This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks - We Are The Mighty
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This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

It takes a Gurkha to save a village.


In 1944, the Japanese were still advancing into British-dominated Burma-India theater. Their progress was slowed due to dense jungles, steep mountains, and the fact that they were trampling all over the backyards of the world’s best soldiers.

One of those was 19-year-old Ganju Lama. Lama was a Rifleman in the 1st Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles, an anti-tank unit. This training would soon come in handy. They were part of an effort to recapture the city of Imphal in eastern India, along the Burma border.

The Japanese rolled into the area with 37mm guns mounted on Type 97 Chi-Ha tanks.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Early model Chi-Ha tanks, like the kind Ganju Lama used to eat for breakfast.

In his first contact with the Japanese outside of Imphal, he used a projectile, infantry, anti-tank (or PIAT) rifle to disable one of the tanks. The Gurkhas then fell back, with Lama covering their retreat. Three weeks later, Ganju Lama met another company of Japanese tanks.

That fight would go a very different way.

Japanese artillery opened up on the Gurkhas in the morning of June 12th and rained death on them for more than an hour. As soon as the rain let up, enemy infantry supported by three tanks tore through the British lines near Lama’s position. The Gurkhas counter-attacked but were soon bogged down.

That’s when Ganju Lama picked up a PIAT and went to work.

Bleeding from one leg, as well as his left arm and right hand, he crawled within 30 yards of the enemy tanks. He took out the first tank and then the second, using one round apiece.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
This is a photo of the actual destruction Lama wreaked on the Japanese tanks. (UK Army Museum photo)

As the tank crews abandoned their vehicles, he launched a furious grenade attack, using only his teeth to pull the pin and his good arm to throw.

According to the Guardian, Lama wouldn’t allow himself to be evacuated until he killed or wounded the last of the enemy crewmen.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Lama also earned the Military Medal for covering his unit’s fall back three weeks prior.

Ganju Lama was awarded the Victoria Cross, the UK’s highest award for gallantry, for his actions that day. He would survive his wounds and the war, living to the ripe old age of 77.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 little-known facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the most iconic monuments in Arlington National Cemetery. The marble sarcophagus sits on top of a hill that overlooks Washington, DC. Here are five facts you might not know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

5 Facts you might not know

  1. In March 1921, the U.S. Congress accepted the remains of an unknown American soldier who fought in World War I to be buried in a tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. This soldier was buried with full honors.

2. On Memorial Day of 1921, four unknown soldiers were relocated from their World War I American cemeteries in France. Sergeant Edward F. Younger placed roses atop one of four identical caskets. 

3. Then on November 11, 1921, the Unknown Solider was moved to Arlington and officially interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Since 1918, November 11 had been marked by somber remembrances of the service personnel lost in WWI. President Harding led the charge by officiating the interment ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Then he awarded the Unknown Soldier two high military awards: the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

4. Three years after the Korean War ended, on August 3, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed a bill to allow unknown soldiers who fought in the Korean War and World War II to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery.

5. In 1958, unknown Soldiers who fought in World War II and the Korean War were permitted to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well.

The Old Guard

Members of the Old Guard have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since April 6, 1948. Currently, The Old Guard monitors the memorial twenty-four hours a day, year-round. These Sentinels do not move from their station and are equipped to withstand all kinds of weather and extreme conditions. After a Solider has volunteered to become a Tomb Guard, they have to undergo a strict screening process and several weeks of intensive training. Every element of the Tomb Guard’s routine has a deeper meaning than what’s shown on the surface.

Guard movements harken back to the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed – a 21 gun salute. Tomb guards march 21 steps down the black mat behind the Unknown Tomb, then turn and face east for precisely 21 seconds. Then, they turn and face north for precisely 21 seconds, followed by 21 steps back down the mat. Each Guard carries their weapon at “shoulders-arms,” signifying that they stand between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and any possible threat.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a daring hostage rescue raid helped Britain’s elite special operators get their confidence back

Sierra Leone, September 2000.

The West Side Boys, a well-armed but poorly trained gang, has taken hostage 11 British soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment and is threatening to execute them if London doesn’t meet its demands.


Back in the UK, the British government is dealing with its first significant hostage crisis since the Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980. As negotiators bargain for the hostages’ release, the British military is preparing for a rescue operation.

Enter the renowned Special Air Service (SAS).

An unstable enemy

A brutal civil war had ravaged Sierra Leone since 1991. The West Side Boys, never more than a few hundred members strong, took advantage of the power vacuum, operating with impunity and terrorizing locals. Their trademark was amputating victims’ arms with machetes. Men, women, and children all suffered from their wanton violence.

The West Side Boys’ leader was the self-titled “Brigadier” Foday Khalley, with “Colonel Cambodia” serving as his second-in-command.

Both men and their gang used drugs and alcohol heavily and frequently. Their resulting instability pushed the British toward a military response instead of negotiations. (Khalley’s demands varied from a new satellite phone to the formation of a new government.)

A task force centered around D Squadron of the SAS and A Company, 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, and augmented by Special Boat Squadron, or SBS, operators and support troops, gradually deployed to Dakar in neighboring Senegal and then outside Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.

D Squadron was chosen because of its familiarity with the region. Its operators had been in East Africa conducting jungle and mountain training when the West Side Boys kidnapped the British soldiers. Once they were notified of a potential operation, they were so eager to return to the UK and begin preparing that two troopers were killed in a car accident as they rushed to the airport. The operation had started on the wrong foot.

The gang held the hostages in the small village of Gberi Bana, adjacent to the Rokel Creek. On the other side of the creek, there was a substantial and heavily armed force of gangsters in an abandoned village.

Throughout the negotiations, the British had eyes on the ground from well-hidden SAS observation posts close to the two villages. Additionally, a special-operations signals team intercepted Khalley’s frequent publicity calls to the BBC and pinpointed his location.

Their combined reports led commanders to rule out a ground or waterborne assault because of the gang’s heavily armed roadblocks in the villages and the treacherous currents of the creek. The rescue force would go in by helicopter.

At one point, the negotiators, which included two SAS operators in disguise, were able to secure the release of six men, leaving five British soldiers captive. The freed troops told horror stories of mock executions and psychological violence. But more releases seemed unlikely. A rescue operation was necessary, and time was of the essence.

The assault

At dawn on September 10, the rescue force flew in on three CH-47 Chinook helicopters with two Lynx and one Mi-24 gunships providing close air support. The combined SAS/SBS force would rescue the hostages in Gberi Bana, while members of the Parachute Regiment, known as Paras, would eliminate the gang members on the opposite side of the river.

The British commandos hit Gberi Bana hard. Half the assault force fast-roped into the village while the other half landed in a soccer field. In the first moments, heavy enemy fire pinned down the teams on the soccer field. But the commandos achieved fire superiority and silenced the resistance with machine guns and anti-tank rockets.

Despite some confusion, the SAS and SBS operators swept the village and secured the hostages.

However, on the other side of the river, the Paras were in the thick of it. Because of a lack of Chinooks, the Paras had to be transported in two groups. Alerted by the helicopters’ approach and the firefight on the other bank, the gangster there were better prepared.

The Chinook dropped the first wave of Paras in a chest-deep swamp, which they had to navigate under heavy fire. In the first few moments, they took several casualties, including their commanding and executive officers.

Reinforced by the second wave and displaying their characteristic aggression, the Paras took the initiative and overpowered the gangsters after a fierce firefight that lasted hours.

As the smoke settled, the Chinooks came in to pick up the hostages, rescue force, and some captured vehicles. At the cost of one SAS operator, Bombardier Brad Tinnion, and 12 Paras wounded, the rescue force managed to secure all the hostages and kill scores of gang members.

A wave of change

Operation Barras brought significant changes to British special operations.

The resistance put up by the heavily armed West Side Boys showed the need for a specialized support unit that would assist the SAS and SBS in future large-scale hostage rescues and special operations.

Until that point, the Paras and the Royal Marine Commandos had been called up to complement their elite brethren only when necessary. Even though there were close links between the units — most SAS operators came from the Paras, and the SBS at that time recruited solely from the Royal Marines — they didn’t train together and didn’t use the same procedures.

As a result, the British military created the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) in 2006.

The SFSG is composed of Paras, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force personnel who have passed an additional selection process. Its main task is to be a quick reaction force for SAS and SBS operations, but it can also complement those units in domestic counterterrorism operations.

Moreover, Operation Barras was a much needed confidence boost for British special-operations forces after bad publicity in Northern Ireland, where they fought a politically complicated campaign against the IRA. British policymakers could once more be confident in their commandos.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

How Marines used a 3D printer and a little ‘grunt ingenuity’ to make gadgets that help them in combat

Second Lt. Ben Lacount knows that it’s never a good thing to run out of rounds during a firefight. And it’s certainly not a good thing to be surprised that you have.


That’s why he invented the “Lacounter” with help from Navy engineers and a 3D printer that allowed him to cut prototyping time down to a fraction. The device allows shooters to see how many rounds they’ve expended while pulling the trigger so that they’re not in a bind when they do.

The Lacounter even works with belt fed weapons like the M249 and M2 .50cal.

Lacount’s prototype takes advantage of a process known as “additive manufacturing,” and it’s one that could change the face of military logistics forever.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Ben Lacount presents his winning entry from the Marine Corps Innovation Challenge during a showcase at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Lacount created an expended rounds counter for the M16 rifle in the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education Laboratory, Carderock™s additive manufacturing collaborative space. (U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released)

“My goal for this project was to have a simple, lightweight, low-cost and no battery solution to this issue,” Lacount said, according to a Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock release.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

And Lacount’s not alone.

Captain Kyle McCarley helped come up with a new way to carry the “Bangalore torpedo,” an explosive device used to blow up obstacles like barbed wire. While they are very useful, they are bulky, and take up space. But McCarley used a 3D printer to make a quiver-like pack with elastic straps for the devices that can attack to a normal assault pack.

Then there was Staff Sgt. Daniel Diep, an artilleryman. After noticing that the cable for the Chief of Section Display got damaged from debris that got stuck in the cable – something that took a week and $3,000 to fix – he designed a 3D-printed cable head that cost $10 to make.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire their M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Zachery Laning

“The neat thing about this cable cap is the cable heads themselves can be additively manufactured, and Marines like myself can take all the old cables, cut them down, and we can put new heads on them after 3-D printing,” Diep said.

But the neatest trick of all is getting the 3D printers closer to the grunts. Captain Tony Molnar and Master Sgt. Gage Conduto have worked that out – not only by bringing the printers to units at FOBs, but also a processing center to recycle plastic, like water bottles often delivered to troops on deployment. This will be a huge boon for explosive ordnance techs like Conduto.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Spc. Ryan Rolf, a combat engineer from Fullerton, Nebraska, with the 402nd Engineer Company, places a field expedient bangalore packed with C-4 explosive in a barbed wire obstacle during an in-stride breach event at the 2014 Sapper Stakes competition at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 5. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

“I can’t walk down to the Marine Corps machinist with a stinger missile in my hand and say, ‘I need a set of tools made, can you get these back to me next week?'” he said.

But the tech could go even further, than just helping come up with new tools. In fact, it could be a huge game-changer for any forward-deployed unit.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
3D Printing in a laboratory setting. Now, imagine a field-deployable 3D printer set-up, along with something to harvest or recycle materials to use in the printer. (Photo by Jonathan Juursema.)

“This container will benefit the Marine expeditionary units and the Marine Corps and DOD because it can do two things: One, it enhances the expeditionary readiness of forward-deployed units by being able to print parts locally on site using recycled materials, and second, it helps those combat units forward by providing stuff that they can’t do, as well as printing stuff for the local populous during humanitarian disaster relief that we couldn’t normally do and that we’d have to pay someone to do,” Molnar told the Navy News Service.

Marine grunts getting inventive — that’s a very frightening thought … for America’s enemies.

Articles

This Navy vet and wheelchair basketball player is one to watch at the Warrior Games

The 2016 Warrior Games held their opening ceremony on June 15. The games are an adaptive sports competition for veterans and service members who are ill, wounded, or otherwise injured. Two hundred and fifty athletes on six teams (Army, Marine Corps, Navy Coast Guard, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and the UK Armed Force) will compete for just over a week at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The events include Archery, Cycling, Track, Field, Shooting, Sitting Volleyball, Swimming, and Wheelchair Basketball.


This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Jason Reyes at the 2016 Invictus Games

One of the competitors to watch is Jason Reyes, a retired Navy Fire Controlman, who was in a motorcycle accident in 2012. He suffered a severe spinal cord injury as well as a traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma for ten days.

In the four years since he has been a fierce competitor in wheelchair basketball, learning the ins and outs with the San Diego Wolfpack. He didn’t even know about Wheelchair Basketball until he met the Wolfpack.

“Yeah, they’re professional, a pro team,” Reyes recalls. “Personally, it was about trying to be healthy, to do more than just sitting around. When a person is in a wheelchair and they’re not healthy, there’s a decline in their well-being. I didn’t want that for me.”

His remarkable recovery and interest in wheelchair athletics led to even more competition. The Warrior Games inspired his interest in the Cycling and Track events. In 2015, Reyes received a sponsorship to compete in Wheelchair Motocross, or WCMX. He is the only veteran to compete in WCMX at a pro level.

“Basically it’s a wheelchair in a skate park,” Reyes says. “I went to the 2015 world championships where I placed fourth in the world in WCMX. I’m the eighth person in the world to do the back flip in a wheelchair.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Reyes joined the Navy because he felt like it was his calling. He wanted to be part of something greater than himself. He was always an athletic guy. While serving as a Fire Controlman for missiles, he prepared to go into Special Operations, with the goal of one day being an officer. He was running five miles a day, hitting the gym every day because he felt like it was his calling.

“I wanted to live for something, Reyes says. it was just something that I just latched onto easily. I felt like it was my calling, and it was going to be a lifetime thing.”

Now, his calling is slightly different but he approaches it with the same zeal. His mission is to help others in wheelchairs understand their life isn’t over because of the wheelchair.

“I feel like some guys just need that little bit of motivation,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll go volunteer and speak to kids that are born with Spina Bifida or veterans that I know have PTSD and depression. I try to get them to open their mind up to other things.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Navy Fire Controlman 3rd Class (ret.) Jason Reyes poses with his family and Dario Santana, Warrior Games’ Family Programs and Charitable Resource Coordinator, after the U.S. team wins the gold in wheelchair basketball at the Invictus Games May 12, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Marissa A. Cruz)

 

That’s what brings him to events like the Invictus Games, the Warrior Games, and – soon – the International Paralympics. Reyes wants to represent my branch and his country but loves to be around his brothers and sisters in uniform. The military community is where he feels he belongs.

“No matter what branch, we all go together no matter what,” he says. “I would have never thought that something like this could be possible. I just feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to be able to do what I’ve done. ”

Reyes still feels he has much to learn. At the Warrior Games, he has met people who have used wheelchairs for as long as twenty and thirty years. Every time he meets someone, he finds it broadens his experience and he learns a lot.

“When I first got hurt, there weren’t a lot of people there to help me,” he remembers. “Not a lot of people were around to help push me or educate me as to how the paraplegic world functions, so I try to do that for others, to open their eyes up to the idea just because you’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean it’s over. You just have to find your calling and what makes you happy.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Navy Fire Controlman 3rd Class Jason Reyes (ret.) shares an embrace with a fellow U.S. team member after winning the gold medal in wheelchair basketball against the United Kingdom at the Invictus Games May 12 in Orlando, Fla. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Marissa A. Cruz)

Humor

7 ways to prove your spouse is a spy

If Hollywood thrillers have taught us anything about relationships it’s that your wife or husband could be a spy.


Countless dramatic storylines throughout cinematic history blast the prospect of living with the enemy and never knowing the truth until it’s too late.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent, pleaded guilty to selling U.S. secrets to the Soviets and Russia in 2001. He’s currently serving 15 life consecutive sentences — his wife claims she knew nothing about it.

If you ever suspect your spouse could in fact be a spy, check out these tips on how to prove your theory.

1. Randomly toss vegetables in the air

Most spies are great with cutlery. In 1996, we were blessed with the film The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Gina Davis who plays Samantha Caine a.k.a. Charly Baltimore a woman who learns about her mysterious past immediately after a stabbing and pinning a defenseless tomato against a custom made cabinet door.

 2. Take them to a carnival

You’ve been happily married for years and you know for fact you’ve never seen your better half ever fire a pistol or a rifle, but lately you’ve been seeing a different side to them. Here’s your chance to get more evidence of her double life.

Make it a date night to the local carnival and challenge her to a shooting game.

A red flag?

3. Get them wasted

People talk more than usual after tossing back a few.

Take it from Harry Tasker played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron‘s 1994 action comedy hit True Lies — he wasn’t drunk, but the bad guys gave him some pretty good sh*t to admit his secret to his wife, who apparently never went to work with him, or an office Christmas party.

A long time.

4. Install a secret home surveillance system

We do it to watch nannies take care of our kids. … Just something to think about.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

5. Learn to curse in a few different languages

Spies are known to be cultured in many global customs after having traveled the world on secret missions.

Knowing an extra language or two helps them blend into those dangerous environments.

So here’s the trick — when they least expect it, blurt out a curse word in a different language. Watch to see if your suspected spook changes his expression. If it doesn’t, try another. Your spouse will ever get the hint you’re catching on or think you’ve got Tourettes.

Nothing?

6. Wardrobe

Movie spies are known for having some pretty bad ass suits and sunglasses. When they’re off saving the world or reporting sensitive information to foreign governments, they’ve got to do it in style.

Take notice how they remove or put on their sunglasses. If it appears they do in a dramatic fashion every time — you probably married a spy.

You’ll look super cool. 

7. Go to work with them

Let’s face it, in real life — unless you know they own their business — faking a job one is the hardest things your spouse could pull off. Think about it: if they’re into espionage and all that, wouldn’t she have to take you to pick up a dead drop or recruit an agent?

Can you think of any other tells that your spouse is a spook? Comment below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Our highest honor: Top medals from countries around the world

From simple stars to elaborate medallions, here are 12 of the world’s ultimate civilian awards in all of their splendor.


This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Kazakhstan’s Order of the Golden Eagle

The medal shimmers with gold, diamonds, and rubies.

The award has been given to more than a dozen foreigners, but only two Kazakh citizens have received it: Nursultan Nazarbaev and Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, the only two presidents of Kazakhstan.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Order of the Star of Romania

The medal comes with the unusual reward of a free burial site and a military salute when the recipient dies.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Hero of Ukraine

In 2017, Belarusian Mikhail Zhyzneuski posthumously became the first foreigner awarded the title. Zhyzneuski was shot dead in 2014 during the Euromaidan protests. Many countries’ medals come with miniature versions of the honor (seen here on the right) that can be pinned to clothing.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

The United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom

The medal rewards Americans, and occasionally non-Americans, for “exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Hero of the Russian Federation

This award is usually bestowed for “heroic feats of valor.” Two recent recipients were the Ural Airlines pilots who in 2019 guided their seagull-stricken passenger aircraft into a cornfield. There were no fatalities or serious injuries among the 233 people aboard.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun

The handmade medal represents a dawn sun made from a polished garnet stone surrounded by a star made of gold and enamel which is suspended from the leaf of a Paulownia tree.

Order of New Zealand

The number of ordinary awardees is limited to 20 living people. After a holder of the medal dies, the badge must be handed in and it is then “passed to another appointee to the order.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

The United Kingdom’s George Cross

Among the hundreds of recipients of this award “for acts of the greatest heroism,” perhaps the most unusual is the island of Malta, which was awarded the cross in 1942 for “heroism and devotion” during the Nazi/Italian siege of the British colony in World War II. The cross was later incorporated into the top left corner of independent Malta’s flag.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Order of Pakistan

This award is usually announced each year on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day. The latest recipient of the award was St. Lucian cricketer Darren Sammy for his “invaluable contribution to Pakistani cricket.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Bulgaria’s Stara Planina

The spiky medal was previously reserved for foreign dignitaries but is now also awarded to Bulgarians who have given “outstanding services” to their country.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Jewel of India

The platinum-rimmed medal is in the shape of a leaf from the Bodhi tree — the same type Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment under. The Hindi script says “Bharat Ratna” (Jewel of India). A maximum of three people receive the award each year.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Albania’s Honor of the Nation

This medal is awarded by Albania’s president to Albanians or foreign nationals “as a token of gratitude and recognition for those who by their acts and good name contribute to honoring the Albanian nation.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 times the US was attacked at home during WWII (besides Pearl Harbor)

For decades before 9/11, Americans talked about how they hadn’t been attacked at home since Pearl Harbor, but that actually wasn’t true.


The California coast was attacked less than three months later, and two additional attacks were launched in 1942 alone. Here are five times that America was attacked at home in World War II after Pearl Harbor:

1. Japanese submarines shell California oil refinery

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Japanese submarine I-19. (Photo: Public Domain)

 

In February 1942, Japan landed its first attack on the American mainland. Submarine I-17 surfaced off the coast of California and proceeded to shell oil processing facilities in Ellwood, a city north of Santa Barbara. The Ellwood attack was believed to have been intentionally timed to take place during one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats.

The attack did little real damage. An oil derrick and a pump house were both hit but no personnel were injured or killed and refining operations continued throughout the war.

2. Nazi commandos land in New York and Florida

 

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
The German sabotage ring commandos assigned to attack New York and the surrounding area. (Photos: FBI)

The following June, the Axis powers struck again as specially trained Nazi commandos were delivered by submarine to beaches in New York and Florida. They came heavily armed with crates of explosives and lists of targets including aluminum plants and power production.

Luckily for America, the commandos had been recruited from the civilian population and the Nazi party and they were inept. One of the team leaders had slept through much of the 18 days of special training.

The first team was spotted by the Coast Guard while burying their supplies on the New York beach. They got away, but both teams were hunted down by the FBI before they launched any successful operations.

3. A Japanese submarine shells military defenses in Oregon

An I-25 submarine ordered to patrol the American coast surfaced during the night of June 21, 1942, and shelled the coastal defenses at Fort Stevens, Oregon. Most of the rounds buried themselves in the sand on the shore and the damage to the U.S. was mostly on morale.

4. A Japanese plane drops bombs on a logging town

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
(Photo: Public Domain)

In September 1942, the submarine I-25 tried again, this time with a plane equipped with incendiary bombs. Many submarines at the time carried a single float plane used to search for targets or collect battle damage assessments.

The pilot assigned to I-25, Nobuo Fujita, had proposed that these planes could be used in an offensive capacity.

The Imperial Navy brass agreed to the plan and he was allowed to drop incendiary bombs deep in the forests of southern Oregon. The attack was launched on Sept. 9, 1942, and the early stages were successful. The pilot delivered two incendiary bombs that detonated and spread small fires across hundreds of square yards.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Nobuo Fujita stands with his E14Y plane, the same model he used to bomb Oregon. (Photo: Public Domain)

Unfortunately for the Japanese, they had little knowledge of the weather conditions in their target area. The woods had been unseasonably wet from recent rains and thick fogs, so the fires failed to spread.

Still, the FBI and the U.S. Army worried that another attack would be more successful.

The Japanese did indeed try again on Sept. 25, but the fires failed to spread once again.

Fujita was hailed as a hero at home and served out the war training kamikaze pilots. Oddly enough in 1962, the town of Brookings, Oregon, invited Fujita to the city he tried to destroy. This resulted in a friendship that lasted the rest of the man’s life.

He gave his family’s ceremonial sword to the city and, after his death, some of his ashes were spread at the bomb crater.

5. Almost ten thousand fire balloons are floated across the Pacific

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
An aerial attack at home on US soil.

This was the first intercontinental weapon in military history — the fūsen bakudan, or fire balloon. Japan produced 9,300 of them. (Youtube Screenshot)

In Operation Fu-Go in 1944, the Japanese military tried to set America aflame by floating 9,300 incendiary bombs across the Pacific Ocean. The bombs were expected to travel on the wind for three days and then drop, setting large fires.

Only 350 bombs actually made it to the states and spread far and wide, hitting states like Michigan, Iowa, and Kansas. Most failed to start large fires. The only known fatalities from the weapon was when a pregnant woman and her five children came across an unexploded bomb in Oregon.

It exploded while the family was looking at it, killing all six.

Articles

That time the Air Force dropped a ‘waterfall of bombs’

When American intelligence detected the massive buildup of North Vietnamese troops that preceded the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh in 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland gave the base priority access to all American airpower in theater, leading to Operation Niagara and a “waterfall of bombs.”


Khe Sanh was the westernmost base in a strong of installations along the crucial Route 9 in late 1967. It was in the perfect position to block North Vietnamese Army forces and other fighters moving in from Laos or other NVA areas.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
NVA Troops with Chinese SAM launcher (U.S. Air Force Photo)

But Westmoreland believed that Khe Sanh was crucial to victory and worth heavy investment despite its relatively small size as home to one Marine regiment and 5,000 support troops. To ensure the Marines could hold out against anything, he ordered improvements to infrastructure on the base and the installation of thousands of remote sensors in the surrounding jungle.

By the first week of January 1968, sensors and reconnaissance data made it clear that the NVA was conducting a massive buildup in the area of the base. All indications were that the North Vietnamese wanted to recreate their success at Diem Bien Phu in 1954 when a prolonged siege led to the withdrawal of French forces.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Second battle for Khe Sanh began on Jan. 20, 1968 when Marines from 3/26 attacked a North Vietnamese battalion between Hill 881 South Hill 881 North. Above, Marines stack mounds of expended 105mm casings after constant pounding of enemy forces. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Artillery rounds were stockpiled at the base and intelligence was collected. The intel cells were able to get a good idea of where Communist forces were concentrating forces, artillery, and command elements. They were also able to track tunneling efforts by the North Vietnamese trying to get close to the base.

And the North Vietnamese were able to get close — in some cases within a few thousand meters.

On Jan. 21, 1968, the North Vietnamese launched a simultaneous attack against Khe Sanh itself and some of the surrounding hills. Their massed forces would eventually number 20,000, more than three times the number of the 6,000 defenders.

The U.S., with a mass of intelligence and stockpiled weapons, went on the offensive against the North Vietnamese. Artillery shells shot out of the base against pre-identified targets, and a waterfall of bombs started pouring from B-52s.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F Stratofortress drops bombs over Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The long-planned Operation Niagara II was underway. Over the following 77 days, strike aircraft from the Air Force flew 9,691 sorties and dropped 14,223 tons of bombs, those from the Marine Corps flew 7,098 missions and dropped 17,015 tons of bombs, while the U.S. Navy strike aircraft dropped 7,942 tons of bombs over 5,337 missions.

The heavy lifters were the Air Force B-52s who dropped 59,542 tons of bombs. The combined total of ordnance dropped around Khe Sanh by air was 98,721 tons, approximately 5,700 tons more than the total weight of the USS Enterprise.

Initially, the bombs were dropped relatively far from the base. The B-52s tried to stay three miles out, but the communists figured out the restrictions and moved their fighters in close, forcing the B-52s to operate closer to the base and making the ground pounders rely more heavily on strike aircraft and the AC-47 gunship.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Night attack of a U.S. Air Force Douglas AC-47D Spooky gunship over the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) Team 21 compound at Pleiku in May 1969. This time lapse photo shows the tracer round trajectories. (Photo: U.S. Army Spec. 5 Thomas A. Zangla)

Of course, not everything went smoothly for the Marines and their support. An enemy artillery strike by the North Vietnamese managed to hit the ammo dump, destroying 90 percent of the stockpiled rounds in a single hit.

Marines patrolling the jungle were also hard-pressed time after time. One patrol, conducted by two squads from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, on Feb. 25, 1968, was almost completely wiped out and became known as the “Ghost Patrol.” One survivor was taken captive and reported dead for nearly five years before he was released in a prisoner transfer.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
F-100 strikes close to the lines, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, on March 15, 1968. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Moore)

While the leadership did entertain the idea of calling in tactical nukes of necessary, the efforts of the Marines on the ground — sometimes conducted by nearly starving troops after 11 weeks of rare resupplies — combined with the Herculean-levels of air support were enough to keep the North Vietnamese at bay.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Warriors In Their Own Words: SOG’s covert operations in Vietnam

The Military Assistance Command — Studies and Observations Group, now better known as SOG, was one of those true dark-arts units that hid dangerous men with dangerous jobs behind a boring name. The missions that these special operators, including a large number of U.S. Army green berets, undertook helped save the lives of infantrymen fighting across Vietnam.

Now, these warriors are telling their story.


This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Then-Sgt. Gary M. Rose, a member of Studies and Observations Group, is led away from a helicopter after heroic actions that would later net him a Medal of Honor.

(U.S. Army)

Warriors In Their Own Words, a podcast that captures the authentic stories of America’s veterans as they tell them, spoke with two members of the unit. You can enjoy their riveting tales in the episode embedded above — but make sure you carve out time for it. The episode is just over an hour, but once you start listening, you won’t want to stop.

J.D. Bath and Bill Deacy describe their harrowing experiences serving in Vietnam with the SOG, and they both tell amazing stories.

J.D. Bath was an early member of SOG, recruited after his entire team was killed in a helicopter crash. He tells of how his SOG team bought pipes, tobacco, and bourbon for local tribes to enlist their help. Later, he and his team came under fire from a U.S. helicopter that had no idea that Americans were so far behind enemy lines. Luckily, another U.S. aircraft threatened to shoot down the helicopter if it didn’t stop immediately.

Bill Deacy, on the other hand, survived multiple firefights and endured a bad case of malaria before ending up on the wrong part of the Ho Chi Min Trail. The Special Forces soldiers planned an ambush against a small North Vietnamese force, and Deacy had no way of warning his men when he spotted a massive column of enemy soldiers approaching just as the ambush was being sprung.

These are incredible stories coming straight from the heroes who were there. We’ll be featuring a story each week, so keep your eyes peeled. If you can’t wait, Warriors In Their Own Words has a massive archive on their website.

Articles

Russia has a ‘pipe dream’ of replacing the US as the world’s dominant naval power

In the November issue of the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, Commander Daniel Thomassen of the Royal Norwegian Navy argued that Russia’s dream to build a blue water, or global, navy remains a “pipe dream.”


Russia’s navy has made headlines recently with high profile cruise missile strikes on Syria, and the deployment of the core of its northern fleet, including the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier, to the Mediterranean.

Also read: This is who would win if the USS Midway took on the Admiral Kuznetsov

According to Thomassen, Russia’s navy has considerable regional defense and anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) capabilities, but no reasonable path towards the type of naval power the US wields.

“Russia is capable of being a regional naval power in local theaters of choice. But large-scale efforts to develop an expensive expeditionary navy with aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships only would diminish Russia’s geographically overstretched homeland defense forces,” writes Thomassen.

Thomassen goes on to point out that strong navies have strong allies and healthy fleets. While Russia has been improving its fleet with some particularly good submarines, it lacks a big fleet that can build partnerships with allies around the world through bilateral exercises.

The US, on the other hand, regularly engages with allies to strengthen joint operations. The US can do this in part because it has enough ships around the world.

But the state of Russia’s navy now is only part of the picture. Russia has never been a major naval power, Thomassen points out. At times Moscow has established itself as a coastal naval power, but it never had a truly global reach on par with historic powers like England or Spain.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a parade celebrating Navy Day. | Russian state media

Furthermore, Russia’s future as a naval power isn’t that bright. Russia has been in a recession for 3 solid years. International sanctions tied to its illegal annexation of Crimea have greatly reduced Moscow’s ability to bulk up its fleet.

But that doesn’t seem to matter to Russian leadership, which has set “highly ambitious governmental guidelines for developing and using sea power over the next decades.”

In addition to its submarine fleet, Russia wants new frigates, cruisers, and even carriers. These prospects seem especially dubious because Russia’s Kuznetsov isn’t really a strike carrier like the US’s Nimitz-class carriers.

The Kuznetsov has never conducted a combat mission. Mechanical troubles plague the Kuznetsov, so much so that it often sails with a tugboat. Also, the Kuznetsov just isn’t built for the kind of mission it will undertake off Syria’s coast.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks
The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. | Creative Commons photo

Taylor Mavin, writing for Smoke and Stir, notes the following:

“Since a major confrontation between NATO and Warsaw Pact would most likely take place in Europe, during the later Cold War Soviet planners focused on protecting the heavily defended ‘bastions’ shielding their ballistic missile submarines and not seaborne power projection.

In fact, Russia itself doesn’t have the makings of a global sea power. While it has both Pacific and Atlantic coasts, like the US, the population of Russia’s far east is about as sparse as you’ll find anywhere in the world.

But one powerful reason dictates why Russia’s leadership still marches towards this seemingly unattainable goal — prestige. Being seen as a credible alternative to Western naval power seems important to Russian leadership, and operating a carrier is one way to do that. Additionally, Moscow will spin its carrier deployment as propaganda, or a showcase for its military wares.

So while Russia has capable, credible naval forces to defend its homeland and near interests, it will likely never project power abroad like the US and other naval powers of the past have.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why George Washington views Thanksgiving as a warrior’s holiday

The founding father at the center of our Nation’s creation myth is also responsible for one of our most cherished traditions. When General Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, he would sometimes reward troops with a day of thanks following victories. American folklore of pilgrims celebrating days of thanks for special occasions was not uncommon before the Revolutionary War. Once president, Washington continued to press the issue with the Continental Congress that a national Thanksgiving was something every American should take part in. 

The first Thanksgiving, technically, was in 1941 when Congress made it a legal holiday. However, the reasons for it being ratified are not the same as the vision President Washington had. It was made a legal holiday because President Roosevelt wanted to extend the holiday shopping season by moving Thanksgiving from November 3rd to the last Thursday of the month.

According to Business Insider, “To assuage the fears of retail lobbyists, FDR moved Thanksgiving forward a week that year. The change divided the country, with 16 states refusing to move up the date of the holiday. Thanksgiving remained an issue as hot as a bowl of scalding mashed potatoes until the president admitted defeat in 1941.” 

Now we have Black November, not just a Friday, and we’ve extended the holiday shopping season by an entire month – gross.

President Washington’s vision of Thanksgiving was rooted in giving thanks to God for watching over the country during the revolution and providing us a country of our own. 

According to mountvernon.org, Washington issued a proclamation on October 3, 1789, designating Thursday, November 26 as a national day of thanks. In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans prior to the Revolution, assistance to them in achieving independence, and help in establishing the constitutional government. 

In the eyes of our greatest commander, Thanksgiving is about being grateful that we are able to govern ourselves. That we have a constitution that protects our rights and liberties with checks and balances. 

In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789, President Washington wrote about the things we should offer thanks for, to include, “… that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.” 

We’re not a perfect nation but we’re still better than everyone else. 

Thanksgiving, according to President Washington, is also about reflecting on the wrongs we’ve done and work toward fixing them. It’s a day to remember those who fell at the birth of the Nation. Thanksgiving is a warrior tradition giving gratitude to God for our successful revolution. 

In these uncertain times it is important to look back upon our history and listen to words of the founding fathers. May their intent continue to guide our country forward by the hands of Almighty God.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A pilot describes his role in the historic Berlin Airlift

Seventy years ago, with Adolf Hitler’s crumbled Third Reich still fresh in their memories and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union having a choke hold on their future, Berlin’s children were starving.

With the Nazi surrender in 1945, the Allies divided the defeated Germany. The French, British, and Americans took the western half of the nation spreading the ideals of democracy, while the Communist Russians occupied the eastern half of Germany. Berlin itself was divided into sectors between the allies, but was completely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled sector of Germany.


More than three years after World War II ended, Russian forces blockaded the Allied-controlled areas of Berlin on June 24, 1948, shutting off access to food, coal, and medicine to two million German citizens.

Berlin became the first front line of The Cold War and the nine-month old U.S. Air Force was charged with keeping Berliners alive while keeping the Cold War from turning hot.

The Berlin Airlift began two days later, with U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrains and C-54 Skymasters delivering milk, flour, and medicine to West Berlin. Throughout the duration of the blockade, U.S. and British aircraft delivered more than 2.3 million tons of supplies. At the height of the Berlin Airlift, aircraft were landing every three minutes, supplying up to 13,000 tons of food, coal and medicine a day, according to the Air Force Historical Support Division.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

German children who live near the Tempelhof Air Base use model American planes which were sold in toy shops throughout the western sector of Berlin to play a game called “Luftbrucke” (air bridge) while pretending they are American pilots delivering food and supplies for “Operation Vittles” during the Berlin Airlift in West Berlin.

(National Archive photo)

Then-1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1974, was one of the American pilots flying around-the-clock missions from Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany to Tempelhof Air Field in Berlin. He flew 126 missions delivering supplies and food from July 1948 to February 1949.

“We learned very clearly that the new enemy was Stalin. He was taking over where Hitler left off. We knew exactly what Stalin had in mind,” Halvorsen said.

However, some Airmen had mixed emotions about aiding the former enemy that had been shooting at American pilots just three years before. Halvorsen admitting that he had issues at first with the mission, but it quickly changed when he talked with a fellow crewmember.

“He told me that it is a hell of a lot better to feed them (rather) than kill them and that he was glad to be back. That is service before self. That is what causes your enemy to become your friend,” Halvorsen said.

On one of his first missions, the American pilot learned in a conversation with German youth through the perimeter fence at Templehof, that West Berliners may have needed food, but they were even more hungry for hope and freedom.

Between missions, Halvorsen was filming aircraft landings with his Revere movie camera when he encountered about 30 German children between the ages of 8 and 14, he said in his autobiography, “The Berlin Candy Bomber.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.

(US Air Force photo)

He greeted them with practically all the German he knew, but surprisingly, one of the group spoke English. Halvorsen was soon answering questions about how many sacks of flour and loaves of bread the airplanes carried and what other types of cargo were being airlifted.

He talked with the children for an hour before he realized not one had asked him for anything. Instead, they gave him something he didn’t expect: the best lesson on freedom he’d ever heard.

“I got five steps away from them, and then it hit me,” said Halvorsen, commonly known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. “I’d been dead-stopped for an hour, and not one kid had put out their hand. Not one.”

The contrast was so stark because during World War II, and dating all the way back to George Washington, if you were in an American uniform walking down the street, kids would chase you and ask for chocolate and gum.

“The reason they didn’t was they were so grateful to our fliers to be free. They wouldn’t be a beggar for more than freedom,” said Halvorsen. “Hitler’s past and Stalin’s future was their nightmare. American-style freedom was their dream. They knew what freedom was about. They said, ‘Someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.’ These were kids, and they were teaching me about freedom. That’s what just blew me away… That was the trigger. I reached into my pocket, but all I had were two sticks of gum. Right then, the smallest decision I made changed the rest of my life.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.

(US Air Force photo)

When he reached into his pocket for the two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum, Halvorsen debated the wisdom of giving it to them. Perhaps they’d fight over it. Yet, he broke each in half and passed four halves through the barbed wire, then braced for the rush of children to the fence.

It never came.

The children who didn’t get any of the gum only asked for a piece of the wrapper so they could smell the aroma. Their reaction, along with the surprise the pilot felt when they didn’t beg for anything, led to his decision to do more for them.

The man the German children would later call “Onkel Wackelflugel” or Uncle Wiggly Wings, came up with an idea that would not only change the lives of those children, but would also help the West win the ideological war with the Soviets for Germany’s future.

Halvorsen told the kids he would drop something to them on his next landing at Templehof if they promised to share. He would signal them on approach that it was his plane by wiggling the wings, something he’d done for his parents after he received his pilot’s license in 1941.

Back at Rhein-Main Air Base, just 280 miles away, he combined his candy rations with those of his co-pilot and engineer, made parachutes out of handkerchiefs and string and tied them to chocolate and gum for the first “Operation Little Vittles” drop from his C-54 Skymaster July 18, 1948.

“The only way I could get back to deliver it was to drop it from the airplane, 100 feet over their heads, on the approach between the barbed wire fence and bombed-out buildings,” Halvorsen said. “A red light came on that said you can’t drop it without permission. But I rationalized it by saying that starving 2 million people isn’t according to Hoyle, either, so what’s a few candy bars?”

The amount of candy steadily increased, along with the number of waiting children, for three weeks until a Berlin newspaper published a photo of the now famous “Candy Bomber.”

Soon, stacks of letters began arriving at Templehof base operations addressed to “Der Schokoladen Flieger” (the Chocolate Flyer), or “Onkel Wackelflugel.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gail Halvorsen, known as “The Candy Bomber”, reads letters from grateful West Berlin children to whom he dropped candy bars on tiny parachutes during the Berlin Airlift.

(US Air Force photo)

One day, after he returned from Berlin, Halvorsen was summoned by Col. James R. Haun, the C-54 squadron commander. Haun had received a call from Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner, deputy commander of operations during the airlift, who wanted to know who was dropping parachutes over Berlin.

Halvorsen knew he was in trouble when Haun showed him the newspaper with the picture of little parachutes flying out of his C-54.

“You got me in a little trouble there, Halvorsen,” Haun told him.

“I’d had a long relationship with him, but he was put out because he was sandbagged,” Halvorsen said. “So when I talk to kids, especially high school kids, I say, ‘when you get a job, don’t sandbag your boss.’ He said to keep [dropping candy], but keep him informed. It just went crazy after that.”

Fellow pilots donated their candy rations. Eventually, they ran out of parachutes, so they made more from cloth and old shirt-sleeves until noncommissioned officers’ and officers’ wives at Rhein-Main AB began making them.

Later, the American Confectioners Association donated 18 tons of candy, mostly sent through a Chicopee, Massachusetts school where students attached it to parachutes before sending to Berlin through then-Westover Air Force Base.

By the end of the Berlin Airlift in September 1949, American pilots had dropped 250,000 parachutes and 23 tons of candy.

“Willie Williams took over after I left Berlin,” Halvorsen said. “And he ended up dropping even more candy than I did.”

Since the Berlin Airlift ended, Halvorsen has met countless Germans whose lives were changed because of “Operation Little Vittles.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

During the Berlin Airlift, then Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen dropped candy attached to parachutes made from handkerchiefs to German children watching the airlift operations from outside the fence of the Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. One of those children was then seven-year-old Mercedes Simon whose father was killed during WWII. She and Halvorsen became pen pals and friends meeting many times later in life. The beginning of their friendship is recounted in the children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” by Margot Theis Raven held by Halvorsen.

(US Air Force photo)

One of them, a 7-year-old girl named Mercedes, wrote in a letter in 1948 that she loved “Der Schokoladen Flieger,” but was concerned for her chickens, who thought the airlift planes were chicken hawks. Mercedes asked him to drop candy near the white chickens because she didn’t care if he scared them.

Halvorsen tried, but never could find Mercedes’ white chickens, so he wrote her a letter and sent her candy through the Berlin mail.

The two would finally meet face-to-face 24 years later when Halvorsen returned to Berlin as Templehof commander in the early 1970s.

Mercedes’ husband, Peter Wild, convinced the Templehof commander to come to his home for dinner. Mercedes showed him the letter he’d written her in 1948, along with the chickens she’d written about in her own letter.

It was a friendship immortalized in Margot Theis Raven’s children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.”

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.

(US Air Force photo)

Halvorsen has returned to Berlin nearly 40 times since the airlift. In 1974, he received one of Germany’s highest medals, the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz, and carried the German team’s national placard into Rice-Eccles Stadium during the opening march for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Halvorsen participated in a re-enactment of “Operation Little Vittles” during the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Berlin Airlift and also dropped candy from a C-130 Hercules during Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Even at the age of 97, Halvorsen keeps a busy schedule as he and his wife, Lorraine, split their time between their homes in Arizona and Utah. Several times a year he would fly the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom,” with FAA certification to fly second-in-command.

He’s also visited many schools, both stateside and overseas, and visited Iraq to review Air Mobility Command transport operations and visit troops deployed in Southwest Asia.

Seventy years since the Berlin Airlift, the colonel remains universally beloved as the “Candy Bomber,” but enjoys one thing about his perpetual notoriety the most.

“The thing I enjoy the most about being the ‘Candy Bomber’ is seeing the children’s reaction even now to the idea of a chocolate bar coming out of the sky,” he said. “The most fun I have is doing air drops because even here in the states, there’s something magical about a parachute flying out of the sky with a candy bar on it.”

Halvorsen believes the praise he receives for bringing hope to a generation of Germans through his candy bombing deflects much of the credit to that first group of children at the barbed wire fence at Templehof.

Their gratitude and thankfulness for the pilots’ efforts to keep them free during the Berlin Airlift inspired him to reach into his pocket for those two sticks of gum.

That “smallest decision,” as Halvorsen calls it, led to 23 tons of candy dropped from the sky to the children of West Berlin and changed countless lives, not to mention the life of the Candy Bomber, himself.

Halvorsen’s dedication to helping those in need didn’t end after he retired with 31 years of service in the Air Force. In 1994, his request to assist in another humanitarian airlift was approved. He would fly with the Air Force again, this time delivering food to 70,000 refugees fleeing from the conflict in Bosnia.

“We have our freedom to choose, and when the freedom is taken away, air power is the only quick way to answer a crisis like that,” he recalled.

This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew during WWII at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona.

(US Air Force photo)

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

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