When he was just a boy, Jet Li traveled to the United States with the Chinese National Wushu Team. While there, he and his team performed for the American President, then Richard Nixon. It was then that Nixon tried to make the young martial artist his personal bodyguard.
Wushu is the standardized form of Chinese martial arts, created in 1949 to bring all the disparate Chinese arts together. Though relatively young as a sport, the separate forms making up the whole of wushu are much, much older.
Li was only 11 when he met President Nixon. Being selected to represent Chinese wushu practitioners was quite the honor for anyone, let alone an 11-year-old boy — considering an estimated 20 million Chinese people practiced the art form. In 1974, Li was good enough to tour the U.S., a tour that culminated with a performance for the President.
He performed his routine on the White House’s South Lawn as Nixon watched on, standing next to one of Li’s female teammates. After his performance, the young man went to stand next to then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
Next, he was introduced to the President, who was very impressed with his skills.
Nixon leaned in to Li and said, “Young man, your kung fu is very impressive! How about being my bodyguard when you grow up?”
Li replied, “No, I don’t want to protect any individual. When I grow up, I want to defend my one billion Chinese countrymen!”
The room was stunned into silence and no one knew what to say until Kissinger said aloud, “Heavens, such a young boy and he already speaks like a diplomat!”
The next year, Jet Li began his reign as the national martial arts champion, a title he would hold for five consecutive years.
On Sept. 6, 2005, Air Force Pararescueman Master Sgt. Mike Maroney plucked 3-year-old LaShay Brown out of flood-ravaged New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And for a decade after that, they lost touch.
At the time of the rescue, Maroney had spent six days on missions, and was battling post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When we were going to drop [Brown] off she wrapped me in a hug…that hug was everything. Time stopped,” Maroney said in a 2015 Air Force release. “Words fail to express what that hug means to me.”
The hug was captured in an iconic photo by Veronica Pierce, an airman first class at the time. Maroney didn’t know who Brown was, or how she’d fared.
The PJ went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, keeping the photo to inspire him during tough moments. But according to a 2015 Air Force release, he always wondered what happened to the girl, especially around the anniversary of the rescue.
In 2015, they were reunited after 10 years on an episode of “The Real.” Since then, they’ve have stayed in touch.
Two years later, LaShay, now a Junior ROTC cadet, invited Maroney to her school’s JROTC ball. And Maroney accepted.
“I’m going because I would do anything to repay the hug to LaShay and her family. They mean as much to me as my own,” Maroney told People.com.
LaShay has intentions of joining the military but hasn’t decided which branch she will choose, a decision Maroney supports.
“I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does,” he told People. “I think she understands service and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor during World War II, Oregon residents became uneasy. As a west coast state, they felt like Oregon could be the next target. In response to their anxiety about a possible invasion, several towns on the Oregon coast developed citizen militias. They patrolled the beaches hoping to scare off or at least slow down an attack.
The role of Oregon families and children in WWII
Even Oregon schoolboys participated in the citizen-organized war effort. They built model airplanes to help sky watchers identify enemy aircraft. Many cities, including Portland, practiced air raids and blackout drills. Families learned skills they probably never dreamed of learning, including how to neutralize firebombs in case they landed in their homes.
A state suddenly full of active military installments
Oregon also had more formal participation in the war. Pilots from Oregon’s Pendleton Air Base General flew during General Dolittle’s bombing raid on Tokyo. Other bases that represented all military branches were scattered around the state as well.
Strategically inland, the Umatilla Ordnance Depot stockpiled every single type of munition. The Tillamook Navy Air Base supported Military blimps that patrolled the Oregon coastline searching for energy submarines. The state’s largest training base was Camp Adair, which brought in 45,000 new faces to the Corvallis area. This area had previously been nothing but tiny, quiet towns, and now it was bustling with activity. The young ladies surely did enjoy all the young men around.
The only WWII fatalities on the US mainland
The only fatalities from war action on the US mainland happened in Oregon in May 1945. The Japanese had sent thousands of bomb-carrying hydrogen balloons toward the US mainland. Most didn’t make it to land, though about 300 did. Most exploded harmlessly, except for one on Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon’s Fremont National Forest. A minister’s wife and their five children died from the explosion.
Portland prospered thanks to WWII
As often happens during wartime, the US experienced many shortages of pretty much everything. In nearly every town in Oregon, residents pitched in and salvaged scrap metal, paper, and rubber to donate to the war effort. They drove their cars less and cut back on electricity use. They even donated bacon grease if you can believe it.
Yet from industry to agriculture, production was booming. Portland grew and prospered as a result, as did many cities. People from the smaller towns in Oregon came to Portland during the war period looking for work, knowing they would get it.
All sorts of industries needed hired help, including shipyards and aircraft factories. Many rural loggers happily came in and took those jobs because they paid a lot more money. Women also came to work in fields that would have never been available to them without the war. Thanks to all the new help, three Portland-area shipyards built over 700 vessels during the war.
Alaska is still considered the last frontier, even in today’s modern times. The unforgiving and extreme weather coupled with the rough terrain makes it a challenging place to live. One hundred years ago – during the Spanish Flu – it was even more deadly.
The world is very familiar with the new words in our daily vocabulary: quarantine, face mask and social distancing, thanks to COVID-19 and the current global pandemic. Just 100 years ago this was the case as well, during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu. The big difference between then and now are the extreme advancements in technology and medical care. According to the CDC, 500 million people were positive and 50 million people died from the Spanish Flu.
In a wild place like Alaska with scarce medical care, it was a sure death sentence.
When the Spanish Flu arrived in Alaska during the spring of 1919, it wiped out villages – and fast. World War I had just ended and on May 26, 1919, the USS Unalga was patrolling around the Aleutian Islands, near Akun Island located in Seredka Bay. The crew and ship were still technically considered part of the Navy, with the war only ending shortly before that. Their role in that moment was law enforcement, inspection, mail transport and rescues. They were also a floating court and were able to give medical care to those in need.
After a full day of training, the crew was resting when they received a distress call from a newer settlement on Unalaska Island. They reported a severe outbreak of the Spanish Flu. The Coast Guard didn’t hesitate; they planned to get underway at dawn. Although they would receive another distress call from a settlement in Bristol Bay, the captain made the decision to head to Unalaska Island first.
When the crew made their way off the ship, they were shocked. It was if the entirety of the settlement had been infected with the Spanish Flu, the doctor included. They also discovered that all but one operator of the small U.S. Navy radio station had it as well. The coastie crew of the USS Unalga was their last hope of survival.
With that, the 80 coasties dove in. Pharmacist’s Mate First Class E.S. Chase, Lieutenant Junior Grade Dr. F.H. Johnson and Lieutenant E.W. Scott (a dentist), were the only men on board with advanced medical training. Despite that, they were all in. For over a week they were the only resource of support for Unalaska with nothing but cloth masks to protect themselves.
The captain made the decision to utilize the food on board to feed the entire town. At one point, they were providing up to 1,000 meals a day. The coasties even built a temporary hospital with pumping and electricity that was powered through the ship’s own power plant.
Without the proper protective equipment that today we know is critical, many of the crew fell ill themselves, including the captain. Despite this, they charged on and continued working. Although the 80 coasties fought to save everyone, they did bury 45 villagers who succumbed to the Spanish Flu.
The crew was not only caring for the ill, but for the children of those who died because the orphanage became full. Without their willingness to step forward, the children were at risk of dying from starvation, the elements and even documented feral dogs that were roaming the island. Some of the crew even made clothing for the children.
On June 3, 1919, the Coast Guard Cutter arrived to support their efforts. With both crews nursing and caring for the sick, recovery began. Due to the dedication of these coasties, the mortality rate of the village was only 12 percent. The majority of Alaska was at 90 percent mortality. At the end of the Spanish flu, around 3,000 Alaskans lost their lives, most of them natives.
Thanks to these coasties, this village was spared that fate.
The mortar round detonated on impact, sending thousands of pieces of shrapnel through the plane and crew. Levitow was hit with 40 pieces of shrapnel, and the other six members of the crew didn’t fare much better.
But the worst piece of news was still coming. Levitow started to drag another injured crew member away from the door before he spotted an armed Mk-24 flare that was smoking and rolling around near stored ammo.
The flares operate on a timer set to anywhere between 5 and 30 seconds. Once armed, a crewmember would throw the flare out the door and it would parachute down. Magnesium in the flare would ignite a 4,000 degree Fahrenheit flame that illuminated the battlefield.
Levitow, despite his serious wound from the shrapnel, crawled his way to the 27-pound flare and attempted to grab it three times, but it kept escaping his hands. So he threw himself on it, clutched it to his body, and dragged it towards the door.
“I had the aircraft in a 30-degree bank, and how Levitow ever managed to get to the flare and throw it out, I’ll never know,” said pilot Maj. Kenneth Carpenter.
Somehow, Levitow got the flare to the door and out of the plane just before it ignited, saving everyone aboard. The pilot was able to limp the plane back to an emergency landing.
For Levitow, that was his 181st mission. He recovered from his wounds and completed another 20 combat missions before heading home and receiving his discharge paperwork in August 1969.
The Vietnam War went on for a long time, from 1955-1975. The war killed over 58,000 Americans and had a total death count of millions. For US soldiers, many of whom were drafted, one of the worst parts of the whole deal was that they knew their efforts were in vain. Why? No one likes to admit defeat, least of all America. At a certain point, it became clear the US couldn’t win the war.
Vietnam has never been an easy conversation
Talking about war has never been easy. Vietnam was the first war that was televised and reported on in real-time, so the public formed opinions as events unfolded. As anyone who’s spent time downrange can tell you, that’s not always a good thing. As the country navigated 20 years of war, the American people continued to feel its effects more and more. That’s no more true than in smaller communities like those in the West Virginian mountains.
The town of Wheeling, West Virginia’s population hovers just over 20,000 today. During the Vietnam Era, it was even smaller. The tight-knit community endured funeral after funeral of fallen Vietnam War soldiers. In late February 1967, Wheeling buried another one of their own, Marine Corporeal George Edward McRobbie. He was only 21 years old. By that time, two other Wheeling soldiers had already been laid to rest that year. And in 1967 alone, Wheeling lost 26 young men to the war.
West Virginians sure showed up in large mumbers for the Vietnam War
It wasn’t just Wheeling, either. More West Virginians served and fell in the Vietnam War per capita than any other state. In total, 36,578 West Virginians served, and most of them began as teenagers. Of those, 1,128 were killed. Throughout the 1960s in West Virginia, burying fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers was a common occurrence.
Among the West Virginians who served was a conscientious objector and medic Thomas W. Bennett from Morgantown. He was the only conscientious objector in the Vietnam War to earn the Medal of Honor.
In general, rural guys from West Virginia and even some women were ready to fight in the Vietnam War, draft, or no draft. Once in active combat, many of their assignments were things like walking points in the jungle, thanks to the fact that they already had experience tracking and with guns. This prior experience may be the key to understanding why West Virginia soldiers had such a high fatality rate per capita in the war. So many were put on the front lines in dangerous positions because they could handle it.
But the West Virginian youth eventually turned their backs on the war
As we all know, the news coverage of the war, particularly the brutal series of attacks by the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, turned many citizens against the conflict. Unfortunately, the young soldiers often took the brunt of the criticism. By 1968, West Virginia high schoolers who had once been eager to serve their country no longer viewed the war as honorable and began to dread the potential of being drafted.
Regardless, the brave soldiers from West Virginia and throughout the country who served in Vietnam simply did what their country required of them.
Three years of a heavy-casualty war came to a close on this date in 1953 when the Korean War Armistice was signed. This conflict ended America’s first brush with the Cold War concept of “limited war,” which was the first “hot” war of the Cold War, where the aim of US involvement was not the total defeat of the enemy but instead the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. During the three years of war, over 55,000 American troops were killed in action.
Korea was a Japanese colony for 35 years, from 1910-1045 until the US and the Soviet Union occupied it after WWII. The US proposed that the country temporarily be divided along the 38th Parallel to maintain influence in the region. Three years later, in 1948, the American-baked anti-communist southern government administration declared itself the Republic of Korea. The Soviet-back, communist north was quick to follow and declared itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shortly after. Both governments were unstable, and border skirmishes were frequent before the Korean War officially began.
When the community of North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, the U.S. quickly acted and secured a resolution from the United Nations calling for military defense. Within days, US forces had joined the battle by land, air, and sea.
Even though the armistice officially stopped hostilities between North and South Korea, it’s not a permanent peace treaty. The armistice agreement suspended open hostilities and withdrew all military forces.
Lots of brass was on hand to sign several copies. Eighteen official copies were signed in three different languages by US Army Lt. Gen. Willian K. Harrison, Jr., senior delegate, UN Command Delegation, North Korean Gen. Nam II, senior delegate, and delegations from both the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers were present for signatures.
It took a while to get to the discussion table. The armistice marked the end of the longest negotiated armistice in history. Spread over two years and 17 days, 158 meetings took place.
The established committee of representatives from neutral countries worked together to decide what would happen to POWs. Eventually, it was decided that POWs could choose what they wanted to do – stay where they were or return to their own country.
There were plenty of high-level POWs. One of the most well known is when US Army Brigadier General Francis Townsend Dodd was held hostage by North Korean POWs during a camp uprising. The incident was used widely to showcase North Korean victories and eventually led to the end of Dodd’s career.
Death tolls on all sides were significant and heavy. Currently, there are still more than 7,000 US soldiers missing in action from the war. There were up to a total of 5 million dead, wounded, or missing on both sides. Half of them were civilians.
New borders were drawn at the discussion table. This new border gave South Korea additional territory and established the Demilitarized Zone as a buffer between the forces.
It took twelve hours for the truce to go into effect. It was signed at 1000 and activated at 2200. But then, the US decided to lengthen the war period to January 31, 1955, to extend benefits eligibility for service members.
The Korean War armistice is strictly a military document, so there’s no nation as a signatory to the agreement. In March 2013, North Korean decided that the 1953 armistice was no longer valid. And, since neither side can claim they won the war, the region is now at an impasse.
It’s often called “The Forgotten War,” partly because of the lack of media coverage about the Korean war, post-conflict. Compared to WWII, there are far fewer movies about the Korean War than WWII. Officially, it’s still classified as a “police action” because President Truman never asked Congress for a formal declaration of war.
Sixteen countries participated in the conflict, but it’s not considered a “World War” by historians, even though it set the tone for the decades of Soviet-American rivalry and profoundly shaped the world we live in today.
Speaking of numbers, the U.S. dropped more bombs in Korean than in the Pacific Theater during WWII. In addition to 32,557 tons of napalm, U.S. forces dropped 635,000 tons of bombs.
It might be the forgotten war, but may we never forget.
In 1921, after World War I, Congress wanted to find a way to reflect the nation’s gratitude to the many unknown dead who fought in the Great War, so they passed a series of acts authorizing Medals of Honor for the unknown casualties of not only the American Expeditionary Forces, but also the unknown casualties of European allies.
Oddly enough, the first act of Congress to award Medals of Honor to unknown soldiers was for Great Britain and French soldiers, not American. On March 4, 1921, an act was approved that…
…the President of the United States of America be, and he hereby is, authorized to bestow with appropriate ceremonies, military and civil, the Congressional Medal of Honor upon the unknown, unidentified British soldier buried in Westminster Abbey, London, England, and upon the unknown, unidentified French soldier buried in the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France….
The act approving a Medal of Honor for the unknown American followed just a few months later, in August.
By virtue of an act of Congress approved 24 August 1921, the Medal of Honor, emblem of highest ideals and virtues is bestowed in the name of the Congress of the United States upon the unknown American, typifying the gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, of our beloved heroes who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War. They died in order that others might live….
An award for the “unknown, unidentified Italian soldier to be buried in the National Monument to Victor Emanual 11, in Rome,” was approved that October. A Medal of Honor for the unknown Belgian soldier was approved in December 1922, and an act was approved for the Romanian unknown soldier in May 1923.
French Marshall Joseph Joffre inspects Romanian troops during World War I. Romanian forces fought alongside Americans during the war, and Congress approved a Medal of Honor for their unknown deceased in 1923. No award for the unknown deceased of an allied force has been approved since.
The wording for each international award differs slightly — the act for the British and French unknown was “animated by the same spirit of comradeship in which the American forces fought alongside these Allies,” while the Italian act cites the “spirit of friendship,” — but all of the awards to allied unknowns were due to the American “desire to add whatever we can to the imperishable glory won by their deeds and to participate in paying tribute to their unknown dead.”
Congress has not approved a new award for the unknown deceased of allied forces since 1923, but it has approved a new award of the Medal of Honor for the unknown Americans interred from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The acts were approved in 1948, 1957, and 1984.
Note that while the unknown deceased are interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the acts approving the Medals of Honor are worded to honor the deeds of the “unknown American” and apply to all unknown Americans who died in service to their country in the respective theater of war.
All unit patches in the Army are based on something. The 25th ID patch pays homage to their home state of Hawaii. The 3rd ID patch showcases the major battles they were a part of in WWI. The 1st ID went with a big, red one because lieutenants are creative. But it’s the 101st Airborne who has them beat — all thanks to “Old Abe,” who was one badass bird.
Old Abe was captured as a baby bald eaglet in 1861 by Ahgamahwegezhig (Chief Sky). He was sold for a bushel of corn to Daniel McCann, a rich aristocrat, to be kept as a family pet. It turns out, however, that keeping a bald eagle as a pet was more of an expensive headache than McCann originally thought.
So, Abe was again sold for a whole $2.50 (paid in quarters, partly borrowed from friend) to Capt. John E. Perkins of a Wisconsin Militia, The Eau Claire Badgers. The Badgers then quickly became the Eau Claire Eagles — because of this bird. When his unit was activated and re-designated as the Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment to enter the American Civil War, Perkins decided to finally give the baby bird a name — “Old Abe.”
Perkins brought Abe into every battle in which he and his unit fought. The 8th Wisconsin VIR fought across the Western Theater. It’s said that wherever Perkins’ unit went, Abe’s battle cry was heard across the battlefield, thereby earning the title of “screaming eagle.” As he flew overhead, the Union troops would be reinvigorated. At the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, Confederate Gen. Sterling Price said,
That bird must be captured or killed at all hazards. I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags!
Abe saw 36 battles and was wounded twice but still kept intimidating Confederate troops with his cries.
When the 8th Wisconsin was mustered back home in late 1864, Old Abe followed. He had become a celebrity to everyone in Wisconsin. People came from far and wide to see the war eagle. He made tours across the country and was used to raise funds for veterans’ issues.
Old Abe passed due to complications caused by smoke inhalation in 1881. His remains were preserved and displayed at the Wisconsin Capital building until a fire destroyed the display in 1904. A few of Old Abe’s feathers remain very carefully preserved at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum in Madison.
His likeness would be used in 1921 by the newly formed 101st when they were still an Army Reserve unit. They were then activated to Regular Army in 1942. Maj. Gen. William C. Lee said, “[our division] has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.”
The 101st would prove his sentiment true time and time again with Old Abe on their shoulders.
During the thick of the 1991 Gulf War, anti-Iraqi coalition forces were mounting some 2,000 air sorties against Iraqi targets in the Middle East. In retaliation, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired scud missiles at Israel.
The U.S. obviously wanted to keep that from happening.
Now, if you’ve been keeping track, the Israelis don’t take kindly to threats. Or attacks. Especially scud missile attacks. Over the course of 17 days, Iraq fired 39 Scud Missiles at the highly populated coastal cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. An estimated 147 Israelis were killed.
To give you an idea of how Israel tends to retaliate to this sort of thing, the 1972 Munich Olympics attack killed 11 Israelis. In response, Israeli intelligence – the Mossad – launched Operation (no joke) WRATH OF GOD. They hunted down every Arab plotter of the Munich massacre and killed them. For 20 years.
Only the Mossad wasn’t about to wait 20 years to ice Saddam.
In 1992, they came up with Operation Bramble Bush, their plan to assassinate the Iraqi dictator. One agent, Nadav Zeevi, was tasked to find a pattern in Saddam’s movements. Then, the Israelis would track the dictator to where he would spend a longer amount of time. Once Saddam settled into a location, the Israelis would have their revenge.
But instead of an air strike, Israel wanted to mount a “glamorous” commando raid, using Sayeret Matkal special operators in a kill, definitely not capture mission. One version of the proposed raid had commandos launching missiles at Saddam during a funeral.
Israel mounted crazy, balls-out commando raids in the past. Their legendary raid on Entebbe featured a caravan of cars designed to resemble Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s entourage. They flew into Uganda, landed at the airport, drove off to the terminal, killed every terrorist, and then took their hostages to waiting planes in a hail of gunfire.
Unfortunately for history, they had to abort the idea. It was difficult to track Saddam because of the sheer number of his body doubles. Agent Zeevi even thought to just watch the dictator’s mistresses, but the body doubles also fooled the mistresses.
To make matters worse, a dry run in Israel’s Negev Desert went horribly awry. Troops training for the raid in 1992 accidentally fired a live missile, killing five IDF soldiers. The accident led to officials canceling the operation.
They thought they might try again in 1999, waiting until Saddam was in a designated location. 40 operators divided into two groups; one within 200 meters of the location, painting the location as a target, the other six miles away, firing three Midras missiles on that target.
That plan was scrapped because the Americans and British were bombing Iraq anyway. And in the end, they didn’t have to assassinate the dictator. But let their effort be a lesson: just leave Israel alone.
We’ve all heard of fighter aces. We’re talking legends like Robin Olds, Duke Cunningham, Pappy Boyington, James Howard, Jimmy Thach, and Swede Vejtasa. Germany had their own aces, and while Erich Hartmann and Adolf Galland are just some who attained immortality with their feats in the skies, others, like Otto Kretschmer and Gunther Prien, were renowned for what they did under the sea.
Kretschmer and Prien were both considered “U-boat aces,” and according to uboat.net, they were part of an elite group. Out of 498 men in World War I, and 1,401 in World War II who commanded U-boats, only a total of 71 men sank more than 100,000 tons of enemy shipping. The tonnage totals are eye-popping in comparison to American commanders, many of whom were rotated out of front-line duty to train new crewmen, similar to the policy used for ace fighter pilots like Thach.
America’s top sub skippers, like Eli Reich or Joe Enright, earned their notoriety on single missions. Reich sank the only battleship to be sunk by American submarines during the war, avenging fallen shipmates, while Enright holds the distinction of sinking the Shinano, the largest vessel ever sink by a submarine.
Germany’s U-boat aces pulled some incredible feats, themselves. Prien, for instance, earned his fame by sneaking into the British naval base of Scapa Flow and sinking the battleship HMS Royal Oak. 825 British sailors died when the Revenge-class battleship was hit by three torpedoes.
Kretschmer was the top-ranking U-boat ace of World War II, sinking 46 ships totaling over 274,000 tons of displacement. Compare that to the JANAC total credited to USS Tang (SS 306), Medal of Honor recipient Richard O’Kane’s command, which sank 24 ships totaling 93,824 tons of displacement.
Once the US entered World War II, the government did not have any time to waste in getting new air bases and training facilities up and running. One of such bases was a short eight miles outside of Herington Kansas: the Herington Army Airfield. Construction on the base began in September 1942 with completion just 14 months later. One minute it was a grassy prairie and the next, a rumbling concrete jungle. Who would have thought?
Herington’s Path from Rags to Riches
Herington Army Airfield’s original purpose was to serve as an Interceptor Command Base for B-17 and B-24 Bombers from the Wichita Boeing Assembling Plant. But by June 1944, Herington kicked it up a notch and was transformed into one of the most powerful Air Bases of World War II.
They expanded the runways for B-29 Superfortress bombers, the largest, most devastating war machines the world had ever seen. The rapid building, modification, and delivery of tons and tons of B-29’s was nicknamed the Battle of Kansas, in part because of all the technical issues these massive aircraft faced in their production. Also, it was up to the already overworked, tired personnel at Herington and other Kansas airfields to get these machines up and running.
But Herington exceeded expectations. Of all the B-29’s that went to war, 60 percent were processed at Herington. At its height, it processed an average of 76 aircraft and 86 crews per month. It was a B-29 processed by Herington, the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ended the war once and for all. In other words, Herington was as essential to the war as they come.
Turning a Depression Town Upside-Down
Herington served the people of the US in more ways than providing top-notch fighter planes and crews, however. The war effort turned Herington from a sad Depression town into a booming hotspot in the middle of Kansas. Farmers, housewives, and high schoolers all had to go to work to support the base. People opened their homes and turned spare bedrooms into spaces to accommodate Airmen and their sweethearts.
Herington’s Slow Return to Mother Nature
Then suddenly, the war ended, and Herington Army Airfield was shut down and considered surplus war property. Still, plenty of its structures were salvaged for reuse. This includes buildings that were transformed from housing for troops to housing for farm animals. Next, the infirmary turned into Herington’s municipal hospital. Beech Aircraft Corporation bought the runways for airplane manufacturing. When Beech left Herington in 1960, the former base was all but forgotten for many years. It wasn’t until 1988 when an entrepreneur from California bought the derelict north-end hangar for his company Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation and poured money into its restoration. Today, it technically still serves as a place to restore old warbirds, though sadly, production is now at an indefinite standstill and Mother Nature is slowly taking the area back over as her own.
Asian-American men and women have participated in the U.S. Coast Guard for over 165 years, playing an important role in the history of the service and its predecessor services.
Cultural contact with Asian peoples came only as the nation’s borders expanded to the Pacific Rim. The first documented case of an Asian man serving aboard a Coast Guard asset took place in 1853, when the San Francisco-based cutter Argus rescued the lone survivor of the dismasted junk Yatha Maru, fed and clothed him, and enlisted him into the crew. The cutter’s commanding officer, Lt. William Pease, phonetically spelled this first Asian recruit’s name as “Dee-Yee-Noskee.”
Cutter muster roles tell the rest of the story of Asian participation in the 19th century. Ethnically Asian names begin to appear on cutter muster rolls just after the Civil War. Expanded revenue cutter operations in the Pacific and the purchase of Alaska in 1867 presented an opportunity for more Chinese, Japanese and Filipino men to enter the rolls on West Coast cutters. As with other minorities, these men initially filled positions in food service or non-ranking enlisted rates. By the end of the century, virtually every Pacific-based cutter employed Asian crew members.
Two notable Asian service members defied the West Coast pattern and enlisted on the East Coast. Chiaio-shung Soong emigrated from China to Boston as a teenager to work in his uncle’s teashop. Dissatisfied with this work, Soong enlisted aboard the cutter Schuyler Colfax in 1879 and transferred to the North Carolina-based cutter Gallatin a year later. After his brief career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, Soong attended Duke and Vanderbilt universities before returning to China as a missionary. He became a wealthy and influential power broker in Chinese politics and his children were among early 20th century China’s most powerful military, political and economic leaders. In addition, April 1904 saw 37-year-old F. Miguchi, of Kobe, Japan, enlist as a cook aboard the cutter Gresham. Before he left the service in December 1905, he had advanced in rate from ship’s cook to wardroom steward; saved the life of a drowning cutterman; and received the first Silver Lifesaving Medal awarded to a minority Coast Guardsman. Little else is known about Miguchi and even his first name remains a mystery to this day.
(Courtesy of the 5th Avenue Methodist Church, Wilmington)
Wars in the Pacific had a major influence on Asian-American service in the Coast Guard. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Asian recruits continued to serve mainly on cutters based out of the West Coast. However, the 1898 Spanish-American War altered the service’s recruiting and the early 1900s saw countless Asian enlistments from captured territory, primarily the Philippines. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese-Americans were excluded from participating in the Coast Guard bringing to a temporary close an 85-year record of ethnically Japanese service members. That policy was later rescinded and Japanese-Americans returned to the service.
During World War II, Filipinos comprised the largest Asian group to serve in the Coast Guard. Most of these men were American citizens, but many native Filipino military men transferred to the Coast Guard after the Japanese captured their homeland in 1942. The exiled president of the Philippines even transferred the patrol boat Bataan and its crew to the Coast Guard for the duration of the war. Native Filipino Florence Finch worked for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence office before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. After the fall of the island nation, she smuggled supplies to American prisoners-of-war and Filipino guerrillas. The Japanese arrested Finch, but American forces freed her in early 1945 and she boarded a Coast Guard-manned transport bound for the U.S. She next enlisted in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, or SPARs, becoming the first Asian-American woman to don a Coast Guard uniform.
(Coast Guard Collection)
Asian-Americans were also the first minority graduates of the Coast Guard Academy. In 1949, Chinese-American Jack Ngum Jones became the first minority officer to graduate from the Academy. Native Chinese Kwang-Ping Hsu graduated from the Academy in 1962. He was the first foreign-born Academy graduate and one of the Coast Guard’s first minority Coast Guard aviators, flying missions primarily in the Arctic and Antarctic. Harry Toshiyuki Suzuki graduated in 1963. In 1979, Filipino Wilfredo Tamayo completed the Academy’s International Cadet Program. He was one of the first graduates of the program and he later became the 22nd commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard. The year 1980 saw Japanese-American Moynee Smith become the first minority female graduate of the Academy and, in 1982, Jeanien Yee became the second Asian-American graduate. In 1986, Hung Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy.
(Coast Guard Collection)
Recent decades have seen Asian-American service members enter senior officer and enlisted levels in all branches of the service. For example, 1958 saw Manuel Tubella transfer from the Marine Corps to become the service’s second minority aviator and advanced to the rank of captain. In 2013, Rear Adm. Joseph Vojvodich became the Coast Guard’s first Asian-American flag officer and, in 2016, Rear Adm. Andrew Tiongson became the service’s second Asian-American flag officer.
For over 165 years, thousands of ethnically Asian men and women have served with distinction in the U.S. Coast Guard. They have been diligent members of the long blue line and they will play an important role in shaping the service in the 21st century.