There’s not a lot the volunteers and employees at Arlington National Cemetery won’t do for veterans and their families. Every Memorial Day, they adorn each gravesite with a flag of remembrance. The Arlington Ladies make sure no veteran is buried alone or forgotten. Now, you can add one more amazing volunteer to that list.
Recently 96-year-old George Boone was brought to the cemetery by an Honor Flight to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He was a B-24 Liberator pilot who was shot down over Romania and held prisoner by the Nazis in 1943.
Boone also asked if he could stop by his wife’s grave. Alma Boone, his wife of 56 years, died in 2007 and was buried right there in Arlington. So of course they made time for this stop.
Unfortunately for the North Carolina World War II veteran, in their haste to get to the cemetery, they forgot to bring George Boone’s wheelchair. Where it was isn’t important – he thought he would have to just “see” her from a distance. That’s when an Arlington employee and one volunteer offered to carry Boone to his wife’s grave.
“I thought, ‘Carry me at my age, size and weight?'” Boone told Fox 5 DC. “I would like him to know how greatly I appreciate what he did. His kindness was overwhelming.”
Boone stood next to his wife, on a spot next to her where he will be interred one day. But he would not have been able to do it were it not for the generosity of the Arlington National Cemetery staff and volunteers.
Military spouses can be buried at Arlington, provided they meet certain criteria. Even though Alma Boone was not a member of the Armed Forces, she still met the criteria as George Boone’s wife to make Arlington her final resting place.
The employee and volunteer who helped George Boone see his wife wish to remain anonymous.
Team Rubicon, a non-government organization made up of military veterans and first responders, rapidly deploys skilled personnel to emergency areas after disasters. After the earthquake in Nepal, Team Rubicon sent folks who have made a difference on the ground executing what they’ve called OperationTenzing Nepal.
The team members have deployed to very remote areas, so knowing what to put in the pack-up is crucial.
Veterans with the appropriate skills set up medical aid stations to help those affected by the quake. After major disasters, the spread of disease can be accelerated due to contaminated water and a loss of basic services.
Keeping track of care can be a challenge in the chaotic, high patient volume environment that follows a disaster.
Many patients have multiple injuries, each of which requires treatment and follow-up. Teams stationed in a village do their best to make sure injuries don’t become worse.
Team Rubicon works with local and foreign governments while conducting their operations. And since many members are veterans, they are able to interact with militaries more easily than some NGOs.
Reconnaissance in remote areas can be challenging, especially after existing infrastructure is damaged by an earthquake. Drones allow foreign responders like Team Rubicon, as well as local forces, to respond more efficiently.
Team Rubicon is collecting donations to support of Operation Tenzing Nepal on their website. Also, military veterans or civilians with skills as first responders can volunteer with Team Rubicon for future operations. Teams serve one of 10 regional areas in the United States or deploy internationally.
There are some jobs troops leaving the service are expected to go after, but world-class musician isn’t typically one of them. Still, these 13 veterans prove that it can be done.
1. Elvis Presley
It’s not like Elvis needs an introduction. He was drafted in December 1957 and reported for his induction in March 1958. He turned down offers to perform for the troops in lieu of traditional service. Instead, he became a tanker and served in West Germany.
The “King of Country” served in the U.S. Army from 1971 to 1975. While in the Army, he began playing with an Army-sponsored band, “Rambling Country.”
4. Toy Caldwell
A founding member of the Marshall Tucker Band, Toy Caldwell served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. After he was injured by a land mine in 1967, he was shipped home and medically discharged.
He created the Toy Factory band which would later become the Marshall Tucker Band. They released 14 albums. Five went gold, and an additional two went platinum.
5. Craig Morgan
Craig Morgan, now a country music star, spent nearly a decade as a forward observer in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division. He would serve another six and a half years in the Army Reserve.
The legendary Willie Nelson was once a lackluster airman. He was discharged after only nine months due to back problems. He maintains ties to the veteran community though, advocating for veteran issues and providing support to vet groups.
8. Maynard James Keenan
The frontman for Tool, Keenan spent three years in the Army, starting with a stint in the U.S. Military Academy Prep School. He turned down an appointment to West Point and instead completed an enlistment before going on to become a world-famous musician.
9. George Jones
George Jones was once the top name in country music. In 1951, two years before he was discovered, he was a newly enlisted Marine. Jones never served overseas though the country was at war with Korea. He was stationed in California where he played gigs during his off time. His country music career took off in 1953.
He was allowed out after a year when an ankle injury on a training jump gave the Army an excuse to let him go. Only a few years after his discharge, the Jimi Hendrix experience wowed London and launched Hendrix’s career.
12. James Otto
James Otto was the son of an Army drill sergeant, but he opted for the Navy when he enlisted. He credits his two-year term with giving him discipline and life experience to make it in Nashville. James Otto wrote the hit “In Color,” which won multiple country awards for best song of the year. He continues to write and perform hit songs like “Soldiers and Jesus.”
13. Ray Manzarek
Most famous for playing the keyboard in “The Doors,” Manzarek joined the Army during the buildup to Vietnam. He served in Thailand and Okinawa before being kicked out. Manzarek, who had been a student at UCLA Film School before enlisting, returned to college. Only two months after graduation, Manzarek and Jim Morrison formed “The Doors” and became icons.
The most famous photograph of World War II was taken 70 years ago at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Just five days into a battle that would last a total of 35 days, Marines scaled Mount Suribachi and planted the American flag. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was there to capture it on Feb. 23, 1945.
It might be hard today to comprehend how a single image can become iconic, exposed as we are to streams of photographs and videos every day from our news and social media feeds. But Rosenthal’s image resonated with all who saw it and was swiftly reproduced on U.S. government stamps and posters, in sandstone (on Iwo Jima, by the Seabee Waldron T. Rich) and most famously in bronze, as the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington. The photograph won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and is considered one of the most famous images of all time.
Rosenthal’s image was the second raising of the flag on Suribachi that day. A few hours before the famous image was captured, a Marine photographer captured the first flag raising, which saw much less fanfare. The first, and smaller flag, was taken down and replaced since a U.S. commander thought it was not large enough to be seen at a distance, reports CNN.
According to the The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, American military planners thought the battle would only be a few days. Instead, it dragged on for five weeks, at a cost of more than 6,800 American lives. The Japanese lost more than 18,000.
Alleen Cooper’s son Larry was serving in Vietnam during that war — and, like many mothers who children have served in wartime, she set him letters. Her son returned from the war, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she hasn’t stopped writing.
In fact, according to WHNT.com, her son was not the first serviceman overseas to get a letter. She began writing troops during World War II.
“A lot of soldiers don’t get any mail at all,” Larry Cooper told WHNT.com, adding that Mrs. Cooper’s mission is personal.
According to WGNTV.com, since she started keeping count six years ago, Mrs. Cooper, a 98-year-old grandmother from California, has written over 7,000 letters by hand, and all of them have been unique and at least four pages long. And let’s just repeat the fact that she’s been doing this since World War II, folks.
Just prior to Memorial Day weekend, she connected with one of the servicemen she had written, Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Cantos. When Cantos deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, his unit had no internet access. Their only lifeline was what gets derisively called “snail mail.”
“She would always send us clippings and jokes. She would tell us about her day,” Cantos told WHNT.com.
One of the other troops who received a letter was a wounded soldier in the hospital. He had lost an ear, and needed to get a new one.
“All of the time I think of these people and their families at home,” Mrs. Cooper told WHNT.com.
These days, she will admit her hands are getting tired. But she will keep writing the troops for as long as she can.
“My dad’s name is Chad J. Simon, he was a staff sergeant, and I can’t say I can remember anything about him, I just wonder if he was the one who taught me how to tie my shoes,” said Dylan, who lost his father when he was too young to remember. Also on the boat were three sisters, Alexis, Starr and Kylee, who lost their dad, Spc. Grant Dampier.
Camp Hometown Heroes is a non-profit organization dedicated to counseling kids ages 7 through 17 who’ve lost loved ones while serving in the military. According to Dylan, the week-long camp is raising money to spread the organization to other locations where it can continue to serve kids for free.
When most people retire from the military, they look forward to spending more time with family, relaxing, and maybe pursuing their hobbies.
Neall Ellis isn’t most people.
After a successful career in both the Rhodesian and South African militaries, Ellis became bored with civilian life. Rather than sit back and relax, he decided to pursue the only hobby he knew — kicking ass.
With plenty of strife and a need for fighters throughout the African continent, Ellis decided to become a mercenary. He wasn’t going to be just any mercenary though. Ellis recruited a team and procured an Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship.
Ellis’ mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of a civil war in the late 1990s. The government of Sierra Leone, backed by the British, was attempting to quell a rebellion by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.
In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.
But Ellis wasn’t done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, “I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don’t know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It’s an adrenaline rush.”
His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: “If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it.”
Ellis’ response was epic.
Ellis loaded up his bird and flew out to deliver a message of his own.
Arriving over the rebel camp they proceeded to drop thousands of leaflets, with a picture of their helicopter and the words “RUF: this time we’ve dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!”
And he meant it. Although heavily outnumbered, Ellis kept fighting the rebels.
Eventually, his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return to Sierra Leone, but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.
His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.
In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.
Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.
Ellis’ reputation earned him a trip to Iraq working with the British during the invasion in 2003.
The challenge coin game is a military tradition with murky roots. The game is played where one service member at a bar challenges another to present their challenge coin. If the challenged doesn’t have their coin, they have to buy the challenger a drink. If the challenged service member has their coin, they get a round on the challenger.
Few people play the game anymore, but unit coin designs say a lot about a command. Here are some of the best challenge coin designs we’ve seen.
1. U.S. Army diver coin
It’s cut into a cool shape and has many of the Army’s diver badges on it. It both identifies the holder and calls them to go after even higher certifications as a diver.
2. The Mickey Mouse challenge coin
The military has a long history with co-opting copyrighted materials for its unit coins, murals, and posters. While most units go for something violent or that caters to an adult crowd, the Naval Air Warfare Center in Orlando made one that reminded everyone just how easy it is to get to Walt Disney World from the center. It’s a 40-minute drive.
3. Trample the weak
Most units, especially in the Army and Marine Corps, go aggressive. But this Airborne infantry coin went the extra mile to remind everyone that the infantry has one job and Chosen Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade plans on being good at it.
4. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
The most senior enlisted man in the Navy has to represent, and this coin from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West lets everyone know where the coin came from. The cut of the coin is very impressive as well, with a gold chain trailing down the anchor.
5. South Park
The South Park coin is a popular design. Everyone just changes the location and calls it a day. It gets laughs and lets the holder brag about their former duty stations.
6. Friday the 13th
For Navy chief petty officers, one of the major ceremonies is being accepted into the chief petty officer mess hall. The men given this coin were accepted on Friday the 13th and were rewarded with an awesome coin.
Bryan Sperry left college football at Kansas State to serve in World War II. At 19, he was an infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, Sperry returned to the game. He played football in England for a short period before making it back to the states and playing for Kansas University. He and the KU team went on to play in the 1948 Orange Bowl and only lost one game, the Orange Bowl, that whole season.
On April 25, KU held an alumni scrimmage with players from the 1948 team and Sperry, 70 years after his last KU appearance, scored an over 30-yard touchdown. The video of the touchdown is below. For the full story, check out the article in the Kansas City Star.
When troops are deployed, they soon find themselves missing the comforts – or tastes — of home. MREs can get old, and even when fresh food is available, it just doesn’t compare to what troops are used to.
A Texas National Guard unit deployed to the MidEast realized that very quickly.
According to a report by Todd Starnes, those troops were facing a serious letdown every Sunday night, which for them was “Chicken Tender Night.” The chicken at the undisclosed military base was just not up to the troops’ specs.
“Every Sunday is chicken tender night – which is one of the highlights of every week,” a National Guard first lieutenant identified as Jessie, wrote to Starnes. “With this being said, the chicken is okay at best,” he added.
The troops hit on the idea of using BBQ sauce to help address what Jessie would describe in a Facebook post as “overcooked and bland chicken tenders.” However, when forward deployed, refrigeration became an issue, as most bottles of BBQ sauce instruct people to “refrigerate after opening.”
Two weeks later, on Chicken Tender night, the deployed Texas National Guard unit got a delivery: two cases of sauces, one of the requested BBQ sauce, the other of Chick-Fil-A’s signature “Chick-Fil-A” sauce.
“Who would have ever thought you would see Chick-fil-A sauces in Iraq. It was our pleasure and honor to send you the BBQ and CFA sauces, and what a miracle that they actually arrived on Chicken Tender night!” Jason Driscoll of Chick-Fil-A posted on the local restaurant’s Facebook page after Jessie shared the story of the sauces arriving.
Bravo Zulu to Chick-Fil-A for rescuing our troops’ taste buds!
Most people will never get to experience a flight in an F-16 fighter but this awesome GoPro video gives a little taste.
Produced with footage from the 35th Fighter Squadron out of Kunsan Air Force Base in South Korea, the video shows pilots as they trained in Alaska last year. It has everything: barrel rolls, air-to-air combat, low-level flight, and live fire at a range.
The squadron was in Alaska to take part in Red Flag Alaska 15-1, a training exercise that allows pilots to sharpen their skills in the air.
“The greatest takeaway from this exercise is being able to fly with other air frames that I don’t normally get to fly with at Kunsan,” 1st Lt. Jared Tew told Air Force public affairs. “And the challenges that RF-A brings are what makes me a better pilot.”
“Every kid has a dream to be an astronaut,” Air Force veteran Molly Potter said. “But by college, these dreams become less and less important for most. That was not so for me.”
Potter attended Embry-Riddle to major in Space Physics and Space Engineering. While there she tried to start a military career in Army ROTC, but soon found it was not for her. Many of her friends were in Air Force ROTC. She liked the mentality and decided it was the best way to get to where she wanted to be.
“I was a 13-Week Wonder,” Potter says. “I loved it and a quickly did my best to be come a stellar officer.”
She and her then-husband were “poster airmen” at Eglin Air Force Base. He was an AC-130 navigator who deployed all the time; she was a weapons specialist, awarded Company Grade Officer of the Year in her first year. By the time she was promoted to first lieutenant, she had caught SOCOM’s eye.
Going from her desk job to deploying to Southwest Asia with the US Special Operations Command was far from Potter’s comfort zone.
“They gave me a gun and a backpack and basically told me to go,” Potter recalls. “I was essentially a one-person band out there with the Army and Marines. I didn’t realize what I was experiencing.”
And she experienced a lot, even for a munitions specialist.
“Afghanistan was the place I felt most respected on all levels,” Potter says. “The men in JSOC and SOCOM were utmost professionals. They only cared that I did my job, and they needed me to save their asses on occasion. I had the same respect they had for me.”
One night, as the sun went down, a rocket attack knocked Potter out. A cement barrier saved her life, protecting her from the frag.
Like many veterans of recent conflicts, the blast caused her traumatic brain injury. Little was known then about the effects of blasts on the brain, and she was sent home without a diagnosis.
After her deployment, she was assigned as a flight test engineer with test pilots, the next step in her path to becoming what she wanted since childhood. She attempted to numb herself from the emotional turmoil.
Her role was quick-turnaround acquisitions for special operations missions. Watching the munitions she procured from the airplanes or from monitors and how they killed combatants on the ground, even seeing what she calls ‘the Faces of Death,’ coupled with seeing her own life flash before her eyes changed the way she saw her role in the war. Her whole life was dedicated to becoming an astronaut, but here she was engineering ways to make killing more efficient.
“They were supposed to be getting this star officer,” Potter remembers. “Instead, they got a struggling officer, fresh from Afghanistan, who wasn’t sleeping or eating, and whose marriage was falling apart.” She refused to take leave yet struggled with this difficult program, full of the world’s best pilots.
Her memory started to fade, and she couldn’t even get through a day’s work. It hit her one day when she was driving home from after flying military aircraft on military orders, but suddenly couldn’t remember how to get home.
“I realized then I needed help,” Potter says. “But I didn’t want to lose my clearance, my career. But my commanding officers started to notice there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t really there.” It all came crashing down in 2013, when a motorcyclist ran into her car in Las Vegas and Potter suffered a total mental breakdown. Her leadership realized what was happening.
“I was lucky my command realized I had a problem,” Potter says. “Instead of disciplining me, they told me ‘the Air Force broke you and the Air Force is going to put you back together.'” Recovery soon became her full time job.
“I was a high suicide risk,” Potter admits. “Therapy was very tough for me. Halfway through, I started to stall. I was having nightmares. Even with my mom there, things were not going well. I was suppressing all this awful shit and having horrible nightmares. That’s when I got Bella.”
Bella is Potter’s “100 percent American Mutt.” When Potter experienced intense Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and refused to leave the house, it was Bella who forced her to go outside. She had to be walked, after all. Bella also had to be fed, watered, petted, and cleaned. She became Molly Potter’s reason to get out of bed, to get out of the house.
“She slowly started bringing my life back,” Potter says. “I started realizing she was waking me up in the middle of the night when I was having nightmares. She prevented my panic attacks and my night terrors. I started progressing with my therapy and becoming myself again.” Bella’s effect on Potter was so strong, her therapist suggested she train Bella as a service dog, and that’s exactly what she did.
In the meantime, the Air Force began to wonder what to do with Potter. She did lose her clearance and could no longer fly, but she didn’t have disciplinary issues, so her command wanted to work with her to help her find a new Air Force role or help her transition to the civilian world.
In her preparation to leave the service, she started to work at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at Nellis Air Force Base, to help troubled Airmen and families or help those who were also transitioning. Bella would come with her, to keep her calm and bring her back in case of a panic attack or breakdown. The families visiting the AFRC loved her, but not everyone was a fan of Bella in the workplace.
“I got a lot of pushback for this service dog,” Potter says. “There was no regulation for service dogs and uniformed personnel.”
A potentially troubling situation took a turn for the best one evening, as Potter brought Bella to an Air Force Association Symposium in Washington, DC. She happened to run into Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh and then-Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning.
She told the senior leaders how great her therapy was and how the Air Force PTSD therapy helped her. Then she told them about her concern for regulations regarding service dogs and that one should be written. They both agreed. Now active duty Airmen and Soldiers on PTSD therapy can use working dogs to help them cope as an accepted practice.
“Bella saved my life,” Potter says. “She changed the tide of my therapy and gave me the confidence to be Captain Potter again.”
The CSAF and the SECAF gave their full support and attention to this issue and Potter now uses her story with Bella as a way to help promote getting help while in the military.
“It’s not the only way, but it was my way,” Potter remarked. “I was anorexic, divorced, and suicidal. Five month changed my life. I had horrible experience in Afghanistan, but by the time I left the military, I was happy, sleeping and had a support network to start a new life.”
Potter now lives and works in Austin, Texas. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Air Force Association and works to match service dogs to other veterans facing the struggles she once faced.
“I still think women on the battlefields is a positive thing,” she said. “War isn’t in the trenches anymore and women bring a more creative, sometimes necessary softer tone to the fight. In the future, critical thinking could be crucial to winning and I think women in these roles bring new solutions to the problems surrounding war.”
Seventy-one years ago on June 6, 1944, the largest seaborne invasion in history began. It was known as D-Day.
The climactic World War II battle featured waves of amphibious landings on the beaches, airborne drops behind enemy lines, and an incredible group of American Rangers who scaled cliffs at Point Du Hoc. On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan told their story, and it’s a speech that everyone should hear.
Standing on top of that same cliff on the northern coast of France, Reagan detailed the story of the Rangers, who had to climb a rock wall as Germans fired on them with machine-guns and cut their ropes.
“When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again,” Reagan said, to an audience of world leaders and veterans of D-Day at the Ranger Monument there. “They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.”
Roughly four miles from Omaha Beach, where soldiers were also landing on June 6, 1944, Pointe Du Hoc was vital to the American effort, as the Germans had placed heavy artillery at the position that could rain fire down on the beaches.
“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” Reagan continued, looking toward the Rangers from that campaign sitting before him. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
Now 31 years after Reagan finished his speech, and 71 years from that terrible day in World War II, his closing remarks still ring true:
“Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”