In July 1965, then-Commander Jeremiah Denton was shot down over North Vietnam while piloting a carrier-based A-6 Intruder. He and his bombardier/navigator, Lieutenant (junior grade) Bill Tschudy, spent the rest of the Vietnam War in captivity, housed in a number of different prison camps as a POW, including the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
As the commander of his attack squadron based on the USS Independence, Denton was leading 28 planes on a bombing mission. He and Tschudy had to eject over Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam and were immediately captured by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).
A few months into their captivity, Denton was forced to lead 49 other prisoners of war on what became known as the “Hanoi Parade.” The NVA marched the POWs through the streets of the North’s capital at Hanoi while North Vietnamese civilians brutally beat them as they moved.
That same year, Denton was forced to be part of a North Vietnamese propaganda campaign. His captors made him do a public interview with a Japanese reporter. He would be remembered for the rest of his life for what he did next. During the interview, Denton dotted out a secret message while on camera. He spelled T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse Code by blinking his eyes. Pretty brave for a POW at his captor’s mercy.
The reporter then questioned his support for the war, to which Denton replied, “I don’t know what is happening, but whatever the position of my government is, I support it fully. Whatever the position of my government, I believe in it, yes sir. I am a member of that government, and it is my job to support it, and I will as long as I live.”
Denton’s secret message was the first time a POW was able to communicate with the outside world. It also confirmed for the first time that American prisoners in Hanoi were being tortured. Denton and the CIA both believed the NVA didn’t catch Denton’s message until 1974.
He and many other American POWs were locked up in separate rooms in the same building. Denton’s group was notable not only for its rank (many officers were held together) but for the prisoners’ resistance to torture and to their captors. These prisoners were held in nine-foot by three foot, windowless concrete rooms for the duration of their captivity.
He was released in February 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming, when all American POWs in Vietnam were repatriated to the U.S. For seven years and seven months, Denton endured long stretches of solitary confinement and brutal mistreatment from his NVA captors. He spent at least four of those years in solitary. Once back in uniform and with Americans, now-Captain Denton spoke to the press shortly after leaving the plane:
“We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our Commander-in-Chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America.”
He would later write a book about his experience as a POW. Denton retired from the Navy in 1977 at the rank of Rear Admiral. In 1980, “The Admiral from Alabama” became the first Republican from Alabama elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.
No other soldier in American history has ever come close to earning the level of respect dutifully given to Lieutenant Audie Murphy. To date, no other soldier has managed to earn every single award for valor — including the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars.
His legendary story has humble beginnings — he was a 5’5″, 17-year-old kid from Texas who tried to enlist with every branch and wasn’t admitted until he falsified his age to get into the Army. His heroic exploits are countless: Jumping on a burning tank and mowing down Nazis, single-handedly taking out German armor, and out-shooting snipers at every turn. If you’ve seen it in an action film and thought to yourself, “no way,” Audie Murphy probably did it.
But this isn’t a retelling of his high-profile heroics. If you’ve served in the U.S. military and don’t know the story of this man, then you should probably be doing push-ups and ordering a book about him right now. For the rest of you, enjoy these lesser-known facts about the legendary Audie Murphy
Then, of course, came what he would be known for — fighting in Germany.
(Signal Corps Archives)
His rise in the ranks
After Pearl Harbor, Murphy was desperate to enlist. He finally got into the Army as a private on June 30, 1942 — just ten days after his 17th birthday. By February 20, 1943, he was shipped to Casablanca as part of the North Africa Campaign.
He was promoted to PFC while training for Sicily in May and, upon landing at Licata in July, he made corporal. After taking Campania in December, he was promoted to sergeant. He was again promoted to staff sergeant just a month later. He earned the Bronze Star with a “V” device and an oak leaf cluster before finishing up in Italy and moving onto the rest of Europe.
In less than a year, he went from private to staff sergeant.
Murphy wanted to make a second film, titled ‘The Way Back,’ that chronicled his life after service, but it never came to fruition.
His acting career
After the war, he was offered the opportunity to attend West Point, but instead decided to pursue a career in acting. He practiced Shakespeare in his free time until he landed his first major role in The Kid From Texas, in which he played Billy the Kid.
Meanwhile, Murphy was working alongside one of his Army buddies to write a semi-autobiographical novel, To Hell and Back, which was adapted to film — Murphy played the lead role. In both the book and resulting film, he downplayed some elements of his service during the war as to avoid accusations of exaggeration. That’s how badass his actual actions were.
Even in his darkest hours, he was still a fantastic human being.
He never wanted to sell out
To put it bluntly, Audie Murphy had hit rock bottom in the 60s. He suffered from an addiction to the prescription drug Placidyl – a habit that he kicked by locking himself in a motel room until he was clean – became reclusive, attempted suicide several times, and lost much of his money to gambling and poor investments.
Throughout all of his struggles, however, he got offers to star in commercials for cigarettes and alcohol. Taking a single deal would have put him back on his feet, but he knew that if he took the money, he’d be setting a bad example for the countless children who looked up to him — so he declined them all.
The gravestone was made before it came to light that he and his sister had falsified his year of birth so he could serve in WWII. He was actually born in 1925.
His grave is one of the most visited graves at Arlington
On May 28, 1971,Audie Murphy boarded a private jet in Atlanta, Georgia, and made hisway toward Martinsville, Virginia. There was heavy fog but the pilot chose to fly through it. The Aero Commander 680 carrying Murphycrashed into the side of Brush Mountain, 20 miles west of Roanoke. There were no survivors.
He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery,Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11. Outside of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldierand President John F. Kennedy, Murphy’s headstone is the most-visited grave. The volumeof tourists visiting to pay respects was so great that they had to buildan entirely new flagstone walkway to accommodatethe foot traffic.
I’ve had the honor of serving under a few S.A.M.C. members. To this day, many years later, I know that they’d gladly give me the shirt off their back at the drop of a dime.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kamaile Chan)
A club of the finest NCOs in the Army is named in his honor
The spirit of Audie Murphy lives on through the outstanding non-commissioned officers of the United States Army. Formed in 1986, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club recognizes the most professional, most intelligent, and most decorated leaders in the Army today.
The requirements for entry into this club are stringent, but above all, an NCO must be known for putting the well-being of his or her soldiers above their own. Earning the medallion is one of the surest ways to let the troops serving under you know that they’ll be well taken care of.
During World War II, the P-51 Mustang emerged as a superb long-range escort fighter. There was a problem, though. While it had long range, it also only had one pilot, and that pilot could get very tired by the end of a long mission. Sometimes, after flights, the ground crew would need to lift an exhausted, sweat-drenched pilot out of the cockpit — and sweat might not be the only thing the pilot was drenched with.
The Army Air Force had begun to address that need in 1943 as a tool for the Pacific Theater of Operations. They sought a fighter with a crew of two so one pilot could relieve the other when fatigue set in. North American Aviation came up with an interesting idea — use two Mustang fuselages on one wing. That took some serious re-design work.
The North American F-82E Twin Mustang — used as an escort. (USAF photo)
The plan was to have one cockpit with the usual instruments for the pilot. This was to be on the left fuselage. The cockpit for the co-pilot/navigator, on the right fuselage, was to have a more basic set. The six M2 .50-caliber machine guns would be in the center wing that joined the two fuselages. An additional eight guns could be added in a gun pod underneath. Initially tested with the famous Packard Merlin engine, the Twin Mustang was soon equipped with older Allison engines. Later versions were equipped with radars to serve as night fighters.
The plane entered service in 1948; only 273 were built. At the start of the Korean War, the Twin Mustang was thrown into action, where it escorted transports and bombers and carried out a number of other missions. On June 27, 1950, the F-82 scored the first kills for the United States Air Force in that conflict. But the beginning of the Jet Age — and the very short production run — meant the F-82 wasn’t going to stick around.
“The captain goes down with the ship” is a maritime tradition suggesting that a captain is honor-bound to stay on a sinking ship until all passengers and crew members have been safely evacuated.
In 2012, Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia came under fire for allegedly leaving the ship while passengers were still on board when the vessel crashed off the coast of Italy. Thirty-two passengers died, and Schettino was sentenced to sixteen years in prison: ten years for manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck, and one year for abandoning his passengers.
The expectation that a ship’s captain would stay on board until everyone had been evacuated developed in the mid-19th Century, but it could be argued that the sentiment has gone too far. What about ship captains that go down with their ship even after they’ve ordered it abandoned?
Here are four notable cases of captains who went down with the ship:
Rear Admiral Giovanni Viglione
On May 30, 1918, the U-boat UB-49, captained by Kapitänleutnant Hans von Mellenthin, torpedoed the Pietro Maroncelli, an Italian steamer ship off the coast of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. Rear Admiral Giovanni Viglione, who was on board as the convoy commodore, ordered all the survivors into the lifeboats, then chose to stay aboard and go down with the ship.
Capitano di Corvetta Lorenzo Bezzi
On June 27, 1940, an Allied destroyer group spotted the Italian submarine Console Generale Liuzzi while she was on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea. Her captain, Capitano di Corvetta Lorenzo Bezzi, determined that the submarine was unable to flee nor fight the destroyers, so he therefore, ordered his crew to abandon and scuttle the ship. Bezzi, however, decided to go down with the Console Generale Liuzzi, for which he would be posthumously awarded the Gold Medal.
Captain Ryusaku Yanagimoto
On June 5, 1942, U.S. naval forces launched an attack against the Japanese Imperial Navy that would turn the tide of World War II in the Pacific. The Japanese carrier fleet was crippled with multiple losses, including the Akagi and Kaga, and later the Hiryu, but it was the loss of the Soryu — and her beloved captain — that would strike at the hearts of the Japanese sailors.
After Captain Ryusaku Yanagimoto gave the order to abandon the burning ship, it was discovered that he had remained aboard. When Chief Petty Officer Abe was chosen to retrieve the captain, Abe found Yanagimoto standing on the Soryu’s bridge, sword in hand. Abe reported that the “strength of will and determination of his grim-faced commander stopped him short.” Abe left Captain Yanagimoto, who calmly sang Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem.
He watched with the other survivors as the Soryu sank along with the bodies of 718, including her captain.
Commander Howard W. Gilmore
On Feb. 7, 1943, a Japanese gunboat attacked the American submarine USS Growler, captained by Commander Howard W. Gilmore, who gave the order to clear the bridge. Two Americans were shot dead while Gilmore and two others were wounded — and time to save the crippled sub was running short. When the survivors entered the sub, Commander Gilmore gave his final order: “Take her down.”
His executive officer closed the hatch and submerged the USS Growler to safety. Commander Gilmore posthumously received the Medal of Honor:
“For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and anti-submarine patrols, Comdr. Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Comdr. Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates.
“In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat’s heavy machine guns, Comdr. Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, Comdr. Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, ‘Take her down.’ The Growler dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain.”
There’s nothing like a bowl of strong French onion soup on any given day, who cares how cold it is outside. But rampaging Norsemen from the days of yore had no need for the froufrou gimmicks that the cheese-eating surrender-monkeys of France use to adorn their stanky broth. There’s no need for croutons and definitely no time to melt cheese over it all.
That’s because viking warriors eating onion soup were probably close to bleeding out.
Medieval combat was a brutal affair in Europe and the areas along its northern shores were no exception. For 400-some years, the coasts of Ireland, England, and Frankish territories, all the way east to Russia were the subject of frequent Viking raids. When confronted on land, Vikings would form a wedge with their feared berserkers at the tip of the formation as they rushed forward, hurtling spears and fighting in close combat.
This kind of shirtless, unarmored, Viking rage could get a guy killed – and often did. It definitely saw a lot of injuries and war wounds. But the Viking society wasn’t all piracy and plunder. They actually formed a vast trade and agricultural network they depended on, but this access was limited due to climate.
Vikings planted and gathered food throughout the year, but when the weather turned cold, conservation became a necessary way of life. It wasn’t just food that became a scarce resource, the herbs Vikings used to cure disease and heal wounds became just as scarce, so they needed some metric of how to dole out the lifesaving plants. Not having access to the medical knowledge we enjoy today meant that they needed some way to determine who had the best chance of survival.
Onion soup soon became a form of triage and resource conservation.
If a Viking warrior was wounded in the stomach during a battle, they were fed a strong, pungent onion soup. Afterward, the Vikings tending to the wounded would smell the belly wounds to look for the signature onion smell. If they could smell the onions through the man’s wound, then they knew the stomach wall was cut, and the man would not survive his wounds. It would be pointless to try to save the man and another with a better chance of survival would be treated.
That’s just life (and death) as a Norseman. Enjoy your croutons.
The Aletti Hotel bar was reserved for field-grade officers. The bartender served drinks to an out-of-place group of muscular soldiers; one had a pair of jump boots slung over his shoulder by the laces. Their antics over the next hour grew too much for the other bar patrons to handle, and they were asked to leave, not the proper send-off for their last Saturday in Algiers before they would receive new assignments in war-torn Europe.
Jim Russell — an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Jedburgh who had three combat jumps into North Africa, Italy, and Sardinia to his name — hopped into the driver’s seat of their three-quarter-ton truck. A pair of jump boots sat next to his leg. John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway had purchased them earlier in the evening at the Allied Forces Headquarters PX. Hemingway, simply known as “Jack,” was the eldest son of Ernest Hemingway, widely proclaimed as one of the greatest American literary figures of the 20th century. He was leaving for jump school in the coming days and had managed to convince Russell to grab a nightcap at a civilian sidewalk cafe located on the outskirts of town.
The rumbustious group of OSS commandos funneled into the cafe. Hemingway would bring his jump boots with him everywhere but decided to leave them within his view on the truck’s dashboard. The commandos were soon engulfed by curious “threadbare urchins” who begged to shine and polish their footwear, in a clever diversion. Hemingway’s prized jump boots were snatched from his sight, and the thief disappeared around the corner of a back alley. Hemingway, Russell, and the others gave chase and watched as the Arab thief threw the jump boots over a wall and into a courtyard.
Now the commandos were furious, as their drunken night turned from a celebration into a violent encounter. Three of the thief’s friends arrived holding knives. In an instant, all of the thieves were disarmed, sprawled flat on their backs, and on the receiving end of a well-choreographed lesson in hand-to-hand combat. The thieves had picked the wrong set of American soldiers that night because despite their heavy drinking, all were unarmed combat instructors for the OSS.
Hemingway never found his beloved jump boots, and he ended his night with a court-martial. An Arab workman threw a rock at their truck while they were returning to the OSS training base in Chréa. The commandos jumped out and beat the man senseless. The man reported the incident, and although Hemingway and Russell didn’t take part, they were threatened with being thrown out of the OSS.
An upcoming airborne operation was their saving grace because the planning stages were moving forward and they couldn’t be replaced. Hemingway’s orders to jump school were canceled, and he reported to a colonel leading a Jedburgh mission.
The Fly-Fishing Commando
Jim Russell had experience as a seasoned radio operator. Hemingway described Russell as “the complete antithesis of an OSS staff person.” The OSS had gained two reputations since its inception in 1942, one as an extremely competent paramilitary force and another as “Oh So Social” for its staff officers’ participation in diplomatic cocktail outings.
“Part of our OSS team at Le Bousquet, with a downed U.S. flier, seated left. I am in the center, Jim Russell, right, and two French ‘Joes.'” Photo courtesy of The Hemingway Project.
Russell and Hemingway, however, wouldn’t be handling the radios on this mission. Two French noncommissioned officers named Julien and Henri were tasked with the job. Their mission was to parachute into occupied France, take over existing information networks, and support the local resistance forces in their insurgency against the Germans.
France wasn’t some foreign land to Hemingway. His boyhood infatuation with fly-fishing materialized as he explored the rivers and streams around Paris with his father. His childhood was spent surrounded by his famous father’s friends: Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. His first words were spoken in French, then English, Austrian, and German. The joys of running through the French countryside as a boy and fighting imaginary battles had become a devastating reality.
Their four-man team spent hours in their safe house studying maps, memorizing drop zones and names of contacts, and identifying intelligence on German troop movements. Hemingway had also assisted in previous planning phases to become familiarized with the process of how agents, including a woman and a one-armed man, were dropped into occupied France.
On the airfield’s tarmac, a British officer approached Hemingway before their jump and said, “You can’t take THAT with you, you know?” He was referring to Hemingway’s fly rod, which he deliberately packed in his gear wherever he went. “Oh, it’s only a special antenna,” he lied. “Just looks like a fly rod.”
Two B-17s took to the air. They were loaded with containers filled with weapons, ammunition, explosives, and radio equipment. One B-17’s belly gun turret had been removed, and the commandos used the hole in the floor to parachute safely to the ground. Hemingway’s first jump from a perfectly good airplane was during a real-world Jedburgh mission over France with zero training, and towing along his fly-fishing rod.
Capt. J.H.N. Hemingway, far right, training officer with the 10th Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Screenshot from Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
On the ground they linked up with the French resistance. While Russell and the French commandos were preoccupied with jury-rigging a radio transmitter, Hemingway ventured to a nearby water hole. “Limestone means rich aquatic life and healthy, well-fed trout,” Hemingway wrote in his autobiography. “I was in khaki, civilian garb not uncommon at the time, but wore no cap and there was a U.S. flag sewn to my right shoulder, but no insignia on the left.”
An overwhelming emotion of glee swept over him as he skipped down the mountainside with his fly rod, reel, and box of flies. As he entered the water, he didn’t study the flow of the stream as he normally would have and was oblivious of the world around him. A German patrol with their rifles and machine pistols marched toward him.
“They were all looking toward me and making what sounded like derisive, joking comments as they went along,” Hemingway wrote. “For the first time in my life I made a silent wish that came as close to a real prayer as I had ever come.”
He wished to not catch a fish because if he had, the German patrol would have stopped to watch and, under closer inspection, realized the fisherman had a US flag on his arm. They had mistakenly assumed he was the professional fly fisherman who fished for the local inn at Avesnes and continued their patrol.
This close call wasn’t the fly-fishing commando’s only brush with potential violence.
Escaping a German POW Camp
In October 1944, Hemingway took another assignment to recruit, infiltrate, and train allied resistance forces. While he traveled to his safe house with Capt. Justin Greene, who commanded the OSS team with the 36th Infantry Division, they stepped past a dead tank and into a German hornet’s nest. Greene walked up the slope and then immediately turned around and dove for cover, as if he had seen a ghost. Small arms fire and explosions followed close behind, and two German alpine soldiers appeared in Hemingway’s field of fire.
“After a hectic courtship, I finally got Puck to the altar in Paris, 1949.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
Another German opened fire from above Hemingway’s position, and he was hit with a single round. He dropped to the ground and tried to hide in a ditch as two more bullets ripped through his right arm and shoulder; grenade fragments peppered his side. He called out in German, surrendered, and immediately told them his cover story while they attended to his wounds. A German surgeon later threatened to amputate his arm, but he refused because, he reasoned, it was his casting arm.
Hemingway and Greene boarded the Luft Bandit en route for a German hospital prisoner of war (POW) camp. German civilians called their passenger train the Luft Bandit because it stopped often in tunnels and dense forests to escape American planes.
While in the POW camp, the commandos prepared for their escape. On March 29, 1945, US Army tank divisions broke 50 miles behind enemy lines to free US officers held in POW camps. Their intelligence, however, anticipated only 300 soldiers were being held in these camps — instead, the number averaged close to 3,000. Hemingway hitched a ride on one of these tanks as they rolled through an area the Germans used for army maneuvers and artillery practice.
“Preparing to net the catch on England’s Itchen River.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
From a distance of no farther than 3 yards, Hemingway was knocked off the tank’s turret by a Panzerschreck bazooka. He jumped onto another tank as American infantrymen decimated the hedgerow with their rifles and automatic weapons. Instead of staying with his rescuers, Hemingway decided to leave the tanks and travel on foot with another soldier. The next morning, six German Tiger tanks surprised and destroyed all 57 armored vehicles of the American tank division with overwhelming firepower.
Hemingway evaded German patrols for two days, surviving off raw rabbit and gardens of abandoned homes. He was nearly shot by a patrol of German teenagers who nervously trained their weapons on the unknown Americans. Hemingway spoke slowly in lousy German and was captured unharmed. For 10 more arduous days he and other prisoners death marched away from the evacuated Nürnberg POW camp to Bavaria. After a P-51 Mustang mistakenly strafed their position, they were forced to spell “US POW” on the ground. Once they arrived at their new home, which Hemingway called the biggest POW camp he had ever seen, they spent the next six months as POWs before being liberated on April 29, 1945. His once fit and healthy 210-pound body at the beginning of the war was a gaunt 140 pounds by war’s end.
Field & Stream
After World War II, Hemingway debriefed with X2, the OSS counterintelligence section, and took a commanding officer position at a German POW camp in Camp Pickett, Virginia. Hemingway kept alive his passion for fly-fishing after his service. He wrote for National Wildlife Magazine, describing his adventures hunting in Africa and trolling a fly behind a deep-sea fishing boat off the coast of Tanzania.
Screenshot from Jack Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
“All together, while trolling and casting from shore and around a small atoll on the edge of the Pemba Channel, I caught twenty-seven different species of fish on the fly, including everything from small, brightly-colored reef species to dolphin in the blue water, and I had one big shark for a short while which had swallowed a tuna I was fighting,” he wrote in his autobiography.
In his 40s, Hemingway became the Northwest field editor for Field Stream, “which meant contributing an annual roundup of fishing prospects in my region and any other pieces I could produce that might fit,” he wrote in his autobiography. Hemingway also influenced decision making through the Federation of Fly Fishermen. As the commissioner of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, he successfully swayed the state to adopt a catch-and-release fishing law.
Jack Hemingway was the son of a famous writer and the father to famous children, but he was also a legend in his own right. The former OSS commando, American POW, fly fisherman, conservationist, editor, author, husband, and father died of heart complications in 2000 at age 77.
Nowadays, you can find entire sections of the internet devoted to mastering the art of “off-grid” living. There, you can find both experts and charlatans exchanging argumentative blows in the never-ending digital debates we’ve let permeate through every facet of our modern lives. Back in 1967, however, things were different.
The internet was still a long way off, as were debates about the best solar-powered showers and thousand-dollar coolers. Getting off the grid back then was a conceptually simpler exercise: you just went into the woods and made do with what you had. Of course, without much of the technology even the saltiest of outdoorsmen have come to rely on today (like modern waterproofing and insulation in our clothes), living off the land was only simple in concept.
Doing so, of course, took hard men with even harder wills; men like Dick Proenneke.
Dick Proenneke hard at work in Twin Lakes, Alaska.
(National Parks Service photo taken by Richard Proenneke and donated by Raymond Proenneke)
Proenneke joined the Navy the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He served as a carpenter, honing his woodworking skills until the end of the war. Upon leaving service, he trained as a diesel mechanic, quickly earning a name for himself that allowed him to travel around the West Coast for work before once again loaning his skills to the Navy as a civilian heavy equipment operator and mechanic at the Naval Air Station Kodiak in Alaska.
After an accident at work years later nearly left Proenneke blind, he decided to devote the remainder of his life to living it as he saw fit. A modest and responsible man, he’d saved enough by age 50 to start his retirement, though while most see retirement as an end to hard work, for Proenneke, it was just the beginning.
An avid naturalist and amateur filmmaker, Proenneke set off to build a log home in the unsettled wilderness of Twin Lakes, Alaska–far from the closest remnants of human civilization. Aside from a few tools and some waterproofing materials he utilized in the construction of his home, he built the entire cabin by hand using only what he had available in the dense Alaskan bush. While this is a feat many others have accomplished, what made Proenneke special was that he filmed the whole thing, giving us a first-hand look at how off-grid living was done back before people debated it in online forums instead of doing it for real.
Proenneke leaned hard on his days as a Navy carpenter in the construction of his home, building most of it with little more than hand saws, mallets, and a sharp ax. He even fashioned the hinges on his doors out of wood he harvested from nearby trees. In the videos he captured along the way, you can see the combination of expertise and patience guiding Proenneke’s hands, making quick work of complex tasks and, if you’re anything like me, occasionally even fooling you into thinking the work looks easy.
Proenneke remained in his modest but expertly crafted cabin for the better part of three decades before finally returning to civilization at age 82. Four years later, he passed away, leaving the cabin to the National Parks Service to be preserved for posterity, as his remote home at Twin Lakes had already become a bit of a tourist attraction for like-minded adventurers that imagined their own lives away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
Today, Dick Proenneke’s legacy lives on not only thanks to visitors reaching his remote cabin, but in a series of books and television specials compiled before and after his death. His footage, combined with journals Proenneke maintained over the years, offer a glimpse into the reality of embraced solitude, self-reliance, and what man is capable of if he’s willing to forgo convenience in favor of purpose.
Much of his footage can now be found on YouTube, allowing an entirely new generation of aspiring outdoor enthusiasts to see what getting “off the grid” meant back before that turn of phrase was even invented. Watching Proenneke’s films not only serves as a how-to of sorts, but it also serves as a reminder that humanity wasn’t always so tied to electricity, comfort, and recreation. There was a time when our lives were intrinsically linked to the world around us, when our survival was predicated on our wits and work ethic, and when our job was just a list of things that had to get done before sunset.
Dick Proenneke is a reminder to us all that we aren’t the consumers and couch potatoes we’ve been groomed to be: we’re powerful, capable men and women wired just like the survivors, warriors, and hunters that came before us. The only difference between Dick Proenneke and each of us is a bit of know-how and a lot of heart. These videos can help with the former, but for the latter, you’ll have to look for inside yourself.
Ten years ago, the U.S. Air Force lost one of its 21 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers.
The aircraft, #89-0127 “Spirit of Kansas”, belonging to the 393rd Bomb Squadron with the 509th Bomb Wing, from Whiteman Air Force Base, was taking off from Andersen Air Force Base, along with three other stealth bombers, at the end of 4-month deployment in support of U.S. CBP (Continuous Bomber Presence) in the Pacific. Both crew members successfully ejected from the aircraft at low altitude. The B-2 hit the ground, tumbled and burned for a total loss worth about US$1.4 billion, reportedly, the most expensive crash in the history of the U.S. Air Force.
The investigation found out that the root cause of the accident was moisture in the air-data sensors: heavy, lashing rains caused moisture to enter skin-flush air-data sensors that gave wrong inputs to the flight-control computers. The combination of slow lift-off speed and the extreme angle of attack resulted in an unrecoverable stall, yaw, and descent.
Here’s what the U.S. Air Force website reported after the report was released:
Moisture in the aircraft’s Port Transducer Units during air data calibration distorted the information in the bomber’s air data system, causing the flight control computers to calculate an inaccurate airspeed and a negative angle of attack upon takeoff. According to the report, this caused an, “uncommanded 30 degree nose-high pitch-up on takeoff, causing the aircraft to stall and its subsequent crash.”
Moisture in the PTUs, inaccurate airspeed, a negative AOA calculation and low altitude/low airspeed are substantially contributing factors in this mishap. Another substantially contributing factor was the ineffective communication of critical information regarding a suggested technique of turning on pitot heat in order to remove moisture from the PTUs prior to performing an air data calibration.
The pilot received minor injuries, and the co-pilot received a spinal compression fracture during ejection. He was treated at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, and released. The aircraft was assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
At the time of the crash, the B-2 had logged 5,100 flight hours and wasn’t carrying armament.
Most people know the basic history of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy — that a former Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald, who had briefly defected to the Soviet Union, fired the shots that killed the 35th president using a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that had been purchased from a mail-order catalog.
But could there be more to the story behind one of the most dramatic events of the 20th Century? With the declassification of over 2 million documents, now the assassin’s activities can be traced in weeks, months, and years before Oswald fired the shots that altered the course of history.
A former CIA agent and a former LAPD detective are now looking into these documents – carrying out an independent investigation spanning the entire world in order to answer the many questions about the assassination of President Kennedy that have divided America for decades: Did Oswald act alone, or did he have help? If so, who helped him, and why?
The upcoming HISTORY series “JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald” premieres April 25, 2017, and features a bombshell – a document showing that Oswald had met with Soviet officials in Mexico City six weeks before he assassinated John F. Kennedy.
The series features a host of interviews and new revelations, including insight from experts and former special operations soldiers like WATM friend Marty Skovlund. Check out the short trailer from HISTORY below.
One was Mel Blanc. You never saw him. But you probably heard him. He was the voice of Bugs Bunny. Well, Bugs did his part for the war effort in some cartoons, including one that Warner Brothers pulled due to offensive stereotypes of the Japanese. America’s favorite “wascally wabbit” is an honorary Marine as a result of his service on the screen.
But Blanc did more than just entertain. He also helped train some of the soldiers who were putting it all out there. Specifically, he helped train the gunners on heavy bombers. The B-17 Flying Fortresses had a lot of gun positions. Some of the ten-man crew manning them had other jobs (like the bombardier, the navigator, and the radio operator). Others just had to shoot.
No matter what, though, they needed to know how to aim their guns so that some Nazi or Japanese fighter didn’t shoot their bomber down. In a 14-minute film, Blanc portrays a waist gunner on one Flying Fortress who starts out with some bad habits. Over that course of time, the trainees were given a crash course and the bare essentials needed to know how to aim their machine gun.
Westmoreland convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that the base should be held at all costs, triggering a 77-day siege that required planes to constantly land supplies on the improved airfield.
The Marines and other troops on the base sought continuously to knock the North Vietnamese off balance and to relieve the pressure on the base. The February 25 patrol aimed to find North Vietnamese and either kill them or take them captive to collect intelligence.
It was led by an inexperienced lieutenant who, after his men spotted three enemy fighters who quickly fled, ordered a full-speed chase to capture or kill them despite advice to the contrary from others.
The Marines fought valiantly, but they were taking machine gun and other small arms fire from three sides mere moments after the fight began. Grenades rained down on their position as they sought cover, concealment, and fire superiority.
Under increasing fire, Ridgeway and another Marine attempted to break contact and return to the base, but they came across a wounded Marine on their way. Unwilling to leave an injured brother, they stopped to render aid and carry him out.
As they stopped, bursts of machine gun fire hit the three Marines, wounding all three. One was killed by a grenade moments later, another died of wounds that night, and only Ridgeway survived despite the enemy shooting him in the helmet and shoulder. He was later captured when a Vietnamese soldier tried to steal his wristwatch and realized the body was still breathing.
That September, his family was part of a ceremony to bury unidentified remains from the battle and memorialize the nine Marines presumed dead whose bodies were only partially recovered.
But for five years after the battle, Ridgeway was an unidentified resident of the Hanoi Hilton, undergoing regular torture at the hands of his captors.
It wasn’t until the North Vietnamese agreed to a prisoner transfer as part of the peace process in 1973 that they released his name to American authorities, leading to Ridgeway’s mother getting an alert that her son was alive.
Five years after the battle and four years after his burial, Ridgeway returned to America and was reunited with his family. He later visited the grave and mourned the eight Marines whose names shared the list with his. A new memorial was later raised with Ridgeway’s name removed.
The United States Navy had some of its greatest moments in World War II — the Battle of Midway is the most notable. But about two months after that “Incredible Victory,” the Navy had a very bad night.
The Battle of Savo Island was not one of the Navy’s shining moments. In fact, it was downright awful.
The United States Navy had transported elements of the 1st Marine Division to Guadalcanal – and the initial invasion went pretty well. Samuel Eliot Morison noted in “The Struggle for Guadalcanal” that, despite the rapid progress in the first two days, August 7-8, 1942, which included taking the partially-complete Henderson Field, seeds for the upcoming disaster were being sown.
Air strikes the day of the attack sank a transport and a destroyer. Then, Vice Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher pulled the carriers back.
This time, the invasion force was left high and dry – and nobody noticed that five heavy cruisers (HIJMS Chokai, HIJMS Aoba, HIJMS Kako, HIJMS Furutaka and HIJMS Kinugasa), two light cruisers (HIJMS Tenryu and HIJMS Yubari), and a destroyer were en route.
Disaster struck in the early morning hours of August 9. The Allies had two picket forces, one north of Savo Island, one to the south. The one to the north had the cruisers USS Astoria (CA 34), USS Quincy (CA 39), and USS Vincennes (CA 44) with two destroyers. To the south were the cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago (CA 29).
In the early morning hours, the Japanese first hit the southern group.
The Chicago was hit by a torpedo and damaged. HMA Canberra took it worse: At least two dozen major-caliber hits left her badly damaged and unable to fight.
The Japanese ships went around Savo Island, then hit the northern group. The Astoria and Quincy were both hit bad in quick order, taking many shell hits. The cruiser Vincennes followed shortly afterward, taking at least 85 hits from enemy gunfire, and three torpedo hits.
Quincy and Vincennes sank by 3:00 a.m. The Canberra was ordered scuttled after it was obvious her engines could not be repaired, and it took over 200 more five-inch shells and four torpedoes to put her down. The Astoria sank a little after noon.
The Battle of Savo Island served as a wake-up call. During 1942, four more major surface battles would be fought off Guadalcanal before the end of November. But none were as bad as the night the United States Navy lost three cruisers.
In our homes, dogs are members of the family. On the battlefield, dogs might save your life. Military working dogs are responsible for all kinds of important jobs. Their acute senses of smell and hearing allow them to detect approaching attackers with ease, even in total darkness. Some dogs specialize in detecting mines or other explosives, while others are used as messengers. Others still sniff out injured soldiers in hard to reach places.
While it’s impossible to know exactly how many human lives have been saved by canine military companions, the number is likely upward of 400,000. Just about every military working dog is loyal, but these 10 incredible pups show what it really means to be man’s best friend.
1. Sallie – Civil War
Sallie, a Staffordshire Terrier, was the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. She joined soldiers in countless Civil War battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg. There, she mysteriously disappeared for three full days. When the company finally found her, she was guarding wounded soldiers back on the battlefield. While Sally was tragically killed at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, she wasn’t forgotten. To honor her dedication and sacrifice, soldiers from her regiment raised a statue of Sallie at Gettysburg.
2. Sgt. Stubby – World War I
Despite the goofy name and stout, Boston Terrier build, Sergeant Stubby is one of the most impressive dogs in American military history. He earned his title of sergeant by serving in the trenches in France during WWI, alerting troops of incoming gas attacks and rescuing wounded soldiers. He even captured a German spy all on his own!
The heroic canine is the most decorated war dog of WWI, earning numerous medals and becoming the mascot of Georgetown University. The newspapers loved him, and pretty much everyone knew his name. Even presidents were crazy about him- President Wilson, President Harding, and President Coolidge all jumped to meet him!
3. Chips – World War II
What do you get when you mix a Husky, Collie, and German Shepherd? A next-level war dog, apparently. A mixed-breed mutt named Chips wasn’t always a working dog. He started out as a pet, but his owner gave him to the military as part of the Dogs for Defense program that was launched after Pearl Harbor. It must have been the right call, because he thrived on the battlefield. He served in General Patton’s Seventh Army in Germany, Italy, France, and several other locations, and his heroism was well-documented.
On one occasion, Chips charged a pillbox and captured the enemy soldiers inside to save his companions from machinegun fire. Later that night, he notified soldiers of an approaching ambush, saving them twice in one day. Chips heard enemy soldiers approaching for an ambush, then woke and alerted the men.
He won the most medals of any dog during WWII, including a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. Sadly, his medals were later revoked because the military decided dogs were “equipment” rather than service members.
4. Nemo – Vietnam War
One night in Vietnam, a German Shepherd named Nemo was on guard duty with his handler, Airman Robert Throneburg. Nemo alerted Throneburg of approaching enemies, and the pair prepared for the fight of their lives. Both were shot by Viet Cong guerillas. Despite his severe wounds, Nemo protected Throneburg until medics arrived. Even when they did, Nemo wasn’t so sure. A veterinarian had to persuade Nemo to stand down to allow doctors to help his companion.
Miraculously, they both survived. While most military dogs spend their entire lives in service, Nemo was offered early retirement back in the States.
5. Lex – Iraq War
United States Marine Corps handler Corporal Dustin J. Lee was with his working dog, Lex, at a Forward Operating Base in Iraq in 2007 when disaster struck. The pair were hit by a 73 mm SPG-9 rocket. Both were severely injured, but Lex wouldn’t leave Lee’s side. Despite attempted treatment, Lee succumbed to his injuries, but Lex survived. He spent twelve weeks in rehab and was left with shrapnel permanently embedded in his spine.
Lex regained full mobility and could have easily returned to active duty, but Lee’s parents requested to adopt him. They had already adopted Lee’s previous canine, and wanted to welcome their son’s other heroic partner in his memory. The appeal was granted, and Lex lived out the rest of his life in comfort. He was also awarded an honorary Purple Heart for his service.
6. Sarbi- Afghanistan
A black lab named Sarbi hails from across the pond. The Australian dog was working as a bomb-sniffing dog in 2008 when Taliban militants attacked. Sarbi’s handler and nine others were wounded, and Sarbi vanished. She was miraculously found a year later at a remote patrol base in northeastern Uruzgan. Her handler was over the moon to see her again, and she was awarded a purple cross by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ in recognition of her bravery.
7. Cairo – Operation Neptune Spear
These days, most military dogs are used to detect explosives. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, is as elite as it gets. Cairo is a Navy SEAL and was the only military dog to participate in the operation that took down Osama Bin Laden in 2011. During the operation, Cairo was responsible for securing the perimeter and finding any enemies who evaded capture.
In another operation, Cairo was searching for enemies during a nighttime raid. He found an infant but moved on to another room to attack an adult man instead, leaving the child unharmed. He hadn’t been taught how to distinguish between babies and adults, but he instinctively knew the baby wasn’t a threat. Cairo’s handler was so stunned by the dog’s built-in sense of right and wrong that he went on to write a book about him.
8. Valdo – Afghanistan
Like many military working dogs, Valdo’s priority was sniffing out bombs. He trained heavily alongside his handler, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Lee, to hone his skills. Valdo had qualities that couldn’t be taught, however. Valdo had character. In 2011, his unit was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade. He shielded four soldiers from the impact, and was critically injured by the shrapnel.
Army Pfc. Ben Bradley believes he wouldn’t have lived to see another day if Valdo hadn’t been there. While Valdo did survive, his injuries brought his military career to an end, Lee adopted him to give him a happy retirement.
9. Lucca – Iraq
A German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix named Lucca completed two tours and over 400 missions as an explosive-detecting expert. In 2012, Lucca found a hidden IED and was searching for more, when one detonated. Lucca took most of the hit, saving several Marines who were nearby. Her injuries were so severe that her leg had to be amputated, but according to her handler, she hasn’t lost any of the pep in her step. She was given an honorary (unofficial) Purple Heart by a fellow Marine in honor of her six years of dedicated service.
10. Conan – Syria
A special operations military working dog named Conan has more grit and guts than most people ever do. Named after comedian Conan O’Brien, the Belgian Malinois works in the US 1st SFOD-D. One of his most famous achievements took place during the Barisha raid in Syria- the one that brought an end to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former leader of ISIS. During the mission, Conan chased Baghdadi into a tunnel, where he detonated his suicide vest.
Conan was injured during the raid, he has since returned to duty. Many soldiers and citizens have petitioned for Conan to be awarded the Purple Heart medal, but so far the ban on military canine awards hasn’t changed.