5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

In the past few years, dozens of veteran and civilian Americans left the comfort and safety of their homes to tackle what they saw as an unspeakable evil growing from the Middle East — the Islamic State. A new television documentary series from History followed those Americans as they fought with Kurdish fighters in Syria. The show pulls no punches in showing what combat looks like on the front lines of the fight against the world’s most ruthless terrorists.

You can catch Hunting ISIS every Tuesday at 11pm on History but read on and learn about how and why Americans fought the good fight long before their country was ready.”I heard the stories, I knew that ISIS was evil,” says PJ, a Marine Corps vet who served in Iraq. “But you can never understand the brutality that they’re capable of until you see it with your own eyes… Most people in America aren’t able or willing to come over here,” he says. “And for them, I will carry what weight I can.”


The group that came to be dubbed ISIS by Americans came to global recognition in 2014 while capitalizing on power vacuums in Iraq and Syria. The group managed to capture large swaths of both countries. In Iraq, ISIS captured most of Fallujah, took the provincial capital of Mosul, and even approached the outskirts of Baghdad.

 

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
The ISIS terror state at the height of power in 2014.

(UnderstandingWar.org)

In Syria, ISIS occupied most of the country’s eastern half, basing out of the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa. At the height of its power in 2014, the would-be terrorist state controlled the lives of some 10 million people. What was most horrifying about life under ISIS control was not only the restrictions on personal freedoms for those 10 million people, but the punishments for breaking ISIS law, executions of political prisoners and POWs, and the genocides committed against “apostate” ethnic groups, especially Yazidis.

Horrified by the ongoing violence, many American veterans of the war in Iraq were inspired by the dogged resistance of the Kurdish Peshmerga as they fought to push back the dark tide of ISIS’ brand of Islamic extremism. The Peshmerga has long been the most effective fighting force in the region and a natural U.S. ally against ISIS.

Long before that alliance was solidified, and long before other regional powers, like Iran and Russia, decided to intervene in the two countries, some American veterans decided to travel to Iraq and join that fight alongside the region’s only remaining stand against terrorist domination. For them, they would be fighting the good fight and doing the right thing against the wishes of the U.S. government and military. They fight unpaid and unsanctioned. Worst of all, they face jail time if they’re caught by Americans — execution if they’re caught by the enemy.

“This battlefield called out to me personally, being that I have blood, sweat, and tears on that sand,” says PJ. “How many of my brothers lost their lives fighting those scumbags in Iraq? And now here they are from Raqqa to Mosul… we can stop this if we stand together.”

But the Islamic State isn’t the only evil Americans fought before their country was ready.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Members of the Lafayette Escadrille pose in front of their Nieuport fighters at the airfield in Verdun, France circa 1917.

1. World War I – Lafayette Escadrille

Named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general who was instrumental in the success of the American Revolution, the Lafayette Escadrille was a squadron of American airmen who volunteered to fight for the French against Germany in the first world war in 1916 – almost a full year before the United States entered the war on the side of the Entente.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
American volunteers Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy, fighting in the Polish Air Force. The Soviets placed a large bounty on Cooper’s head.

 

2. Kosciuszko Squadron – Polish-Soviet War

For three years, Poland fought Soviet Russia for control of parts of Eastern Poland and Ukraine. American volunteers, wary of the spread of Communism to the West, volunteered for the Polish Air Forces against the Soviets with notable successes — the Soviets put half-million ruble bounty on one aviator’s head. One Polish general said of the Americans,

“The American pilots, though exhausted, fight tenaciously. During the last offensive, their commander attacked enemy formations from the rear, raining machine-gun bullets down on their heads. Without the American pilots’ help, we would long ago have been done for.”

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Tom Mooney Company from the Lincoln Battalion. Jarama, Spain circa 1937.

 

3. Lincoln Battalion – Spanish Civil War

Fascism was the true enemy in Spain, where those loyal to the democratic Second Spanish Republic fought Francisco Franco’s nationalism for three years before their defeat in 1939. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were among the countries who officially supported the Nationalists, while the Soviet Union supported the left-leaning Republicans. Meanwhile, Britain and the U.S. officially stayed out of the fighting.

Many, many volunteers poured in from all over the world to fight for the Republican army in the International Brigades. For the Americans, they joined what was known as the Abraham Lincoln brigades, an amalgamation of English-speaking British and American volunteers.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
American pilots of No 71 ‘Eagle’ Squadron rush to their Hawker Hurricanes at Kirton-in-Lindsey, March 1941.

 

4. Eagle Squadrons – The Battle of Britain

The early days of World War II were dark days for the British. The threat of Nazi invasion loomed large over the whole of the island. We know today that they were relatively safe across the English Channel, but they hardly thought so back then. But after the seeds of our “special relationship” with the United Kingdom were sown in World War I, many Americans eschewed American neutrality to join the RAF in giving Jerry a black eye.

Those men would join the RAF’s three Eagle Squadrons. The first was formed in September 1940 and fought with the British until their units were transferred to the U.S. 8th Air Force in 1942.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

5. The Flying Tigers – WWII China

A truly joint operation, the Flying Tigers were formed from a bold group of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps airmen and placed under the command of a retired American general attached to the Chinese Air Force. Three squadrons of 90 aircraft trained in Burma well before the U.S. entry to World War II. So, when their first combat mission came calling just 12 days after the attack at Pearl Harbor, they were more than ready.

When the U.S. came to take them back, they were made part of the U.S. Army’s 14th Air Force – the 23rd Fighter Group. The 23rd still flies planes with shark teeth nose art on their A-10 fleet, an homage to the P-40 Warhawks flown by the Flying Tigers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

All Green Berets are inspiring. Here are 5 of the best

It’s the mission of all branches of the U.S. military to protect all citizens, defend liberty and uphold the Constitution. Being a good citizen entails giving back to each branch in every way we can.

The Green Berets, founded in 1952 by John F. Kennedy, are celebrating their 68th birthday today. Take a moment to honor some special members of the “warrior-diplomat” ranks as they continue to protect and honor our country.


5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Matthew Williams

Look to the heroic acts of Sergeant Matthew Williams, who took heroic action to save the lives of his fellow soldiers in the Battle of Shok Valley, which took place in Afghanistan in 2008.

According to other Berets who had been in Williams’ regimen, Williams helped to evacuate two soldiers who had been shot from the battle. Williams saved the soldiers’ lives and endured minimal casualties.

Williams had been deployed multiple times, serving in Afghanistan and in other areas of need. Trump upgraded Williams’ Silver Star, which he earned in 2008, to a Medal of Honor on October 3, 2019.

Regarding Williams’ actions, Trump noted that, “Matt’s incredible heroism helped ensure that not a single American soldier died in the battle of Shok Valley.” Further, he noted that,””Matt is without question and without reservation one of the bravest soldiers and people I have ever met. He’s a brave guy. And he’s a great guy.”

Williams added, “”I hope I can wear the Medal with honor and distinction and represent something that’s much bigger than myself, which is what it means to be on a team of brothers, and what it means to be an elite Special Forces soldier.”

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Ronald J. Shurer

Additionally, another Special Forces Soldier who fought in the same battle was also awarded a Medal of Honor: Ronald J. Shurer. Shurer, a medic, ran through open fire to aid a soldier who had shrapnel stuck in his neck. In total, Shurer aided four wounded soldiers despite suffering gunshot wounds himself.

The deep moral dedication needed to selflessly aid others in the face of a surprise attack by 200 soldiers is astounding and something to be proud of.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace

The valor of the Green Berets stretches back to their inception. Humbert Roque Versace (nicknamed “Rocky” by his colleagues) joined the Armed Forces in Norfolk in 1937, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bush for his heroic actions as a prisoner of War in Vietnam.

In addition to his prestigious Medal of Honor, Versace was honored in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes by Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Melvin Morris

Like Versace, a number of Green Berets have been awarded a Medal of Honor for heroic action in Vietnam. However, soldier Melvin Morris was awarded a MOH not for heroic action as a prisoner of war, but for retrieving the body of a fallen sergeant after pushing back enemy lines single handedly with a bag of grenades. The Beret even was able to free his battalion from the enemy forces that oppressed it in this crusade.

That’s badass.

Morris was shot three times in the endeavor but survived after being rushed to medical care. He was awarded a MOH by President Obama in 2014 and was later indicted into the Hall of Heroes.

Kyle Daniels

The Green Berets are not only heroes – they are also innovators. 10th Group Special Forces soldier Kyle Daniels was tired of seeing the American Flag burned in times of trial, such as the ones we’re in now, and invented a flag that physically won’t burn. The Firebrand Flag Company now proudly boasts fireproof flags, a symbol of the America we know and love. Fire and oppression won’t bring us down.

Each member of the U.S. Armed Forces, before being indicted to the military, pledges to:

“Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; [that I will] bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and [that I will] obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

President Kennedy established the Green Berets with the promise that the elite unit of the military would be, “A symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.” The Green Berets are not just capable of their mission, they are excellent in upholding their duty to our country.

Honor any Green Berets you may know, today and any other day. It’s all too easy to forget that the life of an American soldier is dedicated to the well-being of our country, something which, in good conscience, should not be forgotten and honored in every way possible.

Articles

Watch a 20mm Lahti anti-tank rifle rip through steel plates

The Lahti anti-tank rifle looks a little unusual, showing a pair of skis on the front. But then again, it does come from Finland.


According to Modernfirearms.net, the Lahti L-39, also known as the Norsupyssy — or “elephant gun” — fired a 20x138mm round and had a 10-shot clip. While not effective against the most modern tanks, like the Russian T-34, the rifle proved to be useful against bunkers and other material targets. One variant was a full-auto version used as an anti-aircraft gun.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t laugh. According to the 25th Infantry Division Association’s website, American personnel used the Browning Automatic Rifle — or BAR — against the Japanese planes during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This semi-auto rifle was kept in Finnish military stocks until the 1980s, when many were scrapped. This makes the M107 Barrett used by the United States military look like a mousegun.

A number of these rifles, though, were declared surplus and sold in the United States in the early 1960s. The Gun Control Act of 1968, though, placed these rifles under some very heavy controls — even though none were ever used in crimes.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
A Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle used during World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In this video, the punch this rifle packed is very apparent. The people who set up the test put up 16 quarter-inch steel plates. You can see what that shell does to the plates in this GIF.

via GIPHY

For a real in-depth look at this awesome gun — and the way they set up this firepower demonstration — look at the whole video below:

FullMag, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

Celebrating the last Doolittle Raider

(Editor’s Note – To commemorate the 78th anniversary of a legendary mission, the following is an updated repost of a story with retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders originally published October 3, 2016 and before his death April 9, 2019, he was 103.)

Standing proudly in front of a B-25 Mitchell on display for a recent airshow in the central Texas town of Burnet, retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole slowly walked up to the antique bomber and clutched one of its propeller blades.

The last surviving Doolittle Raider, who had just marked his 101st birthday a few days before, smiled as he reminisced in the shadow of the bomber — a link to his storied past.


Solo Mission

vimeo.com

“When we got the B-25, it was a kick in the butt,” he later said, adding that he first flew the B-18 Bolo out of flight school. “It was fast and very maneuverable, with a good, steady bombing platform. You could fly it all over.”

Seventy-plus years ago, he co-piloted a similar bomber alongside then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle during a pivotal mission April 18, 1942, that helped turn the tide for the allies in the Pacific theater of World War II.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

A U.S. Army Air Force B-25B Mitchell medium bomber, one of sixteen involved in the mission, takes off from the flight deck of the USS Hornet for an air raid on the Japanese Home Islands on April 18, 1942.

U.S. Air Force

As the final member of the famed 80-man Army Air Forces unit, Cole was chosen to announce the name of the Air Force’s newest bomber, the B-21 Raider, at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference on Sept. 19 in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve never flown in any of the modern bombers so it’s pretty hard to realize how all of the improvements have meant to aviation,” he said at the Sept. 10 airshow. “All I can say is that the B-25 was like having a Ford Model T, (and now pilots are) getting into a Mustang.”

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Crew No. 1 (Plane #40-2344, target Tokyo): 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. Cole is the last surviving member of the “Doolittle Raid” crews, having celebrated his 101st birthday.

U.S. Air Force

Last of the Raiders

Following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle developed a plan to retaliate with a daring air raid on Japan. Without escort fighters, he and the other crewmembers flew 16 modified Army B-25s off an aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, for a one-way trip that had the makings of a suicide mission. The plan called for the aircraft, which were incapable of landing back on the aircraft carrier, to bomb industrial and military targets in five cities on the Japanese home islands and then continue on to friendly airfields in China.

Forced to launch 10 hours earlier than planned, due to the task force being spotted by a Japanese patrol boat, many aircrews later had to bail out of their fuel-parched aircraft after dropping their bomb loads. Doolittle’s crew, including Cole, parachuted into China and linked up with Chinese guerillas operating behind Japanese lines who helped them escape.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, stands in front of a refurbished U.S. Navy B-25 Mitchell displayed at an airshow in Burnet, Texas. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community and guests as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.

U.S. Air Force // Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“The main memory I have was when my parachute opened,” Cole said of the mission. “But that was part of the job. I’d rather be sitting here than worried about a parachute jump.”

Being alone to tell the Raiders’ story these days has been something of a paradox for Cole.

“You can’t help but be happy that you’re here but on the other side of the coin you also wish that the people who were with you were here too,” he said. “But you know that that’s not possible so you have to live with it.”

The average age of the Raiders during the mission was 22, while Cole was a 26-year-old lieutenant, according to his daughter, Cindy Cole Chal.

“Dad was older on the raid,” she said. “Nobody thought that Dad would be the last one, even though he’s been in excellent health.”

Former Staff Sgt. David Thatcher was the second to last living Raider before he died at the age of 94. He was buried with full military honors June 27 in Montana.

As a 20-year-old gunner in Flight Crew No. 7, then-Cpl. Thatcher saved his four other crewmembers when their B-25 crash-landed into the sea near the Chinese coast after it bombed Japanese factories in Tokyo. He pulled them to safety on the surrounding beach and applied life-saving medical treatment, despite having injuries himself. He later earned the Silver Star for his actions.

Meanwhile, Cole parachuted into rainy weather at night and landed in a tree located on precarious terrain.

“I was fortunate in that I never touched the ground. My parachute drifted over a tall pine tree and caught on top leaving me about 10 feet off the ground,” he recounted in a 1973 letter posted on the official Doolittle Raider website. “At daybreak I was able to see that the terrain was very rough and had I tried to look around at night; probably would have fallen down a very steep hill.”

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

In a photograph found after Japan’s surrender in 1945, Lt. Robert L. Hite, copilot of crew 16, is led blindfolded from a Japanese transport aircraft after his B-25 crash landed in a China after bombing Nagoya on the the “Doolittle Raid” on Japan and he was captured. He was imprisoned for 40 months, but survived the war.

U.S. Air Force

Once the sun rose, Cole walked westward and the next day he found an outpost belonging to the Chinese guerillas, the letter states.

On April 18, 2015, Cole and Thatcher were presented the Congressional Gold Medal for the Raiders’ efforts, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.

In his speech, a playful Cole couldn’t resist a touch of humor.

“Tonight’s affair couldn’t have been planned more accurately,” Cole said. “As I remember, the mission was over, it was Saturday night on the 18th of April and about this time David Thatcher was on the beach in China saving the rest of his crew and I was hanging in my parachute in a tree.”

Also at the ceremony, Thatcher spoke candidly as he gave advice to today’s Airmen.

“Be prepared for anything you run into — we weren’t,” he said. “Learn everything you possibly can, and be good at it.”

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Lt. Col. Dick Cole, a Doolittle Raider, smiles while looking out of a B-25 aircraft April 20, 2013, on the Destin Airport, Fla. The B-25 is the aircraft he co-piloted during the Doolittle Raid.

U.S. Air Force // Staff Sgt. David Salanitri

Turning point

Seven Raiders died during the mission: three were killed in action while another three were captured and executed and one died of disease in captivity.

The bombing runs did little damage but the mission rekindled the morale of the American people and struck fear into the Japanese with aircraft reaching their homeland.

“Knowing that we did the mission and did it like it was supposed to be done, we felt pretty good about it,” Cole said.

In response, the Japanese maneuvered their forces from around Australia and India to the Central Pacific, and sent two aircraft carriers to Alaska.

“The Japanese thought we were going to make more visits. But we didn’t have any equipment to do it and we had no plans for it,” Cole said. “For some reason they moved two carriers to Alaska, thinking that’s where we came from. When they did that, it evened up the number of carriers we had available for Midway.”

The Battle of Midway proved to be a major turning point in the war. Believing their Central Pacific flank to be vulnerable because of the Doolittle Raid, the Japanese launched an invasion force to secure the isolated atoll of Midway to establish a base and airfield. Unaware that U.S. Naval Intelligence had broken their naval codes and knew the date and location of the impending attack, the Japanese sailed directly into an ambush set by three U.S. carriers.

When the smoke cleared, U.S. Navy dive-bombers had sunk four Japanese carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, all members of the six-carrier force that had launched the attack on Pearl Harbor, and more than 3,000 men, including many experienced combat pilots. The U.S. lost one carrier, the USS Yorktown, and about 300 men. The Japanese remained on the defensive for the rest of the war.

“When the time came for the Battle of Midway, the (U.S.) Navy was able to win and that started the Japanese on the downhill,” he said.

‘Single-engine time’

Nowadays, Cole has shifted his focus away from the twin-engine bomber to his tractor and lawnmower. He refuses to let his age stand in the way of his daily chores. So when not traveling for events, he tends to his acreage in Comfort, Texas, about an hour’s drive northwest from San Antonio.

“People ask me if I’m getting any flying time and I say, ‘Well, I’m getting a lot of single-engine time with the lawnmower,” he said, chuckling.

To keep the memory of Doolittle and the rest of the Raiders alive, he helps sell his book, “Dick Cole’s War,” which documents not only the Doolittle Raid, but his service after that mission with the First Air Commandos in Burma. Proceeds from the book go into a scholarship fund in Doolittle’s name for students in the aviation field.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, holds a coin that has a coveted picture with his mother from 1942. The personally coveted coin was created to celebrate his 100th birthday last year. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community of Burnet, Texas as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.

U.S. Air Force // Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Cahl estimates her father has put in hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sales of books and signed lithograph prints into the fund to honor Doolittle, who died in 1993.

“All the time when I was flying with Colonel Doolittle, I was in awe over the fact that I was sitting next to him,” Cole said. “He put the word ‘team’ in the forefront of the English language.”

Now the sole survivor, Cole wants no part being the poster child for the historic mission.

“You did the mission. You did what you were supposed to do,” he said. “The people who were involved are all passing (away) and that’s the way it ends.

“I didn’t think any of the Raiders wanted to be singled out. We just wanted to be part of the big picture.”

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, smiles as he honors the U.S. flag during the singing of the national anthem at an airshow in Burnet, Texas. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community and guests as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.

U.S. Air Force // Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 heroes who emerged from the grounding of the Guardian

There are a lot of badasses in military service. Many have proven themselves in combat, but there are some who manage real heroics without facing the enemy. Even in peacetime, some very bad accidents happen.


In January of 2013, the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessel USS Guardian (MCM 5) hit a reef off the Philippines and was well and truly stuck. The ship was eventually dismantled in place and her commanding officer and other top personnel were relieved. There were no serious injuries among the 80 crewmen of the ship, but it wasn’t blind luck that kept everyone safe — sailors demonstrated some real heroism that day.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Heavy waves crash against the grounded mine countermeasure ship USS Guardian (MCM 5), which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on Jan. 17. The grounding and subsequent heavy waves constantly hitting Guardian have caused severe damage, leading the Navy to determine the 23-year old ship is beyond economical repair and is a complete loss. (U.S. Navy photo)

Damage Controlman 1st Class Jeffrey Macatangay was one of those sailors. He, joined by Damage Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Jean Isidore and Mineman 3rd Class (SW) Matthew Pekarcik, went into a bilge where five gallons of water flooded the ship each minute. He had all of 18 inches of clearance and was in a very confined space. Despite this, he managed to shore up an air-conditioning unit, keeping the ship from losing electrical power. That bought time for the crew to get off the vessel.

One other sailor, a search-and-rescue swimmer, Mineman 3rd Class Travis Kirckof, would perform an even more amazing feat. On the day the Guardian ran aground, some of the ship’s life rafts drifted away after the furious seas snapped the lines holding them to the ship. After one sailor helped keep the remaining rafts from drifting off, Kirckof would help 46 sailors reach safety, spending five hours in the water to do so.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Travis Kirckof, pictured here receiving a Good Conduct Medal, spent hours in the water helping 46 of his shipmates to safety. (US Navy photo)

His actions were credited with saving at least two lives.

All four sailors received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for their actions. They may have never faced an enemy in combat, but they proved they were badass sailors when the chips were down.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens to North Koreans caught trying to defect

Scott Kim first escaped North Korea at the age of 17 in 2001. At the time, he and his mother only wanted to get across the border to China so they could eat hot meals. Growing up during North Korea’s deadly famine in the late ’90s, Kim had spent much of his childhood starving.

Today, Kim owns a business trading automobile and railway parts in South Korea. He is currently working on an English-language memoir about his experiences with the help of Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), a volunteer-run organization in Seoul helping defectors develop English skills.

But it was a long and dangerous six years in and out of China and North Korea before he got to Seoul.


Most North Koreans defect by crossing North Korea’s northern border to China via the Tumen or Yalu rivers. Then they must smuggle their way across China’s vast expanse to its southern border with Laos or Vietnam. From there, they cross into Thailand or Cambodia and go to the South Korean embassy to ask for help. It’s a journey that can cost up to $5,000, which must be paid to “brokers” in each country to arrange the escape.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Inscription stone marking the border of China and North Korea in Jilin

Paying $5,000 to make it to South Korea or the United States was far out of reach for Kim and his mother. Instead, he and his mother lived as undocumented immigrants and worked as farm laborers. But one year after escaping North Korea, Kim’s neighbor reported his status to the police, who brought him and his mother back to North Korea. Kim was taken to a detention center, where authorities determine where to send defectors next.

“When we reached the detention center in North Korea, we lost all our rights as human beings,” Kim told Business Insider. “We were treated like animals, literally. We had to crawl on the floor to move from place to place.”

Kim was put in a cell with 20 other defectors. There was one toilet in the corner and no space to lie down. Day and night, the defectors sat on the ground.

“It was our punishment because we were sinners. I don’t know why we were sinners,” he said.

When he or other defectors were told to down the corridor to the warden’s office, they were made to crawl on their hands and feet. Officers beat them with gloves and sticks as they went.

An estimated 100,000 North Koreans or more currently live in detention centers, political prisons, or labor camps where they endure hard labor, torture, and starvation.

Kim’s description of his experience comes amid President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has been accused of killing his own people. But when asked about the North Korean dictator’s human rights violations, Trump appeared to be an apologist for the dictator’s actions.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

The first time Kim was caught, he got lucky.

Despite the fact that one of North Korea’s biggest reeducation camps is in Chongori, near his hometown in Musan, Kim was sent to a center further south. Because no one knew him — and internet and phone service was nonexistent at the time — he was able to lie about his age. He told the guards he was only 15 years old and had been in China looking for his mother.

Rather than send him to one of the country’s brutal labor camps or political camps, he was sent to a medical center for orphaned children. Shortly after arriving, he escaped and went back to China, where he got work as a farm laborer near Helong, a city in northeastern China.

“Everyday, I planted, farmed, logged on the mountain. Corn, beans, potatoes,” he said. “Life was better because I was not starving. I could eat and be full at meals. It was enough food for me … At the time I left North Korea, I was starving.”

Kim was caught a second time when he visited a friend in China looking for his mother. A neighbor again reported him to the police. The second time he was sent back to North Korea, he wasn’t so lucky. He was sent to the concentration camp near his hometown. From there he was sent to a labor camp, where he chopped down trees on a mountain for months.

He escaped one day when he realized that all his fellow laborers were at the top of the mountain chopping while he was at the bottom. He ran away as fast as he could until he found a train that he could take him north to cross the border with China again.

After some time in China, he was caught a third time and sent to a camp for political prisoners — the worst place to be sent, as imprisonment there is interminable. He escaped the camp by bribing the authorities through a broker, who helped him make it across the border with China a final time.

After six years, Kim reunited with his mother and made it to South Korea

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Seoul, South Korea

In China, he went back to work to pay off his debt to the broker. One day, he got a call from a North Korean woman from Musan who told him that he had to come visit his mother. She was dying of cancer. For the first time in many years, the two saw each other.

“When I opened the door of my mother’s house, I froze, and couldn’t say anything, because my mother looked incredibly different,” he said. “There was no fat on her, and her whole body looked like a triangle, I just went outside and cried for a long time and came back again, and I embraced my mother and we cried together.”

Several days later, a friend of his mother offered his mother the opportunity to escape to South Korea via Laos and Cambodia. A broker was taking a group through; they had an extra space.

Unable to walk, Kim’s mother told Kim he had to go and become educated. Once he was settled, she said, he could bring her and help others in need. He decided to go.

The night before Kim and the group of defectors were to cross the border into Laos, he received a call telling him that his mother had died. The man on the phone said he had to come back for the funeral.

“After hanging up, I couldn’t say anything, I just cried all night. I really, really wanted to go back, but I thought that if I go back there, I couldn’t do anything for her,” he said. “I decided to go to South Korea, believing that my mother would agree with my decision.”

In 2007, six years after he first escaped, Kim finally made it to South Korea.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Asian-Americans have served in the Coast Guard for 165 years

Asian-American men and women have participated in the U.S. Coast Guard for over 165 years, playing an important role in the history of the service and its predecessor services.

Cultural contact with Asian peoples came only as the nation’s borders expanded to the Pacific Rim. The first documented case of an Asian man serving aboard a Coast Guard asset took place in 1853, when the San Francisco-based cutter Argus rescued the lone survivor of the dismasted junk Yatha Maru, fed and clothed him, and enlisted him into the crew. The cutter’s commanding officer, Lt. William Pease, phonetically spelled this first Asian recruit’s name as “Dee-Yee-Noskee.”


Cutter muster roles tell the rest of the story of Asian participation in the 19th century. Ethnically Asian names begin to appear on cutter muster rolls just after the Civil War. Expanded revenue cutter operations in the Pacific and the purchase of Alaska in 1867 presented an opportunity for more Chinese, Japanese and Filipino men to enter the rolls on West Coast cutters. As with other minorities, these men initially filled positions in food service or non-ranking enlisted rates. By the end of the century, virtually every Pacific-based cutter employed Asian crew members.

Two notable Asian service members defied the West Coast pattern and enlisted on the East Coast. Chiaio-shung Soong emigrated from China to Boston as a teenager to work in his uncle’s teashop. Dissatisfied with this work, Soong enlisted aboard the cutter Schuyler Colfax in 1879 and transferred to the North Carolina-based cutter Gallatin a year later. After his brief career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, Soong attended Duke and Vanderbilt universities before returning to China as a missionary. He became a wealthy and influential power broker in Chinese politics and his children were among early 20th century China’s most powerful military, political and economic leaders. In addition, April 1904 saw 37-year-old F. Miguchi, of Kobe, Japan, enlist as a cook aboard the cutter Gresham. Before he left the service in December 1905, he had advanced in rate from ship’s cook to wardroom steward; saved the life of a drowning cutterman; and received the first Silver Lifesaving Medal awarded to a minority Coast Guardsman. Little else is known about Miguchi and even his first name remains a mystery to this day.

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Photo of Chiaio-shung Soong during his years in the United States. This image was taken at his church in Wilmington, N.C.
(Courtesy of the 5th Avenue Methodist Church, Wilmington)

Wars in the Pacific had a major influence on Asian-American service in the Coast Guard. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Asian recruits continued to serve mainly on cutters based out of the West Coast. However, the 1898 Spanish-American War altered the service’s recruiting and the early 1900s saw countless Asian enlistments from captured territory, primarily the Philippines. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese-Americans were excluded from participating in the Coast Guard bringing to a temporary close an 85-year record of ethnically Japanese service members. That policy was later rescinded and Japanese-Americans returned to the service.

During World War II, Filipinos comprised the largest Asian group to serve in the Coast Guard. Most of these men were American citizens, but many native Filipino military men transferred to the Coast Guard after the Japanese captured their homeland in 1942. The exiled president of the Philippines even transferred the patrol boat Bataan and its crew to the Coast Guard for the duration of the war. Native Filipino Florence Finch worked for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence office before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. After the fall of the island nation, she smuggled supplies to American prisoners-of-war and Filipino guerrillas. The Japanese arrested Finch, but American forces freed her in early 1945 and she boarded a Coast Guard-manned transport bound for the U.S. She next enlisted in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, or SPARs, becoming the first Asian-American woman to don a Coast Guard uniform.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Florence Smith Finch supplied food and medicine to American prisoners of war in the Philippines then became a Coast Guard SPAR late in World War II.
(Coast Guard Collection)

Asian-Americans were also the first minority graduates of the Coast Guard Academy. In 1949, Chinese-American Jack Ngum Jones became the first minority officer to graduate from the Academy. Native Chinese Kwang-Ping Hsu graduated from the Academy in 1962. He was the first foreign-born Academy graduate and one of the Coast Guard’s first minority Coast Guard aviators, flying missions primarily in the Arctic and Antarctic. Harry Toshiyuki Suzuki graduated in 1963. In 1979, Filipino Wilfredo Tamayo completed the Academy’s International Cadet Program. He was one of the first graduates of the program and he later became the 22nd commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard. The year 1980 saw Japanese-American Moynee Smith become the first minority female graduate of the Academy and, in 1982, Jeanien Yee became the second Asian-American graduate. In 1986, Hung Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Kwang-Ping Hsu, born in mainland China was one of the service’s first minority aviators and became known for polar aviation missions.
(Coast Guard Collection)

Recent decades have seen Asian-American service members enter senior officer and enlisted levels in all branches of the service. For example, 1958 saw Manuel Tubella transfer from the Marine Corps to become the service’s second minority aviator and advanced to the rank of captain. In 2013, Rear Adm. Joseph Vojvodich became the Coast Guard’s first Asian-American flag officer and, in 2016, Rear Adm. Andrew Tiongson became the service’s second Asian-American flag officer.

For over 165 years, thousands of ethnically Asian men and women have served with distinction in the U.S. Coast Guard. They have been diligent members of the long blue line and they will play an important role in shaping the service in the 21st century.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @uscg on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

4 ways armies have sent ‘FU’ messages to their enemies

As far back as documented history goes, war has crushed civilizations and built new empires. Regardless of era, military leaders and warlords have long sent visual (or “FU”) messages to their enemies in hopes that emotions, not tactics, take over the battlefield.


Related: 7 badass nicknames enemies have given the American military

With both sides desperate for a victory, the art of mind manipulation can trigger a response that just might reduce the enemy’s will to fight.

1. Tossed in a gutter

ISIS controls many areas in Iraq, but that doesn’t stop members of the Iraqi forces from showing their own progress. 

According to Fox News, Iraqis toss the dead bodies of ISIS members in the street gutters as a form of intimidation to ISIS sleeper cells and their supporters.

2. Drawn and Quartered

Most of us are familiar with William Wallace’s legacy, especially if you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. What the award-winning filmmaker didn’t show was what King Edward did after the end credits rolled.

According to duhaime.org, the King of England ordered his soldiers to cut Wallace’s body into four pieces and post them at the four corners of Britain. Wallace’s head was stabbed with a spike and set on London Bridge for an epic “screw you” message.

 

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William Wallace statue stands tall in Scotland.

 

3. Capture the flag of your enemies

Those who have had the opportunity to fight in a Taliban-infected area probably noticed the white flags flapping in the wind over extremist strongholds.

Marines love flags, too — especially their own, which wave high above American positions. They also enjoy taking the Taliban flags and putting them on display for the bad guys to see.

 

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars
Infantrymen from 3rd Battalion 5th Marines Lima Company 2nd Platoon enjoy a moment after capturing a Taliban flag. #wegotyoursh*t

4. A good slicing

Around 500 B.C., a war between the State of Yue and the State of Wu in China broke out.

Gou Jian, the King of Yue, was unsure of his victory over the Wu. To try to gain an element of surprise, Jian ordered 300 of his men to stand in front of the enemy, remove their swords and cut their own throats before the battle began.

The Wu were so completely stunned, Jian was able to send in his attack on the unsuspecting army and defeat them.

(We actually don’t recommend this tactic…)

Can you think of any others? Comment below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A WW1 explosion in Belgium was so big that it was heard in London

On the morning of June 7, 1917, after a dry quip to journalists about how he didn’t know whether he and his men’s actions “shall change history tomorrow,” but would “certainly alter the geography,” a British major general ordered a series of mines set off, detonating an almost 1 million pounds of explosives, killing about 1,000 German soldiers, and causing leaders in London —about 130 miles away — to hear the explosion.


5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

A howitzer crew provides fire support during the infantry assault at the Battle of Messines Ridge.

(National Library of Scotland)

It all started soon after World War I descended from a fast-paced maneuver war into the trench-warfare stalemate that would define the conflict. Allied troops facing Germans in Belgium were, like their brethren in the trenches southward across France, quickly demoralized as the war ground on, thousands died, and almost no significant changes were made to the balance of the war.

People were dying by the thousands to seemingly no effect. So, some British officers came up with a plan to shift the line in Belgium by putting in years of work that would guarantee an eventual victory far in the future.

The plan was changed, overhauled, and refined plenty of times in those two years, but the basic underpinnings stayed the same. Near the village of Messines in Belgium, British tunnelers got to work digging towards and then under the German lines along the ridge that dominated the area. This digging operation would continue for two years.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Sappers dig a communication trench near Messines Ridge after the explosion that essentially handed the area to the British. Engineers had worked for nearly two years to dig the original tunnels that made the explosion possible.

(Imperial War Museums)

Shafts were dug across the front, and some were dug as deep as 100 feet and then filled with strong explosives. On top of these subterranean towers of explosives, each major stockpile had a mine that would act as the initiation device.

On June 6, 1917, the night before detonation, British Maj. Gen. Charles Harington brought some journalists together and made his quip,

“Gentlemen, I do not know whether we shall change history tomorrow. But we shall certainly alter the geography.”

Around dawn the following morning, the order was given to set off the mines. This was done by individual soldiers with different devices, resulting in 19 separate explosions that came right on the heels of each other. In France, it was reported by some as an earthquake. In London, some reported hearing an unexplained boom whose source would only later be revealed.

For German soldiers and officers, this was obviously a nightmare. For those directly over the explosion, the nightmare was over instantly. The Earth erupted around them like a volcano. The earth shook and shot into the sky. Men were wrecked by the blast and then survivors were buried alive in the debris. Approximately 1 millions pounds of explosives were used in the blast.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Soldiers share a smoke on June 10 during the Battle of Messines. The Battle of Messines Ridge had kicked off the British advance and given them a huge advantage when engineers successfully set off nearly 1 million pounds of explosives beneath a key ridge.

(Imperial War Museums)

But the slight breaks between explosions meant that, for minutes afterwards, German troops and officers were terrified that more explosions were coming, that they would be killed or buried in a sudden tower of fire and dirt.

Meanwhile, British troops had been staged to take advantage of the sudden opening in the lines. Many were knocked down by the initial blast despite staging hundreds of yards away. But they stood up and attacked the German lines. What had been a ridge was now a series of major craters, and the British were determined to take them.

The British had known that a large explosion was coming, though many individual soldiers didn’t know the exact details, and so they were able to rally much faster than the Germans. The British infantry assault, preceded by a creeping artillery barrage, successfully captured 7,000 survivors in addition to the 10,000 that the explosions had killed.

And the British were left holding what was left of the ridge. The Germans retreated and this allowed Britain to launch more attacks into Ypres. The Battle of Messines Ridge had been a great success, though the Ypres Offensive it enabled was less so. The idea for the larger offensive had been to capture the German U-Boat pens on the Belgian coast, but the openings at Messines Ridge didn’t eliminate the German defenses further on.

The Ypres Offensive was launched on July 31, just weeks after the explosions at Messines, but Germans fiercely contested the assaults and launched counterattacks of their own. The offensive was, ostensibly, an Allied victory. The Allies took Ypres and a lot of other territory, but suffered 275,000 casualties to Germany’s 220,000.

And, just a year later, a massive German troop buildup forced Britain to abandon the territory for more defensible territory to the west.

That’s why most of the world has forgotten the detonation at Messines Ridge. It was one of the largest man-made explosions in history at the time and it allowed the British to pull a victory, seemingly out of thin air. But its strategic impact didn’t last.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Nope, ‘God & The 3 Mistakes’ is not what happened after Pearl Harbor

I’m known among my friends as a bit of a heartless cynic (#NotPopularAtParties #PleaseStopInvitingMe #HowManyOfTheseDoIHaveToRuinToBeLeftAlone). Maybe that’s why We Are The Mighty’s president and CMO, U.S. Air Force veteran Mark Harper, sent me this heartwarming story about Admiral Nimitz arriving at Pearl Harbor after the attack.

But then, I ruined it.


5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, a bold and brave man too busy being optimistic for your “history facts” or his own notes.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The story is entitled God and the 3 Mistakes, and it makes the rounds on the internet every once in a while. Here’s a version of it from armchairgeneral.com:

Tour boats ferry people out to the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii every thirty minutes. We just missed a ferry and had to wait thirty minutes. I went into a small gift shop to kill time. In the gift shop, I purchased a small book entitled, “Reflections on Pearl Harbor” by Admiral Chester Nimitz.

Sunday, December 7th, 1941 — Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the phone. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat–you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war. On Christmas Day, 1941, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction wrought on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters every where you looked.

As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, “Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?” Admiral Nimitz’s reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice. Admiral Nimitz said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”

Shocked and surprised, the young helmsman asked, “What do mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?” Nimitz explained:

Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

Mistake number two: when the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

Mistake number three: every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply. That’s why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.

I’ve never forgotten what I read in that little book. It is still an inspiration as I reflect upon it. In jest, I might suggest that because Admiral Nimitz was a Texan, born and raised in Fredricksburg, Texas –he was a born optimist. But anyway you look at it–Admiral Nimitz was able to see a silver lining in a situation and circumstance where everyone else saw only despair and defeatism.

President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the right job. We desperately needed a leader that could see silver linings in the midst of the clouds of dejection, despair and defeat.

There is a reason that our national motto is, IN GOD WE TRUST.
5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Look, an optimistic photo of a re-floated battleship. Let’s all go get coffee and not read the rest of this.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Stop here to remain happy. No? Alrighty, then.

Was that heartwarming and satisfying for you? Good. Stop reading. Go away. Be happy. Don’t let my factual poison into your soul. Ignore the holes and historical discrepancies and return to the world as a satisfied human being.

Or, let’s go through this together and destroy joy.

(Author’s note: For some of the debunking done here, we’re turning directly to Adm. Nimitz’ notes from December, 1941, compiled in his “gray book,” which the Navy put on the internet in 2014. Citations to that document will be made with a parenthetical hyperlink that will give the PDF page, not the printed page number. So, “(p. 71)” refers to his December 17 “Running Summary of Situation” that is page 71 of the PDF, but has the page numbers 9 and 67 printed on the bottom.)

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

That phone call on December 7 didn’t happen

First: “Sunday, December 7th, 1941 — Admiral Chester Nimitz was … told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Nope. At the time, no one knew exactly what had happened or who to blame, and Adm. Husband E. Kimmel was still very much in charge. How screwed up would it have been if Roosevelt’s first action, while the fuel dumps were still burning and sailors were still choking to death on oil, was to fire the guy in command on the ground rather than shifting supplies and men to the problem or, you know, investigating what happened?

The bulk of the losses at Pearl weren’t even announced until December 15 (p. 51) because no one, even at Pearl, could be sure of the extent of the damage while the attack was ongoing.

In reality, Nimitz wasn’t ordered to Hawaii until December 17, the same day that Kimmel was told he would be relieved (p. 71).

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

National ensign flies from the USS West Virginia during the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy)

No, it wouldn’t have been worse if the Japanese had lured the ships to sea

The single most non-sensical claim in this story is that Nimitz was glad Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack.

Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

What? Nimitz thought he would’ve lost more men if the Japanese had lured them into a fight near the island? Does anyone believe that he had that little belief in the skills of his men?

If the Japanese had tried to lure the American ships to sea, we would’ve only sent the ones ready to fight, with full ammo loads and readied guns with crews. We would’ve tried to recall the carriers conducting exercises at sea. Yes, losing 38,000 sailors is worse than 3,800, but we’ve never lost 3,800 in a fair fight.

At the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the U.S. took combined losses of about 1,000 killed while inflicting losses against Japan of about 4,000. At the Battle of Savo Island, “the worst defeat ever inflicted on the United States Navy in a fair fight,” according to Samuel Morison, the U.S. lost 1,100 sailors.

Meanwhile, at Pearl, the U.S. lost over 2,000 killed while inflicting less than 100 enemy deaths. Who the hell would be glad it was a surprise attack?

In his notes on Samoa dated December 17, Nimitz specifically cites Japan’s use of surprise as to why it had been so successful (p. 64).

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

The largest fuel dumps at Pearl Harbor did survive the attack, but they weren’t enough.

(U.S. Navy)

Yes, Japan did ravage America’s fuel dumps and hit drydocks

Nimitz, when he got the actual call on December 17, quickly tied up his duties in Washington, D.C., and reported to Pearl Harbor. (He arrived Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve.)

There, he found an island still burning and heavily damaged. The Japanese planes absolutely did hit fuel dumps at Pearl Harbor. They hit drydocks as well, heavily damaging three destroyers that were in the docks at the time.

Luckily, Pearl Harbor didn’t have “every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war” in December 1941 as the story says, but the other dumps were under attack as Nimitz was supposedly giving this pep talk. Fuel dumps on the Philippines and Wake Island were destroyed or isolated by the Japanese attack in the days and weeks following December 7.

(Seriously, how would you even run a Pacific fleet if your only gas station was in Hawaii? That would mean ships patrolling around the Philippines and Australia would need to travel 10,000 miles and over three weeks out of their way every time they needed to refuel.)

It is true, though, that Japan failed to hit the largest and most important fuel tank farms on Pearl and didn’t destroy the doors to the drydocks. That was a major strategic error on the part of the Japanese.

But, what damage was done to these facilities was important, changing the strategic calculation for America at every turn.

On December 17, Nimitz wrote a plan to reinforce Samoa that specifically cited the lack of appropriate fuel dumps being ready or filled at Pearl or Samoa (p. 63 and 70). It even mentioned how bad it was to shift a single oiler from replenishing Pearl to getting ships to Samoa. The fuel situation was dire, and Nimitz knew it.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

Two heavily damaged U.S. destroyers sit in a flooded drydock. Both destroyers were scrapped and the drydock was damaged, but it did return to service by February 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

The ship repair situation was worse

If the fuel situation was bad, the repair situation was worse. Drydocks were attacked during the battle. Two ships were destroyed in Drydock number one, and Floating Drydock number 2 was sunk after sustaining damage. Both were back in operation by February 1942.

Other drydocks were safe or only lightly damaged and were up and running by the time Nimitz arrived at Pearl. Yes, that’s a big deal logistically. But that still left too few drydocks for the sheer number of ships heavily damaged in the attack.

But the number of drydocks wasn’t the biggest factor in whether a ship could be repaired at Pearl, because there weren’t nearly enough supplies and skilled laborers in and around the harbor, anyways. Capt. Homer N. Wallin, the head of the salvage effort from January 1942 onward, lamented shortages of firefighting equipment, lumber, fastenings, welders, carpenters, mechanics, engineers, and pumps for the duration of salvage.

That’s why three battleships left Pearl Harbor for repairs on the West Coast on December 20, and ships were heading back to the continent for repairs as late as the end of 1942, nearly a year after the attack, because drydocks had insufficient space or supplies to repair them on site.

In fact, in his history written in 1968, Wallin specifically remembers Nimitz touring the wrecks on Dec. 31, 1941, and being pessimistic about repairs, especially the viability of the USS Nevada. The Nevada was back in combat less than a year later, despite Nimitz’ pessimism.

But the worst problem facing Pearl Harbor was invasion

But the most naive claim of this entire story is that Nimitz was optimistic as to the situation in December 1941. His actual notes from the period paint a much grimmer picture of his mind.

In the wee hours of December 17, hours before Nimitz was ordered to replace Kimmel, Nimitz sent Kimmel a message on behalf of himself and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. Kimmel was ordered to “reconsider” his beliefs that Pearl Harbor was safe from further attack (p. 74).

Knox and Nimitz wanted Kimmel to keep ships out of the harbor as much as possible, to reinforce defensive positions. Most importantly:

Every possible means should be devised and executed which will contribute to security against aircraft or torpedo or gun attack of ships, aircraft and shore facilities [on Hawaii];

Given that Nimitz was actively cautioning about how vulnerable Pearl Harbor was on December 17, it would be odd for him to feel cocky and optimistic on December 25 (the earliest he could have actually taken this supposed boat tour).

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Adm. Chester W. Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Doris Miller at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942.

(Library of Congress)

But he was still a great leader

The fact is, Nimitz was not some famed optimist. He was a realist. And he was in command of a fleet crippled by a sneak attack but backed by the most industrialized nation in the world in the 1940s. American industrial might was so strong that, by the end of the war, the U.S. was producing half of all industrial goods and weapons in the world. And the Japanese had failed to hit the submarines, something that did give Nimitz hope.

While it took most of 1942 and 1943 to fully ramp up America’s wartime production, the seeds were all in place in 1941 thanks to Roosevelt’s Cash-and-Carry and Lend-Lease policies. Nimitz was no fool. He knew he could win, even though the challenge facing him on Christmas 1941 was still daunting.

We can honor him, the sailors lost at Pearl Harbor, and the stunning achievements of the greatest generation without sharing suspect anecdotes about a Christmas Eve boat ride.

(As an added side note: The book this story supposedly came from wasn’t actually by Nimitz, it’s an “oral history” by William H. Ewing. And it was published five years after Nimitz died. Maybe it is a faithful account of Nimitz’ words at some point, but it doesn’t match his notes or the tactical situation in 1941.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

9 books you need to read to understand World War I

November 2018 marks 100 years since Germany signed the armistice that brought World War I to a close. Yet in many ways “the war to end all wars” has never really ceased. From the outbreak of a second world war just twenty years later to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and the current perilous state of Turkish Democracy, the smoldering ashes of WWI have ignited time and time again. These nine books — arranged by genre and covering the hostilities from the home front, the trenches, and the hospitals where soldiers were treated for a new injury known as “shell shock” — are essential to understanding how a century-old feud shaped the world we live in today.


5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Random House Publishing Group)

1. The Guns of August

By Barbara Tuchman

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the Modern Library’s top 100 nonfiction books of all time, this is the definitive history of the first 30 days of the war—a month that set the course of the entire conflict. Tuchman brings a novelist’s flair to her subject, from the spectacle of King Edward VII’s funeral procession—”The sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendour never to be seen again”—to the dust and sweat and terror of the German advance across Belgium. She captures the war’s key figures with flair and precision and enlivens her analysis with a dry-martini wit: “Nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great but dead general.” Most astonishingly of all, she creates genuine suspense out of the inevitable march of history, convincing her readers to forget what they already know and turn the pages with bated breath.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

2. The First World War

By John Keegan

Twenty years after its original release, this gripping chronicle remains the best single-volume account of the war. Keegan, an acclaimed British military historian, brings a refreshingly clear-eyed perspective to some of the 20th century’s most confounding questions: Why couldn’t Europe’s greatest empires avoid such a tragic and unnecessary conflict? And why did so many millions of people have to die? By foregoing radio and telephone to communicate by letter, Keegan explains, world leaders effectively rendered themselves deaf and blind. The problem was grotesquely amplified on the battlefield, where weapons technology had advanced to the point that entire regiments could be wiped out in a matter of hours. No other history brings the war’s mind-boggling magnitude — 70,000 British soldiers killed and 170,000 wounded in the Battle of Passchendaele alone — into sharper focus.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Aurum Press)

3. Gallipoli

By Alan Moorehead

As an acclaimed correspondent for London’s Daily Express, Moorehead covered WWII from North Africa to Normandy. But the Australian once swore he’d never write about the most famous military engagement in his nation’s history: the Battle of Gallipoli. He’d heard more than enough stories from ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) veterans back home and had grown bored with the subject. Thankfully, he changed his mind — and his eloquent, elegiac account is a modern day masterpiece. From Winston Churchill’s plan to “launch the greatest amphibious operation mankind had known up till then” to the costly, avoidable blunders that doomed 50,000 Allied troops (11,000 of them from Australia and New Zealand), Moorehead vividly captures the grand ambition and tragic folly of the campaign. His sketch of army officer Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Atatürk, is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand how the seeds of modern-day Turkey’s independence were sown at Gallipoli.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Random House Publishing Group)

4. Paris 1919

By Margaret MacMillan

WWI brought about the fall of the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires and displaced millions of people across Europe. Faced with the monumental task of reshaping the world, Allied leaders convened the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. Over the next six months, delegates from 27 nations redrew international borders, hashed out the terms of Germany’s surrender, and laid the groundwork for the League of Nations. Above all, they aimed to prevent another world war. They failed, of course — Hitler invaded Poland just 20 years later—but this engrossing, comprehensive history debunks the harshest judgments of the Treaty of Versailles and provides essential context for understanding its myriad repercussions. MacMillan covers impressive ground, from the Balkans to Baku to Baghdad, without losing focus on the colorful personalities and twists of fate that make for a great story

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Orion Publishing Group, Limited)

5. Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain

The daughter of a well-to-do paper manufacturer, Vera Brittain left her studies at Oxford in 1915 to join England’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) as a nurse in London, Malta, and France. Like so many others of her generation, she felt called to be a part of something larger than herself. By the war’s end — and before she turned 25 — she had lost her fiancé, her brother, and two of her closest friends. Her chronicle of the war years, her return to Oxford, and her attempts to forge a career as a journalist is both an elegy for a lost generation and a landmark of early 20th-century feminism. Upon the book’s original publication in 1933, the New York Times declared that no other WWI memoir was “more honest, more revealing within its field, or more heartbreakingly beautiful”. Eighty-five years later, that assessment still rings true.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

6. Goodbye to All That

By Robert Graves

This spellbinding autobiography is by turns poignant, angry, satirical, and lewd. It’s also, according to literary critic Paul Fussell, “the best memoir of the First World War.” A lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers (where he fought alongside his friend and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon), Graves was severely wounded in the Battle of the Somme and reported killed in action. His family had to print a notice in the newspaper that he was still alive. As befitting a man returned from the dead, Graves breaks all conventions, mixing fact and fiction to get to the poetic truth of trench warfare. Sassoon, for one, objected to the inaccuracies, but Good-bye to All That touched a nerve with war-weary readers and made Graves famous. It has gone on to influence much of the 20th-century’s finest war literature, from Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Penguin Publishing Group)

7. Storm of Steel

By Ernst Jünger

An international bestseller when it was originally published in 1920, this fiercely lyrical memoir is the definitive account of the German experience during WWI. Jünger, a born warrior who ran away from home at the age of 18 to join the French Foreign Legion, fought with the German infantry in the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, and the Battle of Cambrai. He was wounded seven times during the war, most severely during the 1918 Spring Offensive, when he was shot through the chest and nearly died. He received the German Empire’s highest military honor, the Pour le Mérite, for his service. Taken from Jünger’s war diary, Storm of Steel has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that separates it from other WWI autobiographies. Some have criticized it as a glorification of war, while others, including Matterhorn author and Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes, think it’s one of the truest depictions of the combat experience ever written.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Random House Publishing Group)

8. All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque

This iconic German novel was first serialized in 1928, 10 years after the armistice. The book version sold millions of copies and was quickly adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. By then, the Nazi Party was the second largest political party in Germany; Joseph Goebbels led violent protests at the film’s Berlin screenings. Three years later, he banned and publicly burned Remarque’s books in one of his first orders of business as Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. Why the intense hatred for the story of a young man who volunteers to fight in WWI? Because it is one of the most powerful anti-war novels in Western literature. In Remarque’s downbeat tale, one nameless battle is indistinguishable from the next and the lucky survivors are doomed to lifetimes of disillusionment and alienation. No other book, fiction or nonfiction, conveys the existential horror of trench warfare so clearly.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Penguin Publishing Group)

9. Regeneration

By Pat Barker

This audaciously intelligent, powerfully moving historical novel, the first in a trilogy, opens with the full text of Siegfried Sassoon’s letter refusing to return to active duty after receiving treatment for gastric fever. The declaration, which was read in the House of Commons, earned him a mandatory stay at Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he was treated for shell shock by the noted neurologist Dr. William Rivers and became friends with fellow poet Wilfred Owen. From these facts, Barker fashions one of the most original works of WWI literature, intertwining fact and fiction to explore Freudian psychology, the doctor-patient relationship, nationalism, masculinity, and the British class system, among other fascinating topics. Foregoing battlefields and trenches to explore the terrain of the human mind, Barker gets to the essential truth of WWI: No one who lived through it — man or woman, soldier or civilian — saw the world the same way again.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s most successful World War II sub also killed an enemy train

The Gato-class, diesel-powered US Navy submarine USS Barb is known for a lot of things. In 12 war patrols, she sank the third most tonnage in World War II, had eight battle stars, and fired the first submarine-based ballistic missiles on Japan. It earned her crew a Presidential Unit Citation, among numerous other awards and decorations.

But one of its proudest moments was also its most daring. Crewmembers aboard the Barb were also the first American combatants to set foot on Japanese home soil — in order to “sink” an enemy train.

They did all of this without losing a single man.


On Jul. 23, 1945, eight members of Barb‘s crew landed on mainland Japan under intense cloud cover and a dark moon. Their mission was to rig a Japanese train track to explode when a train crossed a switch between two railroad ties. Immediately, their best-laid plans went right out the window, forcing the crew to improvise.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

The USS Barb off the coast of Pearl Harbor, 1945.

The mission of the USS Barb was to cut the Japanese fleet’s supply lines by sinking enemy ships out of the island of Karafuto in the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the ship’s 12th war patrol, and the fifth for her skipper, then-Commander Eugene Fluckey. They could see as Japanese shipments moved from trains on the island to the ships. Once the ships were at sea, they were easy pickings for crews like the Barb’s.

But why, Fluckey thought, wait for the ships to get to sea? Why not just take them out before the trains ever reach the port? That’s exactly what Fluckey and his crew set out to do.

They couldn’t just place charges on the tracks, it would be too dangerous for the shore party once the Japanese were alerted. Instead, the U.S. Naval Institute tells us how Engineman 3rd Class Billy Hatfield devised a switch trigger for an explosive that, when set between the rails, would go off as the train passed over it.

That was the goal as the crew manned their boats and made it ashore that night, but they accidentally landed in the backyard of a Japanese civilian. So, they ended up having to struggle through thick bulrushes, cross a freeway, and even fall down drainage ditches on their way to the railway. Once there, a crewman climbed to the top of a water tower — only to discover it was a manned lookout post. Luckily, the guard was asleep and their work continued.

They dug holes for the 55-pound bomb as quickly and as quietly as possible, even having to stop as a freight train rumbled by. But they did it, put the pressure switch into place, and booked it back to the ship as fast as possible. At 1:47 am, a 16-car train hit their planted explosive and was shot into the sky. Five minutes after that, the crew was back aboard the Barb.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

The Battle Flag of USS Barb, the train is located bottom middle.

Barb’s battle flag could now boast one enemy train “sunk” in combat, along with six Navy Crosses, 23 Silver Stars, 23 Bronze Stars, and a Medal of Honor earned by members of its crew.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Former Delta Force members jump in honor of Normandy Paratroopers

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is now a master photographer, cartoonist, and storyteller.

How I always got stuck right next to Barticus in every cramped-quarters situation I’ll never know… but I always did! Barticus was the biggest pipe-hitter in my squadron, therefore took up the most room and always left me squashed. But for the value of the man as a hard-fighting warrior, well… I just resigned to remaining squashed.

And squashed I was on an MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft climbing passed 20,000 feet toward… well, it really didn’t matter much past 18,000 feet because we all had to go to breathing pure oxygen though a supply mask. It was night and the stress was piled on. Oh, how I hated jumping, on oxygen, from that height, at night… and oh, how Barticus knew that.


As my stress mounted I began to tolerate less the cramped conditions and the mass of Barticus pressing against me. I started to squirm and fidget more and more. Finally Barticus called to me his baritone voice muffled by the mask:

“George!”

“Yeah, what man?”

“Have I ever told you, that I find you very attractive?”

That’s all it took and I was laughing out loud and coughing into my mask, but I was also chilled out and doing much better. A really good friend knows how to push your buttons sure, but they also know how to hit your funny bone and calm you down.

Barticus made his way into an opportunity of a lifetime recently to jump near the town Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France on the 6th of June in honor of the men who jumped there 75 years ago. There but for the grace of God go I — oh, how I wish I could make that jump too; such an honor!

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Barticus W. Ricardo [left] and the author Geo kit up for an assault in South America)

I asked Barticus to please get me a photo of the famous Sainte-Mère-Église paratrooper Private John Marvin Steele’s effigy that the people of the town hung at the base of the bell tower of the church where he “landed”. John’s parachute snagged an outcrop of the church’s architecture and left John hanging for many hours with an injured foot until some German soldiers hiding inside the bell tower cut him loose.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(Two aspects of Private Steele’s effigy where it hangs still today from the base of the bell tower)

Traditionally, U.S. military organizations have taken veterans back to Sainte-Mère-Église for another jump back onto the Drop Zone (DZ) that they landed on so many years ago. These days it is highly unlikely that there are still veterans of the campaign who are in conducive physical condition to foot that bill.

Our young generations of fighting men, active duty and retired like Barticus and his crew, will continue to make that jump every year on the day of the anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, as long as there is still ground in Normandy to land on.

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

(The church at Sainte-Mère-Église feature an effigy of paratrooper Private John Marvin Steele who descended into the town and became suspended when his parachute snagged an outcropping of the church structure.)


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