The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

What happens when the two sides of a war fundamentally disagree?


“Uh…well,” you’re thinking, “that’s pretty much the definition of war and you’re kind of a donut for asking, aren’t you?”

Yes, but hang with me. What I mean is, what happens when the disagreement goes beyond politics or ideology or territorial dispute, when the two sides disagree, on a basic level, about what the war they’re fighting is even about? And as a result, fail to agree on how the war will be fought?

Such cases produce quagmires of horrifying scope and duration.

One such case was the Vietnam War.

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

For America, Vietnam began as an earnest attempt to free a small country from unwanted and undesirable Communist conscription. As the war ground on, however, idealism gave way to a more basic agenda, to prove the rightness and righteousness of America as a function of its overwhelming military power.

Also read: Green Beret: The US is fighting a 100 year war

For the North Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong guerrillas who aided them, the war was about finally shaking off the yoke of western colonialism. After years of occupation by the French, American military presence seemed merely the heavy hand of a new foreign master. They were fighting to reunify North and South Vietnam under the ideology of their choice, which happened to be communism.

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

In 1956, then Congressman John F. Kennedy was a wholehearted champion of the Cold War-era clarion call to Stop the Spread of Communism.

Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike.

But after an extensive fact-finding tour through the Middle and Far East, he returned to the U.S. convinced that preventing the threat of a new communist colonialism in Indo-China would require more than simply offering — by friendship or force — an American colonialism as the superior alternative. Much better to promote the nationalistic aspirations of the region’s native peoples, so long as those aspirations tended toward an American-style love of liberty.

But as the stakes were raised on his own Presidency by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the raising of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy felt an increasingly dire need to prove democratic righteousness and might (Mighteousness?). It was a terrifying time. The nuclear prerogative, which had once been ours alone, was now in the hands of nations whose ideals seemed to us not so much foreign, as alien. Vietnam would have to be, for the American Way, a definitive demonstration. Kennedy again:

…we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place.

Had he lived to serve his full term in office, who knows if Kennedy might have have been able to carry out a nuanced foreign policy in Vietnam. He was assassinated in Nov. 1963 and the Vietnam War would become the problem of two more successive administrations. The practical result was a strategy of force, bombardment and attrition that floundered in the face of an enemy who refused to fight by those rules.

The facts on the ground in Vietnam made it clear to American servicemen that there was a grave disconnect between what we thought we were doing there (and the strategy we’d devised for achieving those goals) and how the Vietnamese — allies, enemies, and civilians in between — saw things.

A 1965 skirmish near Danang in which U.S. Marines killed 56 Viet Cong guerrillas put a very fine point on the issue. Among the Vietnamese dead was a 13-year-old boy who, just a day earlier, had been hospitably selling drinks to the Marines. Found on his body were hand-drawn maps of the Marine’s positions and defenses, intelligence for the Viet Cong.

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

It’s a hard pill to swallow for soldiers who view themselves as a liberating force, to realize that the people they’ve been sent to help view them as the enemy, as occupiers, as aliens. It’s an issue our troops have faced every day in Afghanistan and on the fronts of the War on Terror. Righteousness is a delicate stance and a dangerous dance.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This general was the highest ranking service member killed on 9/11

On that fateful September morning, 2,977 people died as the result of a series of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and an attempted attack on the US Capitol Building. The attack on the Pentagon killed 125 people working at the Department of Defense headquarters including 70 civilians, 33 sailors and 22 soldiers. The highest ranking of these casualties was the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude.

Born in Indianapolis on November 18, 1947, Maude enlisted in the Army on March 21, 1966. He completed OCS and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in February 1967. With the nation in the midst of the Vietnam War, Maude’s first assignment after the Adjutant General Officer Basic Course was to the Southeast Asian conflict. His Army AG career went on to include postings throughout the United States as well as Germany and Korea. Before his posting at the Pentagon, Maude served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel and Installation Management, Seventh Army, also known as United States Army Europe and Seventh Army.


The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

2nd Lt. Maude (right) participating in the dedication of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade headquarters in Vietnam with the Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Robert Forbes (center) (Adjutant General’s Corps Regimental Association)

Maude was posted to the Pentagon in 1998 and was nominated as Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel in 2000. One of his last campaigns was the “Army of One” recruiting campaign that replaced the iconic but increasingly ineffective “Be All You Can Be” campaign. “We were in the middle of our worst recruiting year,” said former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera. “I felt very strongly when the job came open that Tim was the right guy…to manage the human resources of an organization that has to hire 80,000 new employees a year.”

To meet the needs of the Army, Maude modernized its recruiting strategy. Utilizing television and internet advertising, the general hoped to make the Army attractive to the latest generation of American youths. Maude testified before Congress concerning the necessity of meeting recruiting goals to meet the Army’s mission. In September 2001, Maude announced the “Army of One” campaign was proving to be effective at drawing more recruits to the ranks. On September 4, 2001, the Army reported that it had met its goals early for active duty soldiers and that the Reserve and National Guard components would meet theirs by the end of the month. Sadly, Maude would not live to see the full success of his campaign.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Lt. Gen Maude’s official Army photo (US Army)

On September 11, 2001, at 9:37 EDT, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon. The section of the building that was struck, which had just undergone a 0 million renovation, housed both the Naval Command Center and the Army G1 offices. Prior to the renovations, Maude had been working out of a temporary office in a different part of the Pentagon. According to his sister, Carol, the general was holding a meeting that morning with five other people. In the chaos following the attacks, Maude’s family waited anxiously to hear if he had survived. “There’s still part of me that would like him to be found in a little cubbyhole somewhere and come back to us,” Carol said. However, three days after the attacks, Maude’s family was informed that he had perished at the Pentagon.

General Maude’s death on 9/11 made him not only the highest ranking service member to be killed that day, but also the most senior US Army officer killed by foreign action since Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. was killed on June 18, 1941 in the Battle of Okinawa. More than that though, Maude left behind a legacy of selfless service and taking care of the Army and the nation’s most important resource. “You need to take good care of your soldiers,” Maude said in an address to a room of field-grade officers a few months before 9/11. He recognized that the key to accomplishing the Army’s mission was its people.

“He would say, ‘If a soldier is there in a foxhole worried about his wife and kids, then he’s not there focused and taking care of his buddy,'” said Maude’s wife Terri. “He came to believe that soldiering and family issues were one and the same.” In fact, Maude’s headstone at Arlington National Cemetery reads, “HE TOOK CARE OF SOLDIERS.”

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Lt. Gen. Maude’s headstone (Arlington Cemetery)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British marksman could have killed George Washington

It’s difficult to imagine how history would have been altered if George Washington had been killed during the Revolutionary War. Without the father of our country leading its fight for freedom, the war might have been lost and America might still be a British colony. In fact, this alternative history might have come true if not for the moral convictions and gentlemanly ethics of a Scottish infantry officer named Patrick Ferguson.


The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

A miniature of Ferguson c. 1774-177 (Artist unknown/Public Domain)

Ferguson was born into nobility in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on May 25, 1744. His father was a senator at the College of Justice and his mother was the sister of Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank. He began his military career early, joining the army at the age of 15. He served with the Royal Scots Greys and fought in the Seven Years’ War before he returned home due to a leg injury. In 1768, he returned to military service, purchasing command of a company in the 70th Regiment of Foot under the Colonelcy of his cousin, Alexander Johnstone. He commanded the company in the West Indies until his leg injury forced him to return home.

Ferguson arrived in Britain in 1772 and participated in light infantry training where he helped develop new tactics for the army. During this time, he also invented the Ferguson breech-loading rifle, arguably the most advanced sharpshooting rifle of its day. His sharp intellect and ingenuity caught the attention of General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of British land forces in the colonies. Consequently, he was sent to fight in the American War of Independence.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

British Army manual for the Ferguson rifle

In 1777, Ferguson arrived in the colonies and was given command of what became known as Ferguson’s Rifle Corps, a unit of 100 riflemen equipped with the new Ferguson rifle. One of their first engagements was the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania on September 11.

Ferguson’s light infantry tactics emphasized small units of well-trained marksmen maneuvering around the battlefield over the doctrinal rank and file style of combat of the day. As such, Ferguson and his rifle corps moved ahead of General Howe’s army as they advanced on Philadelphia. As they maneuvered, Ferguson spotted a prominent American officer alongside another officer in Central European hussar dress; the two officers were conducting a reconnaissance mission on horseback. With their accurate sharpshooting rifles, Ferguson and his men could have easily cut the officers down in a volley of musket fire. However, the officers had their backs turned to the Brits. As a man of honor, Ferguson decided not to fire on the officers who were unaware of his presence.

Later in the battle, Ferguson was shot through his right elbow and taken to a field hospital. There, a surgeon told Ferguson that some American soldiers who were treated there earlier said that General Washington had been in that area earlier in the day. Ferguson wrote in his journal that, even if the officer had been Washington, he did not regret his decision.

Although the identity of the American officer remains uncertain, the man in hussar dress was almost certainly Count Casimir Pulaski, one of the Founding Fathers of U.S. Cavalry (along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy). During the battle, Pulaski conducted reconnaissance missions and even scouted a retreat route for Washington after his army was defeated. If the American officer was indeed Washington, and if Ferguson had decided to take the shot, September 11, 1777, might have been a turning point in American history.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Portrait of Casimir Polaski (Artist: Jan Styka/Public Domain)

Ferguson took a year long hiatus from military service to recover from his wound and returned to battle in 1778. He continued to fight in the American War of Independence until his death during the Battle of King’s Mountain, on the border of North and South Carolina, on October 7, 1780. During the battle, Ferguson was shot from his horse. His foot was caught in the stirrup and he was dragged to the American side where he was approached for his surrender. In response, and as a final act of defiance, he drew a pistol and shot one of the Americans. The Patriots responded by shooting him eight times, stripping his body of clothing, and urinating on him before he was buried in an oxhide near the site of his fall.

While Ferguson’s actions at the Battle of King’s Mountain were less than gentlemanly, his determination to go down fighting embodies the warrior spirit. This is juxtaposed by his moral conviction to hold his fire at the Battle of Brandywine. Whether or not the American officer there was General Washington, Ferguson’s legacy will forever be marked by the shot he didn’t take.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Battle of Stony Point shows just how good Baron von Steuben was at training soldiers

Before Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrived to train the Continental Army, they were a largely unorganized, untrained group of men who lacked skill, but not the spirit, of professional soldiers. That all changed at Valley Forge. 

Baron von Steuben
A Portrait of Major General Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus, Baron von Steuben by Ralph Earl

When Steuben took over responsibilities for training Gen. George Washington’s men in the ways of fighting a war, they may not have turned into pros overnight, but the training sure paid off in a big way. 

General Washington would appoint Baron von Steuben to a Major General’s grade and appoint him Inspector General of the Army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Baron had his work cut out for him. 

He had to train the volunteers who enlisted from their previous professions to become trained soldiers fighting the best troops on the planet at the time: the British. Until he arrived, every new recruit was simply handed off to a regiment who trained those men to fight the way their commander believed they should, not according to any organized doctrine.

Von Steuben set up a training regimen that saw a training system where specialized noncommissioned officers would train new recruits from a doctrine prepared by him with translation from Steuben’s native German into English. The training program included European-style marching formations as well as training with the weapons they were issued, especially the bayonet. 

Before Steuben arrived to train the Continental Army, the men used their bayonets primarily as a cooking tool, most often as a kind of skewer. The Continentals didn’t trust the bayonet in combat, despite seeing the British troops use it effectively to break American lines at Bunker Hill.

“The American soldier, never having used this arm, had no faith in it, and never used it but to roast his beefsteak, and indeed often left it at home,” Steuben wrote.

Baron von Steuben drilling troops at Valley Forge. (Wikimedia commons)

The Americans depended on their guns for success in combat, which is probably the reason they hadn’t seen much success in combat up until this point. In Steuben’s mind, the musket was too unreliable when firing in combat and took too long to reload. It was necessary to go into a fight with a loaded rifle, of course, but once the fight devolved into a brawl, the bayonet would decide the victors. 

The bayonet was a solid weapon and he taught the Continental Army to use it. He would know, because he spent much of his life until that point fighting in European wars in the Prussian army. He drilled the Americans constantly, imposing strict discipline on them and forcing them to conform to a regimented way of war. He crafted the Army’s first field manual, “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I.”

In 1779, the Continental Army would get a chance to show off their new skills with the bayonet at the Battle of Stony Point, which they won without firing a shot. They didn’t even have loaded muskets when they went into combat.

Steuben House, Major General Baron von Steuben’s house and “Jersey Estate” 1783-1788. Photo by Deborah Powell.

Washington planned a daring nighttime assault on the fort at Stony Point, 30 miles north of New York City. The Americans moved silently in the dark and infiltrated the defensive positions of the unfinished fort. By the time British sentries noticed Americans approaching Stony Point from the south, Americans under Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne were already inside. 

Americans had climbed the slopes approaching Stony Point so fast that British artillery pieces were not able to correct their positions to actually fire at the approaching rebel troops. The fighting lasted for just 25 minutes and the entire action only took an hour. 

The discipline instilled by Baron von Steuben and the trust he placed in the infantry bayonet were crucial to the success of the battle.  

MIGHTY TRENDING

9 hilarious memes that actually teach military history

Look, we get it, military history is one of the more exciting histories to learn, but it’s still a bunch of history lessons. All the descriptions of amazing heroics and bold battle plans are watered down by the years of failed diplomacy, post-war reconstructions, and industrial build ups.

Luckily, we found these nine awesome military memes that hit a lot of the high notes:


At the start of World War I, people from all over the world were surprised to learn that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand had triggered a series of dominoes that resulted in them needing to cross oceans and fight people they never met for confusing reasons. Extensive treaty networks and colonial relationships dragged country after country into what was originally a single territory’s attempt at revolution.

Yes, troops from New Zealand, Australia, and India were sent to fight for the British Empire against Germany and the other Centrists powers. French colonial forces did the same thing. Some battles were actually fought in those far-flung colonies, resulting in locals in places like Africa and southern Asia being surprised by sudden battles erupting around them.

Napoleon was one of the most capable and revolutionary military leaders in history, so much so that he was able to rise from commoner to first consul to Emperor of France. But then he forgot to win some battles and was exiled from France to the Isle of Elba.

But then he decided to leave Elba and win some battles again. That plan was short-lived because just about every kingdom in Europe agreed that Napoleon should be either dead or somewhere else, so they sent their best forces, generals, and admirals to make him either pretty dead or at least get him off the continent.

Napoleon was defeated again in 1815 and exiled some more, this time to the island of Saint Helena. He died there, partially thanks to arsenic-based home decor.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Piximus.net)

In case you don’t remember dates well, June 5, 1944, was the original date for D-Day, but it got postponed to June 6 due to weather, which is what this particular meme is referring to.

Speaking of the weather, the Allies had better weather reports than the Axis, so their top weatherman called for a few good, clear hours of decent seas on the morning of June 6 thanks to a break in a storm. Rommel and the Axis did not know about this break, and so they figured they could screw off and go to birthday parties and stuff.

Yeah, for real, Rommel left the beaches to go celebrate his wife’s birthday. The beach defense didn’t go perfectly for the Germans, and Hitler was facing a two-front war.

(Three, if you count fighting in Italy, which no one does because a bunch of the best forces in Italy were diverted to Operation Dragoon soon after the D-Day landings, so there were insufficient forces around to press the attack north quickly. They did tie up German Army Group C and eventually win, though.)

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(@avalonnicholls95)

But that new front in France was sort of hard to win. While most history classes talk about D-Day and then yada-yada to the Battle of the Bulge, those yada-yadas cover a lot of horrible fighting. The first big troubles came in the hedgerows just past the beaches.

The fields and gardens of Normandy were crisscrossed with hedges that formed thousands of tiny little enclosures, and soldiers had to punch through one right after another. Each enclosure could be defended by snipers, machine gunners, and other forces. The infantrymen and tankers couldn’t know whether an RPG team was waiting for them at every breach.

So, yeah, they took heavy losses.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Reddit)

While we love to point out that the British Imperial Army was the largest on Earth during the Revolution, Britain couldn’t afford to actually send many to the colonies to put down the rebellion. But the troops they did send were some of the best trained in the world, and they did have thousands of high-grade mercenaries.

British forces, counting their American Loyalists, did typically outnumber their U.S. counterparts, but thanks to weapons and powder sent from France, America had a fighting chance. Gen. George Washington made plenty of mistakes, but he had a keen military mind and learned from each one.

As his men gained experience, he began to achieve some stunning victories while also avoiding defeat. And, for most insurgencies, avoiding defeats is enough to eventually win. Britain got tired of fighting in what it saw as a backwater and bailed on the conflict. (Something very embarrassing for the men who had to surrender to Washington.)

Yup, Germany sank our ships and killed our civilians. But, in their defense, the U.S. was providing all sorts of materials to Allied combatants in World War I (and later in World War II). So, while the American government and military were “neutral” for most of the war, its industry was very much not neutral.

Germany, understandably, found this objectionable. But their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare just galvanized the American public, especially after the Lusitania was sunk.

So, bit by bit, Germany attacked American industry and people until the government and military did join the war. And then America started pouring 10,000 troops or more a day into Europe to fight Germany.

It went badly for Germany.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Piximus.net)

In Britain’s defense, declaring independence didn’t make America independent either. It was mostly the “drunken libertarian farmers and fishermen” thing mentioned before.

We’re not going to go through the whole American Revolution thing again.

Fun fact: China was once the hands-down most powerful nation on Earth. Its population benefited from the simple economics of old-time agriculture. Rice produced more calories per acre than wheat and other grains, and China’s rice lands were super productive. This allowed Chinese people to specialize more and make technological advances.

They invented all sorts of nifty stuff, including gunpowder. But then they focused on arts and culture, and they stopped focusing on technology or military investment. That, compounded with Britain smuggling metric tons of opium into the country, eventually broke China’s back.

Sure, they had advanced past torch-fired rockets long before America built its first F-22, but you get the point.

If you don’t know about White Death, Simo “Simuna” Häyhä, boy are you missing out. The Finnish sniper fought in the Winter War from November 1939 to March 1940. The Soviet Union had hundreds of thousands more troops, better equipment, and the benefit of knowing that no other nations in the area would join the war against them

Thanks to all of this, Russia … Wait, lost? Yeah, Russia took approximately 350,000 losses to Finland’s 70,000. This was partially thanks to Häyhä’s efforts, as the sniper killed more than five Soviets per day for 100 days. He wore a white mask to help him blend in with the snowfields, and he would hold snow in his mouth to prevent his breath fogging where Russian soldiers would see it.

Häyhä took a shot to the face in 1940 that ended his frontline career, but he survived until 2002.

Of course, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and the Soviet Union re-invaded Finland, capturing more Finnish territory and forcing Finland to pay many of the monetary costs of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The US Army’s highly secretive counterterrorist unit, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, is without a doubt among the best counterterrorism units in the world. But it wasn’t the first.


While Delta is extremely well known, if only by its name, it wasn’t actually the first American counterterrorist force in existence. That honor goes to a different unit — now long lost to history — known as “Blue Light.”

Colonel Charlie Beckwith, a former Green Beret and the brains behind 1st SFOD-D, discussed the parallel history of Blue Light in his co-written book, “Delta Force.” Beckwith, after serving an exchange tour with the British Special Air Service, returned to the US with an idea for a dedicated counterterrorist unit, similar to the SAS.

With terrorism on the rise throughout the 1970s, it became imperative for the US military to create a force that would deal with terror threats with precision and extreme effectiveness.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
U.S. Army photo

The firebrand colonel would go on to outline his concept to the Pentagon, particularly Army generals and fellow colonels with enough sway to allocate funding for such a unit. Beckwith encountered resistance — especially from “old guard” officers who disagreed with allowing Delta to exist on its own with its own funding.

Rather, they felt that Delta needed to remain within an already established pecking order in the asymmetric warfare community — the US Army’s Special Forces.

Despite its official title, Delta Force had absolutely nothing to do with Army Special Forces Operational Detachments, also known as “A-Teams.” The title was just another vaguely-misleading cover for the unit’s real purpose.

Delta, instead, would have a direct line through the Department of Defense to the president’s office, circumventing Special Forces altogether. Further incensing the brass was the fact that Delta would be given free rein to recruit whoever interested them, including experienced Green Berets from the groups.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Graduates of one of Delta Force’s Operator Training Courses in 1978. Blue Light would be disestablished that same year (Photo US Army)

 

Inner-Army politicking quickly led to Special Forces brass deciding it would create a counterterrorist unit of its own, ostensibly as an interim solution while Delta was getting up to speed, but with the inward hopes of it being a more permanent fixture.

The new unit — Blue Light — was staffed with commandos brought in directly from 5th Special Forces Group’s 2nd Battalion into a subordinate unit. There, they would be trained in an array of skills necessary for counterterrorist mission and be readied for real-world operations. Colonel Bob “Black Gloves” Mountel would be responsible for helming the new unit in its infancy.

Blue Light would only be equivalent to a company-sized element of troops, but would still draw its funding from Special Forces, and would push its members through further airborne and dive training, weapons courses and more.

It was assumed that because Green Berets were already highly-trained for asymmetric warfare, they would be ready to fight far quicker than Delta.

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Members of 5th SFG with ARVN troops in Vietnam (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

 

In the meanwhile, Beckwith and his cadre got to work designing and training the founding members of Delta Force, still very aware of the potential for Blue Light to completely take over their mission and tank 1st SFOD-D before it could even get off the ground.

Blue Light was beefed up with the presence of veteran operatives with significant combat experience under their belts, including Joseph Cincotti, a Vietnam-era Green Beret who would later go on to head up the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and who was responsible for creating the curriculum all Special Forces candidates undergo today.

In their book, “Special Forces: A Guided Tour of US Army Special Forces,” authors Tom Clancy and John Gresham claim that Blue Light was somewhat handicapped from the start. While Delta was designed to operate in every conceivable environment, using a multitude of mission-relevant skills, Blue Light was, in reality, only prepared for a few contingencies.

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Members of 10th Special Forces Group training alongside Lithuanian counterparts (Photo US Army)

 

Little by little, Delta Force took shape at Fort Bragg, NC, and by the end of the 1970s, Delta was ready for action. Bragg was also the home of Blue Light, and the rivalry between the two counterterrorist units was palpable. Former operator Eric Haney discusses the animosity between Blue Light and the 1st SFOD-D in his book, “Inside Delta Force.”

When Delta was declared fully operational, Blue Light faded into the shadows, eventually being disbanded in 1978. Its former members were either transferred to other units within the Army’s various Special Forces groups, or decided to retire altogether.

Beckwith, not willing to let an opportunity pass, extended invites to Blue Light commandos to try out for Delta Force, and at least four of the former counterterrorist unit’s operatives successfully passed selection and the arduous Operator Training Course to become Delta Force operators.

Former Blue Light officers would later play a part in planning Operation Eagle Claw, the failed mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time egg nog almost brought down West Point

In the early years of the U.S. Military Academy’s history, the “Father of West Point,” Col. Sylvanus Thayer, was trying to whip the future officers of the U.S. military into shape. He began by outlawing alcohol on the academy grounds. The cadets were also not permitted to leave the academy.


His fundamental changes were having the desired effect — until Christmas 1826, that is. That’s when the plebes got into an egg nog-fueled riot.

Egg nog was pretty different back in 1826. Today, it’s more of a sweet, dessert drink and the addition of rum or brandy isn’t as popular as it once was. Back then, nog — like life — was a lot more intense.

George Washington’s personal recipe called for rum, sherry, brandy, and whiskey.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Kind like this, but also slam a bottle of Jack at the same time.

Before the alcohol ban, an egg nog night was part of West Point’s Christmas tradition, and the cadets weren’t about to let the tradition die because of one guy’s teetotaling. So, a young cadet named Jefferson Davis and a group of others decided to sneak some booze into the eggnog party.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Yes, that Jefferson Davis.

They snuck in a few gallons of whiskey under Thayer’s nose (with the help, of course, an enlisted man). On Christmas Day, officers of the day Capt. Ethan Allen Hitchcock and Lt. William A. Thorton tried to monitor the cadets, but they could only do so much. They were woken in the middle of the night by a drunken party in the barracks. They dispersed it, but the revelers sought revenge.

Partying cadets raged on a different floor and the officers moved to break that one up. Thorton was knocked to the floor with a piece of wood while another took a shot at Hitchcock with a pistol. He called a runner to get the Commandant, but that request was misinterpreted as a summons for artillery troops stationed on the grounds.

The cadets reinforced the windows and entrances to the barracks to prevent the artillerymen from gaining entry. The interiors and windows of the building were smashed and damaged. They literally drummed up the cadets from their beds to prepare for bombardment.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Kind like this, but with eggnog, guns, and a whole lotta anger.

Artillery never came, but William Worth, the Commandant of Cadets, did. He was able to quell the 260-strong uprising before it escalated further. Hitchcock and Thorton suffered only minor bruising, despite the drunken cadets’ calls for their heads.

Of the 260 drunken cadets, 19 were expelled. When they built new barracks on the West Point grounds, they were designed so that cadets would have to leave the building to access other floors.

Articles

USS Cole steams back to site of deadly 2000 suicide attack

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) probably wouldn’t be blamed for not wanting to sail off the coast of Yemen. But in the wake of an attack on a Saudi frigate, the Cole is patrolling the waters near the war-torn country where she was attacked by a suicide boat in 2000.


That attack killed 17 sailors, wounded 39 and tore a hole in the hull that measured 40 feet by 60 feet. A 2010 Navy release noted that the Cole took 14 months to repair. That release also noted that the Cole’s return to Norfolk came through the Bab el Mandab, near the location where the Saudi frigate was attacked.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
160710-N-CS953-375
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mahan (DDG 72) and USS Cole (DDG 67) maneuver into position behind three Japanese destroyers during a photo exercise. USS Cole is in the center of the photograph. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)

According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Cole’s mission is to maintain “freedom of navigation” in the region. In the past, things have gotten rough during the innocuous-sounding “freedom of navigation” missions.

The region has already seen some shots taken at the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) on three occasions, prompting a retaliatory Tomahawk strike from the destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94). The attacks on the Mason, the Saudi frigate, and the former US Navy vessel HSV-2 Swift were blamed on Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels. The attacks on USS Mason used Iranian-made Noor anti-ship missiles, a copy of the Chinese C-802.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
More than 100 midshipmen man the rails for a photo on the foícísle of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) during the 2016 Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) Surface week. USS Cole has deployed off the coast of Yemen, where the ship was attacked in 2000. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)

Iran has been quite aggressive in recent months, making threats to American aircraft in the Persian Gulf. There have been a number of close encounters between American ships and Iranian speedboats as well. In one case this past August, the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Squall (PC 7) fired warning shots at Iranian vessels. Last month, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) also was forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the official history of the Coast Guard’s ‘Hell Roarin” legend

Captain Michael “Hell Roarin'” Healy, known for bringing the reindeer to Alaska, had another claim to fame in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, forerunner to the modern-day Coast Guard.


 

Healy had a no-nonsense, often violent, style of command. Rumors spread that he had unruly people hung by their hands or feet in the hull of the ship. (And he weathered a couple of failed mutinies as a result.) When dealing with those who tried to block what he felt was the protection of the native people of Alaska, he could turn violent and belligerent until he got what he wanted. He stood for law and order along the 30,000 mile long Alaskan coast.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Healy in Alaska (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

After multiple courts martial for drunk and disorderly conduct in the late 1890s, Healy was sent to a trial board for abusive conduct towards junior officers while intoxicated. While the trial board recommended him for discharge, Secretary of the Treasury John Carlisle instead removed him from command and placed him on shore duty for four years.  Healy was also publicly humiliated by having his punishment read to every commissioned officer on every cutter in the service.

Healy was back on dry land for the first time after nearly 42 years at sea.

This punishment furthered Healy’s paranoia that “they” had been working to drive him out of the service, which he first expressed as early as 1893. While some officers thought this was the beginning of the end of Healy, they were wrong. The Healy family believed their lives could not be ruined any further. They did not know the true tragedy that would come.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
The U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear, once commanded by Healy (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

At the end of his four year punishment, Healy’s life would take an ironic and drastic turn. Capt. W.C. Coulson, who had sat on the trial board and recommended his discharge, asked for Healy by name to replace him as the commanding officer of the Revenue Steamer McCulloch when his wife fell ill. While he served aboard the McCulloch, Healy received orders to serve upon the Cutter Seminole out of Boston. After more than twenty years on the west coast and nearly a decade in Alaska, he saw the transfer as another punishment because his wife had made her home in the west and his son, now grown, had started his own family there.

When he received these orders, his mental health took a turn for the worst. He was found sitting outside of the stateroom of a passenger on the McCulloch, yelling and threatening to kill himself. The following day, Healy attempted to throw himself overboard, stopped only after being violently wrestled to the deck by Second Assistant Engineer J.J. Bryan. At that point, executive officer 1st Lt. P.W. Thompson brought Healy to the ward room and informed him that he was longer in command of the McCulloch.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
The Revenue Cutter McCulloch (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Healy was to be guarded in his cabin until Thompson was able to contact the Treasury. On the morning of July 10, 1900, Healy again attempted to throw himself overboard. While he was out of his bunk, he grabbed a piece of glass, and two days later almost succeeded in using it to kill himself. One onlooker offered an explanation for the suicide attempts as a cry for help as Healy was just returned to the ship after a drunken night out and would again be court-marshaled and kicked out of the service.

In 1903, Healy quietly exited the service at the mandatory retirement age and died a year later of a heart attack. He was buried in Colma, California, where he and his family finally settled.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Healy carried secrets with him that could never be uttered in early-twentieth century America. His wife, Mary Jane Roach, was a second generation Irish immigrant but despite eighteen pregnancies, they only had one child.  He was constantly criticized for being Catholic, something that was still looked down upon at the turn of the century. In addition, Healy was the child of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish immigrant and slave owner and his slave, Mary Eliza Smith. This was kept a secret even from parts of his family. After his death, Healy’s daughter-in-law destroyed his four-volume diary. She was contacted by a film studio on the possibility of a movie based on his life and they wanted to see his diary in the writing of the film. As she read the diary for the first time, she discovered her husband’s grandmother was a slave.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy’s crew poses in front of the cutter after reaching the North Pole Sept. 6. The Healy became only the second U.S. surface ship to reach the North Pole. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Today, Healy is known as one of the great giants of Coast Guard history. He singlehandedly saved large groups of natives from starvation, and his courage was unmatched by anyone else at the time. History was kind to him and glossed over his negative personal record in favor of his accomplishments. In honor of his legacy of arctic service, the Coast Guard’s newest ice breaker was named in his honor in 1997.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 6 Revolutionary War veterans survived long enough to be photographed

The Revolutionary War ended long before photography was a refined process, but the gap between the two historic events was still enough to allow some of America’s true patriots – in the literal sense of the word – to sit for a photo. The Revolution was over by 1783, and the earliest surviving photo dates back to 1826, a 43-year difference. Since the average life span of a man at that time was around 40 years, it’s safe to say these guys barely made it.

Except the photographer didn’t get around to doing it until the middle of the Civil War in 1864 – 83 years after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.


The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

(Rev. Elias Hillard)

Samuel Downing

Downing was 102 when Hillard interviewed him. He enlisted in July 1780 in New Hampshire and served under General Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Saratoga, saying Arnold was a fighting general, one who treated his soldiers well, and as brave a man as ever lived.

He lamented the fact that generals in the Civil War weren’t as gentlemanly as they were in his time.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

(Rev. Elias Hillard)

Rev. Daniel Waldo

Waldo was a Connecticut colonist drafted at age 16 in 1778 and captured by the English in 1779. Confined in a New York prison, he was later released in exchange for captured British soldiers. He also lived to be more than 100 years old.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

(Rev. Elias Hillard)

Lemuel Cook

At 105, Cook was the oldest surviving veteran of the war. He joined the Continental Army in 1781, only convincing the recruiter because he volunteered to serve for the duration of the war. Cook was in the Army at Brandywine and at Yorktown, under the command of Washington, Lafayette, and Rochambeau. He remembered Washington ordered his men not to laugh at the British after the surrender, because surrender was bad enough.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

(Rev. Elias Hillard)

Alexander Milliner

Milliner was a Quebec native who not only served as drummer boy at the Battles of White Plains, Brandywine, Monmouth, and Yorktown, he was also on the crew of the USS Constitution back when the ship was the latest technology in naval warfare. He remembered that General Washington once patted him on the head and referred to Milliner as “his boy.”

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Go check out the guy who colorized it here.

(Rev. Elias Hillard)

William Hutchings

A native of Maine who enlisted at age 15, Hutchings served in coastal defense batteries along the Maine coast. He was taken prisoner at the Siege of Castine, the only action he saw in the entire war. The British released him because of his young age. He died in 1866, at the home he lived in for almost 100 years.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

(Rev. Elias Hillard)

Adam Link

Link was from Hagerstown, Maryland and enlisted in the Pennsylvania militia on three separate occasions. At 16, he was part of a unit whose job was to defend the Western Frontier – back when that frontier was still in Pennsylvania. The hard drinking, hard working farmer lived to the ripe old age of 104, dying shortly after his photo with Hillard.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the rank of General of the Armies was only given twice in US history

General of the Armies is a rank so high up in the strata of power that only two people in the history of the United States have ever attained it. Keep in mind: This is not General of the Army, it’s plural — all the Armies. Today, it is the equivalent of a six-star general with autonomous authority equal to the Admiral of the Navy, but senior to General of the Army, General of the Air Force, and Fleet Admiral.

How did one attain this an honor and the right to exercise complete control over our Armed Forces? Historically, you either win the War to End All Wars like John Pershing or be George Washington.


The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

How do you find the guy who went to West Point in a bar? Don’t worry, he’ll tell you.

John J. Pershing graduated West Point in 1886 and was assigned to the 6th Cavalry. In 1890, he went on campaign against the Ghost Dance movement in the Dakota Territory before becoming an instructor of military science at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, a year later. He earned a law degree while teaching there in 1893 and became a tactics instructor at West Point in 1897.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Here is a quick timeline of his military career:

  • 1898 — Pershing returned to service in the Spanish-American War in Cuba as an ordinance officer.
  • 1899 (June) — Pershing was promoted to adjutant general in charge of the Bureau of Insular Affairs.
  • 1899 (November) — Pershing deployed to the Philippines in command of the department of Mindanao.
  • 1901 — Pershing campaigned against the Moros for two years.
  • 1905 — Pershing deployed to Japan as a military attache to the U.S. Embassy.
  • 1906 — Pershing is promoted from captain to brigadier general and returns to the Philippines as the governor of the Moro Province.
  • 1917 — Pershing becomes the commander of the U.S.-Mexican Border.
  • 1917 (April) — U.S. declares war on Germany.
  • 1917 (June) — Pershing is sent to France to gather a ‘General Organization Report’ used to create an Army of one million by 1918 and three million by 1919. US Army strength is 84,000 at the time.
  • 1918 — Pershing concentrates an army almost entirely independent of the allies on the Western Front.
The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Don’t talk to me or my son ever again.

The allies strongly advised that the U.S. troops replenish their failing armies instead of marshaling our own in WWI. Allowing this to come to pass meant Americans would be used as cannon fodder during enemy attacks. Pershing strongly defended the idea of keeping the U.S. Army whole, regardless of the desperation of our European allies. The U.S. War Council gave into allied pressure and recommended the amalgamation of U.S. troops into other armies.

Pershing ignored the recommendation. He refused to sacrifice American lives and left the allies to suck it up. It was akin, as he put it, to…

“Pouring new wine into old bottles.” – John J. Pershing
The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

You’re all boots to me.

In 1919, recognizing his achievements and victory after World War I, Pershing became the first person to be promoted to General of the Armies. His insignia became four gold stars but, because of bureaucracy, they were not recognized as an official rank for years. He held this rank for the rest of his career. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History,

Pershing then retired from the United States Army on September 13, 1924, and retained his rank on the U.S. Army retirement rolls until his death in 1948.”

Years later, in 1976, Congress decided that it was inappropriate that General George Washington was outranked by four- and five-star generals in the nation’s history. Washington retired as a lieutenant ‘three-star’ general and was subsequently out ranked officers of the Civil War, WWI, and WWII, including General Pershing. Something had to be done. America could not allow George Washington to be out ranked — that’s borderline blasphemy — so they did something about it.

On March 13, 1978, Lieutenant General Washington was promoted to General of the Armies, effective July 4th, 1976.

Here’s the text of his posthumous, legislative promotion:

“Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list; Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

If there was one single place that could be called the front lines of the clandestine Cold War, Berlin was it. The city, like the rest of Germany, was divided. It was a bastion, deep inside the heart of the Eastern Bloc, where Westerners could roam relatively freely within their sector by day and sneak into enemy territory under the cover of darkness.

A divided Berlin was the setting for so many stories, many of which are just now coming to light. And many of those stories are about Detachment-A, a Special Forces unit so secret, many in Special Forces couldn’t even know about it.

If World War III broke out, their mission was not to win — they were 110 miles behind enemy lines and couldn’t possibly win a pitched battle. Their mission was to just buy time for NATO. Along the way, their training helped develop the units and tactics used by American special operations the world over.


Retired Special Forces soldier and former CIA agent James Stejskal was among among the members of Detachment A. He served in it for nine years and just wrote a book on the recently-declassified unit, called Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90. Working behind enemy lines in an unconventional conflict is one of the foundational duties of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but Detachment A had no misconceptions about what would happen in a war with the Soviet Union. They would operate as small teams inside and outside of Berlin, tripping up the Red Army in any way they could.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
The veterans of Detachment A today.

“We were going to, basically, break out of the city. Two of the six teams would stay behind and cause trouble inside the city. Four of the teams would go outside the city,” James Stejskal told WATM. “A railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring, would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. Our mission was to report on and sabotage the railway, communications… to cause as much havoc as possible.”

Stejskal grew up with the military. His father was drafted for World War II in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. He would earn a commission during the war as a combat engineer in Patton’s XII Corps. His father even went to Germany during the Korean War. The younger Stejskal was always interested in intelligence, commando, and what he calls the “darker arts.” He read about the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services during WWII and it captivated him. So when it came time for him to join the Army, the Green Beret called to him. He joined with Special Forces on his mind. But Det A was so secret, he didn’t know it existed even after he earned his place among the elite.

“I only found out about it on one of my exercises in Germany,” he recalls. “We jumped into it, into Southern Germany for our annual winter warmer exercise and one of the guys on the ground that met us was a civilian-clothes guy, speaking German. Only later on in the exercise did he start to speak in English to us and, before too long, I figured out that he was actually American. He told us he’s from a unit Berlin and he couldn’t really talk about it.”
The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

(Courtesy Photo)

That piqued Stejskal’s interest. He continued to dig into it and, as one thing led to another, he found himself in Berlin. Detachment A was the closest unit to the old OSS that a soldier could get in to. Speaking German, the men of Det A wore their hair long, civilian clothes, and worked with soldiers from other countries. Their commander was a Czech officer and their Sergeant Major was a German who was in the Bundeswehr, both veterans of World War II.

“It’s a strange feeling. We were 110 miles behind the East German border, with about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers,” He says. “Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”
The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

This would be an Emmy-winning TV show today. Mad Men, eat your heart out.

During peacetime, they performed protection duties for VIPs and – most importantly – they trained. Detachment A trained with the British Special Air Service, who taught them to watch how the Germans and Israelis performed anti-terror operations, like clearing a hijacked aircraft. They soon became the U.S. Army’s first counter-terrorism team, long before Delta Force or SEAL Team Six. Charlie Beckwith, Delta’s first commander, came to Berlin to see Detachment A for himself.

“He came over to Berlin to see how we were doing things and took a lot of our training techniques and tactics and exported them back to Fort Bragg, about 1980,” Stejskal says. “The commander of SEAL Team Six, Marcinko, he also came over and observed. We did our operability training with Delta Force later on in the 1980s. We also trained a lot of the SEALs in the city.”

Aside from forming the foundations of modern Special Forces and SEAL Team operations, veterans of Detachment A also took their knowledge back home, joining police departments as local SWAT teams popped up around the United States. They trained law enforcement and military alike in building assault tactics, urban combat, and clearing buildings. But if war broke out, these soldiers had no illusions about their fate.

“I never thought about it being certain death, but it could have,” says Stejskal. “I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell. You’re anticipating you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else. You have a confidence level that you can do it, but you, there’s always that element of uncertainty that you don’t have everything under control, so that’s part of the energy that fuels you when you’re there.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Soviet Moose Cavalry almost rode into World War II

At the Battle of Krojanty in the early days of World War II, Polish cavalrymen famously charged a Nazi mechanized infantry unit, disbursing them and allowing an orderly retreat for other Polish units in the area. It was one of the last-ever cavalry charges, and perhaps the last truly successful one. But cavalry was still very much on the minds of some Soviet war planners – especially in the brutal fighting the Red Army saw in Finland.


The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

(Laughs in White Death)

Anyone who’s ever seen a moose in person, especially in the wild, knows just how huge and intimidating these creatures can be. Imagine how large and intimidating a giant moose could be while charging at you at full gallop – some Soviet leader did. And the USSR briefly imagined how useful the moose could be in the deep snows of Finland.

“Ask any local,” one moose farmer told the BBC, “and he will tell you that a tree is the safest place to be when you are facing an angry elk.”

Near Nizhny Novgorod, the Soviets started a farm to domesticate moose for that purpose. But they soon found – as Charles XI of Sweden did – that moose aren’t big fans of gunfire. They tend to run the other direction.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Moose are great for counter-espionage however.

But the moose had been used for centuries in Scandinavia as transport animals. After all, horses weren’t native to the region, but moose were. They proved to be too much effort for the Swedish military to handle though. Moose are more susceptible to disease and harder to feed, for one.

The Soviets decided that the moose they attempted to domesticate for milk would serve another purpose, using them as transportation and pack animals. They even thought the moose could be used as a meat animal – after all, much of the Soviet population was starving. The effort to train them for milk was relatively successful, but the effort to use them for meat wasn’t. Just as moose are too smart to run toward gunfire, they are also too smart to be led to a slaughterhouse.

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