That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

The story behind what came to be known as the Wham Paymaster robbery began on the morning of May 11, 1889, when a U.S. Army paymaster called Major Joseph Washington Wham was charged with transporting a lockbox containing the salaries of several hundred soldiers across the Arizona desert from Fort Grant to Fort Thomas located some 50 miles away. All in all the lockbox contained $28,345.10 in gold and silver coins worth the equivalent of about $784,000 today.

Tasked with protecting the contents of the lockbox, Paymaster Wham’s convoy included 9 Buffalo Soldiers of the 24th Infantry and two privates of the 10th Cavalry. At this point it’s probably worth mentioning for anyone unfamiliar with the term “Buffalo Soldiers” that all of the soldiers protecting Wham and his convoy were black.


This is important as a few hours after setting off the convoy was attacked by as many as 20 bandits who shot at the convoy while screaming racial slurs at the soldiers guarding it. More particularly, it’s thought that one of the ways those who robbed the convoy justified it from a moral standpoint was simply that it was no real crime in their minds to take money from black soldiers. (More on this in a bit.)

Whatever the case, during the ensuing 30 minute firefight, 8 of the soldiers guarding the convoy were shot, two of them multiple times. Of note are the actions of one Sergeant Benjamin Brown who shrugged off a bullet wound to the gut to stand out in the open firing at the bandits with his trusty revolver.

After being shot twice more (once through each arm), a fellow soldier braved the bullets to carry Brown to safety. Unwilling to halt his one-man assault, Brown continued firing on the bandits while being carried away.

Another Buffalo Soldier, Corporal Isaiah Mayes, similarly ignored the hailstorm of bullets, two of which hit him in the legs, to quite literally at times crawl to get help two miles away at a nearby ranch.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster
Major Joseph W. Wham

Unfortunately, with nearly everyone in the convoy seriously injured, they were forced to retreat away from the wagons, at which point heavy gun fire kept them pinned down while some of the bandits ran in, used an axe to open the lockbox, and stole the contents.

While the bandits succeeded in their goal, Paymaster Wham was astounded by the bravery of the soldiers (all of whom miraculously survived despite many being shot as noted). In fact, according to one of the witnesses to the event, Harriet Holladay, Sergeant Brown “had a bullet hole clean through his middle but he acted as if it didn’t bother him at all.”

Because of their uncanny bravery and dedication to protecting government property with their own lives, Wham immediately recommend 9 of the Buffalo soldiers for the Medal of Honor. Both Brown and Mayes were subsequently awarded that medal, while 8 other soldiers Wham singled out for their bravery were instead awarded certificates of merit.

As for the money, nobody is exactly sure what happened to it because nobody was ever convicted of the crime in question, despite that many among the robbers were recognized during the gunfight as they brazenly did not wear masks. It’s speculated that they didn’t bother with masks because they felt morally justified in the robbery and were all upstanding, church-going members of a nearby town, Pima, with the robbery seemingly organized by the mayor himself, Gilbert Webb.

Webb had come on hard times and was on the verge of bankruptcy. As he was a major employer in the town, and the town itself had come on hard times, he seems to have gotten the bright idea to simply take the money from the U.S. government to solve his and the town’s problems.

As to why he and others in the extremely religious town thought this was a perfectly moral thing to do, well, the town was largely made up of Mormons who felt very strongly (and not really unjustified in this case) that the U.S. government had been oppressing them for years, and so taking money from Uncle Sam was no real crime.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster
Isaiah Mays

On top of this, the individuals guarding the money were all black outside of Wham, as were many of the soldiers that were to be the recipients of the money once it was delivered. Thus in their view, to quote a contemporary article written on subject during the aftermath about the general sentiment of some in the town, “The n**ger soldiers would just waste the money on liquor, gambling, and whores, so why not take it and use it to the benefit of a community that really needed some cash…”

And so it was that when seven suspected members of the robbers were tried for the robbery, community members were seemingly stepping over themselves to give them an alibi (with 165 witnesses testifying in all).

On top of that, the original judge, William H. Barnes, had to be removed from the case when it was discovered he was not only a friend of one of the accused, but also was actively intimidating witnesses for the prosecution. This all ultimately resulted in U.S. President Benjamin Harrison himself stepping in and appointing a new judge, Richard E. Sloan.

In the end, despite many of those called in defense of the robbers completely contradicting themselves, eye witness testimony identifying a few of the men, and that some of them, including Mayor Gilbert Webb, were found in possession of stolen gold coins, all were ultimately acquitted for the crime. Deputy William Breakenridge summed up the reason- “the Government had a good case against them, but they had too many friends willing to swear to an alibi, and there were too many on the jury who thought it no harm to rob the Government.”

It should be noted, however, that several of the accused, including Mayor Webb, would later in their lives be convicted of other theft-related crimes, including Webb having to flee town when he was indicted for stealing $160 ($4400 today) from the Pima school district. (We should also probably mention that Webb actually left his former home in Utah to settle in Pima because he was under charges for grand larceny…)

In the years that have passed since the famed robbery, numerous legends have arisen about where exactly the money ended up, including several that posit that the money is still buried somewhere out there in the Arizona desert. However, given none of those who committed the robbery were convicted and it would seem much of the money was used by Mayor Webb to pay off debts around town, as well as forgive the debts of some of the men who helped him in the robbery, this seems extremely unlikely.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the RAF bombed a POW camp with an artificial leg

On August 19, 1941, a British bomber taking part in a raid against Germany flew over a prisoner of war camp in St. Omer, France and dropped its lightest — but possibly most historic — payload of the war: a wooden case filled with bandages, socks, straps, and an artificial leg.

The odd bombing mission was to support a particular pilot on the ground, Douglas Bader, a Battle of Britain hero and double-leg amputee.


That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Douglas Bader and other members of No. 242 Squadron pose in front of nose art depicting a quick kick to Hitler’s butt.

(Royal Air Force photo by S. A. Devon)

Bader’s heroic story starts in 1931 when he boldly asserted that he could fly a new aircraft but, while attempting a risky maneuver near the ground with it, crashed the plane and lost both of his legs. The Royal Air Force drummed him out as invalid, but he kept pressing to come back.

When World War II broke out, Bader finally got his chance and immediately made the best of it, getting re-certified to fly and an assignment to the No. 19 Squadron. He pushed for sending more planes up against the Germans more of the time, and was sent against the Luftwaffe over Dunkirk in 1940.

Success there led to his involvement in the Battle of France where he was given command of No. 242 Squadron and increasingly large air missions. Bader was credited with 20 confirmed aerial kills and two shared by August, 1941. He became something of a hero to the British public as wartime propaganda related the heroics of “Tin-Legs Bader” and other fliers of No. 242.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

A Messerschmitt 109 like the one Bader shot down on the day that he was downed — August 9, 1941.

(Kogo, CC BY-SA 2.0)

But his last kill came at a cost. On August 9, he shot down a Messerschmidt-109F, but his own plane was damaged in the fight. Reports at the time indicated that he had collided with another German plane, but later investigations posit that he might have been a victim of friendly fire.

Either way, Bader bailed out of his plane, losing his right prosthetic in the process, and parachuted to the ground. He was knocked out upon landing, and woke up to German soldiers removing his parachute harness.

The German doctor assigned to check on him thought, at first, that Bader had suffered an amputation in the crash, but quickly realized both his mistake and the fact that he was treating a British war hero.

The Germans, to their credit, immediately tried to make him as comfortable as a full-bodied person in the prisoner of war camp, recovering and repairing his leg as best they could and letting Britain know that he had been captured and needed a replacement right leg.

Bader, to his credit, immediately attempted to use his repaired leg to escape, forcing the Germans to take his legs every night to prevent further escape attempts. Bader would try again three more times over the course of the war.

But, between the first escape attempt and the other three, the RAF put together a plan to get Bader a new leg. Germany made an offer of safe passage and landing for a single plane to deliver it, but Britain worried that the Germans would use it for a burst of positive publicity.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Instead, they put together a fairly genius plan. See, Bader had been shot down during a large bombing raid popular with the RAF at the time. Bombers flew towards their targets escorted by a large number of fighters. The German planes would take off to intercept, but would be forced to dogfight with the fighters.

This created a window where there was little or no real resistance in the air to smaller bomber formations. Typically, this was used to sneak a few bombers in on low-altitude runs against high-priority targets. But on August 19, 1941, the British aviators used this window to fly over the prisoner of war camp at St. Omer, France where Bader was being held.


The plane dropped its single package with the leg and other supplies into the town with a note attached:

To the German flight commander of the Luftwaffe at St. Omer. Please deliver to the undermentioned address this package for Wing Command Bader, RAF prisoner of war, St. Omer, containing artificial leg, bandages, socks, straps.

Bader was sent to the infamous Colditz Castle after his fourth escape attempt, but survived the war. He advocated for disabled rights the rest of his life, efforts for which he received a knighthood in 1976. He died in 1982 of an apparent heart attack.

MIGHTY TRENDING

What will happen to the foreign ISIS fighters in Syria?

October 2019, US President Donald Trump made the abrupt decision to pull the remaining US troops out of Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria.

The move sent the fragmented country into a spiral, disrupting one of its few areas of stability. By withdrawing support from Kurdish forces in the area — which had helped the US combat ISIS — Trump opened them up to an oncoming offensive by Turkey.

Justifying the decision. Trump argued that US forces in the region had already “defeated” ISIS, and that therefore there was no need for them to stay in Syria.

This was, at best, only partly true.


While US-allied forces this year deprived ISIS of the territory it once controlled, the group still has as many as 18,000 fighters quietly stationed across Iraq and Syria, according to The New York Times.

Additionally, Kurdish-led fighters, known as The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had maintained control of tens of thousands of former ISIS members and their families, including about 70,000 women and children in a compound in the Syrian city of al-Hol, according to the Atlantic. Of those detainees, 11,000 of them are foreign nationals, according to the BBC.

The SDF has said it is holding more than 12,000 men suspected of being ISIS fighters across seven prisons it operates, estimating that more than 4,000 of those prisoners are foreign nationals, the BBC said.

The fate of those prisoners remains uncertain, particularly in the wake of the US pullout.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

ISIS

Turkey has taken over parts of Syria, and with it, ISIS prisoners

On Oct. 22, 2019, Russia and Turkey took advantage of the power vacuum that had been created and signed an agreement to expand their control in Syria and minimize Kurdish territory.

As part of the deal, Russian military police and Syrian border guards entered the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border, pushing Kurdish forces back to 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border.

Turkey says it will use the reclaimed area to create a “buffer zone” along its border and will use the land to resettle more than 1 million Syrian refugees displaced by the war.

But as Turkey gains land in Syria, it has also taken on the task of figuring out what to do with former Islamic State detainees, many of whom are now under its control. Turkey has faced criticism in the past for its porous border, which allowed foreign fighters to enter Syria and join the Islamic State to begin with.

But Turkey doesn’t want to deal with them, and neither does the rest of the world 

According to a 2016 report by the World Bank, foreign ISIS fighters have been recruited from “all continents across the globe,” though it named Russia, France, and Germany as the top Western suppliers of ISIS’ foreign workforce.

Data from the Institute for the Study of War also indicated that significant portions of foreign fighters also came from European countries like the UK, Belgium, and France between December 2015 and March 2016.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

(ISW)

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said last week that about 1,200 foreign ISIS fighters were in Turkish prisons, and warned that Turkey would not become “a hotel” for militants.

On Nov. 11, 2019, Turkey began deporting foreign nationals said to be linked to ISIS back to their home countries.

One of those foreign nationals was from the US, a spokesperson for Turkey’s interior minister said, though according to the BBC the man remained stranded at the Greek border after choosing not to return to the US. On Thursday morning, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said that the man would be brought to the US.

Turkey’s interior minister added the country was planning to deport “several more terrorists back to Germany” this week, and that legal proceedings against two Irish nationals and 11 French citizens captured in Syria were underway. A spokesperson for Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that three men, five women and two children were being returned to Germany this week.

But many of those countries have not put a concrete policy in place for what to do with ISIS foreign fighters or their families that remain in displacement camps in Syria, or have refused to allow them to return.

Trump said in his statement in October 2019 that he discussed the issue of repatriating foreign fighters with France, Germany, and other European nations but they “did not want them and refused.”

Foreign nationals abroad are traditionally entitled to consular services abroad, though many European nations have been cautious about offering help to citizens who joined ISIS on national security grounds. Under international law, it is illegal to strip people of their citizenship if it will leave them stateless.

In April 2019, Germany approved a bill stripping dual nationals of their citizenship if they traveled overseas to fight in a foreign terror group, though the law does not apply to women and children. In June 2019, France passed legislation stating that it would repatriate French jihadists on a case-by-case basis.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

There are concerns that ISIS may take advantage of the uncertainty to regroup

But the UN has stood firm on pushing countries to take responsibility for their citizens.

“It must be clear that all individuals who are suspected of crimes — whatever their country of origin, and whatever the nature of the crime — should face investigation and prosecution, with due process guarantees,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in June 2019.

“Foreign family members should be repatriated, unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards,” she added.

The UK is currently debating what to do about those who left the country to join ISIS. In February 2019, it stripped British-born Shamima Begum, who traveled to Syria to become an ISIS bride at the age of 15, of her citizenship, citing national security risks. Begum has appealed the decision, and the UK government is said to be considering options for repatriating British members of ISIS held in prison camps in Syria.

As the West works through the complicated process of absorbing foreign fighters, Islamic State militants in Syria appear to be taking advantage of the chaos.

Last month, the SDF said ISIS fighters committed three suicide bombings on its positions in Raqqa as Kurdish fighters moved from their posts to respond to Turkish assault. And SDF General Mazloum Kobani has warned on Nov. 13, 2019 that the West should “expect” major attacks from Islamic State fighters who may be looking to capitalize on the chaos in order to regroup.

“The danger of the resurgence of ISIS is very big. And it’s a serious danger,” he told Sky News.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Vietnam War bridge raid was a lesson in adaptive air combat

It was like trying to hit a needle in a haystack, kill a fly with a sledgehammer, or whatever analogy you prefer for using brute force to apply surgical precision in the middle of a swirling ambush.

By analogy and history, the attack on Dragon’s Jaw is a bizarre mismatch of weapons to mission. It is another hard lesson for U.S. air power in the ’60’s. Several decades of evolving doctrine and aircraft development have led the U.S. Air Force in a different direction from how air wars will actually be fought in the future. Instead of long range strategic nuclear attack, tactical precision anti-insurgent strike is the emerging mission. The U.S. will continue to learn that hard lesson on this day.


By any measure this is an impressive air armada: Sixty-six advanced supersonic fighters and strike aircraft from America’s “Century Series”. The main strike package is 46 Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs with massive bomb loads. The defensive escort is 21 North American F-100 Super Sabres holstering a covey of air-to-air missiles. The strike and escort fighters are supported by an enormous number of tanker, surveillance, rescue and reconnaissance planes. They all have one objective: to kill “The Dragon”.

The Dragon is the Thanh Hóa Bridge, near the geographic center of North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese nicknamed the bridge “Hàm Rồng” or “Dragon’s Jaw” since its massive steel and concrete construction seem like a row of sturdy teeth set in the mouth of a deadly dragon. The Dragon itself is made up of one of the most sophisticated integrated air defense networks on earth modeled closely after the most sophisticated, the Soviet Union’s.

Ironically, if this same task force had been attacking the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons their results would have almost certainly been better. That is the mission these aircraft were actually designed for. But the Dragon is a small, critical target, and an elusive one. Even though it’s not an all-out nuclear war with the Red Menace, the Dragon must be slayed in the ongoing proxy war that is Vietnam.

The Thanh Hóa Bridge would be a tough target to hit even without an advanced, integrated network of radar guided anti-aircraft guns, SAMs and MiGs surrounding it. The bridge has only a single one-meter wide railroad track on its deck. It is 540 feet long and 54 feet wide at its widest point. From the attack altitude of about 10,000 feet it is difficult to see well at high-speed.

The flight of F-105 Thunderchiefs break into sections of four aircraft each. Today they are armed with 750 pound “dumb” bombs. The day before a nearly identical strike also failed to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw when the Thunderchiefs attacked with crude AGM-12 Bullpup guided missiles and 750 pound dumb bombs. The AGM-12 missiles, an early attempt at “smart” weapons, failed significantly. Remarkably, even though some of the 750 pounders did hit the bridge, they had little effect. The first attempt at breaking the Dragon’s Jaw on April 3rd failed spectacularly. The bridge proved sturdier than expected, the weapons less precise than hoped.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster
Front view of the F-105.
(US Air Force photo)

Having abandoned the AGM-12 Bullpup missiles from the day before the F-105 Thunderchiefs would strike with only dumb bombs today.

The F-105 was originally designed to carry a nuclear weapon enclosed within its streamlined fuselage using an internal bomb bay. It was supposed to attack a target from low altitude at Mach 2, “toss” the nuclear weapon at the target in a pop-up attack, and escape at twice the speed of sound.

Today the big F-105 “Thuds” lug a junkyard of dumb bombs under their sleek swept wings and below their sinewy Coke-bottle curved fuselage. The yardsale of external bombs and bomb racks creates enormous drag on the needle-nosed “Thud”, slowing it to below supersonic speed and making it vulnerable.

As predictably as a firing line of advancing redcoat soldiers facing off against Native American insurgents in the Revolutionary War, the Thunderchiefs returned the very next day, marching across the aerial battlefield in broad daylight. The North Vietnamese had been ready the day before. Today they were angry, battle hardened and ready.

According to historical accounts ranging from Air Force Magazine to Wikipedia, four of eight lightweight, nimble, subsonic MiG-17s (NATO codename “Fresco”) of the North Vietnamese 921st “Sao Do” (Red Star) Fighter Regiment led by North Vietnamese flight leader Trần Hanh visually acquired an attack formation of four F-105Ds at 10:30 AM.

The Thunderchiefs were just starting to drop their bombs and already committed to their attack run. Flight leader Trần Hanh ordered his wingman, Pham Giay, to cover his attack on the F-105s. Hanh dove in through light cloud cover, achieving complete surprise. He opened fire on the F-105 with his heavy 37mm cannon at extremely close range, only 400 meters. Having attacked from above and behind in a classic ACM (Air Combat Maneuvering) scenario, Hanh preserved energy and positioning. The hapless F-105, piloted by USAF Major Frank E. Bennett of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, was pummeled by the MiG’s cannon shells. It erupted in a comet of plunging fire and hurtled downward toward the Gulf of Tonkin. Major Bennett did not survive.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster
North Vietnamese MiG-17 pilot Tran Hanh shown after the war.

A small, nimble, lightweight fighter had just gotten the better of a large, heavily loaded fighter-bomber despite having a substantial escort from F-100 Super Sabres. The Super Sabre fighter escort was out of position to respond to the MiG-17 ambush. A brutally hard lesson in the future of air combat was in session.

The melee continued when another North Vietnamese MiG-17 pilot reportedly named “Le Minh Huan” downed a second F-105D, this one piloted by USAF Capt. J. A. Magnusson. Capt. Magnusson reportedly radioed that he was heading for the Gulf of Tonkin after being hit. He struggled to maintain control of his heavily damaged Thunderchief as he tried to escape North Vietnam. Capt. Magnusson was forced to eject twenty miles from the island of Hon Me, and was eventually listed as missing in action, then killed in action after a 48-hour search turned up nothing.

Painfully, the U.S. Air Force confirmed they had lost two F-105s and pilots in the second attack on the Dragon’s Jaw. Even worse, the bridge remained intact, a straight, iron grin at the futile attack of the Americans.

After the failed F-105 strikes and aircraft losses the Americans were desperate to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw bridge. Author Walter J Boyne wrote in Air Force Magazine that the U.S. developed a bizarre, massive pancake-shaped bomb weighing two and a half tons and measuring eight feet in diameter but only thirty inches thick. The gigantic, explosive Frisbee was dropped from the back of a lumbering C-130 Hercules transport and was intended to float down river toward the bridge where it would be detonated by a magnetic fuse. Several of the weapons were actually dropped, one C-130 was lost.

The bridge remained intact.

Early laser guided bombs were also employed against the Dragon’s Jaw with modest success. An attack on May 13, 1972 by a flight of 14 F-4 Phantoms used early “smart” bombs and actually knocked the bridge surface off its pilings, briefly rendering it inoperable and forcing repairs.

But the bridge still stood.

Attacks on the Dragon’s Jaw continued until October 6, 1972. A flight of four Vought A-7 Corsair attack aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) was finally successful in breaking the bridge in half. They used the AGM-62 Walleye guided bomb and 500-pound Mk.84 general purpose “dumb” bombs. The bridge was finally severed at its center piling.

Author Walter Boyne wrote about the final strike, “At long last, after seven years, 871 sorties, tremendous expenditure in lives, 11 lost aircraft, and a bewildering array of expended munitions, the Dragon’s Jaw was finally broken.” The key lesson from the brutal campaign to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw was that tactics and equipment need to be adaptable and precise in the modern battlespace.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster
USAF reconnaissance photo of the Thanh Hu00f3a Bridge in North Vietnam.
(US Air Force photo)

The F-105 Thunderchief was an impressive aircraft, but was forced into a brutal baptism of fire over Vietnam during an era when air combat was in transition. As a result, the F-105 suffered heavy losses. The history of the aircraft went on the include an unusual accident with the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds. On May 9, 1964 Thunderbird Two, an F-105B piloted by USAF Captain Eugene J. Devlin, snapped in half during the pitch-up for landing at the old Hamilton Air Base in California. The Thunderchief only flew in six official flight demonstrations with the Thunderbirds.

Interestingly, and perhaps ominously, the U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II shares a remarkable number of similarities with the Republic F-105 Thunderchief used in the raid on the Dragon’s Jaw in 1965.

According to author Dr. Carlo Kopp, the F-35A dimensions are oddly similar to the F-105. But among several critical differences is the wing surface area, with the F-35A having larger wing surface area and the resultant lower wing loading than the F-105. Other major differences are the F-35A’s low observable technology and greatly advanced avionics, data collecting, processing and sharing capability. Finally, the F-35A is purpose-built for a wide range of mission sets, whereas the F-105 was predominantly a high-speed, low-level nuclear strike aircraft poorly suited for conventional strike.

Lessons learned from the F-105 strike on the Dragon’s Jaw, the success of the nimble, lightweight North Vietnamese MiG-17s and the need for better precision strike capability are now deeply ingrained in U.S. Air Force doctrine. But revisiting this story is a vital part of understanding the evolving mission of the air combat warfighter and the high cost of failing to adapt in the constantly evolving aerial battlespace.

MIGHTY MOVIES

From Vietnam to Star Trek: 10 Questions with Tucker Smallwood

Tucker is a career actor with experience on stage, three times on Broadway, film and TV. He has roles in The Cotton Club, Contact, Traffic, The One and on TV shows such as “The X-Files,” “Space: Above and Beyond,” “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” “Star Trek: Enterprise” and many more. He shares about his life growing up, time in the US Army in Vietnam, what it’s like to be wounded in combat and then his life in acting. He is a prominent veteran advocate and has been invited to speak at many different veteran events. His memoir, Return to Eden, has even more of his great life stories and wisdom. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Photo credit IMDB.com

1. Can you share about your family and your life growing up?

Certainly. I was the second of four children and the first son. My father was a Lutheran minister who achieved his PhD in English, a professor at Howard University. In 1955, he was a Fulbright Professor at Anatolia College in Greece, where we lived for two years. I learned fluent Greek and studied the violin at the Odeon in Salonica. I spent two years of college in Munich, graduated from University of Maryland with a BA in Speech/TV Production and a minor in German. I then became the first director of color for WBAL in Baltimore and was drafted in July of ’67. My own memoir, Return to Eden, gives a detailed accounting of my early years. Additionally, there are numerous essays on my homepage.
That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker as a young child. Photo credit Tucker

An essay from Tucker titled “Lady Liberty:”

“I’m thinking tonite, even as I watch our traditions vanish into mist, that I have memories of classic imagery few if any of you will ever know. You see, I sailed from New York to Genoa and back…and to Southampton and back, in the days when most trips to Europe were done by sea rather than by air. I’ve since flown probably 15 or more times…but never with such resonance.

Each time going and coming home, we passed The Statue of Liberty. It was both a sign of departure and a sign that home was near. The first time as a child with my family, it was iconic. The second time as a college student, a fellow passenger bet me on which side we would pass. I took his bet and lost. He was a diplomat and a very decent dude and I enjoyed buying him a beer for our wager.

Point is, Lady Liberty has been a symbol of our unique freedoms during three centuries. For most of you, she is a photograph. But I’ll tell you what. When you’ve been at sea for days and days…and she appears in your view, you know you’re almost back home again.

I miss that simple, perhaps corny symbolism of coming home…to a place where freedom was something uncommon. I’d lived and traveled all over the world…and I’d learned and still remembered how very unique our republic is. It is damn sure worth fighting for.

I pray enough Americans value what I value and will vote in November to restore our singularity in the world.”

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker with his family. Photo credit Tucker.

2. What made you want to become a soldier and what was your experience like?

I was drafted. I had little patience for bullshit and some qualities that were useful. Assertiveness, intelligence, physical endurance, will. My test scores were largely off their charts, with particular language skills. I was offered OCS and accepted. I’d been a Cub and Boy Scout, enjoyed hiking and camping.

During Basic and AIT, I fell in love with the physical challenges. I wasn’t particularly large, but I was rated expert on 10 weapons and was very good with map and compass. The weapons are the M1, M14, M16, M-2, M-60, M1911, M40 (106mm) Recoilless Rifle, M67 (90mm) Recoilless Rifle, and then two more I can’t the last two. My personal weapons were an M2A2 carbine and an M3 “Grease Gun.” I also had an M14 with a starlight scope in addition to my M16. When you wanted to buttstroke someone the M14 was the best. During a Ranger exercise I went 10 days on nine hours of sleep. For a city kid, I enjoyed proving myself physically – particularly to myself.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker polishing his helmet. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker competing against his TAC officer candidates in the PT test. He won all PT tests against his candidates during his entire six month run as a TAC instructor.

I served as a Tactical Officer (TAC), training young Officer Candidates (OC’s). Regarding the Army PT test, I’d offered a weekend pass to any OC who could better my score. In six months, none did. I took great pride in setting the standard. I was not a nice guy; I was a very brutal TAC. The deal was to push men past their limits and see which ones could still function. I hated my own TACs yet I later understood why they were so brutal to me. My father had arranged a posting with Army Media, however I wanted to prove my mettle as a soldier. My graduation orders for Special Forces were pulled; the assignment of Tac Officers had the highest priority in Army training. I trained OCs for six months. The Army needed more junior officers because so many had become casualties in Vietnam.

When I got in country, my CO had been there for two weeks and then two weeks later I became CO. The night I arrived my CO took a small frag in the shoulder and then two weeks later took an AK-47 round in the buttock. There were five commanders in eight months, dead and wounded. I lasted five and half months myself which was a record. It was supposed to be a Major as a CO and a Captain as an XO. I made First Lieutenant a week after I joined the team, so I was a First Lieutenant as a CO.

My initial orders were to be a Liaison Officer to the ARVN airborne because of my Vietnamese language skills. Two weeks before I got there some ring knocker showed up and stole my slot either through a bribe, a buddy or some connection…so he took my slot. So, when I got there, they put me in this new concept, a mobile advising team. It was a five-man crew and I thought it sounded interesting. I loved my people, American and Vietnamese. I loved the work I did and I believed in it, although I did not believe in the war itself. I feel so fortunate that I got to teach my people how to fight and then teach THEM how to defend their village. I feel so fortunate despite my injuries.

When asked after my TAC officer tour I said I want Jump School, Ranger School, Special Warfare School and Vietnamese Language School and I don’t want to work with Americans. I had so many black and Latino NCO’s while a TAC told me what the deal was in Vietnam; they told me about the drugs, lack of discipline and grunts who didn’t want to fight the war. I didn’t want a frag rolled under my tent or a bullet in the back of my head. I am a hard charger; I just want to get the job done. I was going to do my job and wanted to work with people who weren’t going to screw around. I regret I did not get to do Ranger School, did all the other ones though. I am grateful for the experiences…but I wouldn’t do it again.

Afghanistan breaks my heart, to learn that men we were training might turn their weapons on their American advisors. I didn’t worry about that in Vietnam. It is difficult to bear.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker counseling one of his candidates, which was a big part of their training. Photo credit Tucker.

I wasn’t affected by PTSD until 10 years after coming home. Once a year I would a month or so before September 14th every year I would have night sweats and bad dreams. I would wake up shaking and in tears. My 51st anniversary of the day I was pronounced dead is Sept 14th. On that day for the first 15 years once it started occurring, I would be sobbing hopelessly and the next day I would be fine. It was like I shed my skin and was brand new, reborn. It is called “Anniversary Syndrome .” In recent years I have been doing very well. A year ago, on my 50th anniversary I broke down and had to leave an event with my friend and director Oz Scott.

I woke up with a headache but believe Sep 14th this year will be good overall. I have no complaints now or at 25 when they pronounced me dead. I have lived a full life even then.

We hide from our own shit sometimes where we see those faults or issues in others.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker’s shadow box from his service in Vietnam. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker and his men conducting a river crossing in Vietnam. The essay for this picture is entitled BOOTLESS and they had their boots on while crossing. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker with his friend Jack Jolis in Vietnam. Photo Credit Tucker.

A chapter from Tucker’s book RETURN TO EDEN, the chapter is titled “FIRST NIGHT ,”

“Grady, our fearless leader, is searching frantically for his boots as ‘tings’ and ‘thuds’ of incoming AK rounds work their way along the PSP and sandbags of our bunker. For the next few weeks, I sleep in my boots. I leave him muttering curses, crawl out of our hooch and make my way around to our northern flank. I’m the newly arrived X.O. I’ve been here about five hours; I don’t even know everyone’s name yet…but my map is up to date.

They’d erected cyclone fencing to prematurely detonate incoming B-40 rockets – and a good thing, for I’m suddenly knocked to the ground by an explosion. Grady slipped in while I conferred with the Vietnamese commander and cried out, “Think I’m hit…” A flashlight exam reveals a minute frag wound to his upper arm. Without evident irony in his Oklahoma drawl, he pronounces himself fit to continue.

A few hours earlier, we’d spent the evening celebrating my arrival with more than a few Budweisers, chugging contests and numerous toasts. Our five-man advisory team was now up to full strength! After drawing straws for that night’s radio watch, I turned in, expecting a wake-up at 0200 hours.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Sgt. Terry Brand, myself and Dai uy Minh. Photo credit Tucker.

I retreat to our southern flank to assess our defense and as I place a radio call for Tac air, Doc Garcia approaches me with a Hellmann’s jar full of green Dexedrine tablets. “Sir, you want your ups?” I look at him incredulously, surely, he’s kidding. Nope, apparently ‘greenies’ are SOP. I assure him I’ll be alert for the immediate future and he leaves to medicate the rest of my team. Then Sgt. Sparks hunkers down to ask, “Sir, would you like a beer?” Now, I know he’s kidding. Wrong again. I watch him low-crawl 20 feet to the cooler, ignoring the near misses, reach in for a six-pack of Bud and crawl back to pop one and offer it to me. This is his way of telling a young Lt. “Just another day at the office, sir. Rock steady and do what you’re trained to do.”

Charlie is bringing serious pee from three sides – RPG, small arms fire and the occasional mortar round. Looks like he’s got maybe 40-50 VC hoping to overrun this small CP. Before my beer is warm, I’m talking to the Phantom wing commander and negotiating the sequence of his weapons. First off, a canister of napalm from each F-4 illuminates our western flank. I imagine the smell of crispy critters mixed in with the singular scent of burning fuel oil. I’m also connected to the C-130 (Super Spooky) pilot, asking him to put out flares as the Phantoms begin to rake the perimeter with their Vulcan cannons. Spooky can orbit for hours, but the jets will soon break off to re-fuel and reload. And just in case, I’ve also requested a light fire team of Cobra gunships.

As I reflect that it’s good to be king, able to muster such formidable support within minutes, I suddenly notice that I’m “out of body,” a condition I’ve heard of but had never before experienced.

I’m floating perhaps 25 feet above my CP, looking down at myself as I/he switch radio frequencies to speak with different elements of support. This thought occurs to my doppelganger: “Damn, I’m good at this.” Hubris. My out-of-body persona is without any particular emotion but notices the similarity between directing a firefight and directing a live TV show (which I did for a living, before being drafted). I return to normal as suddenly as I’d left and would probably have enjoyed the experience much more had there not been work to do. Incoming has diminished considerably and understandably so, but the Cobras have arrived and deserve their turn, so I have them fly along the far canal bank, strafing with their miniguns. (We found a few parts and several blood trails the next morning, but Charlie religiously took his dead and wounded home, whenever possible.)

Perhaps an hour or so has passed since Grady began looking for his boots. I thank the Cobras and ask Spooky to hang for a bit while I check our casualties. Among the five Americans, we’ve got one wounded. Grady can wait for first light to go get his tetanus shot. But of my 47 Vietnamese soldiers, I’ve got two dead and five more critically wounded. They’re not likely to make it to daybreak, so I ask the Vietnamese com-mander, “Where’s the chopper pad?” There is none. “You’re sh*tting me, right? We have no chopper pad inside our wire?” Nope.

FUBAR. Cursing Grady under my breath, I ask the Dai uy for volunteers to carry the wounded outside our perimeter wire. “Too dangerous.” Probably right about that but we can’t just let them die without an effort. While I radio Bien Hoa for a dust-off, Sgts. Sparks and Brand organize litters and bearers…and under cover of the black delta night, we slip through our rows of concertina wire to the paddy dike behind our CP. Apart from the distant drone of Spooky in orbit, there is dead silence. I can still smell cordite and oily smoke and rice paddy… and myself. Sweat is streaming down my back, curiously cold on so warm a night. My handset crackles, “Rusty Nails, this is Dust-off, on your push, over.”

For the first time tonight, I am scared. Earlier I was too busy for errant thoughts, focused on each task – but now my imagination is running amok. I respond to the chopper, “Dust-off, this is Nails Six. Approach Echo-Whiskey, strobe marks green Lima Zulu.” (God, I hope it’s green!)

And the delta blackness is suddenly illuminated by the strobe light I key and raise into the night. It pulses an unbelievably intense pattern of light, evident for miles. And I wait for that first burst of fire, aimed just beneath the strobes flickering bulls-eye. Which never comes. Dust-off shuffles in, the red delta clay covering all in its wake and settles. We load on our wounded, thank Dust-off and make our way back thru the perimeter wire.

I’m now very tired – where is Doc when I need him? I begin rehearsing my speech to our commander Grady, questioning his decision not to have created a landing pad inside our wire. At first light, our soldiers are busily at work on just that task. And I promise God I will never do anything that stupid again. Yeah, right.”

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker with his militia in Vietnam. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker in Vietnam with his dog JoJo by his side. Photo credit Tucker.

3. What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?

Probably my conduct under fire, commanding men at war. (See Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

“Sunday, Bloody Sunday – September 14, 1969

I can remember kneeling, as I reached for my map case to check our position. We should be now within 300 meters of our objective. Then there was a thunderous, shattering explosion…followed by an eerie and absolute silence. “Have I gone deaf?” I wondered. No… for I could now hear an intermittent splattering sound, like someone pissing and stopping…and pissing again. I looked out to notice a thick, red stream, striking leaves some ten feet in front of me – which suddenly stopped, then repeated…and traced its source back to my throat.

My next three thoughts came faster than could be read or spoken. 1. I’m hit. 2. Pulsing means an artery is severed. 3. I’m going to die. If emotions had colors and form, imagine a massive wave – its color crimson, its essence: fear. “My Death Is at Hand .”

This wave surged across my consciousness, engulfed me absolutely, then washed away, immediately followed by the next wave, whose color was green, its essence: serenity. “All Will Be Well” (It is God’s peace, and a blessing. I can only hope I will find it again, when next I face my death.) For the past few months, I’d become convinced of my own invulnerability; I really believed I was somehow different, somehow protected from harm. Why? Because there’d been so many times I might have and perhaps should have been wounded – but was untouched – at least physically. This discovery of my own mortality was rude, abrupt, and absolute.

This peace remained with me, throughout. This peace is singular; it is a unique state of consciousness which often occurs in NDE’s. (Near Death Experiences.) It is one of five – Serenity, Out of Body, Instant Replay of Life, The Light… and an unremembered fifth. (Like naming the 7 Dwarfs, I always forget one.) I wore as a sweatband, my Vietnamese unit’s colors, a bandanna they’d awarded me after my first night with my team, one of our bloodiest encounters. I quickly tied it around my throat as tightly as I could bear and took stock of our situation. Men were dead and bleeding all around me, I could see no one untouched. Two lay in the water, blown off the hummock by the explosion, four lay scattered about, tending to themselves and each other. I carried the radio. I alone spoke English. If shock or unconsciousness took me, none of us would make it home. I quickly checked myself for other wounds, finding blood on my belly and left thigh, but knew they were minor, at least in comparison to my throat, and began keying the handset, hoping to raise an extraction or rescue force. I then realized I could not speak (turns out the frag that severed my right carotid artery had also severed the Vagus nerve, which controls the vocal cords; mine were now paralyzed.) All I knew then was that I could not speak … but discovered that I could whisper. And so, I began whispering into the handset, “Rusty Nails, Rusty Nails, this is Nails 6, over.” “Rusty Nails, this is Nails 6, over.”

No response. I was calling to my team base, praying someone there was monitoring the radio, someone who could then relay a request to the nearest available Dust Off and reaction force. I kept trying, over and over, as I watched these mercenaries, those still able, dealing with their injuries and setting up to repel any assault. Should I change frequencies, try VNAF channels? Would my whispered Vietnamese be understood and trusted, if I did reach someone? I chose to rely on my team not to leave com unattended for very long. As I continued to call, I considered what had happened.

Our mission was obviously compromised. Any VC not responsible for the explosion would soon be drawn to the site…but what was it? Probably not a mortar or artillery round, for I remembered no whistling sound of incoming, prior to the blast, and I saw no crater. Was it a grenade? The explosion seemed too large, (although I’d never before been at ground zero!) A booby trap or mine? And if so, set off by whom? By us? (I still have ghostly memories of having been told by SOMEONE that one of the mercenaries encountered a mine, which he was in the process of disarming, when it detonated.) Or were they still out there? What the hell were they waiting for? We were candy, lunch meat, toast, WIA’s about to become KIA’s…hardly the dangerous, canny team of experienced killers who’d set out some two hours ago on a mission that even today compels me to scratch my head and ask, “What in the world was I doing out there with them? THE F*** WAS I THINKING?”

Sgt. Sparks had said it so often, it’d become a mantra. “Sir, you keep lookin’ for it, you gonna find it.” Sparks was my senior NCO, 3 years in-country, he ‘knew the way’ and he’d surely lost enough young commanders to know the truth. (My team had already lost 5 commanders in 8 months – 2 KIA, 3 WIA.)

On this quiet Sunday morning, following a few weeks of boredom and no good contacts, a six-man PRU team (Provincial Reconnaissance Unit) appeared at my CP and asked to speak with me. They were all mercenaries. PRU’s were an arm of The Phoenix Program, a CIA funded operation, which conducted missions of assassination and counterterrorism; their mission – to neutralize the Viet Cong infrastructure. (I now know how totally compromised, illicit and f***** so many Phoenix operations ended up.)

At the time, I believed PRU’s to be among the most deadly and efficient operatives in a conflict that had become increasingly frustrating; we’d problems differentiating Viet Cong from farmer from sympathizer. Today’s mission: to capture or kill (whichever came first) a VC tax collector, operating centrally within my AO (Area of Operation), at a location relatively accessible… and recent intel suggested he’d be in the neighborhood this afternoon. They wanted my permission to go hunting on my turf.

I’d heard stories…stories about their occasional casual regard for certainty. These men were paid by the body. Their members included two Hoi Chans (ex-VC from the neighborhood, now on our payroll), two Saigon cowboys (sociopaths unfit for regular military service), a Nung (renowned tribal mercenaries), and a Cambodian (never did get his story). Knowing that they might well fail to find their quarry, believing that they might then choose to bag an innocent farmer, collect and present his head or ears for their bounty, I made a fateful decision. Over the months, my team had earned the trust and respect of the villagers we defended. For those insignificant few square kilometers in the Mekong Delta, Gia Dinh Province, Binh Chanh District, I and my team represented safety and justice. (It’s good to be King!) And I was unwilling to let these men betray that trust. Therefore, I must accompany them, insuring anyone they killed in my AO was someone who at least appeared to be deserving of killing. So, I was acting out of perceived responsibility, boredom…and an itch to operate with people I’d been told were among the best at what they did. Evidently, I still had something to prove, at least to myself. Pride goeth before a fall.

There was a brief window of opportunity to rethink my decision, for the Vietnamese Airborne was already at work, conducting a sweep not too distant from the target. Having operated with them in the past, I knew them to light up ANYTHING that moved in their universe. I’d learned to either be with them or in a different area code entirely, while they were out hunting. So, we sat on my deck and smoked for a bit, awaiting word their mission was complete and they’d been lifted out. Word came, soon enough, and after briefing my team and counterpart, the six PRU’s and I set off for the coordinates their intelligence sources had indicated this tax collector could be found. As usual, I left with a PRC-25 radio, M-16 and a basic combat load. This seemed nothing special…though I did change from my normal jungle cammies into a set of tiger fatigues, simply because they were all dressed in tiger – (and red beret, black skin and radio antenna notwithstanding, I generally tried not to draw unnecessary attention…unless we were waterskiing…)

It took us perhaps 2 hours to move from my base across the paddies, and into the thicker nipa palm, then jungle, then delta swamp of marsh, streams, and hummocks. After months of working with the ‘citizen soldiers’ that our conscripted troops essentially were, it was a pleasure to patrol with men who genuinely knew how to move efficiently, quietly, tactically towards their target. Though I can’t remember thinking so, I suspect some part of me was feeling rather self-congratulatory, for here I was, out on patrol with some serious operatives…and belonging, worthy to be among them. As I said, pride goeth before a fall. And then, nearing our objective, we pulled up from the cover of water and reeds, onto a small, dry hummock, to check our position. Without a word, we formed a small perimeter and I reached down for my map case. And the world exploded.

It’s been perhaps 25 minutes, still no response to my calls. My legs are pretty much numb from the thighs down, my arms growing heavy. My bleeding is slowed, but not stopped…how could it be? Others seem to be less vigilant, they too are growing weaker. And still we wait for the killing blow. I continue to whisper, changing my transmission. “Any station, any station, this is Rusty Nails 6. Mayday, Mayday…”

Suddenly a crackle in my handset…more static…and then a response.

“6, this is Nails, over”

“Nails, this is 6. Seven down, request immediate Dust Off near objective, please forward, over”

“6, Copy that, wait, out”

So now we had hope. No longer quite so alone. But still a long way from home free. As I waited, this thought suddenly struck me, “They are waiting for the Medivac chopper to come…to shoot it down, that’s why they haven’t finished us off!” Charlie lived to shoot down Dust Offs, and our pilots were so damn selfless and committed, they would come for us, danger be damned, LZ green OR LZ red, they would come down to get us, God bless them all. They were simply the bravest pilots that we had, bar none. Red Cross on the side of the chopper, Geneva Conventions attesting to their neutrality, Charlie lit them up on sight, Geneva Accords be damned, for he knew that our men fought with more courage, believing we’d be extracted and brought to care. And Charlie was so right. I’d called in numerous Dust Offs over the months, for both American and allied wounded and they always came – under fire, at night, in the rain, whatever. I admired the conduct of so many soldiers, acts both selfless and gallant that I witnessed during my command…but none so consistent and dependable as those men who flew the unarmed choppers that brought the wounded to safety. (I still resist making judgments on a people. After all, Viet Cong were the brothers, sons and fathers of South Vietnamese soldiers…but the fact is, during my command, I called in 20 or more medivac requests, all but one to extract Vietnamese casualties. VNAF pilots were on that same frequency, they had the same mission…but I never once got a VNAF Dust Off at night or under fire. Not one. Only American pilots would brave the danger to take my wounded from harms way.)

My handset crackled again, “6, this is Rusty Nails. Dust Off enroute, has your coordinates and freq, hang on, over.”

“Roger that, Nails. Be advised LZ not secure, request gunship backup, over”

“Copy that 6, wait, out”

And wait we did. It’s already been 45 minutes, perhaps a bit more. Still no sign of Charlie’s presence or intentions, but I remained suspicious. And waited… There is a sound that is to us like no other. It is unmistakable. It means,

“Help is on the way.” Even today, in-country vets still look up, instinctively, whenever we hear that characteristic ‘whop-whop-whop-whop’. It’s the sound of an approaching UH1B. A “Huey .” And I could hear it. Help was on the way.

“Nails 6, this is Dust-off, on your push, over.”

“Dust Off, this is 6. Be advised LZ may be hot, stand by for smoke, on your command, over.”

I beckoned a Hoi Chan to me, pulled a smoke grenade from my pack, gave him instructions, asked if he understood, and he nodded, yes.

“Nails, Dust Off. Pop smoke, over”

I mimed to my Hoi Chan to pull the smoke grenade pin, which he did and tossed it.

“Dust Off, smoke out, over”

“6, Dust Off, we see yellow smoke, over”

“Affirmative, Dust Off, yellow smoke, be alert, LZ is not secure”

“Roger that 6, we have back up, now on approach, over”

And they did have back up, by golly, for I could now hear the sound of several more choppers in the vicinity, among them, two gunships, rolling into orbit… and a slick bearing my District Senior Advisor, as it turned out. Events become rather jumbled in my memories now, as they were even then. I can remember watching the Medivac chopper touch down. And I was suddenly observing all this from above, from on high, perhaps 30 feet away.

For only the second time in my life, I was out of my body, (the first time, my first night with my team, under fire from three directions.) My dispassionate doppelganger noted my physical self below, now numb from the hips south. I continued to observe from two separate perspectives, as dead and wounded were placed on litters and loaded. I remember Maj. Arthur, my superior, the DSA, approaching me (only later wondering how the hell he managed to be part of this extraction). I remember extending my M-16, which he accepted, symbolic of surrendering to him my command of this operation and of my team. And I remember watching from on high, as medics lifted me onto a litter. Suddenly, I lay down there naked as the day I was born. Their scalpels had ripped through my jungle boots and tigers in seconds, as they searched for entry wounds. After an IV of plasma and a shot of morphine, I was blanketed and lifted onto the chopper. As they did, I watched my beret fall off, down into the mud…and then I returned to my body. (That’s a poignant memory, for I loved that beret…and I still wonder if an enemy soldier ever presented it to collect the standing 5000 piastre bounty for my death.)

That’s my last ‘out of body’ memory, from that day til now. Even as the morphine kicked in, I was still sufficiently aware to note the looks that passed between the medics. They were wonderfully professional and efficient, but their shared looks confirmed their skepticism about my survival. I had no opinion, pro or con.

I was and had been at peace for some time. Morphine simply meant ‘no more pain’. I felt like a Hershey Bar, molten on the Tan Son Nhut tarmac… yet my mind remained surprisingly clear. I was grateful I’d remained conscious long enough to get us out. I knew I’d done my best; that I’d acquitted myself honorably as a soldier…and that was enough. I was somehow complete – a perfection and peace I may never again achieve or experience. I accepted that this life had been interesting and was now ending…and quietly promised that if there was another life afterwards; well then, I’d try to do better, next time. The flight to Saigon’s 3rd Field Hospital took as long as it took…my life did not replay before my eyes. I remained conscious, though by now seriously drugged. I vaguely remember triage and more skeptical but caring eyes, a trip by gurney down a loooong tunnel, with bright lights overhead…then an operating room and still more lights…and at some point, all the lights went out.

I now know a great deal more…and in some ways, still nothing. I know that I finally surrendered on the operating table; that my heart finally stopped. I’m told that the surgeons surrendered too, all save Dr. Caesar Cardenas. For whatever reason, he refused to let me go and managed to make my heartbeat again. His surgery, reconnecting my carotid artery was brave (though clots soon formed.) But it was sufficient to keep me alive until some radical vascular work could be done back in The World, at Walter Reed. What I don’t know, and never will know, is what really happened to us out there that Sunday afternoon. There’ll be no biopsy on the chunk of metal that remains inside my neck, 1/4″ from my spinal cord, between C-4 and C-5. A quarter of an inch. That’s the margin between mute/bleeding – or paralyzed/soon to die; one more name on The Wall. I can never know how those six mercenaries fared, how many survived…but I have a strong sense that at this point, I’m the sole living witness to that encounter. Because I wasn’t supposed to be there, I was never debriefed by MACV or CIA or anyone else. Because I had no official connection to PRU’s and CIA; (since in their eyes “I wasn’t there”) none of this happened. I often wonder how this would have been written up, had we all died out there.

My actions, having chosen to be a part of this mission, cost me my command of MAT 36 and disadvantaged my team, until I could be replaced. That I regret. I needed no citations from the CIA or anyone else; what I did that afternoon was simply my job. To acknowledge my conduct would require they admit that I was there. “Xin loi.” (“F*** you, you’re welcome.”) This was not about gallantry or courage. I knew full well by then the standards I’d already accepted for such regard. What I did this day became my own ‘ultimate gut check’, a measure of my commitment to lives entrusted to me. My conduct this day was proof of a man’s will. There is no medical explanation for my having remained conscious and functional for so long, I should have died within minutes. God was there. The purpose given me by those who trained me to be an Infantry commander was there. The motto of the Infantry is “Follow Me.”

During my command, most of my people came under fire. Some were wounded and some died. This is fundamental to an Infantry Leader: “Anyone I take out – I will bring home.” I never violated that trust. And if I am remembered by my soldiers for that alone, that will do.

31 August, 2001″

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker with T.U. Dai, his counterpart and brother in Vietnam. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

The MACV patch. Photo credit Tucker.

Tucker’s experience in the hospital and with his nurse are in the next essay,

“I’m sure I’m not alone in having a thing for nurses. Something about their firm calves in those white stockings and practical shoes and the way their starched blouses…well anyway, I’ve had my share of crushes on nurses. They’re just so damn perfect – comfortable with their bodies, great massages, no issues with scars… Now that I think about it, my second girlfriend was a nurse. (I named my puppy at Tan Nhut after her.)

In the TV series “China Beach ,” Dana Delany created an iconic character, Army Nurse Colleen McMurphy. She was tough, competent, caring, sexy, human…and her emotion was never self-indulgent, always earned. I very much admired her work in that show…and eventually I got to tell her so.

But I digress.

In the wards of 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon, Army officer nurses were stressed beyond belief. They contended daily with an abundance of young broken bodies and shattered spirits. Some of their patients were not going to get any older; some wished for an end to their pain. These women had to find that nurse’s balance between caring for these men yet maintaining some emotional distance. Each found her own formula, but many of them came home as haunted as the men for whom they’d cared.

I have a picture of my nurse from Vietnam but can’t remember her name. I searched in vain for years, wanting to thank her, to tell her how much she’d meant to me, how much they’d all meant to us at that fragile time in our lives.

After about a week at 3rd Field, I was coming along. I’d learned to shower with plastic wrapped around my thigh, to prevent my metal sutures from rusting. I was still losing weight, (still fed intravenously) and still grateful to be around. My veins were all pretty tired and one weary nurse was having a tough time getting my IV properly installed. She failed time after time and I was losing patience, that shit really hurt! A spry, elderly bird colonel appeared beside her, sussed the situation and without a word, relieved her of the needle. In one deft move, she inserted that IV into my challenged veins with certainty, smiled and wheeled away. Ahhhhh. I exchanged a grateful smile with the younger nurse. We were both relieved. She’d been doing her best, and I’d never doubted that but still, it’s nice to find an old pro when you need one.

At the end of my second week, I overheard my doctors debating the removal of my trach. “He’s doing well, he’s fought off infection, maybe we can get him started on soft foods…” “Well, let’s give it a bit more time…” Later that night, I lay there, feeling a bit sorry for myself. There may have been a few tears in my ears, I’m not saying. I’d had nothing to eat or drink for fourteen days. Into the darkness of the ward appeared my very favorite nurse, an anticipatory smile on her face, and holding a small Dixie cup of vanilla ice cream.

She came to the side of my bed, saw that I was awake and lifted a small spoonful of heaven to my lips. That remains the single most intense experience of flavor I’ve ever known. Two more spoonfuls, each sweeter than the last, then she put her finger to her lips to remind me this was our secret and slipped out of the ward. I lay there in the dark, smiling with the memory of our tryst, eternally grateful for that kindness. I hope she knows how much I loved her in that moment.

Dear Tucker,

After reading your chapter about me, I am so back in Vietnam. What an honor to hear from you after so many years. To have a chance to tell you how much I loved you and all the brave young men I took care of is one of my greatest wishes.

You all meant so much to me! I am so blessed to have taken care of such brave young men. I have felt truly honored since that experience. My caring touch, my smile, my compassion, my passion as a nurse to care for your wounds and care for your spirit was truly my mission.

In my 38 years as a nurse, that one year as a nurse in Nam pretty much shaped me in my nursing and my life. I was forever changed. Some good and some not so good. I too suffer from PTSD. I get counseling from time to time. But I have managed to raise two great kids and have been married for 36 years.

Please believe me, it was such an honor to care for you and to help you heal. I am haunted each day about the hundreds of young men I cared for wondering what happened to them. To know you made it makes me feels so warm in my heart. You all are forever imprinted in my heart. Please keep in touch and hopefully we can meet so day soon and I can give you a big hug.

Love Ellen

Your McMurphy!”

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker’s nurse Ellen in Vietnam. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker in the hospital in Vietnam recovering from his wounds. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker with his friends Michael and Bob at the first American Vietnam Veterans Parade. Photo credit Tucker.

Tucker shares a few neat things that he loves Austin Healey cars and his first car was a GTO he bought off Victory Drive at a car dealership outside of Fort Benning while training for Vietnam. He shares about how fast the car was and how he loved cornering on sharp turns in his Austin Healey.

4. What values have you carried over from the Army into Hollywood?

Punctuality. Dependability. Patience. Moral courage. Professionalism.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker marching in NYC for the first Vietnam Veterans Parade. Photo credit Tucker.

5. What project did you most enjoy doing while working in Hollywood?

Several of the projects below.

Space: Above Beyond will always be my proudest series work. My character was myself, the same values, 25 years after Vietnam. My favorite film experience would be The Cotton Club, particularly the recent re-edit: The Cotton Club Encore. Closely followed by CONTACT, my first major film lead.

I’ve had a very Zelig-like career. I’ve known Chris Walken since the mid-70’s. Morgan Freeman was in my very first play in 1972. Denzel Washington was my understudy in ’78…and Sam Jackson was in that same production. I was in Greg Hines very first play and we remained close friends until his death.

In my first I play I got to act with Morgan Freeman, where I wanted his role, but he got it. The public theater in NY has so many theaters where I got to watch so many great actors and actresses of the 70s and 80s perform. I got to see Christopher Walken on stage, which was wonderful. In the late 1980’s at a benefit for theater in NY, I was able to work on stage with Christopher and Matthew Broderick in a scene from “The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel .” I love watching young comedians imitate Chris and then Chris do Chris where he has such a great sense of humor about himself. Deer Hunter is my favorite role of Chris’s.

Tucker’s essay “Familiarity Breeds Contempt ,”

“During the mid-70’s, I lived in New York City and was fortunate enough to appear on all three networks each week. I starred with JoBeth Williams in Jabberwocky, an ABC children’s show; I was ADA Frank Evans on NBC’s soap opera Somerset and the Emmy-nominated host of the CBS news magazine, Channel 2: The People. Combined with dozens of national commercials, I became accustomed to being recognized and greeted on the streets of New York City on a daily basis.

This was hardly movie star, rock star, sports star fame…it was comfortable, rarely threatening, a little like living in the neighborhood in which you’d grown up and being known by just about everyone.

People of color in particular always seemed to know my face and the characters I’d played; there were relatively few Black actors appearing on any regular basis in TV back then. It was pleasant; I thought little of it and went on with my life.

During the 80’s, although I became less successful on-camera, I remained in the daily lives of most Americans as the voice of more than a thousand radio and TV commercials. I still did the occasional play or film, there were a few successes, like THE COTTON CLUB and PRESUMED INNOCENT; but I was beginning to unravel, emotionally.

A subtle and perverse condition called Survivor Guilt encouraged thoughts of ending my life. My subtext had become the sense that I didn’t deserve to be happy, to be successful, to be alive. I struggled in denial for several years, depressed and self-destructive. Eventually people who cared about me persuaded me to ask for help and I was blessed once again.

I was put in touch with Dr. Victor DeFazio, a therapist who’d served in Vietnam before completing his studies in psychology. He accepted only veterans and policemen as patients and for several years before the fall of the Soviet Union, had worked with Russian psychologists to develop therapies for their Afghanzi. These Russian soldiers, returning from an unpopular and unsuccessful guerilla war in Afghanistan, had much in common with troubled Vietnam veterans.

With his help, I began to think more clearly and recovered my appreciation for the blessing of my life. I moved to California in 1991 and began to work more and more in prime time – in dramas, sit-coms, and most successfully, in the genre of science fiction.

I’d never been a very good ‘type’. In the eyes of casting agents, I seemed atypical of contemporary Black men in American life. But they decided perhaps someone like me might exist in the future – and my career was reborn.

Over a six year period, I appeared in some of the highest profile sci-fi shows on television, including The X-Files, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, Millennium, Babylon 5, and Space: Above and Beyond, as well as in films like CONTACT and DEEP IMPACT. And a curious synergy between the growing popularity of the Internet; the proliferation of cable and a body of work that now spanned almost thirty years combined to make me, once again, familiar.

Not famous, not even remotely – but somehow, familiar. People I encountered ‘knew’ me, though many had no idea why. Some assumed we worked out at the same gym, or lived in the same neighborhood, or had gone to school together. Others could recite my projects chapter and verse, remembering roles even I’d long forgotten.

As always, it was the working people – bus drivers, stewardesses, baggage handlers, cabbies, policemen that seemed to notice my presence and their greeting was always a positive experience. They were genuinely tickled to encounter me and say hello. It really didn’t matter how far I traveled – India, Romania, Germany, Australia, England, Peru, Vietnam – thanks to the worldwide distribution of our media, I was suddenly recognizable to citizens all over the world.

So, my destiny is to be ‘familiar’. There are worse things; I can live with that. In this age of media addiction, I’ve had my share of fan mail and photo requests, but I’ll tell you what still gives me pause. I recently typed my name into the search engine Google. It came back with more than 261,000 references to web sites and pages discussing my work. Imagine that.

My father, Dr. Osborn T. Smallwood was a Lutheran minister, university English professor, Fulbright scholar, diplomat and civic leader. He is someone I admire and respect as much as anyone on this earth. I typed his name into that same search engine and found two references – a 1999 resolution by Ohio State University honoring his memory and a Stars Stripes article, the photo from which appears at the beginning of this essay.

Whenever I am tempted to feel remotely self-important, I am mindful of an absurd inequity in our culture – there is a lack of regard for genuine accomplishment and an obscene obsession with celebrity.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Tucker in “The X-Files .” Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker in “Space: Above Beyond .” Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker in “Star Trek: Voyager .” Photo credit Tucker.

6. What was it like working on such projects as The Cotton Club, Presumed Innocent, The X-Files, Seinfeld, Contact, Deep Impact, Star Trek: Enterprise, Curb Your Enthusiasm and your own work of “Return to Eden”?

Working “Seinfeld” was great where everyone was so professional. All of the actors on the show knew just how much humor to add to a scene, where they could make the scene funny as hell.

In “Space: Above Beyond ,” I was able to mentor younger actors. The role was me basically 25 years after Vietnam. The actors confided in me as well. There was a lot of trust and unique. The writers Jim Wong and Glen Morgan wrote the character for me and then wrote characters for me in “X-Files” and “Millennium .” They are like artistic godfathers to me; they are very generous and kind to me. I will always cherish working with them.

I would love the opportunity to work with Clint Eastwood sometime. Never had the chance, but would love to work with him.

Tucker’s essay about his career during the 1970s “Finding a Way ,”

FINDING A WAY

“I’ve really had four acting careers, in retrospect. I was rarely if ever a “good type .” Media perceptions and depictions of Black Americans has evolved markedly during my professional life. It began in 1972. I was then an acting student, under the G.I.Bill and my earnings as a waiter at The Goose and Gherkin. This pub-restaurant existed between two very high-end New York restaurants: Lutece…and The Leopard, less well known but no less elegant. I don’t recall ever having entered either.

But my personality was well suited to be a NY waiter and I enjoyed bantering with my customers. The Goose was on E 50th St, the customers from Madison Ave and the neighborhood. One night I served a table of perhaps eight people. They were animated, enjoying each other’s company. One spoke to me as I cleared their dinner plates. “You’re a hell of a waiter!”

I’d never doubted the largesse to be left to me, my tip…but I took a shot. “I’m even a better actor.” He smiled and said, “I’ll bet you are.” The next day I read for “an under five” character for his soap opera…and was cast.

As we shot, just before I entered, the stage manager told me to respond and say, “That’s correct.” I did…and it meant I got paid rather more money. The next day they read me for a continuing role. Frank Evans. Homicide cop. And then they offered me the role. It meant I would make 0 each day I worked. But there was a problem. Sandy Meisner and The Neighborhood Playhouse didn’t allow their students to accept professional jobs. Viewed it as a distraction, a form of corruption.

So, it came to pass that in a two-week period, I left my studies at The Playhouse…to begin my career. And then, so did Jeff Goldblum…and for a play. Two Gentlemen of Verona. He was 17, a talented actor, singer, musician…It was absurd. It’s 1971. I’m 27, a surviving Vietnam veteran…who decided to become an actor while he recovered at Walter Reed. Jeff – and pretty much everyone I’d recently met had known each wanted to be an actor, a performer, much of their lives.

I began modestly but gained traction. I got an Equity play at the Public Theater. That’s when I first met Morgan. And my theater work earned me a legitimate agent. Marge Fields. And her assistant was MaryJo Slater. I began to book national commercials. I went to Boston with JoBeth Williams. We shot 55 episodes of JABBERWOCKY. ABC later syndicated them nationally. And then I was cast as the host of CBS Channel Two: The People. It was an early news magazine. Apparently, I was good at this. Second season, the producer, writer, director, editor fired me. We were a good team. I was the host and he did everything else! The next week I was nominated for an Emmy for my work on his show. My first Austin-Healey Mk III was purchased from the resulting AFTRA-induced settlement.

More plays and readings. More projects. More commercials. Then came the meeting with Stanley Sobel for a role on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW. A soap opera that had been around since Christ was a corporal. They had never before had an actor of color under contract. Not since 1951. I read a few pages of the scene…and Stanley stopped me. “I don’t need to hear anymore.” He showed me a yellow legal pad with the entire first page filled from top to bottom with appointments. “I don’t want to see anyone else. I want you to do this role.”

It was my turn to sit back. With utter sincerity, I told him, “Stanley, I came today just to meet you, so that you could know me. I can’t take this role. I’ve just committed to Joe Papp, to be a part of the Black-Hispanic Repertory Company. We’re going to perform Coriolanus and Julius Caesar in repertory.”

I remember that Stanley then sat back too. And he said something that was to me seemingly cryptic. “OK. You let me concern myself with that.” And I left. (I should mention that Stanley Sobel, before having joined CBS was Joe Papp’s casting director. As had been Eileen Knight and Mary Colquhoun and Rosemary Tishler, among others.)

So, Stanley and Joe decided to make it possible to do both. The next seven months were among the most challenging months of my life. I handled my business. I did the soap in the morning, caught a character class with Stella in the afternoon and did Shakespeare at The Public Theater at night. I did that from late autumn well into the spring. And THEN, they invited me to participate in Shakespeare In the Park that summer. And I said “No. Thank you…but no.”

I was so burned out. I think Denzel assumed my characters that summer. 😉 With all of the internal drama that accompanied our repertory adventure, I’d been dealing with an entirely different issue on the soap. PG wanted to sign me to a long-term deal. Years. I was resistant. I enjoyed my work, the writing, my fellow stars. Yet I was frustrated by the seeming unwillingness to create my own reality. I existed as Executive Assistant to a mogul. Think Ted Turner, but younger. For a while Lisa and Travis ruled daytime as the resident Princess and Prince. And I was his…Hand. Yeah, that you can understand. 😉

So, when it came time sign a contract, I refused to sign for more than six months. They wanted two years. I had “go to hell” money from commercials. I really didn’t consider the money they offered. I knew I didn’t enjoy existing without my own life on this show. After six months, nothing meaningful changed…and I simply left.”

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

In the production JULIUS CAESAR. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker with Morgan Freeman on Deep Impact. Photo credit Tucker.

Tucker’s essay on working with Gregory Hines:

“It’s not listed among Greg’s theater credits, THE LAST MINSTREL SHOW, which starred Della Reese and was slated for Broadway. But after out of town runs in Delaware and Philadelphia, we never arrived at our slated opening at the Helen Hayes Theater. (I still have that NY Times full page ad announcing our arrival) So it goes.

Our producers included Colleen Dewhurst and they simply ran out of money, couldn’t get the sets out of Philly. The music and dancing were compelling, and the book engaged the use of blackface in a time of social change in America. My character, Jimmy “Tuskeegee” White questioned the morality of “corking up” to perform our music, believing it to be demeaning to people of color. In the second act, he confronts Black Sally (Della Reese) with his concerns and choses to quit the production.

Greg had been a performer for all of his life…but this was his first dramatic character role. He was brilliant dancer and singer; his instincts were solid, but he’d had little prior training as an actor. (I’ve had the singular pleasure of having tap danced with Gregory Hines and Jeffrey Thompson on a Broadway stage!) 😉 During the run he approached me one afternoon and asked, “Tucker, every night you play that scene…and you break down every night, often on the same word. How do you do that?” I described to him my training with Meisner and with Stella, spoke of “a preparation” and the actors work of creating a character’s history, back story and how that would inform his work, once in performance.

I don’t remember if Greg ever told me who he chose to study with…but I do remember a call late one nite. I was then living in a Tribeca loft. My phone rang and in hushed tones but full of excitement, Greg said, “Tuck! I’m down in the morgue! These guys are showing me how they do what they do!” Jesus, Greg, the morgue? But good on you! Greg was passionate about growing as an artist. And he was now preparing his character for the film WOLFEN. He continued to elevate his game with each performance, his creative instincts always on point.

And speaking of phone calls, months later I returned home one night from a black tie affair…and had this persistent impulse. CALL GREG! Not sure why…but I did; I left him a message. Days later he returned my call. “Tuck, I’m in Napa with Francis Coppola, working on a script. I think there’s something in it for you. I’ll be in touch.” The project involved was The Cotton Club.

Several weeks later in NY, I took a meeting for the project. I walked into a conference room with just two men. Francis Coppola and Robert Evans. I approached the conference table. They looked at me and then they looked at each other…and in unison, they said, “Kid Griffin.” That led to five months of creative joy…with Greg, with Diane Lane, with Laurence Fishburne and with just about every goddamn Hollywood star imaginable. They all visited our set every week and especially every weekend. For the parties! We had the most beautiful women in the world attached to this project…and they all wanted to meet them. 😉

Greg was a dear friend, a singular artist and left us far too soon. Art is short…and life thereafter, far too long.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

“The Last Minstrel Show .” Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker in The Cotton Club as “Kid Griffin .” Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

On set of The Cotton Club with Greg, Tucker and friends. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Behind the scenes on The Cotton Club. Photo credit Tucker

Tucker’s great essay on his time with commercial for USAA, aptly titled “USAA ,”

“Long ago and far away (70’s, NYC) I was fortunate enough to shoot more than 100 commercials. Those and V/O are a real boost to a young actors bottom line. And then, somehow, I was just no longer “that guy .” Some of those campaigns wandered into the low 5 figures; it was all found money and was padding my pension.

Skip ahead 40 years. Haven’t even had a commercial agent in fifteen years. I hear buzz about a USAA campaign. I’ve been their client since 1968 as a young Lt. I doubted they’d ever cast me, tho My face is too well known. So I kept passing. They called again, said “bring some old photos from the war.” This meet was close by in Sherman Oaks and I had the time, so I stopped by.

The session was run by Dan Bell. Small world. Back in the late 70’s I was visiting patients in NY VA Hospitals with the Veterans Bedside Network. I decided to produce a two character play I’d found about two vets in a foxhole in Vietnam: one black, one white. Very funny, very dark. I got a grant and reached out to Dan, now back in LA. We’d met on an earlier theater piece in NY and I knew he’d be surfer dude perfect. I created a mobile set, sandbags, sound effects, uniforms. Dan flew in and we had a ball performing this dark little one act at the five NY area hospitals. Still have it on tape.

So, we meet, catch up, Dan puts me on tape. I go home and forget about it. A week later, there’s a call. They want to BOOK me. This turns into a whole campaign of multiple spots, lifts, print work….Long story short, that one visit led to a healthy SIX figure payout. You just never know. Btw, all this took place 8 years ago.”

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker appearing in the USAA commercial. Photo credit IMDB.com.

7. What was your experience in working with Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Zemeckis?

I very much enjoyed working with Bob. I was told that I was the first person he ever cast from a video as we had not met in person yet. I had only sent in an audition on tape. Later, Bob and Steve Starkey, producer on the film pulled me aside at the premiere and told me that they had wanted to honor the work that I did for the film, so they made me a lead in it. It was my first big time lead. It was a movie that my parents saw and could share with their friends. It was kind and special for him Bob to do that for me. Other favorites include Francis of course and Alan Pakula.

I worked on Presumed Innocent with Alan Pakula. I enjoyed spending time and working with Harrison Ford and Raul Julia. My testimony scene with Raul Julia had to be cut to make time for the two hour edit. It was some of the best work I have done, and it tore my heart out having it cut. Raul was just wonderful to act with.

It was wonderful working Jodie Foster in Contact. I admire her so much. Jerry Griffin was great to spend time with since he’d been the mission commander at NASA during the moon missions.

I love the Cotton Club: Encore cut and am grateful for Francis releasing that where so many performers got their life back on screen, where some of them are no longer with us. So many of them are gone. Some of them had done so much and were not in the theatrical release of the film, but now they are back. I am so happy for their families and those that are still alive to see themselves on screen in the film. I love the reality he gave me back. I got my screen life back to where my role in the film was to keep things cool at the Cotton Club.

We had initially improved the film on a green screen where Francis had all of these state-of-the-art things such as cameras and effects. Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne did an improv in front of the green screen where you would have paid to watch that improv. The scene is in the movie based on their improv. I saw it and the work was just so delicate and fine. Fred and I used to race everyday while in makeup in doing crossword puzzle for the NY Times. Working with Fred Gwynne on the film was great. He was a very intelligent man; had attended Harvard!

The mob was very, very present on the film. We had been shooting the movie for about five or six weeks and the mob was messing with Francis, so he just left and went to England. The mob was trying to withhold money or something. They resolved their differences and Francis then came back from England to resume filming. I remember another instance where Francis was on set embracing two smaller men. Francis is a bear of a man. The two men he was embracing were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. He was their mentor. It was a scene I will never forget.

For all those years I knew the footage existed that became the encore version of the film. I thought the mob had the footage. Francis was a hired gun on this film. The encore version absolutely flows. I have pictures of being on set where Greg’s daughter Daria and Francis daughter Sophia are running around the set as kids. Tom Waits was my roommate for five months on the shooting of the film. Tom is a trip. On set we were all doing improv’s, even with Nic Cage that got intense. Some people on set were startled by how profane our improvs got.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker in Contact with James Woods and Matthew McConaughey. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker in “Star Trek: Enterprise .” Photo credit Tucker.

Tucker’s essay on his work in Contact, “Contact: Dispatches from the Front ,”

“As usual, I am the bell cow…the point man…as usual, I am doing more work than most and receiving less for it than many. As usual, I am doing it, simply because I love the work…and it’s a good thing, for there is much of it to do. I have perhaps 90% of all the live dialogue…and this is my fourth day of twelve and more hour days…and tomorrow and the following tomorrow’s promise nothing different….no polite chat, this…it is an intense, ‘Mission Impossible’ sequence.

I am the Mission Director. I command…amidst the sea of principals, atmosphere, Jodie Foster video playback and crew. This is no knock on her, she’s generous and hardworking and this is her 64th day…and my 4th. The intricate set of a launch command aboard ship is three-tiered, with perhaps fifteen video monitors and dozens of computer screens everywhere, depicting data, Jodie (Ellie) in the POD (pre-recorded) and ‘live’ cutaway shots of the MACHINE, with blue screen in the background….To ‘dance’ to a pre-recorded master and fit your action between her running cues is a daunting task…add to the degree of difficulty, NEW lines written for us AFTER her master was shot, scripts that do not remotely accurately reflect what she is saying at any given time, and a severely challenged video crew, manfully trying to cue up and playback three separate signals while a camera dollies, pans, zooms, tilts and whips amongst the multiple players, many themselves in motion and you have an inkling, but only an inkling of what I’ve been handling since last Wednesday…

Ain’t complaining, happy to be on board…proud of my ability to ‘block’ as well as ‘go long’ …and I am grateful finally to be receiving words of appreciation from my director for my focus and professionalism. I got it from the first day from the crew and cast…but had begun to feel like ‘the mule’, who is hitched up and expected to pull till he is released at dusk – and I will, just because I do it for my OWN sense of professionalism. But like anyone, I appreciate a pat at the end of the day…and hadn’t received it from he who should have most valued my contribution…

Perhaps because on the first night of shooting, after 8 hours of shooting scenes which involved a NOD FROM ME (and I did it, over and over, never big, never too small, always in the scene), we entered the master set to ‘rehearse and read thru’ the entire launch sequence….and James Woods arrived…I love Jimmy’s work, he’s easily one of my favorite actors, focused, intense, witty…and ON. Since he had NO lines in the work that would require his presence for the next week, he proceeded to take over the rehearsal, arranging business, focus and directions that had little to do with what was to be shot and was in fact undercutting and distorting the reality of my character. After about twenty minutes of this, something happened. Amidst perhaps 60 extras, as many crew and the entire cast of principles present, I stepped forward and WENT OFF…

Without particular anger or personal animus, but in my inimitable way, I told them who the Mission Director was (God) to whom he answered (no one) and that while he might be fired or relieved of duty, as long as I was that Director, I would decide when and if the mission were to be aborted or launched. That’s why I was hired for the launch, that’s my JOB, outranked undoubtedly by many present, but as far as this launch was concerned, I make the decisions…

This took about five minutes, perhaps…there was a silence, perhaps 30 seconds…and then Bob stepped in and redirected our efforts, rather along the lines I’d suggested, James continuing to contribute but acknowledging my point of view…and we went home. That night, I reflected upon the possible folly of my ‘forwardness’ – ‘what had I done!!?’ ‘I’ll never eat lunch in this town again’…but knew I could have done nothing else. Personally, I’d defer in a heartbeat to these major players, but I am absolutely fearless in defense of my character. The next day, and even leaving that night, people came up to me discreetly – crew, cast, to express admiration for my ‘speech’…but more importantly, I learned from key crew, that’s what Jimmy DOES…”He sucks the air out of any room he’s in….(the casting director came up to me at lunch and playfully noted she had “heard about the ‘to-do’ Jimmy and I’d had the night before…and Bob probably admires you for standing up to him.”

Maybe so….but Bob also may have made a mental note that he had a potential ‘loose cannon’ on his hands….which didn’t make my frequent requests for MY NEEDS in handling the demanding pre-recorded track any more welcome or easier…but he seems to have come to realize that I am exclusively focused on ‘the work’ and only want to make it the best it can be in the way he wants it to be….and each day its’ getting better, for he sees my ideas are good and knows I’m thinking right along with him…and it’s becoming fun…but it’s still very hard work…

CONTACT II

Today, February 14, I wrapped my work on the film CONTACT…I experienced such an outpouring of love and affection during my work and particularly as I left, it seems somehow appropriate that it was Valentine’s Day. Earlier in the day, the producer, Steve Starkey had an embossed denim shirt with the film’s logo embroidered on it, left in my trailer. When I thanked him for the cherished memento, he said, “We thank you… for just being Tucker”

My character, the Mission and Test Director, was such a lovely marriage of their vision for the film’s leader of the launch sequences and my own sensibilities as prior military, forceful, articulate, authoritative and comfortable in the driver’s seat. I had been cast, solely from my audition on tape, purportedly the first actor ever so cast by Bob Zemekis, who normally insists upon meeting with each of his actors in person. The technical demands of working in both sequences with a pre-recorded video track were daunting, but I relished the challenge. And because I needed no attention to the persona of the character (he WAS me), I could devote all my energies(and a good thing!) to being in sync with what had already been established and had to be served (first, Jody Foster’s ELLIE on tape, later Tom Skerritt’s DRUMLIN and others, also pre-taped)…

The days were long and exhausting and that fatigue fed into the next, but tired as I was each morning as I arose, I knew that the core crew and cast had been at this since SEPTEMBER!…and that alone demanded MY energy to keep THEIRS up. If there was a difficulty for me, it was that my character was CERTAIN, never tentative, always definite….I could never allow myself the luxury to ‘feel’ my way… and since he was constantly being re- written, it required all of my gifts to keep him ‘on top of everything’, even as the fatigue, the re-writes, the technical video demands continually upped the ante and challenge. I accepted and met the challenge…and was rewarded with their respect. When it was announced this evening that I had completed my work, the entire room, a huge one, filled with people, cast, crew, more than 70, many of whom I had come to know and care for, rose as one and applauded, for an embarrassingly long time. When I quieted them for an instant and told them, “It is always an honor to serve with an elite unit…I salute all of you.” And meant every word; working with such a group of professionals spoils an actor for what lies ahead with lesser cohorts. I left, accepting the thanks, handshakes and hugs from my director Bob, my producer Steve, my ever-so- respected STAR, Jody who surprised and filled my heart with pride when she rose to take me in her arms…the 1st AD, Bruce, Bobby, my camera man, and just ALL of them….

This was their 89th day of shooting (and that doesn’t include weekends and days off). It was Valentine’s Day, it was 9PM and we started at 7:30 AM, they wanted to go have a drink and celebrate with their loved one, but more work remained to be done. Yet they took a moment to let me know that my contribution had been valued and appreciated…and I will hold onto that memory for many a day, for it came from people who work with the best in our field, every day of their professional lives. I know how special each one is in this business…and they told me I am a peer…and that’s all I ever wanted, all I ever aspired to, as an actor. My heart is very full.

Yesterday, I had given a copy of my CD, INCARNATION, to the father and son who ran our craft services. A very gracious and accomplished Black man, John played music of all sorts, all tasteful, in his trailer…and I hoped to repay his kindness of cappuccinos by sharing some of my music…he played it, through the day, yesterday, as cast and crew stopped by for a snack or special coffee…and people continuously came up to me and expressed interest in the music, ‘how could they buy it?’, was that really me singing?…my audio man, Earl, expressed a desire to have a copy (and I’d had a ‘feeling’ I’d wanted to give him one, somehow I KNEW he loved blues). So today, I brought him one, too. And HE played it, quietly, just off the sound stage…and people continued to ask about the music and express their affection and admiration for the songs…so I let those who were computer-literate know that they could put my name into their search- engines and find my homepage and instruction for buying the CD…and last night printed out the mailing addy for those who don’t play on the internet…..but it was fun to share the music with so many…and perhaps that contributed to the universal embrace I experienced from them all…an actor, and professional, yes…but someone with a few more facets than might have first been seen….

We’ll see how many cards Clark receives in the weeks to come, requesting a copy of the music.”

8. What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?

You have to show up. You have to know your profession and be willing to do the work. The joy in each comes not from attention or honors but from fulfilling personal values of that which constitutes excellence.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker in Edinburgh, UK. Photo credit Tucker.

9. As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?

Find and write good stories. There is surely no shortage.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker with Mayor Bloomberg. Photo credit Tucker.

10. What are you most proud of in life and your career?

Surviving critical injuries to learn a new profession. Then succeeding in every aspect in which I was allowed to compete. Soaps, commercials, voice-overs, theater, film, comedy, drama, public affairs, children’s TV.

I do have great concern for our military members and veterans currently serving. I feel some service members need to stand up for what is right and look at what orders are being given and by who. Some Generals need to do the right thing as well and stand up

We need to have good leadership to help us fight global warming and support the environment.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker marching in a later “Welcome Home” parade for Vietnam veterans in NYC where he is a member of the chapter. Photo credit Tucker.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

Tucker speaking on behalf of veterans. Photo credit Tucker.

Tucker’s essay “Mahalia”

MAHALIA

For whatever reasons, on this Christmas Day I’m remembering an Easter Sunday years ago. I recently heard a spiritual, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and flashed back to the late ’70s, when I was performing in MAHALIA, a musical play based on her life. In the first act, I was a member of the choir and other supporting characters; in the second act, I was Minnis, her third husband. Minnis was a jazz pianist, a charmer and a philanderer.

When preparing the character, I struggled to find that emotional connection between him and Mahalia. She was obviously wealthy and renowned, but hardly an object of physical desire.

I thought back to a preview performance I’d seen years before, of a musical called SOON. The cast included Barry Bostwick, Peter Allen and Richard Gere. During that performance, an actress appeared on stage and ascended a staircase to a single spot-lit balcony. She was rather short, rather stout and not particularly attractive. Then she began to sing. And in that moment, she became the most beautiful, the most desirable, the most compelling woman in the universe. In a theater seating hundreds, she sang to me. Each member of the audience had that same experience; her voice, her music, her message was received individually. Her name was Nell Carter.

That memory explained why Minnis loved Mahalia, loved her on every level. Her art, her majestic gift transcended mere physical attractiveness and made her all things desirable. And during the run of this musical (written by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet) each night my character Minnis fell in love with Mahalia, who was performed by the incomparable Esther Marrow, herself a Mahalia protégé.

I was then living in NYC and our performances were in Stamford, Connecticut, which meant a daily drive or train ride to the theater. I’d arranged the rental of a station wagon and a number of the cast shared that drive each day. It was a time of fellowship, jokes, bickering; the animated energy generated by a theatrical troupe.

Today was Easter Sunday. I then lived on Central Park West and I had my pre-show rituals. My day would begin with a walk along the park to buy the Sunday Times, while reflecting upon last night’s performance and my intentions for today’s matinee and evening show. The morning was warm and sunny, the work was going well, and I was looking forward to really nailing my featured love song to Mahalia today.

There’d been some drama in the past regarding my inclination to venture from the notes written and to improvise. I’m not a Broadway baritone, not even really a singer in the true sense of the word. (You’d be surprised how being shot through the throat affects your voice.) But I am musical and a fairly interesting actor. So each show, I walked that fine line of fulfilling the intentions of the composer and fulfilling my own need to express the truth of my character. I’d tell them, “Well, Esther improvises…” And they’d then tell me, “Well, yeah…but she’s ESTHER MARROW!”

As I approached the newsstand on the corner of CPW and 100th St, I noticed two young men exiting the park and running across the street toward me. One wore a red windbreaker. They seemed Hispanic – or is Latino more correct these days? As they reached my side of the street and stopped ten feet away, one cried out to me, “You killed him. You killed him.” The other drew a revolver from his waist, cocked it and aimed it at my chest.

Time stopped, as it does in such moments. One takes in everything. Everything. The smells, the light, the sounds are all super-heightened, the ultimate Kodachrome. I wondered, in abstract, whimsical dispassion, “Does he mean Jesus? It is Easter Sunday…” And then he pulled the trigger.

Imagine standing inside a wind tunnel, yet within the eye of a hurricane. Everything about us roared and swirled, but this microcosm was absolute stillness and silence. There was a click. The sound of a hammer striking…what? A faulty cartridge? A damaged firing pin? An empty chamber? Only God knows and He ain’t talkin’. His friend said, “Man, man, man – you f*****’ up!” In those instances, I’d taken perhaps one step towards them, perhaps two…and have no idea what I intended.

They proceeded to wheel about, race back across CPW and disappear into the park. I stood there for some moments. There was no one around. No one. I collected myself, entered the corner newsstand, bought my Sunday New York Times and walked back to my home. There, I called the police and told them what had happened. They eventually came by; I gave a report and they left to search for the pair. They told me, “You were menaced.” Curious, the subtle difference between menaced and murdered…just an unreliable weapon.

In subsequent years, when I recounted this experience, friends (knowing something of my temperament and history) asked, “So, what’d you do then? Did you take his gun and pistol-whip him and beat the snot out of them?” I’d tell them that life is seldom like a movie. That I simply stood there, remembering close calls in Vietnam, grateful that this encounter had ended so well.

After an hour or so I picked up the rental car, met my cast members and began the drive to Stamford. I don’t remember discussing the morning’s events – not sure why.

During Act One, as we began to sing, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” I suddenly broke down in tears – just lost it, right there on stage in front of everyone. I was led backstage by someone; and there sobbed and sobbed, inconsolably. There was a discussion…could I continue, could I regroup?

They covered for me til the end of the first act and during the intermission, I got my own act together. Act Two proceeded without incident…and I seem to recall I sang my solo rather well that day.

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Cast notables include Esther Marrow, Nat Adderly, Jenifer Lewis and Keith David. 25 DECEMBER 2002

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If the modern American military conducted the 1944 D-Day landings

The most important difference between 1944 and today would be in the realm of guided munitions.  I once heard that a single F-15 packs as much firepower as an entire squadron of WWII era bombers, when you take into account explosive weight and the percentage of ordnance you can get on target (Keep in mind, the F-15 is a Fighter/Bomber, not a dedicated bomber.  If we start talking about the B-52, things get even crazier).  Additionally, Naval Gun Fire support has come a long way since the 1940’s.  US destroyers and cruisers now only come equipped with one or two 5″ main guns.  In the 1940’s, 5″ guns were almost considered an afterthought.  With improved fuses and nearly automatic rates of fire that can be achieved with today’s weapons, you wouldn’t need the hours and hours of shelling they used during WW2 landings.


As far as the landings go, with today’s amphibious landing tactics and equipment, you wouldn’t NEED to land at Omaha beach at all.

 

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Photo: US Navy Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Alicia Tasz

This is an LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushioned).  It is just one of the many ways the US Navy and US Marine Corps get troops from ship to shore.  The main difference between an LCAC and the landing craft of yore is the fact that the LCAC can access almost any beach in the world, and can travel across dry land.  Furthermore, it can achieve incredible rates of speed compared to the Amtracks of WW2 (I think around 70 knots when not weighed down much).  Today the US would be able to basically avoid any defensive strongpoints and just stick their landing forces where ever they figured was the least defended.

Helicopters, in widespread use since the Vietnam War, allow entire infantry companies and battalions to be shuffled about at incredible speed compared to the 1940s.

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Photo: US Army Cpl. Mark Doran

The M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank would probably be as close to invulnerable as anything ever employed in warfare.  The only reasonable option for destroying one with 1944 equipment would be swarming it with infantry and trying to get a grenade inside.  This technique was costly during WW2.  Against an Abrams, with a wingman that can just shower his buddy with HE rounds that do nothing substantial to the armor…

As far as the individual soldier is concerned, the primary difference is the body armor.  Ceramic plates and flak jackets have greatly increased the survivability of the infantryman.  Back in WW2, your armor was a millimeter of cloth.  Today it contains plates that would actually be capable of stopping pretty much any small arms round the Wehrmacht utilized (7.62 AP is the limit, I believe).  A quick look at the WW2 Killed/Wounded ratio [1:1.65] versus the Operation Iraqi Freedom Killed/Wounded ratio [1:7.3] shows that even if nothing but the current body armor was added to the equation, it is likely that the US would have reduced the number of soldiers killed on D-Day from 2,500 to probably around 700.  On the flip side, the infantry of WW2 would be much faster and more agile, as they weren’t towing around 50+ lbs of gear.  So you have a classic heavy infantry vs light infantry situation here.

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Photo: US Army

The Mk19 Automatic Grenade launcher.  Designed for use against troops in the open, troops in trench-lines, light armored vehicles, urban strongpoints, and light fortifications, this 76.2 lb beast is technically man-portable (by someone’s standard) and is widely employed on mounted assets.  Capable of firing 325-375 40mm grenades per minute, there is arguably no more intimidating weapon in the US arsenal that is commonly used in firefights.  I have personally been within 25 meters or so of the beaten zone of someone unleashing a long burst of grenades, and it was, shall we say, disconcerting.  This is probably the one weapon capable of allowing an individual to singlehandedly end a firefight.

Today many infantry companies will have communication assets down to the fire team level.  This allows for much faster response times to dealing with threats or re-organizing after a firefight or simply getting troops to move around where you want them (radios at the platoon level were very rare during World War 2, and what was in play was of limited range and had no encryption capabilities.  When I was in a motorized heavy weapons platoon, we had a dozen PRC-119’s, satcom radios, Blue Force Trackers, etc; we probably had comm capabilities that entire divisions during WW2 would have drooled over.  And we had 40 dudes).

While the small arms themselves haven’t really come a long way, the accoutrements certainly have.  Every infantryman today is probably equipped with, at minimum, a 4x scope, NVG’s, and a laser for use with night vision.  One out of every 4 infantrymen will have a grenade launcher.  Another one will have a light machine gun.  This allows for the ability to achieve combined arms effects using just a single fire team.  And the night-fighting capability, with nothing else, would be a game changer.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy

 

The one thing we would be at a disadvantage in would be combat experience.  The Germans had been fighting for FIVE years by the time the US actually got into France.  Of course, this was an issue during the actual D-Day landings, and didn’t hamper things too much, probably because the allies were facing off against the JV squad, so to speak.  At the same time, our military back then was well trained for large scale battles, as opposed to how the US military is organized today.  Whether or not the current infantryman would fare well is anyone’s guess.

Free Fun Fact:

One thing that hasn’t changed is the M2 .50 Caliber Heavy Machine Gun.  Supposedly something like 95% of the M2s in use currently were originally built during World War 2.  The ammunition, however, has received quite the upgrade (SLAP, API, Raufuss, all fun stuff)

Another Fun Fact:

The United States uses a military doctrine termed “Rapid Domination” (Shock and Awe for the soundbite term).  The Gulf War and the initial invasion of Iraq during OIF are two examples of this doctrine in use.  The basic concept involves gaining air superiority, using tactical and strategic bombers to disrupt and destroy enemy command and control, employing a wide range of offensive maneuvers (amphibious landings, paratrooper drops, armored thrusts, infantry assaults on defensive positions) simultaneously in order to paralyze any decision making ability of the opponent.  This military doctrine is heavily based on the so-called Blitzkrieg doctrine of Nazi Germany.

Read more from Paul Frick here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army Private’s Medal of Honor sold for more than $15,000 by German auction house

A Medal of Honor awarded to an Army infantryman for heroism during the Spanish-American War has been sold for $14,000 euros, or nearly $15,500, a Munich-based auction house confirmed Thursday.

The sale comes after advocates including Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and the National Medal of Honor Museum staged a late campaign to stop the auctioning of the medal, saying it damaged the dignity of the nation’s highest award for combat valor. It belonged to Pvt. Thomas Kelly, who earned it in 1898 while fighting in Santiago, Cuba.


But the German auction house Hermann-Historica, which is not bound by U.S. law, went through with the sale. The listing site shows just one bid; the medal ultimately went for four times the starting bid of 3,000 euros.

Bernhard Pacher, managing director of Hermann-Historica, told Stars and Stripes that he had previously sold four Medals of Honor, and added that the seller was a private individual “looking to beef up his pension.”

Reached for comment Thursday, a Hermann-Historica employee confirmed the medal’s sale but asked that further queries be sent by email. An emailed query did not receive an immediate response.

While the sale and barter of the Medal of Honor is illegal in the U.S., the law is not binding on international sellers.

Dave Knaus, a spokesman for the National Medal of Honor Museum, told Military.com that the museum is looking into who bought the medal and contemplating future steps. He said the museum is currently compiling historical data on other medals that have gone missing or changed hands.

Efforts to locate a surviving relative of Kelly, who died in 1920, had not been successful, Knaus said.

According to Kelly’s medal citation, he “gallantly assisted with the rescue of the wounded from in front of the lines and while under heavy fire from the enemy.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis again accuses Russia of violating a key nuclear treaty

The U.S. defense secretary has again accused Russia of violating a key Cold War arms control treaty, calling the unresolved and increasingly tense dispute with Moscow “untenable.”

Jim Mattis’s remarks on Oct. 4, 2018 after a meeting of NATO military leaders were the latest in a series of increasingly blunt statements by U.S. officials regarding the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

Russia has repeatedly denied U.S. assertions, first made publicly in 2014, that a ground-launched cruise missile Moscow has developed, and reportedly deployed, is in violation of the agreement, known as the INF treaty.


After years of public criticism of Moscow, U.S. officials in 2017 started becoming more aggressive in their approach. And Russia acknowledged the existence of a missile identified by Washington, but denied that it had violated the treaty.

In early October 2018, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said U.S. forces might have to “take out” the Russian missiles if the dispute continues. She later clarified that she wasn’t referring to an actual U.S. military attack.

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Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 14, 2018.

(NATO photo)

“Russia must return to compliance with the INF treaty or the U.S. will need to respond to its cavalier disregard for the treaty’s specific limits,” Mattis said in Brussels.

“The current situation with Russia in blatant violation of this treaty is untenable,” he said.

Congress has backed funding for a new missile program to counter the Russian weapon, and Mattis said in early 2018 that defense planners were working on new low-yield nuclear weapons to force Russia back into compliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Mattis’s comments, saying Russia was imperiling the treaty, which is widely considered a “cornerstone” of European security.

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

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How Toys for Tots became an official mission of the Marine Corps

Christmas is a time for giving. Yeah, family and friends share gifts with one another, but the spirit of Christmas is also about giving to those in need. Every year, you’ll find boxes placed by Toys for Tots, waiting to catch donations of new, unwrapped presents from giving, good-willed samaritans. These gifts go toward brightening up a less-fortunate child’s Christmas morning.

Though you might not know it, this gesture of good will is made possible by the Marine Corps Reserves. Since 1995, Toys for Tots has been listed as an official mission of the Marines to be conducted around the holidays.


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(Official Marine Corps Photo)

I know the Marines were there, accepting toys with a smile, but a salty Gunny knife-handing civilians who didn’t donate would arguably be more effective.

Toys for Tots got its start in the winter of 1947, when Diane Hendricks, wife of Maj. Bill Hendricks of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, wanted to gift a bunch of homemade dolls to kids in need. Diane made the dolls with the hope of giving a happy holiday to some less-fortunate girls — but she quickly realized that there was no such organization to help her help others.

Maj. Hendricks, inspired by his wife’s generosity, gathered his fellow Marine Corps Reservists buddies and placed giant boxes outside of movie theaters across Los Angeles to help attract others to their cause. Off-duty Marines were to accept donated gifts in their Blues and personally thank each donor.

The first Christmas was a massive success. Their small team gathered 5,000 toys and gave them to the children of Los Angeles. It was such a success, in fact, that they were able to elevate the charity to the national level the very next year.

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(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Re-Essa Buckels).

Doing every little bit to make Santa’s job a little easier this Christmas.

Even as the movement gained national recognition, it remained a fairly small-scale operation, done by Marines reservists between drill weekends — but this mission of good will was eating into the time that the Marines needed to spend being Marines.

By 1980, the stipulation that stated gifts had to be “new and unwrapped” was added because the young Marines spent way too much time refurbishing all of the used toys parents didn’t want anymore.

Toys for Tots had grown far bigger far faster than anyone imagined. The Marines knew they needed to expand the program to keep giving toys to children that needed them, but they couldn’t do it at the expense of being Marines. So after 44 years of being an unofficial program of Marine Reservists, they sought official recognition from the Pentagon to keep going. In 1991, The Marine Toys for Tots finally became an actual charity.

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(Air Force Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Ray Lloyd)

So, help out your fellow Marines and donate a toy or two when you see their boxes. It really will go a long way.

This new recognition came with many perks — and one huge drawback. First, it allowed the charity to work with organizations to take on large-scale donations and financial assistance. It also meant that people could now mark off any given resent as a “charitable donation,” which comes in handy just before tax season. New employees, outside of the Marines, could come handle some of the legwork. And, to top it all off, the organization was able to use funds to get needed materials, like boxes and wrapping paper, without the Marines spending their personal money on it.

But this all came in direct conflict with the military’s stance on staying out of the public sector. Despite being a program made by Marines, carried out by Marines for 44 years, and having “Marine” in the title (its full name is the “Marine Toys for Tots Foundation”), the United States military is not supposed to endorse any civilian organization, company, or charity.

This awkwardness needed to be addressed and, in 1995, the Marine Toys for Tots Organization became the one and only organization to earn an exception when Secretary of Defense William J. Perry added “assisting the Toys for Tots” as an official mission of the United States Marine Corps.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why a popular deployment medication caused crazy nightmares

Before service members deploy, they undergo several different medical screenings to check if they’re capable of making it through the long stretch.


We get poked and prodded with all types of needles and probes prior to getting the “green light” to take the fight to the enemy.

After acquiring your smallpox vaccination — which means you’re going to get stuck in the arm about 30 times by a needle containing a semi-friendly version of the virus —  you’ll receive a bag full of antibiotics that you’re ordered to take every day.

That’s where things get interesting.

Related: Why the most dreaded injection is called the ‘peanut butter’ shot

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LCpl. Daniel Breneiser, right, gets vaccinated against smallpox by HN Nathan Stallfus aboard USS Ponce before heading out. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

Since most countries don’t have the same medical technology as the U.S., troops can get violently sick just from occupying the foreign area. The World Health Organization reported that over 75% of all people living in Afghanistan are at risk for malaria.

In the ongoing efforts of the War on Terrorism, thousands of troops have deployed to the Middle East. Each person runs the risk of exposure if they’re stung by an infected, parasitic mosquito.

To prevent malaria, service members are ordered to take one of two medications: Doxycycline or Mefloquine (the latter of which was developed by the U.S. Army).

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Cpl. Timothy Dobson, a fire team leader with second platoon, Ground Combat Element, Security Cooperation Task Force Africa Partnership Station 2011 takes doxycycline once per day in accordance with a weekly dosage of mefloquine to prevent the spread of Malaria. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Timothy L. Solano)

Also Read: This SEAL was shot 27 times before walking himself to the medevac

Countless troops report having minor to severe nightmares after taking the preventive antibiotic over a period of time — but why? Mefloquine is a neurotoxic derivative antimalarial medication that is linked to causing “serious and potentially lasting neuropsychiatric adverse reactions.”

Mefloquine is a neurotoxic derivative antimalarial medication that is linked to causing “serious and potentially lasting neuropsychiatric adverse reactions.”

According to the Dr. Remington Nevin, the symptoms for taking the preventive medication includes severe insomnia, crippling anxiety, and nightmares. Multiple service members were instructed to take the medication while without being informed of the potential side effects.

In 2009, the Army did indeed depopularized the use of mefloquine.

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Watch the effects of an A-10’s GAU-8 cannon on an enemy building

What happens when U.S. troops in Afghanistan take fire from Taliban fighters, fortified inside a building?


It’s pretty simple. Call in the Warthogs to bring on the BRRRRRT.

The BRRRRRT comes from the A-10’s GAU-8 Avenger cannon. The Avenger fires beer-bottle-sized 30 mm chunks of aluminum alloy at 3,342 feet per second.

More than one re-upload on the internet says the attack is from a Pakistani F-16, but the distinctive BRRRRRT from the GAU-8 is an unmistakeable sound.

So whatever this building is made of – concrete, cinderblocks, who knows – didn’t stand a chance. It’s no wonder everyone who calls in close air support and gets an A-10 gun run has the same reaction to the jaw-dropping power of the GAU.


Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kenny Kennemer

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7 epic memories you’d love to relive from your military service

Since the military is considered a way of life, young service members who left home just a few months ago will embark on a journey that will have many ups and downs.


They’ll encounter all sorts of different personalities and create epic memories along the way.

When we’re out, we tend to reminisce about the times of old, and for the most part, we’d give anything to relive those moments again.

So check out these epic memories most vets would love to go through at least one more time.

1. Graduating boot camp

After going through weeks of intense training, you get to stand proudly in front of your family and friends at graduation as you officially earn your title of sailor, airman, soldier, Coast Guardsman or Marine.

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Navy boot camp graduation. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

2. That first epic barracks party

One of the best parts about living in the barracks are the parties! For the most part, they’re a sausage fest depending on your duty station. You can learn a lot about yourself from how awesome you are to how much beer you can drink before throwing up.

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A party at the Guantanamo enlisted barracks. (Wikipedia Commons)

3. The good times on deployment

When troops deploy overseas, all they have is the men next to them for support — and an occasion mail drop. Since we’re gone for the majority of the year, we have plenty of downtime to “smoke and joke” — which usually involves making good friends and epic memories.

You’ll never make better friends than the ones you make in combat.

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HM3 (FMF) Kirkpatrick and SSgt. Chanthavong from 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, hang out before heading out.

4. Your first firefight

Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of putting rounds down range at the bad guys. After the chaos ends, you typically critique the sh*t out of yourself and wish you handled things differently.

military service
Marines taking contact from the enemy. They’ll get them soon enough.

5. Getting that much-deserved promotion

Getting promoted in front of your fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms for a job well done is an epic feeling. Hopefully, it’ won’t be your only time.

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A military promotion. (Source: Army.mil)

6. That moment you returned home from deployment

After being gone for the better part of the year, returning home to a positive atmosphere is the best. After this, it’s unlikely you’ll get that sort of patriotic greeting again — unless you re-deploy.

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U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tony Harp/Released

Also Read: 6 military cadences you will never forget

7. Walking out of the personnel office with your DD-214

If military service wasn’t for you, getting that “honorable” discharge is like being reborn. Since nobody remembers being born the first time — this moment is super special.

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster
This is very close what it feels like, including the outfit.

What were your favorite memories? Comment below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 disgusting diseases older troops had to worry about

So, it turns out there’s a reason your local medic wants to look at your body parts and fill you with pills, and it’s not because they’re a pervert — I mean, they probably are, but that’s not why they’re doing it. See, your ancestors fought in wars where it was fairly common their kidneys to swell up and burn, their genitals to start dripping pus, and their livers to grow holes and leak bile into their blood.

If you consider any of the descriptions above humorous or entertaining (sicko), then read on!


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Soldiers undergo delousing on the Serbian front of World War I, an effort to reduce diseases like trench fever.

(Popular Science Magazine)

Trench fever

Trench fever was a fever characterized by skin lesions, sore muscles and joints, and headaches — yeah, not much fun. It was first recognized in 1915 as it spread through the trenches of World War I, but it also broke out in some German units in World War II.

It was spread through infected body lice and usually cleared up in a couple of months, but became chronic in rare cases. At least, with trench fever, the lesions were mostly confined to your skin and back… unlike the next entry.

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Front and back cover of a truly disturbing book given to World War I troops headed back to the states, apparently filled to the brim will all sorts of disgusting genital bacteria.

(National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

Literal blue balls (thanks to genital lesions!)

We’re not including a photo here for obvious reasons. A soft chancre is an “infectious, painful, ragged venereal ulcer” that develops at the site of Haemophilus ducreyi. The bacteria can also cause “buboes, or ‘blue balls'” according to a 1918 pamphlet issued by the War Department.

After a regrettable Google search and lots of crying, this author can confirm that the ulcers look very painful, but nothing about the affected organs looks particularly blue.

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Treatment for gonorrhea in 1911. Yes, the doctor is holding what you think he is, and that injection is going where you hoped it wouldn’t.

The clap and syphilis

While gonorrhea — also known as “the clap” — and syphilis are still common STDs, early detection on military bases and a lack of fraternization with locals has made it less of a problem in modern wars than when your grandparents fought. But for troops marching across Europe, hitting on as many French girls as they could, getting a series of sores on their genitals or seeing the dreaded discharge come out of their naughty bits was a real possibility.

And, back then, the only sure-fire test available for diagnoses was getting “rodded off the range,” a test where a doctor slid a cotton swab into a man’s “barrel” and swirled it around 5-10 times. Now, blood and urine tests are used instead. Big win for modern science.

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Not today, tuberculosis. Not today.

Tuberculosis

Another disease that was a bigger problem for grandpa than it is for you, tuberculosis is a nasty infection that usually hits the lungs, causing bloody coughs, but can also wreck your liver, kidneys, and other organs. It causes chest pain, breathing troubles, fatigue, chills, and other issues that absolutely suck, especially while in a World War I trench.

It is spread through the air and infected surfaces, which is a big problem when thousands of dudes are sleeping on top of each other in crowded bunkers.

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Typhoid Mary, famous for being imprisoned by New York authorities after she was found to be a carrier of typhoid fever.

(Public domain)

Typhoid fever

Typhoid fever, caused by salmonella that infects the intestines, was a huge problem in the Civil War and World War I. Back then, the particularly bad sanitation practices allowed fecal material from infected troops to make it into the food and into the digestive tracts of healthy ones. It triggered skin lesions, diarrhea or constipation, trouble breathing, and fever, among other symptoms.

In the Civil War, doctors hadn’t even figured out the disease yet, and treatment basically involved throwing a bunch of home remedies at the problem while continuing the study the disease’s spread. By World War I, we at least knew what caused it and had a vaccine, but still no cure. It wasn’t until after World War II that the disease became treatable.

War nephritis

Nephritis is inflammation of the kidneys. “War nephritis” was named by doctors in World War I who were looking into a sudden increase in cases with additional symptoms, like headaches, vertigo, and shallow breath.

While it’s still very possible to experience nephritis in war today, the worsened symptoms observed in World War I were thought to be tied to conditions in the trenches and along the front. Nephritis limits the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood, and exposure to the cold and wet conditions of wartime Europe made the problem much worse.

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This is your intestines on dysentery.

Dysentery

Dysentery has a reputation for being a particularly bad case of diarrhea, but that’s not a full picture of the problem. It’s diarrhea that can last for months and include bloody stools. Even when treated, it could lead to secondary infections, like hepatitis and liver abscesses. The liver degradation leads to a buildup of toxins in the blood and body.

So, yeah, pretty horrible. And troops shifting between different fronts and battlefields in World War I allowed different versions of the disease to reach new places and vulnerable populations. Today, it’s easier to diagnose and treat, but the best safeguard is good hygiene and sanitation.

“Soldier’s heart” or effort syndrome

Effort syndrome, also known as “soldier’s heart syndrome,” wasn’t well understood, but it was a tendency for soldiers in the Civil War and World War I to experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, exhaustion, and cold extremities. It’s thought that the syndrome may have been caused by a previous disease, like fever, jaundice, dysentery, etc. combining with the stress and rigors of war.

Over 36,000 troops were discharged in World War I for heart ailments.

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