How 'Rocky' Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Described as “the bravest man you’ve never heard of,” Captain Humbert Roque Versace’s story is one that is not as well known as it should be. So allow us to remedy that by discussing how he spent two years basically being a huge pain in the ass for his captors in a Vietnamese POW camp — so much so that he managed to become the first person in the U.S. Army to earn a Medal of Honor for his conduct as a prisoner of war.

Born in 1937 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Versace was the son of decorated army colonel, Humbert Joseph Versace, and famed author, editor, and pilot Tere Rios, who, among other things, wrote The Fifteenth Pelican, which would inspire popular 1960s TV show The Flying Nun.


The oldest of five children, “Rocky” as he was known was a smart and headstrong child who would later be described by his brother, Steve, as being “infuriatingly opinionated” and “If he knew he was right, he was absolutely atrocious…” — a trait that played a role in his earning a Medal of Honor.

Like his father before him, Versace joined the army, attending West Point Academy in 1959 and graduating with honors. Over the next two years Versace received training as both an Army Ranger and a parachutist, eventually rising to the rank of Captain during a tour in North Korea as a tank platoon leader. In 1962, the newly minted Captain Versace was assigned to serve in a mostly ceremonial role with the distinguished Old Guard at Fort Meyer. Soon enough, however, he volunteered to serve in Vietnam.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Humbert Roque Versace.

Prior to being shipped off to Vietnam, Versace received yet more training, this time to become an Intelligence Officer. As part of his training, he received a crash course in Vietnamese, a language he was fluent in by the time his tour of duty began in May of 1962. This, combined with Versace’s fluency in French, made him an invaluable asset to the Army and incredibly popular with the South Vietnamese forces and civilians of the Mekong Delta.

His fluency in Vietnamese was important to Versace as his dream was to eventually become a Catholic priest and missionary to the people of South Vietnam. Thus, Versace spent much of his free time as a soldier there volunteering at local orphanages, assisting townspeople and securing vital and not-so-vital supplies to make life a little easier for the locals. In regards to the latter, in addition to securing food and building materials, Versace also continually wrote letters to schools in the United States asking for toys and learning materials for the children of the villages he visited.

A year later, with his tour of duty coming to an end, Versace applied to stay in Vietnam for another 6 months despite receiving news that his application to seminary had been accepted. As it would later emerge, Versace had decided that he still wanted to be a priest but his decision to embark on a second tour of duty was born out of an earnest desire to continue helping the orphans he’d become so attached to during his time in the country.

Two weeks before this second tour was set to end, Versace volunteered for a highly dangerous mission to assist South Vietnamese troops take down a North Vietnamese command post located deep in the U Minh Forest.

During the mission Versace and his fellow soldiers were ambushed and overrun by Viet Cong forces. Hopelessly outnumbered, he called for a tactical retreat, along with First Leiutenant Nick Rowe and Sergeant First Class Dan Pitzer, covering the exit of South Vietnamese soldiers with sustained rifle fire as a hail of bullets tore overhead. During the ensuing firefight, Versace was hit in the back and legs by bullets and shrapnel as he stood, completely exposed to the hellstorm raging around him firing his weapon into jungle.

Running low on bullets, Versace charged the enemy in an apparent effort to single-handedly beat them all to death with the butt of his rifle. During his charge, he was injured once more, falling to the ground and being quickly set upon and beaten by the enemy forces.

After being physically overpowered, Versace, along with Pitzer and Rowe, were stripped of their weapons and boots, before all three were marched barefoot into the jungle towards a POW camp…. Which is when Versace got mad.

Remembering Captain HR ‘Rocky’ Versace on Memorial Day 2016

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For the next two years Versace made life for his captors hell as they tried and failed to do the same to him. Strikingly handsome with a tall, imposing frame and a magnetic personality, Versace became the pseudo-leader of his fellow POWs. Frequently tortured and interrogated, he refused to give them any information and relentlessly badgered his captors about their treatment of his friends and comrades, citing articles from the Geneva Convention and using his time in isolation to think up ever more creative insults.

Tired of his antics, in an effort to keep him away from other POWs, Versace was eventually locked inside of a bamboo cage away from everyone else, which didn’t stop him from boosting the morale of everyone around him by cheerily singing pop songs. When the Viet Cong locked Versace in an isolation cage even further away from the rest of the POWs, he just sang louder. When they began gagging him so that he couldn’t speak or sing, he started leaving messages of support in the toilet.

Not content to just sit around singing, during his imprisonment, Versace escaped four times, each time being captured not long after. In the first instance, he was so severely injured at the time that he couldn’t walk, but instead crawled away from the camp in agonizing pain through marshland. As you might imagine, it didn’t take the Viet Cong very long to locate him once they’d discovered he’d managed to escape.

Each time he was recaptured, Versace was noted as telling his captors that he’d do it again the first change he got, prompting them to redouble their efforts to break him. As you can probably guess by now, these efforts failed miserably.

At first the Viet Cong tried “re-educating” Versace, attempting to brainwash him with political propaganda. Versace reportedly spent much of his time during these sessions loudly arguing with his indoctrinators.

Along with inspiring his fellow POWs, this saw to it that the bulk of his captor’s frustrations and anger were directed towards him, something his fellow POWs were also reportedly very grateful for. As noted by President George Bush some four decades late, “By focusing his captors’ anger on him, he made life a measure more tolerable for his fellow prisoners, who looked to him as a role model of principled resistance.”

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Humbert Versace’s memorial plaque outside MacArthur Barracks at West Point.

In addition to inspiring POWs, Versace’s tenacity inspired the people of Vietnam; when the Viet Cong tried to parade a beaten and bloodied Versace through local villages, he’d offer words of encouragement in Vietnamese to those gathered. This was much to the annoyance of the Viet Cong who’d warned against such insubordination by threatening to viciously beat him within an inch of his life if he did so.

Frustrated with their inability to break this man, the Viet Cong eventually made the decision to execute Versace. When he was informed of this, he reportedly responded by singing God Bless America for 5 hours straight the night before his execution was to take place. This song was the last thing any of his fellow prisoners ever heard from Versace.

Following through on their threat, Rocky Versace was executed on Sep. 26, 1965. His body was never recovered, but a headstone was placed above an empty grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

For his conduct as a POW, initially Versace only received a silver star, the Army’s third highest award. This was something his fellow soldiers didn’t feel reflected the full extent of his actions and sacrifice while a POW, resulting in a concerted effort from a “hodgepodge group of soldiers and civilians” aware of the full details of what Versace endured to see him awarded America’s highest military honor.

In 2002, this request was finally fulfilled, with one of Versace’s brothers, Dr. Stephen Versace, accepting the medal from then President George Bush. In his speech, Bush noted:

In his defiance and later his death, he set an example of extraordinary dedication that changed the lives of his fellow soldiers who saw it firsthand. His story echoes across the years, reminding us of liberty’s high price and of the noble passion that caused one good man to pay that price in full.

In addition to being the first American POW to earn a Medal of Honor for his conduct during his time as a prisoner, Versace is an inductee in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes as well as a member of the Ranger Hall of Fame.

Said his former fellow prisoner Sergeant Dan Pitzer of the man himself,

Rocky walked his own path… for that guy, duty, honor, country was a way of life. He was the finest example of an officer I have known… Once, Rocky told our captors they might as well kill him then and there if the price of his life was getting more from him than name, rank, and serial number… He got a lot of pressure and torture, but he held his path… He was brutally murdered because of it… I’m satisfied he would have it no other way…. [He] valued that one moment of honor more than he would a lifetime of compromises.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Star Trek’s ‘Kobayashi Maru’ test is a must for military leaders

Over the years, the varied iterations of the Star Trek franchise have inspired countless young men and women to pursue careers in cutting edge technologies, space sciences, and the like. As a kid growing up on a steady diet of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” however, I saw something else that spoke to me: a command structure that each and every crewmember had the utmost faith in.

The crew of the Enterprise each knew where they fell within the decision-making hierarchy, what their role and responsibilities were, and most importantly, who to look to when it came time to make hard decisions.


Breaking the chain of command or violating direct orders, of course, played a pivotal role in a number of episodes and movies–but in my young mind, that only further emphasized the importance of command: where starship captains were forced to decide between their orders and what they knew to be right. Almost universally, the captain that erred on the side of ethics got off scot-free, no matter how egregious their crimes. Good leadership, I learned, is about looking failure in the eye, accepting the consequences, and doing what has to be done.

Leadership in Starfleet, like in today’s real-world military, is a near constant life-or-death matter. Fortunately for the Star Trek universe, they have a test to see if you have what it takes to lead in such an environment.

Wrath of Khan – Kobayashi Maru

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The test

The Kobayashi Maru test was first shown on screen in 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” The premise is simple: a cadet is placed in command of a starship simulator and tasked with responding to the distress call of a damaged fuel carrier: the Kobayashi Maru. The stranded vessel is adrift in the neutral zone dividing Starfleet’s Federation Space from the Klingon Empire. The cadet-turned-captain has to make a hard decision: do you risk war with Star Trek’s Cold War Russian stand-ins, the Klingons… or do you allow the civilians to die?

The right thing to do, of course, is rescue the civilians–but the moment a cadet issues that order, things go bad. Communications with the civilian vessel are immediately lost just as multiple Klingon warships appear in pursuit. In clear violation of the treaty between their peoples, the cadet-in-command can try to talk their way out of trouble, turn and fight, or leave the civilians to their fate and run, but it doesn’t matter. The cadet’s ship is invariably destroyed. All crew members are lost. It’s a failure that’s spectacular in measure, both in terms of the lost vessel and in terms of lost lives. For an aspiring Starfleet captain, it’s a living nightmare… and that’s the point.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Kirk didn’t learn from the Kobayashi Maru, so he went on to learn the hard way.

The “no win scenario”

No matter how long you serve in the military or how competent a leader you are, failure comes for us all. If you’re fortunate, your most egregious failures will all come in training environments, and you’ll never have to go home with the weight of lost brothers or sisters on your conscience. In the worst of scenarios, victory or failure may be entirely outside of your control, but the burden of loss remains. When someone dies under your command, be it in combat or otherwise, it sticks with you.

You’ll keep moving, you’ll keep working, but late at night, when you’re alone with yourself, you can feel the weight of it bearing down. Good leaders know they’re going to hurt, but importantly, know how to get the job done anyway. They know that sometimes failure is unavoidable… often because they’ve faced their own Kobayashi Maru somewhere along the way.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melissa Wenger)

The measure of a good leader

I lost a Marine to suicide only weeks after being given my own squad. It tore our team apart and reshaped my approach to leadership and service. If I could be called a good leader after that, it wasn’t because I was born with an innate ability to rally the troops or because I had the decision making prowess of Jean Luc Picard. It was because I’d already felt the crushing weight of failure pulling me down into the darkness. I’d already been up at night, assessing what I did wrong. I’d already looked a grieving mother in the eyes and choked as I stammered an apology.

Failure is an unavoidable part of any military operation, but good leaders know how to roll with even the most crushing of punches. Some may come to the table with that ability, others, like me, have to learn it the hard way–by failing. The measure of a leader is their ability to recover from those failures, their ability to lead in adverse conditions, and their ability to shoulder the weight of their conscience without compromising the task at hand.

Every military leader needs to face the Kobayashi Maru sooner or later. Starfleet is just smart enough to add it to the training schedule.

Articles

This glamour model thanks the Air Force for jump-starting her life

Ashley Salazar did a lot of stupid stuff growing up, probably no different from the stupid stuff we all did. But unlike many who made mistakes as teen, Salazar was “saved” by joining the Air Force.


How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
Suddenly a Cubs fan.

“A lot of people don’t even believe I served in the military,” she says. “All they see is a pretty girl, but I was a tomboy growing up. Everyone does the kind of stupid stuff I did. When I joined, Uncle Sam became my dad in a way, making sure I stayed out of trouble. It pushed me to be more than I ever thought I could be.”

She joined the Air Force because of the September 11th attacks. She actually had a potential modeling and acting career before enlisting, since her mother was also a model. But enlisting was something Salazar felt she had to do.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
Slicksleeves (aka Airman Basic, E-1)

“I had a modeling agent, but I was really affected by 9/11. I was seventeen years old then,” she recalls. “I had to wait a year to join. But I did as soon as I could. I talked to Marine recruiters  and I talked to Coast Guard recruiters, but the Air Force seemed to call me the most. I wanted to serve my country. We have to fight for ourselves as Americans, but we also have to fight for those who don’t have the freedoms we have.”

The Air Force got a super troop in Airman Salazar. She was an element leader in basic training and despite a few stumbles, she graduated from Radiology technical training with a Commander’s Award that hadn’t been awarded in five years. Adversity is where Salazar thrives.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

“I first got pregnant with my daughter in radiology school. I was having very hard time as a C student. But something happened to me, where she made me go from C student to A student – from the bottom to the top of my class.” She was promoted early in a “Below the Zone” promotion and made Staff Sergeant this first time she tested for the rank.

See Also: 32 Terms Only Airmen Understand

She spent much of her career at Keesler and Scott and she did everything she could to be part of the Air Force mission. She trained into mammography, volunteered to deploy to field hospitals, and even volunteered for Security Forces augmentee duty, a job few Airmen look forward to.

“All the cops were deployed,” she says. “I was young, 18 years old, and I could go do my part. Not just for the civilians back home but for all the military members who had spouses and children. I could deploy so they don’t have to. I did have to experience things I would have rather not have seen. Everyone does.”

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
(This is not one of those things.)

Salazar was stationed at Keesler AFB in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama. As hospital personnel, she was not able to evacuate the base and spent the aftermath, using X-rays to identify bodies —and body parts. In the meantime, she lost everything in the storm. When it came time to be relocated, she opted for Scott AFB in Illinois, to be closer to her family.

She liked her hospital job, but her favorite aspect of her Air Force career was a much higher calling: Honor Guard.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

“I did over 600 Honor Guard ceremonies between the two bases and I was flight leader while at Scott,” Salazar recalls. “Being able to give back and thank the families is the most gratifying thing I’ve ever experienced. I know someday when I pass, someone is going hand a flag to my family and it means a lot, it was and honor and it was humbling to be able to do that for people.”

Her modeling came up again after photos of her at an Air Force Christmas party wearing a red dress appeared on the Medical Group’s website. Everyone wanted to know who that woman in red was. The base photographer who took the photos begged Salazar for months to let him use her as a model. She was never really thinking of being a model.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
Salazar was Playboy’s Miss Social of 2013

 

“To be honest, I’m 5’7″ and a little bit big around the top,” she says. “And they like women who are thin and not shapely in the fashion world. Besides, I felt old at 23 or 24 and I thought 18-year-olds were the ones who modeled, not 24 year old airmen with kids. I finally caved and we did some photos. Shortly after, I was signed with an agency and then I got my first billboard across from the St. Louis Cardinals stadium.”

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
But… what about those Cubs?

After that, she started doing regular modeling work using her military leave, while still maintaining her Air Force career. She even expanded into doing her own photography for others. Eventually, she did a volunteer charity calendar that got her into hot water.

“Being a Super Troop kinda hurt me in the end because the standards of professionalism in the Air Force are so high, if you mess up once, it’s unforgiving,” Salazar says. “It was a dress jacket with a little cleavage, nothing from the waist down, and I was just saluting. Which cost me my quarterly award. They also took an oak leaf cluster. I didn’t want to bring any discredit on myself or on anyone.”

Salazar left the Air Force in 2008, when the U.S. job market was tanking on an epic scale. People were losing their jobs, no one was hiring. As a recently divorced, recently separated airman, Ashley Salazar had to take care of her daughter and her mother. She turned to her creative work.

“I started this blog when I started photography,” she says. “I would interview people and take their photos and put them on this Tumblr page. Fast-forward five years and now we have this thing called MollMag which is now wildly popular. It’s been my baby and now I’m taking it to the next level. We have a new international edition released in South Africa which we started in 2013.”

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
Salazar is also a supporter of breast cancer research, as the disease runs in her family.

Ashley is also currently in a contest to be the model for Pink Lipstick Lingerie. For her, it could mean a huge difference in her life and for her family.

“The one thing I haven’t been able to do as a model is be a model for a lingerie company,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to get into a catalog. A lot of these companies also use models for those funny Halloween costumes they have at stores every year. If I win this vote, they’ll fly me to New York to do these shoots for them. Once you get into the catalog industry, its much more likely for your career to take off.”

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Through all her hard times, her experience in the Air Force has always stayed with her. It toughened her, it changed her, it prepared her for anything she might have to do in the civilian world. That experience gives her an edge, a down-to-earth, can-do mentality that keeps her from giving up where so many others might have in her position.

“I’ve been told no so many times for so many things,” she says. “Being a mom means I have a couple of stretch marks. Real women do. In the beauty world, that’s not ideal. It’s a competitive industry and it’s hard. My husband now taught me to embrace my body to accept myself my body for what it was and be happy with myself as we started to fall in love, I began to feel more comfortable and that’s when the bikini photos started to come out.”

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

“They only show one perspective of beauty out there, but real women are mothers too. I wanted to see a mother in Playboy, because it affects people around the world. Women all over the world see these women and then hold themselves to that standard. And they might think ‘well, if I don’t look like that, then I’m not beautiful,’ but that’s not true.”

After the Air Force and her husband, Ashley credits her glamour model success to her fans.

“I’m lucky to have fans,” she says. “I’m grateful for every one of them. I don’t care if they follow all my work or just like my Facebook page because they think I’m hot. I’m thankful for each fan and I hope they stick around.”

To see more of Ashley Salazar’s work, visit her website.

Follow Ashley on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA diagnoses 4,000 cases of colon cancer each year: how to get screened at home

Denise put off a screening colonoscopy for two years. When she finally did, she was diagnosed with rectal cancer.

“I was fortunate. My cancer was in the early stages and surgery offered me a cure. The prep was not that bad. The sedation made me wonder, ‘Is that all there is to it?’ The moral of my story is if I had waited until I had symptoms, it would have been too late.”

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths, behind lung cancer. The yearly death toll from colorectal cancer in America exceeds the total number of American combat deaths during the entire Vietnam War.


The Veterans Health Administration recommends screening for colorectal cancer in adults age 50 through 75.

The decision to screen for colorectal cancer in adults age 76 through 85 should be an individual one, taking into account the patient’s overall health and prior screening history.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Six out of ten deaths could be prevented

In the past decade, colorectal cancer has emerged as one of the most preventable common cancers. If all men and women age 50 and older were screened regularly, six out of ten deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented. Screening is typically recommended for all between the ages of 50 and 75 years. VA diagnoses some 4,000 new cases of the disease each year in veterans.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. It’s as common in women as it is in men. Most colorectal cancers start as a growth called a polyp. If polyps are found and removed before they turn into cancer, many colorectal cancers can be prevented.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: A perfect time for veterans to get screened.

Questions? Here are the answers, including symptoms and how to prevent colon cancer.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US plan to completely destroy Germany after World War II

It’s one of those bizarre twists of history that might have changed the world as we know it, if not just for a small tweak. Believe it or not, the Allied plan for Germany wasn’t all Marshall Plan and Berlin Airlift from the get-go. While they also weren’t about to be nuked, a lot of animosity still remained after the fall of Nazism. World War I was about as far removed from World War II as Operation Desert Storm is from the US-led invasion of Iraq. A lot of people still hated Germany for the Great War – a war it didn’t even start. So they really hated Germany for what it did during World War II.

One of the people who hated Germany and wanted to take it out for good was Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. – and he was almost President of the United States.


How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

He doesn’t seem intimidating now, but keep reading.

When President Roosevelt died in April 1945, Vice President Truman took office. Shortly after that, Secretary of State Edward Stettinius Jr. resigned his post. That left Morgenthau next in the Presidential line succession. President Truman, of course, finished out Roosevelt’s term and then some, but had President Morgenthau taken control of what was now a global superpower, his plans for postwar Europe would have had dramatic consequences on world history.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

A page from Morgenthau’s 1945 work, “Germany Is Our Problem.”

Morgenthau wanted not only subdivide Germany into smaller parts, he wanted to wreck all of its industrial capabilities. In order to keep Germans from making armaments, he wanted to keep them from making anything at all. Industrial facilities were to be destroyed, mines were to be wrecked and filled, experts in production and manufacturing would be forcibly removed from the region and put to work elsewhere. Germany was going to become an agrarian state, set back almost a thousand years.

The trouble was, the Nazis found out about it. They told the German people about the program in a piece of German propaganda, encouraging them to fight on against the Americans. Morgenthau’s plan would reduce the population of Germany by potentially millions of people who would no longer be able to produce enough food to feed each other or themselves.

And Roosevelt approved it.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Nobody’s perfect.

When Truman took over, he wanted the plan scrapped and ordered it done so. Unfortunately, the plan he replaced it with was pretty much the same plan under a different name. The JCS Directive 1067 called on Eisenhower to “take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [or] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy.” For two years, the recovery of Europe stalled under the plan as Communism crept into the occupied territories.

The Marshall Plan was approved in 1948, replacing the Morgenthau Plan. Named for Secretary of State George Marshall, this new plan for Germany oversaw its postwar recovery without decimating the German economy or its people while creating the foundation of a modern, more peaceful Europe.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 forgotten facts about the Forgotten War

In 1945, the unified Korean country was split along the 38th parallel, creating North Korea and South Korea. The communist north was backed by the Soviet Union and the democratic south by the United States. Though the split allowed these two countries to be formed, neither the north or south felt that the division was accurate, and each side believed the other part of Korea was rightfully theirs.

To rectify this, North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, with China’s help and the Soviet Union. This started the Korean War, though the U.S. involvement didn’t officially happen until later.


In the U.S., it’s often called the Forgotten War, since WWII and the Vietnam War largely overshadowed the conflict. As the country tried to heal from WWII, our involvement in the Korean conflict was largely ignored by the media. The U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which began in 1955, also overpowered the conflict in Korea.

What’s in a name?

North Korea calls it the Fatherland Liberation War, and South Korea calls it Six-Two-Five. This numerical reference indicates the date the war started, June 25, 1950. China calls it the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea. Names aside, here are four more forgotten facts you need to know about the Korean War:

A Never-Ending War

Six decades later, we’re still no closer to a peaceful conclusion. The Korean Armistice Agreement put an end to the “acts of armed violence” but didn’t actually declare an end to the war. The agreement is technically just a ceasefire that was written to hold the countries over until they could come to a more lasting peaceful solution. As time went on and neither side was willing to budge on their terms, no official end was ever declared. Now, the two countries are still technically at war.

Speaking of “war”

On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, following approval and a pledge of support from the Soviet Union. In 1950, the US was actively pulling out of South Korea, and there were few service members left in the country. But just two days later, President Truman made the decision for air, and naval action as the North Korean Army approached Seoul.

However, the Korean War was only ever considered a “conflict,” and Congress never officially declared war. As the conflict unfolded, the United Nations publicly demanded that North Korea stop attacking South Korea and retreat back to the 38th parallel. Of course, the order was ignored, so the UN called on the rest of the world to help support South Korea. The call was answered by over 15 countries, including France, Ethiopia, Canada, and Australia.

The 38th Parallel has always been hotly debated

The idea of a North Korea and South Korea isn’t something new. In fact, in the late 1890s, Japan wanted to separate Korea and split the landmass with Russia. Japan wanted to use the 38th Parallel to slip the country, giving Russia control of the North and keeping the South for itself. The peninsula wasn’t officially split apart until 1945 after WWII.

On either side of the 38th Parallel is the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which houses meeting spaces for the two countries to meet in a neutral location for talks. The DMZ was created in 1953, and the zone is about 5 km wide. Ideally, this buffer is supposed to be the place where no military action can occur, but there have been instances of violence, directed to both the military and civilians.

The North Koreans captured an American General

A month after the war broke out, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, was separated from his forces while he attempted to help wounded service members. He was out looking for water when he fell down a cliff and was knocked unconscious. During the next 26 days, Dean was isolated in the mountains and lost 80 pounds. He also suffered a broken shoulder and a head wound from the fall. Two South Koreans found him and told him they were leading him to safety. In reality, they took him to a North Korean ambush site. Dean tried to fight his captors, but couldn’t resist for long. Officially, he was taken prisoner on August 25, 1950, and remained a POW until the end of the war.

Though the Korean War might not have had much time in the media spotlight, it’s still fiercely remembered by the service members who were called to serve as well as the families who lost loved ones during the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This siege is one of Julius Caesar’s most spectacular victories

The Siege of Alesia is among the most celebrated battles of Roman times and stands as one of Gaius Julius Caesar’s finest victories. The battle was the last major engagement between the Gaul’s and Rome, precipitating the end of the Gallic Wars and ending Celtic dominance of Western Europe.


Caesar and his legions had been engaging in a war of conquest in Gaul since 58 BC. The campaign had been an extraordinarily bloody one, and despite defeating many of the major tribes and gaining a shaky control over the region, a revolt ending up destroying a quarter of Caesar’s troops. Despite being mercilessly crushed, the revolt convinced many Gauls that throwing off the Roman yoke might be possible.

This led to the rise of Vercingetorix of the Averni tribe, who was crowned king of all the Gauls in 52 BC. A general revolt broke, and many Roman officials, soldiers, and merchants were killed across the country. Caesar was in winter quarters in Cisalpine Gaul north of Italy and did not learn of the chaos immediately.

When word reached him, Caesar sent legions to the north to put down other tribes, and marched with the rest and his auxiliary cavalry in pursuit of Vercingetorix. After delivering several setbacks to Caesar, Vercingetorix thought a general battle would be too risky, and withdrew to the vast hill fortress town of Alesia.

Where Alesia was located is still a matter of dispute, but the conventional wisdom places it in Monta-Arieux in the French region of Burgundy. Alesia featured formidable walls, and was located on a plateau ideal for defense. Between Vercingetorix’s army and the town’s citizens, it held around 80,000 Gauls.

Caesar arrived at Alesia with an army of possibly 60,000 men. He quickly saw that a frontal assault was out of the question, and he began a vast series of siegeworks, seldom equalled in antiquity, to enclose the town and starve it out. Caesar ordered an 18 kilometer wall called a circumvallation built to completely surround the town, and it was completed in roughly 3 weeks.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
A reconstructed section of the Alesia investment fortifications

The Gauls launched a series of raids in order to prevent the completion of wall, but all attempts were beaten back. A small force Gallic cavalry force managed to break through and escape, and Caesar knew it was only a matter of time until enemy reinforcements arrived.

He ordered the construction of second 21km wall called a contravallation that was built to protect from the outside against the inevitable Gallic relief force. It too was strongly reinforced with towers, pit traps, and ditches. Sections of moat were even made by diverting water from the local rivers.

The cruel realities of siege and starvation began to take their toll on Vercingetorix’s Gallic defenders, and to stretch provisions they decided to expel their women, children, and invalids from the fortress with a plea that Caesar let them through the lines. Caesar ruthlessly refused, and the Gallic civilians were left to miserably starve in the no-man’s land between the fortress and the Roman works.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
The Fortifications built by Caesar in Alesia according to the hypothesis of the location in Alise-Sainte-Reine Inset: cross shows location of Alesia in Gaul (modern France). The circle shows the weakness in the north-western section of the contravallation line.

A large Gallic relief force eventually arrived in September, and on the 30th an assault was launched against the Roman outer wall while Vercingetorix sallied out of the fortress and attacked the inner. After several days of mostly failed attacks, on the third day the Gauls breached the outer wall and the Romans defending it were on the verge of being overrun. Caesar personally led a large force out of the Roman lines and hit the outer Gallic force from the rear. Caught between two Roman forces, the Gauls broke and were routed with great slaughter.

Vercingetorix, knowing no more help was coming, surrendered the next day. The surviving defenders of Alesia were then sold into slavery and the fortress town was completely obliterated by the Romans as a warning. This marked the end of any organized resistance in Gaul, and it was to become a key Roman province.

The Siege of Alesia was a masterpiece of military engineering, and the monumental efforts of his men combined with Caesar’s tactical brilliance allowed the Romans to defeat a much larger enemy army. It led to 500 years of Roman dominance in Gaul, and the great fame it gave Caesar helped further set the stage for the coming Roman civil war and Caesar’s ascension to dictator and the end of the Roman Republic.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Green Beret describes how good the Russian Spetsnaz are

In 2001, Mark Giaconia was a Green Beret patrolling the border areas between Kosovo and Serbia. His counterparts were Russian troops, many of which were airborne. Their mission was to disrupt the movements of Albanian UCPMB rebels in the area. For six months, he and his Russian allies worked side-by-side, in the forests and mountains around Kosovo.

Then one day, his coworkers put on what they called a “Spetsnaz Show” – and Giaconia realized who his tactical buddies really were.


To be clear, the “Spetsnaz” aren’t any single part of the Russian military apparatus. They are any special operations unit of the Russian military, including the Russian Navy, Airborne troops, and FSB (formerly the KGB). Most often, when westerners refer to the Spetsnaz, they’re referring to the special operations section of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.

Giaconia’s experience with the Russians was his first – and it was the first time American Specials Forces and Russian special operators worked together. The height of their mission in Kosovo was rolling on a rebel base that had killed one of the Russians’ soldiers. The team captured a young rebel while on a patrol and extracted the location of the rebels’ base of operations.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

American and Russian Special Forces troops in Kosovo alongside Swedish Jaegers, 2001.

Giaconia describes his time in Kosovo with his ODA in his book, One Green Beret: Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and beyond: 15 Extraordinary years in the life – 1996-2011. He describes the joint US-Russian Special Forces outfit arriving in an area called Velja Glava, where the rebel camp was supposed to be. After dispatching the sentries, the joint team dismounted from their armored vehicles and moved through the forest to assault the camp. The Russians deftly traversed through the vegetation while Giaconia laid the forest bare with a Mk 19 grenade launcher.

The Russians captured the Albanian rebels that were still able to be captured, and the UCPMB camp was taken out of action permanently. When it came to the performance of the Spetsnaz in combat, Giaconia says they were keen on tactics and had great intuition and instinct. They could shoot well, took care of their weapons and equipment, and were in great shape, and were very well-disciplined.

In short, he says he had a lot of respect for these “badasses in spirit.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Army’s new recruiting effort targets Gen Z

With the pool of qualified recruits shrinking, a new Army marketing campaign debuted on Veterans Day to target younger cohorts — known as Generation Z — and focus beyond traditional combat roles.

To do this, the Army is asking 17-to-24-year-olds one question: What’s Your Warrior?

The query is at the heart of the new strategy, and is designed to introduce young adults — who may know nothing about the military — to the diverse opportunities on tap through Army service, said Brig. Gen. Alex Fink, chief of Army Enterprise Marketing.


Over the next year, 150 Army career fields — along with eight broad specialty areas — will be interlinked through digital, broadcast, and print outlets, Fink explained, and show why all branches are vital to the Army’s overall mission.

The ads, designed to be hyper-targeted and highly-engaging, he said, will give modern youth an idea of how their unique identities can be applied to the total-force.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

What’s Your Warrior is the Army’s latest marketing strategy, aimed at 17-to-24-year-olds, known as Generation Z, by looking beyond traditional combat roles and sharing the wide-array of diverse opportunities available through Army service.

(Army graphic)

So, instead of traditional ads with soldiers kicking in doors or jumping out of helicopters, What’s Your Warrior pivots toward the wide-array of military occupational specialties that don’t necessarily engage on the frontlines — like bio-chemists or cyber-operators.

The campaign will unfold throughout the year with new, compelling, and real-soldier stories meant for “thumb-stopping experiences,” Fink explained, regarding mobile platforms.

And, with so many unique Army career-fields to choose from, Fink believes the force offers something to match all the distinctive skillsets needed from future soldiers.

One of the vignettes featured is Capt. Erika Alvarado, a mission element leader for the Army Reserve’s Cyber Protection Team, where she is on the frontlines of today’s cyber warfare.

Another example is 2nd Lt. Hatem Smadi, a helicopter pilot who provides air support to infantrymen, engineers, and other branches to secure the skies.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jerry Saslav)

Their stories — along with others — will tell the Army mission more abundantly, something previous marketing strategies “didn’t do the best job of,” Fink admitted.

“Young adults already know the ground combat role we play. We need to surprise them with the breadth and depth of specialties in the Army,” Fink said. “This campaign is different than anything the Army has done in the past — or any other service — in terms of look and feel.”

The backbone of the new push isn’t just showing the multitude of unique Army branches — such as Alvarado’s and Smadi’s stories. It goes beyond that, he said, and is meant to show how individual branches come together as one team to become something greater than themselves — a sentiment their research says Gen Z is looking for.

“Team” is also the key-subject of chapter one. An initial advertisement, unveiled as a poster prior to Veterans Day, depicts a team of soldiers from five career tracks — a microbiologist, a signal soldier, an aviator, a cyber-operator, and a ground combat troop — all grouped together.

“By focusing on the range of opportunities available, What’s Your Warrior presents a more complete view of Army service by accentuating one key truth — teams are exponentially stronger when diverse talents join forces,” Fink said.

Roughly five months after the team in chapter one, chapter two will be unveiled and focus on identity, he said. At this checkpoint, soldier’s personal stories will be shared through 30-60 ad spots, online videos, banner ads and other formats to tell their story.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

U.S. Army recruits practice patrol tactics while marching during U.S. Army basic training.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)

“We know today’s young men and women want more than just a job. They desire a powerful sense of identity, and to be part of something larger than themselves,” said Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy. “What’s Your Warrior highlights the many ways today’s youth can apply their unique skills and talents to the most powerful team on Earth.”

The campaign will be the first major push for the Army’s marketing force since they moved from their previous headquarters near the Pentagon to Chicago — in an effort to be near industry talent, Fink said.

Although not quite settled in, the force’s marketing team started their move to the “Windy City” over the fall. Since then, they have led the charge on a variety of advertisements and commercials, both in preparation of What’s Your Warrior, and other ongoing efforts.

At the Chicago-based location, the office makeup is roughly 60% uniformed service and 40% civilian employees, Fink said.

Chicago is also one of 22 cities tapped by Army leaders as part of the “Army Marketing and Recruiting Pilot Program.” The micro-recruiting push — focusing on large cities with traditionally lower recruiting numbers — has utilized data analytics, and been able to tailor messaging for potential recruits based on what’s popular in their location, sometimes down to the street they live on, Fink said.

How “What’s Your Warrior” will target those cities — and others — remains to be seen.

That said, Fink believes the new campaign will speak to today’s youth on their terms, in their language, and in a never-before-seen view of Army service and show how their skillsets are needed to form the most powerful team in the world: the U.S. Army.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What the crew of this German warship did after 9/11 will give you chills

The immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States left the country in great fear and sorrow. The surprise of such an offensive onslaught and the immense loss of civilian life shook America to its core, as well as its allies and military partners in North America and abroad.


America, however, was never alone in its time of need, and numerous heartwarming displays of support from foreign countries made American citizens and members of the military well aware of that.

One such display came from the Bundesmarine – the German navy – days after the attacks.

Ensign Megan Hallinan recounted the incident while serving aboard the USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, in a now-famous email to her father.

At the time of the attacks, the Churchill was the US Navy’s newest destroyer, having just been commissioned into service in May of 2001. On a visit to England for the 2001 International Festival of the Sea, the Churchill made a port call in Plymouth, along with the USS Gonzalez — another Arleigh Burke warship — and the German naval vessel Lutjens, a former West German navy destroyer.

Royal Navy personnel and crews from all three vessels were involved in friendly activities, from exploring Plymouth together while on liberty to playing sports and cookouts. Following the attacks, the Churchill and Gonzalez put out to sea again with their crews on high alert.

Lutjens was recalled as well, steaming out of Portsmouth just around the same time its American counterparts were underway.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
The guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill on patrol in the Persian Gulf (Photo US Navy)

According to Hallinan, the Churchill constantly maintained high alert levels, conducting drills to keep the crew sharp and ready for action should the need arise. Among the drills planned was a man-overboard exercise which would test and train the crew on its ability to respond quickly and effectively to rescue or recover any shipmates who might fall overboard.

The drill was delayed when the Lutjens, transiting nearby, hailed the Churchill and made a special request. Its crew wished to pass the American destroyer on its port (left) side to bid its US Navy partners farewell. The commanding officer of the Churchill readily agreed to the maneuver.

As is tradition, the Churchill’s crew began manning its rails and the port bridge wing to wish its foreign comrades well on their voyage home. As the Lutjens pulled in closer, a unique sight met the eyes of the sailors aboard the American vessel.

The Star Spangled Banner was flying with the German flag at half-mast on the Lutjens, its crew manning their ship’s rails in their blue dress uniforms. As both vessels steamed alongside each other with sailors from both navies rendering honors with crisp salutes, a banner came into view on the German warship.

Its message was simple, but spoke to the hearts of each and every American on the Churchill that day.

“We Stand by You.”

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW
German destroyer Lutjens alongside the USS Winston Churchill with the banner flying on its starboard side (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

As Hallinan recalls in her email, many sailors on the Churchill fought to retain their composure, especially given the horror of the events which had befallen their countrymen and women. The Churchill would go on to support the Global War on Terrorism with numerous deployments overseas, along with the Gonzalez.

The actions of the Lutjens crew will forever be remembered by the crew aboard the Churchill that dark day in September, as well as the rest of the U.S. Navy, grateful for the unwavering support from its allies following 9/11.

popular

Russia just became frenemies with the Taliban

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was fighting a war in Afghanistan. The United States saw a chance here to repay the Soviets for supporting the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and shipped aid to rebels fighting the Soviet-backed government. Now, in what seems to be a continuation of this endless cycle of tit-for-tat, Russia is allegedly providing support to the Taliban fighting an American-backed government.


According to a report by the BBC, the commander of United States Forces – Afghanistan, Army General John W. Nicholson, Jr., has accused Russia of supporting the Taliban with weapons. While other American and NATO officials, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have demurred, Nicholson’s accusation came during a March interview with the BBC, making it very high profile.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Taliban border guard with an AK-47.

Russia has claimed the United States has supported the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the past, mostly through the provisioning of support to Syrian rebels. The United States has denied such charges.

Reportedly, the Taliban have been trying to build relations with countries who have geopolitical rivalries with or grudges against the United States. This is all happening at a time where it seems Russia and the United States are sliding towards a new Cold War: The United States recently armed Georgia and Ukraine with FGM-148 Javelin missiles while Russia has buzzed American aircraft and ships on multiple occasions.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

The alleged Russian support to the Taliban is consists primarily of small arms and machine guns.

(Photo from Israel Defense Force)

Russia has long viewed the Taliban as hostile and has supplied groups in Afghanistan that fought the radical Islamic terrorist group, but relations improved when an ISIS affiliate known as Khorasan set up shop in Afghanistan. The aid the Taliban has allegedly received consists of small arms, like the AK-47, medium machine guns, like the PKM, and heavy machine guns, like the DShK.

The Taliban have also reached out to China, which is in constant conflict with the United States over maritime claims in the South China Sea. Iran has also reportedly been contacted by the Taliban, which may be seeking to benefit from nearly four decades of hostility between the United States and the state sponsor of terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens when rocket and missile launches go wrong

These days, when you see a rocket or missile launch, it almost seems routine. The engines fire and the rocket starts taking off, either sending an object directly to orbit or carrying enough firepower to blow something into orbit. What looks like standard procedure from the outside masks the fact that these rockets and missiles are very complex pieces of technology — and when this routine process goes wrong, it goes wrong very quickly and very violently.


Missiles are complex pieces of technology that are surprisingly delicate (a dropped tool once destroyed a Titan missile and its silo). With so many critical details involved, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong — and occasionally, they do. For example, in the 1980s, two RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles were accidentally launched, one by the United States Navy and one by the Royal Danish Navy. Thankfully, no injuries (outside of the respective captains’ pride) occurred in either incident.

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A 2016 Trident II test for the Royal Navy is the most recent launch to have gone bad — and this test led to some disagreements between the Americans (who claimed the missile had to be destroyed) and the UK (who called the test a success). Thirty years earlier, the United States Navy had egg on its face when the first at-sea Trident II launch went out of control. Thankfully, in both of these cases, nobody was injured.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Mitrofan Nedelin’s tenure as the Soviet Army’s chief marshal of the artillery ended when the test of a SS-7 ended in a horrific explosion.

Other failed launches, however, have not had such fortunate endings. For instance, a test of a Soviet SS-7 Saddler intercontinental ballistic missile in 1960 killed the then-chief marshal of the artillery for the Soviet Army, Mitrofan Nedelin, and at least 100 other people. In 1996, a Chinese Long March rocket crashed down in a village, with some estimates claiming as many as 500 people were killed.

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

Video stills showing a Chinese Long March rocket going out of control before it crashed into a nearby village.

(United States Congress)

Today, failures are fewer and further between. One big reason for this is that many missiles now use solid fuel as opposed to liquid fuel. Liquid fuel is far more volatile and leads to explosions more frequently.

The launches you see nowadays may look routine from the outside, but remember, that’s the result of thousands of tests.

Watch the 1965 Air Force video below to see some missile launches, both successes and failures.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOl4Jzfm6YU

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of January 4th

Looks like it’s about time to get back to the grind, guys. Grab that razor and shave off that poor excuse for a block-leave beard because Uncle Sam is about to get his dues again. You got all the warm and fuzzies from telling your family and friends you’re in the military, but now it’s time to do actual military stuff again.

On the bright side, next week is going to be lazy. While you’re slugging through the motor pool, know that you’re not alone —your chain of command is in the same boat. They just can’t show it since, ya know, burdens of leadership and all.

Oh? You thought the 100% accountability urinalysis was to “ensure good order and discipline?” Hell no. Your NCOs want to get out of PT just as much as you do.

Here’re some memes to help bring you back into the military mindset:


How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Dad Jokes)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via PT Belt Nation)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Do You Even Comm, Bro?)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Private News Network)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

How ‘Rocky’ Versace earned a Medal of Honor as a POW

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

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