Two daring commandos made a bold New Year's Eve recon mission - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

On New Year’s Eve 1943, a full five months before D-Day, British Major Logan Scott-Bowden and Sgt. Bruce Ogden-Smith swam ashore near the village of Luc-sur-Mer in France’s German-held Normandy region.


In the distance, they could hear Germans singing as they celebrated the new year. A fierce wind that began blowing as they crossed the English Channel carried them a mile from their target landing site, a beach code-named “Sword.” Armed with daggers and Colt .45 pistols, the two men began walking in the darkness, careful to stay below the tide line — where their footsteps would be erased by morning.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
Brigadier Logan Scott-Bowden after the war.

“We had to creep past the searchlights to make our way to the correct beach, dropping down on our stomachs every few minutes when the search light came back round,” Scott-Bowden later said.

Scott-Bowden and Ogden-Smith were members of the Combined Operations Pilotage and Beach Reconnaissance Party (COPP), a secret British unit that had been formed by Lord Mountbatten, British Chief of Combined Operations, after the disastrous Dieppe landing in August 1942.

They were there to answer a question.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
Sergeant Bruce Ogden-Smith.

By late 1943, planning for the Allied invasion of Europe narrowed the invasion site to the east coast of the Calvados Peninsula in Normandy, which had all the factors the Allies believed they needed for success: A good port at Caen, shelter from the worst of Atlantic Ocean storms, thirty miles of beach, decent exits from the beaches, and a good road network. But old Roman maps of the area, found among the information supplied by the Resistance, indicated the Romans gathered peat from the area, which worried planners.

If there were peat bogs under a thin layer of sand at the proposed invasion sites, the beaches might not be able to support the heavy equipment — tanks, trucks, bulldozers, and the like — that would be part of the landing.

When Scott-Bowden and Ogden-Smith were selected for the mission, and before they left from Gosport, near Portsmouth, they were offered cyanide tablets to be used if they were captured and faced torture.

Related: 6 of the wildest top secret spy missions of World War II

As the men moved closer to shore in the area around Luc-sur-Mer, a gale was blowing. A few miles from the target beach, they changed into rubber wet suits, strapped on their equipment, and transferred to a hydrographical survey craft that took them to within two miles of the shore, where the two men jumped over the side and started swimming.

Besides their other equipment, the men carried a dozen twelve-inch tubes for sand samples and a special instrument, said to look like a pogo stick, for taking the samples.

Eventually the men reached Sword Beach, began taking samples, marking the location from which each was taken on underwater writing tablets strapped to their arms. But they stopped suddenly when they spotted German guard patrolling the dark beach. The two men flattened themselves in the sand as the guard crossed the beach to within twenty feet of them.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
Injured and exhausted assault troops are helped ashore at Sword Beach on D-Day,

“We both had our pistols in our hands,” Scott-Bowden said, “and I really thought I was going to have to shoot him.”

After a few minutes, however, the guard moved on without spotting the two men who quickly resumed work and finished their sample collecting.

Weighted down with the samples and their other equipment, they returned to the surf and tried to swim out from the shore to their pickup point – only to be thrown back by the crashing waves kicked up by the wind. A second attempt ended the same way.

The two men rested in shallow water for a few minutes, studying the incoming waves and timing their occurrence before being able to escape the surf and swim into calmer water.

At this point, Scott-Bowden could hear his partner yelling. Fearing Ogden-Smith was in danger — and would alert the Germans to their presence — Scott-Bowden headed in his direction only to realize Ogden-Smith was simply yelling, “Happy New Year.”

“I swore at him, ” Scott-Bowden said, “then wished him a Happy New Year, too.”

They made it.

It was later reported that they left one of the “pogo stick” devices on the beach, but a French civilian found it and hid it for the duration of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This corporal recruited Nazi scientists for the space program

Once, a friend asked if I’d ever heard of Operation Paperclip. This was the secret program started at the end of World War II that allowed German rocket scientists, including some highly placed Nazis, to enter the United States and work for our military. Its name was derived from the secret practice of putting a paperclip on the first page of an individual’s visa as a signal to U.S. immigration officials to let them through, no questions asked. These former adversaries became the foundation of America’s space program and helped NASA put us on the moon.


I’d written about Paperclip in several books, so I was surprised when my friend told me that his grandfather had worked on a similar Army program that was even more secret.

This is how I got to meet Bob Jamison, my friend’s father. He’d just written a family memoir about his father, Jim Jamison, and the extraordinary adventures he had during World War II — and beyond.

Also read: The 9 best nonfiction history audiobooks you can get right now

Mack Maloney: Without really trying, your father found himself at several pivotal moments in history. For instance, he was the first person to ever fire a bazooka.

Bob Jamison: He worked at the famous Aberdeen Proving Ground, the place where the U.S. Army designs and tests a lot of its weapons even today. He started there in 1941 as a carpenter, but his ability to do just about any job caught the attention of the higher-ups, and he was recruited by the Ordnance Department to do ballistic testing. That’s how he got to fire the first bazooka. He also worked on the proximity fuse, which is still in use.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
Jim Jamison (in bow-tie) showing an invention to a General.

Then he was drafted into the military?

Yes. It was December 1943, and America needed fresh recruits. He went into the Army and suffered the same snafus as any soldier – for example, they lost his basic training file and made him take basic over again. He also had a very uncomfortable flight to Europe once he deployed. He caught a ride with some paratroopers and the plane was tossed around so badly, even the airborne guys were getting sick.

Then one of the plane’s engines began smoking. The pilot announced that they would probably have to ditch in the North Atlantic, a virtual death sentence. But – and here’s a good example of what kind of a guy my father was – he helped the crew hook up a light so they could look out at the engine and keep an eye on its condition during the long night. Then he took a nap. The plane landed safely and all ended well. But I’ll tell you, my dad was a very cool customer.

Related: The real ‘GI Joe’ is one of four living WWII Medal of Honor recipients

He was eventually made a corporal and assigned to a top-secret unit known only as V-2.

Yes. It was a program to surreptitiously seek out German rocket scientists and bring them over to our side without anyone knowing about it, including our closest allies. It was May 1945. The Germans had surrendered and Werner Von Braun, Germany’s top rocket scientist, had already contacted U.S. Army Intelligence. My father’s team was to find the rest of the scientists who’d worked with Von Braun, and do it before the Russians did. Sometimes his unit worked in two-man teams – one officer, one enlisted man – but later on they sent the enlisted men out alone. Army Intelligence would give them the names and locations of key scientists with orders to bring back anyone willing to come to America and work for us.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
Jim Jamison and his wife, Jean.

Your father was carrying orders signed by Eisenhower himself. Extraordinary for a corporal.

His best story about that happened when he was traveling alone. He was close to the Russian sector, hoping to connect with another German scientist, when he stopped at an American outpost to get directions. When he went back outside, he was stopped by a captain who had a colonel standing behind him. The captain told my dad the colonel’s Jeep had broken down and he was going to confiscate my father’s. But my father told the captain he couldn’t have his Jeep. The colonel stepped forward and said, “You better have a damn good reason why, soldier!” My dad pulled out his orders signed by Ike, giving him priority over anything else happening in the war zone. The officers read the orders, knew my father was right, and walked away, grumbling. It was an enlisted man’s dream come true!

Up next: This documentary alleges the US purchased its space program from Yugoslavia

One day your dad went out looking for rocket scientists and ran into someone totally unexpected.

My father and a captain were driving through Munich following up on a lead when they came upon a convoy of signal corps troops, the same outfit my father’s brother was serving in. My dad mentioned it to the captain, who told him to pull over. While the captain talked to the officer in charge, my father asked some of the soldiers if they knew Lester “Leck” Jamison. Leck overheard his name being mentioned and came around the truck and, to his amazement, saw my father.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
Jim Jamison and his brother, Leck.

Talk about a chance meeting.

Well, it was two brothers seeing a friendly face in a very unfriendly place. But it was one of a few really amazing situations my dad found himself in.

As you said, even though the war with Germany was over, your father was in a very hostile place.

There were still live land mines buried everywhere, including on the roadways. There were Nazi snipers hiding in outlying villages who didn’t realize Germany had surrendered. Even some German civilians – even children – believed they should fight to the very last. But not the least, the Russians desperately wanted the very same scientists my father and his V-2 team members were looking for. If he’d been caught with one, well – let’s just say the Russians liked to shoot first and seek forgiveness later.

It was the beginning moments of the next war – the Cold War.

Right. We were more or less inviting these scientists to America, and the Russians were forcing them at gunpoint back to Russia. The Russians were technically our allies, but at the same time, some very dangerous people.

Your dad had at least one face-to-face encounter with the Russians, and it led to yet another amazing happenstance.

He was given an assignment to find a German scientist Army Intelligence had heard was being kept against his will by the Russians. My father arrived at his destination, an old rural village that was split in two. The U.S had a small outpost at one end of town and the Russians had one at the other. On seeing my father’s orders, the captain of the American outpost was ready to assist in any way. My father told him he needed an interpreter to explain to the scientist why he was here, since he didn’t speak enough German to get the point across.

The captain sent for his interpreter, and when the man walked into the room, my father couldn’t believe his eyes. He was an old friend of his from back home named Jerome Porkorney. His family had fled Germany and eventually immigrated to America. He could speak Czech, Polish, German, Russian, and English.

More: This comic book legend fought Nazi panzers and earned a Bronze Star

Jerome confirmed that the scientist was on the Russian side of town awaiting a detail to transport him back to Russia. But Jerome had a plan. He inconspicuously made his way behind the houses and spoke to the German scientist, explaining that this was his one and only opportunity to escape and go to America. Then Jerome instructed my father to hide his wristwatch and wedding ring, because if the Russians saw any jewelry, they would take it. They would also be very suspicious if they saw my dad’s Tommy gun, so he was going into this unarmed.

While my dad stood casually in front of the American outpost and smoked a cigarette, Jerome took some schnapps to the two armed Russian soldiers at the other end of the street. On a subtle signal from Jerome, my father got in his Jeep and casually drove away. But once out of sight of the Russians, he doubled back and headed for the rear of the scientist’s house.

My dad knew this was a mortally dangerous affair. If he or Jerome were caught, they could be summarily shot. Even worse, if he wasn’t able to destroy his orders in time and the Russians figured out his mission, it would endanger the V-2 operation and, ultimately, America’s position in the coming space race.

He reached the back door of the scientist’s house not knowing what would happen next. But the man quickly jumped into the Jeep and they sped away. They’d pulled it off.

Your father’s unusual life didn’t end after he left the service.

He went back to work at Aberdeen after the war and continued to have a high profile. He worked on many secret cases for which he tested weapons and issued reports. One day in late 1963, two FBI agents arrived at Aberdeen, one with a rifle handcuffed to his wrist. They met with the post commander, who directed them to the branch chief, who sent them to the section chief, who sent them to my father. The agent un-handcuffed the rifle and gave it to my dad for testing but never let it out of his sight. When the tests were completed, the agent re-handcuffed the rifle to his wrist, and he and the other agent left. That rifle was believed to be the one used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

 

Mack Maloney is the author of numerous fiction series, including WingmanChopperOpsStarhawk, and Pirate Hunters, as well as the non-fiction UFOs in Wartime.
A native Bostonian, Maloney received a bachelor of science degree in journalism at Suffolk University and a master of arts degree in film at Emerson College. He is the host of a national radio show, Mack Maloney’s Military X-Files.
To learn more about Jim Jamison, please visit Clan Jamison Heroes Stories.
MIGHTY HISTORY

The USSR won an advanced jet engine from Rolls-Royce in a bet

The MiG-15 was the jet fighter that shook the West out of its delusion of automatic air superiority. Before the MiG-15, B-29 bombers could raid North Korean cities at will — in broad daylight. After the introduction of the MiG-15, the bomber fleet was grounded because the Air Force’s F-80 Shooting Stars were too slow to protect them.


A strange, new plane was strafing American aircraft in the skies over the Korean War, and it was 100 mph faster than anything the United Nations forces had in the air. It was also killing dozens of UN pilots and planes — and it had to be stopped.

It might be hard to believe, but the source of the Russians’ new fighter’s monstrous speed was a Rolls-Royce design, which was pretty much supplied by the British themselves.

It wasn’t very often that anyone pulled the wool over the eyes of the British during the Cold War. The Soviets were a clever bunch, though.

In 1946, the Soviets were invited to a Rolls-Royce factory. The delegation in attendance included Artem Mikoyan (the man who put the ‘Mi’ in ‘MiG’) himself. Mikoyan was then invited to visit the house of a Rolls-Royce executive, where they played billiards.

Artem Mikoyan was great at billiards. In fact, he may have used a textbook shark move, losing the first game and then raising the stakes on the second. Here’s the bet he made: If the Russian wins, Rolls-Royce will have to sell jet engines to the Soviets. Find out who won at around 9:00 in the video below.

If it sounds surprising that the deal was made over a bet or that the British would supply the Russians with Rolls-Royce engines, you’re not alone. Stalin himself was incredulous, reportedly saying, “what idiot would sell us their jet engines?”

The Russians agreed to use the acquired engines for non-military purposes exclusively, which they did… until they were able to make a Russian copy of the Rolls-Royce engines, then called the Klimov RD-45. The engine was fitted into the MiG-15 and was fully operational in time for the Korean War, taking to the skies with weaponry designed to take down B-29 Superfortress bombers.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

A B-29 Bomber in the gunsights of a MiG-15.

It was the dominant fighter over Korea until the introduction of the American F-86 Sabre. The Sabre was more than a match for the new MiG, garnering a 10-to-1 combat victory ratio in the war. It was also the plane flown by all 39 United Nations fighter aces.

Sabres and MiG-15s would be at each other’s throats for the duration of the Korean War. The last Sabre was retired from the U.S. military in 1956 whereas the MiG-15 saw service around the world throughout the 1960s. In fact, the plane is still flying with the North Korean People’s Air Force to this day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 lesser-known facts about the National Guard

Sometimes it can feel pretty darn easy to forget about the National Guard – especially when the branch doesn’t get any traction for high visibility news coverage. But the truth is that the National Guard actually has a long and distinguished history, and has been a cornerstone to the support of other branches of the military.

Here’s a list of 7 lesser known facts about the National Guard.


Earliest beginnings 

Did you know that the National Guard is older than the United States? It’s true. In 1636, the first militia units were organized in the Massachusetts Bay Colony under three permanent regiments, and each of these militia units trace their lineage back to 17th century armed forces. However, colonists were fearful of a militia and vehemently opposed a standing army.

Over 100 years later, the 1792 Militia Act gave the president powers to call forth the militia whenever the United States might be invaded or be in face of imminent danger of invasion.

Evolution of the Guard

Free, able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 were conscripted into local militia during the 19th century in the United States. The militia units were divided much like the current modern military into divisions, brigades, battalions and companies.

What’s in a name?

The use of the term “National Guard” occurred after the end of the Civil War. In 1878, the National Guard Association of the United States was formed to lobby for the formation of the National Guard in states and territories. The term was popularized by Marquis de Lafayette, but didn’t become an official term until 1916.

During the Revolutionary War, National Guard service members were called “Minutemen” for their rapid response abilities, making them the original Rapid Deployment Force.

Official recognition 

During the Progressive Era (1890-1920), reforms to government and private industry saw a shift in the perception of the National Guard. Of the most pressing reforms was the Militia Act of 1903 which established training and organizational standards across all Guard units in the country.

The amendment of the National Defense Act in 1933 officially created the National Guard of the United States and formally established it as a separate reserve component of the Army. This revision allowed for the creation of training standards and clearly defined the role of National Guard units when they’re called into service.

Swearing in ceremonies are unusual

Each member of the National Guard has to swear to uphold both the federal constitution and their state constitution. This oath hearkens back to the origins of the National Guard as a state militia.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Presidents serve, too

Two presidents have served in the National Guard in its current iteration – Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush.

A National Guard for every state

Guard units are everywhere except in American Samoa, which is the only U.S. territory not to have a unit.

To join the National Guard, a person has to be between the ages of 17 and 35, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have at least a high school diploma or GED. Enlistment is eight years, minimum. However, a person can elect to serve three or six years and spend the remainder of the time in Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). IRR soldiers don’t train with a unit but can be called up in the event of an emergency.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Russians had Women’s ‘Battalions of Death’ in World War I

Saying that World War I was really bad for Russia is like saying Hitler was a somewhat unstable veteran of the Great War. While the Tsar fielded the largest army in the world at the time and should have been able to trounce the Germans, years (maybe decades) of neglecting modernization hampered the Russians. Roads were impossible and railways were inadequate. Casualties were heavy and the conditions were deplorable. Even drafting men for the war was difficult. Life in the Russian Empire was so bad, the Tsar would be toppled and replaced by the Soviet Union.

Before the Tsar was forced to abdicate, the Russian Empire tried a last-ditch effort to fill its ranks: hiring women.


Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Congrats, you’re hired.

When the Great War first began, Russians were only too happy to serve in their country’s military. It was (on paper, at least) one of the most vaunted fighting forces on Earth at the time. But Tsarist Russia’s poor infrastructure, the indecision of the Russian high command, and the lack of adequate food, supplies, and other war resources soon made life miserable. When word got out about the deteriorating conditions on the front, good men suddenly became hard to find. Women, on the other hand, had been trying to join the regular army since day one. These women soon demanded the government form all-women’s military units.

The Tsarist government, facing an increasing manpower shortage, finally gave in. It formed 15 all-women’s battalions in an effort to replace its missing manpower with womanpower. They included communications battalions, a naval unit, and the aptly-named Women’s Battalion of Death. Of the 5,000 women who served in these units, 300 of them would join the Battalion of Death and march to the front in 1914.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Maria Bochkareva was awarded multiple medals after stabbing Germans to death in the trenches.

Led by the peasant fighter-turned military leader Maria Bochkareva, the women were highly-trained and tightly-controlled by Bochkareva. While her harsh (sometimes brutal) leadership kept a majority of potential volunteers from joining, the 300 or so who did stay became some of the most hardcore Russian troops of the First World War. They first saw action in the Kerensky Offensive of 1917. It was a terrible loss for the Russians, who lost 60,000 troops in the fighting. But it was a stunning victory for the Women’s Battalion of Death.

When ordered to go over the top and storm the enemy trenches, the women never hesitated, even when the men at their side did. In one instance, the Russian women made it through three trench systems before the lack of reinforcements necessitated their retreat. Bochkareva, though wounded twice, earned three medals for bravery in combat. With the effectiveness of the women in combat proven on the front, other women were deployed back home.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Back in St. Petersburg, things weren’t going so well for the Tsar and his government. Another women’s battalion had to be deployed to the Winter Palace to defend government ministries and the people who were running them. This is where history could have been made or turned back. When the Bolshevik fighters attempted to take the city, the women weren’t at the Winter Palace, they abandoned the government ministers to their fate and went to guard the supplies. Eventually, they were overcome by the Bolsheviks and forced to surrender. When the Bolsheviks officially took power, these women’s units were disbanded, with varying success.

Women who wanted to fight the Bolsheviks stayed in their units, joining the White Russian forces in the Russian Civil War. Others went home and became Soviet citizens. Many would live long enough to see women conscripted once more when Russia was again threatened from the outside, taking up arms against the Nazis and forming an essential element to the resistance of the Soviet Union – many of whom would go on to earn the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Coasties killed a German sub and saved their convoy

The U.S. Coast Guard has an under-recognized place in World War II history, fighting German spies before the U.S. entered the war and immediately taking on convoy escort duties, weather patrols, and anti-submarine missions after America declared war on the Axis Powers. One of the Coast Guard crews that bravely shouldered the load was the USCGC Campbell which, in icy Atlantic waters, took bold action to finish off a German U-boat that attempted to attack it.


Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Crewmembers of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell pose with their mascot, Sinbad, in World War II.

(U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office)

The Campbell was part of a class of 327-foot Coast Guard cutters specially designed for high-speed service on the high seas. It spent much of World War II protecting convoys and, in February 1943, was one of the escorts for Convoy ON-166. This was before the bulk of German submarines were chased from the Atlantic in “Black May,” and the wolf packs were on the prowl to cut off supplies to Europe and starve Britain into submission.

On February 21, one of those wolf packs found and engaged the convoy. Over a dozen subs fired torpedoes and shells into merchant vessels as the Coast Guard and Navy vessels rushed to protect them.

The Campbell’s involvement started with rescuing 50 merchant mariners from the water. It had to dodge a German torpedo during the rescue, and then it pressed the attack against U-753, heavily damaging it and forcing its withdrawal. It spent the rest of the night driving off German U-boats until it finally attempted to get back to the convoy.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Crewmembers load a Mk. VII depth charge onto the HMS Dianthus, another escort of ON-166, during World War II.

(Imperial War Museums)

In the pre-dawn darkness, Campbell was 40 miles behind the convoy, essentially alone and attempting to catch up and help kill more German submarines. But then a shape emerged from the inky blackness. U-606 was bringing the fight to the Campbell and attempting to engage it before it could meet up with the convoy.

U-606 had three kills to its name, including two ships of ON-166. But it had been damaged while sinking those earlier ships, and attacking the Campbell was a greedy and potentially risky move. Attacking from the surface exposed its position to the American crew and would allow the Campbell to employ its gun crews as well as depth charges.

When the Campbell spotted the sub, it went one step further. Cmdr. James A. Hirshfield ordered a ramming maneuver, swinging the ship about to slam its hull against the submarine.

The Campbell’s bold maneuver came at a cost, though, as the side plating ruptured and salt water began to pour in. Cmdr. Kenneth K. Cowart supervised damage control while also helping to ensure that sufficient engine power was on hand for the continued maneuvering and fighting.

Meanwhile, on the deck, the men controlling the depth charges had managed to drop two during the ram, damaging U-606 further. And deck gun crews began pouring fire onto the stricken sub, attempting to disable or kill it before it could unleash its own deadly barrage against the cutter.

In this melee, an all-Black gun crew of a three-inch gun battery distinguished itself for bravery, accurately concentrating its damage on the sub’s deck and conning tower.

But the salt water took its toll, finally shorting out Campbell’s power. The German sub was defeated, and the cutter took five prisoners, but Campbell was liable to sink at any moment. Hirshfield ordered the prisoners, the merchant mariners, and all non-essential personnel off the ship.

He led the remaining crew through four days of damage control without engine power before finally receiving a tow back to port for repairs. The Campbell survived the war. Hirshfield received the Navy Cross for his actions, and Cowart and Cmdr. Bret H. Brallier received Silver Stars for their parts in saving the cutter.

Louis Etheridge, the man who led that all-Black gun crew on the three-inch battery, later received a Bronze Star for his work that February.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor

In their 75 years building, fighting and serving on every continent – even Antarctica – only one Navy Seabee has been bestowed with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.


Marvin G. Shields was a third-class construction mechanic with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 and assigned to a nine-member Seabee team at a small camp near Dong Xoai, Vietnam. The camp housed Army Green Berets with 5th Special Forces Group, who were advising a force of Vietnamese soldiers including 400 local Montagnards.

Shields, then 25, who enlisted in 1962, was killed in an intense 1965 battle in Vietnam. His actions under fire led to the posthumous medal, awarded in 1966, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

So far he is the only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor.

On June 10, 1965, Dong Xoai came under heavy fire from a regimental-sized Viet Cong force, who pummeled the camp with machine guns and heavy weapons. The initial attack wounded Shields but didn’t stop him.

“Shields continued to resupply his fellow Americans who needed ammunition and to return the enemy fire for a period of approximately three hours, at which time the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame-throwers, hand grenades and small-arms fire,” his award citation states. “Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nevertheless assisted in carrying a more critically wounded man to safety, and then resumed firing at the enemy for four more hours.”

Still, Shields kept fighting.

“When the commander asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out an enemy machinegun emplacement which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission,” reads the citation. “Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, they succeeded in destroying the enemy machinegun emplacement, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound.”

But hostile fire ultimately got Shields, mortally wounding him as he was taking cover.

“His heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service,” the citation states.

The five-day Battle of Dong Xoai also garnered a Medal of Honor for a junior Green Beret officer, 2nd Lt. Charles Q. Williams, who was wounded several times in the battle and survived the war.

Shields’ unit – Seabee Team 1104 – had come together just four months before the attack on their Dong Xoai camp, Frank Peterlin, the team’s officer-in-charge, recalled in a 2015 Navy news article about the Navy’s 50th commemoration of the battle and Shields’ award.

“In the evening, he [Shields] would have his guitar at his side and would love to sing and dance, especially with the Cambodian troops at our first camp,” said Peterlin, who attended the ceremony. “Marvin was always upbeat. At Dong Xoai, he was joking and encouraging his teammates throughout the battle.” Peterlin, a lieutenant junior-grade at the time, was wounded amid the fight and earned the Silver Star medal for his actions leading the men.

Shields, who was survived by his wife and young daughter, has been long remembered by Port Townsend, Washington, his hometown.

At the time of his death, the Port Townsend Leader newspaper wrote of him and his service: “A 1958 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Shields was one of the first employees on the Mineral Basin in Mining Development at Hyder, Alaska, when the locally organized project was initiated there by Walt Moa of Discovery Bay. He worked at Mineral Basin during the summer before graduating from school and returned there as a full time construction worker in 1958. He was called into the Navy early in 1962, and was due to be discharged in January.”

The Navy honored his memory with a frigate in his name (retired in 1992). The official U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California, has a large display about him its Hall of Heroes. Navy Seabees have never forgotten Shields, who is buried in Gardiner, Washington. Inscribed on his black-granite headstone is this: “He died as he lived, for his friends.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Islander helped recover the bodies of fallen Marines he’d hidden from the Japanese 60 years earlier

On August 18, 1942, U.S. Marine Corps Raiders assaulted Japanese positions on Makin Island (today known as Butaritari). The Raiders were a WWII-era elite unit trained for special amphibious light infantry combat. Their mission was to destroy Japanese installations and gather intelligence as well as divert attention from the landings on Guadalcanal. This small raid on a Japanese seaplane base was among the first American offensive operations of the Pacific War. It didn’t end well, and many of their bodies weren’t found for years.


 

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

 

The Raiders met strong resistance but killed a number of Japanese defenders, destroyed two ships, and took out two planes attempting to land in a nearby lagoon. All went well until it came time to be extracted via submarine. Mechanical problems and an unexpectedly strong surf kept 11 of the 18 extraction boats from beating the surf. Eventually, more would make it to the submarine but the raid would end with 18 Marines killed in action and 12 more missing. The raid failed to return any meaningful intel but it was a successful test of coastal raider tactics.

The Americans had to leave in such a hurry they were unable to take the bodies of the dead with them. They asked the Butaritari men on the island to bury the bodies of the dead so the Japanese couldn’t find them. Locals wound up burying the Marines after the U.S. withdrawal.

In 2000, U.S. Department of Defense search teams came looking for the bodies of the Marines because they received a tip from one of the then-teenagers who found the bodies on a coral island so long ago. Now an old man, he showed the search team where to look.

Survivors from the raid. Bodies of many others weren't recovered for years

Fifty-eight years after the last living Marines were extracted from the atoll by submarine, the graves of the fallen were found. The graves were dug with respect and were intact according to the burial customs of the Butaritari. They were still clothed, complete with helmets, rifles, grenades, and dog tags. Marines in full dress blues arrived via C-130 and carried the flag-draped coffins from an island airstrip to accompany the remains as they were repatriated to the United States.

 

As the Marines carried the 19 Raiders aboard, the old Butaritari man who pointed out the gravesite began to sing the Marine Corps Hymn. The man didn’t speak English or even understand what he was saying, but the Marines taught him the song as a boy and he remembered it 60 years later.

 

The first enlisted Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II was Clyde Thomason, who was killed at Makin Island. Thomason was repatriated with the others in 2000 while 11 of his fellow Marines remain missing.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why America’s first purpose-built nightfighter was named for a spider

In World War II, aerial warfare became a 24-hour-a-day thing. The bombers came first, carrying out devastating raids, like the December, 1940 bombing of Coventry or the Blitz over London. The British, of course, returned the favor by sending RAF Bomber Command over Germany at night.


Neither side liked having their cities bombed in the middle of the night, but stopping them proved incredibly difficult. The United States watched from afar and got technical briefings on radar during the Battle of Britain. The United States Army Air Corps turned to Northrop to help develop a specialized nightfighter, while also turning the existing A-20 into an interim nightfighter.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
A Northrop P-61 Black Widow at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (USAF photo)

What emerged was the P-61 Black Widow, named after the deadly spider that inspired its black coat of paint. The first thing that jumps out at you is the size. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, this fighter was about as big as some bombers! Like the P-38, it was a twin-engine plane. Its armament was very heavy: four Hispano 20mm cannon in the belly and four M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a turret on the top. It could also carry over three tons of bombs.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter had pilot, radar operator, and gunner. (USAF photo)

Despite the plane’s size and weight, it proved to be very maneuverable. By the time it reached the front in June, 1944, much of the Japanese and German opposition had been destroyed. Still, the Smithsonian Institute notes that the P-61 scored 127 air-to-air kills of enemy aircraft (plus 18 V-1s).

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Despite being designed to kill enemy planes, the P-61 also proved to be very good at “night intruder” missions. In short, this plane proved very capable when it came to shooting up enemy airfields, trains, supply convoys, tanks, and other ground installations. But World War II had seen the rise of the jet age, and a month before the Korean War, the last P-61s were retired.

Learn more about this plane with a lethal bite in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZtg29VNTHM
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

How brave World War II-era pilots flew the now-classic C-47

The C-47 is a classic transport plane — it flew with the United States Air Force in World War II and remained in service until 2008. It’s been used by dozens of countries as a transport. A re-built version, the Basler BT-67, currently serves in a half-dozen air forces, from Mauritania to Thailand, in both transport and gunship versions. In fact, classic C-47s are still around — either under civilian ownership or as warbirds.


This shouldn’t be a surprise. Over 10,000 C-47s were produced by the United States alone. Japan and the Soviet Union also built this plane — and these durable, reliable birds don’t just disappear. Versions of this plane also served as electronic warfare assets, either listening in to enemy communications or serving as jammers.

The baseline C-47 has a top speed of 230 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,600 miles. It can carry 27 combat-ready troops or up to three tons of cargo. The latter might not sound like much when compared to modern cargo-carrying birds, but again, over 10,000 of these planes were produced. With those kinds of quantities, you’re able to move a lot of volume on demand.

The C-47 was used in the European and Pacific theaters of World War II, the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. C-47s helped drop the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in Normandy and also dropped supplies to besieged troops in Bastogne.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
C-47s were used in all theaters of World War II – and training the tens of thousands of pilots was an immense task.
(Imperial War Museum photo)

The fact that so C-47s remain many out there in the world means that, one day, you might just get the chance to own one. Then, like tens of thousands of pilots before you over the last nearly 80 years, you will have to learn how to fly this legend.

Start by watching the video below.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This soldier stayed awake for 40 years after being shot in the head

After the outbreak of World War I, young Paul Kern joined millions of Hungarian countrymen in answering the call to avenge their fallen Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. He joined the Hungarian army and, shortly after, the elite corps of shock troops that would lead the way in clearing out Russian trenches on the Eastern front. In 1915, a Russian bullet went through his head, and he closed his eyes for the last time.


Which would be par for the course for many soldiers – except Kern’s eyes opened again in a field hospital.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Many, many other Austro-Hungarian eyes did not open again.

From the moment he recovered consciousness until his death in 1955, Kern did not sleep a wink. Though sleep is considered by everyone else to be a necessary part of human life. There are many physical reasons for this – sleep causes proteins in the brain to be released, it cuts off synapses that are unnecessary, and restores cognitive function. People who go without sleep have hallucinations and personality changes. Sleeplessness has even killed laboratory rats.

But for 40 years, Paul Kern experienced none of these symptoms. His biggest issue with being awake for 24 hours a day was the costs associated with being awake and functional for that extra eight hours.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

The face you make when you haven’t slept since 1915 and have time to do literally everything.

Doctors encountering Kern’s condition for the first time were always reportedly skeptical, but Kern traveled far and wide, allowing anyone who wanted to examine him to do so. The man was X-rayed in hospitals from Austria to Australia but not for reasons surrounding the bullet – the one that went through his right temple and out again – was ever found.

One doctor theorized that Kern would probably fall asleep for seconds at a time throughout the day, not realizing he had ever been asleep, but no one had ever noticed Kern falling asleep in such a way. Other doctors believed the bullet tore away all the physical area of the brain that needed to be replenished by sleep. They believed he would find only an early death because of it.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

Don’t let Adderall-starved college students find out about Russian bullets.

Kern did die at what would today be considered a relatively young age. His wakefulness caused headaches only when he didn’t rest his eyes for at least an hour a day in order to give his optic nerve a much-needed break. But since Paul Kern had an extra third of his days given back to him, he spent the time wisely, reading and spending time with his closest friends. It seems he made the most of the years that should have been lost to the Russian bullet in the first place.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Huey drastically increased chances of surviving the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was long and arduous. It cost the United States a total of 58,220 troops, with 40,934 of them killed in action. The overall number of wounded sits at 304,000. These staggering numbers gave the military time to reflect on how effective they could be at evacuating wounded troops from the battlefields.


The wounded were airlifted out of combat and transported to medical staging facilities (picture mini-hospitals, not tents). If not for the rapid response of transporting troops, there would have been many more lives lost in Vietnam.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
Field hospital staff perform surgery on the wounded in Vietnam near Quang Tri.

Looking at statistics, 4.5 percent of wounded troops died during air transport in WWII. But in Vietnam, only one percent of wounded died during transport. This means the improvements made from war to war were drastic, not only in medical training but in the types of aircraft used in aeromedical evacuation and transport. The critical factor in bringing down these high casualty rates were U.S. Army dust-off missions.

During this time, the Army established specialized medical crews which utilized Huey helicopters to swoop in and collect the injured on the battlefield. The Air Force already appointed a number of planes dedicated to aeromedical evacuation, but they were only used for transport from medical staging facilities back to the United States.

The capabilities of the Huey helicopter were just more convenient than having a larger plane land on the battlefield. The Huey could quickly drop in anywhere, anytime to pick up their patients and transport them safely to an air staging hospital.

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
A Vietnam-era dustoff mission.

There’s no doubt that the distinctive sound of the Huey’s chopper was a comfort to the wounded troops on the ground, waiting to get out of the hell they just experienced. The Huey meant safety and comfort from the military’s best medical personnel.

Today, the dust-off missions continue, flying in and outside of the wire. They still airlift America’s wounded back to the safety of military bases overseas, aiding in the overall survival rate of our wounded warriors. An amazing 92 percent of U.S. troops wounded on the battlefield will survive their injuries.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘3 minutes to save a life’: The man responsible for the Jaws of Life

No firefighting crew would think of responding to a car accident today without a kit of extraction tools, nearly always including the so-called Jaws of Life. The hydraulic Jaws are a pinch and cutting tool that can snip through the strongest parts of a car frame in seconds and peel open roofs and doors like a can opener.

But the man who invented the Jaws of Life was not a firefighter, first responder, or even a safety engineer. In fact, in the 1950s and early 1960s, George Hurst helped make cars more dangerous by making them faster. He built a thriving business around motor racing, building floor-mounted gear shifts for race cars. That business took him to the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1961, where he saw something that shifted his priorities.

When a racer crashed, he watched rescue crews try to extract him from the wreckage of his car. It took over an hour. Hurst thought to himself that there must be a better way.

When he looked into the tools that rescue crews use, he found that traditional circular saws just weren’t, well, cutting it. The saws created sparks, increasing the risk of fire or explosion, and were extremely loud, which caused distress for the trapped victim. And, of course, they took too long to get the job done.

In 1961, Hurst patented the first hydraulic rescue tool and hired Mike Brick to market the device nationwide. The initial design was a 350-pound hunk of metal, far too large for even a team of rescuers to handle. In the span of a decade of tinkering and refining their rescue device, Hurst and Brick downsized the prototype to only 65 pounds, calling it the Hurst Power Tool. 

In 1971, they took the tool to the SEMA trade show for specialty equipment marketers in California. The spotlight propelled their device into stardom, and soon, fire departments were carrying it on their firetrucks. The Hurst Power Tool adopted the nickname the “Jaws of Life” for its role in snatching victims from the “jaws of death.”

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission
An early prototype of the Hurst Power Tool (aka Jaws of Life) is demonstrated at Hurst headquarters in Warrington, Pa. George Hurst is pictured on the left. Photo courtesy of Hurst Jaws of Life.

As the Hurst website notes, “In three minutes, the average person can listen to a song, make their bed or brush their teeth. In three minutes, first responders can save a life with HURST Jaws of Life tools.”

Firefighters can elect to carry a combination tool that is the Swiss Army knife of the Jaws of Life, with cutting and spreading functions that increase the speed of extrication. Some departments also carry individual-function Jaws of Life machines that spread, cut, and ram. The StrongArm was adapted to meet the standards of law enforcement and military communities, adding a capable tool to their breaching arsenals. 

Hurst died in 1986 at 59. Thanks to Hurst’s innovative thinking, victims of car accidents across the globe have been able to escape serious injury and even death.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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