There’s an old Yakov Smirnoff joke that goes something like, “in Soviet Russia, it’s freedom of speech. In America, it’s freedom after speech.” And if there was anyone who knew this first-hand, it was Smirnoff himself.
He and all other comedians who used to live under the Soviet regime could have faced jail time or death for any joke deemed “unfit.” In order for this to work, there would be absolutely no improvisation. All comedians would need to run each and every joke they planned on telling in a given year through the Ministry of Culture of the USSR.
Within the Ministry, there was an elaborate department dedicated to jokes and humor. The process of telling a timely joke without angering the committee was exhausting. Any joke that was actually funny against the communist ideology was banned. Even being remotely anti-communist meant the joke was banned.
Smirnoff told The Guardian one of his jokes that didn’t make it through and you can see how “humorous” of a place the Department of Jokes was.
“An ant falls in love and marries an elephant. They have an amazing honeymoon, a night of wild passion that is so passionate, in fact, that the elephant collapses and dies in the middle – the ant, however, is even less lucky. He is forced to spend the rest of his living days digging the elephant’s enormous grave.”
Apparently, that’s anti-communist and needed to be banned.
Because jokes were so generally unfunny, scarce, and hard to get approved, any joke that was both permitted and remotely humorous was immediately borrowed by every other Soviet comedian. Talk show hosts were heavily vetted before being allowed on air, so their works were free game and any joke they told would end up in every comedy club a week later.
This doesn’t mean that rebellious citizens didn’t tell their own jokes. Ukrainians held a deep resentment towards their Russian overlords so their jokes were more common — if not darker.
“A Soviet newspaper reports: Last night the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station fulfilled the Five Year Plan of heat energy generation… in 4 microseconds.”
Fifty years ago, Israel was backed into a corner. Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran – essentially denying Israel access to the Red Sea. The situation was dire, and Israel knew it had to act.
On June 5, 1967, Israel launched Operation Focus. The objective was to neutralize the Arab air forces, particularly those from Egypt. According to the Israeli Air Force web site, the operation was a smashing success.
You can now see that operation — as well as other parts of the Six-Day War — the way Israeli Defense Force pilots saw it.
During that war, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on airfields and other ground targets. They also were in a fair number of dogfights. The best plane the Israelis had at that time was the Dassault Mirage III, a single-seat fighter that had a top speed of 1,312 miles per hour, a range of 1,000 miles, and the ability to carry up to 8,800 pounds of ordnance along with two 30mm cannon.
The Six-Day War saw Israeli Mirage IIIs take on MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-19 Farmerss, Hawker Hunters, MiG-17 Frescos, Su-7 Fitters, Il-28 Beagles, and a variety of transports and helicopters.
The Israelis lost 46 aircraft and 24 pilots, but in return had killed almost 400 enemy planes, and had control of the skies within hours of the conflict starting.
You can see what it was like for Israeli pilots in the video below, taken from the Israeli gun camera films. The compilation starts with the airfield strikes that were part of Operation Focus. Not just bomb runs, but also the strafing passes on aircraft that were caught on the ground.
The gun-camera footage then shows the Israeli pilots as they score kills in dogfights. Finally, the video shows the interdiction strikes against Arab ground forces.
For troops on the frontlines, receiving mail from home is a welcome reprieve from the stress and dangers of combat. During WWII, it was the job of units like the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion to make sure that mail sent from the states got to the troops overseas. What made the 6888th unique was that it was the only all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps to serve overseas during the war.
Because of the high demand for frontline troops, the Army had a significant shortage of soldiers who could manage postal services in theater. In 1944, Black civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune lobbied First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for “a role for Black women in war overseas.” Her efforts were joined by Black newspapers who called for the Army to give Black women the opportunity to support the war effort in a more direct role.
The Army responded by creating the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in the Women’s Army Corps. Nicknamed the “Six Triple Eight”, the unit’s motto was “No mail, low morale.” The battalion was made up of 855 women, both officers and enlisted. Most of them worked as postal clerks. However, the women also filled other positions like cooks and mechanics. Because of this, the 6888th was a self-sufficient unit.
The 6888th left the United States for Europe on February 3, 1945. Twelve days later, the women arrived in Birmingham, England where they found the backlog of mail that they were responsible for. In the temporary post office, a converted aircraft hangar, mail was stacked to the ceiling. Some letters were postmarked as early as 1943. Part of the problem was that mail was commonly addressed with only a soldier’s first name or even a nickname.
The Army gave the 6888th six months to sort through the backlog of mail and sent a white officer to the unit to tell them how to do the job right. The 6888th’s commander, Major Charity Adams Earley responded by saying, “Sir, over my dead body.” The women devised their own system to sort the mail. Working in three shifts, seven days a week, each shift handled an estimated 65,000 pieces of mail. They completed their six-month tasking in just three months.
After they cleared the enormous backlog of mail in Birmingham, the women of the 6888th were sent across the Channel to France in May, 1945. The unit was camped in Rouen where they given another backlog of mail, some of which was postmarked 1942. According to Army historians, the military police of the 6888th were not allowed to carry weapons. As a result, the MPs were trained in jujitsu to deter “unwanted visitors.”
In May 1945, the women of the 6888th marched in a parade ceremony in honor of Joan of Arc through the marketplace where the saint was burned at the stake. By 1945, the women had cleared the Rouen backlog of mail and were sent to Paris. Upon their arrival, they marched through the city and were welcomed enthusiastically by the Parisians. They were even housed in a hotel where the staff treated them like top-tier guests.
With the war over on all fronts, the 6888th was cut by 300 women with 200 set to be discharged in January 1946. In February 1946, the women that remained were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey where the unit was disbanded. There was no public recognition for the unit’s service.
In 2009, the 6888th was honored at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Seven years later, the 6888th was inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame. In 2018, a monument to the women of the 6888th was erected at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. When asked about her service by the American Veterans Center, 6888th veteran Anna Mae Robertson said with a chuckle, “I was doing the best I could.”
These incredible women weren’t the only ones to break new grounds during WWII. To learn about some of our country’s first Black Marines, keep reading here.
Every student of history knows that the British won the Battle of Britain in August and September of 1940, and that the Spitfire played a key role. But why was that the case?
The answer is stunningly ironic, and it requires us to look at what both the Spitfire and the Bf 109 were supposed to do.
(Yes, I said Bf 109. Believe it or not, calling Willy Messerschmidt’s signature design a Me 109 isn’t accurate. Messerschmidt worked for the Bavarian Aircraft Works, or Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. Now, Messerschmidt bought the company in 1938, but planes designed before the purchase, like the Bf 109, kept the old designation.)
So, with that out of the way, let’s look at the Bf 109 and Spitfire.
Both planes were really designed to fulfill the same mission profile: that of a short-range interceptor.
The Spitfire Mk VB had a top speed of 370 miles per hour, could climb 2,600 feet per minute, and had a combat radius of 470 miles. The Bf 109G had a top speed of 398 miles per hour, a range of 621 miles with a drop tank, and could climb 3,345 feet per minute.
In 1940, the Germans needed a plane to escort their bombers, and the Bf 109 was their only option. They tried the Bf 110, a twin-engine plane with long range and heavy firepower. The problem was, the Bf 110 was easily killed by the more maneuverable Spitfires, so the Bf 109 found itself pressed into service.
But even with a drop tank, the Bf 109 just didn’t have the endurance to be a good bomber escort.
The Spitfire was also plagued with short endurance, but during the Battle of Britain — and even over Dunkirk earlier in the summer of 1940 — it was fulfilling its role as a short-range interceptor.
In essence, it was doing what it was designed to do. The Bf 109 was also a short-range interceptor…but it was pressed into service as a bomber escort, and it just couldn’t hack it.
When the United States entered the war, one thing they were truly successful at was coming up with the perfect escort fighter, the P-51 Mustang. You could say they had learned from Nazi Germany’s mistake.
As it would in nearly every war in U.S. history, the U.S. Coast Guard served an important role in the Civil War. During this conflict, the Coast Guard’s ancestor agency of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service performed a variety of naval combat operations.
By 1860, the Revenue Cutter Service’s fleet was spread across the nation, with cutters stationed in every major American seaport. After the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln, the nation began splitting apart. During these months, men in the service like their counterparts in the Navy and the Army had to choose between serving the federal government or with the seceding Southern states, so the service lost most of its cutters in the South. For example, the captain of the Mobile-based cutter Lewis Cass turned over his vessel to state authorities, forcing his officers and crew to travel overland through Secessionist territory to reach the North.
Regarding the Southern-leaning captain of cutter Robert McClelland, stationed in New Orleans, Treasury Secretary John Dix telegraphed the executive officer in January of 1861, that “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” The phrase later became the basis for a song popular in the North as shown in this newspaper clipping.
The commanding officer of the New Orleans-based cutter McClelland refused a direct order from Treasury Secretary John Dix to sail his vessel into Northern waters. Dix next ordered the executive officer to arrest the captain, assume command of the cutter and sail the vessel into Northern waters, indicating that the captain should be considered a mutineer if he interfered with the transfer of command. Dix ended his message by writing, “If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot,” a quote that would become famous as a rallying message for Northerners. Unfortunately for Dix, the second-in-command of the McClelland was also a Southern sympathizer and the cutter was turned over to local authorities. In addition to five cutters turned over to Southern authorities, Union forces had to destroy a cutter at the Norfolk Navy Yard before Confederate forces overran the facility.
The war required a major increase in the size of the cutter fleet not only to replace lost cutters, but also to support increased marine safety and law enforcement operations. Six cutters sailed from the Great Lakes for East Coast bases and nine former cutters in the U.S. Coast Survey were transferred back to the Revenue Cutter Service for wartime duty. The service also purchased the steamers Cuyahoga, Miami, Reliance, Northerner and William Seward and built six more steam cutters, which joined the fleet by 1864. These new cutters interdicted rampant smuggling brought on by the war, supplied guardships to Northern ports, and helped enforce the wartime blockade.
Revenue cutters taken by Confederate forces were mainly used in naval operations. Union revenue cutters served in a variety of combat missions. For example, the Harriett Lane, considered the most advanced revenue cutter at the start of the war, fired the Civil War’s first naval shot in April 1861 while attempting to relieve federal forces at Fort Sumter. During the ensuing months, Harriett Lane received orders for escort duty, blockade operations and shore bombardment. In August 1861, the cutter served a central role in the capture of forts at Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, and was transferred to the Navy to serve as a command ship for Adm. David Dixon Porter in the Union naval campaign against New Orleans.
(Illustration by Coast Guard artist Howard Koslow)
The cutter Miami also served as a kind of command ship during the war. In late April 1862, Lincoln, War Secretary Edwin Stanton and Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase cruised from Washington, D.C., to Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Soon thereafter, Lincoln ordered the bombardment of Sewell’s Point, near Norfolk, in preparation for an assault on that city. On May 9, Lincoln ordered a reconnaissance party from the cutter to examine the shore near Norfolk in preparation for landing troops. The next day, Miami covered the landing of six Union regiments, which quickly captured Norfolk after Confederate forces evacuated the city and the Norfolk Navy Yard.
The gunboat Naugatuck proved unique cutter in the service’s history. Given to the Revenue Cutter Service by New Jersey inventor Edwin Stevens, the gunboat served with the James River Flotilla. In May 1861, Naugatuck assisted in an effort to draw the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia into a battle in the open waters of Hampton Roads. After the capture of its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia’s crew destroyed their trapped ironclad and Naugatuck steamed up the James River with the USS Monitor and other shallow draft warships to threaten Richmond. Naugatuck’s main armament, 100-pound Parrott gun, burst during the subsequent attack on the earthen fort at Drewry’s Bluff and the cutter withdrew to Hampton Roads with the rest of the Union warships. Naugatuck served the remainder of the war as a guardship in New York Harbor.
As with all wars, the Civil War had a transformative effect on the military services. The war transformed the Revenue Cutter Service from a collection of obsolete sailing vessels to a primarily steam-driven fleet of cutters. The important operations supported by cutters also cemented the role of the service in such missions as convoy duty, blockade operations, port security, coastal patrol and brown-water combat operations. These missions remained core competencies of the Coast Guard in future combat operations. The Civil War operations of the service also reinforced the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service’s reputation as a legitimate branch of the U.S. military.
What happens when a military unit is outnumbered, outgunned and low on supplies? Most of the time, they get overrun and the defenders are killed to the last man. It’s probably happened more times than we can count, but the world will never know because the victors write history.
The most incredible stories we do hear about are the ones where the outnumbered defenders win the day. This could happen for a lot of reasons, but the most common is simply the attackers are outclassed. All the numbers and advanced weapons in the world have a hard time standing up to a unit that is simply better than the rest.
Some stories come because the defenders emerged victorious. Others are remembered because their stand was so great, the story had to be told. Here are 6 of the best.
1. The Siege of Jadotville, 1961
What do 158 Irish soldiers with little to no combat experience do when upward of 5,000 African rebels and mercenaries start barging in on their position with no end in sight? Ask for some whiskey, of course.
Congolese rebels declared independence from the rest of the country after Belgium granted Congo its independence. One rebel sect decided to seize the mineral deposits in the Katanga region by force and claim it for themselves. The only thing standing in their way was a UN peacekeeping force of Irishmen carrying WWII-era weapons.
When the rebels came at them with heavy mortars, human wave attacks and even air support, the Irish just dug in. For three days, low on water and ammunition, and getting strafed from the air, the Irish fought off the rebels, killing 300 and losing zero. Eventually the defenders of Jadotville had to surrender or die of thirst. They were taken prisoner but were soon released to the UN, still with no losses.
2. Sihang Warehouse, 1937
There aren’t a lot of Chinese victories to celebrate in the early days of World War II, but the story of the 800 Heroes in Shanghai is definitely one of them. After massively crushing the Chinese for months, the Japanese entered Shanghai with the intention of defeating the Chinese nationalist government decisively. The Chinese were able to leave the city relatively intact only because of the fighting at the Sihang Warehouse.
Only around 450 untested Chinese troops actually made it to the six-story warehouse, but their goal was to buy time for the Chinese to retreat to the west. An estimated 20,000 Japanese soldiers laid siege to the warehouse for five days as wave after wave of attack was repelled.
They couldn’t level the building with naval guns, bombs, artillery or chemical attacks, because the Western powers were watching across the nearby Wusong River. Any collateral damage might bring them into the war.
The Chinese soldiers’ last stand allowed the Chinese army to survive, and for Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek to focus the world’s attention on Japanese aggression in China.
3. The Battle of Camaron, 1863
While the U.S. was fighting the Civil War, Mexico was engulfed in a conflict of its own. The French had invaded Mexico to install a monarch friendly to French interests in the Western Hemisphere. At Camaron, 65 members of the French Foreign Legion found themselves besieged by 3,300 Mexican soldiers whose only goal was their demise.
When the Mexicans demanded the French surrender, the Legionnaires responded they still had plenty of ammunition. Over the course of the next few hours, the French used it to good effect. Although they systematically lost ground and men with that ammunition, the Mexicans paid dearly for their repeated attacks. When the ammo was gone, the few remaining men launched a bayonet charge.
When all was said and done, the French finally negotiated a surrender, which allowed for them to keep their weapons and gear. All but 19 Legionnaires were killed in the siege, but the Mexicans lost 490, killed or wounded.
4. The Battered Bastards of Bastogne, 1944
The Battle of the Bulge was one hell of a way to spend Christmas. It was the last German offensive of World War II, and it was supposed to retake the harbor of Antwerp from the Allies and blunt the European offensive that would soon see the fall of the German Reich. It all depended on who controlled the converging roads at Bastogne, which cut through the dense Ardennes forest.
Unfortunately for the Germans, it was controlled by the men of the 101st Airborne Division. The Bulge eventually surrounded Bastogne, and when the the German Army demanded the 101st’s surrender, they got the now-famous reply: “Nuts!”
For a week the Germans relentlessly attacked the Americans at Bastogne. For more than a week, they hit the paratroopers, who were outnumbered 5-to-1, lacked cold weather gear in the December snows, had no senior leadership or air power to support them. But the Germans couldn’t advance without Bastogne.
They never got the chance. The day after Christmas, the U.S. Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton made contact with the German Army and broke the siege, eventually pushing back the armored advance.
5. Battle of Longewala, 1971
Even though the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 lasted just under two weeks, there was still a lot of heroism to be found. Pakistan launched a surprise air attack on 11 Indian air bases on Dec. 3, 1971. The next day, its ground forces began rolling toward India. One of the first stops for Pakistan was the lightly-defended outpost at Longewala but they threw 2,000 soldiers and 40 tanks at it just for good measure. They should have brought more.
The defenders of Longewala decided that they could either stand and defend their base or try to outrun a tank battalion on foot. Even though there were only 120 of them and just a recoilless rifle to use against the tanks, they decided to stay and fight. The recoilless rifle was much more effective than expected and wreaked havoc on the attackers.
With the full moon in play and the tanks burning against the night sky, the oncoming infantry was a shooting gallery for Indian machine guns. By the time the sun came up the next day and the cloud cover cleared, the Indian Air Force made mincemeat of the Pakistani attack. They lost nearly every tank and a tenth of their infantry. The Indian defenders lost just two men.
6. Pavlov’s House, Stalingrad, 1943
The Battle of Stalingrad might have been the most pivotal battle of World War II. For six months, Soviet and German Forces fought each other in some of the war’s most brutal urban combat. The Germans were fighting to take Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s namesake city while the Soviets were fighting for their existence.
As the USSR sustained terrible losses, one soldier, Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, took a building that became a symbol of the Soviet struggle against the German invader. Just a month after the Germans began the assault on the city. Pavlov captured a four-story building looking over what was once a city square. The building defended a key bank of the Volga, which the USSR needed to cross to send troops and supplies. Pavlov would hold the building at all costs.
For 60 days, he reinforced and rebuilt the building, destroying tanks with a roof-mounted anti-tank rifle and mowing down wave after wave of attackers, several times a day. Pavlov and his comrades held the building for 60 full days, defending Soviet landings and civilians hiding inside the structure. The Soviet troops said more Germans died trying to take Pavlov’s House than did trying to take Paris.
The apartment building still stands in what is today Volgograd, with a memorial to Sgt. Pavlov attached to one corner.
Despite the relatively quick American recovery from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there’s no doubt that the surprise attack hit the U.S. Army and Navy pretty hard. Despite the excellent execution and planning by the Imperial Japanese Navy, they still took considerable losses, especially given the surprise they achieved.
When the first wave came in with complete surprise, it took minimal losses. Only nine fighters went down in the first wave. With the second wave, more U.S. troops were able to mount a defense, so the incoming Japanese planes took more than twice as many losses.
A third wave never materialized because the Japanese admirals believed they would lose more planes than they could handle. But even before they launched that day, the Japanese knew, as any powerful military force knows, that no plan survives contact with the enemy. So they had a planned rendezvous point for airmen whose planes couldn’t make it back to the carriers: the Hawaiian island of Niihau.
The tiny island of Niihau is just a 30-minute flight from Pearl Harbor and was a designated rescue point for pilots who had to take their planes down for some reason, whether it be engine failure or damage from American defenders. Flying all the way to Niihau was much better than trying to be rescued in the vast Pacific Ocean.
Petty Officer Shigenori Nishikaichi’s Zero was heavily damaged during his second wave attack run on Wheeler Army Air Field, so he was forced to go to this contingency plan. He was able to land on the island, but his plane took even more damage in the attempt. Still, Nishikaichi was alive on what he (and the Imperial Japanese Navy) thought was an uninhabited island.
It must have been a big surprise to Nishikaichi when he was helped out of his damaged plane by a native of the island. Niihau is the smallest of the Hawaiian Islands and was privately-owned, but in 1941 it had a population of 136 native Hawaiian-speaking people and a handful of others. Three of them happened to be Americans of Japanese descent.
When Nishikaichi crash-landed there, Aylmer Robinson was the owner of the island and didn’t allow visits from outsiders. The man who rescued him knew there were tensions between Japan and the United States but was completely unaware of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even so, the man took Nishikaichi’s sidearm and papers.
The Hawaiians on the island greeted their unexpected visitor with a party and a dinner that night, but the two sides could not communicate. Nishikaichi spoke little English and the natives spoke no Japanese, so until the Japanese residents could be found, they were unable to talk to one another.
A local named Shintani spoke with the pilot very briefly but quickly walked away. The local Japanese couple, the Haradas, arrived next, and they spoke at length. Nishikaichi told them about the attack on Oahu and asked for help in getting his secret papers back from the natives. They decided to help him. Unfortunately for Nishikaichi, that same night, the locals learned about the attack on the radio and turned on him. The Haradas agreed to hold the pilot, with four guards stationed around their home.
Later that night, the Haradas waited for an opportunity to overpower the guards. When three of them departed, they attacked and locked him in a warehouse. The three Japanese armed themselves and headed for the man who still had the papers. Seeing they were armed, he fled and raised the alarm in a nearby village. Residents of the village fled when the Japanese trio began firing a shotgun.
Meanwhile, the Niihauans signaled for help to the main islands, where the island’s owner lived. The night went on as the Japanese began capturing locals to forcibly enlist their aid in tracking down the pilot’s precious papers. When they captured a Hawaiian husband and wife, their hours-long search took its toll. At an opportune moment, the wife threw herself on Nishikaichi as Harada struggled to throw her back off.
In response, Nishikaichi shot the husband three times with a pistol concealed in his boot. The man got right back up and threw the pilot into a stone wall. His wife crushed Nishikaichi’s head with a rock as the man slit his throat. Harada turned the shotgun on himself and committed suicide.
The couple went to a nearby hospital as military police arrived on the island. The remaining Japanese citizens were arrested for aiding Nishikaichi. The incident was seen as proof that Japanese American citizens could not be trusted during the war when discussing Japanese internment.
Strangely, Hawaii’s Japanese citizens were never held in internment camps.
The date was April 23, 1975, the war in Vietnam was winding down and the world was waiting to see what America would choose to do. President Ford gave a speech to the people from Tulane University. During that speech he told the citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world that as far as America was concerned, the war was over.
He stated, “Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.” With these words he made it very clear that he would not be sending troops back over, despite the pleas for support from the South Vietnamese.
At this time, North Vietnam was surrounding the city of Saigon, preparing for a final assault on the capital city. The military leaders of South Vietnam ordered their troops to withdraw to the Highlands to a more defensible position. The biggest issue was that the South Vietnamese were largely outnumbered by the North Vietnamese. When they met in battle at Xuan Loc on April 21, it was clear that the end was near. Between the loss at that battle and President Ford’s speech at Tulane, South Vietnam had little hope that they could emerge victorious.
By the time April 27 dawned, North Vietnam forces had completely surrounded Saigon. They soon began their final push and assault on the city. On April 30, when North Vietnamese tanks burst through the gates of the Presidential Palace, the South Vietnamese were battered and beaten, and surrendered there and then. The war in Vietnam was officially over.
The Vietnam War was controversial from day one, especially in the U.S. It remained so through its duration, and beyond. President Ford made the choice to pull the American troops out of Vietnam and not send them back, even though South Vietnam pleaded with him to do so. This too was surely a controversial decision. The Vietnam War was an instance where no matter what was done, someone felt it was the wrong choice. The people of the United States at that time were not shy about shouting their opinions from every rooftop, either.
Those who were against the war, which was a good portion of the country, even made sure the soldiers returning home knew how they felt. The soldiers were not met with fanfare and welcome homes as were the soldiers of past wars, or as the soldiers of future wars would be. They were not given help or support in adjusting back to their lives at home. It seemed the people, the government and the country as a whole were perfectly happy to sweep the entire war and all those involved under the rug and simply move on.
Even now, 45 years after the war ended, the Vietnam War is still considered one of the most controversial wars in history. It is still often talked about in whispers, or not talked about at all. While there have been movements over the past two decades to give the Vietnam Veterans the recognition they deserve, it is still a fight everyday against the stigma felt during that time.
America as a country did as Ford said, “Regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam.” For those who fought in the war, however, there was no sense of pride found. They each had no choice but to go through the process of living a ‘normal’ life. For many this proved impossible, the war having taken every piece of them away.
It’s been 45 years since Saigon fell, 45 years since the war in Vietnam ended. Many of those men who fought in those jungles still live with the realities of that war every day. Now is the time to give them the recognition and appreciation they have always deserved. They didn’t choose to fight that battle. But, they answered the call when heeded. Today and every day, thank our Vietnam Veterans and show them the appreciation they never and should have received when they came home.
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.
Tommy Macpherson was known to his enemies as the “Kilted Killer.” The Scotsman fought with the British 11 Commando during World War II, roaming the countryside with French Resistance fighters and causing so much havoc and damage that the Nazis put a 300,000 Franc bounty on his head.
No one ever collected.
Especially not any Nazis.
Imperial War Museum
For a guy with a huge bounty on his head, you’d have never known it to look at Macpherson. He dressed in the same tartan kilt he would have worn back home in Edinburgh as he did killing Nazis in Operation Jedburgh. But just getting to Europe for the operation was a slog of its own. Macpherson was captured during a raid on Erwin Rommel’s headquarters near Tobruk in 1941. He spent years making no fewer than seven escape attempts from POW camps across Italy, Germany, and occupied Poland. He was finally successful in 1943, escaping to England via Sweden. He immediately rejoined his commando unit, just in time for Operation Jedburgh.
The Jedburgh operators were going to parachute into occupied Europe and embark on a stream of sabotage and guerrilla attacks against the Nazi occupiers. Macpherson, knowing he would have to use the full force of his personality to take command of the resistance fighters, the Maquis, he chose to wear a full highland battle dress, including his Cameron tartan kilt. It worked.
Hell yeah it did.
(Imperial War Museum)
Macpherson and his squad immediately began cutting a path of destruction across The Netherlands, destroying bridges and killing or capturing any German troops and officers who came through that path. It was said that Macpherson and company managed to successfully conduct some kind of operation every day he was deployed in Western Europe. But his crowning achievement came in France in the days following the D-Day invasions, stopping the Das Reich Panzer Division in its tracks.
Coming from the Eastern Front, this SS Panzer division was particularly brutal. When Macpherson saw them for the first time, he saw at least 15,000 men and 200 tanks and other armored vehicles that he had to knock out of the war before they pushed the Allies back into the sea.
Russland, Appell der SS-Division “Das Reich”
(German War Archives)
Using plastic explosives, grenades dangling from trees, and one anti-tank mine, the British commando, and his Maquis unit managed to slow the Panzers down to a crawl. They chopped down trees at night, used hit and run attacks with their sten guns, and placed booby traps everywhere, anything they could to keep the Panzers away from the Allied landing for as long as possible. The effort worked, and it took the SS two weeks to cover what should have taken three days.
His biggest achievement came without firing a shot, however. He had to keep another Panzer division, some 23,000 men strong, from taking a vital bridge in the Loire Valley. He somehow managed a parlay with the opposing commander, meeting the command deep inside German-held territory. He told the Germans he could call on the RAF to destroy his entire column – which he couldn’t do.
“My job was to convince the general that I had a brigade, tanks and artillery waiting on the other side of the river,” Macpherson later said. “In truth, the only thing I could whistle up was Dixie, but he had no way of knowing that.”
Macpherson was just 23 years old negotiating the surrender of a Panzer division.
The German looked at the young man in full highland battle dress and offered his surrender on the condition they could carry sidearms until they were met by the U.S. 83rd Infantry. Macpherson agreed, almost singlehandedly knocking an entire tank division out of the war, securing the Loire Bridgehead. He survived the war and continued his service in the British military. He died in 2014.
There’s something to be said for aggressively pursuing the job you want. For British Admiral Horatio, Lord Nelson, that opportunity came at the Battle of Copenhagen when the famous admiral disobeyed the orders of a less-famous, less successful one in the funniest way possible.
Lord Nelson was arguably England’s most famous military mind, and without a doubt, one of its most famous admirals. By the time the British engaged the Danes at Copenhagen, Nelson had been commanding ships for more than 20 years and had been in command as an Admiral for nearly as long. But Nelson wasn’t in overall command of the British at Copenhagen. That honor fell to Britain’s Sir Hyde Parker, but Sir Hyde wasn’t as aggressive as Lord Nelson, certainly not aggressive enough for Nelson’s taste.
Until the Battle of Copenhagen, Parker was considered a very good commander, commanding Royal Navy ships for some 40 years in fights from Jamaica to Gibraltar. But Hyde was more of an administrator than a battlefield leader, sticking close to the rules of naval combat. This wasn’t a problem for anyone until 1801, when he ordered the Royal Navy at Copenhagen to disengage.
Nelson wasn’t having it.
Unlike Parker, Nelson was known to flaunt the doctrine of naval warfare at the time. He is famous for saying, “forget the maneuvers, just go straight at them.” Nelson was aggressive without being careless and had a sixth sense for the way a battle was flowing. From his ship closer to the fight, he could tell that the attack needed to be pressed. Parker was further away from the fighting, in a ship too heavy for the shallower water closer to Copenhagen. So when he was ready to disengage – as doctrine would have him do – he raised the flag signal.
Nelson is said to have put his telescope up to his blind eye, turned in the direction of Parker’s flagship, and allegedly said:
“I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal.”
Nelson knew the battle would go his way, and even though some of his ships did obey the disengage order, most of the frigates did not. The battle began to turn heavily in favor of the British, with most of the Danish ships’ guns too heavily damaged to return fire. Denmark would be forced into an alliance with the British against Napoleonic France and received protection from Russia. For his actions, Nelson was made a viscount, and Parker was recalled to England, where he was stripped of his Baltic Sea command.
By the summer of 1953, the Korean War had raged on for three years. The back and forth maneuvers up and down the peninsula had given way to a stalemate known as the Battle of the Outposts.
All along the 38th Parallel, the belligerents attacked one another’s outposts in the hopes of affecting a breakthrough. Blocking the Communist forces from driving straight on Seoul through the Cheorwon Valley, in an area known as the “Iron Triangle,” were three lonely outposts: Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Outpost Harry was situated on a hilltop in front of the Main Line of Resistance and opposite a Chinese position known as Star Hill. Being so far out in front meant that resupply was difficult and always under enemy observation. Harry’s 1,280-foot elevation did nothing to help matters.
On the night of June 10, 1953, as negotiations to end the war took place just over 50 miles away, elements of the Chinese 74th Division attacked in force. The task of defending the outpost that night fell on K Company, 15th Infantry Regiment. Having spent the previous days improving their defenses and sighting in weapons, they were given the order to hold at all costs.
The attack began with a bombardment by mortars, rockets, and artillery. Suddenly the outpost was illuminated by enemy flares. Bugles and whistles sounded and over 3,600 Chinese soldiers rushed toward the outpost. The Americans rained fire down on the advancing Chinese. They exploded 55 gallon drums of Napalm in the midst of the attackers and blasted them with artillery. They were able to repulse two determined waves before the Chinese made it to the trenches and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The Chinese were overrunning the outpost.
Lt. Sam Buck, Forward Observer from the 39th Artillery Battalion, was in the Command Post on Harry when it was overrun by the Chinese. As Chinese grenades exploded in the bunker and his comrades were wounded, he continued to resist, dropping any Chinese that came through the door with a burst from his carbine. Eventually wounded and unable to continue firing, he played dead while the Chinese occupied the bunker. The fighting was so intense, one of his last actions before being evacuated later that night was to put the Company Commander’s eyeball back in its socket.
With the defense of the outpost in peril the defenders were rallied by Sgt. Ola Mize. Throughout the attack Mize moved about the outpost tending to wounded, resupplying ammunition, and killing numerous enemies. Three times he was knocked down by explosions and three times he continued his mission. For his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Eventually artillery strikes called right on top of the outpost, along with reinforcements from C and E Companies, drove the Chinese out of the trenches. A diversionary attack by F Company, 65th Infantry Regiment also helped in clearing the area. The next morning only a handful of the original defenders were still in fighting shape. K Company was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their gallantry at the outpost.
B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment relieved K Company and took up the defense of Harry on June 11. Again darkness fell, and the Chinese began bombarding the American positions. Advancing through their own artillery barrage, the Chinese were able to gain the trenches once again. The defenders threw back several attacks before being reinforced by B Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team. Together the two companies defeated a second Chinese regiment in as many nights. B Company, 15th Infantry was awarded the regiment’s second Presidential Unit Citation.
The next night it was A Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team’s turn on the outpost, and once again the Chinese sent a reinforced regiment against the American position. As before, the Chinese advanced through both their own artillery and the Americans’ before entering the trenches where bitter hand-to-hand combat took place. The 15th Infantry Regiment sent L Company to reinforce and drive out the Chinese while another unit of tanks and infantry assaulted through the valley in a diversionary attack. For their actions in the defense, A Company, 5th RCT was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
The following night, June 13, was relatively quiet. The main action was against a Chinese screening force that attempted to recover their dead from the area around the outpost.
On the night of June 14, a small Chinese force was able to close in on the trenches through their own artillery barrage and attack G Company, 15th Infantry from the rear of the outpost. Reinforcements from E Company, 15th Infantry and a diversionary attack by elements of the 65th Infantry drove the Chinese from the outpost once again.
The next two nights were quiet on the outpost and allowed for some much needed repairs. Men from the Sparta Battalion of the Greek Expeditionary Force were also brought into the area to reinforce the depleted and beleaguered defenders. The Chinese used this time to cobble together what was left of the 74th Division for one more attack on the outpost.
That attack came on the night of June 17. The Chinese threw everything they had left in one last desperate attempt to dislodge the defenders of Outpost Harry. That night the men of P Company, Sparta Battalion, bore the brunt of the Chinese attack. Friendly artillery pounded the slopes around the trenches while the Greeks threw back wave after wave of communist attackers. N Company, Sparta Battalion reinforced their brothers and drove off the Chinese. The 74th Division retreated from the area, combat ineffective after the battle with U.N. Forces. P Company was awarded the American Presidential Unit Citation for holding Outpost Harry the final night.
In total there were five Presidential Unit Citations given for action at Outpost Harry, as well as one Medal of Honor and numerous other personal awards for valor. Just over a month later the armistice was signed, and the defense of Outpost Harry was crucial in ensuring a favorable agreement.
The United States has added its voice to international calls for China’s communist-led government to give a full public accounting of those who were killed, detained or went missing during the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
In a bold statement from Washington to mark the 29th anniversary of a bloody crackdown that left hundreds — some say thousands — dead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Chinese authorities to release “those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”
To this day, open discussion of the topic remains forbidden in China and the families of those who lost loved ones continue to face oppression. Chinese authorities have labeled the protests a counter-revolutionary rebellion and repeatedly argued that a clear conclusion of the events was reached long ago.
In an annual statement on the tragedy, the group Tiananmen Mothers urged President Xi Jinping in an open letter to “re-evaluate the June 4th massacre” and called for an end to their harassment.
(Photo by Michel Temer)
“Each year when we would commemorate our loved ones, we are all monitored, put under surveillance, or forced to travel” to places outside of China’s capital, the letter said. The advocacy group Human Rights in China released the open letter from the Tiananmen Mothers ahead of the anniversary.
“No one from the successive governments over the past 29 years has ever asked after us, and not one word of apology has been spoken from anyone, as if the massacre that shocked the world never happened,” the letter said.
In his statement, Pompeo also said that on the anniversary “we remember the tragic loss of innocent lives,” adding that as Liu Xiaobo wrote in his 2010 Nobel Peace Prize speech, “the ghosts of June 4th have not yet been laid to rest.”
Liu was unable to receive his Nobel prize in person in 2010 and died in custody in 2017. The dissident writer played an influential role in the Tiananmen protests and was serving an 11-year sentence for inciting subversion of state power when he passed.
At a regular press briefing on June 4, 2018, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had lodged “stern representations” with the United States over the statement on Tiananmen.
“The United States year in, year out issues statements making ‘gratuitous criticism’ of China and interfering in China’s internal affairs,” Hua said. “The U.S. Secretary of State has absolutely no qualifications to demand the Chinese government do anything,” she added.
In a statement on Twitter, which is blocked in China like many websites, Hu Xijin, the editor of the party-backed Global Times, called the statement a “meaningless stunt.”
In another post he said: “what wasn’t achieved through a movement that year will be even more impossible to be realized by holding whiny commemorations today.”
Commemorations for Tiananmen are being held across the globe to mark the anniversary and tens of thousands are expected to gather in Hong Kong, the only place in China such large-scale public rallies to mark the incident can be held.
Exiled Tiananmen student protest leader Wu’Er Kaixi welcomed the statement from Pompeo.
However, he added that over the past 29 years western democracies appeasement of China has nurtured the regime into an imminent threat to freedom and democracy.
“The world bears a responsibility to urge China, to press on the Chinese regime to admit their wrongdoing, to restore the facts and then to console the dead,” he said. “And ultimately to answer the demands of the protesters 29 years ago and put China on the right track to freedom and democracy.”
Wu’er Kaixi fled China after the crackdown and now resides in Taiwan where he is the founder of Friends of Liu Xiaobo. The group recently joined hands with several other non-profit organizations and plans to unveil a sculpture in July 2018 — on the anniversary of his death — to commemorate the late Nobel laureate. The sculpture will be located near Taiwan’s iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper.
In Taiwan, the self-ruled democracy that China claims is a part of its territory, political leaders from both sides of the isle have also urged China’s communist leaders to face the past.
On Facebook, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen noted that it was only by facing up to its history that Taiwan has been able to move beyond the tragedies of the past.
“If authorities in Beijing can face up to the June 4th incident and acknowledge that at its roots it was a state atrocity, the unfortunate history of June 4th could become a cornerstone for China to move toward freedom and democracy,” Tsai said.
Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, a member of the opposition Nationalist Party or KMT, who saw close ties with China while in office, also urged Beijing to face up to history and help heal families’ wounds.
“Only by doing this can the Chinese communists bridge the psychological gap between the people on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait and be seen by the world as a real great power,” Ma said.