These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes - We Are The Mighty
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These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

Approximately two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the war department to relocate thousands of Japanese and force them to live in internment camps — reportedly one-half were already U.S. citizens.


In Hawaii (which wouldn’t become an American state until 1959), more than one-third of the island’s population were first and second generation Japanese. They faced similar scrutiny as those living in the continental United States.

High ranking military advisors expressed concern with the Japanese currently serving in the armed forces because they believed their allegiance was with the enemy. This ideology caused many Japanese men and women to be relieved of their military duties.

Back in the States, many second-generation Japanese men, known as Nesei, detained in the internment camps wanted to show their devotion to the U.S. and decided to volunteer for military service.

Related: How the WW2 bomber Memphis Belle got its wings back

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Nisei men swearing in for military service.

Impressed with the Japanese volunteers, the war department created an all-Nisei combat unit — the 100th infantry battalion. After a year of intense infantry training, they first deployed to North Africa and then took part in attacks on enemy forces in Monte Cassino, Italy.

In 1943, the 100th was reorganized and became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which included Nisei volunteers from Hawaii. The next year, they moved to the battlefields of France where they fought in eight major campaigns, and played a pivotal role the rescue the Texas 36th infantry division known as the  “Lost Battalion.”

The following year, the proud unit helped liberate the Jews from the first established Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany.

In the Pacific, several Nisei troops worked as Japanese translators and were frequently mistaken for enemy combatants.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
A Nisei troop discusses terms of surrender with a Japanese officer.

Also Read: This is how the first Asian-American Marine officer saved 8,000 men

Sadly, in the two years of their combat effectiveness, 700 members of the original 13,000 were killed or labeled as missing in action.

After their war had ended, the proud men returned home and were celebrated by President Harry Truman for their devoted service.

“You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice, and you won,” Truman addressed to the Nisei during a ceremony. “Keep up that fight, and we will continue to win.”

Altogether, the men received 9,486 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, and 21 Medals of Honor.

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Paul Rieckhoff wants vets to help America ‘bring the temperature down’

 


These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA CEO and founder, advocating for vets at the DNC in Philadelphia. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — If the 13 years of running Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has taken an emotional and physical toll on founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, he doesn’t show it. Watching him in action at the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia is a study in determination and attention to detail. No bypassing staffer is too junior to be engaged, and no veterans issue is too trivial to be addressed.

“If you had asked me 13 years ago that if this far in the future it would still be this hard, I would have said you were full of it,” Rieckhoff says. “Everything is still too hard, from getting candidates to say the right thing to reforming the VA.”

He’s also concerned that philanthropic organizations haven’t responded to a national health problem that he compares to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

“This is like going to the convention in 1982 and people are kind of peripherally talking about AIDS when their friends are dying,” he says. “So if we accept that 20 vets are dying a day as a base point, we’re going to walk out of these conventions and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and these other billionaire philanthropic leaders are not going to be focused on veterans issues.”

Rieckhoff spreads the blame for the lack of progress on veterans’ issues — heath care and beyond — across several camps, starting with the commander-in-chief.

“President Obama has failed to provide the country a national strategy, and as a response, you’ve gotten fragmentation,” he says. And, by his reckoning, that fragmentation has taken myriad forms, including divisions among the veteran community itself.

“Too often VSO are having tribal fights when we really should recognize that we’re all really in deep shit because our demographics are our destiny and our demographics are bad,” Rieckhoff warns.

He goes on to explain that the veteran community is about to experience a “tectonic shift” numbers-wise because the World War II generation is all but gone and the Vietnam War generation is dying fast.

“We’re going to go from 12 percent in the population to, at some point, under five percent,” he explains.

In the face of this reality, Rieckhoff says that veteran service organizations and, more broadly, veterans themselves need to unify.

“My big takeaway in the wake of these two conventions is we have to find ways to be united and focused and we have to find ways to multiply our impact,” he says. “If veterans alone are carrying water for veterans’ issues we will lose.  We’re just too small. There aren’t enough of us.”

That’s not to say that he doesn’t think veterans have individual impact potential; in fact, Rieckhoff is quick to point out that vets are in a unique position nationwide right now.

“If you’re a veteran and you walk into a Starbucks or a classroom and announce your status you’re going to get 2 minutes of ‘rock star’ respect where people will listen to you for a little while before they jump into their corners for Bernie or Trump or whoever,” he says. “But you have that opening that opportunity to try and be a leader and bring people together. That’s what veterans need to be doing right now. We can bring the temperature down. We can do it through credibility and patriotism and through our example.”

At the same time, Rieckhoff warns vets against being used as props.

“As a community, we have to be really wary about being used. If they want to throw you up on stage with someone, make sure that you’re getting out of it what you need because they’re going to get what they need,” he says. “It’s kind of like when you join the military, right? Uncle Sam’s going to get what he needs out of you. Make sure you get what you need out of Uncle Sam.”

The discussion pivots to the political sphere, and Rieckhoff is at once unflinching and bipartisan in his take on what’s in play for the military community.

“The conventions have been fascinating to watch,” he says. “I think what’s happened in the last four years is both parties realize that veterans make good populism. Last week you had Joni Ernst and a wall of veterans, this week you’ll have Seth Moulton and a wall of veterans. They know – Trump especially – that there is a huge populist undertone to everything veterans.”

But Rieckhoff fears the community may be squandering its time in the spotlight.

“We have lacked a real sharp edge of activism,” he says. “If this was 1968, vet protestors would be in the convention.”

He introduces a broader theme, saying, “It’s a very complicated psycho-social situation we’re in where our community has been asked to sacrifice over and over again, but the public has reasoned that those in the military are self-selected as people who are willing to sacrifice over and over again. You can send us on 12 tours and we’re not going to make that much of a stink.

“The bigger issue is the lack of precedent for the lack of involvement in our country in a time of war. There’s no precedent in American history for this much war with this small group of people for this long.”

That societal reality has yielded some things of concern, not the least of which, according to Rieckhoff, is the fact that there are very few veterans in positions of real power.

“None of the candidates in either party is a veteran,” he points out. “Neither chairman of the VA on either the House or Senate side was a veteran. Jeff Miller and Bernie Sanders can’t run around talking about how wonderful they were when they presided over the largest VA scandal in American history.

“Bernie Sanders used the scandal to pass the omnibus and Jeff Miller is running around with Trump, using his time on HVAC for that. That’s politics, I get that. But At the end of the day veterans are still screwed.”

Rieckhoff likens the situation to “asking a plumber to fix your television.”

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff at the DNC in Philadelphia. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

He uses what’s going on at the VA as an example, saying, “Bob McDonald is an army of one right now. He’s getting his legs cut out from under him by the Republican congress and Democratic leadership won’t touch him, so he’s almost out of time. He’s a good man who’s tried, but likely he’ll be out. The probability is we’ll get a new VA secretary who’ll get nominated in February or March, confirmed in March or April, and maybe he gets to work in June. So, six months into 2017, we’ll have the vision of a new VA secretary.”

Rieckhoff wants veteran leaders “who are still on the sidelines” to engage.

“There should be a coordinated and independent effort to recognize that these are trying times politically and we need to have a new call for these folks to serve,” he says. “You had the ‘Fighting Dems” in ’06 and I told Rahm Emanuel that ‘you have a political jump ball here,’ and he didn’t see it.

“The Fighting Dems wasn’t started by the party; it was started by that crew – Patrick Murphy and Tammy Duckworth and Joe Sestak. That was the first iteration. Four years later the Republicans had their own round, but there was never really a coordinated campaign by either party to recruit veterans. There was a coordinated campaign to push out veterans and to celebrate veterans, but there’s not actually a farm team.”

Rieckhoff goes further, actually recommending a ticket that a large percentage of veterans would support right out of the gate.

“If [former NYC mayor] Mike Bloomberg and [retired Admiral and former CJCS] Mike Mullen started their own party tomorrow, a third of our membership would go with them . . . probably a third of the country would go with them,” he opines.

Rieckhoff sums the landscape up as “crazier,” and, again, he believes that presents a unique opportunity for the military/veteran community.

“We’re some of the only people who can go to both conventions and understand both sides,” he says. “That’s the powerful position for us whether it’s gun control, immigration, Islamophobia, gay rights, marijuana, or whatever. We can be a unique bridge builder between both sides. The Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are great examples. The veterans community is on both sides of those.”

For all of the impact potential veterans might have, Rieckhoff is also mindful of negative stereotypes that exist among the civilian populations, something he blames in large part to “media laziness.”

“The only description the media had of the Dallas shooter was that he was African-American, and he was a veteran,” he points out. “Why? Because they have to file a story quickly and those were the only two things they could verify. That accelerated media cycle perpetuates lazy reporting. And when you have a vet who fits the stereotype they run with it.”

Rieckhoff exhales and contemplates the requirement to constantly attend to the pubic’s perception of vets, and that reminds him of the accomplishments of the community and, specifically, the legacy of IAVA.

“When IAVA started in 2004 the veterans landscape was a desert,” he remembers. “Now it’s a metropolis. We are very proud of the fact that a lot of people who come through the IAVA team have gone on to do really cool stuff.”

A quick review of the current roles of IAVA alums bears this out. Vet leaders like Abdul Henderson (now on the Congressional Black Caucus), Bill Rausch (now at Got Your 6), Tom Taratino (Twitter), Matt Miller (Trump campaign), and Todd Bowers (Uber) all spent time on the IAVA staff.

“We built IAVA to be a launching pad,” Rieckhoff says. “I’d rather have Tom Taratino at Twitter changing the culture than have him at the House VA Committee talking to a bunch of other veterans for the ninetieth time.”

But in spite of the challenges, Rieckhoff is bullish on the future of the veteran community.

“In 10 years, disproportionally CEOs are going to be veterans, candidates are going to be veterans, entrepreneurs are going to be veterans,” he says. “And that’s going to be exciting to watch.”

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The US military took these incredible photos in just a week

The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:


AIR FORCE:

Airmen push down on the wing of a U-2 after its landing at Royal Air Force Fairford, England, June 9, 2015. If the aircraft lands slightly off balance, it has the potential to tilt to one side or another.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/USAF

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Talon Leinbaugh, 66th Rescue Squadron aerial gunner, conducts aerial surveillance in an HH-60G Pave Hawk over the Pacific Ocean during Angel Thunder 2015, June 11, 2015. Angel Thunder is hosted by the 355th Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., but many flying operations will extend throughout Arizona, New Mexico and California.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Senior Airman Betty R. Chevalier/USAF

NAVY:

Soldiers from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) cast a line from a combat rubber raiding craft to Sailors in the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) during combined training with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU).

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Derek A. Harkins/USN

The U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, perform the Diamond 360 maneuver at the Ocean City Air Show. The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform 68 demonstrations at 35 locations across the U.S. in 2015.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrea Perez/USN

ARMY:

Paratroopers, assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, rehearse amphibious landings aboard British Navy landing craft as part of Exercise BALTOPS 2015 in Ravlunda, Sweden.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: 1st Lt. Steven Siberski/US Army

Soldiers, assigned to 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, conduct training during a Decisive Action Rotation at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Spc. Ashley Marble/US Army

MARINE CORPS:

Falling in style. Gunnery Sgt. Eddie Myers, parachute safety officer assigned to Detachment 4th Force Reconnaissance Company, parachutes from a UH-1Y Venom helicopter during airborne insertion training at the flight line aboard Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Lance Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson/USMC

Mud bath. Marines and Sailors competed in the 2015 Commanding General’s Cup Mud Run at Camp Pendleton, California.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Lance Cpl. Asia J. Sorenson/USMC

COAST GUARD:

Just a few months ago, the Coast Guard officially stood up its 22nd rating, the dive rating for enlisted members and dive specialty for chief warrant officers.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: USCG

Honoring paying respect to Old Glory.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: USCG

NOW: See more military photos

OR: Watch the top 10 militaries in the world:

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That time a Marine had a live RPG stuck in his leg

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Winder Perez was fighting in Afghanistan in January 2012 when he was shot with a rocket-propelled grenade that pierced his leg and remained stuck there without detonating.


A medical evacuation crew ignored regulations against moving unexploded ordnance, picked him up, and flew him to medical care where an explosives technician removed the RPG so a Navy medical officer could operate on him.

Specialist Mark Edens was the first member of the MEDEVAC crew to see the Marine. The flight had originally been briefed that they were receiving an injured little girl as a patient, but they arrived to find the lance corporal with a large wound and an approximately 2-foot long rocket protruding from his leg.

When Army pilot Capt. Kevin Doo was told about the embedded RPG, he asked his entire crew to vote on whether to evacuate the patient. They unanimously voted yes despite the dangers.

“There was no doubt to anyone that we were going to take this Marine and get him the medical attention needed to save his life,” Doo told Army journalists. “When dealing with this — not knowing that any moment could be your last — 18 inches from the patient’s legs was about 360 gallons of aviation fuel.”

“After Lance Cpl. Perez was loaded on the Black Hawk, it was a total of 11.2 minutes of flight time where every minute felt like an hour,” Doo added. “During that time, we were on the radio coordinating with our escorts, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, and medical personnel who were going to treat Perez.”

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Army Staff Sgt. Ben Summerfield attempts to remove a rocket-propelled grenade from Lance Cpl. Winder Perez as Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Gennari keeps Perez’s airway stable. (Photo: US Navy)

When the helicopter landed, Perez was met by Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Gennari, the head of the surgical company at Forward Operating Base Edinburgh, and Army EOD Staff Sgt. Ben Summerfield. Summerfield quickly tugged the RPG free of Perez and Gennari worked to stabilize the patient.

Gennari later said that the Perez’s wounds were so severe that he would’ve died without the quick MEDEVAC. Edens, Doo, and the rest of the Army MEDEVAC team then transported Perez to Camp Bastion where he began the long road to recovery.

(H/t to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs who wrote about this incident in May 2012.)

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Trump announces plan to boost carrier force to 12

President Donald Trump visited the aircraft carrier PCU Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), and announced plans to boost the Navy’s carrier force to 12.


In a speech given during the visit, the president announced the 12-carrier goal, which would bring the force up to a level it has not been at since 2006, according to a Navy listing of ship force levels.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
President Donald J. Trump tours Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). Trump visited March 2, 2017 to meet with Sailors and shipbuilders of the Navy’s first-in-class aircraft carrier during an all-hands call inside the ship’s hangar bay. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Mae O. Campbell/Released)

“After years of endless budget cuts that have impaired our defenses, I am calling for one of the largest defense-spending increases in history,” the President said.

Currently, the force is at 10 carriers, all of which are nuclear-powered. The Gerald R. Ford is slated to commission later this year, to replace USS Enterprise (CVN 65), which was taken out of service in December 2012, being formally decommissioned last month. The new aircraft carrier has seen numerous delays due to problems with its advanced systems.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
President Donald J. Trump speaks with Sailors in the hangar bay aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). Trump visited March 2 to meet with Sailors and shipbuilders of the Navy’s first-in-class aircraft carrier during an all-hands call inside the ship’s hangar bay. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Joshua Sheppard/Released)

“In these troubled times, our Navy is the smallest it’s been since World War I.  That’s a long time ago.  In fact, I just spoke with Navy and industry leaders and have discussed my plans to undertake a major expansion of our entire Navy fleet, including having the 12-carrier Navy we need,” the President said.

“Our military requires sustained, stable funding to meet the growing needs placed on our defense. Right now, our aging frontline strike and strike-fighters — the whole aircraft; many, many aircraft — are often more likely to be downed for maintenance than they are to be up in the sky,” the President also said, noting the problems that have plagued Navy and Marine Corps aviation units.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
President Donald J. Trump salutes the rainbow sideboys before his departure of the aircraft carrier Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Mae O. Campbell/Released)

In his address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017, President Trump called for the elimination of the sequester as it pertained to defense spending. It came on the heels of what the Washington Times reported was a proposed $54 billion increase in the defense budget.

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This was America’s first true aircraft carrier

When people talk about the aircraft carriers of World War II, some names jump out right away. Maybe the USS Enterprise (CV 6), both versions of the USS Yorktown (CV 5 and CV 10), or the USS Hornet (CV 8)?


But one carrier that was present at the start of World War II and survived throughout the war isn’t that well known. Meet America’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger (CV 4).

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
USS Ranger (CV 4) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1939. (US Navy photo)

The Ranger, like many pre-war American ship designs, was heavily influenced by the Washington Naval Treaty. This limited aircraft carriers to 27,000 tons per ship, and the United States Navy’s carrier force could have a total displacement of 135,000 tons. The conversion of the under-construction battle cruisers Lexington (then-CC 1) and Saratoga (then-CC 3) to CV 2 and CV 3 put them both at 33,000 tons.

As such, the Ranger was limited to 14,500 tons – and the U.S. wanted to cram as much as it could on this ship. She received eight 5-inch, 25-caliber guns, as well as a host of M2 .50-caliber machine guns. She also could carry around 75 aircraft.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Nine Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters and five Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers are visible on the flight deck of USS Ranger (CV 4) prior to Operation Torch. Note Ranger´s distinctive stacks in the left foreground. (US Navy photo)

When World War II broke out, the USS Ranger was in the Atlantic as part of the Neutrality Patrol, along with the carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). According to the “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships,” the Ranger was sent to patrol the South Atlantic. After returning for repairs, the Ranger then was tasked with delivering P-40 Warhawks to Africa. She made two runs in the spring and summer of 1942, delivering 140 of those planes – some of which were destined to reinforce the Flying Tigers.

In November of 1942, the Ranger took part in Operation Torch, launching 54 F4F Wildcats and 18 SBD Dauntless dive bombers. Her planes sank or damaged two French warships, and also gave the landings fighter cover.

After Torch, the Ranger was overhauled, then delivered 75 more P-40s — this time for the North African Theater of Operations. She carried out training missions during most of 1943, until she was attached to the Home Fleet.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

In October, 1943, the USS Ranger joined the British Home Fleet, and carried out a number of strikes on German naval forces around Norway. After that, she again served as an aircraft ferry, delivering 76 P-38 Lightning fighters to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

After making that delivery, the Ranger finally went to the Pacific, where she was a training carrier until the end of the war. After the war, the USS Ranger was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Confederate rivalry allowed 30,000 Union troops to escape

During the Civil War, a rivalry between two Confederate generals led to 30,000 pinned-down Union troops escaping encirclement in 1864, allowing them to go on and capture Atlanta, rallying Union morale, and ensuring a Republican victory in the elections and a Union victory in the war.


These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

The USS Hartford and Admiral Farragut forces their way past Confederate defenses at New Orleans in 1862,

(Julian Oliver Davidson)

The year 1864 was possibly the most important of the war. The presidential elections that year were framed as a referendum on the war. Supporters of a continued Union advance against the South were backing the Republicans as those who wished to create a negotiated peace backed George McClellan and the Democrats.

The Confederates, meanwhile, knew about the divisions and were doing everything they could to convince common Northerners that the war wasn’t worth the costs. Gen. Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland, privateers attacked Union shipping on the high seas, and commanders elsewhere redoubled their efforts to bleed the Union for every yard lost.

Amidst all of this, two capable Confederate generals in Louisiana were constantly arguing with one another. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith was the commander of Confederate troops in the Trans-Mississippi in 1863 and 1864, and one of his subordinates was Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, son of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor and brother-in-law of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Both were described as having skill at tactics and strategy, but Smith was a cautious West Point graduate while Taylor was Yale-educated man with hot blood, constantly angling to take the fight to the Union.

In 1864, the Union was still trying to cement their control over the waterways in the south, completing their Anaconda Plan to choke off the South from external or internal resupply. To that end, massive numbers of troops were sent up the Red River that forms the border between Louisiana and Arkansas.

Smith wanted to slow the Union advance with defensive engagements punctuated by the occasional counterattack, while Taylor was itching to push his way back to the Gulf of Mexico and eventually re-take New Orleans.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

The Battle of Irish Bend Louisiana

(William Hall, Harper’s Weekly)

So, when Taylor saw Union Forces overextend themselves while moving up the Red River, he sent his forces to smash into their weak points, winning victories at the Battles of Mansfield and then Pleasant Hill. Union commanders, worried that they would soon find themselves separated from one another and encircled, fought their way south and finally holed up in Alexandria, Louisiana.

This was what Taylor had been waiting for. His enemy was in a weak position, outnumbered, and with no place to run. But Taylor didn’t quite have the forces necessary to finish the fight — all he needed was a little help from Smith.

Instead, Smith took the bulk of Taylor’s forces and re-deployed them to Arkansas where they helped harry an enemy that was already in retreat. The Union forces at Alexandria saw the sudden gap in the lines and broke out, making their way back east. 30,000 Union troops were now free to continue fighting.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

The Battle of Atlanta

This allowed them to arrive in the East just in time to join in important advances there, including Gen. William T. Sherman’s infamous push south. Sherman started his fight to Atlanta in May 1864 with 110,000 men split into three armies. If he hadn’t gotten the 30,000 from the Red River, he’d have been forced to decide whether to wait or advance with only 80,000 troops and two armies.

Follow that to the actual assault on Atlanta and following siege. While Union forces were able to get to Atlanta with relative ease — the last serious Confederate attempt to prevent a siege took place on July 22 and only 35,000 of the 100,000 Union troops actually engaged in the battle — the siege itself was a close-fought thing.

The siege ran from late-July to late-September, barely wrapping up in time for Northern newspaper reports to buoy Union morale and support for the war, leading to Lincoln’s strong re-election numbers. But Sherman relied on his numerical strength to win the fight. He used two of his armies to pin down Confederate troops or to draw their attention while his third army sneaked by to attack their rear or snip away supply lines.

With only two armies (or with three undersized armies), none of that would’ve worked. Instead, Sherman would have had to maintain a conventional siege against repeated and determined counterattacks, likely delaying the fall of Atlanta or even preventing it. The removal of 30,000 troops really might have tipped the scales against him and, therefore, against Lincoln.

Luckily, Sherman never had to face that possibility. Instead, he had plenty of troops to capture Atlanta, was able to split his forces after, marching east to the sea with the bulk of his men while the rest cut west across the South —all because two Confederate generals in Louisiana couldn’t work together.

As for them, Taylor was eventually recognized by the Confederate Congress for what successes he had achieved receiving promotion while Smith remained in the Trans-Mississippi, angry, until the end of the war.

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The 14 best military non-fiction books of all-time

We here at WATM love putting together lists and rankings, so it makes sense for us create one for non-fiction books. We read quite often, and not surprisingly considering we’re a bunch of military veterans, those books often deal with military topics.


These are our picks for best military non-fiction books of all-time. (If you’d like to see our picks for fiction, click here.) The books below are numbered but not in rank order. All of these are great reads.

1. “The Forever War” by Dexter Filkins

If you want to gain an understanding of America’s war with radical Islamists, look no further than “The Forever War” by journalist Dexter Filkins. As a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, Filkins begins his book as the Taliban rises to power in Afghanistan, writes of the aftermath following the Sept. 11th attacks, and then continues through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Told from ground level by the only American journalist who reported on all of these events, Filkins does not write a neat history lesson. Instead, he tells individual stories of people — from ordinary citizens to soldiers — and how they are affected by the incidents that happen around them. He does it using beautiful prose, and with little bias.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

2. “The Pentagon Wars” by James Burton

Former Air Force Col. James Burton gives the inside account of what it’s like when the Pentagon wants to develop a new weapons system. Having spent 14 years in weapons acquisition and testing, Burton details his struggle during the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle with those above him who were often more interested in supporting defense contractors instead of troops in the field.

Burton spends much of the book writing of the small band of military reformers who worked hard trying to fix the problems of Pentagon procurement from the 1960s to the 1980s, and he suffered professionally for “rocking the boat” as a result. For example, after suggesting that the Bradley’s armor should be tested against Soviet antitank weaponry, the Army — knowing it would never hold up — tried to get Burton transferred to Alaska. The very serious book also inspired a very funny movie made by HBO:

3. “Black Hawk Down” by Mark Bowden

Most people have seen the movie, but this is one of those times when you should definitely read the book. This brilliant account by journalist Mark Bowden tells the story of the Oct. 3, 1993 battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, when hundreds of elite U.S. Army soldiers fought back against thousands of militants when a routine mission went wrong.

With remarkable access, research, and interviews, Bowden recreates the battle minute-by-minute and perfectly captures the brutality of the fight and the heroism of those who fought and died there.

4. “One Bullet Away” by Nathaniel Fick

This book gives an inside look at the transformation that takes place from civilian to Marine Corps officer. A classics major at Dartmouth, Fick joins the Marines in 1998 an idealistic young man and leaves a battle-hardened and skilled leader after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At times very personal and unpleasant, Fick’s book recounts plenty of combat experiences. But that is not the real draw. His wonderful detailing of the training, mindset, and actions of Marine officers on today’s battlefields makes this a must-read.

5. “Band of Brothers” by Stephen Ambrose

Historian Stephen Ambrose’s account Easy Co. in “Band of Brothers” is quite simply, an account of ordinary men doing extraordinary things. The book — which later became a 10-part miniseries on HBO — takes readers from the unit’s tough training in 1942 all the way to its liberation of Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” in 1945.

Band of Brothers illustrates what one of Ambrose’s sources calls ‘the secret attractions of war … the delight in comradeship, the delight in destruction … war as spectacle,’ writes Tim Appelo in his review.

6. “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway

One of the first significant engagements between American and Vietnamese forces in 1965 was also one of the most savage. The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley is told by Lt. Col. Moore and Galloway, a reporter who was there, and it serves as both a testament to the bravery and perseverance of the 450 men who fought back after being surrounded by 2,000 enemy troops.

While the book was later made into a movie, it’s well-worth reading if only for the stories of Rick Rescorla, the platoon leader featured on the cover of the book whose nickname was “Hard Core.”

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Rick Rescorla

7. “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu

More than 2,000 years old and still relevant today, “The Art of War” is a must-read book on military theory and strategy. But its maxims can be applied by those far outside the combat arms. Tzu offers advice relevant to everyone from Army generals to CEOs.

“Absorb this book, and you can throw out all those contemporary books about management leadership,” wrote Newsweek.

8. “Flyboys” by James Bradley

There have been many contemporary accounts written of World War II, but “Flyboys” manages to bring to light something that had remained hidden for nearly 60 years. James Bradley tells the story of nine Americans who were shot down in the Pacific off the island of Chichi Jima.

One of them, George H.W. Bush, was rescued. But what happened to the eight others was covered up and kept secret from their families by both the U.S. and Japanese governments. Bradley, who wrote “Flags of our Fathers,” conducted extensive research and uncovered a story that has never been told before.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
George H.W. Bush

9. “1776” by David McCullough

Written in a compelling narrative style, David McCullough’s “1776” retells the year of America’s birth in wonderful detail. McCullough is an incredible storyteller who puts you right there, feeling as if you are marching in the Continental Army.

From the Amazon description:

In this masterful book, David McCullough tells the intensely human story of those who marched with General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence—when the whole American cause was riding on their success, without which all hope for independence would have been dashed and the noble ideals of the Declaration would have amounted to little more than words on paper.

10. “Generation Kill” by Evan Wright

As a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, Evan Wright rode with the Marines of 1st Recon Battalion into Iraq in 2003. Embedded among the men, Wright captures the story of that first month of American invasion along with the grunt mindset, how the Marines interact, and captures the new generation of warriors that has emerged after 9/11.

Soldiers today are “on more intimate terms with the culture of the video games, reality TV shows and Internet porn than they are with their own families,” Wright told Booklist (One 19-year-old corporal compares driving into an ambush to a Grand Theft Auto video game: “It was fucking cool.”)

11. “The Outpost” by Jake Tapper

A monster of a book at 704 pages, journalist Jake Tapper tells a powerful story of an Afghan outpost that was doomed to fail even before soldiers built it. Beginning with the decision to build a combat outpost in Nuristan in 2006, Tapper reveals a series of bad decisions that would ultimately lead to a battle for survival at that outpost three years later — one that would see multiple soldiers earn the Medal of Honor for their heroism.

Known as Combat Outpost Keating, the story of the base is one that is worth reading. With its bestseller status, rave reviews by critics, and most importantly, the soldiers who fought there, it’s safe to say “The Outpost” gets it right.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

12. “On Killing” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

Found on many military reading lists, Grossman’s “On Killing” is a landmark study of how soldiers face the reality of killing other humans in combat, and how military training overcomes their aversion to such an act.

A former West Point psychology professor, Grossman delves into the psychological costs of war and presents a compelling thesis that human beings have an instinctual aversion to killing. With this, he also shows how militaries overcome this central trait through conditioning and real-world training.

13. “The Guns of August” by Barbara Tuchman

This Pulitzer-Prize winning book is a masterpiece of military history. Delivering an account of the first month of World War I in 1914, Tuchman tells not just a war story, but an event that would upend the modern world.

“This was the last gasp of the Gilded Age, of Kings and Kaisers and Czars, of pointed or plumed hats, colored uniforms, and all the pomp and romance that went along with war,” reads the publisher’s description. “How quickly it all changed, and how horrible it became. Tuchman is masterful at portraying this abrupt change from 19th to 20th Century.”

14. “The Good Soldiers” by David Finkel

Embedded among the soldiers of 2-16 Infantry as part of President Bush’s last-chance “surge” in Iraq, journalist David Finkel captures the grim reality as troops face the chaotic, and often deadly, streets of Baghdad. The book often follows the overly-optimistic Col. Ralph Kauzlarich (motto: “It’s all good”).

But Finkel excels at capturing everyone up and down the chain-of-command, and tells their stories incredibly well. His book is less about big-picture surge strategy, and more about the soldiers on the ground who fought it. That is a very good thing.

Those are our picks. Did we miss one that you loved? Leave a recommendation in the comments.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why it’s illegal to use weather modification in warfare

Despite how ridiculous some rules and laws may seem, they only have to exist because someone actually did something so ridiculous. That’s why it’s still legal to rain death from above, just as long as that death isn’t actual rain. In this case, the United States is the perpetrator, seeding the clouds in Vietnam to keep the North Vietnamese from infiltrating the South.


These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

“This weather is crazy, as if it’s happening to us on purpose!”

The idea is actually a pretty great one. Instead of bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail into submission, they would simply render it unusable. With Operation Popeye, the United States Air Force seeded the clouds over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in an effort to make the Vietnamese monsoon season last longer, keep the trail muddy and treacherous, and prevent the North from moving men and material into South Vietnam.

From Thailand, the United States used C-130 and F-4C aircraft armed with lead iodide and silver iodide to spread into clouds above the trail. The chemicals condensed the water in those clouds, forming precipitation in the form of rain. They wanted to stop up the dirt roads used by enemy trucks and men, cause landslides, wash out river crossings, and keep the roads impassable.

The 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron contributed to the 2,602 cloud seeding missions flown during Popeye.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

That’s a lot of rain.

“I never even imagined that’s what that group was doing,” recalls Brian Heckman, a former Air Force pilot, “until we got over there and showed up for the briefing and then they told us what the project was all about. We just went around looking for clouds to seed.”

And so Popeye continued with gusto, even though Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird had no knowledge of the program and even testified to the “fact” that there were no such programs in Vietnam before Congress. The public didn’t find out about the program until the release of The Pentagon Papers, published by the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971. That’s how the Environmental Modification Convention came to pass in 1977.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

Chemtrails were still totally legal.

Its full name was actually the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, restricting “widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury.” It basically says that any manipulation of weather (aka “environmental modification”) as a means of destruction in wartime is strictly prohibited.

The United States was an early signatory to this agreement.

Articles

Montel Williams is asking the presidential candidates about this Marine veteran imprisoned by Iran

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes


American television personality Montel Williams wants the Democratic presidential candidates to talk about a Marine veteran imprisoned in Iran, and he’s using his star power to make it happen.

In addition to questions asked by the moderators at Tuesday’s debate, CNN is soliciting questions from anyone via Facebook and Instagram, some of which will end up being asked by Don Lemon. In a video posted to his Facebook page, Williams — who served in the Marine Corps and Navy — asks about Amir Hekmati, a Marine veteran held in Iran for more than four years, the longest of any American held there.

“What will the candidates do to bring him home so that his father’s dying wish to see his son just one more time comes true?” Williams asks.

Born in Arizona to Iranian immigrants in 1983, Amir Hekmati served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps — mostly as a translator — and he was discharged in 2005 as a sergeant. In 2011, he decided to visit his extended family in Tehran, but soon after he arrived, he was arrested and sentenced to death by an Iranian court on charges of spying for the CIA, according to Al Jazeera America.

Iran later released a videotaped confession of Hekmati, where he admitted to being recruited into companies affiliated with the CIA with the goal of infiltrating Iranian intelligence.

“Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told CNN in 2012. “The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”

Hekmati’s death sentence was later repealed in March 2012 and a new trial was ordered, though that has yet to take place. He continues to be held in prison in Tehran with little contact with the outside world, though he was able smuggle a letter out of jail, according to The Guardian. In it, in which he addressed Secretary of State John Kerry, he wrote:

For over 2 years I have been held on false charges based solely on confessions obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement. This is part of a propaganda and hostage taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges. Iranian intelligence has suggested through my court-appointed lawyer Mr. Hussein Yazdi Samadi that I be released in exchange for 2 Iranians being held abroad. I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition.

The debate airs live on CNN at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

Articles

This coding boot camp is a great way to get started with a tech career

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
(Photo provided by Paul Dillon)


Coding boot camps are programs that teach programming skills. Typically, these boot camps are short (12 weeks to 7 months), often intense (sometimes requiring 90 hours/week), and usually designed to teach beginners enough so that they can become professional junior software developers.

And, the demand for their graduates is robust and growing. According to Dave Molina, a former U.S. Army captain, and the founder and executive director of Operation Code, a non-profit online, open source coding program for active duty military, veterans, and their families, “There are over 200,000 computing jobs open annually in the U.S., with 30,000 of those jobs filled by computer science graduates; however, that number is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2020. Meanwhile, we have 250,000 U.S. military personnel that exit the service annually, many of whom possess the discipline and aptitude to fill those jobs, if they had some training in computer coding skills.”

These are generally good paying jobs. Rod Levy, the founder and executive director of Code Platoon, a non-profit coding camp in Chicago for veterans, states that “starting salaries for graduates coming right out of the boot camp are about $65,000, rising to about $100,000 after five years of experience. Placement rates for graduates are high.”

So, why are coding boot camps a good option for veterans?

Levy lists several reasons: “As we know, veterans often struggle ‘translating’ their military experience to a civilian audience. Coding boot camps solve this problem by giving veterans job-ready skills that are well understood in the job marketplace”, he said.

“Even more important”, Levy added, “successful software developers typically need to work well in teams, demonstrate grit and resilience, and have to be able to systematically problem-solve. These characteristics are often found in veterans.”

Molina supports this view. He said, “Military veterans have the right set of skills to become programmers. Technical expertise, emotional resilience, psychological persistence, and teamwork—these are the qualities found in our best and brightest and they are the qualities of the best programmers.”

There are coding boot camps to serve about every veteran’s needs. These various coding boot camps are distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • Level of intensity. “Immersive” is around 60 – 80 hours a week; “full-time” can be 30 to 70 hours a week; “part-time” is typically 10 to 30 hours week.
  • In-person or remote. In-person means you spend the majority of the training on-site, with instructors and fellow students on premises. Remote means you do the training on your computer at home regardless of location.
  • Technology stack. Most coding boot camps teach web development or mobile development. Web development means you learn to write applications for the web—some focus on the Ruby on Rails, Python, Node.js or .NET. Mobile development means developing native apps, for example on iPhones or Androids. The most popular technology stacks being taught are Ruby on Rails, Python/Django, Full Stack Javascript, C#/.Net, and Java.
  • Internships/Job Placement. This one is obvious. Coding boot camps that offer internships and/or have high job placement rates for entry-level software developers should be given serious consideration.
  • Population focus. A few coding boot camps serve specific populations and look to tailor their programs to those populations, as well as creating a “safe” space where members of those populations may feel more comfortable. There are coding boot camps just for women, minorities and veterans, to name a few. Obviously, veterans should choose a boot camp that caters to their specific needs, when possible, and leverage their New GI Bill wherever possible.

Given all of these various aspects of coding boot camps, what should a veteran look for in choosing a coding boot camp? At a minimum, veterans should consider the following items when selecting a boot camp:

  • Different boot camps are meant to serve different interests. Remote online boot camps, like Thinkful.com, are much more convenient than in-person boot camps, such as Code Platoon, where you have to move to Chicago for a few months. The trade-off for that convenience is that it may be very hard to stay motivated, understand the material thoroughly and ask your peers and instructors questions. In-person boot camps, on the other hand, offer the immediate feedback and support that can be missing in remote programs, although they may not be located near when the veteran lives or works. Consequently, they may be much more expensive to attend.

A representative list of code schools and scholarship information can be found on the Operation Code website at the following link: https://www.operationcode.org/code_schools

  • If your goal is to learn skills for a new career in programming, look for a program that will put you through at least roughly 1,000 hours of coding/instruction, at an absolute minimum. Whether this is in an immersive 12-week program at 80 hours a week, or a year-long program at 20 hours a week is up to you; but 1,000 hours of focused, directed learning in programming is the bare minimum needed to become a competent programmer.
  • The choice of technology stack is often a source of much discussion, with trade-offs discussed around the number of jobs versus the learning curve needed for various languages. In the end, there are many jobs in each of the languages/stacks that are being taught. Always look for a coding boot camp where the programming stack is in substantial demand, with many jobs available immediately upon graduation.

Cost is an important consideration that the veteran needs to keep in mind in selecting the right code camp to meet their needs. Most coding schools offer scholarships to veterans to help to defray the costs. At Code Platoon, for instance, the tuition is $13,000 for the full program. However, all veterans accepted into the program receive a scholarship of $10,500, bringing the total cost of the program to the veteran to $2,500. Travel expenses to and from Chicago, and living expenses while attending the program in Chicago, are extra.

There is no charge for Operation Code programs and services for active duty military, National Guard and reserve troops, veterans, and their spouses. Information on conference scholarships can be found on the Operation Code website: https://operationcode.org/scholarships.

What about using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend one of these coding camps? Currently, 5 code schools across the country accept the New GI Bill: Sabio (Los Angeles), Code Fellows (Seattle), Galvanize, RefactorU and SkillDistillery (Colorado).

Most coding schools, however, are not eligible to receive GI Bill funds. Code Platoon hopes to be eligible for GI Bill funding within a year. Each state has its own authorizing agency that approves programs for participation in the New GI Bill, with two years of school operating experience generally required. More information on this subject can be found on the Operation Code website at https://operationcode.org/code_schools.

Internships, mentoring partners, and job placement are all important considerations for the veteran in selecting a coding camp. Code Platoon, for instance, pairs its students with two industry partners, who work with the student during the entire program.

Operation Code offers its military veteran members ongoing software mentorship through its Software Mentor Protege Program, where its members get help with their code, pairing online in a peer-to-peer learning environment with professional software developers for lifelong learning and understanding in an inclusive and nurturing environment.

And, most coding schools help their graduates with job placement assistance, upon completion of their programs.

It is obvious that veterans need to consider a lot of things before applying to a coding camp.

The different types of programs, whether on-site or online, need to be determined. The reputation of the coding camp, the success of its graduates, costs, potential use of the GI Bill, scholarships, internships, mentoring and job placement assistance all need to be carefully researched.

But, one thing is perfectly clear about obtaining the skills necessary to be a successful computer programmer. It offers the opportunity to have a lasting career in a growing, well-compensated field that’s going to change the world.

And, what could be better than that for veterans and their families?

Watch this introduction to Code Platoon:

And now watch this introduction to Operation Code:
These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Paul Dillon is the head of Dillon Consulting Services, LLC, a firm that specializes in serving the veteran community with offices in Durham and Chicago. For more visit his website here.
Articles

This is one of the creepiest military hardware graveyards in the world

Emptiness and gloom is pretty much the main theme at Pripyat, Ukraine, one of the largest ghost towns in the world.


Built as a small residential city for employees assigned to the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, it was suddenly abandoned en masse after Chernobyl’s Number 4 reactor experienced the worst nuclear meltdown in history in 1986, spreading deadly radiation across Ukraine and large chunks of Eastern Europe.

As a direct result of this accident, decrepit farmers fields and forest clearings are now home to some of the eeriest military hardware graveyards in the world, full of untouchable Soviet-era equipment.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Irradiated Soviet military equipment lies dormant near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, the power plant spewed uncontrollable amounts of toxic chemicals into the air, fatally irradiating hundreds, if not thousands, of the Pripyat’s citizens. Over the course of a few days, the entire town was told to pack lightly and leave right away by military personnel deployed to the area to help with the response to the effects of the meltdown.

Within a week, Pripyat, a once-thriving planned city was deserted — save for scores of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers and heavy trucks brought in by the military to assist with the nuclear cleanup.

Thousands of tons worth of top-of-the-line military equipment were flown or driven into Pripyat, with hundreds of Ukrainian and Soviet troops to man the vehicles and gear. State-of-the-art remote-controlled fire suppression units, radiation monitors, cherry-pickers and more, were also brought in to tackle the horrifying situation that lay before Chernobyl and its neighboring towns.

The debacle proved to be a global embarrassment for the Soviet Union, still in control over Ukraine, and something needed to be done to make it go away quickly before further details of the accident made their way into Western newspapers.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Thousands of tons worth of top-of-the-line military equipment were flown or driven into Pripyat, with hundreds of Ukrainian and Soviet troops to man the vehicles and gear. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Cleanup and response crews were placed on rotating schedules to limit their exposure to radiation, though this proved in the long run to be poorly executed, leading to the deaths of many.

When removing helicopters and trucks from Pripyat and neighboring locales similarly affected by the meltdown, Geiger scans noted that every single truck brought into the disaster zone was severely radioactive. In effect, soldiers were operating inside cocoons of radioactivity, bombarding them with harmful cancer-causing radiation particles.

There was no other solution than to simply abandon these costly vehicles around Chernobyl rather than attempt to decontaminate and scrub them clean. Scores of tanks and trucks were left to rot in “mohyl’nyk” (Ukrainian burial grounds) after it was no longer feasible to safely operate them (the term “safely” being used very relatively and loosely here).

More equipment and military vehicles were brought in to assist with the post-meltdown cleanup, and more were similarly condemned and abandoned.

Helicopters, especially gargantuan Mil Mi-6 Hook transports, were listed among the worst cases of exposure, given that they were tasked with flying directly above the plant after the accident in order to release chemical solvents to eliminate fires burning beneath the plant’s blown-off roof. These helicopters were also abandoned at burial grounds, arranged among rows of dark green equipment.

Today, some of these armored trucks, tanks, helicopters, and even trains, still sit in the fields around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, which has since been enveloped in a sarcophagus to prevent further radiation leakage. The largest of these fields is known as the Rassokha Equipment Cemetery.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
There was no other solution than to simply abandon these costly vehicles around Chernobyl rather than attempt to decontaminate and scrub them clean. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The general area, known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, is mostly off-limits to the public, though occasional tour groups are permitted to briefly enter the Zone for a quick peek before being ushered out. Visiting the abandoned vehicle graveyards is prohibited, however.

The Ukrainian government has invested considerable amounts of time and money into securing the Chernobyl plant, still in a low state of operation, and with disposing of the vehicle mohyl’nyk, full of unsalvageable gear. Over the past decade, teams of specialists have entered these fields to dismantle large sections of the graveyards and bury them on the spot, ensuring that the radiation they emit is fully contained.

Even still, the burial of every single piece of hardware will take years, thanks to the sheer numbers used in the wake of the accident. The few remaining war machines left untouched serve as silent reminders of the worst nuclear disaster in history, never to be used again.

Articles

VA begins awarding compensation for C-123 agent orange claims

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Wikimedia


In 1997, 10 years after retiring from a 34-year career in the Army Reserve and Air Force Reserve, Edward Kosakoski was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Though his last assignment in the Reserve was as commander of the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, it was during the mid-1970s and early 1980s that Lt. Col. K was exposed to Agent Orange while flying training missions on several C-123 aircraft previously used for spraying the chemical defoliant in Vietnam.

Last week, VA service connected Col. K’s prostate cancer, awarding him compensation for his C-123 Agent Orange claim.

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes
Photo: Wikimedia

I’ve never met Col. K, but his story is captured in the claim file that his wife, Ingrid Kosakoski, filed on his behalf. That file shows a man who was drafted into the Army in 1953 and, after serving two years in France, had joined the Army Reserve, and who had received a commission in the Air Force Reserve after graduating from the University of Connecticut Pharmacy School in 1959. That file also shows that VA received Col. K’s claim prior to the recent regulation change.

After spending decades searching for proof of a connection between C-123s and the conditions known to be caused by Agent Orange, the Institute of Medicine issued a review that provided the supporting evidence VA needed to provide care and compensation to the Air Force and Air Force Reserve personnel who were exposed to Agent Orange through regular and repeated contact with contaminated C-123s and who also developed an Agent Orange-related disability.

When the regulation change took effect earlier this summer, it took VA just 16 days to grant Col. K’s claim. Granting this claim represents a welcomed success for hundreds of flight, ground maintenance, and medical crew members who were assigned to certain Air Force and Air Force Reserve units from 1969 to 1986.

“I have only praise for the VA personnel who handled Ed’s claim in Baltimore and St. Paul,” Ingrid said. “They were professional and compassionate, and I would urge others exposed to Agent Orange with known disabilities to file claims as soon as possible.”

In a recent phone conversation, longtime C-123 advocate and close friend of Col. K, Wes Carter, also stressed the importance of not waiting.

“The Secretary and his staff have worked hard, along with C-123 veterans in getting to this point,” said Carter, who also chairs the C-123 Veterans Association. “VA is ready and eager, already reaching out and helping our aircrews and maintenance personnel who are ill.

“This is the time for C-123 Veterans to get their claims to VA if affected by any of the Agent Orange-associated illnesses. Call the C-123 hotline at 1-800-749-8387 for any questions. I also recommend that vets ask their local VA medical center’s environmental health coordinator for an Agent Orange Registry exam.”

If you or someone you know was exposed to Agent Orange (whether in in Vietnam or its inland waterways, an area the Department of Defense has confirmed use of AO, or as in Col. K’s case aboard a C-123) AND you have a condition presumed to be related to AO, please file a claim for compensation.

If you need help filing a claim or want to talk to someone, you have many options:

  • Speak with an accredited Veterans Service Officer who can help you gather records and file a claim online
  • Call VA at 1-800-827-1000 for advice
  • If you want the fastest decision possible, consider filing a Fully Developed Claim through ebenefits.va.gov. An FDC allows you to submit all your evidence up front, identify any federal records for VA to obtain, and certifies that you have no other evidence to submit.

If you (or your loved one) meet certain conditions, such as financial hardship, advanced age, or terminal illness, VA can expedite your claim – just make sure we are aware of your situation. You or your VSO can notify us in writing, or by calling 1-800-827-1000. If your situation is dire, don’t wait!

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This article originally appeared at VAntage Point Copyright 2015. Follow VAntage Point on Twitter.