Born Jacob Kurtzberg, the most influential comic book artist known to the world as Jack Kirby penned many of the most beloved superheros in today’s society.
The young Kirby found his calling at then Timely Comics, later known as Marvel Comics, by drawing in superheros. He and Joe Simon created a new patriotic hero and drew the iconic cover to what will be synonymous with comics in World War II. Captain America knocking the Hell out of Adolf Hitler in March 1941.
Duty called Kirby into the U.S. Army on June 7, 1942. He had created an inventory to be published in part of his absence, kissed his wife goodbye, and headed to Camp Stewart for Basic Training.
Being a small Jewish kid from New York, he had met people from across the country. People who had never traveled outside their family farm, Texans who never rode a horse, and everyone from every corner of the country. He did encounter antisemitism, but he credits working and living together as the moment that opened their eyes to how diverse the country really is.
His unit, the Fifth Infantry Division, landed in Liverpool where he saw the devastation of the German Stukas. He was now ready to land on Omaha Beach ten days after D-Day.
And ready for his Marvel co-creator, Stan Lee, to give one of his best Cameos.General Patton got word that his unit was killed and arrived personally with replacements. Patton was livid when he learned that the outfit had just arrived just fine. The mix-up came about because of an error in the maps, so Kirby’s Lieutenant saw to correcting it. His lieutenant learned his soldier drew Captain America and many other comics and assigned Private Kirby the unenviable task of being a scout to draw the maps.
Kirby would create new maps or draw on existing maps locations of enemy and friendly activity. His markings of Axis’ 88 anti-armor cannons were used to clear the way for troops.
Kirby’s unit crossed much of Northern France and took heavy casualties. Sketching in a notepad was the only thing that could keep his nerves intact while he mapped out enemy locations. His unit even liberated a remote factory, turned concentration camp. This was one of the first provable concentration camps the U.S. came across.
His maps would play a crucial role in the Battle of Metz, which he also personally fought in. Frozen by Himmler’s Panzers, he still fought them, referring to himself as a “Human Road Block.”
It was the unforgiving winter that sent him home. His feet had become purple with jungle rot and frostbite. It was so bad that he was rushed back to Paris and the doctors considered amputation. He was discharged in 1945, but not before being awarded a Combat Infantryman Badge and Bronze Star for all that he did in Europe.
The story of Shawn Nelson does not have a happy ending. He was an unemployed plumber living in the San Diego area who was struggling from a recent motorcycle accident. He was drowning in debt and was about to lose his home. So, he somehow walked into a California National Guard armory and drove out in an M60A3 Patton Tank.
As a veteran, he knew exactly how to drive it.
“The guy was just going crazy,” bystander Kelly Bird told the New York Times. Bird said he saw at least 25 cars flattened. “He was mowing cars over.”
Luckily for San Diego, the tank’s weapons, a 105-millimeter cannon, a 12.7-millimeter antiaircraft gun, and a 7.62-millimeter machine gun, were not loaded. But, for around a half-hour on May 17, 1995, Shawn Nelson took his rage out on the city traffic of San Diego.
Nelson speeding away in an M60A3 Patton Tank.
The past few years of Nelson’s life were disastrous. He lost both parents to cancer, his wife filed for divorce, he was in a motorcycle accident, lost multiple lawsuits, and was countersued for legal claims, lost his business, and his live-in girlfriend died from a drug overdose. He was in constant pain from his back injuries and was about to be homeless.
He was a suicidal Army veteran with nothing to lose when he entered a National Guard Armory through an unlocked gate and managed to open an unsecured Patton tank that he just so happened to know how to operate. As the guards moved to stop him, the 63-ton tank lurched forward, then out the door, then off the base and into San Diego.
A top speed of 30 miles per hour meant that the police chase was a slow one. But nothing got in Shawn Nelson’s way in the last few minutes of his life. He ran down road signs, hydrants, parked cars, traffic lights – anything that might potentially stop him in his tracked vehicle. He even tried to knock down a pedestrian bridge by ramming it repeatedly. The concrete held, though, and Nelson moved on.
This time, he took the freeway. He got on the 805 south but tried to drive over the concrete barrier into oncoming northbound traffic. That’s when his joyride ended. The tank got stuck on the concrete berm. San Diego police officers mounted the vehicle and opened the hatch, ordering Nelson to surrender himself. When he tried to free the tank one more time, he was shot in the shoulder.
Altering graduating from West Point Military Academy at the top of his class, Paul Bucha continued on to Stanford University, where he studied for his Master’s degree. During his summer breaks while attending the prestigious college, he received Airborne and Ranger training.
Soon after completing his MBA, Bucha started his military career at Fort Campbell before heading off to Vietnam with the 187th Infantry in 1967. There, he’d face an impossible challenge of leading a company of troops most soldiers would avoid.
After Bucha settled into Vietnam, he was quickly promoted and given his first company of soldiers. His brigade commander filled Bucha’s newly formed company with those thought to be the ‘rejects’ of other units. The reputation of the soldiers placed in his company earned them the label of “the clerks and the jerks.”
Although the Army’s superior officers saw them as duds, the young lieutenant instead saw a great group of troops he was honored to lead into war.
In March 1968, Bucha and his men were the lead elements of a counterattack after the Tet Offensive. For two days, Bucha’s men destroyed several enemy strongholds and killed off pockets of resistance. As they continued to push forward, the brave men discovered a battalion-sized element of well-trained Vietnamese fighters.
An intense firefight broke out, pinning them down. Bucha surged forward with his RTO while tossing several hand grenades to clear the way. Positioned well beyond the reach of allied artillery, the young lieutenant was unable to call for support — they were on their own.
Bucha continued to lead the men for several more hours as the fight raged on, never backing down. Through the night, he encouraged his men to press on, and that’s precisely what they did for their respected leader. Bucha continuously devised and revised plans to keep his men in solid defensive and offensive positions, which saved lives.
By daybreak, Bucha and his men had managed to fight off their overwhelming opposition, leaving over 150 dead enemy troops on the battlefield.
Paul Bucha received the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970, for personally directing the successful defense of his besieged unit.
Check out the Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to listen to this incredible story for yourself.
For over 40 years, some variant of the Patton family of tanks served America. From the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, and through the deserts of the Middle East Patton tanks bested America’s enemies time and again.
In 1950, the first Patton tank, the M46, entered service. The M46 was originally based on the WWII M26 Pershing heavy tank. However, after extensive redesigns and improvements, it received its own designation and a new namesake — Gen. George S. Patton, a hero of WWII.
The M46 was armed with a 90mm main gun, a .50 caliber machine gun, and two .30 caliber machine guns, one mounted coaxially, the other forward-firing in the hull.
The arrival of the Patton into service was just in time as in June of that year North Korea, armed with formidable Russian T34 tanks, rolled across the 38th Parallel into South Korea. Fighting alongside WWII-era M4 Shermans and the M26 Pershings it was meant to replace, the M46 would see heavy combat in Korea.
The first M46 tanks landed inside the Pusan Perimeter in August 1950 as part of the 6th Tank Battalion. They would prove critical in the defense. More M46s landed at Inchon with the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Tank Battalion.
In an attempt at psychological warfare, the tankers of the 24th Infantry Division’s 6th Tank Battalion painted tiger faces on their tanks thinking it would demoralize their superstitious Chinese adversaries.
By mid-1951 the Patton tanks had replaced all M26 Pershings in service in Korea. However, the M46’s own shortcomings had already led to the development of a replacement — the M47 Patton.
Though the M47 was introduced in 1952, it would be too late for it to see combat in Korea. However, the M47 was important because even though it shared design features and components with the M46 Patton, it was considered America’s first all-new tank design since WWII.
The M47, though, was just an interim design while engineers completed work on its successor, the M48 Patton. The M47 would never see combat but the M48 would be a workhorse of American and allied armored units.
Like its predecessors, the M48 also mounted a 90mm main gun; it was the last tank to do so, but had significant improvements in armor and performance.
The M48 was also introduced too late to see combat in Korea, but just over a decade later the Marines would take it to Vietnam. Soon, Army units were bringing their own Pattons to the fight.
Due to the nature of the conflict, the M48s did not often have the chance to go toe-to-toe with North Vietnamese armor. One of the few instances of tank combat came during the NVA assault on the Ben Het Camp where elements of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment were stationed. The American Pattons easily defeated the NVA’s PT-76 tanks and BTR-50 APCs.
More often than not though, the M48s were relegated to infantry support — a role they excelled at. The Patton’s ruggedness allowed it to absorb a good amount of damage and its 90mm main gun was a welcome addition against dug-in enemies. A favorite of the troops was the Patton’s canister rounds, which acted like a giant shotgun through the jungle, cutting down man and tree alike.
A number of M48s were also converted to M67 “Zippo” tanks that mounted flamethrowers for dealing with stubborn Vietcong and NVA soldiers.
The Patton was also one of the few vehicles that could withstand the landmines that were employed against American forces. As such, it was often used as a route clearance vehicle to “sniff out” the explosive devices.
While the M48 was slogging it out in Vietnam, the next in line of the Patton family of tanks was coming into service with the American military: the M60 Patton, the M48s eventual replacement.
The M60 was the final tank in the Patton family line and America’s first Main Battle Tank. It mounted a modern 105mm main gun, a .50 caliber machine gun for the commander, and a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun.
The M60 also was the basis for the M60 Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge and the M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle, both of which were deployed to Vietnam alongside the M48s.
The M60 itself would not be deployed to Vietnam, but would be a mainstay of American armored formations, particularly in Europe.
One of the more interesting developments of the M60 Patton was the M60A2. Derisively known as the “Starship” because of its overly complex technology, the M60A2 mounted the same 152mm gun/missile system as the M551 Sheridan. A redesigned turret and an abundance of new technology gave the A2 variation a distinct look. However, the design was an overall disappointment and it was quickly retired.
Despite entering service some 30 years’ prior, the M60 Patton would not see significant combat until the end of its service history during the Persian Gulf War. Outfitting Marine tank battalions, the M60s performed admirably.
The Marines’ M60s spearheaded the assault to liberate Kuwait. In the fighting for Kuwait City, the M60 bested its original rival, the Soviet T62, time and again while sustaining only one tank lost to combat and no casualties. Marines manning Patton tanks destroyed over 100 Iraqi tanks and numerous other vehicles in the fighting.
Shortly after the Gulf War the M60 Patton was retired from combat service in favor of the new M1 Abrams. The last Pattons would return to Germany, the final resting place of their namesake, where they acted as OPFOR at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels before they too were retired in 2005.
The upcoming OA-X fly-off features the Textron Scorpion as one of the major contenders. This plane has been the subject of some hype since it first flew in 2013. However, if it wins the OA-X flyoff, it won’t be the first Scorpion to have flown for the United States.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States was looking to acquire interceptors to stop a horde of Soviet bombers. The big problem — the guns were just not packing enough punch. One answer to this was the F-89 Scorpion from Northrop.
The first definitive version of the Scorpion to achieve widespread service, the F-89D, addressed that problem by using air-to-air “Mighty Mouse” rockets. The Scorpions carried 104 of them, and had the option of firing all of them at once, or in up to three salvos. The F-89 Scorpion also had a lethal ground-attack capability, being able to carry 16 five-inch rockets and up to 3,200 pounds of bombs.
But the “Mighty Mouse” rockets proved to be more mouse than mighty, and the Scorpion’s armament was soon the subject of an upgrade. The F-89J was a F-89D modified to carry the AIR-2 Genie rocket — which carried a small nuclear warhead. The plane could also carry four AIM-4 Falcon missiles. The Genie had a warhead equivalent to 250 tons of TNT, and it had a range of six miles and a top speed of Mach 3. Early versions of the AIM-4 had a range of six miles, but later versions could go 7 miles. Most Falcons were heat-seekers, but some were radar-guided missiles.
The F-89 was eventually retired in favor of faster interceptors with more modern radars and missiles, but for most of two decades, it helped guard America’s airspace from Soviet aggression. Below is a video put out by the Air Force’s Air Defense Command about this plane.
After the outbreak of World War I, young Paul Kern joined millions of Hungarian countrymen in answering the call to avenge their fallen Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. He joined the Hungarian army and, shortly after, the elite corps of shock troops that would lead the way in clearing out Russian trenches on the Eastern front. In 1915, a Russian bullet went through his head, and he closed his eyes for the last time.
Which would be par for the course for many soldiers – except Kern’s eyes opened again in a field hospital.
Many, many other Austro-Hungarian eyes did not open again.
From the moment he recovered consciousness until his death in 1955, Kern did not sleep a wink. Though sleep is considered by everyone else to be a necessary part of human life. There are many physical reasons for this – sleep causes proteins in the brain to be released, it cuts off synapses that are unnecessary, and restores cognitive function. People who go without sleep have hallucinations and personality changes. Sleeplessness has even killed laboratory rats.
The face you make when you haven’t slept since 1915 and have time to do literally everything.
Doctors encountering Kern’s condition for the first time were always reportedly skeptical, but Kern traveled far and wide, allowing anyone who wanted to examine him to do so. The man was X-rayed in hospitals from Austria to Australia but not for reasons surrounding the bullet – the one that went through his right temple and out again – was ever found.
One doctor theorized that Kern would probably fall asleep for seconds at a time throughout the day, not realizing he had ever been asleep, but no one had ever noticed Kern falling asleep in such a way. Other doctors believed the bullet tore away all the physical area of the brain that needed to be replenished by sleep. They believed he would find only an early death because of it.
Don’t let Adderall-starved college students find out about Russian bullets.
Kern did die at what would today be considered a relatively young age. His wakefulness caused headaches only when he didn’t rest his eyes for at least an hour a day in order to give his optic nerve a much-needed break. But since Paul Kern had an extra third of his days given back to him, he spent the time wisely, reading and spending time with his closest friends. It seems he made the most of the years that should have been lost to the Russian bullet in the first place.
Vietnam Veterans Day is a way to honor and thank those who fought and contributed to the war, as well as families who lost loved ones that served. While we celebrated all the Vietnam Veterans last week who served, we look to remember some of the most notable ones out of the 2.7 million soldiers who dedicated their time and blood to the Vietnam effort (between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975).
Many memorials have been created honoring the Vietnam Veterans, including 58,000 names carved into a black granite wall in Washington, D.C. While we remember those that died, we often forget those who lived, including the 304,000 service members who were wounded, 1,253 soldiers missing in action (MIA), and 2,500 prisoners of war (POWs).
Among these names are ones that are still recognized today, including these 5 memorable Vietnam Veterans:
Famously, Senator John McCain spent five years in the Hoa Loa war prison, where he is said to have been physically and mentally tortured. He was released in 1973 after a ceasefire. For his time, he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.
McCain is a third-generation Navy member. He served as a pilot, completing several successful missions, before his plane was shot down and he was captured. Though Vietnam officials attempted to trade for his release due to being an admiral’s son, McCain refused and remained in captivity.
Nearly a decade after his release, he joined the House of Representatives via the state of Arizona. In 1996, McCain made a successful bid to the U.S. Senate, and later ran for president, losing to Barack Obama.
Other notable Vietnam Veteran politicians include Colin Powell, who retired from the Army after being injured in Vietnam, and going down in a helicopter crash, and Bob Kerrey, a former Navy SEAL who lost part of his leg in a Vietnam grenade explosion.
Captain Comeback AKA Roger the Dodger was an NFL star quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys who brought home two Super Bowl wins. But before he was making his way in the NFL, Staubach graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the Navy. Upon graduation, he requested a tour in Vietnam, where he spent a year as a supply supervisor.
As the founder and Chairman of FedEx, Fred Smith is a notable businessman. But before he was setting up smart, overnight delivery infrastructure, he was serving as a U.S. Marine. In the late 60s, Smith put in two Vietnam tours where he worked as a forward air controller. He has cited his time in the Marines as helping him to understand and utilize military logistics for FedEx’s future success.
J. Craig Venter
Another incredible Vietnam Veteran is J. Craig Venter, who was the first to sequence the human genome. Venture was drafted to the Navy, where he worked as a hospital orderly. He has said the experience with heavily wounded soldiers and frequent death prompted him to attend school and dedicate his career to medical studies.
She is one of 8 women named on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
Annie Ruth Graham
Though little info exists on female service members of Vietnam, there were hundreds of nurses, news researchers and more who put their efforts to the war. This includes Annie Ruth Graham, a Lieutenant Colonel who served in World War II and Korea, before lending her nursing expertise to Vietnam. She died from natural causes during the war.
These are only a few names who helped offer their time and efforts to the Vietnam War. For more on their service, or to read about other veterans, check out the National Archives website.
It took sixty five years for one member of the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles to learn that his actions during the Battle of Bastogne were legendary, but not for heroism or bravery. It all started with a simple request for a beer – and the greatest beer run the world will ever see.
Vincent Speranza, Vince to all that know him, had joined the Army right after graduating high school in 1943 and was assigned to Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne as a replacement soldier while the unit recovered from Operation Market-Garden.
Shortly after training, Vince found himself in a foxhole in the middle of Bastogne, Belgium – cold, short on supplies, food, and ammunition. And surrounded by German troops.
“The first eight days we got pounded” by German artillery, he recalled. “But this was the 101st. They could not get past (us). They never set one foot in Bastogne.”
On the second day, his friend Joe Willis took shrapnel to both legs and was pulled back to a makeshift combat hospital inside a mostly destroyed church. Vince tracked him down and asked if there was anything he could do for his friend.
Vince told him it was impossible. The 101st was surrounded by Germans with no supplies coming in, they were taking artillery fire every day, and the town had been bombarded. But Joe wanted a beer.
Moving through the town, Vince, from blown-out tavern to blown-out tavern, went searching until serendipity hit. At the third tavern he hit, Vince pulled on a tap and beer came flowing out. He filled his helmet – the same one used as a makeshift shovel and Porta Potty in the foxhole – with all the beer he could handle and returned to the hospital.
Mission accomplished. Vince poured beer for Joe and some of those around him. When the beer ran out, they asked him to go for more.
As he returned to the hospital, Vince was confronted by a Major who demanded to know what he was doing.
“Giving aid and comfort to the wounded,” was the paratrooper’s simple answer.
An ass-chewing about the dangers of giving beer to men with gut and chest wounds lead to Vince putting his helmet back on his head, beer pouring down his uniform, and heading out.
While that could have been the end of it, the story continues 65 years later, when Vince returned to Bastogne for an anniversary celebration and learned that his epic beer run had been turned into Airborne beer, typically drunk out of a ceramic mug in the shape of a helmet.
Bob Hope, legendary comedian and star of radio, stage, and screen — not to mention a man who once played third billing to Siamese twins and trained seals — had a really, really soft spot for U.S. troops, especially those who deployed to combat zones. It’s an amazing thing, especially considering that he was British.
For more than 50 years, the “One-Man Morale Machine” spent time away from his family and his comfortable Hollywood life to visit American troops during peacetime and at war. He performed on Navy ships and Army bases, often close enough to hear the sounds of combat. To him, that didn’t matter.
“Imagine those guys thanking me,” he once said. “Look what they’re doing for me. And for you.”
Today, Bob Hope’s legacy lives on in the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, whose mission it is to support any organization that seeks to bring hope to anyone. For veterans, the foundation supports the EasterSeals of Southern California through the EasterSeals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, which helps veterans gain meaningful employment after their service to our nation ends.
No joke: It’s not a handout for veterans, it’s a real hand up. Check it out: it may be just what you or a loved one needs. In the meantime, learn a little bit about the legend himself.
1. Bob Hope was British
Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903 in Well Hall, Eltham, County of London, England. In 1908, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, passing through Ellis Island on the way.
2. He has a lot of medals. A whole lot.
Among them are the Congressional Gold Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Air Force Order of the Sword, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, and Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr.
There are more honors. A lot more, including Admiralty in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. It’s a thing.
4. He did the “Russian Reversal” joke 30 years before Yakov Smirnoff
You knew he was a visionary. So did Yakov Smirnoff, who pretty much made his whole career on the, “In Soviet Russia, TV watches YOU” series of jokes. This is now known as a “Russian Reversal” and was first used by Hope at the 30th Academy Awards in 1958.
5. You can thank Bob Hope for ‘The Brady Bunch’
A struggling biology student in Southern California got a part-time gig writing jokes for Hope to earn extra money. Sherwood Schwartz would later go on to create Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Schwartz described his rise in Hollywood as an accident his whole life.
6. He spent 48 Christmases with American troops overseas.
Dad was gone. Holidays for the Hope kids took on a new meaning. “I remember saying, ‘Why does Dad always have to be away? All these other families have their dads home for Christmas,” Linda said. But she is quick to add that Mom would put it in proper perspective for her. “She said, ‘No, not all have them are home for Christmas. Think of boys and girls who don’t have their dads for years and years because they are serving overseas. Remember the boys and girls whose fathers may never come back.'”
7. Bob Hope played golf with Tiger Woods.
When Tiger was two years old, he squared off against Hope on The Mike Douglas Show in a putting contest in 1978. Actor Jimmy Stewart was looking on.
Sensational press accounts were just plain rabid about this man from the time he “escaped” a post-WWII “Officers'” holding camp, until the start of the Vietnam conflict. All he ever really wanted to be was a Mechanical Engineer and to serve his country honorably. Most of us would never have heard of this Commando’s successes were it not for the British desire to explain WWII in detail to the world (in terms of their victorious achievements). This man was Otto Skorzeny.
In the frantic change of the Austrian government on 12 March 1938, Skorzeny was a member of the Gymnastic Club which was trying to support the police and keep antagonistic political factions from breaking into rioting. He was a big man with a strong sense of duty, an energetic attitude, and a loud, commanding voice. It is reported that he personally prevented two armed groups from coming to blows at a critical moment. Then the war came on 1 September 1939, and he tried to get into the Luftwaffe, but, at the age of 31, was labeled “too old” to be a pilot — so he ended up in the Army.
In his regular army training regimentation, Skorzeny saw individuality and personality broken in most of the younger men by the time-honored methods heralding back to 19th century Prussia. Sent on a tour of France after its surrender as an officer-cadet (~E5) he amazed superiors by obtaining the cooperation of Dutch workers to construct a ramp that he designed for loading heavy tanks on to ships in preparation for the invasion of Britain. Later when his trucks needed new tires to complete a mission, he threatened the NCO of a supply depot with harm if he (without written authorization) didn’t get what he needed to carry out his verbal orders. He was reprimanded by a general for being aggressive and transferred to a unit in Yugoslavia.
When he was leading his first combat patrol, a larger group of enemies walked right into his area. Instead of opening fire, Skorzeny jumped up and demanded their surrender — and got it, without firing a shot. He brought in 63 prisoners, including three officers, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on the spot. He thought his next assignment would be in the battle for North Africa, and picked up a copy of “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” by T.E. Lawrence for reading on the train. The train stopped short and his unit was instead offloaded to participate in Operation Barbarossa and an extremely bloody Axis invasion of Russia, which began 22 June 1941.
He fought well and hard in the endless Russian forest and plains for the next six months, including during the Russian winter of 1941, when the German Army had no winter uniforms. Skorzeny developed colic, was invalided home to Vienna, and assigned as an Engineering Officer to a reserve regiment in Berlin. In the autumn of 1942, Waffen SS divisions were being converted into armored divisions, so he applied for a transfer and became the regimental Engineer of the 3rd SS Armoured Division. In mid-April 1943, he was sent to Waffen SS headquarters and informed that a technically trained officer was required for a special unit.
Why reserve 1st Lt. Skorzeny? What was going on?
The German scarface.
British commandos were causing a problem, so Hitler wanted to develop a commando team. Here was a reserve officer with combat experience, but not quite an exemplary service record. For the General Staff, Lt. Skorzeny was perfect — suitable, presentable, technically trained, and non-political. (It might be noted that Hitler’s Commando Order of 18 October 1942 clearly stated that all Allied commandos captured “should be killed immediately without trial.”)
Skorzeny was promoted to captain and told to get to work on creating a special operations unit or two. Firstly, however, he had to be introduced to the “secret” side of the German military and was introduced to Admiral Canaris of the Military Secret Service (Auslands-Abwehr). He tried to get a number of junior officers transferred to his new unit — and was turned down. LTC Schellenberg of the General Staff advised him that he needed to collect all the information he could and start a School for Espionage and Sabotage while looking for men and equipment. His new command was already penciled in to take over a mission in Iran that was going badly.
Fortunately, the platoon of men he inherited were all combat veterans. Added to their number was a platoon size group of legal specialists from the Political Intelligence Section that knew how to gather surplus equipment and personnel. Finally, he was in contact with the Director of the State Security Department who he had known in his student days in Austria. This was the source of many enlightening discussions about Reichführer Himmler, who eventually became the sabot in all Military and Political machinery.
Fighting furiously against red-tape, Skorzeny located a 19th-century hunting lodge in a tract of forest and meadowlands at Friedenthal (Valley of Peace), close to Berlin. He then requested after-action reports on the British Commando attacks perpetrated since 1940 and received a vast dossier, which had been meticulously collected, but not well-reviewed. He learned from the apparent British mistakes. Immediately he realized that all training should be conducted at night because that is when small groups can beat larger formations. Everyone was to be trained to competency on every weapon and piece of equipment the units might carry into battle. Other training included parachutes and operation (and repair) of all sizes of transportation vehicles.
On 26 July 1943, Skorzeny took an afternoon off for lunch and a quiet chat with an old university professor — and the whole world changed. Checking with his admin office in mid-afternoon, he was advised that a plane would be at the aerodrome at 1700 to take him to the Führer’s Headquarters [FHQ]. He directed his XO to gather his uniform and meet him at Tempelhofer. No one in his office knew what or why. Upon arrival, he and five other officers — all more senior than him — were led into the command center of the Wolf’s Den and lined up according to rank. All made short statements about their military careers; his was the shortest. The Führer began asking about their knowledge of Italy and their thoughts on the Axis partner. The other five spoke the “party line,” but Skorzeny stated, “I am an Austrian my Führer.”
In order to understand that comment, it should be mentioned that as a result of WWI Italy took a portion of Austria — South Tyrol — that it could not win by combat. Hitler was also Austrian and understood what Skorzeny meant. The five other Commanding Officers of Special Force units were dismissed. Hitler personally charged Skorzeny with the rescue of Mussolini who had been arrested by Italian police in preparation for Italy’s surrender to the Allies and its change of sides. The location of the Duce was unknown.
Furthermore, Hitler did not want the German Army Commander in Italy or the German Ambassador in Rome to know of the operation. Skorzeny and his force were transferred to the Luftwaffe and reported directly to General Student. While discussing the situation with General Student, Himmler showed up to dominate the conversation with a short history of Italian vacillation since the Allied invasion of Sicily, and a ranting monologue of names of reliable Italians and traitors, and how to deal with each.
During a pause in the performance, Skorzeny requested to step out and call his commandos to put them on alert status. While waiting to have his call put through, he lit a cigarette to think of the scope of the assignment. Himmler came down the hall and chewed him out for smoking and declared him possibly unfit for the job. One of Hitler’s Staff Officers who overheard the remarks assured him that this was a trait of Himmler and General Student would fix everything once the operation got rolling. So began one of the great commando stories and the start of an amazing two years that ended with Skorzeny being declared “The Most Dangerous Man in Europe.”
Skorzeny’s phone call to his Chief-of-Staff was short and terse. Fifty of his best men and officers needed to be ready not later than 0500 for extended action in Tropical Uniform, with parachute gear, six days of emergency rations, and a teletyped list of equipment. Due to the mission’s classification, he could not tell them what they would do, or where and why they would be deployed. As he thought about a short nap, he realized that he had never made out a will. That was resolved immediately. He took a shower around 0600 and met General Student at 0730 at the aerodrome.
Skorzeny and Benito Mussolini surrounded by German commandos and soldiers.
The tale of the 12 September 1943 rescue of Mussolini is one of great adventure for both Skorzeny, as a leader, and his commando team. There was even a delayed-and-failed first effort due to confusing intelligence. (The Nazi Propaganda machine created a motion picture of the event to splash across the theater screens and demonstrate Nazi invincibility when the General Staff knew they were losing.)
Because of the mission’s success, he was rewarded by being allowed to recruit from the Brandenburg Division. This was the original German Army Special Force. The Division would slip behind the enemy front line and carry out sabotage or prevent vital bridges from being destroyed. By 1943 however, the German Army was on the defensive or preparing for the next Allied invasion. These highly-skilled and qualified soldiers were being used as gap-stopping cannon fodder in Africa and Eastern Europe. The now-famous Skorzeny, as a Division Commander, began to “borrow” supplies and equipment from every depot within reach, based solely on his relationship with Hitler. While training the enlarged command, he was called upon to plan the abduction of other well-known figures who seemed to be potential or actual problems. First on the list was Marshal Pétain, the Vichy France Head of State. Skorzeny and his commandos made plans and practiced to perfection while waiting for the order to go. After over a month of waiting, they were told to stand down and returned to the Valley of Peace in time for Christmas.
Next on the list was Marshal Tito of the Yugoslavian Partisans. Skorzeny dispatch his division intelligence team to the area. A great deal of work was expended to locate Tito’s constantly shifting HQ — then in western Bosnia. Skorzeny sent his Chief of Staff to meet with the German Army Commander in the area to work out last-minute details. The liaison did not go well. Out of the blue, Skorzeny’s intel team reported that the local Army Corps was preparing their own operation against Tito, which would commence on 25 May 1944. Skorzeny realized that if his people knew about it in advance, so did Tito. The operation failed. (If you are interested in the details of this failure see KOMMANDO by James Lucas.)
Skorzeny brought his intel team home and began to train for the next problem proposed by the High Command. Off and on during the first half of 1944, he had been working with the Italian Decima Flottiglia MAS, led by Commander Junio Borghese, on special weapons for sinking ships. He received an order to report to Vice Admiral Heye who was forming up the Naval Small Battle Units (Kleinkampfverbånde) and was ordered by Himmler to assist in the training of the “K-men.” He also got involved with Luftwaffe Squadron 200, Hanna Reitsch, and the concept of piloted V-1 buzz bombs. Yet, most of his effort was spent dealing with entrenched bureaucracy. Once again, he was asked to train special pilots, but could not get any flight fuel for the effort.
The Western Front became active on 6 June 1944 and Skorzeny’s Commando Battalion 502 was put on alert. He was on his way to observe some frogmen exercises in Vienna on 20 July, when word of the attempted assassination of Hitler came. He was pulled off the train at the last station in Berlin and told to return to Berlin to deal with a military revolt. Confusion ran rampant and rumors were faster than speeding bullets. He was somehow detailed to protect the HQ of the Commender-in-Chief, Home Forces. High ranking officers were committing suicide or were being executed in the parking lot. Fear was gripping the staff at the Headquarters, and, according to Skorzeny, he took responsibility and got all the clerks back to work. Whatever he did, it raised his standing, and that of his battalion, in the eyes of Himmler and the political leadership. The Military Section D— the Counter-espionage unit — was attached to his command.
On 10 September 1944, he received a call to report to FHQ at a newly constructed Wolf’s Den in Berlin’s vicinity. After a three-day round of conferences and situation reports, he was briefed on his next mission. With Russian Armies breaking through Hungary’s defenses, the designated Hungarian head of state, Admiral Horthy, commenced secret negotiations with the Allies for surrendering. If successful, it would mean the loss of many German Army Divisions and Austria would become the next battleground.
Multiple German units were to be placed under Skorzeny’s command and he was directed to Budapest to see what could be done to prevent Hungary’s break away from the Axis camp. He was given a document that stated that he was on a personal and confidential mission for the Führer, and all political and military authorities were to assist him. It was essentially a Carte Blanche, personally signed by Hitler. The object this time was not to rescue anyone but to keep Hungary as a functioning Axis partner. Skorzeny sent in his command intel section and started quietly gathering his forces in and around Budapest. His favorite group was a battalion of cadets from the southern Austria Wiener–Neustadt Kriegsakademie. This may have been the first time he realized that he had become a legend.
Intelligence discovered that the son of Admiral Horthy was meeting with delegates from Tito’s partisan Army who was working for Russia as well. Another meeting was scheduled for the morning of October 15th. Working with great efficiency Skorzeny’s team rushed the meeting while others were fighting the Royal Hungarian Military guards. Within five minutes the son of Horthy and the Yugoslavians were captured, rolled up in carpets and loaded on a truck to the aerodrome, then flown across the border to Vienna. At 2 o’clock that afternoon a special announcement came over Hungarian radio: “Hungary has concluded a separate peace with Russia!” Orders for the German response “Operation Panzerfaust” were issued and German forces immediately took up planned positions around the Hungarian Government Citadel.
What occurred that evening and the next morning seems like a scripted scene from “Mission Impossible.” Skorzeny, with literally a handful of highly trained commandos, captured the whole Government Complex and Citadel and took the necessary steps to keep Hungary and its armed forces in the fight for the Axis. The whole action took less than thirty minutes and resulted in the death of three Hungarian soldiers and four Germans. Skorzeny was greeted by Hapsburg Archduke Frederick.
On October 18th, Skorzeny, now a LTC, escorted Admiral Horthy to meet with the Führer. He immediately returned to Budapest for joint ceremonial burial service. He would not see Admiral Horthy again until both were war-crime prisoners at the Nuremberg trials. Allied Intelligence took note of this event.
That evening, returning to Berlin with his primary commando officers, Skorzeny was given a written order to report to FHQ. After explaining details of the Hungarian Operation to Hitler, he was informed of the secret plan for December called the “Ardennes Offensive.” The big picture was to score a success in the West and work an armistice with Britain and the United States. Then Germany could send all remaining forces to fight Russia and thereby “save” Europe. His mission would be simple “just rush in to capture and hold three essential bridges, and, dressed in captured uniforms, have commando teams cause confusion behind Allied lines. All this was to be held in the strictest secrecy. Within a week, German High Command posted an order for English-speaking soldiers to be sent to LTC Skorzeny at Friedenthal for “Secret Commando Operations.”
Skorzeny, his Chief of Staff and one of his Battalion Commanders, held tight to the actual mission. Meanwhile, rumors were running wild through the collected gaggle of volunteers. Only half of about 400 English-speakers could communicate in that language. Captured American transportation equipment, which was promised, never materialized, and there was practically no ammunition for the larger U.S. guns. They only had one working Sherman tank, so a dozen Panther tanks were painted olive-drab with big white stars.
In the final phase of training, the rumor mill of the organization decided that the “real” mission would be to make a rapid dash to Paris and capture the Allied Headquarters and Eisenhower. Some of the junior officers and NCOs worked on various plans to get the organized groups to an assembly point in Paris — the Café de la Paix. Allied Intelligence and Security teams would spend the better part of December and January focused on that area.
There was a series of delays in commencing the operation and a series of final briefings at the Wolf’s Den. At some point, Hitler personally forbade Skorzeny from going behind enemy lines. This completely dismayed him. He was directed to coordinate the action by radio and stay with the 6th SS Armoured Army battle headquarters. His commando teams would operate in the battle area of the 1st SS Armoured Regiment under Colonel Peiper. At 0500 on Saturday, 16 December, the attack, known to the Allies as the Battle of the Bulge, began.
The primary mission of his battalion-sized “brigade” was to capture and protect three bridges across the River Meuse so that the Panzer Divisions could stream into Holland on their second day of the attack. When German forces failed to even make their first day goals, it became obvious to Skorzeny that making it to the Meuse wasn’t going to happen. His “brigade” was now used as a regular infantry unit.
However, he had sent half a dozen teams of English-speaking commandos in American uniforms to create confusion by changing or removing road signs and cutting phone lines between American front-line units. A rumor got out that Germans dressed like G.I.s were everywhere. The rumor took on a life of its own and a couple of hundred soldiers were arrested behind the lines, roughed-up to get information, and left in jail for a week — or more.
The outcome of Skorzeny’s last operation: German commandos disguised as American soldiers.
General Bradley was stopped numerous times by over-zealous MPs while trying to visit his front lines. General Montgomery could no get through to discuss the situation with his American counterparts. In Paris, Eisenhower became a virtual prisoner of his own Intel and MPs for five critical days of the battle. An officer resembling Ike was dressed up and driven around Paris trying to trick “Kraut Commandos” into making their move. The rumors’ results would haunt Skorzeny for decades.
The Battle of the Bulge ended in German defeat. It was supposed to impress the Allies of the German Army’sviability and hopefully lead to negotiations about a separate peace treaty on the Western Front. It was the last straw for any German commando action. The remaining German forces were thrown into the losing battles — usually in the East. All that remained was the relentless closing in of the Russian Eastern Front and the Allied Western Front until Berlin was taken.
To cover faulty intel about Skorzeny’s activities, in December the U.S. Army circulated a “Wanted Poster” describing him as a “SABOTEUR, SPY, ASSASSIN” and declared him “The Most Dangerous Man in Europe.” He was tried in Nuremberg by the “Hanging Judge” but saved by the testimony of a British Special Operations Officer who claimed that everything Skorzeny was charged with (in violation of the pre-WWI “Rules of War”) had been done by Allied commando teams against the German Army. He spent years in courtrooms and prisons until finally cleared of all charges and false accusations.
He continued to be held in a detention center because the new German government was afraid to let him go. Finally, he told the warden he had enough and escaped. Not wanted for any crime, he quickly ended up in Spain and started a new life as a Mechanical Engineer.
A number of books were written about his actions: Charles Foley’s “Commando Extraordinary” was published in 1955. Ballentine’s illustrated history, compiled by Charles Whiting, and titled “Skorzeny,” was out in 1972. (Special forces were in the news then and back in vogue.) Skorzeny also released his own memoirs “Skorzeny’s Special Missions” which was written in 1957, immediately translated in English and published in London.
Editor’s note: This article was written by LCDR Sankey Blanton USNR (retired) and submitted by Robert Adams.
Commodore Bertholf served the United States in its Revenue Cutter and Coast Guard service from early manhood, never failing a call to duty, no matter what the danger, always acting in a notably distinguished and at times heroic manner, as evidenced in the especial award to him by Congress of its Gold Medal of Honor. He finally reached the highest command in the Coast Guard and retained to the last his vital interest in the cause of that service. American Bureau of Shipping, 1921
In the quote above the American Bureau of Shipping commented on the productive career of Ellsworth Price Bertholf, first commandant of the modern Coast Guard and first flag officer in service history. No individual may claim sole credit for establishment of the U.S. Coast Guard as a military service. However, like the service’s original founder, Alexander Hamilton, Bertholf bore the greatest responsibility for the planning, establishment, oversight and initial success in the second founding of the Coast Guard in 1915.
Ellsworth Bertholf was born in New York City on April 7, 1866. In 1882, at the age of 16, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy, but was court martialed and dismissed after a hazing incident. In 1885, he entered the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction and matriculated with the Class of 1887. After graduation, he was assigned to the cutter Levi Woodbury and, as was customary at the time, he served two years at sea before receiving a third lieutenant’s commission in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. During his career, he would serve aboard cutters stationed around the United States and Alaska.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf’s most noted service took place on land and in the waters of Alaska. In 1897, Bertholf, Lt. David Jarvis and Dr. Samuel Call of the Arctic cutter Bear, led a dangerous mid-winter relief party that became known as the Overland Expedition. Using sledges pulled by dogs and reindeer, the men set out on snowshoes and skis to relieve over 200 whalers stranded by pack ice near Pt. Barrow, Alaska. Three months and 1,500 miles later, the party arrived at Barrow delivering 382 reindeer to 265 starving whalers. Bertholf received a specially struck Congressional Gold Medal for this courage and heroism.
In the winter of 1901, Bertholf also made a trip across northern Siberia by sledge at the request of the U.S. Bureau of Education. The purpose of his mission was to procure a herd of reindeer for the Inuit villages in Northern Alaska. Bertholf went on to serve as executive officer and then commander of the Bear, made famous by its Alaskan cruises and the Bering Sea Patrol.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf enjoyed a distinguished career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. He was the service’s first officer to attend the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and he rose quickly through the officer ranks. In 1911, at the age of 45, he was appointed captain commandant and head of the Revenue Cutter Service. He was the last man to serve in that position.
He also served as a delegate to the International Conference on Safety at Sea held in London in 1912 after the tragic loss of RMS Titanic. This meeting led to establishment of the International Ice Patrol, which the service has performed since 1913. In addition, he served as chairman of the Interdepartmental Board on International Ice Observation and Patrol in the North Atlantic and the service’s board on Anchorage and Movements of Vessels.
More than any other individual, Bertholf’s strong leadership and guidance made possible the establishment of the modern Coast Guard. With the director of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, Bertholf engineered a merger with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. This amalgamation would bring together hundreds of small craft from the Lifesaving Service and numerous cutters operated by the Revenue Cutter Service, and save the two services from elimination planned by an efficiency commission under President William Taft. Instead, in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act merging the services to form the U.S. Coast Guard with Bertholf appointed to lead the new military service.
(Photo by John Evans.)
During World War I, Capt. Commandant Bertholf held the temporary rank of commodore, the first officer of either the Revenue Cutter Service or Coast Guard to achieve flag rank. The war cemented the service’s role as a military agency. During the conflict, the service performed its traditional missions of search and rescue, maritime interdiction, law enforcement, and humanitarian response. Meanwhile, the service undertook new missions of shore patrol, port security, marine safety, and convoy escort duty while playing a vital role in naval aviation, troop transport operations and overseas naval missions. By war’s end, these assignments had become a permanent part of the Coast Guard’s defense readiness mission.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf retired from the Coast Guard in 1919 and joined the American Bureau of Shipping as vice president. He became very active in the affairs of that institution and travelled extensively to expand the ABS in foreign fields. He died of a heart attack in 1921 at the age of 55. He was survived by his wife and daughter and interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2008, the first of the Coast Guard’s fleet of National Security Cutters was named in Bertholf’s honor–the first Coast Guard cutter named for Bertholf.
Today, the story of Ellsworth Bertholf is lost and forgotten to the American public. The record of his life and legacy remain with us through his heroic feats in Alaska, his role in establishing the Coast Guard as a military service, and the distinguished National Security Cutter that now bears his name.
During the hell that was World War II, the U.S. conducted 72 straight days of vicious bombing raids on the island of Iwo Jima to gain access. America did everything within their power to weaken Japanese forces before sending ground troops in to secure the rest of island for allied use.
Although U.S. forces bombed the crap out of the island, one aspect of their strategy may have been overlooked in a big way.
Soon after the Marines moved further inland, the Japanese defenses came alive and launched a full counterattack. Ground troops fought hard, day after day.
However, the intense allied bombings caused significant superficial damage to the island, littering the surface with debris. This clutter helped to naturally conceal the Japanese pillboxes — small, concrete guard posts with small slits for weapon fire — making it extremely difficult for ground troops to locate and destroy them before it was too late.
Despite this clear disadvantage to the Marines, their fighting spirit proved superior as the grunts managed to secure the island of Iwo Jima.
On Jan. 23, 1943, an Italian POW named Felice Benuzzi, who was being held by the British in Africa, escaped.
But for a very peculiar reason.
Once free of the wire, Benuzzi and two other prisoners who escaped with him spent the next two weeks working their way up the south side of the nearby 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya, their only map a sketch of the mountain they found on a can of Oxo corned beef.
Then they returned to the POW camp.
A member of the Italian Colonial Service, Benuzzi was taken prisoner when the British liberated Ethiopia in 1941 and was imprisoned beneath Mt. Kenya in Camp 354, a camp for civilian POWs. There he encountered the mountain, the first 17,000-foot peak he had ever seen. In his 1952 book about the camp and the mountain, No Picnic on Mt. Kenya, Benuzzi said he “fell in love” with the mountain the first time he saw it.
Not so the camp.
He quickly became bored with the routine and the inactivity of Camp 354, a huge camp that could accommodate up to 10,000 prisoners.
“The sole activity for this host of people was to wander round the camp… They just walk and stop when they see other people talking. Then they stay for a while and join in the conversation,” Benuzzi wrote.
He quickly decided he had to take some action — do something to stay sane. He had been a mountaineer in the Alps before the war, and he decided the something he would do was climb Mt. Kenya.
He recruited another prisoner, Giuàn Balleto, a doctor and (like Benuzzi) a mountaineer before the war, and the two men set about making, buying, and stealing the equipment and food they would need to tackle the mountain.
The second highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kenya. (Photo by Håkon Dahlmo)
They hoarded what they could from their rations and stopped smoking so they could use the cigarettes to buy supplies and food from other prisoners. They made crampons from steel taken from a scrapped automobile and an oven cover, ice-axes from hammers, and ax-handles that doubled as tent poles.
At the last minute, they recruited a third man, Enzo Barsotti, a non-mountaineer who would help with the escape and climb, but would not be in on the attempt at the summit.
“The only reason we decided to [recruit] him,” Benuzzi wrote, “was because he was universally thought to be mad as a hatter, and mad people were what we needed.”
When they were finally ready, they simply walked out of the camp through a gate that opened into the camp gardens using a key they had stolen and copied, accompanied by another prisoner disguised as a British officer. The three men holed up in a shed near the gardens until dark, dug up the supplies and equipment they had hidden there earlier, and began working their way up the mountain.
They had also left a note for the camp commander explaining what they were doing and promising to return.
They spent a week climbing to about 14,000 feet where they established a base camp and where Barsotti, who was by then suffering from altitude sickness, remained while the other two men headed to the summit.
But as Benuzzi and Balleto continued on, a storm blew in and the limitations of their homemade equipment became obvious. They made it to over 16,000 feet but could go no farther. There, they left an Italian flag they made for the purpose and a piece of paper with heir names sealed in an empty brandy bottle.
They then headed back to the base camp and – after a brief rest – began their descent, finally slipping back into Camp 354 as part of a work party.
When they were discovered, they were each sentenced to twenty-eight days solitary confinement, but were released after seven days, Benuzzi wrote, because the camp’s commander “appreciated our sporting effort.”
After the war, Benuzzi continued in the Italian diplomatic service at several postings, including to the United Nations in New York and as ambassador to Uruguay. He died in Rome in 1988.
No Picnic on Mount Kenya is considered a mountaineering classic.