How these paratroopers came to be called 'The Rock Regiment' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment is unique in the annals of airborne history. It was one of only two parachute regiments to fight in the Pacific during World War II and the only one still active today.


 

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Paratroopers from The Rock Regiment land on Corregidor, 1945. (Photo from U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Throughout the war in the Pacific, the 503rd fought independently, first as a regiment and then as a regimental combat team.

After arriving in the Pacific in December 1942, the 503rd conducted the first combat jump in the Pacific in New Guinea on Sept. 5, 1943. A second jump occurred on the island of Noemfoor in July 1944.

The 503rd then joined in the effort to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese landing on the island of Leyte.

A combat jump onto the island of Mindoro was called off due to inadequate launch-capable airfields. Instead, the 503rd conducted an amphibious assault landing alongside the 19th Infantry Regiment. After two days of fighting, the small island was secured.

The 503rd then moved on to prepare for their next challenge: the assault of the fortress island of Corregidor.

The island of Corregidor, known as “The Rock” to the Americans, posed serious challenges for an assaulting force.

For one, the island had formidable defenses and a strong garrison. While the Americans had intimate knowledge of the layout of the island (they did build it, after all), they knew how difficult it would be to overtake.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Corregidor, a formidable target. (Image from U.S. Army)

Second, the island was rather small and the only suitable area for a parachute drop was on a portion known as “Topside.” This meant that the paratroopers of the 503rd would literally be landing right on top of the Japanese. To make matters worse, any misdrops – a common occurrence among World War II combat jumps – would put the paratroopers right in the ocean.

With all this in mind, the men of the 503rd Regimental Combat Team boarded aircraft early on the morning of Feb. 16, 1945 and headed towards The Rock.

Also heading towards Corregidor was the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment that would conduct a simultaneous, amphibious assault of the island in coordination with the airborne operation.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Paratroopers from the 503rd Regimental Combat Team jump from 317th Troop Carrier Group C-47s during the recapture of Corregidor Island, Philippines. (Photo from USAF)

At 0830, after several hours or naval and aerial bombardment, the first paratroopers exited aircraft over the two drop zones.

Due to the exceedingly small and narrow drop zones, the aircraft were unable to drop a full stick at one time and had to fly in two single-file columns. This meant that the aircraft had to wheel around and make multiple passes in order to successfully put their loads of paratroopers on The Rock.

To make matters worse, high winds over the drop zone blew the descending paratroopers off course and over the cliffs of the island. PT boats patrolling the area would later rescue nine paratroopers stranded on the island’s cliffs.

Eventually, the jumpmasters discovered that only at a height of 400 feet and with a five second delay upon entering the drop zone, could they successfully land the stick on target.

Once they were on target however, their problems had just begun.

Thanks to the bombardment, the Japanese took shelter in the caves and the element of surprise was retained. However, several paratroopers were killed when they landed right on top of Japanese positions.

Further complicating things, the plan called for three lifts to get all of the Regimental Combat Team onto the island. Multiple lifts over such small drop zones meant the second lift was jumping into already crowded areas. Some troopers reported that they were more likely to be hit by a fellow jumper or door bundle coming in than by the Japanese.

Although the landings were relatively unopposed, the action soon picked up, especially around an area known as Wheeler Point.

Shortly after landing in the area, Pvt. Lloyd McCarter conducted the first of three heroic actions on The Rock which would earn him the Medal of Honor.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Lloyd McCarter, Medal of Honor recipient.

When his unit came under fire from a Japanese machine gun, McCarter single-handedly rushed 30 yards across the bullet-swept area and destroyed the emplacement with hand grenades.

Two days later, he killed six snipers by himself.

On the night of Feb. 18, McCarter was once again in the thick of the action. In what would come to be known as the Battle of Banzai Point, McCarter attacked the Japanese by himself.

With his unit dealing with a full-on frontal assault by a Japanese Special Landing Force, McCarter noticed a force attempting to flank his position. He moved to an exposed position and engaged them. When his Thompson became unserviceable, he returned to friendly lines to retrieve a BAR. When that became too hot, he discarded it for an M1 Garand. He fired that weapon until the operating rod broke.

As dawn broke and the attack was dissipating, McCarter was shot through the chest. His comrades retrieved him and he was evacuated from the island, credited with killing over 30 Japanese during the attack.

The battle for The Rock would last another eight days before the island was declared secure. With the help of the 34th Infantry, the 503rd was able to seal off or expel the Japanese from the complex of caves and tunnels running throughout Corregidor.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
General MacArthur and members of his staffat a ceremony of the American flag being raised once again on the island of Corregidor. (Photo from National Archives)

The 503rd suffered some 169 men killed in action and another 531 wounded. The 34th suffered 38 killed and 153 wounded. The combined force, known as The Rock Force, inflicted well over 6,000 casualties on the Japanese defenders.

For their daring assault on the island, the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and has henceforth been known as “The Rock Regiment.”

General Douglas MacArthur returned to the island on March 7 and ordered the American flag hoisted over the island.

Articles

President Trump proclaims Armed Forces Day

In a proclamation signed before he left on the first foreign trip, President Donald Trump proclaimed the third Saturday of May to be Armed Forces Day.


“For almost 70 years, our Nation has set aside one day to recognize the great debt we owe to the men and women who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” Trump said in a statement. “On Armed Forces Day, we salute the bravery of those who defend our Nation’s peace and security.  Their service defends for Americans the freedom that all people deserve.”

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
(DOD Poster)

According to the Department of Defense website, the celebration of Armed Forces Day first began in 1950, following a proclamation on Aug. 31, 1949, by then-Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. Johnson’s intention was to replace separate holidays for the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

“I invite the Governors of the States and Territories and other areas subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to provide for the observance of Armed Forces Day within their jurisdiction each year in an appropriate manner designed to increase public understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces of the United States.  I also invite veterans, civic, and other organizations to join in the observance of Armed Forces Day each year,” Trump said in the proclamation, which has been issued by his predecessors in virtually the same form, including George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
West Point U.S. Military Academy cadets march in the 58th Presidential Inauguration Parade in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

Trump’s proclamation did make special note of the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, citing the 4.7 million Americans who served in that conflict. Trump also re-tweeted a Defense Department tweet featuring a video.

“Finally, I call upon all Americans to display the flag of the United States at their homes and businesses on Armed Forces Day, and I urge citizens to learn more about military service by attending and participating in the local observances of the day,” Trump’s proclamation concluded.

 

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D-Day by the numbers: Here’s what it took to pull off the largest amphibious invasion in history

The Allied invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, was the largest amphibious invasion in history. The scale of the assault was unlike anything the world had seen before or will most likely ever see again.

By that summer, the Allies had managed to slow the forward march of the powerful German war machine. The invasion was an opportunity to begin driving the Nazis back.

The invasion is unquestionably one of the greatest undertakings in military history. By the numbers, here’s what it took to pull this off.


• Around 7 million tons of supplies, including 450,000 tons of ammunition, were brought into Britain from the US in preparation for the invasion.

• War planners laying out the spearhead into continental Europe created around 17 million maps to support the operation.

• Training for D-Day was brutal and, in some cases, deadly. During a live-fire rehearsal exercise in late April 1944, German fast attack craft ambushed Allied forces, killing 749 American troops.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
American troops landing on beach in England during Exercise Tiger, a rehearsal for the invasion of Nazi-occupied France. (United States Library of Congress)

• D-Day began just after midnight with Allied air operations. 11,590 Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties during the invasion, delivering airborne troops to drop points and bombing enemy positions.

• 15,500 American and 7,900 British airborne troops jumped into France behind enemy lines before Allied forces stormed the beaches.

• 6,939 naval vessels, including 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels, manned by 195,700 sailors took part in the beach assault.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Allied landing craft underway to the beaches of Normandy. (Universal History Archive)

• 132,715 Allied troops, among which were 57,500 Americans and 75,215 British and Canadian forces, landed at five beaches in Normandy.

• 23,250 US troops fought their way ashore at Utah Beach as 34,250 additional American forces stormed Omaha Beach. 53,815 British troops battled their way onto Gold and Sword beaches while 21,400 Canadian troops took Juno Beach.

• The US casualties for D-Day were 2,499 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, and 26 captured. British forces suffered about 2,700 casualties while the Canadian troops had 946.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Wikimedia Commons)

• Total casualties for both sides in the Battle of Normandy (June 6 – 25, 1944) were approximately 425,000.

• By the end of June 11 (D+5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been unloaded in France. By the end of the war, those figures would increase to 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of additional supplies.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Feature image via Wikimedia Commons

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The incredible stand of the Irish Army in the Congo

In September 1961, the Irish Army under the United Nations flag was engaged in operations against Katanga, a breakaway region in Congo. Some 155 Irish troops were stationed at a little base near Jadotville in order to protect the citizens of the small mining town. But the locals in Jadotville wanted nothing to do with the Irish, believing the U.N. had taken sides in the conflict between the Congolese government and Katanga.

For five days, the 155 Irish fought for their lives against as many as 4,000 mercenaries and rebels who tried to take them captive.


How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Commandant Pat Quinlan, leader of the Irish Defence Forces led a team that was not prepared for the battle ahead.

The enemy came at the Irish in the middle of a Catholic Mass. Luckily for the Irish, one of their sentries, Pvt. Billy Ready (seriously, his name was “Ready”), fired the shots that alerted the Irishmen to their enemy. What they saw when they went to their posts was 3,000-5,000 hired guns ready to take down their position – the Irish numbered just 155. The mercs brought with them not only heavy machine guns, but also artillery and heavy mortars. They also had air cover in the form of an armed trainer aircraft. It didn’t rattle the Irish one bit, as they later radioed U.N. headquarters:

“We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. Could do with some whiskey.”

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
Fouga Magister similar to the one used by the Katangese during the siege (Wikimedia Commons)

As far as weapons go, the Irish had only light machine guns and 60 mm mortars to defend their position. But in a testament to warfighting fundamentals, the Irishmen were able to shut down their enemy’s mortar and artillery capabilities using just accurate mortars and small arms. It was the pinpoint accuracy of the U.N. troops that would sufficiently level the playing field. This exchange lasted four days. Now, down to 2,000 men, the Katangese asked the Irish for a cease-fire.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
“And that’s when they asked us to stop killing them for a few minutes. Damndest thing.”

 

Meanwhile, a U.N. relief force of Swedes and Indian Army Gurkhas were making a move on the Katangese positions from the other side. They were held down at a bridgehead on the road from the main U.N. base at Elisabethville and despite inflicting heavy losses on the defending Katanga fighters, they could not breakthrough. Meanwhile, the Irishmen could not break out. They were running out of water and ammunition. With no help forthcoming, they were forced to surrender.

Luckily, the mercenaries didn’t slaughter the Irishmen, despite the brutality of the fighting. They were taken prisoner and held captive to extort the United Nations for favorable cease-fire terms. They were released after a month and returned to their Elisabethville base and eventually sent home. The Irish surrender was considered a black eye to the Irish Defence Forces, despite Commandant Pat Quinlan’s brilliant defensive perimeter tactics, which are now taught in military textbooks worldwide. Quinlan also ensured each of his men survived and came home.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened when the VC attacked a Special Forces base

It was a small airbase on the border with Cambodia. It bordered a town of 6,000 that survived on the proceeds of local rubber plantations. The airbase was guarded by a few hundred South Vietnamese regulars supported by 11 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers. But it would host a 10-day battle that would see hundreds of North Vietnamese forces killed while that tiny force held the ground.


How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The Civil Irregular Defense Group compound at Loc Ninh. The airstrip is to the right of the photo.

(U.S. Army)

The small town and airbase were important for two reasons. First, the airbase was a logistical hub for military and espionage operations conducted by the U.S.; something communist forces were keen to excise. But the town was also the district capital. With a new president awaiting inauguration in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese wanted to embarrass him before he took office.

And North Vietnam was looking for a tasty target. A new commander and staff needed to try out the 9th Division in the field and build up its combat proficiency ahead of larger, corps-level offensives. So, in late 1967, North Vietnamese Senior Col. Hoang Cam, gave orders to get his regiments in position and supplied for an attack on the base at Loc Ninh.

One of his key units ran into an immediate problem, though. U.S. forces were working to secure a hey highway and clear out communist forces that could threaten it, and they swept through an area where Cam’s top regiment was hiding. That regiment was able to set an ambush just in time and killed 56 Americans, but they also suffered heavy losses and fled to Cambodia.

So Cam was down a regiment before the battle started. Still, his men were facing 11 Special Forces soldiers, 400 Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers, and about 200 South Vietnamese regulars. The largest weapons on the base were a few mortars and machine guns.

But the North Vietnamese forces failed to hide their buildup. South Vietnamese and U.S. forces intercepted radio traffic, discovered a field hospital under construction, and discovered elements of a specific unit typically employed in major offensives, the 84A Artillery Regiment.

U.S. Gen. William Westmoreland was too savvy to overlook all this evidence of a coming attack. He suspended some operations and ordered his subordinate to plan for a major defensive operation in that part of Vietnam, especially the district capitals at Loc Ninh and Song Be.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

U.S. Special Forces soldiers and South Vietnamese troops in September 1968.

(U.S. Army)

On Oct. 27, 1967, just five days after Westmoreland issued his warning to subordinates, Cam launched the North Vietnamese attack on Song Be. His division attacked a South Korean division but was rebuffed, partially thanks to American artillery and air power. Before South Vietnamese Rangers and American infantry joined the fight the next day, Cam pulled his men back.

As the Rangers looked for the enemy near Song Be, Cam launched a new attack. This time, he struck at Loc Ninh and fully committed to the fight.

Rockets and mortars flew into the base with no warning. The town itself caught on fire, and the South Vietnamese soldiers, with their Special Forces allies, rushed to send their own mortar rounds out.

Before reinforcements could arrive, North Vietnamese sappers blew through a wire obstacle and forced the defenders into the southern part of the compound. With the American and South Vietnamese defense collapsing, the Army rushed in UH-1Bs with machine guns mounted, and the Air Force sent in an AC-47 Spooky gunship that rained metal into the jungle.

The helicopters were able to put some fire on the attackers within the compound, but the AC-47 couldn’t strike there without threatening the defenders. Eventually, that became beside the point, though, as the South Vietnamese called artillery strikes onto the compound. He specifically called for proximity fuses, detonating the rounds a little above the surface to maximize shrapnel damage.

That’s the call you make to shred humans behind light cover. Many of the defenders were in bunkers that would hold back the shrapnel, but the Viet Cong in the open were shredded. The Viet Cong in the jungle finally withdrew under aerial bombing, but attackers remained in the conquered bunkers of the northern part of the compound.

The South Vietnamese were forced to clear these bunkers one-by-one with LAWs, light anti-tank weapons.

The allies found 135 North Vietnamese bodies. They had suffered eight dead and 33 wounded.

But the U.S. knew it had nearly lost the district that night, and it wasn’t willing to go round two with the same setup. So it not only watched the South Vietnamese clear those bunkers, it flew in two artillery batteries and another infantry battalion. Those infantrymen dug into the jungle and established light bunkers.

The U.S. and South Vietnamese alliance struck hard, rooting out platoons in the rubber plantations. In one case, an impatient South Vietnamese soldier grabbed a U.S. officer’s pistol from him and used it to attack a North Vietnamese machine gunner. When he couldn’t chamber a round in the pistol, he used it to pistol-whip the machine gunner instead.

This back and forth continued for days. On Oct. 30, the North Vietnamese sent additional forces to threaten other cities and positions, potentially trying to draw away some of the American defenders. But the allies knew the fight for Loc Ninh wasn’t over and sent other forces to protect Song Be and other locations.

Just after midnight on Oct. 31, another rain of mortars and rockets flew into Loc Ninh. But this time, the fire was more accurate, and North Vietnamese forces used anti-aircraft fire the moment the helicopters and AC-47 showed up. But proximity fuses were again used to slaughter North Vietnamese attackers.

At least 110 North Vietnamese were killed while the allies lost nine killed and 59 wounded.

The next night, artillery and machine gun fire rained onto the air base, but then the main thrust came at the new infantry base in the jungle. Observers posted in the jungle detonated claymores to blunt the attack but then had to melt away as the attackers continued their assault. The U.S. infantry pushed the attack back in just 30 minutes of concentrated machine gun fire and claymore use.

One U.S. soldier had been killed and eight wounded. Over 260 bodies were found, and there were signs that even more had been lost.

Additional forces were flown in, and the U.S. commanders were finally able to go on the attack. The attacks did not go perfectly, however. On Nov. 7, a U.S. battalion moving down a dirt road moved into the jungle and came under a furious assault. An RPG took out most of the U.S. battalion command team, including the commander.

One soldier in that fight was Spc. Robert Stryker who stopped one attack with a well-aimed M79 grenade launcher shot, but then died after diving on a grenade to save others. He’s one of the two Medal of Honor recipients for whom the Stryker vehicle is named.

But the 9th Division finally withdrew, ending the Battle of Loc Ninh. The U.S. had lost 50 dead and hundreds wounded, but the North Vietnamese lost somewhere over 850 dead and failed in its objectives to take either Loc Ninh or Song Be. But the Tet Offensive was on the horizon.

(Most of the information for this article came from an official Army history from the Center of Military History, Combat Operations: Staying the Course, October 1967 to September 1968 by Erik B. Villard. It is available here.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here is how the Allies planned to evacuate wounded before D-Day

Preparing for the invasion of Normandy wasn’t just a matter of training troops to take the objectives, nor was it simply about moving all the necessary troops and supplies to England or fielding enough planes for support. All of those elements were important, but the Allies needed to plan for something else, too: evacuating the wounded.


Looking back on history, it’s easy to assume this was a given. If I were storming the beaches, I’d want to know that if I got hit, the brass had a plan to get me out of there safely as opposed to leaving me to explore Nazi Germany’s idea of hospitality. As it turns out, the Allies had a plan for retrieving the injured, but it was far from trivial.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The widespread use of helicopters to evacuate wounded troops wasn’t made practical until the Korean War.

(USAF)

On the battlefield, a medic (or corpsman) would move to aid a casualty as quickly as possible. He’d assess the condition and the troop would then be moved back, either on foot or by jeep, to the battalion aid station. From there, if needed, a troop would be moved further back from the front for more intensive care.

Now, in World War II, using helicopters for medical evacuations wasn’t possible. The first practical helicopters were flying, but they still didn’t have the lift capacity needed — even still, there were ways to get troops back reasonably quickly.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The Landing Ship Tank proved to be a key component of plans to evacuate wounded troops on and after D-Day.

(US Navy)

One of the best assets for doing this was the Landing Ship Tank, or LST. These vessels were designed to get tanks and vehicles ashore, usually by making a run onto the beach and dropping a bow ramp, allowing vehicles to roll onto land. That ramp, of course, worked two ways. You could easily roll vehicles, like jeeps and trucks, back on.

The LSTs were designed to be a combination of both a floating ambulance and an emergency room. On board, Army doctors could perform emergency surgery on wounds that required immediate attention. Troops could then be evacuated (usually via C-47 Dakota) as necessary from Normandy to England. In England, a network of holding hospitals, transit hospitals, and general hospitals awaited the wounded.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Like the C-17 today, the C-47 Dakota was used for medical evacuation.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

The result was that many wounded troops — who would have likely died from those same wounds in past wars — were able to survive and, in some cases, even return to the battlefield.

Learn more about the way combat casualties were evacuated from Normandy in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9aQ_p2FPQs

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

“If you’re not cheating you’re not trying.” — every fighter pilot ever including “Duke” Cunningham, U.S. Navy fighter ace


Lt. Randy “Duke” Cunningham woke up aboard the USS Constellation on the morning of May 10, 1972 with two MiG kills under his belt. He’d used Sidewinder heat seeking missiles to shoot down North Vietnamese opponents on January 19 and May 8 of that year. A recent increase in enemy sorties made Cunningham and the other carrier air wing fighter pilots sure they’d have more chances to bag bandits. Cunningham just needed three more kills to attain “ace” status. The aircraft carrier had plenty of time left on station, so he allowed himself to believe it could happen. He had no idea he’d earn the balance in one flight.

Cunningham and his radar intercept officer Lt. Willie Driscoll launched in a VF-96 F-4J — tactical callsign “Showtime 100” — from the Constellation as part of a strike package against the Hai Dong rail yards in North Vietnam. After dropping its bombs, Showtime 100 took up a combat air patrol position to cover other airplanes on bomb runs.

The American strike package was jumped by a group of MiG-17s. Cunningham downed one of them with a Sidewinder after the MiG pilot overshot him. He climbed up to 15,000 feet and looked down and saw eight MiGs tangled with Navy Phantoms. He rolled in on one that was threatening to shoot his squadron XO, transmitting, “If you don’t break now you are going to die,” after the XO didn’t respond to two previous calls to turn hard. Once his squadronmate complied and was clear, Cunningham loosed another Sidewinder and killed his fourth MiG.

On the way back to the carrier, Cunningham spotted another MiG, which — in spite of his low fuel state — he decided to engage. He wound up flying in front of the enemy airplane, which allowed the MiG to shoot at him with the nose cannon. Cunningham made a hard pull into the vertical, and the bullets missed. To his surprise the MiG followed him up, something MiGs tended not to do because the airplane’s climb performance lagged that of the Phantom.

What followed was one of the legendary dogfights of the jet era. Cunningham and his opponent mixed it up for several minutes, going from a high-speed vertical fight to a low-speed horizontal “rolling scissors” fight. The MiG had more maneuverability in the low-speed regime, and as the enemy pilot pulled his nose up for a shot, Cunningham — in spite of his low fuel state — selected full afterburner and put enough distance between his F-4 and the MiG to avoid getting shot by an ATOLL missile.

Driscoll was in the backseat strongly suggesting they keep heading east to the carrier, which would have been the prudent thing to do, but Cunningham didn’t want to wait any longer to be an ace. He turned back toward the MiG and another rolling scissors ensued. The advantage went back and forth, and finally the MiG — probably low on gas as well — made a move to exit the fight, which allowed Cunningham to make one last-ditch move to fire his last Sidewinder.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
(Painting by Philip West)

It worked. At first Cunningham thought the missile missed, but a few seconds later the MiG started to come apart. Cunningham was an ace, the first of the Vietnam War.

But his problems weren’t over. Before Showtime 100 got “feet wet” it was hit by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile. He managed to coax the crippled fighter far enough over the Gulf of Tonkin to avoid falling into enemy hands and winding up a POW. After successfully ejecting, both Driscoll and he were picked up by an Air Force SAR helicopter.

For his efforts on that day, Cunningham received the Navy Cross.

Cunningham left the Navy at the 20-year mark, retiring at the rank of commander after serving as a Top Gun instructor and the commander officer of VF-126, the aggressor squadron based at Miramar. He became the dean of the National School of Aviation and started his own marketing company, Top Gun Enterprises.

Cunningham became one of CNN’s go-to military experts in the late ’80s and early ’90s — especially on the eve of Desert Storm, and that visibility brought him to the attention of Republican power brokers around San Diego, Cunningham’s hometown. The Democratic incumbent of the 44th District, Jim Bates, was vulnerable in the upcoming election because of an ongoing sexual harassment scandal.

He wound up breezing to victory and took office in January of 1991. In short order he established himself as an outspoken conservative champion and in many cases just plain outspoken. He brought the same intemperate disposition that served him as a fighter pilot to the Washington arena, flipping off reporters and calling gay service members “homos” on the floor of the House while arguing with backers of a conservation amendment. That act played well with a majority of his constituents — he was reelected with ease six times — but it also earned him some enemies and the attention of the press.

In 1996 Cunningham criticized the Clinton Administration for being “soft on crime.”

“We must get tough on drug dealers,” he said, adding that “those who peddle destruction on our children must pay dearly.” He voted for the death penalty for major drug dealers. Four months later his son Todd was arrested for helping to transport 400 pounds of marijuana from Texas to Indiana. Todd Cunningham pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to sell marijuana. Representative Cunningham broke down in court and pleaded with the judge for leniency in his son’s case, which his critics found very hypocritical.

Then in June of 2005 the San Diego Union Tribune reported that a defense contractor named Mitchell Wade had purchased Cunningham’s house in Del Mar in 2003 for $1,675,000 and put it back on the market a month later. (Cunningham was a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee at the time.) Wade’s company, MZM Inc., started receiving tens of millions of dollars of defense and intelligence contracts.

The Union Tribune later reported that Cunningham was living rent-free aboard one of Wade’s yachts docked in a harbor in Washington DC and that he was throwing parties for young women aboard the yacht on a regular basis.

The FBI raided his home, Wade’s home, and the MZM corporate offices on July 1, 2005. A few months later, Cunningham pleaded guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud. Among the many bribes Cunningham admitted receiving were the house sale at an inflated price, the free use of the yacht, a used Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, Persian rugs, jewelry, and a $2,000 contribution for his daughter’s college graduation party.

Cunningham read the following statement at the press conference where he announced he was resigning from Congress:

When I announced several months ago that I would not seek re-election, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public – even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry.

The truth is – I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. … In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame. I learned in Vietnam that the true measure of a man is how he responds to adversity.

I cannot undo what I have done. But I can atone. I am now almost 65 years old and, as I enter the twilight of my life, I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends.

Cunningham wound up serving seven years in a minimum security satellite camp near Tucson, Arizona. He was released to a halfway house in New Orleans in February of 2013. He now lives in Arkansas and still receives his Navy retirement pay as well as a pension for 14-plus years as a Congressman. (Legislation introduced to prevent convicted lawmakers from receiving their pensions died in committee.)

The San Diego Union Tribune received the Pulitzer Prize for the reporting surrounding the takedown of Congressman Cunningham.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you should know about the Tuskegee Airmen

The name rings bells. It’s got the glitz, having been the subject of two different Hollywood films complete with big-name Hollywood actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael B. Jordan, and Terrence Howard. That is wonderful and, I’m sure, absolutely appreciated by the surviving members and their family. There are some things that may not immediately pop out but are, nonetheless, extremely interesting.

The Tuskegee Airmen were one of the most accomplished groups of service members of any generation, but most can’t tell you why their name is so revered. Below are some of the most praiseworthy feats ever accomplished.


How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

One of the first defenders of the Tuskegee Airmen

(Image courtesy of OnThisDay.com)

Thurgood Marshall

Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall? Yes, that Thurgood Marshall. Before you go off saying he wasn’t a Tuskegee Airmen, you have to consider his tie to them. While he was a young lawyer, he represented 100 black officers who were charged with mutiny after entering a club that was then considered off-limits to them.

He would eventually get them all released.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The photo that opened many doors.

(Image courtesy of RedTail.org)

Eleanor Roosevelt

The Tuskegee Airmen came to during an age of segregated America. While the Tuskegee Airmen, or the Tuskegee experiment as it was then known, was great it still lacked the prerequisite respect and support.

It wasn’t until a visit from FLOTUS Eleanor Roosevelt that support would begin to flow in. Photo and film from a flight around the field would be the push needed to get the support to really come in.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Lieutenant General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

(Image courtesy of AF.mil)

Generalmaker

Three different members, or graduates, of the Tuskegee experiment, went on to become Generals. The first was Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. He was the first commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first Black General of the U.S. Air Force.

Daniel “Chapple” James was appointed brigadier general by Richard Nixon and also went on to become a General. The last, Lucius Theus, would retire at the rank of Major General after a 36-year career.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

Batting a thousand..

Perfect record

The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 700 bomber escort missions during World War II. They wound up being the only fighter group to achieve and maintain a perfect record protecting bombers.

Articles

The first American shots in WW1 were actually fired in Guam

After receiving information that war was near, German Vice-Adm. Maximilian Von Spee sent a message to his Imperial navy colleagues in the Pacific to rally up for a fight.


Spee was aboard the SMS Scharnhorst docked near the Pacific island of Pohnpei when he sent his message to Tsingtao,  at the time the administrative center for the German Pacific colonies.

The battle damaged German ship SMS Cormoran geared up and was ordered to disrupt enemy supply lines. But after months at sea and under constant pressure by the Japanese, the Cormoran began running low on coal and needed a safe place to dock.

The Cormoran reached Apra Harbor in Guam — which had recently become a U.S. protectorate — on Dec. 14, 1914, hoping for some aid by the neutral Americans there.

Related: Here’s why flamethrowers were so deadly on the battlefield for both sides

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
The Naval officer stationed in Guam sitting with the natives. (Source: The Great War/YouTube/Screenshot)

Interestingly, until the 1950s, Guam’s governor’s office was held by American naval officers.

Guam’s Gov. William Maxwell initially refused to help the Germans because America wanted to stay neutral in the war, but since the Cormoran nearly was out of fuel, the ship wouldn’t leave.

The two sides finally came to an agreement and the German could stay but must live under restriction. The Cormoran’s crew had to stow their weapons on the ship, and the firing pins of the 10.5 cm guns had to be removed from service.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
The Germans were allowed to live on the ship or could stay in these tents featured in the image above. (Source: The Great War/YouTube/Screenshot)

Letting the Germans live on the island was extremely risky as the small amount of Americans were now outnumbered.

But during the time the Germans inhabited the small island alongside their soon to be American enemy, there weren’t any known reports of violent incidents — but that peace wouldn’t last forever.

Also Read: The Browning Automatic Rifle cut down enemies from WWI to Vietnam

In 1916, Guam’s new governor received a message that the US just entered the war. A small group of Marines assembled and demanded the German’s surrender right away. When the Germans refused, the Marines fired two warning shots across the Cormoran’s bow.

The warning shots were fired just two hours after the US entered the Great War, thus making history as the first shots fired by Americans at their new German enemy happened in Guam.

Check out The Great War‘s video to learn about this incredible story.

(The Great War, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what ‘eternal patrol’ means for submarines

As of this writing, it appears there is little hope for an actual rescue of the crew of the Argentinean submarine ARA San Juan. Some reports indicate an explosion was picked up by both American and United Nations underwater acoustic sensors.


How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
USS Thresher (SSN 593) in 1961. (U.S. Navy photo)

When submarines are lost, they are said to be “on eternal patrol.” This comes from the fact that many times, the term submariners use for deployment is “patrol,” a term that predates World War II (a 1938 movie focusing on a subchaser was called Submarine Patrol). A combat deployment is often called a “war patrol,” and American ballistic missile submarines are on “deterrent patrols.”

These patrols begin when a sub leaves port, and end on their return. When a sub sinks, and doesn’t make it home, the patrol is “eternal.”

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in 1960. (US Navy photo)

The loss of a peacetime submarine is not unheard of. Since the end of World War II, the United States lost four submarines. Two, the nuclear-powered attack submarines USS Thresher (SSN 593) and USS Scorpion (SSN 589), were lost with all hands. In the late 1940s, two Balao-class diesel-electric submarines, USS Cochino (SS 345) and USS Stickleback (SS 415) also sank as the result of accidents.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
An Oscar-class submarine similar to the Kursk, which sank after an accidental explosion in 2000. (DOD photo)

The United States has not been alone in losing submarines. Most famously, in 2000, the Russian nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine Kursk, an Oscar-class vessel, suffered an on-board explosion and sank with all hands. The Soviet Union had five nuclear-powered submarines sink, albeit one, a Charlie-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine, was raised, and they lost other subs as well, including one in a spectacular explosion pierside.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
A Whiskey Twin Cylinder-class submarine. One sank after an accident, and was not found for over seven years. (DOD photo)

It sometimes can take a long time to find those subs. A Whiskey “Twin Cylinder”-class guided-missile submarine that sank in 1961 took over seven years to find. The Soviets never did locate the Golf-class ballistic missile submarine K-129 until investigative reporter Jack Anderson revealed the existence of Project Azorian.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
A photo of the Golf-class ballistic-missile submarine K-129, which sank in 1968, and was later salvaged by the CIA. (CIA photo)

While the cause of the explosion that has apparently sent the San Juan and her crew of 44 to the bottom of the South Atlantic may never be known, what is beyond dispute is that submariners face a great deal of danger – even when carrying out routine peacetime operations.

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US aircraft carriers are almost unsinkable giants of the ocean

The USS America was a Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier first built in the 1960s and served through the Vietnam War, Cold War clashes and on into Desert Storm. Decommissioned in 1996, the Navy decided the ship’s best post-service use was as a target. America would help design the newest fleet of supercarriers to be even less vulnerable to enemy fire than she was.

The America did not go down easy. For four weeks the Navy hit the ship with everything they could muster, short of a nuclear weapon.


Even today, the wreck lies in one piece at the bottom of the ocean near Cape Hatteras. Despite the Navy’s best efforts, they just could not sink the indefatigable carrier. The last time any carrier was lost to battle damage in combat was in World War II, where 12 such ships were sent to the bottom after heavy fighting. The America didn’t engage in combat, but the attacking forces were out to hit her as if she had. The sinking of America was a test run for vulnerabilities in American aircraft carrier designs.

The good news is that China is going to have a really hard time doing it, even if they use an intercontinental ballistic missile. The bad news is that it’s somehow possible to sink these floating behemoths, and if done could kill up to 6,000 American sailors. Still, good luck getting close.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
The wake left by America following her use as a live-fire target in 2005; the ship was used as a platform to test how the hull of large aircraft carriers would hold up against underwater attacks. Following the tests, America was scuttled, serving as a further test of the sinking of a large aircraft carrier.
(U.S. Navy photo)

 

Carriers traverse the waves with an entourage of submarines, cruisers and other support craft, as well as potentially dozens of fighter and electronic warfare aircraft that would make even getting close to the carrier a nearly suicidal feat. Once in close, actually hitting the ship with any kind of accuracy is just as hard – and if you do, the chances of striking a death blow are virtually nil.

For the America, teams of scientists and military engineers targeted the ship repeatedly for a full month, both above and below the waterline using anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and almost anything else they could think to throw at the old girl and still, she persisted. It wasn’t until a team of dedicated explosives experts boarded the ship and purposefully destroyed it that it gave way and sank to the bottom.

But even the Vietcong tried that move – and the USS Card was back up and fighting in no time. So maybe it’s just best to avoid a fight with an American carrier.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 historical events that happened on Christmas

Who’s ready for some holiday cheer? Christmas has been a federal holiday since 1870, so we’re pretty accustomed to having a couple of days off to spend with family and drink too much eggnog. Christmas wasn’t always such a big party, however. Throughout most of human history, important political figures didn’t let a pesky holiday get in the way of their plans. 

Let’s check out a few of the most significant historical events that happened on December 25th. 

1066: William the Conqueror was crowned king. 

Ever heard of William, Duke of Normandy? What about his more ominous nickname- William the Conqueror? The man was a pretty big deal. In October of 1066, he invaded the British Isles and conquered King Harold II at the legendary Battle of Hastings. After his victory, he wasn’t going to keep his boring old title. What better day to get a new one than Christmas? 

On Christmas Day at Westminster Abbey, William was crowned king of England. This was the beginning of a highly influential 21-year long rule. True to his French roots, the Norman king infused his own culture and language with those of the English people he governed. In doing so, he changed the development of the English language. He also offered generous land grants to his French allies, which was partially responsible for the birth of the feudal system that continued throughout most of the Middle Ages. 

1776: Washington crossed the Delaware. 

George Washington wasn’t our first president for no reason. During the American Revolution, he wasn’t about to take a cocoa break on Christmas. No way. At 6 pm, Washington pushed his exhausted, borderline hopeless troops across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania at McConkey’s Ferry. For those who have only seen the Delaware as a blue line on a US map, that might not sound like such a remarkable feat. In reality, the crossing was treacherous and daring to the extreme. 

When Washington first arrived at the riverside, he was short on supplies and at least 1,700 of his soldiers were too ill or injured to fight. Even more of his men were needed to stay back to guard them. That left 2,400 to prepare a variety of boats and ferries for the crossing. The river was over 30 feet deep in some areas and freezing cold. The boats were loaded with cannons and artillery, and the crossing began. Over the course of several hours, the men made picked their way across, dodging floating ice through the night. 

Their eventual success marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War. After the crossing, Washington led a series of attacks while the opposing forces were still off their game from nights of holiday merrymaking. His risky move resulted in victories in Trenton and Princeton shortly after the new year, restoring hope to the weathered Continental Army. 

1814: The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812

After the Revolutionary War was won, America was far from finished arguing with the British. Great Britain continued trying to restrict U.S. trade and expand its own territory, and Americans weren’t having it. They took on the naval superpower in a conflict that would last nearly three years. The fighting was destructive and costly, reaching a peak when the British burned down the White House

It wasn’t sustainable for either party, so they met in Ghent, Belgium to negotiate a peace agreement. After four months of arguing, a settlement was finally agreed upon. The treaty basically called the war a truce, and all prisoners and captured ships were returned to their home nations. The Treaty didn’t go into effect until February of 1815, so the war didn’t instantly cease. The Battle of New Orleans actually took place in January after it was signed on Christmas. Still, the Treaty of Ghent was effectively responsible for ending the war. 

1868: Andrew Johnson pardoned confederate soldiers

The Civil War isn’t exactly America’s most shining moment, but after it was over, unifying the country was necessary to restore stability. Lincoln’s vice president and successor, Andrew Johnson, did this by doling out a truly massive Christmas gift: With Proclamation 179, he offered amnesty to every single person who fought against the US throughout the Civil War. 

The proclamation was actually the fourth order of its kind, with earlier agreements reestablishing legal rights to confederate soldiers if they signed oaths of loyalty to the United States. The Christmas proclamation brought the postwar agreements to a close. 

1968: Apollo 8 went into orbit around the moon

Not all holiday historical events were political. Gazing at the winter moon on Christmas Eve sounds romantic enough, but In 1968, three astronauts spent the night orbiting around it. Originally, the Apollo 8 mission was intended to be no more than a test run for a lunar landing. When progress on the lunar module took longer than anticipated, NASA decided to adjust their mission plan, transforming it into a full-blown moon mission. 

The mission was a huge success. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first men to escape  Earth’s gravitational pull, see the Earth from space, and orbit the moon, and it all happened on Christmas Eve! From orbit, the astronauts broadcasted a report back to Earth, ending in, “Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” To date, that moment is one of the most-watched in all of television history. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Did you know Martha Washington was one of the few female plantation owners?

Long before she ever served as our country’s original First Lady — the OG American leading lady — she lived a prosperous and successful life. She wasn’t “just” a homemaker or took a backseat to the political process. She was actually a prolific landowner, who was in charge of multiple plantation operations. It’s a role she came by through generations, as she herself was born on her own parents’ plantation. 

In 1731, she was born as Martha Dandridge to John and Frances Dandridge. Her father was an immigrant from England (her mother was born in America), and made his living by farming in the Virginia Colony. Growing up on a plantation, she learned the business (if even indirectly) and trained for her eventual role as a land owner herself.

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’
By John Folwell, drawn by W. Oliver Stone after the original by John Wollaston, painted in 1757 ((National Park Service, Morristown National Historical Park collection. Public Domain)

At just 18, she married another Virginia plantation owner, Daniel Parke Custis, who was 20 years older than she. The pair met when Martha was 16 and dealt with family disapproval through their courtship until they were wed two years later. Custis also came from a large plantation family, and as the sole heir, took over his family’s large estate — one of the wealthiest in Virginia at the time. 

But in 1757, when Martha was a young woman of 26 years old, her husband Daniel passed away, leaving her the entirety of their estate. Custis did not have a will — he presumably died from a heart attack and was 37 years old — which meant she was automatically willed the land. One-third was hers for her lifetime, with the other two-thirds left to their four children once reaching adulthood. During this time, Martha successfully ran the plantation. She was in charge of more than 17,000 acres, investments, and liquid cash. Her biographer wrote that Martha “capably ran five plantations” and that she bargained with London merchants to earn more for her tobacco crops. With the assets, she was also in charge of some 300 slaves, whom her second husband, George Washington, granted their freedom upon her death. (We condemn the practice of slavery by the Washingtons and throughout the Mount Vernon estate.)

At the time, Martha was left as the wealthiest widow in Virginia, and one of the wealthiest people in the colony altogether. It was rare — but not unheard of — for women to have such roles. For two years she successfully ran five plantations as the head of household. 

She then married the future First President, George Washington in 1759.

However, once she married George Washington, he took control over her inheritance under the law of seisin jure uxoris, meaning the man has a right to his wife’s possessions. (This was the culture of the time, and in fact, women in Great Britain were not legally allowed to own property until the 1880s.) Washington then became the plantation owner of the former Custis estate.

Washington remained the land and slave owner until he passed in 1799. At this time, Martha again inherited the land, until it was willed back to her son. However, Washington added a provision to his will that his own 124 slaves would be freed upon Martha’s death. Martha feared for her own safety, citing several fires that were started at Mount Vernon. Martha ended up releasing the slaves on her own accord a year before her passing in 1802. 

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