Samuel Woodfill already had a lengthy career in the U.S. Army by the time the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. The son of a Mexican-American War and Civil War veteran, he enlisted in 1901 at the age of 18 and left his native Indiana.
After basic training, Pvt. Woodfill found himself assigned to the 11th Infantry Regiment stationed in the Philippines. He saw action in various campaigns against the rebellious Moros and earned accolades as a crack shot and for his “honest and faithful service.” In 1910, Woodfill left the Philippines for a number of duty stations. Over the next seven years, he would see service in Alaska, Kentucky, and on the Mexican border. But he would not see any more combat in that time.
Then, everything changed. America declared war on Germany. Woodfill, then a sergeant, attended an officer training course and received a temporary wartime rank of 2nd lieutenant. Soon after, he was given command of a machine gun company of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 5th Division. Finally, in April 1918 his unit sailed for France.
However, the 5th Division stayed in the rear until October 1918 when they were sent to the front to take part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Woodfill was leading his company in an attack near the village of Cunel when they came under heavy German machine gun fire from multiple positons. He ordered his company to take cover while he moved forward alone to scope out the situation.
The three German positions were well concealed in some bushes, an old barn, and a derelict church, respectively. Woodfill took aim at the machine gunner firing on his men in the church tower about 300 yards away. Unable to make out the gunner, he simply took aim at a position behind the muzzle flash and pulled the trigger. The gun fell silent. This was repeated four more times, as each German crewmember stepped forward to take their place on the gun.
Woodfill dropped another five-round clip in his Springfield and moved on to the next target. A single shot at the German in the barn put an end to the firing from that position.
He next maneuvered on a third machine gun position. In doing so, he took cover in a shell hole filled with lingering mustard gas. He approached to within ten yards of the position. Then, in rapid succession, he dispatched three of the crew members with his rifle. A fourth, a German officer, charged Woodfill and engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. He overcame the officer and killed him with a M1911 pistol.
With this line of machine guns silenced, Lt. Woodfill’s company continued their advance until they were again held up by a German machine gun nest. The officer once again raced forward to single-handedly attack the position. He killed the entire machine gun crew with his rifle before capturing three ammunition carriers from the position.
As the advance continued, Woodfill’s men again ran into murderous German machine gun fire. And once again their leader charged forward to handle the situation. Woodfill dispatched this crew with five shots from his rifle before drawing his pistol and charging the position to take on the remaining men. He killed one man with his pistol before grabbing a nearby pick axe and bludgeoning the other to death.
By this time, Woodfill was suffering heavily from exposure to mustard gas and was limping from a shrapnel wound. He was evacuated from the front lines and sent to Bordeaux to recover.
On Jan. 22, 1919, Woodfill was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions the previous fall. The next month, Gen. John Pershing personally presented the award to the young lieutenant.
In 1921, Gen. Pershing bestowed two more honors on Woodfill. When asked that year to name the outstanding American soldier of the Great War, Pershing surprised everyone by naming Lt. Samuel Woodfill, claiming he had always considered him “America’s Greatest Doughboy,” over the likes of Alvin York, Charles Wittlesey of the Lost Battalion, and even Eddie Rickenbacker.
Pershing then named Woodfill as a pallbearer, this time along with Alvin York, for the internment of the first Unknown Soldier.
The legendary soldier, having reverted to his pre-war enlisted status, retired from the Army as a Master Sergeant in 1923. However, he served his country again during World War II. Then commissioned a Major, he trained and inspired young officers as they prepared for the great challenges ahead.
Woodfill’s final service to his country was to once again act as a pallbearer, this time for his former commanding officer and supporter, Gen. Pershing. Woodfill himself passed away at the age of 68 in August 1951.
Chaplains have long held a special place in many troops’ hearts. In fact, at times, they become legends. In the Army, the first chaplains were authorized on July 29, 1775. They’ve been with the troops on the front lines ever since.
Some chaplains have made the ultimate sacrifice. The most famous instance was that of the “Four Chaplains” who were on board the transport SS Dorchester when it was torpedoed by U-223 at 12:55AM on Feb. 3, 1943.
According to HomeofHeroes.com, when the transport was hit, the four chaplains, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Rev. George L. Fox, Rev. Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington promptly began to aid the troops who were on the stricken vessel.
One sailor was heading back to his bunk for gloves, but Rabbi Goode instead handed his over. Despite a loss of power, they got some of the troops to the deck. Then, they began handing out life jackets, even as the Dorchester was rapidly headed to a watery grave.
Finally, when the life jackets ran out, they gave up their own. They were among the 668 who went down with the Dorchester, but many of the 230 men who were saved owed their lives to the Four Chaplains, each of whom received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.
In the Korean War, two other chaplains notably made the ultimate sacrifice. Chaplain Emil Kapuan, a Catholic priest, was captured during the Chinese offensive of 1950 — and shortly after his capture, he shoved a Chinese soldier who was trying to execute an America.
Then there was the case of Chaplain Herman G. Felhoelter, also a Catholic priest, who, during the initial salvos of the Korean War, offered to stay behind with a medic to help the wounded. As he was providing comfort, North Korean troops attacked and wounded the medic, who escaped.
The North Koreans then proceeded to carry out what became known as the Chaplain-Medic massacre, killing the wounded Americans and the chaplain. Felhoelter received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for his actions.
These cases only begin to scratch the surface of why the troops love their chaplains.
Practically from the day of his birth, it was clear that Lewis Puller was destined for military greatness. Better known as Chesty Puller, the boy spent his youth listening to veterans discuss their time in the Civil War–perhaps to fill the void that the death of his father created.
Chesty Puller would go on to become a United States Marine officer whose accomplishments remain unmatched to this day. The most decorated marine in United States history, Chesty Puller was a fearless leader who dedicated his entire life to his country and his troops. Known for his sharp wit, resilience, and expertise in combat situations, Puller was truly one of the greatest troops to ever fight for our country.
Puller was born in 1898 to Matthew and Martha Puller in West Point, Virginia. The stories he heard about the Civil War fostered what would become a lifelong adulation of Stonewall Jackson. He attempted to join the army before his 18th birthday, in 1916, but his mother refused consent–Chesty would have to wait just a bit long before beginning his storied career.
In 1917, Puller joined the Virginia Military Institute as a step towards his long-desired army entrance. He quickly realized that staying in school meant staying away from the action, and, only a year later, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps
Hoping to get in on some of the action, Puller enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1918 to train and put his skills to the test. Despite his stellar performance in the Marines and being appointed a second lieutenant in the reserves, Puller missed out on World War I. Not to worry though–Chesty would have many opportunities to shine on the battlefield in the following years.
Puller served as a lieutenant in Haiti during the Banana Wars in the early 1920s. Even during his first ever experience on the battlefront, Puller’s extensive training and leadership abilities shone through during the toughest of battles. After a tough but successful campaign, Puller would continue rising through the ranks for the next few decades.
Chesty Puller at age 50.
After fighting through World War II and the Korean War, Puller had finally decided to retire in 1955. Over his astounding 37 years of fighting, Puller was able to snag over 25 military awards, and was one of two people in military history to receive the second-highest U.S. military award six times.
When asked about his nickname, Puller was never really sure how and why “Chesty” came about. Having been called plenty of names before during his time on the battlefield, Puller was always fascinated with how Chesty stuck. Regardless, he embraced the nickname, and went on to become a legend and icon in U.S Marine Corp history, even past his death in 1971. To this day, officers who are training troops will always make mention of Chesty in chants during exercises.
In life, Puller was an American hero like no other. Many of Puller’s exploits, achievements, and snarky quips can be found in Burke Davis’s beloved biography of the soldier, Marine! The New York Times bestselling author goes into riveting detail about Puller’s humble beginnings and gradual rise in the Marines. Filled with exciting war scenes and anecdotes about the accomplished marine, this book is an absolute must-read for veterans and military history buffs alike.
With a tongue just as sharp as his physical skills, Puller is easily one of the most quotable soldiers in our country’s history. Many of the marine’s famous sayings are often delivered with such undeniable American gusto that you can’t help but chuckle at each one. These Chesty Puller quotes paint an incredibly humorous, honorable image of the accomplished marine.
“I want to go where the guns are!”
When Puller attended the Virginia Military Institute during his early years, he was extremely eager to fight on the front lines. Hearing about the battles being fought during World War I, Puller had a quick response when asked why he dropped out of Virginia Military Institute and signed up for the Marines.
Chesty Puller cutting the Marine Corps birthday cake.
“Don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!”
During the Korean War, Puller was caught up in Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. This decisive battle proved to be a grueling and deadly conflict that would put Puller and his troops to the test. Working through the harsh conditions, Chesty reminded his soldiers that they would be successful no matter what–if he had anything to do with it, at least.
“Where the hell do you put the bayonet?”
Chesty Puller was always ready for a good fight, and this quote sure proves it. Apparently, when he was being shown how to use a flamethrower for the first time during World War II, Puller asked this. In addition to setting his enemies ablaze, he also wanted to know whether or not a flamethrower could stab them like the old school bayonet on a rifle. Enthusiastic, in this case, is an understatement.
Oil painting of Fiske landing his stricken Hurricane. (Painting by John Howard Worsley/Tangmere Military Aviation Museum)
William Meade Lindsley Fiske III was born in Chicago in 1911. The son of a wealthy New England banker, Fiske attended school in Chicago before moving to France in 1924. It was there that he developed his love of winter sports; especially bobsled.
At the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 16-year-old Fiske drove the five-man U.S. bobsled team to its first Olympic win and became the youngest gold medalist in any winter sport, a record that stood until 1992. In the following years, he also took up European motorsport and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 1931. At the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, Fiske earned his second gold medal for bobsledding as the driver of the U.S. four-man team.
He was invited to lead the U.S. bobsled team at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany, but declined. It is speculated that Fiske declined because of his disapproval of German politics at the time. This sentiment towards Hitler’s Nazi regime would explain Fiske’s determination to join the war effort in the coming years.
At the outbreak of WWII, Fiske was working as a banker at the London office of the New York-based bank, Dillon, Reed Co. With an interest in his safety, the bank recalled Fiske to their New York headquarters. However, on August 30, 1939, Fiske returned to England with a colleague in order to join the war effort. Fiske’s colleague was a member of No. 61 (County of London) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron and inspired him to join the RAF.
Fiske’s passport. (Scanned copy from the Royal Air Force Museum)
Because of America’s declared neutrality at the time, Fiske pretended to be Canadian in order to join the Royal Air Force Reserve. Having “duly pledged his life and loyalty to the King, George VI,” Fiske wrote in his diary, “I believe I can lay claim to being the first U.S. citizen to join the RAF in England after the outbreak of hostilities.” He was promoted to Pilot Officer on March 23, 1940 and began his flight training, after which he joined No. 601 Squadron RAF on July 12.
Flying the Hawker Hurricane, Fiske flew his first patrols with the squadron on July 20. As the Battle of Britain raged on, Fiske continued to fly combat missions against the onslaught of German bombers. On August 16, No. 601 Squadron was scrambled to intercept a formation of Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers. Although the squadron shot down eight of the enemy bombers, Fiske’s Hurricane was hit in its fuel tank and caught fire.
Fiske’s official RAF Reserve portrait. (US Air Force archived photo)
Despite his aircraft being damaged and his hands and ankles being burned, Fiske refused to bail out of his aircraft. Instead, he nursed his knackered Hurricane back to the airfield and landed safely. Ambulance attendants rushed out and extracted Fiske from his plane shortly before its fuel tank exploded. He was taken to Royal West Sussex Hospital where he was treated for his wounds. Tragically, Fiske died 2 days later from surgical shock. He was buried on August 20 with both a Union Jack and Stars and Stripes draped over his coffin.
On July 4, 1941, a plaque honoring Fiske was unveiled at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which reads, “An American citizen who died that England might live.” Additionally, in 2008, a stained glass window depicting Fiske’s Hurricane and an American flag was dedicated at Boxgrove Priory where he is buried. Fiske’s legacy is not forgotten, however, in his home country.
The stained glass tribute to Fiske’s memory. (Photo by the Boxgrove Priory)
The United States Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation created the Billy Fiske Memorial Trophy as a tribute to the fallen pilot. The trophy is awarded to the national champion four-man bobsled team each year. Additionally, a line in the 2001 film Pearl Harbor is rumored to be a reference to Fiske. In it, U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Capt. Rafe McCawley (played by Ben Affleck), travels to England to fly with the RAF prior to America’s entry into the war. Showing McCawley the plane that he’ll be flying, the RAF commander remarks on the bravery of the plane’s previous pilot. “Good chap. Didn’t die till he’d landed and shut down his engine.” Finally, Fiske can be credited with the development of the popular Aspen Ski Resort. Along with his friend, Ted Ryan, Fiske opened up a ski lodge and built the first ski lift in Aspen in 1937. After the war, others would continue their work and develop Aspen into the world-famous skiing destination it is today.
Although Fiske didn’t shoot down any enemy planes, his determination to fight against the Nazis served as an inspiration for other Americans to join the RAF and eventually form the famous Eagle Squadrons. Despite his privileged upbringing and successful life in sports and banking, Fiske’s unwavering conviction led him to fight and die for the sake of freedom. Echoing the words of Winston Churchill, Fiske is one of the few who was owed so much by so many during the Battle of Britain.
When James Elliott Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1947, World War II was over, and the South Carolina native probably thought he might have a career no different, better, or worse than any other enlisted sailor. History would have other ideas. He just wanted to join the Navy, so bad in fact, he was only 16 when he enlisted. He and a county clerk altered his birth certificate to make him old enough to join. That was just the first bold move of his career.
It’s notable that the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history isn’t a SEAL or anything like that, he was a Boatswains Mate.
Chief Ryback approves.
Today’s Boatswain’s Mates now train, direct, and supervise the ship’s personnel in the maintenance of the ship as well as operate machinery to load and unload supplies. They’re kind of the jack of all trades sailor, the oldest rate in the Navy. They repair the ship, provide security, and even drive the damn things. Not three years into James William’s enlistment, the Korean War broke out, and Williams was aboard the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. Being a Boatswain’s Mate, he ended up on numerous small boat raiding parties into North Korea.
It suited him just fine. Williams continued his enlistment even after the war ended. His real moment to shine came during his time in Vietnam.
Yeahhhhhhhh buddy. I don’t know this guy, but I’d follow him anywhere.
Williams was the Petty Officer in charge of overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta as the Vietnam War was heating up in 1966 and 1967. At the time in his career when other NCOs would be seeking a quiet place to end their enlistment, Williams was tossing ammunition over his shoulder and telling junior sailors everything was going to be okay – and it was, because Williams was going to see to that.
That’s what happened on Oct. 31, 1966, when Williams’ two boat patrol was ambushed by two enemy boats on the river. He collected his “19-year-old and scared to death” gunners, and directed a return fire that destroyed one boat and sent the other running away for dear life. It wouldn’t get away, as the sailors chased the damaged enemy boat right into…
An enemy stronghold.
Suddenly, they were outnumbered 65-to-1. The VC opened up on the Americans with withering AK-47 and RPG fire. You can probably guess what happened next.
If you guessed the Americans retreated, I’m showing you this photo again because you clearly forgot about it.
Williams led his boat and its crew into the enemy formation, with fortified bunkers shooting at them from the riverbanks, enemy boats swirling around them, and all kinds of different ordnance being thrown their way. As he attacked enemy sampans, junks, and other river craft, he called in for help from UH-1B Huey helicopters as the night fell on the South Vietnamese inlet where Williams and his crew were absolutely laying waste to the Viet Cong.
For three hours, Williams and company fought and wrecked an entire hub of VC shipping and supply along with the 65 boats and untold manpower defending it. The Navy wrecking crew killed 1,000 enemy troops in the process while disrupting the VC supply lines in the entire region.
That’s how James Williams earned the Medal of Honor.
Aside from the Medal of Honor he earned on that day, Williams other awards and decorations include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with gold star, the Legion of Merit with combat V, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, the Bronze Star with combat V and two gold stars, the Purple Heart with two gold stars, and a ton of other unit commendations and service medals.
He left the military as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class, E-6, but was made an honorary Chief in 1977.
It was what many feared most. Germany’s blitzkrieg tore through its neighbors and the Nazis next set their sights on the British Isles. The air-raid sirens cried out as the Germans began a bombing run on September 7th, 1940, that would continue for eight months. The longest stretch of continued bombing was a staggering 57 consecutive days.
And instead of attacking exclusively military installations, the Nazis rained hell over 11 major cities across the British Isles — including London, which took most of the damage — hoping that it would diminish British morale to the point of surrendering just months after the Dunkirk evacuation.
It didn’t. Not even close. Yes, parts of the city were 85% annihilated. Yes, food was scarce and disease ran rampant. And yes, up to 43,000 civilians were killed.
But after all that, still only 3% of Londoners thought they’d lose the war.
Although posters like these did exist during the Blitz, they weren’t commonly posted around London… nor were they needed, for that matter. People were following the suggestion regardless.
(United Kingdoms Government)
It was called the “Blitz Spirit.” Throughout the entirety of the attacks on London, most civilians weren’t even frightened of the bombs. They simply kept calm and carried on. It was so widespread that most people joked about the bombings as if it were nothing but bad weather, remarking on how it was “very blitzy out today.”
Although the most iconic photographs from the era are of civilians huddling in Tube stations for shelter, there was actually an astonishing number of people who simply went on with their daily life — just with a couple of explosions happening around them. Instead of hiding or calling for surrender to make the attacks end, there were calls for everyone to join the Home Guard, an unpaid militia for everyone not qualified to fight within the British Army.
Surprisingly, the British war effort and the economy were barely affected. The population wasn’t afraid to go to work in the morning, so production of weapons, tanks, ammunition, and planes kept on keepin’ on. Despite the heavy casualty rates seen before the Blitz, the Brits were at near-full strength by June 6th, 1942 (the invasion of Normandy).
By May 1941, the Germans had ceased the attack on the British Isles because they figured that it was a hopeless endeavor. Instead, they turned their eyes to Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union).
The Brits had successfully repelled an invader with sheer determination and grit.
Unless it’s a submarine, you generally don’t want your ship filling with water. Of course, all ships have some amount of ballast water held in ballast tanks and cargo holds. This provides stability and maneuverability on the sea. In combat though, extreme and unconventional measures are sometimes necessary to accomplish the mission.
Launched on May 18, 1912 and commissioned on March 12, 1914, USS Texas (BB-35) sailed almost immediately into action. In May 1914, she steamed for Mexico in response to the detention of an American gunboat at Tampico. Despite skipping the usual shakedown cruise, Texas remained on station off the coast of Mexico in support of American forces on shore for just over two months.
During WWI, Texas fired the first American shots of the war. On April 19, 1917, while escorting the merchant ship Mongolia, one of Texas’ batteries opened fire on a surfaced German U-boat. Although the enemy vessel wasn’t sunk, the attack on the merchant vessel was deterred. For the remainder of the war, Texas sailed with Britain’s Grand Fleet escorting convoys and minelayers.
Texas again made history during the inter-war period when she became the first American battleship to launch an airplane on March 10, 1919. She was also overhauled with a new powerplant and given additional guns at the sacrifice of her torpedo tubes. She briefly served as the flagship of the Pacific Fleet before returning to the Atlantic just before the outbreak of WWII.
Before America’s entry into WWII, Texas conducted neutrality patrols and escorted lend-lease convoys across the Atlantic. Additionally, in February 1941, the legendary US 1st Marine Division was activated aboard the Texas. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Texas escorted allied convoys to a variety of Atlantic destinations like Panama, Sierra Leone, and the United Kingdom.
During Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, Texas broadcasted Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Voice of Freedom” speech imploring the Vichy French not to oppose the allied landings. During the invasion, Texas fired less than 300 shells in supporting fire, a number that would be quickly dwarfed during her next major operation.
Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, D-Day. Texas sailed with the Western Taskforce for Normandy on June 3, 1944. On June 6, she took up her station off of Pointe du Hoc and began her bombardment of the coast in support of the 29th Infantry Division, 2nd, and 5th Ranger Battalions. In 34 minutes, Texas had fired 255 14-inch shells into Pointe du Hoc. Afterwards, with the help of aerial observers, she shifted her main batteries to fire on German reinforcements, artillery batteries, and other strong points further inland.
As allied forces pushed off the beach, Texas moved closer to shore to support them. Originally stationed 12,000 yards offshore, she moved to just 3,000 yards from the beach. On June 7 and 8, she continued to bombard German positions. She was forced to return to England to rearm and was on station off of France again on June 11. By June 15 though, allied forces had pushed so far inland that their targets were now out of Texas’ range. In order to fulfill the requested fire missions, Texas’ crew had to get creative.
The ship’s massive 14-inch guns did not have the elevation required to lob their shots as far inland as the invasion forces needed. So, if the guns facing port couldn’t be raised any further, then the starboard side needed to be lowered. The starboard torpedo blister, a sponson on the hull below of the waterline, was flooded with water. This listed Texas two degrees to starboard and gave her main batteries enough elevation to complete the fire mission. Talk about improvise, adapt, overcome. However, the next day, the designated targets were too far for the flooding solution to work and Texas retired to England on June 18.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention and combat has proved this time and time again. The next time someone pitches you a solution that sounds crazy, remember that it might be just crazy enough to work.
During the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force experimented with a seemingly crazy idea for dispersing the weight of their heaviest bomber across the tarmac of airports and bases. They would fit the bombers with tank tread-inspired landing gear.
Convair XB-36 takeoff during its first flight on March 29, 1950. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
When flying shorter routes, the plane could carry as much as 86,000 pounds.
The massive B-36 was slowly developed throughout World War II but was finished too late for the war. The first bomber rolled off the line six days after the Japanese surrender. But the plane’s capabilities, carrying 10,000 pounds of ordnance to targets thousands of miles away, made the plane perfect for a nuclear strike role in the Cold War.
There was one big problem, though. The B-36 was extremely heavy, about 419,000 pounds when fully armed. And all that weight initially sat on two smaller tires in the front and two larger ones under the wings.
The weight on each tire was so great, the Peacemakers risked sinking into the concrete if they were parked for too long on most airstrips.
So the Air Force tried out a novel solution. They installed tank tread landing gear under the nose and both wings of the plane, allowing the weight to be spread over a much larger area.
Initial tests of the system were successful, but the Air Force scrapped it anyway. It focused on improving more airstrips rather than putting the bulky system on production B-36s. It did start buying the planes with four smaller wheels under each wing instead of the single large one, which also helped with the pressure per square inch on airfields.
On this day 19 years ago, America woke up to unimaginable news. Nineteen members of al Qaeda had hijacked four fuel-loaded U.S. commercial airplanes. One crashed into the Pentagon. Two more hit the World Trade Center. The final plane was destined for the White House, but thanks to the heroic efforts of the passengers and crew, it never made it. That day, a total of 2,977 lives were lost; killed in New York City, Washington, DC and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
September 11, 2001, showed us the very worst of humanity, but it also showed the very best. Nineteen men set forth to destroy our country, while thousands more stepped forward to heal it. We were reminded of what Americans are capable of; incredible kindness, selflessness and unity. The 11 figures below are just a few of the remarkable individuals who put their lives on the line that day, and gave us exactly what we needed: Hope.
Father Mychal Judge
While thousands lost their lives on that dark day, the first recorded casualty was Father Mychal Judge. The Roman Catholic priest and NYFD chaplain chose to walk into the burning World Trade Center to bring comfort to wounded firefighters and others injured in the attack, listening to their final confessions and blessing them in their last moments. He gave his life just to bring others peace.
Flight 93 passengers Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick
What would you do if your flight was hijacked? We’d all like to think we’d be as brave as these four men who fought their hijacker and helped prevent an even greater tragedy. When Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick boarded United Airlines Flight 93 that morning, they had no idea what was about to happen. In a stroke of “luck,” the flight was delayed slightly. Because of this, when the hijackers took over the plane at 9:30, the other attacks had already taken place. When the four passengers called their loved ones, they learned of the hijacker’s intentions for the plane — to crash directly into the White House.
To prevent this from happening, they worked with members of the plane’s crew to fight back against the terrorists. When the hijackers realized the passengers might successfully breach the cockpit, they opted to crash the plane into a field in Pennsylvania, killing all on board. The efforts of Beamer, Bingham, Burnet and Glick saved hundreds of lives that would have been lost had the plane reached its intended target.Before the plane went down, Burnett spoke to his wife on the phone, saying calmly, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.”
Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney
One thing all these stories have in common is quick thinking and calm resolve. Two flight attendants on American Airlines Flight 11 could easily have panicked when the plane was hijacked. A passenger had already been stabbed, some crew members were murdered, and the air was filled with something similar to mace, but they calmly notified their colleagues on the ground of the scene unfolding.
Those on the receiving end were astounded by their unwavering professionalism, listening carefully as they provided details about the hijackers throughout the flight. The information they shared helped the FBI uncover their full identities.
Wells Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader, was working on the 104th floor of the South Tower when it was struck by Flight 175. He called his mother and left her a voicemail, calmly telling her, “Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m ok.”
He had no obligation to help anyone escape other than himself, but the former volunteer firefighter chose to anyway. He helped over a dozen people get out before running back into the building alongside firefighters to save even more. He carried one injured woman out on his back, directing disoriented and terrified office workers to the ground floor. Survivor Ling Young told CNN, “He’s definitely my guardian angel — no ifs, ands or buts — because without him, we would be sitting there, waiting [until] the building came down.”
His body was recovered in a stairwell, his hands still holding a “jaws of life” rescue tool. He is remembered as “the man in the red bandana,” a commanding, brave figure who worked to save all he could.
Stanley Praimnath was trapped on the 81st floor of the South Tower when the second plane, Flight 175, struck. He was close enough to see the plane approaching, yet he survived the impact. Terrifyingly, he still had no way to escape the teetering tower. Luckily, Brain Clark heard his calls for help and talked him through a challenging escape route. As it turns out, by stopping to help Stanley, Brian also saved himself. Before he heard Stanley’s cries, he was headed to the upper floors to wait for help. The building collapsed within the hour. Those who had continued up the tower never made it out.
Michael Benfante and John Cerqueira
Two colleagues, Michael Benfante and John Cerqueira, were in the North Tower when the planes hit. Most people would be desperate to get out, but when the two men ran into a woman in a wheelchair on the 68th floor, they didn’t hesitate to stop. Together, they strapped Tina Hansen to a lightweight emergency chair and carried her down endless flights of treacherous stairs. Thanks to their selflessness and determination, all three of them survived.
Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz
Construction manager Frank De Martini and construction instructor Pablo Ortiz were both in the North Tower when it was hit. Instead of scrambling to safety, they took it upon themselves to rescue as many people as they possibly could. Many were trapped on the tower’s 88th and 89th floors, so the two men went into action. They opened jammed elevator doors, cleared debris, and directed people to safe escape routes. The North Tower collapsed while they were still inside. Before it did, however, they saved over 50 others.
Jason Thomas and Dave Karnes
Although members of the military eventually retire, their dedication to their country does not. Former Marine sergeants Jason Thomas and Dave Karnes had both been out of the military for some time. Yet, when they heard about the attack on the World Trade Center, they put their uniforms back on. Karnes was all the way in Connecticut when he sped off to New York at 120 mph to help.
He ran into Thomas at the site of the collapsed towers and together they began searching through the rubble. They identified two New York Port Authority police officers, William Jimeno and John McLoughlin, trapped 20 feet below the surface. Both men were seriously injured, but after a total of 11 hours they were both successfully rescued. Karnes later reenlisted, serving two tours of duty in Iraq.
Cyril Richard Rescorla was born in Britain, but his dedication to the United States is unmatched. A Vietnam Vet with a Silver Star, police officer, and private security specialist, Rescorla had frequently warned the Port Authority that the World Trade Center was vulnerable. At the time of the attack, Rescorla was working as head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley in the South Tower, and when his fears were realized he dove in to help.
When the first plane hit the tower across from his, Rescorla was directed to keep his employees at their desks, but he ignored this order. Instead, he issued an evacuation order, walking employees through the emergency procedures he had made them rehearse time and time again. He had evacuated over 2,700 employees and visitors in just 16 minutes when the second plane struck the building they had just escaped from. Throughout the tense evacuation, his steady voice singing “God Bless America” and “Men of Harlech” rang out through a bullhorn, giving people strength and calm.
According to The New Yorker, he called his wife during the evacuation to tell her, “Stop crying. I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.”
He was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower on his way to find any who had been left behind.
Maj. Heather Penney and Col. Marc Sasseville
When Major Heather Penney and Colonel Marc Sasseville learned of the initial attacks, the two National Guard pilots prepared to intercept United Flight 93, the fourth and final hijacked plane. They aimed their two F-16s directly at the wayward Boeing 757…except they were completely unarmed. The only way for them to stop the plane would be to ram into it- essentially a suicide mission.
“We had to protect the airspace any way we could,” Maj. Heather Penney told The Washington Post in 2011. “We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft. I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.”
Fortunately, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 took on the job themselves. While Penney and Sasseville never had to complete their death-sentence mission, they were fully prepared to go down with their aircraft to protect others from harm.
Army Spc. Beah Doboszenski
On September 11, 2001, Army Spc. Beah Doboszenski was just a tour guide at the Pentagon. He was working on the opposite side of the building, so far away that he didn’t even hear the plane hit. The former volunteer firefighter and EMT didn’t hesitate to volunteer his services, however, racing to the site of the crash. He had to evade police officers and go around barricades to find a medical triage station and begin giving medical care to countless victims.
He then voluntarily ran back into the building to search for survivors while the building was still in flames. He gave medical aid to the injured outside, then went back into the building while it was still in flames. Former Vice President Joe Biden said of Doboszenski’s heroic act, “When people started streaming out of the building and screaming, he sprinted toward the crash site. For hours, he altered between treating his co-workers and dashing into the inferno with a team of six men.”
Last but not least, Roselle
Some heroes have two legs, but some have four. Roselle, a guide dog, was on the 78th floor with her blind owner, Michael Hingson, when the plane hit. She guided him all the way down to safety. Without her, he most likely wouldn’t have made it out alive. The heroic pup lived a long, happy life until her passing in June 2011, and her owner has since written a book in her honor.
These are just a few of the innumerable heroes of 9/11. To the police officers, firefighters, military personnel, and ordinary citizens who brought light to one of America’s darkest days: We humbly thank you.
In the lead up to World War II, the U.S. Army Air Force had to make tough decisions on how to spend limited defense dollars. Decades of strict budgets after World War I left capabilities across the military underdeveloped, and the Air Forces decided to spend their part of the pie focusing on strategic bombing.
When the Army Air Force was looking for a new bomber in the early 1930s, they floated the idea of getting a beastly four-engine bird. Most bombers had two engines at the time, but it was thought a larger, four-engine plane could carry more bombs a longer way.
Boeing proved this was true with their Model 299. It had four engines and could carry 8,000 pounds of bombs while flying at faster speeds than other bombers of the day. It carried 13 large machine guns, mostly .50-cals. A reporter for The Seattle Times dubbed it a “flying fortress” in a photo caption and Boeing ran with it.
The future looked good for the Model 299 as it dominated a fly-off competition in 1935. But then it crashed and so was disqualified. Worse, it turned out that that the Model 299 was way more expensive than its primary competitors, and so the Army chief of staff ordered a two-engine bomber instead.
And the new doctrine did treat the planes like they were fortresses, even though the fortress moniker originated with a journalist and was adopted by salesmen. As navigator Bob Culp recalled in 2008, “When you realize you’re protected by a very thin skin of aluminum, you realize you’re not really in a fortress.”
Basically, 9-12 planes would fly in a box so their guns would cover all angles of attack. Three or more of these boxes would fly together. There was a lead box, then a box that flew higher, and finally a trail box that flew low.
With 36 planes formed into three boxes, there were 468 machine guns present. They would have 324,000 rounds of ammunition between them. The spread of a single .50-cal. machine gun would fire rounds across a spread 600 yards wide when firing at planes 1,000 yards away. With 468 planes firing 600-yard-wide spreads, it was thought they could form an actual wall of deadly steel at oncoming fighters.
And so the doctrine was approved, and aviation officers fooled themselves that B-17s really could defend themselves.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
But then American B-17s made their European combat debut in 1942. The planes flying over Europe in daytime proved easy pickings.
Flak gunners didn’t give the first crap about all those machine guns on the planes. Worse, B-17 pilots couldn’t maintain the precise boxes necessary for 360-degree coverage, and gunners couldn’t always keep the proper fields of fire.
Crews could head home, their duty fulfilled, after 25 missions. Only 1 in 4 would survive to reach that milestone. On one of America’s first large bomber raids in 1942, less than 300 bombers set off for Nazi-occupied Europe and 60 of them were lost, an attrition of over 20 percent.
Even when new fighters joined the war, the problem persisted anytime the B-17s outflew their escorts. In October 1943 the Eighth Air Force flew Mission Number 115 against factories in Schweinfurt, Germany. The 291-plane formation survived well while British Supermarine Spitfires and then P-47 Thunderbolts escorted them to the border. But then they were alone against German fighters.
The U.S. Army is the oldest American military branch, tracing its lineage back to when the Continental Congress stood up its first riflemen in June 1775. But in over 240 years of Army history, you’re bound to end up with some insane moments.
Here are seven of the U.S. Army’s craziest:
1. When it teamed up with Nazis and prisoners of war to defeat the SS
American tankers rushed to where high-profile prisoners of war were held in Itter Castle in Austria. As a group of drunk SS soldiers marched on the castle to kill the POWs, the Americans offered to help the Wehrmacht defend themselves so that the SS couldn’t kill the POWs and all witnesses.
So, U.S. soldiers, German soldiers, and local resistance fighters fought side-by-side and saved the lives of the prisoners. The friendly German commander was killed in the six hours of fighting before U.S. reinforcements arrived and pushed back the surviving SS members.
2. When it created an imaginary division with inflatable tanks
While the D-Day landings themselves were quite possibly the Army’s finest hour as multiple divisions landed next to its British and Canadian counterparts, the top-secret mission to mislead German intelligence during the Normandy Campaign and invasion of Germany may have been crazier.
And it worked. The ruse was used on more than 20 occasions, often causing the Germans to redeploy forces to counter the fake division, likely saving thousands of lives during World War II.
3. When it promoted a 12-year-old to sergeant after he shot the Confederate colonel attempting to capture him
John Lincoln Clem unofficially joined the Union Army at the age of 10 as a drummer boy. He fought a few times before becoming a national celebrity at the age of 12 in the Battle of Chickamagua. It was there that he was nearly captured by a Confederate colonel, but Clem used a sawed-off musket to shoot the officer and escape.
As he evaded other pursuers, his hat was reportedly hit three times by enemy fire. When he made it back to Union lines, he was promoted to sergeant and became America’s youngest-ever non-commissioned officer. He was later captured in another battle, traded in a prisoner exchange, and then was wounded twice before accepting discharge in 1864 at the age of 13.
4. When it fought America’s longest battle on its own
From September 1944 to February 1945, the Army fought the longest single battle of the nation’s history, a five-month meat grinder for control of the Hurtgen Forest during the drive into Germany.
The 9th pressed forward while suffering heavy losses, and it was reinforced with 3rd Armored Division tanks. Another nine divisions, a tank battalion, and a Ranger battalion fought on the front lines before the battle finally ended in February 1945.
5. When one of its greatest generals attempted to sell the country out to the British
Army Col. Ethan Allen, partnered with then-Col. Benedict Arnold, demands the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga. (Photo: New York Public Library Digital Library)
He had led the forces that won the Battle of Saratoga and led to diplomatic recognition and increased military assistance from the French. He also helped capture a major fort and its guns, and created America’s first purpose-built naval fleet (then sank it).
The closest modern equivalent would have been if Patton had fought his way through North Africa and half of Germany but then changed sides during the Battle of the Bulge because his new wife was German.
6. When all the Army gunners in an entire city fought off an imagined attack
The Battle of Los Angeles in 1942 saw the city’s sky lit up with searchlights and anti-aircraft fire as every gun crew in the area attempted to shoot down the Japanese planes bombing the city.
Except there was no air attack. A series of blinking lights had been spotted in the sky near the city and some unknown objects were spotted on radar, leading some military leaders to worry an air raid was coming. Skittish gun crews began firing, and the exploding shells left clouds of smoke that other gunners then fired at as they were illuminated by spotlights.
Over 1,400 rounds were fired in the one-hour “engagement.”
7. That time it rescued over 2,000 prisoners of war with a daring paratrooper raid
Filipino guerrillas worked with the U.S. troops across the Pacific during WWII. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
The Imperial Japanese were famously hostile towards prisoners of war, and a concerted effort was made in 1944 and 1945 to rescue prisoners before Japanese troops could kill them. On Feb. 23, 1945, a group of Americans and Philippine guerillas launched a daring paratrooper raid to liberate over 2,000 prisoners at Los Baños, Philippines.
The raid was shockingly effective, suffering no paratroopers killed and few American and Filipino casualties while freeing 2,147 prisoners. Future-Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he doubted “that any airborne unit in the world will ever rival the Los Baños prison raid.”
It’s good to have friends in high places, especially when you can do almost nothing in return. One Afghan family found that out when they asked the CIA for help in rescuing their daughter from the Taliban, just as the U.S. was preparing to invade the country.
So it has nothing to do with the Soviet Union.
The first Americans inside of Afghanistan were teams of what has come to be known as “the Horse Soldiers,” advanced units from the CIA’s special activities division. They were US special operators and CIA officers that were helping coordinate multiple units of anti-Taliban Afghan resistance fighters. The Northern Alliance fighters combined with the direction of the CIA and the support of the U.S. military were able to overthrow the regime without the use of traditional ground forces in many areas.
They were so effective at fomenting resistance to the Taliban and persuading the locals to their cause, they were not only able to capture entire cities and provinces but were also able to transform the lives of individual families. One such family approached a CIA hideout one day, asking for a favor.
Where the first CIA officers in Afghanistan slept.
The smoke had barely cleared at Ground Zero in New York City before the United States sent CIA teams into Afghanistan to coordinate the resistance to the Taliban. But first, they needed the most up-to-date intelligence. The first Northern Alliance Liaison Team landed in Afghanistan on Sept. 26, 2001. They brought everything they needed to sustain them for however long their mission would take – including 40 pounds of potatoes. Sleeping in a traditional Afghan mud hut, they braved the winter as they gathered info for the coming revenge against al-Qaeda.
One day a young boy approached their shack and told them of the plight of his teenage sister. A local Taliban warlord forcefully took her as a bride, and she was no longer able to spend time with the family. Since this was long before politics would enter the relationship between US personnel and Afghan locals, the CIA officers gave the boy a tracking device and told him to give it to his sister, who should activate it when the warlord returns home.
Northern Alliance fighters in the Panjshir Valley, September 2001.
When she did, the team swooped in on the Taliban leader. They raided his compound, rescued this sister and returned her to her brother and her family. The senior Taliban leader was one of the first enemy targets of the coming Global War on Terror.
During the famous rescue of navigator “Bat 21 Bravo,” a U.S. and a Vietnamese Navy SEAL took the lead role in a dangerous operation behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, rescuing two aviators with no friendly losses despite running into enemy patrols and positions during the 11-day ordeal.
Numerous attempts to destroy North Vietnamese resistance from the air and rescue the downed aviators by helicopter failed, causing 14 American deaths and additional casualties before air rescue was outlawed for the men.
(U.S. Air Force)
While the rescue was widely popularized in a movie and book, both named Bat 21, the stories told were written before the events were declassified, so they were highly fictionalized to ensure that no sensitive information was inadvertently released.
But the true story is more amazing. Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton was forced to eject over Vietnam on April 2, 1972, triggering a mad dash by the U.S. to recover him before he was captured. Then, multiple rescue attempts went sideways in the first week. Seven more aircraft were lost, 14 Americans were killed, two were captured, and a new aviator was missing behind enemy lines. The theater commander forbid more helicopter extractions and the SEALs were ordered up.
A U.S. Navy SEAL, Lt. j.g. Tom Norris, led the mission alongside a Vietnamese Sea Commando team with its own lieutenant team leader.
An Air Force composite photo shows the tough terrain that the downed aviators had to cross to reach the river in hopes of rescue in April 1972.
(U.S. Air Force)
The men started by swimming their way up the river as the two targets of their rescue were directed to move to the river and start floating down. The aviators were given coded directions that combined landmarks from their home states and their hobbies. Clark was rescued on April 10, but Hambleton had trouble reaching the river.
Hambleton finally reached the river on the night of April 11, but the SEAL command post, meanwhile, had come under artillery barrage and two of the Vietnamese commandos had to be evacuated. The rest of the team was increasingly hesitant to risk their necks for American service members.
An April 11 rescue attempt with four members failed, and two of the Vietnamese commandos were obviously too frightened to continue.
Viet Cong irregulars move through a river in shallow boats like the one used by U.S. and Vietnamese commandos during the rescue of Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton in April 1972.
They were forced to pass NVA position after position, taking fire at each point and trying to keep their wounded, sick, and delirious package alive. Norris was forced to call in multiple airstrikes, and the Air Force dropped smoke bombs after their explosives to create a screen for the SEALs to maneuver behind.
Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton after his rescue.
(U.S. Air Force)
Finally, the three men made it back to friendly lines and were able to get Hambleton to medical care. For their efforts, both the Vietnamese and the U.S. SEAL would be awarded medals for valor.
Nguyen was ineligible for the Medal of Honor because he was not an American service member. He was admitted to U.S. SEAL schools following the ordeal, though, and graduated the underwater demolition team course and the SEAL advanced course. He later became an American citizen.