Specialist 5 John C. McCloughan, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired teacher and sports coach, received the Medal of Honor in recognition of his actions during 48 hours of combat in Vietnam from May 13-15, 1969. He was the first to receive the Medal during the Trump administration, and the first to receive the award after an movement by former President Obama enabled waivers of the five-year time limit on Medal of Honor awards.
During this time, McCloughlan was wounded multiple times but continued to give aid to troops under fire and pull them to safety.
McCloughan was part of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Brigade, in Vietnam in 1969 when Charlie Company was ordered to conduct a combat assault near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill.
It was one of those missions that seemingly everything went wrong from the start, as two American helicopters were shot down and there was too much incoming fire for another helicopter to rescue the downed air crews. A squad was sent to conduct the rescue and recovery instead.
The squad reached the perimeter of the crash site and McCloughan ran 100 meters across open ground raked by fire to recover a wounded soldier, moving forward even as a platoon of enemy soldiers charged in his direction. McCloughan threw the wounded man onto his shoulder and rushed back to friendly lines as rounds raced both directions past him.
Later that same day, the young medic spotted two soldiers huddled together in the open without weapons. He handed his own weapon to another soldier and rushed forward even as American airstrikes hit known North Vietnamese Army positions all around him, Army records say.
As he examined the two men in the field, a rocket-propelled grenade struck nearby and pelted McCloughan with shrapnel. Despite his wounds, he pulled the two men back into a trench. He went back into the field to save wounded comrades four more times that day despite a direct order not to.
He was offered a spot in the medical evacuation because of his own wounds, but refused it, worried that the American forces would need a medic to continue fighting while outnumbered.
Early the next day, the only other medic on the field was killed in an NVA ambush, making McCloughan’s decision seem prophetic. In the intense fighting during the ambush, he was wounded a second time with shrapnel from another rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire.
The Vietnamese then attempted to overwhelm the outnumbered Americans and launched a three-sided attack. McCloughan once again made trips into the crossfire to grab wounded soldiers and pull them back to safety. When American supplies ran low, he volunteered to move into the open with a blinking light to allow for a nighttime resupply drop.
On May 15, he distinguished himself once again by using a hand grenade to destroy an RPG position and treated wounded soldiers while engaging enemy forces.
McCloughan was credited with saving the lives of 10 members of his company throughout the 48-hour engagement.
We opened fire. . . The battle was a warm one while it lasted. . . While the fight was on, there was nothing to see but Spanish ships burning and sinking. Ship’s Bugler Harry Neithercott, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service McCulloch, Battle of Manila Bay, 1898
The quote above by an eyewitness to the Spanish-American War’s Battle of Manila Bay attests to the fury of this naval conflict as well as the damage inflicted by U.S. warships, including the revenue cutter McCulloch.
The cutter McCulloch was commissioned on Dec. 12, 1897, under the command of U.S. Revenue Cutter Service Capt. Daniel Hodgsdon. Built in Philadelphia, the McCulloch was named for two-time Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch. At 220 feet in length and 1,300 tons displacement, the ship was the largest revenue cutter built up to that time. A “cruising” cutter for high seas deployments, it boasted a main armament of one 15-inch bow-mounted torpedo tube and four 3-inch guns, and had an advanced composite hull design with steel planking sheathed with wood.
Before the Spanish-American War commenced, McCulloch made history by steaming from the East Coast to its first station at San Francisco the long way around the globe. This was the first cutter to sail the Mediterranean and transit the Suez Canal. It was also the first to pass through the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and the first revenue cutter to visit the Far East. Upon arrival at Singapore on April 8, 1898, two weeks before the United States declared war with Spain; orders directed McCulloch to report to Commodore George Dewey and the U.S. Navy’s Asiatic Squadron in Hong Kong. As was common with foreign warships in the Far East at the time, McCulloch hired several Japanese and Chinese men to serve as stewards and in the engine room.
Water color illustration of the McCulloch in combat during the Battle of Manila Bay. Notice the inaccurate hull color of white rather than the navy gray worn at the time of the battle.
(U.S. Coast Guard collection)
On April 27, the squadron stood out of Mirs Bay, China, approaching the Philippines three days later. Dewey’s squadron consisted of cruisers Olympia, Boston, Baltimore and Raleigh; and gunboats Concord and Petrel. McCulloch steamed at the rear of the squadron to protect the storeships Nanshan and Zafire. In the midnight darkness of April 30, Olympia had approached Manila Bay followed by the squadron and McCulloch with the storeships. Just as McCulloch passed El Fraile Rock at the entrance to Manila Bay, built-up soot in the cutter’s smokestack caught fire and lit-up the night. Soon, a Spanish battery on El Fraile opened fire on McCulloch, but USS Boston and McCulloch returned fire and silenced the Spanish gun. During the engagement, McCulloch’s chief engineer, Frank Randall, worked feverishly to quell the blaze and died from the heat and overexertion.
As he entered Manila Bay, Dewey slowed the squadron to four knots. He did this to time his opening salvos to daybreak. He ordered McCulloch to guard the storeships, protect U.S. warships from surprise attack and tow any disabled warships out of enemy range. A little past 5 a.m., the battle commenced with Dewey’s famous command, “You may fire when ready [Capt.] Gridley.” Eyewitnesses to the battle recalled that McCulloch found no need to tow U.S warships out of the battleline. When its duty to protect the storeships and rescue damaged warships had ceased, McCulloch joined the fight firing some of the final rounds of the battle.
Chief engineer Frank Randall of the McCulloch died of a heart attack trying to put out a smokestack fire. His was the only death associated with the Battle of Manila Bay and he was buried at sea.
In the Battle of Manila Bay, Dewey’s warships destroyed the Spanish forces as Manila Bay. Before surrendering, the Spanish had lost their entire fleet including 400 officers and men. No American warship was seriously damaged, eight Americans were wounded and chief engineer Randall the only loss of life. Due to the cutter’s superior speed, Dewey dispatched McCulloch to the closest cable facility at Hong Kong bearing news of the victory and the surrender of Spanish forces. In a message to the secretary of the Navy, Dewey commended Hodgsdon for the efficiency and readiness of the cutter.
In January 1899, over a year after departing the East Coast, McCulloch finally arrived at its new homeport of San Francisco. From San Francisco, McCulloch patrolled the West Coast from Oregon to the Mexican border. During part of this time, the ship sailed under the command of famed cutter captain “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy. Beginning in 1906, the crew undertook the annual Bering Sea patrol duty. During these 20,000-mile cruises, McCulloch became well known for humanitarian relief and its mission as a floating court trying legal cases in towns along the Alaskan coast. McCulloch also enforced fur seal regulations patrolling the waters around the Pribilof Islands and seizing poaching vessels of all nationalities. After returning to San Francisco in 1912, McCulloch resumed patrol operations along the West Coast.
Members of McCulloch’s crew pose with a Spanish shore gun disabled during Battle of Manila Bay.
(U.S. Navy photo)
The 20-year-old cutter joined the fight a second time on April 6, 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I. At 6 p.m., McCulloch received telephone instructions from the division commander to put into effect Mobilization Plan Number One. By 7:25, the cutter received a similar “ALCUT (all cutters)” message from Coast Guard Headquarters. In response, the McCulloch transmitted to the local Navy commander a coded radiogram reading “Commanding Officer, U.S.S. OREGON. Mobilization orders received. Report MCCULLOCH for duty under your command.” McCulloch was one of nearly 50 Coast Guard cutters that would serve under the direction of the U.S. Navy.
On June 13, 1917, still a year before the war’s end, McCulloch was lost in an accident. The cutter collided in dense fog with the Pacific Steamship Company steamer Governor and slowly sank off Point Conception, California, with the loss of one crew member. Fast forward to the summer of 2016, when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) remotely operated underwater vehicles identified a ship lying in deep water off the California coast. The outline and size of the image closely resembled that of the McCulloch. In October 2016, a joint NOAA-U.S. Coast Guard underwater survey positively identified the wreck as the famous cutter. The discovery was announced to the public in mid-June of 2017, 100 years after its final plunge.
McCulloch was one of five ships lost during World War I. In 1917, the ship sank after a collision in the fog off the coast of California.
(San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park)
During the ship’s 20-year career, McCulloch performed the missions of search and rescue, ice operations, law enforcement, environmental protection, humanitarian relief, and maritime defense. The ship recorded many firsts, such as the first cutter to steam through the Mediterranean and Red seas, transit the Suez Canal, and visit the Far East by way of the Indian Ocean. In addition, its West Coast cruising territory extended from the Arctic and Alaska to southern California. Cutter McCulloch and the men who sailed it remain a part of the legend and the lore of the long blue line.
Airman 1st Class William “Pits” Pitsenbarger was a Pararescueman during the Vietnam War. Less than a year after receiving orders, he would go on to fly nearly 300 rescue missions and save over 60 men before sacrificing himself to aid others during one of the most brutal battles of an already harsh war. When offered the chance to escape on the last helicopter out of the combat zone, Pits stayed behind to protect the lives of others and was later killed by Viet Cong snipers.
The Last Full Measure is the long-awaited story of how the men he saved would try to procure him the Medal of Honor — and the dark reason why the American government resisted.
Check out the final trailer, released today:
“The sacrifices of the fallen will never be forgotten,” intones Christopher Plummer, who plays the father of William Pitsenbarger. The Last Full Measure, written and directed by Todd Robinson, also stars Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
“Todd Robinson’s riveting drama chronicles one man’s sacrifice and valor on the battlefield, and we believe it also highlights an aspect of American patriotism overdue for recognition. Everyone should know about William Pitsenbarger’s bravery and life, and it’s a privilege to bring this film to theaters where it should be seen,” said Roadside’s Howard Cohen and Eric d’Arbeloff, as reported by Deadline.
Pits was initially posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, becoming the first enlisted Airman to receive it, before it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
William “Pits” Pitsenbarger
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Medal of Honor Citation
“Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on April 11, 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an on-going firefight between elements of the United States Army’s 1st Infantry Division and a sizable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon. With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground.
On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day were recovered, Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get one more wounded soldier to safety. After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind, on the ground, to perform medical duties.
Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders. As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time, he was wounded three times. Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible.
In the vicious fighting which followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and airman Pitsenbarger was finally fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen. His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.”
He was also posthumously awarded the rank of Staff Sergeant. Other awards and medals include the Air Force Cross, the Airman’s Medal, and two Purple Hearts. His name can be found on Panel 06E Line 102 of the Vietnam Wall.
Following the battle, Pitsenbarger’s fellow PJ’s and soldiers who he saved in combat embarked on an over 30 year effort to upgrade his Air Force Cross to a Medal of Honor. In the trailer, William Hurt, who plays a fellow PJ, describes the situation as “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Finally, in 2000, Pitsenbarger received the Medal of Honor in a cermony attended by his parents, fellow veterans and the Secretary of the Air Force. The Last Full Measure will release in theaters on January 24th, 2020.
In 1945, the USS Indianapolis completed its top secret mission of delivering atomic bomb components to Tinian Island in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The heavy cruiser was sunk on its way to join a task force near Okinawa. Of the ship’s 1195 crewmembers, only 316 survived the sinking and the subsequent time adrift at sea in the middle of nowhere. Among the survivors was the captain of the Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay III.
McVay would be charged with negligence in the loss of the ship. Even though he was restored to active duty after his court-martial and retired a rear admiral, the guilt of the loss haunted him for the rest of his life. He committed suicide with his Navy revolver on his own front lawn with a toy sailor in his hand.
McVay did everything he could in the wake of the torpedoing of the Indianapolis. He sounded the alarm, giving the order to abandon ship and was one of the last men off. Many of the survivors of the sinking publicly stated he was not to blame for its loss. But this wasn’t enough for the family members of the ship’s crew, who hounded McVay year after year, blaming him for the loss of their sons.
The Navy was partly to blame. They didn’t warn Indianapolis that the submarine I-58 was operating along the area of the ship’s course to Okinawa. They also didn’t warn the ship to zigzag in its pattern to evade enemy submarines. When the Indianapolis radioed a distress signal, it was picked up by three Navy stations, who ignored the call because one was drunk, the other had a commander who didn’t want to be disturbed, and the last thought it was a trap.
Three and a half days later, the survivors were rescued from the open water, suffering from salt water poisoning, exposure, hypothermia, and the largest case of shark attacks ever recorded. It was truly a horrifying scene. The horror is what led to McVay’s court martial, one of very few commanders to face such a trial concerning the loss of a ship. Even though the Japanese commander of I-58, the man who actually destroyed the Indianapolis, told the U.S. Navy that standard Navy evasion techniques would not have worked – Indianapolis was doomed from the get-go. Even that didn’t satisfy McVay’s critics.
It wasn’t until sixth-grader Hunter Scott began a history project in school about the sinking of the Indianapolis. He poured through official Navy documents until he found the evidence he needed to conclusively prove that McVay wasn’t responsible for the loss of his ship. His project caught the attention of then-Congressman Joe Scarborough and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who helped pass a Congressional resolution exonerating McVay. It was signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000.
Hunter Scott, the onetime sixth-grader and eternal friend to the crew of the Indianapolis, is now a naval aviator. He attended the University of North Carolina on a Navy ROTC scholarship and joined active duty in 2007. He even spoke at the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
While “salvage operations” aren’t usually stories of perseverance and ingenuity, the actions of brave sailors and officers after the Pearl Harbor attacks formed a miracle that is legitimately surprising. While the battleships Utah, Arizona, and Oklahoma were permanently lost after the Pearl Harbor attacks, seven combat ships that were sunk in the raid went on to fight Japanese and German forces around the world, and at least three non-combat ships saw further service in the war.
In all, 21 ships were labeled damaged or sunk after the attack. Nine of them were still afloat and were either quickly repaired for frontline duty or sent to the U.S. West Coast for repairs and new equipment. But another 12 were sunk, and some of those were even declared lost. Before the war closed, seven of the sunken ships would see combat, and another three served in peacetime roles.
The USS West Virginia burns on December 7 thanks to Japanese attacks. It would go on to punish the Japanese forces across the Pacific.
USS West Virginia was declared lost three years before entering Tokyo Bay
The USS West Virginia was one of the worst hit in the raid. The “Weevie,” as it was called, had been hit by up to seven torpedoes, but no one could be certain exactly how many torpedoes hit it, really, because the damage was so severe. At least two torpedoes flowed through holes in the hull and exploded inside against the lower decks.
Salvage crews were forced to create large patches that were held in place with underwater concrete. As seawater was pumped out, it was expected that the ship’s electric drive would be unusable or would need extensive repairs but, surprisingly, it turned out that seawater hadn’t reached the main propulsion plant. The alternators and motors were repaired, and the ship headed for Puget Sound Navy Yard.
The ship received much better anti-aircraft armament and defensive armor and headed back into the fight in the Pacific. At the Battle of the Surigao Strait, Weevie fired ninety-three rounds into the Japanese fleet. It later hit Japanese forces ashore on Leyte, served at Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and was the first of the older battleships to sail into Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender in 1945.
The USS Shaw explodes at Pearl Harbor on December 7. It later fought across the Pacific.
USS Shaw attacked Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Philippines
The destroyer USS Shaw was only 6-years old when the Pearl Harbor attack began, but the modern warship was in overhaul on Dec. 7, 1941, and had all of its ammo stored below decks. So it was unable to protect itself as dive bombers struck it, shredding the deck near gun number 1, severing the bow, and rupturing the fuel oil tanks. All this damage led to a massive fire in the forward magazines which then blew up.
The Shaw was declared a total loss, but the Navy found that much of its machinery was still good. Damaged sections were cut off, a false bow was fitted, and the ship steamed to Mare Island in California for permanent repairs just two months after the attack.
The overhauled USS Shaw fired on Japanese forces at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Southern Philippines. It served out the war before being decommissioned in October 1945.
The USS Nevada fires its guns at the Normandy shore during D-Day in June 1944, about 30 months after the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor.
USS Nevada shelled Normandy
The USS Nevada was one of the few ships in the harbor that was ready to fight on December 7, and its official reports indicated that the crew first opened fire at 8:02, about 60 seconds after the attack started. It was able to down between two and five enemy planes, but still took one torpedo and six bomb hits that doomed the ship. An admiral ordered the ship to beach itself to protect the channel and the ship from further damage.
While Adm. Chester E. Nimitz was pessimistic as to the Nevada’s chances, salvage leaders were quite hopeful. Most of the holes were small enough to patch with wood instead of steel. It took extensive work to get the ship capable of sailing to the West Coast. When it arrived at Puget, it received new anti-aircraft guns and a full overhaul.
The battleship USS California sits in drydock in 1942 as crews prepare to begin major repair operations.
USS California slammed a Japanese Fuso-class battleship with shells
The California crew was able to get into fighting position as Japanese bombers closed in, but that just left officers in perfect position to watch the track of the torpedo that hit the ship in the opening minutes. As damage control got underway, a second torpedo hit the ship followed by a single bomb. All this was made worse when the crew had to abandon ship as the fires from the USS Arizona floated around the California.
But the crew came back and kept the ship afloat for three days before it finally sank into the mud. Salvage operators had to build cofferdams to begin repairs so that crews could access previously flooded areas. As the ship emerged from the water, caustic solutions were used to remove corrosion and seawater. It sailed for the West Coast in October 1942.
By the time the California left the Puget Sound Navy Yard in late 1943, it had nearly all new parts, from the engine to many weapons. It used these to fight at the Marianas, bombard Saipan and Guam, and then slam a Fuso-class battleship at Surigao Strait with over 90,000 pounds of munitions.
The USS Downes on left and USS Cassin, capsized on right, sit on the partially flooded floor of Drydock No. 1 on Dec. 7, 1941, after suffering multiple bomb hits and internal explosions.
The destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes were in drydock on December 7. So they were essentially impossible to damage with torpedoes, but were highly susceptible to bombs. Guess what Japan hit them with? Bombs passed entirely through the Cassin and exploded on the drydock floor, and both ships were set on fire and struck by tons of fragments. Cassin even toppled off its blocks and struck the drydock floor.
The USS Cassin’s keel and hull were warped by the damage, and the hull was filled with holes. The shell plating was wrinkled. Crews disassembled the ship and sent most everything but the hull to Mare Island where they were installed in a new shell. Despite the entirely new hull, the Navy considered the resulting ship to still be the USS Cassin.
The Cassin was sent against Marcus Island, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Palau, and the Philippine Islands. Yeah, it had a pretty busy war for a ship “lost” on December 7.
The USS Downes sails away from Mare Island to serve against Japan in World War II on Dec. 8, 1943, almost exactly a year after the Pearl Harbor attack.
The Downes arguably suffered worst than the Cassin in drydock as the fires caused sympathetic detonations in the Downes‘ torpedoes and other weapons. It was also twisted by damage, and it had massive holes from the explosions. Downes had aluminum plating on its deckhouse that was completely destroyed.
Like the Cassin, the Downes had its hull scrapped and most of its innards installed in another hull in the shipyard on Mare Island.
This new and improved USS Downes fought at Saipan, Marcus Island, and Luzon. Like the Cassin, it had been declared lost after the Pearl Harbor damage.
The USS Oglala is visible in the foreground, mostly submerged on its side as other ships burned in the background on December 7 at Pearl Harbor.
The minelayer Oglala technically didn’t suffer a hit on December 7, but a torpedo passed under it and hit the USS Helena. The blast from that crippled the old Oglala which had been built as a civilian vessel in 1906. The crewmembers took their guns to the Navy Yard Dock and set them up to provide more defenses. They also set up a first aid station that saved the lives of West Virginia crewmembers.
The ship suffered horribly, eventually capsizing and sinking until just a few feet of the ship’s starboard side remained above water. It was declared lost, and the Navy even considered blowing it up with dynamite to clear the dock it had sunk next to. But the decision was made that it could destroy the dock, so the Navy had to refloat it. At that point, it made sense to drydock and repair it.
After repair and refit at Mare Island Navy Yard, the Oglala was re-launched as a repair ship and served across the west Pacific. It actually joined the Maritime Reserve Fleet after the war and wasn’t scrapped until 1965, almost 60 years after its construction as a civilian passenger liner.
(Author’s note: Most of the information for this article came from The Navy Department Library’s online copy of Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin. It can be found online here.)
As in so many American conflicts, Coast Guard units and personnel in Operation Iraqi Freedom or OIF, performed several missions; including escort duty, force protection, maritime interdiction operations or MIO, and aids-to-navigation, or ATON, work. From the very outset of Middle East operations, the Coast Guard’s training and experience in these and other maritime activities played a vital role in OIF.
Late in 2002, Coast Guard headquarters alerted various units in the service’s Pacific Area and Atlantic Area about possible deployment to the Middle East. From November 2002 through January 2003, these units began activation, training and planning activities for an expected deployment in early 2003. In January, Pacific Area’s first major units deployed to the Arabian Gulf, including the high-endurance cutter Boutwell and ocean-going buoy tender Walnut. Both of these vessels had to cross the Pacific and Indian oceans to arrive at the Arabian Gulf and begin operations. Their responsibilities would include MIO and Walnut, in conjunction with members of the Coast Guard’s National Strike Force, would lead potential oil spill containment operations.
Port Security Unit 309’s port security boat underway.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Atlantic Area provided many units of its own, sending the high-endurance cutter Dallas to the Mediterranean to support and escort Military Sealift Command shipping and Coalition battle groups in that theater of operations. Atlantic Area sent four 110-foot patrol boats (WPBs) to Italy together with support personnel and termed their base of operations “Patrol Forces Mediterranean” or PATFORMED, and it sent four WPBs to the Arabian Gulf with a Bahrain-based command called “Patrol Forces Southwest Asia,” PATFORSWA.
The service also activated Port Security Units and law enforcement boarding teams, LEDETs, which had proven successful in the Gulf War in 1990. Atlantic Area sent PSU 309 from Port Clinton, Ohio, to Italy to support PATFORMED while Pacific Area sent PSU 311 from San Pedro, California, and PSU 313 from Tacoma, Washington, to Kuwait to protect the Kuwait Naval Base and the commercial port of Shuaiba, respectively. LEDET personnel initially served aboard the WPBs and then switched to Navy patrol craft to perform MIO operations.
Coast Guard Cutter Adak, a 110-foot patrol boat, interdicts a local dhow in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
At 8 p.m. on March 19, Coalition forces launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. When hostilities commenced, all Coast Guard units were manned and ready. On March 20, personnel from PSU 311 and PSU 313 helped secure Iraq’s offshore oil terminals thereby preventing environmental damage and ensuring the flow of oil for a post-war Iraqi government. On March 21, littoral combat operations began and the WPB Adak served picket duty farther north than any other Coalition unit along the Khor Abd Allah Waterway. Adak captured the first Iraqi maritime prisoners of the war whose patrol boat had been destroyed upstream by an AC-130 gunship. On that same day, Adak participated in the capture of two Iraqi tugs and a mine-laying barge that had been modified to plant its deadly cargo in the waters of the Northern Arabian Gulf.
Once initial naval operations ceased, Coast Guard units began securing port facilities and waterways for the shipment of humanitarian aid to Iraq. On March 24, PSU 311 personnel deployed to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr and, four days later, the WPB Wrangell led the first humanitarian aid shipment to that port facility. In addition to their primary mission of boarding vessels in the Northern Arabian Gulf, Coast Guard LEDETs secured the Iraqi shoreline from caches of weapons and munitions. Buoy tender Walnut, whose original mission included environmental protection from sabotaged oil facilities, surveyed and completely restored aids to navigation for the shipping lane leading to Iraq’s ports.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, a damage controlman, made the ultimate sacrifice during a boarding operation as member of a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment team.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
On May 1, President George Bush declared an end to combat operations in Iraq. However, in less than a year the Coast Guard suffered its first and only death associated with OIF. On April 24, 2004, terrorists navigated three small vessels armed with explosives toward Iraq’s oil terminals. During this attack, the Navy patrol craft Firebolt intercepted one of the watercraft and members of LEDET 403 and Navy crew members proceeded toward the vessel in a rigid-hull inflatable boat or RHIB. Terrorists aboard the small vessel detonated its explosive cargo as the RHIB approached, overturning the boat and killing LEDET member Nathan Bruckenthal and two Navy crew members. Serving in his second tour of duty in Iraq, Bruckenthal had already received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and Combat Action Ribbon. He posthumously received the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. He was the first Coast Guardsman killed in combat since the Vietnam War and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
In OIF, the Coast Guard demonstrated the importance of a naval force experienced in shallow-water operations, MIO, port security and ATON work. The PSUs performed their port security duties efficiently in spite of their units being divided between three separate port facilities and two oil terminals. The WPBs operated for countless hours without maintenance in waters too shallow for Navy assets and served as the Coalition fleet’s workhorses in boarding, escort and force protection duties. The personnel of PATFORMED and PSU 309 demonstrated that Coast Guard units could serve in areas, such as the Mediterranean, lacking any form of Coast Guard infrastructure. PATFORSWA performed its mission effectively even though it was the first support detachment established by the Coast Guard. Fortunately, Walnut never had to employ its oil spill capability, but proved indispensable for MIO operations and ATON work on the Khor Abd Allah Waterway. Cutters Dallas and Boutwell provided much-needed logistical support, force protection and MIO operations. OIF was just one of the many combat operations fought by the Coast Guard since 1790 and its heroes are among the many members of the long blue line.
The Hind Mi-24D was an odd but deadly amalgamation of troop helicopter transport and attack helicopter. While it was ostensibly built to transport a squad of infantry and then protect it, American chopper pilots were worried about what would happen if they ran into the attack helicopter and its massive gun and were forced to fight it in the air.
The Marine Corps SeaCobras and later SuperCobras were stronger than their Army counterparts thanks to the addition of a second engine and an improved main gun. The Army would later adopt the Marine’s 20mm main gun on later Cobra models instead of the 7.62mm miniguns and 40mm grenade launchers that they had originally mounted.
But while that 20mm main gun was great for wiping out enemy armored vehicles and light bunkers, its rate of fire was limited to 670 rounds per minute in order to keep it from moving the Cobra too much while it was firing. Meanwhile, the new Hinds had a large, multi-barreled gun that Phillips and others were worried had a higher rate of fire and higher muzzle velocity.
The Mi-24 is a great helicopter that, despite a rocky start, rose to be a major threat to U.S. forces in the Cold War.
(Rob Schleiffert via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
It would later turn out that the Soviets were using a Yak-B main gun with 12.7mm rounds that had a muzzle velocity of 810 meters per second, less than the 1,050 m/s of the Cobra’s M195 20mm gun. But the Yak-B on the Mi-24D could fire up to 4,500 rounds per minute while the Cobra was limited to 670.
Worse, the Russian pilots were training for air-to-air combat in the Hind. When Phillips and others started matching Hinds and Cobras in simulators, it became apparent that victory or defeat in a one-on-one fight would be decided by pilot experience and main gun capability. And the Marines thought they were behind in both training and armament.
But Phillips thought it was likely that Cobras and Hinds would meet in future conflict, and that the Marines would need to up-arm their Cobras or else buy more and deploy them in larger teams so they could win through superiority of numbers.
Obviously, the Marines would prefer to win through excellence rather than throwing unsustainable numbers of pilots and helicopters at the problem. So Phillips proposed two fixes for the armament and one fix for training.
First, his simulation experience against the Hind showed that an air-to-air battle between it and a Cobra would be over quickly. Often, the helicopters settled their conflict in a single pass as one or the other shot down the enemy with a burst from the main gun. To make the Cobra more successful, he wanted to give it a higher rate of fire and muzzle velocity with improved ammunition or even a new gun. Also, an improved sighting mechanism would increase Marine chances.
But he also wanted to add an entirely new weapon onto the helicopter: air-to-air missiles. This is one of the adoptions the Marine Corps would later make, deploying Sidewinder missiles on the helicopter in 1983, four years after Phillips’ paper was written and submitted to the U.S. Army War College.
The AH-1Z Viper has an even better version of the 20mm Gatling guns used on the AH-J SuperCobra.
(Lance Cpl. Christopher O’Quin)
But Phillips also wanted to change training and briefings to address the air-to-air threat. The Russians were training specifically on combat against helicopters, and he wanted the Marines to do the same. And one step further, he wanted transportation helicopters to carry some weapons for self-defense against the Hind, and he wanted those helicopters’ crews to discuss air-to-air procedures before any mission where enemy aircraft could be in play.
All of this combined would have made it to where up-armed Cobras would escort lightly armed transportation helicopters into combat and, if an enemy Hind were spotted, the entire flight would work together to bring down the Russians before the Hind could win the day.
Luckily for everyone involved, the fight never went down. But if it had, those Sidewinder missiles and better training would likely have saved Marines and troops from the other three branches forward as Hinds fell to the snakes in the grass.
Let’s say you need to make a very sensitive tool to detect radiation. Maybe you need to use it for medical purposes, detecting specific isotopes as they move through a human body. Or perhaps it’s for the tools to detect radiation to prevent dirty bombs and nuclear smuggling. Wherever your radiation is, if you want super accurate measurements of it, you have to make your tools out of low-background steel, and that’s hard to get.
Here’s the problem with new steel: It’s made in a radioactive environment. The very air we breathe contains little molecules leftover from the approximately 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. Irradiated coral from Bikini Atoll tests, snow melted by the Tsar Bomba, and air particles in the wrong spots during the development of the Genie air-to-air rocket are all still radioactive.
That doesn’t make it useless for detecting radiation. But any radiation in the steel makes the resulting device less sensitive. It’s like if you’re trying to listen for a distant sound while a band plays. The louder and closer the band is, the harder it will be for you to hear a distant or faint sound. A radiation detection device with radioactive steel in it will never be able to detect radiation that’s beneath the threshold its own components put out.
But steel can last. And any steel manufactured before the first nuclear tests in July 1945 is filled with low-background radiation steel. Basically, since it has much fewer radioactive particles in it, it can detect radiation at much lower levels. So, if you need to run a radioactive dye through a medical patient, you can use a much lower level of radiation if the detector is made with low-background steel.
Same with scientific and law enforcement instruments.
But how to get low-background steel today? If you mine ore now, melt it down, and mix it with limestone, you’ll be most of the way through making low-background steel. But you also have to pass air through it. And the only air available has radiation in it.
So, instead, you could go find steel manufactured before 1945. Preferably steel that wasn’t exposed to the air during the testing or in the years immediately afterward.
You read the headline. You know where this is going.
Sunken warships have literally tens of thousands of tons of steel in them, and the water has shielded them from radiation for decades.
So, with the consent of governments, some warships have their steel removed. It’s done carefully both to prevent contaminating the metal as well as to avoid disturbing the dead. And it’s not just steel. A British warship from before the Revolution had a large amount of lead that is now maintained by the University of Chicago.
It’s even been suggested that some illegal salvage efforts were conducted by black market outfits looking to make millions by stealing entire ships off the ocean floor. And at least two British ships lost in World War II have disappeared, though some researchers think it was more likely straight steel salvage. It doesn’t appear the thieves had the wherewithal to properly protect the salvage from modern radiation, so it was probably sold as normal scrap.
So the thieves disturbed the grave of thousands of sailors and contaminated tens of thousands of tons of rare low-background steel.
No other soldier in American history has ever come close to earning the level of respect dutifully given to Lieutenant Audie Murphy. To date, no other soldier has managed to earn every single award for valor — including the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars.
His legendary story has humble beginnings — he was a 5’5″, 17-year-old kid from Texas who tried to enlist with every branch and wasn’t admitted until he falsified his age to get into the Army. His heroic exploits are countless: Jumping on a burning tank and mowing down Nazis, single-handedly taking out German armor, and out-shooting snipers at every turn. If you’ve seen it in an action film and thought to yourself, “no way,” Audie Murphy probably did it.
But this isn’t a retelling of his high-profile heroics. If you’ve served in the U.S. military and don’t know the story of this man, then you should probably be doing push-ups and ordering a book about him right now. For the rest of you, enjoy these lesser-known facts about the legendary Audie Murphy
Then, of course, came what he would be known for — fighting in Germany.
(Signal Corps Archives)
His rise in the ranks
After Pearl Harbor, Murphy was desperate to enlist. He finally got into the Army as a private on June 30, 1942 — just ten days after his 17th birthday. By February 20, 1943, he was shipped to Casablanca as part of the North Africa Campaign.
He was promoted to PFC while training for Sicily in May and, upon landing at Licata in July, he made corporal. After taking Campania in December, he was promoted to sergeant. He was again promoted to staff sergeant just a month later. He earned the Bronze Star with a “V” device and an oak leaf cluster before finishing up in Italy and moving onto the rest of Europe.
In less than a year, he went from private to staff sergeant.
Murphy wanted to make a second film, titled ‘The Way Back,’ that chronicled his life after service, but it never came to fruition.
His acting career
After the war, he was offered the opportunity to attend West Point, but instead decided to pursue a career in acting. He practiced Shakespeare in his free time until he landed his first major role in The Kid From Texas, in which he played Billy the Kid.
Meanwhile, Murphy was working alongside one of his Army buddies to write a semi-autobiographical novel, To Hell and Back, which was adapted to film — Murphy played the lead role. In both the book and resulting film, he downplayed some elements of his service during the war as to avoid accusations of exaggeration. That’s how badass his actual actions were.
Even in his darkest hours, he was still a fantastic human being.
He never wanted to sell out
To put it bluntly, Audie Murphy had hit rock bottom in the 60s. He suffered from an addiction to the prescription drug Placidyl – a habit that he kicked by locking himself in a motel room until he was clean – became reclusive, attempted suicide several times, and lost much of his money to gambling and poor investments.
Throughout all of his struggles, however, he got offers to star in commercials for cigarettes and alcohol. Taking a single deal would have put him back on his feet, but he knew that if he took the money, he’d be setting a bad example for the countless children who looked up to him — so he declined them all.
The gravestone was made before it came to light that he and his sister had falsified his year of birth so he could serve in WWII. He was actually born in 1925.
His grave is one of the most visited graves at Arlington
On May 28, 1971,Audie Murphy boarded a private jet in Atlanta, Georgia, and made hisway toward Martinsville, Virginia. There was heavy fog but the pilot chose to fly through it. The Aero Commander 680 carrying Murphycrashed into the side of Brush Mountain, 20 miles west of Roanoke. There were no survivors.
He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery,Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11. Outside of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldierand President John F. Kennedy, Murphy’s headstone is the most-visited grave. The volumeof tourists visiting to pay respects was so great that they had to buildan entirely new flagstone walkway to accommodatethe foot traffic.
I’ve had the honor of serving under a few S.A.M.C. members. To this day, many years later, I know that they’d gladly give me the shirt off their back at the drop of a dime.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kamaile Chan)
A club of the finest NCOs in the Army is named in his honor
The spirit of Audie Murphy lives on through the outstanding non-commissioned officers of the United States Army. Formed in 1986, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club recognizes the most professional, most intelligent, and most decorated leaders in the Army today.
The requirements for entry into this club are stringent, but above all, an NCO must be known for putting the well-being of his or her soldiers above their own. Earning the medallion is one of the surest ways to let the troops serving under you know that they’ll be well taken care of.
The Black Samurai, despite sounding like a name that’d be more at home in a movie or a comic book than the real world, is a genuine nickname given to a mysterious man from feudal Japan, otherwise known only as Yasuke.
The rank of samurai was, of course, considered one of great prestige and it came with a number of perks including a salary, land, a stipend of rice, servants and the ability to kill commoners who offended them without consequence. In regards to that last one, kiri-sute gomen (literally: authorization to cut and leave) was a right granted to samurai that allowed them to kill anyone of a lower rank (even other samurai of lower rank) for any perceived slight against their honor. While this has little to do with the story of Yasuke, we couldn’t not mention the fact that samurai had the ability to basically murder people without consequence, so long as a given set of restrictions was honored, such as doctors and midwives were exempt to a certain extent, that the blow had to come directly after the affront and not later, a witness to the slight was required for proof a slight was in fact made, etc. etc. But in the general case, samurai were of such high standing that dishonoring one in front of a witness was a great way to end one’s life.
Given the highly regarded position samurai enjoyed, it was seldom an honor doled out to foreigners and, as such, there are less than a dozen confirmed examples of a person outside of feudal Japan being allowed to call themselves samurai. Amongst this select group of foreigners, Yasuke not only stands out for being speculated to have been the first, but also because he was the only one who was black.
Little is known about Yasuke’s past, so little in fact that we know neither where he was born nor his original name. It’s mostly agreed that Yasuke hailed from somewhere in Africa, though which area exactly has never been conclusively established, with Mozambique mentioned most in accounts of his life. This is thanks to the Histoire Ecclesiastique Des Isles Et Royaumes Du Japon written in 1627 by one Francois Solier where he claims Yasuke was from that region. However, it’s not clear what his own source for that information was and he wrote it almost a half century after the last known direct documented evidence of Yasuke.
Whatever the case, originally believed to have been a slave captured sometime in the 1570s by the Portuguese, Yasuke was bought by and became the servant of an Italian Jesuit and missionary called Alessandro Valignano. Valignano was famed for his insistence that missionaries to Japan become fluent with the language, requiring a full two years of study in Japanese, which helped his group stand out and be more successful than others. As for Yasuke, he travelled with and served Valignano for several years until the pair made port in Japan around 1579.
Upon arriving in Japan, as you might expect Yasuke immediately became a subject of intrigue and curiosity, both because of his apparently extremely dark skin and his intimidating stature. Variously described as being between 6 feet 2 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall, Yasuke towered over the Japanese populace of the period, with males only averaging about 5 feet tall at the time. Beyond his height, he is said to have possessed a powerful, chiselled physique. According to legend, Yasuke’s very presence inspired both terror and curiosity in locals to such an extent that several people were supposedly crushed to death in an attempt to make their way through a large crowd that had gathered to see him. Other stories tell of people breaking down the doors of the places Yasuke was staying just to catch a glimpse.
Whether any of that is true or not, sometime in 1581 while visiting Japan’s capital, Yasuke came to the attention of a man who is considered one of the people ultimately responsible for the unification of Japan, famed Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga apparently insisted on meeting the mysterious dark-skinned stranger who was causing such a commotion in his city. Upon meeting Yasuke, according to an account by Jesuit Luis Frois, Nobunaga apparently ordered Yaskue to be roughly scrubbed with brushes to prove that his dark skin was real and not artificially done with ash, charcoal, or the like.
It’s from this first meeting that one of the only known accounts of Yasuke’s appearance comes from, with this fateful meeting documented in the Lord Nobunaga Chronicle:
On the 23rd of the 2nd month March 23, 1581, a black page (“kuro-bōzu”) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26, 24 or 25 by Western count or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men…. Nobunaga’s nephew gave him a sum of money at this first meeting.
Presumably thanks to Valignano requiring missionaries to Japan to learn Japanese, it appears at this point he also required it of Yasuke, as Nobunaga was said to have greatly enjoyed conversing with Yasuke and was intrigued to learn about his homeland. He ended up liking Yasuke so much that he eventually took him as his own, or rather officially Valignano gifted him to the warlord.
Nobunaga, who was known to have a fondness for other cultures, which is in part why he was allowing Christian missionaries to operate in the area, gave his newly found confidant the name Yasuke. Although technically still a slave in the sense that he had to serve Nobunaga, Yasuke quickly rose in stature in the eyes of Nobunaga, with Yasuke ultimately given a house, salary, and servants of his own. During his rise, he apparently served as Nobunaga’s weapon bearer and bodyguard and was otherwise seemingly treated as an equal by his peers. Yasuke was also eventually given a katana from Nobunaga, apparently conferring the title of samurai upon him as only samurai were permitted to carry such a weapon at the time. It’s also noteworthy that he wore the traditional armor of the samurai when in battle. Yasuke also had the frequent extreme honor of dining with Nobunaga, something few others were allowed to do.
Yasuke’s time with Nobunaga was cut short, however, when the warlord was betrayed by one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, a year later in 1582. In a nutshell, Nobunaga was at the Honnō-ji temple in Kyoto, taking with him only a contingent of 30 pages and guards. For reasons unknown, though perhaps just a simple power grab, Mitsuhide chose to betray Nobunaga at this point, surrounding the temple and attacking. Yasuke is known to have been there and fought alongside Nobunaga, but ultimately when defeat was imminent as the temple burned around them, Nobunaga chose to commit ritual suicide rather than be captured.
Legend has it, whether true or not isn’t known, that one of Nobunaga’s last acts was to order Yasuke to carry Nobunaga’s head and sword to his son and heir, Oda Nobutada.
Whether he actually did this or not, it is known Yasuke managed to escape and joined Nobutada who himself was under attack at the time by a separate contingent of Mitsuhide’s soldiers at nearby Nijō Castle.
Nobunaga’s son was eventually defeated, committed ritual suicide, and Yasuke was captured by Mitsuhide’s men. Apparently unsure what to do with the foreign samurai, or even whether they should consider him a true samurai or not despite that he wielded the sword and wore the traditional armor, they chose not to kill him and instead left it to Mitsuhide to tell them what to do.
In the end, while there is some contention, it would seem Mitsuhide decided to dishonor Yasuke by not allowing him to commit ritual suicide and instead had him returned to the Jesuits. Whether Mitsuhide did this out of pity or contempt for Yasuke is a matter of contention, though it’s noteworthy that there was little in the way of racism towards black people in Japan at the time because so few black people ever visited the country anyway.
From here, as unlikely as it’s going to sound, Yasuke, the giant, Japanese speaking black, now ronin, samurai who supposedly caused crushing crowds wherever he went, disappeared from history, even in the Jesuit’s own accounts. This has led some to speculate that he did not stay with the Jesuits and even some speculation that, if becoming a samurai wasn’t enough, that he became a pirate after this, meaning his moniker could have potentially been not just The Black Samurai, but the ultimate in badass nicknames- The Black Pirate Samurai, though there is unfortunately no hard documented evidence that he actually became a pirate.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
A former first lieutenant with the 221st Signal Company in Vietnam, Paul Berkowitz, created a website to help former unit members connect. And one day, he was surprised to receive an audio tape from former member Rick Ekstrand. It was the audio portion of film shot on Hill 724 in Vietnam where a pitched battle followed a highly successful Vietnam ambush in November 1967.
During the Battle of Dak To, U.S. troops maneuvered against a series of hills covered with thick jungle vegetation, including Hill 724. In this footage from Nov. 7, two American companies attempted to maneuver on the hill and were ambushed by a North Vietnamese Army Regiment.
Alpha Company, the lead regiment, was pinned down and the two companies were outnumbered 10 to 1. Rockets, mortars, artillery, and machine gun fire rained down on the men as the camera operator narrated and filmed. Check out the amazing footage below from the American Heroes Channel:
The song that many of us identify uniquely with the President of the United States has a surprisingly controversial history. Chester Arthur hated it, Ronald Reagan thought it was a necessary tradition for the office, and President Trump enters a room to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA more often than not. But this essential piece of Presidential entrance music is almost as old as America itself.
During the President’s Inauguration, “The President’s Own” Marine Corps band plays Hail to the Chief after 45 seconds of four Ruffles and Flourishes. The song is also most traditionally played when the President of the United States enters an official event, but there are no real rules for the song outside of the inauguration. The Department of Defense only asks that the song isn’t played for anyone other than the sitting President.
You wouldn’t know it from the orchestral renditions, but the song actually has lyrics, written in 1900 by Albert Gamse:
Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation, Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all. Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call. Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander, This you will do, that’s our strong, firm belief. Hail to the one we selected as commander, Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!
The song itself can be traced all the way back to our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. At the time, the song was pop music, much like Greenwood’s song is to President Trump today. The Marine Band played it at the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1828, an event attended by President Adams. The first time it was played in honor of the Commander-In-Chief was for Andrew Jackson, at a similar canal event the next year.
Martin Van Buren was the first President to hear the tune played for his inauguration in 1837. John Tyler, who ascended to the Presidency after the sudden death of William Henry Harrison, was much derided during his term for the unelected way he came into power. To remind people who was in charge, First Lady Julia Tyler ensured the song was played whenever he arrived at events. The same was done for James K. Polk, who was a short guy. His wife Sarah wanted to make sure everyone knew when he arrived so he wasn’t overlooked.
Hail to that mullet, President Polk.
By the time Chester Arthur came to office in 1881, he hated the song so much, he opted to replace it with another song. Luckily for him, the leader of the Marine Band just happened to be the “American March King” John Philip Sousa. He commissioned Sousa to write a replacement, which the band leader did.
How well did that replacement go over? If you’ve never heard of Presidential Polonaise, you’re in good company — because most of America hasn’t either. The Presidents quickly went back to using Hail to the Chief.
By 1954, the Department of Defense made the song the official music of the President. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to use the music. The President is the boss, after all.
He isn’t really bound by law or tradition to have the song played for him on every occasion. President Gerald Ford asked the U.S. Marine Corps Band to play his alma mater’s — the University of Michigan — fight song, Hail to the Victors, instead. Jimmy Carter preferred the tune Jubilation by Sir Arthur Bliss. Ronald Reagan, however, felt the office required more tradition and reinvoked Hail to the Chief.
For the first time in 14 years, one of the most iconic planes in American history has earned its wings.
Restorers have reattached the wings to the B-17F Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Wednesday, the museum provided a behind-the-scenes look as aircraft workers reattached more pieces to the bomber’s wings in preparation for a public unveiling next year.
“It’s amazing,” said Casey Simmons, a restorer who has labored on the project since 2008 . “I don’t know if there’s words that really say it because you’re little and you build this kit as a little model (airplane) and now you’re actually doing the real thing.
“My favorite part about working on it is just the fact that I get to work on it,” added Casey, 36, of Dayton. “It’s the Memphis Belle. It’s one of the most famous planes. Everything about it, it doesn’t seem like a job. It’s what I’d be doing in my free time if I got to do whatever I wanted to do.”
The Army Air Forces plane is set to make its debut among fabled aircraft inside the World War II gallery at the museum on May 17, 2018, the date that marks the 75th anniversary of the 25th and final wartime mission of the storied bomber that battled Nazi Germany.
The final crew and the bomber gained fame on a nationwide wartime bond tour, which stopped in Dayton, and for a 1944 movie “Memphis Belle” that documented its combat exploits over Europe.
“The big significance of the Belle is it’s an icon and it represents those heavy bomber crews that helped win the war against Germany,” said Jeff Duford, a museum curator.
The Memphis Belle will sit as the centerpiece of a large-scale exhibit on strategic bombing. Archival footage of the historic plane’s missions retrieved from the National Archives, crew artifacts flown in combat and interactive screens will tell the tale of thousands of bombers and their crews in the bloody aerial battles that killed more airman than any war American airmen have fought in.
Crews have roughly 13,000 hours of work left, said Greg Hassler, restoration supervisor. The museum was not able to provide a cost estimate or how many hours workers and volunteers labored so far to bring the Belle back to its former end of combat luster.
Restorers have labored to meticulously off and on to scrape paint, bend metal and fabricate parts since the Boeing built-bomber arrived in 2005 hauled in on a truck from near Memphis, Tenn.
“You get lots of parts and boxes and things that aren’t marked and it’s trying to figure out where things go (you) look at the drawings and it’s like a puzzle,” Simmons said.
The plane will be repainted to reflect how it looked at the end of its combat bombing runs and before flying across the nation on the war bond tour, Duford said. The paint on the plane today is not the original markings, he said.
“The skin all over the the fuselage is engraved with the names when it went on its war bond tour so you want to try and keep all that as much as you can because if you replace that, that’s history gone,” Simmons said.
The reborn Belle will have a woman in a red dress on one side of the plane and in a blue dress on the other side of the nose to reflect the original look. A row of swastikas added for the war bond tour will be removed because they weren’t on the bomber immediately after it finished its days in combat, Duford said
The wings were last attached in 2003, officials said.