The Air Force Pararescue community lives according to the motto, “These Things We Do, That Others May Live.” There may be none who lived that motto more fully than Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger who was killed in action in March, 1966, after intentionally placing himself in harm’s way to rescue infantryman pinned down by snipers, mortars, and machine gun fire.
For his valor, he became the first enlisted airman to receive the Medal of Honor.
A1C William Pitsenbarger
Pitsenbarger, or “Pits,” as he was known, first tried to join the military as a Green Beret when he was 17, but his parents prevailed upon him to wait until after high school. In 1962, he became a graduate and answered the call — this time, with the Air Force instead of the Army. As a pararescuemen, he would be responsible for grabbing downed airmen and others from contested and enemy-held areas around the world. Becoming a PJ was no easy feat, and it wasn’t a job for the timid.
After completing SCUBA training with the Navy, paratrooper training with the Army, and survival and medical training with the Air Force, he was ready to go to work. Before his deployment to Vietnam, he was called upon to help rescue two hunters stuck in the California wilderness. After rappelling down a sheer cliff face to reach them, he and another pararescueman encountered an angry bear. Pits charged the bear, yelling and screaming, chasing it off. It was immediately clear that he was cut out for this kind of work.
Pitsenbarger finally got orders overseas — to Okinawa, Japan. Wanting to go where his help was needed most, he requested to go to Vietnam instead, and his request was approved. Before shipping out, his parents later said that they were sure they would never see him alive again. Sadly, they were right.
In Vietnam, Pits proved himself an exceptionally capable medical and rescue professional. He helped treat lepers at a colony in Vietnam, escorted singer Mary Martin during a USO tour, and inserted into a burning minefield to rescue a South Vietnamese soldier who had lost a foot trying to stomp out a grass fire. For the minefield rescue, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Airman’s Medal.
A1C Pitsenbarger receiving the Airman’s Medal in Vietnam.
But Pitsenbarger’s most consequential moments came in 1966. On April 11, three companies of the Big Red One, the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, were engaged in a risky sweep across two provinces in search of Viet Cong units. Charlie Company was on one end of the formation and realized too late that it had drifted from the others — and was exposed to sniper fire.
Company leadership realized they were in danger and set up a defensive perimeter, but they were already outnumbered and surrounded. The North Vietnamese triggered their attack, sending mortar and sniper fire ripping through the American formation. The other companies attempted to come to their aid, but mounting casualties quickly made it clear that Charlie Company needed a rescue.
The Air Force sent two rescue helicopters to begin getting the wounded out. The first flight was challenging but, for a jungle firefight in Vietnam, fairly uneventful. Both helicopters took the first flight of wounded to a nearby hospital and doubled back for more. Once back in the field, it became clear to Pits that the Army soldiers no longer had the manpower necessary to hold back the attacks, treat the wounded, and put them on litters for extraction. He volunteered to insert into the jungle and help out.
The pilot reluctantly agreed to the risky request, and Pits began sending men up to the two helicopters despite bursts of fierce mortar and machine gun fire. Pitsenbarger was responsible for getting nine wounded men out in three flights, refusing his own extraction each time, before ground fire nearly downed one of the helicopters and forced them to leave.
Poster art for ‘The Last Full Measure’ depicting Pitsenbarger’s rescue in Vietnam.
On the ground, Pits continuously exposed himself to enemy fire to recover rifles and ammunition from the dead to redistribute to the living. He was wounded at least twice before he reached his final position. He had given away his pistol to a soldier too wounded to use any other weapon, and so Pits used one of the recovered rifles to resist a North Vietnamese advance until he was hit again — this time fatally.
The Army fought on through the night, relying on danger close artillery and airstrikes to survive the night. When the Air Force was able to get rescue helicopters back in the next morning, an Army captain told the next pararescueman on the ground what had happened to Pits.
Charlie Company had 134 men when the battle started. 106 of them were wounded or killed in the fighting, but Pits had gotten an extra nine of them out and kept others alive overnight.
Five months later, on Sept. 22, 1966, the Air Force presented the Air Force Cross to Pitsenbarger’s parents. It was the first awarding of the Air Force Cross to an enlisted airman for service in Vietnam. After decades of campaigning from the men he saved from what seemed like certain demise, Pitsenbarger’s citation was finally upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Pitsenbarger is the first enlisted airman to receive such an award.
Now, Pits’ story is headed to the big screen. The Last Full Measure is scheduled to release on Jan. 24, 2020. Be sure to watch the trailer below and secure your tickets to honor this true American hero.
THE LAST FULL MEASURE Official Trailer (2020) Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan Movie HD
Later in December 1967, the guards hauled a new prisoner strapped to a board into Day’s cell.
Day was in bad shape himself. He had escaped and was on the run for two weeks before being caught. The beatings had been merciless, but the condition of the new guy was something else.
“I’ve seen some dead that looked at least as good,” Day would later reportedly say. The new prisoner was in a semblance of a body cast. He weighed less than a hundred pounds. He had untended wounds from bayonets. His broken and withered right arm protruded from the cast at a crazy angle.
Day thought to himself that the North Vietnamese “have dumped this guy on us so they can blame us for killing him, because I didn’t think he was going to live out the day.”
Then Day caught the look: “His eyes, I’ll never forget, were just burning bright,” and “I started to get the feeling that if we could get a little grits into him and get him cleaned up and the infection didn’t get him, he was probably going to make it.”
“And that surprised me. That just flabbergasted me because I had given him up,” Day said, as recounted in the book “The Nightingale’s Song” by Marine Vietnam War veteran Robert Timberg.
(Simon & Schuster)
Day had just met Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Sidney McCain III, or as Radio Hanoi called him, “Air Pirate McCain.” Day realized this was the Bug’s “Crown Prince,” the son of Adm. John S. McCain, Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
The nearly five years he spent as a POW were a reckoning for the future senator from Arizona.
But now, he’s facing a different kind of reckoning.
In July 2017, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer that usually is terminal.
Shortly after the diagnosis, McCain went to the Senate floor to plead for bipartisanship.
“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and on the Internet. To hell with them,” he said.
“We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle,” he added. “We’re getting nothing done, my friends; we’re getting nothing done.”
McCain, still chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, went home to Arizona before Christmas and has not returned.
Before leaving the Senate, McCain said in a floor speech that “I’m going home for a while to treat my illness,” McCain said in a floor speech before leaving the Senate. “I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you pause to regret all the nice things you said about me.”
“And I hope to impress on you again, that it is an honor to serve the American people in your company,” McCain added.
At his ranch in Sedona, Arizona, McCain has reportedly not been a model patient. He has jokingly accused his nurses of being in the witness protection program.
“His nurses, some of them are new, they don’t really know him, so they don’t understand that sarcasm is his form of affection,” Salter said May 28, 2018, on the “CBS This Morning” program.
“He fights, he’s fought with everybody at one point or another,” Salter said. “You know, he always talks about the country being 325 million opinionated, vociferous souls — and he’s one of them.”
In an audio excerpt from the book, McCain faced mortality.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here,” he said in the book. “Maybe I’ll have another five years. Maybe with the advances in oncology, they’ll find new treatments for my cancer that will extend my life. Maybe I’ll be gone before you hear this. My predicament is, well, rather unpredictable.”
Maverick no more
In the 1990s, A&E ran a documentary on McCain that included in its title the moniker “American Maverick.” The title was probably suitable for a politician who clashed so frequently with others but managed to maintain friendships with rivals, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.
McCain said he’s seeking to shed the “maverick” label, discussing the subject in an HBO documentary on his life that will air on Memorial Day.
“I’m a human being and I’m not a maverick,” McCain said in a trailer for the documentary obtained by ABC.
“I’ve been tested on a number of occasions. I haven’t always done the right thing,” he said, “but you will never talk to anyone who’s as fortunate as John McCain.”
Throughout his life and public career, McCain has demonstrated humor in dire circumstances and the ability to absorb grave blows and continue on.
When he was told that the Hoa Lo prison, dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” by the POWs, had actually been turned into a hotel, McCain said “I hope the room service is better.”
He could also be self-deprecating.
“I did not enjoy the reputation of a serious pilot or an up-and-coming junior officer,” McCain, with long-time collaborator Mark Salter, wrote in his book “Faith of My Fathers,” describing life before his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over Hanoi.
He had crashed three planes in training. He was assigned to attack aircraft and was not among the elite who flew fighters.
The look that riveted Bud Day in the prison camp signaled that the gadfly and carouser McCain was renewing a commitment “to serve a cause greater than oneself.”
It is a message that he has delivered to Naval Academy graduates and to congressional colleagues, and he has admitted to often falling short of living up to his own mantra.
After his return from Vietnam, there was a failed marriage and his implication in the “Keating Five” scandal, a bribery affair with a a corrupt wheeler-dealer that almost ended his career in politics.
McCain recently described to CNN’s Jake Tapper how he wanted to be remembered.
“He served his country, and not always right,” McCain said. “Made a lot of mistakes. Made a lot of errors. But served his country. And I hope you could add ‘honorably’.”
On the campaign trail with McCain
The famously named “Straight Talk Express” campaign bus was actually reduced to a minivan when McCain was broke and running on fumes in the New Hampshire presidential primary of 2008. The few reporters still covering him had no problem squeezing in. The small group included this reporter, who covered the McCain campaigns for the New York Daily News in 2000 and 2008.
McCain would be off to some high school gym to speak, but mostly to listen. Everybody knew the script, because there wasn’t one, and that’s part of what made him a treat to cover.
His “Town Hall” events really were town halls. There might be a talking point at the top, or some message of the day fed to him by handlers, but McCain would get rid of it quickly and throw it open to the floor.
The practice had its downside. There was the guy who seemed to show up everywhere and always managed to grab the mic. He wanted to grow hemp, or maybe smoke it, and thought McCain should do something about it. It drove the candidate nuts.
The ad-lib nature of his campaigns sometimes backfired. There was the time in New Hampshire when he was headed to Boston for a Red Sox game and a sit-down with pitching hero Curt Schilling. Red Sox? New Hampshire primary? Impossible to screw that up.
The news of the day was that opponent Mitt Romney had hired undocumented immigrants to sweep out his stables, blow the leaves off his tennis courts, or similar tasks.
A small group of reporters hit McCain with the Romney question on his way to the car. McCain hadn’t heard. He started to laugh, thought better of it, and rushed back inside the hotel.
He could be seen in the lobby doubling up as aides explained the Romney situation. He came back out, said something to the effect of, “Of course, if true, this is troubling … ” and went to the ballgame.
Somebody wrote that McCain was the only candidate who could make you cry, and that was true.
In 2000, McCain was basically beaten when the campaign reached California. George W. Bush would be the Republican nominee.
McCain was running out the string in San Diego with many of his old Navy buds. On the dais was Adm. James Stockdale, who had been the senior officer in the prison camps. Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his resistance to his captors.
Somehow, Stockdale had become the running mate of the flighty and vindictive Ross Perot, who had disrespected him and sidelined him from the campaign.
In his remarks, McCain turned to Stockdale and said that, no matter what, “You will be my commander — forever.”
There was a pause, and then the crowd stood and applauded.
His friends from the prison camps would occasionally travel with him on the bus or the plane. They were easy to pick out. During down times, they were the ones who would rag on him about what a lousy pilot he had been. It was a learning experience for those who covered McCain.
One of the former POWs was Everett Alvarez, who was the longest-held Navy pilot from the camps. At an event in California, there was a great rock n’ roll band that opened and closed for McCain. Outside the hall, as the crowd filed out, Alvarez was at an exit, enjoying the band as they blasted out ’60s hits.
“Great stuff,” he said to this reporter, who wondered later whether that was the first time Alvarez was hearing it.
Son of a son of a sailor
The title of the cover song of a Jimmy Buffett album applies to John McCain: “Son Of A Son Of A Sailor.”
His grandfather, John S. “Slew” McCain Sr., was an admiral who served in World War I and World War II. His father, John S. McCain Jr., was an admiral who served in submarines in World War II. Both father and grandfather were in Tokyo Bay after the Japanese surrender in World War II.
John S. McCain III was born on August 29, 1936, at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone. The family moved 20 times before he was out of high school, and his transience became an issue when he first ran for Congress in 1982.
His opponent tried to pin the “carpetbagger” label on him, and said he had only recently moved to Arizona. McCain said his opponent was correct: the place he had been in residence longest was Hanoi. He won easily.
McCain was an indifferent student and his poor academic record continued at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1958 fifth from the bottom in a class of 899.
After flight school, he was assigned to A-1 Skyraider squadrons and served on board the aircraft carriers Intrepid and Enterprise.
In 1967, in his first combat tour, he was assigned to the carrier USS Forrestal, flying the A-4 Skyhawk in Operation Rolling Thunder.
On July 29, 1967, McCain was in his A-4 on the flight deck when a missile on a following plane cooked off and hit the A-4, starting a fire that killed 134 and took more than a day to bring under control.
McCain transferred to the carrier USS Oriskany. On Oct. 26, 1967, McCain was flying his 23rd combat mission over North Vietnam when his aircraft was hit by a missile. He broke both arms and a leg when he ejected and nearly drowned when his parachute came down in Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi.
McCain’s decorations include the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars with combat ‘V’ devices, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart.
“In all candor, we thought our civilian commanders were complete idiots who didn’t have the least notion of what it took to win the war,” McCain would later write of the Vietnam war.
A final fight
McCain did not vote for President Donald Trump. The antipathy was there when Trump said during the campaign that McCain was “a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” but the break came later when a video emerged of Trump spewing vulgarities about women.
In speeches and in his writings since, McCain has not referred to Trump by name but made clear that he is opposed to some of the policies and crass appeals that won Trump the election.
In an address in October 2017, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, McCain said that it was wrong to “fear the world we have organized and led for three quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership, and our duty to remain the last, best hope of Earth.”
He said it was wrong to abandon those principles “for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”
To do so was “as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” McCain continued.
While hoping for recovery, McCain has made plans for what comes next. He said in the HBO Memorial Day documentary that “I know that this is a very serious disease. I greet every day with gratitude. I’m also very aware that none of us live forever.”
In his new book, McCain said that he was “prepared for either contingency.”
“I have some things I’d like to take care of first, some work that needs finishing, and some people I need to see,” he said.
He has asked that Barack Obama and George W. Bush give eulogies when his time comes. He has asked that Trump not attend his funeral.
McCain has also asked that he be laid to rest alongside Adm. Chuck Larson at the Naval Academy’s cemetery in Annapolis. Larson, who was twice superintendent of the Naval Academy, was McCain’s roommate at Annapolis.
In a message of his own last Memorial Day, McCain recalled his friend, the late Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness, a Medal of Honor recipient for his valor in Vietnam. Thorsness was shot down two weeks after the actions for which he would receive the medal.
“I was in prison with him, I lived with him for a period of time in the Hanoi Hilton,” McCain said.
Through the nation’s history, “we’ve always asked a few to protect the many,” McCain said. “We can remember them and cherish them, for, I believe, it’s only in America that we do such things to such a degree.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
A team of six Air Force men and women bested the Army and Navy to capture the first-ever Inter-Service Alpha Warrior Final Battle held at Retama Park on the outskirts of San Antonio Nov. 17, 2018.
Capt. Mark Bishop of Air Mobility Command, Capt. Noah Palicia of Pacific Air Forces, Capt. Jennifer Wendland of Air Force Global Strike Command, 1st Lt. Stephanie Frye of PACAF, 1st Lt. John Novotny of AMC, and Senior Airman Stephanie Williams of U.S. Air Forces in Europe completed the course in 2:17:33 to win the championship, a 110-lb trophy and armed forces bragging rights for the next year.
Fashioned after the popular American Ninja Warrior TV competitions, Alpha Warrior tested the competitors’ strength, coordination and endurance through more than 20 obstacles.
The two-day event featured Air Force finals on Nov. 16, 2018, and the inter-service finals the next day. Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center and the Air Force Services Activity hosted the event.
In kicking off the finals Nov. 17, 2018, Maj. Gen. Brad Spacy, AFIMSC commander, talked about how teammates would pull each other through.
Capt. Mark Bishop nears the end of the bridge obstacle of the proving rig during the first Inter-service Alpha Warrior Final Battle Nov. 17, 2018, Retama Park, Selma, Texas.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Debbie Aragon)
“These young soldiers, sailors, and airmen are going to push through this course and they’re going to get to a point somewhere where they think they can’t make it, and they’re going to get through it and their teammates are going to get them through it. In the end, someone will be the winner, but they’re all going to win together,” he said.
It wasn’t too surprising the previous day’s Air Force Final Battle first place male and female athletes, Palicia from Yokota Air Base, Japan, and Williams from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, came out on top again in the individual category. Palicia finished with the overall fastest time at 16:57.9. Williams finished at 24:03.2.
“The competition was really tough but I’m really pumped that the Air Force is able to do this,” Palicia said. “It feels incredible to be part of the first inter-service battle.”
He said the team walkthroughs and understanding proper technique really helped them complete the obstacles.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Bareng, who is no stranger to fitness programs, said the atmosphere motivated him.
“I wasn’t only getting motivated by my teammates but actually had Air Force and Army guys rooting me on,” he said. “It’s been one team-one fight mentality this whole time and it’s been inspiring to be alongside our sister services.”
Senior Airman Stephanie Williams, women’s category winner, tackles the rings obstacle of the proving rig during the first Inter-service Alpha Warrior Final Battle Nov. 17, 2018, Retama Park, Selma, Texas.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Debbie Aragon)
The finals provided an opportunity for friendly competition while building camaraderie and esprit de corps among the competitors, said Army Sgt. Cameron Edwards.
“The event was challenging,” Edwards said. “It was the first event that I’ve been around Navy and Air Force together. It was a very unique time together. We competed not only against — but with — each other through the end.”
The program expanded from an Air Force-only event in 2017 to include Army and Navy competitors in its second season.
“This event has been a year in the making,” said Col. Donna Turner, AFSVA commander. “Airmen had to compete at the installation-level and regionals where the top two male and females were selected to compete in the Air Force Final Battle. The top six male and females moved on to our first inter-service battle.
“We have a phenomenal partnership with Alpha Warrior, to be able to bring this type of training and tactical fitness to our armed forces,” she said.
“This is the new way to train. This is functional fitness put into a complex environment where airmen have to think, as well as be fit and strong. We call it the revolution in fitness and this is the way of the future,” Spacy said.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel pulled himself out of poverty by joining a gang headed by immigrant Meyer Lansky. During the Prohibition Era, Lansky and Siegel ran a large bootlegging operation and were influential in Jewish and Italian immigrant crime syndicate communities. In the 1930s, after organized crime made the mobster fabulously wealthy, Siegel moved to sunny Southern California, where he would continue his illegal activities.
It was there he met Dorothy di Frasso, an Italian Countess, at one of the her extravagant Beverly Hills parties. They began to travel the world together. Eventually, they invested in a new explosive called “radium-atomite” and sail for Italy in 1941, hoping to sell it to Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini.
Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law and foreign minister, was skeptical of the invention after the demonstration of the weapons went poorly. Ciano took a pass. Unfortunately for the Italians that very next year, the scientist developing the explosive would refine his product into a form of jellied nitroglycerin, an explosive more powerful and cheaper to produce than TNT and easier to transport than liquid nitroglycerin. When that scientist patented the explosive, Di Frasso’s name was on the patent as the owner.
While Siegel and Di Frasso were in Rome, the Nazi Luftwaffe commander, Gestapo founder, and Reichstag President Hermann Göring was there as well — fresh from annexing Czechoslovakia and ready to discuss the invasion of Poland. Meanwhile, the Beverly Hills couple were meeting all sorts of notable figures, including the new Pope Pius XII, Italian King Victor Immanuel II and his son Umberto II, and Mussolini himself.
Siegel and di Frasso eventually ran into Reichsmarschall Göring. The mobster’s daughter, who was eight-years-old at this time, remembered that her father was so angered by one of the men he met in Italy that he “wished he had shot him.” The story goes that the villa the couple were supposed to stay in as guests of the Italian government was taken by Göring, so the couple would have to be moved to less lavish quarters. Siegel, a Jewish American, unhappy with the treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied areas and with the government anti-Semitic ideology, told friends and associates he wanted to kill the German Reichsmarschall, after meeting Göring just one time.
Göring does have one of history’s most punchable faces . . .
It was rumored Siegel also wanted to take out infamous Nazis Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler, but those rumors are unsubstantiated. The mobster would outlive Göring. The Reichsmarschall would famously kill himself with cyanide before he could be hanged at Nuremburg after the war.
For his part, Siegel would be gunned down in his Beverly Hills home by a different mistress in 1947.
Oil painting of Fiske landing his stricken Hurricane. (Painting by John Howard Worsley/Tangmere Military Aviation Museum)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.
Revolutionary War re-enactors.
(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)
See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?
Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.
A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.
Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.
A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.
But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.
In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.
At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.
The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.
For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.
It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.
No doubt you knew homework was involved in the school process, but the amount and the frequency might just surprise you.
No way you expected Mrs. Robinson to assign an essay the first day of basket-weaving class…
6. Think high school drama stays in high school? Nope
The drama that you left behind to serve Uncle Sam and this great nation didn’t go anywhere while you were gone.
It is waiting right where you left it, ready to infuriate your overly mature sensibilities.
5. Lack of structure
College does have structure, obviously, but it can’t begin to compete with the structure we grew accustomed to in the military.
Sure, you’re an adult with lots of life experience and you’re fully capable of completing tasks without supervision, but having the structure suddenly go missing is jarring for many of us.
4. Irritability… also a thing
By being in the military, you to get used to dealing with competent individuals. This is because, typically, an incompetent individual doesn’t make it very long — if at all.
Furthermore, if individuals begin to show incompetence, especially if you outrank them, it is perfectly fine and expected that you correct them. That type of behavior is frowned upon in most collegiate settings. It’s something that takes some getting used to.
The adjustment curve is typically worse for those with more time in service.
3. Yes, you’re the old guy/gal
This is a just a fact of life. The armed forces, as a whole, only make up about a half of one percent of the total population. This means that most of your classmates are civilians who probably came right from high school.
Truth be told, there’s a good chance that you’re older than at least one of your professors.
2. Your military experience may or may not apply
Depending on how different your scholastic endeavor is from your military service, what you did in uniform may or may not matter. This is a bitter pill to swallow for many of us, as we are extremely proud of our service and accomplishments.
This leaves us with a decision. We can become that guy/girl that always brings up their service, or try to find a new place to fit in. Good news though, a lot of schools will take your service and give you scholastic credit for it.
This is a bit different than just being older. Even if you went to school while in service, those studies often mirror your military duty. Breaking away from that causes you to have to learn and relearn the basics of whatever you’re studying.
This makes you Billy.
Not only are you older, but the subject matter is super entry-level.
Jimi Hendrix is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists to ever step on stage. The man who headlined 1969’s Woodstock Festival was responsible for defining American rock as we know it. But when he was a young, dumb kid, he was given the choice of going to war or going to jail — he chose the Army.
He served for just 13 months before being discharged, leaving many to speculate (and start rumors about) how and why he didn’t fulfill his original 3-year contract. Well, we think this rock legend (who is also a constant talking point in 101st Airborne trivia) doesn’t deserve to have his name dragged through the mud. Let’s dive a little deeper.
One of the rumors that has persisted is that Jimi Hendrix was discharged for displaying homosexual tendencies. Some say he put on an act in order to avoid going to Vietnam. This can be easily disproved by the fact that he was already out of the Army by the time President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act — he had no real reason to believe that American troops would be sent to Vietnam to stop the fall of Communist dominoes. Hendrix was also highly vocal about his hatred for communists, so he likely wasn’t dodging a fight on any philosophical grounds.
Others say it wasn’t an act — that Jimi Hendrix was, indeed, attracted to men. Contrary to this school of thought, his experiences with his “foxy ladies” were highly publicized. Preferences aside, there’s just no evidence to support this myth, even if it appears in his highly-criticized biography. The simple fact is that his discharge documents say otherwise.
Another rumor states that he was dishonorably discharged because he got caught masturbating and was, generally, a sh*tty soldier. If you look through his documents, it’s easy to see that he was no Captain America. He barely passed PT standards, was a sub-par marksman, and he got in trouble three times for missing bed checks on three different weekends.
To be honest, that sounds a lot like an average 19-year-old private — a lazy, apathetic troop who skims by doing the absolutely bare minimum. He was just your average Joe who’d rather be playing guitar than working.
There are nuggets of truth here: His NCOs did try to kick him out and they did submit a request for discharge after he was caught masturbating in the latrine. Make no mistake, the hammer was swiftly coming down on Private Hendrix. He stood a good chance of receiving a bad conduct discharge — but was instead given a discharge on the grounds of “unsuitability — under honorable conditions” on July 2, 1962.
After his 26th airborne jump, he suffered an ankle injury. His chain of command then had the perfect opportunity to get rid of him — and he wasn’t fighting it. It’s important to realize that while his superiors did submit a request for discharge on the grounds of bad behavior, that request was never fulfilled.
Hendrix didn’t leave the military with the highest esteem for his chain of command, but he never bad-mouthed the Army as a whole. He regularly played in front of an American flag and performed the national anthem at many of his concerts (leaving behind nearly 50 live recordings outside of his iconic Woodstock ’69 rendition).
We asked the sailors of the Submarine Bubblehead Brotherhood, a Facebook group for U.S. Navy submariners, what some of their funniest experiences were while underway and got over 230 funny comments. Here are 11 of the best replies:
*Note: identities kept anonymous per group’s request.
1. The shoe polish prank.
The best items for this prank are binoculars, periscopes and sound powered telephones. Yes, it’s a bit childish but hilarious when you’ve been cooped up for weeks on end.
2. When civilians or people not in the submarine community ask if the subs have windows.
Facebook group comment: When people ask if we had windows I’d tell them we had a big screen just like on Star Trek and that we could communicate face to face. You should have seen their faces.
3. Sending a NUB (Non Useful Body) to machinery to get a machinist’s punch.
4. Sending a NUB to feed the shaft seals.
Shaft seals are mythological creatures new sailors are sent to go looking for on a fool’s errand by another sailor. The shaft seals are actually a series of interlocks and safety mechanisms that ensure the integrity surrounding the ship’s main propulsion shaft, and not nautical mammals.
5. Farting into the ventilation that takes air from one compartment into another.
Facebook group comment: We had a mech who’d stand watch on the ERUL (engine room upper level) that used to fart into the ventilation return that took air from the ERUL to the maneuvering control room. Then we’d all look around to figure out who sh-t themselves. About a minute later, we’d see him staring through the window at us with a grin bigger than Tennessee.
6. Preparing a NUB to go hunting when the 1MC (the ship’s public address system) announced “the ship will be shooting water slugs.”
Water slug refers to shooting a submarine’s torpedo tube without first loading a torpedo — like firing blanks with a gun.
7. Waking a sleeping shipmate and shouting “Come on man, we’re the last ones!!” while wearing a Steinke hood or SEIE.
A Steinke hood is used to escape a sub stranded on the ocean floor.
8. Trimming a shipmate’s webbed belt when he is trying to lose weight.
Facebook group comment: I’d trim about a quarter inch every couple of days from his webbed belt while he was trying to lose weight. He will say, “I’ve lost 10 pounds,” to which I’d respond, “why is your belt still tight?”
9. Pranking the XO (Executive Officer) by stealing the door to his stateroom.
It is tradition to prank the XO by stealing the door to his stateroom before transferring to another unit. This is huge because the CO (Commanding Officer/captain) and the XO are the only ones aboard who don’t have to share their rooms. It’s all in good fun, as is the XO’s retaliation. For example, we’ve heard of an XO who replaced his missing door with a tall sailor. Yes, that’s right, a real person. He even held a handle and made creaking noises when the XO opened the door.
10. Getting drunk sailors back on the boat after a port visit.
Facebook group comment: We’d laugh as we came face to face with the stumbling fools reeking of booze and debauchery. Me and the other watch stander would tie a line around the drunks and lower them down the aft battery hatch. The first few times were rough, they’d bang around going down but we eventually became good at it. Hell, sometimes I was one of those stumbling fools but they took care of me as I took care of them.
11. Pranking the JOOD (junior officer of the deck) with a trim party.
The prank is performed on a newly qualified Dive Officer, Chief of the Watch or JOOD where men and other weights are shifted fore and aft to affect the trim of the boat.
Trim definition (for non-sailors): Both on a submarine and surface vessels, a ship is designed to float as level as possible in the water. When the majority of the cargo weight is shifted to one end of the ship, the ship will begin to tilt.
In the years following the American Civil War, Canada was still very much a possession of the British Empire. As such, it had a number of official fortifications and other important areas along its border with the United States. One of those was Fort Erie, directly across the Niagara from the American city of Buffalo, New York. In June 1866, some 850 men crossed the Niagara from Buffalo, intent on capturing the fort.
They were Irishmen, and they were going to conquer Canada to free their home country.
Irish immigrants flowed into the United States in droves following the Acts of Union that saw British domination of Ireland since the early 1800s. The Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s also saw a huge emigration of Irish people to the United States. By 1860, there were more than 1.6 million people of Irish descent who called themselves American – and upwards of 175,000 of them were about to serve in the Union Army.
The Irish made-up 40 percent of foreign-born enlistments in the Civil War, and were 17 percent of the overall Union force. When these battle-hardened veterans returned home after the war, many of them were headed to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New England. It was there that Irish National leaders were waiting to use the veterans’ new talent for combat.
To be fair, when this plan was hatched, there were upwards of 10,000 Fenians.
Called the Fenian Brotherhood, its original aim was to send money, arms, and supplies to Irish rebels in Ireland via Irish émigrés living in the U.S. Many in the movement were soon convinced that liberating Ireland through a direct uprising was impossible, so they decided to step up their game a bit. If the Irish couldn’t mount an invasion of Ireland, then they would mount an invasion of Canada, the nearest British-held country and trade it for Irish independence.
T.W. Sweeny a former Union general who also served in the Mexican War hatched a three-pronged plan to invade Canada, set up an Irish government-in-exile, and pressure Britain to release Ireland to the Irish. It called for multiple incursions into Ontario in an effort to draw the main British force out of Quebec. With that done, the main Fenian force would invade Quebec, cutting off lines of communication and supply.
Noncommissioned officers of the 10th Royal Regiment of Toronto Volunteers, circa 1870.
On June 1, 1850, a force of Irish-American members of the Fenian Brotherhood landed in Ontario and planted the Irish flag. They tore up railroads and cut the telegraph wires, effectively cutting Fort Erie off from the rest of Canada. Then, 600 Fenians marched westward. At the same time, the commander of British forces in Canada activated upwards of 22,000 troops to put the insurrection down. While the larger force formed up, 850 men under Lt. Col. Alfred Booker were dispatched to pin the Irish down and keep them from wreaking any more havoc.
The two forces met at Ridgeway in Ontario, Canada. It was the first time an all-Canadian force was led by a Canadian commander. Unfortunately for the Canadians, the Fenians were well-armed and skilled fighters, having just braved the battlefields of the American Civil War. The Canadians were soon reinforced, and the superior numbers caused the Fenians to retreat.
No. 5 Company of the Queen’s Own Rifles.
The Fenians were repulsed elsewhere along their proposed lines of attack. Having assumed that Irish Canadians would join the uprising, they were surprised at how the Canadians responded to their invasion. By the time British forces mounted a full response, many of the Fenians had retreated back across the river, the United States Navy was stopping Fenian barges from bringing reinforcements, and the U.S. declared total neutrality in Canadian affairs.
There would be more Fenian uprisings in later years, but for the time being, the push to trade Canada for Ireland would not come to pass.
High-ranking officers often have monikers that accompany them for their military prowess in battle or how they conduct themselves. General “Mad Dog” Mattis was given his by the press after his “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” speech. Colonel “Mad Jack” Churchill got his when the British Expeditionary Force moved in on France and he became the only Brit to score a long bow kill in WWII.
Rarely will a moniker be used for more than one military leader, especially within the same time or military. Even more rare is when they two meet on opposite ends of the battlefield. This is exactly what happened when Maj. Gen. “Fighting Dick” Richardson fought Maj. Gen. “Fightin’ Dick” Anderson for the “Bloody Lane” at Antietam during the Civil War.
Israel B. Richardson was a United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican-American War and eventually promoted to Major General while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was nicknamed “Fighting Dick” after his last name. He lead the 1st Division of the II Corps into the Battle of Antietam.
And in the other corner, Richard H. Anderson was a United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican-American War and was eventually promoted to Major General while serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was nicknamed “Fightin’ Dick” after his first name. He lead the appropriately named “Anderson’s Division,” who were tasked with defending the Sunken Road.
On Sept. 17, 1862, 87,000 Union troops met the 38,000 Confederates near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Richardson’s men charged the road to pierce through the Confederate defenses. For nearly four hours, both sides fought until Union troops finally took the hill. However, Union troops were not able to hold the new ground and were forced back. The battle was declared tactically inconclusive but was a strategic victory for Richardson.
Both “Fighting Dicks” were critically wounded in battle; Anderson was wounded in the thigh and Richardson was struck by a shell fragment. Anderson would recover and continue on fighting into Gettysburg and Appomattox, but Richardson’s wound became infected and he passed of pneumonia nearly a month later.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed signing a World War II peace treaty with Japan by the end of 2018 “without preconditions.”
Putin made the surprise offer in public, sitting next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a stage at an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok on Sept. 12, 2018.
After Abe pressed Putin on the subject of a treaty and a solution to the decades-long dispute over a group of islands claimed by both countries, Putin said: “An idea has just come into my head.”
“Shinzo said, ‘Let’s change our approaches.’ Let’s! Let’s conclude a peace agreement — not now but by the end of the year, without any preconditions,” Putin said.
He said issues that are in dispute could be resolved later, and that the pact could specify that the sides are determined to reach mutually acceptable agreements.
There was no immediate response from Abe, whose country has sought the return of the islands that lie northeast of Hokkaido since the war.
A treaty without preconditions would leave Russia in control of the disputed islands, which Russia calls the Southern Kuriles and Japan calls the Northern Territories.
Soviet forces occupied the islands at the end of World War II, and the territorial dispute has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from formally ending hostilities in the war.
Russian and Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said that work on a future agreement would continue as usual, and a Japanese official made clear that Tokyo wants an agreement on possession of the islands before it will sign a peace treaty.
Location of the Kuril Islands in the Western Pacific between Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia.
“The government will continue its negotiations on the basic principle that we will sign a peace treaty after resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “This stance hasn’t changed.”
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told Russian news agencies that Putin’s announcement would not require any changes to the current format of negotiations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later in the day that Putin and Abe had not had a chance to discuss the proposal.
Russian commentator Georgy Kunadze, a former deputy foreign minister, told Ekho Moskvy radio that he believes Putin was “trolling” Abe and “does not expect anything” to result from the proposal.
The quest for the return of the islands is an emotive issue in Japan, and Kunadze suggested that Abe would never accept a deal that would be political suicide.
In years of talks, Russian officials have repeatedly signaled that Japan could not hope for a swift solution and hinted that the best way to get closer to a deal was to invest in the sparsely populated, windswept islands and engage in other areas of economic cooperation.
Meeting Abe on the sidelines of the forum in Vladivostok two days earlier, Putin had told the Japanese prime minister that “it would be naive to think that it can be resolved quickly.”
In his remarks on Sept. 12, 2018, Putin said concluding a pact would create a better atmosphere and enable Russia and Japan to “continue to resolve all outstanding issues like friends.”
“It seems to me that this would facilitate the solution of all problems, which we have not been able to solve over the past 70 years.”
Iran on July 19, 2019, said it seized a British oil tanker and its crew amid reports it diverted a second tanker toward Iran within hours of the seizure in a clear message to the UK and the US that it’s willing to get aggressive in a feud over oil sanctions. But it may soon have to contend with heavy US and UK naval firepower already in the region.
The US sent its USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and attached strike group to the region in May 2019. This represents the world’s most potent unit of naval power, with the aircraft carrier’s formidable air wing, a cruiser, four destroyers, and support ships.
The USS Boxer, a smaller carrier for AV-8B Harrier jets and helicopters, is also operating nearby and said it recently downed an Iranian drone. Iran denied this and posted video of one of its drones landing to challenge the US’s narrative, although it’s unclear if Iran’s footage proves anything.
The UK has the HMS Montrose on station, which immediately following the seizure of the tankers was broadcasting its location and sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. The UK has another two warships on the way.
Previously, the UK’s Montrose got into a standoff with Iranian gunboats trying to veer an oil tanker called the “British Heritage” into Iran’s waters. The Montrose aimed its 30 mm guns at the Iranian fast-attack craft swarming the tanker and warded them off.
Retired US Navy Capt. Rick Hoffman told Business Insider’s Ryan Pickrell that the 30 mm guns, were the “perfect weapon” against these types of ships.
But the US’s aircraft carriers can do better than perfect. With helicopter gunships launched off the Boxer or Lincoln, the US could easily destroy any number of Iranian fast-attack craft.
In June 2019, Iran shot down an expensive US surveillance drone with a surface-to-air missile. The Pentagon drew up plans for a retaliatory attack on Iran, but President Donald Trump said he canceled it upon hearing how many Iranians would die.
But now Iran is holding at least 23 sailors captive after seizing the vessel. The UK’s top leaders on July 19, 2019, held an emergency meeting to decide how to proceed.
Iran frequently talks about sinking US aircraft carriers, and its navy holds the operational goal of destroying the US Navy, but Sim Tack, a researcher at Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting company, told Business Insider that the US had deployed its carrier smartly.
U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
“The US is being very smart about how it’s deploying its carrier. It prefers to keep its carrier in the Arabian Sea rather than the Persian Gulf. There are more open waters there, so they’re not putting themselves in the Persian Gulf where their movement is a lot more restricted.”
Because of the long range of the US’s carrier aircraft, the US can strike Iran from far off in the Arabian Sea without risking getting mined or submarine attacks that Iran may launch within their home waters, according to Tack.
“Iran doesn’t have an air force of its own that’s capable of withstanding these aircraft,” Tack said. “That element of air defense is extremely outdated and incapable from Iran.”
Additionally, US ships in the region have potentially more than 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles, which each have a range of greater than 1,000 miles. The US used these missiles twice in strikes against neighboring Syria.
It’s unclear if the US or UK will launch a rescue mission to free the captive sailors, but the considerable naval firepower in the region means that Iran’s attempts to hijack oil tankers could start a naval fight.
Commenting on the tensions in the region, Trump said on July 19, 2019, that US ships are “the most deadly ships ever conceived, and we hope for [Iran’s] sake they don’t do anything foolish. If they do, they’re going to pay a price like nobody’s ever paid a price.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.