The most lasting image of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with a U.S. leader will always be his close relationship with Ronald Reagan. In managing a very tense period toward the end of the Cold War, the image of the two leaders together has been enshrined in Cold War history. But the American President he teamed up to win a Grammy Award with would come to power four years after Reagan’s era ended, President Bill Clinton.
These two leaders never squared off in Cold War weapons agreements or faced a standoff between Russian and American forces. What they shared was the interpersonal foundation of a lasting peace.
Boris Yeltsin was hammered the day they called. And probably every day.
Gorbachev was the Soviet Union’s seventh and last President and Communist Party Chairman. He managed the final days of the Cold War as the Iron Curtain came tumbling down. Reagan was gone by then, succeeded by his Vice-President-turned-President, George H.W. Bush, who masterfully handled the U.S. response to the end of the Cold War. Clinton would be the first president to have to deal with the new Russian Federation and its former Soviet client states.
Gorbachev wouldn’t be his Russian counterpart. Boris Yeltsin came to power in the 1990s. But the two men were integral to shaping the post-Cold War relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union. They were also integral to the 2003 children’s album, Wolf Tracks: Peter and the Wolf.
Gorbachev with a decadent Western awards statue, likely sad he missed the chance to meet Christina Aguilera.
Peter and the Wolf is a 1936 children’s story, first written by Soviet Composer Sergei Prokofiev. It originated as a piece of Soviet propaganda, telling the story of a young boy challenging his grandfather who chided him for going out alone into the world, for fear of being devoured by a wolf. When a wolf does appear, the brave boy gets the best of it and makes sure it ends up in a zoo.
Clinton and Gorbachev performed spoken parts of the story, while actress Sophia Loren performed other sections. The album was an international hit, and was soon translated into multiple languages with more celebrity voices, including Antonio Banderas in the Spanish-language version. But the Grammy went to Gorbachev and Clinton, the first of such awards for a former American President or a former Soviet Premiere.
Just a few years later, Clinton would win another Grammy for the narration of his autobiography, My Life. Following that, other American Presidents would win for spoken-word works of their memoirs, including then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama for his memoirs, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams of my Father, and former President Jimmy Carter for his work, A Full Life: Reflections at 90. Carter would win another spoken-word Grammy in 2019 for his personal religious memoir, Faith – A Journey For All.
Carter has nine Grammy nominations, Clinton has four, and Obama has two, though he has won both years he earned a nod.
Britain isn’t our only “special relationship.” The United States has had many passionate affairs over the years. Just like in a real relationship, when things are good, they’re really good — even when the U.S. isn’t such a great partner when it comes to things like human rights.
When the relationship goes bad, no one is more outraged than the United States. Nobody holds a grudge quite like the American government. But instead of moving on and just finding a new boo, we keep sneaking away to spend time with our exes, dropping by in the middle of the night and badmouthing them to everyone else while telling Israel and Palestine how to manage their divorce.
I guess it all depends on how you define “special.”
This is the one partner we just can’t say goodbye to. It’s been so long since the breakup that there aren’t any Americans left who remember just how good our relations with Russia really were. Russia traded with the colonies during the Revolution, kept the British out of the U.S. Civil War, and even sold us Alaska. Then one day, Russia just… changed.
We didn’t recognize Russia anymore. Suddenly, Russia wanted to be called the “Soviet Union” and our love faded. After a brief spat (aka “invasion”), we sat back and watched our friend deteriorate on a drug called “Communism” until rival drug dealers (trying to push something called “fascism”) tried to kill them. Like some geopolitical Buford Pusser, we stopped rolling with the punches and began to clean up this town. But all we did was clear out the competition. Soon, other friends got hooked on the Communism and our friendship with Russia broke down.
We then threatened to kill each other every day for 40 years. Obsessively, we made movies, television shows, and books about how awful our rival could be. Like a Danzig song, we opined about how one day we would emerge victorious against the devil woman, the evil empire that broke our hearts.
Every time Russia tried to reach out to others, go to work, or invade Afghanistan, we were there telling everyone how awful they are — or cutting their brake lines. Our public shouting matches got so bad that people either chose sides or walked away from both of us.
One day, Russia just quit the habit. Russia started coming around again and things were looking good. Russia was Russia again. But then Russia found a new man.
If Russia was our longest breakup, Iran was our most tumultuous. Just a scant few decades after we split with Russia, we found new love with their beautiful, exotic, oil-rich neighbor down the way. The Shah wasn’t the best ruler, but he was smarter than the Tsar. Iran, with its beautiful dark hair, secular government, and vast oil wealth, was more than just a rebound. It was a partner – it shared our love for champagne, defense contracts, and it even liked our friend, Israel.
Then it happened. One day everything was beautiful and the next thing you know, Iran’s taking hostages. We haven’t forgotten for a single moment. And as much as we publicly berated its behavior, just a few years after the breakup, we were right back in bed together, trading arms for hostages.
Now we’re constantly threatening to come back and kill it. In return, Iran hassles all our friends and undermines us to our allies… but we’re still not afraid to hop back into bed once in a while. For old times’ sake.
Our love for Cuba is almost as old as our country itself. Cuba is our first love. We practically grew up together. We even wanted to marry Cuba for the longest time — and when that didn’t work out, we were still very close. Cuba is the girl next door. Then one day, Cuba fell in love with our other ex.
The next thing you know, Cuba has a gun to our head and we’re locked in a love triangle that nearly destroyed the entire planet.
Nowadays, Cuba is still in love with our ex and we resent them for it, even if the two aren’t together anymore. Cuba is constantly talking trash about us in our own neighborhood. Although we almost buried the hatchet a couple of years ago, those old feelings bring out the mistrust in us and we end up right back to where we started.
File this one under “frenemies.” No one took care of us like France did. We even named our favorite drink after the French. But as hot and heavy as the love was during the days of the Revolution, things quickly soured. France started getting pushy and domineering and, fresh from our break up with England, we just weren’t ready to get back into something so fast.
So, instead of taking on the rest of the world together, we opted to just be friends… friends who constantly criticize each other to everyone else. But then France got in over its head a few times and we had to come help them out – and we never let them forget about it.
Sure, we’re demanding, but France is too independent, just like us after the American Revolution. And every time France opts not to go to war alongside the U.S., we get upset and brand them cowards and cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
They were our darling for such a short time. A sort-of rebound from our days with Russia, Vietnam was fighting the addiction to Communism that consumed so many of our friends. We tried to help Vietnam get off the stuff, but to no avail. It was a terrible breakup, one that Americans still can’t forget.
The U.S. spent the next few decades struggling with the memories of Vietnam and what happened between us. We couldn’t forget her and we soon began making movies, television, books, and music about Vietnam. We constantly looked in to see what Vietnam was doing, but it was still hooked on the Communism.
Now that a few years have passed, we just dropped in. We just happened to be in the neighborhood and we thought about Vietnam — we wanted to say hi, share some memories, and maybe see what Vietnam was up to these days.
Give us a call. Keep in touch. You look so good. I’m happy we did this.
The Russians have a strange history with the Unidentified Flying Objects. While 99 percent of the UFOs encountered by Russia and the Soviet Union over the years were probably American spy planes, they insist that one of them actually landed and its crew decided to step out and stretch their legs.
And then they shot a bunch of children.
In the late 1980s, The New York Times quoted Soviet police Lt. Sergei A. Matveyev, who swore he saw the spaceship, saying that lanky, three-legged creatures landed in a park in the Russian city of Voronezh on Sept. 27, 1989. Some 300 miles from Moscow, citizens of Voronezh reported a deep red ball, around 10 feet in diameter, landing in a park.
“It was not an optical illusion,” he told the Russian TASS News Agency. “It was certainly a body flying in the sky. I thought I must be really tired, but I rubbed my eyes and it didn’t go away.”
Admit that you were thinking about this meme.
A hatch opened and out stepped a three-eyed creature that stood nine feet tall and was dressed in silver overalls and bronze boots. It left the ship with a companion and a robot. After taking a triangle formation around the robot, the robot came to life. A boy began to scream in terror. That’s when the stuff hit the fan. With a look, the boy was paralyzed.
The aliens disappeared briefly and returned with “what looked like a gun” and shot the boy, who disappeared. He reappeared later, after the spacecraft had departed. Citizens of the town reported multiple sightings of the ship between Sept. 23 and Sept. 27, but when Soviet investigators came to the scene, their only abnormal finding was elevated levels of radioactive Cesium-23.
As for the children who witnessed the landing in the park, they were all separated. When asked to draw what they saw that day, they all drew “a banana-shaped object that left behind in the sky the sign of the letter X.” The boy who was abducted could remember nothing about the craft.
The local interior minister said that if the craft appeared again, they would dispatch the Red Army to investigate the event. If the aliens had returned in full force to invade the Soviet Union, they would have met the joint capability of the Soviets along with the United States, as President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed at the 1985 Lake Geneva Summit to join forces against any extraterrestrial invader.
The 83rd Infantry Division, nicknamed Thunderbolt, first entered combat in Normandy in late June 1944. Generally fighting as part of Patton’s Third Army, they were involved in major combat across Northern France and Europe.
Their first action was as a part of Operation Cobra to breakout of the Normandy hedgerows. They then fought against stiff resistance until they finally entered Germany.
This is where the 83rd would come to notoriety as the “Rag-tag Circus.”
Once American forces crossed the Rhine in March 1945, it became an all-out sprint for Berlin with the fast-moving Armored Divisions of the 12th Army Group leading the way.
But the 83rd was a light division with very little in the way of organic transportation assets.
According to the After Action Report of the 329th Infantry Regiment, the Rag-tag Circus was born of necessity when the regiment’s ten non-organic trucks were detached for other duties. As the battalion commanders protested, word came down from the division commander, “utilize to the fullest extent the captured German transportation they had in their possession.”
The 83rd took the idea and ran with it.
Any German vehicle they could get their hands on got a coat of OD green paint and some white stars and was pressed into service.
They commandeered all manner of vehicles: trucks, staff cars, motorcycles, buses, German tanks, and even a Messerschmitt BF 109 was confiscated and piloted by a member of the division.
These commandeered vehicles complemented the already-taxed vehicles the 83rd had. Pushing the limits of reason, tanks carried more than 30 troops on top while jeeps, with and without trailers, were carrying more than a dozen.
Men were packed on so tight that the assistant division commander quipped, “it looked like the men were sprayed on the tanks.”
But this motley crew of vehicles and men that made up the Rag-tag Circus wasn’t the only amazing thing about the 83rd Infantry Division’s drive across Germany.
The Rag-tag Circus had the Germans on the run and was moving at a blistering pace. Pockets of German resistance were quickly overcome and the division moved on.
Oftentimes, division headquarters would displace forward as much as five times per day. The grunts on the ground almost never stopped.
They moved so fast that the lead elements of regiments were often moving out of the other side of a town before the Germans had even had a chance to retreat.
This led to some rather comical instances.
As the Rag-tag Circus sped east through yet another town, an erratic driver entered their column. The vehicle was just another German staff car like so many others in the convoy and since speed was the order of the day, it might not have otherwise drawn much attention. But the erratic driving and continual horn-honking alerted some of the GIs. PFC David Webster took a closer look as the car sped by his vehicle and noticed there was something different about this German car – it still had Germans in it. In fact, sitting in the rear was a Wehrmacht General who was oblivious to the fact that the column he was speeding through was actually American — not German. The GIs stepped on the gas and blocked the path of the Germans, leading to the capture of a German general by almost sheer luck.
In another instance, the Rag-tag Circus was simply travelling so fast that they overtook a column of German vehicles attempting to retreat to the east. This time, the 83rd bagged themselves a German Colonel to go with their prized General.
But those weren’t the only prisoners the 83rd took. In their fourteen day, 280-mile dash across Germany from the Rhine to the Elbe, they captured some 12,000 German POWs and 72 German towns. They also liberated over 75,000 Allied POWs from German camps and liberated a number of concentration camps as well.
The Rag-tag Circus was also the first unit to cross the Elbe River on April 13, 1945, securing a bridgehead after engineers built a treadway bridge across the river.
Despite Berlin being less than 50 miles away and German resistance virtual nonexistent, the 83rd was told to hold their position.
Although they were known as the Rag-tag Circus during their courageous run up to the Elbe, the division sought a more appropriate name to commemorate the achievement. The men of the division settled on “Thunderbolt,” which became the official division nickname.
The Elbe would end up being the closest the Americans would get to Berlin before the war ended and on April 25, 1945, elements of the 65th Infantry Division linked up with Russians advancing from the east.
Despite its heroic and record-breaking efforts, the 83rd was denied a Presidential Unit Citation. After occupation duty in German, the 83rd returned to the United States in March 1946 and was inactivated the following month.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes, the military translates this axiom as “if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.” So while the idea of this simple window washing tool saving lives sounds silly, there are six people who sure are glad to be window washers that day.
As if being a window washer on a New York City skyscraper wasn’t harrowing enough, the sheer terror didn’t stop for these six men that day, even though they were in the building. Polish immigrant Jan Demczur and five others were in an elevator in the North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001, when the building was struck by American Airline Flight 11.
The cleaners were on their way up to work when the elevator suddenly started plummeting down to earth.
Victoria Dawson, in her July 2002 article in Smithsonian magazine “Handed Down to History,” wrote that Demczur or one of the other men managed to press the emergency stop button on the elevator. But stopping their sudden descent was only half of the problem – they still needed to get out.
“We felt a muted thud,” said Shivam Iyer, one of the other workers. “The building shook. The elevator swung from side to side, like a pendulum.”
When they finally forced open the elevator’s doors, they were faced with walls of sheetrock and smoke started to fill the elevator shaft. A voice warned them of an explosion in the building. They were on the 50th floor and the express elevator they were on didn’t stop there. It was lucky that someone had a pocketknife and the men were able to start cutting through the wall. Then, Demczur dropped the knife down the elevator shaft.
“I was very upset with myself,” he told Smithsonian. “We had a problem and now a bigger problem.”
There was no time to think. One of his coworkers simply grabbed up the squeegee from their work bucket and resumed working on that wall. The men took turns going to town on the wall with the squeegee handle. Eventually, they punched through four layers of sheetrock, finally punching into a tile wall under the sink of a men’s room. They escaped from the building – via a stairwell – as soon as they could. It took them 90 minutes.
We all know Santa’s making a list, checking it twice… probably with some help from the NSA. Meanwhile, North American Aerospace Defense Command is also making a list and checking it twice to ensure their considerable assets are ready to help ensure that Santa accomplishes his mission safely.
This long-running tradition started by accident during the height of the Cold War. But it’s stuck around, even in the post-9/11 era. According to a 2008 Air Force release, the accident occurred in 1955, when NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense command, or CONAD, got a call from a kid. A newspaper had misprinted a phone number to allow kids to track jolly old St. Nick. Instead of the local Sears store, they got the operations hotline for CONAD.
Colonel Harry Shoup was the director of operations on that Christmas Eve. Tracking Santa had not been something he’d prepared for or had been briefed to do. But when each kid called, he provided them Santa’s position, saving Christmas for the kids by assuring them that Santa was safe and on the job. The next year, CONAD did it again, and did so the year after that. When NORAD took over for CONAD in 1958, they assumed that Christmas Eve duty – and tradition – as well. In 2015, a DOD release noted that over 1500 volunteers helped carry out the mission.
The official web site, www.NORADSanta.org, includes videos, games, music, and a gift shop. There is also a Facebook page for that in this era of social media. And yes, there are apps for tracking Santa on Windows phones, Android phones, and iPhones. NORAD says that starting at 2:01 AM Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 24, they will have video of Santa making preparations for his mission. At 6 AM EST that day, live phone operators will be available at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out this video of the history of how NORAD got started.
The next time you are browsing the aisles at Walmart, just think to yourself that the son of Sam Walton, the founder of the retail giant, was involved in special operations during the Vietnam War. Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group — or MACV-SOG — is a name so bland that it shielded the true nature of their top-secret work into deniable areas like Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. How did the 11th richest man in the world intertwine his legacy into one of the most notorious special operations units in U.S. military history?
John Thomas Walton was born in Newport, Arkansas, the second of three sons, and excelled at athletics. He was a standout football star on their public high school football team and was more of a student of life than academics. His father, Sam, opened Walton’s 5&10 in Bentonville, a small business in a small town known for its variety of hunting seasons. Walton had a modest upbringing and after only two years of college he dropped out to enlist in the U.S. Army. “When I was at Wooster [The College of Wooster in Ohio], there were a lot of people talking about the war in the dorm rooms, but I didn’t think they understood it,” Walton said.
Walton enlisted in the Army and became a Green Beret (Army Special Forces). “I figured if you’re going to do something, you should do it the best you can,” he said during an interview with Andy Serwer for Fortune magazine. Assigned to MACV-SOG after the Tet Offensive in 1968, Walton was stationed at FOB 1 in Phu Bai where members of Strike Team Louisiana conducted deep penetration reconnaissance missions. John Stryker Meyer, a teammate and friend of Walton’s, wrote, “In August of ’68, on one such mission, Walton’s six-man recon team was surrounded and overrun by enemy soldiers.” The firefight became so intense that the team leader, William “Pete” Boggs, called an airstrike (napalm) directly on their own position to break contact.
Extracted from page 119 of “On The Ground” by John Stryker Meyer and John E. Peters.
“That strike killed one team member, wounded the team leader and severed the right leg of the Green Beret radio operator Tom Cunningham Jr., of Durham, N.H. Another team member was wounded four times by AK-47 gunfire by an enemy soldier whom Walton killed,” Meyer wrote. As the team’s medic, Walton was responsible in setting up a triage point to tend to the casualties. He applied a tourniquet to Cunningham’s leg that had begun to hemorrhage. The tourniquet ultimately saved his life, but he later lost his leg. Facing hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers (NVA) and completely surrounded, Walton called in two extraction helicopters.
The first helicopter, piloted by South Vietnamese Captain Thinh Dinh, touched down and picked up members of the team, some of whom Walton personally carried. The enemy soldiers were now sprinting to prevent their escape. Bullets clanged off the chopper and whizzed by their bodies. A second helicopter was needed to get them all out, but realizing how dire the situation had turned, the first helicopter sat back down and picked up the entire team. Their weight was too much, and they barely managed to climb over the treetops. Walton’s determination to get his teammates out of harm’s way earned him the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor.
During a poker game on the night they returned to base, one of his teammates noticed that the skin on Walton’s wrist was burnt. It was evidence of just how accurate the NVA gunfire was. Walton, Meyer, and his teammates enjoyed poker, Scrabble, and other games that require thought. They spoke about their goals and the dreams they hoped to accomplish when they returned home. Walton’s was a life of adventure.
Meyer shares how Walton had inspirations to travel domestically on a motorcycle and to Mexico, Central, and South America by plane. He earned his pilot’s license and started his own business crop-dusting cotton fields in Texas and Arizona. Crop-dusting provided Walton a new challenge that helped his transition after Vietnam. His aerial theatrics featured ingenuity, too — Walton co-founded the company Satloc in 1999, which pioneered the use of GPS applications in agricultural crop-dusting. He also served as a company pilot for his family business.
John Walton, far right, is shown in uniform.
(Photo courtesy of John Stryker Meyer.)
It seemed Walton was always searching for his next greatest thrill. He briefly owned a sailing company called Marine Corsair in San Diego, and he regularly traveled to Durango, Colorado, for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, skiing, and skydiving. As Walmart’s success climbed, so too did Walton’s wealth. At one point, he was the 11th richest man in the world, with an estimated .2 billion net worth. However, despite the amount of money he made, he always stayed true to his modest roots. Meyer recalled a breakfast the pair had in Oceanside, California, and Walton arrived in a small Toyota hybrid.
John T. Walton died on June 27, 2005, when his custom-built CGS Aviation Hawk Arrow plane crashed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He was 58 years old. An investigation determined that loose flight control components were the cause of the fatal accident. Walton left behind a wife, Christy, and son, Lukas.
Though Walton’s name will always be immediately recognized as the heir to the Walmart empire, his legacy is also inextricably tied to MACV-SOG. Two years before his untimely death, Walton chartered his private jet to pick up the family of Thinh Dinh, the South Vietnamese pilot with whom he served decades prior. They reunited in Las Vegas, never forgetting the lasting bonds forged in war.
Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2
Known as one of the bloodiest campaigns of all of World War II, nearly one million people lost their lives during the Battle for Stalingrad.
The battle was a colossal matchup between European dictators Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Throughout the campaign, thousands of bombs were dropped, killing innumerous innocent civilians and leaving nothing but ruins and a massive maze of defensive positions for the Soviets.
As the Germans moved forward, they came within meters of their Russian enemy and, in some cases, combat devolved into hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, talented snipers set themselves up in burned-out buildings and would egress out immediately after taking a single shot — discovery in such close quarters was otherwise inevitable.
Although the Germans took heavy casualties during their push into the city’s high ground, their losses couldn’t compare to the enormous dent they made in Russian personnel.
It would take nearly four weeks of intense and grueling combat for the Germans to reach the Mamayev Hill.
As the Germans continued to push forward, the Russian frontline began to rapidly collapse. Members of the Red Army began retreating from their positions en masse, some even forfeiting their weapons to nearby troops.
Many Russian troops felt the battle was unwinnable. Their iron-fisted dictator, however, refused to back down. Today, many military strategists feel that if Stalin had ordered a retreat and had given his men time to regroup, they could have successfully reestablished defenses sooner.
Although it appeared Stalingrad would soon fall, Hitler’s infantry was spreading a little too thin.
Then, the Russian’s introduced their well-engineered T-34 tank, which struck fear in the Germans. The armored vehicle was a sturdy as Stalin’s confidence. As time went on, what once felt like an easy victory for the Germans become a titanic beating.
Although the Russians were regaining ground, they continued to suffer heavy casualties throughout. For Hitler, losing a city named after his nemesis was unacceptable.
After five months of carnage, the Battle of Stalingrad finally came to a halt. It officially ended on Feb. 2, 1943, with a Soviet victory.
Underage soldiers were often allowed to enlist during the Civil War — especially if they chose a non-combat position such as bugler or drummer boy. This led to boys barely in their teens suffering wounds alongside the grown men.
In one case, a 12-year-old boy nearly lost his left hand and arm when it was shattered by an artillery shell.
Sometime in 1864, he was serving in battle when an artillery shell burst nearby. The shrapnel ripped through his left hand and arm. He is widely regarded as having been the youngest Civil War casualty.
In the summer of 1966 the United States was ramping up operations in Vietnam.For the Marines of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, this meant deep infiltration and reconnaissance into the Que Son Valley.
Dubbed Operation Kansas, the recon teams moved deep into enemy-held territory to observe and strike at the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong operating in the area.
This mostly consisted of calling for artillery or air support to take out small concentrations of enemy fighters. When larger groups were observed, they were dealt with by calling in reinforcements in the form of Marine rifle companies and battalions.
There was little intention of the recon Marines making direct contact.
Thus, 18 Marines from Team 2, C Company, 1st Recon inserted onto Hill 488 to begin their observation mission.
Jimmie E. Howard was a Staff Sergeant when he led the defense of His 488. (U.S. Marine Corps)
The team was led by Staff Sgt. Jimmie E. Howard. Howard had enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1950 and was assigned to the 1st Marine Regiment in Korea.
While serving as the forward observer to the regimental mortar company in 1952, Howard was awarded a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts while defending outposts along the Main Line of Resistance.
After his tour in Korea, Howard stayed in the Marine Corps and entered Marine Reconnaissance. In early 1966 he returned to combat in Vietnam, leading a platoon of Reconnaissance Marines.
On the night of June 13, 1966, Operation Kansas began with the insertion of numerous recon teams into the Que Son Valley. Team 2 on Hill 488 quickly set up positions to observe the valley. Over the course of the next two days, the recon teams disrupted enemy activity with air and artillery strikes. Howard and his team were doing so well that they turned down an offer to be extracted in order to remain one more day.
Unfortunately, the accuracy and effectiveness of the firepower Howard’s team brought to bear also served to alert the Viet Cong that these were not simply random attacks; they were being watched. The enemy had also surmised that the observation must be coming from Hill 488. Alerted that a Viet Cong battalion of approximately 200-250 men was heading their way, the Marines prepared to defend themselves.
As the Marines waited for the inevitable, the Viet Cong were creeping up the hill toward the Marine positions. Howard had ordered his men to pull back to a rocky knoll at the top of the hill the moment contact was made. Under the cover of darkness, the first Viet Cong made it to within 20 feet of the Marine perimeter. The first shots from the Marine defenders rang out. Under a hail of gunfire and grenades, the Marines fell back to the final defensive position.
The Marines took casualties almost instantly but they responded with determined resistance. Grenades and mortars rained down on their position as heavy machine gun and rifle fire covered the advance of the attackers. But the Marines mowed down the first wave of attackers and blunted the advance. The remaining enemy took a more cautious approach and searched for an opening.
Howard used the brief lull in fire to call for extraction. Before help could arrive, the Viet Cong mounted another determined charge to take the hill but were again driven back. By this time the Marines were out of grenades, running low on ammunition, and all eighteen had been wounded or killed. But there was still more fighting to do.
After some three hours of fighting, air support arrived overhead. As Air Force planes dropped flares to illuminate the valley, gunships and fighters made strafing runs. They dropped napalm on the advancing enemy. To say the air support was danger-close would be an understatement. Despite the air attack, the enemy was persistent and continued to charge the hill.
At one point the Viet Cong began yelling at the Marines, taunting them. The young Marines of the recon team looked to Howard who gave them the go ahead to yell back.
Then, with the enemy still shouting taunts, the remaining Marines literally looked death in the face and laughed their heads off. The whole team joined in a chorus of laughter that silenced the Viet Cong.
The Viet Cong came again.
With the enemy still probing their lines, the beleaguered Marines relied on their expert marksmanship and a little trickery to even the odds. Out of grenades, the Marines would watch for movement and then hurl a rock at the enemy.
Intending to escape the impending explosion the Viet Cong would expose their position. Then with deadly accuracy the Marines would take a single shot, conserving ammunition and racking up the body count.
Two UH-1s were shot down by the Viet Cong forces during medevac and air support attempts. (U.S. Army)
A rescue attempt at dawn resulted in one lost helicopter, with a medevac waved off due to the intense fire. Eventually it was decided to bring in a Marine infantry company to clear the hill and allow the recon team to be pulled out. Reportedly there remained only eight rounds of ammunition between the survivors; the rest had picked up enemy weapons.
Howard’s steadfast leadership and cool under fire during the battle for Hill 488 earned him the Medal of Honor. He was also awarded a Purple Heart, along with every other member of the team. Thirteen members of the team were awarded the Silver Star for their bravery. The remaining four members of the team received the Navy Cross. Six of the Marines of Team 2 received their awards posthumously. The recon platoon was the most decorated unit for its size ever in the history of the American military.
Okay, you’re relieving some stress by playing some video games and you just downed an enemy plane.
The pilot bails out.
You’ve got him in your sights — one less bad guy to deal with later, right?
According to the law of war, it is a crime to gun down a pilot who’s bailed out of his plane. While the video game world might give some allowances on this, in the real world it’s a major no-no.
Field Manual 27-10, “The Law Of Land Warfare,” says that a pilot who has bailed out of his plane is a non-combatant. That’s different from a paratrooper who’s notionally armed on his way down and is technically engaged in combat while under canopy.
Here is the exact quote: “The law of war does not prohibit firing upon paratroops or other persons who are or appear to be bound upon hostile missions while such persons are descending by parachute. Persons other than those mentioned in the preceding sentence who are descending by parachute from disabled aircraft may not be fired upon.”
But even before all that legalese was codified in the Geneva Conventions, some militaries had already adopted a similar code of conduct. During World War II, the Nazis — whose crimes against humanity were legion — generally forbade its pilots from shooting downed enemy airmen.
On the American side, General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued orders that shooting at enemy aircrew who had bailed out as forbidden.
Pilots on the Japanese side had no such hesitation, partially stemming from a code that viewed surrender as dishonorable. Many Allied airmen in the Pacific found that bailing out from a crippled plane was sometimes like going from the frying pan into the fire.
One airman, though, was able to shoot a Japanese pilot trying to machine gun him with his M1911!
In short, if you’re even playing a video game and you’re tempted to shoot at the folks who bailed out, don’t do it.
It was what many feared most. Germany’s blitzkrieg tore through its neighbors and the Nazis next set their sights on the British Isles. The air-raid sirens cried out as the Germans began a bombing run on September 7th, 1940, that would continue for eight months. The longest stretch of continued bombing was a staggering 57 consecutive days.
And instead of attacking exclusively military installations, the Nazis rained hell over 11 major cities across the British Isles — including London, which took most of the damage — hoping that it would diminish British morale to the point of surrendering just months after the Dunkirk evacuation.
It didn’t. Not even close. Yes, parts of the city were 85% annihilated. Yes, food was scarce and disease ran rampant. And yes, up to 43,000 civilians were killed.
But after all that, still only 3% of Londoners thought they’d lose the war.
Although posters like these did exist during the Blitz, they weren’t commonly posted around London… nor were they needed, for that matter. People were following the suggestion regardless.
(United Kingdoms Government)
It was called the “Blitz Spirit.” Throughout the entirety of the attacks on London, most civilians weren’t even frightened of the bombs. They simply kept calm and carried on. It was so widespread that most people joked about the bombings as if it were nothing but bad weather, remarking on how it was “very blitzy out today.”
Although the most iconic photographs from the era are of civilians huddling in Tube stations for shelter, there was actually an astonishing number of people who simply went on with their daily life — just with a couple of explosions happening around them. Instead of hiding or calling for surrender to make the attacks end, there were calls for everyone to join the Home Guard, an unpaid militia for everyone not qualified to fight within the British Army.
Surprisingly, the British war effort and the economy were barely affected. The population wasn’t afraid to go to work in the morning, so production of weapons, tanks, ammunition, and planes kept on keepin’ on. Despite the heavy casualty rates seen before the Blitz, the Brits were at near-full strength by June 6th, 1942 (the invasion of Normandy).
By May 1941, the Germans had ceased the attack on the British Isles because they figured that it was a hopeless endeavor. Instead, they turned their eyes to Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union).
The Brits had successfully repelled an invader with sheer determination and grit.
Weaver passed out. He and Jim Zwayer, the flight test specialist, continued to fly through the air, propelled by their own inertia at hundreds of miles an hour. Weaver passed out before the plane even broke apart.
When he woke up, he was flying through the sky high above the earth. Initially, he thought he was dreaming, then he realized that it wasn’t a dream so he must be dead. And finally realized that he was neither dead nor dreaming.
A layer of ice covered his visor, but he could tell he wasn’t tumbling so the stabilization chute must have deployed. His emergency oxygen tank had functioned as well, inflating his suit to compress his blood and feed him breathable air.
As Weaver reached for his main chute, it deployed on its own. He got his frozen face plate open and was able to spot Zwayer who he would later learn had died.
He landed a few miles from the wreckage of his burnt up plane and collapsed his chute, preparing for a long night in the freezing winter weather of the desert. Then he heard a voice asking, “Can I help you?”
Turns out, Weaver had landed on a large ranch, and the owner had flown his helicopter to go check out the wreckage that had just crashed on his land.
Weaver later learned that the straps from his seat were still fully attached to him, but the ejection seat had stayed with the plane. When the plane broke apart, the entire cockpit, including Weaver’s seat, had broken up around him as his seat belt and harness continued to hold on to him.
The thing that saved him was the pressurized suit which had acted like a tiny escape capsule. An inspection of that suit revealed that one of the oxygen canisters had broken off, nearly removing what little protection Weaver had during his flight through the air at multiple times the speed of sound.
Weaver placed a collect call to Lockheed, letting the crew in the control area know that he had survived and surprising many of them. Weaver got behind the controls of another SR-71 only two weeks later.