemeni harbor of Aden awaiting transportation by the Norwegian-owned semi-submersible heavy lift ship MV BLUE MARLIN back to their homeport, during Operation DETERMINED RESPONSE, on October 29, 2000. (Photo by: SGT DON L. MAES, USMC)
The US Navy released a powerful video Monday of retired sailors and a Gold Star mother recounting the deadly bombing of the destroyer USS Cole twenty years ago today.
In one heartbreaking scene, retired Master Chief Paul Abney breaks into tears as he remembers the loss of fellow sailor Operation Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Saunders. Abney said he stood watch with Saunders every day.
“Both of his legs were busted up so bad,” he recalled. “They were out of shape, they were all twisted on the Stokes stretcher they were carrying him on.”
Tears fill his eyes as he continues. “Still the same cheery personality, he gives me two thumbs up and says, ‘They’re taking care of me, master chief,’ as they were carrying him off on a Stoke stretcher.”
“He was the only shipmate who made it off and to the hospital that passed away over there,” he said. “Every other one that we got off the ship and triaged to get off soon enough they made it. The rest of them died before we ever got them off the ship.”
USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers in a boat packed with explosives while in port in Yemen on October 12, 2000. The explosion tore a hole in the ship so large the crew spent several days containing the flooding that endangered the ship. “We almost lost her,” retired Command Master Chief James Parlier said in the video.
“The pressure of it knocked me back in my chair,” Abney said. “Along with it, all the lights went out. The next thing that I can really recall from the blast was this putrid, kind of acrid smoke. It was kind of hard to breathe. Everybody was choking from the smoke.”
Seventeen sailors were killed, and another 39 others were injured in the attack.
Among the deceased was James McDaniels. His mother, Dianne McDaniels, learned about the attack on the news. That evening, she was informed that her son was gone. “I’m glad he did what he did as far as serving because that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.
“These were young men and women that you knew personally. We had a crew of 275,” Parlier said. “Respectfully, to put them in a body bag is the worst thing I can ever think of.”
The attack was attributed to al Qaeda, which carried out attacks in the US a little over a year later on September 11, 2001.
It took a little over a year to repair USS Cole and return her to sea. Parlier said that when the ship was finally fixed and sailing again, he felt pride “because we told them son of a b——s that we were not defeated and that we were coming back.”
Remembering the Terrorist Attack on USS Cole (DDG 67), Oct. 12, 2000