All unit patches in the Army are based on something. The 25th ID patch pays homage to their home state of Hawaii. The 3rd ID patch showcases the major battles they were a part of in WWI. The 1st ID went with a big, red one because lieutenants are creative. But it’s the 101st Airborne who has them beat — all thanks to “Old Abe,” who was one badass bird.
Old Abe was captured as a baby bald eaglet in 1861 by Ahgamahwegezhig (Chief Sky). He was sold for a bushel of corn to Daniel McCann, a rich aristocrat, to be kept as a family pet. It turns out, however, that keeping a bald eagle as a pet was more of an expensive headache than McCann originally thought.
So, Abe was again sold for a whole $2.50 (paid in quarters, partly borrowed from friend) to Capt. John E. Perkins of a Wisconsin Militia, The Eau Claire Badgers. The Badgers then quickly became the Eau Claire Eagles — because of this bird. When his unit was activated and re-designated as the Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment to enter the American Civil War, Perkins decided to finally give the baby bird a name — “Old Abe.”
Perkins brought Abe into every battle in which he and his unit fought. The 8th Wisconsin VIR fought across the Western Theater. It’s said that wherever Perkins’ unit went, Abe’s battle cry was heard across the battlefield, thereby earning the title of “screaming eagle.” As he flew overhead, the Union troops would be reinvigorated. At the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, Confederate Gen. Sterling Price said,
That bird must be captured or killed at all hazards. I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags!
Abe saw 36 battles and was wounded twice but still kept intimidating Confederate troops with his cries.
When the 8th Wisconsin was mustered back home in late 1864, Old Abe followed. He had become a celebrity to everyone in Wisconsin. People came from far and wide to see the war eagle. He made tours across the country and was used to raise funds for veterans’ issues.
Old Abe passed due to complications caused by smoke inhalation in 1881. His remains were preserved and displayed at the Wisconsin Capital building until a fire destroyed the display in 1904. A few of Old Abe’s feathers remain very carefully preserved at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum in Madison.
His likeness would be used in 1921 by the newly formed 101st when they were still an Army Reserve unit. They were then activated to Regular Army in 1942. Maj. Gen. William C. Lee said, “[our division] has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.”
The 101st would prove his sentiment true time and time again with Old Abe on their shoulders.
America has seen some supersonic strategic bombers serve. Notable among these is the FB-111A Switchblade and the B-1B Lancer. But one bomber blazed the trail for these speedsters with a pretty huge payload.
The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational supersonic strategic bomber in American service. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that Strategic Air Command was looking for a high-performance bomber.
The B-58 made its first flight in 1956, but didn’t enter service with the Strategic Air Command until 1960, due to a number of hiccups, and wasn’t ready to stand alert until 1962. However, when the supersonic strategic bomber entered service with the 43rd Bomb Wing, it was soon proving it had a lot of capability.
However, in 1961 and 1962, even as it dealt with the teething problems, it set numerous aeronautical records. The plane had a top speed of Mach 2.2 at high altitude, a maximum range of 4100 nautical miles, could carry five nuclear bombs (it never had a conventional weapons capability), and reached an altitude of 85,360 feet.
It also had a M61 Vulcan cannon in the tail with 1,200 rounds of awesome.
A 1981 Air University Review article outlined that the Hustler had a lot of problems. To load the weapons, the plane actually needed to be de-fueled and then re-fueled. And before the loading, the ground crews would need to hand a four-ton weight on the Hustler’s nose. Forget that step, and the plane would tilt back onto its tail.
Maintenance crews also came to dislike the plane, due to the complexities the plane’s high technology imposed on them.
The plane’s teething problems, the development of surface-to-air missiles like the SA-2 Guideline, and the increasing costs killed hopes for newer versions, especially since the B-58 was optimized for high-altitude operations.
One of the proposed new versions, the B-58B, was to add significant conventional capabilities to the Hustler. Proposed passenger/cargo versions never took off, either, and a planned export sale to Australia didn’t happen (the Australians did eventually get the F-111).
Ultimately, the B-58 was retired, and replaced by the FB-111A. The FB-111A not only was supersonic, but it was able to operate at low altitudes and carry conventional bombs – addressing the B-58’s two shortcomings.
Most B-58s went to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where they entered the boneyard and were eventually scrapped.
In March 1944, a hardy group of mountaineers, skiers, rock climbers, and outdoorsmen all volunteered for a newly formed winter warfare unit known today as the famed 10th Mountain Division. On the Colorado slopes at Camp Hale was the proving ground where these elite ski troops participated in a grueling, monthlong final exercise known as the “D-Series.” The mock battle against an opposing force was designed to put everything they were taught in training to the test. The soldiers carried 90-pound packs, wore winter warfare clothing to protect their bodies from below-zero temperatures, and marched through 6 feet of snow in skis and snowshoes.
“I thought they were going to kill us all off,” Lt. Col. Earl Clark told Outside TV in an interview. “Sleeping out in temperatures down to 30 below zero without a tent.”
They learned to sleep on top of their skis and other little tricks to survive some of the harshest winter environments on the planet. The survival exercise was a critical step before they would travel to see action against the Germans in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.
The 10th Mountain Division had an unusual beginning. Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole, the founder of the National Ski Patrol, had the task of collecting intelligence on other winter warfare units around the world. The blueprint for success mirrored the formation of Finnish ski troops who courageously fought against the Soviet Union during the Winter War in 1939. Dole didn’t have support at first from the higher echelon and his equipment was outdated, yet there was a need for such a unit.
“Ten thousand frozen to death — 25,000 dead,” Dole wrote, in reference to a report from the American embassy in Rome describing the debacle of the Italian winter campaign in Albania. He continued, “If a global war is contemplated or envisioned, men must be trained in mountain and winter warfare and time is of the essence as these troops cannot be trained overnight.” The 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division was activated less than one month later — shortly before the attack at Pearl Harbor.
The National Ski Patrol was the first civilian organization to recruit, screen, and approve applicants for military service. “When the Army decided to create a mountain division in WWII to fight in the mountains of Europe, they brought together a cast of Americans that was really quite remarkable — skiers, mountain climbers, trappers, outdoorsmen,” then Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend said in 2015, when he was commander of the 10th Mountain Division. “The 10th Mountain Division of WWII had the highest ratio of college graduates of any unit in the Army. That’s just an example of the type of people that the 10th Mountain Division attracted.”
The men of the 10th following World War II went on to transform the skiing industry into the winter sports mecca that exists today. In February 2020, some 76 years after the first D-Series military exercise, Army troops from the 10th Mountain Division followed in the footsteps of their predecessors in a challenge that tested their physical and mental toughness, competitive spirit, and marksmanship.
At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, something rare and particular began in the 1970s. When — citing the growth of accidental deaths — command decided to take a different type of approach at protecting their soldiers. With song and dance. With a new type of theater show, one that incorporated actual combat soldiers performing song and dance numbers — intertwined with real, somber video recounts of soldier death. It was a merger of a real message and quality entertainment.
Known as the Soldier Safety Show, this military-meets-Broadway program took place during the 70s, 80s and 90s as part of a new approach to get young soldiers to take safety measures seriously.
Former Fort Bragg Commander, retired four-star General Carl Stiner, said that the Soldier Safety Show was born out of growing death toll rates.
“We realized we were having more casualties of all off-duty activities, mainly motorcycles, than from thousands of parachute jumps and heavy equipment drops. We just needed to do something about it,” he said in a 2015 interview with NPR’s This American Life.
Steiner added that between suicide and reckless drinking, Fort Bragg was losing 10 soldiers to every one soldier that died in a training-related event.
Briefs were scheduled, but soldiers slept through them, and other measures were taken but saw little results.
Enter the Soldier Safety Show, which not only engaged young soldiers, but dropped the accidental death rate by one-third.
It worked by employing a combination theater and screen projections of “gut-wrenching” testimonials from soldiers who had lost friends due to accidents and careless mistakes. Then it ended with soldiers standing to take a safety pledge. (This also created the opportunity for a standing ovation at the end of every show.) Viewers and performers alike called the juxtaposition of mournful renditions and live musical theater absurd and unexpected, but somehow, effective.
The Soldier Safety Show was mandatory for all stationed at Bragg. To meet this demand, performing soldiers held 3-4 shows a day around the Christmas holiday, when deaths typically peaked.
On-stage meets the military: Operation Shock and Awe
Those who worked with the program credited most of its success to the director, Lee Yopp. They said Yopp was a unique, boisterous personality with much gusto. Having become a director by accident when working as a football coach and he broke his leg, Yopp found he excelled at directing and took higher, bigger directing jobs. He ended up bankrupting a large theater — and himself — by overspending and creating a flop. However, he was offered the gig to manage the Fort Bragg Playhouse by an old Army buddy.
The running joke was the DoD was the one financial baker who could afford his visions. Yopp incorporated waterfalls, a roller skating rink, parachute rigs, cannons and machine guns (that actually fired); he planted real grass on the stage to bring in horses. And — perhaps his biggest move of all — he brought in explosive experts from Special Forces who helped them rig up loud booms in the stage floor, complete with flash pods.
But Yopp did more than that — he knew how to reach soldiers in a way that mattered. He got big, exciting performances out of his actors … including those who’d never been on stage before. When one of the soldiers’ teenage son got in a car wreck, Yopp took the crew on a field trip and filmed them in the hospital. That was the start of a new act where a young actor talked about driving too fast and losing control, spliced with the real-life footage. They paired it with the song “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie, and it was an instant hit.
Viewers and performers alike say Yopp’s unique way of making the simple overtly complicated helped bring the message together. It got attention and it struck a chord, especially with a young crowd.
Former Fort Bragg soldier Derek Brown, a paratrooper in the 1990s, performed in the Soldier Safety Show after he volunteered with his unit. Brown said he initially thought it was a joke when briefed about an audition for musical theater. (He fell into the category of performers who had never sang or danced before.) It was mandatory for his unit to send a representative, and he was the only volunteer.
Brown called the show a blend of “…the honor and discipline movements with the bravado and panache of Broadway musicals.” And with Yopp’s direction, his encouragement to be big and loud at all times, the show was able to get results.
“He had no room at all for shyness on stage. He made it a point of saying, ‘If you were going to fail, please fail loudly, please fail loudly and sing it as though your life depended on it.’”
During Yopp’s tenure as managing director of the Fort Bragg Playhouse from 1974-1993, they earned more than 35 awards, including a 1980 sweep of the U.S. Army Forces Command music and theater competition, with 15 titles, and best music and theater program among worldwide Army installations in 1981.
In the hours following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the forces of the Empire of Japan also struck a number of other strategic targets. But those weren’t surprise hit and run attacks. Japan’s army and navy invaded Thailand, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, the Gilbert Islands, Borneo, British Hong Kong, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.
That was just in 1941. The following year, Japan also invaded New Guinea, Singapore, Burma, India, the Solomon Islands, Timor, Christmas Island and the Andaman Islands.
The defenders of these Pacific possessions had mixed success in holding off or repelling their attackers, but many fell to the surprise attacks. In all the Japanese took 140,000 Allied prisoners during the war. An estimated 36,000 were sent back to Japan but many would not survive the trip.
One of the biggest reasons for this were the transports they were packed into. These notorious transports were called “Hell Ships” by the prisoners aboard them – and for a good reason.
Prisoners taken by the Japanese were beaten and starved, if not killed outright when captured. Those who did survive captivity were often pushed into forced labor, used in mines and factories all over Imperial Japan and its newly-acquired territories.
When prisoners were taken at any one of the battles fought to “acquire” the new Japanese possessions, Allied forces expected treatment in line with the rules regarding POWs under the 1929 Geneva Convention, which forbade their use in wartime production and hostilities against their home countries. The agreement before 1949 was intended not to punish those prisoners for being taken captive, but only to prevent their further participation in the war.
When captured by the Japanese, however, POWs were not treated humanely as the Geneva Convention prescribed. The Japanese saw surrender as a dishonorable act and treated their prisoners as if they were dishonored.
As a result, an estimated 40% of American prisoners taken by Japan died in captivity. The Hell Ships that transported them to all regions of the empire are indicative of why. Like the Bataan Death March and the conditions of tropical prisons on land, prisoners on hell ships endured the harsh treatment of their overseers, a lack of food and water, and all the diseases found among large groups of forcibly incarcerated people.
Unlike the prison camps and the death march, the prisoners aboard hell ships also had to contend with little access to air and proper ventilation. They had to endure the extreme heat of being held in a cargo hold. Worst of all, the ships also carried war supplies and auxiliary troops so they couldn’t be flagged as a non-combatant ship.
As a result, hell ships were frequently targeted by Allied air and naval forces, meaning they (and the prisoners of war aboard them) could be strafed, torpedoed, and sunk but aircraft, submarines and other Allied naval ships.
These attacks happened much more than anyone would like to admit. An estimated 20,000 Allied prisoners went down aboard the hell ships, targeted by friendly forces. If they were attacked or sunk, their treatment in the situation was not guaranteed. If they survived the attacks, some were killed trying to escape the incoming water. If they were allowed to escape the sinking ship, there was no telling if the Japanese would try to rescue them.
When they did escape the sinking ship and were rescued by the Japanese, they found themselves right back to being captive, often in just the same horrifying conditions they’d just escaped.
At least 14 hell ships were sunk by the Allies during the war, killing thousands of Allied POWs.
The ferocity of the Tet Offensive, which began 51 years ago, surprised most Americans, including service members manning the television station in Hue, Vietnam.
Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) was located in a villa about a mile outside the main U.S. compound in Hue, in a neighborhood considered relatively safe from attack.
After the AFVN crew had signed off the air that night and settled into their billets, they heard an explosion down the street. Some of them were already asleep, but a few were still up watching fireworks through their window, since it was the first night of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year.
“Then the real fireworks started,” said Harry Ettmueller, a specialist five and broadcast engineer at the time.
Mortars and rockets began to blast the city landscape and tracer rounds could be seen in the distance.
“It was quite a light show,” said former Spc. 4 John Bagwell, a broadcaster who jumped out of bed once he heard the noise.
Spc. 4 John Bagwell broadcasts for the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam before he was transferred to AFVN Det. 5 in Hue during January 1968.
(U.S. Army photo)
One mortar round hit the maintenance shed next to their TV station, which was located behind the house where the AFVN team of eight slept.
The team then pulled out their weapons: World War II carbines along with a shotgun, three M14 rifles, and an M60 machine gun that jammed after two shots.
They took up positions in doorways and windows to stop possible entry. They even handed a carbine to a visiting NBC engineer, Courtney Niles, who happened to be an Army veteran.
Battle for Hue
Station commander, Marine 1st Lt. James DiBernardo, called the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, or MAC-V office in Hue, and was told to keep his crew in place. A division-sized force of the North Vietnamese army, along with Viet Cong guerrillas, was attacking locations all across the city.
They had even captured part of the citadel that once housed Vietnam’s imperial family and later became the headquarters of a South Vietnamese division.
The NVA attack on Hue was one of the strongest and most successful of the Tet Offensive. Even though more than 100 towns and cities across the country were attacked during Tet, the five-week battle for Hue was the only one where communist forces held a significant portion of the city for more than a few days.
On the second day of Tet, the power-generating station in Hue was taken out and the telephone lines to the AFVN compound were cut. The crew became isolated.
AFVN had begun augmenting its radio broadcasting with television in Saigon in early 1967. Then TV went to Da Nang and up to Hue.
The U.S. State Department decided to help the Vietnamese set up a station for local nationals in what had been the consulate’s quarters in Hue. AFVN set up their equipment in a van just outside the same villa and began broadcasting to troops in May.
Following the Tet Offensive, not much remained of the house where members of AFVN Det. 5 held off the North Vietnamese in a 16-hour firefight.
Hundreds of TVs were brought up from Saigon and distributed to troops. Ettmueller said he was often flown by Air America to units near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to distribute them.
In January 1968, with the 1st Cavalry Division and elements of the 101st Airborne Div. moving up to the northern I Corps area of operations, AFVN decided to add radio broadcasting to the TV station in Hue.
Broadcasters Bagwell and Spc. 5 Steven Stroub were sent from 1st Cavalry to help set up the radio operation. They arrived a day and a half before Tet erupted.
For the next five days, sporadic fire was directed at the AFVN billets, Ettmueller said. The staff members remained in defensive positions at doors and windows.
Bagwell said they were hopeful MACV would send a rescue mission for them, but by the fifth day, they were running out of food and water.
As night fell Feb. 4, the North Vietnamese launched a company-sized assault against the AFVN compound. Dozens of Vietnamese rushed the house and the Americans kept up a steady fire through the windows.
Each time the WWII carbines were fired, though, the magazines fell out and had to be reinserted, Ettmueller said. But he had an M14 and put it on full automatic.
During the assault, a young boy appeared in the window where Bagwell was on guard. The boy was trembling as he pointed his weapon at Bagwell, who hesitated.
“He shot and one bullet came close to my ear and I could hear it whiz by,” Bagwell said. “The next bullet he shot came close to the other ear. I realized if I didn’t kill him, he’d kill me.”
He pulled the trigger on his M14 and the boy fell backward.
North Vietnamese rushed the house repeatedly during the night. Sgt. 1st Class John Anderson, the station’s NCOIC, was awarded a Silver Star for manning the living room door with a shotgun to turn back assault after assault.
“He personally was responsible for inflicting deadly fire on the attacking enemy force,” reads the citation, adding that Anderson held his post despite being severely wounded by enemy grenades.
At one point, a Vietnamese soldier came running toward the door with a satchel of explosives strapped around him. Ettmueller said when one of their bullets hit the soldier’s satchel, it exploded, taking him out and a couple of others near him.
During the course of the night, at least three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the house and a B40 rocket went right through the front window and hit the back wall. The wall collapsed on Ettmueller and Marine Sgt. Tom Young, forcing both men to crawl out from underneath the debris.
“They pretty much… leveled the house,” Bagwell said.
Breakout and capture
By morning, the house was on fire and the AFVN crew was beginning to run low on ammunition.
They decided their best chance was to try and make a run for the MACV compound. NBC engineer Niles said he knew the layout of the city the best, so he volunteered to be the first one out the door. Bagwell was close behind him.
The plan called for both men to cross the road into a ditch so they could lay down covering fire for the rest of the team. However, Niles was fatally shot. Bagwell applied a quick tourniquet, but said it did not help much.
Anderson and others in the house saw the direction of the gunfire. After a brief pause, the seven of them ran out the door and turned in the opposite direction. They made it through a hole in the fence line and sneaked around a North Vietnamese team manning a machine gun on the second floor of a building under construction.
They made it through another hole in a fence into a small rice paddy, when they came up to the U.S. Information Services library next to a concrete wall topped with barbed wire.
There, the North Vietnamese caught up to them.
Young stepped out to lay down covering fire and was killed by automatic gunfire from the machine-gun position.
Ettmueller described the chaotic situation: “There we were, trapped. More rounds coming in; more grenades being thrown. Chickens running all over the place, jumping up in the air and flying. More rounds coming in.”
Stroub was shot in the left arm and had an open fracture. He passed out, Ettmueller said. Anderson was shot with a bullet that penetrated his flak jacket and grazed his diaphragm. He began to hiccup.
As the AFVN team began to run out of ammo, the North Vietnamese closed in and captured them.
The prisoners were bound with wire and had their boots removed, and then ordered to march forward. Ettmueller helped Stroub up, but it was not long before he stumbled and fell. An NVA soldier opened fire from above with the machine gun and executed him.
Meanwhile, Bagwell was left alone outside the station after Niles was fatally shot. The North Vietnamese had taken off in pursuit of the rest of the AFVN team.
Bagwell, who had been in Hue only a few days, had no idea which way to go and he was out of ammunition.
He wandered the streets, not sure what to do. “I was quite amazed with all the fighting going around that I hadn’t been shot.”
Then he looked down at his boot and spotted a hole. With his adrenaline pumping, he had not felt anything, but “the next thing I knew I was in pain.”
Bagwell looked up and saw a Catholic church. He knocked on the door and pleaded with a priest to help him. About 100 Vietnamese civilians were already hiding in the church.
The priest insisted Bagwell change his clothes. They buried his uniform and M14 in the courtyard. Then the priest wrapped Bagwell’s face in bandages.
“His idea was to make me look as much like a Vietnamese as possible,” Bagwell said.
Not long afterward, North Vietnamese soldiers burst into the church looking for Americans.
“They came by and started pointing their rifles right at my face,” he said. “I just closed my eyes and thought, ‘there’s no way they’re not going to know I’m not Vietnamese.'”
Broadcast Engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin sits behind the television van for Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network in Hue.
(U.S. Army photo)
But the North Vietnamese walked on past him. Bagwell was then taken by the priest up into the bell tower of the church to hide.
Other American forces, however, had been told that NVA fighters were hiding in the church, Bagwell said. So, they began to shell the church and hit the bell tower.
Part of the tower collapsed. “I just crawled out of all the mess and crawled back downstairs,” Bagwell said.
The priest then rushed up to him and said, “You know, you’re kind of bad luck. We need to get you out of here.” He pointed across rice paddies to a light in the distance and said he thought that was an American unit.
As he crawled through the rice paddies, Bagwell said a U.S. helicopter began circling him and shining its search light down, thinking he was Vietnamese, since he had no uniform.
“Actually, during that time, I counted about 12 times that I should have been shot and killed,” Bagwell said. “Six by the North Vietnamese and six by the Americans.”
When the sun came up, Bagwell was near a U.S. signal unit. He took off his white shirt and put it on a stick, yelling “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’m an American!”
They held a gun to him and asked if he was really an American.
“You can’t tell with this Okie accent?” Bagwell replied.
“Well, what were you doing out there?” a soldier asked.
“I was with the TV and radio station,” Bagwell said.
“No, I don’t think so; they’re all dead or prisoner,” the soldier insisted. “The only body we haven’t found is Bagwell.”
The North Vietnamese executed an estimated 3,000 South Vietnamese civilians in Hue during Tet for sympathizing with American forces. Bagwell said he learned that a Catholic priest was executed for hiding a U.S. soldier in a church, and he knew that soldier had to be him.
The prisoners of war from AFVN Det. 5 — Ettmueller, DiBernardo and Anderson, along with Marine Cpl. John Deering and Army broadcast engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin — were forced to walk 400 miles barefoot through the jungle over the next 55 days.
For five years, they were tortured, interrogated and moved from one POW camp to another, until released from the infamous Hanoi Hilton in the 1973 prisoner exchange.
Bagwell and Ettmueller were inducted into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame in 2008. The Army Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award is named in Anderson’s honor.
Editor’s note: Bagwell and Ettmueller were interviewed this month by phone. Retired Master Sgt. Anderson was interviewed in 1983 when he was a civilian public affairs officer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.
The trouble was that these were all the same person.
Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.
Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.
*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.
1. Walter Banks Beacham
The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.
But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.
“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.
2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.
Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.
For about six months.
The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.
What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.
3. Walter Banks Beacham
When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.
“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”
A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.
4. Mark Richard Gerardi
In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.
He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.
“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.
Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.
5. Cedrick L. Houston
In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.
He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.
“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said. “And they put me out of the Navy for that.”
6. Chris Villanueva
Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.
He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.
7. Zachary Pitt
Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.
“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
Army basic training graduates in 1992.
8. George Perez
In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.
“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”
Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.
One of the most legendary successes of the Royal Air Force in World War II was a bombing raid that was written off for decades as a largely symbolic victory, but was actually a technically challenging operation that choked Nazi industry in 1943 and helped ensure that German factories couldn’t produce the materiel necessary to win.
A Lancaster bomber with the special Upkeep bomb bay and bomb used in Operation Chastise in May, 1943.
(Royal Air Force)
The Dam Busters Raid, officially known as Operation Chastise, was the result of a series of bombing raids that hit target after target in the Ruhr region of Germany, but failed to significantly slow German industrial output. Planners needed a way to cripple German industry, and large-scale bombing wasn’t getting the job done.
So, they presented an alternative: Instead of attacking individual factories and areas, they’d wipe out an entire productive region with the destruction of key infrastructure. Some of the best and most obvious targets were the dams in the Ruhr region.
The dams fulfilled a few key roles. They channeled water to where it was needed, provided hydroelectric power, and kept thousands of acres of farmland protected for regular cultivation.
Workers construct tanks in factories in Germany during World War II. Factories like this one, and the factories that fed them raw materials, were targeted during Operation Chastise, the “Dam Busters Raid.”
Destroying the dam would wreak worse havoc, allowing flood waters to damage dozens of factories essential for everything from coke production to tank assembly as well as additional farmland. The raid would tip the scales of 1943 and 1944 — provided they could figure out how to pull it off.
And figuring it out would prove tough. This was before England’s “earthquake” bombs, so the weapons available at the outset of the raid were basically just normal gravity bombs. But hitting a narrow dam with a bomb is challenging, and even a direct hit on the top of the dam would be unlikely to actually cause any sort of breach.
It would take multiple strikes, potentially dozens, in almost the exact same spot to really break a dam from the top.
An inert, practice bouncing bomb skips along the water in this video still from training drops by the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron. The bomb is one of the “Upkeep” munitions, the barrel-form of the weapon aimed at destroying German dams.
(Imperial War Museums)
But if the bomb could strike the dam, that would be much different. A bomb strike against the air-exposed side of the dam could heavily damage it, and a bomb in the right spot on the water side of the dam would cause the whole thing to shatter under the combined pressure of the blast and the water.
So, Britain went shopping for options, and they found a weapon under development by British engineer Barnes Wallis, who wanted to create a better bomb for taking out destroyers.
His thought was fairly simple: A bomb with the right shape and spin could skip across the water until it struck a ship. Then, the spin would drive the bomb underwater as it basically rolled itself down the outside of the ship. It would explode under the waterline with a payload much larger than a torpedo, dooming the ship. These became known as the “Bouncing Bombs.”
One of the flight crews from the Dam Busters Raid pose in July 1943. Their successful attack made the brand new 617 Squadron world-famous overnight and crippled German infrastructure.
(Royal Air Force)
His weapon was adapted slightly for Operation Chastise. The original “High Ball” design, basically a sphere, evolved into the “Upkeep” bomb, a more barrel-shaped weapon.
The British created an all-new squadron to conduct the mission, the 617. Pilots from across the Western Allies, including U.S., British Canadian, Australian, and Kiwi personnel, were assigned. The plan was for a low-level, nighttime raid targeting three dams in the valley. The squadron began intense training with the special bombs.
The most successful method they found was flying 60 feet above the water at 232 mph ground speed. While this gave the greatest chances of success and minimized the likelihood that surprised, tired anti-aircraft crews would get a shot at them, it also made for spectacularly dangerous and tricky flying.
The dam at Edertalsperre in Germany after the Dam Buster raid. The hole in the dam was estimated to be 230 feet wide and 72 feet high.
At 9:28 p.m. on May 16, 1943, the 133 men took off in 19 bombers aimed at three separate and challenging targets. They flew in three waves and successfully breached two of the dams while damaging the third.
The next morning, the attacks were reported in Germany and England. Germany tried to downplay the results, and Britain played up the success. For a generation, the exact results were in controversy. Even British historians would claim that the attack was over-hyped.
The English King George VI inspects the airmen of the 617 Squadron, the Dambusters, on May 27, 1943, after their widly successful mission.
(Royal Air Force)
The workers had to repair the physical dam before the fall rains or risk the region running low on water and electricity — even after the dam was repaired. They had to repair 100 damaged factories, not counting the 12 factories completely destroyed. Thousands of acres of farmland, necessary to feed the armies on the march, were ruined.
And, all of this came while the German army was desperately trying to stave off Soviet advances and just a year before the Normandy landings, increasing the chances of success there.
In other words, the mission was a stunning success. But it didn’t come without cost. Two bombers were lost on their way to the target. One struck the water’s surface and another hit electrical wires. Eight bombers were shot down.
53 Allied personnel were killed and another three captured.
In August, 1914, British troops were in full retreat from the World War I Battle of Mons in Northern France. The Germans chasing them were far greater in number, and the men were desperate. In a turn of good luck, they happened to pass a celebrated old battle site that turned the tide of their retreat, in an almost supernatural way – and that’s exactly how it was remembered.
The Battle of Mons went as well for the Brits as could be expected. It was the first test of the British Expeditionary Force in continental Europe. They fought hard, and the Germans paid dearly for their advance. But the French Fifth Army gave way to the Germans, and the British could not hold the line on their own. An orderly battle turned into a two-week rout that would end with the epic Battle of the Marne – but not unless the BEF could escape the oncoming Germans. They retreated south as orderly as possible.
On their way, they passed the site of the famous medieval Battle of Agincourt, where King Henry V’s English longbowmen devastated a French Army that outnumbered the English with estimates as high as 6-to-1. The retreating British troops of 1914 were on the run from a numerically superior German force when legend says a British soldier said a prayer to Saint George that changed the outcome of their retreat.
St. George, the Christian dragon slayer.
George was a Roman Praetorian Guard for Emperor Diocletian, and was executed for not recanting his professed Christian faith centuries before the emperor converted the empire to Christianity. He is probably the most prominent of all soldier-saints. So, when a retreating British soldier asked St. George for help, it makes sense for the men of the retreating army to believe he may have intervened when the Germans suddenly broke off their pursuit.
After the battle, men present during the fighting chalked the sudden turn of events up to a number of supernatural explanations, each more awe-inspiring than the next. In the most prevalent retelling, the prayer to St. George caused an army of spectral English bowmen to appear, which both frightened and slaughtered the pursuing Germans.
Looks like St. George needs to train his angels a bit.
The claims of the English soldiers were grounded by a fictional short story called “The Bowmen” written by Arthur Machen after the battle. In the book, angelic archers appear after a British soldier prays for help from St. George. Led by the patron saint of England, a thousand archers appeared and mowed down the enemy. Afterward, the German generals determined the BEF must be using a new gas weapon, as there were no wounds on the dead German troops.
Machen’s story was a fabrication, of course, based on a different story by Rudyard Kipling. That one was set in Afghanistan. But veterans of the Battle of Mons soon began to claim they were eyewitness to the spectral event. In each retelling, the story changes: German soldiers are found with arrow wounds, the ghost army was actually a team of angels in the form of medieval knights and led by St. George, or the BEF was able to retreat into a wall of clouds.
World War I Ex Machina.
The Angels of Mons very quickly entered the lore and legends of the First World War, joined there by stories of ghouls living in No Man’s Land, crucified Canadian soldiers, and the end of the war by Christmas.
A team of sailors and scientists from the United State, Great Britain and France searched for the wreckage of Revolutionary War ship Bonhomme Richard in early September in the frigid waters off the coast of England.
Underwater archaeologists from the Naval History and Heritage Command, Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, sailors from Naval Oceanography Mine Warfare Center, sailors from the French Mine Clearance Dive Unit and members from Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration embarked on the Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Grasp (T-ARS 51) to survey a late 18th or early 19th century-shipwreck in the North Sea.
The site is interesting to researchers since it’s considered a region of the sea where the final battle of John Paul Jones’ famous warship Bonhomme Richard went down. While some evidence from the site suggests the wreck researchers found could be Jones’s ship, other information suggests it sank much later.
“The site has potential to be from the late 18th to early 19th century,” said George Schwarz, an underwater archaeologist from NHHC. “Although the site has some intriguing features, including a buried wooden hull, well-preserved organic artifacts and large concentrations of concreted iron objects, we also have later material on site such as sections of 19th century iron chain.”
Different Navy units surveyed areas around the shipwreck site using various pieces of equipment. NHHC used a magnetometer towed behind a rigid hull inflatable boat to map possible concentrations of iron along a predetermined grid over the site. NOMWC used unmanned underwater vehicles to survey other areas of the site and MCDU used a towed side scan sonar. MDSU 2 accompanied the mission and provided logistical and small boat support.
“The teams worked well together to collect seafloor and sub-seafloor features in and around the wreck,” said Schwarz. “These new data sets will aid considerably in the interpretation of the site, and we’re looking forward to future collaboration with project partners.”
Both NHHC and NOMWC often had to trade off using the RHI, but MCDU had their own and surveyed the site whenever weather and sea conditions allowed. The many hours they spent out on the water allowed them time to reflect on their mission and their part in it.
Acknowledging Bonhomme Richard was given to Jones and the U.S. Navy by France, one of the participating French scuba divers explained he’s glad to be a part of the survey mission.
The identity of the shipwreck under investigation is currently unknown but future surveys of the site are in the works. In addition to the wreck site surveyed, the teams conducted remote-sensing operations over an additional 2 square nautical miles, expanding the previously surveyed areas.
During the Revolutionary War, the French crown loaned Bonhomme Richard to the United States. Commanded by John Paul Jones, Bonhomme Richard’s crew was an early example of sailor toughness. The ship and her squadron were ordered to the United Kingdom to cruise for prizes off the coasts of Ireland, Scotland and England.
About a month into her mission Sept. 23, 1779, she encountered a convoy of merchant ships underway from Flamborough Head, which immediately turned back once they caught sight of Jones and his ships. Jones pursued and around 6:30 p.m. engaged HMS Serapis, which had been covering the retreat. More than three hours later, Bonhomme Richard emerged victorious-but mortally wounded. Jones shifted his colors to Serapis, the wounded were transferred over and her riggings were repaired. Bonhomme Richard sank somewhere in the North Sea.
Her logs were not updated in her final hours and so her resting place remains a mystery.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis and interpretive services. The command is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, ten museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
If you’ve watched documentaries about the battles of World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, then chances are you’ve seen gun-camera footage. Whether it’s air-to-air or air-to-ground action, these attention-grabbing videos give us an idea of the intensity of combat aviation — but how do we get them?
In this day and age, we’re lucky to have plenty of digital tools to easily capture footage, download it to a hard drive, and upload it to YouTube or some other cloud storage service. Back in the day, however, all they had was film — and this film was often very useful. It gave intelligence officers some idea of what the pilots actually did. After all, it wasn’t unusual for a fired-up pilot to inflate their kill counts upon return.
But it wasn’t always easy to get that film.
This gun-camera footage from a Navy F9F Panther shows a MiG-15 in its last few seconds of life.
The process was a lengthy one. The film was first taken to a central processing laboratory. To save space, the film was placed in a number of magazines and then placed into one large roll. Loading that roll had to be done in total darkness. Why? In order to view film, it must first be developed and if the film is exposed to light prematurely, it’s ruined.
The entire process included rinsing to fully process the negatives, editing the processed negatives (which was done without computers, by the way), adding timestamps, and more. All in all, there were ten steps, including a test screening.
This is the final product of a long process done by specialists who did hard work.
(Jeff Quitney / YouTube)
You can see how some Air Force specialists did this job during the Korean War in the video below. As an added bonus, after they give you a run-down of all the developmental steps, you get to see a MiG-15 in the sights of a F-86 Sabre’s gun-camera. The folks who made it possible for you to see that footage never faced enemy fire, but they certainly worked almost as hard as the Sabre’s pilot did!
Check out the video below to see how we get that intense footage.
World War II was a time of great hardship for our military and our country. But in that hardship, the U.S. military found improvements in technology and training to address how we moved our wounded around inside and out of the theater of operations, away from combat situations.
In the first world war, there was no system in place to rapidly evacuate the wounded or injured. The survival rate of the critically injured dwindled, while those that did survive waited to be sent home to their families.
To make matters worse, the wounded did not leave the point of injury until the war was almost over (this could have be upwards from 6-12 months). Field hospitals had to be set up near the battlefield and the injured were cared for by the women of the Army Nurse Corps until the fighting had come to a halt, or they made a significant recovery.
At the beginning of WWII, it was clear that there needed to be a system or operation set up to help bring our wounded back to home station safer, faster, and more efficiently.
Luckily, a woman named Lauretta Schimmoler, one of the first female pilots (and the first woman to command an American Legion Post), had an idea to use airplanes as ambulances (picture a giant ambulance in the sky). She founded the Aerial Nurse Corps of America and created a system that trained flight nurses who specialize in patient aircraft setup and medicine. They would provide expert care to the injured as they were transported back to home station.
The military also needed to find aircraft that could support that kind of movement from wherever they were in the war. But there was no aircraft at the time that was specially built for aeromedical evacuation. So the Army Air Forces appointed certain aircraft already in circulation to perform the task. The C-54 Skymaster, C-64 Norseman, and the C-87 Liberator express were some of the planes utilized for aeromedical evacuation.
Schimmoler’s model of patient care and flight nurse program set the foundation for current-day aeromedical operations and drastically improved the survival rates of troops in WWII (although she didn’t get recognition until 1966). Without the development of Nurse Aerial Nurse Corps of America, AE would not have been born into existence and our troops today might still be waiting out wars in field hospitals.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein has a direct answer when asked what echoes to this day, what continues to influence his thinking and actions even now, 20 years after he found himself on the ground in hostile surroundings, his F-16 Fighting Falcon in the distance smoldering and destroyed.
“Where it echoes most for me is trying to lead with character,” Goldfein said May 7, 2019. “When I talk to young commanders I tell them, ‘As an officer, we never know when some young airman will risk everything to save our lives, to pull us out of bad-guy land, to pull us out of a burning vehicle. They risk everything they hold dear and their families hold dear to save us.’
“And the question at that moment is, am I worthy of their risk?”
For Goldfein, of course, the question and his answer are both meaningful and literal. It is especially potent this month, which marks the 20th anniversary of his shoot-down and rescue during a mission over Serbia.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)
The facts of that incident are well known. Goldfein was a squadron commander for the May 2, 1999 mission to find and destroy anti-aircraft batteries. The mission was part of Operation Allied Force, which was NATO’s response to Serbian attacks on Kosovar Albanians that had risen to an ethnic cleansing. The 78-day air campaign ultimately convinced Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to capitulate.
Getting to that point, however, was difficult and dangerous. Air power made the difference.
While officially a NATO campaign with many participants and facets, the U.S. Air Force played a prominent role, flying 30,018 sorties and striking 421 fixed targets.
It was a defining moment for the Air Force in several ways. It validated the air expeditionary force concept; it was the first time a B-2 stealth bomber was used in combat and the first significant use of what today are referred to as drone aircraft.
And for Goldfein, it was a life-shaping event that forced him to eject into a moonlit night, test his training and forge a unique command outlook.
It triggered a tight bond with pararescuemen Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hardy, Senior Airman Ron Ellis and Staff Sgt. Andy Kubik, a combat controller. All three bolted from a MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and ran toward Goldfein as he emerged from a row of trees and brought him home safely, eluding vigorous gunfire on the way out.
A MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter.
For Goldfein, the memory and the lessons from that night endure.
He remembers how the training he received 20 years before that night on the proper way to safely eject, parachute to earth and evade capture, returned clearly and instantly when needed.
“What I found that was amazing in looking back was how little I had to recall,” he said, reciting the stern admonitions of his instructors for a successful “parachute landing fall” – “knees together, don’t look down, roll like a football!”
There also was something more profound that only someone who’s been shot down and rescued can fully understand.
“I wear these stars every day for somebody else,” Goldfein said. “I wear them for some young airmen who risked everything and did a great job that night. So every day you get to serve is a day to pay it forward.”
It also forces him to return to the question, am I worth it?