This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK's older brother - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Operation Aphrodite was a top-secret attempt by the Army and Navy to turn old airplanes into suicide drones during World War II. B-17s and B-24s that were past their service life would be packed with several tons of Torpex, an explosive with twice the power of TNT, and then piloted into heavily-fortified targets.


The planes would take off under control of a pilot and flight engineers before they bailed out. The drones would then be remotely piloted to targets in Nazi Germany via a “mother-plane,” a specially outfitted bomber with remote control of the drone. The hope was that the concentrated mass of explosives would be successful in cracking bunkers and other defenses that survived standard bombing runs.

The program ran from August 1944 to January 1945 but was a massive failure: More Allied service members were killed than Germans and more damage was done to England than to Germany.

One of the pilots killed in the operation was the older brother of future-President John F. Kennedy.

Navy Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy had completed his quota of missions months before, but he and his crew had stayed in theater to support the D-Day invasions and the beginning of the advance across Europe. They served primarily in anti-submarine patrols. By the end of July 1944, Kennedy’s crew was headed stateside.

Kennedy again volunteered to stay and joined Operation Aphrodite where he was assigned to fly drones to 10,000 feet before bailing and allowing the mother-plane to take over.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
A BQ-8 takes off. Photo: US Army Air Force

Kennedy and Lt. Wilford J. Willy flew a BQ-8, the designation for the converted B-24s, on August 12, 1944. Kennedy and Willy never made it to their bailout point. The cause of the mishap was never discovered, but the explosives on the Liberator detonated prematurely, killing both pilots and destroying the plane instantly.

Kennedy was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and the Air Medal.

The failed missions of Operation Aphrodite would continue until the following January when the program was indefinitely suspended and never restarted.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the world’s largest-ever tank battles was between India and Pakistan

When we think of the largest tank battles in military history, we probably think of epic slugfests like the World War II Battle of Kursk between the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany. More recently, we might look to the Battle of 73 Easting during the Gulf War.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
An Iraqi Type 69 main battle tank burns after an attack by the 1st United Kingdom Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm.

The battles between India and Pakistan often get overlooked in the minds of even the most hardcore tank fans, but some of history’s most hardcore fighting happened between the two former British possessions. 

In fact, the two have been fighting ever since the British withdrew from India and Pakistan. The first war happened pretty much immediately, as the two countries squared off over who would control the areas of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. The first war didn’t really settle anything, so they were back at it nearly 20 years later. 

Just before India launched a full-scale invasion of Kashmir in 1965, Pakistan sent thousands of soldiers into the area dressed as locals. The Indians found out somehow and retaliated with almost its entire army, which included more than 180 Centurion tanks, 340 Sherman tanks, and an estimated 700,000 infantry, not to mention its air forces. 

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
The hull of an M4A1 Sherman tank destroyed in the Indo-Pakistani war.

Knowing the war lasted a little less than a month, one might think that India sent in an overwhelming force to push Pakistan out of Kashmir for good. They would be wrong. Pakistan was already prepared for the war their intended insurgency might cause. Both sides made significant gains in the first few weeks of fighting, aiming at different goals. 

A few days before a United Nations ceasefire forced an end to the fighting, the two sides met at Chawinda in the Punjab area of Pakistan. India was attempting to counter the Pakistani advance into Kashmir. The Indians sent an entire Corps into the area near Chawinda with an estimated 150,000 infantry and 260 tanks. Initially, the Indians annihilated an enemy infantry regiment and pushed the Pakistani forces back to Chawinda. 

Outnumbered by a margin of around ten to one, the Pakistanis dug in at Chawinda. With repeated losses to the Indians at Phillora and Asal Uttar in an attempt to divert the Indians away from Chawinda, things looked pretty bleak for the Pakistani defenders. 

But despite repeated Indian attacks on Chawinda, the Pakistanis held out long enough for reinforcements to arrive. When the Indian Army launched its major assault on Chawinda on September 18, 1965, the Pakistanis’ strength had grown to 132 tanks and 50,000 defenders. They were still outnumbered but they repelled the Indians.

In fact, the Indian attack was so unsuccessful, and they took such heavy losses trying it, that they were forced to withdraw from Chawinda and both sides stopped their offensive plans. When the United Nations-brokered ceasefire came, both India and Pakistan were so bloodied and bruised, the ceasefire was welcome news. 

Pakistan lost 60 tanks defending Chawinda, nearly half of its force there. India lost almost the same ratio of tanks, an estimated 100 or more. When all was said and done, the Battle of Chawinda was the largest tank on tank battle since the World War II Battle of Kursk. 

India withdrew from Chawinda on September 19, and the ceasefire went into effect on the 22nd. The 1965 war ended on September 23, probably to the relief of both sides. The war didn’t change much of anything, except ceding a little bit of Pakistani territory to India. Even that was returned just ten years later, when the Soviet Union mediated a peace agreement between the two in Tashkent.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This American Olympic gold medalist also fought in the Battle of Britain

William Meade Lindsley Fiske III was born in Chicago in 1911. The son of a wealthy New England banker, Fiske attended school in Chicago before moving to France in 1924. It was there that he developed his love of winter sports; especially bobsled.

At the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 16-year-old Fiske drove the five-man U.S. bobsled team to its first Olympic win and became the youngest gold medalist in any winter sport, a record that stood until 1992. In the following years, he also took up European motorsport and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 1931. At the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, Fiske earned his second gold medal for bobsledding as the driver of the U.S. four-man team.


He was invited to lead the U.S. bobsled team at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany, but declined. It is speculated that Fiske declined because of his disapproval of German politics at the time. This sentiment towards Hitler’s Nazi regime would explain Fiske’s determination to join the war effort in the coming years.

At the outbreak of WWII, Fiske was working as a banker at the London office of the New York-based bank, Dillon, Reed Co. With an interest in his safety, the bank recalled Fiske to their New York headquarters. However, on August 30, 1939, Fiske returned to England with a colleague in order to join the war effort. Fiske’s colleague was a member of No. 61 (County of London) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron and inspired him to join the RAF.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Fiske’s passport. (Scanned copy from the Royal Air Force Museum)

Because of America’s declared neutrality at the time, Fiske pretended to be Canadian in order to join the Royal Air Force Reserve. Having “duly pledged his life and loyalty to the King, George VI,” Fiske wrote in his diary, “I believe I can lay claim to being the first U.S. citizen to join the RAF in England after the outbreak of hostilities.” He was promoted to Pilot Officer on March 23, 1940 and began his flight training, after which he joined No. 601 Squadron RAF on July 12.

Flying the Hawker Hurricane, Fiske flew his first patrols with the squadron on July 20. As the Battle of Britain raged on, Fiske continued to fly combat missions against the onslaught of German bombers. On August 16, No. 601 Squadron was scrambled to intercept a formation of Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers. Although the squadron shot down eight of the enemy bombers, Fiske’s Hurricane was hit in its fuel tank and caught fire.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Fiske’s official RAF Reserve portrait. (US Air Force archived photo)

Despite his aircraft being damaged and his hands and ankles being burned, Fiske refused to bail out of his aircraft. Instead, he nursed his knackered Hurricane back to the airfield and landed safely. Ambulance attendants rushed out and extracted Fiske from his plane shortly before its fuel tank exploded. He was taken to Royal West Sussex Hospital where he was treated for his wounds. Tragically, Fiske died 2 days later from surgical shock. He was buried on August 20 with both a Union Jack and Stars and Stripes draped over his coffin.

On July 4, 1941, a plaque honoring Fiske was unveiled at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which reads, “An American citizen who died that England might live.” Additionally, in 2008, a stained glass window depicting Fiske’s Hurricane and an American flag was dedicated at Boxgrove Priory where he is buried. Fiske’s legacy is not forgotten, however, in his home country.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

The stained glass tribute to Fiske’s memory. (Photo by the Boxgrove Priory)

The United States Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation created the Billy Fiske Memorial Trophy as a tribute to the fallen pilot. The trophy is awarded to the national champion four-man bobsled team each year. Additionally, a line in the 2001 film Pearl Harbor is rumored to be a reference to Fiske. In it, U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Capt. Rafe McCawley (played by Ben Affleck), travels to England to fly with the RAF prior to America’s entry into the war. Showing McCawley the plane that he’ll be flying, the RAF commander remarks on the bravery of the plane’s previous pilot. “Good chap. Didn’t die till he’d landed and shut down his engine.” Finally, Fiske can be credited with the development of the popular Aspen Ski Resort. Along with his friend, Ted Ryan, Fiske opened up a ski lodge and built the first ski lift in Aspen in 1937. After the war, others would continue their work and develop Aspen into the world-famous skiing destination it is today.

Although Fiske didn’t shoot down any enemy planes, his determination to fight against the Nazis served as an inspiration for other Americans to join the RAF and eventually form the famous Eagle Squadrons. Despite his privileged upbringing and successful life in sports and banking, Fiske’s unwavering conviction led him to fight and die for the sake of freedom. Echoing the words of Winston Churchill, Fiske is one of the few who was owed so much by so many during the Battle of Britain.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the adorable way military working dogs retire

Military working dogs go through lives of intense national service, trained from near birth to mind human commands and either fight bad guys or hunt for dangerous substances and contraband. But they’re still living creatures, and they are allowed to retire and live out their days after their service is done.


And, since this is the military, there’s a ceremony involved. But when you do retirement ceremonies with healthy, eager dogs, it’s actually a pretty adorable experience.

In this video from Fort Benning, the 904th Military Working Dog Police Detachment held a ceremony to retire two of their working dogs. Max is a Belgian Malinois with 10 years of service and Grisha is a Malinois who had spent four years at Fort Benning. Both dogs received Army Commendation Medals and were slated to live out their days in the civilian world.

Military working dogs serve in a variety of roles. The most visible is likely the dogs trained to detect improvised explosive devices and similar threats like mines and suicide vehicles. These animals are employed across the world, especially at forward bases and combat outposts.

But the military also has dogs that detect drugs to aid law enforcement agencies on military installations, as well as cadaver dogs which are unfortunately required to help find bodies after disasters.

But the animals also serve on the front lines or in raids. Special operators like Navy SEALs now take dogs on some missions to help keep curious onlookers back or even to take direct action against enemy fighters, using their teeth to harm foes or just to pin people down so the SEALs can sort hostages and civilians from fighters in relative safety.

One of the newer ways for animals to serve is in emotional support roles, a job which hearkens back to some of the earliest animals in military units. Animal mascots have been common to military units for centuries, and troops have long looked to the mascots for companionship.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Mountain fighting was hell for Italy’s elite WWI shock troops

World War I’s western front stretched from the English Channel to the Adriatic Sea and passed through the Italian Alps. The soldiers there were miserable and the conflict was characterized by long, bloody deadlock.

Life for soldiers of the Italian Army was no different. They were poorly equipped and trained, which was even worse horrible when combined with the incompetence of many high-ranking officers. This lack of leadership and equipment is a key reason Austro-Hungarian troops were able to invade the northeast part of Italy.


This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Soldiers on WWI’s Italian front fought enemies, frostbite, and avalanches.

In 1915, a sudden breakthrough came for the Italians in the form of a special operations unit. Some Italian officers and enlisted men volunteered to go behind enemy lines to gather information and create confusion among their enemies. These volunteers took the name of “Esploratori Arditi” – or “hardy explorers.”

These men were noted for their bravery and initiative and, by the end of the year, the first companies of Arditi were ready for action. Many of their fellow soldiers called them “Companies of the Death” because of the high number of casualties they both suffered and inflicted.

The Arditi led several attacks into the enemy trenches, quite often armed only with grenades and knives. One of their actions is described in the official records relative to the Silver Medal of Honor granted to Capt. Cristoforo Baseggio.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Arditi were issued unique equipment, like this diamond visor.

In 1916, Baseggio led an isolated column of 1500 men — about 200 Arditi and the rest mountain troopers. He ordered an attack on two enemy strongholds at Saint Osvaldo, one at an elevation of 1100 meters and the second at 1440. Even though it was April, there was still snow on the mountains. Soldiers climbed their way up, sliding and falling along the way. Their hands were covered in cuts etched in by frozen crags. Donkeys followed behind, pulling the artillery pieces.

Once they arrived, the soldiers spent the night digging trenches and foxholes. Between 5am and 9am, the Beech trees that hid the Austrians became a hell of flames and metal.

Two companies of mountain troops were sent to the right and to the left sides of the Austrian trenches. The Arditi were ready to attack the center just as soon as artillery blew away the barbed wires. They engaged the enemy in furious hand-to-hand combat, forcing the defenders to fall back, inward to the second line of trenches that encircled the mountain like a crown.

From their higher position, the Austrians managed to trap the Italians in the very trenches they conquered. The first two companies sent by Capt. Baseggio should have joined the action, attacking the enemy from the sides, but never showed up. The captain decided to go look for them himself. He ran through the snow, dodging bullets and hopping over corpses.

Soon, he found the two companies of Arditi pinned down by enemy fire. By all practical measures, his pincer maneuver had failed, so he decided to return to the central section with more of his men. While the reinforcements couldn’t get close enough to the Arditi, the sight of their captain gave the the Hardy Explorers strength enough to push forward again and recapture the trench

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Fighting on the Italian Front was particularly brutal.

The two Austrian companies on higher up the hill managed to hold the attackers for a time, but without reinforcements, they were not able to hold it for very long. As was typical of World War I, the Italians gained and lost the trench several times — each advance cost them dearly. On a third attack, the Italians reached the second trench, fighting over piles of corpses made up of troops of both armies. From the nearby high ground, an Italian Lieutenant could see the battle. He wrote,

“The fight on the other side of the valley intensifies more and more, it will soon involve me and my men. I’m separated from my comrades by four hours of rough march. It has been 36 hours that we have not eaten, but we will join our brothers in arms.”

The shocking thunders of artillery were interspersed with moments of silence, during which the men fought each other with knives and bayonets. A mountain trooper named Turin used all of his grenades to clean a trench in the highest position. Then, he jumped in to find an Austrian who had stood his ground in face of the bombardment. Turin’s rifle jammed and the Austrian managed to rip off part of the Italian trooper’s skull.

His comrades arrived and killed the Austrian. Turin wanted to continue the attack, even with his face covered by a horrible mask of blood. He couldn’t stand properly because of the shock. Only the resolute order of his superior convinced him to retreat — but not before cursing the now-dead Austrian one last time.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Arditi became known for their knife-fighting skills.

Forced to step back, the Italians retreated downhill once more, the last of them was a Lt. Rabaioli, who ran back smiling — holding six rifles stolen from the enemy.

After two days of battle and with the reinforcements of Lt. Bongiovanni, Capt. Baseggio took the first of the two strongholds — and went immediately on to recon the second, which was defended by an Austrian battalion. He spent the entire next day attacking this position, using his advantage of artillery in higher position to rain hell on the enemy.

By the end of the day, only a quarter of his company of Arditi — about 50 men — were still able to fight. Exhausted, he gathered and aligned the remaining Arditi in the open and inspected the weapons. Then, they all started marching in a parade in front of the enemy, who, astonished, ceased the fire and abandoned the position.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch how sand from Omaha Beach brightens veterans’ tombstones

On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) shared a video on Twitter of a remarkable ceremony. “The letters on the white crosses almost disappear in the brightness of the stone, so a soldier fills the indentations with sand from Omaha Beach to bring the name forward.”

It’s a quiet practice that adds to the many rituals that honor service members, including leaving coins on gravestones, placing wreaths on graves during winter holidays, or setting the American flag at graves for Memorial Day.

This video is particularly special to watch, as it clearly shows how effective the process is:


Visited the grave of my friend’s father and witnessed a remarkable ceremony. The letters on the white crosses almost disappear in the brightness of the stone, so a soldier fills the indentations with sand from Omaha Beach to bring the name forward. It sent shivers down my spine.pic.twitter.com/e2G8KvvALt

twitter.com

In the video, the soldier conjures the name of William A. Richards, a fallen World War II veteran, killed in 1944, with sand from Omaha Beach, one of the D-Day invasion sites. D-Day marked the turning of the war in Europe, where millions and millions of Allied service members perished.

Also read: Hero medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

pic.twitter.com/GwDYS4zWZF

twitter.com

Others began to respond to the tweet with their own experiences witnessing the ceremony, including the graves of their relatives. The sands from Normandy beaches are sent to military cemeteries throughout Europe. In the Netherlands American Cemetery, the graves of American service members have been adopted by Dutch families, who research the lives of the fallen and honor their graves with flowers.

I had the privilege of meeting the family that has been looking after my Uncle Neil. They took the day off of work to meet me.pic.twitter.com/MA4a6HLLKi

twitter.com

For so many, these rituals are powerful reminders of the cost of freedom. The sanctity of a military funeral is one that is shared across the country — and, in the case of the world wars, across the globe. It can be easy for many Americans to feel separated, through both time and distance, from the horrors of World War I and World War II; but for our allies in Europe, the wars were fought in their own backyard.

The sands of Omaha Beach bring forth the names of those who died fighting against Nazi Germany and the enemies of freedom, lest we ever forget.

MIGHTY HISTORY

George Washington’s egg nog recipe will destroy you

The father of our country was famous for his moderation but when he did imbibe, he made sure his drink packed the punch of a Brown Bess. Not only did Washington keep a healthy supply of imported Madeira, he also distilled his own distinctive rye whiskey and the Commander-In-Chief always made sure his troops were well-lubricated when on the march. The most powerful weapon in his cellar came only once a year, however, the General’s egg nog made its presence felt.


This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

“I cannot tell a lie, I’m totally wrecked. Merry Christmas to all, including the Mahometans.”

In the years since historians have rifle through all of our first president’s personal papers and diaries, a number of interesting recipes have been found, including Washington’s small beer recipe. Though his personal egg nog recipe has never been found written in his own hand, it is at least a good representation of what such a recipe in the days of yore would have been like – at least for a wealthy man such as General Washington. It is, unlike most recipes found online nowadays, remarkably blunt. No intros, just straight to the business of catching a buzz.

Maybe colonials weren’t the biggest fans of family get-togethers.

“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”

“Taste frequently” being the operative command from the first Commander-In-Chief. Be careful, this drink packs a wallop.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

William Henry Harrison was a wuss.

While even the Farmer’s Almanac lists the recipe as General Washington’s, there is no evidence he ever wrote it, made it, or drank it. The earliest mention found of the recipe was in a 1948 book called Christmas With The Washingtons by Olive Bailey. While this recipe can’t really be found in earlier papers or other works, the book is in the catalogue at the Mount Vernon Archives and there is definitive proof that George and Martha Washington entertained Christmas guests with some kind of egg nog.

So why not this one?

The egg nog is a strong but delicious concoction that takes some work, like separating eggs and beating the whites until fluffy, then folding the whites into the mixture, but it is well worth the effort. Take heed, though: General Washington would not care much for soldiers in his army in a constant state of inebriation.

That is well-documented.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.

In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?


This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.

The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.

As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.

We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.

When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.

At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.

As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.

The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.

Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.

Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.

In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.

These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.

The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.

(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)

This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.

“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 awesome heroes of the French Foreign Legion


The French Foreign Legion looks for brave men from around the world to fill their ranks. When you cast a net that wide, you’re bound to catch some pretty awesome soldiers. Here are seven of the most decorated and vaunted members of the Legion:

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

French Foreign Legion Capt. Jean Danjou was a veteran of three wars, an amputee, and an all-around pimp when he slapped the crap out of Mexican infantry with his prosthetic hand.

(French Foreign Legion Museum)

Jean Danjou

Capt. Jean Danjou was a French Army officer and veteran of fighting in Algeria when he volunteered for legion duty in 1852. He later fought in the Siege of Sevastopol where he lost his left hand — but his greatest heroism was still before him.

Danjou was a staff officer in Mexico in 1863 when he volunteered to lead a guard force of only 65 legionnaires on a convoy deeper into the country. When the unit was ambushed by nearly 2,000 Mexican soldiers, Danjou ordered his men into an abandoned nearby farmhouse where they fought to nearly the last man, inflicting 300 casualties. Danjou was killed, but his prosthetic hand is still kept in reverent storage by the Legion, which parades it on the anniversary of the battle.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

​Sometimes called the “Swallow of Death,” Eugene Bullard distinguished himself as an infantryman, a fighter pilot, and a spy.

(U.S. Air Force)

Eugene Jacques Bullard

After his father was lynched in Georgia in 1903, a young Eugene Bullard decided to move to France. He worked for ten years to earn his passage and made it to France just in time for World War I. He enlisted in the Legion on the day he was of legal age, 19 years old.

He fought on the front lines of France and was twice in units that took so many losses that they had to be combined with other forces. In March, 1916, Bullard was with a group of men hit by an artillery shell, killing four and knocking out most of Bullard’s teeth. He volunteered to keep fighting and was hit by artillery again three days later. This time, a thigh injury ended his service on the ground and in the Legion.

But the young hero wasn’t done. He would go on to become the first Black fighter pilot, netting his first aerial kill in late 1917. When World War II rolled around, Bullard served as a spy until he was injured while resisting the German advance on Orleans in 1940. In 1954, he went to Paris as one of the military heroes invited to relight the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.

John F. Hasey

Known as the “only American in the Free French Forces,” John F. Hasey served in World War II. He transferred into the Legion from an American ambulance unit that he helped form. He was made an officer and served with distinction at the Battle of Enghiahat, where he took command after his captain and first lieutenant were injured. He “patrolled without stopping” for three days, according to his award citation.

He later led his platoon at Massawa against numerous enemy positions, capturing them and a “large number of prisoners.” He was severely wounded near Damascus by machine gun fire, taking rounds to his hand, chest, arms, and face. Still he worked to get his men a new officer to lead them while heading to the aid station. While recovering, he received a letter from Gen. Charles de Gaulle, telling him that he would be the first American to receive the Croix de la Libération.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Prince Dmitri Amilakhvari eschewed a comfortable life in the countryside for a tough existence as a legionnairre. He later wrote a book about his service, mostly in Morrocco.

Prince Dmitri Amilakhvari

A Georgian Prince, Dmitri Amilakhvari joined the Legion in 1926 and saw action in South Morocco in 1933 and 1934. When World War II began, he went to Norway and worked with British forces to resist the German invasion there, fighting at Bjervick and Narvik, netting him the Norwegian War Cross with Sword.

After France fell, Amilakharvi reported for duty with the Free French Forces and was deployed to Eritrea and Syria before being named lieutenant colonel and commander of the Legion’s 13th Demi-Brigade. He led that force in Libya as part of the coalition fighting Rommel’s drive towards the ports in 1942. He was awarded the Ordre de la Libération for his actions there, but died later that year at the Battle of El-Alamein. He posthumously received the Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, the only award higher than his Ordre de la Libération.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

A celebrated football star and coach, Bluenthal volunteered for the ambulance services and the Lafayette Flying Corps before America joined World War I.

(North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources)

Arthur Bluenthal

Arthur Bluenthal was a wealthy son of German immigrants and a successful football coach when he volunteered for ambulance duty in France. He served in Verdun before heading to the Balkans where he earned the Croix de Guerre for his “indefatiguable ardor and ignoring of danger” while driving to and from the front on a road under artillery bombardment.

He later transferred to the Lafayette Flying Corps, an aviation unit in the Legion. He was a bomber pilot cited for bravery. In early 1918, he made the decision to transfer to an American unit as soon as they joined active fighting or his French unit took a break from the front. On June 5, he was killed in French service after four German fighters spotted him and his artillery spotter surveying German positions. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Alex Rowe

Alex Rowe was a British child when an injury — a detached retina — prevented him from achieving his lifelong dream of joining the British Forces. He tried anyway, but was turned away. He later joined the Foreign Legion with his mother’s blessing. Funnily enough, he was made a sniper.

Rowe was awarded his fifth medal for bravery in 2010, France’s highest military honor, the Légion d’honneur. He has been awarded for shielding a Bosnian mother and child with his body during a gunfight, and was involved in a 360-degree ambush in Afghanistan where U.S. troops and French legionnaires had to fight their way out.

Ferdinand Capdevielle

Ferdinand Capdevielle was a private first class in the Legion when he took part in the charge on Navarin Farm in the Battle of Champagne, fighting that saw two-thirds of his section killed or wounded. Then, he accepted a transfer to the 170th Line Infantry Regiment, a unit that was soon sent to Verdun. Capdevielle was quickly awarded the Croix de Guerre for his coolness under fire while serving as a dispatch-bearer in the Battle of Caillette Wood.

Capdevielle was cited for bravery multiple times in multiple battles over the following year, eventually rising to the rank of second lieutenant. The American Army offered him a commission as a captain, but the legionnaire preferred to stay with French Forces. He led his men during the wildly successful advance on the Marne in July 1917, seizing miles of territory, hundreds of prisoners, and tons of supplies. He was posthumously awarded the Légion d’honneur after his death in October, 1918.

Articles

This legendary pilot fought to his last bullet after being shot down

Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., arguably America’s greatest fighter pilot of World War I, was finally downed after taking out 14 German observation balloons and four combat planes. But he took as many Germans with him as he could, strafing ground troops as he crashed and unloading his pistol into the infantry trying to capture him.


Luke enlisted in the Army on Sept. 25, 1917, for service in the aviation field. He took his first solo flight that December, received his commission the following January, and was in France by March.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr. with his biplane in the fields near Rattentout Farm, France, on Sept. 19, 1918. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

After additional instruction there, Luke was ready to go on combat patrols. In an April 20, 1918, letter home, Luke described a severely injured pilot who later died and the constantly growing rows of graves for pilots. In between those two observations, he talked about what fun it is to fly.

Luke claimed his first kill in August, but the reported action took place after Luke became separated from the rest of the flight and few believed that the mouthy rookie had actually bagged a German.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke had a short career on the front lines of World War I, but was America’s greatest fighter pilot for a short period. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

But the intrepid pilot would get his first confirmed victory less than a month later. He had heard other pilots talking about how challenging it was to bring down the enemy observation balloons that allowed for better artillery targeting and intelligence collection.

Flying on Sept. 12, 1918, Luke found one of the heavily defended balloons while chasing three German aircraft. He conducted attack passes on the balloon and it exploded into flames on Luke’s third pass, just as the balloon was about to reach the ground.

The flaming gas and bladder fell upon the ground crew and the winch mechanism that held the balloons, killing the men and destroying the site. Two more American officers at a nearby airfield confirmed Luke’s balloon bust.

Two days later, the Arizona native brought down a second balloon in a morning patrol, but he still wasn’t liked by other members of his unit. The same afternoon, he was designated to take the risky run against another balloon as the rest of the formation fought enemy fighters. One, a friend of Luke’s named 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, would cover Luke on his run.

Luke once again downed the enemy balloon and was headed for a second balloon when eight enemy planes chased him. His guns were malfunctioning so he ran back to friendly lines rather than risking further confrontation.

Wehner and Luke became a team and specialized in the dangerous mission of balloon busting. Over the following weeks, they pioneered techniques for bringing down the “sausages.” The pair grew so bold that they scheduled exhibitions for well-known pilots like then-Col. William Mitchell, inviting the VIPs to witness German balloons going down at exact times along the front.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
Army pilot 1st Lt. Jospeh Wehner was a balloon buster partnered with 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Services)

But the men’s partnership was short-lived. Wehner had first covered Luke on Sept. 14, and over the next few days they each achieved “Ace” status and Wehner took part in two actions for which he would later receive two Distinguished Service Crosses.

On Sept. 18, the two men scored one of their most productive days including the balloon downing that made Wehner an ace, but Wehner was shot down during the attack on the second balloon. Luke responded by charging into the enemy formation, killing two, and then heading for home and killing an observation plane en route.

Luke was distraught at the loss of his partner and took greater risks in the air. His superior officers attempted to ground him, but Luke stole a plane and went back up anyway.

At that point, he was America’s highest-scoring ace with 11 confirmed victories, ahead of even Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker’s record at the time.

On his final flight on Sept. 29, he dropped a note from his plane that told the reader to “Watch three Hun balloons on the Meuse. Luke.”

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire. (Photo: State Library of New South Wales)

The pilot flew across the battlefield, downing all three but attracting a patrol of eight German fighters. Sources differ on exactly what happened next, but the most important details are not in dispute.

Luke’s plane was damaged and he himself was hit, likely from machine gun fire from the ground. As he lost altitude, he conducted a strike against German troops, most likely with his machine guns, though locals who witnessed the fight reported that he may have used bombs dropped by hand.

After landing his plane in German-controlled territory, Luke made his way to a stream and was cornered by a German infantry patrol that demanded his surrender. Instead, Luke pulled a pistol and fired, killing an unknown number of Germans before he was shot in the chest and killed.

All of Luke’s confirmed victories had taken place in September 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Sept. 12-15, a second for his actions on Sept. 18, and the Medal of Honor for his final flight on Sept. 29.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the H-1 Huey has a special place in US military history

For more than 50 years of rotary wing aviation, lots of helicopters have come and gone from the U.S. military. But only one is still in service — the H-1 “Huey.”


This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
A UH-1 Huey with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 touches down at a remote helicopter landing pad in al Anbar province to refuel Oct. 9 during a scouting mission. (Photo from U.S. Marine Corps)

Technically there are two versions of the Huey still flying, the UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper — both in service with the Marine Corps. These aircraft are heavily updated from their initial production models but will be in service with the Marines for years to come.

The UH-1 first entered service with the U.S. Army in 1959 as a utility helicopter. Produced by Bell Helicopter, the UH-1 was the first turbine powered helicopter to enter service. Although officially named the Iroquois, it received the nickname “Huey” from its original designation, HU-1A. These initial A models first saw service with the 101st Airborne, the 82nd Airborne, and the 57th Medical Detachment.

The 57th Medical Detachment would be the first unit to employ the Huey in Vietnam in 1962.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
(Photo from Wikimedia)

As American involvement in Vietnam escalated so did the Huey’s. The initial A model’s shortcomings soon gave way to the UH-1B with a longer cabin and more powerful engine. Continued development led to the C and D variants. The “Charlie” model was outfitted with external weaponry and operated as a gunship. The D model was another expansion of the “B,” gaining 41 more inches of cabin space increasing its capacity to fifteen feet. This meant it had two pilots, two door gunners, and could still carry an entire infantry squad. It was this version that would first see extensive use by the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

In 1962 the Marine Corps adopted the UH-1E version of the Huey, which was modified to their specifications.

Once employed in Vietnam, the Huey served in every conceivable role. It performed troop transport duties, general support, MEDEVAC, and search and rescue. It was also loaded with weapons and used as a gunship.

Rocket-armed Hueys became known as “Hogs” while gun-toting helos were dubbed “Cobras.” Troop transport versions were nicknamed “Slicks” — a reference to their slick sides that held no weapons stations. However, some of these gunship roles were taken over by a new model, the UH-1G.

In 1966 the Army began receiving the UH-1G “HueyCobra” a reference to its lineage and its mission. By 1967 the “U” was replaced by an “A,” designating the helicopter as the attack platform that it truly was. While it shared many parts with its utility brother, the new Cobras were designed specifically as gunships, mounting stubby wings for weapons and carrying a 20mm cannon under the nose.

The new helicopters provided armed escort for air assaults, armed reconnaissance, and close air support for troops on the ground.

During the Vietnam War over 7,000 Hueys were deployed and flew over 7.5 million flight hours with the vast majority in service with the Army. Over 3,000 were lost to combat operations along with over 2,700 pilots, crew, and passengers. Hueys evacuated more than 90,000 patients from the battlefield, greatly increasing the survival rate of soldiers wounded in combat. It is estimated that over 40,000 helicopter pilots served in Vietnam, most of them flying Hueys.

The more than 3,000 Hueys — mostly H variants — that survived the war would be the backbone of the military’s post-war helicopter fleet. Late in the Vietnam War the Marine Corps bought the more powerful twin-engine UH-1 that would enter service as the UH-1N. While the Marines continued development of the Huey, the Army began a search for a new helicopter that led to the acquisition of the new UH-60 Black Hawk.

The Black Hawk would replace the Huey as the Army’s primary utility helicopter though it would retain a number for training and other purposes well into the 2000’s.

The UH-1N would continue in Marine Corps service as a light utility helicopter for another three decades, seeing service around the world. When the UH-1s were upgraded to twin-engine models, the AH-1 Cobras received the same treatment, becoming the AH-1J SeaCobra. In addition to receiving new engines, the Cobra also got improved M197 20mm cannon.

Again, the Army went a different route and developed the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The Marines were denied funding to acquire a naval version of the Apache. This left the Marines no choice but to continue using the AH-1. More updates followed, including the AH-1T and the AH-1W, known as the “Whiskey Cobra.” These versions included more powerful engines and improved avionics and weapons capabilities.

When the Marines were once again denied the opportunity to acquire the Apache in 1996, they instead awarded a contract to Bell Helicopter, the H-1 Upgrade Program, to modernize and increase commonality for their aging fleets of UH-1Ns and AH-1Ws. This program resulted in the new and improved UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper. These aircraft have 84 percent common components, which decreases maintenance costs. These new versions began delivery in 2006 and have seen action with the Marines in Afghanistan.

The latest Viper and Venom models mean the Huey is one of the few, if not only, system to have variants run from A to Z. From the workhorse of the Vietnam War to the deserts of the Middle East, the Huey has been there for American troops through all conflicts of the past 50 years.

With at least a decade of service still ahead, the Huey family of helicopters will serve well beyond 60 years of continuous service for the American military.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who set himself on fire to stop Russian tanks

In 1969, during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, a student protester set himself on fire and triggered mass protests across the country, slowing Russian consolidation and setting off a slow burn that would eventually consume the occupying forces.


This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Soviet tanks roll into Czechoslovakia in 1968.

(U.S. National Archives)

Czechoslovakia was firmly democratic for decades before World War II, but German forces partially occupied it during World War II and, in 1948, it was conquered by the Soviets. The Communists had supporters in the working class and a stranglehold of government leadership, but students and academics kept fomenting the seeds of unrest.

Even when most of the Soviet-aligned countries went through soul searching in 1953 after the death of Stalin, Czechoslovakia basically just marched on. But in the 1960s, leadership changes and an economic slowdown led to a series of reforms that softened the worst repressions of the communist regime.

The leader, Antonin Novotny, was eventually ousted in 1968 and replaced by Alexander Dubcek who then ended censorship, encouraging reform and the debate of government policies. By April, 1968, the government released an official plan for further reforms. The Soviet government was not into this, obviously.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Czechoslovaks carry a national flag past a burning soviet tank in Prague.

(CIA.gov)

The biggest problem for the Soviets was the lack of censorship. They were worried that ideas debated in Czechoslovakia would trigger revolutions across the Soviet Bloc. So, in August, 1968, they announced a series of war games and then used the assembled forces to invade Czechoslovakia instead. The tanks crossed the line on August 20, and the capital was captured by the following day.

Initially, the citizens of Prague and the rest of Czechoslovakia were angry and energized, but they eventually lost their drive. But one 20-year-old student, Jan Palach, wanted to revitalize the resistance. And so he penned a note calling for an end to censorship, the cessation of a Soviet propaganda newspaper, and new debates. If the demands weren’t met, he said, a series of students would burn themselves to death. He signed the note “Torch Number One.”

The Soviet leadership, of course, ignored it, but on Jan. 19, 1969, he marched up the stairs at the National Museum in central Prague, poured gasoline over his body, and lit his match.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

Jan Palach

Bystanders quickly put him out, but he had already suffered burns over 85 percent of his body. He died within days. He was not the first man to burn himself in protest of the Soviet invasion, but his death was widely reported while earlier protests had been successfully suppressed by the Soviets.

Other students began a hunger strike at the location of Palach’s death, and student leaders were able to force the Soviets to hold a large funeral for Palach. Over 40,000 mourners marched past his coffin.

While the Soviets were able to claw back power through deportations and police actions, the whispers of Palach’s sacrifice continued for a generation.

On the 20th anniversary of his protest, mass demonstrations broke out once again in Czechoslovakia, and the weakened Soviet Union could not contain them. By February, 1990, the Soviets were marching out of the country, a process which was completed amicably in June, 1991.

Palach’s protest had taken decades to finally work, but in the end, Czechoslovakia was freed of the tanks Palach and others resented so much.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Marine Corps’ all-time top fighter plane was a Navy reject

The Marine Corps has historically found itself on short end of the stick when it comes to aviation. In fact, during World War II, the planes they got were either obsolete (like the F2A Buffalo and SB2U Vindicator) or unwanted by the Navy. The latter case, though, gave the Marines one heck of a plane. One so good, the Navy eventually flew it, too.


That plane was the Vought F4U Corsair, probably best known for its appearance on the show Baa Baa Black Sheep, starring Robert Conrad as Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the top Marine ace of all time. So, why didn’t the Navy want what would prove to be one of the great planes of World War II?

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother

According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Corsair had a top speed of 416 miles per hour, could reach a maximum range of 1,016 miles, and had six M2 .50-caliber machine guns. But this plane, originally designed to operate off U.S. Navy carriers, was just too hot.

Vought had taken the powerful R-2800 engine and tried making a compact fighter with it. They succeeded, but the Corsair proved to be a tricky beast to fly. It soon earned the nickname, “Ensign Eliminator.” As a result, the Navy went with the F6F Hellcat — an awesome fighter in its own right — and pawned the Corsair off on the Marines.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
F6F Hellcats from VF-1 in flight. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Marines took to the Corsair like a duck to water. The plane gave them something that could go toe-to-toe with the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, but also carry a powerful load of bombs and rockets, making it a multi-role fighter.

This top secret World War II drone mission killed JFK’s older brother
A Vought F4U Corsair fires rockets at ground targets on Okinawa. (DOD photo)

The British acquired some, too, and operated them off of escort carriers. By the end of World War II, the United States Navy began to operate Corsairs from carriers to counter the kamikaze threat. The Corsair served through the Korean War, and even saw combat action in the Soccer War of 1969. Watch a video about this Navy reject turned Marine Corps legend below: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoJbdGjSwM0
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
Do Not Sell My Personal Information