“An author cannot, of course, remain wholly unaffected by his experience.”
These are the words of arguably the most influential writer of the 20th century and WWI veteran, John Ronald Reuel “J.R.R.” Tolkien.
In June 1916, the newly commissioned lieutenant kissed his newly married wife goodbye as he boarded the transport to Calais, France. Come July 1st, one of the bloodiest battles in human history took place near the Somme River. That day, his closest friend was killed and Tolkien forever changed.
Shouldering the burden of leadership and the ever looming threat of death, by disease or the enemy, Tolkien carried on. Ultimately, it was Trench Fever that sent him home ten days before the dust settled.
Deemed no longer medically fit for service, Tolkien returned to his passion: writing. The rest is history.
When the second edition of TheLord of the Rings was released, the foreword stated: “The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion.” Tolkien continued with, “But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.”
He hated direct comparisons of his works to real world events. No real world leader is Sauron. No real world army are the orcs. And the One Ring is not a reference to the nuclear bomb.
Much of the psychology and emotions of his works, however, did pull from his time on the battlefield, most notably with the Dead Marshes. In the second volume (and film) The Two Towers, the ghoulish Gollum lead the protagonist, Frodo Baggins, through a swamp full of bloated bodies under the mud and water.
Tolkien’s biography, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, explained that what Frodo experienced in the Marsh was specifically based on the Battle of the Somme where Tolkien saw countless bodies across the muddy battlefield.
Themes were also pulled from his leadership and the bravery of his men. Tolkien studied at Oxford and lead men from mining, milling, and weaving towns of Lancashire. In another biography, Tolkien and the Great War, Tolkien said he “felt an affinity for these working class men, but military protocol forbade him from developing friendships with ‘other ranks’.” This man-apart thematically affected many of the characters in his novels.
One of the largest changes from the novel to any film adaptation is the “Scouring of the Shire” and the mindset of Frodo after the war. In the final chapters of the last book, Saruman attacked the Shire and all of the townspeople had to defend their home.
Afterward, Frodo was left alone.
War changed him. Frodo couldn’t just return to being a happy, singing Hobbit like everyone else after the war. He’d been stabbed, poisoned, and lost a finger. Frodo, like Tolkien himself, had become “shell-shocked” after combat.
The forward of the 1991 release of The Lord of the Rings added another Tolkien quote: “The country in which I lived in childhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten. Recently I saw in a paper a picture of the last decrepitude of the once thriving corn-mill beside its pool that long ago seemed to me so important.”
The crew of the US Coast Guard Cutter Sherman unloaded roughly 11 tons of cocaine in San Diego on August 18. The haul was the result of seizures performed by USCG Cutters Alert, Reliance, Sherman, Tampa, and Vigorous in the eastern Pacific from mid-June through July.
The drug shipments were intercepted in international waters off the coast of South America, which is a major cocaine production area, and of Central America, which has become a major drug transshipment point in recent years.
The eastern Pacific Ocean has become an important thoroughfare for illegal narcotics produced in South America and headed for the US and points elsewhere.
Latin American criminal organizations often coordinate to move shipments north from the Pacific Coasts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia (which produces the most coca in the world), to destinations in Central America, particularly Guatemala, and parts of Mexico’s west coast.
Mexico’s Pacific ports and other coastal areas have also become areas of competition for that country’s drug cartels, driving violence up.
In March this year, Admiral Kurt Tidd, head of US forces operating in Central and South America, told lawmakers that US forces were ill-prepared to meet the goal of interdicting 40% of the illegal traffic moving from the region toward the US.
“I do not have the ships; I do not have the aircraft, to be able to execute the detection-monitoring mission to the level that has been established for us to achieve,” Tidd said at the time.
Shock troops are designed to lead an attack from the front with the goal of inflicting heavy enemy casualties and severely damaging defenses. When the dynamic of the battlefield changed with the Great War, it brought with it measures to break the stalemate of trench warfare.
With the need to find a way to gain ground during World War I, military leaders around the world were struggling with the new battlefield, not yet experienced to the scale or intensity that was introduced. After analyzing the combat troops were experiencing, the concept for the shock troop was born.
Here are a few of those who really left their mark in history.
An Arditi flag hangs in the office of a former soldier.
“The Daring Ones” were Italy’s response to a deeply entrenched enemy. Initially made up of volunteers and later by men who were recommended by their superior officers, they were among the bravest, most physically fit, and best hand-to-hand fighters in the Italian army during that time. Needless to say, they were not the type of soldiers you would want to see coming for you. Here’s why:
Most of them didn’t even carry rifles — they considered them to be too bulky to use in the trenches and usually opted to use daggers. What they would do is advance under the cover of an accurate artillery barrage and, once it lifted, they would flood the trenches to stab the enemy in the face. The goal wasn’t just to assault their positions with the goal of gaining ground but to overrun and destroy them.
The job was so dangerous that an Arditi soldier would get paid three times the rate of the average Italian soldier. Which isn’t bad considering they suffered 25-30% casualties in almost every attack. They were so dope their logo was a skull with a dagger clenched between it’s teeth and their motto was, “O la vittoria, o tutti accoppati,” which roughly translates to, “We either win, or we all die.”
Easily the most famous of World War I era shock troops, and for a good reason. The German ‘Sturmbattalions’ were famous for their aggressive fighting style and decentralized command. These units made it easier for the German Army to break through enemy defenses and reap their souls since most forces weren’t prepared for an all-out assault when it hit them.
The use of these shock troops was so impressive and so effective that they were not only used during World War II but they also influenced tactics of other shock troops to include the Austro-Hungarian Jagdkommandos.
Their emphasis on decentralized command allowed junior leaders to make more of their own choices on the battlefield, which is a concept heavily employed and focused on in U.S. Marine Corps infantry units.
Despite Germany’s defeat in the war, it would be ridiculous not to recognize their tactics as well-planned and highly effective.
This iteration of the Jagdkommandos is still in service to this day, punching terrorists in the face all over the world.
Adopted by Austria-Hungary from a Russian concept, the Jagdkommandos or, “hunting commandos,” were initially used as scouting units. Developed well before the outbreak of the Great War, Austria-Hungary wasn’t really sure how to employ them until they started getting their asses kicked by the Italians and Russians during the war.
They were under-equipped and under-trained until Russia nearly destroyed the Austro-Hungarian army. But, after the leadership recognized the need to have pipe hitting shock troops, they rose one full battalion and trained an additional 7,700 in close-quarters combat.
After they managed to kick some serious Italian ass, they were able to get their hands on good equipment and weapons which allowed them to succeed in plenty of subsequent battles until they were finally defeated during a summer offensive by the Italian defenses, which had vastly improved through heavy loss.
Following the loss of the war and collapse of the Austria-Hungary empire, the Jagdkommandos disappeared until 1962, when Austria named their Special Forces after them.
Belleau Wood is one of the most definitive battles in Marine Corps history.
Though the U.S. Marine Corps Infantry existed long before the first World War, their aggressive tactics and fighting spirit gained their modern reputation during the war as “shock troops,” as the Germans classified them. In every war prior, the Marines had been notorious for sending souls to the afterlife all across the globe.
The Marine Corps earned its reputation most notably during the battle of Belleau Wood in 1918, when Marines were aggressively taking real estate from German forces, despite the employment of chemical weapons. Germans were terrified when they charged through clouds of mustard gas, describing some as having “glowing red eyes,” and having the appearance of “hounds from hell.”
Marines to this day credit the battle as the suspected origin for their beloved nickname “Devil Dogs” and live up to their notoriously bad ass reputation they earned during the first World War.
“For almost 70 years, our Nation has set aside one day to recognize the great debt we owe to the men and women who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” Trump said in a statement. “On Armed Forces Day, we salute the bravery of those who defend our Nation’s peace and security. Their service defends for Americans the freedom that all people deserve.”
According to the Department of Defense website, the celebration of Armed Forces Day first began in 1950, following a proclamation on Aug. 31, 1949, by then-Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. Johnson’s intention was to replace separate holidays for the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
“I invite the Governors of the States and Territories and other areas subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to provide for the observance of Armed Forces Day within their jurisdiction each year in an appropriate manner designed to increase public understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces of the United States. I also invite veterans, civic, and other organizations to join in the observance of Armed Forces Day each year,” Trump said in the proclamation, which has been issued by his predecessors in virtually the same form, including George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.
Trump’s proclamation did make special note of the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, citing the 4.7 million Americans who served in that conflict. Trump also re-tweeted a Defense Department tweet featuring a video.
“Finally, I call upon all Americans to display the flag of the United States at their homes and businesses on Armed Forces Day, and I urge citizens to learn more about military service by attending and participating in the local observances of the day,” Trump’s proclamation concluded.
Author’s note: If you haven’t seen “The Mandalorian” yet, go watch it and come back — spoilers ahead. For the rest of you: this is the way.
The internet has been buzzing about “The Mandalorian,” the “Star Wars” series that follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter (of the same tribe and iconic armor as Boba Fett) who finds a young, force-sensitive creature who looks like a baby Yoda. The series hasn’t just produced a slew of new memes, it’s crushed the ratings on several platforms — IMDB has it at an 8.9, and Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 94 percent on the Tomatometer (with an audience score of 93 percent).
It has all the familiar, nostalgic elements of “Star Wars” — spectacular scenes in space, fun action-adventure, weird creatures, the conflict of good and evil, and, of course, the force. However, “The Mandalorian” also includes a host of cowboy movie tropes, which adds a freshness to the story. It’s not like any old Western we’ve seen — after all, it’s set in space with little alien wizards. It’s also not a repeat of other “Star Wars” stories because it’s basically an old Western set in a fantasy universe.
We can’t publish an article on “The Mandalorian” without showing “the child” at least once.
(Photo courtesy of Disney+)
In order to understand old Western films, we need to understand where they came from. Many of the old Western tropes are American, but some are borrowed from older Japanese cinema. The obvious connection is the Japanese classic “Seven Samurai” being remade into the American cowboy classic “The Magnificent Seven.” While this is the most famous connection between the two genres, it’s not the only one. The music, the stories, the filmmaking techniques — watch any film by Akira Kurosawa and you’ll see elements of the Western left and right.
“The Mandalorian” borrows from both.
It makes sense to begin with the Mandalorian’s religion — his weapons. Our protagonist carries around his handheld blaster and a disintegration rifle (known as a modified Amban Rifle). These are clearly the equivalent of a revolver and a rifle, the cowboy’s typical loadout in most Westerns. Mando generally draws and fires his blaster from the hip, just like the classic Wild West draw. Any bigger weapons brought onto the battlefield are typically large, mounted weapons — the equivalent of the evil antagonist breaking out a Gatling gun mounted to a train or on a tripod. The lasso is another quintessential tool for the cowboy of old Westerns — depicted in “The Mandalorian” by his grappling line. Mando wraps a few enemies up in his “lasso” throughout the story, hog-tying his targets.
Several specific moments also call directly back to the films of the Wild West. For example, the classic “horse whisperer” scene where Mando tames and breaks a blurrg. He is bucked and thrown as the wise, old man watches from the edge of the corral. Finally, our hero mounts the beast and they ride into a few sunsets together.
We mentioned that the Japanese film “Seven Samurai” was the direct inspiration for “The Magnificent Seven” — both films feature bandits who are hell bent on raiding a village, forcing the townspeople to enlist the help of some elite warriors to train them and defend them against the next onslaught. Sound familiar? This same story played out in a chapter of “The Mandalorian” with some unique, sci-fi twists — we don’t remember an AT-ST in “Seven Samurai.”
The comparisons are obvious.
(Photo courtesy of Disney+.)
On top of congruent storylines, one of the most significant ways that Japanese cinema inspired old Westerns was with its music; “Star Wars” also features some of the most iconic music in film history. Ludwig Goransson’s score of “The Mandalorian” fuses the two by combining elements from old Westerns (and perhaps old Japanese films) like the heavy beating of drums with “primitive” sounding percussion, bizarre flutes, and interesting stringed instruments. The hollow melody of the main title would be just as at home if it was played over a lone gunslinger in the Wild West, riding off to save a small town from nefarious bandits. The score cloaks the Mandalorian himself in a shroud of mystery.
Start with some old Japanese film score elements, mix in a bit of Ennio Morricone, then top it off with heavy sprinkles of classic “Star Wars” sweeping scores — and you’ve got yourself a soundtrack fit for the halls of Mandalore.
“The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” (left), and “The Mandalorian.”
(Photos courtesy of United Artists and Disney+.)
The setting and wardrobe also highlight the connection of this magical, dystopian science-fiction narrative to the Wild West. Most of the events in “The Mandalorian” are set in barren places — not on the lavish planet of Naboo or the bustling cities of Coruscant, but out in the lawless desert where guns and criminals abound. And Pedro Pascal (the Mandalorian) sports a cape eerily similar to how Clint Eastwood wears his poncho in classics like “A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Instead of high-tech visors, many of the inhabitants of these barren locations wear old-school goggles, and they wear their blasters low on their hip just like the cowboys we know from the Old West. The Mandalorian even keeps rounds strung across his chest — one wouldn’t expect the need for that in a science-fiction universe, but it all falls in line with the classic Western aesthetic.
A lot of old Westerns are films about rugged individualism. They follow rough characters who have to navigate their way through an even rougher world. The protagonist then finds at least one redeeming aspect about the unforgiving, desolate landscape on which they fight — something precious among the thorns. Upon that discovery, the cowboy or lawman or mercenary finds that their ability to fight, to be strong, to kill — it all suddenly has meaning — it suddenly turns into the ability to protect a village, a woman, a friend… or a child.
Jon Favreau has taken a beloved franchise and breathed new life into it by fusing it with these classic elements from old Western films, and it’s been a wild success. Audiences around the world have expressed how thrilled they are at this new installment of “Star Wars,” and I, for one, can’t wait for the second season.
Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2
The U.S. Department of Defense is exploring options that would see drones fitted with lasers that could shoot down incoming enemy missiles.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency tested a “directed-energy airborne laser” that can be fired from a drone, according to a report by the Last Vegas Review-Journal. Theoretically, the new weapon would allow the U.S. to fly drones over suspected enemy ballistic missile launch sites, allowing them to shoot down any missiles shortly after launch.
“Our vision is to shift the calculus of our potential adversaries by introducing directed energy into the ballistic missile defense architecture,” agency spokesman Christopher Johnson told the Review-Journal. “This could revolutionize missile defense, dramatically reducing the role of kinetic interceptors.”
The laser-mounted drones would add another layer of missile defense to U.S. capabilities. The drones offer an advantage over current missile defense systems, which rely on an intricate system of radars and satellites that guide a missile interceptor to a target. The laser drones would be much simpler and possibly just as effective, as they could loiter in a potential launch area and take out an enemy missile before it gets too far in its course. Current systems require an enemy missile to be in mid-course or descent phases before a traditional interceptor can be deployed.
North Korea would be a likely potential deployment for such a system. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un has engaged in more than 20 missile tests, the most recent of which occurred Feb. 12. The missile tested was propelled by solid fuel, as opposed to combustible liquid, marking a major advance in missile technology. Solid fuel missiles are more dangerous, as they can be concealed on mobile launchers.
The idea for drones armed with lasers originated with former President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense shield, part of which envisioned using space-based lasers to shoot down incoming Soviet missiles. While Reagan’s contemporary critics scoffed at the project, it helped spawn missile defense systems used today.
Laser-armed drones as an effective missile deterrent is still in the planning stages. The top major defense contractors — including Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon — are all currently involved in a $230 million, five year-long demonstration program at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Pentagon will engage in the first official demonstrations of laser-armed drones in 2020 and 2021, according to Johnson.
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It’s been 45 years since the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam, but the conflict continues to play an outsized role in American politics and popular culture. From John Wayne’s stern-jawed performance in the 1968 propaganda film The Green Berets to Robert Downey, Jr.’s antics in the 2008 meta-comedy Tropic Thunder (a movie about a movie about Vietnam), the war’s complexity and social impact have made it an irresistible subject for generations of filmmakers and moviegoers. These nine films set the standard for the Vietnam War movie.
Fresh off an astonishing run of success that included The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola set out to make a Vietnam War epic based on Joseph Conrad’s anti-colonialist novella The Heart of Darkness. It would turn out to be one of the most arduous productions in the history of cinema, taking over three years to complete and nearly destroying Coppola’s health and career in the process. But the result was nothing short of a masterpiece. With a star-studded cast including Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford, Laurence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper, Apocalypse Now added the indelible phrases “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “Charlie don’t surf!” to the American vernacular and was ranked 14th on Sight and Sound‘s 2012 poll of the Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time.
Stanley Kubrick’s darkly comic and deeply disturbing portrait of war’s dehumanizing effects follows a group of U.S. Marine Corps recruits from basic training on Parris Island to the Battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive. Adapted from Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers, the screenplay was co-written by Kubrick, Hasford, and journalist Michael Herr, author of the acclaimed Vietnam War memoir Dispatches. Starring real-life drill instructor R. Lee Emery as the virtuosically profane Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann, Full Metal Jacket met with criticism from some early reviewers who found the film’s second half unequal to the brilliance of the boot camp scenes. It’s now recognized as a classic of the war movie genre and ranked 95th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Thrills list.
Winner of five Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor, The Deer Hunter is the saga of three Russian American steelworkers who leave their working-class Pennsylvania hometown to fight in Vietnam. Written and directed by Michael Cimino and starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, and John Cazale (in his final role before succumbing to lung cancer), the film sparked controversy for its famous sequence in which sadistic Việt Cộng soldiers force POWs to play Russian roulette. There were no documented cases of Russian roulette during the war, but critics such as Roger Ebert defended Cimino’s use of artistic license, arguing that the deadly game is a “brilliant symbol” for how the conflict touched the lives of U.S. soldiers and their families.
The first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a Vietnam veteran, Platoon was based on Oliver Stone’s real experiences as an infantryman during the war. Charlie Sheen, son of Apocalypse Now star Martin Sheen, plays a naive college student who volunteers for combat duty in 1967. Assigned to an infantry platoon near the Cambodian border, he is caught up in a bitter rivalry between two veteran NCOs: hard-edged and cynical Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) and the more compassionate and idealistic Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe). Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, the film achieved its consummate authenticity by hiring retired USMC Colonel Dale Dye to put the principal actors through an intensive 30-day boot camp before filming started.
A brilliant blend of comedy and drama, this Barry Levinson film is loosely based on the experiences of real-life Armed Forces Radio Service DJ Adrian Cronaeur. Robin Williams, who improvised most of his broadcast scenes, stars as Cronauer, a wild card whose irreverent sense of humor and love of rock and roll infuriated his immediate superiors but made him hugely popular with the enlisted men. Set in Saigon during the early days of the war, the screenplay offered a more nuanced portrait of the Vietnamese people than previous Hollywood films and earned Williams his first Academy Award nomination.
Based on David Morrell’s novel of the same name and starring Sylvester Stallone as a former Green Beret who fought in Vietnam and received the Medal of Honor, First Blood is the opening chapter in the hugely popular Rambo series. Set in the fictional town of Hope, Washington, the plot revolves around John Rambo’s escalating confrontation with a tyrannical local sheriff played by Brian Dennehy. Forced into the wilderness outside of town, Rambo relies on his survival and combat skills to escape capture by hundreds of state troopers and national guardsmen. By turning its veteran hero into a guerrilla fighter like the Việt Cộng, this blockbuster action film played an influential role in America’s reckoning with its first military defeat and helped raise awareness about PTSD.
Oliver Stone’s second film about the war is based on the bestselling autobiography by Ron Kovic, a patriotic Long Islander who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served two tours of duty in Vietnam before a firefight left him paralyzed from the mid-chest down. Struggling to adjust to life in a wheelchair and haunted by his role in the death of a fellow soldier, Kovic battles alcoholism, depression, and PTSD before eventually finding redemption as a leading activist in the anti-war movement. Tom Cruise received his first Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Kovic, who thanked the actor by giving him the original Bronze Star Medal he received after the war.
Directed by Brian De Palma, written by Tony Award-winning playwright David Rabe, starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn, and based on Daniel Lang’s New Yorker article and follow-up book, Casualties of War is the story of the Incident on Hill 192, a notorious war crime committed by U.S troops in 1966. Penn plays Sergeant Tony Meserve, an experienced squad leader who seeks revenge for his friend’s death by ordering his men to kidnap and rape a Vietnamese girl. Fox is Private First Class Max Eriksson, the only member of the patrol brave enough to stand up to Meserve. Told in flashback, the film has a hopeful ending that resonated with viewers seeking to put the horrors of the war behind them. Quentin Tarantino has called it “the greatest film about the Vietnam War.”
According to Michael Moore, it’s “the best documentary I have ever seen” and the movie that inspired him to pick up a camera. But Hearts and Minds polarized audiences even before it was released. Columbia Pictures refused to distribute it, and an interviewee unhappy with his portrayal obtained a temporary restraining order against the producers. Despite the controversy, Peter Davis’s searing indictment of America’s involvement in Vietnam won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in March 1975–one month before the fall of Saigon brought an end to the war. Featuring interviews with subjects on all sides of the conflict, from General William Westmoreland to Daniel Ellsberg to a Vietnamese coffin maker, and a wealth of archival news footage from the font lines and the home front, this landmark film is a must-see for anyone seeking to understand the meaning and significance of the Vietnam War.
Despite a limited number of submarines and other surveillance assets, naval forces in World War II had to find a way to spot enemy obstructions and defenses at fortified islands and beaches.
Into the gap stepped the frogmen and recon swimmers, brave sailors and Marines who swam into enemy waters and surveyed defenses with just snorkels and fins, often with enemy fire raining around them.
On D-Day, these brave men played a critical role ensuring that landing craft could make it to shore and take part in one of the most daring, important assaults of World War II. Hear what it was like to be in the waters at Normandy on that fateful day from the frogmen who were actually there in the interview below:
But the heroics of Naval Combat Demolition Units didn’t stop at D-Day; they played key roles in many defining operations of World War II:
Navy and Marine Corps personnel landing at Tarawa had to do so with limited intelligence and with nearly all obstacles in place at the start of the battle.
(U.S. Marine Corps painting Sergeant Tom Lovell)
Beach landings around the world, but especially the frequent landings in the Pacific during World War II, require good intelligence. Enemy mines and underwater obstacles can cripple a landing force when it’s most vulnerable. To ensure the landing works, attackers have to either avoid or clear such obstacles before the landings are affected.
The Navy learned this lesson the hard way when forces landing at Tarawa just hours after their arrival were forced to fight past a reef, beach obstacles and mines, and machine gun positions that had all been underestimated because no one got eyes directly on them before the fight. The invaders had relied on aerial imagery that couldn’t expose all the hazards.
But when the Navy is short on stealthy assets, like submarines, someone else has to get up close and personal and see where the obstructions are.
“Frogmen,” recon swimmers whose efforts would lead to today’s Navy SEALs, filled this role by jumping out of small boats while wearing just shorts, snorkels, swim masks, and fins. From there, they had to swim along enemy beaches and make mental notes of anywhere they saw natural or man-made obstacles that could hinder a landing.
A Navy frogman in relatively advanced gear for the time. Many frogmen during World War II, especially in the Pacific, made do with just snorkels, masks, and fins.
(National Archives and Records Administration)
If the obstacles were thick and foreboding enough, they had to destroy them, swimming up to mines and other countermeasures and dismantling them in place or blowing them up. Most frogmen served in units named for this task, the “Underwater Demolition Teams,” or UDTs.
Worse, if there was any question of the shore composition, the frogmen were tasked with swimming up to the beach itself, gathering sand, and swimming back with their samples.
Marines landing at Iwo Jima benefited from the swimmers who ensured the approaches were clear of obstacles and checked whether the volcanic sand would allow for the free movement of tracked vehicles.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
While Iwo Jima was revealed to be largely bare of obstacles, the swimmers had to collect the volcanic ash of the beach as Japanese defenders in pillboxes were laying down a thick blanket of fire on the swimmers and their fire support ships. The hail of bullets was so thick that the ships frequently had to leave the line to put out fires and repair damage.
The swimmers had no such safe space. When they landed at Utah and Omaha beaches on D-Day, the Utah team suffered 17 casualties and the Omaha team lost 91 killed and wounded. 37 men died on the two beaches to reduce the threat to the follow-on attackers.
Members of a Naval Combat Demolition Unit hit the beach during training.
They had to sneak up to obstacles and place dozens of pounds of explosives on them to prepare them for destruction, sometimes while close enough to German patrols and sentries to hear them speaking to each other.
The frogmen avoided mortar and small-arms fire by ducking underwater as they swam into the beach. One diver’s account simply stated, “Bullets drifted down like falling leaves.” Amazingly, all but one of the divers returned safely.
Their sacrifices, while great, saved lives. The naval report on Iwo Jima below details some of the frogmen’s work. Skip to 4:15 if you’re only interested in the swimmers.
Along with announcing Aug. 5 that they would soon be ditching the blue digital camouflage Navy Working Uniform Type I, the U.S. Navy said it will also allow the popular “Don’t Tread On Me” patches for its uniforms and would offer new insignia for its boat driving commandos.
As of Oct. 1, any sailor wearing the woodland digital NWU Type III duds can sport the DTOM flag patch in the same camouflage scheme. SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare Unit sailors, or those specifically authorized to wear the desert digital NWU Type II, may also wear a similarly-camouflaged DTOM patch.
MCPON answers a question from Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Miguel Ferrer during an all hands call on March 24, 2016. Note the subdued DOTM patch on his left shoulder and the subdued reverse American flag on his right shoulder. (U.S. Navy photo by Lisa Lill, Naval Hospital Beaufort public affairs officer) (Released)
The Navy also says it will allow sailors to wear the reverse American flag, which denotes units deployed in combat overseas, on the Type II and Type III uniforms.
“During garrison and non-tactical exercises or operations, the non-tactical DTOM and Reverse Flag patches may be optionally worn at the discretion of the unit commanding officer and at the expense of the Sailor,” the Navy announced in Navy Administrations Message 174/16. “During tactical deployment exercises and operations, a tactical DTOM and Reverse Flag patch may be worn at the discretion of the unit commander and approval from the Task Force or Joint Task Force Commander.”
The Navy’s permission for sailors to wear the Don’t Tread On Me patches puts to rest a controversy prompted by a Republican congressional candidate two years ago who said SEALs had been barred from wearing the popular patch over fears it had a political connection to the conservative Tea Party.
As the Washington Post reported at the time, the patch is actually a derivative of the First Navy Jack flag used by the Continental Navy during the American Revolution and was authorized by then-Navy Sec. Gordon England for use on ships after the 9/11 attacks.
Reports indicated the SEALs were barred from wearing the DOTM flag patch for a short time after leaders realized there were no standards for the new digital camouflage outfits. Shortly after the controversy erupted, Naval Special Warfare authorized the DOTM wear for Navy commandos. Now the service is giving the go-ahead for all sailors to don the Revolutionary War-era flag.
The new Navy uniform regs also include a revised series of badges for Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen — an effort the community has been pushing for about five years. The three new badges will denote the qualifications and seniority of the individual crewman and will be phased in beginning this month.
SWCC Basic Insignia: A 2.5 x 1 1/4-inch silver matte metal pin showing a background of a cocked flintlock pistol, a crossed naval enlisted cutlass, and a MK V Special Operations Craft atop a bow wave.
SWCC Senior Insignia: A 2.5 x 1 3/8-inch silver matte metal pin showing a background of an anchor, cocked flintlock pistol, a crossed naval enlisted cutlass and a MK V Special Operations Craft atop a bow wave.
SWCC Master Insignia: A 2.5 x 1 3/8-inch silver matte metal pin showing a background of an anchor with a banner and three gold stars, cocked flintlock pistol, a crossed naval enlisted cutlass and a MK V Special Operations Craft atop a bow wave.
Several Naval Academy alumni have asked the alumni association to rescind an award planned for former U.S. Sen. James Webb because of his decades-old essay questioning the decision to admit women into military service academies.
Webb, who also served as Secretary of the Navy, wrote the 7,000-word essay “Women Can’t Fight” for Washingtonian Magazine in 1979.
“There is a place for women in our military, but not in combat. And their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation,” Webb wrote.
He called the dormitory Bancroft Hall “a horny woman’s dream” and quoted former male alumni arguing that attending the academy is “scarring many women in ways they may not comprehend for years.”
The essay has been described by several alumni as a “manifesto” that potentially empowered male midshipmen to harass their female counterparts.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Laureen Miklos, a 1981 graduate, wrote in an email that the decision by the Naval Academy Alumni Association to give its Distinguished Graduate Award to Webb was “a hit to the gut.” She taught at the academy from 1998 to 2001 and described Webb’s essay as a “living document” still referenced by mids.
Miklos wrote the Annapolis-based association, arguing Webb’s essay validated those who thought women didn’t belong at the academy. She recalled an upperclassmen ordering a female classmate during her time at the academy to stand at attention at meals and shout “I am not a horny woman, Sir.”
Webb plans to be be present Friday when the association holds its Distinguished Graduate Award Ceremony. The award is given to alumni who have “personal character which epitomizes the traits we expect in our officer corps” and have made “significant contributions” as officers or leaders in industry or government.
Webb, who graduated from the academy in 1968, served as a rifle platoon and company commander during the Vietnam War. He earned the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism” and two Purple Hearts for injuries that ended his active-duty career.
Webb released a statement to The Capital on March 27, 2017, saying he wrote a “strongly argumentative magazine article” during the intense national debate of women serving in combat.
“Clearly, if I had been a more mature individual, there are things that I would not have said in that magazine article,” he wrote in the statement. “To the extent that this article subjected women at the academy or the armed forces to undue hardship, I remain profoundly sorry.”
But Webb, who ran a brief campaign for the presidency as a Democrat in 2016, said he doesn’t regret debating the “long-term process of properly assimilating women” into the military. He said he is “deeply proud” of the contributions he made as Secretary of the Navy and a senator from Virginia. He cited the Navy-wide study he commission as secretary, which he said “opened up more positions to women than any secretary in history.”
Retired Adm. Robert Natter, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the association, said in a statement that Webb’s most recent comments “reflect how his views have evolved since that article 38 years ago.” Natter said Webb was selected by an independent selection chaired by retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a classmate of Webb’s and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“His many years of service are a matter of very public record, and on that entire record he was selected as a Distinguished Graduate,” Natter wrote.
Retired Capt. Jack Reape, a 1984 graduate, said an upperclassmen handed him a copy of the essay as a plebe. Reape said he and his classmates didn’t “support the women at the academy” during his time but that has since apologized to several of his female classmates.
Reape said he doesn’t see the point of taking the award from Webb because he “couldn’t name anyone else on that list.” He also said the award doesn’t have a big impact.
“He wouldn’t have been on my list of people,” Reape said. “We were in the Navy, we’re used to things not going to our way and pressing on. It’s the way it goes.”
Kelly Henry, a 1984 graduate, also wrote the association with criticism of the award. Henry said Webb’s essay was highly-circulated while she was in Annapolis and it caused “harm” to many of her classmates.
“The women will tell you that article was like throwing gasoline on the fire,” she said.
Henry said she was one of the “lucky” ones during her time at the academy and was in a company that welcomed the female mids. She said she was surprised to see Webb honored with the award, since 2016 marked the 40th year of women attending the Naval Academy.
She attended the academy’s celebration in the fall.
“At that celebration I felt we were embraced in the community,” Henry said. “We are no longer seen as something that tainted it, but now to see this? It completely takes away that feeling.”
Other 2017 Distinguished Graduates
—Retired Adm. Harry D. Train II ’49 — Train served as NATO supreme allied commander Atlantic and was also commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet from 1978 to 1982. He retired in 1982 and became involved in civic affairs in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
— Milledge A. “Mitch” Hart ’56 — Hart is the founder/co-founder of seven companies. After serving as a Marine in Oklahoma and Okinawa, he worked with alumnus Ross Perot to found Electronic Data Systems, a information technology equipment and services company. He later co-founded Home Depot, which became the second-largest retailer in the country.
—Retired Vice Adm. Cutler Dawson ’70 — Dawson is president and CEO of the Navy Federal Credit Union and was in the Navy for about 35 years. Under Dawson, the Enterprise Battle Group conducted strikes for Operation Desert Fox in the Arabian Gulf and Operation Allied for in the Adriatic Sea. He retired from the military in 2004 and became president of the Vienna, Virginia-based credit union.
—Retired Adm. Eric T. Olson ’73 — Olson is the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the first Navy SEAL to reach three- and four-star rank and the first naval officer to lead Special Operations Command. He retired in 2011 after serving for 38 years. After retiring, he founded ETO Group, an independent national security consulting firm.
It’s also the same province where in early April, Army Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, a Green Beret, died from small arms fire after conducting an operation against ISIS forces.
Army Gen. John Nicholson, top commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has pledged to eliminate ISIS in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
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The 1st Texas Infantry Regiment was a group of veteran soldiers by the time they took part in the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. That day still stands as the bloodiest single day for American soldiers in history, and the hardest hit was the 1st Texas.
But Union Gen. George B. McClellan had found a copy of Lee’s strategic plans and used them to maneuver into position on the Confederates, and Lee’s army was woefully undersupplied and had low morale.
The two armies finally came together on Sep. 16 and began scoping out each other’s positions. By that night, small skirmishes were breaking out as forces maneuvered for better position for the following day.
On Sep. 17, the 1st Texas Infantry was part of a defensive position near a church. A Union advance through a nearby cornfield was overzealous, and the Union forces were relatively scattered when a Confederate brigade that included the 1st Texas suddenly leaped up from the ground and began firing on the soldiers in blue.