Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand - We Are The Mighty
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Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

For around 30 years, the food court at the center of the Pentagon’s courtyard was an easy source of mid-afternoon calories for the hungry planners of a potential World War III with the Eastern Bloc. There was just one problem, and it wasn’t the food.

It was said the Soviet Union had at least two nuclear missiles pointed at it at all times.


Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
Target Acquired (Planet.com/ Fair use)

 

The hot dog stand, replaced in the early 2000s with another, presumably less hot dog-oriented food stand, was the center of life for a lot of the Cold War lunches had by the staff at the nation’s most important military building. It was said that the Soviet Union watched the comings and goings of top U.S. military brass in and out of the tiny structure in the middle of the courtyard every day.

They surmised it must be an important planning center or command and control bunker. So, obviously, when the war broke out, it would have to be one of the first things to go. Two ICBMs should take care of it.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
And most of the DMV area.

“Rumor has it that during the Cold War the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand,” Brett Eaton, an information and communications officer for Washington Headquarters Services, told DoD News. “They thought this was the Pentagon’s most top-secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand.”

No one in Russia has ever confirmed this rumor, but the stand still earned the moniker “Cafe Ground Zero.” In reality, substantiated or not, the hot dog stand was smack dab in the middle of the United States’ most important military building. Since the blast radius of the Soviet Union’s best and biggest nuclear missile was big enough to wipe out New York City along with parts of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, it stands to reason that destroying the hot dog stand at the center of the Pentagon would just be a win for clogged arteries.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
A real victory (Image by jamstraightuk from Pixabay)

Feature image: DoD photo

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Did you know these 5 badasses were military spouses?

The military community is chock-full of milspouse super-achievers – men and women who manage to find personal and professional success despite the many, many (did we mention many?) obstacles the military throws their way. Anyone living the milspo life already knows dozens of people who make a mockery of the dependa stereotype, and we wrote this story to highlight a few. Here are five more milspouses making their marks on the world.


Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

The country music star

RaeLynn sang her way into America’s ears as a contestant on The Voice in 2012. Five Top 40 hits and two albums later, the talented performer and military spouse is showing the world that being married to the military doesn’t mean giving up on dreams. Her husband, active duty soldier Joshua Davis, enlisted after they were married in 2016, and the couple has been juggling the demands of Army life and Music Row stardom ever since. As she told People Magazine, “There’s a level of sacrifice that you have to do as a military spouse that the average person might not have to do,” she said. “You can’t talk to your significant other all the time. There’s the fear of when they do deploy, of not seeing them again and that underlying fear of just hoping that they’re okay.” We feel you, girl.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

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The media mogul

Sheila Casey has given most of her life to the military. For 40 years she kept the home fires burning so her husband, former Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, could rise to the very top rank in the Army, and she did it without losing her own career or identity in the process. Sheila now serves as Chief Operating Officer of The Hill, a top U. S. political publication that covers The White House, Congress, policy, campaigns, lobbying, business and international news. Prior to joining The Hill in 1997, she was Director of Finance at the Texas Council on Family Violence in Austin, Texas, and worked as an audit manager for Grant Thornton, a national CPA firm. And she did it all while living that milspo life all over the United States, Europe and Egypt and volunteering with a number of organizations, including as chair of Blue Star Families Board of Directors. She also gives her time to Parents as Teachers; The National Domestic Violence Hotline; Snowball Express; the Washington Press Club Foundation; the Board of Advisors for ThanksUSA; The Bob Woodruff Foundation; The Military Child Education Coalition, and the GI Film Festival.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

The comedian

John Oliver came to the U.S. to do comedy and quickly found fame with his hilarious appearances on “The Daily Show.” In fact, that’s kind of how he met his wife, former U.S. Army medic Kate Norley, who was motivated to enlist by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks at age 19. Norley served in Iraq as a combat medic and a mental health specialist and became a veteran’s rights advocate after leaving the Army. Oliver was covering the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota for The Daily Show, and she was there campaigning with Vets for Freedom. And this is where their story gets funny. Oliver and his crew were caught in a restricted area and, with Oliver in the U.S. on a temporary visa, he and the crew were worried they might get arrested, so they ran. Norley and the veterans campaigning with Vets for Freedom hid them from security, giving Norley and Oliver one of the best “how we met” stories ever. Three years later, they were married. “When you’ve married someone who’s been at war, there is nothing you can do that compares to that level of selflessness and bravery,” Oliver has been quoted saying. “I feel humbled daily by what she has managed to do with her life versus how I’ve decided to fritter away mine.”

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

The politician

Most of the country became aware of Nikki Haley in June 2015 when the then-South Carolina governor stepped in to unite and soothe her state after a white supremacist attacked an African American church in Charleston, killing nine people. Haley masterfully handled a tense, painful moment and helped her state heal. As the first woman to be the governor of South Carolina and the second Indian-American to be a governor of any state, she brought a unique perspective to the tragedy. As the sister of a retired soldier and the wife of an officer in the South Carolina National Guard, she understood the risk of inaction. In fact, Haley’s husband deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, while she was governor. (Oh, NBD. Just juggling all the demands of solo parenting AND an entire state.) “I am unbelievably proud of him and yes, we went through the deployment and single mom stuff, and all that when he was deployed in Afghanistan,” Haley told Military Families Magazine. “I wouldn’t trade it, just because of the pride he has, the pride that we all have for him. We suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Haley in the coming years. She was appointed as the U.N. Ambassador by President Trump, a job she served in for two years, and is widely suspected of having Presidential ambitions of her own.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

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The supreme court justice

It’s probably been a minute since Ruth Bader Ginsburg thought of herself as a military spouse. But before she became the Notorious RBG – okay, long before, she was an Army wife. After graduating from college, she married her boyfriend, Martin Ginsburg, and the two moved to Ft. Sill in 1954 because Martin had been drafted into the Army. He served for two years, and then the couple both continued their educations in law and both began legal careers, with Ruth’s culminating in her current position as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Martin passed away in 2010 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery. We think those two years as a milspouse must have made an impression on RBG because the first time she argued a case before the Supreme Court, she did it to hook up a milspouse. The year was 1973 and her client was a female service member who wanted military spouse protections for her husband. Back then, the husbands of women who served were not considered dependents and did not receive benefits unless they “were dependent on their wives for over one-half of their support.” But the Notorious RBG helped change that.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This carrier pigeon saved a battalion in World War I

By fall of 1918, the Allies were pushing back the Germans all along the Western Front. In September, the Allies launched the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final offensive of World War I. But the Germans were not yet beaten and were still fighting to bring a satisfactory end to the war, as the men of the 77th Division were soon to find out.


The 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division’s 154th Infantry Brigade were assigned to take a mill as well as vital road and rail ways that would deny Germans in other sectors the ability to resupply. All along the line a no retreat order was in effect. Major General Alexander, commander of the 77th Division, was particularly adamant, insisting that anyone calling out to fall back should be shot.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Maj. Charles Whittlesey, commanding 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry, took this to heart. Whittlesey, a Harvard educated lawyer, would lead his men from the front. When the 308th‘s attack began at 7 am on October 2, 1918, American forces all along the front advanced towards their objectives. Whittlesey was leading a force consisting of six companies (A, B, C, E, G, H) from the 308th, K company from 307th, as well as C and D companies of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion. By the night of October 2nd, Whittlesey’s force reached and secured their objective, Hill 198, when disaster struck on their flanks.

Just as Whittlesey received word that his men captured Hill 198, he was disturbed by just how quiet it was around his position. When he realized he could not hear action from where the 307th was supposed to be, he remarked later “either they had broken through the line as well and reached their objective over there, or they had been licked and fallen back. The former would be good news for the 308th … The latter, however, was unthinkable; orders forbade it.” Also unknown to the men of the 308th was that a strong German counterattack had driven back French and American forces securing the 77th‘s flanks, leaving Whittlesey’s command isolated behind German lines.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
Maj. Whittlesey

The men began digging in a position that came to be known as ‘the pocket’ on top of Hill 198. Though it was defensible, the Germans held a nearby hill that overlooked the pocket, as well as a position in a ravine that cut off the path of retreat. The next day Whittlesey sent out numerous runners in an attempt to reestablish contact with friendly forces but not a single one returned. Whittlesey also sent carrier pigeons but they were shot out of the sky by the Germans. The Americans were completely cut-off and surrounded. An attempt by a single company to break out failed with heavy casualties.

On October 4th the situation worsened for the isolated men. Besides German attacks they were also subjected to friendly fire. History is unclear how exactly it happened but what is known is that the men of the Lost Battalion came under fire from their own artillery. Virtually out of options, Maj. Whittlesey wrote a note and sent out his final carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, to stop the shelling of his own troops.

“We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”

The bird flew off through the artillery barrage and was then targeted by the Germans. Whittlesey watched as the bird took fire and fluttered to the ground. As his heart sank, he saw Cher Ami regain flight and fly past the Germans on its way to headquarters. When Cher Ami arrived at the 77th Division headquarters it was found that the pigeon had been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and the leg holding the message was hanging on by a tendon but Whittlesey’s message had arrived ending the friendly fire.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Even though the artillery fire stopped, the Americans still did not know exactly where the Lost Battalion was. To make matters worse, the Germans continued attempting to annihilate the Americans and attempts to resupply the force by air were unsuccessful. Their supplies dwindling. The only water source required crawling under fire to a creek. Bandages were being removed from the dead to be used on the wounded. The Lost Battalion held out for nearly a week before they were finally relieved by forces from the U.S. 82nd Division. Of the 554 men who were originally encircled, only 194 were able to walk out on their own after the battle, the rest had all been killed, wounded, or captured.

The Lost Battalion received five Medals of Honor, including Maj. Whittlesey’s, along with 28 Distinguished Service Crosses. Whittlesey was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel immediately upon returning to American lines. In 1921, he and other Medal of Honor recipients were pallbearers for the Unknown Soldier. Unfortunately, Whittlesey was deeply troubled by his experiences and disappeared from a passenger ship in November 1921 in an apparent suicide.

Cher Ami, the carrier pigeon that saved the men from their own artillery, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with an Oak Leaf Cluster for heroic service at Verdun and in the stopping the artillery barrage in the Argonne Forest. The bird died in 1919 and was stuffed for display at the Smithsonian.

The story of the Lost Battalion was made into a movie in 1919 and again in 2001.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

MIGHTY CULTURE

How this soldier is finding his dream job through the US Army

Sit across the table from Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili for just a few seconds and you’ll see a basic outline emerge fairly quickly. His manners and easy smile, the way he leans forward when he talks, and — not least of all, of course — his affection for Starbucks Doubleshot energy drinks make him the typical — almost archetypal — 30-year-old soldier; busy, eager, and always ready for the next task, the next challenge. But dig a little deeper and you will see, quite clearly, the details that color the world inside that simple sketch. To map the entire terrain, however, you’ll need to travel some 15,000 miles.

“I always wanted to be a soldier,” says Dzamashvili, sitting in the offices of the 21st Signal Brigade on a warm September morning. “When I was a kid that was always something I thought would be cool, being a soldier for the American Army.”


Those words, and indeed his affinity for the Army and America as a whole, are repeated so often and with such calm conviction that he could almost double as a motivational speaker; one specializing, perhaps, in writing simple daily mantras for busy professionals to read on their daily commutes. Instead, Dzamashvili is a board-certified medical doctor who enlisted in the Army just last year, in early 2018. It’s a commitment, he says, that doubles as a gift to the country that gave him opportunities he never would have had in his native Georgia — a tiny, still-emerging country located at the intersection of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili speaks with a coworker at his desk located in the offices of the 21st Signal Brigade.

(Photo by Mr. Ramin A. Khalili)

“Honestly,” says Dzamashvili, “the reason I wanted to become an American soldier is because America has given my family everything.”

The first 5,000 miles

“When I was born in Georgia,” says Dzamashvili, reaching back to the late 1980s, “it was still part of the U.S.S.R. This was just before the U.S.S.R. split up, and so there was instability and there was upheaval … there was an ongoing fight for power.”

It was that atmosphere of decline that Dzamashvili’s father, Konstantin, sought to flee when he reached out to a friend living in Chicago for help in the early 1990s. Political and cultural strife in the country of — at the time — barely more than four million people had led to the breakdown of living conditions and, in some cases, the basic application of law. And so Konstantin, a neurologist by trade, was hoping America could provide safety for his wife, son, and young twin daughters.

“My father was waiting in breadlines for hours just to feed the family,” says Dzamashvili. “So when he came here, it was for a better life.”

But that opportunity came with a catch. In order to pay for his family’s move to America, Konstantin had to travel to the U.S. alone first in order to save up enough money. He wound up bunking with that same buddy in Chicago for a year —eventually re-starting his medical career at 40-years old — before bringing the rest of the family to Illinois.

Says Dzamashvili of his father, “He was out there for a year, alone, while we were still in Georgia, until he had passed all his boards and started his residency program, which would then fund us coming over here.”

And so at age five, Sergo was finally in the place he wanted to be all along … for a little while, at least.

Return to Georgia

For Sergo, it all started with his grandfather — his father’s father. He was the catalyst, the inception point. He passed away when Konstantin was in his late teens and so Sergo never got a chance to meet him, but he did have pictures — volumes of mementos from Georgia.

“I would always hear stories about his bravery,” says Sergo, “about what kind of man he was. From early on, I was always intrigued — the way he was standing there in his [military] uniform with all these medals.”

Those pictures, coupled with Sergo’s newfound affinity for the United States, stuck with him during his formative years and carried through to his entrance into medical school — which he ultimately chose to attend at David Tvildiani Medical University back in Georgia.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili (foreground, right) conducts Army Warrior Tasks (AWT) drills during the 21st Signal Brigade Best Warrior Competition 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Raul Pacheco)

The decision to both leave home (to leave again, in a manner of speaking) and reconnect with family roots was daunting to say the least, as Georgia had been rife with the same political instability from Dzamashvili’s youth up until pro-democratic forces rose to power in the mid-2000s. The tiny, burgeoning country was still — much like Sergo at the time — moving through its adolescent years.

There was contrasting comfort, however, in the medical training itself. Turns out Dzamashvili’s chosen university not only came highly recommended from family friends practicing medicine in Chicago, it was designed specifically to cater to regional students who wanted to ultimately enter U.S.-based medical professions. To that end, all university textbooks were written in English and, further, the overall cost of schooling was substantially less than a U.S.-based medical education — all perks unavailable to his father just a decade-or-so earlier. Ironically, Georgia would eventually, in 2014, become home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate-Georgia, a subordinate command of the USAMRDC’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

“Going back to Georgia really brought me that perspective,” says Dzamashvili. “There was a long time where my family wouldn’t go back, even though we had a chance to go back in the 90s.”

Just twelve years after touching down in America’s Heartland — and just a few years after becoming an American citizen — Sergo was back on a plane at age 17 for a new and different journey.

Homecoming, part II

When you ask him how Georgians speak — ask about the language they use, the way they talk, the casual slang terms they use, even — Dzamashvili is quick to make it clear that Georgia is a singular and unique entity; a hard-fought identity that he clearly still respects.

“Georgians have their own language,” he says quickly, almost as a sly-but-gentle rebuke to those who think the country may still be hindered by its turbulent past in any way. “They have their own alphabet, everything — and so I had to re-learn how to read and write, essentially, when I went back for school.”

Dzamashvili’s university stay would last for six years until his graduation in 2013; at which point he’d not only navigated the rigors of initial medical training, but had reached a poignant understanding of the country of his birth (“people there are very hospitable,” he says), gained a greater understanding of the government’s democratic efforts (“I see hope,” he says), and, with regards to cultural differences, had also determined that Georgia had substantial culinary shortcomings as compared to the U.S. (“I did miss burritos over there,” he says).

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili assigned to HHC, 21st Signal Brigade, conducts M9 weapons qualification as part of the 21st Signal Brigade Best Warrior Competition 2019.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Raul Pacheco)

Touching back down in Illinois, Dzamashvili eventually passed his medical board examinations, shadowed professional doctors, and even performed clinical research at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. But when it came time for residency training, instead of waiting a year to attend either Loyola University of Chicago or the University of Illinois at Chicago, he opted for a different path: the U.S. Army.

“Screw waiting,” says Dzamashvili of his mindset at the time. “I’m going to join the Army. I was always told the fastest way to get into the Army was to just go and enlist anyways, so that didn’t bother me to go enlist for a couple of years as long as I got into the medical field.”

Desire, meet destiny

Now, after thirty years and medical training efforts on two different continents, Sergo Dzamashvili is both a medical doctor and a member of the U.S. Army; his first assignment is here at Fort Detrick. His unique qualifications have bred an understandable eagerness to move forward — a chomping at the bit, of sorts — as, indeed, he’s already started the process of entering the Army’s medical occupation; taking the steps required to become a physician. But if you think the man who’s waited nearly three decades to realize his dream is put off by a little time in the waiting room, then you don’t know Sergo.

“My ultimate goal is to practice medicine in the Army,” says Dzamashvili. “That’s what I want, to give back. I’d like to serve for at least eight years, to give back that entire time in service.”

Just how long it will take to reach that goal is yet to be seen, though it should come as no surprise that Dzamashvili has already attempted to plot the arc of his military medical career even before his training has been completed. Even now, serving as a Human Resources Specialist in the S-1 Office until his next assignment, he finds in each day’s shift what so many others would gladly welcome into their own lives: a sense of purpose, the feeling of belonging, and the satisfaction of a job that truly has meaning.

In the end — if these kinds of stories can have an end — the service career of Sergo Dzamashvili is, in reality, just beginning. It would be an exaggeration, perhaps, to say that Dzamashvili has already lived multiple lives; though it wouldn’t be such a stretch to say that’s the truth, either. In any capacity, his life’s work as currently constructed already stands as an impressive feat; a soldier coupling the desire to serve America with the talent required to make a lasting impact.

Not too bad for a typical 30-year-old.

Says Dzamashvili, “If there’s nothing else I do in my life, I can always say I was a soldier. That’s the way I look at it. If there’s nothing else that I accomplish, I will always know that I served my country.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

75th Anniversary: 10 things you don’t know about the Battle of Iwo Jima

The Marines will be the first to tell you they have “fought in every clime and place” from the “halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” The history of the Corps is steeped in legendary heroism and ferocious battles. From Chapultepec to Belleau Wood to Fallujah, the Marines have made a name for themselves throughout our country’s history.

But there is one battle that stands out.

Iwo Jima.


Ask any Marine about Iwo Jima, and you will see instant reverence in their eyes. “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” was the phrase used to describe the spirit of the men that fought that battle.

The landing on Iwo Jima took place 75 years ago today. Located about 750 miles from mainland Japan, Iwo Jima was a volcanic rock that both sides viewed as an important objective of the American’s island-hopping campaign. For the Americans, the airfields there meant both easier and shorter routes to mainland Japan as well as helping clear the air of fighters that would intercept such bombers.

The Japanese simply knew that the capture of Iwo put the Americans one step closer to their homeland.

What followed next was one of the most ferocious battles man has ever waged.

Much has been written about the battle and its effect on history. Here are some of the more interesting things about the battle of Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima was first discovered by Spanish explorers. 

In 1543, a ship located the island and landed to explore the newly found land. They gave it the name “Sulphur Island.” When translated roughly to Japanese, it was called Io To, or Iwo Jima. The Japanese didn’t arrive at the island until the end of the 16th century.

The Japanese knew they were going to lose the battle. 

As historians poured over Japanese war records after the war was over, they found that the Japanese knew the battle was a sure loss. The Japanese Imperial Navy was all but vanquished in the Pacific. The Japanese Air Force was almost obliterated as well. The Japanese had lost quite a few planes and had to keep as many as close to their mainland as possible. Even worse than the lack of planes was a shortage of pilots. The Americans would send experienced pilots back home to train more pilots. The Japanese didn’t do that. They kept their experienced pilots out, and as they suffered heavy losses, there was a shortfall in experience and numbers.

As a result, the Japanese changed the strategy of the defense of the island to be one of attrition. They figured the Americans would win. They just wanted to make them pay dearly for it. Hideki Tojo, the Prime Minister of Japan, summoned Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his office and told him to defend Iwo Jima to the last man as a means to buy time. Kuribayashi, who came from a Samurai family, accepted the mission and set off for the island to set up a unique defense that the Americans had not seen yet.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

The Japanese wanted to dissuade the Americans from attacking the mainland.

Kuribayashi changed the way the island would be defended. Instead of fighting the Americans on the beaches, he would allow them to land uncontested on the island. He knew the black volcanic sand, which had dunes up to 15 feet tall, could bog down the Americans, so he figured to let them all on before opening fire. He had the beach zeroed in by artillery and mortars to the last inch. On the island’s interior, he set up defensive positions in a new way. The fortifications and tunnels allowed the Japanese soldiers to retake positions that had already been overrun. On an island that was just eight square miles, there were over 11 miles of tunnels the Japanese could use.

The intended effect was to inflict as much damage as possible to the American forces. By dragging out this conflict and inflicting casualties, the Japanese hoped that the carnage would dissuade the U.S. from attacking the Japanese mainland.

The US thought the battle would last only a week.

It’s not that the Americans thought less of the Japanese. It was at this point they thought they knew what they were going to do. After victories through the South Pacific from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, the U.S. military thought they had a winning plan. Start with a devastating naval bombardment, get the men on the beach, provide them with close air support, and take the airfields quickly. They did that but realized way too soon that the naval bombardment didn’t do much damage, the Japanese actually wanted the Americans to land, and that they had to fight for every square inch of the island. The initial weeklong projection turned out to be five weeks of some of the worst fighting the Americans had seen to that point.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

The beach was hell on earth.

After taking the naval and air bombardment, the Japanese allowed the Marines to congregate on the beach. Many thought that the Japanese were killed in the immense bombardment, but unfortunately, they were wrong. Kuribayashi told his troops to wait one hour before opening fire. When the Marines were massed on the beach and started to move forward slowly through the volcanic ash, they were shocked to learn the hard way that the Japanese had every inch of the beach sighted in and had to race off the beach while under intense artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire.

One account from the beach …

Within a minute a mortar shell exploded among the group … his left foot and ankle hung from his leg, held on by a ribbon of flesh … Within minutes a second round landed near him and fragments tore into his other leg. For nearly an hour he wondered where the next shell would land. He was soon to find out as a shell burst almost on top of him, wounding him for the third time in the shoulder. Almost at once another explosion bounced him several feet into the air and hot shards ripped into both thighs … as he lifted his arm to look at his watch a mortar shell exploded only feet away and blasted the watch from his wrist and tore a large jagged hole in his forearm: “I was beginning to know what it must be like to be crucified,” he was later to say.

By the end of the first day, over 30,000 Marines had landed, and the island was cut into two. However, upon seeing the initial casualty lists from the day’s carnage, General Howlin’ Mad Smith remarked, “I don’t know who he is, but the Japanese general running this show is one smart bastard.”

For the only time in the war, the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese.

The Marines went into Iwo Jima with a 3:1 advantage in terms of troops. At the end of the five-week battle, they would have 26,000 casualties versus 18,000 for the Japanese. One of the men killed on the beach was Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. Basilone was a hero on Guadalcanal who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions there. As the intense bombardment came down, Basilone was last seen yelling for men to move off the beach. He was among the many killed that day. By the end of the battle, many more would die. While the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese, they had about one third less killed. Of the 18,000 Japanese soldiers who fought on the island, only 221 were captured. Most of the captured were either knocked unconscious or incapacitated.

There were few banzai charges so the Americans improvised.

The Americans factored in banzai or human wave attacks when they did their initial estimate of the length of the battle. In fact, the Japanese general prohibited such attacks as he knew that they didn’t work. He wanted his men to fight to the death, but he wanted to take as many Americans out as they could.

The Americans wouldn’t deal with that. Realizing quickly that firearms and close air support weren’t cutting it, the Marines adapted on the fly as they have throughout their history. They started using flamethrowers, (badass men as well as on modified tanks) to eradicate the Japanese. Once they realized the tunnel system allowed the enemy to reoccupy positions that had been overtaken, they just started flame-throwing everything that they saw… over and over again.

It worked. The Japanese tunnel system ended up becoming the graves of countless Japanese soldiers. Only toward the end, when food and supplies were low, did Kuribayashi allow banzai charges so his men would die “with honor.”

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Americans at home thought the battle was over fast.

The iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal, which showed Marines hoisting the flag on Mt. Suribachi, was the American people’s first view of the battle. It was taken on February 23, four days after the initial assault. The picture was released by the AP two days later, where it was published by virtually every newspaper in the free world. In an age, before social media, television, and satellite feeds, many assumed the battle was over based on the picture. It wasn’t.

As the battle raged on and the casualties mounted, Americans at home wondered why so many boys had to die for a small piece of rock.

How important was Iwo Jima and the effect of the battle?

Even before the battle’s conclusion, the U.S. military started using the airfields on Iwo Jima for bombing runs on Japan. Planes that were damaged during their runs now had a shorter trip to base, so they had a better chance of surviving. Fighters could now use the base to refuel, and accompany their bombers to Japan. However, people wondered if the same things could have happened had the Americans attacked elsewhere. The Americans also found out that the radar used by the Japanese on Iwo was not really beneficial as the Japanese already had other radar installations that did the same job. The battle’s need was a contentious matter as early as the end of hostilities on Iwo Jima.

One effect the battle did have was on the end of the war. After Iwo Jima, another horrible battle took place on Okinawa. By this point, the Japanese realized that Kuribayashi’s strategy worked. They could inflict major losses on the Americans and turn public opinion against the war. The Americans learned too and proceeded to unleash longer more devastating bombardments on Okinawa in the lead-up and more aggressive use of flamethrowers and incendiary devices on Japanese soldiers and civilians caught in the crossfire, to horrific results.

When the final obstacle to the Japanese mainland fell, Americans looked at other ways to end the war and avoid the bloodbath that Iwo Jima and Okinawa wrought.

They found it in recently developed atomic weapons.

Uncommon valor was a common virtue.

Regardless of if Iwo Jima was strategically worth it, the Marines still viewed the battle as a badge of honor. They were not part of the planning or strategy but were told to take the island. They did.

They asked for a 10-day bombardment and got three. They adapted to a terrible situation and came out ahead. They looked death in the face and, as Marines usually do, didn’t even get fazed.

Eighty-two Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines during World War II. Twenty-two of them (28%) were earned on Iwo Jima alone. There is only one awardee alive today, Woody Williams, who earned the medal for using his flamethrower to wipe out numerous enemy emplacements.

On this 75th anniversary, to those who fought in that terrible battle and to the families left behind, We Are the Mighty salutes you.

Semper Fidelis

MIGHTY TRENDING

How this soldier escaped the killing fields to join the US Army

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord will celebrate the diversity and honor of its service members, including Sgt. Maj. El Sar, I Corps command chaplain sergeant major, a Cambodian-born American who lived through atrocities as a child in his homeland and is now proud to call America home.

More than 1 million people reportedly died as a result of the Khmer Rogue communist regime’s Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979, at the end of the Cambodian civil war. A 1984 British film, “The Killing Fields,” documented the experiences of two journalists who lived through the horrific murders of anyone connected with Cambodia’s prior government.


It was more than a film for Sar, who lost several family members to the horrific killings. He spent time in refugee camps and prisons before arriving in America as a 12-year-old refugee with his mother and siblings.

“I’m proud to be an Asian American,” Sar said. “I don’t forget my heritage — but I’m glad to be an American.”

As a child, Sar grew up in the jungles of Cambodia. He lived through the Vietnam War, Cambodian civil war, Khmer Rogues’ Killing Fields, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and Thai refugee camps and housing projects, he said.

“I was slapped, thrown in prison, hands tied behind my back, shot at, nearly drowned in a river, walked three days and nights through the thick jungles of Cambodia and evaded Vietnamese troops, the Khmer Rouge, pirates, criminals, Thai security forces and (avoided) more than 11 million landmines,” Sar wrote in a Northwest Guardian commentary published in February 2018.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
Sgt. Maj. El Sar, I Corps command chaplain sergeant major.

He told of the deaths of his grandparents, father, a brother, uncles, aunts and other relatives. His remaining family members were robbed by Thai security forces.

Sar and his mother, Touch Sar, older sisters, Sopheak and Phon, and younger brothers, Ath and Ann, came to America as refugees. They arrived in Houston, Texas, June 26, 1981.

At that point, Sar had never been to school and had “zero knowledge, skills, abilities or understanding of life,” he said; however, “Coming to America was like arriving in Heaven.”

He learned English by watching television.

“I watched a lot of commercials, like for Jack in the Box and (Burger King) ‘Where’s the beef?'” he said, with a laugh.

In 1989, Sar graduated from Westbury High School in Houston and earned a criminal justice degree from the University of Houston in 1994. Next, he graduated from the Houston Police Academy in 1995.

Although Sar had long wanted to become a police officer, he realized a stronger passion and joined the Army in August 1996.

“I followed my dream to serve my country,” he said.

After basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Sar began a 21-year military career that included multiple deployments and duty stations. He has been at JBLM since June 2017.

“I like travel; I like deployment, and I love serving my country,” he said.

Sar initially wanted to be in the Infantry, but he was told he is color blind, to which he adamantly disagrees. Testing revealed he’d make a good chaplain’s assistant, he said.

Sar became a Christian while watching a film about Jesus while in a refugee camp in Houston.

“I learned about Jesus and how he sacrificed and died for me,” Sar said.

Being a military chaplain is the perfect fit for Sar, he said.

“I can go in the field shooting and spend time helping people,” he said. “I love taking care of America’s sons and daughters.”

Sar and his wife, Lyna, have three children ranging from 9 years old to 11 months.

The couple met through his aunt in Cambodia, who lived in the same village as Lyna.

“One year later, I asked God and he gave me the go ahead,” Sar said. “We’ve been married 15 years. She is a wonderful woman.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

Articles

This was the RAF’s insane plan to steal a Nazi plane

In early 1942, the British had a severe fighter problem. The German Focke-Wulf 190 had been cutting up Royal Air Force planes for nearly a year, and when the new A-3 model took to the skies, it dominated.


So the British began looking at some crazy plans to steal one for study.

The British relied heavily on the Spitfire, a capable design, and the Typhoon, which was visually similar to the 190 but was still outclassed. Neither of the fighters could hold up in aerial combat against the new German plane.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
The Spitfire was a capable fighter that struggled to keep up with the Fw-190 when it debuted over the skies of Europe. (Photo: Public Domain)

Royal Air Force pilots suffered heavy losses against the A-3 and immediately schemed to get one of their own. One early plan was probably the craziest.

Ace pilot Paul Richey proposed that a German-speaking British aviator be found. He would put on the uniform of a German fighter pilot and then take off in a captured Bf-109, decorated with battle damage, during a British fighter sweep.

After the British fighters engaged in heavy combat with a German formation, the Bf-109 and pilot would join the German forces headed home. He would land at a Fw-190 base and request a new plane so he could rejoin the fight. Since no Bf-109s would be available, he would accept an Fw-190 and then fly it low and fast back to England.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
Yeah, they were literally hoping that Germany was just giving these away like it was a bargain bin sale. (Photo: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

The plan glossed over a lot of potential problems. If the pilot screwed up any of his German or the base had a Bf-109 or it refused to let an emotional pilot take off in one of their cutting-edge machines, the pilot would’ve been stuck at a German base with a ticking clock counting until he was caught.

A more probable, but still gutsy, commando plan was laid out in June 1942. The operation, dubbed “Airthief,” was a repeat performance of a successful operation launched the previous February to steal a German radar station.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

In the late February operation, a British radar tech went with a group of commandos to a coastal radar station. As the commandos protected him, he grabbed the parts they wanted and then the group exfiltrated.

Airthief would work the same way but with a pilot instead of the radar tech.

Luckily for the British, the operation became unnecessary the same day it was supposed to be submitted for approval.

An aerial battle between Spitfires and Fw-190s ended with little damage to either side on June 23, but the Germans wanted another crack at the Brits before heading for home. The Fw-190 wing stalked the Spitfires back to Britain and then ambushed them from the clouds.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
Even Supermarine Spitfires struggled against the Fw-190 until new engines were incorporated. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

One of the pilots, Oberleutnant Arnim Faber, downed a Spitfire but became disoriented while maneuvering against him. As soon as he killed his enemy, he turned to follow what he thought was the English Channel south to France, but he was actually following the Bristol Channel north.

Desperate for fuel, he landed at the first airstrip he could find only to see a Royal Air Force officer sprinting towards him with his pistol drawn. Faber had landed at a British base and they were only too happy to take his plane for study.

Faber generously offered to show off what the plane could do if the British would be kind enough to refuel it for him, but the Royal Air Force decided to let their pilots do the flying instead. The British flew it on 29 short flights for just over 12 hours of total flight time before they disassembled it and subjected the pieces to destruction testing.

The destruction testing told the British the best vectors to attack the planes from and the flight testing told them where the Fw-190s’ weaknesses were. They found that the Fw-190’s performance suffered greatly at altitude, and so increased their operational heights to give some advantage back to the Spitfires.

They also incorporated elements of the Fw-190 design into future British planes, allowing later Spitfires and other planes to gain a quality edge.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Godzilla exists thanks to this Japanese prisoner of war

With the new Godzilla movie coming out this Friday (May 31), we thought it would be a good time to remind everyone that we only have the iconic movie monster—or the more than dozen other kaiju of the Godzilla universe—thanks to the survival of a particular Japanese platoon sergeant who was taken prisoner by Chinese forces in World War II.


Godzilla: King of the Monsters Final Trailer (2019) | Movieclips Trailers

www.youtube.com

While we don’t typically advocate the success of Japanese soldiers in World War II (they were fighting America, after all), I think most of us can agree that Ishiro Honda’s survival was a lucky get. He was an up-and-coming director in Japan in the 1930s who was working for a popular director and film instructor at the time, Kajiro Yamamoto.

But in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army came calling, and Honda was drafted as an infantryman who served multiple tours in his country’s invasion of China, a republic and ally of America in World War II. Most biographies of Honda paint him as a reluctant member of that military, serving only because it was demanded of him, not because he believed in Imperial Japan’s invasions or fascist ideology.

In between combat tours in China, he continued to make movies, predominantly in Tokyo. One movie that he cited as an inspiration during the war was the propaganda film The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya, which he thought had great special effects.

But the reluctant warrior eventually fell to the realities of the prolonged war. After all, Chinese citizens fighting for their survival didn’t particularly care if the guys firing at them were reluctant or not. And in 1945, Chinese troops were able to capture Honda.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Ishiro Honda holds a Godzilla model while filming his iconic movie.

(Public domain)

He would spend the next six months in confinement, learning of the atomic bombings and the Japanese surrender from a Chinese prison. He returned to Japan in 1946 and traveled through Hiroshima, one of the cities that suffered a direct hit from an atomic bomb.

Over the following years, he worked predominantly in commercials and historical films before getting his big break into directing narrative movies in 1953 with the movie Operation Kamikaze. During this time, Honda would go into the ruins of Japanese cities, including Tokyo, to film scenes in the rubble.

Honda’s success on Operation Kamikaze led to his being tapped for an ambitious new movie named Gojira, the story of a massive monster lizard that attacked Japan. The film looked at the country’s military history and ongoing occupation by the U.S., and Honda helped write the movie as well as direct it.

For anyone who didn’t catch that, Gojira was Godzilla, and Honda’s success creating and directing the movie would change his career. It set a new record for Japanese film budgets at the time, and it was an international hit translated into multiple languages and even re-shot and re-cut in America with a Hollywood star at the time, Raymond Burr.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

A still image from the trailer for Mosura, the Japanese film centered on the giant moth Mothra.

(Public Domain)

The former Japanese soldier did not rest and bask in the praise, though, he catapulted from Godzilla to other large monster movies, helping to create and popularize the kaiju film genre characterized by massive monsters, helping create the movies and characters such as Rodan and Mothra, both of whom will appear in the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters on Friday. He also created King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962.

He directed dozens of movies over his career before his death in 1982. Today, the kaiju he helped to create are still intriguing and entertaining audiences around the world.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea accidentally burned a photographer alive during a missile test

There’s a saying in the photography community, first coined by the legendary Robert Capa: “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” If that’s true, there’s one North Korean photog who has the world’s best photo of a rocket launch. Sadly, no one will ever see it because the photo was burned up along with the man who took it.


The worst part is, the Korean Central News Agency distributed video of his gruesome death for all the world to see.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow

No one loves testing missiles and telling the world about it more than North Korea, so it’s likely the photographer was put there on purpose. Whether or not anyone (especially the photographer) knew he was in the blast zone for the Hwasong-15 rocket is anyone’s guess.

“The photographer who stood near Hwasong-15 missile was enveloped by fire,” said one onlooker to the incident. “I was shocked to see officials watching the launch. I did not know whether it was the fault of the cameraman or the control center. But it was impossible for leader Kim Jong-un who was at the site not to have witnessed the incident.”

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Kim Jong-un and the Korean People’s Army rejoice at the launch of a Hwasong-15 missile test.

As North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his cronies watched North Korea’s largest, most powerful Intercontinental ballistic missile test to date – and cheered on – it’s possible that up to 16 people who were in the test area were burned alive by the missile’s blast. South Korea says the KCNA broadcasts were later edited to remove the toasted photographer.

Articles

This flying tank destroyer had a much bigger gun than the Warthog

The A-10 is justifiably celebrated for its tank-killing prowess.


After all, it destroyed 987 tanks and a metric buttload of other Iraqi stuff during Desert Storm, and its GAU-8 got a lot of use, including some Iraqi helicopters who felt the BRRRRT! But the Air Force once planned for a tank-buster with a gun that made the A-10’s GAU-8 look puny.

The Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly was intended to be a close-air support plane to bust up tanks and bunkers in front of the infantry. Beechcraft, ironically, is best known for civilian planes like the King Air.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
Beechcraft XA-38 (S/N 43-14407) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

To accomplish that mission, it was given a powerful armament. In the nose was a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a powerful T15E1 75mm automatic cannon. It had a pair of twin .50-caliber turrets as well (one on the top, one on the bottom), and the ability to carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

Yeah, you read that right. The Army Air Force in World War II was developing a specialized tank-buster that was two and a half times bigger than the GAU-8. Of course, a 75mm gun had been used on variants of the B-25, but the XA-38’s gun was essentially a semi-auto.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
A parked XA-38, with the barrel of the T15E1 prominently visible. Makes the GAU-8 looks like a cute popgun doesn’t it? (U.S. Air Force photo)

The plane had a top speed of 376 miles per hour, a range of 1,625 miles, and a crew of two. With all that performance, it had a lot of promise when it first flew in May of 1944. But that promise was never seen by the grunts on the ground.

The XA-38 project never got past the two prototypes, because a different aviation project took up all the engines that the Grizzly was designed to use. The Wright GR-3350-43 engines were needed by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which in 1944 was needed to bomb Japan.

One prototype was scrapped, while the other’s fate remains unknown.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s the latest on the Army’s ‘Iron Man’ exoskeleton project

The Army is testing and prototyping self-generating “Ironman-like” soldier exoskeletons, designed to massively change combat missions by supporting soldier movement, generating electricity, powering weapons systems, and substantially lowering the weight burden of what troops carry in war.

Energy-harvesting technology can extend mission life for small units or dismounted soldiers on-patrol. The emerging concept, described by Army developers as a technical breakthrough is engineered, not so much for the near-term, but 10 to 20 years down the road.


“The design is for an energy-harvesting exoskeleton to address the needs of dismounted soldiers. The system can derive energy from the motion of the soldier as they are moving around,” Dr. Nathan Sharps, mechanical engineer, Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) told Warrior Maven in an interview.

The implications of this kind of technology are significant. While exoskeletons have been in development for several years now, the technology consistently confronts the challenge of finding ways to sustain mobile power sources to support and sustain its functionality.

Furthermore, current use of batteries brings significant combat challenges due to difficulty recharging and the massive amount of weight involved in hauling them through combat.

For instance, should a soldier carry a portable 35-pound generator, water, ammunition, weapons, and communications equipment, mission duration and soldier effectiveness is greatly impacted. The Army has been pursuing various efforts to “lighten the load” for soldiers for many years now.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun, 108th Public Affairs Detachment)

“The technologies we are developing can produce electricity, which can be stored and used to power batteries. This increases the longevity of a mission, decreases the need for resupply and reduces the logistics trail,” Sharps explained.

Sharps further elaborated that during intense combat engagement, casualties often occur during logistics resupply missions.

An added advantage is that, while the technology harvests energy from the motion of soldiers, it also simultaneously eases the strain on their joints and muscles due to its apparatus.

“This decreases the chance of muscular-skeletal injury. We look at the soldier as an individual ecosystem. We’re not just looking at what they cannot do right now, but also at what challenges they are going to face 20 years from now,” Sharps said.

The emerging system, currently in the early phases of exploration, calls upon a collaborative effort between CERDEC, the Army Research Laboratory and the Army’s Natick Soldier Center.

The scientists explain that added electrical energy decreases the number of calories a soldier has to burn.

“When you move, you bounce up and down, and the gait motion is an inverted pendulum. If you lift every step thousands of times, it is a whole lot of energy you are expending,” said Juliane Douglas, mechanical engineer, CERDEC, told Warrior Maven.

The Army is currently exploring various configurations for the exoskeleton, some of which include a suspended backpack, which can slide up and down on a spring, having little or no weight impact on the soldier.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.)

“In mechanical engineering terms, if you have masses moving together, there is a kinetic energy difference between the two. We have mechanisms which can convert that linear motion into electricity,” explained Douglas.

This technical advantage will impact a wide array of emerging systems now being built into exoskeletons. Not surprisingly, many of these rely upon mobile power to operate.

For example, helmets with high-resolution thermal sensors, wearable computers, various kinds of conformal body armor and even many weapons systems are now being built into a range of Ironman-like exoskeletons.

U.S. Special Operations Command’s current TALOS effort is working with a wide sphere of industry, military and academic experts on plans to build initial exoskeleton prototypes within the next year or two. This longer-term CERDEC effort is the kind of thing which could easily merge with, or integrate into, some of these exoskeletons now being built.

The project, formally called Tactical Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, is aimed at providing special operators, such as Navy SEALs and Special Forces, with enhanced mobility and protection technologies, a Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, statement said.

The technologies currently being developed include body suit-type exoskeletons, strength and power-increasing systems and additional protection. A SOCOM statement said some of the potential technologies planned for TALOS research and development include advanced armor, command and control computers, power generators, and enhanced mobility exoskeletons.

Also, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing a next-generation kind of armor called “liquid body armor.”

It “transforms from liquid to solid in milliseconds when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied,” the Army’s website said.

TALOS will have a physiological subsystem that lies against the skin that is embedded with sensors to monitor core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels, an Army statement also said.

Army evaluators have also been assessing a Lockheed-built FORTIS knee-stress-release-device exoskeleton with soldiers at Fort A.P. Hill as part of a focus on fielding new performance enhancing soldier technologies.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand
FORTIS knee-stress-release-device exoskeleton

Using independent actuators, motors and lightweight conformal structures, lithium ion battery powered FORTIS allows soldiers to carry 180 pounds up five flights of stairs while expending less energy.

FORTIS is built with a conformal upper structure that works on a belt attached to the waist. The belt connects with flexible hip sensors throughout the systems. These sensors tell the computer where the soldier is in space along with the speed and velocity of the movements.

CERDEC developers say their effort is observing and working closely with many of these efforts looking to find exoskeleton technologies able to better protect and enable soldiers in combat.

“What we are doing is designing the conversion technologies to make many of these technologies more effective by storing the energy. We are testing prototypes, and we are able to leverage current exoskeleton work and use it as a platform for our systems,” Douglas said.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Airborne sergeant major is a Vietnamese refugee

Full of fear and anxiety, a 10-year-old Vietnamese boy sailed across the South China Sea for 10 days, in 1986, with the expectation that a better life awaited him across the ocean.

In his mind, the only way he could live a full and prosperous life was by coming to the United States.

“If it was not for America, I probably would be dead long ago,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Thinh Huynh, the senior enlisted advisor of 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. “If I didn’t escape, my life wouldn’t be like this.”


Born in a small village in Southern Vietnam, Huynh and his siblings lived most of their youth in poverty fighting for survival daily.

“We were so poor that we used to watch people eat,” he said. “We were barely eating. We would eat only two or three times a week.”

While recalling the struggles he faced growing up during post-Vietnam War conditions, the infantryman relates to images of children suffering from chronic malnutrition.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Command Sgt. Maj. Thinh Huynh, the senior enlisted advisor of 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, prepares to conduct pre-jump training during Operation Devil Storm at Green Ramp, Fort Bragg, N.C., July 17, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alleea Oliver)

“When I see those TV commercials where they show the kids that have bloated bellies, to me, that was how I grew up in Vietnam at that time,” he said.

Huynh believes the Vietnam War, along with other wars, determined the outcome of his family’s future. Before the war, they were rice farmers and after the war they were forced to share their harvest with the communists, he said.

“Not only that, but they took away our home,” he said.

It was then that his family decided to escape Vietnam in hopes of a better life. Packed like sardines in a tiny fishing boat, Huynh and his family sailed across the South China Sea.

“I looked at old slave-boat drawings and I would compare us to that,” he said. “We were all packed in tight with no space to spare.”

Being hungry, thirsty and tired for an extensive amount of time altered the other passengers’ character.

“When people think they are about to die, they will do just about anything to survive,” Huynh said. “This brought out some of the worse behavior from people that I ever witnessed.”

Huynh said he observed a lot of things that kids shouldn’t have seen. “I saw greed, fear and anger,” he said. “Some people were so greedy they would drink as much water as they could while the rest of us had about a shot glass per day.”

After ten days of sharing the small space with 86 others, they arrived at a refugee camp on Pulau Bidong Island. Huynh’s hope finally had became his reality.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Command Sgt. Maj. Thinh Huynh, the senior enlisted advisor of 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, holds a static line while conducting pre-jump training during Operation Devil Storm at Green Ramp, Fort Bragg, N.C., July 17, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alleea Oliver)

“One of the happiest days of my life was the day I escaped out of Vietnam,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not, but I was happy and very excited.”

Huynh and his family lived in the camp for nearly two years before coming to the United States, where he learned how to read and write, and studied America’s culture.

On Sept. 28, 1989, Huynh and his family moved from the refugee camp to a small town in Iowa.

Being interested in the military throughout grade school, he chose to focus his first American homework project on the U.S. Army.

At the age of 22, Huynh joined the U.S. Army in 1996, but waited to tell his loved ones because of his fear of disappointing his mother.

“When I joined the Army, I didn’t tell my parents until two days before I went to basic,” he said.

“My mom was really upset, because I was in college at the time. Nobody wanted their kid to escape out of Vietnam and go through all that just to join the military. “

In spite of their fears, he believed there wasn’t anything better than serving the country he now calls home.

“Ever since I was in the refugee camp, I wanted to be a U.S soldier,” he said. “Every day I would say, I need to be in the Army. So that’s what I did. I joined the Army. I don’t have any regrets.”

Twenty one years and six combat deployments later, the paratrooper says he’s gained resilience, honor and a profound love for the United States.

Although he has led many soldiers, Huynh never predicted he would become a command sergeant major within the 82nd Airborne Division.

“I never had the goal of being a command sergeant major,” he said. “My goals were to always take care of my soldiers. Now that I’m a command sergeant major of an Airborne Infantry battalion in the 82nd, I’m enjoying every minute of it. It is such an honor to be in a unit that is filled with so much history, pride, tradition and some of the best soldiers and leaders in the Army.”

According to his youngest sister, Thanh Huynh, he always possessed the qualities and had the desire to be a soldier.

“The characteristics that helped him become a command sergeant major are leadership, loyalty, initiative and courageousness,” she said. “Growing up, that’s all he ever wanted to be.”

At a young age, he demonstrated selfless service by putting Thanh first in every situation. “When we would come across a river while going fishing, he would always make sure I got across safely by finding anything that would float because I can’t swim,” she said.

Huynh believes his experiences in Vietnam developed his gratitude toward the freedoms he has as a U.S. citizen.

“I would never take America, or the freedom I have here, for granted,” he said. “I know what it’s like growing up without freedom [and] fearing for your life on a daily basis.”

Nearly 30 years ago, Huynh left Vietnam and found a place he could call home.

“I realized once I set foot in this country, that this was now my country,” he said. “I was born in
Vietnam, but I escaped. America is now my country.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The world’s 7 goofiest-looking military uniforms

Not all uniforms are created equal. If you need any proof of that, just look at an American airman standing next to a United States Marine while both are in their dress blues. Or check out the Navy’s old “blueberries.” Hey, we all make mistakes, but the important thing is that we handle it and fix what we need to. Some militaries don’t. This is about the ones who don’t.


To be perfectly clear, winning a war isn’t about the coolest or sharpest uniform. But respecting an adversary might help prevent a war, and wearing a uniform that looks like Willy Wonka designed it isn’t going to earn respect. For the record, I fully acknowledge all of these guys are badass and would easily murder me in any altercation.

They’re probably on their way to my house now.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

All I want is gin.

British Beefeaters

While the Beefeaters are a real military unit (and can probably totally kill me with a matchstick if they wanted to), I still have to question their use of the throwback jersey. The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary (their full name) is comprised completely of British soldiers who have at least 22 years of service under their belt but there is nothing utilitarian about their choice of dress. Is that guy going to impale someone with the replica of a palace?

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Greek Evzones guarding the Ministry of Funny Walks.

Greek Presidential Guard

I question any uniform that has little balls on the toes. The Greek Presidential Guard – also known as the Evzones – still wear the uniform of an elite Greek soldier from yesteryear. And while I praise other units who do this, like U.S. Marines, and the French Foreign Legion, the outfit’s foustanella (the skirt-like item) has 400 folds, one for each year of Turkish occupation. I genuinely question any uniform that has their undying grudge sewn into it. Also, I have to say if you’re going to wear a 100-year-old-plus military uniform, it’s weird to carry an M1 Garand rifle.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Italian Carabinieri

Italy’s Carabinieri police force are totally awesome crime fighters who are now part of the country’s official armed forces. Although that’s a relatively new development, the Carabinieri have been around since the mid-1800s. They look like they should be the captains of wooden sailing ships back then.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Ugandan People’s Defense Forces Air Force

Uganda’s air force work uniform looks like they couldn’t decide if they wanted to blend in with the ground or with the water and decided not to make a choice. To make it worse, the dress uniform looks like it hasn’t changed much since the days of Idi Amin.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

Malaysian Guards

While I totally respect traditions, I will always question the efficiency of wearing two uniforms at the same time. I don’t mind the look of a skirt-like uniform, but when the wearer is already wearing pants, I begin to question how this uniform came to pass.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

The Spanish Legion

I genuinely love the history of the Spanish Legion, but their dress uniforms make them look like a cheap male stripper who came to Kathy the secretary’s bachelorette party or someone’s mother accidentally shrank the entire unit’s shirts while doing laundry this week.

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

North Korea

North Korean dress uniforms are what people who steal valor think dress uniforms are supposed to look like. I can only think of two countries North Korea has fired shots at since Kim Il-Sung was born from a star’s vagina or whatever they say his origin was, and most of the North Korean soldiers who fought in the Korean War were killed in it. What the hell are all these medals and orders for? Fewest calories consumed?

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