In May 1945, the Axis powers were all but beaten, but the war was far from over for the United States. Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8 but a lot of work was left to be done – namely, the invasion of mainland Japan. It was assumed that many Purple Heart medals would be needed, but history took a different course.
The ongoing Battle of Okinawa with its high casualty rates and fierce defenders made it clear to American leadership that the upcoming invasion of Japan’s main island would be a costly one for both sides.
The attack, of course, never came. Truman went for the nuclear option.
So what to do with all those medals? Give them to the troops, of course.
World War II was over but there was still plenty of American combat to come in the 20th century. Though the U.S. has ordered 34,000 more of them after the Vietnam War, the medals from 1945 are still updated and issued as needed.
“Time and combat will continue to erode the WWII stock, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before the last Purple Heart for the invasion of Japan is pinned on a young soldier’s chest,” historian D.M. Giangreco, said in a 2010 e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
The refurbished medals were distributed to military posts, units, and hospitals between 1985 and 1999. Even if new ones were made, the number given wounded service members through 2010 is still less than the number manufactured in 1945.
The refurbished and new Purple Hearts are almost identical.
A recipient may never know for which war their medal was made.
“You are talking about minute types of differences where only a specialist, somebody who really looks at this stuff, and looks at it often, can tell,” Giangreco said.
Either way, if you earn a Purple Heart, you can wear it with pride.
On December 16, 1773 a bunch of rebel colonists from Massachusetts got sassy and decided to defy their one true king. While disguised as Indians, they dumped 342 chests of perfectly good tea into Boston Harbor – setting off a chain of events they’ll never come back from.
Ungrateful, that’s what they were. How dare they throw a tantrum over another tax imposed by King George of Britain and the North Ministry. Didn’t they know that the temporary tax was for a good reason? Without it, the East India Company would have gone under and the British would lose money. The seven year French and Indian War depleted the treasury of Britain, the colonists needed to do their part and shore it up! Maybe the British screwed up by initially trying to hide the tax and collect it later on, but it’s only because they didn’t want to trouble colonists with the headache of knowing what it was really for. It was for their own good after all. But all those colonists cared about were their merchants who were illegally smuggling in Dutch tea to make a living and their so called “rights” for representation when taxed.
So, under the cover of painted faces and Indian garb, men snuck onto the ships that had pulled in and dumped all the tea into the harbor under protest against the British. Even Benjamin Franklin said it was wrong and that the East India Company should be paid back for the destruction of tea. After catching wind of the colonists despicable behavior, the rightfully angry Parliament enacted The Intolerable Acts law. For some reason, this made these heathens even more angry. Rules are for everyone’s good!
They didn’t need to be able to govern themselves anyway and what was so bad about having the British military keeping everyone safe in town? Britain was doing them a favor! Maybe the troops had to be housed inside the homes of colonists and empty buildings, but wasn’t it a small price to pay for safety and security? Well, apparently they didn’t think so because they got all of the colonies to rise up in indignation against Britain.
What followed would be events that would live on in infamy.
How dare these colonists thing they could “declare” independence. Who would have thought of such a thing? Certain people should have a place, especially the colonists, who were basically the step-children of the British. Equality disrupts too much, rules and rankings were put in place for a very good reason: order and decorum, staples of the British. Instead of remaining appreciative of this gift to be able to call oneself British, the colonists rebelled and fought. The American Revolutionary War would lead to the formation of a united country that fought for “liberties” and “freedom” for everyone. Sure those colonists eventually may have also won the war against the world’s leading power against all odds, but whatever. And okay, maybe the United States of America now has the world’s oldest written constitution that has been duplicated by numerous free countries since, but so what.
Now they are stuck with a country that continues to extend equality for all people, evolving and modernizing with the changing times. This new country even apologizes for mistakes and changes its mind on issues by amending rules and law. Blasphemous. I hope the ancestors of those ungrateful tea throwing colonists are happy being American.
“For almost 70 years, our Nation has set aside one day to recognize the great debt we owe to the men and women who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” Trump said in a statement. “On Armed Forces Day, we salute the bravery of those who defend our Nation’s peace and security. Their service defends for Americans the freedom that all people deserve.”
According to the Department of Defense website, the celebration of Armed Forces Day first began in 1950, following a proclamation on Aug. 31, 1949, by then-Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. Johnson’s intention was to replace separate holidays for the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
“I invite the Governors of the States and Territories and other areas subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to provide for the observance of Armed Forces Day within their jurisdiction each year in an appropriate manner designed to increase public understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces of the United States. I also invite veterans, civic, and other organizations to join in the observance of Armed Forces Day each year,” Trump said in the proclamation, which has been issued by his predecessors in virtually the same form, including George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.
Trump’s proclamation did make special note of the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, citing the 4.7 million Americans who served in that conflict. Trump also re-tweeted a Defense Department tweet featuring a video.
“Finally, I call upon all Americans to display the flag of the United States at their homes and businesses on Armed Forces Day, and I urge citizens to learn more about military service by attending and participating in the local observances of the day,” Trump’s proclamation concluded.
Millionaire scientist and Wall Street tycoon Alfred Lee Loomis who personally funded scientific research at his private estate and later went on to lead radar research efforts during WWII.
But the technological developments of Tuxedo Park didn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, Winston Churchill gave the US access to British intel and research that fueled Loomis’ efforts, ultimately leading to our Allied victory.
Loomis was born in Manhattan, and his family were privileged, well-connected members of society. Most of his relatives were physicians, though several of his cousins held cabinet positions in various presidential administrations. After studying math and science at Yale, Loomis then went on to graduate in law from Harvard.
In 1917, Loomis volunteered for military service and was commissioned as a captain. During his time in service, he earned the rank of Lt. Col and worked primarily in ballistics at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
It was at Aberdeen that Loomis invented the Aberdeen Chronograph, the first instrument to accurately measure the muzzle velocity of artillery shells and could be transported and used on the battlefield.
Anticipating the Wall Street crash of 1929, Loomis managed to save his fortune by converting his assets to gold. With liquid resources, he was able to purchase stocks that had plummeted in value. This fortune allowed him to work closely with President Roosevelt in preparing the United States for WWII. Loomis used his contacts in the financial and law sectors of New York to finance early developments in radar. It was with this vision in mind that he opened up his expansive enclave in Tuxedo Park and turned it into a research facility.
At Tuxedo Park, Loomis and his small research staff conducted experiments into the emerging field of spectrometry, electro-encephalography, capillary waves, and the measurement of time. His laboratory was state of the art and contained equipment that several top-tier universities couldn’t afford. Because of this, Loomis’ reputation spread quickly as a patron of science. Several prominent European scientists traveled to Tuxedo Park to meet with American peers and collaborate on projects. Enrico Fermi, Werner Heisenberg, and Albert Einstein all visited the luxurious estate.
In as much as Tuxedo Park provided scientists with access to state of the art materials and equipment, the location also served as a socializing spot, where like-minded individuals could come together to discuss current issues in technology.
By the late 1930s, Loomis was interested in radio detection studies and worked with his research team to build the first microwave radar. Deployed from the back of a van, the team drove it to a golf course and aimed it at a nearby road to track cars and trucks. Then they took it to the local airport to track small aircraft.
Several prominent UK scientists were working on radar experiments in hopes that a technology might emerge, which could prevent the nightly bombing of the Luftwaffe. These scientists developed the cavity magnetron, allowing their radar tech to be inserted into aircraft.
Loomis then invited the cavity magnetron developers to Tuxedo Park to continue their work on the magnetron. Because Loomis had more experience than anyone else in the US, he was appointed to the National Defense Research Committee as the chairman of the Microwave Committee and the vice-chairman of Division D.
With so many scientists working toward the same goal, Tuxedo Park soon grew too small. So Loomis closed the research facility and moved to the Rad Lab, headquartered at MIT, where he and the team worked tirelessly toward the development of radar technology. What started as a handful of people working toward a common goal quickly grew to a staff of over 4,000. The Rad Lab’s innovation directly resulted in helping us win the war.
The resulting 10cm radar was the key technology that enabled U-boats to be sunk, along with allowing British forces to spot incoming German bombers. This radar also provided the cover the American troops needed for the D-Day landing.
In the later days of 1835, Samuel Maverick and his two friends were held on house arrest in what would one day be called San Antonio, Texas. The Texas Revolution was in full swing and the local Mexican military commander, Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos, didn’t trust the former Americans one bit, holding them prisoner in their own homes. They still somehow managed to inform the incoming Texian army about Mexican movements in the city. On the first day of December, Cos finally allowed the men to leave.
The first thing they did was join the Texian forces and lead an attack on the town.
By the time Maverick and his friends reached the Texians, the army was ready to retreat. Instead, the men offered to lead a series of attacks against their former city. After rousing a few hundred volunteers to join them, they headed back to San Antonio de Bexar. Four days after being forced out of the city, the men were leading attacks against its garrison commander, Gen. Cos. Maverick guided Col. Ben Milam’s troops into the city, while Maverick’s friend John Smith led the other detachment.
Milam was killed minutes into the fighting and Maverick was forced to lead the rest of the men into the streets and the house-to-house fighting that followed their entrance into the city. For five days, the revolutionaries fought Mexican government regulars in fierce urban combat. The Mexicans would surrender on the sixth day.
Since Milam had fallen early in the fighting, Maverick took his place at the surrender ceremony. He stayed around the San Antonio area, eventually joining the defenders of the Alamo. While in garrison at the famed citadel, Maverick was elected as one of two San Antonio delegates to the Texas Independence Convention. Maverick would not be able to leave the Alamo until March 2, 1836, because it was surrounded by Mexican troops. When he finally got away, the garrison commander, William Travis, begged him to ask the convention for reinforcements.
They would, of course, be too late. The day a special session of the convention was to be held was also the day of the Battle of the Alamo. All of the fort’s defenders were then dead. Maverick signed the Texas Declaration of Independence the next day.
He left Texas briefly to get married and have a baby, but soon returned to a state still considered to be in rebellion by the Mexican government. He became the Mayor of San Antonio and joined the city militia to fight off Comanche raids. But raids weren’t the biggest threat to San Antonio. Mexico was still bent on recovering its lost land. Eventually, the Mexican Army arrived outside San Antonio. The Anglo citizens of the city mustered a defense but were captured and forcibly marched back to Mexico. Despite being in prison, Maverick was still elected to the Texas Congress. He was released by Mexico the same day as his daughter’s birthday, after refusing repeatedly to publicly back Mexico’s claim to Texas. He served in the Texas legislature even after annexation by the United States – but none of this is how the word “Maverick” came to have its accepted meaning.
Maverick refused to brand his cattle because he was against the pain it caused the animals. He cared very little for his herd of cattle which was given to him as payment for a debt in lieu of cash. He transferred the care of the herd to a family in another part of Texas. It’s said that stragglers from Maverick’s herd were often found roaming. The unbranded cows were known as “mavericks” and often returned.
On Jan. 27, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords, formally ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. On Apr. 30, 1975, the country of South Vietnam formally came to an end as North Vietnamese tanks rolled across bases and airfields and into the southern capital of Saigon.
While many look back and see the war as a waste of money, manpower, and materiel given the outcome, there are more than 475 million people who would disagree.
The foundation of that figure of 475 million is the current population of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It doesn’t mention the relatives of those populations who are no longer alive and didn’t live under the constant threat of global Communism because of the line in the sand drawn by American forces in Vietnam.
World War II-era Navy veteran, Georgetown University professor, and former member of the National Security Council under four presidential administrations, William Lloyd Stearman, wrote about the accomplishments of the United States in the Vietnam War in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece. In it, he argues that the Vietnam War was not only winnable, the North Vietnamese were constantly surprised that the Americans didn’t cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail by invading Laos – a move the NVA thought was inevitable – and thus, win the war for the South.
The U.S. didn’t want to widen the war, but if the NVA was already in Laos. It was already wider.
While the 96-year-old Stearman spends much of the article rehashing the causes for the outcome of the Vietnam War, the important aspects he adds to the discussion are what the United States and her allies actually achieved through their involvement there, rather than dwelling on what we lost. He argues that without the intervention of the U.S. in Vietnam, the West would have been forced into harder choices in more difficult areas as Communist insurgencies rocked other countries in the region. Quoting Singapore’s visionary leader Lee Kuan Yew, who wrote about this subject in his memoirs:
“In 1965, when the U.S. military moved massively into South Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines faced internal threats from armed insurgencies and the communist underground was still active in Singapore. Indonesia [was] in the throes of a failed communist coup. America’s action enabled noncommunist Southeast Asia to put their own houses in order. By 1975, they were in better shape to stand up to the communists. Had there been no U.S. intervention, the will of these countries to resist them would have melted and Southeast Asia would most likely gone communist.”
Lee Kuan Yew is famous for taking Singapore “from third world to first world” in a single generation.
The U.S. troop buildup in South Vietnam in 1965 spurred Britain to reinforce Malaysia. That same year, Indonesian forces were inspired by anti-Communist action and troop build-ups in the region and successfully fought off a Chinese-led Communist insurgency there. If the insurgency in Indonesia were successful, it would have spread to the Philippines and forced the U.S. to come to the Philippines to fight the Communists, rather than in North Vietnam.
That situation, Stearman argues, would have been far worse and far more costly than the fighting in Vietnam.
The name Giora Epstein might not ring a bell at first, but it is one you should know.
After all, he is the top-scoring jet ace of all time.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces web site, Epstein has 17 confirmed kills. The Jewish Virtual Library breaks them down as follows: two were MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters; one was a Mi-8 “Hip” helicopter; three were Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack planes; two were Su-20 “Fitter” attack planes; and nine were MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters.
The site notes that Epstein’s first five kills were in the Mirage III, the rest in the Nesher (a “pirated” Mirage 5).
Eight of those kills came over two days during the Yom Kippur War.
It is an impressive total. To make it even more impressive, Epstein, who flew until 1997, was skunked in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot of June, 1982.
Perhaps his most impressive aerial feat was when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-v-11 dogfight against Egyptian MiG-21s. According to the “Desert Aces” episode of the series “Dogfights,” Epstein’s flight of four Nesher fighters was jumped by over a dozen MiG-21s, just after Epstein shot down one of two Fishbeds that had drawn the assignment of being the decoy pair.
Epstein’s wingman shot down one MiG, but his engine was damaged by the exhaust from his Shafrir-2 air-to-air missile. Another of Epstein’s flight ran low on fuel, and headed back to base, while another of the Nesher pilots chased a MiG out of the main dogfight.
That left Epstein alone against 11 Fishbeds. It was not a fair fight… for the MiGs.
Epstein shot down the lead MiG of the decoy pair, then managed to outduel the other five pairs of MiG-21s shooting two of the Fishbeds down. When he returned to base, having scored four kills that day, ground crew had to lift him from the plane. Four days later, Epstein bagged three more Fishbeds, giving him 11 kills in less than a week.
Hollywood might often showcase submarines hunting down and attacking other submarines in a variety of movies and TV shows, but it’s actually been a very rare event in history.
In fact, the only time a submarine has ever been known for successfully hunting down and destroying an enemy submarine while underwater was in February 1945, with the destruction of the U-864, a German Type IX U-boat off the coast of Norway by a Royal Navy sub.
Towards the end of the war in Europe, U-864 under the command of Ralf-Reimar Wolfram, was sent out on a secret transport mission as part of Operation Caesar to smuggle jet engine components and schematics, bottles of mercury for constructing explosives, advisors and engineers to Japan undetected by Allied warships prowling around for U-boats.
The faltering German higher command had hoped that even if they were unsuccessful in their theater of war, the Japanese military could benefit from the advanced technology they sent over, continuing the war effort and eventually affording Germany a chance to get back in the fight.
In December 1944, the U-864 left its submarine pen in Kiel, Germany, for a trip to occupied-Norway where it would be refitted with a new snorkel before departing on its mission. The problematic refit and damage sustained from accidentally running aground pushed its deployment back until January of the next year.
Unbeknownst to the German navy, Allied forces were already aware of Operation Caesar, having cracked the Enigma code which was used by the German military to encrypt its classified communications. As a response to Caesar, the Royal Air Force and Navy bombed a number of submarine pens in Norway, including one where U-864 was temporarily housed in for repairs.
The U-864 eventually deployed on Operation Caesar, slipping away undetected by nearby Allied warships. However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the covert mission’s gears when the Royal Navy – unwilling to take unnecessary chances – tasked the HMS Venturer to hunt down and kill the U-864 before it could make a dash for the open oceans.
Venturer was commanded by Lt. Jimmy Launders, a highly-respected and brilliantly-minded tactician. Within days of reaching the U-864’s last suspected position, Launders “spotted” his quarry, thanks to noises emanating from the German warship’s engines.
Wolfram, unaware of the Venturer’s presence, had ordered his sub to turn around and head for port when it began experiencing engine troubles which created considerable noise – something he feared would easily give away their position. But by then, it was too late.
Launders began tracking the U-864 using a hydrophone instead of his sonar, as the “pings” from the sonar system would have likely alerted his prey to his existence. After a lengthy tracking phase, Launders fired off a spread of four torpedoes — half of his entire armament — and awaited the fruits of his efforts.
Wolfram’s bridge crew realized they were under attack when the noise from the inbound torpedoes reached the ears of their own hydrophone operators. Ordering the U-864 to take evasive maneuvers, Wolfram and his crew powered their submarine up in an attempt to speed out of the area.
Out of the four torpedoes launched by the Venturer, one hit its mark directly, fracturing the U-boat’s pressure hull and immediately sending it and its entire crew to the bottom. Launders and the crew of the Venturer had just effected the first and only submarine vs. submarine kill in history — a feat that has never been matched to this very day.
The wreck of the U-864 was discovered in 2003 by the Norwegian Navy, near where the Royal Navy had earlier reported a possible kill. Its cargo of mercury has since been exposed to the sea, severely contaminating the area around the shipwreck.
In the years since its rediscovery, the U-864 has been buried under thousands of pounds of rocks and artificial debris in order to stop the spread of its chemical cargo. It will remain there for decades to come while the metal of the destroyed submarine slowly disintegrates away.
For the past 75 years, the French Senate has claimed Paris’ lush Luxembourg Palace, former home of Marie de Medici, mother to King Louis XIII, as its home. During that entire time, rumors swirled about a large bust of Adolf Hitler, the man who once tried to burn Paris to the ground, hiding beneath the Senate chambers.
It turns out the rumors are not only true, but other Nazi paraphernalia are down there with the Führer’s giant head.
The Luxembourg Palace Gardens in World War II.
When Nazi troops were forced to abandon Paris in 1944, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler ordered the last commander of the Nazi occupation, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, to level the city. Hitler said the city must not be given to the Free French except laying in rubble. When the Germans finally abandoned the city, Choltitz surrendered 17,000 men to the Free French and left Paris the way it was. Hitler was furious.
During the German occupation, the Luxembourg Palace was the headquarters building for the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. After the Germans left, the palace was turned into the home of the French Senate, where the legislative body has been ever since – and ever since, the rumors of the Nazi leader’s bust have persisted but never been proven.
Until Sept. 5, 2019.
The Luxembourg Palace today.
The French newspaper Le Monde and reporter Olivier Faye conducted a serious investigation into the persistent rumor, finding not only the bust of Hitler, but a 10×6.5-foot long Nazi flag along with various other documents left over from 75 years ago. The only thing is, besides the palace’s history of headquartering the Nazi Air Force general staff, no one really knows how the Nazi memorabilia came to be in the basement of the French Senate.
In the waning days of the Nazi occupation, Luftwaffe personnel made a fast break for the exit, leaving the Luxembourg Palace in a state of disrepair and outright chaos. The Free French forces looted everything they could from the Nazi occupiers, and Nazi memorabilia became very valuable on the black market (it still is today). It’s believed these particular pieces of Nazi culture were hidden away by someone intent on selling them, hiding the pieces in the basement until a buyer could be found. That clearly never happened.
None of the Senators interviewed by Le Monde knew of the Nazi bust or flag in the basement – and no one knows what to do with them now.
In March of 1965, the first U.S. troops entered the jungle-filled country of Vietnam. This would begin America’s involvement in one of the most controversial wars in the nation’s history. While the service members were facing new dangers around every turn, the environment back home was growing increasingly hostile. As more of the population grew to protest the war, it became evident that the military members fighting in the jungles of Vietnam were quickly becoming public enemy number one.
By March of 1973, with the war coming to an end, demonstrations in the States began to die down. However, disillusionment with the war was as widespread as ever. The troops were withdrawing from Vietnam, but there was no warm welcome and appreciation waiting for them as they arrived home. The World War II era of celebration as troops returned to U.S. soil had passed, and the troops of the Vietnam era were met with nothing more than disdain, anger and protest.
These war veterans were thrown back into “normal” life without ceremony and with little to no assistance to help them adjust to life after war. This combined with the anger of the American people led many of these service members to turn to addiction and worse to cope with their inability to adjust back to civilian life. Others adjusted well enough, but went on to live their lives without the pride of their fellow veterans, always knowing deep down that their service was seen with disdain as opposed to gratitude. Even decades later, those who served in Vietnam were ignored or seen with the same contempt they were met with when they arrived home.
It wasn’t until 2007 when the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War was being observed that the movement to give Vietnam Veterans the acknowledgment they deserve truly took form. It was then that Congress authorized a program to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. However, it wasn’t until 2017 that Vietnam Veterans Day was officially established to be celebrated every year on March 29. This enactment states that the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War should be commemorated through 2025, thus ensuring that Vietnam Veterans Day will be observed at least through that time.
Along with establishing a specific day to acknowledge these veterans, there has been a movement across the country to give Vietnam Veterans the welcome home they never received 45 years ago. This movement encourages Americans to thank a Vietnam Veteran, shake their hand, and tell them, ‘Welcome home,’ when they meet them. Each of these veterans sacrificed something in those jungles many decades ago. Many sacrificed everything — while over there, or after they returned home. It is long overdue that those men are given the welcome home and the gratitude they deserve.
They didn’t choose to enter that war, or trek through those jungles. Many of them didn’t even choose to be in the military in the first place, their choice was taken away from them when they were drafted. However, they did their duty. They fought the war. And they faced contempt when they arrived home, living with it for decades since.
This Vietnam Veterans Day, and every day, take the time to thank a Vietnam Veteran. Take a moment to shake their hand, thank them for their service and welcome them home. It’s a small gesture, but to them it means more than anyone could possibly know. For them, 45 years later, they are finally gaining the acknowledgement and gratitude they should have received the day they stepped foot back on U.S. soil.
An unconventional visionary: Col. Charles “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith
Charlie Beckwith commissioned in the Army in 1952, volunteering for Special Forcers a few years later.
In 1960, he deployed to Laos as part of a covert special-operations program to harass the North Vietnamese. Following that tour, Beckwith was an exchange officer with the British Special Air Service (SAS).
He was given command of an SAS troop (about 15 operators) and deployed to Malaya, where the British were fighting a Communist insurgency. That deployment had a profound impact on “Charlie Blister,” as the British called him.
At the time, the British commandos were pioneering special-operations, unconventional warfare, and counterterrorism doctrine. They had recently adopted an “individualistic” approach to selection and assessment, scrutinizing a soldier’s ability to operate and excel on his own.
Beckwith put lessons from the SAS to good use when he redeployed to Vietnam in the late 1960s, but by the 1970s, international terrorism was becoming prevalent. Beckwith saw the need for a unit with counterterrorism and hostage-rescue capabilities.
After years of cajoling senior officers and navigating military bureaucracy, Beckwith created the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, better known as Delta Force.
The unit was part of the attempt to rescue American hostages in Tehran 1980. The failed operation, and Beckwith’s recommendations afterward, led to the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
Beckwith’s greatest accomplishment was Delta Force. His vision, buttressed by his buzzing energy, achieved what others could not.
“He dug the foundations but also paved the future,” a former Delta Force operator told Insider. “He knew he wouldn’t be there forever, so he had to recruit the best guys — the best noncommissioned officers and officers — who would safeguard his baby. And they did. Look at where the unit’s at today.”
During his career, Beckwith received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor under fire, and two Silver Stars. He retired in 1981 and died in 1994, but in 2001 he received the Bull Simons lifetime achievement award, the highest honor given by Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
One hell of a soldier: Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell
Bargewell enlisted in the Army in 1967 and went straight to the Special Forces, aiming to serve in Vietnam.
He was assigned to Military Assistance Command — Vietnam Studies and Operations Group (MACV-SOG), a secretive special-operations unit that conducted highly classified operations in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam.
Bargewell led cross-border missions that recovered valuable intelligence and put him in close contact with the enemy. During one such operation, a North Vietnamese soldier shot Bargewell in the chest as he cleared a NVA camp, but the bullet got stuck on his chest rig.
On another mission a few years later, he was shot in the face but fought on, allowing his team to exfiltrate, and was the last man out before the NVA overwhelmed the perimeter. His actions earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.
“Eldon always strived to learn,” John Stryker “Tilt” Meyer, a Green Beret legend who served alongside Bargewell in SOG and has written about the unit’s daring operations, told Insider.
“He always wanted to the job better, and he was relentless that way. His desire to learn never left him, not even when he made general. He never changed in all his years. He was one hell of a soldier,” Meyer said.
Bargewell commissioned as an officer after Vietnam, and in 1981, he passed Delta’s arduous selection process and became an operator in the new unit. Bargewell went on to command at all levels in Delta.
“He always pushed his men to practice the basics,” Meyer added. “If there was an operational lull, Eldon filled it up with training. He knew it would come handy in the future.”
And it did. In 1989, Bargewell commanded Operation Acid Gambit, the daring rescue of Kurt Muse, a CIA operative held captive by Panamanian forces in a heavily defended prison.
During the extraction, the MH-6 Little Bird carrying Muse and some operators crashed close to prison, wounding several of them. Bargewell, then a lieutenant colonel, exposed himself to enemy fire to provide cover with a machine gun while his troops exited the damaged helicopter.
The operation was one of Delta Force’s first successful hostage rescues and firmly established it as the US military’s top hostage-rescue outfit.
Bargewell went on to command Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) and to have key positions in JSOC and SOCOM. When he retired in 2006, after almost 40 years in uniform, he was among the Army’s most decorated soldiers.
Bargewell spent almost his entire career in Army special-operations units, including Special Forces and the Rangers, but he left his mark with Delta Force. In 2010, he received the Bull Simons award. Bargewell died in 2019.
The networker: Gen. Stanley McChrystal
Stanley McChrystal commissioned in the Army in 1976 and served in airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces units during a 34-year career.
When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, McChrystal was a rising star. He assumed command of JSOC, which includes Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, and went after Iraq’s growing Islamist insurgency.
With the motto “it takes a network to defeat a network,” McChrystal put liaisons everywhere, from the CIA to conventional military units, putting JSOC at the center of a web of units and agencies that shared intelligence like never before and acted fast.
For example, a Delta Force troop would hit a target early one night, gather intelligence, and conduct another raid immediately afterward, sometimes hitting three targets all over Iraq in the same night.
“We really turned it on with him,” a Delta Force operator told Insider. “The op tempo was crazy, but we pulled it off. We’d do two [or] three hits a night for weeks.”
Shrewd and tactful enough to navigate bureaucracy, McChrystal was still a warrior at heart.
At a counterterrorism meeting in an East African country, the CIA station chief present took a cavalier attitude toward McChrystal, who let him finish before saying, “Hey look, if you ever talk to me that way again, I’m going to come around this desk and beat the s— out of you,” according to journalist Sean Naylor.
In 2009, McChrystal assumed command in Afghanistan, where he devised the counterinsurgency strategy. Following Gen. David Petraeus’ example in Iraq, McChrystal argued for a surge of troops to defeat the Taliban. In the end, he persuaded President Barack Obama and the Pentagon despite the political cost of sending tens of thousands of additional troops to what many saw as a forgotten war.
But that command, and McChrystal’s career, ended with a blemish after he and his aides were quoted disparaging the Obama administration in a Rolling Stone article.
McChrystal retired with the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and JSOC’s renovation as his greatest achievements and with “his place secure as one of America’s greatest warriors,” according to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
In 1952, an accident at Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories near Deep River, Ontario caused a partial meltdown in an experimental nuclear reactor. Hydrogen explosions followed and hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive water flooded the core, heavily damaging the reactor. When the Canadian government turned to U.S. nuclear experts for help, “Father of the Nuclear Navy” Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover sent his protégé – Lieutenant James Earl “Jimmy” Carter – to lead a team of maintainers into the reactor core to shut it down.
The admiral was famous for the demands he put on the people who worked for him. His unorthodox methods almost kept him from making flag rank, but President Truman intervened on his behalf. It was a good call: the Navy’s 300 nuclear warships have never had a single nuclear incident.
Rickover’s team had access to the latest in nuclear energy technology because they were developing nuclear-powered ships for the U.S. Navy (the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was completed in 1955). The Navy knew the technology the Canadians were using and how best to fix it.
Rickover volunteered Carter to the Canadians to take the failing reactor apart so it could be replaced, a testament to the extraordinary faith and training the U.S. Navy places in its sailors – and to the good judgment of Adm. Rickover. First, the reactor had to be shut down, then it could be disassembled and replaced.
Carter, then 28 years old, had been in the Navy for six years. He was assigned to the Naval Reactors Branch of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C. Rickover’s demanding perfectionism was as instilled in Carter as it is today’s nuclear sailors.
Rickover (left) served 61 years on active duty and saw Carter get elected President.
In his book “Reflections at Ninety,” Carter recalls preparing for the task. The team built a replica of the reactor on a nearby tennis court to practice their next move and track the work they’d already finished. Every pipe, bolt, and nut was rebuilt exactly as it was in the damaged reactor area.
Lieutenant Carter divided himself and his 23 guys into teams of three. Each worked 90-second shifts cleaning and repairing the reactor as per what they practiced on the tennis court. A minute and a half was the maximum time the human body could handle the amount of radiation in the area.
By today’s standards, it was still way too much radiation – Carter and his men were exposed to levels a thousand times higher than what is now considered safe. He and his team absorbed a year’s worth of radiation in that 90 seconds. The basement where they helped replace the reactor was so contaminated, Carter’s urine was radioactive for six months after the incident.
It makes sense that the ship named after President Carter would be a Seawolf-class nuclear submarine, as Carter helped develop the nuclear Navy and was the only U.S. President to be qualified for submarine duty. The USS Jimmy Carter was commissioned in February 2005.
The effects of this exposure eventually caught up to him. Carter developed cancerous tumors on his liver and brain at age 91 but was screened as cancer-free a year later.
Lt. Col. Cordelia “Betty” Cook was the first woman to earn both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
In an era when women were still protesting to earn the right to vote, Lt. Col. Cook rose through the military ranks to become one of the most highly decorated female service members of WWII. At a time when few women were serving, and those who were serving in active duty positions were segregated into “women’s only” units, her actions in combat highlighted not only her strength and resilience, but her dedication to duty and country. Here’s the story of how she earned both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Born in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Cook was the middle of five children. Historical accounts of her early life are sparse, but it’s been suggested by military historians that Cook showed an aptitude for nursing early on. Her family encouraged her to pursue her education, so Cook attended Christ Hospital School of Nursing in Cincinnati, Ohio. She studied there for three years before becoming a surgical nurse and commissioning with the Army. Immediately after her commission, Cook was sent to Europe to aid and assist the medical corps already in place there.
Cook quickly became immersed in her work and was said to refuse time off, even when she was offered leave. She gained a reputation as being a kind and compassionate nurse who would go above and beyond the call of duty.
At the outset of the landing of Allied troops in Italy, the German forces were at a distinct advantage. Battles in the region were fierce and brutal, and the terrain favored the Germans, who used the Apennine Mountains to their advantage.
It was at her first duty station that Lt. Col. Cook’s field hospital where she worked was bombed. Despite the apparent danger to her own life, Cook did everything she could to administer medicine to the wounded.
In 1944, following the bombing of the field hospital where she worked, Cook was transferred to the 11th Field Hospital in the Presenzano sector of the Italian front.
The Presenzano sector’s importance
Allied personnel landed in Italy in September 1943. Within a month, they liberated Naples and crossed the Volturno River, effectively pinning down the German forces. However, by the end of the year, the German Army’s 23 divisions were reinforced and consisted of 215,000 troops in the south and 265,000 in the north. South of Rome, Germany had three major defensive lines: the Barbara Line, which stretched from Monte Massico to Presenzano; the Reinhard Line, forty miles north of Naples; and the Gustav Line, which interlocked defenses and spread along the narrowest point of the country.
Being stationed at the 11th Field Hospital in Presenzano meant that Lt. Col. Cook was at risk every time she reported for duty. Cook was awarded the Bronze Star for her work at the hospital. Shortly after being awarded the Bronze Star, Cook sustained a shrapnel injury from German artillery fire. Even though she was on duty, Cook completed her shift. For this, she earned the Purple Heart.
First woman to receive both awards
The Purple Heart Medal is presented to service members who have been wounded as a result of enemy actions. Since its creation in 1782, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been awarded to service members.
Like the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal is awarded to service members for heroic or meritorious deeds performed while in armed conflict. The Bronze Star dates to WWII and is the fourth-highest ranking award a service member can receive.
After the war
Following the end of WWII, Cook returned to the Midwest, where she settled in Columbus, Ohio. She married Harold E. Fillmore, an Army Captain. Together, they had three children, a daughter and two sons. Lt. Col. Cook worked for almost thirty years as a nurse at Doctors Hospital North in Columbus, Ohio.
Lt. Col. Cook certainly paved the way for women of future generations and has helped inspire female service members across all military branches. The fact that she has been recognized for her valor during a war is a good start in bringing to light the valuable contributions of female service members.