Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

The date was April 23, 1975, the war in Vietnam was winding down and the world was waiting to see what America would choose to do. President Ford gave a speech to the people from Tulane University. During that speech he told the citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world that as far as America was concerned, the war was over.

He stated, “Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.” With these words he made it very clear that he would not be sending troops back over, despite the pleas for support from the South Vietnamese.


Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

At this time, North Vietnam was surrounding the city of Saigon, preparing for a final assault on the capital city. The military leaders of South Vietnam ordered their troops to withdraw to the Highlands to a more defensible position. The biggest issue was that the South Vietnamese were largely outnumbered by the North Vietnamese. When they met in battle at Xuan Loc on April 21, it was clear that the end was near. Between the loss at that battle and President Ford’s speech at Tulane, South Vietnam had little hope that they could emerge victorious.

By the time April 27 dawned, North Vietnam forces had completely surrounded Saigon. They soon began their final push and assault on the city. On April 30, when North Vietnamese tanks burst through the gates of the Presidential Palace, the South Vietnamese were battered and beaten, and surrendered there and then. The war in Vietnam was officially over.

The Vietnam War was controversial from day one, especially in the U.S. It remained so through its duration, and beyond. President Ford made the choice to pull the American troops out of Vietnam and not send them back, even though South Vietnam pleaded with him to do so. This too was surely a controversial decision. The Vietnam War was an instance where no matter what was done, someone felt it was the wrong choice. The people of the United States at that time were not shy about shouting their opinions from every rooftop, either.

Those who were against the war, which was a good portion of the country, even made sure the soldiers returning home knew how they felt. The soldiers were not met with fanfare and welcome homes as were the soldiers of past wars, or as the soldiers of future wars would be. They were not given help or support in adjusting back to their lives at home. It seemed the people, the government and the country as a whole were perfectly happy to sweep the entire war and all those involved under the rug and simply move on.

Even now, 45 years after the war ended, the Vietnam War is still considered one of the most controversial wars in history. It is still often talked about in whispers, or not talked about at all. While there have been movements over the past two decades to give the Vietnam Veterans the recognition they deserve, it is still a fight everyday against the stigma felt during that time.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

America as a country did as Ford said, “Regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam.” For those who fought in the war, however, there was no sense of pride found. They each had no choice but to go through the process of living a ‘normal’ life. For many this proved impossible, the war having taken every piece of them away.

It’s been 45 years since Saigon fell, 45 years since the war in Vietnam ended. Many of those men who fought in those jungles still live with the realities of that war every day. Now is the time to give them the recognition and appreciation they have always deserved. They didn’t choose to fight that battle. But, they answered the call when heeded. Today and every day, thank our Vietnam Veterans and show them the appreciation they never and should have received when they came home.

Podcast

5 of the biggest changes coming to the US military


Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | Spotify

In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, the gang comments on some of the biggest challenges the U.S. military will face in the coming days.

Because external challenges are easy for a fighting force like ours, the internal struggles are the ones we really want to talk about. These affect not only the troops themselves, but potentially their families, friends, and morale as well.

1. New physical standards for all

The recent years have been huge for the military community in terms of change. The most important changes include who can join, who can serve openly, and how they can all serve. Even the service chiefs are trying to understand how this will affect everyone.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Chief Petty Officer Selectees from Yokosuka area commands stand in ranks after a physical training (PT) session (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ben Farone)

Related: Mattis just finished his review of transgender troops

But at a junior-enlisted or NCO level, we know we’re just going to deal with it, no matter what. Women are going to be in combat, along with transgender troops serving openly. What will the new fitness standards look like? Should there be a universal standard?

2. Mattis is cleaning house

The Secretary of Defense, universally beloved by all service members of all branches, wants the military to become a more lethal, more deployable force. To this end, he wants to rid the branches of anyone who is not deployable for longer than 12 months.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis hosts with Montenegro’s Minister of Defence, Predrag Bošković, a meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2018. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Those numbers are significant, too. Experts estimate up to 14 percent of the entire military is non-deployable in this way, which translates to roughly 286,000 service members. It’s sure to make any military family sweat.

3. Okinawa’s “labor camp”

The Marine Corps’ correctional custody units want to open a sort of non-judicial punishment camp on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The purpose is to give commanders a place to send redeemable Marine who mess up for the first time in their career.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Brig Marines simulate hard labor during a Correctional Custody Unit demonstration Jan. 12 in the Brig aboard Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jessica Collins)

In the military, we joke (sometimes not so jokingly) about the idea of “turning big rocks into little rocks” when we talk about getting caught committing a crime while in the service. Don’t worry — no one actually commits the crime they’re joking about. But what isn’t a joke is hard labor imposed by a military prison sentence. Now, even troops with Article 15 can be forced to turn big rocks into little rocks.

4. A new military pay raise

Yes, the military gets a raise pretty much every year. Is it ever enough? No. Do service members make what they’re worth? Absolutely not. Is Congress even trying? Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Well, this year they’re getting the biggest bump yet after nine years of waiting. Are they worth more? Of course they are.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
President Donald Trump lands at Berry Field Air National Guard Base, Nashville, Tennessee on Jan. 8, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy Cornelius)

5. Marine Corps blues face a real challenge

For years (actually, decades), the Marines’ dress uniform has been the uncontested, drop-dead sexiest uniform in the American armed forces. Now, they face a usurper that really does have a shot at challenging their spot at the top of the rankings.

Now read: 5 reasons the USMC Blue Dress A is the greatest uniform of all time

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey salutes the Anthem pre-kickoff during the Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field. SMA Dailey displayed the Army’s proposed ‘Pink and Green’ daily service uniform, modeled after the Army’s standard World War II-era dress uniform. (U.S. Army photo by Ronald Lee)

The Army is reverting to one of its classic uniforms from the bygone World War II-era: the pinks and greens. The decision was met with near-universal jubilation from the Army (it was a golden age for the U.S. Army in nearly every way).

Now, former airman Blake Stilwell demands the Air Force develop its own throwback jersey.

Mandatory Fun is hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Eric Mizarski: Army veteran and Senior Contributor

Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Catch the show on Twitter at: @MandoFun and on our Facebook group.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Union soldiers stole a train to wreak havoc in Georgia

By April 1862, the American Civil War was a year old and neither side had the upper hand. The fighting was particularly brutal in Tennessee, a border state heavily divided between Union and Confederate sympathizers. Grant won a pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Shiloh in western Tennessee while Union operations in the eastern part of the state stalled.


Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

One enterprising Union supporter — a civilian merchant, scout, and part-time spy, James J. Andrews — proposed a plan to Union Maj. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel that would cut off the supply lines to Chattanooga and allow Union forces to take the city. This would help Mitchel in his ultimate goal of cutting off Memphis from the Confederates.

The plan called for Andrews to lead a group of volunteers to Atlanta where they would steal a train and then race towards Chattanooga while laying waste to the railway, telegraph wires, and bridges.

Mitchel agreed to the audacious plan.

So Andrews gathered 22 volunteers from the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio regiments stationed in Nashville with Mitchel. He also recruited another civilian, William Hunter Campbell.

Andrews ordered his raiding party to arrive in Marietta, Georgia, by midnight on April 10th, 1862. They were to travel in small groups and wear civilian clothes. Bad weather caused a 24-hour delay and two members of the party were caught in transit. On the morning of April 12th, the rest of the raiders – minus two who overslept and missed the mission – boarded a train in Marietta.

It was one year to the day since the war had started.

The train stopped just outside of Marietta at Big Shanty (modern day Kennesaw) for fuel and to allow the passengers to eat breakfast. The town had no communication lines and couldn’t alert stations further down the track. While the others ate, Andrews and his team sprang into action. They uncoupled most of the cars leaving only three empty boxcars, the tender, and a locomotive called the General to make their escape.

As the train pulled away, The General‘s engineer and two other men ran after the train for two miles before commandeering a handcart and following the train on the rails.

As they went, the raiders cut telegraph lines and tore up tracks to slow down their pursuers and disrupt future travel.

But as the raiders crossed the Etowah River, Andrews made a potentially fatal decision. He and his men spotted another engine, the Yonah, on a spur track. One raider suggested they destroy the engine and burn the bridge over the river. Unwilling to start a fight, Andrews chose instead to continue on.

Although slowed by a missing rail, the General‘s engineer, William Fuller, was still in hot pursuit on a handcart when he came upon the Yonah. He commandeered it and continued the chase.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Andrews and his men continued cutting telegraph lines and disrupting train traffic. When they reached Kingston, Georgia, they ran into a large traffic jam. General Mitchel did not halt his advance to wait for the raiders, so trainloads of supplies and civilians were pouring out of Chattanooga, clogging the lines. This traffic jam cost the raiders an hour — with the still intact bridge across the Etowah River allowing their pursuers to catch up.

The General departed the station just as the Yonah arrived. Andrews’ raiders stopped to cut the telegraph lines and remove another section of track. During that time, Fuller and his party abandoned their train and took one that was ahead of the traffic jam at Kingston. They took off after the Union men but were stopped by the damaged track.

Abandoning their train again they continued to pursue the raiders on foot. They commandeered a southbound train called Texas but since the Southerners didn’t have a turntable to change directions, Fuller ran the train in reverse. He also picked up a small group of Confederate soldiers to help retake the train.

In an effort to slow down their pursuers, the raiders uncoupled two of their three boxcars. When this didn’t work, they tried to use the last boxcar to burn a bridge. The car ignited but the bridge itself failed to catch. The increasingly desperate raiders watched as Fuller’s train pushed the burning boxcar off the bridge and continued the chase.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

By this time the General was running out of wood and water to power its boiler. Unable to proceed with the planned destruction of Tunnel Hill – which would have completely shut down the line – Andrews ordered the train stopped and the raiders to scatter just 18 miles short of their goal at Chattanooga.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

All the raiders, including the two men who overslept and missed the train, were captured within two weeks. Andrews, Campbell, and six Union soldiers were tried as spies and executed. The rest were interred in POW camps in the South.

Six of the raiders received the first Medals of Honor ever. Their exploits would come to be known as “the Great Locomotive Chase.”

popular

5 typical military rewards that aren’t actually that great

Everyone wants recognition for their hard work and dedication. In the civilian world, promotions and cash raises are a solid ways to let employees know that the company respects their work production and technical skills.

Holy sh*t we wish the military was structured in that same way.

Although service members do get promoted, that only happens once every few years — if you’re lucky. It’s only a 17 percent chance that an active duty troop will stay in the military for 20 years before retiring. That’s much lower than most people think. Now, we can’t accurately pinpoint why all troops decide to get out before hitting their 20, but we know why most of our veterans friends did: they didn’t felt appreciated.

So how does the military show their brave men and women that they give a sh*t about them? Well, keep reading.


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Yes. It kind of does.

“Mandatory fun” days

If this term sounds confusing to the civilian ear, it sounds just as weird to a newbie boot’s as well. Mandatory fun isn’t just the name of the We Are The Mighty podcast, it’s also the event all service members have to attend when their units throw appreciation parties for troops.

Every active duty member has to show up, be accounted for, and must look like they’re having fun (good commands will also design a fun event, but…that’s rare). Sure there are free hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and soda, but, unfortunately, these events usually take place on a Saturday afternoon. Although you’d much rather be doing anything else, you’re stuck at work because you did your job too well.

Free afternoons

What’s interesting about the military is we have to take part in formations on a regular basis. This is a standard tool the military uses to pass information to everybody in the unit at the same time.

Sometimes, the officer-in-charge will give their command the day off as a way of acknowledging everyone’s handiwork.

Unfortunately, they use the formation tool to relay this news to everyone. So…they call everyone to formation…to let them know they have the afternoon off.

But hey, a free afternoon is a free afternoon.

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Command coins

When most civilians hear the word “coin” they think that involves money. In this case, it really doesn’t. Although it costs money to purchase a command coin, the collector item has zero value anywhere on earth except in a veteran-themed bar. Sure the practice of handing out a command coin is a cool way of praising a troop, but, at the end of the day, it’s just something that collects dust on the owner’s desk or shelf in their office.

How about shelling out some real coin once in a while? That will really show the troops their command cares.

Certificate of appreciation

Nothing feels better than to be recognized for your hard work in front of your peers and be handed a piece of pre-formatted paper praising you. We’re totally kidding! Receiving a letter or certificate of appreciation means close to nothing when other troops next to you get the exact thing — word for word.

The only thing that makes the certificate different, it has your name and rank is on it.

Whoopty freakin’ do!

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Getting a shout out in formation

Remember earlier when we talk about standing in formation? Well, Staff NCOs and the command’s officer also like to give shout-outs to their troops there as well. At least you get some notoriety for your excellent work, but unless it reflects somehow on your bi-annual evaluation — nobody gives a f*ck afterward.

Unless you earn your unit a day or half day off, being told “good job for killing the enemy yesterday” only goes so far if it doesn’t get you anywhere afterward.

Welcome to the suck, boot.

Articles

The best and worst Air Force uniforms, ranked

The Air Force had a number of various uniforms even before its independent inception in 1947. The evolution was a long and sometimes painful (on the eyes) one. Wear of Air Force uniforms is pretty important to airmen, and is governed by Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903, the only AFI most airmen know offhand. It also contains uniform requirements for the Civil Air Patrol as if the Civil Air Patrol counts as the military… I mean, its nice that perfect attendance is required for your “basic training” but call us when the UCMJ applies to you.


Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

The Air Force officially ended wear of olive green dress uniforms in 1952, switching over to distinct blue uniforms to stand out from the other services. In the years since, those “blues” (as they came to be called) evolved as times changed and as the Air Force itself changed.

This served for most airmen, but for those who still required a utility uniform, green would be (and still is) the mainstay for those uniforms. But Air Force utility uniforms always incorporated a distinctive blue, in some way, over the years to ensure its separation from the Army and little else.

The Air Force, like the Navy, appeared to be struggling with a uniform identity crisis in recent years, but it looks like they’ve got a handle on things.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
This was almost you, Air Force.

The USAF came a long way, and so it’s good to take a look back at the best and worst of what the Air Force thought was a good idea, lest history repeat itself.

The Best

1. Flight Suits – (1917- Present)

The coolest looking and most comfortable uniform, the flight suit is easily the number one in the Air Force wardrobe. Early flight suits had the same needs as today’s flight suits. Aircrews need warm clothing with pockets to keep things from falling out. Early flight suits required jackets, usually leather, to keep the pilots warm. The need for pressurized cockpits allowed the flight suit to become what it is today: flame resistant, comfortable, practical and still cool-looking.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Seriously. Awesome.

2. Battle Dress Uniform (1981-2011)

Maybe it’s because i’m partial to the uniform I wore every day, maybe it’s because the BDU is both comfortable and utilitarian, maybe because it’s a uniform which was worn across all branches of the U.S. military. In my mind, the only bad thing about this uniform was the M-65 BDU field jacket, which worked against the cold every bit as well as any crocheted blanket, which is to say, not at all. There’s a reason it was the longest-serving uniform.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

3. Blue Shade 1084 & 1549 Service Dress Uniform (1962-1969)

This is the one which became the iconic Air Force blues uniform after appearing in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove. An Air Force officer in the film, cigar-chomping Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper, acted and looked a lot like real life Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who is famous for his hardline thinking. He was once quoted as saying:

“If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I’m going to knock the sh-t out of them before they take off the ground.”

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

4. Cotton Sateen Utility Uniform OG-107 (1952-1982)

Army and Air Force personnel wore this both stateside and deployed to the Southeast Asia theater. It was replaced by the Tropical Combat Uniform in Southeast Asia but outside it continued to be the work uniform of choice through the 1970s when it was replaced by the woodland BDU.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Medal of Honor Recipient Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger

5. SR-71 Pressure Suits (1966-1999)

Its almost not even fair. They get to crew the greatest airframe ever designed AND look like an awesome alt-metal band in the process.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Blackbird pilots ’bout to drop the most fire album of 1969

The Worst

6. Air Force PT Uniforms (2006- Present)

Have you ever gone to the gym and wondered how much greater your workout could be if you did it while wearing swim trunks? The Air Force physical training uniform combines all the internal mesh of swim trunks to keep yourself in place with all the length of 1970s tennis player shorts to ensure you’re not only uncomfortable working out but so is everyone who has to look at you.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

7. Air Force Band Drum Major

I understand military tradition requires bands, but do we still have to make them dress like they should be guarding Queen Elizabeth? I wonder what possible purpose that giant hat served, even when it was a real part of a military uniform. Did the scepter ever serve a real purpose? And that sash looks makes him look less like an Air Force Chief and more like he’s the WWE Intercontinental Champion.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

8. Air Force Command Staff Ceremonial Uniforms (2012)

In 2012, Gen. Mark Welsh III rolled out a new set of ceremonial uniforms for the Air Force Command Staff. Commenters from Air Force magazine were quick to crack jokes about the special uniforms:

“General Welsh looks like a Russian crown prince at an embassy ball. What is it? Come on, General LeMay would never wear that!!”
“It appears the general is or was a member of the Air Force Band.”
“Exactly when did the AF adopt John Phillip Sousa’s uniform as its own?”

Air Force Times offered Welsh an opportunity to talk about the uniform, but he declined.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Chief Roy looks like he has something to say about it, though.

9. Air Force Summer Service Uniform (1956)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

This one is so bad, it’s hard to find evidence of it. It looked like your mailman earned rank and started maintaining aircraft. Yes, in the photo above even other airmen can’t believe these guys are actually wearing Khaki shorts and a safari hat. Ladies usually love a man in uniform, but these guys will be single until they ditch those ugly things.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
aka mailman starter kit.

10. Merrill McPeak Dress Blues

The uniform was criticized for looking too much like the Navy’s uniforms, like an airline pilot’s uniform, or “a business suit with medals,” it featured a white shirt and the signature clouds and lightning bolts (aka “Farts and Darts”) on the sleeves of the jacket. McPeak’s uniform was popular with absolutely no one but McPeak. These uniforms went away as soon as he did.

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MIGHTY CULTURE

Everything you need to know about the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve

It took 104 years, but the Marine Corps Reserve has grown from just 35 personnel to more than 40,000. To celebrate the USMC Reserve’s August 28 birthday, here’s a look at Marine heritage and culture.


Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Wikimedia Commons)

USMC-R History and Origins

The Marines’ reserve component dates back to the Civil War when military and civilian readers recognized a need for a Naval Reserve to augment the fleet during wartime.

Leading up to WWI, individual states tried to fill the need through state-controlled naval militias, but the lack of a centralized national force limited combat effectiveness.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson recognized the need for an operational Reserve Force, and on August 29, the USMC Reserve was born. The organization grew from just 35 Marines on April 01, 1916, to 6,467 by the time Germany surrendered in November 1918.

Reserve Marines fought on the sea and land in major battles during WWI, and as the Marine Corps began expanding its horizons during WWII, the Reserve component continued to grow. The USMC Women’s Reserve was activated in July 1942, and in 1943, the USMC WR swore in its first director, Maj. Ruth Cheney Streeter.

However, by 1947, it seems like the Marine Corps and the Reserve component were going to be disbanded. Fortunately, the Armed Forces Unification Act created the Department of Defense, which helped standardize pay for Marine Corps Reserve service members, along with creating a retirement pay program.

At the end of the military draft and the transition to an all-volunteer military in the 1970s, the USMC-R would grow to be almost 40,000 members strong.

Celebrating the USMC-R Birthday

This internal observance isn’t a widely known date or public holiday, but Reservists don’t mind. To honor and celebrate the history of the USMC Reserve on its birthday, you might consider flying the Marine Corps flag alongside the American flag this week.

Consult the Marine Corps Flag Manual to learn how to properly display a USMC-R service flag alongside the national colors. Fair warning, and in true USMC nature, this flag-flying manual is no less than 50 pages long, so be prepared for a long and thorough read.

TL;DR: The flag represents a living country and is considered a living thing. The right arm is the sword arm, and so the right is the place of honor, so the edge of the flag should be toward the staff. Flags should be displayed from sunrise to sunset. If a “patriotic effect is desired for specific occasions,” the flag can be displayed for a full 24 hours if properly illuminated during hours of darkness.

Famous USMC Reservists

Like the other branches of the military, being a part of the USMC-R can significantly impact civilian careers. For Reservists, being a Marine often means being able to also continue with life’s other passions. Take a look at the most famous Marine Reservists. You might not know they were Leathernecks, but we’re pretty sure you know their work!

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Wikimedia Commons)

Drew Carey

After enlisting in the Reserves in 1980, Carey went on to serve a total of six years. The comedian says that he adopted his trademark crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses because of his time in service. During his time in the Reserves, Carey was always looking for new ways to make money. Someone in his unit suggested using his jokes. Of his big break in Hollywood, Carey has often remarked that he would still be serving if he hadn’t made it big.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Cory W. Bush/Released)

Rob Riggle

Retired Lt. Col. Riggle served in the USMC Reserve as a PAO from 199-2013. He served in Kosovo, Liberia and Afghanistan. He joined the Marines after getting his pilot’s license with the intent of becoming a Naval Aviator but left flight school to pursue his comedy career. He has appeared on the Daily Show and had a running role on The Office.

Interested in joining the USMC Reserves?

The USMC-R is a critical component to being able to provide a balanced, ready force. There’s no telling that you’ll end up a famous comedian like Drew Caret or Rob Riggle, but chances are you’ll grow as a person and learn something in the process, too. Find out more here.


Lists

7 things veterans are sick of hearing from civilians

Most of the time, people have the best intentions when they’re talking to a veteran.


“By and large, at this stage in history, the American people are very, very supportive of veterans,” Brandon Trama, a former US Army Special Operations Detachment Commander, CivCom grad, and associate at Castleton Commodities International, told Business Insider.

Indeed, according to Gallup, the majority of civilians view each of the five branches either very or somewhat favorably.

“I’ve encountered numerous people when I transitioned who were willing to help me out, whether it was buy me a cup of coffee, give me thoughts on their career path, or put me in front of other people who may be able to point me in the direction of other opportunities,” Trama said.

But, according to the Pew Research Center, fewer Americans now have family ties to those who served.

And despite the good intentions of many civilians, there’s still a growing gap between the military and civilian worlds. So it’s important for civilians to remember that there’s a difference between reverence and understanding.

Business Insider spoke with veterans from several different branches of the military about transitioning back to civilian careers.

Here’s what they said they wished civilians would understand — and, in some cases, refrain from saying:

1. ‘We all owe you’

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

The military is widely held in esteem in the U.S. A whopping 72% of Americans have confidence in the institution, according to Gallup — compare that with the 16% of folks who have confidence in Congress.

But quite a few of the veterans Business Insider spoke with asserted that well-intentioned adulation can go too far.

Some advised civilians against overdoing it when thanking veterans for their service. These veterans also warned fellow ex-service members from letting any praise go to their heads.

“Stop thinking people owe you something,” Omari Broussard, who spent 20 years in the Navy, told Business Insider. “Nobody owes you anything.”

The New York Times reported that some veterans view being thanked for their service as “shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go.”

According to Broussard, it’s best for veterans — especially those who recently left the service — to not take the praise to heart, especially at work.

“When you get out, you’ve got to compete with the best,” the founder of counter-ambush training class 10X Defense and author of “Immediate Action Marketing” said. “Go get it. That may require you doing a lot more work than you think you need to do.”

2. ‘Do you have any friends that died?’

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Probing and ill-advised questions from civilians can make many veterans feel dehumanized and othered.

“People will ask me plainly, ‘Do you have any friends that died?'” Garrett Unclebach, who served as a Navy SEAL for six years, told Business Insider. “And then the second question they’ll ask me is, ‘You ever kill anybody?’ Two super inappropriate questions to ask people.”

Unclebach said people should remember they don’t necessarily have a full grasp on the issues an individual veteran is facing.

“People talk about PTSD and they don’t really understand it so I would tell you that some guys who have it are embarrassed by it,” the VP of business development at construction firm Bellator Construction said. “Everyone needs an opportunity to be human and be vulnerable.”

3. ‘I don’t really understand how your ability to go fight is going to add value to my organization’

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Edelman Intelligence’s study of 1,000 employers found that 76% want to hire more veterans — but only 38% said veterans obtain skills in the military that “are easily transferable to the private or public sector.”

Phil Gilreath, who served as a Marine officer for nearly 10 years, said this is a potential “stigma” veterans face in the business world.

“In reality, over 95% of what we do is kind of planning and operations and logistics,” he told Business Insider. “That absolutely translates to the corporate world, not to mention the things that aren’t necessarily quantitative, such as your leadership experience, your ability to operate in a dynamic, stressful environment that’s ever-changing.”

Gilreath is now director of operations at storage space startup Clutter and was previously a fellow at the Honor Foundation, a group that specifically helps Navy SEALs transition to civilian life.

He said veterans must enter the civilian world prepared to explain and demonstrate how exactly their skills cross over.

Evan Roth, an HBX CORe alum and former US Air Force captain who now works for GE Aviation, agrees.

“Not only does this involve creating a résumé that has readable — no strange acronyms — skill sets and experience, but also learning how to talk to companies in a way that demonstrates value,” Roth said. “Many members never practice how to give a 15-second ‘elevator pitch’ about how they can be valuable to a company, or in an interview they’ll tell a three minute ‘war story’ without tying it back to how this could be useful in the civilian world.”

4. ‘What the heck are you talking about?’

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Many branches of the military rely upon specific jargon and acronyms to get things done.

Randy Kelley, who served as a Navy SEAL sniper for 11 years, said this means things can get lost in translation for recent veterans.

“Just like in any other cross-cultural situation, it’s going to create a little bit of animosity, and create the division that sometimes can actually hurt the military guy,” the founder of wellness startup Dasein Institute told Business Insider. “They have to stop speaking to civilians like they understand what a PRT is. All these different things that were important to them in their last career are no longer relevant.”

He said it’s best for veterans to drop such phraseology in a civilian setting, and for civilian employers to understand where veterans are coming from.

“Veterans have to take the time to learn the jargon of the new environment and drop military acronyms,” Kayla Williams, a US army veteran who now works as the director of the Center for Women Veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told Business Insider.

But, in the case of recent vets, it’s better to be understanding and ask for clarification, rather than just writing someone off because they’re still relying upon a military style of communications.

5. ‘You must want to go back into security-related work’

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Not all veterans automatically want to work for a defense contractor.

James Byrne, who served as a US Navy SEAL officer for 26 years, said it’s important not to encourage veterans to “mentally lock themselves into the belief” that their skills only transfer to security-related industry.

When he first returned to civilian work, he said some well-intentioned civilians encouraged him to pursue a gig as a security guard at Walmart — simply because they couldn’t envision his abilities translating elsewhere. Today, he’s the director of sales and business development at solar tech company Envision Solar

“The sky’s the limit,” he told Business Insider. “You’re only stopped by your imagination of what you can do and what you can work with your network and yourself and your education and your soft skills and hard skills. There’s no limit to what you can do and how you can do it.”

6. ‘You must be glad to be back’

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
How did she even see him?

The process of leaving the military can be disorienting for some veterans. It’s patronizing to assume someone is in a better place just because they’re no longer in the service.

Former US Marine Corps rifleman and Victor App founder Greg Jumes told Business Insider he struggled with addiction and lived out of his car for a time after he left the military.

“When you get out, you’re surrounded by a group of people and you don’t know what the hell their deal is,” he said. “You just kind of feel all over the place and that kind of brings you back into a state of isolation.”

He said it’s crucial for military servicemembers interested in leaving to plan ahead.

“You have to plan,” he said. “You have to find where you should be moving to. You have to start networking before you get out.”

7. ‘You must have gone through so much’

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Never assume you have an idea of what a veteran’s experience was like.

“The narrative that has been established for returning veterans has been unhelpful,” retired Green Beret Scott Mann, who served in the Army for 23 years, told Business Insider. “The narrative has been ‘the island of misfit toys.’ We’re broken.”

Today, Mann runs a leadership training organization MannUp and the Heroes Journey, a non-profit devoted to helping veterans transition. He said it’s harmful to have a perception of veterans as “damaged goods.”

“That could not be further from the truth, in most cases,” he said. “There are cases where some people need care for the rest of their lives. Most of the veteran population are high functioning and we actually need them in our communities and businesses leading in the front, putting those skills into play.”

Remember, there’s a ton of diversity when it comes to the experiences military servicemembers have across the five branches — and even within those branches.

“What I did in the Navy is probably unlike with the other 99% of people did in the Navy,” Charles Mantranga, Navy veteran and implementation manager at tech firm Exitus Technologies, told Business Insider. “It’s pretty hard for people to understand it, really.”

Articles

The only time the Soviet Union officially fought the US was in brutal air combat

In October 1944, WWII was still raging all across Europe. On the Eastern Front, Red Army troops in Yugoslavia were making their way to bolster other Soviet forces in the region when American P-38 Lightning fighters started raining lead on them.


In response, the Soviet Air Force launched two groups of its premiere fighter of the time, the Yakovlev Yak-3. The Yaks fought the Yanks for a good 15 minutes over the Yugoslav (now Serbia) town of Niš. No one knows exactly how or where the error started, but each side fought the other viciously, thinking they were fighting Nazis.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
Soviet Yak-9s in flight. ‘The pilots who flew it regarded its performance as comparable to or better than that of the Messerschmitt Bf-109G and Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3/A-4. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Americans’ small taste of the brutality of Eastern Front combat cost dozens of Soviet and American lives.

The Soviets claimed the American fighters were 400 kilometers off course, and thus saw the Red Army ground forces as an unknown German force. Others believe the meetup was intentional, but that the Red Army moved faster than anticipated. When the Americans encountered a significant force 100 kilometers ahead of the expected Allied position, they engaged.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends
(Norwich University)

No matter what, the result was an intense air battle that both countries have kept classified for decades. Norwich University calls it the 8th largest air battle in history, even though the exact number of American fighters is unknown.

In fact, most official details are still classified, but both the United States and Russia admit the event occurred. An estimated 30 Soviet ground troops and airmen died in the fighting and Soviet accounts tell of P-38 fighters being shot down.

Another account of the battle, from Soviet Colonel Nikolai Shmelev, details American fighters strafing the airfields near Niš as Russian Yakovlev-9 planes were taxiing to fend off the U.S. Lightnings.

This would not be the only time Soviet and American fighter pilots would tangle with each other in the coming years. They would also fight (unofficially) over the Korean Peninsula and Vietnam, not to mention the numerous Cold War incidents of airspace violations and interceptions.

Enjoy some WWII gun camera footage from the P-38:

MIGHTY TACTICAL

American troops tried out this DroneKiller rifle in the field

As the fight continues with radical Islamic terrorist groups, like ISIS, enemies have begun to use drones against the coalition. These drones aren’t like the MQ-1 Predator (now retired) or the MQ-9 Reaper as used by the U.S. military. Instead, they’re commercially available quadcopter drones, like the ones you’d find on Amazon.


Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

The IXI DroneKiller comes in at seven and a half pounds and blocks five frequency bands.

(IXI Tech photo)

In the hands of the enemy, these small consumer-market devices are proving lethal, either directly or indirectly. So, coalition forces want to shoot them down. Unfortunately, there’s a problem — even a basic quadcopter drone can fly reasonably high (high enough to collide with aircraft). Plus, these things are small — which makes them both elusive and cheap.

So, to shoot them down, you’d be dispensing a lot of ammo for very little in terms of results. Plus, pumping bullets into the air quickly reminds us of the old saying, “what goes up must come down.” In fact, civilian casualties from anti-aircraft fire are not uncommon. A number of the civilian casualties during Pearl Harbor came from American anti-aircraft fire.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

A next-generation version of the DroneKiller, shown here at SeaAirSpace 2018, can fit under a M4 carbine.

(Harold Hutchison)

So, instead of shooting at a blip in the sky, the armed forces have made a push for a way to take out the ISIS drones without putting civilians at risk. One company, IXI Tech, came up with something they call, aptly, the DroneKiller. This system looks a lot like a Star Wars Stormtrooper’s blaster, but in a more tactically appropriate color. This system can block five frequency bands and disable a hostile drone (sending it crashing to the earth). The system was tested last month at ANTX 2018.


The DroneKiller weighs about seven and a half pounds, a little less than a SKS rifle. It has an effective range of 800 meters (roughly a half-mile) and can operate for four hours in active mode. It can be easily updated thanks to a USB port.

But what’s really interesting is a version of the DroneKiller that can be mounted on a M16 rifle, just like the M203 and M320 grenade launchers. Soon, every fire team could have a drone killer to go with a grenadier and SAW gunner!

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest memes for the week of November 16th

The weeks between major four-day weekends always blow. You get into a rhythm of sitting on your ass, drinking, and playing video games for an extended period of time only to have a few days of extremely intense duty to make up for all the work you’ve been missing and will miss over the holidays.

Meanwhile, you’re getting pressure to get that damn certificate in to the training room because Uncle Sam won’t let you take block leave unless you’ve proven to them that your car isn’t sh*t and you won’t drive while tired.

But on the bright side, it’s payday week and there’re a lot of video games coming out for you to waste your paycheck on. Anyway, enjoy some memes.


Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

1. What’s worse? Dealing with 110-degree heat, the constant threat of enemy attacks, actual enemy attacks, incoming mortar fire at 0200, and being treated like absolute garbage by your unit, foreign allies, and the locals you’re defending or dealing with your civilian coworker’s bullsh*t on Monday mornings?

Tough call.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Military Memes)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via PT Belt Nation)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Private News Network)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via I am an American Soldier)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Uniform Humor)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Japan wanted to protect Margaret Thatcher with ‘Karate Ladies’

Few British politicians are as controversial as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Still, it was incumbent upon foreign governments to protect her when she traveled abroad. When preparing to visit Japan for an economic summit, Thatcher received the strangest offer for protection – Japan wanted to protect the Iron Lady with a team of twenty “Karate Ladies.”


It may sound like a silly offer, but at the heart of it, the Japanese were doing their best to accommodate Thatcher on the basis of her gender. In June 1979, the British Prime Minister was due to visit Tokyo for an economic summit and Thatcher had just won the post of Prime Minister – the first woman in the United Kingdom’s history to hold the position. She beat out the male Labour candidate James Callaghan just one month prior. The Japanese public were interested in Maggie Thatcher’s status as Britain’s premier working mother.

Thatcher was not interested in attending the conference as a woman, but rather wanted to attend as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“If other delegation leaders, for example are each being assigned 20 karate gentlemen, the Prime Minister would have no objection to this; but she does not wish to be singled out. She has not had in the past, and does not have now, any female Special Branch officers.”
Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Thatcher with Japanese Crown Prince Akihito.

Sir John Hunt, Thatcher’s Cabinet Secretary, raised the issue with his Japanese counterpart when discussing the Prime Minister’s security detail.

“Sir John said that Mrs. Thatcher will attend the summit as prime minister and not as a woman per se and he was sure that she would not want these ladies; press reaction in particular would be unacceptable.”

The bodyguard force was supposedly made up of 20 or so all-female bodyguards who were trained in unarmed combat, among other skills. Thatcher’s objection wasn’t to the offer of a security detail, but rather the idea of an all-female unit. They wanted to avoid the embarrassment of even getting such an offer, but the offer reached the British press anyway. Thatcher attended the 1979 summit, where no Karate Ladies were present or required.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 heroes from Pearl Harbor you’ve likely never heard of

The attack on Pearl Harbor, which catapulted the US into World War II, happened 77 years ago on Dec. 7, 2018.

The Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii killed more than 2,400 American sailors and civilians and wounded 1,000 more.

Japanese fighter planes also destroyed or damaged almost 20 naval ships during the attack.

But the US sailors and civilians didn’t standby without putting up a fight.

Here are 7 Pearl Harbor heroes you’ve never heard about.


Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Phil Rasmussen during flight school.

1. Phil Rasmussen, who raced into his plane to attack Japanese Zero fighters.

Lt. Phil Rasmussen was one of four American pilots able to get in the air and engage Japanese fighters during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When the attack was launched, Rasmussen was still in his pajamas when he ran out to the flight line and jumped in an then-old Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighter plane — the only US planes the Japanese hadn’t yet taken out.

Once in the air, Rasmussen shot down one Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter planes, and damaged another before he was targeted by two more.

The two Japanese fighters shot up his plane, and took out his radio, hydraulic lines and rudder cables, but he was able to fly away and hide in the clouds before landing without brakes, a rudder or tailwheel.

Rasmussen received the Silver Star for his actions, and retired from the Air Force in 1965.

Sources: US Air Force, We Are The Mighty

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Doris Miller.

(US Navy photo)

2. Doris Miller, who fired a machine gun at attacking fighters.

Cook Third Class Doris Miller was stationed on the USS West Virginia battleship when the Japanese attacked.

Awake at 6 a.m., Miller was collecting laundry when the attack was launched. He went to his battle station, which was an anti-aircraft battery magazine in the middle of the ship, only to find it had been taken out by a torpedo.

Miller then went to the deck, where he was assigned to carry away wounded sailors before he was ordered to the bridge to help the mortally wounded Mervyn Sharp Bennion (who later received the Medal of Honor).

After helping deliver ammunition to two .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun crews, and without any weapons training, he manned one of the guns himself and fired until the ammunition was spent.

“It wasn’t hard,” Miller later said.

“I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

He received the Navy Cross for his actions, the first ever given to an African American.

Miller was killed in 1943 while serving on the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay, which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo.

Source: US Navy

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox.

(National Archives photo)

3. Annie G. Fox, who worked ceaselessly to care for the wounded.

First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox was the head nurse at the hospital at Hickham field, which was Hawaii’s main army airfield and bomber base, when the attack on Pearl Harbor was launched.

Fox “administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressings, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact,” according to her Purple Heart medal citation.

Fox was the first US service woman to receive the Purple Heart, which she received for her actions during the attack.

At the time, the US military awarded Purple Hearts for “singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.” When the requirement of being wounded was added, her Purple Heart was replaced with the Bronze Star, since she had not been wounded.

Fox was promoted to the rank of major before retiring from the service in 1945.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

USS Pennsylvania still in dry dock after the Pearl Harbor attack.

(US Navy photo)

4. George Walters, a crane operator who warned sailors of the incoming attack.

George Walters was a civilian who operated a huge crane next to the USS Pennsylvania battleship at Pearl Harbor.

He was 50 feet up in the crane when the attack was launched, and was one of the first Americans to see the Japanese planes coming, and alerted the sailors aboard the Pennsylvania.

Walters then repeatedly swung the crane back and forth to shield the ship from Japanese fighter planes as US sailors aboard the Pennsylvania attempted to return fire.

But the sailors manning the guns on the battleship had trouble seeing the Japanese planes because they were in dry dock.

“The water had been pumped out, dropping their decks to a point where the high sides of the drydock blocked most of the view,” author Walter Lord wrote in his book “Day of Infamy.”

So Walters used the crane’s boom to point out incoming Japanese planes.

“After a 500-pound bomb exploded nearby, damaging the crane and stunning Walters, he nearly fell from the crane. But Walters had moved the crane just in time to avoid a direct hit from the bomb, which left a 17-foot crater,” according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Walters has since been credited by many with helping save the ship. He operated cranes until 1950, and retired in 1966.

Source: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, History.com

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Cmdr. Cassin Young, who saved his ship from the attack.

(US Navy photo)

5. Cassin Young

Cmdr. Cassin Young commanded the USS Vestal repair ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Young was in his cabin in the Vestal when the attack was launched. He ran to the deck, where he organized sailors to fire the ships’ three-inch guns at the Japanese planes overheard.

But Young was blown overboard, along with 100 other sailors, when the forward magazine of the famed USS Arizona battleship, which was next to the Vestal, was hit and exploded.

The Vestal’s second in command ordered the remaining sailors to abandon ship, but Young swam through the oil slick water and climbed back aboard.

“Where the hell do you men think you are going?” Young yelled at the sailors abandoning ship, shouting at them to go to their stations and get the ship underway.

The Vestil eventually made it out into open waters. Damaged and on fire, it ran aground.

Young later received the Medal of Honor for his actions, and was promoted to captain of the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco. He was killed aboard the San Francisco during the Guadalcanal Campaign.

Source: US Navy, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Chief Boatswain Edwin Joseph Hill, who saved shipmates from Japanese fighters.

(US Navy photo)

6. Edwin Hill

Chief Boatswain Edwin Joseph Hill was stationed on the USS Nevada battleship when the attack on Pearl Harbor began.

As Japanese planes fired down on the ship from above, Hill jumped into the harbor’s waters and climbed ashore to release the Nevada from its mooring. He then jumped back in and swam towards the Nevada, which was moving to open water, and climbed back aboard the battleship.

But with the Nevada alone in the water, the ship was an obvious target, and would have blocked the harbor if destroyed.

With Japanese fighters attacking the Nevada, Hill directed other sailors to take cover behind the gun’s turrets. Many of the sailors later credited him with saving their lives.

When Hill tried to drop anchor during the second wave of attack, a Japanese bomb hit the bow and he was killed.

Hill was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Source: Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau, Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Ensign Herbert C. Jones, who was passing ammunition up to gun crews when he was critically injured.

(US Navy photo)

7. Ensign Herbert C. Jones

Ensign Herbert C. Jones was stationed aboard the USS California battleship during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Jones had just taken over for the junior officer of the deck when the attack was launched.

After a torpedo damaged the mechanical hoist that loaded the ship’s anit-aircraft guns, Jones led a group of sailors to deliver the ammunition by hand.

Jones was in a compartment on the third deck passing ammo up a ladder to the gun battery when a bomb struck the second deck, injuring him critically.

The Nevada was taking on water, and threatened with catching fire from burning oil in the water, when an abandoned ship order was given.

Two sailors carried Jones up from the compartment, which had caught fire, but at one point, got stuck.

“Leave me alone! I’m done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off,” Jones said.

Marine Corps Pvt. Howard Haynes, who had been confined when the attack was launched, later credited Jones with saving his life.

“God, give me a chance to prove I’m worth it,” Haynes said.

Jones was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Source: Defense Department, “Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Savage and Final Appraisal”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The men who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

At 2:45 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, 1945, a propeller-driven, four-engine Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft lifted off from the unassuming island of Tinian, its destination due North. Inside, as was customary for the B-29, was a bomb. However, unlike the bombs with which the US Air Force had scorched Japan for roughly a year, this bomb was not filled with the usual incendiaries. Rather than isobutyl methacrylate or its more famous kin, Napalm, this bomb was packed with two masses of highly enriched uranium-235. The bomb, named “Little Boy”, was anything but: snout-nosed and weighing in at 9,700 pounds, it resembled nothing more than an obese metal baseball bat. At 8:15 a.m. local time, poised above Hiroshima’s Aioi Bridge, Little Boy dropped.

44.4 seconds later it detonated. 60,000 people died instantly. 31,000 feet above, and 10 and a half miles away from them, Paul W. Tibbets, en route to Guam, felt a 2.5g shockwave driven before a kaleidoscopic pillar of smoke and debris. He felt no regrets.


Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, dropper of Little Boy, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and four Air Medals, was born February 23, 1915. The young Tibbets performed his first flight at the age of 12, dispensing candy bars to a crowd at the Hialeah, Florida racetrack. Bitten by the flying bug, Tibbets, in February 1937 enlisted in the army. His flight instruction performance at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas showed him to be an above-average pilot.

Upon graduating as a second lieutenant, Tibbets first stint was as personal pilot to George S. Patton, allowing him to rack up over 15,000 hours of flight time. Tibbets ascended rapidly through the ranks, becoming a captain with his first command by 1942. In 1942, Tibbets ran the gauntlet at Lille, flying lead in a 100-plane raid with a 1/3 casualty rate. Despite the seemingly heavy losses, this was seen as a qualified success, proving that US Air forces would not break under stubborn opposition. Promoted to lieutenant colonel by November 1942, Tibbet’s cut his teeth further during the war in Northern Africa, flying Eisenhower to Gibraltar for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa.

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

Charles Sweeney.

By 1943, Tibbets had earned himself as reputation as a seasoned and senior pilot, one vouched for by Eisenhower himself. After testing the newly-minted Boeing B-29 for a year, Tibbets was recommended to Major General Uzal Ent for consideration, for a “special mission”. In September 1944, Tibbets became responsible for the organization, training and command of a secret unit, Silverplate, the Air Force wing of the Manhattan Project. Tibbets was tasked with ironing out the logistical and technical kinks: requesting modifications to bomb bay doors, in order to accommodate the bulky weapon, organizing crews with photography and scientific equipment, to record the event for posterity and finally, deciding that he himself would drop the atomic bomb.

Upon receiving orders targeting the cities of Hiroshima, Kokura and Nagasaki, as the primary, secondary and tertiary targets of the nuclear strike, Tibbets readied his crew. At 2:15 am, they were airborne. The rest is history. Tibbets, recollecting the sight of the boiling cloud in his memoirs, wrote, “If Dante had been with us in the plane he would have been terrified!”

Three days later, Major General Charles Sweeney dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. Sweeney was well prepared, flying five rehearsal test drops as well as co-piloting the support and observation aircraft for the Hiroshima bombing. Nonetheless, Sweeney’s flight performance on August 9thhad none of the aplomb that Tibbets had displayed. First, the night before, Sweeney’s B-29, named Bockscar, had malfunctioned, with the reserve fuel bladder failing to pump. Running on 600 gallons less of fuel than expected, Sweeney nonetheless decided to go, intending to rendezvous with his two escort aircraft at 30,000 feet near the island of Yakushima, a fuel intensive task at that height.

Due to confusion at the rendezvous, for which Sweeney would be reprimanded later, valuable time was lost. The crew finally reached Kokura only to find it partially obscured, which was problematic given the clear directives to conduct a visual, rather than radar, bombing. After two unsuccessful flyovers, and running low on fuel, Sweeney opted for his second target: Nagasaki. Sweeney’s bad luck was Kokura’s good – indeed, so much so that the phrase “Kokura luck” has entered into the Japanese lexicon. With desperately little fuel left, and heavy cloud cover over Nagasaki, Sweeney decided drop Fat Man by radar, despite his orders to the contrary. The resulting 1.5-mile inaccuracy spared Nagasaki a great deal of damage, with the surrounding hills intercepting much of the blast. With only 60 percent of Nagasaki destroyed and two engines kaput from fuel exhaustion, Sweeney made a rough landing in Okinawa, with just seven gallons of fuel remaining. To say Tibbets was unamused by Sweeney’s near-failure, would be an understatement. However, the close-shave success was sufficient to ensure that no action would be taken against Sweeney.

Post Nagasaki, both men have been unshakeable in defending the dropping of the bombs as right and proper. Tibbets remains “convinced that we saved more lives than we took,” and concludes, “It would have been morally wrong if we’d have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die.” Sweeney, in his memoirs, made similar assertions, but drew fire for factual inaccuracies in his account of events. Indeed, so indignant was Tibbets at Sweeney’s account, Tibbets added a chapter to his own memoirs, in which he vented his displeasure at Sweeney’s command of the bombing.

Sweeney died at age 84 on July 16, 2004, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Tibbets died at age 92 in 2007, in his Columbus Ohio home.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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