As World War II raged overseas, men and women responded to the call of duty in the fight for what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “four freedoms” – freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. By the time the United States entered the war, more than 2.5 million African American men had signed up for the draft. In a separate-but-not-equal military at the time, the irony was not lost as the fight for these freedoms continued at home.
“[T]he sky in the distance lit up with searchlights, tracers from ack-acks and the sound of bombs,” Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, a medic attached to the primarily African American 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, once wrote in testimony to Congress regarding what he witnessed on D-Day.
War raged in every corner of sky, sea, and land within sight as dawn broke on the morning of June 6, 1944. The 320th was the only African-American amphibious assault unit the U.S. First Army used in Normandy. According to Woodson, they were dispersed among various landing craft for protection of unit members.
“The military personnel on our landing craft looked in awe at the spectacle in the distance and wondered, ‘What next?'” he wrote. Woodson, along with several seamen and soldiers on a Landing Craft Tank, was part of the first wave heading toward Omaha Beach.
The water was choppy and the noise deafening. As the landing craft neared the French coastline, it hit a submerged mine, which took out the motors. Within minutes, it hit another mine and endured several German 88mm artillery shells. The Germans continued to rake the ship with machine gun fire and mortar shells, preventing any nearby ship from coming to the rescue, Woodson said.
One mortar shell landed on the steel deck of the craft and exploded. Before Woodson had a chance to move, shrapnel took out the soldier next to him and more shrapnel lodged into his own thigh. After another medic dressed his injury, Woodson tended to the wounded and dead onboard. Of the 34 service members on board Woodson’s craft, only 11 survived by the time the ship hit the beach.
“D-Day was the most emotional and dangerous day in my life,” Woodson wrote. “As a young soldier far from home … the assault units waited patiently to begin their mission… Everyone knew the first 23 hours would be critical to the course of the war.”
Once Woodson reached the beach, he tended to the wounded and consoled the frightened. He dressed wounds, administered pain medication, and conducted amputations for the next 30 hours. He later saved and resuscitated four drowning soldiers before collapsing from exhaustion and injury. Woodson spent three days recovering in a hospital ship and then asked to be taken back to the beach to continue working.
A note from the assistant director in the Office of War Information to a White House aide states Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross. This was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by the office of Gen. John C.H. Lee in Great Britain. At home, the press called him the “No. 1 Invasion Hero.”
Woodson never received the Distinguished Service Cross or Medal of Honor. After the war, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on D-Day.
Nearly one million African American service members served in World War II. In the segregated military, most African American service members were assigned to the Army for service- or combat-support roles. A small percentage held positions in combat arms.
Retired Cpl. William Dabney, now 93, is one of two surviving members of the 320th. In 1942, he was in his second year of high school when he enlisted in the Army – and only after convincing his great-aunt to sign a document granting him permission to serve. He soon found himself training to use hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, which had thin metal cables with bombs attached that would detonate if triggered by low-flying enemy planes.
On June 6, Dabney made his way to Omaha Beach with the first wave with a barrage balloon strapped to him.
“I was dodging bullets mostly,” said Dabney with a laugh. His mission was to protect the advancing soldiers. As Dabney approached Omaha Beach, his balloon caught fire from being hit by gunfire.
“It happened just as I hit the beach, so I couldn’t move,” said Dabney. “I wasn’t equipped to do anything else because that was my job. The only thing I could do then was unstrap the cables from myself and take cover under the dead bodies so I wouldn’t get shot.”
By the end of the day, the mission of the 320th had been accomplished successfully. Dabney was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. His proudest moment from that day: getting a hug and a kiss from First Lady Michelle Obama, who recognized him before he could introduce himself.
“Allowing my dad to share his experiences with others helps spread the information about the accomplishments and contributions of black men throughout history – specifically throughout World War II,” said Vinney, Dabney’s eldest son.
Segregation in the Armed Forces remained an official policy until 1948. The heroic actions of many African American service members went unacknowledged – due to their race – entire units, such as the 320th, were left unmentioned in history. While prejudice took a backseat during D-Day, the years ahead would see a different story, said Woodson.
Woodson spent the remainder of his career serving the medical community at then-Walter Reed Army Hospital and then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He spent 38 years working in clinical pathology at the National Institutes of Health before retiring. He passed away in 2005.
In 1997, after a study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated racial discrimination in awarding medals, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven African American World War II veterans. But to the dismay of family and friends who knew Woodson, he remained missing from the list.
Many of Woodson’s military records were lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri. With the help of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, his family has since started a petition to award him the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.
“Black History Month recognizes that there are lots of Black heroes largely uncelebrated because their stories aren’t being told,” said Dabney. “I’d like people to not just remember the 320th. I would like for all African Americans that were fighting in this war to be recognized. They did a job, too, and there was quite a few of us out there.”
Two platoons were ordered to engage the enemy at once; the first stormed toward the Japanese at full force as the second gave “support-by-fire” position in the rear.
As Nett and the first platoon advanced, they slid Bangalore charges through the enemies’ barb wired defense system, clearing their path. The flamethrowers operators then crawled through the detonated gaps and incinerated the enemy forces, allowing allied troops to create a stable foothold for themselves.
Nett’s objective was to clear a sizeable fortified enemy building just up ahead. He called to the forward observer to light the area up with 105mm shells to break the structure’s exterior security.
Just as the shells struck the building, Nett took a surprising neck wound — his jugular vein had been nicked.
Ignoring the pulsating wound, Nett crawled from squad-to-squad while engaging enemy that appeared nearby. Nett decided that it was time for him and his men to fix their bayonets.
With adrenaline pumping through their veins, Nett and his fellow soldiers carefully dashed toward their objective. Nett moved his machine gun teams to their new fighting positions while dangerously engaging the enemy in close quarter combat along the way. At that time, he took another enemy round, this time to his chest — collapsing a lung.
The S-72 from the 1970s can be seen as a sort of spiritual predecessor to today’s Future Vertical Lift program. It was all about creating a vehicle that could take off and land vertically like a normal helicopter but could also fly fast and far like a plane. But while the FVL’s top contenders are logical new versions of existing aircraft, the S-72 Rotor Systems Research Aircraft was a plane and a helicopter duct-taped together and filled with explosives.
Sikorsky S-72 Helicopter (RSRA) Rotor Systems Research Aircraft
The RSRA was a joint effort by the Army and NASA, and the Sikorsky Aircraft company was the primary developer. Sikorsky is the company behind the new SB-1 Defiant, and they’ve long searched to push the envelope when it comes to helicopter design.
You can actually see some elements of the SB-1 Defiant in the S-72. The S-72 was basically another Sikorsky helicopter, the S-67, with wings and turbofans added. It packed two TF34 engines, the same things that keep the A-10 in the air. Strapped to an S-72 with stubby wings, these engines could send the aircraft through the sky at 345 mph.
But the S-72 was also a helicopter with five rotor blades, so it could take off and land vertically. These blades were not propelled by the TF34s, though. Nope, those were powered by the original two T-58 turboshafts from the S-67.
But that’s a lot of engines to strap to one small aircraft. What if something goes wrong? What if you need to suddenly escape?
Well, that’s where your ejector seats come in. Yup, you could rocket yourself out of this bad boy in an explosive chair. And if you’re thinking, “Wait, didn’t you just say there are five rotor blades spinning above the pilots?” Then, congratulations on paying that much attention! But also, don’t worry, because Sikorsky strapped explosives to those rotor blades, and they would blow off before the pilots flew out.
It’s all pretty cool, if not exactly practical. The program eventually fell apart for the normal reasons. It was simply too expensive and technologically advanced for its time. It did fly multiple times, but always in either a full helicopter configuration or full jet configuration with the rotor blade removed. It never flew at 345 mph with that rotor blade flapping in the wind.
The S-72 configured for the X-Wing program.
Without getting too heavy into the physics in an article written for you to read on the bus or in bed or whatever, there’s a very real reason that high-speed flight with rotor blades spinning up top is tough. Helicopters have what are called advancing and retreating blades. The advancing blade is the one moving in the same direction as the aircraft, and the retreating blade is the one spinning to the rear.
The advancing blade would generate a lot more lift because it’s moving so much faster through the air, and this effect is increased the faster the helicopter is flying. Engineers have a few ways of getting around this problem, but it gets trickier the faster the helicopter flies. That’s part of why Chinooks top out at about 200 mph in level flight. So, a helicopter flying 345 mph would face a huge problem with “dissymmetry of lift.”
The S-72’s method around this was a system that would stop the blades and hold them in place as part of the X-Wing concept. Basically, the aircraft would’ve gotten a new rotor blade with four large blades instead of its normal five. When the aircraft was flying as a jet, the rotor blades would be locked in position and would generate lift like traditional wings. One S-72 was modified as the X-Wing version, but it never flew.
Meanwhile, if the SB-1 Defiant lives up to its design promises, Sikorsky thinks it will fly at almost 290 mph. If so, it will be the fastest production helicopter and still be 55 mph slower than the S-72 that preceded it.
In the short history of our country, the United States rose to global military dominance — yeah, I said it. Come at me, China.
But the road to the top was paved with the blood of good men and women. Looking back, there are some pivotal battles we remember with solemn pride and a little bit of hoo-rah. Let’s check out 10 of the most intense battles in United States history.
10. The Battle of Chosin
(Photo by U.S. Air Force)
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir was one of the defining battles of the Korean War and the stuff of legend in the Marine Corps. In the Fall of 1950, U.N. Forces under the command of General MacArthur had almost captured the entirety of North Korea when they were attacked by thousands of Chinese Communist soldiers. The U.S. X Corps was forced to retreat and by mid-November the 1st Marine Division and elements of the 7th Infantry Division found themselves surrounded, outnumbered, and at risk of annihilation in the high North Korean Mountains at the Chosin Reservoir. Their only way out was a fighting retreat back to the coast.
Although as Chesty Puller put it, they weren’t retreating, they were “fighting in the opposite direction.”
Over the course of the next 17 days, the Marines and soldiers fought the Chinese — and bouts of frostbite — with fierce determination and epic endurance. They broke through the enemy’s encirclement and even rebuilt a bridge the Chinese destroyed using prebuilt bridge sections dropped by the U.S. Air Force.
By the end of the battle, the U.S. Marines suffered 836 dead and roughly 10,000 wounded. The Army had 2,000 dead and 1,000 wounded. The Chinese had the most catastrophic losses. Six out of their ten divisions were wiped out and only one would ever see combat again. Although exact numbers are not known, historians estimate that anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 Chinese were killed.
Although technically a loss for the Marines, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir lives on in memory as an example of the Marine fighting spirit and the ability to find strength even when the odds are stacked against them.
9. The Battle of Antietam
(Painting by Thure Thulstrup)
A year and a half into the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln needed a Union victory. He finalized the Emancipation Proclamation during the summer but his cabinet feared it would be too difficult to enforce after a string of northern losses, including the Second Battle of Bull Run (known as the Battle of Manassas to the rebels).
Lincoln charged Major General George B. McClellan with the defense of Washington D.C. against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North. Earlier in the month, Lee divided his men, sending General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to capture Harper’s Ferry. Following Jackson’s success, Lee decided to make a stand in Maryland at Antietam Creek.
After two days of posturing, fighting began early in the morning on Sep. 17, 1862, and lasted well past sundown, with staggering casualties on both sides and no ground gained. The next day, both armies gathered their dead and wounded and Lee retreated south.
It was the bloodiest one day battle in American history, with 23,000 casualties from both sides and nearly 4,000 dead.
Sticking with the Civil War, let’s move on:
8. The Battle of Gettysburg
(Painting by Don Troiani)
The Battle of Gettysburg was not only the largest battle of the Civil War, it remains the largest battle ever fought in North America.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee had just won a decisive victory against Union General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Wanting to capitalize on the recent victory, Lee led his troops on a second invasion into the Northern states to defeat the Union on their own soil and hopefully gain recognition of the confederacy by European countries.
General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac pursued Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the two forces met near Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The Confederates outnumbered the Yankees at roughly 30,000 to 18,000. By the end of the first day, the Yankees were forced to retreat through town to cemetery ridge and Culp’s Hill.
By the next day, both sides had gained reinforcements. Meade now had roughly 94,000 soldiers in a fish hook formation, allowing him to successfully move troops from one front to another. Lee had roughly 72,000 soldiers wrapped around the fish hook.
The Confederates attacked first but at the end of the second day, the Union defense lines held strong.
On the 3rd day, Lee tried an aggressive attack to crush the federals. He sent General Pickett with approximately 12,500 men to crush the Union Army with a direct charge.
It turned out to be one of Lee’s most ill-fated decisions. Fifty percent of Pickett’s men were wounded or killed and the rest of his troops were forced to retreat.
Casualties were high on both sides. The Union suffered around 23,000 casualties while the South suffered 28,000 — more than a third of Lee’s army.
The battle was the deadliest in the Civil War and prompted Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg address four and a half months later at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Although the fighting continued for nearly two more years, Gettysburg was an irrevocable turning point in the war in the Union’s favor.
7. Hue City
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. W. F. Dickman)
The North Vietnamese captured the venerated capital city of Hue during the Tet Offensive, a coordinated series of attacks on over a hundred American and South Vietnamese positions countrywide.
The battle to regain Hue began in February 1968 and lasted nearly a month, as Marines ferociously drove North Vietnamese and Communist Viet Cong forces from the city.
The Perfume River divided the city of Hue in two. To the north was the Citadel, a three-square mile fortress surrounded by walls 30-feet high and up to 40-feet thick, with a moat on three sides and the Perfume River on the 4th. To the south, the smaller and more modern section of Hue was connected to the Citadel by a bridge.
U.S. Marines and soldiers were tasked with clearing out the entrenched enemy in the southern portion of the city, while the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) would clear out the Northern portion and the citadel.
Untrained for urban combat, U.S. battalions had to come up with tactics and techniques on the spot — while facing a brutal enemy. The process was methodical and casualty heavy. They went from house to house and room to room to gain ground. Speed, surprise, and shock were essential to achieve victory.
After clearing the south side, U.S. battalions broke into the Citadel from the bridge to assist ARVN troops.
Finally on Feb. 24, the South Vietnamese flag flew over the citadel. On March 2, the longest sustained infantry battle the war had seen to this point was officially declared over.
The U.S. suffered 216 dead and 1364 wounded. South Vietnamese losses totaled 384 dead and 1,830 wounded with thousands of civilians were caught in the the cross-fire or murdered. The North Vietnamese casualties included 5,000 dead and countless more wounded.
Virtually all of Hue was destroyed, leaving roughly 100,000 homeless.
While technically a win for the U.S. and South Vietnamese, the news coverage of the event shocked the American population and broke their faith in the war.
U.S. troops would not experience that intensity of urban fighting again for another 36 years until the second battle of Fallujah, which is number six on our list.
An estimated 4000 enemy combatants were in the city when the fighting began — it’s even suspected that al’Qa’eda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi held his headquarters there. They fortified their defenses before the attack, preparing spider holes, traps, and concealed IEDs throughout the town. They created propane bombs hidden in buildings, cut off access to escape routes and roofs, and designed fields of fire where they believed coalition forces would maneuver.
Nearly 70% of the civilian population fled the city, reducing civilian casualties and allowing coalition forces to launch their assault. Army, Marine, and Iraqi forces attacked with an air barrage, followed by an insertion of Marines and Navy Seabees, who bulldozed obstacles. The worst of the fighting continued for the first week, but insurgents resisted throughout the six-week campaign.
By the end of December, 82 US troops were killed with another 600 wounded. British and Iraqi forces sustained 12 killed with another 53 wounded. Over 2000 insurgents were killed while another 1200 were captured.
Keeping with Post-9/11, let’s talk about Afghanistan.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. David R. Hernandez)
The Battle of Sangin was one of the deadliest campaigns in Operation Enduring Freedom. The Sangin River Valley was a Taliban stronghold and was considered the center of opium production. In 2010, United States Marines replaced the British forces in Sangin and initiated a deadly campaign to clear out the insurgent presence in the region. The counterinsurgency lasted for four years, and during this time Marines sustained casualties at some of the highest rates seen during the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan.
IEDs peppered the landscape, killing or maiming hundreds. During the height of the fighting, there was daily contact with the enemy just meters outside allied FOBs. In October 2010, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines began a 7-month tour that would kill dozens of them in action and injure hundreds more, with at least 34 of them becoming single, double, or triple amputees. But the “Dark Horse” Marines made progress extending their security perimeter and clearing Highway 611, which allowed for the transportation and operation of future units.
By 2012, Sangin was transformed from a battlefield into a thriving rural town, but the price was over 100 British and American lives lost and hundreds more wounded. The Taliban continued to fight for Sangin, and today, the area remains in contention.
4. Operation Bolo
(U.S. Air Force photo)
This is the only air-to-air fight we’ll cover. It’s decidedly less deadly than any other battle on this list, but the tactics and implications merit a discussion.
In the last months of 1966, the North Vietnamese Army’s Mig-21 Fishbed fleet had become more active and successful at intercepting the F-105 Thunderchief formations of the United States Air Force.
The F-105 “Thuds” were super-sonic fighter-bombers with the mission of destroying communist air defense systems. They did this in the role of the wild weasels, a group that would fly slow and low enough to bait the communist surface-to-air systems into targeting them, thus giving away the enemy position and allowing the Wild Weasels to attack and destroy.
But with the MiG-21 added to the fight, the Thuds were falling vulnerable to air-to-air attacks.
The U.S. Air Force decided they needed to neutralize the MiG threat. Air Force legend and World War II Ace Colonel Robin Olds designed a gutsy plan to accomplish this.
Known as Operation Bolo, the mission was to lure the enemy MiGs into battle by hiding supersonic F-4C jets among the slower and less-maneuverable Thud formations.
On Jan. 2, 1967, Olds and his formation of phantoms took to the cloudy skies to fly the F-105 bomb run. They kept to the F-105 speed and flew in the F-105 formation.
Popping up from the clouds, the Fishbeds attacked in pairs. Olds and his formation began a legendary dogfight, where U.S. forces exploited their tactical and technical advantage over the enemy.
Within 13 minutes, seven MiGs were destroyed — roughly half the NVA Mig -21 fleet. The Americans hauled ass back to Thailand with zero casualties.
In the next week, similar missions took out more communist aircraft. As a result, the North Vietnamese were forced to ground their aircraft for several months as they re-trained their pilots and sought new air defense tactics.
Colonel Olds remains the only U.S. Air Force ace with victories in both World War II and Vietnam.
To illustrate how terrible it can be when our birds are shot down, let’s move on to Somalia.
3. Battle of Mogadishu
(U.S. Army photo)
On Dec. 9, 1992, eighteen hundred United States Marines arrived in Mogadishu, Somalia to help affect peace in the war-torn country. As part of Operation Restore Hope, the Marines supported international aid workers in the country for humanitarian aid operations, including food and supply distribution. In 1993, President Bill Clinton reduced the U.S. presence as the United Nations formally assumed responsibility for operations.
In June, however, Pakistani UN peacekeepers were ambushed by militias loyal to Somali warlord General Mohammad Farrah Aidid, and 24 UN soldiers from Pakistan were killed.
In response, the UN authorized the arrest of Aidid, and President Clinton dispatched 160 Army Rangers and Delta Force operators on a mission to capture the warlord and other leaders of his militia.
The operation went disastrously wrong. Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and a brutal urban battle began. The first Black Hawk was struck by an RPG, killing the pilot and co-pilot in the crash, and injuring five more passengers, including one who would die later from his wounds. A rescue mission retrieved the rest of the survivors, but then the second Black Hawk was struck, killing three in the crash. Pilot Mike Durant survived, but his back and leg were broken and he was taken prisoner.
Two Delta Force operators, MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randy Shughart, were killed attempting to rescue Durant, who was held prisoner for 11 days until his release was secured through diplomatic negotiations. Gordon and Shughart would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions.
(DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert M. Warren)
In the final stretch of World War II, the allies sought to gain control of strategic islands in the Pacific. Iwo Jima was a barren Pacific Island located roughly 660 miles from Japan, making it an ideal forward-deployed location for the Allies and Axis powers alike. On Feb. 19, 1945, after three days of naval and aerial bombardments, which launched over sixty-eight hundred tons of bombs and twenty-two thousand shells, the first wave of United States Marines stormed Iwo Jima’s volcanic shores.
Over 21,000 Japanese were there to greet them, heavily entrenched in a complex network of underground tunnels and artillery positions. What followed was some of the most violent fighting of the Pacific in World War II, due in large part to the determination of the Japanese to die before they would surrender.
They burned any vegetation that might have provided the Marines with cover, then launched artillery fire at the Marines’ exposed positions. Naval Seabees got to work on U.S. artillery positions, forward command posts, and field hospitals — all while holding their own in the fight.
The iconic raising of the American Flag over Mount Suribachi took place four days into the battle, but the fighting continued for a month. Marines used artillery and flamethrowers to destroy enemy defenses, and the final battle on March 26 included a massive attack against the Americans that ultimately came down to hand-to-hand combat.
In the end, nearly all of the Japanese defenders were killed, except for a couple hundred prisoners. Over 6000 Americans died helping to take the island, with 17,000 more wounded.
This one is ranked for its intensity, carnage, and outcome.
D-Day was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken to date and a logistics marvel. One of the most important battles in World War II, it turned the tide of the conflict in the Allies’ favor and eventually led to their victory in Europe.
Allied forces had been planning D-Day for months. Codenamed Operation Overlord, its goal was to gain a strong foothold in continental Europe by landing thousands of Allied troops and supplies on the beaches of Normandy, France.
The original invasion date was set for May, but due to poor weather conditions it was postponed until June. Despite the continued poor weather, General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, gave the order to attack.
D-Day would commence on June 6, 1944.
On Eisenhower’s orders, roughly 176,000 troops embarked on their journey from England to France on 6,000 landing craft, ships, and other vessels.
Just before midnight, airborne troops parachuted into occupied France, surprising the Germans.
Air and naval bombardments were underway to weaken the German defenses before the main invasion began.
At 0630 local time, the land insertion struck across five sectors in a 60-mile coastal stretch of Normandy. British and Canadian troops overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, as did the Americans at Utah. But the American G.I.’s at Omaha faced a tough fight.
The aerial and naval bombardment had done little to diminish the heavily fortified German defenses, both on the shore and on the cliffs above the beaches. Allied amphibious tanks were launched too far from shore and only 2 out of 29 made it to the beach. Many soldiers drowned in the waves, dragged down by the weight of their rucksacks, and many more were mowed down by the constant German fire.
Small groups of Americans managed to make it across the beach and traverse up the cliffs.
Allied casualties on June 6 have been estimated at over 10,000 killed, wounded, and missing in action, consisting of around 6,603 Americans, 2,700 British, and 946 Canadians.
By the end of the day, 155,000 Allied troops successfully stormed and held Normandy’s beaches. By Aug. 21, 1944, the allies had successfully landed over 2 million men in Northern France and suffered 226,386 casualties. German losses included over 240,000 casualties and 200,000 captured. Between 13,000 and 20,000 French civilians died, and many more were seriously wounded.
The success of the invasion was the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. It forced the Germans to fight a two-front war with the Soviets on the East and British, Canadian, and U.S. forces on the west.
The Nazi Third Reich would fall the following May.
This article was written with contributions by Megan Hayes.
Look, you all know what military working dogs are. Whether you’re here because they’re adorable, because they save lives, because they bite bad guys, or because they bite bad guys and save lives while being adorable, we all have reasons to love these good puppers. And the military protects these warriors, even evacuating them when necessary.
And so that brings us to the above video and photos below. Because, yes, these evacuations can take place on helicopters, and that requires a lot of training. Some of it is standard stuff. The dogs can ride on normal litters and in normal helicopters. But medics aren’t always ready for a canine patient, and the doggos have some special needs.
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training
(U.S. Army courtesy photo)
One of the most important needs particular to the dogs is managing their anxiety. While some humans get uncomfortable on a ride in the whirly bird (the technical name for a helicopter), it’s even worse for dogs who don’t quite understand why they’re suddenly hundreds of feet in the sky while standing on a shaking metal plate.
So the dogs benefit a lot just from helicopter familiarization training. And it’s also a big part of why handlers almost always leave the battlefield with their dogs. Their rifle might be useful on the ground even after their dog is wounded, but handlers have a unique value during the medical evacuation, treatment, and rehabilitation. If a dog is already hurt and scared when it gets on a helicopter, you really want it to have a familiar face comforting it during the flight.
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training
(U.S. Army courtesy photo)
But it’s not just about helping the dogs be more comfortable. It’s also about preparing the flight medics to take care of the dogs’ and handlers’ unique needs. Like in the video at the top. As the Air Force handlers are comforting and restraining the dogs, the helicopter crew is connecting handlers’ restraints because the handlers’ hands are needed for the dogs.
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training
(U.S. Army courtesy photo)
The personnel who take part in these missions, from the handlers to the pilots to the flight crews, all get trained on the differences before they take part in the training and, when possible, before any missions where they might need to evacuate a dog.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Yarborough)
Of course, ultimately, the dogs get care from medical and veterinarian teams. Don’t worry about this good dog. The photo comes from a routine root canal.
With pride streaming from their pores and a sense of realism in their voice, most vets don’t hesitate to speak their mind — and we love them for it.
The next time to get the chance to hear their tales of triumph, count how many times they say a few these phrases:
1. “We had it harder.”
For some, levels of accomplishments of service is a d*ck measuring contest. Don’t be offended, but let’s face it, you probably should be.
2. “Keep your head and your ass wired together.”
If you have a mom or dad who is a vet, you’ve probably heard this at one time or another when you’ve made an immature mistake. The human ass is considered the body’s anchor point; keep your head wired to it and you’ll have fewer chances of losing it.
3. “Back in my day…”
A lot has changed over the years; we have fast internet, text messaging, and first world problems now. Many older vets are don’t rely on the pleasures of technology to help them with their daily lives. They tend to stick with they know best for them.
You may hear this line when a former service member fumbles with his credit card while paying for an item at the checkout counter or just sitting with one as they recall a moment from the good ole’ days.
4. “It’s a free country. You’re welcome.”
Face it, they can be grumpy old men too.
5. “I miss killing Nazis.”
Mostly spoken by WWI and WWII vets — let’s hope anyway.
6. “Baby-wipes? We only had sand paper.”
Being deployed these days, you can still have many of the comforts of home, including a music player, a laptop, and video games. We even receive care packages from home containing candy, snacks, and baby wipes.
Baby wipes are man’s second best friend when fighting in any clime and place. The soft sanitizing sheets can clean just about anything — or at least feel and look clean.
Back in the day, grunts packed a few extra smokes and a photo of their hometown girlfriend, Barbara Jean, and then had to wipe their butts with what came folded and cramped in their MREs, which was a piece of coarse, square paper.
Standard issue toilet paper. One size wipes almost all.
Although wet naps debuted in the late 1950s, it wasn’t until 2005 when wet/baby wipes came on the market as the more bum friendly product we know today.
7. “If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.”
Probably the most common phrase in a vet era. This phrase is usually spoken in a sarcastic tone to inform others how much of a p**** they are if they want to quit an outdoors activity when the rain starts coming down.
General James Longstreet was one of the Confederate army’s most trusted and capable officers. After the Battle of Gettysburg and long after the end of the Civil War, Longstreet takes much of the blame for the southern loss at the battle – and sometimes for the loss of Civil War itself.
For many people who blame Longstreet for the loss (or show outright disdain for the man), it all goes back to the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg — specifically, Pickett’s Charge. It was an attack Longstreet didn’t order or want, but he still takes the blame for its failure.
When Gen. Robert E. Lee gave the order, Longstreet openly voiced his disagreement with it. He relayed the order to Pickett anyway, but was very unhappy to do so. Longstreet didn’t think the Confederate army should have been so far north at all. He takes a lot of blame for the failure at Gettysburg overall, because it’s said he delayed his actions during the battle.
Whether it was a good idea or not, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg saw 12,500 Confederate soldiers charged an entrenched and fortified Union position protecting Cemetery Hill. The hill commanded a network of roads essential to command of the battlefield. The Union commanders predicted the attack and the chargers took at least 50% casualties.
The Army of Northern Virginia never recovered from the failed assault and the Confederate Army never recovered from the loss of at Gettysburg. It was the turning point in a battle that was the turning point of the Civil War. Longstreet saw it all coming and tried to talk Lee out of it, but to no avail.
No matter what the armchair historians may say, Lee is actually responsible for the failed attack, and he knew it right away. He was so personally devastated by the losses incurred in Pickett’s Charge that he offered his resignation to Confederate President Jefferson Davis (who turned it down).
Longstreet takes a lot of the blame for Pickett’s Charge (and the defeat at Gettysburg) because he, for the most part, didn’t think the Confederate Army should have been there after the first day of fighting.
It’s said that Longstreet dithered and delayed so much and so often throughout the battle that it was almost considered intentional sabotage. When it came to Pickett’s Charge, he openly disagreed with Lee, which earned him a transfer West after the Confederate retreat from Pennsylvania.
Gen. Longstreet believed that it was more important to defeat Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee and less important to invade the North. He felt so strongly that the disagreement went all the way up to Jefferson Davis. Lee argued that moving troops to the West would force his army to stay closer to Richmond. Davis sided with Lee, so the perception was that Longstreet’s disagreement and delays during the battle were mostly sour grapes.
And since the battle – and Pickett’s Charge – was so pivotal to the Confederacy’s survival, the idea that Longstreet didn’t do his best is why he takes much of the blame.
Longstreet also takes a lot of blame in the eyes of Southern historians, especially propagators of the “Lost Cause” mythology, because of his postwar activities. Longstreet actively sought to rejoin the Union and earn a pardon. He eventually ended up working in a presidential administration – under President Ulysses S. Grant.
As for who is actually responsible for the failure of Pickett’s Charge, when asked after the war, Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett went on the record as saying, “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”
On Sept. 1, 1939, the Nazi war machine rolled into Poland, touching off World War II in Europe. Nazi propaganda would have the world believe Polish cavalry were intentionally charging Nazi tanks, thinking they were no more than the toothless dummies the Treaty of Versailles allowed them. In the aftermath of these battles, the dead horses and cavalrymen appeared to back this claim and the world would believe the myth of the Polish cavalry for much of the war. But in reality, there was a Polish cavalry charge that was a tactical success.
(Laughs in Polish)
The Poles had very little chance of retaining their country during World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland at one of the heights of their military power. The Soviets invaded Poland from the other side. Poland stood little chance of fighting them both off – but that doesn’t mean the Poles didn’t try. The Polish had already fought off the Red Army in the 1919-1921 Polish-Russian War, but this time, things would be different.
Poland has a pretty spectacular military history, even if it wasn’t a country for much of that time. Napoleon recruited Polish troops, as did the Russian Tsar and the Hapsburg monarchy. It was probably Polish forces who kept Eastern Europe from falling to Muslim invaders in the 1600s, as Polish troops were critical to winning the Battle of Vienna. The final death blow to the Ottoman invaders was the now-famous cavalry charge led by the elite Polish Winged Hussars. The Hussars cleared the Ottomans from the battlefield and delivered a rout so hard, Muslim armies would never threaten Vienna or Western Europe again.
So yeah, the Poles are no joke – but time passed, and Poland fell behind in its military development while Nazi Germany famously re-armed in a way that would make any dictator’s mouth water. The Soviet Union had a large army, even if it wasn’t as well-trained or well-equipped. The Poles still fought both valiantly and nowhere was that more apparent than at Krojanty.
On the first day of the Nazi invasion, the Germans broke through the Polish Border Guard very early in the day, which forced the rest of the Polish defenders in the area to fall back to a secondary defensive position. In order to make an orderly retreat and not lose all of the defenders to German infantry, someone had to cover the retreat and force the Germans to slow their advance. That fell to the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment, a cavalry regiment that saw action fighting the Red Army in the 1919 war with the USSR. They would make one of history’s last great cavalry charges.
No, they weren’t wearing wings but that would have been awesome.
The 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment found the Nazi German 76th Infantry Regiment, comprised of 800 armored reconnaissance vehicles along with 30 heavy guns, waiting to advance on the free city of Danzig. The 76th was actually part of the left wing of the XIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Heinz Guderian, which had been slowed across the line by Polish resistance. In order for the Poles in the area to get to the secondary defense of the River Brda, the 76th would have to take heavy losses, which would cause a delay for the entire motorized division on the Nazi left flank.
What would a cavalry unit do in a situation where the enemy is sitting around, waiting for orders? Charge, of course. The Poles took the enemy by surprise with a heavy cavalry charge of two squadrons, consisting of 250 angry Poles on horseback. They completely disbursed the German 76th. It was a complete tactical success, allowing for the rest of the defenders to make it to the relative safety of the River Brda. The Polish cavalry was quickly disbursed itself, however, by a German counterattack of heavy machine guns from nearby armored vehicles. They lost a third of their cavalry, but the rest of the defenders lived on to fight again.
For troops on the frontlines, receiving mail from home is a welcome reprieve from the stress and dangers of combat. During WWII, it was the job of units like the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion to make sure that mail sent from the states got to the troops overseas. What made the 6888th unique was that it was the only all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps to serve overseas during the war.
Because of the high demand for frontline troops, the Army had a significant shortage of soldiers who could manage postal services in theater. In 1944, Black civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune lobbied First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for “a role for Black women in war overseas.” Her efforts were joined by Black newspapers who called for the Army to give Black women the opportunity to support the war effort in a more direct role.
The Army responded by creating the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in the Women’s Army Corps. Nicknamed the “Six Triple Eight”, the unit’s motto was “No mail, low morale.” The battalion was made up of 855 women, both officers and enlisted. Most of them worked as postal clerks. However, the women also filled other positions like cooks and mechanics. Because of this, the 6888th was a self-sufficient unit.
The 6888th left the United States for Europe on February 3, 1945. Twelve days later, the women arrived in Birmingham, England where they found the backlog of mail that they were responsible for. In the temporary post office, a converted aircraft hangar, mail was stacked to the ceiling. Some letters were postmarked as early as 1943. Part of the problem was that mail was commonly addressed with only a soldier’s first name or even a nickname.
The Army gave the 6888th six months to sort through the backlog of mail and sent a white officer to the unit to tell them how to do the job right. The 6888th’s commander, Major Charity Adams Earley responded by saying, “Sir, over my dead body.” The women devised their own system to sort the mail. Working in three shifts, seven days a week, each shift handled an estimated 65,000 pieces of mail. They completed their six-month tasking in just three months.
After they cleared the enormous backlog of mail in Birmingham, the women of the 6888th were sent across the Channel to France in May, 1945. The unit was camped in Rouen where they given another backlog of mail, some of which was postmarked 1942. According to Army historians, the military police of the 6888th were not allowed to carry weapons. As a result, the MPs were trained in jujitsu to deter “unwanted visitors.”
In May 1945, the women of the 6888th marched in a parade ceremony in honor of Joan of Arc through the marketplace where the saint was burned at the stake. By 1945, the women had cleared the Rouen backlog of mail and were sent to Paris. Upon their arrival, they marched through the city and were welcomed enthusiastically by the Parisians. They were even housed in a hotel where the staff treated them like top-tier guests.
With the war over on all fronts, the 6888th was cut by 300 women with 200 set to be discharged in January 1946. In February 1946, the women that remained were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey where the unit was disbanded. There was no public recognition for the unit’s service.
In 2009, the 6888th was honored at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Seven years later, the 6888th was inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame. In 2018, a monument to the women of the 6888th was erected at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. When asked about her service by the American Veterans Center, 6888th veteran Anna Mae Robertson said with a chuckle, “I was doing the best I could.”
These incredible women weren’t the only ones to break new grounds during WWII. To learn about some of our country’s first Black Marines, keep reading here.
When people think of the Vietnam War, they think of helicopter-borne Marines or soldiers taking on Viet Cong guerillas. They think of F-105s and F-4s going “downtown” to Hanoi, or ARC LIGHT B-52 missions. They don’t think about tanks slugging it out.
That’s the Arab Israeli-Wars, over on the other side of the continent of Asia.
Well, contrary to many people’s preconceptions, there was tank-versus-tank action in the Vietnam War. Not exactly on the scale of the Arab-Israeli wars, but when you’re the one being shot at, you’re dealing with a significant action.
Ben Het was a special forces camp overlooking one of the many infiltration points into South Vietnam from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Among the units there were Operational Detachment Alpha A-244, which consisted of 12 Green Berets. They were backed up by a number of Montagnard tribesmen, a battery of 175mm howitzers, and M48 Patton main battle tanks, and had the mission of tracking movements by North Vietnamese troops in the area. When they found the enemy, they particularly liked calling in air strikes by F-4 Phantoms and A-1 Skyraiders.
On March 3, 1969, the North Vietnamese attacked the camp with a force that included PT-76 amphibious tanks. These tanks had a 76mm gun, but were lightly armored. In that battle, the M48 tanks engaged the PT-76s. While one M48 was damaged, with two crewmen dead, at least two of the North Vietnamese tanks were also destroyed, along with a BTR-50 armored personnel carrier.
The North Vietnamese were beaten back, and the Green Berets proceeded to evacuate their dead and wounded. Below, listen as retired Maj. Mike Linnane discusses his perspective of the Battle of Ben Het.
Gordon Lease was 17-years-old and living in California when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day Lease was queued up to join the Navy, but the line was so long, the recruiters told him he wouldn’t be able to join that day. Lease joined the Coast Guard instead. But he ended up with the Navy… in an unexpected way.
Lease, now in his nineties, told SDPB how he ended up as an amphibious sailor on Navy Landing Ship Tanks (LST), designed to land men and material on beaches.
“The Navy found out we were good in small boats,” Gordon said. “And they needed amphibious sailors … that’s where we went.”
After a few years of guarding the West Coast against another Japanese attack and conducting search and rescue operations, the Navy exercised its authority to appropriate Coast Guard assets. In 1943, Gordon learned LST operations, driving the boats onto the shores of Maryland.
Soldiers, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen trained for amphibious operations in the Chesapeake Bay and then boarded troop convoys bound for Europe and elsewhere. In Britain, Navy and Coast Guard personnel continued training to land men on beaches. LSTs like Lease’s were specially trained to land at certain places at certain times.
It wasn’t long before he was in the fight. Lease trained in February, and, by July 1943, he would land men and tanks on Sicily. He also piloted an LST during the landings at Salerno, Anzio, and Normandy.
Operation Neptune, the naval assault portion of Overlord, remains the largest single combat operation in Coast Guard history. It was more than just landing on the beaches; the Coast Guard managed boat handling, loading and discharging cargo at sea and ashore, and directing vessel traffic. These landing craft carried up to 30 men and were also charged with taking the dead and wounded off the beaches under fire.
“It doesn’t do you any good to be scared,” Gordon said. “I’m serious about that. If you want to do your job, forget getting hurt, forget being scared, forget about that aircraft, forget about the guy shooting at you. Just do your job.”
At Normandy, the Coast Guard ran a rescue flotilla, suggested by President Roosevelt himself. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Russell R. Waesche collected dozens of landing craft, small boats, and patrol ships to do the job. Sixty 83-foot USCG cutters made up “Rescue Flotilla One.” This flotilla saved more than 400 men on D-Day and more than a thousand more by the end of 1944.
Lease took his LST to the beaches of France 10 times throughout D-Day, trips that included picking up wounded men for treatment in England. For his efforts, he received the Coast Guard Commendation Medal and the French Legion of Honor.
The Coast Guard helped to develop the Mulberry; the artificial harbors used to offload cargo in recently captured ports. Coast Guard Cmdr. Quentin R. Walsh also helped plan the occupation of Cherbourg, assessing the condition of the ports there and accepting the surrender of a German-held fortress.
More Coast Guard ships were lost in the days following D-Day than any time in its history. Four landing craft were destroyed on the beaches while another 85 sank offshore. Their losses were not in vain, however. The wrecks of the Coast Guard vessels served as navigation markers, guiding other incoming ships and landing craft. The Coast Guard also lost 15 among the ranks during the invasion. Six of them are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
“I was operating a landing craft. And someone kept count,” Lease recalled. “I brought a-hundred-and-ten people off the beach at Normandy back to our ship to evacuate them to England for treatment.”
Gordon Lease left the Coast Guard after the war and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, where he would remain until 1951. Now 92 years old, Lease still fits into the Coast Guard uniform he wore on LST-381 on D-Day.
Each of these enclosures was a virtual fortress, and the Germans had spent months preparing their defenses. They practiced moving through the hedges, selected areas for machine guns and anti-tank weapons, and practiced firing from trees into nearby enclosures.
Perhaps most importantly, they had planted stakes near the most likely routes of American troops and had mapped the locations of the stakes by coordinates, allowing defenders to quickly and accurately call fire onto the advancing Allies.
Compounding the problem was the irregular shape of the enclosures. The rows weren’t laid out in a proper grid. Instead, they were roughly rectangular as a whole, but with a variety of sizes even among adjoining fields. And all of these fields were connected primarily by thin wagon trails that wound through the irregular enclosures.
All of this combined to form a defender’s paradise and an attacker’s hell. In the first days of the Battle for the Hedgerows, American troops would assault an enclosure at full speed, attempting to use velocity and violence of action to overwhelm the defenders. German machine guns pointed directly at these openings cut them down instead.
While the German defenses in the hedgerows greatly delayed the American advance, the Allies did eventually find a way to breakthrough. At first, armored and infantry units had worked largely independent of each other. The tanks had tried to stay on the move to avoid German anti-tank weapons and artillery while the infantry had slowed down to try and avoid ambushes.
On the morning of September 8, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the southeastern outskirts of recently liberated Paris. The blast killed six people and wounded 36 more. Nearly eight hours later, two more explosions occurred in London, killing three people and wounding 17.
One of the explosions in London left a crater 30 feet wide and 8 feet deep. The site was closed to the public, and censors barred journalists from reporting on it. The blast was blamed on a faulty gas main and quickly hushed up.
Hundreds of explosions in the following weeks forced the British to admit the truth. The Germans had launched a horrifying new type of weapon at France and England: the V-2, the first guided ballistic missile in history.
For almost a year, more than 3,000 V-2s would be launched at civilian and military targets in Belgium, Britain, France, and the Netherlands.
A vengeance weapon
Development of the V-2 started in 1934. The German Wehrmacht had a keen interest in rockets, and some of Germany’s best engineers were tasked by the military to create this new “Wunderwaffe” or “wonder weapon.”
The missile had its first successful test flight in October 1942. Traveling over 118 miles and reaching an altitude of 277,200 feet, or 52.5 miles, it was the first rocket to reach the edge of space.
The project was repeatedly downgraded and upgraded during the war, but in 1943 it became one of the largest weapons projects of the Third Reich.
Hitler, angry at the destruction Allied bombing was causing in Germany, wanted to strike Allied cities in revenge. The missile became the second in Hitler’s series of “Vergeltungswaffen,” or “vengeance weapons,” and was designated V-2.
About 6,000 V-2 rockets were built. They were intended to be launched from hardened complexes similar to modern missile silos, but Allied bombing and advances on the ground forced the Germans to rely on mobile launch platforms.
V-2s were much more complex and larger than their predecessor, the V-1. They were about 46 feet tall and were equipped with a 2,000-pound amatol warhead at the tip. They also had a range of 200 miles.
After launch, the missile rose over 50 miles into the air and reached a speed of over 3,000 mph, enabling most to reach their targets in just five minutes. V-2s were so fast that they could hit their targets at up to 1,790 mph.
A program of death and destruction
Their speed and operational ceiling made them impossible to intercept, and Allied attempts to jam the V-2’s guidance system were useless, as the missile did not use radio guidance. (Its guidance system was an innovation in its own right; gyroscopes and an analog computer in it constantly tracked and adjusted its course to a preprogrammed destination.)
Up to 100 V-2s were launched each day, and they wreaked havoc on Allied cities. Over 2,700 people were killed by the missiles in Britain alone.
One V-2 struck a packed cinema in the Belgian port city of Antwerp, killing 567 people, including 296 Allied soldiers — the deadliest strike from a single piece of aerial ordnance in the European theater.
There is no complete official toll, but it is estimated that V-2 attacks killed anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 people. Together, V-1 and V-2 attacks caused over 30,000 civilian casualties and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
That number does not include the deaths of 10,000 to 20,000 people who were used as slave labor in V-2 construction at the underground Mittelwerk factory and various concentration camps.
Desperate to stop the strikes, the Allies launched Operation Crossbow — a series of operations and bombing campaigns aimed at destroying the V-weapon program. The Allies were aware of the V-2 as early as 1943 and even managed to obtain V-2 parts with the assistance of the Polish Home Army.
A lasting legacy
In the end, the V-2, like many of Nazi Germany’s so-called wonder weapons, was too little, too late. Though the civilian body count was high, it was smaller than that caused by other weapons.
Moreover, V-2s did almost no significant damage to military targets, and by 1944 the Allied war machine was just too large for Germany to fight off.
The Wehrmacht spent so much money and resources on the V-2 for such minimal military gain that Freeman Dyson, a Royal Air Force analyst during the war, later likened it to “a policy of unilateral disarmament.”
But the V-2 left a lasting legacy. Combined with the advent of nuclear weapons, it proved that the most important weapons of the future would be ballistic missiles.
The Soviets and the Western Allies scrambled to collect as much of the V-2 program as possible when the war ended, and some of the earliest ballistic missiles on both sides of the Cold War were essentially copies of the V-2.
Many scientists from the V-2 program, including its leader, Wernher von Braun, were also directly involved in the US space program, ultimately helping NASA land on the moon in 1969.