Friday, August 14, honors the contributions of Indigenous people who helped the war effort during WWII. Today also marks the observance of US code relating to Indigenous languages and the participation of First nations tribe members in U.S. military conflicts. This year marks the 38th year the holiday has been observed, established by President Reagan to honor all tribes associated with the war effort including (but not limited to!) the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Hopi and Navajo tribes.
On this Navajo Code Talkers Day, take a step back in time to understand the history of this observance and understand a little more about covert U.S. operations, too.
A Complex Origin Story
Let’s get one thing clear – the name of this holiday has less to do with the Navajo tribe itself and more to do with the broader term that encompasses the “Navajo Code” used to help fool the fascist Nazis and imperialist Japanese during WWII.
The traditional role of an Indigenous “warrior” involved more than just fighting enemies. Warriors were men in communities who cared for people and helped during times of difficulties and were committed to ensuring their tribes survived. Because warriors were regarded with so much respect, boys trained from an early age to develop the appropriate mental, emotional, and physical strength required of warriors. Many tribes had several specific warrior subgroups within their communities, which had their own ceremonies and ways of life. The warrior tradition was integral to Indigenous life, and it was this call that encouraged many Indigenous people to serve in the military. In addition to wanting to defend the United States, the military offered economic security and a way off the reservation, an opportunity for education, training, and travel.
More than 12,000 Indigenous American Indians served in WWI, about 25 percent of the male population at the time. During WWII, an estimated 44,000 men and women served.
WWI Training and Recruitment
Navajo Code is thought to have been established from the many conflicts experienced by Indigenous people. The earliest reports of the relationship between Code Talkers and the military can be found during WWI when the Choctaw tribe language was used to relay messages related to surprise attacks on German forces.
WWI veteran Philip Johnston understood the value of code talkers and suggested that the USMC use a similar communication strategy for WWII efforts. Though he was not Indigenous, Johnston had grown up on a Navajo reservation and saw the success of the Choctaw efforts in WWI.
During the war, more than 400 Navajos were recruited as Code Talkers, and their training was intense. Some Code Talkers enlisted while others were drafted, but the majority of all Code Talkers served underage and had to lie about their age to join. At the height of the Code Talker involvement in WWII, there were service personnel from more than 16 tribes.
Constructing the Code
Many of the Code Talkers recruited simply used their tribal languages to convey messages. These were known as Type-Two Codes.
In 1942, the Marine Corps recruited the entire 382nd Platoon to develop, memorize and implement the Navajo-coded language. This language became one of many Type-One codes that translated English into a coded message. A Type-One code combined the languages of the Navajo, Hopi, Comanche, and Meskwaki.
To develop the Type-One code, the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers first decided a Navajo word for each letter of the English alphabet. To keep things simple, the Code Talkers decided to associate words with animals that were familiar to them. Here’s an example of the words they used:
Code Talkers were also required to develop specific military-related words for planes, ships and weapons. After looking at these items’ images, the Code Talker squad came up with words that seemed to fit the pictures.
To transmit code, a Code Talker was given a message in English, which was then translated and sent to another Code Talker. To avoid detection, none of these messages were written down until they were received.
Code Talker needed to be intelligent and brave to ensure some of the most dangerous battles and remain calm under fire. They served proudly and with honor and distinction, and their actions provided critical support in several campaigns in the Pacific and are credited with saving thousands of fellow Americans’ lives. The Navajo and Hopi served in the Pacific in the war against Japan, while the Comanches fought the Germans in Europe and the Meskwakis fought the Germans in North Africa. Code Talkers from other tribes served in various locations throughout the European and Pacific theaters. There are very few Code Talkers left alive today, but it’s clear that the outcome of WWII would have been much different without their efforts.
A Russian court has ordered several of the Ukrainian sailors who were captured by Russian coast-guard forces during a confrontation at sea off Crimea to be held in custody for two months.
The Nov. 27, 2018, rulings by the court in Simferopol, the capital of Russian-controlled Crimea, signaled the Kremlin’s defiance of calls by Kyiv and the West to release two dozen crew members who were seized along with three Ukrainian Navy vessels following hours of hostility at sea two days earlier.
Raising the stakes after tensions spiked when Russian coast-guard craft rammed and fired on the Ukrainian boats on Nov. 25, 2018, the court was holding custody hearings for 12 of the crewmen. A Russian official said nine others would face hearings on Nov. 28, 2018.
So far, four have been ordered held in pretrial detention — which usually means custody behind bars in a jail — until Jan. 25, 2019. Under Russian law, detention terms can be extended by courts at the request of prosecutors, and it was not immediately clear when the sailors might face trial.
Officials identified the Ukrainians as Volodymyr Varemez, the captain of a navy tugboat that was rammed by a Russian vessel, and sailors Serhiy Tsybizov, Andriy Oprysko, and Viktor Bespalchenko.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the Ukrainians were charged with “illegal border crossing by a group of individuals acting in collusion, or by an organized group, or with the use of or the threat to use violence.”
The court hearings came hours after Western leaders, speaking on Nov. 26, 2018, condemned what they called Russia’s “outrageous” violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as international maritime treaties, and called on Moscow to immediately release the detainees.
Conflicting reports have put the number of Ukrainians detained at 23 and 24. The court rulings put them in a situation similar to that of several Ukrainians, including film director Oleh Sentsov, who are being held in Russian prisons and jails for what Kyiv and Western governments say are political reasons.
In the running confrontation off Crimea on Nov. 25, 2018, a Russian coast-guard vessel rammed the Ukrainian tugboat in an initial encounter, and a few hours later the Russian vessels opened fire before special forces stormed the three Ukrainian boats. Six Ukrainians were injured.
The hostilities injected yet more animus into the badly damaged relationship between Kyiv and Moscow, which seized Crimea in March 2014 and backs armed separatists in a simmering war that has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since that April.
Those Russian actions, a response to the downfall of a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president who was pushed from power by the pro-European protest movement known as the Euromaidan, have also severely damaged its ties with the West.
The confrontation came days before Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold talks with U.S. President Donald Trump ion the sidelines of a G20 summit in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018.
It followed months of growing tension over the waters in and around the Kerch Strait — the narrow body of water, now spanned by a bridge from Russia to Crimea, that is the only route for ships traveling between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has several ports, including Mariupol.
On Nov. 26, 2018, Ukraine declared martial law in 10 of its 27 regions — including all of those that border Russia or have coastlines — following what it called a Russian “act of aggression.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned “this aggressive Russian action,” and called on Moscow to return the vessels and crews, and abide by Ukraine’s “internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters.”
Pompeo said both sides should “exercise restraint and abide by their international obligations and commitments” and said Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, should “engage directly to resolve this situation.”
Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Nov. 26, 2018, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the incident an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” and a “reckless Russian escalation” of its conflict with Ukraine.
Britain’s Deputy UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said Russia “wants to consolidate its illegal annexation of Crimea and annex the Sea of Azov.”
The international community will not accept this, he said, insisting that Russia “must not be allowed to rewrite history by establishing new realities on the ground.”
Martial law will come into force on Nov. 28, 2018, in 10 Ukrainian regions that Poroshenko said are the most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia,” and will be in place for 30 days.
The measure includes a partial mobilization of forces, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and other unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime.”
Putin expressed “serious concern” over the Ukrainian decision in a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said on Nov. 27, 2018.
The Russian leader also said he hoped “Berlin could influence the Ukrainian authorities to dissuade them from further reckless acts,” a statement said.
“The imposition of martial law in various regions potentially could lead to the threat of an escalation of tension in the conflict region, in the southeast” of Ukraine, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later told reporters.
Hours before the court hearings, Russian state-run TV channel Rossia-24 showed images of several of the detained Ukrainians that were apparently recorded during interrogations by Russia’s security services.
One of them parroted the version of events put forward by Russian authorities, saying, “The actions of the Ukrainian armed vessels in the Kerch Strait had a provocative character.”
One of the detained appeared to be reading his statement. Russian law enforcement agencies frequently provide state media with footage of suspects being questioned under duress.
In Kyiv, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) confirmed that a number of its officers were among those captured.
One of them was seriously wounded after a Russian aircraft fired two missiles at the Ukrainian boats, SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said in a statement.
Calling Russia’s capture of Ukrainian crews “unacceptable,” the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, urged Russia to “immediately release” those detained and provide them with medical aid.
She also called on both sides to use “utmost restraint” to prevent the only live war in Europe from escalating.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia “has to understand that its actions have consequences. We will remain in contact with the Ukrainian government to underline our support.”
Unlike other U.S. officials, who vocally backed Ukraine and criticized Russia, President Trump did not name either country in a brief response to a reporter’s question about the confrontation.
“Either way, we don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully they’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not — they are not thrilled. They are working on it, too. We are all working on it together,” Trump said.
Russia’s acting UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, accused the Ukrainian Navy of “staging an aggressive provocation,” which he claimed was aimed at drumming up public support for Poroshenko ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election in March.
“They have no hope to remain in power otherwise,” he said, while condemning Western leaders for condoning what he called their “puppets” in Kyiv.
“I want to warn you that the policy run by Kyiv in coordination with the EU and the U.S. of provoking conflict with Russia is fraught with most serious consequences,” Polyansky said.
At the outset of the UN Security Council meeting on the incident, Russia suffered a setback after it sought to discuss the clash under an agenda item that described the incident as a violation of Russia’s borders.
This was rejected in a procedural vote, with only China, Bolivia, and Kazakhstan siding with Russia. The Security Council then discussed the clash under terms laid out by Ukraine.
The naval confrontation took place as the Ukrainian vessels were approaching the Kerch Strait, the only access to the Sea of Azov.
A 2003 treaty between Russia and Ukraine designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters.
But Moscow has been asserting greater control since its takeover of Crimea — particularly since May 2018, when it opened a bridge linking the peninsula to Russian territory on the eastern side of the Kerch Strait.
“I have to emphasize that, according to the international law, Crimea and respective territorial waters are the Ukrainian territory temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation,” Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko told the Security Council.
“Hence, there are no Russian borders in the area where the incident happened. I repeat — there are no Russian state borders around the Crimean Peninsula,” he said.
Frank Lee served as a Marine Corps combat cameraman in Vietnam, collecting spool after spool of footage of other U.S. Marines and soldiers fighting in the hottest parts of the conflict.
Like many recruits, Lee was surprised to learn what his job entailed. He had originally enlisted into electronics and photography to stay away from combat as a concession to his mom who had worried about his safety.
Lee decided to finally go through some of his more violent footage with his son who had only seen the “G-Rated” footage. In this video, Frank and his son dicuss the day that Lee was wounded in an North Vietnamese Army ambush that left all of those superior to LeeFrank either severely wounded or dead.
Lee had to step up, relaying instructions from the pinned down, wounded platoon sergeant while calling in air strikes on the village from which the fire was coming. While the film is silent, Lee says that he heard the cries of women and children caught in the fighting, sounds that have haunted him since.
American napalm burned through the fields and village. The Marines maintained their perimeter until darkness fell and their brothers from Kilo company were able to reach them.
A corpsman attached a casualty card to Lee and he was medevaced from the bush. For his contributions to saving the patrol, he was awarded the Bronze Star with V Device. Watch him tell the story to his son in the video below:
The tale of Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope is quite amazing – particularly given that it was a Nazi, Hullmuth Heye, who recommended Roope for the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest medal for gallantry in combat. But Heye wasn’t the only Nazi to recommend a Victoria Cross for a foe.
Oberleutnant Klemens Schamong was commanding the German submarine U-468, a Type VIIC U-boat, during World War II. U-boat.net reports that U-468 displaced about 871 tons submerged, and was armed with five torpedo tubes (four forward, one aft) as well as an 88mm deck gun and other smaller anti-aircraft guns. According to U-boat.net, this sub is credited with sinking one ship — the motor tanker Empire Light, in March of 1943.
But an incident off West Africa five months after U-468’s lone ship kill would leave Schamong in a unique position. The sub was caught on the surface at about 9:45 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 11, 1943, by a B-24 Liberator provided to the Royal Air Force under Lend-Lease and piloted by Royal New Zealand Air Force Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg. During the war, many B-24s were used as maritime patrol aircraft due to their ability to operate at long range and still carry a heavy payload.
According to the London Gazette, Trigg began to approach the U-boat and came under heavy fire. The B-24 was damaged and started to catch fire. Trigg could have pulled away to make a water landing, but instead he chose to press the attack. He dropped depth charges that left U-468 in a sinking condition. The B-24 then crashed into the sea. None of the Liberator’s crew survived.
But a rubber dinghy from the crashed aircraft floated on the sea, near where the U-boat went down. Schamong and six of his crew would reach that life raft, where two days later, a Royal Navy Flower-class corvette, HMS Clakia, would find them. As a POW, Schamong reported the actions of the B-24’s pilot to the British, who awarded Trigg the Victoria Cross posthumously.
“Star Wars Canyon” (aka Rainbow Canyon) which empties into the Panamint Valley region of Death Valley National Park has become very popular among serious aviation photographers from all around the world who daily exploit the unique opportunity to shoot military aircraft during their low altitude transit through the so-called “Jedi Transition.”
While you may happen to see any kind of combat aircraft thundering through Canyon, fast jets (including warbirds) are, by far, the most common visitors to the low level corridor. However, if you are lucky enough, you can also have the chance to spot a heavy airlifters during low level training.
As happened at least twice in the last days when the C-17 Globemaster III 33121/ED belonging to the 418th Flight Test Sqn, 412th Test Wing from Edwards Air Force Base, performed some passes in the Start Wars Canyon.
The following video, taken by John Massaro, shows the pass on April 18, 2019. As said it’s not the first time a C-17 cargo aircraft flies through the Jedi Transition, still it’s always interesting to see such a heavy aircraft maneuvering at low altitude through the valleys.
Star Wars Canyon…Jedi Transition…C-17 Low Level Pass
[…] what makes the low level training so interesting, is the fact that aircraft flying the low level routes are involved in realistic combat training. Indeed, although many current and future scenarios involve stand-off weapons or drops from high altitudes, fighter pilots still practice on an almost daily basis to infiltrate heavily defended targets and to evade from areas protected by sophisticated air defense networks as those employed in Iran, Syria or North Korea. While electronic countermeasures help, the ability to get bombs on target and live to fight another day may also depend on the skills learnt at treetop altitude.
To be able to fly at less than 2,000 feet can be useful during stateside training too, when weather conditions are such to require a low level leg to keep visual contact with the ground and VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions). Aircraft involved in special operations, reconnaissance, Search And Rescue, troops or humanitarian airdrops in trouble spots around the world may have to fly at low altitudes.
That’s why low level corridors like the Sidewinder and the LFA-7 aka “Mach Loop” in the UK are so frequently used to train fighter jet, airlifter and helicopter pilots.
And such training pays off when needed. As happened, in Libya, in 2011, when RAF C-130s were tasked to rescue oil workers that were trapped in the desert. The airlifter took off from Malta and flew over the Mediteranean, called Tripoli air traffic control, explained who they were and what they were up to, they got no reply from the controllers, therefore continued at low level once over the desert and in hostile airspace.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
In 1944, the Japanese were still advancing into British-dominated Burma-India theater. Their progress was slowed due to dense jungles, steep mountains, and the fact that they were trampling all over the backyards of the world’s best soldiers.
One of those was 19-year-old Ganju Lama. Lama was a Rifleman in the 1st Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles, an anti-tank unit. This training would soon come in handy. They were part of an effort to recapture the city of Imphal in eastern India, along the Burma border.
The Japanese rolled into the area with 37mm guns mounted on Type 97 Chi-Ha tanks.
In his first contact with the Japanese outside of Imphal, he used a projectile, infantry, anti-tank (or PIAT) rifle to disable one of the tanks. The Gurkhas then fell back, with Lama covering their retreat. Three weeks later, Ganju Lama met another company of Japanese tanks.
That fight would go a very different way.
Japanese artillery opened up on the Gurkhas in the morning of June 12th and rained death on them for more than an hour. As soon as the rain let up, enemy infantry supported by three tanks tore through the British lines near Lama’s position. The Gurkhas counter-attacked but were soon bogged down.
Future-President Harry S. Truman was a hero in World War I who technically broke orders when, as a captain, he ordered his men to fire out of sector during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, eliminating German artillery batteries and observers in order to protect U.S. troops. But his first battle saw his men break ranks until Truman, shaking from fear, rallied them back to their guns.
The fight came in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France. Truman had recently been promoted to captain and given command of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment. His battery was known as a smart, athletic, but undisciplined lot. He managed to wrangle influence over them.
But he was still untested in battle when his battery moved into position Aug. 29, 1918, and began their bombardment of German positions. The battery’s four 75mm guns sent rounds downrange, and it was great—at first. As Pvt. Vere Leigh later said, “We were firing away and having a hell of a good time doing it until they began to fire back.”
Truman had been in command for less than two months, and his men began to melt away under the cover of rain and darkness. Rumors that the German shells contained gas agents sent the men scrambling to get masks on themselves and their horses.
In all this chaos, it was easy for the artillerymen, especially the support troops, to run into the woods and rocks of the area. Truman was afraid himself and had to struggle to remain in place. He would later write to his wife, “My greatest satisfaction is that my legs didn’t succeed in carrying me away, although they were very anxious to do it.”
Truman was on his horse, trying to keep his unit organized and in place until he rode into a shell crater and tumbled with his horse to the ground. A soldier had to help get him out from under the horse, and Truman watched the fleeing men around him and had to decide whether to run as well.
But he did hold position, and he began insulting and cajoling his troops to get them back on the guns. “I got up and called them everything I knew,” he said. The language was surprising coming from the relatively small and bespectacled captain, but it worked. Gun crews began shifting back to their weapons, other troops got horses back in line in case the battery needed to move, and American rounds screeched through the air to thunder home in German positions.
Most of his men, of course, refused to admit if they ran. So the men began referring to it as the “Battle of Who Ran.”
Truman’s poise under fire helped endear him to the men, even if he had secretly been terrified. This would later help them stick together in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive when Truman ordered them to kill German artillery batteries and observers that were technically out of the division’s sector. Truman got in trouble for firing out of sector, but he protected his men and the armored units of Lt. Col. George S. Patton Jr. that Battery D was supporting.
Seems like the behavior should’ve been expected from the guy who managed to wrangle Battery D into a unit that would stand and fight.
The fight for the Hurtgen Forest was one of the most devastating battles of all World War II Europe and one of few the U.S. Army lost after landing at Normandy on D-Day. The relatively quick advance through France gave Allied commanders the drive to race to enter Germany. The pace was so fast, they outran their supply lines and had to take a pause – a pause that would result in the longest land battle in U.S. military history.
Having to wait for the Allied supply lines to catch up to the front gave the beleaguered Nazis the chance to regroup and settle down in one of Europe’s most dense and dark forests. It was a place the Army should never have entered.
American troops man a machine gun in a captured German position during the 1944 Battle of Hurtgen Forest.
To put it mildly, the forest was the ideal place to defend. As the summer was turning to fall, which would soon see winter, the dense wood would see snow and rain that would churn the dirt to mud. Dense forests, deep ravines, and steep hills also gave the German defenders the advantage in the forest. To top it all off, there were also abandoned and overgrown concrete bunkers, part of the old Siegfried Line of defensive fortifications throughout the forest – and that’s exactly what drove the Americans into the bunker.
So after they gave the Germans time to roll out the barbed wire, booby traps, and minefields, the Americans decided to assault the forest head-on in an attempt to be the first to fight and take the vaunted Siegfried Line and thus be the first to enter Germany.
Not my first choice of target, but okay.
The forest itself was 70 square miles and was situated between Aachen, a city under siege that would not surrender, and the Ruhr Dam along the Rhine, one the Allies were afraid the Nazis would just destroy in an attempt to flood the Allied advance. The Americans decided they would assault the forest directly, and swiftly neutralize the threat to the dam while ensuring the fall of Aachen. That did not happen.
American tanks and airpower were ineffective while fighting in the forest and the machine gun – which the Wehrmacht had in spades – was the most effective weapon, especially considering the difficulty seeing for any kind of distance, along with the hills and ravines throughout the forest. The Germans zeroed in their mortars before the Americans ever arrived. The Americans should never have engaged the forest at all.
Even Ernest Hemingway, who feared nothing and no one, opted not to stay at Hurtgen Forest. No joke.
The U.S. Army didn’t have to go into the woods. The Siegfried Line was being assaulted all along its perimeter. The debacle at Hurtgen cost anywhere from 30,000-50,000 casualties at a cost of just 28,000 German casualties. To make matters worse, the months slowdown in advancement allowed the Germans to break out in a winter offensive, an advance that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
Admit it, you read that headline and thought, “Yeah! Marines are super cocky!” Well, you aren’t exactly wrong. Hell, even if you are a Marine, you’ll agree with that fact. But why are we this way? What is ingrained in our DNA that makes us so damn arrogant?
Marines already know the answer. We’re reminded of it every day while we’re on active duty. Higher-ups are constantly telling us that we’re a bunch of morons with guns bad asses backed by a long and illustrious history of proof. But, if questioned by anyone outside of the Corps, we might not have an easy answer. Furthermore, service members in other branches might be supremely annoyed by the arrogance — and who could blame them?
So, if you’re wondering why this is, here’s your answer:
The fighting spirit and notorious reputation we’ve gained throughout history is a huge source of arrogance for us.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
As mentioned above, Marines can always point to their history as proof that we really are as badass as we say. Of course, higher-ups and drill instructors might have you believe that it’s because Marines have never lost a battle or retreated but… that’s not exactly true.
Marines have definitely had to surrender, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t fight like hell beforehand. When Marines had to surrender, you can bet that they made the enemy pay for it with blood. Regardless, Marines have a history of (usually) winning battles, typically against overwhelming odds. Victory comes at a high price. The ability to do this is certainly something to be proud of.
Overcoming the challenge of boot camp is just the first step.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski)
Whether Marine Corps boot camp is, in fact, the toughest basic training in the military is impossible to prove, but one thing is for sure: it sucks. And then after that, if you’re a grunt, you’ll go to the School of Infantry and, any one of us will tell you that SOI sucks way worse than boot camp ever could.
Even when you hit the fleet, you’ll still have to train for deployments, and that sucks, too. But through the experience of “The Suck,” you gain a lot of pride. You overcome these insane challenges that you never thought you could, and you understand that you did so by digging deep into your own spirit to find the motivation.
Even something as simple as morning PT sucks.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Carlos Cruz Jr.)
The lifestyle of a Marine is, in short, not that great — especially considering that we almost exclusively get leftovers no one else wanted. We work with trash and usually come out on top regardless. Remember the training we were talking about? It sucks worse than everyone else’s (outside of special forces) because we simply don’t have the ability to make it any easier.
But who needs easy when you’re a badass? Not Marines. If there’s anything that lends itself to the arrogance of a Marine, it’s the lifestyle. Having to live in barracks with broken air conditioning during the summer in Hawai’i or the Stumps, eating garbage mess hall food, having strict rules regarding everything, etc. These are all things that make us believe we’re better than everyone else because we know that we have it tough, but that’s what makes us so damn good.
Marines can be some of the best people you’ll meet.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Ernest Scott)
No matter what you think about arrogance or Marines or the combination of the two, Marines can be some of the most compassionate, humble people you’ll ever meet, and it’s specifically because of our tough lifestyle. We don’t have the best gear to work with and our living quarters suck, but we learn to live with less and it teaches us to appreciate little things.
Seventy years ago, with Adolf Hitler’s crumbled Third Reich still fresh in their memories and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union having a choke hold on their future, Berlin’s children were starving.
With the Nazi surrender in 1945, the Allies divided the defeated Germany. The French, British, and Americans took the western half of the nation spreading the ideals of democracy, while the Communist Russians occupied the eastern half of Germany. Berlin itself was divided into sectors between the allies, but was completely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled sector of Germany.
More than three years after World War II ended, Russian forces blockaded the Allied-controlled areas of Berlin on June 24, 1948, shutting off access to food, coal, and medicine to two million German citizens.
Berlin became the first front line of The Cold War and the nine-month old U.S. Air Force was charged with keeping Berliners alive while keeping the Cold War from turning hot.
The Berlin Airlift began two days later, with U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrains and C-54 Skymasters delivering milk, flour, and medicine to West Berlin. Throughout the duration of the blockade, U.S. and British aircraft delivered more than 2.3 million tons of supplies. At the height of the Berlin Airlift, aircraft were landing every three minutes, supplying up to 13,000 tons of food, coal and medicine a day, according to the Air Force Historical Support Division.
German children who live near the Tempelhof Air Base use model American planes which were sold in toy shops throughout the western sector of Berlin to play a game called “Luftbrucke” (air bridge) while pretending they are American pilots delivering food and supplies for “Operation Vittles” during the Berlin Airlift in West Berlin.
(National Archive photo)
Then-1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1974, was one of the American pilots flying around-the-clock missions from Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany to Tempelhof Air Field in Berlin. He flew 126 missions delivering supplies and food from July 1948 to February 1949.
“We learned very clearly that the new enemy was Stalin. He was taking over where Hitler left off. We knew exactly what Stalin had in mind,” Halvorsen said.
However, some Airmen had mixed emotions about aiding the former enemy that had been shooting at American pilots just three years before. Halvorsen admitting that he had issues at first with the mission, but it quickly changed when he talked with a fellow crewmember.
“He told me that it is a hell of a lot better to feed them (rather) than kill them and that he was glad to be back. That is service before self. That is what causes your enemy to become your friend,” Halvorsen said.
On one of his first missions, the American pilot learned in a conversation with German youth through the perimeter fence at Templehof, that West Berliners may have needed food, but they were even more hungry for hope and freedom.
Between missions, Halvorsen was filming aircraft landings with his Revere movie camera when he encountered about 30 German children between the ages of 8 and 14, he said in his autobiography, “The Berlin Candy Bomber.”
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(US Air Force photo)
He greeted them with practically all the German he knew, but surprisingly, one of the group spoke English. Halvorsen was soon answering questions about how many sacks of flour and loaves of bread the airplanes carried and what other types of cargo were being airlifted.
He talked with the children for an hour before he realized not one had asked him for anything. Instead, they gave him something he didn’t expect: the best lesson on freedom he’d ever heard.
“I got five steps away from them, and then it hit me,” said Halvorsen, commonly known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. “I’d been dead-stopped for an hour, and not one kid had put out their hand. Not one.”
The contrast was so stark because during World War II, and dating all the way back to George Washington, if you were in an American uniform walking down the street, kids would chase you and ask for chocolate and gum.
“The reason they didn’t was they were so grateful to our fliers to be free. They wouldn’t be a beggar for more than freedom,” said Halvorsen. “Hitler’s past and Stalin’s future was their nightmare. American-style freedom was their dream. They knew what freedom was about. They said, ‘Someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.’ These were kids, and they were teaching me about freedom. That’s what just blew me away… That was the trigger. I reached into my pocket, but all I had were two sticks of gum. Right then, the smallest decision I made changed the rest of my life.”
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(US Air Force photo)
When he reached into his pocket for the two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum, Halvorsen debated the wisdom of giving it to them. Perhaps they’d fight over it. Yet, he broke each in half and passed four halves through the barbed wire, then braced for the rush of children to the fence.
It never came.
The children who didn’t get any of the gum only asked for a piece of the wrapper so they could smell the aroma. Their reaction, along with the surprise the pilot felt when they didn’t beg for anything, led to his decision to do more for them.
The man the German children would later call “Onkel Wackelflugel” or Uncle Wiggly Wings, came up with an idea that would not only change the lives of those children, but would also help the West win the ideological war with the Soviets for Germany’s future.
Halvorsen told the kids he would drop something to them on his next landing at Templehof if they promised to share. He would signal them on approach that it was his plane by wiggling the wings, something he’d done for his parents after he received his pilot’s license in 1941.
Back at Rhein-Main Air Base, just 280 miles away, he combined his candy rations with those of his co-pilot and engineer, made parachutes out of handkerchiefs and string and tied them to chocolate and gum for the first “Operation Little Vittles” drop from his C-54 Skymaster July 18, 1948.
“The only way I could get back to deliver it was to drop it from the airplane, 100 feet over their heads, on the approach between the barbed wire fence and bombed-out buildings,” Halvorsen said. “A red light came on that said you can’t drop it without permission. But I rationalized it by saying that starving 2 million people isn’t according to Hoyle, either, so what’s a few candy bars?”
The amount of candy steadily increased, along with the number of waiting children, for three weeks until a Berlin newspaper published a photo of the now famous “Candy Bomber.”
Soon, stacks of letters began arriving at Templehof base operations addressed to “Der Schokoladen Flieger” (the Chocolate Flyer), or “Onkel Wackelflugel.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gail Halvorsen, known as “The Candy Bomber”, reads letters from grateful West Berlin children to whom he dropped candy bars on tiny parachutes during the Berlin Airlift.
(US Air Force photo)
One day, after he returned from Berlin, Halvorsen was summoned by Col. James R. Haun, the C-54 squadron commander. Haun had received a call from Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner, deputy commander of operations during the airlift, who wanted to know who was dropping parachutes over Berlin.
Halvorsen knew he was in trouble when Haun showed him the newspaper with the picture of little parachutes flying out of his C-54.
“You got me in a little trouble there, Halvorsen,” Haun told him.
“I’d had a long relationship with him, but he was put out because he was sandbagged,” Halvorsen said. “So when I talk to kids, especially high school kids, I say, ‘when you get a job, don’t sandbag your boss.’ He said to keep [dropping candy], but keep him informed. It just went crazy after that.”
Fellow pilots donated their candy rations. Eventually, they ran out of parachutes, so they made more from cloth and old shirt-sleeves until noncommissioned officers’ and officers’ wives at Rhein-Main AB began making them.
Later, the American Confectioners Association donated 18 tons of candy, mostly sent through a Chicopee, Massachusetts school where students attached it to parachutes before sending to Berlin through then-Westover Air Force Base.
By the end of the Berlin Airlift in September 1949, American pilots had dropped 250,000 parachutes and 23 tons of candy.
“Willie Williams took over after I left Berlin,” Halvorsen said. “And he ended up dropping even more candy than I did.”
Since the Berlin Airlift ended, Halvorsen has met countless Germans whose lives were changed because of “Operation Little Vittles.”
During the Berlin Airlift, then Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen dropped candy attached to parachutes made from handkerchiefs to German children watching the airlift operations from outside the fence of the Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. One of those children was then seven-year-old Mercedes Simon whose father was killed during WWII. She and Halvorsen became pen pals and friends meeting many times later in life. The beginning of their friendship is recounted in the children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” by Margot Theis Raven held by Halvorsen.
(US Air Force photo)
One of them, a 7-year-old girl named Mercedes, wrote in a letter in 1948 that she loved “Der Schokoladen Flieger,” but was concerned for her chickens, who thought the airlift planes were chicken hawks. Mercedes asked him to drop candy near the white chickens because she didn’t care if he scared them.
Halvorsen tried, but never could find Mercedes’ white chickens, so he wrote her a letter and sent her candy through the Berlin mail.
The two would finally meet face-to-face 24 years later when Halvorsen returned to Berlin as Templehof commander in the early 1970s.
Mercedes’ husband, Peter Wild, convinced the Templehof commander to come to his home for dinner. Mercedes showed him the letter he’d written her in 1948, along with the chickens she’d written about in her own letter.
It was a friendship immortalized in Margot Theis Raven’s children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.”
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(US Air Force photo)
Halvorsen has returned to Berlin nearly 40 times since the airlift. In 1974, he received one of Germany’s highest medals, the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz, and carried the German team’s national placard into Rice-Eccles Stadium during the opening march for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Halvorsen participated in a re-enactment of “Operation Little Vittles” during the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Berlin Airlift and also dropped candy from a C-130 Hercules during Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Even at the age of 97, Halvorsen keeps a busy schedule as he and his wife, Lorraine, split their time between their homes in Arizona and Utah. Several times a year he would fly the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom,” with FAA certification to fly second-in-command.
He’s also visited many schools, both stateside and overseas, and visited Iraq to review Air Mobility Command transport operations and visit troops deployed in Southwest Asia.
Seventy years since the Berlin Airlift, the colonel remains universally beloved as the “Candy Bomber,” but enjoys one thing about his perpetual notoriety the most.
“The thing I enjoy the most about being the ‘Candy Bomber’ is seeing the children’s reaction even now to the idea of a chocolate bar coming out of the sky,” he said. “The most fun I have is doing air drops because even here in the states, there’s something magical about a parachute flying out of the sky with a candy bar on it.”
Halvorsen believes the praise he receives for bringing hope to a generation of Germans through his candy bombing deflects much of the credit to that first group of children at the barbed wire fence at Templehof.
Their gratitude and thankfulness for the pilots’ efforts to keep them free during the Berlin Airlift inspired him to reach into his pocket for those two sticks of gum.
That “smallest decision,” as Halvorsen calls it, led to 23 tons of candy dropped from the sky to the children of West Berlin and changed countless lives, not to mention the life of the Candy Bomber, himself.
Halvorsen’s dedication to helping those in need didn’t end after he retired with 31 years of service in the Air Force. In 1994, his request to assist in another humanitarian airlift was approved. He would fly with the Air Force again, this time delivering food to 70,000 refugees fleeing from the conflict in Bosnia.
“We have our freedom to choose, and when the freedom is taken away, air power is the only quick way to answer a crisis like that,” he recalled.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew during WWII at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona.
(US Air Force photo)
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
In the final six months of World War II, the 104th Division — “The Frontier Division” — launched a series of night attacks against German troops while equipped with only empty rifles, bayonets, and grenades, slicing and exploding their way through enemy lines on the drive to Berlin.
The 104th Division was stood up in Oregon on Sep. 15, 1942, around the same time that its future commander, Maj. Gen. Terry “Terrible Terry” Allen, was loading the 1st Inf. Division into ships for the invasion of North Africa.
One of Allen’s big takeaways from commanding the 1st in Tunisia was that night attacks were generally less costly than daytime assaults, especially against fortifications and massed guns. So, when he handed the 1st over to Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner and was sent to take over the 104th, he insisted that the Frontier Division learn to fight at night.
According to a 1946 news article about the Division, Allen required the men to train 30-35 hours a week at night, well above the Army standard of eight to 12 hours.
After training in the U.S. and England, the 104th finally landed in France in September 1944 and was sent to Antwerp a month later to help capture the port there. In two weeks of bloody fighting that included multiple night assaults, the Timberwolves worked with the Canadians and British to eliminate Nazi defenses.
Even when the “Nightfighters” had rifle ammunition and permission to use it, they seemed to prefer their bayonets and explosives, likely in a bid to reduce tell-tale muzzle flashes that would give away their position.
During the Battle of the Dykes near Antwerp, then-1st Lt. Cecil Bolton tried to use mortars to knock out enemy machine gun positions raining fire on his unit. After being knocked unconscious by German artillery, he awoke and led a two-man volunteer bazooka team against the German lines by sneaking through chest-deep, nearly frozen water in the canals to the enemy positions.
The night attacks were usually reserved for positions in relatively open terrain, but were sometimes conducted against cities. The city of Eschweiler was captured in November thanks to a pre-dawn insertion of troops into the city center. Those men raised hell inside German lines at sunrise while the rest of their unit attacked from the outside.
The second phase, involving the crossing of the Inde River and the advance to the Roer, was even more difficult, but with characteristic skill and dash, in a series of brilliant night attacks, the 104th Division forced a crossing of the Inde, and in a few days had cleared its entire sector to the Roer River. I regard the operation which involved the seizure of Lamersdorf-Inden-Luchererg as one of the finest single pieces of work accomplished by any unit of the 7th Corps since D Day.
On April 26, the 104th met up with Russian troops that had been pushing the Germans west from Moscow. The Allied forces continued to hunt German units until May 5 when they ran out of Nazis to fight. Thus ended 195 days and nights of continuous combat, some of it conducted at night against machinegun nests and artillery positions by attackers armed only with blades and grenades.
We’ve all heard the saying: “All is fair in love and war.” While it may hold true for love, the war part couldn’t be further from the truth for our troops.
According to the “Sanremo Handbook on Rules of Engagement” posted by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, the rules do not dictate how the troops achieve results. But they do say what’s unacceptable.
The conclusion featured an underwater game of cat and mouse between the Red October (a modified Typhoon-class submarine manned by a skeleton crew), the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700), and the Sturgeon-class submarine USS Pogy (SSN 647) on one side against the Alfa-class submarine V.K. Konavolov.
As any fan of Tom Clancy novels knows, the Red October made it, and the Konavolov ended up on the bottom. But what would happen today?
Let’s start by updating the ships in question. Let’s replace the Typhoon with Russia’s new Borei-class SSBN. In one sense, we still get a very quiet, hard-to-detect vessel. While much smaller than the Red October (24,000 tons to 48,000), the Borei features pumpjet propulsion. This system has been used on British and American submarines for decades.
But the American submarines also will improve. Instead of a Flight I 688 like USS Dallas (now destined for the “Nuclear Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – a fancy way of saying scrapyard), we’ll use a Virginia-class SSN (let’s go with USS Illinois (SSN 786) for the sake of discussion. We’ll replace the Pogy (already “recycled”) with USS Connecticut (SSN 22), a Seawolf-class submarine.
Now, what do we replace the Alfa with? Back in 1984, the Alfa was a mystery. It was known to have high speed and a titanium hull. Today, we know two things about this alleged super-submarine.
First, the Alfa was louder than a teenager’s stereo system playing Metallica. Second, its sonars, like those on most Russian combat vessels, were crap. The successor to the Alfa was the Sierra-class submarine. While not as fast, it did feature a better armament suite (four 650mm torpedo tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes compared to six 533mm tubes for the Alfa). It also was somewhat quieter (given the Alfa’s noise level, that’s easy to do).
How might that final confrontation go? Given what we know about the (lack of) performance Russian sonars were capable of, it is highly likely that the 2016 version of the Hunt for Red October would be far less, shall we say, novel-worthy. It’s highly probable that the Sierra would not even pick up the Borei-class Red October and her escorts. Perhaps, at most, USS Connecticut would fire a decoy or two – sending the Sierra on a wild goose chase.
Thus, the Soviets would never even know America had the Red October.