Even as World War II was wrapping up and Allied soldiers occupied much of Western Europe, the British Special Operations Executive was still devising plans to kill Adolf Hitler in Germany and bring the war to a swift end.
Many different options were considered, including bombing his personal train, sabotaging railway stations, and even poisoning Hitler’s water or food, but all those were deemed too complex to ensure success.
The planners decided it would be best and easiest to kill the Fuhrer at the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain chalet in southern Germany.
While interviewing German prisoners taken from the Allied invasion of Europe, the SOE discovered one of the defender of the Nazi’s Fortress Europe was once a member of Hitler’s personal bodyguard, stationed at the Berghof.
The former guard’s testimony revealed a distinct weakness in the German dictator’s morning routines while staying at the chalet. When he was staying at the Berghof, the Nazis flew a Nazi flag from the top of the house, which could be seen from Berchtesgaden, the town nearby. Every morning around 10am, he would take a 20 minute walk, always alone, out of sight of the guard houses.
British officials decided this would be the best place to plan for an assassination attempt, as they could confirm that Hitler was at the Berghof before launching the final phases of the operation, then infiltrate the grounds and do the job.
Another captured German also revealed that his uncle was a local in the town and was vehemently anti-Hitler and could thus be recruited to aid the commandos. Once there, the British considered a few weapons that might be used to ensure Hitler’s demise (including the use of a bazooka) but they settled on a skilled sniper to do the job.
The Special Operations Executive devised a plan that would see German-speaking Poles and a British sniper parachute into Salzburg and be driven to Berchtesgaden by the uncle.
Once in Berchtesgaden and disguised as German troops and carrying Wehrmacht rifles, the commandos would make their way to the Berghof grounds and wait for Hitler’s morning stroll. It would be there they take out the Fuhrer and make their way back to Berchtesgaden.
Although the plan had the backing of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it was ultimately abandoned for a few reasons. The first and most important is that all the Allied intelligence services considered Hitler so terrible at military strategy that they feared someone more competent would take his place and prolong the war.
They also worried about the ramifications of the Hitler Mythology. While it was widely known among Allied leaders (and probably German leadership) that Hitler was a poor strategist, it wasn’t really known among the Fuhrer’s most fervent supporters. Planners worried that killing Hitler would leave behind a mythos similar to the end of World War I – that if Hitler had survived the war, Germany would have won. They worried such an occurrence would lead to another war.
Finally, they didn’t want to make a martyr of Hitler and thus National Socialism as an ideology. The plan was ultimately scrapped due to the divisions of opinion it caused in the British military and intelligence leadership.
The plan, originally scheduled for July 14, 1944 didn’t happen and a fully alive Hitler left the Berghof for the last time that day, never to return.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel pulled himself out of poverty by joining a gang headed by immigrant Meyer Lansky. During the Prohibition Era, Lansky and Siegel ran a large bootlegging operation and were influential in Jewish and Italian immigrant crime syndicate communities. In the 1930s, after organized crime made the mobster fabulously wealthy, Siegel moved to sunny Southern California, where he would continue his illegal activities.
It was there he met Dorothy di Frasso, an Italian Countess, at one of the her extravagant Beverly Hills parties. They began to travel the world together. Eventually, they invested in a new explosive called “radium-atomite” and sail for Italy in 1941, hoping to sell it to Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini.
Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law and foreign minister, was skeptical of the invention after the demonstration of the weapons went poorly. Ciano took a pass. Unfortunately for the Italians that very next year, the scientist developing the explosive would refine his product into a form of jellied nitroglycerin, an explosive more powerful and cheaper to produce than TNT and easier to transport than liquid nitroglycerin. When that scientist patented the explosive, Di Frasso’s name was on the patent as the owner.
While Siegel and Di Frasso were in Rome, the Nazi Luftwaffe commander, Gestapo founder, and Reichstag President Hermann Göring was there as well — fresh from annexing Czechoslovakia and ready to discuss the invasion of Poland. Meanwhile, the Beverly Hills couple were meeting all sorts of notable figures, including the new Pope Pius XII, Italian King Victor Immanuel II and his son Umberto II, and Mussolini himself.
Siegel and di Frasso eventually ran into Reichsmarschall Göring. The mobster’s daughter, who was eight-years-old at this time, remembered that her father was so angered by one of the men he met in Italy that he “wished he had shot him.” The story goes that the villa the couple were supposed to stay in as guests of the Italian government was taken by Göring, so the couple would have to be moved to less lavish quarters. Siegel, a Jewish American, unhappy with the treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied areas and with the government anti-Semitic ideology, told friends and associates he wanted to kill the German Reichsmarschall, after meeting Göring just one time.
Göring does have one of history’s most punchable faces . . .
It was rumored Siegel also wanted to take out infamous Nazis Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler, but those rumors are unsubstantiated. The mobster would outlive Göring. The Reichsmarschall would famously kill himself with cyanide before he could be hanged at Nuremburg after the war.
For his part, Siegel would be gunned down in his Beverly Hills home by a different mistress in 1947.
Even though the five-star general rank essentially died in 1981 with Omar Bradley, the idea of a five-star general rising above all others to command so much of the American and allied militaries is remarkably heroic.
The five-star general officer was born in WWII because American generals and admirals were often placed above allied officers of a higher rank. Someone elevated to that position could never retire and was considered an active-duty officer for the rest of their life.
That’s a lot of trust. The list of the 9 officers we deemed worthy of the honor rightly reads like a “who’s who” of U.S. military history.
1. Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy
Leahy was the first officer to make the rank. He was the senior officer in the U.S. Navy and the senior-most officer in the U.S. military. He retired in 1939 but was recalled to active duty as the Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt and then Truman until 1949. During the latter years of his career, he reported only to the President.
2. General of the Army George Marshall
George Marshall was a major planner of the U.S. Army’s training for World War I and one of Gen. John J. Pershing’s aides-de-camp. He would need those planning skills when World War II broke out, as he oversaw the expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces and the coordination of U.S. efforts in the European Theater. After the war it was Marshall who helped rebuild Western Europe with an economic plan that came to be named after the man himself.
3. Fleet Admiral Ernest King
King was the Commander in Chief of U.S. Naval Forces (the U.S. now only uses the term “Commander-In-Chief” to refer to the President) and the Chief of Naval Operations. Though he never commanded a ship or fleet during a war, as the Navy representative of the Joint Chiefs, he helped plan and coordinate Naval Operations during WWII.
4. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
MacArthur graduated from West Point in 1903, fought in the occupation of Veracruz, World War I, and resisted the Japanese invasion of the Philippines for six months during WWII. MacArthur, despite having to retreat to Australia, oversaw the defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific and accepted their surrender less than four years later.
He would also orchestrate the occupation and rehabilitation of Japan, and the American counterattack during the early months of the Korean War.
5. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz
Nimitz was the Navy’s leading authority on submarine warfare at the outbreak of World War II. He would rise to be Commander-in-Chief of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and eventually take control of all U.S. forces in the Pacific Theater. He served the Navy on Active Duty in an unofficial capacity until his death in 1966.
6. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Hitler! Macho Man Dwight Eisenhower coming for youuuuuu OHHHHH YEAHHHHHHH.”
Ike never saw combat as a soldier, but his planning skills were essential as Supreme Allied Commander of all allied expeditionary forces in Europe during World War II. He planned and executed the invasion of North Africa in 1943, and of course the D-Day invasion of France in 1944. After the war, Eisenhower was the first Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and was elected President in 1952.
7. General of the Army and Air Force Henry H. Arnold
“Hap” Arnold is the only officer ever to hold two five-star ranks in multiple branches and is the only person to ever to be General of the Air Force.
Before WWII, Arnold was the Chief of the Air Corps and became commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces when war broke out. He was one of the first military pilots ever, being trained by the freaking Wright Brothers themselves.
If Billy Mitchell is the Father of the Air Force, Hap Arnold helped raise it — he took a small organization and turned it into the world’s largest and most powerful air force during the WWII years.
8. Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr.
“Bull” Halsey started World War II harassing Japanese fleet movements in the Pacific in his flagship, the Enterprise. He was later made commander of all U.S. forces in the South Pacific and commander of the Navy’s third fleet. Halsey earned his status after the war ended but took the Navy on a goodwill cruise of friendly countries
9. General of the Army Omar Bradley
As mentioned, Omar Bradley was the last surviving five-star general, dying in 1981. He fought alongside the U.S. Army’s greatest all under the command of Dwight Eisenhower. He excelled during the D-Day landings and subsequent European campaigns. He eventually commanded 1.3 million fighting men as they invaded fortress Europe — the largest assembly of U.S. troops under a single commander.
* General of the Armies of the United States John J. Pershing
Pershing was promoted to this rank and title in 1919, though no official rank insignia existed at the time. It was made by Congress to recognize his role in the American entry into World War I in Europe.
* Admiral of the Navy George Dewey
Dewey received the title “Admiral of the Navy” by act of Congress in 1903. Admiral Dewey’s service during the Spanish-American War made him a national hero and celebrity.
* General of the Armies of the United States George Washington
President Gerald Ford promoted Washington to this rank and title — essentially a six-star general — in 1976 to always ensure Washington would be the senior-most officer of any group.
The Air Force Pararescue community lives according to the motto, “These Things We Do, That Others May Live.” There may be none who lived that motto more fully than Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger who was killed in action in March, 1966, after intentionally placing himself in harm’s way to rescue infantryman pinned down by snipers, mortars, and machine gun fire.
For his valor, he became the first enlisted airman to receive the Medal of Honor.
A1C William Pitsenbarger
Pitsenbarger, or “Pits,” as he was known, first tried to join the military as a Green Beret when he was 17, but his parents prevailed upon him to wait until after high school. In 1962, he became a graduate and answered the call — this time, with the Air Force instead of the Army. As a pararescuemen, he would be responsible for grabbing downed airmen and others from contested and enemy-held areas around the world. Becoming a PJ was no easy feat, and it wasn’t a job for the timid.
After completing SCUBA training with the Navy, paratrooper training with the Army, and survival and medical training with the Air Force, he was ready to go to work. Before his deployment to Vietnam, he was called upon to help rescue two hunters stuck in the California wilderness. After rappelling down a sheer cliff face to reach them, he and another pararescueman encountered an angry bear. Pits charged the bear, yelling and screaming, chasing it off. It was immediately clear that he was cut out for this kind of work.
Pitsenbarger finally got orders overseas — to Okinawa, Japan. Wanting to go where his help was needed most, he requested to go to Vietnam instead, and his request was approved. Before shipping out, his parents later said that they were sure they would never see him alive again. Sadly, they were right.
In Vietnam, Pits proved himself an exceptionally capable medical and rescue professional. He helped treat lepers at a colony in Vietnam, escorted singer Mary Martin during a USO tour, and inserted into a burning minefield to rescue a South Vietnamese soldier who had lost a foot trying to stomp out a grass fire. For the minefield rescue, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Airman’s Medal.
A1C Pitsenbarger receiving the Airman’s Medal in Vietnam.
But Pitsenbarger’s most consequential moments came in 1966. On April 11, three companies of the Big Red One, the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, were engaged in a risky sweep across two provinces in search of Viet Cong units. Charlie Company was on one end of the formation and realized too late that it had drifted from the others — and was exposed to sniper fire.
Company leadership realized they were in danger and set up a defensive perimeter, but they were already outnumbered and surrounded. The North Vietnamese triggered their attack, sending mortar and sniper fire ripping through the American formation. The other companies attempted to come to their aid, but mounting casualties quickly made it clear that Charlie Company needed a rescue.
The Air Force sent two rescue helicopters to begin getting the wounded out. The first flight was challenging but, for a jungle firefight in Vietnam, fairly uneventful. Both helicopters took the first flight of wounded to a nearby hospital and doubled back for more. Once back in the field, it became clear to Pits that the Army soldiers no longer had the manpower necessary to hold back the attacks, treat the wounded, and put them on litters for extraction. He volunteered to insert into the jungle and help out.
The pilot reluctantly agreed to the risky request, and Pits began sending men up to the two helicopters despite bursts of fierce mortar and machine gun fire. Pitsenbarger was responsible for getting nine wounded men out in three flights, refusing his own extraction each time, before ground fire nearly downed one of the helicopters and forced them to leave.
Poster art for ‘The Last Full Measure’ depicting Pitsenbarger’s rescue in Vietnam.
On the ground, Pits continuously exposed himself to enemy fire to recover rifles and ammunition from the dead to redistribute to the living. He was wounded at least twice before he reached his final position. He had given away his pistol to a soldier too wounded to use any other weapon, and so Pits used one of the recovered rifles to resist a North Vietnamese advance until he was hit again — this time fatally.
The Army fought on through the night, relying on danger close artillery and airstrikes to survive the night. When the Air Force was able to get rescue helicopters back in the next morning, an Army captain told the next pararescueman on the ground what had happened to Pits.
Charlie Company had 134 men when the battle started. 106 of them were wounded or killed in the fighting, but Pits had gotten an extra nine of them out and kept others alive overnight.
Five months later, on Sept. 22, 1966, the Air Force presented the Air Force Cross to Pitsenbarger’s parents. It was the first awarding of the Air Force Cross to an enlisted airman for service in Vietnam. After decades of campaigning from the men he saved from what seemed like certain demise, Pitsenbarger’s citation was finally upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Pitsenbarger is the first enlisted airman to receive such an award.
Now, Pits’ story is headed to the big screen. The Last Full Measure is scheduled to release on Jan. 24, 2020. Be sure to watch the trailer below and secure your tickets to honor this true American hero.
THE LAST FULL MEASURE Official Trailer (2020) Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan Movie HD
The Baton Rouge was assigned to monitor the Russian Navy near the port city of Murmansk. The Soviet Union fell just a few months prior, but the U.S. Navy was still very interested in what the nascent – but still formidable – former Soviet Navy was up to.
All was going well off the coast of Murmansk as the Baton Rougeconducted its mission silently and unnoticed, until the crew was rocked by an impact from outside the boat. A Russian Sierra I-class sub, the Kostroma, collided with Baton Rougefrom below as the Russian sub was trying to surface.
The American’s hull was scratched and had tears in its port ballast tank. The Kostroma’sconning tower slammed into the American sub at 8 miles per-hour as the Russian moved to surface. Its sail was crushed from the impact.
Embarrassing? Yes. Deadly? Thankfully no. Both American and Russian subs get much bigger and much heavier the Sierra I-class Kostroma and the Los Angeles-class Baton Rouge. Both can carry nuclear-capable cruise missiles, but neither were equipped with those weapons at the time.
After ensuring neither submarine required assistance both returned to port for repairs. In 1995 the U.S. Congress determined that repairing the Baton Rougewould be too costly and the boat was decommissioned.
The Kostroma, however, returned to active service – with a kill marker, celebrating the defeat of the Baton Rouge.
The ferocity of the Tet Offensive, which began 51 years ago, surprised most Americans, including service members manning the television station in Hue, Vietnam.
Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) was located in a villa about a mile outside the main U.S. compound in Hue, in a neighborhood considered relatively safe from attack.
After the AFVN crew had signed off the air that night and settled into their billets, they heard an explosion down the street. Some of them were already asleep, but a few were still up watching fireworks through their window, since it was the first night of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year.
“Then the real fireworks started,” said Harry Ettmueller, a specialist five and broadcast engineer at the time.
Mortars and rockets began to blast the city landscape and tracer rounds could be seen in the distance.
“It was quite a light show,” said former Spc. 4 John Bagwell, a broadcaster who jumped out of bed once he heard the noise.
Spc. 4 John Bagwell broadcasts for the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam before he was transferred to AFVN Det. 5 in Hue during January 1968.
(U.S. Army photo)
One mortar round hit the maintenance shed next to their TV station, which was located behind the house where the AFVN team of eight slept.
The team then pulled out their weapons: World War II carbines along with a shotgun, three M14 rifles, and an M60 machine gun that jammed after two shots.
They took up positions in doorways and windows to stop possible entry. They even handed a carbine to a visiting NBC engineer, Courtney Niles, who happened to be an Army veteran.
Battle for Hue
Station commander, Marine 1st Lt. James DiBernardo, called the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, or MAC-V office in Hue, and was told to keep his crew in place. A division-sized force of the North Vietnamese army, along with Viet Cong guerrillas, was attacking locations all across the city.
They had even captured part of the citadel that once housed Vietnam’s imperial family and later became the headquarters of a South Vietnamese division.
The NVA attack on Hue was one of the strongest and most successful of the Tet Offensive. Even though more than 100 towns and cities across the country were attacked during Tet, the five-week battle for Hue was the only one where communist forces held a significant portion of the city for more than a few days.
On the second day of Tet, the power-generating station in Hue was taken out and the telephone lines to the AFVN compound were cut. The crew became isolated.
AFVN had begun augmenting its radio broadcasting with television in Saigon in early 1967. Then TV went to Da Nang and up to Hue.
The U.S. State Department decided to help the Vietnamese set up a station for local nationals in what had been the consulate’s quarters in Hue. AFVN set up their equipment in a van just outside the same villa and began broadcasting to troops in May.
Following the Tet Offensive, not much remained of the house where members of AFVN Det. 5 held off the North Vietnamese in a 16-hour firefight.
Hundreds of TVs were brought up from Saigon and distributed to troops. Ettmueller said he was often flown by Air America to units near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to distribute them.
In January 1968, with the 1st Cavalry Division and elements of the 101st Airborne Div. moving up to the northern I Corps area of operations, AFVN decided to add radio broadcasting to the TV station in Hue.
Broadcasters Bagwell and Spc. 5 Steven Stroub were sent from 1st Cavalry to help set up the radio operation. They arrived a day and a half before Tet erupted.
For the next five days, sporadic fire was directed at the AFVN billets, Ettmueller said. The staff members remained in defensive positions at doors and windows.
Bagwell said they were hopeful MACV would send a rescue mission for them, but by the fifth day, they were running out of food and water.
As night fell Feb. 4, the North Vietnamese launched a company-sized assault against the AFVN compound. Dozens of Vietnamese rushed the house and the Americans kept up a steady fire through the windows.
Each time the WWII carbines were fired, though, the magazines fell out and had to be reinserted, Ettmueller said. But he had an M14 and put it on full automatic.
During the assault, a young boy appeared in the window where Bagwell was on guard. The boy was trembling as he pointed his weapon at Bagwell, who hesitated.
“He shot and one bullet came close to my ear and I could hear it whiz by,” Bagwell said. “The next bullet he shot came close to the other ear. I realized if I didn’t kill him, he’d kill me.”
He pulled the trigger on his M14 and the boy fell backward.
North Vietnamese rushed the house repeatedly during the night. Sgt. 1st Class John Anderson, the station’s NCOIC, was awarded a Silver Star for manning the living room door with a shotgun to turn back assault after assault.
“He personally was responsible for inflicting deadly fire on the attacking enemy force,” reads the citation, adding that Anderson held his post despite being severely wounded by enemy grenades.
At one point, a Vietnamese soldier came running toward the door with a satchel of explosives strapped around him. Ettmueller said when one of their bullets hit the soldier’s satchel, it exploded, taking him out and a couple of others near him.
During the course of the night, at least three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the house and a B40 rocket went right through the front window and hit the back wall. The wall collapsed on Ettmueller and Marine Sgt. Tom Young, forcing both men to crawl out from underneath the debris.
“They pretty much… leveled the house,” Bagwell said.
Breakout and capture
By morning, the house was on fire and the AFVN crew was beginning to run low on ammunition.
They decided their best chance was to try and make a run for the MACV compound. NBC engineer Niles said he knew the layout of the city the best, so he volunteered to be the first one out the door. Bagwell was close behind him.
The plan called for both men to cross the road into a ditch so they could lay down covering fire for the rest of the team. However, Niles was fatally shot. Bagwell applied a quick tourniquet, but said it did not help much.
Anderson and others in the house saw the direction of the gunfire. After a brief pause, the seven of them ran out the door and turned in the opposite direction. They made it through a hole in the fence line and sneaked around a North Vietnamese team manning a machine gun on the second floor of a building under construction.
They made it through another hole in a fence into a small rice paddy, when they came up to the U.S. Information Services library next to a concrete wall topped with barbed wire.
There, the North Vietnamese caught up to them.
Young stepped out to lay down covering fire and was killed by automatic gunfire from the machine-gun position.
Ettmueller described the chaotic situation: “There we were, trapped. More rounds coming in; more grenades being thrown. Chickens running all over the place, jumping up in the air and flying. More rounds coming in.”
Stroub was shot in the left arm and had an open fracture. He passed out, Ettmueller said. Anderson was shot with a bullet that penetrated his flak jacket and grazed his diaphragm. He began to hiccup.
As the AFVN team began to run out of ammo, the North Vietnamese closed in and captured them.
The prisoners were bound with wire and had their boots removed, and then ordered to march forward. Ettmueller helped Stroub up, but it was not long before he stumbled and fell. An NVA soldier opened fire from above with the machine gun and executed him.
Meanwhile, Bagwell was left alone outside the station after Niles was fatally shot. The North Vietnamese had taken off in pursuit of the rest of the AFVN team.
Bagwell, who had been in Hue only a few days, had no idea which way to go and he was out of ammunition.
He wandered the streets, not sure what to do. “I was quite amazed with all the fighting going around that I hadn’t been shot.”
Then he looked down at his boot and spotted a hole. With his adrenaline pumping, he had not felt anything, but “the next thing I knew I was in pain.”
Bagwell looked up and saw a Catholic church. He knocked on the door and pleaded with a priest to help him. About 100 Vietnamese civilians were already hiding in the church.
The priest insisted Bagwell change his clothes. They buried his uniform and M14 in the courtyard. Then the priest wrapped Bagwell’s face in bandages.
“His idea was to make me look as much like a Vietnamese as possible,” Bagwell said.
Not long afterward, North Vietnamese soldiers burst into the church looking for Americans.
“They came by and started pointing their rifles right at my face,” he said. “I just closed my eyes and thought, ‘there’s no way they’re not going to know I’m not Vietnamese.'”
Broadcast Engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin sits behind the television van for Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network in Hue.
(U.S. Army photo)
But the North Vietnamese walked on past him. Bagwell was then taken by the priest up into the bell tower of the church to hide.
Other American forces, however, had been told that NVA fighters were hiding in the church, Bagwell said. So, they began to shell the church and hit the bell tower.
Part of the tower collapsed. “I just crawled out of all the mess and crawled back downstairs,” Bagwell said.
The priest then rushed up to him and said, “You know, you’re kind of bad luck. We need to get you out of here.” He pointed across rice paddies to a light in the distance and said he thought that was an American unit.
As he crawled through the rice paddies, Bagwell said a U.S. helicopter began circling him and shining its search light down, thinking he was Vietnamese, since he had no uniform.
“Actually, during that time, I counted about 12 times that I should have been shot and killed,” Bagwell said. “Six by the North Vietnamese and six by the Americans.”
When the sun came up, Bagwell was near a U.S. signal unit. He took off his white shirt and put it on a stick, yelling “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’m an American!”
They held a gun to him and asked if he was really an American.
“You can’t tell with this Okie accent?” Bagwell replied.
“Well, what were you doing out there?” a soldier asked.
“I was with the TV and radio station,” Bagwell said.
“No, I don’t think so; they’re all dead or prisoner,” the soldier insisted. “The only body we haven’t found is Bagwell.”
The North Vietnamese executed an estimated 3,000 South Vietnamese civilians in Hue during Tet for sympathizing with American forces. Bagwell said he learned that a Catholic priest was executed for hiding a U.S. soldier in a church, and he knew that soldier had to be him.
The prisoners of war from AFVN Det. 5 — Ettmueller, DiBernardo and Anderson, along with Marine Cpl. John Deering and Army broadcast engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin — were forced to walk 400 miles barefoot through the jungle over the next 55 days.
For five years, they were tortured, interrogated and moved from one POW camp to another, until released from the infamous Hanoi Hilton in the 1973 prisoner exchange.
Bagwell and Ettmueller were inducted into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame in 2008. The Army Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award is named in Anderson’s honor.
Editor’s note: Bagwell and Ettmueller were interviewed this month by phone. Retired Master Sgt. Anderson was interviewed in 1983 when he was a civilian public affairs officer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Colin Kelly, Jr. was set to fly over Taiwan in his B-17 Flying Fortress in one of the first American counter attacks of World War II. Kelly was stationed on Luzon, in the Philippines and survived the massive Japanese attack on that island nation as well. Kelly died after attacking a Japanese heavy cruiser, one of the first casualties of the Pacific War and the first graduate of the United States Military Academy to die in combat.
He was also one of the first heroes of the Army Air Corps in World War II – and President Roosevelt would not forget him.
Instead of Taiwan, the 26-year-old pilot dropped a bomb load on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Ashigara as it supported the landing invasion forces on Luzon. He was immediately swarmed by Japanese Zeros. The B-17 pilot never had a chance. Before he could bail out, the plane exploded with Kelly inside. He stayed at the controls so his crew could bail out.
This painting of Colin Kelly, Jr. hangs in the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
“Out of ammunition, I flew alongside the B-17 and saw the pilot trying to save the burning aircraft after allowing his crew to escape,” a Japanese pilot who was over Luzon that day remembered. “I have tremendous respect for him.” Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross
Americans responded to the news of Colin Kelly’s death by setting up a fund for his son’s education, once he reached college age. But one person in particular wanted to make sure the son of America’s first World War II hero had the chance to do whatever he wanted in life.
That person was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan for the first time, I scoffed at the idea that someone so high up in the government would be able to watch a situation like World War II from the ivory tower of the White House and have such a granular effect on the individuals affected by the war. And maybe President Roosevelt didn’t have time for everyone, but for Colin Kelly III, Capt. Kelly’s son, he sure did.
Roosevelt penned a letter to the future, specifically, to the future President of the United States in 1956. That would be the year Colin Kelly III would start looking for a university and Roosevelt want to ensure he did everything he could for the boy.
I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.
My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.
In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.
1956 just so happened to be Ike’s re-election year.
“Most people in my parents’ generation or a bit older or younger seem readily to remember being deeply touched by what President Roosevelt did for the infant son of the young pilot killed in the Pacific,” Colin Kelly III later wrote for theNew York Times. “It was one of the first actions of F.D.R. as the wartime President, a special White House ceremony in which he personally signed the papers appointing me to the Academy.”
In 1956, that future President was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike received FDR’s letter, read it, and honored the request of his Presidential predecessor – but Colin Kelly III didn’t accept the appointment, he decided to earn his place at West Point, competing with the other potential plebes and graduating in the class of 1963.
The younger Kelly spent his time in the Army as a tank commander in West Germany. After his time in the service was up, he left and went to divinity school, only to return to the U.S. Army as a chaplain, saying
“The Lord called me when I was 14, but I believed I was called to complete my West Point opportunity first.”
Like father, like son. West Point graduates and U.S. Army Captains Colin P. Kelly.
Kelly was too young to remember his heroic father, but his memory lived on through the people that knew him best: neighbors, relatives, and close friends. Over the years, Colin Kelly got to know his father through their eyes while making his own way through life, still following in his father’s footsteps.
When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, there were talks of creating a secondary canal. As U.S. and British officials were considering how it could be built, someone in the room must have said something along the lines of, “Why not nukes?”
No matter how it went down, something sparked the testing of Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNEs) and Operation Plowshare.
The codename “Operation Plowshare” comes from Isaiah 2:4: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The Suez Crisis ended after nine days and plans for a second canal were abandoned, but the idea of using nuclear warheads for non-military purposes stuck.
Between 1961 and 1973, twenty seven nuclear detonations were used for various purposes. Experiments were done to see if detonations could stimulate the flow of natural gas. They also helped with excavation for aquifers, highways, more canals, and an artificial harbor in Cape Thompson, Alaska, under Project Chariot.
Project Chariot was the most ambitious out of all of the tests. The idea was to detonate five hydrogen bombs to give the population of just over 320 a harbor. It was ultimately scraped — the severe risk and expense couldn’t be justified for how little potential it offered.
The United States didn’t followed through with any of the testing of PNEs, but they weren’t the only nation who played with nuclear experiments. The Soviet Union had their own version in the “Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy.”
The Soviets performed 239 tests between 1965 and 1988. One of the few tests that yielded positive results was the Chagan nuclear test (which created a 100,000 m3 lake that’s still radioactive to this day). Another was the sealing of the Urtabulak gas well that had been blowing for three years.
War can be hell…and war can be absolute boredom. There are few better ways to pass the time than by playing cards. Anyone who served in the military and made it past basic training probably ended up in a game of cards with their fellow troops.
They’re easy to carry: small and lightweight, they fit into a rucksack, duffel bag, or Alice pack without having to sacrifice any piece of essential gear. Plus, they’re cheap. It just makes sense that the troops and playing cards would pair so well together.
Wartime decks have been used to help soldiers in the field learn about their enemies and allies, to identify aircraft, and even teach a little about American history. Even in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, American forces used playing cards to identify the most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Playing cards themselves can be traced back to 12th century China. Some scholars think they made their way to Europe through Italian traders. The cards (and maybe even the games) predate the United States. But Americans have their own love affair with cards, and the military is no different.
Early special decks were released depicting Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and (John Quincy) Adams as the kings of the deck. By the time of the Civil War, playing cards were in every American camp, Union or Confederate.
Since troops in the Civil War spent a lot of time in camp and had easy access to decks, alcohol, and firearms, a cheater could make the game go very badly for himself. The war actually shaped the way playing cards are printed, so players could hold a tighter hand.
Another innovation of that era was the design on the backs of cards. Before then, most were made with plain backs, ones that were easy to mark and see through. The new back designs made short work of that problem.
In 1898, the Consolidated Playing Card Company created a cheap deck and poker chips for troops deploying to the Spanish-American War. For World War I, the U.S. Playing Card Company released special decks just for a few specialties of service in the Great War, namely Artillery, Navy, Air Corps, and Tank Corps. The German High Command in WWI considered the game so important to morale, they called the cards kartonnen wapens – cardboard weapons.
Many playing card factories converted to war production during World War II, but that certainly didn’t mean no decks were printed. The aforementioned cards used to identify aircraft, known as “spotter cards,” were essential to the war effort.
During the Vietnam War, playing card companies sent deployed soldiers and Marines special decks comprised of just the ace of spades, believing the Viet Cong considered the symbol to be a deadly serious omen.
Watch below as magician Justin Flom recounts the oft-told story of a Revolutionary War soldier and his deck of cards, which acts as his bible, calendar, and almanac. Be sure to watch til the end for a magician’s tribute to American troops overseas.
American troops have never shied away from taking the fight to the nation’s enemies, no matter the season.
But it’s a particular downer when U.S. forces are deployed to battlefields during the holidays. Here are six of the worst places the American military had to fight during Christmas.
1. Valley Forge (1777)
Just a year earlier, on Christmas Day 1776, Washington had led his troops across the Delaware and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Trenton.
Washington at Valley Forge. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
When Washington marched that same army into Valley Forge on December 19, 1777, the 12,000 Continentals were weary, under-fed, and under-equipped. Only about one in four still had shoes after the many long marches had literally worn them right off their feet.
The weather was also bitterly cold, which combined with the other problems facing the army led to over 2,500 soldiers dying due to starvation, disease, and exposure.
The bright spot of the army’s stay at Valley Forge was the training received by the Prussian drill master Baron Von Steuben. Thanks to his efforts, the Continentals began 1778 a much more professional fighting force than they had been.
2. The Winter Line (1943)
Central Italy may not be known to most for terrible winters. But for the American and Allied troops facing the German Winter Line at the end of 1943, it was far from favorable.
Fighting in the Italian Alps during Christmas during World War II. (Photo from 10th Mountain Division history page)
Stiff German defenses in the Apennine Mountains had brought the Allied advance to a standstill with tremendous numbers of casualties. To make matters worse, bitter winter weather had moved in dumping snow on the weary troops and dropping visibility to near zero.
Despite the weather conditions and determined German resistance the men of the 36th Infantry Division, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and the 1st Special Service Force fought on — particularly on Christmas Day, when the 1st Special Service Force captured a strategic hill on the Winter Line with heavy casualties.
3. Bastogne (1944)
When American troops think of a terrible Christmas this one usually tops the list.
The Battered Bastards of Bastogne (the 101st Airborne Division, elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions, and other support elements) had arrived to hold the key crossroads against the German onslaught just in time for Christmas 1944.
As the Battle of the Bulge progressed, the paratroopers and soldiers were surrounded, short of supplies, and desperately lacking in winter gear to battle the freezing temperatures they had to endure. Despite the conditions they faced when the Germans requested the Americans’ surrender Gen. Anthony McAuliffe simply responded with “Nuts!”
After fending off a German attack on Christmas Day the defenders were relieved by elements of Patton’s Third Army.
4. Basically anywhere in Korea (1950)
Christmas 1950 in Korea was an ignominious affair. After the brilliant victory at Inchon and the drive towards the Yalu River, China had entered the fray and handed the UN Forces their first defeat since breakout of Pusan.
In response, MacArthur launched the Home-by-Christmas Offensive to bring a quick conclusion to the war. But the Chinese were ready for it and decisively defeated American forces. The 1st Marine Division had narrowly avoided annihilation at the Chosin Reservoir, but many other units weren’t so lucky.
For the Eighth Army in Korea morale was low and the temperatures were even lower. Not only were they not going to be home by Christmas, but New Year’s didn’t bring better tidings either.
Another Chinese offensive sent the demoralized Americans reeling and recaptured the South Korean capital of Seoul. Christmas 1950 was one of the lowest points in the war for the Americans.
5. Operation Linebacker II (1972)
By the end of 1972 the war in Vietnam was supposed to be all but over. President Richard Nixon’s program of Vietnamization had allowed large numbers of U.S. troops to withdraw from the country.
However, negotiations in Paris were not going well for the Americans, so Nixon ordered a massive bombing campaign against the North in order to extract concessions from North Vietnam. Massive formations of B-52’s escorted by fighters took to the skies over North Vietnam in what became known as the Christmas Bombings.
From December 19 to December 29, 1972 the bombers flew 729 sorties against targets around Hanoi and Haiphong.
Unfortunately these bombings claimed 16 B-52s and numerous fighter aircraft, with the surviving crewmembers being interred as POWs just in time for Christmas. In all 43 airmen were killed and another 49 captured with a total of 28 aircraft lost to enemy action in the span of just over a week.
For a war that was drawing to a close flying into highly-contested airspace was a miserable way to spend the war’s last Christmas.
6. The lonely Combat Outposts of Afghanistan and Iraq (2001 – present)
As the War on Terror approaches its 15th Christmas with who knows how many more ahead, the soldiers stationed in the remote reaches of those war torn countries have to be included on any list of worst places to spend Christmas.
With the unprecedented length of these wars, there are likely American troops spending yet another Christmas overseas. In World War II even the first units to deploy would have only spent three Christmas’s in a combat zone; there is a good chance that thousands of troops have spent more than that at this point since 9/11.
Those holidays are even more difficult at the tiny combat outposts in the middle of nowhere. If the troops are lucky, there might have been something resembling a Christmas dinner flown in that they can eat while standing guard in a cold little shack or tower.
If they aren’t so lucky, Christmas dinner is just another MRE and the best gift they can hope for is a quiet day.
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero is one of the great warplanes of all time. It certainly got a lot of press as the primary fighter the Americans faced in the great carrier battles in the Pacific Theater.
That being said, it wasn’t Japan’s only fighter. In fact, the Japanese Army had its own front-line fighter.
The Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar first took to the skies in 1941, about six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was intended to replace the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate, an earlier monoplane fighter.
In some respects, the Japanese Army was much smarter with the Oscar than the Japanese Navy was with the Zero. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the Ki-43 was continually improved during the war. The Ki-43-Ia started out with two 7.7mm machine guns, but by the time the Ki-43-Ic emerged, that had changed to two 12.7mm machine guns.
Later versions, like the Ki-43-II and Ki-43-III, were constantly improved with things like self-sealing fuel tanks and armor to protect the pilot. The Zero never saw those improvements until it was far too late to affect the outcome of battles like the Marianas Turkey Shoot.
Ultimately, over 5,900 Ki-43s were produced. After World War II, they saw action with the Chinese, French forces in Indochina, North Korean forces, and even with Indonesian rebels. The plane turned out to be a solid ground-attack plane, capable of carrying two 250 kilogram bombs.
Below is a Japanese newsreel showing Ki-43 Oscars in action.
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. — The day to honor civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, and promote service through volunteerism was on Jan. 20. White Sands Missile Range observed the holiday at an event on Jan. 16.
At the event, Nicholas P. Charles, who has been working at WSMR for four years and served 20 years in the Army, spoke to attendees about King’s life and shared his personal experiences.
Charles remembers the events surrounding the assassination of King on April 4, 1968. He was a young child living in Washington, D.C., and did not recognize the impact this event would have on his life. But it was immediate and close to home, as he recalled his two older brothers returned home that night, “I remember these two coming out of the chaos that night, smelling of smoke, with anger and full of hate.”
The day after King’s assassination, amidst the disarray, it created a “mental memory in my mind that influenced me as an Army officer and now as an Army civilian,” said Charles.
He saw D.C. National Guardsmen, amongst others in uniform, maintaining and restoring peace in his neighborhood.
For him, the memories reinforce “the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.”
Charles went on to recognize King’s predecessors in the civil rights movement, such as Fredrick Douglas and Harriet Tubman. He also acknowledged a significant era in history that affected King’s activism; this was the 1902’s Harlem Renaissance. A moment in time that took place in New York and put a spotlight on the struggles of African Americans through intellectual, artistic and social movements.
“I’ll add that, with respect to timing, it was after World War II, and those Soldiers returned to a racist country after fighting fascism and imperialism,” said Charles. “This stoked the flames of equality and enabled Dr. King to move forward with the civil rights struggle.”
At the time, kids grew up witnessing the discrimination that their parents faced, and as education became more attainable for African Americans, attempts at breaking the cycle of oppression and inequality became more widespread.
“The strength of the civil rights movement was made up of people from the greatest generation and the youth of that time, tired of the oppression and unethical treatment of fellow American citizens,” said Charles. “The media showed a different picture and exposed the blatant racism occurring in this great nation, which really showed the actions taking place in Montgomery, Ala., with protests and how they were treating African Americans.”
While media exposed the treatment of African Americans to the world, it also perpetuated stereotypes. Throughout history, people of color have been depicted as subhuman in the entertainment industry and through various types of propaganda, said Charles.
“Sadly, the current politics, the antics of a few in Charlottesville, the shooting in El Paso, and other acts of violence around the country show that the United States continues to suffer issues with race,” said Charles. “The actions, behavior and attitudes seen on social media and validated in Virginia remind us that racism is alive and well in 2020, a sad reality.”
In 2017, Charlottesville, Va., was the site of a white nationalist rally which became deadly, killing one woman and leaving dozens injured. While in 2019, a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, left 22 dead and 24 wounded. Authorities said the shooter targeted people of Mexican descent.
“Now, more than ever, service to our nation and communities is paramount,” said Charles. “Therefore, us coming together despite political affiliation to denounce injustice, immoral and illegal behavior is what is needed to mend the tears we currently have in our moral fragment as a nation.”
For over 70 years, the Department of Defense has been racially integrated, and continues to be at the forefront of these efforts. Charles shared that raising kids in the military, amongst diverse cultures, allowed them to grow up without seeing color.
“The military remains the bedrock of social equality,” said Charles. “I believe that Dr. King would be proud of the military achievements in respect to race relations. But we are a microcosm in society, and sadly some of these attitudes still find its way into our ranks.”
Charles shared a famous quote by King, ‘everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame – but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.’
In 1994, Congress designated the Martin King Luther Jr. holiday as a day of service. While the main objective is for people to go out and serve their communities, people are also encouraged to serve together and connect, despite the color of their skin, gender, age, or background.
On Apr. 15, 1912, Charles Lightoller was the second officer aboard the ill-fated Titanic. After helping as many passengers and crew as he could into lifeboats, he refused an order to escape on one of the final boats to make it off the ship. As Titanic’s bridge began to sink, he attempted to dive into the water and to the safety of one of the crew’s collapsible boats.
Except the Titanic sucked him down with her.
Two lifeboats carry Titanic survivors toward safety. April 15, 1912
Lightoller was no landsman. He had been at sea for decades and, as a result, he’d seen and heard everything. Titanic wasn’t even his first shipwreck, but it was the first time a sinking ship tried to take the officer down with it. As a grating pulled him to the bottom, the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean finally reached the ship’s hot boilers, and they exploded. The force propelled Lightoller to the surface and to the safety of his fellow crew’s boat.
He was the last Titanic survivor rescued by the RMS Carpathia the next day. He was also the most senior officer to survive the shipwreck. Later, during World War I, Lt. Lightoller would take command of many ships in the Royal Navy, leaving the service at the war’s end. By the time World War II rolled around, Lightoller was just a civilian raising chickens. His seaborne days confined to a personal yacht.
The Titanic’s officers. Lightoller is in the back row, second from the left.
While he did survey the German coast in 1939 for the Royal Navy while disguised as an elderly couple on vacation, his fighting days were long gone. But the very next year, the British Army in France was on the brink of ruin, as 400,000 Allied troops were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Royal Navy could not reach them, and they were slowly being annihilated by the Nazi forces that surrounded them. Operation Dynamo was on.
The Royal Navy ordered Lightoller to take his ship to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take control and ship off to Dunkirk to rescue as many Tommies as possible. But Lightoller wasn’t having it. He would take his ship to Dunkirk himself. The 66-year-old and his son departed for France as soon as they could in a 52×12-foot ship with a carrying capacity of 21.