Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Editor’s Note: This interview of Marine and Korean War veteran Charles U. Daly was written by his son, Charlie Daly.

Charles U. Daly led a rifle platoon in Charlie Company, 1/5 Marines through some of the most intense combat of the Korean war.  He received the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He went on to work for President Kennedy and is the last living member of JFK’s West Wing congressional liaison staff. He tells his story in the memoir,Make Peace or Die: a Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares

What are your memories of mail while you were deployed?

I remember the lack of mail hurt some of my Marines. That’s a tough thing when everyone else is receiving mail, and there’s none for you. The guys who didn’t get any were stoic, and they didn’t show that it bothered them. They just turned around and hoped to get some another day, I guess. It was my job to lead them and look after them; I could make sure they had almost anything else they needed. But there was nothing I could do for a guy who hadn’t gotten a letter from home. I’d give those men anything, but I couldn’t give them that. 

Chuck remembers one letter he wrote to his late wife, Mary, in which he joked about single-handedly winning the war. A couple of days after he sent it, the Chinese began the 1951 Spring Offensive, an unsuccessful attempt to win the war in 7 days, during which Chuck’s platoon in 1/5 Marines had to hold a hilltop, totally cut off from friendly forces. 

On the night of April 21, I sent a note to Mary, brimming with overconfidence:

My Darling—

Just a note to say that I’m o.k.—We moved quite a way today & continue on tomorrow—w/any luck we should be north of Hwachon (sic), North Korea tomorrow.

I’m exhausted & will hit the sack—I love you, my wife—take it easy.

—Your mick

(Make Peace or Die, 60)

You got one very special telegram announcing the birth of your first son, Michael. 

I had been anxiously awaiting that news, but I didn’t expect it to reach me the way it did, as a special message, hand-delivered by a runner. That was a note I won’t forget. 

A runner followed Dacy and the replacements up the hill with a telegram for me:

PLEASE PASS TO LT CHARLES U. DALY 050418 X SON MICHAEL WEIGHING 5 POUNDS 12 AND 3/4 OUNCES BORN SATURDAY 19 MAY AT 2:06 PM X A BLACK-HAIRED MICK X MARY AND MICHAEL BOTH FINE X LOVE MARY

(Make Peace or Die, 80)

Pete had received news about a baby daughter two days before. Our platoons were delighted. They said, “we” made a baby. It was good news, and it was tough news. I folded up the telegram and put it in my wallet and thought it’d be nice to have if I made it.

Now that note belongs to Michael’s first daughter, my first grandchild, Sinéad.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Charles U. Daly (left) with Pete McCloskey in a valley near Wonju, spring 1951. Pete and Chuck both left pregnant wives at home when they deployed. Chuck’s son and Pete’s daughter were born while their fathers were in combat. (Photo/ Department of Defense)

What was it like trying to do your job as a platoon leader while you were waiting for that big news?

I was trying to concentrate on my responsibility for Marines in combat. When I had time to think, I thought a lot about my wife and my hopes for our family. But I knew that if I didn’t concentrate on the job, I would never get to fulfill those hopes. 

You wrote to your father after the firefight for which you were awarded the Silver Star. 

I wanted him to know I’d done well. In case I didn’t make it, I wanted him to know I had died trying. He had led a platoon in the First World War; I suppose I wanted him to know that I understood something of his experience.  

Shortly after my own war, I asked Dad, “When do the bad memories fade?”

“It will take a long, long time, but finally they will fade.”

As of today, mine have not.

(Make Peace or Die, 23)
Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Charles U. Daly, on the day he was awarded the Silver Star (photo/ Department of Defense.)

A few weeks later, you finally got Michael’s picture in the mail.

That was good. I noticed the Heath chocolate bar in the envelope first. The photo was a big surprise. I wish I still had it, but it got ruined by the melted chocolate. 

The platoon sergeant and I laid-up in an abandoned enemy bunker… An attack on our position that night could have doomed us, but it didn’t come. I felt good. Even though I still had little hope of living to hold my son, a picture Mary had sent me of him had arrived in a letter enclosed with a melted Heath bar. Having seen my son Michael’s face, I suddenly had more to lose. 

(Make Peace or Die, 97.) 

Nowadays, a Marine in the field can sometimes send texts or make video calls. Sometimes, you can even get in touch with your family via satellite from the most remote outpost. 

I can’t even imagine that. 

What would be your advice to families writing to a loved one who’s downrange? 

Start with good news. Try to have good news. Bad news can wait, but if you have to pass it on, be delicate about it. Life at home isn’t always going to be all lovely every day, but it helps to let your son or daughter or spouse know that everything’s alright and there’s no need to feel bad about not being home to deal with life’s little challenges. But I don’t think it’s possible to say the wrong thing. No matter what you write, your letter is going to be the bright spot in their day. 

My one suggestion, based on experience: SAVE YOUR LETTERS! When we were working on my book, we managed to find a couple of my letters home, but most were lost to time. I don’t remember what I wrote. 


Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Make Peace or Die: A life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares is available through Amazon and Indiebound, or you can ask your local bookstore to order it. An early draft was featured on Jocko Podcast episode 196.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The Battle of Khasham’ saw US troops rout Russian mercenaries in Syria

The United States sent its forces into Syria in 2014 to hasten the demise of ISIS. After the fall of the “caliphate” capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa three years later, the U.S. remained. It was determined to conduct operations that would bring the government forces of Bashar al-Asad to heel.

In 2018, U.S. forces and U.S.-backed militias from the Kurish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), controlled the Conoco gas field near the town of al-Tabiyeh in eastern Syria. The Americans and SDF were on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, while Syrian government troops and Russian mercenaries were on the other.


As far as the United States knew, there were no official Russian troops operating in this province. Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made certain of that using official channels to the Russian government, in place to prevent a clash between American and Russian troops. The Russians operating with Bashar al-Asad’s troops were military contractors hired by the Wagner Group.

Pro-Assad forces controlled the nearby major city of Deir-ez-Zor, which allowed them a staging area for nearby attacks and to easily cross the river.

The pro-government forces had begun massing in Deir-ez-Zor for days prior and the American-led Coalition could see every move they made, even if they didn’t know who exactly was making those moves. For all the Coalition forces knew, they could have been ISIS. That’s when a large force departed the city, headed for the headquarters of the U.S.-SDF forces at Khasham.

On Feb. 7, 2018, 500 pro-government Syrian troops, including Iranian-trained Shia militiamen, along with Russian military contractors began their attack on the SDF headquarters. The assault began with mortars and rockets, supported by Soviet-built T-72 and T-55 tanks. Unfortunately for the Syrians, the SDF base just happened to be filled with 40 American special operations forces. After calling to ensure no official Russian forces would be harmed in the making of their counterattack, the operators called down the thunder.

T-72 Weapon System Video

www.dvidshub.net

American Special Forces called in AC-130 “Spooky” Gunships, F-15E Strike Eagles, Reaper drones, Apache helicopters, F-22 Raptors and even B-52 Stratofortress bombers. If that wasn’t enough to kill everything coming at them, nearby Marine Corps artillery batteries got in on the action. The attack was turned away, decisively. The only questions that remained were how many were killed in the “fighting” and how was the Syrian government going to cover up this epic mistake?

Coalition forces took one casualty, an SDF fighter who was wounded. The United States estimated the Syrians lost 100 killed. The Syrian government says 55 were killed in the fighting with a further loss of 10 Russian mercenaries. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 68 Syrians dead. Russian media lamented the idea that Russian remains were “abandoned” on the battlefield.

The Russian firm that hired the contractors had a more colorful response.

“Write it on your forehead: 14 volunteers were killed in Syria. I’m fed up with you chewing snot and telling fairy tales in your petty articles. As for your speculations there, what you write about those f****** investigations – no one has abandoned anyone.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the real-life, Civil War-era ‘Mulan’

Maria Lewis was probably the most unlikely person to have ever fought in the American Civil War. She was an escaped slave, a woman, and was underage; all three of these factors barred individuals from serving. But Lewis was much smarter than the average person, let alone the average enslaved American. She fought in the war as a free white man, distinguished herself during her service, and was even part of an honor guard that presented captured rebel flags to the Secretary of War.


Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Kinda like this but with way more violence.

Born into slavery in 1847, Lewis and her family spent her younger years in Virginia around Albemarle County, near Charlottesville. At the age of 17, she assumed a new identity and a new life as an emancipated slave. The only real hitch was that she presented herself as something totally different when it came time to join the Union cavalry.

She enlisted as Private George Harris, a nod to the character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antebellum classic who escapes slavery as a Spanish man, in New York’s 8th Cavalry, which took part in many major battles throughout the war, including Antietam, Gettysburg, and the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House. She first participated with the 8th at the Battle of Waynesboro, near where she was born and enslaved.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

The battle at Waynesboro ended the fighting in the Shenandoah for good.

Her service saw her join Union General Philip Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley, where the Union Army soundly defeated Confederate General Jubal Early and devastated the Confederate economy in the area and beyond. After the war, however, George Harris/Maria Lewis had no home to go back to and very little is known about her postwar life. She traveled to Rochester, New York, where the 8th Cavalry was originally formed, to live with the family of one of her officers. Historians believe this officer hid her secret during the war and, as a result, would naturally have been a close confidant.

Lewis Griffin was an abolitionist lieutenant in the 8th Cavalry. His sister, Julia Wilbur, wrote about the “colored woman [who] has been here who has been with the 8th N.Y. Cav. for the last 18 months.” She wrote a few more details:

“She knows Mr. Griffin. She wore a uniform, rode a horse and carried a sword and carbine just like a man. The officers protected her and she was with them mostly. The regiment didn’t know that she was a woman. She was called Geo. Harris, but her real name is Maria Lewis. She is from Albermarle Co. Va. and escaped to the Union army.”
Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Rochester, NY in the days following the Civil War’s end.

Many knew Lewis when she wore a dress on the streets of Rochester. She was more than happy to don a petticoat and perform the tasks of a woman of the time. But she was also known to celebrate her veteran status with those who fought alongside her.

When celebrating her service, she wore her full military uniform.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The Rock of Chickamauga’ is the only Union General who never lost a battle

There’s ongoing debate among historians and military history buffs about which general was better, Grant or Lee? Or maybe the question should be Sherman or Jackson? The name you never hear in these debates is George H. Thomas, who is arguably better than all of them, because he would not publicize himself or allow history to give him the credit he richly deserves.


Thomas cut his teeth in the Mexican War under General Zachary Taylor. There, he learned the harsh lessons that come with poor planning and poor logistics. He also learned to trust the fundamentals of fielding an Army and keeping it secure — a lesson that would later earn him the nickname “The Soldier’s Soldier” from enlisted Union Men.

But when Civil War came, Gen. Thomas was not well-trusted by President Lincoln, seeing as Thomas was born a Virginian — and your home state really meant something at the time. Thomas remained a loyal Union man because his wife was born in the North and, considering his skill as a leader, we should be glad he was. Still, his family turned their backs on him, President Lincoln never accepted him, and other officers never trusted him, but that didn’t matter. He did whatever was asked of him with whatever tools his superiors gave him without complaint.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Because real bosses don’t need to talk shit.

The main tool they gave him was the battered, bloodied, and often undisciplined rabble from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, many of whom were basically thrown into the meat grinder at Shiloh by General Ulysses S. Grant (whose mismanagement of the battle nearly lost it for the Union). Conversely, Thomas, known by his fellow officers at the beginning of the war as “Slow Trot,” emphasized planning, preparation, and attention to detail — and how it made a difference when the bullets started to fly.

Thomas did not get an easy start in the Civil War, however. His first opponent was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s cavalry shortly before the Battle of Bull Run. Though first Bull Run pitted even numbers of Northern troops against Southern, the North performed terribly. They broke and ran in a disastrous rout — all except Thomas’ cavalry. Thomas earned a promotion to brigadier for manhandling Jackson’s cavalry.

His next opponent was Albert Sidney Johnston, the Texan whom Confederate President Jefferson Davis considered the best officer before Robert E. Lee’s rise. The North needed a win — any win — to boost morale. Thomas gave it to them, plowing the Confederates at Mill Springs and pushing them into the Cumberland River. In doing so, he completely smashed Johnston’s hold on Kentucky.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Epic mustaches, all of them.

By 1863, Thomas was moving into Tennessee as second to Gen. William Rosecrans, pushing Confederate General Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga. Believing Bragg was in full retreat, Rosecrans marched the Army of the Cumberland into a trap. Bragg hit Rosecrans at a place called Chickamauga Creek — “the River of Death” according to the the Cherokee.

As James Longstreet committed his men, veterans returning from the fighting at Gettysburg, to the battle, the Union right flank began to fold. Rosecrans began riding for Chattanooga, some of his officers in tow — but Thomas wasn’t going anywhere. As fleeing men came into his sphere, he reorganized them along a ridge and implored them to hold the line at any cost. With the support and guidance of General Thomas’, or “Old Reliable,” as he was called by his men, they held off the Confederates long enough to save the Army of the Cumberland, along with the Union hold on Tennessee.

Rosecrans lost his job, but Thomas, now called “The Rock of Chickamauga,” inherited the Army.

Grant wrote off Thomas’ army as used-up during the Battle for Chattanooga. Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland were to hold until all the attacking armies in position to advance on Chattanooga. But when Grant’s plan fell apart, Thomas had to move his army to support General Sherman’s troops, who were struggling. Not only did Thomas’ men relieve Sherman’s troops, they forced the Confederate Army from the field.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Because once you take one hill, you just can’t stop.

Despite his higher rank and superior ability, Grant instead chose William T. Sherman to lead the march on Atlanta. Still, Thomas commanded most of Sherman’s infantry and protected the column as it moved south into Georgia. After they took the city, Confederate General John B. Hood moved North, deftly avoiding the Union Army and moving into Nashville. Sherman reduced the Army of the Cumberland and ordered Thomas to take the remaining troops north in pursuit.

He destroyed Hood’s entire army, earning the nickname the “Hammer of Nashville.”

After the war, Thomas stayed in the military for the rest of his days. He was never celebrated like his contemporaries and he never bothered to publish memoirs of his time in combat. He even deliberately burned his notes to keep someone else from doing it in his stead. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan would sometimes give him credit, but always with the caveat that he was slow.

“Time and history will do me justice,” Thomas said before his death in 1870.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient was the Navy’s first ace-in-a-day

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare was a pioneer of Navy aviation, establishing the Navy’s first night fighter squadron, earning a Medal of Honor and ace-in-a-day status, and probably saving American carrier USS Lexington before his tragic death during a night battle in November, 1943.


Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

The senior Edward O’Hare was murdered by the Al Capone gang while driving home.

O’Hare was the son of a St. Louis, Missouri, businessman with ties to Al Capone’s gang. His father put in a good word to get the younger O’Hare into the U.S. Naval Academy, which led to his being trained as an aviator.

During his training, his father turned against Capone after the events of the Valentine’s Day Massacre and passed financial documents to the IRS. Capone was eventually convicted, but put a hit out on O’Hare’s father. Then-Ensign O’Hare took a break from training to attend his father’s funeral, but went on to earn his wings 18 months before the Pearl Harbor attacks. He earned a reputation as a skilled aviator before America entered World War II.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

Edward O’Hare as a pilot during World War II as a lieutenant. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander and helped create night aviation procedures for the Navy before his death during the war.

(U.S. Navy)

His first engagement came near the Pacific island of Rabaul while his wing was temporarily assigned to the USS Lexington. A patrolling submarine spotted waves of Japanese “Betty” bombers heading for the Lexington’s task force on February 20, 1942. Fighters took to the air, and O’Hare and his wingman were the last pair to get airborne.

While the first fighters to take off dealt with the first wave of bombers, a second wave closed in and the O’Hare pair were the only fighters in position to attack. They did a quick test fire of their weapons. O’Hare had four working guns, but his wingman couldn’t fire.

And so O’hare was left facing either eight or nine attacking bombers — accounts differ — with only his F4F Wildcat protecting the carrier. He had just a few minutes to interrupt the enemy attack.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

The USS Lexington was America’s second carrier and a legend in World War II. But it likely would have been destroyed early in the war if it weren’t for Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. O’Hare.

(U.S. Navy)

O’Hare zipped into position and focused his first attack on two bombers trailing on the right side of the enemy formation, downing both with quick, accurate bursts from his four .50-cal. Browning machine guns against their engines and fuel tanks. By the time he had downed the second bomber, he had overtaken the formation so he wheeled back around and came up the left side.

This time, he hit the rearmost plane with shots to the starboard engine that sent it wheeling toward the sea. O’Hare attacked again, slaughtering a fourth plane and crew with shots through the left wing and cockpit.

It had been only moments, and approximately half of the enemy formation had hit the water or was on its way. But that still left about four bombers heading to Lady Lex. So, O’Hare went in for a third attack pass as the fight drew into range of the Lex’s guns.

He sent a burst into the trail plane and then sent more rounds at the lead plane of the formation, knocking one of its engines off.

The kills had come so fast and furious that officers on the Lexington would later report seeing three fireballs heading for the ocean at once.

Between O’Hare and shipboard gunners, only two of the Japanese “Bettys” were still alive to drop their bombs, and none of the bombs managed to damage the carrier at all. O’Hare would claim six kills from the engagement, but he would only get credited with five. Either way, that took him from zero kills to fighter ace in a single engagement. This made him the Navy’s second fighter ace and its first ace-in-a-day as the service’s air arm was young and relatively small in World War I.

O’Hare tried to eschew glory for his success, but the U.S. was hungry for a hero in the months after Pearl Harbor and a series of U.S. defeats. The young pilot was summoned to Washington D.C. to receive the Medal of Honor, then he was sent to fill an instructor slot to pass on his knowledge to others.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

F6F Hellcats were strong successors to the F4F Wildcat and they allowed naval pilots to become more lethal against Japanese forces.

(U.S. Navy)

But that couldn’t keep O’Hare engaged, and he returned to combat in 1943, this time flying the Wildcat’s stronger successor, the F6F Hellcat. In just a few months during the latter half of 1943, O’Hare earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, one for an attack on Japanese forces on Marcus Island where he and his flight destroyed all aircraft on the ground and approximately 80 percent of ground installations, and another for an attack against Wake Island installations where the flight downed three enemies in the air and destroyed planes and installations on the ground.

But the American forces were vulnerable deep in the Pacific, and O’Hare was tasked with finding a way to stop Japanese dusk attacks had allowed damage to the USS Independence. His proposal to create three-plane teams with two Hellcats and a radar-equipped Avenger was quickly adopted. The carriers would detect enemy planes first and vector the fighter in until the Avenger could detect the targets.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea

In this 1951 photo, the plane closest to the camera is an Avenger, the plane that O’Hare paired with F6F Hellcats in order to make them more effective at dusk and in the early night. The rest of the planes on the deck are F8F Bearcats, successors to the Hellcat.

(U.S. Navy)

O’Hare referred to them as the “Black Panthers” and often went aloft with them. On November 26, 1943, he went up to help disrupt an attack by more Japanese Bettys. The flight was able to shoot down one bomber and then the Hellcats worked to get back in line with the Avenger.

Right as the Hellcats returned to the Avenger, though, a Japanese plane slipped in behind them and sent a burst through O’Hare’s plane. The tail gunner in the Avenger downed the attacker, but O’Hare and his plane slipped away into the dark and crashed into the water.

He was never found again, but did receive a posthumous Navy Cross for his contributions to Navy night fighting. Chicago’s O’Hare airport is named for him. One of his top subordinates and wingmen was Lt. j.g. Alex Vraciu, who ended the war as the Navy’s fourth top ace.

Coincidentally, Vraciu earned six of his kills in a single engagement after taking off from the USS Lexington, copying O’Hare’s claimed feat from 1942.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Vinegar’ Joe Stilwell lost the best WWII assignments twice

Army Maj. Gen. “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell was at the top of the list for high commands as America entered World War I. A 1904 West Point graduate with lots of intelligence experience in World War I and extensive time in the Pacific, he was expected to take on some of the most important commands and win.


And initially, it looked like that would happen, but two of the biggest commands of the war slipped through his fingers. He was assigned to lead the invasion of North Africa when America was ready to deploy forces across the Atlantic, but was recalled to take another mission. He was later assigned to lead the invasion of Japan…until the atomic bombs made it unnecessary.

 

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
General Chiang Kai-shek, Madam Chiang Kai-shek, and Lt. Gen. Joseph Stilwell celebrate the day after the Doolittle Raid strikes Tokyo. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense Capt. Fred L. Eldridge)

Instead, Stilwell spent most of the war in what was an important backwater, the Chinese-Burma-India Theater. Stilwell was in the middle of preparing Operation Gymnast, the landings of North Africa which would later be conducted as Operation Torch, when he learned that he was on the short list to command U.S. forces in CBI.

Stilwell didn’t want the job. He hoped to invade North Africa. From there, he would have a decent shot at commanding the European theater or at least all troops taking the fight to Italy.

This was a reasonable expectation. Operation Gymnast became Operation Torch and was passed to then-Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s success in North Africa led to an appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. A few years later, he used his status as a war hero to run for president.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Stilwell eats C-rations as a Christmas meal in 1943 while not-at-all wishing that he had commanded the invasion of North Africa instead of that punk kid Dwight Eisenhower. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

Stilwell, meanwhile, was sent to the CBI theater where he was charged three major jobs. He was to command all U.S. forces in the theater, lead the Lend-Lease program in China, and serve as the chief of staff for Chiang Kai-shek, the Supreme Allied Commander for the China theater.

He was facing a tough job, but Stilwell dove into it. He assumed control of an integrated force in Burma in 1942 and prepared an offensive against the Japanese.

 

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
American forces assigned to GALAHAD rest in Burma during a movement in World War II. GALAHAD would be better known by history as Merrill’s Marauders. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

But it was too late for that. Before Stilwell could lay the groundwork, a new Japanese thrust overcame Chinese forces and sent them reeling back. The rest of the Allied forces in the area, mostly Americans under Stilwell, were forced to follow. This caused the loss of Burma and a severing of important logistical corridors.

The overall retreat was so disorderly that important railways were shut down thanks to crashes and traffic jams. Stilwell had to lead a group from his headquarters on vehicles and then on foot after the air corridors were closed. The vehicles eventually had to be abandoned because of the bad roads, and so Stilwell and a select group walked through the jungle out of Burma.

The group has started with 80 members and emerged from the jungle with 114, having picked up 34 strays and suffered no losses — possibly the only large group to do so.

 

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Kachin Rangers stand in formation. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

For the next two years, Stilwell had to rely on a small group of Americans leading guerrilla operations in Burma to keep the Japanese off kilter. Army Col. Carl F. Eifler led a small group of U.S. soldiers who recruited the local Kachin people into an insurgency against the Japanese. The force was credited with killing 5,428 Japanese troops and recovering 574 isolated Allied troops, mostly downed aircrews.

But Stilwell didn’t want to disrupt the Japanese in Burma, he wanted it back. In 1944, he was able to lead a force that retook the region. One of the most famous units in the effort was Merrill’s Marauders, led by Maj. Gen. Frank Merrill. Merrill was one of the survivors that left Burma with Stilwell. Merrill had survived the evacuation despite suffering a heart attack.

 

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Merrill’s Marauders move through the China-Burma-India Theater on the Ledo Road. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

Stilwell was finally removed from CBI in 1944, mainly due to staff and national politics. He was sent to the Ryukyu Islands where he took over the 10th Army on Okinawa. It was in this position that he was tapped to lead the invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall.

Luckily for him and his men, though not for his career and legacy, the invasion was made unnecessary by the Japanese surrendering to MacArthur in 1945.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The deadliest sniper ever averaged 5 kills per day

Few soldiers are as legendary as Finland’s Simo Häyhä. Known as the deadliest sniper in history, Häyhä served for just under 100 days during the 1939-1940 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union.

In that short time, he is credited with killing over 500 men.

At long range Häyhä was lethal; his M28/30 sniper rifle (the Finnish version of Russia’s legendary Mosin-Nagant) accounted for half his estimated 500-542 kills. At close quarters, he was equally deadly with his Suomi KP-31 sub-machine gun, with some 250 Soviets falling victim to it. Not surprisingly, Soviet troops soon assigned Häyhä an appropriately sinister nickname: White Death.


Häyhä’s transformation into history’s most accomplished sniper traces back to 1925, when at twenty years old he served his mandatory year in Finland’s Army and afterward joined Finland’s volunteer militia known as the White Guard. Häyhä’s time with the militia sharpened what were already remarkable shooting abilities; a farmer and hunter, he was a natural marksman who regularly collected trophies at local shooting competitions.

When the Winter War broke out on November 30, 1939, Häyhä was nearly 34 years old. By the war’s end on March 13, 1940, he would become a legend. While most snipers used telescopic sights, Häyhä did without. Using a scope forced a sniper to lift their head a few inches higher than ordinary sights, making them an easier target for enemy snipers. Telescopic sights were also vulnerable to extreme cold. Häyhä’s solution was simple: Even in the poor light of a Finnish winter, he would rely on iron sights and the naked eye.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Simo Hu00e4yhu00e4

As the Soviets soon realized, the dim lighting didn’t affect his aim.

Finnish Army documents (as cited on Wikipedia) reveal just how deadly Häyhä was as a soldier. The war began on November 30, 1939. According to these documents, Häyhä had racked up his first 138 kills by December 22–only 22 days for 138 kills. The entry for January 26, 1940 ups his count to 199, an extra 61 in 35 days. By February 17, he was up to 219. In the 18 days after that, Häyhä killed another 40 enemy soldiers.

These stats reflect his sniping kills. Häyhä was just as deadly up close. His sub-machine gun accounted for another 250 kills. By March of 1940, he’d racked up an astonishing 500+ kills. Yet on March 6, his military career came to a sudden and near-fatal end.

Häyhä was a primary target of the Red Army; Soviets were keen to eliminate this seemingly unstoppable soldier who had spread so much fear, injury, and death among their ranks.

They’d tried everything, pummeling Häyhä’s presumed locations with artillery fire. Soviets also employed counter-sniping, flooding an area with snipers whose primary mission was to kill the White Death.

On March 6, 1940, the Red Army nearly succeeded. A Soviet sniper spotted Häyhä and shot at him with an explosive bullet, striking him in his lower left jaw.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Hu00e4yhu00e4 in the 1940s, with visible damage to his left cheek after his 1940 wound

The shot should have killed him. Häyhä, though severely wounded, somehow survived. Found by Finnish troops, he was brought into a field hospital. He wasn’t a pretty sight. One of the soldiers who brought him in bluntly described his injuries, saying “half his face was missing”. But once again, Häyhä had beaten the odds: permanently disfigured, but alive nonetheless.

Häyhä was lucky. Only days after he was shot, the Winter War ended on March 13, 1940 — the same day Häyhä regained consciousness. Finland honored the soldier for his service. Starting as a private in 1925, he’d only made ‘Alikersantti’ (corporal) when the Winter War started. After it ended, Corporal Häyhä was commissioned, becoming a “Vanrikki” (second lieutenant) with multiple decorations. He would spend the next few years recovering from the shot to his head, but Häyhä would eventually regain his health.

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Retiredu00a0Simo Hu00e4yhu00e4

After the war, he became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder. Against him, the moose stood no chance. Finland’s President Urho Kekkinen was also a keen hunter and Häyhä, once a nobody from the Finnish border country, became one of the President’s regular hunting partners.

Entering a veteran’s nursing home in Hamina in his old age, Häyhä spent his remaining years quietly. He died on April 1, 2002 aged 96, a national hero in his native Finland and a legend in military history. Asked how he’d been so successful he answered simply: “Practice.”

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This dogfight with nearly 200 jets was like the Battle of Britain on steroids

In what would come to be called the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot, 96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs faced off against 100 Syrian fighters backed up by 19 surface-to-air missile launchers in 1982. It was one of the largest jet battles ever fought.


 

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Photo: Israel Defense Forces

Israel has a history of fighting with its neighbors, especially from the 1960s through the 1980s. A series of small battles with Egypt resulted in some hard lessons learned for the Israel Air Force after they lost a number of fighters to surface-to-air-missiles.

But the IAF learned their lessons and on Jun. 9, 1982, they attacked 19 Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries deployed near their border. In the first two hours of fighting, the IAF destroyed 17 of the missile batteries with no losses. Then, things really went nuts.

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Israeli Air Force F-15s in an exercise. Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

The Syrians sent up 100 MiGs to intercept the 96 F-15s, F-16s, and F-4s that were attacking the SAM sites. The Israelis were flying an E-2C Hawkeye airborne warning and control system aircraft that picked up the incoming fighters. It began feeding instructions to the IAF fighters.

The more advanced Israeli fighters, firing both Sidewinder heat-seeking and Sparrow radar-guided missiles, destroyed 29 of the Syrian Air Force fighters.

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One of the Syrian Air Force’s main fighters in the conflict was the MiG-21, like this one flown by the Serbian Air Force. Photo: Wikipedia/claudiu_ne2000

But the IAF wasn’t done. There were still two missile sites they wanted gone. So, they returned Jun. 10. Again, the bulk of the Syrian Air Force lifted off to greet them, and the IAF pounded them into the ground, downing another 35 Syrian aircraft with no Israeli losses.

 

The stunning victory was due to a number of factors. The Israeli pilots had benefitted from great training and a lot of combat experience, but the Syrians had also screwed themselves.

The Syrians fed their pilots instructions from a ground control station that couldn’t communicated due to Israeli jamming. In an Air Power Journal article, a Western military observer of the battle says, “I watched a group of Syrian fighter planes fly figure-eights. They just flew around and around and obviously had no idea what to do next.”

Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency at the time, trashed the lazy deployment of Syrian missile sites. “The Syrians used mobile missiles in a fixed configuration; they put the radars in the valley instead of the hills because they didn’t want to dig latrines–seriously.”

The conflict between the two countries continued through Jul. 1982. In over a month of fighting, Israel lost only two jets while Syria lost at least 87.

(h/t Cracked.com)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient directed a counterattack his first time in combat

Soon after graduating high school, Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. joined the Marine Corp Platoon Leaders Course, where he learned various military infantry tactics. Once Barnum earned his degree, he was given an officer’s commission in the Marine Corps Reserves and sent to the gritty jungles of Vietnam in 1965.

On December 18, Barnum and the rest of the Marines were patrolling in the Quảng Tín Province of South Vietnam. Unbeknownst to Barnum and his men, as the Marines moved deep into the enemy territory, they were walking into a vicious trap. The Vietnamese troops had dug themselves into the nearby terrain and waiting as nearly three companies of Marines walked by, headed toward a small village.

Then, a firefight broke out, first striking the Marine’s rear position and moving to the front of the patrol as the grunts entered the enemy-infested village. What happened next, no first-timer would ever expect.


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Barnum takes a moment for a quick photo op while stationed in Vietnam.

The initial attack severely injured the company commander and the radio operator. This deadly wave was Barnum’s first taste of real combat — and his training kicked in immediately. He went and retrieved the radio, calling for heavy fire support.

Barnum also dashed out of his position to recover the company commander and move him to safety. Moments later, Barnum’s commanding officer died in his arms. With all the men looking for guidance, the young Marine knew it was up to him to assume control and direct a counterattack.

After passing out orders, the Marines laid a curtain of gunfire onto the trench line from which the enemy had so much success earlier. Barnum picked up a rocket launcher and fired it three times at the enemy position. That was the signal the attack Hueys needed.

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U.S. troops load up on a Huey during the Vietnam War.

After running out of rockets, the Marine officer directed the Hueys above towards targets to nail — and that’s just what they did. This airborne attack freed up some terrain, allowing the wounded and the dead to be transported out. Although still surrounded by enemy troops, Barnum choreographed each squad as they moved from the hot zone.

In roughly 45 minutes, the men found safety.

1st Lt. Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. was presented with the Medal of Honor on February 27, 1967, surrounded by his fellow Marines at the barracks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it’s like to fly a nuclear bomber for fun

The Blackburn Buccaneer was a fast-attack jet of the Royal Navy designed to kill Russian cruisers from just above the waves with conventional and nuclear weapons in engagements lasting only a minute or so. Now, a retired oil company CEO has bought a retired Buccaneer and flies it around South Africa.


Blackburn Buccaneer – British Nuclear Bomber

www.youtube.com

The plane was sent to the fleet in 1962 and served for over 30 years. The need for the jet came in 1952 when Russia introduced the Sverdlov-class cruisers. These were a class of cruisers valuable for defending the Russian coasts and attacking British and other carriers at night when the British would be unable to launch planes.

Britain could either build a new fleet of its own to counter Russia’s new fleets and the Sverdlov cruisers or, it could find a way to negate the new Russian assets. The British decided to build a new plane that could launch day or night, and that could quickly attack enemy ships and get away before the ship could retaliate.

This was a tall order against the Sverdlov which had cutting-edge radar and anti-aircraft weapons. British designers got around this by making the Buccaneer capable of flying just over the waves, below the radar of the enemy ships. And when they reached the target, the Buccaneers would launch their weapons in less than a minute and make their escape.

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A Blackburn Buccaneer with its wings folded.

(Paul Lucas, CC BY 2.0)

The Buccaneer was supposed to eventually receive a custom-made nuclear air-to-surface missile, but actually spent most of its career carrying conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Despite the failure to create the nuclear air-to-surface missile, the Buccaneer was equipped with nuclear free-fall bombs.

The aircraft performed plenty of training in the Cold War and were used for a number of missions, including extensive duties in Iraq during the Gulf War, but was retired in 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

And that was where Ian Pringle came in. A successful oil businessman, Pringle had the money to scoop up a Buccaneer when it went up for sale. He had the plane transported to Thunder City, South Africa, where civilians are allowed to fly nuclear-capable aircraft.

Once there, he took lessons in how to fly the aircraft, a dangerous process. His plane was an operational one, and so it only has controls in the front seat, so his trainer had to sit in the back seat and coach him from there. If Pringle had panicked in flight, there was no way for the instructor to take over.

But Pringle figured it out, and now he races the plane low over the grass of South Africa when he can. The plane was made to allow pilots to fly just above the water, and so he can take it pretty low to the grass.

He’s one of only two civilians ever to fly the plane, though he obviously can’t fly it with missiles or bombs on board.

Articles

This is how the remains of a WWII hero made it home after 75 years

A New York military aviation researcher got more than she bargained for on a dream trip to a battle-scarred South Pacific island — the chance to help solve the mystery of an American soldier listed as missing in action from World War II.


Donna Esposito, who works at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in upstate Glenville, visited Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands this spring and was approached by a local man who knew of WWII dog tags and bones found along a nearby jungle trail. The man asked if Esposito could help find relatives of the man named on the tags: Pfc. Dale W. Ross.

After she returned home, Esposito found that Ross had nieces and nephews still living in Ashland, Oregon. A niece and a nephew accompanied Esposito on her late July return to Guadalcanal, where they were given his dog tags and a bag containing the skeletal remains.

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Marines rest in this field during the Guadalcanal campaign. (Photo under Public Domain.)

Although it’s not certain yet the remains are the missing soldier’s, the nephew who made the Guadalcanal trip is confident they will be a match.

“It’s Uncle Dale. I have no doubt,” said Dale W. Ross, who was named after his relative.

The elder Ross, a North Dakota native whose family moved to southern Oregon, was the third of four brothers who fought in WWII. Assigned to the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, he was listed as MIA in January 1943, during the final weeks of the Guadalcanal campaign. He was last seen in an area that saw heavy fighting around a Japanese-held hilltop.

When the Japanese evacuated Guadalcanal three weeks later, it was the first major land victory in the Allies’ island-hopping campaign in the Pacific.

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Members from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency transfer a case of unidentified remains believed to be military personnel onto a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane to be transferred to Oahu from the Solomon Islands, Aug. 9, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.)

Ross’ relatives handed the remains — about four dozen bones, including rib bones — to a team from the Pentagon agency that identifies American MIAs found on foreign battlefields. On August 7, the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Guadalcanal, an American honor guard carried a flag-draped coffin containing the bones onto a US Coast Guard aircraft.

The Pentagon said the remains were taken to Hawaii for DNA testing.

“Until a complete and thorough analysis of the remains is done by our lab, we are unable to comment on the specific case associated to the turnover,” said Maj. Jessie Romero of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

The other three Ross brothers made it back home, including the oldest, Charles, who served aboard a Navy PT boat in the Solomons and visited Guadalcanal in the vain attempt to learn about his brother Dale’s fate.

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Gen. Robert B. Neller lays a wreath during the 75th Anniversary of the Battle for Guadalcanal ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.)

Ross’ niece and nephew made their trip last month with Esposito and Justin Taylan, founder of Pacific Wrecks, a New York-based nonprofit involved in the search for American MIAs from WWII. They met the family whose 8-year-old son found the dog tags and remains. They also were taken to the spot on a slope in the jungle where the discovery was made.

“I never met this man, but I was a little emotional,” Ross, 71, said of the experience.

For Esposito, 45, finding evidence that could solve a lingering mystery in an American family’s military history is the most meaningful thing she’s ever done in her life.

“I can’t believe this has all happened,” she said. “It has been an amazing journey.”

Articles

This is the Soviet soldier found alive 30 years after dying in Afghanistan

Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Russian 101st Motorized Rifles were caught in a firefight with the Mujahideen near the city of Herat. A young soldier, 20-year-old Bakhretdin Khakimov, was wounded in the fighting, lost on the battlefield, and presumed dead.


Until recently.

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Bakhretdin Khakimov in 1980 and now.

Khakimov was a draftee from Samarkand who had only been in the Red Army a short time when he was injured in Herat Province, near Shindand. Some 30 years later, a group of Soviet war veterans founded the Committee for International Soldiers, a group whose mission is to find and identify missing Soviet soldiers or their remains. Most, like Khakimov, are presumed to be dead.

The young soldier now goes by the name of Sheikh Abdullah. He was rescued from the battlefield by locals, nursed back to health and opted to stay with those that helped him survive. He later married an Afghan woman and settled down to a semi-nomadic life. His wife has since died and he does the same work as the man who rescued him.

“I was wounded in the head and collapsed. I don’t remember much about that time,” he told TOLO news.

There are an estimated 264 Soviet soldiers currently missing from the 1979-1989 Afghan War. The Committee for International Soldiers actually found 29 living servicemen, 22 of which were repatriated to the former Soviet Union. The rest stayed in Afghanistan. The CIS has also identified 15 graves of Soviet war dead, exhuming and identifying five of those.

It is estimated that the decade-long war cost the Soviet Union 15,000 lives — not to mention those of an estimated one million Afghan civilians.

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Khakimov poses with an old photo of himself in the Shindand area of Herat Province.

Bakhretdin Khakimov was an ethnic Uzbek, with family roots not far from Afghanistan’s northern borders. Staying in the country was dangerous for Khakimov and those like him. The USSR would trade submachine guns to locals in exchange for “turncoats” trying to defect from the Red Army.

Russians captured by the Mujahideen did not fare so well — they could expect to be tortured to death. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the Soviet soldiers were often brutally mistreated by their own officers. They would then take out their rage on the civilian population, sometimes even wiping out entire villages.

The last two battalions of Russian spetsnaz crossed the “Friendship” Bridge into neighboring Uzbekistan on Feb. 15, 1989. At that moment, Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov, commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan, told reporters, “There is not a single Soviet soldier or officer left behind me.” He was wrong.

Letters in the forgotten war: Memories of mail on the front lines of Korea
Soviet Troops Withdraw from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan, Feb. 15, 1989.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 miraculous operations of the Israel Defense Forces

There is a lot to say about Israel and its Defense Forces. Like most armed forces in the world, it has a significant history, even despite its relative youth. And like all armed forces in the world, not all of this history is good (despite what some might say), and not all of it is bad (despite what some might say).


From the get-go, Israel needed a miracle — and it got plenty. They came in the form of WWII veterans, brilliant generals, and a civilian population dedicated to preserving the idea that they belong there.

 

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And their operation names are freaking cool.

1. Operation Spring of Youth

Spring of Youth was part of a larger operation with a cooler name (Wrath of God. Awesome). It was Israeli Mossad’s (intelligence service) response to the 1972 Munich Massacre. Israeli agents systematically hunted down and assassinated those involved with planning the Olympic massacre.

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I know this is from the movie Munich, but still – anyone who kills a bunch of Israelis shouldn’t look so surprised that they died.

In 1973, Israeli commandos from Sayeret Matkal, Sayeret 13, and Sayeret Tzanhanim – elite special forces squads – came ashore in Lebanon near Beirut. Mossad agents drove them to buildings where senior members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Black September terrorist organizations lived. The commandos were disguised as tourists, some even dressed as women.

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All three Palestinian targets were killed in the raids, along with hundreds of bodyguards, some Lebanese troops and policemen, and an Italian neighbor. One team of paratroopers met heavy resistance attacking the PFLP building, and so ended up destroying the whole building with explosives. The Israelis lost two soldiers in the raid. The commandos were then casually driven back to the beaches for exfiltration.

2. Operation Thunderbolt

When an Air France passenger jet bound for Paris from Tel Aviv was hijacked by the PFLP in 1976, the hijackers ordered the plane to be flown to Idi Amin’s Uganda. When the dictator welcomed them to Entebbe Airport, the PFLP demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and a $5 million ransom, due July 1st, 1976.

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The hostages were separated into Israeli and non-Israeli groups. As the Israeli government negotiated the release of the hostages, the hijackers freed 153 non-Israelis. Amin and the hijackers agreed to extend the deadline for the deal to July 4th., giving Mossad time to debrief the released hostages in Paris and get information on the hijackers’ numbers and weapons. They also got a layout of the building from an Israeli firm – the one who built the airport.

On the day the hostages were to be executed, a 100-man task force took off from the Sinai (then controlled by Israel). Four C-130 Hercules cargo planes, followed by 2 Boeing 747s landed undetected at Entebbe. Then, 29 Israeli commandos from Sayeret Matkal, led by Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu left the cargo planes in a black Mercedes and a squad of Land Rovers, resembling the motorcades used by Amin. Amin later told his son that the ruse was not as clever as the Israelis thought.

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They approached the terminal, killed the Ugandan guards, then assaulted the airport. Three of the hostages were killed in the firefight, along with all the hijackers. Armored personnel carriers took the hostages to the waiting 747s as the commandos battled Ugandan troops and destroyed Chinese-built Ugandan fighter aircraft to prevent their pursuit. Colonel Netanyahu was killed in the firefight and five others were wounded.

In an operation lasting 53 minutes, 102 hostages were rescued, 45 Ugandans were killed, and 11 MiGs were destroyed on the ground.

One more hostage, a 75-year-old woman who had been taken to a hospital in Kampala during the crisis, was killed in her bed by Amin’s troops after the raid. Her body was found buried in a sugar plantation three years later.

3. Operation Opera

In 1981, eight Israeli F-16s and six F-15s flew right into Iraq to destroy the nuclear reactor at Osirak. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was using the site to develop his nuclear weapons program – a potentially huge threat to Israeli security.

The fighters flew 2,000 miles from Israel to Iraq and back without refueling. The U.S. could not help them and Israel wouldn’t have in-flight refueling until 1982, when Iraq’s reactor would be online. Hitting the reactor was not a problem, it was getting back to Israel that presented the difficulty.

To this day, how Israel managed to get all her planes and pilots home is still classified.

Ten years later, Iraq fired a number of Scud missiles at Israel during the Gulf War in an effort to break the American-led coalition by inviting Israeli counterattacks. Ironically, a majority of the Scuds landed in either Haifa or the Ramat Gan area of Tel Aviv – home to many Iraqi descendants.

4. Operation Stout-Hearted Men

The Yom Kippur War touched off when Israel was attacked by an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria and consisting of Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Algeria. The Arabs wanted to push Israel out of the Sinai and the Golan Height and allow Egypt to re-open the Suez Canal. This war did not go well for the Arabs – both the Golan and the Sinai not only remained in Israeli hands, the Israelis pushed deep into Syria and into Egypt, across the canal.

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How they crossed the Suez is the miracle.

Under cover of darkness, an Israeli paratroop brigade crossed the canal on rubber boats between the 2nd and 3rd Egyptian Armies. Meanwhile, Israeli armor fought to open a corridor in the Sinai through which more units could pass safely to the front – including a series of floating bridges. The bridges allowed two IDF armored brigades to cross into Egypt.

Within a week, the IDF destroyed Egypt’s anti-aircraft umbrella and completely surrounded the Egyptian 3rd Army. This precipitated an end to the war and led to the Camp David Accords, Egypt’s recognition and peace treaty with Israel.

5. Operation Mole Cricket 19

Mole Cricket 19 was one of the largest air battles since World War II and probably one hell of a sight in 1982. To this day, it is the IDF’s most decisive victory, so one-sided it went down in history as the “Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot.” But it didn’t seem like such an easy win at the time. Mole Cricket 19 would be the first time a surface-to-air missile battery was defeated without ground troops.

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Syria moved a number of SAM batteries into Southern Lebanon as Lebanon was in the grips of a civil war that was then seven years old. Israel had launched a number of incursions into Lebanon in support of Christian militias and against PLO positions. The Syrian SAM batteries were a threat to Israel’s ability to control the airspace near its borders.

Israel soon annexed the Golan Heights, which led Syria to condemn the act as a declaration of war. On June 6, 1982, Israel launched a full invasion of Lebanon. Israeli PM Menachem Begin told the Knesset (and Syria) that if the Syrians kept the cease fire, the IDF would too. The Syrians didn’t. They halted an IDF advance and the Israelis used that to launch Mole Cricket 19.

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Within two hours, the Israeli Air Force destroyed 15 of 19 SAM batteries while shooting down 90 enemy aircraft. The Syrian defeat in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot caused alarm among Soviet defense experts. It caused them to question may even have led to the Glasnost ˆ(openness) policy and to the fall of the Soviet Union.

6. Operation Focus

In 1957, Israel declared that any closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping would be considered an act of war. Then the Soviet Union misled Egypt into believing an Israeli pre-emptive strike was imminent. It was when Egypt began to mass its troops at the Egyptian-Israeli border that Israel began to consider a preemptive strike. When Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser closed the Tiran Straits to Israeli ships, Israel began preparing for that strike.

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Operation Focus was the Israeli Air Force operation that launched the Six-Day war in 1967. In less than four hours, 450 Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian combat planes were destroyed on the ground. Egypt lost some 18 airfields and was rendered largely ineffective for the rest of the war. Operation Focus used every single attack plane in the IAF and gave Israel complete air superiority on every front.

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