7 things you didn't know about Guadalcanal - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

During the seven months of the Guadalcanal campaign, 60,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers killed about 20,000 of the 31,000 Japanese troops on the island.

The main objective of the fighting was a tiny airstrip that the Japanese were building at the western end of Guadalcanal, a speck of land in the Solomon Islands. The airstrip, later named Henderson Field, would become an important launching point for Allied air attacks during the Pacific island hopping campaign.

Scholars and history enthusiasts can tell you why troops fought there, but only someone who was actually there can truly describe what it was like to storm the island. Hear, first-hand, a Marine’s experience at Guadalcanal:


Now check out these 7 interesting facts you didn’t know about the battle.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

Every branch of the U.S. military fought in the battle

The Air Force didn’t yet exist, but the Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines all fought in the battle.

The Army provided infantry to assist the Marines in the landings and sent planes and pilots to operate out of Henderson Field. The Navy provided most logistics, shore bombardments, and aviation support. The Marines did much of the heavy lifting on the island itself, capturing and holding the ground while their aviators provided additional support.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

The only Coast Guard Medal of Honor ever bestowed was for service at Guadalcanal

Signalman First Class Douglas Munro was one of the Coast Guardsmen operating landing craft for the Marines. After the initial invasion, the U.S. controlled the westernmost part of the island and the Japanese controlled the rest. A river ran between the two camps and neither force could get a foothold on the other side.

Then-Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller ordered a force to move through the ocean and land east of the river. The Marines encountered little resistance at first but were then ambushed by the Japanese. Munro led a group of unarmored landing craft to pick up the Marines while under heavy fire from Japanese machine guns. Just as they were escaping the kill zone, Munro was shot through the head.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger poses with then-Capt. Joseph J. Foss who achieved 26 kills at Guadalcanal.

Guadalcanal was a “who’s who” of Marine legends in World War II

In addition to Chesty Puller, many Marine legends were at the island. Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone earned his Medal of Honor there. Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland Diamond drove off a Japanese cruiser with a mortar. Brig. Gen. Joe Foss earned a Medal of Honor and became a fighter Ace after downing 26 enemy aircraft around the island.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

US Navy ships fight back against Japanese planes during the battle of Guadalcanal.

Guadalcanal was viciously fought at sea, in the air, and on land

Most battles are at least primarily fought in one domain. A ground battle is backed up by air power, or an air engagement has some defense from ships — but Guadalcanal was total war.

Ships clashed in the straits around the island and provided shore bombardments. Planes engaged in dogfights and strafed enemy troops and ships. U.S. Marines fought for every inch, but also used mortars and artillery to engage the Japanese Navy. There were three major land battles in the campaign, seven naval battles, and constant aerial dogfighting.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

The first landings were helped by the weather

Japanese reconnaissance flew near the U.S. fleet as it approached the islands, but the Americans got a lucky break as storms limited visibility and the U.S. Navy wasn’t spotted until it was bombarding the beaches. Planes and naval artillery provided support as the Marines assaulted the surprised defenders.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

Two of the carriers lost in the Pacific were lost during the Guadalcanal campaign

The Imperial Japanese Navy sunk ten aircraft carriers and escort carriers over the course of the war. One, the USS Wasp, was sunk near Guadalcanal on Sep. 15, 1942 by a Japanese sub. The sinking of the Wasp was captured on film.

The USS Hornet was sunk near the Santa Cruz islands, to the southeast of Guadalcanal. Hornet was lost during a major battle with a Japanese carrier fleet that was pulling back from Guadalcanal. The Japanese aircraft got the jump on the Americans as the engagement started, and the Hornet was irreparably damaged by two torpedoes, two crashed Japanese planes, and three bombs.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

The USS Iowa and the USS Missouri transfer sailors ahead of the Japanese surrender ceremony.

The battle was a major turning point

While Midway and Iwo Jima get most of the glory as turning points where America got an upper hand on the Japanese, it was at Guadalcanal that Marine, Navy, and Army aviators took out elite Japanese air crews, allowing America to achieve air superiority more easily in future battles.

The island itself became a launching point for the American military to move north, crawling their way up to the Japanese homeland.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a WWII bomber pilot climbed onto the wing mid-flight to save his crew

Jimmy Ward was a 22-year-old pilot when he received the Victoria Cross. World War II had been ongoing for a year and the British Empire stood alone against Axis-occupied Europe. Things looked grim as a whole, but small time pilots with stories like Sgt. Ward’s added up to a lot in the end.


7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Sergeant James Allan Ward of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF.

The New Zealander was flying with his crew back from a raid on Münster, in northeast Germany. The resistance was light; there were few search lights and minimal flak. He was the second pilot, positioned in the astrodome of his Wellington bomber when an enemy interceptor came screaming at them, guns blazing.

An attacking Messerschmitt 110 was shot down by the rear gunner before it could take down the plane, but the damage was done. Red-hot shrapnel tore through the airframe, the starboard engine, and the hydraulic system. A fire suddenly broke out on the starboard wing, fed by a fuel line.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
A Vickers-Wellington Bomber. The astrodome is a transparent dome on the roof of an aircraft to allow for the crew to navigate using the stars.

After putting on their chutes in case they had to bail, the crew started desperately fighting the fire. They tore a hole in the fuselage near the fire so they could get at the fire. They threw everything they had at it, including the coffee from their flasks.

By this time, the plane reached the coastline of continental Europe. They had to decide if they were going to try to cross over to England or go down with the plane in Nazi-occupied Holland. They went for home, preferring a dip in the channel to a Nazi prison camp.

That’s when Sgt. James Ward realized he might be able to reach the fire and put it out by hand. His crewmates tied him to the airplane as he crawled out through the astrodome and tore holes in the plane’s fuselage to use as hand holds as he made his way to the fire on the wing.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Trace Sgt. Ward’s path from this photo of his Wellington bomber.

He moved four feet onto the wing, avoiding being lifted away by the air current or rotor slipstream and being burned by the flaming gas jet he was trying to put out. He only had one hand free to work with because the other was holding on for dear life.

Ward smothered the fire on the fuel pipe using the canvas cockpit cover. As soon as he finished, the slipstream tore it from his hands. He just couldn’t hold on any longer.

With the fire out, there was nothing left to do but try to get back inside. Using the rope that kept him attached to the aircraft he turned around and moved to get back to the astrodome. Exhausted, his mates had to pull him the rest of the way in. The fire flared up a little when they reached England, but died right out.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill personally awarded Sgt. Ward the Victoria Cross a month later.

“I can’t explain it, but there was no sort of real sensation of danger out there at all,” Ward later said. “It was just a matter of doing one thing after another and that’s about all there was to it.”

Read Ward’s story in his own words.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ultimate Pearl Harbor tour for history buffs

2020 marks the 79th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. While it’s been nearly eight decades since the attacks, December 7, 1941, as noted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is “a date that will live in infamy,” and is never far from these historical landmarks. 

Be sure to bookmark these stops on your next trip to Oahu, Hawaii:

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor National Memorial is an obvious first stop for history enthusiasts. Open daily from 7AM – 5PM (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day), the grounds house a visitor’s center, museum and bookstore. It is also the access point for the USS Arizona Memorial and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. 

The USS Arizona Memorial, arguably Pearl Harbor’s most recognizable landmark, features a full program for guests that includes a 23-minute documentary film and a Navy-operated shuttle boat ride out to the memorial. 

To note: Due to COVID restrictions, part of the USS Arizona Memorial program has been modified to exclude use of the theater. 

The USS Bowfin was launched on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and is a fleet attack submarine that fought in the Pacific during WWII. She was nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger”.

Before leaving Pearl Harbor National Memorial, buy tickets for the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and Battleship Missouri Memorial on Ford Island. 

To note: The cost of the tickets includes a bus ride to Ford Island, however there is also a parking lot for guests who choose to drive over. 

Ford Island

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
(Kait Hanson)

Driving across the bridge to Ford Island is a bit like stepping back into the 1940s, where historical homes, landmarks, and even bullet strafing, can still be seen. 

Here you’ll find:

The USS Missouri, also known as “Mighty Mo”, was the last battleship commissioned by the United States and was the site of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, officially ending WWII. The ship offers two daily tours, but is open daily for self-led tours. 

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
(Kait Hanson)

To note: The Battleship Missouri Memorial is currently closed due to COVID restrictions, but you can take a virtual tour here.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum allows guests to explore historical aircraft housed in two hangars on Ford Island. General admission covers access to more than fifty aircraft and all exhibits with free guided audio (available in multiple languages).

Ford Island’s 4-mile loop trail offers insight into lesser-known historical moments, which include plaques for clarification. Along this trail, accessible with base access onto Ford Island, guests can see bullet strafing, the CPO neighborhood that sat adjacent to the attack zone, the original Bachelor Officers Quarters and buildings, and the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials. 

Hickam Field

Located adjacent to Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field served as the principal airfield and bomber base in 1941. From the National Park Service on the morning of December 7th:

“At Hickam Field, Japanese Zero fighters and Val dive-bombers strafed and bombed the fight line and hangars, concentrating on the B-17 bombers. The 12 U.S. B-17s arrived unarmed and low on fuel during the attack. Most succeeded in landing at Hickam where they were attacked on the ground. The second wave of the Japanese attack struck Hickam at 8:40am and by 9:45 the attack was over. Nearly half of the airplanes at Hickam Field had been destroyed or severely damaged. The hangars, the Hawaiian Air Depot, several base facilities–the fire station, the chapel and the guardhouse–had been hit. The big barracks had been repeatedly strafed and bombed and a portion of the building was on fire. Thirty-five men were killed when a bomb hit the mess hall during breakfast. Hickam’s casualties totaled 121 men killed, 274 wounded and 37 missing.”

Residents who lived on Hickam Field at the time of the attacks recall blackouts on the base and hearing bullets bounce off the roof. Today, Hickam is home to the headquarters of the Pacific Air Force and features many of the buildings that were standing in 1941.

Wheeler Army Airfield

Exiting Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, hop on H2 North toward Wahiawa, where Wheeler Army Airfield is located. Wheeler Field was a primary target for the Japanese in 1941, as they hoped to prevent planes from getting airborne. While many of hte planes that were parked at Wheeler were destroyed in the attacks, twelve pilots managed to get P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk aircrafts off the ground and engaged Japanese pilots. After WWII, Wheeler Army Airfield became a National Historic Landmark for the role it played during the war. 

Today, the airfield is accessible with valid military identification and features restored buildings and planes as they would have looked the day of the attacks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Canadian officer rescued the real Winnie the Pooh

We’ve written before about how the stories of Winnie the Pooh were, at least in part, the result of a World War I veteran trying to explain war, and his own PTSD, to his son. But Pooh bear was inspired by an actual bear at the London Zoo, Winnipeg, rescued by a Canadian cavalry veterinarian on his way to France for combat.


The Winnipeg connection to Winnie the Pooh

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Harry Colebourn was born an Englishman but moved to Canada to study veterinary surgery. When World War I broke out and British subjects were called up to defend the empire, he joined the unit of Fort Garry Horse to treat the horses. On Aug. 24, 1914, he was traveling with his unit by train when they stopped at a small lumber town.

Colebourn got off to stretch his legs like everyone else, but he spotted a trapper standing near the train, trying to sell a small bear cub. Colebourn got into veterinarian sciences because of his love of animals, and the baby bear captured his heart almost immediately.

The trapper explained that he had killed the mother, but then couldn’t do the same to the cub. He was asking for the cub, about the same as 0 today. It was a princely sum for a bear cub, but Colebourn paid it out. He named the cub “Winnipeg Bear” after his adopted hometown.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

1914 photo of Colebourne and Winnipeg the Bear.

(Library and Archives Canada)

The bear cub followed Colebourn around during training, climbing trees and begging for treats as the cavalrymen and the veterinarian trained to take on the Kaiser’s armies. Winnie quickly rose to be the regimental mascot. By October, the men were on their way to England with Winnie in tow for final training and then deployment.

In England, Winnie was once again popular, but it was quickly clear that the front in France would be no place for the animal. Colebourn, hoping that the war would be over within months, arranged for Winnie to spend a little time in a brand new bear habitat at the London Zoo. He promised her that they would return to Canada together once the war ended.

But, of course, the war did not end quickly. Colebourn went to the front in December 1914, and the war would go on for almost four more years. He visited Winnie whenever the unit was granted leave or pass in England, but the war dragged on too long for their relationship. By the time it was over, Winnie was well-established in London and pulling her out would have been a disservice.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

Harry Colebourne and Winnipeg the Bear when Winnie was still young.

(Manitoba Provincial Archives)

So she remained there, a celebrity of the post-war city. Children, especially, loved their war-time gift from the Canadian officer. It was there that a young Christopher Robin Milne, the proud owner of a Teddy Bear named Edward first met Winnie. He was smitten with the black bear and renamed his teddy to “Winnie the Pooh,” combining her name with the name of a swan he used to feed.

The boy’s father, A.A. Milne, began using Christopher’s stuffed animals to tell him stories, including stories about his own responses to the war. A.A. Milne had fought on the Western Front, same as Colebourn, and it was a horrible place to be.

The stories that the prolific author told his son were first included in a collection in 1924, followed by a book of stories focused on “Winnie-the-Pooh” in 1926. Today, the stories of the adorable bear and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood endures, largely thanks to a Canadian veterinarian who saved the cub and an English veteran who told the stories.

By the way, Winnie really did love honey, and Christopher Robin was able to feed it to her on at least one occasion. Unfortunately, her sweet tooth and the tendency of the English to let her indulge led to her developing periodontitis, a painful gum disease.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Canadian tank was the most reliable tank in World War II

Reliability is a big selling point in marketing a vehicle. People need to depend on their car to get them from Point A to Point B, every day. When Point A is Occupied France in 1944 and Point B is Hitler’s Berlin, though, reliability becomes the most important selling point. 

One Canadian tank was able to do just that. It never missed a single day of service, despite taking two hits, firing more than 6,000 rounds and driving through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. When you absolutely, positively, need to get there in one piece, “Bomb” is old reliable. 

“Bomb” was the name of an Canadian-built Sherman tank in service to Canada’s 27th Armoured Regiment, also known as the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. It landed on Normandy Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the Fusiliers drove it all the way to Victory in Europe. 

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
The tank named “Bomb” of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers regiment on June 8, 1945 in Zutphen, Netherlands. Markings on the side “D plus 365” note how it survived fighting from D-Day to the end of the war, the only Canadian tank to survive unscathed from D-Day to VE Day.

Landing at the Canadian objective of Normandy, Juno Beach, Bomb’s combat service started right away. The beach was defended by two battalions of enemy infantry and one Panzer battalion held in reserve at nearby Caen. The Sherbrooke Fusiliers were slated to land on the beach four to six hours after the initial landings. 

By noon on D-Day, the Canadians had a headquarters set up and two hours later, Bomb and the fusiliers were on the beach. Once the waterproofing was taken off the tanks, they were ready to advance. But resistance on Juno was harsh in the coming days, when the fusiliers advanced on June 7, they were met by fierce resistance from dug-in defenders. 

Bomb and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers destroyed 41 enemy tanks in the first two days of fighting, and by June 13th, the Allies had captured enough ground to form a continuous front in France. In July, despite losing two of their crew to mortar fragmentation, Bomb became the troop command tank.

From there, Bomb led the tanks to liberate the city of Falaise in Northern France and drove on to Belgium and occupied Holland, driving some 2,500 miles on the road to winning World War II in Europe. 

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
The Canadians advancing in Falaise

By 1945, the combined British and Canadian armies launched Operation Blockbuster, which would put them in the Hochwald Forest in the Lower Rhine region of Germany. After days of concentrated bombing of enemy targets, the Sherbrooke Fusiliers led a three-column attack on the Germans defending the forested ridge in the early morning hours of February 26th. By noon that day, the Allies were in the Rhine region. 

After taking the forest, the Canadians were stopped by the Rhine River, but that was only temporary. The Sherbrooke Fusiliers sealed up all the gaps in their tanks, including Bomb, and attached air hoses to them. Once watertight, the now-amphibious Sherman tanks silently floated their way across the river

The German defenders were no doubt surprised to see a column of Canadian armor bearing down on them as they continued their retreat away from the river. 

Bomb’s next stop was clearing Germans from the areas around Zuider Zee, but not long after its arrival, Bomb and its crew received some welcome news: the war in Europe was over. From D-Day to V-E Day, Bomb has driven across the battlefields of Europe uninterrupted, one of only a few tanks to make that kind of journey.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Bomb with its crew 8 June 1945 in Zutphen, Netherlands

As the men and material were sent home, Bomb ended up in a Belgian scrapyard, waiting to be melted down along with tons of other tanks. It was rescued from that fate, and sent to Canada as a monument to the fighting spirit of Canada’s finest. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Paul Kennedy: All Hell Broke Loose

Signalman First Class Paul Kennedy joined the Navy Reserve in 1938 and was called to active duty in November 1940. He was assigned to the USS Sacramento based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On Dec. 7, 1945, Kennedy was asleep when the first wave of Japanese planes set the alarms off. He thought it was a drill, but then his friend roused him: “‘Get up and go! We’re under attack—grab your gas mask and helmet,” Kennedy said in a 2016 interview with History.com.

When he got on deck, Kennedy saw a low-flying torpedo plane. “[The pilot] was going low and slow, because he was getting ready to drop that torpedo as soon as he cleared our ship,” Kennedy said. He later learned the pilot was Mitsuo Fuchida, a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service credited with leading the first wave of attacks at Pearl Harbor. When Fuchida’s torpedo detonated on the USS Oklahoma, Kennedy went to his station to hoist signal flags, but was prevented by the attempted bombing of the Sacramento. “[The pilot] starts strafing,” he said. “There were bullets landing all around me. I heard them… hitting and hitting, making chips on the deck. But he missed.”


Because the Sacramento was undamaged, Kennedy assisted with running cases of 50-caliber ammunition from the ship to a nearby destroyer, the USS Mugford. “All hell broke loose that morning,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d make it. Period. I didn’t think I’d live through that.” But the night after the attacks on the harbor, the mood changed when Kennedy saw an American flag from the sunken USS West Virginia sticking out of the water. “It gave us inspiration,” he said. “It told us we weren’t done yet.”

After the war

After the attacks, Kennedy was sent to Miami, Florida, to attend submarine chaser school before serving on the Submarine Chaser 713 on the U.S. East Coast for 18 months. He later transferred to the destroyer escort USS Poole, which escorted convoy ships across the North Atlantic. Kennedy served on 28 convoy missions and was wounded only once. In July 1945, he was medically discharged from the Navy. For his service during the war, Kennedy received numerous medals, including the Purple Heart, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.

When the war ended, Kennedy struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What helped him recover was talking with other Veterans. He joined the Indianapolis chapter of the American Legion and was an active member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. “We’ve got these young guys coming in now with a monkey on their back,” Kennedy said about American Legion meetings. “I can tell them how to get rid of it. Others can, also.”

Kennedy died in August 2017. He was 96.

We honor his service.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

These airmen secured the skies during the 9/11 attacks

As the towers fell and the nation reeled on Sept. 11, 2001, a team of New York Air National Guardsmen at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NADS) in rural Rome, New York were tasked with searching for missing plans and scrambling fighters in response to the attacks.

Since renamed the Eastern Air Defense Sector, Air Guardsmen there were at the center of the military’s air response on that day. On duty for a NORAD training exercise, Vigilant Guardian, they now have a unique view on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, thanks to their roles in the response.


New York Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Powell was a 31-year-old tech sergeant taking part in Exercise Vigilant Guardian when 9/11 occurred. He was the first military person to learn about the hijackings after taking the initial call from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston center. Master Sgt. Stacia Rountree was a 23-year-old senior airman working as an identification technician. Vigilant Guardian was her first major NORAD exercise.

Like every other American, Powell and Rountree remember that day vividly. Here are eight things they recall about the day that you might not know.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

After Sept. 11, 2001, this is what the NEADS operation floor looked like. Above the Q-93 (the large green radar scope) is the NORAD contingency suite that was installed immediately after 9/11 to provide radar data of the entire country.

(Master Sgt. Stacia Rountree, Eastern Air Defense Sector)

It was not a drill

It took some time for NEADS to realize 9/11 was a real-world scenario and not part of the exercise. Once they did, there was even more confusion trying to find the missing planes, which always seemed to be a step ahead of them.

“We were treating all the information we got as real-time, not understanding that it was coming to us late,” said Rountree, who basically became a liaison between the FAA and the military for the rest of that day.

“We were trying to figure out departure destination, how many people were on board, how big the aircraft actually was, and factoring all of that stuff in. That way the [F-15 and F-16] fighters, when they got airborne, would know that they had the right plane in sight,” she said.

“I stayed on the phone for 12-14 hours, just calling all the bases and asking how quick the fighters could get armed, get airborne, and if they could go to a certain location,” Powell said.

There was little time between FAA call and the first crash

Just 10 minutes elapsed between the time Powell took the first call to NEADS about the hijackings to when the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, hit the North Tower — not enough time to get fighters into the air.

According to the 9/11 Commission’s report, the call from the FAA’s Boston center came into NEADS at 8:37 a.m.

“8:46 is when I scrambled the first fighters [from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts], and then 8:53 they were airborne,” Powell said.

But it was too late to help American 11, which hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:47 a.m.

There were several more reports of hijackings over the day

By the time the day was over, Rountree said there were probably 19 or 20 planes that she and the other ID techs had investigating as possible hijackings. Only the initial four — American 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 93 — were the real deal.

At one point, there were reports that American 11 was still airborne. Air traffic controllers likely confused it with American 77, which was somewhere over Washington, D.C. air-space.

Rountree said she tried to contact the FAA’s Washington Center to get a position on it, while Langley Air Force Base fighters were trying to get to the capital.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

New York Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Powell, a tech sergeant on 9/11, was asked to play himself in the Paul Greengrass film “United 93” about the passengers who kept the fourth hijacked plane from reaching its destination in Washington, D.C. Powell, pictured here in a screen grab from the film, said he believed the movie was as spot-on as you could get, as far as what happened at NEADS was concerned.

“It was probably only a couple of minutes, but to me, it seemed like a lifetime. Then we got the reports that the plane hit the Pentagon,” Rountree remembered. “I was actively trying to find that plane, and I felt that we may have had some time. We didn’t.”

Fighter pilots were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice

The fighters were meant only to shadow potentially hijacked planes, but Rountree said there was discussion of those pilots making the ultimate sacrifice.

“In case their weapons were out, and if we would have had to use force, they were discussing whether or not those guys would have to go kamikaze,” she said, meaning some pilots were considering risking their own lives by using their planes to stop hijacked jetliners. “It was scary, when you thought about the possibility of them having to do that.”

There was a moment of hope for Flight 93

While all of the crashes were shocking, Rountree said that, for her, United 93 was the saddest. They had been trying to find the plane on radar and had called the FAA to get an updated position.

“They said, ‘It’s down,’ and we were thinking it landed,” Rountree remembered. But when they asked for landing confirmation, the info was clarified — it crashed. “For us, you had that glimmer of hope, and then… .”

NEADS was evacuated September 12

The day after 9/11, NEADS was evacuated because there was an unknown plane up at the time, and no one was supposed to be airborne.

“There were fighters coming back from air patrol over NYC … so our commander had them go supersonic over to where we were so they could figure out what it was. They thought it was heading toward us,” Rountree said.

It turned out to be a harmless floatplane, and it was forced to land.

9/11 changed the role of the air defense sectors

“Back then, the primary focus was that we were looking out at people coming to attack us from the outside,” Powell said. “We weren’t really focused on the inside.”

“Nobody thought that somebody would go ahead and utilize planes that were in the U.S. to do something, so our radar coverage was indicative of that,” Rountree explained. “Now, our coverage has definitely increased. It’s night and day versus then.”

The sector now has new and evolving technology.

“Our computer systems are bigger and better. … You should see all of the radars that are now hooked up. Everything the FAA sees, we see. We are much more actively involved in the identification of all aircraft in the United States,” Powell said.

Before 9/11, Rountree said they couldn’t always get in touch with critical personnel at the FAA centers. Now they can.

“We really didn’t have to talk to the various Air Traffic Control Center supervisors. Now, we have instant lines with everybody,” she said.

The military has been monitoring the skies over the U.S. ever since.

“A lot of people didn’t even realize that we were probably there, or what we even do, which could be a good thing,” Powell said. “It reinforces the idea that somebody’s always watching you, especially in the sky. The FAA’s there — that is their airspace — but the military is, too.”

Never Forget.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Legacy begun by U.S. Navy legend continues with Army Reserve pilot and beyond

RICHMOND, Va. — Every time he straps on the leather band of his watch in the morning, Phillip Brashear remembers his father.


“My dad’s famous saying is, ‘It’s not a sin to get knocked down. It’s a sin to stay down,'” Brashear said.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

Those words are engraved on the back of a Swiss limited-edition wristwatch, surrounding the iconic image of a Mark V diver suit helmet. The watch was manufactured in honor of Carl Brashear, the first African-American master diver in U.S. Navy’s history who lost his leg during a tragic accident on a mission off the coast of Spain in 1966.

Two airplanes had collided, dropping a payload that included three nuclear warheads. One of them fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Carl Brashear was called to dive and recover the bomb, but during the mission a towline was pulled so tight that it ripped off a pole, dragging it across the deck with so much tension that it cut the bottom part of his leg, nearly ripping it off. Back in the United States, doctors decided to amputate the leg below the knee.

“My father is an American legend,” said Brashear. “He was the first amputee to return to active-duty service in one of the most challenging jobs in the Navy.”

His life story was depicted in the Hollywood movie “Men of Honor” which starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro.

“My father overcame five barriers in his lifetime. He overcame racism. My father overcame poverty, being a poor sharecropper’s son. He overcame illiteracy. He lost the bottom part of his leg and was physically disabled. … He overcame his alcoholism, and in 1979 retired with honors,” Brashear said.

Today, Phillip Brashear is the command chief warrant officer for the 80th Training Command, which is responsible for military courses that train thousands of Army Reserve Soldiers around the country.

Brashear thanks service members like his father and the Tuskegee Airmen for the opportunities that men and women of every skin color and background have today.

“He opened the door for many others to come behind him,” he said.

Brashear has more than 38 years of military service, starting in the U.S. Navy Reserve, then the U.S. Army National Guard and now with the U.S. Army Reserve. He spent most of that time flying helicopters.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

“I used to tease my dad all the time. … I scored higher than you on the ASVAB test,” he said, referring to the aptitude test used to assign military jobs. “I get to be a helicopter pilot. I go up, not down. My daddy said, ‘Aw, get the heck out of my face. … Remember son, there’s always divers looking for pilots. There’s never pilots looking for divers.”

That banter between father and son came close to becoming a dark premonition for Phillip in 2006 while deployed to Iraq. A flash flood washed away part of a convoy, and Brashear was involved in recovering the bodies.

“That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was to get out of that helicopter in a combat operation to retrieve dead Americans, bring them back to safety so their families could have closure,” he said.

Though the bodies were not Navy divers in the middle of the ocean, Brashear recovered Marines whose lives were taken by water.

The rest of his Iraq tour offered no relief. He was with the Virginia Army National Guard at the time, responsible for flying personnel and material across Iraqi deserts under constant gunfire and the threat of improvised explosive attacks. Even at night, he could see the barrage of tracer rounds piercing the sky like lasers.

“I remember the heat. Constant heat. Like a blow dryer in your face. I remember the constant thirst. The constant fear from getting in that helicopter in a combat zone,” Brashear said.

Then one day, he came home from deployment on a Red Cross message. His father was ill. However, Brasher didn’t think it was severe, and during his visit home, Phillip believed his father would recover. He thought his dad was invincible. This was the man who had endured a year of recovery wearing a 300-pound suit after losing a leg to become a master diver. As a master chief petty officer later in his career, Sailors scurried out of the way whenever this legend walked onto a ship.

“He’s gonna be fine,” the son thought, so he walked into his father’s hospital room complaining about Iraq.

“I’m like, Dad, man. I’m getting shot at. The food’s bad. It sucks over there. It’s hot,” he recalled.

“Son, what are you complaining about?” his father asked.

The calm in the old man’s voice took him by surprise. Something in his father’s presence caused the younger Brashear to pause.

“He was on his deathbed. He would have traded places with me in a heartbeat … to go fly helicopters in harm’s way, but I wouldn’t have traded places with him,” Brashear said.

“A few days after, he died in my arms. … His body just gave up. He’d been through so much. He just couldn’t suffer any more. So he – he left us,” he said.

After his deployment, Brashear decided to retire from the Army, but while going through his father’s belongings, he remembered his father’s fighting words.

“It’s not a sin to get knocked down. …”

He returned to service in the U.S. Army Reserve, which he said offered him opportunities even the National Guard couldn’t have given him, including the command-level position he holds now. He continued to fly helicopters for about a decade. Over the course of his career, he’s flown the UH-1 “Huey” – recognized as the Vietnam-era helicopter – the UH-60 Black Hawk and two different models of the CH-47 Chinook.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

Then, in 2014, Brashear faced adversity of his own. During his annual flight physical, he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia that took him off flight status.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world to be denied your job because of something medical. That’s like someone taking away your livelihood. So, just like my dad, I said, ‘I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to get back up and get my job back,'” Brashear said.

He received a procedure known as cardioversion, a medical treatment that restores normal heart rhythm through electric shocks. As it turns out, his heart doctor, Michael Spooner, also treated Brashear’s father in the last 10 years of his life. The A-Fib kept Brashear off flight status for a year, but he continued his recovery until he passed his physical and returned to flying.

Now, Brashear is among the few dozen command chiefs in the U.S. Army Reserve. He serves as the top technical expert for his command and invests his time mentoring warrant officers and Soldiers wherever he goes.

With all four of his children grown, Brashear lives with his wife, Sandra, outside Richmond, Virginia. They have three daughters – Tia, Megan, Melanie – and a son, Tyler, who is an ROTC cadet studying biology at North Carolina AT University.

“It’s just a great legacy to have my father, who in the Navy was a great legend. Then myself a combat veteran in the Army. And now my son, who is going to be following our footsteps with leadership and service to our country,” he said.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

This article originally appeared on DVIDS. Follow @DVIDShub on Twitter.

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This is the only country in South America to send troops to the Korean War

While the Korean War Battles of Old Baldy, Triangle Hill, and Geumseong may not be the first battles that come to mind when we think of the Korean Conflict, for Colombia, they were certainly important. Like their Brazilian neighbors in World War II, the Colombians saw the importance of stemming the advance of an aggressor as essential to the world’s collective security. Three Colombian frigates along with more than 5,000 troops saw action alongside their U.N. allies there.


A Colombian veteran returns home from the Korean War.

 

While the country’s then-President, Laureano Gomez, was also looking for economic support from the West, the Colombians were also eager to remove the pro-German brush that had painted them during the Second World War. By 1951, for the first time in 127 years, Colombia was fully engaged in the fighting on the Korean Peninsula, attached to the U.S. 7th and 24th Infantry Divisions.

Over the course of the rest of the war, Colombia would send battalion after battalion over to fight, numbering more than a thousand men each. They were eager to prove Colombia’s bravery to the rest of the world, like the Turkish and Ethiopians before them. They were unlike any Colombian soldiers who came before them, but when returning home, they found a cold indifferent world.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford meets a Colombian Korean War veteran at the Korean War Memorial, Headquarters of the Military Forces of Colombia. (DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

Their service went largely unnoticed when they returned home. Colombians rejected many of the ideals the Korean War veterans held as they fought to earn their respect in the halls of the U.N.. They suffered the way many veterans the world over suffer after their wars end. While abroad and fighting, they found themselves honored and beloved by veterans from every nation they fought. When they came home, they found it was hard to win over their own nation.

They received no benefits, no pension. Many wounded veterans would come home and one day die without so much as a thank you from the nation for which they were willing to give their lives.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Colombian Army veterans.

Eventually, the Colombian government would relent and offer a pension to Korean War veterans who could prove they were indigent. By then, many of those fighting men were well into their 60s and 70s. Some of those veterans were never recovered and remain in Korea to this day. The unit also suffered 213 dead and 567 wounded. They were the last force to arrive but the 9th largest to join in the effort to keep the South free. Still, the men who fought there don’t hold regrets about going.

“It was a really extraordinary experience,” said General Álvaro Valencia Tovar. “I never regretted going, despite the hardships suffered during war, the bitter winter we lived through there…resisting subzero temperatures, but that was all part of a chapter in my life that I’ve always regarded with great sympathy and with pleasant memories.”

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What is the big deal about Kwajalein?

According to a report by UPI, an LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile was taken from Minot Air Force Base and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base to test America’s land-based deterrence force.


The missile landed at the remote Pacific base of Kwajalein Atoll. Now, the United States has used these islands for atomic tests and as a place for missiles to land for years.

But Kwajalein has a bit more significance to the U.S. than most other atolls out there. You see, it was one of the many islands American forces had to take from Japan during World War II – and thus, it is consecrated ground.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Diagram of the American plans to attack the Marshall Islands. (USMC graphic)

During World War I, Japan had taken the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, and Caroline Islands from Germany. According to an official Marine Corps history of the 4th Marine Division, the islands were soon fortified with bunkers, air strips, a lot of firepower, and very fierce troops.

In Nov., 1943, the United States had taken Tarawa in the Gilberts – and paid a heavy price. According to Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, published by the Center for Military History, 3,301 Marines were killed, wounded, or missing after the effort to take Tarawa. Kwajalein was expected to be even tougher, prompting legendary commanders like Raymond Spruance, Richmond K. Turner, and Holland Smith to oppose hitting Kwajalein at all.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Troops of the 24th Marines near the beach on Namur, thankful for having made it safely ashore, are now awaiting the inevitable word to resume the attack. (USMC photo)

Admiral Nimitz overruled their objections, and Kwajalein it was. Taking into account the lessons of Tarawa, this time, the United States brought overwhelming force. The major targets were Roi Island, Namur Island, and Kwajalein Island. For almost two months, air strikes were launched, including some with B-24 Liberators and others by carriers, on the Marshalls.

When the attack on Kwajalein came, it still took time, but only 142 American military personnel were killed in attacking Kwajalein Island proper.  Another 190 died while taking the islands of Roi and Namur. Total casualties in those assaults – dead, wounded, and missing – were 1,726.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Map of the Reagan Test Site. (DOD graphic)

After World War II, most of the American forces left, but Kwajalein today serves as part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.  332 Americans paid the ultimate price to take it 73 years ago. Today, it helps America develop systems that can save hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of lives.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the TOW anti-tank missile in action in Vietnam

The BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missile is a mainstay of American ground forces. Even light units, like the 82nd Airborne Division, rely on this missile to give them a fighting chance against enemy tanks.


While it picked up some notoriety in Operation Desert Storm, it actually made its combat debut about two decades earlier, in Vietnam. Given its reputation for jungle warfare, you might think that tank warfare didn’t happen in Vietnam — you’d be very wrong.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
An early BGM-71 TOW is launched from a M151 Jeep. (US Army photo)

The North Vietnamese relied on tanks to attack American positions, particularly during the 1972 Easter Offensive. The tanks of choice for the Communists were the PT-76 amphibious light tank and the T-54 medium tank. The PT-76 has been in service since 1952, making it about the same age as the B-52 Stratofortress. According to MilitaryFactory.com, it’s armed with a 76mm main gun, a 7.62mm machine gun, and can be equipped with a 12.7mm DShK machine gun. The tank has a crew of three.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
A Soviet naval infantryman (Marine) stands with an arm on his PT-76 light amphibious tank, on display for visiting Americans. North Vietnam used the PT-76 in the Vietnam War. (US Navy photo)

The T-54 first saw use in 1949, and while it is no longer in Russian service (it’s likely still held in reserve), it still is serving with a number of countries around the world. The T-54 has a 100mm main gun, a 12.7mm DShK machine gun, and two 762mm machine guns. It has a crew of four.

The earliest firings of TOW missiles were primarily from helicopters, including the UH-1B Iroquois. The version used in Vietnam, the BGM-71A, had a maximum range of just over a mile and a quarter. The launch system used for the UH-1B was set aside in favor of developing one for the AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter, which never made it to active service.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Polish T-54 tanks. North Vietnam used the tank against South Vietnamese and American troops. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Z. Chmurzyński)

Today, the TOW is still going strong. In fact, the latest versions are said to pose a threat to Russia’s vaunted T-14 Armata main battle tank. Not bad for a missile that’s been around for almost half a century. Check out some early footage of the missile in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpzXVvemY0s
(Jeff Quitney | YouYube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

With the help of Pearl Harbor survivors, Janet Glen Tomlinson created Home of the Brave Tours Museum, a one-of-a-kind WWII Military Base Tour along with the largest private collection of 1940’s memorabilia in the Pacific. As curators of this extensive collection, the Tomlinsons have received numerous awards and accolades for their work in educating the public about the rich heritage, sacrifices and traditions of the United States military.


The Home of the Brave Museum is a one-of-a-kind treasure trove of artifacts, stories, and memories of our American Military that fought to save our country and liberate the world during our darkest hours. The extensive collection exists to preserve wartime legacies, as well as to honor the sacrifice and victory of our nation’s great servicemen and women.

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal

Their goal is to maintain the extensive collection and expand the property into an interactive learning center to further promote awareness, gratitude, and documentation of America’s military heritage for public interest and educational purposes.

Also read: A previously ‘unknown’ sailor killed at Pearl Harbor is returned home 75 years later

Last year, the revenue needed to operate the museum was cut off due to the termination of their exclusive military base tour. This was due to security concerns from Homeland Security increased competition from larger tour operators who offer larger commission structures to the sales agents selling and promoting Pearl Harbor Tours. The five star “mom pop” tour operation just couldn’t compete with the “big boys.”

The Foundation offers exciting and engaging ways to delve into America’s military legacy as well as educational (hand-on history) and entertainment opportunities for school groups, senior centers, local, military, and island visitors.

The Home of the Brave Museum is asking for help. Visit this site to give your support.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” – President Harry S. Truman

MIGHTY HISTORY

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

Since the dawn of communication, cryptology has been in place to help keep military secrets just that, secrets. But how it’s done ranges throughout history — from hieroglyphics to modern-day computer code. Based on the level of technology of the time, the country itself, and even various military branches have all used unique ways to keep their messages in code. 

The Roman Army used the Ceasar Shift Cipher as early as the 1st century, A.D., while ancient Greece hid messages “in plain sight” by a method called steganography. It was first seen around 440 B.C. by Herodotus. The Allies cracked the Enigma Code — Germany’s cryptology method at the time — to greatly shorten World War II. And in the 1970s, data encryption vastly advanced how communication was able to be hidden and protected. 

In the U.S., cryptology was heavily used in each battle or wartime event. As a way of keeping information from the enemy, notes were written in code or with secret messages. 

Revolutionary War

During the U.S. bout for freedom from the British, cryptology is said to have saved many lives, even having outed Benedict Arnold before he gave up West Point to the British. Through a secret group called the Culper Spy Ring, individuals passed along messages that were obtained by spies. Membership within the organization was secret, and even the members themselves didn’t know who was all involved. The messages were then passed after being coded into the Culper Code Book, which used 763 numbers to represent various words, names and places. The book was developed by George Washington’s spymaster, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, who spied under the name of John Bolton. 

Civil War

By the time the Civil War had begun, the telegraph had been invented and was widely used as a form of communication. This allowed messages to be passed quickly among military forces. It also called in the need for code to help encrypt messages. Both Union and Confederate forces disguided their telegraph messages. Hand-written notes and vocally passed messages were also coded in order to keep communication more private. 

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone’s electric telegraph (“needle telegraph”) from 1837 now in the London Science Museum (Geni, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Most notably, cryptology is known to have failed when female spies would flirt information out of soldiers. At the time, it was widely believed that women did not have a role in the war, or weren’t a valuable intelligence asset, so secrets were spilled without fear of consequence. 

World War I

During World War I, yet another technological advancement was made with the teletype cipher, which could de-code messages as they were received. This allowed messages to be sent much faster, as they did not require a person to manually translate the message. Instead they were sent live, decoded. 

During the Great War, British Admiral Sir William Hall’s team famously decoded the Zimmerman Telegram. A message system between Germany and Mexico, the message stated a German plan for submarine warfare and attempting to ally with Mexico for a U.S. invasion. However, rather than spill the beans, Hall kept quiet. He knew if he outed them, they would realize the source of the information leak. 

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
Teletype teleprinters in use in England (Public Domain)

The Zimmerman was later used to decrypt more messages and eventually help win the war. 

World War II

In World War II, there were entire deparments dedicated to finding the meaning of hidden codes. Notably women were recruited and taught cryptology, and were sworn to secrecy about what they were doing. Their efforts, along with other countries’, soon paid off. Polish and British mathematicians decoded the Germans’ Enigma code, leading Allied forces privvy to much information. The Germans soon suspected that their messages were being read, and added another rotor — the Enigma worked by scrambling letters with these rotors — to make messages harder to decipher. 

In addition, Japanese codes were also cracked, helping bringing an end to the war. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. used a machine called the SIGABA. Working similar to the Enigma, the SIGABA had 15 rotors and no reflector device, which made it harder to crack. There were no known breaches of the SIGABA through its use, up until the 1950s. 

7 things you didn’t know about Guadalcanal
SIGABA Machine (Public Domain)

Modern day wars

With the start of Vietnam, when data became digital and could therefore be encrypted, coding messages became more complicated. And more secret. To date, there are entire departments dedicated to creating programs that keep intelligence a secret. Using binary bit sequences, security clearance levels, and countless sophisticated computer programs, and it becomes a complicated event. One that we couldn’t even guess to begin how it works … and even if we could, it’s likely that folks in suits would show up at the door. So let’s just say it’s complicated, and perhaps in several decades, we can look back and see how it was all accomplished. 

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