Vito Bertoldo almost didn’t make it into the Army. A former coal miner, he was exempt from the World War II draft due to his bad eyesight. Approved for limited duty after enlisting, he had to get special permission to join the infantry. It’s a good thing he did.
In December 1944, Germany launched Operation Northwind, what would become its last offensive in Western Europe. It was designed to destroy the U.S. 7th Army, whose supply lines were stretched after the Battle of the Bulge. That offensive would meet some major resistance in Hatten, France, specifically at the hands of Vito Bertoldo.
Bertoldo was assigned to protect the movement of a vital command post during a German attack. It was in good hands. As German infantry and armor advanced and the American lines began to crumble, Bertoldo moved outside of the building that housed the command post and set up a machine gun in the street.
For 12 hours, he held the entire street in full view of the advancing German infantry and tanks. Under fire from the tanks’ 88mm guns and small arms, he fought on, eventually moving back into the building. Once inside, he set his gun up on a table and fired through a window, blasting an entire group of German infantry.
As armored personnel carriers and more tanks approached, he waited for them to dismount before mowing them all down, even taking a tank shell in his position for his trouble. He simply got back up and got back to work. When the command post got a new position, he volunteered to stay behind and cover its withdrawal, staying in the building all night.
In the morning, he moved into another building and started another daylong defense, fighting off self-propelled howitzers, infantrymen, and tanks. He was hit by another 88mm round but survived. Before the Germans could finish him off, an American bazooka took out the vehicle.
Bertoldo went back to his gun, yet again, mowing down Germans as they tried to retreat. The command post was evacuated once more, this time under cover of darkness. But the Germans tried to assault the building before the evacuation could begin. This time, Bertoldo lobbed white phosphorous grenades into the massed enemy infantrymen until they broke and withdrew from the attack.
Once more a German tank round hit the room where Bertoldo was holed up, knocking him to the ground in a daze from 50 yards away. The only difference was this time, Bertoldo’s machine gun was destroyed. So he picked up his rifle and began to singlehandedly cover the movement of the command post to its new location.
This army of one secured his unit’s command post and all its movement against superior forces for a full two days without rest or relief, killing at least 40 Germans and holding back an entire enemy advance.
In the end, it wasn’t a Nazi bullet or tank round that would get Vito Bertoldo. He served through the entire war and died of cancer in 1966.
Gemini 3 was the first American space mission to be crewed by more than one astronaut. Gemini 3 performed the first orbital maneuver ever by shifting its orbit mid-flight. This breakthrough performance also showed that a re-entry vehicle could change its touchdown point. What it will be remembered for in the annals of NASA history, however, is a corned-beef sandwich.
For just shy of five hours, the Gemini 3 mission experienced very few setbacks — none of them major. From the takeoff aboard a Titan-II Rocket to the capsule’s recovery by the USS Intrepid, the crew would tell you it was a very smooth, well-run mission. The 89th U.S. Congress, however, had a different opinion.
The crew of Gemini 3. Not pictured: pocket sandwich.
Strangely enough, one of Gemini 3’s other mission requirements was to test space food in the capsule — specific food, not just whatever food the astronauts wanted to bring. The mission took five hours, but the non-rated food incident lasted less than a minute. The two astronauts were working in the capsule when pilot John Young, who was on his first spaceflight, pulled out a corned-beef sandwich.
“I was concentrating on our spacecraft’s performance, when suddenly, John asked me, ‘You care for a corned-beef sandwich, skipper?'” Grissom later recounted. “If I could have fallen out of my couch, I would have. Sure enough, he was holding an honest-to-john corned-beef sandwich.”
“Where did that come from?” Grissom asked. Corned-beef sandwiches were his favorite. “I brought it with me,” Young answered. “Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?” The smell of corned beef did indeed fill the spacecraft. The astronaut picked up the sandwich from a local deli called Wolfie’s inside the nearby Ramada Inn in Cocoa Beach. Wally Schirra gave the sandwich to Young, who stowed it away in a pocket in his spacesuit.
Grissom took a bite, but the sandwich was not holding its integrity in zero gravity. The astronauts opted to put the sandwich away. Young admitted that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to bring the sandwich into low earth orbit. Grissom told him the sandwich was “pretty good, if it would just hold together.” With crumbs of rye bread floating around the cabin, the crew continued their mission.
“It didn’t even have mustard on it,” Young wrote. “And no pickle.”
While mission control at NASA and Young’s superiors were less-than-thrilled with the smuggled sandwich, the rest of the mission went ahead as planned and though the two were given slaps on the wrists and told, in no uncertain terms, that non-man-rated corned-beef sandwiches were out for future space missions, nothing more was really thought of it.
Until Congress stepped in.
Vietnam, civil rights, and corned beef.
It was the height of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Gemini 3 was supposed to be the first orbital mission ever to have more than one astronaut, but the Soviets had beaten NASA to the punch by a week — when it launched the Voskhod 2 mission. Regardless, the United States was behind in the race and the costly program was under close scrutiny.
The House Appropriations Committee began a full review of the incident, concerned that those rye crumbs were a serious threat to the safe operation of the spacecraft. It’s true that the greasy crumbs could have played havoc on the craft’s electronics and computer systems. The sandwich was nicknamed the “-million sandwich.”
A replica of the million sandwich.
(Grissom Memorial Museum)
Congress thought the astronauts were ignoring the space food they were sent to evaluate and were wasting taxpayer money. John Young later wrote that he didn’t think it was that big of a deal and that it was common to carry sandwiches aboard. The offending corned-beef sandwich wasn’t even the first smuggled sandwich — it was the third. These days, astronauts make sandwiches in space all the time, they just use ingredients that keep the crumbs to a minimum.
What they were supposed to be eating.
Young commanded the first space shuttle mission in 1981. And carried aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia was a menu that included corned beef. The smuggled sandwich itself is lost to history, but a good likeness of the original can be found preserved in acrylic at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Mitchell, Indiana.
As American forces became embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam it was quickly apparent to commanders that they were fighting a war for which they were not prepared.
The guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics of the Viet Cong were difficult to counter, especially for conventional forces. Luckily, our allies, the British, had already developed a tactic that they had used to great effect in Malaya.
Facing a communist insurgency of their own, but with limited resources, the British had developed specialized teams to track the enemy through the jungle and destroy them. This tactic was so effective the British would employ it against insurgencies all across the empire.
Knowing the French tactics had been insufficient, and not wanting to meet the same fate, Gen. Westmoreland sent observers to the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaya to see if the tactics could be adopted by American forces.
Impressed by what they saw the Americans made a deal for the British to train fourteen teams, to be known as Combat Tracker Teams, at the British Jungle Warfare School. Due to British neutrality, the soldiers to be trained traveled on official government passports and used only British gear while in training so as to maintain secrecy and low-visibility.
The basic organization of the Combat Tracker Teams consisted of two to four sections of five-men. The section was composed of a team leader, a visual tracker, a cover man, a radio operator, and a dog handler with a well-trained Labrador retriever. Not typical for combat operations the Labs were highly-effective in Vietnam. They were effective trackers, quiet in the field, and, most importantly, due to their even-temperament could more easily change handlers – a prized-quality for an army rotating men out of country, but often heart-breaking for their handlers.
The teams were in for intense training once they arrived in Malaya. For the dog handlers training was three months long, for everyone else it was two months. The cadre consisted of British and New Zealand SAS as well as Gurkhas, who usually played the enemy to add to the realism. Wash out rates were high.
The initial address to the trainees was often quite shocking to them. They were told the problem with the American army was that it was more focused on rank than knowledge. And that by the time they were done, they would feel more at home in the jungle than the North Vietnamese themselves.
After surviving the grueling training, the first teams returned to Vietnam in 1967 to be assigned to combat units. The team assigned to the 101st Airborne Division was told they must go through the division’s finishing school before they would be allowed in the field. Part-way through the first day it became obvious to the cadre that the trackers knew more than they could possibly teach them and they were passed through the course on the spot.
According to their group’s website, once in country, the Combat Tracker Teams were to “reestablish contact with the ‘elusive enemy’; reconnaissance of an area for possible enemy activities; and locate lost or missing friendly personnel.”
Once the troops hit the ground, they knew why their trainers had pushed them so hard – keeping up with a dog in the jungle while staying absolutely silent, as well as being alert and constantly ready for action is very hard work.
But that work paid off for the Americans. It was common to hear from the grunts about how the enemy could just “melt back into the jungle.” And that was where the trackers came in. Pushing out well ahead of the line infantry units no detail was too small for either the visual tracker or the working dog to pick up.
John Dupla, a combat tracker with the 1st Cavalry Division, said “we were taught to develop a sixth sense, utilizing methods Native American scouts used, such as looking for broken twigs and turned over leaves and rocks.”
Depending on the conditions and situation either the visual tracker or the dog handler and his lab would lead the team. Always right behind him was the cover man. Since the point person’s attention was focused on searching for trails and clues the cover man became his lookout, providing protection.
Although the unit’s mission was often not to directly engage the enemy, sometimes it was unavoidable. As one combat tracker related “if you got into something, you shot your way out.” Ideally, the trackers would locate the enemy and call the infantry behind them into the fight.
However, as the Viet Cong became aware of the effectiveness of the trackers they sought ways to counter them. Retreating groups would often send a contingent off in a different direction to draw the trackers away from the main force and into an ambush. One Combat Tracker Team lost their visual tracker and cover man to enemy snipers in this manner.
Despite their effectiveness many American commanders simply did not understand how to properly employ the trackers. Their small size and the secrecy of their training meant few in the infantry understood how they operated. They were sometimes thought of as scouts and to simply walk point for a larger formation.
The program was disbanded in 1971 as American drew down forces in Vietnam. The trackers were broken up and folded into their parent infantry units. Veiled in secrecy and lacking the notoriety of Special Forces the legacy of the Combat Tracker Teams quietly faded away.
There is no doubt though that the Combat Tracker Teams were effective, saved lives, and made life much harder for the enemy.
At first glance, it might seem obvious why Japan would choose to take on a country like the United States. While Americans were still struggling with the Great Depression, Japan’s economy was growing and hot. Japan had hundreds of thousands of men in uniform and a string of military victories under its belt. The U.S. was a third-rate military power whose day had come and gone in World War I – and Americans weren’t thrilled about another war.
But the Japanese seriously underestimated one important factor: The American Worker.
Up yours, Japanese Empire.
Judging the United States’ capacity for war during the 1930s was Japan’s fatal mistake. Sure, we’d had a little too much fun at the speakeasy during the 1920s, but we were poised for the most incredible puke and rally the world had ever known, and anyone looking for it would have been able to see it. Unfortunately, the Japanese were a little high on their own supply at the time. Convinced of Japanese superiority, they thought themselves nigh-invincible and that the U.S. would crumble if it needed to unify or die.
In reality, things were much different. The U.S. had twice the population of Japan and 17 times more tax revenues. Americans produced five times more steel, seven times more coal, and could outproduce the Japanese automobile industry by a factor of 80:1. The American worker had the highest per capita output of any worker in the world.
What’s more, is we were one of very few countries willing to let women work in our very modern factories.
So don’t f*ck with the Arsenal of Democracy.
Even before the war, U.S. industrial capacity was greater than all of the Axis countries combined. As a matter of fact, the United States’ output was almost greater than all the other major powers involved in the war. And that was before the U.S. declaration of war allowed the President to take control of American industry. By the time the U.S. entered the war, the Lend-Lease Act had already pulled America out of its depression and was basically supplying the Allied powers with American-built equipment and vehicles as it had for years.
All we had to do was start using them ourselves.
As time went on, the U.S. economy was growing by 15 percent annually, while every other belligerent saw a plateau in growth or the destruction of their economies altogether. By the end of the war, American industrial output wasn’t even close to overheating – we were just getting started.
In 1928, the Army asked itself how it could make its rifles, and therefore its riflemen, more lethal in case all those building tensions in Europe and Asia eventually boiled over and triggered a new world war. After years of study and design, they came up with a rifle design that some leaders thought would be capable of tipping battles, but it never saw combat.
This allowed the weapon to fire reliably, and it allowed infantrymen and cavalrymen to maintain a high rate of fire. A demonstration of the weapon pleased senior Army leaders, and they asked when they could take prototypes to the field for testing.
But the Pedersen did have some drawbacks. The weapon was very precisely machined, and even small errors could throw off its operation. Also, its rounds had to receive a thin coating of wax to guarantee that they’d properly feed through the weapon. Finally, its clips could only be fed in one direction into the rifle, meaning riflemen reloading under fire would have to be careful to get it right.
So, other weapon designers thought they had a chance to win the Army’s business. Other .276-caliber designs entered competition, including the Garand.
The Garand could take a beating, was easier to manufacture, and didn’t need lubricated rounds. The Pedersen was still the frontrunner in many eyes, but the Garand posed a real threat to it.
An even greater blow to the Pedersen was coming. As the move to a .276-caliber continued, the Army Ordnance Department was putting up fierce resistance. The department didn’t want to have to set up the whole new supply chain, get the new tools, or prepare the new stockpiles of ammunition required to support the switch.
The Ordnance Department argued, successfully, to Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur that the change would be expensive and present logistics challenges. MacArthur ordered that any new rifle had to use the .30-caliber ammunition already in use by the Army.
Most of the competitors, including Pedersen, didn’t think they could re-configure their weapons quickly to accept the larger ammunition, but the Garand team could. They quickly swapped in new parts, and entered a .30-caliber Garand and it won the competition, going on to become the M1 Garand of World War II legend.
A U.S. Marine with his trusty M1 Garand in World War II.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
But it’s easy to imagine an alternate history where the Pedersen or the .276-Garand went into production instead. The .30-caliber ammunition and older weapons would’ve still seen action, sent forward with Free French, British, and Russian forces under the Cash-and-Carry system and then Lend-Lease.
Meanwhile, American troops would’ve carried a slightly lighter rifle and much lighter rounds, giving them the ability to more quickly draw their weapons and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire with the same strain on individual soldiers and the logistics chain.
And, best of all, more lethality per hit. The .30-caliber rounds, the same size as 7.62mm, are more likely to pass through a target at the ranges in which most battles are fought. But .276-caliber rounds are more likely to tumble a time or two after hitting a target, dispersing their energy in the target’s flesh and causing massive internal bleeding.
So, if the 1928 Ordnance Board and the modern minds behind 5.56mm and the potential 6.8mm weapons were right, each successful rifle hit by American soldiers was more likely to cause death or extreme wounding.
Nearly four decades ago, America’s fledgling counter-terrorism force launched a daring operation to a remote desert outpost to rescue Americans held hostage. The mission failed, but its repercussions were felt for years, and the flames and death of that day forged the special operations force that was able to successfully execute even more daring — and successful — missions in the decades to come.
On Nov. 4, 1979, approximately 3,000 Iranian militants took control of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding 63 Americans hostage. An additional three U.S. members were seized at the Iranian Foreign Ministry for a total of 66.
This was in response to President Jimmy Carter allowing Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the recently deposed Iranian ruler, into the U.S. for cancer treatment. New leadership in Iran wanted the shah back as well as the end of Western influence in their country.
After a few weeks, 13 hostages, all women or African Americans, were released but the remaining 53 would wait out five months of failed negotiations.
President Carter, originally wanting to end the hostage crisis diplomatically and without force, turned to alternative solutions as he felt the political pressure to resolve the problem. On April 16, 1980, he approved Operation Eagle Claw, a military rescue operation involving all four branches of the U.S. armed forces.
The two-day rescue mission consisted of eight Navy RH-53D helicopters and multiple variations of C-130 aircraft. All aircraft were to gather together at Desert One, a salt flat about 200 miles outside of Tehran. There, the helicopters would refuel through the C-130’s and then transport assault units into a mountain location near Tehran where the rescue mission would begin. Unfortunately, the mission never made it that far.
On April 24, 1980, Operation Eagle Claw began. All aircraft proceeded to Desert One but a strong dust storm complicated traveling. Two of the eight helicopters were unable to complete the mission and had to turn around. Another helicopter broke down at Desert One, leaving a total of five working helicopters. Mission commanders and leadership needed a minimum of six to complete the mission. The decision was made to abort the operation and return home.
During departure from Desert One, one of the helicopters collided with a C-130, killing eight U.S. service members. The remaining members all left in the additional C-130 leaving behind numerous helicopters, a C-130 and the eight dead Americans. The failed mission, in addition with loss of life, was a humiliating blow for the U.S. However, this tragedy put a magnifying glass over the inadequacies of joint operations, forever changing the future of the U.S. military and special operations.
The need for enhanced capabilities between more than one military service was the prediction for the future of the Armed Forces. Significant military reforms, such as the Goldwater-Nichols Act and Joint Doctrine, addressed the readiness and capability issues demonstrated in Operation Eagle Claw. It pointed out the necessity for a dedicated special operations section within the Department of Defense with the responsibility to prepare and maintain combat-ready forces to successfully conduct special operations.
Today, the different branches training alongside each other is common practice. Planning for missions consist of specific details with back up plans to the back up plans. Ultimately, the lives lost as Desert One weren’t in vain. The lessons learned from that mission made special operations into what we know them as today.
You may know Chuck Yeager as the man who broke the sound barrier, but back in the 1980s, he was also pitching a new fighter jet — one that arguably would have been on par with some of today’s fighters.
That jet was the Northrop F-20 Tigershark. First known as the F-5G, it was a program to give American allies an advanced multi-role fighter to replace older F-5E/F Tiger IIs. The Tiger was a good plane, but arguably at a disadvantage against jets like the MiG-23 Flogger. The Soviet Union was also widely exporting the MiG-21 Fishbed and the world needed a response.
American allies had a problem, though. Under President Jimmy Carter, the United States would not release the F-15 Eagle or F-16 Fighting Falcon to many of them. Israel got lucky, and was able to buy the planes, but most other allies had to settle for something less capable. Northrop’s privately-funded venture fit the bill.
The F-20 replaced the two J85 turbojet engines typical of the F-5E with a single F404 turbofan, like those used on the F/A-18. It also had the ability to fire the AIM-7 Sparrow, a semi-active radar-guided missile. Northrop also got Chuck Yeager to serve as the pitchman.
The F-20 proved to be very easy to maintain, was cheap (aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that a $15 million per plane price tag was quoted), and had a number of advances that made it a capable interceptor. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the F-20 had a top speed of 1,500 miles per hour and a range of 1,715 miles. Three prototypes were built, and a fourth would have had more fuel capacity and the ability to use drop tanks.
The problem was, even with Chuck Yeager pitching it, the Air Force and Navy didn’t want the plane. The last chance for this plane’s success came and went when the Air National Guard declined to replace F-106 Delta Darts and F-4 Phantoms with it, opting instead for modified F-16s. Learn more about this fighter-that-could-have-been below:
When you think of artillery, you’re probably thinking of something like the M777-towed 155mm howitzer or the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled gun. But in the Civil War, artillery was very different.
Back then, a gun wasn’t described by how wide the round was, but how much the round weighed. According to a National Park Service release, one of the most common was the 12-pounder Napoleon, which got that name from firing a 12-pound solid shot. The typical range for the Napoleon was about 2,000 yards. Multiply that by about twenty to have a rough idea how far a M777 can shoot an Excalibur GPS-guided round.
Another round used was the shell, a hollowed-out solid shot that usually had about eight ounces of black powder inserted. This is pretty much what most artillery rounds are today. The typical Civil War shell had a range of about 1,500 yards — or just under a mile.
However, when enemy troops were approaching, the artillery had two options. The first was to use what was called “case” rounds. These were spherical rounds that held musket balls. In the case of the Napoleon, it held 78 balls. Think of it as a giant hand grenade that could reach out as far as a mile and “touch” enemy troops.
When the enemy troops got real close, there was one last round: the canister. In essence, this turned the cannon into a giant shotgun. It would have cast-iron shot packed with sawdust. When enemy troops got very close, they’d use two canister rounds, known as “double canister” (in the 1993 movie, “Gettysburg,” you can hear a Union officer order “double canister” during the depiction of Pickett’s Charge).
To see what a canister round did to enemy troops, watch this video:
Though “saintly” is a term quite often used to describe the virtuous actions of American troops in combat zones — from providing humanitarian aid and medicine to those in need, to placing themselves between civilians and the line of fire — it could have a very literal meaning in the near future when describing two deceased military chaplains.
Decades after their passing, Catholic priests Fr. Emil Kapaun, and Fr. Vincent Capodanno, are currently undergoing the process for canonization with the Roman Catholic Church, which could see these two Medal of Honor recipients become the first official saints to have served with the US military.
Emil Kapaun was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the US Army in 1944, seeing service as a chaplain in the Burma Theater towards the end of World War II. Briefly leaving the Army at the war’s conclusion to pursue graduate studies, he returned to active duty soon afterwards and was stationed in Japan with a cavalry unit.
The young priest, respected among his peers and often sought out as a source of advice and friendship by the soldiers he ministered to, was sent back to a combat zone during the onset of the Korean War. Using the hood of a jeep as his altar, Kapaun led prayer services and Catholic Masses in the midst of combat for soldiers who requested it, sometimes even while under withering enemy fire that would see his jeep lit up with machine gun rounds by Chinese and North Korean forces.
The chaplain was taken prisoner, along with a number of others from his unit during the Battle of Unsan, and was force-marched to a Chinese prison camp where he and his fellow prisoners of war would undergo harsh treatment at the hands of their captors. Kapaun developed a quick reputation for stealing food and medicine from Chinese storage sites at the camp to feed the malnourished and aid the sick POWs.
He would also go without his meager rations for considerable periods of time, having volunteered them to others who he felt needed it more than he did. Above that, Kapaun incurred the wrath of his Chinese guards for halting the executions of wounded American troops by tackling or shoving the soldiers lined up to commit the dastardly act.
Still ministering to his fellow POWs as best as he could, Kapaun died in captivity. His body was thrown in a mass grave by his Chinese captors along with the remains of many other deceased American POWs. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2013 by former President Barack Obama.
Lieutenant Vincent R. Capodanno was another military chaplain similarly decorated for bravery like Kapaun, who lost his life in war. After joining the Catholic priesthood and completing his studies in a seminary, the freshly-ordained reverend from New York was commissioned an officer in the Navy upon hearing of a need for chaplains to minister to Marines and sailors.
Though he could have requested to stay away from the front lines, Capodanno felt that he was called to a deployment overseas in Vietnam, ministering to infantry Marines embroiled in a brutal fight against the Communist North Vietnamese forces. In 1966, Capodanno’s request was granted and he was sent to South Vietnam to serve with the 7th Marine Regiment.
Liked unanimously by the Marines he ministered to, Capodanno was affectionately referred to as “The Grunt Padre” for his willingness to go into combat and assist corpsmen in administering aid to casualties sustained in battle. Capodanno extended his tour in Vietnam for another year, this time with 5th Marine Regiment.
It was during this last tour in 1967, that the Navy chaplain would lose his life. In the onslaught of an outnumbered fight, where small elements of Marines were pitted against an overwhelming force of NVA troops and irregulars, Capodanno ran into battle repeatedly to pull fallen Marines away from danger, sustaining critical wounds himself.
Refusing to be evacuated, the Grunt Padre continued onward, giving Last Rites to the dying while tending to the wounded with combat medical aid. A burst of machine gun fire finally cut down Capodanno as he attempted to shield a fallen Marine from enemy fire with his own body.
The Navy chaplain’s heroism and valor under fire was witnessed by every Marine and corpsman on the field of battle that day, and the following year, Capodanno’s family was notified that he would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor as a result.
In the years after their passing, Kapaun and Capodanno have generated huge followings, especially among soldiers, Marines and sailors alike, a number of whom devoted time to praying for their spiritual intercession. And interestingly enough, a number of miraculous events have occurred in the time since, apparently attributed to the assistance these two chaplains have supposedly provided from even beyond the grave, still serving faithfully.
According to the Catholic Church, a series of verified miracles attributed to a candidate for sainthood are required before someone can be confirmed through a process called the “cause for canonization.” Currently, the miracles ascribed to Capodanno and Kapaun’s intercession are under procedural investigation by the Church, and should they be approved, these two former servicemen who gave their lives for their brothers in arms could very well find themselves canonized the first American military saints in history.
Forty years ago, a two-day, American rescue mission launched on April 24 to free the hostages held by Iran in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. For John Limbert, who was held hostage for more than a year during his role as a diplomat in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, it feels like yesterday.
Last fall, the documentary “Desert One” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, telling the story of Operation Eagle Claw, the secret mission to free the hostages.
“For better or worse, the film does bring back memories,” Limbert told We Are The Mighty.
“Memories fade, you don’t remember all the details and particularly when you’re in the middle of it, but that was one of the powers of the film.”
Desert One is a 107-minute documentary directed by Barbara Kopple. The film gives viewers an intimate look into the military response led by then-President Jimmy Carter to rescue 52 hostages that were being detained in Tehran, Iran in the U.S. Embassy and Foreign Ministry buildings. Ultimately, the mission was aborted due to unoperational helicopters, with zero hostages rescued, eight servicemen dead and several others severely wounded. The crisis received near 24-hour news coverage and is widely considered a component of Carter’s eventual landslide loss to Ronald Reagan.
Through interviews with hostages, Delta Force soldiers, military personnel and President Carter, as well as animation done by an Iranian artist intimately familiar with the topography of the country, Kopple’s film chronicles the mission from every aspect, taking care to tell the story through people who lived it, a detail that was paramount for the two-time Academy Award winner.
“You can’t tell a story unless you have a lot of different angles of people coming at it from different places,” Kopple said. “They’re all feeling something. Whether it’s the special operators, or the hostages, or the people in Carter’s administration – there are so many different elements to it, which is also why it drew us in. We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. Why should we tell everything about the Americans’ experience and not tell everyone about the Iranian’s experience? We’ve got to know these things exist to communicate. That’s so important. It’s a tough thing to do, but a very important thing to do.”
The ill-fated Operation marked the emergence of special operations in the American military. In 1986, Congress passed the Nunn-Cohen Amendment, citing this tragedy as part of their justification. The amendment mandated the President create a unified combatant command for Special Operations, and permitted the command to have control over its own resources.
“The film captures the best of our military colleagues,” Limbert explained. “This wasn’t a suicide mission, but that’s what it was. They didn’t have to go, but they did it. I have nothing but admiration for them. It was me and my colleagues that they were trying to rescue. They were willing to do this for people they didn’t know. It’s absolutely amazing. That’s the strength of the film. That willingness to self sacrifice so beautifully.”
Added Kopple, “What I felt is that these guys were all willing to give up their lives for the rescue. That was incredible that they wanted to get the American hostages out and they were a team. Even if one of them doubted it, they thought … well my buddies are going. They all had each other’s back — that thing inside of them not to leave anybody behind. That was their duty and that was their job.”
For Kopple, the hardest part of the filmmaking process was tracking down President Carter to speak on camera for his role in the mission and how it impacted his presidential legacy.
“I tried for three months [to get access] and there’s a guy named Phil who works for his administration who would never call me back,” she said. “So I started to have a relationship with his voicemail. I would tell them all about filming and every few days, I would call and beg him, ‘Please let us film President Carter.’ Three months had gone by and Phil called, and he introduced himself and I said, ‘I know, I’d know your voice anywhere.'”
Kopple was eventually granted just 20 minutes of access to the former president for the making of the film.
“He gave us 19 minutes and 47 seconds and we used a lot of it in Desert One,” Kopple said.
Desert One is expected to be released in movie theaters in late 2020 or early 2021, with an eventual television debut on the HISTORY channel.
“When you’re [making a film], you don’t think – where will this show?” Kopple said. “Hopefully the film presents an opportunity for Iranian and American audiences to find healing and reconcile with this very complicated history, not to stereotype people, [and] to really see who people are as individuals.”
The Vikings of old traveled far and wide. Their settlements ranged from Scandinavia to Italy to Canada and everyone, from the Byzantines to the Kievan Rus to the Iberians, feared them. Their blood runs deep inside Ivor Thord-Gray. Within the span of 31 years, he would wear nine different uniforms to fight in thirteen wars across five continents.
He was born Thord Ivar Hallstrom in the Sodermalm district of Stockholm, Sweden in 1878. Unlike much of his family, his Viking heritage inspired his entire future. While his older brother became an artist and his younger brother an archaeologist, Thord set off to become an adventurer. He first joined the Merchant Marines at age 15 where he first settled in Cape Town, South Africa.
This led him to join the Cape Mounted Rifles in 1897, just before the Second Boer War. After a British victory over South Africa, he enlisted in the South African Constabulary and was back to the Armed Forces within the Transvaal Regiment, where he first became an officer. He was transferred to the Royston’s Horse and fought in the Bambatha Rebellion. After the rebellion, he moved up to Kenya to join the Nairobi Mounted Police.
Then, he traveled to Germany where he wanted to fight in the First Moroccan Crisis but was told they didn’t need him. So, he went to the Philippines to join the U.S. Foreign Legion under the Philippine Constabulary.
He took a quick break from his life as a badass to become a rubber planter in Malaya (modern-day Malaysia), but true to his Viking nature, he couldn’t stay away from battle for long. He took up arms again during the Chinese Revolution and rediscovered his love of fighting by joining the French Foreign Legion in Tonkin (Modern-day Vietnam).
He hopped between the Italian Army in the Italian-Turkish War and then again to China directly under Sun Yat Sen, founding father of the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan). This lead him to his first high command position during the Mexican Revolution, where he served as the Commander of the Artillery and, eventually, the Chief of Staff of the First Mexican Army for Pancho Villa.
He wrote about his time in Mexico in his autobiography, Gringo Rebel. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Then, the Great War broke out. He rejoined the British Army as a Major, commanding the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers until his battalion was disbanded. After his mercenary status forced his resignation, he joined the American Expeditionary Forces and became the Commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Division. After that unit was also disbanded, he moved to the Canadian Expeditionary Forces to finish World War I.
Thord-Gray, still with the Canadians this time, was sent as part of the Allied Expeditionary Corps to assist and was eventually transferred to the Russian White Army (anti-Communist forces). He finally attained the rank of General, commanding the 1st Siberian Assault Division. He was selected as the Representative to the Provisional Siberian Government until the Bolsheviks seized complete control of Russia.
His last official act of military service was as a Lieutenant-General in the Revolutionary Army of Venezuela in 1928. After all this, he finally returned to Sweden to write about his travels and archeological discoveries. Ivar Thord-Gray finally settled down in America until his passing at age 86. Like the Viking he was, he spent the majority of his adult life taking on his enemies.
Commodore Bertholf served the United States in its Revenue Cutter and Coast Guard service from early manhood, never failing a call to duty, no matter what the danger, always acting in a notably distinguished and at times heroic manner, as evidenced in the especial award to him by Congress of its Gold Medal of Honor. He finally reached the highest command in the Coast Guard and retained to the last his vital interest in the cause of that service. American Bureau of Shipping, 1921
In the quote above the American Bureau of Shipping commented on the productive career of Ellsworth Price Bertholf, first commandant of the modern Coast Guard and first flag officer in service history. No individual may claim sole credit for establishment of the U.S. Coast Guard as a military service. However, like the service’s original founder, Alexander Hamilton, Bertholf bore the greatest responsibility for the planning, establishment, oversight and initial success in the second founding of the Coast Guard in 1915.
Ellsworth Bertholf was born in New York City on April 7, 1866. In 1882, at the age of 16, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy, but was court martialed and dismissed after a hazing incident. In 1885, he entered the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction and matriculated with the Class of 1887. After graduation, he was assigned to the cutter Levi Woodbury and, as was customary at the time, he served two years at sea before receiving a third lieutenant’s commission in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. During his career, he would serve aboard cutters stationed around the United States and Alaska.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf’s most noted service took place on land and in the waters of Alaska. In 1897, Bertholf, Lt. David Jarvis and Dr. Samuel Call of the Arctic cutter Bear, led a dangerous mid-winter relief party that became known as the Overland Expedition. Using sledges pulled by dogs and reindeer, the men set out on snowshoes and skis to relieve over 200 whalers stranded by pack ice near Pt. Barrow, Alaska. Three months and 1,500 miles later, the party arrived at Barrow delivering 382 reindeer to 265 starving whalers. Bertholf received a specially struck Congressional Gold Medal for this courage and heroism.
In the winter of 1901, Bertholf also made a trip across northern Siberia by sledge at the request of the U.S. Bureau of Education. The purpose of his mission was to procure a herd of reindeer for the Inuit villages in Northern Alaska. Bertholf went on to serve as executive officer and then commander of the Bear, made famous by its Alaskan cruises and the Bering Sea Patrol.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf enjoyed a distinguished career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. He was the service’s first officer to attend the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and he rose quickly through the officer ranks. In 1911, at the age of 45, he was appointed captain commandant and head of the Revenue Cutter Service. He was the last man to serve in that position.
He also served as a delegate to the International Conference on Safety at Sea held in London in 1912 after the tragic loss of RMS Titanic. This meeting led to establishment of the International Ice Patrol, which the service has performed since 1913. In addition, he served as chairman of the Interdepartmental Board on International Ice Observation and Patrol in the North Atlantic and the service’s board on Anchorage and Movements of Vessels.
More than any other individual, Bertholf’s strong leadership and guidance made possible the establishment of the modern Coast Guard. With the director of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, Bertholf engineered a merger with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. This amalgamation would bring together hundreds of small craft from the Lifesaving Service and numerous cutters operated by the Revenue Cutter Service, and save the two services from elimination planned by an efficiency commission under President William Taft. Instead, in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act merging the services to form the U.S. Coast Guard with Bertholf appointed to lead the new military service.
(Photo by John Evans.)
During World War I, Capt. Commandant Bertholf held the temporary rank of commodore, the first officer of either the Revenue Cutter Service or Coast Guard to achieve flag rank. The war cemented the service’s role as a military agency. During the conflict, the service performed its traditional missions of search and rescue, maritime interdiction, law enforcement, and humanitarian response. Meanwhile, the service undertook new missions of shore patrol, port security, marine safety, and convoy escort duty while playing a vital role in naval aviation, troop transport operations and overseas naval missions. By war’s end, these assignments had become a permanent part of the Coast Guard’s defense readiness mission.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf retired from the Coast Guard in 1919 and joined the American Bureau of Shipping as vice president. He became very active in the affairs of that institution and travelled extensively to expand the ABS in foreign fields. He died of a heart attack in 1921 at the age of 55. He was survived by his wife and daughter and interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2008, the first of the Coast Guard’s fleet of National Security Cutters was named in Bertholf’s honor–the first Coast Guard cutter named for Bertholf.
Today, the story of Ellsworth Bertholf is lost and forgotten to the American public. The record of his life and legacy remain with us through his heroic feats in Alaska, his role in establishing the Coast Guard as a military service, and the distinguished National Security Cutter that now bears his name.
The 2005 film Yamato, released by the Japanese entertainment company Toei, is one most Americans haven’t heard of. In fact, the movie’s production company is best known in America as the source of material for the various incarnations of “Power Rangers” — including a film that comes out in March.
Similarly, not many Americans know much about the battleship Yamato outside of those who follow World War II. Perhaps the biggest following outside those interested in World War II are anime fans, due to the connection with the 1980s cartoon series “Star Blazers” (A re-dub of “Space Battleship Yamato”) and a 2010 live-action-reboot of the Japanese source material.
A 2006 review of the film in Variety, though, may make it worth watching. The reviewer described the film as a cross between “Pearl Harbor” and “Titanic”, and compared the depiction of the air attacks that sank the Japanese super-battleship to the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” According to CombinedFleet.com, it took less than two hours for the battleship, the world’s largest ever constructed, to be sunk by over 390 U.S. Navy carrier planes.
The DVD of the film is available on Amazon.com, if you are interested in buying it. For those who want to get a taste of this film, watch below.