Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy

At the height of the Vietnam War, up-and-coming commo guys who wanted to learn the art of radio operation would walk into a classroom and see a huge number five written on the chalkboard.

Inevitably, someone’s curiosity would win out and they’d ask what the big number meant. The instructor would then calmly tell them, “That’s your life expectancy, in seconds, in a firefight. So, listen up and you might learn something that’ll keep you alive.”

That number wasn’t some outrageous scare tactic. During the Vietnam War, the odds were tremendously stacked against radio operations — and that 5-second life expectancy was, for some, a grim reality.


 

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
(USMC Historical Archives)

To make matters worse, you can’t really control the volume on those radios since the dial was on the wearer’s back. Radio chatter could give your position away, too.

In all fairness, that number was on the more extreme side of estimates. The life expectancy of a radio operator in the Vietnam War ranged between five to six seconds all the way up to a slightly-more-optimistic thirty seconds, depending on your source. If you look at all of the things the radio operators were tasked with, it becomes abundantly clear why commo guys weren’t expected to last long.

The first and most obvious tally in the “you’re screwed” column was the overall weight of the gear radio operators were expected to carry into battle. The PRC-77 radio system weighed 13.5 lbs without batteries. Toss in batteries, some spare batteries, and the unsightly, large encryption device called the NESTOR and you’re looking at carrying 54lbs on your back at all times. Now add your weapon system onto that and try to keep up as you fight alongside your unencumbered brethren. It took a lot of getting used to — but they managed.

If the weight wasn’t problem enough, next comes the antennae. They weren’t all too heavy, but they were extremely uncomfortable to use and would often give your position away to the enemy. The three-foot version was easier on the radio operator, but it wouldn’t work in thick jungles. For that environment, the radio operator needed a ten-foot whip antenna to stick out of their back, which was a great way to draw unwanted attention.

The Viet Cong knew what it meant to take out a guy with a giant, ten-foot antenna sticking out of their back — you might as well have painted a bullseye on them. You take out the radio operator and you effectively avoid dealing with air support. Additionally, it was well known that a radio operator’s place in the marching order was at the heels of the officer-in-charge — two high-priority targets in one spot.

And it wasn’t just the bullets that radio operators had to watch out for. The large antenna also acted as a targeting point for mortars and other explosives. All they had to do was aim for the antenna and they could wipe out anyone near the radio operator. As terrible as it sounds, this meant that the radio operator would sometimes move in isolation, away from the rest of the squad.

It’s unclear exactly how many radio operators lost their lives during the Vietnam War. While many radio operators were fulfilling their MOS, others just had a radio strapped to them in times of need. One thing is for certain, though: Being a radio operator back in the Vietnam War puts you among the most badass troops the military has to offer.

To hear one of these badasses explain what life was like in his own words, check out the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This fight proves Stephen Decatur is the most intense sailor ever

The USS Constitution was firing broadsides into the Tripoli forts as America’s six gunboats rushed into the shallow water of the harbor. The battle quickly spun into hand-to-hand fighting with US sailors wielding pikes and cutlasses as they boarded enemy gunboats. Among the United States’ boats was one commanded by Lt. Stephen Decatur and another commanded by his brother, Lt. James Decatur.


It was Aug. 3, 1804.

In the fighting, four of the U.S. gunboats, including Stephen Decatur’s, quickly closed with nine of the enemy boats and exchanged fire before Decatur collided with the Tripolitan boat at the end of the formation. Decatur and his crew of nineteen quickly leaped aboard the enemy vessel. After a short, brutal fight, they captured the boat, killing sixteen of the enemy, wounding fifteen others, and taking five prisoner.

Decatur began personally lowering the Tripolitan flag.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
Decatur’s greatest hits include retaking the Philadelphia in Tripoli earlier that year.

As that was happening, however, James Decatur’s boat closed with another enemy and, after raking it with fire, saw it strike its colors. As James Decatur stepped aboard the captured vessel, however, the gunboat’s Tripolitan captain shot him at point-blank range. Hit in the forehead, Decatur tumbled into the sea between the boats.

As the Americans struggled to pull their commander from the sea, the Tripolitan gunboat fled.

A short time later, Stephen Decatur was informed of what happened.

With a volunteer crew of eleven, Decatur went after the fleeing enemy boat and, as he closed on it, the Americans boarded her. According to the 1897 book, Twelve Naval Captains by Molly Elliot Seawell, the outnumbered Americans men were able to pause long enough to form a rough line that made the most of their number.

As they advanced, Decatur, armed with a pike, quickly located the boat’s captain, who was described as a “gigantic” man, and lunged at him. But the Tripolitan was able to grab the pike, wrench it from Decatur’s hands, and turn it against him. Decatur quickly drew his cutlass and used it to deflect a lunge of the pike but, in doing so, broke the blade of the cutlass. He leapt to the side as the boat’s captain again lunged with the pike, this time catching Decatur in the shoulder. Decatur wrenched the pike free of his shoulder and of his opponent and the two men began grappling on the bloody deck.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat by Dennis Malone Carter. Decatur and the enemy captain are in the lower right.

About this time, another Tripolitan sailor, seeing the struggle, raised his sword to attack Decatur and end the fight. As he began to strike, however, an American sailor named Daniel Frazier (other sources say the sailor was Rueben James) leaped into the sword’s path, shielding Decatur.

He saved his captain but was badly wounded in the head.

As the fight continued, the Tripolitan captain pulled a small dagger from his waist and tried to stab Decatur, but Decatur, despite his wound, was able to hold off the dagger with one hand and with the other, pull a small pistol from a pocket. He cocked it and shot the Tripolitan man in the stomach.

The man fell off Decatur, dying.

By then, the Americans were getting the best of the gunboat’s crew and slowly took possession of the boat. Twenty-one of the enemy were killed or disabled. Decatur immediately returned to the Constitution where his brother’s body was taken and stayed with him until he died.       

At the end of the day, six Tripolitan gunboats were taken and the only American to die fighting was James Decatur. The man who saved Stephen Decatur, be it Daniel Frazier or Rueben James, is believed to have recovered from his wounds.             

After the fighting finally ground to a halt, Decatur also learned that the USS John Adams arrived on the scene during the battle. Aboard her were papers announcing Decatur’s promotion to Captain.

He remains the youngest man ever to reach the rank in the United States Navy.

Articles

The British and Germans built these deadly hollowed-out trees in WWI

As if the lowly soldier of World War I didn’t have enough to worry about on the hellish battlefields of France — from massive flamethrowers, to giant artillery guns to poison gas — there was a lot of nastiness that could kill you in no-man’s land.


But killer trees? Come on, is there no decency?

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
(Gif: AllMovieVideos via YouTube)

Not quite the nightmare scenario of living, walking Ents from “Lord of the Rings,” the British and later the Germans nevertheless disguised sniper hides and observation posts in positions designed to look like trees destroyed on the battlefield made from steel drums and camouflaged to look like an everyday arbor.

In the constant game of cat and mouse that marked the stalemate of the Western Front, diabolical designers looked to the splintered wreckage of the pock-marked battlescape to hide their positions. According to a story about the deadly hollowed-out trees in the London Daily Mail, the Brits found wrecked trees they could use to construct what they called “O.P. Trees” for observation posts.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
Is that a German Baumbeobachter behind me? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“The ideal tree was dead and often it was bomb blasted,” the MailOnline story said. “The photographs and sketches were then sent to a workshop where artists constructed an artificial tree of hollow steel cylinders.”

“It contained an internal scaffolding for reinforcement, to allow a sniper or observer to ascend within the structure,” the story added.

The trees were built to look exactly like the ruined ones in no-man’s land, so troops would sneak between the lines in the dark and replace the real tree with the fake one. Manned by a British Tommy, the O.P. Trees gave a better view of the battlefield than peering over the trench line.

Historians say a soldier perched within the tree would relay his observation to another trooper posted below, who’d carry the information back to the lines for an attack.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
An O.P. Tree being installed on a World War I battlefield by British troops. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“As far as we know the trees were surprisingly successful and none of them were detected by the enemy,” a historian with the Imperial War Museum in Kensington, England, told MailOnline. “In 1916 the Germans had captured a lot of the higher ground on the Western Front and even the elevation of a few feet through one of these trees could prove crucial.”

The Germans later caught on to the tactic and built their own, calling them Baumbeobachter (which means “tree observer”) and used them throughout the war. The Brits are said to have used their first O.P. Trees during the battle of Ypres in Belgium in 1915, and historians estimate around 45 were deployed to the Western front.

Articles

This is the other awesome weapon named ‘Carl Gustav’

Carl Gustav’s name is associated in most militaries with the recoilless rifle that bears his name, a weapon typically used in anti-armor/anti-personnel applications that is known for its range and lethality. But another weapon, a submachine gun that was reliable enough to serve special operators in the jungles of Vietnam, claims the name as well.


The Carl Gustav M-45 is a design originally ordered by the Swedish Army in World War II. They wanted new weapons to preserve Swiss neutrality and as potential exports to the warring nations.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
(Photo: CGM45BE CC BY-SA 4.0)

The weapon used a simple blowback procedure to cycle the weapon. The operator would pull the trigger, the first round would fire and the force of the explosion would propel the bullet forward while also ejecting a spent casing and allowing a new round to enter the chamber.

It borrowed many of its design elements from other popular submachine guns of the day, such as stamped metal construction. It had a folding stock and featured a 36-round magazine, enough to out fire most designs of the time.

But it could churn through those rounds in seconds. It had a firing rate of 600 rounds per minute and could only fire on full auto. The operator had to preserve ammo by shooting controlled bursts.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A U.S. Army Ranger candidate fires the Carl Gustav submachine gun. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. David Shad)

America never officially adopted the M-45, but U.S. special operators carried it in Vietnam because it was more reliable in the jungle environment than the M-16 that was standard-issued U.S. weapon. Special Forces soldiers and SEALs fought Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces on jungle trails with the little guns, spraying rounds at close range.

In Vietnam, the U.S. operators often carried the weapon with an American-made Sionics silencer and with new magazines that held up to 71 rounds.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
Army Maj. (Ret.) Drew Dix received a Medal of Honor as a staff sergeant in the Vietnam War.(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Lauren Main)

Army Staff Sgt. Drew D. Dix was carrying the M-45 for most of his January 1969 exploits that would contribute to his receiving the Medal of Honor. He led a relief force that rescued friendly troops under fire and an American nurse before heading off to rescue other groups of friendly and U.S. prisoners in a Vietnamese city.

By the time Dix’s rampage ended, he had killed at least 14 — and possibly as many as 39 — enemy fighters, captured 20 prisoners, and freed 14 Americans and friendly civilians.

The M-45 eventually faded from American use after the Swedish government banned exports to the U.S. in protest of the Vietnam War.

But that wasn’t the end for the M-45. Egypt produced the weapon as the Port Said submachine gun under license.

The submachine gun has appeared in dozens of movies including “Brüno,” “Red,” and “Fast Five.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here are 5 times bombers beat fighters in aerial combat

When bombers take on fighters without help, five letters tend to describe their end status: T, O, A, S, T. That’s what people tend to think. But that doesn’t always happen. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s skill… but there are times when bomber crews accomplished the mission and came back to base, while the fighter jocks (if they were lucky) wondered WTF happened as they rode down in a parachute.


Here are a few times the lumbering beasts bested their fast moving adversaries.

1. May 8, 1942: SBD bomber vs. Zekes

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, the United States deployed Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers in an effort to supplement the combat air patrol of Grumman F4F Wildcats. The plan was for the Wildcats to take on the Mitsubishi A6M Zeke and Aichi D3A Val dive bombers, while the SBDs took on the Nakajima B5N Kate torpedo bombers.

Like all plans, it’s didn’t survive first contact. The Zekes got at the SBDs, and a number of the American dive-bombers were shot down. One SBD pilot, Stanley Vejtasa, managed to kill three Zekes – two with the pair of .50-caliber machine guns in the nose of his plane, and the third by using his SBD to slice off the wing of the enemy fighter.

Vejtasa later flew Wildcats, got a seven kills in one day at the Battle of Santa Cruz, and ended up becoming a test pilot after World War II.

 

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A SBD Dauntless doing what it does best: Dropping bombs. (US Navy photo)

2. June 16, 1943: Old 666 vs. Zekes

On a reconnaissance mission around Bougainville, prior to the Allied campaign up the Solomon Islands, a B-17E Flying Fortress made a daring solo run to gather photo intel on enemy strength. Named “Old 666,” and under the command of Capt. Jay Zeamer, the bomber got the photos, then was jumped by as many as 17 Zekes.

After a 45-minute engagement that saw at least three Zeros fall, and six of the nine men aboard Old 666 hit by enemy fire, the Zekes gave up. Zeamer and 2nd Lt. Joe Sarnoski both received the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski posthumously), while the other crewmen received Distinguished Service Crosses.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy

 

3. Spads bombers vs. MiG-17

The A-1 Skyraider was a solid naval strike plane in the Korean War, even carrying out one of America’s last torpedo attacks (albeit on a dam) during that conflict. That said, while Skyraiders could drop just about anything on the enemy, they also had four 20mm cannon that could do bad things to a plane in front of them. One Marine Corps Skyraider even shot down a Po-2 transport plane during the Korean conflict.

But in the Vietnam War, Skyraiders covering rescue missions shot down MiG-17s on two occasions, according to TheAviationist.com. Both times, these strike planes were covering downed pilots. On June 20, 1965, two A-1s shared a MiG-17 kill. On Oct, 9, MiG-17s jumped a flight of Skyraiders, and were really on the wrong end of the fight – the Skyraiders had one confirmed kill, one probable, and heavily damaged a third.

 

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
An A-1 Skyraider in 1966, when four planes assigned to USS Intrepid shot down at least one MiG-17. (US Navy photo)

 

4. April 19, 1967: F-105 bomber vs. MiG-17

Invented during the Vietnam War, the F-105G Wild Weasel took on the surface-to-air missile sites that were taking a heavy toll on American planes. The F-105 was more of a bomber – and a good one. But it also had a M61 Vulcan and over a thousand rounds of ammo. Joe Baugher notes that the F-105s shot down at least 27 MiGs during the Vietnam War, many using that gun.

On April 19, 1967, Leo Thorsness and Harold Johnson claimed at least one of those MiG-17s while covering efforts to rescue fellow Air Force personnel whose plane had been shot down. Thorsness received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the engagement, which lasted for nearly an hour.

 

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A MiG-17 is shot down by an F-105D on Jun. 3, 1967 over Vietnam. (Photo: US Air Force)

5. Jan. 17, 1991: EF-111 vs. Mirage F-1

On the opening night of Operation Desert Storm, an EF-111 Raven (often called the “Spark Vark”) was carrying out a jamming mission when an Iraqi Mirage F-1 tried to shoot it down. The Spark Vark’s crew, Capts. James Denton and Brett Brandon, took the fight where the Varks excelled: a terrain-following, high-speed chase.

The Iraqi Mirage pilot made the mistake of trying to follow them, and flew into the ground. It was the first air-to-air kill of the 1991 conflict.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
General Dynamics EF-111A Raven at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Once upon a time, this ‘little kid’ was a lethal Vietnam War fighter

Before the American military draft was overturned in 1973, nearly 2.2 million Americans between the ages of 18-25 were pulled for service, including baby-faced 20-year-old, Mike Allen.


Nicknamed the “little kid” by the Vietnamese, Allen’s fellow soldiers suspected he shouldn’t be deployed because of his apparent age. But he’d simply reply: “My government says I do.”

Assigned to an Army swing battalion, Allen’s unit would rapidly deploy to the most dangerous areas at a moment’s notice, so he saw a lot of action.

Related: The first man killed in the Vietnam War was murdered by a fellow airman

Weighing in at approximately 120 pounds, Allen said in an interview he had to carry a grocery list of munitions like Claymore mines, trip flares, hand fragmentation grenades and at least 2,000 rounds of M60 ammo, just to name a few.

With all that gear strapped to his back, Mike humorously said, “you didn’t want to run short in case you hit the sh-t.”

Like most grunts, Mike had to live in the hot and muggy jungles and wore his first set of clothes for roughly 80 days, with only four 0r five changes to last during the deployment.

Allen earned an Air Medal for surviving at least 25 operational flights into unsecured landing zones.

“You were scared but you couldn’t feel scared because it would overtake you,” Mike said. “You know they’re watching you, and you try to keep your distance.”

Also Read: That time CBS captured an intense firefight in Vietnam

Check out Wisconsin Public Television‘s video below to watch Mike Allen’s patriotic story of what life was like for the “little kid” of Vietnam.

(Wisconsin Public Television, YouTube)Fun Fact:  According to the  National Archives, 27 million American men were eligible for service and only 2.2 million were drafted between 1964 and 1973. That is all.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The only ship to surrender to the Japanese was fooled with ‘Trojan Turkeys’

The attack at Pearl Harbor was a surprise to the entire U.S. Navy but no one was more surprised than Lt. Cmdr. Columbus D. Smith. He was the commander of the USS Wake, a river gunboat stationed in Shanghai. 

Smith was caught so off-guard by the Japanese declaration of war that his ship was captured without firing a shot as it sat in the port of Shanghai. How the Japanese managed to take it was a devious – but not as deadly – as the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Columbus Darwin Smith was a sailor from the day he turned 18, sailing for the West Indies. When World War I broke out, he joined as an ensign and took command of a U.S. Navy sub chaser for the rest of the war. As a civilian, he found himself in Hawaii, sailing between Honolulu and Yokohama.

In 1929, he decided to stay in Shanghai and became a river pilot on the treacherous Yangtze River, long known as a hazardous route for ships due to the danger of the river – and the large number of bandits who operated on it. 

With his essential skills on the river and the situation in Asia heating up, the U.S. Navy asked Smith to take a commission and command the USS Wake, a gunboat used to secure Americans in China and secretly act as a radio spy ship. He agreed, and took command in November of 1941. 

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
USS Wake

China had been at war with Japan since 1935 and quickly captured the port city. Ever since, the Wake and its 14-man crew had a constant Japanese navy escort ever since. Since then-Lt. Cmdr. Smith had been in the country for a long time, he’d come to know many of the Japanese officers, and thought it little more than a precaution. 

When the commander got a call from a Japanese naval officer he knew well, he didn’t think much of it. The officer asked Smith where he would be on Dec. 8 (which would have been Dec. 7, 1941 in Hawaii) because he wanted to deliver a gift to him and his crew.

The gift was a number of turkeys and he not only had turkeys for the crew of the Wake, he had turkeys for every American officer and ship in the city. The Japanese officer asked Smith to put him in contact with other Americans so he could offer the same to them. It was all a ploy to learn where the Americans would in the moments following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. 

When the next morning came, Smith was at home, not aboard the ship. At 4:20 in the morning he got word from his quartermaster about the surprise attack in Hawaii. Smith quickly got dressed and found the streets filled with Japanese soldiers with fixed bayonets. He rushed back to the ship to find it under guard by Japanese troops. 

The Japanese had already begun to shell a British gunboat, the Peterel. Their ship was on fire and sinking fast. The Wake didn’t appear damaged. 

While Smith was away, the crew also learned about the attack. As the Japanese surrounded the ship, they attempted to scuttle it in Shanghai’s harbor. They were unable to finish the job and were forced to surrender the gunboat. All the Americans were taken to the Woosung Prisoner of War Camp, a village 10 miles up the Yangzte.  The Wake was refitted and renamed IJN Tatara.

The Tatara was recaptured by the Americans at the end of World War II and sold to the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Shek. When the Nationalists were forced to flee to Taiwan, the ship fell into the hand of the Chinese communists. 

Smith and some fellow prisoners tried to escape a few times, and were punished and tortured for each failure. They eventually managed a successful escape, evading the Japanese for 700 miles to an Allied airstrip. A C-47 cargo plane to them first to Calcutta and then to the United States.  

MIGHTY HISTORY

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

It’s not every day a commander is faced with the decision of whether to court-martial someone or to put them in for the Medal of Honor. Such was the situation of a daring pilot of the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force after a harrowing, unprecedented rescue behind enemy lines on August 18, 1944.


The airman was Lt. Royce “Deacon” Priest, a newly-minted pilot who had just arrived at the 354th in early June. Prior to becoming a full-fledged pilot, Priest trained to fly gliders. He was sent to flight school when it was realized no more Airborne divisions were going to be created. He was also offered admission to West Point but he turned it down to realize his dream of being a fighter pilot.

The 354th was led by a daring but new-to-combat pilot, Maj. Bert Marshall. He just arrived in the squadron in early June after a long stint as a pilot trainer stateside. D-Day was his second mission ever. It was there Marshall scored his first aerial victory, but he would already be an ace by August of that year. He also gained a reputation, as Lt. Priest put it, “for not matching wheels down landings with take-offs.” His aggressive flying style earned him the respect of his men and a promotion to Operations Officer and then Squadron Commander in a very short time.

 

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A P-51 like those flown by the 354th

On August 18th Maj. Marshall was leading a flight of four P-51 Mustangs on a bombing and strafing mission against German marshaling areas that supplied forces battling the Americans breaking out of Normandy. As they came upon their primary target, they noticed railway cars marked with red crosses and moved on to a better target. About twenty miles away, they found it.

As the fighters swept in to attack, their target of opportunity turned into an ambush. The sides of a rail car fell away exposing a German anti-aircraft battery hidden within. 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft rounds ripped through the formation. Maj. Marshall’s plane took the worst of it and pulled away smoking badly and fatally crippled. Lt. Priest, flying beside him, saw the whole thing and reported the damage to Marshall. While Marshall looked for a place to belly land his plane Priest pointed out a field nearby and suggested that he would land and pick up Marshall. Marshall was adamant that he take the rest of the flight and get out of there.

However, Priest idolized Marshall, having known of him from his high school and college football days. He couldn’t believe his luck when they were assigned to the same squadron. He wasn’t just going to let him fall into German hands. He radioed the others in his flight to let them know his intention of landing to rescue the commander. When Marshall heard the chatter over the radio he told Lt. Priest he was ordering him not to land and to return to base.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A pilot ejects from a dogfight in the skies over Normandy.

Disobeying those orders, Lt. Priest spotted a wheat field nearby that would do nicely as an improvised landing strip. Just before landing, he spotted Marshall tossing a thermite grenade into his plane and then heading toward the field he was landing in.

Once Priest had landed and positioned his plane for a quick take-off he surveyed the area looking for his commander. Instead, he saw a truckload of German infantry approaching. He immediately called the remaining two airborne pilots. They responded that they were inbound and made quick work of the truck and its occupants with the Mustang’s four .50 caliber machine guns but also alerted Priest that more Germans were heading his way. He was running out of time and there was still no sign of his commander.

As he started to consider his options, he saw Marshall come into the field, visibly angry that Priest was even there. Marshall refused to get into the airplane and told Priest to get out of there. Not knowing what else to do, Priest exited the airplane and took off his chute and dinghy signaling that he was not leaving without his commander. Marshall climbed in first followed by Priest. There was barely enough room to close the canopy but the cramped couple managed to take off just in time to avoid the second German patrol.

Once they returned to England and Marshall was less angry, he expressed his thanks for the rescue. Priest told Marshall he was too important to the squadron to allow him to be lost to the Germans.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
Priest and Marshall

“I must admit I was very concerned regarding my own fate, having disobeyed a direct order, in combat – twice,” Priest wrote in a letter to Bert Marshall’s son. “I wondered if I would be transferred out, taken off combat operations, etc. I did not expect to be decorated.”

But that was what happened. Despite his seemingly reckless rescue of his commander, Lt. Priest was put in for the Medal of Honor. Gen. James Doolittle said he struggled with the decision and ultimately gave Priest the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions because he did not want to encourage other pilots to risk themselves and their aircraft in similar attempts. When presenting the award to Priest, Gen. Doolittle told him he “had never thought about issuing a regulation to ‘not land behind enemy lines to attempt a rescue,’ who would be that stupid? Because what you just did was just crazy to even think about!”

Both Priest and Marshall would finish the war and have long careers in what became the U.S. Air Force. Marshall was awarded the Silver Star for his leadership of the 354th Fighter Squadron in Europe. His son would later write two books about his father’s squadron during World War II.

popular

Here is how the Navy feels about finders keepers

The Navy tends to be very strict when people recover items from sunken wrecks. In fact, when an Enigma machine was taken from the wreck of U-85, the Navy intervened. They even tried to grab a plane they left lying around in a North Carolina swamp for over 40 years.


Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A U.S. Marine Corps F3A-1 aircraft of Marine Air Group 91 commanded by LCol Joseph M. Renner. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

According to a 2004 AP report, the plane in question was very valuable. It was the only known surviving Brewster F3A “Corsair.” Well, let’s be honest here. The F3A can best be described as a Corsair In Name Only, or CINO. Brewster’s Corsairs had problems — so much so that in July, 1944, the Navy cancelled the contract and Brewster went out of business less than a month after D-Day.

Brewster was also responsible for the F2A Buffalo, a piece of crap that got a lot of Marine pilots killed during the Battle of Midway.

According to that AP report, the story began with a fatal accident on Dec. 19, 1944, which killed Lt. Robin C. Pennington, who was flying a training mission in the F3A. The Navy recovered Pennington’s body and some gear from the Corsair, then left the wreck. Eventually, the plane was recovered by Lex Cralley in 1990, who began trying to restore the plane. A simple case of “finders keepers, losers weepers,” right?

 

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation 

Nope. The Navy sued Cralley in 2004 to get the plane back. After the report appeared, comments were…not exactly favorable towards the Navy at one normally pro-military forum.

Eventually, then-Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) got involved. According to a May 28, 2004 report by Hearst News Service, Jones eventually authored an amendment that settled the lawsuit by having the Navy turn the F3A over to Cralley.

The Navy usually has been very assertive with regards to wrecks. According to admiraltylawguide.com, in 2000, the Navy won a ruling in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal preventing Doug Champlin from salvaging a TBD Devastator that had survived both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.

MIGHTY HISTORY

History’s most daring thief may have been this Army paratrooper

The mysterious plane hijacker known as “D.B. Cooper,” who has eluded authorities for more than 45 years, was an ex-military paratrooper from Michigan who boasted about the daring heist to a friend, a publisher plans to reveal May 17, 2018.

Michigan publisher Principa Media says Cooper was former military paratrooper and intelligence operative Walter R. Reca, and Principa worked with Reca’s best friend, Carl Laurin, in compiling the evidence. While the publisher did not disclose if Reca was still alive, an obituary online lists Reca, of Oscada, Mich., as having died in 2014 at the age of 80.


“Evidence, including almost-daily discussions over a 14-year period and 3+ hours of audio recordings featuring the skyjacker, was compiled by Reca’s best friend. It was then analyzed by a Certified Fraud Examiner and forensic linguist,” the publisher said in a news release. “The audio recordings, created in 2008, include Reca discussing skyjacking details that were not known to the public prior to the FBI’s information release in 2015.”

The publishing company worked with Laurin for the memoir “D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend,” and plans to present evidence at a press conference on Thursday in Grand Rapids linking the crime to Reca. Evidence includes:

  • Witness testimony from an individual who spoke with Reca within an hour of his jump
  • Documentation concerning how the $200,000 in stolen cash was spent
  • Confessions from Reca to two individuals at two different times
  • An article of clothing Reca wore during the jump

In 1971, on the night before Thanksgiving, a man calling himself Dan Cooper, wearing a black tie and a suit, boarded a Seattle-bound Boeing 727 in Oregon and told a flight attendant he had a bomb in a briefcase. He gave her a note demanding ransom. After the plane landed he released the 36 passengers in exchange for $200,000 in ransom money and parachutes. The ransom was paid in $20 bills.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy

The hijacker then ordered the plane to fly to Mexico, but near the Washington-Oregon border he jumped and was never seen or heard from again.

In one of the audio recordings provided by the publishing company, Laurin is heard asking Reca about how he felt going through life knowing he was D.B. Cooper and if he ever had second thoughts about the heist.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
Water Reca as seen in Detroit in the mid-1970s.
(Lisa Story)

“Never even a second thought,” Reca says.

After the heist, Reca said he put the money in the bank, and that he had “family to take care of” before jobs “overseas” came up. The daredevil said he treated it as any bank heist.

“It was no [big] deal really, it was done,” Reca is heard saying. “It was done, and I lived through it.”

After the skyjacking, Reca later became a high-level covert intelligence operative, according to the publishing company.

Reca possessed skills to survive jumping out of the plane because he was on the Michigan Parachute Team, according to the publisher. He attended the team reunion in 2000 and was pictured in a photo released by the publisher.

Despite the claims of the publishing company, the FBI has never ruled out the possibility that the hijacker was killed in the jump — which took place during a rainstorm at night, over rough, wooded terrain. The hijacker’s clothing and footwear were also unsuitable for a rough landing.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A flier for a Michigan Parachute Team event. The MPC was a group of young men who performed daredevil parachuting stunts.

Over the years the most lasting image of Cooper, who became somewhat of a legend, may be the two sketches the FBI released of the suspect.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A photo of the Michigan Parachute Team reunion in 2000.

Many investigators have come forward with their theories for who the infamous hijacker may be. In early 2018, the leader of the private investigative team who has spent years trying to crack the D.B. Cooper hijacking case claimed he believes the mysterious criminal was a CIA operative whose identity has been covered up by federal agents.

Thomas Colbert, a documentary filmmaker who helped put together the 40-member team, said in January 2018, his team made the connection from work a code breaker uncovered in each of the five letters allegedly sent by Cooper.

Since January 2018, the FBI has released more than 3,000 documents to Colbert’s team investigating the hijacking. The FBI said in court papers that it has more than 71,000 documents that may be responsive to Colbert’s lawsuit.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An interview with one of the last WWII Marine fighter pilots

Sam Folsom, born July 24, 1920 in Quincy, Massachusetts, was one of the first echelon of 17 Marine fighter pilots with Marine Fighter Squadron 121 tasked with defending Guadalcanal. He is also one of the last living Marine Corps WWII combat pilot.

It was the summer of 1941, while Folsom was attending a flight training program in Jacksonville, Florida, that the unthinkable happened.

“I was lying in my bunk in Florida,” Folsom recalled. “I turned on the radio and it blared out ‘Pearl Harbor has been attacked’, so I did what any patriotic American would’ve done. I jumped to my feet, got dressed and ran to the door as fast as I could.”


Folsom completed training at the end of 1942 and received orders to Miramar, California, where he checked into his new unit, VMF-122. Later, the squadron was combined with another to form VMF-121. Folsom’s assigned fighter plane was a Grumman F4F Wildcat which he trained in for months before his unit was sent overseas to New Caledonia briefly, before being sent to Guadalcanal in early September, 1942.

“I spent six or eight months on the west coast in a squadron with about 40 pilots and only eight or 10 planes, so as you can imagine none of us got much training,” Folsom said.

Folsom arrived to the Island Oct. 8.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 in non-specular blue-grey over light-grey scheme in early 1942.

The first few days of combat were rough for Folsom. In training the highest they had ever flown was roughly 10,000 feet and previously Folsom had only fired his guns once in a training exercise. Then suddenly his unit was sent on a mission dispatched at 30,000 feet where they found themselves above a Japanese formation of G4M Betty Bombers with an escort of fighter planes. When they dived down to attack Folsom lost control. After recovering and regaining control, he closed in on the bombers and pulled the trigger only to find out his guns wouldn’t fire. Due to the lack of flying experience at this altitude the unit didn’t realize that lubricating the weapons before flying would freeze the lubricant at this high of an altitude.

“I never remember being frightened,” he said. “Just mad as hell going through this with your life on the line and having my guns not firing.”

Folsom and the other pilots had to return to base considering the conditions of their weapons.

Towards the end of the squadron’s tour, the pilots received more experience flying in support of combat operations than they ever did through their training. Later, Folsom and his squadron had found themselves above another bomber formation. The bombers had already attacked and were returning home when Folsom dived down and closed in on the two bombers.

“I closed in on two Japanese bombers, one of which was directly in my sights and I shot him down,” Folsom said. “I pulled over to the side and I shot down the other one. It was just like a training exercise.”

Eventually, Folsom was completely out of ammunition and flew back to base. The Japanese fighter planes escorting the bombers closed in on Folsom. Folsom found himself in a dogfight without any means of defense. His plane was shot multiple times, but he still managed to escape and make it back to base.
Folsom said that wasn’t the only time he found himself in a dogfight without ammunition. On one occasion, Folsom was attacked by approximately six Japanese fighter planes, which damaged his plane and wounded his left leg.

After his three-month tour in Guadalcanal he was transferred to Samoa, ending his time with VMF-121. During Folsom’s time with VMF-121 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for his actions in Guadalcanal. In total, he shot down two Japanese Betty Bombers and one Japanese fighter plane. He continued his career in the Marine Corps and served nearly 18 years, retiring in 1960 as a lieutenant colonel.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This POW earned the Medal of Honor for saving his entire unit

On Apr. 24, 1951, Cpl. Hiroshi Miyamura — known as “Hershey” to his men — and his squad of a dozen machine gunners and five riflemen were stationed on a Korean hill to delay the Chinese attack everyone knew was coming. The hillside was pocked with trenches and craters and littered with razor wire. At 4 in the morning, the quiet was broken by the sound of bugles and whistles as waves of Chinese regulars swarmed across the Imjin River. One of those waves breaking against Miyamura’s position.


Suddenly, he was in charge of a suicide mission.

Born and raised in Gallup, New Mexico, the son of Japanese immigrants, Miyamura served in World War II with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese-American unit that became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of America, but did not see action. He joined up again when the Korean Conflict broke out in 1950 and was trained in heavy weapons and sent to Korea.

For hours that morning, the Chinese waves beat against Miyamura’s position. Their overwhelming numbers came straight at Miyamura as his machine guns slowly eliminated the enemy squad, one man at a time. As their ammunition dwindled, Miyamura, who was directing fire, firing his carbine, and hurling grenades at the attackers, ordered his squad to fix bayonets.

At one point, the Chinese began attempting to flank the remnants of the small unit, so Miyamura attacked — by himself.

“Chinese soldiers had been cautiously moving up the slope when Miyamura suddenly appeared in their midst,” Brig. Gen. Ralph Osborne, would later announce.  “Jabbing and slashing, he scattered one group and wheeled around, breaking up another group the same way.”

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
An artist rendering of Hiroshi Miyamura in the Korean War.

He then returned to his squad and began tending to the wounded, but he soon realized his position was hopeless. He ordered a withdrawal.

As the men readied to pull out, another wave of Chinese struck and Miyamura moved to an untended machine gun and fired it until he was out of ammunition. He disabled the machine gun to keep out of enemy hands and was about to join the withdrawal when the Chinese again hit his position. He bayoneted his way to a second, untended machine gun and used it to cover his men’s withdrawal until he was forced to take shelter in a bunker and kept fighting. The area in front of the bunker was later discovered to be littered with the bodies of at least 50 of the enemy combatants.

When the fighting hit a lull, Hershey found himself alone.

Now wounded in the leg by grenade shrapnel, he began to work his way back from the front at times meeting — and besting — Chinese troops in hand-to-hand combat until, exhausted and weakened, he fell into a roadside ditch and was captured.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
A machine gun position like the ones Hiroshi Miyamura used.

For the next 28 months, he struggled to survive in a North Korean POW camp, believing his entire squad had been killed or wounded. He also naively feared he would face a court-marshal for having lost so many of his men. (In fact, several of the squad had survived). So, when he was finally released at the end of the fighting he weighed less than 100 pounds and faced freedom with some trepidation.

Instead, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The award had been kept secret for fear of enemy retaliation, so few ever knew of Hershey’s actions on that lonely Korean hill. So it was with some surprise that Miyamura was informed by Gen. Osborne of his MOH.

“What?” he is reported to have said.  ‘I’ve been awarded what medal?’

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
Hiroshi Miyamura receives the Medal of Honor from President Eisenhower.

On Oct. 27, 1953, then-Sergeant Miyamura — he had been promoted while in captivity — received his award from President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House and returned to Gallup where the city’s schools were let out, businesses had been closed, and some 5,000 people greeted him as he got off the train.

Gallup had declared “Hiroshi Miyamura Day.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were America’s first African-American paratroopers

During World War II a company of service soldiers became the world’s first Black paratroopers and then made history as smokejumpers.


It started in 1942 when 1st Sgt. Walter Morris, an E-5 who had taken responsibility for his company because no first sergeant was assigned to it, crafted a plan for improving horrible morale.

The men were assigned to the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, but were afforded none of the privileges other soldiers had and even lacked access to facilities that enemy POWs were allowed to use.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
The paratroopers of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion get ready to fight a forest fire. Photo: US Army

The men were assigned to cleaning the course after the white paratroopers finished training, and Morris simply had his men run it before they began cleaning. One day they were spotted making their way through the course by a passing general. The general ordered Morris to report to his office the next day. The general had received orders to start a Black airborne test platoon that would soon become a Black company and then airborne battalion. For his leadership of the service company, Morris was asked to become the unit first sergeant.

Morris and his men were officially re-assigned to the 555th Parachute Infantry Company, the Triple Nickles, in the final days of 1943. On Feb. 8, 1944, Morris and 16 others graduated Airborne School and became the first Black paratroopers.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
First Sgt. Walter Morris during pre-jump inspection for his first jump. Photo: US Army

The 555th quickly grew over the next year and Morris was sent to officer candidate school to become an officer so he could take another leadership role in what was now the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.

Unfortunately for the paratroopers of the unit, lingering racism kept them from the combat deployment to Europe that they were seeking.

They were instead loaned out to the U.S. Forest Service to defend the forests of the western states from Japanese incendiary bombs. The Japanese were floating thousands of balloons, each with four incendiary devices, across the Pacific to start wildfires in North America.

The Forest Service had decided to fight the tactic with “smokejumpers,” a new type of forest firefighter who jumped into the woods near the massive blazes and then created firebreaks to starve the flames of fuel.

Three hundred men were assigned to the mission, but only 160 were sent to Pendleton, Oregon for retraining. Between them all, they conducted 1,200 individual jumps and completed 36 fire missions in the summer of 1945.

Radiomen in the Vietnam War faced a 5-second life expectancy
The men of the Triple Nickle before a training jump in New Jersey. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Smokejumpers carried special “letdown” ropes to climb down from trees in case they were hung up on the high branches, and the men of 555th crafted special face protection by wrapping chicken wire around football helmets.

The war and the Army smokejumper mission ended in 1945, and the Triple Nickle was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where the famed 82nd Airborne Division was headquartered. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin, “The Jumping General” who commanded the unit, was impressed by the Black paratroopers and an early advocate of integration.

The unit trained and existed within the 82nd Airborne Division until Gavin ordered the men to an 82nd function in Dec. 1947. When the 555th commander presented his battalion to Gavin, the general ordered the unit fully integrated it into the 82nd as the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Brigade.

While the men regretted the loss of the Triple Nickles, they celebrated being integrated into a storied unit.

“Everybody was crying,” former 555th paratrooper Charles Stevens told the Fort Jackson Leader. “I think we were crying for two different reasons. We were glad that segregation was leaving the Army and we were sad we were losing our Triple Nickle colors.”

Do Not Sell My Personal Information