Entering the Imperial German Navy in 1911, Karl Dönitz, a Berlin native, served as a submarine commander in WWI as Hitler was coming into power. While underway on deployment in 1918, his UB-68 was badly damaged by British forces and eventually sunk, but Dönitz was captured and transported to a POW camp.
After nine months of captivity, Dönitz was released from custody back to German hands where he was appointed by General Admiral Erich Raeder to command and create a new German U-boat fleet.
Under his new position, he developed a U-boat patrolling strategy called “wolfpack” formations — meaning groups of submarines would maneuver in straight lines. Once the patrolling U-boats came in contact with enemy vessels, they would signal the wolfpack who would then charge forward and attack.
Admiral Karl Dönitz meets with Adolf Hitler (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
In 1943, Dönitz replaced General Admiral Raecher as Commander-in-Chief (the same man who originally assigned him) and with his naval warfare expertise began winning Hitler’s trust.
During his role as Commander-in-Chief, Dönitz was credited with sinking nearly 15 million tons of enemy shipping, coordinating reconnaissance missions, and allowing his U-boat commanders to strike at will when they believed they could inflict the most damage. At that same time, he commanded of 212 U-boats and had another 181 on standby used for training. His tactics proved to be superior to those of his enemys until the invention of microwave radar which managed to spot his German created U-boats sooner than before.
After Hitler died, his last will and testament named Dönitz as commander of the armed forces and the new Reich president. For the next 20 days, he served the last leader of Nazi Germany until the British once again captured him on May 23, 1945.
During the Nuremberg Trials, Dönitz was charged with multiple war crimes and sentenced to 10 years in Berlin’s Spandau prison. Upon his release, he published two books and continued to state he had no knowledge of any crimes committed by Hitler.
In May 1945, the Axis powers were all but beaten, but the war was far from over for the United States. Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8 but a lot of work was left to be done – namely, the invasion of mainland Japan. It was assumed that many Purple Heart medals would be needed, but history took a different course.
The ongoing Battle of Okinawa with its high casualty rates and fierce defenders made it clear to American leadership that the upcoming invasion of Japan’s main island would be a costly one for both sides.
The attack, of course, never came. Truman went for the nuclear option.
So what to do with all those medals? Give them to the troops, of course.
World War II was over but there was still plenty of American combat to come in the 20th century. Though the U.S. has ordered 34,000 more of them after the Vietnam War, the medals from 1945 are still updated and issued as needed.
“Time and combat will continue to erode the WWII stock, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before the last Purple Heart for the invasion of Japan is pinned on a young soldier’s chest,” historian D.M. Giangreco, said in a 2010 e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
The refurbished medals were distributed to military posts, units, and hospitals between 1985 and 1999. Even if new ones were made, the number given wounded service members through 2010 is still less than the number manufactured in 1945.
The refurbished and new Purple Hearts are almost identical.
A recipient may never know for which war their medal was made.
“You are talking about minute types of differences where only a specialist, somebody who really looks at this stuff, and looks at it often, can tell,” Giangreco said.
Either way, if you earn a Purple Heart, you can wear it with pride.
On the heels of a widely praised 2015 decision to issue the more maneuverable M4 carbine in lieu of the M16A4 to Marines in infantry battalions, the Marine Corps may be on the cusp of another major weapons decision.
The Marine Corps’ experimental battalion, the California-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, has been conducting pre-deployment exercises with the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to evaluate it as the new service rifle for infantry battalions, the commander of 1st Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Daniel O’Donohue told Military.com Thursday.
The battalion is set to deploy aboard the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit this spring. As part of its workup and deployment, it has been charged with testing and evaluating a host of technologies and concepts ranging from teaming operations with unmanned systems and robotics to experiments with differently sized squads.
“When they take the IAR and they’re training out there with all the ranges we do with the M4, they’re going to look at the tactics of it. They’ll look at the firepower, and they’ll do every bit of training, and then they’ll deploy with that weapon, and we’ll take the feedback to the Marine Corps to judge,” O’Donohue said.
Marines in 3/5 used the IAR as their service rifle during the 28-day Integrated Training Exercise held this month at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, California. The exercise, also known as ITX, is the largest pre-deployment workup for deploying battalions, and typically one of the last exercises they’ll complete. O’Donohue said the ubiquity of ITX would give evaluators ample data as they contrasted results with the different weapons.
“All you have to do is compare this battalion to the other battalions going through ITX,” he said.
The M4 carbine and the M27 IAR handle very similarly as they share a number of features. However, the M27 has a slightly longer effective range — 550 meters compared to the M4’s 500 — and elements that allow for more accurate targeting. It has a free-floating barrel, which keeps the barrel out of contact with the stock and minimizes the effect of vibration on bullet trajectory. It also has a proprietary gas piston system that makes the weapon more reliable and reduces wear and tear.
And the the IAR can fire in fully automatic mode, while the standard M4 has single shot, semi-automatic and three-round burst options.
Currently, each Marine Corps infantry fire team is equipped with a single IAR, carried by the team’s automatic rifleman.
“I think the fundamental is the accuracy of the weapon, the idea that you’re going to use it for suppressive fires. And at first contact you have the overwhelming superiority of fire from which all the tactics evolve,” O’Donohue said. “So it starts with the fire team and the squad, if you give them a better weapon with better fire superiority, you’ll just put that vicious harmony of violence on the enemy.”
But officials do see some potential drawbacks to equipping every infantry Marine with the weapon.
“One of the things we’re looking at is the rate of fire,” O’Donohue said. “You can burn off too much ammo, potentially, with the IAR. We have a selector, a regulator [showing] how many rounds the Marines shoot. So that’s one area we’re examining with experimentation.”
Another variable is cost.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the gunner, or infantry weapons officer, for 2nd Marine Division, told Military.com the M27 costs about $3,000 apiece, without the sight. Because the Marine Corps is still grappling with budget cutbacks, he said he was skeptical that the service could find enough in the budget to equip all battalions with the weapons. He said a smaller rollout might be more feasible.
“To give everyone in a Marine rifle squad [the IAR], that might be worth it,” he said.
O’Donohue said feedback would be collected on an ongoing basis from the Marines in 3/5 as they continued workup exercises and deployed next year. Decisions on whether to field a new service weapon or reorganize the rifle squad would be made by the commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, when he felt he had collected enough information, O’Donohue said.
If the Marine Corps can sort out the logistics of fielding, Wade said he would welcome the change.
“It is the best infantry rifle in the world, hands down,” Wade said of the IAR. “Better than anything Russia has, it’s better than anything we have, it’s better than anything China has. It’s world-class.”
On June 5th, seven veterans of the Battle of Midway joined about 1,000 people aboard a retired US Navy aircraft carrier to mark the 75th anniversary of the turning point in World War II’s Pacific Ocean theater.
Two F/A-18 Hornet fighter planes, blocked by clouds, thundered above the USS Midway, a Navy carrier that was commissioned in 1945 to commemorate the battle. The carrier was decommissioned in 1992 and has been in a military museum in downtown San Diego since 2004.
Well-wishers lined up to shake hands with 102-year-old Andy Mills and other wheelchair-bound Midway veterans after a 90-minute ceremony that recounted how the landmark battle unfolded. One Midway veteran came from hospice care.
The 1942 battle occurred six months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor after Navy code breakers broke complex Japanese code to reveal a plan to ambush US forces. The Japanese planned to occupy Midway, a strategic U.S.-held atoll 1,300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, and destroy what was left of the Pacific fleet.
When Japanese planes began bombing Midway, American torpedo planes and bombers counter-attacked in waves, bombing and sinking four Japanese carriers on June 4. The fighting continued for another three days before the United States proved to be victorious.
Adm. John Richardson, chief of U.S. naval operations, told the audience that a string of “effective but decisive” actions led to a victory with razor-thin room for error.
“In hindsight, when you review the Battle of Midway, you can see like a series of strokes of amazing luck. And when you put those strokes together, it’s like a miracle occurred at Midway. It trends towards the miraculous,” he said.
Anthony J. Principi, who served as secretary of veterans affairs from 2001 to 2005, wrote in the Military Times that that Navy commanders made “coordinated, split-second, life-and-death decisions.”
“We won because luck was on our side, because the Japanese made mistakes and because our officers and men acted with great courage amidst the chaos of battle,” he wrote.
The Midway, which has more than 1 million visitors a year, has hosted college basketball games, parties during the Comic-Con pop culture extravaganza, and TV tapings for shows like ABC’s “The Bachelor.”
The U.S. military in World War II kept women out of many of the front line areas of World War II, limiting much of their contributions to ferrying planes or sorting the mail. But women often rose to the occasion when they were called to serve within range of the enemy guns, possibly none more so than the four women recognized for valor at the Anzio beachhead.
The American advance in Italy stalled out in late 1943, and U.S. planners needed a way to draw off German forces from the Gustav Line or lance their way into Rome directly. The proposed solution: land troops at Anzio and Nettuno, just 35 miles from Rome. The bold amphibious assault didn’t initially go well.
The Army quickly took a beachhead, and the corps commander wanted to take a hill that would allow the soldiers to sever German supply lines. He didn’t have the troops to protect his own logistics lines if he took the hills, though, so he just held the area around his beachheads.
This did threaten German lines and drew off their forces, but not enough to allow the other allied forces to break through the Gustav Line. Instead, the troops at Anzio were confined to a small area and subject to constant artillery and air bombardment. Their field hospital included plenty of female nurses and, obviously, the German fire didn’t pay much attention to the nurses’ noncombatant status.
Troops unload tanks and other gear from Navy ships at the Anzio Beachhead.
Enter First Lt. Mary Roberts and Second Lts. Elaine Roe, Virginia Rourke, and Ellen Ainsworth. In February 1944, as the Germans built up their forces to contain and then pierce the American bubble, they rendered aid to wounded soldiers even as shells rained upon them.
There were rumors that the Germans were using the Red Cross on the hospital as an aiming marker, even though it should’ve marked it as a non-target. There were rumors that the counter assault was coming any day, that the hospital was going to be evacuated, that the hospital would never be evacuated because the damage to morale would be too great.
The Allies suffered 19,000 casualties.
The nurses kept as many of the men alive as they could. On Feb. 10, Roberts was running the operating room when the surgical tent took a direct hit. Two corpsmen were wounded, and equipment was destroyed, but she rallied the medical staff and kept the surgeries going so the wounded could keep receiving treatment.
Ainsworth was working in the surgical ward that same night and moved the patients to the floor, continuing to render aid as the explosions rocked the tent. She was hit in the chest and died six days later of her wounds.
Meanwhile, Roe and Rourke were working at another field hospital on the beachhead where they continued patient care without electricity, their calm demeanors soothing the fears of the wounded. When ordered to evacuate the wounded, they organized the troops and got their 42 patients out safely despite the threat.
And if you’re curious what happened next for the larger Anzio battle, Hitler got impatient. He ordered his generals to get rid of the American presence at Anzio. But, while the Americans didn’t have the forces to threaten and hold the German lines, they had been building up their defenses.
Before Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” Hollywood directors “got it right” by serving in the military.
Here are five legendary Hollywood directors who served on the front lines with their cameras:
Ford joined the Naval Reserve in the days leading up to America’s involvement in World War II. In 1941, he was put in charge of a documentary film unit that took him to battles around the world.
He won back-to-back academy awards for his Navy documentaries The Battle of Midway and December 7th. He won an Oscar every year between 1941 and 1944 for directing two feature films and two documentaries, according to his IMDb biography.
After the war, Ford continued to serve in the Navy Reserve and was activated one last time during the Korean War to film This is Korea!, a propaganda documentary about the beginnings of the war. Ford was promoted to rear admiral upon his retirement.
Ford starting making films in 1914 when he followed his older brother Francis – who became an actor after having worked in vaudeville – to Hollywood. The beginning of his silver screen career was modest, he was his brother’s assistant, handyman, stuntman, and double.
After three years in the business, Ford got his first break as a director and went on to direct nearly 60 silent films between 1917 and 1928 before pioneering “talkies.”
Ford’s Hollywood career went from 1917 to 1966, and he served in the Navy from 1934 to 1951.
For The Memphis Belle, Wyler flew over enemy territory on actual bombing missions to capture war footage. Wyler and his crew went on four missions to get enough footage to make the movie. On one of these missions, Wyler’s sound man, Harold Tannenbaum, was shot down and killed, according to William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director.
Wyler won an academy award for best director on The Best Years of Our Lives, a story about three veterans returning from World War II, which he filmed after serving in the military.
In 1942, Huston joined the Army Signal Corps as a captain to make films, but most of them were considered too controversial and were either not released or censored. His time in service is described in his New York Times Obituary:
While in uniform, he directed and produced three films that critics rank among the finest made about World War II:Report from the Aleutians (1943), about bored soldiers preparing for combat; The Battle of San Pietro(1944), a searing (and censored) story of an American intelligence failure that resulted in the deaths of many soldiers, and Let There Be Light (1945).
The last, about psychologically damaged combat veterans, was suppressed for 35 years for being too anti-war. It had its first public showing in 1981 and won critical approval.
Huston earned a Legion of Merit for courageous work under battle conditions and retired as a major.
Capra enlisted in the Army in 1917 when the U.S. declared war on Germany but was discharged the following year after catching the Spanish influenza. He moved to Los Angeles to live with his brother, and while recuperating, answered an open casting call which landed him on the set of John Ford’s film, The Outcasts of Poker Flat.
Over the course of twenty years, Capra became one of Hollywood’s most influential filmmakers, winning three Oscars as Best Director. His film, It Happened One Night became the first film to win five Oscars, including Best Picture.
Capra rejoined the Army Signal Corps during World War II and made the Why We Fight patriotic film series.
Stevens also joined the Army Signal Corps and headed a combat motion picture unit from 1944 to 1946. His unit filmed the Normandy landings, the liberation of Paris, and the liberation of Nazi extermination camp Dachau, which was used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials and de-Nazification program after the war.
Many critics claim that the somber, deeply personal tone of the movies he made when he returned from World War II were the result of the horrors he saw during the war, according to his IMDb biography.
The walls of Travis Bell’s modest barbershop on Fort Bragg are lined with history.
Photos of Army heroes are here, men such as the late Col. Arthur D. “Bull” Simons, a Special Forces legend best known for leading the Son Tay raid during an attempted rescue of American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Former Army leaders have found their way on the walls, too, including Gens. Hugh Shelton, Ray Odierno, Lloyd Austin, and Stanley McChrystal.
Some are official photos. Others were taken from Bell’s barber chair in the center of his shop. In a few, it’s Bell in the chair and a general behind him, playfully holding a pair of clippers.
Nearly every photograph includes a handwritten note to Bell, who has been a fixture on Fort Bragg for more than half the Army post’s almost 100-year history.
“Thanks for your dedication and friendship,” wrote Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, who served as a deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps from 2007 to 2009.
“Thank you for your friendship, support, and dedicated service to America,” wrote Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who commanded the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg from 2005 to 2007.
“To Travis with deep respect,” wrote McChrystal, who served as chief of staff of the corps and later commanded Joint Special Operations Command and the US war in Afghanistan before his retirement in 2010.
After 50 years of standing behind his barber chair, Fort Bragg leaders pulled Bell out into the open July 7 to honor him for his decades of service.
Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and the acting senior commander of Fort Bragg, said Bell has had a lasting impact on Fort Bragg and its leaders that stretches well beyond making them look good.
“He’s shaped a lot of leaders in the Corps,” the general said. “He has probably counseled every Corps commander since 1967.”
Bell, 77, has long served as a sounding board for soldiers across the 18th Airborne Corps, LaCamera said. And he has more time in the headquarters than anyone in history.
As a token of appreciation, the general presented Bell with a book full of handwritten letters from past Army leaders.
“The impact he’s had…” LaCamera said. “Who he has touched… It’s unbelievable. We’ve got a man who has had a tremendous impact.”
Bell opened his shop on Fort Bragg during the week of July 4, 1967. The then-27-year-old had worked on post for several months by that time — first at the old E-4 club, which would eventually become the Noncommissioned Officers Club, and then briefly at the 1st Corps Support Command headquarters.
Bell recalls accepting the job at the 18th Airborne Corps reluctantly.
In 1966, he turned down a similar job on Fort Bragg when he learned that the Corps headquarters was “where all that high brass” was stationed.
Instead, Bell kept working as a night foreman at a poultry plant in Robeson County. He cut hair on the side for a quarter or $.35 a cut.
When another job at Fort Bragg opened — this time with lower-ranking troops as the customers — Bell jumped at the opportunity.
“I was one of them,” he said of the privates and privates first class who were among his first customers on post. “I was right at home.”
It would take Bell weeks to feel comfortable cutting the hair of soldiers at higher ranks.
When a lieutenant sat in his chair for the first time, Bell said he froze.
“I got so nervous I couldn’t hardly finish,” he said.
When Bell was offered the job at the 18th Airborne Corps headquarters a second time, he said he felt he had little choice but to accept it.
“It was go there or go home,” he said.
Bell grew up on a Robeson County farm, one of nine boys who worked the fields alongside their father. Later, he would be a painter, carpenter, plumber and mechanic, and do other odd jobs along the way.
He said he viewed cutting hair as his way out of those jobs, learning from an older brother and practicing on his siblings.
But settling into his shop at the 18th Airborne Corps, Bell would have had no idea he would still be there 50 years later.
“I thought I wouldn’t even last the first day,” he said. “But I made it through that. Then I made it through another one. And another one.”
Bell estimates that he has cut more than a million heads of hair at Fort Bragg, although he said business is a lot slower these days, with much of the 18th Airborne Corps deployed to lead the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“My customers are over in the war,” he said.
Originally, Bell charged 90 cents per cut. Today, the cost ranges from $8.55 to $10.75.
Bell has cut the hair of 23 Fort Bragg commanders, starting with Lt. Gen. Robert H. York in 1967.
The general walked into Bell’s shop, shook his hand and introduced himself, Bell said.
“I was so nervous, to this day I haven’t told him my name,” he said.
Those nerves would eventually go away. And Bell would become a trusted counselor to Fort Bragg’s leaders.
Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, who retired on Fort Bragg last week after a career that culminated as vice chief of staff for the Army, said he sought out Bell to cut his hair one last time before he stepped away from the military.
Gen. Daniel B. Allyn. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill.
Allyn thanked Bell alongside current and former Army leaders.
“Travis has been cutting the hair of airborne troopers for over 50 years,” Allyn said. “He lowered my locks one final time this week. Thank you for not only keeping us looking as good as possible but thanks for your constant reminder of the impact of faith in our lives.”
When not cutting hair, Bell is often seen reading from a Bible he keeps in his shop.
He said he still makes the drive from Lumberton to Fort Bragg each day.
The July 7 celebration was just one way the Fort Bragg community said thanks to Bell. It was also his first day back in a newly remodeled barber shop.
And on July 6, he rode in an airplane for the first time in his life, flying with the US Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights.
Bell still hasn’t been on a plane when it landed, though. The 77-year-old touched the ground while strapped to a member of the parachute team.
“I’m airborne now,” he said July 7, proudly recalling the experience of the day before.
Bell said Fort Bragg is home now.
“They take care of me good around here,” he said. “It’s been a real pleasure.”
And after 50 years, the barber has no plans to slow down.
“I’m enjoying it right now,” he said. “I don’t know when I’m going to retire.”
When soldiers, airman and sailors are injured by enemy fire, ambushed or pinned down by dangerous attacks, Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters are tasked with the risky combat mission of flying in behind enemy lines — to save imperiled service members.
“We’ve made a promise to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines — and that promise is we will always come get you,” Brig. Gen. Eric Fick, Director of Global Reach Programs, Air Force Acquisition, told Scout Warrior in an interview earlier this year.
However, the Pave Hawk fleet has been taxed by recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan; the fleet has been decimated by loss, damage and the wear and tear of consistent high-risk combat missions. As a result, the Air Force is deeply immersed in a crucial effort to restore the fleet to its needed operational strength, Fick explained.
“Due to the constant operation since 9-11, we have suffered loses of those helicopters in an operational sense. The objective is to bring back the fleet to full strength,” Fick said.
Facing the regular threat of Taliban or insurgent RPG, Pave Hawks are armed with .50-cal machine guns and 7.62mm weapons. They are also built with extra armor to defend against small arms fire and various kinds of enemy attacks.
“We are outfitted to go into a hostile environment to recover people, which is why we need extra armor and guns. The mission incorporates more than just recovering the downed airman, it could also include someone who is injured by and IED. We are outfitted to go recover them bring them back and give them the aid that they need. We can do MEDEVAC but also MEDEVAC behind the forward lines,” Fick explained.
Upgrades to the “life-saving” Pave Hawk helicopters include the addition of a color weather radar, upgraded radar warning receivers, automatic direction finders, digital intercom system and an ethernet backbone to the avionics system.
“This is most likely on a daily basis saving the lives of soldiers, airmen and sailors. When they get in trouble these are the guys (HH-60G) that come get them. These are the aircraft that let them do it,” he added.
Pave Hawk Upgrades
At the moment, the Air Force operates 97 embattled Pave Hawks; the goal is to restore the fleet to 112 helicopters.
The Air Force Pave Hawk restoration and upgrade is progressing along a two-fold trajectory involving the conversion of Army UH-60 Black Hawks and existing HH-60Gs into new models called Operational Loss Replacement, or OLR, helicopters.
The Army Black Hawks are given new communications technology, navigational systems, radar warning receivers and hoist refueling probes allowing the aircraft to refuel mid-mission. In addition, they are engineered with an infrared jammer and flare countermeasure dispensing system. The converted helicopters are also given longer range fuel tanks and increased armor for combat rescue missions, Lt. Col. Charles Mcmullen, HH-60 program element monitor, told Scout Warrior.
In total, 21 Army Black Hawks will be converted into upgraded models. Three of them will be configured as test models and 18 will go to three different guard units and then to active duty forces, Fick said. The first UH-60 helicopter has already been converted into a Pave Hawk, he added.
The creation of OLR models from HH-60G helicopters includes the addition of a color weather radar, upgraded radar warning receivers, automatic direction finders, digital intercom system and an ethernet backbone to the avionics system.
“A new color multi-function display on the dashboard can switch between an active moving map and infrared imaging system which can be used in low light to land the helicopter and pick up injured service members,” Fick added.
The new “picture in picture” color display allows pilots to merge separate laptop and control panel screens into a single screen designed to better expedite navigation and decision making while lowering the pilot’s workload.
All existing Pave Hawks will be transformed into OLR models within the next several years. The restoration of the Air Force Pave Hawk fleet is designed to preserve operational rescue helicopters until the services’ emerging new Combat Rescue Helicopter arrives in the mid 2020s.
“The mods will start next year. The challenge is we want to get the OLR birds out first. We are working the phasing and the timing of those mods to make sure we do not reduce readiness,” Fick added.
The Sikorsky-built helicopter operates two General Electric T700-GE-700 or T700-GE-701C engines, weighs 22,000 pounds and reaches speeds up to 184 miles per hour. It has an operating range of 504-miles.
Pave Hawk History
Pave Hawks combat missions began in Operation Just Cause. During Operation Desert Storm they provided combat search and rescue coverage for coalition forces in western Iraq, coastal Kuwait, the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, Air Force statements said.
They also provided emergency evacuation coverage for U.S. Navy SEAL teams penetrating the Kuwaiti coast before the invasion.
During Operation Allied Force, Pave Hawks provided continuous combat search and rescue coverage for NATO air forces, and successfully recovered two Air Force pilots who were isolated behind enemy lines.
The teams that have completed some of America’s most stunning special operations included a few airmen who are often overlooked when it comes time to glorify the heroes: Combat Controller Teams.
Combat Controllers are Air Force special operators trained to support all other special operators and to conduct their missions behind enemy lines. Here’s what makes them so effective under such challenging conditions.
When they near an objective or get close to enemy forces, the CCTs call up their big brothers in the sky.
The controller tells the pilot what target needs to be taken out, where it’s at, and sometimes even what weapons and flight path the pilot should take.
As the combat controller is doing all that, he’s still in ground combat. While he’ll usually prefer to use his radio rather than his rifle — 30mm cannon fire from the sky is more lethal than 5.56mm rounds from the ground — he’s perfectly capable of going toe-to-toe with enemy soldiers when necessary.
This connection with air assets also gives the CCTs a coveted battlefield asset: real-time surveillance. Pilots can describe what they see on the ground to the controller who keeps mission commanders in the loop. In some cases, pilots and drones can even send data streams to devices carried by the controller so the airman can watch the enemy in real time.
All these capabilities are valuable for joint operations, but they also allow combat controllers to conduct their own missions — which they do.
One such mission is covert airfield seizure. The Army will send Rangers or paratroopers to seize airfields from enemy forces, but dropping a few hundred infantrymen can draw a lot of attention.
So, sometimes the Air Force sends small teams of combat controllers and other Air Force special operators on their own if the base isn’t too heavily guarded.
The controllers will seize the airfield and then certify it for operations. Once they give their blessing to an airfield, reinforcements can land on the runway and support aircraft can come in for refueling and rearmament.
Controllers can also go into combat on their own to help allied forces or to direct airstrikes that will delay an enemy or break up an attack.
Air Force special tactics officer Maj. Charlie Hodges described “bike chasers,” controllers who throw a motorcycle out of a plane, parachute after it, and then ride the bike to their objective when they reach the ground.
“All of our guys are trained to ride motorcycles,” Hodges told CNN. Getting to the fight sometimes “involves jumping out of an airplane, or sliding out a helicopter down a fast rope, or riding some sort of all-terrain vehicle, or going on a mountain path on foot.”
While Combat Controllers don’t always get the headlines and movies like SEAL Team Six, Delta Force, and others, they’ve proven themselves to be professional, courageous, and deadly in combat.
The Army’s helicopters have a number of names you recognize immediately: Apache, Black Hawk, Kiowa, Lakota, Comanche. They are also known as the names of Native American tribes. This is not a coincidence.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, this was originally due to Army Regulation 70-28, which has since been rescinded. Today, while the regulation is gone, the tradition remains, and there is a procedure to pick a new name. The Bureau of Indian Affairs keeps a list of names for the Army to use. When the Army gets a new helicopter (or fixed-wing aircraft), the commanding officer of the Army Material Command (the folks who buy the gear) comes up with a list of five names.
Now, they can’t just be any names. These names must promote confidence in the abilities of the helicopter or plane, they cannot sacrifice dignity, and they must promote an aggressive spirit. Those names then have to be run by the United States Patent Office, of all places. There’s a lot more bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo to go through, but eventually a name is picked.
Then comes something unique – the helicopter or aircraft is then part of a ceremony attended by Native American leaders, who bestow tribal blessings. You might be surprised, given that the Army and the Native Americans were on opposite side of the Indian Wars – and those wars went on for 148 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Don’t be. The fact is, despite the 148 years of hostilities, Native Americans also served with the United States military. Eli Parker, the only Native American to reach general’s rank, was a personal aide to General Ulysses S. Grant. Most impressively, 25 Native Americans have received the Medal of Honor for heroism.
Gen. Abidin Ünal, Turkey’s Air Force Chief of Staff, waves during takeoff in a UH-1N Iroquois at Joint Base Andrews, Md., April 6, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ryan J. Sonnier)
In other words, the Army’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft bear names that reflect fierce and courageous warriors who also have fought well as part of the United States Army. That is a legacy worth remembering and honoring with some of the Army’s most prominent systems.
Most Americans know the story of Pearl Harbor, how the Japanese planes descended from the clouds and attacked ship after ship in the harbor, hitting the floating fortresses of battleship row, damaging drydocks, and killing more than 2,300 Americans. But the most coveted targets of the attack were the aircraft carriers thankfully absent. Except one was supposed to be there that morning with a future fleet admiral on board, and they were both saved by a freak accident at sea.
The USS Shaw explodes on December 7, 1941, during the Pearl Harbor attack.
Vice Adm. William Halsey, Jr., was a tough and direct man. And in November 1941, he was given a top-secret mission to ferry 12 Marine F4F Hellcats to Wake Island under the cover of an exercise. Wake Island is closer to Japan than Hawaii, and Washington didn’t want Japan to know the Marines were being reinforced.
The mission was vital, but also dangerous. Halsey knew that Japan was considering war with the U.S., and he knew that Japan had a long history of beginning conflicts with sneak attacks. He was so certain that a war with Japan was coming, that he ordered his task force split into two pieces. The slower ships, including his three battleships, were sent to conduct the naval exercise.
Halsey took the carrier Enterprise, three heavy cruisers, and nine destroyers as “Task Force 8” to deliver the planes. And those 13 ships would proceed “under war conditions,” according to Battle Order No. 1, signed by the Enterprise captain but ordered by Halsey.
All torpedoes were given warheads, planes were armed with their full combat load, and gunners were prepared for combat. Halsey had checked, and there were no plans for allied or merchant shipping in his path, so he ordered his planes to sink any ship sighted and down any plane.
If Task Force 8 ran into a group of ships, they would assume they were Japanese and start the war themselves. That’s not hyperbole, according to Halsey after the war:
Comdr. William H. Buracker, brought [the orders] to me and asked incredulously, “Admiral, did you authorize this thing?” “Yes.” “Do you realize that this means war?” “Yes.” Bill protested, “Goddammit, Admiral, you can’t start a private war of your own! Who’s going to take the responsibility?” I replied, “I’ll take it! If anything gets in my way, we’ll shoot first and argue afterwards.”
The USS Enterprise sails in October 1941 with its scout planes overhead.
Equipped, prepared, and looking for a war, Halsey and his men sailed until they got within range of Wake Island on December 4, dispatched the Marines, and then headed for home.
There is an interesting question here about whether it would have been better if Task Force 8 had met with the Japanese force at sea. It would surely have been eradicated, sending all 13 ships to the bottom, likely with all hands. But it would have warned Pearl of the attack, and might have sunk a Japanese ship or two before going down. And, the Japanese fleet was ordered to return home if intercepted or spotted before December 5.
But the worst case scenario would’ve been if Task Force 8 returned to Pearl on its scheduled date, December 6. The plan was to send most of the sailors and pilots ashore for leave or pass, giving Japan one of its prime carrier targets as well as additional cruisers to sink during the December 7 attack.
Luckily, a fluke accident occurred at sea. A destroyer had split a seam in rough seas, delaying the Task Force 8 arrival until, at best, 7:30 on December 7. A further delay during refueling pushed the timeline further right to noon.
I peered intently through my binoculars at the ships riding peacefully at anchor. One by one I counted them. Yes, the battleships were there all right, eight of them! But our last lingering hope of finding any carriers present was now gone. Not one was to be seen.
USS Enterprise sailors watch as “scores” go up on a board detailing the ship and its pilots combat exploits.
And the Enterprise would go on to fight viciously for the U.S. in the war. Halsey spent December 7-8 looking for a fight. While it couldn’t make contact in those early moments of the war, it would find earn 20 battle stars in the fighting. It was instrumental to the victories at Midway, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Philippine Sea, and Leyte Gulf.
It suffered numerous strikes, but always returned to the fight. Its crew earned the Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Unit Commendation. The ship, and much of the crew, survived the war. But the Enterprise was decommissioned in 1947.
Two great articles, linked above, were instrumental in writing this article. But a hat tip also goes out to Walter R. Borneman whose book The Admirals inspired this piece.
The Confederate Army had better things to do than decide how it would award medals to its fighting men. In that era, Americans weren’t really into medals and ribbons, as it was considered a very European military tradition. The Civil War changed all that. The brutality of the war, combined with the feats of heroics performed by those who fought it inspired the need for such awards.
That being said, the Confederacy had its heroes as well, but aside from a Confederate Congressional “Roll of Honor,” nothing much was ever done in terms of awards and decorations – until the Second Battle of Sabine Pass.
Sabine Pass is a small outlet from Lake Sabine that pours into the Gulf of Mexico, bordering both Texas and Louisiana. During the Civil War, it was a lightly defended Western outpost, far from the central fighting of the war. As a result, the shoddy earthwork fortifications at the pass had mostly old smoothbore cannon to defend it, eight guns in total. But then the French installed a pro-French Emperor in Mexico, opening the possibility for Confederate supplies to reach Mexico by rail, then onto Europe under French-flagged ships, completely circumventing the Union blockade and providing the South with crucial money, arms, and supplies.
The Union sent 5,000 troops, 18 transports, and four armed gunboats to capture the pass and cut the South off from French Mexico. Defending the fort were the Jeff Davis Guards, named for the Confederate President, 47 Irish immigrants from bigger cities in Texas, and well-trained and drilled artillerymen. This was the largest amphibious assault ever taken by the United States until this point so you’d think the Union would have come prepared. You’d be wrong. So wrong.
Only the lightest of the Union ships could enter the river, due to the shallow nature of the entryway. Four steamers and 150 Union sharpshooters were to cross the sandbars then take out the fort and its guns so the rest of the Union force could take the town and then move on to Houston. That never happened. Instead, accurate cannon fire from the fort hit one of the steamers in her boiler, disabling another and grounding the USS Arizona. The two ships surrendered, and the rest of the invasion force ended up running back to New Orleans.
In all, the battle last 45 minutes. The Davis Guards fired 137 rounds from their eight guns, dwarfing the Union’s rate of fire and ensuring those guns couldn’t be used for weeks after the battle. The handful of Confederates then went to capture the Union troops on the disabled ships, taking 315 Union troops prisoner. The Union forces suffered a further 19 killed and nine wounded at the cost of zero casualties to the Confederates. It was the most lopsided victory of the war.
Richard Dowling, commander of the Davis Guards, wearing his medal.
Grateful Texans decided to reward the men for not only staying at their posts in the face of overwhelming odds, but for actually winning. They cast medals from Mexican silver coins, engraving “DG” on one side with a Malta Cross and the date of the battle on the other. It was hung on the uniform by a green ribbon, representing the Irish heritage of the fort’s defenders. In all, 47 were awarded to the men, with two more awarded to their officers, and one struck just for their namesake, Jefferson Davis. Davis ensured the Confederate Congress authorized the medal for wear, the only medal so authorized.
The President had his on him when he was captured after the war’s end.