The Cold War was a prolonged state of tension between the U.S. and the USSR, lasting from the end of World War II until December 26, 1991, the day the Soviet Union fell. The two superpowers were rivals on all fronts: political, economic, military, athletics, and, of course, in myriad Hollywood storylines. But the world’s most iconic ideological struggle doesn’t have a medal to call its own.
American veterans of this era were prepared for a potentially catastrophic war at a moment’s notice. They patrolled the Berlin Wall, the Korean DMZ, the jungles of Vietnam, and flew long patrol missions around the Arctic Circle to deter Russian aggression. Despite no direct war between the U.S. and Russia, proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam served as battlefronts between capitalism and communism while Eastern Bloc and American troops did find themselves shooting at each other on occasion. This worldwide struggle went on every day for 46 years.
Traditionally, service medals are awarded for prolonged campaigns or for those who fulfilled specific service requirements. Two such current medals are the National Defense and Global War On Terror Service Medals. Those involved in the current campaign against ISIS were just authorized the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal for the two-year-old conflict in Iraq and Syria. Yet, When the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, American military veterans serving during this period received no authorized service medal, such as a Cold War Victory Medal or Cold War Service Medal. They are not authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal, despite the high military tension during the time period.
There have been bills introduced in several separated Congresses to authorize a medal (the most recent being 2015 – that bill has been assigned to a committee) but none of them have made it very far. The reasons vary. The Cold War was not an actual “war” but a state of political conflict, according to a 2011 letter addressed to the Senate Armed Service Committee, written by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King. The letter also states that establishment of a Cold War Service Medal would duplicate recognition of service medals already authorized during the era.
Cost was also a factor according to King’s letter. The average cost of producing, administering, and mailing a Cold War Medal would be $30 per medal. The price would exceed $440 million for 35 million eligible personnel or their next of kin.
So instead of a medal, Cold War-era veterans can apply for a Cold War certificate. The certificate is available by request for all members of the armed forces and qualified federal government civilian personnel who honorably served the United States anytime during the Cold War, which is defined as September 2, 1945 to December 26, 1991. For those who served during gaps of “peace” and never in a declared combat zone or small-scale operation, this certificate is intended to recognize their service in the era.
Organizations like American Cold War Veterans and other groups have been fighting to authorize a medal for many years. There is a Cold War Medal, but it is not authorized for all and not even official for most of the military. The Cold War Victory Medal is an official medal of the National Guard in the states of Louisiana and Texas and in ribbon form only in Alaska. This medal serves as the unofficial medal for Cold War veterans, but cannot be worn on a military uniform. Since the Cold War Service Medal Act of 2015 has zero percent chance of being enacted (according to GovTrack), a Cold War medal will not soon be authorized.
The M247 Sgt. Alvin York was pitched to officials and lawmakers alike as a precision shooter in the same vein as its legendary namesake and the silver bullet that would stop all Soviet aircraft — especially the feared Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter — that dared fly too low and close to ground troops.
Instead, it was an expensive boondoggle that couldn’t fight, couldn’t shoot accurately, and couldn’t tell the difference between a toilet and an enemy aircraft.
The M247 came from a requirement for a “Division Air Defense” weapon, a platform that could move forward with armored and infantry divisions and protect them from air-to-ground attacks. But the program was opened when the U.S. was already in the middle of five large weapons programs, and money was tight.
Every part of the weapon had a demonstrated history of performance, and so the anti-aircraft Frankenstein monster was expected to perform. But the F-16’s radar was never designed to deal with the amount of ground clutter that the York would have to deal with. And the M48’s chassis were getting worn out after years of service.
Second, the old chassis sometimes broke down under the increased weight of the larger York turret and the engines weren’t strong enough to propel the weapon quickly.
In fact, the York weighed 62 tons, 17 tons more than the original Pattons. The extra weight slowed the M247 so much that it couldn’t keep pace with the M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradleys that it was designed to primarily protect.
Third, the awesome Swedish cannons on the York provided their own problems. While capable, they were mounted in such a way that a weapon pointing high in the sky would confuse the already troubled radar.
And finally, the weapon wasn’t even accurate. In some tests, it failed to hit helicopters hovering completely still.
So, it couldn’t keep up with the vehicles it escorted, couldn’t properly find low targets because of ground clutter, couldn’t find high targets because of its own gun, and then couldn’t accurately hit anything it could find.
Army and Ford engineers worked hard to iron out the kinks, but they still had to resort to gimmicks like attaching radar-bouncing panels to targets to get the system to pass basic tests.
In one important display, VIPs from the military and Congress were invited to watch the York perform. The system failed to spot its target and instead locked onto something in the stands. It swung its own gun around to track it and several visitors suffered injuries in the scramble to escape the stands.
Of the many accouterments on a U.S. Army uniform, nothing lets everyone know that they’re in the presence of a badass like the Combat Infantryman Badge. While the Combat Medic Badge (for medics, obviously) and Combat Action Badge (for everyone else) are highly respected, there’s a certain prestige that comes along with the CIB.
On Oct. 27, 1943, the War Department officially established the Combat Infantryman Badge under Section I, War Department Circular 269. It was created to award infantrymen for their hard work and dedication to their country.
It was also seen, in part, as a recruitment tool, considering that being an infantryman wasn’t a very coveted job at the time. They suffered the worst casualties and received the least recognition. The badge would at least try to address the latter.
Expert Infantryman Badge
Created alongside the Combat Action Badge was the Expert Infantrymen Badge (EIB). It was meant to build esprit de corps among the infantrymen who trained harder than others. On March 26, 1944, 100 NCOs from the 100th Infantry Division were selected to undergo three days of hell to prove their worth. Only ten made it through and were personally presented the award by Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair.
If you earned both the CIB and the EIB, you are only authorized to wear one.
They may not have been the ones to make the sky blue, but Congress loved the infantry, too.
Between the time it was created in 1943 until 1948, recipients of the Combat Infantryman Badge (and eventually the Combat Medical Badge) were awarded an extra ten dollars a month pay. When adjusted for inflation, that’s about $146 a month.
The CIB can be awarded multiple times for fighting in different eras. The four qualifying eras are WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam and other Cold War conflicts, and the Global War on Terrorism. Back in the day, it wasn’t too uncommon to find a CIB with a single star above it and, even today, you can still find salty infantrymen who fought in Somalia in 1994. To date, there are 324 recognized infantrymen who have earned the award three times — all for fighting in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
It’s kind of impossible to have earned the CIB for Korea, Vietnam, and the Global War on Terrorism because that’s a 48-year time gap and the soldier with the longest time in service, Gen. John William Vessey, gave Uncle Sam 42 years.
While the converted collier, USS Langley, was America’s first aircraft carrier, it wasn’t America’s first fleet carrier. That honor goes to the converted battlecruiser, USS Lexington.
Under the terms laid out in the 1923 Washington Naval Treaty, a naval arms control accord, the United States had the right to convert two of six planned battlecruisers into aircraft carriers. The Lexington and her sister ship, USS Saratoga, were selected and effectively saved from the scrapheap for this role. The Lexington was commissioned in 1927 and, over the next 14 years, she served in the peacetime Navy.
One of the explosions that doomed USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. (US Navy photo)
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Lexington took part in the abortive effort to relieve Wake Island. She then took part in various hit-and-run attacks on Japanese bases in the Marshalls until she went to the South Pacific to ward off a Japanese thrust towards Port Moresby. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington’s planes helped to sink the Japanese carrier Shoho, but on May 8, she came under attack.
The Lexington was struck by two torpedoes at least one bomb. The ship’s crew worked hard to keep the vessel afloat. The ship’s Damage Control Officer, Commander Howard R. Healy, suggested to the captain that if he were to take additional torpedo hits, “it would be as well to take them on the starboard side.” Healy would die in the process of controlling the extensive damage done.
A series of internal explosions would force the United States to scuttle the Lexington, making her the first fleet carrier America lost in WWII. She went down in the Coral Sea in 1942, but not before the Japanese were turned back, suffering a strategic defeat.
Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced on Facebook that he found the Lexington. See this heroic vessel, whose sacrifice saved Port Moresby, in the video below.
These days, when the United States wants to deploy fighters to an operating theater, the logistics are actually very simple. The fighters take off, they refuel in midair, and then they land at an operating base. They may make some overnight stops, but they fly their way in, thanks to the impressive refueling capabilities of the 414 KC-135s and 59 KC-10s on inventory.
But it wasn’t always so simple, especially back during World War II. At that point, mid-air refueling had been done as a stunt, but there were no real practical applications. Most of the Army Air Force’s fighters back then didn’t have the range to regularly make non-stop flights. There were some notable exceptions, however. Bombers and the P-38 Lightning could usually make the flights across the Atlantic, typically via Greenland and Iceland.
Most other fighters, including the P-51, couldn’t make the journey. So, here’s what they did instead. After the planes were built, assembled, and quality checked, the next step was to disassemble them and crate them. The crated planes would then be loaded onto a ship and taken to a port near the front lines. There, the planes were taken to a base, removed from the crates, and re-assembled. After yet another quality check, planes were ready to fly.
Now, this could be a problem. You see, if the ship got attacked, the planes on board could be damaged. Or worse, the ship could be sunk. America’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (AV 3) was sunk after it was used as an aircraft ferry.
See how a P-47 got ready for combat at the front lines in the video below.
On Jan. 23, 1943, an Italian POW named Felice Benuzzi, who was being held by the British in Africa, escaped.
But for a very peculiar reason.
Once free of the wire, Benuzzi and two other prisoners who escaped with him spent the next two weeks working their way up the south side of the nearby 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya, their only map a sketch of the mountain they found on a can of Oxo corned beef.
Then they returned to the POW camp.
A member of the Italian Colonial Service, Benuzzi was taken prisoner when the British liberated Ethiopia in 1941 and was imprisoned beneath Mt. Kenya in Camp 354, a camp for civilian POWs. There he encountered the mountain, the first 17,000-foot peak he had ever seen. In his 1952 book about the camp and the mountain, No Picnic on Mt. Kenya, Benuzzi said he “fell in love” with the mountain the first time he saw it.
Not so the camp.
He quickly became bored with the routine and the inactivity of Camp 354, a huge camp that could accommodate up to 10,000 prisoners.
“The sole activity for this host of people was to wander round the camp… They just walk and stop when they see other people talking. Then they stay for a while and join in the conversation,” Benuzzi wrote.
He quickly decided he had to take some action — do something to stay sane. He had been a mountaineer in the Alps before the war, and he decided the something he would do was climb Mt. Kenya.
He recruited another prisoner, Giuàn Balleto, a doctor and (like Benuzzi) a mountaineer before the war, and the two men set about making, buying, and stealing the equipment and food they would need to tackle the mountain.
The second highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kenya. (Photo by Håkon Dahlmo)
They hoarded what they could from their rations and stopped smoking so they could use the cigarettes to buy supplies and food from other prisoners. They made crampons from steel taken from a scrapped automobile and an oven cover, ice-axes from hammers, and ax-handles that doubled as tent poles.
At the last minute, they recruited a third man, Enzo Barsotti, a non-mountaineer who would help with the escape and climb, but would not be in on the attempt at the summit.
“The only reason we decided to [recruit] him,” Benuzzi wrote, “was because he was universally thought to be mad as a hatter, and mad people were what we needed.”
When they were finally ready, they simply walked out of the camp through a gate that opened into the camp gardens using a key they had stolen and copied, accompanied by another prisoner disguised as a British officer. The three men holed up in a shed near the gardens until dark, dug up the supplies and equipment they had hidden there earlier, and began working their way up the mountain.
They had also left a note for the camp commander explaining what they were doing and promising to return.
They spent a week climbing to about 14,000 feet where they established a base camp and where Barsotti, who was by then suffering from altitude sickness, remained while the other two men headed to the summit.
But as Benuzzi and Balleto continued on, a storm blew in and the limitations of their homemade equipment became obvious. They made it to over 16,000 feet but could go no farther. There, they left an Italian flag they made for the purpose and a piece of paper with heir names sealed in an empty brandy bottle.
They then headed back to the base camp and – after a brief rest – began their descent, finally slipping back into Camp 354 as part of a work party.
When they were discovered, they were each sentenced to twenty-eight days solitary confinement, but were released after seven days, Benuzzi wrote, because the camp’s commander “appreciated our sporting effort.”
After the war, Benuzzi continued in the Italian diplomatic service at several postings, including to the United Nations in New York and as ambassador to Uruguay. He died in Rome in 1988.
No Picnic on Mount Kenya is considered a mountaineering classic.
Brigadier General Chuck Yeager is best-known for being the first man to break the sound barrier. He was also a World War II ace and saw action in Vietnam as commanding officer of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying B-57s. But did you know that this aerial all-star also logged time in the MiG-15?
The MiG-15 in question was flown from North Korea to Seoul by No Kum-sok, a defector who, upon landing, learned that he was fulfilling a $100,000 bounty by delivering the plane into allied hands. The MiG-15 was quickly taken back to the United States and put through its paces.
The last moments of a MiG-15 — many of these planes met their end in MiG Alley.
Test pilots are known for getting in the cockpit of new, unproven vehicles and using their skills and adaptability to safely maneuver vessels through early flights. They’ve flown the X-15 into space and are responsible for putting the newest fighters, like the F-35, through their paces. But what’s just as important (and half as reported) is role they play in exploring the capabilities of foreign aircraft, like a MiG, Sukhoi, or some other international plane.
This is why the “Akutan Zero,” a Japanese plane that crashed on June 4, 1942 over Alaskan soil, was so important. It gave the US invaluable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of an enemy’s asset, informing the design of the F6F Hellcat.
This is the MiG-15 that was flown to South Korea by a North Korean defector.
The MiG-15 of the Korean War wasn’t quite as fearsome as the Zero was in World War II. In fact, the F-86 dominated it over “MiG Alley.” But finding out just how good – or bad – the MiG-15 really was still mattered. After all, American allies, like Taiwan, ended up facing the MiG-15 later in the 1950s (the Taiwanese planes ended up using the AIM-9 Sidewinder to deadly effect).
The MiG-15 still is in service with the North Korean Air Force, meaning Yeager’s half-a-century-old flight still informs us today.
Learn more about Yeager’s time flying the MiG-15 in the video below.
The question over whether or not Confederate soldiers were U.S. veterans is largely a symbolic one today. Only one Civil War pension is still being paid (that pensioner was a veteran of both sides of the conflict), and by the time Confederates received real benefits, they were all dead by the following year. No specific legislation exists that identifies Confederate veterans as having equal status to all other American veterans.
However, provisions exist that could add up to that protected status. Under the law, that is.
President Lincoln considered Confederate citizens and soldiers “Americans in rebellion,” and not citizen of a foreign country. His view dominated in the days following the end of the war. Lincoln even began the Reconstruction process early with the 1863 Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which pardoned the average Joe Confederate troop still fighting for the South.
President Johnson continued the amnesty policy in 1868, granting a full pardon to most former Confederates, including men who fought the Union directly. They all regained their citizenship and voting rights, but were not granted veterans status by the federal government, which means they did not receive the same benefits promised to those who fought for the Union.
As the 19th century turned to the 20th, Americans began to care for Confederate graves the way they cared for Union ones. But this was not because any Federal act told them to, it was just the spirit of reconciliation in a nation fresh from a victory over Spain. Eventually it was codified into law.
U.S. Code 38 does require the government, when requested, to put up a headstone for soldiers of the Union and Confederate armies of the Civil War, which was confirmed again in 1958 under Public Law 85. That same law also extends veterans’ pensions “to widows of veterans who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.”
The closest Confederates come to U.S. veteran status is in a 2001 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling about whether or not the Confederate flag was able to be flown over a national cemetery, administered by the VA. The court upheld the VA’s treatment of the rebel graves as equally honored, and that it was not obligated to fly any flag except the American flag over the cemetery.
The CSA flag was not considered a legitimate symbol of the United States and the Confederates buried there were honored as citizens, not as veterans.
So when added up, a Confederate’s benefits amounted to much of what was received by a Union veteran, but they’ll never be called American veterans. The closest they ever came was “American citizens” …”who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.”
The dark and mysterious Black Hand gives weapons and aid to a small group of revolutionaries. One of these men — with two shots — kills two people to set off the powder keg that forever changed the world.
This is history-book speak about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. To be fair, the gravity of the aftermath is immense. However, everything from the preparation, the target, the assassin, the attempts, the killing, and the initial response of Austria-Hungary was very stupid.
Captain Dragutin Dimitrijevic, also known as Apis (after a sacred bull worshiped in Ancient Egypt), led the secret military society known as the Black Hand. Years prior, the group had organized the May Coup in Serbia in an attempt to unify the ethnic Serbian territories free from the other Balkan states. Within years, they had become the most feared terrorist organization in the region.
Apis greenlit the operation to assassinate the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. He gave the mission to a smaller group within the organization, Young Bosnia. He did this without the sanction of the full Executive Committee and then left for Sarajevo to meet all the conspirators.
When they arrived, they sat around for about a month. This was because they couldn’t get the weapons, explosives, suicide pills, or funds. They scraped together six grenades and four FN Model 1910 pistols. They would use what little ammunition they had to practice with…in the middle of a city park.
The first target was Oskar Poiorek, the governor of Bosnia. They scrapped this because of the lack of weapons. (Spoiler alert: Poiorek would ride in the same car as Ferdinand that fateful day and would make it out unharmed.) So they turned their attention to Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
He was not popular as a political leader. He was extremely prejudice against Hungarians, viewed Slavs as “less than human,” and called Serbs “pigs.” Yet, he felt that autonomy for the Czechs in Bohemia and the southern Slavic peoples in Croatia and Bosnia would strengthen the empire.
He had goals of turning the Bipartite state of Austria-Hungary into a tripartite state to include the union of the Slavic peoples. Franz Ferdinand was also absolutely against any confrontation with Russia and helped maintain peace between the two nations.
Coordinated by Danilo Ilic, the group Young Bosnia consisted of ten members who thought they were ready. None of them had formal training and they all had faulty gear — if they even had gear. The leader constantly bickered with Apis of the Black Hand.
Young Bosnia largely consisted of young men with diseases who weren’t afraid to die. They were all ready and willing to die during their missions, or even take cyanide pills to prevent capture and execution. Too bad the pills were expired…
On Sunday, June 28th 1914, the Archduke and his wife died by an assassin’s bullet. But the events that lead up to Princip pulling the trigger were ridiculous.
First, Ferdinand’s car overheated. He said, “Our journey starts with an extremely promising omen. Here our car burns and down there they will throw bombs at us.” Which they did.
Assassins lined the bridges the Archduke was sure to cross. The first attempt on the his life was by Nedeljko Cabrinovic. He threw a grenade at the vehicle as it toured the city for their wedding anniversary. The grenade had a ten second delay, causing it to roll off the hood and explode under another car wounding bystanders, but not the royal couple.
Cabrinovic took one of the cyanide pills and jumped into the river below to ensure his death. The pill expired the month before and only got him sick. Also, the river was only about 4 inches deep.
He was immediately detained by police.
Franz Ferdinand was to leave Sarajevo but changed that plan in order to visit the people wounded by the first attempt. General Potiorek urged that if they were to go, they should take a different route to arrive safely. No one told the driver, so they went down the same route that the assassins were still on.
Gavrilo Princip, who left his post to grab a sandwich, noticed the vehicle with the Archduke of Austria and the Duchess of Hohenberg.
And it stopped.
Five feet away from where Princip was eating.
He pulled out his pistol and took two shots. One hitting Franz Ferdinand in the jugular. The second shot, intended for General Potiorek, hit Sophie in the abdomen. They both died shortly after.
Princip attempted suicide, but he, too, had an expired cyanide pill. He then tried to shoot himself, but police wrestled the pistol from him before he could do it.
Both Princip and Cabrinovic refused to speak, but Ilic, the leader, cracked. Ilic told authorities everything about the operation and gave up everyone else involved. Both men active in the assassination were too young to die by execution according to Habsberg law. Instead, they did from tuberculosis while in prison.
They feared Princip’s bones would become relics of Slavic nationalists, so they buried him in an unmarked grave. A Czech soldier assigned to his burial gave the location away, and the remains were then placed beneath a Sarajevo chapel “to commemorate for eternity our Serb Heroes” in Sarajevo.
The nation honored the one man who called for peace with Russia by launching a chain of events that started the first World War.
To learn more about the assassination and World War I, check out the series “The Great War,” which details week by week the events of the first World War as it occurred one hundred years later.
The Vietnam War was long and arduous. It cost the United States a total of 58,220 troops, with 40,934 of them killed in action. The overall number of wounded sits at 304,000. These staggering numbers gave the military time to reflect on how effective they could be at evacuating wounded troops from the battlefields.
The wounded were airlifted out of combat and transported to medical staging facilities (picture mini-hospitals, not tents). If not for the rapid response of transporting troops, there would have been many more lives lost in Vietnam.
Looking at statistics, 4.5 percent of wounded troops died during air transport in WWII. But in Vietnam, only one percent of wounded died during transport. This means the improvements made from war to war were drastic, not only in medical training but in the types of aircraft used in aeromedical evacuation and transport. The critical factor in bringing down these high casualty rates were U.S. Army dust-off missions.
During this time, the Army established specialized medical crews which utilized Huey helicopters to swoop in and collect the injured on the battlefield. The Air Force already appointed a number of planes dedicated to aeromedical evacuation, but they were only used for transport from medical staging facilities back to the United States.
The capabilities of the Huey helicopter were just more convenient than having a larger plane land on the battlefield. The Huey could quickly drop in anywhere, anytime to pick up their patients and transport them safely to an air staging hospital.
There’s no doubt that the distinctive sound of the Huey’s chopper was a comfort to the wounded troops on the ground, waiting to get out of the hell they just experienced. The Huey meant safety and comfort from the military’s best medical personnel.
One of the Allies’ most heroic spies was an amputee turned down by the State Department because of her leg amputation who served with both the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services, coordinating resistance attacks and other operations in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Virginia Hall lost her left leg in a hunting accident while serving in the American embassy in Turkey. She ordered a wooden a prosthetic that she named “Cuthbert.” and practiced with it to ensure she could do nearly everything with it that she had done with two legs.
Despite her efforts, the State Department turned Hall down when she requested to take the oral exam needed for her to become a diplomat.
She then returned to France and, when Germany invaded Poland, joined the French Army as an ambulance driver and learned how the Nazis were treating Jewish people in Poland. When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, she escaped to London and was quickly recruited into the SOE.
The SOE sent her to France as its first female operative in the country. Hall worked from the city of Lyon as a spy posing as a writer for an American newspaper. While in Southern France, she helped establish safe drop zones for the insertion of British agents and supplies for resistance fighters.
The Gestapo began focusing on the region and had orders to hunt “La Dame Qui Boite,” the “Limping Lady.” Hall and her co-conspirators fled in 1942 over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. When she reported to the SOE that “Cuthbert” was giving her trouble in the mountains, headquarters told her, “If Cuthbert is giving you difficulty, have him eliminated.”
What was she supposed to do? Shoot her leg again?
Hall was arrested in Spain because she lacked papers, but a letter smuggled to the American consul there got her released six weeks later. She continued working for the SOE in Madrid but thought she was being coddled in such a safe mission.
She wrote to the headquarters, “I am living pleasantly and wasting time. It isn’t worthwhile and after all, my neck is my own. If I am willing to get a crick in it, I think that’s my prerogative.”
But in early 1944, Hall learned that America had stood up its own spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services. She immediately volunteered for OSS service in occupied France.
The Americans got her a ride into France on a British torpedo boat and she went undercover as an elderly milkmaid. She was probably the only elderly milkmaid in the country who coordinated parachute drops, reported German troop movements, and snuck across the country while transmitting Nazi military secrets via a suitcase radio.
Using supplies inserted into the drop zones she had selected, Hall trained and armed three battalions of French resistance fighters and prepared them for D-Day. When the Allies launched Operation Overlord and came across the channel, her forces launched a series of attacks to disrupt the Germans and help the liberators.
Fighters operating under Hall’s direction derailed trains, sabotaged bridges, destroyed rail and telephone lines, and killed and captured hundreds of Germans.
As the war in Europe wound to a close, Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS approved the award of a Distinguished Service Cross to Hall and suggested to President Harry Truman that he pin it on her personally. Instead, Hall requested that the ceremony be kept private so that she could continue work in the clandestine service.
The administration agreed and Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS, pinned the medal on her in September 1945. She was the first civilian and only American woman to receive the award in World War II.
Hall continued to serve in the OSS and then the Central Intelligence Agency until her mandatory retirement at the age of 60 in 1966.
A Navy Seabee is probably the one sailor that Marines love the most — next to the platoon doc, of course.
Camouflage is their typical working uniform. They spend most of their time in the field and dirt. They don’t shy away from messy jobs. As one Marine captain once told a journalist in Iraq: Seabees build things, they blow things up, and they shoot straight.
The Navy’s “Can Do” sailors do a lot. They build field toilets and bunkers, construct camps and pour concrete, fix damaged utilities and buildings, help civilians in distress and even kill the enemy when required. Their work building airfields and camps across the Pacific during World War II undoubtedly helped in the allied victory.
A fraction of that force today, Navy Seabees are the backbone of the Naval Construction Force that includes 11 naval construction battalions and two amphibious construction battalions. Battalions send detachments of Seabees to as many as a dozen countries, and missions vary from repairing water lines, building schools and roads or pulling camp security.
Seabees serve in one of seven ratings – builder, construction mechanic, engineering aide, equipment operator, steelworker and utilitiesman – but every one will tell you they’re a Jack-of-all-trades among warfighters. Seabee ingenuity gets things done.
The classic round Seabee logo of the “Fighting Bee” holding a Tommy gun, wrench, and hammer — one of only a few Navy-approved insignias that sailors can wear on their uniforms — is as relevant today, 75 years after the first Seabee units were formed, as it was on March 5, 1942.
Combat readiness is a critical a mission because Seabees training for, say, a western Pacific rotation to Okinawa might be sent to a combat zone elsewhere. “You could be building a schoolhouse in the Philippines… and go to war,” said Chief Utilitiesman Phil Anderton, 31, a Seabee with Naval Construction Battalion 3 based at Port Hueneme, Calif.
Anderton learned that lesson as an 18-year-old Seabee in 2005. His battalion prepared to deploy to Rota, Spain, but ” they canceled leave, and for three weeks we trained to go to war,” he recalled. “It’s like that fast. Three weeks.” They ran scores of convoy security missions across volatile Iraq.
It’s little surprise that Seabees going through their battalion final training exercise, required to certify as combat-ready, looks like they’re already in the hot zone. “This right here is the culmination of ‘be ready for war.’ It’s awesome,” Anderton said as he escorted a journalist through an expeditionary forward operating camp NMCB-3 built on an empty lot for its final training exercise at Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif., last fall.
The air hummed with the sound of diesel trucks, generators and heavy machinery. Dust kicked up from medevac Humvee. The sound of gunfire echoed. Helping set that combat mindset was an opposing hostile force that kept trying to sneak along a creek to infiltrate perimeter lines and attack the camp. For three days since they arrived, and with little sleep, the battalion’s 550 Seabees grappled with an indirect fire attack from the mock enemy that wounded 17 and damaged the nearby airfield.
“Lately we’ve been seeing the small-arms attacks in the dark,” said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Matthew Lundeen, the quick reaction force commander.
In the midst, civilian-actors pleaded in their native language for the Americans to leave while others wanted their help, or so it seemed.
All Seabees get combat tactics training, and they have to learn what seasoned grunts do by instinct. “We put a lot on our E-4s and E-5s to make very sound, tactical decisions, putting bullets down the range to keep us safe,” said Anderton, the Bravo Company operations chief and a former drill instructor. “The first line of defense is them. They’re the ones in the pit when the aggressions happen.”
“Making that tactical decision that is either going to put him in jail or save his life,” he said. “That’s the most critical, that they would pull the trigger at the right time.”
“This is a pressurized environment that really tests the leaders,” said Cmdr. Laurie Scott, NMCB-3’s commander, especially for junior Seabees who haven’t yet served overseas. “This is a lesson in sleep deprivation,” he said. “You kind of get the sense of how people react under pressure.”
The night before, a Seabee spotted some infiltrators in the scrub and bushes who had been harassing them. “We walked down to the lines and, sure enough, there was someone out there and we started shooting,” said Steelworker 2nd Class Shianne Chlupacek with Charlie Platoon. “It was pretty cool.”
A half-dozen or so enemy tried to infiltrate the camp. “We saw them with the thermals setting up,” Builder 3rd Class John Skoblicki[cqgf] said. “They set up right in between (Pit) 4 and 3, and then they opened up. We shot back.”
“We’d been tracking them for awhile,” as enemy flashlights prodding the pit line gave them away, said Steelworker Seaman Korey Benton[cqgf], 20. “We engaged and fired back,” added Skoblicki. No casualties among the Seabees, but Skoblicki blew through the first can of ammo with the M240 machinegun before it jammed with the blanks. “It tends to do that,” he said. Benton provided covering fire with the M16 rifle until they could get the 240 up and running. “You just have to keep racking,” he said.
Chlupacek stood in an M16 pit the Seabees carved from the brown-mocha dirt with their E-tools and the help of a Catepillar 420 backhoe. (To a Marine, it’s a fighting hole. To Seabees, it’s a “defensive fighting pit.”) “It’s definitely part of being a Seabee,” said Chlupacek, who grew up around farms and hunting and got into welding in her small Nebraska town.
This was her third FTX. A cold front had blown chilly rain through the region just as the Seabees arrived to build their FOB. “It was the first day when we started doing trenching. It was hard to keep morale up,” she said. “I’d walk the lines for about 16 hours, and I’d keep telling the troops that it’ll be over soon. It was wet and it was cold.”
“Once you get entrenched, it’s pretty easy,” she said. “We didn’t get entrenched until the third day we were here. At first, it was just sitting on the ground, in like a skirmish room.”
Perhaps more than most seagoing sailors, Chlupacek is comfortable in the rugged outdoors. “I love tactics, so this is one of my favorite things to do,” she said. “You get in the game, and you feel it. OK, there’s enemy out there, and let’s kill ’em. I like it.”
Living like a grunt isn’t for every Seabee. Others take well to the “build-fight” life. “I love either side, tactics or building. I joined to be a Seabee,” said Builder 2nd Class Harlee Annis, 23, of Ukiah, Calif., who enlisted after he saw a pamphlet about Seabees while at a junior college. “I got my first gun when I was 7 years old.”
On this day, Annis was the gunner who manned the M16 service rifle, a qualification he earned during NMCB-3’s “homeport” period at Port Hueneme. “This is probably the funnest part, to get to fire it,” he said. He wasn’t on shift during the attack the previous night and was eager to get this first shot off. “I was hoping,” he said. “Today. Maybe.”
At 2:45 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, 1945, a propeller-driven, four-engine Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft lifted off from the unassuming island of Tinian, its destination due North. Inside, as was customary for the B-29, was a bomb. However, unlike the bombs with which the US Air Force had scorched Japan for roughly a year, this bomb was not filled with the usual incendiaries. Rather than isobutyl methacrylate or its more famous kin, Napalm, this bomb was packed with two masses of highly enriched uranium-235. The bomb, named “Little Boy”, was anything but: snout-nosed and weighing in at 9,700 pounds, it resembled nothing more than an obese metal baseball bat. At 8:15 a.m. local time, poised above Hiroshima’s Aioi Bridge, Little Boy dropped.
44.4 seconds later it detonated. 60,000 people died instantly. 31,000 feet above, and 10 and a half miles away from them, Paul W. Tibbets, en route to Guam, felt a 2.5g shockwave driven before a kaleidoscopic pillar of smoke and debris. He felt no regrets.
Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, dropper of Little Boy, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and four Air Medals, was born February 23, 1915. The young Tibbets performed his first flight at the age of 12, dispensing candy bars to a crowd at the Hialeah, Florida racetrack. Bitten by the flying bug, Tibbets, in February 1937 enlisted in the army. His flight instruction performance at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas showed him to be an above-average pilot.
Upon graduating as a second lieutenant, Tibbets first stint was as personal pilot to George S. Patton, allowing him to rack up over 15,000 hours of flight time. Tibbets ascended rapidly through the ranks, becoming a captain with his first command by 1942. In 1942, Tibbets ran the gauntlet at Lille, flying lead in a 100-plane raid with a 1/3 casualty rate. Despite the seemingly heavy losses, this was seen as a qualified success, proving that US Air forces would not break under stubborn opposition. Promoted to lieutenant colonel by November 1942, Tibbet’s cut his teeth further during the war in Northern Africa, flying Eisenhower to Gibraltar for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa.
By 1943, Tibbets had earned himself as reputation as a seasoned and senior pilot, one vouched for by Eisenhower himself. After testing the newly-minted Boeing B-29 for a year, Tibbets was recommended to Major General Uzal Ent for consideration, for a “special mission”. In September 1944, Tibbets became responsible for the organization, training and command of a secret unit, Silverplate, the Air Force wing of the Manhattan Project. Tibbets was tasked with ironing out the logistical and technical kinks: requesting modifications to bomb bay doors, in order to accommodate the bulky weapon, organizing crews with photography and scientific equipment, to record the event for posterity and finally, deciding that he himself would drop the atomic bomb.
Upon receiving orders targeting the cities of Hiroshima, Kokura and Nagasaki, as the primary, secondary and tertiary targets of the nuclear strike, Tibbets readied his crew. At 2:15 am, they were airborne. The rest is history. Tibbets, recollecting the sight of the boiling cloud in his memoirs, wrote, “If Dante had been with us in the plane he would have been terrified!”
Three days later, Major General Charles Sweeney dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. Sweeney was well prepared, flying five rehearsal test drops as well as co-piloting the support and observation aircraft for the Hiroshima bombing. Nonetheless, Sweeney’s flight performance on August 9thhad none of the aplomb that Tibbets had displayed. First, the night before, Sweeney’s B-29, named Bockscar, had malfunctioned, with the reserve fuel bladder failing to pump. Running on 600 gallons less of fuel than expected, Sweeney nonetheless decided to go, intending to rendezvous with his two escort aircraft at 30,000 feet near the island of Yakushima, a fuel intensive task at that height.
Due to confusion at the rendezvous, for which Sweeney would be reprimanded later, valuable time was lost. The crew finally reached Kokura only to find it partially obscured, which was problematic given the clear directives to conduct a visual, rather than radar, bombing. After two unsuccessful flyovers, and running low on fuel, Sweeney opted for his second target: Nagasaki. Sweeney’s bad luck was Kokura’s good – indeed, so much so that the phrase “Kokura luck” has entered into the Japanese lexicon. With desperately little fuel left, and heavy cloud cover over Nagasaki, Sweeney decided drop Fat Man by radar, despite his orders to the contrary. The resulting 1.5-mile inaccuracy spared Nagasaki a great deal of damage, with the surrounding hills intercepting much of the blast. With only 60 percent of Nagasaki destroyed and two engines kaput from fuel exhaustion, Sweeney made a rough landing in Okinawa, with just seven gallons of fuel remaining. To say Tibbets was unamused by Sweeney’s near-failure, would be an understatement. However, the close-shave success was sufficient to ensure that no action would be taken against Sweeney.
Post Nagasaki, both men have been unshakeable in defending the dropping of the bombs as right and proper. Tibbets remains “convinced that we saved more lives than we took,” and concludes, “It would have been morally wrong if we’d have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die.” Sweeney, in his memoirs, made similar assertions, but drew fire for factual inaccuracies in his account of events. Indeed, so indignant was Tibbets at Sweeney’s account, Tibbets added a chapter to his own memoirs, in which he vented his displeasure at Sweeney’s command of the bombing.
Sweeney died at age 84 on July 16, 2004, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Tibbets died at age 92 in 2007, in his Columbus Ohio home.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.