Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney was one of the most lethal snipers of the Vietnam War with 103 confirmed kills. In a particularly daring engagement, Mawhinney stopped a Viet Cong assault by hitting 16 headshots in 30 seconds at night in bad weather.
So, what does it take to be a precise, lethal sniper? Hear from the man himself as he describes his experience in the jungles of Vietnam.
“Chuck was extremely aggressive,” retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Limpic, Mawhinney’s squad leader, later told LA Times. “He could run a half-mile, stand straight up, and shoot offhand and drop somebody at 700 yards.”
Mawhinney was operating out of a base near Da Nang in what the U.S. military called, “Arizona Territory.” A large North Vietnamese Army force was spotted moving its way south towards the U.S. base, but a monsoon shut down air support. So, Mawhinney volunteered to cover a river crossing where the force was expected to march.
Mawhinney left his sniper rifle at the base and moved forward with an M14 semiautomatic rifle and a Starlight scope, an early night-vision device.
The sniper and his spotter positioned themselves overlooking the shallowest river crossing. A few hours later, the NVA appeared.
A single scout approached the river first, but Mawhinney waited. When the rest of the NVA began to cross the river, Mawhinney kept waiting. It wasn’t until the men were deep into the river that Mawhinney began firing.
He engaged the enemy at ranges from 25 to 75 meters, nailing one man after the other through the head. As he describes it,
“They started across the river and as soon as the first one started up the bank on our side, I went to work. I got 16 rounds off that night as fast as I could fire the weapon, every one of them were headshots. They were dead center… …They never did cross the river that night.”
The two Marines then hastily fell back as the NVA tried to hit them with small arms and machine gun fire.
“To this day,” Mawhinney continues, “I’ve always wondered what their company commander’s report was of what happened to them… “
In the years after World War II, the biggest fights were not between the United States and the Soviet Union. They were between the various armed services of the United States military — and things were getting ugly.
The Air Force and Army went through a messy divorce after World War II — mostly due to festering issues that cropped before the war. These issues were largely due to a controversial figure in Colonel Billy Mitchell. Mitchell, a long-time airpower advocate, had rubbed many people the wrong way, even though his experiments did highlight the fact that battleships were vulnerable to planes. His heavy-handed advocacy for airpower angered many in the Army while those who agreed with him felt the Army was shortsighted. He wouldn’t live to see WWII, but the debate he started would live on.
So, in 1948, the top officers of the Army, Air Force, and Navy took a trip to Key West, Florida — but this was no spring break. The three services were there to hash out and define the responsibilities of each branch. The result was a “treaty” of sorts that became known as the Key West Agreement.
The is how the agreement broke things down: The Air Force would handle combat in the air and air transport but also promised to provide close-air support for the Army. The Navy and Marine Corps were to handle naval combat – including amphibious assault. The Army was tasked with fighting on land. What was interesting was that the Army was also allowed “such aviation and water transport” that was organic to providing support to combat units.
Now, the Key West Agreement was not a complete success. The Air Force tried to assert its nuclear bombers could do everything – and convinced the then-Secretary of Defense to cancel a supercarrier under construction. That triggered the Revolt of the Admirals, which didn’t quite stop major cuts in naval forces.
The Korean War, though, forced the services to get their act together. Ultimately, the Key West Agreement has largely worked for over 70 years.
England also had a lengthy track record of success in competitive shooting, including winning the Leech Cup — the oldest competitive shooting trophy in the United States.
England rates as perhaps the most obscure of the snipers who out-shot Hathcock. Aside from some photos taken during the 2011 Memorial Day Parade in Union County, Georgia, few, if any, photos of this legend are publicly available.
Second Place: Chuck Mawhinney – 103 confirmed kills
Chuck Mawhinney served from 1967-1970 in the Marine Corps. According to a 2000 Los Angeles Times article, he spent 16 months in Vietnam. After leaving the Marine Corps, he worked in the United States Forest Service.
Mawhinney’s youth was spent hunting, and he chose the Marines because they allowed him to delay his entry until after deer season. Some Marine recruiter did his country a service with that call.
Mawhinney noted that every one of his kills had a weapon — with one notable exception: A North Vietnamese Army paymaster who he took out from 900 yards away.
Today, Mawhinney is talking about what he has done, seeking to dispel the many stereotypes of snipers that are in people’s minds.
1st Place: Adelbert Waldron — 109 confirmed kills
America’s top sniper of the Vietnam War wasn’t a Marine. He served with the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army. Yeah, you read that right. Marines got all the press and the glory, but an Army guy was the top sniper shot of the Vietnam War.
Waldron had served in the United States Navy for 12 years before going to civilian life. In 1968, he enlisted in the Army. SniperCentral.com noted that Waldron spent 16 months in Vietnam. Waldron primarily used the M21 Sniper Weapon System, a modified M14.
Waldron was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice. He also was awarded the Silver Star and three Bronze Stars. Still, he never talked about his service with the media, and died in 1995. His total would be the top score for an American sniper until Chris Kyle totaled 160 during the Global War on Terror.
So, when it comes to Vietnam War snipers, the legendary “White Feather” ranks at number four.
The HMS Thunderbolt was lost in combat on March 14, 1943, after a short but successful World War II career that saw it sink multiple Italian vessels, which might have been surprising to some since the submarine had actually sank three years prior in 1940 with a loss of nearly all hands.
That’s because the HMS Thunderbolt was once the HMS Thetis, or, more properly, it was almost the HMS Thetis. It was a submarine launched in 1938 as part of the interwar buildup of arms. The submarine was scheduled to become the HMS Thetis when it was commissioned.
But the planned commissioning didn’t happen. As the submarine went through its sea trials, a tragic accident occurred. Most torpedo tubes, then and now, work using two doors. One door opens to the sea when a torpedo is launched, one door opens into the sub when the crew needs to load a new torpedo. The best subs have mechanisms that make it physically impossible to open one door if the other isn’t closed.
But the N25 had an indicator instead, that was supposed to tell the crew the outer door was open so they wouldn’t open the inner door. But the indicator was really just a small hole in the door that would spurt water if the tube was flooded, and a painter had accidentally filled the small hole in.
During a dive on June 1, 1939, this resulted in the inner door being opened while the outer door was also open. The crew was able to seal a bulkhead after significant flooding, but the boat was filled with 53 members of the defense industry and public, and air was already in short supply in the flooded sub.
The crew managed to raise themselves back to the surface for a short period, and four crewmembers escaped, but it crashed back to the seafloor, and 99 people were killed.
The HMS Thunderbolt was successful, even though it seemed like it would be cursed. First, sailors don’t always like it when a vessel’s name is changed, an old superstition. And if any sub could be a ghost ship, the Thunderbolt was a top contender. Worse, Thunderbolt was, itself, an auspicious name for British vessels as two previous HMS Thunderbolts had been lost in crashes.
All of this likely weighed on the crew, especially when they saw the rust line on the walls of the sub from the original sinking. But it destroyed an Italian sub in the Atlantic on Dec. 15, 1940, and helped destroy an Italian light cruiser and a supply ship in early January 1943 in the Mediterranean.
The Cicogna forced the Thunderbolt under and, when the British crew tried to resurface for air, spotted the boat’s periscope and hit it with depth charges, ending the ill-fated sub’s career and killing its crew, the second time the submarine was lost with all hands.
As members of England’s First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, or FANYs, during World War II, Odette Sansom, Violette Szabó, and Noor Inayat Khan might have worked in hospitals, driven ambulances, sent coded radio signals, fixed trucks, or even, as one FANY did during the war, taught the future Queen Elizabeth to drive.
But when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructed the nation’s clandestine spy agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to “set Europe ablaze,” the three FANYs merged their nursing roles with espionage. The SOE, which carried out audacious sabotage plots across Europe, recruited 2,000 FANY members to the secret service. But only 39 went into the field to conduct commando operations, including Sansom, Szabó, and Khan.
Each brought her unique upbringing to her missions. Sansom (pictured above) and Szabó were both born in France; Sansom to a French man killed in World War I, whereas Szabó’s father had been an English soldier. Khan was a Muslim from India descended from a sultan. But their French fluency and familiarity with military skills like marksmanship caught the eye of England’s spy masters.
The commandos working for SOE in North Africa, the Far East, and particularly across Europe were the No. 1 targets of the Gestapo and the Abwehr, German military intelligence. “From now on, all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man,” read Adolf Hitler’s secret Commando Order (Kommandobefehl) issued on Oct. 18, 1942. If members of the SOE were discovered, man or woman, they’d be hunted, tortured, and executed.
Sansom, Szabó, and Khan had to be discreet and keep their identities secret. They carried false papers with fake names, home addresses, and occupations. Virginia Hall, famously known as “The Limping Lady,” who served with the SOE early in the war, used a cover as a French American stringer for the New York Post writing under the public persona of Brigitte LeContre. The FANYs received training in weapons handling, fieldcraft, and sabotage, and assumed their own disguises.
Sansom took the code name Lise as a courier for the Spindle spy ring, or “circuit” under the SOE’s F Section (France). Circuits were generally composed of three officers: a circuit leader, a courier, and a radio operator. A wife and mother of three children, Sansom transported messages and money to associates in the French Resistance. After seven months of clandestine fieldwork, she was captured by the Nazi officer Hugo Bleicher, a notorious spy catcher who personally arrested more than 100 agents and officers. Sansom was interrogated for hours at Fresnes Prison in Paris, subjected to techniques including the removal of her toenails.
When she wouldn’t confess, the Nazis sent her to Ravensbrück, the most feared concentration camp for women in Europe. Her cell was in an underground prison infamously known as “The Bunker.” For three months and eight days she lived in solitary confinement next to a furnace, in total darkness, starving. Her hair and teeth fell out. She even lapsed into a mini-coma but ultimately survived the war. Many of her fellow FANYs, however, did not, including Szabó and Khan.
On her second mission in France, Szabó parachuted behind German lines the day after D-Day and established contact with resistance forces in the area. On June 10, 1944, she joined Jacques Dufour in a car to Salon-la-Tour. Along the route the Germans set up a roadblock, and Dufour stopped the vehicle 50 yards away. He instructed Szabó to dash into a field as he provided covering fire. Szabó instead pulled out her Sten submachine gun and joined the fight before the pair fled into the field. She fought until she had fired all her ammunition and was captured. She joined Sansom in Ravensbrück but was executed in January 1945.
Khan’s fate was equally senseless. The Muslim princess was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore state — today, a part of India — who pioneered rockets used as military weapons. Khan worked as a wireless radio operator in Paris. At one point she was the only SOE wireless operator in the city, operating under the code name Madeleine, and was critical in communications with the Prosper resistance network and the outside world. A Frenchwoman betrayed Khan to the Gestapo, and she and three other female SOE officers were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. There, they were executed.
All three women — Sansom, Szabó, and Khan — were awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honor. Among the 39 FANY and SOE commandos who went into the field, 13 died as German prisoners or were killed in action. On May 7, 1948, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, unveiled a plaque at St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London, dedicated to all 52 FANYs who died during World War II. In attendance was Odette Sansom. In her arms she held Tania, the only daughter of Violette Szabó, who would later accept her mother’s medal and write a book about her famous mother’s life. Khan became the first Indian woman in history to be honored with a memorial and a permanent Blue Plaque awarded by the English Heritage charity. These Blue Plaques honor notable people and organizations connected with particular buildings across London — and Khan’s can seen at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, where she lived before joining the SOE.
A crowdfunding campaign has launched to reunite two World War II veterans who fought against each other during the war and became as close as brothers after the war. The mission is to bring the two World War II veterans together again for a mini-documentary in Normandy, France.
They fought each other in Tunisia, Africa; however, they reunited decades after, and became friends, even as close as brothers. Sadly, there is not much time left, it may be even the last opportunity to do so. Graham lives in the United Kingdom and Charley in Germany, with their health decreasing and them getting older each day, it may be the last opportunity to have them meet again. But with your help, they may be able to reunite one more time and have their last encounter and story told in a mini-documentary.
This is their story
In late March 1943, Allied and Axis forces prepared for one of the fiercest battles of the World War II African campaign near Mareth, Tunisia. It was here, where after four months on the run, Rommel’s Africa Corps took one of its last stands. Enclosed on one side by rocky, hilly terrain and the Mediterranean on the other, capturing Mareth proved a difficult proposition for the British Eighth Army.
In order to outflank the Axis forces, the British 8th Armored Brigade, along with New Zealand infantry swung southwest and then north through an inland mountain pass to attack the Axis troops from behind.
They ran into the German 21. Panzer Division. Karl Friedrich “Charley” Koenig, only newly arrived in Tunisia as a 19-year-old officer candidate, waited for his first combat as a loader in a Panzer IV of Panzer-Regiment 5.
Across the hardscrabble Matmata hills, Sherman tanks of the Sherwood Ranger Yeomanry Tank Regiment readied themselves for the attack. In one sat machine gunner and co-driver Graham Stevenson. Graham had fought at the battle at El Alamein and bailed out of a tank as a 17-year-old. Taking part in the hard fighting all along the way from Alamein through Tunisia, he had just barely reached the tender age of 18.
On March 23rd, Panzer Regiment 5 and the Sherwood Rangers tanks stalked one another and engaged in individual tank battles. Shells whistled loudly by Charley’s tank, his experienced commander advising calm. Their Panzer IV would not be knocked out on this day, but it would not be for long.
The next day, a radio signal warned the Germans of an incoming RAF Hurricane IID tank buster attack. Scrambling out of their Panzer IV, Charley’s crew moved side-to-side as Hurricanes swept in from all directions at nearly zero altitude firing their powerful 40-millimeter cannon.
An accurate Hurricane pilot hit the rear of the tank, shortly before a lone British artillery shell, fired out of the blue, made a direct hit on their front deck. A half-track arrived in the night to tow them to the be repaired. Charley was now out of the way, while Graham and his crew took part in the Tebaga Gap battle on March 26th, the Shermans and the Maori infantry inflicting a severe mauling on the 21. Panzer-Division.
Graham survived Africa and returned to England with the Sherwood Rangers to train in Sherman DD swimming tanks for the invasion of Normandy. Due to a slight disagreement with a commanding officer that landed him in the guardhouse, he came in on Gold Beach, Normandy a bit later than his Sherwood Ranger comrades.
In his first day of hedgerow fighting, untested and frightened infantrymen escorting his tank fled under fire, leaving Graham and his tank commander to conduct their own reconnaissance. Just steps outside of his tank, Graham was hit and nearly killed by German machine gun fire. As an artery bled out, his life hung on a thread. Luckily, a nearby aid station saved his life. But his war ended there.
Charley’s career ended in May, 1943, when he was taken prisoner by the Americans and transported to camps in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Belgium, and England before returning home in 1947. Even decades later, he could never forget the war in Africa, and his honorable opponents.
In 1991, he sought out the Sherwood Rangers and found Ken Ewing, head of the southern branch of the Sherwood Rangers Old Comrades’ Association. It wasn’t long before they became like brothers. After Charley attended ceremonies for the regiment in Normandy and Holland, he was invited in as a member of the Association, where he was accepted wholeheartedly by the remaining British World War II veterans, including Graham, who was in the same tank crew with Ken.
Now, Graham and Charley are the only members of Sherwood Rangers Old Comrades’ Association left alive who fought in Africa 75 years ago. Their friendship, which has transcended the brutality of war to reveal that mutual respect, healing, and reconciliation can exist between former enemies, sends a powerful message to future generations.
Heather Steele, Founder and CEO of non-profit organization World War II History Project, has launched a $25,000 crowdfunding campaign to make this reunion and filming of a mini-documentary happen. You can help make this possible — I’ve spoken with Heather and she’s incredible passionate to make this happen. There are various perks available for your kind donations from getting personalized postcards from the Veterans to flying in a WWII bomber or riding a tank!
When World War I ended and the smoke settled, the United States military was left with an overabundance of men, vehicles, ships, supplies and horses. The demobilization of the effort needed to fight in Europe and elsewhere was chaotic and abrupt.
President Woodrow Wilson quickly set to work getting the U.S. military and the government bureaucracy that managed it back to its prewar size and role. In hindsight, the quick movement was a huge mistake.
During the war, Britain experienced a shortage of horses early on, which led to the U.S. sending 1.1 million horses overseas. By the end of the war, the U.S. forces had some 60,000 horses at its disposal. Back home, horses were plentiful, but no longer in demand.
Four million soldiers and sailors were suddenly discharged from the military, and were subsequently unemployed. Those who were working found themselves in the middle of labor strikes amid an economic crisis. Critical industries were not as productive as they were during wartime and farm prices dropped.
This included the meatpacking industry, which also saw production shortfalls. The prices of meat rose sharply as Americans abandoned some of their wartime practices, which included swapping out beef for horse meat so the beef could be sent to the front lines.
Horse meat gained a reputation for being inferior, even the cause of illness, and fell out of favor, leading to surplus of horses in the United States.
Ken-L-Ration, get it? Because soldiers eat rations. It’s a colorful play on words at a time when most Americans were familiar with many aspects of military life. As for the horses, the animal was still as beloved as they are today, but Americans had been raising horses as food animals for years, even before World War II.
They also made the same dietary changes during World War I and the interwar years. It was never as popular as other meat animals, but Americans did what they had to support the country’s war efforts.
Horses were being used less and less with the rise of the automobile, and Americans still found the idea of eating a useful animal unsettling, so the dog food didn’t take off right away, but it eventually found its niche.
While USDA-inspected, Grade A horse meat appeared unfit for the family dining room, some clever marketing made Ken-L-Ration’s “lean, red meat” a premium meal for Fido. Ken-L-Ration first debuted in 1922 and was a dog food staple for decades.
Ken-L-Ration’s marketing was so good that the reason Americans refer to dogs as “Fido” is because the company’s trademark yellow mascot was named “Fido.” The brand became the biggest dog food brand in the United States and was eventually sold to the Quaker Oats Company in 1942.
Many readers will still be able to remember the company’s jingle from the 1960s, called “My Dog’s Bigger Than Your Dog.”
Before canned dog food, people commonly fed their dogs whatever they had laying around. The first specially made dog food available to consumers was a dog biscuit made by James Spratt, which consisted of a mixture of vegetables, wheat, and beef blood.
Spratt’s creation sparked an entire market, which eventually led to today’s industry devoted to canine nutrition.
On Aug. 4, 1945, Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay approved Operation Centerboard I, a decision that ultimately forced the Japanese to surrender and forever changed the world. Two days after his approval, pilots boarded the Enola Gay, the callsign for their B-29 bomber, and lifted off from the Pacific island of Tinian en route for Hiroshima.
At 8:15 a.m., the lone plane in the sky carrying the 9,000-pound uranium-enriched atomic bomb — known as “Little Boy” — released from the bomb bay and floated by parachute, detonating the equivalent of 12,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT over the populated city.
“It was very much as if you’ve ever sat on an ash can and had somebody hit it with a baseball bat,” recalled Navigator Theodore Van Kirk, as he described the shockwave. Life that existed before was annihilated, and 70,000 of the 76,000 total buildings were destroyed — 48,000 blown into non-existence. The explosion immediately killed an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 people, and the nuclear fallout in the following years is believed to have killed some 200,000 more people as a result of severe burns, trauma, radiation exposure, and cancer.
The Bockscar and its crew, who dropped a Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A day later, after no sign of surrender from the Japanese, the decision was made to use the second atomic bomb — “Fat Man.” The target was originally not the city of Nagasaki, but that of Kokura, the location of Japan’s largest munitions depot. On Aug. 9, 1945, bad weather and thick clouds forced the pilots to deviate and travel to their secondary target, where citizens of Nagasaki experienced the same hell that occurred three days prior.
“Suddenly, the light of a thousand suns illuminated the cockpit,” remembered “Bockscar” co-pilot Fred Olivi. “Even with my dark welder’s goggles, I winced and shut my eyes for a couple of seconds. I guessed we were about seven miles from ‘ground zero’ and headed directly away from the target, yet the light blinded me for an instant.”
After the plume of the second explosion cleared the skies and the Japanese surrender ended World War II, the world questioned how anyone could ever recover after two cities were turned into ash. On the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Coffee or Die looks back at the lesser known aspects of the cataclysmic event that destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and forever changed the world.
A group of physicists at the 1946 Los Alamos colloquium on the Super. In the front row are Norris Bradbury, John Manley, Enrico Fermi, and J.M.B. Kellogg. Behind Manley is Oppenheimer (wearing jacket and tie), and Richard Feynman to his left. The Army colonel on the far left is Oliver Haywood. In the third row between Haywood and Oppenheimer is Edward Teller. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
“The Cry Baby Scientist”
Robert Oppenheimer, the man known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb,” had months of preparation and test results to predict the impact of dropping a nuclear bomb over a populated city as he and his team developed the two atomic bombs that were used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the physicist, along with 155 scientists chosen to work under the top-secret program famously known as “The Manhattan Project,” had second thoughts. They signed a petition that opposed using nuclear weapons in a military capacity.
When Oppenheimer met with President Harry Truman in his Oval Office in October 1945, months after pondering the destruction of his own creation, he told him, “Mr. President, I feel like I have blood on my hands.” Truman’s face scrunched and his anger grew to a fury as he told Secretary of State Dean Acheson, “I never want to see that son of a bitch in my office again.”
As Truman recounted the story, the blame equally shared by the two of them, he often referred to Oppenheimer as “the cry baby scientist.”
A watch recovered from Hiroshima, stopped at 8:15 a.m., the moment of the bombing. Photo courtesy of the Atomic Heritage Foundation.
Censorship In The Press
The biggest news story of the century was censored. In fact, much of the information during World War II was censored. However, the prime focus concerning the nuclear explosions over Japan was the suppression of evidence regarding radiation or radioactivity. Journalists were silenced, access to medical reports were limited, and American officials confiscated materials collected from Japanese inspectors during the immediate fallout. Gen. Douglas MacArthur issued a press code that permitted the publication of photographs and print in relation to the bombings, and it remained in effect until 1952.
The purpose of the censorship was that the military didn’t want the atomic weapon to be associated with chemical warfare. Nonetheless, Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett avoided the censors when he sent his report to London using Morse code. Burchett was the first foreign journalist to visit Hiroshima after the bombings. The London Daily Express published his story on Sept. 5, 1945, with the headline “The Atomic Plague.”
“Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city,” Burchett wrote. “It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence.”
American physicist Lawrence H. Johnston with the Fat Man plutonium core on Tinian in 1945. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Eyewitness Accounts & Survival
American physicist Lawrence H. Johnston, one of the scientists to work under the helm of the Manhattan Project, was the only eyewitness of all three atomic explosions (the other was the Trinity test). While Johnston viewed the extraordinary violent detonations from a distance, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a 29-year-old Japanese naval engineer experienced both blasts in person.
Walking on his morning commute to work, Yamaguchi stopped and looked toward the sky. He heard the roar from the B-29’s engines, then watched a bomb deploy a parachute. The sky flashed the brightest light he had ever seen as he dove into a ditch before the shockwave engulfed his entire being. The eruption was so violent that it spun up tornado-like winds that hurled his body into a nearby potato patch.
After somewhat recovering his wits, he spent the night in an air raid shelter, and the following day he went to the train station. The bridges ceased to exist, and en route he had to cross a river pass and swam through a cluster of floating dead bodies. As he boarded the train amongst several other burned survivors, he traveled overnight to his hometown of Nagasaki.
On Aug. 8, he recuperated in the hospital and embraced his wife and child who hardly recognized him. The next day he returned to work to inform his bosses of what had occurred at Hiroshima. After escaping one atomic bomb, the second was even more devastating.
“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he told the The Independent. Somehow, for the second time, he survived the blast, but the radiation in multiplied doses had lingering effects that caused his hair to fall out and relentless bouts of vomiting. Surprisingly, he lived until he was 93 years old and died of stomach cancer in 2010.
The Atom Bowl teams were each captained by a Heisman Trophy winner and an NFL running back who served with the 2nd Marine Division during World War II. Photo courtesy of War History Online.
The Atom Bowl
While citizens of Japan weren’t fully aware of the effects of radiation and what impact it had on the body until later in life, US soldiers didn’t fully understand it either. On New Year’s Day 1946, Chicago Bears standout Bill “Bullet” Osmanski stepped onto another gridiron that looked more like a scene from the movie Mad Max than a packed football stadium filled with screaming fans. Osmanski and other Marines from the 2nd Marine Division fielded one team and squared off against Lt. Angelo Bertelli, a Heisman Trophy winner and former Notre Dame quarterback. The ceremonial football game became known as “The Atom Bowl,” and it was held in the nuclear wasteland a few miles from “ground zero” in Nagasaki.
More than 2,000 Devil Dogs took to the bleachers at the “Atomic Athletic Field No. 2” to watch Osmanski’s “Isahaya Tigers” defeat Bertelli’s “Nagasaki Bears” 14-13. The halftime festivities included music by the Marine Corps band and “Japanese girl cheerleaders.” The rules were altered for safety, including banning tackle football in favor of two-hand touch because of the shattered glass and small debris on the field. The world’s first and only football game to take place in the rubble of an atomic bomb crater was played by a bunch of Marines trying to boost their spirits before they went home.
On June 6, 1944, the free men of the world joined together to liberate Europe from the clutches of Hitler. One of these men was 23-year-old Jim “Pee Wee” Martin. A paratrooper in G Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Martin was one of the original 101st Airborne troopers who went through jump school at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. It was during his airborne training that Martin received the nickname “Pee Wee” for his small stature. He went on to fight with the Screaming Eagles in Normandy, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. During WWII, he earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. In April 2021, Martin celebrated his 100th birthday with a massive jump fest near his hometown of Xenia, Ohio.
One of the last surviving “Toccoa Men”, Martin’s birthday is April 29. To facilitate the festivities, his birthday celebration was held over the weekend from April 23-25. Distinguished guests in attendance included Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Engler of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Other 101st Airborne veterans, all of whom are over 90, showed up to celebrate their brother in arms’ birthday.
The Commemorative Air Force also supported the festivities with restored WWII planes. Using two Douglas C-47 Skytrains and a C-53 Skytrooper, the CAF conducted a flyover and mass parachute drop with reenactors on all three days. After the main drop, tandem parachuting was opened to the public as well.
On the evening of April 24, Martin was presented with multiple gifts and awards. Notably, the city of Xenia declared April 29 as Jim “Pee Wee” Martin Day in honor of his WWII service. Martin also served as an advisor on Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries that made the 101st Airborne a household name.
Despite the weekend of festivities dedicated to him, Martin remains humble. He places emphasis on the achievements of his unit. “The Airborne, that patch got you any place you wanted to go and you didn’t have to lie or anything like that,” Martin said. “All you had to do is see that patch and people knew what you’d been doing. I’m very proud of the service that we did, and it’s not an individual thing about me; it’s what the unit did. I don’t go off of individuals.”
Martin also shared words of wisdom with the new generation of 101st troopers. “My advice is go in there, work hard, do everything right, don’t make any missteps, and remember this: all of us older guys are looking to you.”
The Yom Kippur War raged from Oct. 6-25, 1973, and the Israeli forces initially suffered severe setbacks. It was a full, combined arms conflict where tanks, artillery, planes, infantrymen and air defense missiles all had their say.
But one string of events reaches forward in time from those weeks and threatens the A-10.
Israel’s air force, the Chel Ha’Avir, was able to slow and halt nearly all advances by tanks and other ground forces when it was safe to fly. But when the enemy forces stayed under the air defense umbrella, Israel’s pilots came under heavy attack.
In one instance, 55 missiles were flying at Israel’s pilots in a single, small strip of land occupied by Syrian forces.
Israeli forces turned the tables with a few brilliant maneuvers. At one point, a pilot realized the enemy was firing too many missiles, so he led his men in quick passes as bait for the missileers, causing the enemy to expend all their ordnance while downing a relatively few number of planes. The survivors of this risky maneuver were then able to fly with near impunity.
On another front, artillerymen opened the way for the air force by striking the missile sites with long range guns. They moved forward of their established safe zones to do so, putting their forces at risk to save the planes above them.
Israel went on to win the war, allowing NATO and other Western militaries around the world to pat themselves on the back because their tactics and hardware defeated a coalition equipped with Soviet tactics and hardware.
But for the Chel Ha’Avir and aviation officers around the world, there was a lesson to be parsed out of the data.
Both the A-4 Skyhawk and the F-4 Phantom flew a high number of sorties against the Syrians, Egyptians and their allies. But the Skyhawk suffered a much worse rate of loss than the F-4s.
This was — at least in part — because the F-4 flew faster and higher and could escape surface-to-air missiles and radar-controlled machine guns more easily. Just a year after the A-10’s debut flight and over 3 years before it was introduced to the air fleet, the whole concept of low and slow close air support seemed dated.
The resulting argument, that low and slow CAS is too risky, is part of the argument about whether the Air Force should ditch the low-and-slow A-10 Warthog for the fast-moving, stealthy F-35 Lightning II.
Of course, not everyone agrees that the Yom Kippur War is still a proper example of the close air support debate.
First, the A-10 has spent its entire service life in the post-Yom Kippur world. While it suffered six losses against the Iraqis during Desert Storm, it has been flying against more advanced air defenses than the A-4s faced in the Yom Kippur War and remained a lethal force throughout the flight. The A-10 has never needed a safe space.
Second, while the A-10’s speed and preferred altitudes may make it more vulnerable than fast movers to ground fire, it also makes the jet more capable when firing against ground targets. To modernize the old John A. Shedd saying about ships, “A ground-attack jet at high-altitude may be safe, but that’s not what they are designed for.”
Finally, the Yom Kippur War was a short conflict where the Chel Ha’Avir had to fly against a numerically superior enemy while that enemy was marching on its capital. This forced commanders to take additional risks, sending everything they had to slow the initial Syrian and Egyptian momentum.
The U.S. Air Force is much larger and has many more planes at its command. That means that it can field more specialized aircraft. F-35s and F-22s can support ground forces near enemy air defenses and go after missile sites and other fighters while A-10s or the proposed arsenal plane attack ground forces from behind the F-22 and F-35 shield.
This isn’t to say that the Air Force is necessarily wrong to divest out of the A-10 to bolster the F-35. The Warthog can’t stay on the battlefield forever. But if the A-10 has served its entire career in the post-Yom Kippur world, it seems like a shallow argument to say that it couldn’t possibly fight and win for another 5 or 10 years after nearly 40 successful ones.
In some ways, the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program — which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide — started with a tuba.
“The Latvian military band needed a big tuba,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Conaway, the 22nd chief of the NGB and “father” of the SPP. “And we hauled a tuba over there.”
The trip with the tuba was part of the early planning stages for the program, which turns 25 in 2018.
“We delivered that tuba to the Latvian band and they were amazed to get it,” said Conaway. “That started the program with the first, initial visit.”
That first visit lead the way to a program that now has 74 partnerships with countries throughout the world. But it all started with three: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
“We were received in grand fashion in all three places,” said Conaway, referring to that initial trip. Where it would go from there, he added, was then still unknown.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “But, we had the visit. That was the start.”
That first visit was the result of a simple directive from Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, then-supreme allied commander in Europe with NATO, and who would be appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993.
“He called me up and said “we’ve got to help these new emerging democracies [in the Baltics],'” said Conaway, adding that after additional planning with Pentagon officials, he formed a small team and they started working with the State Department. That led to meeting with the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as military officials in those countries.
“It looked like they wanted our help and we started talking about putting liaison officers from the National Guard on orders with them,” said Conaway. “Our role was to help make the transition [to democracy] as smooth as we could.”
The idea of liaison officers grew into tying specific Guard elements with specific countries.
“The [team] and I huddled and thought, “We’ve got tons of Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans living in Pennsylvania,'” Conaway said. “It fit. We’ll tie Lithuania to the Pennsylvania National Guard.”
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)
The idea grew from there.
“There were a lot of Latvian-Americans in Michigan, so we got with the adjutant general [of the Michigan National Guard] and tied them together with Latvia,” said Conaway. “There are Estonian-Americans in Baltimore, and so we tied [Estonia] together with the Maryland National Guard.”
Conaway added there was little precedent to follow while developing the program.
“We were doing this off the back of an envelope back then,” he said. “It was happening so fast.”
By the time Conaway retired in November 1993, the SPP had 13 partnerships, primarily with former Eastern Bloc countries in Europe.
The following years saw new partnerships added from across the globe.
“It’s grown to 74 partnerships and that’s been an incremental growth of about two to three partnerships a year,” said Air Force Col. Donald McGuire, chief of the international affairs branch at the NGB.
As the program has expanded, the process for adding new partnerships has become more refined.
First, the country has to request to be a member of the program, said McGuire, adding that input from the State Department and the combatant command — the U.S. military command element overseeing specific geographic regions — goes along with that request.
“They collectively decide that this is a good country we want to nominate for selection into the program,” said McGuire, adding that from there staff work is done to determine the best course of action with pairing up elements for a partnership.
“It’s very analytical what the staff here does,” said McGuire. “They put a lot of hard work and brain cells against making sure they’re doing a good analysis to give the chief [of the NGB] the best recommendation they can.”
The long-term success of the program has come about, in part, from that intrinsic relationship with both the State Department and the combatant command, said McGuire. The SPP is nested with the command’s theater security cooperation plan and the State Department’s country study plan.
“It’s in tune with the combatant commanders, therefore, it’s in tune or synchronized with the National Defense Strategy,” McGuire said.
Building relationships, said McGuire, is one of the hallmarks of the program.
“This provides, perhaps, the most well-known and established international partnership capability the National Guard is involved with,” he said. “These are relationships that have grown over the course of time and continue to grow.”
Those relationships have not only seen partners in the program train together, but also work together in the wake of natural disasters and large-scale emergencies.
It’s also seen co-deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas.
“You wouldn’t have these countries and units deploying together, necessarily, if they didn’t already have this relationship.”
McGuire added that’s a significant element.
“That tells you a lot about the program,” he said. “These co-deployments are real-world operations, named contingencies that represent the next level of collaboration and coordination.”
Building collaboration and coordination is also key to building greater regional security, said Army Brig. Gen. Christopher F. Lawson, the NGB’s vice director of strategy, policy, plans and international affairs.
“In order to promote greater peace and stability in the world long into the future, we will need a program like the SPP because it helps nations transition from security consumers to security providers,” he said.
For Conaway, the continued growth of the program is more than he imagined 25 years ago.
“It is beyond my wildest dreams and imagination that it would be this passionate and this popular and the good the National Guard has done,” he said. “Here we are, 25 years after it started and the National Guard is just as enthusiastic as ever.”
The pairing of the West Virginia National Guard with Qatar was announced in April 2018, and McGuire said additional partnerships are in the coordination phase.
“We have a few more partnerships in the queue,” he said, adding he sees continued growth of the program over the next 25 years and beyond.
“It really is the entry point to a lot of good things that happen,” McGuire said.
When Army Air Forces bomber pilot Owen Baggett was trying to take out a bridge in WWII at Burma, he ended up having to bail out in the skies over the bridge. He landed in the history books.
In March 1943, Baggett and other airmen in his B-24 Liberator squadron were met by a baker’s dozen of Japanese Zero fighters as they went over their target. Baggett’s B-24 was hit numerous time in its fuel tanks and Baggett and his crew were forced to bail out.
The deadly Japanese attack kept coming, however, attacking the pilots in their parachutes as they gently fell to earth. Baggett decided to play dead in his rig, trying to avoid getting strafed by a fighter plane.
That’s when one of the Zeros got a little too close.
A Japanese pilot approached Baggett in his chute with the Zero’s nose up and at near-stalled speed. The enemy pilot opened his canopy to get a look at the American. Baggett, who was sneakily holding his M1911 pistol, snapped up and angrily fired four rounds into the Zero’s cockpit. The Zero spun to the ground.
Colonel Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group, was also shot down that day. He said he saw the Japanese pilot’s body thrown clear of the downed plane and that the pilot was killed by a bullet to the head, not the plane crash.
But Melton himself was killed on a ship that was sunk as it headed toward Japan. If Baggett really did take down a fighter with a pistol, he would be the only person to ever shoot down an aircraft with a pistol.
When Baggett hit the ground, the enemy pilots were still trying to strafe him. He hid behind trees until ground forces captured him. Baggett spent two years as a POW in Rangoon, Burma. He was later rescued by OSS agents and stayed in the newly-created U.S. Air Force after the war’s end.
Baggett retired from the Air Force as a Colonel and later worked on Wall Street. He died in 2006 and firmly believed he was successful in shooting down the Zero with his 1911.
Nazi subs prowled the Gulf of Mexico during World War II.
Herbert G. Claudius was in command of the patrol ship USS PC-566 in 1942. His mission and that of his crew was to monitor the Louisiana coast and its territorial waters for signs of any Nazi u-boat activity. On July 30, 1942, they got their chance, sinking a submarine that was preying on American shipping. For this, he was awarded the Legion of Merit with a Combat V device. The medal was issued in 2014, 72 years after the action.
At the time, Claudius was relieved of command for the same action.
USS PC-566 was a submarine chaser patrol boat, much like the one seen here.
In all, Hitler sent around 22 or more u-boats into the Gulf of Mexico at the outset of World War II, and they were successful. The submarines prowling the coasts of Texas and Florida picked off an estimated 50 ships during the war. They were wreaking absolute havoc on American shipping, and the United States Navy was only able to sink one of them. That’s the u-boat taken down by Claudius’ USS PC-566 and her crew.
On July 30, 1942, the passenger liner SS Robert E. Lee was torpedoed and sank by U-166 45 miles south of the Mississippi River Delta. Upon entering the area, Claudius and his crew spotted U-166’s periscope and dropped depth charges into the water until an oil slick bubbled up to the surface – proof positive they hit their target, possibly destroying the boat.
When Claudius reported the action to the Navy, the Navy was skeptical because the crew of PC-566 had not yet received anti-submarine training and admonished the crew of the patrol boat for poorly executing the attack. Their skipper was relieved of his command and sent to anti-submarine school instead of receiving the Legion of Merit he so richly deserved. After reviewing the evidence presented to the Navy by Ballard and by oil companies who also found the wreck, the Navy reversed course, just 72 years too late.
In a 2014 ceremony, Claudius’ son, also named Herbert G. Claudius, received his father’s Legion of Merit from then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert at the Pentagon. The elder Claudius, who died in 1981 after 33 years of Naval service, “would have felt vindicated.”